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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

EDITORIAL 26.04.11

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

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Editorial

month april 26, edition 000816, csollected & 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. BACK TO BACK CHANNEL?
  2. VANISHING IN HEAT
  3. NO BETTER THAN POLITICIANS – SANDHYA JAIN
  4. SIDESHOWS MAR ANTI-CORRUPTION DRIVE - RAJESH SINGH
  5. ELECTIONS DON'T ALWAYS MEAN DEMOCRACY
  6. MEXICO'S DRUG WAR ENGULFS ITS BORDER STATES - NACHA CATTAN

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
  2. LET'S TALK
  3. GLASS CEILING, STICKY FLOOR - BACHI KARKARIA
  4. GIVE GRASS COURTS THEIR DUE
  5. HARD TO IGNORE HARD COURTS - AJAY VAISHNAV
  6. CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS - VIKRAM SINHA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. A FRIENDSHIP OF CONVENIENCE
  2. THE LAUGH'S ON US
  3. WHEN PAUL MET BILL - PAUL ALLEN,
  4. LOVE WITH DETACHMENT - AK BHARGAVA
  5. GOD KNOWS - FARRUKH DHONDY

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. HOUSE RENOVATIONS
  2. NOT LOOKING EAST
  3. UNFAIR, THEN AND NOW
  4. THE MPS YOU DON'T SEE - JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
  5. LEARN BY DOING - ARUN MAIRA
  6. PUTTING SCHOOLING TO THE TEST - R GOVINDA
  7. SHOW ME MY DATA - RICHARD H. THALER
  8. YOU FIRST, EUROPE - DAVID E. SANGER

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. THE 2G MONEY TRAIL
  2. BIT OF A PROBLEM ON CAIRN
  3. WHAT WILL REPLACE THE DOLLAR? - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
  4. THE COMING LABOUR CRISIS - AMITENDU PALIT

THE HINDU

  1. SAI BABA, HIS LIFE AND LEGACY
  2. GET ON WITH THE JOB
  3. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER CHERNOBYL  - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
  4. THE GUANTÁNAMO FILES
  5. CHARLIE SAVAGE, WILLIAM GLABERSON AND ANDREW W. LEHREN
  6. A GRIM TOLL ON MENTAL HEALTH OF PRISONERS  - JAMES BALL
  7. FIVE HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD BOOK FOUND

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. SPIRITUAL ICON WHO SERVED SOCIETY TOO
  2. STOP GRAIN DRAIN - PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. SPORTS STADIUM AT KATRA
  2. TAKING TIME BY FORELOCK
  3. ENSURE FOOD, NOT CASH TRANSFER - BY M K DHAR
  4. LOOKING AT J&K THROUGH MDG -LENS  - BY JASWANT SINGH RANA
  5. DESI INDIA HAS SOLUTION FOR GLOBAL WARMING - BY SUDHANSU R DAS

THE TRIBUNE

  1. ALL IN HONOUR'S NAME
  2. DRONES ON TARGET
  3. WARMING UP TO CHINA - BY GEN (RETD) V. P. MALIK
  4. THE VETERAN COMMUNITY - BY MAJOR-GEN G.G. DWIVEDI (RETD)
  5. THE MISSING GALLERIES OF ART - VANDANA SHUKLA
  6. THE ART OF CONTROVERSY

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. WAS DJOKOVIC PLAYING?

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. MORE THAN A GODMAN
  2. THE BIG TWO RIDE HIGH
  3. THE OPTIMUM VALUE OF SCARCE RESOURCES - AJIT RANADE
  4. WHY CAN'T MEDIA SELLERS CONSOLIDATE?  - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
  5. BUDGETING FOR ELECTIONS - A K BHATTACHARYA
  6. UNTOLD STORIES - INDIA'S NON-FICTION - NILANJANA S ROY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. TRADE AND TALK
  2. SENSIBLE RELAXATION
  3. TENDER SENTIMENTS
  4. THE PERILS OF ENDOSULFAN
  5. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  6. POLICY-BOOST INNOVATION  - JAIDEEP MISHRA

BUSINESS LINE

  1. DIVERGENT TIMELINES
  2. NOW, B1 VISA EMERGES A POLL ISSUE - SRIDHAR KRISHNASWAMI
  3. ENCOURAGING GROWTH DATA FROM RBI - ROUDRA BHATTACHARYA
  4. HABITS – KEY TO SUCCESS - R. DEVARAJAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

1.      HAPPINESS IS A SERIOUS MATTER

2.      CANDLES FOR MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN

3.      STOP GRAIN DRAIN

4.      SPIRITUAL ICON WHO SERVED SOCIETY TOO

5.      SAI'S EMPIRE OF THE SOUL

6.      THE EBB AND FLOW OF AMERICAN TAXES

 

THE STATESMAN

  1. 'UNPARDONABLE OFFENCE'
  2. TENZING'S LEGACY
  3. DOUBLE SUNDAE
  4. ESCHEW THE UNKNOWING - BY SAM RAJAPPA
  5. WHAT'S IN A MEDIUM?  - CHATTERJEE
  6. DO US APART  - SUDIPTA DEY      
  7. UN CHARTS 5-STEP PLAN FOR NUCLEAR SAFETY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. RUDENESS IS ALL
  2. THE DRAGON RISES
  3. CIVIL SOCIETY MEMBERS
  4. LEARN FROM THE PAST  - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. THE WAY OF THE WORLD ECONOMY  - COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO  
  6. ONE ELECTION, BUT MANY BATTLES

DECCAN HERALD

  1. BAN ENDOSULFAN
  2. DEADLY LEGACY
  3. RISING STAKES  - HARSH V PANT
  4. MINI HYDEL PROJECTS NEED TO BE REGULATED  - PANDURANG HEGDE
  5. THE ESSENCE OF TIME  - NAVARATNA LAXMAN

HAARTEZ

  1. INVESTIGATE, DON'T INFLAME
  2. A LAND OF OPPORTUNITY, FOR SOME  - BY MOSHE ARENS
  3. THE MISTAKE OF WHAT'S LEFT OF THE LEFT  - BY YITZHAK LAOR
  4. OBAMA SHOULD LEARN FROM SCOWCROFT  - BY AMIR OREN
  5. WHY WAS THIS PASSOVER DIFFERENT?  - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. THE GUANTÁNAMO PAPERS
  2. BOEING AND THE N.L.R.B.
  3. SO MUCH FOR THAT OUNCE OF PREVENTION
  4. MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN NEW YORK
  5. FINISH THE JOB - BY JAMES M. DUBIK
  6. THE BIG DISCONNECT - BY DAVID BROOKS
  7. THE LIMITS OF SCHOOL REFORM - BY JOE NOCERA

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. WHY IS THE AKP LENIENT ON LIBYA AND SYRIA? - SEMIH İDIZ
  2. IF YOU CANNOT SAY 'GO' TO ASSAD, SAY 'COME' - KADRİ GÜRSEL
  3. PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD ECONOMY - ERDOĞAN ALKİN
  4. LOOKING BEYOND TERRY JONES - ANN GILLESPIE
  5. HOW TO MESS UP AN EXAM SYSTEM - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. SYRIA IS NOT LIBYA - YUSUF KANLI

THE NEWS

  1. COURTS AND PEOPLE
  2. DRONE POLITICS
  3. TALIBAN TUNNELS
  4. DYING YOUNG IN INDIA  - AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
  5. BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  6. HATING ON IMRAN KHAN  - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  7. THE THIRD OPTION  - SYED JAWAID IQBAL
  8. THE POWER DEBATE  - DR MALEEHA LODHI
  9. CLINICAL DETACHMENT  - FRANKLIN C SPINNEY

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. QUESTION OF MORE PROVINCES
  2. IMRAN SCORES A POINT
  3. US MAY LISTEN TO POPE AT LEAST
  4. NATIONAL UNITY THRU RECONCILIATION - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. OBAMA'S UNFULFILLED UNDERTAKINGS - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. INDIA CANNOT BECOME A MODERN STATE - SAEED QURESHI
  7. CHECK TERRORISTS' MEDIA ONSLAUGHT - YAHYA AHMAD
  8. DO DRONES MAKE WARFARE TOO EASY? - WALTER PINCUS

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. ALL SPIN FOR NBN CHAMPIONS
  2. LIBYA IMPASSE EMBOLDENS SYRIA
  3. GILLARD IN CHINA NEEDS TO MANAGE THE SYMBIOSIS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. WHEN THE TALENT GOES WEST
  2. LANDLORDING IT OVER THE YOUNG
  3. 'I DO' DOES NOT MEAN 'WE WON'T'
  4. CHINA POISED TO CLAIM GLOBAL PRE-EMINENCE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. INVASIVE SPECIES: KILLER SHRIMPS AND ENGLISH PARROTS
  2. THE GUANTÁNAMO FILES: TALE OF TWO PRISONS
  3. IN PRAISE OF … HAZY IMPRECISION

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. 25 YEARS AFTER CHERNOBYL
  2. DISCLOSING RADIATION DATA
  3. HOT MONEY PELTING THE BYSTANDERS - BY ANDRES VELASCO
  4. A JAPANESE CONTRIBUTION TO INDONESIAN LAW - BY T.M. LUTHFI YAZID

DAILY MIRROR

  1. HEALTH SERVICE: LET THEIR DEATHS NOT BE IN VAIN
  2. PRIVATE SECTOR PENSION SCHEME; WHO'S THE REAL BENEFICIARY?  - BY NABEELA HUSSAIN  
  3. ARE WORKERS THE PAWNS OF POLITICAL WHIMS?  - A DISAPPOINTING VERDICT IN PAKISTAN
  4. CONSTRUCTING THE MOAT TO HALT A FOREIGN CROSSING INTO SRI LANKA  
  5. ARE WORKERS THE PAWNS OF POLITICAL WHIMS?

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. A STING IN THE TAIL...    - BY B COMBER

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. GUANTÁNAMO PILED LIE UPON LIE THROUGH THE MOMENTUM OF ITS OWN EXISTENCE – BY JULIAN GLOVER 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

BACK TO BACK CHANNEL?

THIS WAY LIES PATH TO DISASTER


The recent report published by The Times, London, stating that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had initiated "secret talks" with the Chief of the Pakistani Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, about ten months ago may have come as a surprise to many but is really a throwback to the Musharraf years between 2004 and 2007 when such backroom channels were carefully nurtured by Mr Singh. It is common knowledge that Mr Singh has a single minded obsession with Pakistan and his pet project is to somehow pioneer an elusive breakthrough in bilateral ties between the two countries. The Times report which mentions the appointment of an unofficial envoy to establish contact with General Kayani is only additional proof of the degree to which Mr Singh remains committed to his own agenda. Clearly, the informal talks between Mr Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani at Mohali during the Cricket World Cup semi-final match were part of a much bigger plan that has evidently been in the works for quite some time. Only, now we can see the pieces fall into place. The report takes us back to the early years of the decade when General Musharraf was at the helm and the two had engaged in backroom talks; a much touted peace deal was supposedly almost in place but then the powerful General was packed off to London and months later Pakistan sponsored the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai. The three-day long carnage led to a complete suspension of bilateral talks and India even stopped playing cricket with Pakistan; consequently, Mr Singh's plans were stalled as his Government insisted that Pakistan cooperate in the attacks' investigation before talks resumed. But all that was only a matter of time and now, he is back on track — never mind that Pakistan has not conceded an inch of ground with regard to the 26/11 investigation. Mr Singh remains undeterred. For long now, he has secretly desired a visit to Islamabad and it seems like that wish might just come true. According to The Times, a series of three one day India-Pakistan games have planned, little wonder, to coincide with Mr Singh's visit to Islamabad.


Apart from being a manifestation of Mr Singh's personal policy towards Pakistan, The Times report is also evidence of how desperately the UPA regime wishes to appease the US. As mentioned in the report, India looked the other way as General Kayani accompanied by ISI chief General Ahmad Shuja Pasha visited Kabul last week. Normally, this would have served as a great opportunity to criticize Pakistan for meddling in Afghanistan's internal affairs and seeking undue influence there. Both India and Pakistan have competing interests in Afghanistan but given that Pakistan wants to transform its western neighbour into a shadow state that would be used as a launchpad for its anti-India agenda, it is imperative to thwart Pakistan's plans and ensure we have enough leverage in Kabul. India of course does not have US support in this regard since the Obama Administration has chosen to pander to the Pakistanis instead, but what makes it worse is that Mr Singh has chosen to toe the American line at the cost of Indian interests. This must stop. Mr Singh would be well-advised to not further compromise India's interests by pursuing a personal agenda in foreign affairs.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

VANISHING IN HEAT

GLOBAL WARMING HURTS COASTLINE MOST


Even as the debate on climate change and the wisdom of following a development model of energy-intensive industrialisation rages on, there are tell-tale signs that indicate that the threat faced by India from global warming is increasing with every passing day. The rising average temperature and erratic rainfall have raised concerns among environmentalists as agricultural yields are getting affected. Further, increased precipitation is causing the sea-levels to rise resulting in land loss and coastal erosions. Sunderbans, famed for its mangrove forests, has become one of the hot spots of climate change where local communities are bearing the brunt of this environmental phenomenon. As a tangible impact of the rising sea levels a couple of uninhabited, thickly-forested, mangrove islands have been submerged. Experts have predicted that a dozen more islands on the South-western part of the mangrove swamps could possibly lose an average of 65 per cent of their land by 2015. What is worse, the changing pattern of salinity in the estuarine delta is rendering the fishing community vulnerable as the yield of good quality fish has gone down drastically. Yet another example of climate-induced natural disaster has been brought to light by a study conducted by the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research along the coastal areas of Odisha. It reveals that the frequency and intensity of droughts have increased in Kendrapara and other districts along the coastal belt.


The irony of the situation lies in the harsh reality that people who are not contributing to global warming stand to suffer the most by its impact. While India's per capita emissions stand at 1.31 tonne, the US has per capita emissions of 19.18 tonne and Canada 17.27 tonne. Thus the fishermen, wood-cutters and honey-collectors in Sunderbans, who do nothing to emit greenhouse gases, will be forced to leave their home and migrate to urban areas in search of livelihoods because developed countries are contributing most to global warming. What is further cause for concern, according to a senior World Bank official, is that climate change-induced droughts and floods being witnessed across the world will affect agriculture. This in turn is set to create supply side constraints resulting in food price inflation. While most countries are witnessing food inflation, India becomes particularly vulnerable as the middle-income and low-income groups continue to spend a major chunk of their income on food. This can impact the country's economic growth. Hence, it will be prudent if India focuses on green technology and clean sources of energy like solar and wind power to offset the impacts of climate change.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

NO BETTER THAN POLITICIANS

SANDHYA JAIN


Representatives of 'civil society' in the Lok Pal Bill drafting committee increasingly appear to be no different from those whom they berate and ridicule.


One thing is truly shocking about the Mayawati Government's allotment of two 10,000 square metre farmhouse plots to Supreme Court lawyer Shanti Bhushan and his son Jayant, and it is amazing that no political party or civil society activist has taken note of it. The Rashtriya Lok Dal of Mr Ajit Singh, and the Samajwadi Party of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, which draw their strength from middle farmer beneficiaries of zamindari abolition are especially culpable in this respect.


By offering farmlands to non-farmers (different from open market purchases), the Uttar Pradesh Government is willfully reinventing a class of absentee farmers who will neither live on nor themselves till the soil. This is a savage blow to the Indian farmer who has suffered centuries of exploitation under successive foreign invaders, and was often even alienated from his land under an oppressive revenue system. This is why independent India abolished the zamindari system and tax on farm incomes, tried to fragment monopoly farms, and supported the rise of the middle peasantry.


Today, Ms Mayawati is inviting the rich to buy farms that could have been offered to landless farm labourers, or cooperatives of farmers who would themselves till the soil. That these persons were lured purely by greed can be seen from former Additional Solicitor-General Vikas Singh's plea to the Allahabad High Court to cancel the allotments as he was unhappy with the plot given to him. He claimed (at this stage) that the price of each plot —Rs 3.5 crore, of which allottees had to pay just 10 percent at the time of allotment, and the rest in 16 installments — is less than a quarter of the market rate. Two Delhi-based doctors also filed cases when they did not get a plot.


This article is not about (under)pricing or allocation by discretion rather than lottery or auction. It is, as Mr Prashant Bhushan has cogently argued elsewhere, about adoption of "policies by which natural resources and public assets (mineral resources, oil and gas, land, spectrum, and so on) have been allowed to be privatised without transparency or a process of public auctioning. Almost overnight, hundreds of memorandums of understanding have been signed by Governments with private corporations, leasing out large tracts of land rich in mineral resources, forests and water… [and] take away and sell the resources by paying the Government a royalty, which is usually less than one per cent of the value of the resources".


The fact that hyper-affluent professionals — including self-righteous civil society activists — are astride the freebie bandwagon has discredited the coercively created joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill. This exposé follows allegations that Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant Bhushan were involved in 'fixing' a judge on behalf of a political party; and that a Commission appointed by the Maharashtra Government found irregularities in Anna Hazare's Hind Swaraj Trust.


Matters began unravelling for the anti-corruption crusaders on April 12 when Congress leader Digvijay Singh demanded that the Bill cover NGOs and corporates, and that social activists in the committee declare their assets. Congress leaders were enraged when Anna Hazare began shooting his mouth off, saying that citizens vote for Rs 100 or a sari or a bottle of liquor, hence he will not contest elections. Anna Hazare also made strident demands for telecasting and video-graphing the joint committee meetings, and told Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal to quit the drafting committee if he felt the bill would not solve all problems. The party hit back in its inimitable way, and Anna Hazare shot off another letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi pleading against attack by slander. Her renewed support has alerted the party and Government to the dangers of the extra-constitutional measures proposed by Anna Hazare and his men and that they consider themselves above accountability.


Realising the fight is now open, the civil society activists have dug their heels in, insisting the Bhushan duo will not quit the drafting committee. But Justice Santosh Hegde is uneasy at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory finding that the CD allegedly involving the senior Bhushan is not tampered with, and is trying to quit the panel on the plea that he does not like the "vilification campaign". He is under severe pressure to remain on board.

As apprehensions spread regarding the proposed draconian legislation being foisted upon the nation, some advocates moved the Supreme Court, challenging inclusion of five civil society members in the committee, and pleading for quashing the April 8 notification setting up the drafting panel for the Jan Lok Pal Bill. The advocates claim that inclusion of civil society members in the committee is constitutionally flawed as a parliamentary committee must comprise only of Members of Parliament.


Advocate ML Sharma says a committee formed to draft a bill must be governed by the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. Rule 253 of the Conduct of Business Rules requires the Speaker of the House to constitute a committee, and not the Government. Any such committee must comprise members of the House; civil society members can only offer inputs. Moreover, Provision of Article 53 read with Article 74, 77, and 78 of Constitution give the power of notification to the President of India, not to the Government.

A similar petition has been filed in the Allahabad High Court by advocate Ashok Pande and social activist Ms Nutan Thakur. Matters are coming to a boil as the Attorney General has been issued notice to appear on May 16 to explain how and why the drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill was formed.


There is prima facie merit in these petitions. And it seems inconceivable that the seasoned Union Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee (Chairman), former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan (Co-chair), and other committee members like Union Minister for Law and Justice M Veerappa Moily, Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram, Union Minister for Water Resources Salman Khursheed, retired Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde and Mr Prashant Bhushan (barring Mr Mukherjee, all are famed legal luminaries) would not know the law. Only Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal are not lawyers.


So what is the agenda of the (lawyer) civilian activists, for which they took the risk of trampling over everyone, and even superseding the Constitution? Who gave them the confidence that they could get away with it? Will they?

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

SIDESHOWS MAR ANTI-CORRUPTION DRIVE

RAJESH SINGH


Since the constitution of the Lok Pal committee, questions of credibility are doing the rounds. The ongoing CD controversy has given an opportunity to politicians like Amar Singh and Digvijay Singh to earn brownie points by making vacuous remarks on the credibility of the civil society representatives. Unfortunately, some members of 'civil society' have joined their ranks. Will the smear campaign derail the movement against corruption?

The ongoing controversy over the Lok Pal Bill has centered around two issues: The method adopted by social activist Anna Hazare to have a say in the drafting of the anti-corruption legislation and the credentials of his nominees on the panel that is responsible for drafting the Bill. Let us for a moment keep aside the first aspect and concentrate on the other because that is what has captured the headlines of the television channels and newspapers. Certain people have raised doubts over the credibility of Anna Hazare's people. The obvious question that arises out of this is: What are the credentials of the people levelling the charge? This needs to be understood because those making the allegation have to be above board themselves — ironically, this is the argument that Anna Hazare's detractors have proposed in condemning the inclusion of the civil society panel members.

Leading the critics' pack is the senior Congress leader, Mr Digvijaya Singh. He has targeted a panel member, Mr Shanti Bhushan because the former Union Law Minister has been supposedly caught on tape striking a deal with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. Regardless of the fact that the authenticity of the tape has been contested and the final word is yet to be said, Mr Singh continues to berate the veteran lawyer.

As if that is not enough, he took on another member, the Karnataka Lokayukta, Mr Santosh Hegde — one who commands far greater credibility than Mr Singh ever did in his long political career. The Congress leader believes Mr Hegde has done more talking than acting as the Lokayukta — in other words, he has not acted against the BJP Chief Minister of the State. So, it all boils down to politics, is it not, Mr Singh? He seems to have forgotten that given the legal confines, Mr Hegde has performed admirably and has succeeded in maintaining the spotlight on corruption high places in Karnataka.


For sometime now, the Congress leader has been on a spree, making irresponsible statements and damaging his credibility further with each one of them. So much so, that few even within his own party take him seriously. He questioned the Batla House encounter — in the process belittling the sacrifice of a police officer who took on the terrorists; he ridiculed the Union Government's policy towards combating the Maoists and spoke passionately for the Red ultras who mindlessly kill innocents and damage Government property; he made fun of the Union Minister for Home Affairs, Mr P Chidambaram and called him "intellectually arrogant"; he raised doubts over the Samjhauta blast case, providing a handle to Pakistan to up the ante against India.

Why then should his criticism hold credibility? A few days ago, a Madhya Pradesh court directed that Mr Singh be charge-sheeted over irregularities in a case involving a shopping mall project in the State. He may well protest innocence, but so have his targets. If the Congress leader is mired in allegations, how can he challenge the credentials of others? He has acquired a larger than life image because the electronic media, always looking for juicy comments, latches on to every silly word that he utters, and also because he has got away with his irresponsible conduct due to the Congress High Command's blessings.


The other principal player in the campaign to discredit the panel's non-Government members is Mr Amar Singh. If there is to be a list of the country's most discredited politicians, the obstreperous former Samajwadi Party leader will surely figure among the top entrants. His constant flip flops, his willingness to align with any one or discard any one purely for personal gains, and a complete absence of a political conscience are his hallmarks. If there are rumours that the tapes allegedly implicating Mr Bhushan have been 'sponsored' by him, it is because he has that sort of a sordid reputation. Again, we do not know the truth behind that charge, but the allegation lends itself to the possibility that it is plausible. After all, the alleged taped conversation happened way back in 2006, and it could not have suddenly come out into the open without somebody's orchestrated attempt.

The Samajwadi Party had dumped Mr Singh after it alarmingly realised that he had led it to the brink of disaster and discredit. How amusing that a person who openly admits to have lured (with chocolates or something as innocuous?) Opposition party legislators in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly to the SP, should be demanding the resignation of others on the ground of propriety!


Besides these two great political warriors for probity in public life, we have had fringe players doing their bit to discredit the civil society panel members — and, wonder of wonders, they belong to 'civil society' itself. So, what has angered them, and how credible are they? Take Ms Medha Patkar's case. The anti-Narmada dam activist shared the dais with Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, but a few days later turned dissenter, asking the social activist to choose his friends carefully. She also admonished him for not consulting the larger civil society in conducting his campaign. Another similar critic emerged from the tinsel town in Mumbai — the super secularist film maker Mahesh Bhatt, who ranted over Anna Hazare's 'authoritarian' attitude. Both these reactions emerged after the social activist let slip his admiration for the role of Mr Narendra Modi in promoting rural development in the State. It is not a coincidence that both Mahesh Bhatt and Medha Patkar are among the Gujarat Chief Minister's most bitter critics — with their hate blinding them to any kind of objective assessment that brings out Mr Modi in good light. Their response also demonstrates their willingness to subordinate the larger cause of corruption in public life to their parochial agenda.


Soon after, a whisper campaign was initiated by people who have blatantly played the minority card for political and personal gains that Anna Hazare is actually an RSS man in disguise. After all, what better way is there than this to dent the solidarity among the non-Government members of the anti-corruption Bill panel! We will have to wait and see if the smear campaign eventually achieves its real goal — that of derailing the process of tightening the noose around corrupt public servants.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ELECTIONS DON'T ALWAYS MEAN DEMOCRACY

ELECTION AS A TOOL FOR THE DEMOCRATISATION OF THE WORLD HAS BECOME A TRAP THAT OFTEN ALLOWS AMBIGUOUS FIGURES TO RULE INDEFINITELY SAYS, SVETLANA BABAEVA


Elections have become a crucial tool in attempts to achieve broader democratisation of the world. The fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union stirred up drastic changes around the world, among them the appearance of new actors and coalitions seeking a democratic future. Inspired by the crash of the 'authoritarian beacon,' the Western community, in turn, attempted to pull itself out from the 'son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch' approach to propping up foreign allies, and began helping emancipated states achieve a better life as the West perceived it.


In this drive, elections have become the basis, the criterion, the tool and often the end in itself of a political process.

Westerners accustomed to elections as an indispensable feature of their life, tend to overlook other crucial components of democracy such as strong civil groundwork and a responsible Government. But some foreign regimes that are unaccustomed to political competition have quickly grasped the inversion of this. By conducting recurrent elections in name only, they are recognised as legitimate by the Western community while maintaining the political configuration they want to preserve.


Westerners assume that elections are the only crucial ingredient for a democratic 'startup,' yet elections by themselves mean little. This has been proven even in American history.


Though the Founding Fathers had carefully conceived the balance of power, fears of the President stifling the other branches of Government arose nonetheless, particularly during the times of Andrew Jackson, and both Roosevelts, not to mention Richard Nixon and, most recently, George Bush. If such concerns arose in the United States with its mighty legislative and judicial 'checks and balances,' what distortion must other countries experience whose institutions are much flimsier?


This civic weakness points to another crucial aspect of democratic existence, namely whether the people of a country have a chance to influence their Governors in the interim between voting. This is taken for granted by Westerners with their formidable free media, strong non-governmental organisations and grassroots activists. That is not so with other nations with no extensive societal structure and, thus, no tools to maintain accountability of the Government, resulting in a lack of public influence between elections.


Prominent American thinkers, for instance Samuel Huntington and Immanuel Wallerstein, have warned since the mid-1970s of elections with no influence. Wallerstein wrote about "the important difference between formal and substantive democracy". The scholar wrote: "The liberal concern with procedures lends itself towards a formal analysis of democracy where procedures and institutions exist in order to make democratic processes theoretically possible, while in practice inequalities of social power render them largely empty processes."

Another aspect of election is the rotation of ruling elites and its impact on a nation.


For Americans who never faced the menace of a figure 'growing into the throne,' it's hard to realise that in a great number of countries elections are conducted not to facilitate the replacement of political leaders but to prevent this. Elections for the sake of voting helps increase the legitimacy of a Governor or a clan, giving them an additional argument to remain in power 'till death do us part'.

The absence of a strong Opposition can give a Governor additional arguments to stay on for another term. He throws up his hands and utters that were he given the opportunity to quit, he would gladly do so, but until someone more reliable shows up, he must reign over the nation.


The availability of an Opposition can lead down different paths. On the one hand, legitimate and strong Opposition helps sustain communication with voters and, thus, an accountable Government. On the other hand, elections, particularly conducted under Western supervision, may reveal an opportunity to gain power for those whose governance may in fact have a graver long-term impact than the absence of an election altogether. This reality would little resemble the rosy anticipations of a stable transparent democracy. In recent years, many electoral campaigns in turbulent regions have given evidence of what was described as anti-systemic groups 'demanding more democratic control of political and economic decision-making'.


The result is the same number of 'sons of bitches' in the world, but now they are legally elected.


The excessive attention to elections has become, hence, a trap of the modern world. There is no other more efficient civic means to establish democracy. On the other hand, this tool allows ambiguous and often shady figures to rule indefinitely, or vice versa to seize power from a weak ruling elite. The resolute faith of Westerners that surely every nation will value and enjoy the tenets of democracy often helps these opportunists to achieve their selfish goals.


Quasi-democracies significantly outnumber authentic ones, and the world is woefully as far from a prevalence of democracies as it was decades ago.


The writer is Bureau Chief of a Moscow-based news agency in Washington.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

MEXICO'S DRUG WAR ENGULFS ITS BORDER STATES

AFTER A SPATE OF KILLINGS AND DECAPITATIONS IN THE CITIES OF MEXICO, RESIDENTS FEAR THAT THE DRUG WAR IS EXPANDING, SAYS NACHA CATTAN


The dismembered body of a woman was found scattered in a leafy, upscale Mexico City district, while authorities investigated possible drug gang links in the deaths of five females whose throats were slashed in Acapulco.

The mass slaying of women is unusual in Mexico's drug war, and there was no indication the cases in the two cities were related.


Residents of the capital's tree-lined San Miguel Chapultepec neighbourhood discovered the woman's upper body on one block and her left leg and right leg on two other blocks, the city prosecutor's office said Saturday. The body parts were stuffed into three plastic bags and the fingers of the victim's left hand had been cut off.


The prosecutors' office provided no details on the woman's identity or a possible motive for the killing. Officials did not return requests for comment on Sunday.


The neighbourhood is next to Chapultepec Park, the capital's huge green space that also houses major museums and the presidential residence.


Mexico City has been somewhat of an oasis from the cartel violence engulfing border states, but a spate of recent killings and decapitations has residents fearing the drug war is encroaching.


City authorities blame the violence since late last year on street gangs fighting over an increasingly lucrative local drug market, which has grown dramatically the past decade. Some of the high-profile violence comes from groups that are remnants of the Beltran Leyva cartel, which has splintered and moved closer to the city since Mexican marines killed leader Arturo Beltran Leyva in December 2009. Some of the gangs are imitating brutal cartel tactics seeking to gain turf.


Meanwhile in Acapulco, police said they were not ruling out drug or organised crime links possibly related to prostitution in the killings of four women and a 14-year-old girl whose bodies were found on Saturday.


All five worked at a beauty parlor in a neighbourhood known for prostitution and drug dealing, the chief of detectives for the Guerrero state police informed on Sunday.


"It's an area with many social problems," Fernando Monreal Leyva said.


"On the second floor where the events occurred — in this case, the beauty parlor — a massage parlor was found where sexual acts may have been performed, although this is still under investigation," Monreal Leyva said.


The teenage girl had begun working at the salon five days prior to her death, he added.


Three of the bodies were found at the salon located outside the tourist district. They had been stripped of their clothes and their hands and feet were tied, the police said.


The other two victims were found separately in other parts of Acapulco — one in an abandoned car and the other on a street behind a church. All of the women were 30 years old or younger.


Police had no suspects or motives and were trying to determine whether all of the women were killed at the same spot, Monreal Leyva said.


Also in Acapulco, two bodies were left in the trunk of an abandoned car, state authorities said Sunday. Both men appeared to have been shot.


In another Guerrero state resort town, Zihuatanejo, a severed head was found on Sunday on a street outside the central bus terminal.


Guerrero state has seen a spike in violence since rival factions of the Beltran Leyva cartel began fighting over territory following the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva.


Farther north on Mexico's Pacific coast, a young man was shot to death in the lobby of a luxury hotel on Saturday in Cabo San Lucas, the Baja California Sur state prosecutor's office said. State police said the man was hit by seven bullets in his back and head, but did not provide details of a possible motive for the killing.

It was unclear if the killing was drug-related. Drug gang violence — which has claimed more than 34,600 lives in Mexico over the past four years — has been extremely rare in Cabo San Lucas, a resort dotted-area at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.


-- AP

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

 

At least with UPA-2, there's never a dull moment. Just when the nation was expecting the CBI to file DMK supremo M Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi's name in its 2G scam chargesheet, there came news instead of Suresh Kalmadi being arrested over irregularities at the 2009 Queen's Baton Relay flagging off the Commonwealth Games. Then came news of Kanimozhi being named co-conspirator in the 2G scandal. Is the UPA getting serious about corruption at last?


As with the Adarsh building scam which saw Ashok Chavan removed from office, the UPA's first turned its gaze inwards, swooping on a party member. Formally charging Karunanidhi's daughter in a scam that has, according to CAG claims, cost the nation thrice its education budget and over seven times its health sector allocation, also places the relationship with DMK, an important coalition partner, under strain. However, there are reasons to watch with caution rather than elation. The question of delays persists. Why, despite evidence of large-scale corruption steadily mounting against Kalmadi, did the government take so long to act against him? Why could the CBI not get its act together between 2009 and 2011? Why, even now, has Kanimozhi's mother, Dayalu Ammal, who apparently holds 60% stake in Kalaignar TV, allegedly receiving major 2G kickbacks, not been named in the chargesheet? Is the CBI bowing to political compulsions, the DMK threatening to withdraw support if Dayalu is named?


With this backdrop, sceptics will certainly question whether UPA-2's actions are too little and too late. Enough time has elapsed for tracks to be covered and trails to run out. Instead, the CBI's having been hamstrung by political motivations in the past will raise questions about its independence in the present. This could endanger the stability of the government, as the DMK has held out threats of withdrawing from the government if the CBI moves against anyone related to chief minister Karunanidhi.


Popular disgust with corruption found expression in the support Anna Hazare's Lokpal Bill movement received. Ironically, if an independent institution such as the Lokpal had been allowed to come into existence and handle the investigation of corruption cases such as 2G or the Games, that would have insulated government and the political process from being rocked by such investigations. The Congress could conveniently have placed responsibility for them at the door of the Lokpal, and thus saved its own skin. Hopefully an amended Lokpal Bill, to draft which a joint government-civil society committee has been appointed following Hazare's movement, will give rise to an independent yet accountable entity that can police corruption.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

LET'S TALK

 

The prompt denial from the Prime Minister's Office regarding the supposed secret talks with Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani isn't surprising. At the best of times, any state-level interaction between India and Pakistan is hostage to public perception and littered with pitfalls - and after 26/11, these are far from the best of times. But the fact is that if the prime minister is not talking to the Pakistani military behind the scenes, he should be. A prerequisite for successful engagement is talking to the right people, the decision-makers. And in the case of Pakistan, many of those people are in Rawalpindi. This doesn't mean, as critics seem to be saying, that New Delhi would somehow be undercutting Islamabad; merely that it would be involving all the stakeholders.

It's no coincidence that in the recent past, the most productive phase of the India-Pakistan relationship has been when General Pervez Musharraf was in charge. With Pakistan's power structure more splintered now, it has become that much more difficult to engage productively on critical issues such as Kashmir, terrorism and the evolving political set-up in
Afghanistan. That there has been, of late, a cautious re-engagement with Islamabad means that Kayani has green-lighted any efforts made by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani - all the more reason to talk to him directly about those contentious issues. In fact, New Delhi could go further by building on its decision to allow fuel exports to Pakistan. Given the poor state of Pakistan's economy forging such links - particularly when Pakistan's military elite are known to have varied business interests - is the way to buttress the re-engagement process.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

GLASS CEILING, STICKY FLOOR

BACHI KARKARIA

It was cherry blossom time in Washington DC, but spring wasn't in the air for the media professionals gathered there to discuss the first comprehensive Global Report of the Status of Women in the News Business. Commissioned by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF), the research took two years, covered 1,70,000 people in 500 news media companies in 60 countries divided into seven regions. It assessed gender equity by looking at representation, pay differences, hiring practices, growth opportunities and pro-equality policies or the lack of them. The weighty document clearly proved that high-profile women swallowing TV screens didn't make a summer.


The definitive baseline data nailed the gender gap. Globally, two out of three reporting jobs are still held by men, and women account for only 27% of those making decisions in news media companies. It may be a jump up from their 12% share of top management jobs posted by Margaret Gallagher in her 1995 study, 'An Unfinished Story', but women in the news business have a huge chunk still left to file.


In the Asian region, women form just 13% of those in senior management, and don't get fooled by the seemingly impressive statistics from Eastern Europe. Its percentages come close to the ideal Nordic Europe, but that isn't because communism had engendered equality. It's just that media jobs are lower paid, and so shunned by men. In the 10 Indian newspapers, six TV stations and one radio station covered by the study, men outnumber women 4:1, and the under-representation is found across categories, the worst being top management (13.8%).


Expectedly, Enemy No. 1 was the 'glass ceiling': institutionalised, usually implicit, prejudices which block qualified women from advancing to the rarefied heights. At one level, they are there in strong, feisty numbers, and in the next, they have fallen off the map. Only Nordic Europe has effectively dismantled this notorious barrier, which persists even in countries where women are close to achieving near parity in absolute numbers; namely, Germany, Canada and South Africa.


As the discussions on the report got underway, another suspect emerged - from women's own ranks. It even had a name: the 'sticky floor'. It's the comfort zone from which women would rather not shift, usually for personal reasons. A guest speaker summed it up: "A man looks in the mirror and sees a senator, whereas a woman has to be pushed to see herself in the top jobs." And, one might add, fight off all the hissing if she takes on the defining attribute of the bitch goddess, success.


So, are women their worst enemies? Their own as well as those of their sisters struggling to make it up the ladder and past the snakes of the newsroom and the management floors? Post the March conference, the IWMF put out a general wish list to stem discrimination, with specific plans of action for the different regions. It's also worth thinking seriously about some points which surfaced during the workshops on the global report's key parameters.

One, it's not more women at the upper levels but the right kind of women at all levels which will counter both architectural flaws of the equity edifice: it will help more women push past the glass ceiling, and encourage more of them to disengage themselves from the sticky floor. Two, the gender gap in salaries increases the higher you go, so it is important to work towards transparency right down to the fine print. Three, contracts for women should be more flexible. It can work for or against women, but, either way, the aim should be towards a clear-cut system with little room for the boss's whim - and, as important, the employee's deliverables. Audits of work and time are healthy.


Indeed, it should be no one's case that affirmative action is a permanent entitlement. No system will work if ending one gender discrimination leaves the other gender vulnerable; a zero-sum game never adds up to any lasting value. Nor can women be allowed to exploit gender to cover up their professional inadequacies. Organisations can create a list of do's and don'ts for a gender-friendly environment without either side being adversarial or uptight.


Four, technology's bounding advances make it a huge ally of flexibility, and should be fully used. Globally, more women reporters would rather cover conflict than pursue investigative stories. Yet this is the genre which frees women from the straitjackets of desk and deadline; it should be proactively nudged up the hierarchy. But technology is also a gender enemy. Skills-building policies must help women get over their innate resistance to it and learn to start appeasing this new media god. Else, they'll be damned.


Finally, the most effective way to reduce the gender gap is to recognise a usually sabotaged truth: women add vital value to news gathering and news management, which is why it is important to work around the baggage they also inevitably carry. Women bring a different perspective to the job, and so help create more rounded stories - and attract a bigger audience. Media companies should ensure more equitable representation not because it's good for women, but because it's good for business. Manifestly.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMESVIEW

GIVE GRASS COURTS THEIR DUE

 

Winning his sixth Barcelona Open title in seven years, World No. 1 tennis player Rafael Nadal looks set to retain his dominance on clay courts. However, despite his awe-inspiring performance on the red dirt, the Spaniard has on several occasions lamented the dearth of grass court tournaments in the ATP calendar. Sandwiched between the almost two-month-long clay court season and the North American hard court season, a mere four weeks are devoted to grass court tournaments. Barring the marquee event at Wimbledon, the grass court season can't even boast of a Masters Series tournament. There is a case for increasing the number of grass court tournaments even if it means cutting into the clay and hard court seasons.


There are several good reasons for this. First, the lack of sufficient play on grass courts has meant a slow death for the serve-and-volley game. Great grass court players such as Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova are good examples why this skill should be preserved. No other surface holds out as tough an inspection of a player's speed and basic skills as the grass court. Hard and clay courts incentivise powerful baseline play, while grass courts incentivise finesse and elegance, enticing players to the net and rewarding aggressive play. There is no reason why the two can't coexist with equal emphasis being given to all the surfaces. Besides, the true mark of a great player is if he can win on all surfaces and make the transition between them seamlessly.


Second, hard and clay courts can be a huge physical strain on the body and force players to cut short their careers. On the other hand, grass courts being natural surfaces and conducive for light footwork are less likely to cause grave injuries. Taken together, a longer grass court season would be beneficial for the overall development of the game.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

HARD TO IGNORE HARD COURTS

AJAY VAISHNAV

 

It is not surprising that hard courts are slowly but surely establishing themselves as the surface of choice for professional tennis. While the traditionalists continue to invoke the aesthetics of grass or clay courts, they fail to understand and accept the obvious reasons for the evolution and inexorable advance of hard courts, most notably in the ATP circuit. In fact, their barbs can be easily compared with those who criticise the rise of Twenty20 format against Test cricket. It has not been able to halt the advance of the T20 format as proved by the increased TRPs and the success of the Indian Premier League.


A primary reason for hard courts edging out grass courts is the latter's high maintenance. While grass courts must be watered and mown often, clay courts need to be rolled to preserve flatness. Again, the clay court's water content must be balanced, while grass courts take a longer time to dry after rain. The organisers of Wimbledon are sticking to grass courts purely for historical reasons. On the other hand the organisers of the US Open and Australian Open, who do not mind relying on technology, have switched to hard courts. An added advantage of hard courts is that they are better placed to spread the cause of lawn tennis at the grass-roots level (pun fully intended), since they are easier to prepare.


To associate grass courts with fewer injuries doesn't have much scientific or medical basis. It's not clear if it's just a figment of imagination of tennis pros, coaches and players. There need to be more studies on this. Even if found to be the case, with technology on our side, it is not difficult to make a hard court simulate a grass court and, therefore, less punishing on the joints and muscles.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS

He's India's best cricket captain ever. The man who taught the Indian team to win. Showed the establishment that parochial politics has no place in modern sport. Ended the rein of soft city boys and opened the door for hungry, talented kids from small towns smacking their lips at the thought of winning glory in Test whites. Or easy cash in coloured pajamas, whichever. Hell, he's a metaphor for India's economic success story, rising global clout and firm but benevolent rule of the cricketing world. Take that, former colonial masters.


Hold on, though. Are we talking about Sourav Ganguly or Mahendra Singh Dhoni?

That's the strange part. For all their protestations of undying affection for India's new World Cup-winning captain, our cricket pundits don't actually seem to have put any effort into penning their odes to him. It reads well enough, their attempts to invest Dhoni's success with sociological, cultural and economic significance. But all they're doing is singing the same old tune that was written back in 2001 and has been a staple of our cricket writing ever since. Witness a sample from Time magazine's profile of Dhoni, 52nd on their 100 most influential people list: the writer rhapsodises about Dhoni's rise from small town roots and how he's shown that you don't need pedigree and connections to succeed when you have talent. The man who taught India how to win, he calls him.

And he's far from the most egregious example. I suppose that makes Ganguly's repeated humbling of the mighty Aussies - and his moulding of a disparate bunch who might never have gotten a game if not for his taking on zonal politics, into a formidable team - irrelevant. A false dawn. It didn't feel like one at the time. A cursory look through the columns written by the same pundits back then shows that they didn't think so either. And now poor Dada's a relic best forgotten, all that hyperbole about the Bengali iconoclast doing to the Australians what they had done unto others notwithstanding.


What of Zaheer Khan, for that matter? Munaf Patel? Irfan Pathan? R P Singh? Figments of our collective imagination, all? Because at one time or the other, they have all been hailed as proof that the old class system built into our cricket infrastructure was being dismantled. That you didn't need to come from a traditional cricketing centre or know how to speak English to make it big in the Indian team.


And the theory about Dhoni containing within him all that is great and good about India's economic growth is even more tired. Never mind Ganguly, they were saying it about Sachin Tendulkar back in the 1990s. A new hero for a new India they called him, so unlike the doyen of Indian batting until then, Sunil Gavaskar. Gavaskar looked to defend, Tendulkar attacked. Gavaskar batted to avoid defeat, Tendulkar conjured desert storms with his flashing blade. Post-liberalisation, with India's economic growth finally kicking on after decades of stagnating at the so-called Hindu rate, who better to encapsulate its new avatar? The country was on the move.

And then, apparently, stalled. And moved again for Ganguly. And stalled just in time for Dhoni to - well, make it move again.


I yield to no man in my admiration for Dhoni, he of the cast iron cojones. But really now, you don't need to exhume the corpse of Ganguly's captaincy and strip it of its burial suit to get new togs for the man. Write something fresh. Crazy, i know. But the man who invented the helicopter shot would approve.


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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

A FRIENDSHIP OF CONVENIENCE

The odd couple of international relations, the US and Pakistan, are in need of marriage counseling. The source of marital discord has been known for some time. The two supposedly wed because of a common war on terrorism but Pakistan has open infidelities with a cluster of militants. This was bluntly stated last week by the US military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen. He spoke of the "core problem" in US-Pakistan relations being the support given to the Taliban's Haqqani network by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This contradiction has been around for some time, but it has become harder to paper over. The American military operations in the Af-Pak have increasingly focussed on terrorist groups closest to the Pakistan military. Drone strikes have targeted the Haqqani network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, both cultivated by Islamabad. The Raymond Davis incident highlighted how the US was tracking the activities of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, another one of Rawalpindi's terrorist wards.

It's hard to have sympathy for Pakistan, which has painted itself into a corner over terrorism. Having helped create groups like the Taliban and the Lashkar to further its interests, most of which are defined in opposition to India, Pakistan has since found that many have developed minds of their own. Islamabad has welcomed US attacks on groups that have turned against Pakistan, like the Tehrik-e-Taliban. But it continues to protect the ones it hopes to use against India or, increasingly, Afghanistan. However, its endgame in both cases is unwinding. Its support for the Haqqani network was predicated on the assumption that the US would pull out of Afghanistan in the next few years — an increasingly unlikely prospect. But Rawalpindi is probably taking heart from indications that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, is seeking reconciliation with the Taliban elements closest to Islamabad. While it plays militantpolitik, Pakistan's economy and civil society are crumbling. This is making that country ever more dependent on Washington's dole even as anti-Americanism reaches historic highs in Pakistani. At a time when India's economic and global clout is growing exponentially, Islamabad's ability to extract concessions on bilateral disputes by holding on to the likes of Lashkar is also shrinking rapidly.

In theory, Islamabad can still work its way out of its present hole. But it needs to accept that its terrorism gambit has costs that far outweigh any potential benefits. It needs to combine the opportunity dialogue which India offers with the present overtures it is receiving from Kabul to settle its neighbourhood issues. And it then needs to settle the US's concerns about al-Qaeda. All this requires innovation and leadership in Islamabad that, so far, is largely absent. The US and Pakistan will patch up because they need each other. However, this will not further Pakistan along the path of becoming a 'normal' State. And that is the crux of the issue.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

THE LAUGH'S ON US

Who would have thought that geeks had it in them to make a career out of giggles? Well, apparently some of them have a funny bone enough to discard the world of complex calculations and crazy circuitry to raise a laugh, and some cash in the process. Nitin Gupta, a former student of IIT-Bombay, is one such who refused traditional job offers to start a stand-up comedy company, Entertainment Engineers, in 2009. A couple of years on, his company is 10-member strong, has many former IITians on the team and is the darling of events at engineering college campuses and corporate bodies.

Their website proudly proclaims that "humour is the chlorophyll of life", before elaborating on the 'date of discovery' of the company, its 'constituent elements', as well as the 'appearance, occurrence and instructions for use'. Not surprisingly, in this world of byte-sized laughter, god is a geek (or are all geeks gods?) who experiments to create vegetarian lions and compassionate crocodiles till he falls in love with a woman who is an atheist.

Given the Indian middle class's obsessive compulsive attachment to the IITs and their single-track endeavour to ensure their children transit safely from classroom to corporate boardroom, the development might resemble a sudden incursion into a chamber of horrors. To such parents, who might have stifled a child's inherent interest to cater to established norms, we say that the joke is on them. To the humour-mongers themselves, we have more potent advice. Having cracked what is possibly the most challenging entrance examination in the country, they should turn their incisive gaze on themselves and cure us of obsessing with nerds. As George Bernard Shaw had said, telling the truth is perhaps the funniest joke in the world. For profundity, the comedians from IIT must also learn to laugh at themselves.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WHEN PAUL MET BILL

PAUL ALLEN,

In the summer of 1972, when I was home in Seattle from college and Bill Gates was heading into his senior year at Lakeside School, we were casting for our maiden business venture. Bill had contracted with a company that measured traffic patterns by counting the car wheels that ran over pressure-sensitive rubber tubes. Every 15 minutes, a machine would punch a sequence of holes onto a customised paper tape, with each pattern representing a number of cars. The tapes had to be manually read and then repunched onto batch-loaded computer cards.

I wondered instead about using a minicomputer. Intel had a new eight-bit microprocessor, the 8008, that I thought could process traffic-flow data analysis. We tracked down an electrical-engineering student, and soon he had a workable sketch for Traf-O-Data, the name Bill proposed. Armed with our data charts on hourly traffic flow, any county would know just where to install stoplights or focus road repairs. Bill and I scraped together $360 and picked up an 8008 chip at a local electronics store.

Two years later, we had a working prototype machine (built on a $1,500 budget). There was just one catch. Despite efforts to sell our wares as far afield as South America, we had virtually no customers. Traf-O-Data was a good idea with a flawed business model. It hadn't occurred to us to do any market research, and we had no idea how hard it would be to get capital commitments from municipalities. Between 1974 and 1980, Traf-O-Data totaled net losses of $3,494. We closed shop shortly thereafter.

Since then, I have made my share of business mistakes, but Traf-O-Data remains my favorite mistake because it confirmed to me that every failure contains the seeds of your next success. It bolstered my conviction that micro-processors would soon run the same programmes as larger computers, but at a much lower cost. It also sparked my idea to simulate the 8008 microchip environment on a mainframe, which led to Altair BASIC — the first high-level language designed to run on a microprocessor. This was the essential step toward a personal computer that anyone could use, and the keystone for the creation of Microsoft.

Paul Allen is the founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc and co-founder of Microsoft. His memoir, Idea Man, has just been published.
Washington Post Writers Group. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

LOVE WITH DETACHMENT

AK BHARGAVA


Most of the people I know believe that there can't be any love without attachment. Yes, to some extent that is true if we have to interact with others. For most of us, real love does not exist as normally it is full of selfish motives. Maybe, attachment can also be categorised in three ways.

Sattvic attachment is that which is devoid of selfish motive, like that of mother for her child. Rajasik contains self-interest but is harmless for others but can turn into hate if the person does not act according to one's will.

Tamsic attachment is lust, infatuation, greed and craving for something at the cost of others.

The essence of life is that there is no harm in getting attached but one must be prepared to get detached at a moment's notice.

The secret of life is to remain attached outwardly but be detached inwardly like a father playing snake and ladder with his son. Both are about to win but father shows agitation outside but is cool from inside.

Rama left Ayodhya within 12 hours without a second thought and never looked back, Krishna was supposed to be very much attached with the Gopis of Vrandavan but once he left Vrandavan, he never went there again.

This reminds me of two instances. A man's son had gone abroad and was to return for a short holiday with his wife and child after five years.

The man was very excited. When his son with family came out, the son told him that they have decided to go to his in-law's place in Gurgaon since the house there is more comfortable. The man was shocked and went back home and had a heart attack. That is attachment.On the contrary, one fine morning a retired man's son informed him that he got married and is leaving for the States for a few years.

The parents sent them all the blessings and told him that they were always available to him and he could always come back to them in the hour of need. That is love with detachment.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

GOD KNOWS

FARRUKH DHONDY

I  was in Mumbai over the memorable days of the final matches of World Cup cricket. I am not in any sense a cricket fan. I don't know Silly Mid-off from Crooked Madoff, but mention it to mark the fact that it was not so long ago. I was invited to dinner by old friend Kabir Bedi, his charming and beautiful partner Parveen and equally 'c&b' daughter Puja.

Having started this as a name-dropping column, I should recall the circumstances under which my name was dropped — from the proceedings in which it should have been extolled — thanks to 'friend' Kabir. More than a year ago I was invited to Italy on a lecture tour, speaking to university students of literature or of English about my own writing. The talks and readings in Bologna went very well. I was then transported to the mosaiced city of Ravenna to address a large student audience with the assistance of a bilingual chairperson. In introducing me and my writing the chair mentioned that apart from the books they had been compelled by their course to read, I had also written films for the Indian industry.

Before I could get into the short story I had bookmarked, a hand went up from the audience.

"Did you mean you write for Bollywood?"

"Yes," replied the chair, "Now we are delighted that Mr..."

A few more hands were raised before she finished her sentence. "So do you know Kabir Bedi?" a bold young lady asked.

"Yes, he's a friend of mine." There were 'oohs' and 'aahs' all around the hall and several hands shot up, but their owners didn't wait for their questions to be called.

"What's he like?"

"Is he married?"

"Does he have a girlfriend?"

"Don't be silly, of course he has a girlfriend!"

"Have you seen Sandokan?"

"What aftershave does he use?"

"Is his voice dubbed?"

Before I could frame even one answer, the chair held up her hand to bring order to the house.

"Mr Dhondy is here to read his own stories — questions about his writing or literature later, please!"

I began, aware of a certain restlessness in the hall. I didn't finish, but came to a nodal point in the story and ingeniously asked them to write possible endings to it for homework.

"Now let's get on with your questions. Even Kabir."

Smiles all round and again a dozen hands shot up. Their teachers lining the wall frowned. I mentioned the film we made together and talked about Kabir's role as the emperor who built the Taj Mahal. I think I said something about Puja and advertising. I forced myself to be content to write myself out of the morning's script.

Now dining with Kabir at one of his favourite restaurants and not having seen him for some time we exchanged notes about what we each were doing. I mentioned the piece of fiction (to be published soon, but I shan't advertise!), which starts with a real assignment that I was given in 1979 or thereabouts, to return to my home town Pune and report back on the Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh ashram and try and get an interview with him.

I didn't realise it, but Kabir is something of a fan of Bhagwan Rajneesh, or Osho, as he was later called. I volunteered the possibly apocryphal account I had been given by an ex-devotee as to why he had changed his name. Rajneesh had realised that in old Sanskrit the word 'Bhagwan' was synonymous with 'Yoni' the word meaning the external female genitalia. Since he didn't want to be labelled the 'Y', he changed his designation.

Kabir wasn't receptive to this particular version of events. He talked about the works of Rajneesh, or Osho, or whatever, that he had read and said they were the most sublime interpretations of Indian philosophy that he had come across. There was no gainsaying that, but I did beg to differ. My own reading of Rajneesh is that he remains, some Californians not withstanding, the cleverest intellectual confidence trickster that India has produced. His output of the 'interpretation' of Indian texts is specifically slanted towards a generation of disillusioned westerners who wanted (and perhaps still want) to 'have their cake, eat it' claim at the same time that cake-eating is the highest virtue according to ancient-fused-with-scientific wisdom. His lectures are designed for those who might have difficulty with Schopenhauer or in coming to grips with the monistic ultimate of Shankara's Advait Vedanta.

It may very well be that Master Osho had read and digested in truth the essence of Vedanta, or for that matter of Spinoza or St John of the Cross. But reading his commentaries on 'philosophy' — this simply doesn't come through. The texts and speeches are full of homilies and seem in the main to be guides towards daily happiness and peace of mind. I didn't broach our differences of perception or critical assessment with Kabir — he was paying for the meal and wine.

It has always struck me as ironic that philosophies that were framed to induce suffering humanity to renounce attachment are in our times adopted as ways to getting attached to the best or most exclusive designer products. I have come across Buddhist circles who chant the Buddha's scriptures in order to get a Mercedes Benz. If the Buddha had a grave wouldn't he be detachedly spinning in it?

Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

HOUSE RENOVATIONS

 

Legislatures have been in ferment in two of the most mature democracies. In Britain, they await the result of an early May referendum on reforming the first-past-the-post system of electing representatives and on mandating a fixed term for the House of Commons. In the US Senate, the uses of the filibuster, the longstanding technique of holding off the majority in the House, have been contested. The point appears to be to nudge old-fashioned legislatures into a better connect with representative democracy. But, here in India, where recent images of Parliament being serially adjourned due to disruptions have conveyed an impression of stasis, we often forget how the institution, less than 60 years after the first Lok Sabha was elected, is constantly evolving by responding to new situations. The constant effort at change is worth highlighting at this point, when it is felt that proceedings are somehow not able to accommodate the issues and debates of the day.

As our columnist, the Congress's Jayanthi Natarajan, points out today, the standing committees of Parliament are a relatively recent innovation, dating back to 1993. They have deepened Parliament's mandated oversight over the government and made it more consultative — discussions take place away from the public glare, de-incentivising grandstanding and also allowing MPs to respond to a subject without the constraints of the party line. But given the nature of issues that arise, she recommends that there be easier access to experts to guide members if need be. Similarly, our columnist on Monday, the BJP's Arun Jaitley listed more reforms that could be adopted to strengthen Parliament. The duration of sessions, he noted, is too short, at an estimated 70 days to admit all the issues agitating MPs. The level of engagement could be further raised by adopting the Westminster tradition of prime minister's questions. And to liberate MPs to speak their mind, perhaps the anti-defection law can be relaxed by excluding debates — as opposed to voting — from its stringent purview.

The Congress and the BJP, as the largest parties, must share most of the blame for the manner in which debate has been allowed to flee the House. But equally, they have the power to reverse that by reconfiguring Parliament's procedures to keep it more engaged. For that, they must talk to each other, importing the spirit of consultation from the committees to the floor of the House. We hope an actionable debate has only just begun.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NOT LOOKING EAST

 

Mohammed Faruk Khan is a former colonel in the Bangladesh army. Perhaps that's got something to do with his startling departure from the normal mealy-mouthed protocol that follows bilateral meetings. Bangladesh's commerce minister, after an official meeting with his Indian counterpart, Anand Sharma, snapped that India's concessions on textile imports were "peanuts". He was, of course, right. Sharma had made a big deal of the fact that India had raised the import quota from 8 million to 10 million. But Bangladesh, as Khan reminded us, is the world's second-largest exporter of textiles, and it is also trying hard to decrease a ballooning trade deficit with India. It would have behoved New Delhi to have tried a little harder to convince the Bangladeshis that India is committed to strengthening ties.

This is just another depressing reminder that the government seems bent on wasting a crucial historical moment. There's a friendly government in Dhaka, and it is posting excellent development indicators. India has a "Look East" policy nominally in place, and needs to streamline access for its under-performing eastern states to global markets. All these ideas should come together to make a strong case for wooing Bangladesh like never before. Yet, even as the government in Dhaka sends out overture after overture, Delhi's response has been dilatory, even uninterested.

There are two reasons why this would be a mistake of great magnitude. The first is that, if this moment is wasted, India will have lost the best opportunity it has yet had to ensure that at least one of its larger neighbours is bound to it strongly by chains of mutual enterprise and profit. The second is that it would have a cascading effect on our integration eastwards. Building joint infrastructure — whether canals along the Teesta on the border between the two Bengals, or railway lines running from Agartala, or a bridge over the Pheni river connecting Mizoram to Bangladesh — would open up access to the ports at Chittagong and Mongla, reducing costs for trade to India's Northeast dramatically, and further integrating India with Southeast Asia. This isn't an opportunity to be missed. But it looks like Delhi will miss it.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

UNFAIR, THEN AND NOW

 

The Samba spy case is one of the oddest stories in the annals of our military history — in 1975, several junior army officers were indicted on charges of espionage for Pakistan. After being tipped off by the Intelligence Bureau, the military intelligence authorities took over the case and rushed through an "investigation" of 50 officers and jawans from the Samba regiment, which involved extensive interrogation, torture and jailing. This, despite the fact that the case appeared sketchy from the start and, four years later, a joint team from the IB, R&AW and J&K police had scotched most allegations.

Why were these people framed? It appears as though the motive was to cover up the actions of two Pakistan-loyal gunners, Sarwan Dass and Aya Singh — and on the flimsy basis of their testimony, a whole chain of Indian armymen were arrested. Two prime ministers, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, sought reviews of the case. Recently, a post-mortem report of Havaldar Ram Swaroop surfaced, clinching the fact that torture was used to extract "confessions". Sarwan Dass himself confessed to his crime in 2001, but mystifyingly, his affidavit was not included in the evidence presented. Despite efforts by the victims' families and concerned officials, the case remained unresolved — with military intelligence, the courts, and later the army tribunal refusing to clear the reputations of the Samba accused. And yet, Captain R.S Rathaur, one of the most prominent among them, refuses to let matters rest, asserting his right to justice.

The Samba case illustrates the worst excesses of the army's disciplinary proceedings, insulated from any appellate authority. For years, it was lobbed between courts, and even after the Armed Forces Tribunal was set up in 2007, this case was rejected on "technical grounds". Surely we must settle the question once and for all.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE MPS YOU DON'T SEE

JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

 

The introduction of direct telecast of parliamentary proceedings has probably had a major, and hitherto unexplored, impact upon the public psyche. While some MPs imagine that their antics in obstructing the work of Parliament, for instance preventing the Women's Reservation Bill or demanding the formation of some JPC, may endear them to their constituents, I believe that the conduct of some parliamentarians has actually exposed the entire system to public obloquy.

News reports which blazon headlines about how the entire Union budget was passed in one minute without any discussion, after Parliament had been stalled for days, or about how important legislation was pushed through amidst a din of slogan-shouting, further add to the impression that Parliament has degenerated into complete chaos.

However, the truth of the matter is that while drama and political theatrics are a colourful part of our parliamentary system, our Parliament and our MPs actually conduct a great deal of serious work during discussions in various committees of Parliament where legislation, demands for grants and major issues of policy are discussed in great detail. The greatest asset of the committee system in our Parliament is the general atmosphere of harmony in which the committees function, usually in a spirit of serious thought and considered consensus. It's a great pity that the Indian public is mostly unaware of the commendable work that is actually being carried out by the various committees of Parliament.

As chair of the standing committee on law, justice, personnel and public grievances, it was my privilege to submit the report on the controversial Women's Reservation Bill. In our committee, we had heated discussions, but the discussions always shed more light than heat. We heard the evidence of a large cross-section of stakeholders, and ultimately presented a report to Parliament, strongly recommending the passage of the bill, but two of our members added notes of dissent. The point was, our committee succeeded in achieving what Parliament as a larger body could not do, namely to rationally discuss the issue and arrive at a conclusion (which included contrary points of view).

On issues like the appointment of judges or judicial accountability, or the filling up of vacancies of SC posts in government service, the degree of unanimity in the committee is quite spectacular. Therefore, in this general atmosphere of gloom about the nature of our parliamentary system, the public needs to understand a little about the largely successful functioning of the committee system in Parliament.

The work done by Parliament is not only varied in nature, but considerable in volume. The time at its disposal is limited. It cannot, therefore, give close consideration to all the legislative and other matters that come up before it. A good deal of its business is, therefore, transacted by what are called parliamentary committees. Parliamentary committees are of two kinds: ad hoc committees and standing committees. Ad hoc committees are appointed for a specific purpose and they cease to exist when they finish the task assigned to them and submit a report. Core committees which keep Parliament functioning are, naturally, the Business Advisory Committees of both Houses, which decide the work to be transacted by Parliament, and other House committees which play a crucial role in monitoring the functioning of the executive, notably the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings, among others.

A full-fledged system of departmentally related standing committees (originally 17, now increased to 24) came into being in April 1993. These committees cover under their jurisdiction all the ministries/ departments of the Government of India and their functions are: consideration of demands for grants; examination of bills referred to them by the chairman of Rajya Sabha or the speaker of Lok Sabha; consideration of annual reports; consideration of national, basic, long-term policy documents presented to the House and referred to the committee by the chairman, Rajya Sabha, or the speaker, Lok Sabha, as the case may be. These committees do not consider matters of day-to-day administration of the concerned ministries/ departments.

The standing committee system is a path-breaking endeavour for parliamentary surveillance over administration. The committees are also expected to provide necessary direction, guidance and inputs for broad policy formulations and in achievement of the long-term national perspective by the government. They sit during, and between recesses of, Parliament, and examine in detail the functioning of ministries. Their reports are tabled, and while not binding upon government, they have immense value in terms of their recommendations. The most fundamental benefit of these committees is that while they consist of MPs from both Houses and all parties, they do not generally function on party lines, and there is no voting, only provisions for notes of dissent. There is therefore immense scope in these committees for individual members to make contributions in terms of policy and legislation.

Generally, MPs make an honest effort to ensure that the working of the ministry be as effective as possible. In most cases, the working of the committees is a heartening feature of our parliamentary system, because MPs do hold shared views, irrespective of party affiliation, and do tend to achieve consensus on a wide variety of issues. The standing committees should, and do in fact, look upon the executive government in the light of a partner in ensuring accountability, transparency and effective implementation of policy and legislation. However, it is my considered opinion that the bureaucracy is a determined roadblock in the collection and free flow of information. Since ministers are not generally summoned before committees, it is usually senior bureaucrats who present the views and working of the ministry to the committee, and more often than not the information provided is obfuscatory and dense in nature, mostly tending to be a defensive and supercilious presentation on the topic at hand. In other words, a presentation of the annual report of the ministry.

In these circumstances, it becomes difficult for MPs to sift through the chaff, and many MPs have felt that it would be useful to have outside experts available. In fact, experts are sometimes invited to give their views. However, the final problem lies in the fact that the vast majority of the recommendations are not implemented by any government, thereby rendering the valuable work done by the committee rather pointless. A triumph of red tape and bureaucracy over elective and participatory democracy.

The writer, a spokesperson for the Congress, is a member of Rajya Sabha express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

LEARN BY DOING

ARUN MAIRA

 

Will the economy grow at 8.5 per cent or 9.5 per cent in the Twelfth Plan? It depends on some external factors, like the condition of the global economy. But mostly, it depends on the pace of implementation within the country: implementation of power and infrastructure projects; implementation of new strategies to grow manufacturing; implementation of social sector programmes, etc. Therefore, the question should not be how much the economy will grow, but how it can be made to grow. And the focus should not be on GDP growth, which is the outcome, but the rate of improvement in implementation, its driver.

This was the consensus of civil society organisations, business associations, and citizens at large, in their extensive consultations with the Planning Commission to prepare the approach to the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. In the words of a business leader, summarising the feedback of a multi-sectoral consultation on the required approach: "If the Plan does not put implementation front and centre, we will not take the rest of the Plan seriously."

Though implementation is the key to achieving better numbers, it is generally not easy to get policy-makers and planners to focus on it. There is a fascination with the tracking of numbers. Prof Dorit, a legendary teacher of operations management at the Harvard Business School would exhort every new class: "Gentlemen, make it; don't just keep track of it!" He lost the battle. Harvard business graduates, and graduates of the best Indian business schools too (many of whom are engineering graduates), are not interested in manufacturing, and making real things. They aspire for opportunities to make money as investment bankers and consultants. Because there is more money and glamour in the business of tracking numbers, analysing numbers, talking about numbers, investing in numbers (and derivatives of numbers), and betting on numbers.

Organisations and countries that implement more effectively get more bang for the buck. They need less resources to get results. Moreover, in a competitive world, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is the ability of an organisation or country to learn, change, and improve faster than all potential competition. Those ahead will be surpassed by those who were behind but improved and implemented faster. China has surpassed India. Now, in several industries, Malaysia, Vietnam, and even Bangladesh are catching up with India. As in industry, so in the social sector — many developing countries are improving their social indicators faster than India.

Implementation is about improving the way things are done. Therefore it is about process. Many policy-makers in India seem to consider attention to process a waste of time. They say they would rather focus on monitoring results. They miss the fundamental point: good results are the outcome of good process. This is a lesson the Japanese taught the world when they built their industries into world-beaters in quality and cost by concentrating on process improvement throughout their enterprises. Then others learned too. Total Quality Management and Six Sigma, which are ways for improving processes, are now being used by private sector and government organisations in many countries. Indian auto parts companies who have adopted this approach have become world-class producers. It is especially noteworthy that some tribal villages in Jharkhand, who were taught these techniques, have rapidly improved their agricultural productivity, infrastructure, and quality of livelihood. The point is that implementation and rapid improvement must be the approach for India to improve the lives of people, competitiveness of its enterprises, and growth of its GDP.

Processes for implementation must be designed into policies and plans. Otherwise policies and plans remain intentions. When many stakeholders are affected by policies, these stakeholders must be part of not only the implementation of the policies, but also their formulation. Otherwise, rather than becoming enablers of implementation, they can become its disablers. The Planning Commission has considered several spurs to better implementation that may be applied as we move into the Twelfth Plan. Several of these are being considered by government and may be implemented even before the Plan is formally underway.

The administrative system must be reformed, urgently, to ensure accountability and professionalism. The Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended the necessary changes. These must be implemented. The architecture of Centrally-sponsored schemes must be changed to enable innovations that suit local conditions. Citizen participation must be designed into the schemes for planning, monitoring, and even participation in delivery where feasible. Silos within government must be broken down. Schemes must be consolidated and team goals set, and monitored, to achieve outcomes that require collaboration amongst many ministries.

When results are not being achieved, setting up another review agency or committee often slows down action further. There are too many review and coordination agencies in some areas, rather than too few. Their numbers must be reduced to a critical few only, who must be empowered and held accountable for ensuring that results are achieved. Finally, functionaries at all levels need refresher courses in how to make improvements and manage implementation: by building consensus amongst stakeholders and managing to a plan. These disciplines and their tools must be widely taught throughout the country, like Japan disseminated Total Quality across its nation.

The writer is a member of the Planning Commission

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

PUTTING SCHOOLING TO THE TEST

R GOVINDA

 

Amendments to the Indian Constitution are not unusual, but a change in the Fundamental Rights section is a rare, momentous occasion. In August 2002, the basic character of the Constitution was amended to make free and compulsory education a fundamental right of every child. It took seven long years after that for the Parliament to adopt the Right to Education (RTE) legislation, and the law became operational little over a year ago.

Recently, the government of India released a report on the progress made. Clearly, consequential action has begun to gather pace in most states. However, very little is known about how the law takes tangible shape at the ground level, in schools and classrooms.

RTE is the only Central legislation in school education that continues to be controlled and supervised by the states. The Centre and various states have yet to agree on their respective roles, with sensitive federal questions at stake. Though many state governments have vouched for their commitment to RTE, they seem to be still gauging the level of their direct responsibility for implementing a Central Act. And without the full ownership and active interest of state governments, the law is unlikely to get implemented at all.

RTE expects every school to maintain a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:30. For this to happen, the country needs to appoint more than a million teachers in the next couple of years. Where do we find so many of them? Further, this shortage of qualified teachers is a problem mainly in eight states. As a human resource development ministry report identifies, these states not only have a high percentage of untrained teachers but also a low capacity for teacher preparation. Further, the Act demands that the teacher-pupil ratio be maintained by every school, implying that mere state-level and district-level averages will not suffice. Irrational deployment is a problem in almost all states, but it is not an easy issue to tackle, as transfers and postings are highly politicised in most states.

RTE expects that every school be equipped with certain minimum infrastructure. As the specifications are so basic, that should not create any issue. But there are simply too many government schools that currently fail to meet the benchmark, despite enormous investments made in recent years under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. This clause is also likely to pose a challenge to non-governmental organisations and small private schools which invariably function with subminimal facilities using scarce resources from charity or relatively small school fees. Can we afford to push them out altogether? What would happen to children attending these schools? Should the government provide supplementary resources? While many NGOs are agitated over this question, state governments appear barely concerned.

The Act envisages major de-centralisation of school management by mandating the constitution of a school management committee in every school with a significant representation of parents. In addition, the monitoring of the Act's implementation at the local level is vested with panchayati raj bodies. This demands high levels of involvement from parents and teachers as well as the local political leadership.

But unfortunately not much has been done to develop awareness and capabilities among teachers, headmasters and school management committee members or panchayati raj representatives. As of now, most of these people are unaware of the implications of RTE to their work. The task is staggering, with around 1.3 million schools and around 6 million teachers. There is yet no established mechanism to reach out on such a large scale within the state system. This can be done only through mass mobilisation, possibly with civil society support. It is urgent that civil society agencies as well as the government (state and Central) engage in an exercise of re-drawing their roles in the implementation of the Act.

Despite the regulatory framework, teacher preparation in the country is in total chaos. It should be recognised that all external measures for implementing the Act come unstuck if the teacher in the classroom fails to protect the interests of the children. The Act has several specifications on what should happen in the schools and the classrooms. Though notifications have been issued by many states banning corporal punishment, no detention policy, continuous and comprehensive evaluation and so on, serious attention has not been paid to ensuring the rights of the children in the school. This should include the right of every child to be treated properly without discrimination and facilitated to learn as per the curriculum. Without protecting these rights, large assurances will lead us nowhere, and teachers are the prime actors in this regard. The country must invest more in ensuring that teachers are better prepared not only in terms of pedagogy, but also the values that must be upheld .

Much has been written about the issue of 25 per cent seats for economically weaker sections in private schools. Considering that the issue concerns only around 5 per cent of the high-end private schools, this is not likely to significantly impact the implementation and the achievement of the goal of universalisation. Nevertheless, it is a crucial clause for making our schools more inclusive places. There is mounting empirical evidence on the long-term benefits of diverse classrooms .

Many scholars consider inadequate financial allocations a major constraint for the implementation of the Act. It is true that the current levels of resource allocation would not suffice to effectively achieve the RTEgoals. But the immediate challenge is not so much that of inadequate finances; it is about the effective use of the existing resources and monitoring of the implementation of the provisions of the Act. One should assume that with faster growth and increased availability of resources, finances will not be the real hurdle. Further, one should hope that with the Census figures indicating drastic reduction in the population growth rate, the demand for school places will begin to shrink faster, giving greater scope to focus on quality.

The RTE Act gives a five-year window to achieve all these components of the law, and one is already behind us. If we are to keep to the 2015 deadline for full implementation, we must see a far greater sense of urgency on the parts of both the Centre and the state governments.

The writer is vice-chancellor of the National University for Educational Planning and Administration and a member of the national advisory committee on the right to education

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SHOW ME MY DATA

RICHARD H. THALER

"No one knows what I like better than I do." This statement may seem self-evident, but the revolution in information technology has created a growing list of exceptions. Your wireless carrier knows whom you call, and your phone may know where you've been. And your search engine can finish many of your thoughts before you are even done typing them. Companies are accumulating vast amounts of information about your likes and dislikes. The more they know, the more money they can make.

The collection and dissemination of this information raises a host of privacy issues. Protecting our privacy is important, but there's a broader issue: It doesn't include the right to access data about ourselves. Not only should our data be secure; it should also be available for us to use for our own purposes. After all, it is our data.

Here is a guiding principle: If a business collects data on consumers electronically, it should provide them with a version of that data that is easy to download and export to another web site. Think of it this way: you have lent the company your data, and you'd like a copy for your own use.

This month in Britain, the government announced an initiative along these lines called "mydata." (I was an adviser on this project.) Although British law already requires companies to provide consumers with usage information, this programme is aimed at providing the data in a computer-friendly way. To see how such a policy might improve the way markets work, consider how you might shop for a new cellphone service plan. To pick the best plan, you need to be able to estimate how much you use services like texting, social media, music streaming and sending photos. You may not know the answer or be able to express it in megabytes, but your service provider can. Under my proposed rule, your cellphone provider would give you access to a file that includes all the information it has collected on you since you owned the phone, as well as the current fees for each kind of service you use.

If personal data is accompanied by detailed pricing information, consumers will be more aware of how they really use products and how much fees really cost them. And transparent pricing will give honest, high-quality providers a leg up on competitors who rely on obfuscation.

The potential applications are endless. Supermarkets, for example, have already learned that they can attract many customers by offering discounts to "members". This allows the stores to know what they buy and to target coupons based on their purchases. Shoppers can opt out — but only at the cost of losing the discounts.

So let's level the playing field. Why not give you, the consumer, something in return for participating? Require that the supermarket make your purchase history available to you. Before you know it, a smart entrepreneur is likely to devise an app that will direct you to cheap and healthy alternatives that can slim your tummy and fatten your wallet.

The ability of businesses to monitor our behaviour is already a fact of life, and it isn't going away. Of course we must protect our privacy rights. But if we're smart, we'll also use the data that is being collected to improve our own lives.

I hope that companies follow the lead of their British counterparts and cooperate in a "mydata" programme. If they don't, we should require companies to tell you what they already know about you. To paraphrase Moses, let's ask them to "let my data go."

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

YOU FIRST, EUROPE

DAVID E. SANGER

When the battle for Libya seemed to be slipping into stalemate last week, the British, French and Italians sent "military advisers," a phrase that to much of the world suggests the first step on the slippery slope to ground forces. President Obama offered up his administration's favourite weapon: armed Predator drones.

The difference said much about the Obama way when it comes to intervening in armed insurgencies — and his comfort in letting someone else lead the intervention. Caught between two searing experiences in the past two decades — America's failure to do anything in Rwanda and its insistence, over the objection of key allies, on going into Iraq eight years ago — Obama has spent much of the past month experimenting with a third way.

In Libya, he has committed the United States, but only from the air and only from afar. The Europeans, and some of Obama's political opponents at home, sense a lack of commitment. Inside the White House, the opposite argument is made — that after a bruising decade of misadventures, the United States is preserving American power for the moments when truly vital interests need to be protected, while teaching the rest of the world that it will have to police its own backyards.

But is this any way to fight a war? That depends in large part on what one considers to be the objective: protecting the population, ousting Col Muammar Gaddafi — whom Obama has said must go — or making a broader point that the US has once again entered a deeply nonideological, measure-the-cost phase in its foreign policy.

European officials, when promised anonymity, wring their hands that this is the first NATO operation since the creation of the alliance a half-century ago in which the United States has declined to take the lead. Yet the question may be not whether the US leads, but whether it puts its credibility on the line by seeming to enter the conflict half-heartedly. "The problem is the gap between US objectives and what we are willing to do to accomplish them," Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Haass is making the case that President Obama is violating the Powell Doctrine: If you elect to use the US military, you must do so with such overwhelming force that there is no doubt of the outcome. In reality, the rule has been violated often since, but this White House seems intent on creating an Obama Corollary: The Powell Doctrine does not apply when the United States joins a coalition with countries that have a larger stake in the outcome than Washington does. They make no bones about the fact that American power is limited by commitments elsewhere. The message to Europe is: Thanks for the invitation, but it's your neighbourhood, your worry about refugees, and primarily your problem.

Inside the White House, however, there is more than just a ranking of national interests at play. The caution surrounding Libya grows from a central lesson of America's decade at war: When the United States is the driving force of a revolution, it owns the outcome, good or bad.

In Libya, the problem is accentuated by the fact that it's anybody's guess who will be running the country after Colonel Gaddafi is gone. Thus the huge resistance in the Pentagon to giving any kind of lethal weaponry to the rebels, at least until someone can figure out who they are and teach them how to shoot straight. So far, the US is providing uniforms and canteens to the rebels, Gates said last week, adding with a knowing smile, "I'm not worried about our canteen technology falling into the wrong hands."

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE 2G MONEY TRAIL

With its second chargesheet detailing how R200 crore was routed from Shahid Balwa's DB Group to DMK chief M Karunanidhi's wife and daughter's Kalaignar TV, the CBI has moved one step closer to closing the loop in the 2G scam. Though it is strange the CBI chose not to name Karunanidhi's wife Dayaluammal (who owns 60% of the channel) and chose to name just his daughter Kanimozhi and the channel's managing director Sharad Kumar (who own 20% each of the shares of the channel), the chargesheet has details of how the money was transferred in several tranches between December 2008 and August 2009. The dates are also interesting.

Why would money be transferred in December 2008 when the licences were handed out in January 2008, for instance, is an obvious question that comes to mind. The CBI explains this by saying Swan got money for its stake sale to Etisalat in December 2008, implying R200 crore was the payoff for allowing Swan to sell part of its stake to Etisalat—since Trai had recommended that no M&A be allowed till companies had rolled out their networks, allowing the sale to Etisalat was a big favour that Raja did for the DB Group. While Kanimozhi and Sharad Kumar have consistently been arguing this R200 crore was given for a stake sale to Cineyug and later returned with interest when there was a difference on the valuation, the CBI's chargesheet says there was no agreement on the stake sale when the money was given, indeed the CBI says some of the other accused (Asif Balwa and Rajiv Agarwal) have admitted it was an unsecured loan—why would an unsecured loan of R200 crore be given to Kalaignar anyway, and that too routed through three front companies (Dynamix Realty, Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables, and Cineyug Films)? Also, the CBI gives dates on when Kalaignar returned the money—after Raja was interrogated by the CBI. The CBI, of course, will have to prove there was no agreement as the accused will vehemently argue there was an agreement in place when the money was first given in December 2008.

The investigation, of course, still has a way to go, and there may be one or two more chargesheets. While the first chargesheet primarily focussed on just 35 licences issued to Swan and Unitech, the same charge of favouritism by changing the definition of First Come First Served (FCFS) applied to all 157 (122 to newcomers and 35 to dual-technology firms) licences issued by Raja. So the CBI still has to deal with other applicants who moved up the licence queue thanks to the change in FCFS. Nor do any of the chargesheets deal with the dual-technology licences and how some of these were given to 3 firms even before the policy was announced. The second chargesheet, however, is more substantial than the first.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BIT OF A PROBLEM ON CAIRN

When the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Cairn-Vedanta finally meets—the petroleum secretary said, four days ago, that the GoM would meet soon—it would do well to keep in mind the points made by the UK High Commissioner in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While the petroleum ministry has been backing ONGC's claim that Cairn should pay its share of the royalty on production—right now, though ONGC has a 30% stake in the joint venture, it pays all the royalty—the High Commissioner is making a more important point. "Whilst arguments may be made as to whether or not royalty may be cost recoverable", the letter says, "under the provisions of the current Production Sharing Contracts, there are provisions in the contract to deal with any dispute over whether it is or it is not". ONGC may have a point in that it loses money on the deal if it has to pay all the royalty; it may even be right in its interpretation that the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) allows royalty payments to be expensed, but as this newspaper has been arguing, ONGC should have invoked the arbitration clause in the deal by now. More important, instead of trying to arm-twist Cairn to agree to what ONGC wants, the petroleum ministry needs to answer some tough questions on why it did not ensure ONGC's lackadaisical management filed for arbitration.

Both the government and ONGC should also consider the possibility that, at some point, Cairn may just seek to invoke the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) that India has signed with various countries, including the UK. Under the BIT, no government, in India or in the UK, can seek to unfairly penalise businesses from the other country. In the current case, it won't be too difficult for Cairn to make the argument. After all, if the Indian PSU chooses not to go for a third-party arbitration on what the PSC allows or doesn't allow, and instead the government tries to arm-twist Cairn to accept ONGC's interpretation, this does appear a fit case for the BIT. The issue here is a simple one, and it is not about whether ONGC is right or wrong: the issue is whether the government has the right to withhold permission to allow Cairn to sell its stake in Cairn India to Vedanta on the basis of a dispute on which ONGC refuses to fight in court? So, whenever the GoM does meet—the Cabinet passed on the matter to the GoM almost three weeks ago—it would do well to ask the petroleum ministry for an explanation on this.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHAT WILL REPLACE THE DOLLAR?
SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA

The importance of the downgrade of the outlook for US long-term sovereign credit ratings from stable to negative by Standard & Poor's (S&P) a few days ago lay not so much in a deep impact on global economic and financial conditions but a reaffirmation of the concerns that have been repeatedly voiced by a wide variety of stakeholders regarding the ballooning US sovereign debt. This also gives us an opportunity to review the current global economic architecture, which this newspaper has recently succinctly editorialised. To jog your memory, this change in the US outlook had been preceded by a sovereign ratings downgrade of Japan by S&P in December 2010 (Japan's $11 trillion sovereign debt rating had been cut one notch to AA-), and earlier, by warnings from the other two large ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch in late 2010, of a possible adverse revision in outlook for the US.

Although the timing of the outlook downgrade was a bit of a surprise, the news was more or less taken in stride. After a brief drubbing in the interest rates and dollar currency markets, the environment has actually become more optimistic, reflecting the Quixotic functioning that characterise markets to the layman, with the US looking even more of a safe haven for global investors. The most significant effect of the revised outlook, desired if not credible, is probably the wake up call it has given the US government—that investors' adverse perceptions might actually transform into voting with wallets if corrective fiscal steps are not initiated.

The ballooning debt and deficit of the US federal government (let alone the states and "munis") has been discussed threadbare by analysts since 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the stimulus response to the financial crisis. The US's parlous fiscal situation, relative to that of its developed nations peers, has been the cause of perennial concern, which has hitherto been alleviated by the strengths of a "high-income, highly diversified, flexible, competitive and innovative economy", being the growth counterbalance to the inherent weaknesses of a predominantly consumption-led growth.

What is interesting in the aftermath of the outlook revision is speculation on the global consequences of an actual downgrade of US sovereign debt ratings and, particularly, the implications for India. To understand these issues, we need to understand the reasoning behind the outlook change. First, the US Treasury's outstanding debt at end-February was $9 trillion (total public debt was $14.3 trillion). The deficit is projected to be $1.6 trillion for the current fiscal year. Second, the reliance of the US economy as a whole on external financing is exceptionally high, compared to, say, Japan, which uses its domestic savings pool. Third, the fact that US policymakers have been unable to reach an agreement on fiscal consolidation and have been dogged by implementation delays looks even worse compared to the ongoing and prospective fiscal austerity programmes in the UK and European countries. S&P projects general US government debt at 86% of GDP in 2013. Fourth, factoring in potential bailouts of the still floundering government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, might add a financial sector spanner in the fiscal wheel. Finally, throw in the fiscal pressures of long-term unfunded liabilities, and you can see the concern that ratings agencies and investors have with this picture.

The real significance of the downgrade in outlook is to prompt a rethink of the conditions that have permitted the US to run up a fiscal gap of this magnitude without a downgrade; other countries in a similar situation would have been downgraded in a flash. In essence, this is due to the status of the dollar as the dominant global reserve currency, despite the US dependence on external financing. The second was a need for the government's balance sheet expansion in an environment, not just during the crisis, but even now, given the continuing deleveraging of consumer mortgage credit, even though corporate credit is slowly beginning to pick up.

Be that as it may, the consequences for global markets will be significant if a downgrade, however remote the possibility, actually happens. The first visible manifestation of the economic environment is the dollar weakening against the euro, the sole current pretender to an alternative reserve currency, even as China's efforts to internationalise the renminbi gather momentum. The immediate impact would be a wholesale dumping of US securities, particularly by foreign investors who have hitherto financed the US consumption and global demand machine. This selloff inflicts massive damage on investors, whose portfolio managers have perforce to look at alternative assets to preserve the value of their investments. The effect on gold prices is immediately and starkly evident. The effect on commodity prices with industrial uses, such as copper, is even more insidious, as is silver.

We ultimately keep coming back to the fundamental question: if not the dollar as a reserve currency, then what? No other country's financial and currency markets are sufficiently deep to absorb global savings. As Mr El-Erian of PIMCO puts it, the US is the source of a range of "global public goods"—the reserve currency, the most liquid government debt market and the "risk free" standard. A weakening of this would result in a fragmentation of global financial markets and a consequent loss of efficiency.

For India? The Chinese saying "in danger lies opportunity" might be the lodestone for charting India's economic course, with financial sector and capital markets reforms paving the way for full capital markets convertibility, laying the foundations for the rupee to be an acceptable global currency.

The author is senior vice-president, Business and Economic Research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE COMING LABOUR CRISIS
AMITENDU PALIT

As Europe battles to overcome its worst economic crisis in decades, it is falling back on what most had feared: restricting immigration, and South Asia will bear the brunt of the restrictive policies.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron's recent comments on immigration have reignited the controversy on the virtues of foreign workers in economies where they are in sizeable proportions. Britain is one of the best examples. During the last decade, more than 2 million people moved to Britain, many of whom were from South Asia. More than 30% of London's current population of 7.7 million comprises people born abroad, with half of the births in the city being accounted for by foreign-born mothers. The rest of Britain has a generous sprinkling of foreign and South Asian immigrants. The latter are not only in low-skilled occupations but are visible in high-productivity growth-oriented functions as well, though in lesser numbers. There are also South Asian students adding to the host country's workforce. Indeed, in Britain, Australia and the US, South Asians are seen attending colleges, driving taxis and carrying out storekeeping functions, as much as they are found teaching and researching in top universities, and managing high-powered corporate responsibilities. South Asian immigrants have been contributing productively to both the lower and higher ends of the supply chains.

Cameron plans to bring down immigration from 'hundreds of thousands' to 'tens of thousands' by being selective about its quality. The issue is politically volatile and there have been contrasting reactions to his comments. Business groups and the Liberal Democrat segment of the government have come down heavily on his posture. These sections argue that Britain's economic progress will be difficult to maintain without immigrants. On the other hand, anti-immigrant lobbies, particularly from the Cameron's own party, have been quick to support his views.

The political resistance to immigration in the West works on the assumption that gaps created by curbing inflows of foreign labour will be filled up by domestic workers. The assumption overlooks the fact that the average Briton or American is usually unwilling to do jobs that South Asian workers perform in their countries. The generous and comprehensive social security systems in these countries have created incentives against working, particularly in jobs that are typically 'blue collar'. Thus while, politically, the anti-immigration agenda propagates the notion that foreign workers are snatching 'local' jobs, the reality is quite different. For both Cameron and the US President Barack Obama, who has also been trying to moderate foreign labour inflows, getting domestic workers to fill up the labour market gaps will be a huge challenge. There is little evidence of this happening as of now.

The ire against foreign workers is not unexpected at a time when economic stagnation is refusing to withdraw from Europe and America. For political parties desperately seeking solutions to economic recovery and retention of political authority, immigration is an easy refuge. Political authorities in the West appear to be willing to forego the earlier generations' emphasis on developing multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation states in favour of a narrower brand of state-building favouring greater domestic participation.

The split between political and business communities in the West on immigration indicates that governments will face considerable difficulties in pushing anti-foreign labour measures. Cameron's proposals have upset British businesses, as much as Obama's H1B visa fee hikes had upset their American counterparts. These groups are aware of the importance of foreign labour in helping them recover lost ground in global business. Much as British and American firms would not want to let go of South Asian labour, the French, Belgian and Spanish firms would not want to give up on Algerian, Moroccan and African labourers.

For South Asian labourers though, migration choices and opportunities in the short term are likely to become restricted. This is not particularly good news. For labour-surplus economies from the region, economic growth is yet to reach the level where jobs can move to people; people have to continue moving to jobs. The focus of outward migration from the region is expected to change as western policies become more inward-looking. Migration options might reduce further as the Middle East, another major destination for South Asian migrants, also gets embroiled in political difficulties and assumes tighter immigration policies.

The possibility of outward migration from South Asia reducing seems distinct unless two things happen. The first, of course, is an economic recovery in the West, which, as of now, seems remote, at least over the next few years. The second is a radical change in production structures within certain parts of Asia encouraging greater migration from South Asia. The latter, however, is again a tentative possibility and is unlikely to materialise immediately.

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

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

SAI BABA, HIS LIFE AND LEGACY

In a country that has never been short of self-proclaimed godmen peddling spiritual succour with commercial motive, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who passed away at the age of 84 at Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh on April 24, 2011, stands out as a rare phenomenon — a spiritual leader whose mass following transcended linguistic, national, and religious boundaries, who channelised the fervour and quest of millions of devotees into giving and sharing, who steered clear of divisive political and communal activities all his life. In the complex spiritual spectrum of modern-day India, Sai Baba may not have been associated with a metaphysical and transcendent philosophy like Sri Aurobindo, or the fervent devotion to the divine that often sent Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa into a trance, or the self-enquiry and non-dualism that made Sri Ramana Maharishi a silent, yet eloquent preceptor. Yet Sai Baba's simple message of love and harmony — mostly soaked in the language of Hindu philosophy, but often in a universal strain — was enough to draw the masses towards him. Among those who sought his guidance were the harried and the content businessperson, the troubled and the sated householder, politicians in search of peace, and the more humble seekers of solace from the rigours of life. His early reputation was built on a series of miracles such as producing vibhuthi (holy ash) or rings or miniature shivalings out of thin air, which invited disdain from rationalists who saw these as nothing more than sleight of hand; there were other controversies as well. His ardent devotees, on the other hand, saw the miracles as mere expressions of his divine powers, and his teachings and the manner in which he touched their lives as far more important.

Sai Baba's phenomenal mass appeal lay in his unswerving commitment to communal harmony, his encouragement of charitable activity and public-spiritedness, and his own example in building educational and health care institutions that focussed on meeting basic needs on a large scale. Among the projects executed by his Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, the drinking water supply projects for Ananthapur district and Chennai city stand out. The latter effort, a Rs.200 crore project to strengthen the Kandaleru-Poondi canal through which waters of the Krishna reached the metropolis, earned the admiration of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, a non-believer who went so far as to describe Sai Baba as "one equivalent to God." His devotees may or may not be on the lookout for a reincarnation in some remote place but for society at large, his legacy will be the message of love and harmony and the altruistic activities of his cash-rich trust that, without his guiding hand, needs to resist temptation and carry on with integrity, transparency, and imagination.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

GET ON WITH THE JOB

The basic task of the joint drafting committee — to prepare a strong and credible Lokpal Bill — seems in danger of subversion by smear campaigns, loose talk, and backroom machinations. It is imperative that the principal objective is not lost sight of in this climate of conspiracy and intrigue: to reach an agreement on a draft legislation that will put in place an effective anti-corruption and grievance redressal mechanism. It is a relief that Justice Santosh Hegde, dismayed by the relentless attacks on himself and other civil society members of the committee, has been persuaded to stay on; had the Karnataka Lokayuta resigned as he threatened to, it would have weakened civil society representation as well as the general resolve to draw up a robust Lokpal Bill. Anna Hazare won a huge victory when his stunningly successful protest movement forced the Centre to agree not only to draft a fresh Bill but to do so with civil society activists as a part of the consultative process. It would be a shame if character assassination and other forms of pressure were allowed to sabotage this spirited initiative.

At the same time, it is important that the civil society activists on the panel do not strike recalcitrant postures and that they show the open-mindedness required for such a consultative process. The Centre's aborted draft Bill defeated its own purpose by severely restricting the Lokpal's discretion to probe corruption complaints received from the general public. But certain features of civil society's proposed alternative, the so-called Jan Lokpal Bill, have been rightly criticised as being unworkable, unnecessary, and excessive. For instance, the Lokpal was originally envisaged as an Ombudsman on the lines of those in the Scandinavian countries, and not — as the civil society draft bill does — as a kind of Supercop who lords it over the Central Bureau of Investigation. Moreover, if the Lokpal is allowed to probe allegations of misconduct against High Court and Supreme Court judges, what becomes of the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill that seeks to achieve this very purpose and is to be presented in Parliament shortly? The Lokpal Bill cannot alter the very structure of the criminal justice system or be allowed to compromise institutions that are integral to our democratic and constitutional order. What India badly needs is a Lokpal Bill with teeth, which fixes the glaring weaknesses in the government draft while staying clear of the eccentricities in the civil society version.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER CHERNOBYL

THANKS TO THE GLOBAL NUCLEAR LOBBY'S CONSPIRACY, WE STILL DO NOT KNOW THE FULL TRUTH ABOUT CHERNOBYL. WE MAY NEVER KNOW THE TRUTH ABOUT FUKUSHIMA EITHER.

VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

On April 26, 1986, a reactor at Chernobyl exploded, setting off the world's worst nuclear catastrophe. It is tragically symbolic that exactly 25 years later, another nuclear disaster struck Japan. It is doubly tragic that the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant may eclipse what happened at Chernobyl. Critics say we may never know the truth about Fukushima, as we still do not know the full truth about Chernobyl, thanks to the global nuclear lobby's conspiracy.

The death toll from the Chernobyl explosion remains a hotly debated issue even today. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano told an international Chernobyl conference in Kiev, Ukraine, last week that "around 50 people engaged in the immediate emergency and recovery operations" had died.

Many experts find this figure grossly understated. Greenpeace has predicted that Chernobyl may ultimately cause some 2,70,000 cancer cases, more than 90,000 of which could prove fatal. In a book published in 2007, Russian biologist Alexei Yablokov and two Ukrainian researchers concluded that some 9,85,000 people had already died, mainly of cancer, till 2004. The book, called Chernobyl in Russian, was brought out in English two years later by the New York Academy of Sciences under the title Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. Dr. Yablokov, former environmental advisor to the Russian President, has since updated his estimate of Chernobyl-related deaths, including stillbirths, to 1.6 million.

Such estimates are fiercely contested by IAEA experts. The official view of the U.N. watchdog is that the expected death toll among those affected by high radiation doses at Chernobyl may reach 4,000 in the coming decades. Compare this with the official data from Ukraine's Health Ministry: 530,000 died from radiation in the former Soviet state between 1987 and 2004.

Glaring discrepancies in casualty figures are mainly due to the refusal by the IAEA and the World Health Organisation to link increased disease incidence in affected territories to radiation, and to recognise the cancer risks and genetic impact of low radiation doses. Dr. Yablokov says his casualty estimates were based on over 5,000 scientific papers and radiological surveys, whereas the IAEA and the WHO used only 350 sources for their conclusions. While the IAEA claims that the ecological situation around Chernobyl is improving, independent researchers say it is, in fact, getting worse.

"Today, heavy transuranium elements — strontium-90, cesium-137 and plutonium — have started spreading from Chernobyl across Ukraine with underground water. Plutonium has been detected in water wells in Kiev and the Dnieper River," says nuclear physicist Anatony Demsky, who worked at Chernobyl for seven years adding "60 km away from Chernobyl beta radiation is 1,000 times above normal levels." Experts have long pointed to an inherent conflict of interest in the IAEA's twin role as promoter and regulator of nuclear technologies and material. "The IAEA's main statutory goal is to promote 'peaceful atoms'," Dr. Yablokov says. "Its link with the nuclear industry makes all the IAEA assessments biased."

The conflict of interest was at its most outrageous in the famous remark by Hans Blix, Director of the IAEA at the time of the Chernobyl disaster: "The atomic industry can take catastrophes like Chernobyl every year."

This thinking is typical of the international nuclear lobby. Top nuclear officials in Russia, for example, systematically minimise the impact of the Chernobyl disaster. During a recent panel discussion on Russian TV, Rafael Arutyunyan, First Deputy Director of the Russian Institute for Safe Development of Nuclear Power Industry, said Chernobyl was "a serious accident," which became a "catastrophe" only when the Soviet Union adopted a law that promised social protection to all people living in radiation affected territories.

Many researchers in Russia and other countries claim that the nuclear lobby has been deliberately suppressing the truth about radiation risks. Soon after its establishment in 1957, the IAEA signed agreements with the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other U.N. agencies, which imposed constraints on independent studies of radiation and health. The IAEA/WHO agreement, for example, required that "whenever either organisation proposes to initiate a programme or activity on a subject in which the other organisation has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement." This gave the IAEA effective veto power on dissenting voices, critics say.

The agreements "played an extremely negative role for the study of radiation effects in Chernobyl," says radiobiologist Natalia Mansurova. "Some information was withheld and selective methods were applied to exclude large numbers of radiation-affected people from being monitored for medium and long-term effects."

Dr. Mansurova calls the IAEA casualty figures for Chernobyl "plain lies." The researcher knows what she is talking about. She spent four-and-a-half years at Chernobyl studying the fallout and is the only surviving member of her team of 14 radiobiologists assigned to work there. Dr. Yablokov estimates that out of more than 800,000 "liquidators" who helped clean up Chernobyl, 125,000 died later. It is because of the collusive agreement between the IAEA and the WHO that the lessons of Chernobyl have not been learnt. "A total of 350 incidents of radiation leakage happened in the world before Chernobyl but no lessons were learnt," Dr. Mansurova said in an interview. "No model procedures were devised for dealing with the Fukushima-type disasters. They did not know what to do with the stricken Fukushima reactors, whether to pour water, sand or concrete."

The former deputy director of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Alexander Kovalenko, also thinks that the unlearnt lessons of Chernobyl played an evil role in Fukushima. "The Japanese authorities and nuclear plant personnel ignored the information and technological lessons of Chernobyl," the expert said. "They were too slow in dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami and let a medium-level accident escalate into a full-scale catastrophe."

Even members of the Russian nuclear establishment admit that the Japanese authorities are manipulating information about the Fukushima fallout. "The situation with information about Fukushima is similar to what happened at Chernobyl," says Russia's former Nuclear Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov. "During the first 24 hours after the Chernobyl blast, reports coming from the plant management said radiation levels were normal and efforts were on to cool the reactor, even though it already lay in ruins."

While Mr. Adamov thinks the Japanese authorities are justified in withholding "alarmist" information, critics, however, say they are exposing people to mortal risks. "We are seeing a repetition of Chernobyl: the dangers of radiation are being understated and this may lead to hundreds of thousands of people falling ill," says Dr. Yablokov.

Even after the Fukushima accident was awarded the top level 7 nuclear disaster rating, the same as Chernobyl, the IAEA continued to claim that the Japanese accident was no match for the Soviet reactor disaster.

However, Russian experts believe that Fukushima may eventually dwarf Chernobyl. "What happened at Chernobyl was essentially an atomic explosion that spewed radioactive fumes across Europe for 10 days," says the respected Russian biologist Zhores Medvedev, famous for exposing the 1957 nuclear disaster at the Mayak fuel storage in the Urals. "At the same time, the Chernobyl accident involved one reactor, whereas at Fukushima they have three stricken reactors plus four storages of spent fuel, which is even more dangerous because it contains long-living elements — cesium, strontium and plutonium. Together they hold 25 times more radioactivity than Chernobyl and it has been leaking into the atmosphere, the ground and the sea for more than a month now and will keep on seeping for a very long time."

Speaking at the Kiev conference, the IAEA chief promised to improve international safety standards in the nuclear power industry and ensure "full transparency about the risks of radiation". Critics, however, urged changes in the way the IAEA itself operates.

"The IAEA's agreements with the WHO and other U.N. agencies must be annulled, so that we can honestly and objectively analyse the damage from radiation to man and environment, not only in the short-term period but also in the medium and long-term perspective," says Natalia Mironova, thermodynamic engineer and anti-nuclear campaigner.

Experts are also calling for reforming the U.N. watchdog. "The IAEA status must be changed," says Yuli Andreyev, former engineer at Chernobyl who later worked as deputy head of the Soviet Spetsatom nuclear clear-up energy. "This organisation consists only of people from the civilian and military nuclear industry. It is the unofficial headquarters of the global nuclear elite."

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THE HINDU

OPED

THE GUANTÁNAMO FILES

THE GUANTÁNAMO FILES ARE CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS THAT OPEN A WINDOW ON A PRISON, NEARLY 10 YEARS AFTER ITS ESTABLISHMENT.

CHARLIE SAVAGE, WILLIAM GLABERSON AND ANDREW W. LEHREN

A trove of more than 700 classified military documents provides new and detailed accounts of the men who have done time at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, and offers new insight into the evidence against the 172 men still locked up there.

Military intelligence officials, in assessments of detainees written between February 2002 and January 2009, evaluated their histories and provided glimpses of the tensions between captors and captives. What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution, and the leaked files show why, by laying bare the patchwork and contradictory evidence that in many cases would never have stood up in criminal court or a military tribunal.

The documents meticulously record the detainees' "pocket litter" when they were captured: a bus ticket to Kabul, a fake passport and forged student ID, a restaurant receipt, even a poem. They list the prisoners' illnesses — hepatitis, gout, tuberculosis, depression. They note their serial interrogations, enumerating — even after six or more years of relentless questioning — remaining "areas of potential exploitation." They describe inmates' infractions — punching guards, tearing apart shower shoes, shouting across cellblocks. And, as analysts try to bolster the case for continued incarceration, they record years of detainees' comments about one another.

The secret documents, made available to The New York Times and several other news organisations, reveal that most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a "high risk" of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision. But they also show that an even larger number of the prisoners who have left Cuba — about a third of the 600 already transferred to other countries — were also designated "high risk" before they were freed or passed to the custody of other governments.

Silent on interrogation tactics

The documents are largely silent about the use of the harsh interrogation tactics at Guantánamo — including sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures — that drew global condemnation. Several prisoners, though, are portrayed as making up false stories about being subjected to abuse.

The government's basic allegations against many detainees have long been public, and have often been challenged by prisoners and their lawyers. But the dossiers, prepared under the Bush administration, provide a deeper look at the frightening, if flawed, intelligence that has persuaded the Obama administration, too, that the prison cannot readily be closed.

Prisoners who especially worried counter-terrorism officials included some accused of being assassins for al-Qaeda, operatives for a cancelled suicide mission and detainees who vowed to their interrogators that they would wreak revenge against America.

The military analysts' files provide new details about the most infamous of their prisoners, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the planner of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Sometime around March 2002, he ordered a former Baltimore resident to don a suicide bomb vest and carry out a "martyrdom" attack against Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan's President, according to the documents. But when the man, Majid Khan, got to the Pakistani mosque that he had been told Mr. Musharraf would visit, the assignment turned out to be just a test of his "willingness to die for the cause."

The dossiers also show the seat-of-the-pants intelligence gathering in war zones that led to the incarcerations of innocent men for years in cases of mistaken identity or simple misfortune. In May 2003, for example, Afghan forces captured Prisoner 1051, an Afghan named Sharbat, near the scene of a roadside bomb explosion, the documents show. He denied any involvement, saying he was a shepherd. Guantánamo debriefers and analysts agreed, citing his consistent story, his knowledge of herding animals and his ignorance of "simple military and political concepts," according to his assessment. Yet a military tribunal declared him an "enemy combatant" anyway, and he was not sent home until 2006.

Obtained by WikiLeaks; NYT's source

Obama administration officials condemned the publication of the classified documents, which were obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks last year but provided to The Times by another source. The officials pointed out that an administration task force set up in January 2009 reviewed the information in the prisoner assessments, and in some cases came to different conclusions. Thus, they said, the documents published by The Times may not represent the government's current view of detainees at Guantánamo.

Among the findings in the files:

The 20th hijacker: The best-documented case of an abusive interrogation at Guantánamo was the coercive questioning, in late 2002 and early 2003, of Mohammed Qahtani. A Saudi believed to have been an intended participant in the September 11 attacks, Mr. Qahtani was leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated and forced to urinate on himself. His file says, "Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention," his confessions "appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources." But claims that he is said to have made about at least 16 other prisoners — mostly in April and May 2003 — are cited in their files without any caveat.

Threats against captors: While some detainees are described in the documents as "mostly compliant and rarely hostile to guard force and staff," others spoke of violence. One detainee said "he would like to tell his friends in Iraq to find the interrogator, slice him up, and make a shwarma (a type of sandwich) out of him, with the interrogator's head sticking out of the end of the shwarma." Another "threatened to kill a U.S. service member by chopping off his head and hands when he gets out," and informed a guard that "he will murder him and drink his blood for lunch. Detainee also stated he would fly planes into houses and prayed that President Bush would die."

The role of foreign officials: The leaked documents show how many foreign countries sent intelligence officers to question Guantánamo detainees — among them China, Russia, Tajikistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Algeria and Tunisia. One such visit changed a detainee's account: a Saudi prisoner initially told American interrogators he had travelled to Afghanistan to train at a Libyan-run terrorist training camp. But an analyst added: "Detainee changed his story to a less incriminating one after the Saudi Delegation came and spoke to the detainees."

An al-Qaeda leader's reputation: The file for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was charged before a military commission last week for plotting the bombing of the American destroyer Cole in 2000, says he was "more senior" in al-Qaeda than Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and describes him as "so dedicated to jihad that he reportedly received injections to promote impotence and recommended the injections to others so more time could be spent on the jihad (rather than being distracted by women)."

The Yemenis' hard luck: The files for dozens of the remaining prisoners portray them as low-level foot-soldiers who travelled from Yemen to Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks to receive basic military training and fight in the civil war there, not as global terrorists. Otherwise identical detainees from other countries were sent home many years ago, the files show, but the Yemenis remain at Guantánamo because of concerns over the stability of their country and its ability to monitor them.

Dubious information: Some assessments revealed the risk of relying on information supplied by people whose motives were murky. Hajji Jalil, then a 33-year-old Afghan, was captured in July 2003, after the Afghan chief of intelligence in Helmand Province said Mr. Jalil had taken an "active part" in an ambush that killed two American soldiers. But American officials, citing "fraudulent circumstances," said later that the intelligence chief and others had participated in the ambush, and they had "targeted" Mr. Jalil "to provide cover for their own involvement." He was sent home in March 2005.

A British agent: One report reveals that American officials discovered a detainee had been recruited by British and Canadian intelligence to work as an agent because of his "connections to members of various al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups." But the report suggests that he had never shifted his militant loyalties. It says that the Central Intelligence Agency, after repeated interrogations of the detainee, concluded that he had "withheld important information" from the British and Canadians, and assessed him "to be a threat" to American and allied personnel in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has since been sent back to his country.

A journalist's interrogation: The documents show that a major reason a Sudanese cameraman for Al Jazeera, Sami al-Hajj, was held at Guantánamo for six years was for questioning about the television network's "training program, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo, and Afghanistan," including contacts with terrorist groups. While Mr. Hajj insisted he was just a journalist, his file says he helped Islamic extremist groups courier money and obtain Stinger missiles and cites the United Arab Emirates' claim that he was a Qaeda member. He was released in 2008 and returned to work for Al Jazeera.

The first to leave: The documents offer the first public look at the military's views of 158 detainees who did not receive a formal hearing under a system instituted in 2004. Many were assessed to be "of little intelligence value" with no ties to or significant knowledge about al-Qaeda or the Taliban, as was the case of a detainee who was an Afghan used car salesman. But also among those freed early was a Pakistani who would become a suicide attacker three years later.

Images of prisoners

Many of the dossiers include official close-up photographs of the detainees, providing images of hundreds of the prisoners, many of whom have not been seen publicly in years.

The files — classified " secret" and marked " noforn," meaning they should not be shared with foreign governments — represent the fourth major collection of secret American documents that have become public over the past year; earlier releases included military incident reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and portions of an archive of some 250,000 diplomatic cables. Military prosecutors have accused an Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, of leaking the materials.

The Guantánamo assessments seem unlikely to end the long-running debate about America's most controversial prison. The documents can be mined for evidence supporting beliefs across the political spectrum about the relative perils posed by the detainees and whether the government's system of holding most without trials is justified.

Much of the information in the documents is impossible to verify. The documents were prepared by intelligence and military officials operating at first in the haze of war, then, as the years passed, in a prison under international criticism. In some cases, judges have rejected the government's allegations, because confessions were made during coercive interrogation or other sources were not credible.

In 2009, a task force of officials from the government's national security agencies re-evaluated all 240 detainees then remaining at the prison. They vetted the military's assessments against information held by other agencies, and dropped the "high/medium/low" risk ratings in favour of a more nuanced look at how each detainee might fare if released, in light of his specific family and national environment. But those newer assessments are still secret and not available for comparison.

Not complete

Moreover, the leaked archive is not complete; it contains no assessments for about 75 of the detainees.

Yet for all the limitations of the files, they still offer an extraordinary look inside a prison that has long been known for its secrecy and for a struggle between the military that runs it — using constant surveillance, forced removal from cells and other tools to exert control — and detainees who often fought back with the limited tools available to them: hunger strikes, threats of retribution and hoarded contraband ranging from a metal screw to leftover food.

Scores of detainees were given disciplinary citations for "inappropriate use of bodily fluids," as some files delicately say; other files make clear that detainees on a fairly regular basis were accused by guards of throwing urine and faeces.

No new prisoners have been transferred to Guantánamo since 2007. Some Republicans are urging the Obama administration to send newly captured terrorism suspects to the prison, but so far officials have refused to increase the inmate population.

As a result, Guantánamo seems increasingly frozen in time, with detainees locked into their roles at the receding moment of their capture. For example, an assessment of a former top Taliban official said he "appears to be resentful of being apprehended while he claimed he was working for the U.S. and Coalition forces to find Mullah Omar," a reference to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban chief who is in hiding.

But whatever the truth about the detainee's role before his capture in 2002, it is receding into the past. So, presumably, is the value of whatever information he possesses. Still, his jailers have continued to press him for answers. His assessment of January 2008 — six years after he arrived in Cuba — contended that it was worthwhile to continue to interrogate him, in part because he might know about Mullah Omar's "possible whereabouts."

( Charlie Savage reported from Washington, and William Glaberson and Andrew W. Lehren from New York. Scott Shane contributed reporting from Washington, and Benjamin Weiser and Andrei Scheinkman from New York.)

    © New York Times News Service

     

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THE HINDU

OPED

A GRIM TOLL ON MENTAL HEALTH OF PRISONERS

ALMOST 100 INMATES AT GUANTÁNAMO WERE DIAGNOSED WITH PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS, WHILE OTHERS REGARDED AS TROUBLEMAKERS WENT ON TO KILL THEMSELVES.

JAMES BALL

Almost 100 Guantánamo prisoners were classified by the U.S. Army as having psychiatric illnesses including severe depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the prison camp files reveal.

Reports chronicle the disturbed behaviour of inmates, sometimes so extreme that even U.S. intelligence officers acknowledged they were unsuitable for interrogation.

Afghan prisoner 356, Modullah Abdul Raziq, who had been "captured by anti-Taliban forces," was found unfit for interview in February 2002 when the first wave of Guantánamo inmates were psychiatrically assessed.

Raziq, the file notes, was regularly disruptive. His behaviour included ripping off his uniform, drinking shampoo, daubing his cell and himself with excrement and spitting at guards. Psychiatrists concluded he had a disorder "psychotic in nature, likely schizophrenia" and called for his removal from the base.

Camp staff noted Raziq had no proven affiliation with al-Qaeda and stressed that transferring him "will remove a significant personnel burden and security risk from Camp X-ray, that provides no intelligence value to U.S. forces, and an individual more than likely incapable of standing trial".

The report goes on: "Repatriating detainee 356 to Afghanistan causes minimal to no risk to U.S. forces still operating in that region, as Afghan authorities would more than likely confine the detainee upon his arrival." Raziq was released from Guantánamo into Afghan custody within a month of the assessment.

Others were kept imprisoned far longer. A 2004 assessment of Algerian Abdul Raham Houari noted that owing to "significant penetrating head trauma in 2001" he had frontal brain damage causing psychosis, slowed motor functions and difficulty with speech and understanding.

The assessment said he would need some form of custodial long-term care. Houari was held in Guantánamo for a further four years, during which time he made at least four suicide attempts, according to press reports.

Psychological damage

Human rights organisations have repeatedly warned the U.S. government of the psychological damage caused by conditions in the camp. In 2008 Human Rights Watch published a 58-page report on Guantánamo and mental health that concluded: "None of the detainees at Guantánamo has yet been convicted of a crime. Many will ultimately be released.

"It is unwise and short-sighted to warehouse them in conditions that may have a damaging psychological impact, and are very likely to breed hatred and resentment of the United States over the long term." While a significant number of prisoners were diagnosed as psychotic, many more were noted to be suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, depression or self-harming behaviour.

Manipulative

Guantánamo's behavioural team often characterised mentally ill patients as manipulative. The health note in one assessment says: "Detainee has multiple psychiatric diagnoses and is very manipulative." Another describes a prisoner's suicide attempts: "Detainee suffers from borderline personality disorder, with a long history of manipulative behaviour with multiple suicidal threats and gestures and hospital admissions. Detainee requires daily contact from the behaviour health unit to avoid further suicidal gestures." Others were left debilitated as a result of suicide attempts or self-mutilation. A June 2004 review of Saudi prisoner Mishal Awad Sayaf Alhabiri detailed a litany of injuries.

"Approximately one year ago [he] attempted suicide by hanging. This resulted in significant brain injury due to lack of oxygen. He has been hospitalised since that time and has unpredictable emotions and behaviour. He also has a history of a head injury from a motor vehicle accident at age 18." Alhabiri needed a wheelchair to get around and could follow only simple commands. As a result of his condition he was considered to be of low threat and intelligence value to the U.S. He was released a year later.

None of the five detainees believed to have killed themselves at Guantánamo Bay have any mental health issues noted within the files. However, all have a record of alleged disruptive behaviour and non-compliance. Most are among the 25 detainees who the files say went on hunger strikes.

Yasser Talal Zahrani, one of three prisoners who killed themselves on 10 June 2006, was noted to be of low intelligence value with "unremarkable" exposure to jihadist elements.

His disciplinary notes, though, refer to three hunger strikes and 113 separate alleged disciplinary "infractions," including inciting disturbances, exposing himself to guards, possession of "weapon and non—weapon contraband" and threatening guards.

Yemeni inmate Mohammed Abdullah Saleh had 163 infractions against his name by June 2008, including "inciting mass disturbances." Seven years after his capture on the Afghan frontline he was refused release.

A year later, after reportedly being force-fed during a hunger strike in the camp's psychiatric section, it was announced he had killed himself. The circumstances were not explained.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE HINDU

FIVE HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD BOOK FOUND

Book dealer Ken Sanders has seen a lot of nothing in his decades appraising "rare" finds pulled from attics and basements, storage sheds and closets.

Sanders, who occasionally appraises items for PBS's Antiques Roadshow, often employs "the fine art of letting people down gently."

But on a recent Saturday while volunteering at a fundraiser for the small town museum in Sandy, Utah, just south of Salt Lake, Sanders got the surprise of a lifetime.

"Late in the afternoon, a man sat down and started unwrapping a book from a big plastic sack, informing me he had a really, really old book and he thought it might be worth some money," he said. "I kinda start, oh boy, I've heard this before." Then he produced a tattered, partial copy of the 500-year-old Nuremberg Chronicle.

The German language edition printed by Anton Koberger and published in 1493 is a world history beginning in biblical times. It's considered to be one of the earliest and most lavishly illustrated books produced after Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and revolutionised publishing. The book's owner has declined to be identified, but Sanders said it was passed down to the man by his great uncle and had been just gathering dust in his attic for decades. It has been printed on cotton bond paper.

San Francisco-based antiquities book dealer John Windle said if this copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle were in mint condition and fully intact, it could be worth up to a million dollars.

— AP ***************************************


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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

SPIRITUAL ICON WHO SERVED SOCIETY TOO

Satya Sai Baba, who was admired and worshipped as a spiritual stalwart by millions across the globe, was also called a "godman" by some — not always a term of deference. The spiritual mastery ascribed to him came to be questioned in his own lifetime. The "vibhuti" (holy ash) he willed to materialise from nowhere was derided as being nothing more than a magician's sleight of hand, and his readiness to oblige his rich or famous followers by producing watches or rings for them out of thin air was put down by cynics, rationalists and atheists as the ploy of a worldly-wise swami who was careful to pander to his upper-crust clientele in the hope that they would propagate his name. No matter which way one may look, there is no denying that the former Satya Narayan Raju, born in an ordinary farmer's family of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh around 85 years ago, led a most unusual life, especially by the standards of those who are regarded as having climbed the ladder of spirituality.
Not one to cloister himself in a life of prayer, he engaged in super-active service to the community. It is said thousands of villages in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu now have water thanks to the philanthropy generated by his famous social work trust, which attracted contributions from millions around the world and which is now valued at a staggering `40,000 crores. It is social service on such a gargantuan scale that sets the departed Satya Sai Baba apart from other men and women who have acquired the status of spiritual leader. Free educational institutions and hospitals offering top-of-the-line facilities in hundreds of countries are a lasting memorial to the Baba's idea of serving society, not to mention the schemes executed under the thousands of projects nourished by the trust he founded around 40 years ago. To serve man is to serve God is a verity on which many saints have sought to found their lives. To such aspirants, asceticism and godliness were one. Not to the Sai Baba. Apparently, he didn't think much of service going hand in hand with penury. Indeed, he lived in inordinately comfortable surroundings and did not think this incompatible with the life of a guru or of a spiritually elevated servant of humanity. And yet, he was no jet-setting swami. He had travelled abroad but once, and that was when he visited Uganda for a conference several decades ago. There was about his spiritual coordinates mystery, but no mysticism. The Sai Baba perhaps saw himself more as a god, less a yogi or a sufi.
The Sai Baba did not found a religion; nor indeed was he known for a system of thought. But all things considered, he had — at the philosophical plane — a sturdy appreciation of the diverse ways in which mortals seek to satisfy their spiritual urges. His teachings and example point to a belief in the unity of religions, not the compartmentalisation of faiths. He neither preached in favour or against anyone's chosen religious path. He was not secular in the sense of celebrating at his ashram Ramnavami, Id and Christmas, as politicians are wont to do. But he did criticise the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It was this ability to see above the horizon that made the Sai Baba very special as a spiritual and social service icon or even cult figure in our materialist and technological age, with which he appeared not to be at odds. The late spiritualist had followers of myriad religious hues — Hindu, Muslim and Christian, to name a few — within the country and outside. This is truly an extraordinary feat in our troubled times when half of the world's problems appear to derive from a contest of faiths. It was probably this aspect of the master from which many drew comfort.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

STOP GRAIN DRAIN

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

Even as a global food crisis looms on the horizon with high prices pushing more and more into poverty, India prepares to export wheat and rice following a record harvest and another one in the offing because of an expected normal monsoon. But there is a huge irony in the prevailing situation. We in India are better off exporting cereals because of inadequate and inefficient storage facilities. Rotting of foodgrain in a country where so many go hungry is not just unethical but criminal. The ways various authorities have deployed new technologies to store cereals has been tardy. If India today had superior infrastructure to store grain for longer periods, it could have acted as a cushion against cyclical fluctuations in both prices and availability.
On April 6, the ministry of agriculture recently increased its estimate of wheat output for the year that ended on March 31, from 81.47 million tonnes to 84.27 million tonnes — an increase of 3.4 per cent over the estimate made on February 9 — preparing the ground for lifting restrictions on exports. On April 1, total grain stocks in the central pool were around 45 million tonnes (15 million tonnes of wheat and 30 million tonnes of rice), more than twice the recommended "buffer" levels of 7 million tonnes of wheat and 14.2 million tonnes of rice at the beginning of April.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has gone on record favouring exports. The Indian government had banned exports of wheat on February 9, 2007 and also prohibited exports of non-basmati rice with effect from April 1, 2008. In August 2010, the Supreme Court asked the Union government to give away foodgrain to the poor instead of letting them rot.
In 2009-10, around 68,000 tonnes of stocks were reported to have been "damaged". Of this amount, 54,000 tonnes were in state government godowns while 14,000 tonnes were in those managed by the public sector Food Corporation of India (FCI). Of the damaged stock with FCI, not all were damaged either by rain or on account of "cover and plinth" storage. Some 7,000 tonnes of damaged stocks included rice procured four years earlier that were below norms prescribed under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act rendering these unsuitable for issuance through the public distribution system. To place things in the right perspective, the damaged stocks were out of a total holding of 60 million tonnes by the FCI that year.
The important question is that when India can build world-class public infrastructure (be it the stadia that hosted the 2010 Commonwealth Games or the uber-glitzy Terminal 3 of Delhi airport), why is it that we woefully lag behind others when it comes to food storage? With the FCI expecting 15 million tonnes of additional storage capacity to be in place by 2012, the challenge it now faces is how to create this capacity, whether using traditional warehouses or silos. The current cost of setting up a silo is around three times the cost of storage paid to the Central Warehousing Corporation for a traditional godown.
A silo is a structure for storing bulk materials. Silos are used in agriculture to store grain or fermented feed known as silage. Silos are more commonly used for bulk storage of not just cereals and other food but also coal, cement and sawdust. Three types of silos are in widespread use: tower silos, bunker silos and bag silos. There is a question of costs and benefits. Silos require lower dependence on labour, ensure better quality and longer storage and there is lower requirement of land as compared to traditional warehouses. Foodgrain can be stored in silos for up to four years. Since execution times for concrete silos were deemed unfeasible, FCI went in for the creation of bag storage facilities. There are, however, a number of problems with this measure.
Explains Soumendra Nath Chatterjee, an engineer who has worked on indigenously designed and constructed scientific food storage facilities for the FCI: "First, foodgrain cannot be protected by spraying or fumigation. It is also not possible to aerate the grains, which is a must for their healthy preservation. Moreover, there is no provision for detecting or re-circulating, when and if any deterioration is detected. Besides, unloading of grains and their reloading are labour-intensive since they have to be manually handled for dispatch to consuming centres".
The answer probably lies in the scientific use of available resources. "By using scientific bulk storage of grains in steel silos, post-harvest losses can be reduced by as much as 20 per cent of the grain cultivated, if they are brought to these silos as soon as possible after harvest. These need not be sun-dried as is usually done. So the harvested grain is not lost due to natural catabolism (destructive metabolism). When left for drying in the ground, grains are often consumed either by insects or by rodents which can even dig into storage pits", Mr Chatterjee points out.
The harvested grain can be transported to the steel silo sites and unloaded through conveyors and distributed through chutes. Insecticide pellets can be added too. Depending on the period of storage, these can be "extendable gases for the preservation of the grins, and are considered superior to the current practices of fumigation". The dried and clean grains are stored in large diameter steel silos that stand on flat slab concrete foundations. There are rectangular aeration ducts that are covered by perforated stainless steel sheets, besides and a central opening for unloading the stocks. These require both lesser time and costs than for concrete silos.
He adds: "Sensors that are suspended in the grain mass can detect any form of infestation by the rise in temperature of the stored grains. This can be tackled too, first by aeration of the grains and then by its re-circulation with further insecticide pallets being added to control the same if required. This measure is usually not required if the storage is to be for a relatively shorter period when the silos are in proximity to the points of consumption".
The extent of savings achieved if the country were to shift to steel silos can be as high as 40 per cent, says the engineer who add his claims are scientifically verifiable. The savings can be in terms of both the amount of grains saved from damage as well as those required for handling and transport, asserts Mr Chatterjee, who complains that he has not been given an adequate hearing by the powers-that-be.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SPORTS STADIUM AT KATRA

 

Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board is engaged in financing a number of projects in and around Katra that will go a long way in improving and facilitating youth development in the state. Among the projects in hand one is of developing a sports stadium inaugurated by the Governor. This will have the capacity to seat nearly four thousand spectators and will have the space for parking more than two hundred vehicles. It will cater to major games and sports and will be equipped with state of art equipment and appendages. The fact is that state authorities have risen to the importance of sports for the youth albeit late. Many precious years have been wasted and much talent that would have become the pride of the state has been left to frustration. However, notwithstanding the loss of time, it is to be appreciated that the Shrine Board has come forward with an appropriate scheme to engage the youth of the state in a productive and rewarding activity of evincing keen interest in sports and athletics. We have often been hearing that one of the causes of rise of militancy in Kashmir is non-engagement of youth force for productive activity. It is sad that despite availability of logistics for promoting sports and athletics among the youth in the valley, no serious attempt has been made that would engage the youth productively. Therefore the Shrine Board deserves three cheers for launching various projects to meet this requirement along scientific lines.

 

Our youth have the requisite potential to steel the show in any sport or athletic activity and secure a position in national and international competitions. In particular, the youth in the rural parts of the state can perform excellently in case they are provided adequate opportunity to demonstrate their potential. This needs to be harnessed. But developing a modern stadium in Katra is not sufficient to harness the youth power in the entire state. The government should have a policy of having one fully equipped stadium each at district headquarters throughout the state. More and more youth need to be brought within the ambit of sports culture. This will provide them training in healthcare, disciple, punctuality and the quality of teamwork. Psychological benefits of sports and athletics for our youth are much more than just physical benefits. But it should also be said that authorities will have to look to the employment aspect also. The youth who come out of schools and colleges and demonstrate their ability at sports need to be encouraged fully for participating in competitive matches and rallies. Those who excel at sports events need to be provided employment at various vacancies in state and central organizations. Institutions and organizations, both public and private, should provide adequate scholarships for students and youth with ability to demonstrate excellence in sportsmanship. Various NGOs dedicated to the uplifting of youth force in the country, too, have a role and they should volunteer to contribute their share in the development of the youth of the country. The stadium at Katra should serve the youth of the entire state. Presence of valley and Ladakh region youth will make it graceful. Apart from that the complex should also serve the youth of the neighbouring states of Himachal, Punjab and Haryana also. Competition is the crux of excellence and, admittedly, our youth have the potential to come out with flying colours in any competition.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

TAKING TIME BY FORELOCK

 

Anti-corruption movement is gaining ground in Kashmir. First it was the Kashmir Revolutionary Group (KRG) that initiated the move and by now many more organizations and activists from the civil society have joined it to give it credibility and teeth. In days to come, the movement is bound to snowball and will spread to the entire valley because corruption is one big complaint and irritation that has disappointed the youth as well as other segments of Kashmiri society. No doubt the initiators of anti-corruption movement got the clue from Anna Hazare's fast rally at Jantar Mantar, yet the fact is that corruption has been the most talked about subject in almost all political and social circles in Kashmir. People have been an eye witness to a scenario in which paupers have become millionaires within a short period of time. In, particular a section of local politicos and bureaucrats have become affluent to menacing extent. The fact is that despite State Vigilance Commission the accountability chapter is too weak to stem the rot of corruption in the state administration. Unfortunately, when people don't find the Government responding to recurrent complaints of corruption, they attribute motives for which they cannot be faulted. People begin to think that all curses come from New Delhi, which, they believe, is patronizing the local Government. To remove this impression, it is incumbent upon the State Government to do good homework for an effective action against corruption. As that is not forthcoming, the civil society has begun the preliminaries of a mass movement against corruption. There have been candle lights and night vigils and other things will follow. This will spread shortly to the towns and villages and people will have a reason to disrupt the peace needed at any cost to break the jinx of strikes and rallies. Nobody will contradict the assertion that corruption has increased manifold in an environment of militancy. Malevolent elements have come together to form nexus and thus indulge in corruption. Their first attempt is to neutralize and make dysfunctional the apparatus of accountability. So what we might need would be something like Vigilance over the Vigilance. The activists have demanded almost identical structure of anti-corruption mechanism as is being pursued by the civil society representatives and the Government nominees in New Delhi. There is no reason why we cannot have a joint drafting committee that would draft new but effective laws of preventing corruption and administering exemplary punishment to the corrupt after corruption cases are established against them. We need an authority invested with adequate powers and functions to hold the higher echelons of administration answerable to it. The government should take the time by forelock failing which this peaceful summer will be under the threat of disruption.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

ENSURE FOOD, NOT CASH TRANSFER

BY M K DHAR

 

The Government's privatisation enthusiasts should bear it in mind that the decision to cut food subsidy, gradually wind up the Public Distribution System and make cash transfers to the below poverty line people goes against its commitment to ensure food security for all. The argument that the State should progressively withdraw from distributive activities and cut wasteful expenditure and unacceptable revenue leakages is well taken. But India, despite its impressive economic growth during the past few years, can ill afford widening of economic disparity and not look after the very poor, who nurture great hopes in democracy to them deliver from perpetual want. Despite its faults and leakages, the PDS has saved millions from starvation because they cannot afford to buy in the free market essentials like rice, wheat, edible oil and sugar to feed their families.

Indeed, mounting subsidies are a great burden on the government ex-chequer, but the state cannot escape the responsibility to look after the very poor, who have remained largely untouched by the phenomenal economic advance. So it is intent on reducing subsidies to the extent possible, without giving a thought such a step will create discontentment and even give rise to social unrest. What the Government is going to do is, instead of supplying subsidized foodgrains to BPL families, cash transfers will be made to them to give them the choice either to buy from the PDS or use cash for buying from the open market. The cash transfer is meant to absorb the difference between the procuremt and PDS prices and give the choice to buy other types of food.

But, those used to the benefits of food security are opposed to the new scheme. They see it as a move towards privatization of food distribution and end of minimum support price to farmers -- thus leaving both producers and consumers to the vagaries of the exploitative private trade in these commodities. A recent survey conducted by some NGOs shows most of the beneficiaries prefer subsidized rations to small amounts of cash in hand, which may not get spent on feeding their families. The money proposed to be made available by the Government will buy them little in the open market and will lead to fall on foodgrains consumption by the poor result in nutritional deficiency on an even larger scale then at present.

The argument in favour of cash transfers was summed up by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who told the Lok Sabha that the Government provided subsidies, notably on foodgrains and fuel, to enable the common man to have access to these basic necessities at affordable prices. A significant portion of subsidised fuel did not reach the targeted beneficiaries and there is large scale diversion of subsidized Kerosene oil. "To ensure greater efficiency, cost effectiveness and better delivery for both kerosene and fertilizers, the Government will move towards direct transfer of cash subsidy to people living below poverty line in a phased manner".

But most beneficiaries do not agree with the government's decision and women in particular, want rations to feed their hungry children and not cash. They fear the cash will be spent on other needs of the moment, be it health emergency or celebration, even on liquor. Such a move will not, therefore, ensure food security in a country where 70 percent of the women suffer from malnutrition and anemia and every second child is under-nourised. The scheme will not protect the poor from high inflation, which refuses to come down despite the government's promises, and will be difficult to implement in the absence of a wide network of banks (where the accounts are supposed to be opened) in the rural areas.

The new schemes suffers from a basic flaw -- whether the benefit of cash transfer will reach the intended person? If large scale leakages take place from the PDS and "ghost" ration and entitlement cards are widespread, how can governments, Central or state, patronizing a highly corrupt administrative system, ensure that the accounts are opened in the manes of the people who need support and not fictitious persons, whose money will be expropriated by the officialdom. Even the small Delhi Municipal Corporation has not yet been able to account for cash transfer of over Rs. 250 crore annually to "ghost" safai karamcharis who do not exist and whose salaries are transferred to fictitious accounts and used by the bureaucrats and others involved in the fraudulent business.

The Government has seen that despite the requirement of proven identity, fictitious accounts in thousands have been opened in banks and persons have access to dozens of mobile phones in the names of non-existent persons and used by criminals and others to conduct their nefarious trade. Therefore, too much reliance should not be put on technology, and that unique identity number or biometric card provided to all citizens will somehow eliminate all the potential problems of targeting. But, at the ground level, determing who is actually BPL and which farmer deserves cash subsidy will be determined by a complex set of political and social forces and technology alone cannot decide. If a certain number of deserving beneficiaries get the cards or bank accounts, an equal number (if not more) of "bogus" account holders will also draw the money. The Government may end up spending more than the amount of subsidy it provides now for food and kerosene.

The idea may be good but it is unimplementable in a corruption-ridden society and an inefficient administrative machinery. While the Government talks of reducing food and fertilizer subsidies, the National Advisory Council headed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi favours adequate quantity of foodgrains being supplied free by the Government to BPL families, roughly over 40 per cent of the population. How the two stands reconcile is not known at this juncture. A BPL family gets something like Rs. 300 under the existing PDS of 35 kilograms of foodgrains a month (Rice at Rs. 3.50 a kg; and wheat at Rs. 4.15 a kg). He will have the choice to buy any food stuff for the amount. Firstly Rs 300 will not get him rations to feed his family, which 35 kgs would do, and, therefore, his choice is restricted. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman M. S. Ahluwalia says the beneficiaries can buy this food from "fair price" shops. But these "fair-price" shops are not PDS outlets, but shops set up by private individuals which are notionally so.

Moreover, cash transfer will be conditional upon a household being below poverty line, which will leave out nearly half of the poor rural households who do not have BPL cards. Too much reliance is put on the sincerity of private trade on these commodities to make food available to the poor at reasonable prices. But poor rural families cannot even afford what an urban dweller regards are "reasonable" and, therefore, rely heavily on the PDS. Although the PDS has come under strong criticism, its operation is not uniformly bad all over the country. It is run reasonably well in Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam and Rajasthan. Its bad performance is linked to the degree of corruption in the local administration. It is also argued that even where the PDS leaks, the grain gets diverted to the free market and helps stabilize prices with benefits to a larger section of the population. The state governments need to take action to check outright theft, concealment of stocks, quantity of damaged gain which is unfit to be sold and other malpractices.

The proposed cash transfer system will, therefore, not be free from evils because the administrative system remains the same and the temptation to siphon off cash through fictitious accounts, or non-eligible account holders, will remain strong. The poor will be forced to pay bribes for opening a cash transfer account of getting the biometric smart cards. This happens now wherever a citizens comes into contact with the administration and the police.

The need is to reform the system and not discard it, because the State is committed to poverty alleviation, universalisation of education and health care, providing food at affordable prices to the people, particularly the poor, reduce deprivation and inequality and empower the poor majority. The consequences of leaving the poor underfed and denied a decent life and dignity are bound to be serious.[NPA]

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

LOOKING AT J&K THROUGH MDG -LENS

BY JASWANT SINGH RANA

Millennium Development Goals are internationally accepted development goals that all 192 united nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015 . The aim of MDG's is to encourage development by improving social and economic conditions in the worlds poorest countries.

The eight millennium development goals are the globally accepted yardsticks and parameters to assess any state's or country'soverall progress. So, a view of J&K through MDG -lens will give a picture of its current state of progress and development in different sectors.J&K ranks poorly in terms of HDI(Human development index). From a rank of 26 in 1996, its position slipped to 27 in 2006 among 35 states and union territories. This implies that the state of development in the state is slower than the rate in most other states. According to the report of Economics Departments of Jammu and Kashmir Universities, the Human Development Index of Jammu and Kashmir is 0.5906. The report has placed Kupwara district as most backward with HDI at 0.50 while Jammu has been placed at highest position with HDI at 0.67.

The HDI of other districts is Anantnag at 0.54, Pulwama 0.59, Srinagar 0.61, Budgam 0.53, Baramulla 0.54, Kargil 0.54, Leh 0.63, Doda 0.55, Udhampur 0.59, Kathua 0.64, Rajouri 0.60 and Poonch 0.57. A brief description of J&K 's progress in achieving millinnium development goals. is as under

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty & hunger: The united nations MDG target for 2015 is to reduce BPL population to 18.5%. The total BPL estimated population ratio of J&K state has arrived at 21.63 %(24.21 lakh persons) constituting 26.14%(22.00 lakh persons) for rural areas and 7.96% (2.21 lakh persons) for urban areas as per the survey conducted in 2008 by the directorate of Economics and Statistics. Poverty ratio at all india level for the year 2004-05 was found to be 27.50% with 28.30% in rural and 25.70 % in urban areas as per NSSO survey. On the basis of BPL head count ratio, the seven poorest distt. in the state are Reasi, Ramban, Kishtwar, Poonch, Kupwara, Kargil and Bandipura which have more than estimated BPL population ranging between 31.09 percent to 37.93 percent. The BPL survey conducted by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics in 2008 reveal that yhe highest percentage of urban poverty is in distt.

Kulgam with 15.83% followed by distt. pulwama with 14 % and distt. Ganderbal with 13.87% .The social group distribution of BPL population indicates the dispersion of 42.05% in case of ST,38.07 % in case of OBC(Paharis) ,22.77 % in case of SC while as other categories show only 16.85 % of population under BPL when compared with the respective population of a particular categories .This shows that a highest incidence of poverty is among ST population followed by OBC category inclusive of pahari speaking population.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education:As per census 2011 ,the literacy rate in the state has jumped to 68.74% from 55.52% from the last census. The literacy rate with respect to males is 78.26 % while for female is 58%.As per recent census, the first three positions in literacy rate were taken by Jammu , Samba and Leh with a recorded percentage of 83.98%, 82.48% and 80.48% respectively .The drop out rate at primary and upper primary level is 1.13% and 2.94%. With the launch of Sarve Siksha Abhiyan and its various interventions the state is making every possible efforts to provide education of satisfactory quality by bridging the existing gaps in access, provision of infrastructure including curricula and teachers training. There are 14820(13516 Govt. and 1304 private) primary schools ,8300 (6264 Govt. and 2036 private) middle schools .1901 (1156 Govt. and 745 private) High schools, and 786 (597 Govt. and 189 private) Higher secondary schools, functioning in the state. Besides, 2 Sainik schools, 36 Kendriya Vidalayas and 14 Jawahar Nav Vidalayas in the Govt.sectors.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women : As per GDI report of 1996 and 2006 of India, J&K slipped from a position of 25 in 1996 to 28 in 2006. As per 2011 census, like the other north Indian states the sex ratio has shown a disturbing trend in the state in the state with the no. of females per thousand males coming down from 892 in 2001 to 883 this year. Same is the case with child sex ratio with this being recorded as 859 in 2011 census as compared to 941 in 2001 census. This implies that J&K lags much behind other states and Union Territories in terms of GDI . This state has to do a lot to achieve MDG 's by 2015. In terms of the Gender development index (GDI), J&K shows much worse position than most of the states of India. The worse GDI is of J&K is due to the fact that female work participation rate in the state is relatively lower. The women in J&K are not better placed as compared to their male counterparts

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality. As per MDG's, under 5 child mortality rate is to be reduced to 42 per 1000 live births by 2015. As per the Sample Registration System (SRS 2008), the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) for J&K has been declining over the years and has declined from 52 per thousand live births in 2006 to 49 per thousand live births in 2008. JSY has increased the proportion of pregnant women delivering in a health facility. Increase in institutional deliveries has helped in bringing down the infant mortality rate as well as the maternal mortality ratio.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health: Most of deliveries in rural areas take place at home conducted by family members or untrained ones. This leads to high prevalence of anemia among children. Many areas of state are remote, inaccessible and forested with operational difficulties in implementation of control program. Healthcare facilities need to be expanded as well as developed in those remote areas.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases:J&K state is a low prevalence state where mean prevalence rate of HIV infection among high risk groups is 0.3% and low risk groups is 0.04% as per various Sentinel Surveillance rounds conducted during last eight years. The state is low endemic for leprosy and has already achieved the goal of elimination of leprosy During 2008-09, a total of 205 new leprosy cases were detected. The number of cases of waterborne diseases like malaria and typhoid have started increasing dramatically during the rainy season.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability:9.08 % of forest cover of J&K againgst 23% of India.The reduction in forest cover and erosion of natural resources base of the state have been directly impacting the livelihood options of the millions of forest dependent, who do not have any other livelihood alternative. During the past decade there has been considerable determination in the quality of environment .The forest cover has decreased. The J&K state is the home of 18 different minerals amongst available minerals resources, lime stones, coal, gypsm and lignite are in abundance in the state.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development: There are 22 Distt., 82 Teshils, 86 towns and 6551 villages across the state of J&K. The population density in the state has increased from 100 person per square Km. to 124 person per square Km.There are small sized villages scattered throughout the state. As such the cost of providing physical and social infrastructure like roads, electricity, health care,primary education,etc. is very high. This calls for providing high allocation of resources including manpower to improve the social and physical infrastructure in the state and an integrated effort from Govt. sector along with private sector, voluntary organisation and civil societies.

The J&K state hold great importance for India as it is one of the key tourist attraction. As such public sector must take a lead in the creation of physical and social infrastructure like roads, electricity, health care, primary education etc. Major public investment in infrastructure is essential to remove the wide disparities existing between J&K and the advanced states of India.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

DESI INDIA HAS SOLUTION FOR GLOBAL WARMING

BY SUDHANSU R DAS

Former Prime Minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru was the brand ambassador of a unique desi product, which became famous as Jawahar jacket. His daughter Mrs Indira Gandhi's love for sarees had helped saree industry boom. Mahatma Gandhi, the pioneer of Swadeshi movement threw away his western attires and picked up a coarse hand woven dhoti to prevent British attempt to devour Indian cottage industry products. Gandhiji said he never fought an economic war but he wanted Indian cottage industry products to survive among global competition. In the post independent era popular mass leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee made dhoti and kurta become popular in the market. The more charismatic BJP leader L K Advani's trademark white dhoti kurta with jacket set a trend for his followers. Rajeev Gandhi's kurta pyjama continues to be favourite among his party men. The lungi clad Finance Minister P Chidambaram will not let the weavers down in South Indian states when the ubiquitous barmunda threatens lungi in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Indian political class have unknowingly contributed to the growth of domestic economy by identifying themselves with the mass.

In fact one of the main objectives of globalisation is to integrate the indigenous products of different countries for mutual benefit and never to destroy indigenous skill or products. But the pursuit of economy of scale in an aggressive manner will force many indigenous products to exit. It is foolish to expect market forces to go for philanthropy. They will churn out maximum profit form their endeavour. Here the state has to see what they are doing whether their effort is to wipe out biodegradable indigenous products and skill. Whether to check the market forces which are out to destroy the sustainable nature of economic model.

India is a mysterious nation where its genuine economic potential is yet to be discovered by our economists who are busy toying with western economic theories without much effort to relate it to ground reality. Reading books, bagging a degree from a foreign university will not make a performing economist. An economist should be in a position to relate his theory with ground reality with extensive research in the field. It is not the only job of an economist to dabble with arithmatics and econometrics, which have no relation with ground reality. The job of the economists is to recommend solution based on hard facts.

More than the economists India needs brand ambassadors for indigenous desi products. Indian celibrities who thrived on the millions of gullible Indian consumers owed a lot to this country. They must pay back by endorsing indigenous products. Look at the Indian film stars whose earnings and lavish life style depend on the millions of gullible Indian film goers. The popularity of Indian cricket stars is also due to the millions of Indians who skip work to watch cricket matches. Is it not the duty of the Indian cricket stars to endorse some cottage industry products, which would ultimately improve the quality of life among millions of poor Indians. If Dhoni endorses an indigenous milk product it would provide employment to many. Tendulkar has amassed wealth from cricket. He could have done a lot to improve sports infrastructure in backward districts of Maharashtra. Tendulkar could endorse Kolhapuri chapals, boost tourism sector and many Marathi cuisines which will ultimately help poor Maharashtrians. If Deepika Padukone endorses some biodegradable handicraft utility items it would give employment to millions. In every beauty contest all those winners always impressed the judges by saying their hearts beat for the down trodden. While donning global brands the stars can also think of donning ethnic attires to give a boost to cottage industries and local artisans. There is nothing wrong in the multipurpose lungis, which should not die an untimely death. Indians must love both barmunda and lungis for an equitable growth. A simple statement from Amitabha Bachhan to save rain water will enthuse millions of villagers to stop desertification of farm land. Kashmir is the treasure trove of classic ethnic attires, handicrafts, intricate carpets and many other rich traditions which can be survived if Kashmir leaders start loving it. The rich handicraft traditions of Kashmir in a transparent supply chains can give large number of jobs of Kashmiri youth on a sustainable basis.

In globalisation we need IT, new technology, life saving drugs and in the same time we need to protect our indigenous skill and products which are economically and environmentally safe and sustainable. India preserves the greatest solution for global warming-a sustainable economic model amid natural sectors. Today global warming threatens to destroy the civilisation and the developed nations with all their wealth and power will can become helpless witness to nature's retribution like the recent earthquake followed by 50 feet height Tsunami in Japan. The slogan should be "go global but be environment friendly".

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ALL IN HONOUR'S NAME

HARYANA WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT

 

The 'honour' of certain communities has become a very fragile commodity. It gets violated by every little action of its women. If girls from their community marry men from outside, the honour gets violated; if they marry men from their own community, the honour is infringed. It also gets breached if two women become friendly, as happened on April 18 in Ranila village of Charkhi Dadri area of Haryana when two widows were beaten to death ruthlessly before hundreds of 'spectators' for 'having an affair', as was alleged by a rapist on parole. And now, women are barred from work by a 'fatwa' issued by panchayats of Gadowali and Sarai villages of Haridwar district. Violators were told to pay Rs 5,100 and also face humiliation. This fatwa was issued across boundaries of caste and religion.

 

In a democratic country governed by a Constitution which guarantees equal rights and opportunity to work regardless of gender, caste and creed, could a panchayat's dictate restrict women from work? The answer is, yes. While the Constitution may have empowered women with equal rights, the implementation of these rights by the administrative machinery has been dismal, giving teeth to such bodies like the khap panchayats. The fragile 'izzat' of the said community was 'abused' by one of the girls working in an industrial unit who eloped with a boy! So, the entire women force of the area had to face the wrath. Fortunately, after the district police took stern action and offered police protection to working girls, the panchayats took a u-turn by declaring the fatwa to be meant only for minor girls. This proves how an active administrative machinery can weaken these self-styled socially regressive forces.

 

In an India of 9 per cent growth rate and many well- meaning legislations to bring in more equality among all sections all of the society, violence against women is the fastest-growing crime, thanks to institutions like these. Every 26 minutes a woman is molested, every 34 minutes a rape takes place, and every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped, according to the Home Ministry's National Crime Records Bureau. There is more to these crimes than the apparent issue of honour. In the land of few opportunities and many contenders, elimination of girls paves way for the socially preferred and favoured male employment.

 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DRONES ON TARGET

PAKISTAN HARVESTING A LETHAL CROP

 

It is tough to be double agent, whether as an individual or as a nation. Pakistan is in throes of such an identity crisis. On paper, it is a valued ally of the US in its war against terrorism. But in reality it has also to mentor the numerous terrorist outfits that it has started and nurtured over the decades. Initially, the Americans overlooked such activities, for two reasons. One, its support was essential for carrying out missions in Afghanistan. And, two, the unofficially sponsored militant outfits mostly targeted countries like India. But the situation underwent a sea change when American citizens and establishments also became prime targets. Ever since, the US has stopped hiding its exasperation and has responded by deadly drone attacks, in which many militants have been killed, along with some civilians. Such "collateral damage" is minor matter for the US but causes a furore in Pakistan.

 

Pakistani officials have been trying to reason with their American counterparts, but with limited results. What has to be remembered is that there is a fairly large section in the Army itself which chafes at any kind of arrangements with the Americans, except getting mega bucks from them. So, it is pragmatic to orchestrate protests in the country against the American "excesses". The Tehrik-e-Insaf of Imran Khan, which is spearheading the protests, is in any case a strong critic of US action.

 

Naturally, the NATO supplies to troops in Afghanistan would be affected, considering that nearly 70 per cent of supply truckers and oil tankers pass through Pakistan. But the effect of arm-twisting will be less pronounced this time because the US has opened alternative routes through Russia. The dangerous part is that if at all it yields on the demand to stop backing the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Haqqani group, it might like to extract a heavy price, including a central role in Afghanistan at the cost of India and more aid.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

WARMING UP TO CHINA

UNSETTLED BORDER CAN LEAD TO INTRUSIONS

BY GEN (RETD) V. P. MALIK

 

India's security relations with China took yet another turn when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Sanya (Hainan province, China) this month. Both countries agreed to set up "a mechanism on coordination on border affairs" and resume defence and military exchanges given up nine months ago when China refused a visa to India's Northern Army Commander. After the meeting, the Prime Minister stated that defence ties with China would be continued and indicated that the new mechanism on maintaining peace on the border is "work in progress".

 

Military exchanges between India and China have been going on ever since Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988 to bring about a thaw after the Wangdung skirmishes in 1986-87 and highly tense relations thereafter. Besides the exchange of visits by senior military officers, the military has been part of the Joint Working Group formed over the boundary question. These exchanges have contributed to military-level confidence-building measures, reducing tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and to supplement diplomatic efforts to improve the overall relations between the two countries. Recently, there has also been a joint exercise on counter terrorism.

 

India and China signed the "Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC Agreement" in 1993. This agreement called for (a) not to pose military threats to each other but to respect and observe the LAC (b) reduce the level of military exercises near the LAC (c) reduce military forces to the minimum level and (d) implement measures given in the agreement by holding meetings and friendly consultations between border personnel and military experts.

 

In November 1996 India and China signed another agreement on "Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC". This agreement reaffirmed that neither side will use or threaten to use forces against the other or seek unilateral military superiority. The two sides agreed that along the LAC (a) the number of forces and heavy weapons will be reduced or limited (b) data on the reduction of military forces will be exchanged (c) Military exercise involving more than a division will not be conducted and information about lower-level exercises will be exchanged (d) combat aircraft will not fly within 10 km of the LAC without information to each other (e) troops will exercise self-restraint and avoid escalation if they come into a face-to-face situation, and (f) the regime of scheduled and flag meetings will be expanded and medium and high level contacts between the border authorities will be established step by step.

 

Two developments created hurdles in the implementation of the above-mentioned agreements. First, despite several meetings at the official and political levels, India and China could not clarify or exchange data on the alignment of the LAC as perceived by respective countries on the maps. As a result, many of the forward-looking steps mentioned in the 1996 agreement could not be implemented. Secondly, the PLA Divisional Commander opposite Ladakh, after accepting the invitation for a meeting with his Indian counterpart, declined to visit Leh and instead asked that the meeting be held in New Delhi. As that would not have served the desired purpose, the meeting was called off.

 

In the following years, despite policy level flips-flops, ever increasing ground level transgressions into areas claimed by each other and several face-to-face patrol confrontations, military personnel on both sides have exercised self-restraint and have managed to avoid escalation of the situation while guarding the disputed LAC. There have been no firing incidents. It has been possible to maintain peace, if not tranquility, along the LAC. While the credit for this goes to the military on both sides, I would give more credit to our troops who have to remain conscious of the alarming impact of a Chinese intrusion or a skirmish on Indian public opinion.

 

While the above state in the field can give satisfaction at the tactical level, at the strategic level, however, India is being pushed more and more into a corner. Negotiations between special representatives on the border issue have failed to achieve any breakthrough so far. China has backed out on the agreed principle not to disturb "interests of the settled populations" of the two countries in the border settlement.

 

In November 2006, in complete disregard of diplomatic norms, the Chinese Ambassador in India publicly voiced China's claims to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. China has started protesting Indian leaders' visits to Arunachal Pradesh; denying visas to officials of Arunachal and issuing stapled visas to Indian citizens from J & K. It has made considerable logistical improvements and improved its capability to rapidly induct, deploy and sustain large military forces into Tibet. The number of Chinese transgressions in the "disputed areas" has increased. With the deployment of Chinese engineers and soldiers in the Gilgit-Baltistan area, its "all-weather" relations with Pakistan, which in Hu Jintao's words, are "higher than the mountains and deeper than oceans", have firmly placed India in a two-front bind in the Western sector. China has also refused to discuss nuclear confidence measures and nuclear risk reduction measures with India on the ground that India is not a NPT recognised nuclear weapon state.

 

Strategically, China's competitive relationship with India far outweighs the cooperative one, which allows it to wage a war of nerves from time to time. It continues to exploit our appeasement to its advantage. The Government of India has not been able to counter or reverse this trend.

 

With the economic interdependence of the two countries rising steadily (trade expected to touch $100 bn in 2015) and the economic agenda being of vital interest, there are many who suggest softening of security relations. But that is not possible so long as the boundary question remains unsettled. An active engagement will indeed be detrimental to both countries either now or in future. In the current geo-political environment, with nuclear symmetry in place, neither China nor India can think of a war; not even a 1962-like limited war. But the unsettled boundary issue and lack of clarity and transparency on the LAC can lead to intrusions or skirmishes in disputed areas which may escalate into a war. India's armed forces, therefore, have to remain alert and plan for such contingencies till India and China are able to settle the border or find principled ways of living with an unsettled border.

 

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

THE VETERAN COMMUNITY

BY MAJOR-GEN G.G. DWIVEDI (RETD)

 

One of the valuable members of my skeleton headquarters team when I was commanding the unit in Siachen was Naik Sheel Chand.  Always cheerful, with a reserved demeanour, he was forthright enough never to mince words.  Besides his skills as an adept infantry man, he was also a qualified paramedic.  

 

Given that we were operating at heights ranging from 5000 to 6000 metres with mercury hovering around minus 40 degrees C, he would religiously monitor our basic parameters.  Once, in a bid to skip his rigorous regime, I happened to tell him that being fully acclimatised, I didn't require any checkup.  He firmly reprimanded me stating that many commanding officers got into health problems not on account of lack of physical fitness but due to the commitment and concern for the thousand-odd men under their command. Thereafter, I never dared to confront him on that issue.       

 

Years later, when I was on another operational assignment, Sheel Chand again volunteered to be part of my personal staff team.  He had not changed. He always looked forward to action.   His only request would be some leave after two to three months so that he could replenish his ghee stock to spice up his daily daal.  

 

One day I was caught off guard when he expressed his desire to quit the service.  On enquiring, he explained to me that he has been passed over for promotion and his pride did not allow him to serve under the juniors.

 

I was indeed overwhelmed at this soldier's uprighteousness and self-esteem.  He accepted his supersession with grace and chose to bow out with élan. The only assistance he sought from me was to facilitate his early exit.  With modest post-retirement plans he was hopeful to make his ends meet with dignity.

 

Recently, Sheel Chand paid me a surprise visit.  He looked younger, contented and prosperous. His hard work on a small piece of land combined with small-scale entrepreneur initiatives enabled him to enlarge the scope of his farming activities. His children attend a private English medium school.  He now owns a tractor and a pre-owned car (for family outings). Simultaneously, he also plays a prominent leadership role in the affairs of his village.  As an honest ex-soldier, he continues to contribute to society in humble yet meaningful ways. As I went to see off Sheel Chand, I felt honoured to be a part of the veteran community.

 

I also feel blessed that retired Havildar Anna Hazare has dug in his heels to wage a historic war against the 'cancer of corruption' that has deeply afflicted our society.  With deep sense of reverence, my hand rises to salute him as he represents millions of unknown soldiers who made supreme sacrifices without seeking any reward in a bid to make this land a better place.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE MISSING GALLERIES OF ART

PUNJAB HAS GIVEN MANY GREAT ARTISTS TO THE WORLD OF ART, BUT, OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE GROWTH OF ART REMAIN ABYSMALLY

POOR IN THE STATE. OF THE TWO EXISTING ART GALLERIES IN THE STATE, ONE IS MIRED IN CONTROVERSIES.
VANDANA SHUKLA

 

Punjab has given one of the most celebrated artists to the world of visual art- from Amrita Sher-Gil, Manjit Bawa, Arpana Caur, Paramjit Singh, to T&T ( Thukral and Tagra) and Vibha Galhotra. The artistic journey of these artists has made an impact in shaping new trends in the art world, which resulted in receiving global appreciation for their works. Unfortunately, in their own state, they hardly ever had a chance to showcase their talent, receiving laurels is a far- fetched proposition. Reason, the state does not have galleries and other infrastructure that can cater to dynamic needs of art world, which is evolving and growing beyond the bounds of available resources. As a result, artists migrate from the state to other places to grow.

"The state continues to provide great artistic talent to the country and the world but it fails to grow appreciation for art for lack of infrastructure," says Rahi Mahinder Singh, secretary, Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi.

 

The continued migration of artists comes as a greater surprise, since, one of the first ever galleries that opened in the country, was, Indian Academy of Fine Arts at Amritsar. The state body of art, Punjab Arts Council, does not have a budget allocation worth mention. NZCC ( North Zone Cultural Centre) , another body that is supposed to cater to needs of art, flip flops, depending upon the efforts of the head of the organisation, especially when it comes to promotion of visual art. At Kalagram, Mani Majra, the ambitious project of NZCC, a corridor was converted into an art gallery, which was in fact, an apology of a gallery, where upcoming artists could exhibit their works. Even this facility was closed, further reducing availability of space for exhibitions. Virsa Vihars was another effort initiated by the state government for the purpose, but, there too exhibitions are held only with collaborations. At Jalandhar, Apeejay College of Art has turned Virsa Vihar, Jalandhar, into Satya Paul Virsa Vihar Art Gallery. At Bhatinda, Kapurthala, and Patiala, Virsa Vihars are still waiting to take off. After closure of NZCC gallery at Sheesh Mahal, Patiala, one more option to showcase works for budding artists is closed, in the almost non- existent private gallery scenario in Punjab. Punjabi University, Patiala, which runs a successful master's programme in Fine Arts, had a gallery and museum attached to the department to promote talent of its students. Due to some bureaucratic decision, the gallery and museum were separated three years back. Now, the gallery in- charge has to take permission from the vice chancellor, instead of a panel of artists- as is the norm, if an artist wants to hold a show.

 

Artists need exhibitions, without a critique, their art cannot grow. If one excludes Chandigarh, which has a sizeable number of good galleries, barring just two galleries worth mention, there is no other place in Punjab where adequate facilities are provided at a good location to showcase works in a professional manner. Many senior artists, who hail from different towns of Punjab, and have shown works across the country, lament the lack of facilities, which, newly emerging towns like Gurgaon have aplenty in places like EPI Centre and Art Mart. The state is untouched by the way markets and styles have undergone transformation in the absence of professionally managed art activity. There is hardly any interaction with evolved viewers for the artist. It is a catch- 22 situation, artists do not grow for the same reasons that fail to provide discerning viewers of art.

 

Admitting apathy of the government bodies, Rahi Mohinder Singh adds that it is primarily work of the Akademis to organise seminars, shows, talks etc to support growth of art in the state. Unfortunately, Punjab Arts Council depends on office bearers to extract money from the government, which, till date has no fixed budget allocation for arts.

 

Another problem is attached to practising artists who have decided not to grow beyond realism and copy work in the name of art. People open galleries in Ludhiana and Jalandhar with fanfare, galleries last till the space is rented out to a more lucrative offer. The kind of commitment art requires has somehow failed to grow, as a result those who wish to pursue art, migrate to Delhi or Mumbai. In the past Ludhiana has seen opening and closing of Tag gallery, Artmosphere and few others. If you compare the scenario with Jahangeer Art Gallery, Mumbai, where waiting list runs into years, galleries don't even hold shows on a regular basis, which explains apathy to art in the state.

 

Usually artists migrate from small towns in Punjab to Chandigarh, where their journey begins, then, they move on to bigger cities to grow. Art cannot grow without a journey, true, but like MNCs art must not grow in metros alone. And, this can happen with facilities made available, as has happened in smaller towns like Jaipur, Pune and Bhopal.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE ART OF CONTROVERSY

 

" In the new statutes passed in the last general house meeting on March 31, they tried to manipulate the facts. Constitution is turned autocratic and they are telling half truths to sideline the facts. The real issue is, this space is meant for art activity and hence it should be managed by artists. We have involved the administration to sort it out for the benefit of art."

 

— Neeta Mahindra, artist

 

" Simply put, this organisation is meant for artists, it cannot be allowed to be usurped by strange people who have nothing to do with art. We have signed a letter and sent it to the administration asking them to intervene. I do not know how it happened, but, it is appalling. How can I become a member of chamber of commerce, will they accept me? So, why is it that when it comes to art, anyone can attempt to not only walk in but try to take over an organisation built over years of dedicated work of artist community. We need connoisseurs of art, not some brick kiln owner to destroy a legacy created by the likes of M S Randhawa sahib. All artists are supporting this cause- from theatre, films and other art forms. "

 

— M K Raina, thespian

 

" Few cities of the size of Amritsar have such a facility. The state government has put in a lot of money to support it, so, artists should be managing it. Most artists do not understand finance so they get pushed out. What happened to AIFACS ( All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society), Delhi, should not be allowed to happen here. They rented out 50 per cent of the space to General Electicals, which closed one of the exit doors of the auditorium. Because one of the exits was closed the police and fire department of Delhi refused permission for the auditorium to operate, so Delhi lost one of its best auditoriums to public. Artists should not allow this space meant for art to be wasted by commercial activity. Money can be raised, there are so many cultural funds that can help. Samhat Foundation has sent a letter of support to this cause, signed by the artist community."

 

— Ram Rahman, artist

 

" This is becoming symptomatic of how cultural activities are under a threat of appropriation of larger cultural spaces by the community of realtors and such people. Why this particular space is important is, because Amritsar is a place of connectivity and creative vibrancy. Unless artists, as a community, are not constantly vigilant, their cultural space will be under threat. Artists must resist and question such undemocratic norms. I am really delighted by what they are doing to resist it, though, I am also concerned about it. The constitution they have passed will not stand even half a minute of scrutiny, if a PIL is filed against these undemocratic means in a court of law."

 

— Madan Gopal Singh, Sufi singer

 

" I visited the gallery last year in winter for the first time and was impressed that a place like Amritsar has such a facility for art. So, I offered to donate a painting of Bhai Mardana with footprints of Guru Nanak. Since Punjab Government never has the money to buy art, and Amritsar is a holy city so the impulse came to me to donate the work, despite the fact that a Hong Kong based buyer wanted it. I initiated the process. Then, I learnt about this controversy. How can an artist entrust a work of art in the hands of people she is not sure of, whether they will be able to look after, or, even display it properly. I have sent my appeal to them, such places should be managed by artists to earn confidence of artist community."

 

— Arpana Caur, artist

" Management of art is best left to artists, art connoisseurs, art historians or art critics. Those who do not understand art, or, have never bought art for their home, howsoever well intended they may claim to be, they do not understand the intricacies of organising art. They should be politely told to leave, or, administration should be asked to intervene."

— Diwan Manna, Chairperson, Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi

Indian Academy of Fine Arts

Established in 1928 by Master Gurdit Singh and his friends, Indian Academy of Fine Arts , Amritsar, acquired its present status by dedicated pursuit of S G Thakur Singh, who went all the way to Bengal to master wash technique and later became a scene painter in the nascent Bombay film industry. He retuned to Amritsar with name and fame and dedicated his life to promotion of art. It was due to the efforts of Thakur and few other like- minded artists that the government gave 4000 square feet land for the gallery in 1958, for which foundation stone was laid by Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India. Kartar Singh Duggal gave Rs 17.5 lac to the gallery for the air conditioning of the gallery and the auditorium.

Since 1928, every year IAFA has been holding national art shows, barring 1947, when show could not be held due to partition. The prestigious gallery has got into an ugly controversy due to alleged unlawful constitutional amendments by a few self- proclaimed office bearers, who are neither artist not have any love for art. These office bearers, allege the artist community, are realtors and brick kiln owners, who are trying to amend the constitution to own the space which is a prime property. The artist community from the entire country is flabbergasted, as the cultural space, created with the help of the government for the purpose of art alone is being used by the office bearers of political affiliation for commercial activities. The artist community is up in arms against this blatant show of disregard by a few for artists and art in a state which is as such in dire need of more such facilities.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

WAS DJOKOVIC PLAYING?

EVERY TITLE WON BY RAFAEL NADAL AND ROGER FEDERER IS NOW GREETED BY A QUESTION HITHERTO UNTHINKABLE...

 

In 2009, when Rafael Nadal was out of commission because of a knee injury, international tennis was thrown completely off-gear. Roger Federer cleaned house, but every victory came with a tiny asterisk denoting Rafa's absence, documenting how Roger hadn't been fully tested. One tower was lost without the other.

It was only when the duopoly was restored last season that all was well with the world again: Federer and Nadal, the pillars that hold up modern tennis, resuming their battle for the centre seat on its high table.

 

In the meantime, it was business as usual for the rest of their compatriots. Andy Murray's famous in-out game was less in and more out (outhit, out-thought, outplayed in every big tournament). Juan Martin del Potro created some unequal music at the 2009 US Open but never struck those chords again. And in the locker room, Novak Djokovic, the Nole, unabashedly played the fool, mimicking Roger's gliding forehand and Nadal's butt-yank when he wasn't too busy grunting like Maria Sharapova.

 

Still it was a happy time for men's tennis, which had not witnessed a genuine rivalry since the late 80s, when Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander traded Grand Slams and constantly leap-frogged each other in the rankings. Two Europeans with contrasting personalities and different styles slugging it out week after week; what more could one ask for? The emergence of another contender seemed as unnecessary as it was implausible.

 

No one anticipated what would happen next. Djokovic is now unbeaten since November; his 24-0 start to the year includes one Grand Slam and two Masters titles; during this run, he's beaten Nadal twice and Federer three times; he's ranked No 2 (after creating a record for the most weeks spent as No 3); and Nadal himself concedes that taking over the top slot is only a matter of time for the Serbian, who starts his clay-court campaign at home tonight after sitting out the last two weeks due to injury.

 

This Sunday, when news of Rafa winning his second straight tournament filtered through the wires, it was received not with enquiries about how Federer had done but by a question hitherto unthinkable: Did Djokovic play? Just like that, tennis's asterisk had been transferred.

 

The 23-year-old Serbian first made heads turn at the Australian Open in January, when he beat Roger Federer in the semi-finals by relentlessly attacking his single-handed backhand, not afraid of the famous whiplash winner. Slowing the pace of the ball, he consciously induced unforced errors from Federer, forcing him to run-and-gun in frustration. Djokovic's victory, as opposed to some others who have beaten Federer over the years, was a result of carefully constructed match-craft rather than sheer, blind luck.

 

It was clear that afternoon that Djokovic had figured out how to beat Roger, in the manner of Rafael Nadal. But did he have it in him to trump the Spaniard? The answer came in Indian Wells, and then again in Miami. Against Rafa, Djokovic was part slugger, like Andre Agassi, and part scrambler, like Michael Chang. It was tennis not dissimilar to Nadal's own brand, but with one key difference: Djokovic covered the entire court, as comfortable volleying as he was hitting from the baseline.

In the third set at Indian Wells, for example, he took Rafa completely by surprise by sweeping to the net and angling away a forehand to go up 2-0. In the fourth point of the final-set tie-break at Miami, Djokovic put Nadal on the run, sending him left to right to left, before hitting a winner into the open court and win a 15-point rally.

 

In the stands, the chants of "Rafa Ra-fa" were matched with cries of "No-le No-le", and Nadal later said he'd lost to one of the greatest: not a word easily used at a time when Federer is still active. The third tower is here, no doubt about it. But there is a bigger question: Is this the era of the 'triopoly', or the start of another tennis monopoly?

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

EDITORIAL

MORE THAN A GODMAN

SATHYA SAI BABA WAS A HEALER AND AN INSTITUTION BUILDER

When the scientific advisor to the Government of India, Suri Bhagavantam, chose to devote his life in the service of an as yet upcoming "Godman" and "magician", as rationalists dubbed him, many eyebrows were raised in India's scientific community. This was more than four decades ago. From being a locally known self-proclaimed reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, the healer and Godman who had – and continues to have – a following cutting across religious boundaries, Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh became a global guru with a worldwide following that includes heads of government and celebrities who would fly down in their private jets for Baba's darshan. For a man who inspired and gave solace to millions around the world, Sathya Sai Baba remained an enigma to most. Was he a spiritual guru or a miracle worker? Was he a Godman or a psycho-analyst-cum-healer? While many went to him because they saw him as one or the other or all put together, his true legacy for posterity will be the institutions and the management style he leaves behind. Baba's followers should protect, preserve and strengthen these institutions — the university, schools, hospitals, the medical education institution and many other institutions that were directly run by the Sathya Sai Organisation or by Baba's devotees. These institutions are all marked by selfless service of a faithful and high-quality management, efficient functioning and a commitment to excellence. It is by this institutional legacy, apart from all the tales that will be told of his miracles and teachings, that Sathya Sai Baba will be remembered.

India is a land of gurus and Godmen, and there are the good, the bad and the ugly. There are many fraudsters and those who exploit the devout and the distressed. However, the good ones play many useful roles — as psycho-therapists, offering solace and hope to people in distress, and not charging the fee that psycho-analysts do; as moral guides, providing a moral framework for people living in a society in a state of flux; and as institution builders, creating public spaces for reading, reflection, healing and meditation. However, their emphasis on personal salvation often overrides any focus on the public good. Therefore, many gurus help people in distress without doing enough to eliminate the causes of individual alienation and distress in a rapidly changing society. The pace of change in the country, especially urban and semi-urban India, has been so fast that many are left at a loss. Inter-generational tensions, professional pressures and the sheer inability to deal with rapid changes encourage people to find solace and comfort in spiritual practice. Sathya Sai Baba was one such healer. There are others and there will be more. The immediate challenge before Sai Baba's followers, especially those charged with the responsibility for managing his legacy, is to ensure that the Trust and the institutions that he has left behind function transparently and remain true to their ideals and goals. Despite so many political leaders being devotees of Sathya Sai Baba, the state government should resist any temptation to interfere in the affairs of the non-governmental trust.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE BIG TWO RIDE HIGH

ANALYSTS GET THE SOFTWARE SIGNALS WRONG

There is a dissonance between the quarterly results of India's top two software companies, TCS and Infosys Technologies, and the response it evoked in stock markets. The latter apparently did not like the results as they beat down the stocks. While Infosys was faulted for not living up to the expectations of the analysts and suffered a greater fall, TCS produced very good numbers but still saw its stock decline. There can be many reasons for a stock's rise and fall. A downward movement in response to good news can be a correction to earlier over-optimism. But the stock market's contrariness needs to be underlined to make the point that the outlook for Indian software is positive, Indian leaders are well poised to take advantage of it and the absence of any feel-good sentiment over the sector right now does not appear to be based on fundamentals. In particular, while analysts have pilloried the Infosys results, its numbers over the last few quarters have consistently met guidelines. If anything, it is the excessive exuberance of the analysts in the run-up to the results that needs highlighting.

However, the recent trends in the results of the two major players tell two different stories. For several quarters now, TCS has been catching up on what has traditionally been the biggest feather in Infosys' cap: high margins resulting from a pricing premium that none else could command. In the last quarter, TCS has actually pipped Infosys to the post, recording a net margin of 25.8 per cent, against 25 per cent of Infosys. While over the last few quarters, Infosys' net margin has been steady but lower than earlier, over the last three quarters TCS has improved its net margin over its earlier performance. Over the same period, TCS has also recorded a faster sequential (quarter on quarter) rise in the topline.

 

 TCS' recent improved performance can be attributed to its boldness in accessing inorganic growth, charting out new geographies and being able to digest all this. On the other hand, Infosys has remained its usual conservative self and produced solidly commendable results. Both the companies are world beaters in being able to command 25 per cent net margins. Being able to keep growing fast for well over a decade now indicates that they are not continuing to rely solely on their earlier cost advantage. They have been going up the value chain, acquiring domain knowledge (industry-specific skills) and increasingly assisting clients in reshaping their entire operations to gain newer efficiencies, which are imperative for survival in the financial crisis-induced downturn. What is important is that these firms have picked up the slack that they had developed in 2009-10 even as recovery in mature markets, where their main customers reside, has been uncertain. Undoubtedly, the Indian leaders face a major challenge in maintaining their scorching pace of growth and high margins, and they are aware of it. Hence the generational changes that have taken place at the top. Thus, right now they seem to be measuring up to the challenges before them.

 

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 BUSINESS STANDARD

THE OPTIMUM VALUE OF SCARCE RESOURCES

OPTIMAL EXTRACTION OF NON-RENEWABLE RESOURCES MIGHT REQUIRE THAT THOSE RIGHTS BE OFFERED THROUGH AUCTIONS. BUT NOT ALWAYS

AJIT RANADE

Maqbool Fida Husain was born in 1915 in Maharashtra's most famous pilgrim town of Pandharpur. He moved to Mumbai as a penniless aspiring artist in 1937, often roughing it out on pavements, and even painting cinema hoardings. In those early days he must have scribbled, painted, sketched or simply doodled several pieces, and sold them for a pittance just to make a living. All those early paintings are now worth crores of rupees. Is it unfair that he does not get any share of the subsequent huge wealth creation? Others made millions off his drawings, when he himself had to part with his creations at distress rates.

The question may sound rhetorical, and, furthermore, Mr Husain is no longer an impoverished artist. But the question remains valid. To what extent can a seller retain some ownership rights after an asset is sold? On this very issue there was a much celebrated rift between legends Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar in the 1960s. Mangeshkar wanted a continuing revenue stream, and Rafi's position was that once the artiste was paid, that was it. Because of this row they refused to sing together for several years. Thanks to modern copyright law, this issue is largely resolved for the creative world of art, literature and music.

 

 But what about the sale of land? What about the rights of poor farmers or tribals who sell their small parcels to industrialists, only to later find that much riches have flown from that same land to the new owners? No, we are not talking about forcible land acquisition in the name of "public interest" or for "urgent reason". That concept has been discarded de facto, and the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 will change de jure soon, thanks to Singur and the aftermath. But even if land is acquired at so-called market-determined rates, this problem of persisting claim of the seller remains. It becomes acute when the asset being transferred is a scarce resource, such as land, water, mining area or even spectrum. For such items, the concept of a "market price" that can reveal all the future value, flowing in over several decades, is difficult to capture. In the case of spectrum in 1994, the market-determined price turned out to be unreal, and the seller (that is, the government) had to bail out the buyers by changing to the revenue share model, rather than outright sale. More recently, in the case of industrial lands in Haryana and elsewhere, it is the buyers who will have to reserve a permanent revenue or profit share for the original sellers.

The problem of allocating scarce natural resources, such as land, water, mineral rights and forests, is a tough one. In India, it gets more complicated because of a four-way peculiar conjunction. Many valuable minerals lie beneath dense forests, which are home to adivasis and also to precious water bodies. Untangling this four-way snarl in a democratic framework needs imagination, patience and skill. The problem is confounded by insurgency, and an iron fist alone certainly cannot help untangle the mess.

In February this year, the government set up a high-powered committee to examine how such allocations are done and monitored, and what changes are required in the existing institutional and legal framework. The framework will be studied and modified if necessary, based on considerations like efficacy, suitability, practicality, transparency and fairness. Since the committee will deal with the allocation, pricing and utilisation of resources, the question of sustainability of resources will also figure.

Economists may be tempted to suggest one magic bullet that addresses all three challenges together — whom to allocate, at what price and how to ensure optimal utilisation. That magic bullet is auction. A properly conducted auction (like the recent 3G auction) can elicit the true worth from credible and genuinely interested parties, who, in turn, having won the auction, will utilise the resource optimally anyway. Unfortunately, the "ground" reality is quite different, especially when it comes to land, forests and mineral rights. An auction not qualified by several conditions may lead to a very inefficient allocation.

This is because of several reasons. For instance, in mining the first step is prospecting and exploration. For most minerals, except oil and gas, we still lack a coherent mechanism to enable efficient exploration with private risk capital and technology. Hence no major new reserves are discovered, and policy is focused only on rationing the known reserves. It is not by auction alone that you identify new explorers. The second step is extraction and value addition. Here too, a socially optimal solution might require much fewer large-scale time-bound mining projects. Whereas through auctions, in practice, we have several small scattered projects, possibly doing more long-term harm. That's because small- scale projects cannot afford the technology necessary for deeper mining. The third step is evacuation of the mineral. The bottleneck here is the logistics infrastructure, which is outside the control of the mine bidder. For example, it is well known that coal availability in India has been hampered by non-availability of rakes and wagons. Recently, the Planning Commission predicted that India may soon end up importing 250 million tonnes of coal if domestic coal availability does not go up. But even for that scale of imports, our ports do not have the capacity! The proliferation of many small ports will not make us strategically ready to import large quantities of coal. The fourth step of mining is conservation and returning the mine area to its original pristine state, that is, the replenishment of nature. With such complexity, it is unclear whether a single mechanism of auctioning mine blocks will alone identify the right allottee of the natural resource.

It is obvious that the government can no longer be the monopoly prospector, explorer or miner (as in case of coal). Hence it has to find ways to identify the right private-sector players, who are in it for a long term, who will fulfil the four stages outlined above, and who will not abandon midway or sell out. In the allocation of industrial land, too, the government is keen to get out of the land acquisition game, letting private parties negotiate. It will allot not on the basis of bids alone, but to those who agree to give an equity share to the sellers of land. For mine allocation, it would like to connect area development with revenues and royalties.

An auction these days may work well to allocate a Husain painting, but for mines or land, it will not suffice

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

WHY CAN'T MEDIA SELLERS CONSOLIDATE?

VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR

Raj Nayak was called the "superman" of media advertising sales. If there was one person who could convince an advertiser to buy a block of television time or a spot of internet space, it was Mr Nayak. He headed ad sales at Star India, and then set up NDTV Media — an independent company that he owned along with Prannoy Roy's NDTV. The idea was to bundle a whole lot of television channels, websites and anything else that came along and sell it to advertisers.

Last year, Mr Nayak set up Aidem Ventures to do the same on his own. Last week, he took over as CEO of Viacom18's Colors. For now the future of Aidem is not clear.

 This is, however, not about Aidem or Mr Nayak. This is about, arguably, the only serious independent attempt at consolidated media selling. In a market where more than three-fourths of all media buying is controlled by five agencies, such as Madison or GroupM, it would seem that consolidated media selling is the biggest business opportunity. Why then doesn't it work?

At every forum, media owners complain about how powerful media agencies have become. India is now a media buyer's dream market — it is fragmented on the selling side and consolidated on the buying side. More than 600 channels, hundreds of newspapers, websites and over 200 radio stations fight for a slice of a Rs 27,000 crore ad pie. As a result, ad rates, especially in television, have actually gone down in the last decade or so.

Ironically, this has taken place even as media consumers have multiplied. India is now one of the world's largest television and print markets. Nevertheless, it continues to have one of the worst ad spend-to-GDP ratios among emerging economies. Media owners have simply not been able to squeeze enough value out of the audiences they deliver.

However, attempts at consolidating media selling – within companies and independently – have had largely disappointing results. Every media group that has attempted to sell cross-media or cross-brand solutions has eventually given up on it. Even alliances that attempted this – like the one between Hindustan Times and Mid Day or The Hindu and Eenadu – fell apart.

The only company that claims to have succeeded to some extent is The Times Group. It has been selling advertising "solutions" – putting together its newspapers, TV, radio and internet brands – for some years now. Upen Roop Rai, Director, Times Internet, however, declines to share numbers. The other instance where aggregated selling has worked is the "neutral" Mediascope Publicitas. It represents 300 print media brands – most of which are international – in India.

There are various reasons why aggregating media brands for ad sales doesn't seem to work. There could be coordination issues. When you are selling airtime, column centimetres and page views together, there are always turf issues. There could be the problem of the absence of a common measure. Even in the US, where cost per thousand is more commonly used, consolidated selling hasn't taken off.

The real reason, arguably, has to do with clout and brand power. Most media companies have just one or maybe two brands that are leaders by far — in a geography or an audience cluster. The India Today Group has many brands, but only two stand out: India Today and Aaj Tak. Dainik Jagran could have more than 200 editions, but in reality advertisers want probably four or five of the most powerful, indispensable ones. Star TV is still largely about Star Plus and Zee about Zee TV.

So, a media company may have a lot of brands, but usually only one or two dominate a geography or an audience so completely that an advertiser will pay a serious premium for it. It is difficult to imagine a company that owns or represents even half a dozen powerful media brands — say The Times of India, Star Plus, Sun TV or Dainik Jagran.

That kind of media clout worries regulators so most mature markets have caps on the share of voice a media brand can own. There are also restrictions on newspaper companies owning TV stations or vice versa, called cross-media caps. So regulation prevents a media company from having more than a couple of brands with a share that dominates. Funnily enough, similar domination from media buying agencies doesn't seem to worry regulators anywhere in the world.

For now, the question of why consolidated media selling doesn't take off remains.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

BUDGETING FOR ELECTIONS

PARLIAMENT SHOWED REMARKABLE ALACRITY IN PASSING THE BUDGET IN THE LAST SESSION

A K BHATTACHARYA

Amid the excitement over India's World Cup victory in cricket, Anna Hazare's movement against corruption and Assembly elections in five states, we have almost forgotten that Parliament passed the Union Budget for 2011-12 even before the new financial year had begun and its Budget session ran for just about a month.

The significance of the two developments is immense. Rarely has the Union Budget received Parliamentary approval before April. The normal schedule for the passage of the Budget involves Parliament scrutinising the various tax and expenditure proposals through discussions on the floor of the two Houses until the first or second week of May. This year, however, was an exception and Parliament approved the Budget on March 24, less than a month after it was presented on February 28.

 Another unusual development took place around the passage of the Budget this year. Along with the discussion on the Budget on the floor of the two Houses, the various standing committees of Parliament also scrutinise the fiscal proposals and present their report before the members. This is a practice that has been followed since 1993. This year, however, the standing committees were unable to scrutinise the Budget proposals because there was no Parliamentary recess when such scrutiny could take place.

PRS Legislative Research, a New Delhi-based independent research organisation, has highlighted another interesting fact about the manner in which Parliament passed this year's Budget. According to it, the demands for grants or budgetary allocations for only four ministries came up for discussion during the Budget session. The rest of the demands were "guillotined" or put to vote without any discussion.

Now, the demands for grants thus "guillotined" constituted as much as 81 per cent of the total Budget demands. What Parliament discussed and voted pertained only to expenditure by the ministries of rural development, road transport and highways, external affairs and mines. Last year, Parliament showed no such hurry and passed the 2010 Budget only by May. Yet, 84 per cent of the demands were guillotined in 2010, compared to 79 per cent of the demands guillotined in 2009. This is a bit of a puzzle. It defies common sense and logic that in spite of a shorter time taken to pass the Budget this year, Parliament could discuss and approve more demands than it could in 2010.

Perhaps, because the session was short, members of Parliament may have realised that they should devote more time to discussing the demands for grant for different central ministries. Indeed, the PRS Legislative Research data show that as much as 38 per cent of the productive time in the two Houses of Parliament was spent discussing the Budget. In previous years' Budget sessions, the time taken to discuss the Budget constituted a smaller portion of their total productive time.

Apart from discussing the Budget, what did our Parliamentarians do during those four weeks? Only 12 per cent of the time was spent on legislation. Not surprisingly, only the Budget-related Bills were passed during these four weeks. Apart from the Budget-related Bills, the government had promised to introduce 34 Bills in Parliament in the last session. However, it managed to introduce only nine Bills because of the shorter duration of the session.

Nine per cent of the productive time of Parliament's Budget session was used to discuss the President's address and only seven per cent was devoted to Question Hour, where members can get their questions answered by ministers. Almost a third of Parliament's time was spent discussing non-legislative issues like the formation of the joint parliamentary committee to probe the 2G scam.

If Parliament approved the Budget in less than a month and its Budget session ran for only a month, nobody other than the Parliamentarians themselves should take the blame. The government cannot escape its responsibility either. Remember that the reason for cutting short the Budget session and doing away with the need for scrutiny by the various standing committees of Parliament was to enable members of the two Houses to campaign in the five states in which elections were due. Remember also that no political party opposed the government's proposal to curtail the Budget approval process.

Two issues will now arise. One, should Parliament change its schedule to suit the polling dates in different states? After all, the first priority of members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha is to debate national legislative issues and not worry about electoral battles in different states. Two, would a similar curtailment of Parliament's sessions be the norm when the next round of state elections are held? The government needs to tackle both issues before such moves can undermine our democratic institutions further.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

UNTOLD STORIES - INDIA'S NON-FICTION

NILANJANA S ROY

In the first chapter of The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee starts with a quote from Shakespeare, and a personal story about a patient, Carla.

He runs through the conversation he will have with her, and notes ruefully that there is something rehearsed even about his sympathy, given the demands of the months he's spent working as a cancer fellow: "In those ten indescribably poignant and difficult months, dozens of patients in my care had died. I felt I was slowly becoming inured to the deaths and the desolation — vaccinated against the constant emotional brunt." Two paragraphs down, without ever losing sympathy for the individual struck with cancer, Mukherjee has moved deftly to Solzhenitsyn, to a bigger picture, using, as he writes, "the past to explain the present".

 

Reading The Emperor of All Maladies before it won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, I was struck, as were many other reviewers, by how polished Mukherjee's writing was ("The emperors of exploration", Business Standard, February 1, 2011). Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, had no creative writing or journalistic background — the two traditional catchment areas for non-fiction writers.

But in the middle of his busiest years as a surgeon and a cancer fellow, he had served a kind of apprenticeship — pieces by him had appeared in medical reviews (Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine) and in mainstream publications known for their demanding editorial standards (The New Republic, The New York Times). Mukherjee's recording eye for detail, matched with a deep empathy for his patients and an ability to do the historical research required, made this not just a prize-winning book, but a classic and lasting work of non-fiction.

In 2010, when Basharat Peer's memoir of Kashmir, Curfewed Night, was published, one of its most enthusiastic champions was William Dalrymple, who called Peer a "new star of Indian non-fiction". A few months later, Dalrymple spoke of his excitement at what seemed to be a new trend — the slow shift towards non-fiction replacing our somewhat obsessive focus on Booker-winning novels and other fiction.

Samanth Subramanian, like Sonia Faleiro, is one of the new stars of non-fiction; Following Fish, narrative journalism exploring India's coastline, remains one of the best food and travel books of recent times. "This is just the beginning," he says. We both agree that a handful of authors and non-fiction books from the subcontinent isn't enough to call a movement, yet.

But as Subramanian points out, what may be changing – and where Dalrymple is correct – is a sensibility, as our curiosity about our own stories is matched by the willingness to actually go out and tell them. "There's never been a paucity of academic non-fiction – good or bad – in India," Subramanian notes. "But general non-fiction, journalistic non-fiction hasn't had much of an outlet."

Even among the journalists, someone like Sonia Faleiro, who wrote Beautiful Thing after reporting on the lives of bar dancers for Tehelka, or even Suketu Mehta, whose Bombay biography Maximum City sparked a curiosity about Indian non-fiction seven years ago, narrative non-fiction is something you have to earn. Few Indian publications support essays longer than 1,500-2,000 words; and even fewer would offer that space to issues other than politics.

The Caravan, run by Jonathan Shainin and a crack team of writer-editors, who include author Anjum Hassan and former Random House editor Rajni George, is one of the few magazines that look for and nurture narrative non-fiction, aside from a handful of men's magazines that occasionally commission lengthy essays. (You could make the argument that magazines like Esquire and Playboy contributed much more than centrefolds to US culture —by commissioning short stories, long interviews and long journalistic essays, they helped several generations of writers to survive and grow.)

It's tempting to see Siddhartha Mukherjee's Pulitzer triumph as confirmation of the Indian success story in non-fiction; but in a way, Mukherjee's success as a writer is a very American, not Indian, success. What would it take to have a The Emperor of Maladies come out of India? More supportive publishing houses, more magazines with demanding editorial standards, more imagination and willingness to go after the untold stories on the part of writers? I don't really have the answers, but it's an interesting question.

Endnote: The release of the Ibn-e-Safi thrillers (Poisoned Arrow, Smokewater, The Laughing Corpse and Doctor Dread) could revive nostalgia for the days of "clean" blood-and-guts fiction. Ibn-e-Safi's son says his father, already a well-known Pakistani writer when he considered writing the Jasoosi Duniya series, rose to the challenge when he was told that the books wouldn't sell in India without sex and violence. He refused to include women, and his spy stories proved successful all the same.

There may have been precedent, though. Indian tastes ran to Alistair Maclean, whose thrillers were notable for his stern abjuration of romance. Maclean famously said that sex gets in the way of the action, a sentiment he may have borrowed from yet another creator of largely celibate heroes, Desmond Bagley, who said that sex gets in the way of the plot. How James Hadley Chase managed to juggle both will, presumably, remain a mystery.

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TRADE AND TALK

MORE TRADE AND DIPLOMACY WILL HELP REBUILD TIES BETWEEN INDIA AND PAKISTAN

 

Six years ago, Mani Shankar Aiyar, India's then-petroleum minister, began India-Pakistan talks to start trade in fuels. The post-Mohali thaw is a good time to make some progress on that idea. Official trade between India and Pakistan is tiny: exports are about $1.5 billion, imports about a fifth of that, and it makes sense to try and boost trade and diplomacy together. In the last decade, India, which imports most of its crude oil needs, has become an oil refining powerhouse, with large refineries operated by Reliance, Essar and a joint-sector project between HPCL and L N Mittal soon to come onstream at Bathinda. India already exports fuel — as much as 51 million tonnes in 2009-10 — and selling to Pakistan makes as much sense as selling to any other buyer. History shows that diplomatic relationships built on energy trade tend to be lasting, and we should seize this chance. Pakistan's economy is in bad shape, with growth hovering around 2% and lines of foreign aid drying up. Its internal war on terror has been costly, in terms of money and manpower and also by draining institutional energies. From Tuesday, when senior trade officials of the two countries meet, they should try and make sure that cross-border commerce can flourish and bring confidence back to Pakistan's economy.
Diplomacy needs to accompany trade. There have been reports, since denied, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had initiated dialogue with Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's military chief. The Opposition is fuming at the idea of our democratic government talking to the General. It should stop fretting and welcome the move. The only question is whether or not India stands to benefit by talking to all of Pakistan's multiple power centres. And it had been NDA Prime Minister Vajpayee who started talking to Pakistan's army chief, who also was its head of state. Pakistan has been ruled longer by military than by civilian administrations and the most stable source of power is not in Islamabad where legislators sit, but in Rawalpindi, its military headquarters. We would love Pakistani democracy to develop strong roots, and talking to the General might help that cause as well.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SENSIBLE RELAXATION

RBI EASES PROVISIONING NORM AS BAD LOANS ARE LIKELY TO RISE BUT NOT ALARMINGLY


There are two ways of looking at the RBI's latest circular relaxing the additional provisioning mandated by the Bank in December 2009. One, the more optimistic, is that banks have now built up a sufficient buffer against future bad times and there is no need to build more. Banking, after all, is about taking risks. So, excessive caution can be a bad thing. What banks need, instead, is the right amount of caution; neither too much nor too little — the Goldilocks mean. The additional provisioning coverage ratio (PCR) of 70% of gross NPAs had been prescribed, as part of a series of macro-prudential measures to augment provisioning buffers in a countercyclical manner when the banks were making good profits. Now that the purpose has been served, it's time to discard it. Hence, for loans that turn bad after September 2010, banks would no longer need to keep this additional cushion. The RBI says the relaxation is only a temporary reprieve. It is a breather for banks till such time as the RBI introduces a 'more comprehensive methodology of countercyclical provisioning'. Meanwhile, the 'excess' provision under PCR over and above what banks normally make is to be kept aside as 'countercyclical provisioning buffer'. This can then be used for making specific provisions for NPAs during periods of system-wide downturn, albeit with the RBI's prior approval.
The other less optimistic (pessimistic?) view is that the good times are over, non-performing debts are rising and banks are going to have a tough time providing for these loans. In the circumstance, asking them to set aside even more for NPAs will seriously affect their bottom lines. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in-between. Any period of rapid credit expansion is bound to be followed by a rise in non-performing assets. More so, since the interest cycle is now turning: projects that look viable at negative real rates of interest will take on a different hue when interest rates rise as they are bound to in the coming months. Hence, NPAs in the banking system are likely to rise in the coming months. But, as of now, with the economy chugging along, there is no cause for alarm.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

TENDER SENTIMENTS

HOW LONG BEFORE INDIANS START TO BID FOR POLITICAL MEMORABILIA?

 

That royal bride-to-be Kate Middleton's engagement ring is valued at considerably more the sum total of the cost of its gemstones — £32 million for the original that once graced Princess Diana's hand but just £250,000 for an identical copy of sapphire and diamonds, according to press reports last week — underlines the importance of provenance. Little wonder then that an object that earned a place for itself as a verb in the dictionary thanks to a certain uncompromising and combative woman politician is now in the running to bag more than £100,000 at an auction. Brilliant as it may sound, this is not UP chief minister Mayawati's newest fundraising initiative, though the doughty Dalit leader does appear to share a penchant for both handbags and 'handbagging' with Dame Margaret Thatcher. But if the former British PM's black Asprey accessory that accompanied her to powwows with presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in the 1980s does notch up amounts at Christie's in London this week like Winston Churchill's half-smoked wartime cigar (£4,500) and his false teeth (£16,000) did last year, then Mayawati and many other Indian political icons may be inspired to follow suit and donate their collectibles to raise funds.


It stands to reason that if industrialist-politician Vijay Mallya can pitch in with his millions for Gandhi ephemera and Tipu Sultan's sword at auctions abroad, ordinary Indians may want to vie for their leaders' priceless personal tokens for relatively smaller sums. How can watchdog institutions like the Election Commission, Vigilance Commission or even a future Lokpal quibble if political parties or n e t a sclaim faithful (and well-heeled) followers bid fat sums, say, for a signature cap, cape, chappals, dark glasses, saree or indeed, a handbag of a beloved leader?

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THE PERILS OF ENDOSULFAN

INDIA IS STRANGELY RELUCTANT TO BAN THIS PESTICIDE DESPITE MOUNTING EVIDENCE OF ITS COLLATERAL DAMAGE


As the stage is set for the crucial meeting of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP), a global regime to protect human health and the environment from dangerous chemicals, to be held in Geneva from April 25, a showdown between the Centre and Kerala has been underway. In the meeting with an all-party delegation from Kerala, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reiterated the position taken by Union ministers Sharad Pawar and Jairam Ramesh on the question of a nationwide ban on endosulfan. It is now obvious that the die has been cast in favour of an exemption rather than a ban on the pesticide.


Though more than 80 countries have banned endosulfan, the most crucial could be the position of India, which is the biggest endosulfan supplier in the world. But the indications are that India, which would play a divisive role in the Geneva talks, is in favour of seeking an exemption for endosulfan rather than a total ban.
For the Centre, the startling data from the Kasargod district of Kerala are not enough for a total ban. The datasheet on endosulfan provided by the WHO and UNEP is also not sufficient for the Centre for a rethink. Moreover, it's strange that India appears to be unconcerned about why 87 countries, including the US and the EU, have banned the chemical. It is not approved to be used in rice fields in several other countries. The use is severely restricted in others.


Endosulfan has been sold under different trade names in different countries. It is widely recognised today that endosulfan is one of the dangerous insecticides belonging to the class of compounds called organochlorines. India is one of the largest global producers of endosulfan. It is the supplier of 70% of the world's endosulfan needs — a market valued at $300 million (. 1,340 crore). Out of the 9,000 tonnes India produces every year, half is bought by the country's 75 million farmers, making it the world's largest consumer of endosulfan as well. That explains New Delhi's reluctance to impose a ban.


Endosulfan has been extensively used in India and is one of the prime agents of pesticide poisoning. Many studies concluded that it has been dreadfully toxic to humans, fish and other aquatic life. It causes a plethora of adverse effects, including death, disease and birth defects, among humans and animals. The toxicity would result in cancer, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders and disruption of the immune system. Coffee growers in Colombia had complained that endosulfan was much worse than the insect pest broca, which it seeks to eliminate. Innumerable respiratory problems among workers were reported and researchers found significant quantities of endosulfan in the blood and urine of agricultural workers. The Pesticide Action Network has recorded a number of cases of adverse effects of endosulfan in different countries. In the US, endosulfan had caused adverse impact on the aquatic life. It was the primary cause of pesticide poisoning in Sudan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Colombia, Indonesia, Ecuador, Mauritius and Paraguay. Endosulfan users in the cotton industry in Australia were alerted a few years back when significant amounts of residues were found in meat. Environmental groups and rural communities in Australia have been warning of the dangers of endosulfan contamination for several years.

 

The linkage between endosulfan and human miseries had come to the surface for the first time in Kerala in the 1980s when several cases of ailments and deaths were reported in the Kasargod district. Almost a decade back, the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) had presented a report to the Union government linking endosulfan to the prevalence of health disorders. However, the report has been undermined by the pesticide lobby. The NIOH report noted that there was a significantly higher prevalence of learning disabilities, low IQ and scholastic backwardness among children, besides serious neurological problems and congenital and reproductive abnormalities among people in the region. The report has been confirmed by the team of doctors of the department of community medicine from Calicut Medical College, who conducted an epidemiological investigation since October 2010 upon the directive of the Kerala government. This is perhaps the latest in the series of nearly a dozen studies, all of which confirmed the lethal role of endosulfan. Most recently, a study conducted by the Salim Ali Foundation found that the indiscriminate use of the chemical in Kasargod caused a biodiversity disaster in the area. The area clearly indicated a decline in plant diversity between 40% and 70%, particularly for native species, compared to the natural habitat. Yet, the Union government wants a fresh round of studies to generate further data!


As Endosulfan is the most important of the POPs, there is certainly a case for a global ban due to its acute toxicity. While the WHO places endosulfan as 'hazardous', the US Environmental Protection Agency classified it as 'highly hazardous' and it eventually banned it. The Stockholm Convention has been reviewing the risk management evaluation on endosulfan since 2010. It had already agreed that the POP characteristics of the chemical warrant global action. The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee will report its recommendations to the forthcoming meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP5).
Now the question is whether the UPA government will shed its lingering inertia to ban its use. The Stockholm Convention will be the litmus test for New Delhi's sincerity and genuine concerns for health and environmental security.

 

K M SEETHI

DEAN, SCHOOL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, MG UNIVERSITY, KOTTAYAM

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE


Family Planning

The CBI naming Kanimozhi in the 2G spectrum scam has triggered speculation about Congress-DMK ties. But Congress managers seem convinced that there are enough hard political realities, both in Chennai and Delhi, which should force the seasoned Karunanidhi to resist any itch for political misadventures even if it means a wounded father swallowing his pride. But then, do Karunanidhi's two high-profile politician sons — Stalin and Azhagiri — share their father's agony during their step-sister Kanimozhi's hour of dread? The fact that the duo's mother Dayalu Ammal has not yet figured in the CBI chargesheet should make them happy on two counts: that Kanimozhi and Raja are left to hold the 2G burden and the former's political career has taken a huge hit, gifting the other branch of the 'K family' the much-needed space, at least for now. Incidentally, Kanimozhi and Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, who is also facing allegations of business links with Asif Balwa, are known to be close friends. If close friendships are coming under the scanner in this scam season, some in the BJP are hoping that Suresh Kalmadi's close social friendship with one of their Orissa colleagues will have no unpleasant twists…


Tale of a Poster

The dramatic upswing in the popularity of Kerala CM V S Achuthanandan during the assembly polls has had many comic fallouts. Post-election, VS' inner party rival Pinarayi Vijayan betrayed his uneasiness by saying the CPM candidates' printing VS' photos on their campaigning material was a violation of the communist style of candidates displaying only the party flag and symbol for electioneering. Promptly, his rivals circulated photos showing how top Vijayan campers and vocal critics of VS like state ministers M A Baby, Thomas Isaac, K S Sudhakaran and E P Jayarajan got their photos printed alongside VS so as to display them in their constituencies. With this 'photo exhibition' driving home the point that even sworn inner party critics of VS have tried to ride on his popularity during election time, questions are being asked as to why none of these Pinarayi loyalists thought it fit to display their own leader's photos for canvassing votes.


Shared Legacy

Shanti Bhushan and Justice Santosh Hegde, the two senior civil society representatives in the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, incidentally share a link with the events and personalities that led to the imposition of the Emergency and its aftermath. Bhushan Sr was the lawyer who represented Raj Narain's case in the Allahabad High Court that led to the order declaring the then-PM Indira Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha null and void, resulting in the imposition of Emergency. The Janata Party rewarded Bhushan by making him a Rajya Sabha member and the law minister in the Morarji Desai regime. In his post-Janata days, Bhushan joined the BJP for some years before quitting it to stay focused on his legal practice and activism. Santosh Hegde is the son of Justice K S Hegde, who quit from the Supreme Court when the Indira regime made his junior A N Roy the Chief Justice of India. Hegde Sr then won the post-Emergency general election on a Janata Party ticket and became the Lok Sabha Speaker. He was on the Speaker's Chair when the Janata regime moved the controversial resolution in the Lok Sabha, nullifying Indira Gandhi's election in the Chikmangalur bypoll and sending her to jail, triggering the events that led to the Janata government's downfall and the Mrs Gandhi-led Congress' sweeping victory in the 1980 polls. Hedge Sr was a Congress RS member before he joined judiciary.


Desert War

Politics has become sizzling hot in Rajasthan with Vasundhara Raje returning to the state assembly as the Opposition leader. She is raring to combat Congress CM Ashok Gehlot, the man who single-handedly ruined her previous regime's feel-good factor by encircling it with corruption charges and non-stop political attacks. Soon after Raje's return, the state BJP has alleged land scams involving Gehlot's family members. The BJP's bid is to target the long-surviving 'Mr Clean' image of the CM. When Gehlot led the charge against the Raje regime, one particular Congress slogan that captured the popular imagination was: "Ashok nahi, aandhi hai. Marwar ka Gandhi hai" (Not a static Ashoka tree, Gehlot is a storm and the Gandhi of Marwar). Raje and her party are now trying to undo this halo around their arch-rival. Gehlot has declared he will quit politics if Raje springs hard evidence of scams linked to his family. Who will walk the talk?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NOW&THEN

POLICY-BOOST INNOVATION

JAIDEEP MISHRA


The more things change in the domain of policymaking in India, the more they seem to remain the same. For instance, back in the 1950s, it was purposefully adumbrated that we were drawing up five-year plans so that, apart from our overall development, the national income may go up and we may be able to undertake the big tasks that we want to and extricate ourselves from the mire of poverty. That was then, in the face of anaemic growth, economy-wide shortcomings and distortions.


It is another matter that the import-substitution model and growth behind high-tariff barriers that we followed — till we embarked on tentative reforms and opened up in 1991 — proved to be inefficient policy design and led to suboptimal results. Be that as it may, fast-forward to the here and now, and the mavens envision economic growth of 9-9.5% during the 12th Five-Year Plan, set to start next year. But instead of the usual 'growth diagnostics' approach towards plans and projects, against the backdrop of high growth and much growth potential waiting to be tapped, it would make sense to focus on innovation rather than growth per se.
The original rationale for growth diagnostics was the presence of glaring rigidities. The reasoning went that in the absence of sufficient resources (read: capital), entrepreneurship, decision-makers, etc, and the means and ability to bring them all together gainfully, proactive policy was warranted. The idea was, given the lack of markets, enterprise and skills, policymakers do need to identify and choose the projects and plans to contribute most optimally to the development delivery mechanism, relative to their costs. Hence the gameplan of backward and forward 'linkages' of projects and programmes.


The point is that in focusing predominantly on investment, for example, the desirability or otherwise of adding 1,00,000 mw of power capacity during the forthcoming Plan, the growth diagnostics approach deems the main problem of policy as one of overcoming the shortage of capital equipment and productive capacity. So, the assumption remains that raising growth rates is the central challenge. Instead, we ought to aim at boosting efficiency improvements and shoring up productivity gains across the board. After all, growth at high cost really makes no sense. To continue with the power example, instead of policy debating ballpark capacity addition, it would make better sense to absorb and indigenise supercritical and ultra supercritical boiler technology to rev up thermal efficiency. Note that from a growth accounting perspective, there are really two causes, in the main, of the dynamics of growth. One is the addition of factor inputs like capital and labour, and the other is innovation, technological change or, in technical terms, what is labelled as total factor productivity. The phrase denotes rise in productivity of both capital and labour, in synergy. But of the two sources of growth, which is more important? Research in the late 1950s showed that in the US, it was innovation rather than rise in factor inputs that led to output growth over time. What was revealed then was that the bulk of growth was on account of productivity improvements.


The seminal insight has since been backed by umpteen other studies, and for several economies. The original model has also been much refined over the years. The initial thesis was that innovation, technological change and the like was assumed as serendipitous manna from heaven, and essentially outside the scope of policymaking save for modest influences by way of government-funded research and limited incentives for R&D in industry. So, the pace of innovation was largely seen as 'given', as per the pioneering theory.
In recent years, researchers have used sophisticated techniques to show that a panoply of variables do influence innovative activity, and there's a large body of empirical evidence that corroborates that proactive policy can indeed boost productivity. The growth-enhancing policy initiatives include openness to trade and investment, skill development and thriving entrepreneurship. There seem still other institutional factors as well that positively affect growth. The point is that on the issue of raising percapita incomes, the expert opinion is to focus on productivity enhancement. The key stance then is to improve the trend rate of growth of output by way of innovation and efficiency gains. Hence the vital need to emphasise on productivity growth as the policy objective, going forward.


It follows that the way ahead is to systematise and focus on indicators of innovative activity, across industries and settings. To chalk out an effective innovation policy, what is essential is to better gauge innovativeness, including by regular innovation surveys. We do need to strengthen the evolving phenomenon of user innovation, so as to democratise the entire process and, thus, make it very much inclusive. After all, only an innovation-driven economy can best reap its growth potential.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

DIVERGENT TIMELINES

New Delhi's unbridled optimism on inflation is worryingly at variance with the people's entrenched scepticism.

Despite the widening distance between official predictions on inflation and its actual trajectory New Delhi's pundits do not tire of predicting confident, and often blasé, time-lines for its downtrend. Last year, every prognosis went wrong, including the Prime Minister's belief in a fall by December; this year, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission asserted in February that inflation would fall to 7 per cent in six weeks. That same month, the Finance Minister, wishing to be more precise about the kind of inflation that would fall but unwilling to put a date on that possibility, simply announced that food inflation would fall "in some time". The Prime Minister, no less, put his imprimatur on the predictive quality of his officials by fixing the deliverance date for March, despite the acknowledgement of global factors adding to inflationary pressures. The government, he intoned, was taking care of things.

We are lurching towards May — traditionally the month for temperatures and prices to soar — and, sure enough, this year it is going to be no different; while the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) is around 8 per cent, food inflation has fallen to around 9 per cent but fuel and power are still in double digits. The government may blame global trends for the fuel price spike but it cannot do so for power shortages that raise the price of this vital ingredient for households and producers. What should worry policymakers more than anything else is the view from the bottom up, the sense of the price situation among the citizenry. A survey by the Reserve Bank of India on the inflationary expectations of households that it conducts periodically, revealed a more pessimistic view of the trajectory of the price rise than that held by policymakers in New Delhi. The survey conducted between October and December 2010, admittedly a period when prices rose very high, showed that the respondents did not take as sanguine a view of inflationary dips as policymakers were airing in New Delhi: in fact, the percentage of respondents expecting an increase in general prices over the next three months and for the entire year "has been rising for the last three years." What is surprising is that householders and other respondents expected the high prices of food and non-food products to linger well into 2011.

Surveys of this sort reveal microscopic subjective judgements on real events. Their value lies in the hidden lesson of the wide divergence between policy-makers and ordinary people on the efficacy of policymaking; New Delhi's unbridled optimism is at variance with such entrenched scepticism. That should worry the government.

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

NOW, B1 VISA EMERGES A POLL ISSUE

SRIDHAR KRISHNASWAMI

The issue of why US companies opt for foreign skills or the fact that major Indian corporates are creating jobs in the US has hardly got the attention each deserve.

The 2012 US Presidential election cycle is still quite some distance away, but posturing by political parties has already begun. Indications are that on the foreign policy front, issues and focus will be more or less the same, irrespective of what the final party manifestos may have to say on them.

And manifestos are only broad parameters of what each candidate and party may have to offer and generally lack in specifics.

As it has happened in the last two or perhaps even three Presidential election cycles in the United States, for India the stakes are pretty much clear on political and economic fronts, and all of these go much beyond what Democrats and Republicans are going to say on international terrorism with or without the Pakistan linkages.

While there is no doubt that bilateral relations have gone the distance in the last 15 years or so, rhetoric generated by candidates at the time of the campaigning has generated some unnecessary "heat" that the relationship could have done without.

One such issue that will be on the forefront in this election cycle is that of Outsourcing with all the hoopla on the various visa options that come along with this.

In the past both Democrats and Republican candidates — while maintaining a scrupulous "free trade" agenda — have sought to assure domestic audience that preference by way of tax and other incentives will be given to those American companies that will "keep" jobs in America.

The issue of why American companies opt for foreign skills and will continue to do so in future or the fact that major corporate houses from India are creating jobs in America and for Americans has hardly got the attention each deserves.

First salvo 47

One of the first shots in the 2012 election cycle has already been fired by the Republican Senator from Iowa, Mr Charles (Chuck) Grassley who has called for a thorough investigation by the Departments of State and Homeland Security of the B-1 visa programme and wage requirements of the H1B visa.

"When unemployment remains at a staggering 8.8 per cent, we should be focusing our oversight efforts on employers who are taking advantage of the system and importing foreign workers to the detriment of Americans,"

Mr Grassley has maintained. The senior Republican law maker has had a sustained interest in visa 'abuse' and has specifically focussed in the past on H1B and L Visas.

Now it is a special interest in the B1 , or Business Visa.

Senator Mr Grassley has fired off identical letters to the Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton and the Secretary of Homeland Security, Ms Janet Napolitano, questioning the "B-1 in lieu of H-1B" policy.

"Under this low threshold (of the B-1 visa), a company could import workers via the B-1 business visitor visa and evade the H-1B visa cap and prevailing wage requirements that would otherwise apply to such workers so long as the workers could show that their pay checks were still coming from the foreign company", the Iowa lawmaker has said going on to make a pointed reference to a complaint that has been filed against Infosys Technologies.

"On February 23, 2010, a US employee of Infosys Technologies filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Lowndes County, Alabama, alleging that his employer was "sending lower level and unskilled foreigners to the United States to work in full-time positions at Infosys' customer sites in direct violation 4of immigration laws" Mr Grassley has said.

Visa abuse plaint

"The plaintiff described ways that Infosys, one of the top ten H-1B petitioning companies, had worked to "creatively" get around the H-1B visa program in order to bring in low-skilled and low-wage workers, resulting in visa fraud against the US Government" he added.

"If the allegations against Infosys are substantiated, American workers will have been hurt by this company's fraudulent actions, and the integrity of both the B-1 and H-1B visa programs will have been compromised" Mr Grassley said. He has demanded information from the two top officials of the Obama administration on how the B-1 visa is being processed by employers and consular officers.

Specifically, the lawmaker has asked for the length of time the B-1 visa holder remains in the United States; the number of "B-1 in lieu of H-1B" visas issued in the last five years and in the diplomatic posts they were issued; the kind of steps the State Department takes to ensure that a B-1 visa holder will only attend a meeting, convention or business appointment in the United States; and the actions taken by employers who have abused the B1 programme.

He has specifically posed the question if visas for Infosys will cease to be approved until the lawsuit in Alabama is settled and if not, the kind of additional oversight that will be maintained until the lawsuit is finalised.

Senator Grassley has given April 28 as a deadline to the two Secretaries to respond to his queries, but it is a no-brainer to see these issues dragging out well into the 2012 election cycle and beyond. In fact, one may argue that this is just the beginning of a long drawn-out battle of wits intended to calm a domestic audience already deeply hurt by the economic malaise and budgetary cuts.

To the audience in India who are probably getting bent out of shape on the goings on in outsourcing and visa fronts, a word of advice: Just sit back, put your feet up and relax — the fun has not even started yet!

(A former Washington correspondent of The Hindu and PTI, the author is currently Head, School of Media Studies of the Faculty of Science and Humanities, SRM University, Chennai.)

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

ENCOURAGING GROWTH DATA FROM RBI

ROUDRA BHATTACHARYA

The manufacturing and real estate sectors may have never had it as good as the previous fiscal, after emerging from the difficult times of 2009-10. Increased consumer spending and expansion into new markets have both worked positively for many companies.

While a positive public sentiment on India recovering from the global financial crisis unscathed may be one reason the tills kept ringing, a large role was also played by the Government reducing excise duties by four per cent across two stages . The central bank also pitched in , lowering the borrowing cost of money in order spur consumption in the economy.

Data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for the period between April 2010 and February 2011 show that lending by the top 47 scheduled commercial banks towards the purchase of consumer durables has grown 20.8 per cent (to Rs 10,023 crore). This is against a decline of 1.1 per cent in the same period the previous year, when the outstanding loans stood at Rs 8,101 crore. Consumer durables are goods that are generally replaced after a long period of use, such as home appliances, furniture, or mobile phones. On an overall basis, the disbursement of personal loans has grown 14.8 per cent , against a modest 2.8 per cent rise in 2009-10. While the consumer durables market was the highest gainer, there was also significant rise in bank borrowings for the purchase of real estate (13.8 per cent), automobiles (23.7 per cent), besides other personal loans (13.3 per cent). Only education loan disbursement posted lower growth at 18.8 per cent, against a 27.8 per cent growth in April-February, 2009-10.

Clearing inventories

Companies working harder to clear inventories of the previous year also helped boost sales. In sectors such as automobiles, many firms expanded their sales network to yet unexplored markets such as small towns and rural areas. They bet on innovative strategies that paid off by initially offsetting the drop in sales in urban India and then increasing the market size altogether. Spurred by cheaper interest rates and growing aspirations, more people bought cars on credit leading to a rise in outstanding loans to Rs 78,894 crore in February 2011, from Rs 61,605 crore in February 2010. Auto sales grew 26 per cent in 2010-11, the second fastest after China.

Other factors also fell in place to support the growth. This includes increased purchasing power due to rising incomes, especially on account of the 6th Pay Commission payouts to those employed in the public sector. Even though the private sector worked hard to reduce costs, sectors such as IT services saw new jobs being created as American and European companies outsourced certain operations to India.

Pay-back time

With the new financial year starting, it is interesting to note that a few believe that the growth bubble could burst soon. Companies have been shy of giving a highly optimistic outlook purely on the basis of the last year. Some feel that the boom can be explained more simply by saying that the increase in purchases in 2010-11 was largely due to the pent-up demand of 2009-10 coming to the market. There is also a fear that the current trend of tightening by the RBI and the resultant increase in lending rates may stop the i good run . On the other hand, rising inflation may not leave the central bank with many other options.

However all may not be lost, with the good practices learnt in hard times now paying off. Besides discovering new markets, companies have also started placing more importance on the optimal usage of resources (often scarce and expensive) and higher process efficiency. In bad or good times, the benefits of these will surely reflect in the balance sheets in the years to come.

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

HABITS – KEY TO SUCCESS

R. DEVARAJAN

People are creatures of habit. Once a person forms a habit, he repeats it automatically with unerring accuracy, because every habit is an unconscious behaviour.

By definition, a manager gets things done by his employees. In order to get his employees to perform in the manner required, a manager must ensure they develop good and productive habits.

The key to forming a habit is nothing but rote and repetition. In many aspects of life, repetition is passive such that some habits are formed – good and bad – without people even being aware of the phenomenon.

Practice, practice…

The more lasting a habit is desired to be, the more assiduous must be its repetition and practice. Practice is the doorway to generating a good habit, because the more the employees practise an action, the more it becomes part of their subconscious behaviour. The army training and discipline is a good example. Every fighting technique is formed and formulated in a safe and peacetime environment; and habits so cultivated come to the rescue of the combatant, when he is confronting the real enemy.

Constant practice being a prelude to generating a habit, usually it is seen that people acquire bad habits quickly, while good habits are rather difficult to establish. Hence, the manager must be careful and vigilant that his employees do not start practising an action, until they get the rhyme and rhythm right; and then, and only then, they start practising that action and keep practising, until they will never get it wrong.

In any forward-looking company, the manager generally endeavours to reach a level of confidence concerning his employees, such that their actions and judgments are right most of the time and, therefore, reliable. This will happen only when the employees are trained to be in the right always and their mindset programmed to revolt against anything wrong.

Dangerous theory

There are people who believe that luck and fortune is essential for success in life. This school of thought is rather dangerous in the sense that it may dissuade people from taking any initiative; it may discourage them from taking control of their own lives.

If employees begin to believe that their success in life depends only on their stars, it is unlikely that they will exert themselves beyond the minimum.

The fact of the matter is that luck devolves on a person, only when he is well prepared in the areas of knowledge, skill, and attitude: and then, he awaits the right opportunity in life. It is when preparation encounters opportunity that divine luck descends on a person. Successful people make the most of the opportunities that they come across in their lives. They are able to do so because they train themselves to identify an opportunity, when it comes along. The world offers enough opportunities all the time. Good preparation must become the habit of every aspirant to success.

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HAPPINESS IS A SERIOUS MATTER

 

At an informal gathering, someone asked me: "How do we have fun in life?" "By being serious", I said rather seriously, because the pursuit of happiness is a serious matter. A superficial approach to anything leads one to trouble. So "eat, drink and be merry" is a shallow view of life. Only deeper enquiry will take us to the truth. Life is constituted of perception and response. We cannot help responding to people, situations and events. Response depends on individual perceptions. Everybody sees the same object but how each one sees it makes all the difference. Perception, therefore, can be called vision of life and response as an action or reaction that depends on this vision. We consider what we experience with our sense organs as real. No wonder, we find the world enchanting with its infinite variety and matchless beauty. But when we try to understand the same world a little deeply, it becomes very mind-boggling. This proves that the visible is immaterial, and the invisible is more significant. What is visible is only an appearance and we all know that appearances are deceptive. The one truth that is not visible is subtle, and it is this truth that will solve all problems. To see this truth, we need a pure mind and subtle intellect. This is why we need a noble (sattvika) vision. It helps us perceive that one "Truth" which pervades the multiple and diverse world of names and forms. Such a vision can make all the difference. It can help us see oneness in the midst of variety; it can protect us in the face of temptation, frustration and fear. Great souls who have attained this vision have worked for unity, integration and happiness of all. Therefore, this answers the question of what fun or happiness is. It is nor in merely gratifying our senses. The happiness experienced as a result of such a noble vision alone can be called true and lasting happiness. Sadly, many of us lack this kind of a vision. We are stuck either with an extroverted outlook (rajasika vision) or a dull approach (tamasika vision) to life. Lord Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita explains the pitfalls inherent in these approaches. For example, a person with rajasika vision sees differences while perceiving the world and he considers those differences real. The actions performed by him, therefore, are born either of attachment or aversion. He is happy as long as everything runs according to his tastes and preferences. The moment something goes awry, he becomes agitated and troublesome. A person with a tamasika vision is worse. He is deeply, fanatically and exclusively attached to a particular object, ideology or cause, with the result that even the happiness he experiences reflects his conflict. His happiness is attained by unhealthy means such as fight, addiction, sleep and indolence. In life, we get mixed results because our vision is noble, in that all of us desire happiness, peace and harmony. But our conviction is not ripe and that is why we are not clear when it comes to actions and results. Suppose we are informed of a crime committed by someone in some place, we immediately cry for justice, but the moment we are made aware that our own people is the culprit, we change our response saying: "No one is perfect". We can observe this pattern at an international level too. A person with a sattvika vision is praised as someone with a balanced view of life as he has eliminated sorrow, delusion and hatred. All of us are seeking that happiness. But we end up with something else because there is a wide gap between what we seek, what we do and what we get. That is why the pursuit of happiness is a serious matter. How wonderful it would be if we all looked at the vast world as having human beings rather than dividing than on the basis of nation, regions, religions, races and sects. Remember, a narrow vision is divisive. A broad vision is expansive. But the supreme vision is all-inclusive. It alone helps us to transform and transcend. — 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. © Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CANDLES FOR MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN

 

If a group of legislators in Nevada, United States, have their way, there will soon be a law banning candles in public places (along with air fresheners) in that state, because, err, the fragrances can annoy some. Fortunately, New Delhi is not Nevada, but candlelight rallies, even of the unscented variety, seem to irk a lot of people, especially if those holding the candles are part of the urban middle class, and some of them are young and well-dressed. The candle-holding middle-class youth who turned up in India Gate in New Delhi, and other places across the country, in support of Mr Anna Hazare and his campaign for a citizen's ombudsman bill (Jan Lokpal Bill) to stem corruption, got a taste of such ire. It was, therefore, quite brave of Mr Kailash Satyarthi, an engineer turned social activist and founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), to organise another candlelight vigil in the city last week. BBA, an NGO, has been fighting against child labour for over 30 years. Last week's rally called "No More Moins" was part of a campaign to push both the government and ordinary people to do more to end the exploitation of young children. Moin, in whose memory the candlelight vigil was held, was a 10-year-old boy from Bihar, working in a bindi factory in Delhi. He was beaten to death, and his uncle, the owner of the factory, has been arrested for it. Moin's body had been taken for burial but the cemetery caretaker smelt foul play and sounded an alert. Television brought the horrific images of his battered body into middle-class living rooms, triggering shock waves. Equally shocking was the response of the minister for women and child development who claimed on national television that she did not know details of the case, three days after Moin's murder had been a headline-grabber. But paradoxically, while everyone is justifiably grieving about Moin and the tens of thousands of little boys and girls trapped in sweatshops, there is little angst about many other children who slave away from morning to night in middle-class homes, often without enough food, sleep or regular salary. Nor is there any angst about the tens of thousands of "chhotus" and "ramus" who serve food and drinks at small eateries around the country. Even fewer worry that that these children are being denied education, now a legal right for every child between the ages of six and 14. Can candlepower ignite middle class revulsion against child labour even in such so-called "safe" jobs? I missed the rally in memory of Moin, but I caught up with Mr Satyarthi, its organiser, later at his home. Mr Satyarthi is a man who smiles a lot but he concedes the tasks ahead are not easy. As the evening wore on, he narrated many stories about the child labourers he and his colleagues have rescued over the years and about Mukti Ashram — BBA's transitional shelter for the rehabilitation and education of bonded and other child labourers who are rescued from Delhi and its surroundings. The one story that made a particularly powerful impression was about a six-year-old boy called Ashraf Ali. Ashraf worked as a domestic help in the house of a government official in Delhi. One evening, the little boy who got barely enough to eat, drank a few sips of the milk that remained in a glass of one of the children in the house. His mistress saw him. What followed was nightmarish. The husband and wife beat the child brutally, placed his hands on fire and placed hot tongs on his limbs. The child soon became unconscious. His body was dumped out on the street, close to where his parents stayed. Mr Satyarthi said he came to know about the incident when someone in the neighbourhood alerted the BBA. Along with his colleagues and family members, Mr Satyarthi took the boy for medical treatment and then he was transferred to Mukti Ashram. Then followed a long battle for justice. Public outcry led to the dismissal of the official and the government was eventually forced to bring in service rules which prohibited its officials from engaging child domestic workers. The incident happened almost 15 years ago. Mr Satyarthi helped Ashraf with not only medical care but also education. The child labourer who almost paid with his life for the "sin" of drinking a few drops of milk is now 20 years old and working at a computer firm. Fascinated by the story, I called Ashraf. The voice at the other end was of a grown up man who introduced himself as a computer hardware specialist. "Yes, I was very lucky that I survived. But my body bears the scars. I was at Mukri Ashram till the age of ten. Then, I studied through the National Open School and then I got a chance to train in computer hardware and here I am, with a job." In 2006, the government enacted a law prohibiting domestic work by children under 14. The law also covered children working in restaurants and hotels. It was a welcome step, but the problem remains. "Last year, we rescued around 30 child domestic labourers. The homes where they worked were mostly middle class and educated", says Mr Satyarthi. Clearly, laws alone will not end child labour. One of the biggest challenges on the ground is changing a mindset which does not see any shame in child labour as long as it is not in a hazardous industry. Many middle-class families choose child workers because they are cheaper than adults and can be browbeaten into doing a lot more work. Some others think they are doing a good turn by employing a child whose family is in need. At the end, all this ends up depressing the wages of adults and keeping more people mired in poverty and illiteracy. What can the candle-holding middle-class do about child labour when the law has not successfully tackled the problem? The short answer: a lot. Candle-bonding, backed by sustained campaigns, can create peer pressure which can begin to change mindsets. "We are still fighting mindsets but there is a new generation of young people who find the idea of children working as domestic help revolting. We have stickers saying "This house is child labour free". If they pressure their elders, if they start boycotting goods made by child workers, and people who hire child workers, it will have an effect", says Mr Satyarthi. For the new generation there is a powerful message: It is not right and it is not cool to tacitly accept child labour in one's backyard . The candleholding urban middle class may be a minority but in an aspiring society, it can set the trend. The next time you go on a weekend drive, see who is serving you tea and washing the plates at the roadside dhaba. If it's a child, you can go to the next dhaba. And in your neighbourhood park, if you see a 10-year-old pushing a six-year-old on the swing for hours without getting a chance to swing herself, it is time to have a serious chat with the family. * Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

STOP GRAIN DRAIN

 

Even as a global food crisis looms on the horizon with high prices pushing more and more into poverty, India prepares to export wheat and rice following a record harvest and another one in the offing because of an expected normal monsoon. But there is a huge irony in the prevailing situation. We in India are better off exporting cereals because of inadequate and inefficient storage facilities. Rotting of foodgrain in a country where so many go hungry is not just unethical but criminal. The ways various authorities have deployed new technologies to store cereals has been tardy. If India today had superior infrastructure to store grain for longer periods, it could have acted as a cushion against cyclical fluctuations in both prices and availability. On April 6, the ministry of agriculture recently increased its estimate of wheat output for the year that ended on March 31, from 81.47 million tonnes to 84.27 million tonnes — an increase of 3.4 per cent over the estimate made on February 9 — preparing the ground for lifting restrictions on exports. On April 1, total grain stocks in the central pool were around 45 million tonnes (15 million tonnes of wheat and 30 million tonnes of rice), more than twice the recommended "buffer" levels of 7 million tonnes of wheat and 14.2 million tonnes of rice at the beginning of April. The agriculture minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, has gone on record favouring exports. The Indian government had banned exports of wheat on February 9, 2007 and also prohibited exports of non-basmati rice with effect from April 1, 2008. In August 2010, the Supreme Court asked the Union government to give away foodgrain to the poor instead of letting them rot. In 2009-10, around 68,000 tonnes of stocks were reported to have been "damaged". Of this amount, 54,000 tonnes were in state government godowns while 14,000 tonnes were in those managed by the public sector Food Corporation of India (FCI). Of the damaged stock with FCI, not all were damaged either by rain or on account of "cover and plinth" storage. Some 7,000 tonnes of damaged stocks included rice procured four years earlier that were below norms prescribed under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act rendering these unsuitable for issuance through the public distribution system. To place things in the right perspective, the damaged stocks were out of a total holding of 60 million tonnes by the FCI that year. The important question is that when India can build world-class public infrastructure (be it the stadia that hosted the 2010 Commonwealth Games or the uber-glitzy Terminal 3 of Delhi airport), why is it that we woefully lag behind others when it comes to food storage? With the FCI expecting 15 million tonnes of additional storage capacity to be in place by 2012, the challenge it now faces is how to create this capacity, whether using traditional warehouses or silos. The current cost of setting up a silo is around three times the cost of storage paid to the Central Warehousing Corporation for a traditional godown. A silo is a structure for storing bulk materials. Silos are used in agriculture to store grain or fermented feed known as silage. Silos are more commonly used for bulk storage of not just cereals and other food but also coal, cement and sawdust. Three types of silos are in widespread use: tower silos, bunker silos and bag silos. There is a question of costs and benefits. Silos require lower dependence on labour, ensure better quality and longer storage and there is lower requirement of land as compared to traditional warehouses. Foodgrain can be stored in silos for up to four years. Since execution times for concrete silos were deemed unfeasible, FCI went in for the creation of bag storage facilities. There are, however, a number of problems with this measure. Explains Mr Soumendra Nath Chatterjee, an engineer who has worked on indigenously designed and constructed scientific food storage facilities for the FCI: "First, foodgrain cannot be protected by spraying or fumigation. It is also not possible to aerate the grains, which is a must for their healthy preservation. Moreover, there is no provision for detecting or re-circulating, when and if any deterioration is detected. Besides, unloading of grains and their reloading are labour-intensive since they have to be manually handled for dispatch to consuming centres". The answer probably lies in the scientific use of available resources. "By using scientific bulk storage of grains in steel silos, post-harvest losses can be reduced by as much as 20 per cent of the grain cultivated, if they are brought to these silos as soon as possible after harvest. These need not be sun-dried as is usually done. So the harvested grain is not lost due to natural catabolism (destructive metabolism). When left for drying in the ground, grains are often consumed either by insects or by rodents which can even dig into storage pits", Mr Chatterjee points out. The harvested grain can be transported to the steel silo sites and unloaded through conveyors and distributed through chutes. Insecticide pellets can be added too. Depending on the period of storage, these can be "extendable gases for the preservation of the grains, and are considered superior to the current practices of fumigation". The dried and clean grains are stored in large diameter steel silos that stand on flat slab concrete foundations. There are rectangular aeration ducts that are covered by perforated stainless steel sheets, besides and a central opening for unloading the stocks. These require both lesser time and costs than for concrete silos. He adds: "Sensors that are suspended in the grain mass can detect any form of infestation by the rise in temperature of the stored grains. This can be tackled too, first by aeration of the grains and then by its re-circulation with further insecticide pallets being added to control the same if required. This measure is usually not required if the storage is to be for a relatively shorter period when the silos are in proximity to the points of consumption". The extent of savings achieved if the country were to shift to steel silos can be as high as 40 per cent, says the engineer who add his claims are scientifically verifiable. The savings can be in terms of both the amount of grains saved from damage as well as those required for handling and transport, asserts Mr Chatterjee, who complains that he has not been given an adequate hearing by the powers-that-be. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SPIRITUAL ICON WHO SERVED SOCIETY TOO

 

Satya Sai Baba, who was admired and worshipped as a spiritual stalwart by millions across the globe, was also called a "godman" by some — not always a term of deference. The spiritual mastery ascribed to him came to be questioned in his own lifetime. The "vibhuti" (holy ash) he willed to materialise from nowhere was derided as being nothing more than a magician's sleight of hand, and his readiness to oblige his rich or famous followers by producing watches or rings for them out of thin air was put down by cynics, rationalists and atheists as the ploy of a worldly-wise swami who was careful to pander to his upper-crust clientele in the hope that they would propagate his name. No matter which way one may look, there is no denying that the former Satya Narayan Raju, born in an ordinary farmer's family of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh around 85 years ago, led a most unusual life, especially by the standards of those who are regarded as having climbed the ladder of spirituality. Not one to cloister himself in a life of prayer, he engaged in super-active service to the community. It is said thousands of villages in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu now have water thanks to the philanthropy generated by his famous social work trust, which attracted contributions from millions around the world and which is now valued at a staggering `40,000 crores. It is social service on such a gargantuan scale that sets the departed Satya Sai Baba apart from other men and women who have acquired the status of spiritual leader. Free educational institutions and hospitals offering top-of-the-line facilities in hundreds of countries are a lasting memorial to the Baba's idea of serving society, not to mention the schemes executed under the thousands of projects nourished by the trust he founded around 40 years ago. To serve man is to serve God is a verity on which many saints have sought to found their lives. To such aspirants, asceticism and godliness were one. Not to the Sai Baba. Apparently, he didn't think much of service going hand in hand with penury. Indeed, he lived in inordinately comfortable surroundings and did not think this incompatible with the life of a guru or of a spiritually elevated servant of humanity. And yet, he was no jet-setting swami. He had travelled abroad but once, and that was when he visited Uganda for a conference several decades ago. There was about his spiritual coordinates mystery, but no mysticism. The Sai Baba perhaps saw himself more as a god, less a yogi or a sufi. The Sai Baba did not found a religion; nor indeed was he known for a system of thought. But all things considered, he had — at the philosophical plane — a sturdy appreciation of the diverse ways in which mortals seek to satisfy their spiritual urges. His teachings and example point to a belief in the unity of religions, not the compartmentalisation of faiths. He neither preached in favour or against anyone's chosen religious path. He was not secular in the sense of celebrating at his ashram Ramnavami, Id and Christmas, as politicians are wont to do. But he did criticise the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It was this ability to see above the horizon that made the Sai Baba very special as a spiritual and social service icon or even cult figure in our materialist and technological age, with which he appeared not to be at odds. The late spiritualist had followers of myriad religious hues — Hindu, Muslim and Christian, to name a few — within the country and outside.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SAI'S EMPIRE OF THE SOUL

 

Just under 11 years ago, as Satya Sai Baba entered his 75th year, I travelled to Puttaparthi to report on the celebrations. I was not a believer and went as an agnostic explorer of the Baba phenomenon. I was fortunate enough to get a darshan, being pushed into the front rows of the massive throng that he greeted in person. Others, with greater faith no doubt, were less lucky and only got a "car-shan", a wave from Baba as he drove past. Looking back at that visit, I realise I negotiated the thin line between irreverence and insensitivity. Today, soon after Satya Sai Baba has passed away, it is only fair to admit Puttaparthi turned out to be an enormous learning experience. One doesn't have to be a devotee to recognise Sai Baba was an extraordinary being. If nothing else, his temporal achievements have long established that. There were aspects to Sai Baba that made him, if not unique, a trend-setter among spiritual preceptors of contemporary India. Puttaparthi was a nondescript village in Andhra Pradesh's Anantpur district when he was born there. He has left it with a world-class university, a super-speciality hospital, an airport, a railway station, not to speak of several other such facilities. In 1995, on the request of local people, the Sai Baba Trust took up the task of supplying drinking water to the entire district, laying pipelines and executing a mandate that should have been fulfilled by the state. The mission was so successful that it is cited as a model by water and sanitation specialists. Many religious gurus either acquire land and set up massive ashram complexes or do good works or both. Very few institutionalise their legacy and ensure it will live on after they are gone. One has no idea what will become of the Sai Baba universe, whether at its seat in Puttaparthi, in Bengaluru's Whitefield and elsewhere, or at its 100 odd schools and 3,000 odd Sai Centres across the world. Yet Baba built the best structure he could. Years ago he understood one man could not run this network and do justice to the millions of rupees his followers were donating to his ashram. He put together a trust that included India's most respected civil servants, jurists and businessmen, all of them disciples of Puttaparthi of course. The chief executive officer of Sai Baba Inc. was K. Chakravarty, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who Sai Baba hand-picked for the job of secretary of the trust. Mr Chakravarty resigned from the IAS in 1981, though he still had 20 years to retirement to go. Since then he has run the network with an iron grip and the hawk-eye of a civil servant. Admittedly, aberrations and accusations have crept in. Even so, it would be churlish not to acknowledge Sai Baba's vision. As far back as 30 years ago, he sensed that the wealth that had been placed in his care by his devotees and the social welfare programme he had initiated was too big to be run by amateurs and minor family members. He sought out and brought in the best administrative talent and ceded day-to-day management to it. Sai Baba was also the first modern Hindu evangelist in that he broke free of traditional caste and related allegiances. One of the drawbacks of conventional Hinduism has been the hold of caste identities on particular locations and monasteries. These are largely Brahmin and occasionally, such as in the case of the Gorakhnath Math in Gorakhpur, Rajput/Thakur. From master to follower, the leadership of the order has moved only within restricted lines. Sai Baba shattered this glass ceiling. In a society governed by a strict caste hierarchy, his family's origins as a cowherd people of the Bhattaraju community — not far apart from the backward caste Kapus of Andhra Pradesh and positioned similarly to the Yadavs in north India — were never an issue. It was often believed Sai Baba's matrix of powerful followers — straddling boardrooms and Cabinet rooms, civil servants and judges, members of Parliament and generals — could have been matched only by the late Chandrasekhara Saraswathi, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi who died at 99 in 1994. It must be said that the much-revered Shankaracharya's influence was derived from an ancient seat. Sai Baba was a self-made guru. Neither was he a jealous god. You could worship Christ or Krishna or Allah, he said, and still believe in him. He was not wedded to recondite scriptures. While addressing a mass audience, he had the ability to dumb down his message and be embarrassingly epigrammatic: "Help ever, hurt never" and so on. This obviously widened his appeal. Today, many Hindu religious leaders use the same template, and reach out to a broader, pan-Indian audience. They make adroit use of television and the jet plane. In contrast, Baba built his "empire of the soul" in an age before the communication revolution, before satellite television, the Internet and social media. For a person who had followers from Belgium to Barbados and Central Asia to Central America, it was astonishing that he went abroad only once — to Uganda in 1968. Finally, how does one assess Baba's manifestation of vibhuti (holy ash) and even wristwatches from seemingly thin air? Was it evidence of his contention that "matter is energy; and if you will anything, you can create it?" Was it a conjuror's trick? Worded another way, as a column on the Times of India website put it recently: why did an "avatar need a ventilator… (and die) an ordinary man's death?" In the larger perspective, these questions are so meaningless they end up mocking those who raise them. Mother Teresa was compassion personified. Pope John Paul II was among the most charismatic and inspiring men of our times. They both died mortal deaths; yet their Church sees them as saints and identifies specific miracles that they performed and that saved others from a mortal death. If one respects that sentiment, one has to respect Satya Sai Baba's manifestation of vibhuti. After all, the clarity of reason is never entirely separated from the humility of faith. As the mournful silence in Puttaparthi reminds us, they are both essential to the human condition. * Ashok Malik can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE EBB AND FLOW OF AMERICAN TAXES

 

When I listen to current discussions of the federal budget, the message I hear sounds like this: We're in crisis! We must take drastic action immediately! And we must keep taxes low, if not actually cut them further! You have to wonder: If things are that serious, shouldn't we be raising taxes, not cutting them? My description of the budget debate is in no way an exaggeration. Consider the Ryan budget proposal, which all the Very Serious People assured us was courageous and important. That proposal begins by warning that "a major debt crisis is inevitable" unless we confront the deficit. It then calls, not for tax increases, but for tax cuts, with taxes on the wealthy falling to their lowest level since 1931. And because of those large tax cuts, the only way the Ryan proposal can even claim to reduce the deficit is through savage cuts in spending, mainly falling on the poor and vulnerable. (A realistic assessment suggests that the proposal would actually increase the deficit.) US President Barack Obama's proposal is a lot better. At least it calls for raising taxes on high incomes back to Clinton-era levels. But it preserves the rest of the Bush tax cuts — cuts that were originally sold as a way to dispose of a large budget surplus. And, as a result, it still relies heavily on spending cuts, even as it falls short of actually balancing the budget. So why isn't someone offering a proposal reflecting the reality that the Bush tax cuts were a huge mistake, and suggesting that increased revenue play a major role in deficit reduction? Actually, someone is — and I'll get to that in a moment. First, though, let's talk about the current state of American taxes. From the tone of much budget discussion, you might think that we were groaning under crushing, unprecedented levels of taxation. The reality is that effective federal tax rates at every level of income have fallen significantly over the past 30 years, especially at the top. And, over all, US taxes are much lower as a percentage of national income than taxes in most other wealthy nations. The point is that we aren't that heavily taxed, either by historical standards or in comparison with other nations. So if you're truly horrified by the budget deficit, why not propose tax increases as part of the solution? Wait, there's more. The core of the Ryan proposal is a plan to privatise and defund Medicare. Yet this would do nothing to reduce the deficit over the next 10 years, which is why all the near-term deficit reduction comes from brutal reductions in aid to the needy and unspecified cuts in discretionary spending. Tax increases, by contrast, can be fast-acting remedies for red ink. And that's why the only major budget proposal out there offering a plausible path to balancing the budget is the one that includes significant tax increases: the "People's Budget" from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which — unlike the Ryan plan, which was just Right-wing orthodoxy with an added dose of magical thinking — is genuinely courageous because it calls for shared sacrifice. True, it increases revenue partly by imposing substantially higher taxes on the wealthy, which is popular everywhere except inside the Beltway. But it also calls for a rise in the Social Security cap, significantly raising taxes on around six per cent of workers. And, by rescinding many of the Bush tax cuts, not just those affecting top incomes, it would modestly raise taxes even on middle-income families. All of this, combined with spending cuts mostly focused on defence, is projected to yield a balanced budget by 2021. And the proposal achieves this without dismantling the legacy of the New Deal, which gave us Social Security, and the Great Society, which gave us Medicare and Medicaid. But if the progressive proposal has all these virtues, why isn't it getting anywhere near as much attention as the much less serious Ryan proposal? It's true that it has no chance of becoming law anytime soon. But that's equally true of the Ryan proposal. The answer, I'm sorry to say, is the insincerity of many if not most self-proclaimed deficit hawks. To the extent that they care about the deficit at all, it takes second place to their desire to do precisely what the People's Budget avoids doing, namely, tear up our current social contract, turning the clock back 80 years under the guise of necessity. They don't want to be told that such a radical turn to the right is not, in fact, necessary. But, it isn't, as the progressive budget proposal shows. We do need to bring the deficit down, although we aren't facing an immediate crisis. How we go about stemming the tide of red ink is, however, a choice — and by making tax increases part of the solution, we can avoid savaging the poor and undermining the security of the middle class.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

'UNPARDONABLE OFFENCE'

CPI-M'S EX-MP OFF THE PODIUM!

 

IT is with a palpable jerk in the knee that the CPI-M leadership has responded to the despicably foul language used by a former MP in course of his election campaign for the West Bengal assembly at Arambagh, Hooghly. In an action as unprecedented as the provocation, the party has acted even before the other side could firm up its response. Anil Basu has been barred from campaigning from the rest of the phases of the Assembly election; Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has even elicited a public apology from the man. If  Mr Biman Bose's barb against a High Court judge ~ Lala, tui pala ~ was grossly contemptuous, Basu's analogy between Trinamul funding and the income generated in the red light areas has crossed the benchmark of civility, is beneath contempt and reflects abysmally on the party's campaign strategy. It may be an individual's aberration; yet the party is acutely embarrassed over the fact that such expletives cannot but have an impact on popular perception midway through the election. Prompt and swift was the rap on the knuckles administered by none other than Mr Bhattacharjee. "Mr Basu's comments threw to the wind propriety and decency. Such language doesn't behove a Communist. It must be ensured that we don't have to hear such language from his mouth any more. This is an unpardonable offence." True CPI-M leaders, specially those engaged in party work, are on occasion abrasive in their responses; as, for instance, Benoy Konar during the Nandigram turmoil. But there is a difference between curt behaviour and vulgarity that verges on perversion. Unwittingly or otherwise, ex-MP Anil Basu can be said to have let the party down.


Small wonder that Sunday's damage-control was mounted jointly by heads of party and government in the state. And they have been remarkably decisive and effective. Mr Bhattacharjee has even hinted at suspension "if the need arises". Basu's apology and the bar on campaigning ~ perhaps unparalleled in the CPI-M's electoral history ~ are obviously intended to make amends and refurbish the party's standing. He has been taken off the podium and reprimanded ~ a course correction and in the midst of the elections.

 

TENZING'S LEGACY

GOMBU EMBELLISHED THE SHERPA SAGA

JUST because all the world's major mountains have been climbed so frequently recently that ascents no longer make news has, sadly, resulted in most people, particularly those unfamiliar to ice-axe or crampon, not appreciating mountaineering's challenges. A tragic spin-off being that an entire generation remains ignorant of the sterling role of the Sherpa community in getting men, and women, to sniff the snow plumes that adorn the highest peaks. The death of Nawang Gombu in Darjeeling on Easter Sunday should launch a resurrection of the Sherpa saga ~ one he most articulately embellished. Though best known for being the first man to climb Everest twice, adding a string of other majors to his record book, and having received a string of national and international awards, Gombu's first claim to fame was less dramatic but highly pragmatic. Just 16 years of age then he was a member of Colonel John Hunt's 1953 expedition (Hunt was more of a leader than a climber) that notched up the first recorded success on the world's highest peak. The duo of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay (Gombu's uncle) attained instantaneous international fame, but their task would have been more difficult had not another team of the expedition "opened" the route to the South Col. Gombu was a member of that team, the youngest Sherpa to have reached the Col. A decade later he scaled the summit, and did so again in 1965. And proceed to "bag" Nanda Devi, Saser Kangri, Cho Oya and many others.


Gombu, along with Tenzing and some others, attended a mountaineering school in Switzerland in 1954 and they on their return formed the nucleus of  instructors at the fledgling Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling ~ a dream of Nehru and Dr BC Roy. Gombu followed his uncle in holding the office of director field training at the HMI. Countless would be the number of climbers who have learnt the craft at their feet. The Sherpa was originally deemed a high-altitude porter par excellence, but essentially a "back up" for the better equipped, better prepared "western" expeditions. Tenzing and Gombu re-wrote that script, established Sherpas as climbers in their own right. Rightly has that community of mountain men been eulogised time and time again. When asked why he climbed a mountain, Shipton quipped "because it is there". Well, the mountains will always be there ~ and hopefully so also the Sherpas, inspired by their icons Tenzing and Gombu.

 

DOUBLE SUNDAE

SALEH'S OFFER EXACERBATES CRISIS

FAR from defusing the confrontation, President Ali Abdullah Saleh's two-in-one offer has served to exacerbate the crisis in Yemen. He has offered to step down within  30 days, but does not say when the count will begin. What has infuriated protestors even more over the weekend is his claim to immunity, a perceived right that he has arrogated to couch his resignation offer.  Saturday's purported "peace plan" has been rejected almost as soon as it was advanced. Indeed, the sincerity of the offer is open to question. The addiction to power becomes more and heady despite the rusted throne. And the misgivings of the protestors that Saleh is only intent on buying time may not be wholly unfounded. Hence the strident cry on Sunday that the President must either "resign or flee". The popular mood has stiffened since he announced the conditional resignation offer, and it will not be easy to ignore the renewed outcry. The protestors have seen through the bluff; even for a beleaguered establishment, 30 days is a long enough span to stave off the crisis and shore up its position. Hence the emphatic notice to the presidential palace ~ "no negotiations, no dialogue".


In real terms, the attempt by the Gulf Cooperation Council to remove Saleh after 32 years has failed. The plan carries within it the seeds of its own fragility. Clearly, it has been crafted on the establishment's terms, as in Egypt, most importantly the provision that power would be handed over to a Vice-President. Even the clause on a national unity government has come a cropper with the Opposition rejecting the idea. And it is the provision on immunity that has infuriated the country and steeled the resolve of those engaged in mass demonstrations at the Change Square in Sana'a, where 55 people were killed in firing on 18 March. Immunity remains a critical issue for the government as much as the Opposition because Saleh's regime is regarded as being more corrupt than even those of pre-change Egypt and Tunisia. He is on a sticky wicket, though he continues to bat like the ruler in Libya. The Opposition is gaining in strength despite the suppression of the movement. Nor for that matter is Saleh assured of support from the USA and the GCC. Instead of stepping down, he may well be forced out within 30 days. That would be a people's victory, fair and square.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

ESCHEW THE UNKNOWING

SAFE NUCLEAR ENERGY IS A MYTH

BY SAM RAJAPPA


THE Fukushima nuclear disaster should have given enough cause for supporters of the Jaitapur mega nuclear power project to pause. The protest against the proposed nuclear reactors in coastal Ratnagri district in Maharashtra to generate 9,900 MW power is bound to escalate following the police firing on demonstrators in which one person was killed and several injured.  The scheduled three-day protest yatra by concerned citizens from Tarapur to Jaitapur to begin on 23 April was thwarted by police. Social activists, environmentalists, academics and retired judges from across the country were to participate in the long march. Prithviraj Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, made it clear there was no room for a rethink on the project as the Centre had granted environmental clearance for the nuclear power plant last November. He said there was no safety threat since the entire project would conform to international standards. Incorporating these standards did not prevent the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the USA which took 14 years to clean up at a cost of $1 billion, and the 1985 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine. Ahead of a conference to observe its 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in Kiev on 26 April, 28 nations have pledged $875 million towards $1.8 billion needed to seal the stricken nuclear reactor with a 20,000-tonne steel shield.


A comprehensive analysis of the tragic Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami is yet to emerge and the people of Ratnagiri are worried.  Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh washed his hands off saying it was the duty of the state government and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India to instill public confidence and trust and his ministry should not be blamed.  His ministry granted all environmental clearances within 80 days of the NPCI submitting its impact assessment report. The main reason for the uprising of the people of Ratnagiri is the adamant refusal of the Central and the State governments to put the Jaitapur project on hold at least till the complete data on the Fukushima tragedy was available.


Jaitapur is on the Rajapur-Ratnagiri agriculture belt known for its lush green paddy fields and the world famous Alphonso mango orchards. The coast is rich in prawns and other marine products of high value. Clustering of six huge reactors of 1,650 MW each adjacent to such a tranquil village against the wishes of its people is sheer madness.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh risked his government for the passage of the Nuclear Liability Act. His government now seems more concerned about honouring its commitments to foreign suppliers to the nuclear power stations than addressing the concerns and safeguarding the lives of our people.


Why should India import the yet untested European Pressurised Reactors from Areva of France for the Jaitapur project, estimated to cost $20 billion?  The place is known to be seismically sensitive and is not free from threats of tsunami. The project site is not far from the notorious Enron power plant the Americans wanted to put up but never did.  Enron secured the contract and finance for it by bribing Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and some politicians in Delhi. The company went bankrupt and its bosses ended up in jail in the USA, but our politicians went laughing all the way to foreign tax havens.


The Koodankulam nuclear power plant coming up in the southern tip of Tamil Nadu has turned the Palk Bay into a disaster zone and if the Jaitapur project is not put on hold the Arabian coast will turn into a disaster zone. According to the Department of Atomic Energy projection, India will need 655,000 MW nuclear power generation capacity by 2050 which would mean 655 nuclear power reactors of 1,000 MW capacity each. These would be set up in 109 nuclear parks of six reactors each along the 6,000 km coastline at about 55 km gap, turning the country's entire coastline into a vast disaster zone. Is this what the UPA government wants to leave behind for posterity?  A group of 50 eminent people representing all walks of life have issued a statement calling for a total review of the government's nuclear policy. "India must have a radical review of the nuclear power policy for appropriateness, safety, costs and public acceptance," the concerned citizen's statement said.  They called for an independent, transparent safety audit of all the nuclear facilities in the country with the involvement of civil society and experts outside the Department of Atomic Energy packed with sarkari scientists. Pending such review, there should be a moratorium on all future nuclear programme and revocation of recent clearances for nuclear projects.  The signatories included, among others, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, A Gopalakrishnan.


Nuclear establishments all over the world are shrouded in secrecy, not open to questioning and not accountable to the public. In India, nuclear emissions from the atomic energy establishments and the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad are concealed from public and accidents are seldom reported or their magnitude downplayed. There is no transparency in the actual financial cost of nuclear power plants, their operating and life-cycle costs. No nuclear reactor anywhere in the world has been built without government subsidy. The fact that private investors have not been willing to take the economic risk of setting up nuclear power plants is a warning to treat all assertions of cost benefit with some suspicion. Once the huge decommissioning cost at the end of the lifespan of a nuclear power plant is taken into account, it ceases to be an attractive proposal even to its ardent supporters. Radioactivity from nuclear accident reaches immediate and distant communities of all living things and their future generations and they have no choice in the matter. Even ancillary nuclear installations, where no fission process is involved, risks of accident and contamination exist.  When the government wanted to set up a uranium enrichment plant at Ratnahalli, on the outskirts of Mysore, it was euphemistically named Rare Materials Plant and the people were misled into believing that it merely processed "rare earths."  In a democracy, matters concerning public safety and health cannot be hidden from the people.


The popular belief that global warming can be avoided by switching to nuclear power is false. Australian physician Helen Caldicott in her well-documented book, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else points out that if a detailed accounting of emissions made during all phases of nuclear power generation, including both construction and decommissioning of the plant, together with mining, transportation and refinement of uranium ore, the emissions are seen to be comparable by a coal-fired power plant.
Nuclear power is both uneconomical and unnecessary. It cannot compete against energy conservation, including cogeneration, wind power and ever more efficient, quicker, safer, renewable forms of generating electricity.
As far back as 1987, India looked at the option of exploiting space-based solar power (SBSP) to meet the growing energy demands but was not pursued vigorously possibly because our political leaders did not see much scope for kickbacks.  Unlike terrestrial solar and wind power plants, SBSP is available throughout the year and in unlimited quantities. The Indian Space Research Organisation has done some pioneering work on tapping this energy source but never got the popular attention it deserves.


The idea is being promoted by former President APJ Abdul Kalam with the involvement of TK Alex, director of ISRO's Satellite Centre in Bangalore and leader of the Chandrayan-1 project. The former President said at a conference in New Delhi last November that by 2050, even if we use every available energy resource we have, clean and dirty, conventional and alternative, solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, coal, oil and gas, the world will fall short of the energy we need by 66 per cent. "But there is an answer for both the developed and the developing countries. This is a solar energy source that is close to infinite, an energy source that produces no carbon emissions, an energy source that can reach the most distant villages of the world, and an energy source that can turn countries into net energy exporter."  Is Manmohan Singh listening?


The writer is a veteran journalist and former Director, Statesman Print Journalism School

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

WHAT'S IN A MEDIUM?

THE UPROAR IN GOA OVER THE MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION IN SCHOOLS HAS AGAIN BROUGHT IN FOCUS THE ENGLISH VS MOTHER TONGUE DEBATE.  BUT THE GOVERNMENT, EDUCATORS AND PARENTS NEED TO APPRECIATE THAT THE MODE OF INSTRUCTION MATTERS MORE THAN THE MEDIUM, WRITES ARDHENDU CHATTERJEE

"Divide and rule" was part of an overall British strategy to perpetuate London's repressive regime in India. After Independence, it was the turn of the English language to "divide and survive". Every now and again, English becomes a hot-button issue with one section of the population endorsing its importance in our education system and the other resisting it. The issue has a historical perspective. While Indians hated their English rulers, they fell head over heels in love with their language and sartorial culture.

First, let's consider our sartorial inclination. How many of us appear in public in our traditional attire?  Not more than one in 10,000. We feel more comfortable in trousers, shirts and shoes than in our traditional dhoti-punjabi-slippers ensemble. It's true that Indian women still have an abiding love for sarees but Indian men generally steer clear of traditional attire. Secondly, one's mother tongue is definitely close to one's heart. But how many of us can swear that we do not use even a single English word or sentence in our daily interactions? Only a microscopic minority would aver that they don't.  Getting rid of our colonial past is not so easy.
Mother tongue protagonists and pseudo-nationalists would definitely differ. They are endowed with an uncanny ability to obfuscate or complicate the issue with hypocritical arguments as some are currently doing in Goa in the wake of the Right to Education (RTE) Act that envisages mother tongue as the medium of instruction (MOI). Of course, the veneer of the nationalist outlook of the pro-mother tongue camp is seen to crack when the protagonists send their own children to English-medium schools. The raging debate has brought the state's cultural cosmopolitanism into disrepute.

Fissures have appeared in Goa's Congress-led coalition government on the issue with the allies throwing their weight behind two rival citizens' groups ~ Forum for Rights of Children's Education (Force) and Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) ~ the former supporting English as the MOI and the other rooting for Konkani and Marathi. Apparently, the suggestion to support English-medium schools with government grants has caused the dissension within the government. While Force seems to have the support of most parents, Catholic legislators, including education minister Mr Atanasio Monserrate and the clergy, BBSM enjoys the blessings of a section of freedom fighters, Right-wing activists and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP).  
On 21 March, Force held a 15,000-strong rally in Panaji demanding grant-in-aid provision for English-medium primary schools ~ something their Konkani or Marathi medium counterparts enjoy. Not to be outmaneuvered, the BBSM and the MGP have been aggressively mobilising "mass support against English". The MGP's working president Mr Narayan Sawant has already threatened that his party would support Konkani and Marathi as the MOI even "at the cost of losing ministerial berths".

Yoga guru Swami Ramdev's endorsement of Konkani and Marathi as the medium of instruction in schools instead of English came as a shot in the arm for the BBSM and the MGP. "We are not enemies of the English language, but Indian languages should be given first preference", he said. "Your own language helps you stay in snyc with your culture."

The issue rocked Goa Assembly on 22 March with some members of the ruling party holding the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) government of Goa responsible for initiating a "discriminatory policy" in 1991 under which only Konkani or Marathi medium schools were made entitled to grant-in-aid, delivering a body blow to the state's Catholic church-run schools. Most of these cash-strapped schools soon adopted the Konkani medium of instruction in order to remain eligible for government grants, allowing private English-medium primary schools that charge astronomical tuition fees to mushroom.

During his Assembly spat with Leader of the Opposition Mr Manohar Parrikar, Deputy Speaker Mr Mauvin Godinho, who was part of the PDF, wondered how the realisation that the policy had not worked hit home after 22 years. Mr Parrikar quipped quite rightly that politicians with vested interests had not allowed the policy to work. How could private English-medium schools flourish without the tacit connivance of those in the corridors of power?

Although the Panaji rally was in no way apolitical either in its composition or in its contention, the demand echoed the aspiration of Indian parents from the entire socio-economic spectrum. An excellent command over English, they think, not without reason, would give their children a definite edge in today's highly-competitive job market and to move rapidly up the career ladder at home or abroad. They believe that English should be the language of our intellect with our mother tongue shaping the language of our emotions and feelings. No wonder, regional or Hindi films and songs are more popular than those in English.   

Since the late 70s, the ruling elites in our country began developing a phobia of English. They feared that English would be the mighty leveller: once children belonging to the underprivileged or marginalised sections acquired a proficiency in English, their political support base would start crumbling. Isn't it intriguing that two parallel systems of schooling were allowed to run ~ one for the commoners i.e. state-run schools and the other for the elite and affluent i.e. English medium public or residential schools. The twin systems perpetuated the divide between the rich and the poor on one hand and the rural and the urban populace on the other.
The grand design to deny underprivileged children access to English, however, backfired when some state governments such as the Left Front government in West Bengal exiled English from the primary curriculum, thereby opening the floodgates to private English-medium schools. State-aided schools that neglected English started to wither away. Globalisation brought about further erosion of faith in state-run schools with the craze for English becoming all-pervasive. English had a resurrection of sorts in the state school curriculum but its standard continues to be abysmally poor: it is no match for the high standards maintained by private English-medium schools.

In the Goa Assembly, Mr Parrikar underplayed the importance of the medium: "In any language, what is important is how it is taught."  In the past, there had been fewer English medium schools but students, more often than not, had managed to acquire a reasonable proficiency.  So it's wrong to confuse the teaching of English with the medium of instruction:  the two issues are separate. But what's the harm in English-medium schools receiving government grants?

The best option is perhaps to have separate English-medium sections in state-run schools. Also, if state education boards were to follow the same English syllabi as ICSE and CBSE schools, the dispute would be easier to resolve. In addition to text-books, state-run schools could also hold compulsory elocution classes to improve the learners' communication skills. Lastly, both state-run and private schools must realise that without teachers with excellent skills to communicate in English, the entire exercise would be rendered futile. The government, educators and parents ~ all should appreciate that the thrust should be on the mode and not the medium of instruction.

The writer is a freelance contributor

 

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THE STATESMAN

DO US APART

NOW & AGAIN

SUDIPTA DEY      

                                                                                                    
A man with an inordinate love for liquor used to live in our neighbourhood. He would hit the bottle early in the day, usually as soon as he woke up and keep at it till he retired around 11 p.m. every day. The co-owner of a tea stall ~ his younger brother being the other owner ~ he would squander whatever little money he earned on his addiction. His wife would be often seen leading him out of different hooch dens late in the night.
What was remarkable about this 60-year-old was his demeanour which never indicated that he was an alcoholic. When sozzled, he would be seen swaying on his feet sometimes but was always on his best behaviour. His frustrated wife would often rage at him, punctuating her imprecations with blows from sticks, brooms and even pots and pans. We would feel bad but never interfere since the couple preferred to keep to themselves.
One night, the elderly alcoholic was run over by a train while returning home after a drinking session. That day, his wife was not well and had not gone to fetch him. As soon as I heard of the mishap, I reached the spot. The body was mangled beyond recognition but the face was untouched. When the widow arrived, she was inconsolable. She kept muttering declarations of love for her deceased husband. Suddenly she began to yell: "Whom shall I quarrel with now? Whom shall I beat up? Please, please come back." The onlookers were nonplussed and few could suppress their amusement.


The woman moved out of the locality a few days after her husband was killed. I met her more than a year or so later at the tea stall which she now co-owned with her brother-in-law. She smiled at me and asked how I was. I was surprised because the woman had never interacted with anyone when she was our neighbour. We got talking and it became obvious that her husband's death had come as a blessing in disguise for her. His alcoholism and tendency to take indiscriminate loans to support his addiction had rendered the business nearly unprofitable. Also, it emerged that the man used to suffer from serious liver problems and the couple had to borrow money at steep rates of interest to treat him. Looking at her, it appeared as if her troubles had vanished now. Radiant and confident, the widow let me know that she intended to devote more time to the business and make it grow what with patrons already raving about the delicious ghughni and tea that she prepared every day. In death, it appeared, her husband had bequeathed her a new lease of life.

 

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THE STATESMAN

UN CHARTS 5-STEP PLAN FOR NUCLEAR SAFETY

 

Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon has outlined a five-step plan to enhance nuclear safety after high radiation from Japanese reactors in the aftermath of a tsunami and earthquake that hit the country last March. He said the Japan and Chernobyl experience called for "deep re-flection" on the future of nuclear energy.


 "As we are painfully learning once again, nuclear accidents respect no borders," Mr Ban said at the Summit on the Safe and Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy, held in Kiev. "They pose direct threats to human health and the environment. They cause economic disruptions, affecting everything from agricultural production to trade and global services."


Mr Ban said that both the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986 and the accident at Fukushima Daiichi plant raised popular fears and disturbing questions, while offering lessons for the global community. "This is a moment for deep reflection: How do we ensure both the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and maximum safety? We need a global rethink on this fundamental question," he said. "Because the consequences are catastrophic, safety must be paramount," Mr Ban said. "Because the consequences are transnational, they must be debated globally." He stated that enhancing nuclear safety must begin with "a top to bottom review" of current nuclear safety standards, both at national and international levels.
The Secretary-General noted that the primary responsibility to ensure the safety of nuclear installations lay with national governments. He strongly urged states to consider lessons learned and adopt app-ropriate measures to apply the highest possible standards of safety. He also cited the need to strengthen support for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the challenge of nuclear safety and stated that the time had come to boost the body's capacity in the further development and universal application of the highest possible nuclear safety standards.


"Third, we must put a sharper focus on the new nexus between natural disasters and nuclear safety," he stated. "The challenge of climate change is bringing with it greater extremes of weather. Nuclear power plants must be prepared to withstand everything from earthquakes to tsunamis, from fires to floods."


According to the IAEA, 64 new reactors are currently under construction. Some 443 are operating in 29 countries worldwide, some located in areas of seismic activity. "This requires us to place new importance on disaster preparedness, in rich and poor nations alike," Mr Ban said. He said that it was also necessary to undertake a renewed cost-benefit analysis of nuclear energy. "Nuclear power will likely continue to be an important resource for many nations and can be a part of a low-carbon-emission energy mix ~ but it has to become credibly safe, and globally so."


He said he would launch a UN system-wide study on the implications of the accident at Fukushima. Mr Ban stressed the need to build a stronger connection between nuclear safety and nuclear security. He noted that the two are distinct issues, boosting one can bolster the other. "At a time when terrorists and others are seeking nuclear materials and technology, stringent safety systems at nuclear power plants will reinforce efforts to strengthen nuclear security," he said. "A nuclear power plant that is safer for its community is also one that is more secure for our world."


Mr Ban stated that these practical steps can help reassure the global public and better prepare the world's people and the planet for the energy challenges of the 21st century. "By joining forces, we can make sure that the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima are a thing of the past, not a harbinger of the future," he said.

Nepal commissions
UN human rights official Ms Kyung-wha Kang has urged Nepalese authorities to enact draft laws that will establish a commission to probe enforced disappearances and create a mechanism to seek the truth about conflict-related abuses and facilitate national reconciliation. "Establishing these mechanisms in Nepal, in particular, the Disappearances Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is both necessary and urgent," said Ms Kang, the Deputy High Commissioner for human rights, as she addressed members of Nepal's Constituent Assembly in Kath-mandu, according to a Press release issued in New York. "The Constituent Assembly must swiftly adopt the necessary draft legislation to establish these commissions. Furthermore, to ensure that the claims of the victims are genuinely addressed, these laws must be in line with international human rights standards," she said.


Ms Kang pointed out that commissions couldn't replace the regular criminal justice process, which guaranteed the rule of law in society. "It is an obligation for all states to undertake investigations and prosecutions of all cases of gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Post-conflict amne-sties cannot be granted to prevent prosecution of egregious human rights violations, including through pardons or the withdrawal of criminal charges," she said.


She voiced concern over the fact that that no one had been, till date, held accountable for crimes committed during the conflict. Ms Kang noted that criminal investigations had not progressed and that some perpetrators had even been promoted with little attention paid to redressing the grievance of the victims. Ms Kang said the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was pleased that the Nepalese legislature was considering two important Bills aimed at advancing the protection and promotion of the human rights of one of the most marginalised groups in Nepali society ~ the Dalit community. "I am speaking of the Bill to properly criminalise untouchability practices and the Bill to create a strong, independent, and adequately re-sourced National Dalit Commission to focus on the defence of the rights of the community.
"Passing these three laws following the necessary amendments to ensure their consistency with international human rights standards and best practices is of significant importance," she said. She was also encouraged by the decision of Nepal's parliament to instruct the government to proceed with the ratification of the Rome Statue, the legal instrument that created the International Criminal Court.


Sri Lanka report

UN deputy spokesman Mr Farhan Haq confirmed to reporters that the report compiled by the panel of experts on Sri Lanka, will be released soon and that the UN had every intention to publish it in full and without amendment. "It is our intention to release the report as soon as is possible, and we still would like to publish it simultaneously with a response by the Sri Lankan government," Mr Haq said. He indicated that the UN was in talks with the Sri Lankan government, primarily through its Permanent Mission to the UN, to see whether Sri Lanka would avail itself, in good faith, of the opportunity to respond to the report. Mr Haq recalled that one of the key principles of the agreement reached in 2009 between the Secretary-General and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse was to establish accountability when asked why the report had been compiled.
Mr Ban named the panel of experts in 2010 in order to explore the issue of accountability regarding the Lankan conflict, and the report is the result of the panel's work, Mr Haq said. He said the report would speak for itself, when asked whether the committee had overstepped its mandate.


anjali sharma

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THE TELEGRAPH

RUDENESS IS ALL

Even the ugliest moments can generate a spark of comic relief. The West Bengal chief minister's moral outrage at the deliberately crude remarks of the former member of parliament of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Anil Basu, about Mamata Banerjee is indubitably funny. It shows what the fear of imminent defeat can do to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. For raw, reckless, truly indecorous and uncultured abuse of Opposition leaders is written into the CPI(M)'s DNA — it is easy to recall, for instance, the party's unkind epithet for Atulya Ghosh years ago that referred to his defective vision. There is nothing new in Mr Basu's spilling of verbal sewage. That Ms Banerjee is a woman has afforded CPI(M) leaders greater opportunity for descending to the lowest crudities and revelling in the choicest forms of gender prejudice. Examples abound from the times of Singur and Nandigram, when Mr Basu may have only talked of dragging off the Trinamul leader by her hair, but Shyamal Chakraborty or Benoy Konar — among others — plunged even lower to pluck out worse abuse and imagery for Ms Banerjee and everyone associated with her. There was no question of outrage then; the CPI(M) believed it was on top.

Seldom has an Opposition leader escaped unparliamentary abuse and allegations. The former chief minister, Prafulla Chandra Sen, for example, was accused, unfoundedly, of having bought Stephen House with ill-gotten wealth. Evidently the CPI(M)'s DNA has another strand: unsubstantiated allegations against political rivals. Goutam Deb is still promising to prove his accusations of black money and disproportionate wealth against Ms Banerjee. So far, all he has done is call her a liar: maybe that makes him truthful. The culture of democracy has, not surprisingly, eluded the CPI(M) even after all these years. So the fear of defeat has not provoked Mr Bhattacharjee to outrage against Mr Deb; all seem unaware that accusations should be backed by proof. This attitude is consistent enough: Mr Bhattacharjee has called Mr Basu's offence "unforgivable", but Mr Basu is not being expelled from the party. If he went, too many others would have to follow. The trick is to say the nastiest things and then render a wide-eyed apology. Such behaviour in a political party is not just unfit for a democracy, it is unfit for any society that has ever dreamt of being civilized.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE DRAGON RISES

Indians are used to the fact that high growth leads before long to inflation. They are also given an explanation by economists: optimistic expectations lead entrepreneurs to increase investment and thus stimulate total demand, demand growth leads businesses to produce more, and when they hit capacity ceilings and cannot produce more, they start raising prices. This explanation worked like clockwork in India: if growth is going up today, Indians had better expect inflation tomorrow. But the sequence did not appear to work in China; either they could not read ordinary economics, or they had invented another economics which Indians could not read. Either way, there was considerable frustration to the south of the border. But Indians can now stop scratching their heads, for inflation has raised its head in China. Consumer prices in China in the first quarter of 2011 were 5.4 per cent and wholesale prices 7.3 per cent higher than a year before. That is modest by Indian standards. But it is spectacular by Chinese standards.

Inflation in India is an indigenous malady; Indians infect themselves, and they suffer silently. But China is different; it is the world's second largest economy, and the biggest international trader if one ignores the trucks running across fictitious national borders of the European Union. If the Chinese begin to raise prices, the whole world will have to pay. The Americans are already doing so. For years, Walmart and other wholesalers brought cheap Chinese consumer goods and sold them in the United States of America; Americans enjoyed falling costs and rising living standards without having to produce more. Now the party is over; prices of shirts and pants, pots and pans are rising across the US. Just as cheap Chinese goods made consumers richer across the world, a rise in their prices will make consumers poorer wherever they depend on China. It should not be taken for granted that China's inflation will persist, let alone accelerate, for its government is not so blasé about inflation as India's. It has raised bank rates four times in the past few months; it has also tried to introduce price controls, though not very effectively. And it has a powerful weapon in its armoury that it has not tried. It has an enormous trade surplus; it could comfortably import a lot more. And it can appreciate its currency; that would reduce the price of imports. All that could stand between it and rational economic policy is national pride.

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THE TELEGRAPH

CIVIL SOCIETY MEMBERS

AN OPPOSITION HAS GREAT WEIGHT IN A DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTION ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE

Who is a civil society member? This question, which has intrigued me for more than 20 years, came up again with the organization of the demonstrations in support of the lok pal bill in Delhi and other metropolitan cities. When I asked a friend who had been with the demonstrators at Jantar Mantar about the social composition of the gathering, he said that they were common people from every walk of life.

That is not how it appeared to me from what I saw on television. The people who were shown on camera again and again were common people in only a very special sense of the term. The vast majority of them appeared to be members of the educated middle class: well-dressed, well-spoken and on the whole well-behaved. Their body language was that of the Indian middle class. I have nothing against the middle class to which I myself belong, but I find it absurd to describe such persons, who comprise a small proportion of the total population, as the 'common people of India'. I did not see on the TV cameras many people who looked and acted like stone breakers, construction workers and other wage labourers who live in the slums of Delhi and can be easily seen on the thoroughfares of the metropolis. The question that I naturally ask as a sociologist is: are those people not also civil society members?

This leads to a more disturbing question: am I myself a civil society member? I do not join demonstrations and rallies, and have never been seen on TV participating in any such event. So, have I missed the bus through sheer lethargy and inaction? Can one become a civil society member merely by meeting the obligations of citizenship, such as paying taxes, voting, and observing traffic rules, or does one have to do something extra? It makes me a little uneasy to think that I have to depend on the electronic media to find the answer to a crucial question about my own identity.

I am a university professor, and it should not be too difficult for someone to tell that I am one. Likewise, one can tell who is a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist, a clerk or a bus driver. It should not be too difficult even to tell who is a politician. A member of parliament or of a legislative assembly is a politician; a functionary of the Congress or the Communist Party of India is a politician; and a trade union leader is also likely to be one. Is there any kind of objective criterion, other than recognition by the media, which enables us to decide who is and who is not a member of civil society? Or is membership of civil society coterminous with membership of society as a whole so that anyone who declares himself a civil society member should be acknowledged as one?

It is unfortunate that successive governments have shown themselves to be both inept and disingenuous in their conduct over creating the office of the Lok Pal. It is equally unfortunate that rallies and demonstrations had to be organized in order to get the government to do what it should have done in any case and done some time ago. The government now says that it is a good thing that the people have come together, and raised their voice against corruption in public life. If that is so, what was the government doing all these years? And why did the Opposition not do anything but allow the initiative to pass from Parliament to the streets?

Government and Opposition may thunder against each other in public, but they are also complicit in many acts of omission and commission that undermine the legitimacy of Parliament. It is a truism that the successful operation of democracy is the responsibility of the Opposition as much as of the government. When government and Opposition fail repeatedly to do what they ought to do in the ordinary course, people lose their trust in the institutions of democracy such as the legislature, the executive, and the political parties. Then they come together and try to solve through their own efforts the many problems that remain unresolved.

It is on the whole a good thing that our political system allows room for the expression of public protests of the kind I am discussing. By all accounts, the protests held in Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore and elsewhere were orderly and peaceful. But there really is no guarantee that all agitations, demonstrations and rallies will be peaceful simply because their organizers speak in the name of civil society. The term 'civil society' is so vague and ambiguous as to allow virtually any group with any kind of political agenda to appropriate it and to tell the public that it is speaking on its behalf.

The gatherings at Jantar Mantar created something of the atmosphere of a carnival, or so it appeared on TV. Some young persons who had taken part in the gathering said that it reminded them of Tahrir Square in Cairo, and that made my heart sink a little. There is a vast difference between the political orders in Egypt and in India. In India we have had for 60 years an institutional mechanism for the articulation of dissent and opposition that very few countries outside West Europe and North America have had.

I cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of having the Opposition as an institution of parliamentary democracy. Opposition to the authorities exists in all political regimes, but in many, if not most of them, it is either suppressed or driven underground, from where it emerges from time to time in bursts of protest and violence. That is what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere earlier this year. But it should not be like that in India where opposition is not only acknowledged as necessary and desirable, but also given an institutional form in Parliament and outside.

We may not like the present members of either the government or the Opposition in Parliament. But we know who they are and how they happen to be where they are. They are there as the elected representatives of the people who have voted for them to be in Parliament. They will be in Parliament for a term of five years, and then go back to their constituencies to face the music. But who are the people who gather together in public places, speak in the name of civil society, and then disperse? How will we hold them to account if we find out six months or a year later that some of them, or many of them, have acted in bad faith?

Our situation is quite different from the situation in Tunisia or Egypt or Libya. There the army is waiting in the background to pick up the pieces after the crowds have dispersed. If in India the army stays where it should, it is in no small measure due to the place that the institutions of democracy, both government and Opposition, have created for themselves in the public consciousness. We all agree that those institutions are very weak; our endeavour should be to reinforce and not undermine them.

The author is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, and National Research Professor

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

LEARN FROM THE PAST

MALVIKA SINGH

Is it not gross and unacceptable that most people arriving at the CBI offices have a red light atop their cars? These privileged people have discredited and insulted the Indian nation by indulging in wrongdoings, by breaking the laws of this land, by governing ineptly and by insulating themselves from accountability with vast doses of arrogance suggesting that they are invincible. Their cookie has begun to crumble, and India feels relieved that the grand exposé has begun. But India has been disgraced by the rampant abuse of every institution and of law. We appear much like a banana republic with an escalating rate of growth that could bring in its wake all manner of discordant realities unless a correction of the 'system' is put in place.

If this is the state that India is in, how can it lead South Asia to compete with Asean countries, Europe, and within Brics as well? Surely, the excitement of the challenge is to cross the hurdle of inept and corrupt functioning by setting standards that meet the demands of professionalism and probity. When one listens to the endless chatter on television about whether the father and son legal representatives of civil society should be on the drafting panel for the lok pal bill, one is aghast by the inability of those professing probity to comprehend that the inclusion of the duo goes against notions of integrity and transparency.

To have allegedly fallen prey to 'cheap' land being handed out by a government smacks of greed as well as 'connivance' with the State for hand-me-outs. It is wrong for those in the judiciary and the media to take freebies because it is bound to influence their judgment. How can men who do not understand this simple fact draft an act to reduce corruption in public life? It is this kind of unthinking stubbornness from the representatives of 'civil society' that will derail the drafting of a useful, democratic, anti-corruption act. A retaliatory argument that is presented when questioned on this issue is that every judge will have some taint or the other, so one may as well go with 'daddy and baba'! Had the government suggested a daddy and baba — Kapil and Akhil Sibal — for the committee, all hell would have broken loose.

Clean slate

It is imperative that the incumbent government begins a cleansing from within. This is a must to make the operations of a Lok Pal useful and effective. Since public discourse from political rostrums or through debates in Parliament has been virtually non-existent, drowned by unsavoury interventions, politics has been reduced to a farce. Politicking dominates, and ideas have dissolved into nothingness. The leadership does not lead or question its colleagues. There is no probity and transparency. The political bosses seem to have merged with the babus, and together they are doing a destructive tango.

Win over India by truly leading the 'reform', not merely of the economy but of the administration and society as well. Take over the responsibility to secure the immediate future of an emerging India and have the guts to go to the people and tell them the truth about where and why it went wrong, how the correctives are being put in place and the importance of public-private partnership in this endeavour that could change the trajectory of India.

Learn from our founding fathers about the importance of public engagement on the part of political dispensations to deliver their message. Independence was not won by mud-slinging and personal assaults. Mahatma Gandhi took along with him all the people of India — rich and poor, across caste and creed, language and culture. There is a lesson to be learnt, and a change of course to be activated.

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THE TELEGRAPH

THE WAY OF THE WORLD ECONOMY

COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO

For over a decade, most of the developed world has lived with low interest rates, high government borrowings, rising government deficits, unemployment, and modest growth. Their cheap money benefited the developing countries as well, who received loans and investments that gave better returns and stimulated development in the poorer countries. Export-oriented countries in Southeast Asia, Japan and China ran up growing current account surpluses and became creditors to the United States of America as they accumulated rising amounts of US treasury bonds. These had low returns but made the US the most indebted country in the world.

Countries like India that had kept its interest rates relatively high to combat inflation, found it attractive to borrow abroad as many Indian companies did. Many Indian non-residents arbitraged by depositing funds in banks in India. Indian foreign exchange reserves rose despite growing deficits in trade balance. India also further encouraged such volatile flows by opening routes that were free of capital gains tax (like Mauritius) and registering foreign financial institutions that could hide identities of remitters and investors. This helped Indian tax evaders to smuggle money out and bring it back through such routes to be laundered. India ran current account deficits that at times reached 3 per cent of gross domestic product and over, but such volatile inflows added to India's foreign exchange reserves and provided cover for the deficits.

In the developed world, and especially in the US, the years of cheap and plentiful liquidity led to a boom in asset prices, especially of real estate, to a declining savings rate and to consumption on credit. Cheap Chinese goods helped the consumer splurge. The budget deficits and borrowings of the US government were also reflected in the finances of its households. Moreover, they made China the largest creditor of the US and added to its global clout.

After the economic collapse caused by the credit overreach by the financial sector, especially in the US, a major new legislation was passed in that country to prevent such a situation from developing again. There are questions whether the legislation can be implemented fully. The financial sector and the Republican Party also aim to render it ineffective.

Some consequences of the financial sector collapse of 2008 are clear. Instead of further integration, the European Economic Community appears to be in danger of splitting as countries like Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal pile up huge global debt and need handouts, primarily from a well-run German economic administration. The United Kingdom and the US also have high deficits and debts that they must reduce. That will require moderation in government social benefits and in people's lifestyles in many rich countries as wages are kept controlled, benefits reduced, and government expenditure reductions cause unemployment and poor economic growth. The nation that needs this discipline most of all is the US. Efforts to curtail the deficit and the government debt are being made by both political parties. The curtailment will have maximum adverse impact on lower income households, while upper and high income households will most probably escape with little adverse impact. The Japanese economy has been in the doldrums for a decade, and is now shattered by the recent natural and man-made calamities. Its recovery will require more debt. An ageing population and a restrictive immigration policy make recovery problematic.

The US is making efforts also to curtail its import of crude oil. The discovery and the investments in shale oil have promise of sharply reducing, if not eliminating, US imports of energy. This will add to energy costs, curb energy use and affect automobile production. The cuts in social welfare expenditures assure that incomes in the US will grow more slowly and hence consumption and imports may not grow as fast.

The breakdown of regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries has already put pressure on crude prices that have reached record levels. This is a further pressure on world commodity inflation. World commodity prices have risen sharply (by 42 per cent and food items by 47 per cent. US subsidies for ethanol have led to land being diverted to corn from soya and wheat, whose supplies have relatively fallen from the US. Crop failures in China or India and increase in their imports will make the latter costlier.

China's worries about inflation have made it reduce its stimulus spending and the expectation that China will focus more on domestic consumption growth and production than on exports. The agreement among Brazil, Russia, India and China to use their own currencies instead of the dollar in their trade interchanges will lead in the long run to a diminution in the role of the dollar as a global reserve currency.

This brief survey suggests that the global economy will slow down because of the developed countries and the tightening of their economic belts. Global warming and high energy prices will add to the pressure to reduce the consumption of energy and of products that use high energy, as in transportation. Lifestyle changes in the developed world are inevitable, especially after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. This reduces the alternatives to coal. More expensive shale oil, solar and wind energy, along with gas, are likely to take much of the role of coal. Energy prices will be the key to higher costs and the consequent lifestyle changes.

India is in a more vulnerable position. Coal reserves are running out and Indian enterprises have not been able to buy up all the capacities they need to meet electricity needs in the future. More efficient coal use and carbon sequestration technologies will add further to energy costs along with the higher costs of coal. Imported crude and liquefied natural gas will be expensive. Nuclear energy will no longer be an important answer to India's energy needs. Solar and wind energy will be expensive and, in any case, will meet only a fraction of the country's requirements. Food production also does not show the required growth.

India has no choice but to improve its economic management. Wasteful government expenditures must become more efficient. Government deficits must be converted to balanced budgets. Subsidies must be carefully targeted so that only the deserving beneficiaries receive them and they do not get stolen. Energy prices must reflect their cost, not be sold below cost as it is today. This will require a major political change as irresponsible political leaders give it free or below cost to consumers. Distributed power needs to be encouraged, and managed by local authorities.

Inflation control must be a top priority. For this, not only must government expenditures be controlled so that budget deficits are reduced if not eliminated, but food production must also get top priority. Emphasis must be on finding employment in rural India in medium and small industries. India must also encourage manufacture of efficient agricultural pump sets and energy efficient power equipment.

Our priorities must change if we are not to face a difficult future. Economic growth cannot be the primary priority; inflation control and protecting the really poor must be a major priority along with more efficient administration so that social benefits reach those they must and are not stolen. Administrative reform is urgent and must put emphasis on accountability and efficient implementation.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

ONE ELECTION, BUT MANY BATTLES

DIVIDED HOUSE OPPOSITION PARTIES ARE BATTLING ONE ANOTHER AS WELL AS THE LEFT FRONT

The Left Front in West Bengal, as always, has everyone — from the extreme Right to the extreme Left — lined up against it. Every member of the Opposition is talking of 34 years of misrule; all of them want change. Nothing strange about that, since the Opposition cannot be expected to sing praises of the ruling dispensation. What is strange, however, is the way the Opposition is going about its job. Apart from opposing the Front, the parties in opposition are also battling one another. The Bharatiya Janata Party opposing both the Left and the Congress-Trinamul Congress alliance is understandable. What is not clear, however, is why the smaller parties have been ditched by the 'Big Brothers', who forced them to come together not so much to present an alternative to the Left Front as to remind the bigger forces that they also exist. These smaller outfits may spoil the party for the Big Brothers at quite a few constituencies, even if they don't win themselves. And, yet, they insist that their purpose is to defeat the Left Front.

Of these players, perhaps the most bizarre is the Socialist Unity Centre of India. The party is in alliance with the TMC but was peeved when the TMC supremo allotted only two seats to it. But it has chosen to display its displeasure by fighting not the TMC but its ally, the Congress. So here we have the TMC in alliance with two parties, the smaller partner taking on the larger ally in over a dozen constituencies. The SUCI says that the alliance with the TMC cannot make it support the Congress. It talks of ideology, but then what ideology does it share with the TMC? And if it is opposed to the Congress, then why is its lone member in the Lok Sabha counted as a supporter of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance? The only explanation can be that it sees nothing wrong in adopting different stances in New Delhi and Calcutta.

Then there are Siddiqullah Chowdhury and Samir Putatunda. Both were with the TMC during the Nandigram and Singur agitations. But having thrown the Marxists out of Nandigram and Ratan Tata out of Singur, the TMC began cooling off its ties with them. The two got the message and turned to the Congress. An alliance was announced among the three, but then the Congress forgot about them when the message came from New Delhi that in West Bengal the party would have to toe the TMC supremo's line. This left the Congress with too few seats to accommodate the other two, Now they have come together, possibly to finish as also-rans, but they may cause problems for those in favour of change at a few places.

The biggest surprise has been sprung by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The BJP had announced that the Morcha will support five of its candidates in the Dooars and the Terai, but the GJM has said it will support the Congress- TMC alliance in four of these constituencies. Obviously, it is hoping that the UPA will support it on the Gorkhaland issue. This has given the Marxists an opportunity to campaign against the TMC's nexus with 'disruptive forces'. As an ally of the TMC, the Congress will also have to bear the brunt of such a campaign.

The road for the Opposition in West Bengal is strewn with stumbling blocks for which it cannot blame others. This was inevitable, with everybody eager to have a share of the pie. No points for guessing who will gain if such circumstances continue to prevail.

SUMANTA SEN

 

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DECCAN HERALD

FIRST EDIT

BAN ENDOSULFAN

''ENDOSULFAN IS KNOWN TO HAVE CAUSED DEFORMITIES.''


It is unfortunate that the government of India is continuing to put profits above people's wellbeing in deciding its position on endosulfan. At the ongoing United Nations' Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants it does seem that India will resist an absolute global ban on endosulfan. A chemical pesticide, endosulfan is a known carcinogen, neurotoxin and genotoxin. Its deadly impact has been more than evident over the past 15 years especially in Kerala's Kasargod and Palakkad districts and parts of Karnataka, where spraying of endosulfan in cashew plantations and mango orchards is believed to have resulted in birth deformities, cancer, cerebral palsy, mental disorders, skin diseases and vision loss among people living there.


It has rendered women infertile. Animals are born with twisted limbs and countless reptiles, animals and insects have been found dead during the spraying season. While Kasargod has seen the worst of its impact, endosulfan-related deformities are visible in other parts of the country as well. The use of endosulfan was banned in 2005 by the Kerala government and more recently, Karnataka imposed a 60-day ban on its use after severe deformities were noticed among people in cashew plantations in the Dakshina Kannada district.


Around 73 countries have phased out or banned endosulfan. India, China and Argentina are among those opposed to a ban. Economic considerations lie behind India's position. The country manufactures 70 per cent of the world's endosulfan. This is an industry that is valued at $100 million. Manufacturers have been pressing the government to desist from banning its manufacture and use and the government has given in to their demands.


To justify its opposition to the ban, the government has denied there is link between endosulfan and the deformities. Ruling out a ban on endosulfan recently, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said that four expert panels had found no negative impact on humans. Officials point out that endosulfan is a cheap option for farmers. While ruling out a nation-wide ban on endosulfan, Pawar and others are saying that states are free to do so. This is a deeply flawed approach as partial bans encourage smuggling.


A comprehensive ban on endosulfan that includes its use, sale and manufacture is essential. Besides it must be a global ban. India must respond to the terrible suffering of those maimed by endosulfan rather than bow to the demands of the industry. It must support a ban at the UN meet.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

SECOND EDIT

DEADLY LEGACY

''THE DISASTER SHOULD HAVE SERVED AS A WAKE-UP CALL.''


Twenty-five years ago today, the world witnessed its worst civilian nuclear disaster ever when reactor number 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, throwing a plume of radioactive debris — the largest in the history of nuclear power into the atmosphere. The reactor's meltdown killed 30 people within three months.

However, it is in the years that followed that the full horror of the disaster became evident. Greenpeace has alleged that exposure to radiation caused a quarter million cases of cancer, 1,00,000 of which ended in death. A UN study found around 7,000 cases of thyroid cancer in children in the affected area, most of which was attributed to their drinking milk contaminated by radiation. A disaster that occurred 25 years ago continues to have devastating impact on survivors, damaging immune and endocrine systems leading to accelerated ageing, cardiovascular and blood illnesses and so on. It is believed that roughly 8 million people in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia have been scarred permanently.


Following the Chernobyl disaster, a sarcophagus was built as a temporary measure around the wrecked reactor to stop radiation from spreading. This shelter is now cracking. A donors' conference to raise $1billion for a new cover for the reactor fell short by $298 million. This stinginess could prove extremely costly. We cannot afford another disaster at Chernobyl.


The Chernobyl disaster should have served as a wake-up call to the enormous perils of nuclear power. It should have prompted the world to put in place a time-table for ridding the world of nuclear weapons, indeed of nuclear energy. Sadly it did not. The deadly consequences were attributed to the Soviet Union's failure to act promptly. Indeed, Moscow was silent on the accident for three days and then played down magnitude of the disaster. It was far too busy indulging in cover-up to protect people in the affected zone. Still, the lessons that Chernobyl held out were not specific to mistakes made there.


It applied to the use of nuclear power in general. Yet the world did not learn any lessons. The recent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, although triggered by different circumstances, has raised questions over whether nuclear power can ever be made sufficiently safe.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

RISING STAKES

HARSH V PANT


India views itself as a stabilis-er and security provider in the region and with its growing economic clout, an attractive partner for the region state.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Kazakhstan a few days back is a reminder of how high stakes are in Central Asia for Indian foreign policy priorities. While the Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev needed legitimacy for his re-election victory that has been criticised in the western capitals, for New Delhi there are real issues in that part of the world that concern its national security and economic growth.


Not surprisingly, the two main areas that were given serious consideration were the civilian nuclear cooperation pact and the situation in Afghanistan. New Delhi and Astana signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which provides a legal framework for cooperation in this field including fuel supply, joint mining of uranium, reactor safety mechanisms and construction and operation of nuclear power plants. Nazarbayev also affirmed that his nation is on course to fulfil its commitment of supplying 2,100 tonnes of uranium to India by 2014.

President Nazarbayev won his nation's overwhelming approval in the presidential election held in early April with more than 95.5 per cent of the ballots but lost the vote of confidence he sought from the world community. The 70-year-old Nazarbayev, who has been president for 20 years, won another five-year term — with voter turnout of 90 per cent — after elections held two years ahead of time to lengthen his time in office.


The elections were widely considered a sham as an absence of opposition candidates and a vibrant political discourse had resulted in a non-competitive environment. Nazarbayev has ruled since 1989, when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union and he was its party secretary. He is the country's only directly elected official. His domination has been so complete that no serious political competition has emerged and so adroit that much of the population reveres him. Kazakhs credit him with keeping their country protected from the turmoil that has roiled other Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan endured a costly civil war, and Uzbekistan, where the president is as long-serving but far more ruthless, has suffered civil strife.

Manmohan Singh's visit to Astana gave Nazarbayev a much needed opportunity to showcase his international acceptability as the leader of a strategically vital state in Central Asia. Major powers have competed for power and influence in Central Asia since the 19th century and that 'Great Game' seems to be back with a bang. The importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that has evolved into a forum for discussion on regional security and economic issues cannot be overstated in this context.

 

It has become even more important post-9/11, because growing ethnic nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism is a major cause of concern for Russia, China and Central Asian states. Russia and China have been successful in using the strong aversion of the US to terrorism for their own ends to tackle Islamic insurgency within their territories. In the post-9/11 environment, the SCO serves as a means to keep control of Central Asia and limit US influence in the region.


Convergence of interests

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DECCAN HERALD

IN PERSPECTIVE

MINI HYDEL PROJECTS NEED TO BE REGULATED

PANDURANG HEGDE


The red light shown by the Karnataka high court to those companies building mini hydel projects in Western Ghats is a historic verdict towards conservation of the fragile ecology of the region.

Alarmed by the mushrooming mini hydel projects in the interior regions of Malenadu, the hill region of  Karnataka, the people as well as concerned organisations had approached the high court to seek intervention and halt the process of destruction.

The private construction companies, who have the requisite permission form the government, will definitely approach the apex court to seek justice. So, will this reprieve for the forests be short lived? What are the larger issues at stake? What are the apprehensions of the local people against such benign green technologies?
Mini hydel projects and wind mills have become the fad of the day as they are supposed to be environment friendly. The large hydel dams built to generate power have submerged virgin forests and villages that pose ecological destruction and disrupt social harmony. The thermal power plants that emit pollution have been opposed in Western Ghats.

In this grim power scenario, the alternative option to generate eco-friendly power was the only option.

Earlier demand

Madhav Gadgil, chairman of the Western Ghat Expert Panel on Ecology said: "What we need is less ecologically damaging power plants, and tap mini and micro hydro-electricity potential in this area." In fact, most of the environmental activists who opposed Kaiga nuclear power plant as well as large hydro dams in Western Ghats during the 80s have categorically demanded that the government goes in for small mini hydel projects.
Why are the same people opposing the mini hydel projects when it is being implemented by the state government?

The technology may be benign and eco-friendly, but the people and the companies who are implementing them envisage a windfall profit for their investment. The financial benefits as well as high returns are assured due to the multiple sops provided by the government as well as financial institutions. The government provides tax concessions for several years on the investment. The international agencies under CDM (clean development mechanism) provide carbon credits as they are supposed to reduce the carbon emission.

Armed with such subsidies the companies have targeted the most remote regions the in Western Ghats, where natural forests exist, and are the catchment of rivers and streams. Although called mini, most of them do require storage of water, though construction of a small reservoirs. This has to be followed with tunnels to channelise the water, and construction of small power plants. Most of these activities take place in forest areas, leading the destruction of the forest cover.

The Kaveri Sene has successfully rescued the Abbey falls near Madikeri form being decimated by the mini hydel project. But it was a long drawn struggle, as the state government does not realise the negative impact of mini hydel projects in dense forests. These lead to fragmentation of the compact block of forests, adversely affecting the movement of wildlife. It also leads to destruction of the biodiversity of the region.

It is high time the government sets up a committee comprising of scientists, engineers and local people to study the long-term impact of mini hydel projects as well as the installation of huge wind farms that are causing damage to the environment. There are successful initiatives like decentralised micro hydel systems that have been installed in numerous places in Western Ghats that is supplying power to the villages. The builder of such systems, Ratnakar, an hydro engineer form Teerthalli says: "The need is to carefully identify the location and work harmony with nature to install the turbines causing least damage to environment."

Mini hydel projects in the Himalayas are under scanner for having destroyed the fragile ecosystem. The ecosystem in Western Ghats is more precarious due the existence of tropical forests and the tag of biodiversity hotspot. Considering the importance of these ecosystems, the government should evolve a sound strategy to strike a balance between conservation and power generation.

If this precautionary principle is ignored, the green projects would continue to produce red results.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

THE ESSENCE OF TIME

NAVARATNA LAXMAN


Time… No one knows when this mysterious phenomenon started ticking and when it would stop. It is beyond the comprehension of human brain to even visualise such a possibility.

Right from the moment of our birth we start walking towards the end of our tenure on this planet and within this limited span we create our individual little worlds, leading a time-guided pattern of life from infancy to a ripe age, which is beautifully depicted by William Shakespeare in the form of 'The seven ages of man' in his popular play 'As you like it'. Such is the involvement of 'time' in human life — which is also a great healer of all tragic events and unfulfilled dreams of life.

Ironically, it is the sanctity of 'time' that is ignored more often than not. I cannot forget a singularly heart-breaking incident, the likes of which many of us must have come across.
An accountant working for a very wealthy businessman of my acquaintance had fixed the wedding of his only daughter for which he had sought financial help by way of a fairly big advance, which the latter thoughtlessly refused notwithstanding the long and dedicated service rendered by the accountant. Disgusted with the attitude of his employer the accountant left the job. Realising his mistake later, the businessman contacted the accountant with the money.

Alas! It was too late! The wedding had been called off for want of funds and the young bride-to-be lost her mental balance, unable to bear the anguish and trauma of her parents! A simple act of timely help would have made a world of difference in someone's life.

This is just a miniscule example of myriad such happenings around us that go to show the consequences of ignoring a timely action. And how true it is in today's political scenario! Had the Lokpal legislation been enforced 42 years back when it was conceived, things in our land would have been vastly different today. Bleeding of national wealth leading to its economic anemia by the enemies of society with such brazen impunity would certainly not have been possible to this magnitude, and the quality of life of the common man would have been far better than what it is today.

Fortunately the nation has found an angel in Anna Hazare who, with his magic wand, has triggered a tsunami of spontaneous mass response and support from every nook and corner of the country which has turned out to be a virtual war between the might of the exasperated people and the corrupt portals of power. As expected, the forces whose nefarious designs are likely to be affected by the enforcement of this bill have already begun to create hurdles. Again, only time will reveal the outcome of this struggle!

 

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

INVESTIGATE, DON'T INFLAME

The tragic death of Ben-Yosef Livnat in Nablus could have been prevented. The preliminary investigation shows that Livnat and his companions decided to visit Joseph's tomb without coordinating their trip into the Palestinian Authority with the Israel Defense Forces. They apparently broke through a Palestinian roadblock, and Palestinian police officers shot them in response.

People who wish to visit Joseph's Tomb, including Jewish worshipers, must coordinate with the army, which in turn coordinates with the Palestinian Authority. This is part of the security cooperation between the two bodies, which has been maintained to the IDF's satisfaction. There was no reason to violate it.

The IDF sees the incident as "an extremely grave mishap" but not as a terror attack, and this is how it must be handled for the time being. Such mishaps have happened before - IDF soldiers have mistakenly fired at Palestinians. Israeli police officers have also mistakenly fired at Israeli citizens.

This does not mean such blunders must be accepted as predestined, as part of the complexity of Jewish sacred sites in places beyond IDF control. A swift, meticulous investigation is needed to find out not only who is responsible for the shooting and the uncoordinated entry, but also to examine the coordination between Israel and the Palestinians, and to prevent another fatal incident.

As long as the inquiry is going on, it is improper and harmful to make inflammatory declarations, call the Palestinian officers terrorists and murderers, and treat the shooting as a terror attack that must be avenged.

The security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is an essential asset. Its importance is born out daily, as not only IDF officers would testify but also the many visitors to Joseph's Tomb.

Both sides must be allowed to complete their investigation without threats of revenge or political pressure, and without getting carried away with acts deemed "an appropriate Zionist response."

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

A LAND OF OPPORTUNITY, FOR SOME

BY MOSHE ARENS

Slowly, and without anyone noticing it - except perhaps some analysts at the Bank of Israel - Israel has in recent years become a land of opportunity.

There are opportunities for young people to succeed in life. In the academic world, in medicine, in research, in the military, in business. Not unlike the United States, the quintessential land of opportunity, you can become a millionaire in Israel at a young age, even if you started out with nothing. Beyond the individual success stories that every Israeli has encountered, the constant growth over the years - in the Gross Domestic Product and in the per capita Gross Domestic Product - bears this out.

The opportunities are here. Israeli success stories are certainly not limited to the sons of the rich. There is no glass ceiling for either men or women. The surging Israeli economy and the world's increasing march to globalization continuously create opportunities in Israel for men and women from all walks of life with talent, skills, ambition, motivation and entrepreneurial talents.

The skills are mostly acquired in the country's schools and universities; motivation and the art of perseverance are acquired by many during their service in the Israel Defense Forces.

The opportunities that Israel nowadays offers to its young people are not limited to those that are born and bred here. Just look at the many success stories of the immigrants who arrived from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Where else would they have had the opportunities that they have enjoyed in Israel? Seeing these examples, one can feel confident that the immigrants from Ethiopia will in due time, as well, take their place among the many success stories that characterize Israel today.

The tendency of many Israelis to berate and criticize almost everything going on here tends to cloud our vision of what is happening, and it sometimes takes foreign observers to remind us of Israel's astounding success. This story is known far and wide, as is demonstrated by the many thousands of African people who are drawn to Israel as if by magnet.

A disturbing sign of Israel's economic success is the growing gap between rich and poor, a phenomenon well known in economies with rapid growth, especially those where the growth is based largely on technological progress.

Economic benefits are garnered first and foremost by those with technical and scientific skills, engaged in enterprises that compete in the international market place, and who therefore command employment benefits that are internationally competitive - by both them and the periphery of lawyers, accountants and bankers who feed off their activities.

Those without these skills might be expected to benefit from the rising tide of economic growth. But actually, many of them are left behind, as imported foreign workers who are prepared to work at a much lower pay scale push down the level of pay of unskilled Israeli workers, or else drive them into unemployment. And so the gap grows.

As has been pointed out many times, two sectors of Israel's citizens have yet to benefit from the opportunities that the Israeli economy offers - the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs.

The ultra-Orthodox community is attempting to deny its children the education that would enable them to enter an advanced high technology economy. The readiness of some to enlist in the IDF in recent years, and the technical education that some of them acquire during their term of service, is the first ray of hope that, in time, the ultra-Orthodox community will also begin to contribute to the Israeli economy and exploit the opportunities that it offers.

Israel's Arab youth lag in educational achievements behind those of Jewish youth but will, no doubt, catch up in the years to come. However, as long as they do not serve in the IDF, many of the economic opportunities in Israel will be closed to them, since much of the Israeli economy is tied to the defense sector in one way or another.

Thus the achievement of equality of opportunities - the ultimate test of equality for Israel's Arab citizens - will depend in no small measure on prior service in the IDF. There lies the connection between the equality of obligations and the equality of opportunities.

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

THE MISTAKE OF WHAT'S LEFT OF THE LEFT

BY YITZHAK LAOR

Benjamin Netanyahu's weak spot involves Israel's dependency on "world opinion," meaning the opinion of the Western establishments, and the fact that most of them do indeed disagree with Israel's conduct, which has hardly changed over the years. The deepening occupation, which is clearly becoming apartheid, despite the legal reservations about the word's definition, are the Labor Party's heritage. Some of the party's leaders are still causing damage, including Ehud Barak, under whose term as prime minister the settlements expanded the most; Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who started building the apartheid "bypass routes" and founded the East Jerusalem settlement at Jebl Abu Gheniem, now known as Har Homa; and Shimon Peres, the ambassador who makes the occupation kosher.

The Israeli intelligentsia, a remnant of the former Israeli left, still influences the media (why deny this? ). Its dissatisfaction annoys Netanyahu because it keeps him from appearing as the representative of all Israelis. Currently the West does not care how much he represents Israelis, because he does not represent the millions of Palestinians under Israel's boot. These people have no representation at all.

Netanyahu's weakness stems from the fact that he does not offer the West phrases with two meanings like Peres does - phrases like "when people talk, they don't shoot." The love between Peres and Western officials was forged amid idle chatter about peace, as the occupation entrenched itself. And thus, if Western governments want an agreement, or if they need the politics of peace with its champagne and shrimp, due to "the anxiety over the dreadful bloodshed in the region," Netanyahu is not providing. This is his main weakness.

Wars do not really worry the Western peace-lovers so long as oil prices are steady and their vacations are uninterrupted. The Israeli elites are much the same. They are not concerned about the Palestinians under the prolonged military dictatorship and the risk of war. The hopes that many Israelis - the remnants of the left - pin on the West stem from a false image: "We" fulfill the values of the enlightened West in our country, they say, so why does the enlightened West not act according to its/our values and do something?

After all, the occupation is morally wrong, so why not bring back forced withdrawals, say the remnants of the left as they sit in front of their televisions, which broadcast images of prospering settlers, and save us from fighting the right's main power base? Why shouldn't the West release us from the daily politics of persuading Israelis, including the settlers, that the settlements are indeed the main obstacle to peace? Well, nothing of the sort is going to happen, only assassinations, terrorist attacks, funerals, arrests, torture, roadblocks, F-16 attacks and "precise" shellings.

After 44 years, Israel and the occupation are a huge tank that cannot reverse and can only advance. Only together can the Israelis and the Palestinians can be freed from the occupation. It cannot be done through a lie about "direct negotiations," only by a popular Palestinian struggle against the occupation, with patriotic Israeli help. The Israeli slogan must be "The intifada is not against us and we are not against it," in the name of a good life. It is doubtful whether the prayer books of any other people include a daily prayer for earning a living and having a good life.

 

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

OBAMA SHOULD LEARN FROM SCOWCROFT

BY AMIR OREN

He was present during the secret talks between Richard Nixon, Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger and Yitzhak Rabin, before and after the Yom Kippur War. He witnessed Israel's plight in October 1973, when it desperately needed military equipment and a cease-fire even at the price of an Egyptian victory. He heard from Kissinger that Jordan's King Hussein was prepared to accept the Allon Plan but only if "the mosques and another street" in Jerusalem were thrown in. In November 2008, immediately after Barack Obama was elected U.S. president, he drew up the four-point plan that is now being attributed to Obama.

Brent Scowcroft, a retired general in the U.S. Air Force, was the deputy to National Security Adviser Kissinger in the Nixon administration and served as national security adviser under President Gerald Ford. Later, President George H.W. Bush brought him back, with Robert Gates as his deputy. Today, at the age of 86, Scowcroft is still acceptable to Republicans (for example Gates, now secretary of defense, and Senator John McCain ) as well as Democrats.

His uniqueness lies in his realization of the need to act without delay - bereft of any illusion that one has to wait for an internal political event such as elections. What will happen if the enemy refuses to be held up, identifies a weakness and acts precisely in this twilight hour?

That's what happened in 1973, first when Israel's elections due on October 31 were postponed when the war with Egypt and Syria broke out on October 6, and later when the elections were postponed by two months because of the war, slowing progress in the diplomatic and security talks until January lest Meir's government be accused of concessions at home.

On March 1, 1973, Scowcroft took notes at the Nixon-Meir talks attended by Kissinger, the outgoing ambassador Rabin (it was his birthday and Nixon congratulated him ) and the incoming ambassador, Simha Dinitz. This was a crucial meeting; it was then that Meir agreed to an interim arrangement of "security in return for sovereignty" with Egypt in which the Israel Defense Forces would withdraw from the Suez Canal as far as the Mitla and Gidi passes in the Sinai. It was agreed that Israel's position would be hidden not only from the public but also from the State Department, which was then still headed by Kissinger's rival, William Rogers. Kissinger was not in a hurry to push forward the contacts with Egypt; he was waiting for the Israeli elections.

Meir couldn't understand how her proposal, which revived an idea that had been raised by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan in 1971, was not appealing to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Sadat objected because moving the IDF away from the canal, as part of a deal and not as a unilateral withdrawal, would deprive Egypt of a vital military asset: the ability to shell the IDF if the War of Attrition was renewed, or to cross the canal under the cover of ground-to-air missiles. Sadat wanted - and eventually, when he went to war - got a comprehensive agreement. Arab rulers are wary of partial diplomatic achievements that their enemies portray as a concession over the part of the deal that has not yet been achieved. Moreover, that summer, Meir and Dayan led their party with a campaign calling for Israel to remain in the eastern Sinai.

When Obama was elected, the Republican Scowcroft and the Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski both entreated him to act immediately to implement the four-point plan for a Palestinian state alongside Israel within the 1967 borders - even before Israel's 2009 elections and with the hope of influencing the elections' outcome - but to no avail. The plan envisaged minor and agreed-on modifications of the border, compensation instead of the right of return for the Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem as a joint capital of two states, and security for Israel by demilitarizing the Palestinian state and stationing an international force there. Scowcroft also supported the idea of an American force on the Golan Heights if peace is achieved with Syria and territories are returned to that country.

Obama has wasted two years in the expectation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will pull himself together. Scowcroft has seen four decades of missed opportunities pass before his eyes. Obama should learn from Scowcroft not merely the layout of the plan, which would receive the backing of certain groups among the Republicans, but also the need for immediate action. Fears about upsetting the Israeli government, or about the president's rivals in U.S. politics joining forces with the supporters of a rigid Israeli line, could be a recipe for failure and disaster.

 

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

WHY WAS THIS PASSOVER DIFFERENT?

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

It was 8:30 P.M., and everyone was antsy. Why weren't Aunt Hannah and Uncle Sigmund here yet? How hard was it to get from north Tel Aviv to Shikun Dan? Then the phone rang, and Aunt Hannah announced they were not coming. What happened? "We couldn't find a cab. No taxi service is answering the phone." There was no choice. Itzik rallied to the cause, took the car and picked up the aunt and uncle. Finally, we would be able to read the Haggadah.

Once, just a few years ago, this could not have happened. Then, there were always enough cab drivers who wanted to work on the Seder night for the extra income of the holiday rate. Now, the drivers are not willing to sacrifice family for the sake of work.

It's not only the taxi drivers who have changed. Until a few years ago, only the senior bank and insurance company staff enjoyed a full week off during Passover. The rest worked, sometimes half a day. But now, almost no one works on Passover. Try going to south Tel Aviv, an area full of workshops and lunch joints. Carpenters, garages and small businesses - everything is closed. Even the self-employed, not just the salaried staff at the big firms, want a holiday on Passover. This year, everyone prefers vacation over work.

A conversation with Dr. Leonid Eidelman, chairman of the Israel Medical Association, which is now engaged in a struggle to raise physicians' pay, shows that the doctors, too, have changed. Medical school graduates are no longer willing to specialize in difficult and demanding professions like surgery. They prefer the easier specializations, calling for fewer hours and shifts, like ophthalmology and plastic surgery. Yes, doctors also want more leisure and less work.

The change can also be seen among young fathers. A decade or two ago, no man would have dreamed of taking time off to be with the newborn. Now it's happening. Nor do men hesitate to leave work early to pick up children from day care and stay home with them. They really do not want to copy the failed model of their fathers, who now regret missing out watching their children grow. Because work came first.

Fathers and mothers are now far more involved in their children's lives than they used to be. They are involved in what takes place at the kindergarten and at school. They spend more time with their children. They go on trips in the country, and take vacations abroad. They join them on Friday for outings and restaurants. Once, they just worked - on Fridays, too.

"Generation Y, people up to age 30, are completely different from their parents," says Professor Dahlia Moore, who heads the Behavioral Science Department at the College of Management. "Work is not the focus of their lives, and they find time for entertainment and family. It's not because they do not want money, but because they are not willing to become enslaved by it. Contrary to the previous generation, they are simply not addicted to work."

Statistics show that over the past 20 years, we have started working fewer hours and earning more. The average salary is now NIS 8,777 a month, which is 25 percent higher in real terms than the average salary 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the work week is 1.5 hours shorter - 38.8 hours, down from 40.4.

Moreover, it turns out that we embarked on a long buying spree during those 20 years. Eighty percent of families now have an air conditioner, compared to 30 percent 20 years ago. Sixty percent have a car, compared to 30 percent two decades ago, and 92 percent have a cell phone. Twenty years ago, apartments had an average of 3.2 rooms; now the average apartment has 4.1 rooms.

What enabled all these good things was economic growth, which stems from investment, privatization, modernization and greater productivity. Growth is what enables us to work fewer hours, have more hours of free time and also improve our quality of life.

What about Aunt Hannah and Uncle Sigmund? At the end of the Seder, they announced that they had decided to join the trend and buy a car. Aren't they also entitled?

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                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE GUANTÁNAMO PAPERS

 

The internal documents from the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, published in The Times on Monday were a chilling reminder of the legal and moral disaster that President George W. Bush created there. They describe the chaos, lawlessness and incompetence in his administration's system for deciding detainees' guilt or innocence and assessing whether they would be a threat if released.

 

Innocent men were picked up on the basis of scant or nonexistent evidence and subjected to lengthy detention and often to abuse and torture. Some people were released who later acted against the United States. Inmates who committed suicide were regarded only as a public relations problem. There are seriously dangerous prisoners at Guantánamo who cannot be released but may never get a real trial because the evidence is so tainted.

 

The torture has stopped. The inmates' cases have been reviewed. But the detention camp in Cuba remains a festering sore on this country's global reputation. Hampered by ideologues and cowards in Congress, President Obama has made scant progress in healing it.

 

Evidence obtained from torture and the uncorroborated whispers of fellow prisoners fill the more than 700 classified documents obtained by The Times and other news organizations. Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi believed to have been an intended participant in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated and forced to urinate on himself. Yet claims Mr. Qahtani is said to have made about at least 16 prisoners are cited in their files with no mention of the coercion.

 

Some assessments relied on innuendo, gossip or information supplied by individuals whose motives were untrustworthy and whose information later proved false. Haji Jalil was captured in 2003 after an Afghan intelligence official said he had taken an "active part" in an ambush that killed American soldiers. He was sent home two years later, an inexcusable delay, after American officials determined that Mr. Jalil had been used to provide cover for the involvement of the intelligence official and others in the attack.

 

The Obama administration objected to release of the classified documents. The administration notes that the assessments were written between 2002 and early 2009 and that the task force established by Mr. Obama in January 2009 came to different conclusions about some of the remaining 172 prisoners. We accept that caution. But the administration is wrong to insist on secrecy. Inordinate resort to secrecy and resistance to testing evidence in fair and credible legal proceedings put the nation in this fix.

 

The administration should make its assessments of the remaining Guantánamo detainees public to the extent possible and free lawyers for detainees to fully communicate their clients' side of the story.

 

The military commission trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and five other alleged Sept. 11 plotters should be pursued by the Defense Department using only evidence that would pass muster in federal court, and with maximum transparency.

 

The disaster at Guantánamo Bay is now Mr. Obama's problem. He should not compound Mr. Bush's mistakes in his efforts to correct them.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

BOEING AND THE N.L.R.B.

 

It may be a difficult case to prove, but the complaint filed last month by the National Labor Relations Board against Boeing is a welcome effort to defend workers' right to collective bargaining.

 

The N.L.R.B. is accusing the company of setting up a nonunion production line in South Carolina to retaliate against unionized workers in Washington State for striking. The board wants to force Boeing to make all of its new Dreamliner jets in Washington, rather than make 30 percent of them at the new line in Charleston.

 

The case hinges on proving Boeing's intent. It is illegal to retaliate against workers for striking — there have been four strikes at the Washington facility since 1989 — or threaten workers in order to discourage strikes. But the company can decide to locate production in South Carolina because it makes business sense and may include "production stability" as a factor in its decision.

 

Boeing says it wants to diversify its assembly to make it less vulnerable to disruptions caused by potential future strikes. Further complicating the N.L.R.B.'s case, Boeing says opening the line in South Carolina will not lead to layoffs in Washington, where it is adding jobs, too.

 

The N.L.R.B.'s action lands squarely on an ambiguity in the nation's labor protections — which enshrine the right to collective bargaining yet allow companies ways to avoid it by going to another state.

 

Today 1 out of 13 private sector workers is in a union, down from about 1 in 4 in the early 1970s. Many forces are contributing to this erosion, including globalization and the decline of manufacturing. But one important force is the flight of companies to "right-to-work" states where workers cannot be required to join a union. Currently, unionized workers nationally make 19 percent more than nonunion workers, on average.

 

The N.L.R.B.'s case rests on statements by Boeing officials that, it believes, prove retaliation. One Boeing executive told The Seattle Times that the main reason to put the new line in South Carolina was "that we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years."

 

A hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled for June. The judge's decision can be appealed to the full board, and the board's decision can be appealed in federal court. If the N.L.R.B.'s position is upheld, this case could draw some clearer lines on what businesses can and cannot do to avoid dealing with unions. At the very least, this case will shed light on the business strategies employed by a powerful company to resist unionization.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SO MUCH FOR THAT OUNCE OF PREVENTION

 

House Republicans are so bent on blocking any and all aspects of health care reform that they have passed a bill that would eliminate a farsighted program — the Prevention and Public Health Fund — intended to help states and communities prevent diseases. Eliminating the fund would save roughly $16 billion over the course of a decade, a small amount in the context of a trillion-dollar health care reform. The loss to states and local communities would be considerable.

 

Although most of the health care reforms are devoted to improving care for the sick, the new fund is an important effort to stop people from getting ill — saving lives and money. It would support public health programs to prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, boost vaccination levels, and reduce smoking, among other things. The money could also help state and local health departments build laboratories, bolster their capacity to track epidemics, and train public health workers.

 

A wide range of health organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, have signed letters in support of the project. But in floor debate, various Republicans insisted the fund gave too much power to the secretary of Health and Human Services to decide how to distribute the money.

 

One Republican worried that the fund might be used to support elective abortions, a highly unlikely prospect. Another suggested that the secretary could use the money to buy political advertising on behalf of President Obama and health care reform. That is far-fetched.

 

The law clearly says the money must be spent for prevention, wellness and public health activities, and Congress can always pass legislation directing the secretary to finance favored programs or blocking spending on programs it opposes.

 

The point of giving the secretary this guaranteed money was to try to insulate implementation of a crucial element of health reform from the highly politicized annual appropriations process. This latest gambit from the House Republicans shows just why that is so important. The Senate should reject this bill.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN NEW YORK

 

There are good reasons to believe that legislation legalizing same-sex-marriage in New York State is fated to fare better in Albany's current legislative session than it did in 2009 when the State Senate voted, 38 to 24, to continue the state's discriminatory policy of denying gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry.

 

Opinion polls show a growing majority of New Yorkers favor marriage equality. And some senators who voted against the bill two years ago have since been replaced by supporters of the bill. To ensure passage, advocates now need to gain the votes of six more senators.

 

The most heartening new factor, though, is the active involvement of New York's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. His predecessor, David Paterson, also supported same-sex marriage, but he was too weak and unfocused to get the job done.

 

With Mr. Cuomo's encouragement, the state's most influential gay-rights groups have banded together to form a united front. Working under the guidance of high-level Cuomo aides, their coalition is getting ready to mount an intense and well-financed campaign — including field organizers and a major media blitz — that would focus on about 15 Democratic and Republican lawmakers whose votes are thought to be in play. A seasoned labor and media strategist with close ties to Mr. Cuomo, Jennifer Cunningham, has been tapped to oversee the coalition's political and media efforts.

 

These are signs that Mr. Cuomo intends to fulfill his previously stated vow to make a personal push to enact same-sex marriage this year. It will not be an easy or uncontroversial fight, which is all the more reason to applaud his active engagement and apparent willingness to exercise gubernatorial leadership in the cause of fairness for all New York families.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

FINISH THE JOB

BY JAMES M. DUBIK

 

Washington

PRESIDENT OBAMA insists that protecting civilians is the only military objective in Libya and air power is the only means we will use to achieve it. But the Libyan government's attacks on civilians continue, and air power alone will not stop them.

 

Public pronouncements aside, the unstated strategic aim of the intervention in Libya is to remove Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his regime, and things are not going well. The United States and NATO must accept that there is no easy way out of this war now that we are in it.

 

In war, leadership is not exercised from the rear by those who seek to risk as little as possible. Washington must stop pretending that we've passed the leadership for the Libyan operation on to NATO. We did so in Bosnia, claiming Europe would take the lead, only to have the 1995 Srebrenica genocide jolt us back to reality. Like it or not, America's leadership has been crucial to most of NATO's successes. The same will be true in Libya.

 

We should also have learned from the 1999 Kosovo war that air power alone does not produce victory. There, it took the threat of a ground assault and the erosion of Russian support for Serbia to tip the balance in NATO's favor.

 

Bombing is extremely effective against targets that are clearly distinguishable from civilians and friendly forces. But Colonel Qaddafi's forces are using a classic defense against air superiority: get as close to your enemy as possible. That means that the use of air power alone has had the perverse effect of putting those forces even closer to the people we are trying to protect. And even the most skilled pilots are ineffective when weather is poor or they are forced to fly high and fast because of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

 

Advocates of a short-term bombing campaign were wrong. Civilians are not being protected as envisioned, Colonel Qaddafi isn't folding, and as tribes threaten to enter the fray, Libya may be nearing collapse. Washington now has three options — none of them ideal.

 

America could pull out, making a tacit admission that the intervention was a strategic mistake. But a resurgent Colonel Qaddafi would likely seek revenge against the rebels and those who helped them. Moreover, NATO's resolve would be called into question, as would America's. Whatever influence Washington might have in the region would evaporate and Al Qaeda would waste no time pointing out that the United States had abandoned Muslims on the battlefield.

 

Or we could continue doing the minimum necessary to avoid losing. But even if Colonel Qaddafi were to eventually fall, we'd still face the significant and unknown consequences of a postwar Libya. The United States and NATO would not be able to simply leave. We tried this in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it got us an insurgency.

 

Finally, the United States and its allies could commit the military resources required to genuinely protect Libyan civilians and oust Colonel Qaddafi. Unlike the Bosnian Croats in 1995 and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001, the rebel forces in Libya are too disorganized to take advantage of NATO air support. To give them a fighting chance, NATO must put military advisers and combat air controllers on the ground — not just British, French and Italian, but also a small number of American ones.

 

These advisers would help bolster the weak rebel army's organization and capabilities while ground controllers could mark targets, identify the forward movement of rebel forces, and distinguish civilians from fighters more effectively than pilots can from their cockpits. Such measures are essential, but they would require relaxing the Obama administration's prohibition on the use of American ground forces.

 

This course of action would not defeat Colonel Qaddafi's forces overnight, but it would put far more pressure on his regime and potentially protect more civilians in more of the country. If Colonel Qaddafi falls, the United States and NATO will have a responsibility to help shape the postwar order, including providing security to prevent a liberated Libya from sinking into chaos.

 

After all, the pro-Qaddafi Libyan Army and police are unlikely to provide it; many of them could become insurgents as did Saddam Hussein's forces in Iraq. Nor are the rebels, who may well be more interested in revenge than stability.

 

The responsibility for security, reconstruction and nation-building will likely fall to the United Nations, which would mean deploying a multinational peacekeeping force in Libya, including troops from the United States, NATO and Arab nations. Washington must start planning and preparing for this complex and expensive contingency and muster the substantial political will required to see it through. While there is no guarantee that such a project will be any more efficient or effective than in Iraq or Afghanistan, failing to plan for it would be disastrous.

 

So far, we have chosen an instrument — airstrikes — that is powerful but cannot attain our humanitarian or strategic aims by itself. The charade is over: America has intervened in a civil war with the de facto aim of regime change in Libya. Washington must now accept that decision and face its consequences.

 

James M. Dubik, a retired Army lieutenant general who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops from 2007 to 2008, is a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE BIG DISCONNECT

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

On one level, American politics looks amazingly stable. President Obama's approval rating is about 47 percent, and it hasn't changed much in well over a year. Health care reform is mildly unpopular, and the public's view hasn't shifted much since before it was passed.

 

According to Pew Research Center polls, the public is evenly divided over which party can do a better job of handling foreign policy, the job situation, Social Security reform, health care reform and many other issues. It looks like we're back to the 50-50 stasis that has been the norm for the past few decades.

 

Moreover, the two parties are about to run utterly familiar political campaigns. The Democrats are going to promise to raise taxes on the rich to preserve the welfare state, just as they have since 1980. The Republicans are going to vow to cut taxes and introduce market mechanisms to reform the welfare state, just as they have since 1980.

 

The country is about to be offered the same two products: one from Soviet Production Facility A (the Republicans), and the other from Soviet Production Facility B (the Democrats). It will react just as it always has.

 

From this you could easily get the impression that American politics are trundling along as usual. But this stability is misleading. The current arrangements are stagnant but also fragile. American politics is like a boxing match atop a platform. Once you're on the platform, everything looks normal. But when you step back, you see that the beams and pillars supporting the platform are cracking and rotting.

 

This cracking and rotting is originally caused by a series of structural problems that transcend any economic cycle: There are structural problems in the economy as growth slows and the middle class incomes stagnate. There are structural problems in the welfare state as baby boomers spend lavishly on themselves and impose horrendous costs on future generations. There are structural problems in energy markets as the rise of China and chronic instability in the Middle East leads to volatile gas prices. There are structural problems with immigration policy and tax policy and on and on.

 

As these problems have gone unaddressed, Americans have lost faith in the credibility of their political system, which is the one resource the entire regime is predicated upon. This loss of faith has contributed to a complex but dark national mood. The country is anxious, pessimistic, ashamed, helpless and defensive.

 

The share of Americans who say they trust government to do the right thing most of the time is scuttling along at historic lows. Approval of Congress and most other institutions has slid. Seventy percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, according to The New York Times/CBS poll. Nearly two-thirds believe the nation is in decline, according to a variety of surveys.

 

Over the past months, we've seen a fascinating phenomenon. The public mood has detached from the economic cycle. In normal times, economic recoveries produce psychological recoveries. At least at the moment, that seems not to be happening.

 

The U.S. has experienced nine straight months of slow economic growth. The unemployment rate has fallen, and, in March, the U.S. economy added a robust 216,000 jobs. Yet the public mood is darkening, not brightening. The New York Times/CBS poll showed a 13 percentage point increase in the number of Americans who believe things are getting worse. The Gallup Economic Confidence Index is now as low as it has been since the height of the recession.

 

Public opinion is not behaving the way it did after other recent recessions.

 

If you dive deeper into the polling, you see the country is not mobilized by this sense of crisis but immobilized by it. Raising taxes on the rich is popular, but nearly every other measure that might be taken to address the fiscal crisis is deeply unpopular. Sixty-three percent of Americans oppose raising the debt ceiling; similar majorities oppose measures to make that sort of thing unnecessary.

 

There is a negativity bias in the country, especially among political independents and people earning between $30,000 and $75,000 (who have become extremely gloomy). It is hard to rally majorities behind immigration, energy or tax reform.

 

At some point something is going to happen to topple the political platform — maybe a debt crisis, maybe when China passes the United States as the world's largest economy, perhaps as early as 2016. At that point, we could see changes that are unimaginable today.

 

New political forces will emerge from the outside or the inside. A semi-crackpot outsider like Donald Trump could storm the gates and achieve astonishing political stature. Alternatively, insiders like the Simpson-Bowles commission or the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Six" could assert authority and recreate a strong centrist political establishment, such as the nation enjoyed in the 1950s.

 

 Neither seems likely now. But in these circumstances, rule out nothing.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

THE LIMITS OF SCHOOL REFORM

BY JOE NOCERA

 

I find myself haunted by a 13-year-old boy named Saquan Townsend. It's been more than two weeks since he was featured in The New York Times Magazine, yet I can't get him out of my mind.

 

The article, by Jonathan Mahler, was about the heroic efforts of Ramón González, the principal of M.S. 223, a public middle school in the South Bronx, to make his school a place where his young charges can get a decent education and thus, perhaps, a better life. Surprisingly, though, González is not aligned with the public school reform movement, even though one of the movement's leading lights, Joel Klein, wasuntil fairly recently his boss as the head of the New York City school system.

 

Instead, González comes across as a skeptic, wary of the enthusiasm for, as the article puts it, "all of the educational experimentation" that took place on Klein's watch. At its core, the reform movement believes that great teachers and improved teaching methods are all that's required to improve student performance, so that's all the reformers focus on. But it takes a lot more than that. Which is where Saquan comes in. His part of the story represents difficult truths that the reform movement has yet to face squarely — and needs to.

 

Saquan lands at M.S. 223 because his family has been placed in a nearby homeless shelter. (His mother fled Brooklyn out of fear that another son was in danger of being killed.) At first, he is so disruptive that a teacher, Emily Dodd, thinks he might have a mental disability. But working with him one on one, Dodd discovers that Saquan is, to the contrary, unusually intelligent — "brilliant" even.

 

From that point on, Dodd does everything a school reformer could hope for. She sends him text messages in the mornings, urging him to come to school. She gives him special help. She encourages him at every turn. For awhile, it seems to take.

 

Meanwhile, other forces are pushing him in another direction. His mother, who works nights and barely has time to see her son, comes across as indifferent to his schooling. Though she manages to move the family back to Brooklyn, the move means that Saquan has an hour-and-a-half commute to M.S. 223. As his grades and attendance slip, Dodd offers to tutor him. To no avail: He finally decides it isn't worth the effort, and transfers to a school in Brooklyn.

 

The point is obvious, or at least it should be: Good teaching alone can't overcome the many obstacles Saquan faces when he is not in school. Nor is he unusual. Mahler recounts how M.S. 223 gives away goodie bags to lure parents to parent association meetings, yet barely a dozen show up. He reports that during the summer, some students fall back a full year in reading comprehension — because they don't read at home.

 

Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended — and unquestionably proved — that students' socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn. Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute lists dozens of reasons why this is so, from the more frequent illness and stress poor students suffer, to the fact that they don't hear the large vocabularies that middle-class children hear at home.

 

Yet the reformers act as if a student's home life is irrelevant. "There is no question that family engagement can matter," said Klein when I spoke to him. "But they seem to be saying that poverty is destiny, so let's go home. We don't yet know how much education can overcome poverty," he insisted — notwithstanding the voluminous studies that have been done on the subject. "To let us off the hook prematurely seems to me to play into the hands of the other side."

 

That last sentence strikes me as the key to the reformers' resistance: To admit the importance of a student's background, they fear, is to give ammo to the enemy — which to them are their social-scientist critics and the teachers' unions. But that shouldn't be the case. Making schools better is always a goal worth striving for, whether it means improving pedagogy itself or being able to fire bad teachers more easily. Without question, school reform has already achieved some real, though moderate, progress.

 

What needs to be acknowledged, however, is that school reform won't fix everything. Though some poor students will succeed, others will fail. Demonizing teachers for the failures of poor students, and pretending that reforming the schools is all that is needed, as the reformers tend to do, is both misguided and counterproductive.

 

 Over the long term, fixing our schools is going to involve a lot more than, well, just fixing our schools. In the short term, however, the reform movement could use something else: a dose of humility about what it can accomplish — and what it can't.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHY IS THE AKP LENIENT ON LIBYA AND SYRIA?

SEMIH İDIZ

For weeks now forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi have been raining all types of ordinance, including cluster bombs, on the city of Misrata with no regard whatsoever for the safety and well being of women, children or the elderly. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad's snipers and soldiers have killed unarmed demonstrators, as well as those attending the funerals of those murdered, in various cities around the country.

In addition to this they have now decided to use the army more visibly against demonstrators.

Some of the images reaching the world from these countries are not too different from the images that came out of Bosnia at the time of the Serbian Chetniks attacks during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The people in the cities under siege or under attack in Libya and Syria are, in the final analysis, as defenseless as the people of Gaza, who suffered the disproportionate military operations of the Israeli army conducted under the guise of "retaliation."

But for some reason the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government, which is eager to bash Israel on every occasion over Gaza, has very little to say in the face of the images of brutality coming out of Syria and Libya. In the meantime no one in the party is openly accusing Gadhafi or Assad of murdering their citizens.

As for the tone of the occasional criticism coming out of Ankara, as was the case the other day, of the Gadhafi and Assad regimes, these are controlled and mute, being issued more for the sake of diplomatic propriety, rather than out of any deep conviction. In the meantime those pro-AKP organizations are quick to gather outside the Israeli embassy in protest are not to be seen outside the Libyan or Syrian embassies.

The only conclusion one can arrive at in the face of this general picture is that the value of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli bombs and bullets is not the same for the AKP as the value of civilians killed in Libya, Syria and indeed Yemen by the authorities there.

Given this situation it is not hard for anyone to conclude that the AKP is openly displaying an ideological bias here. In the meantime no one has forgotten Prime Minister Erdogan's remark in connection with Sudan that "Muslims do not commit genocide."

Put another way, there seems to be little difference in the way the U.S. supports Israel blindly and without question, keeping the tone of its criticism very soft and innocuous when it feels it has to do so, and the approach the AKP government has toward regimes that are committing crimes against humanity in the Middle East today.

There is an irony however in the fact that Erdogan and the AKP always bases their strong criticism of Israel on the concept of respect for human rights. But they appear to be overlooking a key aspect of the principle of "respect for human rights." And this principle is indivisible and not subject to political or ideological preferences.  

Put another way it should make no difference to those who claim to be acting in the name of human rights, whether these are being violated in Palestine, Israel, Libya, Syria, Yemen, or indeed Turkey itself. It makes little difference in the end if a child is killed by the Israeli Army, by a Hamas bomb or by the Libyan or Syrian security forces. The bottom line is a child is being killed and that should be protested without exception.

There is also another contradiction in all this as far as the AKP is concerned. No doubt the government is acting toward the Libyan and Syrian regimes from the perspective of Islamic solidarity. As it is we know from Prime Minister Erdoğan's past remarks, that as far as the AKP is concerned there is Libya and Syria on the one side, and a wily calculating West on the other, which is only after the wealth of Islamic nations.

There are also those within the AKP who are convinced the people who took to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and now Syria did so as the result of some kind of massive Western-Israeli conspiracy against the Islamic world. It is clear such people are not aware of the oppression that people have had to live under for decades in those countries. Or it could be they are aware, but their ideological orientation does not allow them speak up.

The simple fact is, however, those who have taken to the streets in these countries and are now under attack are Muslims, and they make this apparent in their slogans and their funerals. We also saw how the opponents of Gadhafi, who we believe will be successful in the end, turned against Turkey. The same thing could easily happen in Syria if the AKP government continues to go softy softly on Assad.

This then is where the real contradiction lies. In other words, those who might turn on Turkey in the future by saying, "You did not support us at a critical moment in our history," are in fact much more Islamic than the regimes that are oppressing them. But they are not getting the support they want from the AKP government at their moment of greatest need. No doubt they will remember this in one way or another in the future.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

IF YOU CANNOT SAY 'GO' TO ASSAD, SAY 'COME'

KADRİ GÜRSEL

Is the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad really listening to admonitions like "loosen up a bit"?

He may pretend. Even by lifting a half-century-old "state of emergency," he pretends to loosen it up.

However, it's a fact that loosening up does no good for dictatorships and Assad is murdering his people while he pretends to loosen things up a bit.

His tactics do not create a similar loosening effect on his people who under no condition want Assad or his regime.

It has been six weeks since the Arab Spring arrived in Syria and the largest protests against the government were held last Friday, the day after the state of emergency was lifted.

The so-called loosened up regime killed those who failed to ease off. Militia in the streets and sharpshooters killed over 100 people on Friday. Killings continued during the funeral ceremonies Saturday. In these two days alone, half as many people were killed as the totally deaths in the last six weeks.

It is useless to say, "Loosen up and reform" to Assad and his regime. Besides, any regional security and stability issue cannot justify the desire to maintain the regime for an indefinite time of period.

The Nusayri minority, consisting of 15 percent of the total population, is the skeleton of social grassroots of this oppressive regime. This is a regime of oppression dating from the post-colonialism period. And from now on, it is difficult to imagine an isolated, extendible to middle-run future of this regime in such an environment of radical changes in the Arab Middle East.

The powers that see the benefit in the continuation of the Baath regime are self-evident, Iran being on top. Syria of Baath together with Shiite Hezbollah in Iran and Lebanon form a radical axis in the Middle East.

Syria is a territorial station that Iran uses while transferring power and influence to the Mediterranean. Therefore, Iran has strategic gains if Syria remains in the hands of the Nusayri-minority regime rather than that of a Sunni-majority.

This is also valid for Hezbollah of Lebanon. Syria of Baath is a strategic ally with Hezbollah and an unparalleled ring of Iran when it comes to territorial connection for Iran as its number one financial provider, supplier and big brother.

Starting with Iran, these powers are expected to do their best to protect the status quo of the Damascus regime at all costs.

Turkey cannot have the luxury of remaining silent on the happenings in Syria. It would be a mistake for Turkey to create an image as though it is willing to help the Baath regime survive in Syria and agrees with Iran and Hezbollah in the Syrian issue too as it was the case in some other examples.

Look, as the bloodshed continues in our next-door neighbor Syria, spokesmen of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in particular, keep silent. They say not a single word.

Except a not-very-surprising and very mild statement issued by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday, we have not heard any "objection" from Ankara against the massacre in Syria until Sunday afternoon.

However, do we not have to mull over and take measures facilitating a regime change in Syria without being too late?

I've just remembered what Professor İlter Turan said of the Arab regimes during the "Brussels Forum" last month. "Stepping down could be made acceptable for dictators," he said. This is right. Dictators should be given options other than imprisonment or execution. Why does Turkey not do anything in this subject?

Turkey told Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zen el Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia to go, but it cannot say the same to Assad.

Since they cannot say, "Go" to such a dictator, why don't they say "Come," at least?

If Assad is convinced to come to Turkey, then it means he departs from Syria, does it not?

Iran was the only land of exile for Assad. But if he is given an "Ankara" option, I wonder which one he would prefer. Facilitation is needed.

A politician with a foreign policy background during a meeting recently held by a think tank organization in Ankara said, "If we cannot manage the Syrian issue, Turkey's regional claims will be multiplied by zero!" Isn't this true?

* Kadri Gürsel is a columnist of daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Monday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD ECONOMY

ERDOĞAN ALKİN

Now it is time to make a comparative analysis of the world economy. Let's begin with the United States. After the budget crisis and President Obama's unexpected signal for the beginning of his second term campaign, there is widespread curiosity about the future of economic policies implemented so far by the administration. Will there be any change? If yes, will this be a big or small shift? Or, is there a possibility for business to go on as usual?

There are some hints that policies will change a lot. President Obama aims to lower the budget deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years. Three quarters of this will come from spending cuts such as cutting defense and health care expenditures, which will be quite difficult in the political sense. The other quarter is supposed to come from additional tax revenue. Easy to say, difficult to implement.

The U.S. Federal Reserve recently gave the first signal that it will end its monetary-easing policy. Gov. Ben Bernanke, during his recent testimony to Congress, said the risk of deflation has become negligible. This is good news. However, although core inflation is still below the Fed's target, it has started to rise. If it is remembered that core inflation does not include food and energy prices, it is normal to be alert against a new inflationary cycle. When the steady increases in foodstuff and energy prices are added, the consumer price index might jump to unexpected levels. In short, after Congress (through some political fighting) passed the 2011 budget, there is almost no risk of a second dip for the American economy, but inflation risk is still there. S&P's recent warning about a possible cut in U.S. credit rating created only a small and temporary turmoil in financial markets.

The second largest economy, China, is now dealing with both a slowdown in its gross domestic product growth rate and an almost unexpected rise in consumer price inflation. However, a 9.7 percent growth rate in the first quarter, which is above expectations, is still satisfactory. On the other hand, the consumer price index jumped to 5.4 percent in March, which is above the 5.2 percent forecast. The main reason for this jump was a 11.7 percent rise in agricultural prices. The People's Bank of China is trying to deal with the inflation problem by raising interest rates and banks' reserve ratios. Foreign exchange reserves, which recently exceeded $3 billion, might create some difficulties for the implementation of tight monetary policy.

In spite of these problems, a high growth rate, huge foreign trade-current account surpluses and an enormous foreign exchange reserve have opened a new discussion: Is China overtaking the U.S. to become the biggest economy?

If both countries' growth rates are taken into account, using simple mathematics, linear projections indicate that this is not impossible. However, even if the mathematical method is simple, the economic, social and political problems of emerging countries are not – on the contrary, they are very complex. And such complexity generally creates serious obstacles to high, sustainable growth rates.

In Europe, in spite of the continuation of the economic slump, finance ministers defend austerity measures in order to fight against deficit and debt problems of some EU member countries. The euro slides from time to time downward because of new bailout stories and fear about the spread of the sovereign debt crisis. There are rumors that some new countries after Portugal and Greece might seek bailouts, as Finland has shown it is against providing fresh loans to those countries.

The other serious problem concerning the European economy is the two different approaches in the European Central Bank's management. When one group supports anti-inflationary policies, the other group is in favor of the implementation of recovery policies until the end of the crisis. The main reason of this divergence might be the differences between inflation rates within the eurozone itself.

Although the IMF has cut Japan's growth forecast – which was already not very bright – after the March 11 disaster, the Asian Development Bank forecasts solid growth for Asia, but a further deterioration in income distribution. According to the bank, especially rising food prices are sending more people into poverty. This might create new social and political problems in the region.

Meanwhile, the BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have called for a new international reserve currency system to provide stability. This is an old idea that's been repeated several times but never realized and always handled as wishful thinking.

There are so many other problems in the world economy to discuss. However it is not reasonable to become overly pessimistic. There are always ups and downs in the world economy and world politics. At least we are sure that the new management of the Turkish Central Bank has the capacity to implement necessary policies to stop the emergence of new and unexpected problems.

ealkin@iticu.edu.tr

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

LOOKING BEYOND TERRY JONES

ANN GILLESPIE

When asked about the very poorest people in Calcutta for whom Mother Teresa, founder of Missionaries of Charity in India, and her sisters tirelessly cared – the deformed, the lepers, the abandoned, the untouchables – she said, "Each one of them is Jesus in disguise."

That is what I call "God-sight."

There are marginalised groups in nearly every community – whether they are the sick, poor, dispossessed or even merely unfamiliar. In America lately, it seems that this last description applies to Muslims – in some communities they are being marginalised because they are unfamiliar to us.

What would it be like for us as Christian Americans if we looked at Muslims with Mother Teresa's eyes?

What if we saw Muslims as Jesus in disguise?

I recently had the privilege of attending a Muslim-Christian interfaith conference with people from all over the country. The focal point of the conference was planning community events for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in order to build bridges of understanding and reconciliation, rather than fanning the flames of Islamophobia. It was an eye-opening and heart-wrenching experience to hear the stories of my Muslim brothers and sisters at the conference, all of whom have experienced increased marginalisation and victimisation since 9/11.

We heard from a southern California woman who has chosen to live out her Islamic faith by volunteering for and serving on the board of a Muslim-run shelter for battered women and children. A couple of months ago, she and others were hosting a fundraiser for the shelter and trying to get some positive press about the work Muslims were doing in the area, so they invited the media. As she arrived for the fundraiser, she saw angry picketers gathered outside, shouting and carrying signs that said, "Terrorists, go home."

Tears ran down her cheeks as she described her shock and confusion. She was born in this country. She said to us, "This is my home. Where can I go? I am as American as you are."

One of the metaphors that we found most helpful was to think of our religions as growing from the same root and diverging into branches. It is when we get out to the outer edges of branches where our differences stir up trouble. It is out at the edges that we get people like Pastor Terry Jones, who caused a firestorm of media attention when he threatened to burn the Qur'an at his 30-member Florida church on the 9th anniversary of 9/11.

Pressured by US Army General David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – to say nothing of Christian and Muslim religious leaders – he backed down, promised not to burn the Qur'an and subsequently fell out of the spotlight. Apparently he missed the attention, because on 20 March, he donned a black judge's robe, placed the Qur'an "on trial", declared this Holy Scripture guilty of inciting terrorism, and proceeded to set it on fire on top of a grill.

This incident incited violence against UN offices in Afghanistan. It has been making headline news, with both print and online media outlets carrying articles about protesters who want to avenge this crime against the Qur'an. Terry Jones is back in the news.

Although he calls himself a Christian, Jones is not representative of the compassionate and inclusive Christ that I follow. Jones is every bit as dangerous in his Christian extremism as Muslim extremists. I can't help but wonder how my new Muslim friends are reacting to this news. I wonder, even as they fervently denounce the senseless killings in Afghanistan, if there is more fear in their hearts this morning. I wonder if they are hoping and praying that their Christian friends will speak out.

If we as Christians are to embody God's grace in the world, then we must seek to develop and sharpen our God-sight. We must dare to see Jesus in disguise in everyone we meet. We must be willing to look into people's hearts and not get stuck in the trap of outer appearances and social constructs. We must be willing to look into people's hearts and see our own. From our new God-sight, we must speak God's truth of compassion and inclusion for all.

*The Reverend Ann Gillespie, an Episcopal priest at Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, is passionate about reconciliation and multicultural dialogue. This article, adapted from a recent sermon, was written for the Common Ground News Service.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

HOW TO MESS UP AN EXAM SYSTEM

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

The Student Selection and Placement Center, or ÖSYM, broke a record today.

No matter what the excuse, be it bad fortune or conspiracy, we still face a great disaster.

Not a day passes without going through a new scandal.

This is not just made up by the partisan press but has been admitted by them.

What are the poor students to do?

All year long they study for an exam they cannot even take in a mannerly way. There is no end to the mismanagement of administrators.

ÖSYM teaches a lesson.

It's a lesson on how to mess up a system that has been working well so far.

And nobody cares.

But this won't last.

As this storm calms down and before elections, the ÖSYM messed up.

The students will be the only victims.

  Libya is doing badly and we pay the bill

We forgot about Libya as the agenda has changed.

But things are not going well there.

Real chaos.

The latest situation is as follows:

- Gadhafi and those at his command are in control of the southern part of the country oppressing the insurgents.

- Air attacks of the allied have lost their initial power. They are not forcing Gadhafi.

- The insurgents are not obtaining external support as expected. They are still struggling unorganized and randomly to hold on to the east of the country.

What's important is that the front opposing Gadhafi still has no strategy or decision on how to get rid of the Libyan leader.

There are three different scenarios being discussed:

- It seems very difficult to set an end to Gadhafi's administration without military intervention. But neither Washington nor most NATO members are in favor of military intervention. This option seems, for now, very risky and impossible to realize.

- It is being emphasized that the insurgents be transformed into a strong opposition front by providing weapons and special teams for training. But again, Washington has not fully approved this as of yet. Weapons sent through Egypt by Qatar do not suffice.  The project of sending British and French special teams is also on hold for now.

- At the moment it is being preferred to continue with internal pressure from the insurgents, external air attacks and international pressure to make Gadhafi give up in the end. But Gadhafi does not at all intend to succumb. And the doors are shut for suggestions or negotiations.

Ultimately, even if we won't face sudden changes or change in Washington's attitude, we are facing a civil war that will last a long time and a Libya split in two.

  Turkey pays the bill

In the meantime, especially France and some circles in Libya blame Turkey for not being able to supply the necessary amount of weapons to the insurgents.

People say that Ankara within NATO vetoed a supply of weapons and a military operation.

And this pushes opponents to stage protests against Turkey. Last week we witnessed this.

The Libyan cake is being shared right now.

We don't know this because no one would speak about it, but I think the number of those wanting to exclude us increases.

  Survived one more year, hope the same for next year

We survived one more April 24th.

We owe it to President Obama that there has been no traditional Turkish-American crisis.

To tell the truth, this is a game that everybody plays because it just suits them well, just try and ignore protests coming from Turkey or the Armenians.

President Obama tried to please everybody by finding a formula to please both sides. He talked about the "great disaster," which is used for "genocide" among Armenians and which neither offends Turkish society nor makes him lose Armenian votes. 

This of course does not suffice for the Armenians. They want "genocide" openly mentioned and wait for the right time.

Turkish officials are not happy either, but as always they were relieved to get by the U.S. Congress without being marked with genocide.

The danger here is that Turkey keeps forgetting about the Armenian file and remains motionless. But there is need for attention. The 100th anniversary of Armenian allegations is near.

Starting 2015 Ankara will be in the line of fire.

If there is no strategy determined, we may be surprised.

I have made this warning for the past four or five years and each time all circles say, "You are absolutely right," but then get lost in day-to-day work.

As for me, I will keep warning.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

SYRIA IS NOT LIBYA

YUSUF KANLI

What options does the "international community," that is the United States-led "coalition of the willing," have or can resort to so that the Bashar al-Assad administration in Syria might feel compelled to abandon its deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests?

Like Libya was until very recently, Syria was on the "list of rogue states" of the former George Bush Jr. administration of the United States. Libya's Moammar Gadhafi bought legitimacy and managed to be removed from the list. Yet when he ordered troops to mercilessly crush Libyan people demonstrating in the streets demanding more rights than he allowed them to have, the "mad man of the neighborhood" who just acquired "international legitimacy" at a rather high price, was relegated once again to "tyrant dictator" status. The issue was carried to the United Nations Security Council. China and Russia abstained, and thus in a way nodded to the American-led coalition of the willing to undertake a punitive operation against Gadhafi and perhaps force him out and achieve regime change in Libya.

Nicolas Sarkozy from the Palais d'Élysée, who just recently feted Gadhafi in all extravaganza in the hope of winning some lucrative contracts, wasted no time in launching an aerial and indiscriminate carpet bombing of Libya. Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, meanwhile, was no longer kissing the hands of Gadhafi in Rome; he was this time assisting Sarkozy in the attacks on Libya under the pretext of punishing the colonel. The move behind such officious affection toward the Libyan people was, of course, a conviction that Gadhafi would go quickly and the succeeding regime would generously award their "steadfast" demonstration of "solidarity" in these "difficult times."

Can the U.S. take the Syria situation to the Security Council as well? If it does, will it convince Russia and China not to veto a Syria resolution? Will Russia and China abstain once again and in a way tacitly support an American-led international coalition, or NATO-led operation on Syria to force out the al-Assads and help the country flourish in the Arab Spring as well?

Syria 2011 is not Syria 1982

Most likely, neither Russia nor China will allow a Libya-like operation on Syria not because they love Syria more than Libya but rather because Syria is far bigger than Libya. Once stones start to roll there, there will be very serious regional and indeed global repercussions, particularly for the security of Israel, which has been so important for the U.S.

Of course Syria of 2011 is not the Syria of 1982 in terms of the Hama crisis, nor is the world of 2011 the world of 1982. Al-Assad Jr. is definitely not as ruthless as his father Hafez al-Assad who ordered troops to crash the Hama revolt at all cost, resulting in a death toll estimated to be more than 10,000. Today's international society, thanks to the Internet and mobile telephones with camera capabilities, is following developments throughout the world very closely. No one can hide anything even though very rigid curbs might be employed against news transmission. Indeed, despite all the efforts of the al-Assad administration not to allow free reporting from Syria, the international community is following developments there almost live because of social networks. Pictures and video recordings of the demonstrations in Syria and the cruelty of Syrian security forces ordered by the administration to ruthlessly crush the demonstrations are everywhere on the Internet.

Let alone taking the matter to the Security Council, the U.S. and other Western countries, including Turkey, have so far not appealed on al-Assad to step down and open the way to a reform government. They have restrained their reaction with calls asking al-Assad not to use excessive force on demonstrators.

Obviously, Syria is not Libya where there is almost no proper military, or an Egypt where the military engineered the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In Syria the military should not be expected to turn against the al-Assad administration; moreover, there is a very strong intelligence network loyal to the president.

Besides, not only Israel, but the Saudis and Turkey, as well as Iran, will want to preserve the status quo in Syria because of their individual interests. A regime change in Syria will not only open an even bigger Kurdish problem for Turkey, which already has a very serious Kurdish issue. Also, because of Syrian control over Hamas and Hezbollah, a regime change there would pose an existential threat to Israel. Syria is Iran's key Arab ally. A regime change would create very serious security problems for Iran. On the other hand, for the Saudis, al-Assad's Syria is a check on Iranian influence in the region and a regime change might open Pandora's Box for the Saudis and the Gulf Arab states, which have considerable Shiite populations.

Syria is becoming an even hotter potato for the "international community."

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

COURTS AND PEOPLE

 

The notion that the judiciary is opposed to the executive and is working to undermine it in one way or the other has been built up from various quarters over the past few months. The impression we have been given is that the judiciary is, somehow or the other, attempting to undermine democracy by attempting to prevent the executive from properly performing its functions. In some ways, this is simply a means to create confusion and to disguise the many flaws in the manner in which the government works by insisting it is the victim of a conspiracy hatched by other institutions. Chief Justice of Pakistan, speaking at the conclusion of the National Judicial Conference in Islamabad, has done well to clarify matters. He has stated that the role of the judiciary is to regulate the working of the state machinery – and nothing beyond that. This is what the Constitution states in completely unequivocal terms. Unfortunately, very few people in the country are well-versed with the provisions of the document or precisely what role is laid down for each institution. Indeed, going by this document, it is also clear that the executive is guilty of violating its provisions by failing to abide by court orders. More than anything else, it is this which represents a threat to the smooth functioning of the state and results in poor governance which affects our lives.


Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry also made a highly relevant point when he spoke of the delays in justice, accepting that these take place where inevitable. He also pointed out that one reason for this is the fact that more people are turning to the courts in a quest to obtain justice. This obviously shows a growing faith in the courts and their ability to mete out justice. People can gain a great deal from this. The more active role played by the courts in our lives is to be welcomed. Its impact will almost certainly be an extremely positive one. The judiciary has the capacity to iron out many of the flaws that mar the working of the state. Extremely important precedents are being set. We must hope that this process continues and through it we gain a state that is able to function more smoothly and does more to benefit its people by working alongside other institutions.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DRONE POLITICS

 

The campaign to stop pilotless US aircraft from bombing our areas is picking up pace. It has been taken one step forward by the two day sit-in staged by several thousand Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) workers at Hayatabad in Peshawar to stop Nato supply vehicles from carrying their cargo into Afghanistan. The success of the action reflects just how badly people want the drone strikes to come to an end. As PTI chairman Imran Khan pointed out, the drones are a grotesque distortion of justice. He is quite correct when he says that the aircraft do not always target terrorists but most often result in the deaths of innocent persons who have no links with militancy. Khan has said that a long march to Islamabad will be staged and the Nato supply routes will be blocked if the government does not take action to bring an end to the strikes by unmanned aircraft. It is worth noting that politicians other than PTI leaders also joined the sit-in. A call was also made to the courts to act swiftly against the drones, although it is somewhat unclear what the judiciary can do in this matter.

There can be no doubt that public sentiment demands immediate action. The dual game played by the powers that be fools no one any longer. Feelings are even stronger in the north where drones regularly drop bombs and bring sudden death to so many innocent civilians. The efforts by the PTI to take direct action to raise the immediacy with which this issue is considered must be admired. We can only hope that they succeed and that the menace of the planes flying over the conflict areas in the tribal belt comes to an end.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

TALIBAN TUNNELS


A degree of caution has to be exercised in terms of the actual numbers of the Taliban who escaped via a tunnel from their prison, but it is clear that a significant number of very dangerous people are back in circulation. The Taliban themselves are claiming over 500 of their men have escaped, whilst the Afghan authorities, as might be expected, are a little more circumspect saying only that 'some political prisoners' have escaped. The director of the jail, however, was very specific in saying 476 had escaped. What all are agreed on is that the men escaped by tunnel, and we have to go back to WW2 and the escape of British prisoners by tunnel from the prison camp Stalag Luft III to find an escape of similar type and size. If confirmed, this escape by tunnel will be the largest ever recorded and the Taliban can notch up another dubious record. The details of the escape are yet to be revealed but it appears that the tunnel was dug from outside in rather than inside out, or possibly a combination of both. This again makes the escape unusual as a majority of escapes by tunnel are via tunnels solely made by the prisoners themselves.


Innumerable questions arise. A tunnel 360 metres long produces a lot of spoil. Where did it all disappear to? It would have required lighting and ventilation and a large team of people to do the digging. Nobody noticed? What of the prisoners – if there were over 500 escapees then they all had to be in on the secret and in a culture where the life of a secret is often measured in seconds, it is remarkable that so many mouths were kept shut. So many that one might reasonably suspect that the prisoners were not the only ones working on their escape and that some of those guarding them may have been complicit. This opens up whole new possibilities in terms of unconventional warfare as fought by the Taliban, and speaks volumes for their adaptability, ingenuity and willingness to take considerable risks to free their men.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

DYING YOUNG IN INDIA

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

 

At 10, Moin Khan would have been younger than my son. He was seven when he hugged his parents in Madhubani, Bihar good bye to go with a relative to work in his factory in Delhi. The 'uncle' promised his parents a 'bright future' for the boy and prosperity for the desperately poor family.


After three years of toiling 15 hours a day, 7-days a week in a sweatshop producing bindis (bright dots that Hindu women sport on forehead), Moin died this week when his employer repeatedly hit him.


In all probability he would have got a quiet burial and you and I wouldn't have heard of Moin and his brief, brave tryst with life. His tragedy was discovered only when the local mosque committee got suspicious over the bindi factory owner's haste to bury the boy in the adjacent cemetery.


Police were called in when they noticed bruises all over the child's young body. It had quietly and patiently taken all the life's rough lessons and beatings on itself so he could make his parents and siblings happy. Moin's ordeal was far from over even after the nightmare that took him from playground to the graveyard. His body lay unclaimed three days after his death as his parents in the distant Bihar tried to raise money to travel to Delhi.

Meanwhile the ever famished media vultures, looking for a break from the saturation coverage of corruption scams and daily cricket matches, ran with the 'human interest' story. And in the end that's what Moin's tragedy will boil down to – merely another story. Day one, day two, day three...who'll remember him after that?

Incidentally, there are hundreds of thousands of Moins trudging out there, fighting to survive the dark, dreary dungeons of Delhi that would put the Dickensian England to shame. In the capital alone at least half a million children are caught in this vicious cycle of crushing poverty and criminal exploitation. Things are little better in Mumbai, the movie wonderland. Or in Kolkata in the east and Chennai down south for that matter.

Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, is the worst violator. Home to hundreds of sweatshops and cottage industries producing the famous locks of Aligarh to the brass and glassware of Moradabad to the intricate zari fabrics, it employs hundreds of thousands of children in hard, rigorous jobs that adults would find taxing.

The state is also home to the largest Muslim community in the land. With the increasingly marginalised community surviving on these rare arts and crafts, its young are also drawn into the same vicious vortex before they know it.

In fact, it is the same story all across India. From begging and prostitution rackets to factories producing bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes) and firecrackers to pesticide-drenched farms, children are the first victims of all exploitation. It's estimated that at least 30 million children in India have their innocence stolen not long after they arrive into this world.

It's too terrifying even to imagine your children at the tender age of seven being snatched away by some stranger to spend all their waking hours working and working, until he/she could take it no more. Which is what happened in Moin's case. There are many who are even younger than Moin. Few of them survive the endless physical, mental and in many cases sexual abuse. They either die young like Moin or grow up into physical-mental wrecks and often as hardened criminals.

Like your children and mine, Moin too must have had his share of dreams and aspirations. And his parents must have had their own dreams and aspirations for him just like you and I do for our children. How would his parents bear the backbreaking burden of carrying his tiny, lifeless body back home? How would they live with the death of their hopelessly young son desperately trying to share their burden?

Or maybe I'm just being melodramatic. The kind of tough life these folks lead in thousands of remote villages and towns across India, tragedies like this one are part of their existence. In all probability, they will mourn their son for a week or two and move on. When life is a daily battle for survival, you can't afford to spend time crying over loved ones.

But can India afford to move on too, taking this tragedy in her stride? What is a child's life worth in a billion-strong country anyway? However, if the nation wants to save the lives of millions of its children, it would do well to treat Moin's death as a wake-up call.

I know child labour has never been one of our favourite topics for drawing room conversation. Whenever a tragedy like this strikes, it does break through our veneer of indifference but then we shrug it off: "It's sad of course but what can we do?" We move on.

When western journalists or Hollywood dream merchants turn their spotlight on our dark underbelly, like they did in Slumdog Millionaire, we get all worked up, indignant at the west's preoccupation with pornography of poverty.

Of course, child labour is not peculiar to India or even Asia. English mystic William Blake tackled the issue as early as 1789 in The Chimney Sweeper. The poem one had read ages ago as a student is considered the strongest critique yet of children's exploitation in enlightened England but applies to Moin and all the less fortunate children of God:

When my mother died I was very young,

And my father sold me while yet my tongue

Could scarcely cry, 'weep! weep! weep! weep!'

So your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep. - Songs of Innocence

So child labour isn't something we invented. It's practiced all over the world, wherever poverty exists and thrives. But perhaps nowhere in the world has it been institutionalised, tolerated and perpetuated as we have.

Five years after India banned child labour, it remains the shame of the nation that is these days feted as the next superpower alongside China. But how could India dream of global leadership when millions of its children are consumed every year by economic exploitation or simply abused to death as Moin was?

We have enough laws, from the Child Labour Act to the Juvenile Justice Act to the Right to Education Act, not to mention the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child to which India is a signatory that should have helped us banish the scourge of children's exploitation. Children who ought to be in school or playing with their friends are trading their innocence to live in factories, farms, hotels and virtually everywhere but where they should be.

I know it's easier said than done. No parent, if they could help it, would like their young children to work. It's poverty and the impossibility of their circumstances that forces them into it. When parents earn what is barely enough to feed themselves, let alone the whole family, every single rupee counts.

This is why more than laws or lectures given to parents on the importance of education, what we need is collective social and economic action to stamp out the scourge. And the state must take the lead in such initiatives.

If India allocates even a fraction of what it splurges on useless military junk or quixotic obsessions like rediscovering the Moon, it would make a life-saving difference to millions of its children. Moin's story remained untold until it was too late to help him. It must not be the fate of millions of other Moins out there.



The writer is based in Gulf and has extensively written on the Muslim world affairs. Email: aijaz.syed@ hotmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS

DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN

 

The current budget-less year (2010–11) is going to end in two months. Never in the country's history has the nation seen a fiscal year with no budgetary targets. The budgetary targets for the current fiscal year have become moving targets as the numbers kept on changing every two or three months. It seems very little homework was done by the federal government before the presentation of the budget in parliament.

Will Budget 2011–12 be different from the current one? I am afraid, not. The government is presenting the next budget on May 28. Although there is hardly a month left for the finalisation of the budget, no serious consultation has been initiated with the stakeholders.

As usual, the finance minister is out of the country for two weeks, at such a crucial period of time. The IMF mission is expected to arrive on May 8 for the review of the IMF programme. The mission will hold eight to ten days' discussions with the relevant officials. Since the budget will be presented on May 28, little time will be left thereafter to give a final shape to the document. There can be no meaningful consultations with the stakeholders for the government to be able to introduce wide-ranging tax reforms. This may create an uproar in the business and industrial community and in the agricultural lobbies, forcing the opposition and even the coalition partners to oppose various tax measures. This may compel the government to withdraw some of the crucial tax measures, as happened recently when the government introduced various tax measures through presidential ordinances and then withdrew some of them under pressure from various trade bodies.

Apart from the time until May 28 being too short for meaningful consultations with stakeholders, the National Accounts Committee is expected to meet before May 10, Therefore, the estimates of the GDP and its components will be highly untenable because they will be based on six or seven months' information. The ministry of finance will be releasing the Economic Survey 2010-11 at least one day before the budget, for which the entire document must reach the printing press by May 23. Is it possible to have a good analysis of the state of the economy in such a short period of time?

Therefore, the government present the budget to parliament on June 11. This will provide some time to the government to engage itself in consultations with all the stakeholders, as well as provide adequate time to the Federal Bureau of Statistics to firm up the national account number. It will further help the Economic Advisor's Wing to prepare a quality document. Two weeks of parliamentary debate on the budget is sufficient and, as such, the government may get the budget passed by parliament by June 27 or 28.

Let me turn to other substantive recommendations. The traditional practice of budget preparation has been to finalise the expenditure plan, and afterwards subtract the targeted budget deficit to arrive at the revenue number. In this process, revenue has been treated as a residual item. Such a practice has been one of the root causes of fiscal slippages as the revenue target was de-linked from the level of economic activity. This process needs to be reversed. The government must fix the revenue target first, based on the projected level of economic activity and then add the deficit target (4 percent of the GDP) to arrive at the expenditure number.

What should be the revenue target of the FBR? The base should be realistic in the revenue target for 2011–12. The FBR is likely to collect Rs1,530 billion in the current fiscal year, which is 15.3 percent higher than last year. The FBR revenue target for 2011-12 should be in the range of Rs1,765-1,775 billion – a growth of 15.4 to 16 percent. Anything beyond this number is tantamount to inviting fiscal slippages from day one.

Budget 2011–12 should be a reform-oriented budget. The reforms should not only include broadening of the tax bases but also the tax system being made equitable, fair and transparent. As part of the tax reform, the government must bring agricultural income under the direct tax net. Given the paucity of time, consultations with provincial governments must begin forthwith. The federal government must ask the provinces to allow the FBR to collect income tax from agriculture, deduct collection charges and give the remaining to the provinces.

The FBR should also be asked to improve its withholding tax regime. In other words, it must devise a mechanism to minimise the gap between the tax collected and the tax deposited in the government treasury. The implementation of the RGST has been delayed for a year. The RGST must be an integral part of Budget 2011–12. The government must take into confidence its coalition partners and the opposition. It is in our national interest to implement the RGST without wasting another year.

In my next article, I will be dwelling more on tax reforms, particularly on taxation on petroleum products and the provincial governments' tax efforts, along with improvement in the quality of expenditure.

The article will also discuss as to what can go wrong in Budget 2011–12. The government does not appear to be ready to implement tax reforms. Is the FBR operationally ready to implement agricultural income tax and the RGST? Has the FBR devised a mechanism to improve the withholding tax regime? Will the finance minister devote quality time in finalising next year's budget?



The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan @nbs.edu.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

HATING ON IMRAN KHAN

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI


 Imran Khan is not a great politician. Since April 1996, when he launched the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), he has consistently proven his political incompetence with the legendary perseverance that makes the Great Khan who he is. Luckily, Imran Khan is pretty good at many other things. Even before winning the 1992 World Cup, he tickled the decidedly vain streak in all Pakistanis, with his voracious social appetite in the 1970s, 1980s and early part of the 1990s. He founded Pakistan's first cancer hospital, the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust Hospital – as good an example of sustainable, rooted and inclusive philanthropy as you'll ever learn about. He has laid the groundwork for Namal College, in Mianwali, which is already rumoured to be on the fast track to being a nationally competitive centre for higher education.


Manifest in both his greatest triumphs and his most obvious failures is Imran Khan's greatest quality. Imran Khan is a born leader, and believes that the steely determination of a leader can single-handedly lead to victory. It is why his World Cup winning speech sounded like that of a singles' tennis players. At the twilight of "my" career? Imran Khan wasn't being stubborn or ungraceful. He was just being "me."

Of course, without divine inspiration, the kind that both rained out crucial matches and put South Africa in the ridiculous position of needing 22 off one ball, the World Cup team would never have made it to the elimination round. And, of course, without Rameez, Akram, Miandad, Inzimam, Aaqib, Moin and Mushtaq, that World Cup team would most definitely not have won the semi-final or final. Imran Khan, the awesome leader, needed both the batting and bowling genius that the team possessed in ample measure, as well as the good fortune of weather and other teams' performances, to go his way.

Cricket history is deeply contested, but there's hardly any contesting the reality of how the cancer hospital got built. Little kids, teenagers and even young adults around the country went door-to-door. Housewives, and stay-at-home dads, responded to the campaign, once, twice, and probably dozens of times. People opened up their doors and their wallets. They turned off their cynicism. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Mustansar Hussain Tarar (to mention but two) sang, danced and emceed their hearts out. And then people gave more. And that's how Imran Khan's cancer hospital got built.

There are two lessons that Imran Khan could have learnt from his cricketing and philanthropic adventures. The first is that people matter, and therefore, change can only come about when the people stand up and make it happen. The second is that no matter how good a leader, a winning team is made up of multiple points of talent and skill. Only teams can win team sports.

On most days, it is obvious that Imran Khan learnt the first lesson well, but did not learn the second, at all. The PTI is a collection of nice young people, from mostly good families, who are almost exclusively from the cities. That is a demographic that has had almost zero electoral success. The reason is quite simple. They don't vote. But even if they were to start voting, what are the chances that Imran Khan's peripheral populism would catch fire and become a national juggernaut? Pretty low.

Without first- and second-tier political talent that serves as a moderator and regulator of Imran Khan's negative energy on the one hand, and an amplifier and projector of his positive energy on the other hand, the PTI has no hope of being a legitimate and meaningful political force. In short, the short-term prospects of the PTI challenging the established political order should be about slim to zero.

This is why it is stupefying to watch Pakistanis who call themselves "liberal" (using a generously flexible definition of the term) to absolutely go potty over any mention of Imran Khan. As he has taken a stranglehold in the public space over the issue of drones, "liberals" have been falling over themselves trying to do one of two things. Either they seek to rationalise drone strikes, as necessary to fight terror, or they seek to delegitimise any agency that Imran Khan might have as a politician. On both counts, PPP supporters, including the interior minister, seemed to be the most distressed about Imran Khan leading a five-thousand-strong anti-drone rally in Peshawar.

The gamesmanship and politics would be understandable if it was directed towards a formidable political foe, but Imran Khan represents, by the calculations of "liberal" voices themselves, nothing more than an irritant in the public discourse. The most serious charge against Imran Khan, that he is a Taliban apologist, deserves scrutiny, because if there is one thing Pakistan cannot afford, it is equivocal stances on terrorism that claims innocent lives in Pakistan, or anywhere else.

The misgivings that exist about Imran Khan's position on extremism, terrorism and how to fight these menaces are his own fault. Though I've not spoken to him at length one-on-one, I've heard him speak multiple times on the issue. He denies the charges vehemently, while seeking a dialogue out of the conflict in Fata and KP. His emphatic denials of being a Taliban apologist however ring hollow and empty if they continue to fall on deaf ears. If a message never gets delivered, doesn't the message deliverer bear at least some responsibility?

Some, for sure. But not all. Imran Khan's political failures are the topic of many a cocktail party in Defence, F-6 and over drinks during hunting trips in the deep south of Punjab, and the deeper rural neverland of Sindh. But such criticism, while often on-the-mark, does stretch the imagination. Imran Khan, after all, poses no threat whatsoever to the established political order. Or does he?

One of Imran Khan's consistent areas of success, and a topic of bitter disappointment for both the rural-focused PPP and the so-called urban Punjab PML-N juggernaut, is urban youth. The PPP is so desperate for charisma that it is reopening the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case – a case that his own daughter miraculously never touched in two turns as prime minister. The PML-N has been deluded into a complacent stupor by the armies of DMG officers, serving and retired, who do nothing but nod their heads in pathetic deference to the Sharif brothers. Neither party has any confidence that it can excite young people in the cities – the very young that electrified Z A Bhutto's political career two generations ago, and the ones that briefly took the Sharifs onto their shoulders on a fateful March night in 2009.

Imran Khan, on the other hand, does excite young people in Pakistan's cities. Part of this narrative is necessarily naive. It is based on a starry-eyed hope that slogans, national pride and good vibrations can get the job of saving Pakistan from itself, done. They cannot. But young people don't really care for reasoned cynicism. They want something to believe in. In a country that is urbanising faster than you can say thaana-kutchehri, and getting younger by the day, we can dismiss Imran Khan. But we can't dismiss the energy he is tapping into. It doesn't matter today. But it could. Sooner than we think.



The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. www.mosharrafzaidi.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE THIRD OPTION

SYED JAWAID IQBAL

 

These were the days just after Pervez Musharraf had resigned from office as President. He was having lunch with a group of friends at the Boat Club in Karachi when an elderly lady got up from the next table, approached the former president and said: "What sort of people have you handed over the country to?" Musharraf looked at her and then bowed his head in silence. He had no answer to give.

It appears that the man who ruled Pakistan for almost nine years and did a reasonably good job is still caught in that silence. He makes perfectly relevant utterances from time to time but is somehow not able to make sure that what he is saying and what he is thinking about the people and the country is heard by the masses.

Next August, it will be three years since Musharraf relinquished the reins of power. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. In fact, it has turned into a deluge of towering prices, corruption on a massive scale, almost zero governance, crime at its worst, an ineffective foreign policy and shameless politicking that has continued to hurl Pakistan's ship around in the rough seas of survival.

Now that democracy has lost its shine for the people of Pakistan, thanks to the extra efforts made by Messrs Zardari and Gilani and all their buddies, there are a growing number of people who look forward to Pervez Musharraf's return – and somehow access to the seat of power. Their view is that he would be an answer to all the rot that is slowly gnawing into the national fabric.

In reality, returning to the Pakistani political fray would be an uphill task for Musharraf, considering the high money-spending benchmarks already set by the likes of the Sharifs, the Chaudhrys and the many waderas and sardars. This will not happen in the short term either. Furthermore, there is too much riding on the retired general's life. Whatever the truth, too much poison and hatred have been infused into the minds of the people by those who do not like him or are afraid of him. Then, there is the media which is working overtime to weave a web of revulsion against the very man who, despite his military credentials, accorded unbelievable liberty to them. There was many a "democrat" who came before and after Musharraf but did not make the slightest effort for the cause of media freedom.

Now, it is the Musharraf-liberated media that has strengthened the commonly held belief that hundreds of youthful protestors were killed in Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa. The media has also worked relentlessly to establish that it was Musharraf who gave direct orders for the killing of Akbar Bugti. And, over time, more people have been led by the same media to believe that Musharraf was "involved" in Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

The pity is that no intense effort has been made by the APML to counter these allegations. As far as Akbar Bugti's death is concerned, even the ISPR has not stepped forward to issue a clarification of what actually happened. Such a move would have removed a lot of dust from the Bugti incident as this was an army operation in which a senior officer was killed along with his subordinates. The deaths occurred as a result of the heavy rocks around Bugti's hideout caving in. It certainly did not happen because Musharraf, sitting in Rawalpindi, gave orders to gun down the Baloch leader. In fact, the army colonel who died and the other officers had been sent to negotiate with Bugti.

Politicians and the media also do not lose an opportunity to propagate the view that Musharraf is responsible for the wave of terrorism that the country is engulfed in and it was he who invited the US to launch drone attacks into Pakistani territory.

What the APML needs to do is launch its own blitzkrieg of information about all the good that was done in Musharraf's time. There was talk of a whitepaper when Musharraf resigned but no work seems to have been done on the document. If taken up in earnest, it could serve as an important and authentic tool for the former president and his cause.

Musharraf would have, of course, avoided his downfall had he exercised better judgment in taking certain decisions, such as on Kalabagh Dam, Akbar Bugti, the chief justice's removal, imposition of the emergency and the NRO. However, the perception that he did not did not take his political and military comrades on board in assessing crucial situations is not true.He waited for months and consulted everyone who mattered before ordering the SSG units to break into Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa.

He was first criticised for being slow in taking firm action against the forceful occupants, but once he gave orders for the action, he was seriously censured for having launched an overly rash and "inhuman" army operation. The irony is that at no point did his political comrades make an effort to clear the confusion surrounding the standoff. They never bothered to even mention that no less than the Imam-e-Kaaba had been approached by Pervez Musharraf to intervene and persuade the militants to come out peacefully.

On the other hand, where political issues were concerned, he went into the direction pointed by the politicians around him while people like Shaukat Aziz, Humayun Akhtar, Khurshid Kasuri, Dr Hafeez Shaikh, Liaquat Jatoi, Shaikh Rashid, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Ijazul Haq and Jehangir Tareen chose to take the backseat. Here his simplicity prevented him from making more balanced judgments. A good example is the reference against Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry that he sent to the Supreme Judicial Council without giving the matter much thought – and even allowing himself to be photographed in uniform with the chief justice just a day before the storm was let loose.



To be concluded

The writer is chairman of "Moderates," a private-sector think tank. Email: chairman@ moderates.com.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

THE POWER DEBATE

DR MALEEHA LODHI

 

The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

Few people have influenced the contemporary debate over the contested notion of power in recent years as much as Joseph S Nye. A long time Harvard professor, Nye served in the US government, and combines the insights of a practitioner and scholar to examine the nature and uses of power in a changing world.

He came up with the term 'soft power' and elaborated this in a landmark book published in 2004. The power of persuasion in world affairs was identified as an important dimension of power in addition to hard power, associated with tangibles such as military or economic resources. The types of resources that he associated with soft power included intangibles such as ideas, values, culture and the perceived legitimacy of policies.

Nye's just published book 'The Future of Power' does not disappoint. It continues the conversation about how power is changing, especially under the impact of modern communication and information technologies. Power, Nye says, once came from controlling the sea-lanes. But in the future it will come from the ability to navigate the information lanes of cyberspace and control the narrative that influences people.

In a seminal essay written some years ago, Nye famously said: "Politics in the information age is ultimately about whose story wins". He now expands on this by arguing that smart power strategies must be adapted to the global information age, which is making the traditional sources of power obsolete.

Although effective military force remains one of the key power resources in international affairs Nye shows how soft power has become a more important part of the mix. And he stresses that an information-based world requires new policies that combine hard and soft power resources into smart power.

Smart power strategies involve more than a country's military or economic strength. The present cyber age has created a new 'power frontier' among states ripe with opportunity for nations, if they develop the capabilities to leverage the tools of our age. Smaller nations can punch above their weight if they adopt these strategies.

For Nye, smart power is combining the hard power of coercion and payment with the soft power of persuasion and attraction applied according to varying contexts. And context is key because power always depends on context. If power resources are both tangible and intangible, whether a certain combination can produce a desired outcome rests on behaviour in context.

He makes a distinction between defining power in terms of resources and in terms of behaviour, arguing that what counts is how the capacity that resources confer is converted into preferred outcomes. Because it is outcomes not resources that matter he argues that power conversion strategies are the critical variable for effective management of international affairs.

Nye's book surveys the new era in world politics in which a power transition is underway among countries with the 'rise of the rest' and a power diffusion away from all states. This means it is no longer sufficient to think in terms of power over others, but of power to accomplish goals that involves working with others. And this needs an understanding of how to leverage networks and play off the connectedness of our age.

Nye describes how in the information age, communications strategies are more important. "Outcomes are shaped", he says, "not merely by whose army wins but also by whose story wins". The framing of issues and the construction of a narrative are all aspects of power relationships that are growing in significance.

The world we live in is one where political struggles are waged over the creation and destruction of credibility. Governments compete for credibility not just with other governments but also with a broad range of alternatives including the new media, corporations and NGOs. Global politics he says involves "verbal fighting" among competing narratives.

This fascination with power is driven by Nye's concern with the sources and trajectory of American power. Therefore his book joins the debate about whether the era of America's global dominance and its hour of power has passed.

A spate of recent literature offers conflicting views about what the rise of new powers means for the global primacy that the US long enjoyed. From the prognosis of American decline popularised by Paul Kennedy to others who have written about how the relative erosion of economic power and military overstretch have contributed to American's loss of global influence, a rich though inconclusive debate has been going on. This has involved writers and historians such as Niall Ferguson, Fareed Zakaria and Richard Haas among others. China's rise in particular has been the subject – and cause for fear – of much analyses in the US.

Nye's book positions him among the optimists in this debate. He believes that American economic and cultural preponderance will become less dominant in the future but that does not signify a decline. The US he argues is unlikely to decay like ancient Rome. But to maintain its global leadership it will need a smart power strategy and narrative that stress alliances, institutions and networks.

Another recently published book offers a rather different perspective. In Zero-Sum Future, Gideon Rachman examines the decline of American power in an age of anxiety, where a globalised world is becoming more fragmented.

Rachman depicts a previous 'age of optimism' where the world looked like it was going America's way. But with the 2008 economic crisis, the rise of China, weakening of American power and the emergence of a set of intractable global political problems this has given way to a less stable and more dangerous world. The win-win logic of globalisation is being replaced by the zero-sum logic of political and economic struggle.

The author argues in a racily written book that if this logic gathers more pace in international relations it will produce adversarial relations between America and China, disarray and infighting in Europe and more global conflict as consensus will continue to elude efforts to solve transnational problems. This will undermine globalisation and even threaten the benefits it has produced.

But Rachman places his hope in 'creative leadership' in the West, which ought to 'keep calm' in the face of its declining power and rising global threats and not accept the idea that rivalry between nations will inevitably dictate international relations. Although he is unable to convincingly show how the world's major powers will be able to reverse the logic of a zero-sum world, his analysis of a world in rapid transition is worth reading for its engaging and often witty insights.

Another book published last year that surveys the classical texts and literature on statecraft and strategy is a must read but not for impatient readers. Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft and World Order by Charles Hill offers a guide to the elements of statecraft by considering the works of major thinkers who have influenced history.

The book ends with a long quote from Henry Kissinger summing up one of the major paradoxes of our times. Part of this is worth reproducing to understand why ours is a world bereft of statesmen. Says Kissinger: "We have entered a time of total change in human consciousness of how people look at the world. Reading books requires you to form concepts, to train your mind to relationships....A leader needs these qualities. But now we learn from fragments of facts....each fact can instantly be called up again on the computer... Information is not knowledge. The new thinking erases context. All this makes strategic thinking about world order nearly impossible to achieve." This needs thoughtful consideration.

The Future of Power by Joseph S Nye, New York, Public Affairs, 2011; Zero-Sum Future by Gideon Rachman, New York, Simon and Schuster, 2011;Grand Strategies by Charles Hill, Yale University Press, 2010.

 

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I. THE NEWS

CLINICAL DETACHMENT

FRANKLIN C SPINNEY

 

Taking the Cape is a time-honoured term of art used in the Pentagon for luring your opponent into going for your solution, especially when it is not in his or her best interest. On Thursday, April 22, Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced President Obama approved the initiation of drone strikes in Libya. The vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General James Cartwright claimed the drones were 'uniquely suited' for attacks in urban areas because they can fly lower and get better visibility of targets, presumably, than pilots' eyeballs in airplanes. Gates went on to claim drone strikes in Libya would be done for 'humanitarian reasons'.

In other words, someone has sold Obama on Pakistanising the Libyan War, i.e. pursuing a military strategy of relying on drone attacks to destroy an adversary hiding in the environmental background. What is astonishing is that Obama took the cape, despite the fact that only 12 days earlier, a report in the Los Angeles Times by David Cloud illustrated once again the absurdity of Cartwright's and Gates' claims.

Cloud's report is worthy of very careful study, because it is loaded with all sorts of unexplored ramifications – none of them good. Using actual transcripts of conversations among drone operators, David Cloud revealed the sinister psychological effects that so-called precision bombing and techno war has on its American participants. Their sterile dialogue shows vividly how the idea of precision techno warfare fought from a safe distance desensitises our 'warriors' to the bloody physical effects of their actions on the people they are maiming, and killing and the property they are destroying. There is no bravery or soldierly honour or spirit of self sacrifice among the bravado of the drone operators safely ensconced in Creech AFB, Nevada; they are simply cogs in a dysfunctional dehumanising machine.

Extreme psychological one-sidedness on our side is nothing new in our military operations, however. Indeed, the theory of the adversary being merely a physical set of targets that can be defeated simply by identifying and physically destroying these nodes is a doctrine that has been evolving and becoming more extreme since the development of daylight precision 'strategic' bombardment doctrine by the US Army Corps in the 1930s.

At the centre of the theory of techno war is the comforting idea that precision bombardment would enable us to attack precision 'military targets' deep in hostile territory while avoiding destruction of civilian lives and property. The drone coupled with precision guided weapons merely evolves this original mentality to a new level of recklessness, because its gripping effect on the our psychology further disconnects the killer, sitting in his air conditioned operations centre thousands of miles away from the killed, from the consequences of the killers actions.

This clinical detachment creates the illusion that war is cleaner and easier to fight from our perspective – civilian deaths become morally acceptable because they are merely accidents of good intentions. The clinical term 'collateral damage' says it all.

Every time the techno strategy fails to deliver on its promises, as it did with strategic bombing in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the first Iraq War, Kosovo, the Second Iraq War, Afghanistan, and now in Libya, the solution is not a serious 'lessons-learned' examination of why it did not deliver its promises of quick clean victories, but instead, the solution is always the same: to recommend spending even more money for more expensive and complex versions of the same old idea, i.e., more and better sensors, more and better guidance systems, and more and better command, control, communications, computer, and intelligence systems.



The writer is a former military analyst for the Pentagon.

Email: chuck_spinney@mac.com

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

QUESTION OF MORE PROVINCES

 

THOUGH there has been understandably strong reaction from Sindh to the idea floated by Chief Minister Punjab Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif about creation of a province in Karachi but this is essentially part of the national debate that has been kick-started by PPP Co-Chairperson and President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who have been vociferously advocating the cause of Saraiki province in Punjab. Talking to newsmen on Sunday, the PML (N) leader supported demand for more provinces and said the party would soon formulate a comprehensive policy about creation of more provinces in the country.

Demands for new provinces have been there but some of the lobbies were strong enough to present their case in an effective manner while others were passive for different reasons. The discourse got new dimensions when the demand for Saraiki province received momentum following statements by the PPP leadership to patronise it officially and make it one of the points of the party's next election manifesto. Although there was initially furor in Sindh over statement of Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif with almost all stakeholders rejecting the proposal but the question should be given serious consideration by all concerned and hopefully its pros and cons would crystallise with the passage of time. We believe that there is nothing wrong if new provinces are carved out of all the existing ones to resolve political, linguistic, economic and other deprivations that prevail among different segments of the society. This would be in line with the prevailing culture of decentralisation and devolution. In neighbouring India, several new states and union territories have been created since 1956 including division of Bombay (now Mumbai) on linguistic basis as Gujrat and Maharashtra; creation of a new linguistic province of Haryana out of Punjab and transfer of some of its territories to Himachal Pradesh; Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram whereas in 2000 three new states were created; Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal since renamed Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. This is to say that creation of more provinces is alright if the objective is to manage them effectively and resolve social and other problems that have been triggering fissiparous tendencies. But this should be done with consensus and all the federating units, which would be smaller, both area and population-wise, should have smart and trimmed assemblies, cabinets and bureaucracy.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

IMRAN SCORES A POINT

 

TWO days of sit-in against US drone attacks in FATA had been a great success and certainly helped to build unanimity of views among cross section of people across the country. By organising the sit-in, Tehrik-i-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan has certainly scored a point by establishing the necessity for an end to the drone attacks, which have claimed hundreds of innocent lives.


Addressing the participants, who had gathered not only from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab but also from the affected areas in FATA in large numbers, Imran Khan sent a clear and loud message to the Pakistani Government and the United States that if the attacks were not stopped in a month, people would block all NATO supply routes across Pakistan and also start march to Islamabad. Despite repeated protests by the people, there has been no impact on the United States and it continues to carry out aerial reconnaissance inside Pakistani territory and launches the hellfire missiles through its predators. Pakistan had been stressing upon the Obama administration to give the technology and the militants could be targeted by it through intelligence sharing but Washington appears to be hell bent to exercise its military might by ignoring the advice of Islamabad. The massive participation at the sit-in must serve as a wake up call for the US that people have lost patience and they are no more willing to tolerate these attacks. Of course Pakistan in many respect is not like Middle East where very recently there had been an upspring and people threw out the rulers but we would warn that a stage could come when people would be forced to come on streets against the excesses of the US. It would be advisable for the CIA and other establishments in Washington to take notice of the sensitivities of people in Pakistan and bring an end to the drone attacks. Imran Khan had the courage, as a genuine leader, to call spade a spade and he created an awareness among the masses about their power and if the drone attacks were not stopped, they would standup and block the NATO supplies to Afghanistan which would cause more damage to the US position there than the so called gains it claims to be having through Drone hits.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

US MAY LISTEN TO POPE AT LEAST

 

THE United States, with the passage of time, has adopted an attitude of total rejection of UN principles and those governing inter-state relations and is trying to apply rule of jungle instead to advance its regional and global objectives. Although the debate over unilateralism became heated during the administration of President Bush, the concept has a long history in US foreign policy. In his 1796 farewell address, President George Washington urged the United States to "steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world, so far … as we are now at liberty to do it."


This is more so after the fall of the Soviet Union, which led to creation of unipolar world where the United States is dictating its terms to the outside world especially weaker and smaller states. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had once stated that the United States was suffering from 'victory complex' that is complicating global politics following end of cold war. In pursuit of the Bush doctrine, regime change and pre-emptive strikes have become part of the official policy of the United States threatening world peace and sovereignty and independence of small nations. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the latest victim of the American aggression is Libya, where Washington has started targeting its people with drone attacks as well, in its bid to impose a foreign-aided regime. It is in this backdrop that the spiritual leader of the Christian community Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday urged "diplomacy and dialogue" instead of use of arms in Libya and prayed that the human dignity may overcome the darkness of division in the Middle East. Though we believe that the call is somewhat belated, as already thousands of innocent souls have perished due to foreign aggression in Libya but they say it is never late to mend. We hope that the United States, which has so far showed scant respect for UN and views of the international community, would listen to Pope at least and wind up its aggression in Libya, allowing people of that country to resolve their problems through dialogue and discussions.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

NATIONAL UNITY THRU RECONCILIATION

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

There is no denying the fact that almost all political and reli gious parties and their leaders have at one time or another supported military dictators. Leaders of two major parties had entered into agreements with Musharraf government, either to go into exile after getting cases quashed by PML-N leaders, or to come back to Pakistan through the NRO to participate in election process, as was the case with the PPP leaders. There is a perception that most of them are corruption-tainted and have image problem, if one believed only the allegations and cases filed by the PPP and the PML-N governments during 1990s against each other's leaders.

After signing the Charter of Democracy and formation of alliances, they had betrayed each other. In this backdrop, anybody trying to pose himself as an angel or paragon of political scruples would be a travesty of the truth. Anyhow, they should abandon the politics of power and pelf and put their act together to overcome economic challenges and threats to Pakistan's internal and external security. Of course, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have shown their willingness to take along all the political parties, yet there are others who are not willing to show any flexibility and can't wait for their turn.

But one should not misconstrue from the above. When we suggest national reconciliation, it must be understood that it is not for the sake of power-sharing as was done in case of Charter of Democracy or to plunder the national exchequer, but to address the problems facing the people such as economic disparity, inflation, poverty, rampant corruption, deteriorating law and order situation. Political instability, energy crisis, deteriorating law and order situation, Government-Judiciary row, conflicting interests and divergence of views on one hand between ruling coalition partners and on the other hand between the major political parties ie PPP and PML-N are not conducive for investment. This in turn results in huge fiscal deficit and also trade deficit, which have to be financed through loans. Anyhow, despite many similarities with Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, there is a fundamental difference between Pakistan and those countries. In Pakistan, democratically elected government and independent Judiciary are in place while the Armed Forces are committed to safeguard the frontiers of the country and fight the menace of terrorism, as the people are living in trepidation and fear because of hundreds of suicide attacks on government institutions and mosques killing innocent citizens also.

Our political eminences are lucky to have people who have tremendous patience and resilience despite having suffered enormously from the inept policies of various governments during the last six decades. And they hope to overcome those difficulties and make Pakistan a self-reliant economy and even a welfare state. But to achieve this laudable objective, national unity is imperative. Political leaders and their parties should therefore stop trading barbs, wean off from the habit of internecine conflicts and work for cohesion, integrity and harmony with a view to creating a sense of optimism among all segments of society.

They should remember what Sallust, Roman historian, one of the great Latin literary stylist and a great philosopher argues: "By union the smallest states thrive. By discord the greatest are destroyed." Pakistan has all the ingredients like fertile land mass, four seasons suitable for growing a variety of grains, vegetables and fruits, sea ports and, over and above all, hard working people who, given the visionary and honest leaders not only could make it thrive but also make it a great nation.

It is therefore imperative for the ruling and opposition parties to focus on ensuring socio-economic justice; strengthen the political system and institutions; eradicate corruption; provide timely justice; generate employment opportunities; seek consensus-based political solutions; and resolve ethnic, sectarian and religious fault lines. After February 2008 elections, the PPP and the PML-N had once again emerged as two major political parties. Since none of them had absolute majority to form government at the federal level, therefore, the PPP being a single largest party formed a coalition government at the centre with the PML-N, but the honeymoon did not last more than a few months.

PPP's coalition partners the MQM and the JUI also withdrew from the federal cabinet because of some trivial and frivolous matters. Anyhow, the MQM members still sit on the treasury benches. PML-N leaders however seem to have arrogated to themselves the powers that theirs should be the final word on every issue. It was because of this arrogance that all parties of the country were united on the platform of Grand Democratic Alliance in late 1990s with one point agenda - to get rid of Nawaz government. One could find many instances in the history when the nations confronted crisis or the society degenerated, and the visionary leadership united the nation with a view to arresting the decay and put it on the path of progress. One example in the recent history is Malaysia, which is a multi-racial nation of 27 million where Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic communities blend to form a fascinating and distinctive social mosaic. Former prime minister of Malaysia Mahatir Muhammad had played a pivotal role in creating unity between the people with different nationalities by ensuring equal opportunities and socio-economic justice in the society. In 1980s, Malaysia had made remarkable progress and was considered as one of the Asian Tigers. Later, in the face of world recession, economies of the South East Asia were in tatters, Philipines and Thailand accepted IMF's offer for loans but Malaysia refused to accept the IMF conditionalities, and could overcome the crisis much faster than other nations. Anyhow, point being made here is if people from diverse nations and cultural backgrounds could be united, then why Pakistan could not do it where people from various provinces are local and not aliens.

Yet there is another example of national reconciliation in the recent history. Nelson Mandela former President of South Africa was elected in 1994 in fully representative democratic elections. He had floated the idea of national reconciliation. It should be borne in mind that it was reconciliation with members of the white minority rule that had committed atrocities on the black majority for decades. Before his election as president, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress.

He spent 27 years in prison, much of it on Robben Island, on convictions for crimes that included sabotage committed while he spearheaded the struggle against apartheid. Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela's switch from a policy of confrontation to a policy of reconciliation and negotiation had helped lead the transition to multi-racial democracy in South Africa. Nelson Mendela was, indeed, a statesman and visionary who could envisage that if he got rid of members of the then ruling elite, the nation would be deprived of the talent, expertise and experience to run the economy and the country. In that case there would have been flight of capital and the economy could come to a grinding halt. Could our leadership learn from those icons and use collective wisdom to overcome multifaceted crisis.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

OBAMA'S UNFULFILLED UNDERTAKINGS

ASIF HAROON RAJA

 

Mindful of the deep rooted revulsion evoked against USA in the Muslim world in particular and the world in general as a consequence to crusade launched by George W. Bush and neo-cons, a black half Muslim Barack Obama was pushed into White House for the first time. His selection was a strategic deception to mislead the Muslims and make them hate al-Qaeda instead of USA . Obama made many alluring promises during the presidential campaign in 2008 in his bid to washout the ill-effects of reviled Bush era and to win the confidence of Muslims. He promised to put an end to US interventionist policy, wrap up war in Iraq, find a democratic solution to Afghanistan, help in energizing Middle East peace process towards settlement of chronic Palestinian dispute, and in finding amicable solution to Kashmir issue. He also made a commitment to close down dreadful prison in Guantanamo Bay .

In his bid to reach out to the Muslims and remove their sense of alienation, he stated in Cairo in June 2009 that the US did not have any enmity with the Muslim world. Hearing him, it was wishfully assumed that Obama would put a stop or at least scale down atrocious policies of his predecessor against Muslim countries.

It is over two years since he took over reins of power; so far he has no fulfilled any of his undertakings. The Muslims continue to remain the main targets and rate of death and destruction has jumped up. He considers use of drones legal and morally just. Although he has scaled down US troop level in Iraq to 50,000 only, the occupied country remains messy. Prospect of withdrawal of left over troops by end 2011 is uncertain due to fragile political situation under government of Maliki installed by Washington . Afghanistan is being continuously brutalized with a vengeance where the situation has become more volatile. He intensified covert operations and sprinkled more oil on the raging war on terror to make it ominous. Afghanistan provides an excellent base to CIA-Mossad-RAW-MI6 nexus to unleash clandestine operations in the whole region. Guantanamo Bay is still functional.

As a sequel to his Af-Pak policy, the US military and its allies got heavily involved in Afghanistan and Pakistan, turning Pak-Afghan border region into single war zone. Purpose was to accelerate ground operations in Pashtun inhabited regions in Afghanistan and to step up invisible covert war in Pakistan duly padded up with aerial violations and drone attacks. Brutalization of Afghanistan and Pakistan together with ruthless persecution of Kashmiris by Indian security forces in occupied Kashmir has given rise to extremism and has made the region unstable and explosive. In Afghanistan, things have gone from bad to worse for occupation forces in the last two years. In their desperate bid to arrest the resurgence of power of Taliban and regain initiative, ISAF has stepped up air blitz which in turn has increased casualty rate of civilians.

Middle East process instead of making progress has retrogressed due to Israeli intransigence and Obama's visible inclination towards Tel Aviv. Like his predecessors he remains subservient to Israel and beholden to American Jews who were instrumental in his victory in elections. Obama feel no compunction in openly supporting Israel's aggressive policies in the region. He not only looked the other way to Israeli invasion of Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 but justified it. He refused to condemn Israeli raid on Peace Flotilla off Gazan Coast and its illegal settlements in occupied territories.

Obama has distanced himself from Kashmir under Indian pressure and his conspicuous tilt towards India is no secret. Gross human rights abuses by Indian security forces against hapless unarmed Kashmiris in disputed occupied Kashmir are being ignored by Washington but it is quick to point fingers at a Muslim country at the sound of a single bullet fired. The US dubs counter actions by security forces against separatist elements in Balochistan or against terrorists in Swat as violation of human rights, but anti-separatist operations of Indian security forces in several parts of India for over fifty years and application of inhuman laws and using rape as a weapon to suppress freedom movement evoke no response.

Concerted efforts were made by Christian powers to separate oil-rich southern Sudan from the mainland. For all practical purposes, Sudan stands divided but its woes are not over. In oil producing Darfur region of Sudan, rebellious forces are being supported by foreign powers. Besides the oil factor, application of Sharia laws by President Bashir is the main reason of concern for the western world. While Sudanese President is demonised through media war and International Court of Justice declared him a war criminal, the UN and the civilized western world are tight lipped about the war crimes of George Bush and his squad of neo-cons. No voice is raised on use of drones by CIA against US ally Pakistan, killing maximum innocent civilians and very few militants.

AFRICOM has been created with mala fide intentions against African continent rich in mineral resources. It is suspected that ongoing turbulence within the Arab world was engineered by CIA to get rid of aging puppets and replace them with younger ones more subservient to Washington so that oil could be monopolised. The US-UK-French forces and NATO have now physically intervened in Libya thus activating third battlefront. The latest intervention is in line with his predecessor's plan to reconfigure the map of Middle East . Ignoring the uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen , Obama hypocritically justifies invasion of Libya on the false pretext of saving Libyans from the wrath of Qaddafi's forces trying to quell foreign inspired rebellion.

US and western powers have their eyes transfixed on Libyan oil and are least concerned with the safety of Muslims in Libya . Aerial attacks and cruise missiles have caused more deaths and destruction in Libya than what forces loyal to Qaddafi have incurred. If we take into account the massacres in Somalia , Iraq , Afghanistan , Pakistan and Yemen , the figure of deaths come to well over two millions. Paul Craig Roberts rightly says that the sole super power prefers to murder Muslims in order to enhance profits of its defence industrial complex.

In line with US policy of subjugating Southern America, a coup was engineered in Honduras in 2009 to overthrow popularly elected ruler and to replace him with vicious dictator. Korean Peninsula was made turbulent and made into a flashpoint. Iran was subjected to heavy sanctions and repeatedly threatened to desist from pursuing nuclear program. CIA poured in million of dollars and indulged in subversive activities to affect a regime change.

Obama is in his third year of rule but his popularity at home has sunk down substantially since his achievements on the domestic front are far from satisfactory. His external policies are widely criticized since he has neither been able to culminate the unpopular war on terror nor defeated al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan . He has so far not been able to spell out a clear cut strategy as to how he intends to play the endgame which enables safe and honorable return of foreign troops from Afghanistan . He has taken no steps to win the shattered confidence of the aggrieved Muslims and to bring down the rising graph of anti-Americanism and restore the lost image and credibility of USA . US interventionism continues. The US economy is in the melting pot while its chief rival China 's economy is surging. He has been unable to curtail debts and fiscal deficit due to ever rising expenditure on defence, security and covert war. With these minuses, his chances of re-election are getting slim, but who so ever returns to power in January 2013, he will also pursue old policies favoring the west, Israel and India and disfavoring the Muslims world.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

INDIA CANNOT BECOME A MODERN STATE

COLUMN FROM DALLAS

SAEED QURESHI

 

It is India's turn now to suffer of what Pakistan has been suffering since its inception in August 1947. One of the principle policy planks of India has been to undo Pakistan or to weaken it in all forms as long it exists. The first lethal blow that India dealt to Pakistan was its dismemberment in December 1971.

There have been unremitting successive endeavors on the part of India to destabilize Pakistan or to further truncate her by fomenting separatist movements. Despite solemn and unequivocal commitment in the United Nations, it has refused to find a solution of the disputed territory of Kashmir, through the agreed principle of plebiscite. Of late, being an upper riparian it has started constructing multiple dams on the rivers that flow into Pakistan and provide water for irrigation and for electricity production. India has never let even a slim chance to slip, by which it could inflict harm and detriment on Pakistan.

The efforts for pacifications between India and Pakistan have always remained unilateral from Pakistan's side. On the contrary India has invariably adopted a policy either to rebuff or willfully ignore those efforts. There have been a host of bilateral issues between India and Pakistan that Pakistan wanted earnestly to resolve. But those issues were either stalled or such counter solutions were put forward by India that would not bring any corresponding advantage to Pakistan. Pakistan has always remained a bête noire for India with a lurking ambition to wipe out this leading Muslim state that too has become nuclear. India ditched the gas pipeline project that was hugely beneficial to her by way of boosting her industries with cheap gas. It has been ambivalent for a few years and finally walked out of it.

The main reason behind abandoning the project was the fear that Pakistan could exploit India as the pipeline passed through the Pakistani territory. Secondly India did not want Pakistan to economically benefit from the royalty that it would receive for use of its territory for the pipeline.

The Gawadar port that is being built with the Chinese cooperation is like a rock on the chest of India as it is not only a monument of Pakistan-Chinese joint venture but would give an easy access to Chinese for international trade. Besides it would bring her closer to the Gulf States, Iran and Afghanistan thus overstepping the Indian influencein the gulf and Indian Ocean region. Baluchistan has been a ripe place for India to replay what it had done in the former East Pakistan. In tandem with the incumbent government in Afghanistan, India is aiding and inciting the separatist groups like BLA (Balochistan Liberation Army) and BRA (Baloch Republic Army) for an independent Baluchistan, in the same manner it had backed the Awami League and the Mukti Bahni in the former East Pakistan. The BLA and BRA are not operating in the thin air. The world at large is well aware that the arms, money and directions come from Indian Raw and intelligence network.

Baluchistan is replete with enormous natural resources and when better times come and Pakistan is technologically and economically in a sound position, these resources would make Pakistan an economically robust country. While India is masterminding the separation of Baluchistan by abetting the hostile elements, it is also focused on Afghanistan to replace or outdo Pakistan in that war torn vast country so as to kill two birds with one stone: breaking Baluchistan from the federation of Pakistan and diluting Pakistan influence in Afghanistan.

Indian shabby roads, its neglected railways, its disorderly traffic, its dirty lanes and heavily polluted environment, its appalling health and educations systems, it civic mess, its rampant corruption, and rabid bureaucracy, the culture of bribery and so one, can be compared with Pakistan but not with China and other modern and developed societies of the world.

India has to go along way before it can shape up as a state that can claim to be a modern nation where poverty and starvation, hunger and poor living conditions have been stamped out or marginalized. But what is going to strike at the geographical unity of that country are the various separatist movements in India, that, in the longer run would tear her apart. As long as India can manage to contain those breakaway movements through her army, these may remain in a low key.

But the moment her oppressive and tight control loosens, there would be mayhem let loose against the Indian Federation in those turbulent regions. Roughly there have been 8 secessionist movements that are aggressively or passively going on against the Indian hold. These are Khalistan, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The most vigorous self determination movement is being steadfastly carried out in Kashmir, a Muslim majority land whose future is yet to be decided by a process of plebiscite by the Kashmiris under the United Nations' supervision.

But the biggest setback that India suffers from is the mindset that negates the symptoms of tolerance about Pakistan. India despite being an open and democratic polity is hostage to the whims of extremist Hindu outfits such as RSS, Sangh Parivar and Shiv Sena headed by Bal Thackeray. There have been countless Hindu Muslim riots in India since partition in which mostly the Muslims have suffered horrible brutalities. With the rigidity in listening to the voices of reason for honoring the sovereignty of the neighboring countries, India has been having an ambitious penchant to transform them into satellite and client states. With Pakistan her behavior has always been villainous with single minded propensity to either destroy or debilitate this country. As such the inflexibility that is the hallmark of overbearing image of India, bars her from accepting the dynamics of the times and harsh and unpalatable realties such as the existence of Pakistan as a sovereign and independent state.

The dormant hate and venom oozes out between the two people when a match is being played and at times of border clashes or when similar tensions mount between these two neighbors. The Indian media pours out venom and scorn on Pakistan, its leadership and the very genesis of Pakistan. So unless there is a veritable change of heart more from India, the peace in the region as well as the dream of good neighborly and cordial relations with Pakistan would remain elusive.

—The writer is a Dallas-based journalist and a former diplomat.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

CHECK TERRORISTS' MEDIA ONSLAUGHT

YAHYA AHMAD

 

The war on terror has taken the form of a media war, given the current technology and circumstances. The Taliban and their allied extremist groups have developed a detailed media strategy, since the events post 9/11. While in the era of Taliban media was clamped down, television and radio broadcasts were banned, but they have relied on the same media since their toppling. When Taliban took over Kandahar, TV sets were publicly destroyed and in some places symbolically hanged. This mindset of Taliban has changed over the years; in their fight for survival they have chosen military strategy over their beliefs. The extremists groups have established media centers which handle their publication, websites and press statements. They openly use the media for their heinous purpose of circulating disinformation and propaganda. Besides using sophisticated methods, they also use simple modes of reaching their audience in the rural and underdeveloped areas. From blogs and websites on the internet, to the pamphlets and mosques, they are using everything except the kitchen sink.

The extremist groups also have a well established infrastructure of printing and publications. They publish newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and posters, implanted with fanatical ideology and propaganda. This mode of media war is very basic and conventional, targeting a mass audience. The publications are well prepared and are able to grab immediate attention of any common individual. The material is carefully planted with baseless facts and Quranic verses taken out of context. There is a vast use of images either glorifying their organization and its actions, or demonizing the west and the governments allied to them. These publications are mostly handed out for free and if there is a price, it is very nominal. These outfits mostly distribute these published materials through certain mosques and seminaries, allied to their cause. This also removes much of their distribution cost for these publications. The literature is mainly in the local language and carefully prepared, keeping in mind local traditions and sentiments. This also makes these materials to be easily acceptable to the general public. Internet has opened a wide range of options, through which these groups can communicate and also spread their poison to this still growing audience. The extremists are not only maintaining their own websites but have also joined blog forums and social domains. They constantly lobby for their cause, through these sites. They upload their videos and audios on sites such as YouTube, where anyone can have access to them. They are present on Facebook and Twitter, where they continuously promote their ideology. The sketchy background of a recent video appearing on YouTube, allegedly showing army jawans executing Taliban, is a perfect example how the internet is being used by extremists to spread confusion and chaos. The inability of any entity, whether state or individual, to censor what is available on the internet is going in favor of these elements.

Besides these, the extremists have also been able to penetrate into the main stream media. They constantly give out press releases, statements and hold press conferences for the main stream media. Taliban apologists and sympathizers have to be credited the most for this infiltration into the mainstream. They have been exploiting the non-bias approach of media in their favor. They take active part in TV discussions and write on routine basis in the print media also. There are also certain sections in the print and electronic media which, are being termed as pro-Taliban. They play with the sentiments of the public and stimulate intolerance and hate. The acceptance of mainstream media in the eyes of the public and its reach has also made it a victim at the hands of the extremists.

To sum up, it is important for the policy makers to devise an effective communication strategy, against this onslaught by the extremists. These fanatics have always been trying to control the minds and perceptions of the general masses, by previously clamping down on media and freedom of speech, and now using the same for their purpose. It should not only be devised for the urban audience but, also more importantly it should also reach out to the public in rural and underdeveloped areas. Countering this media war being waged by the fanatics is pivotal in securing victory in terror war.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

DO DRONES MAKE WARFARE TOO EASY?

WALTER PINCUS

 

Debates are growing at home and abroad over the increasing use of remotely piloted, armed drones, with a new study by the British Defence Ministry questioning whether advances in their capabilities will lead future decision-makers to "resort to war as a policy option far sooner than previously."

Active and retired US Air Force officers involved in developing drones stress that the aircraft brings in more decision-makers, better targeting data and more accurate delivery systems than fighter jets. But use of the unmanned aerial vehicles has drawn growing public scrutiny based on their lethal attacks in Pakistan against al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan against the Taliban, in Yemen against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and most recently in Libya, as announced by Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates.

The British study noted that drones are becoming increasingly automated. With minor technical advances, it said, a drone could soon be able to "fire a weapon based solely on its own sensors, or shared information, and without recourse to higher, human authority." It cautioned that the Defence Ministry "currently has no intention to develop" such systems. Nonetheless, the aircraft, piloted by people far from the battlefield, represents an approaching technological tipping point "that may well deliver a genuine revolution in military affairs," according to the Joint Doctrine Note, which was conducted under the direction of the British Chiefs of Staff. Titled "The United Kingdom Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems," it was first disclosed last week by the Guardian newspaper.

The British study said it was essential that military officials not "risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely" by using armed drones. It also asserted, however, that the laws of war call on commanders on both sides of the fight to limit loss of life and that "use of unmanned aircraft prevents the potential loss of aircrew lives and is thus in itself morally justified." At a Washington conference of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) last week, the issue of drones was also widely discussed. Lt. Col. Bruce Black, program manager for the Air Force Predator and Reaper aircraft, noted that some 180 people are involved in each drone mission. The result, he said, is that "there is more ethical oversight involved with unmanned air vehicles than with manned aircraft." At the same conference, former CIA director Michael V. Hayden described how, with a Predator circling overhead, those involved in ordering use of its missiles from thousands of miles away can call up computer maps that show the potential effects of each weapon. Before any of the Hellfire missiles are launched, he said, the backup team asks for the "the bug splat" of the attack — a readout of the impact the missile would have on its ground target. Nothing comparable can be done with ground-supporting manned aircraft, he said.

But the drones have become part of the propaganda war where they are used. Without referencing the Taliban or al Qaeda, the British paper noted that insurgents have cast themselves as the underdog against a "cowardly bully that is unwilling to risk his own troops, but is happy to kill remotely."

Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, acknowledged that the use of drones comes with potential problems with public perceptions. "Our adversaries have interjected this as a question in [people's] minds, as an attempt to limit the use of what is very, very effective," he said.

At the IISS conference, participants were asked whether drone operators had been desensitized to killing, because they were so far away from the battlefield. Col. Dean Bushey, deputy director of the Air Force Joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center, pointed out that the crews that run Predators in Nevada go through the exact routines that airplane pilots do prior to a mission. They go through a restricted area, wear brown flight suits, receive a mission brief and are put into a "warrior ethos" before ever stepping into a ground control station. "You are executing a mission to save lives," he said.

Black said that when a Predator operator is connected to a fighter on the ground in Afghanistan, "you can hear his voice and you can hear the bullets whistling over his head. You feel that pressure." He vividly described an operator in Nevada, sitting at a computer console and listening and looking at his colleague thousands of miles away through a micro-picture view. "My situational awareness of what he is going through at that time is probably better than a guy that showed up at 10 minutes on station and dropped a weapon and left," Black said. "I see my effects, I watched, I listened, I was with him the five hours prior to that. I'd say we are very much in the fight." — Courtesy: The Washington Post

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

ALL SPIN FOR NBN CHAMPIONS

PROPER ANALYSIS WOULD INSPIRE CONFIDENCE IN BROADBAND PLAN.

Just as it is in comedy, timing is sometimes very important in politics. So it is quite unfortunate for the Gillard government that revelations of its plan to recruit some high-profile "NBN champions" have coincided with sneak previews from former finance minister Lindsay Tanner's book lamenting such stunts. Mr Tanner specifically mentions a business advisory group launched by then prime minister Kevin Rudd, which generated the desired publicity but, in reality, achieved nothing. He cites this as an example of the dumbing-down of politics, where government spin triumphs over substance.

And so today we hear of the "NBN champions" -- a group of prominent people selected by the government to spruik the nation's largest-ever infrastructure project. The NBN will require at least $36 billion of public funding yet was initiated without a proper cost-benefit analysis. Such a study would have ensured that taxpayers received value for money. It would have been a demonstration that the government was committed to substance. This, in turn, would have gone a long way to ensuring public confidence in the project even, perhaps, while it endured the current implementation problems.

We don't know if the "NBN champions" concept was subject to a cost-benefit analysis but we guess not. It's just an attempt to generate good publicity for a project that is fast becoming a political liability. The best way to champion the NBN would have been to do the due diligence in the first place. Instead, we get another example of a government addicted to spin.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

LIBYA IMPASSE EMBOLDENS SYRIA

US AND WESTERN RESOLVE IS BEING TESTED IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

Amid the barbaric bloodletting in Syria, claims of direct al-Qa'ida involvement in Yemen and assessments by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, that the Libyan conflict is stalemated, it is no wonder influential US senators are demanding more decisive action, including targeting Muammar Gaddafi.

Whether US President Barack Obama likes it or not, dealing effectively with Libya is a touchstone of Western resolve in handling the continuing tumult across the Arab world. The likes of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad are encouraged in their brutal repression by the reality that despite the efforts of the US and the six of its 27 Nato allies who have rallied to the cause, Gaddafi remains in power in Tripoli.

Even UN sanctions appear ineffectual, with new reports claiming Gaddafi has repatriated billions of dollars to Tripoli to be used as a war chest, replicating what Saddam Hussein did before the invasion of Iraq. In the battle with the rebels, there is, as Admiral Mullen says, stalemate, with Gaddafi forces ousted from places like Misratah one day only to resume their bombardment the next.

The influential Republican senator Lindsey Graham argues that the way to end this stalemate is to cut off the head of the snake. He is supported by senator John McCain, who has been at rebel headquarters in Benghazi and argues for the provision of money and weaponry on a scale similar to that given the mujahideen who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama has, from the outset, been extremely cautious. After Iraq and Afghanistan, this is understandable. He has ruled out American boots on the ground and is confined by the UN Security Council resolution. But, as Senator McCain has said, even within those parameters there is more the US could do beyond the modest two unmanned predator drones that have now been committed. The White House should rethink its withdrawal of the C-130 gunships and A-10 attack aircraft that proved so effective at the start of the campaign.

The stakes across the Middle East could not be higher. The despicable regime in Damascus, Iran's closest ally and patron of Hezbollah and Hamas, is following Gaddafi's example in killing its opponents indiscriminately while the UN does nothing. Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a long-standing Western ally against terrorism, has warned that al-Qa'ida is playing a key role in the uprising against him. Senator McCain has said the ongoing stalemate in Libya would play into al-Qa'ida's hands. Even in Egypt, there is cause for concern. Mohammed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, has predicted it will win 75 per cent of the seats in the forthcoming election, and Gamaa al-Islamiya, an al-Qa'ida affiliate, is fast emerging. The US and its European allies need to show greater leadership and decisiveness. Libya was always going to be a critical test of the West's commitment in dealing with the uprisings across the Arab world. Mr Obama should not shrink from it. Despots everywhere need to know he and the West mean business.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

GILLARD IN CHINA NEEDS TO MANAGE THE SYMBIOSIS

THE PRIME MINISTER'S BEIJING VISIT WILL TEST DIPLOMATIC SKILLS.

Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War battle of Kapyong, where Australian soldiers fought valiantly against Chinese aggressors, provided a sobering prelude to Julia Gillard's visit to Beijing today. While trade and shared economic interests will be the preferred focus of both countries, security and human rights issues will always provide tension and present pitfalls. The test for the Prime Minister's diplomatic skills is to get the balance right in her private meetings, including with Premier Wen Jiabao, and in her public statements.

The Lowy Institute's public opinion survey underscores the challenge, showing the Australian people have a realistic but wary attitude towards China. Three-quarters of us believe China's economic growth is good for Australia but 44 per cent see China emerging as a military threat in coming decades. Perhaps most problematic for Ms Gillard is the view of more than half the population that Australia allows too much investment from the Asian giant.

The recent rejection of the proposed Singaporean merger with the Australian Stock Exchange, coming after the collapse of the Chinalco/Rio Tinto deal two years ago, has raised suspicions in Beijing about our openness. Ms Gillard will need to strongly assert Australia's welcoming attitude to Chinese investment, while clearly reserving our right to reject proposals, on a case-by-case basis, if we judge they compromise our national interest. She needs to do this without defining any strict criteria for the national interest test or suggesting it will be invoked eagerly or often. This nuance will require deft diplomacy.

While the Prime Minister might be grateful to be away from domestic political travails, the Chinese might well raise two issues that are troubling her at home. The mining and carbon taxes will exercise China if they are seen to either increase the prices of our resource exports or diminish potential investment in additional capacity. There is an unavoidable paradox here that Ms Gillard will want to step around: she will be assuring China our efforts to put a price on our own pollution will not impede China's energy expansion and, therefore, emissions growth. China's carbon emissions are already 20 times greater than Australia's and they will double by 2025, so the Prime Minister will be grateful for any noises Beijing makes about improving its energy efficiency and reducing the scale of its emissions growth.

On security matters, the Chinese will not have missed the defence focus of Ms Gillard's Japan and South Korea visits, and she must follow this up by registering a firm approach regarding China's maritime posturing and its inability to rein in the recalcitrant North Korean regime. Similarly, the Prime Minister will not want to take a backward step on human rights, although these are adequately addressed in detail through the annual human rights dialogue.

At the core of the Australia-China relationship is a symbiosis of economic interests and a political uneasiness created by our differing democratic values. On the whole, these tensions have been managed adroitly for the past three decades. Stability will be the foundation of increased freedom in China and growing prosperity for both nations.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

WHEN THE TALENT GOES WEST

THERE'S both extraordinary boom and impending gloom on Australia's economic horizon. How this story plays out will depend on how Australia manages the second phase of the mining and energy boom.

On the face of it, the issues seem straightforward. Unprecedented commodity and energy prices are again drawing big money into Australia's mining sector - with an important knock-on effect. As outlined in the Herald this week, demand for labour is expanding so rapidly that Australia is facing an acute skills shortage not only in mining and related energy and construction projects, but in a very long list of support industries. The consequences: some jobs cannot be filled and the trend in Australia's low unemployment rate is further downwards. From a free-market perspective the solution is simple: bring in the skilled workers we need to plug the gaps. If we don't, local wages will blow out, inflation will gallop off and every Australian will feel the sting of rising interest rates.

The social and political issues are, however, not quite so clear-cut. First, policymakers unanimously agree Australia would be better off if it filled as many local jobs as possible by training its own. Yet half of all Australian apprentices fail to complete their qualifications, despite decades of investment in vocational training and numerous projections along the way of skills shortages ahead.

Australia could - and should - do better. Governments are responsible for aligning education and training policies with national economic goals, but industry too must invest long-term in building the skills it needs. The wealth the mining boom is generating cannot be shared unless Australian workers are qualified to take up the opportunities it creates. The risk is a widening schism in Australian society as a multi-speed economy benefits some, but leaves others behind.

However, training takes time and Australia needs labour now. All the more so, as the mining boom coincides with a shrinking Australian labour force as the baby boomers begin to retire.

This brings us back to migration. Australia probably has little choice but to open up jobs to overseas workers through migration or temporary visas. Yet both sides of politics pulled back sharply from generous migration intakes before the last federal election in favour of more popular plans for a ''sustainable'' Australia. The challenge is to strike a balance between two conflicting realities, that of crowded and under-serviced Australian cities and towns keen to limit population growth and that of urgent need for skilled labour to keep economic growth, and future prosperity, on track.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

LANDLORDING IT OVER THE YOUNG

WAYNE SWAN likes to think of himself as a federal Treasurer with the interests of ''working families'' at heart, as no doubt his predecessor, Peter Costello, did. But in fact they are more like promoters of speculators and landlords, if you read the cogent analysis by the widely respected economist Saul Eslake, of the Grattan Institute in Melbourne, in the Herald yesterday.

Eslake was ripping into a core part of Australia's tax system: the institution of negative gearing and the skewed incentives it puts into our economy. As it now stands, income from borrowing and speculating on asset price rises is rewarded by light, in some cases negative, taxation. Income from working for salaries or fees, or from interest on saving, is taxed heavily - indeed at confiscatory levels for some people entering work from spells on various forms of welfare or subsidy.

Australia has an extraordinarily generous treatment of ''geared'' (debt-funded) investments compared with many other advanced economies. Annual losses from interest and other costs can be offset against the taxpayer's other sources of income. In 1999 Costello cut the tax on the eventual sale of the asset being geared to half the income tax rate applied to the taxpayer. By contrast, in the United States investors are allowed to carry forward only losses on the investment to be offset against capital gains on eventual sale.

The increased attractivenessof negative gearing has haddeleterious effects on our economy, chiefly in housing supply, as shown by the tightening rental market in our cities and prohibitive prices for new home buyers. Over the 10 years from Costello's tax break, our landlord class has increased from 1.3 million to 1.7 million, 92 per cent of them investing in existing dwellings, chasing up prices and costing the Treasury up to $4.6 billion from their deductible losses against other income, by Eslake's calculation.

Attacking this syndrome was a key recommendation of the former Treasury secretary Ken Henry in his review of the tax system. It was one of the 19 areas immediately declared off-limits by Swan and his then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, when published a year ago. But it is an issue that refuses to be pushed aside. A courageous move would be a switch to the American model. Less bold tinkering could be a limit to deductibility of interest, a rise in the capital gains tax rate, and increased, faster depreciation allowances for investment in new housing. Our policymakers will eventually have to face it as a matter of inter-generational justice.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

'I DO' DOES NOT MEAN 'WE WON'T'

UNLESS one lives under a rock or on top of an iceberg, there is precious little chance of not knowing there is a wedding in Westminster on Friday. But the regal pomp, felicitous circumstance and - dare we say it - ceaseless celebrity surrounding the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton have little to do with a certain constitutional matter that will still be around long after the carriages and horses are back in the royal stables.

The temptation is to believe that the impending royal wedding has had a direct and serious effect on popular support for Australia to become a republic. Ardent monarchists have, no doubt, taken heart from the inevitable decline in support. For example, last year during the federal election campaign, an Age/Nielsen poll showed that only 44 per cent of respondents wanted a republic. This has weakened further: a Newspoll published yesterday showed support is at its lowest level for 17 years - just 41 per cent of those surveyed support a republic, with only 25 per cent strongly in favour. It is, however, idealistic and simplistic to assume the Wills-and-Kate factor is responsible.

The more abiding reason has much to do with Australia's political leaders and the continuing dissipation over questions of national identity and symbolism. Instead, governments and oppositions have concentrated on more strategic and directly political concerns that they believe will win votes rather than challenge minds. Even when the opportunity was ripe for the former Rudd government to tackle the republic - it was one of the top items raised at the much-heralded 2020 summit in 2008 - the issue was dismissed by Mr Rudd as not being a priority.

His successor, Julia Gillard, shares this attitude, most recently by glibly saying, in effect, that there are just as many monarchists as republicans. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, a Queen's man, prefers to duck the issue because, as he puts it, constitutional change requires bipartisan support.

The truth has more to do with strong, decisive leadership. The polls clearly show that until an Australian government finds the courage to advocate the change to a republic there will not be the stimulus for public enthusiasm and debate. As former prime minister Paul Keating said on the issue in 1995: "Governments can wait for opinion to force their hand, or they can lead. They can wait for the world to change and respond as necessity demands, or they can see the way the world is going and point the way."


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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

CHINA POISED TO CLAIM GLOBAL PRE-EMINENCE

EMPIRES whose power depends on military strength alone rarely maintain their dominance for long. The former Soviet Union is the most recent and conspicuous example of such one-sided suzerainty, but there have been many in world history. In contrast, the United States, which emerged from its Cold War with the Soviet Union as the sole superpower, exercised that power in every sphere: in its global military reach, yes, but also through its many-faceted cultural influence and, above all, because of its economic sway. Since World War II, the US dollar has been the world's reserve currency and the US economy has been the centre of global production as well as the world's biggest market. That pre-eminence, however, is fast disappearing.

According to projections published by the International Monetary Fund, within five years China will overtake the US in real economic output. It will be the first time in the modern era that any country has done so: the Soviet Union never managed to produce more than one-third as many goods and services as the US, and Japan at its peak never managed more than half. China's rise, in contrast, has been meteoric: three decades ago it produced just 2.2 per cent of the world's output but it produces 14 per cent now and is expected to produce more than 18 per cent by 2016. The US share of global output is now 20 per cent but by 2016 it will have sunk below 18 per cent, and the world will have entered a new era. Nominally the US economy will still be the larger, but that will merely reflect the fact that China keeps its currency artificially undervalued and, thereby, its exports competitively cheap.

While Beijing continues to ignore pleas by China's trading partners to relax the exchange controls that peg the value of the yuan to the US dollar, the latter may stagger on as the world's reserve currency. But even that prospect is receding. Three years ago, after steep falls in the value of the dollar arising from the Bush administration's decision to run up the US deficit by cutting taxes while increasing spending on foreign wars, a vice-director of China's central bank noted tersely that the dollar was ''losing its status as the world's currency''. China had been holding reserves of about $US1 trillion but lost about $US100 billion as the currency's value fell. Since then, the Obama administration has encountered its own deficit problems because of the need for stimulatory spending to cushion the impact of the global financial crisis. The US dollar remains weak, and recovery slow and uneven.

All of this means that the US will not be able to deal as confidently and assertively with the new Chinese superpower as it usually did with the Soviet Union. Even US strategic preponderance can be expected to wane: to trim the deficit the administration must start with its massive military budget, and President Barack Obama's planned withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan and refusal to commit ground troops elsewhere do not only derive from a principled reluctance to intervene in other people's wars. Within China, an enhanced global status is likely to intensify the country's conflicts. Those who want democracy and open, accountable government will, rightly, insist that political reforms to complement the economic reforms of the past three decades would be the best means of easing the wider world's apprehensions about Chinese power. The ruling Communist Party's suppression of dissidents in response to the ''jasmine revolutions'' in the Arab world, however, suggests that it is unlikely to heed such arguments from the country's liberal elites. In this uncertain new world order, countries such as Australia that are US allies but economically dependent on China will be in an especially delicate situation. Like the US, Australia will have to hope that China's dissidents eventually prevail.


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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

INVASIVE SPECIES: KILLER SHRIMPS AND ENGLISH PARROTS

Striped and suitably vicious-looking, a creature, which likes to kill its prey without eating it, has arrived from the Black Sea

Dikerogammarus villosus, a visitor to this country so unpopular that even the Environment Agency calls it the killer shrimp, turned up recently in Cardiff Bay and two freshwater reservoirs. It must be the only shrimp in history to have been given its own "wanted" poster by the government. Striped and suitably vicious-looking, the creature, which likes to kill its prey without eating it, has arrived from the Black Sea intent on wiping out northern Europe's rather meeker amphipods. And it is not alone.

Yesterday, it was reported, monk parakeets became the latest invasive species to be targeted by the government. The grey and green birds stand accused of building huge communal nests and causing power blackouts, and the 150 or so that have established themselves in Britain are to be shot (or, if you can offer a secure cage, perhaps rehoused). The much larger population of ring-necked parakeets – a familiar sight in south-west London and found as far north as the Clyde – is harder to control, since it is so well-established, though the GB non-native species secretariat (a sort of biological border patrol) advocates limiting its numbers and is investigating chemical sterilisation.

Is this ecological xenophobia? Take evolutionary theory to its limit and you might think Britain is well-placed to encourage a free for all, with the fittest plants and birds free to survive while others perish. Advocates of open borders and open economies should perhaps not blanch when nature applies the principle of globalisation, too. Homo sapiens arrived in Britain as a migrant about 12,000 years ago and has been bringing new land animals and plants to the country ever since. A diet of purely native species would be unhealthy and limited.

Scientists agree, up to a point. "We must not think that all non-native species are bad," they say. But they also point out that some migrants are far worse than others. There is an official blacklist of invasive non-native species, defined as ones able to damage the "environment, the economy, our health and the way we live". Many thrive here because they lack natural regulation or predators (rather like the global banks that did so much harm in the City). They include such creatures as the African clawed-toad, the leathery sea squirt and the edible dormouse (best served with honey and poppy seeds, according to an ancient Roman recipe). Some, such as the notorious Japanese knotweed, do immense harm. The best response is to limit the arrival and spread of new species. But sometimes eradication is necessary. That's tough for the ruddy duck – an American import culled to 120 birds from 4,400 – but good news, perhaps, for the white-headed duck, otherwise facing extinction.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

THE GUANTÁNAMO FILES: TALE OF TWO PRISONS

Guantánamo embodies the failure of the Afghan war, which began amid bombast in 2001, but which collapsed long ago

As a metaphor for everything that has gone wrong with the Afghan war, the story of two prisons is hard to beat. In one prison, they can't get the remaining inmates out. In the other, they can't keep them in. Either way, the military coalition has been left looking like a fool.

In southern Afghanistan yesterday morning, 475 prisoners, almost all said to be Taliban insurgents, escaped through a tunnel that seems to have been dug under the eyes of their captors. And just as the Taliban were digging their way out, the Guardian and the New York Times were putting online leaked documents describing the management of inmates in that other, more famous prison in Guantánamo Bay. President Obama was elected on a promise to close the latter within a year of taking office. Instead he has abandoned the task with 172 inmates still inside. Some of these, as the Guantánamo files show, are seriously unpleasant and dangerous but others are lesser figures who have become lost in the system after years of abuse and misinformation made them impossible to prosecute or simply homeless, like the Chinese Uighur Muslims, who have nowhere to go.

Either way, Guantánamo embodies the failure of America and Britain's Afghan war, which began amid bombast in 2001, but which collapsed long ago into confusion. The thing that stands out from the newly published Guantánamo files is not the disgraceful self-exempted off-shoring of the rule of law, or even the torture and sustained abuse of inmates – grotesque though these things are, we have long known about them – but the random ineffectiveness of the system. The defence put forward by the people who set Guantánamo up – it was an efficient way of keeping the world safe – is shown to be wrong.

Click through the records of the 779 prisoners who have passed through the Guantánamo system, on the Guardian's interactive guide, and you find an unpredictable mix of the evil, the criminal and the accidental. Some of them fought the west, some of them are doing so again and indeed some may be among the prisoners who escaped yesterday in Kandahar. But as we report today, Guantánamo turned out to be a bad way of gathering intelligence and even worse as a system of justice. The files show that a large amount of the information supposedly collected from prisoners has in fact come from a handful of informants among the inmates. Some of the things they have passed on may be true. Other things are surely false. After nine years of operation, it is impossible to know which.

Guantánamo was and still is a dumping ground for all sorts of people, not (as America once claimed) the distillation of its most extreme enemies. Among the leaked files is a guide for interrogators, telling them what to look out for in order to identify terrorists. It reveals a desperate lack of precision, and a system in which it was almost impossible for inmates to convince anyone of their innocence. One supposed sign of terrorist links was a particular kind of Casio watch. Another was the fact that someone had gone to Afghanistan after 2001. Yet among the original detainees was a 14-year-old boy and an 89-year-old man, neither of whom had anything to do with the Taliban. Imprisoned beyond the rule of law, as enemy combatants, they found themselves part of a cruel and surreal system which sustained itself through its own illegitimacy.

As President Obama has found, once someone has entered the Guantánamo system it has proved very difficult to get them out. The nature of their imprisonment and questioning makes prosecution in a federal court all but impossible. The innocent or insignificant were trapped, or only gradually released. The more that is revealed about Guantánamo, the worse it looks as a way of responding to terrorism. It was a symbol of vengeance, not a system of justice. Read the files and find out why.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … HAZY IMPRECISION

Life is imperfect and its rounded edges and knocks from experience have an appeal

We are often exhorted to define our terms and there is merit in that. Ian Richards and Charles Ogden were not indulging in some donnish jeu d'esprit when they wrote their book The Meaning of Meaning, published in 1923 and never out of print since. But at the same time, there are arguments for imprecision and deliberate vagueness too, and perhaps in the end they are more convincing. Life is imperfect and its rounded edges and knocks from experience have an appeal, a humanity lacking in the absolutely upright and austere. There are virtues in the word "maybe". Instead of a sharp No, "later" is kinder to an impatient child. Haziness also reigns over that other kind and gentle world, the English landscape: mist veiling the fells or dusk gathering around lamps in a dusty street. In this strange late April of warm summer weather and few showers, dusty haze has become the predominant feature of the English landscape, city skylines imprecise and rural scenes as soft as Housman's blue remembered hills. There's often merit in a lack of clarity, not least in politics where the demand for absolute answers in no way reflects the reality of life, where equivocation and uncertainty are usually much closer to the truth. Our greatest artists reflect this in paintings such as Turner's composition of 1844, Rain, Steam and Speed. Royal Academicians complained that the master had lost all form in a haze of light. But it is his images which last and inspire new generations. Not theirs.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

25 YEARS AFTER CHERNOBYL

The world's worst nuclear accident, at Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, marked its 25th anniversary Tuesday amid Japanese anxiety and wavering self-confidence over the March 11 earthquake-tsunami and the resultant nuclear crisis. Power industry people, government leaders, nuclear regulators and nuclear power academics should take a serious view of the severity of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis, now rated at the maximum 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale - the same as for the Chernobyl accident.

Following Chernobyl, Japan's power industry at the time maintained that a similar accident could not happen in Japan because its reactors in use were of a different type than the Soviet-era reactors at the doomed plant in Ukraine.

But what has happened at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has completely undermined the power industry's attempt to convince people that nuclear power generation is risk-free.

When the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency (NISA) raised the severity level at Fukushima from level 5 to level 7 on April 12, it said that the amount of radioactive materials released from the plant was about 10 percent of the quantity discharged at Chernobyl. But if that was an attempt to make the Fukushima crisis look less serious, it is misleading, because the NISA announcement does not take into account the release of contaminated water into the sea. Tens of thousands of people who reside near the Fukushima plant are suffering severe hardships after the government ordered them to leave their homes. More important, Tepco has not yet settled on a way to resolve the nuclear crisis.

In the meantime, radioactive substances continue to leak from the plant. Apart from Tepco's haphazard approach in its attempt to end the crisis, the behavior of the company and that of the government have given rise to suspicions among the Japanese people and the international community that both are hiding vital information.

To keep reliable records of the crisis, a body should be set up with the authority to find out what Tepco, NISA, the Nuclear Safety Commission and the prime minister's headquarters did and did not do. Disclosing any errors committed should be the least of Japan's international obligation.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DISCLOSING RADIATION DATA

The government on April 21 declared a 20-km, no-entry zone around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Violators face fines of up to ¥100,000 and detention of up to 30 days.

The decision affects some 78,000 people. Another government decision, announced the next day, requires residents in some areas outside the zone to evacuate their homes by late May, because the accumulated radiation level over a year since the start of the nuclear crisis on March 11 is likely to reach 20 millisieverts - a safety standard set by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Rice planting in and outside the 20-km zone will be restricted.

People affected by the evacuation orders are incensed. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other government leaders are paying the price for their failure to disclose relevant information in a timely manner and to explain fully the need for the evacuation. Without clear grounds for the directive, people will not comply.

Only in late March did the education ministry disclose radiation levels monitored at 150 locations at a distance of one to 21 km from the stricken nuclear power plant. The ministry's excuse was that it postponed the disclosure after consulting with the government's nuclear disaster countermeasure headquarters. This behavior deepened people's distrust of the government.

The Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) has so far disclosed only two radiation level maps made by SPEEDI, or Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, a computer simulation program that determines or predicts dispersions of radioactive substances released by a nuclear accident based on a division of the nation into geographic grids of 250 by 250 meters each - this despite the fact that the NSC made more than 2,000 maps based on trial calculations.

The government must disclose information on radiation levels at frequent intervals so that people near the nuclear power plant can accurately gauge the risks to their health.

To begin to end the nuclear crisis, the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. must quickly install a system to circulate water to cool the stricken reactors without leaking contaminated water into the environment.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

HOT MONEY PELTING THE BYSTANDERS

BY ANDRES VELASCO

SANTIAGO — Take a taxi in São Paulo nowadays and you will experience the maddening traffic and untidy streets of an emerging-country metropolis. But when the time comes to pay for the ride, you may feel like you are in Boston, Luxemburg, or Zurich: the value of the Brazilian real, like the currencies of many emerging-market countries, is high - and could go higher.

Strong currencies make strong countries, a U.S. policymaker used to say. Emerging-country exporters struggling to retain customers in the wobbly U.S. and European markets feel otherwise.

For decades, developing countries dreamed of a nirvana of sky-high commodity prices and rock-bottom interest rates. Perhaps finance ministers in Lima, Bogota or Jakarta should have been more careful about what they wished for. The problem? An invasion of short-term capital flows fleeing the slow-growth, low-interest-rate advanced countries.

The Inter-American Development Bank reports that $266 billion entered Latin America's seven largest economies in 2010, compared to less than $50 billion a year, on average, between 2000 and 2005. And while only 37 percent of inflows in 2006 were "hot money" that can leave at a moment's notice, last year such inflows accounted for 69 percent of the total.

What is going on? Emerging countries in Latin America, East Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa are innocent bystanders in the tussle between the U.S. and China over currencies and trade imbalances. And the bystanders are absorbing hard blows.

For a decade now, the world economy has suffered from tremendous global imbalances: massive external surpluses in countries like China, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and the oil producers, matched by equally large external deficits in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Spain and others. The imbalances were reduced temporarily as the global financial crisis caused private demand to drop in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. But starting in 2010, the imbalances returned, and according to the International Monetary Fund's recently released World Economic Outlook, they will not shrink between now and 2016. G-20 communiqués have repeatedly pledged to secure "adjustment" and "rebalancing" in the world economy, but those promises have come to nothing.

Still-troubled financial systems and huge fiscal deficits are keeping the West's deficit countries (especially the U.S.) from expanding domestic demand. And an unwillingness to trade away export-led growth is having the same effect on the East's surplus countries (especially China). As a result, emerging countries, according to the IMF, have been pressed to carry "a disproportionate burden of demand rebalancing since the crisis."

Countries running surpluses accumulate massive stocks of foreign assets, and those resources have to be invested somewhere. Before the crisis, a substantial amount of that money was invested in U.S., Spanish, or Irish real estate. Today, that market is dead and the money must go elsewhere. Europe, gripped by a tremendous banking and debt crisis, is not an attractive destination, and loose monetary policy in the U.S. has produced ultra-low bond yields there. As a result, many emerging countries, with their higher interest rates and promising growth prospects, have become irresistibly attractive to investors.

After recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, Wall Street analysts are waxing somewhat less optimistically about emerging countries. And a flat 2011 performance in some Latin American and Asian equity markets - after tremendous runs in 2010 - has taken a bit of sheen off the emerging-market investment fad. But the money keeps coming.

This dollar invasion is making macroeconomic management in emerging countries even more challenging than usual. If high commodity prices are expected to persist, then some strengthening of currencies is both desirable and inevitable. But a thin line separates orderly adjustment to changed conditions from market over-reaction.

Loss of export competitiveness as a result of excessively strong currencies is not the only problem. Massive capital inflows caused real estate and stock market bubbles in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Today, some policymakers in Latin America, worried that the same thing could happen to their countries, are casting about for policy tools to prevent it.

As a result, the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy of "quantitative easing" is going south, where it takes the form of foreign-exchange intervention. If rich-country central banks can buy long-term bonds, then emerging-country central banks can buy dollar-denominated bonds.

Expect macroprudential policies to go south, too - and to be redefined in the process. If buying dollars is not sufficient to stem the appreciation tide, regulators in emerging economies will erect an array of other barriers to keep money out.

None of these policies is without costs. They are local-policy responses to an ineffective mechanism for international adjustment. A better system to rebalance the world economy is as necessary as it is unlikely. All we can look forward to is the next G-20 communiqué.

Andres Velasco, Chile's finance minister (2006-2010), teaches public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. © 2011 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

A JAPANESE CONTRIBUTION TO INDONESIAN LAW

BY T.M. LUTHFI YAZID

Special to The Japan Times

In general, the Indonesia and Japan relationship has been established for more than 50 years, but intensive legal cooperation between the two countries has been conducted for less than 15 years.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency has dispatched legal experts and Japanese lawyers such as Tsutomu Hiraishi, Sozaburo Mitamayama Kawata, and Tamaki Kakuda to Jakarta since 2003. And JICA has invited many judges and lawyers to participate in training. One of the most important contributions from Japan was the implantation of Japanese court-connected mediation (wakai) into the Indonesian legal system.

Although there are some court-connected mediation systems in various jurisdictions, Indonesia prefers to adopt the wakai system, since it is more suitable for Indonesia. In Japan, it has been quite effective in reducing the number of civil disputes since its establishment in 1923.

A thesis written by professor Shigeo Hozumi, titled "The Act for Conciliation of Civil Affairs About Leased Land and Houses After the Great Kanto Earthquake," published in 1924 by Tokyo University, has shown us how the wakai system was effectively and successfully implemented in land disputes right after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Therefore, it's no surprise that there were no land disputes after the big earthquake in Kobe in 1995.

Why should Indonesia adopt the wakai system?

Because Indonesia has a huge backlog of some 16,000 cases at the Supreme Court, level. This court receives up to 800 new cases every month. Of course there are some Japanese investors in the country who have encountered legal problems.

There is a legal step for reducing the backlog - by way of Supreme Court Regulation No. 1 of 2008 on "Court Connected Mediation," which is basically adopted from the wakai system. The purpose of this regulation is to reduce the number of court cases.

Even though this regulation is for civil disputes, the idea also has been to implement such mediation in small criminal cases. This idea has created heavy pro and con debate among legal practitioners.

Another question is, why must the backlog of cases be reduced and court delays be eliminated? Basically, any form of court delay violates human rights principles. Court delays have taken many forms in developing countries.

Court delays are like riding a bus with many passengers in Jakarta, Bangkok or New Delhi. There is no guarantee of the exact time of departure and arrival; whether the driver has just finished drinking alcohol; whether the engine is in good condition; or whether the bus will arrive safely. In a nutshell, there is lots of uncertainty. In such a situation it is commonly said that "it is more important to know the judge than the law."

The Supreme Court is the highest judicial institution in the country. The branches of courts in Indonesia are as follows: (1) general, (2) religious, (3) military and (4) administrative.

At the moment there have been various degrees of special extended jurisdiction, such as Children's Court, Human Rights Court, Fishery Court, the Commercial Court, Labor Court, Anti-Corruption Court, Tax Court, Fishery Court. However the problem is the backlog of cases and court delays. Therefore, it is especially important for us to adopt the wakai system to reduce the number off civil cases.

Five causes of court delays:

• According to Indonesian law, any case from a lower court may go to the High Court and Supreme Court on appeal.

• There is no limit on the number of cases that may be appealed.

• The time between filing a case and hearing the case is unlimited, especially at the Supreme Court level.

• Although, to prevent case delay, the Supreme Court has issued a circular stating that any case brought to court should be completed in six months, not all lower courts comply with this.

• There are obstacles in law enforcement, and awareness among legal practitioners is still inadequate.

In short, it is not easy to overcome the court delays and backlog cases in the Indonesian judicial system. Therefore, to learn from Japan's legal system is vital. At this point, to strengthen ties and legal cooperation between Indonesia and Japan is indispensable.

T.M. Luthfi Yazid, an Indonesian lawyer, is currently teaching at the Gakushuin University Faculty of Law. He is the editor of "WAKAI: A New Approach for Dispute Resolution" (2008) by professor Yoshiro Kusano of Gakushuin University. Views here are his alone (www.lyzlaw.com).

 

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

HEALTH SERVICE: LET THEIR DEATHS NOT BE IN VAIN

First it was the revered Professor Senaka Bibile whose Essential Medicines Concept formulated more than 40 years ago was hailed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is being successfully implemented in more than 100 countries. Tragically his own country, apparently giving into pressure from international power groups including the United States, rejected Prof. Bibile's much acclaimed policy in 1976 and he had no option but to leave the country. One year later he died prematurely,  a sad man because his own country had rejected a policy to restore a health service where the well-being of the patient is given top priority.

More than 30 years after the death of Prof. Bibile, the same fate last week befell his faithful disciple Prof. Kumariah Balasubramaniam who worked closely with Prof. Bibile for about 30 years and then faithfully continued the work for another 30 years till he tragically died last Tuesday. Like Prof. Bibile, Prof. Balasubramaniam also did not seek personal gain or glory, power, popularity or prestige, wealth or possessions.  Instead they worked selflessly, sincerely, sacrificially and quietly for the common good of all people of all races and religions and of generations to come. Essentially Prof. Bibile, Prof. Balasubramaniam and people's health rights groups have been proposing structural changes that will take away injustices and restore a patient-friendly health service.

Sadly the Health Ministry in Sri Lanka appears to be more interested or involved in tackling the symptoms rather than diagnosing and treating the root causes of the ills of the health service. One of the main structural flaws in Sri Lanka's health policy is the lack of a National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) intended mainly to make quality drugs available to all at affordable prices.

As we have said and repeated often, a comprehensive draft, which will benefit millions of people and generations to come was worked out after a dialogue among all stakeholders and submitted to the Health Ministry as far back as July 2005. This dialogue was presided over by Professor Krishantha Weerasuriya, the WHO's South Asian Regional Advisor on Drug policy. Prof. Balasubramaniam who knew not only the vision and goals but also the heart and mind of Prof. Bibile, played a key role in formulating the NMDP.

The Cabinet approved the NMDP in October 2005 and even the Mahinda Chintanaya, the much quoted policy document of President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the November 2005 elections also pledged to implement Prof. Bibile's essential medicines concept whereby Sri Lanka could also save billions in foreign exchange annually by stopping the import ofthousands of non essential drugs that come under highly expensive brand names. The then Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva and the present Minister Maithripala Sirisena have repeatedly promised that legislation to implement the NMDP would be introduced in parliament but as in many other cases the promise has remained a promise and they have not walked the talk. Mr. Sirisena in the latest promise has said the legislation for the NMDP will be introduced in July and we hope he will be more faithful than his predecessor and will be able to resist the massive pressure that comes from vested interests including top ministry officials themselves, transnational drug companies and tragically some medical specialists for whom the legendary parable of the Good Samaritan means little and instead money is the god.

The first step in the NMDP is the appointment of a 12-member Drugs Regulatory Authority comprising eminent medical and pharmacological specialists and a representative of the patients' movement. Two eminent Sri Lankans, Prof. Bibile and Prof. Balasubramaniam have already given their lives to this cause and we hope the Health Ministry will implement their vision and goals as a tribute to two of Sri Lanka's great personalities.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

PRIVATE SECTOR PENSION SCHEME; WHO'S THE REAL BENEFICIARY?

BY NABEELA HUSSAIN

Benefit or rip off? The much talked about and controversial Employees' Pension Benefit Fund (EPBF) Bill for the private sector employees and employees who were denied the right for a pension in 1996, has the trade unionists and employers vehemently opposing it.

It looks to establish a fund for the private sector employees for pension benefits that the employees as well as the employers have been clamouring for years. The bill is expected to ensure a substantial benefit for the private sector employees after retirement, much like the one enjoyed by the public sector employees after their retirement.

So why denounce a scheme that will finally establish what has been asked for years? Trade unionists say that though they want a pension and will contribute to it, it has to be beneficial for the worker, something they do not see taking place in the scheme proposed by the government. Instead, they are demanding for a scheme that includes the proposals from the tri-party body, the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC), to which all matters concerning the workforce are brought before . They all agreed that they did not oppose a pension scheme but want to change the one that was proposed by the government as they had no faith in the fund.

A majority of the members in the NLAC said the EPBF did not guarantee benefits for the employee and lacked an actuarial study, especially those of insurance and pension studies needed for the watertight continuation and running of the fund.  

Purposefully misleading?

Director General of the Employers' Federation of Ceylon (EFC), Ravi Peiris, said the members of the NLAC did not know about the bill until it was approved by the cabinet and presented to Parliament for its first reading. "When we did find out we wrote to the Minister of Labour and asked him to summon an emergency meeting of the NLAC to discuss the bill," he said.     

Trade unionists and the EFC, alike claim they were not consulted or told about the bill until it was presented in Parliament for its first reading earlier this month. "We did bring it up in a NLAC meeting last year after it was put forward as a budget proposal and we were promised comprehensive discussions about the bill before it was presented to Parliament, therefore there it was not discussed again until we got to know that it was approved by the cabinet," Mr. Peiris explained.

During the emergency meeting that took place on April 5, the members of the NLAC were given the second draft of the bill along with the cabinet papers that were presented. "We get three different documents, the drafts that were given was different from the bill that was presented to Parliament," said Inter Company Employees' Union (ICEU), President, Wasantha Samarasinghe.

Mr. Samarasinghe pointed out that among the many conflicting points in the drafts and the bill, there was concern whether the scheme would be voluntary. "We were ensured that the scheme would be voluntary during our meetings but later we found that it has been made mandatory," he explained.

All trade unions in this article together with the EFC allege the bill was being 'sneaked into' Parliament as they, the representatives of the employees in the country did not know about it. "We were not only given a different draft to the bill that is now in Parliament but we also were not told about it," a unionist said.

The Secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU), Bala Tampoe, also pointed out that even though the bill was issued on March 28, the draft given to the NLAC members during the emergency meeting on April 5, were different, which  was presented to Parliament had 51 clauses while, the draft has only 50 with the clause relating to the establishment of a consultative committee for the fund being left out of the draft.

"Though the draft mentions that a fund will be established it does not explain how, whereas the bill has new sub clauses," Mr. Tampoe said. He explained that it was a peculiar situation where the bill drafted by the Finance Ministry was different to the draft presented by the Ministry of Labour to them.

Mr. Tampoe also pointed out that the Secretary to the Labour Ministry had made some propositions regarding the bill dated March 31, a copy of which was circulated at the meeting on April 5. "I only saw the draft  that was presented to Parliament earlier this week and there are material differences between them," he said. A trade union official said the bill was not presented to the members of the NLAC.  

Minister of Labour Relations and Productivity Promotion, Gamini Lokuge however denied claims of the NLAC not being informed of the scheme. "We not only informed them of the scheme but also handed them all the necessary documents of the history relating to the scheme and asked them to submit their suggestions and proposals to make an excellent fund," he said. He also added that studies had been conducted and that the scheme was made accordingly.

Criticism made by trade unions and the EFC

Among the many criticisms levelled at the bill, a majority of the trade unions accused that an actuarial study had not been conducted by the relevant ministries, thereby not having the proper formulas for the fund.

"The bill erroneously presumes that the age of retirement is 60 when this is not so, most retire at 55 although there is no law about it," EFC President Ravi Peiris said.

The fund that is set up by the government will be self -ufficient and funds it own expenses. "If this is a pension by the government for the people, then the government should continuously contribute towards it from the budget, but here they are giving a bond which will be taken out later, so it's not a contribution at all," said UNP MP, Ravi Karunanayake. He questioned as to why the government needed to take the employees money to set up a fund that would give them a pension but had no say how much. Drawing a comparison with other countries Mr. Peiris pointed out that Sri Lanka was beginning a pension scheme for the private sector when other countries with such schemes were looking to end them or increase the age of retirement.

Minister Lokuge argued that it was the responsibility of the government to set up social security  schemes, especially for employees, in line with the ILO's social security convention. "This is an additional benefit the employee will be getting in addition to the EPF and gratuity."

The age factor and the claims to the pension

According to the bill that has been presented to the parliament, a member of the fund only becomes eligible to receive a pension at the age of 60.

ICEU, President, Wasantha Samarasinghe claims the bill unfair for women as they retire when they are 50 and have to wait for 10 years to receive a pension where as men retire at 55 and would only have to wait for five years. The Ministry said that though there were clauses that needed to be changed in the bill they would not be changing the age eligible to receive the pension.

Furthermore, trade unionists point out that the bill is particularly unfair towards the spouse and heirs left behind on the death of a member. "If a member dies his/her spouse will not receive the money that is their entitlement, what is more is that only a child below the age of 18 or who is mentally or physically handicapped would receive 60% of the amount what is there in the account," said Mr. Samarasinghe. Minister Lokuge however said that the 40% of these monies in the persons' account would be re-injected into the fund.

The EPF, ETF and gratuity

Trade unions point out the EPF, the profits from the ETF as well as the gratuity are the right of the employees, and therefore the government should not tamper with it before discussing it with representatives of the employees.

Unions oppose the clauses of the bill that allow the monetary board to invest monies of the fund as it seems fit, ensuring that two thirds of it is invested in government securities. "The bill itself renounces the right to hold anyone responsible if there are losses made from these investments, further more it has categorized theft as an expense, we can see from this that no one will be held responsible if something happens to the money in the fund," said Mr. Marcus.  "Though the President is constitutionally responsible for the fund if something happens to it as the Minister of Finance, we don't see anyone being held responsible," said Mr. Tampoe.

Unions say that with two thirds of the fund invested in government securities, it leaves one third of the money to be invested to where the government pleases. "We have had bad experiences of investments of the EPF that have gone wrong," said Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL) President, Rasseedin."If you look at the first group of members who will be receiving their pension when they are 60 will receive less than the national poverty line average," he said.  Minister Lokuge said that EFP could not be given to anyone unless it was requested and promised that the fund took on the responsibility to hand over the EPF of any of these accounts if the owner was to apply for it.

 

Worst affected?

Bank employees and workers in the export sector are said to be affected the most. "Though the bank employees have asked for a pension scheme since 1996 when they lost the right to a pension we have been patiently asking the government for one, but this is not a scheme that we want," said E. K Vithana, Vice President of the Ceylon Bank Employees Union. 

"We had an agreement with the Finance Ministry, and they have taken bits and pieces of it in an attempt to show that our voices have been heard, but we see this bill as something that is against employees," he said. Mr. Vathana said that banks might have a problem with cash flow as they had paid an enormous sum of money as the employees contribution and gratuity.

He also added that they did not see the bill being fair as it only affected a part of the banks in the country and not all of it.

Mr. Marcus of the FTZWU said that export sector employees would be affected as well. "Many of the   employees who are the backbone of the garment sector do not work for the stipulated 10 years, they work for seven or eight years and they get married and leave, these women will not eligible for a pension and neither will they get back what they have contributed," he said.

Minister Lokuge however, said there were many changes to be made in the bill that would take place while it was debated in parliament. He also added that discussions were ongoing with the Finance Ministry to make provisions for those who have contributed for less than the stipulated number of years to withdraw their contribution.

Action to be taken
Apart from the petition filed at the Supreme Court by the CBEU pointing out the bill was not in line with statutory requirements, trade unions have now formed a joint front  and warned they would be taking serious collective action if the bill is passed in Parliament and if forcibly enacted. They however pointed out that it were the employees who needed to stand up ensure that a public forum was made and the issue taken up as the only thing they could do was to create awareness among the people.

The Bill

Establishment

The bill will be established with the annual profit of the Employees' Trust Fund (EPF), the money of inactive EPF accounts whose members are over the age of 70 and a government bond of Rs. One billion.

Membership of the fund

Any employee in a covered employment and his employer, along with the Commissioner General of Labour shall become a member of the fund immediately after the act is gazetted and shall remain a member as long as there is a sum of money in his account in the fund.

Contributions to the fund by the employee and the employer
The employee will contribute not less than two percent of the monthly gross salary, ten percent of the gratuity of the employee when it can be claimed and not less than two percent of the EPF account of the employee when it can be claimed.   

The employer would contribute not less than two percent of the employee's monthly gross salary.

The contribution of employees who do not have the pension benefit since 1996, will contribute five percent of the monthly gross salary hereafter and also pay in one installment the employee's contribution calculated from the date of joining the institution, if the date is after January 1996, till the date of enactment of the act. The employees of such institution shall also renounce their entitlement to gratuity and pay the total amount of gratuity to be collected in one installment and five percent of the employee's EPF. 

The employer of such institution shall also pay five percent of the employee's gross salary monthly.

Interest on contributions

Members of the fund will receive an interest of not less than two point five percent annually out of the income of the investment of the fund.

Payment of pension and eligibility

A member of the fund who has contributed, between 10 -19 years will receive a pension of 15% of the average salary drawn during the years of their contribution. While members contributing between 20-29 years and 30 years and above would receive 30% and 60% of their average salary drawn during their years of contribution.

While employees with no pension benefit since 1996, would need 20 years of contribution to receive a pension of 30% of their last drawn salary, members contributing for a greater period of time would receive two percent extra for every year of contribution, provided their salary increments were not above 6.5% of the preceding year.

Claims to the pension

If a member,  before claiming his/her benefits after becoming eligible, dies while contributing to the fund but does not become eligible, only a child below the age of 18 years or a child who is certified to be mentally or physically handicapped by a registered medical practitioner would receive 60% of the amount lying in the account of the member in one installment.

If a member ceased to be employed due to permanent incapacity to work as certified by a registered medical practitioner, the member will only receive 60% of the amount lying in the account of the member in one installment.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

ARE WORKERS THE PAWNS OF POLITICAL WHIMS?

It appears that all and sundry who believe that they are persons of importance feels obliged to make announcements over the electronic media , the radio news channels and the print media of their profound views of the report by the UN panel appointed by Ban  Ki-moon. As is usual in our country all other issues are forgotten in this mania to  be in the limelight regarding a panel report which one wonders whether many of them have read or studied. Certain other politicians claim that they will bring in a million farmers to Colombo to express their displeasure at the audacity of the Secretary General of the UN to cast aspersions at this little island paradise and still others are collecting signatures to present the people's displeasure at such an action. Meanwhile the Minister of External Affairs and certain others refer to using the much maligned diplomatic service officers to educate foreign governments especially those that are powerful like our next door neighbour of the very undiplomatic behaviour of expert panel while such countries state they will study the report when it is officially published. Many of us are rather confused because from the noise that is generated and the actions proposed one tends to believe that it is already officially published! Meanwhile another politician perhaps as a testimony of his earlier training has stated come May Day and he will continue to organize rallies bringing in large numbers of people into the city till such time as the report is withdrawn. Perhaps such a gesture maybe considered a bit dangerous cause people's support so solicited may also be used in various other instances to destabilize the situation in the country , after as one Minister stated the report if and when published is a matter for political concern whereas at the moment the government is concentrating on the more economic development of the country which it hopes will in another couple of years reflect a per capita income of almost 4000 dollars though the greatest contribution to the GDP is from the Western province! So we will find the elite in the western province further expanding their financial strength while of course the blue collar and white collar workers are struggling to exist. And in this confusion the Leader of the Opposition claims that he is commencing an inquiry to see which foreign agencies have been responsible in the attempt to destabilize the main opposition party which had in reality very little stabilizing impact on the determination of policies to benefit the marginalized and those below the poverty line!

 Sadly enough all these activities are concentrating on using May day, the workers day to express their political views not on the continuing economic under-development that is persisting in the marginalized provinces, not on the problems facing the fixed wage earner who is facing the ever escalating prices of essential goods. Rather each political party is building up an atmosphere whereby the May Day platform will be used to further his own popularity or gain brownie points from those in authority.

Today unfortunately workers are fragmented under different political parties and as such they are made use of by party leaders and as is happening today extraneous issues are considered worker's issues and no serious action is taken by either the government or the opposition political parties to find a solution to workers problems caused by the escalating cost of living and the fall of the purchasing power of the rupee. Perhaps a true worker leader like A.E Gonnesinha is needed to restore the dignity of the worker and remove him from being a pawn  of political whims.

***************************************


DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

A DISAPPOINTING VERDICT IN PAKISTAN

Since the day in 2002 when she decided to seek punishment for the men who had gang-raped her, Mukhtaran Mai has been a symbol of Pakistani women's struggle against a feudal and patriarchal society in which brutal crimes against women are condoned in the name of honour and custom. In Mukhtaran's case, a panchayat in her village abetted the rape as "punishment" for her 12-year-old brother's alleged illicit relations with a girl of a higher caste. It was expected that, after the treatment meted out to her, Mukhtaran, in keeping with tradition, would conveniently commit suicide, and no liability would fall on any man. But this extraordinarily brave woman, unlettered at the time of the monstrous crime, decided to defy societal taboos to take her attackers to court. It is disappointing that Pakistan's highest court has ruled against her. On April 21, a three-judge bench upheld, by a majority of two to one, the Lahore High Court's acquittal of five men accused of the rape (while confirming the life sentence to a sixth) on the ground of insufficient evidence. The verdict is unsettling for several reasons. In most of South Asia, for reasons that are well known, it is never easy for a woman to make a formal complaint of rape. This verdict sets the bar for evidence so high — in contrast are the evidentiary requirements in a blasphemy case — that it can only act as further discouragement to rape victims seeking justice. It is also bound to add to the prevailing climate of impunity in which such crimes are committed, and serve as encouragement to parallel, anti-women systems of justice such as jirgas and panchayats.

The Hindu
 

As for Mukhtaran Mai, the verdict has shattered the hopes she had placed in the judiciary all these years. With the men she named as her rapists now free, she apprehends danger to her life.

For the women's movement in Pakistan, the Supreme Court decision is a huge setback, and it is no surprise that, after playing an active role in the 2007-09 lawyers' movement for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and an independent judiciary, it should feel let down. In the nine years it has taken for the case to be decided, Mukhtaran has been an inspirational example of women's agency, discarding victimhood to fight her own battle and, alongside, help other women in similar situations. It would indeed be a travesty if her name were to become synonymous with justice denied. Thus far, the Pakistan People's Party government has shown little courage on issues that matter. But given its claim to a progressive vision on women's rights in Pakistan, the least it can do is to press for a review of this verdict.

The Hindu

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

CONSTRUCTING THE MOAT TO HALT A FOREIGN CROSSING INTO SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka can crush the Ban Kin moon-ies (includes Tamil Diaspora, International NGO community, remnants of the UN system, 'white' western nations and Sri Lanka's elite civil society) comfortably but not by living in isolation like a Robinson Crusoe on an island. We need a helping hand from friendly countries, as on the last occasion when an effort to stricture was made before the Human Rights Council during the war.

This time too, the action station could be the Human Rights Council, in an effort to revisit the benevolent resolution passed in our favour. It could be triggered on by an application made by state/s supplicant to the West, HR idealism and the Tamil Diaspora based on the Moon Report at the instigation of the INGOs. An inquiry by the Human Rights Council is a concern as it is a body created by the UN.

Our friends abroad may find it more difficult to rescue with the air polluted with weird allegations of war crimes, if an inquiry is requested?  Humanitarian laws have developed to an extent it is now a prime part of international law and order. True, powerful nations tailor Human Rights selectively to fashion it according to their requirements, but it is a reality we have to learn to live with and Sri Lanka has to manoeuver within this framework. If Al Quida were vanquished would the West want the achievement devalued? Sri Lankas pride lies in ridding terrorism.  

Our foreign friends will require cogent reasons to oppose an application if there is a strong case made for an inquiry by the Human Rights Council. We must provide the build blocks to enable friendly governments to construct the moat to halt a foreign crossing into Sri Lanka.

The ball is in the government's court but the Foreign Ministry is living in cuckoo land. They were deceived by false intelligence reports originating from their UN sources that the Moon report will be tepid until they read the fine print and then acted crass stupidly in demanding it should not be published.

Any simpleton at home knew, from the named appointees to the panel, as inquirers heavily weighted with bias, no cordial report was forthcoming. We should have treated their bluff by attacking the partiality of the Moon panel on being biased at the commencement and alerted the foreign legions on the trash, the panelist would unveil in a report, without waiting till the bomb fell. Instead, we furtively accessed them. To call the UN, to desist publishing the report, is as silly as asking Ban kin Moon not to wear underwear.

The President wisely appointed the LLRC to inquire but the restricted mandate made LLRC's task onerous and their navigational chart showed a voyage without direction from a reliable compass.

 The LLRC members are no moppets; with a few outstanding men in their ranks, they must task the government to hold inquiries into allegations of humanitarian violations, even if such are not reported to the LLRC. They are late in failing to publicly confront the government; in acting swifly on some of they're worthy recommendations. LLRC must show the world they are men not mice to earn international respectability, the prime need of the hour.

The government is laid back, unlike during the war. Government would have done the country proud had they created the mechanism to inquire into human rights violations before being told to do so. If the LLRC does recommend, it should be implemented forthwith. The bottom line is, we must open a window soon. If we delay, as we often do, the curtain will fall on our head.

Speed is of essence. The cases filed against the TRO on terrorist funding have dragged on with adjournments for two years without a single date of trial. The State with a trump in hand has let a moment of glory slip due to the lackadaisical attitude of the Attorney Generals department.

A credible impartial inquiry at home by competent judges, in a special tribunal to eliminate delays, established as against the JVP insurgents, is the best tool to provide our sponsors in the international circuit, a shield to protect foreign interventio into Sri Lanka on war crimes. Any wrongdoer, after a proper inquiry with all available defenses provided, if proved beyond reasonable doubt guilty, calls for punishment. The road show must be in Sri Lanka according to our laws by our judges so that we do not barter our sovereignty.

Notwithstanding the nexus, China and Russia has to Libya, they did not launder the UN decision to declare a no fly zone over Libyan air space as the human violations were grave and Libyans were not taking any meaningful preventive measures except indulging in loose talk? A lesson we must learn.

Russia and China need to earn the respect of the West for commercial and strategic purposes. Russia erred on human rights that led to the boycott of the Moscow Olympics and made China cautiously tread the road to the Peking Olympics. Russia and China will fight for us but they will not die for us.

The Human Rights Council appointed judge Goldberg to report on human rights violations on the part of the Israeli military in the Gaza strip. His report highlighted war crimes of Israel. The Telviv government did not resort to rhetoric and rallies instead responded by holding and faulting the military guilty on proved wrong doings by domestic tribunals and made smithereens of the Goldberg Report in a worthy response.

 Judge Goldberg, a South African Jew, accepted erring and America in view of the internal findings against the military exercised their veto. That was the end of the Gaza fiasco, notwithstanding merits.

Moon has given us a gift with a goon report that can be made pulp. Instead we keep mum with the Foreign Ministry talking rot by relying on technicalities.

Instead the Minister should instruct his selected team of wise men- some with enriched experience in navigating foreign affairs, ironically, during the times of Chandrika Bandaranaike and Ranil Wickremesinghe, that led to a political package, tsunami structure, Cease Fire Agreement, peace resolutions condemning war - all monumental failures with the Minister at the helm; to utilize their inherent talent to write in good English, an exposure on the fragilities of the Moon Report. This document could be a pocket missile to fire at the Moon report.

Foreign Ministry's stupid attempt to co-opt a member of the LLRC, to this committee, was a near fatal error that was repaired fortunately by a vigorous refusal. If left untouched it would have buried the LLRC alive on partiality. In the enemy camp, a game is on to discredit the valued LLRC.

It is time we wake up to a foreign trap laid by such as Roberto Blake who never wanted us to overcome terrorism. Yet, America has correctly advised us, to hold domestic inquiries. We must help to be helped.

***************************************


DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

ARE WORKERS THE PAWNS OF POLITICAL WHIMS?

It appears that all and sundry who believe that they are persons of importance feels obliged to make announcements over the electronic media , the radio news channels and the print media of their profound views of the report by the UN panel appointed by Ban  Ki-moon. As is usual in our country all other issues are forgotten in this mania to  be in the limelight regarding a panel report which one wonders whether many of them have read or studied. Certain other politicians claim that they will bring in a million farmers to Colombo to express their displeasure at the audacity of the Secretary General of the UN to cast aspersions at this little island paradise and still others are collecting signatures to present the people's displeasure at such an action. Meanwhile the Minister of External Affairs and certain others refer to using the much maligned diplomatic service officers to educate foreign governments especially those that are powerful like our next door neighbour of the very undiplomatic behaviour of expert panel while such countries state they will study the report when it is officially published. Many of us are rather confused because from the noise that is generated and the actions proposed one tends to believe that it is already officially published! Meanwhile another politician perhaps as a testimony of his earlier training has stated come May Day and he will continue to organize rallies bringing in large numbers of people into the city till such time as the report is withdrawn. Perhaps such a gesture maybe considered a bit dangerous cause people's support so solicited may also be used in various other instances to destabilize the situation in the country , after as one Minister stated the report if and when published is a matter for political concern whereas at the moment the government is concentrating on the more economic development of the country which it hopes will in another couple of years reflect a per capita income of almost 4000 dollars though the greatest contribution to the GDP is from the Western province! So we will find the elite in the western province further expanding their financial strength while of course the blue collar and white collar workers are struggling to exist. And in this confusion the Leader of the Opposition claims that he is commencing an inquiry to see which foreign agencies have been responsible in the attempt to destabilize the main opposition party which had in reality very little stabilizing impact on the determination of policies to benefit the marginalized and those below the poverty line!

 Sadly enough all these activities are concentrating on using May day, the workers day to express their political views not on the continuing economic under-development that is persisting in the marginalized provinces, not on the problems facing the fixed wage earner who is facing the ever escalating prices of essential goods. Rather each political party is building up an atmosphere whereby the May Day platform will be used to further his own popularity or gain brownie points from those in authority.

Today unfortunately workers are fragmented under different political parties and as such they are made use of by party leaders and as is happening today extraneous issues are considered worker's issues and no serious action is taken by either the government or the opposition political parties to find a solution to workers problems caused by the escalating cost of living and the fall of the purchasing power of the rupee. Perhaps a true worker leader like A.E Gonnesinha is needed to restore the dignity of the worker and remove him from being a pawn  of political whims.

***************************************

 


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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

 

A STING IN THE TAIL...  

BY B COMBER

Wasps, I should make it clear from the start, are among my least favourite of creatures. They buzz, they sting and they give every impression of being stupid, which are three of my least favourite characteristics, yet a paper by two New Zealand scientists in a recent issue of the journal Biology Letters reports an experiment that may cause me to modify my views.

Entitled 'A novel interference behaviour: Invasive wasps remove ants from resources and drop them from a height' (by Julien Grangier and Philip Lester), it gives an eye-witness account of what happened when wasps and ants competed for the same bowl of tinned tuna.

The experimental wasps, I should point out, were much bigger than the ants, some 200 times their weight in fact, but the ants, which were far more numerous than the wasps, were observed to bite or spray acid on the wasps irritatedly if they thought they were getting in the way.

The wasps, on the other hand, could presumably have squished any troublesome acts but instead their main counteraction was to pick up any that offended them in their jaws, fly backwards for a metre or two, then drop the ant in mid-air.

This did not kill or even damage the ant as they landed with a bump but over half the dropped ants did not then return to the food. Interestingly, the more ants were on the food, the further away the wasps dropped them.

This highly restrained behaviour from the wasps surprised and interested me, so I put a call through to New Zealand and asked to talk to a spokeswasp. "Why", I asked it, "are you wasps so humane towards these irritating ants?"

"We can't kill them," it said. "Not on the ground anyway. It's against the UN mandate."

I was astonished. "You mean this ant removal is a UN operation?" I asked.

"Of course it is," the wasp buzzed. "It's all to do with the preservation of tuna stocks in areas of hymenoptera competition. The terms of the resolution are very clear: we have been authorised to set up an anti-ant no-crawl zone around the bowl of tuna in order to protect the tuna from the ants. Gratuitous killing of ants is way beyond our mandate and I can assure you that nothing of that sort has occurred or is likely to occur."

"But a videotape of the experiment clearly shows wasps picking up ants in their mouths, flying off and dropping them from a great height. Are we expected to believe that no wasp has given way to the temptation to chomp down on the ant and kill it?" I asked.

"Have you ever bitten into an ant?" it asked.

"They taste vile, I can tell you. Even Heston Blumenthal would find it hard to make them palatable."

"What about deep frying them and covering them in chocolate?" I said.

"OK," it conceded, "Heston could make them tasty but we're talking raw ants here. Pick 'em up, fly 'em off, drop 'em, the UN says. That's what we do. Must buzz now. Toddle-pip." And we left it at that.

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TEHRAN TIMES

ECITORIAL

GUANTÁNAMO PILED LIE UPON LIE THROUGH THE MOMENTUM OF ITS OWN EXISTENCE

BY JULIAN GLOVER

Let them read the documents. Let them try to tell us after that (as some still do, even now) that the Afghan war was fought well, and fought morally; that Guantánamo was a limited and necessary evil; that there was nothing that amounted to torture; that the prisoners stolen from across the world were almost all fanatics; and that it was necessary for democratic states to excuse themselves from the rule of law in order to save it.

"If you could only know what we can know, you would understand that what we are doing is right," our leaders used to assure us. Well now we really do know -- we have the documents, we have the transcripts of interviews with former prisoners; we have everything it takes to understand the nasty story of Guantánamo, exposed on Monday in 759 leaked documents containing the words of the people who ran the place. And it is obvious that we should have seen through the evasions from the start.

The leaked files published by the Guardian and the New York Times reveal horror that lies only partly in the physical things that were done to inmates -- the desperate brutality of heated isolation cells, restraining straps and forced interrogation. Such things are already grimly familiar and have been widely condemned, and perhaps for the 172 inmates who remain in Camp Delta despite President Obama's promise to close it, they continue in some lesser form. Worse things have been done in war, not least by us British, as emerging evidence from the campaign against the Mau Mau in Kenya should remind us.

But what is given new prominence by these latest Guantánamo files is the cold, incompetent stupidity of the system: a system that tangled up the old and the young, the sick and the innocent. A system in which to say you were not a terrorist might be taken as evidence of your cunning. A system designed less to hand out justice than to process and supply information from inmates, as if they were not humans but items of digital data in some demented storage machine programmed always to reject the answer "No, I was not involved". The clinical idiocy of this dreadful place is the most chilling thing of all, since it strips away even the cynical but persuasive defense: it was harsh but it worked and it kept the world safe.

It didn't work, much of the time. These files show that some of the information collected was garbage and that many of those held knew nothing that could be of use to the people demanding answers from them. Far from securing the fight against terror, the people running the camp faced an absurdist battle to educate a 14-year-old peasant boy kidnapped by an Afghan tribe and treat the dementia, depression and osteoarthritis of an 89-year-old man caught up in a raid on his son's house.

Other cases are just as pathetic. Jamal al-Harith, born Ronald Fiddler in Manchester in 1966, was imprisoned by the Taliban as a possible spy, after being found wandering through Afghanistan as a Muslim convert. In a movement of Kafkaesque horror the Americans held him in Camp X-Ray simply because he had been a prisoner of its enemy. "He was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics," the files record.

Again and again, what stands out from these stories is not some as yet undiscovered horror from the secretive steel-barred and orange-suited compound, but the chaos, the confusion and the casualness of it all. The people who ran this place were not deceived. They too could see that this was not the distillation of evil that the American government claimed it to be, but a shambolic catch from a trawl whose nets had dragged in all sorts of people, many of them by mistake.

Some of the small fry and the innocent were eventually returned (it is important to acknowledge this) but innocence did not exempt them from ill-treatment, or a system of interrogation guided by a note among the files -- GTMO Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants -- that reads as if engineered to prove that people are hiding from the truth. It is no surprise that the files record that one in seven of those detained developed psychiatric illnesses. This was a place that portrayed itself as the ultimate expression of a forensic and rational war run by the most sophisticated power on the planet, with the best intelligence available. The reality was an almost random collection of the bad, the accidental and the irrelevant. The American state can be understood as such, but could never own up.

Among the prisoners are very dangerous men: real terrorists, driven by hate and out to destroy the sort of liberal values we believe superior. Some of them had done things that merited imprisonment (although that does not mean it was necessarily America's duty to seize them). Some are still there. But nine years after that creaking warrior Dick Cheney called the inmates "the worst of a very bad lot", the possibility of prosecution has been polluted by his Guantánamo regime.

As a result Barack Obama -- who was surely serious when he said that he wanted to shut the place -- has failed to make much progress in closing Guantánamo down. The Washington Post recently described the final sad failure of the president's attempt to have Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, prosecuted in a federal court; he will now face a military tribunal of the sort the president once wanted to abolish.

The half-life of the toxic slurry left by Obama's predecessors has made decommissioning the extrajudicial system too difficult. As the documents show, the camp has been left holding a miserable mix of detainees who have nowhere safe to go -- such as Yemenis and Chinese Uighur Muslims -- the demonstrably dangerous and the unprosecutable. Pull it to bits, and some of those still inside will try to hit back at the west (as perhaps 150 of those already released may already be doing). But keeps it going, and this president is dragged back towards his predecessor's disaster.

The final indictment of Guantánamo is not just that it broke the rule of law temporarily, but that by doing so it made the breach permanent. Justified as a way of gathering information from the guilty, it forced the innocent to invent falsehoods as well. The security forces and politicians who permitted the camp often accuse its critics of being simplistic and squeamish. They say that the things that happened inside it were much less nasty than the things the people it contains did to others. In some cases that's right. But the Guantánamo system piled lie upon lie through the momentum of its own existence, until no one could know which those cases were, or what was true.

At times, I have feared that obsessing over the injustices of Guantánamo Bay has become a surrogate for a wider hatred of America. Read the files, and you'll realize that obsession is the only possible humane response.

(Source: The Guardian)

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EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.

 

 

 

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