Only Subscribed user can access the archives

Get full access to our 16 year old archives

Subscribe Now

Already subscribed? Sign In

COVER STORY

23-04-1999

fl160800-Cover

Briefing

The promise of INSAT-2E

cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

INSAT-2E could be a forerunner to the next series of India's satellites that will mark the beginning of an era of long-life mission satellites as the Indian Space Research Organisation enters the new millennium.

R. RAMACHANDRAN recently in Kourou and in Hassan

THE fifth satellite of the second generation Indian National Satellite series, INSAT-2E, was well (as on April 5) on course to being parked in its slot at 83 E in the geostationary orbit (GSO) 36,000 km above the equator. It was launched aboard flight V117 of the European launcher Ariane 42P from the French space centre at Kourou in French Guiana at 3-33 a.m. Indian time on April 3. Ariane 42P denotes an Ariane 4 configuration with two solid strap-on boosters. As the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Dr. K. Kasturirangan, said in Kourou, it was a "textbook launch".

The French launch contractor Arianespace has an enviable track record in launch reliability of over 95 per cent. No wonder then that ISRO prefers to launch its communication satellites on Ariane rather than any other launcher system. INSAT-2E is the sixth INSAT satellite to be launched by Arianespace, and the next satellite, INSAT-3B, which will be the first of ISRO's INSAT-3 series, is also scheduled to go on Ariane later this year. In all likelihood, INSAT-3B will be launched by the new European giant launcher Ariane 5.

Unlike earlier INSAT launches, which were all shared ones with other satellites, V117 was dedicated to INSAT-2E. A dedicated launch results in better orbit injection parameters for a satellite. This, in turn, implies a saving of the on-board propellant and a consequent increase in the life of the satellite from its planned 12 years by at least four months. An increase in INSAT-2E's life also means higher revenue from nine of the satellite's 17 transponders. These transponders have been leased to INTELSAT, the international inter-governmental space consortium created in association with 133 countries. The lease arrangement fetches $10 million a year under an agreement signed on January 30, 1995 between ISRO and INTELSAT. Actually, thanks to a higher 72 MHz bandwidth of two of the leased transponders effectively, INTELSAT gets the capacity of 11 transponders of the nominal 36 MHz bandwidth. (India holds a 2.1 per cent share in INTELSAT and is represented on the board of the company by Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited.) Given the fact that more than half of INSAT-2E's transponder capacity is being leased to INTELSAT under a contractual commitment, the significance of INSAT-2E for India is not so much in the augmentation of telecommunication and television channel capacity that will become available through the remaining eight normal C-band transponders. These will be shared between the Department of Telecom-munications (DoT) and Doordarshan. Doordarshan may acquire a larger share of the transponders. Even after INSAT-2E, there will be a substantial level of unmet demand for transponder capacity for the telecommunications sector.

Among the satellites of the INSAT system, INSAT-1D, launched in 1990, is well past its nominal life and is already in an inclined orbit, the inclination amounting to more than 1. This handicap necessitates continuous tracking by ground systems, which service operators prefer not to undertake for reasons of reliability. Save some internal communication uses of ISRO, INSAT-ID's transponder capacity is, therefore, not available for any operational services. In fact, after INSAT-2E is nudged into its slot, it will be co-located with INSAT-1D and, in order to avoid interference, 1D's transponders will be shut off. To that extent, even if someone wishes to access its inclined orbit, its normal C-band transponder capacity will not be available. As for the rest several unforeseen satellite mishaps in orbit have led to a considerable shortfall in the availability of transponder capacity.

For instance, INSAT-2A is only notionally operational and its transponders are not available to service operators. A problem with its propellant tank design led to a depletion of the on-board propellant. The normal station-keeping operations could not be performed and the satellite has been allowed to drift into an unusable inclination. This satellite too is now being used only for ISRO's internal needs. The final blow came in 1997 when loss of power led to the abandonment of INSAT-2D. Besides all these problems, many of the solid state power amplifiers (SSPA) in the transponders, based on devices known as GaAsFETs, have failed in space, bringing down transponder availability in overall terms.

But for all these problems, the four INSAT-2 satellites, 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D, together should have nominally provided a space segment capacity of 86 transponders. The present transponder availability in the INSAT system is just 59. This includes the 26 transponders of Arabsat-1C, the replacement satellite for INSAT-2D. This satellite was purchased by ISRO with the payment received from the insurance company for the loss of 2D, moved to 55E and renamed INSAT-2DT.

While INSAT-2DT's capacity more than compensates for INSAT-2D's loss in the C-band (used mostly for telephony), the shortfall created by the non-availability of 2A as well has led to ISRO taking on lease an additional 7 C-band transponders from the Thai satellite Thaicom. The non-availability of the entire capacity of INSAT-2E will have an impact on telecom service projections.

Indeed, a crucial component of the growing telecom demand, particularly in VSAT (very small aperture terminal) communication networks for business and emerging users such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs), will remain unaddressed till INSAT-3B goes up. This is owing to the absence of upper extended C (UXC) and Ku bands in INSAT-2E. Extended C-band is where all the existing VSAT services have been given frequency space to operate.

16080041jpg

INSAT is the only satellite system which carries this frequency band after it was released for VSAT use by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and it has been adopted for VSAT communications. INSAT-2D was intended to cater to the growing VSAT networks' space segment needs but its unforeseen failure and subsequent abandonment has created a critical situation for this application.

Moreover, neither Arabsat-1C nor Thaicom has the UXC-band that has been adopted by the INSAT system for VSAT communications. In fact, more than its impact on domestic telecommunications, INSAT-2E will mark ISRO's bid to enter into the international satellite market through its transponder lease arrangement with INTELSAT.

From the domestic perspective, the critical importance of INSAT-2E lies in the meteorological component of its payload. At present there are three INSAT satellites in orbit which carry the meteorological payload - INSAT-1D, INSAT-2A and INSAT-2B. But the infrared (IR) segment of the meteorological payloads in both INSAT-2A and 2B have been rendered non-functional owing to some unforeseen problems in the electrical wiring of this part, resulting in their burnt-out.

INSAT-1D already in a fairly inclined orbit, will soon become unavailable though its meteorological payload will still be operational. As 1D comes to the end of its life, INSAT-2E will become very valuable for the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) for its services including weather forecasting and cyclone warning.

BUT before all these can happen, the launched satellite needs to be guided from its currently elliptical Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), into which it was injected as it separated from the launcher after about 21.5 minutes of lift-off from Kourou, to the designated orbital slot in the circular GSO by a series of orbit raising and orbit trimming manoeuvres. The perigee (the nearest point from the earth) at injection was 250 km and apogee (the farthest point) 36,155 km. After the launch, the first signal from the satellite at ISRO's Master Control Facility at Hassan in Karnataka was received as scheduled after about 30 minutes of lift-off when the satellite in its orbital path in the GTO came within the MCF's radio visibility. All commands from the ground and signals from the satellite indicated that the satellite's health was good.

Of course, on-orbit glitches and unforeseen events are the bane of all space missions and the INSAT programme has had a fair share of those. In the four-satellite INSAT-1 series, 1A was completely lost and 1C had to be abandoned while in the INSAT-2 series, while 2A, 2B and 2C have all had problems of various kinds, including loss of IR visibility and non-availability of transponders, and 2D was totally lost. It is the loss of INSAT-2D that led to a delay in the launching of 2E because a thorough diagnosis of the failure had to be carried out in order that appropriate contingency measures could be incorporated in the already qualified design of INSAT-2E. Otherwise, INSAT-2E was scheduled to be launched in September 1998 aboard Ariane-44L, as in the case of all earlier INSAT-2 launches, as a co-passenger with a satellite of General Electric (GE). Ariane-44L denotes a configuration with four liquid strap-on boosters: the boosters are needed to put a greater payload mass of a shared launch in respective orbits, as against a dedicated launch.

The orbit-raising manoeuvres basically consist of the crucial three firings of the on-board Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM). The first firing, LAMF-1, which is nominally carried out during the third apogee pass, was successfully carried out at 5-50 a.m. on April 4, about 26 hours after the satellite was injected into the GTO. However, the firing lasted only for 16 minutes as against the planned 75 minutes owing to an unexpected on-board computer glitch which sent the system into a 'safe mode' operation. In this mode all thrusting action gets stopped and this caused some concern. Subsequent checks revealed that the satellite's parameters were nominal and that the performance of the LAM during the shorter firing was good. The safe mode was initiated perhaps owing to some random anomaly (which could include problems with the computer processor itself). The satellite was brought back to normal mode by ground commands and was performing nominally. This of course meant a rescheduling of the LAM firings. The problem did not appear to be a serious one and had no implication for the satellite design itself.

16080042jpg

The longer 75-minute LAMF-1 as per the original plan was in keeping with the satellite's higher lift-off mass of 2,550 kg as against 2,000 kg of the other INSAT-2 satellites. This would have been the longest ever firing in a nominal orbit-raising operation among the INSAT-2 satellites. This would have given a velocity increment of 59 per cent, with LAMF-2 and LAMF-3 planned for increments of 37 and 4 per cent respectively. Owing to a shorter firing duration, LAMF-1 has provided a velocity increment of only 12 per cent. LAMF-2 and 3 should have nominally taken place respectively on April 5 and 7. This sequence got altered and LAMF-2 was scheduled for April 6 when the satellite would be at its apogee for the eighth time instead of the nominal third apogee.

Under the altered plan, LAMF-3 may or may not be executed, according to Dr.S. Rangarajan, Director, MCF. If it is not executed a longer LAMF-2 will itself take the satellite into the desired orbit, and it will drift towards final location at 83 E. Since there is no unique sequencing of orbit-raising manoeuvres, the altered sequence will have no impact on the satellite's performance later in orbit, according to him. LASM firings will be followed by a few trimming manoeuvres using on-board thrusters, solar array and sail deployment, putting the satellite in the three-axis stabilised mode, switching on of the payload and their in-orbit tests. Following all these steps, the satellite is expected to be in its final slot after about two weeks of injection into the GTO by Ariane. If everything goes nominally, the satellite will be declared operational soon afterwards.

The launch window is fixed primarily on considerations of obtaining maximum electrical power from the onboard solar array and of getting sufficient earth sensor data for gyro calibration (necessary for proper attitude control). In a shared launch, there is always a compromise made on these counts because what is best for one satellite may not be the best for another. In a dedicated launch, these considerations can be optimised. Indeed, V117 did enable an earlier launch window for INSAT-2E as compared to earlier Ariane launches. Moreover, the injection was done without causing any tilt to the satellite, which allowed for better gyro calibration. Besides, owing to the greater injection velocity available (by about 19 metres per second ), a better transfer orbit was realised. The GTO parameters were 250 km x 36,155 km as against the usual 200 km x 35,936 km. More important, the orbit inclination was only 4 as against the nominal 7 in dual launches. The perigee advantage of 50 km and inclination advantage by 3 means an enormous saving of on-board fuel which otherwise would have been used for trimming manoeuvres.

16080043jpg

Besides, as Dr. Rangarajan pointed out, the fact that the transfer orbit apogee is greater than the geosynchronous value of 36,000 km lends flexibility in guiding the satellite into its slot during its drift phase. This also results in marginal fuel saving. The fuel thus saved will now be available for on-orbit corrections in the satellite's end-of-life phase, its nominal 12-year life will thus increase by about six months. Indeed, the design life is based on a value of the specific impulse (which is related to the rate at which fuel is consumed per unit thrust) for the LAM engine. Apparently, the performance of earlier satellites has shown that LAM has a better specific impulse, which means that less on-board fuel would have been consumed for the required velocity increases during LAMFs. From this perspective, the life-span of 2E may even be longer, up to 15 years.

Notwithstanding the fact that INSAT-2E will augment the telecommunications capacity provided by the INSAT series only in a limited way, it is perhaps the most advanced satellite built so far in terms of technologies used in the hardware and in the payloads. The communications payload has 17 C-band transponders, out of which five are in what is known as the 'lower extended C (LXC) band'. Ten of the channels, including the five in LXC, will have a shaped zonal beam whose coverage will include India, China, West Asia and a major part of South-East Asia. The remaining channels operate through a shaped wide beam whose coverage extends from Central Europe to Australia and includes China and the southern parts of Central Asia. With these, 2E will provide the largest communication coverage ever realised by a satellite in the INSAT series. Dual gridded reflectors, being used for the first time, enable the shaping of the beams in desired ways.

16080044jpg

The choice of LXC, as against UXC in the earlier INSAT-2 satellites, and the shapes of zonal and wide beams were apparently dictated by INTELSAT.

Given these footprints, uplinking to the spacecraft can be done from any point within the wide beam, not just from India. These transponders can provide 12,000 two-way voice links or broadcast about 3100 digitally compressed TV signals or a suitable mix of both.

16080045jpg

According to R. Prasanna, regional representative, INTELSAT, all the leased transponders have been booked by television companies such as Eenadu TV, Sun TV and Vijay TV. Doordarshan has an interest in getting a larger share of the remaining eight C-band transponders on 2E in order to stay in competition with private channels and also have a reach beyond India. It may not be surprising if DoT and VSNL lease INTELSAT capacity for its operations, particularly for some value added services.

INSAT-2E is thus designed to continue and enhance the meteorological services which have been provided by INSAT-ID. It carries an improved version of the Very High Resolution Radiometer (VHRR) and a high resolution Charge Coupled Device (CCD) camera. Besides the usual visible and thermal IR band, the VHRR will have a new water vapour channel. In addition to imaging cloud cover (as is being done now) including the formation and movement of cyclones, the water vapour channel will aid the estimation of water vapour in the clouds and the forecasting of rain. As has been pointed out by Dr. T. N. Krishnamurti, the meteorological expert from Florida State University, the water vapour channel, an old tool in the U.S., European and Japanese satellites, would greatly enhance the study of monsoon. Also, for the first time over India, this will enable the estimation of upper tropospheric winds, those blowing 8 to 12 km above ground level.

The CCD camera is an offshoot of the successful experience of working with such cameras in the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites. This camera operates in three bands - visible, near IR and short wave IR - and with its higher resolution of 1 km, as against 2 km of VHRR, its data will complement the VHRR data and assist in cyclone analysis, local severe storm monitoring, heavy rainfall forecast and so on.

16080046jpg

A short circuit in the power bus, suspected to have been caused by an anomalous charge build-up owing to external factors, led to a loss of earth lock in the use of INSAT-2D. This has led to several changes and contingency measures in the power system of 2E. Now, instead of a single power channel from the solar array, four streams of power channels have been incorporated so that in case of a short circuit only 25 per cent of the power bus would be lost. According to Dr. Rangarajan, any such loss of a part of the bus can at worst lead to a loss of seven transponders in the satellite. However, the bus has been so designed as to ensure that no critical subsystem is lost owing to the non-availability of power. Now it is possible to connect critical subsystems to any part of the bus by a ground command.

Unlike the silicon solar cells in the earlier satellites, 2E's solar array is made of high efficiency gallium arsenide/germanium (GaAs/Ge) based solar cells which have a solar power conversion efficiency of 18 per cent as against 12 to 13 per cent of silicon cells. This means a higher power to area ratio for the array and, coupled with the high-capacity (2 x 60 ampere-hour) nickel-hydrogen (Ni-H) batteries, it enables full payload support during eclipses as well. (Following an outage during an eclipse the stock exchange network in India had to be shut down recently. Earlier only 2 x 28 amp-hr nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries were used.

Besides the CCD camera, the water vapour channel in the VHRR and the GaAs/Ge solar channels, many other products of state-of-the-art technology are being used in INSAT-2E for the first time. For example, in order to dissipate heat from hot spots rapidly, the northern and southern equipment panels of the satellite are embedded with thermal heat pipes filled with anhydrous ammonia. Efficient thermal management is important particularly with regard to Ni-H batteries whose performance is critically dependent on the temperature which has to be maintained at 10 C. Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and hybrid microcircuits (HMCs), designed in-house but fabricated in overseas silicon foundries, have been used for the first time and have helped reduce the volume and mass of the platform electronics packages, thus making the satellite bus more efficient.

16080047jpg

The cuboid structure of INSAT-2E has been built around a corrugated thrust bearing central cylinder that has enabled the mounting of the propellant tanks - only one each for fuel and oxidiser - inside the cylinder itself for the first time. Earlier, in order to provide structural balance, a pair of tanks were used outside the central cylinder which consumed a lot of space. Varying radiation pressure on the solar array causes a season-to-season imbalance. Earlier this use to be countered by firing on-board thrusters. In INSAT-2E, a novel concept based on the principle of shape memory alloy has been employed in the design of two flaps at the end of the array that provides the counterforce.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of INSAT-2E is thus the fact that it is technologically a forerunner to the next series of satellites. INSAT-3 and INSAT-2E will mark the beginning of a new era of long-life mission satellites as ISRO enters a new millennium. This capability should also make ISRO a potential contractor in the world market for designing and building satellites. But in order to realise that potential, a commercial outlook, with quick turnaround times, is required. Maybe it is time to think of creating a corporate set-up under ISRO that functions as the prime contractor for satellites or even high-tech subsystems thereof.

The men behind the mission

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Dr.K. Kasturirangan, ISRO Chairman

Dr. Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan took over as Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in April 1994. Under his leadership, the country's space programme witnessed the successful launch and operationalisation of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). He oversaw the design, development and launching of the world's best remote-sensing satellites, IRS-1C and 1D.

16080081jpg

Before Kasturirangan took over as ISRO Chairman, he was Director, ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore, where he oversaw activities related to the development of the second-generation INSATs, the Indian Remote-sensing Satellites (IRS-1A and 1B) and scientific satellites. He was Project Director for India's first two earth observation satellites - Bhaskara I and II. He is also Chairman, Space Commission, and Secretary, Department of Space.

As an astrophysicist, Kasturirangan continues to take interest in research problems in high energy X-ray, gamma ray astronomy and optical astronomy. His most important research contributions are in the area of high energy astronomy and astrophysics.

Dr. P.S. Goel, Director, ISRO Satellite Centre

Dr. Prem Shanker Goel is the Director of the ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), Bangalore, which builds satellites for India's space missions and is the lead centre for developing satellite technology. The ISAC has built all of India's satellites - from Aryabhata, the first Indian satellite, which was launched in 1975 from Volgograd launch station, to INSAT-2E.

16080082jpg

Among the awards that he has received are the special achievement award for Aryabhata (1975), the Hari Om Ashram Prerit Sarabhai Research Award in System Analysis and Management (1983), and the Om Prakash Bhasin Award for Space and Aerospace Technologies (1995).

Goel, 52, told Frontline on March 12 that the ISAC could integrate three satellites at a time. Work was under way on building INSAT-3B. "There is also the GSAT (the geo-stationary satellite, which is being built by the ISAC). It will go up from our soil using our vehicle," he said.

Dr. S. Rangarajan, Director, MCF, and Director, INSAT Programme

Following the launch of INSAT-2E, attention is focussed on the Master Control Facility (MCF) near Hassan, 220 km from Bangalore, which controls, commands and tracks the satellite.

16080083jpg

Dr. S. Rangarajan joined ISRO in 1978 and worked for satellite missions, including the Bhaskara, APPLE (Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment), IRS and SROSS (Stretched Rohini Satellite Series). He has contributed significantly in the areas of digital signal processing and expert system development for satellite operations.

A.K.S. Gopalan, Director, Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad

A.K.S. Gopalan is the Director of the Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad. The main activities of this centre are in the field of communications and remote-sensing; it was responsible for the realisation of the communication payload for INSAT-2D and both communication and meteorologial payloads for INSAT-2E. Between 1989 and 1995, when Gopalan was the Director of the Advanced Data Processing Research Institute of the Department of Space in Hyderabad, he directed research and development in the areas of image analysis, geographic information systems, photogrammetry/cartography, expert systems/artificial intelligence, microwave remote sensing and so forth. He was earlier Deputy Director of Remote-Sensing at the Space Applications Centre. Gopalan joined ISRO in 1970 and worked in the field of space communications until 1974.

G. Madhavan Nair, Director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre

16080084jpg

G. Madhavan Nair is the Director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) of the ISRO at Valiamala, about 20 km from Thiruvananthapuram. The LPSC makes the propulsion system for the Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) for INSAT-2E, which takes the spacecraft from the oval geostationary transfer orbit to the circular geostationary orbit. It also develops the attitude control thrusters used on board INSAT-2E, which would maintain the satellite orientation so that it would look towards the earth.

Madhavan Nair told Frontline that both the LAM and the attitude control thrusters used bipropellant systems, which are " state-of-the-art and as good as what is available in other countries."

N. Vedachalam, Director, ISRO Inertial Systems Unit

N. Vedachalam is the Director of the ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU), situated at Vattiyoorkavu, Thiruvanantha-puram, which is responsible for fabricating the inertial systems for INSAT-2E. These include the momentum wheel, the attitude reference unit, and the solar array deployment mechanism, which are important elements on board the satellite.

Looking ahead

R. RAMACHANDRAN cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

To complement its technological strengths and remain an effective provider of national satellite communication services and a competitive player in the world space market, ISRO must evolve fresh strategies.

WITH the successful launch of the multi-purpose satellite INSAT-2E - the last of the INSAT-2 series - and given the prospects of its successful operationalisation, the question is: where does the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) go from here?

Like many of its predecessors, INSAT-2E combines telecommunications and meteorological payloads, the former primarily for Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) and Direct Broadcasting Services (DBS). It is claimed that INSAT-2E is the forerunner of the INSAT-3 series in terms of technology, but how does its conceptualisation fare, given the changing scenario in the world satellite business and the emerging telecommunication technologies and services?

Seven years ago, addressing the question of the kind of satellites that would be needed in the first quarter of the next century, Dr. Pramod Kale, a former Director of ISRO's Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad, wrote in the Journal of Spacecraft Technology, an in-house publication of ISRO: "The communication requirements are growing day by day and so are the meteorological requirements. The multi-purpose, multi-user nature of INSAT-1 and INSAT-2 satellites cannot cater to all the growing needs. The time has come now to separate the meteorological requirements and communication requirements and cater to these requirements separately, by designing satellites specifically meant for these purposes."

16080101jpg

INSAT-2C, which was launched in 1995, and INSAT-2D, which was launched in 1997 and subsequently abandoned, were dedicated communication satellites. But INSAT-2E has been configured as a multi-purpose satellite. The reason for not including a meteorological payload in 2C and 2D had less to do with techno-economic considerations than with the fact that sufficient space segment for meteorological operations was available on 1D, 2A and 2B satellites. Indeed, some ISRO scientists maintain that the multi-purpose payload is still cost-effective and point out that a dedicated American meteorological satellite like GOES, with a capability just about the same as that of INSAT-2E, cost more than twice as much as INSAT-2E.

There are reasons for this. Unlike in the case of telecommunications services, the user community in respect of meteorological services is small and not very diverse. Therefore, while it makes sense to have dedicated communication satellites the same cannot be said of meteorological satellites; the latter are thus rendered inefficient users of the "real estate" in space, as space technologists call it. Moreover, even a meteorological payload has to carry some telecommunications payload in order to transmit data. Therefore, further additions of the telecommunications payload lead to a cost benefit in terms of better use of the "real estate". The INSAT multipurpose satellite, as ISRO scientists point out, is a configuration that is optimised from this perspective.

According to these scientists, the concept of a multi-purpose satellite will be invoked in future designs as well. However, INSAT-3D has been configured as a dedicated meteorological satellite and ISRO has not spelt out the economics in this case. Perhaps the fact that it may be launched by the indigenous Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) will make it economically viable.

16080102jpg

IN a multi-purpose satellite, there is a limitation in respect of the total power availability because the design allows for only a single solar array on its south face. Dedicated telecom satellites have symmetrically mounted arrays that generate more power. With the emerging space-based telecommunications technologies, there is an evident shift towards high-frequency bands such as Ku which require greater on-board power. High-power devices, such as the Travelling Wave Tube Amplifiers (TWTAs), occupy more space and entail higher heat generation and, consequently, require more efficient heat dissipation systems, which increase the overall satellite mass. Technological evolution has also led to concepts such as steerable on-board antennae, spot beams that provide higher radiated power over a small area and enable frequency re-use, beam switching and frequency hopping and selectable polarisations. Better electronic devices have also meant greater life in space and this has led to longer spacecraft missions; this in turn has necessitated larger quantities of on-board fuel, which add to the satellite's lift-off mass.

The economics of the above considerations favour a larger transponder capacity on the satellite for better utilisation of the "real estate", and this has resulted in a trend towards satellites of higher and higher mass. It is predicted that by 2005, nearly 50 per cent of the satellites launched will weigh in excess of 4,000 kg (see graph). In general, the weight of the payload delivered in the orbit as a fraction of the total spacecraft mass increases with the spacecraft's mass. The evolution of launchers such as the new Ariane 5 has complemented this trend. Ariane 5 is expected to have a carrying capacity of up to 10 tonnes by the turn of the century.

Besides the evolution in technologies for FSS, Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) have also grown over the years. Although a geostationary satellite can provide MSS to a limited extent within the geographical area of the footprint - as was done with dedicated transponders in specific frequency bands with INSAT-2C and 2D - the technological evolution towards global communication systems with portable equipment, as pioneered by INMARSAT, has led to the concept of Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellite constellations like Iridium, Globalstar and ICO. These systems are configured with tens of satellites, each with a few transponders and masses in the region of hundreds of kilograms. Thus, on the one hand there is a trend towards very heavy geostationary satellites and, on the other, there is the move towards small LEO satellites.

16080103jpg

THE one-tonne-class INSAT-1 was used largely to prove a concept that had been evolved and to validate a system - with both space and ground segments - in operation. The two-tonne-class INSAT-2 system served to establish satellite-building capability, and if it lacked some of the emerging technological elements in its design and configuration, such as the Ku-band capability and spot beams, it was only to be expected considering the limited growth of space-based services in the country. But today the situation is vastly different. With a move towards an open skies policy, the trend is towards digital services, a convergence of computers and communications and the growth of value-added services such as Internet services. So, is the INSAT system geared to meeting these demands as the country moves into the next century?

In general, among the various considerations for designing a satellite configuration, the following are important: communication capacity demand, spread of the ground segment, communication transponder requirements and frequency bands to be used, on-orbit life and launch vehicle capability. In the Indian context, the first of these is driven by domestic policies, and till date the INSAT system has evolved largely to meet the demands of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B). Given the limited technological perspective of these two organisations, the definition of the space segment of the INSAT system, in terms of technology, seems to have been limited by the definition of the ground segment requirements of DoT and I&B even though the technological capability exists within ISRO.

Take the case of the Ku frequency band for Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) communications. While the world was moving towards the use of Ku-band, the INSAT system introduced, for the first time in the world, the upper extended band (UXC) for VSAT operations. Indeed, with lobbies of foreign suppliers of Ku-band systems working overtime, a controversy was generated about a decade ago in technical circles. Dr. N. Seshagiri, Director-General of the National Informatics Centre (NIC), used to criticise ISRO openly for not moving over to Ku.

The basic issue was not ISRO's capability in handling space systems in the Ku-band but an undefined demand in that region of the spectrum. Indeed, as if to prove a point, ISRO carried three Ku transponders each in INSAT-2C and 2D. However, as some ISRO scientists point out, the user agencies could not visualise services occupying more than two Ku transponders for the entire decade. In fact, the 3 Ku transponders on INSAT-2C, which were allocated to the DoT, remain unutilised. The failure of INSAT satellites which carried the UXC transponders has affected VSAT operators.

ISRO's initiative in introducing the UXC-band is a reflection of its technological innovation drive. When the INSAT-2 system was being defined, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) released less than 300 MHz bandwidth each for uplink and downlink in the UXC region for VSAT communications. ISRO has in some sense pioneered the use of this band. It managed to get three slots in the geostationary orbit for using this band. Other countries, which moved in late, have got only one slot. ISRO saw an enormous potential in exploiting this band in the space segment for VSAT operations in the country on a dedicated basis.

The choice between the Ku-band and the UXC is essentially based on two considerations: power limitation and bandwidth limitation. For equivalent capacity, C/UXC transponders require typically one-fifth of the power that Ku transponders require because of the latter's higher frequency and the need to provide greater margins of attenuation in rain and propagational losses. But Ku offers virtually unlimited bandwidth. UXC, on the other hand, has only a 300 MHz bandwidth; given a 40 MHz bandwidth for each transponder, this means that only six transponders can be used from an orbital slot. In other words, while the Ku-band is power-limited, the UXC -band is bandwidth-limited. There are also equipment-related issues. Wavelengths at Ku being smaller, small dish antennae would suffice, whereas for UXC the antennae would be larger. The resultant cost difference for ground systems, however, is marginal, according to ISRO experts. Further, Ku systems were then available off the shelf whereas UXC systems had to be developed indigenously. The Ku -band is also free of interference and is easily coordinated, compared to UXC. For optimal use, all these factors have to be considered, depending on the service envisaged.

16080104jpg

ISRO reasoned thus: if one got into UXC, instead of Ku, with three slots and with two co-located satellites carrying two UXC transponders in each, one would have 12 UXC transponders. On the other hand, as long as the C-band remains the mainstay band for communications, use of the Ku-band would require five times more power just for two Ku-band transponders; in addition, the entire spacecraft would have to be reconfigured with a separate set of antennae for the Ku-band and related on-board hardware. This would lead to a lot of extra satellite mass and extra volume for mounting the Ku hardware because of its dependence on the bulky TWTAs rather than the compact solid state power amplifiers (SSPAs).

The demand for VSAT communications has grown rapidly and far beyond the DoT's projections after the Government decided to allow private operators to use the satellite capacity for VSAT-based business networks. Until then VSATs were being used only for VSAT networks of government agencies, including the DoT. Today there are nearly 9,000 VSAT terminals. Even though the INSAT system has put in space as many as 24 UXC transponders, today there is a crunch on the availability of UXC transponders because of the failure of two satellites - 2A and 2D. The frequent failures of the Fujitsu-made SSPAs on the operational satellites have compounded the situation.

Even so, the problems would not have been so serious if the DoT had not placed restrictions on the use of the available UXC transponders. For example, until recently the DoT had disallowed the use of four UXC transponders by private networks because of problems of coordination and interference with the DoT's own network. It now turns out, as ISRO has demonstrated by gathering data (somewhat belatedly though), that there is no problem at all and these transponders can also be leased out to VSAT operators. Four UXC transponders can easily serve eight small VSAT networks with half a transponder capacity each. A network such as the National Stock Exchange, with 2000 terminals, would require two transponders.

THE problem can be traced to the manner in which transponder capacity is allocated by the INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC), which is subservient to the DoT and the I&B Ministry, without any technical evaluation and assessment of the demands made by the two agencies. At present, besides the requirements of the Defence Department, the ICC divides the transponder capacity entirely between the DoT and I&B Ministry based entirely on the demands made by the two.

This has led to inefficient use of transponder capacity by the two. Even for ordinary telephony, there is no assessment of how efficiently the satellite capacity is used. For example, improved technologies, like digital transmission, can make for more efficient use of the bandwidth and hence the transponder capacity.

Take, for example, the three Ku transponders on INSAT-2C (launched in 1995) which were allocated to the DoT for managing inter-trunk telecommunications traffic by linking Delhi, Bangalore and Sikandarabad. After three years, these links are yet to be established. Moreover, as ISRO pointed out recently, linking these cities through an optical fibre network is far more cost-effective and quicker. However, the DoT wants to go ahead with its plans, without any sense of urgency; as a result the Ku -bands on INSAT-2C are lying idle. In the case of Doordarshan, transponder capacities are often utilised for political ends - for example, for introducing regional services at the whims of Ministers. Unfortunately, the ICC does not seem to be overly concerned about how the bandwidth is utilised. It is learnt that even the projected demand of 134 transponders in the Ninth Plan period has been made arbitrarily.

Another undesirable feature is that transponder requirements of all other customers, such as private VSAT operators, are also coordinated by the DoT. All VSAT operators have to apply to the DoT, which leases out UXC transponders on payment of licence fees. This has led to a situation in which ISRO builds the satellite but the DoT makes money on the satellite transponders by leasing out capacity which it acquired by overstating its needs. Similarly, Doordarshan has leased the unutilised transponder allocated to it to the U.S. television company CNN for $1 million a year. Clearly, there is an urgent need to evolve a policy framework for transponder allocation and use because, besides having a bearing on efficient use of the spectrum, this also has technology implications for satellites that ISRO is designing.

Part of the blame rests with ISRO, which has not taken a proactive approach in making an independent assessment of the demand and developing the space segment accordingly. Even the initiative one saw when it introduced UXC seems to be lacking now. ISRO should have foreseen the rapidly growing VSAT demand in the country, planned for capacity utilisation of transponders and satellites and provided for contingency measures in case of satellite failures. With a new policy in respect of Internet Service Providers (ISP) in place, VSAT communications by ISPs is likely to grow significantly; but no assessment appears to have been made of the growth of this demand. Telecom experts say that VSAT communications is the only way to provide rural telephony (particularly in combination with Wireless in Local Loop (WLL) technology, as pointed out by Dr. S. Chandrashekar, a former ISRO scientist). This demand will also greatly increase in the near future. To meet all these requirements satellite capacity (in Ku or UXC) has to increase vastly and satellite designs have to be evolved accordingly.

16080105jpg

UNFORTUNATELY, the INSAT-3 series of satellites, right up to 3E, seem to be only an extension of INSAT-2E. In terms of their size, mass, technology and number of transponders, they do not seem to be vastly different from the INSAT-2 series (see table) although the need is to provide far greater space segment capacity.

INSAT-3B, with its 12 UXC-band transponders, will be launched before INSAT-3A in order to solve the current crunch in UXC capacity. In terms of new technologies, only INSAT-3C has incorporated frequency re-use, thereby doubling the normal C-band capacity. None of them, however, has features like spot beams, although ISRO scientists say that spot beams may not be of particular relevance to a vast region like India. But the incorporation of such technologies may become important if ISRO wants to enter the global market in a bigger way, beyond its current agreement with INTELSAT.

Most important, having established an industrial base for manufacturing ground systems in the UXC-band, ISRO's next series of satellites do not seem to be geared to giving a push to the use of this band in a big way and consolidate the domestic industry. In fact, the parts relating to SATCOM in the new telecom policy (NTP) of 1999, announced in March, should give ISRO cause for worry. It allows users to avail themselves of transponder capacity from both domestic and foreign satellites, particularly for access to gateways for ISPs. Although this must be done "in consultation with ISRO": what that means administratively and operationally is not clear in the absence of a clear-cut policy for the allocation and leasing of INSAT transponders. The new policy also allows for the use of the Ku-band for communication purposes.

The two elements of the SATCOM policy could together upset ISRO's plans and satellite designs. Unless ISRO makes its own assessment of the growing demand for transponders and adopts a proactive approach, it may find itself unable to provide adequate space segment and may lose customers to foreign satellites. Private telecom operators, for whom use of VSATs is an option, may choose to use foreign satellites that offer the Ku -band unless ISRO makes an aggressive push for the use of the UXC-band, or equivalently, economics permitting, provide adequate Ku-band capacity. The NTP would seem to have accentuated the inadequacy of the INSAT-3 system.

From its configuration, the INSAT-3 series, with its lift-off mass in the two-tonne class like INSAT-2, seems to have been evolved with the limited perspective of the GSLV in mind and not to meet a growing communications demand. However, the irony is that the realisation of the GSLV in an operational mode is likely to take some years and all the satellites in the INSAT-3 series may have to be launched in a procured launch like Ariane. As ISRO, which doubtless has technological strengths, enters the new millennium, a retrospective look seems to suggest that there have been demand-supply mismatches, shortcomings in long-term programme planning and a failure to keep up with trends in satellite technology. These need to be addressed and a mid-course correction may be necessary to evolve fresh strategies that enable ISRO to remain effective as a provider of national satellite communication services and at the same time be a competitive player in the world space market.

An enduring partnership

R. RAMACHANDRAN cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

AT a recent quiz competition at the Indian Space Research Organisation in Bangalore, one of the posers to the young engineers and scientists was: "State the next number in the sequence 3, 24, 51, 58, 81, 97, ..." The answer - 117 - had the participants stumped: the seemingly complex arithmetic series was in fact the sequence of flight numbers of the Ariane launchers that have deployed ISRO's satellites in space, beginning with the experimental Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment (APPLE) in June 1981. Arianespace, the company promoted by the French Government as the launch service provider for the European Space Agency (EAS), was established barely a year earlier and one of the first qualification launches of the ESA's first launch vehicle Ariane 1 carried the Indian spacecraft.

On April 3, this long-standing relationship between the two organisations crossed another milestone when Arianespace's Launch No. 117 injected the 2.5-tonne multipurpose INSAT-2E, the last of ISRO's second-generation INSAT series, into the Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). This was the seventh launch by Arainespace for ISRO. The next one is due in September when the ESA's newly qualified workhorse, Ariane 5, will carry the first of ISRO's next INSAT series, INSAT-3B, into space, in its fifth flight and only its second commercial launch.

Since 1981, and until INSAT-2E's launch, Arianespace has launched five other Indian spacecraft: INSAT-1C in July 1988 (on Flight 24), INSAT-2A in July 1992 (Flight 51), INSAT-2B in July 1993 (Flight 58), INSAT-2C in December 1995 (Flight 81) and INSAT-2D in June 1997 (Flight 97).

The early INSAT launches were aboard U.S. launchers: INSAT-1A on the two-stage McDonnel Douglas' Delta I Launcher 3910 (April 1982), 1B on the STS-8 launch of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Shuttle Transportation System (STS) Challenger (August 1983), and 1D on the three-stage Delta II launcher 4925 (June 1990); however, the efficiency and the success rate of Ariane launches, coupled with the smooth working relationship between ISRO and Arianespace seem to have led ISRO to repose greater faith in the European launcher for its INSAT-2 series.

In fact, according to the original document on the INSAT system, the INSAT-1 series of satellites were specifically designed for launch either with the two-stage Delta 3910/3920 launchers or the space shuttle. The Challenger disaster in 1986 forced ISRO to look for an alternative, and the new Ariane launcher system, with its flexible fairing (the satellite bay), could easily accommodate INSAT-1C's launch in July 1988. Prior commitment to the launch contractor McDonnel Douglas, however, led to INSAT-1D being launched aboard the newly configured Delta II; there was a mishap at the launch site when a crane hook fell on the satellite and damaged its C-band antenna. After this ISRO has stuck to Ariane.

16080131jpg

The launch vehicle for Flight V117 was Ariane 42P, one of the many configurations of the launcher Ariane 4 (2P denotes the two solid booster stages). The bulk of Ariane's launches have been dual payloads, and INSAT-2E was originally scheduled to be launched in September 1998 along with a European satellite, Eutelsat. However, the loss of INSAT-2D owing to a random short circuit in the spacecraft's main bus and the consequent loss of on-board power and earth lock called for modifications in the overall system design of INSAT-2E, leading to a six-month delay.

In the light of its long-standing relationship with ISRO, Arianespace offered to have a dedicated launch for INSAT-2E for $68 million, the launch cost to which it had committed itself earlier even though it would have entailed a small loss to Arianespace. The gesture is, of course, not without a long-term business interest: the INSAT-3 series is coming up; INSAT-3B is already booked on Ariane, and Arianespace would like to ensure that ISRO continues to use its services for 3A, 3D and 3E.

Although the latter satellites of the INSAT-3 series are being designed keeping in mind the launch capability of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) which is under development, the entire INSAT 3 series will in all likelihood have to go on procured launches given the delays in the GSLV programme owing to internal and external factors. And with the established success rate and reliability of Ariane, the launcher-customer relationship between Arianespace and ISRO is likely to continue into the next millennium.

The collaboration entered a new phase in 1998 when Arianespace and ISRO'S marketing arm Antrix Corporation signed an agreement for the joint marketing of ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Arianespace's Ariane 5 to launch auxiliary payloads in the weight class of up to 100 kg, termed as microsatellites. Under this cooperative agreement, the two agencies formed a Committee for Auxiliary Payload Policy Execution (CAPE) in order to encourage and enlarge the launch opportunities for small satellites.

Both Antrix and Arianespace will establish a common User's Manual for auxiliary payloads that will be compatible with both PSLV and Ariane 5. This will facilitate the ability of users to launch their small satellites either with Ariane 5's ASAP (Ariane Structure for Auxiliary Payloads) system or the Specific Auxiliary Payload Structure (SAPS) developed for the PSLV. The third developmental launch of the PSLV is scheduled for mid-May; it will carry two microsatellites, KITSAT (of South Korea) and the German TUBSAT, as auxiliary payloads besides Oceansat (IRS-P4), the one-tonne class Indian remote-sensing satellite for ocean studies. A top Arianespace official is expected to witness the launch.

The potential of the PSLV to launch replacement satellites for low earth orbiting (LEO) constellation communication systems like Iridium, Globalstar, ICO and so on is also under discussion between the two agencies. A capability to launch satellites at desired inclined orbits would be required for this purpose. Indeed, in the emerging scenario in the launch service market, with increasing demand for launch capacity on the one hand and criticality of time-frame for global telecommunication systems based on LEO satellite constellations on the other, such joint services are likely to be the order of the day. Already, a joint Russian-European arrangement called Starsem has been formed with Arianespace as its launch contractor which will offer services of the Russian Soyuz launcher and the Ariane. A cluster of six Globalstar satellites were recently launched by Arianespace aboard Soyuz.

Support systems on the ground

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Having taken control of INSAT-2E, the Master Control Facility near Hassan works to park the satellite in its orbit and manage and monitor its operations.

On March 30, four days before the launch of INSAT-2E, the air was one of tense expectation at the Mission Control Facility (MCF) of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) near Hassan, 220 km from Bangalore. The MCF is the nerve-centre that manages INSAT-2E right from its injection into orbit through its entire life in space.

Dr. S. Rangarajan, Director of the MCF and also the INSAT programme, said that all systems at the MCF were geared for the launch. "There is a lot of excitement in the air," he said.

Early on April 3, the day of the launch, the tension was palpable: several hundred experts from ISRO and the user agencies of INSAT-2E sat before their computer consoles and watched the countdown for the Ariane 4 lift-off. Eight minutes after the satellite was injected into the geostationary transfer orbit, the MCF "acquired" the spacecraft for the first time.

It is from the MCF that commands are given to fire the liquid apogee motors on board INSAT-2E in order to raise it in stages from the geostationary transfer orbit to the geostationary orbit proper at an altitude of 36,000 km. It is from the MCF that commands are given to the satellite to switch on the batteries aboard the spacecraft; deploy its solar panels, solar array and antenna; and switch on its telecommunications and meteorological payloads. It is from here that commands are sent to orient the satellite in the correct longitude and nudge it into its final parking slot. It is the MCF that receives signals from the satellite which show how its sub-systems are working. In sum, the MCF is responsible for operationalising INSAT-2E and monitoring its health.

A few hours after the launch, D. Ravindranath, Group Director, Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network, MCF, told Frontline: "The satellite is healthy. All systems are working normally. Twenty-nine minutes after lift-off we got the first AOS (acquisition of spacecraft)." Ravindranath said that the rehearsal for the apogee motor firing took place after the first AOS and that it went off well.

HASSAN is situated close to the grand temples built by Hoysala kings at Belur and Halebid, and the MCF is located in picturesque surroundings on an area of 17.2 hectares. The site was chosen, Rangarajan said, "because it suited us geographically, geologically and logistically." The Karnataka Government offered the land. According to S. Krishnamurthy, Director, Publications, ISRO, the site was relatively calm and free of noise and encountered less terrestrial transmission than some other sites proposed. "Even if the signal from the satellite is weak, we should be able to pick it up. There should be no interference."

16080161jpg

Rangarajan said that INSAT-2E, which weighed 2,550 kg, was the heaviest satellite built so far by ISRO. Its projected life-span, 12 years, is the longest for a satellite in the INSAT series. The Space Applications Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad designed and made the communications and the meteorological payloads of INSAT-2E. The ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) in Bangalore made the bus systems and the power systems. The Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre in Thiruvananthapuram made the propulsion systems, liquid apogee motors and control systems. The ISAC integrated the entire satellite.

Rangarajan said that INSAT-2E cost between Rs.200 and Rs.220 crores to build. The total investment, including the cost of the satellite, payment to Arianespace and the insurance premium, was Rs.550 crores. When fully deployed, the satellite would measure 25 metres - about the height of an eight-storey building - from end to end, including the long boom and the sail on top.

THERE are three state-of-the-art facilities at the heart of the MCF. They are the Spacecraft Control Centre, the Mission Control Centre and the earth stations, namely, an array of antennae to beam commands to the satellite, receive signals from it and track it.

All operations of the satellite, including on-orbit operations, are controlled from the Spacecraft Control Centre. Ravindranath said: "All commands to the satellite are given from here."

The Mission Control Centre is, according to Krishnamurthy, "the focal point for all operations". It is from here that all designers of the sub-systems of the satellite remain in touch with Mission Director M. Annadurai. Should anything go wrong with any of the sub-systems of the satellite, instructions for corrections go out from here. The Mission Control Centre also receives telemetry from the satellite, that is, signals which provide information on its health. The designers keep track of the data coming in in respect of the sub-systems they designed, including the inertial systems, control systems, propulsion systems and sensors. They keep tabs on the temperature, heat and other parameters of the sub-systems.

K. Suriyanarayan Sharma, mission head, said that if there was any deviation from the range of limits in respect of the sensor parameters, an alarm was sounded and the designer concerned got in touch with the Mission Director and coordinated action was taken.

The earth stations - the array of antennae - provide the link between the satellite and the MCF. At the MCF, there are three full-motion and about a dozen limited-motion antennae. The full-motion antennae can be turned around 360 and in elevation can be lifted from zero to 90.

According to Ravindranath, the full-motion antennae serve three purposes: they receive signals from the satellite, send commands to the satellite, and help determine where the satellite is in orbit, which is called tracking through ranging.

After INSAT-2E goes into the final slot, the limited-motion antennae are sufficient to control and monitor the satellite.

16080162jpg

For the INSAT-2E mission, a full-motion antenna 11 metres in diameter serves as the prime station: it will be the first to receive the signal from INSAT-2E, and it is from this station that commands are sent to the satellite. Data received from the satellite are transmitted to the Spacecraft Control Centre.

B.V. Kanade, Group Director, MCF, said that after the payloads were switched on, the users would start using INSAT-2E for telecommunications and meteorological purposes.

Ravindranath said that one more full-motion antenna and another limited-motion antenna were being built at the MCF to cater to INSAT-3B, which would be launched from Kourou later this year.

Rangarajan said that the MCF could handle the operations of 12 INSAT-class spacecraft at a time. The MCF would fully support the indigenously built GSAT, to be launched by the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from Sriharikota by the end of this year or in early 2000. The MCF Director said: "Hassan will take care of all our spacecraft in geostationary orbit. Expansion goes on parallelly." He said that of the Rs.16 crores that was spent a year on the MCF, 40 per cent went towards augmentation of the facilities.

INSAT-2E is expected to last 12 years in space. The other second-generation INSATs had a projected life-span of seven years each. Rangarajan said that the life of a satellite was determined not only by the amount of propellant on board but by the status of other systems. "If the batteries are off, you cannot run the show in the transponders or any of the sub-systems. Reliability of the bus, payloads and propellant availability decides the mission life," he said.

The MCF has made big money for Anterix Corporation, the commercial arm of ISRO. Its Director said the MCF did the orbit-raising for a LockheedMartin satellite and payloads testing for two PanAm satellites, PAS 4 and PAS 7. "We got $150-200 million for each of these satellites. We trained recruits for Arabsat in Riyadh. The training was a success. We have got very good manpower at the MCF," Rangarajan said.

TERMINAL CRISIS

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

With the BJP setting its face against giving in to the demands made by coalition partner Jayalalitha and the AIADMK leader deciding to look for new political partners, the Government at the Centre faces the toughest test in its year-long career.

Just a fortnight into its second year, the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government was witnessing the script of its demise being authored from three different directions. In Chennai, All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Jayalalitha was preparing to take her bloc of 19 in the Lok Sabha out of the ruling coalition. Although willing to grant the Prime Minister a reasonable length of time in which to concede her demands, she was fairly categorical that the gravity of her warning this time around was of a different order compared to previous instances.

At several points of time in the past the reluctant partners have gone to the verge of parting ways, only to retreat in an air of feigned mutual goodwill. But things are clearly different this time around. A meeting of the Union Cabinet on April 5 saw the entire AIADMK contingent staying away. At his customary media briefing following the Cabinet meeting, Union Minister Pramod Mahajan refused to be drawn out on the issue. It is for the AIADMK members to decide whether any useful purpose would be served by their continuance in the Cabinet, he said.

Meeting concurrently in Panaji, the Bharatiya Janata Party National Executive set its face against making the slightest concession to its truculent ally from Chennai. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam was particularly obdurate. After having precipitated the confrontation through a sharp jibe against Jayalalitha, he insisted that he saw no cause for contrition. The ultimatum that the AIADMK chief should either conform or quit was made in his personal capacity and hence called for no apology.

It is of course an inherent curiosity of the situation that Kumaramangalam thought little of putting the future of the ruling coalition at stake in the cause of expressing his personal opinion. But then, the BJP-led coalition at the Centre has been nothing if not a curious amalgam where personal proclivities acquire a disproportionate political moment.

As the principal belligerents in Goa and Chennai were preparing for their climactic engagement, a supporting cast in Delhi was being primed for the drama that will inevitably ensue. The BJP made known its intention to seek a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha as an effort to counter Jayalalitha's threat of withdrawal of support. But Subramanian Swamy, a one-time bitter opponent who transformed himself into a loyal strategist and factotum of the AIADMK boss, was already launched on his strategy of preemption. A no-confidence motion would be introduced as soon as the Lok Sabha resumed its Budget session on April 15, said Subramanian Swamy. Speaking with the fervour of a man recently restored to political relevance, the Janata Party leader affirmed that the AIADMK's withdrawal from the BJP-led coalition would lead not merely to the collapse of the Vajpayee Government, but also the constitution of an alternative formation which would be far more stable and efficient.

For the BJP-led coalition, the reckless and ill-considered dismissal of an armed forces commander in December seemed to be inexorably leading to the outcome that the more perceptive observers had predicted right then. Having ventured out early to do battle against a man he chose to portray as a mutinous Admiral, Defence Minister George Fernandes was forced to retreat for fear of suffering mortal injury from the sense of outrage he had stirred up. He then chose to initiate a sustained campaign of attrition through the media, again emerging distinctly the loser.

The moment of reckoning came when Parliament met for its Budget session. The initial recourse was to the strategy of evasion. The Government would not concede the demand for a parliamentary discussion on the matter of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, said Fernandes, because of the sensitive national security issues involved.

In the desperation of the moment, Fernandes was clearly prepared to economise on the truth and run perilously close to inviting charges of misleading Parliament. But every effort to dodge the norms of parliamentary accountability only seemed to accelerate the pace of events. By persistently rebuffing the minimal demand for a debate on the Bhagwat issue, the Vajpayee Government only succeeded in eliciting a maximal set of demands from within its own ranks.

Jayalalitha began with the observation that a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the Bhagwat affair seemed both appropriate and necessary. She then proceeded to put two other options before the Government, either of which would seemingly have satisfied her - that Bhagwat be reinstated in command of the Navy or that Fernandes be moved out of the Defence Ministry and given a less sensitive portfolio.

Further stonewalling by the Government led in quick time to the compounding of these demands. Jayalalitha's minimal requirement today is that all three conditions be met - the constitution of a JPC, the dismissal of Fernandes and the reinstatement of Bhagwat. There is no escape hatch visible, since the consequence of accepting any one of these demands would be to invite a withering assault on the Vajpayee Government from another flank.

Apologists for the Government are trying to cast the current crisis in a continuum with Jayalalitha's established record of whimsical behaviour. This has failed to carry any conviction. Reasonable opinion seems overwhelmingly in favour of Jayalalitha on the Bhagwat issue. Indeed, the indications are that the Government quite deliberately raised the pitch of confrontation in its latest skirmish with Jayalalitha, precisely because it could not conceive of submitting to any form of inquiry on the circumstances leading up to the dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat.

Unmindful of his status as the man whose conduct in office was under scrutiny, Fernandes was designated as the official spokesman for the ruling coalition's Coordination Committee meeting of March 27. As was to be expected, he sought to put a gloss of unanimity over the committee's deliberations. This was another instance in a consistent record of misrepresenting facts, since the Coordination Committee was by no means unanimous on the Bhagwat question. Jayalalitha had endorsed the demand for a further inquiry, and was overruled by the rest of the committee, but clearly affirmed that she did not share the opinion of the majority.

16080181jpg

THERE was obviously an unseen hand controlling the orchestrated reactions of outrage at Jayalalitha's subsequent public utterances. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam came up with his justly famous "conform or quit" ultimatum. Digvijay Singh of the Samata Party deprecated the AIADMK's persistent breaches of coalition decorum. More provocatively, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee called into question Jayalalitha's entire record in politics, pointedly drawing attention to the multiplicity of corruption cases against her.

The reaction from the AIADMK headquarters was swift. The BJP leadership only needed to drop the slightest hint and the party's representative would be at the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan to inform the President that the Vajpayee Government no longer enjoyed its confidence. There was no solace to be gained from the belief that no alternative coalition could be worked out within the prevailing calculus of the Lok Sabha. The AIADMK seems altogether more positive about an alliance with the Congress today, or as its formal response to the Kumaramangalam ultimatum puts it - the traditional ally which was cleansed of its undesirable elements in 1996 offers more constructive options in political cooperation today than the BJP.

16080182jpg

Finally it is the chemistry between two women politicians - Jayalalitha and Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi - that seems to be driving the new phase of political engagement. Their meeting at a tea party hosted by Subramanian Swamy in New Delhi was brief. Little of substantive political import could have been discussed, though Jayalalitha chose in rather poor taste to describe the event as a "political earthquake", trivialising the tragedy that had affected a vast swathe of northern India just the previous day. But for all the sense of anticipation that had been generated in the preceding days, the actual meeting between the two leaders seemed rather inconsequential.

A degree of coordination, though, is apparent in the manner in which the two leaders have chosen to focus their attack on a point of extreme vulnerability for the BJP-led Government. Yet it remains to be seen how far they will be able to work out mutually acceptable rules of engagement, beyond their common endeavour to hold Fernandes accountable for the Bhagwat affair. Jayalalitha has repeatedly shown over the past year that without a bailiwick in Chennai to keep her occupied, she can be a persistent threat to the political dispensation at the Centre. If they want to work out a viable arrangement among themselves, the Congress(I) would have, if anything, to be even more attentive to her multiple insecurities than the BJP has been.

Political modesty has seldom been an attribute that could be applied to Jayalalitha. Since she arrested what seemed an irreversible plunge into electoral oblivion to emerge as the most important prop of the BJP-led Government at the Centre, the whimsical and imperious chief of the AIADMK has been the focus of much speculative psychological analysis. It seemed for long that deep political insecurities were her only motivation. She had ample reason to worry. Her five years at the helm in Tamil Nadu had ended in the most ignominious rout ever of an incumbent Chief Minister. And the successor Government led by bitter rival M. Karunanidhi had set in motion legal proceedings in a clutch of corruption cases, in the evident belief that summary conviction was the only way to quell any possible challenge she may pose in future.

The dismissal of the elected State Government in Tamil Nadu is obviously the outcome that Jayalalitha has sought, though the curbing of its lawful authority to punish gross financial malfeasance would have been a satisfactory stop-gap arrangement. In having coerced the BJP-led Government at the Centre to trample upon judicial proprieties and its own sense of morality, Jayalalitha seemed, not long ago, to have achieved her main purpose. But just when the law officers of the Central Government were putting their efforts into rationalising the disbanding of the special courts that the Karunanidhi Government had constituted exclusively for cases relating to her, Jayalalitha has chosen to open another front in her battle with the Vajpayee Government.

16080183jpg

TO those who believe that politics is all about rational calculation and the careful evaluation of all possibilities, this must seem a rather wild and impulsive pattern of behaviour. But an innate sense of shrewdness is evident in the manner that Jayalalitha has mounted pressure on the BJP and its other allies over their most obvious administrative misdemeanours. First it was the transfer last September of the upright and energetic Director of the Enforcement Directorate, M.K. Bezboruah - a decision the BJP had to rescind under the pressure of judicial stricture, but not before suffering a stinging rebuke from its ally in Tamil Nadu. Now it is the dismissal of a Chief of the Naval Staff for reasons still unclear, but known to be unsavoury in the extreme.

16080184jpg

Further movement would depend upon the inclinations of the Congress(I), in particular upon its willingness to enter into a coalitional arrangement that would be replete with the potential for threats and blackmail. The Left parties would be key players in the emerging scenario, but they are yet unwilling to discuss any specific commitments. Before doing so, they would need to sort out several dilemmas related to their participation in the revival of the Third Force. The Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (or the alliance of the two Yadav chieftains of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) is likely to have fewer compunctions, though in the long term, the Congress(I) strategy for reinventing itself designates their traditional constituencies as the prime focus of attention.

Whatever contours the new alignments take, there is no denying that they will be as laden with the potential for conflict as anything seen till now. This is part of the reason the Congress(I) has been noticeably reticent about forcing the pace of events. Between dealing with the cumbersome arithmetic of the 12th Lok Sabha and starting life anew after a fresh round of elections, the Congress(I) clearly prefers the latter. For this and a variety of other reasons, it would seem a safe bet that India could witness another round of elections before the end of the year and the turn of the century. And yet, it may be not quite so safe a guess that the new century will bring a new paradigm of politics or the prospect of greater stability.

Gloomy in Goa

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

IF the Bangalore meeting of the National Executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party in January 1999 saw the surfacing of tensions between the organisational and parliamentary wings of the party, the April 2-4 National Executive meeting in Panaji, Goa, brought to the fore the strains between the BJP and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). This meeting was planned to coincide with the completion of the first year of the BJP in office, and was to have been an occasion for self-congratulation. The celebratory mood was dampened by the ultimatum presented by AIADMK leader Jayalalitha. The will-she-won't-she question on whether and when Jayalalitha would quit the alliance hung over the Panaji meeting. For the BJP leadership, this came as a painful reminder of just how critical her support is to the survival of the Government.

By sticking to her demands for the reinstatement of the dismissed Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, and the transfer of George Fernandes from the Ministry of Defence, Jayalalitha virtually closed whatever little space for negotiations that existed for a compromise to be reached with the BJP leadership. It became clear from the views that emerged at the National Executive that the BJP, which will not accept the reinstatement of Bhagwat under any circumstances, is preparing for what it considers inevitable - a test of confidence when Parliament resumes. "Let the Opposition bring a vote of confidence in Parliament," Vajpayee said after the meeting. "We welcome it. It is yet another opportunity for us to prove our strength in the House." An even more optimistic view aired by some leaders at the meeting was that the BJP Government could even continue as a minority government as there were very few MPs or parties prepared for another general election at this stage.

"Her demands are absurd and unimplementable," M. Venkaiah Naidu, general secretary of the BJP, told Frontline. "The Bhagwat issue was discussed threadbare at the Coordination Committee. The collective decision was that it was a necessary decision." The demand for the reinstatement of Bhagwat was not the "real issue", he said. "The real issue is the destabilisation of the Government."

16080201jpg

In his concluding remarks to the National Executive, Vajpayee rejected the demand "made by one of our allies for the reinstatement of the sacked naval chief." Such a move, he said, would "seriously violate national security".

There was, however, a perceptible softening of the earlier stance of the BJP as regards the Opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to be set up to probe the Bhagwat affair. Several leaders who attended the National Executive meeting expressed the view that the Government could concede the demand for a JPC, provided there is a discussion on it in Parliament and the "Opposition presents a prima facie case on the veracity of allegations of corruption in defence deals," as a senior party source said.

COALITION problems apart, the most significant development in the internal politics of the party between the Bangalore meet and the Panaji one is the consolidation of the leadership of Vajpayee, and the foregrounding of the interests of the Government over those of the party. The Bangalore meeting witnessed a strong attempt by a section led by party president Kushabhau Thakre to establish the supremacy of the party and its right to involve itself in matters of governance. This section felt that the ideological purity of the party could not be sacrificed for the compulsions of office. The blame for the setbacks suffered by the party in the Assembly elections in November 1998 was laid at the door of the BJP Government.

The two issues on which serious differences of opinion surfaced was the 'non-swadeshi' thrust of the Government's economic policies and the failure of the Government to rein in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, the two organisations from the Sangh Parivar that were directly involved in the attacks on Christians in Gujarat's Dangs district and elsewhere. At the end of a stormy session, the parliamentary wing gained the upper hand in Bangalore and the meet closed with Vajpayee emerging stronger.

In sharp contrast to the tenor and content of his last presidential address, Thakre's opening remarks in Panaji were devoted almost wholly to singing the praises of the Vajpayee Government and its performance during its first year in office. It was a subdued Thakre who spoke here, taking upon the party organisation the blame for the poor performance in the Assembly elections in November. He also underlined the importance of the next round of State elections, beginning with Goa in May and Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka at the end of the year, for the Government's image and the party's growth.

The political resolution adopted at the National Executive meeting was a more detailed version of Thakre's speech. The four Bs, the resolution stated - Bomb, Bus, Budget and Bihar - have increased the popularity of the BJP government bu such an extent that the Opposition, comprising the Congress(I), the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal reacted by trying to disrupt governance and destroy the foundation of parliamentary democracy.

The resolution made a mention of the Bhagwat issue, defended its use of Article 356 in Bihar and termed the attacks on Christians part of an "externally-aided, orchestrated campaign" by those who are "trying to exploit communal sentiments for electoral gains." The Government was committed to true secularism - "sarva panth samabhav" - the resolution stated. It made the rather questionable claim that for India, 1998 was a "riot-free" year with "the least number of communal incidents in the past decade."

The economic resolution praised the 1999 Budget of the BJP-led Government - no more hiding behind the fig-leaf of "swadeshi". It endorsed the various measures undertaken to speed up the opening up of the economy, the cutting of subsidies (described as "control over unproductive expenditure"), and the new Exim policy. It commended the "calibrated globalisation" policy of the Government, in contrast to the "thoughtless globalisation" of the previous Congress(I) regime.

A range of economic issues, however, found no mention in the economic resolution. For example, there was no mention of public sector disinvestment, of the Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill, of the increases in the administered prices of nearly every single essential commodity, and of the adoption of the Patents Amendment Bill.

If the rhetoric of Hindutva did not find the prominent place in the resolutions and speeches of the BJP that it used to, it is hardly because the long-term goals of the BJP have, in any sense, been redefined. One reason why party "hardliners" such as Thakre have been silenced is perhaps that there is a realisation that being in power helps the party and its ideological agenda grow. A year in office has given the BJP the opportunity to use the levers of government to implement its cultural and ideological priorities. The re-writing of textbooks and the reconstitution of research and educational bodies have been ways of doing this. The coming elections in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are critical for the survival of the Government at the Centre as well as for growth of the party.

An eventful sojourn

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Jayalalitha's recent visit to Delhi, the attempts she made there to strike a national profile, and her recent show of friendship towards the Congress(I) have led to the impression that she has a long-term realignment of political forces in mind.

ALL India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Jayalalitha's sojourn in New Delhi between March 26 and 30 proved to be an eventful one. From Day One, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its bete noire, Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, vied with each other to keep Jayalalitha in good humour. Senior BJP leaders Jana Krishnamurthy and K.L. Sharma, along with Law Minister and AIADMK leader M. Thambidurai, drove up to the tarmac at the airport to receive her with garlands. At the arrival lounge, Jayalalitha, who was accompanied by her associate Sasikala Natarajan, was accorded an effusive welcome by Subramanian Swamy and AIADMK Members of Parliament. A function organised to welcome her at the public sector Ashok Hotel - where she stayed initially, before shifting to another five-star hotel - was attended by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's family.

The first function attended by Jayalalitha was a seminar on "Democracy in Internal Party Structures". The seminar, organised by Women's Political Watch, a non-governmental organisation, was chaired by former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and addressed by Vajpayee. Jayalalitha was invited to the seminar since the AIADMK was the first political party in the country to have announced a 33 per cent reservation of party posts for women. Addressing the participants, Jayalalitha complimented the Congress(I) for following her example and took a dig at the BJP by quoting Manu: families that neglected women would be ruined. In his response, Vajpayee said that he was proud of the fact that two of his allies (the AIADMK and the Trinamul Congress) were headed by women (Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee respectively). Jayalalitha claimed that during her stint as Chief Minister, the Tamil Nadu Government had made attempts to set right gender inequalities, but the momentum had been reversed after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) came to power in 1996.

FOR the BJP and its coalition partners, arranging a coordination committee meeting at short notice during Jayalalitha's Delhi visit was a brilliant step aimed at forcing her to participate in it and improve her ties with the rest of the coalition. However, the effort backfired when Jayalalitha used the occasion, on March 27, to demand the transfer of George Fernandes from the Defence Ministry to another "less sensitive" Ministry in view of the "serious" allegations levelled against him by former Navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. She made it clear that she believed that Admiral Bhagwat was "innocent" and that he should be reinstated. This, she is believed to have said, could be done after a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) investigated the issues related to the controversy. (Opposition parties have been demanding a JPC probe into the Bhagwat affair.)

Speaking to newspersons after the meeting, Fernandes said that he had gone to the meeting armed with "relevant files" and was prepared to make a presentation. However, no presentation took place. Jayalalitha is believed to have said that the Defence Ministry's handling of the matter had affected the coalition's image, besides leading to the stalling of parliamentary proceedings. She claimed that the controversies relating to the Defence Ministry had created unrest in the armed services. Further, she referred to the allegations made against Fernandes, including the one that he supported the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and rebels from northeastern India, and his Ministry's alleged lack of initiative in checking the cross-border traffic of drugs in the subcontinent. Fernandes denied the allegations. (On March 29, he had a 90-minute meeting with Jayalalitha. The meeting is believed to have been organised by Vajpayee to clear her misgivings. However, that Fernandes failed to convince her became apparent in the days that followed.)

16080221jpg

Although the Coordination Committee decided to reject the demands, Jayalalitha stuck to her "suggestions" even while opting to abide by the Committee's decision. Unmindful of her dissenting voice, Fernandes, the convener of the Committee, termed its decision as "unanimous", while Vajpayee described it as a "collective decision".

On the evening of March 27, BJP MP Vijay Goel organised a reception in Jayalalitha's honour at his residence. Intended as a rival function to the one planned by Subramanian Swamy on March 29, Goel's reception had glitter and glamour and offered a varied menu. The party, however, attracted only a few leading lights of the coalition. Several BJP leaders, including Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, and Samata Party leaders did not attend the party.

Even as Jayalalitha stuck to her demand that Fernandes be shifted from the Defence Ministry, the Prime Minister indicated in Lucknow on March 28 that Jayalalitha was "convinced" about the need to reject the demand for a JPC probe in view of the Opposition's bid to avoid a debate on the Bhagwat issue in Parliament.

On March 28, Vajpayee's foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi called on Jayalalitha to assuage her "hurt feelings" in the aftermath of the Coordination Committee meeting.

Vajpayee's aides organised a luncheon meeting between him and Jayalalitha on March 29. She is said to have held "cordial" talks with him on various issues, while avoiding the Bhagwat affair. Vajpayee accepted her invitation to lay the foundation stone for the Sethusamudram project and conceded her demand that a postage stamp be brought out in honour of the late K. Santhanam, a freedom fighter. He also agreed to introduce a law to reserve 33 per cent of the seats in Parliament and the State legislatures for women and legislation that allows States to reserve more than 50 per cent of the seats and jobs in educational institutions for the backward classes. Jayalalitha is also believed to have broached the issue of Cabinet expansion and reminded the Prime Minister of her demand for more berths for her nominees. She has been demanding that Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy be shifted from the Petroleum Ministry and this portfolio be given to an AIADMK nominee.

However, soon after enjoying the Prime Minister's hospitality, Jayalalitha said that her view that Fernandes was unsuitable for the post of Defence Minister "still stands". She said: "I still maintain my stand that it would be in the overall interest of this Government and of national interest to shift Mr. Fernandes out of the Defence Ministry."

It was the tea party organised by Subramanian Swamy in Jayalalitha's honour on March 29 at Hotel Ashok that turned the heat on the BJP-led coalition. Subramanian Swamy appears to have gone by the maxim of the more, the merrier; one estimate put the number of guests at more than 600. Significantly, Congress(I) leaders turned out in large numbers - after it was known that party president Sonia Gandhi was likely to put in a brief appearance. Sonia Gandhi did turn up but stayed for less than 10 minutes and left after greeting Jayalalitha. Only three leaders from the ruling coalition were present - Kalpnath Rai (Samata Party), Pritish Nandy (Shiv Sena) and Uma Bharati (BJP). Senior leaders from Opposition parties other than the Congress(I) were present in full strength - they included Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Deve Gowda, Devi Lal, Om Prakash Chautala, Buta Singh and Syed Shahabuddin.

After the party, Jayalalitha described it as a "political earthquake" (northern India was rocked on March 28.) However, on her arrival in Chennai she claimed that the remark had been made in jest, even as observers charged her of being insensitive to the plight of the victims of the quake.

IT was obvious that Jayalalitha used her Delhi visit not only to cultivate contacts across the political spectrum but also to show that her concerns lay well beyond Tamil Nadu. She visited the United Services Institute, where she interacted with senior defence officers. She endorsed the long-standing demand of defence officers for representation in decision-making services. At a seminar organised by the Jawaharlal Nehru University, she wondered why India and China could not forget the bitterness of the past and improve bilateral relations - a statement seen by many as a veiled attack on Fernandes' aggressive statements against China. She was critical of Jawaharlal Nehru for referring the issue of Pakistani aggression on Kashmir to the United Nations in 1947, and termed it a "Himalayan blunder". She alleged that Nehru's acceptance of the Mountbatten-inspired idea for a plebiscite had cost the country dear. Enthused as it was by the positive signals sent out by her on the previous days, the Congress(I) chose to describe her remarks on Nehru as "academic".

SOON after Jayalalitha left for Chennai, Vajpayee and leaders of the other constituents of the coalition met to discuss the political situation. After the two-hour meeting, it was clear that the Government had decided to take a hard line and would not concede her demands. Briefing newspersons, Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan said that Fernandes would continue as Defence Minister and that Admiral Bhagwat would not be reinstated. He also ruled out the possibility of constituting a JPC to probe the Bhagwat issue. He, however, emphasised that the AIADMK was "still a part of our alliance".

Going by the reactions of the BJP and its allies, it was evident that they were ready to take on the AIADMK chief. Speaking to newspersons in Delhi, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee questioned the validity of Jayalalitha's demands since Jayalalitha herself faced corruption charges. BJP leaders M. Venkaiah Naidu and Pramod Mahajan vouched for Fernandes' integrity and said that there was no question of shifting him from the Defence Ministry. Speaking to newspersons after a function organised to mark the inauguration of the card scheme for People of Indian Origin (PIO), Power Minister P.R. Kumaramangalam said that Jayalalitha's credibility had dropped because of the contradictory statements she continued to make. Virtually challenging her to leave the coalition if she was dissatisfied with its functioning, Kumaramangalam said that the Cabinet's collective decision on the Bhagwat issue would not be reconsidered.

The growing mutual distrust worsened further, with Vajpayee saying that nothing would happen to the Government even if some alliance partners chose to withdraw support. Speaking to newspersons at Panaji on April 1, he maintained that the Government was stable. When asked about the remarks made by Kumaramangalam, he said that they were his personal opinions. The party's thinking on the issue was yet to crystallise, he said. He, however, declined to comment on the issue of other allies criticising the AIADMK.

The BJP and its allies thus appear to be getting ready for a confrontation with Jayalalitha on the assumption that she has no other options and that her sabre-rattling techniques should no longer be tolerated.

Meanwhile, observers continue to puzzle over the real reasons for Jayalalitha's offensive against Fernandes, who, until recently, had enjoyed her confidence and respect. Her attempts at striking a national profile have raised many interesting questions.

An incident at Kalpakkam

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A heavy water leak in the second unit of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) on March 26 causes widespread concern.

HOW much heavy water did leak into the reactor vault of the second unit of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) at Kalpakkam, about 60 km from Chennai, on March 26? Consequently, how much radioactive tritium was released into the reactor building? What was the level of radioactivity to which the people who stopped the leak and mopped up the heavy water that had spread on the floor were exposed? Opinion is divided on these questions, which are at the heart of a new debate on the safety of Indian nuclear reactors. However, there is no uncertainty about why the leak occurred: a sealing plug of a coolant channel of the second unit was not positioned properly after the completion of maintenance work which was undertaken during the reactor's biennial shutdown.

Top MAPS officials maintained that the leak was an insignificant and anticipated incident which occurred during a planned operation and that the level of tritium released was within permissible limits. Knowledgeable sources, however, asked why then a plant emergency was declared. These sources said that the declaration of a plant emergency was just a step short of ordering the evacuation of plant personnel. They challenged officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) to release the figures regarding the heavy water leak and tritium release. (All nuclear power stations in the country come under the umbrella of the NPC.)

Officials at MAPS countered these arguments and said that a plant emergency was a part of routine procedure to insulate the plant and bring safety mechanisms into play, besides regulating the entry of persons into the plant in order to prevent the spread of any contamination. A plant emergency, they said, did not mean that the reactor was going to "explode like a nuclear bomb", as was made out in a section of the press.

MAPS has two units of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), each with a capacity of 170 MW. They use ordinary uranium as fuel and heavy water as both coolant and moderator. According to K. Hariharan, Station Director, MAPS, both units had performed very well in 1998-99, with an average capacity factor of 75 per cent. The second unit was shut down from February 14 to carry out maintenance work. It was scheduled to be restarted this summer when the demand for electricity peaks, he said.

Maintenance work, including the overhauling of the turbine generator, was almost complete and the MAPS authorities planned to synchronise the unit with the Tamil Nadu grid by May 1. The inspection of coolant channels to assess their health is the main component of the maintenance work. Remote-inspection through ultrasonic methods reveals the channels' metal integrity.

In a reactor, the coolant tubes (also called pressure tubes) are situated inside the calandria tubes (calandria is the reactor vessel). Both coolant tubes and calandria tubes carry heavy water, and between them are garter springs. Coolant tubes with end-fittings on either side are called coolant channels. Seal plugs (or sealants) form part of the end-fittings. The 306 coolant channels in the calandria tubes are arranged within a circular space and together they resemble a lattice. The flow of heavy water in the coolant tubes results in vibrations, as a result of which the garter springs tend to move. This in turn causes the coolant tubes to sag and come in contact with the calandria tubes. Since there is a temperature difference - it is 295 C inside the coolant tubes and about 70 C in the calandria tubes - the temperature of the coolant tubes comes down at the point of contact. This results in the formation of zirconium hydride, which leads to the coolant tubes, made of zircaloy, becoming hard and brittle. This in turn causes micro-cracks in the coolant tubes. (Such cracks have been noticed in the reactors at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station, or RAPS, at Rawatbhatta and at MAPS.) If the micro-cracks cut across the thickness of the tubes, they can lead to loss of coolant from the primary system and result in inadequate cooling of fuel in the core. Such a "loss of coolant accident" (LOCA) may lead to a fire in the reactor.

The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai has developed a technique to carry out a vibration probe near the face of the end-fitting of the coolant tube to help determine the extent to which the coolant channels will sag and the possibility of their coming in contact with the calandria tubes. These channels are defuelled and subjected to a BARC Channel Inspection System (BARCCIS) to determine the position of the garter springs. All the 306 coolant channels in the second unit of RAPS were replaced and the unit attained re-criticality on May 27, 1998. The new coolant channels are made of zirconium niobium instead of zircaloy.

BARCCIS was under way at the second unit of MAPS as part of maintenance work. The coolant channels are ultrasonically tested to assess their condition. These checks are conducted through remote-handled semi-automatic tools. The data collected help assess the life of the tubes and the unit's potential for continued operation. During such inspections, when new seal plugs are positioned and operated, a certain amount of information is available to the control systems.

According to Hariharan, the inspection of the coolant channels of the second unit revealed that they were healthy and that there was "no deterioration", and that they would continue to perform for years to come. A seal plug operation was also undertaken during the inspection. Whenever a seal plug is not positioned properly, indications to that effect are available and the position is corrected. When a seal plug operation was undertaken in one of the coolant channels at the second unit of MAPS, the control systems received information that the plug was not seated properly. It was discovered on March 26 that heavy water had leaked out into the reactor building because the seal plug was not positioned properly.

Hariharan said: "We undertook the operation of re-seating the plug in the form of replacement which involves planned escape of heavy water from the channel inside the fuel machine vault." According to him, such situations are not unusual and there are adequate built-in provisions in the unit to tackle them. These included provisions to collect heavy water and heavy water vapour through recovery systems and make an adequate inventory of heavy water available. He said: "The March 26 incident thus did not involve an unusual situation, especially since the unit was under shutdown and the whole activity was planned." During such operations, it is customary for nuclear stations to ensure that the environment is not affected. Hariharan said that there was "no such release into the environment" around MAPS.

On the quantity of heavy water that had leaked, Hariharan said that it was of "an insignificant quantity". On the amount of radioactive tritium released, he said: "The release was well within AERB limits." (The AERB, or Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, is the watchdog for safety at the country's nuclear facilities.)Hariharan said that a plant emergency was declared only to regulate the movement of personnel inside the plant and to prevent non-essential persons from entering it. He said that normal operations had continued at the plant during this period. B.K. Bhasin, Director (Operations), NPC, who visited MAPS on April 1, said that the situation had been handled "reasonably well". "Systematic work was done because you just cannot take any chances," he said. "I sent three experts immediately from the NPC headquarters."

HOWEVER, Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman of the AERB who has been closely monitoring the safety status of the Department of Atomic Energy's (DAE) facilities and who has found them to be "much below international levels", said that plant emergency "ranks only a little below evacuation". Responding to the stand taken by MAPS officials that it was an insignificant leak, he asked: "Why was a plant emergency declared (during this period the reactor was shut down)? If the leak was only like that from a tap, why declare a plant emergency?" He further said: "I feel that a plant emergency was declared because a lot of radioactivity was released into the plant. It could have already spread, depending on how long it took to plug the leak." According to him, if the escape of heavy water was confined to, say, only one room with 10 workers in it, a plant emergency would not have been declared. Gopalakrishnan said that the magnitude of the leak and the rate of discharge may have been so large that it must have become evident to persons concerned that a plant emergency would have to be declared within two or three minutes.

Gopalakrishnan said that going by the initial estimates given by MAPS, several tonnes, possibly 14 tonnes, of heavy water leaked out. "For this number the declaration of a plant emergency makes sense," he said. "You will not declare a plant emergency if just one bucketful of heavy water leaks or about 10 workers are concerned. A very large amount must have gone into the drain and spread out. The (tritium) release must have also been sucked into the ventilation system."

Gopalakrishnan explained that there were two separate systems - primary and secondary - that carried heavy water in the reactor. Both are radioactive. If the pressure tube, that is, the coolant tube, had ruptured or its capping had come off, then it was the primary coolant heavy water that leaked out. On the other hand, if a calandria tube, which is larger than a coolant tube, had ruptured or its cover had come off, it was moderator heavy water that spilled. Gopalakrishnan said: "I think it was the former (coolant heavy water) that escaped."

He pointed out that the heavy water that ran through the primary system was more radioactive because it ran close to the fuel in order to keep the reactor cool. This heavy water is in circulation from the time a reactor attains criticality. In the process, tritium forms in the heavy water. Tritium is highly radioactive, with a half-life of over 12 years. Tritium content in heavy water increases with the number of years the reactor operates. Almost all the tritium continues to be in the heavy water even if the reactor is shut down for a couple of months. When there is a spillage of heavy water, the tritium affects the plant personnel.

The former AERB Chairman said that if the heavy water had leaked into the measured tank, the quantity of heavy water that had leaked could have been estimated (from the increased level of the tank's contents). He said that heavy water leak had occurred in other countries too. "But there was openness there," he said. "The workers and the environment were taken care of." He demanded that personnel in MAPS be given the data on the release of radiation and be told how much radiation they had ingested. He said that he was deeply concerned about the use of contract labour for cleaning jobs because they were often overexposed to radiation.

TOP NPC officials repeatedly stonewalled queries about the leak. They declined to give any figures and accused the press of overplaying the incident. They said that more than 120 tonnes of heavy water had leaked out of reactors in Canada and the United Kingdom, compared to which the leak at Kalpakkam was "nothing".

According to Hariharan, there were 65 tonnes of heavy water in the second unit of MAPS and "it was only an insignificant quantity" that had escaped, and "that too in a planned operation". He maintained that it was only the coolant heavy water that had leaked.

T.S. Rajendran, Chief Superintendent of MAPS, said that every nuclear power station had a safety committee headed by the Station Director and included the Chief Superintendent, the Operations Super-intendent, the Maintenance Superinten-dent and others. They discussed every incident and came up with suggestions. A Root Cause Analysis Committee is constituted if the need arises.

Meanwhile, in response to a short questionnaire sent by Frontline, Dr. K.S. Parthasarathy, Secretary, AERB, sent the following statement: "Nearly four tonnes of heavy water leaked from the second unit of MAPS. However, most of it has been mopped up and will be upgraded and reused. For the MAPS units, the amount of tritium permitted to be released through the gaseous route is 300 Ci per day per reactor or 1,10,000 Ci per year per reactor."

He said: "A discharge limit ten times the daily limit is permitted, but the annual discharge shall not exceed those specified above. The releases of tritium during and after the incident were within the above limits. A large group of 42 persons was mobilised to stop the heavy water leak. The collective dose to these people was 0.25 person Sievert. Thus the safety of the reactor was ensured. The dose to the public from the incident is very much below the limit prescribed by the AERB and the dose to the station staff was not unacceptably high."

A hardening stand

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

THE confrontation between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Bharatiya Janata Party over the Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat issue escalated last fortnight to dangerous levels, but AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha once again shied away from withdrawing support to the BJP-led coalition Government at the Centre. However, indicating a hardening of the AIADMK's position, the party announced on April 5 that its two Ministers, Law Minister M. Thambi Durai and Minister of State for Finance R. Janarthanam, would submit the letters of their resignation to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee the next day. Jayalalitha stopped short of withdrawing support to the Government specifically because "nothing concrete" had been done to revive her party's relationship with the Congress(I) and there were no gains to be made by destabilising the Government now.

The AIADMK finds itself isolated. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Jayalalitha's trusted ally so far, has said that even if the AIADMK leaves the coalition, it will not do so. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Tamilaga Rajiv Congress, erstwhile allies of the AIADMK, have also stood by the BJP. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, with whom Jayalalitha suddenly developed an affinity, also turned against the AIADMK on the Bhagwat issue.

The immediate cause of the confrontation was a remark by Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam (he had taken a soft line towards the AIADMK). Kumaramangalam's statement that Jayalalitha could leave the coalition if she insisted on a JPC probe into the Bhagwat issue came within a fortnight of the BJP State conference in Tiruchi where Vajpayee had asked party cadres not to antagonise the AIADMK. The tensions between the BJP and the AIADMK had eased considerably after the Centre issued a notification transferring to regular courts 46 corruption cases against Jayalalitha, her former Ministers, and some bureaucrats, which were pending before special judges.

Kumaramangalam's remark came as Jayalalitha harped on a JPC inquiry even after the ruling coalition's Coordination Committee meeting "unanimously" decided against it. At the meeting Jayalalitha demanded the resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes for his role in the dismissal of the Chief of the Naval Staff and later said that she had not agreed with the Committee's decision.

Informed sources in the BJP said that the party leadership had authorised Kumaramangalam to ask the AIADMK to leave the Government if it continued to insist on a JPC probe. The BJP leadership suspected that Jayalalitha "is coordinating with the Congress" on the issue, especially after Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha met at a tea party hosted by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy in New Delhi on March 29.

The first salvo from the AIADMK side was fired by seven senior AIADMK leaders, including chairman of the party presidium V.R. Nedunchezhiyan and treasurer Sedapatti R. Muthiah. In a joint statement on April 1, they demanded that Vajpayee clarify whether he agreed with Kumaramangalam's statement. "If so, he need only tell us, and in one hour we will be at Rashtrapati Bhavan informing the President of India that we are no longer supporting a Government that does not want us to stay in it," they said. They added: "Please be assured that the AIADMK is not worried about either alternative alliances or fresh elections. There are tested friends from the past who have in 1996 been cleansed of undesirable elements, who can be our allies." The reference was to G.K. Moopanar, P. Chidambaram and others leaving the Congress(I) to found the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) protesting against the party entering into an alliance with the AIADMK in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections held at that time.

At the AIADMK general council meeting two days later (April 3), there was a lot of sound and fury against Vajpayee, Kumaramangalam, Fernandes, MDMK general secretary Vaiko and TRC founder and Union Petroleum Minister Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy. PMK leader Dr. S. Ramadoss was spared because Jayalalitha hopes to take him along with her. It gave "full authority" to Jayalalitha "to take appropriate steps as she deems fit for forming new alliances, depending on the evolving political situation and the abiding national interests of the AIADMK."

Jayalalitha told reporters after the meeting: "Whether we continue to remain a part of the Government depends on the Government's response (to our demands)." She demanded that the Prime Minister make it clear whether he agreed with Kumaramangalam's views. However, she declined to set a deadline for the Government to respond. When reminded of similar warnings earlier, she replied, "This warning is different. The situation is entirely different."

Informed sources in the TMC said that Jayalalitha did not take a final decision because "no full-fledged discussions" had taken place on the revival of ties between the Congress(I) and the AIADMK. Vaiko described the meeting between Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi as "a storm in a tea cup"; Jayalalitha had claimed that it was "a political earthquake". Moopanar endorsed Vaiko's view in this matter.

The AIADMK is uncertain about what the future holds for it if it gets out of the Government. What will happen if the Congress(I) uses the AIADMK to topple the Vajpayee Government and then ignores it? The AIADMK is also worried about the possibility of the Congress(I) forming a Government with the TMC as a coalition partner and supported from outside by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India. Even if the Congress(I) forms a government with the AIADMK as an ally, it may not concede Jayalalitha's demands. In the event of fresh elections, the AIADMK may not retain its 18 seats. So the strategy appears to be to keep threatening the Vajpayee Government and force it to concede its demands.

Sources in the Tamil Nadu Congress(I) Committee said the Congress high command was in a dilemma about an alliance with the AIADMK. MGR-ADMK leader S. Tirunavukk-arasu analysed the situation thus: "Jayalalitha will never withdraw her support to the Union Government. If she does it, she will be in prison the next day. She knows this. So she keeps threatening the Centre and gets things done."

Another attack in Orissa

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A campaign by militant Hindu organisations provokes fresh attacks against the Christian community in the villages of Orissa.

FOR the third time in four months, the Christian community has come under organised attack in Orissa. The latest round came on March 16, when a hundred members of a tribal community, armed with firearms and other lethal weapons, raided a remote Christian-majority village, Ranalai, in Gajapati district which borders Andhra Pradesh. The attack was allegedly instigated by Hindu fundamentalists. The assailants fired gunshots and showered flaming arrows on the Christian residents. In the clash that followed, 12 persons were severely injured and nearly 160 huts belonging to Christian families were set on fire. Before the attack a cross etched on a hillock, about 18 km from the block headquarters, was obliterated.

The incident took place within two months of the gruesome murder of Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two sons on January 23 at Manoharpur in Keonjhar district. Earlier, on December 8, a 2,000-strong mob attacked a Christian locality at Ramgiri-Udaygiri, which is close to Ranalai, and set on fire houses belonging to Christians. Earlier in the day, they broke into the local jail, dragged out two Christian prisoners and burnt them alive.

In the aftermath of the Ranalai attack, the newly installed Giridhar Gamang Ministry has been under intense fire from the Opposition. On March 18, two days after the incident, the Assembly witnessed noisy scenes. The Chief Minister announced that the investigation into the incident would be handed over to a one-man commission consisting of Kishore Chandra Jagdev Ray, a retired Judge of the Orissa High Court. Ray is investigating the Ramgiri-Udaygiri incidents too.

16080361jpg

Church leaders have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party and other organisations of the Sangh Parivar of instigating the Ranalai clashes and rebutted the Chief Minister's statement made in the Assembly on March 18 that the clashes were provoked by someone from the Christian community. Gamang said that Hindus in the village had for long resented the presence of a cross that had been etched on a rock on a hillock. A peace committee had been formed to resolve the issue.

According to Gamang's version, a hundred Hindus went to the hill on March 16 to erase the cross, as decided by the peace committee. On the way back they found several Christians waiting on the road. It was a Christian who hurled the first stone, which hit a Hindu and set off the violence, the Chief Minister said.

The main Opposition party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), questioned the propriety of Gamang's statement in view of the fact that a judicial probe had been ordered. The Opposition parties alleged that Gamang was trying to appease his vote bank among the tribal people by implicating Christians. The House was adjourned for an hour after Opposition members staged a walkout.

On March 22, under pressure from the Opposition, the Chief Minister presented a detailed report on the incident in the House. The report contradicted his earlier version. Gamang denied that he had accused Christians of provoking the clash; he maintained that initially he had only made a statement of fact that someone from the Christian community threw a stone and it hit a Hindu boy.

According to media reports, affected residents of Ranalai linked the violence to a public meeting organised by the BJP in the locality on February 1. Chants of " Jai Sri Ram" rang out as the mob set the houses on fire. Although the Chief Minister was silent on this aspect in his first statement, he later clarified that he had been waiting to "ascertain facts". In his second statement, Gamang admitted that a BJP leader had said at the meeting that the mark of the cross could easily be changed to that of a trishul.

A two-member team of the National Commission on Minorities (NCM), which inquired into the incident, has accused the BJP of provoking the attack. It blamed the police for failing to protect the Christian community. In a public statement, NCM Vice-Chairman Bawa Singh and member James Massey said that a senior BJP leader had fuelled religious passions at the recent rally. They said that the BJP leader had asked Hindus to paint a trishul over the cross on the hillock. According to the NCM team, the figure of the cross, which had been on the hillock since 1972, had never been a source of dispute. "It all started after the BJP rally," said Bawa Singh. The NCM members said that the Ranalai violence was "planned" and was not a stray incident. "The pattern of attack and the fact that some people from outside the village were instrumental in it are all strikingly similar to incidents that had taken place in other parts of the country. It is all linked. Within a couple of hours over 160 Christian houses were burnt down. This could be possible only in an organised and planned attack," a Commission member said.

K. Rajaratnam, president of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), visited Ranalai along with a group of Christian leaders. They said that the clashes fitted into the pattern adopted by the Sangh Parivar. Decrying the attempt to use the "bogey of conversions" and "international conspiracy", Rajaratnam said that the mainline churches were opposed to conversions and that population figures showed that the number of Christians was on the decline in India.

According to the 1991 Census, Gajapati district, which was carved out of Ganjam district in southern Orissa, has 1,21,197 Christians. Its Christian population was the second largest in the State after Sundergarh district. Most of these Christians were converts, who belonged to either the Scheduled Castes or the Saura and Kui tribes. Samuel S. Choudhuri, vice-president of the Gajapati Christian Association, an umbrella organisation of 10 Churches and charitable missionary organisations, said that a fresh census would establish that the number of Christians had come down and that there had been no attempt by the Churches to force conversions.

Serango, another Christian-dominated village in the district, appears to be going the Ranalai way. A fresh dispute over a cross on top of a hill threatens to spark off violence at Serango, which is not far from Ramgiri-Udaygiri. Tension gripped the village recently when Christians found that the cross had been uprooted. The police claimed that they were prepared to put down any trouble, but the Christian community is jittery. After uprooting the cross, "Hindu tribals" have claimed that the hill is their holy place and have threatened Christians with dire consequences if they perform any religious rites there.

MOUNTING pressure at home and from abroad, the numerous conspiracy theories that float around and the continuing attacks on Christians have made the investigation into the Staines' murders a challenging task. The investigators, however, remained focussed on their objective, which is to arrest all the 31 suspects, including the main accused, Dara Singh alias Ravindra Pal.

16080362jpg

Investigations indicate that Dara Singh and 30 others had carefully planned the murders. The investigators have reconstructed the crime and identified 14 of the 30 persons who took part in a secret meeting convened by Dara Singh to work out its details. It has also been established that Dara Singh, who came from Etawah in Uttar Pradesh and settled in Keonjhar in 1986-87, was not just a petty criminal but was associated with the activities of militant Hindu organisations. He had taken part in the Goraksha movement against cow slaughter. He had allegedly attacked Muslims in the area. Some people say that he worked for the local BJP unit. A couple of Bajrang Dal activists who knew Dara Singh have been arrested.

Surprisingly, even as the police hunted for Dara Singh, he was interviewed by a private television channel on March 29. The airing of the interview rocked the Assembly. Opposition leaders asked how the police could not trace Dara Singh but a local journalist could interview him. The Opposition alleged that this was a clear indication of the collapse of law and order in the State.

Home Minister Prasad Harichandan admitted that he was aware of the interview, but he said that he could not confirm whether the interviewee was actually Dara Singh. The Minister said that several criminals had introduced themselves as Dara Singh for reasons that were not clear to the Government.

The State Government has sought the master cassette from the television company.

An old debate in a new context

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

An official inquiry into the work of missionaries in Madhya Pradesh in the 1950s and the recent census of the Christian community in Gujarat represent communally motivated acts of surveillance by the state machinery.

USING a technique of policing that is Nazi-like in its purpose and method, the Gujarat Government recently conducted a 'census' of the Christian community in the State. The district police were sent a 13-point questionnaire on the basis of which they were asked to collect information on the activities of Christians and Christian missionaries. The questions, such as "What type of trickery is being used by Christian defilement activities?"(sic) and "Which foreign countries encourage Christian missionaries?", and instructions such as "...send dossiers on those Christians having criminal activity and having criminal attitude" (sic) seek confirmation of what the State already presumes to be the case. There is no official reason offered for the census save a vague expression of intent, which is to stop "class conflict" between Hindus and Christians.

This is perhaps the first time in independent India that the state machinery has been deployed in a comprehensive surveillance exercise of a peaceful religious minority, which has been the victim of a sustained and violent hate campaign by Hindu communal organisations.

However, it is not the first time that a State government has initiated an official inquiry into the work of Christian missionaries and in doing so indicted the entire community. In 1954, the governments of Madhya Pradesh and Madhya Bharat (a region that was later incorporated into the former) appointed official committees to investigate the activities of Christian missionaries. The reports of both committees were published in 1956, although it was the first report that sparked a nationwide debate on minority rights under the framework of the Constitution, which had come into force in 1950. Called the Christian Missionaries Activities Inquiry Committee, it was headed by M. Bhawani Shankar Niyogi, a retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Judicature, Nagpur.

16080381jpg

Although the Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat exercises, one initiated by a State government run by the Congress in the wake of Independence and the other by a State government run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, a party committed to the Hindutva ideology, more than four decades later, have taken place at different historical junctures, there are remarkable similarities between them in intent and method, which offer important lessons. Both inquiries were motivated by a communal purpose and prejudged the issues; both called into question the fundamental right to profess, practise and propagate the religion of one's choice (given in Article 25 of the Constitution); and both were anti-secular and totalitarian in the way they sought to put an entire community on trial. While the Gujarat survey is far more ominous than the other owing to the fact that the party of Hindu communalism is in power both in that State and at the Centre, the results of both surveys can be used as "data" to substantiate the myths circulated by the Sangh Parivar about Christian missionaries in particular and the Christian community in general.

The Niyogi Report has already been used by the ideologues of the Sangh Parivar as ballast for their anti-Christian arguments. Sweeping under the carpet the substantial body of criticism that appeared following the publication of the Niyogi Report, S. Gurumurthy has used the report as substantiation for the thesis that Christianity in India is funded from abroad and owes its allegiance to foreign interests. (The New Indian Express, January 18 and 30, 1999.) He has quoted in extenso from the Report to "prove" that Christianity, as early as the 1950s, had an agenda of indiscriminate conversions especially of Adivasis, of disruption of non-Christian societies, and of the use of schools, hospitals and orphanages as means to facilitate conversion. The Niyogi Report has also been an inspirational source material for Arun Shourie's book on Christian missionaries. Shourie has quoted extensively from the report of the Christians Missions Inquiry Committee headed by Justice M.B. Rege, which was submitted to the Government of Madhya Bharat in 1956 (Missionaries in India, Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas by Arun Shourie, ASA Publications, Delhi, 1994).

WHAT were the circumstances under which the Niyogi Committee was appointed, what were its terms of reference, what were its conclusions, and how did it arrive at them?

Restrictions were imposed on the entry of missionaries by the erstwhile rulers of the feudal states of Raigarh, Udaipur, Jashpur and Surguja, with the support of the colonial Government. When the merger of these states into Madhya Pradesh did not bring the expected freedoms and the ban on missionary work continued, Christian organisations complained to the Government. The ban on the entry of missionaries was lifted with the promulgation of the Constitution in 1950, but charges and counter-charges concerning missionary work continued to be traded. Representations were made to the Government accusing missionaries of effecting conversions through fraud and inducements, and the complainants included several persons and organisations, such as the ex-rulers of the feudal states (the former Raja of Surguja was particularly active on this issue), local government officials, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Arya Samaj. Missionary organisations, on the other hand, denied these allegations and accused the police and local officials of harassing entire Christian communities in the tribal areas. In early 1952, the National Christian Council of Nagpur sent a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru giving details of the harassment faced by missionaries. Local authorities prepared a counter-report, accusing Christians of criminal offences and anti-national activities. The Niyogi Committee was appointed and entrusted with the task of inquiring into the whole question and making recommendations "from historical and other points of view".

The composition of the Niyogi Committee was called into question as soon as it was set up, as five of its six members were Hindus (one of them, Ghanshyam Singh Gupta, was a prominent Arya Samaji and a bitter critic of Christian missionaries). The only Christian on the panel was S.K. George, a Professor at Wardha College, and a person whom the Christian establishment did not repose any faith in owing to his unorthodox religious views. S.K. George was a nationalist and a Gandhian belonging to the Syrian Christian community and was widely admired for his humane interpretation of Christianity. However, even his admirers did not defend his participation in the Niyogi Committee. His biographer, T.K. Thomas, wrote in The Witness of S.K. George of how George's "uncritical identification with India's religious and cultural heritage and his abiding humility were exploited by a communally motivated committee."

Christian organisations attacked the terms of reference of the committee, which entailed investigation of all Christian missionaries and their activities in the whole State. A protest memorandum from the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla demanded that the committee include representatives of religious minorities, that the terms of reference of the inquiry be expanded to include investigation into harassment of Christians, and that the inquiry be conducted according to the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952.

The Niyogi Committee was authorised to frame its own procedure. It claimed in its final two-volume, three-part report that 11,360 persons were interviewed in 700 villages in 14 districts. It received 375 written replies to a questionnaire with 99 questions. Of these, 55 replies were from Christians and 320 from non-Christians, mainly Hindus. The committee visited hospitals, schools, churches, leprosy homes and hostels maintained by Christian missions.

The questionnaire prepared by the committee and its underlying assumptions brought forth an explosion of outrage. The questions were classified under five sections, namely Conversions, Social Relations, Missions, Hospitals, Schools, and Remedies. All the questions were leading, communally loaded and tendentious in the extreme. For example, Question 8: "What, to your knowledge, are the methods used for conversion? Are any of the following methods used?" Twelve means of inducement were then listed, followed by "Other fraudulent and unfair means". The suggestion that the poorer the convert, the more likely that he or she was converted by material inducements was implicit in question 10, which asked if there were cases where conversion had been the result of religious conviction. "If so, what were the educational, social and financial status of such people?" Christians' loyalty to the nation was called into question in Question 11, which asked whether "...the conversion to Christianity adversely affects the national loyalty and outlook of converts?" Question 40 asked if "...converts to Christianity tend to form a distinct communal group, indifferent or hostile to Indian traditions and culture and with affinity to foreign culture".

The questionnaire and the methods of data collection were critiqued in great detail by Christian organisations. G.X. Francis, president of the Christian Association, Nagpur, who was an observer during the committee's fact-finding tours, registered his protest at the leniency shown to communal Hindu witnesses and the disproportionately long time they were allowed to present their case. The 11,360 'interviews' that the committee claimed they had conducted were actually large public meetings where people could make speeches and level public accusations. Francis filed a petition in the High Court against the constitution of the committee. Justice M. Hidayatullah dismissed the petition, but not before criticising aspects of the committee's functioning, the infamous questionnaire in particular. "Some are amazing," he observed. "A question which invites opinion on whether different religions in the land can exist peacefully and cooperate in realising a just order of society is a little too late in the day. We are existing in this vast subcontinent for generations, and centuries..., but we have done very well together". He warned that the inquiry and the report should not insult religious sentiments as "Christians may have no redress and the mischief against them will have been done."

The assumptions underlying the questionnaire were exposed in well-substantiated arguments by spokespersons of the Christian community at that time. These arguments are of relevance even today, as many of the findings of the Niyogi Report, such as forcible conversions of tribal populations by missionaries and the alleged "foreign allegiances" of the Christian community, continue to be the stuff of anti-Christian propaganda. In a sharp rebuke to the committee, Archbishop of Nagpur Dr. Eugene D'Souza tore apart the assumptions of the questionnaire. He wrote that it should not be assumed that illiterate persons were "sub-human" beings incapable of choosing their religion. This doctrine opposed the principle on which adult franchise was granted in the Constitution, he said. To state, as the questionnaire did, that Christians were compelled by force, fraud or monetary temptation begged the question which the committee had been called on to investigate, D'Souza said. He told the Committee that it should look into the allegations and not create new ones. He declared that the assumption that Christians could not be loyal Indians as they had changed faith was "a reflection on the entire Christian minority of 10 million". D'Souza argued that the assumption that Christian missionaries had ulterior motives other than preaching the message of Christ was "the unkindest cut of all", and that in the absence of any evidence it was highly discriminatory. "It damns the Christian for a suspected motive against which he can only offer a bare denial." Any questionnaire, even an unbiased one, is "notoriously unreliable" as a method of inquiry in scientific investigation, D'Souza stated, and must be used with adequate safeguards.

The Christian organisations did not, however, boycott the committee. Although only 55 written replies were from Christian organisations and individuals, they took the questionnaire seriously, protesting against objectionable questions and/or giving reasons for not answering them. One of the lengthiest and most detailed replies from the Christian community was given by Catholic Sabha of the Raigarh District.

The committee's findings were submitted to the Government of Madhya Pradesh in April 1956. Many findings were statements of fact, for instance, that there had been an increase in missionary activity since 1950. Others were unsubstantiated assertions, such as conversions were made by material inducements and false promises. Another finding was that "missions are in some places used to serve extra-religious ends". A later commentator pointed out that "extra-religious activities" included agricultural and village development projects. Some other statements in the report were that "as conversion muddles the convert's sense of unity and solidarity with his society, there is a danger of his loyalty to his country and state being undermined"; the Christian had a supranational loyalty to Christ and the strategy of the missionaries was "to detach the Indian Christian from his nation"; and schools, hospitals and orphanages were used as means to facilitate conversions. The report noted that the actual project of the missionaries was to "revive Christendom for re-establishing Western supremacy", and "...to create Christian minority pockets with a view to disrupting the solidarity of non-Christian societies." These statements drew immediate protest from Indian Christian leaders.

Based on these findings came a set of recommendations, which stand out as proof of the committee's lack of knowledge of the subject it spent two years studying, its ignorance of the law and the Constitution, and its sympathies with totalitarian methods of social control. The report said that missionaries "whose primary object is proselytisation should be asked to withdraw". Indian churches were offered the gratuitous advice of forming a "United Independent Christian Church without being dependent on foreign support". One recommendation was that offering professional services as a means of conversion should be prohibited by law and another was that the Constitution should be amended so that only Indian citizens had the right of religious propagation, and such propaganda should not be done by force or fraud. Other suggestions were that non-official organisations should run social service institutions only for members of their own religious faith and the circulation of religious literature without the prior permission of the State government should be prohibited. The committee recommended the creation of a department of cultural and religious affairs in the State government, with powers of censorship. There were many other such recommendations.

Several books and compilations of articles appeared in response to the Niyogi Report. Dr. Oscar Sevrin, the Bishop of Raigarh-Ambikapur, in his 'Annotations on the Niyogi Report Relating to Raigarh and Surguja' gave a paragraph by paragraph rebuttal of the report. In addition to the charge of using concocted evidence, he accused the committee of deliberate mistranslation of books written on Christianity. Bombay Governor Hare Krishna Mahatab was among the prominent Hindus who repudiated the report. Expressing sorrow over the controversy, he stated that it was caste Hindus and not Christians who had exploited the tribal people. Dr. A. Krishnaswami, a member of Parliament, was among the nine non-Christian signatories to a statement which took note of the "indiscriminate and extravagant attacks on missionaries" although it did not mention the Niyogi Report by name.

M.M. Thomas, the Christian leader who started the ecumenical movement in India, criticised the report for the "...political idea it represents and its effect on the future of the state in India..." He wrote that the "infant secular democratic state of India has yet to find roots in the indigenous cultural soil and is imperilled by totalitarian ideas finding their place in government committees."

A stand-off in Tamil Nadu

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The arrest of a member of the State Assembly on the orders of the Speaker following an incident in the House and his subsequent release on bail on court orders have raised some constitutional questions.

FOR two action-packed days in the fourth week of March, the legislature and the judiciary in Tamil Nadu seemed set on a course of confrontation over an issue which raised certain fundamental legal and constitutional questions. Assembly Speaker P.T.R. Palanivel Rajan decided to await a final order from the Madras High Court, which suspended first a warrant issued by him to arrest All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) member R. Thamaraikani for assaulting Agriculture Minister Veerapandi S. Arumugam in the House and later an Assembly resolution awarding the MLA 15 days' simple imprisonment.

The questions raised by the incident in the Assembly and the court's interim order making the Speaker's and the House's response to the incident ineffective are seen to involve the sovereignty of the legislature and issues of breach of privilege. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has said that "it is time we knew for sure what constitutes the boundary lines of the sovereignty of the legislature and the judiciary as spelt out in the Constitution."

On March 22, Thamaraikani punched Arumugam on his nose during the debate on the State budget, causing bleeding injuries. In the melee that followed, Thamaraikani and one of his colleagues were escorted out of the House. The Assembly voted to suspend them for the rest of the session.

The same day the Speaker issued a warrant directing the Chennai City Police Commissioner to arrest Thamaraikani "wherever he may be and produce him before the Superintendent, Central Jail, Chennai, for lodging him in prison for one week." Thamaraikani was arrested and put in the Central Prison. The next day the Assembly unanimously passed a resolution sentencing Thamaraikani to 15 days' simple imprisonment for breach of privilege of the House and "to protect the sovereignty of the Assembly". On two habeas corpus petitions filed by AIADMK member of the Rajya Sabha O.S. Manian on successive days, a Division Bench of the High Court, comprising Justice T. Jayarama Chouta and Justice S. Thangaraj, issued two orders on March 23 and 25, suspending the March 22 warrant issued by the Speaker and the March 23 resolution of the Assembly. Thamaraikani was released on March 24 on the strength of the March 23 order but was re-arrested on the basis of the March 23 Assembly resolution. The court again passed an interim order releasing him on bail. Both the habeas corpus petitions are pending final decision before the High Court. When the court took up the first habeas corpus petition on March 31, Public Prosecutor R. Shanmugasundaram said the petition could be disposed of as being infructuous because the court order to release Thamaraikani had been complied with. But the petitioner's counsel insisted that the first petition should also be heard. Justice Jayarama Chouta and Justice Thangaraj, therefore, posted both the habeas corpus petitions for hearing on April 8.

The court's orders, especially that of March 25, angered legislators, who said that the orders infringed on the sovereignty of the House. They called the situation "a mockery of democracy". The Speaker observed: "I am a servant of this House and will uphold its sovereignty and supremacy." Indian National League (INL) legislator M. Abdul Latheef said: "We legislators should assert ourselves. The entire House is behind the Speaker." Leader of the House and Education Minister K. Anbazhagan asked the Speaker not to allow any interference from the judiciary in the proceedings of the House.

Although Palanivel Rajan said on March 23 that he"will not receive or respond to any court order," he relented on March 25 after the court suspended the Assembly's resolution. He complied with the court's interim order and said that he would wait until it gave its final order. However, he added: "I do not believe that we will get a favourable judgment from the Madras High Court in this case." Karunanidhi, however, sounded conciliatory. He said that he would act as a "bridge between the judiciary and the legislature." He appealed to the Speaker to take suitable action to uphold the sovereignty of the House but added: "You know the spirit of give and take."

16080451jpg

THIS is not the first time that Thamaraikani, who has shown a pattern of belligerent behaviour, has physically confronted fellow legislators both inside and outside the Assembly. He hit Panrutti S. Ramachandran, at that time Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) member, inside the Assembly and later claimed that he had merely given him "an affectionate pat". On another occasion he had roughed up Dr. A. Chellakumar, who is now a Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) member of the Assembly. It was alleged that he manhandled A. Rahman Khan, now Labour Minister, on the legislators' hostel premises.

There have also been occasions when the Tamil Nadu Assembly became a virtual battleground. On January 28, 1988, after Janaki Ramachandran succeeded M.G. Ramachandran as Chief Minister following the latter's death, the Assembly met to enable the new Chief Minister to seek a vote of confidence. Members came to blows and goondas entered the House. Mikes were wrenched and pedestal fans and chairs were thrown about. City Police Commissioner W.I. Davaram led a police contingent into the House. The police went about beating people inside and outside the Assembly precincts.

Violence erupted in the Assembly on March 25, 1989 when Karunanidhi, who was Finance Minister as well as Chief Minister, was about to present the Budget. Karunanidhi alleged that he was punched in the nose, and he displayed his broken spectacles. Leader of the Opposition and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha alleged that a Minister had pulled her saree. Veerapandi Arumugam, who was then Local Administration Minister, bled profusely from the forehead after he was hit with a mike.

Union Petroleum Minister Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi, an inveterate baiter of Dravidian parties, blamed the March 22 incident on "Dravidian political culture".

Opinion is divided on the interim orders of the High Court. There is no doubt that the legislature has the power to convert itself into a court to try a person, award him punishment, and get it executed under its own orders. The one important question is whether the Speaker's order sentencing Thamaraikani to 15 days' imprisonment after the Assembly had passed the resolution was justiciable. If it was justiciable, did the Speaker have the power to convict Thamaraikani without giving him an opportunity to present his case? Again, there is a view that Thamaraikani need not be given a hearing because he attacked Arumugam in full view of the House. "These are the questions that the court has to decide," one advocate said.

Manian's main contention is that the Speaker has no power to issue a warrant and award imprisonment for a penal offence. Only a court can decide on an issue of penal offence coming under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), he argues. Besides, a detenu cannot be punished twice for the same cause of action, according to his petition. Once Thamaraikani was suspended from attending the rest of the session, the Assembly had no power to revive the issue and enhance the punishment, the petitioner said.

The Speaker said that the seven days he had indicated in the warrant issued by him was not imprisonment awarded to Thamaraikani but only an outer limit for arresting him and keeping him in custody until the House decided on the issue.

Article 212 (1) of the Constitution says: "The validity of any proceedings in the Legislature of a State shall not be called in question on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure." What is relevant here is Article 212 (2), which says: "No officer or member of the Legislature of a State in whom powers are vested by or under this Constitution for regulating procedure or the conduct of the business, or for maintaining order, in the Legislature shall be subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise by him of those powers." The advocate said that if Palanivel Rajan's order was traceable to Article 212 (2), then it was not subject to court jurisdiction. In habeas corpus petitions, bail was not normally granted unless the detention was found to be illegal, he added. (Palanivel Rajan said that the court should not have entertained the habeas corpus petitions because such petitions were admitted only in the case of missing persons. "In this case, everybody knows that Thamaraikani is safe in jail," he said.)

Another advocate said that the High Court was right in acting on the habeas corpus petitions because principles of natural justice came into play here. No opportunity was given to Thamaraikani to explain his stand. The advocate said that it was not clear under what penal section Thamaraikani had been sent to prison. So "the court's interference was absolutely proper," he added. He said that the High Court had not interfered with the Speaker's order suspending Thamaraikani from attending the rest of the Assembly session. The advocate referred to Article 21 of the Constitution, which says:, "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." Thamaraikani was deprived of his liberty and the court could decide whether the Speaker did so as per law, he maintained.

It was during a sedate debate on the Budget that C. Karuppasamy of the AIADMK alleged that the law and order situation in the State had deteriorated and quoted the police as saying that they could not take action because their hands were tied. Health Minister Arcot P. Veerasamy asked Karuppasamy to specify the police officer who said so. At this stage, Thamaraikani made an allegation linking an anti-social element with a member of the Chief Minister's family. Infuriated DMK members started shouting down Thamaraikani. When Veerapandi Arumugam rose to intervene, Thamaraikani waved his hand at the Minister's face. When the Minister waved his hand towards Thamaraikani, the latter hit him on the nose. Arumugam started bleeding from the face.

16080452jpg

Some DMK members ran towards Thamaraikani and tried to rough him up. (Thamaraikani later claimed that 60 DMK MLAS surrounded him and attacked him.) However, legislators belonging to other parties threw a cordon around him, and the watch and ward staff encircled both Thamaraikani and Karuppasamy and escorted them out. Karuppasamy alleged that he was roughed up by the DMK legislators in the House.

Palanivel Rajan issued a warrant to arrest Thamaraikani and lodge him in prison for a week. The police arrested Thamaraikani at the Apollo Hospitals where he and Karuppasamy had gone from Jayalalitha's Poes Garden residence. Thamaraikani was lodged in the Central Prison. On March 23, Justice Chouta and Justice Thangaraj suspended the arrest warrant issued by the Speaker and ordered Thamaraikani's release. Meanwhile, unaware of the court order, the Assembly passed a resolution sentencing Thamaraikani to 15 days' imprisonment after leaders of various parties met in the Speaker's chamber and discussed the issue.

When the Speaker came to know of the court order, he said that he would not take directions from the judiciary. He declared that he had to protect the sovereignty of the legislature. He said that there was no need to give Thamaraikani a hearing because the incident happened in full view of the House. Palanivel Rajan quoted from the rule books to argue that a contemner might not be heard in a case of contempt of the House, including criminal cases.

On March 24, after Thamaraikani was released from prison, he was re-arrested and imprisoned on the strength of the Assembly resolution. It was at this stage that Manian moved the second habeas corpus petition, also seeking suspension of the Assembly resolution, which, he said, violated the principles of natural justice because no opportunity was given to Thamaraikani to present his version.

Additional Advocate-General T.R. Rajagopalan, who argued against the petition, said that the Assembly had inherent powers to commit a person (to prison) for contempt and breach of privilege of the House. He said that the Assembly was "a master" of its own proceedings and the court could not sit in appeal over its decision in this regard.

16080453jpg

Justices Chouta and Thangaraj said the petitioner had made out a prima facie case. They directed the release of Thamaraikani on his executing a personal bond for Rs.25,000, with a surety for a like sum, before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate. The Bench, however said that if the petition ultimately failed, Thamaraikani would have to undergo the rest of the term of imprisonment awarded by the Assembly.

With this turn of events, the Speaker and the Chief Minister counselled a sober approach. Karunanidhi struck a metaphor on why the House relented. The approach of the House was akin to a tall person bending while passing through a short doorway, he said. "We are tall persons. So we have to bend and pass through."

According to Palanivel Rajan, Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi had accepted his suggestion to convene a meeting of presiding officers of State legislatures to discuss the constitutional issues arising from the March 22 incident.

A new scheme of government

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Among several administrative reforms introduced by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, the most important is the one, introduced on April 1, for district government.

AT the official residence of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, hundreds of files used to await clearance in a room adjacent to the visitors' hall. However, since Digvijay Singh assumed office as Chief Minister in 1993, other uses have been found for the room. The reason, as stated by Digvijay Singh, is that he has few files pending: he has delegated responsibilities to his colleagues without retaining any portfolio for himself and decentralised the decision-making process. During his initial term in office, Digvijay Singh ensured that Madhya Pradesh became the first State to introduce the panchayati raj system by implementing the provisions of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.

When he began his second term in office last November, Digvijay Singh went about the task of further decentralising work at Vallabh Bhavan, the State Secretariat. He put forward the concept of district-level governance through district planning committees (DPCs). The idea was to delegate wide-ranging powers to the DPCs. According to a backgrounder released by the Government on the eve of the launch of "district governments" on April 1, the DPCs will review, supervise, monitor and follow up the schemes and activities of various government departments at the district level except those entrusted to panchayati raj institutions and urban civic bodies. Government officials said that after powers had been delegated to panchayati raj institutions and urban civic bodies, the State did not have a mechanism to coordinate development schemes implemented by these organisations separately. Hence, the experiment with "district governments".

As envisaged by the 73rd and 74th amendments, DPCs were formed after the enactment of the District Planning Committee Act in 1995. The Act enables the State Government to delegate its functions to the DPCs. Recently, an amendment to the DPC Act was passed in the State Assembly in order to widen the scope of the DPCs. Although the Constitution does not envisage a "district government" in the strictest sense of the term, the Madhya Pradesh experiment aims to introduce district-level governance by modifying the existing structures.

Each DPC will consist of between 15 and 25 members, four-fifths of whom will be elected as per the constitutional provision. The Minister in charge of the district, the District Collector and the zilla panchayat President will be nominated as members. The Minister will function as the DPC's chairman and the Collector as its secretary.

A major objective of having district governments is to avoid red-tapism. Government officials pointed out that in an administrative structure with numerous levels of authority, matters remained pending at various levels of the bureaucracy and decisions were delayed. Besides, they said, procedural complexities resulted in a slowing down of decision-making processes, thus hampering development programmes and diffusing the accountability factor. The State Government therefore wanted to delegate to the DPCs in a substantial measure the powers of the government, the heads of various departments, and divisional offices.

The DPCs have been given the powers to transfer Class II, III and IV officials (except police personnel) within the district, to approve continuation of the grants sanctioned to various institutions by Government departments, to withdraw such grants in case of violations of the conditions (the Collectors have the power to release discretionary grants sanctioned by the Ministers in charge of the districts), to sanction financial assistance to freedom fighters for the treatment of serious diseases, and to name reservoirs, buildings and roads after eminent citizens. (The Collectors can declare three local holidays a year in their respective districts.) Earlier these powers rested with the State Government.

16080471jpg

The Home Department's power to regulate traffic has been delegated to the DPCs. (The Collectors will have absolute powers to renew the licences of arms sellers under the Arms Act.) The Excise Department's powers to sanction and release grants to promote the construction of new cinema halls will now be vested with the DPCs. The Forest Departments's powers with regard to plantation schemes, the collection of tendu leaves, the group insurance scheme for tendu leaf collectors, the processing of minor forest produce and value addition schemes have been delegated to the DPCs. Besides, the DPCs will have the power to sanction and pay compensation in cases of loss and death of cattle owing to attack by wild animals. They will monitor the implementation of the World Food Programme and the illegal felling of trees, and sanction up to Rs. 1 crore for industrial area development centres besides allotting sheds and land for them.

The DPCs will also have the powers to inspect and review prosecution under labour laws. They will monitor the implementation of epidemic control programmes, the functioning of mobile dispensaries and the Public Health Insurance Scheme, the registration of births and deaths and the implementation of family planning programmes and other national health programmes. Powers to delimit urban bodies and wards and to acquire land have also been vested with the DPCs. They have also been empowered to sanction and monitor medium and small irrigation schemes, assess water resources and formulate their own water policy. The DPCs will be able to ensure the implementation of various programmes under the Social Welfare, School Education, Tribal Welfare and Scheduled Caste Welfare departments.

The power to sanction shops-cum-godowns, take price control measures and prevent blackmarketing have also been transferred to the DPCs. They can now compensate losses of over Rs.15,000 caused by natural calamities, postpone and suspend recovery of land revenue in times of crop losses and acquire land for habitation purposes.

The DPCs will monitor State-protected monuments and museums, identify routes for city public transportation, grant permanent permits for vehicles plying within the district and renovate temples. The Government also proposes to grant them financial powers commensurate with their responsibilities.

The DPCs are expected to be convened at least once a month. Orders with regard to the decisions taken by them would be issued at the district level on behalf of the State Government.

EVEN as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee commended at a recent meeting of the National Development Council the State's pioneering attempt to establish district governments, State leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party criticised the State Government in this regard. Former BJP Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa asked whether the Assembly's consent had been obtained before launching district governments. He remarked that elected panchayats would not become dependent on the DPCs since the DPC's nominated members would be powerful figures. He further said that each DPC would begin to function like a Cabinet, and the voices of persons elected to power by the people may not be heard. Patwa accused Digvijay Singh of converting the government machinery into the election machinery of the Congress(I).

16080472jpg

Close on the heels of the launching of the district governments, the State empowered voters of panchayats to recall their elected representatives after the completion of two and a half years of their term. If one-third of the voters in his constituency express lack of confidence in the elected representative, an election will be held in which the elected representative will be unseated if he or she fails to get 50 per cent of the votes. When a member is unseated, a normal election will be held to elect another member.

This proposal too has not been received well by the BJP. Patwa told Frontline that this would lead to conflicts in villages and would help Digvijay Singh divert people's attention from his Government's failures.

The success of Digvijay Singh's administrative reforms in the long term hinges on the support they get from the bureaucracy and also parties that will come to power in the State in the future.

Strategic changes in Wanni

D.B.S. JEYARAJ world-affairs

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The nature of the conflict between the Sri Lankan Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is undergoing drastic changes as a result of strategic shifts by both the combatants.

THE ongoing war between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the northern Wanni region of Sri Lanka has undergone a qualitative change in recent times. The theatre of conflict is shifting to the northwestern sector of the Northern Province while the protagonists themselves are revising their objectives and redefining their strategies accordingly. There has been a rapid transformation in both the nature of the war and the military equation on the ground. In three bloodless operations, government troops have acquired 995 sq km of "real estate".

Ever since the Government launched "Operation Jayasikurui" (Certain Victory) on May 13, 1997 to recapture the 76-km stretch of road between Vavuniya and Kilinochchi along the Jaffna-Kandy A-9 highway, the LTTE has resisted it effectively through a counter-offensive named "Operation Sei Allathu Sethu Madi" (Do or Die). The significance of the resistance has been that the LTTE adopted for this the positional method of combat instead of guerilla tactics. The Tigers have entrenched themsleves and attempted to defend territory.

The LTTE's change of strategy has been successful to the extent of preventing the Army from reaching its destination of Kilinochchi despite the protracted war. The armed forces had reached only the northern town of Mankulam, about 32 km south of Kilinochchi, when Jayasikurui was suspended last December. The 18-month battle, however, marked the bloodiest phase in the entire war. Casualties on either side, in terms of both the dead and the injured, have crossed 10,000. It is reported that the LTTE has raised three infantry units and one artillery unit to confront the Army whose 53rd, 54th, 55th and 56th divisions were engaged in the Wanni conflict.

It was after the armed forces gained control of Mankulam that the Government suspended Jayasikurui saying that it had achieved its objectives for the moment. The reality, however, was that the emphasis on a northbound thrust towards Kilinochchi had been put on hold. Instead the Army conducted another limited operation named "Rivibala" (Sunpower), reminiscent of Operation "Riviresa" (Sunray), which dislodged the LTTE from Jaffna.

The Jaffna-Kandy road or the A-9 highway, which runs through the middle of the Wanni mainland, has three major roads leading eastwards to the Tiger citadel of Mullaitheevu on the northeastern coast. These roads start at Paranthan, Mankulam and Puliyankulam. When Jayasikurui was suspended, the Army occupied Nedunkerny on the Puliyankulam-Mullaitheevu road and Olumadu on the Mullaitheevu-Mankulam road apart from its positions along the A-9 highway. In December 1998, as part of Operation Rivibala, the Army broke out from the Olumadu-Karippattamurippu camp and proceeded eastwards until it reached Oddusuddan on the Mullaitheevu road. This manoeuvre was supplemented by another column from Nedunkerny which advanced towards Oddusuddan in a northeastward thrust.

Both lines of advance took the LTTE by surprise. The LTTE had structured its defences in anticipation of an upward, northbound move. Apparently it did not expect the Army to progress sideways. The end result was the linking up of Mankulam via Olumadu to Oddusuddan along with Nedunkerny. This near-triangular area saw the Army easily gain 135 sq km of territory.

There was no direct fighting but the Army's advance was preceded by intense bombing and long-range artillery barrages. Around 14,000 civilians fled the area but another 850 civilians opted to take their chances with the Army. They sought refuge in the premises of the Than Thondreeswarar Sivan Kovil at Oddusuddan. This was remarkable as the practice among Tamil civilians is to run away from areas seized by the Army. Later, Deputy Minister of Defence Anuruddha Ratwatte escaped death when LTTE shells landed dangerously close to him as he was visiting the temple. A senior commander, Maj. Gen. Neil Dias, was injured.

The suspension of Jayasikurui saw a reversal of roles in the military scenario, which went largely unnoticed by the island's media. It was no longer a case of the Army trying to advance on predictable routes, with the Tigers waiting in anticipation. As illustrated by the Oddusuddan annexation, the Army now had the advantage of surprise. The LTTE had to guess where the Army would strike next. In the Wanni arena the Army had the options of moving northeast by east to Mullaitheevu from Oddusuddan; proceeding towards south by southeast to Mullaitheevu from Paranthan; resuming Jayasikurui and making either a northward thrust or a southward thrust or both, and reopening the northwestern front.

The LTTE ruled out the northwestern sector of the Wanni which lies to the west of the A-9 highway, and focussed on other areas. It strengthened its 64-km-long pathukappu veli (security fence) of entrenched positions extending from Vavunikulam in the west to Katsilaimadu in the east. It also set up positions near the Paranthan-Elephant Pass axis. The LTTE may have felt that the Army would target Mullaitheevu because it was in every sense the Tiger heartland now. The Alambil-Salai coastline was the LTTE's lifeline in terms of procuring military supplies from abroad. Also, the fledgling "Vaan Puligal" (Air Tigers) unit, comprising a few microlite aircraft and two-seater helicopters, was also stationed there. Subsequent events demonstrated that the LTTE made a grave miscalculation in ignoring the northwestern sector.

16080571jpg

Mannar district, along with portions of Vavuniya and Kilinochchi districts, constitutes the northwestern sector of the Wanni. The A-30 highway is the main road that links Mannar and Vavuniya. This proceeds westwards from Vavuniya town to Parayanalankulam and then northwestwards to Mannar. Another road, the A-14 highway from Medawachiya to Mannar via Chettykulam, meets it at Parayanalankulam. The Army had established control over the Vavuniya-Mannar roadway through another operation named "Edibala" launched prior to Jayasikurui. The LTTE did not offer any resistance then. As the Mannar-Vavuniya road was considered secure, police personnel were deployed along it instead of Army units. Apart from a rare ambush, the LTTE did not attempt any operation to counter the Sri Lankan armed forces' presence there.

From March 4 to 6 this year, government forces conducted an unusually quiet operation, whose character was in striking contrast to its code name "Ranaghosa" (Battle Cry). It was a two-pronged drive from two directions, towards a single destination - Iranaiiluppaikulam, which literally means "twin mahua tree tank" and is 27 km to the northwest of Vavuniya town. This was followed by a second thrust to Moondrumurippu from two directions and then an upward move to Vannivilankulam towards the north.

The Army moved northwards from Poovarasankulam, 13 km to the west of Vavuniya on the Vavuniya-Mannar road, towards Iranaiiluppaikulam along a small road that passes through Velankulam, Thirumenikulam and Periya Puliyank-ulam villages. The area was virtually a no-man's land, devoid of people. Simultaneously, another column proceeded from Thandikulam, 10 km to the north of Vavuniya, along another road, also leading to Iranaiilluppaikulam. This road passes through Marukkarampalai, Shastrikoolankulam, Kalmadu and Thavasiyakulam. Both lines of advance met with no resistance on the way. Even more notable was the virtual absence of landmines on the way. The people of Iranaiiluppaikulam were surprised to wake up one morning and find the Army amidst them. There had been absolutely no firing of any kind. Their surprise increased when they found that the LTTE office which had issued "passes" remained closed and a woman Tiger camp nearby was deserted. Obviously the LTTE had anticipated the arrival of the Army and faded away.

Upon reaching Iranaiiluppaikulam, the Army moved further northwards, passing through the villages of Vilaathikulam, Valaiankaddu and Periyamadhu and reaching Moondru-murippu. Likewise, another column started out from Omanthai, 16 km north of Vavuniya town, and proceeded northwestwards to Moondrumurippu along a gravel track that passes through jungle areas and also the villages of Rambaikulam, Kondakkaarankulam, Palanmoddai, Navvi, Panichankulam and Koliyankulam. Again, there was no resistance. After reaching Moondru-murippu, the Army moved northwards via Pandiyankulam and reached Van-nivilankulam northwest of Mankulam. Later, the Mankulam axis was extended to Vannivilankulam. Now the Army is poised to move through Vavunikulam and then Thunukkai and Mallavi, the two most important towns in the northeastern sector. Mallavi incidentally is the place where a delegation of religious leaders from Colombo met LTTE representatives recently (Frontline, March 12, 1999).

In terms of territorial gains, Operation Battle Cry was a major success: it resulted in an area of 570 sq km coming under Army control. Thus, in two operations that involved no fighting, the Army brought under its control 670 sq km of territory. What is puzzling about this operation is the marked absence of any resistance from the Tigers. It was a virtual cakewalk for the Army. Over 9,000 civilians have opted to remain in the areas captured by the Army, whereas 15,000 persons fled the same areas. An immediate benefit of the operation was the availability of essential goods at relatively low prices. Iranaiiluppaikulam is a key intersection in the northwestern sector. Several roads cut through the place. It was also the main transit point for people crossing from government-controlled areas to LTTE-controlled areas and vice versa.

The change of strategy by both sides provides much food for thought. The Army, instead of focussing only on the A-9 highway, is now opening several fronts to advance in different directions and has seized some territory in the process. The LTTE, on the other hand, has not resisted these advances; it has allowed the Army to march and conquer. Acquiring territory also means that the Army will spread itself thin in trying to consolidate its position, and thus become vulnerable. This could lead to the Tigers attacking isolated Army detachments in the near future. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the Army has shown enough resilience to maintain its presence in the area despite facing onslaughts by the Tigers.

Before Jayasikurui was launched, there were doubts about the efficacy of the Army's strategy to achieve the target of establishing a ground route. In terms of cost analysis, it seemed prudent for the Army to pursue a roundabout but safer route along the northwestern coast. Already the roadway up to Mannar was under Army control. The next stage would have been to gain control of the Mannar-Pooneryn road, or the A-32 highway, which hugs the northwestern coast. From Mannar-Thalladi this road passes through Pappamottai, Pallamadhu, Iluppaikkadavai, Vellan-kulam, Mulankavil, Nachikuda, Palla-varayankattu and so on towards to Pooneryn or Poonagari. Thereafter the linkage with the Jaffna peninsula could be achieved by either extending the links to Elephant Pass via Kilinochchi-Paranthan or by re-establishing the Pooneryn ferry (or constructing the Mahadeva causeway) between Kerathivu and Sangupiddy. Although long-winded, this route which hugs the coast was easier to establish and safeguard than the A-9 highway, which passed through thick jungle in the centre of the Wanni.

Speculation about this route ceased after Jayasikurui. After the Army abandoned Pooneryn and was later driven away from Kilinochchi it seemed that this route was no longer an option. But with the Army making significant strides in the northwestern sector, the route re-emerged as a distinct possibility. The capture of the strategically located Iranaiiluppai-kulam enabled the Army to mount pressure on the LTTE from different directions.

Soon, the air force began bombing the Pooneryn area. Then the Army broke out from the Thallady camp and reached Pappa-mottai on the Pooneryn road without facing any resistance. Perhaps realising that the Army was bent on taking the entire roadway, the Tigers began striking back. Long-range heavy artillery was swiftly moved to Naayaaruveli on the same road from where a barrage was unleashed on the Army. The LTTE scored a major success when shells fell on the Thallady camp ammunition dump. At least 24 soldiers were killed and 42 injured in the serial explosions that followed. The camp sustained great damage and a major fire broke out. The fuel and food storage facilities and a score of vehicles were gutted. The advance along the Pooneryn road was temporarily halted.

The Army, however, started another operation in a different direction. The most famous Catholic church in Sri Lanka is situated at Maruthamadhu and is popularly known as Madhu in Mannar district. In happier times, it attracted around 3.5 lakh pilgrims for the annual feast. It is a church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary but is generally known as Our Lady of Madhu or "Madhu Maatha church". For 15 years Sinhala Catholics had been unable to attend the church because of the security situation. In recent times a colony for nearly 20,000 displaced persons has been set up in the areas surrounding it. The colony is under the supervision of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The road leading to Madhu from the junction on the Mannar-Vavuniya highway is controlled by the Army. With Thallady coming under artillery fire by the LTTE, the Army launched an operation on this road and proceeded towards Madhu. The LTTE fired some shells and the Army turned back. The Army manoeuvre was considered to be a diversionary tactic.

On March 22, the Army conducted the second phase of Operation Ranaghosa. Four columns marched towards Madhu from four directions. One of them, from Uyilankulam, reached Parappakkadanathan; another, from Manthai, reached Aandankulam. The third, from the newly captured Iranai-iluppaikulam, proceeded along Periya Thambarai and Pandivirichen and reached Palampitty. The fourth moved along Madhu road, seized Sinnapan-divirichen and bypassed Madhu to reach Thatchanamaruthamadhu. In one sweeping move, the Madhu church and its environs were brought under Army control. Since then the Army has set up camp within the church precincts. It captured 325 sq km of new territory. Now the next move seems to be a thrust along the Mannar-Pooneryn road.

A result of the Mannar-Pooneryn road coming under Army control would be a curtailment of the clandestine marine contacts made between the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Mannar. It is no secret that the Tigers have in recent times been procuring medicine, fuel, newsprint, non-perishable foodstuffs, and spare parts for machinery and electronic devices from Tamil Nadu through smugglers and fishermen. Some arrests have been made in this regard. The contraband is stored in the "Sea Tiger" base at Nachikudah and then distributed to Tiger centres in the hinterland. If the coastal road is taken by the Army, then the clandestine traffic between the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Mannar would be interdicted effectively. Arms and ammunition for the LTTE, however, come to the eastern coast of Mullaitheevu from places in the southeast.

The LTTE also revived its bombing campaign in Colombo. On March 9, at 9-05 p.m. a feeder pillar of the electricity board at Gasworks Street, in the business hub of the metropolis, was attacked with an explosive, and the area was plunged in darkness. Two bombs exploded two hours later. One was at the Pettah Central bus station, where the bomb was placed behind the driver's seat on a Galle-bound bus. One person was killed and 18 persons were injured. The second explosion was on a Colombo-bound train from Vavuniya. After the last passenger had disembarked, the train went to the railway yard at Dematagoda where the bomb exploded. Analysts feel that the relatively low loss of lives in the incidents indicated a shift in strategy by the Tigers.

There was another bomb attack, on March 16, at Mount Lavinia, a Colombo suburb. Chief Inspector Mohammed Nilabdeen, head of the anti-terrorism unit in the area, left the Mt. Lavinia police station at 5-35 p.m. after he received a call informing him that his wife was ill. As Nilabdeen's vehicle came out of the premises of this office, a woman suicide bomber, who was waiting in a parked rickshaw, threw herself down and exploded. Nilabdeen was injured seriously. Four persons were killed and 10 injured in the explosion. The dead included the human bomb, who was identified as 22-year-old Mary Quincy of Vankalai in Mannar. Another youth on the scene swallowed a cyanide capsule before he was captured.

The seizure of Madhu is considered to be advantageous for the Chandrika Kumaratunga Government in the sense that it would fetch her party the Sinhala Catholic vote in the elections. However, the presence of the Army within the church has angered Tamil Catholics. The Bishop of the area, Joseph Rayappu, has threatened a non-violent protest campaign if the Army is not withdrawn within two weeks. The fear is that by militarising church premises the armed forces would make the church vulnerable to attacks by the LTTE. The church and also the people who have taken refuge there may suffer as a result.

There is speculation among analysts on the LTTE's next move. By gaining new territory the Army is constrained to re-deploy personnel from other fronts in the northeastern sector. This will relieve pressure on the LTTE. Also, the Army may become a potential target when it spreads itself thin in the future. Also, the Tigers are expected to lodge stiff resistance to any forward movement by the Army along the Pooneryn road. But the anxiety in government circles is that the LTTE may launch its own version of a "Tet Offensive" in the future. It is also feared that its air wing will play a big role in future conflicts. Supporters of the Tigers are disappointed that the LTTE has not resisted forward thrusts by the military. So there is pressure on LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran to prove in the coming weeks that he sacrificed 995 sq km of land because he had a greater goal in sight.

Thus it is quite transparent that the conflict is undergoing drastic changes as a result of strategic shifts by both combatants. The situation is fluid right now. The coming days would indicate which side would get the upper hand in South Asia's most protracted conflict.

The path of tears

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

As the IMF-managed programme of austerity grinds on, the economic trials of Ecuador worsen, the ship of state buffeted by fiscal winds controlled elsewhere.

Ecuador, Ecuador... fever burns in the poor barrios, hunger's plowshare with barbed tines in the earth, and pity pounds on your breast with coarse cloth and convents, like a disease soaked in fermentation of tears. -- Pablo Neruda, Cantos General, 1950.

ON March 16, 1999, Michel Camdessus, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, appeared on Ecuadorian television. "There will not be help from the rest of the world," the IMF chief noted, "if there is not unity within the country. There is only one thing holding us back, the fact that there is no unity in Ecuador behind an emergency programme."

The episode is unprecedented. The seven-month-old Government of Harvard-educated Jamil Mahuad was in the midst of a crisis, with effigies of the President being hung daily on the streets of Quito. Unable to address the growing unrest in the country of 12 million people, Mahuad declared a state of emergency on March 9. However, rather than strengthening his hand, the emergency drew more workers and Amerindians together into a struggle whose roots are tangled and are global in nature. The coalition of workers and Amerindians organised a general strike in Ecuador from March 10 to 18. The resolution of the vibrant struggle on March 19 was simply a postponement of the problem. To discipline the population, Mahuad turned to the IMF - not only for funds to prevent a meltdown of the Ecuadorian economy but also to provide the political will that is non-existent in the country, caught as it is on the forward lines of the fight against globalisation.

Mahuad, a descendant of Arab migrants, cannot be blamed entirely for the trials of Ecuador. As Eduardo Galeano writes in his classic book Open Veins of Latin America, Ecuador remains imprisoned by its richness in raw materials. A major producer of bananas, coffee, cacao and oil, Ecuador is flush with possibilities of growth. However, these are very primary commodities, which are at the mercy of international financial forces and of the agri-business and petroleum conglomerates whose hegemony over prices is legendary. Whereas Ecuador's cacao sales rose by more than 30 per cent in volume between 1950 and 1960, the nation was able to realise an increase of only 15 per cent in value. The rest of the profit was absorbed by international cartels or passed on to consumers in the advanced industrial states (which in turn exported over-priced finished goods to Ecuador).

From the 1950s onwards, Ecuador's financial health suffered from fluctuations of prices, which it has not been able to control. By the early 1970s, 70 per cent of Ecuador's population suffered from basic malnutrition; the figure is virtually unchanged today. A feeble attempt at land reform in 1964 helped transfer only unproductive land to the landless in an experiment that bore comparison with the Bhoodan trials of Vinoba Bhave.

By late 1998, Ecuador's foreign debt amounted to $13 billion (60 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product), and the economy was hammered additionally by a $2.6 billion loss owing to the El Nino, the freak weather phenomenon, which seems to have acquired a more or less consistent pattern. With the banana crop of 1998 in disarray owing to climatic factors, the Asian 'flu' creating a reduction in exports, and oil prices having dropped, Ecuador is, as the IMF chief noted, at a "historic and dramatic moment."

However, recent events are not themselves the cause of the problem: that Ecuador cannot deal with these reveals that there is far more to the story than the 'Asian flu' and the El Nino - neoliberalism's two pet culprits for the economic trials of countries such as Ecuador. For example, the battle between the United States and France over trade in bananas in December 1998 reminds one that the world's banana market is controlled not by the South Americans and Central Americans (who produce most of the crop), but by U.S.-based multinationals such as Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte (who command two-thirds of the banana crop). The wiles of Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte will influence the lives of Ecuadorians far more, in the long run, than the shifting winds.

UNTIL 20 years ago, Ecuador, like most South American countries, was governed by a dictatorial regime. Civilian control of the government came in 1979, but there has been little attempt to extend democracy. Rather, political parties played musical chairs with the Presidency: they accused each other of corruption but indulged in their own private exploitation of the nation's resources. By all accounts, the rate of tax evasion in Ecuador is 70 per cent (a dispute over this led to the resignation of the Governor of the central bank, Jaramillo, in March 1998). The venality of the elite was intensified by the oppression of Amerindians.

16080601jpg

As the Zapatistas rose in rebellion in the Chiapas region in Mexico (January 1994), the National Indian Confederation of Ecuador (CONAIE), the Indian Movement of Chimboranzo (MICH) and the peasant unions took control of rural Ecuador for two weeks in June 1994. The Amerindians responded to a neoliberal agrarian law which guaranteed private property, effectively ended the policy of land reform and privatised access to water. Victor Corral, who along with many liberation theologians joined the movement, noted that the law "only defends the interests and the viewpoint of the landowners who want to transform the country into an agri-industrial enterprise and reduce land to a commodity". (Maurice Lemoine in Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1994, offers one of the few reports on this semi-insurrection.)

The 1994 uprising was only the first act in an ongoing drama. Three years later, the CONAIE joined Ecuador's trade union federation (FUT) to organise a series of strikes against the austerity programme managed by the IMF. On February 5, 1997, two million people joined a 'civic strike' against the state as petrol prices rose 350 per cent and telephone rates went up by 800 per cent. The next day, Ecuador's Congress ousted President Abdala Bucaram for 'mental incapacity'. Incidentally, on January 29, 1997, U.S. Ambassador Leslie Alexander told El Universo, a leading Ecuador newspaper, that "unless a dramatic attack is initiated against the systematic corruption which afflicts the country, it will be my responsibility to officially notify Washington of the dangers in investing here."

On February 14, Alexander told El Republica that he was "very happy" with the ouster of Bucaram. In the aftermath of the ouster of Bucaram, the entire political establishment bowed to the inevitability of structural adjustment and austerity. Fabian Alarcon, who held office for a year, announced immediately after taking office (on February 15) that "our country must fulfil its international commitments". In the 1998 election, which resulted in Mahuad's victory, candidates for the major political parties promised to stay the neoliberal course. Indeed, Mahuad pledged to cut subsidies, to privatise the state-run telephone company Emetel and to allow foreign capital to finance the extension of a pipeline for crude oil. The entire election was about corruption rather than a referendum on austerity. "The crisis is the product of the application of an economic model that has meant the impoverishment of the people and a paralysis of national development," argued Labour leader Fausto Dutan, but this view did not succeed in determining the issues for the largely uneventful election.

There was to be no respite for Mahuad. On October 1, 1998, a one-day strike against the austerity measures resulted in street battles between the police and groups of workers and students. Even as Mahuad solemnly announced that "the Government is obliged to maintain order", one worker was shot dead in the southern coastal city of Guayaquil and another in the northern city of Esmeraldes. But the immediate cause of alarm was the devaluation of the Ecuadorian currency, the sucre, by 15 per cent.

16080602jpg

ON February 4, 1999, teachers of 120,000 public schools went on strike (some of them remain on indefinite strike). They demand wage hikes, collection of unpaid taxes and expropriation of assets held by those who stole money from the exchequer over the past few decades. This was all in anticipation of the March 10-11 national strike organised by the United Workers' Front and the CONAIE. On the road to the strike, the sucre lost 40 per cent of its value against the dollar and the people began to withdraw their savings from the banks. Mahuad closed the banks and brought in rules that prevented such withdrawals. He called out the armed forces (3,000 soldiers and 12,000 policemen) to counter the strike and he raised taxes on primary goods by 50 per cent (the price of petrol was tripled). The response on the streets was instantaneous.

Quito, the capital, remained a ghost town and Interior Minister Vladimiro Alvaraz, announced that "all of the republic's territory has been made a security zone." In particular, "the armed forces will give all necessary support to oil installations," he said. The security forces clashed with demonstrators as tyres burnt in the streets and teargas filled the air.

Two days into the strike, 100,000 taxi drivers stopped work and brought the major cities to a halt. This is significant because taxi drivers of Ecuador generally see themselves as independent proprietors rather than as workers, and this difference of perception has been made invalid by the economic conditions. Oil workers joined them and caused oil production to drop from 410,000 barrels a day to 18,500 barrels a day. A stalemate between the Government and the labour unions continued for a week.

On March 18, Mahuad made a deal with the Opposition. He agreed to withdraw the price increases, and he was allowed to continue with the policy of austerity. Argentina had decided in January to adopt the U.S. dollar as the state's currency. As Ecuador plunged into its current financial crisis, the regime's managers considered the Argentinean course of action to be the only solution to their own problems. When Ana Lucia Armijos, Mahuad's Finance Minister, met Domingo Cavallo, the man behind what the Argentinians call 'convertibility', she noted: "it's an option we are considering. We haven't ruled it out". This is a solution that was considered in Indonesia and in Russia during their moments of crisis earlier, but it has not been thought through in any detail (especially since Ecuador holds only $1.2 billion in international reserves). Meanwhile, the austerity package that Ecuador will put into place (it has been given a boost by the presidential decree that forbids bank withdrawals for six months) would give the people some respite.

16080603jpg

But with 63 per cent of the population officially below the poverty line and with the ship of state buffeted by fiscal winds that are controlled elsewhere, it is unlikely that one will not hear from the powerful workers' coalition in the near future. Stay tuned for another episode in this struggle over globalisation.

Vijay Prashad is an Assistant Professor of International Studies in Trinity College, Hartford.

Tamil in cyberspace

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The modalities of adapting Tamil for use in information technology have been worked out at an international conference hosted by the Tamil Nadu Government's Task Force on Information Technology.

TAMILNET '99, the stylistically titled international conference on the use of Tamil in Information Technology, was hosted in Chennai recently by the Tamil Nadu Government's Task Force on Information Technology. The two-day event attracted more than a hundred techno-linguistic inputs from participants across the globe. A similar conference, TamilNet '97, was held in Singapore. At the inaugural session, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that while the 1997 conference had identified the maladies affecting the Tamil computer sector, the current one would propose remedies.

The overall objective of the conference was to enlarge the scope of use of Tamil in computers, multimedia applications and the Internet. This was streamlined into the triple goals of defining universal standards for a Tamil keyboard, evolving a common standard in Tamil script character coding, and enhancing the use of Tamil in multimedia and the Internet. The participants were fully aware of their historic responsibility as Karunanidhi announced that the Tamil Nadu Government would implement the recommendations of the conference.

After stimulating rounds of discussions, the conference arrived at a consensus and resolved that a standard phonetic keyboard should be adopted for Tamil in computers. The phonetic keyboard was popular because it was user-friendly and minimised the effort involved. It was emphasised that the following features should be incorporated in a standard keyboard layout:

* Tamil characters used frequently should be placed in strong finger positions and others in light finger positions.

* The less frequently used grantha letters should be used in shift-key operations. Short and long vowels should be kept in adjacent positions for convenience.

* Tamil letters that normally appear conjointly should be adjacent to each other to facilitate easy operation.

It was also decided that various keyboards should be developed universally in accordance with this standard and documented for reference. Initiatives should be taken to promote worldwide use of this universal keyboard.

The conference also decided that during the transition period, the Tamil typewriter-based keyboard should continue to be in use. The keyboard should not deviate from the one proposed by the Keyboard Committee appointed by the Tamil Nadu Government in 1997. The conference also decided to adopt the Romanised keyboard as recommended by the Tamil Nadu Keyboard Committee as an alternative to a Tamil keyboard. This suggestion was for the benefit of persons who are familiar only with spoken Tamil and who prefer to use English characters while typing Tamil text.

The requirements of Tamil computing were categorised as:

(a) word processing and publishing; (b) communication and interfaces with ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange)-based software systems; and (c) language analysis and processing and system software-based applications. If adequate space is available, it will be possible to fulfil all the above requirements with a single character-encoding scheme. But in the case of Tamil there is a hitch. In an eight-bit system, there are 256 locations available of which ASCII occupies the 128 lower locations, leaving less than 128 locations for Tamil characters. This space is not enough to accommodate the Tamil script in its entirety - at least not now. It would be possible in the future if a two- or three-byte system, such as UNICODE, is implemented fully.

In these circumstances, the conference was compelled to accommodate more than one system of encoding. Thus character encoding system for bilingual as well as monolingual applications was adopted. These were devised for software based on monolingual and bilingual glyph encoding systems. A character encoding scheme with only Tamil characters in the same locations as in the devised scheme was also recommended for modifying the existing UNICODE.

Realising the critical importance of ensuring the transition from the codes currently in use, the proposed codes were recommended as a standard draft. The standard draft has now been made available universally at a Web-site specifically created for this purpose. Experts and specialists have been given 100 days from February 9 to make an assessment of the standard draft. During this period they will apply the draft codes through various software forum and media and gauge their compatibility as well as adaptability. The international feedback gained will be compiled and tabulated. The cumulative experience will greatly influence the final decision on draft standards. The decision is expected to be taken by June 1, 1999. A committee comprising experts from within and outside India is to be set up for the purpose. It was also resolved that once the codes are finalised the Tamil Nadu Government should provide support to enable existing software to adopt the new encoding system.

The conference resolved that the present system of Tamil character encoding used in UNICODE needs to be modified to suit the special features of Tamil characters. The Tamil Nadu Government has been asked to undertake necessary consultations with organisations concerned. It has been proposed that an expert group on UNICODE for Tamil should be constituted. In order to promote and develop the use of Tamil in computers, it was proposed that a Tamil Internet research centre (at the State level) and a worldwide Internet communication facility for Tamil be established.

THE conference noted that the entire heritage of Tamil literature and grammar should be made available on the Internet. It would be necessary to develop software for a Tamil dictionary, a Thesaurus, spellcheck systems, e-mail, optical character recognition for handwritten and other material, voice-driven data processing, natural language processing, palm leaf letter recognition and so on. Governments of countries that recognise Tamil as an official language, universities and private organisations were also urged to support these proposals. It was proposed to conduct another conference of this kind next year.

The conference ended on an upbeat note when Karunanidhi announced that his Government would implement a 10-point charter. The proposals made at the conference constituted the charter. They were:

* A virtual Tamil Internet University will be created, which would be accessible to all Tamil-speaking people;

* Tamil Nadu will become a member of the UNICODE consortium and obtain 512 locations to accommodate all Tamil letters in the encoding system;

* A committee comprising experts from Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka will be appointed to finalise recommendations regarding monolingual and bilingual encoding systems. Its report has to be submitted within three months;

* A "Tamil Software Fund" is to be set up to encourage Tamil software development;

* Three research chairs will be created in Bharathiyar University, Coimbatore; Regional Engineering College, Tiruchi; and Anna University, Chennai;

16080811jpg

* Effective linkages between Tamil Nadu and the Tamil diaspora through the Internet will be promoted.

* A Tamil Internet research centre for English and Tamil users to be set up at the State level.

* A thousand community Internet centres will be established for both Tamil and English users;

* Forms for applications to be made to the State Government will be made available in Tamil and English over the Internet within a year; and

* The codes recommended as draft standards will be made available for 100 days on the Internet in order to facilitate a global evaluation. (This has been done already.)

The conference literature described Tamil's progress from palm leaf to the computer screen as a great leap forward. It is estimated that there are more than a million Tamil users of the Internet and their number is rapidly increasing. At least 3,000 Tamil Web-sites are in existence. Various media sites, including those of newspapers, magazines and radios, are available in Tamil. There are electronic discussion groups. Tamil electronic libraries are flourishing. Hundreds of Tamil fonts and multiple keyboards are in use.

The use of Tamil in computers is actively promoted by the Tamil diaspora in at least 65 countries. The conference noted that of the global Tamil population of 80 million, around 20 million people are outside Tamil Nadu. With the Tamil Nadu Government committed to propelling the State towards a computer revolution, the use of Tamil in computers is likely to explode in the new millennium.

The digital renaissance in Tamil, however, is in a state of disarray because of the proliferation of users and a lack of cohesiveness. The polyphony of electronic Tamil is in danger of deteriorating into a cacophony; unless this trend of diverse proliferation is harmonised into a constructive symphony it could result in chaos in Tamil cyberspace. TamilNet '99, therefore, is of paramount importance in this regard.

The presence of the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry and Tamil Ministers from three foreign countries - the Minister of Livestock Development and Estate Infrastructure from Sri Lanka, S. Thondaman, the Minister of Works from Malaysia, Samy Vellu, and the Minister for Education and Science from Mauritius, Ramasamy Chidamparampi-llai - underscored the significance of the conference. Karunanidhi said at the conference that "a global Tamil village on the Internet is in the making". If the resolutions of TamilNet '99 are implemented efficiently, the new millennium could effectively herald it.

Remembering EMS

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A two-day seminar organised to commemmorate the first death anniversary of E.M.S. Namboodiripad highlights the threats from communalism and globalisation.

IDENTIFYING communalism and globalisation as the main threats to a secular and democratic India, a galaxy of intellectuals who attended a two-day-long EMS Memorial Seminar in Thiruvananthapuram exhorted the Left movement to formulate and implement programmes to combat the menace of communalism in the political, economic, social and cultural fields. The writing of history, they said, was not merely an academic exercise but a powerful weapon in the hands of people fighting for social reforms.

Organised by the AKG Centre for Research and Studies to commemorate the first death anniversary of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the seminar on "Secular and democratic India towards a new millennium" was an attempt to provide a platform to discuss and devise a common programme to deal with communalism and globalisation which threaten the bedrock of secularism and democracy on which modern India was founded. Paying rich tributes to EMS, speakers at the seminar said that EMS' vision of a secular and egalitarian India was threatened by divisive communal forces.

Inaugurating the seminar, eminent historian Bipan Chandra said: "The challenge in the coming decades is going to be that of continuing the struggle for economic development with the struggle for social and economic equality on the basis of a secular and democratic and civil libertarian order." Presenting his paper, "Secular and democratic India on the threshold of the new millennium", Chandra spoke of the need to redefine and restructure Marxian thinking to meet new challenges. He said that Indian Marxists must revaluate Gandhiji and relate to him as the Left movement had much in common with Gandhian thought on capitalism, struggle for social liberty and morality and the question of secularism and communalism.

DESABHIMANI 16080871jpg

Bipan Chandra condemned attempts to communalise the Indian polity. He said that it was deplorable that India had not witnessed even one countrywide campaign against communalism since the late 1940s. He demanded that all secular parties assign at least one day in a year to alert people about the dangers of communalism.

Defining secularism as the separation of religion from politics, economics and large areas of culture and treating it as a private, personal affair, Chandra said that in a multi-religious society, secularism also meant that the state remained equidistant from all religions, including atheism, and that it did not discriminate in favour of or against the followers of any particular religion.

Chandra said that Gandhiji had agreed with all the three aspects of secularism and fought against communalism all his life. He said: "It is the intrusion of religion into secular fields that has to be opposed. And in this Gandhi is one with us." Chandra added that India must seek economic development without sacrificing economic equality and social justice. He also spoke of the importance of preserving and protecting the autonomy of the individual in the institutional structures of society, especially the state.

Continuing the discussion, reputed historian K.N. Panikkar said that the fight against communalism must begin at the grassroots level with the mobilisation of people. V.S. Achuthanandan, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) presided over the inaugural session.

The six sessions of the seminar, spread over two days, also discussed at length the Sangh Parivar's attempt to influence public thought and sentiments through the media, education, culture and economy. The topics discussed were "The idea of India: Growth and problems", "Is there an economic alternative in the context of globalisation?", "Future of secular democracy and the media", "Indian nationalism and the question of culture", "Challenges of a secular, democratic education" and "The question of nationality and problems of national unity."

While communalism was identified as the immediate danger, the speakers also expressed concern at the mindless consumerism that accompanies globalisation and liberalisation and the threat it represents to the political and economic sovereignty of developing nations.

DESABHIMANI 16080872jpg

According to the historian Irfan Habib, "Marxism provides the most cogent arguments against communalism and all divisive and anti-democratic tendencies." His paper, "The envisioning of a nation: A defence of the idea of India", (the paper was read out in his absence), emphasised that the chauvinistic and fascist ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be modified by the compulsions of governance.

Tracing the growth of India as a nation, Irfan Habib said that it was the resistance to colonialism and the absorption of modern, democratic (and later socialist) ideas that began to transform India from a country - a geographical and cultural entity - into a true nation. He added: "India is then a creation of the Indian people, a product not simply of nature or even of blind circumstances, but essentially of their consciousness."

While Irfan Habib pointed out that the process of saffronisation would spell danger to the nation's unity and integrity, Rajan Gurukkal warned that globalisation and market forces would threaten the sovereignty of nations. Painting a grim picture of India in the next millennium, Gurukkal added that powerful multinational corporations would erode the autonomy of the nation state. Alternative politics, which drew its strength from people at the grassroots and from direct action by the people, were the only means to oppose the unethical and anti-people market forces, he said.

Delivering the keynote address on "Future of secular democracy and the media," N. Ram, Editor of Frontline, said that communalism as a political mobilisation strategy was the principal challenge to Indian politics and to the Indian Constitution. He said: "Majoritarianism is impermissible. India is nothing if it is not multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious, multi-cultural, multinational." Ram pointed out that secular, progressive forces had not been able to occupy the space created by the decline of the Congress, the party that had traditionally been in power in the country.

Criticising the performance of significant sections of the media during times of communal crisis, Ram said that the media could only be relatively independent and highlighted the Press Council's indictment of Saamna, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, for instigating the Mumbai riots of 1993.

On the economic front, Prabhat Patnaik, Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, called for an alternative politico-economic agenda that would cater to the needs of India and stop the erosion of the autonomy of nations owing to the globalisation of finance capital. In his keynote address on "Globalisation and possibilities of an alternative economic programme," Patnaik emphasised that land reforms and infrastructural development and decentralisation were the key factors for development.

Speaking at the same seminar, member of Kerala's Planning Board T.M. Thomas Isaac said that the People's Plan programme in Kerala was an important element of the alternative economic programme that was being proposed. It was aimed at deepening and strengthening democracy by decentralising resources and decision-making, he said.

16080873jpg

Noted historian Aijaz Ahmad, who delivered the keynote address on "The politics of culture" on the second day of the seminar, said that market and commodity fetish was the greatest challenge faced by a secular society. He said that the culture of a country should not be analysed from its past but from the realities of the present. The material activities of the people for a meaningful life constituted culture. Quoting Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist theorist, Ahmad said that the concept of nation-popular would identify the nation with the popular classes and that a national culture would arise out of the practices as well as aspirations of those classes. Ahmad wondered what the market forces, which looked for unity of culture and language, would do to India's plurality of languages and cultures.

Echoing the same sentiments was CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat who spoke on "Problems of nationalisation and unity of the country". He warned against attempts to depict the country as a Hindu nation. Speaking on the rise of divisive forces organised on the basis of caste, region, language and religion, Karat emphasised that these movements and the demand for separate States would not help solve the problems of national unity. According to him, regional disparities and the discrimination faced by tribal people and ethnic minorities could be solved by adequate regional autonomy. He said: "Regional grievances have to be articulated as part of the movement for democratic decentralisation and participation in decision-making; chauvinism that pits one section of the people against another has to be firmly combated."

Participating in the seminar on "Challenges to secular education", K.N. Panikkar said that Hindu communalists were trying to replace secular education with a religious one.

The sizable attendance at the seminars and the active question-and-answer sessions that followed them reflected the people's apprehensions about the policies, intentions and governance of the BJP Government. Owing to paucity of time, some of the questions had to be tackled in a cursory manner. However, at the plenary session, CPI(M) leader M.A. Baby, who presided over the function, promised that the answers to the questions would be compiled and made available to the people.

At the valedictory session, Kerala Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar said that casteist and communalist forces were making a comeback at the fag end of the 20th century. However, he hoped that popular people's movements would guard India's democracy and secularism. Agreeing with him was V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Judge of the Supreme Court.

The speakers paid rich tributes to EMS, and said that India would always cherish and remember EMS as a guiding light.

Dealing with the dollar

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

How Cuba copes with the long-term effects of the U.S. blockade against it by making the pursuit of dollar earning a virtual movement.

EVEN for the intrepid American traveller, getting to Cuba is no easy task. The United States' blockade means that a Cuban destination, lying just a few kilometres to the south of Florida, is best reached by taking a detour through a third country. But once in Cuba, such tourists find themselves at home. For one, their opposition to the U.S. Government notwithstanding, Cubans make American visitors feel welcome and even wanted. For another, their domestic currency, the dollar, is Cuba's most widely accepted legal tender and commodities and services (including taxi meters) are priced in dollars in all outlets that a foreigner is likely to access.

The twin-blockade, which forced the Cuban Government to declare a "Special Period in Peacetime", has made access to foreign exchange a principal concern for the Government of what is a small island economy. Food, medicines, inputs and fuel can be accessed in adequate volumes only with foreign exchange, making the effort at restoring the health of a devastated economy and protecting the quality of life of its citizens dependent on dollar earnings. Fidel Castro's Government is committed to ensuring that the entire population has access to basic necessities. But the definition of what goods and services and how much of them constitute basic necessities depends in turn on the amount of foreign exchange that could be drawn into the economy and soaked up by the Government.

With no supporter of the Soviet kind in sight, recovery became synonymous with the pursuit of the dollar. The previous article in this series (Frontline, April 9, 1999) detailed the measures taken by the Cuban Government with regard to trade, foreign investment and tourism with the aim of furthering that pursuit. But despite this willingness to "open up" to deal with what many people considered an impossible situation, the pursuit was rendered difficult by the U.S. blockade, which was intensified by the Toricelli Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 approved by the U.S. Congress. The Toricelli Act prohibited foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba. It also prohibited U.S. citizens from travelling to Cuba and banned family remittances to Cuba. According to its author Robert Toricelli, it was designed to cripple the Cuban economy and bring down Castro "within weeks". Among the provisions of the Helms-Burton Act was one which allows Cuban-Americans whose assets were taken over during the revolution to file a suit against any foreign company which transacted in those assets as part of their Cuban business interests. The Act also provided for the denial of U.S. visas to any foreigner holding a stake in property expropriated from Cuban-Americans.

The Cuban Government's response to this tightening of the blockade has been along two lines. First, it has made an effort to win the support of as many nations as possible to fight the blockade in international forums and to convince them to flout or circumvent the efforts of the U.S. to internationalise the blockade. Success here has been remarkable. Not only do Canadian, European and Latin American firms do business with and in Cuba, but there is a growing private lobby within the U.S. pressing for the lifting of the blockade. In the United Nations, support for the resolution to terminate the economic, commercial and financial blockade of the U.S. against Cuba has shifted sharply over the seven years in which it has been consecutively tabled and put to vote. While in 1992, 59 out of 133 participating countries voted in favour and five against and 71 abstained, in 1998, 157 out of 171 countries voted in favour and 12 abstained and only two countries (the U.S. and Israel) voted against.

But Cuba is not a country that seeks outside support alone. To make its pursuit of dollar earnings a virtual movement, it has sought to involve the average Cuban in that effort by means of persuasion and incentives. To convey to its population the premium that has to be placed on the dollar, the Government legalised the use of foreign currency after August 1993 and created a convertible peso in December 1994 which exchanged for the dollar on a one-to-one basis. Public support was crucial here, for the legalisation of the dollar has created a dual economy, with the dollar economy being characterised by high prices and easy availability of goods and the peso economy by low, subsidised prices but limited availability of commodities. It is obvious that the average Cuban yearns to access commodities available in the dollar shops that are ubiquitous at least in the cities and towns. This is not only because of the strong "demonstration effect" that the consumption of dollar-denominated commodities has on the population, which increasingly aspires to the lifestyle those commodities represent. It is also because there are many essentials like cooking oil and some medicines that are more easily accessed through the dollar shops.

16081091jpg

There are two ways to ensure such access for the common Cuban. The first one is to allow them to access foreign exchange directly from relatives abroad, through legal (and sometimes illegal) means of self-employment in sectors that yield dollar incomes or through working in sectors and jobs that are provided with dollar incentives. The second method is to accumulate pesos that are officially convertible into dollars so as to ensure that people can buy those commodities (such as colour televisions) that can be accessed only in the dollar economy.

The intent of the latter method is really to mop up past peso savings and liquidity. It would be difficult for an average Cuban earning peso incomes in a range equivalent to $20-25 to save up much in the form of pesos that can buy expensive dollar goods. Yet the dollarisation of the economy is proceeding apace. According to official sources, in 1996 close to 50 per cent of Cubans had some access to pesos and the level of foreign exchange held by the population in the middle of 1997 amounted to 49.5 per cent of the currency in circulation in the country. This large share of the dollar and the convertible peso has been attributed to "purchases of foreign exchange with national currency, family remittances and the growth of tourism, in addition to expansion of the systems of incentives in this currency that benefited more than 1.4 million workers." That is, the ability of some Cubans and domestic firms to earn dollars directly and spend them in the dollar economy has risen quite sharply, while the ability of those who seek to convert peso incomes into dollars in order to acquire imported commodities has been less buoyant because of depressed incomes. The faster rate of growth of the supply of dollars relative to demand is reflected in the fact that the regular peso, which is the principal form of income for the average Cuban, has improved its position vis-a-vis the dollar over time.

From an all-time low of 130 pesos to the dollar in 1994, its value rose to 40 pesos to the dollar in November 1995, 30 pesos to the dollar in July 1995 and an unusual seven pesos to the dollar, in August 1995. Since then the rate has stabilised at 20 pesos to the dollar, where it currently stands.

THERE are two questions that this process of dollarisation of the economy gives rise to. The first is: how are the two economies - the dollar and peso economies - to be reconciled in the long run? The second question is: in the interim, how are the inequalities arising from the differential access to goods and services to dollar and peso holders being handled? The introduction of the convertible peso in December 1994, which exchanges with the dollar on a one-to-one basis, was seen as a first step towards resolving the dual economy problem. As mentioned earlier, over the 1990s the regular peso has been revalued seven times, taking its value from 130 to the dollar to 20 to the dollar. The Government's expectation is that this process would continue, resulting in a situation where the difference in value between the regular peso, on the one hand, and the convertible peso and the dollar, on the other, would disappear. Once that happens, there would be no need for the country to keep the dollar in circulation, since the convertible peso can be used as legal tender in both peso and dollar shops.

The second one is a more tricky question. For the moment, the Government is dealing with the problem in two ways. To start with, the regular earnings of Cubans consist of three parts. One part is a peso income, which allows them to access rations and low-priced commodities from the peso economy. The second part is a payment in kind - virtually a bag of goodies - consisting of commodities varying from toiletries and detergents to cooking oil, which are not easily available within the peso economy. The bag varies by enterprise and month and often involves "repeats" that are reportedly traded for other goods in an informal barter market. Finally, there is a third part in the form of dollar incentives provided on the basis of qualifications, job description and performance of the individual.

This three-part payment system does partially reduce the disparity between those who can access dollars through remittances or employment/self-employment in sectors such as those linked to tourism, either as regular earnings or tips. However, the dual economy system does create a situation where an individual's quality of life is divorced from his or her station in life. Highly trained doctors and scientists, for example, would have less access to the dollar shop than a taxi driver or a worker in the tourist industry would have. And any effort to correct this anomaly with special dollar incentives does increase inequalities in the purchasing power of different sections of the population and their access to commodities.

The problems are compounded by the fact that beneficiaries tend to guard zealously their advantages relative to others. For example, the Government at one point permitted individuals and families to set up "paladares" or private restaurants, with the seating capacity limited to 12, as a source of dollar earnings for their self-employed operators. Margins in these restaurants can be high in some locations, even if low in others. But when the Government imposed taxes to mobilise resources and deal with the inequality generated by the creation of a set of dollar-earning individuals, the move created much resentment. Individuals who have not been taxed in the past felt that the Government was taking away with one hand the opportunity it offered with the other.

16081092jpg

Such problems can be resolved only when dollar inflows, relative to outflows, reach a level where the peso can exchange for the dollar on a one-to-one basis and average incomes rise to match the international prices at which a range of commodities are increasingly sold. Till that time, the Government has to sustain the morale of the population. Besides its revolutionary history and the charismatic presence and persuasive eloquence of its leader Fidel Castro, Cuba has two means to this end. First, by ensuring the availability of basic necessities to all people, including access to almost the best in health and education. Second, a refusal to transform the unavoidable need to provide a role for markets into the voluntary embrace of a market-based system. Cuba's economic policy trajectory during the Special Period has been different from that of the other "economies in transition". While Cuba did decentralise its decision-making structure, introduce elements of a market economy and seek out private foreign investment, the economy is still characterised by a dominant presence of the state in small and medium industry and trade and by a substantial degree of regulation of the market and private investment.

The only danger is that as recovery strengthens, average incomes rise and the gap between the dollar and the peso narrows, the desire of the population to be "paid off" for more than a decade of sacrifice, could result in pressure on the state to allow more freedom for private enterprise and to free markets in the name of "choice". Such pressures may be all the greater if Cuba wins the battle against the U.S. blockade, unleashing new opportunities and bringing in new influences from closer home. If it does, transition of a kind seen in much of Eastern Europe, to a system wherein growth, if it occurs, is inherently inequalising, is a real danger. But then, in a world of neoliberal globalisation such dangers cannot be avoided; they must be faced, as President Castro repeatedly emphasises.

LETTERS

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

This has reference to "" (April 9). The article would have us believe that the Congress(I)'s attack on the Government is justified and effective. Why has it not mentioned the following facts?

The Congress(I), which gave a new lease of life to the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar, has lost its credibility after the recent massacre in the State. The party's spokesman has refused to apologise for the support extended to the Rabri Devi Government. The "highly principled" Sonia Gandhi has openly invited Jayalalitha to join forces with her on the Admiral Bhagwat issue. Admiral Bhagwat has made several statements of delusion.

Finance Minister Yeshwant Sinha offered to resign if Mohan Guruswamy could prove his allegation that Sinha took money from some business houses. We are waiting to hear from Mohan Guruswamy. Instead of taking up the challenge, he is out spreading lies about Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, a person who is respected for his integrity even by his opponents.

Dr. Avinash N. Patkar Cincinnati, Ohio Admiral Bhagwat

This refers to "The Admiral Bhagwat challenge" (April 9). The article says that the Ministry of Defence and the Naval Headquarters are going out of their way to malign the former naval chief. A report in The Pioneer refers to Bhagwat's "capricious behaviour" in transferring a sailor who was on duty at Navy House for a delay in opening the gates for him. It is reported that the angry Admiral got the sailor posted to "the icy heights of Wular Lake". The sailor could return only after Bhagwat's dismissal, but he had by then suffered frostbite, it says. The newspaper carried the sailor's photograph too.

Top officials in Naval Headquarters who pass on classified files to reporters to 'fix' Bhagwat should understand that their actions will affect the Indian Navy. In this instance, they should at least have briefed the reporter that the Wular lake is not at "icy heights" but in the plains of Kashmir.

Sub. Maj. (retd) N. Kunju. Delhi Budget burdens

Thank you for presenting a thorough analysis of the Union Budget (March 26). It is clear that the Budget is not development-oriented. It will only further the cause of liberalisation.

Shoojee Singh Patna Jammu & Kashmir

The Cover Story, "Trouble ahead in Kashmir" (March 26), has been unfair to me. The author has asserted - and without interviewing me - that I belong to that "section of the RSS" which advocates the division of Jammu and Kashmir on "communal lines". He has also asserted that at a seminar in February, I favoured a "formula" that seeks "demilitarisation of and autonomous status for Kashmir for 10 years" and "a plebiscite to determine its future" after the expiry of this period.

These assertions are misleading and groundless and have damaged my reputation. At no point of time was I a member of the RSS. Nor did I ever suggest J&K's division on communal lines. What I have been advocating as a solution to the vexed Kashmir problem since 1990 is the trifurcation of the State into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh States. I believe that such a reorganisation alone can end the Valley's age-old domination over Jammu and Ladakh, empower the marginalised and grossly ignored Jammuites and Ladakhis to shape and mould their own political and economic destiny themselves in a meaningful manner and enable New Delhi to start parleys with Kashmiri leaders of all shades of opinion to find out what could satisfy them and their constituencies.

As for the resolution of the Kashmir problem, what I said in the seminar needs to be reproduced in order to clear the confusion. I said:

"India and Pakistan have met umpteen times to essay the Kashmir issue, but without achieving any tangible result. They would fail again and again unless one of them is prepared to concede its position on Kashmir. Since Pakistan has made it clear that it will not accept any solution unless it is based on the 1948-49 U.N. resolutions, the responsibility for ensuring peace in the subcontinent has to be shouldered by New Delhi. New Delhi can avert the impending nuclear war and yet demonstrate that J&K was, is and shall ever remain part of India and that its accession to India was lawful and voluntary.

"New Delhi scored a spectacular victory in September 1996, when it stopped dithering and held elections to the J&K Assembly to instal a popularly-elected government. It was a splendid feat. For, the people of J&K participated in that democratic exercise in large numbers ignoring the pro-Pakistani and rabidly communal Hurriyat Conference's boycott call and threats of violence. And, the most remarkable aspect of the situation as it emerged after elections was the recognition all over the world, barring Pakistan, that Kashmiris had nothing to do with the 'two-nation' concept and that they stand for secularism, democracy and modernisation and not Pakistani medievalism and theocracy.

"New Delhi should take another momentous step to controvert the pernicious influence of the Pakistani propaganda that 'India's presence in J&K is against the Kashmiris' will and illegal'. It can do so by telling that the Indians are prepared to hold a plebiscite in J&K strictly according to the UN resolutions to enable the people to decide for themselves whether they want to join India or Pakistan. (The U.N. resolutions, inter alia, require Pakistan to vacate PoK and Northern Territories which have been under its illegal occupation since 1948.)

"India must go ahead and should not flinch. Holding of a plebiscite in J&K after Pakistan vacates the aggression will surely silence the anti-India lobbies, make Islamabad sing in the strain of the swan and facilitate unification of the Pothwari-dominated PoK and the Shia-dominated Northern Territories with this part of J&K. In other words, we will win the plebiscite hands down and this win will be more inspiring than the one we achieved in 1996.

"It may be mentioned that the people of this multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual State, minus a very insignificant minority, are vehemently opposed to the idea of 'Nizam-e-Mustafa' and of J&K merging with Pakistan. These people include 30 lakh Hindus, 14 lakh Gujjar and Bakerwal Muslims, 10 lakh Shias, four lakh Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and Dard and Balti Muslims and an equal number of Kashmiri Pandits. They constitute 78 per cent of the State's population and inhabit over 95 per cent of the State's land area. As for the Valley Sunnis, who represent the remaining 22 per cent population, they are vertically divided into four groups demanding independence, merger with Pakistan, greater autonomy within India and total integration of J&K with India.

"About PoK and Northern Territories, the less said, the better. It is no secret that the life of the people of these areas has never been one of political and economic aspirations and that the Pakistani establishment has all along considered them worse than brutes. Given an opportunity, they, with a few exceptions, will reject Pakistan outright as they wish to live with the Kashmiris of this side.

"The policy-planners should take into considerations all these factors in the State's political situation and refashion their Kashmir policy. The people of J&K have not and will not let India down. This is a hard reality. Just a few hundred Kashmiris occasionally coming on the streets of Srinagar and raising anti-India slogans under pressure or temptation should not be taken to mean that they represent the general will. These are unfortunate aberrations for which the massively rigged 1987 elections, utter disrespect to genuine political dissent and gross misrule are squarely responsible."

Prof. Hari Om Department of History University of Jammu Jammu

Railway budget

The Railway budget (March 26) would please the common citizen as there is no increase in the second class fare, but he or she would surely feel the inflationary pressure caused by the 4 per cent increase in freight rates. This is particularly true in the case of Kerala, a State that buys from other States most of the commodities it uses.

There will be an increase in the prices of cement, coal and steel as companies mostly rely on the Railways to transport these. It is common knowledge that the Railways lose a lot of revenue owing to ticketless travel. Apart from increasing the fine for ticketless travel the Railway Minister has not taken any effective step to tackle this problem.

S. Raghunatha Prabhu Alappuzha

Correction: In 'Telecom tangle', published in the April 9 issue, the net outstandings of the companies as on March 18 should have been shown as Rs.3,977.41 crores, the net dues payable by basic operators as Rs.939.89 crores, and the bank guarantees of basic operators as Rs.1,595.94 crores. (The grand totals of the three categories were mistakenly given as dues from basic operators.) Also, the company that asked its bank guarantee of Rs.25 crores to be encashed was Essar Commission and not as stated. The errors are regretted.

Support systems on the ground

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Having taken control of INSAT-2E, the Master Control Facility near Hassan works to park the satellite in its orbit and manage and monitor its operations.

On March 30, four days before the launch of INSAT-2E, the air was one of tense expectation at the Mission Control Facility (MCF) of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) near Hassan, 220 km from Bangalore. The MCF is the nerve-centre that manages INSAT-2E right from its injection into orbit through its entire life in space.

Dr. S. Rangarajan, Director of the MCF and also the INSAT programme, said that all systems at the MCF were geared for the launch. "There is a lot of excitement in the air," he said.

Early on April 3, the day of the launch, the tension was palpable: several hundred experts from ISRO and the user agencies of INSAT-2E sat before their computer consoles and watched the countdown for the Ariane 4 lift-off. Eight minutes after the satellite was injected into the geostationary transfer orbit, the MCF "acquired" the spacecraft for the first time.

It is from the MCF that commands are given to fire the liquid apogee motors on board INSAT-2E in order to raise it in stages from the geostationary transfer orbit to the geostationary orbit proper at an altitude of 36,000 km. It is from the MCF that commands are given to the satellite to switch on the batteries aboard the spacecraft; deploy its solar panels, solar array and antenna; and switch on its telecommunications and meteorological payloads. It is from here that commands are sent to orient the satellite in the correct longitude and nudge it into its final parking slot. It is the MCF that receives signals from the satellite which show how its sub-systems are working. In sum, the MCF is responsible for operationalising INSAT-2E and monitoring its health.

A few hours after the launch, D. Ravindranath, Group Director, Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network, MCF, told Frontline: "The satellite is healthy. All systems are working normally. Twenty-nine minutes after lift-off we got the first AOS (acquisition of spacecraft)." Ravindranath said that the rehearsal for the apogee motor firing took place after the first AOS and that it went off well.

HASSAN is situated close to the grand temples built by Hoysala kings at Belur and Halebid, and the MCF is located in picturesque surroundings on an area of 17.2 hectares. The site was chosen, Rangarajan said, "because it suited us geographically, geologically and logistically." The Karnataka Government offered the land. According to S. Krishnamurthy, Director, Publications, ISRO, the site was relatively calm and free of noise and encountered less terrestrial transmission than some other sites proposed. "Even if the signal from the satellite is weak, we should be able to pick it up. There should be no interference."

16080161jpg

Rangarajan said that INSAT-2E, which weighed 2,550 kg, was the heaviest satellite built so far by ISRO. Its projected life-span, 12 years, is the longest for a satellite in the INSAT series. The Space Applications Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad designed and made the communications and the meteorological payloads of INSAT-2E. The ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) in Bangalore made the bus systems and the power systems. The Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre in Thiruvananthapuram made the propulsion systems, liquid apogee motors and control systems. The ISAC integrated the entire satellite.

Rangarajan said that INSAT-2E cost between Rs.200 and Rs.220 crores to build. The total investment, including the cost of the satellite, payment to Arianespace and the insurance premium, was Rs.550 crores. When fully deployed, the satellite would measure 25 metres - about the height of an eight-storey building - from end to end, including the long boom and the sail on top.

THERE are three state-of-the-art facilities at the heart of the MCF. They are the Spacecraft Control Centre, the Mission Control Centre and the earth stations, namely, an array of antennae to beam commands to the satellite, receive signals from it and track it.

All operations of the satellite, including on-orbit operations, are controlled from the Spacecraft Control Centre. Ravindranath said: "All commands to the satellite are given from here."

The Mission Control Centre is, according to Krishnamurthy, "the focal point for all operations". It is from here that all designers of the sub-systems of the satellite remain in touch with Mission Director M. Annadurai. Should anything go wrong with any of the sub-systems of the satellite, instructions for corrections go out from here. The Mission Control Centre also receives telemetry from the satellite, that is, signals which provide information on its health. The designers keep track of the data coming in in respect of the sub-systems they designed, including the inertial systems, control systems, propulsion systems and sensors. They keep tabs on the temperature, heat and other parameters of the sub-systems.

K. Suriyanarayan Sharma, mission head, said that if there was any deviation from the range of limits in respect of the sensor parameters, an alarm was sounded and the designer concerned got in touch with the Mission Director and coordinated action was taken.

The earth stations - the array of antennae - provide the link between the satellite and the MCF. At the MCF, there are three full-motion and about a dozen limited-motion antennae. The full-motion antennae can be turned around 360 and in elevation can be lifted from zero to 90.

According to Ravindranath, the full-motion antennae serve three purposes: they receive signals from the satellite, send commands to the satellite, and help determine where the satellite is in orbit, which is called tracking through ranging.

After INSAT-2E goes into the final slot, the limited-motion antennae are sufficient to control and monitor the satellite.

16080162jpg

For the INSAT-2E mission, a full-motion antenna 11 metres in diameter serves as the prime station: it will be the first to receive the signal from INSAT-2E, and it is from this station that commands are sent to the satellite. Data received from the satellite are transmitted to the Spacecraft Control Centre.

B.V. Kanade, Group Director, MCF, said that after the payloads were switched on, the users would start using INSAT-2E for telecommunications and meteorological purposes.

Ravindranath said that one more full-motion antenna and another limited-motion antenna were being built at the MCF to cater to INSAT-3B, which would be launched from Kourou later this year.

Rangarajan said that the MCF could handle the operations of 12 INSAT-class spacecraft at a time. The MCF would fully support the indigenously built GSAT, to be launched by the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from Sriharikota by the end of this year or in early 2000. The MCF Director said: "Hassan will take care of all our spacecraft in geostationary orbit. Expansion goes on parallelly." He said that of the Rs.16 crores that was spent a year on the MCF, 40 per cent went towards augmentation of the facilities.

INSAT-2E is expected to last 12 years in space. The other second-generation INSATs had a projected life-span of seven years each. Rangarajan said that the life of a satellite was determined not only by the amount of propellant on board but by the status of other systems. "If the batteries are off, you cannot run the show in the transponders or any of the sub-systems. Reliability of the bus, payloads and propellant availability decides the mission life," he said.

The MCF has made big money for Anterix Corporation, the commercial arm of ISRO. Its Director said the MCF did the orbit-raising for a LockheedMartin satellite and payloads testing for two PanAm satellites, PAS 4 and PAS 7. "We got $150-200 million for each of these satellites. We trained recruits for Arabsat in Riyadh. The training was a success. We have got very good manpower at the MCF," Rangarajan said.

A new scheme of government

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Among several administrative reforms introduced by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, the most important is the one, introduced on April 1, for district government.

AT the official residence of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, hundreds of files used to await clearance in a room adjacent to the visitors' hall. However, since Digvijay Singh assumed office as Chief Minister in 1993, other uses have been found for the room. The reason, as stated by Digvijay Singh, is that he has few files pending: he has delegated responsibilities to his colleagues without retaining any portfolio for himself and decentralised the decision-making process. During his initial term in office, Digvijay Singh ensured that Madhya Pradesh became the first State to introduce the panchayati raj system by implementing the provisions of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.

When he began his second term in office last November, Digvijay Singh went about the task of further decentralising work at Vallabh Bhavan, the State Secretariat. He put forward the concept of district-level governance through district planning committees (DPCs). The idea was to delegate wide-ranging powers to the DPCs. According to a backgrounder released by the Government on the eve of the launch of "district governments" on April 1, the DPCs will review, supervise, monitor and follow up the schemes and activities of various government departments at the district level except those entrusted to panchayati raj institutions and urban civic bodies. Government officials said that after powers had been delegated to panchayati raj institutions and urban civic bodies, the State did not have a mechanism to coordinate development schemes implemented by these organisations separately. Hence, the experiment with "district governments".

As envisaged by the 73rd and 74th amendments, DPCs were formed after the enactment of the District Planning Committee Act in 1995. The Act enables the State Government to delegate its functions to the DPCs. Recently, an amendment to the DPC Act was passed in the State Assembly in order to widen the scope of the DPCs. Although the Constitution does not envisage a "district government" in the strictest sense of the term, the Madhya Pradesh experiment aims to introduce district-level governance by modifying the existing structures.

Each DPC will consist of between 15 and 25 members, four-fifths of whom will be elected as per the constitutional provision. The Minister in charge of the district, the District Collector and the zilla panchayat President will be nominated as members. The Minister will function as the DPC's chairman and the Collector as its secretary.

A major objective of having district governments is to avoid red-tapism. Government officials pointed out that in an administrative structure with numerous levels of authority, matters remained pending at various levels of the bureaucracy and decisions were delayed. Besides, they said, procedural complexities resulted in a slowing down of decision-making processes, thus hampering development programmes and diffusing the accountability factor. The State Government therefore wanted to delegate to the DPCs in a substantial measure the powers of the government, the heads of various departments, and divisional offices.

The DPCs have been given the powers to transfer Class II, III and IV officials (except police personnel) within the district, to approve continuation of the grants sanctioned to various institutions by Government departments, to withdraw such grants in case of violations of the conditions (the Collectors have the power to release discretionary grants sanctioned by the Ministers in charge of the districts), to sanction financial assistance to freedom fighters for the treatment of serious diseases, and to name reservoirs, buildings and roads after eminent citizens. (The Collectors can declare three local holidays a year in their respective districts.) Earlier these powers rested with the State Government.

16080471jpg

The Home Department's power to regulate traffic has been delegated to the DPCs. (The Collectors will have absolute powers to renew the licences of arms sellers under the Arms Act.) The Excise Department's powers to sanction and release grants to promote the construction of new cinema halls will now be vested with the DPCs. The Forest Departments's powers with regard to plantation schemes, the collection of tendu leaves, the group insurance scheme for tendu leaf collectors, the processing of minor forest produce and value addition schemes have been delegated to the DPCs. Besides, the DPCs will have the power to sanction and pay compensation in cases of loss and death of cattle owing to attack by wild animals. They will monitor the implementation of the World Food Programme and the illegal felling of trees, and sanction up to Rs. 1 crore for industrial area development centres besides allotting sheds and land for them.

The DPCs will also have the powers to inspect and review prosecution under labour laws. They will monitor the implementation of epidemic control programmes, the functioning of mobile dispensaries and the Public Health Insurance Scheme, the registration of births and deaths and the implementation of family planning programmes and other national health programmes. Powers to delimit urban bodies and wards and to acquire land have also been vested with the DPCs. They have also been empowered to sanction and monitor medium and small irrigation schemes, assess water resources and formulate their own water policy. The DPCs will be able to ensure the implementation of various programmes under the Social Welfare, School Education, Tribal Welfare and Scheduled Caste Welfare departments.

The power to sanction shops-cum-godowns, take price control measures and prevent blackmarketing have also been transferred to the DPCs. They can now compensate losses of over Rs.15,000 caused by natural calamities, postpone and suspend recovery of land revenue in times of crop losses and acquire land for habitation purposes.

The DPCs will monitor State-protected monuments and museums, identify routes for city public transportation, grant permanent permits for vehicles plying within the district and renovate temples. The Government also proposes to grant them financial powers commensurate with their responsibilities.

The DPCs are expected to be convened at least once a month. Orders with regard to the decisions taken by them would be issued at the district level on behalf of the State Government.

EVEN as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee commended at a recent meeting of the National Development Council the State's pioneering attempt to establish district governments, State leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party criticised the State Government in this regard. Former BJP Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa asked whether the Assembly's consent had been obtained before launching district governments. He remarked that elected panchayats would not become dependent on the DPCs since the DPC's nominated members would be powerful figures. He further said that each DPC would begin to function like a Cabinet, and the voices of persons elected to power by the people may not be heard. Patwa accused Digvijay Singh of converting the government machinery into the election machinery of the Congress(I).

16080472jpg

Close on the heels of the launching of the district governments, the State empowered voters of panchayats to recall their elected representatives after the completion of two and a half years of their term. If one-third of the voters in his constituency express lack of confidence in the elected representative, an election will be held in which the elected representative will be unseated if he or she fails to get 50 per cent of the votes. When a member is unseated, a normal election will be held to elect another member.

This proposal too has not been received well by the BJP. Patwa told Frontline that this would lead to conflicts in villages and would help Digvijay Singh divert people's attention from his Government's failures.

The success of Digvijay Singh's administrative reforms in the long term hinges on the support they get from the bureaucracy and also parties that will come to power in the State in the future.

Tamil in cyberspace

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The modalities of adapting Tamil for use in information technology have been worked out at an international conference hosted by the Tamil Nadu Government's Task Force on Information Technology.

TAMILNET '99, the stylistically titled international conference on the use of Tamil in Information Technology, was hosted in Chennai recently by the Tamil Nadu Government's Task Force on Information Technology. The two-day event attracted more than a hundred techno-linguistic inputs from participants across the globe. A similar conference, TamilNet '97, was held in Singapore. At the inaugural session, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that while the 1997 conference had identified the maladies affecting the Tamil computer sector, the current one would propose remedies.

The overall objective of the conference was to enlarge the scope of use of Tamil in computers, multimedia applications and the Internet. This was streamlined into the triple goals of defining universal standards for a Tamil keyboard, evolving a common standard in Tamil script character coding, and enhancing the use of Tamil in multimedia and the Internet. The participants were fully aware of their historic responsibility as Karunanidhi announced that the Tamil Nadu Government would implement the recommendations of the conference.

After stimulating rounds of discussions, the conference arrived at a consensus and resolved that a standard phonetic keyboard should be adopted for Tamil in computers. The phonetic keyboard was popular because it was user-friendly and minimised the effort involved. It was emphasised that the following features should be incorporated in a standard keyboard layout:

* Tamil characters used frequently should be placed in strong finger positions and others in light finger positions.

* The less frequently used grantha letters should be used in shift-key operations. Short and long vowels should be kept in adjacent positions for convenience.

* Tamil letters that normally appear conjointly should be adjacent to each other to facilitate easy operation.

It was also decided that various keyboards should be developed universally in accordance with this standard and documented for reference. Initiatives should be taken to promote worldwide use of this universal keyboard.

The conference also decided that during the transition period, the Tamil typewriter-based keyboard should continue to be in use. The keyboard should not deviate from the one proposed by the Keyboard Committee appointed by the Tamil Nadu Government in 1997. The conference also decided to adopt the Romanised keyboard as recommended by the Tamil Nadu Keyboard Committee as an alternative to a Tamil keyboard. This suggestion was for the benefit of persons who are familiar only with spoken Tamil and who prefer to use English characters while typing Tamil text.

The requirements of Tamil computing were categorised as:

(a) word processing and publishing; (b) communication and interfaces with ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange)-based software systems; and (c) language analysis and processing and system software-based applications. If adequate space is available, it will be possible to fulfil all the above requirements with a single character-encoding scheme. But in the case of Tamil there is a hitch. In an eight-bit system, there are 256 locations available of which ASCII occupies the 128 lower locations, leaving less than 128 locations for Tamil characters. This space is not enough to accommodate the Tamil script in its entirety - at least not now. It would be possible in the future if a two- or three-byte system, such as UNICODE, is implemented fully.

In these circumstances, the conference was compelled to accommodate more than one system of encoding. Thus character encoding system for bilingual as well as monolingual applications was adopted. These were devised for software based on monolingual and bilingual glyph encoding systems. A character encoding scheme with only Tamil characters in the same locations as in the devised scheme was also recommended for modifying the existing UNICODE.

Realising the critical importance of ensuring the transition from the codes currently in use, the proposed codes were recommended as a standard draft. The standard draft has now been made available universally at a Web-site specifically created for this purpose. Experts and specialists have been given 100 days from February 9 to make an assessment of the standard draft. During this period they will apply the draft codes through various software forum and media and gauge their compatibility as well as adaptability. The international feedback gained will be compiled and tabulated. The cumulative experience will greatly influence the final decision on draft standards. The decision is expected to be taken by June 1, 1999. A committee comprising experts from within and outside India is to be set up for the purpose. It was also resolved that once the codes are finalised the Tamil Nadu Government should provide support to enable existing software to adopt the new encoding system.

The conference resolved that the present system of Tamil character encoding used in UNICODE needs to be modified to suit the special features of Tamil characters. The Tamil Nadu Government has been asked to undertake necessary consultations with organisations concerned. It has been proposed that an expert group on UNICODE for Tamil should be constituted. In order to promote and develop the use of Tamil in computers, it was proposed that a Tamil Internet research centre (at the State level) and a worldwide Internet communication facility for Tamil be established.

THE conference noted that the entire heritage of Tamil literature and grammar should be made available on the Internet. It would be necessary to develop software for a Tamil dictionary, a Thesaurus, spellcheck systems, e-mail, optical character recognition for handwritten and other material, voice-driven data processing, natural language processing, palm leaf letter recognition and so on. Governments of countries that recognise Tamil as an official language, universities and private organisations were also urged to support these proposals. It was proposed to conduct another conference of this kind next year.

The conference ended on an upbeat note when Karunanidhi announced that his Government would implement a 10-point charter. The proposals made at the conference constituted the charter. They were:

* A virtual Tamil Internet University will be created, which would be accessible to all Tamil-speaking people;

* Tamil Nadu will become a member of the UNICODE consortium and obtain 512 locations to accommodate all Tamil letters in the encoding system;

* A committee comprising experts from Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka will be appointed to finalise recommendations regarding monolingual and bilingual encoding systems. Its report has to be submitted within three months;

* A "Tamil Software Fund" is to be set up to encourage Tamil software development;

* Three research chairs will be created in Bharathiyar University, Coimbatore; Regional Engineering College, Tiruchi; and Anna University, Chennai;

16080811jpg

* Effective linkages between Tamil Nadu and the Tamil diaspora through the Internet will be promoted.

* A Tamil Internet research centre for English and Tamil users to be set up at the State level.

* A thousand community Internet centres will be established for both Tamil and English users;

* Forms for applications to be made to the State Government will be made available in Tamil and English over the Internet within a year; and

* The codes recommended as draft standards will be made available for 100 days on the Internet in order to facilitate a global evaluation. (This has been done already.)

The conference literature described Tamil's progress from palm leaf to the computer screen as a great leap forward. It is estimated that there are more than a million Tamil users of the Internet and their number is rapidly increasing. At least 3,000 Tamil Web-sites are in existence. Various media sites, including those of newspapers, magazines and radios, are available in Tamil. There are electronic discussion groups. Tamil electronic libraries are flourishing. Hundreds of Tamil fonts and multiple keyboards are in use.

The use of Tamil in computers is actively promoted by the Tamil diaspora in at least 65 countries. The conference noted that of the global Tamil population of 80 million, around 20 million people are outside Tamil Nadu. With the Tamil Nadu Government committed to propelling the State towards a computer revolution, the use of Tamil in computers is likely to explode in the new millennium.

The digital renaissance in Tamil, however, is in a state of disarray because of the proliferation of users and a lack of cohesiveness. The polyphony of electronic Tamil is in danger of deteriorating into a cacophony; unless this trend of diverse proliferation is harmonised into a constructive symphony it could result in chaos in Tamil cyberspace. TamilNet '99, therefore, is of paramount importance in this regard.

The presence of the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry and Tamil Ministers from three foreign countries - the Minister of Livestock Development and Estate Infrastructure from Sri Lanka, S. Thondaman, the Minister of Works from Malaysia, Samy Vellu, and the Minister for Education and Science from Mauritius, Ramasamy Chidamparampi-llai - underscored the significance of the conference. Karunanidhi said at the conference that "a global Tamil village on the Internet is in the making". If the resolutions of TamilNet '99 are implemented efficiently, the new millennium could effectively herald it.

Remembering EMS

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A two-day seminar organised to commemmorate the first death anniversary of E.M.S. Namboodiripad highlights the threats from communalism and globalisation.

IDENTIFYING communalism and globalisation as the main threats to a secular and democratic India, a galaxy of intellectuals who attended a two-day-long EMS Memorial Seminar in Thiruvananthapuram exhorted the Left movement to formulate and implement programmes to combat the menace of communalism in the political, economic, social and cultural fields. The writing of history, they said, was not merely an academic exercise but a powerful weapon in the hands of people fighting for social reforms.

Organised by the AKG Centre for Research and Studies to commemorate the first death anniversary of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the seminar on "Secular and democratic India towards a new millennium" was an attempt to provide a platform to discuss and devise a common programme to deal with communalism and globalisation which threaten the bedrock of secularism and democracy on which modern India was founded. Paying rich tributes to EMS, speakers at the seminar said that EMS' vision of a secular and egalitarian India was threatened by divisive communal forces.

Inaugurating the seminar, eminent historian Bipan Chandra said: "The challenge in the coming decades is going to be that of continuing the struggle for economic development with the struggle for social and economic equality on the basis of a secular and democratic and civil libertarian order." Presenting his paper, "Secular and democratic India on the threshold of the new millennium", Chandra spoke of the need to redefine and restructure Marxian thinking to meet new challenges. He said that Indian Marxists must revaluate Gandhiji and relate to him as the Left movement had much in common with Gandhian thought on capitalism, struggle for social liberty and morality and the question of secularism and communalism.

DESABHIMANI 16080871jpg

Bipan Chandra condemned attempts to communalise the Indian polity. He said that it was deplorable that India had not witnessed even one countrywide campaign against communalism since the late 1940s. He demanded that all secular parties assign at least one day in a year to alert people about the dangers of communalism.

Defining secularism as the separation of religion from politics, economics and large areas of culture and treating it as a private, personal affair, Chandra said that in a multi-religious society, secularism also meant that the state remained equidistant from all religions, including atheism, and that it did not discriminate in favour of or against the followers of any particular religion.

Chandra said that Gandhiji had agreed with all the three aspects of secularism and fought against communalism all his life. He said: "It is the intrusion of religion into secular fields that has to be opposed. And in this Gandhi is one with us." Chandra added that India must seek economic development without sacrificing economic equality and social justice. He also spoke of the importance of preserving and protecting the autonomy of the individual in the institutional structures of society, especially the state.

Continuing the discussion, reputed historian K.N. Panikkar said that the fight against communalism must begin at the grassroots level with the mobilisation of people. V.S. Achuthanandan, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) presided over the inaugural session.

The six sessions of the seminar, spread over two days, also discussed at length the Sangh Parivar's attempt to influence public thought and sentiments through the media, education, culture and economy. The topics discussed were "The idea of India: Growth and problems", "Is there an economic alternative in the context of globalisation?", "Future of secular democracy and the media", "Indian nationalism and the question of culture", "Challenges of a secular, democratic education" and "The question of nationality and problems of national unity."

While communalism was identified as the immediate danger, the speakers also expressed concern at the mindless consumerism that accompanies globalisation and liberalisation and the threat it represents to the political and economic sovereignty of developing nations.

DESABHIMANI 16080872jpg

According to the historian Irfan Habib, "Marxism provides the most cogent arguments against communalism and all divisive and anti-democratic tendencies." His paper, "The envisioning of a nation: A defence of the idea of India", (the paper was read out in his absence), emphasised that the chauvinistic and fascist ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be modified by the compulsions of governance.

Tracing the growth of India as a nation, Irfan Habib said that it was the resistance to colonialism and the absorption of modern, democratic (and later socialist) ideas that began to transform India from a country - a geographical and cultural entity - into a true nation. He added: "India is then a creation of the Indian people, a product not simply of nature or even of blind circumstances, but essentially of their consciousness."

While Irfan Habib pointed out that the process of saffronisation would spell danger to the nation's unity and integrity, Rajan Gurukkal warned that globalisation and market forces would threaten the sovereignty of nations. Painting a grim picture of India in the next millennium, Gurukkal added that powerful multinational corporations would erode the autonomy of the nation state. Alternative politics, which drew its strength from people at the grassroots and from direct action by the people, were the only means to oppose the unethical and anti-people market forces, he said.

Delivering the keynote address on "Future of secular democracy and the media," N. Ram, Editor of Frontline, said that communalism as a political mobilisation strategy was the principal challenge to Indian politics and to the Indian Constitution. He said: "Majoritarianism is impermissible. India is nothing if it is not multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious, multi-cultural, multinational." Ram pointed out that secular, progressive forces had not been able to occupy the space created by the decline of the Congress, the party that had traditionally been in power in the country.

Criticising the performance of significant sections of the media during times of communal crisis, Ram said that the media could only be relatively independent and highlighted the Press Council's indictment of Saamna, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, for instigating the Mumbai riots of 1993.

On the economic front, Prabhat Patnaik, Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, called for an alternative politico-economic agenda that would cater to the needs of India and stop the erosion of the autonomy of nations owing to the globalisation of finance capital. In his keynote address on "Globalisation and possibilities of an alternative economic programme," Patnaik emphasised that land reforms and infrastructural development and decentralisation were the key factors for development.

Speaking at the same seminar, member of Kerala's Planning Board T.M. Thomas Isaac said that the People's Plan programme in Kerala was an important element of the alternative economic programme that was being proposed. It was aimed at deepening and strengthening democracy by decentralising resources and decision-making, he said.

16080873jpg

Noted historian Aijaz Ahmad, who delivered the keynote address on "The politics of culture" on the second day of the seminar, said that market and commodity fetish was the greatest challenge faced by a secular society. He said that the culture of a country should not be analysed from its past but from the realities of the present. The material activities of the people for a meaningful life constituted culture. Quoting Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist theorist, Ahmad said that the concept of nation-popular would identify the nation with the popular classes and that a national culture would arise out of the practices as well as aspirations of those classes. Ahmad wondered what the market forces, which looked for unity of culture and language, would do to India's plurality of languages and cultures.

Echoing the same sentiments was CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat who spoke on "Problems of nationalisation and unity of the country". He warned against attempts to depict the country as a Hindu nation. Speaking on the rise of divisive forces organised on the basis of caste, region, language and religion, Karat emphasised that these movements and the demand for separate States would not help solve the problems of national unity. According to him, regional disparities and the discrimination faced by tribal people and ethnic minorities could be solved by adequate regional autonomy. He said: "Regional grievances have to be articulated as part of the movement for democratic decentralisation and participation in decision-making; chauvinism that pits one section of the people against another has to be firmly combated."

Participating in the seminar on "Challenges to secular education", K.N. Panikkar said that Hindu communalists were trying to replace secular education with a religious one.

The sizable attendance at the seminars and the active question-and-answer sessions that followed them reflected the people's apprehensions about the policies, intentions and governance of the BJP Government. Owing to paucity of time, some of the questions had to be tackled in a cursory manner. However, at the plenary session, CPI(M) leader M.A. Baby, who presided over the function, promised that the answers to the questions would be compiled and made available to the people.

At the valedictory session, Kerala Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar said that casteist and communalist forces were making a comeback at the fag end of the 20th century. However, he hoped that popular people's movements would guard India's democracy and secularism. Agreeing with him was V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Judge of the Supreme Court.

The speakers paid rich tributes to EMS, and said that India would always cherish and remember EMS as a guiding light.

LETTERS

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

This has reference to "" (April 9). The article would have us believe that the Congress(I)'s attack on the Government is justified and effective. Why has it not mentioned the following facts?

The Congress(I), which gave a new lease of life to the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar, has lost its credibility after the recent massacre in the State. The party's spokesman has refused to apologise for the support extended to the Rabri Devi Government. The "highly principled" Sonia Gandhi has openly invited Jayalalitha to join forces with her on the Admiral Bhagwat issue. Admiral Bhagwat has made several statements of delusion.

Finance Minister Yeshwant Sinha offered to resign if Mohan Guruswamy could prove his allegation that Sinha took money from some business houses. We are waiting to hear from Mohan Guruswamy. Instead of taking up the challenge, he is out spreading lies about Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, a person who is respected for his integrity even by his opponents.

Dr. Avinash N. Patkar Cincinnati, Ohio Admiral Bhagwat

This refers to "The Admiral Bhagwat challenge" (April 9). The article says that the Ministry of Defence and the Naval Headquarters are going out of their way to malign the former naval chief. A report in The Pioneer refers to Bhagwat's "capricious behaviour" in transferring a sailor who was on duty at Navy House for a delay in opening the gates for him. It is reported that the angry Admiral got the sailor posted to "the icy heights of Wular Lake". The sailor could return only after Bhagwat's dismissal, but he had by then suffered frostbite, it says. The newspaper carried the sailor's photograph too.

Top officials in Naval Headquarters who pass on classified files to reporters to 'fix' Bhagwat should understand that their actions will affect the Indian Navy. In this instance, they should at least have briefed the reporter that the Wular lake is not at "icy heights" but in the plains of Kashmir.

Sub. Maj. (retd) N. Kunju. Delhi Budget burdens

Thank you for presenting a thorough analysis of the Union Budget (March 26). It is clear that the Budget is not development-oriented. It will only further the cause of liberalisation.

Shoojee Singh Patna Jammu & Kashmir

The Cover Story, "Trouble ahead in Kashmir" (March 26), has been unfair to me. The author has asserted - and without interviewing me - that I belong to that "section of the RSS" which advocates the division of Jammu and Kashmir on "communal lines". He has also asserted that at a seminar in February, I favoured a "formula" that seeks "demilitarisation of and autonomous status for Kashmir for 10 years" and "a plebiscite to determine its future" after the expiry of this period.

These assertions are misleading and groundless and have damaged my reputation. At no point of time was I a member of the RSS. Nor did I ever suggest J&K's division on communal lines. What I have been advocating as a solution to the vexed Kashmir problem since 1990 is the trifurcation of the State into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh States. I believe that such a reorganisation alone can end the Valley's age-old domination over Jammu and Ladakh, empower the marginalised and grossly ignored Jammuites and Ladakhis to shape and mould their own political and economic destiny themselves in a meaningful manner and enable New Delhi to start parleys with Kashmiri leaders of all shades of opinion to find out what could satisfy them and their constituencies.

As for the resolution of the Kashmir problem, what I said in the seminar needs to be reproduced in order to clear the confusion. I said:

"India and Pakistan have met umpteen times to essay the Kashmir issue, but without achieving any tangible result. They would fail again and again unless one of them is prepared to concede its position on Kashmir. Since Pakistan has made it clear that it will not accept any solution unless it is based on the 1948-49 U.N. resolutions, the responsibility for ensuring peace in the subcontinent has to be shouldered by New Delhi. New Delhi can avert the impending nuclear war and yet demonstrate that J&K was, is and shall ever remain part of India and that its accession to India was lawful and voluntary.

"New Delhi scored a spectacular victory in September 1996, when it stopped dithering and held elections to the J&K Assembly to instal a popularly-elected government. It was a splendid feat. For, the people of J&K participated in that democratic exercise in large numbers ignoring the pro-Pakistani and rabidly communal Hurriyat Conference's boycott call and threats of violence. And, the most remarkable aspect of the situation as it emerged after elections was the recognition all over the world, barring Pakistan, that Kashmiris had nothing to do with the 'two-nation' concept and that they stand for secularism, democracy and modernisation and not Pakistani medievalism and theocracy.

"New Delhi should take another momentous step to controvert the pernicious influence of the Pakistani propaganda that 'India's presence in J&K is against the Kashmiris' will and illegal'. It can do so by telling that the Indians are prepared to hold a plebiscite in J&K strictly according to the UN resolutions to enable the people to decide for themselves whether they want to join India or Pakistan. (The U.N. resolutions, inter alia, require Pakistan to vacate PoK and Northern Territories which have been under its illegal occupation since 1948.)

"India must go ahead and should not flinch. Holding of a plebiscite in J&K after Pakistan vacates the aggression will surely silence the anti-India lobbies, make Islamabad sing in the strain of the swan and facilitate unification of the Pothwari-dominated PoK and the Shia-dominated Northern Territories with this part of J&K. In other words, we will win the plebiscite hands down and this win will be more inspiring than the one we achieved in 1996.

"It may be mentioned that the people of this multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual State, minus a very insignificant minority, are vehemently opposed to the idea of 'Nizam-e-Mustafa' and of J&K merging with Pakistan. These people include 30 lakh Hindus, 14 lakh Gujjar and Bakerwal Muslims, 10 lakh Shias, four lakh Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and Dard and Balti Muslims and an equal number of Kashmiri Pandits. They constitute 78 per cent of the State's population and inhabit over 95 per cent of the State's land area. As for the Valley Sunnis, who represent the remaining 22 per cent population, they are vertically divided into four groups demanding independence, merger with Pakistan, greater autonomy within India and total integration of J&K with India.

"About PoK and Northern Territories, the less said, the better. It is no secret that the life of the people of these areas has never been one of political and economic aspirations and that the Pakistani establishment has all along considered them worse than brutes. Given an opportunity, they, with a few exceptions, will reject Pakistan outright as they wish to live with the Kashmiris of this side.

"The policy-planners should take into considerations all these factors in the State's political situation and refashion their Kashmir policy. The people of J&K have not and will not let India down. This is a hard reality. Just a few hundred Kashmiris occasionally coming on the streets of Srinagar and raising anti-India slogans under pressure or temptation should not be taken to mean that they represent the general will. These are unfortunate aberrations for which the massively rigged 1987 elections, utter disrespect to genuine political dissent and gross misrule are squarely responsible."

Prof. Hari Om Department of History University of Jammu Jammu

Railway budget

The Railway budget (March 26) would please the common citizen as there is no increase in the second class fare, but he or she would surely feel the inflationary pressure caused by the 4 per cent increase in freight rates. This is particularly true in the case of Kerala, a State that buys from other States most of the commodities it uses.

There will be an increase in the prices of cement, coal and steel as companies mostly rely on the Railways to transport these. It is common knowledge that the Railways lose a lot of revenue owing to ticketless travel. Apart from increasing the fine for ticketless travel the Railway Minister has not taken any effective step to tackle this problem.

S. Raghunatha Prabhu Alappuzha

Correction: In 'Telecom tangle', published in the April 9 issue, the net outstandings of the companies as on March 18 should have been shown as Rs.3,977.41 crores, the net dues payable by basic operators as Rs.939.89 crores, and the bank guarantees of basic operators as Rs.1,595.94 crores. (The grand totals of the three categories were mistakenly given as dues from basic operators.) Also, the company that asked its bank guarantee of Rs.25 crores to be encashed was Essar Commission and not as stated. The errors are regretted.

Other Issues

View All
Oct 9,2020