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COVER STORY

08-12-2000

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Briefing

THE RELEASE AND AFTER

cover-story

The run-up to, and the exact circumstances surrounding, the release of Rajkumar from captivity leave a trail of posers and concerns and also questions about what lies ahead.

RAVI SHARMA in Bangalore T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Chennai

IT was arguably one of the most sensational abductions of modern times. The kidnapping, and 108-day forest captivity, of the doyen of Kannada cinema and an icon of Karnataka's cultural consciousness, by an elephant poacher-forest brigand and his ragtag g ang of fugitives from the law, finally ended last fortnight.

Once the dust settles on this somewhat mystifying affair, the whys and wherefores of Dr. Rajkumar's abduction and release are uncovered, and the tangle of political interests that found common cause with Veerappan is unravelled, the central concern will, however, remain. This is that the state, despite its supposedly sophisticated law and order machinery, has for the last two decades been held to ransom by a poorly equipped criminal who has operated in a forest tract of roughly 8,000 sq km.

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That Veerappan is no man-of-the-masses (as he himself, and his newly found friends within Tamil nationalist circles would have us believe) is clear from his extraordinary track record of crime. He is the accused in 124 murders, and has kidnapped approxim ately 25 people on at least five occasions. Of the estimated 2,000 cases of tuskers poached over the last 20 years, Veerappan and his gang have been involved in roughly a quarter of them. There is no evidence of Veerappan distributing largesse on a regul ar basis to the population in his area of activity. His writ in these areas, wherever it runs, is based upon the fear of the vicious reprisals to which he often subjects entire villages that he suspects to have acted against his interests.

A connected and sequential account of the latest kidnap episode reveals how Veerappan has been quick to seize new opportunities that have come his way. The abduction of Rajkumar, who had been warned by police intelligence of the possibility of such an ev entuality, was by any measure a daring operation, yet a relatively simple one, given the isolation of the village where Rajkumar and the others were seized, and its proximity to Veerappan's home territory.

The 108-day period of captivity set in motion a series of inter-related developments. There was an explosion of rage, albeit largely subdued, amongst his followers in Karnataka, leading to huge protests at perceived government ineptitude. Protracted nego tiations between the brigand and government emissaries followed, talks which later included known sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Involved in all this were two State governments, and an anguished family backed by the film ind ustry and the powerful Rajkumar fan club network, pleading for the safe release of the actor. Another dimension was provided by the protracted legal battles, with some tough talking and judicial action by the Supreme Court. Even the actor's eventual rele ase and subsequent appearance before the media in Bangalore on November 16 was marked by a strong element of surprise, with more than one version of the exact circumstances of his release doing the rounds. In Rajkumar's own words, the abduction imbroglio appeared to be one scripted for a movie. The Rajkumar family was told of the impending release of the actor after midnight of November 14, while the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, M. Karunanidhi and S.M. Krishna, were telephonically inform ed around 8 a.m. on November 15. Rajkumar spoke to his family, and to Krishna and Karunanidhi. After spending the night of November 15 at a house in Muzhiyanur village on the Erode-Mettur highway, the thespian was flown to Bangalore on the morning of Nov ember 16.

In his first interaction at Muzhiyanur with the media battery (which undertook an all-night vigil before they were allowed to see the actor) Rajkumar, flanked by his wife Parvathamma, his youngest son Puneet Rajkumar, the several emissaries including P. Nedumaran, and Gopal, told journalists in halting Tamil that he had been treated well by the bandit. He thanked the emissaries and the governments. A hastily prepared helipad at the Singampettai Higher Secondary School playground (10 km from Muzhiyanur) served its purpose with two helicopters requisitioned by the Karnataka government ferrying Rajkumar and Paravathamma, and another ferrying Nagesh, the other hostage, Rajkumar's son Puneet and Govindaraju.

The melee in Muzhiyanur was more than matched by what was to follow in Bangalore. Keeping the crowds and hordes of fans guessing, Rajkumar's helicopter first landed around noon at Bangalore's HAL Airport. The actor, who was received by Chief Minister Kri shna, knelt and kissed the tarmac, paying his respects to Karnataka soil. However, respecting the feelings of his waiting fans and his family, the helicopter took off again to land at the nearby Jakkur airfield. From there it was a short ride to the Stat e Secretariat where he was presented to over 200 journalists.

At the 30-minute-long press conference, Rajkumar spoke emotionally, describing how during his period of captivity his mood would oscillate from sheer helplessness (when he even wondered if he would ever be released) to hope each time an emissary came cal ling, and finally, when he was released, his exhilaration. Rajkumar also recalled that he had been treated well by Veerappan and had a kind word for the human qualities of the brigand. He praised the efforts of Nedumaran, whom he likened to a "mahayogi" and also to the late philosopher-President S. Radhakrishnan. He humorously reminisced about the "coming and going" of Nakkheeran Gopal, and was caustic when he recollected the escape of Nagappa, another hostage ("he ran away but we were caught and our hands tied behind our backs"). The actor said that they had changed camp 50 to 60 times. Rarely did the group stay at the same place for more than two or three days.

Rajkumar also met over a hundred legislators and said a few words to the waiting crowd both at the Secretariat and outside his residence.

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In Chennai, the news of Rajkumar's release reached top Tamil Nadu politicians attending the wedding of the daughter of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko around 9-30 a.m. on November 15. A visibly relieved Karunanidhi later told reporter s: "Rajkumar thanked me and I expressed my happiness." He added: "Rajkumar stayed in the forests for more than three months. I joked that Lord Rama spent 14 years in the forests. He said he would come to Chennai a couple of days later."

In a press statement later the Chief Minister said that Krishna and he had pursued an "extraordinarily cautious and careful approach" in order to ensure that there was "not even a small strain in the relationship among Tamils in Karnataka and Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu, and that every day of the last three months passed off peacefully." He likened their approach to the careful removal of a piece of cloth fallen on a cluster of thorns.

THERE is considerable speculation on the exact circumstances surrounding the actor's final release. How did Nedumaran and his group of emissaries get into the picture? Why was Gopal sidelined in the final stages and what underlay Veerappan's capitulation on the issue of the release of Rajkumar? Is there is any truth in talk about large sums of money having changed hands?

The Tamil Nadu government - with tacit approval from Chief Minister Krishna - on October 10 enlisted the help of the known pro-LTTE activist Nedumaran and two human rights activists, P. Kalyani and G. Sugumaran, to go into the forest along with Gopal as part of the negotiating team. Amidst opposition to the choice of the emissaries from Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, and the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, the four official emis saries met Veerappan. They were able to convince him to release an ailing S.A. Govindaraj, Rajkumar's son-in-law, on October 16. But Rajkumar's release was still weeks away.

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Nedumaran's inclusion - as demanded by Veerappan - was a subject of controversy with the Karnataka government even attempting to deny any knowledge of his role. Attacks from Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu over the continuing involvement of Nedumaran, e ven saw him refusing to leave on what was to be the sixth mission.

According to Tamil groups, Nedumaran was chosen because of his influence with the Tamil militant friends of Veerappan. Nedumaran went because Veerappan specifically asked for Nedumaran, Kalyani and Sugumaran to be sent. But for Krishna it was a Hobson's choice. He could not be seen hobnobbing with a known LTTE sympathiser but he also had to clutch at any straw that came his way to try and end the hostage crisis.

The sixth mission, undertaken by Nedumaran minus Gopal but with a handful of others, proved fruitful. Accompanying Nedumaran, Kalyani and Sugumaran, were Kolathur T. S. Mani, another known supporter of the LTTE (he is said to have allegedly lent his farm lands near Mettur, Tamil Nadu, to the LTTE for the terrorist organisation's training camps during 1983-84), Dr. Bhanu, a businesswoman from Bangalore dealing in granite, A. P. Shanmugasundaram, a transport operator from Bangalore, and R. Ramkumar, son of former Karnataka Director-General of Police (DGP) R. Ramalingam and currently a business associate of Bhanu. According to Kolathur Mani, who confessed also to being on the fifth mission, word had come from Veerappan's men during the first week of Novemb er that Rajkumar would be released on November 13.

The successful sixth mission was in part the brainchild of Shanmugasu-ndaram who is also the president of the 'Karnataka Tamil Federation'. He was able to convince Nedumaran to undertake the mission and also work out plans for it by roping in some like-m inded people from Bangalore, but without involving Gopal. According to him, the possibility of a communal flare-up if something untoward should happen to Rajkumar and the failure of Gopal's missions prompted him to plead with Nedumaran to undertake the s ixth mission.

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Rajkumar's release became a fait accompli because of the "credibility that I commanded in the issue" and the fact that Veerappan "trusted the assurances I gave him", according to Nedumaran, who is the president of the Tamil Nationalist Movement.

Nedumaran, who persuaded Veerappan to free Rajkumar after two trips into the forests, said at a press conference in Chennai on November 17 that he assured Veerappan that he would initiate legal steps with regard to Veerappan's two important demands: the release of seven cadres of the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Tamil National Retrieval Force (TNRF) from prisons in Tamil Nadu, and the release of 51 detainees under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA, at the Cen tral Prison, Mysore. "We explained to Veerappan that the two State governments have conceded some of his demands. We told him how some could be conceded and others could not be conceded. We told him how the rest could be tackled by legal means. We said w e would take responsibility for this (for taking legal action). Veerappan, therefore, released Rajkumar."

According to Shanmugasundaram, Nedumaran, even while explaining to Veerappan that no one else could do anything in matters which are pending before the law courts, assured Veerappan that if the governments backtracked on any of the promises made to him ( Veerappan) they (Nedumaran and others on the mission) "would take the democratic route and launch protests so that the promises were fulfilled".

Veerappan is also said to have been "pleased when he heard that a conference to highlight the atrocities committed by Special Task Force personnel on villagers and tribals would be held at Kolathur on November 26". Incidentally, the conference, which acc ording to Shanmugasu-ndaram will be presided over by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, is being held on the birthday of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabakaran. No coincidence this.

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NEDUMARAN and his team were quietly confident about winning Rajkumar's freedom as they set out on their mission from Chennai on November 11 evening. "Everything was pre-arranged," sources said. The team's confidence was not without basis. Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder Dr. S. Ramadoss handed over a letter to Sugumaran. In it Ramadoss asked Veerappan to set Rajkumar free for the sake of Tamilians living in Karnataka, and assured Veerappan that he would handle the issue of release of the TADA detaine es in Mysore and the five TNLA/TNRF cadres.

According to Shanmugasundaram, who joined Nedumaran, Kalyani and Sugumaran along the way, they were waiting near Andhiyur when they received a message from Veerappan to meet him. They entered the forests on November 12 night escorted by one of Veerappan' s men and reached the brigand's hideout the next morning.

Veerappan handed over the actor and Nagesh to Nedumaran around 5 p.m. on November 14. He gave a gift to Rajkumar and also draped an "angavastram" round the actor's shoulders. Dr. Bhanu later examined Rajkumar and gave him some medicines. The entire team left the forests with Rajkumar and Nagesh the same evening and reached Andhiyur around 9 p.m. They stayed in the farmhouse of a friend of Kolathur Mani at Muzhiyanur for the night. Rajkumar relished a non-vegetarian meal that night. The next morning, the news reached Chennai and Bangalore.

Theories abound over the reasons for Rajkumar's release. Was a deal struck with promises made to Veerappan? Was a huge sum of money paid out as ransom? Was Veerappan (as Rajkumar initially confessed after his release) tricked into it? Or was Veerappan si mply tired of the whole thing and was beginning to find the hostages a liability and restriction? Tamil groups from Bangalore and those involved with the sixth mission, however, cite just one reason - Nedumaran's credibility and influence over the brigan d and more so his (Veerappan's) Tamil militant friends. The release was also dictated by the Supreme Court which barred the release of TADA detainees at Mysore and the five extremists in prisons in Tamil Nadu. An informed police officer said the court ha s been very firm that they could not hold Rajkumar. What purpose does it serve?

Working in tandem with Shanmuga-sundaram was another Bangalore-based organisation, the Rainbow Forum. The six-year-old organisation, which has as its chief patron a former Karnataka DGP, T. Srinivasulu, also played a vital part in convincing Nedumaran to undertake the final mission. According to the president of the Forum, B.G. Koshy, they had "warned Nedumaran that there would be problems" for the Tamil population in Bangalore if Rajkumar was not freed. Koshy said: "Gopal's credentials were insufficien t to convince Veerappan. That is why Gopal's missions failed. Gopal could not deliver on any promises made to Veerappan. That is why Nedumaran had to go in." According to Koshy, the police intelligence networks in both States were aware of their moves.

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Commenting on the presence of a doctor and that too a woman in the team, Kolathur Mani said that it was decided that a doctor would be taken since Rajkumar's health had caused concern. "Rajkumar has a history of blood pressure and he could have got over- excited at the prospect of being released, so we did not want to take a chance. We needed someone who was not afraid and was willing. She also had the advantage of being used to unfriendly terrain." Bhanu brought in Ramkumar.

Just prior to the sixth mission, unconfirmed but reliable sources averred that Bhanu and two others, Ramkumar and Kolathur Mani, had visited Veerappan's camp. Bhanu, however, told Frontline that she had visited the forest only once - that is, alon g with the team of emissaries.

There is another version that Rajkumar was released on November 13 itself. The two hostages spent most of their first two days of freedom resting inside the forests. The wait in the forest was to allow Veerappan and his friends enough time to get away. I t was only after trekking some 5 km after nightfall on November 14 that they reached a road-head, where a car was waiting. A ride of around seven or 8 km on the Satyamangalam-Mysore road brought them past the town of Bannari by midnight, from where the h ostages were taken to Muzhiyanur, 45 km from Erode on the Erode-Mettur road and to the house of Bhoothapadi panchayat president U.A. Ramraja.

At his press conference, Nedumaran released a joint statement (in Tamil) from Veerappan; Maran, TNLA leader; and Amudhan of the TNRF, on why they had "arrested" Rajkumar but ultimately set him free. They said, "We arrested the actor to drive home to the State governments the demands of the Tamilians in Tamil Nadu affected by the atrocities of the STF and the plight of the Tamilians in Karnataka." They called it a "shock treatment to the rotten state machinery." The trio said they chose to "arrest" Rajku mar because he commanded the abhimaan (prestige) of the "Kannada fanatics who attacked and murdered Tamilians in the 1991 riots in Karnataka relating to the Cauvery issue." It was done to pressure the Karnataka Government to provide protection to the Tamilians in Karnataka, they added. They claimed "victory in this because the message has reached the people."

Veerappan, Maran and Amudhan described themselves as "militants and not abductors" and said they "loved the Tamil nation." They said they had treated Rajkumar and other hostages in a humane manner and gave them whatever facility was possible in the diffi cult circumstances that obtained in the forest. "Let the people of the country compare our treatment of these people with the treatment of those caught in the grip of the police and the Karnataka government," they said.

When a reporter asked Nedumaran whether there was any "deal" behind Rajkumar's release, an angry Nedumaran objected to the use of the word. He snapped: "The rescue of Rajkumar is not a commercial bargain. This is a humanitarian problem, and we approached it humanely."

He denied that the abduction would give a boost to militancy in Tamil Nadu. On the other hand, the release would give "a boost to human rights organisations all over the country". He also denied that Veerappan was being manipulated by the TNLA and the TN RF. Veerappan was acting on his own. He never ill-treated Rajkumar.

Asked why he did not take Gopal with him, he said Gopal could not reach the spot in time when they (Nedumaran and his team) were waiting near the forests for the call from Veerappan. Since they did not want to delay their entry into the forests, they wen t in. Gopal joined them when they were returning with Rajkumar, he said.

Karunanidhi said that the two States were "greatly indebted" to Gopal and his team, and to Nedumaran and his team. Nakkheeran Gopal and his team have been, right from the beginning, evincing interest and concern" in obtaining Rajkumar's release an d they had to face a number of hardships in their venture, Karunanidhi said. He added that Nedumaran and his team showed similar concern and interest in the final phase and secured Rajkumar's release.

But for the first press conference that he gave on his return, Rajkumar has been incommunicado, evidently owing to the stress and emotional strains of three months in captivity. Rajkumar has already made a few public faux pas - the most intriguing being the role he ascribed to Dr. Bhanu. What he first said that she led him into feigning an illness thereby pressuring Veerappan to release him, he later denied this.

When asked by Frontline on November 20 on what he planned to do next on the Veerappan issue, Krishna said in Bangalore that his government is "committed to cleansing Karnataka's forests of criminals and anti-social elements." The STF operations, a ccording to him, were already activated. He also strongly denied rumours of a payoff to Veerappan.

The Rajkumar kidnapping story is over. To the extent, however, that he still has a relatively free run of the forests in which he operates, the real story of Veerappan is indeed just beginning.

A.P. Shanmugasundaram, a Tamilian based in Bangalore and one of the six persons who were present when Veerappan released Rajkumar, makes no bones about his sympathies for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Now a transport contractor, the 57-year-old Shanmugasundaram, who was born in Erode district, is settled in Bangalore since 1956. He played a major role in roping in P. Nedumaran to negotiate the release of Rajkumar. Shanmugasu-ndaram spoke to Ravi Sharma about why he joined th e efforts to get Rajkumar released and on what happened in the forest as Veerappan set free the hostages.

Excerpts from the interview:

Why did you get involved in the efforts to free Rajkumar?

We did not want a repeat of the Cauvery riots of 1991 when Tamilians living in Karnataka were targeted for attack in the violence instigated by the Bangarappa government. Rajkumar is an elderly man with blood pressure problems. Had something happened to him, the government would not have been able to control the situation and Tamilians in Karnataka would have been affected.

But Nakkheeran Gopal was already on the job...

Gopal had gone in three times. Though it was not his fault, he could not succeed. He did not even want to go on the fourth mission, but undertook it only after (Chief Minister) Karunanidhi forced him. I and some like-minded people thought of who else sho uld go. So on September 27 we met Nedumaranayya in Chennai, since he, being a selfless, honest politician who had been taking up the cause of Tamilians, fitted the bill. He agreed to intervene. After some hesitation, Kolathur Mani, realising that the Cau very riots could be repeated , also agreed to meet Veerappan.

Where you part of the fifth mission?

No. Since it was felt that five people were enough, I did not go. Nedumaranayya, Mani, Kalyani, Sugumaran and Gopal went. After two days of negotiations they came out and handed over Rajkumar's son-in-law Govindaraju to me and asked me to take him to Ban galore.

What about the sixth mission?

Kolathur Mani got a message through an emissary of Veerappan asking us to come on November 13. So we met at, the name of the town I cannot tell you, and entered the forests on the evening of November 13. We walked some miles, then slept in an open place. The next morning (November 14) we resumed our journey, and after walking for about three hours we met Veerappan. Tea was served and then Nedumaranayya and Veerappan sat and started the negotiations. We were also there. Veerappan's demands were discussed point by point. Nedumaranayya told Veerappan that since he trusted us (the negotiators) and freed Rajkumar, we would, in the event of the two governments failing to deliver on the promises made to Veerappan, do what has to be done in a democratic, non- violent way to fulfil these demands. After lunch he (Veerappan) left us, by about 5 p.m.

Rajkumar said that Dr. Bhanu had tricked Veerappan into believing that Rajkumar was sick...

For Rajkumar, who was in Veerappan's custody for so many days, even seeing a Kannada-speaking person was like seeing God. When he saw a lady doctor he called her an 'Adishakti' and a 'devi'. He did not realise what he was saying because he was overcome w ith emotion. For Rajkumar it was as if Dr. Bhanu gave him a new lease of life. He even asked Dr. Bhanu to accompany him in the helicopter.

The political links

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN cover-story

The final act of the hostage drama provides further pointers to the political forces at play.

ONE baffling aspect of the Rajkumar hostage drama was the polychromatic cast that finally assembled in the Thalamalai-Thalavadi forests to persuade forest brigand Veerappan to release Rajkumar. Led by Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran, it i ncluded other Tamil nationalists, a human rights activist, a person who was hitherto a Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.) office-bearer, a transport fleet operator, a journalist-turned-quarry operator, and a woman medical practitioner. A common thread among most o f them was their uncompromising support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a proscribed organisation that was responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. Be it Nedumaran, Kolathur Mani, P. Shanmugasun daram or G. Sugumaran, they are all Tamil nationalists to the core and wear their sympathy for the LTTE on their sleeves.

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Billeted in the forest hideout with Veerappan are about nine men belonging to the Tamil National Liberation Army (TNLA), led by Maran, and the Tamil National Retrieval Force (TNRF), headed by Amudhan. Both are extremist Tamil nationalist groups wedded to "self-determination" for Tamil Nadu, a euphemism for secessionism. While the TNLA is Marxist-Leninist in its ideology, the TNRF has no such pretensions. A few TNRF men were trained by the LTTE in the northeastern region of Sri Lanka.

A police officer who had dealt with the TNLA cadres said: "Although the TNLA and the TNRF dictated terms on the abduction issue, I feel they have a liking for Nedumaran because of ideological affinity." He felt that there was "not much of an LTTE angle t o the release as the Tamil chauvinistic angle. Through Tamil chauvinism, the LTTE affiliation comes in. The TNLA-LTTE nexus is a fertile ground for militancy to breed."

Earlier, some observers were of the opinion that there was a Vanniyar angle to the release. Dr. S. Ramadoss, founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), essentially a vehicle of the Vanniyar community's aspirations, gave a letter to G. Sugumaran, a membe r of Nedumaran's team, to be handed over to Veerappan. Dr. Ramadoss reportedly told Veerappan in the letter that he should release Rajkumar to ensure the safety of Tamils living in Karnataka and that he (Dr. Ramadoss), in turn, would fight for the releas e of 51 persons detained under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA, by the Karnataka police in Mysore. Both Dr. Ramadoss and Veerappan are Vanniyars. However, an informed source in the top brass of the Tamil Nadu police rule d out any such caste connection.

If Nedumaran was the new hero, Nakkheeran Gopal was the "fallen hero". He was robbed of the limelight in the final act. Gopal, who had done the groundwork for Rajkumar's release, was eased out of the sixth and last mission that led to the release. Rajkumar himself dismissed Gopal's role in winning his freedom, and said: "Gopal came and went, and each time he came our hopes rose but we were not released." A top Tamil Nadu police officer commented: "You cannot belittle Gopal's role. When nobody kne w whether Rajkumar was alive or all right, he ventured into the forests, met Veerappan, and returned with photographs and video-films that showed Rajkumar was all right. That came as a great relief." Gopal's reaction to Rajkumar's remarks was dignified: "We did not do anything expecting rewards."

ALTHOUGH the script ended with Rajkumar being freed, several questions remain. Why did the actor retract his earlier remark that it was a manoeuvre that Dr. Bhanu played on Veerappan, asking him (Rajkumar) to feign serious illness to make Veerappan take pity on him, that led to his release? The denial came in a statement released at Nedumaran's press conference in Chennai on November 17. The statement added: "Dr. (Mrs) Bhanu came to treat me for chest pain. She asked me how I was keeping my condition to myself when I was in such a health. I replied that I had to pretend to be doing well in the present situation." Rajkumar emphatically denied "the distorted version of this (that was) being spread by the media" and claimed that he had never thought of wi nning his freedom through "such deceit".

Nedumaran disclosed that Veerappan had scaled up one of his demands: he now demanded the release of not five but seven TNLA/TNRF men detained in Tamil Nadu.

As Nedumaran took over the leadership of the missions, the Tamil Nadu police were left clueless about what was going on. Nedumaran charted his own way. During the first four missions, which were led by Gopal, the top brass of the two States' police were informed of the developments. While Additional Director-General of Police (Special Operations) A.X. Alexander and Nakkheeran Associate Editor A. Kamaraj played coordinating roles in the background for the Tamil Nadu government, K.R. Srinivas, Insp ector-General of Police, Karnataka, was positioned in Chennai.

Once Nedumaran took charge of the fifth and sixth missions, the matter slipped out of the hands of the police. A police officer said: "The entire operation was done by Nedumaran. Handling him was difficult. He did not play by any rules."

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Baffling were the roles played by Kolathur Mani, P. Shanmugasundaram and R. Ramkumar, who materialised in the forests during the final mission.

Until some time ago, Kolathur Mani was one of the State-level organising secretaries of the D.K. led by K. Veeramani. According to Nedumaran, Kolathur Mani was an "influential man" in the Mettur area where he worked to provide relief for the atrocities a llegedly committed by the Special Task Force (STF) that hunted for Veerappan. What Nedumaran did not reveal was that Mani had organised training camps for LTTE cadres in his village of Kolathur near Mettur when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. Mani was an accused in the case relating to the escape of 43 LTTE cadres from Tipu Mahal inside Vellore Fort on August 15, 1995 after digging a 153-foot-long tunnel. He was acquitted.

The final report of the Jain Commission that inquired into Rajiv Gandhi's assassination described Kolathur Mani's conduct as "extremely dubious". It said "he knew the whereabouts of Sivarajan, Subha and Nehru (all accused in the assassination case) in ea rly August 1991 when the SIT (Special Investigation Team of the Central Bureau of Investigation) spoke to him. He concealed the information from them all along." The report added that Kolathur Mani was "actively instrumental" in "getting these accused tr ansported clandestinely from Bangalore to Chennai".

Shanmugasundaram is president of Karnataka Tamilar Peravai. A native of Pidariyur, near Chennimalai, Tamil Nadu, he is based in Bangalore, operating a transport fleet. According to the police, he had links with the LTTE and knew Sivarajan, who mastermin ded the assassination. A police officer wondered how Shanmugasundaram got back into the reckoning after "hardcore" LTTE supporters had shunned him because he had allegedly "exposed" several LTTE men to the CBI.

Dr. Bhanu is a native of Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. Her parents moved to Madurai and then to Bangalore. She studied in Malaysia. She holds a degree in medicine. Her father has interests in granite business in Karnataka and has links with Kolathur Mani. It was Shanmugasu-ndaram who persuaded her to enter the forests to treat Rajkumar.

Ramkumar is a son of the former Director-General of Police, Karnataka, R. Ramalingam. His role in the release is puzzling. He was a reporter with a Tamil daily, Dinachudar, in Bangalore. He too has interests in the quarrying business. Bhanu and Ra mkumar know each other.

Fifty-three-year-old Kalyani taught physics in government colleges in Tamil Nadu before he took voluntary retirement. He was a sympathiser of the People's War Group, a Marxist-Leninist organisation, and was an organiser for the Tamil Nadu unit of the Rev olutionary Cultural Movement. He started the People's Education Movement with others who had left the PWG. Kalyani has been working for the welfare of Dalits and tribals. He is a supporter of Maniarasan's Tamil Desiya Podhuvudamai Katchi (Tamil National Communist Party), which led to his interest in Tamil nationalism.

Speaking to Frontline, Kalyani angrily denied that there was a "Vanniyar angle" to the release. "We care only for human rights. Where is the question of our belonging to any community?" he asked. He pointed out that he was not a Vanniyar but a The var.

Kalyani said: "There was no deal with Veerappan. They were firm on their demands. We told them that only certain demands could be conceded and if they continued to lay down more demands, fresh problems would arise."

Kalyani said the team assured Veerappan that follow-up action would be taken on the legal steps initiated for the release of the TADA detainees and the five cadres. Kalyani claimed that the members of the team were able to convince them that they were a ll full-time human rights activists.

Sugumaran is the secretary of the Pondicherry unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties. He has a strong Tamil nationalist background.

The DMK government headed by M. Karunanidhi attracted strong criticism when Nedumaran took part in the fifth mission, along with Gopal. All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary and former Chief Minister Jayalalitha objected to the Government sending as its emissary a "secessionist" and an LTTE supporter who had exhorted the people of the State to register themselves as Tamil nationals and not as Indian citizens in the coming Census. S.R. Balasubramaniam of the Tamil Maanila Co ngress (TMC) described the choice of Nedumaran as "dangerous and irresponsible".

N. Sankaraiah, secretary of the Tamil Nadu State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), accused the DMK government of allowing Tamil separatism to take root in the State.

In the Assembly on November 7, Leader of the Opposition S. Balakrishnan described Nedumaran as an "anti-national force" and suggested that he be "blocked" from entering the forests and "arrested".

A soft-spoken Nedumaran reacted furiously. He declined to go into the forests to negotiate with Veerappan. "Balakrishnan has made a totally false allegation against me in the Assembly. I, therefore, appeal to the Chief Minister to send my good friend and patriot Balakrishnan to the forests to make efforts for Rajkumar's release," Nedumaran said caustically. He alleged that political leaders, without giving a thought to the safety of Tamils living in Karnataka and Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu, ridiculed his efforts so that they could make political capital out of riots engineered by linguistic chauvinists.

This position of Nedumaran led to a flood of requests to reconsider the decision. Rajkumar's sons Shiv Rajkumar and Raghavendra Rajkumar visited Nedumaran's residence. Another visitor was Dr. Ramadoss. Defence Minister George Fernandes also spoke to him. While film actor Rajnikant phoned Nedumaran, Kannada film actor Ambareesh and the president of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce K.C.N. Chandrasekar, met Nedumaran.

In the Assembly, Karunanidhi defended his decision to send Nedumaran.

On November 11 night, Nedumaran, with Kalyani and Sugumaran, left for the forests. Nedumaran said that he was going "not as an emissary of the government but as an ambassador of humanitarianism". There were no indications of Gopal leaving separately. Gop al took the line that he was the "designated emissary of the two governments" (implying that the negotiations cannot take place without him) and that he was waiting for a "signal" from Veerappan.

On November 14 morning, Nedumaran, Kalyani and Sugumaran, later joined by Shanmugasundaram, met Veerappan in the forests along with Kolathur Mani and Dr. Bhanu. Veerappan released Rajkumar and his nephew Nagesh the same day around 5 p.m. Nedumaran, Rajku mar and others stayed in a farm house at Muzhiyanur near Andhiyur that night.

Gopal left Chennai on November 14 morning and learnt to his disappointment the next morning that Rajkumar had already been freed. Reliable sources said the signal to Gopal was deliberately delayed so that he would not be present when Rajkumar was set fre e.

Informed sources alleged that the Karnataka Government kept the Tamil Nadu government in the dark about the trip by Kolathur Mani, Dr. Bhanu and Ramkumar. The Tamil Nadu government came to know about it and hit back in its own way. In the State Assembly, Karunanidhi attacked the previous J.H. Patel government in Karnataka for not honouring its assurance to release 119 TADA detainees in Mysore, as demanded by Veerappan when he set free nine Karnataka Forest Department employees he had abducted in July 19 97. Gopal had played a key role in their release. Karunanidhi said that despite his writing several letters to Patel, nothing had happened. Patel said the 119 TADA detainees would be released only when Veerappan surrendered, Karunanidhi said.

P.G.R. Sindhia, Home Minister in the Patel government, joined issue with Karunanidhi. Sindhia said Patel had kept his promise, set up a committee to review the cases of TADA detainees, and 75 of them were enlarged on bail. The other 51 could not be relea sed.

And now, the hunt

With both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu announcing their resolve to step up the hunt for Veerappan, the scene of action seems set to shift to the forests.

THERE was much euphoria in government circles in Bangalore and Chennai after the release of Rajkumar, but what has been achieved is at best a Pyrrhic victory. The brigand still roams the forests - he even issued a signed statement along with his Tamil mi litant friends - while both the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments are as clueless as ever about his whereabouts and a strategy needed to catch him and his friends.

And worse, the image of the two governments has taken a severe beating with the Supreme Court issuing strong strictures during arguments by the two governments to free, as demanded by Veerappan, over 120 prisoners in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, many of the m detained under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA). Said the Supreme Court: "What have you (State governments) done for the past eight years to apprehend the forest brigand? We make it clear it is the responsibility of the S tate to maintain law and order. If you cannot do it, then quit and make way for somebody else who can."

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The Supreme Court adopted a tough posture, firmly shutting the judicial door on allowing the withdrawal of TADA charges. It said on November 7: "What causes us the gravest disquiet is that when, not so long back, as the record shows, his gang had been co nsiderably reduced, Veerappan was not pursued and apprehended and now, as the statements in the affidavit filed on behalf of Tamil Nadu shows, Veerappan is operating in the forest that has been his hideout for 10 years or more along with secessionist Tam il elements." The apex court added: "It seems certain to us that Veerappan will continue with his life of crime and it is very likely that those crimes will have anti-national objectives."

Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments have announced the launching of operations by their respective Special Task Forces (STFs) that were established to catch Veerappan. But certain questions are still being asked. For instance, was there a deal, whi ch has a bearing on any further action against Veerappan? Why were the governments not prompt in ordering the STFs back into the forests as they were in ordering them out of the forest on July 31 after Rajkumar was taken away? Why has Central help in the form of a commando operation not sought? (Commandos, according to Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami, were ready and in place.) And, should the STFs which have failed - whatever the reasons - to apprehend Veerappan, continue their work with bas ically the same composition and operational style as before?

Hot pursuit of the brigand once he released his prize catch was an option that the STFs had favoured (and discussed with their political bosses during the hostage crisis) since it would be an ideal opportunity to pin down the gang. But no instructions we re issued at that time to the STFs, which were in the dark about the release of the hostages. Even the Collector and the Superintendent of Police of Erode district were for hours unaware of the whereabouts of the released hostages. According to informed sources, as part of the 'deal' to secure the release of the hostages, Veerappan was assured that there "would be no police action".

Faced with sustained demands from both the public and the Opposition parties, the Karnataka government had by November 19 started announcing "plans" for STF action against Veerappan. On his part, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi announced the re- launch of STF operations on November 20. He came down heavily on any form of secessionist or extremist forces that tried to revive itself on an ostensible 'Tamils plank'. He said any action against Veerappan would be done in coordination with the Karnata ka Government. He added: "We will also take the Centre's advice and assistance in the operations." Karunanidhi said the Army's assistance would be sought "if necessary". He said the number of STF camps in the Sathyamangalam forest area will be increased, police contingents in the camps reinforced and more weapons provided to them. Four more senior police officials have been chosen to assist the Tamil Nadu STF operations.

Brushing aside Tamil Nationalist Movement leader P. Nedumaran's opposition to STF operations until STF personnel who had allegedly perpetrated atrocities against the tribal people were punished, Karunanidhi said that various leaders have been expressing their views and it was not possible to reply to every one of them. Nonetheless he made a distinction between the STF operations per se and the payment of compensation to the affected people as directed by the Sadasivam Commission.

KARNATAKA Home Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge said in Gulbarga that the STF would immediately resume operations in the M.M. Hills area. As if on cue, State Director-General of Police C. Dinakar disclosed that STF personnel had been moved to 17 base camps a nd that five platoons of the Karnataka State Reserve Police stationed at different places. A former STF Commander, however, asked: "If they have moved to their base camps why are they sitting still? It is time to move into the forests."

Commenting on the question of coordination between the STFs of the two States, Dinakar said that on the ground there was lack of coordination and bad blood between the two STFs. Said a Tamil Nadu STF officer: "They (Karnataka) are not sharing information or cooperating with us. There is no openness. For example, whenever we have requested for a joint interrogation of the released hostages (who are all in Bangalore) they only said ''wait.'"

The Karnataka STF Commandant, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Dr. Harshavardhan Raju, who usually camps in Mysore, had a meeting with Balachandran in Hassanur on November 17 but was soon summoned to Bangalore to aid the Home Department in preparing it s replies for the discussions on the Veerappan issue in the State legislature, now in session. For any effort to be worth its name, the two STFs will have to gather and pool information.

Significantly, on November 20, Raju came to Bannari and held talks with his Tamil Nadu counterpart, Inspector-General of Police N. Balachandran, to work out operational strategies.

Initially the Karunanidhi government did not appear to be inclined to send the STF into the forests, even after Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna had announced in New Delhi on November 17 that he had "already given instructions to the (Karnataka) pol ice to start patrolling and intelligence gathering" and that STF operations were being re-launched. Explaining why Karnataka could not "decide any (specific) course of action," Kharge told Frontline on November 17: "We have to consult the Tamil Na du government and the Government of India before steps are taken. The STFs are still in their camps." When asked what should be done to catch Veerappan, he said: "He (Veerappan) is in their (Tamil Nadu) area. Their jurisdiction. He is their man. How can the Karnataka (police) go there to catch him?"

It was surmised that with the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly due early next year, Karunanidhi may not find it to his or his Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's advantage to launch operations against Veerappan. The question was: Is he worried that he would alienate the Vanniyar community, which is a major factor in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu and to which Veerappan belongs?

Ideally, STF personnel would have liked to know from which forests the hostages and the negotiators emerged, and then enter the area for operations. An STF officer said: "If the two governments were sincere they should have given us the go-ahead for a m assive attack."

More men, equipment and funds can be provided easily enough by committed governments. But better training, more coordination among the STFs, the local police and the forest departments of the two States, a suspension of human activity (such as tribal peo ple gathering minor forest produce) within the periphery of the forests and a strict vigil on poaching will be easier said than done.

At present the Tamil Nadu STF has around 190 men with as many as 50 vacancies. The situation with regard to the Karnataka STF is not much better; actually it is facing an acute shortage of men and officers. Harshavardhan Raju's repeated pleas to the Kris hna government have fallen on deaf ears. He is tipped for a Border Security Force (BSF) posting, and his tenure is expected to come to an end shortly. The Karnataka STF or the local police have not made a single arrest of Veerappan's gang members or thei r associates during 1999-2000. All the arrests have been made by their Tamil Nadu counterparts.

Before any operations can start, the STF would also like to interrogate the hostages, "if not Rajkumar at least Nagappa, Govindaraju and Nagesh", to know a little more about Veerappan's and his accomplices' thinking and plans. The Joint Commander of the STFs, Balachandran, is expected to lead a team of STF officers to Bangalore soon. But it is not certain that they will get the opportunity to talk to the trio. Nagappa, who escaped on September 28, has not been made accessible even to the Karnataka polic e. Repeated requests by the Joint Commander to Raju for access to Nagappa have failed.

The two governments' moves, rather the lack of them, smack of a repeat of what was done during past hostage crises - fret until the hostages were released and then forget Veerappan until he strikes again.

Informed sources said that Union Home Minister L.K. Advani was keen that the two STFs should launch an operation immediately to catch Veerappan and the extremist cadres holed up with him. He has been on record as saying that the Centre was prepared to pr ovide any help that the two States needed in this regard. The Union Home Ministry is worried about the implications of the secessionist TNLA and TNRF working in tandem with Veerappan.

The DMK government was already feeling the heat of the demand that Nedumaran made at a press conference after Rajkumar's release - that the STF should not enter the forests until compensation was paid to the victims of the alleged atrocities of the STF a nd action taken against the STF personnel who committed them. Nedumaran made it clear that it was not Veerappan's demand that the STF should not be despatched after him. "This is our demand. I explained this to the Chief Minister," he said.

Nedumaran complained that while the press highlighted only Veerappan's smuggling of ivory and sandalwood, it never exposed the support given to him by politicians and bureaucrats. He accused the press of "hiding the atrocities of the ruling class". Accor ding to him, the Veerappan issue was a by-product of the socio-economic problems of the area in question. Nedumaran argued that the people of the area had been badly affected by the activities of STF and Forest Department personnel. Only when a solution was found to their problems would the issue be resolved, he said. "Otherwise, many more Veerappans will rise."

Even the DMK's two allies, the MGR-ADMK and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), denounced Nedumaran's demand that the STF should not be asked to go into the forests. Bharatiya Janata Party (also a DMK ally) leader J.P. Mathur, said: "This is the right ti me to take action against Veerappan. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka should take joint action against him." S. Tirunavukkarasu, MGR-ADMK leader, said: "The STF operation cannot be given up... Violence and extremism would ruin a democratic society." If there wer e any specific instances of human rights violations by STF personnel, they should be investigated and the guilty punished. "But how can you blame the entire STF?" Tirunavukkarasu asked.

Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi, TRC president, wanted Veerappan and the extremists to be flushed out of the forests "to save Tamil Nadu from slipping into the hands of the LTTE once again." Ramamurthi said he was sure that Karunanidhi would "regret" having sen t Nedumaran, an LTTE supporter, to the forests.

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary and former Chief Minister Jayalalitha said that Karunanidhi should send the STF into the forests to capture Veerappan dead or alive. She said that there was no ground to believe that Vee rappan would stop abductions. Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) general secretary C. Gnanasekaran said if the State STF was not able to capture Veerappan, the Army should be given the task.

The eternal Kannada icon

ALIGHTING from the helicopter that brought him back from 108 days in captivity, Rajkumar knelt down with his hands folded and paid respect to the Karnataka soil. He did not let his fans down. This is what he is loved for. This is what makes him a super s tar. He never fails to show the people of Karnataka that he is every bit a Kannadiga and proud of his State.

The helicopter, in fact, had first landed at the HAL airport, but on learning that thousands of fans were waiting at Jakkur airport at the other end of the city, Rajkumar, apparently insisted on being taken there. His followers were overjoyed. They had b een waiting several hours for the return of their beloved "Annavaru" (elder brother).

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On his way to Vidhan Soudha, the State Assembly, to address the press, Rajkumar's convoy passed through roads filled with people waving the yellow and red (unofficial) flag of Karnataka. At Vidhan Soudha, the police had to control a huge crowd from mobbi ng the film star. Even the normally aloof press corps clapped when he entered the hall. Rajkumar then went home to find several hundred fans and admirers gathered outside his house. In spite of his family's reservations, he insisted on making an appearan ce and spoke to those gathered from the balcony of his home. He was emotional and teary eyed when he saw the adulation. Being back in his home state among people who loved him was the central theme of his speech. And, at the conclusion of his thanks he d id not forget to add "Jai Karnataka Mate."

Seventy-two year-old Rajkumar is Karnataka's biggest film star. But more significantly he has become a symbol of Karnataka's people and, perhaps not intentionally, also a spokesman for Kannada consciousness. He may not know it and he may not want it, say s an observer, but events have taken over and now Rajkumar is synonymous with the pro-Kannada movement. He is an icon in Karnataka and very few people dispute that.

RAJKUMAR traces his origins to Doddagajanur, in Tamil Nadu, the village from where he was kidnapped by Veerappan on July 31, 2000. Rajkumar was born as P. Muthuraj on April 24, 1928 to Lakshmamma and Singanallur Puttaswamiah. His father was a well-known stage actor with the Gubbi Veerana troupe and Rajkumar toured the countryside with his parents and the drama company. As a result, academics took a back seat. Acting, however, became second nature to him. After the age of eight or nine, he abandoned his education to pursue a life in the theatre.

In 1954, Rajkumar made his film debut in the lead role of H.L.N Simha's production, based on G.V Iyer's play Bedara Kannappa. He played the part of a Shiva devotee who overcame the severest of tests to prove his devotion. This role established him as a human-cum-mythological hero. He continued to act in this genre of films for several years, as a historical, divine or mythological, or all three rolled into one, character. Rajkumar's image, mainly moulded by veteran director G.V. Iyer, became the focus for a quest for Karnataka's cultural glory. The bulk of his historical dramas (Ranadheera Kantheerava, Immadi Pulikeshi) and mythological films "were geared to a populist, regional-chauvinist version of Karnataka's history focussing on Dravi dian feudalism's resistance to the North Indian agrarian systems".

Most of his films were of epic proportions. The costumes were elaborate and Rajkumar played each role with aplomb. The films presented a populist version of Karnataka's history, focussing primarily on the southern kingdoms from the Pallava period to the Vijayanagara empire and later to the intrigue and mystery of the Mysore royalty. Rajkumar later expanded his expression from mythologicals to the contemporary with Bangarada Manushya.

In all the films, his persona takes upon himself all the burdens. Iyer once commented that Rajkumar's talent lies in his versatility and his skills are illustrated by the way he modulates his performances from the historical to the mythological (Sri K annika Parameswari Kathe), from contemporary melodrama (Karulina Kare) to James Bond thrillers (Goadalli CID 999 and his Dorairaj-Bhagwan films.) A key pointer to his rise as a Kannada icon is that he never acted in any other language f ilm.

Forty-two years after his film debut, Rajkumar was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1996 for his outstanding contribution to Indian cinema. He was the first actor from Karnataka and the fifth from South India to receive the highest recognition in th e film industry. In a career spanning 45 years, he has acted in approximately 204 films. He was given the Padma Bhushan in 1983 and he is a 12-time recipient of the State award for best actor. He has won 14 national awards and 16 State awards. In additio n, he is an accomplished singer.

Unlike his contemporaries M.G. Ramachandran and N.T. Rama Rao, Rajkumar never entered politics, nor is he connected to any political party either. He is however, linked to the Akhila Karnataka Dr. Rajkumar Abhimanigala Sangha - a quasi political organisa tion. The sangha members are proponents of the pro-Kannada movement. The organisation was involved in the Cauvery riots of October 1990, in which Tamils were targeted. Although Rajkumar personally did not take sides and has distanced himself from these i ssues, his fans have been actively involved in Kannada nationalist campaigns.

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Perhaps his only brush with politics was in 1982-83, when he toured Karnataka addressing public meetings to protest against the non-implementation of the V.K. Gokak Committee Report. The report recommended imparting education in the State in Kannada.

According to Madhava Prasad, Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, stars like Rajkumar need their followers, but after a point the activities of the fan associations are beyond their control. Prasad says that Rajkumar's person ality is gentle and the actor is modest about his achievements. "He is quite humble for a star." The bottom line appears to be that he has no political aspirations yet he plays an important role in the State.

When he was released from captivity, he told his followers: "My abduction is a great lesson for the country. Especially for the two southern States, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Despite my hardships and ordeal, I must say that it is a blessing in disguise b ecause it underlines the urgent need for the much required unity between Tamils and Kannadigas." Coming from him such a statement can go a long way. His influence and power among the people of Karnataka cannot be dismissed that easily.

This was made quite clear when he was abducted three months ago. Fans went on the rampage. They shattered windows in buildings, burnt a bus, targeted Tamil Nadu registered cars and two wheelers. They literally shut down Bangalore city for a few days. The weeks that followed saw vehicles and buildings pasted with Rajkumar posters and yellow and red flags. Fans performed "urule sevas", some even threatened to go into the jungle and rescue him. Veerappan had a prize catch in Rajkumar. Even the existence of the State government would have been threatened if anything had happened to the thespian.

Another ceasefire

The declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the Union government has shaken up political life in Jammu and Kashmir.

FOR believing Muslims, the sighting of the Ramzan moon is among the most important religious events of the year. This year, it is going to be a question of life and death, literally.

When Indian troops scale back operations in Jammu and Kashmir on November 28, most ordinary people in the state will be hoping for the first violence-free Ramzan in over a decade. Most of the politicians who claim to represent them, however, appear to be unhappy about the prospect.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's declaration on November 19 that Indian troops will observe a unilateral ceasefire during the Mah-i-Ramzan (the month of Ramzan) shook up political life in the State. The announcement created panic within the secessio nist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which could find itself on the edge of a split. It could also drive a deep wedge between the factions in the Hizbul Mujahideen. Mainstream politicians, ranging from Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to his arch-o pponent Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, welcomed the ceasefire offer, but their aides were making no effort to conceal their fury with the peace process.

No one in the APHC seemed certain about just how to react to the announcement. Speaking to mediapersons in New Delhi, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said ceasefire was not an "everlasting solution". That, however, left open the question whe ther he, and other hardliners in the APHC, thought it should be respected by terrorist groups or not. APHC centrists, many of whom are in Pakistan to attend the wedding of Abdul Ghani Lone's son with Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Amanullah Khan's daughter, have not yet spoken about the development. But when they do, Lone and figures like Srinagar religious leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq could find themselves in open confrontation with the hardliners.

It is also clear that the Hizbul Mujahideen will face serious factional conflicts in the days to come. Just one day before Vajpayee's announcement, top Hizb leader Abdul Aziz Sheikh, better known by his nom de guerre General Moosa, had announced h is support for a ceasefire from the Srinagar Central Jail. Sheikh, whose release had been demanded by the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 last year, said he hoped that "after taking into confidence Hizb commanders on both sides of the Line of Control, my Amir (chief) will announce a ceasefire during Ramzan". Hizb chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah did not respond in public to Sheikh's appeal, but it is clear that growing numbers of the terrorist organisation's predominantly Kashmiri cadre endorse the peace efforts.

Abdul Majid Dar, the architect of the abortive Hizb-led ceasefire announced in August, is certain to be delighted with the results of his covert efforts to secure support within the organisation. Shah, however, is under intense pressure from Pakistan's m ilitary establishment. Should he endorse the ceasefire, the Hizb could find itself in frontal conflict with Far Right terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammadi. Alternatively, if the Hizb imposes conditions for a ceasefire , such as a diplomatic dialogue involving Pakistan, it could face disquiet within its own ranks. In October, Shah had himself called for the Indian government to declare a ceasefire as a gesture of good faith. Pakistan had then believed that the Vajpayee government would find it politically impossible to do so, an assumption that has backfired.

Farooq Abdullah faces problems that are structurally similar to those of the Hizb and the APHC. For the past several months, the National Conference has been seeking to rebuild its mass credentials, by condemning alleged human rights violations by the se curity forces and distancing itself from its allies in the National Democratic Alliance. These efforts, along with the N.C.'s autonomy platform, were aimed at protecting the party in the event of elements from within the Hizb and the APHC joining mainstr eam electoral politics. Now, the political initiative has been seized from the N.C., and its agenda displaced from the foreground of state politics. Politicians like Sayeed, who had predicated their future on a dialogue process with terrorists, have also been marginalised by the declaration of a ceasefire they can take no credit for.

INTERESTINGLY, the idea of the Union government declaring a unilateral ceasefire came first from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). CPI(M) MLA Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami had argued the need for such a move on November 7, and sources say he was a key fi gure in subsequent discussions on the issue. The idea was extensively discussed in the Ministry of Home Affairs through the month, and also won the endorsement of the Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan. The Prime Minister's key aide, Brajesh Mishra, was among those who supported the ceasefire move, but sources say Home Minister L.K. Advani was less enthusiastic. Advani, who is believed to have opposed the August ceasefire, warned of the prospect of disruptive massacres and strikes by terror ists which would discredit the government. Advani finally agreed just two days before the ceasefire was declared.

On the eve of the declaration, the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Juma Masjid, Syed Ahmad Bukhari, was roped in to ask Mohammed Yusuf Shah to support a Ramzan ceasefire. Abdul Aziz Sheikh then used the Imam's call to demand that his leadership back a ceasefire. T here is little doubt that the Hizb's operational ability has declined significantly since the last ceasefire. Much of its cadre now wish for an end to violence.

Indian officials, for their part, say that they will not tolerate movement across the Line of Control, and that troops will respond if fired on. Should the ceasefire hold, the question of initiating an eventual dialogue with the Hizb and other secessioni st forces will then come centrestage. Efforts to put an end to violence in Jammu and Kashmir by sundering it on communal lines have been gathering momentum. Such a division, ironically, is something that elements in both the APHC and the Rashtriya Swayam sevak Sangh appear to agree is inevitable. Should the dialogue process become a pretext for such an enterprise, the price of peace could prove more awful than that of the bloody war in Jammu and Kashmir.

Massacres and mysteries

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

The political concerns of the ruling parties in the State and at the Centre ensure that Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's promise to order a judicial inquiry into the Chattisinghpora massacre and the Panchalthan killings is give n a quiet burial.

EVEN the united endeavours of a collective of conspiracy theorists' would have been inadequate to invent the dense layers of intrigue that now shroud the massacre of 35 Sikh village residents at Chattisinghpora on the night of March 20, 2000, in Kashmir' s worst communal massacre to date (Frontline, April 14).

On October 31, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah made perhaps the most dramatic pronouncement of his four years in power. Retired Supreme Court Judge S. Ratnavel Pandian, he said, would be asked to investigate the massacre. Justice Pandian , Abdullah said, would also inquire into the killing of five alleged terrorists at Panchalthan five days later. The Chief Minister said that the constitution of a formal Commission of Inquiry had become imperative after Justice Pandian's report on the sh ooting of protesters at Brakpora, after the police opened fire on protesters claiming that those killed at Panchalthan were innocent villagers. Asked if he had sought New Delhi's consent, to institute such an inquiry, the Chief Minister defiantly asserte d that he needed no one's permission to do so.

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Then, suddenly, it all changed again. One fortnight and a single meeting with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee later, the promised investigation of the Chattisinghpora and Panchalthan incidents was terminated.

Highly placed sources told Frontline that it is unlikely that Justice Pandian will now investigate both the killings. State officials said, off the record, that charge-sheets filed in an Anantnag court on November 13 against Pakistan nationals Moh ammad Suhail Malik of Sialkot, and Naseem Ahmed Chugtai of Gujranwala, rendered a Commission of Inquiry redundant. Both persons were arrested by the Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir Police in September. Twelve other Lashkar-e-Taiba cadre , identified only by their code-names, are mentioned in the charge-sheet. The charge-sheet also lists six Lashkar cadre killed by the Rashtriya Rifles at Halan on March 28. A supplementary charge-sheet is likely to be filed against Mohammad Yakub Wagay, locally known by his nickname Chatt Guri. Wagay is accused of having led the group of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists to Chattisinghpora. The argument that criminal investigations in the Panchalthan killings is nearing conclusion is being used to suggest that no Commission of Inquiry is needed to probe these killings either.

Chief Minister Abdullah did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed by Frontline on these issues. Senior government officials also refused to go on record. Justice Pandian, for his part, speaking to Frontline in Chennai, made cle ar that since he had not yet received a formal request from the Jammu and Kashmir government, the question of whether he would agree to head a new inquiry was premature.

SO just what is going on? It is, for one, clear that Abdullah had not studied the Pandian Commission Report before making his pronouncements. The report was submitted to the State government on October 27. Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley was given two days to prepare notes for a Cabinet meeting that was to discuss the report. He worked from a single copy of the report, and no photocopies were made available to the State government's legal department, as is customary. The State Cabinet accepted the report without the Ministers having read it. It does not appear to have been told that charge-sheets were being prepared against Malik and Chugtai. Abdullah had been so poorly briefed on the matter that he announced that Justice Pandian had recommended the rein statement of two suspended officials - Senior Superintendent of Police Farooq Khan and Station House Officer Ghaznafar Khan. The report makes no such recommendation.

Politics seems to have been central to the Cabinet's concerns on October 31. Under siege from New Delhi, which has made no secret of its desire to propel the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and the Hizbul Mujahideen into mainstream politics, the N ational Conference needed to secure its flanks. An investigation of Chattisinghpora would, it was thought, help the N.C. signal that despite its political alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, it remained an adversary of New Delhi. At once the invest igation would help undermine the APHC, which has been claiming that the Chattisinghpora killings were carried out by the Indian state. Investigation into the Panchalthan killings, for their part, would help Chief Minister Abdullah signal his concern for human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, and distance himself from the activities of the security establishment.

It is still not entirely clear just what transpired between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, but officials in New Delhi say that the Union government was furious at the decision to inquire into Chattisinghpora. Vajpayee is believed to have told the Chief Minister that his action had embarrassed the Union government. Interestingly, Abdullah had himself ruled out the prospect of a judicial investigation into Chattisinghpora earlier, and had blamed the Lashkar-e-Taiba for the atrocity. It is unli kely that had he read the Pandian Report that would have changed his mind. No witnesses from the village deposed before the Commission, and it arrived at no findings on the killings for the reason that they were not part of its terms of reference.

Jammu and Kashmir government officials insist that they will make the Pandian Report available for public scrutiny, but it has so far shown no signs of emerging from the government-run Ranbir Press. Authoritative sources, however, provided Frontline with an outline of the findings. Apart from indicting police officers at Brakpora for the use of excessive force, it has blamed District Magistrate Pawan Kotwal and Senior Superintendent of Police Khan for failing to respond to the demonstration with adequate seriousness. The Commission also discussed the Panchalthan killings, but in the context of public allegations that those who were eliminated there were innocent local residents. No allegation has been made, however, that the Brakpora killings we re part of a larger official conspiracy.

If Justice Pandian does investigate the Panchalthan killings, received wisdom on what happened there might just receive a beating. Frontline has obtained copies of the post-mortem reports on the five alleged terrorists killed by the Army at Pancha lthan, submitted by the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Government Medical College in Srinagar. Allegations that the five persons were innocent local residents appeared confirmed when the bodies were exhumed on April 5 and 6, and identified by the ir relatives. The forensic analysis, however, suggests that the identification process may have been less than reliable. There are, in particular, disturbing signs that some key pieces of evidence in the identification process were planted after the buri al of the five victims.

Consider, for example, the case of the body believed to be that of Jumma Khan Amirullah, identified by his son, Shakoor Khan, and wife, Mirza Noor. Amirullah's face had been blown apart by a bullet, and his body had suffered 95 per cent burns during the encounter. A cheap black plastic shoe on his foot, however, amazingly remained intact. So did a brass ring, with an embedded red stone, on one finger. The ring ought to have left a distinctive burn mark, but the forensic examiners found none. Then, Shako or Khan also said he recognised his father by a gap in the dentition, caused by the extraction of a tooth years earlier. This gap was indeed visible in Amirullah's jaw. But Shakoor Khan did not appear to know of several other such gaps, normally hidden f rom sight, which the forensic experts found had been caused by past dental procedures.

Similar mysteries riddled other identifications. The alleged body of Anantnag businessman Zahoor Dalal was identified on the basis of a shirt and sweater in a plastic bag lying next to the corpse. Malik did not, however, recognise the remnants of the str iped shirt the corpse had on. Had soldiers forced Dalal to change his shirt before his death, it is unlikely that they would have obligingly left his clothes behind so neatly packed. The bag also contained pieces of a jaw and a nose which were identified by Shakoor Khan and Mirza Noor as those of Amirullah. But the corpse they eventually identified had its nose intact. In another case, the alleged corpse of Jammu Khan Faqirullah, which had suffered 97 per cent burns and was covered in a "white fungal gr owth", was identified on the basis of a "partial grey beard present over the left side of (the) lower jaw".

These are not the only ill-fitting parts of the puzzle. After the Brakpora firing, Chief Minister Abdullah announced the removal of key district officials, and announced on April 3 that the Panchalthan bodies would be exhumed. Frontline has, howev er, obtained a letter issued by District Magistrate Kotwal on April 1, ordering that the Panchalthan bodies be exhumed. Kotwal's letter orders N.A. Parrey, the Anantnag Assistant Commissioner, to complete the process by April 3. Thus, clearly the distric t administration felt it had nothing to hide. The Chief Minister ended up taking credit for the decision to exhume the bodies, which, Kotwal's letter makes evident, was not in fact the case. It would appear that the N.C. sensed a political opportunity af ter Brakpora, and chose to make the local administration the scapegoat for its larger objectives. Interestingly, the N.C. had done poorly in the Shangus area in the previous Lok Sabha elections, and local politicians benefited not a little from Abdullah' s supposed drive to expose the truth.

WHO, then, were the five persons killed at Panchalthan? DNA test results have not yet come in, but it is clear that the kin-identification of corpses was, to say the least, decidedly peculiar. Processes preceding the exhumation were no less strange. Both Jumma Khan Faqirullah and Jumma Khan Amirullah were reported missing by the chowkidar (watchman) of Brari Angan village on March 26, a day after the Panchalthan encounter. The first information report (FIR) filed by the chowkidar noted that the two had been kidnapped by unknown masked gunmen with the intention of killing them. Given this apprehension, it is not clear why the chowkidar waited for two days before filing the FIR. Then, deposing before the Pandian Commission, the chowkidar claimed that he and Faqirullah's son, Rashid Khan, had gone by themselves to an army camp to inquire about his fate. Two other witnesses, however, claimed to have accompanied them.

Relatives of two of the other alleged Panchalthan victims, Bashir Ahmed Bhat and Mohammad Yusuf Malik, did not file FIRs. Missing person reports (MPR) were registered on March 27, three days after their disappearance. The MPR stated that the family did n ot suspect foul play, and no FIR was filed. Dalal's relatives took the same course of action. On March 28, one day after filing their MPR, Dalal's relatives marched in procession to the District Court in Anantnag, insisting that he had been murdered by t he Army at Panchalthan. Perhaps the family members had got some information during the day that led them to this conclusion, but what it was has remained unclear. Families of terrorists shot dead in encounters have often filed MPRs shortly after the deat h of their relatives, hoping to secure compensation. Even if this is not the case in Panchalthan, the certitude with which it has been claimed that the victims were innocent people appears misplaced.

Despite the ambiguous nature of the evidence, many people have asserted that the Panchalthan killings represented a botched attempt to pin the blame for Chattisinghpora on the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The controversy over Panchalthan has fuelled allegations that Chattisinghpora was executed by the security establishment in order to defame terrorists. This allegation is bizarre, resting as it does not on evidence but conjecture. The killers at Chattisinghpora wore combat fatigues, waved a bottle of liquor around , told their victims that they had come to celebrate the Holi festival, and left shouting pro-India slogans. It is unlikely that even the most stupid covert group would have worked so hard to compromise its operation, if that is what Chattisinghpora inde ed was. Several commentators have asked what the Lashkar's motive for the killing might be, but this question evades the fact of the organisation's well-documented involvement in other, ideologically motivated communal massacres.

An impartial judicial investigation of the affair would have helped resolve some of these mysteries: as, indeed, the criminal investigation now under way ought to do. Now, however, that is not going to happen. The Union government, acutely conscious of t he international repercussions of continued debate on Chattisinghpora, sees no reason to support any judicial investigation. The State government, for its part, has gained the political mileage it sought, and would be only too delighted to put the blame for the termination of such an investigation on New Delhi. Political intrigue has ensured the construction of a conspiracy narrative where the evidence available does not suggest any existed. With the apparent end of efforts to set up a second Ratnavel P andian Commission, it seems certain that these conspiracy theories will flourish, and gain further legitimacy. The Jammu and Kashmir and Union governments will have no one to blame but themselves for the consequences.

A dubious document

The General J.R. Mukherjee Committee Report indicting the CRPF and the State police for the massacre of Amarnath yatra pilgrims on August 1 is yet another attempt at demolishing the established relationship among the police, the central paramili tary forces and the Army.

VIRTUALLY everyone in Jammu and Kashmir, and much of the media, seem to agree that the General J.R. Mukherjee Committee Report on the massacre of Amarnath pilgrims on August 1 at Pahalgam has blown the lid off an official conspiracy. Former Union Ministe r Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said on November 16 that the report exposed efforts by "vested interests" to sabotage the peace process initiated by the Hizbul Mujahideen earlier this year. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, judging by his broad smile while display ing the cover page of the report to the media, also seems to take some credit for its revelations. But Mukherjee's Report, which the Jammu and Kashmir government has not made public, in fact makes no such claims. A study of the document suggests that the truth which has supposedly been exposed is less than transparent; and that the report casts not a few dark shadows which need to be dispelled.

By any standards, the General Mukherjee Committee Report is an extraordinary document. Although Mukh-erjee was appointed to inquire into the killings in his capacity as security adviser to the Jammu and Kashmir Government, the document has been published under the imprimatur of the 15 Corps Headquarters, and the cover bears the formation's logo. On the page prefacing the report, Mukherjee is described as both security adviser and 15 Corps Commander. Strangely, neither of the two bureaucrats on the commi ttee, Principal Secretary in charge of Home, C. Phunsog, and G.A. Pir, seem to have found anything exceptionable about the Army taking charge of an inquiry into a criminal offence, or examining the actions of civil organisations.

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Even more strangely, the Mukherjee Committee appears to have suffered from some misunderstandings about its own powers. Section IV of the report is boldly marked "Judicial Notice". Paragraph 98, the first paragraph of this section, notes that the committ ee "has taken judicial notice" of the events in Pahalgam. Under the Constitution, neither the bureaucrats on the committee, nor the military official who led them, has any such powers. This incredible arrogation of authority by the Army has passed unnoti ced in both the media and in the Jammu and Kashmir government. When asked about this, Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley told Frontline that the section title was perhaps the result of "an oversight". "Perhaps they meant judicious notice," he said, "no t judicial notice."

Judicious the report is not. Errors of reason abound. For example, paragraph 103 indicts the Superintendent of Police in charge of Pahalgam town and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp commander, Hari Singh, for failing to ensure that "notwithst anding the large number of yatris, the checking was foolproof". But paragraph 102A notes the "possibility that these weapons had been brought into Pahalgam much prior to the arrival of the security forces", and adds that "intelligence reports in fact ind icate that this is what happened". In that event, neither Hari Singh's nor Tilak Raj's alleged failures would have been germane to the events. Paragraph 99 records that "no security system can ever be foolproof and determined efforts can break the best o f them", leaving open the question of why anyone is then being indicted for the events at Pahalgam.

Omissions of evidence are just as glaring in the report. The role of neither Deputy-Inspector General of Police Javed Makhdoomi nor Superintendent of Police Munir Khan is discussed, though both were just a few hundred metres from the site of the killings , and, unlike Tilak Raj, were equipped with bullet-proof vehicles. Key witnesses, notably ordinary pilgrims present during the killings, were not interviewed. There are errors in reflecting witness testimony. Paragraph 98(d) asserts that "all witnesses c laim that the firing during the period between 1845 hrs (hours) to 1945/2000 was heavy and extensive". At least one of those present said nothing of the kind. Civil witness 7, Manzoor Ahmad, said during examination that the first firing only lasted "abou t five minutes". "Then," he said, "one LMG (light machine gun) opened up. Thereafter, there was intermittent fire."

What actually happened at Pahalgam, and who was responsible for it? The Mukherjee Committee accepted eyewitness accounts of the incident. Irshad Ahmed, Civil Witness 6, said that he "saw two people wearing khaki dress, (and) carrying weapons. One went to wards the footbridge. Another opened fire towards me. The customer I was attending to died. I crept under the bed and customers' blood dripped on me. After that, there was indiscriminate firing". The committee believes a priori, for not one witnes s said so, that "both terrorists were probably killed within 15-20 minutes of contact at the Irrigation Hut. Firing of the CRPF, however, continued for about 30 minutes after the terrorists had been killed". The committee concluded that 16 people died in terrorist fire in their rush towards the Irrigation Hut, that six more were killed in CRPF fire near the Lidder river, and that the cause of 12 more deaths could not be determined.

CRPF officials, however, point out that the evidence is far from conclusive. Forensic examiners Dr. Abdul Ghaffar and Dr. Karan Vir Singh told the Mukherjee Committee that they "could not identify the type of firearm weapon that caused the deaths. Althou gh it is possible to do so in case of embedded bullets, in this case there were no embedded bullets in any of the bodies". The doctors' forensic findings also ran contrary to allegations that the CRPF had shot dead innocent people at point blank range, a nd beaten others to death. Despite the experts' findings, however, the committee on its own concluded, in paragraph 98(g), that the six persons killed on the Lidder were shot by the CRPF. This it did on the basis of "the ground configuration, location of the casualties, and from the nature of the wounds".

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Two other lines of inquiry led the committee to indict the CRPF and the local police. First, it felt that the CRPF's claims to have fired just 922 rounds from all calibre of weapons was incorrect, given the witness' perception that firing was heavy. Thes e 922 rounds, the committee notes in paragraph 98 (d), "would have been fired off within 10 to 15 minutes. It is the assessment of the Committee that the CRPF personnel involved have in all probability fired much more than that reported by them on the ba sis of the volume of fire reported and its duration". This argument, however, rests on subjective assumptions. What civilians may have reported as heavy fire might not, by Army standards, be so. No evidence was called to establish the CRPF's average rate of fire, or its duration.

Most important, however, the Mukherjee Committee rejected the CRPF's contention that its men were firing at terrorists on the wooded hills above the footbridge. Had terrorists indeed been firing from above the footbridge, that could well have accounted f or the victims now blamed on the CRPF. The basis of the committee's rejection of the CRPF claim is the statements of troops in the area, under Mukherjee's own command. Paragraph 114(b) records that "the very area that the CRPF claim that part of the terr orist firing had come from was being dominated by patrols from the Army, and who state categorically that there was no terrorist presence on the hillside, nor have they been fired on by anyone". Thus, statements by soldiers are seen as definite proof tha t the CRPF is not telling the truth.

It is here that Mukherjee Committee Report traverses the most troubling ground. When Chief Minister Abdullah displayed the report to the press, he made no mention of three volumes of appendices. The report does not discuss crucial documents in the first of these appendices, which Frontline has obtained. This suggested that Mukherjee was, in essence, judging his own case. The most important of these is a July 13, 2000, letter by the then Assistant Director of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) in Sri nagar, disputing the "considerable optimism (which) was voiced at the recent review meeting convened by the Special Secretary (J&K Affairs) held on July 09 that the deployment of S(ecurity) F(orces) and the goodwill of the local people involved in the Ya tra would combine to make it an incident-free one".

Rasgotra's letter, forwarded to the General Officer Commanding in charge of Pahalgam through Lieutenant Vandana Gupta at Mukherjee's headquarters, laid out the reasons for the I.B.'s disquiet. Pointing to the movement of large groups of terrorists throug h areas above Pahalgam the Army was responsible for, it noted on page 2 the existence of wireless intercepts on the Lashkar-e-Taiba frequencies 147.440 MHz and 146.440 MHz that an Iqbal should "collect small arms and ammunitions" for a "pre-fixed task". Two earlier intercepts noted in the letter made clear that that task was an attack on the Amarnath Yatra. Truly disturbing, however, was the observation in the letter that the "deployment of SFs along the ridge line separating Lidder and Wadwan Valleys w as deficient at least two places until July 09, 2000".

If the Army was not where it should have been on July 9, its presence on the hills above Pahalgam should at least have been investigated by the Mukherjee Committee. Nothing of the kind was done. Nor was the action taken on the basis of the Army's own int elligence inputs tested by the committee. On July 12, 2000, the 15 Corps's Lieutenant Colonel Gurvinder Singh passed on inputs from the Research and Analysis Wing describing the prospect of attacks similar to those Rasgotra had described. Another of Gurv inder Singh's communications placed threats to the Yatra in the context of the fact that "militant tanzeems (terrorist groups) dominated by F(oreign) M(ilitant)s continue to sabotage peace initiatives". Rasgotra's letter, however, makes it clear t hat neither Mukherjee nor anyone else in the security establishment took these warnings seriously as late as during the Special Secretary's meeting.

As security adviser to the Jammu and Kashmir Government and 15 Corps Commander, Mukherjee then should have had at least a few questions to answer in any impartial investigation of Pahalgam. Instead, he led the inquiry, which has now brazenly put forward its findings with the 15 Corps' imprimatur on its cover. Highly placed sources told Frontline that Mukherjee appeared to have decided on his course of action early on. At an August 2 meeting at the Raj Bhavan in Srinagar, called by Union Home Mini ster L.K. Advani during his visit the day after the massacre, Mukherjee made clear his conviction that the CRPF was responsible for over-reaction at Pahalgam. How he had already arrived at the conclusion is not clear, but his insistence on placing the bl ame on the heads of lower-level officials is only too easy to understand in the light of documents Frontline has obtained.

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Managament of Internal Conflict, a 37 page document presented by Lieutenan-General Vijay Uberoi to Union Defence Minister George Fernandes on November 24, 1998, contains the alarming ideological subtexts to Mukherjee's report. The paper had argued that i n situations of full-blown insurgencies, all other security organisations and the civil apparatus must be placed under its exclusive operational command. "A co-ordination apparatus must exist in States down to district and even tehsil levels", the concep t paper asserts its eighth recommendation on page 36-37. "The structure should provide for joint planning, decision making, directions, co-ordination and control. For the committee to function effectively, there is a need for co-location of headquarters, the establishment of joint control rooms, direct communication and liaison, and ensuring that the administrative boundaries of the civil administration, the police and the military merge as a last resort."

In July 1999, the year after Management of Internal Conflict was presented to Fernandes, Rashtriya Rifles Director-General Avtar Singh Gill had provoked a furore by demanding control of the CRPF and the Border Security Force. Vigorous intervention by bot h organisations led the Army to back off. But this January the idea gained impetus when Advani dramatically announced that 49 operational sectors were being carved out to improve efficiency. These new battalion level sectors were again designed to give t he Army overall control over civilian authorities in their areas. The Mukherjee Committee Report is thus the latest in the series of enterprises aimed to demolish the established relationship among the police, the central paramilitary forces and the Army , set up to ensure that democratic institutions survive difficult circumstances.

Just why Chief Minister Abdullah and his top bureaucrats chose to go ahead with this adventure is far from clear. With rumours of early Assembly elections rife, and panchayat elections scheduled to take place in January, it is possible that the State's p olitical establishment saw attacks on the State police and the CRPF as being tactically expedient. It is still unclear if Abdullah's effort to distance himself from counter-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir will have any effect, but the Mukherjee Report could have disturbing consequences that will outlive even the most bitter memories of the August 1 massacre.

A victory of sorts

politics

Sonia Gandhi trounces Jitendra Prasada for the Congress(I) president's post, but not in an election that was completely free and fair.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi

THE celebrations marking the re-election of Sonia Gandhi as Congress(I) president started at 24 Akbar Road, New Delhi, the All India Congress Committee (I) headquarters and the counting centre for the presidential polls, on the morning of November 15, mu ch before the counting of votes started. There were caparisoned elephants, colourfully dressed acrobats and performing artists, a variety of bands and huge floating balloons.

But it is unlikely that even her hyper-enthusiastic supporters foresaw the magnitude of Sonia Gandhi's victory. Of the 7,771 votes cast by the party's national electoral college consisting of Pradesh Congress(I) delegates, Sonia Gandhi secured 7,448. Her challenger, Congress Working Committee member Jitendra Prasada secured just 94 votes. As many as 229 votes, most of them marked for Sonia Gandhi, were declared invalid.

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Jitendra Prasada's followers were surprised by the comprehensiveness of his defeat. The Prasada camp's assessment even on the day of counting was that he would get at least 300 votes. When Prasada made bold to file his nomination against Sonia Gandhi in the last week of October, Prasada supporters, who included four Lok Sabha members from Uttar Pradesh, had hoped to garner for him some 700 votes, accounting for about one tenth of the total electoral college. However, during the fortnight-long campaign, which saw offices and leaders of the Congress(I) in the States literally shutting the door in the face of Prasada, the expected figure came down further. And after the voting on November 12, Prasada and his supporters reportedly settled for a "conservati ve" estimate of 300 votes.

The defeat means virtually an end to Prasada's hope of emerging as an alternative power centre in the Congress(I). Political observers are of the view that this would have been possible had Prasada secured at least 300 votes.

According to several senior leaders of the Congress (I) and independent observers, the primary reason for Prasada's defeat was his lack of credibility as an advocate of inner-party democracy. Throughout his political career, Prasada was on the right side of the party establishment. This strategy had helped him occupy several important positions. He was the political secretary to both Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao during their prime ministerial tenures. This being his track record, his new avata r as a rebel did not impress most party persons. "If he had any greater credibility, he would have at least managed a better performance. Of course, defeating a representative of the Nehru-Gandhi family in a Congress(I) election is out of the questio n," a senior party leader from Uttar Pradesh said.

While the victory does enhance Sonia Gandhi's control over the party, it cannot be construed as an unequivocal endorsement of her leadership. Many Congress(I) leaders and activists still question her organisational skills and are critical of her dependen ce on a coterie. They argue that it was under Sonia Gandhi's leadership that the Congress(I) saw its lowest ever tally in the Lok Sabha - 113 seats. They also feel that many a time her lack of experience prevented the Congress(I) from capitalising on the weaknesses of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Still they voted for her because Jitendra Prasada was not a better alternative.

In contesting against Sonia Gandhi, Prasada's idea was mainly to exploit the widespread lack of confidence in the leadership. However, the abysmal performance marks a "historic" low for Prasada, whose political career is almost four decades old. Never be fore had his support base in the Congress(I) shrunk so much, particularly in his home State of Uttar Pradesh. The last time there was an election to the post of party president, in July 1997, Prasada had reportedly helped Sitaram Kesri win about 1,000 vo tes. Kesri won the election and appointed Prasada Vice-President of the party.

Kesri won 6,224 votes, while his rivals Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot polled 882 and 354 votes respectively. As is evident from the figures, both Pawar and Pilot suffered much more respectable defeats. In 1997, the electoral college in Uttar Pradesh was 1,100-odd strong. That figure remains more or less the same now.

PRASADA'S candidature was not completely devoid of merit. Despite his defeat, he did score a few successes in terms of political symbolism, particularly with regard to inner-party democracy in the Congress(I). Prasada enfo-rced an election to the Congres s(I) president's post, which was held for only the second time in the past 50 years. His candidature conveyed the message that the "traditional Congress(I) method" of electing the party leadership by "consensus" cannot be followed always. The fact that h is opponent was a representative of the Nehru-Gandhi family, the Congress(I)'s "first family", added an extra dimension to Prasada's struggle.

Prasada exposed the limitations of the election process of the Congress(I), right from the preparation of the list of voters. Even Ram Niwas Mirdha, chairman of the party's Central Election Authority (CEA), admitted on the day of polling that there were lacunae in the process for the organisational polls. Mirdha said: "We have not been able to follow the rules completely." He added that 250 delegates from Assam and 280 from Kerala could not vote because of various shortcomings, which needed to be correc ted.

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Even while admitting defeat and congratulating Sonia Gandhi, Prasada persisted with his efforts to highlight the various inadequacies in the Congress(I)'s organisational functioning, including the selection of voters for the presidential polls. In a lett er to Mirdha on November 15, the fifth he sent since the election process began, Prasada demanded "immediate steps to review the entire process of organisational elections" and "take remedial action". He pointed out that the practice of Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) authorising 'an individual' to appoint State unit chiefs was itself unconstitutional. The practice "fosters both fear and sycophancy because those who oppose such decisions are labelled as being disloyal to the leadership," he said. Pra sada demanded that Mirdha "ensure that the election of PCC and AICC members are held according to the constitution of the party".

Talking to journalists at his Teen Murti Marg residence on November 15, Prasada said that his "struggle for internal democracy will continue" at various party forums. He said that he was not leaving the Congress(I) as there was no need to do that. Prasad a's repeated averment of his commitment to carry on with the inner-party struggle does point towards his political tenacity. However, the moot point, in the background of his defeat, is how much weight his voice would carry within the party.

On her part, Sonia Gandhi emphasised that now that the elections were over, the party leadership and the rank and file had to work together. She told mediapersons that there was nothing wrong with Jitendra Prasada contesting against her; she added that t he eight-point agenda put forward by Prasada, focussing mainly on inner-party democracy, could be taken up for a future plan of action. Replying to questions about accusations of a coterie surrounding her, Sonia Gandhi said: "The press now says that the re are two or three coteries, which is an improvement because initially there was only one."

But for all the sweet-talk from Sonia Gandhi, several of her supporters are apparently in no mood to forgive Prasada. The issue of the party organ Congress(I) Sandesh, which covered the presidential elections, did not even mention the fact that Pr asada was a candidate, though it prominently displayed two photographs of Sonia Gandhi filing her nominations.

The culture of intolerance was all too evident on the day of polling when several Congress(I) workers were injured in Lucknow and Chennai in scuffles between supporters of Sonia and Prasada. In Lucknow, police resorted to a lathicharge to control rival g roups that were fighting each other.

The question now is what would ultimately prevail in the Congress(I). Will it be the promises made by Sonia Gandhi and Jitendra Prasada to continue with their efforts to strengthen inner-party democracy, or the intolerance that was witnessed during the e lection? If the history of sycophancy in the Congress(I) is anything to go by, all talk of internal democracy will remain just talk.

The day of Jharkhand

The BJP's Babulal Marandi becomes the first Chief Minister of the State of Jharkhand, indicating a further loss of support to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

JHARKHAND, the 28th State of the country, was formed in the early hours of November 15, the birth anniversary of Birsa Munda, the leader of Santhal rebellion. Babulal Marandi of the Bharatiya Janata Party was sworn in its first Chief Minister at a colour ful function on the lawns of the Raj Bhavan by Prabhat Kumar amidst the bursting of firecrackers and the beating of drums. Present on the occasion were Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, A griculture Minister Nitish Kumar, Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav, Union Ministers of State Digvijay Singh and Rita Verma, Karia Munda, the six-time member of Parliament from Khunti. Major Opposition parties such as the Congress(I), the Rashtriya Ja nata Dal (RJD) and the Left parties boycotted the function, which was held under tight security.

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Earlier in the day, Marandi was unanimously elected Leader of the BJP Legislature Party at a meeting attended by all the 33 party MLAs, including the nominated member of the Anglo-Indian community. The 12 legislators belonging to the other constituents o f the National Democratic Alliance supported his election.

Immediately after Prabhat Kumar was sworn in Governor of the new State, Marandi submitted to him a list of 45 NDA MLAs - 33 from the BJP, five from the Samata Party, three from the Janata Dal (United), two from the All Jharkhand Students Union supported United Gomantwadi Democratic Party (UGDP), and two from the Jharkhand Vananchal Congress (JVC). (Joba Manjhi and Sudesh Mahato of the UGDP and Samaresh Singh and Madhav Lal Singh of the JVC were elected to the Bihar Assembly as Independents.)

Prabhat Kumar took almost an hour to examine the list and then invited Marandi to form the first government. He asked Marandi to prove his majority in the 81-member Assembly within 15 days. (One seat, Ramgarh, is vacant.)

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) president Sibu Soren also met the Governor along with some MLAs and submitted a list of 36 legislators. He told the Governor that nine more MLAs were with him and sought time to prove his majority.

(On November 16, the Chef Minister formed a 10-member Cabinet, in which he accommodated only non-BJP MLAs.)

Addressing NDA legislators, Marandi said, "By electing me you have assigned me a task of immense responsibilities. I am not all that experienced, but with the support of senior leaders and with your cooperation, I will do my best to realise the aspiratio ns of the people of Jharkhand." The BJP's national vice-president, Madanlal Khurana, who was the central observer at the BJP legislature party meeting, said that Marandi was satisfied with the fact that the party leadership had ensured that there was no dissent over the leadership choice.

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Jharkhand Mukti Morcha president Sibu Soren (left), Karia Munda, six-time BJP MP from Kunti both of whom lost out in the race for chief ministership.

Born in January 1958 in a family of farmers at Kodai Bank village in Giridih district, Marandi graduated from Giridih College in Giridih.He later taught in a village primary school. Attracted to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) while in school, Mara ndi was thoroughly convinced of the Sangh's ideology. In 1983, he became a full-time activist of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and was assigned to work in the Santhal Pargana, with Dumka as his base. Seven years of grassroots-level work made Marandi f amiliar with the region and its people. In 1990 he joined the BJP and was made the organisation secretary of the party's Santhal Pargana unit.

In the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, Marandi contested from Dumka seat against Sibu Soren and lost. But in the 1998 parliamentary polls, Marandi defeated Sibu Soren in Dumka.

He was made Union Minister of State for Forests and Environment in the A.B. Vajpayee government and simultaneously president of the party's Vananchal unit. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections following the collapse of the Vajpayee government, Marandi once ag ain contested from Dumka and won the seat with a huge margin, defeating his JMM rival Rupi Soren, wife of Sibu Soren. Marandi was re-inducted into the government as a Minister of State, and was assigned the same portfolio as before.

Even hours before the swearing in of Marandi, RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav, who was canvassing support for Sibu Soren, was nursing the hope that he would be able to keep the non-NDA secular front united and the BJP-led government away from power. The battle for power began when Sibu Soren claimed the chief ministerial post. He met Prime Minister Vajpayee and several NDA leaders, including Fernandes and Nitish Kumar in Delhi to remind them of the NDA's promise made in March that should the JMM (which has 12 MLAs) extend support to Nitish Kumar in the formation of a coalition government in Bihar, the NDA would back Sibu Soren's candidature for chief ministership in the event of the formation of the Jharkhand State. (As it turned out, Nitish Kumar for med the government, though it lasted only four days, with the support of the JMM). Fernandes, the NDA's convener, however, denied any such commitment. Sibu Soren then rushed to Patna to announce the JMM's decision to snap ties with the NDA and explore th e possibility of a partnership with the RJD, the Congress(I) and the Left parties - the CPI, the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) of A.K. Roy.

On behalf of the JMM, Laloo Prasad negotiated with four Independent MLAs whose support was required for the formation of a non-NDA government. Laloo Prasad is reported to have also made a frantic attempt to cause a split in the Samata Party and the JD(U) . Laloo Prasad and Sibu Soren assured Karia Munda, an aspirant for the chief ministerial post, support to form the government. Karia Munda appreciated their offer but turned it down.

However, unhappy at being denied the leadership of Jharkhand, Munda rejected the offer of a berth in the Vajpayee Ministry. All efforts by Laloo Prasad Yadav, who had camped in Ranchi on the eve of the swearing-in function, failed. Soren's hopes seemed t o have been dashed on November 13 when the Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) declared that the party would not support any political party in the formation of a government in Jharkhand. The CWC, however, changed its stand at the last moment and decided to support Sibu Soren. But the JMM leader was unable to mobilise the support of 41 MLAs to demonstrate a majority. The tally of the non-NDA front remained 36 (12 of the JMM, 11 of the Congress(I), nine of the RJD, three of the CPI and one of the MCC).

Minutes before Babulal Marandi was sworn in, George Fernandes denied having made any promise to the JMM chief at any point. He told Frontline that both Laloo Prasad and Sibu Soren were two of a kind. The Minister justified the bifurcation of Bihar and launched a scathing attack on Laloo Prasad and his wife and Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi. He said that unemployment, poverty and the absence of development in Bihar were a direct fallout of the dishonest and inefficient administration by the RJD.

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THE formation of Jharkhand is considered to be a great achievement of the tribal people of Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana, who have been agitating for statehood for 50 years. The new State which comprises 18 districts of south Bihar - Ranchi, Gumla, Lo hardaga, East Singbhum, West Singbhum, Hazaribagh, Giridih, Koderrma, Chatra, Dhanbad, Bokaro, Palamau, Garhwa, Dumka, Deoghar, Godda, Pakur and Sahebgunj. Jharkhand covers an area of 79,638 sq km of Bihar's total area of 1,74,083 sq km.

The Jharkhand movement started with the organisational activities of the Chhotanagpur Unnati Samaj (CUS), founded in 1921, and subsequently of the Adivasi Mahasabha, founded in 1939. The CUS submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1928 demandin g a separate Jharkhand State. The CUS, an organisation of Christian Adivasi students, was reconstituted with the inclusion of non-Christian Adivasis and it assumed the name Adivasi Mahasabha under the leadership of Major Jaipal Singh in 1939. The Adivasi Mahasabha at first accorded politics a secondary role and concentrated on agitations over economic issues at hand. It was soon realised that economic problems called for political solutions. The Adivasi Mahasabha was renamed the Jharkhand Party at a con ference held in at Ranchi in 1949. The Jharkhand Party contested the first the Bihar Assembly polls in 1952 and emerged as the second largest party, by winning 35 seats.

As a leader of the Jharkhand Party, Jaipal Singh made the demand in Parliament in 1954 for a separate Jharkhand state in view of the region;s social backwardness and economic deprivation. The movement's original demand was for the formation of a separate State with 16 districts of south Bihar's Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana regions. The Jharkhand Party also wanted three contiguous, tribal-dominated districts of adjoining West Bengal, four districts of Orissa and two districts of Madhya Pradesh to be included in the proposed State. West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have, however, refused to part with any territory.

In 1955, the Jharkhand Party submitted a memorandum to the States Reorganisation Commission, reiterating the State demand. The Commission rejected the demand on the ground that the Jharkhand Party did not have a majority in the Chhotanagpur and Santhal P argana regions, and that the tribal population constituted only one-third of the total population of the region concerned and was divided into several linguistic groups.

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Subsequently the Jharkhand Party suffered a series of splits. In 1970, Sibu Soren of Santhal Pargana quit the party to form the JMM, with Benode Behari Mahato as its chairman. In 1980, following differences with Benode Behari Mahato, Sibu Soren formed a parallel group, JMM (Soren), with Nirmal Mahato as its president. Soren took over as the president of the party after Nirmal Mahato was murdered in Jamshedpur in August 1987.

SOUTH BIHAR, now Jharkhand, is populated by more than 50 communities belonging to various Scheduled tribes and Scheduled Castes, such as Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Ho, Birhor, Kharia, Bhumij, Dusad, Lohar, Gond, Kuiri, Muchi, Kudmi (Mahato) and Mahali. The h istory of the Jharkhand movement, based on ethnic and regional economic demands, has been a story of splits and divisions in it, on ethnic and religious lines. The basic components/issues on which the Jharkhand identity developed have been the exploitati on of the tribal people by dikus (outsiders), the inclusion or exclusion of some communities in the list for reservation as guaranteed by constitutional provisions, the right to forest resources, and the marginalisation and displacement of populations for the sake of indust ries, river valley projects and power plants. The people belonging to various tribal communities and backward castes inhabiting this mineral-rich region have for centuries been victims of an exploitative social system. Their history, therefore, is one of not only repression, but revolt. The demand for a separate State, raised by the tribal people soon after Independence, was a natural reaction to prolonged deprivation and a manifestation of growing resentment in the tribal mind.

But more than 55 years after its initiation, the movement remains in a state of flux, riven by personality clashes and held together by only transient alignments.

The recent character history of the Jharkhand movement, marked by a multiplicity of organisations, each claiming to uphold the Jharkhand cause, merely complicated its course. It is clear that the tribal leaders concentrated more on infighting than on mob ilising support for the cause. The leaders are accused of getting influenced by electoral politics. This has been the reason for the Jharkhand parties losing their support base and the BJP building its political network throughout south Bihar.

With the outlawed MCC having already unleashed an orgy of violence in sensitive areas - the killing of Ajoy Kumar Singh, the Superintendent of Police of Lohardaga in the Perser forests on October 4, and the gunning down Archana Sharma, wife of Deepak Pra sad, Deputy Commissioner of Hazaribagh, on November 11, for instance - extremism threatens to spoil the future of Jharkhand. This apprehension, said the State's newly appointed Chief Secretary V.S. Dubey, "is real and requires urgent attention."

Shaky start in Uttaranchal

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Dissidence in the ruling party and discontent among the public mark the formation of Uttaranchal State with the BJP's Nityanand Swami as Chief Minister.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in Dehra Dun

FOR a State that came into being after a decade-long mass struggle, the inauguration on November 8 of Uttaranchal, the 27th State of India, was an anti-climax. One expected the enthusiastic participation of the people: in fact, the administration and vas t sections of the political leadership, particularly the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, had billed it as the opening of an era of hope, prosperity and development for the over-80-lakh people of the 13 districts of Uttaranchal. In the event, the ambience at the parade ground in Dehra Dun, the provisional capital, was far from festive. In fact, the 15 minutes since midnight on November 8, when the basic formalities of the creation of Uttaranchal were completed with the swearing in of Governor Surjit Singh Barnala and Chief Minister Nityanand Swami, were marked by scenes that spelt administrative apathy and indifference, improper planning and popular anger.

A glaring aspect was a group of 500-odd youngsters who raised slogans against the choice of Dehra Dun as the capital. "Gairsen, Gairsen," they chanted from the front rows; the reference was to reports of various expert committees that favoured this small town as the capital of the new hill State. Since 1991, three committees went into the question, and all of them recommended that the seat of administration be situated at the centre of the Kumaon and Garhwal regions. Their natural choice was Gairsen. Bu t the official choice fell on Dehra Dun as "there were not enough facilities and infrastructure at Gairsen".

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Once the swearing in was over, about 100 advocates of Gairsen jumped on to the dais and raised slogans again. The cultural programmes that were to follow the main function were blocked by this aggressive show of resentment. That this happened only minut es after VIPs such as Home Minister L.K. Advani, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, and the Governor and Chief Minister of the new State, had left was evidence of lack of proper arrangements for crowd management. The separate enclosures set up f or VIPs and non-VIPs only added to the confusion.

Chaos was not confined to the inaugural ceremony, it continued as the new government settled down to business. First, dissidence surfaced in the ruling BJP, dealing Nityanand Swami a rude shock on his first day in office. The Chief Minister had proposed to induct 12 Ministers, but only nine turned up for the swearing-in ceremony. The other three Ministers-designate were State BJP president Bhagath Singh Koshiyari, former Minister in the Uttar Pradesh government Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, and Narain Ram D as. Koshiyari and Nishank were strong contenders for the chief ministership, and by all indications they wanted to send a message across to the central leadership that they were unhappy with the selection of a "non-hill person" as Chief Minister.

The revolt was quelled within 24 hours and Nishank, Koshiyari and Narain Ram Das joined the Ministry, which also includes Kedar Singh Fonia, Matbar Singh Kandari, Ajay Bhatt, Mohan Singh Gamwasi and Bansidhar Bhagat (all Cabinet rank) and Narayan Singh R ana, Nirupama Gaur, Suresh Chandra Arya and Teerath Singh Rawat (all Ministers of State). However, the bad blood created would hamper the smooth functioning of the new government. Pokhriyal and Koshiyari have a dozen legislators on their side, a large en ough number to topple the government. In fact, in a show of solidarity with Nishank and Koshiyari, legislators such as Tilak Raj Behad, Raghunath Singh Chauhan, Harbans Kapoor, Gyan Chandra, Prakash Pant, Lakhi Ram Joshi, Narain Ram Das, K.C. Punetha and B.S. Chufal were reportedly closeted with them at the party's State headquarters as the nine Ministers were being sworn in. These legislators even condemned Nityanand Swami in no uncertain terms. Later, when Barnala administered the oath of office and s ecrecy to Nishank, Koshiyari and Das, another group of MLAs stayed away in protest.

The Chief Minister, however, claimed that there was no dissidence in the party: "We are united and will remain together." He said that the results of the new thrust towards development would be visible in Uttaranchal within two months.

Despite this optimism, political observers are of the view that the crisis in the State BJP has only blown over for the moment. Another factor that was behind the revolt was the imbalance in the matter of regional representation in the Ministry. While Pa uri district has four members in the government (three Ministers and the Speaker), the districts of Uttarkashi and Udham Singh Nagar have gone unrepresented. Nityanand Swami apparently did not consult senior party leaders before nominating the Ministers, and this aggravated the dissent. The rebels see this as a serious flaw in the Chief Minister's style of functioning, which they describe as autocratic.

The induction of Nishank, Koshiyari and Das has not helped calm frayed tempers. There are indications that the simmering discontent may once again come to the fore.

In the 30-member interim Assembly, which consists of both MLAs and MLCs of the parent State of Uttar Pradesh, 23 belong to the BJP and three to the Samajwadi Party (S.P) (one of them a rebel) and two each to the Congress(I) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (B SP). If the dozen disgruntled legislators walk out of the BJP, the Ministry will be reduced to a minority. The rebel legislators would then be in a strong position to prop up an alternative government with the support of the seven Opposition legislators. The BJP leadership rules out this possibility; it wants to see the revolt by the MLAs as purely individual cases, which it says can be overcome by offering positions.

The developments in the new State have heightened the plains-hills divide, which has remained unresolved since the geographical contours of Uttaranchal were outlined by including in it the plains districts of Udham Singh Nagar and Hardwar. The row over t he capital, the choice of Nityanand Swami, who is originally from Haryana although he is a resident of Dehra Dun for almost three decades, and the appointment of Barnala as Governor, which is considered a sop to the Sikh community that is agitating again st the inclusion Udham Singh Nagar in the new State, have added fuel to the fire. Besides, the large presence of representatives from Pauri in Garhwal in the Ministry has aggravated the Kumaon-Garhwal regional divide.

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Addressing these problems would be one of the priorities of the new dispensation. Barnala has said that he would encourage the government in this task. In fact, several political observers are of the view that there is the need for an institutional frame work to reduce and reconcile the historical frictions between the peoples of the hills and plains on the one hand, and between the peoples of Kumaon and Garhwal on the other.

According to senior State officials, the peculiar economic and political problems of Uttaranchal demand new solutions. The imitation of administrative and political structures that exist in other States will be of no help, they say. Talking to Frontli ne, the Chief Minister said that efforts were made to assimilate these views. In his opinion, the task force set up by the Uttar Pradesh Financial Corporation (UPFC) on the initiative of Chief Minister Rajnath Singh was one such exercise. The task fo rce would seek to improve upon the functioning of the UPFC and make it effective in the special context of Uttaranchal. It would try to fulfil the financial needs of the new State, particularly for its industrial development. The task force would identif y and study the sectors that would enable growth, and re-orient the priorities in sectors such as power, tourism, health and services and entertainment industry. It would reorganise the regional offices falling in the new State in order to cover the new geographical boundaries, the Chief Minister said.

Despite such initiatives, the new State is bound to face several problems, such as shortage of funds and staff and inadequate infrastructure. Already the employees of Uttar Pradesh State have resorted to protests against "forcible" transfer to the Uttara nchal cadre. "Not a single employee will go to the hill State without his or her consent," Harisharan Mishra, secretary of the U.P. Secretariat Association, told Frontline.

The U.P. government's position is that the transfer of employees to Uttaranchal under the Uttar Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2000, was provisional. "The arrangement has been made to enable the new State to function from day one," said a senior officer. He added: "The employees can represent against the transfer at a later stage." Clearly, the new State is going to face a shortage of staff from the outset.

Senior official G.S. Tauliya, who has spent almost his entire career serving in the hill districts of Kumaon and Garhwal, said that evolving the right developmental perspective was important for the balanced growth of the State. He said, "Uttaranchal is a backward area in every sense of the term, with limited scope for normal economic activity." Hence the need to find alternative methods and modes of development. The two available resources are forest produce and hydropower. Forest produce is over-explo ited, and the tapping of hydel resources is fraught with dangers such as disruption of river systems, threat of earthquakes in the seismic zones, and submergence of cultivable land.

According to observers, central to the financial viability of the State is the avoidance of unnecessary and unproductive expenditure. Nityanand Swami is confident that the government will achieve the high aims through collective and purposive efforts. He dismissed the dissent witnessed on the State's formation day as teething troubles.

On the positive side, the Chief Minister can find solace in the fact that both the Udham Singh Nagar Raksha Samiti (USNRS) and the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) did not carry out their threats of agitation. The organisations oppose the inclusion of Udham S ingh Nagar and Hardwar districts in Uttaranchal. By all indications, the USNRS, dominated by the community of Sikh farmers, has been reined in, thanks to Barnala. But if the BKU led by Mahendra Singh Tikait, the maverick kisan leader from western Uttar P radesh, launches an agitation in its predictably violent and aggressive style, it would add to the miseries of the new leadership.

'The primary issue is maintaining amity'

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Interview with Surjit Singh Barnala.

As the Governor of Uttaranchal, the role Surjit Singh Barnala is required to perform is different from that of his counterparts in other States. His appointment is considered an overt political step, aimed at mollifying the people of Udham Singh N agar district, which is dominated by the community of Sikh farmers.

By all indications, Barnala would be more an "executive Governor" than an ornamental head. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met the veteran Sikh leader on his first day in office for an interview. Excerpts:

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As the first Governor of Uttaranchal, what do you think are your responsibilities, and what are your priorities?

This is a very challenging situation. A new State has come up and there will be teething problems. This requires bold and systematic leadership. I suppose I would be able to draw from my experience and help the new government in tackling this situation.

Uttaranchal's creation was preceded by struggles. On the one side there was the decade-long agitation for statehood and on the other there were movements in Hardwar and Udham Singh Nagar against their inclusion in the State.

I do not think so. Every region and every community fights for its rights and demands. That has been the history of the world. Hence the tendency to launch agitations is by itself not a disqualification. What is required is that once a settlement is reac hed, with some give and take, everybody should be convinced to accept it.

As Governor, you are expected to play a role with regard to the opposition to the State by a large section of the population of Udham Singh Nagar.

The people of Udham Singh Nagar were and are not opposed to the State. They opposed inclusion in Uttaranchal fearing that their interests would be harmed. I am of the view that this opposition will die down in due course, when they realise that their int erests would also be protected in the new State. I am confident that total amity would prevail in Uttaranchal. In fact, I already see signs of a thaw in Udham Singh Nagar and other areas opposed to inclusion in the new State. Let me assure you that I sha ll try to cool down the situation if tempers run high anywhere.

What will be the political and developmental direction that you will give?

The primary issue is to maintain amity in the State. The government should take care to involve all people - even those who opposed their inclusion in the State - in the political progress. Only then will the State progress fast.

That is the other fundamental question. The State not only needs progress but has to progress fast. New models of developments have to be evolved and implemented, taking the specific conditions of Uttaranchal into consideration.

'My first priority will be development works'

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Interview with Nityanand Swami, Chief Minister of Uttaranchal.

The single most important factor that resulted in the elevation of Nityanand Swami to the position of Chief Minister of Uttaranchal was Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's confidence in the 73-year-old leader's political experience and administr ative capabilities. Vajpayee considered these qualities crucial for the running of a new State, particularly in terms of its development. The other favourable factors included his non-controversial nature, the rapport he had with the two dominant communi ties - Thakurs and Brahmins - of the region and his Haryana origin. The latter factor helped the BJP leadership skirt the traditional Kumaon-Garhwal tussle, with the argument that he should be acceptable to people from both regions. On the strength of these, several factors against him, including the Rashtra Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership's distrust of him, were ignored.

The RSS' apprehension stems from the fact that Nityanand Swami had left the Jan Sangh to join the Congress(I). (He rejoined the BJP in the mid 1980s.) By all indications, it was this antagonism of the RSS that made bold Nityanand Swami's BJP colleagues l ike Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and Bhagath Singh Koshiyari to take an overtly confrontationist attitude towards his candidature and boycott the swearing-in ceremony of the new Ministry. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan spoke to the Chief Minister at Dehra Dun and in New Delhi about the formation of the new State and other related developments. Excerpts from the interview:

As the Chief Minister of a new State, what do you think are your responsibilities, and what are your priorities?

Uttaranchal is a very backward region, in terms of development, although it is rich in resources. The very basis of the long struggle for statehood was the lack of development. So my first priority would be to carry out development works. Other tasks inc lude giving due respect to those who fought for statehood and taking action against those who tried to undermine the people's cause. I propose to withdraw all cases against those associated with the statehood movement and punish those found guilty in the Muzaffarnagar rape case.

In concrete terms, the developmental agenda would initially focus on three aspects: reaching drinking water to every village, ensuring sufficient power supply to all regions, and implementing compulsory primary education in every nook and corner of the S tate. While these would be the main priorities, other activities like promoting industrial development would be taken up with a major thrust on the information technology sector.

Your government started off on a wrong note. The swearing-in was marred by demands for Gairsen as the State capital instead of Dehra Dun, and later your effort to put together a Ministry was affected by the boycott by party leaders such as Nishank and Koshiyari.

The press is as usual reading too much into all this. These are all teething problems, common to any major initiative. We are in the process of settling the doubts and apprehensions of all concerned and you will see that everybody is quiet in no time. On the demand to make Gairsen the capital, we will take a decision after consulting all political parties and groups of the State.

But there are complaints that your style of functioning is autocratic and that this has caused a regional imbalance in the Ministry. How are you going to handle this?

The party leadership has been clear right from the beginning that it does not want a huge Ministry wherein every ruling party MLA is a Minister. That is not our concept of government. It is true that some hopefuls have not been accommodated. But their mi sconceptions would be cleared soon. You will see all of us working unitedly for the betterment of the new State.

Another opinion is that your elevation has widened the plains-hills gap as also the Kumaon-Garhwal divide.

Why are the media so cynical most of the time? This is a new beginning to fulfil the aspirations of lakhs of people. You should help us instead of sowing distrust and apprehensions.

The State essentially has two major resources - forests and hydropower. How do you propose to evolve a development pattern, particularly in view of the perception that these resources are not rightly used?

The government is aware of these concerns and will evolve a feasible development plan. The parent State (Uttar Pradesh) and its Chief Minister Rajnath Singhji are helping us in this regard. A special task force has been set up by the Uttar Pradesh govern ment to guide the new State in its ventures.

But there is also the perception that the Uttar Pradesh government has done harm to Uttaranchal with regard to several hydro-electric projects by signing MoUs that are irrevocable.

That is not true. Many projects will be taken up by both States together. In fact, we shall soon set up a board to conduct joint operations.

Over to the Supreme Court

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After years of inconclusive talks and arguments, the Mullaperiyar dispute will now come up before the Supreme Court for a final settlement.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

KERALA wants its river back, at least in part. For realisation is growing in the State of its profligate and negligent utilisation of water resources in the past. And a crisis in per capita fresh water availability now stares it in the face. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, which has drawn water from the river for more than 105 years now, has growing needs of irrigation, drinking water supply and power generation. Its entitlement is based on an 1886 lease deed. Kerala says the deed was imposed by the Brit ish rulers on their vassal state of Travancore, which became a part of the State when it was formed in 1956. This deed was, in any case, revalidated by a 1970 inter-State agreement.

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The genuine needs of the two States ensure that the talks on the sharing of the waters of the Mullaperiyar, a river which originates in the Western Ghats in Kerala, almost always end in deadlock. Of late both sides, especially Tamil Nadu, have had to con tend with the increasing political costs of conducting talks that achieve nothing or, at best, only short-term, unpopular compromises.

Protests are beginning to be voiced in Kerala, but the State is yet to realise that it badly needs to utilise the waters of what is geographically its own river. On the other hand, the issue inflames passions and encourages political manoeuvring in Tamil Nadu, which has a well-established and over-a-century-old system to utilise the waters of the Mullaperiyar. In fact, if vast stretches of the arid rain-shadow region, such as those in Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts of Tamil Nadu, look green and fertile, it is largely because of the effective utilisation of the waters from the Mullaperiyar.

The focus has now shifted to a potentially long battle of wits in the Supreme Court. The court will soon resume hearing on the petitions filed by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy and the Tamil Nadu government, seeking the transfer of all cases regar ding the dispute in the Madras and Kerala High Courts to the apex court for speedy disposal. Last year, the court had asked the two States "to arrive at some consensus" during a long period of adjournment.

A meeting between the Chief Ministers of the two States held in Thiruvananthapuram on April 5, 2000, had ended in deadlock (Frontline, April 28, 2000). The disagreement was over Tamil Nadu's long-pending demand for raising the storage level of the 105-year-old masonry dam inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve area in order to allow more water from the Mullaperiyar to flow into Tamil Nadu. The "talks", at which Chief Ministers E.K. Nayanar and M. Karunanidhi merely read out statements, were in fact exp ected to fail. Public pressure on the two governments had convinced them about the futility of the talks.

Significantly, in addition to the 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of land used for the construction of the masonry dam across the river and the irrigation works (mainly, a tunnel through the watershed) for its trans-basin diversion, the 1886 lease agreement had given the British the rights over "all the waters" of the Mullaperiyar and its catchment, for diversion to the then British territory (now Tamil Nadu) for 999 years, for an annual rent of Rs.40,000 (Frontline, October 23, 1998). After Indepen dence, the leaders of the two States agreed informally on the continued use of the Mullaperiyar waters by Tamil Nadu. After 1959, Tamil Nadu began to use it for power generation also, without any formal agreement.

In May 1970, in what is now considered in Kerala as a "blunder" committed by its leaders, the two States signed a formal agreement to renew almost in toto the 1886 lease agreement, which had by then become invalid. Subsequently, Kerala also became aware of the increasing use of the Mullaperiyar waters by Tamil Nadu. (By the early 1990s, the total irrigated area in the Periyar-Vaigai basin in Tamil Nadu had been extended by 44,000 acres. This led to a quantum jump in the amount of water required for irri gation, and a worsening of the water scarcity in the four districts of Tamil Nadu.)

Kerala signed the agreement without assessing the possible use it might have in future for the Periyar waters. Thus Tamil Nadu was once again given the legal rights over "all waters" from the Mullaperiyar for its exclusive use. From the mid-1980s, despi te having 44 rivers (which are currently described as "minor rivers"), Kerala began to face extended spells of acute water and power shortages. Kerala had constructed the Idukki hydroelectric project 50 km downstream from the Periyar dam but did not have enough water to utilise its full capacity. Except on rare occasions when there was heavy rainfall in the catchment areas, no water flowed down to Kerala from the Mullaperiyar. Tamil Nadu was virtually utilising "all the waters" from the Mullaperiyar, an d Kerala was forced to make a reassessment of its own age-old belief about the relative abundance of its water resources.

The problem acquired a new dimension in 1979, when leaks were detected in the Periyar dam and that caused concern in Kerala about the safety of the dam. Since then, the question of the safety of the dam has become a dominant factor in the discord over Mu llaperiyar. Kerala found it a convenient tool to outwit Tamil Nadu, which was until then in a position to claim all the waters from the Mullaperiyar.

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Following the detection of leaks, a Central Water Commission (CWC) team, led by its Chairman Dr. K.C. Thomas, conducted a study of the dam. It "found no danger to the dam", but had, "as a matter of abundant precaution" recommended the lowering of the res ervoir water level to 136 ft (from 142.40 ft at that time), until measures to strengthen the dam were completed in three stages. The team also recommended that the water level be raised in stages to the full reservoir level of 152 ft.

But giving one reason or the other, Kerala did not allow the reservoir level to be raised beyond 136 ft. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, has been claiming since 1998 that it has carried out all the important measures suggested by the CWC team to strengthe n the dam. A number of technical committees were appointed by the two States subsequently, but these only helped shore up the respective arguments.

Based on studies conducted by its own technical experts (the latest one was in December 1999), Kerala argued that the strengthening measures done by Tamil Nadu had only made the dam safe at the current reservoir level of 136 ft and that "on no account" s hould the level be raised any further. Kerala cited a recent appraisal, which warned that a major flood could lead to a breach in the dam and expose, as Nayanar described it at the April 5 talks, three districts of Kerala "to deluge and holocaust".

At the talks in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala demanded that Tamil Nadu agree to install instruments at the dam for a regular, joint technical verification of the dam's parameters and performance, to monitor its safety at the 136 ft reservoir level and to se e "if and when the reservoir level should be reduced further, should the need arise". Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, argued that the two States should jointly approach a body like the CWC and seek a verdict on the safety of the dam. However, each rejecte d the other's demands. The reasons for Tamil Nadu's rejection of Kerala's suggestion is obvious. Kerala argued that a verdict by a third party without a proper joint verification of the dam parameters over a period of time could not be accepted.

It may seem strange that the two States are fighting over the raising of the reservoir level when, especially after 1961, there were only a few occasions when the water in the reservoir touched the full reservoir level (FRL). In fact, according to Keral a Forest department officials based at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, in the past several years, the reservoir level reached 136 ft only two or three times and water never flows to the Kerala side. One factor, on which both sides agree, is that the flow into the reservoir has dwindled. Kerala government officials contend that Tamil Nadu has made improvements in the facilities in order to draw ever-greater quantities of water.

Significantly, a 1997 document on the performance of the Periyar dam over a period of a century, authored by A. Mohanakrishnan (currently representing Tamil Nadu in the inter-State talks) and published by the Central Board of Irrigation and Power, says: "It may be seen that by and large, the reservoir level was not allowed to exceed +152.00 except in two years, 1924 and 1943, when unprecedented, extraordinary floods were seen in the river. It may also be seen that after 1961, there has been no surplus a t all with the reservoir at much below the FRL. This perhaps points to the fact that the Periyar catchment has been badly denuded and the yield had perceptibly come down notwithstanding the fact that the improvements effected to draw larger quantities ac ross the ridge (to Tamil Nadu) through the tunnel has also contributed to this to some extent."

Leaders of both the States have been making statements that suggest that a prolonged legal battle is in the offing. For the first time, at the Thiruvananthapuram talks, Nayanar questioned the very legality of the original lease deed. Nayanar pointedly re ferred to the context in which the lease agreement was entered into. Nayanar said: "This agreement was executed at a time when there was only negligible utilisation of river waters for irrigation, power, industrial and other purposes and when the water a vailability situation on this (Kerala) side of the Western Ghats was completely different. There is considerable concern among large sections of people in Kerala about perceived gross inequities in this agreement. It is an open question whether an agreem ent between an erstwhile princely state and the British government, which was palpably inequitable, and which binds down future generations without any concern for changing circumstances, and which appears to contain provisions that contravene existing e nactments, should continue to be legally binding."

This must have been the cue for Tamil Nadu. Soon after the meeting, Tamil Nadu Public Works Minister Durai Murugan announced in the State Assembly that Tamil Nadu was now constrained to approach the Supreme Court for a solution. However, several petition s seeking more water from the Mullaperiyar for irrigation and industrial and drinking water supply in Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramnatha-puram districts had already been filed in the Madras High Court by representatives of farmers' organisations in T amil Nadu.

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Significantly, the petitions filed by Subramanian Swamy and the Tamil Nadu government seeking the transfer of all cases related to the dispute to the Supreme Court provided an opportunity for the Central government to intervene in the dispute, as the Sup reme Court asked it to negotiate and seek a consensus solution. On October 17, while announcing the formation of a Cabinet sub-committee to formulate Kerala's strategy in the Supreme Court, Nayanar said that despite the assurance of the Union Minister fo r Water Resources, the Centre unilaterally constituted a seven-member technical committee to study the safety of the dam. "Kerala is concerned about the questions regarding the safety of the dam raised by its own engineers and it cannot agree to any deci sion that ignores that question," Nayanar said.

For the first time, thus, allegations of political bias by the Central government has also formed part of the controversy. State government officials in Kerala and politicians allege that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre ha s acted beyond its brief and found in the Supreme Court's direction an opportunity to intervene in the matter in a manner that favours Tamil Nadu, which is ruled by a constituent of the NDA, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). A senior Kerala government official said that Centre constituted the technical committee in such a manner as to ensure that only the Kerala representative would support the Kerala government's arguments.

The committee, with CWC member B.K. Mittal as chairman and R.S. Washni (retired Chief Engineer, Uttar Pradesh), O.D. Mande (Chief Engineer, Design, CWC), B.M. Upadhyay (Chief Engineer, Dam Safety, CWC), J.K. Tiwari (Director, Dam Safety, Madhya Pradesh), A. Mohanakrishnan and M. K. Parameswaran Nair (Kerala's representative) as members visited the dam on October 10 and 11. Its interim report, prepared with a note of dissent from Kerala's representative, will soon be submitted before the Supreme Court, w hen it resumes hearing on the petitions.

Although the detailed contents of the interim report are not known, a senior Kerala government official said that the committee seemed to favour Tamil Nadu demand to raise the reservoir level. He said the report sought to support Tamil Nadu's stand by su ggesting, among other things, that tests be conducted to determine the strength of the masonry-and-earth "baby dam" (situated to the left of the main dam and along which the river was diverted during the construction of the main dam) by a team of experts from the Central Soil and Material Research Station (CSMRS), that Kerala allow further repairs in the "baby dam" and that a decision on the raising of the storage level of the reservoir be taken subsequently, based on the CSMRS team's assessment.

Kerala, the official said, believed that the reservoir level should not cross 136 ft and hence there was no need to strengthen the "baby dam". The suggestion that a decision on whether or not to raise the reservoir level could be taken based on the CSMRS team's report was also not acceptable to the State, he said. Kerala's note of dissent was recorded only after the State's representative threatened to walk out of the meeting, he said.

Even at the time of the constitution of the committee, Nayanar had said that its report would be acceptable only if it was based on a consensus decision of the committee. Obviously, more than the question of safety, what the two States started arguing ab out was the issue of ownership of the waters of the Mullaperiyar.

A new factor was added to the dispute when the reservoir level was lowered in 1979. A large extent of land around the lake, which was previously under water, thus became available for encroachment, and was utilised by property developers. According to lo cal people in the border town of Kumily in Kerala, which adjoins the Periyar Tiger Reserve, several areas that were previously under water now have pucca houses and resort lodgings. But, simultaneously, large tracts of land that emerged from the lake wer e usurped also by dense vegetation. They have become the feeding and breeding ground for wildlife in the reserve forest.

Even as pressure groups of farmers in Tamil Nadu claim that it is really the vested interests of the property developers that restrain the Kerala government from raising the reservoir level, a Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment conducted by the Kerala Forest Research Institute has cautioned that the raising of the reservoir level would prove to be a major threat to the vegetation and wildlife habitat in the Tiger Reserve. The study has concluded from satellite imagery that if the water level in the reservoir is raised to 152 ft, the area submerged by the reservoir will grow from the current 14.308 sq km to 25.527 sq km.

For every argument raised by Tamil Nadu in support of its claims, there is counter-argument in Kerala that appears equally plausible. Yet, each time the controversy gets embroiled in extraneous issues, two things stand out: One is Kerala's refusal to ack nowledge the genuine need of the farmers in the otherwise drought-prone regions of Tamil Nadu for the waters of the Mullaperiyar; the other is Tamil Nadu's refusal to see that it cannot rely on or continue to expect more and more from the resources of an other State to satisfy its own requirements to the detriment of the other State. A solution perhaps lies in acknowledging the two truths, but neither government can afford the political repercussions of such a confession.

After years of dalliance with technical committees, inconclusive talks, arguments and threats, Tamil Nadu and Kerala now seem reconciled to leave the burden of an inconvenient and volatile decision on the Supreme Court.

Looking East

The launch of the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation in Laos signals a new beginning in India's foreign policy, but will it gather momentum?

ON November 10, ministerial delegations from six Asian nations, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, gathered in the sleepy city of Vientiane, the Laotian capital, to launch the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation. The MGC, a loose grouping that ai ms to focus attention on cooperation in the areas of tourism, culture, education and communications between India and the five Mekong river basin countries, represents the fruition of an idea that seems to have evolved over the past one year. The project was announced by the Foreign Ministers of the six MGC at the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Bangkok in July this year.

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The launch of the MGC was not without its share of hiccups. It was originally called the Ganga-Mekong Suvarnabhumi Project. The word "Suvarnabhumi" was dropped from the original agreement, made in Bangkok, following objections from Laos. Laos' objections related to Thailand's historical role, even though its Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Somsavat Lengsavat, had consented to the term in July.

Secondly, some countries insisted that the project should be called "Mekong-Ganga" and not "Ganga-Mekong", as had been agreed in Bangkok. Displaying a rare breadth of vision, India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh agreed to the changes, which an yhow make little difference to the idea of cooperation.

To borrow a phrase from the eminent historian, Benedict Anderson, who has done extensive work on nationalism and South-East Asia, the MGC is an "imagined" grouping. "Mekong-Ganga" is yet to take shape; it is an idea that is still evolving. However, after the BIMST-EC (Bangladesh-India-Myanmar-Sri Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation), a regional grouping that was formed in June 1997, this is India's next major cooperative venture in its South-East Asian neighbourhood.

India has excellent relations with all the countries in the MGC; Thailand, with a pro-U.S. policy, is possibly the only odd one out. However, since the Vajpayee government now enjoys good relations with the U.S., there should be little problem in India c ooperating with Thailand.

For India, the MGC offers immense scope for creating "links". For example, Jaswant Singh used a special Gulfstream jet aircraft to fly from New Delhi to Hanoi (on the first leg of his two-nation tour). That the flight took just four hours whereas a fligh t from Delhi to Colombo takes over three hours, was a pointer to proximate locations and the potential this factor holds. Given the "hub" system of air travel organisation, a Delhi-Hanoi direct air-link appears to be a complete oddity; but there appears to be no reason why, if trade and travel patterns permit, such a flight route should not exist.

And, if one has the development of India's northeastern region in mind, one could even be looking at flights in the Imphal-Hanoi or Guwahati-Ho Chi Minh sector as a possibility. Senior Indian diplomats in South-East Asia believe that without the developm ent of the northeastern States, cooperation with South-East Asia cannot be meaningful.

For the MGC project to be effective, the Brahmaputra Valley is a crucial factor. If there exists sufficient trade and industry in this region, overland trade via Myanmar to many MGC countries will become a worthwhile proposition for India.

But what fate awaits the MGC in the long run remains an open question. For the moment, Jaswant Singh has taken a personal interest in the project. Given the welcome that has been extended to the MGC by the five other countries involved, it is imperative that India sustain its interest and translate the Vientiane Declaration into action.

As per the Vientiane Declaration, issued by the three Foreign Ministers and three Tourism Ministers who represented the six member nations, they will conduct "strategic studies" for the joint marketing and convening of missions for tourism marketing, lau nch a Mekong-Ganga tourism guide, facilitate the travel of people in the region, expand multi-modal communication and transport linkages and also promote package tours to cultural, religious and eco-tourism sites of the region. In the field of transport and communications, it has decided to make efforts to develop transport networks, in particular the "East-West" corridor project and the Trans-Asian highway. The highway, of course, is an old proposal made by the United Nations Economic and Social Commis sion for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) (Frontline, November 6, 1999). The MGC Six also decided to "strengthen cooperation in the development of IT (Information Technology) infrastructure and networks" and "promote cooperation in air services and li nkages in the region".

The MGC Six also agreed to promote joint research in dance, music, theatre and traditions; organise round-table conferences for journalists, writers and experts in the fields of literature and the performing arts; conserve and protect heritage sites and artifacts, and set up an information network in these fields.

IN the case of India, "strategic concepts" such as "balancing China" tend to intrude into any thinking with regard to South-East Asia. While China and India may be competitors at many levels, China is far ahead of India in developing relations with South -East Asia. While Western analysts and even South-East Asian nations may encourage India to enlarge its "strategic footprint", it will be in India's interests to concentrate on areas of trade and cooperation.

As can be expected, China has welcomed the initiative. A statement to that effect was made by a Chinese spokesman accompanying President Jiang Zemin during his recent visit to Laos. (Jiang Zemin landed in Vientiane on the evening of November 11; the same morning Jaswant Singh returned to New Delhi.)

Beyond Myanmar (where India has made belated efforts to compete with the Chinese), New Delhi's strategic compulsions for the moment appear to be few. There have been some "passage exercises" by the Indian Navy to different South-East Asian capitals recen tly, but the fact remains that a "strategic position" in today's world can only be based on trade and commerce.

For instance, Indian expertise in IT will be welcome in MGC countries - it is an area that India can build its relations on.

An External Affairs Ministry official had indicated that Indian business would go to countries where profits were to be made. Given the number of Indian business and IT delegations that visit Singapore (a country where India is well known) every month, i t would be worthwhile if they make a trip to, say, Vietnam, which is clearly a country on the move.

As for Laos, following India's gift of Kirloskar water pumps worth Rs.60 lakhs, it purchased, in 1998-99, water pumps worth $18.6 million. Kirloskar has now opened a representative office in Vientiane, which has a population five lakhs.

Indian business, clearly, needs to get out of the traditional approach and look to countries where its presence has been weak. In that sense, MGC presents an opportunity. The idea of cooperation must precede cooperation. That is precisely what has happen ed in Vientiane - where a framework has been laid out - and now it is up to the Indian government, business and civil society to take up this cooperative endeavour. Given the myriad agreements and international meetings these days, it is up to the Exter nal Affairs Ministry to ensure that India's role in the MGC does not suffer owing to bureaucratic neglect. Indian governments are good at drafting and announcing agreements; it is often in their implementation that their weakness has been in evidence.

Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien injected a dose of realism into the meeting when he said: "However, it should be noticed that in the Ganga and Mekong areas, the majority of the population, for a variety of reasons, survive only with a meagre i ncome of less than $2 a day and that the Mekong river basin is the poorest and least-developed area in South-East Asia... In the face of this situation, we have no choice but to harness and utilise natural resources efficiently with a view to bringing in tangible and practical benefits to our people, facilitate a wider distribution of the benefits of regional cooperation to the inhabitants of the region, especially to the poor and finally help narrow down the development gap with other regions."

He added: "From experience drawn in implementing projects and programmes in the Mekong river basin area, we believe that given our current financial constraint, we should welcome the cooperation of other countries within and outside the region, donors an d international organisations if we are to ensure a good start. Moreover, we should choose highly feasible areas to carry out our cooperation in the first place since initial success in these areas is highly significant, and will help build confidence an d create a solid foundation to extend our cooperation to other areas."

Nien has given a practical dimension to the working of the MGC, which should be taken seriously by all the member-countries.

At Vientiane, it was agreed that Laos would first chair the MGC; the Chair would then rotate in alphabetical order. The MGC ministerial-level meetings will take place when the Foreign Ministers meet for the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and Post-Ministerial Conferences (PMCs) in July every year. The next MGC ministerial meeting will take place in Hanoi in July 2001, where Myanmar will take over its chairmanship.

A good beginning has been made, but will progress remain even?

Betrayed redemption in Chile

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

The Clinton administration releases the third and final set of documents on Washington's role in the overthrow of Salvador Allende's socialist government in Chile in 1973, adding evidentiary value to known facts.

ON November 10, the Santiago Court of Appeals refused to grant parole to Torres Silva, a retired Army General. A few hours later, Judge Sergio Munoz indicted a General on active duty, Hernan Ramirez, for the same crime. Both these leading figures of the ousted regime of General Augusto Pinochet, the courts allege, tried to cover up the assassination of labour leader Tucapel Jimenez in 1982 by another retired Army officer, Major Carlos Herrera. Herrera sits in a jail cell for life, one of the 18 Army of ficers indicted for the killing.

The Chilean newspapers, of all political stripes, report that the verdict astounded them: Ramirez is the first General on active duty to be indicted for human rights violations. The verdict also puts in doubt Pinochet's legal challenge against the 177 cr iminal complaints against him for the estimated 3,197 political murders committed in his name from 1973 to 1990 when he led a military junta.

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While the fate of Pinochet hangs on these court cases, the fate of Chile hangs on a proper account of the trauma of the dictatorship: only with truth can there be reconciliation, but only with justice can there be a tomorrow.

Three days after the court case, the Chile Declassification Project of the Clinton White House released 16,000 secret United States records of Washington's role in the overthrow of Salvador Allende in 1973 as well as in the advent of the military junta t o power. These 50,000 pages from the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the White House and the Defence and Justice Departments constitute the third and final collection of documents released by the Declassification Project. It relea sed the first two sets of 8,000 documents in 1999. Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst of the non-profit National Security Archive, hailed the release of the documents as "a victory for openness over the impunity of secrecy". Further, he pointed out, the do cuments "provide evidence for a verdict of history on U.S. intervention in Chile, as well as for potential courtroom verdicts against those who committed atrocities during the Pinochet dictatorship."

The records from the Declassification Project provide documentary evidence to support the findings of the 1975 Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (also called the Church Committee). There is little h ere that is not known, except that the papers provide evidence for what was previously hearsay (or were conclusions made on the basis of concealed documents). The papers say that Henry Kissinger, the National Security Adviser in the Nixon administration, convened a high-level group (the '40 Committee') to plot the overthrow of Allende, that the group drew up 'drastic action' strategies to 'shock' Chileans into action against their democratically elected socialist leader, and that President Nixon authori sed this course of action to "do everything we can to bring Allende down".

Among the notes is a censored, and therefore barely readable, set of accounts that show the CIA's hand in the October 1970 assassination of General Rene Schneider. There is a September 1972 report of the CIA in which Pinochet says that Allende should be forced out of office. And then, finally, there are U.S. National Security intercepts of conversations and information on the coup that took place on September 11, 1973. When the Chilean government asked for "advisers", Washington responded that it was "h ampered by U.S. congressional and media concerns with respect to alleged violations of human rights", and hence any U.S. assistance would come in "back channels". Much of the material is well-known, some of it as far back as the early 1970s (and made qui te graphic in the two-part documentary by Patricio Guzman entitled "The Battle of Chile: The Struggle of An Unarmed People").

PINOCHET led a military junta at the behest of the CIA, significant multinational corporations and the Chilean bourgeoisie. The regime's first order of business was to dismantle the structures of civil society created by the socialist regime that provide d Chile with a cultural efflorescence. The military converted the National Stadium into a detention centre where 7,000 prisoners were interrogated and tortured. On September 14, 1973, military personnel beat and killed Victor Jara, a folk singer and thea tre director. The murder provided a premonition of the destruction of Chile's active independent theatre. Two navy ships (Lebu and Esmeralda) were converted into prisons as the military built concentration camps in towns across the country.

The military was particularly harsh in its attacks on young radicals, especially Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi (made immortal in Costa Gavras' 1982 film Missing) who were involved in the killing of two U.S. citizens. The documents now show that by 1972 the CIA had perhaps shared information about Horman's radicalism with the Chilean secret service, and it certainly was a party to the murder of bot h Horman and Teruggi in the days after the 1973 coup. Crucially, the newly declassified documents show that the U.S. may have colluded in the assassination of Orlando Letelier, a Chilean leader in exile, in 1976 in Washington. In 1978, Michael Townley, a U.S. national, confessed that he killed Letelier under orders from the Chilean secret police. CIA Director (and later President) George Bush gave an assurance that the Agency had nothing to do with the murder. It now appears that this was a lie, and mor e of this is expected in the course of a pending court case on the murder. Incidentally, intelligence recordsthat could implicate Pinochet in these matters remains classified.

A year after the Chilean people overthrew Pinochet, the government established a National Truth and Recon- ciliation Commission headed by Raul Rettig, a lawyer. The Rettig Commission studied "the most serious human rights violations" and submitted its re port on March 4, 1991. The front pages of Chilean newspapers carried news of the disappeared, and many of them reproduced the entire report. President Patricio Aylwin (Christian Democrat, right of centre) went on television and wept, asking the people to forgive the government and to move forward. The new government denied nothing, even if it could not prosecute Pinochet because of a legal manoeuvre set up by him before he left office. The Rettig report showed that the Directorate of National Intelligen ce (DINA) was "directly answerable to the office of the President of the Republic" and that (according to a CIA document) the President had issued a 'secret decree' that gave DINA the sole power to detain political prisoners. Since these are powerful gro unds to prosecute Pinochet, the fight continues, but at least it does so with a certain measure of honesty from the new political apparatus in the country (except the Army, which rejected every point in the Rettig report).

WHEN Clinton asked that the reports on Chile be declassified, the CIA tried to block him. "I think you're entitled to know what happened back then and how," said Clinton in response, and only after a concerted struggle within the administration did the C IA release the documents. Of course they are heavily censored and the National Security Archive pledges to continue to press for full disclosure. But the fight waged by Clinton begs the question, why does the new U.S. regime want this openness? Clinton's Chile Declassifica-tion Project is unique within the administration, and it has been commended by liberals across the country. The administration has not, however, pledged to declassify documents on the CIA's dirty operations in Africa or in Central Ame rica. Why Chile? Part of Clinton's economic package for the U.S. is to create 'free trade agreements' across the globe, first within North America (the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994), then with Africa (the ongoing trade pact with Africa, cu rrently blocked in the U.S. Congress), and simultaneously with South America. The neoliberal assault on South America will need to come plated in unimpeachable ideological armour. To say that one is a genuine champion of human rights (and therefore able to be open about one's past with the much reviled dictators of the Southern Cone) is critical in that part of the world. Since the Rettig commission and the Church Committee have already documented the U.S.' activities with the Pinochet junta, little can be gained from denial. In 1975, a U.S. State Department official said that secret evidence should be made available to the public because "in the mind of the world at large, we are closely associated with this junta, ergo with fascists and torturers". T o disassociate itself from that past means the U.S. can reinvent itself as the leading force for human rights (even if these only mean, for the U.S., political and not economic rights).

The declassification was met with silence by U.S. newspapers. No one seemed interested. As it released the documents, the State Department pledged that the "United States will continue to work closely with the people of Chile - as their friend and partne r - to strengthen the cause of democracy in Latin America and around the world." Chile is in the process of its national reconstruction, but the U.S. meanwhile has met its own past without comment. The U.S. has not faced its dirty history of coups and re pression, from Guatemala to Iran, from the Congo to Italy. Nor has it been open about its history of economic insurgency in the Southern Cone, what with the role of the Chicago Boys in the collapse of the Peruvian economy, the slow Vietnamisation of the Colombian rebellion, the role of the CIA in the anti-Marxist Operation Condor exercise, and finally, in the fierce dollar war against most currencies in the region.

Besides, there is little to show that the U.S. has renounced its policy of violating the human rights of those who do not accede to its power (such as the Yugoslavians, Cubans, Iraqis, and others).

In February 2001, Peter Kornbluh and The New Press will release the complete documents in a volume called The Pinochet Files: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. "I'm going to leave their numbers and names nailed to the wall of dishonour," wrote Pablo Neruda, the revolutionary poet of Chile, of those who betray the people. Kornbluh will do just that with his book, but it would not serve Neruda's purpose well if the recent revelations allow the current atrocities to go by withou t accountability or anger.

Vijay Prashad is Assistant Professor, International Studies, at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.

A China diary

G.P. DESHPANDE world-affairs

History moves on as ebullient contemporary China keeps a respectful distance from its past. An account of China's changing overall perspective of South Asia, particularly India.

CHINA'S cities look dazzling. Every alternate year that I happen to go to that country, I find that the cities look even more dazzling than they did the previous time. The initial shock of seeing beggars on the streets there has also eased somewhat. That is because the memories of "pre-liberalisation" China have dimmed over a period of time. There seems to be a strange unanimity in China that the early years of revolutionary China are best forgotten or perhaps preserved only as a hazy memory. There are of course huge statues of Mao Zedong. The one on the Fudan University campus is a fine example of an exquisitely sculpted statue. Physical bigness and revolutionary greatness went together in Mao Zedong. The statues in Fudan capture just that combination . Yet everybody on the campus goes to the right or the left of it. Mao stands there in splendid isolation.

Shanghai was the place where the first congress of the Chinese Communist Party took place. The venue is well preserved. A couple of photographs are missing. But it is a case of political amnesia, as it were. Now of course the whole exercise appears mispl aced. There are queues there still. In 1991 I was looking for Lukac's house in Budapest. My interpreter, a smart young woman, did not seem to know him, let alone his house. And even if she did she could not care. Here in Shanghai nothing of historical im portance is entirely forgotten. The modest house in which the first communists of China met is therefore well remembered. But that is about all. The communists and the communist world are nearly forgotten. Dazzling Shanghai has very little to do with tha t world.

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So much so that nobody talks about the Cultural Revolution either. Once I travelled from Beijing to Jehol, the summer capital of imperial China. Throughout the journey my fellow passenger, a doctor in a Beijing hospital, never stopped talking about her e xperiences of the Cultural Revolution, adding small bits of information provided with a rather wry sense of humour. (She told me how she was forced to cultivate cucumbers. It is useful for doctors to know how they are produced, she added with a smile.)

In the year 2000, the Cultural Revolution is already a distant, unpleasant dream if at all. In Kunming (the capital of Yunan province in southwest China), our interpreter colleagues, Guo and Deng, reacted with boisterous laughter when one of us made them scions of Guo Moro and Deng Xiaoping. That Guo Moro would be remembered in such a familiar way came to me as a surprise. But that was all. No further thought was spared for Guo Moro. One gets a feeling that a kalpa (a time-cycle of the four yugas , of which Kali is the last) is over. All good and bad dreams are forgotten.

Maybe, nostalgia is not a Chinese virtue or vice. History moves on. The ebullience of contemporary Chinese would come as a surprise, almost a shock, to the old man standing in sculptural glory on the Fudan complex (among other places in China). It would shock him no less to see the somewhat incongruous coexistence between a 16th century garden and a Kentucky Fried Chicken joint. Should not Col. Sanders (is that not the name of a man who started it all?) and his KFC have kept their respectful distance?

It seems that "respectful distance" is what a contemporary Chinese person keeps from his Maoist past. Arrogant iconoclasm of modernity has not invaded the Chinese psyche. The Chinese people know that Mao's world is dead and gone. But the ancestor-worship ping Chinese would not give up Mao for that reason.

"WHY do Americans dislike our democracy? The answer is simple. Our ruling party still calls itself a Communist Party and the Americans do not like it." This was the response to a question about China's ideas on political liberalisation at a lunch in Shan ghai. "We are a practising democracy," a Chinese social scientist insisted. How do you explain the American response then (or words to that effect), was the Indian response. The above remark came as a reply to those words. A case of respectful distancing from Western ideas of democracy.

Conversations over lunch were a peculiar mix of elaborate, almost imperious, formality and informal and at times proud and forthright remarks. We shall have democracy and, more important, we shall define it. This has always been the Chinese response. Thi s time it was explicit, assertive and proud. Echoes of three people's principles of Sun Yat-sen were clearly audible. Nobody should be surprised if a Chinese political scientist came out with a volume tracing the taxonomy of the concept of democracy begi nning with Kang Yuwei (the leader of the 1898 political reforms) bringing it to Deng via Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong. All this would happen not because or not only because the Chinese are nationalistic but also because democracy itself can be understood o nly in a historicist manner. Western ideas are important but eastern history is no less so. China will have democracy, which its history and experience dictate. There was also reiteration of President Jiang Zemin's remark that there cannot and need not b e one colour in the world. At this lunch it was not attributed to Jiang. As the Chinese say, it was the prefatory clause that introduced the remark. This prefatory clause or some version of it always appears in Chinese discourse. It serves many purposes. It establishes or underlines the fact that there is no universalism to political concepts or discourse as Western commentators seem forever to emphasise. It further makes the point that if universalism were indeed feasible, it would necessarily involve contributions from the Chinese (or Indian or West Asian) discourse.

There is an unstated convention about "informal" or even formal conversation in China. You are not to press the point beyond a limit. If a point of no return has or is being reached, either party should give up the subject. All conversation on political liberalisation in China ends on that note if you are not careful. It is almost as if all dynamism in dialogue dries up. A polite silence or reiteration of a familiar position is all that you get. The Indian insistence on the semantic battles or the faith in the universal is not understood in China. Several visits and talks in China have repeatedly confirmed this belief to me. Dialogue in China is always a qualified dialogue. It is qualified by civilisational limitations. It is also qualified by the fact that all exchanges are political and as such all that we can hope to do is to see the limits of (each other's) political understanding. Reaching a point of no return goes against China's pragmatic grain. Perhaps for that reason informal conversations ov er lunch or dinner become so interesting. It is easier and less tension-ridden to see the coming point of no return.

One such point was reached in this conversation in Shanghai. 'Has democracy as you understand it worked in India?' was a general, typical question. The Chinese have very little use for the Indian liberal scepticism about the political processes in India. Equally, the fact that Western democracy is not being rejected in India because it is Western is simply ignored. The thrust of the argument was clear: we (the Chinese) intend to work our democracy out. If the United States does not like it, so be it!

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There was also some surprise (not entirely pleasant) that India should be so much at home with Western democracy. The Shanghai Institute of International Studies has published a collection of essays this year, which seeks to analyse 'The Post-Cold War Wo rld'. The question of democracy and, therefore, of human rights is seen by these scholars as one of human rights and national sovereignty. China seems to be the only developing state that does not accept the rhetoric of civil society as a supra-state dis course. It follows the line enunciated by Deng Xiaoping thus: "Some Western countries, on the pretext that China has an unsatisfactory human rights record and an irrational and illegitimate socialist system, attempt to jeopardise our national sovereignty " (The Post-Cold War World, p. 34). The implications are clear. The human rights question is important but it is not and cannot be a supra-state question. The problem of democracy is not the problem of the weakening of the state.

The curious thing was the discussion on the state. Partly the problem was linguistic. The term for state and for nation is the same in Chinese. The Chinese language does not quite clearly distinguish between the two concepts. If one thought hard on it, a number of Indian and for that matter oriental languages do not distinguish clearly between nation and state or at any rate use these terms inter-changeably. In response to a question about naming two plus points of China's growth and governance I ventur ed a suggestion that China had not weakened its state in the process of modernistion. The problem of rendering state as guojia, which also means nation, became evident. I cite this conversation to underline yet another fact. There is not much disc ussion in China about hard and soft state. The guojia has to be and is strong. China will maintain its strength. The question of hard or soft does not arise. The strength of the guojia is the issue.

There is little doubt that not much liberal rhetoric sells in China. Simply put, 'civil society versus state' kind of formulation has no appeal in China. China is a huge country. There would, therefore, be people who would be enamoured of this contradict ion. But taken as a whole they are an insignificant, marginalised minority. In Kunming we discussed some opposition to reforms and things like that in India and China. It was clear that whether on issues of globalisation or the environment or the indeed declining social welfare content of the new policies, there was some opposition in the country, but it was not a major force. Nothing is ever brought to a halt in China. Our friends in Shanghai seemed clear about that. I discovered that my reference to t he opposition to the Narmada project and suggestion that there might be some to the Three Gorges project on the Changjiang river did not bring forth any response. I expected it as it was yet another example of a point of no return.

THE realm of foreign policy is always the clearest in China. The positions are taken with utmost care but statements are not, for that reason, loose or ambiguous. I was in Shanghai last year as well (1999). The atmosphere there then was full of the Pokhr an-II nuclear tests, Defence Minister George Fernandes' assessment of China and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's letter to President Bill Clinton. The responses then were predictable and, in a sense, not at all forgiving. India had no business to go nuclea r, that would be a neat one-sentence summary of China's attitude.

Within 12 months (from October 1999 to October 2000) there was a sea-change. Pokhran-II was still an object of intense dislike. But the verbal outrage was not there. There was the reluctant admission that China must face the reality. India (or for that m atter Pakistan) is what it is, that is, a nuclear state, and China can do precious little to alter that reality. This is the attitude now. A lone commentator still argued that India should sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Otherwise there wa s not much discussion of the articles of faith of the non-proliferation regime and those who run it. Probably there is not a wide recognition that Indian or Pakistani nuclear capabilities do not really amount to very much. Whatever be the reason, the nuc lear weapons do not seem to matter any longer. Clearly, India-China relations are finally beyond Pokhran-II.

The warming of Indo-American relations now is quietly acknowledged. For the first time in my several trips to China I heard remarks to the effect that India has become "a regional power" in South Asia. As least one commentator seemed to argue that India had become a dominant power and was not far from being a hegemonistic power in South Asia. The other, milder, version was that India's emergence as a regional power was inevitable. A new turn in Indo-U.S. relations has been direly noted. Pakistan still m atters to Chinese foreign policy. It will continue to do so for a long time. But there is a change in China's overall perspective on South Asia. It would not be an exaggeration to argue that China now accepts that India's position in South Asia has quali tatively changed and that China must adjust to it without prejudice to its relationship with Pakistan.

There was therefore some murmur about the Dalai Lama and his activities. In Kunming there was even a reference to the Karmapa episode. It was clear that all would not be well with Sino-Indian relations until that tangle was sorted out. Nevertheless, ther e was appreciation that the principal problem in and about Tibet was the West and the Western liberals. Their enthusiasm rather than India had made the Dalai Lama what he was. It was simply a case of knocking at the wrong door.

THE U.S. loomed large in China. We were in China when the joint military exercises with the U.S. were being conducted. When we left the Shanghai Institute of International Studies we were told that the visitor to the institute the following day would be the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy. This information was supplied with a smile. These Shanghai people, especially those from the Academy of the Social Sciences and the Institute of International Studies, are business-like. Between them they constit ute a major think tank of China, complementing and competing with the think tanks in Beijing, especially at the China Institute of International Relations and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. My impression is that Beijing and Shanghai react differ ently to the U.S. Beijing is formal and correct. Understandably it carries out joint military exercises with the U.S. It also publishes a white paper on defence. The exercises speak of a will to cooperate with and engage the U.S. Taiwan is a grim reminde r of the military implications of the continued U.S. role in the Taiwan Straits. China will "adopt all drastic measures possible, including the use of force" if foreign forces invade the island or if Taiwan were to refuse reunification with the mainland, thunders a white paper on the foreign power. It goes without saying that "the foreign power" referred to is the U.S. If Taiwan were to make bold and avoid reunification it could do so only with the support of the U.S. The contradiction with the U.S. is inescapable. That would in summary form the Beijing view.

In Shanghai, people took a more flexible view. Well, in a very logical sense, contradiction with the U.S. was inescapable. And to that extent China's view of the U.S. would no longer be comparable to that of the 1970s. As the same time it did not appear that from Shanghai the Sino-U.S. relationship looked terribly grim. In the final analysis it would be adversarial. But the state of "final analysis" may not after all be reached.

INDIA has acquired a new standing in China's worldview. Let us get into the trading game. Let us get into information technology cooperation. That was the recurrent theme. I had not heard much last year by way of a complimentary view of India's developme nt. Plenty of such pep talk was heard this year. There is greater respect for India as an economic power.

All this could be the first steps towards re-arranging China's relations with its neighbours. Quite often a statement of existing realities is a statement of forthcoming change. It would appear that Shanghai think tanks are looking forward to a phase of a different relationship with India. They see a phase of cooperation ahead. More important, however, a new strategic equation with India is being sought. Pakistan matters but less and less so. There was also a frank discussion on the so-called nuclear ai d to Pakistan. There was a readiness to discuss each detail. The earlier posture that there is nothing between China and Pakistan as far as nuclear cooperation was concerned was not reiterated mechanically and unmindfully. At the Fudan University's Centr e for American Studies, a more flexible attitude was discernible. There is more in Sino-Indian relations than meets the eye. Perhaps for the first time there is now a realisation that Indian uneasiness at Sino-Pakistan relations deserves a consideration. A new alignment of China's policies is not possible without involving India, or so Shanghai thinks.

That the pace of Sino-Indian normalisation is slow was recognised. The fragility of the relations between the two countries was also taken note of. Refreshingly, no attempt was made to blame India alone or Indian nuclear posturing or India's Kashmir prob lem as the villain of the piece. Shanghai seems to feel that India's weightage in China's foreign policy has to change. It is important for China's foreign policy generally. It is even important for Sino-U.S. relations. That probably is still not Beijing 's view. But that Shanghai articulates a slightly distanced position in itself suggests that there are some supporters of this position in Beijing. At any rate, that could be an alternative scenario under consideration in Beijing.

Kunming is a pretty, little city. At an altitude of about 1,500 metres, it boasts of being a city of eternal spring. A typical capital of a backward province (Yunan), Kunming's eyes are turned towards South-East Asia and South Asia. Southwest China has t o look out. There is going to be a four-nation conference (China, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar) in Delhi in December to discuss regional cooperation. What would come out of these deliberations, one does not know. China's southwest and India's northeast look like being good and right partners in progress. The difficulty, however, is that India's view of its northeast is different from China's view. In China's view one whole State of India's northeast is not a part of India. A very fragile starting point for cooperation, indeed. When one raised this issue in Kunming, there was silence. Only one person spoke. He argued that while there was dispute over Arunachal Pradesh and its status, India and China could shelve the issue and cooperate nevertheless. I am not sure if disputes so close to the proposed area of cooperation can be shelved. Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Let us see what the December conference yields in terms of actually definable progress. So far the progress on southwest China-northeast India cooperation has been little more than an articulation of good intentions and the forwarding of some rather tentative ideas. What is important is that Kunming is indeed looking further southwest. Economic relations get top priority in this area of China. Kunming appeared interested in little else. It had, however, very few ideas on how to turn the competitive economies of China and India into complementary economies. At the moment, we know that both the governments are interested in their backward areas and look upon economic cooperation as one of the ways of redress and growth.

One might conclude this account with the Chinese sense of history and continuity that one opened these remarks with. There is a stone forest about 60 km from Kunming, a literal forest of tall, tree-like stones, a beautiful and exceptional sight. As you e nter this extraordinary place you see a stone formation (one among hundreds), which is quite remarkable. You see a public notice there. This was the stone at which Zhou Enlai and Zhu De had their photograph taken. It was remarkable that a guerilla genera l like Zhu De was still remembered. People who can preserve continuities within a rapidly changing environment are most likely candidates for survival, and glorious survival at that. The Chinese certainly are one such people. Let us hope that Indians lik ewise are.

G.P. Deshpande is Professor of Chinese Studies, School of International Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The 1971 watershed

From A Head, Through A Head, To a Head: The Secret Channel between the U.S. and China through Pakistan by F.S. Aijazuddin, Oxford University Press; pages 163, Rs.395.

NOW that Vedic astrology has become an approved subject for academic study in institutions of higher learning, one feels encouraged to reflect on the impact on world affairs of a singularly baleful configuration of the stars in the heavens in 1971. There was "too much turmoil under the heavens", Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai told Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, National Security Adviser to President Richard Nixon, when he arrived in Beijing on July 9, 1971 on a trip that could truly be called historic.

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Exactly a month later, on August 9, 1971, the Foreign Ministers of India and the Soviet Union, Swaran Singh and Andrei A. Gromyko, signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty. For two good reasons, it would be wrong to say that it paved the way for the India-Pakistan war. One was that the decision to march into the then East Pakistan was taken by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on April 6, 1971, less than a fortnight after the Pakistan army's brutal crackdown in the province on March 25. P.N. Dhar asserts that "it was o nly after Indira Gandhi visited the refugee camps in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura in the last week of May that she made up her mind on the Indian response to the crisis" (Indira Gandhi, the 'Emergency' and Indian Democracy, OUP; 2000; pag e 156. (emphasis added, throughout).

This is belied by a mass of material cited earlier (vide the writer's article "The Making of Bangladesh", Frontline; January 10, 1997). To wit, the account of Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacob, Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command, Calcutta, of a call from t he Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Sam Manekshaw, about a call in "early April" telling him that "the Government wants the Army to move into Bangladesh", and Manekshaw's repeated claims that he was summoned before the Cabinet soon after the crackdown, and asked whether he could march in. The first such assertion was made by him in Mumbai on November 16, 1977 (vide Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation by Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacob; Manohar, 1977; pages 35-36). The Deputy Director of Military Operations at Army Headquarters in New Delhi, Major-Gen. Sukhwant Singh, revealed in his candid work The Liberation of Bangladesh (Vikas, 1980, page 35) that "the Army was asked to take over the guidance of all aspects of guerilla warfare on April 30".

The Central Intelligence Agency came to know of it instantly. Henry A. Brandon of The Sunday Times, who was close to Kissinger, wrote in his book The Retreat of American Power (Doubleday, 1973; page 254) that "the Indian Cabinet on April 28 had secretly decided to prepare for the possibility of war". An omission in my earlier article is being repaired here. A.K. Ray, then Joint Secretary (Pakistan) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), from December 1969 to May 1971 and Joint Secretar y, MEA Branch Sect. in Calcutta from May 1971 and Joint Secretary, MEA Branch Sect. in Calcutta from May 1971 to February 1972, disclosed in an article: "She had actually made the commitment on April 6" (Indian Express, Dece-mber 19, 1996). The of ficial history of the Bangladesh war, laced reportedly with fable and fiction, has been put in deep freeze. It cries to be leaked.

Less known is the second reason why the Treaty did not lead to war. India had sought it to warn China against intervening in the war to come. The Soviets intended to use it to restrain India (Tad Szulc's report in The New York Times, August 10). David Bonavia of The Times (London) reported on the same lines.

Pakistan was not unduly alarmed, as is evident from the minutes of a meeting of its Ambassadors held in Geneva on August 24-25, 1971. The texts were published in Samar Sen's weekly Frontier (October 13, 1971). Sultan Mohammed Khan, the Foreign Secretary, who presided, mentioned a letter which Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin wrote, on August 17, a week after the Treaty was signed, "promising Russia's continued desire to help Pa kistan". Pravda and Izvestia continued to balance reports from New Delhi and Islamabad until Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's visit to Moscow, in late September, when she brought about what Andrei Fontaine of Le Monde called "the Great Switch ". Moscow abandoned the fence (vide the writer's book Brezhnev Plan for Asian Security; Jaico, 1975; Chapter 8 on the Indo-Soviet Treaty and the Brezhnev Plan). Not much revelatory material has appeared in India since. What has appeared elsewhere proves what the discerning understood even then - China had neither the desire nor the capacity to intervene. It did not support Pakistan's policy in East Pakistan. It was caught in the coils of the Cultural Revolution and faced a hostile Soviet Union.

First came Sultan M. Khan's memoirs Memories & Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat (The London Centre for Pakistan Studies; 1997), a mini-classic on diplomacy. On his return from Beijing, Kissinger told his Pakistani hosts that "the Chinese had sa id that they would intervene with men and arms if India moved against Pakistan". Far from being taken in, the astute diplomat Sultan Khan accurately assessed it to be "a mis-interpretation of the actual language used by Zhou Enlai". All that he ha d said was that "in case India invaded Pakistan, China would not be an idle spectator but would support Pakistan". As he perceptively noted, "support can take many forms... In the context in which Premier Zhou Enlai spoke, there could be no question of s upport taking the form of armed intervention." He had met Zhou in April and records: "China never, during these or subsequent talks, held out any possibility of coming to Pakistan's aid with her armed forces" (pages 307-8).

Kissinger did worse than misinterpret. The disgraceful role he was later to play emerged in The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top Secret Talks with Beijing and Moscow edited by William Burr (The New Press, New York; pages 515, $30). It contained reco rds of Kissinger's talks with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Leonid Brezhnev, Andrei Gromyko and others, thanks to skilful recourse to the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive. It is a public interest research library at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., a Project of the Fund for Peace. It has the largest private collection of declassified national security information outside the government and serves citizens by obtaining and disseminating government records for an info rmed public debate on defence and foreign affairs.

The publisher, The New Press, is a non-profit alternative to the big commercial publishing houses which dominate the book publishing world. It operates in the public interest. William Burr, the editor, is a senior analyst at the archive and the director of its nuclear documentation project. This is a work of scholarship, as the introduction to the book and the introduction to each chapter and the annotations reveal.

Anyone can rummage through the archives and publish a collection of documents with little or no annotation as the Pakistani civil servant Roedad Khan did (The American Papers, Oxford University Press, 1999).

William Burr is a scholar who, having mastered the published record, is able to put the discovered archival material in context with the help of copious notes and incisive analyses. In particular, he nails to the counter the many false claims Kissinger m ade in his memoirs. One memorandum of conversation which he reproduces records Kissinger's talk with China's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Huang Hua, on December 10, 1971, in a CIA safe house in New York, a week after the war had broken out. Kissinger informed him: "We are moving a number of naval ships in the West Pacific towards the Indian Ocean: an aircraft carrier accompanied by four destroyers and a tanker, and a helicopter carrier and two destroyers... They (the Soviet fleet in t he Indian Ocean) are no match for the U.S. ships (showing Ambassador Huang the map)."

What he proceeded to add was unknown until the publication of Burr's work: "The President wants you to know that... if the People's Republic were to consider the situation on the Indian sub-continent a threat to its security, and if it took measures to p rotect its security, the U.S. would oppose efforts of others to interfere with the People's Republic." Shorn of diplomatic jargon, he offered that if China decided to intervene militarily, the U.S. would take care of any attack by "others" (read: the Sov iet Union) on China. This was said fairly early in a talk which lasted an hour and 50 minutes. Towards the end, Kissinger discarded diplomatic language: "When I asked for this meeting, I did so to suggest Chinese military help, to be quite honest. That's what I had in mind, not to discuss with you how to defeat Pakistan. I didn't want to find a way out of it, but I did it in an indirect way" (pages 52-55).

AIJAZUDDIN is a chartered accountant by profession and a successful businessman. He has written extensively on painting and aspects of Lahore's history. Ali Yahya Khan gave him access to the file his father, President A.M. Yahya Khan, had maintained on t he secret contacts the U.S. made with China since 1969 with Pakistan as the intermediary. Those exchanges prepared the ground for Kissinger's visit in July 1971. "The core of this book consists of forty-nine secret documents from a file marked 'The Chine se Connection' assembled and maintained personally by the late President Yahya Khan of Pakistan. The documents cover the period 15 October 1969 to 7 August 1971, and include the messages sent by President Nixon and Dr. Henry Kissinger to Premier Zhou Enl ai through President Yahya, and vice versa."

Aijazuddin provides competent annotations. He has read widely and laboured hard. As well as the Yahya Papers, he has drawn on four documents from the National Security Archive - memorandums of conversations of Nixon and Kissinger's talks in Beijing, on F ebruary 22, 23, 24 and 28, 1972, and Kissinger's Report to Nixon on July 17, 1971 on his first visit to Beijing. This volume adds significantly to the literature on that crucial phase of history.

However, in order to make his resume interesting, Aijazuddin lapses into trivia. Worse, he misses significant bits of the document he has read; in the memorandums of conversations of December 10, 1971 for instance. He does not quote the excerpts, quoted above, in which Kissinger egged on China to attack India.

For Pakistan it was no small diplomatic achievement. "The first formal contact initiated by President Nixon, it will be recalled, occurred during his meeting with President Yahya Khan in August 1969 at Lahore, Pakistan. The first document in Yahya Khan's file is a message three months later, dated 10 October 1969, sent to President Yahya Khan by Major-General Sher Ali Khan Pataudi, then his Minister for Information and Broadcasting." It served as courier for nearly two years without breach of secrecy. O n one occasion, which Aijazuddin omits to mention, China's patience snapped. It threatened to break off the exchange if Kissinger was so coy about an open visit. Sultan Khan did not transmit that message. Instead, he mollified the Chinese Ambassador.

Aijazuddin renders a service by reproducing the texts of the messages exchanged. During Kissinger's second visit to Beijing in October 1971, "Chou surely recognised from my presentation that we have too great stakes in India to allow us to gang up on eit her side. Nevertheless he did not attempt in any way to contrast their stand with ours as demonstrating greater support for our common friend, Pakistan." Kissinger himself did not wish to intervene militarily, either. "In turn I made it clear that while we were under no illusions about Indian machinations and were giving Pakistan extensive assistance, we could not line up on either side of the dispute."

Pakistan was keenly aware of the dividends its efforts would yield. Its Ambassador to the U.S., Agha Hilaly, wrote to Yahya Khan on April 28, 1971: "So far as we are concerned, we will be placing Nixon under an obligation to us at this particularly delic ate moment in our national life when he is (the) highest dignitary in this country insisting on pressure not (repeat, not) being put on (the) Yahya regime in regard to (the) East Pakistan situation."

In his memoirs Kissinger claims that he told Indira Gandhi in New Delhi on July 7, 1971: "We would continue to oppose unprovoked military pressure by any nuclear power, as enunciated in the Nixon Doctrine." Aijazuddin reveals what he told his friends in Pakistan thereafter. "His views were summarised, probably by Sultan Khan, in a handwritten note on paper headed 'Govern-ment House, Nathia Gali', initialled and dated (9/7 July): Dr. Kissinger has stated that in Delhi he found a mood of bitterness, hosti lity and hawkishness, and he came away with an impression that India was likely to start a war against Pakistan. United States has conveyed a strong warning to India against starting hostilities but she may not pay heed, thinking that present hostile att itude of press and Senate against Pakistan offers her a good opportunity."

This writer would like to share with the readers a memorandum of conversation between Kissinger, on the one hand, and P.N. Haksar, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and Vikram A. Sarabhai, Chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, on the othe r. No one else, from either the MEA or the U.S. Embassy, was present. The memorandum was meticulously prepared by Winston Lord, a member of the National Security Council staff. It was an informal discussion for an hour and 40 minutes over luncheon at the Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi, on July 7, 1971. The writer is indebted to the National Security Archive for a copy of this document.

Kissinger disclosed: "We are just at the beginning of a meaningful dialogue with the Chinese... Over the coming months the U.S. might be able to make some significant starts in its relations with the Chinese, although we had no illusions about our differ ences." Short of telling his hosts that he would be in Beijing two days later, Kissinger revealed enough for New Delhi not to be too surprised when that historic trip was made known to the wide world on July 15.

In this context, what Kissinger said on India merits quotation in extenso: "Dr. Kissinger said that under any conceivable circumstances the U.S. would back India against any Chinese pressures. In any dialogue with China, we would, of course, no t encourage her against India. The U.S. knew that foreign domination of India would be a disaster. It was for a strong, independent India which would make for stability in the region. From what we knew, this was the Soviet aim as well, and we did not believe that the U.S. and Soviets had any conflicting interests in India. India was a potential world power. Our priorities would reflect these facts."

He added: "The U.S. hoped to use its influence with Pakistan, rather than cutting off all influence, and move it toward the type of political evolution in East Pakistan that we believe India wanted also."

Shortly after his return from Beijing, on July 16 Kissinger summoned India's Ambassador L.K. Jha to San Clemente to say that the assurance he gave in New Delhi would not apply in the event of China's intervention in an India-Pakistan war. During the war, he encouraged China to do just that.

Nor was Haksar any the more candid, when, agreeing with Kissinger, he said it was in India's interests to see Pakistan stronger. Winston Lord was quick to ask whether that covered both its wings: "Mr. Haksar confirmed that he meant East Pakistan a s well as West Pakistan." He knew, of course, that the Prime Minister had decided on war in April. It is about time India began publishing the records of 1971, if only to educate the astrologers, now in high favour, that the events of that year owed more to human folly and worse than to the stars.

Caution on two contraceptives

Women's groups and activists warn that two injectable contraceptives that will possibly be included in the national family planning programme may not be completely safe.

FEARS about the inclusion of certain injectable contraceptives in the national family planning programme have been raised yet again following the Supreme Court's ruling on August 24 in a case filed by Stree Shakti Sanghatana, Saheli and others in 1986 pl eading for a stay on the Phase 1V clinical trials of Net-en (Norethisterone Enanthanate) and its entry into the programme. Without making a direct reference to a case filed in 1993 against hazardous drugs by the Drug Action Forum, the court assured women 's organisations and health activists that neither Net-en nor Depo-Provera (Depo Medroxy Progesterone Acetate), another contraceptive against which a case is pending in court, be permitted for mass use for now. During hearings, the court had asked the Dr ug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) to examine its sub-committee's August 1995 recommendations that "the use of Depo-Provera should be restricted to women who would be aware of all the implications of its use".

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While the report pertaining to Depo-Provera was reproduced in the affidavit filed by the government this year, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare proposed to include Net-en in the family planning programme even in places where facilities for follow-up and counselling were not available. Women's and health groups fear that both the injectables would come to be used even in places where the infrastructure does not exist.

Depo-Provera and Net-en, both synthetic derivatives of progesterone, suppress ovulation, make cervical mucous inhospitable to sperm and make the lining of the uterus unsuitable for implantation. Depo-Provera is a three-monthly injectable developed by Upj ohn of the United States, while Net-En is a product of Schering AG of Germany.

What has raised the hackles of women's groups and health activists is the manner in which Depo-Provera found its way into the Indian market in 1994 without the mandatory Phase III trials. It was sold across the counter against a medical prescription. Acc ording to Schedule Y of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, "if the drug is already approved and marketed, Phase III trials as required under item 7 of Appendix I are usually required". Since Depo-Provera was already approved in the United States, what remained was the Phase III trials. Item 7 on Appendix I, which is about confirmatory trials, states: "The purpose of these trials is to obtain sufficient evidence about the efficacy and safety of the drug in a larger number of patients generally in comparison wi th a standard drug or a placebo. These trials may be carried out by clinicians in the therapeutic areas concerned, having facilities appropriate to the protocol. If the drug is already approved/marketed in other countries, Phase III data should generally be obtained on at least 100 patients distributed over three or four centres primarily to confirm the efficacy and safety of the drug in Indian patients when used as recommended in the product monograph for the claims made."

Dr. C. Sathyamala, an epidemiologist trained at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says the Drugs Controller of India made post-marketing surveillance (PMS) conditional for the sale of Depo-Provera, thereby substituting Phase III trials. In her book An Epidemiological Review of the Injectable Contraceptive Depo-Provera, published by Medico Friends Circle and Forum For Women's Health, she points out that Upjohn used Chiang Mai, a remote rural area in Thailand, as its "testing grou nd" for Depo-Provera. Sathyamala feels that the unlettered women of Chiang Mai were perhaps not informed that they were taking part in clinical trials and that no protection, legal or otherwise, would have been given to them. It is felt that similar tact ics may have been deployed in the PMS conducted between June 1994 and December 1997 among Indian women by Professor Rustom P. Soonawala, obstetrician and gynaecologist and Consultant. The PMS study covering 1,079 women was conducted at 10 centres to obse rve the side-effects and acceptability of Depo-Provera 150 mg. A report submitted in 1999 concluded that no failure of contraception was reported during the survey and no drug-related adversity was found. It said that, "neither pregnancies nor deaths wer e reported during the study" and that "the results indicate that Depo-Provera 150 mg is a safe and effective contraceptive, and that sufficient pre-treatment counselling on the expected hormonal effects would greatly increase the acceptability of this me thod of contraception." Interestingly, two of the three authors of the report are from Pharmacia and Upjohn.

During the course of the study, some women were reported to have discontinued the contraceptive. The reasons attributed for this were "non-serious medical events", which, interestingly, included irregular bleeding, in some cases heavy, amenorrhea (absenc e of menstruation), urinary tract infection, abdominal pain, bloating abdomen, post-coital bleeding, weight gain, abdominal cramps and even viral hepatitis. Women's and health groups were disturbed by the conclusion that was reached that the symptoms wer e non-serious.

In fact, at a workshop convened by the Institute for Research in Reproduction in Mumbai in December 1998 to review the status of the available injectable contraceptives in the Asian region vis-a-vis India and to discuss the inclusion or otherwise of such contraceptives in the national family planning programme, the consensus was that the injectables had side-effects.

Women's and health groups cautioned the government against their inclusion in any form in the family planning programme. Concerned about the "deliberate misrepresentation of information", they urged the government to disallow the use of such hazardous dr ugs as the existing health infrastructure was not capable of providing the necessary follow-up for such long-acting contraceptives. Further, the non-accountability of pharmaceutical companies, coupled with evidence to the contrary about their efficacy, t hey said, provided the grounds for a ban on all injectables.

Interestingly, Depo-Provera is more commonly used in developing countries. In developed countries it is not an item of "popular choice".

ORIGINALLY introduced in 1967, Depo-Provera was publicised in India in 1994 by a leading advertising group, which proclaimed it to be the world's most widely used and widely available and largest used preparation of its kind, and that it had been success fully used by over 30 million women in 90-odd countries. Sathyamala says that, even if one concedes that Depo-Provera is the "largest used" preparation, its overall use is low and that except in South Africa it does not appear to be an important contrace ptive of choice even in countries with no restriction on its use. There is a stark difference in the share of injectables used among the black and white populations of South Africa. Some 41 per cent of the contraceptive users preferred injectables. A bre ak-up of this figure revealed that persons using injectables constituted only 3 per cent of the 79 per cent of white women, who used modern methods, while users of injectables formed 27 per cent of the 49 per cent of the black women who used modern metho ds. Quoting various studies and papers, Sathyamala writes that in developed countries, where Depo-Provera is registered as a drug, it is prescribed primarily to mentally challenged women, women with a problem of drug addiction, indigenous populations suc h as native Americans in the U.S. and Maoris in New Zealand, sexually active adolescents, coloured women and women from low-income groups.

According to Sathyamala, Depo-Provera is a long-term, systemic, invasive contraceptive, which acts at multiple levels. Its potency and the ease with which it can be used have been cited as reasons for its promotion in sections with high birth rates and l ow "motivation" levels. By not taking the women's experience seriously, it is more than likely that important morbidities are being left out, she argues. When a woman reports a symptom while being on Depo-Provera, the general tendency seems to be to "rea ssure" her that the reported symptom is not associated with the use of the contraceptive.

Women's groups, such as the All India Democratic Women's Association, Sama and Jagori, and health forums such as the Medico Friends Circle and the Forum for Women's Health, maintain that Depo-Provera has been indicted for causing a climacteric-like syndr ome (premature menopause), irreversible atrophy of the ovaries and endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) leading to sterility, deaths due to spontaneous formation of clots inside blood vessels (thrombo-embolism), a 10-fold increase in the birth of Dow n's Syndrome babies and increased infant deaths. There are heightened chances of breast and cervical cancer as well. Activists of the organisation have accused Upjohn of suppressing and/or underplaying the life-threatening implications of the injectables and in the process misleading the medical community as well as the Drugs Controller of India. Studies on Depo-Provera have been funded by Upjohn or directly carried out by its bio-statistical division. The dissenting groups feel that given the large bod y of scientific information on the injectable, the conduct of another study that was part of a PMS was nothing but an attempt to mislead and misinform the authorities.

The introduction of the injectables cannot be seen in isolation of the government's population policy. The activists argue that while the National Democratic Alliance government appears to have given up coercive methods of population control, State gover nments were doing exactly the opposite. While a Bill to debar people with more than two children from contesting elections was still on the national agenda, Haryana and Delhi have passed a legislation debarring persons with more than two children from co ntesting the local body elections. In Maharashtra, the third child is excluded from the benefit of the Public Distribution System. In Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the disincentives include the denial of access to government schemes.

Evidently, these disincentives could push women and their families into accepting what they perceive as safe and long-acting contraceptive methods. Women's groups are not against family planning and contraception, but they oppose the easy access to injec table-type contraceptives in the name of choice, while the truth is that for the majority of Indian women, informed choice about anything, leave alone contraceptives, is a chimera.

Thrust on biotechnology

Tamil Nadu unveils a comprehensive biotechnology policy in order to take advantage of the emerging industrial activity in this sector.

WITH 5,000 species of flowering plants, 22,500 sq km of forest cover and a coastline of 1,000 km, Tamil Nadu is exceptionally rich in biodiversity. This kind of wealth, rarely occurring in a State, needs to be put to sustainable use, especially since the market for biotechnology products in the country is expected to double to Rs.15,000 crores in the next five years. By putting in place an exhaustive biotechnology policy, Tamil Nadu has become one of the first States to take advantage of this anticipate d growth. The landmark policy, which provides a comprehensive scientific plan to put to use the State's natural resources to promote the biotechnology industry, was unveiled by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on September 12.

The policy comes with a firm commitment by the State government on financial and procedural matters in order to enable its speedy implementation. Karunanidhi said: "The idea is to provide a policy framework as well as suitable implementation structures t o convert the bioresources of the State into economic wealth in ecologically and socially sustainable manner." He said that the growing demand for biotechnology products and the State's potential to tap the market for them had encouraged the government t o announce the policy. The policy, based on the recommendations of a committee appointed by the government under the chairmanship of the agricultural scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, focusses on product development in the four segments of technology - med icine, agriculture, environment and industry.

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The State's biotechnology enterprise would involve

* the setting up of a biotechnology incubator park near Chennai to develop and commercialise products and patents;

* the establishment of a medicinal plants park near Madurai to focus on sourcing raw materials in a sustainable manner and offer value addition to scientifically tested herbal and traditional medicines;

* continuing government's support to the women's biotechnology park at Kelambakkam, near Chennai, which would concentrate on microenterprise and traditional biotechnology products;

* the starting of a marine park at Mandapam in Ramanathapuram district to devise ecologically sustainable methods to conserve sea weeds and plankton; and

* the opening of a Bioinformatics and Genomics Centre at the Tidel Park in Chennai in order to exploit the germplasm base and the vast pool of talented bioinformatics scientists and low-cost software skills in the State.

Tamil Nadu is committed to encouraging biotechnology entities, consisting of research organisations, service providers, knowledge workers and companies, which will commercialise the new products and processes, and to creating a network to facilitate the transfer of information and knowledge among the various entities.

According to the policy document, schemes are being worked out to protect and develop various biosphere reserves, such as the Gulf of Mannar off Rameswaram, the Pichavaram mangroves in Nagapattinam district and Muthupettai in Tiruvarur district. The Glob al Environment Facility has announced an assistance of $7.85 million to protect the Gulf of Mannar.

Industrial activity has so far been confined largely to first generation biotechnology enterprises such as fermentation of antibiotics. To broaden the industrial base, a large number of plant tissue culture units are being set up, besides promoting the p roduction of food and industrial enzymes, classical fermentation products (antibiotics and immuno-modulators), bioenergy and bio- polymers, and other such activities.

According to the policy document, all efforts are directed towards the creation of a critical mass of industrial activity in biotechnology. A two-pronged strategy would be evolved to encourage modern processes in the areas of agriculture, industry, and m edical and veterinary sciences at the same time focussing on traditional biotechnology products, especially industrial and food enzymes. There is also a move to encourage commercial enterprises to develop recombinant DNA(deoxyribonucleic acid)-based prod ucts and bioinformatics.

In the field of medical biotechnology (the State accounts for 11 per cent of the market in the country), the focus is on such areas as diagnostics, vaccines (Hepatitis-C and malaria), therapeutics (Interferon and insulin) and veterinary drugs. In the fie ld of agriculture, the government would work with the germplasm data available with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation to develop biopesticides and biofertilizers, natural health care products, animal feed , transgenics and diagnostics. The government would also facilitate the creation of quarantine facilities and sanitary/phytosanitary measures as per the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements for biological items.

The thrust areas in environmental biotechnology products would be those concerning leather and textiles. The idea is to develop apparatus/techniques for biosensors, microbial strain development of cultures for waste management (bioremediation), and so on .

The State government has made a commitment to set up a Rs. 30-crore venture fund to provide the single-window clearance facility to obtain clearances from the various Central government agencies, such as the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, the Instit utional Biosafety Committee, the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, to establish biotechnology enterprises. The policy document promises the creation of a Biotechnology Board, under the chairmanship o f an expert, and consisting of senior government officials, scientists and industrialists. The Board will form standing advisory committees to identify and attract investments, mobilise resources, and work out guidelines and set up a regulatory framework for the use of bioresources.

According to R. Gopalan, Chairman and Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO), the government is gearing up to take full advantage of the biotechnology boom. He says the State has a crucial role to play in entrepren eur education, infrastructure support, human resource development and resource mobilisation, and that the State is concentrating on all these areas.

In order to develop human resources, the government will introduce technology-oriented courses in all State-funded educational institutions and provide infrastructural facilities to set up bioinformatics centres at Anna University and Madurai Kamaraj Uni versity. The government, according to Gopalan, will assist in the commercial and legal aspects of setting up ventures and help enterprises meet intellectual property regulations.

According to State Industries Secretary Sakthikanta Das, the incubator park, a commercial venture, is a collaborative effort involving TIDCO and some American universities. The park is to be developed in two-phases. In the first phase, a 65-acre (26-hect are) park at a cost of Rs.40 crores (excluding the land cost) would come up at Chennai in seven months. This would be followed by a $100-million facility at Siruseri near Chennai on a 100-acre (40-hectare) plot to start joint ventures.

According to Nobel laureate Dr. Ronnie Coffman of Cornell University, who participated in a video conference during the policy announcement function, "Biotechnology can be very effective in mitigating hunger and poverty around the world. However, it is i mportant not only to focus on cutting-edge technologies but also concentrate on areas that would help poor farmers."

The policy document expresses these concerns while discussing micro-enterprises and traditional biotechnologies. According to Dr. Swaminathan, these concerns, along with the idea of training and transforming agricultural extension workers into knowledge workers to assist farmers (spelt out by Karunanidhi in his Budget speech for 2000-2001) are appropriate and would go a long way in helping poor farmers. Dr. Swaminathan says: "This is relevant for propagating such concepts as precision farming that would reduce cost and enhance farm incomes."

The Biotechnology Policy document is scientifically based and comprehensive, and if implemented would put Tamil Nadu at the head of the Biotechnology Revolution. And, as Karunanidhi stated, "the State would find a place on the biotechnology map of the co untry, and indeed of the world".

Limiting guidelines

R. RAMACHANDRAN in New Delhi science-and-technology

Doubts have been expressed over the extent to which the proposed cooperation between India and Russia can contribute to the Indian civilian nuclear programme, particularly in the nuclear energy component.

EVER since India and Russia signed an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation, during the recent visit of President Vladimir Putin, there has been a good deal of speculation in the media on the scope of the agreement, as the document itself has not bee n made public. The uncertainty arises from the fact that Russia is a member of the 38-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which has set forth certain guidelines for the transfer of nuclear material, equipment and technologies to a non-nuclear weapons s tate (NNWS). The guidelines, as formulated in April 1992, require implementation of the full-scope safeguards (FSS) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by the recipient country - which India has been opposed to all along.

FSS is a concept derived from the objectives of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that seeks to prevent NNWSs from acquiring nuclear weapon capabilities by imposing the IAEA's safeguards regime on all nuclear facilities and activities - current and future - of a given country. India's opposition to FSS stems from its opposition to the discriminatory NPT as accepting FSS would be tantamount to accepting the control regime of the Treaty itself. Hence the doubts on the extent to which the propose d cooperation between India and Russia can contribute to the Indian civilian nuclear programme, particularly in the nuclear energy component, especially when Putin has made it clear that the cooperation envisaged under the Memorandum of Understanding (Mo U) would be fully in tune with Russia's international obligations. A key obligation is Russia's undertaking to observe NSG guidelines. And there are domestic Russian export control laws that incorporate these guidelines.

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The NSG, also known informally as the London Group, was formed in 1975 following the Indian nuclear detonation in 1974. It was formed as a body distinct from the then existent Zangger Committee (formed in 1971 following the conclusion of the NPT) so that Japan and France, major nuclear suppliers which were not members of the NPT then, could also be included. The Zangger Committee had been formed as a forum to establish guidelines for implementing the export control provisions of Article III.2 of the NPT among nuclear supplier members of the NPT. It stipulates imposition of safeguards on any transfer of nuclear material, related equipment and technologies to an NNWS.

The Zangger Committee maintains a list of controlled nuclear-related items called the "Trigger List". For the export of Trigger List items, the Zangger Committee guidelines require that they (1) not be used for developing nuclear explosives, (2) be subje ct to IAEA safeguards in the recipient non-nuclear weapon state, and 3) not be re-exported unless they are subject to safeguards in the new recipient state. The safeguards envisaged here are site-specific or facility-specific, or what are known as "islan ded safeguards", under which only the activity/facility to which the Trigger List item has been transferred would be under IAEA safeguards.

Between 1975 and 1978, building on the Trigger List and the accompanying guidelines, the seven original members of the NSG (the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Japan) developed a set of nuclear export rule s, which too required only islanded safeguards and not FSS. These NSG guidelines were set out in the IAEA document INFCIRC/254 of February 1978. It must be emphasised that the NSG guidelines do not have the force of an international treaty and are to be implemented by each NSG member in accordance with its national laws and practices. Decisions on export applications are taken at the national level in accordance with national export licensing requirements.

Between 1978 and 1991, the NSG was not active though these guidelines were in place. However, following the Gulf war and the discovery of the covert Iraqi nuclear weapons programme, the NSG revised its guidelines in April 1992. Called Warsaw guidelines, these established separate rules for transfers of nuclear materials, equipment and technologies (that are exclusively for nuclear use); and nuclear-related dual-use items. These revised guidelines also enhanced the safeguards requirement by demanding FSS for future supplies to any NNWS instead of the islanded safeguards requirement of INFCIRC/254 of 1978. The revised guidelines for nuclear material are set out in the IAEA documents INFCIRC/254/Rev. 2/Part 1 of October 1995.

The key guideline relating to FSS is clause 4(a). However, FSS may be exempt under two special circumstances: (1) transfers that pertain to agreements or contracts drawn up on or prior to April 3, 1992; and, (2) in exceptional cases when such transfers a re essential for the safe operation of existing facilities. In both these circumstances, safeguards will only be facility-specific. However, the guidelines add under 4(d) that "suppliers undertake to strive for the earliest implementation of the policy r eferred to in 4(a) under such agreements". The point to be noted here is that while the decision to expand the safeguards into an FSS regime was taken in April 1992, these guidelines were formalised only in October 1995. Russia's adherence to these revis ed NSG guidelines that invoke FSS was communicated to the IAEA through a note verbale in April 1996 which states: "The government of the Russian Federation has decided to act in accordance with the guidelines for Nuclear Transfers so revised."

Interestingly, Russia had put in place nuclear export controls invoking FSS even before the NSG had adopted the Warsaw guidelines. President Yeltsin's Decree No. 312 of March 27, 1992, states: "Export from Russian Federation of nuclear materials, as also technologies, equipment, installations and special non-nuclear materials, meant for their processing, use or production, at any state, which does not have a nuclear weapon, may be realised only under the condition of setting up of all nuclear activity o f this state with the guarantee (safeguards) of International Agency of Atomic Energy (IAEA)". This decree was turned into a law on December 21, 1992, through Government Regulation No.1005.

In fact, this is stricter than the Warsaw guidelines which permit islanded safeguards for exceptional circumstances. The Russian law exempting pre-April 1992 agreements and contracts from FSS, as allowed by the NSG guidelines, came only on May 8, 1996, t hrough Government Regulation No.574 after the Russian Federation sent in its note verbale to the IAEA on its adherence to the NSG guidelines. Strangely enough, this law did not incorporate the second of the exceptional circumstance relating to tra nsfers without FSS for safety of nuclear plants. This came only on May 7, 2000 through a presidential amendment to Decree No.312.

Quoting unnamed sources, commentator on strategic affairs C. Raja Mohan (The Hindu, October 4, 2000) stated that the key element of this "path-breaking" agreement was the expansion of Russian assistance to India's nuclear power programme. As is kn own, there is already an ongoing collaborative nuclear power project, comprising two 1000 MWe light water reactors based on the Russian VVER design, being implemented at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu at an estimated cost of $3.1 billion. However, this does n ot invoke FSS because the project pertains to an agreement that predates April 3, 1992, the date on which the NSG decided to incorporate FSS in its guidelines. The Koodankulam project is the result of an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) signed between India and the Soviet Union during President Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to India in 1988.

The IGA of November 20, 1988 was a general agreement on nuclear cooperation between the two countries requiring specific agreements to be drawn up in case of any commercial deals. Thus there was a separate agreement on the Koodankulam project which speci fied construction of two VVER 1000 MWe reactors on a turnkey basis by the Russian Atomenergoexport. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and subsequent difficulties in financing the project in hard currency, led to the project being put on the back burner for nearly a decade. A supplementary agreement was worked out on June 21, 1998 to revive the project, with the reactors to be built not on a turnkey basis as envisaged earlier, but by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) based on t he Russian VVER design and engineering supervision. It is clear that this proposal to revive the project could have come about only after Regulation No. 574, which incorporates the "grandfather clause" of pre-April 1992 contracts, was enacted in May 1996 .

The question now is whether the agreement signed during Putin's visit goes beyond the Koodankulam project in any significant way. In a recent article in Frontline (October 27, 2000), Russian Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy E.A. Reshetnikov was q uoted as saying that from the economic point of view it was viable to have six similar units, or at least four units, at the same site in Koodankulam. Did this statement signal Russia's willingness now to supply more VVER-type reactors without imposing F SS in contravention of the NSG guidelines? Raja Mohan in his article had implied that this indeed is the essence of Putin's MoU which for some reason is being held confidential. Sources within the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), however, say that the agreement is of a general nature and it merely extends the earlier IGA of 1988. In any case, as of now no such specific proposal to sell more reactors has been made.

In an article published in The Hindu (October 18), analyst G. Balachandran made an interesting point. He pointed out that unlike the NPT, which defines a nuclear weapon state (NWS) as "one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or ot her explosive nuclear device prior to January 1, 1967", there is no definition of an NWS or an NNWS in the NSG guidelines. Balachandran argued that India's nuclear tests of May 1998 had created a peculiar situation and by recognising India as an NWS, Rus sia is not bound by the FSS guideline of the NSG which is only for transfers to an NNWS. What Russia could not transfer without invoking the FSS before May 1998 could now be done without violating its commitment to the NSG guidelines, he argued.

While this interpretation is technically correct, it might appear a little far-fetched. Given that the NSG has evolved from Zangger which, in turn, had its origins in the NPT, it would be reasonable to assume that the definition of an NWS/NNWS adopted by the NSG, though not explicitly stated, implicitly follows from the NPT. Further, being one of the founding members of the NSG, Russia would be a party to that definition. Also, NSG documents constantly refer to the NPT as the cornerstone of its policies . For instance, the consensus statement of May 1992 with regard to implementing FSS (INFCIRC/405) says: "At their meeting in Warsaw on April 3, 1992, the adherents to the NSG guidelines, desiring to contribute to an effective non-proliferation regime, an d to the widest possible implementation of the objectives of the NPT... have adopted the following policy on FSS as a condition for future nuclear supplies."

The consistency of the NSG guidelines with the legal undertakings under the NPT was reiterated by the NSG statement following the NPT Review and Extension Conference in 1995. Similarly, in the light of criticisms that the NSG is operating as a cartel and is discriminatory, the Group presented a fact-sheet at the time of the NPT Review Conference this year (IAEA document INFCIRC/539). It states: "The NSG guidelines are consistent with, and complement, the various international, legally-binding instrument s in the field of nuclear non-proliferation. These include the NPT...etc. etc." It stands to reason that the guidelines cannot be consistent with the NPT without conforming to its definition of an NWS.

GIVEN the above argument, it is extremely unlikely that Russia would accord unilateral recognition to India as an NWS (and violate the FSS guideline of the NSG) without inviting criticisms and action by the other members of the NSG though Russia's links with the West are on downswing in the post-Yeltsin period and Putin's foreign policy decisions are seen to be more independent and often opposed to those of Yeltsin. Indeed, at a press conference in Moscow on May 29, in reply to the question "Will Russia take any steps to bring India and Pakistan simultaneously into the nuclear group so that cooperation could begin?" Mikhai Rhyzov, a senior official in the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom), said: "In my personal opinion, both India and Pakista n have tested nuclear weapons. Since that moment neither India nor Pakistan can be regarded as non-nuclear countries. But the NPT says that for its purposes the nuclear countries are those five states that had conducted tests before 1968...this is an unn atural situation and sooner or later it will be changed. When? Frankly, I do not know. It depends on many things. But an unnatural situation does not exist for long." Balachandran's point would imply that between May and October this has already occurred in Russia's foreign policy. Is this why the MoU is being held confidential? Perhaps, but unlikely.

So what kind of cooperation can be expected after Putin's MoU? A recent report in The Hindustan Times with a Moscow dateline said that Russia had offered to supply enriched uranium fuel for the twin Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) of the Tarapur Ato mic Power Station (TAPS) built by the United States. The controversy around the operation of TAPS after the U.S. pulled out of its commitment made in the August 1963 bilateral agreement (in force for 30 years) with regard to fuel supply in the wake of th e Pokhran explosion of 1974 is well known.

Under the fuel supply contract agreement of 1966, the U.S. was supposed to supply enriched uranium (2-3 per cent U-235). However, after Tarapur ran out of fuel in 1976 and the U.S. could not make further supplies because of domestic political considerati ons, in 1983 France stepped in to supply the fuel. The application of the tripartite safeguards agreement of 1971 between the U.S., India and the IAEA (INFCIRC/154) with regard to nuclear material was transferred from the U.S. in favour of France. Howeve r, after the expiry of the Indo-U.S. bilateral agreement in August 1993, the U.S. refused to take back the TAPS spent fuel as required by the agreement and contested the Indian claim of its right over the spent fuel and its right to reprocess the same. The original 1963 agreement allows reprocessing only after approval by the U.S. government.

India argued that it required to reprocess TAPS spent fuel for loading the reactors with the uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. India has been arguing so since the early 1980s after the U.S. reneged and had also entered into a subsidiary agreement with the IAEA in August 1980.

Indeed, after the expiry of the TAPS safeguards agreement INFCIRC/154, which was coterminous with the expiry of the Indo-U.S. bilateral agreement in August 1993, India placed TAPS unilaterally under a different safeguards arrangement with the IAEA (INFCI RC/433) which came into effect in March 1994. At that time India informed the IAEA that the technical feasibility of MOX had been demonstrated and that it proposed to begin reprocessing of the TAPS spent fuel. According to P.K. Iyengar, the then Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), this was done to put pressure on the U.S. government. Not unexpectedly, the U.S. interpreted the legality of the bilateral agreement differently and objected to it. The U.S. position seems to have prevailed because till date the TAPS spent fuel has not been reprocessed so far. However, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) continues to hold that it can reprocess the fuel whenever it wants. As of now some 12 of the 284 fuel assemblies in the TAPS reactor core (2.4 per cent) have been loaded with MOX, according to Anil Kakodkar, Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).

In 1995, China stepped in to supply fuel and it could do so because it was not - and is still not - a member of the NSG. It is only a member of the Zangger Committee whose regulations require only facility-specific safeguards. The corresponding islanded safeguards for fuel supplied by any country have been incorporated in the safeguards agreement of November 1994 (INFCIRC/433/Mod), which would be applicable to the Russian fuel too. The 1994 contract with China was for a fixed amount of the fuel, accordi ng to R. Chidambaram, Chairman, AEC. Tarapur will soon run out of the Chinese fuel as well and supplies from any source, including China, is welcome, Chidambaram says.

According to V.K. Chaturvedi, chairman and managing director of NPCIL, even though the Chinese contract can be revived, purely commercial considerations (in terms of lower costs) have led to exploring the Russian offer as well. He clarified that no contr act with Russia had been signed yet for the fuel.

One may ask why Russia did not step in to supply fuel after France stopped the supply. The simple reason is that it could not have, because of the existing export control law Regulation No.1005 (the legal instrument of Decree No. 312 of March 1992) that required the application of FSS. The amendment of May 7, which incorporates the exemption of FSS for safety reasons in accordance with the NSG guidelines, enables fuel supply now. Clearly, the offer implies that fuel from Russia is imperative for the saf e operation of TAPS. Under no other condition will Russia be able to supply fuel for TAPS without violating the NSG guidelines and its domestic laws, unless of course it has recognised India as a nuclear weapons state. According to the May 7 amendment, a ny transfer only with facility-specific safeguards for safety purposes requires a specific authorisation by the Russian government. The authorisation will have to wait until the May 7 amendment is turned into a law which is yet to happen. Only then perha ps will any contract for fuel supplies be signed in Russia.

In sum, assuming that Russia has not granted India the status of an NWS, within the ambit of the NSG guidelines and Russia's domestic laws, what Russia can transfer without violating international obligations are material, equipment and technologies for safe operation of nuclear facilities and honour the pre-1992 agreement for the two 1000 MWe VVER reactors at Koodankulam. Nothing more is likely. Of course, since the NSG guidelines do not define the exceptional cases when safety considerations apply, th e safety caveat may allow a lot of room for interpretation and any export may be explained as being for safety purposes. The moot question will then be why the French did not supply fuel without FSS under the safety caveat.

Over to the Supreme Court

other

After years of inconclusive talks and arguments, the Mullaperiyar dispute will now come up before the Supreme Court for a final settlement.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

KERALA wants its river back, at least in part. For realisation is growing in the State of its profligate and negligent utilisation of water resources in the past. And a crisis in per capita fresh water availability now stares it in the face. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, which has drawn water from the river for more than 105 years now, has growing needs of irrigation, drinking water supply and power generation. Its entitlement is based on an 1886 lease deed. Kerala says the deed was imposed by the Brit ish rulers on their vassal state of Travancore, which became a part of the State when it was formed in 1956. This deed was, in any case, revalidated by a 1970 inter-State agreement.

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The genuine needs of the two States ensure that the talks on the sharing of the waters of the Mullaperiyar, a river which originates in the Western Ghats in Kerala, almost always end in deadlock. Of late both sides, especially Tamil Nadu, have had to con tend with the increasing political costs of conducting talks that achieve nothing or, at best, only short-term, unpopular compromises.

Protests are beginning to be voiced in Kerala, but the State is yet to realise that it badly needs to utilise the waters of what is geographically its own river. On the other hand, the issue inflames passions and encourages political manoeuvring in Tamil Nadu, which has a well-established and over-a-century-old system to utilise the waters of the Mullaperiyar. In fact, if vast stretches of the arid rain-shadow region, such as those in Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts of Tamil Nadu, look green and fertile, it is largely because of the effective utilisation of the waters from the Mullaperiyar.

The focus has now shifted to a potentially long battle of wits in the Supreme Court. The court will soon resume hearing on the petitions filed by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy and the Tamil Nadu government, seeking the transfer of all cases regar ding the dispute in the Madras and Kerala High Courts to the apex court for speedy disposal. Last year, the court had asked the two States "to arrive at some consensus" during a long period of adjournment.

A meeting between the Chief Ministers of the two States held in Thiruvananthapuram on April 5, 2000, had ended in deadlock (Frontline, April 28, 2000). The disagreement was over Tamil Nadu's long-pending demand for raising the storage level of the 105-year-old masonry dam inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve area in order to allow more water from the Mullaperiyar to flow into Tamil Nadu. The "talks", at which Chief Ministers E.K. Nayanar and M. Karunanidhi merely read out statements, were in fact exp ected to fail. Public pressure on the two governments had convinced them about the futility of the talks.

Significantly, in addition to the 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of land used for the construction of the masonry dam across the river and the irrigation works (mainly, a tunnel through the watershed) for its trans-basin diversion, the 1886 lease agreement had given the British the rights over "all the waters" of the Mullaperiyar and its catchment, for diversion to the then British territory (now Tamil Nadu) for 999 years, for an annual rent of Rs.40,000 (Frontline, October 23, 1998). After Indepen dence, the leaders of the two States agreed informally on the continued use of the Mullaperiyar waters by Tamil Nadu. After 1959, Tamil Nadu began to use it for power generation also, without any formal agreement.

In May 1970, in what is now considered in Kerala as a "blunder" committed by its leaders, the two States signed a formal agreement to renew almost in toto the 1886 lease agreement, which had by then become invalid. Subsequently, Kerala also became aware of the increasing use of the Mullaperiyar waters by Tamil Nadu. (By the early 1990s, the total irrigated area in the Periyar-Vaigai basin in Tamil Nadu had been extended by 44,000 acres. This led to a quantum jump in the amount of water required for irri gation, and a worsening of the water scarcity in the four districts of Tamil Nadu.)

Kerala signed the agreement without assessing the possible use it might have in future for the Periyar waters. Thus Tamil Nadu was once again given the legal rights over "all waters" from the Mullaperiyar for its exclusive use. From the mid-1980s, despi te having 44 rivers (which are currently described as "minor rivers"), Kerala began to face extended spells of acute water and power shortages. Kerala had constructed the Idukki hydroelectric project 50 km downstream from the Periyar dam but did not have enough water to utilise its full capacity. Except on rare occasions when there was heavy rainfall in the catchment areas, no water flowed down to Kerala from the Mullaperiyar. Tamil Nadu was virtually utilising "all the waters" from the Mullaperiyar, an d Kerala was forced to make a reassessment of its own age-old belief about the relative abundance of its water resources.

The problem acquired a new dimension in 1979, when leaks were detected in the Periyar dam and that caused concern in Kerala about the safety of the dam. Since then, the question of the safety of the dam has become a dominant factor in the discord over Mu llaperiyar. Kerala found it a convenient tool to outwit Tamil Nadu, which was until then in a position to claim all the waters from the Mullaperiyar.

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Following the detection of leaks, a Central Water Commission (CWC) team, led by its Chairman Dr. K.C. Thomas, conducted a study of the dam. It "found no danger to the dam", but had, "as a matter of abundant precaution" recommended the lowering of the res ervoir water level to 136 ft (from 142.40 ft at that time), until measures to strengthen the dam were completed in three stages. The team also recommended that the water level be raised in stages to the full reservoir level of 152 ft.

But giving one reason or the other, Kerala did not allow the reservoir level to be raised beyond 136 ft. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, has been claiming since 1998 that it has carried out all the important measures suggested by the CWC team to strengthe n the dam. A number of technical committees were appointed by the two States subsequently, but these only helped shore up the respective arguments.

Based on studies conducted by its own technical experts (the latest one was in December 1999), Kerala argued that the strengthening measures done by Tamil Nadu had only made the dam safe at the current reservoir level of 136 ft and that "on no account" s hould the level be raised any further. Kerala cited a recent appraisal, which warned that a major flood could lead to a breach in the dam and expose, as Nayanar described it at the April 5 talks, three districts of Kerala "to deluge and holocaust".

At the talks in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala demanded that Tamil Nadu agree to install instruments at the dam for a regular, joint technical verification of the dam's parameters and performance, to monitor its safety at the 136 ft reservoir level and to se e "if and when the reservoir level should be reduced further, should the need arise". Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, argued that the two States should jointly approach a body like the CWC and seek a verdict on the safety of the dam. However, each rejecte d the other's demands. The reasons for Tamil Nadu's rejection of Kerala's suggestion is obvious. Kerala argued that a verdict by a third party without a proper joint verification of the dam parameters over a period of time could not be accepted.

It may seem strange that the two States are fighting over the raising of the reservoir level when, especially after 1961, there were only a few occasions when the water in the reservoir touched the full reservoir level (FRL). In fact, according to Keral a Forest department officials based at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, in the past several years, the reservoir level reached 136 ft only two or three times and water never flows to the Kerala side. One factor, on which both sides agree, is that the flow into the reservoir has dwindled. Kerala government officials contend that Tamil Nadu has made improvements in the facilities in order to draw ever-greater quantities of water.

Significantly, a 1997 document on the performance of the Periyar dam over a period of a century, authored by A. Mohanakrishnan (currently representing Tamil Nadu in the inter-State talks) and published by the Central Board of Irrigation and Power, says: "It may be seen that by and large, the reservoir level was not allowed to exceed +152.00 except in two years, 1924 and 1943, when unprecedented, extraordinary floods were seen in the river. It may also be seen that after 1961, there has been no surplus a t all with the reservoir at much below the FRL. This perhaps points to the fact that the Periyar catchment has been badly denuded and the yield had perceptibly come down notwithstanding the fact that the improvements effected to draw larger quantities ac ross the ridge (to Tamil Nadu) through the tunnel has also contributed to this to some extent."

Leaders of both the States have been making statements that suggest that a prolonged legal battle is in the offing. For the first time, at the Thiruvananthapuram talks, Nayanar questioned the very legality of the original lease deed. Nayanar pointedly re ferred to the context in which the lease agreement was entered into. Nayanar said: "This agreement was executed at a time when there was only negligible utilisation of river waters for irrigation, power, industrial and other purposes and when the water a vailability situation on this (Kerala) side of the Western Ghats was completely different. There is considerable concern among large sections of people in Kerala about perceived gross inequities in this agreement. It is an open question whether an agreem ent between an erstwhile princely state and the British government, which was palpably inequitable, and which binds down future generations without any concern for changing circumstances, and which appears to contain provisions that contravene existing e nactments, should continue to be legally binding."

This must have been the cue for Tamil Nadu. Soon after the meeting, Tamil Nadu Public Works Minister Durai Murugan announced in the State Assembly that Tamil Nadu was now constrained to approach the Supreme Court for a solution. However, several petition s seeking more water from the Mullaperiyar for irrigation and industrial and drinking water supply in Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramnatha-puram districts had already been filed in the Madras High Court by representatives of farmers' organisations in T amil Nadu.

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Significantly, the petitions filed by Subramanian Swamy and the Tamil Nadu government seeking the transfer of all cases related to the dispute to the Supreme Court provided an opportunity for the Central government to intervene in the dispute, as the Sup reme Court asked it to negotiate and seek a consensus solution. On October 17, while announcing the formation of a Cabinet sub-committee to formulate Kerala's strategy in the Supreme Court, Nayanar said that despite the assurance of the Union Minister fo r Water Resources, the Centre unilaterally constituted a seven-member technical committee to study the safety of the dam. "Kerala is concerned about the questions regarding the safety of the dam raised by its own engineers and it cannot agree to any deci sion that ignores that question," Nayanar said.

For the first time, thus, allegations of political bias by the Central government has also formed part of the controversy. State government officials in Kerala and politicians allege that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre ha s acted beyond its brief and found in the Supreme Court's direction an opportunity to intervene in the matter in a manner that favours Tamil Nadu, which is ruled by a constituent of the NDA, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). A senior Kerala government official said that Centre constituted the technical committee in such a manner as to ensure that only the Kerala representative would support the Kerala government's arguments.

The committee, with CWC member B.K. Mittal as chairman and R.S. Washni (retired Chief Engineer, Uttar Pradesh), O.D. Mande (Chief Engineer, Design, CWC), B.M. Upadhyay (Chief Engineer, Dam Safety, CWC), J.K. Tiwari (Director, Dam Safety, Madhya Pradesh), A. Mohanakrishnan and M. K. Parameswaran Nair (Kerala's representative) as members visited the dam on October 10 and 11. Its interim report, prepared with a note of dissent from Kerala's representative, will soon be submitted before the Supreme Court, w hen it resumes hearing on the petitions.

Although the detailed contents of the interim report are not known, a senior Kerala government official said that the committee seemed to favour Tamil Nadu demand to raise the reservoir level. He said the report sought to support Tamil Nadu's stand by su ggesting, among other things, that tests be conducted to determine the strength of the masonry-and-earth "baby dam" (situated to the left of the main dam and along which the river was diverted during the construction of the main dam) by a team of experts from the Central Soil and Material Research Station (CSMRS), that Kerala allow further repairs in the "baby dam" and that a decision on the raising of the storage level of the reservoir be taken subsequently, based on the CSMRS team's assessment.

Kerala, the official said, believed that the reservoir level should not cross 136 ft and hence there was no need to strengthen the "baby dam". The suggestion that a decision on whether or not to raise the reservoir level could be taken based on the CSMRS team's report was also not acceptable to the State, he said. Kerala's note of dissent was recorded only after the State's representative threatened to walk out of the meeting, he said.

Even at the time of the constitution of the committee, Nayanar had said that its report would be acceptable only if it was based on a consensus decision of the committee. Obviously, more than the question of safety, what the two States started arguing ab out was the issue of ownership of the waters of the Mullaperiyar.

A new factor was added to the dispute when the reservoir level was lowered in 1979. A large extent of land around the lake, which was previously under water, thus became available for encroachment, and was utilised by property developers. According to lo cal people in the border town of Kumily in Kerala, which adjoins the Periyar Tiger Reserve, several areas that were previously under water now have pucca houses and resort lodgings. But, simultaneously, large tracts of land that emerged from the lake wer e usurped also by dense vegetation. They have become the feeding and breeding ground for wildlife in the reserve forest.

Even as pressure groups of farmers in Tamil Nadu claim that it is really the vested interests of the property developers that restrain the Kerala government from raising the reservoir level, a Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment conducted by the Kerala Forest Research Institute has cautioned that the raising of the reservoir level would prove to be a major threat to the vegetation and wildlife habitat in the Tiger Reserve. The study has concluded from satellite imagery that if the water level in the reservoir is raised to 152 ft, the area submerged by the reservoir will grow from the current 14.308 sq km to 25.527 sq km.

For every argument raised by Tamil Nadu in support of its claims, there is counter-argument in Kerala that appears equally plausible. Yet, each time the controversy gets embroiled in extraneous issues, two things stand out: One is Kerala's refusal to ack nowledge the genuine need of the farmers in the otherwise drought-prone regions of Tamil Nadu for the waters of the Mullaperiyar; the other is Tamil Nadu's refusal to see that it cannot rely on or continue to expect more and more from the resources of an other State to satisfy its own requirements to the detriment of the other State. A solution perhaps lies in acknowledging the two truths, but neither government can afford the political repercussions of such a confession.

After years of dalliance with technical committees, inconclusive talks, arguments and threats, Tamil Nadu and Kerala now seem reconciled to leave the burden of an inconvenient and volatile decision on the Supreme Court.

The 1971 watershed

From A Head, Through A Head, To a Head: The Secret Channel between the U.S. and China through Pakistan by F.S. Aijazuddin, Oxford University Press; pages 163, Rs.395.

NOW that Vedic astrology has become an approved subject for academic study in institutions of higher learning, one feels encouraged to reflect on the impact on world affairs of a singularly baleful configuration of the stars in the heavens in 1971. There was "too much turmoil under the heavens", Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai told Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, National Security Adviser to President Richard Nixon, when he arrived in Beijing on July 9, 1971 on a trip that could truly be called historic.

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Exactly a month later, on August 9, 1971, the Foreign Ministers of India and the Soviet Union, Swaran Singh and Andrei A. Gromyko, signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty. For two good reasons, it would be wrong to say that it paved the way for the India-Pakistan war. One was that the decision to march into the then East Pakistan was taken by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on April 6, 1971, less than a fortnight after the Pakistan army's brutal crackdown in the province on March 25. P.N. Dhar asserts that "it was o nly after Indira Gandhi visited the refugee camps in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura in the last week of May that she made up her mind on the Indian response to the crisis" (Indira Gandhi, the 'Emergency' and Indian Democracy, OUP; 2000; pag e 156. (emphasis added, throughout).

This is belied by a mass of material cited earlier (vide the writer's article "The Making of Bangladesh", Frontline; January 10, 1997). To wit, the account of Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacob, Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command, Calcutta, of a call from t he Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Sam Manekshaw, about a call in "early April" telling him that "the Government wants the Army to move into Bangladesh", and Manekshaw's repeated claims that he was summoned before the Cabinet soon after the crackdown, and asked whether he could march in. The first such assertion was made by him in Mumbai on November 16, 1977 (vide Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation by Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacob; Manohar, 1977; pages 35-36). The Deputy Director of Military Operations at Army Headquarters in New Delhi, Major-Gen. Sukhwant Singh, revealed in his candid work The Liberation of Bangladesh (Vikas, 1980, page 35) that "the Army was asked to take over the guidance of all aspects of guerilla warfare on April 30".

The Central Intelligence Agency came to know of it instantly. Henry A. Brandon of The Sunday Times, who was close to Kissinger, wrote in his book The Retreat of American Power (Doubleday, 1973; page 254) that "the Indian Cabinet on April 28 had secretly decided to prepare for the possibility of war". An omission in my earlier article is being repaired here. A.K. Ray, then Joint Secretary (Pakistan) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), from December 1969 to May 1971 and Joint Secretar y, MEA Branch Sect. in Calcutta from May 1971 and Joint Secretary, MEA Branch Sect. in Calcutta from May 1971 to February 1972, disclosed in an article: "She had actually made the commitment on April 6" (Indian Express, Dece-mber 19, 1996). The of ficial history of the Bangladesh war, laced reportedly with fable and fiction, has been put in deep freeze. It cries to be leaked.

Less known is the second reason why the Treaty did not lead to war. India had sought it to warn China against intervening in the war to come. The Soviets intended to use it to restrain India (Tad Szulc's report in The New York Times, August 10). David Bonavia of The Times (London) reported on the same lines.

Pakistan was not unduly alarmed, as is evident from the minutes of a meeting of its Ambassadors held in Geneva on August 24-25, 1971. The texts were published in Samar Sen's weekly Frontier (October 13, 1971). Sultan Mohammed Khan, the Foreign Secretary, who presided, mentioned a letter which Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin wrote, on August 17, a week after the Treaty was signed, "promising Russia's continued desire to help Pa kistan". Pravda and Izvestia continued to balance reports from New Delhi and Islamabad until Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's visit to Moscow, in late September, when she brought about what Andrei Fontaine of Le Monde called "the Great Switch ". Moscow abandoned the fence (vide the writer's book Brezhnev Plan for Asian Security; Jaico, 1975; Chapter 8 on the Indo-Soviet Treaty and the Brezhnev Plan). Not much revelatory material has appeared in India since. What has appeared elsewhere proves what the discerning understood even then - China had neither the desire nor the capacity to intervene. It did not support Pakistan's policy in East Pakistan. It was caught in the coils of the Cultural Revolution and faced a hostile Soviet Union.

First came Sultan M. Khan's memoirs Memories & Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat (The London Centre for Pakistan Studies; 1997), a mini-classic on diplomacy. On his return from Beijing, Kissinger told his Pakistani hosts that "the Chinese had sa id that they would intervene with men and arms if India moved against Pakistan". Far from being taken in, the astute diplomat Sultan Khan accurately assessed it to be "a mis-interpretation of the actual language used by Zhou Enlai". All that he ha d said was that "in case India invaded Pakistan, China would not be an idle spectator but would support Pakistan". As he perceptively noted, "support can take many forms... In the context in which Premier Zhou Enlai spoke, there could be no question of s upport taking the form of armed intervention." He had met Zhou in April and records: "China never, during these or subsequent talks, held out any possibility of coming to Pakistan's aid with her armed forces" (pages 307-8).

Kissinger did worse than misinterpret. The disgraceful role he was later to play emerged in The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top Secret Talks with Beijing and Moscow edited by William Burr (The New Press, New York; pages 515, $30). It contained reco rds of Kissinger's talks with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Leonid Brezhnev, Andrei Gromyko and others, thanks to skilful recourse to the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive. It is a public interest research library at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., a Project of the Fund for Peace. It has the largest private collection of declassified national security information outside the government and serves citizens by obtaining and disseminating government records for an info rmed public debate on defence and foreign affairs.

The publisher, The New Press, is a non-profit alternative to the big commercial publishing houses which dominate the book publishing world. It operates in the public interest. William Burr, the editor, is a senior analyst at the archive and the director of its nuclear documentation project. This is a work of scholarship, as the introduction to the book and the introduction to each chapter and the annotations reveal.

Anyone can rummage through the archives and publish a collection of documents with little or no annotation as the Pakistani civil servant Roedad Khan did (The American Papers, Oxford University Press, 1999).

William Burr is a scholar who, having mastered the published record, is able to put the discovered archival material in context with the help of copious notes and incisive analyses. In particular, he nails to the counter the many false claims Kissinger m ade in his memoirs. One memorandum of conversation which he reproduces records Kissinger's talk with China's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Huang Hua, on December 10, 1971, in a CIA safe house in New York, a week after the war had broken out. Kissinger informed him: "We are moving a number of naval ships in the West Pacific towards the Indian Ocean: an aircraft carrier accompanied by four destroyers and a tanker, and a helicopter carrier and two destroyers... They (the Soviet fleet in t he Indian Ocean) are no match for the U.S. ships (showing Ambassador Huang the map)."

What he proceeded to add was unknown until the publication of Burr's work: "The President wants you to know that... if the People's Republic were to consider the situation on the Indian sub-continent a threat to its security, and if it took measures to p rotect its security, the U.S. would oppose efforts of others to interfere with the People's Republic." Shorn of diplomatic jargon, he offered that if China decided to intervene militarily, the U.S. would take care of any attack by "others" (read: the Sov iet Union) on China. This was said fairly early in a talk which lasted an hour and 50 minutes. Towards the end, Kissinger discarded diplomatic language: "When I asked for this meeting, I did so to suggest Chinese military help, to be quite honest. That's what I had in mind, not to discuss with you how to defeat Pakistan. I didn't want to find a way out of it, but I did it in an indirect way" (pages 52-55).

AIJAZUDDIN is a chartered accountant by profession and a successful businessman. He has written extensively on painting and aspects of Lahore's history. Ali Yahya Khan gave him access to the file his father, President A.M. Yahya Khan, had maintained on t he secret contacts the U.S. made with China since 1969 with Pakistan as the intermediary. Those exchanges prepared the ground for Kissinger's visit in July 1971. "The core of this book consists of forty-nine secret documents from a file marked 'The Chine se Connection' assembled and maintained personally by the late President Yahya Khan of Pakistan. The documents cover the period 15 October 1969 to 7 August 1971, and include the messages sent by President Nixon and Dr. Henry Kissinger to Premier Zhou Enl ai through President Yahya, and vice versa."

Aijazuddin provides competent annotations. He has read widely and laboured hard. As well as the Yahya Papers, he has drawn on four documents from the National Security Archive - memorandums of conversations of Nixon and Kissinger's talks in Beijing, on F ebruary 22, 23, 24 and 28, 1972, and Kissinger's Report to Nixon on July 17, 1971 on his first visit to Beijing. This volume adds significantly to the literature on that crucial phase of history.

However, in order to make his resume interesting, Aijazuddin lapses into trivia. Worse, he misses significant bits of the document he has read; in the memorandums of conversations of December 10, 1971 for instance. He does not quote the excerpts, quoted above, in which Kissinger egged on China to attack India.

For Pakistan it was no small diplomatic achievement. "The first formal contact initiated by President Nixon, it will be recalled, occurred during his meeting with President Yahya Khan in August 1969 at Lahore, Pakistan. The first document in Yahya Khan's file is a message three months later, dated 10 October 1969, sent to President Yahya Khan by Major-General Sher Ali Khan Pataudi, then his Minister for Information and Broadcasting." It served as courier for nearly two years without breach of secrecy. O n one occasion, which Aijazuddin omits to mention, China's patience snapped. It threatened to break off the exchange if Kissinger was so coy about an open visit. Sultan Khan did not transmit that message. Instead, he mollified the Chinese Ambassador.

Aijazuddin renders a service by reproducing the texts of the messages exchanged. During Kissinger's second visit to Beijing in October 1971, "Chou surely recognised from my presentation that we have too great stakes in India to allow us to gang up on eit her side. Nevertheless he did not attempt in any way to contrast their stand with ours as demonstrating greater support for our common friend, Pakistan." Kissinger himself did not wish to intervene militarily, either. "In turn I made it clear that while we were under no illusions about Indian machinations and were giving Pakistan extensive assistance, we could not line up on either side of the dispute."

Pakistan was keenly aware of the dividends its efforts would yield. Its Ambassador to the U.S., Agha Hilaly, wrote to Yahya Khan on April 28, 1971: "So far as we are concerned, we will be placing Nixon under an obligation to us at this particularly delic ate moment in our national life when he is (the) highest dignitary in this country insisting on pressure not (repeat, not) being put on (the) Yahya regime in regard to (the) East Pakistan situation."

In his memoirs Kissinger claims that he told Indira Gandhi in New Delhi on July 7, 1971: "We would continue to oppose unprovoked military pressure by any nuclear power, as enunciated in the Nixon Doctrine." Aijazuddin reveals what he told his friends in Pakistan thereafter. "His views were summarised, probably by Sultan Khan, in a handwritten note on paper headed 'Govern-ment House, Nathia Gali', initialled and dated (9/7 July): Dr. Kissinger has stated that in Delhi he found a mood of bitterness, hosti lity and hawkishness, and he came away with an impression that India was likely to start a war against Pakistan. United States has conveyed a strong warning to India against starting hostilities but she may not pay heed, thinking that present hostile att itude of press and Senate against Pakistan offers her a good opportunity."

This writer would like to share with the readers a memorandum of conversation between Kissinger, on the one hand, and P.N. Haksar, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and Vikram A. Sarabhai, Chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, on the othe r. No one else, from either the MEA or the U.S. Embassy, was present. The memorandum was meticulously prepared by Winston Lord, a member of the National Security Council staff. It was an informal discussion for an hour and 40 minutes over luncheon at the Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi, on July 7, 1971. The writer is indebted to the National Security Archive for a copy of this document.

Kissinger disclosed: "We are just at the beginning of a meaningful dialogue with the Chinese... Over the coming months the U.S. might be able to make some significant starts in its relations with the Chinese, although we had no illusions about our differ ences." Short of telling his hosts that he would be in Beijing two days later, Kissinger revealed enough for New Delhi not to be too surprised when that historic trip was made known to the wide world on July 15.

In this context, what Kissinger said on India merits quotation in extenso: "Dr. Kissinger said that under any conceivable circumstances the U.S. would back India against any Chinese pressures. In any dialogue with China, we would, of course, no t encourage her against India. The U.S. knew that foreign domination of India would be a disaster. It was for a strong, independent India which would make for stability in the region. From what we knew, this was the Soviet aim as well, and we did not believe that the U.S. and Soviets had any conflicting interests in India. India was a potential world power. Our priorities would reflect these facts."

He added: "The U.S. hoped to use its influence with Pakistan, rather than cutting off all influence, and move it toward the type of political evolution in East Pakistan that we believe India wanted also."

Shortly after his return from Beijing, on July 16 Kissinger summoned India's Ambassador L.K. Jha to San Clemente to say that the assurance he gave in New Delhi would not apply in the event of China's intervention in an India-Pakistan war. During the war, he encouraged China to do just that.

Nor was Haksar any the more candid, when, agreeing with Kissinger, he said it was in India's interests to see Pakistan stronger. Winston Lord was quick to ask whether that covered both its wings: "Mr. Haksar confirmed that he meant East Pakistan a s well as West Pakistan." He knew, of course, that the Prime Minister had decided on war in April. It is about time India began publishing the records of 1971, if only to educate the astrologers, now in high favour, that the events of that year owed more to human folly and worse than to the stars.

Caution on two contraceptives

Women's groups and activists warn that two injectable contraceptives that will possibly be included in the national family planning programme may not be completely safe.

FEARS about the inclusion of certain injectable contraceptives in the national family planning programme have been raised yet again following the Supreme Court's ruling on August 24 in a case filed by Stree Shakti Sanghatana, Saheli and others in 1986 pl eading for a stay on the Phase 1V clinical trials of Net-en (Norethisterone Enanthanate) and its entry into the programme. Without making a direct reference to a case filed in 1993 against hazardous drugs by the Drug Action Forum, the court assured women 's organisations and health activists that neither Net-en nor Depo-Provera (Depo Medroxy Progesterone Acetate), another contraceptive against which a case is pending in court, be permitted for mass use for now. During hearings, the court had asked the Dr ug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) to examine its sub-committee's August 1995 recommendations that "the use of Depo-Provera should be restricted to women who would be aware of all the implications of its use".

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While the report pertaining to Depo-Provera was reproduced in the affidavit filed by the government this year, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare proposed to include Net-en in the family planning programme even in places where facilities for follow-up and counselling were not available. Women's and health groups fear that both the injectables would come to be used even in places where the infrastructure does not exist.

Depo-Provera and Net-en, both synthetic derivatives of progesterone, suppress ovulation, make cervical mucous inhospitable to sperm and make the lining of the uterus unsuitable for implantation. Depo-Provera is a three-monthly injectable developed by Upj ohn of the United States, while Net-En is a product of Schering AG of Germany.

What has raised the hackles of women's groups and health activists is the manner in which Depo-Provera found its way into the Indian market in 1994 without the mandatory Phase III trials. It was sold across the counter against a medical prescription. Acc ording to Schedule Y of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, "if the drug is already approved and marketed, Phase III trials as required under item 7 of Appendix I are usually required". Since Depo-Provera was already approved in the United States, what remained was the Phase III trials. Item 7 on Appendix I, which is about confirmatory trials, states: "The purpose of these trials is to obtain sufficient evidence about the efficacy and safety of the drug in a larger number of patients generally in comparison wi th a standard drug or a placebo. These trials may be carried out by clinicians in the therapeutic areas concerned, having facilities appropriate to the protocol. If the drug is already approved/marketed in other countries, Phase III data should generally be obtained on at least 100 patients distributed over three or four centres primarily to confirm the efficacy and safety of the drug in Indian patients when used as recommended in the product monograph for the claims made."

Dr. C. Sathyamala, an epidemiologist trained at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says the Drugs Controller of India made post-marketing surveillance (PMS) conditional for the sale of Depo-Provera, thereby substituting Phase III trials. In her book An Epidemiological Review of the Injectable Contraceptive Depo-Provera, published by Medico Friends Circle and Forum For Women's Health, she points out that Upjohn used Chiang Mai, a remote rural area in Thailand, as its "testing grou nd" for Depo-Provera. Sathyamala feels that the unlettered women of Chiang Mai were perhaps not informed that they were taking part in clinical trials and that no protection, legal or otherwise, would have been given to them. It is felt that similar tact ics may have been deployed in the PMS conducted between June 1994 and December 1997 among Indian women by Professor Rustom P. Soonawala, obstetrician and gynaecologist and Consultant. The PMS study covering 1,079 women was conducted at 10 centres to obse rve the side-effects and acceptability of Depo-Provera 150 mg. A report submitted in 1999 concluded that no failure of contraception was reported during the survey and no drug-related adversity was found. It said that, "neither pregnancies nor deaths wer e reported during the study" and that "the results indicate that Depo-Provera 150 mg is a safe and effective contraceptive, and that sufficient pre-treatment counselling on the expected hormonal effects would greatly increase the acceptability of this me thod of contraception." Interestingly, two of the three authors of the report are from Pharmacia and Upjohn.

During the course of the study, some women were reported to have discontinued the contraceptive. The reasons attributed for this were "non-serious medical events", which, interestingly, included irregular bleeding, in some cases heavy, amenorrhea (absenc e of menstruation), urinary tract infection, abdominal pain, bloating abdomen, post-coital bleeding, weight gain, abdominal cramps and even viral hepatitis. Women's and health groups were disturbed by the conclusion that was reached that the symptoms wer e non-serious.

In fact, at a workshop convened by the Institute for Research in Reproduction in Mumbai in December 1998 to review the status of the available injectable contraceptives in the Asian region vis-a-vis India and to discuss the inclusion or otherwise of such contraceptives in the national family planning programme, the consensus was that the injectables had side-effects.

Women's and health groups cautioned the government against their inclusion in any form in the family planning programme. Concerned about the "deliberate misrepresentation of information", they urged the government to disallow the use of such hazardous dr ugs as the existing health infrastructure was not capable of providing the necessary follow-up for such long-acting contraceptives. Further, the non-accountability of pharmaceutical companies, coupled with evidence to the contrary about their efficacy, t hey said, provided the grounds for a ban on all injectables.

Interestingly, Depo-Provera is more commonly used in developing countries. In developed countries it is not an item of "popular choice".

ORIGINALLY introduced in 1967, Depo-Provera was publicised in India in 1994 by a leading advertising group, which proclaimed it to be the world's most widely used and widely available and largest used preparation of its kind, and that it had been success fully used by over 30 million women in 90-odd countries. Sathyamala says that, even if one concedes that Depo-Provera is the "largest used" preparation, its overall use is low and that except in South Africa it does not appear to be an important contrace ptive of choice even in countries with no restriction on its use. There is a stark difference in the share of injectables used among the black and white populations of South Africa. Some 41 per cent of the contraceptive users preferred injectables. A bre ak-up of this figure revealed that persons using injectables constituted only 3 per cent of the 79 per cent of white women, who used modern methods, while users of injectables formed 27 per cent of the 49 per cent of the black women who used modern metho ds. Quoting various studies and papers, Sathyamala writes that in developed countries, where Depo-Provera is registered as a drug, it is prescribed primarily to mentally challenged women, women with a problem of drug addiction, indigenous populations suc h as native Americans in the U.S. and Maoris in New Zealand, sexually active adolescents, coloured women and women from low-income groups.

According to Sathyamala, Depo-Provera is a long-term, systemic, invasive contraceptive, which acts at multiple levels. Its potency and the ease with which it can be used have been cited as reasons for its promotion in sections with high birth rates and l ow "motivation" levels. By not taking the women's experience seriously, it is more than likely that important morbidities are being left out, she argues. When a woman reports a symptom while being on Depo-Provera, the general tendency seems to be to "rea ssure" her that the reported symptom is not associated with the use of the contraceptive.

Women's groups, such as the All India Democratic Women's Association, Sama and Jagori, and health forums such as the Medico Friends Circle and the Forum for Women's Health, maintain that Depo-Provera has been indicted for causing a climacteric-like syndr ome (premature menopause), irreversible atrophy of the ovaries and endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) leading to sterility, deaths due to spontaneous formation of clots inside blood vessels (thrombo-embolism), a 10-fold increase in the birth of Dow n's Syndrome babies and increased infant deaths. There are heightened chances of breast and cervical cancer as well. Activists of the organisation have accused Upjohn of suppressing and/or underplaying the life-threatening implications of the injectables and in the process misleading the medical community as well as the Drugs Controller of India. Studies on Depo-Provera have been funded by Upjohn or directly carried out by its bio-statistical division. The dissenting groups feel that given the large bod y of scientific information on the injectable, the conduct of another study that was part of a PMS was nothing but an attempt to mislead and misinform the authorities.

The introduction of the injectables cannot be seen in isolation of the government's population policy. The activists argue that while the National Democratic Alliance government appears to have given up coercive methods of population control, State gover nments were doing exactly the opposite. While a Bill to debar people with more than two children from contesting elections was still on the national agenda, Haryana and Delhi have passed a legislation debarring persons with more than two children from co ntesting the local body elections. In Maharashtra, the third child is excluded from the benefit of the Public Distribution System. In Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the disincentives include the denial of access to government schemes.

Evidently, these disincentives could push women and their families into accepting what they perceive as safe and long-acting contraceptive methods. Women's groups are not against family planning and contraception, but they oppose the easy access to injec table-type contraceptives in the name of choice, while the truth is that for the majority of Indian women, informed choice about anything, leave alone contraceptives, is a chimera.

Thrust on biotechnology

Tamil Nadu unveils a comprehensive biotechnology policy in order to take advantage of the emerging industrial activity in this sector.

WITH 5,000 species of flowering plants, 22,500 sq km of forest cover and a coastline of 1,000 km, Tamil Nadu is exceptionally rich in biodiversity. This kind of wealth, rarely occurring in a State, needs to be put to sustainable use, especially since the market for biotechnology products in the country is expected to double to Rs.15,000 crores in the next five years. By putting in place an exhaustive biotechnology policy, Tamil Nadu has become one of the first States to take advantage of this anticipate d growth. The landmark policy, which provides a comprehensive scientific plan to put to use the State's natural resources to promote the biotechnology industry, was unveiled by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on September 12.

The policy comes with a firm commitment by the State government on financial and procedural matters in order to enable its speedy implementation. Karunanidhi said: "The idea is to provide a policy framework as well as suitable implementation structures t o convert the bioresources of the State into economic wealth in ecologically and socially sustainable manner." He said that the growing demand for biotechnology products and the State's potential to tap the market for them had encouraged the government t o announce the policy. The policy, based on the recommendations of a committee appointed by the government under the chairmanship of the agricultural scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, focusses on product development in the four segments of technology - med icine, agriculture, environment and industry.

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The State's biotechnology enterprise would involve

* the setting up of a biotechnology incubator park near Chennai to develop and commercialise products and patents;

* the establishment of a medicinal plants park near Madurai to focus on sourcing raw materials in a sustainable manner and offer value addition to scientifically tested herbal and traditional medicines;

* continuing government's support to the women's biotechnology park at Kelambakkam, near Chennai, which would concentrate on microenterprise and traditional biotechnology products;

* the starting of a marine park at Mandapam in Ramanathapuram district to devise ecologically sustainable methods to conserve sea weeds and plankton; and

* the opening of a Bioinformatics and Genomics Centre at the Tidel Park in Chennai in order to exploit the germplasm base and the vast pool of talented bioinformatics scientists and low-cost software skills in the State.

Tamil Nadu is committed to encouraging biotechnology entities, consisting of research organisations, service providers, knowledge workers and companies, which will commercialise the new products and processes, and to creating a network to facilitate the transfer of information and knowledge among the various entities.

According to the policy document, schemes are being worked out to protect and develop various biosphere reserves, such as the Gulf of Mannar off Rameswaram, the Pichavaram mangroves in Nagapattinam district and Muthupettai in Tiruvarur district. The Glob al Environment Facility has announced an assistance of $7.85 million to protect the Gulf of Mannar.

Industrial activity has so far been confined largely to first generation biotechnology enterprises such as fermentation of antibiotics. To broaden the industrial base, a large number of plant tissue culture units are being set up, besides promoting the p roduction of food and industrial enzymes, classical fermentation products (antibiotics and immuno-modulators), bioenergy and bio- polymers, and other such activities.

According to the policy document, all efforts are directed towards the creation of a critical mass of industrial activity in biotechnology. A two-pronged strategy would be evolved to encourage modern processes in the areas of agriculture, industry, and m edical and veterinary sciences at the same time focussing on traditional biotechnology products, especially industrial and food enzymes. There is also a move to encourage commercial enterprises to develop recombinant DNA(deoxyribonucleic acid)-based prod ucts and bioinformatics.

In the field of medical biotechnology (the State accounts for 11 per cent of the market in the country), the focus is on such areas as diagnostics, vaccines (Hepatitis-C and malaria), therapeutics (Interferon and insulin) and veterinary drugs. In the fie ld of agriculture, the government would work with the germplasm data available with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation to develop biopesticides and biofertilizers, natural health care products, animal feed , transgenics and diagnostics. The government would also facilitate the creation of quarantine facilities and sanitary/phytosanitary measures as per the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements for biological items.

The thrust areas in environmental biotechnology products would be those concerning leather and textiles. The idea is to develop apparatus/techniques for biosensors, microbial strain development of cultures for waste management (bioremediation), and so on .

The State government has made a commitment to set up a Rs. 30-crore venture fund to provide the single-window clearance facility to obtain clearances from the various Central government agencies, such as the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, the Instit utional Biosafety Committee, the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, to establish biotechnology enterprises. The policy document promises the creation of a Biotechnology Board, under the chairmanship o f an expert, and consisting of senior government officials, scientists and industrialists. The Board will form standing advisory committees to identify and attract investments, mobilise resources, and work out guidelines and set up a regulatory framework for the use of bioresources.

According to R. Gopalan, Chairman and Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO), the government is gearing up to take full advantage of the biotechnology boom. He says the State has a crucial role to play in entrepren eur education, infrastructure support, human resource development and resource mobilisation, and that the State is concentrating on all these areas.

In order to develop human resources, the government will introduce technology-oriented courses in all State-funded educational institutions and provide infrastructural facilities to set up bioinformatics centres at Anna University and Madurai Kamaraj Uni versity. The government, according to Gopalan, will assist in the commercial and legal aspects of setting up ventures and help enterprises meet intellectual property regulations.

According to State Industries Secretary Sakthikanta Das, the incubator park, a commercial venture, is a collaborative effort involving TIDCO and some American universities. The park is to be developed in two-phases. In the first phase, a 65-acre (26-hect are) park at a cost of Rs.40 crores (excluding the land cost) would come up at Chennai in seven months. This would be followed by a $100-million facility at Siruseri near Chennai on a 100-acre (40-hectare) plot to start joint ventures.

According to Nobel laureate Dr. Ronnie Coffman of Cornell University, who participated in a video conference during the policy announcement function, "Biotechnology can be very effective in mitigating hunger and poverty around the world. However, it is i mportant not only to focus on cutting-edge technologies but also concentrate on areas that would help poor farmers."

The policy document expresses these concerns while discussing micro-enterprises and traditional biotechnologies. According to Dr. Swaminathan, these concerns, along with the idea of training and transforming agricultural extension workers into knowledge workers to assist farmers (spelt out by Karunanidhi in his Budget speech for 2000-2001) are appropriate and would go a long way in helping poor farmers. Dr. Swaminathan says: "This is relevant for propagating such concepts as precision farming that would reduce cost and enhance farm incomes."

The Biotechnology Policy document is scientifically based and comprehensive, and if implemented would put Tamil Nadu at the head of the Biotechnology Revolution. And, as Karunanidhi stated, "the State would find a place on the biotechnology map of the co untry, and indeed of the world".

DTH and some issues

The guidelines for direct-to-home broadcasts dilute the anti-monopoly restrictions on cross-media and intra-media holdings as envisaged by the Broadcast Bill that lapsed in 1997.

MUCH of the growth of the electronic media in India over the last decade occurred in a regulatory vacuum. With the government's broadcasting monopoly in headlong retreat against the insurgent entry of cable television, the only significant assertion of r egulatory authority came in late-1996, when direct-to-home (or DTH) broadcasts on the Ku-Band were firmly prohibited.

Following the recommendations of a Group of Ministers (GoM), the Union Cabinet in October decided that the ban had outlived its usefulness. DTH broadcasting has been opened up with immediate effect to all entrants who can demonstrate the necessary resour ces to qualify for a licence. The 1996 ban was decreed as a direct response to the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star TV network's effort to work its way through a lacuna in the regulatory framework and start DTH broadcasts in India. It was rightly perceived that Murdoch was attempting to run away with the ball and disrupt the entire process of framing a comprehensive law for the broadcast sector. The Union Cabinet's decision on November 2 to revoke the ban on DTH, though, is not quite so clear in its intentions , since a comprehensive broadcasting law - subsumed under the new technological mantra of "convergence" - is believed to be imminent.

Sources in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting reject the notion that undue haste may have been shown in opening up the DTH sector. A senior official told Frontline that the decision was pending for long. And though the Broadcast Bill or Convergence Bill is likely to be passed into law within the next year, there was no need to hold DTH broadcasting hostage to the more complex process involved in formulating a comprehensive law.

The difficulties inherent in this attitude were pointed out by S. Jaipal Reddy, Congress(I) member of the Lok Sabha and former Minister for Information and Broadcasting. He argues that the guidelines issued by the government now constitute only a framewo rk for investment, not a policy. And one of the principal deficiencies of the prevalent situation is the absence of an autonomous licensing and regulatory authority. The government today is caught up in a situation rife with the potential for conflict of interest. Till a statutory broadcasting (or convergence) authority is set up with the requisite autonomy, the government would have to function as a licensing authority, in addition to being a broadcaster and a content provider. Experience from the tele com sector, Jaipal Reddy suggests, indicates that this does not make for a very smooth execution of policy.

In its specific provisions, the DTH guidelines that have been issued by the Ministry dilute some of the restrictions on cross-media and intra-media holdings that were conceived in the Broadcast Bill presented to Parliament in 1997. That Bill was referred to a Select Committee and only lapsed when the Lok Sabha was prematurely dissolved in December 1997. But clearly, in diluting the anti-monopoly spirit of the 1997 Bill the government today seems to have accorded higher priority to the pragmatic consider ation of attracting investment into the DTH sector. Information and Broadcasting Ministry officials say that DTH involves substantial volumes of investment which may not be within the reach of many companies. To impose a larger number of restraints in th e very beginning would only hobble the potential of the policy from the moment of its introduction.

Under the 1997 proposals, a satellite television broadcaster would not be entitled to bid for a DTH licence. Neither would a cable networking company be allowed entry into DTH or satellite television broadcasting. The policy now announced removes these b road restrictions, but holds down to 20 per cent the equity stake that a broadcast or networking company can have in a DTH entity.

Certain critics feel that this is not sufficient protection against monopolistic tendencies. The satellite TV broadcaster Zee Telefilms, for instance, has a substantial interest in the networking company Siticable. Under the 1997 proposals it would have been obliged to retrench its interests in one of the two enterprises. But the new DTH guidelines would not only enable it to retain its position in these two segments, but also enter DTH broadcasting.

Cross-media holdings constitute another area of concern. The 1997 Bill had laid down clear restrictions in this respect. A print media enterprise could not hold a stake in excess of 20 per cent in a company with a broadcasting licence. Nor could a broadc aster hold more than 20 per cent stake in a newspaper publishing company. The DTH guidelines now remove this category of restraints in their entirety.

The dilution of the anti-monopoly spirit of the earlier bill is, by all accounts, contrary to the ongoing deliberations of the advisory group on convergence law. In an interim report submitted earlier this year, the group on convergence had affirmed that the constitutional provisions on freedom of expression demanded that transmission media and content provision be treated separately. This led the group to advocate a "horizontal" form of regulation that would ensure that there would be no overlapping co mmercial interests at successive stages in the transmission of content to the audience. This notion of regulation was inherent in the 1997 Broadcast Bill, as typified by its restrictions on intra-media holdings.

A "vertical" notion of regulation was also similarly at work in the 1997 Bill, as embodied in its restrictions on cross-media holdings. The DTH rules now issued effectively blur the lines of both these categories of regulatory measures.

For the rest, the new guidelines stipulate that a DTH licensee should be an Indian company registered under the Companies Act and that the total foreign investment in it, inclusive of both debt and equity, cannot be more than 49 per cent. The equity comp onent itself would be limited to 20 per cent. Management control would be exercised by a board with a majority of representation being Indian. The chief executive too would necessarily have to be a resident Indian citizen. Though the broadcaster would be free to use a satellite of his choice, proposals involving the use of Indian satellite capacity would be given preference in the grant of licences.

An entry fee of Rs.10 crores would be paid by the licensee, who would then be liable to pay as annual fee to the Government 10 per cent of the total revenues earned. In contrast with the earlier ambiguity about satellite uplinking, the DTH guidelines obl ige the broadcaster to establish an earth station inside the country within a year of obtaining a licence.

The global audience for DTH services is today estimated at no more than 30 million. An assessment made by the I&B Ministry indicates that the audience within India could perhaps grow to about five million within five years of the start of DTH broadcasts. This leaves the core interests of the cable television segment relatively unharmed.

There have been proposals from advocates of the educational media that DTH could be used to ensure community television access in remote and rural areas. Despite the higher costs, they argue that the large bandwidth offered by DTH would enable the transm ission of much useful content to otherwise inaccessible areas. Admittedly though, this would require a degree of commitment from the regulatory authority to ensure that the appropriate kind of content is transmitted. Under the DTH guidelines, there are n o such stipulations, except the broad requirement that the broadcaster should conform to the programme code and advertisement code laid down by the I&B Ministry.

Licensees are obliged under the guidelines to provide access to various content providers and channels without discrimination. But with the overlapping of interests between satellite channels and DTH broadcasters, it is not clear how this clause will be enforced. Hardware could constitute another technique of curtailing access. The I&B Ministry proposes to discourage the use of proprietary hardware which would lock a subscriber into a narrow range of options, in favour of open architecture hardware whic h would allow him or her wide access. This would of course require the evolution of appropriate standards by the DTH service providers, and their agreement on ensuring mutual compatibility over time.

'Devolution of power is crucial'

other

Interview with Professor I.S. Gulati, Vice-Chairperson, Kerala State Planning Board.

The Award of the Eleventh Finance Commission (EFC) has once again brought to the fore the issue of Centre-State financial relations. The issue of Centre-State relations is of course not confined to the question of finance. It is widely agreed that the qu asi-federal character of India's polity has eroded over the five decades since Independence, with the Union government having encroached upon the domains originally assigned exclusively to the States. Following the break-up of the monopoly of Congress ru le at the Centre and in the States in the post-1967 period, the entire gamut of issues pertaining to Centre-State relations has been almost constantly in the domain of political debate.

Both regional parties - such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh and the Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam - and the Left parties have consistently demanded greater devolution of powers to the States. While electoral and other political compulsions have often forced the regional parties into uneasy alliances with national parties, such as the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, wi th a strong bias towards centralisation muting their voices in favour of greater devolution, the Left parties have consistently championed the cause of devolution. At the same time, in the States where they have been in power, the Left parties have shown a greater commitment to devolution of power to elected local bodies than most other parties. An outstanding example in this context is Kerala. Not only has Kerala's current Left Democratic Front (LDF) government allocated 35 to 40 per cent of Plan funds to the local bodies, it has also tried a massive social experiment to promote people's participation in the formulation and implementation of Plans through the People's Plan campaign. In this process a key role has been played by the Kerala State Planning B oard. Professor I.S. Gulati, a distinguished economist, has been the Vice-Chairperson of the Board throughout the period of the conceptualisation and implementation of the People's Plan campaign. While being an ardent supporter of devolution of po wers to local bodies, Professor Gulati has also been consistently critical of the Centre's encroachment on the limited financial and other powers of the States. In an interview he gave Dr. Venkatesh Athreya in Thiruvananthapuram in the third week of October, Professor Gulati shares his views on some aspects of the EFC Award and certain dimensions of fiscal policy. Excerpts:

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Your longstanding interest in and contributions to the field of federal finance are well known to both academics and policy-makers. You were a member of the Sixth Finance Commission and have authored several works on Centre-State financial relations. Is your interest in federal finance directly related to your current responsibility as the Vice-Chairperson of the Kerala State Planning Board?

I have been an academic for the greater part of my life. My interest in the subject of federal finance began much before I became a member of the Sixth Finance Commission and has continued thereafter. It is also true that, as Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board, I cannot keep away from issues of federal finance.

Central allocations to a State, whether by the Planning Commission or by the Finance Commission, virtually dictate the size of a State Plan. Of course, every State has to mobilise its own resources also for the purpose. However, the devolution from the C entre is crucial. This is why issues of federal finance are so critical to States.

Prof. Gulati, the report of the Eleventh Finance Commission (EFC) has attracted considerable comment and for the first time eight States, including Kerala, got together, and made a representation against the Award of the EFC and demanded major revisio ns in the Award. How would you respond to the argument that it was inappropriate on the part of the State governments to have acted collectively against the Award of a constitutionally mandated body? Further, how do you respond to the view that questioni ng the Finance Commission Award in the manner that eight States have done (by organising a conclave, and coming out jointly against the Award) amounts to a threat to the very institution of the Finance Commission?

You have really asked me more than one question, and I would like to respond to each, step by step.

I do not subscribe to the view that the Award of a constitutionally mandated body should not be subjected to critical examination. Nor do I accept the view that State governments coming together to make a representation is tantamount to questioning the i nstitution of the Finance Commission itself. I cannot think of any other course of action that aggrieved States could take except joining hands together to make an impact.

I am also surprised at people taking cover behind the constitutional mandate. Has anybody ever objected when people raised questions about certain judgments delivered by the High Courts and the Supreme Court, which are constitutionally mandated bodies? I s it not a fact that people have gone back to the courts for a review of their earlier judgments? I wish to make three points in this regard:

1. Everyone would agree that the Finance Commission is an essential part of the basic structure of federal finance as conceived in our Constitution. To ensure that the institution of the Finance Commission is not trifled with the way the Centre has been doing from time to time, be it in its composition or in fixing its terms of reference or formulating Action Taken Reports on the Award, the processes by which the Commission is set up, its Award examined and a final view taken need to be democratised. Th e States, which have their own constitutionally assigned domain in our quasi-federal set-up, need to be involved in these processes in a meaningful manner.

2. To create the impression that when States jointly or individually question an Award it amounts to questioning the very basic structure of federal finance is utter nonsense and amounts to panicking.

3. The suggestion that, instead of leaving everything to the sweet will and pleasure of the Central Ministries concerned, a procedure should be developed where the States are consulted, if necessary through the Inter-State Council (ISC), does not amount to threatening the institution as such, but it does question the prerogative that the Centre has arrogated to itself in the appointment of the Finance Commission and in fixing its terms of reference.

The additional terms of reference given to the EFC to formulate a fiscal reform programme that can be monitored disregards certain provisions of the Constitution, with regard to Article 275 on grants-in-aid to States in need of assistance.

Here I should also say (I have said this in my writings before) that it is necessary to go much beyond the Sarkaria Commission and lay down procedures for the composition of a Finance Commission. The procedures have to be such that the State governments are actively involved. A panel of names could be drawn up by experts in fields such as public finance, constitutional law and administrative systems, and then sent for discussion at the ISC for the submission of the final list to the President.

Given your interpretation on the State Governments getting together and asking for major revisions in the EFC Award, how do you react to the view that the Award of a Finance Commission is not to be tinkered with?

I am surprised at this question because it is well known that the Centre has often tinkered with the Award and even rejected some parts of an Award. Did not Pranab Mukherjee, as Finance Minister, reject that part of the Finance Commission Award recommend ing a special lumpsum allocation to West Bengal? No amount of protest from (West Bengal Chief Minister) Jyoti Basu could move Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The present government at the Centre has made a major change in the Tenth Finance Commission (TFC) Award, allocating to the States a share of the Centre's gross tax revenues. Instead, Yashwant Sinha has, in the name of consistency with other provisions of the Constitution, decided to do the allocation on the basis of the Centre's net tax revenues. It was only after very loud protests from several State governments that he agreed to compensate the States for any loss they would have to incur on account of the change. Those persons who object to States taking issue with a Finance Commission Award are deafeningly silent when the Centre tinkers with the Awards.

In an interview that Prof. A.M.Khusro, EFC Chairman, recently gave, his reaction to the representation of the States was almost dismissive. His response was that the EFC had to take note of both equity and efficiency criteria. How do you respond to th is?

I have known Prof. Khusro for 30 years. I cannot believe that he is capable of using intemperate words as reported in the media.

As for the claim of having taken note of both equity and efficiency criteria in deciding upon the Award, practically all the eight States, including Kerala, obviously felt strongly that their performance, not only in promoting economic growth but also in reducing the incidence of poverty had not been given due weightage by the EFC. It is very unfortunate that a wrong tradition has been set - of not throwing open to the public the various working papers of a Finance Commission. It is this total lack of t ransparency that creates a situation like the one we have been talking about.

Does the problem the eight aggrieved States face in terms of a lower share of allocation arise because of the reconciliation between the claims of equity and efficiency that the EFC might have made?

No one will fail to agree that both equity and efficiency have to be taken note of. At the same time, however, it has to be made sure that in giving relative weightage to these criteria, the Award does not end up being against both equity and efficiency.

Let us take Kerala's case. Our share of the total allocation under the Award is not only below what it was under the TFC's Award but also below our population share. How justified is this downgrading of Kerala? The State has achieved reasonably good econ omic growth in terms of State Domestic Product (SDP) and even in per capita terms. At the same time, the proportion of people below the poverty line (BPL) has come down significantly. It will not be incorrect to argue that the State has done well in term s of both equity and efficiency. Yet, because this very performance has led to a decline in the "distance" in terms of per capita SDP between Kerala and the State with the highest per capita SDP, the State is being penalised on grounds of "equity".

You illustrated how the Centre tinkered with the Tenth Finance Commission's Award by making net tax revenues (changing from gross to net tax revenue) as the basis to determine the share of States. Is your objection purely on formal grounds?

I also have a substantive reason for objecting to the use of net tax revenues as the base because netting creates a loophole for the Centre to manipulate things in such a way - say, for instance, raising surcharges and not tax rates - that the base remai ns low. I am also sure that the TFC must have had strong reasons for using gross tax revenues as the base.

In my lectures on tax policy, I used to tell my students how important it is to be aware of deductions and exemptions allowed in the computation of chargeable income or profits. We also know why the Union Finance Minister had to introduce the minimum tax provision when it was discovered that several leading companies hardly paid any profits tax by availing themselves of permissible deductions and exemptions. Recent reports from the United States also are that several leading corporates avoid payment of tax altogether or to a considerable extent, and it has become a subject of debate in the ongoing presidential race. I am surprised that the EFC stuck to using net central tax revenue as the base, although for overall total fiscal transfers to the State, even the EFC uses the gross tax and non-tax revenues of the Centre.

In an interview you gave Frontline at the time that the Structural Adjustment Programme was being introduced by the then minority Congress (I) government in 1991-92, you had objected to the obsession with fiscal deficit. Although this issue is not directly related to federal finance, it is nonetheless not entirely unrelated either, insofar as such an obsession paralyses the government and prevents it from providing the stimulus for expansion when needed. What is your view now, in the light of the experience of the Indian economy in the 1990s, on targeting the fiscal deficit?

I continue to believe that targeting fiscal deficit, that is government borrowing, is wrong economics forced on us by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank. I still am not convinced of the argument that government borrowing necessarily crowds out private borrowing. I am not aware of any research finding that has conclusively established this proposition, although government documentation continues to harp on it. A falsehood repeated several times does not become truth.

I recall that in my very first paper I pointed out the distinct possibility that in reducing fiscal deficit a government would tend to reduce sharply its capital account expenditure. In the process, it was natural that investment in infrastructure develo pment by the government would tend to suffer.

I am not against government borrowing as a resource to be tapped when necessary, nor am I worried about government debt or public debt increasing as a proportion of GDP. The important thing is that government borrowing should be for productive purposes, so that interest cost can be met from increased revenues. That is where fiscal responsibility should come in.

In the light of your response on targeting fiscal deficit, what is your view on the proposal to introduce a Fiscal Responsibility Act?

Not that I am not in favour of exercising fiscal responsibility in government spending, but I do not think that fiscal responsibility either begins or ends with keeping fiscal deficits low. Fiscal responsibility, incidentally, should also extend to reven ue mobilisation. Tax give-aways for the rich have led to a situation where the tax-GDP ratio of the Centre has been on the decline in the past 15 years.

A statesman and a visionary

V. SRIDHAR obituary
C. Subramaniam, 1910-2000.

C. SUBRAMANIAM - elder statesman and veteran politician who presided over key Ministries in New Delhi and in Tamil Nadu - passed away in Chennai on November 7. He was 90. A multi-faceted personality, a rarity in these days of specialisation, CS, as he wa s popularly known, is best-remembered as the man who provided the political leadership to the Green Revolution.

Born in a prominent family of farmers in 1910 in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, CS was a 22-year-old student when he was first imprisoned for participating in the freedom movement. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly which drafted the Constit ution, and was a member of the Provisional Parliament until 1952. His academic record reflected his multifaceted personality. Although at the graduation level he majored in physics, he subsequently secured a degree in law. He practised as a lawyer until he was drawn into the freedom struggle when it was at its peak in the early 1940s.

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CS joined the Cabinet of the then Madras State, headed by C. Rajagopalachari, in 1952 as Minister in charge of the important portfolios of Finance and Food. Later, he took charge of the portfolios of Education and Law. He became the president of the Tami l Nadu Congress Committee in 1967-68. In 1962, CS moved to New Delhi to become, first, the Union Minister for Steel (later the Ministry Steel, Mines and Heavy Engineering) under Jawaharlal Nehru.

Later, in 1964-65, he became the Union Minister for Food and Agriculture in the Cabinet headed by Lal Bahadur Shastri. The short span of three years, when he held charge of the Ministry, in his long life proved to be a most significant one. It was the pe riod when the threat of famine loomed over India, and the Indian people were said to be leading a "ship-to-mouth" existence. This was also a time when Indian agricultural scientists, most notably those under the leadership of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, were e xperimenting with the hybrid varieties of wheat, jowar and maize which promised a quantum jump in yields. Although science promised technical answers to the food problem, there was an urgent need for political leadership to implement such a programme. By all accounts, CS provided just that.

Dr. Swaminathan told Frontline that CS had an "enormous ability to absorb ideas, even from a child". More important, he is said to have had the ability to pick the best people for the job to be done. CS played a key role in enabling the speedy imp ort of the Mexican hybrid seeds. As Dr. Swaminathan recounts, CS ensured the implementation of the National Demonstration Programme in the 1964-65 rabi season. It was the most important "lab-to-land" project which ensured the success of the Green Revolut ion. Dr. Swaminathan says that for the first time, the experiments were conducted in plots belonging to poor farmers. Until then such experiments were confined to fields belonging to "progressive farmers, a euphemism for rich farmers". It is well known t hat CS played an important role in these efforts, despite opposition from the bureaucracy, particularly from within the Planning Commission.

CS provided the political leadership in the Ministry of Agriculture for the new technological package that promised a quantum jump in agricultural output and productivity. This package required a series of steps, going beyond the purely technical ones. I n the realm of technology, CS played a key role in redefining the role of agricultural research in not only the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, but also in the specialised agricultural universities.

The Green Revolution, essentially the modernising of agriculture, also envisaged a greater role for the markets. Markets for seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs quickly developed in the late 1960s. Institutional credit was also made available , especially to the "progressive" farmers. The Food Corporation of India (FCI), the National Seeds Corporation and credit disbursement arrangements were all initiated during this time. Obviously, if agriculture was to grow rapidly, arrangements had to be made also to make it a profitable activity, with remunerative prices. Thus, the Agricultural Prices Commission was established. The FCI was empowered to guarantee a minimum support price for the marketable surplus.

Indian agriculture thus underwent a qualitative change. It is one thing to comprehend these changes once they are history; it is another actually to experience them and play a role in shaping the way things unfold. CS played such a role. As a politician he spotted the winds of change. But more important, he acted. Dr. Swaminathan says that he brought a dynamism to the bureaucracy; he is credited with having brought some of the "best bureaucrats" into the Agriculture Ministry.

The ability to understand science - like Nehru, an appreciation of a scientific temper- was - and still is - not common among politicians in India. Dr. Swaminathan recalls that his own paper on reforms of the science administration in 1961 was appreciate d by CS, who circulated it among other Ministers. Indeed, much later, in 1998, as chairman of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, CS played a key role in organising a Science Summit "to use science to remove backwardness in people".

By the 1971 Lok Sabha elections, the Green Revolution had run long enough for the Congress, under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, to capture the imagination of the people with the slogan of "garibi hatao". Meanwhile, CS had moved on, to become Minister of Planning and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission (1971-72), which in those days enjoyed enormous prestige. Between 1972 and 1974 he was in charge of the Ministry of Science and Technology. Here he prepared a vision statement for Science and Tec hnology after holding wide-ranging consultations at several centres in the country.

His last ministerial tenure as a Congressman was between 1974 and 1977 when he held the Finance portfolio. He played a key role in presenting a paper on integrated rural development which led to the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP). In assoc iation with the eminent scientist, Y. Nayadumma, CS conducted one of the earliest attempts at natural resource mapping in Karimnagar district in Andhra Pradesh. This was one of the first attempts to address issues in rural development by harnessing remot e sensing technology from space science.

He stayed with the Congress until the end of the Emergency but later joined the short-lived Charan Singh Cabinet as Defence Minister in 1979-80. He served as Governor of Maharashtra between 1990 and 1993.

For 20 years after retiring from "active political service" CS remained an active public figure. He was chairman of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He also founded the National Foundation of India which aimed at addressing wide-ranging issues such as gender justice, regional imbalances and issues in information and communication technologies.

Awards and accolades came his way in plenty. The crown was obviously the Bharat Ratna, the highest national civilian honour, which he received in 1998. He was also the recipient of the U Thant Award and the Norman Borlaug Award (1996). He served on the b oard of governors of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and wrote several books in Tamil and English.

CS was well known for being a person who would not mince words in any situation. He was one of the rare politicians who was available to the media with forthright views on issues relating to political corruption. In fact, he quit his position as the Gove rnor of Maharashtra because of a controversy over remarks he is said to have made about the style of functioning of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

In 1989 he took on the Rajiv Gandhi government on the Bofors scandal when the Congress leadership tried to argue that V.P. Singh, as Finance Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet, was equally responsible for the howitzer deal. On Independence Day 1989, he wrote to the President asking for an enquiry since "grave lapses" in the Bofors deal had been "conclusively established". Although politicians usually do not criticise higher levels of expenditure on defence, CS, although himself a former Defence Minist er, argued that such expenditures are not only "unproductive" but are also likely to have a negative impact on the economy.

Until his death, CS maintained an austere lifestyle. As Governor of Maharashtra he is known to have discouraged ostentatious offical ceremonies, thereby encouraging ordinary folk to enter the Raj Bhavan in Mumbai without fear. He admitted that his patern al uncle, Chinnu, who joined the Ramakrishna Math order, played a key role in shaping his spiritual values.

Three months before his death, CS was at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, to release a souvenir on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. Dr. Swaminathan told Frontline that "although his health was failing, his mind was as acti ve as ever". Dr. Swaminathan, reminiscing about his five-decade long association with CS said: "He was a holistic person, what I would call a no-limit person."

The banker and the borrower

The 'stock-taking' exercise by the visiting President of the World Bank provides intimations of a course correction in the bank's lending priorities.

WORLD BANK President James D. Wolfensohn's eight-day visit to India in November reflected the eagerness of the Bank not to let its biggest customer slip out of its hands. After all, despite the Bank's best efforts, net lending to India is still negative (-$450 million ), and the Bank has undisbursed committed funds of $8.1 billion as on date. Yet Wolfensohn announced that the Bank would increase its annual lending to India by a billion dollars from next year.

At a press conference held in New Delhi towards the end of his visit, Wolfensohn was asked whether the Bank was veering away from funding projects in the social sector. He replied that the Bank was now looking at infrastructure projects - power, roads ( highways, feeder roads and rural roads), water (both drinking and irrigation) and communications. These are areas where perhaps the Bank finds an adequate level of comfort, which is generated by the conditionality of "milestone-based" reforms and restruc turing and enforcement of user-cost recovery.

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It is evident that the World Bank chief's visit was not a routine one. A somewhat chastened Wolfensohn admitted that loan utilisation in India was poor and that he had come to 'stock-take' as to why disbursements were not picking up. It would be naive t o assume that such concerns arise from the Bank's commitment to alleviate poverty. His platitudes about the importance of poverty reduction programmes in India notwithstanding, the stock-taking might start a course correction in the Bank's lending priori ties. The Bank's shifting priorities must have been aided not a little by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's risible efforts to present Wolfensohn with ridiculously low poverty figures.

Within the social sector, the Bank's emphasis seems to be shifting towards creating awareness about human immunodeficiency virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV-AIDS). The trend had started a few years ago and the current visit might just confir m it.

Of the total commitments of the Bank in India, 23 per cent each are for rural development and education and health, and 20 per cent for energy. In fact, the Annual Report of the Bank for 2000 reveals that its outlays for South Asia have declined from the 1998 levels for agriculture, education, population control, health and nutrition and social protection, whereas outlays for public sector management, telecommunications and transportation have increased. The combined IBRD (International Bank for Recons truction and Development) and IDA (International Development Agency) loans committed for India for 2000 total $1.8 billion. Gross disbursements during the year amounted to $1.7 million against a repayment of $1.5 billion. Interest paid by India to the Bank in 2000 was $647 million.

Wolfensohn told reporters that of the 79 projects funded by the Bank in India, progress in the case of 13 was unsatisfactory, but he said he was not contemplating their cancellation. The Bank, which used to adopt a top-down approach to most social secto r projects, has in recent times changed tack and now gets feedback from field-level non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Wolfensohn remarked that the Bank went through a learning process and came to the conclusion that those working with the project be neficiaries at the field level were likely to know how best to go about their work.

Wolfensohn was careful to woo the media with all the right sound bytes, although he did do some tough talking with some of the State politicians who lined up to solicit Bank funding for their respective States. A somewhat wistful Wolfensohn repeatedly po inted out that he was not the elected leader of any State in India, but that did not deter him from telling the various Chief Ministers he met as to how they should run their administration. A media kit prominently features fiscal and administrative gove rnance as one of the topics discussed by him with the Chief Ministers. He also acknowledged that he had discussed the fiscal deficit with the Union Finance Minister. He gave his usual homilies on the need to bring the deficit down by cutting subsidies. W olfensohn believes a lender is entitled to give detailed instructions to the borrower as to how to run his business.

Even as Chief Minister after Chief Minister rolled out the red carpet, Wolfensohn ruled out any direct lending to the State governments. He is reported to have advised Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to privatise the Maharashtra State Electr icity Board. That the MSEB is on the verge of collapse because of its commitments to the hugely expensive Dabhol power project promoted by Enron was glossed over, even as Wolfensohn lectured the State's officials on the only panacea that the Bank has for the ills of the State's power sector - privatise.

In Andhra Pradesh, an eager N. Chandrababu Naidu reiterated his reformist credentials and made a pitch for huge outlays for poverty alleviation initiatives, even as the Left parties staged a demonstration to protest against the Bank's interference in the State's internal affairs. During his press briefing in Delhi, Wolfensohn remarked that Chandrababu Naidu was a reformer all right but he was not the only one.

In Karnataka, S.M. Krishna flaunted his initiatives in tax administration to impress Wolfensohn into sanctioning the Rs.3,000-crore loan that the State has sought for its various projects.

Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel sought $1,800 million for various urban infrastructure, water supply and other programmes. In fact Wolfensohn is reported to have regretted the Bank's decision not to fund the Narmada Valley project.

In Uttar Pradesh, he reviewed the progress of the various Bank-funded projects and met the Chief Minister and officials. His visit to Rajasthan was prompted by tourist interests. He was accompanied by his wife Elaine throughout the tour.

AFTER his round of the States, Wolfensohn spent two hectic days in Delhi meeting the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, and the Cabinet Ministers for Power, Health and Education, apart from K.C.Pant, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. He is reported to have given a clean chit to the Finance Minister with regard to the sound economic fundamentals of the country and expressed satisfaction over the reforms now on track. He is learnt to have apprised the Prime Minister of his assessment of t he various States and discussed a range of issues, including infrastructure development and information technology and political matters with him.

The only concrete project that seems to have materialised during Wolfensohn's visit is the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with NIIT for funding student loans amounting to Rs.400 crores. The Bank's eagerness to provide the developed world with s killed software professionals they desperately need is evident. In the social sector, the Bank is keen to lend to programmes targeted at HIV/AIDS awareness. During his meeting with the Prime Minister, Wolfensohn is reported to have emphasised the need to raise HIV awareness. After all, HIV is no respecter of national boundaries.

Considering all the aspects, Indians cannot be blamed for reacting with cynicism, if not hostility, to the Bank functionaries' visits.

An alternative comfort mechanism

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SUDHA MAHALINGAM

AFTER tinkering with escrows and counter-guarantees for independent power producers (IPP) over a period of eight years, the Union government has finally realised the limitations and unsustainability of these comfort mechanisms. Union Power Minister Sures h Prabhu told Frontline that his Ministry had evolved an alternative mechanism, and he had discussed it at a meeting with the captains of financial institutions (F.Is) on November 15. The F.Is, he said, found the mechanism to be acceptable; he bel ieves that a solution has at last been found for speedy financial closure of IPPs.

The mechanism was put to test in Karnataka when, on October 15, a multipartite agreement was signed by four parties - the government of Karnataka, Karnataka Power Cor-poration Limited (KPCL), Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Lim-ited (KPTCL) and the Infrastructure Development and Finance Company (IDFC). The agreement is designed to provide a degree of comfort to the IDFC, which is to finance the 210-megawatt Unit 7 of the Raichur Thermal Power Station, put up by KPCL and whose power will be purc hased by the KPTCL. The mechanism provides certain safeguards to enable the IDFC to recover its dues from the KPCL in a time-bound manner while enabling the KPCL to realise its dues from the KPTCL for the sale of power. The agreement, which is a legally enforceable document, is to serve as a model for comfort mechanisms for other States.

The following are the salient features of the new mechanism:

1. The disbursal of funds by the IDFC to KPCL will be contingent upon adherence by Government of Karnataka (GoK)/KPCL/KPTCL to certain milestones relating to restructuring/privatisation of KPCL/KPTCL. Milestones also apply to asset-liability segregation, manpower allocation and restructuring/formation of new companies. These will have to be done in consultation with the lenders with due regard to the protection of their dues. The agreement also lays down milestones for the separation of distribution com panies from KPTCL and their operationalisation and privatisation.

2. The Financial Restructuring Plan and Support envisages time-bound and structured financial support for the restructuring, from the GoK. Thus the GoK commits a certain quantum of funds for the purpose. The agreement also imposes on the GoK certain obli gations with respect to the tariff and revenue proposals of KPTCL.

3. It requires the GoK to create a Dedicated Power Reform Fund (DPRF), in which the proceeds from the divestment of KPTCL and Visveshvaraya Vidyuth Nigam Limited (VVNL) and their successor entities shall be deposited. Pension payment and voluntary retire ment scheme liabilities of KPTCL employees shall form the first charge on the DPRF, followed by dues towards the F.Is/banks, commitments to Central sector utilities and KPCL and finally the debt to the GoK, in that order. Similarly, divestment proceeds f rom KPCL would first be adjusted towards clearance of KPTCL's dues to KPCL and unfunded pension/gratuity liabilities of KPCL, and finally towards a deposit into the DPRF. The point to note here is that in both cases dues from KPCL/KPTCL to the GoK will be subordinate to the payment of dues to the lenders (F.Is).

4. The GoK guarantee given to any generation project under the terms of the power purchase agreement (PPA) will remain in force even after the privatisation of KPTCL and until such time KPTCL/its successor entities achieve and sustain a credit rating of 'A' of CRISIL or its equivalent for a period of one year or until such time a credit support acceptable to the lenders is worked out.

5. To ensure that the tariff of the electricity sold by KPTCL is subject to determination by the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission with effect from November 2000.

Funding the power sector

THE power sector appears to be the flavour of the season for the multilateral financing agency, the World Bank, despite the failure of its efforts at restructuring the Orissa power sector. All that the $350 million reform loan - the World Bank's most am bitious project anywhere then - has achieved is to leave GRIDCO, the transmission company, with huge accumulated losses that threaten its viability, even as the more profitable operations such as generation and distribution have been delinked and privati sed successfully in accordance with the milestones set by the Bank's experts. Wolfensohn conceded that the Bank's experience in Orissa had not been an unqualified success and that it had learnt certain lessons from the experience, which will be applied t o similar restructuring programmes undertaken in other States. "You cannot wish away past losses. But our experience in Orissa will be useful when we put together a financial restructuring programme for other States where we're funding the power sector," he said.

Union Power Minister Suresh Prabhu told Frontline that the Bank was likely to make available substantial International Development Agency (IDA) funding for the power sector. The IDA lends at low rates of interest. He said: "The Bank's lending to t he power sector used to be around 28 per cent of its total lending to India a few years ago, but now it has come down to just 8 per cent. We need Rs.8,00,000 crores in the next 10 years to put up a capacity of 100,000 megawatts (mW). What we installed i n 100 years, we will now have to do in 10 years. The investments will come only if we reform the State Electricity Boards (SEBs). Therefore I impressed upon the World Bank President the need to give structural adjustment loans at concessional rates. The Centre has been using only the stick with regard to the State governments. I intend to offer them carrots in the form of standby structural adjustment credit. Wolfensohn has agreed to consider my request."

In addition to the IDA loan, the Minister has also sought assistance for generation projects, which the Bank has stopped funding ever since it converted its loan to the controversial Upper Indravati project into a reform loan. Suresh Prabhu hopes to per suade the Bank to lend for the renovation and modernisation of existing power plants as well as for transmission and distribution. The total quantum of Bank loan sought for the power sector is around $4 billion. The funds, if approved, are to be disburse d to the various beneficiaries through the Power Finance Corporation. No doubt the Bank will endeavour to ensure that the subsidies are phased out and Indian consumers are forced to pay international prices for the electricity that the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) provide.

One of the suggestions made by Suresh Prabhu was to set aside a percentage of the outlay for each power project expressly for mitigating environmental damage - a separate Special Purpose Vehicle, into which a percentage, say 1 per cent, of the outlays w ill be transferred. This is to be used specifically for the relief and rehabilitation of persons displaced by dams or thermal projects. Having been in charge of the Union Environment Ministry as well, Suresh Prabhu believes that unless the environmenta l and rehabilitation aspects are adequately taken care of, projects cannot be successfully executed.

Currently the Bank funds reform and restructuring programmes in Orissa, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Its revised lending instrument, called the Adaptable Program Loan, not only envisages consultancy and implementation loans for power sector reforms, but has a component for building public support for the programme. The Bank is carrying out a $150 million restructuring programme in Uttar Pradesh, funding investments in the transmission and distribution system. In Haryana, it will provide $6 00 million over the next eight to 10 years, while in Andhra Pradesh, the approved amount is $1 billion, to be disbursed over the next eight years.

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