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COVER STORY

11-05-2001

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Briefing

Success in space

With the April 18 launch of the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle India moves closer to achieving total self-reliance in building launch vehicles and putting communication satellites into orbit.

INDIA'S space quest truly came of age on April 18 when the gigantic Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) roared skyward from the spaceport at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, and 17 minutes later put in orbit the Geo-synchronous Satellite (GSAT) weighing 1,540 kg. That unequivocally demonstrated the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) capability to put a satellite into a Geo-synchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) at a height of 36,000 km above the earth. India thus joins a select club of countries that have the capability to put a 2,000 kg satellite into a GTO. The other members are: the United States, Russia, Japan, China and the European Consortium of Arianespace.

The success marks the end of India's dependence on others for launching its communication satellites. Till now the indigenous INSAT satellites, weighing 2,500 kg, were put in orbit either by the U.S. space shuttle or by the Ariane vehicle of Arianespace from Kourou island, French Guiana.

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ISRO is now close to achieving total self-reliance in building launch vehicles and satellites. The first-generation INSATs were built in the U.S. and orbited by vehicles of the U.S. or Arianespace. The second-generation INSATs were built by the ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore, but launched by Ariane vehicles. Now, not only the GSAT was built by ISRO but the GSLV was India's own. The GSLV used new, highly complex technologies for the first time. They included four liquid strap-on engines and the upper cryogenic engine, which imparted the final velocity to the satellite to go into orbit. The cryogenic stage was imported from Russia.

Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Chairman, ISRO, said the GSLV success was "the most exciting and fruitful mission" of ISRO. "It was an exceptional mission and the first of its kind." He added: "It is the longest 17 minutes in our lives... You saw the velocity and the trajectory it took. It went exactly as we planned. Words cannot describe our feelings."

The success was relished all the more because ISRO recovered "remarkably in just three weeks" to prepare the GSLV again after its earlier flight was aborted one second before lift-off on March 28 owing to a problem in the gas injector in one of the strap-on engines. The engine did not develop enough thrust, and by aborting the flight the vehicle was saved. ISRO teams immediately swung into work.

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The vehicle was drained of its liquid and cryogenic propellants. A tear-down analysis of the engine revealed that the blame lay with defective plumbing in the oxidiser flow line. This led to a reduction in the flow of liquid propellants. The anomalous engine was replaced with a stand-by engine.

For the April 18 launch, the 56-hour countdown went off without a hitch. Ten minutes before lift-off, the automatic launch sequence (ALS) computer took control, eliminating any manual intervention. At the appointed time of 3-43 p.m, the GSLV, painted white and gray and emblazoned with the Indian tricolour, took off majestically into the clear blue sky from its launch pad at SHAR, 100 km from Chennai. The strap-on engines fired and performed flawlessly for 4.6 seconds. Then the core first stage was ignited. The vehicle rose, picked up speed and thundered into the sky eastward.

G. Madhavan Nair, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, which was the lead centre in building the vehicle, said, "Most of the engineering technology performed at the height of their perfection in this GSLV... The vehicle was built in the shortest possible time and with minimum effort. It is a breakthrough in launch vehicle technology and it will strengthen the foundation for the future launch vehicles of the country."

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R.V. Perumal, GSLV Mission Director, whom Dr. Kasturirangan repeatedly called "the bridegroom of the day", said the 56-hour countdown to the lift-off was "smooth". "The fact that the satellite was put into orbit gives us the information that the performance was normal and that the mission is a success."

Perumal told Frontline that the April 18 launch was that of a developmental flight. "We built a reliable vehicle in which we married complex technologies associated with propulsion, aerodynamics, control, guidance" and added new features such as fins in the strap-ons to ensure stability.

An important difference between the PSLV and the GSLV, he explained, was in the firing of the strap-ons. "In the PSLV, we first ignite the core motor and the vehicle lifts off. Then the two solid strap-on motors are ignited. In the GSLV, we first ignite the four liquid strap-on engines and check them for their satisfactory ignition and performance, and then ignite the core motor after 4.6 seconds. The advantage in using the liquid engines is that we can start and stop them (that is, switch them on and switch them off)."

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K. Narayana, Director, SHAR Centre, said: "It is a great day for all of us at ISRO, especially those at SHAR. We have been waiting for this day for many years, and it gives great moral support." Within a couple of hours, Narayana busied himself for the PSLV lift-off scheduled for June/July. "SHAR will witness many more successful missions," he said.

D. Narayana Moorthi, Director, Launch Vehicles' Programme, ISRO Headquarters, Bangalore, who joined ISRO three decades ago, said the GSLV's success was "a dream come true for many of us." "Our ultimate aim was to build a geo-synchronous launch vehicle. This feat has been achieved by starting from scratch, creating expertise, technology, human power and infrastructure, and going through three generations of launch vehicles (SLV-3, ASLV and PSLV). What else can we ask for in our careers than to be part of this historic event?"

THE three-stage GSLV is 49 metres tall and weighs 401 tonnes at lift-off. The first stage, one of the biggest of its kind in the world, consists of the core powered by 129 tonnes of the solid propellant hydroxyl terminated poly butadiene (HTPB). Around this core solid stage are strung four liquid engines. The liquid propellants are unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine as fuel and nitrogen tetroxide as oxidiser. Each liquid stage carries 40 tonnes of propellants. The second stage is again a liquid stage. The third, uppermost stage is powered by cryogenic propellants, which are liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. They weigh 12.5 tonnes.

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The five liquid stages used in the GSLV mission form a novel feature. The liquid stages and the uprated core solid stage were all derived from the PSLV, which has become the workhorse of ISRO for orbiting remote-sensing satellites. The PSLV had four successful flights in a row, the last one in 1999. Perumal said: "The PSLV is the real base on which the GSLV rests."

The GSAT is a state-of-the-art communication satellite. It has payloads to demonstrate digital audio broadcasts, Internet services, compressed digital television experiments and developmental communications.

According to N. Vedachalam, Director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), Mahendra-giri, Tamil Nadu, "We (LPSC) developed the liquid engines. They developed a thrust of 240 tonnes (each) assisting the central rocket. The second liquid stage also did an excellent job. So we successfully demonstrated the performance of the high-thrust liquid engine in this flight."

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The Russian cryogenic stage also performed flawlessly. Dr. L.N. Kiselev was happy that "such a small stage could make such a big contribution". The cryogenic stage imparted a velocity of more than 5 km a second out of the total final velocity of 10.2 km a second for the satellite to go into orbit. Cryogenic technology involves the use of liquid hydrogen at -265- Celsius and liquid oxygen at -240-C. Dr. Kasturirangan said: "We are using cryogenic technology for the first time and the cryogenic systems are a class by themselves in terms of complexity and performance."

While the Russians supplied the cryogenic stage, the liquid hydrogen and the liquid oxygen were made in India. ISRO fabricated the electronics, control and guidance systems in the cryogenic and other stages.

There was heart-pounding tension in the Mission Control Centre (MCC) at SHAR as launch hour approached. The MCC is the nerve centre of the mission, connected with all pre-launch and post-launch activities. Dr. Kasturirangan, Madhavan Nair, Perumal, Narayana, Vehicle Director Dr. K. Sudhakara Rao, Satellite Director Dr. P.S. Nair, and Project Director for the cryogenic stage Kiselev sat in front of their computer consoles, looking tense.

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K.V. Seshu, programmer of the flight, announced: "Twenty minutes to go." Then a beautiful view of the rocket loomed into view on the closed circuit television screen. The rocket towered over the jungle foliage. The radio crackled: "Mission Director, roger; Vehicle Director, roger; Satellite Director, roger." Seshu's voice boomed again: "Mark three minutes and counting... 55 seconds, 20 seconds... ten, nine, eight, seven... zero, NOW, plus one, plus two, plus three..."

Flames leapt up from the liquid engines, and they performed flawlessly for 4.6 seconds. Then the core first stage was ignited, and the GSLV rose slowly at first and then blazed skyward.

The next 17 minutes were the most tortuous for the ISRO personnel. The first stage burnt for 100 seconds while the liquid strap-on engines continued to thrust for 162 seconds taking the vehicle to an altitude of 75 km. The vehicle's velocity at this point was 2.63 km a second. The second stage was ignited before the burn-out of the first-stage strap-ons. The second stage burnt for another 147 seconds, taking the vehicle to an altitude of 126 km and increasing its velocity to 5.18 km a second. By then, the heat shield that protects the satellite during the vehicle's ascent into the dense upper atmosphere peeled away and fell into the Bay of Bengal.

After the second stage separated at 314 seconds from the lift-off, the cryogenic stage was ignited. It burnt for about 700 seconds taking the vehicle to an altitude of 195 km. According to Perumal, the cryo stage injected the satellite into orbit at a velocity of 10.2 km a second. The cryo stage was "tumbled" out so that it did not collide with the spacecraft, he said.

By then, the satellite was 5,000 km away from SHAR, somewhere over Indonesia. Signals from the telemetry stations at SHAR, Port Blair, Brunei and Biak in Indonesia showed that the spacecraft systems were performing normally. Its perigee was 181 km and apogee about 32,000 km. This was a highly elliptical orbit. It would be circularised at 36,000 km altitude by firing the propulsion systems on board the GSAT.

When the 17 minutes ended, it was celebration time at MCC and all over SHAR. Dr. Kasturirangan was teary-eyed. He hugged Perumal, and shook hands with Madhavan Nair, Sudhakara Rao, Vedachalam and Kiselev. Prof U.R. Rao, former ISRO Chairman, beamed with joy.

When the ISRO Chairman conveyed the happy news over phone, to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, said: "Congratulations, congratulations and congratulations." Vajpayee also asked him to convey his congratulations to "each and every colleague of yours in ISRO". Vajpayee, his voice choked with emotion, told the ISRO Chairman, "The nation is proud of you." Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Vasundhara Raje Scindia also congratulated the ISRO staff and recalled that when the flight was aborted on March 28, she had said that "it will be a stepping stone to success".

Sudhakara Rao called it "a very sophisticated vehicle because it should not climb too much or it should climb not down too low." He said ISRO had done 5,000 simulations of the flight. "We flew the vehicle in the computer micro-processor every 20 milliseconds. All this gave us the confidence that the vehicle design was all right."

Dr. P.S. Goel, Director, ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore, said that all systems on board the satellite were performing well. Dr. A.K.S. Gopalan, Director of Space Applications Centre, Ahm-edabad, which fabricated the payloads, said the spacecraft would be used for digital audio broadcasting. Dr. P.S. Nair, Satellite Director, said the life of the satellite was three years but it might last up to five years.

According to Dr. Kasturirangan, ISRO's efforts, beginning with the launching of the SLV-3 in 1979 and 1980, the ASLV, then the PSLV and now the GSLV "mark the culmination of a series of efforts in providing a capability for launching INSAT class of two-tonne communication satellites. This is a very significant step towards achieving self-reliance in deploying satellites in GTO."

Dr. B.N. Suresh, Deputy Director, VSSC, said "the entire avionics worked very well". A specialist in avionics, he was in charge of the control and guidance systems of the vehicle. He said there was some underperformance from the upper cryogenic stage but it was of a small value. There was 0.7 per cent error in the overall velocity with which the satellite was injected into orbit. If the satellite was put into orbit at a velocity of 10.2 km a second, it went into orbit 60 to 70 metres a second less than 10.2 km a second.

Dr. Suresh said an additional 10 kg of fuel was loaded on board the GSAT. This came in handy for firing the propulsion motors on board the satellite to raise the apogee from 32,000 km to 36,000 km.

An ISRO scientist said: "We made it to the real GTO of 3,000 km by 36,000 km last night (April 19). We will now do the final manoeuvring. The satellite is doing excellently well."

The operations carried out on it on April 19 involved a well-coordinated and synchronised commanding operation among three ground stations: Lake Cowichan in Canada, Fucino in Italy and the Master Control Facility (MCF) at Hassan in Karnataka.

Date Satellite Launcher November 21, 1963 - Nike-Apache February 21, 1969 - Pencil Rocket (India-made: 10 kg)April 19, 1975 Aryabhata Cosmos (USSR)June 7, 1979 Bhaskara Cosmos (USSR)August 10, 1979 Rohini SLV-3July 18, 1980 Rohini SLV-3May 31, 1981 Rohini SLV-3June 19, 1981 APPLE Ariane (ESA)November 20, 1981 Bhaskara-II CosmosApril 10, 1982 INSAT 1A Delta (U.S.)April 17, 1983 Rohini SLV-3August 30, 1983 INSAT 1B U.S. space shuttleMarch 24, 1987 SROSS A ASLV-D1 March 17, 1988 IRS-1A Vostok (USSR)July 13, 1988 SROSS B ASLV-D2July 22, 1988 INSAT-1C ArianeJune 12, 1990 INSAT-ID DeltaAugust 29, 1991 IRS-1B Vostok May 20, 1992 SROSS C ASLV-D3July 10, 1992 INSAT-2A Ariane July 23, 1993 INSAT-2B ArianeSeptember 20, 1993 IRS-1E PSLV-D1May 4, 1994 SROSS ASLV-D4 October 15, 1994 IRS-P2 PSLV-D2December 7, 1995 INSAT-2C ArianeDecember 28, 1995 IRS-1C Molniya (Russia)March 21, 1996 IRS-P3 PSLV-D3June 4, 1997 INSAT-2D ArianeSeptember 29, 1997 IRS-1D PSLV-C1April 2, 1999 INSAT-2E ArianeMay 26, 1999 IRS-P4, Tubsat Kitsat PSLV-C2March 22, 2000 INSAT-3B Ariane 5April 18, 2001 GSAT GSLV

Satellites and saris: 25 years later

Frontline

"A NATIONAL programme which would provide television to about eighty per cent of India's population during the next ten years would be of great significance to national integration, for implementing schemes of social and economic development, and for the stimulation and promotion of the electronics industry. It is of particular significance to the large population living in isolated communities."

These words were written by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, India's space pioneer, as far back as 1969. In a paper presented at an international conference, Dr. Sarabhai spelt out his vision of what television could do for India. He argued that communications satellites, which I had first proposed in 1945 and had become a practical reality in mid-1960s, could help India to provide direct broadcast television to reach the least developed rural areas of the country.

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Three decades later, satellite television has evolved far beyond what Dr. Sarabhai imagined - and perhaps wished for. Yet it was Sarabhai's vision that inspired Indian space scientists and engineers to usher in satellite television to the subcontinent in 1975-76. It was an important milestone in the history of satellite communications, for India was the first country in the world to use satellites to transmit educational television programming directly to villages. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), as it was officially called, involved 2,400 villages in six States. It used a communications satellite borrowed from the Americans, ATS6, to beam television programmes carrying information on family planning, crop production, healthy living and other practical matters that can raise the quality of life - and indeed, often save lives.

Unfortunately, Dr. Sarabhai didn't live to see even the initiation of that daring experiment. After his untimely death, it was brilliantly carried out by his colleagues of the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad. The team was headed by Dr. Yash Pal, who later became a winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award for excellence in communications.

I HAD the privilege of playing a small but interesting part in SITE, providing occasional advice and international promotion to the project. My travels in India before and during SITE gave me valuable insights into how developments in communications can produce tangible benefits for large numbers of ordinary people. One of my articles, 'Satellites and Saris' - which has since been reproduced in many publications - ended as follows:

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"One of the most magical moments in Satyajit Ray's exquisite Pather Panchali is when the little boy Apu hears for the first time the aeolian music of the telegraph wires on the windy plain. Soon, those wires will have gone forever; but a new generation of Apus will be watching, wide-eyed, when the science of a later age draws down pictures from the sky - and open up for all the children of India a window on the world."

During its twelve crowded months of operation, SITE proved beyond doubt that only comsats could provide India with all the variety of telecommunications required to administer such a large and diversified country. This led to the development and launch of India's own communications satellites, beginning with INSAT-1.

Meanwhile, SITE had an impact on myself in an unexpected way. In 1977, a team of Indian engineers flew into Colombo to install a massive five-metre dish antenna - a generous gift from ISRO. When signals came in loud and clear, it marked the arrival of television in Sri Lanka (which didn't have terrestrial transmissions till 1979). Everyone - from Cabinet Ministers and civil servants to schoolchildren - flocked to my home to watch the programmes. My hospitality bill was enormous.

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Thousands of words have been written about the successes, and occasional failures, of the SITE experiment. The man best qualified to sum them up is Yash Pal. Speaking at a conference on the impact of space exploration on mankind held at the Vatican in 1984, where we were both speakers, he said: "For 1,500 people directly engaged in the experiment, SITE was a deep human experience. It generated new capabilities, demystified space technology, and helped to nucleate a large island of self-confidence. But of far greater significance was the generation of new kinship between technologists and the grassroots problems of the country, a common concern for the ultimate social and human goals."

Those experiments with the 'schoolmaster satellite' now seem to belong to a completely different age, and of course it does. Much has happened since, particularly in the 1990s when commercial satellite television proliferated, opening up fierce competition in the skies over India. Many millions of dishes have bloomed over the subcontinent, and tens of millions of modern-day Apus have grown up taking satellite television completely for granted.

It's been 15 years since I last visited India - to deliver the Nehru Memorial Address in 1986, with Rajiv Gandhi in the chair - so I have no idea how the average Indian viewer copes with the multitude of programmes and channels that became available during the 1990s. But here in Colombo, I'm well within the footprint of satellite transmissions to India, and I sometimes have difficulty discerning local television channels from Indian ones. (That is precisely the point: geographical and political boundaries have blurred in this era of satellite television.)

Even if the novelty of images from the skies has completely worn off, the debates of their social and cultural impacts have not ended. In the early days, I was regularly approached by people who were genuinely concerned as to what the signals from the skies will do to local cultures, traditions and customs. While I share their concerns, I lost patience with some of the complaints levelled by some patronising 'worthies' at the effects of such media. Because some of us frequently suffer from the scourge of information pollution, we find it difficult to imagine its even deadlier opposite: information starvation. I get very annoyed when I hear arguments - usually from those who have been educated beyond their intelligence - about the virtues of keeping happy, backward people in perpetual ignorance. Such an attitude seems like that of a fat man preaching the virtues of fasting to a starving beggar.

Their hypocrisy was well exposed by my friend Yash Pal, who noted, in the 1980s: "In the drawing rooms of large cities you meet many people who are concerned about the damage one is going to cause to the integrity of rural India by exposing her to the world outside. After they have lectured you about the dangers of corrupting this innocent, beautiful mass of humanity, they usually turn around and ask: 'Well, now that we have a satellite, when are we going to see some American programmes?' Of course, they themselves are immune to the cultural domination or foreign influences."

Things must be even more complex now, with over 40 channels available in some parts of India. Watching everything from Hindi movies and cricket matches to world news and Discovery programmes, is India on the verge of having the largest concentration of couch potatoes in the world?

I'm not impressed by the attacks on television because of the truly dreadful programmes that it sometimes carries. Every TV programme has some educational content: the cathode ray tube is a window on the world; indeed, on many worlds. Often it's a very murky window, but I've slowly come to the conclusion that, on balance, even bad TV is preferable to no TV at all.

Sir Arthur C Clarke, 2001

A new era for ISRO

cover-story

Interview with Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Chairman, ISRO.

GSLV is the sixth launch success in a row for Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). In an interview to T.S. Subramanian in Chennai on April 19, he said that hard work and team work were behind the success of the mission. Dr. Kasturirangan, who is also Chairman, Space Commission, and Secretary, Department of Space, said: "The GSLV heralds a new era in the launch vehicle capability of ISRO." Excerpts:

How do you view the success of the GSLV launch and what is its significance for ISRO?

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The GSLV flight heralds a new era in the launch vehicle capability of ISRO. The successful launch of the GSLV marks the culmination of a series of efforts, providing for the first time a capability to launch INSAT (Indian National Satellite) class of two-tonne satellites into geo-synchronous transfer orbit. Thus the full complement of the capabilities needed for the country in space infrastructure creation, including the scientific satellites in near-earth orbit, the Indian Remote-sensing Satellites (IRS) in polar orbit and the geo-synchronous INSAT satellites, are available with the Indian launch vehicles. This is the significance of the first test flight of the GSLV and its remarkable success.

How do you look back on the history of the ISRO from its toy rocketry era in the 1960s to the gigantic GSLV of today?

The development of rocketry within ISRO has been a three-decade affair, starting with the Rohini-75 rockets that could take a ten-kg payload to an altitude of five or six km. We developed more of these sounding rockets, including RH-200, RH-300, RH-300 mark II and RH-560. But these were sounding rockets. Developing them is child's play compared to the development of the SLV-3, which represented our first foray into the launch vehicle programme. The successful flights of the SLV-3, four of which were launched as developmental efforts, led to a more ambitious programme of building the ASLVs and the PSLVs. With the orbiting of the IRS-P2 by the PSLV in October 1994, India gained a major capability in putting an IRS class of one tonne satellites into a polar orbit.

The PSLV development represented several advanced technologies, including those related to large solid rocket motors in the class of 135 tonnes; liquid stages with a loading of unsymmetrical di-methyl hydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide that weighed 37.5 tonnes, which (liquid stages) developed a corresponding thrust of 70 tonnes; capability for advanced staging and separation systems (of stages); and control, guidance and navigation systems for precise injection of the satellite into the required orbit. All these formed part of the developmental effort of the PSLV. Today, the PSLV is an operational vehicle with four successful launches in a row.

In undertaking the development of the GSLV, a major step has been taken to develop facilities for deploying two tonne class of INSAT satellites in the GTO. Developing a GSLV is a game with an order of magnitude more complex than the vehicles used for deploying satellites in near-earth orbits. Besides the need to increase their propulsive power, such rockets need to be provided with very complex and advanced control, guidance and navigation systems, stage separation systems, and planning a very intricate mission involving interface between rocket systems, ground systems and range systems.

What is the potential for marketing the GSLV?

We have built vehicles to launch INSAT class of satellites. We have now a configuration for INSAT with two-tonne all-up weight. The present version of the GSLV can be used for launching these class of INSAT spacecraft. Further, we can use the GSLV configuration to deploy heavier satellites in polar orbits. The third possibility is that it can be used for launching multiple communication satellites in the low-earth orbit configuration. So this vehicle has a potential for multiple uses.

Our current objective is to use this vehicle extensively for our own needs. This would include catering to the government's requirements as well as those coming from private investors in communication satellite systems. I would like to point out that the government recently decided to liberalise the ownership of communication satellite systems, which enables private entrepreneurs and investors to build, own and operate satellites registered within the country. This can be a new opportunity for the Indian investors to have cost-effective means of launching their satellites. As of now, we do not envisage a major market beyond the immediate needs of the country, which itself is fairly substantial. So we have not worked out the cost implications to price the vehicle.

Some aeronautical engineers say that the success of the GSLV flight means that India has acquired the capability of firing Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).

Several people outside ISRO have commented on the capabilities of the PSLV and the GSLV in different contexts. In ISRO itself, our goals are very clear. The configurations of the launch vehicles are such that they have the capability to launch various classes of satellites. As a civilian agency, our mandate is clear, which is to build launch vehicles for sending satellites into orbit. These kinds of configurations are not applicable to their use as a missile.

Is ISRO planning to conduct experiments on board the International Space Station?

We are looking at the futuristic possibility of doing experiments in metallurgical sciences, material sciences, biological sciences and other areas of fundamental sciences using the micro-gravity environment of the International Space Station. Currently, the strategy is to support the development of the payloads or instruments concerned within India. As and when an opportunity arises, we will review the situation. But we will certainly encourage such possibilities.

The cryogenic quest

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN cover-story

Cryogenic technology is crucial to the development of launch vehicles like the GSLV. The third GSLV flight, in 2003, will use an indigenous cryogenic engine.

AN important result of the successful Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle flight is that it will galvanise the Indian Space Research Organisation in its development of an indigenous cryogenic engine. The April 18 flight carried a Russian cryogenic stage, which imparted the final velocity to the GSAT to go into orbit.

The third GSLV flight in 2003 will carry a cryogenic stage made in India with a thrust of 7.5 tonnes. The first test on this engine was conducted on February 16, 2000 at the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Mahendragiri near Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. The firing of the full-fledged prototype, with a thrust of 7.5 tonnes, had to be aborted after 15 seconds while it had to last 30 seconds. A leak of helium from a punctured tube led to non-supply of hydrogen to the engine. The test gave ISRO scientists and technicians "a feel" of the technology. The complex test facility was also validated.

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According to ISRO Chairman Dr.K. Kasturirangan, ISRO's target was to complete the developmental tests of the indigenous engine in the next two years. The work on the stage would start parallelly. He added, "By 2003 to 2004, we will be able to bring the indigenous cryo to the operational stage." The first of these tests would be done in about three months at Mahendragiri. These engines would have a thrust of 7.5 tonnes, the same as that used in the GSLV flight.

Dr. V. Gnana Gandhi, Director, Cryogenic Upper Stage Project (Indigenous), ISRO, told Frontline: "We will definitely come out with a successful cryogenic engine in one or two years..."

Cryogenic engines are essential to put heavier satellites into geo-synchronous transfer orbits (GTO) at an altitude of 36,000 km. Cryogenic propulsion enables a launch vehicle to put a payload two times heavier than that orbited by a vehicle without a cryogenic upper stage. According to Prof. U.R. Rao, former Chairman, ISRO, "without cryogenic technology we cannot go in for geo-synchronous satellite launching."

A cryogenic engine uses liquid hydrogen at -265Celsius as fuel and liquid oxygen at -240C as oxidiser. Development of the engine involves a highly complex technology because of the very low temperatures of the propellants. Very few countries have achieved success in it and it is a jealously guarded technology.

R.V. Perumal, GSLV Mission Director, told Frontline: "ISRO did the electronics and controls for the entire cryogenic stage. We went through a systematic process of testing and qualifying the electronics along with the cryo." Also, the liquid hydrogen was made by ISRO. The liquid oxygen was made by ISRO and an outside agency.

Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen weighing 12 tonnes should be pumped into the engine by a turbo-pump. It should be ensured that the liquids are pure. The engine should run at a high speed of 46,000 revolutions per minute (RPM).

According to Space India (January-March 2000), an ISRO publication, a cryogenic stage consists of tanks to store the fuel and oxidiser, plumbing to ferry the liquids in the right proportion into the thrust chamber, structure to transmit the thrust to the vehicle, a power source, and control devices to initiate and regulate the propellants' flow. "The thrust chamber is the powerhouse of the engine where combustion of fuel and oxidiser takes place. The burnt gases are ejected through a nozzle, converting the thermal energy of the combusted products into kinetic energy. The cryogenic engine thrust chambers need to be cooled to protect them from high temperatures."

S. Krishnamurthy, Director, Public-ations and Public Relations, ISRO, said, "On the one side, you have propellants around -260C. On the other they are burning and producing a temperature of several thousand degrees Celsius. So you have to insulate." Hence materials of high thermal conductivity such as copper and its alloys are used for chamber construction. The tanks and pipelines are double-walled, insulated and vacuumed. He added, "The nozzle gets so much heated that you have to cool it. Again for cooling, you haveave to use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. We pass them through small pores on the nozzle so that the nozzle surface remains cool."

The massive infrastructure facilities needed for all this were built at SHAR. According to K. Narayana, SHAR Director, this included ground facilities for storing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and transferring them to the vehicle through circuits. The Russians supplied the equipment and ISRO did their installation, testing and commissioning. "Thus aspects relating to storage and safety in the handling of the cryogenic fluids were tested for the first time during the GSLV flight," he said.

Prior to the flight on April 18, ISRO personnel conducted trials on filling up a mock-up stage with cryogenic fluids. Narayana said, "Last year, we actually filled the exact amount of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. If there is a postponement of the launch, we should be able to drain the vehicle of the cryogenic propellants" and refuel it. And this happened when the flight was aborted on March 28 one second before lift-off. The cryogenic stage was drained of its propellants the same night, and it was refuelled a few hours before the flight on April 18.

Transportation of the cryogenic fluids from Mahendragiri to Sriharikota by road was a challenging task. According to Narayana, the handling of cryogenic fluids demanded a high level of safety. There were extensive reviews of safety requirements. "Wherever electrical fittings were there, we took special care to install special flame-proof fittings. We designed these ourselves."

ISRO began work on the development of a cryogenic engine in the 1980s when it tested a single element injector generating 60 kg thrust. A one-tonne subscale engine was also realised and tested up to 600 seconds. With this, development of the cryogenic engine for use in the GSLV was initiated in 1994.

ISRO took up the challenge after the United States arm-twisted Russia in April 1992 and July 1993 not to sell the cryogenic technology know-how to India. The U.S. said the sale would violate the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines since cryogenic technology could be used to propel missiles (Frontline, March 17, 2000). Russia, however, agreed to sell seven cryogenic stages and a ground mock-up stage instead of the stipulated five stages and technology.

A movement in Marathi publishing

Granthali, a Marathi publishing house, has made a name for itself by making literature accessible to the public. Its critics, however, say that of late it has become increasingly commercial.

AS many as 250 publications in 25 years, 130 of which have been honoured; a reputation for encouraging new authors; remarkable success in encouraging the reading habit among the people. Granthali has influenced the Marathi reader in a significant way.

The publishing house was launched in 1974 by a group of people from different professions, who formed themselves into an informal organisation. "Granthali is a word coined by Ashok Jain, who was the Executive Editor of The Maharashtra Times and was part of our group," said Dinkar Gangal, one of the founders of Granthali.

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Gangal told Frontline that what inspired the founders was the desire to bring out good books at affordable prices. He said that these persons attended the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan at Ichalkaranji in 1973. During a group discussion two readers, from Nipani and Belgium, said that they had not read certain important Marathi works because they could not procure them. "That touched a chord in us," Gangal said, and added: "That was a time of great social and political awareness. Most of us were involved in social activism. Literature of the period reflected the mood of the people and yet it did not reach vast sections of the readers." Although Maharashtra at that time had a population of five crores, the number of the reading public hardly exceeded 50,000. That was a time when it took about 10 years to sell a thousand copies of a book, Gangal said.

The founders were also fired by the desire to bring books that contained progressive thoughts on socio-political issues within the reach of the Marathi reader. They initiated steps to ensure that the reading habit went beyond the privileged urban middle class. After the Sammelan, 14 enthusiastic proponents of this idea met in a Mumbai restaurant and decided on a simple plan to inform people of the formation of Granthali. Each one wrote 10 postcards, introducing Granthali and requesting the addressees to convey the message to more people.

Granthali's initial corpus was built on the Rs. 25 paid by each founder. "With this we decided to become publishers," recalls Gangal, proud of their boldness, which could only be inspired by idealism. Money came in a trickle from people who wanted to encourage the movement. Granthali promised that it would soon offer readers four books for Rs.25. The effect of this on the reading public, who would normally have had to pay at least Rs.60 for four books, is easy to imagine. The group's first publication was Doob, a collection of literary essays written by Durga Bhagwat. This was followed by a collection of essays on atrocities against women, a book on Raj Kapoor's films, and another titled Robot, on military discipline, written by an Army deserter.

After this there was no looking back for Granthali. The financial position remained uncertain since the books were sold at cost price and the founders relied entirely on volunteers. However, new authors were discovered, explosive topics were written about and this enabled their being discussed all over the State. Dalit writing, especially, blossomed under Granthali's editorial guidance. Daya Pawar, a little known writer until then, shook Marathi society with his book Baluta, an autobiographical account of life as a Dalit. The widespread response to the book encouraged Pawar to write another book wherein he explained how his life was altered by Dalits' negative response to Baluta.

Granthali was frequently asked about the low prices of its books. Unlike most other publishing houses that woo libraries and reserve their best deals for bulk buyers, Granthali decided to attract individual readers by offering discounts. "It was, after all, our aim to promote the reading habit in individuals," said Gangal. The Marathi book trade used to charge the reader three times the actual cost of production. Granthali, on the other hand, sold its books at cost price.

Granthali soon grew into a mass movement. "Readers saw this as a social movement and realised that their role was to support it by buying books. We sold books everywhere. We saw it as a social activity," said Gangal recalling the days when he and other volunteers would carry books to the hinterland for sale. After the first eight years Granthali organised a Granth Yatra - an 18-day mobile exhibition and sale of books that covered 35 towns in Maharashtra. It was a success. Gangal said that Granthali's success was largely because of its ability to change with the times. It promoted sales by organising mobile exhibitions combined with cultural shows and group discussions that attracted large number of people. Granthali's latest showpiece is a voluminous work, Gnaynayadnya - a series of books exploring the Marathi psyche.

The movement continued to forge ahead. However, recently discord began to appear among the founders and some of them dropped out. Some people said that Granthali had drifted from the objective of providing books at affordable prices, while some others protested that the quality of the publications had fallen. A section of old-time readers complained of a drop in the editorial quality of the publications.

Today, 25 years after it was founded, Granthali is still a respected name in the Marathi publishing trade. But now questions are raised about its functioning and changing objectives. Pradip Karnik, librarian at D.G. Ruparel College in Mumbai who has long been associated with the publishing house, said that "after the first seven years of its existence Granthali ceased to keep its promises."

Even as he praised Granthali for its work in its early years, Karnik criticised it for what he saw as significant changes in its approach to two questions: the subjects of the books published and their cost. The watershed was the Grantha yatra, according to him. "In 1982 Granthali received a grant from the Ford Foundation and that changed them. I don't know what it was, but after the Grantha Yatra they refused to provide any financial account of the grant. Some founding members even resigned over this," said Karnik. Aroon Tikekar, Editor of the Marathi daily Loksatta, was one of those who resigned thus. He had two objections to the grant - one, that it had been applied for without the consent of several members and two, that the accounts had not been submitted to the members.

As for editorial content, he said about Granthali's magazine Ruchi: "This used to publish serious articles, many of which were connected with the book trade and its functioning. Now it is like any general magazine, with no particular focus and no great editorial input." Karnik also objected to what he saw as a betrayal of Granthali's pricing principles. Citing Granthali's latest showcase, the Gnaynayadnya series, he said: "The cost price of each book of this series comes to about Rs.16, but they charge Rs.32." Gangal, however, said the cost price was Rs.25 and the sale price Rs.30. Again, Karnik said that the subject that Gnaynayadnya dealt with was a far cry from exploring "the Marathi psyche and ethos." "They said that they would publish 1,000 books in 1,000 days. I wrote to them that this was a gimmick and was impossible. Then they altered this to 1,000 books in five years," Karnik claimed. His forthcoming book carries these allegations against Granthali.

Perhaps the final judges of Granthali's future will be its customers, with whom the publishing house has shared a symbiotic relationship. Gangal observed: "Someone once described Granthali as a cultural vapour. Just as vapour needs cold air to make it visible, we need goodwill to keep us going."

Without a script

A controversy over the course structure and the syllabi sparks a fresh round of trouble in the FTII, Pune.

FOR over a decade now, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), the country's premier film education centre, has been in turmoil.

Located on 8.4 hectares of land in the heart of Pune, the Institute has built a reputation for itself as one of the best film schools in the world. Over 100 resident students are provided access to top-of-the-line equipment and taught the art of film-making by a top-class faculty and a stream of personalities from the film industry, Indian and international. Students work in surroundings that have a history (the institute stands on the Prabhat Studios grounds), use Asia's largest indoor shooting set (a legacy of Prabhat), and have access to one of the best film archives in the world. The campus, known for its "lively" atmosphere once, is not even a shadow of its former self now. Students do gather around the "wisdom tree", the FTII's best-known landmark, but the discussions are more about their next letter of protest to the Director than about the films of the masters.

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Since its founding in 1961 the FTII has developed a tradition of giving students a say in what they may learn. However, the atmosphere of positive interaction gradually deteriorated, leading to the current standoff between the students and the management. At the heart of the matter is the drastic restructuring of the course and the change in course content recommended and ratified by two decision-making bodies - the Academic Council and the Governing Council. The first batch of students for the revised course was admitted in February 2000. In the normal course they should have completed the first year in December 2000. This did not happen because the students went on strike in September protesting against the course structure. The strike lasted 45 days.

The first attempt to change the syllabus was made in 1996. The specialisations of Direction, Motion Picture Photography and Sound Recording and Sound Engineering were of three years' duration, and Editing, two years'. The first year was common to all courses. The revised syllabus reduced the duration of all specialisations to two years and introduced a variety of new courses - a post-diploma course in Direction, which was open to diploma holders from the FTII; diploma courses in Art Direction and Production Management for film and television; and a short-term course (one semester) in Acting for film and television. The rationale behind these changes, which were designed and introduced by the then Chairman of the FTII, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, was to make the Institute more contemporary. The duration and course content were tightened with a view to streamlining the course, eliminating unnecessary academic inputs and shortening the time allotted for the course-end project. These changes, it was said, would not only spur the students on but enable them to start their careers earlier than they would otherwise have.

The new syllabus was introduced in January 1996. In April that year, the students went on strike demanding a reversion to the three-year syllabus. They argued that the condensing and diluting of the course was not conducive to the study of the art of cinema. They were supported by the teachers.

The Academic Council met and appointed a committee to review the syllabus. The Review Committee included experts from outside the FTII, as suggested by the students. The committee, along with the faculty, worked out an agenda to go into the final course content of the old as well as the new syllabus. It submitted its report to the Academic Council in September 1996. (In the meantime, the students went on strike twice.) Along with the report the faculty members submitted a letter saying that they had not been actively involved in the committee's deliberations. In response, the Academic Council decided that the proposals should be examined by the faculty along with experts who were not FTII alumni. The terms for their discussion included the duration of the course, the infrastructure, the faculty, the budget and the coordination of course programmes. But this process of examining the Review Committee's report was affected by the inability of the experts to attend the meetings and the professional commitments of the faculty at the end of the academic year. In December 1997, the Council decided to give the faculty four more months to examine the report of the Review Committee.

In April 1999, the faculty placed its recommendations before the Council and they were accepted for implementation. It was expected that the new academic programme would start soon since it was designed by department heads and senior professors. This committee comprised 12 teachers and the Dean of Television, and the Deputy Director of Academics was its convener.

The final decision was to accommodate between 60 and 80 students in the basic course in film and television. At the end of the year, each student's work would be assessed and only those who passed would be allowed to proceed to the next year for specialisation in Direction, Audiography, Cinematography or Editing. After the year-end assessment, only 48 students would be allowed to specialise, that is, 12 students in each specialisation. At the end of the first year of specialisation, only 32 students would enter the final year, that is, eight students in each specialisation. The Council saw this as an acceptable compromise since it ultimately resulted in a "pyramidal structure enriching the earlier syllabus in every respect with points of entry and exit at the end of each course of one year." The tightly knit and well-integrated course made each year's education complete in itself, it said. For instance, those who successfully completed the basic course could begin their careers even if they did not qualify for the diploma course in any specialisation. They could apply for direct entry into the diploma course at a later stage.

The new syllabus was introduced after apprising the faculty of the developments at each stage up to its unanimous approval by the Academic Council and the Governing Council. It was decided to implement the syllabus for the academic year starting in February 2000.

In September 2000, the students went on strike protesting against the new course structure and they were supported by the faculty. They objected to the new course structure on a number of grounds. First, they questioned the practice of year-end assessment, which, they said, would lead to unfair "elimination" on the basis of "subjective ratings" by the faculty. Their demand was that at the end of the basic course, all 80 students should be allowed to continue their studies if they chose to. The new system would allow only 48 of them to proceed to the diploma level.

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Abhijit Majumdar, general secretary of the FTII Students Association, says: "Film is an artistic medium and people have different points of view and different types of creativities. It is unfair to have fixed minds judging us constantly."

Students say that the prospect of failing at the end of the year forces them to toe the conventional line and prevents them from exploring creative options. One constructive suggestion is to introduce stringent criteria for admission and permit those admitted to complete the three-year course. The management is willing to consider this but the problem lies in identifying what the criteria should be.

The management says that the first year gives the students a sound grounding in the basics of film-making and enables them to enter the job market. But Majumdar says: "Even the Director has said that at the end of the first year all we will be qualified to do is make creative marriage videos."

One argument against the protesting students is that they were aware of the course structure when they opted to join the course. Majumdar says: "We were aware of this through the prospectus but we really had no other alternative since the FTII is the best in India to study film-making. We had waited so long for admissions to begin again that we didn't really give this a thought."

But there is a different viewpoint. Oindrilla Hazra, one of the 15 students who did not join the strike, says: "I was fully aware of the practice of year-end assessment when I joined the course." She resigned as the general secretary of the students association when the strike began. "What's wrong with such assessment? It exists everywhere, so why not here? This is a professional course and we're students. I accept the fact that I'm still learning and I'm being taught by people who know more than I," she says.

Majumdar contests this argument by saying that the faculty members are "also trapped into the system of giving grades and numbers. This system of constantly marking students was not something that was well received by the faculty. After some time they could feel that it is difficult to mark people. The earlier system also had marking but the difference is that it was not related to your continuing studies. This is a post-graduate course. We know what we are doing here. There are many students here who have had experience in the field (the average age is 26). We come here to develop our understanding of the film language."

Majumdar does not buy the argument that reducing the number of students is a means to increase the competence of FTII diploma holders. "Whose standards are we being judged by? The Mumbai film industry's? People like Mani Kaul have not made a single film in the Mumbai industry but he is known the world over. Probably he would not have passed in this structure at the FTII," he says.

According to Majum-dar, the new system was devised "as a means to keep students under control and doctor our thoughts. If you know there is the probability of being chucked out at the end of an year you will not step out of line. You will not ask questions. So it's not competence levels they are interested in - they just want to control students.

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Suresh Chabria, Professor of Film Appreciation, says: "We tried the course for seven months and found that it was not working. It didn't pass the holy FTII test of student acceptance."

Responding to this comment, Mehboob Khan, Director, Academics, says: "When the faculty members devise a course they should know what is expected of them. No one (in the faculty) voiced any kind of reservation (at the start of the course). "

He says: "The restructuring of the Review Committee of 1996 was unanimously appreciated and approved by both the Councils in 1999. There was not a single note of dissent and it was implemented in February 2000."

Explaining the resistance to change among some faculty members, Chabria says: "Our problems have largely to do with having a few such people. No one wants to opt for teaching now. The ones that do enter the profession sometimes do so since they have no other choice. Those already in the profession for many years have peaked... everyone plateaus off and there is nothing offered to refresh you. There is no fresh blood - these are big issues." The shortage of teachers is a serious problem in the FTII. Almost half the posts are vacant.

The students demand the resignation of Mohan Agashe, the Director of the Institute. "This Director has to go," says Rajesh Shera, president of the FTII Students Association.

Agashe says, in response: "If changing the Director is the solution then things should have improved years ago. Ministers and Secretaries come and go. So do Directors and Chairmen. So do students. Who are the only constants? The faculty. They are the ones who never change. For six years they have sabotaged every attempt to change. In the last five years, they have changed their stand four times. The syllabus is not the problem. The problem is in implementing the syllabus and the overall structure of the course. They have been unable to complete courses on schedule. So we let the faculty decide the duration and the course content. They presented us with the revised course which we agreed to but they couldn't even keep to that. Then, when the new Chairman was appointed in November the faculty promptly gave him a letter saying they could not assure him of running and completing the course. If they cannot do this who can? The FTII has become a rehabilitation centre (for the faculty) and that's where the main problem lies."

THE FTII is an autonomous institution and is dependent on the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for funding. The general feeling on the campus is that the Centre does not take film-making seriously. Recently the fees were hiked, and this was resisted by the students. Commenting on this, Mahesh Bhatt, film-maker and former Director of the FTII, says: "First subsidies are given for higher education in a luxury (subject) like film-making, then the Institute gives itself airs about being a glorified institution producing great 'cinema'. Then when the fees are hiked a bit students protest... it is shameful that in a country where primary schools don't have blackboards, students are demanding subsidies for higher education. All these IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) and even the FTII - their subsidies should be cracked down upon."

According to Agashe, the only way out of the recurring problems in the FTII is for the government to formulate a policy - "It should clearly state what kind of training it expects from an institute like this." A senior faculty member said: "The interest taken by the Ministry so far has been minimal. When the students go on strike the easy way out is taken - either the demands are met or the Director is changed or a new Chairman appointed. Essentially the government swings the populist way. What do babus know about film education? It's actually unfair to expect anything from them. The real culprit is the government, which doesn't really care for film education since it is not 'useful'."

According to Bhatt, the Finance Commission has recommended the closure of the FTII. While opposing such a drastic step, Bhatt does say that "if the attitudes to film and film-making do not change then the Institute will be digging its own grave. The greatest tragedy is the government turning a blind eye... its refusal to take a stand and support change."

Students of the FTII have prided themselves on making movies that are not mainstream or commercial. Commenting on this, Dr. John Carrol of the Australian Film Television and Radio School, a visiting Professor at the FTII, said: "The students see their role as that of cultural guardians and want the Institute to promote film on the basis of aesthetic value and social content... this is elitist in that it presupposes that the students 'know' what the audience should be shown in the cinemas and what is 'good for them' in terms of content. This modernistic perspective is now out of date in the film world, as it has been for much longer in the field of literature and art."

Echoing this view, Bhatt says: "I found the FTII to be shackled to a mindset that was outdated and worn out." Going one step further, he adds: "The FTII was created on the presumption that mainstream cinema was not good enough. According to the FTII attitude, European cinema is good, Hollywood and Bollywood are trash... even though the audiences say otherwise. The students need to get rid of their isolationist, arrogant world-view."

This is the larger picture that has to be looked at when the future of the Institute is discussed. Bhatt and many others feel that the FTII mindset is a "denial of the market realities", but they also agree that a sound basis in world cinema is essential in the course.

In view of the strike, the government appointed a committee in December 2000 to take another look at the course structure and the syllabus. The committee included a faculty member, a student representative and FTII alumni. The report of the committee, which was placed before the Academic Council in January, recommended a reversion to the three-year course. This recommendation was accepted, which amounted to the Academic Council rejecting a report that it had ratified earlier. The faculty members who had formulated a new course now did not contest the Academic Council's decision to revert to the three-year course.

A forceful assertion

In Rajasthan, the right to information becomes almost synonymous with the right to life.

AS guest of honour at a convention on the right to information, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was perhaps keen to maintain an image of transparency and candour. The early-April gathering of activists, campaigners and political workers at Beawar in Ajmer district of Rajasthan took place under the shadow of a third successive year of deficient rainfall in parts of the State. This has in turn caused acute livelihood stresses and raised the prospect of famine-like conditions. Deaths from food deprivation and its attendant diseases have already been reported from parts of the State.

For this reason, the deliberations at Beawar tended to focus on the government's effort to cope with the looming humanitarian emergency. The assembly was convinced that the affected people would be able to contribute to the efficacy of the relief effort if they were equipped with the knowledge of their entitlements under established law and custom and if they were aware of the special measures being initiated to cope with scarcity conditions. Without the wide dissemination of such information, development administrators would be sluggish in responding to people's needs and relief measures would prove of limited utility and benefit.

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Believing that the Chief Minister would be receptive, the assembly put a number of questions to him, some on the contingency measures being initiated to cope with famine-like conditions, others on the legislation introduced by his government to provide citizens with the right to information. Specifically, Gehlot was asked whether the famine code had been invoked in the State and how the government proposed to meet the obligations that stemmed from it. Under the code, every person willing to work in scarcity-hit areas is entitled to obtain employment under special public works, while those incapable of work would be eligible for gratuitous relief.

A further question was posed about the quite arbitrary figure of 800,000 that had been fixed as the maximum prospective number of beneficiaries of emergency employment programmes. When scarcity conditions were known to be afflicting a population of over 20 million, the Chief Minister was told, a ceiling of this nature did little to mitigate suffering.

Certain irrationalities in the administration of the employment programme were highlighted, all to do with inadequacies of information dissemination. The allocation of employment targets between development blocks, for instance, is announced after a totally avoidable delay. On this account, the prospective beneficiaries are kept in the dark till the day the muster rolls are drawn up for labour employment. This leads to many eligible individuals being left out and a less than optimal distribution of the benefits of the special relief programmes.

The Chief Minister was also told that wage rates paid in public works programmes effectively work out to a figure well below the statutory minimum. And finally, at the root of all the inadequacies in the implementation of anti-poverty programmes is a default by the State government: of its total entitlement of foodgrain for people below the poverty line (BPL) it lifts a mere 60 per cent from the Central pool.

Responding to these queries, Gehlot spoke at length about how his party had always supported the right to information. This commitment was consummated in his government's very early legislative initiative to inscribe the right in the statute book. As for the specific concerns that had been articulated about famine conditions in parts of the State, the government's records were always open for inspection, said Gehlot. The National Campaign for the Peoples' Right to Information, the umbrella organisation that was the sponsor of the Beawar convention, could nominate any individual of its choice to examine the records if that would serve to assuage public misgivings.

With these remarks - long on political posture but perfunctory on matters of detail - Gehlot took leave of the gathering. Activists of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), which hosted and organised the convention, made repeated appeals to him to return and deal with the specific concerns that had been placed before him. But Gehlot had to rush off to other engagements and as a politician he was not going to depart from the practised policy of giving nothing away unless compelled to.

Aruna Roy, founder of the MKSS and the inspirational figure behind the right to information movement in Rajasthan, came up with the appropriate response. Since the administration has proven that it is not amenable to a discussion about a matter involving the lives and livelihoods of millions, she said, the agitational programmes would have to be stepped up. The MKSS would begin laying siege to the warehouses of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), where the burgeoning stocks of food with the Central government were beginning to waste away. The agitation would continue till the government opened up the granaries and began a welfare programme that would relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable sections, said Roy.

A FEW days later, a demonstration against the paradox of apparent plenty amidst poverty took place in Udaipur. The tribal areas of Udaipur are among the worst affected by the drought conditions prevailing in Rajasthan and have witnessed a number of deaths from the diseases that spread in times of deprivation. The two main Left parties and the Janata Dal (Secular) had planned their raid on the godowns well before Gehlot's public display of reticence in Beawar. Following that event, the Udaipur demonstration drew in a substantial contingent from the MKSS.

On April 12, a large crowd assembled in the vicinity of the Udaipur District Collectorate to listen to former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Sita-ram Yechury and CPI State Secretary Tara Singh Sidhu. With V.P. Singh and Yechury symbolically equipping themselves with hammers to break the locks that were perceived obstacles to food security, the crowd set out in procession for the FCI warehouse. Stopped a kilometre before their destination, the demonstrators broke through police barricades and courted arrest. As they dispersed, they held out the promise that this would not be the last action of its kind.

The slogan raised in Udaipur was that the youth needed opportunities to work. Eight hours of work a day could be compensated with an appropriate quantum of food that would help a deprived family retain its tenuous hold on subsistence. But the State government pleads inability on grounds of financial stringency. And the Central government merely argues that it is doing its bit in allocating grain to the State, only to find that the State government seemingly has no use for it.

A GLANCE at the Central government's outlay in rural employment programmes would show that the scandal of 50 million tonnes of grain wasting away in warehouses as scarcity conditions grip large numbers of people will continue to haunt the country. In 1999-2000, the total outlay in rural employment programmes was Rs.3,729 crores - marginally lower than the budgetary target. When the Budget proposals for 2000-01 were presented, ample evidence was available that the preceding monsoon had been deficient in certain regions. Yet Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha chose to cut the outlay in rural employment sharply, to Rs.2,655 crores. At the same time, he held the allocation for rural water supply programmes at the preceding year's level of Rs.1,890 crores.

Less than two months later the government seemingly encountered the flash of revelation. Although it was always apparent that the onset of the summer months would increase sharply pressure on livelihoods in the rainfall deficient areas, the government waited till the blazing heat had set in to begin to reckon with the magnitude of human suffering. A huge public spectacle ensued with Ministers scaling new rhetorical peaks in seeking to mobilise public support for the relief effort.

Yet in concrete terms the response was abysmal. The outlay on rural employment and water supply programmes remained unchanged. All additional financial allocations went through the special contingency funds that have been created to cope with natural calamities. And these special allocations, it is known, have a tendency to flow through channels less open to public scrutiny, finally to end up enriching those who least deserve any kind of relief.

True to form, the Central government has been niggardly about rural employment and water supply programmes this year, the magnitudes of the increase in allocation being just over 10 per cent for both. With this level of reluctance at the Centre, it is no surprise that State governments should prove incapable of lifting the allocation of foodgrain they are entitled to for BPL populations. And though a large part of the problem may lie in the aggregate volumes of expenditure in rural works, the core issue really is their poor execution and the chronic lack of accountability and transparency of development administrations.

Underlying the current scarcity conditions in Rajasthan is the unsavoury reality that years of budgetary spending in rural works have done little but enrich dominant coteries of contractors, middlemen and the landed elites. This denial of the legitimate entitlements of the rural poor is another consistent focus of the right to information campaign, particularly as articulated by the MKSS. In December 1999, the MKSS made use of the limited access to official records that citizens enjoy under Rajasthan's right to information legislation, in order to lay bare the anatomy of corruption in public works in Umarwaas village of Udaipur district (Frontline, March 17, 2000). The dubious role of the individuals who had dominated the local body, as also the connivance of contractors and government officials, was unravelled in a dramatic public hearing (or jan sunwai) initiated by the MKSS with the enthusiastic participation of the poor and the landless. Although proven in the public mind, the corruption of the dominant coterie in Umarwaas is yet to elicit an official response.

Prior to the Beawar gathering in November 2000, the MKSS initiated a jan sunwai at Janawad panchayat in Rajsamand district (Frontline, April 13, 2001). Documentation of public works executed to the tune of Rs. 65 lakhs constituted the subject of the public debate. With the people certifying which of the works recorded in the official documents had actually been executed, it was established that no less than Rs. 45 lakhs of this sum had gone into fictitious, untraceable projects. In other words, rural employment and relief works had been a mere pretence to channel government outlays from official coffers into a small number of private hoards. And the Janawad jan sunwai was categorical about who should be held culpable for this state of affairs in their panchayat.

On April 9, three of the individuals identified at the public hearing were arrested by the State police and booked for criminal conspiracy, fraud and corruption. Ram Lal, sarpanch of Janawad for much of the six-year period for which the MKSS managed to audit the official record, was the most notable catch. Also booked were two State government functionaries - Ata Mohammad, who functioned as secretary of the panchayat for a two-year period when it was directly under the administration of the State government, and Savanchand Chandel, a junior engineer with the State Panchayati Raj Department. The MKSS believes that the action, although belated, against the three will serve as a deterrent for others who have been engaged in similar pursuits. But they insist that one of the junior engineers in the Panchayati Raj Department, now posted in a village of Ajmer district, has been unreasonably exempted from legal action.

THE Beawar convention was an observance of five years of the right to information movement, at the precise venue where it had been launched in April 1996. During this period, the movement has successfully pressured the State government to enact an enabling legislation that nevertheless remains weak in several respects. The Rajasthan Act, for instance, provides for no punitive action against officials who wilfully delay or deny access to information. A toothless Act, various speakers at Beawar pointed out, is perhaps of as much value as no Act at all. But the MKSS' Janawad operation proves that with sufficient diligence, even a deeply flawed law could serve an important public function.

Humour and irreverence are two other powerful propaganda tools that the right to information movement has deployed. The public at Beawar, for instance, were induced to participate in the convention by a "Ghotala rath yatra", an ironical celebration of the spirit of corruption, with the MKSS' Shankar Singh playing the archetypal politician revelling in his power and his exemption from all forms of accountability. Satire may seem out of place in the grim circumstances prevalent in Rajasthan. But in conjunction with agitation and the systematic pursuit and scrutiny of information, it is galvanising the poor and the deprived into an awareness of their rights.

Targeting history

The National Council for Educational Research and Training decides to remove some history textbooks from the higher secondary curriculum, and this move raises questions about the Sangh Parivar's agenda with regard to historical accounts.

THE National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is once again caught in a storm, following its decision to remove from the curriculum at the higher secondary level certain textbooks on history. The Council also intends to do away with history as a subject at that level and, instead, make it part of an integrated corpus of social sciences. The ostensible objective is to reduce the curriculum load and make it relevant and effective. These objectives were spelt out in the NCERT's National Curriculum Framework for School Education, which itself was criticised for its poor academic content and tendency to push the curriculum in a certain direction. The curriculum was released by Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Murli Manohar Joshi on November 14 last year (Frontline, December 22, 2000).

The moves of the NCERT and the HRD Ministry fall into a pattern that has become familiar since the National Democratic Alliance government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party assumed office. The inaugural issue of The Journal of Value Education, an NCERT publication, came under fire for its attempt to equate human values with religiosity. Education Secretary M.K. Kaw had to tender an apology to the National Council of Minorities for the offensive statements in one of the chapters authored by him in the journal. The University Grants Commission's (UGC) recent move to approve and allocate funds for regular university-level courses in Vedic Astrology had only recently drawn widespread criticism (Frontline, April 13, 2001).

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The move to do away with history as a separate subject at the higher secondary level is likely to come into effect from the next academic session in a phased manner. The textbooks that are sought to be removed are authored by eminent historians such as Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra and Bipan Chandra.

In justification of the moves, NCERT authorities quote the National Curriculum document, like a holy book. R.K. Dixit, convener of the Curriculum Group and Head of the Department of Education in Social Sciences and Humanities, sees a conspiracy behind the opposition to the Council's moves because, according to him, his critics concentrated on history and not other social sciences. The entire exercise of drawing up the syllabus and deciding on textbooks, he says, was done on the basis of the guidelines given in the National Curriculum document. Spelling out its intent regarding social sciences, particularly history, the document states: "In order to make the social sciences education meaningful, relevant and effective, the concerns and issues of the contemporary world need to be kept in forefront. To this end, the quantum of history may have to be substantially reduced." It is significant that the document does not propose to mete out similar treatment to other social sciences.

According to Dixit, every student need not become a specialist. "They have to be successful, competent citizens of a healthy society... we thought we should give a system of education for a general member of society; therefore, we decided to give social science in an integrated manner. All these subject areas should be brought closer to the real-life needs of the people," he said.

Defending the exclusion of history textbooks, he said that new needs had emerged in society and some of the material produced decades ago had not proved good enough to meet these needs. Some history books, he said, had statements about minority religions, which had hurt people and court cases had been initiated. People belonging to some dominant communities too had complaints but they did not go to court, he said. There was no strict divide between the Left and the Right and people from all ideologies were welcome on the basis of merit, he said. "What we are bothered about is their balanced views, their academic interest and their willingness to tolerate, change and modify things. That is what has given us this inspiration that we approach people of different kinds."

Asked about the quality of the textbooks, Dixit said that they were written by persons who had been accepted as brilliant scholars in their fields. "Our point is that if these books have put us in a very inconvenient situation, why should we continue with the same lot? There is nothing personal against anyone. But these books create problems, in the sense that we are supposed to be absolutely secular. If that is not happening, then things become inconvenient. What we mean is equal respect for all religions, for the followers of all religions and for the holy books of all religions."

According to Dixit, some historians had been left out of the NCERT committees with a view to bringing in fresh faces. But it was evident that freshness was not the only criterion. The expert committee that has been set up with the blessings of NCERT Director J.S. Rajput has the names of historians who are known to be close to the ruling establishment, such as S.P. Gupta, K.S. Lal, Lokesh Chandra and G.C. Pande. Sources in the NCERT said that the committee was packed with either relatively little known names or persons who are too old even to attend its meetings.

Dixit denied that the HRD Ministry had instructed the NCERT to exclude persons subscribing to a particular ideology. He said: "We would prefer issues being put before the students in an open manner. If there is a question about some historical controversy, for instance, about whether the Aryans came from outside, we should not say definitely that Aryans were outsiders and they drove away the original inhabitants. These questions divide the nation."

Dixit's idea of history defies logic. Here is an example: "Anyone who visits the Qutb Minar is tempted to know what it is. But at the other side of the Minar you have the Quwwat ul Islam mosque. There is also a question about that. One reads there that the Masjid was built on the debris of 37 Hindu and Jain temples. This is immediate history. I don't think we should ignore this." According to Arjun Dev, Dixit's predecessor in office, the inscription is there for everyone to see and there is no special need for the NCERT to tell students about it.

A balanced view of history, according to Dixit, can be achieved by giving details about the Indian tribes and the people of the north-eastern region and southern India which, he says, have been ignored in the current textbooks.

The textbooks in question are Bipan Chandra's Modern India, Satish Chandra's Medieval India and Romila Thapar's texts on Ancient India and Medieval India. The objections to the books written by Bipan Chandra and Satish Chandra pertain to certain historical facts about two Sikh gurus which, according to Dixit, would not be accepted by the people. The facts are seen as problematic because they do not deify the gurus.

Arjun Dev said that the question today was whether history should be subordinated to theology, mythology or fact.

Said Romila Thapar: "If they wish to revise the books, let competent historians do it. Have they set up a committee and has that committee recommended the withdrawal of these books? We would like to know who these experts are and on what grounds has any committee decided to do away with these books. To say there is no ideological motivation is not correct." She demanded that the NCERT make public the list of experts that it has put out to design the syllabus. "They know if they write their RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) view of history, it will get rejected. That is one of the reasons for abolishing history," she said.

The textbooks, says Romila Thapar, were model textbooks and the understanding was that if the States were to make any changes in them, the names of the authors would be deleted. "We were not writing Marxist texts. We were trying to reflect on some of the ideas of social and economic history. The purpose was to give standard information."

Bipan Chandra said that since it was difficult to distort history, the idea of giving selected themes suited the communal lobby. Rebutting Dixit's argument that young people have been brought in, Bipan Chandra said that hardly anyone in the expert committee fitted that category.

Satish Chandra, whose textbook on Medieval India is proposed to be withdrawn, told Frontline that a syllabus needed to be worked out first before deciding on the textbooks. He wondered whether history should be written "on the basis of facts or on the basis of susceptibilities of communities. He said that he was prepared to deal with any specific objection relating to historical facts but would not accept the NCERT's argument for weeding out specific books. It must be remembered that these texts had been in circulation for 30 years or more, he said.

According to Arjun Dev, the textbooks have been re-examined, revised and updated regularly, so the question of their obsolescence does not arise. He said that the renowned sociologist Yoginder Singh's name had been deleted from the list of experts dealing with the subject. Similarly, the name of Aijazuddin Ahmed, who had authored the Class XII textbook on geography, has been removed from the list. Among the names that are dropped from the list of experts in history were those of Romila Thapar, D.N. Jha, K.M. Shrimali and Satish Chandra.

Observers feel that the textbooks may be dropped only after a major alteration is made in the syllabus. The new syllabus is yet to be formalised and the actual phasing out of the textbooks will begin in the academic session starting in 2002. Whatever be the curriculum changes, it is clear that an entire generation of students will be exposed to history in a distorted form.

Stresses and risks

RICHA SINGH social-issues

Risky health behaviour among workers in an industrial area of New Delhi is seen to be linked to stresses at the workplace, poor working and living conditions and the limited social support available to them.

"WORKERS in the national capital are highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS", concludes a recent study, raising in its wake a gamut of issues related to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)/ AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and the workplace. In order to address this issue, a meeting of Central trade unions, employers' associations, women's organisations and labour support groups was held in Delhi. Among the participants were representatives of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the All-India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

"We have decided to call for the formulation of a national policy on HIV/AIDS at the workplace," says H. Mahadevan of the AITUC. Elaborating, he says that this would define the rights of workers and also the responsibility of employers if HIV/AIDS-affected cases are identified in the workplace. There should not be any mandatory testing of HIV in the workplace, nor any discrimination on account of identification of HIV infection in a worker, he says. "We have also taken up the task of organising cluster meetings in the residential areas of workers to sensitise them on this issue," says Madhavan.

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The role of employers in ensuring the safety of workers is no less important. Significant here is a document of the CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) - HIV/AIDS policy, which urges both employers and trade unions to ensure that HIV-infected people get the same rights as people suffering from any other illness, to start an awareness programme, empower employees and guarantee confidentiality regarding HIV/AIDS status. The policy opposes making testing a pre-employment requirement. However, for workers in the unorganised sector comprising a majority of India's workforce, the ground reality is very different. For the impoverished migrant workers, among the squatters of India's cities, there is little choice. Not only are they vulnerable to HIV/AIDS transmission, but the socio-economic and cultural realities of their life erect barriers to AIDS prevention efforts.

THE Wazirpur Industrial Area (WPIA) in the heart of New Delhi is like any decaying region in a large city, marked by the presence of unorganised industries, multitudes of migrant labourers, haphazardly stacked clusters of small, nameless factories, and filthy, unhygienic and overcrowded slums. Workers live here under dangerous, and highly stressful conditions. Most of the workers stay with friends or relatives in overcrowded rooms with little space for privacy, far away from their families. Having left home at the age of 15 to 18 years, they limit their visits to native places to once in two or three years. According to Sudhir, a steel cutter in A-124, friends and others from the same village do constitute a support system but that cannot substitute for a home. Besides, there are few opportunities for leisure.

Productivity seemed to be the main concern of the employers. Typically, the owner of an industry watches workers' movements from the window of his office room. Any worker found wasting time is liable to suffer a salary cut. However, the employer does not seem to care about the mental and physical well-being of the workers. The workers engage themselves in taxing and hazardous work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in dark, congested rooms - with infrequent breaks, sometimes with minimal access to food or water, under conditions of tremendous heat, polluted air and often, noisy machinery.

As for stress, accidents (particularly in the steel factories) are the central concern of many workers. They say that they live in daily fear of fatal, mutilating or disabling accidents. The fears are well-founded. On an average, one to two accidents occur every week. Bhola (23), a worker in A-117, lost his left eye as a steel patti (piece of scrap) hit it. Patti injury to the abdomen, liver, chest, eye and so on is common. Fatal accidents are also frequent - 12 cases were reported last year. Accidents in acid factories are also a regular feature. Workers seemed to refer to these accidents in a fatalistic way. "An accident can just happen anytime and kill someone working next to you. It will happen when it has to. If it is your day, you will go," says Radhashyam (27), a steel cutter in B-72.

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It is a fact that the health-related behaviour of a person is directly related to that person's sense of control over important aspects of his or her life. The greater one's sense of self-efficacy, the more is one's engagement in health-promoting behaviour. But in Wazirpur, the dominant feeling among the workers is one of helplessness in a range of contexts. Most of the workers said they hated their jobs, but had little choice, given their poor level of education, and the high level of unemployment and chronic poverty in the area of their origin. Narendra Kumar works on a steel rolling machine where steel plates are rolled and stretched. He says: "The work is difficult and risky. Rolling machines are death traps where all too often steel patti injures or kills one of us. But I have no choice, I have to do it".

Workers also feel that they cannot avoid health problems. Harvinder is 22. He washes steel sheets in acid tanks. According to him, he will inevitably get tuberculosis (TB), no matter how hard he tries to avoid it. Thirty-year-old Omprakash looks older than his age and sounds depressed and apathetic. Speaking about his recurrent bouts of TB, he doubts whether he would ever return to normal health. "What can I do? I do not have the privilege to improve my health. Living in this hell, I have no choice as to how I conduct my life; it is imposed on me. The workers here eat jaggery to save themselves from toxic fumes. I have stopped doing even that," he says. Not a year passes without Omprakash entering a hospital.

WHILE the workers speak with feeling about the frightening working atmosphere and poor living conditions, they have little faith in their ability to improve the situation. "Complaints to unions barely bear fruit," said one of them. According to Jai Kumar Gupta, an Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) activist, the risk of HIV/AIDS appears small compared to the everyday risks in the life of a worker in WPIA. This, he feels, is the reason why many workers did not bother about the ill-effects of drugs, alcohol, risky sexual behaviour and so on. "The risks involved in everyday life are such that one can hardly be interested in life and the only thing that motivates one is pleasure."

There is a large number of medical practitioners in WPIA: each locality has 100 to 150 of them. Most of them are quacks. For any ailment, a takat ki goli (power pill) or an injection is given. Shivakumar, who works in A-145, said one of his village kinsmen came from Mumbai and he had AIDS. He went to the "Bengali doctor" for treatment; he was given an injection, slept for two days and went back home. He is fine now. Did he really have HIV/AIDS? Dr. Banerjee thinks so because he had rashes on his body and also boils on his private parts. What was the treatment given? There are no disposable syringes in sight, except a dirty bowl to wash the oft-used syringe. However workers and their families visit these doctors for treatment.

When workers talked about their sexual experiences, their notion about masculinity came out. Workers seemed to have developed a sense of being 'machos' to tackle their fears in their day-to-day working lives. Shankar Magar, of B-46/4, speaks of his fears as a new worker: "As we stretched the steel sheets through the roller, holding it with our hands, pattis of all sizes broke and flew like bullets in different directions. That very week Krishan Nandan from my village, working next to me, died of stomach injury." Shankar was terror-stricken and wanted to leave the place but his more experienced colleagues asked him to stay on saying that he is a man, he has the responsibility of supporting his family and has no choice but to put up with the risks and stresses of work. "A man is someone brave enough to withstand the rigours of the job," he feels. According to him, the theme of "being a man" is commonly used to encourage or console co-workers. Thus the notion of masculinity plays an important role as a coping mechanism with which workers overcome their daily fears of injury and death as well as the demands of their work.

Mohan Singh (22) says: "Being a man means facing hardships, taking care of family and chasing women." Linked to this masculine identity are insatiable sexuality, the need for multiple sexual partners and a "manly" desire for the pleasures of the "flesh". All kinds of notions are widely prevalent. Sex is seen as crucial in the regulation and a balanced supply of blood and sperm, and prolonged celibacy is seen as a factor that causes depression, tendency to violence, inability to think clearly, and impulsive behaviour. According to Jai Kumar, an INTUC activist, "If a man has been a celibate for too long, he cannot control his desire when he encounters a commercial sex-worker."

Dangerous sexual behaviour among workers in WPIA must also be seen in the context of the limited social support available and their living away from homes and families. The fact that most of the workers in WPIA come from patriarchal rural communities of north India is also a causative factor. In such communities masculine identities are often constructed through participation in homestead and family leaderships. For the migrant workers of WPIA, frequent assertion of what are regarded as "healthy and manly sexual urges" could be attempts to compensate for reduced opportunities in other contexts.

Thus to view the risk-taking health behaviour of the workers in WPIA as an ignorant choice of theirs would be too simplistic. Although 60 per cent of the 147 workers interviewed in WPIA said that HIV/AIDS spread by visits to sex workers (an underestimate, given the sensitive nature of the subject), 30 per cent were aware that the condom was an important preventive device. However, only 0.7 per cent said they used condoms. These workers' notions about masculinity and sexuality often drive them to a point where, despite their awareness about AIDS, they gamble away their precious lives.

Richa Singh is a Shastri Indo-Canadian Fellow at McGill University, Canada and is doing her Ph.D. in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

'A holistic policy needed'

social-issues

Interview with W. R. Varadarajan, national secretary, CITU.

The need to evolve a holistic policy on the issues relating to the workers affected by or are susceptible to HIV/AIDS infection was stressed by Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) national secretary W. R. Varadarajan in an interview to Richa Singh. Internationally, the rights of HIV/AIDS-affected workers is a big issue. In India too the issues would assume greater proportions and must be taken up by the trade unions, he said. Excerpts:

Do you think HIV/AIDS is really an issue for workers in India today?

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HIV/AIDS is seriously affecting workers, particularly those in the unorganised sector. It affects persons in their most productive years and the "cost" of the disease for the worker and his family is irreversible. Given the rapidity with which it is spreading, it has become extremely important for trade unions to spread awareness about it among workers.

A recent study has pointed out that HIV/AIDS will pose serious problems at the workplace. The Bombay High Court judgment which asked for the reinstatement of a worker who had been thrown out of work after testing (HIV) positive, also demonstrates the reality of HIV/AIDS at the workplace. What are the issues that needs to be addressed here?

In India, such issues have not yet surfaced. Internationally, the rights of workers with HIV/AIDS is a big issue. These rights include no mandatory testing at the workplace and the right to confidentiality, and have been taken up by the trade unions. In India these issues will assume greater proportions and must be taken up.

Do you think the policy of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) sufficiently "targets" workers and the poorer sections?

It is a small beginning and has not gone beyond the level of a rudimentary campaign. We are well into the second decade of AIDS and the emphasis continues to be on adopting safe sex practices. That is not sufficient, particularly for the poorer sections.

The employers' associations such as the CII have formulated an HIV policy for the workplace. How do you assess this from the workers' perspective?

It is good that the employers' associations are addressing this issue and have formulated some guidelines. These, however, do not cover the workers of the unorganised sector who are compelled by the labour market to migrate for work, live away from the families and are most susceptible to HIV infection. A holistic policy has to be adopted so that these most vulnerable workers are also covered.

Do you think the ESI (Employees State Insurance) Corporation should take up this issue?

The ESI Corporation has so far not developed any long-term strategy to tackle HIV/AIDS. Also, most of the workers in the unorganised sector are not covered by the ESI. The Government of India should initiate moves for a tripartite dialogue on this issue. There should be a collaborative dialogue between the Health and Labour Ministries, and a legal policy framework must be evolved to prevent HIV-infected persons from being discriminated against in getting jobs and in keeping their jobs.

Behind the 'basic structure' doctrine

On India's debt to a German jurist, Professor Dietrich Conrad.

ON April 24, 1973, a Special Bench comprising 13 Judges of the Supreme Court of India ruled by a majority of 7-6, that Article 368 of the Constitution "does not enable Parliament to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution" (Kesavananda Bharati vs. The State of Kerala; AIR 1973 S.C. 1461, (1973) 4 SCC 225). It, however, overruled a decision of a Special Bench of 11 Judges, by a majority of 6-5, on February 27, 1967, that "Parliament has no power to amend Part III of the Constitution so as to take away or abridge the fundamental rights" (I.C. Golak Nath & Ors. vs. The State of Punjab & Ors.: AIR 1967 S.C. 1643, (1967) 2 SCJ 486).

Instead, the court propounded what has come to be known as "the basic structure" doctrine. Any part of the Constitution may be amended by following the procedure prescribed in Article 368. But no part may be so amended as to "alter the basic structure" of the Constitution. It is unamendable.

As in 1968, the ruling widened the political divide. The very next day, on April 25, 1973, Indira Gandhi's government struck a blow at the independence of the judiciary - from which it has not recovered fully even now, a quarter century later. It superseded three most senior Judges of the Supreme Court and appointed Justice A.N. Ray as Chief Justice of India. The favourite proved his worth during the Emergency.

Only a couple of years later, the majority ruling was vindicated during the Emergency when Indira Gandhi's appeal against the judgment of Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court - unseating her in the Lok Sabha for corrupt practices - was decided by the Supreme Court. She had taken care, meanwhile, to alter the election law retrospectively on the points on which she had lost. Worse, by means of the 39th Amendment to the Constitution, Article 329A was inserted in it to wipe out the Allahabad judgment, the election petition and the law relating to it. The right to dispute the validity of her election was taken away by not providing an alternative forum. A legislative enactment validated an election. It was successfully challenged in the light of the 1973 ruling. Article 329(4) was struck down as being violative of the principle of free elections and the rule of law. (Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain 1975 (Supp.) SCC 1).

This ruling spared the country much worse that was in store. Bill No. XVIII of 1975, gazetted on August 9, 1975, sought to enact the 41st Amendment to the Constitution. Immunity against criminal proceedings of the widest possible amplitude was proposed to be conferred on the Prime Minister by amending Article 361. The Bill was dropped, but it won converts to the 1973 ruling. The Supreme Court of India has since affirmed "the basic structure" doctrine in a series of rulings without demur. No one argued any longer that no other court had struck down a constitutional amendment by invoking that doctrine. For, in none other had such abuses been attempted.

What is little known in India is that this doctrine has now spread far and wide beyond its frontiers. In the 1950s and 1960s, Part III of the Constitution, embodying the fundamental rights, was emulated in the Constitution of many a Commonwealth country, including Pakistan's in 1956. In the last two decades, the Supreme Court's achievement has been acclaimed and adopted by courts in foreign lands.

THERE is, sadly, little acknowledgment in India of that debt we owe to a distinguished German jurist and a scholar steeped in other disciplines beyond the confines of law - Professor Dietrich Conrad, formerly Head of the Law Department, South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

In Golak Nath's case, the doctrine of any implied limitations on Parliament's power to amend the Constitution was not accepted. The majority felt that "there is considerable force in this argument" but thought it unnecessary to pronounce on it. "This question may arise for consideration only if Parliament seeks to destroy the structure of the Constitution embodied in provisions other than in Part III of the Constitution."

The argument of implied limitations had been advanced at the Bar by M. K. Nambyar, one of India's leading constitutional lawyers. Few people knew then that he owed the argument to Professor Conrad. In February 1965, while on a visit to India, Conrad delivered a lecture on "Implied Limitations of the Amending Power" to the Law Faculty of the Banaras Hindu University. A paper based on the subject was sent to Prof. T. S. Rama Rao in Madras for his comments. Nambyar's attention was drawn to this paper which he read before the Supreme Court, though with little result.

Prof. Conrad's lecture, delivered in February 1965, showed remarkable perceptiveness besides deep learning. He observed:

"Perhaps the position of the Supreme Court is influenced by the fact that it has not so far been confronted with any extreme type of constitutional amendments. It is the duty of the jurist, though, to anticipate extreme cases of conflict, and sometimes only extreme tests reveal the true nature of a legal concept. So, if for the purpose of legal discussion, I may propose some fictive amendment laws to you, could it still be considered a valid exercise of the amendment power conferred by Article 368 if a two-thirds majority changed Article 1 by dividing India into two States of Tamilnad and Hindustan proper?

"Could a constitutional amendment abolish Article 21, to the effect that forthwith a person could be deprived of his life or personal liberty without authorisation by law? Could the ruling party, if it sees its majority shrinking, amend Article 368 to the effect that the amending power rests with the President acting on the advice of the Prime Minister? Could the amending power be used to abolish the Constitution and reintroduce, let us say, the rule of a moghul emperor or of the Crown of England? I do not want, by posing such questions, to provoke easy answers. But I should like to acquaint you with the discussion which took place on such questions among constitutional lawyers in Germany in the Weimar period - discussion, seeming academic at first, but suddenly illustrated by history in a drastic and terrible manner."

A more detailed exposition of Prof. Conrad's views appeared after the judgment in Golak Nath's case (Limitation of Amendment Procedures and the Constituent Power; Indian Year Book of International Affairs, 1966-1967, Madras, pp. 375-430).

In 1973, as in 1968, the Bench was split evenly. Six of the Justices (Chief Justice S.M. Sikri, Justices J.M. Shelat, A.N. Grover, K.S. Hegde, S. Mukherjee and P. Jagan Mohan Reddy) were of the view that Article 368 does not enable Parliament to abrogate or take away fundamental rights, including the right to property, because there are in Article 368 inherent or "implied limitations" in that it does not empower Parliament to alter or destroy the "basic structure" of the Constitution. Six other Justices (Ray, M.H. Beg, D.G. Palekar, S.N. Dwivedi, K.K. Mathew and Y.V. Chandrachud) held that there were no limitations to the power of constitutional amendment beyond those which are contained in Article 368, and Parliament was competent to amend any provision of the Constitution.

It was the judgment of Justice Khanna that tilted the balance. He rejected the theory of implied limitations but held that the word "amendment" itself suggested the limitations. "The power of amendment under Article 368 does not include the power to abrogate the Constitution nor does it include the power to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution. Subject to the retention of the basic structure, the power of amendment is plenary and includes within itself the power to amend the various articles of the Constitution, including those relating to fundamental rights as well as those which may be said to relate to essential features."

He, however, approved as "substantially correct" the following observations by Prof. Conrad: "Any amending body organised within the statutory scheme, howsoever verbally unlimited its power, cannot by its very structure change the fundamental pillars supporting its constitutional authority."

It was no mere coincidence that a German jurist had thought of implied limitations on the amending power. Article 79(3) of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, adopted on May 8, 1949, six months before the drafting of India's Constitution ended, bars explicitly amendments to provisions concerning the federal structure and to "the basic principles laid down in Articles 1 and 20 (on human rights and the "democratic and social" set-up). The Germans learnt from the bitter experience of the Nazi era. The framers of the Constitution of India refused to look beyond the Commonwealth countries and the United States.

It is, again, to Prof. Dietrich Conrad that we owe a mass of information on the spread of the "basic structure" doctrine in a lecture on "Basic Structure of the Constitution and Constitutional Principles," delivered at the Indian Law Institute in New Delhi on April 2, 1996. It was published in Law and Justice, a journal of the United Lawyers Association, New Delhi (Vol. 3, Nos. 1-4; pages 99-114).

Prof. Conrad aptly remarked that "in this free trade of constitutional ideas the Indian Supreme Court has come to play the role of an exporter. This holds true with respect to at least two major innovations introduced by the court"; namely, public interest litigation and "the basic structure doctrine". The doctrine was adopted by the Supreme court of Bangladesh in 1989 expressly relying on the reasoning in the Kesavananda case of 1973 (Anwar Hossain Chowdhary vs. Bangladesh; 41 DLR 1989 App. Div. 165, 1989 BLD (Spl.) 1).

PAKISTAN has so far declined to follow suit, though there have been significant shifts in that direction. Prof. Conrad points out that in 1963 in Fazlul Quader Chowdry vs. Mohd. Abdul Haque, the Pakistan Supreme Court had introduced the expressions "fundamental" or "essential features of the Constitution", "fundamentals of the Constitution" or "essential features of the Constitution", "fundamentals of the Constitution", "basic structure of government" and so on to describe the inherent limitations of a presidential power to remove difficulties in bringing the Constitution into operation. "This language was used in order to distinguish the President's power of mere adaptation from wider powers of constitutional amendment, holding that a change, e.g. 'essential features', went beyond adaptation and could only be done by amendment. Nevertheless, soon thereafter it was noted in an Indian case in the context of the amending power itself." (Justice J. R. Mudholkar in Sajjan Singh vs. The State of Rajasthan, AIR 1965 SC 845 at p. 862). From there to Kesavanda was a short step. Dr. Kamal Hossain, distinguished counsel and former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, pointed out to the Bangladesh Supreme Court in 1989 that the doctrine "originated from a decision of Dhaka High Court".

Prof. Conrad added: "Recently, in the famous case on judicial appointments, the Pakistan Supreme Court has come very close to recognising a "basic structure" limitation on the power of amendment. In fact it is amazing to see how they could arrive at certain conclusions and still evade an express recognition of the doctrine" (Al-Jehad Trust vs. Federation of Pakistan; PLD 1996 SC. 367).

Prof. Conrad concluded his tour d'horizon by saying that "the concept of a basic structure giving coherence and durability to a Constitution has a certain intrinsic force which would account for its appearance in various jurisdictions and under different circumstances. It remains to take a closer look at some implications of this theory as they appear from comparative constitutional experience.

In this respect a very interesting development is going on in India bringing Indian constitutional philosophy into closer rapport with European antecedents. This development is the emergence of constitutional principles in their own right - being something more than a summary or a heading of particular provisions, and possibly transcending their literal wording. It can be observed in the use recently made of the basic structure doctrine in the Bommai case. Here the basic structure concept was resorted to outside its original scope and function. No question of constitutional amendment was involved in the case. But the Supreme Court held that policies by a State government directed against an element of the basic structure of the Constitution would be a valid ground for the exercise of the central power under Article 356, that is, the imposition of President's Rule. Secularism was held to be such an essential feature of the Constitution and part of its basic structure."

Prof. Conrad, one might add, is learned in India's history and Hindu philosophy no less, besides constitutional law. He has written extensively on knotty issues of Hindu law and Muslim law; notably on the Shah Bano case. At Heidelberg he has been a guide, friend and philosopher to many a South Asian student.

There is a sad void in our academia. There is no institution which informs us of legal developments in neighbouring countries. There is, however, one institution in London which does just that and on a far wider scale, too. It is Interights, at Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London, NI 9LHO.

The Tamil Nadu picture

It is a mixed message that emerges from the preliminary Census data regarding the major southern State.

PAPER-1 of the Census of India 2001, Series-34, entitled 'Provisional Population Totals', pertaining to Tamil Nadu, has been brought out by the Director of Census Operations for Tamil Nadu. It contains interesting preliminary material on several aspects of changes in the population since the 1991 Census including population growth, sex ratios and literacy rates and disaggregation by district and gender. The document should be of great interest, even given the provisional nature of the data, and the fact that several other aspects, such as disaggregation by residence, workforce participation and so on, are yet to be published.

Tamil Nadu's population stood at 62,110,839 as of 00.00 hours of March 1, 2001. It is the sixth most populous State of the Indian Union behind Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. The State accounts for 6.05 per cent of the country's population. Its population density at 478 persons per square kilometre, up from 429 in 1991, and much higher than the all-India density of 324, makes it the eleventh most densely populated State (1991 rank:10).

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During the decade 1991-2001, Tamil Nadu reported the second lowest decadal growth in population after Kerala, among the group of States with population exceeding 20 million in 2001. While Kerala's population grew by 9.42 per cent between 1991 and 2001, Tamil Nadu's grew by 11.19 per cent. In fact, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Orissa are the only three States in this group to have shown a decline in decadal percentage change in population in every decade since 1971. Among the southern States, Andhra Pradesh has shown the sharpest decline in percentage decadal growth in population from 24.2 in the period 1981-1991 to 13.86 in 1991-2001.

Tamil Nadu has also performed reasonably well in terms of literacy growth during the decade 1991-2001. The State's literacy rate increased from 62.66 per cent in 1991 to 73.47 per cent in 2001. The female literacy rate increased from 51.33 per cent in 1991 to 64.55 per cent in 2001, while the male literacy rate grew at a slower pace from 73.75 per cent in 1991 to 82.33 per cent in 2001. This is in line with trends elsewhere in the country, with female literacy growing more rapidly from a lower base level, but of course considerably behind male literacy levels. As is the case with every State/Union Territory except tiny Dadra and Nagar Haveli, the gender gap in literacy has declined in Tamil Nadu, but still remains large at 17.78 percentage points. This is almost as large as in Andhra Pradesh (19.68) and Karnataka (18.84), and way above Kerala's at 6.34 percentage points. However, there are several positive features of the State' progress in literacy.

The population sex ratio for Tamil Nadu has increased from 974 females per 1,000 males in 1991 to 986 in 2001. This is true of most States. Only four States among those with a population exceeding 20 million in 2001 - Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab - report a decline in population sex ratios between 1991 and 2001. However, Tamil Nadu's child sex ratio - defined as the number of girls per 1,000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years - shows a decline from 948 in 1991 to 939 in 2001. The decline in child sex ratios in some districts of the State is quite alarming.

NOW for the disaggregated picture at the district level. The decadal percentage increase in population is lower between 1991 and 2001 as compared to 1981-1991 for most districts as it is for the State as a whole. The only exceptions are Coimbatore, Salem and Namakkal. This compares with eight districts reporting an increase in the decadal percentage increase in population between 1981 and 1991 as compared with 1971-1981. An examination of decadal increases since 1901 shows that in 18 out of the State's current 30 districts, the intercensal percentage increase has been declining in every decade during the period 1971-2001. For 15 of these 18 districts, this is true for the period 1961-2001.

The percentage decadal growth in population between 1991 and 2001 has been especially low in the central and southern districts, with only Virudhunagar and Tirunelveli reporting growth higher than the State average of 11.19. Among the districts reporting relatively high growth rates of population, we really seem to have two categories: Coimbatore, Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Vellore possibly reflecting growth of industries and some in-migration, on the one hand, and Dharmapuri, Salem and Namakkal reflecting high fertility arising from very strong son preference, on the other. This argument is of course somewhat speculative at this point in time, and one would need data on migration and fertility to confirm this.

What emerges overall is that the trend of decline in population growth in Tamil Nadu is now widely spread among practically all its districts. Its gender implications may not always be sanguine, as we shall see later.

TAMIL NADU'S literacy map in 2001 looks impressive in comparison with most States. Among the major states, it is just behind Maharashtra but way behind Kerala. An encouraging feature of the progress between 1991 and 2001 is the significant reduction in inter-district variation as well as in the gender gap in literacy. The difference between the highest and the lowest district literacy rates in 1991 was 44.16 percentage points for females, 30.65 for males and 36.04 overall. The corresponding figures for 2001 are 36.28, 22.06 and 28.88 - still large, but reflecting some progress. In 1991, only four of the current 30 districts reported a female literacy rate in excess of 60 per cent. In 2001, the number is 20. Similarly, only four districts reported a male literacy rate exceeding 80 per cent in 1991. The number in 2001 is 23. Sixteen districts out of the current 30 had female literacy rates below 50 per cent in 1991. In 2001, only Dharmapuri has that dubious distinction.

The gender gap in literacy has also come down throughout the State. In 1991, in 27 out of 30 districts, the male literacy rate exceeded the female literacy rate by more than 20 percentage points. This number has now come down to 13, again large enough to forbid complacency, but some progress all the same.

The mass literacy campaigns of the early 1990s - known in the State as "Arivoli Iyakkams" - have no doubt played a significant part in this progress, despite the fact that, after the early and enthusiastic high points of 1991-1993, the campaigns lost their participatory character due to bureaucratisation and other factors. But their contribution lay not only in their direct achievements in making people - especially women - literate, but even more in encouraging and convincing parents, especially the neoliterates and non-literates, to send children to school. The literacy achievements as such of the campaigns is difficult to measure, especially at this distance in time from when they took place, and in view of the failure of the State government to put in place an effective system of post-literacy and continuing education that could have minimised relapse into illiteracy for the neoliterates. When data on literacy rates by age groups becomes available, it should be possible to see the impact of increased enrolment and retention in elementary education on overall literacy.

A word of caution against complacency on the literacy front is perhaps in order. It is sobering to note that despite the professed commitment to universal primary education by successive governments in the State - this in itself being a considerable dilution of the constitutional commitment to eight years of free and compulsory education for all - male (and of course, female) literacy rates, even by the rather minimalist census way of reckoning, are nowhere near full literacy. According to the 2001 Census, more than a third of females in the State in the 7+ population remain illiterate. This figure is greater than 40 per cent in 10 districts, with female non-literates outnumbering female literates in Dharmapuri district. Neighbouring Kerala is a constant reminder of what is possible, given the political will.

POPULATION sex ratios have increased between 1991 and 2001 in practically all districts of Tamil Nadu. The only exceptions are Dharmapuri, where it has declined from an already low figure of 942 to 938, and Thoothukudi, where it has declined marginally from a high of 1,051 to 1,049 - still the highest in the State. As many as 17 out of 30 districts report a sex ratio in excess of the State average of 986. The southern districts - with the significant exceptions of Madurai and Theni - report sex ratios in excess of 1,000, while Chennai and its neighbouring districts of Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram as well as Coimbatore report somewhat lower sex ratios, reflecting in considerable part male in-migration from other districts for employment in industry. But there are at least two districts where sex ratios are considerably lower than the State average - Dharmapuri (938) and Salem (929) - for reasons other than sex selective migration. This becomes immediately evident if we look at child sex ratios(CSRs). While the Census Paper for Tamil Nadu does not give the district-wise CSRs for 2001, it gives the break-up of the population aged 0-6 years by sex, thus enabling one to work out the CSRs. Data on CSRs for 1991 for the 21 districts existing then have been worked out from the 1991 Census papers.

The CSR for Tamil Nadu declined from 948 in 1991 to 939 in 2001. Several districts have also shown declines. While in 1991, 12 out of the then existing 21 districts had a CSR greater than 960, in 2001 only nine out of the current 30 districts have a CSR exceeding 960. Seven districts have a CSR below 930 in 2001: Salem (826), Dharmapuri (878), Theni (893), Namakkal (896), Karur (923), Madurai (927) and Dindigul (929). These are also the districts where there is considerable evidence from the field of widespread practice of female infanticide (Frontline, July 11, 1997 and October 9, 1998). Besides these districts where the CSR is low, the district of Vellore has shown a sharp decline in CSR from 962 to 937. It is a fact that female infanticide is widespread in the Tirupathur division of this district as well as in some blocks of neighbouring Tiruvannamalai district.

The decline in CSRs is more widespread than it may appear at first sight. If one takes a look at the 1991 CSRs of the districts of Chengai (now, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram), Viluppuram (now, Viluppuram and Cuddalore) and Tiruchirapalli (now, Karur, Perambalur, Ariyalur and Tiruchirapalli), and the CSRs in 2001 of the new districts carved out of them, this becomes evident. In all the cases, the CSR of each one of the newly constituted districts in 2001 is lower than that in 1991 of the district out of which it was carved.

Perhaps the most worrying message of the 2001 Census for Tamil Nadu is that unless efforts on a mass scale are urgently taken to address the issues of patriarchy, son preference and the neglect or worse in relation to the female foetus, infant and child, the decline in birth rates which are often celebrated unthinkingly by policymakers may well have been bought at the cost of grave gender inequality, with its own devastating long-run consequences. Universalisation of the small family norm without a concomitant attack on son preference, and in the context of a largely commercialised medical profession for whom ethical concerns are not high on the agenda, and an overall permissive atmosphere where State or community intervention is generally frowned upon, can be disastrous for the gender balance of a population.

Venkatesh Athreya is Professor and Head of the Department of Economics, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli.

Trouble over Man

The Madhya Pradesh government's resolve to go ahead with the construction of the Man project without implementing the land-for-land rehabilitation policy agitates the Adivasis who would be affected by the project.

THIS monsoon, another tragedy is waiting to occur. And the place once again is the Narmada Valley. The dam in question this time is on the Man river and is one of the 30 big dams that form a part of the gigantic scheme devised by the Narmada Valley Development Authority to harness the waters of the Narmada and its tributaries.

As has happened in the case of other projects here, the issue revolves around rehabilitation. Some 993 Adivasi families (about 5,000 persons) belonging to 17 villages in Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh will be affected when the monsoon breaks this year and submerges their lands. Generations of these Adivasis, mostly Bhils and Bhilalas, have inhabited these plains cultivating corn, wheat, cotton and pulses on the fertile black soil irrigated by the perennial Man.

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On March 21, hundreds of Adivasis stormed and occupied the dam site demanding total rehabilitation prior to the monsoon of the families affected by the dam and a halt to the construction activity. About 250 protesters were arrested and lodged in the Dhar jail. Later 33 persons were released and the rest, who included women with babies in their arms, remained behind bars. Fifty children who participated in the dharna were taken to jail along with the adults but were released immediately. On the seventh day of the protest, all but two women, Chittaroopa Palit and Urmila Patidar, were detained. Palit is a field worker of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and Patidar is an NBA volunteer. Incidentally, Patidar is one of the persons affected by the now-stalled Maheshwar dam project. The NBA activists were charged with committing atrocities on the Adivasis. In order to detain the protesters, warrants relating to old cases were submitted to the Jail Superintendent. The jail official received warrants against Palit for six cases in Dhar and for five cases from the Mandleshwar Court. Warrants were also served by the Khargone Court, directing that she be produced before it. Palit and Patidar were detained for 13 days.

Palit says: "The case against me and 13 others under the SC/ST Act states that we abused Adivasi policewomen as we beat them up, saying Randi, phir aa gayi. Tum logo se kya hoga, Bhildi? (There is nothing you can do to stop us, Bhildi). Bhildi is a contemptuous way of referring to Adivasis. Of course it is not clear why someone participating in a movement for Adivasi rights should use the word Bhil pejoratively."

IT is evident that the NBA had made a determined effort to resolve the Man issue through dialogue and that it resorted to the agitation only after these failed. A brief timeline proves this. On January 24, the affected families staged a demonstration in front of the Dhar district headquarters demanding that the construction be stopped and that a land-for-land policy be implemented. On January 30, the government acquiesced to the demand to halt work. However, construction work re-started on February 9. On February 20, Deputy Chief Minister Subhash Yadav chaired a meeting at which the affected people raised questions about the incomplete rehabilitation. This was the first meeting of the Punarvas Ayojan Samiti, a committee for rehabilitation, appointed by the government to look into alternatives for the proposed projects and study the rehabilitation process. From the protesters' point of view the meeting was a failure since they were not allowed to present the entire issue. The meeting adjourned halfway through.

THE struggle against the Man project started four years ago. The construction of the dam began in November 2000 despite the fact that no move had been made to rehabilitate the affected families. One key aspect of the rehabilitation policy is that any person losing more than 25 per cent of his or her landholding is entitled to irrigated agricultural land in the rehabilitation process. As is true in the case of other Narmada Valley dams, the majority of the displaced persons will be Adivasis. Initially the authorities presumed that the general lack of land deeds and other papers of ownership among them would make land acquisition easy. However, Schedule V of the Constitution safeguards Adivasi rights. A Supreme Court ruling that prevents the transfer of land from an Adivasi to a non-Adivasi for any purpose lends further strength to the constitutional provision.

The rehabilitation policy states that cash compensation can be given only to those affected persons who apply for it. And if the applicant is an Adivasi then the Collector must issue a certificate stating that the payment of cash compensation, rather than the allotment of alternative land, will not be detrimental to the future of the applicant.

In 1990 and 1991, some Adivasis affected by the Man project accepted small amounts of cash compensation. They now say that they were coerced into accepting these by government officials who told them that if they did not accept the money at that point they would get nothing. Their claim is borne out by the fact that there is no record of applications made by Adivasis nor of any certificate issued by the Collector.

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Chittaroopa Palit says: "The choice of cash against land has to be voluntary in the case of any of the oustees, especially in the case of Adivasis since they are not integrated into the monetary economy and there are several covenants against the purchase or acquisition of tribal lands for cash. The Collector is meant to investigate first and then verify whether acceptance of cash would lead to the pauperisation of the family. In the case of Man there was no application, nor was there any investigation by the administration. They were just forced to take cash - that too a pittance - nearly a decade ago, without being informed of their rights."

The Man project, with a proposed height of 53 metres, received environmental clearance in 1994. A precondition for the clearance was that the affected Adivasis must be resettled on non-forest agricultural land - a policy statement that was reinforced by the State government's own policy that stipulated a land-for-land resettlement. Yet cash compensation transactions did take place. As a result of these violations, the appraisal committee of the Central Environment Ministry blacklisted the project in 1984. In 1997, when eviction notices were handed to the Adivasis, they rallied together under the banner of the NBA.

After three years of pressure, the State government agreed to convene a committee for rehabilitation. A government order clearly bars all construction activity that might endanger any affected person whose rehabilitation was yet to be completed. Work resumed on the spillway of the dam in October 2000, potentially endangering the lives of over 500 Adivasis during the coming monsoon. Work was stopped following a public protest, but it resumed after 10 days under police protection.

The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal, which was appointed by the Union of India in 1969 to arbitrate differences among the three States of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat on the sharing of the Narmada waters, has made precise provisions in its award stating a land-for-land principle in matters of land compensation. The award also stipulates that there should be community resettlement to facilitate easier resettlement of families. The rehabilitation package provides for house plots (in some cases, with construction costs) and cultivable irrigated or irrigable land. The Madhya Pradesh government based its 1989 rehabilitation policy on this, but Palit says those affected by the Man project "have not been given the mandatory house plots nor the basic village infrastructure under the Madhya Pradesh policy. When the reservoir fills up this year, the people will have nowhere to go."

Project officials say they have prepared an emergency plan. To compensate for the permanent submergence of the lands and homes of over 500 people the NVDA has proposed temporary camps to provide shelter, food and medical assistance. Half of the minimum wages for the initial monsoon months have also been promised, but as Palit asks, "what happens after that?"

To date only 22 Adivasis have been given lands, which according to the NBA is either encroached or uncultivable land. Ironically, the rationale of the Man dam is itself questionable. The project's promoters say that it will vastly increase the scope for irrigation. But a 1998 Task Force investigation revealed that 54 per cent of the command area was already irrigated and the remaining land was unsuitable for irrigation. It was also found that the existing irrigation facilities were not being maximised.

A project official conceded: "If the dam construction proceeds as per plan, the crest level of 286.10 metres will be achieved by the monsoon of 2001. At this height, at the maximum water flow of 10 cumecs along with the backwater effect, 993 families will be affected. Of this, 283 families have vacated and 710 are yet to vacate the submergence area."

Regardless of these facts, NVDA officials are adamant about continuing the work. They argue that the grant of NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) credit for the project requires that the dam be constructed by June 2001.

The controversy about the Man project is the first major one to erupt in the Narmada Valley after the Supreme Court judgment on the Sardar Sarovar dam. Bolstered by the judgment, Madhya Pradesh is forging ahead with the construction work, largely ignoring all directives on rehabilitation. The Man events indicate that the State government will take up similar projects in the coming months.

Summing up her experience with regard to the project so far, Palit says: "After the Supreme Court judgment, they (the government) think it is a free-for-all. On January 28 they called a meeting of the committee on the Veda and Goi projects, which were meant to be alternatives to these large dams. I am also a member of this committee, which was set up under the orders of the State government issued in May 1999. We had staged a 21-day fast in Bhopal. The committee was set up in late 2000, and at the first meeting, held in January, we were told in no uncertain terms that there was no question of alternatives and that the government would go ahead with the large dams. Then came the meeting of the committee on the Man-Jobat projects where they basically said that everything had been done and that they would construct the dam to its full height."

Omissions and commissions

Depositions by P.V. Narasimha Rao and L.K. Advani before the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry amount to exercises in rationalisation and evasion.

THE committee rooms in Delhi's Vigyan Bhavan seem a world removed from the battleground of Ayodhya where the Hindutva forces launched their frenzied assault against secularism and the rule of law. And the lapse of more than eight years may have dimmed the violent passions that were stirred up by the campaign to supplant an Islamic place of worship with a temple to a revered hero of Hindu myth.

After a long spell of fruitless endeavour and legal wrangling, the M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry into the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya seems to have hit a productive vein of public disclosure. The depositions it has managed to secure in the last few weeks represent milestones in the effort to establish the truth behind the dark deed of December 1992. And after the official efforts to dignify the feeble and ineffectual response to an unprecedented challenge to the authority of the state, the Liberhan Commission perhaps holds the promise that a more complete and accurate picture will be available for the record.

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Evasion of the Commission's summons may have been a viable strategy for some of the principal actors of the demolition drama at Ayodhya. But after several attempts to secure their appearance had been frustrated, Justice Liberhan made it known that he would not hesitate to resort to issue non-bailable warrants. For the many Ayodhya crusaders and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who are now ensconced in responsible positions in government this would have been a serious indignity. Recent months have thus seen the appearance of Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Minister of State for Sports Uma Bharati. But the deposition by Home Minister L.K. Advani, which immediately followed the appearance of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao has been the highlight of the Commission's deliberations so far.

Viewed in conjunction, the depositions by Advani and Narasimha Rao provide key insights into the political power-play that preceded the demolition. The then Prime Minister, for instance, has placed on record an elaborate rationalisation of his sequence of actions, which then seemed like an abdication of responsibility. Despite initiating broad-ranging consultations over possible means to defuse the sharpening crisis, Narasimha Rao told the Commission, he was not given sufficient political and legal backing for any firm measures that he may have been contemplating. At a meeting of the National Integration Council he was warned by none other than the Communist Party of India veteran Indrajit Gupta that imposition of President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh may not be an option. And the Supreme Court had refused to countenance his plea that the Central government should be empowered as a "receiver" to take the area of the Babri Masjid into its custody.

In advancing the alibi of helplessness, Narasimha Rao also implicated his former Cabinet colleagues. He stated before the Commission that he had during a two-day visit abroad late in November 1992 fully authorised his senior colleagues in the Ministry, notably S.B. Chavan, Arjun Singh and Sharad Pawar, who were respectively the Ministers for Home, Human Resource Development and Defence, to fashion an appropriate resolution of the problem. This was a "window of opportunity" that he had presented them, which they unfortunately squandered, said Narasimha Rao.

The former Prime Minister admitted that there was a contingency plan, authored by Home Secretary Madhav Godbole, which had been placed before him. But he thought the plan, which charted out a sequence of demands that the Centre could place on the State government, culminating in the event of their cumulative non-fulfilment in the imposition of President's rule, to be unworkable. The invocation of Article 356 was contingent on the satisfaction of the President. And as a constitutional expert, President Shankar Dayal Sharma, claimed Narasimha Rao, may have been sceptical of the grounds advanced for the imposition of Central rule.

These must seem rather curious averments, since Sharma had on the day of the demolition issued one of the strongest presidential fiats ever witnessed in independent India. His directive to the government of the day to do all that was necessary to preserve the peace and ensure the rule of law might have been an unusual step for a constitutional head of state. But in the circumstances then prevailing, it was widely endorsed as the proper thing to do.

Narasimha Rao's self-extenuating pleas only reinforce the impression that he was suffering from a complete paralysis of political initiative in the days leading up to the Ayodhya demolition. This had been induced as much by his own reluctance to take firm action as by the Congress party's prolonged record of waffling when confronted by the challenge of Hindutva communalism. For at least the five years of Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as Prime Minister, the policy of the Congress was to stoke rival forms of competitive communalism. The capitulation to Islamic fundamentalists in the Shah Bano case was followed in quick time by a blatant overture towards Hindu extremists. If the Muslim Women's Bill was the "Muslim card", the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid which enabled access to the Ram idols that had been surreptitiously introduced there in 1950, was the "Hindu card".

There were several opportunities in the following years for the Congress to step off this hazardous tight-rope between two forms of extremism. But these were not taken. By 1989, the game was up. The BJP had snatched the "Hindu card" from the faltering grasp of the Congress. From then on, the BJP was to set the agenda with its provocative campaigns of mobilisation. To respond effectively, the Congress needed to repudiate much of its legacy from the late-1980s. And that was a challenge to its political ingenuity from which it came off rather poorly.

Significantly, after the Ayodhya demolition Narasimha Rao committed himself fairly unequivocally to the reconstruction of the Babri Masjid. This assurance has been conspicuously absent from all the subsequent political campaigns of the Congress. Again, the Narasimha Rao government chose the path of indifference and silence immediately after the demolition, when certain individuals with fairly transparent political motivations petitioned the Allahabad High Court for the unfettered right to worship at the makeshift temple that had been installed at the site of the Babri Masjid. The 1986 court order opening the locks of the Masjid had effectively legitimised the act of trespass of 1950. The 1992 "darshan" order compounded this by effectively legitimising the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

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IN the course of his two-day long deposition before Liberhan, Advani, who had led one of the three convoys of kar sevaks that converged on Ayodhya to perform their act of vandalism, made an elaborate play on precisely these points. On the first day Advani spoke with feeling and passion about the acute distress the demolition had caused him. This had been his stated position in the immediate aftermath of the event and it continued to be so, he said. He had no intention at any stage to advocate or condone the demolition. Rather, his purpose was to achieve the peaceable relocation of the Babri Masjid with all the respect and deference due to a place of worship. But he was helpless in controlling the kar sevaks who acted that day in frustration and rage at the continuing prevarication of the government.

Advani's statements effectively affirm that the Muslim community, in atonement for all its historical sins, should have acquiesced in the effacement of a part of its cultural heritage. This would be the only means for them to buy peace with the Hindu majority. It was only their continuing obduracy - encouraged by the Congress government - that led to the tragic event at Ayodhya.

In disowning or pleading ignorance of all the inflammatory rhetoric that had been unleashed by his confederates in the Hindutva family, Advani has again been consistent to his long held position. But there is no escaping the inference that he is being disingenuous, since many of the most violent incitements were fashioned by the participants in his 1990 rath yatra. Disavowing this perfectly reasonable belief, Advani quoted from Koenrad Elst, a Belgian theologian who earned a brief notoriety in India with his rather crass rationalisation of the Ayodhya movement. Far from being an incitement to violence, Elst seemingly said, the rath yatra was "an island of orderliness".

Anupam Gupta, counsel for the Liberhan Commission, had his own scholarly references at hand, and these were of decidedly greater authenticity than Elst's work. But Advani's counsel objected to his effort to place on record a scholarly account of the rath yatra from an authoritative collection of essays published in 1996.

The following day, Advani came up with a more subtle sequence of arguments, which cleverly wove its way through the weak spots of the Congress position. The "disputed structure" at Ayodhya had always been a temple, he claimed. Although it had the superstructure of a mosque, it had been revered as a temple marking the birth place of Lord Ram since 1950. The court order permitting devotees access to the idols in 1986 had conferred this de facto situation with de jure legitimacy.

Under some sharp cross-examination Advani was compelled to admit that his use of the term "de jure" was rather loose. He conceded that the courts could, in deciding on the issue of title to the site, reverse the 1986 order. But it was nevertheless the fact, he said, that it has "by now been accepted by all that on the place believed to be Ram's birthplace, there is only a temple".

In a significant statement that could have repercussions for the political balance of power within the Hindutva fraternity, Advani also asserted that with the temple now an accomplished fact, he did not endorse the demand for a new structure commemorating the birth of Ram. Effectively, this is a signal to the hardline elements within the BJP and its large ideological family that the temple construction project may not be a politically rewarding pursuit in the years to come. If anything, Advani's craftsmanship of the ideological rationale of the Ayodhya movement, speaks of a shrewd political sense. Now with the purpose of power achieved, he believes that further insistence on the theme would be counter-productive. This could well reflect an accurate reading of ground realities. But the purpose of calling to account those culpable for independent India's greatest political outrage still remains to be consummated.

With many hyphens and question marks

columns

The near-euphoric official optimism over Indo-U.S. relations following Jaswant Singh's Washington visit is unwarranted. It is a downturn that should be expected under George W. Bush - unless the Vajpayee government cravenly kowtows to him.

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NEARLY two weeks after Foreign and Defence Minister Jaswant Singh left the shores of the United States, he still has not disclosed what important "agreements on defence cooperation" he reached in Washington. He had promised (on April 7) to do reveal the details after obtaining "Cabinet clearance". But the Indian public remains in the dark, although the U.S. government knows. However, this has not prevented sections of the Indian media from declaring that India-U.S. relations, on the upswing since President Bill Clinton's visit a year ago, have "acquired a whole new dimension"; indeed that Jaswant Singh "pulled off" nothing short of "a coup" in Washington when President George W. Bush held a 45-minute unscheduled meeting with him in the Oval Office, no less.

Jaswant Singh was giddily upbeat about his visit. He outdid British Prime Minister Tony Blair in singing Bush's praises: "I think a great many things that are being said about President Bush are completely untrue. He is a marvellous person.... It is a completely mistaken notion that he does not have a handle on things. He went straight into the core of the issue...."

Jaswant Singh's discussion with Bush was presumably substantial, not just an exchange of pleasantries. The Minister said he expects Indo-U.S. relations to surpass the high reached during Clinton's last year in office: "I don't just see a smooth (post-Clinton) transition, it's much more. There is clear determination on the part of President Bush and his administration to go faster and very much further forward..." (The Times of India, April 12).

Jaswant Singh now has "no doubt in my mind" that his visit "is the start of a new era." India has finally succeeded in establishing with the U.S. what Jaswant Singh rather infelicitously calls "a non-hyphenated relationship", one that is "not a reflection of or reaction to other relationships. It should stand on its own." It has since been triumphantly declared that the U.S. views India as a "global, not sub-continental player". Washington will further build upon the Clinton "framework" for Indo-U.S. relations.

Routine U.S. official statements on the visit have poured cold water upon this breathless assessment. Of the Clinton "framework", State Department spokes-person Richard Boucher merely said: "They are not scrapping it." White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer even more matter-of-factly said that Jaswant Singh "was in the White House this morning meeting with Dr. Rice (National Security Adviser). He had a brief exchange of pleasantries with the President in the Oval Office. But his meeting took place with Dr. Rice."

And yet, many Indian policy-makers and -shapers believe that Washington today attaches qualitatively greater, even unique, importance to New Delhi; the two can work closely together as "strategic partners" because they share "a lot of common ground". Some people argue that India has expanded its room for manoeuvre after Jaswant Singh's visit. They make much of the fact that he left the U.S. not for New Delhi, but for Teheran. But India's Iran initiative is not some fiercely independent phenomenon. According to outgoing U.S. Ambassador Richard Celeste, Washington had been fully briefed on it (The Hindu, April 14). It is smoothly compatible with a softening of America's own stand on Iran 22 years after the "Revolution".

Some votaries of an Indo-U.S. "partnership" are so obsessed with winning U.S. approbation that they blatantly advocate that India should offer itself as a counterweight to China, America's strategic "competitor". A well-known hawkish security analyst has rationalised this with convoluted sophistry: Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - who rightly emphasises the Pacific Ocean as the likeliest area for U.S. military operations - should recognise that China is the world's worst nuclear proliferator, having transferred missiles and nuclear technologies to Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. By contrast, there is no "direct conflict of interest" between India and the U.S. The implication is that the two can be allies against common rival China! (K. Subrahmanyam, The Times of India, April 9).

This is a crude attempt to play upon the worst forms of Cold War Sinophobia within the U.S. Far Right and win its support for another "hyphenated" partnership with the U.S. This speaks poorly of its advocates who otherwise claim to be enhancing India's sovereignty. Some of them are impressed by the fact that like New Delhi Bush too opposes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and is more sympathetic than Clinton to lifting nuclear sanctions on India. But this is only one minuscule policy area. In any case, more than 90 per cent of the sanctions have already been lifted.

In reality, the "strategic partnership" argument glosses over the huge asymmetry between the U.S. and India, including their divergent, sometimes conflicting, economic interests and attitudes to the world order and its reshaping. No "common" interests with the U.S., especially under the Republican administration, warrant India's strategic "partnership", least of all on a Sinophobic basis. If India's national interest lies in a plural, multi-polar world, in a non-hegemonic and equitable global order, and in peace, reconciliation and non-reliance on force, besides greater economic space for itself, then New Delhi and Washington will frequently clash.

The interests of the Indian people diverge widely from the ultra-conservative policies of the Bush administration. Nothing symbolises this more dramatically than the popular reaction to the recent lifting of quantitative restrictions (QRs) on the import of 715 items that could threaten millions of livelihoods, especially in Indian agriculture. And yet, a U.S. trade official termed this liberalisation a mere "mirage" as he demanded still lower duties under 35 per cent.

New Delhi and Washington differ widely on a number of issues: patents and intellectual property, corporate privileges, "freedom" to be granted to U.S. multinationals like Enron (which runs India's single biggest foreign investment project, worth $3 billion), foreign trade regimes, labour standards and their enforcement, not to speak of Kashmir, Central Asia, Russia or human rights.

George W. Bush's record on foreign policy and security matters is extremely conservative - whether on "Star Wars" (missile defence) and global warming, China and Korea, or Palestine and Iraq. Bush's very first decision upon assuming office was to stop funding any government which allows free abortion rights - a capitulation to the U.S. Hard Right's reactionary agenda.

This could be potentially interpreted as a directive to cut off aid and scientific cooperation with Indian agencies too. India, by contrast, has a more relaxed, largely non-religious, approach to abortion.

Bush has declared he will pursue the National Missile Defence (NMD) and East Asian Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) programmes far more vigorously than Clinton. NMD will cost $240 billion (or two-thirds of India's entire annual gross domestic product), strengthen hawkish militarist forces in the U.S., negate recent global arms restraint efforts, and inaugurate a new arms race - indeed, a Second Nuclear Age.

A May 2000 U.S. intelligence assessment says that the NMD could provoke "an unsettling series of political and military ripple effects... that would include a sharp buildup of strategic and medium-range nuclear missiles by China, India and Pakistan and the further spread of military technology in the Middle East." The proposed TMD will threaten China and fuel a new arms race in East Asia. China has threatened to walk out of all recent arms control agreements if the U.S. proceeds with TMD.

India's stated position opposes Star Wars. A TMD will eventually draw India into a ruinous nuclear arms race with China. However, Indian "experts" close to South Block want a "dialogue" on NMD/TMD with the U.S. Ambassador Celeste says there is "ample room for engagement" here between the U.S. and India. He has hinted that India may want such a dialogue (The Hindu, April 14).

All key Bush officials are "Star Warriors". Rumsfeld is devoted to NMD and TMD. He is an unreconstructed Nixon-era hawk and strongly allied to ultra-conservative think-tanks like the National Institute for Public Policy which advocates not just a "deterrent", but a "war-time role", for nuclear weapons.

Rumsfeld is not alone. Secretary of State Colin Powell says "Star Wars" is "an essential part of our strategic system". And Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser, and Stephen Hadley (the Deputy Director of the National Security Council, and earlier Bush Senior's Assistant Secretary of Defence) are both members of a small super-hawkish group formed during the Bush campaign, called the Vulcans, named after the Roman god of fire. The Bush administration is reported (in The Washington Post) to be working on developing new nuclear weapons, especially low-yield armaments with bunker-busting capabilities.

Bushism has revived Cold War-style hawkish attitudes towards Russia and China. Rice is best known for a Foreign Affairs article which demonises Russia and China. Not to be left behind is Dick Cheney, a superhawk close to Rumsfeld since 1969. Cheney played a prominent role during the Iraq War a decade ago.

Bush has done his best to wreck the growing reconciliation between the two Koreas: just one Washington visit by the South Korean President ensured that. Bush has lent partisan support to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's vengeful anti-Palestine policy. He even declared that the U.S. would shift its embassy to Jerusalem, thus endorsing the highly contested Zionist claim over the city, and rationalising occupation in contravention of international law. This aggravated matters, and encouraged Sharon to re-enter Gaza on a military campaign that embarrassed even Powell (who called for restraint on April 17/18).

Bush's arrogant rejection of ratification of the Kyoto global warming protocol was a shock to the European Union and Japan, also to his own Environment Secretary (see story on Page 63). More crucially, his refusal to cut greenhouse emissions by just 5.2 per cent is a blow to the universal cause of environmental protection and promotes egregiously hegemonic oil interests, to which Bush is intimately tied. Bush is ominously close to the Houston-based Enron. Enron chief Kenneth Lay made the single biggest donation to the Bush campaign.

All these positions betray a narrow, parochial, ultra-nationalistic, hegemonic agenda. Those who see a kindred soul in Bush because of his opposition to the CTBT should know that this does not arise from an urge for a better, more thorough, test ban, leave alone genuine, rapid, nuclear disarmament. It is driven by nuclear unilateralism - that is, the view that the U.S. should make its own decisions about the size, composition and disposition of its nuclear arsenal without reference to arms control agreements or the opinions of other nations.

THESE yawning gaps between Indian and U.S. orientations are likely to widen even further in the coming months as the world economy goes into a recession, the technology meltdown continues, and protectionist tendencies rear their head in the U.S. India has maintained a less-than-honourable silence on many issues such as the Sino-U.S. spy-plane spat, on Palestine-Israel, even on non-alignment and Group of 77 (whose Havana summit Atal Behari Vajpayee disgracefully boycotted last year - in deference to the U.S. "partnership".)

Most important, it must not be forgetten that the "upgradation of Indo-U.S. relations in Clinton's last year in office was itself the product of a particular conjuncture: unchallenged U.S. economic, technological, military and political dominance of the post-Cold War world; Europe's and Japan's relative quiescence or non-assertion; India's relative success as a democracy (coupled with Pakistan's failure); and the high profile acquired by the Indian-American community with its Silicon Valley successes, besides New Delhi's own open-door economic policy and its desertion of non-alignment.

This conjuncture is unlikely to last. Indeed, some of its ingredients are weakening, even coming apart. The colossal consequences of the "New Economy" meltdown are yet to unfold. But it seems highly probable that Indo-U.S. relations will take a downturn - unless New Delhi under Vajpayee proceeds further along its Banana Republic direction and further capitulates to Bushism.

Trading in basic needs

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When basic services and public goods become freely tradeable commodities, the poor are the worst-hit.

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THERE was a time, not all that long ago, when it was generally understood that certain basic services should be available to all people, as a fundamental human right. The right to food and shelter were typically seen as being on a par with other rights such as a minimum right to drinking water. Of course, the realities of our unequal world meant that, even when this was generally accepted, it did not mean that all people actually did have access to these things.

However, the role of the state in attempting to provide some of these services, and particularly those which were seen as "natural monopolies", to its citizens was established. Indeed, it would have been hard to find even the most rabid of free-marketeers arguing that these were activities for the private sector.

All that has changed, not just rapidly but quite dramatically. There is now virtually no state activity (even defence, in some African states) which is seen as necessarily the sole preserve of the state. And the trend of privatisation of a range of public services has become so pronounced that it no longer raises eyebrows. Almost all public goods are now seen as freely tradeable commodities, and private ingenuity works out ways to make people pay even when access is hard to limit, and governments fall in step with the dominant ideology.

Nevertheless, the news that from April Fool's Day this year the water supply of the city of Johannesburg in South Africa has been privatised and handed over to a single monopolist supplier comes as a shock. After all, the South African government is controlled by the African National Congress, which came to power in 1994 promising free public services to those who could not afford them, and in fact promised universal public access to clean drinking water only three years ago.

This privatisation of water supply is part of a larger plan, known as Igoli 2002, which aims to turn Johannesburg into a "world-class city". The strategy for this is the dubious one of privatising more than a dozen services, through cleaning hawkers off the streets, paying top executives millions of rands, building on top of the water table thousands of drop toilets with no flush facilities, and through selling off profitable assets.

There has been a massive two-year civic campaign against this privatisation led by the South African Municipal Workers Union. Not only the workers affected but hundreds of thousands of other citizens took part in this protest movement. Not only did SAMWU point out numerous cases across the world where privatisation of public services has led to higher prices and monopolistic practices but it specifically criticised this deal. It emphasised that the new supplier, Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux of France, had made no commitment to provide water to the poor.

Suez Lyonnaise's recent record does not give grounds for great optimism. In Santiago, Chile, the company has insisted on a 33 per cent profit margin in its operations. In the city of Casablanca, within the first year of the company taking over the water supply, prices rose three-fold. Even in France, its record is less than spotless in terms of consumer satisfaction and prices.

While it remains to be seen what happens in Johannesburg, the writing on the wall is already fairly clear. The absence of adequate regulation in this sector and the fact that the company will be effectively a monopoly in the area mean that poor people may face a large hurdle: covering relatively non-subsidised recurrent (operating and maintenance) costs and paying sufficiently high service charges so as to reward investors with the expected 32 per cent rate of return.

The current mainstream discussion is replete with pious statements of how people must be prepared to pay for the public services they benefit from. This ignores the basic points that all citizens effectively pay for the provision of public service through taxation, and that the poor typically pay a much higher proportion of their income in indirect taxes than the rich. Those eager to raise "user charges" for public service provision need to be gently reminded that one major reason why many citizens of developing countries do not pay is that they cannot - they simply do not have the money.

This is why it is so widely found that the poor in any country are inevitably much worse off after a public service is privatised. A recent literature review sums it up thus: The effects of privatisation bear most radically on the poorest in the community; there is widespread evidence of more cut-offs in service and generally a harsher attitude towards low-income "customers". Water in Britain is a case in point. Water and sewerage bills increased by an average of 67 per cent between 1989-90 and 1994-95, and during roughly the same period the rate of disconnections owing to non-payment of bills rose by 177 per cent. The inflexibility and hostility which often characterised the public utilities' attitude towards non-payment has, over the same period, been replaced by an emphasis on pre-payment meters and "self-disconnection" as public goods have been commodified (Hemson, 1997, quoted in Patrick Bond, "Privatisation, participation and protest in the restructuring of municipal services", 2001).

IT is not only the poor who are worse off. It is now increasingly evident that private companies are less likely to observe safety norms, regulate production and distribution in socially desirable ways, and also that they tend to behave in monopolistic ways whenever they get the opportunity.

Of course it is not hard to understand why there is such a strong private lobby for such privatisation within South Africa, coming from multinational companies. Privatised South African infrastructure is potentially highly profitable, with internal rates of return approaching 30 per cent. In South Africa such pressure was reinforced by systematic pressure from the World Bank and its sister organisation the International Finance Corporation, which have been systematically promoting what they call "public-private partnerships".

It is well known now that these are usually a combination of public risk bearing and private profit, but the World Bank has been plugging these as the only solution to the region's severe infrastructure inadequacy. The International Monetary Fund also has been aggressively promoting these: in a recent random review of 40 IMF loans issued in 2000, it was found that in the case of at least 12 of these loans (mainly to poor Sub-Saharan African countries) the IMF conditionalities required either the full privatisation of water supply or policies ensuring full cost recovery.

But soon the World Bank may not be the only source of such pressure. There are strong indications that the United States and some other developed countries wish to incorporate public services into the ongoing negotiations of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The potential in this area to open up is immense once all public services are targeted. It means that health, water supply, sanitation, education, social security, transport, postal services and general municipal services can all be opened up not only to private participation but also to free trade.

It is obvious that the potential for profits is immense. One estimate of the current size of the global health market is more than $3.5 trillion a year, which is more than the total value of exports from all the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Similarly, global expenditure on education is estimated to be $42 trillion, and even on water, as much as $2 trillion.

This is not a market that major multinational companies can afford to ignore, especially as the slowdown in a range of other sectors becomes more pronounced. We can thus expect to see such pressure mounting across the developing world, and of course in India as well.

The sad reality is that many of our policy-makers do not even require much external pressure to go in for such privatisation. Thus, in the State of Andhra Pradesh whose government has already become the most eager beaver of privatisers, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board is considering privatising the operation, maintenance and functioning of water supply in Kukatpally as a pilot project for one year.

We have seen dismal pictures of farmers and weavers in Andhra Pradesh committing suicide because of the material stress that has been exacerbated by government policies. Perhaps in the not so distant future, we will have to witness more instances of human misery stemming from deprivation of the most basic of human needs.

Banks, brokers and the RBI

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The central bank needs to act decisively in order to shield banks from the volatility of whimsical markets.

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AS the dust settles around the post-Budget stock market collapse, attention is being directed at the role played by the banking system in the events that led up to the mini-crisis. The explicit role of a few cooperative banks and some smaller private sector banks is now well documented. There were some, like the Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank and the Global Trust Bank, that where willing to accommodate brokers with funds to invest in shares to an extent where their exposure to particular brokers and to the stock market was far beyond what would be considered prudent. There were others, like Bank of India, that were willing to discount instruments, however safe, representing more than unusually large sums of money, issued by organisations whose ability to back such instruments were obviously doubtful. Yet others have been characterised by a degree of exposure to investments in the affected banks, which could imply large losses that could affect their viability.

These acts of omission and commission (concentrated no doubt in a few cooperative banks in a few centres) which helped finance a speculative run that collapsed in the wake of a bear attack have not merely triggered investigations of varying intensity against individual officials in the system but threatened the existence of at least one bank, forced losses on others and left a large number of small savers with no access to their own money. These developments have raised questions about the adequacy and efficacy of the regulatory framework designed and implemented by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The RBI has been quick to respond. Unfortunately, however, that response combines an effort to trivialise the fallout of the crisis for the banking system, to declare that the acts of omission and commission were more the exception than the rule and that minor tinkering with the regulatory mechanism would be adequate to deal with the problem.

This emerges from the following paragraph in the RBI's Monetary and Credit Policy Statement for the year 2001-2002 (portions of which have been highlighted here in order to focus on the thrust of the central bank's reading of the problem): "The recent experience in equity markets, and its aftermath, have thrown up new challenges for the regulatory system as well as for the conduct of monetary policy. It has become evident that certain banks in the cooperative sector did not adhere to their prudential norms nor to the well-defined regulatory guidelines for asset-liability management nor even to the requirement of meeting their inter-bank payment obligations. Even though such behaviour was confined to a few relatively small banks, by national standards, in two or three locations, it caused losses to some correspondent banks in addition to severe problems for depositors. In the interest of financial stability, it is important to take measures to strengthen the regulatory framework for the cooperative sector by removing 'dual' control, by laying down clear-cut guidelines for their management structure and by enforcing further prudential standards in respect of access to uncollateralised funds and their lending against volatile assets."

Clearly, the RBI sees the problem as being largely restricted to the cooperative banking sector. In order to cover itself against the criticism that it ignores the fact that the problem goes deeper and is systemic, the RBI has hastened to add: "In the light of recent experience, some corrective steps to prevent commercial banks from taking undue risks in their portfolio management are also outlined."

A CLOSE look at the evidence suggests, however, that the RBI's response is indeed inadequate. The exposure of banks to the stock market occurs in three forms. First, it takes the form of direct investment in shares, in which case the impact of stock price fluctuations directly impinge on the value of the banks' assets.

Second, it takes the form of advances against shares, to both individuals and stock brokers. Any fall in stock market indices reduces, in the first instance, the value of the collateral. It could also undermine the ability of the borrower to clear his dues. In order to cover the risk involved in such activity, banks stipulate a margin, between the value of the collateral and the amounts advanced, set largely according to their discretion.

Third, it takes the form of 'non-fund based' facilities, particularly guarantees to brokers, which renders the bank liable in case the broking entity does not fulfil its obligation.

As at present, the RBI guidelines regarding bank exposure to the stock market apply only to direct investment in shares. Even these have been substantially relaxed in recent times. According to guidelines issued in October 1996, when banks were being encouraged to invest in stocks as part of the process of financial liberalisation, banks were permitted to invest up to 5 per cent of their incremental deposits in the stock markets. Initially, investments in debentures/bonds and preference shares were included within this 5 per cent ceiling. However, as stock market performance was increasingly accepted as an indicator of the success of reform, and the government was under pressure in 1997 to revive the flagging markets, it sought to encourage banks to invest more in the markets by taking debentures/bonds and preference shares out of the calculation of the limit in April 1997. This made the ceiling only relevant for investment in equities. Driven by these signals, a group of 21 public sector banks increased their investments in equities from Rs.1,488 crores in 1997 to Rs.2,293 crores in 1998.

In September last year, these guidelines were relaxed even further based on the recommendations of a committee comprising senior executives of the RBI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The committee held that instead of setting a ceiling on bank investments in equity relative to incremental deposits, banks' exposure to the capital market by way of investments in shares, convertible debentures and units of mutual funds should be linked with their total outstanding advances and may be limited to 5 per cent of such advances. This was subsequently accepted by the RBI and is the guideline that prevails now.

The RBI is sanguine about the risk of bank exposure to capital markets because this is well below this much-relaxed ceiling. A technical committee set up by the RBI to review guidelines for bank financing of equities, observed that investment in shares of the 101 scheduled commercial banks constituted 1.97 per cent of all outstanding domestic advances as on March 31, 2000. This, it noted was well below the 5 per cent limit prescribed in the RBI's circular dated November 10, 2000.

As argued above, for banks investments in equity constitute only one form of exposure to the stock markets. Advances against shares and guarantees to brokers provide other forms. But even on this count the RBI's technical committee is quite positive. This is because: "The total exposure of all the banks by way of advances against shares and debentures including guarantees, aggregated Rs.5,600 crores, comprising fund based facilities of Rs.3,385 crores and non fund based facilities, that is, guarantees, of Rs.2,215 crores, as on January 31, 2001 and constituted 1.32 per cent of the outstanding domestic credit of the banks as on March 31, 2000."

HOWEVER, there is much that these figures conceal. To start with, the aggregate level of exposure across the banking system hides the fact that the 'overall' exposure on the part of some of the private sector banks, whose 'dynamism' has been much celebrated, has been far in excess of 5 per cent. As figures collated by the RBI's technical committee reveal, at the end of 2000 the exposure to the stock market by way of advances against shares and guarantees to brokers stood at 0.5 per cent of total advances in the case of public sector banks, 1.8 per cent in the case of old private sector banks, 4.8 per cent in the case of foreign banks and a huge 15.3 per cent in the case of eight new private sector banks. Thus, the so-called 'dynamic' private banks which are seen as setting the pace for the rest of the banking sector, and are attracting depositors by offering them better terms and better services, are the most vulnerable to stock market volatility.

Secondly, this exposure of the banking system and of those that lead the pack in lending against shares, is dominantly to a few broking entities. The evidence on the relationship between Global Trust Bank and Ketan Mehta only begins to reveal what the RBI's monetary policy statement describes as "the unethical 'nexus' emerging between some inter-connected stock broking entities and promoters/managers of some private sector or cooperative banks."

Thirdly, the liquidity that bank lending to stock market entities ensures increases the vulnerability of the few brokers who exploit this means of finance. Advances against equity and guarantees help them acquire shares that then serve as the collateral for a further round of borrowing to finance more investments in the market. These multiple rounds of borrowing and investment allow these broking entities to increase their exposure to levels way beyond what their net worth warrants.

Finally, by undertaking direct investments in shares while providing liquidity to the market, the banks themselves are further endangered.

BANKS are built on trust. As intermediaries they accept deposits from risk-averse savers, who are offered avenues to make relatively small investments in highly liquid financial assets characterised by low income risk, to fund large investments that are relatively illiquid and characterised by a high degree of capital and income risk. They are able to play this role because of the belief that sheer scale allows them to cover costs, hedge against risk and honour their commitments.

These institutions need to be shielded from market volatility. It is possibly for this reason that the RBI technical committee on bank lending against equity, while holding that the basic framework of regulation need not change, recommends that the 5 per cent ceiling on bank exposure to stock markets must not apply just to direct investments in equity but to all forms of exposure including lending against shares and guarantees to brokeRs.

But this small step in response to the recent crisis may prove extremely inadequate. Five per cent of advances, while small relative to total bank exposure, is indeed large relative to the net worth and the profits of the banks. Major losses as a result of such exposure can therefore have devastating consequences for the viability of individual banks. Given its blind commitment to financial liberalisation, India's central bank appears reluctant to learn its lessons.

Blocking privatisation

Tripartite talks involving the trade unions, the Chattisgarh government and the Centre fail, and the workers continue their fight against the privatisation of Balco.

IT is an unprecedented situation in Indian corporate history. More than six weeks after purchasing a controlling stake in the public sector Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (Balco), Sterlite Industries remains unable to establish control over the affairs of the company. The sale, positioned as the first of a "big ticket" public sector undertaking (PSU) in the country, has been stonewalled by the trade unions representing more than 7,000 workers at Korba in Chattisgarh since March 3.

The first attempt at resolving the imbroglio through tripartite talks in Delhi failed on April 16. The talks, involving the State and Central governments and the seven trade unions in Balco, started the previous day after Chattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi wrote to Union Minister for Mines Sunderlal Patwa on April 12 seeking his intervention on behalf of the Centre to arrive at a negotiated settlement. Jogi had asked Patwa to consider playing a formal role in resolving the problem on a formal request of the workers. He pointed out that he was making the request because Balco was under the charge of the Union Ministry of Mines.

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The unions representing Balco workers, unified on a single platform, have insisted that they will not negotiate with Sterlite Industries because they do not recognise the company as Balco's new owner. More important, they have maintained that they are willing to be flexible on all issues except the privatisation of the profit-making, cash-rich company.

Although S.C. Krishnan, managing director of Sterlite, rushed to Delhi from Korba on the eve of the talks, he was kept on the sidelines. Industries Minister Mahendra Karma and Industries Secretary Narain Singh represented the Chattisgarh government. Eight representatives of workers, belonging to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the All India Trade Union Congress, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), attended the two rounds of talks.

The workers stuck to their demand for the reversal of the sale and offered Patwa four options to achieve this objective. Brahma Singh, representing the INTUC-affiliated Balco Employees Union (BEU), the biggest union in Balco, said that a range of options were provided with a view to highlighting the fact that although the trade unions were committed to the core demand of reversing the sale, they were willing to be flexible on the ways and means to achieve it.

The first option presented by the unions was for Balco to remain a central PSU with the Union government holding at least 51 per cent of its shares. If the Centre did not wish to retain a controlling stake, the Chattisgarh government should have the first claim on the disinvested shares. Under no circumstances, the unions told Patwa, should an investor get more than 49 per cent of the shares. The second option was to allow the workers to hold 10 per cent of the shares, reducing the private investors' stake to 40 per cent and keeping the Centre's holding at 50 per cent. If the Centre was unwilling to take a 50 per cent stake in the company, the unions said, the Chattisgarh government should be allowed to exercise the offer it made in an affidavit before the Supreme Court that it would buy 51 per cent of the shares at Rs.552 crores. As the third option, an imaginative one, the unions suggested that the State and Union governments run Balco as a joint venture. They did not reveal any preference for majority ownership in such a venture. The last option sought the implementation of the now-defunct Disinvestment Commission's report of 1997 that related to the Union government's disinvestment in Balco. The Commission, which was headed by G.V. Ramakrishna, had suggested in its second report in April 1997 that the Government divest 40 per cent of its stake in Balco. It had also suggested that a portion of the shares be sold to the company's employees.

Speaking to Frontline before the talks concluded officially, union leaders were pessimistic about a resolution of the crisis. Deb Roy of the CITU said that the unions and Chattisgarh's Industries Minister spoke in one voice at the meeting, making it clear that they were unwilling to settle for anything less than a rollback of the privatisation. In fact, they pointed out that the proposals they presented to Patwa were made jointly. Patwa's offer to discuss the workers' service conditions was rejected outright by them.

Deb Roy said that the Union government was trying to allure the workers with its offer to discuss their service conditions. Brahma Singh pointed out that the workers need not have travelled to Delhi to seek Patwa's help in settling the service conditions because this would have been well within the purview of the State government. Moreover, he pointed out that the Ministry for Mines had remained silent for months before the Balco sale when workers expressed apprehensions about working under a private management. He said he told Patwa that it was too late to discuss this issue with him.

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Patwa blamed Jogi for the failure of the talks. He said: "I fail to understand Jogi's behaviour. The stalemate is because of the Chattisgarh Chief Minister." Disinvestment, he said, had already taken place and the government had accepted the money, so there was no question of discussing this issue. He alleged that Jogi went back on his assurance prior to the talks that he would attend the meeting along with the representatives of the Sterlite management at his residence in Delhi. He also maintained that his role as a negotiator had been an informal one and that the Chattisgarh government and the unions had adopted an intransigent position at the negotiations.

Baleshwar Jha, who heads the Balco Bachao Samyukta Abhiyan Samiti, the coordination committee of the seven unions representing Balco workers, vehemently denied Patwa's charges. He said that while the unions were flexible in their approach, Patwa "did not budge an inch". According to him, Patwa maintained that the four options submitted by the unions could not be considered because all of them involved the reversal of the Balco sale. "We have crossed that bridge. I am powerless to take a decision of this nature," Patwa told the unions.

Jogi told Frontline that "the ball was now in the Central government's court". He said that his government was prepared to work towards any solution that was "within the parameters set by the workers". He also said that efforts must be made to continue the dialogue. Significantly, after the breakdown of the talks, Mahendra Karma had suggested to Patwa that the Balco management revert to the situation before the sale of the company to Sterlite on March 2. He said that this interim arrangement would prepare the ground for resumption of work at the Balco plant in Korba and avoid further losses to the company, the third largest integrated aluminium producer in India.

THE strike that started on March 3 has imposed great hardships on the workers. Having had to live without any income for two months, they are under pressure. However, trade unions from public sector units and other sections of the industrial working class have contributed financial and logistical support to the agitating workers. The langar near the plant remains active. Financial and material help have been pouring in from workers across the country. Notable among them have been those made by bank and insurance workers and those from coal mine workers and workers of other PSUs. Leaders of various political parties and trade unions have visited Balco Nagar and offered their solidarity with the workers.

At a meeting in Delhi on April 19, the major central trade unions sought the intervention of the Prime Minister and the Union Labour Minister in arriving at an "amicable and respectable" settlement. They have also warned that if no solution is found, they would launch a countrywide industrial action by mid-May. The unions have called upon workers to stage demonstrations all over the country on May 4 in support of the Balco workers' struggle.

The women in the industrial township are at the forefront of the struggle. The Mahila Sangarsh Samiti (Women's Struggle Committee), an organisation comprising women volunteers from Balco Nagar, is active in providing logistical support to the striking workers. Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), said that this was significant, considering that Chattisgarh was a backward tribal area.

The strike is unique in many ways. To those who have criticised the trade unions for having been content with raising only economic demands, the strike has come as a revelation - that they would also take up larger issues such as privatisation. Another significant revelation is that the prolonged strike has been conducted peacefully by a group of workers, the majority of them tribal people, who were never known for their militancy.

The recently-formed Citizens' Forum Against Balco Privatisation held a convention in Delhi on April 13. It condemned "the ongoing loot of public wealth through the privatisation of profit-making PSUs". Prabhat Patnaik, eminent economist, was among those who spoke at the convention and Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, presided over it.

The forum demanded the immediate reversal of the "scandalous BALCO deal".

In another twist to the Balco affair, elements in the Sangh Parivar, fearing loss of their support base among the industrial working class, mounted a scathing criticism on the government. On April 16, thousands of workers belonging to the BMS, the labour wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, along with the activists of other Parivar outfits such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), launched a "mass movement" against the government's economic policies. The Balco issue figured prominently in their list of complaints against the government.

In a bitter attack on the government, particularly Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, SJM founder Dattopant Thengadi described the privatisation of publicly-owned companies like Balco and Modern Foods as a "fraud committed by bureaucrats". Referring to the changes proposed to be made in the labour laws, which the Finance Minister announced in his Budget speech, Thengadi accused Sinha of having committed a grave constitutional impropriety by encroaching into the domain of the Labour Ministry. Politicians, bureaucrats and private vested interests were manipulating the privatisation of public sector companies, he said, and alleged that these companies had been rendered sick for "extraneous considerations".

The mosaic of Jammu and Kashmir

BALRAJ PURI the-nation

Any move to alter the status of Jammu and Kashmir without evolving a system that can accommodate its diversities in a democratic manner will only heighten communal and regional tensions and add to the complexity of the Kashmir problem.

AFTER announcing a third extension of the unilateral ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of India appointed K.C. Pant, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, to hold talks with "all sections of the peace-loving people of the State, including those who are currently outside it". A number of exercises are going on at the Track II and III levels between the dissident Kashmir leaders and the Central government as also between India and Pakistan. The issue is also being reportedly discussed with some world powers through quiet diplomatic channels.

There is no dearth of national and international experts offering their assessment of the situation and possible solutions to what is called the Kashmir problem. It is, therefore, time to remind all parties concerned of some basic facts about the people of the State that they may take into account while forming their opinions, whatever be their political interest or ideological angle.

Undoubtedly, the urge for an identity, which has been recognised by postmodern social scientists as one of the basic human urges, is as strong a motivating force in the political behaviour of the people of the State as it is for those living anywhere else. An elementary knowledge of the identities of the people of Kashmir is therefore indispensable for understanding the problems they are faced with. The most important fact in this context about the State is that it has far more kinds of diversities than any other State of India. For instance, followers of almost all major religions of the world live in Jammu and Kashmir. Its racial composition included Aryans, pre-Aryans, and Dardic and Tibeto-Mongolian races. Its Constitution recognises eight regional languages, and the number of dialects spoken is much larger.

If the interests and urges of a people with such diverse identities could be reconciled, the diversities themselves would have been a great source of strength for the State. But the failure to recognise and reconcile them became its biggest weakness. First, these diversities are not widely known. Secondly, there has been an overemphasis on only one kind of identity - the one based on religion.

Nobody can deny the role of religion and religion-based identities in shaping human behaviour. But no identity is monolithic, and there are other identities that cut across religious identities and sometimes play a more decisive and healthier role than the religious identity in determining this behaviour.

The fact that out of the three regions of the State, Kashmir is inhabited by pre-Aryan and non-Aryan races, Jammu by an Aryan race and Ladakh by Tibetan, Mongolian and Dardic races and that all the three have distinct geographical, historical and cultural backgrounds has also influenced the character and role of religion in each one of them.

For a variety of reasons the Kashmir Valley has a pivotal place in the politics of the State. Not only does the rest of the world know the State by this name but Kashmiri-speaking leaders have represented it nationally and internationally and led all the governments in the State since Independence.

Although almost all Kashmiris are Muslims after the migration of Kashmiri Pandits, who constituted barely 5 per cent of the population of the Valley, they are proudly conscious of their uninterrupted history of 5,000 years. No other community in the subcontinent can make such a claim. Originally inhabited by pre-Aryan tribes called Nagas and Pischachs, Kashmir accepted Vedic, Buddhist, Saivite and Islamic faiths, retaining the essence of the beliefs, rituals and practices of each of them and taking pride in its pre-Islamic achievements in the fields of, say, philosophy, culture and politics.

According to Kashmiri scholars and the popular perception, Kashmir lost its independence for the first time in 1586 when Akbar annexed it to the Mughal empire. Before the annexation, it was ruled by Muslim kings for only 200 years, a period which Kashmiri Muslims consider to be a part of their earlier history of over 4,000 years. The non-Kashmiri rule of 364 years, which includes rule by Muslim kings like the Mughals and the Afghans for about 250 years, is disowned by them as a period of slavery in the same way as rule by non-Muslim, non-Kashmiri kings later.

The Kashmir Valley of about 4,800 sq km is surrounded by mountains of heights ranging from 3,000 metres to 5,400 metres. Thus the region's geographical compactness and isolation, renowned beauty, cultural homogeneity, historical continuity and the political developments have created a strong sense of Kashmiri identity which is Islamised as much as Islam in Kashmir is Kashmirised. Another unique aspect of Kashmir is that its language, called Kashir, does not belong to the Indo-Aryan family of languages spoken from Dhaka to Peshawar. According to Grierson, the pioneering authority on Indian languages, Kashir is not of Sanskritic origin but of Dardic origin. Politically this unique identity was fractured by the migration of the microscopic but highly talented community of Kashmiri Pandits. Their contribution to Indian culture can hardly be ignored. Although neither Kashmiri Muslims nor Kashmiri Pandits can shed their common cultural and historical heritage, the recently created divergence in their political urges has to be taken note of.

The Kashmiri-speaking community does not constitute the majority of the State. Before 1947, Jammu was the most populous region in the State. The Line of Control (LoC), which was oriented in such a way as to keep the Kashmiri-speaking region intact, divides the Jammu region. People across the LoC do not speak Kashmiri but share a common ethnic stock with people in Jammu.

According to the last Census (of 1981; there was no Census in 1991 in Jammu and Kashmir), the Kashmir region has 52 per cent of the State's population, of which 10 per cent is composed of non-Kashmiri communities such as Gujjars and Paharis, which are linguistically and ethnically closer to people in the Jammu region. Excluding the non-Muslim population of 5 per cent, the Kashmiri Muslim population is 37 per cent. Even if sectarian groups like Shias and other small ethnic groups are not discounted, there is a need to know more about the rest of the population, that is, at least 63 per cent of the population of the State, about 44 per cent of which is Muslim. As the attention of the national and international media as also Indian and foreign governments is almost entirely focussed on Kashmiri Muslims, they tend to get isolated from the rest of the population of the State. In the process, they have suffered the most. In order to resolve their own problems as also those of the State as a whole and in the interest of maintaining and developing the Kashmiri identity, they need to know more about the nature and aspirations of the rest of the population, that is, the 63 per cent.

ACCORDING to the last Census, Jammu's population is 45 per cent of that of the State inhabiting an area of 66,560 sq km. In the south and the west are the Indian and Pakistani parts of Punjab respectively. Unlike Kashmir most parts of Jammu are mountainous and sub-mountainous.

Its plural society, almost entirely of Aryan stock, is 66 per cent Hindu, 30 per cent Muslim and 4 per cent Sikh. Three of the six districts adjoining the Kashmir region have a Muslim majority. The Scheduled Castes constitute 18.3 per cent of the region's population and 31 per cent of the Hindu population. The main beneficiaries of the radical land reforms of the early 1950s, the Scheduled Castes are economically, socially and politically a more advanced and distinct entity in the region than in many other parts of the country. Although the languages of the region belong to a single family, Dogri is spoken by the single largest community, which constitutes 53.8 per cent of the population and is culturally and politically dominant in the region. A number of dialects including Gojri, Pahari and Punjabi are spoken by the rest of the population. Except Gojri, these are spoken by all the religious communities. Gojri is exclusively the language of the Gujjars, all of whom are Muslims. But as a community the Gujjars have at least as much, if not more, emotional and ethnic affinity with the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of the neighbouring States of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh as they could possibly have with their co-religionists in the State. They trace their ancestry to kings such as Prithvi Raj Chouhan and Kanishka and dynasties such as Hun which ruled North India as also to the community to which Nanda and Yashoda, who brought up Lord Krishna, belonged. They are one of the earliest settlers in Jammu. A part of them are nomads. Although scattered over Jammu and Kashmir and the neighbouring States, they remain a distinct entity and retain a broad homogeneity.

The Pahari community lives on both sides of the LoC. On the Indian side, they are concentrated in Kupwara and Uri sectors of the Kashmir region and Rajouri and Poonch districts of the Jammu region. The community also includes people living in Poonch, Muzaffarabad and Mirpur, who speak the same language with some small dialectic differences. The people living in areas under Pakistan's control also belong to the Pahari stock.

The Dogras and the Paharis constituted the army of the maharajas of the state. Until recently Poonch was a separate estate ruled by a local ruler. This district provided the largest number of recruits to the British army during the Second World War (as a percentage of the population of its youth in the whole of British India). The Pahari community on both sides of the Pir Panjal and the LoC is predominantly Muslim. The Hindu and Sikh members of the community, who had to migrate from the Pakistan-held area of the State, mostly live in Jammu district. The Gujjars and the Paharis, who have a rich tradition of folk literature, have in the past few decades developed written literature (poetry and prose).

Jammu's regional identity developed more sharply after 1947, when political power shifted from the Jammu-based maharaja to Kashmir-based leaders and political and cultural influence of Punjab on it declined as the border with Pakistan's Punjab was sealed and the political and cultural centre of the Indian part of Punjab remained far away.

The phenomenal growth of Dogri as a written language and its recognition as a literary language by the Sahitya Akademi, the recognition gained by its literature and writers at the national level and the literary movements in Gojri and Pahari are evidence of a cultural upsurge of the emerging identities of the Jammu region. The literary movements in all the regional languages have grown in harmony. In fact, they cut across communal barriers and tend to undermine them.

Ladakh is the third region of Jammu and Kashmir. It has a population of two lakhs. Spread over an area of 1,17,150 sq km, the region is more than half the area of the undivided State as it existed before 1947. It has 1,280 km of common border with China, 560 km of it with Tibet and the rest with Sinkiang. It is separated from the rest of the country and the world by the Zojila Pass, 3,450 m above sea level; it is sub-divided by Fatu La, 4,000 m above sea level, into the districts of Leh and Kargil. Buddhists, who constitute 52 per cent of the population, are mainly concentrated in Leh district while Muslims (48 per cent, mostly Shia) live in Kargil. Ladakhi (also called Bodhi), Balti, Dardi and Shina are the main languages spoken in the region. Speakers of one language understand the other languages.

Ladakh was on the celebrated Silk Route. As an entrepot of trade between India, Central Asia and Tibet for centuries, Ladakh was a confluence of cultures. But its geographical position has helped it preserve its ancient culture and ways of life almost intact.

It was through Ladakh that Mahayana Buddhism, which was born in Kashmir, spread to Tibet, China and Japan. The Buddhists owe their allegiance to Lamas, who have their own discipline and hierarchy. They used to go to Tibet for religious training. But after the Chinese intervention in Tibet and the flight of the Dalai Lama along with some of his followers, Lhasa has lost its status as a source of religious and spiritual inspiration.

In Kargil, the Ulemas have a hold on Shias, who constitute the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Some of them have had their theological training in Iran and are followers of Ayatollah Khomeini. There is a small section of Shina-speaking Sunni Muslims in Drass, who are distinct from the Kashmiri-speaking Muslims and the Balti-speaking Shias in the rest of Kargil. Most speakers of Shina live across the LoC. Some affinity between the same language group living on either side of the LoC cannot be ruled out.

Different types of identities, which cut across and overlap one another, cannot be separated easily; nor can the aspirations of the people with these identities be satisfied in the present set-up. In fact, a centralised set-up and a unitary form of Constitution cannot accommodate its diversities. A democratic, federal, plural and non-centralised system alone can ensure unity and harmony among them. Any move to alter the status of the State without attempting to evolve such a system would only generate communal and regional tensions and add to the complex Kashmir problem.

Power struggles

The crisis over the non-payment of dues to the Enron-promoted Dabhol Power Company by the Maharashtra State Electricity Board deepens as the company serves notices of arbitration to the Central and State governments.

THE battle over the Enron-promoted Dabhol Power Company (DPC) has reached what could prove to be its final phase. Just before a Maharashtra government-appointed committee recommended wide-ranging financial restructuring of the controversial $3 billion power project, the DPC served notices of arbitration on the Government of India and the Maharashtra government. The notices demanded the payment of dues by the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) and claimed the existence of a political force majeure which made it impossible for the multinational to fulfil its contractual obligations. With important coalition partners in Maharashtra's ruling Democratic Front (D.F.) alliance demanding that the project be scrapped, a showdown seems inevitable.

On April 4, the DPC served notices of conciliation and arbitration to the Central government over the MSEB's refusal to pay its Rs.102 crore-bill for December 2000. The MSEB's dues to the DPC are guaranteed by the Maharashtra government and counter-guaranteed by the Central government. The company gave the Centre a 60-day deadline to give a reply and appoint a conciliator. The DPC appointed former Chief Justice of New South Wales Lawrence Street as its conciliator. On April 16, the Central government announced that Law Commission Chairman Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy would be its conciliator. Together the conciliators will appoint a third member, and this three-person panel will begin the conciliation process. If the panel fails to resolve the issue, the two parties would have to initiate international arbitration. On April 16 and 17, the DPC served notices of arbitration on the Maharashtra government and the MSEB. It demanded the payment of Rs.225.26 crores, the total of the DPC's December 2000 and January 2001 bills.

The DPC's offensive was in part the result of a Rs.401-crore penalty imposed by the MSEB under a 'mistake ratio' clause. According to the MSEB, the DPC failed to supply power within a stipulated three-hour period on January 28. As the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) provides for a penalty of two weeks' receivables, the MSEB decided to make good this clause and slap a fine for failure to ensure power availability. Since the cash-strapped MSEB could not make its fixed monthly payments to the DPC, it asked the power company to set off the penalty against the amount that the MSEB owed it. The DPC refused to accept this, and insisted that the Central government pay the pending amount. However, the Union Law Ministry has upheld the stand taken by the State government and the MSEB, stating that the State is well within its rights to ask for an adjustment against payments. An MSEB official told Frontline that the utility company had a right under the PPA to check the DPC's functioning once in every four months. "When we realised they were not performing as guaranteed, we decided that we had the right to ask for a rebate," the official said. He pointed out that the MSEB had paid the bill for February, amounting to Rs.114 crores.

FOR the MSEB, these legal issues are questions of life and death. Ever since the signing of the PPA, Maharashtra has been paying the DPC Rs.95 crores every month. This is because the MSEB is bound to pay for 90 per cent of the 740 MW of power produced by Phase I of the DPC, irrespective of whether the State uses the electricity or not. Even at the risk of bleeding itself, the MSEB was trying to make the payments. However, following massive losses suffered this year, the MSEB categorically told the DPC that it could no longer meet its exorbitant charges. The MSEB is in serious financial distress and does not have the resources to pay. Until the DPC entered the picture, the MSEB was known as one of the most profitable and efficient utility companies in the country. Alarmingly, Phase II of the 2,100 MW project is scheduled to be commissioned later this year. This means that the MSEB will have to fork out Rs.500 crores a month as stand-by charges to the DPC, irrespective of how much it buys.

Since the MSEB's monthly collections are about Rs.900 crores, it will end up paying more than 50 per cent of its revenues to just one power supplier. When the DPC deal was struck, it was agreed that the tariff would be inversely proportional to the quantum of power used. As the MSEB uses only 5 per cent of the power it buys from the DPC, it pays approximately Rs.7 per unit. This is exorbitant compared to the Rs.2 it pays the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). Moreover, the tariff structure was pegged to the dollar. The falling rate of the rupee against the dollar and the increase in the price of naphtha pushed the DPC's bill to Rs.700 crores a month. Once the second phase gets going, and if the State is still bound by the PPA, it will have to pay more than Rs.8,000 crores a year to the DPC. That, most experts believe, is the kind of cash the MSEB cannot raise, even if it were to improve collections dramatically and state subsidies to rural users were to be slashed.

However, DPC officials seem determined not to give in. It is not coincidental that the DPC issued a notice of 'political force majeure' to the MSEB on April 9, on the eve of the release of the Madhav Godbole Committee report. A DPC press statement said that the notice "indicates that the concerted, deliberate and politically motivated actions of GoM, GoI and MSEB have or potentially will have a material and adverse effect on DPC's ability to perform obligations under the PPA." By invoking the 'political force majeure' clause, the DPC conveyed the message that it was unable to discharge its commitment of selling power owing to factors beyond its control. Issuing a 'political force majeure' notice is an extreme move and if it can be substantiated that the situation warranted the issue of the notice, the financial ramifications will be severe. It is also the first step towards a possible termination of the project. If it leads to a termination, the Centre's liability will be $300 million under the counter-guarantee agreement. However, for the case to be proved a conciliation process will first have to begin.

THE explanation for Enron's stubborn stance lies in the Godbole Report. Tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly on April 10, the report is perhaps the first on-record official admission that a failure of governance led to the current crisis. The report argues that the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition that signed the deal did so despite being aware that the PPA was skewed in Enron's favour, and that it would have serious consequences for the MSEB. "The committee," it notes, "is concerned that there are numerous infirmities in the process of approvals granted in the project, which bring into question the propriety of the decisions." Charges of bribery and corruption in the DPC deal, which was first negotiated by the Congress(I) government led by Sharad Pawar, helped the Shiv Sena and the BJP come to power in 1995. However, shortly after coming to power, the alliance renegotiated the project on terms even more iniquitous than the earlier ones. The commitment to Phase II was a key element of this new agreement.

The report says that the most critical requirement now is a complete overhaul of the financial structure of the DPC. The committee recommends that if this is agreed upon, the maturity period of the DPC's debt could be increased, preferably to 15 years with an initial moratorium of five years. Moreover, an indicative interest rate for such debt could be 12 per cent in rupee terms (in dollar terms it would be around 6 per cent). If this is not applicable to foreign loans, the foreign debt should be converted to a rupee debt and restructured accordingly. The Godbole Report suggests that 75 per cent of the equity could be converted into preference capital at the rate of 10 per cent with the same redemption period as the debt. The cumulative result of this exercise is to reduce the first year capacity charge at 30 per cent Plant Load Factor (PLF). This means that the capacity charge comes down from Rs.3.19 to Rs.2.18. Coupled with the fuel charges of Rs.1.94, this gives a barely acceptable tariff level of Rs.4.12 a unit at 30 per cent of the plant's capacity.

Significantly, the Godbole Report has also proposed that both phases of the project be renegotiated. Bringing down capital costs and the cost of power is crucial at this stage, says the report. It suggests converting the tariff into two parts. This suggestion assumes significance because the method of structuring of the tariff remains shrouded in mystery. The report says that as the tariff is an extremely contentious issue with the DPC, "it is essential to remove this opacity". The tariff must be benchmarked to the lowest cost of supply of power from gas-based projects elsewhere, the report says. In its final comments, the report suggests that the PPA be re-examined and compared with other Independent Power Producer agreements in accordance with a least-cost plan. Meeting a long-standing demand of several critics, it also recommends that all dollar denominations be removed in the fixed-charge component. This would mean that the falling value of the rupee would not have a major impact on the MSEB's dues to the DPC.

It is important to note that the Godbole Committee's proposals are neither radical nor drastic. Critics of the project believe that it has not gone far enough to address the major problems in the PPA. Pradyumna Kaul, an activist of the Enron Virodhi Andolan and a long-standing opponent of the project, said that there were some fundamental errors in the Godbole Report, particularly with regard to financial restructuring. Kaul argues that even if the Committee's proposals on capital restructuring are implemented, the writing down of capacity charge and the PLF still forces the MSEB to pay between Rs.3,000 crores and Rs.4,000 crores each year. The cost for this huge payment would inevitably mean that the price of power in the State would have to be increased drastically. Kaul referred to the MSEB proposals, now pending before the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC), to increase power tariffs by 38 per cent. "To pay Enron's bills, the MSEB has to raise its prices sharply. It is clearly an unwarranted burden on the consumer," Kaul said.

THE notices issued by the DPC are seen as being part of an effort to ensure that even the modest restructuring proposed by the Godbole Report are not implemented. DPC officials said that the PPA, which states that the MSEB should continue to pay in accordance with relevant sections, throughout the duration "of any event or circumstances of force majeure". This means that the MSEB would have to pay the DPC even if the company is unable to provide any power. In a letter to the Union Power Secretary, dated April 7, the DPC stated that the dispute had snowballed when the MSEB refused to pay the bill for November. As the MSEB was not meeting its payment commitment, the DPC said that lenders for the second phase had stopped making their disbursements. This means that if the second phase is not commissioned on schedule, the company will have to pay damages to the MSEB. A DPC spokesperson told Frontline that the company had to take these steps because there was "no sign of any payments". "What face will we show our lenders and contractors?" he asked.

However, Kaul believes that the truth lies elsewhere. The MSEB's failure to pay its dues, he argues, was probably the outcome of the realisation that neither it nor the Maharashtra government would be able to afford the second phase. "The arbitration notices constitute just some sparring between the two of them before an inevitable showdown," Kaul said.

THERE are signs, however, that the multinational is trying to cut its losses. Worldwide, Enron has shifted its core business from generating power to supplying products like gas. Several of the team members, responsible for the establishment of the DPC have moved out of Enron, and the company has been suggesting for several months that it would be willing to sell its stake in the project - at the right price.

The Enron board was meeting on April 23 to discuss among other things the DPC issue. Speculation is rife that lenders for the Indian company have pulled out. Some believe that Enron's real strategy now is to get out of the project after collecting the best possible price. That, many believe, would be an easy option for the company. The Peasants and Workers Party, the Janata Dal, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), all constituents of the D.F., have made it clear that the Godbole Report needs to be followed up with further investigation of possible criminal actions. In spite of the flaws in the report, there is little doubt that it has made clear that corruption had a lot to do with the DPC's birth.

A detailed investigation alone can bring down the curtain on India's most controversial power project. Whether it will take place depends on how much pressure the Left allies of the D.F. will be able to mount on the Congress(I) and the Nationalist Congress Party, who have more than enough reasons to avoid any meaningful inquiry into the DPC's birth.

The cryogenic engine is 'unique'

cover-story

Interview with Alexander I. Dunayev, Chairman, Glavkosmos.

Alexander I. Dunayev, Chairman, Glavkosmos, Russia, who was present at the Mission Control Centre at Sriharikota when the GSLV was launched, told T.S. Subramanian in a brief interview that Russia was prepared to sell India a cryogenic engine that developed a thrust of 10 tonnes. The cryogenic engine used in the GSLV flight developed a thrust of 7.5 tonnes. Glavkosmos is the central administrative organisation founded to develop and use space technology for scientific research and for international cooperation in space, particularly on commercial terms.

Dunayev earlier visited India in October 1988 to attend in the International Astronautical Federation's conference in Bangalore. Excerpts:

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Does the cryogenic stage used in the GSLV flight have any special features?

We made a lot of modifications on the cryogenic stage. It was specially made for India. This kind of engine, with this kind of specifications, does not exist anywhere in the world.

You mean an engine with a thrust of 7.5 tonnes.

It is not the thrust alone. Today, we are even ready to suggest to India (that it can buy) a ten-tonne thrust engine (from us). We have already done some work on it. If India wants it we are ready to do (fabricate) the engine. The technology has been developed. The testing has already been done.

We have already supplied four cryogenic stages to India under the contract we signed with it. The mock-up stages were supplied first and then the flight-worthy stages. Three more flight stages are to be supplied.

Why did Russia yield to pressure from the United States on the sale of the cryogenic technology to India? The sale was part of the original contract with India. Was it merely the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)?

The (original) contract involved the transfer of technology. But the MTCR problem was there. So we could not transfer the technology. The halt in sale is connected to the MTCR. But we agreed to give mock-up models and flight stages. We have fully implemented whatever was agreed to in the contract.

'A moment of great happiness'

Dr. L.N. Kiselev, Director of the Russian cryogenic stage, who played an important role in the success of the GSLV mission, was demonstrably happy when the launch vehicle flawlessly put GSAT in orbit. Kiselev led a team of about 80 Russian cryogenic specialists to Sriharikota and stayed there for several weeks during the integration of the Russian cryogenic stage with the other two stages of the vehicle.

Frontline met Kiselev a couple of hours after the launch. Translated excerpts from his response in Russian to the interview:

How do you assess the performance of the cryogenic stage?

This is a moment of great happiness to me. I don't think you can say this is the cryogenic stage and that there are other stages. It is one big integrated launch vehicle, one unit. This is a very great success for ISRO. I am very happy that we have made a small contribution.

The GSLV weighed 400 tonnes. The cryogenic stage weighed about 17 tonnes together with the payload and the equipment bay. The main objective of the rocket was to take the satellite at a fixed velocity. We (the cryogenic stage) were supposed to give the satellite up to a speed of little more than 10.2 km a second. Out of this velocity, the cryogenic stage was to give more than five km a second. It gives great pleasure that a small cryogenic stage could make such a large contribution. India has joined the club of countries that now have cryogenic technology.

Yet another event took place today (April 18). ISRO was able to independently place the satellite in geo-synchronous orbit. Any country should be proud of this kind of success. After some time, the significance of this event will be more and more clear to the people (of India). Today, it is difficult to describe all that has taken place.

You supplied the cryogenic stage. But ISRO provided the electronics, guidance and control systems for it.

In 1989, we had proposed to take over the fabrication of the entire cryogenic stage and also its electronics aspect. It would have been simpler for us. But ISRO had its own problems. On the one hand, it had to economise on certain things. On the other, ISRO made very good development in electronics. We understood that it had progressed a lot in this direction and agreed that it could it could do it itself.

Although it was difficult for us, particularly to do the tests, we agreed. We got together as a very good team. I am happy that our project concluded with the successful launch of the GSLV. I think this is only the first step and I am convinced that ahead of ISRO lies a clear path because it has good leaders.

'An exciting mission, a cost-effective project'

The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram is the key centre for building the Indian Space Research Organisation's satellite launch vehicles. Its director G. Madhavan Nair, the "father of the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) programme", described the successful flight of the Geo-synchro-nous Satellite Launch Vehicle as "the tapasya we have been doing for the past ten years" and as "two missions in one". The successful GSLV flight and its aborted attempt on March 28 showed how "we can trouble-shoot within the shortest possible time, re-set the engine and get going with the mission", he said. He also revealed that the indigenous cryogenic engine, which "is in the conceptual stage", would be ready in less than three years.

Excerpts from the interview he gave T.S. Subramanian:

18090161jpg How do you sum up the GSLV mission?

It was really exciting. In fact, it was two missions in one. The first mission (when the flight was aborted on March 18 and the vehicle was saved) demonstrated our capability to manage a difficult situation on the ground and put a launch on hold 200 milliseconds before lift-off. The entire computer division worked precisely (in aborting the flight). Also, we have demonstrated how we can trouble-shoot within the shortest possible time, re-set with a new engine and get going with the mission.

Of course, the mission is very, very complex. Hundreds of events take place from take-off to the injection of the GSAT in orbit. Every event has to be precise. Otherwise, you don't get the orbit. The orbit we got is really good for the first attempt. We targeted 36,000 km. We got 32,000 km plus. That is slightly more than the error-band. Still, for the first attempt, it is a remarkable orbit. It demonstrates that our understanding of the launch vehicle technology is good. We have achieved certain goals in trying to target a zero-defect type situation.

How did the defect in the plumbing of the gas injector, which caused the flight to be aborted, escape attention?

It should be treated as a chance phenomenon. There are hundreds of plumbings in a launch vehicle. There are gas supply lines, cryogenic fluid supply lines and so on. We have a strict protocol for quality assurance. One of the plumbings, which normally would have got rejected, got mixed up. But after detecting it, we went through a series of exercises - doing a radiography examination of each and every joint and plumbing, and making sure that everything functioned normally.

Has the launch campaign for the next flight of the PSLV started?

Yes. We now have to convert the GSLV launch pad for the PSLV's lift-off. This will take a couple of months. The vehicle preparation will start in a parallel manner. We are targeting the PSLV in the middle of this year.

When is the next test of the indigenous cryogenic engine planned?

We made a beginning (in February 2000 when the indigenous cryogenic engine was fired at Mahendragiri, Tamil Nadu). The second engine will soon be put on test bed, may be within two to three months. Then we will have a series of engines in the production line. We would like to qualify at least three or four engines on the ground and take up the development of the stage engines simultaneously. Most of the designs here have been completed. Metal cutting has started. We are just completing some of the new technologies for insulation and welding of the alloys. We hope to have our own cryogenic stage in less than three years.

Will it be used in the third GSLV flight? We hope so.

These are engines with a thrust of 7.5 tonnes?

Yes. Once we gain confidence, we will try to uprate it. For example, we are now talking of uprating our Vikas liquid engines by ten per cent. The GSLV can deploy a two-tonne payload. This uprating will give an additional 180 kg to 200 kg payload. Similarly, if we are confident, we can uprate the cryogenic engine by a small fraction. But if you want to have a bigger payload, you should go for a bigger cryogenic engine. That is in the conceptual stage. If we are to be in this business, we should have a much bigger payload capability, at reduced costs.

The entire GSLV project has cost Rs.1,500 crores. Does it include the Rs.450 crores spent on the first three GSLV flights?

It includes the Rs.450 crores for the first three GSLV flights. About Rs.500 crores is meant for acquiring the seven cryogenic stages from Russia. About Rs.200 crores was spent on infrastructure development. The balance would have been spent on technology development. This is a very, very cost-effective project. The cost would have been three to five times higher anywhere else in the world.

ISRO success stories

R. RAMACHANDRAN cover-story

The launch of the GSLV marks the beginning of a significant phase in launch vehicle technology development for the Indian Space Research Organisation, which already has an impressive record in the field of sophisticated satellite technology.

FROM building the first experimental satellite Aryabhata in 1975 to the world class operational Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite series on the one hand and the third generation communication satellite INSAT-3 on the other, is indeed an impressive track record by any standards for the 30-year-old Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It could well be argued that the development of launch vehicle technology, which began in the mid-1960s, has not achieved the same degree of success. Indeed, many, both within the organisation and without, believe that the launch vehicle front did not receive the same kind of focus as satellite development did, particularly after Satish Dhawan retired from ISRO in 1984. At a time when ISRO's launch vehicle development has reached an important phase with the launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, it would be appropriate to put satellite technology development also in perspective.

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Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of the Indian space programme, had realised the potential of space communication systems in putting television to use as a mass education tool throughout the country. He visualised and suggested this as early as 1966-67, just three years after the first geosynchronous satellite, SYNCOM, was launched. In 1967 he initiated studies with a view to using space communication systems for operational television broadcasting. A joint study by ISRO and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States was conducted in 1967 which recommended a hybrid system of direct broadcast by satellite combined with terrestrial TV transmitters as the most effective means of countrywide TV coverage. In 1968 a National Satellite Communication (NASCOM) study group was set up by the government. These studies and deliberations paved the way for the acceptance in 1969 by the government of the proposal to conduct the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) with NASA's ATS-6 satellite. In 1969 studies were also conducted on the use of communication satellites for meteorological earth observations.

BASED on these studies and a joint study with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1970, ISRO evolved in the early 1970s the unique multipurpose nature of the INSAT system that included direct TV broadcasting, communications and meteorological observations and it was firmed up during 1975-77.

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The decision to undertake SITE before embarking on an operational system was taken primarily with the aim of gaining experience in the development, management and testing of a satellite-based instructional television system. SITE was successfully conducted during 1975-76. It was the earliest large-scale direct broadcasting experiment anywhere in the world and marked a milestone in the application of space technology for national missions, particularly in developing countries. After SITE had been on for nearly four months, in November 1975 the government accepted in principle the use of satellites for domestic communications. This led to the conceptualisation of the multipurpose INSAT system, the formal approval for which came in July 1977.

SITE was followed by the Satellite Telecommunication Experiments Project (STEP), a joint ISRO-Post and Telegraphs Department project using the Franco-German Symphonie satellite during 1977-79. Conceived as a sequel to SITE, STEP was for telecommunications what SITE was for TV. STEP was aimed to provide a system test of using geosynchronous satellites for domestic communications, enhance capabilities and experience in the design, manufacture, installation, operation and maintenance of various earth segment facilities and build up requisite indigenous competence for the proposed operational domestic satellite system, INSAT, for the country. Two transponders on Symphonie were used for these experiments on satellite communication, radio networking and TV transmission.

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While the INSAT system studies were going on, ISRO (along with the Department of Atomic Energy) took up and successfully executed a major indigenous venture of establishing an earth station at Arvi near Pune in 1972. Towards gaining experience to build India's own satellites and launch vehicles, ISRO initiated in the early 1970s two projects: the first Indian satellite project, Aryabhata, which was realised in 1975, and the first Indian launch vehicle, SLV-3, which was realised in 1980.

ARYABHATA, the first Indian satellite, was conceived with the primary aim of establishing indigenous capability in satellite technology. It enabled ISRO scientists and engineers to learn the basics of satellite technology in designing, building and operating the satellite. Taking advantage of the free launch opportunity provided by the erstwhile Soviet Union, this 360-kg, spin-stabilised satellite was launched on April 19, 1975, into a near circular orbit of 600 km.

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Soon after, in 1976-77 a similar opportunity was provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) on its developmental flights of the Ariane launcher. ESA had offered a free flight for any payload and India accepted the offer. This important opportunity was utilised to build indigenously a 672-kg state-of-the-art three-axis-stabilised (as against the spin-stabilised Aryabhata) geosynchronous communication satellite called APPLE - Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment - which was launched in June 1981. The satellite had only one communication transponder but the entire exercise of building a large three-axis stabilised satellite to operate in the geostationary orbit resulted in ISRO acquiring the necessary expertise that was to prove invaluable to build the indigenous second generation INSAT-2 series of satellites in the 1990s. Various subsystems were developed, such as the communication transponder, graphite fibre-reinforced plastic antenna reflector, earth sensors, momentum wheel, apogee kick motors and, most important, it provided the experience of operation of these subsystems in the environment of outer space. This laid the foundations for indigenous technology development necessary to put an operational INSAT system in place. Also, many experiments that could not be completed during STEP's time-frame were continued in the form of the APPLE Utilisation Programme, which provided valuable experience in space communication systems.

The INSAT system was conceived as an operational system with multipurpose and multiuser satellites as its mainstay. The INSAT-1 satellite series was designed by ISRO scientists and engineers but was built by an American company, Ford Aerospace. Even though experience to build geosynchronous satellites had been gained through APPLE, the decision to have the INSAT-1 series built by foreign companies was driven by the need to establish quickly an operational system so that satellite communication became an accepted technology by the user agencies in the country than wait until the ISRO attained the maturity to build operational satellites. Ford was chosen from among three bidders: Hughes Spacecraft and a European consortium were the other contenders. Only Ford offered to build a three-axis stabilised platform, necessary for meteorological cameras to work on a continuous basis, even though Ford too was executing the solar sail concept for the first time. Because of INSAT's unique multipurpose design, INSAT-1 used an asymmetrical solar array in order to ensure a clear field of view into cold space for the radiation cooler of the Very High Resolution Radiometer (VHRR) earth imaging instrument. The solar sail was deployed to offset the asymmetric solar pressure on the solar array. INSAT-1 satellites built by Ford Aerospace were launched from abroad through procured U.S. and French launches. In all, four INSAT-1 satellites - 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D - were launched of which two, 1A and 1C, failed.

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The one-tonne class INSAT-1 was used mainly to prove a concept that had been evolved and to validate a system - both space and ground segments - in operation as mentioned earlier. The next generation two-tonne class INSAT-2 system served to establish indigenous satellite building capability. The INSAT-2 series was thus fully designed and fabricated by ISRO with strong participation from Indian industry.

Five INSAT-2 satellites - 2A to 2E - have flown so far through procured launches aboard Ariane, of which 2A was retired early and 2D failed.

THE essential difference between the INSAT-1 and INSAT-2 series was an increase in the number of transponders and the introduction of new, extended C band frequencies for enhanced communication capabilities. After the launch of 2A and 2B, its communication capabilities were further enhanced in 2C and 2D by the introduction of Ku band as well (for the growing VSAT operators). However, these satellites which carried a Ku-band payload were dedicated communication satellites with no provision for a meteorological payload. (Incidentally, these were, therefore, symmetrical satellites without the solar sail.) 2E was again a multipurpose (asymmetrical) satellite carrying meteorological and communication payloads.

The lack of Ku band in all the INSAT-2 satellites, and likewise some of the emerging technologies such as spot beams, was essentially due to the limited growth of space-based services in the country so far. But in today's scenario of changed domestic policies the demand for communication capacity is growing at a phenomenal rate and, with the open skies policy, ISRO's strategies on the communications satellite front beyond the INSAT-2 series should have evolved from this perspective. But unfortunately, the INSAT-3 series of satellites, up to 3E whose details are available, seem to be only an extension of INSAT-2E. In terms of their size, mass, technologies and number of transponders, they do not seem to be greatly different from the INSAT-2 series, despite the emerging urgent need for greater space segment capacity on ISRO satellites. This need has only been accentuated by the New Telecom Policy (NTP) which allows private users to lease capacity on foreign satellites.

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Unfortunately, from its configuration INSAT-3 seems to have been arrived at with the limited perspective of the GSLV in mind and not to meet a growing communications demand. The first INSAT-3 satellite, INSAT-3B, was launched in March 2000 aboard Ariane. The next in the series is due this year. However, some flexibility has been incorporated in the INSAT-3 series. The configuration of each satellite in the series in terms of payloads is different, including a completely dedicated meteorological satellite. It is not clear how the techno-economic arguments, which dictated the multipurpose configurations in the INSAT-1 and INSAT-2 series, now make such dedicated configurations viable, considering that the government continues to remain the major user of the meteorological component of the INSAT space segment capacity.

Just as APPLE provided the necessary experience in operationalising a communications system on an end-to-end basis, the experimental satellites, Bhaskara-I and II, conceived around 1975, provided the necessary experience of conducting earth observation satellite missions which were to become the basis for the IRS series of satellites. Remote sensing applications were initiated in 1970 using sensors borne in balloons, aircraft and satellites. Several sensors including multispectral scanners and radiometers were also developed. Bhaskara-I and II, which were evolved from Aryabhata and carrying remote sensors in the visible, infrared and microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum, paved the way for an end-to-end experimental satellite remote sensing programme. Bhaskara-I was launched in 1979 followed by Bhaskara-II in 1981.

The Bhaskara satellites had two-band TV payload for land application and a satellite microwave radiometer for oceanographic/atmospheric applications. Although the capabilities of the Bhaskara satellites were limited compared to contemporaneous earth observation systems, this programme, conducted between 1976 and 1982, provided valuable experience and insights into a number of aspects, such as sensor system definition and development, conceptualisation and implementation of a space platform, ground-based data reception and processing, data interpretation and utilisation which formed the basis for the polar orbiting IRS series of satellites.

The one-tonne class IRS-1A was launched in 1988 aboard the Soviet launcher Vostok and it carried two payloads employing Linear Imaging Self-Scanning Sensors (LISS) which operate in pushbroom scanning modes using Charge Coupled Device (CCD) arrays of 2,048 elements. The technologies employed in IRS-1A were certainly state-of-the-art, though the resolution achieved then (72.5m and 36.25 m) was below that of SPOT (20 m and 10 m). However, the resolution achieved in the IRS satellites today, after launching six more successfully, was the best available (3.5 m resolution) in the remote sensing business in the world until the IKONOS satellite of the U.S. was launched in 1999.

IRS-1C and 1D constituted the second generation remote sensing satellites carrying a multispectral camera having three bands in the visible, near infrared and middle infrared. It also carried a wide field multispectral sensor with a coarse spatial resolution but wide swath to improve temporal resolution. Data from these were the best ever high resolution data available to the user community in the world, until the advent of IKONOS. The subsequent remote-sensing satellites, IRS-P2 (no longer operational), P3 and P4 (Oceansat dedicated to ocean studies) have all been launched by the indigenous Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The next IRS satellite, IRS-P5, is intended for cartographic applications, and hence called Cartosat, and IRS-P6, called Resourcesat, are scheduled to be launched in 2001-2002. Although the nominal design life of IRS satellites is three years, nearly all the IRS satellites have performed well beyond their design life up, to five years and more.

Besides communication and remote-sensing satellites, ISRO has also been evolving spacecraft platforms for near-earth orbit applications, particularly scientific experiments. In the 1980s when developmental launches of the Satellite Launch Vehicle SLV-3 were taking place they were used to place small 35 kg satellites, called Rohini, in near-earth circular/elliptical orbits. Three such Rohini satellites were launched in the three successful SLV-3 launches. With these successes it was realised that 150 kg class experimental satellites could be launched in near circular low earth orbits with the successful development of the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV).

Such a mission could provide a platform with a low turnaround time, relatively inexpensive and autonomous capability to conduct space science experiments. This satellite series was called Stretched Rohini Satellite Series (SROSS). However, with the completion of the ASLV project in 1994, no such experimental platforms have been proposed. Perhaps economic considerations have prevented such proposals. But a capability has been built up in ISRO to design special space platforms for scientific experiments. Indeed, there is a proposal now for a dedicated satellite for X-ray astronomy called Astrosat but this is intended to be launched aboard one of the PSLV launches of the future.

The evolution of spacecraft technology in ISRO, from the 50 kg-class Rohini experimental satellites to 2-tonne INSAT-2 and 3 satellites, implies a corresponding evolution in the technologies of its various subsystems. What distinguishes technologies for spacecraft from their equivalent terrestrial applications is the need to ensure that the systems will perform unattended for long periods of time with a great degree of reliability in hostile environments of space. The other equally important consideration in building space systems is to make systems lightweight, low power-consuming and miniature. This calls for innovative engineering solutions and optimisation.

One parameter that points to growing sophistication in ISRO's satellite building capability is the following. From Aryabhata, with a structural mass of 30 per cent of the total satellite mass, to INSAT-2 with an estimated mass of just 9 per cent there has been a steady decrease in the structural mass fraction. This has been achieved essentially through the use of new materials such as carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, magnesium alloys, aluminium-lithium alloys and beryllium for components and honeycomb elements instead of solid elements. Similarly, the power needs of Indian satellites have gone from a few watts in Rohini to kilowatt range in INSAT-2. Also, mission lifespans have increased from a few months to 10 years. Power generation, storage and management technologies too have correspondingly evolved. While a Rohini satellite required only five watts of power, the INSAT-3 satellite requires 1.7 kW. The design life of the INSAT satellites themselves has steadily increased from seven years of the INSAT-1 to 10 years of the INSAT-3.

The importance of the 1100 cu m acoustic chamber at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), set up in the 1980s, in achieving this cannot be underestimated. It has enabled testing of satellites for stresses under launch and in-orbit conditions. Random vibrational levels, acoustic environment simulations and other structural tests are now possible with actual fabricated satellites rather than model simulations or scaled down tests. This has helped bring down conservatism and minimise tolerance windows in the design of the spacecraft. This in turn has meant a greater payload fraction in the satellite.

With the increasing sophistication of satellite missions and diversity of mission objectives, the technological complexities of building satellites suited to mission goals too have increased. Over the 25 satellite launches that the ISRO has carried out in the last two and a half decades, the organisation has achieved a degree of sophistication that makes it an emerging competitor in the world space business. Indeed, some have argued that ISRO has attained such a stage in satellite building that this activity can be hived off as a separate corporate entity operating on commercial lines and let the organisation focus on evolving new spacecraft platforms for the future and strategies for the new millennium. Unfortunately, this vision is not evident at least as yet, and if ISRO wishes to survive in the global space segment market it would better begin to think and act differently. As an enormous storehouse of expertise and skill, ISRO should become an important revenue earner for the country before that expertise is lost out to foreign space operators.

Relief for the weavers

the-nation

Assistance reaches the poverty-stricken and debt-ridden traditional weavers of Andhra Pradesh from governmental and other sources. However, what they really need is a comprehensive long-term plan for the revival of the industry.

T. LAKSHMIPATHI in Hyderabad K.M. DAYASHANKAR in Sircilla

THE plight of traditional weavers in some pockets of Andhra Pradesh who, afflicted by unemployment, loss of livelihood and debt, have increasingly faced death by suicide or starvation, has finally attracted some attention from the authorities and society (Frontline, April 27). However, the question is whether it is too little and has come too late.

Indeed, observers point out that what is striking about the State government's response to the crisis at this point is its inability, or rather refusal, to address the basic problems facing the industry. It is concentrating on ad hoc measures to provide temporary relief to the weavers, instead of taking steps to provide them raw materials at subsidised rates and ensure a reliable market for their products. Only long-term measures can offer a permanent solution to the plight of the weavers.

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A four-member Cabinet committee appointed by the State government had suggested distribution of rice, ration cards and old-age pension as immediate relief. Over 6,000 kg of rice at the rate of 10 kg to each affected weavers' family has been distributed. About 1,100 white ration cards have been issued to enable the families to draw rice at subsidised rates. Old-age pension, at the rate of Rs.75 a month, is being disbursed to 25,000 weavers.

The heirs of 40 weavers who committed suicide have been given Rs.10,000 each from the National Family Benefit Scheme. Health camps and counselling centres have been organised to help the weavers. Meanwhile, the Central government has announced a package of Rs.30 crores for the weavers. This followed a meeting a delegation of Members of Parliament and Ministers from the State had with the Prime Minister. The Centre also decided to send the Union Minister of State for Textiles, Dhananjay Kumar, to study the situation.

The plight of handloom weavers is attributed mainly to the non-receipt of payment for cloth they sold to the Andhra Pradesh Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society (APCO). The State government has now released Rs.25 crores to APCO, to be disbursed among the 342 primary handloom weavers societies. The Social Welfare and Tribal Welfare departments have resumed purchase of cloth from APCO; they have placed orders worth Rs.2.50 crores and Rs.5.32 crores respectively. The Andhra Pradesh State Transport Corporation is expected to place an order for uniform cloth with APCO.

The handloom cloth that has accumulated with APCO is valued at Rs.52 crores. In a bid to enable APCO offload stocks, the government has announced a 30 per cent rebate on the price of cloth sold through APCO.

Handlooms Minister Padala Bhumanna, who faced the wrath of weavers when he visited the affected districts, said that there were no plans to wind up APCO. He blamed the APCO management for the recurring losses, and promised governmental help to revamp the society. Downsizing is one of the measures proposed. Already 500 APCO employees have opted for voluntary retirement. A powerloom development cell has been opened in the office of the Director of Handloom and Textiles in Hyderabad.

The government plans a special package for Sircilla, which has borne the brunt of the crisis. An apparel design centre has been opened there to train women in garment manufacturing. The centre now trains 20 women. Women are also trained in embroidery and computer skills. About 30,000 shop-floor workers will be trained for gainful employment in the Apparel Export Park at Gundlapochampally in Medchal mandal of Rangareddy district. About 120 powerloom weavers from Sircilla have already opted for the training.

IN Sircilla, where 40 weavers have committed suicide since January, the district administration has begun the relief and rehabilitation work. Following reports of starvation deaths, the administration has distributed over 150 tonnes of rice to the weavers. It has also been decided to provide ration cards to about 2,984 families. About 1,100 families have already received them.

Pensions have been provided to 16 women who have lost their husbands, and old-age pensions to 908 persons. About 2,000 persons are being trained in trades such as garment making, tailoring, television and radio repairing and motor re-winding. Training in computer data entry operations and driving of heavy and medium vehicles is also being imparted.

Rukavva, wife of Bhumaiah who committed suicide a year ago, said that officials were training her son in tailoring and her daughter in readymade garment making. She said that earlier she was concerned about her children's future but now she was confident that they would be able to stand on their own feet.

The district's medical and health officers have deployed 10 teams to treat weavers who suffer from ailments. On April 12 in Sircilla the sub-divisional police launched a counselling and medical programme for weavers by constituting the Netha Karimka Samkshema Samithi (powerloom weavers welfare society). The members of the Samithi include Sircilla's Deputy Superintendent of Police, chairman and councillors of the municipality, representatives of non-governmental organisations and doctors.

About 20 doctors and 60 registered medical practitioners, all members of the Samithi, volunteered to offer the weavers round-the-clock treatment and medicines at their clinics free of cost. The Samithi members identified over 1,000 families that required free medical assistance and provided them treatment.

However, despite the setback suffered by the powerloom industry in Sircilla following the introduction of jet looms in the neighbouring States, only 347 of its 30,454 weavers were willing to shift to other vocations. Only 628 women weavers volunteered to leave Sircilla if they were provided with employment outside the town in other trades.

A social status survey conducted by the revenue authorities among the weaving community in Sircilla and five adjoining villages revealed that of the total 8,152 weavers interviewed, in the case of more than 50 per cent, the heads of families consumed liquor regularly. The remaining heads of families drank occasionally. The survey also found out that about 3,768 families were in debt, of which 2,640 had taken loans from private persons at exorbitant interest rates.

Prohibition and Excise Department personnel have launched a special drive against adulterated toddy and illicitly distilled liquor in the Sircilla region. Following raids, the authorities suspended the licences of 12 toddy shops that supplied spurious toddy.

Although the plight of weavers was highlighted on March 7 when the total number of suicides reached 26, the State government responded only after the toll reached 32 with the death of four members of a family on April 2. Since then eight more weavers have committed suicide.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ch Vidayasagar Rao, who represents the Karimnagar Lok Sabha constituency which includes Sircilla, visited Sircilla on March 17 and announced an ex gratia payment of Rs.5,000 each to 20 families from the charitable trust set up in the name of his mother. State Minister for Tourism E. Peddi Reddy, Minister for Handlooms and Textiles Padala Bhumanna and Minister for Technical Education Alapati Rajendra Prasad visited Sircilla and distributed over old-age pensions.

Leaders of several political parties such as the Congress(I), the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Telugu Desam Party (NTR) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Janashakthi also visited the town. An Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) study team led by All India Congress Committee (AICC) member D. Vittal, which visited Sircilla, demanded the resignation of Bhumanna. The APCC team alleged that the Minister had turned a blind eye to the plight of the weavers. The APCC also announced an ex gratia payment of Rs.1 lakh to the kin of weavers who had committed suicide. APCC president M. Satyanarayana Rao, who visited Sircilla along with former Union Minister for Textiles G. Venkata Swamy on April 8, threatened to launch an agitation demanding the rehabilitation of the weavers. They alleged that anti-weaver policies of both the Central and State governments had forced the weavers to commit suicide.

A BJP delegation led by the party's Weavers Cell convener Vannala Sriramulu said that the power tariff hike and the increase in the prices of yarn and dyes were responsible for the plight of the weavers. They demanded power supply to weavers at a subsidised rate and the abolition of the sales tax of 4 per cent on yarn.

An avoidable skirmish

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

THE short and unexpected burst of fighting that erupted on the India-Bangladesh border on April 19 had the potential to spiral out of control. Although hawks on both sides wanted to escalate tensions, better sense prevailed in the corridors of power in New Delhi and Dhaka. In Dhaka, those opposed to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party had a vested interest in whipping up jingoistic fervour as the general elections were due in October. In New Delhi, some hawkish elements said that India should adopt a tough posture, as according to them, the Inter-Services Intelligence of the Pakistan had a role in the events. There were demands that Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh be dispatched to Dhaka and that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee talk to Sheikh Hasina.

However, as India and Bangladesh are still friendly neighbours, it only took a short time to defuse the situation. The status quo ante on the border was restored within 48 hours, with both the sides withdrawing from the new positions they had occupied following the clashes. The Bangladesh Rifles withdrew from Pyrdiwah and the Border Security Force from Boriabari, the two enclaves under dispute.

Hence, the two governments thus reaffirmed their position that the status quo on the border should not be changed by the unilateral use of force by either side. Earlier, India had said that the BDR's action was "unilateral and unwarranted" as the two governments had set up a Joint Working Group to settle the border dispute. Two years ago a joint survey was done to demarcate the boundary and bamboo poles were put in place. However, according to the Bangladesh side, India was reluctant to formalise the demarcation by putting up permanent concrete pillars.

External Affairs Ministry officials said that the "speed and maturity with which the two governments reacted within 48 hours through diplomatic channels testifies to the goodwill and understanding" between the two countries and was an indication that both sides "were desirous of ensuring a peaceful atmosphere on the border".

SIMILAR views were echoed by the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, Syed Moazzem Ali. He said that diplomatic efforts were responsible for the establishment of a total ceasefire along the India-Bangladesh border. He praised New Delhi for "showing restraint" and expressed the hope that the incident would not affect the cordial ties between the two countries.

Indian officials were still saying that it was "local adventurism" by the Bangladeshi side that resulted in the clash. An External Affairs Ministry spokesman said: "Local adventurism can still lead to unfortunate developments like the unprovoked and unwarranted action by the BDR at Pyrdiwah." The 4,000-km-long border between the two countries has been demarcated, barring a 6.5 km stretch. However, there are small enclaves, which in official terminology are in "adverse possession".

It is estimated that there are around 112 Indian enclaves in Bangladeshi territory and 32 Bangladeshi enclaves in Indian territory. It was conceded that the Indian enclave in Pyrdiwah was occupied during the 1971 Liberation War. The BSF was using it as an outpost to train the Mukti Bahini that spearheaded the liberation movement's battle against the Pakistan Army.

Off the record, Indian officials concede that it was the BSF's attempt to build a footpath to connect Pyrdiwah to Meghalaya that sparked the violence. Boriabari, where 15 BSF personnel lost their lives, is classified as Indian territory under the "adverse possession" of Bangladesh. About 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) of Indian territory is in Bangladeshi hands, while 3,500 acres (1,400 ha) of Bangladeshi territory is under Indian control. It may be a small land dispute in terms of the extent of real estate involved, but countries are known to be sensitive on such issues. For example, Lebanon claims around 400 acres (160 ha) of land, known as "Sheba Farms", on its border with Israel. Israel's refusal to accept it has once again escalated tensions in the region.

The entire episode is also seen as yet another "intelligence lapse" on the part of the Indian government. A "routine" skirmish between the BSF and the BDR in Pyrdiwah was allowed to escalate to dangerous proportions. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is known to be well represented in Dhaka and the strength of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) is estimated to have about 600 people in the northeastern region. According to BSF officials, in the recent fighting the BDR was assisted by five battalions of the 19th division of the Bangladesh Army, backed by heavy weapons. The battalions had moved from their base in Mymensingh. However, the Bangladesh government has denied that the Army was involved.

One reason why the Indian government is handling the issue carefully is that it wants to prevent the anti-Indian lobby in Bangladesh from gaining the upper hand in the coming general elections. However, New Delhi could have made things easier for the Awami League government had it shown some urgency in settling the border issue. India's neighbours were more comfortable when the so-called "Gujral Doctrine" was being put into practice. India as a big neighbour was seen to be more conciliatory in its approach. However, the current government has alienated most of India's neighbours by riding roughshod over their viewpoints on important issues. The failure to hold a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit is a case in point.

DISTURBED BORDER

KALYAN CHAUDHURI the-nation

The border skirmish between India and Bangladesh, which had the potential to spiral out of control, ends following negotiations at the diplomatic level, but the killing of 15 Border Security Force personnel leaves a bitter trail.

THE exchange of fire on the Meghalaya-Assam-Bangladesh border, which began in the wee hours of April 15, ceased on April 19 following negotiations at the diplomatic level between Bangladesh and India. A joint flag meeting was also held between the field commanders of the two border forces, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), in the disturbed border areas. The BDR troops, who had laid siege to Pyrdiwah, 85 km from Shillong on the Meghalaya-Bangladesh border, withdrew from the village to restore the status quo ante.

In the course of the border clashes, 15 BSF jawans, taken hostage by the BDR from Boroibari in Assam's Mankachar sector on April 18, were killed. Their bodies were returned to the BSF on April 20 at the Boroibari point on the Indo-Bangladesh border, 6 km from Assam's Mankachar town, which witnessed heavy shelling during the clashes. V.K. Gour, the Inspector-General of the BSF who is in charge of the BSF troops in the northeastern border States, alleged that his men had been murdered in "cold blood" and not in a border clash. The bodies were so badly mutilated that the BSF officers initially refused to accept them. Only seven bodies could be identified as those of BSF men. The rest were disfigured beyond recognition.

THE Assam-Meghalaya-Bangladesh border has for long been a sensitive zone. According to reports, on April 15, three battalions comprising 3,000 men of the BDR and the Bangladesh Army occupied the Pyrdiwah outpost, held by the BSF. The Bangladesh side claimed that the Indians had been in illegal control of the village since Bangladesh's liberation following the war against Pakistan in 1971. It was an unwritten agreement between the two countries that India would maintain a BSF outpost in the village, which is one of the 112 Indian enclaves (chits) in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has 32 such chits in India. During the 1971 Bangladesh War, Indian security forces used the land to train the Bangladeshi Mukti Bahini, who were fighting the Pakistani Army. After its liberation, Bangladesh staked its claim to the area. Following this, the Indian authorities set up a BSF outpost and the sleepy village soon turned into a potential battle zone between the BSF and the BDR.

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The majority of the inhabitants in Pyrdiwah are Khasis. They claim that for centuries they and their ancestors have lived in the land and so it is rightfully theirs. "How can Bangladesh say it is their village when even the name Pyrdiwah is Khasi?" asked a village resident. The initial skirmish took place when BDR personnel tried forcibly to flush out BSF men from the Pyrdiwah outpost. Three BSF jawans were captured by the BDR and flown to Dhaka by a Bangladesh Army aircraft.

V.K. Gour said that he failed to understand what prompted the BDR to make an "unprovoked attack" in Boroibari of Assam's Mankachar sector on April 18, three days after the attack in Pyrdiwah. According to Gour, there was no dispute over Mankachar, as it was a well-demarcated area. Gour said that the only possible reason for the aggression was to divert "our concentration from Pyrdiwah".

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During the exchange of fire in the Mankachar region on April 18, a patrol of 16 BSF jawans reportedly got separated from the rest of the troops and fell into the hands of the Bangladeshis. Director-General of the BSF Gurbachan Jagat said: "One of our patrols strayed and got caught by the Bangladesh Rifles or Bangladeshi villagers on the other side of the border." However, the BDR claimed that it was not responsible for the death of the captured BSF jawans and added that the marks on the bodies indicated that it was the work of a mob of Bangladeshi villagers. A probe team led by a former BSF Director-General is investigating the circumstances that led to the death of the BSF jawans.

Even after the Bangladesh Rifles and the Bangladesh Army withdrew from Pyrdiwah, which they held under siege for about a week since April 15, the Khasi inhabitants of the village, who took shelter on nearby mountain slopes, were yet to return. It has been alleged by the villagers that the Bangladeshi security forces looted and destroyed their houses before withdrawing. John Kharshiing, spokesperson of the Federation of Khasi States, said that the organisation will ask the Indian government to include it also in any future dialogue between India and Bangladesh regarding border disputes. He said that the Khasi States bordering Bangladesh did not accept Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh's statement that only a small portion was disputed and the rest had been demarcated. Kharshiing said that the sensitive areas should be well-defined for the sake of the villagers who were constantly suffering and under threat.

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Hundreds of people living in villages around the Meghalaya-Assam-Banglade-sh trijunction, who had left their homes following the clashes, are yet to return. Meghalaya Chief Minister Mowlong said that the State shared a long border with Bangladesh and its people often suffered owing to disturbances on the border. An end to this problem was essential, he said. The Meghalaya government is providing food and relief materials to villagers who had to leave their homes because of the border disturbances.

SOURCES said that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is also the country's Defence Minister, may have been unaware of the BDR's capture of Pyrdiwah and the attack on the Indian border outpost. With general elections scheduled in Bangladesh for October, some feel that the whole affair may have been the handiwork of the Opposition forces intended to embarrass the Prime Minister and her party, the Awami League.

Some newspapers in Bangladesh which are critical of the Awami League government described the "quick withdrawal" of the BDR and the Army from Pyrdiwah as a "sell-out" to India. Hasina was visiting remote areas when the attack was allegedly masterminded by the BDR Director-General, Major-Gen-eral Fazlur Rahman.

Making a statement in Rajya Sabha on April 19, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh termed the action of the BDR as "unacceptable". He said that although the situation along the Meghalaya-Assam-Bangladesh border was "worrying", the government had brought it under control as both countries had agreed to restore the status quo ante. The friendly ties between India and Bangladesh should be maintained at any cost, Jaswant Singh said.

On April 19, Home Secretary Kamal Pande told a press meet in Delhi that Major-General Fazlur Rahman spoke with Director-General Gurbachan Jagat over telephone and expressed regret for the incident. On whether the firing was carried out without Dhaka's knowledge, Pande declined to comment on what he described as the "internal affairs of a friendly country". According to informed sources, the Bangladesh government has also expressed its regret to the Indian government.

Alliance in trouble

The new electoral alliance between the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party sparks dissent in both parties, clearly to the advantage of the Congress(I).

THE Congress(I), the main Opposition party in Assam, is likely to make major gains in the Assembly elections with both the ruling Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party facing revolt in their ranks over the conditions their leaders have accepted for an alliance between the two. While the State BJP has already split, some important AGP leaders have moved to the Congress(I).

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Hiranya Bhattacharya, founder-member of the State BJP, resigned from the party in protest against the alliance and floated a new party called the Asom BJP. Hundreds of BJP supporters attended the meeting on April 11 at Nalbari where Bhattacharya resigned in the presence of State party chief Rajen Gohain. Earlier, the party office in Guwahati was ransacked by angry workers. Partymen who had been denied the nomination following the tie-up with the AGP rallied behind Bhattacharya. The central leadership despatched a three-member team to Assam to stem the dissent, but it failed in the mission. The Asom BJP has decided to contest 60 of the 126 seats.

The AGP was faced with a different problem altogether. Led by Pradhan Barua, the party legislator from Jonai, a sizable section of leaders and activists joined the Congress(I) opposing the way Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, party president and Chief Minister, struck the seat-sharing deal. After a week-long tussle over allocation of seats, Mahanta reached an agreement under which the BJP would contest 44 seats, and the AGP and its ally, the All Bodo Students Union, 71 and 11 respectively. It was also decided that the AGP and the BJP would enter into "friendly contests" in 10 of the 44 seats allotted to the BJP. This was opposed by Pradhan Barua as Jonai was one of the constituencies that would see such "friendly" contests. Sericulture Minister Ramendra Narayan Kalita supported Barua's stand. Barua, who has since been expelled from the AGP, is contesting on the Congress(I) ticket.

In Sonitpur district, about 500 AGP members joined the Congress(I), dismissing the electoral understanding with the BJP as a strategy aimed at getting Mahanta re-elected Chief Minister and securing a Cabinet berth at the Centre for his wife Jayasree Mahanta, an MP.

The dissidents may be right in believing that Mahanta, who has been staunchly anti-BJP and has been running the State since 1996 with the help of the Left parties, has changed his strategy to suit his own political ends. The change could be attributed to Mahanta's fear of the growing strength of the Congress(I). Although the Congress(I) won only 34 seats against the AGP's 63 in the 1996 Assembly elections, it won nine of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the October 1999 parliamentary elections while the AGP failed to win even a single seat. The BJP won two seats. The BJP's tally in the current Assembly is four.

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Mahanta claimed that the AGP's electoral understanding with the BJP would enable Assam to secure a better deal from the Centre.

The AGP-BJP move has united several religious and linguistic minority groups, who account for 28 per cent of the State's population. They are determined to defeat the AGP because the party did an about-turn and went right into the BJP's arms, leaving the United Minorities Front (UMF) in the lurch. And adding strength to their efforts is the United People's Party of Assam (UPPA), now known as the Samajwadi Party (SP). Hafiz Rashid Chowdhury, president of the UMF, said that the All Assam Minority Students Union, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the Nadwa-tut-Tameer, the Linguistic Minorities Forum and other minority groups would back the UMF and the S.P., which would together contest 40 seats.

Minority leaders expect a consolidation of the minority votes against the AGP and the BJP. Chowdhury said that they would make every effort to frustrate the AGP-BJP designs. For that to happen, the UMF and its allies will have to move closer to the Congress(I), which also commands a significant chunk of the minority vote.

The Congress(I) has not entered into an electoral alliance and is contesting all the 126 seats. More or less free from internal squabbles the party has a substantial support base in Assam.

The Congress(I) was defeated in the 1985 Assembly elections, held immediately after the Assam Accord was signed following the violent anti-foreigner agitation between 1979 and 1985. It had an unbroken stint in power (except during the Emergency) in the State since 1952. The Congress(I) returned to power in 1991 and ruled Assam until 1996. Observers believe that the Congress(I), which is projecting State party president Tarun Gogoi as the next Chief Minister, is currently in a comfortable position.

With three MLAs, the Communist Party of India (CPI), which was a coalition partner of the AGP-led government, has pulled out of the alliance. Its Minister Promod Gogoi resigned soon after Mahanta announced the seat-sharing agreement. The CPI initially tried to work out a secular front involving the Congress(I) and other Left parties but backed out as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) ruled out any pact with the Congress(I). Prakash Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, told a press conference in Guwahati that the Left parties could in no way have a tie-up with the Congress(I) as the party had entered into an alliance with the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal. Karat said that the CPI and the CPI(M) would contest 56 seats under the banner of the People's Front.

Even as the BJP and the AGP finalised their deal, the Samata Party, the BJP's ally in the National Democratic Alliance, decided to contest 32 seats "independently". The National Congress Party (NCP), according to Purno S. Sangma, former Lok Sabha Speaker, has formed a Regional Democratic Alliance (RDA) with the Asom Jatiya Sanmilan, an AGP offshoot, the Asom Gana Sangram Parishad, the Purbanchaliya Lok Parishad and the Janata Dal (Secular). The RDA is contesting 100 seats.

Left Front on a strong wicket

The Left Front prepares to re-assert its supremacy in the West Bengal Assembly even as the Trinamul Congress-Congress(I) combine hopes to spring a surprise.

AT 87, Jyoti Basu, the veteran Marxist, is still the key figure in the ruling Left Front's campaign for the May 10 elections to the 294-member West Bengal Assembly. Before he stepped down in October 2000 as Chief Minister after an uninterrupted stint since 1977, he promised that he would continue to serve the party. Although for the first time in 49 years he is not a candidate, Jyoti Basu is on a whirlwind tour of all the State to ensure a record sixth term for the Front in office. Not showing any sign of age, he has been continuously on the move from district to district, launching scathing attacks on the Trinamul-Congress(I) alliance. "There is no alternative to the Left Front in West Bengal and that is why the Front's victory is inevitable," has been Basu's assertion.

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Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's campaign is more restrained and has a personal touch. He addresses gatherings at local clubs and committees, holds group meetings, leads processions and canvasses door to door. Bhattacharya is contesting from Jadavpur in south Calcutta. His main rivals are: Bengali film actress Madhabi Mukherjee of the Trinamul Congress and Samir Putatunda, who along with Saifuddin Chowdhuri broke away from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and formed the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS). Putatunda was the secretary of the CPI(M)'s South 24-Parganas district committee for a considerable period of time. Madhabi, a professional favourite of director Satyajit Ray, has starred in a number of his films, the most famous being Charulata.

With no tussles over the sharing of seats among its constituents - the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India, the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party - the Left Front started its campaign in early March ahead of its rivals. On the other hand, the Opposition parties were not out of the woods even in the third week of April.

Before the Trinamul Congress withdrew from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the wake of the Tehelka expose its leader Mamata Banerjee had released a list of party candidates after leaving 39 seats for the BJP. But the political scenario underwent a dramatic change with Mamata Banerjee resigning from the Union Cabinet and breaking her party's ties with the BJP to forge an alliance with the Congress(I). By the time she hammered out a seat-sharing deal with the Congress(I) after prolonged negotiations, her party workers had already painted the walls of Kolkata with names of Trinamul contestants that were in the list released earlier. This created confusion, and as a result neither the Trinamul Congress nor the Congress(I) could start the campaign in time.

It took three weeks for the two parties to arrive at an understanding with regard to the seats. There was a lot of discontent at the local level in the Congress(I). Veteran Congressman A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury refused to let the Trinamul Congress contest from any of the Assembly segments of the Malda parliamentary constituency which he represents. Personal interventions from Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, who was enthusiastic about an electoral tie-up with the Trinamul Congress, became necessary to make Ghani Khan give up his rigid stand. Kamal Nath, who is in charge of Congress(I)'s affairs in West Bengal, met Ghani Khan Chowdhury three times to try and bring about a reconciliation. Finally it was decided that the Congress(I) would contest from most of the Assembly constituencies in Malda.

Under the new agreement, the Trinamul Congress will contest 225 seats, leaving 58 seats to the Congress(I). The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) have been allotted eight and three seats respectively. The Congress(I) has 42 MLAs in the present Assembly.

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Despite the efforts of the leaders of the Trinamul Congress and its ally, there is strong resentment among the ranks, particularly those whose candidature had to be sacrificed for the sake of the new arrangement. Seven of the 15 Congress(I) legislators who have been denied nomination quit the party to form the Save Congress Committee. They have joined Sharad Pawar's National Congress Party (NCP) to contest the elections on the NCP ticket.

There was rebellion in the Trinamul Congress camp too. A sizable chunk of Trinamul Congress cadres joined the BJP, angered by Mamata's decision to sever ties with the NDA. The most notable protester was party chairman and former Union Minister Ajit Panja, who described Mamata as a dictator. At a press conference in Kolkata, Panja burst into tears while narrating the humiliating manner in which Mamata had treated him. He alleged that she had made it a point not to consult him on the developments in the party. "We resigned from the NDA Ministry because it was our unanimous decision. We also resolved to continue our support to the NDA government from the outside," he said, adding that it was Mamata who made the "unilateral" decision to discontinue support to the Vajpayee government. Panja also opposed the way Mamata Banerjee allied herself with the Congress(I).

Informed sources said that Panja had for a while tried to split the Trinamul Congress, rope in at least two of the nine party MPs (in order to avoid attracting the anti-defection law) and rejoin the NDA government. But he was unsuccessful in the attempt. It is believed that Mamata knew of Panja's plans and hence did not take him into confidence.

The BJP, which has one seat in the Assembly, has fielded 239 candidates and will contest on its own. State BJP leader and Union Minister of State for Communications Tapan Sikdar said that Mamata Banerjee's betrayal and her "blatant deviation from value-based politics" would be the BJP's campaign plank.

The Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) has struck an electoral understanding with three other naxalite groups, opposed to the Left Front and the Congress(I)-Trinamul combine, for 108 seats.

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RELEASING four pamphlets in a series, CPI(M) State secretary Anil Biswas highlighted the government's spectacular achievements, particularly in the field of agriculture, and the turnaround registered in the industrial sector. The Left Front, which won 203 seats in 1996, will be looking to win its sixth consecutive term in power. Biswas said the Left Front was voted for stability and secularism and for value-based coalition politics.

The Left Front is taking extra efforts to reach out to the people in order to prevent negative voting, the trend noticed in the last civic body elections, which helped the Trinamul Congress take control of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). Even if the Congress(I)-Trinamul Congress combine benefits from negative voting, victory is virtually assured for the Left Front. Its victory margin and its majority in the Assembly (it enjoys a two-thirds majority now) may be affected, but there is no chance of it losing its supremacy in the State.

The battles within

politics

K. Karunakaran's dramatic revolt against the party high command on the issue of the party ticket may prove to be a setback for the Congress(I)-led United Democratic Front in Kerala.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

IT took octogenarian Congress(I) leader K. Karunakaran just a week to wreck the electoral ambitions of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the chaotic coalition in Kerala that has been in the wilderness for five years. He announced a truce in the State Congress(I), which leads the UDF, only after party president Sonia Gandhi bent over backwards to accommodate his demands. A day after this, Opposition leader and Karunakaran's arch rival within the party A.K. Antony told the media that it was only "two weeks, a week" that the UDF would need to recover. Antony, ever to emerge from such frequent party squabbles as the better loser, was hardly convincing. With elections scheduled for May 10, "two weeks, a week" may just not be enough to reverse the setback.

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Before trouble started for the State Congress(I), UDF leaders had declared at public meetings their virtual return to power. Significantly, this had drawn only mild sniggers from the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), given the load of incumbency on its shoulders and the Kerala electorate's tendency to alternate between the two coalitions. But by stomping out of the seat-sharing talks convened in New Delhi and setting off a bout of factional fighting back home in Kerala, Karunakaran would seem to have swept away the UDF's advantages.

What followed was a week of vintage Karunakaran at his "slighted" best - snide remarks, open intimidation, angry outbursts and cheeky defiance. Much to the consternation of the party's candidates and supporters and coalition partners, Karunakaran described Antony as "an enemy of the people" and Sonia Gandhi as "Indira Gandhi's son's wife". In her case he found a potentially boomeranging relevance to the Malayalam proverb which meant, "Would the scar show on the son's backside because his father rode an elephant?" The references were retracted or described as a "slip of the tongue" once they had their desired impact. "In war, you should adopt any strategy that would bring you the maximum benefit. That is what the Mahabharata teaches," Karunakaran told presspersons later when it was known that his immediate demands would be met.

Karunakaran alleged that there was a conspiracy to annihilate politically him, his family members and the 'I' group that he led in the State party, and that at the national level he was being pushed out of the reckoning by the high command (the latest instance being Sonia Gandhi's refusal to give him an audience when the seat-sharing exercise was going up in smoke). All this, he said, was done to one who had been a Congressman for life, to the advantage of deserters (meaning Antony, who had left the party for a brief period in the late 1970s).

The 'revolt' ended with Sonia Gandhi recalling party candidates belonging to the 'A' group led by Antony in the three constituencies of Peravoor in Kannur district, Vadakkekkara in Ernakulam district and Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district) and replacing them with 'I' group nominees. The 'I' and 'A' groups will now contest 37 seats each out of the 88 seats the Congress(I) has been allotted. The other two groups in the State Congress(I) will share the rest of the seats.

'I' group loyalists were feeling insulted and ignored. By giving the 'I' group the same number of seats as the 'A' group, it was made to feel more respectable, Karunakaran said.

Antony accepted the compromise "painfully", pointing out that it would be wrong to replace officially declared candidates when the party was already into two weeks of campaigning.

Even as Karunakaran's drama began unfolding, the 'I' group threatened to field rebel candidates in key Assembly constituencies (some of them even announced their candidature) and burnt effigies of party observer Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Karunakaran's justification for the specific demands was that the 'I' group had no "fighting seat" in the entire Kannur district, hence Peravoor; that by party tradition a sitting member of Parliament could nominate at least two candidates to the Assembly from his Lok Sabha constituency, hence Vadakkekkara (but all the Congress(I) candidates in the area of Karunakaran's Mukundapuram Lok Sabha constituency are from the 'I' group); and that, Sonia Gandhi has been insisting on more representation for women, hence Aranmula for a woman supporter of Karunakaran.

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There was turmoil in all the three constituencies as the 'A' group candidates refused to withdraw from the contest and party workers refused to campaign for the new candidates. Party offices were attacked and the trouble threatened to spill over to all constituencies where Congress(I) candidates were in the fray.

At the press conference on April 16, convened to announce his "partial satisfaction" over the high command's decision, Karunakaran, aware of what was in store for the Congress(I) and the UDF, cautioned "all" party workers against back-stabbing, "as had happened extensively during the 1996 elections".

Antony too has described the events following the selection of candidates as a "closed chapter", while admitting that both Karunakaran and himself were responsible for the setback to the election campaign.

There was trouble elsewhere too in the UDF. The Kerala Congress (Mani) was on the verge of splitting when party supremo K.M. Mani expressed his inclination to induct his businessman son Jose K. Mani in place of party MLA Thomas Chazhikadan. Mani's efforts to deny the ticket to some senior leaders too caused a lot of heartburn, and for the first time in its history the KC(M) announced its list of candidates through a press release. The party also had a face-off with the Kerala Congress faction led by T.M. Jacob on seat sharing. In the 1996 elections the two factions were at each other's throat, with the Jacob group officially allotted the Kaduthuruthi constituency, where the KC(M) fielded a rebel in a "friendly contest". (Finally, it was a nominee of the Kerala Congress(Joseph), a constituent of the LDF, who won here.) This time the KC(M) nominee is the official UDF candidate there. Jacob demanded the Idukki seat instead but he had to be satisfied with Kuttanad.

THE well-oiled LDF machinery was a study in contrast. The LDF campaign was launched even before the election date was announced. The seat-sharing exercise and the selection of candidates were over as early as March 24. The ruling coalition came out with its first list of 97 candidates on March 25. Only four of its 14 Ministers, including K. Radhakrishnan, the young CPI(M) Minister for Welfare of Backward and Scheduled Communities, have been fielded again. There are 40 new faces in the LDF list, and there are 12 women candidates. The CPI(M) has replaced 30 sitting MLAs. Its list of 77 candidates consists mostly of youth and new faces. V.S. Achuthanandan, CPI(M) leader and LDF convener, widely believed to be the LDF's chief ministerial candidate, is contesting from the CPI(M) stronghold of Malampuzha in Palakkad district.

Karunakaran's "revolt" left no one in doubt that he pushed the UDF to the brink in order to get his daughter K. Padmaja, a novice in politics, nominated for a seat and his son K. Muraleedharan chosen KPCC(I) president. Padmaja was not nominated and Karunakaran later denied ever having demanded the ticket for his daughter. In the same breath he said Antony could have suggested her name without much ado. Later Padmaja announced that she was entering politics in a big way and would campaign for party candidates. As per the compromise formula, if the chief ministership goes to the 'A' group the PCC(I) president will be chosen from the 'I' group (read Muraleedharan).

After announcing the truce, Karunakaran said he was "satisfied, but not fully," that the peace was only temporary. Obviously, not all demands listed by him have been taken up.

The intrigue, the revolt and the rather indecent haggling for a handful of seats, despite the debilitating effect all this would have on the party's prospects, were resorted to by the Karunakaran group with the single-minded objective of winning the maximum number of Congress legislators to its side.

Karunakaran maintains that the party will not project anyone as Chief Minister and that the Congress Legislature Party leader would be "elected" by party MLAs after the elections. Antony agrees that the Congress(I) does not have a chief minister nominee. But he said that the chief ministership would be "decided" later by the high command, based on "earlier agreements". The significance of these statements lies in their subtlety.

Karunakaran's triumph may turn out to be the undoing of the Congress(I) in Kerala and the coalition it leads, even in case of an electoral victory.

The judiciary strikes back?

B. MURALIDHAR REDDY world-affairs

THE judiciary in Pakistan is suddenly in an assertive mode. Or so it appears, particularly in comparison with its track record in 2000 when it endorsed not only the legitimacy of the military takeover but also every action of the Musharraf government.

The Supreme Court's verdict in the second week of April quashing the judgment of a lower court in a corruption case against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and ordering a re-trial has come as a whiff of fresh air for human rights activists and political workers who were feeling stifled.

Of course the apex court is yet to spell out the grounds on which it set aside the lower court's verdict. It is unusual, as nearly two weeks have passed since the three-line order of the court caused political convulsions. But never mind, no one is complaining - though the military government must be anxiously waiting for the detailed judgment.

Before the legal luminaries of the Musharraf government could gather their breath on the Benazir case, the apex court hit out once again at the military regime on the draconian nature of an ordinance meant to deal with corrupt politicians and businesspersons. The Judge's observations on the ordinance were so harsh that the government was forced to consider the necessary amendments.

The same week the apex court posed some embarrassing questions on the amount of money earmarked for and spent in fighting legal cases against Benazir Bhutto. The military government told the court that a whopping Rs.14.2 million has been spent in the form of legal fees paid to lawyers engaged in fighting just two cases against the former Prime Minister. At least one media report talked about the allocation of Rs.100 million by the Musharraf regime for legal proceedings against politicians and industrialists.

The aggressive tone and tenor of the observations of the Supreme Court in recent weeks has come as a bit of a surprise to observers, particularly since the year 2000 began on a less-than-happy note for the judiciary. On January 26, 2000 the Judges were ordered to take a fresh oath under the Provincial Constitutional Order (PCO), promulgated by the military government after the suspension of the 1973 Constitution.

Six of the Judges including the Chief Justice, and 13 Judges of High Courts who refused to toe the line, were removed from office. The 'unfaithful' ones were not even invited to the oath-taking ceremony of the Judges who were prepared to swear allegiance to the military-constitutional order.

It was a re-cast Supreme Court that validated the military coup of October 1999, invoking the good old 'doctrine of necessity'. The apex court was even empowered by the military ruler and Chief Executive, Gen.Pervez Musharraf, to amend the Constitution subject to the condition that its 'basic structure' would not be altered.

No doubt the court admitted a petition challenging curbs imposed by the military government on political activity. But that was almost a year ago and the petition is still pending.

At another level, a Special Court in Karachi pronounced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif guilty in the plane hijack case and sentenced him to 21 years in jail and to pay a hefty fine. In another corruption case, a court handed down a similar sentence. It is a different matter that Sharif is now in Saudi Arabia presumably after striking an 'exile deal' with the military regime.

With the recent Supreme Court verdict in the Benazir case, the year 2000 looks so distant. Going by the debate in political and media circles, the judicial turnaround appears to have come with the surfacing of alleged conversations between top functionaries of the Nawaz Sharif government and the Judges who convicted Benazir Bhutto in the corruption case. The bizarre episode has all the trappings of another Tehelka scandal. The only difference is that Tehelka involved videotapes and the Benazir episode purportedly revolves around audiotapes. If the Tehelka tapes represented the handiwork of two intrepid reporters, the Benazir tapes are supposed to be the handiwork of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.

The tapes surfaced in the first week of February when the London based Sunday Telegraph published what were claimed to be excerpts from a conversation between the Judges who pronounced Benazir Bhutto guilty in the corruption case and top functionaries of the Nawaz Sharif government. The newspaper also published a letter written to the President of Pakistan by the sleuth who claimed to be in charge of the operation. It was portrayed as a case of the sleuth suffering from pangs of conscience.

As could be expected, Benazir Bhutto seized the opportunity to move the Supreme Court and seek to treat the tapes as proof that the case against her was 'fixed'. The apex court took note of the plea and directed the military government to certify the veracity of the tapes within 48 hours. But after taking 10 days, the Musharraf government dismissed the tapes as fiction.

It is not known if the Supreme Court has accepted the government's version on the tapes. One would have to wait till the apex court spells out the reasoning behind its verdict quashing the lower court judgment.

For the next deal

The dormant political scene of Pakistan comes alive again. And there is a quickening of the pace in the war of nerves between the Pervez Musharraf government and the chief contender to power, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

WILL she? Won't she? And if she will, then when and how? Above all, will they let her?

Such questions have dominated the political debate in Pakistan ever since former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left for a safe haven in Saudi Arabia in December 2000. The military set-up is meanwhile desperate for an acceptable democratic face while holding on to the reins of power.

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The self-exiled former Premier, Benazir Bhutto, might be the only alternative possibility, but politics in Pakistan is not easily predictable. And she faces too many obstacles in any journey back to the Prime Ministerial office.

And yet the guessing game goes on. Political intrigues and military machinations comprise the daily diet of analysts in Islamabad. Every small event, comment or even a published interview kickstarts speculation about a possible return of the "prodigal daughter" to the "Land of the Pure" to deliver it from the dictatorial yoke and to democracy.

The quickening of the pace in the war of nerves between the Pervez Musharraf government and the chief contender to power, Benazir Bhutto, over the past few weeks has added to the conundrum. The Supreme Court judgment favouring Benazir Bhutto almost coincided with Musharraf categorically ruling out retirement. There followed a spate of articles and interviews with the former Prime Minister in which she criticised the army right and left. Then came claims from the government about having retrieved 22,000 documents from the United Kingdom concerning wrongdoing by her.

While the cynics dismiss all this as an endless and fruitless engagement, optimists still believe in the battle against the iron grip of military rule. Pakistan is under military rule for the third spell in the 53 years of its existence. The khakis, as Army personnel are generally referred to in the country, have been at the helm of affairs for more number of years than all the civilian spells put together. But the people still seem to grab at every chance that promises a break. Ironically, the yearning for change is the same whether it is the military or the political class that is at the helm of affairs.

After a long time, there was some public enthusiasm when the Supreme Court set aside the corruption charges against Benazir Bhutto. The highest court of the land quashed the conviction by the Lahore High Court of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader. Of course, the apex court also ordered a re-trial, but a re-trial means another day for the 'Daughter of the East'.

So the brief Supreme Court order has breathed new life into the dormant politics of Pakistan. Close on the heels of the order, Benazir summoned the top PPP brass to London, where she has been living, for consultations. Immediately, the index of expectations soared. Does she really mean to end her self-exile this time? Is she planning to confront the military whom she has been criticising in interview after interview and article after article or, as the cynics would have one believe, has she struck another deal?

After all, 'deal' is a special word in Pakistani politics. Former Prime Minister and the supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Nawaz Sharif, struck a deal with the military when he chose a safe exit to Saudi Arabia even as his party was negotiating another deal with the PPP as part of the now aborted Alliance for Restoration for Democracy (ARD). Benazir has herself claimed that her last government was dismissed as part of a deal between the military and the then President - after which Nawaz Sharif was brought to power in rigged elections. Before that, insiders believe and she herself has admitted that she came to power, at least for the second term, as part of a deal with the military.

Against this backdrop, the word ironically evokes little response from the person on the street. Gen. Musharraf had appeared to be safely ensconced in his dictatorial chair when the Supreme Court verdict almost cleared the way for Bhutto's possible return. Whether it was an engineered one, as in the case of the previous verdicts that framed her as the tapes released by her earlier this year showed, is another question.

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A twist in the tale came with the government's claims in the second week of April that it had managed to get those bundles of incriminating documents against her from the British courts. The charge was promptly questioned by the PPP as the leaders of the party regrouped in London to rethink strategy. The next few weeks promise to be exciting as Benazir Bhutto plans her moves. That the Musharraf government would do everything possible to keep her away from the domestic turf is evident from the way it organised the moves that led to the latest decision of a British court to hand over details of the bank accounts of the Bhuttos.

A FEW clues to the tangle that is Pakistani politics today can be found in a latest published article by Benazir Bhutto. Here she claims that the Chief Executive has plans to become the President of Pakistan and assume far-reaching powers to alter the Constitution, override the Prime Minister and even dismiss one almost at whim. Benazir wrote: "Planned first is the election of military ruler Musharraf as President. Planned second is to arm him with a formidable array of weapons. These include dismissing a Prime Minister, as opposed to the Assembly, according to his discretion. Given that five Assemblies were dismissed in the last 14 years, Pakistan can look forward to a repeat of the past."

Is that the scenario one should expect to unfold in the weeks to come? After all, Gen. Musharraf is due to retire in October. And in that case, is Benazir Bhutto, the Prime Minister-to-be?

Maybe. If she can manage to counter the other corruption charges against her and her husband Asif Ali Zardari and if she can sort out her differences with the sundry power centres in Pakistan whom she has antagonised.

In the five years since she left the country, Pakistani society has become more indifferent and polarised. The all-powerful Army, the intelligence agencies and the religious fundamentalists have grown greatly in power and clout during this period. Her views on the Taliban and the Kashmir problem make her unacceptable to these lobbies.

She is seen as a pro-West and pro-U.S. leader, while in Pakistan as a whole over the past few years the American influence has diminished greatly and there is a perceivable anti-West feeling, especially among the fundamentalists.

It is not enough for Benazir Bhutto to be on the right side of the General. She should be prepared to make the necessary compromises with the all-powerful intelligence apparatus, the fundamentalists and the dreaded Taliban. After all, there is total convergence in the worldview of the military and the religious and militant organisations based in Pakistan when it comes to the Taliban and Kashmir. And the logic dictates that anyone who differs with these powerful forces has little chance of capturing power. Even according to Gen. Musharraf, the number of religious bigots in Pakistan is around one per cent of the total population. Statistically it sounds comforting. But when translated into reality, it means a mind-boggling figure of 1.4 million extremists.

Theoretically it can be argued that the majority of 99 per cent of Pakistan is on the side of Benazir Bhutto. But the majority is silent in the face of gun-wielding extremists. The harsh reality is that the former Prime Minister is no longer the darling of the masses, particularly after her two stints in power - 1986-88 and 1993-96. She has nothing spectacular to show, certainly not anything like the impressions left behind by her illustrious father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The shrewd politician that she is, Benazir Bhutto is conscious of the odds she faces in realising her dream of getting back into the saddle.

That explains her blowing 'hot and cold' against the military regime. Benazir Bhutto has sent enough signals of her willingness to compromise with the military top brass.

She knows that Gen. Musharraf has come to stay and would not vacate the chair easily. In the Urdu daily Ausaf, Benazir Bhutto said that she would have no problem if Gen. Musharraf were to take over as President. In a previous interview she was quoted as saying that any day she would prefer Gen. Musharraf over Sharif.

But the trouble is that Gen. Musharraf is totally identified with the policies of the military on the twin issues of Afghanistan and Kashmir. In a lengthy article in the English daily The News, published a day after her interview to the Urdu daily, Benazir Bhutto virtually accused Gen. Musharraf of paving the way for a take-over by fundamentalist forces in Pakistan.

And so the game goes on. The outcome is anybody's guess.

A movement in Marathi publishing

Granthali, a Marathi publishing house, has made a name for itself by making literature accessible to the public. Its critics, however, say that of late it has become increasingly commercial.

AS many as 250 publications in 25 years, 130 of which have been honoured; a reputation for encouraging new authors; remarkable success in encouraging the reading habit among the people. Granthali has influenced the Marathi reader in a significant way.

The publishing house was launched in 1974 by a group of people from different professions, who formed themselves into an informal organisation. "Granthali is a word coined by Ashok Jain, who was the Executive Editor of The Maharashtra Times and was part of our group," said Dinkar Gangal, one of the founders of Granthali.

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Gangal told Frontline that what inspired the founders was the desire to bring out good books at affordable prices. He said that these persons attended the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan at Ichalkaranji in 1973. During a group discussion two readers, from Nipani and Belgium, said that they had not read certain important Marathi works because they could not procure them. "That touched a chord in us," Gangal said, and added: "That was a time of great social and political awareness. Most of us were involved in social activism. Literature of the period reflected the mood of the people and yet it did not reach vast sections of the readers." Although Maharashtra at that time had a population of five crores, the number of the reading public hardly exceeded 50,000. That was a time when it took about 10 years to sell a thousand copies of a book, Gangal said.

The founders were also fired by the desire to bring books that contained progressive thoughts on socio-political issues within the reach of the Marathi reader. They initiated steps to ensure that the reading habit went beyond the privileged urban middle class. After the Sammelan, 14 enthusiastic proponents of this idea met in a Mumbai restaurant and decided on a simple plan to inform people of the formation of Granthali. Each one wrote 10 postcards, introducing Granthali and requesting the addressees to convey the message to more people.

Granthali's initial corpus was built on the Rs. 25 paid by each founder. "With this we decided to become publishers," recalls Gangal, proud of their boldness, which could only be inspired by idealism. Money came in a trickle from people who wanted to encourage the movement. Granthali promised that it would soon offer readers four books for Rs.25. The effect of this on the reading public, who would normally have had to pay at least Rs.60 for four books, is easy to imagine. The group's first publication was Doob, a collection of literary essays written by Durga Bhagwat. This was followed by a collection of essays on atrocities against women, a book on Raj Kapoor's films, and another titled Robot, on military discipline, written by an Army deserter.

After this there was no looking back for Granthali. The financial position remained uncertain since the books were sold at cost price and the founders relied entirely on volunteers. However, new authors were discovered, explosive topics were written about and this enabled their being discussed all over the State. Dalit writing, especially, blossomed under Granthali's editorial guidance. Daya Pawar, a little known writer until then, shook Marathi society with his book Baluta, an autobiographical account of life as a Dalit. The widespread response to the book encouraged Pawar to write another book wherein he explained how his life was altered by Dalits' negative response to Baluta.

Granthali was frequently asked about the low prices of its books. Unlike most other publishing houses that woo libraries and reserve their best deals for bulk buyers, Granthali decided to attract individual readers by offering discounts. "It was, after all, our aim to promote the reading habit in individuals," said Gangal. The Marathi book trade used to charge the reader three times the actual cost of production. Granthali, on the other hand, sold its books at cost price.

Granthali soon grew into a mass movement. "Readers saw this as a social movement and realised that their role was to support it by buying books. We sold books everywhere. We saw it as a social activity," said Gangal recalling the days when he and other volunteers would carry books to the hinterland for sale. After the first eight years Granthali organised a Granth Yatra - an 18-day mobile exhibition and sale of books that covered 35 towns in Maharashtra. It was a success. Gangal said that Granthali's success was largely because of its ability to change with the times. It promoted sales by organising mobile exhibitions combined with cultural shows and group discussions that attracted large number of people. Granthali's latest showpiece is a voluminous work, Gnaynayadnya - a series of books exploring the Marathi psyche.

The movement continued to forge ahead. However, recently discord began to appear among the founders and some of them dropped out. Some people said that Granthali had drifted from the objective of providing books at affordable prices, while some others protested that the quality of the publications had fallen. A section of old-time readers complained of a drop in the editorial quality of the publications.

Today, 25 years after it was founded, Granthali is still a respected name in the Marathi publishing trade. But now questions are raised about its functioning and changing objectives. Pradip Karnik, librarian at D.G. Ruparel College in Mumbai who has long been associated with the publishing house, said that "after the first seven years of its existence Granthali ceased to keep its promises."

Even as he praised Granthali for its work in its early years, Karnik criticised it for what he saw as significant changes in its approach to two questions: the subjects of the books published and their cost. The watershed was the Grantha yatra, according to him. "In 1982 Granthali received a grant from the Ford Foundation and that changed them. I don't know what it was, but after the Grantha Yatra they refused to provide any financial account of the grant. Some founding members even resigned over this," said Karnik. Aroon Tikekar, Editor of the Marathi daily Loksatta, was one of those who resigned thus. He had two objections to the grant - one, that it had been applied for without the consent of several members and two, that the accounts had not been submitted to the members.

As for editorial content, he said about Granthali's magazine Ruchi: "This used to publish serious articles, many of which were connected with the book trade and its functioning. Now it is like any general magazine, with no particular focus and no great editorial input." Karnik also objected to what he saw as a betrayal of Granthali's pricing principles. Citing Granthali's latest showcase, the Gnaynayadnya series, he said: "The cost price of each book of this series comes to about Rs.16, but they charge Rs.32." Gangal, however, said the cost price was Rs.25 and the sale price Rs.30. Again, Karnik said that the subject that Gnaynayadnya dealt with was a far cry from exploring "the Marathi psyche and ethos." "They said that they would publish 1,000 books in 1,000 days. I wrote to them that this was a gimmick and was impossible. Then they altered this to 1,000 books in five years," Karnik claimed. His forthcoming book carries these allegations against Granthali.

Perhaps the final judges of Granthali's future will be its customers, with whom the publishing house has shared a symbiotic relationship. Gangal observed: "Someone once described Granthali as a cultural vapour. Just as vapour needs cold air to make it visible, we need goodwill to keep us going."

A forceful assertion

In Rajasthan, the right to information becomes almost synonymous with the right to life.

AS guest of honour at a convention on the right to information, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was perhaps keen to maintain an image of transparency and candour. The early-April gathering of activists, campaigners and political workers at Beawar in Ajmer district of Rajasthan took place under the shadow of a third successive year of deficient rainfall in parts of the State. This has in turn caused acute livelihood stresses and raised the prospect of famine-like conditions. Deaths from food deprivation and its attendant diseases have already been reported from parts of the State.

For this reason, the deliberations at Beawar tended to focus on the government's effort to cope with the looming humanitarian emergency. The assembly was convinced that the affected people would be able to contribute to the efficacy of the relief effort if they were equipped with the knowledge of their entitlements under established law and custom and if they were aware of the special measures being initiated to cope with scarcity conditions. Without the wide dissemination of such information, development administrators would be sluggish in responding to people's needs and relief measures would prove of limited utility and benefit.

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Believing that the Chief Minister would be receptive, the assembly put a number of questions to him, some on the contingency measures being initiated to cope with famine-like conditions, others on the legislation introduced by his government to provide citizens with the right to information. Specifically, Gehlot was asked whether the famine code had been invoked in the State and how the government proposed to meet the obligations that stemmed from it. Under the code, every person willing to work in scarcity-hit areas is entitled to obtain employment under special public works, while those incapable of work would be eligible for gratuitous relief.

A further question was posed about the quite arbitrary figure of 800,000 that had been fixed as the maximum prospective number of beneficiaries of emergency employment programmes. When scarcity conditions were known to be afflicting a population of over 20 million, the Chief Minister was told, a ceiling of this nature did little to mitigate suffering.

Certain irrationalities in the administration of the employment programme were highlighted, all to do with inadequacies of information dissemination. The allocation of employment targets between development blocks, for instance, is announced after a totally avoidable delay. On this account, the prospective beneficiaries are kept in the dark till the day the muster rolls are drawn up for labour employment. This leads to many eligible individuals being left out and a less than optimal distribution of the benefits of the special relief programmes.

The Chief Minister was also told that wage rates paid in public works programmes effectively work out to a figure well below the statutory minimum. And finally, at the root of all the inadequacies in the implementation of anti-poverty programmes is a default by the State government: of its total entitlement of foodgrain for people below the poverty line (BPL) it lifts a mere 60 per cent from the Central pool.

Responding to these queries, Gehlot spoke at length about how his party had always supported the right to information. This commitment was consummated in his government's very early legislative initiative to inscribe the right in the statute book. As for the specific concerns that had been articulated about famine conditions in parts of the State, the government's records were always open for inspection, said Gehlot. The National Campaign for the Peoples' Right to Information, the umbrella organisation that was the sponsor of the Beawar convention, could nominate any individual of its choice to examine the records if that would serve to assuage public misgivings.

With these remarks - long on political posture but perfunctory on matters of detail - Gehlot took leave of the gathering. Activists of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), which hosted and organised the convention, made repeated appeals to him to return and deal with the specific concerns that had been placed before him. But Gehlot had to rush off to other engagements and as a politician he was not going to depart from the practised policy of giving nothing away unless compelled to.

Aruna Roy, founder of the MKSS and the inspirational figure behind the right to information movement in Rajasthan, came up with the appropriate response. Since the administration has proven that it is not amenable to a discussion about a matter involving the lives and livelihoods of millions, she said, the agitational programmes would have to be stepped up. The MKSS would begin laying siege to the warehouses of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), where the burgeoning stocks of food with the Central government were beginning to waste away. The agitation would continue till the government opened up the granaries and began a welfare programme that would relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable sections, said Roy.

A FEW days later, a demonstration against the paradox of apparent plenty amidst poverty took place in Udaipur. The tribal areas of Udaipur are among the worst affected by the drought conditions prevailing in Rajasthan and have witnessed a number of deaths from the diseases that spread in times of deprivation. The two main Left parties and the Janata Dal (Secular) had planned their raid on the godowns well before Gehlot's public display of reticence in Beawar. Following that event, the Udaipur demonstration drew in a substantial contingent from the MKSS.

On April 12, a large crowd assembled in the vicinity of the Udaipur District Collectorate to listen to former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Sita-ram Yechury and CPI State Secretary Tara Singh Sidhu. With V.P. Singh and Yechury symbolically equipping themselves with hammers to break the locks that were perceived obstacles to food security, the crowd set out in procession for the FCI warehouse. Stopped a kilometre before their destination, the demonstrators broke through police barricades and courted arrest. As they dispersed, they held out the promise that this would not be the last action of its kind.

The slogan raised in Udaipur was that the youth needed opportunities to work. Eight hours of work a day could be compensated with an appropriate quantum of food that would help a deprived family retain its tenuous hold on subsistence. But the State government pleads inability on grounds of financial stringency. And the Central government merely argues that it is doing its bit in allocating grain to the State, only to find that the State government seemingly has no use for it.

A GLANCE at the Central government's outlay in rural employment programmes would show that the scandal of 50 million tonnes of grain wasting away in warehouses as scarcity conditions grip large numbers of people will continue to haunt the country. In 1999-2000, the total outlay in rural employment programmes was Rs.3,729 crores - marginally lower than the budgetary target. When the Budget proposals for 2000-01 were presented, ample evidence was available that the preceding monsoon had been deficient in certain regions. Yet Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha chose to cut the outlay in rural employment sharply, to Rs.2,655 crores. At the same time, he held the allocation for rural water supply programmes at the preceding year's level of Rs.1,890 crores.

Less than two months later the government seemingly encountered the flash of revelation. Although it was always apparent that the onset of the summer months would increase sharply pressure on livelihoods in the rainfall deficient areas, the government waited till the blazing heat had set in to begin to reckon with the magnitude of human suffering. A huge public spectacle ensued with Ministers scaling new rhetorical peaks in seeking to mobilise public support for the relief effort.

Yet in concrete terms the response was abysmal. The outlay on rural employment and water supply programmes remained unchanged. All additional financial allocations went through the special contingency funds that have been created to cope with natural calamities. And these special allocations, it is known, have a tendency to flow through channels less open to public scrutiny, finally to end up enriching those who least deserve any kind of relief.

True to form, the Central government has been niggardly about rural employment and water supply programmes this year, the magnitudes of the increase in allocation being just over 10 per cent for both. With this level of reluctance at the Centre, it is no surprise that State governments should prove incapable of lifting the allocation of foodgrain they are entitled to for BPL populations. And though a large part of the problem may lie in the aggregate volumes of expenditure in rural works, the core issue really is their poor execution and the chronic lack of accountability and transparency of development administrations.

Underlying the current scarcity conditions in Rajasthan is the unsavoury reality that years of budgetary spending in rural works have done little but enrich dominant coteries of contractors, middlemen and the landed elites. This denial of the legitimate entitlements of the rural poor is another consistent focus of the right to information campaign, particularly as articulated by the MKSS. In December 1999, the MKSS made use of the limited access to official records that citizens enjoy under Rajasthan's right to information legislation, in order to lay bare the anatomy of corruption in public works in Umarwaas village of Udaipur district (Frontline, March 17, 2000). The dubious role of the individuals who had dominated the local body, as also the connivance of contractors and government officials, was unravelled in a dramatic public hearing (or jan sunwai) initiated by the MKSS with the enthusiastic participation of the poor and the landless. Although proven in the public mind, the corruption of the dominant coterie in Umarwaas is yet to elicit an official response.

Prior to the Beawar gathering in November 2000, the MKSS initiated a jan sunwai at Janawad panchayat in Rajsamand district (Frontline, April 13, 2001). Documentation of public works executed to the tune of Rs. 65 lakhs constituted the subject of the public debate. With the people certifying which of the works recorded in the official documents had actually been executed, it was established that no less than Rs. 45 lakhs of this sum had gone into fictitious, untraceable projects. In other words, rural employment and relief works had been a mere pretence to channel government outlays from official coffers into a small number of private hoards. And the Janawad jan sunwai was categorical about who should be held culpable for this state of affairs in their panchayat.

On April 9, three of the individuals identified at the public hearing were arrested by the State police and booked for criminal conspiracy, fraud and corruption. Ram Lal, sarpanch of Janawad for much of the six-year period for which the MKSS managed to audit the official record, was the most notable catch. Also booked were two State government functionaries - Ata Mohammad, who functioned as secretary of the panchayat for a two-year period when it was directly under the administration of the State government, and Savanchand Chandel, a junior engineer with the State Panchayati Raj Department. The MKSS believes that the action, although belated, against the three will serve as a deterrent for others who have been engaged in similar pursuits. But they insist that one of the junior engineers in the Panchayati Raj Department, now posted in a village of Ajmer district, has been unreasonably exempted from legal action.

THE Beawar convention was an observance of five years of the right to information movement, at the precise venue where it had been launched in April 1996. During this period, the movement has successfully pressured the State government to enact an enabling legislation that nevertheless remains weak in several respects. The Rajasthan Act, for instance, provides for no punitive action against officials who wilfully delay or deny access to information. A toothless Act, various speakers at Beawar pointed out, is perhaps of as much value as no Act at all. But the MKSS' Janawad operation proves that with sufficient diligence, even a deeply flawed law could serve an important public function.

Humour and irreverence are two other powerful propaganda tools that the right to information movement has deployed. The public at Beawar, for instance, were induced to participate in the convention by a "Ghotala rath yatra", an ironical celebration of the spirit of corruption, with the MKSS' Shankar Singh playing the archetypal politician revelling in his power and his exemption from all forms of accountability. Satire may seem out of place in the grim circumstances prevalent in Rajasthan. But in conjunction with agitation and the systematic pursuit and scrutiny of information, it is galvanising the poor and the deprived into an awareness of their rights.

Behind the 'basic structure' doctrine

On India's debt to a German jurist, Professor Dietrich Conrad.

ON April 24, 1973, a Special Bench comprising 13 Judges of the Supreme Court of India ruled by a majority of 7-6, that Article 368 of the Constitution "does not enable Parliament to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution" (Kesavananda Bharati vs. The State of Kerala; AIR 1973 S.C. 1461, (1973) 4 SCC 225). It, however, overruled a decision of a Special Bench of 11 Judges, by a majority of 6-5, on February 27, 1967, that "Parliament has no power to amend Part III of the Constitution so as to take away or abridge the fundamental rights" (I.C. Golak Nath & Ors. vs. The State of Punjab & Ors.: AIR 1967 S.C. 1643, (1967) 2 SCJ 486).

Instead, the court propounded what has come to be known as "the basic structure" doctrine. Any part of the Constitution may be amended by following the procedure prescribed in Article 368. But no part may be so amended as to "alter the basic structure" of the Constitution. It is unamendable.

As in 1968, the ruling widened the political divide. The very next day, on April 25, 1973, Indira Gandhi's government struck a blow at the independence of the judiciary - from which it has not recovered fully even now, a quarter century later. It superseded three most senior Judges of the Supreme Court and appointed Justice A.N. Ray as Chief Justice of India. The favourite proved his worth during the Emergency.

Only a couple of years later, the majority ruling was vindicated during the Emergency when Indira Gandhi's appeal against the judgment of Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court - unseating her in the Lok Sabha for corrupt practices - was decided by the Supreme Court. She had taken care, meanwhile, to alter the election law retrospectively on the points on which she had lost. Worse, by means of the 39th Amendment to the Constitution, Article 329A was inserted in it to wipe out the Allahabad judgment, the election petition and the law relating to it. The right to dispute the validity of her election was taken away by not providing an alternative forum. A legislative enactment validated an election. It was successfully challenged in the light of the 1973 ruling. Article 329(4) was struck down as being violative of the principle of free elections and the rule of law. (Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain 1975 (Supp.) SCC 1).

This ruling spared the country much worse that was in store. Bill No. XVIII of 1975, gazetted on August 9, 1975, sought to enact the 41st Amendment to the Constitution. Immunity against criminal proceedings of the widest possible amplitude was proposed to be conferred on the Prime Minister by amending Article 361. The Bill was dropped, but it won converts to the 1973 ruling. The Supreme Court of India has since affirmed "the basic structure" doctrine in a series of rulings without demur. No one argued any longer that no other court had struck down a constitutional amendment by invoking that doctrine. For, in none other had such abuses been attempted.

What is little known in India is that this doctrine has now spread far and wide beyond its frontiers. In the 1950s and 1960s, Part III of the Constitution, embodying the fundamental rights, was emulated in the Constitution of many a Commonwealth country, including Pakistan's in 1956. In the last two decades, the Supreme Court's achievement has been acclaimed and adopted by courts in foreign lands.

THERE is, sadly, little acknowledgment in India of that debt we owe to a distinguished German jurist and a scholar steeped in other disciplines beyond the confines of law - Professor Dietrich Conrad, formerly Head of the Law Department, South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

In Golak Nath's case, the doctrine of any implied limitations on Parliament's power to amend the Constitution was not accepted. The majority felt that "there is considerable force in this argument" but thought it unnecessary to pronounce on it. "This question may arise for consideration only if Parliament seeks to destroy the structure of the Constitution embodied in provisions other than in Part III of the Constitution."

The argument of implied limitations had been advanced at the Bar by M. K. Nambyar, one of India's leading constitutional lawyers. Few people knew then that he owed the argument to Professor Conrad. In February 1965, while on a visit to India, Conrad delivered a lecture on "Implied Limitations of the Amending Power" to the Law Faculty of the Banaras Hindu University. A paper based on the subject was sent to Prof. T. S. Rama Rao in Madras for his comments. Nambyar's attention was drawn to this paper which he read before the Supreme Court, though with little result.

Prof. Conrad's lecture, delivered in February 1965, showed remarkable perceptiveness besides deep learning. He observed:

"Perhaps the position of the Supreme Court is influenced by the fact that it has not so far been confronted with any extreme type of constitutional amendments. It is the duty of the jurist, though, to anticipate extreme cases of conflict, and sometimes only extreme tests reveal the true nature of a legal concept. So, if for the purpose of legal discussion, I may propose some fictive amendment laws to you, could it still be considered a valid exercise of the amendment power conferred by Article 368 if a two-thirds majority changed Article 1 by dividing India into two States of Tamilnad and Hindustan proper?

"Could a constitutional amendment abolish Article 21, to the effect that forthwith a person could be deprived of his life or personal liberty without authorisation by law? Could the ruling party, if it sees its majority shrinking, amend Article 368 to the effect that the amending power rests with the President acting on the advice of the Prime Minister? Could the amending power be used to abolish the Constitution and reintroduce, let us say, the rule of a moghul emperor or of the Crown of England? I do not want, by posing such questions, to provoke easy answers. But I should like to acquaint you with the discussion which took place on such questions among constitutional lawyers in Germany in the Weimar period - discussion, seeming academic at first, but suddenly illustrated by history in a drastic and terrible manner."

A more detailed exposition of Prof. Conrad's views appeared after the judgment in Golak Nath's case (Limitation of Amendment Procedures and the Constituent Power; Indian Year Book of International Affairs, 1966-1967, Madras, pp. 375-430).

In 1973, as in 1968, the Bench was split evenly. Six of the Justices (Chief Justice S.M. Sikri, Justices J.M. Shelat, A.N. Grover, K.S. Hegde, S. Mukherjee and P. Jagan Mohan Reddy) were of the view that Article 368 does not enable Parliament to abrogate or take away fundamental rights, including the right to property, because there are in Article 368 inherent or "implied limitations" in that it does not empower Parliament to alter or destroy the "basic structure" of the Constitution. Six other Justices (Ray, M.H. Beg, D.G. Palekar, S.N. Dwivedi, K.K. Mathew and Y.V. Chandrachud) held that there were no limitations to the power of constitutional amendment beyond those which are contained in Article 368, and Parliament was competent to amend any provision of the Constitution.

It was the judgment of Justice Khanna that tilted the balance. He rejected the theory of implied limitations but held that the word "amendment" itself suggested the limitations. "The power of amendment under Article 368 does not include the power to abrogate the Constitution nor does it include the power to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution. Subject to the retention of the basic structure, the power of amendment is plenary and includes within itself the power to amend the various articles of the Constitution, including those relating to fundamental rights as well as those which may be said to relate to essential features."

He, however, approved as "substantially correct" the following observations by Prof. Conrad: "Any amending body organised within the statutory scheme, howsoever verbally unlimited its power, cannot by its very structure change the fundamental pillars supporting its constitutional authority."

It was no mere coincidence that a German jurist had thought of implied limitations on the amending power. Article 79(3) of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, adopted on May 8, 1949, six months before the drafting of India's Constitution ended, bars explicitly amendments to provisions concerning the federal structure and to "the basic principles laid down in Articles 1 and 20 (on human rights and the "democratic and social" set-up). The Germans learnt from the bitter experience of the Nazi era. The framers of the Constitution of India refused to look beyond the Commonwealth countries and the United States.

It is, again, to Prof. Dietrich Conrad that we owe a mass of information on the spread of the "basic structure" doctrine in a lecture on "Basic Structure of the Constitution and Constitutional Principles," delivered at the Indian Law Institute in New Delhi on April 2, 1996. It was published in Law and Justice, a journal of the United Lawyers Association, New Delhi (Vol. 3, Nos. 1-4; pages 99-114).

Prof. Conrad aptly remarked that "in this free trade of constitutional ideas the Indian Supreme Court has come to play the role of an exporter. This holds true with respect to at least two major innovations introduced by the court"; namely, public interest litigation and "the basic structure doctrine". The doctrine was adopted by the Supreme court of Bangladesh in 1989 expressly relying on the reasoning in the Kesavananda case of 1973 (Anwar Hossain Chowdhary vs. Bangladesh; 41 DLR 1989 App. Div. 165, 1989 BLD (Spl.) 1).

PAKISTAN has so far declined to follow suit, though there have been significant shifts in that direction. Prof. Conrad points out that in 1963 in Fazlul Quader Chowdry vs. Mohd. Abdul Haque, the Pakistan Supreme Court had introduced the expressions "fundamental" or "essential features of the Constitution", "fundamentals of the Constitution" or "essential features of the Constitution", "fundamentals of the Constitution", "basic structure of government" and so on to describe the inherent limitations of a presidential power to remove difficulties in bringing the Constitution into operation. "This language was used in order to distinguish the President's power of mere adaptation from wider powers of constitutional amendment, holding that a change, e.g. 'essential features', went beyond adaptation and could only be done by amendment. Nevertheless, soon thereafter it was noted in an Indian case in the context of the amending power itself." (Justice J. R. Mudholkar in Sajjan Singh vs. The State of Rajasthan, AIR 1965 SC 845 at p. 862). From there to Kesavanda was a short step. Dr. Kamal Hossain, distinguished counsel and former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, pointed out to the Bangladesh Supreme Court in 1989 that the doctrine "originated from a decision of Dhaka High Court".

Prof. Conrad added: "Recently, in the famous case on judicial appointments, the Pakistan Supreme Court has come very close to recognising a "basic structure" limitation on the power of amendment. In fact it is amazing to see how they could arrive at certain conclusions and still evade an express recognition of the doctrine" (Al-Jehad Trust vs. Federation of Pakistan; PLD 1996 SC. 367).

Prof. Conrad concluded his tour d'horizon by saying that "the concept of a basic structure giving coherence and durability to a Constitution has a certain intrinsic force which would account for its appearance in various jurisdictions and under different circumstances. It remains to take a closer look at some implications of this theory as they appear from comparative constitutional experience.

In this respect a very interesting development is going on in India bringing Indian constitutional philosophy into closer rapport with European antecedents. This development is the emergence of constitutional principles in their own right - being something more than a summary or a heading of particular provisions, and possibly transcending their literal wording. It can be observed in the use recently made of the basic structure doctrine in the Bommai case. Here the basic structure concept was resorted to outside its original scope and function. No question of constitutional amendment was involved in the case. But the Supreme Court held that policies by a State government directed against an element of the basic structure of the Constitution would be a valid ground for the exercise of the central power under Article 356, that is, the imposition of President's Rule. Secularism was held to be such an essential feature of the Constitution and part of its basic structure."

Prof. Conrad, one might add, is learned in India's history and Hindu philosophy no less, besides constitutional law. He has written extensively on knotty issues of Hindu law and Muslim law; notably on the Shah Bano case. At Heidelberg he has been a guide, friend and philosopher to many a South Asian student.

There is a sad void in our academia. There is no institution which informs us of legal developments in neighbouring countries. There is, however, one institution in London which does just that and on a far wider scale, too. It is Interights, at Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London, NI 9LHO.

Trouble over Man

The Madhya Pradesh government's resolve to go ahead with the construction of the Man project without implementing the land-for-land rehabilitation policy agitates the Adivasis who would be affected by the project.

THIS monsoon, another tragedy is waiting to occur. And the place once again is the Narmada Valley. The dam in question this time is on the Man river and is one of the 30 big dams that form a part of the gigantic scheme devised by the Narmada Valley Development Authority to harness the waters of the Narmada and its tributaries.

As has happened in the case of other projects here, the issue revolves around rehabilitation. Some 993 Adivasi families (about 5,000 persons) belonging to 17 villages in Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh will be affected when the monsoon breaks this year and submerges their lands. Generations of these Adivasis, mostly Bhils and Bhilalas, have inhabited these plains cultivating corn, wheat, cotton and pulses on the fertile black soil irrigated by the perennial Man.

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On March 21, hundreds of Adivasis stormed and occupied the dam site demanding total rehabilitation prior to the monsoon of the families affected by the dam and a halt to the construction activity. About 250 protesters were arrested and lodged in the Dhar jail. Later 33 persons were released and the rest, who included women with babies in their arms, remained behind bars. Fifty children who participated in the dharna were taken to jail along with the adults but were released immediately. On the seventh day of the protest, all but two women, Chittaroopa Palit and Urmila Patidar, were detained. Palit is a field worker of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and Patidar is an NBA volunteer. Incidentally, Patidar is one of the persons affected by the now-stalled Maheshwar dam project. The NBA activists were charged with committing atrocities on the Adivasis. In order to detain the protesters, warrants relating to old cases were submitted to the Jail Superintendent. The jail official received warrants against Palit for six cases in Dhar and for five cases from the Mandleshwar Court. Warrants were also served by the Khargone Court, directing that she be produced before it. Palit and Patidar were detained for 13 days.

Palit says: "The case against me and 13 others under the SC/ST Act states that we abused Adivasi policewomen as we beat them up, saying Randi, phir aa gayi. Tum logo se kya hoga, Bhildi? (There is nothing you can do to stop us, Bhildi). Bhildi is a contemptuous way of referring to Adivasis. Of course it is not clear why someone participating in a movement for Adivasi rights should use the word Bhil pejoratively."

IT is evident that the NBA had made a determined effort to resolve the Man issue through dialogue and that it resorted to the agitation only after these failed. A brief timeline proves this. On January 24, the affected families staged a demonstration in front of the Dhar district headquarters demanding that the construction be stopped and that a land-for-land policy be implemented. On January 30, the government acquiesced to the demand to halt work. However, construction work re-started on February 9. On February 20, Deputy Chief Minister Subhash Yadav chaired a meeting at which the affected people raised questions about the incomplete rehabilitation. This was the first meeting of the Punarvas Ayojan Samiti, a committee for rehabilitation, appointed by the government to look into alternatives for the proposed projects and study the rehabilitation process. From the protesters' point of view the meeting was a failure since they were not allowed to present the entire issue. The meeting adjourned halfway through.

THE struggle against the Man project started four years ago. The construction of the dam began in November 2000 despite the fact that no move had been made to rehabilitate the affected families. One key aspect of the rehabilitation policy is that any person losing more than 25 per cent of his or her landholding is entitled to irrigated agricultural land in the rehabilitation process. As is true in the case of other Narmada Valley dams, the majority of the displaced persons will be Adivasis. Initially the authorities presumed that the general lack of land deeds and other papers of ownership among them would make land acquisition easy. However, Schedule V of the Constitution safeguards Adivasi rights. A Supreme Court ruling that prevents the transfer of land from an Adivasi to a non-Adivasi for any purpose lends further strength to the constitutional provision.

The rehabilitation policy states that cash compensation can be given only to those affected persons who apply for it. And if the applicant is an Adivasi then the Collector must issue a certificate stating that the payment of cash compensation, rather than the allotment of alternative land, will not be detrimental to the future of the applicant.

In 1990 and 1991, some Adivasis affected by the Man project accepted small amounts of cash compensation. They now say that they were coerced into accepting these by government officials who told them that if they did not accept the money at that point they would get nothing. Their claim is borne out by the fact that there is no record of applications made by Adivasis nor of any certificate issued by the Collector.

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Chittaroopa Palit says: "The choice of cash against land has to be voluntary in the case of any of the oustees, especially in the case of Adivasis since they are not integrated into the monetary economy and there are several covenants against the purchase or acquisition of tribal lands for cash. The Collector is meant to investigate first and then verify whether acceptance of cash would lead to the pauperisation of the family. In the case of Man there was no application, nor was there any investigation by the administration. They were just forced to take cash - that too a pittance - nearly a decade ago, without being informed of their rights."

The Man project, with a proposed height of 53 metres, received environmental clearance in 1994. A precondition for the clearance was that the affected Adivasis must be resettled on non-forest agricultural land - a policy statement that was reinforced by the State government's own policy that stipulated a land-for-land resettlement. Yet cash compensation transactions did take place. As a result of these violations, the appraisal committee of the Central Environment Ministry blacklisted the project in 1984. In 1997, when eviction notices were handed to the Adivasis, they rallied together under the banner of the NBA.

After three years of pressure, the State government agreed to convene a committee for rehabilitation. A government order clearly bars all construction activity that might endanger any affected person whose rehabilitation was yet to be completed. Work resumed on the spillway of the dam in October 2000, potentially endangering the lives of over 500 Adivasis during the coming monsoon. Work was stopped following a public protest, but it resumed after 10 days under police protection.

The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal, which was appointed by the Union of India in 1969 to arbitrate differences among the three States of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat on the sharing of the Narmada waters, has made precise provisions in its award stating a land-for-land principle in matters of land compensation. The award also stipulates that there should be community resettlement to facilitate easier resettlement of families. The rehabilitation package provides for house plots (in some cases, with construction costs) and cultivable irrigated or irrigable land. The Madhya Pradesh government based its 1989 rehabilitation policy on this, but Palit says those affected by the Man project "have not been given the mandatory house plots nor the basic village infrastructure under the Madhya Pradesh policy. When the reservoir fills up this year, the people will have nowhere to go."

Project officials say they have prepared an emergency plan. To compensate for the permanent submergence of the lands and homes of over 500 people the NVDA has proposed temporary camps to provide shelter, food and medical assistance. Half of the minimum wages for the initial monsoon months have also been promised, but as Palit asks, "what happens after that?"

To date only 22 Adivasis have been given lands, which according to the NBA is either encroached or uncultivable land. Ironically, the rationale of the Man dam is itself questionable. The project's promoters say that it will vastly increase the scope for irrigation. But a 1998 Task Force investigation revealed that 54 per cent of the command area was already irrigated and the remaining land was unsuitable for irrigation. It was also found that the existing irrigation facilities were not being maximised.

A project official conceded: "If the dam construction proceeds as per plan, the crest level of 286.10 metres will be achieved by the monsoon of 2001. At this height, at the maximum water flow of 10 cumecs along with the backwater effect, 993 families will be affected. Of this, 283 families have vacated and 710 are yet to vacate the submergence area."

Regardless of these facts, NVDA officials are adamant about continuing the work. They argue that the grant of NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) credit for the project requires that the dam be constructed by June 2001.

The controversy about the Man project is the first major one to erupt in the Narmada Valley after the Supreme Court judgment on the Sardar Sarovar dam. Bolstered by the judgment, Madhya Pradesh is forging ahead with the construction work, largely ignoring all directives on rehabilitation. The Man events indicate that the State government will take up similar projects in the coming months.

Summing up her experience with regard to the project so far, Palit says: "After the Supreme Court judgment, they (the government) think it is a free-for-all. On January 28 they called a meeting of the committee on the Veda and Goi projects, which were meant to be alternatives to these large dams. I am also a member of this committee, which was set up under the orders of the State government issued in May 1999. We had staged a 21-day fast in Bhopal. The committee was set up in late 2000, and at the first meeting, held in January, we were told in no uncertain terms that there was no question of alternatives and that the government would go ahead with the large dams. Then came the meeting of the committee on the Man-Jobat projects where they basically said that everything had been done and that they would construct the dam to its full height."

Omissions and commissions

Depositions by P.V. Narasimha Rao and L.K. Advani before the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry amount to exercises in rationalisation and evasion.

THE committee rooms in Delhi's Vigyan Bhavan seem a world removed from the battleground of Ayodhya where the Hindutva forces launched their frenzied assault against secularism and the rule of law. And the lapse of more than eight years may have dimmed the violent passions that were stirred up by the campaign to supplant an Islamic place of worship with a temple to a revered hero of Hindu myth.

After a long spell of fruitless endeavour and legal wrangling, the M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry into the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya seems to have hit a productive vein of public disclosure. The depositions it has managed to secure in the last few weeks represent milestones in the effort to establish the truth behind the dark deed of December 1992. And after the official efforts to dignify the feeble and ineffectual response to an unprecedented challenge to the authority of the state, the Liberhan Commission perhaps holds the promise that a more complete and accurate picture will be available for the record.

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Evasion of the Commission's summons may have been a viable strategy for some of the principal actors of the demolition drama at Ayodhya. But after several attempts to secure their appearance had been frustrated, Justice Liberhan made it known that he would not hesitate to resort to issue non-bailable warrants. For the many Ayodhya crusaders and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who are now ensconced in responsible positions in government this would have been a serious indignity. Recent months have thus seen the appearance of Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Minister of State for Sports Uma Bharati. But the deposition by Home Minister L.K. Advani, which immediately followed the appearance of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao has been the highlight of the Commission's deliberations so far.

Viewed in conjunction, the depositions by Advani and Narasimha Rao provide key insights into the political power-play that preceded the demolition. The then Prime Minister, for instance, has placed on record an elaborate rationalisation of his sequence of actions, which then seemed like an abdication of responsibility. Despite initiating broad-ranging consultations over possible means to defuse the sharpening crisis, Narasimha Rao told the Commission, he was not given sufficient political and legal backing for any firm measures that he may have been contemplating. At a meeting of the National Integration Council he was warned by none other than the Communist Party of India veteran Indrajit Gupta that imposition of President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh may not be an option. And the Supreme Court had refused to countenance his plea that the Central government should be empowered as a "receiver" to take the area of the Babri Masjid into its custody.

In advancing the alibi of helplessness, Narasimha Rao also implicated his former Cabinet colleagues. He stated before the Commission that he had during a two-day visit abroad late in November 1992 fully authorised his senior colleagues in the Ministry, notably S.B. Chavan, Arjun Singh and Sharad Pawar, who were respectively the Ministers for Home, Human Resource Development and Defence, to fashion an appropriate resolution of the problem. This was a "window of opportunity" that he had presented them, which they unfortunately squandered, said Narasimha Rao.

The former Prime Minister admitted that there was a contingency plan, authored by Home Secretary Madhav Godbole, which had been placed before him. But he thought the plan, which charted out a sequence of demands that the Centre could place on the State government, culminating in the event of their cumulative non-fulfilment in the imposition of President's rule, to be unworkable. The invocation of Article 356 was contingent on the satisfaction of the President. And as a constitutional expert, President Shankar Dayal Sharma, claimed Narasimha Rao, may have been sceptical of the grounds advanced for the imposition of Central rule.

These must seem rather curious averments, since Sharma had on the day of the demolition issued one of the strongest presidential fiats ever witnessed in independent India. His directive to the government of the day to do all that was necessary to preserve the peace and ensure the rule of law might have been an unusual step for a constitutional head of state. But in the circumstances then prevailing, it was widely endorsed as the proper thing to do.

Narasimha Rao's self-extenuating pleas only reinforce the impression that he was suffering from a complete paralysis of political initiative in the days leading up to the Ayodhya demolition. This had been induced as much by his own reluctance to take firm action as by the Congress party's prolonged record of waffling when confronted by the challenge of Hindutva communalism. For at least the five years of Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as Prime Minister, the policy of the Congress was to stoke rival forms of competitive communalism. The capitulation to Islamic fundamentalists in the Shah Bano case was followed in quick time by a blatant overture towards Hindu extremists. If the Muslim Women's Bill was the "Muslim card", the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid which enabled access to the Ram idols that had been surreptitiously introduced there in 1950, was the "Hindu card".

There were several opportunities in the following years for the Congress to step off this hazardous tight-rope between two forms of extremism. But these were not taken. By 1989, the game was up. The BJP had snatched the "Hindu card" from the faltering grasp of the Congress. From then on, the BJP was to set the agenda with its provocative campaigns of mobilisation. To respond effectively, the Congress needed to repudiate much of its legacy from the late-1980s. And that was a challenge to its political ingenuity from which it came off rather poorly.

Significantly, after the Ayodhya demolition Narasimha Rao committed himself fairly unequivocally to the reconstruction of the Babri Masjid. This assurance has been conspicuously absent from all the subsequent political campaigns of the Congress. Again, the Narasimha Rao government chose the path of indifference and silence immediately after the demolition, when certain individuals with fairly transparent political motivations petitioned the Allahabad High Court for the unfettered right to worship at the makeshift temple that had been installed at the site of the Babri Masjid. The 1986 court order opening the locks of the Masjid had effectively legitimised the act of trespass of 1950. The 1992 "darshan" order compounded this by effectively legitimising the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

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IN the course of his two-day long deposition before Liberhan, Advani, who had led one of the three convoys of kar sevaks that converged on Ayodhya to perform their act of vandalism, made an elaborate play on precisely these points. On the first day Advani spoke with feeling and passion about the acute distress the demolition had caused him. This had been his stated position in the immediate aftermath of the event and it continued to be so, he said. He had no intention at any stage to advocate or condone the demolition. Rather, his purpose was to achieve the peaceable relocation of the Babri Masjid with all the respect and deference due to a place of worship. But he was helpless in controlling the kar sevaks who acted that day in frustration and rage at the continuing prevarication of the government.

Advani's statements effectively affirm that the Muslim community, in atonement for all its historical sins, should have acquiesced in the effacement of a part of its cultural heritage. This would be the only means for them to buy peace with the Hindu majority. It was only their continuing obduracy - encouraged by the Congress government - that led to the tragic event at Ayodhya.

In disowning or pleading ignorance of all the inflammatory rhetoric that had been unleashed by his confederates in the Hindutva family, Advani has again been consistent to his long held position. But there is no escaping the inference that he is being disingenuous, since many of the most violent incitements were fashioned by the participants in his 1990 rath yatra. Disavowing this perfectly reasonable belief, Advani quoted from Koenrad Elst, a Belgian theologian who earned a brief notoriety in India with his rather crass rationalisation of the Ayodhya movement. Far from being an incitement to violence, Elst seemingly said, the rath yatra was "an island of orderliness".

Anupam Gupta, counsel for the Liberhan Commission, had his own scholarly references at hand, and these were of decidedly greater authenticity than Elst's work. But Advani's counsel objected to his effort to place on record a scholarly account of the rath yatra from an authoritative collection of essays published in 1996.

The following day, Advani came up with a more subtle sequence of arguments, which cleverly wove its way through the weak spots of the Congress position. The "disputed structure" at Ayodhya had always been a temple, he claimed. Although it had the superstructure of a mosque, it had been revered as a temple marking the birth place of Lord Ram since 1950. The court order permitting devotees access to the idols in 1986 had conferred this de facto situation with de jure legitimacy.

Under some sharp cross-examination Advani was compelled to admit that his use of the term "de jure" was rather loose. He conceded that the courts could, in deciding on the issue of title to the site, reverse the 1986 order. But it was nevertheless the fact, he said, that it has "by now been accepted by all that on the place believed to be Ram's birthplace, there is only a temple".

In a significant statement that could have repercussions for the political balance of power within the Hindutva fraternity, Advani also asserted that with the temple now an accomplished fact, he did not endorse the demand for a new structure commemorating the birth of Ram. Effectively, this is a signal to the hardline elements within the BJP and its large ideological family that the temple construction project may not be a politically rewarding pursuit in the years to come. If anything, Advani's craftsmanship of the ideological rationale of the Ayodhya movement, speaks of a shrewd political sense. Now with the purpose of power achieved, he believes that further insistence on the theme would be counter-productive. This could well reflect an accurate reading of ground realities. But the purpose of calling to account those culpable for independent India's greatest political outrage still remains to be consummated.

Blocking privatisation

Tripartite talks involving the trade unions, the Chattisgarh government and the Centre fail, and the workers continue their fight against the privatisation of Balco.

IT is an unprecedented situation in Indian corporate history. More than six weeks after purchasing a controlling stake in the public sector Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (Balco), Sterlite Industries remains unable to establish control over the affairs of the company. The sale, positioned as the first of a "big ticket" public sector undertaking (PSU) in the country, has been stonewalled by the trade unions representing more than 7,000 workers at Korba in Chattisgarh since March 3.

The first attempt at resolving the imbroglio through tripartite talks in Delhi failed on April 16. The talks, involving the State and Central governments and the seven trade unions in Balco, started the previous day after Chattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi wrote to Union Minister for Mines Sunderlal Patwa on April 12 seeking his intervention on behalf of the Centre to arrive at a negotiated settlement. Jogi had asked Patwa to consider playing a formal role in resolving the problem on a formal request of the workers. He pointed out that he was making the request because Balco was under the charge of the Union Ministry of Mines.

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The unions representing Balco workers, unified on a single platform, have insisted that they will not negotiate with Sterlite Industries because they do not recognise the company as Balco's new owner. More important, they have maintained that they are willing to be flexible on all issues except the privatisation of the profit-making, cash-rich company.

Although S.C. Krishnan, managing director of Sterlite, rushed to Delhi from Korba on the eve of the talks, he was kept on the sidelines. Industries Minister Mahendra Karma and Industries Secretary Narain Singh represented the Chattisgarh government. Eight representatives of workers, belonging to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the All India Trade Union Congress, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), attended the two rounds of talks.

The workers stuck to their demand for the reversal of the sale and offered Patwa four options to achieve this objective. Brahma Singh, representing the INTUC-affiliated Balco Employees Union (BEU), the biggest union in Balco, said that a range of options were provided with a view to highlighting the fact that although the trade unions were committed to the core demand of reversing the sale, they were willing to be flexible on the ways and means to achieve it.

The first option presented by the unions was for Balco to remain a central PSU with the Union government holding at least 51 per cent of its shares. If the Centre did not wish to retain a controlling stake, the Chattisgarh government should have the first claim on the disinvested shares. Under no circumstances, the unions told Patwa, should an investor get more than 49 per cent of the shares. The second option was to allow the workers to hold 10 per cent of the shares, reducing the private investors' stake to 40 per cent and keeping the Centre's holding at 50 per cent. If the Centre was unwilling to take a 50 per cent stake in the company, the unions said, the Chattisgarh government should be allowed to exercise the offer it made in an affidavit before the Supreme Court that it would buy 51 per cent of the shares at Rs.552 crores. As the third option, an imaginative one, the unions suggested that the State and Union governments run Balco as a joint venture. They did not reveal any preference for majority ownership in such a venture. The last option sought the implementation of the now-defunct Disinvestment Commission's report of 1997 that related to the Union government's disinvestment in Balco. The Commission, which was headed by G.V. Ramakrishna, had suggested in its second report in April 1997 that the Government divest 40 per cent of its stake in Balco. It had also suggested that a portion of the shares be sold to the company's employees.

Speaking to Frontline before the talks concluded officially, union leaders were pessimistic about a resolution of the crisis. Deb Roy of the CITU said that the unions and Chattisgarh's Industries Minister spoke in one voice at the meeting, making it clear that they were unwilling to settle for anything less than a rollback of the privatisation. In fact, they pointed out that the proposals they presented to Patwa were made jointly. Patwa's offer to discuss the workers' service conditions was rejected outright by them.

Deb Roy said that the Union government was trying to allure the workers with its offer to discuss their service conditions. Brahma Singh pointed out that the workers need not have travelled to Delhi to seek Patwa's help in settling the service conditions because this would have been well within the purview of the State government. Moreover, he pointed out that the Ministry for Mines had remained silent for months before the Balco sale when workers expressed apprehensions about working under a private management. He said he told Patwa that it was too late to discuss this issue with him.

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Patwa blamed Jogi for the failure of the talks. He said: "I fail to understand Jogi's behaviour. The stalemate is because of the Chattisgarh Chief Minister." Disinvestment, he said, had already taken place and the government had accepted the money, so there was no question of discussing this issue. He alleged that Jogi went back on his assurance prior to the talks that he would attend the meeting along with the representatives of the Sterlite management at his residence in Delhi. He also maintained that his role as a negotiator had been an informal one and that the Chattisgarh government and the unions had adopted an intransigent position at the negotiations.

Baleshwar Jha, who heads the Balco Bachao Samyukta Abhiyan Samiti, the coordination committee of the seven unions representing Balco workers, vehemently denied Patwa's charges. He said that while the unions were flexible in their approach, Patwa "did not budge an inch". According to him, Patwa maintained that the four options submitted by the unions could not be considered because all of them involved the reversal of the Balco sale. "We have crossed that bridge. I am powerless to take a decision of this nature," Patwa told the unions.

Jogi told Frontline that "the ball was now in the Central government's court". He said that his government was prepared to work towards any solution that was "within the parameters set by the workers". He also said that efforts must be made to continue the dialogue. Significantly, after the breakdown of the talks, Mahendra Karma had suggested to Patwa that the Balco management revert to the situation before the sale of the company to Sterlite on March 2. He said that this interim arrangement would prepare the ground for resumption of work at the Balco plant in Korba and avoid further losses to the company, the third largest integrated aluminium producer in India.

THE strike that started on March 3 has imposed great hardships on the workers. Having had to live without any income for two months, they are under pressure. However, trade unions from public sector units and other sections of the industrial working class have contributed financial and logistical support to the agitating workers. The langar near the plant remains active. Financial and material help have been pouring in from workers across the country. Notable among them have been those made by bank and insurance workers and those from coal mine workers and workers of other PSUs. Leaders of various political parties and trade unions have visited Balco Nagar and offered their solidarity with the workers.

At a meeting in Delhi on April 19, the major central trade unions sought the intervention of the Prime Minister and the Union Labour Minister in arriving at an "amicable and respectable" settlement. They have also warned that if no solution is found, they would launch a countrywide industrial action by mid-May. The unions have called upon workers to stage demonstrations all over the country on May 4 in support of the Balco workers' struggle.

The women in the industrial township are at the forefront of the struggle. The Mahila Sangarsh Samiti (Women's Struggle Committee), an organisation comprising women volunteers from Balco Nagar, is active in providing logistical support to the striking workers. Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), said that this was significant, considering that Chattisgarh was a backward tribal area.

The strike is unique in many ways. To those who have criticised the trade unions for having been content with raising only economic demands, the strike has come as a revelation - that they would also take up larger issues such as privatisation. Another significant revelation is that the prolonged strike has been conducted peacefully by a group of workers, the majority of them tribal people, who were never known for their militancy.

The recently-formed Citizens' Forum Against Balco Privatisation held a convention in Delhi on April 13. It condemned "the ongoing loot of public wealth through the privatisation of profit-making PSUs". Prabhat Patnaik, eminent economist, was among those who spoke at the convention and Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, presided over it.

The forum demanded the immediate reversal of the "scandalous BALCO deal".

In another twist to the Balco affair, elements in the Sangh Parivar, fearing loss of their support base among the industrial working class, mounted a scathing criticism on the government. On April 16, thousands of workers belonging to the BMS, the labour wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, along with the activists of other Parivar outfits such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), launched a "mass movement" against the government's economic policies. The Balco issue figured prominently in their list of complaints against the government.

In a bitter attack on the government, particularly Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, SJM founder Dattopant Thengadi described the privatisation of publicly-owned companies like Balco and Modern Foods as a "fraud committed by bureaucrats". Referring to the changes proposed to be made in the labour laws, which the Finance Minister announced in his Budget speech, Thengadi accused Sinha of having committed a grave constitutional impropriety by encroaching into the domain of the Labour Ministry. Politicians, bureaucrats and private vested interests were manipulating the privatisation of public sector companies, he said, and alleged that these companies had been rendered sick for "extraneous considerations".

Power struggles

The crisis over the non-payment of dues to the Enron-promoted Dabhol Power Company by the Maharashtra State Electricity Board deepens as the company serves notices of arbitration to the Central and State governments.

THE battle over the Enron-promoted Dabhol Power Company (DPC) has reached what could prove to be its final phase. Just before a Maharashtra government-appointed committee recommended wide-ranging financial restructuring of the controversial $3 billion power project, the DPC served notices of arbitration on the Government of India and the Maharashtra government. The notices demanded the payment of dues by the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) and claimed the existence of a political force majeure which made it impossible for the multinational to fulfil its contractual obligations. With important coalition partners in Maharashtra's ruling Democratic Front (D.F.) alliance demanding that the project be scrapped, a showdown seems inevitable.

On April 4, the DPC served notices of conciliation and arbitration to the Central government over the MSEB's refusal to pay its Rs.102 crore-bill for December 2000. The MSEB's dues to the DPC are guaranteed by the Maharashtra government and counter-guaranteed by the Central government. The company gave the Centre a 60-day deadline to give a reply and appoint a conciliator. The DPC appointed former Chief Justice of New South Wales Lawrence Street as its conciliator. On April 16, the Central government announced that Law Commission Chairman Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy would be its conciliator. Together the conciliators will appoint a third member, and this three-person panel will begin the conciliation process. If the panel fails to resolve the issue, the two parties would have to initiate international arbitration. On April 16 and 17, the DPC served notices of arbitration on the Maharashtra government and the MSEB. It demanded the payment of Rs.225.26 crores, the total of the DPC's December 2000 and January 2001 bills.

The DPC's offensive was in part the result of a Rs.401-crore penalty imposed by the MSEB under a 'mistake ratio' clause. According to the MSEB, the DPC failed to supply power within a stipulated three-hour period on January 28. As the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) provides for a penalty of two weeks' receivables, the MSEB decided to make good this clause and slap a fine for failure to ensure power availability. Since the cash-strapped MSEB could not make its fixed monthly payments to the DPC, it asked the power company to set off the penalty against the amount that the MSEB owed it. The DPC refused to accept this, and insisted that the Central government pay the pending amount. However, the Union Law Ministry has upheld the stand taken by the State government and the MSEB, stating that the State is well within its rights to ask for an adjustment against payments. An MSEB official told Frontline that the utility company had a right under the PPA to check the DPC's functioning once in every four months. "When we realised they were not performing as guaranteed, we decided that we had the right to ask for a rebate," the official said. He pointed out that the MSEB had paid the bill for February, amounting to Rs.114 crores.

FOR the MSEB, these legal issues are questions of life and death. Ever since the signing of the PPA, Maharashtra has been paying the DPC Rs.95 crores every month. This is because the MSEB is bound to pay for 90 per cent of the 740 MW of power produced by Phase I of the DPC, irrespective of whether the State uses the electricity or not. Even at the risk of bleeding itself, the MSEB was trying to make the payments. However, following massive losses suffered this year, the MSEB categorically told the DPC that it could no longer meet its exorbitant charges. The MSEB is in serious financial distress and does not have the resources to pay. Until the DPC entered the picture, the MSEB was known as one of the most profitable and efficient utility companies in the country. Alarmingly, Phase II of the 2,100 MW project is scheduled to be commissioned later this year. This means that the MSEB will have to fork out Rs.500 crores a month as stand-by charges to the DPC, irrespective of how much it buys.

Since the MSEB's monthly collections are about Rs.900 crores, it will end up paying more than 50 per cent of its revenues to just one power supplier. When the DPC deal was struck, it was agreed that the tariff would be inversely proportional to the quantum of power used. As the MSEB uses only 5 per cent of the power it buys from the DPC, it pays approximately Rs.7 per unit. This is exorbitant compared to the Rs.2 it pays the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). Moreover, the tariff structure was pegged to the dollar. The falling rate of the rupee against the dollar and the increase in the price of naphtha pushed the DPC's bill to Rs.700 crores a month. Once the second phase gets going, and if the State is still bound by the PPA, it will have to pay more than Rs.8,000 crores a year to the DPC. That, most experts believe, is the kind of cash the MSEB cannot raise, even if it were to improve collections dramatically and state subsidies to rural users were to be slashed.

However, DPC officials seem determined not to give in. It is not coincidental that the DPC issued a notice of 'political force majeure' to the MSEB on April 9, on the eve of the release of the Madhav Godbole Committee report. A DPC press statement said that the notice "indicates that the concerted, deliberate and politically motivated actions of GoM, GoI and MSEB have or potentially will have a material and adverse effect on DPC's ability to perform obligations under the PPA." By invoking the 'political force majeure' clause, the DPC conveyed the message that it was unable to discharge its commitment of selling power owing to factors beyond its control. Issuing a 'political force majeure' notice is an extreme move and if it can be substantiated that the situation warranted the issue of the notice, the financial ramifications will be severe. It is also the first step towards a possible termination of the project. If it leads to a termination, the Centre's liability will be $300 million under the counter-guarantee agreement. However, for the case to be proved a conciliation process will first have to begin.

THE explanation for Enron's stubborn stance lies in the Godbole Report. Tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly on April 10, the report is perhaps the first on-record official admission that a failure of governance led to the current crisis. The report argues that the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition that signed the deal did so despite being aware that the PPA was skewed in Enron's favour, and that it would have serious consequences for the MSEB. "The committee," it notes, "is concerned that there are numerous infirmities in the process of approvals granted in the project, which bring into question the propriety of the decisions." Charges of bribery and corruption in the DPC deal, which was first negotiated by the Congress(I) government led by Sharad Pawar, helped the Shiv Sena and the BJP come to power in 1995. However, shortly after coming to power, the alliance renegotiated the project on terms even more iniquitous than the earlier ones. The commitment to Phase II was a key element of this new agreement.

The report says that the most critical requirement now is a complete overhaul of the financial structure of the DPC. The committee recommends that if this is agreed upon, the maturity period of the DPC's debt could be increased, preferably to 15 years with an initial moratorium of five years. Moreover, an indicative interest rate for such debt could be 12 per cent in rupee terms (in dollar terms it would be around 6 per cent). If this is not applicable to foreign loans, the foreign debt should be converted to a rupee debt and restructured accordingly. The Godbole Report suggests that 75 per cent of the equity could be converted into preference capital at the rate of 10 per cent with the same redemption period as the debt. The cumulative result of this exercise is to reduce the first year capacity charge at 30 per cent Plant Load Factor (PLF). This means that the capacity charge comes down from Rs.3.19 to Rs.2.18. Coupled with the fuel charges of Rs.1.94, this gives a barely acceptable tariff level of Rs.4.12 a unit at 30 per cent of the plant's capacity.

Significantly, the Godbole Report has also proposed that both phases of the project be renegotiated. Bringing down capital costs and the cost of power is crucial at this stage, says the report. It suggests converting the tariff into two parts. This suggestion assumes significance because the method of structuring of the tariff remains shrouded in mystery. The report says that as the tariff is an extremely contentious issue with the DPC, "it is essential to remove this opacity". The tariff must be benchmarked to the lowest cost of supply of power from gas-based projects elsewhere, the report says. In its final comments, the report suggests that the PPA be re-examined and compared with other Independent Power Producer agreements in accordance with a least-cost plan. Meeting a long-standing demand of several critics, it also recommends that all dollar denominations be removed in the fixed-charge component. This would mean that the falling value of the rupee would not have a major impact on the MSEB's dues to the DPC.

It is important to note that the Godbole Committee's proposals are neither radical nor drastic. Critics of the project believe that it has not gone far enough to address the major problems in the PPA. Pradyumna Kaul, an activist of the Enron Virodhi Andolan and a long-standing opponent of the project, said that there were some fundamental errors in the Godbole Report, particularly with regard to financial restructuring. Kaul argues that even if the Committee's proposals on capital restructuring are implemented, the writing down of capacity charge and the PLF still forces the MSEB to pay between Rs.3,000 crores and Rs.4,000 crores each year. The cost for this huge payment would inevitably mean that the price of power in the State would have to be increased drastically. Kaul referred to the MSEB proposals, now pending before the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC), to increase power tariffs by 38 per cent. "To pay Enron's bills, the MSEB has to raise its prices sharply. It is clearly an unwarranted burden on the consumer," Kaul said.

THE notices issued by the DPC are seen as being part of an effort to ensure that even the modest restructuring proposed by the Godbole Report are not implemented. DPC officials said that the PPA, which states that the MSEB should continue to pay in accordance with relevant sections, throughout the duration "of any event or circumstances of force majeure". This means that the MSEB would have to pay the DPC even if the company is unable to provide any power. In a letter to the Union Power Secretary, dated April 7, the DPC stated that the dispute had snowballed when the MSEB refused to pay the bill for November. As the MSEB was not meeting its payment commitment, the DPC said that lenders for the second phase had stopped making their disbursements. This means that if the second phase is not commissioned on schedule, the company will have to pay damages to the MSEB. A DPC spokesperson told Frontline that the company had to take these steps because there was "no sign of any payments". "What face will we show our lenders and contractors?" he asked.

However, Kaul believes that the truth lies elsewhere. The MSEB's failure to pay its dues, he argues, was probably the outcome of the realisation that neither it nor the Maharashtra government would be able to afford the second phase. "The arbitration notices constitute just some sparring between the two of them before an inevitable showdown," Kaul said.

THERE are signs, however, that the multinational is trying to cut its losses. Worldwide, Enron has shifted its core business from generating power to supplying products like gas. Several of the team members, responsible for the establishment of the DPC have moved out of Enron, and the company has been suggesting for several months that it would be willing to sell its stake in the project - at the right price.

The Enron board was meeting on April 23 to discuss among other things the DPC issue. Speculation is rife that lenders for the Indian company have pulled out. Some believe that Enron's real strategy now is to get out of the project after collecting the best possible price. That, many believe, would be an easy option for the company. The Peasants and Workers Party, the Janata Dal, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), all constituents of the D.F., have made it clear that the Godbole Report needs to be followed up with further investigation of possible criminal actions. In spite of the flaws in the report, there is little doubt that it has made clear that corruption had a lot to do with the DPC's birth.

A detailed investigation alone can bring down the curtain on India's most controversial power project. Whether it will take place depends on how much pressure the Left allies of the D.F. will be able to mount on the Congress(I) and the Nationalist Congress Party, who have more than enough reasons to avoid any meaningful inquiry into the DPC's birth.

Questions without answers

Former Law Minister and Senior Advocate Shanti Bhushan releases his correspondence with the Judges of the Supreme Court, the President and the Prime Minister seeking an inquiry into certain allegations relating to Chief Justice of India A.S. Anand.

FOR all the energy that has been expended in its elaboration, "judicial accountability" remains an elusive concept, partly because the issue has been debated almost exclusively in the rarefied domain of legal pundits. On April 14, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court and former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan took a bold initiative to bring the discussion into the public forum. At a media conference in Delhi, Shanti Bhushan released the rather one-sided correspondence he has been engaged in since February 2001, seeking an inquiry into certain allegations that have been swirling around the person of the Chief Justice of India, Dr. A.S. Anand.

Shanti Bhushan's epistolary crusade began on February 20, when he addressed identical letters to all the judges of the Supreme Court seeking the institution of the "inhouse procedure" that had reportedly been devised as a remedy for possible judicial misdemeanours. A copy was also sent to the President for his information. Except for a one-line acknowledgment of receipt from Rashtrapati Bhavan, Shanti Bhushan failed to obtain any response. He wrote to the Prime Minister on March 30, outlining the substance of his earlier correspondence and urging the government to initiate the "necessary inquiry into the allegations". "It is primarily the responsibility of the government," he said, "to ensure a pure and functional system for the administration of justice."

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On the face of it, this assertion seems to be at variance with established principles of judicial appointments. By its 1993 ruling in the Supreme Court Advocates on Record case, commonly referred to as "the second judges case", the Supreme Court had ruled that "consultation" with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in the matter of judicial appointments necessarily meant that the President had to obtain his concurrence. This reversed the position that had been prevalent since 1982 when the constitutional procedure of "consultation" was interpreted as a courtesy that did not necessarily require the concurrence of the CJI.

The ruling in the "second judges case" seemingly vested a great deal of authority in the matter of judicial appointments in the office of the CJI. In 1998 the Supreme Court rendered an opinion on a presidential reference, which sought to remove all the inherent uncertainties in the 1993 ruling. By spelling out precisely the scope of consultations that the CJI himself was obliged to undertake, the Supreme Court sought to ensure that the function of judicial appointments does not become excessively centralised in one person's hands.

The effect of all these rulings nevertheless has been to enshrine the judiciary as a self-regulating institution. Towards the end of his tenure as CJI, Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah constituted a committee of judges to lay down standards of conduct for members of the judiciary. This was partly to ensure that the judiciary did not become a "self-perpetuating oligarchy" as Justice S.R. Pandian had warned in his concurring opinion in the second judges case, and partly to assuage public concerns that had been expressed over the Justice V. Ramaswamy episode that led to an impeachment drama in 1993.

In May 1997, a full collegium of the Supreme Court adopted a virtual charter of judicial self-regulation in accordance with the highest standards, entitled "Restate-ment of Values in Judicial Life". Later that year, a committee of Supreme Court judges submitted a report recommending the institution of an "inhouse procedure" to deal with issues involving the conduct of judges. It has authoritatively been reported that this proposal was discussed at a conference of High Court Chief Justices in 1999, following which the details were circulated to all members of the higher judiciary.

Shanti Bhushan's letter to the Supreme Court judges seeks the invocation of the "inhouse procedure" to inquire into the allegations against the CJI. But he also relies upon a 1991 ruling by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Veerasami case, when the pivotal role of the CJI in monitoring adherence to judicial norms was not yet established and the government was deemed to have a significant role in the matter. The Constitution Bench had held in 1991 that if allegations of misconduct were received against the CJI, then the government was at liberty to "consult any other judge or judges of the Supreme Court" in order to seek appropriate remedies.

This principle, if applied to the context of judicial self-regulation, would mean that "any other judge or judges of the Supreme Court" would be at liberty to invoke the "inhouse procedure" if credible apprehensions of misconduct were to be raised against the CJI. But since the precise mechanisms of this "inhouse procedure" are not known to the public, Shanti Bhushan took the path of abundant precaution and addressed his letter to all the judges of the Supreme Court.

The lack of any response or reply to his letter was interpreted by Shanti Bhushan as evidence that no credible "inhouse procedure" exists to oversee judicial conduct. This was the substance of his letter to the Prime Minister, wherein he expressed his willingness to "discuss" any possible apprehensions that might exist about "the role of the government in the matter". There could be no compromise, though, on the need to "immediately initiate the requisite inquiry in the matter".

Shanti Bhushan took his campaign to the public realm within a fortnight of despatching his letter to the Prime Minister. Two days later, Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley responded on behalf of the government. The substance of the allegations raised by Shanti Bhushan, he said, related to "judicial orders and judicial proceedings". Some of them had been raised in a 1988 petition seeking the transfer of Justice Anand, who was then the Chief Justice of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, in accordance with established policy. Another allegation relating to a land transaction involving Justice Anand's wife had been looked into by the Madhya Pradesh High Court. Since all the matters of concern to Shanti Bhushan had been disposed of by the judiciary, there was no question of the government re-examining them. Such a course would be "subversive of judicial independence", said Jaitley.

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Shanti Bhushan believes that this is at best an evasion of responsibility by the government. Certain allegations of judicial impropriety had indeed been made in the 1988 petition seeking the transfer of Justice Anand. But these were expunged after a preliminary hearing when Justice Venkatachaliah persuaded counsel for the petitioner that he was disinclined to hear a "mixed bag of heterogenous matters intertwined with the main question of the non-implementation of the policy of transfer". The amended petition, more narrowly focussed on the transfer issue, was later taken up by the Supreme Court. And with Justice Anand taking over as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court shortly afterwards, he was deemed to be in compliance with the policy on transfers. In other words, "there was and could not have been any consideration or pronouncement on the merits of these allegations" by the Supreme Court.

Similarly, Shanti Bhushan believes there are several unanswered questions about the manner in which the matter of the land transaction involving Justice Anand's wife, Mala Anand, was handled. As he has pointed out in his letter to the Law Minister, vital pieces of evidence were not brought on the judicial record. And when the Madhya Pradesh government filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against a High Court order invalidating its acquisition of land that once belonged to Justice Anand's wife, there was an intervention from "no less a person than the Chief Minister" to secure its withdrawal. ("Under a cloud", Frontline, August 4, 2000)

PERHAPS the most serious allegation that Shanti Bhushan makes against the CJI relates to a matter that he heard as a judge of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 1983. On February 7 that year, Justice Anand heard an application from the owner of Broadway Hotel, Srinagar, Lala Tirath Ram Amla, a businessman and politician, pleading for relief against proceedings initiated by the Telephones Department for non-payment of bills and passed an interim order staying the disconnection of the hotel's telephone lines.

Two years later, shortly after Justice Anand was elevated to the apex position in the State judiciary, a land transaction took place between his daughter Shabnam Anand and Krishan Kumar Amla, son of Tirath Ram Amla. According to the terms of the sale deed executed on September 18, 1985, a two kanal plot (some 1,200 square yards) at Ganderbal, just outside the municipality of Srinagar, was transferred by Krishan Kumar Amla to Shabnam Anand for a stated consideration of Rs. 30,000. The market value of such a plot of land at Ganderbal in 1985, it appears, was several times the sum recorded. As Shabnam was then unmarried and a resident of her parental home, it is reasonable to infer that Justice Anand was aware of this transaction.

Shabnam Anand was married shortly after the execution of the sale deed and her wedding reception was held at the Broadway Hotel. Soon after, on October 25, 1985, Krishan Kumar Amla filed a writ petition in the High Court challenging a statutory notice sent by the Cantonment Board, Badamibagh, Srinagar on July 11, 1985, ordering the demolition of a building constructed by him. This structure had been built on land that was assessed by the Cantonment Board as the property of the Indian Army. Amla's encroachment, they claimed, violated the Cantonment Board Act of 1924, which requires that prior permission be obtained from the Board for any such construction.

In his October 1985 writ petition Amla pleaded for a stay on proposed demolition. Chief Justice Anand, sitting with Justice K.K. Gupta, admitted it and stayed the demolition on October 29, 1985. Two years later, in August 1987, Chief Justice Anand recused himself from the case after an uproar in the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association over the obvious conflict of interests involved.

The stay on demolition nevertheless remained in operation till September 25, 1998, when Justice T.S. Doabia disposed of the writ petition, noting in his order that it had been pending for almost 13 years. Justice Doabia had been given a voluntary transfer from the Madhya Pradesh High Court to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 1996, and he dealt with the Amla matter while serving on the Srinagar bench between August 13, 1998 and October 20, 1998. Justice Doabia directed the Cantonment Board to "compound the irregularity". If the construction by Amla and the breach of the Municipal Act did not involve violation of the Zonal Plan or Master Plan, he ruled, the authorities concerned should compound the irregularity. He did not deal with the issue of the construction being on encroached land, or the competence of the Cantonment Board to issue an eviction order against Krishan Kumar Amla.

Shanti Bhushan has observed that Justice Doabia had earlier dealt with the case involving the Madhya Pradesh government's acquisition of land belonging to Justice Anand's wife. The case involved land that had been granted to Mala Anand's father in the 1950s on certain conditions, notably that it would be cultivated. When this condition was not fulfilled, the State government began proceedings in the Revenue Court to resume ownership of the land. Due notice, says Shanti Bhushan, was issued in 1972 to Mala Anand and her mother, who were joint owners of the land. This is part of the record of the Revenue Court.

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"Curiously", says Shanti Bhushan, "the record of the Revenue Court was never produced before the trial court" when Mala Anand and her mother began proceedings to recover the land in 1993. And the subsequent developments also are, in his judgment, suspicious: "The fact that photocopies of the order sheet and the reply of (Mala Anand's mother) Shrimati Sushila Devi are available suggests that these were deliberately suppressed from the Trial Court. The High Court thereafter recorded a finding that because there is no record of the Revenue Court proceedings, therefore (sic) they were illegal and of no effect. No attempt was made by the courts to find out what happened to the record of the Revenue Court". Shanti Bhushan concluded with the observation that even laypersons were "asking whether all this could have happened without the influence" of Chief Justice Anand.

SUSPICIONS of judicial malfeasance have also been expressed over another matter from Justice Anand's tenure in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. In February 1983, while he was a puisne judge of the High Court, Anand filed a writ petition in his own court, along with eight other family members, challenging the validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, which conferred ownership rights on tenants. The writ petition sought to retain tenanted agricultural land measuring 182 kanals in Khor village in Ranbirsinghpura tehsil of Jammu division, on the grounds that the Act violated Articles 14, 19 and 31 of the Constitution. The writ petition was admitted and the State government was directed through a stay order dated February 2, 1982, not to attest to any change in title deeds of the petitioners.

Meanwhile, similar petitions challenging the Act had been admitted in the Supreme Court, which also granted a stay pending final disposal of the matter. On August 4, 1983, the Supreme Court dismissed these petitions, and upheld the constitutional validity of the Act. With the matter having been authoritatively settled in the highest court, the writ petition filed by members of the Anand family should have by all judicial standards been treated as dismissed. Yet it remained pending and the stay arising from it remained in force.

On May 3, 1986, a Jammu-based advocate, A.K. Sawhney, filed an intervention application connected to the Anand family's petition. He pointed out that the Agrarian Reforms Act had been upheld by the Supreme Court, and pleaded that the stay imposed be vacated, so that the land could be "resumed by the State authorities".

Sawhney's application was not considered and it was only four years after the Supreme Court ruling, in August 1987, that the High Court disposed of the Anand family's petition. Among other things, Shanti Bhushan has sought explanations for this inordinate delay and for the failure to take up Sawhney's application for over a year after it was filed.

Summing up his communication to the judges of the Supreme Court, Shanti Bhushan has urged that "if the allegations are false" and there is "some reasonable explanation for the facts consistent with the principles laid down in the Restatement of Values in Judicial Life, then it must be so stated, so that public misgivings are put to rest". He has so far obtained neither any explanation nor any credible assurance that an inquiry will be instituted into the matter.

A strategy of stonewalling is clearly the preferred option of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government on this issue. How much longer it can sustain the pretence is quite another matter. Clearly though, there is no prospect that the "ominous cloud" hanging over the judiciary and "gravely damaging its reputation", as Shanti Bhushan puts it, will be quickly dispelled.

After the horses bolted

SEBI has stepped in, and action has been taken against many of those involved in the recent stock market fraud, but it all amounts to too little, too late.

A LITTLE like the police as pictured in many of the movies that are churned out by the Mumbai-based film industry, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) arrived at the scene of India's largest stock market fraud after all the action was over. A fortnight after stockbroker Ketan V. Parekh's arrest on March 30, SEBI finally acted to break the nexus among banks, corporate houses and brokers. On April 15, SEBI submitted its interim investigative report on the scam to the Finance Minister following bitter criticism that the regulatory body had failed to do its job. The interim report lays bare the collusive practices that bound together banks, brokers, fund managers and market regulators, all working together to rig share prices. Action has now been taken against companies and individuals involved in the fraud, but hundreds of thousands of small investors who lost their savings believe it is just too little, too late.

SEBI's investigations, in a sense, only affirm much of what is already known about the scam. The report has confirmed that Parekh, who led the bull cartel, was instrumental in pushing up share prices to spectacular levels, paving the way for their eventual, and equally spectacular, collapse. The Banks' exposure to the broker, SEBI's report says, is "huge". In essence, Parekh borrowed funds from banks against shares of dubious real value, and used the money to jack up the value of the stocks he held. This circle was broken by the bear cartel, alarmed at the apparently endless boom in the markets. The main players of the bear cartel, including former president of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Anand Rathi and brokers Nirmal Bang and R.S. Damani, also used dubious practices to precipitate the crash. All three have been suspended from trading, and SEBI has promised that they will face punishment.

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Parekh's arrest seems to have had something of a ripple effect in the markets. For the first time, SEBI barred a foreign brokerage from trading. On April 18, the brokerage arm of Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) was asked to stop its operations. In addition, SEBI named Shankar Sharma, chief of the First Global, a brokerage as one that played a role in pummelling stock prices. The naming of Sharma assumes significance as he is a large stock holder in Tehelka.com. Although there is no allegation that he had any role in the arms deal investigation, some believe that Sharma had inside information on when Tehelka would begin its expose of corruption in defence and arms deals. SEBI has also sacked the entire broker director governing board of the BSE. However, even while SEBI is attempting to clean the mess, its own house remains to be set in order. Its director D.R. Mehta could be held accountable for much of the crisis. Among the victims of the scam it is becoming increasingly clear that one could well be him.

Enterprises such as Global Trust Bank (GTB) and the UTI Bank, believed to have been key collaborators of Parekh, have also suffered casualties. The proposed merger between GTB and UTI Bank had to be called off when it became clear that Parekh had helped ramp up GTB stock prices just before the deal went through. GTB chairman Ramesh Gelli has resigned following charges that he aided and schemed with Parekh. Although he vehemently denies Parekh's involvement with UTI investment, the fate of UTI chairman P.S. Subramaniam remains uncertain. SEBI investigators believe that Parekh regularly used UTI to dump ramped up shares, and that its fund managers often backed stocks he had purchased in violation of prudent investment norms. UTI has already suffered the consequences of recent events, and has been forced to put on hold its plans to enter the insurance sector.

Interestingly, Parekh's long-time mentor, Harshad Mehta, has been one among SEBI's recent victims. Mehta, the architect of the 1992 securities scandal, has been barred for life from trading for having worked with his protege to engineer an abortive bull run in 1998. Three high-profile corporations, BPL, Videocon and Sterlite Industries, have been barred from accessing the capital markets for a period of four, three and two years respectively. All the three companies were under investigation for a long period as they were suspected of manipulating their share prices with Mehta's assistance. Interestingly, critics of the sale of the public sector Bharat Aluminium Company (Balco) had pointed out that Sterlite had been blacklisted for share-price rigging in the past. The fate of the Balco sale, in the wake of Sterlite's recent problems, is still unclear. All the three companies have filed legal appeals against SEBI's ban. Mehta, already battling trial court convictions related to the 1992 scam in the Supreme Court, also intends to fight the sanction against him in court.

Parekh's manipulation of the market, like that of Mehta, was in essence simple, even crude. His research companies would identify fledgling technology companies, and other ICE (Information, Communication and Entertainment) stocks. Some of these companies had good business models, at least on paper, but little stock market presence. After talking to the company's promoters, Parekh's associates would start propping up the share prices by enhancing its market activity. This is where UTI's role became crucial. UTI's mutual fund division, allegedly under Parekh's influence, invested heavily in the stocks he favoured. Other mutual fund investors followed suit believing that the market activity indicated that these companies had a good future. Pentafour, Global Telesystems, Zee Telefilms and Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited (HFCL) were among the favoured shares.

However, UTI was not the sole ally of Parekh. Other banks, notably the now bankrupt Madhavpura Mercantile Co-operative Bank (MMCB), regularly issued him credit against his overpriced ICE stocks. Investigations have shown that MMCB violated Reserve Bank of India (RBI) regulations to provide about Rs.840 crores to Parekh's companies. Banks such as GTB and Standard Chartered had also given Parekh an over-draft facility which he used to recycle funds in the market. SEBI's investigations reveal that by the end of March, Ketan Parekh had access to almost Rs.2,000 crores of funds, primarily from banks. "Ketan Parekh misused the banking system to channelise banking funds into the stock market," the SEBI reports says.

All this worked well, until the slow-down in the United States markets in February led foreign institutional investors (FIIs) to sell off their holdings in India. Tehelka.com's expose initiated an even sharper downward spiral, enabling the bear cartel to launch a final, full-blown onslaught.

Rumours that Parekh was facing financial problems began making the rounds in the market and this heralded the final act. Desperate to prop up his share values, Parekh took a Rs.140 crore pay order from the Ahmedabad-based MMCB. Bank of India (BoI) discounted that pay order and gave Parekh Rs.137 crores. However, these funds were to disappear into the falling market. BoI, like Parekh, also lost money. When the pay order was sent to the clearing house, it bounced. Parekh's over-valued shares had collapsed and MMCB could not raise the money to meet its obligations. Following this, the 38-year-old Ketan Parekh was arrested in connection with a Rs.137 crore BoI pay order scam (Frontline, April 27). Soon after Parekh's arrest, MMCB chairman Ramesh Parekh surrendered to the police. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials have opposed Ketan Parekh's bail applications, arguing that the full extent of the conspiracy behind the fraud has yet to be discovered.

While SEBI's action is welcome, it might soon face questions about its somnolence when the fraud was on. The Central government was believed to be unhappy with SEBI's conduct and a complete overhaul of the capital markets regulatory body was announced. CBI officials were to investigate why SEBI chose to turn a blind eye to the conduct of the bull and bear cartels, given that several market analysts were aware something odd was going on. There is a lot of pressure on the government because a large number of small investors have lost their money. With interest rates coming down, many middle and lower middle class people saw the stock market as a suitable investment option. Many people lost their hard-earned savings when the stock market crashed. ICE stocks have been trading at almost half their bull run value. Many people believe that most of these stocks are unlikely to recover any time soon.

Helped by interest rate cuts in the U.S., the BSE Sensex staged a minor recovery in recent days and industry heavyweights were attempting to raise stock prices. The rupee too has shown some short-term stability, helped again by inflows from foreign investors. But while the stock market may slowly be recovering from the March 2 crash, the events that followed have caused enormous structural damage to both stock prices and market confidence. The instability has been compounded by bell-wether stocks like Infosys Technologies announcing profit warnings. Making matters worse is the slowdown in the U.S. economy which has dampened investor sentiment.

On April 12, the financial markets went into a tailspin with the Sensex touching a 28-month low of 3183.77 points. On April 16, the rupee weakened against the dollar to reach an all-time low of Rs.47. Selling pressure led by index heavyweights such as Infosys, Zee Telefilms and Satyam Computers in the wake of the U.S. slowdown and scam-related action were believed to be partly responsible for this.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha announced in the Lok Sabha that the Central government was planning to take some steps in order to put an end to manipulation of the stock market and rigging of share prices. Among the actions planned are amendments to the SEBI Act of 1992 in order to strengthen the market watchdog. Yashwant Sinha said that the stock exchanges will have to develop software and create suitable infrastructure before July 2 in order to make trading more transparent.

The RBI is also expected to take stringent action against those who violate regulations. In the credit policy that was announced on April 19, the RBI had said that cooperative banks must not lend against shares to individuals or organisations. Other rules and guidelines for urban cooperative banks will soon be introduced. As an incentive to honest players, banks will also be allowed to offer loans at rates lower than the market lending rate to creditworthy borrowers.

However, it is worth remembering that each market fraud in the past has provoked promises of reform, none of which has had any evident effect. The current scam and the market crash has wiped out over Rs.2,00,000 crores of market wealth. Ordinary people have paid a heavy price. Hopefully, it will not take a decade to secure justice, as it did with the Harshad Mehta scam of 1992. It remains to be seen whether the government can plug the holes in a system that allowed racketeers such as Parekh and Mehta to thrive.

Weavers' woes

other

Your Cover Story titled "Despair and death" (April 27) catalogues the woes of the weavers of Andhra Pradesh meticulously and with deep sensitivity. The situation was not an unanticipated one ever since we started intensifying "the policies of liberalisation and globalisation".

It is not as if the distress is confined to traditional weavers. Every segment of the textile industry, be it composite mills, powerlooms or handlooms, is passing through critical times. Eighty per cent of the government-owned National Textile Corporation (NTC) mills are known to be sick, many of them terminally, and 60 per cent of the mills in the private sector are approaching a moribund state.

Before we think of devising solutions to this problem, we have to understand some aspects of the functioning of the industry in a global setting. What exactly is 'modernisation', the buzzword? In the textile industry it has come to mean only automation, ever since a French silk weaver, Joseph M. Jacquard, came up with a punched-card coding system to automate - what in retrospect was in a limited way - the process of weaving, making it faster and more consistent. That was many years ago and today we have reached the stage where DuPont, the industrial behemoth, operates an artificial fibre factory in the United States that runs from start to finish by robotics. There is a joke making the rounds, about a visitor to a textile plant who found there just a man and a dog. He thought he understood the need for the man but why the dog? He got the reply: "The dog is there to make sure the man doesn't operate anything."

We are of course worried about automation putting a lot of people out of work and driving some of them to suicide as in Andhra Pradesh - and probably elsewhere too - but, as an intrepid observer sans merci in the industry said, "if we do not automate we shall all (emphasis added) be out of work". It is true that only by automation some parts of the industry have achieved manifold increases in productivity. An expert weaver in the handloom sector can pass a shuttle (say) about 20 times a minute but modern looms can do it thousands of times. That kind of competitiveness, thought as necessary for the industry, can only be achieved by massive investments, which India is trying to do in its efforts towards globalisation (or, is it globaloney?). One wonders whether we will gradually reach the stage when there will be no people working in the (fully automated) textile industry but we will still be in need for a lot of people to buy the goods so produced. What an irony!

The future seems to be bleak for the traditional artisan and weaver unless the government and the public deal with it as a human rights situation and not with the kind of insensitivity that is in evidence today.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy Durham, U.S. * * *

At last the tragedy of our textile sector has found a place of importance in your magazine. It seems that we have lost something unique, the edge we once had in the world of textiles. Why do we allow this to happen in this globalised economy?

One billion people need a lot of cloth. To make the Indian textile industry a vibrant one, please join me and wear Indian cloth with joy and pride, before it is too late.

Juli Cariappa Halasur, Karnataka * * *

Hand-woven cotton or silk fabrics crafted to exotic designs in appealing colours will ever be in demand at home and abroad. We need to examine the entire handloom industry sympathetically - update the technology, organise weavers' cooperatives to infuse new production concepts, work on marketing organisation, and arrange low-interest financing. The wonderful art of handweaving, whether that in the plains using cotton or silk yarn or that in northeastern India or in Garhwal, Himachal Pradesh, or Jammu and Kashmir using exotic wool, must be developed, employing all the skills and tools available with modern science.

Commodore C.D. Pereira (Retd) Mangalore Exim Policy

Sukumar Muralidharan, in his write-up "Opening the floodgates" (April 27), has rightly touched on certain vital points. After the lifting of quantitative restrictions (QRs) we have seen two kind of responses, that are 180 degrees apart. One is from the consumers who perceive that probably all is going to be green from now: in fact a strange frenzy is brewing among the great Indian middle class. The other is from the industry, certain sections of which think that it is all over for them. But, as the writer has rightly pointed out, the euphoria may be ephemeral as with the flooding of the Indian market with foreign goods the Indian manufacturers will go on the backfoot, though only initially, and may slow down the output, which will have a direct bearing on the purchasing power of the great Indian middle class.

Whatever the government might say of its strategies, dumping, if we call it so, is going to happen and is inevitable. It will be the saddest way to cope with competition if we are going to block foreign goods from entering the Indian market just because they are cheaper than their Indian counterparts (whatever its implications might be in terms of loss to domestic industry). Could the government explain what an open market means?

In fact the government should rise to the occasion. If the Chinese can manufacture a product at such a low cost, why can't we?

The bottomline is that our competitors did their homework over the last few decades while we failed to do that. That is why we feel that we are vulnerable.

Ravinder Saini Hissar Film awards

This refers to the article "Of awards and rewards" (April 27).

Raveena Tandon has never campaigned for the BJP. Therefore the author's argument that it was a case of the BJP "rewarding its faithful" is invalid. The attack on Anil Kapoor is also unfair, as claiming that he is a BJP faithful because he "added new scenes to Pukar with a view to cashing in on the patriotic feelings generated during the Kargil War" is also an ambiguous connection at best.

You have not reflected the subsequent rebuttal by those such as Javed Akhtar of the allegations levelled by some members of the jury.

Deeptanshu Verma Washington Vedic astrology

While the argument against Vedic Astrology as a science subject for study is well presented (April 13), the article lacks something important - a definition of science. The title is "Degrees of pseudo-science", and the problem starts there. In numerous discussions at the layman's level I have heard people praising or pillorying proof offered by science. Science never proves anything. The power of science is in fact in its ability to make testable predictions and also in acknowledging its failures and accommodating corrections.

Given the varying perceptions of what science is, could I suggest that Frontline institute and support a discussion among scientists and non-scientists through its pages. Then perhaps people would really understand what science is and is not and place Vedic astrology in its proper place.

Raghuram Ekambaram New Delhi * * *

I have difficulty understanding the mindset of people like Praful Bidwai who, in their eagerness to attack Murli Manohar Joshi, miss one fundamental point. The Vedas contain a lot of wisdom and scientific/spiritual information. Unfortunately, because of the neglect of Sanskrit many of the gems are lost to us. We cringe when foreigners doing research in Sanskrit discover something (for instance, Reiki) and claim it as their own. Yet we seem reluctant to do anything about it.

We need not be ashamed of learning about our past through translation of the manuscripts in Sanskrit. It might give our youth a sense of belonging and an idea of their roots at a time when they are weaned away by crass materialism and the increasingly decadent lifestyle of the West. The problem is that many of our "intellectuals" seem happy to parrot ideas picked up from someone else's mind instead of exercising their own through introspection and analysis. Modernity clouds their judgment. "Isms" seem to determine their thinking rather than rationality.

While saffronisation per se is narrow-minded and bigoted, there are certain ideas that deserve serious investigation. There is no point in throwing the baby along with the bath water.

Dilip Mahanty Sydney A book on Partition

A.G. Noorani's review of my book ("Culture of coalition", April 13) was interesting to the point of being enlightening on how one ought (not) to write a book on the partition of India. Had the review been available to me prior to my writing the book (admittedly an impossibility) I might well have considered not writing the book out of deference to the review. However, on some crucial points, the reviewer gets things wrong, and it is just as well for me to point these out.

One, the partition of India was not just an agreement between the Congress and the Muslim League but a tripartite arrangement, with the colonial state constituting the third, and the most important, arm.

Two, Jinnah and Rajendra Prasad never arrived at a pact. They only tried to, unsuccessfully. And the effort was made in 1935, not in 1934.

Three, my thesis is not about Jinnah's antagonism towards the Congress. That forms a minor part of the book. It is essentially a description of the functioning of communal politics, both Hindu and Muslim, in U.P. during the crucial years, 1937-39. To reduce my book to Jinnah's antagonism towards the Congress is like treating Noorani's review as the entire issue of Frontline.

Four, I have devoted a whole chapter (pp.99-127, some 10,000 words) to the coalition controversy between the Congress and the Muslim League. To say that "it is not set out in Misra's book" is to suffer from an amnesia of an unexplainable variety.

Five, I have devoted no more than half a page (p.161) to Stanley Wolpert. I should leave it to the judgment of readers if that can possibly amount to my "relying on Stanley Wolpert's discredited book on Jinnah".

A historian's task is to construct the past on the basis of available evidence. The evidence gathered often does not speak for itself but has to be interpreted. The various statements and impressions of leaders (T.B. Sapru, for example) have to be analysed and interpreted, along with other sources and not accepted uncritically as truth. In fact, it is important not to take the contemporary actors in their self-image, but subject them to clinical and critical scrutiny. One small letter of Sapru is no more than a tiny drop in a huge ocean with multiple other drops flowing in different directions.

In the end, I must thank the reviewer for doing me the courtesy of calling my work "well researched". How I wish I could reciprocate with a similar compliment!

Salil Misra Indira Gandhi National Open University New Delhi

A.G. Noorani writes: My review praised the author's industry but faulted him for being "tendentious and... impassioned to a degree." Salil Misra's angry letter proves the criticism to the hilt. Specific instances of "selectivity" in the selection of sources were cited in the review. Not one is refuted. Stung by the citation of Wolpert's howlers, he runs for cover pleading that he had, after all, devoted but half a page and was not "relying" on him. That half page was full of extravagant praise, however. ("The strength of his book", "the real merit" of the book, "the forceful denunciation (sic) of the myth" that Jinnah did not want Pakistan, etc.) He prefers Wolpert's book, not surprisingly to Ayesha Jalal's classic The Sole Spokesman. It is too cerebral and analytical for Misra's taste. He offers no explanation for ignoring Marguerite Dove's book either. And Sapru matters not.

Jinnah and Prasad did agree on six points albeit as a basis for further discussion (1934 was a misprint for 1935): "It was agreed (in point 6) that joint electorates would replace separate electorates in all the provinces and in the centre." That was no small achievement. It was not followed up.

Misra should be happy - and surprised - his book received such notice and write another, better one. He should do better than come up with this reaction to my criticism.

The Ganga at Varanasi

The photograph shown on page 73 in the article "The receding Gangotri" (April 13) is that of the Ganga at Varanasi and not at Hardwar as mentioned in the caption.

Dr. Kailash Banasure Bareilly Correction

The Jat patriarch

Devi Lal, 1914-2001.

CHAUDHARY DEVI LAL, who died on April 6 at the age of 86, was a player of substance on the national political scene. His biggest accomplishments were compressed within the relatively short span of four years. He scaled the peak of political eminence in 1989 when he became Deputy Prime Minister in only the third non-Congress government at the Centre. A period of prickly contention ensued, mostly involving the political fortunes of his son Om Prakash Chautala.

In a dynastic anointment that has since become almost routine practice, Devi Lal had ensured that his son was sworn in Chief Minister of Haryana even as he himself vacated the office to assume his new post at the Centre. This was perceived as a minor irritant in the otherwise buoyant atmosphere that greeted the assumption of office by the V.P. Singh Ministry. But Chautala's effort to seal his dynastic inheritance through a byelection was tarnished by large-scale violence and allegations of serious improprieties. Devi Lal's chosen political heir was forced to step down as Chief Minister on the implicit understanding that once the air was cleared he would be honourably restored to the job.

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However, Devi Lal was too impatient to allow the course of prudence to prevail. In recognition of his political importance, V.P. Singh in July 1990 tacitly agreed that there could be no objection in principle to giving Chautala an important position within the ruling Janata Dal. Devi Lal interpreted this compact rather broadly, and with little further ceremony or consultation induced the incumbent Chief Minister to make way for his son.

That was to prove one of the shortest of chief ministerial tenures - all of five days. V.P. Singh was pilloried by the press and his party colleagues for succumbing to Devi Lal's pressure tactics. The Prime Minister in turn denied that he had ever assented to Chautala's reappointment and, in deep moral turmoil, handed in his resignation to the Janata Dal president. Not quite eight months old, the Janata Dal Ministry was plunged into disarray. It was only restored to some semblance of order by Chautala's second resignation.

Devi Lal was piqued and responded with a broadside against the Cabinet colleagues who had stridently opposed Chautala. By now a more confident and assertive Prime Minister thanks to the unequivocal support he had received from his party, V.P. Singh quickly had his recalcitrant deputy evicted from office.

Devi Lal then remained sullenly in the background as the nation was buffeted by the twin political storms of the Mandal Commission and the Ayodhya mobilisation. When the Janata Dal, the party he was instrumental in founding, faced its deepest political crisis after being voted out of power by an unlikely combine of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I), he chose to walk out in association with his newly discovered ally Chandra Shekhar. He was again appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture. But his fortunes were distinctly waning as the Chandra Shekhar government, abjectly dependent on the Congress(I), meandered without goal or purpose towards the mid-term elections of 1991.

Contesting from Rohtak constituency of Haryana in 1991, which he had won by close to 200,000 votes less than two years earlier, Devi Lal suffered the first of three consecutive defeats. The Jat patriarch had suffered a precipitate descent in public esteem. The brief years of glory were decidedly at an end.

Devi Lal had swept to power in the Haryana Assembly elections of 1987, recapturing the chief ministerial chair that had been taken away from him by the internal manoeuvres of the Janata Party in 1979 and then by gubernatorial manipulation in 1982. Equally, he had capitalised on the growing restiveness of the peasantry at the direction of economic policy, and the insecurities engendered by the militancy in neighbouring Punjab. His breathtaking triumph, at a time when the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi commanded a brute majority in the Lok Sabha and looked invincible, propelled him to the front ranks of national politics, making him a natural focus of the efforts then under way to fashion an alternative to the Congress(I).

In the 1989 Lok Sabha elections Devi Lal contested not merely his home seat of Rohtak but also Sikar in Rajasthan in a frontal challenge to Congress(I) heavyweight Balram Jakhar for the putative leadership of the Jat community. He won both, seemingly securing his position as the authentic voice of the rising peasantry.

Assessments of Devi Lal's early career have gone by the established master narrative of Indian political biography, in speaking of how he responded to the call of Mahatma Gandhi and "plunged into the freedom struggle" at a young age. These versions may have an element of truth in them, but Devi Lal himself left little room for doubt that the template of political authenticity for him lay elsewhere - in the agrarian, cross-communal politics of Chotu Ram and Sikantar Hayat Khan. This was a political idiom to which Devi Lal retained a remarkable fidelity all through his life, though it always put him at odds with the urban interest groups which tended quite naturally to coalesce under the umbrella of the Arya Samaj and later the Jan Sangh.

Devi Lal's first innings as Chief Minister, following the Janata Party's sweep of the northern region in 1977, was cut short in 1979. In the faction fights that erupted within the Janata Party, he had to make way for somebody more acceptable to the Jan Sangh. This was one among many chief ministerial switches effected in the major States - notably in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar - that fuelled apprehensions within the Janata Party that the Jan Sangh group was gaining disproportionately in influence.

Devi Lal joined Chaudhary Charan Singh, then the acknowledged leader and spokesman of the Jat peasantry, in challenging this insidious growth of the Jan Sangh's clout. But he was for long unable to turn his undoubted grassroots appeal to electoral advantage. Despite emerging the leader of the largest single party in the 1982 Assembly elections, he was done out of the Chief Minister's post by intrigues hatched by the Indira Gandhi government and the Haryana Governor. The image of Devi Lal belabouring Governor G.D. Tapase for his treachery is perhaps an enduring memory of his political personality - blunt, aggressive and plain-spoken.

At the same time, he possessed a disarming charm and honesty. In his last electoral contest in 1998 he fell short by just over 300 votes. But the people of Haryana were beginning to warm to the patriarch who had been affectionately bestowed the title of tau. In 1999 Chautala gained the chief ministerial office after ironically enough overwhelmingly winning an election in alliance with the BJP. Devi Lal spent the last years of his life as an elder and respected member of the Rajya Sabha.

A 'Nobel Class' scientist

obituary
G.N. Ramachandran, 1922-2001. P. BALARAM S. RAMASESHAN

Based on an editorial that appears in the April 25 issue of

published by arrangement.

OUR present-day understanding of the shapes of molecules and the connections between three-dimensionality and chemical function, or stereochemistry, rests to a large extent on the insights that Linus Pauling had between the 1930s and 1950s. The subject itself was born in Paris in the mid-19th century when Louis Pasteur serendipitously observed that the optically inactive form of tartaric acid was actually an equimolecular mixture of two optically active forms of the substance whose molecular structures were mirror images of each other. In a spectacular leap of intuition Pasteur recognised, a quarter of a century before Vant Hoff and Le Bel, that molecular structure and optical activity were related.

The first triumph of stereochemical thinking in biology was Pauling's realisation in 1948 that the 'non-integral alpha-helix' provided a spectacular solution to the search for folded polypeptide structures. The Watson-Crick double helical structure of DNA appeared in 1953 - clearly the pre-eminent example of a three-dimensional model that instantly reveals the basis for biological function.

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In 1954, the structure of collagen, the most abundant protein of connective tissue, was described by G.N. Ramachandran and G. Kartha, working at the University of Madras. The structure, an intertwined three chain triple helix, elegantly accounted for the limited experimental data and provided a compelling rationale for the unique amino acid composition of collagen. It also marked the emergence of a new star in the fledgling field of structural molecular biology - G. N. Ramachandran.

G. N. Ramachandran's death in Chennai on April 7, marked the end of one of the most remarkable chapters of modern science in India. He was born in 1922 in Ernakulam, Kerala, and brought up there. He did his intermediate from the Maharaja's College, Ernakulam, where his father, G. Narayana Iyer, was the Principal. He did his B.Sc.(Hons) in Physics from St. Joseph's College, Tiruchi, in 1942 after which he moved to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

Ramachandran began his journey in science at the IISc as a student in the Electrical Engineering department. He realised very quickly that his interests lay in physics, a subject then overwhelmingly dominated in Bangalore by the presence of C.V. Raman. Inevitably, Ramachan-dran deserted electrical engineering and embraced physics; an event that appears to have been accompanied by Raman's soothing words to the Professor of Electrical Engineering: "I am admitting Ramachandran into my department as he is a bit too bright to be in yours." Ramachandran eventually became the most distinguished of Raman's students.

In Bangalore he first submitted a thesis entitled "Optics of Heterogeneous Media" for an M.Sc. degree of the University of Madras and later in 1947 a doctoral thesis, which contained some of the earliest applications of X-ray diffraction to the study of crystal perfection. He spent two years in Cambridge University, obtained a Ph.D. degree working with W.A. Wooster and returned to Bangalore in 1949. There he began an independent career as an Assistant Professor of physics, working in the X-ray diffraction laboratory that he was instrumental in building as a student.

But he did not stay there long. Madras University beckoned with a professorship and the position of Head of the Department of Physics. Ramachandran moved to Madras when he was just 30, to begin an extraordinary burst of scientific activity. In Madras he flourished under the benign and supportive influence of an enlightened Vice-Chancellor, A. Laksh-manaswamy Mudaliar. It was a relationship reminiscent of that between Asutosh Mukherjee and C. V. Raman in Calcutta.

J.D. Bernal visited Madras in 1952, and in a casual conversation suggested that the structural proposals for collagen were unsatisfactory. The Central Leather Research Institute was virtually next door to Ramachandran's laboratory. He soon had a sample and X-ray diffraction photographs.

The triple helix emerged in two papers in Nature in 1954 and 1955, introducing the coiled coil concept - a fundamental advance in the understanding of polypeptide structures. But in a sharp critique, Francis Crick, fresh from his DNA success, together with Alexander Rich argued that the Madras structure was "stereochemically unsatisfactory".

Out of the brewing collagen controversy was to emerge what is undoubtedly Ramachandran's finest contribution to structural biology. Spurred by the criticism of unacceptably short interatomic contacts in his collagen structure, he set out to investigate the criteria for describing stereochemically acceptable structures for polypeptide chains. Using the simple hard sphere model for atoms and driven by the insight that each residue in a polypeptide chain is allowed only two degrees of torsional freedom, Rama-chandran, together with his colleagues C. Ramakrishnan and V. Sasisekharan, laid the foundations for the conformational analysis of polypeptide chains. Their seminal paper, published in the Journal of Molecular Biology in 1963, titled "Stereochemistry of polypeptide chain configurations", introduced the two-dimensional map which was to bear Ramachandran's name eventually. Today, for beginners in biochemistry protein structures are introduced with a discussion of the Ramachandran map, which also forms the cornerstone for many discussions of protein folding.

While polypeptide stereochemistry was a dominant theme in Ramachandran's career between the 1950s and 1970s, his sharp and incisive mind turned often to his first love, X-ray crystallography. Fourier Methods fascinated him and he authored along with colleague R. Srinivasan an influential book on Fourier Methods in Crystallography. Ramachandran's paper on a "A new method for the structure analysis of non-centrosymmetric crystals" was instrumental in promoting the use of anomalous scattering to solve the crystallographic phase problem.

In 1971, Ramachandran together with A.V. Lakshminarayanan published a key paper on three-dimensional image reconstruction, which was to have important applications in Computer Assisted Tomography.

Ramachandran had a remarkable ability to cut through unnecessary details and go straight to the heart of a problem. This quality, coupled with his formidable physical insights and mathematical skills, allowed him to make many important contributions in biophysics and crystallography. He was an excellent teacher and lecturer. His clear grasp of the fundamentals of a problem allowed him to convey to listeners the key elements of a scientific issue, shorn of complicating details.

RAMACHANDRAN was widely honoured in India and abroad for his work. In recognising his work most agencies in India honoured themselves and conferred a new lustre on the awards they instituted. Yet, a dispassionate analysis of his work will reveal that he did not, in large measure, get his due. The Government of India, undoubtedly advised by the scientific establishment, never found it fit to include him in the annual Republic Day honours list. This act of omission in no way diminished his stature; instead it forever dimmed the lustre of these awards in recognising scientific accomplishment. The Royal Society belatedly recognised Ramachandran in 1977, almost towards the end of his active scientific career and over two decades after his remarkable work on collagen.

Ramachandran was clearly a "Nobel Class" scientist, to borrow a phrase from Eugene Garfield. But his active career was all too brief by modern-day standards. For the last 20 years Ramachandran was not really visible internationally. This reminds us of one of the ironies of modern science: achievement alone is not enough, packaging and marketing play an important role. In India, where administrative positions are often considered a mark of scientific success, Ramachandran was essentially an "outsider" to the establishment. We have yet to learn that idiosyncratic personalities often make the most original contributions to science.

Ramachandran did all his work in India, following in the footsteps of his mentor C.V. Raman. In the 1960s and 1970s he did travel regularly to the United States, to the University of Chicago where he held a visiting professorship. In Madras, Ramachandran's work brought an unprecedented level of recognition to the university. Two international conferences he organised in 1963 and 1968 brought to Madras some of the most famous names in molecular biology and biophysics: Linus Pauling, Severo Ochoa, Maurice Wilkins, Stanford Moore, David Phillips, Ephraim Katchalski, Harold Scheraga, Paul Flory, Elkan Blout and John Schellman.

Ramachandran returned to Bangalore to set up the Molecular Biophysics Unit at the IISc in 1971. His move from Madras was catalysed by the deteriorating academic atmosphere of the university. Indeed, Ramachandran's two decades at Madras University clearly showed that the highest levels of research could be practised within our university system. His departure signalled an impending change. We have all watched with varying degrees of helplessness the steady decay of university science in India over the last three decades.

In Bangalore during the period between 1971 and 1979, Ramachandran fashioned a new department, which has grown into a major centre of structural biology.

AS in the case of many extraordinarily gifted individuals, Ramachandran often had an uneasy relationship with his surroundings. It was not easy for him to come to terms with mediocrity. Elevated to the position of the head of a university department at age 30, he grew to be isolated from his colleagues, rarely establishing the easy academic relationships that make science a pleasure. But even at the height of his career Ramachandran most enjoyed scientific discussion; unfortunately his surroundings could rarely rise to the levels he demanded.

His last years were troubled. A stroke and the steady onset of Parkinsonism curtailed his movements and activities. The loss of his wife Rajalakshmi, after 53 years of marriage, in 1998 was a blow. In many ways, when the end came it was indeed time to go. But Ramachandran has left behind a rich scientific legacy. His achievements will serve as a source of inspiration for generations to come. He was undoubtedly one of the most outstanding scientists of post-Independence India and a jewel in the crown of Indian science. For the authors, it was a very special privilege to have known him.

Ramachandran is survived by three children, two sons and a daughter, all of whom pursue science in different fields.

P. Balaram is Professor, Molecular Biophysics Unit, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; S. Ramaseshan is Distinguished Professor-Emeritus, Raman Research Institute, Bangalore.

Historical research and discernment

Ravinder Kumar, 1933-2001.

IN the passing of Professor Ravinder Kumar on April 6, social scientists and, in particular, historians, have lost an impressive scholar, a valuable colleague and an admirable institution builder.

Born in 1933, Ravinder Kumar was nurtured in a family of cultivated people with intellectual and social commitments. His father was a teacher of chemistry and an active member of the Society for the Propagation of Scientific Knowledge in Lahore. The family moved to Delhi in 1947. Following in his father's footsteps, Ravinder opted to study chemistry for his bachelor's degree at the University of Delhi. But thereafter his intellectual concerns turned from the world of chemical reactions and interactions to the even more complex, fuzzy and far less tractable world of human beings and their affairs. He switched to history and mastered the craft, first at Panjab University, Chandigarh, and then at the Australian National University, Canberra.

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The results of his research work at these universities appeared in the 1960s in the form of two monographs - "India and the Persian Gulf" and "Western India in the Nineteenth Century". The latter established him as a front-ranking historian of modern India. It explored the intricate processes of social change in Maharashtra under colonial rule. The focus was on the interaction between local society - rural and urban - and the new state system with its new priorities, policies and institutions and its need to foster those social groups which could provide it with a stable base.

Ravinder found that in the countryside the introduction of the ryotwari system, along with improvements in transport and communications and the growth of markets, produced on the one hand a new but small class of rich peasants, much wealthier than their predecessors, and on the other a very large mass of extremely impoverished and indebted cultivators. The latter rose against their oppressors in 1875 and the chapter dealing with this revolt is a remarkable study of the dynamics of peasant insurgency in 19th century Maharashtra.

In the urban sector, inspired by contact with the new order and encouraged by deliberate acts of policy, the native elite began to change its intellectual and political complexion as a breed of "new Brahmans of Maharashtra" came into prominence, challenging their traditional brethren in the spiritual and secular spheres. Ravinder's book dwells with insight on how these developments in town and country decisively influenced the quality and direction of social and political change in western India over time.

Empirically rich, analytically rigorous and elegantly crafted, "Western India" was widely acclaimed as a work of major historiographical significance. Soon the University of New South Wales, Sydney, elected Ravinder to a professorship. During his tenure there, he made his mark as an inspiring teacher and research supervisor and many of his pupils - Don Farrell, David Baker, Lance Brennan, and Jim Masselos, to name only a few - became accomplished historians. Meanwhile, his own research work concentrated on political developments in the city of Bombay and on the changing profile of the social groups which participated in the Gandhian campaigns in the post-First World War period. Of the essays produced by him in the 1970s, "The Bombay Textile Strike, 1919", "The Rowlatt Satyagraha in Lahore" and "From Swaraj to Purna Swaraj: Nationalist politics in the city of Bombay, 1920-32" are outstanding pieces of historial research and discernment.

In 1978, Ravinder returned to India, hoping to join the history faculty at one of the universities in Delhi. But this did not happen and for a while he taught in universities in Shimla and Allahabad. In 1980, he was offered the directorship of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML). His worthy predecessors here had already established a major archival library and under Ravinder it developed into a premier research institution as well. Within two years he had a scheme of fellowships in place and soon thereafter the Centre for Contemporary Studies was established at the NMML.

The NMML fellowships brought together scholars from various disciplines to pursue their research interests in an environment of intellectual excitement and lively academic engagement. Over the years several publications of exceptional quality have been produced by the fellows and ex-fellows of NMML. Apart from the regular in-house discussions of the "Occasional Papers" presented by the fellows, Ravinder also organised some memorable all-India seminars.

In the midst of his many administrative and institutional responsibilities, Ravinder found time to read widely and to write a number of articles and booklets, both empirical and reflective, on historiography, on the making of the Indian nation and its politicians, and of course, on his conception of India as a heterogeneous "civilisation-state" rather than a homogeneous "nation-state".

Intellectually humble, Ravinder was ever keen to befriend thinking people, eager to learn from and share his insights with them. For any researcher, talking to him was a rewarding experience; most sensibly, he was more interested in what was being said rather than who was saying it. Warm-hearted and compassionate, he strongly believed in the potentialities of the intellectual form of life and its practical social value.

With his death, Indian academia has lost a stalwart, one who was committed to the highest ideals of historical scholarship and to a liberal and humane vision of society. The loss is especially great at a time when the enterprise of historical knowledge is being sought to be manipulated for sectarian ends. For what rough beast is its hour come around at last.

Basudev 'Robi' Chatterji is Professor of History, University of Delhi.

The playground of the spies

The seizure of a large quantity of RDX at the house of a Pakistani diplomat stationed in Kathmandu buttresses the impression that the city is being increasingly used by espionage agencies of all sorts.

IF at all any more proof were needed to show that Nepal, and more specifically its dusty capital city of Kathmandu, is being increasingly used as a playground by regional espionage and intelligence agencies, it came on April 12 when the local police discovered a large quantity of high-energy RDX (research department explosive) in a house occupied by the Pakistani Embassy's First Secretary in Nepal, Muhammad Arshad Cheema.

The incident was telling in two ways: one, it was another indicator of the involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) operatives in Kathmandu in orchestrating anti-India operations; and two, it pointed to the active presence in the Himalayan kingdom of India's own external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). As sources in the Nepalese Home Ministry averred last fortnight, there was no way the Kathmandu Police could have traced the RDX unless they had been tipped off and even helped all through the operation by 'special sources'. And there are no prizes for guessing who those 'sources' were. The same sources had helped the Nepal Police apprehend another Pakistani diplomat in late 1999 in Kathmandu with bundles of counterfeit Indian currency notes.

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And though the expulsion of Cheema by Nepal a day after the RDX seizure - despite fierce Pakistani protestations - for conduct unbecoming of a diplomat (the terminology used when a diplomat is caught spying), put a temporary end to the unsavoury turn of events, it has highlighted Nepal's inability to keep itself free of third-country spies. As Foreign Minister Chakra Prasad Bastola told Frontline, "Friends are turning Nepal into a hotbed of intelligence agencies."

"And it is not just the ISI and RAW that have been active in Nepal. Besides the Chinese, who have always had a keen interest in this neck of the woods, and the Americans - whose interest in the region flagged after the end of the Cold War but is now likely to grow in the wake of the U.S. row with China over the spy plane incident - there is also the presence of a smaller player, Bhutan, in the espionage game. Bhutanese officials are currently discussing with their Nepalese counterparts the future of over 100,000 Lhotsampa refugees stranded in camps in Jhapa and Morang in Nepal's eastern Terai belt. Foreign Ministry officials, while reiterating that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had indeed been very active in Nepal during the years of the Cold War, say that it is now only a matter of time before the agency stepped up its presence.

According to sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, if the current trend of intelligence and counter-intelligence operations continues, Kathmandu could soon end up being what Berlin or Vienna were during the Cold War, when spies from the Eastern and Western bloc countries vied with one another in a long-drawn game of spy versus spy. Making Kathmandu attractive in this respect is Nepal's unique geophysical location, friendly relations with both India and Pakistan, a long and highly porous border with India and direct and extensive air links with both protagonists. The availability of a ready stream of local informants and recruiters from among both government officials and private citizens, who have been lured by the prospect of good money, has added to the ease of operation.

With the arrest and expulsion of Cheema, Indian officials in Kathmandu exude an air of I-told-you-so. They had for years seen Cheema as the ISI's man in Nepal in charge of covert activities - which Pakistan consistently denied.

Cheema was in the news first when he was accused by none other than Nepal's Inspector-General of Police of handing over 30 kg of RDX to a Punjab militant in 1998. His indirect role in the hijacking to Kandahar of an Indian Airlines aircraft, IC-814, during a flight from Kathmandu's Tribhuvan airport to Delhi in December 1999 has also been talked about. According to informed sources, Cheema along with two of his associates, Zia Ansari and Abdul Rais Khan - a Nepali Muslim - had been spotted around Tribhuvan airport on the day of the hijacking. According to some reports, Cheema was a regular in the Pakistan Army before being drafted into the "diplomatic service".

In the present instance, Cheema, who had completed his official tenure in Kathmandu and was to have left Nepal on April 13-14, could find no escape hatch when a police party led by Kathmandu District Superintendent of Police Madhav Thapa raided the rented house in Baneshwar and found the RDX in a cupboard on the first floor. Cheema and his wife had been staying there for around a week. Cheema, who claimed that he had left his diplomatic quarters hardly a week earlier to stay in the house of a friend, denied any knowledge about the RDX and alleged that someone else had planted it there. The building also housed the offices of Sachel Engineering Works, a construction company run by Pakistani national Hussein Cheema, that maintains a stretch of the Mugling-Pokhara highway around 100 km from Kathmandu.

It is stated that the RDX was brought through the diplomatic channel from Pakistan for use against soft targets in India. It could also have been smuggled across the Chinese border. Explosives originating in Nepal have in recent months increasingly found their way into India's troubled northeastern States and also Bhutan.

The discovery of such a large quantity of the deadly explosive substance left the Nepalese security agencies red in the face, once again proving the lapses in Nepal's monitoring mechanisms in Kathmandu. Said a member of the police force: "The fact that so much of RDX was sitting around in an apartment goes to show the lapses in our own system and also the involvement of a number of local people in the operation."

COINCIDENTALLY, Cheema's arrest came close on the heels of the Nepal government's decision, on 'technical grounds', not to grant permission to Space-Time, a television network allegedly funded by Pakistani intelligence. The Space-Time network has in the recent past been seen as the hub for launching anti-India propaganda, as happened when it mischievously and wrongly publicised remarks purported to have been made by Hindi film actor Hrithik Roshan. A source close to Foreign Minister Bastola said: "As things stand, the Space-Time television network has been short-circuited by the government. But the daily newspaper (brought out by the group) continues to come out from Kathmandu."

The lifting of an earlier ban on the controversial network, which is currently run by Jamim Shah, a Nepali of Kashmiri descent, had resulted in the resignation of Nepal's Information Minister.

For Nepal, the growing activities of regional intelligence agencies on its soil do not augur well. Nepal would like to maintain good relations with all its neighbours, and it certainly would not like its territory to be used as a playground for intelligence agencies of all sorts. A senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "We are being used as a football ground by the ISI and RAW."

Informed sources said that the Ministry has been in touch with Indian friends regarding the possibility of launching joint action to curb ISI activity in Nepal. Minister Bastola said, "Nepal is committed to stopping this sort of activity." But does it have the wherewithal to do so and, more important, the will?

A spurt in Maoist attacks

Maoists carry out daring attacks in Nepal and Bihar and Jharkhand, indicating growing coordination between the extremist groups.

TWO naxalite attacks occurring within a week of each other, one in Nepal and the other in Jharkhand State, have once again evoked suspicions of a coordinated movement by Maoist rebels in areas along the international border in the Indian States of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and in Nepal. A group of militants belonging to the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) is also reported to be maintaining close ties with the Maoists of Nepal.

On April 7, armed members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) struck in a central mid-western Nepali district of Dailekh, killing 47 people, including 29 policemen. The rebels attacked a police post at Naummle village in the district. They overwhelmed the 72-man force after a three-hour gun battle. The police gave up the fight after the guerillas bombed the post. The force commander, Inspector Dhruva Prasad Dahal, and 28 policemen were killed in the encounter, in which 19 others also lost their lives.

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The Dailekh incident is yet another instance of increased Maoist attacks on police posts. On April 2, Maoist extremists struck in the mid-western Rukum district and the north-central Dolakha district, killing 36 policemen. The extremists have been setting off explosions at select targets, which included residences of ruling Nepali Congress leaders and former police officers.

The underground Maoists launched an armed "people's war" in Nepal six years ago for the establishment of a republic as opposed to the constitutional monarchy in a multi-party parliamentary democracy. Since then, 1,658 people, including 344 police officers, have been killed in encounters. Initially the Maoists were active in some remote villages but soon their operations spread to more than 30 districts. The Maoists, considered to be ideologically close to Peru's Shining Path guerillas, started an armed rebellion in February 1996 to set up a one-party Communist republic. They started their low-intensity, but sustained, campaign from the villages located in the Himalayan foothills. Pushpakamal Dahal and his close associate Baburam Bhattarai, who lead the movement, are reported to be in contact with their Indian counterparts in Bihar - the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the People's War Group (PWG). The PWG is also active in Andhra Pradesh and in Bastar district of Chattisgarh. The PWG, which did not want Bastar to be included in the new State, is running a parallel administration in southern Bastar district.

Within a week of the Maoist attack in Nepal, the MCC's armed squad killed 14 members of the Gram Raksha Dal (village volunteer force) at Belthu village in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand, in retaliation for the killings of Sumar Bhuiyan, a self-styled MCC area commander, by the volunteers.

Never before in the history of Jharkhand and Bihar has a 2,000-strong MCC force taken part in such a daring attack. In the March 1999 operation at Senari village in Jehanabad district of Bihar, in which 34 upper-caste Bhumihars were killed, only 500-odd extremists were involved.

In their latest armed action, in Hazaribagh on April 14, the extremists laid siege to the village in the wee hours of the day. The victims were pulled out of their homes and hacked to death after their limbs were tied. Some houses were torched. A one-year-old girl was burnt alive. The assailants fired in the air, threw bombs and shouted pro-MCC slogans.

The April 14 massacre is the biggest one since the formation of Jharkhand in 2000 with 18 districts of south Bihar. The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Jharkhand headed by Babulal Marandi launched a special drive on assuming office to flush out naxalites from Jharkhand. The Chief Minister announced at that time that "liberating Jharkhand from the grip of naxalites was the first priority of my government". The police demolished several MCC bunkers in the Balumath jungles and seized a cache of arms and ammunition.

The April 14 massacre has come in the face of a State government announcement of a "rehabilitation package" for misguided extremists who wished to surrender. The package comprises a cash reward, provision of land for the landless and homes for the homeless. Naxalites belonging to the Scheduled Tribe and the Scheduled Caste would also benefit from the government's employment generation and rural development schemes. Left-wing extremist outfits, such as the MCC and the PWG, have so far rejected all government appeals to join the mainstream.

That the Nepal Maoists have frequently been crossing over to Bihar and Jharkhand and that they have been collaborating with their counterparts in India is evident from a recent report submitted to the Home Ministry. Informed sources said that the Home Ministry had forwarded to the Bihar government Nepal's request to flush out from the State extremists who are conducting training camps for Nepali militants.

There is growing concern in Nepal over the Bihar links. The government of India verified Nepal's claims before forwarding the plea to Bihar, intelligence sources said. The Home Ministry was told that there had been a steady trickle of Nepali militants into Bihar's Kaimur and Aurangabad districts over the past two years. These districts provide an ideal setting for such camps as the terrain is hilly and densely forested. Kaimur, close to Uttar Pradesh on the Indian side of the border, provides an easy escape route for the extremists.

Alarmed at the spurt of Maoist attacks, Nepal contacted India at the diplomatic level, seeking help to bust the training camps. "Since there are naxalites in Bihar, they may have links with their Nepal counterparts," said a senior officer in Bihar, adding that the State government was doing its bit to meet the challenge.

The Pant mission

Marking the latest phase in the government's strategy to bring peace to Jammu and Kashmir, K.C. Pant, as its envoy, starts a fresh dialogue process, but the imponderables ahead are enormous.

ALTHOUGH the obituaries have yet to be published, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Ramzan ceasefire has been given a quiet burial. Sadly, it is not clear whether the Union government's next enterprise with regard to the Jammu and Kashmir imbroglio will prove any less short-lived.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman K.C. Pant's appointment as its official envoy on Jammu and Kashmir marks the beginning of a new phase in the Union government's strategy to bring peace to the State. Most observers have seen Pant's appointment as being part of the peace process set rolling in November 2000, when the Prime Minister put the ceasefire in place. In fact, the discontinuities represented by Pant's appointment are more interesting than the much-advertised continuities. The most significant of these is the unequivocal declaration, in the official April 4 communique announcing the Pant-led dialogue, that "security forces have been directed to vigorously conduct operations against those who disturb the peace and (who) victimise the innocent people of Jammu and Kashmir".

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What transpired in Pant's first dialogue in the process, a 20-minute encounter with former Chief Minister Syed Mir Qasim on April 15, is still not known. The veteran Congress(I) politician had resigned from office in 1974, to make way for the installation of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in the wake of the National Conference (N.C.) leader's agreement with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Qasim spent the next quarter century in political hibernation. Then, last April, in the run-up to the Hizbul Mujahideen's brief unilateral ceasefire, he was hauled out of retirement, and asked to help build a coalition within the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) against its then chairman, Jamaat-e-Islami political chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The key player in this coalition, APHC executive member Abdul Gani Lone, had been Education Minister in Qasim's Cabinet.

Qasim's long-standing personal affiliation with Lone, however, does little to obscure the fact that he wields little ground-level influence in Jammu and Kashmir today. In a sense, the meeting picks up a strand of politics abandoned when the ceasefire project began last summer. On April 28, 2000, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and former Union Defence Minister George Fernandes had met Qasim. Sources say that the meeting, which came just a month after former U.S. President Bill Clinton urged India to have a dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir, centered on the prospect of Qasim using his influence with Lone. The Chief Minister had offered Qasim a Rajya Sabha membership nomination in 1996, but he declined it. As such, Abdullah hoped to use Qasim's offices to ensure that he remained relevant to any future dialogue. Although Lone did indeed succeed in building an alliance against Geelani in the APHC, Qasim's mediation had little to do with its coming into being.

Indeed, the April 4 declaration makes clear that exclusive engagement with the APHC is not Pant's mandate. "It is expected that beside(s) the Jammu and Kashmir government", the communique notes, "all political parties, non-government organisations, trade unions, social and religious bodies from all the regions of the State will participate." Along with this, mention is made of "Kashmiri organisations which are currently engaged in militancy in the state, but are desirous of peace". On the APHC's claim to being the sole representative of Jammu and Kashmir's people, the communique is dismissive. "The government notes that the APHC," it argues tartly, "has all along taken the position that talks should be unconditional. Now that the government has agreed to hold talks in the interest of early restoration of peace, it is for the APHC to consider whether it would not be inconsistent for them to set preconditions for the dialogue."

The Ramzan ceasefire: An overview

Jammu & Kashmir Before Phase I Phase II Phase III Phase IV Total killed 611 211 203 235 189Security forces 119 56 44 45 52Terrorists 341 59 76 93 65Civilians 151 96 83 97 72Total injured 289 291 299 175 194Security forces 136 128 78 76 88Civilians 153 163 221 99 106

Three weeks into the fourth phase of the ceasefire, the ratio of security forces killed to terrorists killed stands at 1:1.25

The best ratio of security forces killed to terrorists killed was obtained in the third phase, peaking at 1:2.06

One month after the ceasefire was declared, the ratio of security forces killed to terrorists killed stood at 1:1.05

During the first seven months of 2000, until July 27, the ratio of security forces killed to militants killed averaged 1:3.04. This was comparable to the ratio in 1999, at 1:3.05. In 1998, the same ratio stood at 1:4.1.

Source: The Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi

Unsurprisingly, the APHC is not biting. Speaking to reporters in Islamabad on April 18, APHC executive member Sheikh Abdul Aziz bluntly said that "attempts by New Delhi to set into motion a peace process without entering into meaningful talks with the Kashmiri leadership and Pakistan are useless". Aziz, one of the six-to-one majority on the APHC executive opposed to Geelani, is in Pakistan on a personal visit. His statement is, however, being vested with significance, for he had been nominated to lead an APHC delegation to Pakistan, a visit many in the organisation believe must be a precondition to talks. Aziz' dismissive remarks had been anticipated, three days earlier, by the APHC chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat. Bhat, without saying whether he was speaking for himself or the APHC, asserted that no dialogue was possible without a delegation first being allowed to visit Pakistan.

Bhat's calls of alarm point to the reasons for growing apprehension among the APHC's moderate majority. During his press conference, the APHC chairman claimed that the Union government's actions were placing the moderates "in a precarious position". This, he said, was because Indian officials cared only for their "welfare, without being concerned about our safety". Put simply, Bhat believes that participation in dialogue without the involvement of Pakistan would invite terrorist reprisals. Major organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen have rejected calls for talks, and threatened those who engage in them with elimination. Some APHC leaders like Lone, however, believe that rejecting dialogue with Pant would enable India to represent the organisation as an unreasonable one. This position, however, is countered by the claim that participation would only lead to the APHC moderates being seen by their constituencies as traitors to the cause.

Many of these arguments figured in the inconclusive APHC meeting held on April 17, and have been referred to the organisation's working committee and general council. The working committee has 35 members, five from each party represented in the executive, and the general council has another 32, one from each constituent. Pro-Pakistan organisations, among whom Geelani has considerable influence, make up the majority on the general council. The APHC moderates have sought, without success, to make the Jamaat-e-Islami withdraw Geelani from the executive. Since January they have not sent invitations for executive meetings to the Jamaat leader.

It is hard to predict just how the power struggle within the APHC will play itself out, but the signs during these past weeks have not been encouraging. The Islamic Far Right has succeeded in generating more than a little support, particularly among the urban middle and lower middle class. Rights violations by the Indian security forces have had some role in propelling recent mobilisations of the Right, but larger forces have also been at work. Much ultra -Right protest, including demonstrations in support of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, have been driven by a growing climate of anti-Muslim violence in some parts of India. Mob violence in several areas of Jammu and Kashmir in March was, for example, the outcome of communal outrages in Punjab and New Delhi. Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh aggression in Jammu region has fuelled Muslim anxieties in both that area and Kashmir. In such a fraught environment, the room for manoeuvre for APHC centrists is increasingly limited.

MANY observers believe that guns, not the Pant dialogue, will shape events this summer. Building on the operational mandate in the April 4 communique, sources say that the security forces have been instructed to launch increasingly wide-area operations. Through the earlier phases of the Ramzan ceasefire, operations were largely restricted to engagements of chance, or those based on information about the presence of terrorists in specific built-up areas. Much of the renewed fighting has come in the border districts of Jammu province, where troops and police personnel have renewed aggressive search operations in forest areas. Seven terrorists were killed in Kathua on August 17, for example, and another eight were eliminated in Rajouri and Poonch six days earlier. The valley, relatively quiet since protests against alleged security force atrocities began in January, has also seen an increasing number of encounters.

The renewed armed conflict is not a particularly surprising phenomenon. Analysts had for months been warning that the ratio of security force losses to those of terrorist groups had become unacceptably high. The police, the paramilitary forces and the Army were among them losing almost one trooper for each terrorist eliminated, the worst ratio since the outbreak of violence in the State. Although, as officials pointed out, overall numbers of security force casualties declined, killings of terrorist cadre fell even more steeply. With the mountain passes leading from Pakistan now open after the winter, and with no signs of infiltration levels declining in any significant way, there was intense pressure on the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to allow a de facto resumption of offensive operations. Although a ceasefire is still in force, it is significant that the April 4 communique makes no demand that the security forces refrain from initiating combat operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pant's dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir, then, is certain to be punctuated by violence. Just how meaningful such a dialogue will be remains to be seen. Abdullah has been among the few leaders in the State to react positively to the Union government's announcement. At a recent meeting the Chief Minister promised to put forward proposals for a "final resolution" of the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. These, he said, would remain "secret, so as to enable free discussion". It is possible that the N.C. will use the Pant dialogue to push its demands for regional autonomy, and for the internal re-division of Jammu & Kashmir along its ethnic-communal lines. So far there are no signs that anti-autonomy groupings, like Hindu chauvinist groups in Jammu, will join in the dialogue. State Congress(I) leaders have expressed their willingness to participate in a dialogue, but expressed caution about negotiating with the APHC.

Much will, of course, depend on just how serious the Union government is about creating some meaningful political space in the matter of the dialogue. It has been lost on no one that Pant has little real authority, and, perhaps, was chosen for that very reason. That the Ramzan ceasefire created friction between Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh on the one hand, and the PMO on the other, is no secret. Pant will doubtless spend the next several months listening to voices from across Jammu and Kashmir. Whether this will constitute a dialogue, or just remain a cacophonic exercise, remains to be seen.

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