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COVER STORY

21-12-2001

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Briefing

THE IMPORTANCE OF CHOMSKY'S IDEAS

N. RAM cover-story

NOAM CHOMSKY is the great polymath of our age, although given his own attitude to heroes and hype, it is more or less certain that he will dissent from such characterisations. Renowned scholar, founder of the modern science of linguistics, philosopher, political and social analyst, media critic, author of many books, winner of many prizes and awards, Professor Chomsky has been described by an intellectual biographer as having "a position in the history of ideas on a par with Darwin or Descartes." As is well known, The New York Times once described him as "arguably the most important intellectual alive" and on another occasion as "perhaps the clearest voice of dissent in American history."

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Chomsky is reported, in recent surveys, to be the most cited of all living authors, ranking in fact with Marx, Shakespeare and the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities. Raising the question "Why is Chomsky important?" Neil Smith, a linguistic theorist and author of an insightful and accessible book on his ideas and ideals, provides the following answer:

He has shown that there is really one human language: that the immense complexity of the innumerable languages we hear around us must be variations on a single theme. He has revolutionized linguistics, and in so doing has set a cat among the philosophical pigeons. He has resurrected the theory of innate ideas, demonstrating that a substantial part of our knowledge is genetically determined; he has reinstated rationalist ideas that go back centuries, but which had fallen into disrepute; and he has provided evidence that 'unconscious knowledge' is what underlies our ability to speak and understand. He has overturned the dominant school of behaviourism in psychology, and has returned the mind to its position of pre-eminence in the study of humankind. In short, Chomsky has changed the way we think of ourselves... And he has done this while devoting a great deal of his time to political and social analysis and activism...

The mild-mannered Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the polymath as great dissenter. His socio-political outlook and the specific positions he has taken over the decades on central issues are celebrated or notorious, depending on which side of the fence you are on. He was one of the first among American intellectuals to take a clear and uncompromising stand against the Vietnam War. In an influential and widely admired essay on "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," which was published in The New York Review of Books in February 1967 and enraged the U.S. establishment, Chomsky examined the positions and arguments of a range of American intellectuals from W.W. Rostow to Henry Kissinger vis-a-vis the United States' war of aggression against Vietnam.

At a broader level, he looked at the role of leading American intellectuals in the construction of pro-imperialist ideologies and propaganda, their justification of the use of force by the United States to impose its writ on the rest of the world, especially the third world. He spotlighted the equanimity with which some well-known American intellectuals countenanced, recommended or endorsed such methods as mass starvation, intensive bombing, and the extinguishing of national sovereignty. "In no small measure," observes Chomsky about such responses, "it is attitudes like this that lie behind the butchery in Vietnam, and we had better face up to them with candour, or we will find our government leading us towards a 'final solution' in Vietnam, and in the many Vietnams that inevitably lie ahead."

In his 1967 essay, which marked a watershed in the development of opposition to the Vietnam War, he offered a clear and powerful formulation in order to emphasise the great intellectual and moral imperative of truth-telling and activism in its behalf:

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Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyse actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us... It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies... it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective... The question, 'what have I done?' is one that we may well ask ourselves, as we read each day of fresh atrocities in Vietnam - as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defence of freedom.

Chomsky is also the great exemplar of an intellectual being able to integrate theory with practice. He has had no hesitation in putting his dazzling academic career on the line for the sake of the intellectual, political and moral principles he has espoused. He has spent time in jail for his role in the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Asked once why he took such risks, he replied: "It has to do with being able to look yourself in the eye in the morning."

Since the essay on the responsibility of intellectuals was published, Chomsky's vision of intellectual life in the United States and what intellectuals actually do and have done right through history has deepened and broadened. What he has presented in books such as the path-breaking American Power and the New Mandarins (1969) is a profound and devastating critique of the intellectual culture, the media and the academic world that he knows so well. In a way that seems to have no precedent or parallel in modern times, he has spotlighted - always in relation to critical issues - intellectual dishonesty, corruption and willing participation in a process of whitewashing and indoctrination in the service of establishment power. 'Manufacturing consent,' the propaganda function of the media, fits into what in effect is a continuum.

WHILE Chomsky's concerns in the sphere of international social and political affairs are truly universal, he has paid particular attention to four areas: South-East Asia, above all Vietnam; Central and South America; Israel, the Palestinian liberation struggle and West Asia; and East Timor, where the Indonesian military dictatorship committed genocide with U.S. connivance and military support. We can add to this his clear and powerful analysis of the unjust character and calamitous effects of the U.S.-led Gulf War and consequent military actions and atrocities against Iraqi civilians, notably children. Since 1991, Frontline has been able to publish several interviews with Chomsky on this subject, with Professor V.K. Ramachandran, an economist with longstanding media experience, doing most of the interviews (we find that these run into some 27,400 words, including the present interview).

Not surprisingly, about "September 11, 2001 and its Aftermath," which have ushered in a horrifying chapter in international affairs, Chomsky has had a great deal to say. It is a chapter made up of terrorism, its roots and motivations, its 'leaderless resistance' networks and its global reach; imperialism and war; the violation of national sovereignty and international law; the bizarre application of near-futuristic weapons combined with the old-world butchery that is known as conventional ground war; 'collateral damage', virtually as a diversion from the silent genocide that is taking place in Afghanistan; and complicit silence on, or endorsement of, all this by much of the Western media and intellectual community. By addressing central and critical questions and by focussing on people-centred concerns, Chomsky has provided a clear analytical framework for understanding what is happening on the world stage today.

A word on his method. A self-avowed believer in "Cartesian common sense," the scientific method laid out by Descartes, Chomsky applies the following methodological rules - as described in David Cogswell's Chomsky for Beginners - in thinking logically towards reliable conclusions: "Accept only clear and distinct ideas. Break each problem into as many parts as necessary to solve it. Work from the simple to the complex. Always check for mistakes." His analytic technique has also been described as "the classic academician's accumulation of massive documentation, relying both on standard references and on sources that are frequently ignored by mainstream commentators and historians," with the method flavoured by the use of irony.

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Chomsky is also the rarest of intellectuals - one with a fan following everywhere he goes. The last time he was in India was in January 1996. The lecture tour of India and Pakistan in November 2001 exceeded all expectations in terms of the intellectual excitement generated and the overflowing public response to the lectures, and the Question and Answer sessions that followed them. The 'new war against terrorism', focused on savaging Afghanistan and committing 'silent genocide', was a major theme of his public engagements in India and Pakistan. He also covered issues relating to linguistics, militarism, democracy and people's right to know, and globalisation. In addition to giving public lectures in Delhi, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Kolkata, Lahore and Islamabad, Chomsky spoke with smaller groups in open and free discussions and gave media interviews.

Chomsky's ideas, analytical framework and method, and his views on current international affairs as well as on socio-political, intellectual and media issues, need the widest possible discussion. Hence this Cover Story on "Chomsky In First Person." Ramachandran's interview with him covers terrorism and the war on Afghanistan, imperialism and its ways, the media and the role of intellectuals - offering, we believe, new insights into Chomsky's ideas and ideals. Chomsky ends the interview on a wonderful note - a qualitative update on "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," which involves pointing out "unclarities and omissions" in the old formulation, redefining the term 'intellectual', and setting out inspiring new goals.

Chomsky In First Person

cover-story

In this exclusive interview, Noam Chomsky speaks to V.K. Ramachandran about the 'new war against terrorism', imperialism, the media and the role of intellectuals.

Frontline V.K. Ramachandran Frontline

V. K. Ramachandran: Noam, what do you see to be the strategic significance of the new military situation in Afghanistan?

Noam Chomsky: I assume that the U.S. will more or less take control over Afghanistan. U.S. military force is so overwhelming that it can't fail to subdue a basically defenceless country. This is quite different from the Soviet invasion. The Soviets were facing a major mercenary military force, backed by the United States and other powers. They also had additional constraints: they never bombed cities or destroyed them, and they never used what amount to weapons of mass destruction, like carpet bombs or daisy-cutters. Assuming that this offensive subdues the country mostly, the United States will probably delegate authority to reconstitute the country to some other hands, maybe the United Nations or maybe its local allies. Then comes a very uncertain situation.

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The strategic consequences will be particularly significant for Pakistan. For the rest of the region, it is hard to predict; it depends how local populations will respond to what has happened. For example, will the population of Saudi Arabia remain more or less quiescent while observing the destruction of an Islamic country nearby? Nobody really knows. Experienced correspondents in Saudi Arabia have been comparing the situation there to Iran in the late 1970s, where events were completely unpredicted by Intelligence services or anyone else. These are very volatile, unpredictable situations, in which no one can tell when a popular explosion will take place. And if such an event occurs in the Gulf region, it will be of extraordinary strategic importance.

Ramachandran: Do you think the current military situation will encourage right-wing triumphalism and serve as justification for military action, here and elsewhere?

Chomsky: In the United States, undoubtedly. You can predict that any military triumph of a great power will lead to a mood of triumphalism, which is very bad news for the world. It frees options for further resort to military power on the grounds that such power has been seen to succeed. When violence succeeds on its own terms, it increases the likelihood of further resort to violence.

Here the question is really how the U.S. population will react and how the powerful allies will react. Will they be supportive of further unilateral application of U.S. power in this fashion? If that is tolerated, it is very bad news for the world.

Ramachandran: What is your assessment of the potential of the Northern Alliance as a force with political legitimacy in the country and as a force capable of governing?

Chomsky: The so-called Northern Alliance is not much of an alliance. Its members are warlords who have been in bitter conflict with one another. In fact, the massive destruction that they carried out ten years ago when they were in control was mostly from fighting each other. Some of them have a very ugly record. General Dostum, who is the 'conqueror' of Mazar-e-Sharif, was a General in the Soviet Army who was part of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan until the end. After the Soviets withdrew, he retained control of his region.

The U.S. will certainly try to forge them into a more or less obedient group that listens to central orders, which ultimately will come from Washington. However, whether they can impose discipline on these groups is impossible to guess. These groups are non-Pashtun; they are Tadjik-Uzbek with ties to the Central Asian countries and are, for many Afghans, a sort of foreign force. The United States has, of course, been trying to bring in Pashtun Afghans to represent somehow the roughly 40 per cent of the population that is Pashtun. Whether there are any credible figures among the biggest sector of the population who can join a U.S.-run coalition is just unclear at the moment.

Ramachandran: What are the present and potential humanitarian consequences of this war?

Chomsky: For obvious reasons, the Western media and doctrinal system are trying very hard to suppress that question. First, the threat of bombing and the bombing itself have already caused a humanitarian catastrophe. Even before September 11, Afghanistan was in a dire predicament from a humanitarian point of view. Many millions of people - the United Nations says 6 to 7 million - were surviving, and barely that, from international aid. With the threat of bombing, international aid workers were withdrawn and food deliveries were cut. A few days after September 11, the U.S. demanded that Pakistan cut off food deliveries. International aid agencies were extremely bitter about this and condemned quite harshly the threats that were terminating the delivery of badly needed humanitarian aid (in the United States, these reports were either suppressed or barely mentioned). As of now, food deliveries are well below what were considered necessary to help the people just to survive.

It is not simply food; people need shelter and blankets. Huge numbers of people have been driven from their homes and have fled into the countryside. There is at least some hope of giving a degree of sustenance to those who fled across the border, to Iran or Pakistan. But apparently many millions have fled into the countryside, and it is impossible to reach them. For example, a couple of weeks ago, Western reporters estimated that about 70 per cent of the population of Kandahar had fled. It may well be that Kandahar, where the U.S. destroyed electricity and water supplies (which amounts to biological warfare), is almost unlivable. Where did these people go? They are off to the countryside, into regions that, first of all, lack access to food, except in an extremely limited fashion. These areas are also probably the most heavily mined in the world. The United Nations had been carrying out limited mine-clearing operations but those were terminated when all international workers were withdrawn. Now the people have an additional problem: the area is probably littered with cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are much more dangerous than mines. They are vicious anti-personnel weapons that send out flechettes that tear people to shreds. They just sit there and if a child picks one up, or a farmer hits one with a hoe, it explodes.

Ramachandran: What does a bomb of this sort look like?

Chomsky: It is a little thing that a child would pick up thinking it is a toy. In fact, they apparently look pretty much like the food drops, except that they are smaller.

The same is happening in many places. The estimates are that in northern Laos there are probably thousands of deaths a year, 30 years after the bombing. In Laos the Pentagon would not even provide instructions on how to defuse them to a volunteer British de-mining group that was working there. In Kosovo as well, the U.S. refused to remove cluster bombs.

In Afghanistan nobody is going to clear these things. So in addition to the mines, there will be cluster bombs unexploded and very little ability to bring in food or blankets or to provide shelter. Many people will disappear and no one will even know what happened to them. No one is going to do a careful census of Afghanistan to find out what the effects were of the bombing and of the threat of bombing.

There may be another problem looming. Before the bombing began, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations warned that there was a grave humanitarian crisis taking place. A few days later, after the bombing began, they announced that by their estimate about 80 per cent of the planting of grain, which apparently takes place around then, had been disrupted.

A very graphic illustration of the investigation of casualties comes from the two major atrocities that ended the millennium, Serbian in Kosovo, and Indonesian in East Timor.

These are two major atrocities, but they are quite different. The Serbian atrocities in Kosovo occurred after the NATO bombing began. Western ideologues tried to suppress this fact, naturally, but we have extensive documentation on it from the West.

The British, who were the hawkish element in the alliance, have now released their internal records. Up until late January, the British literally regarded the KLA as being the main source of killing. Although, just given the proportion of force, it seems hard to believe, that is their estimate, and that is what Robin Cook and Lord Robertson were saying in late January.

After the bombing, substantial atrocities began. That is when the population was driven out of the country and truckloads of bodies were tossed into the rivers. Although it is necessary to conceal these facts, they are apparent from the Milosevic indictment, which includes virtually nothing before the bombing. It all started after the bombing. Not a great surprise: if you start bombing a country, they don't just sit there and throw flowers at you. And the atrocities constituted real war crimes, no question about that.

After the war, Kosovo was flooded with forensic experts who tried to find any possible trace they could of Serbian atrocities and these were calculated down to the last detail. That is interesting, because since the bombing was not a result of the atrocities but rather a factor in them, the greater the atrocities the greater the guilt of the West.

In East Timor, the background is much worse. In the late 1970s, within a few years of its invasion of East Timor, the Indonesian Army had killed a couple of hundred thousand people, maybe a third of the population. This was done decisively with U.S. military and diplomatic support. When the atrocities peaked and really became genocidal, the British wanted to take part, so since 1978 they have been probably Indonesia's major military supplier.

The atrocities continued right through the 1980s, and in 1998, after the fall of Suharto and lots of confusion in the United States, the Clinton Administration organised a training programme for the Indonesian military. This is violation of Congressional directives, but nobody pays any attention to that detail. The United States trained, among others, Indonesian special forces. These forces were sent into East Timor in late 1998 and began very quickly to carry out atrocities. Their goal was to intimidate the population so as to force them to vote in favour of integration into Indonesia in a referendum that was planned for August 1999.

When the referendum took place, to everybody's amazement, the population - under military occupation and severe intimidation - nevertheless went to the polls. Almost the whole population voted and about 80 per cent favoured independence. At that point the Indonesian generals went berserk and immediately launched a major attack. They drove about 80 to 85 per cent of the population out of their homes, and hundreds of thousands of people were driven into Indonesian territory in West Timor. Possibly 100,000 are still there in concentration camps. Nobody cares about them, because they are victims of the United States and Britain. If 100,000 Kosovar Albanians were in Serbian concentration camps, we would know about it, but not in this case.

Finally, under tremendous pressure, Clinton was compelled to order the Indonesians to terminate the atrocities. And within 48 hours the Indonesians had reversed their position by 180 degrees. That reversal reveals the latent power that was always there and could have stopped the atrocities at any point. So you didn't have to bomb Jakarta, you didn't need any sanctions; all you had to do was tell them to stop.

Incidentally, Britain was so supportive of Indonesia that it was still sending jet fighters to Indonesia two weeks after the European Union declared an arms embargo and after the Australian-led peace-keeping force had entered. That's Tony Blair the great humanitarian - and Robin Cook and Clare Short, incidentally. They are even worse than the Americans.

To return to the question of forensic experts, the Australian forces brought in a few and the U.N. pleaded for forensic experts to come in to find out what happened.

To this day the United States has sent virtually no forensic experts, since it does not want to find out what happened. This is radically different from Kosovo, where they are desperately eager to find any trace of an atrocity; by contrast, in East Timor, they are desperate not to find any traces of atrocities. That's the way it works. If you can blame atrocities on someone else, they become huge crimes against humanity and there is no limit to our indignation and self-righteousness. If, however, the crimes are ours, they have to be suppressed.

I shall give you one last example of how the record of deaths is suppressed. The standard estimates of deaths in Indochina...

Ramachandran: Over which period?

Chomsky: They usually start in 1965, because the U.S. does not want to admit that it started attacking Vietnam in 1961. In fact, there were probably 70,000 or so people killed in the late 1950s. According to the official chronology, however, the war started in 1965, when you can claim that the North Vietnamese got involved (before that the U.S. was just bombing South Vietnam).

The general estimates from the early 1960s to 1975 are in the neighbourhood of 2 to 4 million for all of Indochina. It is not a precise number by any means because nobody looks.

Ramachandran: Two to four million is a pretty wide range.

Chomsky: And what do you count? Do you count the people who are still dying of U.S. chemical warfare? The U.S. deluged the place - South Vietnam, not North Vietnam - with poisonous chemicals. Nobody counts the effects of having wiped out most of Quang-ngai province, an agricultural area - who cares?

Whatever the estimates are, it is somewhere in the neighbourhood of several millions. When people in the United States are asked to estimate the number of Vietnamese dead, the median response is 100,000, a number that gives you the impression of the way the culture works. For example, if in Germany you asked how many people died in the Holocaust and they said 200,000, you would think there is a problem in German culture. This is comparable, but it is our atrocity, and therefore the intellectual classes and the media and anyone responsible for controlling thought and opinion suppress it. They don't know themselves and they don't want anyone else to know.

It is going to be the same in Afghanistan. The humanitarian catastrophe is traceable to the United States and its allies, and therefore it is not going to be investigated. That is almost a historical law.

Ramachandran: You have, on different occasions, made two sets of points about reporting the casualties of war. One is on the tendency of the media and commentators to concentrate only on "collateral damage" - terrible term - and not on the totality of destruction in a war. The second is a point you have made even recently, particularly with reference to Sudan and Nicaragua and other parts of Central America, that the victims of an attack are not just the number of people who die in the immediate attack but also those who die of its long-term effects.

Chomsky: Both of those points are important. By the way, when you see CNN or BBC focus on collateral damage, you know it is unimportant. If it was of any significance they wouldn't talk about it.

The fact is that collateral damage is unimportant. It is horrible, but it is going to be in the order of maybe hundreds of people, maybe thousands, and furthermore you can claim - with some plausibility - that it was a mistake. On the other hand, a conscious, premeditated operation that will kill hundreds of thousands or even millions of people cannot be talked about, since you cannot say that our leaders do things like that. The major humanitarian catastrophe is suppressed and so-called collateral damage receives the focus.

Ramachandran: On the second point, you have referred recently to the examples of Sudan and Central America.

Chomsky: Thirty thousand people were killed in the fighting in Nicaragua, but how many people died? The numbers are huge.

Sudan is an interesting case. A few Cruise missiles destroyed a pharmaceutical factory, one that happened to produce half the pharmaceutical supplies for the country, about 90 per cent of its critical medicines, and also apparently almost all its veterinary medicines.

The West is willing to accept the fact that two or three guards were killed; that is collateral damage. But what were the effects on the population of a poor African country? What happens when you destroy half its pharmaceutical supplies and its veterinary medicines? The country is under sanctions so cannot easily obtain these medicines elsewhere (the British government, for instance, refused to provide anti-malarial medicines to Sudan after this happened).

There have been virtually no attempts to estimate the effects of the attack. The German Embassy in Sudan issued an estimate (I don't know how they obtained it); the Ambassador said that his guess was several tens of thousands of deaths. One specialist who investigated the matter is the regional coordinator for a major NGO, the old and respectable Middle East Foundation. His estimate is tens of thousands. He could not do a careful study; it is a guess based on what he has seen.

Watching CNN and BBC is horrifying. When they talk of September 11 there is justified outrage and shock. "How can human beings sink to such a level?" they ask, rightly. When they talk about the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan it is in a few cool, dispassionate phrases, with no particular comment: "unfortunate", "heart-rending but necessary" (that's The Economist), part of a just war. In a way they are right. This is a normal event in modern history. It is entirely normal for the European powers and the United States, an offshoot, just to massacre people.

Ramachandran: What kind of popular support do you think there is in the United States for this kind of retaliatory war against poverty-stricken people?

Chomsky: I think it is extremely low, which is why it is not reported. If there were no fear of popular reaction, the facts would be investigated and reported. They are aware, however, that there would be popular revulsion. Even in the polls that are taken - which are pretty superficial - if you look carefully, you find that if people are asked "Should we retaliate forcefully against the September 11 atrocities?", almost everyone says "Yes". If you go down a few questions and say "Should we carry out military attack if it is going to harm innocent civilians?", the numbers go down sharply. If you give people any idea of the scale of the harm, support would go way down, which is why it is not reported.

Ramachandran: Is there any evidence for this, or are you speaking of what you would expect?

Chomsky: It is what you expect... Well yes, there is evidence but it is not evidence that you could write a technical paper about.

Take a look at the 25-year gap between the John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan Administrations. Kennedy sent the U. S. Air Force to bomb South Vietnam. He inaugurated the use of napalm and chemical weapons, and the policy of attacking food crops to deprive the population of support, driving millions of people into concentration camps called "strategic hamlets" and later into slums. Although it was a major attack, there wasn't a whisper of protest. A big protest movement built up only in the late 1960s, after many years of war.

When the Reagan Administration came to power, Kennedy was in many ways its model. It had problems in Central America similar to those Kennedy faced in South-East Asia and it tried to duplicate, step by step, what the Kennedy Administration had done.

Within a month of the entry of the Reagan government, it published a White Paper - almost modelled on the Kennedy White Paper - warning that Russian-backed terrorists were going to take over the world, starting from Nicaragua. They were plainly planning to move on to direct military attack against Nicaragua. There was, however, an enormous - and totally unanticipated - public reaction all over the country.

The Administration had to turn to clandestine terror, and never could invade Nicaragua. It had to use a terrorist mercenary army attacking from abroad because it could not use direct military force. It was the same in other parts of Central America.

Ramachandran: You've also said that the Gulf War was one in which protests began even before bombing began.

Chomsky: The Gulf War was amazing. It is the first time in history that there was protest - major protest by hundreds of thousands of people, you were there - before a war.

Actually the 1980s are a very interesting chapter in the history of imperialism. This was the first time that ordinary people from the imperial society went to live with the victims to try and help and protect them. Tens of thousands of people from the United States went to places like Nicaragua and El Salvador, partly to provide assistance, but in large part just in the hope that a white face in a village could cut down atrocities. Nobody ever thought of such action during the Vietnam War. No one thought of living in a Vietnamese village to try to protect the village people against atrocities. In Central America it was common and many of them are still there.

Ramachandran: Like your daughter in Nicaragua.

Chomsky: Yes. That is an enormous change in consciousness, and it is still there.

Ramachandran: It went beyond just solidarity, then; they were conscious of being a human shield.

Chomsky: It was participation and it was living there, not just going on a march or going to jail overnight, and it was not easy. It is not easy to live in a Salvadoran village. First of all it was dangerous; it was also hard. These were middle-class, relatively prosperous people. There was also an underground resistance, a sort of new Underground Railway run by conservative Christians to bring illegal immigrants into the United States and to disperse them in the country.

Ramachandran: To shift to some issues of media analysis, to issues relating to your 'propaganda model'. In your thinking, the propaganda function of the dominant media is part of a broader process of building a consensus for official policy.

Chomsky: Official policy and more or less standard doctrine, that is, supporting privilege and existing institutional structures.

The work on the 'filters' is mostly Edward Herman's, from his interest in institutional economics. My own feeling is that the consistent ideological-doctrinal commitments that are part of intellectual life - and these are not easily measurable - are an overwhelming factor. That is why you do not find much difference between the media and scholarly journals; they come from the same roots. In the media the problem is intensified by ownership and advertising - these intensify something that already exists.

One of the reasons I study the media is because they are the most visible part of the intellectual culture. To study the intellectual culture is not easy, but when you study the media, there are some very straightforward ways of doing it. You can ask, for example, "How do they handle the war in Afghanistan?" There are neutral ways of handling the issue, but do the media use the neutral ways or do they just act as a state propaganda agency? You can investigate that rather closely. And the results are stunning, I think, and beyond what any model would predict.

The degree of conformism and support for elite policies is astonishing. Take, say, the elections of November 2000. You can see from the polls that there are issues that concern the public greatly. Its main concerns are economic issues, for instance, the trade deficit. Most people don't even know what the trade deficit is. They couldn't explain it to you, but they know that it is leading to the deterioration of their lives, and that it makes it possible to attack the quality of their work and even their employment. People are strongly opposed to the so-called free trade agreements. People are almost instinctively opposed; they do not have a lot of information and they cannot give you an explanation, but they are opposed.

There is a thing called 'fast-track' legislation, basically Stalinist legislation that gives the executive branch the right to enter into economic treaties without Congressional participation. Congress is then allowed to say 'Yes'. Although for years fast-track legislation was passed without any problem, it has been very hard to do so over the last few years.

Right after September 11, the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, said the first thing that had to be done to combat terrorism was to pass fast-track. Now that should really make Osama bin Laden tremble in his boots - that the President has Kremlin-style authority to sign economic agreements. The Administration wants to use the present window of opportunity to ram fast-track through without people noticing.

To get back to 2000, none of these were issues in the elections. There is a kind of criterion that determines such exclusion: if the public and the business world are both very much interested in some issue, but are on opposite sides, the issue doesn't enter the political system.

Ramachandran: Is it getting worse or have your book and your work and that of others made a difference to the quality of the media?

Chomsky: They have been barely willing to recognise its existence. Nevertheless, people know about this kind of critique because by now there is a strong popular movement against the media.

The media are very unpopular. The situation is somewhat similar to what I said about free-trade agreements: people don't really have detailed reasons, but they just don't trust them, because they feel manipulated.

Edward Herman and I and others, including Michael Parenti, give endless numbers of talks - this is basically participation in a mass movement - and that reaches a fair number of people.

There is another influence on the mass media that should not be overlooked. The 1960s had a big civilising effect on society; people who went through that experience are just different. A reporter or young editor in the 1980s would have been somebody whose view of the world was shaped by events in the 1960s and what followed.

My own feeling is that, bad as they are, the media are better than they were 40 or even 20 years ago, partly for these reasons, partly because the public mood is different. Things are still awful, but they used to be much worse.

Ramachandran: I haven't heard you say that before.

Chomsky: I think it's true. In the late 1960s, for example, I tried very hard to get the major media to cover the war in Laos, which was a horrible atrocity. I actually met with editors of The New York Times and Time-Life and talked about it. It was not even a possibility. When the Intifada broke out in 2000, I had a meeting with senior editors of The Boston Globe, people I have known in one way or another for years.

Ramachandran: Did you ask for the meeting?

Chomsky: There was a small delegation that asked me to come along. The Globe was in a way happy: it is under constant attack from the Jewish community for being too pro-Arab, so they want criticism from the other side in order to be able to say that they are in the middle.

I went anyway, and at the meeting, I tried very hard to get them to cover some very simple facts. For example, the following: when the Intifada started on September 13, there was no Palestinian fire for the first few days. During those days, Israel immediately reacted with extreme violence, including helicopter attacks on civilians. Helicopter gunships attacked apartment complexes, ambulances and so on, and killed a lot of people. On October 3, the Clinton Administration made a deal with Israel for the biggest shipment of attack helicopters in a decade. One of the issues I raised with the Globe was just, "Why won't you report this fact?" We had a polite discussion, but I knew they were never going to report it.

Ramachandran: Did they, finally?

Chomsky: No, they never did. A couple of months later, a new shipment of the most advanced helicopters in the United States arsenal was sent. That one happened to be mentioned in the business pages.

Ramachandran: So what you are saying is that there is some improvement, but....

Chomsky: There is some improvement, but a long, long way to go - and the basic structure is the same.

Ramachandran: How do you see the applicability of the propaganda model to other situations and places, including, for instance, Europe?

Chomsky: In Britain, there is some work. There is an institute in Britain in Glasgow University that does media analysis, but that's about it.

On the Continent, there is virtually nothing. The reason, I feel, is that European intellectuals are so deeply indoctrinated that they cannot perceive that they are servants of power. They see themselves as courageous opponents of power who stand up for human rights and so on, a perception that is completely false.

The role of intellectuals in Europe is somewhat different from their role in the United States. One of the nice things about the United States is that intellectuals aren't taken very seriously. It shows up in personal relations: if I get gasoline at a gas station, the person who works there and I are equals, and there is no conception that I am at a different level than that person is. In Europe that is not the case. Intellectuals are a caste aside: they are very respected, every nonsensical thing that they produce is front-page news, and their self-image is different.

One consequence of this is that there is virtually no analysis of the media in Europe, because it is not a conceivable topic. On the other hand, the little that exists indicates that the situation is much the same as in the United States. There is somewhat more diversity in Europe, but that is because it is socio-politically different. It has labour-based political parties, and these parties have their presses and representatives, and so you get a little bit of diversity. The U.S. has nothing like that. The very fact that Europe has more of a social market system than the U.S. makes a difference. It is taken for granted, for example, that there has to be some kind of national health service, whereas the United States is such a business-run society that these issues barely even arise in the public arena.

Ramachandran: So overall do you think that the media in Europe covers a wider range of issues and opinions?

Chomsky: Marginally wider, because of the somewhat greater diversity in the social organisation. Take, for instance, the labour movement, which is much stronger in Germany than in the United States. Co-determination, whatever it amounts to, is almost unimaginable in the United States.

You even see it symbolically. As far as I know there is only one country in the world, the United States, where nobody knows what May Day is.

Ramachandran: And that's where it began.

Chomsky: It was a day of solidarity for American workers fighting for an eight-hour day. People know that everywhere in the world; in the United States, I wonder if there is a person in a million who knows what it is.

Ramachandran: How in your opinion should research in the field of media studies proceed? I refer in particular to research on using the media to impose official doctrinal consensuses on the people.

Chomsky: You have to look at cases. This isn't physics. There is no theory behind any of this. We didn't call the propaganda model a theory because it is not entitled to that term. In fact, there is almost nothing in the social sciences that ought to be called a theory. Human affairs are too complicated.

Ramachandran: Well, it is a model in that it is a set of relationships from which predictions can be made.

Chomsky: Okay, it is a set of relationships from which predictions can be made but it is not the kind of thing that you call a theory in the sciences, where you have principles that aren't obvious (in fact, may even seem strange), but from which you derive conclusions that can then be tested in experimental situations. There is very little like that in the social sciences.

That's why we refrained from calling the model a theory. It's just too superficial; in fact it's truisms. What would you conclude about corporations selling audiences to other businesses? The immediate assumption is that the output will probably reflect the interests of the sellers and the buyers. That's almost a null hypothesis. If you find that is true, okay, it is interesting, but the mass of the work lies in showing how it works out in particular cases.

Ramachandran: But each case study is not meant only to illustrate or describe just that particular case.

Chomsky: No, it is not; and in fact we tried to pick the hardest cases. We picked the cases that the media themselves and the ideological system put forth as their strongest.

Ramachandran: In that sense, you are looking for some kind of theoretical conclusions, aren't you?

Chomsky: To try to show that anywhere you look, you are going to find the same thing. We picked historically crucial cases, the cases that the media present as their proudest moments.

Ramachandran: In the light of what you are saying, how, in your view, would research on the Indian media, using the Herman-Chomsky method, proceed?

Chomsky: I would begin by looking at the institutional structure. If it is a family-owned newspaper, ask questions about the family.

Ramachandran: What are you looking for?

Chomsky: Take some question that is crucial for India. Let us say....

Ramachandran: Food and food security.

Chomsky: Okay, a socio-economic question like food and food distribution or a major political issue like Kashmir. Now ask the questions: What would a neutral person - a Martian, someone with no commitments - say about it? What is the human significance? How is it treated in the media? In fact, Kashmir would probably be interesting. You could ask how the Pakistani and Indian media treat the same problem. You can predict without looking what's going to happen. In Pakistan they will be all upset about Indian repression and refusal to allow self-determination; in India, they will be upset about Pakistani terrorism.

Ramachandran: You could use this method, I take it, when dealing with other issues as well, such as food security or the WTO...

Chomsky: The WTO is a perfect example. Does everybody in India read every day that the effect of the neo-liberal programmes has been to slow down growth all over the world? That is, after all, the first thing you should know. Even in cases where there is growth, it is very specific growth. It is growth that leaves out most of the population and, in fact, probably harms them. These ought to be things that everybody knows.

Ramachandran: So the methodology would be to choose subjects of great public importance, investigate how the press covers them, and then...

Chomsky: Trace the results to what you can about the institutional structure. That's not profound, but it's straightforward.

Ramachandran: Although the Internet is increasingly being privatised, we wouldn't have had our present access to dissenting opinion without it. It clearly has a dual character.

Chomsky: It has been fantastic, and it has very much of a dual character. It's had a very big impact all over the place. In Indonesia the student rebellion that ended up overthrowing Suharto was able to organise through the Internet. About a year or two ago in Bolivia, the World Bank had more or less compelled the government to privatise the water system. Bechtel, which was going to take it over, instituted user-charges, which are, of course, a disaster. The resistance would have been crushed, but there were a couple of North American activists in Bolivia who made very intelligent use of the Internet. They communicated information of which no one would ever have heard of to people all over the world, and there were big protests everywhere.

Ramachandran: The classic case is Chiapas.

Chomsky: Yes, Chiapas is in fact a more striking case, because they would all be dead if it weren't for the Internet.

Ramachandran: What do you think is going to happen to that space?

Chomsky: That space is contested. There is a very good book on this by Edward Herman and Robert McChesney called Global Media. Have you read it?

Ramachandran: Alas.

Chomsky: The privatisation of the Internet is a very obscure development. Nobody knows how it took place, nobody knows what the decisions were. In 1995, after about 30 years of development in the public sector, the Internet was privatised. How? Who decided? Nothing is known. It's very obscure and was very sudden.

In 1994, one year before the privatisation, Bill Gates was so contemptuous of the Internet that he refused publicly to go to conferences about it. One year later, something happened and they suddenly realised that it is a terrific tool for business and they... took it over! Since then, the question has been whether they are going to be able to control access to it.

It is technically very difficult to just shut down the Internet. But what you can do is to make it difficult for people to go where they want. Say there are only a few points of access and that they are commercially owned. When you open them up, suppose you immediately get a tonne of advertisements and they lead you down different paths. If you are really dedicated and you know what you want, you can wade through it and get to ZNet or whatever. Most people, though, are just going to be distracted and drawn away from it.

The question is whether that space can be protected. It is a very important question because the Internet has been very important.

Ramachandran: As a means of...

Chomsky: Getting around media control. Take the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, for instance. You couldn't learn anything about it through scattered sentences here and there, but there is a lot of material on the Internet.

Ramachandran: To shift the subject, in 1967 you published "The Responsibility of Intellectuals".

Chomsky: Actually, it had been published before, in a student newspaper.

Ramachandran: Which one?

Chomsky: You wouldn't believe it, but it was published in the journal of the Hillel Foundation, a Jewish student group at Harvard.

Ramachandran: If you had to rewrite "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" today, what would you say?

Chomsky: In retrospect, it seems to me there were unclarities and omissions. One has to do with the category of intellectuals. Who are they? Suppose that we take the term "intellectual" to refer to people who think seriously about issues of general human concern, seek and evaluate evidence, and try to articulate their judgments and conclusions clearly and honestly. Then some of the most impressive intellectuals I have known had little formal education, and many of those who are granted great respect as leading intellectuals do not deserve the name. If we adopt this conception, there is no special "responsibility of intellectuals" other than the responsibility of people generally to act with integrity and decency, but there is a responsibility of all of us to work for a society in which everyone is encouraged and helped to become an intellectual, in this sense.

Those who have privilege, training, access to resources and other advantages do have special responsibilities. One formula is that their responsibility is "to speak truth to power". Among those who adopt this stand, there are people I greatly respect and admire. But although I often agree with them in practice, I don't agree with the principle. One reason is that none of us can claim to have The Truth. We have our judgments and conclusions, and maybe good reasons for them. But these are at best tentative, and it is important to make that clear, particularly in cultures in which technical knowledge and training are accorded considerable prestige - sometimes warranted, sometimes not. It is important to make clear the limits of our knowledge and understanding, and not to exploit prestige and authority as a weapon of domination and control. So the idea of "speaking truth" is already flawed. Furthermore, to the extent that we think we have some grasp of the truth about matters of significance, why should our audience be "power"? Is it important to convince the king, or to enlighten his subjects? Or better, not to "enlighten" the subjects but to join with them in a common effort to gain better understanding, and to use it to dismantle illegitimate authority and expand the domains of freedom and justice? The task, then, is not to "speak truth" to the king, or even to the king's subjects, but to learn from them, to contribute what we can, and to participate with them in common struggle for values we discover and uphold. It seems to me that those are the directions in which responsibilities of intellectuals should be sought.

The response in Pakistan

Noam Chomsky's lecture tour in Pakistan evokes an overwhelming response.

PROFESSOR Noam Chomsky is a recognised multiple genius. Linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, literature, politics and other disciplines and, above all, the capability to synergise them all, place his work far above that of most of his contemporaries. He presents a reality that often bites. Chomsky was in Pakistan in the last week of November to deliver two lectures, in Lahore and Islamabad. The response was overwhelming, yet it raised several basic questions and left them unanswered as well.

His themes, in Lahore as well as Islamabad, largely covered the same issues he touched during his tour of India. Yet his visit to Pakistan had its own importance, especially with the United States being at war with the poorest country - Afghanistan. The huge response Chomsky drew to his two lectures from a broad spectrum of Pakistani society and the wide coverage in the media were perhaps a reflection of the prevailing anti-American sentiment in the country.

At least a section of the media in Pakistan attempted to raise some fundamental questions about the visit of a man who is regarded as one of the eminent intellectuals of the current era. This section made a passionate plea to the people to ponder seriously over the issues raised by Chomsky and even wondered whether his visit would have triggered the same level of interest but for the war in the neighbourhood.

The first lecture, in Lahore, was sponsored by The Friday Times (TFT), a left-of-centre weekly. After TFT advertised the Chomsky lecture - as it had come to be called - the publication was inundated with requests from all kinds of people who wished to attend. It received requests from over 3,000 people who wanted to hear Chomsky speak. Everyone in the city wanted to be at the 'Chomsky lecture'. "What is going on? Is it an event where some people want to see and be seen?" The response had inspired a piece, 'Why are we flocking to hear Chomsky?', by TFT News Editor Ejaz Haider, wherein he asked whether people were "not doing the right thing for the wrong reasons".

Haider compared Chomsky with the Pakistani intellectual Dr. Eqbal Ahmed, a great friend of Chomsky, and asked why the so-called Pakistani 'thinking class' was flocking to the lectures when Dr. Eq, as he was popularly called, was shunned and marginalised for his brand of native 'Chomskyism'. "Most of all, Chomsky is the conscience that troubles everyone. And we, as a people, are not terribly famous for putting up with anyone among us who would, Chomsky-like, tell us who we are."

Yet, on November 24, the hall at the Avari Hotel in Lahore witnessed a spontaneous overflow of intellectualism. People sat in the aisles and the lecture was, on popular demand, video-conferenced live with Karachi, the commercial capital that was not on Chomsky's itinerary. Several people walked in without invitations and squatted on the floor to listen to the enlightening lecture on the character of the war launched by the U.S. on Afghanistan.

IT was no different when Chomsky visited the national capital on an invitation from the Dawn media group. The auditorium at the Islamabad Convention Centre was jam-packed with representatives of the media, academicians, students and other sections of the elite; many more people were left annoyed at the limited number of invitations issued. Chomsky was given the Dawn award, 'The Ensign of the Rising Sun of Mehgarh', as he delivered the lecture and took queries. The insights that he shared with the audience that evening was reported for days in all the leading newspapers in Islamabad.

In a way it was ironical. Chomsky, a Jewish person, was making waves in the ideological state of Pakistan where all people of Jewish descent are considered essentially Zionist. If his lectures and his ideas were celebrated, the unexpectedly huge response they generated was also analysed. An Indian diplomat even remarked that the religious zealots of Pakistan would have dubbed the event as a Hindu-Jewish conspiracy if they knew his antecedents.

"So why should we want to listen to Chomsky? Just because he is a famous intellectual or because he is likely to give us the ammunition to take potshots at the United States, the U.S. that we love to hate? Or are we really prepared to listen to what he has to tell us about us?" Haider wrote. The timing of the lecture, along with the new equations the Pakistani establishment was working out with the U.S. in the wake of the war in Afghanistan, perhaps augmented the mass appeal of his ideas in the country. It was evident that his ideas provided 'ammunition' to the anti-U.S. lobbies and helped put the 'placate-U.S. policies' of the military government under the magnifying glass. However, what was not clear was if it really succeeded in presenting a looking glass to the thinking elites in order to awaken them to the 'tell us about us' part of Chomsky's effort.

The bitter criticism that Chomsky had offered to the Indian polity while he was in India during the first leg of his tour of the subcontinent, though not extensively reported in the Pakistani media, contributed to increasing his acceptance in the country. "What he said there widely challenged our long-held and cherished stereotype of the Jewish-Hindu conspiracy against Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular. But since we love anyone who is able to tell the Indians where to get off, we are prepared to ignore his Jewishness and love him for his anti-Indianness," Haider wrote.

Or was it essentially the 'rebel' who has thrived in the 'not-so-democratic' Pakistan who was bewitched by the Chomsky-ian charm? After all, Chomsky "is best when debunking linguistic subterfuge. His best put-downs are when he talks of key words as 'national interest' and 'free trade'," wrote Khaled Ahmed, Executive Editor, TFT, in another article, 'Chomsky: Rebel without a pause'. In Pakistan, where 'national interest' is a word used too often by the establishment in order to justify most policies as well as their reversals, Chomsky's interpretations and analyses offered an interesting counter-view. Moreover, it is fashionable to be a U.S.-hater and a rebel. Perhaps going to the lecture was like 'rolling up the sleeve' a la T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock.

However, Ahmed takes the interest generated by Chomsky in Pakistan a step further:

"Chomsky has been called 'essential ammunition' by America haters... But one wonders if Chomsky would be completely satisfied with this manner of use of his work. The real insight is that this indicter of the U.S. lives in the U.S. and is able to publish there.

"He actually prompts us to look at ourselves critically with the same honesty and depth of knowledge as he looks at America. Do the Pakistani media come up to the standards he has set?

"Do we have a Noam Chomsky of our own? Would we allow him to survive if he were to appear in our midst? We will be more just in 'using' him against the West if we are prepared to accept his kind as an institution in Pakistan.

"Chomsky, in his publications and in his talks, appears virtually to be a prophet. His job - to unleash the truth. He answers questions and raises many more. Leaves many to us to ponder and find answers to. He invariably holds a mirror not just to America or to Pakistan but to any people and nation he visits or who choose to read him.

"And in the wake of his truth, he gathers his ever-increasing flocks and universalises many contentious contemporary issues even as he himself remains marginalised from the mainstream process. As Rainer Maria Rilke says in Letters to a Young Poet - 'Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into answers'."

The visit of the 'rebel without a pause' brought out some passionate write-ups in the Urdu press as well. The Editor of the well-known Urdu daily Ausaf, Hamid Mir, known for his pro-Taliban sentiments, bemoaned Chomsky's visit on another count. In his column, Mir said that while Muslims around the world were facing repression, there was no voice in the entire Muslim world that could effectively counter the repression. He said that it was left to an American intellectual, Chomsky, to take up the job. "His courage is a matter of satisfaction for those whose own intellectuals, politicians and rulers have become puppets in the hands of imperialism. Noam Chomsky's popularity in Pakistan is evidence of our own ideological bankruptcy. We can only wish to have such a poet, writer and intellectual who could play his role in the country."

Someone in the audience in Islamabad asked Chomsky the following question: The U.S. Envoy in Pakistan has praised Musharraf a lot; was the U.S. serious about restoration of democracy in the country? Chomsky answered that there was a time when the U.S. praised Saddam Hussain for being its ally in the war against Iran. But what happened later? It showered bombs on Iraq. It played Suharto against Sukarno in Indonesia in the same manner and later humiliated the military dictator.

At least two Federal Ministers, Dr. Ataur Rehman and Abbas Sarfaraz, came to listen to Chomsky in Islamabad. But they appeared uncomfortable in the face of Chomsky's plain-talk. When Chomsky asserted that the U.S. President was a bigger terrorist than Osama bin Laden, as the former had no proof against Osama while the killing of innocent people in Afghanistan was the proof against President Bush, people in the hall clapped.

"But the two Ministers were looking at each other, as this clapping could cause damage to that 'national interest' for which we, along with the U.S., have brought the Northern Alliance to power in Afghanistan," Mir wrote.

"Last night I hailed Chomsky at a reception for his courageous stand. He laughed and replied that he said nothing new. According to him, he was saying the same that the people of Pakistan had in their hearts and minds. The only difference, he said, is that if you compare Musharraf with Saddam and Suharto, you would have to face charges of rebellion. But when I say, he continued, the people would appreciate and clap, as I have an American passport. In fact, some Pakistani intellectuals deserved the praise that you are giving to me, he added. I am receiving all praise because nobody in your country has the courage. Noam Chomsky has embarrassed us," wrote the editor of Ausaf.

That Chomsky had hit his country where it hurts most was evident from the reaction of the U.S. coalition spokesperson, Ambassador Kenton W. Keith, to the lecture tour of Chomsky. When a reporter wanted him to answer some of the questions raised by Chomsky on the war in Afghanistan, Ambassador Keith paused and said: "I have stopped commenting on Chomsky since 1963. He is a boring lecturer." He said this amid giggles from the American Information Centre staff in Islamabad.

An event in Kolkata

cover-story

Noam Chomsky's four-day visit to the West Bengal capital, as a State guest, was marked by intellectual engagement. The honours he was conferred and the enthusiastic popular response he received reflected the respect for his intellectual calibre and positions on issues.

SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY KALYAN CHAUDHURI in Kolkata

AFTER more than five years since his last visit to Kolkata in January 1996, Professor Noam Chomsky was in the city again, as a State guest of the Government of West Bengal. The celebrated linguist, social thinker and political analyst has always had a special place in the hearts of the scholars and socially aware citizens of Kolkata, and the turnout at his lectures and the appreciation of what he said were ample proof that their affection and respect for him remain deep. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee captured the sentiment when he said: "Professor Chomsky, you must know that you are, and will remain, a very dear and respected person for us."

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Chomsky, accompanied by wife Carol Chomsky, herself a renowned linguist, was in Kolkata for four days. In his short but eventful stay in the city, Chomsky visited historical sights, took a boat ride on the Hooghly and met many people. However, for the people of Kolkata, Chomsky's lecture - "September 11 and its Aftermath: Where is the World Heading?" - delivered at the Science City auditorium on November 20, was the high point of his tour. That his appeal is not restricted to the scholarly few was evident from the diverse nature of the crowd that flocked to the auditorium. One could see academics, ordinary people, students in T-shirts and jeans with satchels slung across their shoulders, all impatiently waiting outside the auditorium for the gates to open.

In his long lecture, Chomsky, whom the Chief Minister called the "conscience of America and the friend of the oppressed all over the world", came down heavily on the United States and accused it of perpetrating terrorism throughout the world. He argued that terrorist acts are actually carried out by the powerful upon the weak rather than the other way round. "It is a very serious analytical error to say that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Like other means of violence, it is primarily the weapon of the strong, overwhelmingly. It is a weapon of those against 'us', whoever 'us' happens to be," he said.

He said the new millennium saw two major crimes - the attack on the World Trade Centre (WTC) and the U.S.' inhuman response to it in Afghanistan. He said that the war in Afghanistan, precipitated by the U.S., was a greater terrorist act than the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, as the consequences of the former have been far more grave, affecting hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. "No doubt Washington could have attained authorisation of the Security Council and have gone about the whole thing in a different manner, rather than taking matters into its own hands," Chomsky said. He did not spare U.S.' allies in the war and said that England and France shared an imperial legacy "that legitimises the attack on a weaker force".

He said the situation in Afghanistan looked very grim. "People in Afghanistan have for long been surviving on international aid. At the moment there are over 7.5 million Afghans facing starvation in the country and this war will only make matters worse." He said next year would be even harder for the poor in Afghanistan as the U.S. bombings have affected over 80 per cent of the grain supply in the country. Blaming the media for not exposing the extreme suffering and the real tragedy of the war victims in Afghanistan, he said: "The major atrocities have not been reported , and will not be either; one can be sure about that." The media are too busy projecting the war as America's campaign against terrorism. He said that eradicating the forces of terrorism is a "noble enterprise, and nothing new". He referred to the Reagan Administration's condemnation of terrorism - "the depraved opponents of civilisation" - and reminded the audience of the U.S.-sponsored terrorism that was in full flow during the Reagan years, including steps taken to oust the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. He added that this once again proved how world politics was ruled by force.

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Carol and Noam Chomsky being shown around the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata.

Chomsky criticised the reasoning behind the claim that the U.S. attack was an act of defence. He said that the U.S.' policy of complete "dominance of space" was to ensure that even "poor man's weapons" will not be available to any of its adversaries. He said that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a unipolar world had heightened U.S. hegemony.

Chomsky said that globalisation had taken on a much narrower meaning over the last 20 years than it had earlier. "It is designed for the concentration of power in select hands." According to him, the need for total dominance of space will increase as the expansion of globalisation and the neo-liberal economic policies further the gap between the haves and the have-nots. "As this gap increases, there will be unrest among the have-nots, and the U.S. plans to control that unrest." He said that the term "neo-liberal policies" was a misnomer. "They are neither new nor are they liberal", and liberalisation itself is being shaped into an instrument of power. "Liberalisation is actually eating into the core of democracy," he said.

Chomsky said that the claim of the U.S. that globalisation had brought about an economic boom in the 1990s was fallacious as it had failed in Mexico and other Latin American countries and even in the U.S. Chomsky said that in order to counter this, the U.S., through the might of arms, was trying to gain a position of control, and hence it had to continue with its satellite-based ballistic nuclear-missile programme. With the aid of its policies of globalisation, U.S. hegemony has reached a point where "it is now a threat to human survival". "Even the environment, which preserves human lives, is getting destroyed," he said.

Chomsky said that there was a trend among the less-developed countries to arm themselves to the teeth, as is evident from China's resumption of nuclear tests. He strongly criticised China's sale of warheads to Pakistan. "I am afraid that the continuing war plans would prompt India and Pakistan to procure weapons."

Chomsky observed that the economic system in the U.S. was meant to protect the interests of the opulent at the cost of the poor. The "permanent interest" of the country is defined as the interest of the rich. Chomsky pointed out that because the policies catered more to the rich, the poor were generally victims of deprivation and unfairness.

However, Chomsky said, there were some positive developments the world over. A recognition of human rights is growing among people the world over and there are growing movements against free-trade regimes, deprivation and injustice. Only if such movements spread can a positive change in the world order be brought about.

DURING his previous visit to West Bengal, Chomsky had visited villages in Medinipur district to interact with the office-bearers and members of various panchayats. In an interesting comment on the experience, he said that what he saw was "an example of democratic participation that is not easy to find" (Frontline, February 23, 1996). This time, he saw the city of Kolkata. On November 21, Chomsky and his wife visited the Victoria Memorial and took an extensive tour of the art galleries inside. He also took a two-hour boat ride on the Hooghly - one of the symbols of the city and a source of sustenance for many people - and saw life on the banks of the river, including the Chhat Puja celebrations on that particular day. Although pursued by the press throughout, he politely made it clear that the Chomskys' day of tourism was a private one. He even managed to give the press the slip and walk around unnoticed in New Market, a marketplace that is more than 100 years old and still thriving and teeming with life.

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On November 22, Calcutta University, the oldest university in India, conferred the degree of Doctor of Literature on Chomsky for his outstanding contributions in the fields of linguistics and social sciences. Receiving the degree from Vice-Chancellor Asis Kumar Banerjee, Chomsky said he was happy to receive the honour in the land where his subject had its origin. "The first generative grammar in the modern sense was Panini's grammar," he said. In a 10-minute speech of masterly conciseness, Chomsky presented an overview of the present state of knowledge in the field of linguistics and modern discoveries made in the field.

The same day, the Asiatic Society of India presented him with the Rabindranath Tagore Birth Centenary Plaque. Past recipients of the award, instituted in 1961, include Bertrand Russell, C.V. Raman, Satyendranath Bose, Satyajit Ray, Neils Bohr and S. Chandrasekhar. Receiving the plaque, Chomsky said: "It is a rare and unexpected honour and one that I shall always treasure."

Later, he visited the manuscripts section of the Asiatic Society. The section consists of a collection of 45,000 rare manuscripts in 21 languages and 42 scripts. Among the inscriptions in the section, the most fascinating is an Asokan edict written in Brahmi. Chomsky was particularly impressed with an 18th century palm-leaf manuscript containing commentaries on Panini's grammar. In the guest book, he wrote: "A remarkable collection." He encouraged the Society to "go ahead with your academic programme based on these rare source materials on Indian civilisation".

In his interactive session with intellectuals in the city, he spoke extensively on various social, political and philosophical issues. Presiding over the interactive session was the eminent economist Amiya Kumar Bagchi, who referred to Chomsky as one of the most amazing minds in the world today. "He is a beacon for lesser people who are also intellectuals. The only person in my time, I think, who can be compared with him is perhaps Bertrand Russell," Bagchi said.

In reply to a question, Chomsky said that no solution was possible to the present crisis in Kashmir without democratic participation being assured to the people of Kashmir. He observed that India would not stand to gain much from the series of diplomatic exchanges between Washington and Delhi after the September 11 incidents. "The U.S. was all praise for India in August and dismissed Pakistan as a rogue state. But it quickly changed its stand and now with the war in Afghanistan Pakistan has become one of its closest friends." He said that the U.S. was known for continuously shifting its stand to suit its own interest. Saddam Hussain of Iraq was once considered a 'good guy' by the U.S.; but now he is considered a rogue. He said the war on terrorism was not a clash between civilisations as the U.S. was fighting its own creation.

Chomsky strongly condemned any form of religious fundamentalism. At the same time, he observed that the "root of all radical versions of religious extremism lies in the fact that these extremists have been consistently denied participation in social and political affairs in their respective countries. The way to put an end to this menace is to provide education to develop an altogether different culture".

On a question relating to his theories of anarchism, he said the word 'anarchism' had long been misinterpreted. "I believe any hierarchical structure has to justify its existence. If it can not do so, it should be dismantled to increase the scope of human freedom. If my four-year-old granddaughter should rush out into a busy street, I will use both authority and physical coercion to stop her from doing so. But I will be able to justify my act," Chomsky said. Asked about the role of force, he replied that the "use of force requires enormous justification. But if it can be justified, it should be used".

When asked what suggestions he would give to individuals who are trying to raise questions and challenge conventional doctrines, Chomsky said: "It's the same advice you'd give to a young scientist. Be honest, be thoughtful, be creative."

Order out of chaos

Quiver by Javed Akhtar, poems and ghazals translated from Urdu by David Mathews, HarperCollins Publishers, India; pages 251, Rs.350.

WHO but Javed Akhtar would have taken Mother Teresa head on:

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On the one hand you sympathise with the oppressedBut on the otherYou are not abashed by their oppressor?But this is true,How dareI ask you such things?If I ask,Then I shall have the responsibilityfrom which so far I have escaped.Perhaps it is better to keep silent,And if there is anything to say,Let me say this one thing:Mother Teresa!I cannot deny your greatness.

Quiver, in its English avatar, was released in New Delhi recently, with much fanfare by the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, our latest icon, and Amitabh Bachchan, our enduring icon.

I came to Javed Akhtar's poetry late in my life. I am not acquainted with his film work. His wife, the vivacious and beautiful Shabana Azmi, I know a little and much enjoyed the English film in which she all but over-shadowed Shirley Maclaine.

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Javed Akhtar's volume is adorned by an autobiographical essay, 121-124 pages long, in which he both reveals and conceals himself. For the first 30 years of his life, being uprooted had become a normal condition. Then Bombay, after a false start, gave him his break, initially as a script-writer, and then followed poetry. I know about his political affiliations and of them. They constantly appear in his ghazals and verses.

The translator's introduction tells us much about Akhtar's art, craft and life. Quiver or Tarkash is overflowing with deep love, emotion and social indignation. His outrage at injustices is apparent throughout the volume. And philosophy is not missing.

I am not competent to judge the quality of the poems (after all I am reading them in translation) but I have enjoyed them, and was deeply moved by several of them. Here and there he turns the passing into the everlasting. in some there is a hint of erotic communion - or am I mistaken? Some appear simple but carry complex propositions. Did Akhtar find the finest part of his nature and its fulfilment after meeting his second, lovely wife or before? He says he was born a poet, but started writing poetry late.

Poets may not rule the world, but the very best (and Akhtar is from the top drawer) do touch the most significant parts of our lives, they create order out of chaos (in a few words) whether in the self or in society, or in knowledge or in the arts. But enough of tautology. Now over to Javed Akhtar who is only in his mid-fifties and has miles to go...

My house has been surrounded with high buildings,I have been robbed of my share of the sun today.

* * *

All of us are just one step from happiness,In every house we always seem to lack one room.Interesting, but never truthful, you and me!We seem quite good, but we're not good at all you see.It may take endless time to reach a distant goal,But slipping back does not take any time at all.

"Hunger" is about his near destitute days in Bombay, prior to his hitting the jackpot.

I see a pipe, I see a tap,But why then is the water hard?It seems as if a blow is thrustAgainst my stomach.Now I feel I might faintAnd sweat engulfs my bodyI have no strength leftThree days today!Three days today.I was very clever then,And you were very cunning too,First we thought it was a gameNow you love me, and I love you.

The translator has quite obviously done a first-rate job. He knows Urdu as well as it is possible for a foreigner (actually the Republic of Letters recognises no such label) to know. And he understands the complex simplicity of Javed Akhtar's poetry. Here is a discerning comment:

"In Urdu Poetry, especially in the ghazal, of which twenty-three examples are found in this anthology, words such as gham (grief), dard (pain), khalish (pricking), aafat (disaster), and tanhai (loneliness), are almost obligatory. The concepts of firaq (separation) and its opposite, the unattainable visal (union with the beloved), have always been part of the tradition."

A word about R. K. Mehra, the head of HarperCollins, India. He comes from a book-loving publishing family. He also owns Rupa. Quiver is beautifully produced.

Ills of a draft policy

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

Draft National Health Policy mentions the ills that characterise the country's public health care system but fails to provide satisfactory solutions.

"The current annual per capita public health expenditure in the country is no more than Rs. 160."

- from Draft National Health Policy-2001.

THE Draft National Health Policy, which was released in August, has come under fire from several quarters. The first salvo came from the Jana Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), an organisation dealing with public health issues. It has been close to 18 years since the last health policy was framed in 1983. Therefore the decision of the Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare to frame a health policy document went largely unopposed though there were complaints of lack of consultation prior to the drafting stage.

Overall the draft policy, while emphasising federal principles and decentralisation in terms of public health and the role of State governments, is silent on how to remedy the ills of the public health care system. The blueprint for the system lacks the kind of vision that would ensure that marginalised populations have access to health care in the future. An assessment of the public health infrastructure has to be more than just platitudes and should take forward the objective of making equitable health for all a reality. The draft policy acknowledges some of the possible ills in the health care system. However, it fails in its basic function of including the fiscally starved State governments as well as people working in the area of community health in the task of addressing issues of public health.

The Ministry put the draft proposal on its Website and invited comments from the various forums concerned with health-related issues. The JSA, an umbrella organisation of 18 national networks dealing with community health and people's science, responded with a comprehensive critique of the draft policy. While welcoming the government's initiative, the JSA has drafted an alternative policy document which incorporates some valuable suggestions but excludes aspects that, in the JSA's opinion, misrepresent the situation. Members of the JSA met recently to review the policy document within the framework of the people's health charter evolved at a "national people's health assembly" held in Kolkata in December 2000. The health assembly was essentially a reiteration of the commitment of "Health for all - Now". The people's health charter included, among other things, a 'basic needs' approach and the need to confront the commercialisation of medical education and health care, issues that the people's health assembly expected the national health policy to address.

While the draft makes several candid admissions - for instance, it acknowledges the high levels of morbidity and mortality and the poor functioning and severe underfunding of health services - it is silent about a strategy to make comprehensive health care available to all. It expresses concern about the impact of Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and globalisation policies on health and recommends a higher level of expenditure on primary health care; however, it lacks a comprehensive analysis of why National Health Policy-1983 failed. One of the primary premises of the 1983 policy was that India is committed to attaining the goal of "Health for All by the Year 2000 A.D." through the universal provision of comprehensive primary health care services. The words 'comprehensive' and 'universal' are missing in the Draft Health Policy of 2001.

The historic Alma Ata declaration, in which many governments have committed themselves to a "Health for All" strategy, is not even mentioned in the 2001 document. Government representatives from over 100 countries attended the World Health Assembly at Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, in 1978 and committed themselves to making comprehensive health care available to everybody, highlighted primary health care as a priority area, and acknowledged that in the matter of health care there were certain socio-economic determinants too that had to be dealt with. It was for the first time that health was not treated as a biomedical issue, said Amit Sen Gupta of the All India People's Science Network, one of the groups in the JSA. The 1983 policy had initiated a phased, time-bound programme to set up a well-dispersed network of comprehensive primary health care services, among other things.

Another area where the Union government has been criticised is its inability to involve the State governments in the drafting of the document. Even the Central Council of Health and Family Welfare, an apex body of representatives from all State Health Departments, was not consulted. Also, the one month that was given to elicit comments and suggestions on the draft was deemed inadequate, especially in view of the fact that the draft policy remained in the drafting stage for three years. Public and community health organisations like the JSA believe that the government acted in a hurry to secure approval for the draft, even without going through a consultative process with the State governments.

THE policy document brings to light several unpalatable features, such as the unacceptably high morbidity and mortality levels, the resurgence of malaria, especially of the deadly P-Falciparum type, and the dominant presence of tuberculosis and the growing of drug resistance in the types of infection prevalent in the country. In addition, water-borne diseases such as gastroenteritis, cholera and some forms of Hepatitis continue to contribute to the high levels of morbidity among the population. While the concern and facts are genuine enough, the remedies seem lopsided. For one, it blames the failure of the public health system for the unsatisfactory health indices. The draft policy admits that the investment in public health over the years has been comparatively low and has declined as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product to 0.9 per cent in 1999. The linkages between policy and ground realities are missing. The Central budgetary allocation as a percentage of the total Central Budget over a 10-year period has been stagnant at 1.3 per cent while in the States it declined from 7 to 5.5 per cent. Given these figures, the current annual per capita health expenditure works out to a paltry Rs.160.

The need for the universalisation of public health services has been substituted by a new concern - decentralisation of public health services. The intent, as is evident in the sub-section "Delivery of national public health programmes" in the draft policy, is a decentralised public health machinery. The obsession with vertically structured programmes is evident in the draft, which states categorically that the role of the Central government in designing broad-based public health initiatives will continue especially as the Central government will be responsible for funding additional public health services over a period of time. Interestingly, the policy arrogates to the Central government the areas of technical and managerial expertise for designing large-span public health programmes. The JSA has been especially critical of this overwhelming role of the government as it believes that designing programmes should be the primary responsibility of the State governments.

The Centre, if anything, should play a coordinating role and provide technical and financial support wherever necessary. The JSA, in its alternative draft policy, a copy of which has been submitted to Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare C.P. Thakur, suggests that in the long run it is a more sustainable option to integrate disease control strategies within the decentralised primary health care network, which should be linked to adequate secondary and tertiary support services.

On the section dealing with the public health infrastructure, JSA draft suggests that the primary health centres (PHCs) have been reduced to centres for family planning aid and immunisation. It is this situation, coupled with inadequate facilities, that has resulted in less than 20 per cent of the population seeking out-patient department services and less than 45 per cent availing itself of treatment as in-patients in public hospitals. The draft policy, while outlining the poor infrastructure facilities in public hospitals, including the shortage of medical and paramedical personnel, glosses over the relentless pursuit of "family planning and immunisation" goals by the PHCs. This aspect is mentioned in the alternative draft.

The draft policy suggests the need for specialists in "public health" and "family medicine" and agrees that the current curricula for graduate/post-graduate medical degrees are outdated and unrelated to contemporary community needs. "Contemporary needs" should be spelt out, given the ambiguity of the phrase. The JSA draft contends that the long-standing objective of the health movement has been to limit specialisation and re-orient undergraduate education to equip doctors to address the health needs of the common people. However, by suggesting the introduction of another course in family medicine and even specialisation in public health, the draft policy inadvertently encourages the craze for specialisation.

The draft policy is silent on the issue of private medical colleges and the need to regulate them. Similarly, on the question of medical research, it focusses more attention on frontier areas of research, calling them the thrust areas. This, the JSA draft observes, does not take into account the need to initiate and sustain research in public health. There is also no mention of the need to regulate medical research and develop ethical criteria.

The effect of TRIPS is discussed in the context of a possible impact on drug prices but there is no mention of any such impact on medical research. While lamenting that investment in public health has been comparatively low, the draft policy fails even to record that such investment as a percentage of health expenditure was perhaps the lowest in the world and that the country has the world's most privatised health system. The policy's prescription to raise the current health expenditure from 0.9 per cent of GDP to 2 per cent in 2010 fell drastically short of the health movement's demand that the expenditure should be nothing less than 5 per cent of GDP.

The JSA has objected to what it calls "prescriptions for further privatisation" of an already highly privatised health care system. The proposal in the draft policy to levy "user fees" at public hospitals, so that those who can afford to should be made to pay, would only serve to drive out the poorer sections. The government wants to shift the burden on the secondary and tertiary sectors while strengthening the primary health care sector by increased resource allocation.

The cursory mention of mental health given the tragic events at Erwadi in Tamil Nadu involving the death of 28 mental patients (Frontline, August 31, 2001), the casual treatment of women's health and the total absence of any mention of children's health have surprised activists in the health movement. The socio-cultural and economic factors that determine access to health care, particularly by women, are glossed over in the draft policy. The JSA's draft, however, contends that women's health issues go way beyond problems related to "child bearing" and the "reproductive tract" and that the entire gamut of problems faced in a patriarchal society has to be considered. Given the fact that more than half the children under five in India are malnourished, it is surprising that questions of their nutrition and subsequent well-being do not find even a fleeting mention in the draft. On the other hand, the policy draft does re-emphasise the connection between population stabilisation and improved health indices. It states: "The synchronised implementation of these two policies - National Population Policy-2000 and National Health Policy - 2001 - will be the very cornerstone of any national structural plan to improve the health standards in the country."

What is required is a paradigm shift, a shift away from the apparent panaceas of population stabilisation and private sector participation in the health sector. But the language continues to be the same. It is couched in platitudes with little or minimal emphasis on rejuvenating, strengthening and making effective the primary health care sector. This, according to the draft policy, is closely linked with the quality of public health services, which is in turn reflected in improved public health indices.

For decentralised development

The panchayati raj institutions should be strengthened in order to enhance the quality of development and democracy in the country.

THERE is a critical need to dovetail the constitutional mandate of decentralised governance with multi-level planning and multi-level public finance in the country. Now that the Ninth Plan has failed in this task, the Tenth Plan (2002-07) has to make some important policy choices. That the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments meant to usher in decentralised governance coincided with the inauguration of the economic reform process in the country cannot be dismissed as a matter of chance. That market-mediated economic growth per se cannot promote balanced regional development in a country as spatially diverse as India and that the market by its inherent logic excludes those without exchange entitlements, are compelling reasons to highlight the significance of bottom-up planning for "economic development and social justice", now laid down in Articles 243G, and 243W of the Constitution. Along with this one has to read Article 243ZD providing for the creation of district planning committees (DPCs) and the federal finance provisions laid down in Articles 243I, 243Y and 280(bb) and (c) of the Constitution. By providing for the representation of the socially excluded categories such as women, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) and for the institution of the assembly of voters (the gram sabha), the necessary conditions for participatory planning are also well laid down.

By mandating the panchayats to prepare 'plans for economic development and social justice' based on area planning, the Constitution facilitates micro-plans that form the building blocks of a large part of macro-development plans at the State and national level. The cardinal consideration in a multi-layered federation like India is the well-known principle of subsidiarity, namely, that the functions which can be performed well at a particular level should be done at that level and not at a higher level. The country has failed in this task, with overlapping structures worsening the situation.

The third stratum of local self-government is only an extension of the second, of course with significant exceptions such as Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. Despite the emergence of regional parties at the Centre, the Union government continues to uphold a quasi-federation, choosing to have its finger in every pie.

The Constitution has assigned a key role to the DPCs. The Planning Commission and the State Planning Boards are not constitutional or statutory bodies. Even so, they have a constitutional responsibility to put the decentralisation planning process and agenda on the map of India's federal polity. The Ninth Plan has failed in this respect. Will the Tenth Plan unfold a different story?

The creation of a large number of programmes (currently, there are more than 200 schemes) called centrally sponsored schemes (CSSs), sponsored by the Union Ministries, has considerably distorted the multi-level planning process and inter-governmental transfer arrangements in India's federation because they deal with subjects included in the State List and the 'local' list mentioned in the 11th and 12th Schedules. The share of CSSs in the Plan budget of the Union Ministries has shot up to 70 per cent against a level of less than 30 per cent in the early 1980s. Not only has this happened at the expense of investments in priority areas like infrastructure, but CSSs have by and large bypassed the decentralised planning process. The matching provision of 25 per cent share by a State results in diversion of funds from priority areas by the States and even in fudging. These distortions become more glaring when one notes that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in his 1999 report has vehemently criticised "the wanton abuse of authority", gross misuse of public resources, indifferent implementation by States, cooking up of outcomes, concealing of shortcomings and other problems in the implementation of the CSSs. This may be seen along with the MPs' local area funds to the tune of Rs.1,000 crores (given to every Member of Parliament at the rate of Rs.2 crores), the MLA funds at the disposal of State legislators and the demand for extending this privilege to all the representatives of local self-governments whose number in the panchayats alone is over 3.4 million. It is high time that these distortions are rectified and rationality and constitutional propriety brought into fiscal federalism and multi-level planning in the country.

THE best bet to ensure basic minimum services of comparable quality to every citizen irrespective of his or her choice of location of residence is the institution of panchayats. In fact, the Tenth Plan Approach Paper (September 2001) has set several targets - such as, by 2007, all children to complete 5 years of schooling; reduction of gender gaps in literacy by 50 per cent by 2007; increase in literacy rate to 75 per cent in the Plan period; reduction of infant mortality rate to 45 per 1,000 births by 2007; all villages to have access to drinking water in the Plan period; reduction of poverty ratio by 5 percentage points, and so on. These targets can be achieved and sustained only with the active involvement of the panchayati raj institutions (PRIs).

But are these institutions on a sustainable path? If the facts relating to the 'decentralisation of panchayati raj institutions' contained in the Mid-term Appraisal of the Ninth Plan (October 2000) are to be believed, they are not. The big State of Bihar has thwarted the decentralisation process. As of date 11 States have not yet constituted DPCs. It is only in Kerala that the DPCs are alive and operational in all the districts as part of a decentralised planning process. Should development assistance under such a circumstance be automatic? If moving towards decentralised governance is a desirable objective, development assistance has to be linked to its progress.

To make the decentralisation process a viable and sustainable part of the Indian federation, PRIs should be made fiscally autonomous (raising at least 40 to 50 per cent of their expenditure requirements on their own). This is a function of tax assignments, revenue efforts by PRIs and the stage of development of the panchayat area. Moreover, given the shared responsibilities in a federation, every tier of government should play its rightful role in prudent fiscal management and generate some balance from current revenue (BCR) after meeting current expenditure. The BCR of States deteriorated steadily from the mid-1980s and turned negative from 1992-93, reaching an all-time high deficit of Rs.32,306 crores in 2000-01. The contribution of BCR to the financing of State Plans which was as high as 28 per cent in the Sixth Plan has fallen to (-) 52 per cent. This is to be seen against the fact that the States' overall debt has increased eight-fold to Rs.4.18 lakh crores in 2000-01 entailing a heavy interest burden. No wonder that out of every Rs.100 borrowed, Rs.60 is being used to meet current expenditures. This has meant drastically cutting down on capital expenditure.

The States' Plan expenditure has fallen from 27 per cent of the total States' expenditure in the Sixth Plan to 19 per cent in the Ninth Plan. The share of States in overall Plan expenditure has fallen from 52 per cent in the Fifth Plan to 37 per cent in the Ninth Plan. This will seriously affect the planning process of PRIs, many of which are still dependent on State grants. In many States there are engineers with no money for construction or maintenance, doctors without medicines, officers without funds to travel and supervise, teachers without school buildings and highly paid officers without departmental allocations, facts that render them functionally superfluous. Indeed, all these are but a waste of resources.

While the committed expenditure of the States mounted during the 1990s, the States' own revenue-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio declined. This happened when following the economic reform, especially after 1997-98, the tax-GDP ratio of the Union government too declined, significantly affecting the actual size of devolution under the Finance Commission awards.

Equally disturbing has been the poor financial performance and weak revenue base of the PRIs. A calculation made on the basis of data contained in the Eleventh Finance Commission's Report shows that the tax-GDP ratio of PRIs in 1997-98 was a pitiably low 0.025. The historical trend assuming a compound growth rate shows that the ratio declines to 0.021 in 2006-07, the terminal year of the Tenth Plan. This trend has to be reversed significantly through appropriate tax assignments and tax efforts. The local bodies, the States and the Union government will have to step up their revenue efforts along with an effective expenditure management to enable all borrowed funds to find their way into the building of really productive projects and programmes that yield remunerative returns. This is the only solution to the financial malaise facing the country.

Based on certain physical norms, unit cost, inflation rate and so on, the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) has calculated the capital and operation and maintenance (O&M) cost for drinking water supply, rural sanitation, street lighting, primary education, primary health care and rural roads, all of which are considered as core basic services, for five years (2000-05). This works out to Rs.225,731 crores. The PRIs cannot be expected to raise even a small part of this resource.

Most of the basic service targets mentioned in the Approach Paper may remain unrealised. Here again, empowering the PRIs can offer a useful answer. The NIRD estimates of expenditure for core services are made on the basis of a supply-driven delivery model where the governments bear all the costs. Under the present dispensation towards decentralised governance, and the market-mediated regime under way, one viable alternative is a demand-driven model where the community bears part of the cost. (For example, bearing the entire cost of O&M as in the World Bank-funded drinking water projects in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. The Olavanna Panchayat model of Kerala where capital and O&M costs are shared by the community is a case in point). However, this requires substantial strengthening of the decentralised governance process.

To sum up, the constitutional mandate of a third stratum of government must be given a fair trial in the country. Although political decentralisation has made some progress, the country has miles to go on the road to decentralised governance. The PRIs remain the Achilles heel in the Indian federal polity today. They must be made vital instruments in enhancing the quality of development and democracy in the country. This is a critical challenge before the Tenth Plan.

M.A. Oommen is Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Professor of Development Economics and Decentralised Planning at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

A nuclear wedge

M.V. RAMANA science-and-technology

The reported move by India to deploy nuclear weapons opens up the possibilities of accidental or unauthorised use of the weapons, nuclear accidents and development of more weapons as a result of inter-service rivalry.

AS the United States mobilised its armed forces in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the world's attention was focussed on Pakistan, especially its nuclear weapons. Addressing the nation, President Pervez Musharraf proclaimed that the "safety of nuclear missiles" was one of his priorities. The Bush administration began to consider providing Pakistan with perimeter security and other assistance to guard its nuclear facilities. There were even reports that U.S. and Israeli commandos had been training together to snatch Pakistan's nuclear weapons if the need arose.1 Given the current instability in the region, the fact that Pakistan had not deployed its nuclear weapons prior to September 11 is something to be thankful about.

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It is ironical that at such a time Indian officials seem to be going ahead with the process of deploying nuclear weapons on missiles. According to a report in The Pioneer, a seminar organised by the Army Training Command at the School of Artillery near Nashik will see scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and top personnel of the artillery wing of the Army focussing attention on the nuclear weaponisation of the Agni missile.2 The report follows several articles revealing that such a process was under way. Following the second test of Agni-II on January 17, 2001, an official statement said that the missile was tested in its "final operational configuration", that is, the "ready for battle" status.3 On January 25, V.K. Atre, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, announced that Agni would be inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) by the end of the year. Asked if it would be fitted with a nuclear warhead, Atre reportedly said, "Obviously."4 In his speech to the Parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to the Ministry of Defence on May 31, Defence Minister Jaswant Singh announced that Agni would be inducted into the Indian armed forces by 2002.5 It was also reported at the same time that the government had given the go-ahead for the development of missiles with a longer range under the Agni project.6 These are disturbing developments.

At least three dangers would result from deployment. The first, and the most worrisome, danger is that deployment opens up the possibility of nuclear weapons being used accidentally or by unauthorised persons, especially during a crisis. With the ongoing low-level war in Kashmir, and the current destabilising events in Pakistan, crises are bound to occur. Deployment will almost inevitably involve delegating authority to military officers on the field to make the decision about using nuclear weapons, partly because of the poor state of communications. (It is reported that the Boeing 737-200 that took Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on his three-nation tour did not have the facility that would allow him to call a number directly from the aircraft.7

The possibility of unauthorised use is only going to increase with time, since it is likely that the ranks of the Indian military, like those of the Pakistani military, may include persons who are sympathetic to fundamentalist causes. While Pakistan has a two-decade lead in this process, thanks to the U.S. channelling through Pakistan its funds to the Islamic fundamentalist groups fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the saffronisation of the Indian polity would certainly have affected its armed forces. Investigations into the riots that erupted after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, especially those in Mumbai, revealed such a trend in the police force and in the Provincial Armed Constabulary. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has never hidden its desire to use nuclear weapons against Pakistan.

During the Kargil War, Panchjanya, the RSS mouthpiece, proclaimed: "The time has come again for India's Bheema to tear open the breasts of these infidels and purify the soiled tresses of Draupadi with blood. Pakistan will not listen just like that. We have a centuries-old debt to settle with this mindset. It is the same demon that has been throwing a challenge at Durga since the time of Mahammad bin Qasim. Arise Atal Behari! Who knows if fate has destined you to be the author of the final chapter of this long story. For what have we manufactured bombs? For what have we exercised the nuclear option?"8 Given such exhortations, if a military officer sympathetic to the RSS is authorised to use nuclear weapons, then the possibility of his launching a weapon against Pakistan cannot be ruled out.

It is the threat of unauthorised use that command and control systems are supposed to avert. However, even the most advanced command and control systems are not foolproof. The complexities involved in preparing for all contingencies, especially given the short flying times for Indian and Pakistani missiles and airplanes to each other's territory, would almost inexorably allow the launch of nuclear weapons without authorisation, making a mockery of the stated commitment not to be the first side to use nuclear weapons.

Thanks to the deployment of their nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Russia live in perpetual fear of a first strike and hence have put in place elaborate early-warning systems. Multiple satellites monitor the world, looking for signals of missile launches. Once any missile is detected, early-warning radars would take over and follow its trajectory and pass on the data to processing centres. After checking for possible error, the information is conveyed to senior decision-makers - all this within a few minutes. During the next few minutes, decision-makers could discuss the likelihood of the attack being real. If no other explanations could be found for the signals, the President would be notified and he could call the other side to check if there had been an accidental launch of a missile. All this was possible because missiles take about 25 minutes to travel from one country to the other.

Despite the enormous financial and technical resources invested in setting up and operating them, the early-warning systems failed frequently. Information on these failures is largely kept as a secret. It is known, however, that between 1977 and 1984, the early-warning systems in the U.S. made over 1,000 false alarms of missile attacks that were considered serious enough for bombers and missiles to be placed on alert.9 There were similar scares on the Russian side as well. For example, on January 25, 1995, military technicians at several radar stations across northern Russia thought they had seen a missile from a U.S. submarine coming towards Russia. This information was passed on through the chains of command to President Boris Yeltsin who activated the "nuclear briefcase", thus putting Russian forces on high alert. Subsequently, after about eight minutes, senior military officers determined that the "missile" was headed far out to sea. It turned out to be an American scientific probe to study the Northern Lights.10

In the case of South Asia, even if such systems could be set up at costs that the countries in the region could scarcely afford, geography makes them ineffective. India and Pakistan are adjoining nations with a long border and missile and airplane flight times are very short. A Prithvi missile launched from India would take only three to five minutes to reach almost anywhere in Pakistan. A Ghauri missile launched from Pakistan would take about five minutes to reach Delhi. Where then is the time to analyse signals from satellites and radars, or to discuss the threat? How can leaders on both sides check whether a launch is accidental or intentional?

The second potential danger of deployment is accidents involving nuclear weapons themselves or their delivery vehicles such as missiles and aircraft - over and above the risk of accidental nuclear war owing to the failure of early-warning systems and communication and control. An accident involving a nuclear weapon can lead to the dispersal of fissile materials into the atmosphere, which could result in hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the vicinity of the accident site being afflicted with cancer.11

The third danger is the possibility of inter-service competition for the control of nuclear weapons and the consequent increase in requirements for nuclear weapons. In the U.S., for example, a study by the Brookings Institutions, which estimated the cost of the U.S. nuclear weapons programme at $5.5 trillion, concluded that one reason for the astronomical figure was "inter-service rivalry, with the Air Force getting nuclear arms and then the Navy and Army wanting them, too."12 Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll argues that "inter-service rivalry led to the rapid proliferation of nuclear missions... each service acquired its own arsenal of nuclear weapons for every conceivable military mission: strategic bombardment, tactical warfare, anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank rockets and landmines, anti-submarine rockets, torpedoes and depth charges, artillery shells, intermediate range missiles and ultimately intercontinental range land and sea-launched ballistic missiles armed with multiple, thermo-nuclear warheads."13 In such a milieu, "the Air Force, Navy, and Army each assessed their nuclear requirements largely in isolation, without considering the forces of their sister services. This led to duplicative targeting... (and) the problem of overkill."14 A missile-tracking radar near Moscow, for example, is the target of no less than 69 nuclear weapons of the U.S.15

One can already witness inter-service rivalry with respect to nuclear weapons in India. One report traces this to the 1998 National Security Council Advisory Board's Draft Nuclear Doctrine, which recommended a triad of air, mobile land-based, and sea-based assets.16

In May 2001, according to a Press Trust of India report, the Indian government approved plans to deploy the nuclear-capable medium-range missile Agni-II during 2001-2002. Around the same time it was reported that the three wings of India's military were locked in a tussle over who would take over the new post of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), the office that would have its finger on the actual nuclear button.17

More recent reports suggest that the Indian Army is to raise a special missile regiment to induct Agni. The decision was apparently made in June this year and was primarily based on three considerations. First, the Army was the largest of the three forces. Secondly, it had an infrastructure that could be adapted for storing and deploying Agni-II with minimum modifications and cost. Thirdly, it had the maximum experience in handling the Prithvi ballistic missile.18 In response to this decision, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, the Chief of the Air Staff, wrote to Defence Minister Jaswant Singh that the IAF's views had not been incorporated into the CDS structure.19 Joining hands with him was former Chief of the Air Staff O.P. Mehra, who sought an immediate review of the decision allowing the Army to raise a "strategic rocket command".20

The IAF is apparently not enthusiastic about being absorbed in a new tri-service architecture and the formation of a strategic command where all the three services will be equally represented.21 A news report quotes an unnamed IAF official as claiming that the "question whether the Agni should also be given to the IAF is being considered."22 Sometime earlier, Uday Bhaskar, a retired officer of the Indian Navy, who is currently Deputy Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, argued that the nuclear button should be with the Navy since it had "both maritime and aviation roles." Dismissing the IAF's doubts, he argued that these should "not distract us from the inevitability of a CDS."23 Regardless of who wins this battle, if the Draft Nuclear Doctrine's recommendation for a triad is followed, sooner or later all three services are likely to get nuclear weapons of their own - at least if the current plans for deployment are followed.

The next crisis may also see the military encroaching further on the nuclear turf even prior to a concrete decision to deploy. For example, it could request custody of nuclear weapons during the crisis so as to be able to use them at short notice. This follows the pattern seen in the U.S. where the military gained control of nuclear weapons following the Korean War.24 Even if the poorer economies of India and Pakistan do not allow for the reproduction of arsenals of the kind that a superpower has with tens of thousands of weapons, the same qualitative dynamics will obtain in South Asia as well. The induction of the nuclear-capable Agni missile may well be the thin end of the wedge. The time to cut off these developments is now, before the services build up sections with vested interests in maintaining deployed nuclear weapons arsenals and finding targets to justify greater numbers.

REFERENCES

1. Seymour M. Hersh, "Watching The Warheads", The New Yorker, November 5, 2001.

2. Rahul Datta, "Agni to Dominate Agenda", The Pioneer, November 7, 2001.

3. Atul Aneja, "Agni-II Second Test Successful", The Hindu, January 18, 2001.

4. "Agni to be Inducted into Indian Air Force Soon", The Times of India, January 26, 2001.

5. "Agni, Other Missiles to be Inducted by 2002", Deccan Herald, June 1, 2001.

6. "Govt. Okays Longer-range Agni Missiles", The Times of India, June 1, 2001.

7. Bhavna Vij, "Minor embarrassment: Vajpayee cannot dial direct from his aircraft", The Indian Express, November 7, 2001.

8. Panchjanya, June 20, 1999; quoted in The Kargil War by Praveen Swami (LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 1999), p 100.

9. H.L. Abrams, "Strategic Defence and Inadvertent Nuclear War", in Inadvertent Nuclear War: The Implications of the Changing Global Order, ed. H. Wiberg, I.D. Petersen, and P. Smoker (Pergamon, Oxford, 1993), pages 39-55.

10. Bruce G. Blair, Harold A. Feiveson, and Frank von Hippel, "Taking Nuclear Weapons off Hair-Trigger Alert", Scientific American, November 1997.

11. Zia Mian, R. Rajaraman and M. V. Ramana, "Yet another nuclear danger", Frontline, August 4, 2001.

12. Matthew Wald, "Study Puts Total Cost of U.S. Nuclear Arms at $5.48 trillion", The New York Times, July 1, 1998.

13. Eugene Carroll, "United States Policy and Nuclear Abolition", Address to Olaf Palme Institute, May 12, 1998, https://www.wagingpeace.org/articles/carroll-sweden.html.

14. Stephen Schwartz, "Introduction", in Atomic Audit edited by Stephen Schwartz (Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1998), page 24.

15. Carla Anne Robbins and Andrew Higgins, "Russia Holds Key to Bush's Dream of a National Missile Defence System", The Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2001.

16. Rahul Bedi, "India is Developing a Longer-range IRBM", Jane's Missiles and Rockets, April 1, 2001.

17. "India's military branches squabble for control of nuclear button", Sify News, May 15, 2001.

18. Atul Aneja, "India has 'Problems' Managing Nuclear Arms", The Hindu, August 14, 2001.

19. Rahul Bedi, "Indian Army will Control Agni-II", Jane's Defence Weekly, August 22, 2001.

20. "Former Air Chief Seeks Nuclear Command Under IAF", The Times of India, September 10, 2001.

21. As in 18.

22. Rajat Pandit, "Army to Induct Agni Missiles", The Times of India, September 15, 2001.

23. As in 17.

24. See for example Janne Nolan, Guardians of the Arsenal: The Politics of Nuclear Strategy (Basic Books, New York, 1989), pages 50-54.

M.V. Ramana is a research scholar at the Programme on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, U.S.

Desalination thrust

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Kalpakkam science-and-technology

The world's largest sea water hybrid desalination plant to be coupled to a nuclear power station is coming up at Kalpakkam.

THE nuclear power complex at Kalpakkam, about 50 km from Chennai, will soon have a nuclear desalination plant, which will be the world's largest sea water hybrid desalination plant to be coupled to a nuclear power station. It will produce 63 lakh litres of potable water a day using a thermal method and a reverse osmosis (RO) system. While the thermal method will produce 45 lakh litres of drinking water a day, the reverse osmosis system will produce 18 lakh litres. The Rs.40-crore Nuclear Desalination Demonstration Project (NDDP) is being built by the Desalination Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombay.

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Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; Dr. B. Bhattacharjee, Director, BARC; and Dr. B.M. Misra, Head, Desalination Division, BARC, visited the desalination project at Kalpakkam on November 17 and saw the work under way.

According to Misra, the desalination project aims to demonstrate safe and economical production of good quality water by nuclear desalination of sea water; establish indigenous capability in the design, manufacture, installation and operation of such plants; generate necessary design inputs for large-scale nuclear desalination plants; and serve as a demonstration project to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), welcoming participation from interested member-states.

Misra said that desalination would become inevitable by 2025 since the demand for quality drinking water would exceed availability. "That is why the Desalination Division of the BARC has been concentrating its research on this hybrid technology, that is, both thermal/MSF, and RO desalination," he said. BARC was a pioneer in research in desalination and has been engaged in research and development activities in desalination since early 1970s.

THE thermal process is also called multi stage flash (MSF) technology. The RO is called membrane technology as well because it uses a membrane to filter sea water. A nuclear desalination plant is called so because it is erected in a nuclear power station to use sea water, steam and electrical power from the latter.

In the MSF process, evaporated sea water at above atmospheric pressure is led to a lower pressure unit, resulting in the release of vapour which is condensed to get potable water. Reverse osmosis is a membrane process where saline water or effluent water is forced through a semi-permeable membrane at pressure in excess of osmotic pressure and permeate water (passing through the membrane) of potable quality is produced. The semi-permeable membrane is made of polyamide which will reject salt and permeate water. The membrane also rejects micro-organisms.

Since the thermal method requires steam, it is advantageous to erect a desalination plant at a power generating station. Misra said: "Although most of the desalination plants are erected in a power station, they can be constructed at nuclear power stations from which we get sea water, steam and electrical power. It was more economical to site them at nuclear power stations than thermal power stations because the former produces more waste steam that can be used."

Since 1975 the BARC has set desalination plants all over the country, including one on the BARC premises at Trombay. There are four operational plants at the BARC now. While the first plant produces one lakh litres of water a day using the RO method, the second one produces four lakh litres of water a day using the MSF method. The third plant uses the low evaporation technology (LET) method to desalinate water and produces about 30,000 litres of water a day. The fourth plant uses the multiple effect distillation (MED).

According to M.S. Hanra, Coordinator, NDDP (Kalpakkam), BARC, the RO plant at the BARC converted sea water with 35,000 parts per million (ppm) of salt into drinking water with less than 500 ppm of salt. The water was treated further to match the standards prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The BARC had earlier erected desalination plants using RO that produced 5,000 litres and 40,000 litres of water a day. The capacity was gradually stepped up. "Using the same design, we are now building an RO plant at Kalpakkam that can produce 18 lakh litres of drinkable water a day," Hanra said. The BARC was doing research to reduce the energy consumption in desalination plants and get more output through membranes.

The BARC also erected desalination plants in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, the Andaman and Nicobar islands (Port Blair) and Lakshadweep. (All of them used the RO technology.) The aim was to demonstrate the technology in a rural setting. The first plants came up at a village about 40 km from Nellore in Andhra Pradesh, and at Maliga village, Surendra Nagar district, Gujarat. Both produced 30,000 litres of drinking water a day from brackish water. But the plants could not be sustained owing to infrastructural problems, especially because of lack of assured power supply. In Gujarat, while public acceptability of desalination plants was limited, they were well accepted in the industrial sector.

In Tamil Nadu, 12 desalination plants were operated by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) in the coastal Ramanathapuram district. Thus membrane distillation using RO technology has already been established in the country as one of the most reliable processes for the production of potable water from brackish and sea water.

S.R. Jayaraman, Project Engineer (civil), NDDP and Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, said that 80 per cent of the work in the RO part of the NDDP had been completed. The RO would go on stream in March or April 2002. The RO section has huge tanks called modules. There are pressurised filter tanks, three each in two rows. The sea water first undergoes pre-treatment in these tanks. Three pressurised tank filters have three layers of pebbles of different sizes and graded sand inside. There are three other activated carbon filter tanks that also have three layers of pebbles and carbon.

First, sea water will be fed into a clarification system where, with the addition of chemicals, collided and suspended particles in the water will be removed. When this clarified water is fed into pressurised tank filters, all the suspended particles of up to 25 micron would be screened. In activated carbon filter tanks, the organics present will be removed. (Pebbles, sand and carbon remove suspended salt particles.) This water will then be fed into cartridges for filtering and will be chemically treated and fed into the membrane by high pressure pumps. The membrane, made of polymeric material, has pores big and small. When pressure is applied on sea water and sent through the membrane, quality water is produced. That is, when the pressure on the fluid becomes more than the osmotic pressure, sea water loses its salinity. The filtered water undergoes post-treatment with minerals and lime to make it pure water.

Jayaraman said the foundation work for the MSF part of the plant had been completed and the erection of modules would follow. The pump pit, which would house pumps of varying capacity, was getting ready. The pumps would pump the sea water directly from the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) to the modules.

In the MSF system, the sea water is evaporated by using steam. The sea water supply will be met from MAPS. The NDDP will receive sea water from the MAPS' process cooling water outfall. The cooling water is clean as it is filtered through trash track and travelling water screens and it has less biofouling potential. The MSF system will make use of the low pressure steam obtained from the turbines of the MAPS. (The fissioning of the uranium in PHWRs produces intense heat. Sea water is used as the secondary coolant and it cools the heavy water, the primary coolant. The resultant steam drives the turbine to generate power.) The blending of the product water from the RO and MSF plants will produce drinking water.

According to Misra, the MSF technology could be made totally indigenous, commercially attractive and reliable by using innovative design and engineering practices coupled with a robust control system. He added that the NDDP at Kalpakkam would give the BARC the technological confidence to construct nuclear desalination plants that would produce two to five crore litres of pure water a day.

To excise history

The NCERT-mandated censorship of history in certain secondary school textbooks raises disturbing questions.

HISTORICAL scholarship today seemingly faces a piquant choice: history by litigation or history by fiat. Ostensibly troubled by litigation over the contents of history textbooks published under its imprint, the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) recently opted for massive preemptive action. In a mid-October circular, it ordained a purge of sections of the contents of history texts used in secondary schools.

Displaying a meek compliance that stands at variance with its statutory power to set and supervise school syllabi, the autonomous Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) chose within a matter of days to transmit the NCERT fiat to all its affiliated institutions. No explanations were proffered, though when the details of the action emerged to public view late in November, plenty were demanded.

The immediate provocation for the NCERT's extraordinary step was a storm that was raised in the Delhi State Assembly by Congress legislator Arvinder Singh Lovely about the supposed denigration of Tegh Bahadur, revered by Sikhs as a guru of the faith. In an elaborate display of deference towards religious sensibilities, the Assembly adopted a resolution demanding the excision of one sentence from the NCERT text on medieval India authored by the historian Satish Chandra. In seeking to place the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur in historical context, the offending sentence cited "later Persian sources", which argued that "after his return from Assam, the Guru, in association with one Hafiz Adam, a follower of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, had resorted to plunder and rapine, laying waste the whole province of the Punjab".

The legislature's demand was communicated to the NCERT through the Education Department of the Delhi State government, along with a demand that a compliance report be filed. Amidst suggestions from senior political figures that it should be a regular practice to submit history texts to the scrutiny of religious authorities, the NCERT responded with alacrity. It removed not merely the controversial sentence but the entire section on Sikhism in the later medieval period from the text. The consequence could be a gaping hole in the historical understanding, since much of the treatment in the book by Satish Chandra, a former Professor of History at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, is by way of factual narration.

The Persian source is by no means the only text that Satish Chandra relies upon in his interpretation of Guru Tegh Bahadur's execution. After recounting a few other possible explanations, drawn from Sikh tradition as also from regions as far afield as Kashmir, the book cautions that it is "not easy to sift the truth from these conflicting accounts". And it then asserts that irrespective of its true motivations, the action by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was "unjustified from any point of view and betrayed a narrow approach". This is a value-laden historical judgment over which there has been little discord, for reasons which are not too far to seek.

The section on Sikhs then proceeds to a summary description of subsequent events, including the founding of a "military brotherhood", or khalsa, in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh. It records a phase of military conflict with the central authority of the Mughal empire, and suggests that the history of Sikhism shows how "an egalitarian religious movement could, under certain circumstances, turn into a political and militaristic movement, and subtly move towards regional independence".

There could be scholarly arguments over various facets of this two-page summary of Sikh history in the later Mughal period, including its relevance and suitability for a Class XI syllabus. Educationists could dispute the summary presentation of complex historical processes and argue for more detailed expositions. Conceivably, informed debate could also make a case for reinterpretation in the light of subsequently discovered textual evidence.

The NCERT, taking its cue from a very narrowly phrased resolution by the Delhi Assembly, instead opted for complete excision. As its circular to the CBSE makes clear, these sections are not to be "taught or discussed in the classrooms and no questions are to be set in any examination or test to evaluate students' understanding of the content of these portions". In its concern for religious sensibilities, the NCERT has decreed a yawning vacuum in students' understanding of a vital part of later medieval Indian history. As Arjun Dev, former Professor in the NCERT's Humanities Department puts it, "it is as if from 1658 onwards, Sikhs have no existence in medieval India".

PERHAPS the grossest variety of censorship has been reserved for R.S. Sharma's book on ancient India which has been used in Class XI for close to two decades. A section seeking to place the Jain tirthankars in a historical context has been deleted since it tries, in accordance with accepted historical methodology, to unravel the mystique that surrounds prophets in narratives of the faith. It is almost as if the NCERT has decreed that mythological time cannot be cast in chronological terms, that received religious legends should be impervious to the inquiring mind.

The same principle seems to be implicitly at work in the removal of Sharma's analysis of the historicity of the ancient Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Sharma's chapter on "modern historians of ancient India", which lays out an extended treatment of the various approaches and methodologies in the study of history, has suffered for its suggestion that "rational" analysis that cut through the fog of religious revivalism has been a vigorous tradition in India. One of the cases that he cites is the 19th century historian Rajendra Lal Mitra, who has now been banished from school curricula - all his deep appreciation for ancient Indian heritage notwithstanding - for suggesting that beef was a common dietary item in ancient India. Also excised is the reference to other historians who in their inquiries into the origins of the caste system argued that it was analogous to the European organisation of society in accordance with the division of labour.

At stake in the NCERT's fiat is a view of history as a complex process driven by a variety of social actors. In its place it is seemingly trying to institute a vision severely distorted by the projection of contemporary interests and biases into the past. It is possible to disagree with Sharma's analysis of the decline of the Maurya empire as a consequence in part of a reaction by the Brahminical elite and their effort to reinstate the Vedic rituals that had lapsed into disuse during Ashoka's reign. But few historians see any merit in the elimination of this thesis from the field of study.

The NCERT's move also seems to sanctify a dangerous view of history as a quarry that can be mined to settle contemporary political scores. Arjun Dev's and Indira Arjun Dev's text on modern India for Class VIII, for instance, deals with the breakdown of central Mughal authority in the 18th century. One of the alternative power centres in this period, they record, was established at Bharatpur by Jats, who then "conducted plundering raids in the regions around and participated in the court intrigues at Delhi".

To an objective historian this description might seem an adequate picture of the manner in which autonomous states emerged and consolidated themselves through various stratagems, including coercive military manoeuvres, in the twilight years of Mughal grandeur. There could be reservations over its over-simplified character, but nothing that cannot be allayed through the rigorous peer review process that the NCERT has followed for years. Yet for the custodians of virtue in the NCERT today, this historical representation seemingly tarnishes the contemporary Jat community, who would need to be appeased by its deletion.

In a written explanation of his decision, NCERT Director J.S. Rajput argued that the organisation had "been fighting court cases against certain communities which have felt hurt by some of the contents in history books". This had led him to accede to the demand "by various groups and sections of people to ensure that there are no biased and hurtful statements in NCERT books".

The record of litigation against the NCERT, according to informed sources, is not as copious as this statement makes out. The case of Guru Tegh Bahadur, before it came to the attention of the Delhi Assembly, had been pursued in the courts for a while by certain individuals, whose mandate to speak for a "community" was uncertain at best. At no stage, however, had the NCERT - prior to Rajput's appointment as Director - made the slightest concession to this litigative tendency. Neither had there been any court injunction against any section of a book published by the body.

WHEN the expected political storm over the NCERT's censorship broke out, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre proved unrelenting. Speaking at a party forum, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asserted that if history writing had proved "one-sided", then it could well be changed. Other spokesmen for the BJP in Parliament insisted that the main Opposition party - the Congress - had no credible case, since its legislators in Delhi had been instrumental in bringing the demand for rewriting history to the foreground.

In the Rajya Sabha, senior Congressman Arjun Singh accused the BJP-led government of the "Talibanisation" of history writing. With an elaborately simulated display of outrage, the BJP benches insisted that the reference was unbecoming of a parliamentary intervention and insisted on its retraction. An entire day's debate was effectively scuppered over this issue. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan later offered the explanation in the Lok Sabha that only the "obvious biases and errors" in history texts had been removed.

The NCERT is currently engaged in a comprehensive exercise of rewriting all its texts. Rajput is confident that a number of new books will be available for schools before the next academic year. And even if not all the existing texts will be replaced, he asserts, there is a good chance that a substantial number will.

The normal procedure that the NCERT has followed is to assign the task of writing the texts to a number of well-known historians. Once their manuscripts are received, these are put through a rigorous process of peer review at sessions that may last for up to a week. It is not known what precise stage the current exercise is at. What is clear, however, is that there has been an inordinate degree of secrecy over the identities of the authors who have been commissioned by the NCERT.

It could justifiably be asked why the recent exercise of censorship was instituted when a new batch of books is expected to be available soon. This is a question that has not elicited a credible answer yet. But for historians concerned about the integrity and credibility of their craft, the current controversy offers an ominous foretaste of what could be in store for schools next year.

A programme gone awry

R. RAMACHANDRAN public-health

A UNICEF-sponsored mass campaign of vitamin A administration for children in Assam leads to some startling consequences and questions.

THE recent deaths of over a dozen children after a vitamin A administration campaign in Assam has added fuel to the debate on the approach to combat vitamin A deficiency (VAD), a major cause of nutritional blindness among children. Several hundred cases of adverse side effects of vitamin A toxicity were also reported.

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Doses of vitamin A were administered in a United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF)-sponsored campaign of "high dose vitamin A supplementation" to children in the one to five age group on November 11 in all the districts of the State. It covered an estimated 2.8 million children. "High dose" refers to more than 25,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin A - one IU equals 0.3 microgram of retinol, the active chemical - in a single dose.

Unlike most other micronutrients, vitamin A is stored in the liver for prolonged periods and periodic administration, say, every six months, of a mega dose is believed to ensure adequate bioavailability of vitamin A to meet the daily requirement of the micronutrient.

The campaign in Assam involved administering 0.2 million IUs (60 mg) to all children between one and five years of age on a single day, an approach that has come to be called the "pulse" mode, followed to maximise the coverage of polio immunisation. The objective was to increase the coverage of the national programme of vitamin A prophylaxis (VAP) to nearly 90 per cent. The present coverage is about 30 per cent nationally, according to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2). In Assam only 15.4 per cent of children in the one to three age group has been covered under the national programme.

According to the statement made by Union Health Minister, C.P. Thakur, in Parliament on November 22, as of November 19, 14 children had died and 953 children had shown symptoms of vitamin A toxicity. Unofficial reports, however, give higher figures.

Whether all these cases were a direct consequence of high dose vitamin A administration remains to be ascertained. The preliminary assessment, according to the Minister, indicated that "in most of these cases, the death was due to causes unrelated to vitamin A". "The deaths have taken place due to... cardiac failure, foreign body aspiration, severe anaemia, fever of indeterminate cause, etc. It seems that the panic created due to the side effects has resulted in all deaths being attributed to vitamin A," the Minister said. This is not unlikely given the likelihood of panic reaction following even a single case of truly vitamin A related death. But the extent of vitamin A toxicity-related adverse effects around Cachar and Nagaon districts points to a programme gone awry.

According to the Minister's statement, the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) had collected samples of the drug for analysis and the results were awaited. Preliminary tests, both at the State drug testing laboratory and in a laboratory in Kolkata, have ruled out any contamination as speculated in some media reports, according to Assam Health Ministry spokesman.

One of the suspected causes of the tragedy is the erroneous administration of higher-than-recommended dosage. The government's policy document on management of VAD states that the fat-soluble vitamin A solution - the solvent used is peanut oil - should be administered using a 2 ml (0.2 MIUs) dispenser provided with each 100 ml bottle of vitamin A. The unilateral switch by UNICEF from the traditional 2 ml dispensing spoons and 100 ml bottles to 5 ml (0.5 MIU) dispensing cups and 50 ml bottles seems to have contributed to the confusion. According to UNICEF, this was done in response to the feeling that use of spoons did not ensure proper hygiene.

Health workers said they were not properly informed of the change or given adequate training on the correct way of administering the dosage to a large number of children. Prima facie evidence, the Minister said, indicated that an overdose was the cause. Details of the exact nature of the mishaps and their causes will be known only after the inquiry instituted by the Centre. The irony is that the State government has suspended six health workers even before the inquiry is complete.

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According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) fact sheet on the side effects of high-dose vitamin A supplementation, depending on age and dosage, the excess rate of occurrence of symptoms of toxicity is in the range of 1.5-7 per cent. Given the fact that 2.8 million children were covered by the campaign, the number of cases reported (even going by the unofficial figures of several thousands) would seem to be far fewer. But the occurrence of cases has been in clusters and not across the State, and from that perspective the episode may well be a serious one.

As regards deaths, while data on lethal dose per kg of body weight is not available, Merck's Online Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy says that doses in excess of 0.3 MIUs, and the related toxicity effects, can lead to death. This is what perhaps happened at least in the first case of the two-and-a-half-year-old girl from the tea gardens. The vomiting and the consequent dehydration in the middle of the night seem to have led to death before medical aid could be provided. According to K. P. West of Johns Hopkins University there is no evidence to show that even twice the recommended dose (0.4 MIU) - apparently a treatment dose for mild xeropthalmia - is fatal. UNICEF officials claim that even a high dose of up to 0.5 MIU is not lethal. But since deaths have occurred, and lethal dose data is sparse, particularly in nutritionally and immunologically weak children, only the final report can provide definitive information.

The mode of delivery of vitamin A to combat VAD has been a subject of intense discussions among nutritionists and paediatricians. The deaths in Assam have added strength to the arguments of those opposed to the mass campaign mode of delivery. A high-level committee of experts appointed by Health Minister C.P. Thakur and headed by N.K. Ganguly, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is expected to make its recommendations on the entire programme of vitamin A administration. For the present the minister has advised the States to refrain from launching campaigns for "not only vitamin A but also other individual interventions".

The 'National Prophylaxis Programme for Prevention of Blindness due to VAD', being implemented since the 1970s, currently targets all infants (6-11 months) with a single dose of 0.1 MIUs and all children in the one to five age group with 0.2 MIUs every six months. Since the prevalence of the clinical symptoms of VAD has been reported to be highest in the one to three age group, the national programme accords the highest priority to universal coverage in this age group. To enable better coverage among infants it was recommended that vitamin A administration be linked to measles vaccination at nine months. The coverage in the one to five age group has, however, been extremely poor, with only 29.7 per cent of children aged one to three being administered at least one single dose of vitamin A, according to NFHS-2. To increase this coverage it was decided in 1997 to link VAP to the Pulse Polio Immunisation (PPI), and since 1998 this has been actively promoted by international agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, the Micronutrient Initiative (MI) and the International Vitamin A Consultancy Group (IVACG).

The Assam campaign was, however, only for vitamin A. Mass campaign based delivery of mega doses began with the PPI-linked vitamin A campaign in Orissa in 1999. The apparent success of this campaign and a subsequent one in Uttar Pradesh provided the impetus to extend the approach to other States. According to UNICEF country representative Maria Calivis, the current campaign in Assam was the second round. The first was conducted in November last year and was linked to the PPI, she said.

Besides Assam, stand-alone campaigns have been conducted in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The Rajasthan and Gujarat campaigns were warranted because adequate food-based vitamin A supply could not be ensured on account of drought conditions, said Patrice Engle, chief of the Child Development and Nutrition wing of UNICEF. The Assam episode has, however, jolted UNICEF and Calivis said this would be the last stand-alone campaign that UNICEF would sponsor in India.

In a strongly worded statement, the Delhi Chapter of the Nutrition Society of India (NSI-DC) called for a blanket ban on the campaign approach to vitamin A administration in all the States until the inquiry is completed. It also asked for responsibility to be fixed on the agency that violated the government norms of mode of vitamin A supplementation in Assam. "NSI-DC is of the opinion that international agencies working in the country are actively promoting the universal distribution of vitamin A, although the problem of VAD exists only in selected geographical pockets," the NSI-DC press release said.

"With a solution in hand, they are chasing a problem," said C. Gopalan, president of the Nutrition Foundation of India (NFI) and former Director of the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad. He advocated a food-based approach to combat VAD. "This new exclusive approach to one micronutrient is illogical. Food contains a lot of phytonutrients and there is a balance of different micronutrients. Unfortunately, this sweet symphony is sought to be replaced by a raucous solo,"said Gopalan.

It may seem ironical that Gopalan had initiated the five-year-long study at the NIN in the late 1960s, which had shown that a massive vitamin A intervention (0.3 MIUs) in pre-school children (1-5 years) could significantly bring down the widespread prevalence of severe VAD. This study laid the basis for the national programme of vitamin A intervention.

"The context in which it was introduced 30 years ago is not obtained today," said Gopalan. "Keratomalacia was a tremendous problem then and one came across cases routinely in OPD (out-patient department) clinics. Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM) and VAD co-existed and there were other widespread nutritional disorders such as cardiac beriberi and kwashiorkor. Even when we recommended it we had cautioned that it was only a short-term measure. There were incidences of adverse side effects, but the benefits seemed to far outweigh the risks. But today the situation is different. Bitot's Spots, the clinical feature of VAD that is seen today, is different from keratomalacia; it does not kill or blind you," he added.

According to Umesh Kapil, Convener of the NSI-DC and Additional Professor of Nutrition at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, there was opposition even then to the introduction of high dose intervention. "In retrospect, however, it has done good. You rarely come across a case of keratomalacia and even for teaching purposes a case study is hard to come by," he said.

IN the last 30 years, indicators of child health have, indeed, shown remarkable improvement. According to the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) data, the prevalence of severe malnutrition came down to 6.2 per cent in 1996-97 from 15 per cent in 1975 . Similarly, the prevalence of Bitot's Spots, a clinical marker for VAD, has reduced to 0.7 per cent from 1.8 per cent.

If, even with low coverage under VAP, there is a secular decline in VAD, it is indicative of improvement in dietary intake of vitamin A rich foods and shows that the problem can now nearly entirely be tackled by this approach alone, said Gopalan. "At present the national programme is exclusively targeting synthetic vitamin A supplementation in all States without consideration of achievements of the State with respect to prevalence of ocular signs of VAD or severe PEM, immunisation status, under five mortality rate (U5MR), infant mortality rate (IMR), dietary intake of vitamin A and virtual elimination of night blindness," pointed out Kapil. According to the WHO criteria for VAD being a public health problem, prevalence of Bitot's Spots must be more than 0.5 per cent. From this perspective, VAD is of concern only in a few States and Assam is not one of them.

The most recent and comprehensive survey by the ICMR, covering 16 districts of the northern and northeastern region, has also shown similar results. The survey included two districts from Assam - Dibrugarh and Nagaon - and covered nearly 11,000 children from each. The prevalence of Bitot's Spots in both the districts was found to be 0.3 per cent. The rationale for launching a campaign in Assam is, therefore, being questioned by scientists like Kapil and paediatricians like H.P.S. Sachdev, president-elect of the Indian Paediatrics Society and Professor at the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi.

Responding to this criticism, UNICEF officials pointed out that high IMR (greater than 55 per cent) and low measles coverage (less than 50 per cent) are proxy factors that indicate regions at risk of high VAD. Assam has an IMR of 76.9 per cent (highest risk of VAD according to UNICEF) and measles coverage of only 38.9 per cent. While nutritional deficiency did lead to higher IMR and measles infection could cause VAD, Kapil argued that unless there were clear clinical manifestations of VAD, it was improper to attribute these figures to VAD alone. For example, IMR could be attributed to several reasons, including micronutrient deficiencies. He added that high dose vitamin A intervention was being done even in States that had low IMR and low measles incidence, such as Kerala.

DATA on night blindness (NB) in children are also cited as a rationale for campaign mode vitamin A intervention in Assam. A multi-institutional cluster survey (MICS), in which UNICEF also participated, found that NB was prevalent among 1.9 per cent of the children in the two to five age group. According to the WHO, prevalence of this nutritional disorder in more than 1 per cent of the target group constitutes a public health problem requiring vitamin A intervention. Critics, however, argue that prevalence of NB is not a reliable indicator of VAD because it is not a clinically identifiable feature and is based on the subjective opinions of mothers.

"When one points out inconsistencies, prevalence of sub-clinical VAD, such as low serum levels of vitamin A, is cited as a criterion for vitamin A intervention. Low serum levels cannot be considered a public health problem and, in any case, it is well known that low serum level is not a good indicator of VAD because other infections may clear vitamin A in serum, but vitamin A stored in the body may not be low," said Sachdev.

There is evidence to suggest that organisations such as UNICEF and the WHO use the argument of mortality reduction as well. "Over the years there is an effort on the part of international agencies to push the campaign to include neonates and infants under one year by claiming that synthetic vitamin A supplementation brings about a reduction in IMR when there is no clear evidence to that effect," said Gopalan. International agencies have of late been claiming 25 to 34 per cent reduction in U5MR. According to Kapil, many of the studies on this are funded, directly or indirectly, by the multinational la Roche, the only manufacturer of synthetic vitamin A in the world.

Ironically enough, a WHO-coordinated study in 1998, on the impact of high dose vitamin A (25,000 IU) on infants in Ghana, Peru and India, covering about 4,000 infants, showed no significant nutritional benefits and no effect on mortality. In the light of these findings higher doses of 50,000 IU were beginning to be recommended. "But studies in Bangladesh have indicated that even doses of 25000 IU can result in bulging fontanelle in 10-15 per cent of the infants," said Panna Chaudhry of the Maulana Azad Medical College.

A similar study conducted by the NIN in India in 1990, covering about 16,000 pre-school children, showed no impact on U5MR. "The issue of reduction in U5MR is controversial and at best the evidence to show that it followed high dose vitamin A supplementation can be said to be equivocal," said K. Vijayaraghavan of the NIN, who was involved in the study.

"If you actually include all the studies - positive and negative - done in various parts of the world to assess this, the net evidence is in the negative," said Sachdev, who has carried out a meta-analysis using data from 12 such studies. "In their own meta-analyses, international agencies ignore studies that are inconvenient to their biased perspective. Interestingly, they have omitted data from the WHO study. Similarly, the excellent study with negative results in Sudan by the Harvard Medical School is ignored," said Sachdev.

One of the positive-impact studies widely cited by international agencies was carried out in Tamil Nadu in 1990 by Lakshmi Rehmatullah and associates. "There were methodological flaws in the study," said Gopalan. "But even if we accept the results, they were based on weekly supplementation of small doses and not six-monthly mega doses. These small doses can easily be achieved entirely through dietary means. From that perspective, the study only reinforces the farm-based approach and not the pharmacy-based approach," he added.

However, in an ongoing study in Dindugal and Virudhunagar districts, where a 20 per cent reduction in IMR has been claimed, two high doses of 25000 IU separated by 48 hours were given to over 11,000 children in spite of the toxic side effects of raised fontanelle reported in Bangladesh. "This study is yet to be peer reviewed and published before one can critically examine it," said Chaudhry.

"In view of the changing scenario in child health in the country, there is a need to revise the national programme objectives and activities," said Kapil. "What we need is State-specific strategies and criteria evolved by us, which should decide where vitamin A supplementation should be done and where it should be discontinued. In any case, the campaign approach should be stopped because it disturbs the routine health care activities. Besides, the emphasis in the campaign mode is to achieve the targets of coverage with no effort made at imparting health education to the mothers, which is essential for a sustainable approach to the elimination of VAD," he added.

According to him, roughly Rs.12 crores are spent annually in the import of the raw material used in manufacturing vitamin A syrup under licence from la Roche by indigenous bottlers. "Vitamin A supplementation is a donor-driven programme. Only the pharmaceutical company benefits from these campaigns which are being actively promoted by international agencies. Why is no one coming forward to combat anaemia in the country, which is the biggest scourge affecting nearly all the children? Because there is no percentage for pharmaceutical companies there," said Kapil.

URGED by such considerations of the scientific community, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare organised a National Consultation in September 2000 to discuss the cumulative scientific and epidemiological evidence on the benefits and safety of vitamin A supplementation. The aim was to provide objective recommendations to the government. The participants included eminent paediatricians and nutritionists, representatives of the ICMR, officials of the State and Central government and representatives of international agencies.

Specifically, the National Consult-ation concluded that vitamin A supplementation and PPI campaigns should be delinked; the current programme recommendations of periodic administration of vitamin A, starting with measles vaccine at nine months until three years, should be continued; in areas where vitamin A deficiency manifestations are high, alternative approaches may be explored instead of linking it to PPI; to achieve optimal benefit of the national programme, high coverage (over 90 per cent) of the target population must be ensured at least for first two doses; available data are not robust enough to suggest vitamin A supplementation for the purpose of reduction in U5MR; and screening for clinical symptoms and signs of VAD in children should become a part of primary health care. The recommendation to delink PPI and vitamin A supplementation in particular stemmed from the unsatisfactory and mixed results of the campaigns in Orissa and Uttar Pradesh during 1999-2000.

In December 2000 the Ministry had directed all the State governments to comply with the recommendations of the National Consultation whenever activities/projects related to vitamin A were implemented. Despite this directive, the Assam government launched two rounds of this campaign. Though State government officials claimed that no such directive was received, the Union Minister reiterated that the letter had been sent.

As a consequence, the issue of health being a State subject is being raised and allegations of international agencies bypassing the Centre's directives to pursue their agenda are being aired. "Our programmes are in cooperation with the Government of India. We only assist in the government programmes, the guidelines and decisions on which are taken at the Centre. These are implemented at the State level, but with the knowledge and blessings of the Centre. We only operate at the request of the State government," said UNICEF country representative Calivis.

"UNICEF is not a research body. Its position is based on studies by various groups the world over. Its policy is determined by its board, where all countries are represented. Vitamin A campaigns are part of international wisdom and are in conformity with the government of India policy," she added.

The unfortunate fall-out of the Assam tragedy could be an erosion of faith in immunisation campaigns, particularly PPI, as the country moves close to eliminating the disease. Viewed differently, it could also be an opportunity to strengthen the primary health care system in the State with health education given importance, which could restore confidence in the government health care machinery. It is also an opportune moment for organisations such as UNICEF to critically examine their own operations and goals and restore their credibility among the Indian medical community.

An eye for the appropriate

JAGAN SHAH heritage

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Barefoot Architects is a recognition for a group that paused to notice the solutions that already existed before them, instead of following alien models.

SINCE it was instituted in 1977, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture has provided a unique platform for the most critical, learned and exemplary talents of the West and the East to come together to redefine, every three years, the vital ingredients of a sustainable yet man-made world. The Master Juries of the last seven cycles of the Award have over the years recognised 76 works of architecture that contribute to enhancing the conditions of life in Muslim societies. The Award is one of the three main programmes of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, a nodal agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in the field of culture. The network also works in the field of economic and social development, and all programmes are united under the Imamat, the designated spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims.

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When the first Master Jury of 1980 bestowed the Chairman's Award on Hassan Fathy, the Egyptian master-builder and guru of mud architecture and the indigenous aesthetic, it set the terms of an alternative discourse regarding architecture, dedicated to the restoration of harmony between the built and the unbuilt. It also positioned the Award initiative and the teachings of the Imamat comfortably within the concerns of all modern, democratic societies. Only 27 countries can boast of award-winning works. They are located in Africa, Asia and Europe and represent vast differences in society, polity and levels of prosperity. That six works from India have received the award until now is clear proof of its non-denominational temper.

During the past two decades, thanks largely to the efforts of such initiatives, architecture has been redefined as the creation of sustainable ecosystems, matrixes of society and culture in which the individual as well as communities find nourishment, work and dignity. This is a far cry from the universalised aesthetic of International Style modern architecture, which dominated architectural culture in the developing post-colonial world for over 50 years. Swayed by the euphoria of nation-building, yet floundering for solutions appropriate to their own condition, countries such as India found the stock of technologies and habitats available in Europe and America positively alluring. Few Indian architects or statesmen paused to notice the solutions that already existed before them. One such has received the Aga Khan Award for the year 2001.

The Barefoot Architects are a group of graduates from the Barefoot College located in Tilonia, a village in Ajmer district of Rajasthan, one of India's hottest, driest and poorest States. Sanjit Bunker Roy, once synonymous with ideologically committed social work, set up the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) in 1972. The SWRC came to be known popularly as the Barefoot College, where the poor residents of Tilonia and surrounding villages received practical knowledge and skills through a hands-on process of education. The college provides nine different areas of specialisation: drinking water, night schools, health centres, solar power, environment, income generation, traditional media, people's action, and women's groups. All students are equipped with basic literacy, health and first aid skills and are then urged to move from one area to another, understanding their inter-relationships and learning the principles of community building and sustainability.

The achievements of these down-to-earth architects are commendable. Bhanwar Jat and his team of 12 Barefoot Architects constructed the college campus - comprising residences, a library, a dining hall, marketing offices, an open-air theatre, a solar fabrication workshop, a water-testing laboratory, an audio-visual unit, a handicrafts production centre, a theatre, and a blacksmith's workshop - from locally available materials and techniques such as rubble stone masonry using lime mortar. To house facilities such as a telephone exchange, Refeek Mohammed and seven Barefoot Architects constructed geodesic domes using scrap metal, in lieu of traditional wooden structures. Laxman Singh, assisted by Ram Karan, Kana Ram and Ratan Devi, installed the rainwater harvesting system, which collects water from specially designed roofs into a 400,000-litre underground water tank, which replenishes the 145-metre-deep well on the campus. And 60 Barefoot Architects have constructed 250 mud-brick shelters in surrounding villages through the college's Homes for the Homeless programme. A typical low-cost house consists of two rooms, a courtyard and a toilet. In 1986, solar power was first used to energise completely the 60,000-square-foot college campus. Tilonia's solar mechanics have even installed solar panels in villages in Ladakh.

The Eighth triennial award identifies the Barefoot Architects as "beneficiaries of a programme that respectfully augments the traditions and knowledge of a rural community, enabling 'untutored' residents to design and build well for themselves". One notes with discomfort that the majority of architects and their clients in India are unlikely to take such credentials seriously. For a country that desperately needs more of the same, this amounts to a great loss. That most schools of architecture would bracket the Tilonia enterprise as a good piece of social work, rather than as a vital work of architecture, is the kind of misjudgment of goals that plagues the architectural culture of this vast country. The principle of sustainable development, founded on community partnership, appropriate technology and self-empowerment through education, is anathema to the growing horde of architects that would rather vie for lucrative commissions in the cities than work at the grass roots. The average Indian architect would be perplexed by the alienness of such concerns, by the seeming absence of 'architecture' in Tilonia.

One might ask why the preoccupations of our building industry are at variance with the "barefoot philosophy". To a large extent, the blame can be rested on the shoulders of the proverbial white sahib, followed by the brown babu, who systematically removed the local building craftsman from traditional patronage in order to introduce him into a modern building economy based on hired wage labour. Indian arts and crafts were supported only insofar as they supplied a burgeoning global market for exotica and kitsch. The public works regime introduced by the British and perpetuated by the modern Indian state was based on the standardisation of labour rates and the proliferation of pattern-book designs. Together, the depletion of traditional knowhow and the stultification of architectural skills reduced the Indian building industry to a wasteful and inefficient behemoth.

By highlighting and affirming the richness and complexity of architecture, the Aga Khan Award renders a valuable service. Besides Tilonia, the eight other awardees this year include a village in Morocco, a poultry farm in Guinea designed by a Finnish architect, a museum in Egypt, an SOS village in Jordan, an urban park and adaptively re-used structures in Iran, a social centre in Turkey and a hotel in Malaysia. In their variety of styles and differing scales of intervention, the buildings represent a cross-section of the 427 projects that were initially considered and the 35 that were shortlisted. While the Barefoot Architects will receive a fair share of the total prize fund of $500,000, the largest architectural award in the world, the monetary success is unlikely to be their main source of pride, armed as they are with the means to a livelihood. As an exemplary project, Tilonia more importantly extends the resistance offered by the Award to the ravaging forces of urbanisation and the endemic loss of identity and dignity faced by people of the developing world. For this reason alone, Tilonia should rejoice.

AN appropriate figure to recall at this juncture is Mahatma Gandhi, who called for the self-sufficiency of Indian villages as the main force by which to develop a modern nation without succumbing to the ways of Western modernity. Along with numerous other efforts afoot in the villages of India and abroad, Tilonia's success may vindicate Gandhi's stance, albeit many decades too late. But it would do the Award a great injustice if one reduces its tenets into a reworking of Gandhian ideas. The multi-disciplinary and international composition of the steering committee and the Master Jury for the Award guarantees that the emerging concerns of global society will be addressed as imbricated realities, in which divisions between worlds and nations and societies are increasingly becoming redundant. That the specificity of local culture and the universalisation inherent in the global are both worth resisting is an insight that was articulated in the 1980s by the architectural historian Kenneth Frampton, a member of the current steering committee.

In 1985, Charles Correa, another member of the committee and one of the awardees in the last cycle, wrote The New Landscape, a pithy evaluation of the problems and prospects of Third World cities. Correa proposed the path of self-reliance and the collective identification of development goals, thereby involving urban communities in giving shape to their own futures. Correa's book and his subsequent Report of the National Commission on Urbanisation, 1988, were both panned by architects and policymakers, but the principles he defined found application in the city of Indore in two different schemes, which won the Award in the last two cycles. That old concerns can still be realised in the present reveals the essentially reflective mood of the Award and overall rejection of avant-gardism.

Neither Frampton nor Correa, nor any of the other members, is an avowed follower of Gandhi, Thoreau, Ruskin or Rousseau, who seeks to recover a paradisiacal world through a romantic deployment of the architect's genius. All of them are guided instead by the Aga Khan's belief, that "we are trustees of God's creation, and we are instructed to seek to leave the world a better place than it was when we came into it". This affirmation of the human spirit may resound in the schools of Tilonia, as another "children's parliament" comes into session, and an elected body of girls and boys between 10 and 14 years of age undertake the responsibility to ensure the proper functioning of their own institution. Their faith in the future is not represented in flashy forms or overtly modern gestures, for the real architecture of Tilonia is not in the shape of buildings.

Jagan Shah is an architect based in New Delhi, where he also teaches at the School of Planning and Architecture.

The truth about POTO

The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance draws heavily from anti-terrorism Acts in the United States and the United Kingdom. But unlike those in the latter two, which cover only foreigners in the respective nations, POTO affects all Indians.

THE Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), promulgated on October 24, 2001, is a monumental fraud; a sitting duck awaiting a whiff of grapeshot from the apex court's gun. A single flaw, in a provision which touches its very core, will suffice to render it unconstitutional and void. It also exposes the evil intent behind the law.

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Two crucial provisions in any law of this kind are the definition clause and in a sense more so, the mechanism for its implementation. Fifty years ago, in a vastly more conservative clime, the Constitution Bench of five Judges of the Supreme Court ruled with emphatic unanimity in the State of Madras vs V.G. Row ((1952) SCR 597) that the fundamental right to form associations or unions, embodied in Article 19 (1) (c) of the Constitution, "has such wide and varied scope for its exercise, and its curtailment is fraught with such potential reactions in the religious, political and economic fields, that the vesting of authority in the executive government to impose restrictions on such right, without allowing the grounds of such imposition, both in their factual and legal aspects, to be duly tested in a judicial inquiry, is a strong element which, in our opinion, must be taken into account in judging the reasonableness of the restrictions imposed... on the exercise of the fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (c); for, no summary and what is bound to be a largely one-sided review by an advisory board, even where its verdict is binding on the executive government, can be a substitute for a judicial enquiry. The formula of subjective satisfaction of the Government or of its officers, with an advisory board thrown in to review the materials on which the Government seeks to override a basic freedom guaranteed to the citizens, may be viewed as reasonable only in very exceptional circumstances and within the narrowest limits, and cannot receive judicial approval as a general pattern of reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights. In the case of preventive detention, no doubt, this court upheld in Gopalan's case deprivation of personal liberty by such means, but that was because the Constitution itself sanctions laws providing for preventive detention".

Chief Justice Patanjali Sastri pointed out that an association is banned on grounds which are factual and not anticipatory or based on suspicion. "The factual existence of these grounds is amenable to objective determination by the Court." A provision which, in effect, denies judicial review of an order banning an association cannot be regarded as a "reasonable restriction" on the precious fundamental right. The statute in question was therefore held to be "unconstitutional and void".

This is precisely why the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 provides for a tribunal to determine "whether or not there is sufficient cause for declaring the association unlawful" as defined in the Act. It is judge of the facts as well as the law. Only a sitting judge of a High Court can be appointed on the tribunal. It has "the same powers as are vested in a civil court" in regard to summoning persons, requisitioning records, etc. Tribunals receive oral testimony and are not confined to affidavits.

Far from prescribing a "dilatory" procedure, as has been alleged, the Act binds the Central government to refer the ban notification within 30 days of its publication to the tribunal which, in turn, is bound to decide the case within six months of the ban.

POTO consciously departs from this model and, in glaring contrast, deliberately provides a dilatory procedure ending with a kangaroo court, called a Review Committee. It provides, first, for an application for removal of the ban to the very government which imposed it (Section 19). The government will make rules for "admission and disposal" of such pleas. If the application is rejected, after a waste of time, an application for its review can be made to the committee which, unlike the tribunal, cannot sit in appeal on the facts. Its remit is narrow - whether "the decision to refuse was flawed when considered in the light of the principles applicable on an application for judicial review"; that is, the High Court's writ powers exercised broadly, to correct only errors of law (Section 19 (5)); not errors of fact or misappreciation of evidence. It will act on affidavits. It will not receive oral evidence tested by cross-examination. It has none of the judicial powers which the Tribunal possesses. It is not a judicial body.

The committee will consist of a chairperson and such other members, not exceeding three and "possessing such qualifications as may be prescribed" by the government (Section 59). Only the chairperson will be a High Court Judge. Concurrence of its Chief Justice is necessary only if he is on the Bench. A retired judge can be appointed without such constraint. The chairperson will, in any case, be one in the crowd. This is surely not a judicial body at all. POTO wilfully flouts the Supreme Court's ruling. (Incidentally, it is this committee which will also review orders for phone-tapping (Section 45).) This flaw alone suffices to render the Ordinance unconstitutional. Since the committee constitutes the very core of the scheme, the entire law is vitiated. It simply cannot stand.

The evil intent is apparent from the selective plagiarism. The government had before it two models to draw on. It preferred the one which denies the citizen's rights even at the risk of unconstitutionality. The U.S. Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 1996 empowers the Secretary of State (Section 302) "to designate an organisation as a foreign terrorist organisation". But even this foreign organisation "may seek judicial review of the designation in the United States Court of Appeals in for the District of Columbia Circuit". One of the grounds of challenge is that the designation was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion..."

But, the draftsmen of POTO copied Sections 3 to 6 of the British Terrorism Act, 2000 (T.A.) and mindlessly so. Section 19 (5) of POTO speaks of "the principles applicable on an application for judicial review". No such procedure exists in the Indian legal system. The writ powers of the Supreme Court and High Courts (Articles 32 and 226) comprise mainly issuance of what were known in the United Kingdom as prerogative writs (certiorari, mandamus, quo warranto and so on). They were replaced in the U.K. by a simpler "application for judicial review". It makes sense for Section 5 (3) of the T.A. to use the expression; not for POTO to use it in Section 19 (5). The U.S. and U.K. laws cover foreigners only. POTO affects Indians.

The Bharatiya Janata Party regime has been trying hard to promote repressive legislation for over a year. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 lapsed on May 23, 1995. The then Home Minister, S. B. Chavan, moved in the Rajya Sabha on May 18, 1995 the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1995. On May 23, he accepted eight amendments to the Bill to mollify the Opposition. The Bill was not enacted. The Law Commission's "Working Paper on Legislation to Combat Terrorism" made that Bill worse, still. The Bill had omitted the provision making confessions to police officers admissible in evidence and imposing on the accused the burden of proving his innocence while applying for bail.

The Law Commission not only restored them (Clauses 15 (A) and 18 (16A), respectively) but added illiberal provisions in the draft Bill appended to its Working Paper. For instance, its Clause 3 (8) on "information about acts of terrorism" exposed a journalist to a year's imprisonment if he failed to disclose "as soon as reasonably practicable to the police" information which "he knows or reasonably believes might be of material assistance" in preventing the commission of an offence or in securing the arrest of the offender. Journalists who interview members of banned organisations could be sent to prison. None will speak to a journalist who is a police informer.

On February 2, 1999 the BJP government sent some amendments of its own. The Commission took the Bill, "as modified by the official amendments" of 1999, "as the basis" and recommended some additional provisions, besides. All the eight amendments of 1995, at the instance of the Opposition, were ameliorative and were reported in the press. The Commission was bound to publish their texts. It chose not to do so.

The Law Commission's outlook is crassly illiberal: "A perception has developed among the terrorist groups that the Indian state is inherently incapable of meeting their challenge - that it has become soft and indolent. As a matter of fact, quite a few parties and groups appear to have developed a vested interest in a soft state, a weak government and an ineffective implementation of the laws. Even certain foreign powers are interested in destablising our country."

The Commission holds that "religious militancy... had first raised its head in 1993 with bomb explosions in Mumbai". It is, evidently, unaware of Justice B. N. Srikrishna's finding that the blasts "were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993". Was the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 also not an expression of "religious militancy"? And what of L.K. Advani's rath yatra of 1990 escorted by the Bajrang Dal?

The attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 emboldened the BJP government to dust up the Commissions Bill and add illiberal provisions of its own - ban on organisations and wire-tapping. It could have amended the Act of 1967. It did not. Nor did it profit by the Supreme Court's judgments on TADA. (Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab (1994) 3 SCC 569). The provision empowering police officials to record confessions was approved by a narrow majority (3-2). The Bench reflected an illiberal outlook "Worse than Rowlatt"; Frontline; April 22, 1994). That ruling can be reversed. Justices K. Ramaswamy and R. M. Sahai's powerful, though limited, dissents on Section 15 of TADA (confessions to the police) might well be accepted and preferred by the Supreme Court now.

In the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case the Supreme Court ruled no more than that a confession to the police recorded under TADA can be relied on against the accused in respect of other offences even if he is acquitted under TADA in a joint trial of both cases. (State vs Nalini (1999) 5 SCC 253 at 304). The competent investigating team would have secured a conviction even if TADA did not exist - as did the prosecution in cases of conspiracy earlier. Advani's claim (November 7) that "not a single person... would have been convicted" but for TADA is absurd.

POTO is at once a tool of diplomacy, to earn brownie points abroad, and a weapon of repression at home devised by a regime which bans the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) but not the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Bajrang Dal. Internationally, its record on terrorism is disgraceful. There is not a word of censure on state terrorism practised by the Ariel Sharon government in Israel. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that "no region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighbourhood". On July 24, 2001 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) destroyed half the fleet of Srilanka Airlines and eight military planes in Colombo's airport. New Delhi's response revealed it in its true colours. It was "concerned and disappointed about these developments in Sri Lanka. There is no room for violence and terrorism in the effort to achieve a political solution of the conflict. We would urge all concerned to resume steps for the commencement of talks for a political settlement". It had earlier expressed its "great disppointment" at the bombing of the LTTE's positions by Sri Lanka's airforce. The terrorist LTTE was equated with the government.

The war against terrorism can well be fought with due respect for human rights. None of the militant bodies which operate in India has been as ruthless and well-equipped as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland. But preventive detention (called internment there) was introduced on August 9, 1971 only to be withdrawn on December 5, 1975. The law has been reviewed continuously by jurists of eminence - the Diplock Report (1972; Cmnd. 5185); the Report of the Gardiner Committee "to consider in the context of civil liberties and human rights, measures to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland" (1975; Cmnd. 5847); Lord Shackleton's Report (1978; Cmnd. 7234); Lord Jellicoe's Report (1983; Cmnd. 8803); Sir George Baker's (1984).

Jellicoe's conclusion is relevant: "I found that some of those powers most likely to infringe civil liberties are also the least valuable and the least used." The scandal of TADA supports his conclusion. It is puerile of Ministers of the government to say that any law can be abused. The point is that a law which confers vast powers without effective checks readily lends itself to abuse; indeed, tempts and invites abuse.

Two studies make a timely appearance. Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, 2001: Government Decides to play judge and jury; South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC), New Delhi (pages 148, Rs. 100) run by the erudite Ravi Nair and Combating Terrorism: The Legal Challenge by Arnab Goswami (Har-Anand; pages 176; Rs. 295.)

The SAHRDC study analyses each provision of POTO in detail in the light of the Constitution, India's international obligations, and emergency legislation during the Raj and after Independence. It finds POTO to be worse than the Rowlatt Act.

Arnab Goswami, a Special Correspondent with New Delhi Television, spares himself no pains in documentation and analysis. He appends the texts of POTO, TADA and the SAARC Convention (Suppression of Terrorism) Act, 1993. The Convention was signed on November 4, 1987. Few people remember India's reservations on it. Rajiv Gandhi expressed them candidly in an interview with Pritish Nandy who asked: "On the terrorist front, I am sure there were no disagreements either. Except perhaps for some semantic uncertainties?"

Rajiv Gandhi replied: "Well, it's all a question of definitions. When is terrorism a freedom movement? Where does terrorism versus human rights come in? These are the sort of grey areas, you know. We have the example of South Africa before us. We have others as well, where we are clear that the movement is a freedom struggle, not a terrorist movement. But others claim that these are terrorist movements. So, you know, these sort of things will have to be clarified here, where there is no movement as yet to define today but there well might be tomorrow. So whatever we do, it shouldn't be such that we find outselves in a mess. If we rush into it now, you know, it will pose a problem in SAARC later.

"The U.N. hasn't been able to get to it as yet. Other bodies, too, have not been able to define terrorism in a proper, satisfactory manner" (The Illustrated Weekly of India; January 12, 1986).

Arnab Goswami did research at Cambridge University and cites international experience. Salah Khalef alias Abu Iyad, once Yasser Arafat's deputy, condemned "political murder" but condoned "revolutionary violence". Che Guevera, on the other hand, wisely held that "Terrorism is a measure that is generally ineffective and indiscriminate in its effects, since it often makes victims of innocent people and destroys a large number of lives that would be valuable to the revolution."

Goswami remarks: "At the risk of sounding rather simplistic, let me labour the point to prove why definitions of terrorism cannot be value neutral. The basic difference between Salah's and Che's positions is that while both seek to carry out wars of liberation, Salah avoids committing himself against attacks on civilians, Che does not. But does that make Che any less of a terrorist in the perception of the United States? It does not, which is shocking, because the United States has consistently defined attacks on 'non-combatants' as the hallmark of terrorist activity." In 1986, Secretary of State George Shultz defended the Contras in Nicaragua. Terrorism must be fought by laws which respect human rights. POTO does not.

It bars suits and prosecutions even for crass negligence in its enforcement by the armed forces in their operations. (Sections 56). Section 57 permits the prosecution of "any police officer who exercises powers corruptly or maliciously knowing that these are no reasonable grounds for proceeding under this Ordinance" - a charge well-nigh impossible to prove. But even such a prosecution cannot be constituted against members of the armed forces. They receive Advani's indemnity.

The Special Courts can be moved even on a complaint by a private citizen if he can procure the sanction of the government, Central or State. A Special Court, trying any offences under the law, can order that "all" the proceedings before it "shall not be published in any manner" (Section 30(3)(d)). In the U.K., cases can be filed under the T.A. only with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions who is independent of the government (Section 117).

The British Terrorism Act, 2000 makes grant of bail the rule (Section 67(3)) and prescribes precise "substantial grounds" for its refusal. Section 48 of POTO makes refusal the norm and grant conditional on proof of innocence.

THIS brings us to the rights of the press. Section 39 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure says: "Every person, aware of the commission of, or of the intention of any other person to commit, any offence punishable under any of the following sections of the Indian Penal Code... shall, in the absence of any reasonable excuse, the burden of providing which excuse shall lie on the person so aware, forthwith give information to the nearest Magistrate or police officer of such commission or intention."Ministers, of whom better was expected, have, in the manner of a school debate, flogged to the death this provision in defence of provisions of POTO on the subject - inviting the legitimate retort as to why POTO was needed to cover the same ground. But Section 39 concerns actual commission of an offence or a clear "intention" of any person to do so - not mere suspicion or apprehension. Section 3(8) of POTO would punish "a person receiving or in possession of information which he knows or believes to be of material assistance: (i) in preventing the commission by any other person of a terrorist act, or (ii) in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any other person for an offence involving the commission, preparation or instigation of such an act, and fails, without reasonable cause, to disclose that information as soon as reasonably practicable to the police, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both."

Section 14 empowers the investigating officer to require any person "to furnish information in their possession in relation to such offence, on points or matters, where the investigating officer has reason to believe that such information will be useful for, or relevant to, the purposes of this Ordinance."

Section 21 (2) goes further: "(2) A person commits an offence if he arranges, manages, or assists in arranging or managing a meeting which he knows is (a) to support a terrorist organisation, (b) to further the activities of a terrorist organisation, or (c) to be addressed by a person who belongs or professes to belong to a terrorist organisation." A "meeting" means a meeting of "three or more persons whether or not the public are admitted". The offender is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

This web of three provisions goes far beyond Section 39 of the CrPC and violates press freedom. Any two correspondents who meet a militant for interview incur the risk of prosecution. (Section 21(2)). A police officer can compel disclosure of sources. (Section 14). He can seek any information he deems "useful to or relevant for" the purposes of POTO. Section 3(8) is not confined to knowledge of and criminal offence or intention. It applies to assessment of or belief as to the value of any "information" he has which might prevent commission of an offence or assist in the offender's apprehension. Woe betide him if his belief or assessment differs with that of the authorities. It is disingenuous to cite Section 39 of the CrPC in support of this drastic provision. Worse still, to overlook the more liberal Section 19 of the T.A. There must be belief or suspicion that a person has "committed an offence" based on "information which comes to his attention" professionally, except as a lawyer. It goes back to Section 11 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) 1976. Lord Shackleton noted: "Section 11 was not thought necessary in 1974. It has an unpleasant ring about it in terms of civil liberties."

The National Council for Civil Liberties (now called Liberty) published in 1985 an excellent study "The New Prevention of Terrorism Act: The Case for Repeal" by Catherine Scorer, Sarah Spencer and Patricia Hewitt. They wrote: "Under Section 11 people can be prosecuted for failing to give information about others which could also incriminate themselves in the same or related offences. Lord Jellicoe recognised that the greatest potential for abuse of this power was at the interrogation stage, for example, pressurising a relative who inadvertently picked up information with consequent divided loyalties or fear of reprisals. Lord Shackleton had also noted that "there is a distinction between suspicion and sure knowledge, and that where a person merely suspects that someone may be involved in terrorism but has no certain knowledge, he might understandably be wary of implicating someone who might be quite innocent."

"The use of Section 11 to curb journalists' freedom was raised in Parliament during the debates on the 1984 Bill. Clive Soley MP argued that 'the issue becomes one of the freedom of the press and other media to report on events as they deem appropriate' and Gerald Bermingham MP asked the Minister whether he would not agree that 'if journalism is truly accurate it can clearly and effectively display the abhorrent beliefs, practices and acts of perpetrators of terrorist offences and that, in its own way, that is beneficial to society because the true nature of what is being done is thereby demonstrated'." The government, predictably, disagreed.

The SAHRDC study points out that the PTA, unlike POTO, is an "emergency legislation. The U.K. has declared a formal emergency under Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights; and has asserted the right to derogate from its obligations under Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention. Indeed, the U.K. has conceded that PTA violates Article 5 of the European Convention; justifying its legality only on the grounds that a formal derogation notice has been filed with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

"The Government of India has not formally declared an emergency under Article 4 of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights (the analogue to Article 15 of the European Convention) much less formally declared an emergency under its own Constitution. Second, the European Court of Human Rights, in Brogan and others vs U.K. (1989) 11 EHRR 117, declared the PTA inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. Third, the anti-terrorism regime embodied in POTO's procedural and substantive provisions is far more draconian... Although the PTA of U.K. is subject to annual review by Parliament, POTO is not subject to any review for up to five years.

"In addition, the maximum periods of detention allowed by the two laws differ drastically. An individual arrested under PTA of U.K. may be detained for up to 48 hours and, with the approval of the Secretary of State, this period may be extended to five days. An individual arrested under POTO may be detained for up to 90 days and, with the approval of the Special Court, this period may be extended to 180 days."

Under TADA an area had to be declared as a "disturbed area" before its provisions were applied. POTO covers the whole country.

Perverting the Constitution

By issuing the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, the Vajpayee government, which lacks the required parliamentary strength to get it approved, has acted against the principle of constitutional morality.

IN promulgating an ordinance, a government should have two prime considerations if it were to hold out an assurance to the people of its competence and capacity in the matter. The first of these is a Cabinet decision on any extraordinary situation that necessitates the use of the powers under the 'Legislative Power of the President' of Article 123 of the Constitution, and the second is the assured support of each House of Parliament for the promulgation of the ordinance and for the passage of any bill that would be introduced to replace it.

The first stage is a constitutional action, in which Parliament is not involved. The second stage arises when the ordinance is placed before Parliament, which has the power to control the action of the executive in issuing the ordinance and in enacting a law to replace it.

There has been wide discussion on the merits and demerits of the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, or POTO. Those supporting it emphasise the need for such a stringent measure to deal with terrorism. Their fervour goes to the extent of branding all opposition to POTO as constituting deliberate support to terrorists and terrorism.

On the other hand, those opposing the Ordinance raise objections on the grounds that its provisions are so draconian as to scuttle the freedom of the press, human rights and the basic principles of criminal jurisprudence. It will provide wider cover for the failures and inefficiency of the administration, they say.

These charges against the provisions of POTO are mainly "legal". But, there is another aspect, namely, the "constitutional" base of the Ordinance. The Vajpayee government has committed a serious and outrageous act, in constitutional terms, in promulgating this Ordinance.

When Draft Article 102 - corresponding to the present Article 123 - came up for discussion in the Constituent Assembly, there was strong criticism against the very concept of giving legislative power to the executive. Most of the members of the Assembly had lived and struggled during the British regime under the highly oppressive measures taken by the Governor-General and the Governors under their ordinance-making powers. H.V. Kamath was forthright in saying: "This is an important chapter inasmuch as we are seeking to clothe or invest the President with certain powers against which the Congress and all patriots fought during the British regime against the ordinance-making powers of the Governor-General."

DR. B.R. AMBEDKAR explained the differences between the provision of the 1935 Act and the proposed provision of our Constitution. The Governor-General had the powers to issue an ordinance even when the legislature was in session; he was not responsible to the legislature and, in fact, had parallel legislative authority. Although an ordinance under our Constitution would be issued in the name of the President, Dr. Ambedkar contended that "there shall be a Council of Ministers to aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions", and that "the President will be bound to accept the advice of his Ministers".

Kamath and others in the Constituent Assembly were more concerned with the possible delay - which may go up to seven and a half months - in the government seeking the approval of the legislature. At that time, the members viewed the entire question of ordinance promulgation under the normal assumption that the government would have a comfortable majority in both Houses of Parliament. Had Parliament been in session, the government would have had no need for an ordinance and it would have been able to introduce a bill and enact a law without any difficulty on the basis of its assured legislative strength. The question before the Constituent Assembly was how soon the government should be made to submit to the power of Parliament a matter of legislation. It is the legitimate authority and power of Parliament to approve or disapprove the use of the legislative power by the government. They were zealous that erosion of the legislative authority of Parliament should be restricted to as short an interval as possible.

The book Framing India's Constitution, edited by B. Shiva Rao and published in 1968, is a valuable collection of the relevant documents of the Constituent Assembly. Commenting on the trend of discussion in the Constituent Assembly about the ordinance-making powers of the government, it stated: "The Council of Ministers, which would in fact be responsible for making Ordinances under this power, would depend for its existence on the continued support and confidence of Parliament" (page 475).

Thus, the entire basis of Article 123 in bestowing legislative power to the executive rests on two factors: (i) Though the ordinance is issued in the name of the President, the responsibility for making the ordinance rests wholly with the Cabinet; and (ii) even if an ordinance is promulgated during the inter-session period, the Cabinet, while issuing the ordinance, should depend on the existence and the continued support and confidence of Parliament.

From this it should be clear that only a Cabinet that enjoys continued support in both Houses of Parliament has, constitutionally and morally, the competence and power to go in for an ordinance. If a government issues an ordinance when it lacks the legislative strength to have a bill containing the same provisions of the ordinance passed by Parliament, then it is an abominable misuse of the constitutional powers provided in Article 123.

In issuing the proclamation of POTO, the Vajpayee government relied on the words of Article 123 without following the spirit and morality of the Constitution. Unless the moral values of a Constitution are upheld at every stage, mere written words in it will not protect the freedom and democratic values of the people.

This aspect of constitutional morality was strongly insisted upon by Dr. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly itself. While moving the Draft Constitution in the Assembly on November 4, 1948, Dr. Ambedkar quoted Grote, the historian of Greece, who had said: "The constitutional morality, not merely among the majority of any community but throughout the whole, is an indispensable condition of government at once free and peaceable; since even any powerful and obstinate minority may render the working of a free institution impracticable without being strong enough to conquer the ascendancy for themselves."

After quoting Grote, Dr. Ambedkar added: "While everybody recognised the necessity of diffusion of constitutional morality for the peaceful working of the democratic constitution, there are two things interconnected with it which are not, unfortunately, generally recognised. One is that the form of administration must be appropriate to and in the same sense as the form of the Constitution. The other, that it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing its form by merely changing its form of administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the Constitution".

Dr. Ambedkar paused to ponder over the possible cultivation of constitutional morality in India. He observed: "The question is, can we presume such a diffusion of constitutional morality? Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic."

Thus, the Father of the Indian Constitution had a premonition that in the absence of constitutional morality, democracy may flounder in India.

It is quite possible to pervert the Constitution without changing its form. That is exactly what is taking place in India. That was exactly what Adolf Hitler did in Germany. Without altering the form of the Weimar Constitution, he destroyed the entire constitutional spirit and, in the end, the Constitution itself.

Where a government has sufficient majority in both Houses of the legislature, it has some legitimacy to go in for an ordinance; even there, the circumstances should be such that it cannot wait till the next session. This Government does not appear to have acted much on the basis of the powers of POTO, except to outlaw some organisations. That could have been done under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or under one or other of a plethora of sections of the criminal laws that we have.

THE bureaucrats would always prefer to have ordinances issued to have the power of law. They get tired of the tedious procedures of law-making by the legislature - in the form of notification, introduction, motions for circulation or reference to Select Committees, several stages of consideration, clause-by-clause discussion, division of the House, final reading, and so on. When a bill is passed in one House, it has to be referred to the other House for a similar time-consuming, nerve-racking work by the Minister concerned and the officials of the Ministry.

Instead of the rule of law, the bureaucracy would prefer to have rule by ordinances. Actually, the Bihar government indulged in such a rule of ordinances by promulgating and re-promulgating ordinances without having the need to approach the State legislature. At the expiry of an ordinance, it would promulgate another, reproducing the contents of the defunct ordinance. It re-promulgated as many as 256 ordinances between 1967 and 1981. One particular ordinance was re-promulgated continuously for 13 years without approaching the State legislature for a regular enactment.

Eventually, Dr. D.C. Wadhwa, an arduous research scholar from the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune, stumbled upon evidence of the manipulation of successive ordinances on identical subject matters in the Bihar government. He compiled the details with great care and published his findings in a book Re-promulgation of Ordinances: A Fraud on the Constitution of India. He filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the fraudulent use of the constitutional power. In its judgment in D.C. Wadhwa vs State of Bihar (AIR 1987 SC 579), the Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati observed: "The power to promulgate an Ordinance is essentially a power to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and it cannot be allowed to be 'perverted to serve political ends'. It is contrary to all democratic norms that the Executive should have the power to make a law."

In the concluding paragraph of this judgment, the court made a strong indictment: "It is a settled law that a constitutional authority cannot do indirectly what it is not permitted to do directly. If there is a constitutional provision inhibiting the constitutional authority from doing an act, such provision cannot be allowed to be defeated by adoption of any subterfuge. This would clearly be a fraud on the constitutional provision."

The Vajpayee government has sought to do indirectly through an Ordinance what it has not been in a position to do directly through a bill containing the same provisions passed in Parliament. Had the government sufficient strength to pass such a bill, it need not go about seeking consensus, consideration of amendments, all-party meetings, and so on. Some of the National Democratic Alliance constituents themselves have expressed reservations about some of the provisions of POTO.

PROMULGATION of an ordinance by a government that does not enjoy sufficient strength in Parliament will have dangerous consequences. An ordinance has the force of law as soon it is promulgated and in case of disapproval by Parliament the ordinance may cease to exist. But a mere disapproval will not revive the completed transactions unless Parliament passes an act reversing the transactions of the Ordinance with retrospective effect, subject, of course, to constitutional limitations.

In Re-promulgation of Ordinances, Prof. Wadhwa gives a quotation from the Roman legalist Julius Paulus (B.C. 204): "One who does what a statute forbids transgresses the Statute; one who contravenes the intention of a Statute without disobeying its actual words, commits a fraud on it."

Half a century ago, Dr. Ambedkar warned the people of India about the possibility of subverting the Constitution without changing its form. Paulus said some 22 centuries ago that a fraud on a statute could be committed without disobeying its actual words.

The Union government has contravened the intention and morality of the Constitution. It has committed a blatant fraud on the Constitution.

Irrespective of the steps taken by government or those to be taken by Parliament in dealing with the disapproval resolutions and consideration of a bill, in whatever form they are presented and considered, high priority should be given to take up and call for the accountability of the government about the fraud committed on the Constitution by promulgating the Ordinance.

Era Sezhiyan is a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, and a former Member of Parliament.

An expanding movement

A national conference of the All India Democratic Women's Association considers the problems and challenges that confront women and re-asserts its programme of intervention and action.

THE sixth national conference of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), held in Visakhapatnam from November 23 to 27, marks an important stage in the growth of the organisation and in the maturing of the Indian women's movement within which it holds a pre-eminent position. The 900 delegates who gathered in the quiet township of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, representing a membership of 59 lakh women reflecting the socio-economic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity of States as far apart as Kerala and Tripura, deliberated on the problems and challenges that confront Indian women. The discussions and exchange of experiences and ideas by delegates covered a spectrum of issues and concerns, a measure both of the expansion of the organisation into new regions and amongst new sections of women and its growing confidence and understanding of itself.

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Since its last national conference held in Bangalore in June 1998, AIDWA has increased its membership by over five lakhs. Units now function in the new States of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also. Its growth, however, has been an organic one. Over the last three years, AIDWA has identified the issues that relate to the lives and work concerns of women in specific contexts and milieus. It has been able to weave these strands into a shared programme of intervention and action at the national level, which in turn has strengthened its position within the women's movement. This aspect came through forcefully in the debates. Linkages were forged across the disparate experiences that AIDWA activists brought.

The young Adivasi panchayat president from Kannur in Kerala elected in a general constituency; the panchayat president from Madhya Pradesh who faced repeated no-confidence motions; the Adivasi woman from Manipur branded a witch and beaten within an inch of her life for demanding property rights for women; the young Muslim student from Almora who won her college elections despite adverse propaganda by Hindu groups; the Dalit housewife from Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu, ostracised by her caste panchayat for refusing to surrender her property to a husband who took a second wife and deserted her; the activist from Maharashtra who struggled against state cutbacks in the public distribution system; or the Dalit agricultural worker from Bihar who fought landlord terror for her right to her land... each saw her oppression and fight mirrored in the experience of the other. For the delegates this pooling of experience held many lessons and re-affirmed the need for a continuous organisational response.

The high point of the opening session was the address by Sahar Saba (see interview), a representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), who received thunderous applause and a standing ovation. She spoke about the past and current situation in Afghanistan, the courageous role and struggle of its women against the medieval repression of the Taliban regime, and the role for women in the future government of her country.

A session on women and terrorism in the Indian context followed. Four delegates spoke of their personal experiences in fighting the many forms of terror and fundamentalism that they have been made to face. Shabnam, a young delegate from Jammu and Kashmir, described the ongoing attempts by militants in Kashmir to impose on women dress codes and the wearing of burqa, virtually at gun point. Militant and fundamentalist groups in the Kashmir Valley have declared family planning to be un-Islamic. Despite the enormous toll that militancy has taken, women in Kashmir have refused to surrender their rights for an agenda set by militants. Urmila Riyang from Tripura spoke of how in her state, women, particularly those who have dared to join Left and democratic movements, have become targets for militant groups.

Satyabati Bhuiyan, former chairperson of the Barpeta municipality of Assam, described the situation in Assam - yet another State where armed militancy is a threat to civil society. Activists who work with organisations such as AIDWA are caught between threats from competing militant groups. She recalled the courage of Reena Basak, an elected sarpanch who refused the demand by a militant group to allocate to it Rs. 25,000 from the panchayat's development fund. For her refusal they shot her husband.

Parveen Begum from Mumbai spoke of her personal experience, shared by others like her, of being caught between the threat from the Hindu Right, and the pressures from fundamentalists in her own community.

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THE discussions at the conference focussed on four areas of concern: the impact on women, and working women in particular, of market reform and globalisation policies; the growth of regressive communal ideologies that erode the position of women in the public domain and private life; the disturbing increase in the extent and forms of violence on women; and lastly, the response by women to these many pressures in the form of struggles for change. Women are fighting against oppression and for change in many forums: in elected bodies, in the courts and in the streets.

Delegates from several States painted a grim picture of the profoundly negative impact that economic reform policies are exerting on the lives of the working people, women inevitably being the hardest hit. There are few regions, or spheres of life and economic activity, which are not experiencing its impact. Falling agricultural prices, for example, is a countrywide phenomenon. This has increased rural poverty, leading to hunger, migration, and in States like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, suicides by farming women and men.

Many delegates also said that some of these policies are met with stiff resistance by those affected. In Andhra Pradesh, AIDWA and other democratic organisations conducted a sustained campaign in 1999-2000 against the increase in power tariff by the N. Chandrababu Naidu government, imposed in response to conditionalities laid down by the World Bank. The Maharashtra delegation described a prolonged campaign against another feature of reform that has directly hit the poor, namely, the cutbacks in the public distribution system.

Examples of the targeting of minorities, and women from amongst them, by communal and fundamentalist organisations such as those that are part of the Sangh Parivar dominated the discussions, particularly by delegates from the northern States, suggesting the greater strength of such organisations in states where the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power. Here communal ideology has got institutionalised, through the policy of administrative appointments in government, the rewriting of textbooks from a Hindu perspective, and through channels of popular culture.

A delegate from Uttar Pradesh spoke of how even unused space in government offices is often converted into a 'bhajan mandali'. Extreme brutality has been shown to women who dared to defy moral and cultural policing. Bharati Bharot from Ahmedabad, who married a Muslim, was held prisoner for several days by Hindu extremists who wanted to break her marriage and make her undergo a purification ceremony. In desperation she immolated herself in the office premises of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It took the local unit of AIDWA 10 days to even get a first information report registered.

Both these contemporary issues, namely economic reforms and fundamentalism, have intensified violence against women. A globalised media and popular culture have contributed to the devaluation of women by reinforcing and reinventing tradition and ritual, and practices such as dowry. Women are made easy targets of abuse and violence. In many States, such as Tamil Nadu and Haryana, this increased level of violence is getting sanction from a resurgent caste consciousness. Azhagamma, a delegate from Tamil Nadu, spoke of how she was fined Rs.51,000 by her caste panchayat for refusing to give her land to her husband's second wife. She was socially ostracised and no one was allowed to work for her. The panchayat then said she could work her fine off, but at a humiliating cost. Each time she prostrated before them, Rs.1,000 would be cut from her fine. She did this 47 times. The Tamil Nadu AIDWA unit is now fighting her case.

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In the villages of Haryana, Jat panchayats have issued death fatwas against couples who have married out of caste. Jagmati, a delegate from Haryana, related a case where the Jat panchayat in Jaundhi village forced a young mother to exchange a 'rakhi' with her husband in front of them, to signify the breaking of their inter-caste marriage bond. Here too AIDWA is fighting for their right to live as a married couple in the same village.

AN entire session of the conference was devoted to the many forms of protest against women's oppression that is taking place across the country. This growing consciousness is expressing itself in many ways and not merely through public protest actions. Reservations, for example, may have ensured women a place in panchayat bodies, but in exercising effective leadership women must contend with resistance from men, in particular from upper caste men. A Dalit woman panchayat president cannot sit on a chair in front of her subordinate who is an upper caste person. A panchayat president from Madhya Pradesh complained about the repeated no-confidence motions she had to face. Making panchayat democracy effective through the participation of women is a struggle that AIDWA is involved in. "The impact of globalisation and fundamentalism," AIDWA general secretary Brinda Karat said, "imposes upon us the need to assert the common identity of working people, particularly women."

The conference passed seven resolutions. These included a resolution on the market-driven resurgence of dowry, and one on legal reforms for women. This included a demand for fresh legislation to tackle domestic violence and to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace. In a resolution on the proliferation of sex-selection techniques in the context of declining juvenile sex-ratios, AIDWA demanded an amendment to the Pre-natal Diagnostics (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, to restrict all genetic testing procedures to government institutions.

The six reports that have been put together by the conference presents a distilled version of the experience, information and data that the delegates brought with them.

The conference elected its leadership for the next three years but not before it acknowledged the role played by the founders of the organisation, some of them such as Kanak Mukherjee, Ahilya Rangnekar, Capt. Lakshmi and Mallu Swarajyam who are amongst them, and others like Vimal Ranadive who passed away recently. The contributions to building the movement by the president Susheela Gopalan, who is battling cancer, were warmly and emotionally remembered. While Brinda Karat has been elected general secretary for the second term, the new president is Subhashini Ali, with Shyamoli Gupta as working president. An 85-member central executive committee was elected.

'We are the true victims of terrorism'

other

Interview with Sahar Saba, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

"No words, pictures or poems can describe the despair, pain and destruction of my country that has been ruled by fundamentalists for the last 10 years," said Sahar Saba, the young representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), in her address to the inaugural session of the national conference of the All India Democratic Women's Association.

Founded in 1977, RAWA is the only independent, anti-fundamentalist women's organisation working amongst Afghan women. The members of RAWA, spread in Afghanistan and in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, work in great secrecy as they are the prime targets of fundamentalist groups. Some 21 years ago, when she was seven, 28-year old Sahar came with her family to Quetta in Pakistan from Afghanistan. She studied in an "underground boarding school" run by RAWA ("we could not play outside, talk loudly, or let the neighbourhood know that ours was a school"). After high school she became a teacher, while working for RAWA. "Even now," she said "women in camps have no rights to health care and education. The world community has forgotten them." Later, RAWA asked her to move to Peshawar where she is now a spokesperson on their Foreign Affairs Committee. Excerpts from an interview with Parvathi Menon in Visakhapatnam.

What sort of post-Taliban political arrangement would RAWA like to see emerge in Afghanistan?

Ideally, we want to see a government based on democratic values. Unfortunately, there seems to be no such alternative emerging. From a more realistic point of view, what RAWA is asking for is that the former King, Mohammad Zahir Shah, be asked to lead a transitional government. He can unite different ethnic groups and the people will support him. His people are at least not criminals like the Northern Alliance warlords.

The international community must play a role in Afghanistan through the United Nations. The U.N., if honest, can play a peacekeeping role and help in the formation of a broad-based government that will give representation to all communities and women. We have demanded that all groups be disarmed. You cannot vote with a gun held against you.

Do you see this happening?

No, we don't. We have little hope of anything substantive coming out of the Bonn meeting under the aegis of the U.N. If RAWA does participate, it will only be to expose to the world what is happening there. We met the U.N. Special Envoy and told him that they must stop foreign interference. The U.S. and its allies are keeping the Northern Alliance alive. Some 70 per cent of Afghanistan was destroyed by the Northern Alliance in its time, and once in power it will be worse than the Taliban. However, it appears likely that the Northern Alliance will for the present make an alliance with the former King and the tribal chiefs. We believe there will be an uprising as people cannot go on living in this way. They need support. They are tired of 20 years of war, poverty and oppression.

What about the war and its impact? Can a fair political solution be found as long as the bombings continue? Has the war created any sympathy for the Taliban and the terrorist groups?

Afghanistan was a forgotten tragedy till September 11. Till then no one realised that we were the true victims of terrorism. The U.S.-led action in Afghanistan will not wipe out terrorism, and this is no solution to the problem. It is the Afghan people who are paying the price. The bombings have not created sympathy for the Taliban or Osama, but if there is prolonged intervention then the people will see this as an invasion. In making it a West vs Islam war, the U.S. is actually helping the fundamentalist groups. War and fundamentalism have destroyed our country economically, socially, psychologically. Our people are dying every day. Under the Taliban regime unspeakable atrocities were committed on our women. In one year, in the province of Farah in western Afghanistan 32 women committed suicide because death was preferable to life under the Taliban regime.

RAWA is documenting the human rights abuses and the impact of this war. We are helping women and their families shift to safer places. Thousands of people face starvation in winter, and despite Pakistan sealing its borders, thousands of refugees have come in with literally nothing. There is so little we can do in the face of this huge humanitarian crisis. We are trying to provide some food and health care in the 20 refugee camps where we have a presence.

An insider's view - from the outside

columns

On the achievements, and failures, of the Indian Police Service.

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FOR quite some time, I have been wanting to write on the Indian Police Service (IPS), its achievements and failures, and its raison d'etre. I had shied away from this delicate exercise all these days because, as an insider, I was liable to be accused of biases. Now that I am out of the Service, I presume I am less likely to leave myself open to that charge. Also, I can bring a certain amount of candour to what I pen, a freedom that was not available earlier. I am conscious that even now I can be roundly criticised for indulging in needless pontification and saying things which I should have said while I was still in the IPS. These pitfalls notwithstanding, I have now mustered enough courage to analyse the IPS without pulling any punches. This is actuated by the expectation that it will trigger a much-needed debate on an elite class of civil servants who are required to play a crucial role in the Indian polity.

The IPS is successor to The IP (Indian Police or Imperial Police, as it is sometimes referred to), just as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is to the Indian Civil Service (ICS). The first direct recruits joined in 1948. There were a number of distinguished officers who were part of this august group, including C.V. Narasimhan who headed the batch and ultimately rose to be Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). We have since then had more than 50 batches. The number picked up each year has varied - dropping to an average of 50 in recent years - and the profile of the recruit has also undergone perceptible changes. We have now graduates in management, medicine and engineering. Another refreshing development is the growing number of women opting for the Service. As in other All India and Central Services, the rural component has also become stronger. The average citizen cannot ask for a more balanced group that generally reflects the profile of our population. The pertinent question however is whether this broad-based composition has helped to raise the quality of policing.

It is easy to be critical and to sound pessimistic. Accusations against the IPS of meek surrender to political authority and a lack of financial integrity are too many to be ignored. The temptation to build an assessment based on such popular impressions is great. I would like to resist it. I consider it more appropriate to opt for a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis, which is a fairly objective tool given to us by modern management science. This is in the hope that a fair assessment of the Service is placed on record.

THE IPS is a unique assemblage of young men and women who had distinguished themselves in academics and made the grade through a stiff all-India competition. Very few countries have this advantage of such highly qualified supervisory ranks in the police. I remember my mentor, Prof. David Bayley of the State University of New York (SUNY), Albany, who is an international authority on comparative policing, introducing me to his graduate students several years ago as a member of a force that had no parallel in terms of intellectual abilities and which conferred an unusually high level of responsibility on its officers at a very early stage of their career. This was flattering, and I look upon this attribute of the IPS as one of its major strengths.

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Being an All India Service, the IPS is invested with a cosmopolitan character that provides an ambience conducive to objectivity and neutrality. These are qualities essential for a country of enormous diversity and in a polity which actively promotes rabid religious, caste and linguistic feelings capable of endangering social harmony. The conscious decision to have half the number of slots in each State cadre filled by persons from outside that State was also meant to free a substantial section of officers from the influence of local political and casteist ties. IPS recruits are, thus, encouraged to arrive with no baggage that will subsequently burden them in the discharge of their duties.

The authority that IPS officers enjoy right from the start of their career is derived from legal statutes such as the Code of Criminal Procedure and manuals such as the Police Standing Orders (PSO). In effect this means that such authority is not given to them by way of charity for which they are obliged to the political executive. It also implies that their accountability is to the law, a position fortified by Article 311 of the Constitution of India, which gives them security of tenure and protection against capricious administrative action that sometimes seeks to penalise even bona fide acts done in the discharge of duties to uphold the law. This is an unrivalled position of strength not shared by many in the civil service who do not enjoy anything more than the benefit of Article 311.

PERHAPS a weakness that contributes substantially to the lack of courage and a readiness to buckle under political pressure is the enormous discretion that the political executive enjoys in planning an IPS officer's career progression. First is the wilful denial of positions of importance to an unbending officer. It is easy for anyone to say that an IPS officer should not hanker after specific jobs and that he should accept whatever is given to him. Only an IPS officer will be able to convey how repeated assignment to jobs which offer just an hour's work of no consequence each day can kill the spirit and soul of an officer.

Secondly, the wanton geographical displacement of an officer from a location at frequent intervals destroys an officer's morale. The political executive indulges in this pastime with absolute delight and courts have generally declined to interfere in such administrative matters. The untold suffering of families of officers so dislocated in these days of high costs cannot be adequately described. The fear of transfer saps the officers' energy and erases any desire to stand up to unreasonable, if not sometimes downright illegal, requests from the powers-that-be. While all civil servants are exposed to capricious shifts of station, my feeling is that an IPS officer is the most affected because it is his placement, more than that of his counterparts in other Services, that attracts greater political attention.

The dual control over the All India Services is something unique to the Indian bureaucracy. While the Union government appoints an officer in the first instance, it is the government of the State to which an officer is allotted that plays a prominent role in his career planning. This is an unsatisfactory though a necessary arrangement in the context of our quasi-federal Constitution. This worked quite well until a few years ago, with a spirit of give and take dominating the impulses of both governments. With the worsening of contentious and personalised politics fostered by governments with competing interests, the management of the IAS/IPS cadres has become highly arbitrary. As a result, some highly rated officers have been denied honours which they richly deserve. They have been unwittingly identified with political parties, with disastrous consequences to their career advancement. One fall-out of this is the building of divided loyalties that weakens the fabric of administration and even impairs national integration and the supremacy of the Constitution. My belief is that the IPS officer, more than his IAS counterpart, has borne the brunt of such political crossfire.

WE now live in stressful times. The basic tenets of civil society are under attack everywhere on the globe. This was brought home to us in the most savage manner on September 11. We had more than a dose of it in the shape of the Mumbai blasts of 1993. Happenings in Kashmir are a daily reminder of how a spiteful government across the border can inflict unbearable pain on a peace-loving population. These happenings are not a mere political challenge crying for political solutions. They actually test the mettle of the police leadership and its capacity to bolster lawfully elected governments. This is an opportunity of enormous dimensions. The ability to conceptualise how to take the sting out of the terrorist, and subsequently liquidate him through purposeful action, does not come naturally. It calls for skill of a high order. The reversal of a hopeless situation in Punjab by leaders such as Julius Rebeiro and K.P.S. Gill highlighted the enormous opportunity available to the IPS to set right a situation that sometimes defies a political solution.

New forms of crime pose a major threat to economic activity and seek to diminish the pace of mankind's progress. Cyber crime offers a challenge that sharply erodes the unbelievable benefits of computerisation. This form of crime defies all imagination, and much to our dismay, it has kept pace with the march of technology. Unless tackled quickly and effectively, it is going to acquire menacing proportions. The IPS has the brain power to understand its nuances and chart out a strategy that frustrates cyber criminals. This is an opportunity for the Service to impress on the community that it has the savvy to neutralise new forms of crime, even if these are technology-oriented.

Finally, what are the threats that the IPS faces? The chief threat is the widespread perception that the Service has pushed 'service' to the common man to the realm of low priorities. The feeling is that the IPS officer is more concerned about how to keep his political masters in good humour rather than explore how to improve his sensitivity to the demands of the common man. The seemingly excessive preoccupation with VIP security - a charge that is sometimes blind to the need to protect policymakers from the evil designs of the terrorist - is cited as the reason for the lack of interest in offering even the basic services to the community. As a result, public confidence in the police's ability to look after community needs is fast eroding. We see neighbourhoods resorting more and more to private security agencies, a development that runs counter to the desire of the police to have a greater say in criminal justice policymaking. If this trend continues, we can visualise greater privatisation of security chores at the cost of the police.

The IPS also faces a threat from within. The cutting-edge levels of the police are fast losing faith in their leadership's capacity to look after their welfare needs. This is, however, not a new phenomenon, and several generations of IPS officers have exposed themselves to this charge of neglect of man management. The impression that has gained ground is that an average IPS officer is content with nursing his own interests while disregarding those of his subordinates. Against the backdrop of increasing politicisation of the police forces, this spells doom for the chain of command. It should further fuel the desire of the lower ranks to seek political patronage, even if it be at the cost of discipline. This is a trend that works against maintaining motivation in a quasi-military organisation such as the police.

THESE are random thoughts on the IPS. They emphasise the need for introspection by every member of the Service so that he or she strives unceasingly towards fulfilling the objectives for which the IPS was set up. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had visions of how the Service will help to maintain stability in society. His dream has only been partially fulfilled. The IPS has no doubt many successes to its credit. However, it has a long way to go before it can rest on its laurels. Achieving political neutrality is no doubt essential. More than that, every IPS officer should aim at how he can become more accessible to the citizen, who demands quick and efficient service. The ultimate test is whether the latter looks upon the police as his friend or a mere tool in the hands of the political executive. Unfortunately, the latter perception is the most dominant in the present situation.

To stem the decay

The Y.K. Alagh Committee points to the deficient state of the civil services and suggests measures to make the bureaucracy more efficient and result-oriented.

AN expert committee set up by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to look into the state of the civil services has found serious deficiencies in the system of recruitment. The seven-member committee, headed by Dr. Yoginder K. Alagh, former Union Minister and Vice-Chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, submitted its report to the UPSC on October 22. Sections of the report that are available with Frontline reveal that the committee is unimpressed with the present cadre of civil servants and has recommended remedial measures for the recruitment and induction phases. Its conclusions are based on its interaction and consultations with eminent persons in public life, senior civil servants, academicians, economists, social scientists, young officers and trainers.

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Lt.Gen.(retd.) Surinder Nath, Chairman of the UPSC, said: "We are studying the report. We will incorporate some recommendations of our own when we send the final set of recommendations to the Central government." He said the report was unlikely to have any implications for the civil services examinations of 2002.

The committee refers to some basic flaws in the "mindset" of civil servants. In a strongly worded chapter, it says that in the popular perception members of the civil services have a "ruler mindset", show no signs of courteous and humane behaviour, are totally devoid of transparency in decision-making, and seem to be preoccupied with their own survival and vested interests. This mindset, according to the report, becomes apparent when they are called upon to take care of the needs of the weaker sections of society, especially while implementing policies that can lead to a clash with the interests of influential persons in society. "As a result, the objectives of justice, fair play, development and welfare vis-a-vis the weaker sections tend to suffer by default," the report states.

A negative orientation, declining professionalism, intellectual sluggishness and a lack of ability to acquire new knowledge, undynamic outlook and, at times, a complete lack of intellectual honesty are some of the other weaknesses identified in the report. The report makes a special mention of the decline in the levels of integrity among civil servants. It points out that extensive regulatory controls by way of export and import licensing, industrial licensing, allocation of permits and quotas and the lowering of domestic duties and taxes on different products offer opportunities to the "venal among those administrating the regulatory set-up to exercise discretion in favour of particular clients on ulterior considerations".

Over the past few decades, the report says, there has been significant erosion of esprit de corps within the higher civil services. It underlines that while some members of the civil service have maintained a firm commitment to high standards of ethics and to the service of the nation, many others have breached the codes of professional conduct and entered into unethical, symbiotic pacts of convenience and mutual accommodation with influential politicians and business interests.

The report states that many civil servants suffer from intellectual sluggishness, which is manifested in the flattening of their learning curves. Most civil servants, according to the report, have the attitude that they are repositories of the wisdom and knowledge needed to deal with matters that lie within their spheres of authority. This attitude, the report points out, has made them unreceptive to new ideas and impervious to innovations that are essential in a dynamic administrative environment.

The report expresses concern over the "phenomenon of caste and regional prejudice exhibited by some members of the higher civil services". The tendency to favour colleagues belonging to one's own caste, regional or linguistic group implies that those not belonging to any such group will suffer inequitable treatment, it says.

According to the report, postings and transfers have become a tool in the hands of the political executive with which to force civil servants to comply with their diktats. Civil servants who show the flexibility to go along with the directions of their political masters are rewarded and those who refuse to compromise their professional independence, honesty and integrity are sidelined and penalised, it says. The "punishment" comes in the form of frequent changes in assignments.

The report has recommended insulation of the civil service from the vagaries and arbitrariness of the political executive. This can be done by vesting the authority to post and transfer civil servants in independent boards consisting of service professionals, it says.

The other recommendations of the report deal with eligibility parameters, the desired characteristics of candidates in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes and the modalities of identifying the most suitable candidates. It makes a strong case for lowering the age limit for recruitment, arguing that the economic cost of taking the examination at a higher age affects candidates from poorer families. The committee has designed a scheme to identify younger candidates. It suggests that the preliminary examination be made more objective and the main examination include papers on diverse subjects, including environment and law.

The report says that the recruitment and training of civil servants should be a long-term exercise. Future civil servants, it says, should be exposed to field-oriented developmental activities so that they remain in touch with people at the grassroots. Civil servants should develop an ability to work closely with civil society, it says. The report emphasises the need to recruit candidates who can champion reforms, facilitate the functioning of non-governmental organisations and cooperative groups and help the economy and society to operate within the national and global markets.

The report suggests that at the time of recruitment it has to be checked whether the aspirants are aware of the direction in which the country is moving and the strengths and weaknesses of civil society. They should also have an ability to interface with modern technology and institutions of local self-government and perform their duties with a sense of fair play, compassion and a commitment to achieve the objectives set by the Founding Fathers. The report says that it would be incorrect to expect a rural aspirant for the higher civil services to be computer savvy. "These aspects can be acquired, but if persons are averse to technology, then the forthcoming era of civil service may not really be their domain," it says. Although it may not be easy to test attributes such as honesty and integrity, given their importance an effort has to be made to do so, the report says.

The report emphasises the need to re-orient the civil service in the context of the diminishing role of the state in providing direct economic services, the state's growing importance in the economic and social sectors and the growing scarcity of non-renewable resources and the need to protect vulnerable groups of society.

Although it remains to be seen how many of its recommendations will be accepted by the UPSC, the Alagh Committee has served the immediate purpose of drawing attention to the need to overhaul the civil service and make it more efficient and result-oriented.

Hindutva ire

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The NCERT's censorship of history textbooks represents a Hindutva attack on the ideas of pluralism and tolerance.

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THE Bharatiya Janata Party is playing with fire. Its campaign to rewrite history and excise "inconvenient" passages and unpatriotic "distortions" from school textbooks published by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is the most obnoxious ideological project yet undertaken in India by anyone. It aims to influence young minds in the way they view this society, its whole past, and its present character. The project is an assault on the pluralist-secular conception of India. The campaign has now received the approval of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who has discarded his "liberal" mask and joined the Hindutva chorus rationalising the censoring of history textbooks.

The BJP has openly linked this effort to its electoral preparations in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. The incendiary mixing of politics with the doctoring of the textbooks should itself expose the mala fide nature of the Hindutva education project. Its content and process are both repugnant.

The manner in which the "objectionable" paragraphs were removed was grossly, profoundly, undemocratic. It originated with Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, who has no business to judge history textbooks in the first place. It was executed without even the pretence of transparency by NCERT Chairman J.S. Rajput - without informing the authors, obtaining their consent, or undertaking a content review.

No worthy democracy can countenance such censorship by fiat, which makes a mockery of the long deliberation over syllabi, author selection, expert consultation, and legal contracts forbidding editorial changes, through which textbooks are produced. Yet, the NCERT is not going to stop with this. It has a clandestine history syllabus and a range of new textbooks, written by prejudiced authors, which are under production and due for release next April.

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There is every reason why the coming batch of textbooks, as well as censorship of existing ones, should be thoroughly opposed. State governments not in hock to the BJP must produce their own textbooks in keeping with their rights. They must also legally challenge the coming series, and repudiate the censored texts. We need a massive counter-campaign of resistance. Or else, our historians and children will be muzzled, and vital truths about India's past, such as casteism, will be suppressed.

WHY did Joshi and Rajput censor the textbooks? The "objectionable" portions were at odds with Hindutva's brahminical version of history which glorifies India's past and presents it as a series of "Hindu" achievements, unmatched anywhere else. Crucial here is the tailoring of truth to specific prejudices. For instance, the paragraphs deleted from Professor Romila Thapar's textbooks say, "beef was served as a mark of honour to special guests" in ancient India, but that "in later centuries, Brahmans were forbidden" from eating it. Similarly "objectionable" is a Modern India paragraph, which says the Jats established "a state in Bharatpur, conducted plundering raids in the region around Delhi. They also participated in court intrigues" - something that many communities did in the 16th or 18h century.

Hindutva's ire is also especially directed at passages which say there is no archaeological evidence of an ancient settlement around Ayodhya, and that the "earliest inscriptions" in Mathura do not attest Krishna's presence. This runs counter to the literal, superstitious belief that Rama and Krishna were actual historical figures (rather than mythological ones). However, the BJP's new official line, enunciated by spokesperson V.K. Malhotra, is that Rama and Krishna are historical personages. Similarly, the axe has fallen on any discussion of the rigidities of the caste system and of the role of "brahminical indoctrination" in promoting fatalism about varna among the lower castes.

Hindutva's saffron agenda in education has another angle too. This is to erase one central truth about Indian culture and civilisation for 2,000 years - namely, its plural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious character. As Amartya Sen says: "It is futile to try to understand Indian art, literature, music, food or politics without seeing the extensive interactions across barriers of religious communities. These include Hindus and Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsees, Christians... Jews... and even atheists and agnostics. Sanskrit has a larger atheistic literature than exists in any other classical language."

Hindutva ideology, and the Vajpayee government, simply cannot stomach this. Their mortal fear of facts is rooted in ignorance, hatred (of "the Other") and a deep inferiority complex about Indianness itself. This complex demands that everything in India's past must be depicted as uniquely great. On this view, India's past was a sort of continuous Golden Age interrupted only by external "aggression". This dogma runs counter to facts. Ancient India undoubtedly had many remarkable accomplishments: in literature, linguistics, dance, dramaturgy, mathematics (although not "Vedic mathematics"), astronomy, architecture and sculpture. But many other civilisations, Chinese, Arab, Persian, Greek, Roman, and so on, also had great achievements.

There are many worthy things about, say, 2nd to 10th century India, which led A.L. Basham to write The Wonder That Was India. But there were very ugly things too: casteism, Dalit oppression, entrenched social inequalities and power hierarchies, religious factionalism, rampant superstition, extreme gender discrimination, low levels of productivity, and widespread deprivation and disease. India's interaction with the world was important. For instance, during the Middle Ages, India received a great deal from the Arab world in administrative systems, land and revenue management, music, architecture, chemistry, medicine, even couture. Similarly, it gave a great deal to the rest of Asia, and Europe.

Understanding all this, and grappling with the reality of sati, widespread illiteracy, or tyrannical village life, requires confronting, not censoring, the past. Such understanding is absolutely indispensable if we are to have a future, indeed even relate to our present. Hindutva makes this impossible. It suppresses all complexity.

Because Hindutva nationalism suppresses the negative or egregious aspects of the past, it cannot reform what the present inherits from it. Its glorification agenda ends up rationalising and perpetuating past horrors. This sets it apart from the freedom struggle, which even today remains a major inspiration for progressive, people-empowering politics. The freedom movement had two components: opposition to imperialism and an agenda of internal social reform. Both were crucial to its popular appeal. There were more or less radical elements in that movement, but they all shared this general orientation. Hindutva did not.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was not part of the freedom movement. It set its face firmly against social reform and popular empowerment. It has now resurfaced in an expanded form as a deeply conservative anti-reform force. Falsification of history to rationalise casteist privilege or gender inequality is closely linked to this conservative agenda.

At work is a narrow, sectarian, anti-pluralist mindset which is crucial to Hindutva. In some qualitative respects, Hindutva is no different from the Taliban or Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists, with whom the BJP has been rightly compared. The Taliban could not stand pluralism or "dilution" of Islam. They destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas to "purify" Afghanistan. The BJP-VHP-RSS could not stand pluralism and the Babri mosque. They razed it. Both Hindu and Islamic fundamentalisms are equally intolerant and allergic to what they regard as interfering or "alien" elements.

For instance, history is taught in Pakistan through "Pakistan Studies", courses which are compulsory at school and college. In its "official" format, history jumps straight from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro to the next "real" civilisation, which "naturally" begins with the "Islamic conquest" of Sindh. The intervening "Buddhist" and "Hindu" periods are treated as pitiable voids or unpleasant aberrations. Scholars like Pervez Hoodbhoy and Mubarak Ali have analysed the biases and elisions in Pakistan's "official" history.

Hindutva's version of history neatly parallels these. It too has a gaping medieval hole which is sometimes filled with fantasies such as P.N. Oak's insane "theory" about the Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple! (Recently, RSS supremo K.S. Sudarshan dramatically extended this even to the modern period, by claiming at his Vijayadashami address that one Talpade test-flew an airplane in India before the Wright Brothers did!)

Pakistani civics textbooks blatantly project a view of that country modelled on "nation-building" principles purportedly derived from patriarchical Islam. Counterposed to this is the contemptuous treatment of India as a "feminine" and "weak" but "mean" entity. A standard text claims that Islam empowers women: "Islam gives respect to all women... They are considered mothers, wives, daughters and sisters. Prior to the advent of Islam, a woman's status was that of a slave or servant. Islam gave women human rights and the right to inheritance."

At the same time, the book asserts: "In Pakistani society, the male is superior. The male is the head of the household and descent goes down in his name... Islam has determined woman's status. A Pakistani woman, unlike Western women, is not free of parental control or suffocated like women in traditional Hindu society. She is looked upon as the Queen of the Home. Heaven lies about her feet and this is an important concept."

This mirrors the infamous Hindutva formulation of the rape report of the National Commission for Women: "However, in India, in ancient times, women had enjoyed an able position in the household and in society. As the 'queen' of the household, her position was envied by her counterparts elsewhere. Unfortunately, constant invasions by foreign elements from about the 8th century changed the scenario to the detriment of women. Her vulnerability to abuse by the invading hordes bestowed upon man a responsibility to protect her and from thence developed the inherent dominant role of the male within the family fold and her inevitable dependence on the male."

Contradictorily, and in an exact replica of the Pakistani text, this supposedly "exalted", "honourable" position of women is identified through rubrics such as 'ardhangini', 'grahlaxmi' and the 'dharmapatni'- all male-derived categories. If Pakistani textbooks denigrate India - in which "the Muslims and untouchables are mistreated and not provided with justice" - pro-Hindutva texts glorify India and vilify Pakistan and Islam. Both lay claim to an intense militant nationalism. The comparison is relevant because Pakistani textbooks are now recognised as one of the prime sources of Taliban-style fundamentalism and ideological obscurantism. Their Indian counterparts are growing in number on the strength of identical prejudices.

The NCERT's "National Curriculum Framework" and many other saffron tracts exude these same prejudices. But it is in Gujarat, the country's most developed laboratory of communalism, that Hindutva textbooks reach their full-blown, complete, vicious, expression. Sahmat's recent booklet, The Saffron Agenda in Education, has discussed these issues at length. It will suffice here to outline the stated "objectives" of the Class VI syllabus, pertaining to ancient India. These aim to ensure that the pupil

* Is introduced to Vedic literature which is an expression of Indian culture;

* Knows about the respectable status of women in Indian culture;

* Gets acquainted with the basic truths of life against a backdrop of Indian culture;

* Learns for himself the truth; that in the context of Indian culture a person acquires a high status not by right of birth but by merit;

* Knows about how in the Indian cultural context the rules were oriented towards the subjects;

* Imbibes the basic values of Indian culture expressed by the narratives of the epics, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and by the main characters in it; for instance, the importance of 1) the purity of domestic life 2) steadfastness in adhering to truth even at the cost of suffering;

* Moulds the character which makes one abide by one's duty when there is a conflict between personal relationship and a sense of duty.

OTHER textbooks in Gujarat present the varna system as "a precious gift of the Aryans to the mankind" (sic), and label all minorities as "foreigners". A Class IX textbook discusses the "problems" of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the following manner: "Of course, their ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blamed for lack of progress because they still fail to realise importance of education in life. Therefore, there is large-scale illiteracy among them and female illiteracy is a most striking fact." This is a specious argument. It is also insulting to Dalits and Adivasis.

It would not be long before NCERT books resemble such garbage. The vile prejudices underlying the censorship episode make nonsense of the very idea of education, which has to do with cultivating the mind to think critically, understand complexity, and value truth.

BJP apologists have rationalised textbook censorship as a means of promoting "tolerance" by removing passages that can "hurt sentiments" (of Jats, Sikhs and other communities). In reality, it amounts to promoting the sum-total of intolerances by appeasing varying parochial sentiments. Nor is the present controversy an esoteric dispute between Liberal-Left scholars and others. Rather, it separates those who see history as a truthful account of reality, which demands continual reinterpretation, from those who yoke history to narrow "nation-building" agendas inculcating irrational national "pride". The latter will make whole generations ignorant. They will breed hatred and hubris - as Hitler did with his Master Race myth. Under the BJP's "leadership", India seems headed that way - and at least towards the destruction of secularism and pluralism. Nothing could be more dangerous.

The collapse of Enron

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The biggest American company ever to go bankrupt, leaves a trail of questions and lessons.

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IF you had to name a single company that could serve as a symbol of international capitalism in the 1990s, this would probably be the one. The giant multinational corporation Enron grew from being essentially a gas pipeline company in the 1980s, into the world's single largest energy trader, accounting for around 25 per cent of energy trade in both United States and European markets. Last year, Enron was ranked 16th on the Global Fortune 500 and eighth on the U.S. Fortune 500.

By then, Enron had grown into a multisector service corporation with five major divisions: Enron 'Transportation Services' specialised in the company's traditional natural gas pipeline operations. Enron 'Energy Services' was the company's retail arm for the sale of natural gas and electricity to both commercial and industrial users. Enron 'Wholesale Services', which is also the main shareholder in the infamous Dabhol Power Company (DPC) in Maharashtra, currently delivers more than two times the natural gas and electrical power volumes as its nearest competitor. Enron 'Online Services' is a commodity trading system. It provides the largest eCommerce site in the world, dwarfing all other energy marketing web sites combined. Enron 'Broadband Services' streamlines media applications and "customises" bandwidth solutions on the Internet.

But of course there was even more in the story of Enron, and that is what makes it so symbolic. It exemplified two important tendencies in contemporary capitalism: the urge - and remarkable ability - to commercialise almost all aspects of human life; and the use of lobbying and access to political power to influence national and international policies to its own advantage.

Surveys conducted by the business magazine Fortune have named Enron the most innovative company in America for six years in a row. One of the reasons was that it was largely responsible for the notion that anything could be commoditised. In fact Enron pioneered the use of the Internet to buy and sell natural gas and electric power supplies for utilities and industrial power users and helping them to hedge against fluctuations in power prices. But in addition, the company has been buying and selling a giddying range of products, from pulp and paper to petrochemicals and plastics to water, and including weird products like clean air credits that power utilities could purchase to "meet" pollution emission limits.

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The increasingly popular market perception was that Enron could initiate trade in anything: the weather, bandwidth, even (ironically, now) bankruptcy. This led the eCommerce wing alone to transact tens of billions of dollars of business last year.

The other important characteristic of Enron was its significant political clout, which made it the envy of other large corporations. This clout did not come cheaply: Enron - and its Chairman Kenneth Lay - invested huge amounts in terms of direct donations and other contributions, especially (but not exclusively) to the Republican Party in the U.S. Enron and its executives were the single largest contributors to the presidential ambitions of George W. Bush. Kenneth Lay personally gave at least $1 million in soft money to Bush's political campaigns, and organised a Republican fundraiser that topped all previous records by bringing in $21.3 million in one night.

When Bush was Governor of Texas, Lay served on his Governor's Business Council, and he was a key energy adviser during the presidential campaign. As the Bush Administration formed its controversial energy plan, which favoured the oil and gas industry, Lay was one of the business executives called in to advise. Some benefits have been direct: thus the Enron Methanol plant in Pasadena, Texas, won special concessions from then Governor Bush, which allowed the company to pollute without a permit, as well as giving it immunity from prosecution for violating some environmental standards.

The company also had close ties with U.S. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, a Republican on the powerful Senate Banking Committee. Gramm's wife, Wendy, joined Enron's board of directors after a five-year term as chairwoman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which played a role in deregulating energy markets that Enron dominated until its recent financial crisis.

Enron has benefited from these links not only in terms of U.S. domestic energy policy, but also in its international activities. Thus the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which provides political risk coverage and financial support to U.S. companies investing abroad, provided financing or insurance coverage worth almost $300 million for Enron's foreign projects in 2000. Enron received $200 million in political risk insurance for the Dabhol project in 1996, and $200 million in insurance in 1999 for its Bolivian project.

More significantly, the company emerged as a major player in influencing the ongoing GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The aim has been to expand the scope of the rules to include all public services, ranging from health care and education to energy, water and transportation services. These would push for commercialising and privatising all forms of services and utilities, implying a drastic restructuring of the role of government regarding public access to essential social services across the world. As a leading member of the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries (UCSI), Enron was becoming a prime example of how large multinational corporations can not only influence, but actually determine, global trade rules at the WTO.

The company inevitably created controversy. In India, the Dabhol power project, of which Enron was an 80 per cent shareholder until the Government of India recently purchased 30 per cent shares, was highly controversial from even before its inception. There is sufficient evidence that Enron used its now well-honed skills in terms of lobbying and influencing decision makers to receive terms that proved to be not only excessively generous for itself but actually unsustainable, such that the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) had to stop buying power from Dabhol. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both criticised Enron for colluding with the police who brutally suppressed protests at the Dabhol power plant project site.

In Bolivia, the company has been linked to major environmental damage, with its involvement in the Cuiaba Integrated Energy Project. Last year an oil pipeline erupted and dumped an estimated 10,000 barrels of refined crude oil and petrol into the Desaguadero River, which supports several indigenous communities. Local people were deprived of food and means of livelihood, and had to march to the capital to protest before any help was provided.

Enron was even able to reap huge profits from the California energy crisis. When sudden energy shortages translated into massive cost increases, major suppliers of commercial and industrial energy like Enron raked in huge profits, in Enron's case around $377 million. Enron officials have argued that the market should be even more deregulated, to allow 'demand' and 'supply' forces to resolve the ongoing energy crisis in California.

The combination of aggressively innovative trading practices and huge lobbying clout made Enron the darling of Wall Street. It was one of the highest performers on the share market, especially because it supposedly straddled both "old economy" and "new economy" interests. Last year the share price rose to a peak of more than $90 a share.

THE fall of such a huge and powerful company has been relatively swift. The sheer rapidity and scale of its recent growth now appears to have been accompanied by heavy and unsustainable borrowing and willingness to fudge its financial statements. In late October 2001, the company disclosed that it had shifted billions of dollars in debt off its balance sheet and into an array of complex partnerships. When the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated, Enron restated five years of earnings, wiping out nearly $600 million in profit.

As a result, Enron was teetering close to insolvency when Dynegy, a smaller Texan energy company, agreed to acquire it for $9 billion plus the assumption of $13 billion in debt. However, when Enron subsequently disclosed even more debts and dubious financial dealings, Dynegy backed down from its offer. Credit rating agencies downgraded Enron's debt to junk status. Energy trading companies reduced dealings with the firm, and some forced Enron to pay higher prices for natural gas and other products or required it to post large cash deposits to back trades. Enron shares fell by 85 per cent on a single day (November 28) to close at 61 cents a share. It also created a New York Stock Exchange record for large trading volume in a single stock.

At the time of writing, the company is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. With $62 billion in assets as of September 30, it would be the biggest American company ever to go bankrupt. In consequence, not only are the holdings of investors, including big mutual funds, almost wiped out, but the fate of more than 21,000 employees is in doubt.

This will certainly have repercussions in India as well. The resolution of the DPC dispute would never have been easy and uncomplicated, but now it will be further delayed as the parent company's existence is in doubt. Meanwhile, delays would increase the losses of DPC as interest costs mount since the plant is sitting idle, shut down since June. The Industrial Development Bank of India, State Bank of India, ICICI and other Indian financial institutions have lent directly or guaranteed loans totalling Rs. 6,204 crores ($1.4 billion) to Dabhol. All these loans are now in question, and the profitability of these financial institutions also would be affected.

Enron was more than a large multinational company. It was in fact a symbol of, and for some even a model for, economic activity across the world including in India. It may be too much to hope that its collapse will come to symbolise the disintegration of the type of capitalism Enron came to represent. But it must surely lead to a deeper questioning of the economic system which can generate this scenario.

Understanding human language

The text of the address by Professor Noam Chomsky at the Special Convocation of the University of Calcutta held on November 22, 2001 to award him the degree of D. Litt Honoris Causa.

I WOULD like to express my gratitude at being welcomed into this distinguished intellectual community, with its vibrant and rich tradition. It is particularly gratifying to receive this honour in India. My professional field, as I am sure you know, was in large part created in India, 2,500 years ago. The first "generative grammar" in something like the modern sense is Panini's grammar of Sanskrit. Nothing was known about these similarities at the origins of the modern versions 50 years ago. It was only after the modern field had taken shape that earlier traditions, long forgotten, began to be explored and reinterpreted in the light of recent insights. Many treasures were discovered, among them Panini's classic - though crucial issues of interpretation remain obscure, and there are surely research topics that could prove highly rewarding.

Meanwhile contemporary inquiries proceeded along their own distinctive course. Characteristically, they view language in a biological setting, adopting what is sometimes called a "biolinguistic approach". From this point of view, the human faculty of language is regarded basically as an organ of the body, mostly the brain, more or less on a par with the visual system or the system of motor organisation.

The language faculty is a "species property" in a dual sense. First, it is close to uniform for the species; second, it is apparently unique to humans in essentials.

The first of these properties is less surprising than it seemed a few years ago. Recent studies indicate that there is remarkably little genetic variation within the human species, so little that it is now commonly assumed that contemporary humans are all descendants of a very small breeding group, perhaps about 100,000 years ago, a conclusion that has broad implications. With regard to language, apart from the margins, variation in the capacity to acquire a rich and highly articulated knowledge of language is so slight as to be virtually undetectable, at least by present means.

The uniqueness property is more surprising. There are no known analogues to human language elsewhere in the animal world. The closest analogies, and these are very weak, are remote: perhaps in some species of insects. Human language does not even find a place in standard taxonomies of animal communication systems; and in fact, there is no strong reason to think of it as primarily a system of communication, contrary to common belief.

Language is like other biological systems, however, in that its basic character is genetically determined. Each person, of course, undergoes a specific course of development, shaped by individual experience, but in highly limited ways. The outcomes are largely a result of shared initial endowment. The human languages, existing or possible, are pretty much cast to the same mould. A rational Martian scientist, studying humans the way we study other animals, could reasonably conclude that there really is only one language, with only minor variations. The variations are very important for our lives; the far deeper uniformities we simply take for granted, without awareness. Similarly, traditional and pedagogical grammars and dictionaries are concerned with the unpredictable and somewhat accidental variation, rightly for their special purposes. The interests of the scientific study of language are virtually complementary: the invariant principles of sound, meaning, and structure that are rooted in our mental nature and that determine the fundamental nature of the languages that each person comes to acquire under normal circumstances.

One basic problem, then, is to discover the invariant principles of the language faculty and the limited options of variation, and then to show that the possible human languages are determined by selecting among the options: one choice yields Tamil (more exactly, a specific variety of Tamil), another yields Swahili, etc. Putting it differently, the task is to show that with a specific choice of options, by adhering to the fixed principles one can literally deduce the infinite array of expressions of the language: their sound, their meaning, the ways in which they can be used to express thoughts, to request information, to tell stories, and numerous others. The task is immensely challenging and difficult. It will doubtless occupy the efforts and energies of many generations of researchers. Nevertheless, there has been quite encouraging progress. In the past 20 years particularly, there has been a flood of discoveries about languages of virtually every known typological variety. Like the well-studied languages, these have been investigated in far greater depth than ever before, revealing many entirely unexpected properties. New questions have arisen that had never been envisioned before. In many cases there have also been plausible answers, sometimes opening new directions for inquiry.

One novel question that has come to the fore in recent years, and that happens to be of particular interest to me, is the question of "optimal design": To what extent is human language an optimal solution to externally-imposed conditions that language must satisfy to be usable at all (for example, accessibility to sensorimotor systems). Equivalently, we may ask to what extent language satisfies the Galilean intuition that "nature is perfect" and it is the task of the scientist to prove it, a guiding intuition for the modern sciences.

There are some answers to such questions for very simple organisms: for example, an explanation of the fact that the shells of viruses are polyhedral. Current work suggests that something similar may be true for human language, a biological system that has emerged in the last moment of evolutionary time, in the most complex organism known, and is surely at the core of our nature and life. Such conclusions, which by now have considerable substance, raise many questions about biological evolution and development generally, and about the human species in particular. These research efforts have also provided new and often surprising solutions to long-standing problems of language, its acquisition and use, and its place in the biological world.

There should be very exciting years ahead in the study of language and other higher mental faculties. There is no better place to pursue these questions than in the land that was the original home of some of the major strands of inquiry that are now being woven into a most intriguing fabric. Speaking personally, I look forward with much eagerness and anticipation to observing, and participating in, these very promising developments.

The disingenuous Minister

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By going ahead with the accelerated public sector sell-off programme, the Central government, which has constituted itself to manage a country as large and complex as India, implies that it is incapable of managing the assets of the PSUs as effectively as by the private buyers.

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JUDGING by a recent missive sent by Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie to members of Parliament, the government is set on pre-empting criticism of its recently launched accelerated public sector sell-off programme. There are three elements to that programme, now being spearheaded by Shourie. First, it is being executed as per a time-bound agenda cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment (CCD). Secondly, it operates on the premise that the sale of equity of public sector undertakings (PSU) can be ensured only through the strategic sale route, which involves handing over management control to those who acquire a pre-specified proportion of the shareholding, even if this only amounts to a minority shareholding. Thirdly, the sale is clinched with the bidder who offers the highest premium above the reserved price computed on the basis of valuation procedures that are proving extremely controversial, and which the Comptroller and Auditor General has refused to vet.

The accelerated programme to divest equity through the strategic sale route was formalised in the September 27, 2001 decision of the CCD, which drew up a timetable for the sale of 13 PSUs by the end of March 2002. These included Computer Maintenance Corporation (CMC) Limited, Hindustan Teleprinters Ltd (HTL), Maruti Udyog Ltd, India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), Hindustan Zinc Ltd, IBP Company Ltd, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), Indian Petrochemicals Ltd (IPCL), the Hotel Corporation of India, Jessop & Co, NEPA Limited, Instrumentation Control Valves and Bharat Heavy Plates and Vessels. Besides this, the process of divestment of companies such as Indian Airlines, National Fertilisers Ltd, Madras Fertilisers Ltd (MFIL) and Hindustan Copper Ltd is under way.

The error in pursuing such an agenda should be clear. To start with, such accelerated and time-bound divestment is bound to affect adversely the price at which equity is being sold, since potential buyers see an opportunity of winning a bargain out of the desperation implicit in the government's manoeuvres. Secondly, this effort is being pursued at a time when all is not well in India's stock markets, with shares of many companies ruling well below what insiders consider appropriate. In fact, in some cases share prices have mysteriously slumped after the announcement of the disinvestment proposal. Thus, in April this year, officials found that the VSNL scrip, which had ruled at close to Rs.400 when the proposed disinvestment was announced, fell to Rs.300. This amounted to an implicit valuation of the company at Rs.9,000 crores, when cash reserves with the company amounted to Rs.7,000 crores. The difficulty is that the low share values tend to influence the price at which disinvestment takes place, even if they do not determine the actual disinvestment value.

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Finally, given its urge to complete the disinvestment process in a time-bound fashion, the government is forced to be "reasonable" when valuing PSUs as part of the process of determining the reserved price, as well as offer unusual concessions to cajole private players into buying into even profitable PSUs.

The principal concession that the government is making to coax private players into lapping up PSU equity at a fast enough pace is the strategic sale option. With equity shares as low as 25 per cent, a single private buyer would have full management control provided through a favourably framed shareholders' agreement. From the point of view of the private buyer this has many advantages. First, it provides control over the operations of a company with investments that are small relative to the size of the operations of the PSU involved. Secondly, if the buyer is an entity already involved in the area in which the PSU concerned operates, the purchase of management control at a small price would substantially strengthen its oligopolistic position in the market. This would, for example, be true in the petrochemicals area if Reliance is successful in its bid to acquire a 25 per cent strategic stake in IPCL. Finally, the buyer is assured of a partner who would not merely not interfere in the functioning of the company, since the privatisation process is aimed at ridding PSUs of government control, but would, as is happening with Suzuki in Maruti, be able to buy up a larger share of equity at a later date if the profitability of the enterprise warrants it.

Despite this, insiders tracking the privatisation process believe that there is reason to assume that PSUs are being routinely undervalued when put up for sale. This was argued in the case of Modern Foods Industries, based on an assessment of the value of the real estate held by the company, of Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (Balco), based on the value of a number of components of the company such as the captive power plant and the mining lease it holds, and of the valuation underlying the proposed sale of IPCL.

Most recently, the sale of the ITDC's Bangalore properties in the form of a 30-year lease has triggered a controversy between the corporation and the Department of Disinvestment (DoD). When the deal was first announced, Bharat Hotels was to take over the Bangalore Ashok Hotel for a 30-year period in return for an upfront payment of Rs.39.41 crores and a minimum guaranteed payment of Rs.4.11 crores every year. However, when the deal was finalised, the hotel was transferred along with a profit-making restaurant of the ITDC in Bangalore, which had recorded an operating profit of just over Rs.4 crores last year. According to reports, the ITDC has objected to the inclusion of the restaurant on the grounds that it was an independent unit, which had not been mentioned in either the demerger scheme that released individual ITDC properties for sale or in the expression of interest for eight ITDC properties. Given the fact that the restaurant is capable of earning profits close to the minimum guaranteed annual payment, the deal, in the view of the ITDC itself, amounts to offering the lease at just the amount paid upfront. The DoD has of course dismissed these protests saying that the restaurant was part of the deal and was taken into account in deciding the reserved price.

FACED with such criticism, which is only likely to increase once the accelerated privatisation drive currently under way is completed, Arun Shourie has decided to launch a personal campaign to pre-empt such criticism. The first point being made by Shourie is that the interest earned or saved by the government on the sums realised from strategic sales made thus far of equity in four PSUs (MFIL, Balco, CMC and HTL) is many multiples of the dividend it used to earn by holding on to those shares. The interest earned or saved even assuming a 10 per cent interest rate would have amounted to Rs.112 crores a year, whereas the dividend that was being received from those shares was just Rs.7 crores a year. Thus there is in his view an annual gain of Rs.105 crores by foregoing the Rs.7 crores dividend.

That Shourie is being his disingenuous self by touting these figures should be obvious from his choice of the dividend for comparison with the interest saved. Dividend is the part of the profit of an enterprise that is paid out to shareholders. The actual gain in a year for a shareholder is, however, the profit per share. The shareholders of a company, in this case the government, may choose not to pay out the full profit as dividend, but to retain some for reinvestment purposes. It is through such decisions that VSNL, for example, had accumulated cash reserves to the tune of Rs.7,000 crores, which the government is stripping it of prior to divestment.

So if the interest earned or saved on the sum garnered by selling a share is to be compared with anything, it should be with the profit per share. That should have been obvious even to someone with a rudimentary knowledge of arithmetic and accounting, which you presume the Minister has. So there must be some other reason why he chose to compare non-comparables.

Further, even profit is not an adequate indicator of the gain from the creation of a PSU. Public sector enterprises, economists agree, are not pure profit-making machines, but instruments used by governments to achieve a range of objectives. These could vary from closing infrastructural gaps that may remain if investment was purely private to ensuring access to products crucial to development at appropriate prices. This would imply that investments are made even in areas where profits are low or non-existent because of the external benefits such projects deliver, or that profits are foregone in order to keep prices down in pursuit of other objectives. To ignore such possibilities and make profits, which contribute non-tax revenues to the government - the sole reason for establishing public sector units - is to conceal the actual grounds on which public capital formation has occurred in post-Independence India or elsewhere in the world.

Finally, Arun Shourie's comparison of interest and dividends makes every private buyer of a public asset a bit of a fool. Consider any one of the buyers who have acquired public properties. Just as Shourie presumes that the government could have invested the sums paid by these buyers in interest-bearing financial assets offering a 10 per cent return, these investors could have done the same. This implies that when they chose not to invest these sums in such deposits but to purchase PSU equity instead, they were betting on earning returns from their investment that were significantly higher than 10 per cent, so as to make the decision to take on the risk involved in managing real assets worthwhile.

Thus, what Arun Shourie is saying is not that the government through disinvestments was earning more returns, but rather that he and the government he represents, which has constituted itself to manage a country as large and complex as India, and is even trying to engineer a change in its attitudes and culture, are incapable of managing the assets of PSUs as effectively as would be done by the private buyers acquiring a 'strategic' stake that gives them management control.

In fact, Shourie seeks to make this incompetence he confesses to into a virtue when he informs members of Parliament that after the sale: (i) the five companies concerned "are running and would continue to run at higher capacity utilisation and thus would give more taxes and revenues to the State and Central government"; (ii) "no worker has been retrenched or would be retrenched (except providing for restructuring through VRS route as is done in CPUs also); and (iii) when compared to instances where minority shares have been sold without the "strategic" hand-over of control to the purchaser, the price-earnings ratio, or the price at which the shares were sold divided by the dividend per share, was much higher in the case of the five instances of strategic sale he refers to.

Thus, the fact that the private buyers have been able to keep the companies running at higher levels of capacity utilisation without any retrenchment, is seen not as an indictment of the government's incompetence and inability to manage these relatively small-sized corporations, but as a vindication of privatisation itself. That is, any sign of government failure should not result in a replacement of that government by one that is competent (as is expected to happen in the case of private management failure), but by the handing over of the responsibilities of the state to the private sector. Unfortunately, that logic cannot work in all cases. The Indian government has failed to eradicate poverty or put the country's children to school even five decades after Independence. No one would think of handing over such tasks to the private sector, nor would there be any private takers for such "unprofitable" activities.

As far as price-earnings ratios go, the Minister is once again making spurious comparisons and arriving at unwarranted conclusions. Let us start from the widespread concern that public enterprises are being sold at values below those warranted by their assets and their potential. Given that, does a lower price-earnings figure for non-strategic sales indicate that the government has been even more incompetent in divesting minority equity, or does it prove that the price garnered through strategic sales was better than expected? Further, a high price-earnings ratio can be the result of a high price for equity sold or a record of low dividend payments. Shourie's government has consciously run down PSUs in the run-up to their divestment. This has made surpluses earned and dividends paid by these PSUs unusually low relative to their record.

A striking example is a company like IPCL that was extremely profitable in the past. If this is the general trend, a high price-earnings ratio at the point of sale of equity is not the reflection of a high price but rather of a low dividend. Once again, Shourie seems to have not exercised his arithmetical common sense.

Finally, Shourie gives the game away when he says that past efforts at making non-strategic sales of equity have been unsuccessful because, since the Indian stock markets lack depth there were not enough takers for these shares, and purchases were made largely by financial institutions such as the Unit Trust of India at prices which have subsequently fallen, leading to losses. This implies that attempting to get a reasonable price for equity, given the asset position of the PSUs, is a near impossible task. This would be all the more true when the accelerated privatisation of a number of PSUs is sought to be undertaken.

If, despite this, the government insists on going ahead, certain consequences are inevitable. Prices would be low relative to asset values, and major concessions such as provision of a "strategic stake" or management control even with a minority shareholding would have to be given. Even with such concessions sometimes a sale may be difficult to clinch, as has happened in the case of the Ashok Hotel in New Delhi and Hindustan Zinc Limited.

In the circumstances, the best option is to drop the disinvestment programme, close down the DoD and invest time in restructuring PSUs to exploit their potential. Arun Shourie's effort to win the support of MPs with the aid of a poorly drafted letter full of faulty arguments perhaps shows he too fears that this truth is now too obvious.

An alliance in the making

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The NDA government, which has extended unstinted support to the United States' war against Afghanistan, now attempts to forge closer military ties with the U.S. despite strong criticism of the move both at home and abroad.

AFTER the events of September 11, the United States has been busy identifying allies and marking out potential enemies. Those countries that do not subscribe to the U.S.' prescriptions on tackling terrorism have been put on the list of potential enemies. Among them are countries as far flung as Indonesia and Venezuela.

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, while condemning the horrific events of September 11 on U.S. soil, pointed out that he was against the killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan. Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, mindful of adverse public opinion and the militant Muslim groups in her own country, did not fully endorse the U.S. military move against Afghanistan, unlike most of the other Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad had expressed his reservations about the killing of innocents by the U.S. military machine, and so Damascus too has been put on notice by the hawks in the Bush administration. Senior Bush administration officials have not ruled out the use of military force in Indonesia, Syria, Sudan and other countries, which they claim harbour terrorists.

"America is threatening war against half of the world and India has decided to be part of the American-led coalition," said a senior diplomat based in New Delhi. India is among the 40-odd countries that share sensitive military intelligence with Washington. Under the National Democratic Alliance government, it was also among the first countries to offer logistical facilities to the U.S., even before members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) did so. It was also among the first to endorse the National Missile Defence (NMD) system proposed to be deployed by the U.S., though the NMD is clearly violative of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.

The U.S. did not avail itself of the Indian offer in the war in Afghanistan owing to geographical exigencies. However, the Bush Administration has made it clear that it wants a sustained military cooperation with India. Although unhappy with Washington for giving primacy to Pakistan in its war efforts, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has on several occasions shown its eagerness to cooperate with Washington. Even before the war, the government had wanted a close military and intelligence relationship with the U.S.

When it was first reported that high-level U.S.-India defence cooperation talks were going on and that the U.S. had requested for base facilities, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh made a strong denial in early October. But he was soon contradicted by the re-inducted Defence Minister George Fernandes, who revealed that talks for expanded military cooperation between the two countries were under way and that India was not averse to closer defence cooperation with the U.S. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was allowed to set up shop in Delhi before former President Bill Clinton visited India in 2000.

In the last six months there has been a flurry of high-level visits. In July, General Henry Shelton, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), visited India. He was the first U.S. JCS to visit the country. In November, there was increased activity on the diplomatic front. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was in Washington and was one among many important world leaders who visited the White House to show solidarity with the U.S. President. The Indian side was not very happy with the continuing pro-Pakistan tilt of the Bush administration. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who was also in the U.S. , was given much more coverage by the media there and had the privilege of spending an hour and a half with the U.S. President. The joint statement released after the meeting underlined the centrality of the Kashmir issue.

In comparison, Bush's talks with Vajpayee lasted only half an hour. Vajpayee later complained to Indian mediapersons that there was disappointment in India about the U.S. response to its concerns. Despite the Indian government's whole-hearted embrace of the U.S. after September 11, Bush has not questioned Pakistan on the issue of state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir. On the other hand, Bush had warned New Delhi to desist from taking any action against Pakistan until the war in Afghanistan was over. The Indian Prime Minister's letter to the U.S. President following the terrorist attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly building in the first week of October (Frontline, October 26, 2001), asking the U.S. government to rein in Pakistan, has been interpreted as a virtual invitation to the U.S. to intervene in Kashmir.

Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. Defence Secretary, who was in New Delhi on a brief visit, stressed the need for "strategic cooperation" with India. Admiral Dennis Blair, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, visited New Delhi in the last week of November for talks with the Indian defence establishment. Speaking to the media in New Delhi, Blair said that the U.S. looked forward to building an "unprecedented" military-to-military relationship with India. He went on to say that the ties would be "non-traditional and unconventional". He said that the ties need not be necessarily formalised in a defence treaty. Blair has been busy visiting other countries in the Asia-Pacific region to gather logistical and other kinds of support for the war in Afghanistan. India, along with some South-East Asian nations such as Singapore and the Philippines, continue to be among the enthusiastic drum-beaters of the U.S. war efforts.

Blair said that issues related to counter-terrorism, energy security, peace keeping, training and exercise were discussed during his interaction with Indian officials. He clarified that greater security cooperation between the two countries would include the protection of sea-lanes and energy supplies. U.S. officials have suggested that large-scale joint military exercises involving the military forces of the two countries would be held soon and that most of the remaining military sanctions against India, imposed in the wake of Pokhran-II, would also be eased soon.

While Blair was in India, a U.S. Navy Destroyer, the USS John Young, belonging to the Seventh Fleet, docked in the Chennai harbour in the last week of November. A helicopter from the ship allegedly undertook a reconnaissance flight over strategic installations in and around Chennai, including the nuclear power plant at Kalpakkam, 60 km south of the city. There were strong protests in Parliament about the incident, but the Defence Ministry took the stand that the helicopter did not enter Indian air space. Opposition parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) have refused to accept the government's stance and demanded an apology from the U.S. government. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau has criticised the Vajpayee government for allowing the U.S. warships participating in the Afghanistan war to dock and refuel at Indian ports. American sailors have been given rest and recreation (R&R) facilities by the Indian authorities, which are usually given to troops from countries with which there are close military relations. India has allowed U.S. naval vessels to avail themselves of the refuelling facilities offered by the Indian government. In early November, another U.S. ship, USS O'Brien, had docked in Chennai. Another vessel is expected to dock in Mumbai soon.

A meeting of the Indo-U.S. Defence Policy Group is scheduled for the first week of December and will be attended by Douglas Feith, the U.S. Under Secretary of Defence. All the high-level meetings are the outcome of the decisions taken in Washington after Jaswant Singh visited the U.S. in April this year, when he also held the defence portfolio. A decision to renew U.S.-India military ties, which were suspended after the Pokhran-II tests in 1998, was taken then. Joint Indo-U.S. military exercises will be resumed soon. The Indian government wants the ties to be more wide-ranging than envisaged by the Bush administration. It wants joint patrolling along with the U.S. from the Gulf to the South China Sea. As of now, the U.S. government has limited the naval partnership with India to the Southern Command, headed by Admiral Blair.

Home Ministry sources have confirmed that the U.S. and India have agreed to upgrade their intelligence sharing arrangement to include the "exchange of military intelligence". India's intelligence agencies such as the Research and Analyses Wing (RAW) and the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) have strengthened their cooperation with Washington since September 11. According to reports in the U.S. media, India is among the 50 countries that provide intelligence to the U.S. at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Indian government is said to have informally given permission to U.S. military planes involved in the war to overfly Indian territory.

The BJP-led government's policy appears to be to extend unhesitating support to the U.S. on all major international issues. It is therefore no surprise that India's credibility has taken a beating in many parts of the world. A diplomat said that until the early 1990s developing countries looked up to India for moral leadership. Today, India is viewed with suspicion by many nations in the developing world. Not surprisingly, India's lukewarm bid in November to host the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference was treated with scepticism. Many diplomats who belong to African and Arab countries were suspicious of India's motives while trying to lead the movement again, given the present government's pronounced tilt towards the West.

The BJP government had gone to great lengths to distance itself from movements such as NAM. Neither the Prime Minister nor the External Affairs Minister was present at the G-77 meet in Havana last year despite the presence of leaders of all other prominent NAM countries. Jaswant Singh, while defending the government's tilt towards the U.S., said in Parliament during the winter session that "foreign policy cannot be based on nostalgia and prejudice. It is the country's national interests that guide and determine foreign policy". Increasingly, the present government is giving the impression that it considers the U.S.' War Against Terrorism as its own war. "The factory called Afghanistan is being brought to a standstill and dismantled and the country (India) will directly benefit from this," he told Parliament.

The Benazir mission

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

PRIME MINISTER Atal Behari Vajpayee may not be in favour of a meeting with Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf at this juncture, but that did not prevent the Indian government from rolling out the red carpet for former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who was on a "private" visit to Delhi in the last week of November. She was officially the guest of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). However, she spent more time meeting important political personalities both in the government and in the Opposition than talking about business matters. Benazir, who hopes to return to power, was given wide coverage by all leading Indian newspapers as she gave her opinions on contentious issues between India and Pakistan.

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Benazir had planned a visit to India earlier in the year, but the Agra Summit in August between Vajpayee and Musharraf forced her to put if off. Benazir and Musharraf were then engaged in a war of words and a visit by her to India just before Musharraf's would have sent wrong signals to Islamabad. Benazir's visit has raised some eyebrows, especially as it comes at a time when bilateral relations have soured considerably.

There were signs that the military government has softened its stand on Benazir and her party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). In New Delhi, Benazir Bhutto was careful in her choice of words while criticising the military government and its policies. All the same, the views she expressed were not well received in Islamabad; some pro-establishment commentators characterised them as "anti-national".

Shireen M. Mazari, who is known to be close to the military regime, has said that Benazir Bhutto's pronouncements in Delhi on issues ranging from Kashmir to Afghanistan, were anti-Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto had laid all the blame for Pakistan's present discomfiture over Afghanistan to the policies pursued by the military government and its immediate predecessor, the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif government.

The meteoric rise of the Taliban started when Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan in the mid-1990s. Nasrullah Babbar, the Interior Minister in her Cabinet, was alleged to be the key architect of the Taliban, which started out as a small, armed movement of former madrassa students. Babbar was a mentor of sorts to Mullah Mohammad Omar, who went on to head the Taliban. When the Taliban movement took on the Afghan warlords, the Pakistan Army put its ammunition dump in Spinboldak at the disposal of the Taliban, leading to the chain of events that eventually saw the Taliban ensconced in Kabul.

During her visit Benazir Bhutto even claimed that Osama bin Laden played an important role in her unceremonious ouster from power during her second term in office. She claimed that the current predicament of Pakistan resulted from the flawed policies that were implemented after her ouster.

Benazir Bhutto has been quoted as saying that immediately after her departure from office, the "Taliban was hijacked by Al Qaeda and the Pakistan government". She characterised the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as a "state within a state" and added that even when she was Prime Minister, her conversations were monitored by the ISI. She blamed the military for encouraging Pakistan-based militant organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Harkatul Mujahideen to be active in the Kashmir valley. She said that during her tenure the government had ensured that no outside militant group hijacked the movement in Kashmir. Benazir Bhutto regretted that Kashmiri political organisations such as the All Parties Hurriyat Conference had been sidelined.

According to Benazir Bhutto, the army had planned a military adventure in Kargil for quite some time, with Musharraf as the leader. (The PPP later sought to clarify that her reference was not to the Kargil invasion. However, it said Musharraf had suggested a theoretical war game plan, which Benazir rejected as Prime Minister.) However, she made it clear that her basic stance on the Kashmir issue had not changed. She wanted the Kashmiri people to be allowed to determine their future freely. "There is a wide gulf between the two countries on Kashmir but there is convergence on issues like trade and the WTO," Benazir Bhutto said.

Benazir Bhutto emphasised the importance of keeping the dialogue process between the two countries going and suggested that the Sino-Indian relations could be a "political model" for Indo-Pakistan relations. "We should focus on conflict management if we cannot find a solution to the Kashmir dispute," she said. Benazir Bhutto also underlined the threat posed to the subcontinent by nuclear weapons.

Benazir Bhutto conceded that some of her remarks in New Delhi would no doubt have angered Musharraf. But she added that she was in India to improve relations between the two countries, which was also the stated goal of Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto is involved in the "Dubai process" that is now promoted by the U.S. to encourage rapprochement between Islamabad and New Delhi. There have been contacts between Indian officials and Benazir Bhutto in Dubai.

With politics in a state of flux in Pakistan, very few people dare to hazard a guess about the future course of Pakistani politics. But if there is a transition to democracy, Benazir Bhutto could once again emerge triumphant, given the paucity of political leaders of stature. Her position in favour of peace and goodwill in the subcontinent will earn her political points in Washington and New Delhi. She has declared that she would be the PPP's prime ministerial candidate if and when elections are called. Benazir Bhutto said that the U.S. and India, as the two biggest democracies, had "a role in facilitating" the return of democracy to Pakistan.

WAR AND TALKS

AHMED RASHID in Kabul world-affairs

Afghanistan comes to a crossroads as a complex set of factors involving the domestic groups and the international players add new dimensions to the ongoing war.

WITH reconciliation talks having begun in Bonn, Germany, Afghanistan has come to a crossroads as it struggles to forge a post-Taliban administration acceptable to its disparate armed factions and ethnic groups and the international community. It can either take a determined crack at nation-building with international help, or return to tribalism and warlordism.

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It has been in this position before, most recently when the communist regime was ousted in 1992 by many of the leaders present at the Bonn talks, and in 1996 when their squabbling government was ousted by the Taliban. Both times it took the wrong path - with disastrous results.

"You must not allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated, particularly those of 1992," the United Nations special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, warned the 28 Afghan delegates as the talks opened on November 27. "To many sceptics, this is what you are about to do. You must prove them wrong."

The delegates represent four key factions with little in common other than their opposition to the Taliban. Still, and in a positive development, there was apparently broad consensus that the 87-year-old former king, Zahir Shah, should act as the figurehead leader of any interim administration. The main problem was expected to be settling on a Prime Minister who will wield real power.

However, the enormous expectations of the United States, Britain and the U.N. Security Council for the meeting to produce firm agreement on a new transitional government appeared over-optimistic. In part this is because it was not fully representative of the country's major ethnic group - the Pashtun. But the meeting could nonetheless mark an important step forward. Many senior figures - including Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is still recognised as President by the U.N. - advocate another meeting in Kabul later this year.

EVEN as the talks got under way, the situation in Afghanistan provided an indication of some of the problems a new administration will have to tackle. The Taliban was still holding on to parts of three southern provinces - its ethnic Pashtun heartland - including the city of Kandahar, having been ejected from its northern stronghold of Kunduz on November 25 by troops of the United Front (as the Northern Alliance is now called), which groups the Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara minorities.

But the fall of Kunduz was followed by the killing of hundreds of pro-Taliban foreign fighters during an alleged jail-break, while troops under the Uzbek general Rashid Dostum are accused of killing some 600 Taliban fighters after taking Mazar-e-Sharif on November 9. Such acts do not bode well for reconciliation.

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In the south, rival Pashtun warlords are scrapping for towns no longer under Taliban control. The northerners do not dare trespass in the south and the U.S. sent hundreds of marines to an air base near Kandahar on the night of November 25-26, apparently to speed up the Taliban's collapse. In the vacuum, no clear Pashtun leadership has emerged that could have given the talks in Germany more authority. "This is a critical moment in Afghanistan's history," the United Front Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said on the eve of the meeting. He is regarded as one of the Front's moderate leaders, alongside Interior Minister Younis Qanuni, Defence Minister Gen. Mohammed Fahim and Hazara military chief Gen. Syed Husain Anwari.

Abdullah added: "Either we slip back into darkness and civil war or we move forward and become a part of the modern world by forming a transitional government that includes all ethnic groups. To do that we need leaders with a national, not a regional or parochial, vision."

The Front is torn between the re-emergence of warlords unable or unwilling to articulate a national vision, and polished politicians with broader vision. The former include Ismail Khan in western Afghanistan and the brutal Dostum who have been leading the ground fight against the Taliban. The politicians are those such as Abdullah and Qanuni, who headed the United Front's delegation in Bonn. These leaders want to reach out to Pashtun groups in the south who share their vision of a modern, united Afghanistan. "We have no partners in the south. We need bridges between us and the Pashtuns and we are looking for partners, but so far we see only one or two individuals who can play that role," says Abdullah. Such leaders are slowly emerging in the south, including former Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Karzai, who has wrested control of southern Urzoghan province from the Taliban, and Abdul Khaliq Noorzai, a key commander in the Kandahar region. Both are prominent tribal chiefs and are loyal to Zahir Shah. But they are educated, worldly and want to reunite the Pashtuns with the north. "We have a common vision with the modern leaders of the United Front, we need each other and we have to put the past behind us," said Karzai. But neither he nor Noorzai went to Bonn.

THE U.N. envoy Brahimi, meanwhile, says the meeting was aimed to build such bridges. It gathered representatives of the United Front, Pashtun members of religious leader Pir Sayed Gailani's Pakistan-backed Peshawar process, Afghan emigres behind the Iranian-backed Cyprus process and supporters of Zahir Shah and his call for a loya jirga, or traditional council, to approve a new government. At least two women, both emigres, were included in the delegations - a major step forward in bringing Afghan women back into the political mainstream. Some warlords, like Dostum, sent representatives.

But owing to the chaos in the Pashtun belt, there were onlytwo Pashtuns from inside Afghanistan at the meeting, although emigre Pashtuns were present. The lack of prominent Pashtuns from inside the country has not only limited its goals but angered Pakistan, which is frustrated at Washington's growing dependence on the Front. Some leaders are already looking beyond Bonn. "We want peace and security and a government of national unity in the country, but the Bonn meeting is only the first step and no doubt it is very useful and auspicious, but we hope this will be the last gathering outside the country and the next meeting will be inside the country," says Burhanuddin Rabbani, the nominal head of the United Front. Abdullah, meanwhile, emphasised that the most that could be hoped from Bonn would be a "set of principles that we can all agree to in order to form a transitional government." He added that "the next meeting can take place in a couple of weeks in Kabul." The Bonn meeting was to end before a high-level donors' conference on Afghanistan opened in Berlin on December 6.

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Brahimi says he is keen to move the peace process to Afghanistan, but he must also ensure that a meeting in Kabul will not lead to unofficial recognition of the Front's control of the capital, which other Afghan factions and the international community oppose. Qanuni, who is organising the capital's security, says he will consider proposals on how to ensure Kabul's neutrality, including using security forces from all factions.

The Bonn meeting was also expected to come up with a united Afghan response to the sensitive issue of larger contingents of foreign troops being sent to the country to help reopen airports and provide logistics and protection for international aid deliveries. However, none of the Afghan factions was expected to endorse a large-scale foreign security force for Kabul, although Western military officers could be stationed in major cities to coordinate security by local Afghan forces. U.N. and other international relief agencies are demanding some foreign troop presence so that their expatriate staff can return and resume full relief operations.

All the Afghan groups also want the U.N. to guarantee that there will be no interference from Afghanistan's neighbours - above all Iran, Russia and Pakistan - which has stymied U.N. mediation for the past decade. "The U.N. must play a role and give us guarantees that all interference would be stopped so that we can form a broad-based government without outside influence," says Rabbani. "The U.N. should impose tough sanctions against any country which tried to interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs."

However, this is problematic for the U.N., which also needs to create a consensus amongst regional states about the future composition of any new government in Kabul. Pakistan is vehemently opposed to domination by the United Front, which is supported by Iran and Russia. Another sensitive issue for the United Front is how, and to whom, their nominal leader Rabbani would hand over his authority once a new transitional government is formed. While other alliance leaders are willing to accept a new head of government, it is clear to many people that Rabbani is trying to cling on to his seat despite his denials.

"As far as my future role is concerned, the people will determine the role of every concerned personality," says Rabbani. "I will accept the decision of the Bonn meeting and let me make it clear that I have no personal ambitions," he adds. However, other United Front leaders claim that Rabbani has been privately assured by Russia and Iran that if the Bonn talks break down, they will recognise him as head of state. At root, while the Bonn meeting is not likely to solve all problems, it could help build vital bridges between the new generation of politicians. Total failure would just prolong Afghanistan's agony.

(By arrangement with Los Angeles Times Syndicate International and Far Eastern Economic Review)

Trade and politics

RITA MANCHANDA world-affairs

The future of the Indo-Nepal Preferential Trade Treaty hangs in the balance.

WHEN T.K. Gupta stepped forward to receive, on behalf of Dabur Nepal, the annual Nepal-India Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NICCI) award for excellence at a function in Kathmandu, he was depressingly aware that the year 2001 could well see the end of Nepal as an expanding base for export to India. The company, among others, has been using Nepal as a base to export to India its products including fruit juices, manjan, chawanprash, hajmola and amla hair oil.

Less than a fortnight away is the moment of reckoning for the five-year 1996 Indo-Nepal Preferential Trade Treaty. Zero duty rates and removal of quantitative restrictions had brought companies such as Dabur and Nepal Lever to set up operations in Nepal with an eye on the neighbouring north and eastern Indian markets. The treaty had led to a five-fold jump in Nepal's exports to India and a doubling of India's exports to Nepal. But it is not a win-win situation, and sections of Indian industry view the treaty as a scam for funnelling third country exports to India. The treaty makes no stipulation about the level of material and labour content of the export items, but only requires that a certificate of origin be provided by the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI).

With the countdown to the December 5 deadline for the expiry of the treaty nearing and trade talks after four successive rounds still bogged down in mutual misperceptions about value addition, country of origin and technical confusion about safeguards, hopes increasingly hinge upon a decisive political intervention. After all, the treaty's preferential script was inspired by the Gujral Doctrine of non-reciprocity. Would India let the 1996 trade regime lapse and with it risk undermining the "special relationship" it sought to build politically with Nepal? Nepali bureaucrats and businessmen drew comfort from the statement of visiting Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh that the "spirit of the treaty" would be maintained. But it is India's Commerce Ministry that disposes. With elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly round the corner, the Bharatiya Janata Party is particularly attentive to the aggrieved vanaspati lobby in the State. Nepal's Minister for Forests Gopal Srestha at the NICCI event had reason to hope for a political intervention to resolve the trade tangle.

Only on November 9 did the Nepalese negotiators table a concrete proposal drawing upon the joint recommendations of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for a 30 per cent value addition. Indeed it was only a week before the deadline that panic set in. In Kathmandu it is being recalled that the treaty was allowed to lapse once before: there was no treaty in 1989-90 - a time of blockade that people in Nepal would prefer to forget.

THE uncertainty that overshadows the fate of the treaty has resulted in the producers of vanaspati in Nepal shelving further imports of palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia. Plans for doubling their capacity also have been put on hold. Vanaspati tops the list of Nepal's exports to India. Exports have jumped from an insignificant level in 1996 to a quantity worth Nepali rupees 1.6 lakhs in 1997-98 and 2.9 lakhs in 1998-1999. With the duty on imports of palm oil having been doubled from a rate of 35 per cent in this year's budget, producers in Nepal have been reaping a bountiful harvest from the widening differential in duty rates in the two countries. Vanaspati exports for 2000-2001 have climbed to 1.25 lakh tonnes and for April-September 2001, they are already 87,000 tonnes.

Palm oil producers of Andhra Pradesh have through Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu's influence with the coalition government at the Centre, lobbied the Commerce Ministry to raise high tariff walls on imports of palm oil. However, zero-duty exports of vanaspati from Nepal have breached that wall. Indian producers of vanaspati are crying foul about a "surge". One hundred and twenty-six units have shut down in U.P. and Bihar and the overall capacity utilisation is down by 30 per cent. A quantity of 15 kg of Nepali vanaspati is cheaper in India by Rs.190 and Indian producers are turning protectionist. Vanaspati producers in Nepal protest that their exports account for a minuscule share of the huge Indian market. "In any case, the differential rate in duty will be soon wiped out when India ascribes to the WTO regime," says Hulas Chand Golcha, a major vanaspati producer. His son Diwakar Golcha adds that States such as U.P. have already introduced a 20 per cent sales tax on imports of vanaspati thus squeezing the likes of him out. On top of that, Nepali-produced vanaspati has to compete with branded premium names such as Dalda, further undermining its competitive edge, Golcha explained. The fate of about 10 units is at stake. Purshottam Ojha, the Joint Secretary involved in the trade talks, says that some 15 units are implicated in the context of exports, which are said to have "surged". Involved here is an investment of 10 billion Nepali rupees and a labour force of 50,000. However as the Indian Ambassador to Nepal said in an interview to Nepali Times, "Nepal's interests were served by large dollar imports and selling goods with marginal value addition to India."

In October, vanaspati manufacturers from India aired their grievances at a seminar in Kathmandu. Joining them were representatives from four other industries, which were also affected by the alleged "surge" - those producing acrylic yarn, zinc oxide, steel pipes and copper winding wires. Producers in Punjab (Ludhiana) and Haryana say that the raw material for acrylic yarn, acrylonitrile, attracts 46 per cent duty in India, but none in Nepal. The international price of acrylic fibre is Rs.65 a kg and Nepal exports acrylic yarn at Rs.68. That would mean spinning had cost only Rs.3 a kg. Producers in Punjab and Haryana have pushed the government to initiate anti-dumping measures despite Nepal's protests. The 1996 treaty does provide for consultations in the matter of disputes over surges and dumping, but evidently the consultations have not been enough. Consequently, producers lobbied with State governments for redress. The result is a special sales tax on vanaspati, a notification on anti-dumping measures on imports of zinc oxide and acrylic yarn and the levying of countervailing duty on the maximum retail price rather than the transaction price. The latter has virtually wiped out exports of two of Nepal Lever's toothpaste brands. Toothpaste had been the second biggest item in Nepal's export basket.

INDIAN embassy sources in Kathmandu feel that had timely action been taken on the complaints of Indian industry about the "surge", the series of unilateral actions which have been initiated could have been avoided. "Since August 2000 the government has been asking for consultations on surge, and it has taken Nepal a year to begin talks when in fact the treaty was coming up for review. In the interim we are seeing hydra-headed provisions in response to industry grievances, provisions which will not be easy to roll back, whatever happens to the treaty," embassy sources said.

For over a year, sections of Indian industry, in a high-profile media campaign, have been targeting the "surge" in exports from Nepal. Along the way the campaign had picked up security concerns, with accusations of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence using Nepali businessmen to under-invoice exports to finance its money-laundering operations. One example was the report in an Indian financial daily titled, "Himalayan blunder: Treaty with Nepal turns nightmare as imports threaten security." Also clubbed with the authorised trade was unauthorised trade, especially the smuggling of Chinese goods across the open border. The Nepali media countered it with the charge that India indulged in Nepal bashing. Significantly, a year later these concerns have peeled away, and the focus is back on the authorised trade - facilitated by the 1996 treaty.

"There have been two differing interpretations of the treaty," Rukum Rana, the outgoing NICCI president, candidly acknowledged. He said that while India saw it as a push to developing a broad base for Nepali manufacturing to respond to an integrated market, Nepal saw it as opening the door to the Indian market. Reconciling the two interpretations and perceptions has not been easy. India had expected that sourcing would be with Indian raw material, but discovered later that there was third country sourcing with very little value added. It took an economic analyst who writes under the pseudonym Artha Beed to call a spade a spade - "Overnight, businessmen engaged in informal trade with India became industrialists." And if the treaty regime collapsed - "trade would not stop; it would go on through smuggling", senior industrialist, Padma Jyoti said.

His colleague in the FNCCI, Ram Bhakta Srestha, explained that if Nepal had benefited from the treaty, so had India, equally. There were disappointments on both sides. Large Indian investments had not come to Nepal. The incentives offered paled into insignificance when compared with Myanmar or States at home, say embassy sources. Equally, there was the impact of the six-year-old Maoist insurgency in Nepal. The collapse of the talks between the Maoists and the government after a four-month ceasefire, threatens a civil war situation with the Maoists attacking army posts for the first time. More particularly, the Maoists had in an earlier 13-point memo to industrialists called upon them to get rid of Indian employees. Also in the first spate of renewed strikes by the Maoists, a bomb was found outside the Nepal Lever factory in Heutada.

Is there room for a mutually agreed, revised treaty regime? India takes a tough stand at the talks: it proposes a 50 per cent cap on origin of material or value added and enforceable safeguards. Nepal, though belatedly, seems to have awakened to the seriousness of it. A suggestion for suo motu temporary extension of the treaty was doing rounds. "It cannot be on the same terms," say embassy sources. Will exigencies of the "special relationship" win out, or politics at home?

Himalayan thunder

Nepal declares a state of emergency and the spotlight falls on the role of the King and the Army after the Maoist extremists strike in a big way.

ON the night of Friday, November 23, the Maoist rebels struck - and wrote a new chapter in Nepal's history of political violence. The latest round could well threaten the survival of the country's system of multi-party democracy and constitutional monarchy. Overnight, the four-month-old ceasefire was broken as the Maoists, in a series of lightning strikes spread over a third of the country's area, attacked the Army, the police and government offices. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which just a day earlier had been a party to the peace talks with the government and was holding mass rallies in districts adjoining Patan and Kirtipur, Greater Kathmandu, was branded a terrorist organisation. A state of emergency was declared and citizens' fundamental rights were suspended. Thus empowered, the Royal Nepal Army (RNA), which over the last six years had obstinately held back from taking on the Maoists even as the extremists wiped out large sections of the police force, swung into action, using helicopter gunships among other pieces of equipment.

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Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who had staked his political future on the peace talks with the extremists, is now on the defensive vis-a-vis his restless predecessor, the hardliner Girija Prasad Koirala. As the country lurches into what could turn into a bloody civil war with its inevitable fallout on Nepal's nascent democracy and human rights situation, in political circles it is being bruited that Nepal's previous experience with a state of emergency in 1960 saw King Mahendra oust the democratically elected Nepali Congress government. Worse still, it is being said that the failure of the Army to defeat the Maoists might be an invitation for India to step in to prevent the destabilisation or the radicalisation of Nepal.

Strangely, the government alternates between overplaying and underplaying the magnitude of the ensuing change. Playing ostrich is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has stated that the government is moving ahead with preparations to host the 11th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Kathmandu in the first week of January 2002, as scheduled earlier.

The popular mood in Kathmandu spells business as usual. Despite dramatic press headlines of major clashes and scores of people being killed in both the Maoist stronghold of Dang in the midwestern hills and towards the east in Solokhumbu district, most people in the valley remain relatively unaffected by the 'distant thunder' booming hundreds of kilometres away. A couple of days into the emergency, the only visible sign that things have changed is the presence of RNA forces in sensitive spots like the Singha Durbar (National Assembly). But noticeably, there was little reinforcement of security around the Army chief's residence. More conspicuous is the saturated deployment of smartly turned-out police personnel on the main streets and market areas. In a bus, you hear passengers whisper about copies of a tabloid newspaper - Prabhat Kalin - having been confiscated from a news vendor. But there is little sign of tension visible.

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Journalists were among the first to be picked up under the new emergency regulations which suspended press and publication rights (Article 13) and provided for preventive detention (Article 15). Even earlier, editors like Krishna Sen of the publication Janadesh, had spent extended periods in custody. On the day the emergency was declared, the police arrested nine journalists associated with publications said to be close to the Maoists - Janadesh, a weekly, Janadisha, a daily and Dishabodh, a monthly. Contacts known for their Maoist sympathies, when telephoned, were said not to be at home. The Maoist Central Committee member of the CPN(M), Rabindra Sreshta, was picked up from his Kathmandu residence along with 11 party workers. Meanwhile, human rights activists were monitoring arrests and investigating reports of three university teachers having been arrested. The Human Rights Commission wrote to the government reminding it of international treaty obligations to respect human rights.

Prime Minister Deuba, in an address to the nation a day after the emergency was declared, promised that the civil rights of the ordinary citizen would not be curtailed. The government, he said, had shown "maximum flexibility to try and bring the Maoists to the mainstream", but the "Maoist terrorists carried out attacks on innocents... assaulting security personnel, including the police and the Army". The emergency had to be declared in order to prevent a worsening of the situation, he said. According to a senior leader of the Nepali Congress, Chakra Prasad Bastola, the Army had all along insisted on the declaration of an emergency as a precondition for its deployment. Bastola was Foreign and Home Minister when Girija Prasad Koirala was forced to resign on July 23, 2001 over the Army's double-speak and eventual refusal to come to the aid of the civil (power) directive and confront the Maoists in a major incident of violence at Holeri. Indeed, despite the massacre by the Maoists of scores of demoralised police persons last year, the Army merely stood by. The question was who controls the Army - the King, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army or the elected people's representatives? It was a constitutional confusion that was exploited by the Army, loath to get sucked into a civil war-type confrontation. The former King Birendra had kept a line of dialogue with the Maoists open. Now the Army has a carte blanche in its offensive against the Maoists. It will not be constrained by concern of fundamental rights or, more significantly, structures of civlianised control.

Senior Opposition leader K.P. Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) argues that the government should have resisted the imposition of the emergency as a precondition for the deployment of the Army. "The Maoists, by directly attacking the Army, had in any case created a situation which made Army deployment automatic," he said. There is concern within the Nepali Congress, too. At a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) which considered the emergency Ordinance, several members raised misgivings about a possible shift in the balance of power in favour of the King and the Army. Kapil Srestha, a member of the Human Rights Commission, put it candidly: "The Maoists have created a situation which gives an alibi to regressive elements to subvert democracy in Nepal." It will make for a more decisive role for the King. He, however, did not think that a repeat of the 1960 monarchical coup was possible. "Civil society" is much more mobilised now, he said.

Bastola, a Koirala camp insider, admitted that at the CWC meeting members had raked up memories of 1960. He said: "This monarchy is not a natural monarchy, it is a legal monarchy; and for a legal monarchy to stabilise, it will take some time." Also, in 1960 the collapse of the Nepal experience of democracy was part of a global backlash. Now the international situation has changed, and democracy cannot be so easily trampled upon. "You see today the alacrity with which the European Union and the United States have expressed support for Nepal's action. If it led to the subversion of democracy, they would not remain quiet," added the former Minister.

What about the response of other countries? Bastola acknowledged that one of the biggest concerns of the CWC members was the fear: "What if the Nepal army can't do it? What if we're forced to involve foreign troops? Will it compromise our sovereignty?" The government, in branding the Maoists 'terrorists' is taking out additional insurance. Already an obliging section of the media has picked up the refrain of 'Taliban and Maoists,' hoping to win the ear of the U.S. Indeed, Deuba has all along resisted labelling the Maoists 'terrorists', unlike his predecessor Koirala who single-mindedly pursued a militarist approach to the Maoist challenge. The Left Opposition also refrained from dubbing the Maoists 'terrorists', although the spate of attacks on Maoist workers had provoked CPN(UML) leader Madhav Nepal to do so. However, as Oli put it, their acts are of a terrorist nature but their objectives are political.

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Political analysts in Kathmandu had argued that post-September 11, the Maoists who had been calling the shots in relation to a weak 'collapsing' state, were finding the tables to have been turned, as was dramatically highlighted in their climbdown on the matter of a proposed mass meeting on September 21 in Kathmandu. The government banned all public meetings and the Maoists called it off. An editorial in Nepal Times (November 9-15) reflected the changing attitude towards the Maoists' negotiating strength. "The clock is ticking for the Maoists. It is also in their interest to have a negotiated settlement. If they had settled three months ago they may have got a constitutional assembly of sorts. Two months ago they may have got their national government. Today the best they can hope for is perhaps a constitutional review committee."

Was it a gross misreading of the Maoist position - that they were looking for a face-saving formula to enter mainstream politics after six years of armed struggle? Because that was all that was on offer in the three rounds of talks. After two rounds of frustrating talks, their ideologue Baburam Bhattari told the Nepali daily Kantipur (October 21): "Do they really think that after making these huge sacrifices we will be willing to join the present political system which is rotten to the core?... If we try a little and remember the situation of the country to July 23, we will definitely get the answer. Haven't our great fighters achieved one victory after another from Dunai to Holeri? Doesn't the people's government formed in almost all districts now show that the nation is ready for a change, that the people have accepted us and supported us fully? Isn't this proof of our success and achievements? How can you imagine that a force which has been victorious on the military and non-military fronts will surrender on the negotiating table?"

On the table were the three political demands - a republic, an interim government and a constituent assembly. Before the third round of talks, the chairperson of the CPN(M), 'Comrade Prachanda' dropped the demand for a republic, focussing instead on a constituent assembly. Political parties from the Left to the Right rejected the demand on technical and political grounds, but conceded that there was a need for a constitutional review committee. However, as Shyam Srestha, editor of the leftist monthly Mulyankan explained, a fresh constituent assembly would have opened up the whole debate on whether the people wanted a monarchy or a republic." Blaming the government for being inflexible, he asked: "Do they mean that the Maoists should leave all their earlier demands and simply come to mainstream politics?"

Bastola, who was a party to the talks, has a different take on them. He said: "The first round showed the Maoist impatient to join mainstream politics. During the second round they tabled their demands and we responded saying - no go. How could any government have agreed? In the third round, half way through, they abruptly broke off talks. In the media, speculation was rife that there was an internal power struggle. "Comrade Badal, head of the military wing, was pushing for a return to the path of armed struggle. On the other side, Girija Prasad Koirala was campaigning to conclude the talks as they were getting nowhere."

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On November 21, Puspa K. Dahal alias Prachanda announced that the talks had turned out to be 'fruitless' and there was no longer any justification for the ceasefire. However, he left open the possibility of a new process. Two days later, thousands of Maoists launched a new and more violent phase of the "People's War", striking in more than 35 districts and for the first time targeting army barracks. The bloodiest battles on the first night were in Dang and Syangja districts. According to news reports, some 1,000 Maoists attacked the Lamahi barrack in Dang and looted 300 guns including selfloading rifles, LMGs, pistols and a huge quantity of ammunition. Sixty of the 200 men in the barracks were away that night. Fourteen personnel were killed, including an Army Major. Police posts and district offices were attacked and bombs exploded.

On the night of Sunday, November 25, the Maoists struck at Salleri, the district headquarters of Solokhumbu (Mt. Everest) district attacking the nearby airport tower, the police office and the Chief District Officer's residence. A special platoon of the RNA and the Maoists exchanged fire from midnight until early in the morning. Eleven armymen and 13 policemen were said to have been killed. The toll on the Maoist side could not be verified. The violence was continuing.

As on November 28, the Maoists had used with devastating effect socket bombs, pressure cooker bombs, 302s and sawn off rifles. With new equipment that they have looted from the Army barracks they are likely to pose a more formidable challenge. However, this time, pitted against them is not a demoralised and under-armed police force but a well-equipped Army. However, as human rights campaigners and peace activists point out, counter-insurgency operations, especially under conditions of suspended fundamental rights, have in the past been often accompanied by gross human rights violations, and such a situation can only strengthen the insurgency.

Oli is aware that under emergency regulations, legitimate political forces will lose out. "The Maoists are armed and on the strength of their arms will hold mass meetings and mobilise the people, for outside the Kathmandu Valley there is no inhibiting presence of the state's authority. We obey the rules, but the emergency will prevent us from holding mass meetings to counter the ideological propaganda of the Maoists". Ultimately, the battle has to be a political one.

From Bhopal to Toulouse

Seventeen years after the Bhopal gas tragedy, a blast in a chemical plant in the French city of Toulouse once again brings into focus the hazards posed by the chemical industry.

ON the night of December 2, 1984, about 2,600 people died when methyl isocyanate (MIC) leaked from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. Over the years, about 16,000 people died as a result of exposure to the gas. In the first phase of registration of claims itself, more than 5,00,000 claims for injuries and losses were recorded. The traumatic episode was bound to alter perceptions of risk.

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On December 4, 1985, a leakage of oleum gas from the Shriram Foods and Fertilizers plant in Delhi re-emphasised the danger posed by the chemical industry and the urgency to deal with issues of safety. In February, March and December 1986, the Supreme Court, hearing the oleum gas leak case, re-negotiated the responsibility of an enterprise engaged in hazardous processes of production. The Shriram Foods management was permitted to restart the plant only when a director of the company agreed to be held personally liable in case of similar incidents. This was also the time that notions of enterprise liability were introduced into legal discourse, that is, that an offending enterprise should be made to pay damages according to its capacity to pay. The proposition was premised on deterrence and was intended to increase the costs of unsafe operations within a plant.

Both the Bhopal and the oleum gas leak experiences demonstrated the vulnerability of the populations living in the vicinity of chemical factories. They also demonstrated the helplessness of the local administration and the problems of providing care to the victims where little was known about the delinquent substance. In 1987, the Factories Act, 1948, was amended and a new chapter was added that dealt with factories that engage in hazardous production processes. The amendment stipulated that people living in the vicinity and the local administration were to be informed of the nature of the potential hazard and of what they should do in the event of a disaster. Disaster management plans are to be drawn up. Earlier, the workers had neither a say in safety management nor the right to information about the hazards. Safety and environmental concerns have also contributed to the constitution of Site Appraisal Committees which will be instrumental in deciding where factories that intend to engage in hazardous production processes may be 'safely' located.

However, the moot point is whether such laws have made a difference or whether they are observed only in the breach. That anxiety persists about the possibility of disasters is evident in several court cases and orders. In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered that industries within Delhi be closed down because of the pollution and the potential hazard that they represent. The industries were given the option of closure or relocation. In the same year, the court also intervened in a dispute between residents of a locality on the outskirts of Mumbai and chemical industries located in the area. The residents wanted a buffer zone to be created between the industries and the residential areas. With Bhopal still in memory and "the knowledge of what a tragedy can be caused by chemical industries", the court was prone to tread warily. However, the court was not keen to wield the hatchet as it did in the case of the relocation of industries in Delhi. It said: "If the industrialists wanted to safeguard their interest in the event of some accident happening in their factories, it was for them either to obtain the ownership of the area in question or to shift their factories to such places where the residential area could be kept wide apart from the factory premises."

HOWEVER, concern about the safety of people living in the vicinity of a chemical industry is not unique to India. For instance, in Toulouse, France, an explosion in the fertilizer plant of TotalFinaElf on September 21 killed 30 people. It also left over 2,000 people injured and left more than 11,000 homes and university, school and public buildings without windowpanes and with weakened structures. The incident occurred in the Azote de France (AZF) fertilizer factory. The factory, established in 1924, was received by France as part of the indemnities after the First World War. Toulouse has a complex of chemical industries. However, the protest against the potential risk posed by the industrial belt is of relatively recent origin. Mrs Real, a member of the Comiti de Quartier (Neighbourhood Committee), set up to protest against the location of the industries, said: "We did ask for the closure of the plants, but the Mayor's answer was that it would be too expensive to close them." Yet the protests forced the industry owners to put filters in their factory chimneys and to reduce the output of effluents. According to Professor Chaudret of the Laboratoire de Chemie de Coordination, there are three options: to relocate the industries, to close them, or to allow them to function from the present site. He says that if the risk caused by the factories cannot be dealt with, there is no point in relocating. Hence the debate is really about closure or reducing risk.

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However, the Indian courts and the executive have addressed the issue of risk in a different way. They have emphasised on relocation that inevitably puts new communities at risk. Bhopal, Mumbai, Delhi and now Toulouse illustrate the axiom that industry will encourage people to settle in its vicinity. For instance, in 2000, the Delhi government demolished slums in Delhi and resettled the 'eligible' population in Narela, on the outskirts of Delhi. At the same time, the government also cleared a proposal to relocate some chemical units within 4 km of the resettlement site. The location of the chemical industries near the resettlement site was one way of addressing the criticism of the resettlement policies that cost people their jobs or increased the distance between their place of work and their houses. By bringing the chemical industries within range of the resettlement site, the industries were provided with a working class population and the residents at the resettlement site a potential source of employment within accessible range. However, what is not stated is that the resettled community is now the community at risk.

The problem is one of inherent risks and, often, of negligence. As Toulouse has shown, negligence is not a privilege of the developing world. La Depeche du Midi, a newspaper in Toulouse, alleges that the ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion at the AZF factory was stacked "in a real dump" with minimal surveillance and security, and "incredible negligence". The newspaper also reported that the storage area was excluded from the area to be inspected by a regional industry and environment authority in May this year. The French Chemical Workers' Union, Fedechemie CGFTO, has said that its representatives at AZF had "difficulties" in "obtaining the maintenance of safety". The union demanded an investigation to confirm whether the tragedy was "not the result of the widespread policy of cutting costs" in the chemical industry.

Professor Chaudret, who has been helping the workers in the AZF factory to understand the nature and import of the risk, said: "To begin with, there is a need to recognise the risk. Certain hard decisions have to be taken on the future of chemical industry: eliminate products that are too risky, because too little is known about them; and for the rest, take precautions as are taken for explosives."

In France, the Toulouse explosion has set off a debate about the future of the chemical industry. The delinquent fertilizer plant is one of 1,250 factories in France that are classified as high-risk ones. Often, the solution is likely to be relocation. In Toulouse, as in Delhi after the closure of industries, workers are protesting against the relocation or closure of industries. However, the focus of the policy continues to be on relocation, carrying the risks from one territory to another. While in India relocation has meant invading areas with a relatively low concentration of populations, in France it could mean shifting risky industries beyond the country's borders. Yet the importance of reducing risk even while relocating has not found any significant space in public debate nor in the making of public policy. Bhopal introduced the country to the unanswered questions of 'relative' safety where lesser standards of safety and environmental concerns in some countries may make them safe havens for unsafe industry. The difficulties faced by the Bhopal victims in their battle against the multinational corporation, Union Carbide, are also testimony to the impunity that corporations enjoy when they locate themselves in the developing world. In the years that have passed since the Bhopal gas disaster, it would be safe to conclude, no systems have been put in place to induce an increased emphasis on safety. The culture of impunity continues.

Hard times

SHUBHA SINGH in Suva world-affairs

Even after the installation of a democratically elected government, the wounds that the coup and violence of 2000 inflicted on Fiji's social and economic life remain.

SUVA, the capital of Fiji, bears few signs of the riots that ripped the port city 18 months ago during the coup against the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) government led by Mahendra Chaudhry. Reminders of the turmoil, like a series of wall paintings along a downtown street or the shell of a burnt-out restaurant building on the seafront daubed with pro-democracy slogans, go virtually unnoticed amidst the spanking new plazas and arcades. There has been a government-sponsored effort, aided by insurance payments, to help rebuild the damaged structures. A Buy Suva shopping week is on. While the crowds mill around, shop owners complain of limited sales. This is a picture of Fiji today.

The physical signs of the civil strife are being wiped away, but the deeper wounds caused to the social and economic fabric of the country are hard to heal. The coup shattered the economy, which was just beginning to pull out of a decade-long stagnation that followed the earlier coup in 1987. International sanctions have affected the garment industry, while tourists have kept away since the first signs of trouble in the islands. The general elections of September 2001 brought a democratically elected government to power. However, the bruises left by an emotionally charged elections will take time to heal.

ON May 19, 2000 an armed group took Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his Cabinet hostages. Every group that aired its grievances following the coup linked the development to the indigenous Fijian community's dissatisfaction at its economic backwardness. During the campaign for the September 2001 elections, appeals based on ethnicity became strident and, for the first time, voters were polarised on racial lines. The ethnic Indian community went to the elections as the wronged party, and as the primary target of the coup and the lawlessness that followed. The heightened feelings during the coup led indigenous Fijians to believe that they were being marginalised from both economic and political power. Fijians of Indian origin, by and large, voted for the FLP seeking a return of its leadership in government. The majority of ethnic Fijians voted for the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanu (SDL), the party floated by Interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, or for the hardline, nationalistic Conservative Alliance (C.A.). Moderate indigenous Fijian parties were wiped out as the SDL and the C.A. focussed on the primacy of indigenous Fijians' interests.

The three intrinsically intertwined issues of race, land and politics have played important roles in Fijian society. However, unlike earlier elections in which the main political parties contested on a multi-racial plank, the September 2001 elections were fought on ethnic lines. This reality is now reflected in the composition of the government as well. Although the FLP, as the largest Opposition party, was entitled to a place in the Cabinet under the provisions of Fiji's Constitution, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase refused to include it because of his inability to work with Chaudhry. Refusing to accept the position of the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry has challenged Qarase's action in court.

While the political divide is taking its time to recede, the issues that have a direct effect on the people pertain to reconciliation, land and the economy. Vinay Chandra, a taxi driver in Suva, said: "The economy is down, there are no jobs. The garment factory where my mother worked is closed. First of all, we have to eat. Politics is secondary."

"We can live together, if it were not for the politics," said Ali, who runs a motor vehicle workshop in Lautoka town. "There is poverty among Indians and Fijians. But Fijian leaders point to large shops owned by Gujaratis and say all Indians are rich," he added. Since the days of the civil strife, a lingering sense of insecurity has prevailed in Suva. It affects not only Indian-Fijians but also people of other ethnic groups such as the part-Fijians and other Pacific islanders.

The positive signs in Suva are the efforts made by various social organisations towards reconciliation. A poster in Suva reads: "Only when racism is talked about and recognised can its real face be addressed." A young speaker at a seminar in Suva said that peace and reconciliation meant not only the absence of conflict but also having the courage to address the wrongs of the past and the fortitude to build an inclusive future.

The ethnic divide in Fiji is not seen as racism but as something that protects the interests of the indigenous people. The new government is considering a three-language system in schools - comprising English, Fijian and Hindi - so that each community can speak the other's language. Ideas of integration came from outside and were resisted by Fijians as they we feared these would lead to a loss of their special identity. Misconceptions about the other community abound in Fijian society, and there has been little concerted effort to dispel them. The impression of the Indian community being rich is belied by statistical figures. There are Indians in all economic strata.

The lush greenery of the Pacific island nation helps to hide the stark face of poverty. A recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study estimated 40 per cent unemployment in the country. According to Professor Vijay Naidu of the University of the South Pacific, about 12,000 students come out of the school system at all levels every year. Of them, only 2,000 get jobs in the organised sector. Over 30 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2000, and recent estimates suggest that another 10 per cent would have been pushed into this category in the past one year.

While in the past year there has been an economic downturn it had recorded a healthy growth rate the year before. The tourism sector has become vulnerable, especially because of the fall in air travel from the U.S. after the September 11 events. At the moment, the economy needs major attention since its main sectors, such as tourism and the sugar industry, have been affected. (Sugar production has dropped from four million tonnes to 2.5 million tonnes in the past year, partly owing to the expiry of land leases.)

Land for sugarcane farming is leased by Indian farmers for periods of 30 years. Although the time has come for renewal of most leases, landowners are refusing to renew them. The Indian farmers, who have lost their farms, have to look for other avenues of work in a declining economy. Meanwhile, although some Fijian landowners have taken to cane farming, a large part of lands that were under sugarcane cultivation is lying fallow. Indian farmers believe after the coup the landowners stopped renewing leases because they feel they are not getting adequate returns for their land even when Fijian sugar sells at a high price under a preferential trading arrangement. They add that cane prices are determined by the Fiji Sugar Corporation, whose mills require major technology upgradation.

The expiry of the land leases is an immediate problem because about a quarter million of Fiji's population is directly dependent on the sugar industry in its various forms. The Qarase government has plenty of problems before it, and the most important ones relate to convincing people of the two main ethnic groups to work together for the economic security of all communities.

Vote and volte-face

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

A moderate ethnic Albanian party wins the elections in Kosovo and then talks tough on the issue of independence.

KOSOVO, theoretically still part of Serbia and the Yugoslav Federation, went to the polls on November 17 under the supervision of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The turnout was high despite boycott calls by some hardline groups. The United Nations and the pro-Western government in Belgrade seemed to have succeeded in convincing the minority Serb population to participate in the exercise.

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On November 6, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Yugoslav government signed an agreement on providing security and other guarantees to the Serbs in the province where ethnic Albanians are predominant. UNMIK had expressed its happiness "with the decision by the Serbian and Yugoslav governments to endorse Kosovo Serb participation".

The U.N. and Serbia also agreed that the status of the province would be discussed during the five-year term of the new Assembly. The Albanians saw this as an attempt to stall the declaration of formal independence. After the removal of Slobodan Milosevic and the Socialist Party from power in Belgrade, the West has been reluctant to talk about independence for Kosovo.

The large-scale Serbian participation in the elections seems to have tilted the balance in favour of the moderate Kosovar parties. The Democratic League of Kosovo, led by veteran leader Ibrahim Rugova, won about 45 per cent of the vote and emerged as the leading force. Rugova is seen as a moderate. Although he was the undisputed leader of Albanian Kosovars in their struggle against Belgrade since the 1980s, he was against the use of force. He was virtually sidelined by the West during the course of the war led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Some Albanian nationalists even accused Rugova of colluding with Belgrade.

Since the beginning of 2001, there were indications that the West was distancing itself from the extreme Albanian nationalist parties such as the Democratic Party of Kosovo, led by Hashim Thaci, who stood for the immediate secession of Kosovo. Thaci was one of the prominent figures in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which played a crucial role in fostering violence and terrorism in the Balkans. An offshoot of the KLA has also been busy in neighbouring Macedonia. The Democratic Party got around 26 per cent of the vote. The result is being interpreted as a significant setback for the extremists. A party led by Ramush Haradinaj, a former KLA commander, got 9 per cent of the votes. The Serbian Party got around 10 per cent of the vote and 20 per cent of the seats.

BY the bloody standards Kosovo had set in the 1990s, the elections were surprisingly peaceful. Kosovo was detached from Serbia after NATO forces went to war against Yugoslavia two years ago. Since then the Serb minority, which still constitutes around 10 per cent of the population of Kosovo, has been under siege. The extremists among Kosovo's Muslim population, who had laid the groundwork for the NATO intervention, were hell-bent on driving the remaining Serbs out of Kosovo so that they could realise their dream of establishing a greater Albania.

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The U.N., NATO and Belgrade now want a slower and a more cautious approach to the issue of independence. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, which states that Kosovo is under Yugoslav sovereignty, is still in force. U.N. officials say that the core objective of the resolution is the establishment of "substantial autonomy and a functioning self-government in Kosovo". They claim that this goal has been achieved after the November elections.

The West is also trying to prop up the pro-western government in Serbia led by Prime Minister Goran Djindic. Djindic is getting increasingly unpopular. Recently the "Red Berets", the elite paratroopers of the Yugoslav Army, staged a public protest against the government in Belgrade. They returned to the barracks within a day, but the action effectively showed their dissatisfaction with Belgrade's decision to cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. They fear that some of them could end up in The Hague to answer charges relating to the long-drawn-out internecine strife in the Balkans.

Rugova, who is going to be the new "President" of Kosovo, has surprised the international community with his pronouncements after the election results were announced. The West had expected him to tread softly on emotive issues, but he said that his first priority was to seek independence for the province. A day after the election results were out, he demanded that the "independence of Kosovo be recognised formally, as soon as possible". The peaceful election process, according to him, had proved to the world that the people of Kosovo deserved independence. "De facto we are independent. But we need the recognition of the U.S., the European Union, and then others will follow."

Rugova is to head a government that will take over from U.N. officials who were running the administration since the detachment of Kosovo in 1999. The U.N. and the NATO have let it be known that the primary task of the incoming administration is to solve the economic problems of the province before it can proceed on the road to independence. The new 120-member legislature is barred from debating the issue of independence. It is certain that the threat to cut off international funding will follow if Rugova persists in highlighting the issue of independence.

Rugova's radical stance may embolden the extremists further. KFOR, as the NATO troops operating in Kosovo are called, was supposed to disarm the KLA. Western officials admit that the guerillas have not been fully disarmed. Some of the KLA commanders are active in Macedonia and parts of Serbia that are still claimed by ethnic Albanians. Their long-term plan is to create a greater Albania with Kosovo as the springboard. A greater Albania, if it ever materialises, will dramatically change the geopolitics of the volatile region. Albanian extremists from Kosovo move between Serbia and Macedonia without much hindrance. Gun-running and trading in narcotics are their main activities. An Albanian mafia with roots in Kosovo and Tirana runs a lucrative sex trade across Europe.

The Macedonian government has blamed extremists from Kosovo for fomenting trouble in the region. The Albanian separatists in Macedonia have a strong grip on many parts of the country, including important cities such as Tetovo. As in Kosovo, the NATO forces have made a mockery of the peace process by failing to disarm the well-armed Albanian rebels. It is only owing to the presence of around 40,000 NATO troops in Kosovo and Macedonia that a tenuous peace prevails in the region.

'Race is not a critical problem in Fiji'

world-affairs

Interview with Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

As the newly elected Prime Minister, what is your vision for Fiji?

For a peaceful, multi-racial, multi-ethnic Fiji where all communities live in peace and prosperity.

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What are the programmes you propose to ensure this vision?

The programmes are many. We want to push economic growth. This is fundamental, if we don't have growth we cannot have prosperity. My government has set out a number of proposals that will, I hope, kick-start the economy. On the social front, we want to try and eradicate poverty and uplift the standard of living of the people, and these basically relate to economic growth. On the political front, there is a great need to reconcile the differences among communities in Fiji. It is not going to be an easy process and will take time, but we need to get on with it if we want a united Fiji.

How do you plan to begin the process of reconciliation?

As I have mentioned, it's not going to be easy. One of the first actions I took in the interim administration was to establish a Ministry for Reconciliation and Unity, and I will use it to promote programmes that will encourage multi-racialism at different levels.

One of the issues raised in recent days relates to a national language. The Fijian language has been suggested. At the same time it has been suggested that Hindi, too, should be taught in Fijian school so that people can communicate in either of these languages or in English. This is a one-step action programme and I think it is a very significant one to start off with.

How do you plan to resolve the question of agricultural land leases?

Land has been a sensitive issue because the landlords are predominantly indigenous Fijians and the tenants are Indian farmers. The landowners, as owners of the asset, need to get sufficient return. The tenants, of course, want a return on their labour. So you have conflicting interests. My government would like to provide a formula that is fair and equitable to both. I am optimistic that if we handle the issue with tact, and following Fijian protocol, we will be able to come to a satisfactory arrangement. I am hoping that we will be able to resolve this problem by the end of next year.

Fijian landowners feel that they are not getting a good return for the land. Landowners of the Monasavu Dam area had disrupted power supply to Suva.

It is unfortunate that the landowners' interests have never been taken into account on an equitable and fair basis. For example, the farm leases - the return is about $65 a hectare. It is one of the lowest in the world, and it is well below commercial rank. I don't think that it would be far-fetched to say that Fijian landowners have been subsidising the sugar industry since 1976 by receiving extremely low rentals for their land.

In the Monasavu Dam case, in the initial negotiations the interests of the landowners were never really taken into account. But lately, after they made demands, they have been getting some concessions from the Fiji Electricity Authority. There have been many such cases, and we will try and resolve them.

What are your plans for removing the distance between the different communities in Fiji?

I think racial issues surface only during elections and only when very sensitive issues are discussed. Apart from those short periods, there is tremendous goodwill and trust among the different communities. In the rural areas, there is an excellent relationship between people of all communities. So race is not a critical problem in Fiji, because we are always able to overcome it. History has shown that we have always been able to come out of it, and then take the country forward as a united society.

'Reconciliation should start from the top'

world-affairs

Interview with former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

The expiry of agricultural leases is of deep concern to the Indian farmers. How do you think the land issue can be resolved?

There is unlikely to be a lasting solution to the issue. The Indians have to move off the land gradually and find livelihood elsewhere because of a number of things there. One is the sheer economics of growing sugarcane, and the second, of course, is the problem besetting the industry. Sugar prices are not rising. We are surviving on the back of European subsidised prices. If we remove those, the industry will not be able to sustain itself. That preferential arrangement runs up to 2008, and after that we don't know whether it will be withdrawn or phased out. So we have to start preparing now.

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As a declining industry, we have got a lot of problems. Land is one. Our mills and rolling stock are ancient and to upgrade them requires huge investment. One must weigh the options with the land situation and the economics of the industry itself, whether such a huge investment is prudent or whether that money should be put into something more sustainable, which will last in the future.

What is the alternative before the farmers?

We will have to look for other opportunities in the economy. We can't build a future on an asset we don't own or control. It makes sense to move into other areas. Of course, the transition will be painful. There will be hardships, and this could take between 5 to 10 years as people gradually resettle and look for new avenues. But in the long term that is the best solution.

That is why we are advising people to invest heavily in the education of their children, to give them skills which would enable them to be self-employed, or at least be trained in skills that are highly marketable. So, they will be able to obtain employment here or abroad.

How is that possible in a declining economy?

The economy was doing very well until May 19, 2000. As a result of the coup and all the lawlessness that followed, it is in tatters now. It will take a long time to rebuild, there is no doubt about that. Our tourism, which was doing very well, is now down to a trickle. Sugarcane output also has declined. It is unbelievable that last year we had a crop of 4 million tonnes. This year we are looking at just 2.5 million tonnes. It's been such a steep decline in a period of 12 months. And it is mostly associated with the event of May 19, 2000. Because of the insecurity over the land leases the picture in the (sugar) industry also looks grim. That is why it is important to have political stability as soon as we can.

To get all the races working together, to get the politicians to understand that unless we work together we cannot move forward as a nation.

It's a grim picture, yes. But things can turn around if there is cooperation, if the Constitution is respected and obeyed.

What are the forms in which reconciliation can take place?

The reconciliation should start from the top. The leaders must first of all reconcile and then it can trickle down to the people. There is genuine goodwill at the grassroots level. I think they've all had enough of the lawlessness, the disorder, the mayhem that we have experienced over the last 17 months, and they would like to put all this behind them and move forward, because they are the ones who are suffering. It is for the leaders to see this and then to put aside their own agenda, their own ambitions, if you like.

How should the process begin?

The initiative must be taken by the leadership. That is important because we are still a leader-driven society. Without this initiative coming from the leadership, the people on the ground would be confused. They really wouldn't know what to do, how to go about it, although they may have the will to do it.

Peace on the horizon

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

A peace process mediated by Nelson Mandela raises hopes in strife-torn Burundi.

WHILE the world's attention was focussed on the United States-led war against Afghanistan, a development that has the potential to advance the cause of peace in central Africa took place in the first week of November. South African peace-keepers reached Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, to supervise an agreement to end one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent times on the African continent. The man behind the dramatic development was the charismatic Nelson Mandela. Only a person of his stature could have persuaded the warring parties to bring the eight-year-old civil war to an end.

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There has been fighting even after the peace-keepers landed as some of the Tutsi and Hutu guerilla groupings have rejected the power-sharing arrangement envisaged in the agreement, which was signed at Arusha in Tanzania in July. The major Hutu rebel groups, the Forces for National Liberation and the Forces for the Defence of Democracy, have refused to sign the accord.

The conflict in Burundi mirrors to a great extent the conflict in neighbouring Rwanda. In Burundi too, the minority Tutsis have been reluctant to loosen their stranglehold on power. And a section of the majority Hutus, like their counterparts in Rwanda, seems hell-bent on ethnic cleansing. More than 200,000 people are estimated to have died in the civil war. About 800,000 people - 12 per cent of the country's population - have become internal refugees as a result of the Tutsi-dominated government's policy of forcibly relocating civilians.

The civil war in Burundi has aggravated the situation in central Africa, a region that has been witnessing war on an unprecedented scale. The Hutu and Tutsi militias are also embroiled in a civil war in the neighbouring Republic of Congo. Another neighbour, Tanzania, has half a million Hutu refugees.

The Tutsi-dominated government in Rwanda is warily looking at the unfolding events in Burundi. Rwanda's Tutsi elite is seemingly loath to share power with the Hutus. They fear that if the experiment succeeds in Burundi, there will be demands to replicate it in Rwanda, given the similarities in the politics of the neighbours.

The long-standing strife in Burundi erupted into civil war when the first democratically elected Hutu President and six Ministers were killed during a coup attempt by the Tutsi-dominated Army in 1993. The fighting between the Army and Hutu rebels resulted in massive internal displacement of people and the destabilisation of the region. Attempts by the United Nations and other international agencies in the mid-1990s to find a solution failed.

It was only when Mandela entered the picture in 1999 that things got moving. In December 1999, a meeting of African heads of state in Arusha designated him the "Facilitator of the Burundi Peace Process". Mandela, despite his advanced age, got to work. In January 2000, he met the representatives of the warring groups in Arusha and subsequently addressed the U.N. Security Council on his efforts in Burundi. His diplomatic initiatives led to a breakthrough within months. A peace and reconciliation agreement was signed on August 28, 2000 in Arusha by most of the parties involved in the peace process. To kickstart the peace process on the ground, the South African government, prodded by Mandela, took the courageous step of sending in its troops as a "protective force" to Burundi at a time when few countries were willing to do so. Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal have committed themselves to deploying their forces for peace-keeping in Burundi.

The power-sharing experiment started in the first week of November under President Pierre Buyoya, who will head an interim government for 18 months. (Buyoya, a former Tutsi Army officer, seized power in a coup in 1996.) Then he will be replaced by a senior Hutu leader - most probably Vice-President Domitien Ndayizeye.

The agreement between the government of Burundi and seven Opposition parties called for the deployment of an impartial multinational force in Burundi, besides setting the framework for the transitional government and the composition of the Cabinet, the Senate and a transitional national assembly.

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The U.N. and other international agencies hope that the multinational troop presence will provide security for the large number of refugees who are expected to return once the chances of lasting peace brighten. The force will also train an all-Burundian "protection force", which will be a fully integrated army. The need to reorganise the Burundian Army has acquired urgency as there have been two coup attempts in the last six months. The last attempt was made on July 23 when Buyoya and Ndayizeye signed a document containing Mandela's proposals for a comprehensive peace settlement.

The South African troops will have a tough time in Burundi, especially in the countryside where Hutu rebels have a strong presence. The rebels belonging to the two Hutu guerilla groups have not yet agreed to lay down arms. The Hutus fear that the Tutsis will renege on their commitment to share power as they have done in the recent past. Buyoya is not trusted by both the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus consider him the brain behind the 1993 coup and the Tutsis look at him as someone who is too eager to compromise to save his own position.

The Rwandan government will also seek to have a say in the running of a future government in Burundi. Rwanda, which has emerged as an important player in the region in the past two years, will try its best to keep it subservient. Rwanda is at loggerheads with the Republic of Congo and Uganda. Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame and Ugandan supremo Yoweri Museveni were once close friends. They fell out after the two countries embarked on an ill-advised plan to carve out the Congo. Both back different factions in the Congo. Their troops clashed in 1999 in the town of Kisangani in the Congo. Museveni has declared Rwanda a "hostile nation". With a view to preventing the emergence of another enemy in the region, Kagame might extend tacit support to Tutsi elements who want to sabotage the peace process in Burundi.

Mandela has said that he will not be around to supervise the transition in Burundi, and the U.N. is looking for someone who can fill the void. South African President Thabo Mbeki seems all set to play a more activist role in the region despite the bitter experience South African forces had in trying to restore peace in Lesotho in 1998. South African troops are on peace-keeping missions in the Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The South African government has published a policy document called the Millennium Africa Renewal Plan. It calls upon African nations to get together to solve the continent's problems. If the peace process in Burundi succeeds, it could be a precursor for more such initiatives in the region. At the same time, there is the possibility of other countries suspecting Pretoria's game plan. Zimbabwe and Angola, for instance, are wary about South African intentions of playing "big brother".

The Marrakesh deal

V. SRIDHAR world-affairs

Despite giving large concessions to the major inudstrialised countries, COP-7 succeeds in establishing an international architecture for combating the complex problem of global warming.

NEGOTIATORS from more than 170 countries gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco, between October 29 and November 9 at the Seventh Conference of Parties (COP-7) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) to give shape to the historic Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty which addresses the issues of global warming and climate change. While optimists drew satisfaction from the fact that some agreement is better than none, environmental activists have said that the "watered down" agreement is an almost insignificant step towards countering a monumental problem.

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The Marrakesh agreement gives legal effect to the political agreement that was reached in COP-6 in Bonn earlier this year (Frontline, August 17, 2001). The United States, the biggest polluter, had by then pulled out of the treaty. Observers of the COP process have said that the diluted agreement is largely a result of the U.S. stepping back from taking charge of its share of the responsibility of cleaning up. Recent figures released by the U.S. Energy Department show that carbon dioxide emissions increased by 3.1 per cent in 2000, the biggest increase since the mid-1990s. Emissions in 2000 were nearly 14 per cent higher than in 1990.

The Marrakesh meeting was essentially a technical one, aimed at giving legal shape to the decisions worked out at Bonn by building compliance mechanisms. With the U.S. out of the game, the wrangle over target-fixing was mainly among the major industrial countries - gathered in two separate conclaves, the Umbrella Group which included Japan, Canada, Australia and Russia, and the European Union - continued at Marrakesh. Behind the intense bargaining among the main polluting nations was a thinly veiled attempt to reinterpret the Kyoto Protocol. Observers also noted that the divergent positions on many of the "technical" issues had political undertones. There were fears that these may undermine an agreement in Marrakesh. The Umbrella Group succeeded in extracting concessions in return for keeping the Kyoto Treaty alive.

The Umbrella Group used the leverage it had to its advantage, secure in the knowledge that the absence of the U.S meant that its participation was absolutely necessary to keep the treaty afloat. These countries, together and singly, used this to extract a price for their ratification of the treaty. By playing the ratification card several times throughout the conference, they ensured a watered-down agreement on emission reduction targets which does not match the enormity of the problem of global warming. A weaker compliance regime is also a result of this bargaining. Lower eligibility requirements for the Kyoto Protocol's controversial "flexibility mechanisms", including the trading of "emission quotas", also pose a threat to the compliance of the Parties.

THERE are also fears that the agreement undermines opportunities for public participation and transparency in monitoring the compliance of countries' commitments. For instance, at Marrakesh, the Umbrella Group fought for allowing greater room for carbon sinks - the use of carbon-absorbing activities, afforestation for example, - in meeting its Kyoto commitments. The development of carbon sinks is difficult to monitor, and this fact increases the risk of non-compliance by countries. However, the Umbrella Group had its way since it held the key of ratification of the Protocol.

Environmental groups which have for long monitored the COP process said that COP-7 was marked by "belligerent bargaining", particularly by Russia. Russia renegotiated its quota of carbon sinks fixed in Bonn, doubling it at Marrakesh. At the end of COP-7 the developing countries were forced to accept the deal, "tempered in particular by a healthy dose of realism as to what is politically and economically feasible". Although the Marrakesh Conference devoted much attention to highly technical questions regarding the measurement of emissions and their reduction, observers have said that the whole elaborate architecture of the treaty hinges on "the integrity of the numbers that have been the basis of the agreement".

The Marrakesh agreement means that after four years of tortuous negotiations since Kyoto in 1997, what the world now has is, in the words of one observer, a "tri-polar climate change regime" which pretends to be a global agreement. The three poles in the uneasy and inadequate international arrangement are the Annex I Countries of the Kyoto Protocol - mainly industrialised countries with assigned quotas for emission reduction, the developing countries and the U.S., which is mainly watching from the outside now.

The Marrakesh agreement, based on universally agreed texts of more than 200 pages, provides a semblance of finality to the Kyoto Protocol. Although critics may find it to be inadequate, the result is that there is now a "ratifiable" treaty for countries to bind themselves to. Non-compliance with the terms of the agreement will invite legally binding consequences. It is another matter that these consequences may themselves be nowhere as severe as the potential threat to the global environment due to a weak agreement.

Friends of the Earth (FoE), an environmental group, while extending a "cautious welcome" to the Marrakesh agreement, observed that it ensures that countries have no excuses not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The environmental group also said that "the deal fudges rules on the use of sinks".

Kate Hampton, Climate Coordi- nator, FoE, said: "The science is stark - drastic future cuts in emissions are vital to prevent dangerous climate change and this agreement is only the beginning. We will hold countries to their commitments and fight the use of treaty loopholes country by country. Nine years after the Rio Summit, Ministers have let the world down by failing to address the real issue."

The reaction from Greenpeace was more harsh. It termed the Marrakesh agreement a "hard-won battle for a token outcome". Bill Hare, Greenpeace Climate Policy Director, observed: "The Kyoto Protocol is the key to preventing dangerous climate change. The door has only just been unlocked. Now we have to fling it wide open."

Sinking Tuvalu

ASHA KRISHNAKUMAR world-affairs

SOON Tuvalu will be lost forever. Barely 23 years since it gained independence, Tuvalu, a tiny island country in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia, faces the threat of being lost to the sea. Global warming and the consequent rise of the sea level no longer seem to be just theories.

The Tuvaluan government fears that the nine atolls spread over some 26 square kilometres that constitute the country will ultimately go under the sea. But it has denied reports of a plan for the imminent evacuation of the 11,000 citizens.

Fearing a rise in the sea level the Tuvaluan government appealed last year to Australia and New Zealand to provide permanent homes for the people. While Australia refused to take in Tuvaluans, New Zealand is considering the matter.

A SELF-GOVERNING member of the British Commonwealth, Tuvalu was admitted to the United Nations as its 189th member last year. Located 1,000 km north of Fiji, it is the fourth smallest country in terms of area (after Vatican City, Monaco and Nauru) and the second smallest in terms of population (after Vatican City). The highest point in Tuvalu is 4.6 metres above sea level.

The history of human settlement in Tuvalu dates back to 2,000 years, though genealogy reports go back only 300 years. However, an underwater cave with evidence of human occupation some 8,000 years ago was discovered some years ago. According to scientists, a rise in the sea level that began 18,000 years ago and stopped 4,000 years ago may have drowned much of the evidence of human habitation on the atolls.

Formerly called the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu came under British rule in 1877 and was made part of the British Protectorate of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1892. In 1915, it became the Gilbert and Ellice Islands' Colony. Following a referendum in 1974, a Constitution was written for Tuvalu, and in 1978 it became an independent constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth with Funafuti as capital.

Polynesians constitute 96 per cent of the population of Tuvalu, which is headed by a Governor-General who represents the Queen of England.

The densely populated Tuvalu is composed of nine coral atolls with poor soil and no known mineral resources. Farming and fishing are the primary economic activities. Government revenue comes mainly from the sale of stamps and coins and from remittances by its citizens from abroad. Tuvalu receives a substantial sum every year from an international trust fund established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and supported by Japan and South Korea. In 1998, the country signed over to a Canadian company the rights for its name to be used as an Internet domain name. Royalties from this are estimated to raise the country's gross domestic product ($ 7 million) over three times in the next decade. In an effort to reduce its dependence on foreign aid, the government is pursuing public sector reforms, including privatisation of some government functions and personnel cuts of up to 7 per cent.

The divide among scientists over whether or not the sea level is rising appears to be narrowing. Recent studies show that in the 20th century, the sea level rose the world over by 20-30 cm. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a rise of up to 1 metre this century. A U.N. panel comprising 2,000 scientists predicts temperature increases of 10.8 Fahrenheit this century, which might raise the sea level by up to 78.7 cm.

With the rise in the sea level, Tuvalu has experienced lowland flooding. Saltwater intrusion is affecting its aquifers and food production. The nine islands have faced extensive coastal erosion. The higher temperatures that cause the rise in sea level is also leading to destructive storms. Higher surface water temperatures in the tropics and subtropics lead to the radiation of more energy into the atmosphere, which drives the storm systems. Tuvalu has witnessed an unusually high level of tropical cyclones in the past decade.

For island countries, this is not a new problem. In October 1987, Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly, said that his country was threatened by rising sea level. The Maldives, with 311,000 people, he said, was "an endangered nation". With most of its 1,196 tiny islands barely two metres above the sea level, the Maldives' survival can indeed be threatened with even a one-metre rise in the sea level in the event of a storm surge.

Tuvalu is the first country that is contemplating to evacuate its people because of the rising sea level, but it almost certainly will not be the last. Tuvaluans may get a home in New Zealand. Lester Brown of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute asks: "What about the 311,000 who may be forced to leave the Maldives? Who will accept them? Or the millions of others living in low-lying countries who may soon join the flow of climate refugees?"

In 1990, perceiving the threats of climate change over which they have little control, the island countries organised themselves into an Alliance of Small Island States (ASIS). Besides island nations, low-lying coastal countries are also threatened by rising sea level. In 2000, a World Bank-published map showed that a one-metre rise in the sea level would inundate half of Bangladesh's riceland. With sea levels predicted to rise up to one metre this century, Bangladeshis would be forced to migrate in their millions.

Rice-growing river floodplains in Asia, including those in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and China, are also predicted to be affected. The most easily measured effect of the rising sea level is the inundation of coastal areas. Donald F. Boesch of the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Sciences, estimates that for each millimetre rise in the sea level, the shoreline retreats an average of 1.5 metres. Thus, if the sea level rises by one metre, the coastline will retreat by 1,500 metres.

According to Lester Brown, many developing countries, already faced with high population growth and intense competition for living space and cropland, now have to cope with the additional prospect of a rising sea level and substantial land losses. Some of those most directly affected have contributed the least to the build-up in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which causes the problem. While developed countries such as the U.S. face loss of beachfront properties, the people of the low-lying islands are threatened with loss of livelihoods and lives.

A chronology

A chronology world-affairs

1827:Jean-Baptiste Fourier, the French polymath, using the analogy of a greenhouse, suggests the possibility a global warming.

1863:Irish scientist John Tyndall describes how water vapour can act as a greenhouse gas.

1890s:Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, and P.C. Chamberlain in the U.S., explore the effect of carbon dioxide emission on the atmosphere. They explore the causal connection between emissions, particularly by the burning of fossil fuels, and global warming.

1890s to 1940:Average surface air temperatures increase by about 0.25 C.

1940 to 1970:The earth cools by about 0.2 C.

1957:Monitoring of temperatures on a continuous basis begins, implying the recognition of the problem of global warming.

1979:Climate change is recognised as a major issue at the first World Climate Conference. It calls on all governments "to foresee and prevent potential man-made changes in climate".

1985:First major international conference on the greenhouse effect at Villach, Austria, warns that greenhouse gases will "in the first half of the next century, cause a rise of global mean temperature which is greater than any in man's history", causing sea levels to rise by up to a metre.

1987:The warmest year on record. The 1980s turn out to be the warmest decade, with seven of the eight warmest years in history recorded up to 1990. Even the coldest years in the 1980s were warmer than the warmest years of the 1880s.

1988:The United Nations sets up an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to analyse and report on scientific findings related to the problem.

1990:The first report of the IPCC concludes that the planet has warmed by 0.5 C in the past century. The IPCC provides the scientific basis for negotiations in the U.N. for a climate convention. Negotiations start in December.

1992:U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is signed by 154 nations in Rio de Janeiro, at the Earth Summit. Countries agree to set initial targets for peg emissions from industrialised countries to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

1994:The island nations of the world, organised by the Alliance of Small Island States, demand a 20 per cent reduction in emissions by the year 2005. The UNFCCC comes into force on March 21. It now has 186 Parties.

1995:Hottest year yet. In March, the Berlin Mandate is agreed by signatories at the first full meeting of the UNFCC in Berlin. Industrialised nations agree to cut emissions.

1996:At the second meeting of the Climate Change Convention, for the first time the U.S. agrees to legally binding emissions targets and sides with the IPCC against influential "sceptical" scientists. After a four-year pause, global emissions of CO2 resume steep climb, and scientists warn that most industrialised countries will not meet Rio agreement to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000.

1997:Kyoto Protocol is signed. It sets binding emissions cuts for industrialised nations, averaging 5.4 per cent, to be met during 2008-2012, relative to levels prevailing in 1990. It also adopts a set of "flexibility mechanisms", allowing countries to meet their targets by trading emissions permits and establishing carbon sinks. The U.S. says it will not ratify the agreement unless it sees evidence of "meaningful participation" by the developing countries.

1998:The hottest year in the hottest decade of the hottest century of the millennium. Follow-up negotiations (at COP-4) in Buenos Aires fail to resolve disputes over the Kyoto "rule book", but agree on a deadline for resolution by end-2000. COP-4 results in the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA). BAPA sets a deadline, COP-6, where Parties should reach agreement on a package of issues to give effect to the Kyoto Protocol.

2000:Scientific re-assessment of future emissions suggests that the world could warm by 6 C within a century. A series of major floods around the world raise fears that global warming is an immediate problem. In November, COP-6, held in The Hague, meets to finalise the "Kyoto rule book" but fails to reach agreement after the E.U. and the U.S. fall out. The Bush administration refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

2001:In March the U.S. refuses to participate in any emission reduction regime. COP-6 continues in Bonn in July. Agreement is reached on the means to give effect to the Kyoto treaty. The legal framework is set out in Marrakesh at COP-7.

For decentralised development

The panchayati raj institutions should be strengthened in order to enhance the quality of development and democracy in the country.

THERE is a critical need to dovetail the constitutional mandate of decentralised governance with multi-level planning and multi-level public finance in the country. Now that the Ninth Plan has failed in this task, the Tenth Plan (2002-07) has to make some important policy choices. That the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments meant to usher in decentralised governance coincided with the inauguration of the economic reform process in the country cannot be dismissed as a matter of chance. That market-mediated economic growth per se cannot promote balanced regional development in a country as spatially diverse as India and that the market by its inherent logic excludes those without exchange entitlements, are compelling reasons to highlight the significance of bottom-up planning for "economic development and social justice", now laid down in Articles 243G, and 243W of the Constitution. Along with this one has to read Article 243ZD providing for the creation of district planning committees (DPCs) and the federal finance provisions laid down in Articles 243I, 243Y and 280(bb) and (c) of the Constitution. By providing for the representation of the socially excluded categories such as women, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) and for the institution of the assembly of voters (the gram sabha), the necessary conditions for participatory planning are also well laid down.

By mandating the panchayats to prepare 'plans for economic development and social justice' based on area planning, the Constitution facilitates micro-plans that form the building blocks of a large part of macro-development plans at the State and national level. The cardinal consideration in a multi-layered federation like India is the well-known principle of subsidiarity, namely, that the functions which can be performed well at a particular level should be done at that level and not at a higher level. The country has failed in this task, with overlapping structures worsening the situation.

The third stratum of local self-government is only an extension of the second, of course with significant exceptions such as Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. Despite the emergence of regional parties at the Centre, the Union government continues to uphold a quasi-federation, choosing to have its finger in every pie.

The Constitution has assigned a key role to the DPCs. The Planning Commission and the State Planning Boards are not constitutional or statutory bodies. Even so, they have a constitutional responsibility to put the decentralisation planning process and agenda on the map of India's federal polity. The Ninth Plan has failed in this respect. Will the Tenth Plan unfold a different story?

The creation of a large number of programmes (currently, there are more than 200 schemes) called centrally sponsored schemes (CSSs), sponsored by the Union Ministries, has considerably distorted the multi-level planning process and inter-governmental transfer arrangements in India's federation because they deal with subjects included in the State List and the 'local' list mentioned in the 11th and 12th Schedules. The share of CSSs in the Plan budget of the Union Ministries has shot up to 70 per cent against a level of less than 30 per cent in the early 1980s. Not only has this happened at the expense of investments in priority areas like infrastructure, but CSSs have by and large bypassed the decentralised planning process. The matching provision of 25 per cent share by a State results in diversion of funds from priority areas by the States and even in fudging. These distortions become more glaring when one notes that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in his 1999 report has vehemently criticised "the wanton abuse of authority", gross misuse of public resources, indifferent implementation by States, cooking up of outcomes, concealing of shortcomings and other problems in the implementation of the CSSs. This may be seen along with the MPs' local area funds to the tune of Rs.1,000 crores (given to every Member of Parliament at the rate of Rs.2 crores), the MLA funds at the disposal of State legislators and the demand for extending this privilege to all the representatives of local self-governments whose number in the panchayats alone is over 3.4 million. It is high time that these distortions are rectified and rationality and constitutional propriety brought into fiscal federalism and multi-level planning in the country.

THE best bet to ensure basic minimum services of comparable quality to every citizen irrespective of his or her choice of location of residence is the institution of panchayats. In fact, the Tenth Plan Approach Paper (September 2001) has set several targets - such as, by 2007, all children to complete 5 years of schooling; reduction of gender gaps in literacy by 50 per cent by 2007; increase in literacy rate to 75 per cent in the Plan period; reduction of infant mortality rate to 45 per 1,000 births by 2007; all villages to have access to drinking water in the Plan period; reduction of poverty ratio by 5 percentage points, and so on. These targets can be achieved and sustained only with the active involvement of the panchayati raj institutions (PRIs).

But are these institutions on a sustainable path? If the facts relating to the 'decentralisation of panchayati raj institutions' contained in the Mid-term Appraisal of the Ninth Plan (October 2000) are to be believed, they are not. The big State of Bihar has thwarted the decentralisation process. As of date 11 States have not yet constituted DPCs. It is only in Kerala that the DPCs are alive and operational in all the districts as part of a decentralised planning process. Should development assistance under such a circumstance be automatic? If moving towards decentralised governance is a desirable objective, development assistance has to be linked to its progress.

To make the decentralisation process a viable and sustainable part of the Indian federation, PRIs should be made fiscally autonomous (raising at least 40 to 50 per cent of their expenditure requirements on their own). This is a function of tax assignments, revenue efforts by PRIs and the stage of development of the panchayat area. Moreover, given the shared responsibilities in a federation, every tier of government should play its rightful role in prudent fiscal management and generate some balance from current revenue (BCR) after meeting current expenditure. The BCR of States deteriorated steadily from the mid-1980s and turned negative from 1992-93, reaching an all-time high deficit of Rs.32,306 crores in 2000-01. The contribution of BCR to the financing of State Plans which was as high as 28 per cent in the Sixth Plan has fallen to (-) 52 per cent. This is to be seen against the fact that the States' overall debt has increased eight-fold to Rs.4.18 lakh crores in 2000-01 entailing a heavy interest burden. No wonder that out of every Rs.100 borrowed, Rs.60 is being used to meet current expenditures. This has meant drastically cutting down on capital expenditure.

The States' Plan expenditure has fallen from 27 per cent of the total States' expenditure in the Sixth Plan to 19 per cent in the Ninth Plan. The share of States in overall Plan expenditure has fallen from 52 per cent in the Fifth Plan to 37 per cent in the Ninth Plan. This will seriously affect the planning process of PRIs, many of which are still dependent on State grants. In many States there are engineers with no money for construction or maintenance, doctors without medicines, officers without funds to travel and supervise, teachers without school buildings and highly paid officers without departmental allocations, facts that render them functionally superfluous. Indeed, all these are but a waste of resources.

While the committed expenditure of the States mounted during the 1990s, the States' own revenue-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio declined. This happened when following the economic reform, especially after 1997-98, the tax-GDP ratio of the Union government too declined, significantly affecting the actual size of devolution under the Finance Commission awards.

Equally disturbing has been the poor financial performance and weak revenue base of the PRIs. A calculation made on the basis of data contained in the Eleventh Finance Commission's Report shows that the tax-GDP ratio of PRIs in 1997-98 was a pitiably low 0.025. The historical trend assuming a compound growth rate shows that the ratio declines to 0.021 in 2006-07, the terminal year of the Tenth Plan. This trend has to be reversed significantly through appropriate tax assignments and tax efforts. The local bodies, the States and the Union government will have to step up their revenue efforts along with an effective expenditure management to enable all borrowed funds to find their way into the building of really productive projects and programmes that yield remunerative returns. This is the only solution to the financial malaise facing the country.

Based on certain physical norms, unit cost, inflation rate and so on, the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) has calculated the capital and operation and maintenance (O&M) cost for drinking water supply, rural sanitation, street lighting, primary education, primary health care and rural roads, all of which are considered as core basic services, for five years (2000-05). This works out to Rs.225,731 crores. The PRIs cannot be expected to raise even a small part of this resource.

Most of the basic service targets mentioned in the Approach Paper may remain unrealised. Here again, empowering the PRIs can offer a useful answer. The NIRD estimates of expenditure for core services are made on the basis of a supply-driven delivery model where the governments bear all the costs. Under the present dispensation towards decentralised governance, and the market-mediated regime under way, one viable alternative is a demand-driven model where the community bears part of the cost. (For example, bearing the entire cost of O&M as in the World Bank-funded drinking water projects in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. The Olavanna Panchayat model of Kerala where capital and O&M costs are shared by the community is a case in point). However, this requires substantial strengthening of the decentralised governance process.

To sum up, the constitutional mandate of a third stratum of government must be given a fair trial in the country. Although political decentralisation has made some progress, the country has miles to go on the road to decentralised governance. The PRIs remain the Achilles heel in the Indian federal polity today. They must be made vital instruments in enhancing the quality of development and democracy in the country. This is a critical challenge before the Tenth Plan.

M.A. Oommen is Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Professor of Development Economics and Decentralised Planning at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

The truth about POTO

The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance draws heavily from anti-terrorism Acts in the United States and the United Kingdom. But unlike those in the latter two, which cover only foreigners in the respective nations, POTO affects all Indians.

THE Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), promulgated on October 24, 2001, is a monumental fraud; a sitting duck awaiting a whiff of grapeshot from the apex court's gun. A single flaw, in a provision which touches its very core, will suffice to render it unconstitutional and void. It also exposes the evil intent behind the law.

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Two crucial provisions in any law of this kind are the definition clause and in a sense more so, the mechanism for its implementation. Fifty years ago, in a vastly more conservative clime, the Constitution Bench of five Judges of the Supreme Court ruled with emphatic unanimity in the State of Madras vs V.G. Row ((1952) SCR 597) that the fundamental right to form associations or unions, embodied in Article 19 (1) (c) of the Constitution, "has such wide and varied scope for its exercise, and its curtailment is fraught with such potential reactions in the religious, political and economic fields, that the vesting of authority in the executive government to impose restrictions on such right, without allowing the grounds of such imposition, both in their factual and legal aspects, to be duly tested in a judicial inquiry, is a strong element which, in our opinion, must be taken into account in judging the reasonableness of the restrictions imposed... on the exercise of the fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (c); for, no summary and what is bound to be a largely one-sided review by an advisory board, even where its verdict is binding on the executive government, can be a substitute for a judicial enquiry. The formula of subjective satisfaction of the Government or of its officers, with an advisory board thrown in to review the materials on which the Government seeks to override a basic freedom guaranteed to the citizens, may be viewed as reasonable only in very exceptional circumstances and within the narrowest limits, and cannot receive judicial approval as a general pattern of reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights. In the case of preventive detention, no doubt, this court upheld in Gopalan's case deprivation of personal liberty by such means, but that was because the Constitution itself sanctions laws providing for preventive detention".

Chief Justice Patanjali Sastri pointed out that an association is banned on grounds which are factual and not anticipatory or based on suspicion. "The factual existence of these grounds is amenable to objective determination by the Court." A provision which, in effect, denies judicial review of an order banning an association cannot be regarded as a "reasonable restriction" on the precious fundamental right. The statute in question was therefore held to be "unconstitutional and void".

This is precisely why the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 provides for a tribunal to determine "whether or not there is sufficient cause for declaring the association unlawful" as defined in the Act. It is judge of the facts as well as the law. Only a sitting judge of a High Court can be appointed on the tribunal. It has "the same powers as are vested in a civil court" in regard to summoning persons, requisitioning records, etc. Tribunals receive oral testimony and are not confined to affidavits.

Far from prescribing a "dilatory" procedure, as has been alleged, the Act binds the Central government to refer the ban notification within 30 days of its publication to the tribunal which, in turn, is bound to decide the case within six months of the ban.

POTO consciously departs from this model and, in glaring contrast, deliberately provides a dilatory procedure ending with a kangaroo court, called a Review Committee. It provides, first, for an application for removal of the ban to the very government which imposed it (Section 19). The government will make rules for "admission and disposal" of such pleas. If the application is rejected, after a waste of time, an application for its review can be made to the committee which, unlike the tribunal, cannot sit in appeal on the facts. Its remit is narrow - whether "the decision to refuse was flawed when considered in the light of the principles applicable on an application for judicial review"; that is, the High Court's writ powers exercised broadly, to correct only errors of law (Section 19 (5)); not errors of fact or misappreciation of evidence. It will act on affidavits. It will not receive oral evidence tested by cross-examination. It has none of the judicial powers which the Tribunal possesses. It is not a judicial body.

The committee will consist of a chairperson and such other members, not exceeding three and "possessing such qualifications as may be prescribed" by the government (Section 59). Only the chairperson will be a High Court Judge. Concurrence of its Chief Justice is necessary only if he is on the Bench. A retired judge can be appointed without such constraint. The chairperson will, in any case, be one in the crowd. This is surely not a judicial body at all. POTO wilfully flouts the Supreme Court's ruling. (Incidentally, it is this committee which will also review orders for phone-tapping (Section 45).) This flaw alone suffices to render the Ordinance unconstitutional. Since the committee constitutes the very core of the scheme, the entire law is vitiated. It simply cannot stand.

The evil intent is apparent from the selective plagiarism. The government had before it two models to draw on. It preferred the one which denies the citizen's rights even at the risk of unconstitutionality. The U.S. Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 1996 empowers the Secretary of State (Section 302) "to designate an organisation as a foreign terrorist organisation". But even this foreign organisation "may seek judicial review of the designation in the United States Court of Appeals in for the District of Columbia Circuit". One of the grounds of challenge is that the designation was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion..."

But, the draftsmen of POTO copied Sections 3 to 6 of the British Terrorism Act, 2000 (T.A.) and mindlessly so. Section 19 (5) of POTO speaks of "the principles applicable on an application for judicial review". No such procedure exists in the Indian legal system. The writ powers of the Supreme Court and High Courts (Articles 32 and 226) comprise mainly issuance of what were known in the United Kingdom as prerogative writs (certiorari, mandamus, quo warranto and so on). They were replaced in the U.K. by a simpler "application for judicial review". It makes sense for Section 5 (3) of the T.A. to use the expression; not for POTO to use it in Section 19 (5). The U.S. and U.K. laws cover foreigners only. POTO affects Indians.

The Bharatiya Janata Party regime has been trying hard to promote repressive legislation for over a year. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 lapsed on May 23, 1995. The then Home Minister, S. B. Chavan, moved in the Rajya Sabha on May 18, 1995 the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1995. On May 23, he accepted eight amendments to the Bill to mollify the Opposition. The Bill was not enacted. The Law Commission's "Working Paper on Legislation to Combat Terrorism" made that Bill worse, still. The Bill had omitted the provision making confessions to police officers admissible in evidence and imposing on the accused the burden of proving his innocence while applying for bail.

The Law Commission not only restored them (Clauses 15 (A) and 18 (16A), respectively) but added illiberal provisions in the draft Bill appended to its Working Paper. For instance, its Clause 3 (8) on "information about acts of terrorism" exposed a journalist to a year's imprisonment if he failed to disclose "as soon as reasonably practicable to the police" information which "he knows or reasonably believes might be of material assistance" in preventing the commission of an offence or in securing the arrest of the offender. Journalists who interview members of banned organisations could be sent to prison. None will speak to a journalist who is a police informer.

On February 2, 1999 the BJP government sent some amendments of its own. The Commission took the Bill, "as modified by the official amendments" of 1999, "as the basis" and recommended some additional provisions, besides. All the eight amendments of 1995, at the instance of the Opposition, were ameliorative and were reported in the press. The Commission was bound to publish their texts. It chose not to do so.

The Law Commission's outlook is crassly illiberal: "A perception has developed among the terrorist groups that the Indian state is inherently incapable of meeting their challenge - that it has become soft and indolent. As a matter of fact, quite a few parties and groups appear to have developed a vested interest in a soft state, a weak government and an ineffective implementation of the laws. Even certain foreign powers are interested in destablising our country."

The Commission holds that "religious militancy... had first raised its head in 1993 with bomb explosions in Mumbai". It is, evidently, unaware of Justice B. N. Srikrishna's finding that the blasts "were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993". Was the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 also not an expression of "religious militancy"? And what of L.K. Advani's rath yatra of 1990 escorted by the Bajrang Dal?

The attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 emboldened the BJP government to dust up the Commissions Bill and add illiberal provisions of its own - ban on organisations and wire-tapping. It could have amended the Act of 1967. It did not. Nor did it profit by the Supreme Court's judgments on TADA. (Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab (1994) 3 SCC 569). The provision empowering police officials to record confessions was approved by a narrow majority (3-2). The Bench reflected an illiberal outlook "Worse than Rowlatt"; Frontline; April 22, 1994). That ruling can be reversed. Justices K. Ramaswamy and R. M. Sahai's powerful, though limited, dissents on Section 15 of TADA (confessions to the police) might well be accepted and preferred by the Supreme Court now.

In the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case the Supreme Court ruled no more than that a confession to the police recorded under TADA can be relied on against the accused in respect of other offences even if he is acquitted under TADA in a joint trial of both cases. (State vs Nalini (1999) 5 SCC 253 at 304). The competent investigating team would have secured a conviction even if TADA did not exist - as did the prosecution in cases of conspiracy earlier. Advani's claim (November 7) that "not a single person... would have been convicted" but for TADA is absurd.

POTO is at once a tool of diplomacy, to earn brownie points abroad, and a weapon of repression at home devised by a regime which bans the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) but not the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Bajrang Dal. Internationally, its record on terrorism is disgraceful. There is not a word of censure on state terrorism practised by the Ariel Sharon government in Israel. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that "no region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighbourhood". On July 24, 2001 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) destroyed half the fleet of Srilanka Airlines and eight military planes in Colombo's airport. New Delhi's response revealed it in its true colours. It was "concerned and disappointed about these developments in Sri Lanka. There is no room for violence and terrorism in the effort to achieve a political solution of the conflict. We would urge all concerned to resume steps for the commencement of talks for a political settlement". It had earlier expressed its "great disppointment" at the bombing of the LTTE's positions by Sri Lanka's airforce. The terrorist LTTE was equated with the government.

The war against terrorism can well be fought with due respect for human rights. None of the militant bodies which operate in India has been as ruthless and well-equipped as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland. But preventive detention (called internment there) was introduced on August 9, 1971 only to be withdrawn on December 5, 1975. The law has been reviewed continuously by jurists of eminence - the Diplock Report (1972; Cmnd. 5185); the Report of the Gardiner Committee "to consider in the context of civil liberties and human rights, measures to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland" (1975; Cmnd. 5847); Lord Shackleton's Report (1978; Cmnd. 7234); Lord Jellicoe's Report (1983; Cmnd. 8803); Sir George Baker's (1984).

Jellicoe's conclusion is relevant: "I found that some of those powers most likely to infringe civil liberties are also the least valuable and the least used." The scandal of TADA supports his conclusion. It is puerile of Ministers of the government to say that any law can be abused. The point is that a law which confers vast powers without effective checks readily lends itself to abuse; indeed, tempts and invites abuse.

Two studies make a timely appearance. Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, 2001: Government Decides to play judge and jury; South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC), New Delhi (pages 148, Rs. 100) run by the erudite Ravi Nair and Combating Terrorism: The Legal Challenge by Arnab Goswami (Har-Anand; pages 176; Rs. 295.)

The SAHRDC study analyses each provision of POTO in detail in the light of the Constitution, India's international obligations, and emergency legislation during the Raj and after Independence. It finds POTO to be worse than the Rowlatt Act.

Arnab Goswami, a Special Correspondent with New Delhi Television, spares himself no pains in documentation and analysis. He appends the texts of POTO, TADA and the SAARC Convention (Suppression of Terrorism) Act, 1993. The Convention was signed on November 4, 1987. Few people remember India's reservations on it. Rajiv Gandhi expressed them candidly in an interview with Pritish Nandy who asked: "On the terrorist front, I am sure there were no disagreements either. Except perhaps for some semantic uncertainties?"

Rajiv Gandhi replied: "Well, it's all a question of definitions. When is terrorism a freedom movement? Where does terrorism versus human rights come in? These are the sort of grey areas, you know. We have the example of South Africa before us. We have others as well, where we are clear that the movement is a freedom struggle, not a terrorist movement. But others claim that these are terrorist movements. So, you know, these sort of things will have to be clarified here, where there is no movement as yet to define today but there well might be tomorrow. So whatever we do, it shouldn't be such that we find outselves in a mess. If we rush into it now, you know, it will pose a problem in SAARC later.

"The U.N. hasn't been able to get to it as yet. Other bodies, too, have not been able to define terrorism in a proper, satisfactory manner" (The Illustrated Weekly of India; January 12, 1986).

Arnab Goswami did research at Cambridge University and cites international experience. Salah Khalef alias Abu Iyad, once Yasser Arafat's deputy, condemned "political murder" but condoned "revolutionary violence". Che Guevera, on the other hand, wisely held that "Terrorism is a measure that is generally ineffective and indiscriminate in its effects, since it often makes victims of innocent people and destroys a large number of lives that would be valuable to the revolution."

Goswami remarks: "At the risk of sounding rather simplistic, let me labour the point to prove why definitions of terrorism cannot be value neutral. The basic difference between Salah's and Che's positions is that while both seek to carry out wars of liberation, Salah avoids committing himself against attacks on civilians, Che does not. But does that make Che any less of a terrorist in the perception of the United States? It does not, which is shocking, because the United States has consistently defined attacks on 'non-combatants' as the hallmark of terrorist activity." In 1986, Secretary of State George Shultz defended the Contras in Nicaragua. Terrorism must be fought by laws which respect human rights. POTO does not.

It bars suits and prosecutions even for crass negligence in its enforcement by the armed forces in their operations. (Sections 56). Section 57 permits the prosecution of "any police officer who exercises powers corruptly or maliciously knowing that these are no reasonable grounds for proceeding under this Ordinance" - a charge well-nigh impossible to prove. But even such a prosecution cannot be constituted against members of the armed forces. They receive Advani's indemnity.

The Special Courts can be moved even on a complaint by a private citizen if he can procure the sanction of the government, Central or State. A Special Court, trying any offences under the law, can order that "all" the proceedings before it "shall not be published in any manner" (Section 30(3)(d)). In the U.K., cases can be filed under the T.A. only with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions who is independent of the government (Section 117).

The British Terrorism Act, 2000 makes grant of bail the rule (Section 67(3)) and prescribes precise "substantial grounds" for its refusal. Section 48 of POTO makes refusal the norm and grant conditional on proof of innocence.

THIS brings us to the rights of the press. Section 39 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure says: "Every person, aware of the commission of, or of the intention of any other person to commit, any offence punishable under any of the following sections of the Indian Penal Code... shall, in the absence of any reasonable excuse, the burden of providing which excuse shall lie on the person so aware, forthwith give information to the nearest Magistrate or police officer of such commission or intention."Ministers, of whom better was expected, have, in the manner of a school debate, flogged to the death this provision in defence of provisions of POTO on the subject - inviting the legitimate retort as to why POTO was needed to cover the same ground. But Section 39 concerns actual commission of an offence or a clear "intention" of any person to do so - not mere suspicion or apprehension. Section 3(8) of POTO would punish "a person receiving or in possession of information which he knows or believes to be of material assistance: (i) in preventing the commission by any other person of a terrorist act, or (ii) in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any other person for an offence involving the commission, preparation or instigation of such an act, and fails, without reasonable cause, to disclose that information as soon as reasonably practicable to the police, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both."

Section 14 empowers the investigating officer to require any person "to furnish information in their possession in relation to such offence, on points or matters, where the investigating officer has reason to believe that such information will be useful for, or relevant to, the purposes of this Ordinance."

Section 21 (2) goes further: "(2) A person commits an offence if he arranges, manages, or assists in arranging or managing a meeting which he knows is (a) to support a terrorist organisation, (b) to further the activities of a terrorist organisation, or (c) to be addressed by a person who belongs or professes to belong to a terrorist organisation." A "meeting" means a meeting of "three or more persons whether or not the public are admitted". The offender is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

This web of three provisions goes far beyond Section 39 of the CrPC and violates press freedom. Any two correspondents who meet a militant for interview incur the risk of prosecution. (Section 21(2)). A police officer can compel disclosure of sources. (Section 14). He can seek any information he deems "useful to or relevant for" the purposes of POTO. Section 3(8) is not confined to knowledge of and criminal offence or intention. It applies to assessment of or belief as to the value of any "information" he has which might prevent commission of an offence or assist in the offender's apprehension. Woe betide him if his belief or assessment differs with that of the authorities. It is disingenuous to cite Section 39 of the CrPC in support of this drastic provision. Worse still, to overlook the more liberal Section 19 of the T.A. There must be belief or suspicion that a person has "committed an offence" based on "information which comes to his attention" professionally, except as a lawyer. It goes back to Section 11 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) 1976. Lord Shackleton noted: "Section 11 was not thought necessary in 1974. It has an unpleasant ring about it in terms of civil liberties."

The National Council for Civil Liberties (now called Liberty) published in 1985 an excellent study "The New Prevention of Terrorism Act: The Case for Repeal" by Catherine Scorer, Sarah Spencer and Patricia Hewitt. They wrote: "Under Section 11 people can be prosecuted for failing to give information about others which could also incriminate themselves in the same or related offences. Lord Jellicoe recognised that the greatest potential for abuse of this power was at the interrogation stage, for example, pressurising a relative who inadvertently picked up information with consequent divided loyalties or fear of reprisals. Lord Shackleton had also noted that "there is a distinction between suspicion and sure knowledge, and that where a person merely suspects that someone may be involved in terrorism but has no certain knowledge, he might understandably be wary of implicating someone who might be quite innocent."

"The use of Section 11 to curb journalists' freedom was raised in Parliament during the debates on the 1984 Bill. Clive Soley MP argued that 'the issue becomes one of the freedom of the press and other media to report on events as they deem appropriate' and Gerald Bermingham MP asked the Minister whether he would not agree that 'if journalism is truly accurate it can clearly and effectively display the abhorrent beliefs, practices and acts of perpetrators of terrorist offences and that, in its own way, that is beneficial to society because the true nature of what is being done is thereby demonstrated'." The government, predictably, disagreed.

The SAHRDC study points out that the PTA, unlike POTO, is an "emergency legislation. The U.K. has declared a formal emergency under Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights; and has asserted the right to derogate from its obligations under Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention. Indeed, the U.K. has conceded that PTA violates Article 5 of the European Convention; justifying its legality only on the grounds that a formal derogation notice has been filed with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

"The Government of India has not formally declared an emergency under Article 4 of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights (the analogue to Article 15 of the European Convention) much less formally declared an emergency under its own Constitution. Second, the European Court of Human Rights, in Brogan and others vs U.K. (1989) 11 EHRR 117, declared the PTA inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. Third, the anti-terrorism regime embodied in POTO's procedural and substantive provisions is far more draconian... Although the PTA of U.K. is subject to annual review by Parliament, POTO is not subject to any review for up to five years.

"In addition, the maximum periods of detention allowed by the two laws differ drastically. An individual arrested under PTA of U.K. may be detained for up to 48 hours and, with the approval of the Secretary of State, this period may be extended to five days. An individual arrested under POTO may be detained for up to 90 days and, with the approval of the Special Court, this period may be extended to 180 days."

Under TADA an area had to be declared as a "disturbed area" before its provisions were applied. POTO covers the whole country.

Perverting the Constitution

By issuing the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, the Vajpayee government, which lacks the required parliamentary strength to get it approved, has acted against the principle of constitutional morality.

IN promulgating an ordinance, a government should have two prime considerations if it were to hold out an assurance to the people of its competence and capacity in the matter. The first of these is a Cabinet decision on any extraordinary situation that necessitates the use of the powers under the 'Legislative Power of the President' of Article 123 of the Constitution, and the second is the assured support of each House of Parliament for the promulgation of the ordinance and for the passage of any bill that would be introduced to replace it.

The first stage is a constitutional action, in which Parliament is not involved. The second stage arises when the ordinance is placed before Parliament, which has the power to control the action of the executive in issuing the ordinance and in enacting a law to replace it.

There has been wide discussion on the merits and demerits of the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, or POTO. Those supporting it emphasise the need for such a stringent measure to deal with terrorism. Their fervour goes to the extent of branding all opposition to POTO as constituting deliberate support to terrorists and terrorism.

On the other hand, those opposing the Ordinance raise objections on the grounds that its provisions are so draconian as to scuttle the freedom of the press, human rights and the basic principles of criminal jurisprudence. It will provide wider cover for the failures and inefficiency of the administration, they say.

These charges against the provisions of POTO are mainly "legal". But, there is another aspect, namely, the "constitutional" base of the Ordinance. The Vajpayee government has committed a serious and outrageous act, in constitutional terms, in promulgating this Ordinance.

When Draft Article 102 - corresponding to the present Article 123 - came up for discussion in the Constituent Assembly, there was strong criticism against the very concept of giving legislative power to the executive. Most of the members of the Assembly had lived and struggled during the British regime under the highly oppressive measures taken by the Governor-General and the Governors under their ordinance-making powers. H.V. Kamath was forthright in saying: "This is an important chapter inasmuch as we are seeking to clothe or invest the President with certain powers against which the Congress and all patriots fought during the British regime against the ordinance-making powers of the Governor-General."

DR. B.R. AMBEDKAR explained the differences between the provision of the 1935 Act and the proposed provision of our Constitution. The Governor-General had the powers to issue an ordinance even when the legislature was in session; he was not responsible to the legislature and, in fact, had parallel legislative authority. Although an ordinance under our Constitution would be issued in the name of the President, Dr. Ambedkar contended that "there shall be a Council of Ministers to aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions", and that "the President will be bound to accept the advice of his Ministers".

Kamath and others in the Constituent Assembly were more concerned with the possible delay - which may go up to seven and a half months - in the government seeking the approval of the legislature. At that time, the members viewed the entire question of ordinance promulgation under the normal assumption that the government would have a comfortable majority in both Houses of Parliament. Had Parliament been in session, the government would have had no need for an ordinance and it would have been able to introduce a bill and enact a law without any difficulty on the basis of its assured legislative strength. The question before the Constituent Assembly was how soon the government should be made to submit to the power of Parliament a matter of legislation. It is the legitimate authority and power of Parliament to approve or disapprove the use of the legislative power by the government. They were zealous that erosion of the legislative authority of Parliament should be restricted to as short an interval as possible.

The book Framing India's Constitution, edited by B. Shiva Rao and published in 1968, is a valuable collection of the relevant documents of the Constituent Assembly. Commenting on the trend of discussion in the Constituent Assembly about the ordinance-making powers of the government, it stated: "The Council of Ministers, which would in fact be responsible for making Ordinances under this power, would depend for its existence on the continued support and confidence of Parliament" (page 475).

Thus, the entire basis of Article 123 in bestowing legislative power to the executive rests on two factors: (i) Though the ordinance is issued in the name of the President, the responsibility for making the ordinance rests wholly with the Cabinet; and (ii) even if an ordinance is promulgated during the inter-session period, the Cabinet, while issuing the ordinance, should depend on the existence and the continued support and confidence of Parliament.

From this it should be clear that only a Cabinet that enjoys continued support in both Houses of Parliament has, constitutionally and morally, the competence and power to go in for an ordinance. If a government issues an ordinance when it lacks the legislative strength to have a bill containing the same provisions of the ordinance passed by Parliament, then it is an abominable misuse of the constitutional powers provided in Article 123.

In issuing the proclamation of POTO, the Vajpayee government relied on the words of Article 123 without following the spirit and morality of the Constitution. Unless the moral values of a Constitution are upheld at every stage, mere written words in it will not protect the freedom and democratic values of the people.

This aspect of constitutional morality was strongly insisted upon by Dr. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly itself. While moving the Draft Constitution in the Assembly on November 4, 1948, Dr. Ambedkar quoted Grote, the historian of Greece, who had said: "The constitutional morality, not merely among the majority of any community but throughout the whole, is an indispensable condition of government at once free and peaceable; since even any powerful and obstinate minority may render the working of a free institution impracticable without being strong enough to conquer the ascendancy for themselves."

After quoting Grote, Dr. Ambedkar added: "While everybody recognised the necessity of diffusion of constitutional morality for the peaceful working of the democratic constitution, there are two things interconnected with it which are not, unfortunately, generally recognised. One is that the form of administration must be appropriate to and in the same sense as the form of the Constitution. The other, that it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing its form by merely changing its form of administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the Constitution".

Dr. Ambedkar paused to ponder over the possible cultivation of constitutional morality in India. He observed: "The question is, can we presume such a diffusion of constitutional morality? Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic."

Thus, the Father of the Indian Constitution had a premonition that in the absence of constitutional morality, democracy may flounder in India.

It is quite possible to pervert the Constitution without changing its form. That is exactly what is taking place in India. That was exactly what Adolf Hitler did in Germany. Without altering the form of the Weimar Constitution, he destroyed the entire constitutional spirit and, in the end, the Constitution itself.

Where a government has sufficient majority in both Houses of the legislature, it has some legitimacy to go in for an ordinance; even there, the circumstances should be such that it cannot wait till the next session. This Government does not appear to have acted much on the basis of the powers of POTO, except to outlaw some organisations. That could have been done under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or under one or other of a plethora of sections of the criminal laws that we have.

THE bureaucrats would always prefer to have ordinances issued to have the power of law. They get tired of the tedious procedures of law-making by the legislature - in the form of notification, introduction, motions for circulation or reference to Select Committees, several stages of consideration, clause-by-clause discussion, division of the House, final reading, and so on. When a bill is passed in one House, it has to be referred to the other House for a similar time-consuming, nerve-racking work by the Minister concerned and the officials of the Ministry.

Instead of the rule of law, the bureaucracy would prefer to have rule by ordinances. Actually, the Bihar government indulged in such a rule of ordinances by promulgating and re-promulgating ordinances without having the need to approach the State legislature. At the expiry of an ordinance, it would promulgate another, reproducing the contents of the defunct ordinance. It re-promulgated as many as 256 ordinances between 1967 and 1981. One particular ordinance was re-promulgated continuously for 13 years without approaching the State legislature for a regular enactment.

Eventually, Dr. D.C. Wadhwa, an arduous research scholar from the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune, stumbled upon evidence of the manipulation of successive ordinances on identical subject matters in the Bihar government. He compiled the details with great care and published his findings in a book Re-promulgation of Ordinances: A Fraud on the Constitution of India. He filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the fraudulent use of the constitutional power. In its judgment in D.C. Wadhwa vs State of Bihar (AIR 1987 SC 579), the Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati observed: "The power to promulgate an Ordinance is essentially a power to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and it cannot be allowed to be 'perverted to serve political ends'. It is contrary to all democratic norms that the Executive should have the power to make a law."

In the concluding paragraph of this judgment, the court made a strong indictment: "It is a settled law that a constitutional authority cannot do indirectly what it is not permitted to do directly. If there is a constitutional provision inhibiting the constitutional authority from doing an act, such provision cannot be allowed to be defeated by adoption of any subterfuge. This would clearly be a fraud on the constitutional provision."

The Vajpayee government has sought to do indirectly through an Ordinance what it has not been in a position to do directly through a bill containing the same provisions passed in Parliament. Had the government sufficient strength to pass such a bill, it need not go about seeking consensus, consideration of amendments, all-party meetings, and so on. Some of the National Democratic Alliance constituents themselves have expressed reservations about some of the provisions of POTO.

PROMULGATION of an ordinance by a government that does not enjoy sufficient strength in Parliament will have dangerous consequences. An ordinance has the force of law as soon it is promulgated and in case of disapproval by Parliament the ordinance may cease to exist. But a mere disapproval will not revive the completed transactions unless Parliament passes an act reversing the transactions of the Ordinance with retrospective effect, subject, of course, to constitutional limitations.

In Re-promulgation of Ordinances, Prof. Wadhwa gives a quotation from the Roman legalist Julius Paulus (B.C. 204): "One who does what a statute forbids transgresses the Statute; one who contravenes the intention of a Statute without disobeying its actual words, commits a fraud on it."

Half a century ago, Dr. Ambedkar warned the people of India about the possibility of subverting the Constitution without changing its form. Paulus said some 22 centuries ago that a fraud on a statute could be committed without disobeying its actual words.

The Union government has contravened the intention and morality of the Constitution. It has committed a blatant fraud on the Constitution.

Irrespective of the steps taken by government or those to be taken by Parliament in dealing with the disapproval resolutions and consideration of a bill, in whatever form they are presented and considered, high priority should be given to take up and call for the accountability of the government about the fraud committed on the Constitution by promulgating the Ordinance.

Era Sezhiyan is a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, and a former Member of Parliament.

An expanding movement

A national conference of the All India Democratic Women's Association considers the problems and challenges that confront women and re-asserts its programme of intervention and action.

THE sixth national conference of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), held in Visakhapatnam from November 23 to 27, marks an important stage in the growth of the organisation and in the maturing of the Indian women's movement within which it holds a pre-eminent position. The 900 delegates who gathered in the quiet township of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, representing a membership of 59 lakh women reflecting the socio-economic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity of States as far apart as Kerala and Tripura, deliberated on the problems and challenges that confront Indian women. The discussions and exchange of experiences and ideas by delegates covered a spectrum of issues and concerns, a measure both of the expansion of the organisation into new regions and amongst new sections of women and its growing confidence and understanding of itself.

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Since its last national conference held in Bangalore in June 1998, AIDWA has increased its membership by over five lakhs. Units now function in the new States of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also. Its growth, however, has been an organic one. Over the last three years, AIDWA has identified the issues that relate to the lives and work concerns of women in specific contexts and milieus. It has been able to weave these strands into a shared programme of intervention and action at the national level, which in turn has strengthened its position within the women's movement. This aspect came through forcefully in the debates. Linkages were forged across the disparate experiences that AIDWA activists brought.

The young Adivasi panchayat president from Kannur in Kerala elected in a general constituency; the panchayat president from Madhya Pradesh who faced repeated no-confidence motions; the Adivasi woman from Manipur branded a witch and beaten within an inch of her life for demanding property rights for women; the young Muslim student from Almora who won her college elections despite adverse propaganda by Hindu groups; the Dalit housewife from Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu, ostracised by her caste panchayat for refusing to surrender her property to a husband who took a second wife and deserted her; the activist from Maharashtra who struggled against state cutbacks in the public distribution system; or the Dalit agricultural worker from Bihar who fought landlord terror for her right to her land... each saw her oppression and fight mirrored in the experience of the other. For the delegates this pooling of experience held many lessons and re-affirmed the need for a continuous organisational response.

The high point of the opening session was the address by Sahar Saba (see interview), a representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), who received thunderous applause and a standing ovation. She spoke about the past and current situation in Afghanistan, the courageous role and struggle of its women against the medieval repression of the Taliban regime, and the role for women in the future government of her country.

A session on women and terrorism in the Indian context followed. Four delegates spoke of their personal experiences in fighting the many forms of terror and fundamentalism that they have been made to face. Shabnam, a young delegate from Jammu and Kashmir, described the ongoing attempts by militants in Kashmir to impose on women dress codes and the wearing of burqa, virtually at gun point. Militant and fundamentalist groups in the Kashmir Valley have declared family planning to be un-Islamic. Despite the enormous toll that militancy has taken, women in Kashmir have refused to surrender their rights for an agenda set by militants. Urmila Riyang from Tripura spoke of how in her state, women, particularly those who have dared to join Left and democratic movements, have become targets for militant groups.

Satyabati Bhuiyan, former chairperson of the Barpeta municipality of Assam, described the situation in Assam - yet another State where armed militancy is a threat to civil society. Activists who work with organisations such as AIDWA are caught between threats from competing militant groups. She recalled the courage of Reena Basak, an elected sarpanch who refused the demand by a militant group to allocate to it Rs. 25,000 from the panchayat's development fund. For her refusal they shot her husband.

Parveen Begum from Mumbai spoke of her personal experience, shared by others like her, of being caught between the threat from the Hindu Right, and the pressures from fundamentalists in her own community.

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THE discussions at the conference focussed on four areas of concern: the impact on women, and working women in particular, of market reform and globalisation policies; the growth of regressive communal ideologies that erode the position of women in the public domain and private life; the disturbing increase in the extent and forms of violence on women; and lastly, the response by women to these many pressures in the form of struggles for change. Women are fighting against oppression and for change in many forums: in elected bodies, in the courts and in the streets.

Delegates from several States painted a grim picture of the profoundly negative impact that economic reform policies are exerting on the lives of the working people, women inevitably being the hardest hit. There are few regions, or spheres of life and economic activity, which are not experiencing its impact. Falling agricultural prices, for example, is a countrywide phenomenon. This has increased rural poverty, leading to hunger, migration, and in States like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, suicides by farming women and men.

Many delegates also said that some of these policies are met with stiff resistance by those affected. In Andhra Pradesh, AIDWA and other democratic organisations conducted a sustained campaign in 1999-2000 against the increase in power tariff by the N. Chandrababu Naidu government, imposed in response to conditionalities laid down by the World Bank. The Maharashtra delegation described a prolonged campaign against another feature of reform that has directly hit the poor, namely, the cutbacks in the public distribution system.

Examples of the targeting of minorities, and women from amongst them, by communal and fundamentalist organisations such as those that are part of the Sangh Parivar dominated the discussions, particularly by delegates from the northern States, suggesting the greater strength of such organisations in states where the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power. Here communal ideology has got institutionalised, through the policy of administrative appointments in government, the rewriting of textbooks from a Hindu perspective, and through channels of popular culture.

A delegate from Uttar Pradesh spoke of how even unused space in government offices is often converted into a 'bhajan mandali'. Extreme brutality has been shown to women who dared to defy moral and cultural policing. Bharati Bharot from Ahmedabad, who married a Muslim, was held prisoner for several days by Hindu extremists who wanted to break her marriage and make her undergo a purification ceremony. In desperation she immolated herself in the office premises of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It took the local unit of AIDWA 10 days to even get a first information report registered.

Both these contemporary issues, namely economic reforms and fundamentalism, have intensified violence against women. A globalised media and popular culture have contributed to the devaluation of women by reinforcing and reinventing tradition and ritual, and practices such as dowry. Women are made easy targets of abuse and violence. In many States, such as Tamil Nadu and Haryana, this increased level of violence is getting sanction from a resurgent caste consciousness. Azhagamma, a delegate from Tamil Nadu, spoke of how she was fined Rs.51,000 by her caste panchayat for refusing to give her land to her husband's second wife. She was socially ostracised and no one was allowed to work for her. The panchayat then said she could work her fine off, but at a humiliating cost. Each time she prostrated before them, Rs.1,000 would be cut from her fine. She did this 47 times. The Tamil Nadu AIDWA unit is now fighting her case.

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In the villages of Haryana, Jat panchayats have issued death fatwas against couples who have married out of caste. Jagmati, a delegate from Haryana, related a case where the Jat panchayat in Jaundhi village forced a young mother to exchange a 'rakhi' with her husband in front of them, to signify the breaking of their inter-caste marriage bond. Here too AIDWA is fighting for their right to live as a married couple in the same village.

AN entire session of the conference was devoted to the many forms of protest against women's oppression that is taking place across the country. This growing consciousness is expressing itself in many ways and not merely through public protest actions. Reservations, for example, may have ensured women a place in panchayat bodies, but in exercising effective leadership women must contend with resistance from men, in particular from upper caste men. A Dalit woman panchayat president cannot sit on a chair in front of her subordinate who is an upper caste person. A panchayat president from Madhya Pradesh complained about the repeated no-confidence motions she had to face. Making panchayat democracy effective through the participation of women is a struggle that AIDWA is involved in. "The impact of globalisation and fundamentalism," AIDWA general secretary Brinda Karat said, "imposes upon us the need to assert the common identity of working people, particularly women."

The conference passed seven resolutions. These included a resolution on the market-driven resurgence of dowry, and one on legal reforms for women. This included a demand for fresh legislation to tackle domestic violence and to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace. In a resolution on the proliferation of sex-selection techniques in the context of declining juvenile sex-ratios, AIDWA demanded an amendment to the Pre-natal Diagnostics (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, to restrict all genetic testing procedures to government institutions.

The six reports that have been put together by the conference presents a distilled version of the experience, information and data that the delegates brought with them.

The conference elected its leadership for the next three years but not before it acknowledged the role played by the founders of the organisation, some of them such as Kanak Mukherjee, Ahilya Rangnekar, Capt. Lakshmi and Mallu Swarajyam who are amongst them, and others like Vimal Ranadive who passed away recently. The contributions to building the movement by the president Susheela Gopalan, who is battling cancer, were warmly and emotionally remembered. While Brinda Karat has been elected general secretary for the second term, the new president is Subhashini Ali, with Shyamoli Gupta as working president. An 85-member central executive committee was elected.

'We are the true victims of terrorism'

other

Interview with Sahar Saba, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

"No words, pictures or poems can describe the despair, pain and destruction of my country that has been ruled by fundamentalists for the last 10 years," said Sahar Saba, the young representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), in her address to the inaugural session of the national conference of the All India Democratic Women's Association.

Founded in 1977, RAWA is the only independent, anti-fundamentalist women's organisation working amongst Afghan women. The members of RAWA, spread in Afghanistan and in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, work in great secrecy as they are the prime targets of fundamentalist groups. Some 21 years ago, when she was seven, 28-year old Sahar came with her family to Quetta in Pakistan from Afghanistan. She studied in an "underground boarding school" run by RAWA ("we could not play outside, talk loudly, or let the neighbourhood know that ours was a school"). After high school she became a teacher, while working for RAWA. "Even now," she said "women in camps have no rights to health care and education. The world community has forgotten them." Later, RAWA asked her to move to Peshawar where she is now a spokesperson on their Foreign Affairs Committee. Excerpts from an interview with Parvathi Menon in Visakhapatnam.

What sort of post-Taliban political arrangement would RAWA like to see emerge in Afghanistan?

Ideally, we want to see a government based on democratic values. Unfortunately, there seems to be no such alternative emerging. From a more realistic point of view, what RAWA is asking for is that the former King, Mohammad Zahir Shah, be asked to lead a transitional government. He can unite different ethnic groups and the people will support him. His people are at least not criminals like the Northern Alliance warlords.

The international community must play a role in Afghanistan through the United Nations. The U.N., if honest, can play a peacekeeping role and help in the formation of a broad-based government that will give representation to all communities and women. We have demanded that all groups be disarmed. You cannot vote with a gun held against you.

Do you see this happening?

No, we don't. We have little hope of anything substantive coming out of the Bonn meeting under the aegis of the U.N. If RAWA does participate, it will only be to expose to the world what is happening there. We met the U.N. Special Envoy and told him that they must stop foreign interference. The U.S. and its allies are keeping the Northern Alliance alive. Some 70 per cent of Afghanistan was destroyed by the Northern Alliance in its time, and once in power it will be worse than the Taliban. However, it appears likely that the Northern Alliance will for the present make an alliance with the former King and the tribal chiefs. We believe there will be an uprising as people cannot go on living in this way. They need support. They are tired of 20 years of war, poverty and oppression.

What about the war and its impact? Can a fair political solution be found as long as the bombings continue? Has the war created any sympathy for the Taliban and the terrorist groups?

Afghanistan was a forgotten tragedy till September 11. Till then no one realised that we were the true victims of terrorism. The U.S.-led action in Afghanistan will not wipe out terrorism, and this is no solution to the problem. It is the Afghan people who are paying the price. The bombings have not created sympathy for the Taliban or Osama, but if there is prolonged intervention then the people will see this as an invasion. In making it a West vs Islam war, the U.S. is actually helping the fundamentalist groups. War and fundamentalism have destroyed our country economically, socially, psychologically. Our people are dying every day. Under the Taliban regime unspeakable atrocities were committed on our women. In one year, in the province of Farah in western Afghanistan 32 women committed suicide because death was preferable to life under the Taliban regime.

RAWA is documenting the human rights abuses and the impact of this war. We are helping women and their families shift to safer places. Thousands of people face starvation in winter, and despite Pakistan sealing its borders, thousands of refugees have come in with literally nothing. There is so little we can do in the face of this huge humanitarian crisis. We are trying to provide some food and health care in the 20 refugee camps where we have a presence.

To stem the decay

The Y.K. Alagh Committee points to the deficient state of the civil services and suggests measures to make the bureaucracy more efficient and result-oriented.

AN expert committee set up by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to look into the state of the civil services has found serious deficiencies in the system of recruitment. The seven-member committee, headed by Dr. Yoginder K. Alagh, former Union Minister and Vice-Chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, submitted its report to the UPSC on October 22. Sections of the report that are available with Frontline reveal that the committee is unimpressed with the present cadre of civil servants and has recommended remedial measures for the recruitment and induction phases. Its conclusions are based on its interaction and consultations with eminent persons in public life, senior civil servants, academicians, economists, social scientists, young officers and trainers.

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Lt.Gen.(retd.) Surinder Nath, Chairman of the UPSC, said: "We are studying the report. We will incorporate some recommendations of our own when we send the final set of recommendations to the Central government." He said the report was unlikely to have any implications for the civil services examinations of 2002.

The committee refers to some basic flaws in the "mindset" of civil servants. In a strongly worded chapter, it says that in the popular perception members of the civil services have a "ruler mindset", show no signs of courteous and humane behaviour, are totally devoid of transparency in decision-making, and seem to be preoccupied with their own survival and vested interests. This mindset, according to the report, becomes apparent when they are called upon to take care of the needs of the weaker sections of society, especially while implementing policies that can lead to a clash with the interests of influential persons in society. "As a result, the objectives of justice, fair play, development and welfare vis-a-vis the weaker sections tend to suffer by default," the report states.

A negative orientation, declining professionalism, intellectual sluggishness and a lack of ability to acquire new knowledge, undynamic outlook and, at times, a complete lack of intellectual honesty are some of the other weaknesses identified in the report. The report makes a special mention of the decline in the levels of integrity among civil servants. It points out that extensive regulatory controls by way of export and import licensing, industrial licensing, allocation of permits and quotas and the lowering of domestic duties and taxes on different products offer opportunities to the "venal among those administrating the regulatory set-up to exercise discretion in favour of particular clients on ulterior considerations".

Over the past few decades, the report says, there has been significant erosion of esprit de corps within the higher civil services. It underlines that while some members of the civil service have maintained a firm commitment to high standards of ethics and to the service of the nation, many others have breached the codes of professional conduct and entered into unethical, symbiotic pacts of convenience and mutual accommodation with influential politicians and business interests.

The report states that many civil servants suffer from intellectual sluggishness, which is manifested in the flattening of their learning curves. Most civil servants, according to the report, have the attitude that they are repositories of the wisdom and knowledge needed to deal with matters that lie within their spheres of authority. This attitude, the report points out, has made them unreceptive to new ideas and impervious to innovations that are essential in a dynamic administrative environment.

The report expresses concern over the "phenomenon of caste and regional prejudice exhibited by some members of the higher civil services". The tendency to favour colleagues belonging to one's own caste, regional or linguistic group implies that those not belonging to any such group will suffer inequitable treatment, it says.

According to the report, postings and transfers have become a tool in the hands of the political executive with which to force civil servants to comply with their diktats. Civil servants who show the flexibility to go along with the directions of their political masters are rewarded and those who refuse to compromise their professional independence, honesty and integrity are sidelined and penalised, it says. The "punishment" comes in the form of frequent changes in assignments.

The report has recommended insulation of the civil service from the vagaries and arbitrariness of the political executive. This can be done by vesting the authority to post and transfer civil servants in independent boards consisting of service professionals, it says.

The other recommendations of the report deal with eligibility parameters, the desired characteristics of candidates in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes and the modalities of identifying the most suitable candidates. It makes a strong case for lowering the age limit for recruitment, arguing that the economic cost of taking the examination at a higher age affects candidates from poorer families. The committee has designed a scheme to identify younger candidates. It suggests that the preliminary examination be made more objective and the main examination include papers on diverse subjects, including environment and law.

The report says that the recruitment and training of civil servants should be a long-term exercise. Future civil servants, it says, should be exposed to field-oriented developmental activities so that they remain in touch with people at the grassroots. Civil servants should develop an ability to work closely with civil society, it says. The report emphasises the need to recruit candidates who can champion reforms, facilitate the functioning of non-governmental organisations and cooperative groups and help the economy and society to operate within the national and global markets.

The report suggests that at the time of recruitment it has to be checked whether the aspirants are aware of the direction in which the country is moving and the strengths and weaknesses of civil society. They should also have an ability to interface with modern technology and institutions of local self-government and perform their duties with a sense of fair play, compassion and a commitment to achieve the objectives set by the Founding Fathers. The report says that it would be incorrect to expect a rural aspirant for the higher civil services to be computer savvy. "These aspects can be acquired, but if persons are averse to technology, then the forthcoming era of civil service may not really be their domain," it says. Although it may not be easy to test attributes such as honesty and integrity, given their importance an effort has to be made to do so, the report says.

The report emphasises the need to re-orient the civil service in the context of the diminishing role of the state in providing direct economic services, the state's growing importance in the economic and social sectors and the growing scarcity of non-renewable resources and the need to protect vulnerable groups of society.

Although it remains to be seen how many of its recommendations will be accepted by the UPSC, the Alagh Committee has served the immediate purpose of drawing attention to the need to overhaul the civil service and make it more efficient and result-oriented.

Of Ayodhya and the Congress

Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh's deposition before the Liberhan Commission of inquiry throws fresh light on the events leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

EVEN die-hard critics of the Liberhan Commission, set up to inquire into the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, were silenced by the startling depositions made before it by former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, which threw fresh light on the nexus between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Congress(I) in the build-up to the demolition of the 16th century mosque.

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Deposing before the Commission on November 20, V.P. Singh asserted that the VHP's international president Ashok Singhal had opposed his efforts to solve the Ayodhya dispute through peaceful means by stating that the Congress had offered his organisation a better deal by permitting shilanyas. According to V.P. Singh, "Somehow the news of a settlement leaked to the Congress and it prompted it to offer shilanyas." He further said: "What I heard is that Ashok Singhal said that on one hand you (V.P. Singh) want to make a statement that it should not be demolished, and on the other, Congress is offering me shilanyas. And that way everything got blown up."

V.P. Singh said this in response to Commission counsel Anupam Gupta's suggestion that he reveal in detail the train of events leading to the demolition on December 6, 1992. It said he had appealed to both the VHP and Muslim leaders to come forward to settle the issue amicably. "The Muslim leaders led by Syed Shahabuddin approached me with a proposal that they would comply with the court orders. Second, they said that we have made a claim over the entire area, but, as a matter of accommodation, we are willing to give up our claim to the adjoining area. There is a Ram chabutra at the boundary of the campus of the Babri Masjid and the temple can be constructed there. So with these two assurances I felt that negotiations would be possible."

V.P. Singh referred to a meeting that took place at newspaper baron R.N. Goenka's flat, attended by Bhaurao Deoras representing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, journalist Prabash Joshi and Goenka himself. According to V.P. Singh, the RSS proposed that it would issue a statement that though the Ramjanmabhoomi belonged to their people it did not behove of the Hindu ethos to demolish any place of worship. "This," said V.P. Singh, "seems to my mind to have been a very positive step. This had come from Bhaurao Deoras and had his complete approval. Not only was it orally said, but a written statement was typed out in R.N. Goenka's flat itself." According to V.P. Singh, it was then, when both sides had come so close to a settlement, that the "Congress proposed to allow shilanyas by the VHP". The news of a settlement had leaked to the Congress, he said.

Further, in his deposition, V.P. Singh agreed that the opening of the locks of the disputed structure in 1989 was a "landmark" in the Ayodhya movement. He felt that the Congress had allowed shilanyas to be performed with the intention of winning over the Hindu vote because it saw the formation of an axis between the Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party with the Left's support as a serious threat. He said that the Rajiv Gandhi government had asked the VHP to go in for shilanyas because Congress circles were concerned about the possibility of a swing of the Hindu vote.

In his June 11 deposition before the Commission, Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi had blamed V.P. Singh for not issuing an ordinance in 1990, which, according to him, would have solved the Ayodhya issue (Frontline, August 17, 2001). In his opinion, L.K. Advani was agreeable to a solution. When questioned by Gupta on his reaction to Joshi's demand made on October 22, 1990 for a revocation of the ordinance in toto V.P. Singh asserted that he "did not remember his (Joshi's) reaction to the ordinance". In his opinion "nothing would have come out of the ordinance... P.V. Narasimha Rao also referred the matter to the Supreme Court (later) and the Supreme Court refused to go into it. Had I withdrawn the ordinance, it would have met the same fate." Further he asked: "If the ordinance is such a panacea for them (Joshi and Advani) why don't they issue it now when they are in power?"

While remaining critical of Advani's role in the Ayodhya movement, V.P. Singh owned up responsibility for prompting Advani's rath yatra. He said: "To my mind, it was the implementation of the Mandal report that led to the rath yatra. It was at that point that the BJP abandoned its stand that the Ayodhya issue is not on their agenda and it was to counter Mandal that they took Ayodhya on their agenda." Advani, in his deposition before the Commission, had asserted that it was the Rajiv Gandhi government's vote bank politics as evidenced by its handling of the Shah Bano case that prompted him to espouse openly Hindu interests vis-a-vis the Ayodhya movement.

However, V.P. Singh held that it was not the Shah Bano case but the implementation of the Mandal recommendations announced by him that triggered Advani's rath yatra. He said: "So far as the Ayodhya dispute is concerned, it existed much earlier. I feel that it was Mandal which triggered off the rath yatra."

Extremely critical of the philosophy espoused and the modus operandi used by the BJP during the temple movement he said that the party sustained itself on two things - nurturing a sense of "togetherness" amongst the Hindus and instilling in them a sense of "otherness" towards religious minorities. "At the ground level it (BJP) goes on with its hate propaganda. When you build an atmosphere of that nature, some person or persons are bound to resort to violent action," he said. Holding the BJP entirely responsible for the destruction of the mosque, V.P. Singh said that in the pre-rath yatra period the VHP might have led the Ayodhya issue but after the rath yatra the BJP took over the leadership. He emphasised that in the post-rath yatra period, the sadhus and the sants had been used by the BJP.

IN all his three depositions before the Commission, V.P. Singh consistently emphasised two things - the similarities between the BJP's ideology and the Nazi ideology and the role of such philosophy in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The BJP's strategy, he said, was to carry on a hate propaganda against the minorities. "This is nothing new in history. The Nazi party used the Jew as a hate object; the same tactics are being used to unite Hindu society." He read out a passage from Christophe Jaffrelot's The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925-1990s where M.S. Golwalkar eulogises Germany for illustrating that it was impossible for races and cultures that are as divergent as the Aryan and Jew to be assimilated into a united whole and exhorts Hindustan to learn from it. V.P. Singh said: "This is the real dilemma. The psyche which endorses what the German race did to the Jews is confronted with a reality which does not come into the Hindu fold. The philosophy which is being developed over a period of time is either to deal with them (minorities) as the Nazis dealt with Jews or absorb them into the Hindu fold."

V.P. Singh has also consistently held Sangh Parivar organisations responsible for Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. He said: "Same explanations are given of the death of Mahatma Gandhi and of the demolition of the Babri Masjid - that Gandhiji's assassination was an expression of people's anger and so was the destruction of the Babri Masjid."

However, V.P. Singh was less articulate while clarifying his stand on the debate between secularism and pseudo-secularism. He said: "What we have generally understood by secularism over a period of time is that it implies equal respect for all religions. It is a little different from the Western concept of the state having nothing to do with religion. Just because we say that we have to give respect to all religions, it has a generalising effect, which is compatible with our concept of nationalism as developed by Gandhiji and the freedom movement which was of taking all the people together as a nation."

V.P. Singh's next deposition before the Commission, slated for December, promises to answer more questions. Earlier, one such question posed was whether he was in favour of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, took a neutral stand, or was against it. He said: "So far as it violated or intended to violate the Supreme Court's order, I was against it. So far as it meant to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya, I was in favour of it."

The price of reforms

The Tamil Nadu government resorts to massive increases in power tariffs, bus fares and prices of food articles sold through the public distribution system and a range of other basic commodities.

IN an unprecedented exercise, the Tamil Nadu government has taken a range of fiscal measures to try and mop up a whopping Rs.4,482 crores during a financial year. The extra-budgetary effort cuts subsidies; tampers with the price structure of the public distribution system; raises steeply power tariffs, bus fares and the prices of several basic commodities, including milk and sugar; and raises taxes, including those on cooking oils and diesel. A downsizing of the government's staff strength and privatisation measures have also been announced. All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary and former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa blamed the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government for the poor financial situation of the State, which necessitated the tough measures. She said the "stiff revisions are certainly not anti-people".

The "reforms" are, according to the State government, on the lines of the Centre's ongoing efforts, and meant to conform to International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank conditionalities. The announcement by the government, which lists the various measures, states: "The government may commit itself to the Government of India and the international financial agencies on holistic fiscal and sectoral reforms, covering all sectors including power, transport and food sectors. The government may initiate a dialogue with the Government of India and the World Bank for obtaining economic restructuring loans, and take action on reforms."

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According to a highly placed official, the government is looking to the World Bank for loans because its finance is the "cheapest".

The two measures that will hit the common person the hardest are the increases in power tariffs and bus fares. A "rationalisation of electricity rates" has been undertaken in order to address the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board's (TNEB) revenue deficit of Rs.2,747 crores. Power for domestic use will cost 33 to 48 per cent more; for tiny and cottage industries the increase is in the range of 15 to 20 per cent; for the three rural electric cooperative societies it is 525 per cent more (from 20 paise to Rs.1.25 a unit); and there is a 9 to 10 per cent rise in the case of the Information Technology-related industry. The maximum demand charge has been doubled from Rs.150 per kVA a month. For commercial units, the increase is 40 paise a unit.

The bus fare increases range from 33 per cent to 100 per cent in the metropolitan areas and go up to 61 per cent for rural services, and are intended to deal with a loss of Rs.2,035 crores accumulated by the transport corporations. In order to reduce expenditure, the 19 transport corporations will be merged into seven entities.

Also, the government "has decided in principle to operate private buses in a phased manner in all the districts, including in Chennai," and to reduce the number of transport workers. The privatisation move comes close on the heels of the government's recent 'success' in breaking a strike by public sector transport workers.

The government plans to reduce its staff strength by 30 per cent over a period of five years. A ban on recruitments is in place. Wherever possible, drivers and security personnel, and even teachers, are to be appointed on contract basis. Restrictions have been placed on travel expenditure for government officers. The earned leave encashment facility has been suspended.

For the 'above poverty line' category of citizens the price of rice sold through the public distribution system goes up by 157 per cent (from Rs.3.50 to Rs.9 a kg), and the supply of sugar has been stopped. These steps and the differential pricing system to be followed for people above and below the poverty line, will, it is claimed, reduce PDS subsidy by Rs.600 crores from the present Rs. 1,540 crores.

The District Cooperative Milk Producers Unions and the Tamil Nadu Cooperative Milk Producers Federation have been allowed to increase the price of milk "whenever necessary". Consequently, the milk marketing bodies have announced increases in the prices (of Rs.2 a litre) from December 1. In the course of the "implementation of uniform floor rates and other taxation measures," a 4 per cent tax is to be levied on edible oil, cotton hosiery goods and computer software. A user charge is to be levied on higher education, and universities are to mobilise additional revenues.

For large sections of the population which depend on government hospitals, the decision to levy a fee of Rs.5 on out-patients at super speciality wards, as also on every visitor during non-visiting hours, has come as a shock. Considering the income level of people who usually use government hospitals, this levy is unjustifiable.

The government is to levy a duty of Rs.750 a tonne on molasses sold outside the State. The sales tax on urea, caustic soda, pressure lamps and tyres and tubes has been raised. Diesel, cement and furnace oil will attract an entry tax.

For industry, caught in a recession, many of the above steps could not have come at a worse time. Ambattur (Chennai) Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association president L. Leela Krishnan says: "The power hike has come at a time when small-scale industries were reeling under recession. This would hit us hard."

The Confederation of Indian Industry said in a statement: "While the increase is stated to be unavoidable, the government could have used the occasion to moderately hike power tariffs. Significant cost reduction could have been done through process efficiencies of the TNEB." According to Hindustan Chamber of Commerce president N. Tarachand Dugar, the steep hike in bus fares would affect the poor and have a spiralling effect on inflation.

THAT some thought went into the move is obvious from the fact that the government brought out in August a White Paper on the state of government finances. It sought to show that the previous government was primarily responsible for the situation. It also prepared the ground for the IMF-World Bank-dictated reforms.

The White Paper pointed to the high gross fiscal deficit (Rs.5,781 crores in 2000-2001) and revenue deficits (Rs.3,922 crores), particularly in the latter half of the 1990s, and the depletion of cash reserves. It noted that in March (the AIADMK government took over in May), the State had a liability of Rs.942 crores - a loan of Rs.242 crores from the Reserve Bank of India and a cash liability of Rs.700 crores. The subsidies, according to the White Paper, total Rs.5,465 crores. However, included in this figure, unjustifiably, is Rs.1,798 crores as salary grants to the education sector.

Citing the above figures, the government argued that there was no other way the situation could have been dealt with, particularly as "the State cannot expect a significant growth in its tax revenues to augment its resources," given that tax as a percentage of net State domestic product (NSDP) is the highest in Tamil Nadu compared to other States. But tax as a percentage of NSDP has been declining since 1990-91 in Tamil Nadu (from 11.29 per cent to 9.14 per cent) as also in the other States. And this, as Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) Chairman Dr. C.T. Kurien says, is related to the liberalisation and globalisation policies pursued since 1990-91 by the Centre.

WHAT alternative options did the government have? Says Dr. K. Nagaraj, Professor, MIDS: "There are several ways in which the situation could have been handled. First, there is a need for a dispassionate review of the situation and a comprehensive analysis of the tax policy, including its implementation."

According to Nagaraj, to begin with it is worth examining the tax-NSDP ratio. The reasons given by a highly placed government official for the decline in the tax-NSDP ratio is that between 1996 and 2001 the growth of State gross domestic product declined from 6.66 per cent per annum to 6.22 per cent per annum. The growth rate of agriculture and industry declined - from 4.33 per cent per annum to 2.66 per cent in the case of the former and from 6.92 per cent to 4.14 per cent in the case of the latter. But the 1990s was also a period when there was a change in income distribution, and inequalities increased sharply, pointing to a larger tax base. So, if at all, the tax-NSDP ratio should have increased.

According to Nagaraj, the government's move is a panic reaction to a problem that has persisted for over a decade. Without analysing the root cause of the problem and adopting a holistic approach, the government has taken the soft option of blaming the previous government and resorting to harsh measures, he says. Further, he points to the falling revenues from taxes on vehicles since 1990. This, he says, is surprising since the number of vehicles has more than doubled during the same period. Also, the revenues from stamp and registration fees, and taxes from entertainment and betting have declined, which is also surprising. The government should have tried to address all these issues before implementing measures that burden the poor, he says.

Speaking at a seminar on the White Paper organised by the MIDS, former Member of Parliament Era Sezhiyan said that the liberalisation policies pursued since 1990-91 were certain to affect the States. The first casualty would be the social welfare schemes.

Chairman of the Madras School of Economics, Dr. Raja Chelliah, another speaker, said that it was imperative that the tax administration be strengthened. Tax revenues would increase considerably if evasions were plugged and compliance was ensured. Initiating a panel discussion, Parthasarathy Shome, Director, IMF-Singapore Regional Training Institute, said that additional revenues could be mopped up by improving fiscal governance, introducing value-added taxes and decentralising expenditure.

The main factor that drained the State's coffers, according to Kurien, was the implementation of the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission (accounting for a total amount of Rs.8,565 crores in 2000-2001) and pension disbursements (Rs.2,927 crores in 2000-2001). Just as profit is the bottomline for industry, in public finance, people's welfare is the bottomline. There is a case for targeting the subsidies better, rather than eliminating them, Kurien said.

According to Dr. A. Vaidyanathan, Emeritus Professor, MIDS, inefficiency in the production and distribution of electricity, leakage, theft (of over 25 per cent, according to recent estimates) and underpricing need to be studied.

Another major issue the White Paper dealt with was the transfer of funds from the Centre. Of the total revenue received from the Centre, the grants-in-aid and share of Central taxes declined from 32 per cent in 1992-93 to 24 per cent in 1999-2000. This, according to Era Sezhiyan, is a larger issue involving Centre-State relations. This figure, according to Nagaraj, declined for all States during the 1990s, the period of economic reforms.

VARIOUS political parties have flayed the government's move and have planned agitations against the "anti-people" measures. Former Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi, while refusing to comment on Jayalalithaa's charge that his government had left the coffers empty, said: "It is for the people to judge."

The Tamil Maanila Congress, an ally of the AIADMK, demanded the withdrawal of the hikes in bus fares, PDS rice prices and power tariff. Condemning the price hikes, Communist Party of India (Marxist) State secretary N. Sankaraiah urged the government to withdraw all anti-people measures and said that the AIADMK had "stabbed the people who voted for it in the back". Communist Party of India leader R. Nallakannu urged the State government to convene the Assembly to discuss the issue. Terming the hikes unprecedented, Paattali Makkal Katchi leader S. Ramadoss urged the State to withdraw its "draconian measures".

A game of confrontation

The disciplinary action taken against six Indian cricket players during the country's tour of South Africa almost leads to an unseemly confrontation between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the International Cricket Council.

A STUBBORN governing body, a defiant warlord, a bitter battle and an uncertain future. The game of cricket was on the brink in November 2001.

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A trigger-happy match referee set the ball rolling, a country passionate about the game reacted with anger and then the administrators, with their inflated egos, took over. Eventually, both sides succumbed to the pressure.

The dust has settled, but the scars remain, and the coming days will be crucial. "I am pleased we have been able to avoid a collision. Don't underestimate the problem. Strong emotions were aroused," said Malcolm Speed, chief executive, International Cricket Council (ICC).

The truce between the ICC and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), forced as much by the circumstances as by a need to save face, not only rescued England's tour of India but also prevented a tragic split in the cricketing world.

There were no winners in the feud. The distrust and anger that clouded the horizon had already cast a shadow over the game's image. However, cricket survives, for now.

While BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya swallowed his pride, the ICC came down from the moral high ground.

According to the agreement reached over the phone between ICC president Malcolm Gray in London and Dalmiya in Kolkata on November 30, the BCCI would not field banned cricketer Virender Sehwag in the Mohali Test. On the other hand, the ICC would set up a referee's commission, consisting of at least two former cricketers, to inquire into the controversial second Test between India and South Africa in Port Elizabeth. More important, the commission would decide whether former England captain Mike Denness followed the right procedures while wielding the stick against six Indian cricketers. The right to appeal against a match referee's verdict, apart from framing a separate code of conduct for them, will also come up for discussion.

However, the issue of whether the five-day 'first class' match at the Centurion Park could be given Test status would be taken up only in the next executive panel meeting of the ICC, to be held in Colombo in March 2002.

It was clear that the BCCI was bent on being on a collision course with the ICC when it kept Sehwag out of the Centurion Park Test, declared 'unofficial' by the ICC, and then insisted that he had already served his one-Test ban. The national selectors included the Delhi cricketer in the squad for the Mohali Test, and the ICC saw red.

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The response of the ICC, which stuck to the rules, was on predictable lines. Sehwag would have to undergo his sentence at Mohali and, in case he was included in the playing eleven, the Test would be declared 'unofficial'.

The ICC gave the BCCI time until noon on November 30 to withdraw Sehwag's name. Later, in a last ditch attempt to find a way out, the deadline was extended by another day to facilitate a meeting between Gray and Dalmiya at Kuala Lumpur on December 1.

However, the administrators took the easier option - the telecommunication system - and a solution was found much before the 'important' men were to leave for the Malaysian capital.

INDIA'S South African campaign of 2001 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. A bizarre and dramatic sequence of events sparked the bitter confrontation that could have been avoided. While it is true that several match referees, like Mike Denness, have been inconsistent in their interpretation of the laws concerning on-field behaviour - the root cause of the conflict - the need of the hour was to defuse the situation rather than add fuel to the fire.

Feelings ran high in the Indian camp after Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Deep Dasgupta, Shiv Sundar Das and skipper Sourav Ganguly were charged by Denness on seven counts of 'indiscipline' on the third day of the Port Elizabeth Test.

Tendulkar was handed out a one-Test suspended ban and fined 75 per cent of his match fee for attempting to alter the condition of the ball. (The television cameras had caught the Indian star running his fingers along the seam.)

Denness also pulled up Sehwag, Harbhajan, Deep Dasgupta, and Shiv Sundar Das for expressing dissent at a decision and attempting to intimidate umpire Ian Howell. The last three were docked 75 per cent of their match fee and handed out a one-Test suspended ban for each. Sehwag, also accused of using abusive language, was to part with 75 per cent of his match fee and was not to play the next Test, with the ban coming into effect immediately.

Ganguly was punished with suspended ban for one Test match and two limited-overs international matches for failing to control his men.

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The Indian team's unhappiness with Denness' decision was understandable for, during the same match Shaun Pollock, the South African Captain, got away with a 'war cry'-like appeal against V.V.S. Laxman. The Indian anger, that had been simmering for quite some time, boiled over.

The media highlighted the episode and there was much anger on the streets back home. With politicians getting into the picture, talk of racial discrimination started doing the rounds. The issue had snowballed into a crisis.

Dalmiya wanted Denness removed as match referee or his rulings kept in abeyance until they were reviewed by an independent panel, if the Indian team were to continue with its tour. He insisted that his demand was in keeping with the sentiments of the Indian team management. However, the ICC stuck to 'principle' and spoke about having a set of rules and adhering to them without making any exceptions. It stressed on Denness' 'fair record' as match referee and dumped the demand.

The controversy then took a dangerous turn. The BCCI, in a clear act of defying the world body, and the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA), influenced by financial considerations, decided to do away with Denness and appointed Denis Lindsay as the match referee for the third Test at Centurion. The ICC moved swiftly. It declared the match 'unofficial' and withdrew its panel umpire George Sharpe from the game.

In retrospect it appears that the confrontation could have been avoided had Denness spoken about the exact nature of the offences soon after announcing his verdict. For instance, it was only in London that Denness clarified in an exclusive interview to The Hindu that Tendulkar was not accused of cheating. Instead, Tendulkar was, as was widely believed, punished for a purely technical offence of failing to inform the umpire before cleaning the ball of dirt. Much of the frenzied and highly emotional reaction in India was caused by the fact that Denness hauled up Tendulkar for picking the seam.

Similarly, it was believed earlier that Denness had acted on his own. However, it became clear later that the umpires had actually reported four of the players to the match referee. It is being pointed out that the ICC will do well to make the match referee more accessible to the media.

THE incident also revealed that India needed to mature as a sports-loving nation. Indian supporters clearly overreacted. The issue was without doubt a highly charged one, still there can be no excuse for angry mobs burning effigies of Denness.

The storm on the cricketing horizon following l'affaire Mike Denness should also not distract one's attention from India's dismal performance in South Africa.

The Indians continue to stumble when they play outside the subcontinent and the reasons are not difficult to comprehend. A basic lack of ability to cope with the seam movement and the extra bounce of the pitches, coupled with the absence of mental toughness that can help lesser players overcome technical shortcomings, led to the downfall.

The current Indian team works in fits and starts - an odd brilliant innings here, a fine spell of bowling there, without displaying consistency, the key ingredient in any successful combination. Put the Indians in a tough situation and they would succumb, as they did in the first Test and the third match of the series.

The history of Indian cricket is replete with tales of glorious fightbacks, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, when players such as Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath scripted many a great rescue act.

A welter of one-day cricket matches have affected India's Test chances. Indian batsmen tend to play too many shots, and the results have often been disastrous.

The team-management has not covered itself with glory either. The complete absence of clarity of thought, and a tendency to seek short-term options, continue to haunt it. During the South African Test campaign, several baffling 'decisions' were taken. For instance, Rahul Dravid, one of the few Indian batsmen with an outstanding 'away' record, was promoted to the opening slot for the first Test at Bloemfontein. A specialist opener was available in Connor Williams and fielding him would have been the right thing to do. Dravid failed and thus started the series on a disastrous note. India thus made the worst possible use of a committed performer. The opener's slot is a specialist one and should never have been tampered with. It was only when Connor Williams walked out with Das that India registered its highest opening partnership of the series, 92, in the second innings at Centurion Park.

There were several other lapses. India played Zaheer Khan and Aashish Nehra in Bloemfontein. However, when Harbhajan Singh returned after recovering from an injury to figure in the eleven for the second Test at Port Elizabeth, not one left-arm paceman, who could have created a rough for the off-spinner to exploit, was picked.

Moreover, it was puzzling when India, with two spinners in its ranks for the second Test - Harbhajan and leg-spinner Anil Kumble - opted to bowl, denying its spinners an opportunity to operate last on the pitch. In short, the team was self-defeating in its methods.

On the positive side, the performance of senior fast bowler Javagal Srinath, who became the second Indian paceman after Kapil Dev to scalp 200 Test batsmen (in his 54th Test) when he dismissed Pollock at Bloemfontein, was heartwarming. Although he received little support from fellow pacemen, the Karnataka paceman bowled with great spirit to produce two five-wicket innings hauls in the series. He bowled well within himself, concentrated on the 'corridor', wisely cutting down on short-pitched deliveries.

With skipper Ganguly continuing to be clueless against short-pitched bowling by the quicks and V.V.S. Laxman still not consolidating on starts, much depended on Tendulkar and Dravid. While Tendulkar, who crossed 7,000 Test runs during the series, hit a sizzling century in Bloemfontein, Dravid produced a match-saving knock at Port Elizabeth. However, consistency eluded both the batting heavyweights.

Among the youngsters, Deep Dasgupta showed the right temperament and attitude with the willow, though his wicket-keeping had a long way to go yet. And Sehwag? The promising youngster made a cracking start to his Test career with a strokeful century in Bloemfontein. He was in the eye of a storm days later.

A blow for federalism

The States make significant gains in the seventh meeting of the Inter-State Council.

WITH a coalition ruling at the Centre and with different political parties and sometimes coalitions of different persuasions in power in the States, maintaining federal relations on an even keel has become a challenging task. It is significant that against this background the National Democratic Alliance government treated with deference the concerns and aspirations of the States at the seventh meeting of the Inter-State Council (ISC) in New Delhi on November 15. Perhaps it was stung by the criticism that it had not consulted the States before promulgating the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO).

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Established by the V.P. Singh government in 1990 under Article 263 of the Constitution, the ISC consists of the Prime Minister, senior Union Ministers and the Chief Ministers of States and Union Territories. It serves as a forum for exchange of views between the Centre and the States on issues of common interest and for evolving a consensus on matters with national implications. Its standing committee, which consists of the Union Home Minister and four other Union Ministers, and six Chief Ministers, meets at least twice a year and finalises issues that need to be placed before the ISC.

The latest ISC meeting took several far-reaching decisions. It was chaired by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and attended by the Union Ministers of Home, Defence, Law and Human Resource Development, and the Chief Ministers of most States and Union Territories. Its most significant decision was to transfer all the residuary powers of legislation under the Constitution from the Union List to the Concurrent List.

The framers of the Constitution placed matters of national concern in the Union List and those of purely State or local significance in the State List. Matters that are of common interest to the States and the Union were placed in the Concurrent List, in order to ensure uniformity in legislation with due regard to the country's diversity. Parliament and the State legislatures have exclusive powers to legislate on items in the Union List and the State List respectively. Both can legislate on items in the Concurrent List. However, foreseeing the possibility of a situation in which legislation might be required on matters that are not mentioned in any of the three Lists, the Founding Fathers made residuary provisions in Article 248 of the Constitution and Entry 97 of the Union List. The residuary powers of legislation are vested in Parliament. Article 248 (2) says that these include the power to make any law that seeks to impose a tax that is not mentioned in either the Concurrent List or the State List. This was done keeping in view the framework of the Constitution, which envisaged a federation with a strong Centre.

The Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations, which submitted its report in 1988, rejected the suggestion that the residuary powers should be vested in the States, even though it endorsed the Supreme Court's interpretation that these powers cannot be so expansively interpreted as to whittle down the power of the State legislatures. The Commission, however, backed the suggestion to transfer Entry 97 from the Union List to the Concurrent List.

The Sarkaria Commission recommended that the residuary power of legislation in regard to taxation remain with Parliament because, it said, the Constitution-makers did not include any entry relating to taxation in the Concurrent List so as to avoid Union-State frictions, double taxation and frustrating litigation. The Commission said that the power to tax might be used not only to raise resources but also to regulate economic activity, and warned that there might be situations in which a State, in the garb of introducing a new subject of taxation, may legislate in a manner prejudicial to national interest. But it justified the transfer of other residuary powers to the Concurrent List because, it felt, the exercise of such power by the States would be subject to the rules of Union supremacy that have been built into the scheme of the Constitution, particularly Articles 246 and 254.

At the ISC meeting, the Left-led governments of West Bengal and Tripura and various other governments led by regional parties demanded that the residuary powers, including those of taxation, be vested in the States. Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur (which is now under President's Rule) wanted the taxation powers to remain with Parliament. Although the Centre rejected their demand for the transfer of residuary powers to the State List, most States agreed to their transfer to the Concurrent List on the grounds that it was a small step forward. In defence of its decision to transfer the residuary powers to the Concurrent List rather than to the States List, the Centre pointed to the strong unitary bias of the country's federal structure.

The Centre did not exclude taxation from the residuary powers as advised by the Sarkaria Commission. The States argued that they needed taxation powers in order to mobilise resources to meet their developmental needs. The scope for mobilising additional resources through taxes had nearly been exhausted over the years, they pointed out. The States contended that they neither had within their jurisdiction many items that could be taxed nor could raise the rate of tax on existing items.

The ISC accepted the Sarkaria Commission's recommendation that laws in respect of subjects in the Concurrent List should be made, as a matter of convention, only after active consultation with the State governments except in cases of extreme urgency. This is because laws enacted by the Union, particularly those relating to matters in the Concurrent List, are enforced through the machinery of the States and consultation is essential to secure uniformity. The governments of West Bengal and Tripura, which demanded a review of the Concurrent List in the light of the need to decentralise powers, welcomed this decision as a step forward.

The ISC also accepted the Sarkaria recommendations relating to the qualification and role of a Governor. It agreed that the Governor should be an eminent personality who is not connected with the politics of the State concerned and that persons belonging to the minority communities should also be considered for gubernatorial posts. It accepted the Sarkaria recommendation that the Centre-State consultation process in the matter of appointing Governors should be made obligatory through a Constitution amendment.

Although Home Minister L.K. Advani claimed that the Centre had taken the Chief Ministers concerned into confidence while appointing Governors in the past three years, there are doubts whether such consultation was effective. According to the Sarkaria Commission, 'consultation' in this context means ascertaining the views of the person consulted on the suitability of the person proposed for appointment. The Centre, the Commission says, could reject a Chief Minister's objections if it finds them frivolous or manifestly untenable.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee proposed that the President select the Governor from a panel of three eminent persons submitted by a State government. Only the Tamil Nadu government backed his proposal. Buddhadeb also suggested that the ISC be consulted before a Governor is removed from office in case of any sharp difference of opinion between the Centre and the State on the question.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam proposed that a Governor's tenure be terminated by the Centre only if the State legislature concerned passed a resolution to that effect.

Buddhadeb said that a Governor, as the Chancellor of the universities in the State, should be guided by the advice of the Council of Ministers. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu supported this suggestion.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh suggested that a time-limit be set for a Governor to decide on giving assent to pending Bills. Although the ISC took a decision on this matter last year, the Centre has not made any move to implement it by amending the Constitution.

The ISC agreed that the Governor, as a matter of convention, should not return to active partisan politics after relinquishing office, even though he or she would be eligible for a second term or for election to the office of Vice-President or President of India. This was necessary to ensure the functioning of a Governor in an independent and impartial manner. But the ISC did not seem to have considered it necessary to support the Sarkaria recommendation that politicians from the ruling party at the Centre should not be appointed Governors in States that are ruled by parties other than the ruling party at the Centre. The NDA government has made several appointments of this type.

The ISC recommended that appropriate safeguards be incorporated in the Commissions of Inquiry Act to prevent its misuse by the Centre when it sets up a commission against any Minister of a State government. Although there have been only two instances of the Centre instituting such inquiries - against the Punjab government in the early 1960s and against the M. Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu in the 1970s - the ISC's recommendation only indicates the States' assertion of their rights.

Of the 247 recommendations made by the Sarkaria Commission, the ISC had taken decisions on 171. On November 15, it took decisions on 59 more recommendations. The ISC's Secretariat closely monitors the implementation of its decisions by various Ministries.

Communal designs

THEIR backs to the wall, both the National Conference (N.C.) and the Bharatiya Janata Party were in desperate search for a deus ex machina that would salvage their position before next year's Assembly elections. Now, the Supreme Court may have provided them with just such a miracle.

In October, the Supreme Court returned without comment a 1982 reference by the President seeking its opinion on the validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Resettlement Act. The President had asked the court to decide whether the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was competent to pass the Act, which grants the right of return to State subjects who fled to Pakistan after the Partition riots of 1947. Almost all of the people were from the Jammu region, which unlike Kashmir, saw bitter violence during the days of Partition. Ever since the Supreme Court chose to reopen the two-decade-old issue, both the BJP and the N.C. have been busy cashing in on it by fuelling communal anxieties.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah brought forward the Jammu and Kashmir Resettlement Act towards the end of his life, when he was seeking to reinvent the N.C. as a party of the Islamic Right. The Act allowed the refugees created by Partition to return to Jammu and Kashmir and reclaim their properties. However, it provoked criticism from the Left. Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders such as B.T. Ranadive and Jyoti Basu argued that the Act was part of an imperialist project to fuel secessionist groupings in Jammu and Kashmir. The furore compelled the President to refer the issue to the Supreme Court.

Two decades on, the political climate that drove the Left Opposition to the Resettlement Act has changed. However, the basic issues remain. While the idea of the Act is to offer an opportunity for communal reconciliation, its realisation could bring about exactly the opposite result. The reasons are not hard to see. Jammu and Kashmir continues to refuse to grant full State subject rights to the many Hindu and Sikh refugees who came from what is now Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Legally, their children cannot seek admission in government-run institutions or employment. Although almost all such refugees have found ways to bypass the law, the obvious discrimination still rankles.

Hindu chauvinist groups in Jammu have been quick to make use of this volatile situation. For example, the BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Hiranagar constituency, Prem Lal, has claimed that the State government is "hell bent on changing the demography of the Jammu region". In a petition filed before the Supreme Court on November 28, the Panthers Party has argued that the Act will allow in even the "Taliban, with fraudulent certificates as descendents of anyone". This kind of rhetoric is falling on receptive ears. "Will the Pakistan government give us back the land and the homes we left in 1947?" asks Mohinder Bakshi, whose family arrived in Kathua shortly after Partition.

Predictably, Hindu reaction has fuelled Muslim chauvinism. An N.C. politician from Rajouri, Tazeem Dar, made the typical, but bizarre claim that the Act will unite Muslims on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) and thus end the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, for his part, has flatly refused to listen to criticism of his decision to make the Act applicable to Muslims in the State. "Leaving aside the Act itself," says CPI(M) State secretary Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, "its implementation has nothing to do with communal reconciliation and everything to do with the worst kind of communal opportunism. The BJP and the N.C. are showing themselves to be two sides of the same coin."

No one is quite certain just how many refugees left the Jammu province in the wake of the riots of 1947. Along with their legal heirs, the figure could be as high as 200,000. Nor is it clear just how the Resettlement Act would actually work. Ironically, the refugees' property has all been leased out by the State government for periods of up to 99 years. More important, the Act itself will not automatically allow refugees from India to return, since the visa restrictions of the Union government will still apply. People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti said: "No one in their right minds will want to come to the State, when everyone who can afford to get out is doing so."

Under other circumstances, the Resettlement Act would have enabled many people to return to the homes and lands they left under the most painful circumstances. Many families in Jammu have relatives across the border who may wish to return to spend their last years in the country where they grew up, surrounded by the kin from whom they were sundered. But the Act, sadly, is not about healing the wounds of 1947; it is about exploiting that tragedy. The anger caused by the Act will allow the N.C. and the BJP to carve up neatly the votes of their respective communal constituencies. For the real victims of 1947, it will most likely do nothing at all.

A chance for peace

Events that have followed the removal of the 'military commander' of the Hizbul Mujahideen for the Kashmir Valley, Abdul Majid Dar, indicate that the militant organisation is headed for a split. The situation may constitute a political chance for peace.

IF it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, goes the saying, it probably is a duck. No one has yet asserted that the all-powerful Hizbul Mujahideen has split down the middle, but it is hard to describe the events that occurred in the organisation in November in any other way. On October 25, the Pakistan-based leadership of the Hizb had announced that it had replaced Abdul Majid Dar, its 'military commander' for the Kashmir Valley, with Ghulam Hassan Khan, who uses the aliases 'Saif-ul-Islam' and 'Engineer Zamaan'. Since then, the Hizb's central leadership has been faced with something of a mutiny, one that could have major consequences for Jammu and Kashmir's future.

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The Muzaffarabad-based supreme war council of the Hizb, Shoura-e-Jehad, had announced its intention to recall Dar in March. In July 2000, Dar had announced a unilateral ceasefire, provoking a showdown with the Hizb's highest leader, Mohammad Yousaf Shah. Shah, better known by his nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, called off the ceasefire and rejected a reciprocal Indian cessation of hostilities on the grounds that Pakistan was not being involved in the dialogue process. However, Dar pushed ahead with his peace proposals, arguing that both the Hizb's rank and file, and its parent political organisation, the Jamaat-e-Islami, believed that armed struggle had proved futile.

While most Hizb cadre reacted to the decision to remove Dar with disquiet, few dissenting voices were heard in public. However, on November 19 one of Dar's closest aides broke the silence. Khurshid Ahmad Zargar, a one-time veterinary surgeon who operated as the head of the Hizb in the south Kashmir region under the alias Asad Yazdani, told a group of journalists that while he understood that "the armed movement brought the Kashmir issue out of cold storage, at the same time we accept the gun alone is no solution to the problem". "We want organisations such as the Jaish-e-Mohammadi, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkatul Mujahideen to work under the local leadership. They should not have any role in policy making," he said.

Zargar was at pains to dispel rumours of a division between the "liberal and hardline" elements in the Hizb. But the divisions showed up in stark relief over the next few days. A day after Zargar's press conference, Khan issued a statement claiming that Zargar was not authorised to speak for the Hizb. His one-time ally replied the next morning, pointing out that the new Hizb leadership was not in place to take charge of the organisation. Shah himself called a meeting of the Shoura-e-Jehad on November 23, ordering Dar and his associates to return to Pakistan, and asking the Srinagar press not to publish statements issued by the dissident faction. However, the Shoura-e-Jehad's order achieved nothing. On November 24, the Srinagar Hizb issued another broadside, proclaiming loyalty to Dar, and making it clear that leaders would not return until their replacements were in place on the field.

Two questions are crucial: Why are Shah's new lieutenants not in place on the ground? What do the dissidents hope to achieve? The answer to the first question is shrouded in intrigue. Khan was expected to have taken charge of the Hizb in the Kashmir region by late November, along with his second-in-charge Abdul Ahmad Bhat, a Sopore resident who uses the nom de guerre Umar Javed. Javed Ahmad Rather, operating under the alias Zubair-ul-Islam, was to have taken control of north Kashmir operations from Dar's aide, Farooq Sheikh Mirchal, code named Feroz. Informed sources told Frontline that all three were holed up in the Rajwar forests, unable to make it down to the valley because of intensive Army operations in the region, being concurrently carried out by two full brigades.

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Eventually, Khan and some of his aides will most likely make their way to their ground positions. That, in turn, could bring about a showdown with the Dar faction. Dar appears to be speaking for the bulk of Hizb cadre in Kashmir who are dismayed by the recent events in Afghanistan. Hizb cadre from Kashmir have seen the Pakistani intelligence and military apparatus abandon their Taliban proteges in no time, and are worried that a similar fate awaits them in the not-too-distant future. "The question," said one Hizb sympathiser close to Dar, "is whether Pakistan will seek a solution in its best interests, or those of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The signs are not encouraging, and we must consider whether our best interests will be served by seeking an honourable settlement directly with India."

HOWEVER, the developments in Afghanistan are not the sole reason for the ongoing spat. The divisions, experience shows, run deep. Shortly after the Hizb ceasefire ended on August 8, 2000, Dar's interlocutor, former Tehreek Jihad-e-Islami leader Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi, said he was optimistic that the process would resume. On August 18, the Hizb issued a press release claiming that Qureshi's declarations were part of a "vicious campaign" to discredit the organisation. Hizb supreme commander Shah said only field commander Masood Tantrey and a Pakistan-based spokesperson, Saleem Hashmi, had the "right or authority to speak on behalf of the Hizb". But this majestic edict achieved little. Dar told the Srinagar press that the ceasefire had been sabotaged "by vested interests".

Although Dar's critics on the Islamic Right charge him with having sold out to Indian intelligence agencies, the allegation appears to be facile. Centrists within the Hizb seem aware of the fact that time is running out. In the wake of Dar's ceasefire, on August 3, a four-member Hizb delegation had met Union Home Secretary Kamal Pande. While Khan and Mirchal, who were part of the group, were in running confrontation with the Hizb leadership in Pakistan, Hamid Tantrey, code-named Masood, had been shot dead in an encounter. Dar believed that the encounter that led to Masood's death was caused by information passed on by their rivals to pro-National Conference elements in the Jammu and Kashmir Police. This claim too seems overblown. However, the fact remains that the Hizb centrists know that they have to act in a competitive political environment, or risk marginalisation.

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WHAT the Hizb centrists and hardliners alike are looking forward to are the next Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which many believe will be held a little ahead of schedule next summer. Political formations hoping to capitalise on anti-National Conference sentiments are beginning to take shape. On November 18, the Union government's official political envoy in Jammu and Kashmir, K.C. Pant, said he was maintaining "direct and indirect" contacts with the secessionist leader Shabbir Shah. While Shah has repeatedly ruled out personal participation in the coming elections, describing them as a "futile exercise which will lead us nowhere", informed sources say he has been in contact with Opposition groups such as Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP, in turn, has been in contact with a spectrum of Opposition groups, hoping to build a broad front against Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.

Centrists in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) have also been feeling the pressure. In October, the APHC called for a "comprehensive ceasefire" as part of a three-point programme to resolve the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. The other key element of the APHC's call was a bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan, with representation from the organisation. While APHC chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat flatly rejected "so-called elections" as an element of the peace process, the fact that the APHC felt the need to call for a ceasefire was in itself significant. Interestingly, the Pakistan-based leadership of the Hizb rejected the APHC call after a November 13 meeting, and placed faith instead in what it said was a "new military strategy".

Predictably enough, the APHC itself seems riven by the same contradictions that confront the Hizb. For example, Jamaat-e-Islami political chief and APHC executive member Syed Ali Shah Geelani claimed that Bhat's proposals violated the organisation's constitution. Bhat retorted by proclaiming the existence of "vested interests who wish to capitalise on the bloodshed". Perhaps significantly, the Dar faction has shown little interest in the APHC centrists. At his November 19 press conference, Zargar made clear he had little to say on the idea of ceasefire, pointing to internal dissension within the APHC. The Dar group's earlier choice of an interlocutor from outside the APHC too seems to suggest that it has little faith in Jammu and Kashmir's formal secessionist leadership.

However, the forces of the Islamic Right are bracing themselves to resist emerging challenges to their authority. In the latest of a string of efforts to impose a Taliban-style regime on civil society, on November 24, a 57-year-old schoolteacher, Gulzar Lone, was shot dead in front of his students at the Government Middle School in Alal, near Thanamandi, Rajouri. Apparently, his crime was that he taught his daughters how to ride a two-wheeler. The string of recent attacks on security force installations along the highly-sensitive National Highway 1A are also designed to undermine any possible dialogue. Nor have days of pro-Taliban protests in urban Srinagar passed without notice. Should such mobilisation of the Right continue, both Dar and the APHC centrists could find themselves redundant. Peace is perilously close to having its last political opportunity in Jammu and Kashmir.

A feud in Uttar Pradesh

Even as Assembly elections approach in Uttar Pradesh, the ruling BJP is further weakened by the feud between Chief Minister Rajnath Singh and State party president Kalraj Mishra.

WHO has emerged as the main rival of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh in the context of the coming Assembly elections? Mulayam Singh Yadav? Mayawati? Sonia Gandhi? No, it is Kalraj Mishra, president of the State unit of his own party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The tussle between the two is now so intense that it has become the main topic of discussion at the party headquarters in Lucknow. This, at a time when the BJP is already finding the going tough despite Herculean efforts by the Chief Minister.

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Kalraj Mishra's grouse against the Chief Minister dates back to the days when Kalyan Singh was the Chief Minister and the party high command was contemplating his replacement. Kalraj Mishra, Public Works Minister at that time, had emerged as a strong contender for the post along with Lalji Tandon, the Urban Development Minister. It was owing to the tussle between Tandon and Kalraj Mishra on this score that Ram Prakash Gupta was made Chief Minister. Ram Prakash Gupta proved himself more of a liability for the party, and Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon once again started vying for the top post. However, their claims were ignored and the much younger and comparatively inexperienced Rajnath Singh was appointed Chief Minister. The argument was that this was necessary to stem the exodus of Thakurs from the BJP. Another factor that worked against Tandon and Kalraj Mishra was that there were allegations of corruption against both of them.

The supporters of Kalraj Mishra see Rajnath Singh's hand behind the charges of corruption against their leader. They also allege that it was at the behest of Rajnath Singh that the former Samajwadi Party legislator from Karhal, the late Baburam Yadav, raised the issue of corruption against Kalraj Mishra in the State Assembly. Kalraj Mishra was forced to declare in the House that if any of the charges against him were proved, he would resign immediately. Although an inquiry was instituted, nothing came of it.

In the meantime, to placate Kalraj Mishra the party made him the State unit president and also gave him a seat in the Rajya Sabha. But the rivalry between him and the Chief Minister continued. It has acquired a further edge because of the Thakur-Brahmin tag that came to be attached to it. Insiders say that ever since Rajnath Singh took over, Brahmins, both in the government and in the party, have been feeling marginalised. Supporters of Kalraj Mishra, who has started representing the Brahmin lobby in the BJP, claim that they could "finish off the upstart Rajnath Singh in no time" if it were not for the elections.

They also allege that it was only to humiliate Kalraj Mishra that the Chief Minister "planted" a story in the newspapers about party coupons of various denominations being misused to raise election funds. "Everyone knows that to collect election funds, party coupons are of no use. For donations running into lakhs and crores, would one distribute coupons?" asked a Kalraj Mishra supporter. He said such coupons were meant for genuine party supporters who donated small amounts of their free will, and were in turn given the coupons as a token of their association with the party.

In order to take the battle into the people's court and to establish Kalraj Mishra as the "real people's leader", Mishra's supporters printed booklets lauding the initiatives he has taken to bring the masses closer to the party. The booklets, titled "Kisan Panchayat", "Kisan Maharally", "Kisan Jagran Yatra" and "Chalo Gaon ki Suney", provide details of how Mishra embarked on yatras and rallies to mobilise the rural masses; they credit him with the concept of spending a night in the villages to establish a rapport with their residents. The booklets seek to establish Kalraj Mishra as the messiah of the rural masses, as the first person in U.P. in the last 50 years to deal with the real problems of village residents. Splashed with pictures of Kalraj Mishra and replete with news clippings lauding his initiative, the booklets seek to project him as the chief architect of the BJP's "village-oriented" strategy. They describe him as the real neta of farmers.

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The booklets do not carry any picture of the Chief Minister; they only make a passing reference to his contribution to the farmers' cause, although the Chief Minister claims to be the biggest well-wisher of farmers since Independence. Rajnath Singh describes the measures he took to improve the lot of farmers, such as the record procurement of wheat and rice, uninterrupted power supply for irrigation, and timely payment to sugarcane growers, as his main achievements. But these or other measures taken by Rajnath Singh find no mention in the booklets.

The Chief Minister's supporters have taken strong objection to this. Although unable to voice their feelings openly, they have managed to present their side of the story through the publicity material of the State Information Department. Thus the kisan panchayat organised at the Chief Minister's residence in November 2000 finds pride of place in the State government magazine Sandesh, which lists all the major achievements of the Chief Minister. It gives details of how Rajnath Singh has brought about a "sweet revolution" in the State, the reference being to the record production of sugarcane and the payments made to sugarcane growers. Interestingly, the magazine also gives credit to the Chief Minister for "bringing the rural people" closer by organising panchayats such as that of gram pradhans and farmers. Looking at the nature of the two types of publicity material, one would wonder whether the government and the party organisation have no channels of mutual communication.

Speaking to Frontline, a close aide of Rajnath Singh said that the government obviously could not talk about the achievements of the party, but there was nothing to stop the party from talking about the government's achievements. "It is unfortunate that the party literature has not given due importance to the Chief Minister's efforts to establish contact with the masses. But actions speak for themselves and the people know who is doing what for them," he said. The feud is evident in the party headquarters in Lucknow. Senior leaders are worried that it might spill over and damage the party's poll prospects. "Whether it is a charge of misuse of government machinery by the party or of corruption by party functionaries, in the end the party as a whole will suffer. Both (Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra) are strong individuals in their own right and are obviously asserting their respective might," said a senior leader at the party headquarters.

Party functionaries are also worried that the infighting might take an ugly turn at the time of ticket distribution. Signs of this are already visible at the party office where supporters of Kalraj Mishra fear that their candidates will be sidelined by the Chief Minister who, they say, is bent upon obliging Thakurs. "We will make sure that all our candidates who lost with very narrow margins get the ticket. We will not allow Rajnath Singh's thakurvaad to prevail," said a senior Brahmin leader.

The main Opposition parties, such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, appear much more united than the BJP. Leaders of the Samajwadi Party are in a jubilant mood owing to the BJP's discomfiture with the Election Commission's (E.C.) sharp criticism of the government for tampering with electoral rolls in the Thakurdwara Assembly constituency (Frontline, October 26, 2001). The Samajwadi Party has come up with further proof of this offence and demanded action by the E.C. It has alleged that in Ayodhya, the names of members of the minority community were not being included in the voters' list and those that were already listed were being deleted only to be replaced with names of Hindu voters. It has furnished a copy of the voters' list for Ayodhya, which shows several discrepancies.

The E.C., which promised action, has undertaken a comprehensive revision of the voters' list in the State. The process will be completed by January 7. "We are taking cognisance of all complaints that are of a serious nature. This complaint would also be looked into during this process," said an E.C. functionary.

With elections scheduled to be held in February next year, there is not much time left for the BJP to put its house in order.

'People's Front will win on its own'

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Interview with Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Ever since Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav broke bread with Congress(I) chief Sonia Gandhi at Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Somnath Chatterjee's residence on November 26, political circles have speculated about an electoral alliance between the S.P. and the Congress(I) in the elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. Mulayam Singh Yadav had refused to support Sonia's candidature for prime ministership in 1999 and consistently declined to meet her since, even at the customary Opposition parties' meeting on the eve of each Parliament session. So, the meeting was significant. However, Mulayam Singh Yadav, in an interview to Purnima S. Tripathi, dismissed suggestion of any larger political meaning to it, saying that it was meant "merely for floor coordination" in Parliament. He said that the People's Front would win enough seats on its own to form the next government in U.P. Excerpts from the interview:

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This was your first meeting with Sonia Gandhi after you prevented her from becoming Prime Minister in 1999. You had boycotted Opposition parties' meeting convened by her since then on the eve of Parliament sessions. Does this meeting mean a change of heart on your part towards the Congress(I), coming as it does in the run-up to the Assembly elections in U.P?

There is no change of heart. My stand on the Congress(I) remains the same, that it is just the same as the BJP. There is no difference between the two. But refusing the dinner invitation of Somnath Chatterjee would have been discourteous on my part, so I went. You should not attach political motives to everything we do.

Is an understanding with the Congress(I) possible at the time of the elections in U.P. in order to defeat the BJP?

There is no question of any understanding with the Congress(I), either directly or indirectly, for the elections. My stand on the Congress(I) remains the same. So where is the question of joining hands with it to defeat the BJP? Besides, the Congress(I) is in no position to help in any way in U.P. The People's Front is strong here and is slated to win enough seats on its own to form the next government. We will not need any help.

It is a fact that I had a pleasant interaction with Sonia Gandhi, but this only has a limited implication, for the functioning within Parliament. Opposition unity in Parliament is required to corner the government. It is true that at times we have failed to nail the government because of lack of understanding among us. In order to prevent that, it is important for the Opposition parties to arrive at a broad understanding for floor coordination. The meeting achieved just as much, nothing more, nothing less.

What makes you feel so confident that the People's Front will form the next government in U.P. on its own?

The BJP's misrule. It has proved to be the most inefficient and corrupt government till date. Is it a secret that there are criminals in the Cabinet? It is mafia raj in U.P. The BJP has been exposed. People have seen through their game and will teach them a lesson.

But the Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress(I) too are in the fray?

(Laughs, without answering.)

But Chief Minister Rajnath Singh has taken measures such as reservation within reservation for the most backward castes and jobs to unemployed youth that can attract voters.

The announcements are only an eyewash. The government is taking the people for a ride. What impact will the announcement of reservation within reservation have when the number of people who could possibly benefit from it is minuscule? Besides, the number of people who are angered by this decision is large. This will go against the BJP. The same is the case with the employment gimmick. Where are the jobs? People will see through the sham and rubbish the BJP. By making false promises the BJP has created a crisis of credibility for politicians like us who believe in doing what we say.

You have complained to the Election Commission about irregularities in the voters' list in Ayodhya. The E.C. had earlier criticised the State government for tampering with the voters' list in Thakurdwara.

They are resorting to all sorts of dirty tricks to deny our supporters the right to vote. The names of Muslim voters are being deleted from the voters' list and those of Hindus are being added. Our supporters have not been issued voters' identity cards, which will deprive them of their right to vote. Only 15 to 20 per cent of the electorate has been issued I.D. cards so far, that too mainly BJP supporters. The government is misleading the Election Commission by saying that 60 per cent of the I.D. cards have been issued. The way the government is tampering with the process of holding elections amounts to murder of democracy.

The shadow of suspicion

A journalist with the Tamil weekly Nakkheeran is arrested on charges of maintaining links with the brigand Veerappan.

THE arrest of P. Sivasubramanian, a reporter with the Tamil magazine Nakkheeran, on charges related to alleged links with the forest brigand Veerappan, has developed into a major controversy.

Sivasubramanian is reported to have been taken away from Athur in Salem district on November 20. Eyewitnesses told the police that about six persons, looking like policemen, accosted him near his house, covered his face with a piece of cloth, pushed him into a waiting vehicle and sped away.

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The Karnataka police, however, claimed that Sivasubramanian was arrested as he was roaming in the forests near Kollegal in the State. Reports in Kannada newspapers and The New Indian Express quoted P. Harishekharan, Superinten- dent of Police, Chamarajanagar district, as saying that the Karnataka Special Task Force (STF) had seized guns, bullets and 20 gelatine sticks on November 22 on information provided by Sivasubraman- ian. They had been buried in the Kongarakadu forests. Harishekharan alleged that the reporter had established communication links with Veerappan and that he and Gopal, editor of Nakkheeran, had colluded with Veerappan in his criminal activities. According to the Karnataka police, Sivasubramanian was aware of Veerappan's plan to abduct Kannada film actor Rajkumar. The Tamil Nadu police alleged that the journalist had been a "conduit" between Veerappan and Tamil extremists who together abducted Rajkumar.

The Karnataka police filed two cases against Sivasubramanian. In the first information report (FIR) filed at Ramapura police station in Chamarajanagar district, the police charged him with offences under Sections 212 (harbouring offender) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. Two days later, they filed another FIR against him at the Chamarajanagar (West) police station for offences under IPC Sections 212, 114 (abettor present when offence is committed), 216-A (penalty for harbouring robbers or dacoits); Sections 27 and 325 of the Arms Act; and Sections 3, 5 and 6 of the Explosive Substances Act.

SIVASUBRAMANIAN was the first journalist to obtain an exclusive interview with Veerappan in April 1993. This was published in Nakkheeran with photographs when the hunt for Veerappan by the STFs was on for months. Gopal and Sivasubramanian were the official emissaries of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments to negotiate with Veerappan when he abducted ten Karnataka Forest Department personnel in July 1997, and Rajkumar on July 30, 2000.

Gopal alleged that the STFs of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were behind the arrest because his magazine had exposed their atrocities against the tribal people living in the forests.

Gopal said: "This is the gift given by the Karnataka police to Sivasubramanian, who played an important role in the release of Rajkumar and Karnataka Forest Department personnel when they were abducted by Veerappan." He was angry that he was not allowed to meet Sivasubramanian after the arrest. Gopal said that while the FIR filed at Ramapura police station accused him of committing offences which were bailable, the police subsequently used sections of the Arms Act relating to non-bailable offences. (A court in Kollegal granted bail to Sivasubramanian in the first case.)

According to Gopal, Sivasubramanian was targeted because he had helped in exposing the STFs' atrocities. "We did our duty as journalists. And the STF was wreaking vengeance against us," he added. On the Karnataka police's claim that arms and ammunition were recovered from the forests, Gopal asked how Sivasubramanian could have given "their exact location in the vast and dense Mysore forests". He said that this proved that the police had extracted a false confession from the reporter. Gopal alleged that since the Karnataka policemen came in a vehicle with a Tamil Nadu registration number, it was obvious that they had the cooperation of the Tamil Nadu police.

Gopal said that one of the terms agreed to by the two governments to send him, Sivasubramanian and other Nakkheeran staff as emissaries "for rescuing" Rajkumar, was that "no criminal prosecution will be set in motion against Gopal and his associates on any future date in respect of any of their activity during this mission." It had also been agreed that "Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates shall be given immunity against penal provisions if any of their activity is secretive or contrary to obligations under law."

However, Naresh Gupta, Home Secretary, Tamil Nadu, said the terms did not constitute "a blanket assurance". They were made "at a specific point of time for 'a specific purpose'." They could not be valid for all time, Gupta asserted. He said that the Tamil Nadu government was awaiting a report from the Karnataka government on the arrest and interrogation of Sivasubramanian.

Meanwhile, on November 30, the Madras High Court adjourned to December 7 the hearing on a writ petition filed by Gopal seeking anticipatory bail. In his petition, Gopal said that the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) had registered a case after Rajkumar's abduction in July 2000 but the police were taking steps now to arrest him in connection with that case. Senior Advocate N. Natarajan, who appeared for Gopal, said the case was not a recent one. His client was a responsible journalist and he was not absconding. The police were trying to implicate him in that case and arrest him now.

A new dimension was added to the arrest when the assistant film director, Nagappa, who opted to go with Rajkumar when the latter was abducted, held a press conference in Bangalore. Nagappa alleged that when he tried to kill Veerappan, it was Gopal who prevented it. (He attacked Veerappan with a sickle and escaped from captivity.) Gopal retorted: "Assuming what Nagappa says is true, how can my preventing him from killing Veerappan be a crime?" If Nagappa had killed Veerappan, the gang "would have slaughtered all the hostages including Rajkumar. As the official emissary of the two State governments, isn't it my duty to ensure the safety of the hostages?" He wondered why all kinds of allegations were being made against him and Sivasubramanian one year after Rajkumar was set free.

Opinion is divided on whether the police from one State can go to another State to arrest a person without the knowledge of the top police officers of the other State. An advocate said that if the police had registered a case against a person, they could execute the arrest warrant in any State. However, he added that this could be done only with the concurrence of top police officers of both the States.

Asked about Harishekharan's allegations, B.P. Nailwal, Director-General of Police, Tamil Nadu, said: "I do not know whether any such allegations have been made. They are subject to investigation." Nailwal said there is no legal requirement that police belonging to one State should inform their counterparts in another State if they want to arrest a person there. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the IPC were applicable all over the country. He pointed out that the Tamil Nadu police arrested 'auto' Shankar, an accused in a multiple murder case, from Orissa without informing the Orissa police. However, Nailwal added that "it would have been better" if the Karnataka police "had informed us" about Sivasubramanian's arrest.

Meanwhile, on November 17, A.S. Mani, editor of the Tamil magazine Nettrikann, claimed that Veerappan had sent him an audio cassette offering to surrender if the two States agreed to his demands. But Veerappan wanted the STF to pull out of the forest first. While Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam said Veerappan was welcome to surrender in any police station, the Karnataka government had rejected the "offer".

Journalists in Chennai reacted angrily to Sivasubramanian's arrest. On November 27, they organised a demonstration which was also to protest the arrest of another journalist, V. Kadiravan, a reporter with the Tamil magazine Kumudam Reporter, and against the clamping down of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) by the Centre.

The police in Salem filed a case against Kadiravan on a complaint from M. Prabakaran, whose allegedly illegal activities had been exposed by Kadiravan in Kumudam Reporter. Undeterred by the police filing a case against Kadiravan for exposing the alleged racket run by Prabakaran at Salem and Tiruchi, Kumudam Reporter ran more articles. The magazine alleged that the Superintendent of Police, Salem, S. Ramanathan, had failed to take action against Prabakaran when a person had complained against him and that the police officer was targeting Kadiravan. Ultimately Ramanathan was transferred and Prabakaran was arrested by Tiruchi police at Salem on November 25 on a complaint given by a Tiruchi resident.

A project shelved

Residents of the Revas-Mandwa region near Mumbai, who fought and forced the government to abandon an international airport project, now fear that there could be ulterior motives behind the delay in denotifying the acquired land.

DATTA PATIL sums up, quoting a Marathi saying the controversy surrounding the proposal for another international airport near Mumbai: "If the king is a merchant, the state is doomed." The 76-year-old former legislator from Raigad district, a vociferous opponent of the airport project, has been at the forefront of the fight to stop it. After years of opposition, the Maharashtra government has informally announced that the project has been shelved. But the residents of the 14 affected villages in the Revas-Mandwa area sceptical as the government is apparently delaying the official de-requisitioning of the land. Datta Patil voices their fears when he says that "the government is just holding on to the land because of its proximity to Mumbai and its high real estate value." The land in question is located on the coast about 11 km south of Mumbai (Frontline, November 1, 1996).

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First proposed in 1969, the airport project has a convoluted history with successive Central and State governments appointing task forces and investigative bodies to deal with protests from the residents. No government took any decision on the voluminous reports submitted by these bodies. More important, none has been able to explain satisfactorily why this particular site was selected for the project.

The residents of the area stepped up their campaign against the project in 1991 when the government formally declared its intention to reserve 45 sq km of land as part of the Regional Development Plan. In 2000 the State government indicated that an alternative site had been chosen for the airport. But it is yet to de-notify formally the Revas-Mandwa site.

The objections to developing an airport in the Revas-Mandwa region were based mainly on three factors. First, the present international airport at Sahar has enough land, only it has been encroached upon by slums. Vote bank considerations have prevented eviction of the encroachers and utilisation of the land for the airport's expansion. A report entitled "Traffic Trends and Capacities at Mumbai Airport", prepared by Ritu Dewan, a sociologist, says that the existing facilities are under-utilised and that the existing airport has not reached a saturation point. The second factor is that the Revas-Mandwa lies across the Mumbai harbour and there is no existing surface transport infrastructure between the site and the city. Thirdly, the building of the airport was projected as part of the development of the area, which was objected to by the residents who argued that their agro-fishing industries were adequate to sustain them, as was proved by the overall prosperity in the region.

The region has advantages such as fertile soil, adequate rainfall, proximity to a vast market (Mumbai is only an hour's ferry ride away), a sheltered harbour, a coastline that can be farmed for fish and other seafood, and opportunities for tourism. As Ralli Jacob, a resident who opposed the airport, said: "Development cannot emerge from destroying what you have. Had the authorities persisted in seeing the plan through, the residents of the 14 villages would have lost their livelihoods. They would not only have been displaced but unemployed as well. We have realised that self-help is the most effective course of action."

With this plan in mind the local people have organised themselves under the banners of the Fourteen Villages Environment Protection Association and the Revas Mandwa Ecodevelopment Trust. The first group comprises the residents of the 14 affected villages, and the second, largely of people who have weekend homes in the region. Kisan Patil of Mandwa village explains the presence of two organisations: "It is like a rail track, each rail needs the other. Members of the village group would give of their time, labour and natural resources. Members of the Trust would help with finance, development of skills and access to the markets in Mumbai. "

The two groups have adopted a three-pronged approach to tackle the problems that confront them. "We need to deal with education, conservation and utilisation of natural resources, and the broadbasing of the existing economy," says Jacob. Teaching schoolchildren English and making them computer literate are priorities. At the Awas village school, one room has been dedicated to computer classes. Every day 40 students are given hands-on training on five computers donated by Ajit Balakrishnan of Rediff.com. The course is recognised by the State Vocational Training Board. According to a Trust member, the educational programme has changed the outlook of the local people. "Initially they were apathetic about their future, but now their mood has changed. Until last year there used to be a 60 per cent failure rate in the local schools in the 10th standard examination. This year there was 64 per cent pass."

The conservation and augmentation of natural resources involves the harnessing of water resources through watershed development. So far, one recharging pond has been built with help from Gaumukh, a Pune-based organisation. The pond is expected to recharge wells in the area by this summer. Resource conservation is expected to improve the status of agriculture.

The development of tertiary activities is crucial to the region's economy. Activities such as ecotourism, fish processing and the farming of high-value vegetables are expected to provide new avenues for employment. Ecotourism has begun on a small scale with some families offering board and lodging to visitors. An effort will be made to break into the high-value vegetables market in Mumbai with the broccoli, lettuce, leek, celery and zucchini crops to be harvested in December.

Infrastructure development is crucial in boosting traditional fishing activities. Locals residents hope that the old fish landing port at Revas will be expanded with the provision of processing and warehousing facilities. The fish catch in Revas is over 2,000 tonnes a year and the fishing community forms about one-third of the affected area's population. Although plans to spur the development of the area are only a year old, that does not prevent the local people from seeing a bright future for themselves. They say that the only spoke in the wheel is political apathy.

Citing the example of the Revas jetty, a representative of the fishing community alleged that the local representative in the State Assembly, Minister for Ports Meenakshi Patil, "not only does not support the maintenance of the jetty but is actually working towards closing it down." Apart from serving as a fish landing port, the jetty handles about 1,200 passengers a day. It is the main link between the island of Mumbai and the mainland. .

THE plans for sustainable development of the area are strengthened by two enactments. One of them is the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976, which made it obligatory for every citizen to "protect and improve the natural environment" while urging the State to "endeavour to protect and improve the environment". The claims of the affected villagers are supported also by the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution (Twelfth Schedule, Article 243 w), which give the gram panchayats or gram sabhas the right to decide the way in which the natural resources of the territory under them should be used and the right to choose the technology for and the path of development.

The peculiar characteristic of the Revas-Mandwa area is that though it is completely rural in character, its proximity to Mumbai meant its inclusion in the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority's 11-year plan for the region. However, even this urban development authority has preserved the region as a Green Zone. However, activities such as tourism and water sports and enhanced agricultural and fishing activities are permitted under the plan.

THERE have been fears that the airport project was actually a smokescreen for grabbing land which in due course was bound to become prime real estate. When the plans for the airport were first made public, the government claimed that 45 sq km would be required. Opponents of the plan pointed out that Hong Kong's airport along with its cargo facilities occupied only a quarter of that space. Later, as interest in the airport waned, the extent of land required dropped to 20 sq km. This is the land area that the government is yet to de-requisition.

Datta Patil says: "Land is gold to investors. There are two companies that have been buying land in the area for several years. One has about 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of land both inside and outside the zone of the proposed airport. If the airport had come up they would have made a fortune. A part of the land would have been sold to the government and another part would have been used for airport infrastructure." Datta Patil believes that the delay in de-notification is an indication that the government plans to use the land for some other purpose. "There is a Supreme Court ruling that says that even if the land has been notified for a certain purpose, it can be changed at a later date."

Local people are worried that under the guise of development, the government will set up polluting industries in the area. They hope that their policy of self-development will effectively counter the government's development plans for the region.

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Oct 9,2020