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COVER STORY

12-03-2004

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Briefing

Misery and migration

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THE migration of hordes of farm workers to far-off places in search of work, drought conditions that continue for the third consecutive year, the failure of major irrigation systems, falling agricultural prices, the displacement of handloom workers, and an outbreak of tuberculosis among the Chenchu population in Kurnool district give an impression that distress is all-pervasive. Even urban businessmen complain of falling turnover because of a lack of disposable income with the rural people.

According to an estimate, over three lakh agricultural labourers have migrated to Guntur, Cuddapah, Hyderabad and other places of the State in search of work during the lean season. Even leaders of a major political party expressed their helplessness to mobilise crowds for public meetings because very few people were available in some villages. The migrations have taken place mainly from the villages falling under Aluru, Adoni, Yemmiganur, Pathikonda, Kodumur and Dhone Assembly constituencies in the district. The families leave their native villages immediately after Sankranti festival in January and return only towards the end of May in time for the next agricultural season back home.

In some villages, around two-thirds of the population, mostly small farmers owning five to10 acres, have deserted their homes leaving the aged people behind. Even children have accompanied their parents. Communist Party of India district secretary P. Bhimlingappa says farmers with 20 acres (eight hectares) of land, who led a dignified life in villages a decade ago, have been moving to unknown places. This only indicates the falling status of farming.

The migrating families are well aware of the strenuous life ahead at the new place. They know they will have no roof over their heads and no privacy. After a day's work, the women send their children to the village to beg for food, which would save them the drudgery of cooking. "We are not beggars in our native place, but conditions force us to beg in the new place," Maddileti, who has been a migrant worker for several years in the past, said.

Some 3,000 people, out of a population of 4,100, migrated from the hamlets of Eddupenta in the Dhone constituency. Analysing the trend, district secretary of the AP Farm Workers Union, K. Ramanjaneyulu, says that the farm workers do not get employment for more than 90 days in the village.

Interestingly, the migrant families are considered "well-off". Most of them were able to repay the debt caused by losses in agriculture and also give loans to others in their native villages at high interest rates. The debt-free life of the migrant families is encouraging others to emulate them. The idea gaining ground is that the life of a farm worker is less stressful than that of a small farmer.

The failure of the monsoon and major irrigation systems in the district for three consecutive years has had a severe impact on the agriculture sector and the people dependent on it. Out of a population of 36 lakhs, 77 per cent lives in rural areas directly or indirectly depending on agriculture alone. The KC Canal, the Tungabhadra High Level Canal (HLC), the Low Level Canal (LLC), the Gajuladinne project and the Srisailam canals have failed to supply water for irrigation.

Farmers under the KC Canal lost seven rabi (summer) crops on account of canal modernisation works. Paddy could not be cultivated as a monsoon crop for the past three years because of poor flow in the Tungabhadra. The canal is designed to irrigate 2.86 lakh acres in Kurnool district and 92,000 acres in Cuddapah district during both crop seasons. The BPT 5204 variety of paddy cultivated under the canal area acquired the brand name Kurnool Sona for the grain's finer cooking quality and thin size. The financial loss to farmers on account of the failure of the paddy crops is estimated at Rs.300 crores. The land prices under the KC Canal have declined from Rs.1.5 lakhs an acre to Rs.50,000. Dry land in Aluru and Pathikonda is offered at Rs.10,000 an acre.

farmers under the HLC in Aluru area stopped paddy cultivation four years ago because of the short supply of water. Also, the paddy area under the LLC has shrunk from 1.51 lakh acres to 40,000 acres. The Gajuladinne project is intended to irrigate 18,000 acres but the authorities declared a crop holiday last year to divert water for the drinking needs of towns. This year, only 11,000 acres received water. Out of 163 minor irrigation sources, including 149 tanks with an ayacut of 66,200 acres, about 5,000 acres received water. The cut in power supply time from 12 hours to seven hours also affected the agricultural sector. The Srisailam right main canal has not drawn any water from the reservoir in the past two years.

The rainfall in the past two years was 20 per cent below the normal of 670 mm. In 2001-02, although the rainfall was normal cumulatively, dry spells during the peak crop season caused extensive damage. The cropping pattern also underwent drastic changes in the district with areas traditionally under paddy, groundnut and cotton giving in to sunflower, Bengal gram and castor. The crop shift led to a serious fodder shortage in the district. In most of the dryland areas, farmers resorted to the practice of maintaining a single draught animal to be paired with the animal of their neighbours for agriculture operations. Only large farmers could afford a pair of bulls.

The falling volume of commodities arriving at the agriculture market yard in Kurnool speaks of the farm sector crisis. groundnut arrival declined from 3.86 lakh quintals in 1999-2000 to 1.61 lakh quintals this year; ajwain came down from 65,405 quintals in 1999 to 27,000 quintals; onion declined from 3.56 lakh quintals to 2.73 lakh quintals. The volume of sunflower rose from 1.29 lakh quintals to 2.68 lakh quintals. (However, last year the sunflower production was 3.91 lakh quintals.) Sunflower, on which most of the farmers pinned their hopes, failed them by giving an average yield of 2 quintals an acre. Except in the case of oilseeds, commodity prices have shown a declining trend in the past five years.

The agriculture crisis has hit other businesses too. Dealers in fertilizers and pesticides say their trade volumes have been declining since 1998. People in other trades, such as jewellery merchants, cloth-sellers and those running even nursing homes, have complained of a fall in revenue. About 50,000 weaver families are out of work in the district. Only the real estate business, propelled by the loans sanctioned liberally by financial institutions, is booming.

Desperate times

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JHARPOTA MUNDA village under the Juba gram panchayat in Bolangir district of Orissa stands out as a stark example of desperate times: with over 60 per cent of its younger residents migrating in search of work, the old and infirm are left to fend for themselves. Ghasi Banchar, 80, whose sons, along with their families, left the village a year ago, has no cultivable land to depend on, nor is he physically fit to earn a living. "I get nothing from the government. I have not eaten properly for days, and I am totally dependent on charity,'' Ghasi told Frontline. Three times he appealed to the village sarpanch to extend gratuitous relief. On January 28, he approached the Block Development Officer (BDO). But as of February 20, no help had come for him.

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Jaydev Podh, 75, like Ghasi, depends on dole, more so because his vision is impaired. On December 23 last year, an eye camp was organised at Dhumabota, 7 km from the village. "I walked to the village early every morning for three days and came back late at night. But the doctor never turned up," he said.

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For Keshav Bindhani, 70, the situation is slightly different but no less hard. Three and a half years ago his son Tikke died. "His wife and five children have become my responsibility. I have no fixed income, and it is difficult to make ends meet.'' he says. Keshab has neither a house nor agricultural land. Three years ago he applied for assistance under the National Family Benefit Scheme, under which on the expiry of an earning member, a family living below the poverty line is eligible for a compensation of Rs.10,000. Keshab's daughter-in-law is yet to receive the benefit. Like most other children in the village, his youngest grandchild, who is four years old, is suffering from acute malnutrition. Jatin Kumar Patra, secretary of Adhikar, a non-governmental organisation that works in the village, told Frontline: "We have directly appealed to the administration to extend help to at least four people here who are on the verge of starvation, but nothing has been done so far."

* * *

A few hundred metres away from Jharpota Munda is a cluster of huts belonging to the "untouchables". The doors of most of the huts have been sealed with bricks - denoting that the owners have migrated. The elderly people who have been left behind guard the huts of their children. Panu Nag, 70, is one such unfortunate father. He is almost blind and too weak to work. He gets Rs.100 a month as old-age pension, but that is not enough to sustain him and his wife, and most of the time he resorts to begging. "We have nothing. Even if my three sons come back, how will they be able to support us when they can barely support themselves?'' he asks. Being untouchables, these people were not allowed to use the water from the village well. They had to trek one kilometre every day to get water. It was only in 2001 that at the insistence of Adhikar, a well was dug near their colony.

Driven to suicide

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THERE was a time when life did indeed appear to shine briefly for Venkate Gowda, a small peasant of Dasandoddi village of Mandya taluk in Karnataka. That was six years ago when he was able to add an acre (0.4 hectare) to his inheritance of two acres of land. He then started growing mulberry for sericulture, thereby augmenting his earnings from agriculture.

This glow of relative prosperity was, however, short-lived, something that four years of drought, together with the drying of water in his three borewells and the stranglehold of high-interest private debts, effectively ensured. Indeed, by the end of it all there was so little to feel good about that Venkate Gowda, who had toiled stoically and unremittingly through the better part of 65 years, decided that he could no longer face life. He committed suicide by consuming poison, leaving a shattered family faced with few livelihood options.

His 40-year old son, Narase Gowda, angry and embittered at the situation which forced his father's death, decided to leave the village - he knew not where - once his daughter finished her final school leaving examinations. He had a debt of nearly Rs.40,000 to repay to private moneylenders, borrowed by his father at the extortionist interest rate of 5 per cent a month. This was in addition to a loan of Rs.25,000 to the Primary Land Development Bank in his district. The family received no monetary compensation from the State government for Venkate Gowda's suicide, as his land was registered in his son's name.

Venkate Gowda may have been pushed to suicide by a set of compulsions that were personal and that related to the specific circumstances of his life. Nevertheless, his death is illustrative of a larger reality in Karnataka where over 650 farmers, according to official statistics, have committed suicide in the past 10 months, unable to cope with three successive years of crop losses and mounting debts. As distraught families pick up the pieces and shoulder new burdens, the economic problems that drove their breadwinners to suicide have not gone away. Therefore, to claim, as the governments at the Centre and in the State have been doing, that a climate of economic vitality and hope has been created in the countryside is really something of a cruel joke.

A small but important exercise that provided striking evidence of a persistent and gnawing `feel-hungry' factor for the majority of the 1,877 households in Nandibevuru gram panchayat of Harapanahalli taluk in Davangere district was recently held by the Right to Food Campaign. The coalition of about 80 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Karnataka chose this gram panchayat to conduct a "social audit" to monitor the implementation of nine government food security schemes, as part of a series of such social audits it has planned in the State. The audit provided valuable empirical evidence of what there is an abundance of media writing on - the exclusion of the poor from the public distribution system (PDS) and the serious leakages in its implementation.

"For the last two years I have not received any provisions from the fair price shop on my ration cards," said 26-year-old Lalithamma from Kongana Hosuru village in her written and oral testimony in front of assembled district officials at the two-day public hearing that followed the social audit. "Despite my application to the district officials in June 2003, nothing was done" she said. "Because we have no ration cards, we are totally destitute" said 55-year old Gurukanthamma, who owns two acres of land, in her submission. "Give us the Anytodaya card. There are seven families in my village who are in extreme distress", she said.

In a letter to the Director of the Food and Civil Supplies Department in Bangalore, 15 below poverty line (BPL)-category residents of Kongana Hosaru complained of being denied provisions for two years by the local fair price shop. "The ration shop owner says we have to get a new card which we applied for but which we have not received. We do not get work for even Rs.10-15 a day in our village," the letter said. It is in such a situation that the State government has reduced food subsidies to Rs.170 crores in 2003-2004 from Rs.295 crores in 2000-2001. In its Medium Term Fiscal Plan, the State government claimed success in weeding out "bogus ration cards" and in reducing the number of ration cards from 62 lakhs to 42.7 lakhs.

At a convention on Federation of Women in Local Self-Government organised by the Karnataka Women's Information and Resource Centre in Bangalore recently, many issues of daily livelihood were discussed in the context of women's leadership roles. "It is a difficult situation that most people face in my gram panchayat," M. Nagamani, an elected gram panchayat member of Karatigi in Gangavati taluk, Koppala district, told Frontline. "There are new classifications for BPL families. If you have a TV, fan or cycle in your home, then you are not considered poor. Nowadays, the `Bhyagyajyoti' light connections that used to be free for poor homes are metered. These connections are being cut, because people cannot afford to pay the bills. In my village 40 to 45 families out of 100 have migrated in search of jobs," she said. "Despite these problems, we try to fight and do the best we can from the limited resources of the panchayat. We may not be fully educated, but we have enthusiasm," she added.

"There is no question that the quality of life in my own family has deteriorated over the last three years," said Shakuntala, a former gram panchayat member from Tikkutta gram panchayat of Bijapur Taluk in Bijapur district. "There are nine people in my household. Although we have 18 acres (7.8 ha) of land, three out of four borewells have failed, and we borrowed heavily to dig them. We also had a ration card, and it was taken away because we owned land. Life is miserable, and in our gram panchayat there have already been around 10 suicides by poor farmers."

The impact of cumulative crop losses owing to three consecutive years of inadequate rainfall has been the proximate reason for the agrarian crisis. However, there have been droughts of even greater severity that have affected Karnataka in the past, but none with consequences as serious as this one. The impact of the drought has been devastating because of a series of policy changes in agriculture that have weakened the ability of poor and marginal rural populations to cope in adverse climatic conditions. Most of the cases of suicide involved small farmers who were deeply in debt to private moneylenders. The withdrawal of bank credit to the agricultural sector, and to poor farmers in particular since the late 1990s is well-documented. Nationalised banks have not opened any new branches in the rural areas in the past five years, and rural branches have been shutting down in this period. The Banking Service Recruitment Board (BSRB), set up for recruitment in the clerical cadre in banks, was abolished by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, as were the posts of rural development officers in rural branches. In March 2000, the total number of rural banks in Karnataka was 2,250, a number which came down to 2,201 in March 2002. The percentage of Agricultural advances in total advances from banks decreased from 21.38 to 18.86 in the same period. This went up again to 19.5 per cent in December 2002, but largely on account of corporate agricultural loans.

"Easy access to institutional credit is the exclusive prerogative of the big farmer, whereas the small farmers will have to depend upon private creditors," observed M. Veerappa Moily, former Chief Minister of Karnataka in a recent analysis of agricultural credit in Karnataka. "Most suicides are by small farmers who owe between Rs.50,000 and Rs.70,000 to private moneylenders, whereas their debt to banks or cooperative societies is minimal. It is also a matter of concern that unlike former days, the poorer farmers are struck off from the BPL category, thus becoming ineligible for subsidised food. It is for these reasons that a single year of drought or crisis can drive poor farmers into total desperation," he noted.

Preliminary conclusions from a survey conducted by the People's Democratic Forum (PDF), People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and independent researchers in Bangalore, of 43 families of suicide victims in 51 villages in Kolar, Hassan, Mandya and Bangalore Rural districts reinforces media findings on the causes for the suicides. High indebtedness to private creditors was the primary reason for most suicides. In addition, drying of borewells, failure of pumpsets, increase in the cost of production owing to the lifting of subsidies on crucial agricultural inputs like electricity, fertilizer, water and seeds, and the fall in the prices of agricultural commodities, had greatly weakened the ability of farmers to meet the challenge of drought. "How can India be shining when the small landholder faces such a grim future?" asked V.S. Sreedhara, a Professor of English at Vijaya College, Bangalore, who was a member of the team. "For every case of a suicide death there are a hundred potential cases. What is clear is that there will be no change in the agricultural scene in the years to come," he said.

The lack of work in rural areas has been one of the most serious consequences arising from drought and related pressures on agriculture. "The drastic reduction in the number of workdays for anybody related to agriculture in Karnataka has increased because of drought and the fall in the prices of all agricultural commodities," said G.N. Nagaraj, vice-president, Karnataka unit of the All India Agricultural Workers Union. "Even prior to drought, there was a reduction in funding for rural development - towards capital investment in agriculture, credit flow to rural areas, and so on. In Karnataka, the mechanisation of public works, which is taking place on a large scale, has further decreased rural employment opportunities. This is resulting in large-scale migration. In Bijapur district there are villages where more than 50 per cent of the residents, including landholders owning up to 20 acres (8 ha), have migrated in search of work," he said.

Sunset in paradise

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A STUDY in 1998 found that the farmers of Punjab had a cumulative debt of Rs.5,700 crores, much of it owing to non-productive social expenditure. Debt-driven suicides are increasingly common. Yields of rice and wheat have reached a plateau. Groundwater levels in much of Punjab have fallen precipitously; in some cases it is as low as 200 feet (60 metres), imposing punitive irrigation costs on farmers.

In rural Punjab, drug addiction and alcoholism are growing at alarming rates. Nandarshan Singh still remembers the time when Dhandra got its first tractor, a rusted smoke-spewing beast that his friend Mohinder Singh bought second-hand from Saharanpur. Hundreds of people gathered to watch the machine when it was operated for the first time some four decades ago, a scene repeated across Punjab and captured in dozens of Films Division documentaries. Irrigation pumpsets reached Dhandra at around the same time, along with high-yielding seeds and chemical fertilizers. Dusty rain-fed fields, which somehow managed to give life to scrawny harvests of peanuts, cotton and corn earlier, were transformed. The Green Revolution had arrived in Dhandra.

On the face of it, Dhandra looks just like an India Shining advertisement. Farmers here actually talk on mobile phones, and cars wind their way through the well-paved streets of the village. Over the past decade, the more prosperous farmers of Dhandra have built spanking new Ludhiana-chic homes, complete with air-conditioned bedrooms and marble-tiled, Western-style toilets. Even the Dalit quarter in the village is clean and well-paved, and all the children seem to go to school. If the Jat landowners resent the recent election of a Dalit woman sarpanch, their ire is restricted to vague mumbling about how reservations have killed the job prospects of educated upper-caste men from the village.

Paradise? Not quite. Scratch the surface, and enormous anxieties about the future emerge. A good deal of these have to do with concerns over the costs of sustaining the agricultural model on which Dhandra's prosperity is based. While India's poor still do not have enough food to eat, cuts in the public distribution system (PDS) mean that the country's storage system is awash with rice and wheat. Punjab farmers are under pressure to cut back the production of these cereals, and one method of doing this has been to put a freeze on procurement prices. Says Jagdeep Pal Singh: "It costs me about Rs.5,500 to sustain each cropping cycle on an acre of land and if I am careful, I should get some 18 quintals out of it, which will bring me Rs.12,000 or so. That is not a lot of money, given the risks of sudden rain or drought."

Jagdeep Pal Singh, like most landowners in Dhandra, is a small farmer with just 3.5 acres (1.4 hectares) of land in his name. His principal problem is that even as costs are rising, yields are not going up; the State has already attained production levels that are close to world standards. The tired soil needs more urea and pesticides than it did even a decade ago, and the prices of agricultural inputs have spiralled upwards as subsidies have been slashed.

The availability of water is a bigger problem. Despite a good monsoon, the level of water in the wells in Dhandra is below 60 feet (18m). More and more farmers are being forced to use submersible pumpsets, which means a one-time investment of Rs.100,000. Those who do not have an electricity connection must pay punishing diesel charges. Moreover, submersible sets are just not economical in the case of small holdings. Farmers have adapted, swapping land to adjust to the demands of the new pumpsets, but smaller farmers already have their backs to the wall and can ill-afford the rising irrigation costs.

Farmers who do not own substantial amounts of land generally rent holdings from larger landowners; all Dalit farmers, who rarely own land, rely on rented plots. Only some 70,000 families in Punjab own over 50 acres (20 ha) of land; in Dhandra, only some 110 families have holdings of more than 10 acres (4 ha). Some of them rent out land that they cannot farm on; others, like Bacchan Singh, emigrated with family to the United States. Rents vary depending on the quality of land, but a well-irrigated one-acre plot is available for around Rs.5,500. In essence, farmers barely make money on rented land. "You make a couple of thousand rupees on an acre if you are prudent," but it "will hardly take care of the school fees of one child," says Dilbagh Singh.

MATTERS have come to this stage not because of the evident absence of new State investment in improving agricultural infrastructure. The Focal Point, a massive fertilizer and crop storage facility that was set up a decade ago, lies abandoned and shops built next to it for use by merchants have never been used. If the Punjab government has any scheme to recharge the area's depleting groundwater resources, the villagers have never heard of it. Basic infrastructure to recharge the village aquifers exist in the form of a network of village ponds still laden with monsoon water. While the government seems happy to pump in money into crop diversification programmes or improving electricity supply, no initiative has been taken to address the depletion of groundwater. Social infrastructure is also poor - a 10-bed hospital built in the 1980s was, for example, never made operational; it is now home to a Dalit family.

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Incomes in Dhandra, of course, are not bad in absolute terms. For all their problems, the farmers of Punjab are not, by any stretch of imagination, poor. Yet, expectations have also increased. One of the less understood gifts of the Green Revolution was an enormous pressure to live in a manner that demonstrated the new affluence. "One of my friends," says Jit Singh, a local cleric, "spent over Rs.7 lakhs on his daughter's wedding. He didn't want to, but just couldn't get a boy with a few acres to his name for less." Most farmers borrow from the local cooperative for expenditure on seeds and fertilizer, but the credit for social spending comes largely from Arthiyas, traditional moneylenders. A 1998 study by the eminent economist H.S. Shergill found that the average farmer in Punjab had taken loans worth Rs.727.9 crores for non-productive purposes; suicides by loan defaulters are depressingly common.

The changes have also had an impact on the young people in Dhandra. The walls inside the Focal Point building are covered with elaborate graffiti, scrawled by the village's growing tribe of adolescent junkies who gather there at dusk along with the pigeons. Dozens of young people in Dhandra use a mind-boggling array of prescription drugs, freely available at the local chemist's shop, for recreation. Most of them are children of landed farmers, for whom there is no real work on the land and no prospect of inheritance. Some from Dhandra's farming families have found jobs in nearby Ludhiana, but employment opportunities for school-educated youth in both the public and private sectors are declining. Incredibly, the local government school does not hold high school classes because teachers are not available for classes after the 10th grade. Clearly, few in the village have much of a future.

If the Punjab government has its way, villages like Dhandra will soon face a second transformation. The economist S.S. Johl has recommended that the State fund farmers so that they can move away from the wheat-rice crop pattern and take to alternative crops such as pulses and oilseeds. If the Johl recommendations are implemented, areas cultivating wheat and rice will be reduced to 1975-76 levels, saving the Union government Rs.8,967 crores in procurement, transport and storage costs. Farmers will be paid Rs.12,500 a hectare if they retire from wheat and rice cultivation. The scheme has attracted savage criticism from analysts like Shergill, who say it will in fact dent the income of an average farmer by Rs.13,280 per hectare each year. "On top of it all," Shergill says, "it won't work. Farmers will retire the least productive land, and concentrate their resources on what they have left, so production will remain near current levels. The real answer is to reduce the amount of labour committed to the countryside, and to encourage well-off farmers to move elsewhere."

A few years from now, Dhandra will cease to exist - and Shergill's recommendations will be realised, if not by design. Ludhiana's urban sprawl is already visible from the edges of Dhandra's fields, and in a few years the city will colonise the countryside.

Most landowners hope to sell their land, and invest in urban property and businesses. A few say that they will buy more land elsewhere and use their profits to mechanise. "Using machines is already cheaper," says Ajit Singh, "but we get more straw for the animals from manual harvesting. With larger holdings, we can just buy straw instead." Sarju Ram, a native of Bihar who made Dhandra his home two decades ago, says: "There is much less work here than there used to be when I came here and more and more migrants now look for work in Ludhiana, not on the farms." Dalits in the village, who do not own land and are generally poorly educated, will most likely suffer the most, as the new order pushes them into the ranks of the urban poor.

Some people believe that the landholding Jats will do no better. "People will waste the lakhs gained from selling their land on building fancy houses and buying cars," says Dullo Singh. "Soon, all we worked to build will be just a memory."

Rendering criminal justice globally

Global Justice or Global Revenge?: International criminal justice at the Crossroads, by Hans Kochler; Springer Wien, New York, 2003; pages 448.

PUBLIC opinion in India normally asserts itself whenever misguided elements attempt to politicise any of our hallowed institutions. This is perhaps the core strength of our democracy. It is especially true at times when there is a feeling that the executive is trying to browbeat or in any way pressurise one of them into doing something that is even suggestive of a lack of ethics or unfairness. Fortunately, the founding fathers have given us the sinews in the form of the Constitution of India to make realistic our resolve to keep politics out of at least some institutions. The judiciary figures prominently among them.

Barring an occasional suspicion that the executive has brought to bear subtle influence in matters such as appointments, overall, our higher judiciary has a fair record for political neutrality and fearlessness. Not surprisingly, therefore, the average Indian expects similarly high standards of objectivity and rectitude on issues governing organisation and delivery of justice at the international level. Unfortunately, what we have seen around the globe, especially in the West's response to events since the Second World War, and more recently after 9/11, does not inspire us. For example, the experience related to our efforts to bring back Indian terrorists who have sought refuge abroad has been far from encouraging. This is in spite of an international consensus that claims of immunity on the basis of sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction are to be spurned while battling against common crime and terrorism. The same holds good for individuals guilty of crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

For quite some, unsatisfactory ad hoc arrangements in the form of special tribunals have been the only device to bring to book those guilty of genocide or war crimes. The Tokyo and Nuremberg tribunals in the post-Second World War period represent this shoddy attempt to render justice to the victims. By no means could the tribunals be considered international in character. They were, at best, regional bodies intended to dispense "unilateral justice". More recent examples are the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals created by the United Nations Security Council. The politics that dictated the formation of these bodies, however justified it may be, has robbed them of credibility in the eyes of non-partisan nations. Both the tribunals are viewed as creations to promote the interests of victors rather than the outcome of a genuine desire by neutral observers to punish the guilty. It is in this context that the coming into being of the International Criminal Court (ICC) appears to be a positive development. I must quickly add that we cannot be ecstatic about this because the ICC has had too many teething troubles, which have already raised serious misgivings over its ultimate effectiveness. The decision of a superpower such as the United States to keep away from the court, is in particular a blow to all those who want the ICC to blossom into a vibrant body that could be spurred into action whenever atrocities are committed on innocent citizens. This is disappointing if one takes note of the fact that almost all NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies of the U.S. have endorsed the ICC as set out by the Rome Treaty.

The ICC is the outcome of many years of international deliberations since the U.N. General Assembly adopted a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in December 1948. The resolution specifically directed the International Law Commission (ILC) to study the "desirability" and "possibility" of establishing an international judicial body. The progress was slow and halting for a variety of reasons. The exercise received a fillip with the General Assembly direction to the ILC in 1989 to resume the work that had remained suspended for years. The ILC draft of 1994 went through two committees before being accepted by the General Assembly. It was deliberated on for several weeks by an international conference in Rome in July 1998. Initially, as many as 120 countries voted to adopt the treaty. Seven, including the U.S. and China, voted against it, and 21 abstained. By the end of 2000, 139 countries had signed it. Interestingly, President Clinton signed it on December 31, 2000, the last day on which he could do so before handing over reins to his successor. However, on May 6, 2002, the U.S. notified the Security Council (the repository of the Rome Treaty) that it did not intend to become a party and that it was not bound by Clinton's assent. Notwithstanding this volte face by the superpower, since many more than the required 60 countries had ratified the treaty by the end of June 2002, the ICC's jurisdiction commenced on July 1, 2002, with The Hague as its headquarters. The ICC's governing body, the Assembly of States Parties, elected the court's first 18 judges (representing diverse regions and comprising seven women) in February 2003. They assumed office on March 11, 2003. In April last, the Assembly also elected Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina as the ICC's Chief Prosecutor.

PROF. HANS KOCHLER was a U.N-appointed international observer at the famous Lockerbie trial that heard the charges against two Libyan nationals accused of planting a bomb in the Pan Am flight 103; 270 persons were killed when the bomb went off on December 21,1988. This was an outrageous act of terrorism. Had it gone unpunished, it would have been a serious blot on the civilised world. But then, the issue of how to bring the two offenders to trial got bogged down in crass political and inter-state differences between the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Libya. The dispute as to who should try the case and where, proved extremely contentious. It was ultimately resolved on the basis of a Security Council resolution and in the form of a Scottish Court in the Netherlands. This was a unique compromise that raised several delicate issues of international law and concerns over the human rights of the arraigned Libyan nationals. (Of the two who stood trial, one was ultimately convicted.)

The Observer's Report of Prof. Kochler (reproduced at the end of the book) is a strong indictment of the procedure adopted at the Lockerbie trial. The long phase of detention of the two Libyans between their arrival in the Netherlands and the actual commencement of the trial, the unlisted and, therefore, unauthorised presence of two prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice and their informal supervision of the work of the trial prosecutors, and the deliberate withholding of relevant information from the panel of judges were factors that marred the fairness of the whole exercise and presented starkly the lack of a due process of law. Prof. Kochler's concluding remarks are significant: "Regrettably, through the conduct of the Court, disservice has been done to the important cause of international criminal justice. The goals of criminal justice on an international level cannot be advanced in a context of power politics and in the absence of an elaborate division of powers." Strong words indeed, but these make the Professor ponder over the problems that the present ICC is likely to face if due care to maintain fairness and keep power politics away is not taken. He is worried over the U.S.' attitude towards the ICC and cannot possibly manage greater eloquence in conveying his anger.

WHY did the U.S. go back on the clear undertaking given by Clinton through his act of signing the treaty days before he laid down office? Its main concern is over what it calls a lack of 100 per cent protection to its GIs and Commanders stationed in various parts of the globe. It also fears that the ICC is free to decide for itself what "disproportionate" use of force is. Perhaps its most serious apprehension is that the ICC has independent prosecutors with too much power in their hands, and they may start investigations on their own with the approval merely of the ICC. The U.S. has also demanded that the `probationary period', that is, the period for which there can be no amendment to the ICC Treaty, be extended from the present seven years to 10 years. Surprisingly, these reservations have cast aside summarily the fact that the ICC Treaty protects all bilateral agreements exempting U.S. troops stationed abroad from the processes of local criminal justice systems. Interestingly, the U.S. paranoia is reflected in the U.S. Congress' action (2002) in passing the American Service Members' Protection Act (ASPA), which lays down the relationship with the ICC. The Act prohibits any U.S. military assistance to most states that have ratified the ICC Treaty, except of course with the approval of the U.S. President. Also, the U.S. will not take part in any peace-keeping operations anywhere however merited it might be, unless the President certifies to Congress that U.S. servicemen are protected from the jurisdiction of the ICC. Significantly, the U.S., since the coming into being of the ICC, has signed bilateral agreements with more than 15 countries (including India) reaffirming its resolve to bring to justice those guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. This was one way of conveying to the rest of the world its determination not to cooperate with the ICC. In doing so, it has ignored assessments such as those of Ruth Wedgewood ( "Fiddling in Rome", Foreign Affairs, November/December 1998) that the ICC was meant to "... address the horrors of contemporary civil war, not cut down America's pre-eminence in the post-cold war period".

Kochler is quite conscious of the flaws in the concept of an international criminal court, especially in the face of a unipolar world. He is not oblivious of the need for the total separation of the judiciary from the executive, a generally accepted but an elusive feature of most modern polities. The clinical appointment of judges and prosecutors - a subject on which reams can be written on India's experience alone - who do not look up to the executive for any of their needs cannot be overemphasised. This is however an area where one can easily be accused of being dreamy. No doubt, the ICC Treaty does not give special privileges to Permanent Members of the Security Council in the matter of the appointment of ICC judges. Nevertheless, these five members can effortlessly stall or defer proceedings through the device of the Security Council, a collective that has already permitted many flagrant abuses for its own benefit. The saving grace is that the Rome Statute allows only a collective deferral. Where only one or more members of the Security Council seek a deferral, the ICC's Prosecutor can get any permanent member who supports the prosecution to exercise his veto against such deferral.

We know that if judges are to display independence, they need assurance of physical protection. Commenting on this, Kochler says: "The degree of `judicial security' and the safety of the members of the judiciary are not merely problems of `banana republics' but of Western democracies as well." Luckily, India has not had many questionable happenings on this front. But countries such as Spain, Italy and Columbia have had more than their share of problems with regard to judicial security. The ICC could face a predicament in this regard sometime in the future.

There seems to be no end to the exercise of picking holes in the Rome Treaty. The international community would do well to move away from such wasteful activity. It should remember that the ICC is an extraordinary body that is without question required in a strife-torn modern world. Notwithstanding its many shortcomings, as Kochler says, we must concede that the ICC is a definite improvement over the highly politicised ad hoc tribunals appointed by the U.N. from time to time. How it will function in a unipolar world, where one country can dictate terms to all the others, is undeniably tricky and debatable. For instance, very recently, the invasion of Iraq raised serious questions of propriety. Highly persuasive voices in different parts of the globe on this unilateral action by the U.S. were ignored if not totally silenced. We cannot but agree with Kochler when he says: "The new wars are fought in the name of `humanity'; armed confrontations are put in the framework of `good versus evil'; self-righteousness replaces legal scrutiny. The underlying normative concepts... are defined by the hegemonial power that sets the rules of the game and challenges the supremacy of the U.N." The action in Iraq explains the U.S.' perception of the ICC. This should not be allowed to demoralise those who conceived the ICC.

What we have on hand is a bold experiment that will be watched with great interest everywhere. If it has to succeed even modestly, member nations will have to display objectivity, courage and maturity. On the contrary, misguided endorsement of the U.S. intransigence could be ruinous and utterly dangerous to nations whose resources are limited and who are weighed down by the compulsions of geopolitics. They need to take Kochler seriously. Dissecting the ICC model with great dexterity, the Austrian professor successfully promotes interest in a subject that is of the utmost relevance. I would like to see many Indian scholars emulating Prof. Kochler whose work unmistakably bears the stamp of scholarship and clarity of thinking.

To govern biodiversity

MUKUL SHARMA world-affairs

Zimbabwe is on the threshold of creating a national law, based on the OAU's Model Law on biodiversity, to protect its biological resources and ensure their fair and sustainable use.

ZVOMUYA GWINDI is one of Zimbabwe's well-known traditional healers. He is also a leading member of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA), the country's foremost association of traditional healers, established in 1980. With a membership of more than 50,000, it has access to and information about more than 500 different types of medicinal plants. Currently, ZINATHA and many other groups in Zimbabwe are actively promoting a draft legislative proposal that can protect the local community's intellectual property rights and the country's diverse biological wealth.

Through this endeavour, it has been established that there is an urgent need for a comprehensive piece of national legislation, a national statutory authority and a well-coordinated, single community-based institutional framework to regulate access to and ensure fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of biodiversity. Andrew Mushita, Director of Zimbabwe's Community Technology Development Trust, said that the process of regional and national consultations clearly recognised the use of customary laws, norms and practices in the management of biological resources. It called for a number of commitments from the government to provide resources to communities, to help them build their own local capacity and to protect their biological resources.

In fact, most of the member-states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are working towards establishing similar laws against many odds, which will protect their genetic resources. Countries of the region have been compellingly encouraged by the African Union's Model Law, which effectively captures various proposals for the protection of community resource rights. It consolidates agricultural biodiversity and protects farmers and plant breeders from the negative influence of biotechnology. It is felt that if the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) can come out with a "Model Law for the Protection of Rights of Local Communities, Farmers and Breeders, and for the Regulation of Access to Biological Resources" and if it could become a basis for national laws in African countries, it can be done elsewhere as well. Other regions too can thus challenge the interests of multinational companies and developed countries.

Zimbabwe, like many other African countries, has a long history of herbal healing. A large segment of the country's population relies on herbal medicine, as prescribed by their family herbal specialists or traditional healers. The role of traditional healers in rehabilitation and health service delivery has been recognised by the Government of Zimbabwe. ZINATHA is accorded high esteem in the region. The majority of its members work from their homesteads and provide health care to about 80 per cent of the population.

However, the country currently lacks a law to govern biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Zimbabwe is a signatory to the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and is subject to international instruments such as the Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (GPA) and the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IU). Nevertheless, it still has to put in place the vital patenting or sui generis legislation, which can protect it against `bio-piracy' by multinational companies or research organisations from the developed world. As of now, the country has only the Traditional Medical Practitioners Act, a revised edition of a 1996 Act, which established a traditional medical practitioners' council. However, the Act and the Council only deal with administrative issues such as the registration and regulation of practice of the traditional practitioners.

Zimbabwe's rich genetic diversity, its exploitation by highly developed biotechnology organisations from the North and the need to use and protect this diversity for local and national needs have constituted an area of concern in the recent past. Several alarming cases of unfair and unequal use of the country's genetic resources have been reported.

A case in point is the one involving the tree Swartzia Madagascariensis. In July 1999, a patent on a powerful fungicidal ingredient was granted to a research professor at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. The patented invention relies on traditional Zimbabwean knowledge and uses for its manufacture the root of Swartzia Madagascariensis, which can be found throughout tropical Africa. In April 1997, an addendum to a material transfer and confidential agreement between the U.S. pharmaceutical company Phytera and the University of Lausanne was signed. In that the parties agreed to a royalty payment of 1.5 per cent of Phytera's net sales of the specific product. Neither the Zimbabwean government nor the traditional healers with knowledge of the fungicidal properties of the plant were informed prior to the Swiss University's prospecting of Zimbabwe's biological resources. No contract was signed among the traditional healers, the Government of Zimbabwe and the University of Lausanne, which were involved in the initial project. Nor were there any mutually agreed terms for a fair and equitable benefit-sharing mechanism.

OVERALL, the whole African region is losing huge benefits from its biodiversity, for lack of legal protection against bio-piracy. The second South-South Bio-piracy Summit, held in Johannesburg during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, came out very strongly on this issue. The fact sheet released at the summit gave information about hundreds of patents being filed on African plants by multinational companies. To name just a few: brazzeine, a protein 500 times sweeter than sugar, from a plant in Gabon; teff, the grain used in Ethiopia's flat `injera' bread; thaumatin, a natural sweetener from a plant in West Africa; the African soap berry and the Kunde Zulu cowpea; and genetic material from the West African cocoa plant.

The latest patent to make headlines in the region involves the Hoodia cactus from the Kalahari desert. For generations, the San people of South Africa ate pieces of the cactus to stave off hunger and thirst. Analysing the cactus, the parastatal Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa found the molecule that curbs appetite and sold the rights, worth billions of dollars, to the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to develop an anti-obesity drug. The San people complained and protested. After a long battle, in 2003, the CSIR agreed to share the eventual royalties, and it became a landmark case where indigenous communities staked their claim to the profits derived from their knowledge.

The OAU initiative to develop model legislation challenged the hegemony of developed countries and unleashed new political dynamics on the issue. The initiative began in 1997, when it embarked on a process to assist African countries in fulfilling their obligations to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the TRIPS Agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). While the Convention mandates countries to regulate access to biodiversity and respect the rights of local communities, TRIPS requires all members to protect intellectual rights on plant varieties through patents or a sui generis system. The development of the model law has been a result of a synergy between several initiatives in various parts of Africa, in which lawyers, political activists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), farmers' bodies, trade unions and government functionaries participated. Several African governments too extended their support to it. In 1998, the OAU heads of state endorsed the Model Law and decided that it would become the basis for all national laws on the matter across Africa. Since then, several African countries are courageously taking the path ahead, to draft a national law.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) have expressed their anger to the OAU. In a four-page submission to the OAU, the WIPO pointed out that the prohibition of patents on life forms in the Model Law went against TRIPS. As a central principle, the OAU Model Law holds that patents on life forms are immoral and go against the basic values of African citizens and should therefore be outlawed. The WIPO also rejected the principle of `inalienability' of community rights embedded in the Model Law. The OAU wants those who collect biological resources in Africa to affirm that they will not apply for patents over such materials or their derivatives. The WIPO is afraid that this would prevent bio-prospectors from securing exclusive monopolies on products made or extracted from the goods. The UPOV has suggested drastic changes in more than 30 articles of the Model Law to suit their standards. This prompted Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority, which played a central role in drafting the Model Law, to question UPOV's right to challenge the legislation.

At the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999, the African group and the OAU took the lead in opposing the patenting of life and protecting community rights over their agricultural and biological heritage. They restated their known opposition to the patenting of life in WTO 2003 at Cancun and asked that community rights be protected under TRIPS as an intellectual property rights regime. The African Model Law, of course, inspires them. With this law, a region and its people are trying to keep their right to decide what to do with their agriculture as also other activities that use biological resources, their parts or components, and how to do it. Other regions like Asia can learn from this experience. The Barcelona-based Genetic Resource Action International (GRAIN) recently gave a call: "Those who have been behind the development of the OAU Model Law deserve our support. And those who are now trying to destroy it deserve our rejection."

Positive engagement

Relations between the United States and China seem to be acquiring a new dynamism and a strategic dimension that have not been witnessed in recent times.

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CHINA'S equation with the United States seems to be acquiring a new strategic dimension. In a symbolic move, Chinese authorities announced in Beijing on February 12 that `Blue Ridge', the command ship of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, would visit the Shanghai port for five days from February 24. While this has, in a sense, signified the U.S.' recognition of China as a rising power in the Asia Pacific theatre, the overall bilateral engagement between the two countries has implications on a global scale.

The United States' growing concern about the nuclear weapons `programme' of North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK), the consequences of the occupation of Iraq, and the revelations of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with Pakistan as the centre, are making China's centrality to the changing U.S. strategic calculus more obvious. Relevant to this emerging scenario is the global presence of China as Asia's only veto-empowered member in the United Nations Security Council.

Prominent issues between the two countries include Washington's stand on Taiwan and Hong Kong, the `human rights situation' in China and Beijing's attitude towards the new U.S. drive for a "strategic dialogue" on issues of global trade. Therefore it came as a surprise when U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said in Singapore on February 14 that his talks in Beijing a day earlier had shown that "the U.S. and Chinese positions overlap, quite well actually, in terms of their overall [trading] interests". Evidently, despite Beijing's undisguised self-identification as a developing country, the U.S. finds China, or at least tends to see it, as an increasingly compatible trade negotiator in the multilateral sphere. The Chinese Vice-Minister of Commerce, Yu Guangzhou, kept the concerns of developing countries in areas such as agriculture in focus but expressed appreciation for "the U.S.' efforts... in some sectors for resuming the [stalled] talks" on global trade.

Within the broad framework of the current Sino-American engagement, bilateral defence-related consultations have come into sharp focus, notwithstanding the fact that Washington's `take' on the political dynamics in Taiwan at any given time will remain the key determinant of the fundamental state of relations between the U.S. and China.

While announcing the impending visit of the U.S. warship to Shanghai, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said: "We are happy with the constant development of military and state relations between our two countries." She outlined the possibility of a greater diversification of Sino-American military contacts in 2004. This would be exemplified by "high-level visits, contacts between academies, mechanical contacts... and visits of warships as well".

Even more significant is the "positive and constructive" sixth round of Sino-American defence consultations, which concluded in Beijing on February 11 after two days of talks. The political ambience in which the consultations took place was defined by the momentum generated by the high-profile visit to Beijing by Richard Myers, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in January.

The process of periodic defence consultations was begun in 1997 following an accord between the then Presidents of the U.S. and China, Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin. The accord signalled a mutual recognition of each other's strategic compulsions in the post-Cold War period and marked a new phase of warmth in the relations which had plummeted in the wake of the Tinanmen Square incident. With Clinton's visit to China in 1998, the notion of some form of a Sino-American strategic partnership on major international issues, albeit in realpolitik terms, was beginning to gain currency in limited circles. However, the U.S.' bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May 1999 produced shock waves that were felt across the Sino-American political-strategic spectrum. The bilateral ties were back on a relatively normal track by the time Clinton left office in early January 2001. But the defence relations nose-dived after a U.S. naval plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided over the South China Sea in April 2001. By October 2002, when Jiang Zemin met U.S. President George W. Bush at his Crawford ranch, Sino-American engagement had acquired the kind of dynamism that rekindled hopes of a strategic dialogue.

Hu Jintao, who succeeded Jiang Zemin as the General Secretary of the governing Communist Party of China in November 2002 and as the President of the country in March 2003, met Bush twice on the sidelines of two different international conferences. A new high point on the bilateral front was reached on December 9 last year when Bush made a China-friendly comment on the Taiwan issue in the presence of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Bush called upon the Taiwanese leader, Chen Shui-bian, and Beijing to refrain from making any moves that might lead to a change in the status quo.

The timing and context of Bush's comment, coming as it did after the Taiwanese leader announced plans to hold a referendum on the territory's future in March this year, pleased Beijing. The U.S.' ability to rein in Taiwan, a territory which mainland China wants to be reunified with it in the light of `historical realities', is now being gradually put to test. It remains to be seen whether a plebiscite will be held in Taiwan on the issue of a perceived security `threat' from China. Such a public vote, Chen Shui-bian feels, will reaffirm the status of Taiwan as an entity that is independent of China, notwithstanding the `one-China principle' that the international community, including the U.S., has vowed to adhere to.

For China, the immediate political issue is whether the U.S. can indeed stop Taiwan from progressing on the path of `independence'. According to Patrick Tyler, who studied how six American Presidents up to Clinton had engaged China, "throughout the period in which six Presidents have come to know and to understand the People's Republic [of China], the [American] instinct for compromise has prevailed over the instinct to confront or isolate China". Whether the U.S. will act in a similar fashion with regard to Chinese expectations of some form of American pressure over Taiwan remains to be seen. Chen Dongxiao, a Chinese specialist on Sino-American relations, saw the U.S. as less than a "predatory hegemon" in the early phase of the post-Cold War period. However, according to him, "America's exceptionalist hegemonic instincts are not abating in the new century" and Washington's "political imagination has not really adjusted to an unfolding multipolar system".

Authoritative Chinese sources told this correspondent that Bush does not seem to have given any definitive anti-China thrust to his moves in 2003 to fashion "non-NATO alliances" with some countries in the Asia Pacific theatre. However, the extant U.S. plans for a theatre missile defence system in the Asia Pacific region, the distinctive issues of Taiwan and North Korea and the latest concerns raised by Washington on the issue of nuclear proliferation, will shape the course of Sino-American engagement in the short term.

With the U.S. identifying Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan as the virtual ring-leader of the `uncovered' mafia in nuclear arms proliferation, China may get sucked into a new Washington-led non-proliferation project. At the highest policy levels, China's permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council could afford the U.S. a chance to coopt Beijing into any new non-proliferation initiative. As far as `investigations' into instances of nuclear proliferation are concerned, according to observers, the U.S. may even seek to reopen old issues concerning suspected transfers by China of nuclear arms know-how, ballistic missiles or its components and related technology to Pakistan.

In the past, Beijing has always refuted American `intelligence evidence' regarding the alleged transfer of technology and equipment to Pakistan. Some Chinese entities were put under period specific U.S. `sanctions' too. Therefore there is a possibility that the U.S. might bring China under some renewed scrutiny in the specific context of the revelations regarding the activities of A.Q. Khan and his associates, it is speculated.... In this context it is relevant that in recent years, China has displayed a significant degree of diplomatic transparency in relation to publicising the legal and administrative measures that it has taken in the overall non-proliferation domain.

In fact, the view held in some sections of the U.S. policy establishment is that China can be considered as an important part of a potential solution, observers point out.

A key proliferation issue in China's neighbourhood is the nuclear weapons programme pursued by North Korea. North Korea has virtually acknowledged this fact by speaking frequently about its "nuclear deterrence" against the U.S. China, which hosted the first round of multilateral talks on the North Korean nuclear issue last year, has now prepared the ground for a fresh round in Beijing from February 25. The participants are the U.S., North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. The U.S. has publicly acknowledged China's positive contributions on the issue of proliferation vis--vis North Korea. It is against this background that Beijing tends to view Washington's plans for a theatre missile defence system in China's immediate neighbourhood as provocative. The Sino-American defence consultations cannot be divorced entirely from this dimension, although the official word on the latest round of talks is that besides the issue of military cooperation between China and the U.S. at the operational level (inclusive of maritime consultations), Taiwan and North Korea were also discussed.

China's interactions with the U.S. on the continued American occupation of Iraq and the resultant crisis will be a key factor in determining the future dynamics of the growing Sino-American engagement. China has not really done America's bidding in Iraq in a strategic sense. Beijing has, at the same time, expounded its policy of "constructive and cooperative relationship" with the U.S. in a manner that has kept Washington in good humour. The strategic bottom line is that the U.S. sees merit in not antagonising China at this point. According to diplomatic sources, the factors that are currently at play include China's leverage vis-a-vis North Korea and other anti-terror issues, and the huge Chinese market.

China has not been formally `banned' by the U.S. for reconstruction contracts in Iraq. However, one Chinese version is that a Shenzhen-based firm, Zhongxing Telecom Co., was recently awarded a $5-million contract in Iraq in the face of "some resistance on the part of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority". Whether it signifies growing competition between the sole superpower and a rising power remains to be seen.

Journalists and power

IN India, interest in issues of freedom of the press waxes and wanes. Reassuring outburst of outrage at gross violations are followed by indifference to smaller but menacing breaches. Issues of journalistic ethics receive even less attention. There is not a single good book on the record of the Indian press since Independence, documenting its achievements and failures. The fraternity of journalists is reluctant to discuss at all - let alone discuss calmly and objectively - issues of the relationship of journalists to men in power. The state wields enormous influence and power. It can befriend the pliant and punish the errant ones in very many ways. To go no further, Article 80(3) of the Constitution empowers the Union government to advise the President to nominate a person as a member of the Upper House of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, if he has "special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as the following, namely: literature, science, arts and social service". The grouping is itself suggestive enough to rule out journalism. But journalists have been nominated and - they have merrily accepted the favour.

No journalist, be he editor, reporter or columnist, can function in isolation. Interaction with men in power is not only inescapable, but desirable. In its train, this raises myriad issues of access and independence; of self-imposed disqualification (recusal) on a matter on which the journalist has ventured advice, solicited or other.

In India and abroad, journalists have carried messages in the national interest without inviting reproach. There is the cool professional who is detached and has no particularly strong convictions. He is to be respected as a useful craftsman committed to his work and to the ethics of the craft. The one with strong commitments is no less worthy of respect. But he is faced with problems no less agonising; perhaps, more so than his detached colleague. He can nail his colours to the mast for all to see and follow the hallowed tradition of pamphleteer. The reader knows where he stands. Objectivity lies not in shunning preferences, but in respecting the sanctity of facts. These issues bear study and debate. Glib answers are misleading, if not self-serving.

This book should be read by every sensitive and thoughtful person who writes for the press and should be prescribed as compulsory reading in schools of journalism. It has lessons for all - editors, bureau chiefs, reporters and columnists. Russell Baker called James B. Reston as "probably the best newspaperman the 20th century produced". Prof. Hans. J. Morgenthau, one of the most original and influential thinkers on the enduring verities of the international order, called him "the most brilliant, competent and trustworthy of diplomatic correspondents". The occasion for this high praise is noteworthy. It was a dispatch in The New York Times of March 13, 1950, datelined Washington D.C. under the title "Soviet Move Seen for Deal with U.S. to Divide World". It was a proposal by the Soviet Union to the United States to demarcate spheres of influence between them globally just as Churchill and Stalin had done in respect of Eastern Europe in Moscow on October 9, 1944; perhaps less crudely. The deal was recorded on a piece of paper indicating the percentages of rival influences in each state.

A correspondent who is imparted such information as Reston was must be one who enjoys trust and respect not only for his integrity but also for his discretion and competence. Reston did not put in print all he was told. His interlocutors trusted him to use his discretion and they knew that he was knowledgeable to understand and weigh what he was told. A reporter must not serve as any one's mouthpiece or public relations officer. He must bring to bear independent and informed judgment on what he is told. This is particularly true of the vanishing tribe of the diplomatic correspondent. He must know the whole records to be able to judge each move and each policy pronouncement independently. Doubtless, independence can impair access. That is where ethics come in and that is what distinguishes a diplomatic correspondent from an unofficial spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs for whom proximity to power and access on its terms are all that matter.

John F. Stacks' description of the true craftsman is apt. "The good reporter needs to read more than he writes, to learn the antecedents of the story at hand. The reporter needs to be a striver, a person who wants to raise himself up, if not to the high status and accomplishments of top experts, at least high enough to reduce the gap of information and understanding between the source and reporter.

"A master reporter must stay outside the story, independent enough to make judgments about the truth of the matter, the wisdom of the participants, the likely consequences of events being reported. At the same time, he must be far enough inside the process to be known by knowledgeable sources, to be trusted, to have access to those who know the story" (emphasis added, throughout).

It must be a blend of "ambition and restraint", of the desire to reveal and the good sense to know what must remain confidential. The judgment must be his. "For the reporter, there is always danger lurking. Writing a story that is factually wrong can be damaging. Being seen as a propagandist for a particular source or a particular point of view is like-wise extremely destructive to the journalist's reputation. The combination of error and special pleading for a source is ruinous. These dangers increase in direct proportion to the fame and status of the reporter." But journalists there have been who have used fame and success as stepping stones, not to great access, but to a small place within the power structure.

John F. Stacks reported for Time for three decades and supervised its coverage of Watergate as News Editor in the Capital. He rose to be its Deputy Managing Editor. Reston has in him a biographer who is sympathetic and objective; neither a hagiographer nor debunker. He is conscious of Reston's greatness but critical of his lapses, He describes his fall from grace fully but fairly; with understanding and compassion. In doing so, he describes poignantly how it mirrors the rise and fall of American journalism itself. "Reston was the best journalist of his time, and perhaps the best of any time. He was a reporter of amazing skill, able to relieve powerful men of their most important secrets. He was a writer of easy, graceful prose who revolutionised the style in which American newspapers are written. As a columnist, he was a shaper of public opinion, an explicator of the Byzantine politics of Washington and the world. In his heyday, he was read by more Americans than any other single writer on public affairs. As a newspaper executive, he recruited men of enormous talent into the previously rather shabby career of journalism and inspired an entire later generation to join the trade. Together they raised the quality of journalism beyond what it had ever been. He was sceptical without ever lapsing into the current disease of American journalism: unrelieved cynicism. Men whom Reston recruited or supported became household names; to wit Anthony Lewis and David Halberstam.

Stacks' is not a biography in the grand tradition in which Ronald Steel wrote his classic Walter Lippmann and the American Century. But it is, within its framework, a first class work. Lippmann once said: "Newspapermen cannot be the cronies of great men... there always has to be a certain distance between high public officials and newspaper men. I would not say a wall or a fence, but an air space; that's very necessary."

But, as Reston wrote in his memoirs Deadline, "he was always lecturing me on the virtues of detachment - of avoiding personal involvement with influential officials or politicians. `Cronyism is the curse of journalism', he would say. But actually, he was more involved with them than any other major commentator I knew."

Lippmann left Washington when Lyndon B. Johnson began treating him to ridicule because of his opposition to the Vietnam war. Reston survived the antipathy but was cheated by Kissinger whom he had unwisely come to trust on the December 1972 bombing of Vietnam. Stacks mentions the fall early in the book and proceeds to show how it came about after a glittering career. "For more than three decades, nearly all his professional life, Scotty Reston successfully walked this thin and difficult line, an outsider-insider, trusting and being trusted, close to power but not seduced by it.

"But then, near the end of his career, some of Reston's greatest virtues became liabilities. He trusted the untrustworthy, apparently believing he was too important to be lied to. His commentary and reporting became suspect. He was seen as toadying during a very tense and dramatic time. Rather than the very model of what young reporters wanted to be, Reston became a symbol of what they didn't want to be: a shill and an apologist. The reputation he had built and sustained throughout a stellar career was sadly tarnished. His own colleagues, men whose careers Reston had nourished and supported, turned on him in public. He became in some circles, even among colleagues still working on the newspaper he helped make great, the personification of what the true journalist should not be."

The truth is that Reston was a centrist. In his heyday the big divide that disrupted the political process after Watergate did not exist. There was "a sense of common purpose with the government and political leaders", of the kind that existed in the Jawaharlal Nehru era and in Lal Bahadur Shastri's time. Indira Gandhi's autocratic ways disrupted that. Before we could recover, Advani - with Vajpayee in tow - created another divide to grab power - the Hindutva ideology. The middle ground suffered in space and content.

RESTON was so much the centrist that people wondered whether he would have probed the Watergate scandals as aggressively as The Washington Post did under the editorship of Ben Bradlee with the full support of the publisher Katherine Graham, a close friend of Reston.

Reston supported publication of the Pentagon Papers and fully backed David Halberstam who John F. Kennedy wanted to be removed from Vietnam as the Times' correspondent. "We can't buckle in that kind of stuff," Reston said.

But "the increasing polarisation of American politics was crowding out the moderate, establishmentarian approach that had made Reston such a powerful figure in the American press". Power had come with trust. Reston would file away for private use memos of talks that were unprintable. At a dinner Dulles mused about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against the Soviet Union.

Immediately after his bruising encounter with Khruschev in Vienna in 1961, Kennedy met Reston alone, by prior arrangement, rather than any colleague. He was visibly shaken. He told Reston that Khruschev had "savaged me". But what he added shook Reston. "Kennedy went on to say that to counter the battering by Khruschev, which he attributed to the Soviet leader's underestimation of Kennedy's resolve, the United States would have to stand more firmly against the Soviets' demands in Berlin and against the mounting Communist insurgency in South Vietnam". Reston wrote later that he was "speechless" when Kennedy mentioned Vietnam, since Vietnam was at that point "nowhere near the heart of the Cold War conflict and, in Reston's estimation, did not carry much weight in the superpower tug-of-war".

David Kaiser's book American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War demolishes the myth that Vienna led to the debacle in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Kennedy was anxious to make Khruschev understand that he could not block the West's access to Berlin. He wanted to avert war by miscalculation and invited Reston to Cape Cod. He told Reston that it would be "helpful" if he wrote on his own authority what Kennedy's firm position was. In a Column on September 6, 1961, ostentatiously datelined Hyannis Port, Reston did just that. "Nuclear war in such circumstances is not `unthinkable'."

Stacks comments: "The President of the United States had used Reston to send the most apocalyptic message imaginable: the United States was willing to go nuclear over Berlin. It certainly wasn't the first or last time a President had employed a newspaperman to play a card in a tough game of tacit bargaining. But the stakes in this game were the highest possible, and it was Reston who was the natural messenger. The column he produced is a masterpiece of balance... " Both Kennedy and Reston appreciated the need to put the message absolutely correctly. To ensure that, Reston submitted the column, or at least the critical warning paragraphs, to the White House for approval. He told his editors in New York he was doing so, and they agreed. As far as can be determined, this was the only time Reston ever did such a thing. Normally, submitting a written piece for approval by sources is among the most forbidden of all journalistic practices. Reston said later he was "not happy with this selective cooperation between officials and reporters". Stacks opines that the subject was of incredible sensitivity. "It is hard to argue with what he did, given what was at stake."

But Reston was not seduced. He was disturbed by Kennedy's hold on the mass media, especially on television and remarked presciently: "As this trend continues, the dangers are obvious. The opposition can continue to express its feelings on the floor of the Congress, probably in the presence of a handful of members and spectators, but the President has an audience of millions at his command any day he likes. It is not a situation that promises to maintain a political balance of power in the United States." In the U.S. the opposition was able later to use this very medium against the government. Can such a thing happen here?

Scotty, as he was called because he was born in Scotland, had deep insights. On JFK's assassination, he wrote: "The worst in the nation had prevailed over the best. The indictment extended beyond the assassin, for something in the nation itself, some strain of madness and violence, had destroyed the highest symbol of law and order."

RESTON acted as a messenger too when he met Fidel Castro. "Mr. President, do you mind if I change my hat. I'd like to put on my diplomatic hat, because I have a message for you from the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. He wants to begin negotiations to normalise relations with Cuba." The two decided that perhaps Ambassadors of their respective countries could meet in Madrid. He was neither the first nor the last journalist to undertake such a mission in the national interest. If overdone, such missions can blur the distinction between the reporter and the player. Stakes holds that the line was erased "dismayingly with his relationship with Kissinger, when he had come off the bench and onto the field. He was no longer an outsider with superb connections on the inside. He was a full-fledged insider, the wrong place for a respected journalist to be". How did that happen?

Reston had failed in New York as Managing Editor of the paper for which he was unsuited. His were gifts of reportage and analysis. He excelled as bureau chief in Washington and as diplomatic correspondent. A different situation greeted him when he returned to the capital. Nixon, who detested the press, was President and his cronies like H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman were real sources of information. Kissinger was the only source available and he was a splendid interlocutor - urbane, witty and relatively accessible. Reston moved far too close to him than was good for his reputation. Worse, he suspended disbelief.

Nixon had been re-elected. Kissinger returned from Paris with a peace deal. Reston praised him highly. Nixon, however, decided to bomb North Vietnam to demonstrate his support for the South. Reston did a story on December 13, 1972, based on his talks with Kissinger citing obstruction by Saigon, which was true. But he did not, could not, report what Kissinger had suppressed from him - he was privy to the decision to bomb Hanoi. That happened five days after the story was published. Kissinger now tried to distance himself from it and Reston was taken in by his claims. Kissinger "undoubtedly opposes" the bombing, he wrote and tried to explain Kissinger's compulsions. Reston's line had not gone unnoticed. The December 13 column was the last straw. It harmed his reputation. Reston had spiked the Pentagon reporter's story because it conflicted with his perceptions. The reporter was proved right.

Stacks writes: "Young journalists coming to Washington, especially in the Kennedy and Johnson years, aspired to be Scotty Reston. But then, as those in power fell under suspicion and Reston came under attack for defending the powerful, it was Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the relentless reporters who helped expose the Watergate cover-up, who became the role models for young journalists everywhere." In 2002, Woodward emerged as a PRO for George W. Bush with his disgraceful book Bush at War (Frontline, January 31, 2003).

BILL CLINTON'S presidency established a new order. There was "systematic lying from the highest official in the land, hounded by a mean and destructive press". Cynicism is reciprocal. Stacks laments: "Today's leaders' first instinct is to `spin', which is a nice way of saying that they refuse even a modicum of candor... . The press itself doesn't provide much reason for hope. The ethic of disbelief in politicians and their pronouncements is still powerful. Much of the press is now part of huge corporate enterprises. This often produces coverage that is either sycophantic, to protect those corporations' relationship with the government or stupidly sensationalistic, in order to pump readership and revenue."

But the palm must go to his subject James B. Reston for a brilliant description of Johnson's tragic blunders in Vietnam. They were fuelled by a "combination of ignorance, vanity, and booze - increasingly from booze as his disappointments mounted. First, he knew little or nothing of the enemy or the guerilla war he was fighting. Second, he had supreme confidence that the United States could do anything it set its mind to, and thought money and machines were the answer to any test of power, and third - a touch of racism here - that America was superior and that `these little brown men", as he called the Vietnamese, would run into the rice paddies at the sight of American troops and modern weapons". Omit, the booze which belongs to his past - and you have a strikingly accurate description of the ruin wrought by George W. Bush, a much smaller man than Johnson, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sadly the ones who perform in the American press today cannot even be called the poor man's James B. Reston. It says a lot for the man's insights that in a column published on August 21, 1983, he wrote: "We have won the Cold War and don't know it." He explained why: "The Soviets are the most spectacular failure of the century. The Russian people don't believe in them. The Communist parties of Western Europe no longer regard Moscow's economic theories as a model for their societies." This was well before Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and 18 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

SCOTTY: James B. Reston and the Rise and Fall of American Journalism by John F. Stacks; Little, Brown and Company; pages 372, $29.95

In tune with tradition

ONE of the striking features of Tamil language and literature, which has a rich and almost unbroken history that spans over 2,000 years, is that even while being accommodative of and flexible to changes and experiments at different times, from the Sangam Age (300 B.C. to A.D. 300) to the present day, it has also been influenced by passionate attempts to retain the quintessence of its heritage in the form of grammar or literary rules and conventions.

It is not surprising, therefore, that contemporary Tamil literature can still boast of a significant presence of writers, on the one hand those who experiment with the various literary schools such as modernism, post-modernism, realism, surrealism and existentialism, and on the other those who stick to traditional forms.

The popular lyricist and poet R. Vairamuthu is among those who take pride in the Tamil heritage and swear by the traditional form's capacity to convey with ease modern and even complicated ideas. He is not, however, averse to change or modernism and he uses with equal felicity free verse (puthu kavithai in Tamil), wherever it suits him. For him, content is more important than the form. In respect of both poetry and film lyrics, Vairamuthu inherited a rich legacy. Eminent poets such as Subramanya Bharathi (1882-1921), whose patriotic songs in support of the Independence movement and immortal poetic works such as Paanchali Sapatham, heralded the age of modern poetry in Tamil, and his principal disciple Bharathidasan alias Kanaga Subburathinam, who was the pioneering poet and playwright of the Dravidian movement, took poetry to great heights. Similarly, between the 1940s and the 1970s, there was a long line of film lyricists such as Udumalai Narayana Kavi, Kambadasan, Marudakasi and Kannadasan, who churned out thousands of captivating film songs, many of which were of great literary merit.

Vairamuthu arrived on the literary scene in the second half of the 1970s with a post-graduate degree in Tamil Literature. He was seen as a poet of high promise and potential, thanks to the success of his first collection of poems, Vaigarai Megangal (Clouds at dawn), which hit the stands while he was still in college. He entered the world of films in 1980. It was a turbulent period in the politico-cultural history of Tamil Nadu. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the leaders of the Dravidian Movement, through their forceful writings, helped foster pride in the minds of the people for the Tamil heritage and a love for Tamil language and literature. But after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) captured power in the State in 1967 riding a wave of anti-Hindi sentiments that it had aroused over the years, the movement lost steam as many of the leaders were preoccupied with governmental and political responsibilities. It was also the time when the usefulness of Tamil as a medium of instruction began to be questioned and English-medium schools started mushrooming in the State, with middle-class support.

In the realm of Tamil poetry, traditionalism, which had been drawing strong support from the writers of the Dravidian Movement, began losing ground. After the success of Karuppu Malargal (Black Flowers) by Na. Kamarasan and Kanavugal + Karpanaigal = Kagithangal (Fancies + Fantasies = Scraps) by Meera (M. Rajendran), both in the form of prose poem, a number of young poets who wrote mainly on social themes, especially their concern for the poor and the underprivileged, began opting for the free verse. Puviarasu, Sirpi (Balasubramaniam), Mu. Mehta, Bala and Chidambaranathan, among others, emerged as poets of the new era. They wrote in free verse poems that revolved around socialist ideas, for the magazine Vaanampadi (Skylark). They were engaged in a fierce struggle with the traditionalists, mostly academics, on the one hand, and with a group of poets writing for the periodical named Kachatathapara on the other. Although the latter favoured free verse, it had different objectives. An outstanding poet of the time, Abdul Rahman, became part of the Vanampadi movement after his work Paalveedhi, published in 1974, proved a success. Although the movement ultimately succeeded in winning the approval of Marxist critics such as Kailasapathi, who had been critical of free verse, its poetic activity slowed down during the days of the Emergency (1975-77). (R. Balachandran, Stalin's Plays and Other Essays on Contemporary Tamil Literature, 1999.) The 1970s saw the emergence of a new Marxist group among writers, including Gandharvan and Senthilnathan.

Another important development in the mid-1970s related to Tamil cinema. Film directors and script writers such as Bharathiraja and Bagyaraj emerged on the scene with movies on rural themes. And, the camera, for the first time, moved to the villages. Until then, most of the Tamil films were city-based and dealt with themes relating mostly to middle class urban life. Films were shot only in studios based in Chennai. Bharatiraja broke new ground by taking Tamil cinema to the villages. He, along with music director Ilayaraja succeeded in providing folk music a prominent place. For Vairamuthu, who had taken up a government job in Chennai and published his second collection of poems Thiruthi Ezhuthiya Theerppugal (Rewritten judgments) in 1976, the moment to fulfil his long-cherished ambition to enter the field of cinema had come. His rural background and his acquaintance with the new poetical forms helped him in a big way. He was signed up for Bharathiraja's Nizhalgal. By teaming up with the Bharathiraja-Ilayaraja combine, he produced some of the best musicals of the 1980s, just as Kannadasan had in the 1950s and 1960s teamed up with music directors M. S. Viswanathan and Ramamurthi to produce some memorable melodies. From then on, it has been success all the way for Vairamuthu.

Even while writing film songs, Vairamuthu wrote poems for periodicals, which were only too eager to offer space to the popular lyricist who had attained star status. In both fields he made indelible imprints - in less than 25 years he penned more than 5,000 film songs and authored 32 books, most of them collections of poems. Kallikkattu Edhikasam (The Epic of Kallikkadu), which won him the Sahitya Akademi Award for 2003, is one of his seven novels. In 2003, the civilian honour of Padma Shree was conferred on him in appreciation of his contribution to literature. The Tamil Nadu government has also honoured him with several awards. He has won the national film award for the best film song five times.

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VAIRAMUTHU is essentially a romantic poet. Many of his poems display his passion for Tamil language and literature and his adoration for the themes of love and valour, which occupy a special place in Tamil life and psyche. Artistic representations, from the Sangam Age to the present day, celebrate these two characteristics. With his scholarship and craftsmanship, the poet does it with aplomb. His fine imagery, fantastic imagination, strong vocabulary and wise choice of words and the way in which he weaves them into enjoyable poems/songs have ensured his popularity with both readers and listeners.

A Drop in Search of The Ocean is the first English translation of Vairamuthu's selected poems in Tamil. The collection comprises 58 poems, which were written at different times. Beginning with `Oh, New Millennium' and ending with `The Last Will', the book meanders through a range of subjects such as the "disappearance" of a river in southern Tamil Nadu, the enchanting beauty of the Niagara Falls, environmental degradation, the need to love animals, the frustration of a 37-year-old spinster, and the cries of a woman whose hovel is about to be dismantled by the custodians of law.

As rightly pointed out by the translator, the poet, like most of his ilk, "is essentially the happiest when he is the closest to Nature". The poet approaches the new millennium with extreme fear, not entirely unfounded given the rise in discord between nations, the competitive stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, the growing threat to the life of the poor and the blood-letting across the country over petty issues. However, he ends the poem with an optimistic appeal to the new millennium to bring "a nation sans sorrow" and "the gift of peace of mind". In `The Leaf', the poet turns philosophical about death when he sees a leaf being shed from a tree. The leaf asks the tree not to grieve over its death because "This is not the end/but a new beginning... To the branch shall I/ in some other form/ return through the roots."

While lamenting over the fate of a river he loved so much in his boyhood, the poet compares the river's shrinking to "the only saree of the old woman in the thatched hut" shrinking and becoming "threadbare". He concludes, "What was once/the grand thoroughfare/of poesy/is now/the one-track footpath/of jackasses." Standing before the Niagara Falls, he wonders: "Who is that has laundered the water/and set it out to dry/in the crevices between the rocks?" In `When Poet Becomes Scientist...' the poet, in his childlike desire, expresses his "yearning" to gaze upon the phenomenon of a bud blossoming exactly "at the instant" it happens and to listen to "the minute sounds unfolding petals make."

`Nest' tells the agony of a poor woman whose little home built on public land is sought to be demolished by government officials. She tells the officials how she built her home: "By saving thriftily and through back-breaking labour," by pledging her gold nose-screw and selling off her brass pitcher. When she realises that her desperate pleadings with the officials might not work, she makes one final appeal to them to spare, at least, a jasmine vine that her daughter had planted: May the vine "planted with love" be left undisturbed so that it can "bloom for someone."

Some of the poems in the collection display the poet's anger at the atrocities committed against the defenceless and his humane response to events that take place across the world. Whether it is the death of somebody in a plane crash or the killing of a helpless migrant bird, the poet gets deeply affected and records his protest against the "inhuman" action and the obvious irony in "making food of a bird" that came in search of food.

The difficulty in translating poems of this nature is evident. Yet, the translator, Balan Menon, has met the challenging and "daunting" task with reasonable success, "remaining faithful to the remarkable poet's diction and imagery, his vision and emotional intensity."

Interestingly, although Vairamuthu's forte is poetry, it is his novel that won him the Sahitya Akademi award. The book is considered the first Tamil novel on displacement. It tells the tragic tale of a large number of people who lost their homes and belongings when their villages perished following the construction of a dam across the river Vaigai in southern Tamil Nadu in the 1950s. The affected people included the family of the author, who was four years old then. Vairamuthu's moving narrative, which describes the agony of the affected, announces another dimension of his many-sided talent. The book, published in 2002, was a bestseller.

WHAT are the factors that facilitated the rise of a person like Vairamuthu, who was born in 1953 into an average peasant family in a small village in the then Madurai district to such levels of pre-eminence? Vairamuthu believes that it was possible not merely because of his academic qualification but because of his deep attachment to his village and the love and affection he has for almost everyone in the village. "Even at the tender age of ten years, I had a realisation that I was destined to choose a career that somehow related to Tamil," says the poet. Apart from the formal education he received in Tamil language and literature, for which he had a passion from his school days, the knowledge he acquired from village elders, including his grandparents, helped him prepare for his chosen career as a poet and lyricist. "Every bit of information that I gathered and knowledge acquired from my elders was and is useful to me," he says. "Many of these people may be unlettered, but they are not unwise," he explains. The stories from the epics that his grandparents told him, the sparks of their native wisdom in times of crises, the folk songs he heard, the proverbs ("containers of experiences"), and the songs that agricultural workers sang while toiling in the fields were all sources of wisdom. "These apart, I know each and every aspect of village life. I know everyone of my village by name. I have worked on our land and I have practical knowledge of every agricultural operation, from ploughing to harvesting. When I left my village for higher studies and later for taking up a job in Chennai, I did not cut my umbilical cord that linked me with the village," Vairamuthu says. It is this unbroken link with his village, he says, that keeps him in good stead. "Even today, I go to my village to refurbish myself.

He is proud of his Tamil ancestry. His acquaintance with Sangam literature familiarised him with the traditional forms of poetry. Consequently, he developed a passion for the Tamil literary traditions. Vairamuthu has also a fairly good grounding in world literature. Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), the Lebanese-born American writer and artist, is one of his favourite authors. Among the poets who have influenced him are Bharathi, Bharathidasan and Kannadasan, and numerous Tamil poets including Siddhars, Nayanmars and Azhwars.

AS a film lyricist, it was his love for Nature and rural life and, above all, constant practice that have helped his career. His objective has been to fill the essence of literature in film songs to the extent possible and he claims to have achieved reasonable success in this endeavour. In the years to come, he says, he wants to reduce further the gap between poems and film songs in terms of literary value. Describing Vairamuthu as a "competent and frontline modern poet", the critic Bala (R. Balachandran) says that although he is a modern poet, "his language is traditional, his vocabulary has all the flavour of a traditional scholar, and his metaphors, images and hyperboles reveal that he is a traditional poet who addresses modern themes."

The noted poet Gandharvan says that Vairamuthu has been able to retain the potency of his poems for well over two decades. "While a section of writers is engaged in making terse statements in the name of poems on obscurantist ideas in an incomprehensible language, Vairamuthu has been able to write poems in a simple but moving style on very relevant issues with a social perspective," he points out. Gandharvan is also appreciative of the consistency in his approach to problems concerning the common man and says that he has been expressing "progressive ideas, in an optimistic tone". Vairamuthu says that he will continue to write on social issues in popular magazines. One of his recent writings is about the "monster of globalisation," in which he tellingly explains the havoc caused by policies driven by the World Bank and the United States on the poor in developing countries over the past 10 years.

Bala says that Vairamuthu's reputation "as is well-known" is built on his film-lyrics - "an asset and liability to his creative career as writer of poetry". Vairamuthu is, however, confident of continuing on his chosen path of "writing for the people".

A Drop in Search of The Ocean: Best Poems of Vairamuthu, original Tamil poems translated by Balan Menon, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2003; Rs.395. Kallikattu Edhikasam, Vairamuthu Surya Literature (P) Ltd., Chennai 2002; Rs.200.

Jobs and a campaign

IF there was a lot of anxiety when the Senate gave its assent to an amendment relating to outsourcing on January 22, leading Democrats showed recently that they are behind none in politicking.

It happened in the wake of the remark by the Chairman of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, Gregory Mankiw, that outsourcing by American companies was "just a new way of doing international trade" and that it "is probably a plus for the economy in the long run". The Democrats were `outraged' that the White House was being "insensitive" to the plight of Americans losing jobs, and that Bush was pleasing Corporate America at the expense of the worker. Although noted economists and analysts explained that Mankiw was only trying to make some sense of the issue in terms of the economic gains that would be made, it did not count in the realm of politics. Another move that will pick up steam in the days ahead is the introduction of the Jobs for America Act in the Senate.

The White House was on the defensive and so was Mankiw, who went on to say that his comments were misinterpreted. "My lack of clarity left the wrong impression that I praised the loss of jobs." In a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mankiw said: "It is regrettable whenever anyone loses a job." Hastert, a prominent Republican, disagreed with Mankiw's comment. He said that "his theory fails a basic test of real economics". Hastert's comment was no less than a signal to the White House.

The President was not far behind trying to undo the damage done by his top economic expert. "I don't worry about numbers, I worry about people. There are still some people looking for work because of the recession. There are people looking for work because jobs have gone overseas.... We need to act to make sure that there are more jobs at home and people are more likely to retain a job," Bush said.

But Mankiw had done the "damage" and the Democrats were in no mood to listen to the damage-control experts at the White House or elsewhere. "This week Americans learnt something important. Exporting jobs isn't an accident - it's administration policy," remarked the top Democrat in the Senate, Tom Daschle, at a press conference called to spell out details of the Jobs for America Act.

"This is Alice in Wonderland economics. America has lost 2.9 million private sector jobs since January 2001. Nearly every State in the nation has lost manufacturing jobs and contrary to the administration's economic theories, there is nothing good about it. The administration is putting corporate profits ahead of American jobs," Daschle said.

The Jobs for America Act would require companies that lay off 15 or more workers to explain why they are being moved and where they are going; employees who are going to be laid off would have to be given notice at least three months in advance. The legislation would require companies to notify the Department of Labour and other relevant agencies at the State and local levels and the Department of Labour would have to compile statistics of "offshored" jobs and report them to Congress on an annual basis.

It remains to be seen how the Bill works its way through Congress. But it is for real and in an election year law-makers can move pretty fast when their political interests are at stake. In a larger perspective, the Democrats have decided to make outsourcing one of their major poll planks. No amount of objective economic analysis is going to matter at this stage.

Linked to the debate on outsourcing is the issue of certain professional visas; law-makers have started setting their sights on L visas - the L-1As, which are applicable to senior managers/executives, and the L-1Bs, which are reserved for workers with "specialised knowledge". At a Congressional hearing not too long ago, law-makers seemed intent on coming to grips with the perceived abuses in the processing of L visas, especially because it pertained to those in the category of "specialised knowledge".

India is one of the countries that have been targeted for the so-called blatant abuse of what constituted "specialised knowledge"; and there is the charge that Indian companies are involved in sub-contracting and they win contracts in the U.S. and bring workers from home to fill the positions. Another allegation is that Indian companies are trying to circumvent the numbers cap in the H-1B visas by utilising the L visas. Most of the allegations have been refuted by Indian coporations, but it might not make a difference at a time when economic growth and loss of white-collar jobs are highly sensitive issues in the U.S.

India may account for only about 20,413 L-1 visas of a total of about 3,14,000 issued for Fiscal 2002. But the fact remains that any tightening of the visa regime will affect Indian companies that have been relying on this category. Knowledgeable sources make the point that the first hit will come from law-makers by way of a definitional squeeze on what constituted "specialised knowledge". The broad charge against some companies is that they bring in workers without the "specialised knowledge" that is mandated by the visa.

Turning inward

In a move that can help the Republican administration win political plaudits in an election year, the U.S. Senate approves a Bill whose provisions on curbing outsourcing are likely to have a direct impact on India, especially its software industry.

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EVEN the most ardent of India-backers on Capitol Hill could not have done much about it. The Senate has given its final consent to an omnibus spending Bill whose provision on outsourcing will directly hit India.

No one expected President George W. Bush to veto such a massive spending Bill just because there was a small paragraph that could hurt countries such as India. Although the Democrats were quite annoyed with some of the provisions of the $328-billion spending Bill, they felt that bringing the government to a standstill in an election year might not be the smartest thing to do.

The Bill states that "an activity or function of an executive agency that is converted to a contractor performance under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 may not be performed by the contractor at a location outside the United States except to the extent that such activity or function was previously performed by Federal government employees outside the United States".

The law will affect only contracts that are outsourced by U.S. federal agencies; it will not impact private sector "offshoring". Technically, it will remain in effect only until the end of the current U.S. fiscal year. But if current sentiments are anything to go by, there is a strong possibility that the period will be extended.

The provision on outsourcing was introduced through an amendment in spite of the fact that the Chambers of Commerce and the private sector had misgivings that it would undermine the ability of American companies to compete with rivals overseas.

According to informed observers, the amendment, spearheaded by Ohio Senator George Voinovich, was clearly a political move and the direct damage by way of economic loss to India could be "very little" - between 2 per cent and 5 per cent of the country's total software exports.

But if there was uncertainty on the value of federal-level contracts going "offshore", there was no doubt about the bad precedent that has been set by the amendment. The real apprehension is that the eight State Assemblies, which failed to get some kind of anti-offshoring Bills passed in 2003, might try their hands again. The State Assemblies could take the cue from Congress and say that contractors getting federal funds ought to use those funds within the State.

Last year States such as Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina tried to curb outsourcing, but failed. Indications are that some of these States will make yet another attempt and could be joined by others who are part of the anti-outsourcing bandwagon.

It is pointed out that cash-strapped States could benefit enormously from outsourcing, but politicians at the federal and the State levels are keen on having it both ways - savings without job movement. In a presidential and congressional election year, the focus is more on the districts and constituents.

At the federal level, there is a danger that the debate on outsourcing might enter the realm of the private sector. While the argument has been that Congress cannot specifically tell the private sector how to go about its business, it can give out incentives or tighten the existing tax regimes to force them to act in a particular fashion.

It is being pointed out that in an election year, when the President, 435 Members of the House of Representatives, 34 Senators and 11 Governors are in the electoral fray and the job scenario is particularly sensitive, outsourcing will remain a serious issue. All sensible economic arguments are likely to take the back seat.

In the immediate context, the question being raised is whether India could have done anything at all to prevent the amendment from coming through. One assessment is that official India did all it possibly could to ensure that the amendment was not India-specific. The point made in some circles is that relevant administration officials were informed about its effect on India and its long-term implications for the U.S. Law-makers at the House of Representatives and the Senate were fully briefed. According to senior diplomats, the notion that the Indian Embassy was not aware of the going on or was somehow caught flat-footed is "totally wrong".

Critics of outsourcing have been arguing that the U.S. had become somewhat complacent in the 1990s about the loss of jobs to overseas markets and that if the present tendency continued, more than three million white-collar jobs would have moved out of the country by 2015; according to one estimate, at least six million jobs from North America could move to India before the end of the decade. It is being acknowledged that private sector jobs are not moving to India for nothing - the costs are about one-third and the country has a "tech-savvy", English-speaking workforce. Even within the year it is said that offshore outsourcing to India will rise by about 30 per cent as executives in the private sector look for ways to develop facilities in low-cost countries, which include China, Russia, Brazil and those in Eastern Europe.

There are some who argue that the negative implications of outsourcing are exaggerated and are largely a part of media-driven campaign characterised by "horror" stories of Americans thrown out of their jobs by the very persons whom they help train. In fact, some economists and researchers point out that by seeking lower software prices overseas, American companies are becoming more productive and are able to hire more workers; and if low-cost countries such as India and China develop, they will become more sought-after markets in the long term. Further, it is pointed out that if American companies are able to save money through outsourcing it would lead to the freeing of additional resources for high-tech research. The bottom line, according to those favouring outsourcing, is that one cannot have it both ways - argue about the imperative of making globalisation work and then say that outsourcing is not good for America.

The warning against America turning inward came from none other than the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan, who recently made the point that measures to protect domestic industries would not only impact American living standards but also have a debilitating effect on the world economy. "The evidence is simply too compelling that our mutual interests are best served by promoting the free flow of goods and services among our increasingly flexible and dynamic economies," Greenspan noted. The consequences of the U.S. moving in the direction of protectionism "in today's far more globalised financial world could be unexpectedly destabilising," he said.

In fact, there are no precise figures on the number of service workers who have lost their jobs. Politicians in the U.S. who talk passionately about local job losses cannot put a finger on any kind of statistic. "I don't know the figures but many people are losing their jobs to outsourcing," Congressman Frank Pallone was recently quoted as saying in India Abroad. A recent report in The Wall Street Journal says that the estimate of service workers' loss in the U.S. over the past three years is between 250,000 and 500,000. According to Brenden Barber, Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress, a British labour confederation, an estimated two million service jobs could be outsourced from wealthy nations over the next five years.

For all its lectures to the outside world on the virtues of free trade and globalisation, the Bush administration has not been able to come to the defence of India in this particular instance. In fact, many senior officials of the Republican administration have been making all the right noises on the issue of outsourcing, but opposing the Voinovich Amendment in an election year would have meant sending the wrong signals to Ohio, which George W. Bush is keen on winning this November along with other States in the midwest and the northeast.

The same goes for the Democratic presidential hopefuls, and at least one of them, the current frontrunner Senator John Kerry, has had some serious thoughts about outsourcing. He has said that he is not against the phenomenon per se, but would look at tax changes to discourage the shifting of jobs overseas and would require overseas call centres to identify themselves.

Outsourcing is only one of the issues that India will have to grapple with. Agenda-makers in the U.S. have also managed to place curbs on highly qualified and skilled persons from India entering the U.S. on H-1B visas. From a peak of 195,000 visas that used to be granted, the number fell to 65,000 last year.

The fight against hunger

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN world-affairs

The National Food Security Summit held in New Delhi calls upon political parties to accord high priority to food security with a view to eradicating chronic hunger by 2007.

THE National Food Security summit, scheduled over three days in the first week of February in Delhi, was planned as an occasion to mobilise opinion across the political spectrum in the cause of a programme that would ensure the end of hunger and chronic undernourishment by 2007. In the event, it was overtaken by political concerns of a more partisan character, with the beginning of frenetic preparations to fight national elections whose central themes would be whether or not the country is really "shining" and its people really are "feeling good".

The organisers of the summit - the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) - duly truncated the event to two days in order to adjust to the mood of distraction among the political parties. But in submitting the "Summit Statement" to the public, the chairman of the MSSRF, Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, placed on record his expectation that following the elections, the food security imperative would gain cross-party political recognition, paving the way for the adoption of a programme of action that would have a realistic chance of meeting the 2007 deadline.

The scenario is rife with seeming contradictions. Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, who delivered the Coromandel lecture at the summit, seemed implicitly to endorse the production-oriented approach towards food security. The most consequential invention of the 20th century, he said, could well have been the Haber-Bosch process, which allowed the fixing of atmospheric nitrogen in inorganic chemicals that could, in turn, be applied on the soil to enhance its fertility. Without this breakthrough in technology, global food supplies would simply not have been capable of sustaining an increase in world population from one billion at the beginning of the century, to six billion at its end.

Sachs pointed out though, that there are serious gaps in the argument that productivity enhancement serves to bring about food security. India had ridden the wave of the "green revolution" to achieve a degree of surplus in certain crucial food crops. In this respect, it stood on a different footing from much of Africa, which had missed out on the green revolution. Yet, India remained home to over a quarter of the world's chronically undernourished population.

A recent report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), indicates that over a fifth of India's population still suffers from chronic hunger. Indeed, India is one among 17 countries where the number of the undernourished increased substantially in the second half of the 1990s.Tracking the incidence of hunger in India over three reference periods - 1990-92, 1995-97 and 1999-2001 - the FAO plots an initial decline from 214.5 million to 194.7 million, before a near total reversal of all gains pushed up the number of the undernourished to 213.7 million.

In partial recognition of these grim realities, the Planning Commission has proposed that the Tenth Five Year Plan could shift the focus of food policy from aggregate, quantitative figures at the national level, to an individual-oriented, life-cycle based notion of nutritional adequacy and security. The summit endorsed this switch of emphasis and urged that "a life-cycle approach to nutrition interventions" be adopted. A life-cycle approach would focus especially on the stages that are most vital for ensuring healthy growth: pregnancy and lactation in the case of women, and early infancy, pre-school years, and the school-going years in the case of the entire population.

This apart, there is a need to enhance farm productivity "in perpetuity (and) without ecological harm". The irrationalities of the first Green Revolution, which often led to ecological damage and land degradation through excess use of fertilizer and the misapplication of water resources, are to be remedied and a strategic switch effected to more ecologically benign practices. A direct attack on poverty and hunger is then proposed through "improving the purchasing power" of the "socially and economically under-privileged sections of society".

The elimination of hunger also calls for a geographical focus on arid-zone and rain-fed agriculture. In most cases, this approach would dovetail with a direct approach towards the poorer sections, through a programme of promoting producer cooperatives that would enable more efficient and effective backward linkages towards input and technology sources and forward linkages towards remunerative markets.

UNDERLYING all these prescriptions in the recommendations of the summit, of course, is the perceived imperative of population stabilisation. An Atlas of the Sustainability of Food Security, which was released on the occasion, provides a more detailed account of the consequences of population growth, focussing especially on the ecological dimensions. But, if there is any lesson to be drawn from the aggregate of factors listed in the Atlas that have a bearing on population growth rate, it is that this is not a parameter that is amenable to direct control. In fact, chronic food and livelihood insecurity are known to provide a strong incentive for high reproductive behaviour, trapping the poor in a vicious cycle. Breaking this cycle may be a matter of direct empowerment of the poor through assets and assured sources of income.

A number of indices are employed in the Atlas to arrive at a composite index of the sustainability of food security. These include the net area sown, food production per capita, forest cover, availability of surface and groundwater, relative proportion of land degradation, extent of crop diversification, proportion of land sown with leguminous crops which help in fixing nitrogen, the average size of landholdings, the incidence of landless labour and various others. The composite index reveals that the food supply and distribution could be categorised as "extremely unsustainable" in one state, Nagaland. The situation in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Tamil Nadu feature in the "unsustainable" category. Among the agriculturally dynamic States, Punjab, Haryana feature alongside Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra in the "moderately unsustainable" category. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, because of the fairly widespread prevalence of subsistence-oriented agriculture, relatively undisturbed by commercialisation and the market calculus, are classified in the "sustainable" category. The rest are in what is called "moderately sustainable" category.

The bleak conclusion is that no State is free of problems, though each State provides room for optimism on particular kinds of policy actions that could mitigate the situation. The improvements in health care achieved in Assam and Himachal Pradesh, the food affordability achieved in Jammu and Kashmir, for instance, offer pointers to the policy actions that could enhance overall welfare in other States. From Kerala and Karnataka come the lesson that food security status can be improved through the direct provision of nutritional entitlements to all sections.

Underlying all these approaches, perhaps, is the common element of economic empowerment. This requires not merely the restoration of the shrinking asset bases of most of the vulnerable people, but the restitution of their rights to common property resources which have been eroded and encroached upon by commercialisation. The food security summit stops short of making this an explicit requirement of public policy. But the large-scale reform of property institutions is an unstated imperative in their approach. The wave of democratic decentralisation of the 1990s may have created a greater degree of political empowerment at the local level. But the agenda remains unfinished while the ownership of the economic assets base remains skewed against the poor.

Different strokes

A major exhibition of art in Singapore based on Chinese calligraphy highlights the ways in which language, genres and images flow freely across time and space.

HO HO YING and Teo Eng Seng employ Chinese calligraphy only to exhort us to `See It. Feel It. Love It', as the title of their recent joint art exhibition in Singapore goes. The exhibition was organised by the Modern Art Society, Singapore, between October and November 2003 at the TKS Gallery. They do not expect their viewers to be literate in Chinese. In a conversation with the reviewer during the show, Teo Eng Seng admitted that he was illiterate in Chinese calligraphy unlike Ho Ho Ying who was well versed in it.

In any event, their works transform the calligraphic strokes, at an apparent level, into representational and non-representational images, in a typical modernist vein. They deploy the predominantly gestural characteristics of calligraphy to reinforce an arbitrary attribute of their brushwork (Figure 1).

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At a deeper level, however, the external characteristics of calligraphy do not merely reinforce the flatness of the picture space in the ways in which such aesthetic options were favoured during the 1950s and 1960s much beyond Europe. The works eschew, with remarkable freshness, further explorations into the known aesthetic elements of, say, surface and textures.

In other words, Ho Ying and Eng Seng appropriate calligraphy in such a way that the resulting images become visual subtexts. The subversive act of invoking a language only to undermine its textual content is a direct witness to this. The very title "See it. Feel it. Love it." foregrounds, for instance, these distinct expectations from the viewers. In turn, the show shifts attention from the readability of the artworks to a more effective participatory role of the viewers.

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An installation piece by Teo Eng Seng, "Together" in the show is directly to the point ( Figure 2). It literally appropriates the viewers as well as the gallery space as its material. The work transforms the gallery space in such a way that the viewers become an indispensable part of the work with their limbs enacting parts of the calligraphic gesture in the work. (I am grateful to Tay Kiam Hong, another acclaimed artist in Singapore, for drawing my attention to this.)

It proposes a mock serious distance that separates the viewers from a fictional horizon that is located away from them within the gallery (Figure 3). Teo Eng Seng, in a number of his two-dimensional works included in the show, constantly addresses such fictional spaces by employing layers upon layers of his chosen material. He employs hand made paper, through a process that he has named paperdyesculp, for creating multiple layers of surfaces.

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Ho Ho Ying, on the other hand, merges the surface with the calligraphic characters in his compositions. The formal characteristics of the text and the image are integrated to reinforce the unique visual subtexts he proposes. His works seem to privilege sensory experiences, at the outset, by undermining analytical interpretations. However, they actually pay tribute to the alliance between image and text in such a way that neither of them is reduced to its apparent meaning.

The surface in "Restructure IV" (Figure 4), for instance, is reinforced through multiple colours that interlace and vibrate in such a way that neither of them can be reduced to a simplistic one-dimensional form or meaning. A baffling maze of calligraphic strokes overlap and define the composition through a marked stress on expressionist gestures. As Tao Eng Seng pointed out in a conversation with the reviewer during the show, calligraphy is calligraphy if we do not understand it. It is, in fact, a reminder of the complex issue that we do not get what we see in a language, visual or otherwise. It is an ever-expanding process suggesting the ways in which surface and depth constantly collaborate.

Ho Ho Ying and Teo Eng Seng's invocation of calligraphy and its related dimensions inevitably lead to the vexed issues of tradition especially as they appropriate the other conventional genre of painting. Their unique works hightlight with exceptional playfulness and wit the ways in which language, genres and images flow freely across time and space. Moreover, what results as a hybrid identity is but a potential beginning, considering the privileged position that the artists accord to their viewers

Memories of a home

cinema

Supriyo Sen's Way Back Home (India) bagged the Golden Conch, the Special Jury and Best Film awards at MIFF 2004. The tender, poignant film looks into serious issues with the human interest intact as the filmmaker takes his parents back to their `homeland', now in Bangladesh, 50 years after Partition forced them to flee their home. On the trip they recall how the cry `Allaho Akbar' signalled the launch of massacre and rape. They also remember with tears how their Muslim neighbours hid them through the months of trauma and took them across the border safely. Returning to the old haunts is a bitter-sweet experience. The couple realise that their home exists only in memory. But the son finds he is not bereft of dreams. Supriyo Sen spoke to Gowri Ramnarayan on the making of this film. Excerpts from the interview.

What made you choose this theme?

I grew up with all these stories of violence, hair's-breadth escapes, the migration of thousands. Though this remains a major catastrophe of the subcontinent, the issue has not been seriously addressed like the way Europe has dealt with the holocaust. Morevoer, with the spotlight on Punjab, few know the damage in East Pakistan.

The most moving part in the film was your finding your lost aunt's family. Your newfound cousin tells you how she treasured her Hindu heritage though married to a Muslim, and how her in-laws respected her wishes. Did it happen by chance?

Absolutely. How could we hope to find a family member after 50 years of silence? My aunt didn't leave her homeland, she faced the atrocities, and brought up her children to respect people of another faith. Amazing! Now my cousin is fighting there for the rights of minorities.

Your father is thrilled to be able to talk in his own dialect to the boatman in Bangladesh. "No one understands these words in Kolkata," he says ruefully. That is when we see what a sense of belonging actually means. But what made you take your parents to the land of their birth after half a century in Kolkata?

They had a mental block, thought they could never go back. In a way it was true, but the physical journey across the borders and being welcomed by the people `over there' became a catharsis for them. All those years nobody except fellow refugees listened to their story, or understood their pain. Now they could share their experiences with listeners, viewers. They came back sad and happy.

Gandhi is a compelling presence in your film. But why have you used so little footage on Partition?

I don't have a mania for using footage and changing images. I knew that my parents' faces would register the universal tragedy of displacement, not just the words, but their expressions. I focussed on them. Gandhi! As my father says in the film, as long as he was alive, there was hope for people on both sides. When I was young I was with naxalite groups, but now I feel that non-violence is the only way we can co-exist with others.

What were the sad-happy discoveries for you on `the way back home'?

So depressing to learn from history that so much evil had been done in the name of religion. I took a small camera - no sound system either - and tried to shoot as if I was a tourist. So many Bangladeshis helped me to shoot secretly. All this proved that we can co-exist happily. Religions may differ, but our Bengali culture is the same. Actually, human culture everywhere is essentially the same.

At the end, neither you nor your parents find the homeland. Yet you are not dejected?

There is hope as long as people don't give up protesting against violence, whether in India, or Vietnam or Iraq.

Frictions to the fore

The recent visit of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to India with the stated aim of resuming global trade negotiations only serves to highlight the continuing discord between the two countries on a range of trade issues.

ROBERT ZOELLICK, the United States Trade Representative, stopped in New Delhi for a meeting with Union Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley on February 16. His visit was part of a cycle involving other major trading nations, and the purported agenda was nothing less than the resumption of stalled global trade negotiations. But the official statement issued on the occasion was almost cursory on this main item of the agenda, confining itself to a formal reiteration of both countries' intention to "engage constructively" in moving the negotiations forward. This almost routine statement though, was overshadowed by a very public articulation of discord on a range of other issues.

Jaitley focussed on the new protectionist fervour possessing the U.S., leading to exploratory legislation in some States that would severely curtail the freedom currently enjoyed by firms to outsource key business functions to overseas service providers. The Jobs for America Act that has recently been tabled in the U.S. Senate by leading Democratic Party legislators effectively moves this process from the State to the federal level. Among other things, the proposed law would require U.S. companies that plan to lay off 15 or more workers to make a full public disclosure of where they intended to relocate the jobs and provide satisfactory explanations for their decision. "It is strange", said the Indian Minister "that on the one hand people are talking about opening of markets and on the other hand, banning business process outsourcing". And in puncturing the U.S. demand that India should liberalise its agricultural trade, Jaitley minced no words: "Our agriculture is fragile as it is not subsidised, as in the U.S."

Zoellick for his part held out the assurance that the outsourcing controversy was not all that it had been made out to be. Trade opening would benefit all sides through job growth. And if India were to liberalise, it would create a context of increasing trade that would effectively neutralise the outsourcing controversy. Much progress could be achieved, he said, if India and the U.S. were to look at the areas on which they agreed: like the elimination of trade-distorting export subsidies in agriculture and the reduction of domestic support.

The U.S.' top trade negotiator could not have been unaware of the odds he faces. Senator John Kerry, who is rapidly emerging as the most likely challenger to President George Bush in the November elections, routinely chooses the figure of Benedict Arnold, the emblematic representative of high treason in U.S. history, to castigate the business leaders who he alleges have been exporting jobs from the U.S. Gregory Mankiw, the chairman of Bush's council of economic advisers, recently made bold to suggest that outsourcing was "just another way of doing business" that was "probably" good for the U.S. economy. The qualified endorsement of outsourcing as an economic plus for the U.S. economy, it transpired, had been prudent, since Bush has studiedly chosen to distance himself from his top adviser's opinion.

His political fortunes increasingly threatened by weak economic fundamentals, the U.S. President recently issued the bravura claim that his first term in office would end with 2.6 million new jobs in place for the U.S. workforce. He has since been rather reluctant about being held to that standard of numerical precision. The last six months have reportedly seen job-growth of the order of 360,000. The economist Paul Krugman has estimated that to work itself out of the slump it is currently in, the U.S. economy would have to add jobs at the rate of about 275,000 every month.

The total employment in India's business process outsourcing (BPO) sector currently stands, in the estimation of the industry association, at less than 250,000. The number of jobs created in this sector during 2003-04 would, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), be in the range of 74,000. Adjusting for differences in relative wages and infrastructural endowments which have a bearing on the investment required to create an extra job this would be the equivalent of fewer than 30,000 jobs in the U.S., or a mere 2,500 additional jobs every month. In relation to the magnitude of unemployment in the U.S., the impact of outsourcing is quite obviously marginal, rendering the overheated rhetoric about "Benedict Arnold" businessmen just a little ludicrous.

Zoellick's visit to India nevertheless signals that this item could prospectively be moved onto the agenda of global trade negotiations. The U.S. since the failure of Cancun, has shaped its response along two distinct tracks. It has gone into a series of discussions with "strategic partners" and concluded a number of bilateral free trade agreements. Ecuador, Australia and Singapore have all concluded such deals since Cancun, helping the U.S. to multiply the pressure on countries that have sought to resist the imposition of its agenda on the WTO. With India also identified as a "strategic partner", though on a different plane, outsourcing could potentially become a source of bilateral pressure. Senator Kerry has freely held out the promise that he would review all the recent trade agreements that the U.S. has entered into, once elected to office as President. This includes a commitment to bring on board the environment and labour standards as intrinsic elements of trade policy. India obviously has much to fear on this front.

India today is a region of emerging U.S. investor interest. Unlike, Mexico, Canada and China, which currently host large volumes of U.S. corporate investments and enjoy huge bilateral trade surpluses, India represents a soft target. The threat to cut off the flow of investment and jobs to India is unlikely to elicit strong opposition from U.S. corporate interests. Yet, the influence that India has traditionally exerted within WTO negotiations makes it a target worth focusing on, to move the larger U.S. trade agenda forward.

An incentive for India has been held out in the shape of the final dismantling of textiles export quotas on January 1 next year. A recent report issued by the U.S. International Trade Commission projects an increase of between 40 and 100 per cent in India's textile exports once quotas are removed. The main competition, it predicts, would come from China. But China's exports could potentially be constrained by bilateral disciplines that are permitted all WTO member-states under the terms of that country's accession to the body in 2001. But to merit these special attentions, India would presumably have to move ahead in liberalising agricultural trade, which is the U.S.' single most important demand. The costs of adjustment could, in other words, be immense for a country where subsistence-oriented peasant agriculture is still the sole source of livelihood for the vast majority.

The journey of a song

Two award-winning films at the Mumbai International Film Festival of Documentary Films bring out the horrors of religious fanaticism and ethnic conflict.

THE Mumbai International Film Festival of Documentary, Short and Animation films (MIFF 2004) was attacked by critics and jury members for the poor quality of its competition entries. But two films stood out, winning multiple awards - Supriyo Sen's Way Back Home (India) and Adela Peeva's Whose is this Song? (Bulgaria). They transcend their socio-political import, to raise some disturbing questions about man's inhumanity to man. They essentially have the same theme - the horrors of religious fanaticism and ethnic conflict.

In Whose is this Song?, which won the Fipresci Prize, and the festival's Silver Conch, Peeva shows the fires of hatred aflame in the Balkan nations.

20040312002108702jpg 20040312002108703jpg 20040312002108704jpg Scenes from her film Whose is this Song?

The film makes remarkable use of a simple device to highlight subtle truths. A Turkish song in an Istanbul cafe is claimed by every friend at the dinner table - Greek, Macedonian, Turk and Serb - as belonging to his or her nation. But Peeva knows it is Bulgarian. Was it not part of her childhood? The ensuing argument motivates Peeva to undertake a journey through all those nations in search of the song's origins. She stumbles upon conflicting accounts. Some say it came from the Crusades, others insist that it is about Patsa who lived in a neighbouring village 40 years ago, still others declare that it was the sensuous song of Koshnaka, a gypsy dancer.

As she wanders through the Balkan nations, Peeva comes across many old men and women who remember the past. Pointing to a faded film poster, a man says that the song had been sung by Zeki, a famous star of the 1960s. But now the actor and the film crew are no more, even the buildings in the picture are gone. "I am here, the sea is here, all the rest is memory." The hunt leads to Albania and to a conductor who introduces her to his orchestra. Theresa the singer knows the song well. Recalling their sufferings in the wars she says, "We transformed our pain to strength, not depression." In Bosnia she is told that the song is Bosnian; it brings the east and the west together, cherished by Muslim, Greek Orthodox and Catholic alike. The plump singer with a traditional scarf scorns the notion of the song being Serbian. She sings only authentic traditional songs and of course this is one of them, a love song that says, "I will wash you in dew, cover you in silk, and if I were a bird I would fly all over Bosnia." That is the beloved motherland of people who "trust in God's justice and pride in the Bosnian nation".

In neighbouring nations the song becomes a lover's idyll, a mother's song, a call to muster jehad troops, a hymn to the almighty, a Dervish chant, and a gypsy strain. In the process a priest condemns the gypsification of his nation, and nationalists denounce the theft of their property - the song - by evil neighbours. The camera is casual, but records the inscapes of the subjects speaking of their neighbours with rage, bitterness, jealousy and repulsion. More indirectly, we witness that these are macho cultures trapped in a rigid patriarchy.

You can see how much of the film has been unplanned; it has "allowed itself to happen". This makes it rare and unpredictable, capturing on-the-spot happenings as only nimble minds and cameras can. Twice the filmmaker is in danger of being assaulted, first in a Serbian pub where she realises that she has made a grave mistake in suggesting a Bosnian connection. When she takes the same risk at an outdoor national day celebration in Bulgaria, the picnic turns sour. The men get menacing. Skinheads leaning on mo'bikes announce that Turks and gypsies deserve to be killed. And an old man bellows that anyone who says the song belongs to Turkey is to be strung up on the tree before them and left to rot. The feast ends with a meadow ablaze and fireworks in the sky.

It is no use for the filmmaker to say that songs and languages should unite, not divide people. She has witnessed and recorded a simple folk song blazing a long trail of vengefulness. Her experience is so engrossing that viewers forget the humdrum visuals, lacklustre craft skills and limp style. The poor projection at MIFF killed whatever colour contrasts the film may have had. Peeva herself is nondescript on the screen. But there are moments when you know there is a design to it all, whether in a sudden change of expression on an interviewee's face, the rapture in melodising a note, in the choice of a word - or when a huge nest of beaky waterfowl on the roof of a village house cuts into the field of vision.

From the unmistakably local, the film becomes terrifyingly universal. And the Indian in me wonders, is not the tune like an old Bollywood song?

Meeting the challenge

The challenge presented by the U.S. ban on BPO gives Indian software companies an opportunity to look beyond the cost advantage factor and improve the quality of services they provide.

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THE slew of protectionist measures announced recently by the federal government and the governments of some States of the United States against the outsourcing of jobs to cheaper destinations in developing countries do not appear to have unduly worried the leaders of India's Information Technology (IT) sector, even though India will be the first to be affected by the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) `backlash'. Reacting to what is perhaps the strongest expression in recent times of protectionist intent by the U.S. government, namely, a clause in a $328-billion spending Bill passed by Congress prohibiting the outsourcing of federal government contracts to India, Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), emphasised the relatively minor impact of the law on business in India. The law will be in operation only until September 2004, and its impact can be gauged from the fact that the share of U.S. federal government contracts in exports of IT software and services from India is less than 2 per cent, he is reported to have said. Nevertheless, such a measure "is not in keeping with the increasing globalisation of trade which benefits all countries, and is contrary to the spirit of free trade being promoted by the WTO [World Trade Organisation] and long espoused by the United States," he said.

The reactions from Indian IT business leaders largely echo this sentiment. Underneath it all, however, is some real concern and uncertainty, particularly as the backlash appears to be getting only stronger in the U.S. and Europe. With a projected annual growth rate of 11 per cent, the Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) segment, which accounts for the lion's share of outsourced jobs, is considered by NASSCOM as representing the "most significant business opportunities for the Indian software and services industry. There are at present 350,000 workers in IT services and outsourcing in India, a figure expected to cross one million by 2008. Any protectionist measure will directly hit this area of huge potential growth.

The outsourcing issue has now taken a new twist with the U.S. government apparently determined to link outsourcing to larger trade issues under negotiation at the WTO. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who recently visited India, defended the U.S. ban on federal outsourcing while suggesting that India should consider opening up sensitive sectors such as agriculture and services as a quid pro quo for the U.S. to consider lifting the ban on outsourcing. The Indian government has rejected this conditionality for the present. However, the pressures on the government to soften its position on the issue are likely to increase, not just from developed countries but possibly also from the Indian IT industry, which has a vital stake in the outsourcing industry.

Most of the Indian IT majors do not currently have federal government projects. Kris Gopalakrishnan, chief operating officer, Infosys Technologies, told Frontline that although his company did not have any contracts with the U.S. government at any level at present, "it is the mindset, the philosophy behind a move such as this," that was of concern. "Is this, the restriction of free trade, an indication of the future?" he asked. As contracts with the government sector are not very different from those with the private sector and would typically involve systems development, maintenance and business process outsourcing, a company like Infosys cannot afford to overlook the opportunities that federal contracts may provide in the future. "As the company grows larger we have to look at new verticals. In that sense we will have to look at the area of federal contracting," Gopalakrishnan said. He said that Infosys was working with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), NASSCOM and some of the company's clients who are lobbying with the U.S. government. "We see this as a temporary setback. Once the economy and the job situation in developed countries improve, they will face, in the medium to long term, a shortage of technical resources."

Most companies in the IT sector have been cautiously critical in their reaction to the Bill, but few people believe that the protectionist trend in the U.S. and other developed countries could jeopardise the outsourcing industry seriously in the long term. Jayashree Joglekar, vice-president, government vertical, Wipro, told Frontline that while her company did not have any federal contracts, it did have ongoing projects with State governments. "The outsourcing law will have a definite impact, but at this time it is not very clear which agencies in the federal government will actually adhere to it," she said, a response that reflects the lack of clarity in the industry on what the precise implications of the ban are likely to be.

"The issue of job losses in the U.S. gets a lot of press and I think the new Bill is part of election year posturing," said Shwetal Mehta, managing director, Cyberwerx Software Solutions Pvt Ltd, a U.S.-based company with a development centre in Bangalore that does software development in the area of network management. "It makes absolute sense for a government to decide that state money should be spent on giving its own people jobs. However, the greater part of outsourcing work is in the private sector on which no restrictions can be placed," Mehta said. On the impact of the restrictions on H1 visas for the IT industry, Mehta felt that it would have a positive impact on outsourcing. "If companies cannot bring highly skilled workers into the country, the next best alternative is to outsource work," he said. This is a view that others in the industry broadly concur with. Baskaran Rangarajan, chief executive officer and managing director of Boden Software Services Pvt Ltd, said: "This is an election year. The Bush government has had a major setback in Iraq and needs to save face, which is why it is raising issues of immigration and outsourcing". According to him, "in the final analysis, considering the demands of industry, outsourcing is inevitable."

The outsourcing of ITES jobs to India has had a major impact on the country's IT industry. There was a time when Infosys, or for that matter any of the IT majors, their sprawling campuses and plush modern offices serviced by food courts and gyms for a large workforce of skilled and highly paid professionals, were the symbols of everything that the new IT-driven economic dream promised. Just a decade into the IT boom, these celebrated success stories have given way to new legends of entrepreneurial achievement. It is now ITES, the fastest growing segment within the IT industry, that is being projected as the promise of the future. The outward signs of the aggressive penetration of this segment of the IT industry are nowhere more dramatic than at the International Technology Park Ltd (ITPL) in Whitefield, on the outskirts of Bangalore, India's IT capital. It is here that a large segment of the city's 100,000 outsourced jobs are located.

As night falls, the ITPL and its surrounding area come to life with surreal effect. Lights blaze from the windows of large, high-security facilities where the real work begins at night. Convoys of sports utility vehicles drive in bringing the ITES labour force - English-speaking men and women, most of them barely out of their teens, who enter the belly of this pulsating conglomeration of BPO units to service the multifarious daytime requirements of their clients in the developed world. Some of the large IT majors like Dell, the GE group, SAP Labs, AOL, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and ICICI OneSource have facilities either within the multi-storey ITPL building or in its vicinity.

Indeed, it is the urban call-centre worker who has now become the symbol, in IT industry hard-sell, of the supposedly exploding employment opportunities that globalisation has brought India. Popular media representations of the typical call-centre operator celebrate the new lifestyles spawned by this young, Western-oriented, urban workforce of contract workers, who work by night, sleep by day, and supposedly make enough money to party wildly over the weekends.

More sober and realistic assessments of the growth of the ITES sector and its actual potential to transform, particularly in the context of the real economic slowdown witnessed in the more traditional sectors of the economy, are now being made by analysts and industry professionals. One reason for this rethink has been the `BPO backlash' in developed countries where workers, particularly in the services sector, are losing their jobs to new recruits in destinations such as India, China, the Philippines and other countries of the developing world, at a tenth of their wages. This is similar to what took place in the U.S. and Europe during the 1980s and 1990s when manufacturing jobs were shifted in a big way to China and countries of South-East Asia. Estimates on the number of job losses to outsourcing in the developing world vary. In the U.S., for example, the estimates made by forecasting firms range from 3.3 million to five million jobs in the next five years. For Americans whose jobs are on the line, the promise that a much larger number of jobs will be created over the same period is little cause for comfort. The pressure from unions and pressure groups on governments to adopt measures that will protect jobs may not be able to halt the inevitable trend towards outsourcing. But in a period of sluggish economic recovery characterised by "jobless growth", such pressures have resulted in a string of protectionist measures in these countries. Several State legislatures in the U.S. have protectionist proposals in the pipeline. Recently, an outcry in the State of Indiana prompted its government to cancel a $15-million contract with TCS.

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India appears to be riding the wave of the outsourcing revolution. Driven by the need to cut costs, large companies are always under compulsion to focus on their core function and outsource the nonessential ones. This was originally done by specialised companies in developed countries. Once better communications infrastructure and network technology emerged, many of these services were moved to remote locations like India, where a technically trained workforce with the requisite language skills could perform the task at a fraction of the cost. During the initial growth phase of the IT industry in India, Indian companies provided software applications development and management services to clients worldwide. This, however, required the service provider to be at the point of delivery of the service, and therefore also the relocation of personnel to the location where they were needed. The digital revolution and the 12-hour time differential between India and locations in developed countries have changed all that. A range of services - customer interaction services, back office operations, accounting, data entry, HR services, market research and consultancy, to name just a few - are being done in India. There are 185 Fortune 500 companies that are currently outsourcing to India. TCS, Wipro Technologies and Infosys Technologies are among the top 15 outsourcing vendors in the world.

NASSCOM has estimated that revenues from IT software and services yielded around Rs.60,000 crores, almost 2.4 per ent of India's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002-03. Close to 80 per cent of this - Rs. 47,500 crores - was accounted for by exports. Much of this growth was driven by the ITES sector, which alone grew at over 65 per cent, upping revenues from Rs.71 billion in 2001-02 to Rs.117 billion in 2002-03. NASSCOM quotes the International Data Corporation (IDC), which has predicted that globally the ITES market will account for revenues of $1.2 trillion by 2006.

In this extremely upbeat scenario, it is the import rather than the actual impact of the U.S. Bill that has injected a note of caution into estimates of the sector's growth and direction. "This is a very new industry which entered a growth phase only three to four years ago when there was the equivalent of a `gold rush' into the industry," said Ravindra Datar, principal analyst for IT Services and BPO in Asia Pacific for Gartner India. "There is a lot of hype surrounding outsourcing and many companies entered unprepared for the ongoing investments that need to be made in technology, infrastructure and marketing. The result was a lot of burnt fingers," he said. Datar sees this as a phase of consolidation fuelled by a number of failed ventures on the one hand but with the stabilisation of the larger players who are in it for the long haul.

In fact, not all projections on the BPO-ITES industry are as optimistic about the industry's growth path as NASSCOM is. Gartner analysts have pointed to a slowdown in BPO outsourcing linked to a "period of disillusionment starting in 2004" when several early BPO `mega deals' will come up for re-negotiation after a five-year period. An August 2003 report from the forecasting firm, Forrester Research, titled "BPO's Fragmented Future", says that the core BPO market will grow to only $145 billion by 2008. It says that firms that want to outsource core business processes because of cost savings are finding it difficult to get vendors to handle complex processes and are also coming up against other problems such as rigid contracts.

The trade union movement in India has also condemned the U.S. ban on outsourcing in India. "The WTO Agreement says there should be no restrictions on outsourcing, so this protectionist measure by the U.S. is wrong and we condemn it," said M.K. Pandhe, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). "However, we must also understand that globalisation has created jobs here but has taken away jobs in the developed world. This is the contradiction of globalisation and I think there must be a dialogue within the trade union movement on working out a common approach to what is happening," he said.

In the wake of the Bill banning outsourcing, and amid growing resentment against outsourcing, labour organisations in the U.S. have accused IT majors Wipro, Infosys Technologies and TCS of abusing the L-1 visa programme to bring in cheap manpower to take over U.S. jobs. The U.S. government has already decided to reduce the number of H-1 visas from 195,000 to 65,000, in fiscal 2004. Such pressures impose on the BPO-ITES industry the need to offer more than just the advantage of low costs to companies that wish to outsource in India. Finally, there is always the danger of developed countries seeking to resolve the issue by arm-twisting developing countries like India into making major trade concessions in sensitive sectors of their economies in forums such as the WTO.

A friend from France

ON February 13, 2004, the cerebral French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin delivered the Madhavrao Scindia Lecture at the auditorium of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. He spoke to a full house. He spoke with passion and subtle candour. An impressive and engaging personality is further buttressed by a razor sharp Latin mind. Villepin spent some years in New Delhi as a middle level diplomat some years back. He is, therefore, familiar with the coruscating intricacies of our polity. That day he won Indian hearts by lauding our potential for becoming a world power. He supported India's claim to a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. On terrorism, he is fully with us. Iraq he handled with superb skill. The United Nations was defended as only an accomplished diplomat could. The Americans were treated with astute, respectful, implicit, not explicit, disdain. This was far more lethal than a frontal assault. Unilateralism was not to be encouraged, he said. We live in a multipolar world. Here again he touched a sympathetic cord.

Farooq Abdullah, Karan Singh and Chinmoy Gharekhan asked sensible questions and received sensible answers. Oddly enough, I saw no senior members of the Ministry of External Affairs in the audience. Pity. They would have learnt a thing or two.

Dominique de Villepin did something else. He spoke in flawless English. A French Foreign Minister not speaking in his mother tongue is an event in itself. For over 300 years, French was the language of diplomacy. Even Lenin's Russia gave French the second place after Russian. Since the end of the Second World War, the French language is giving ground to English. This is because America speaks English. She very nearly did not. When the vote was taken in the Congress as to what the language of the 13 colonies should be, German lost out by one vote.

THINGS are looking up on the India-Pakistan horizon. This is to be welcomed. As a former Ambassador to Pakistan, I take keen interest in what goes on inside our northern neighbour. Democracy has never really flourished in Pakistan. By and large, the Islamic world has not taken to democracy. Things might change. One hopes they do. This brings me to the very worrying case of A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistan/Islamic nuclear bomb. Would he have done what he did (ensure the destruction of humanity) if Pakistan was a functioning democracy. Unlikely. What is equally disturbing is the American attitude to the "Khanegate". Double standards with a vengeance. Iraq had to be destroyed because Saddam Hussein "possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction". It is now clear he had none. Pakistan has been indulging in a nuclear black market for over a decade. Khan has been allowed to get away with nuclear murder. Why? The Americans owe the world an answer. The Vajpayee government should ask them for an explanation. That is the least our "natural allies" can do for us.

THE Lok Sabha elections are now round the corner. The contest is between two Indias - one represented by the Congress and the other by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The voters will decide which India they want - the India of religious tolerance, bhai chara, political uprightness, an India which cares for all its sons and daughters, an India in which Hindustaniat and Insaniat march hand in hand or an India in which 10 per cent of people feel good and 90 per cent don't. An India where religion is used to divide people, an India in which history is being falsified, bigotry celebrated. An India in which the rich get richer and the poor, poorer. What, may I ask, is the swadeshi-loving BJP's Hindi translation for "feel good factor"? Could not the BJP ideologues coin a Hindi phrase? "Shining India" is an offending slogan in a land where 25 per cent people are below the poverty line, where the obscurantists praise the horrible sati ritual, where dowry deaths are frequent, children are forced to do slave labour. And the Babri Masjid. Some "Shining India".

The astute and discerning Indian voter will know the gulf that divides these two Indias, a gulf created by the BJP and its outdated outfits. For me the feel good factor is Indira Gandhi defying the United States' Seventh Fleet in 1971, Rajiv Gandhi getting a standing ovation in the U.S. Congress. For me the feel good factor is Indira Gandhi making history and altering geography. For me the feel good factor is remembering the great poetry of Tagore, the sublimity of Gandhiji's life, the nobility of Nehru and the political sagacity of Sardar Patel, the iron-like gentleness of Lal Bahadur Shastri.

For me the feel good factor is in seeing our IIT products leading the IT revolution. For me the feel good factor is to see Amartya Sen getting the Nobel Prize. For me the feel bad factor is the shoddy and shallow vision of the BJP, its scarcely hidden fundamentalist agenda.

STROBE TALBOTT, the Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, was in India a few days ago. In his talk with Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express, he acted with scarcely believable irresponsibility. He disclosed that Bill Clinton had spoken to P.V. Narasimha Rao in the mid-1990s asking the Indian Prime Minister to refrain from going in for nuclear tests. Such top secret matters should not be aired in public. Talbott should know that he is in fact walking on very thin ice, and perilously close to interfering in the internal affairs of India. This is not done by friends.

ON January 31 and February 1, a Global Convention on Peace and Non-violence was held at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. The Prime Minister inaugurated it. The former Presidents of Indonesia and Germany also spoke. It was an important occasion, but I could spot no BJP Minister or MPs in the audience. Only two Congress MPs were visible, M.V. Rajasekharan and myself. I wish more of our political colleagues would attend such functions. Too many politicians lead single-dimension lives when there is so much else to do - reading, writing, music and painting, to name only a few areas of human activity.

Of mental health, science and human rights

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Interview with Dr. Benedetto Saraceno, Director, Department of Mental Health, WHO.

Dr. Benedetto Saraceno, Director of the Department of Mental Health in the World Health Organisation (WHO), is an acclaimed Italian psychiatrist. He was among the psychiatrists who initiated a reform movement in Italy in the 1970s that resulted in a dramatic shift in the way practitioners of mental medicine treated their patients. It also led to the enactment of a law that stopped mental patients from being treated in large psychiatric institutions and provided for their treatment in psychiatric wards in general hospitals, resulting in the removal of the stigma that is associated with mental illnesses. Dr. Saraceno points out that there are no psychiatric hospitals in Italy.

According to him respect for the human rights of patients and their right to "full enjoyment of citizenship" is the key to any credible effort by the medical profession to address mental health issues. He believes that there is greater awareness of the growing burden of mental illness, thanks to the involvement of non-governmental organisations and other sections of civil society.

Politicians, he says, now appreciate that mental illnesses need to be placed on national health agendas and that they are as important as dealing with infectious and communicable diseases. However, he warns that volunteerism can be an excuse for the state to withdraw from its role as a provider of health care. This, he says, is a real threat in a situation in which states are increasingly under pressure to adopt a market-oriented approach to health care. Recently in Chennai to participate in an international conference on schizophrenia, Dr. Saraceno spoke to V. Sridhar. Excerpts from the interview:

What is the extent of the problem of mental health in general and suicides in particular at the international level? How serious has it become in the last decade?

We can look at the problem of mental disorders from two different angles. The simple way is to look at it in terms of numbers, that 450 million people in the world are suffering from mental disorders. The risk of looking at the problem in purely statistical terms is that it would miss the implications of the problem in all its dimensions.

A more sophisticated and intelligent way of looking at the problem is to use the notion of DALYS - Disability Adjusted Life Years - a measure that combines the premature mortality due to a disorder with the disabilities that are a result of that disorder. People die due to diseases but they also suffer disability because of the diseases. If we look at mental disorders from the perspective of the burden they represent in terms of years of disability they cause, it will change our perception of mental disorders. The burden of mental disorders is more than 12 per cent of the global burden of all diseases. We expect this to increase to 15 per cent in 2020. Depression ranks fourth among all disabilities; it will rank second in 2020.

Mental disorders not only cause suffering but they prevent people from being productive. The public health alarm of mental disorders represents one of the major burdens for communities and nations. No development is possible without mental health. The most important cause of mandays lost due to illnesses in the industrialised countries is depression. The lack of recognition of the problem can have adverse consequences for the economies of nations in the world.

The problem of mental health is huge. Worldwide, about 140 million people suffer from depression; 24 million people suffer from schizophrenia; and, every year 20 million people attempt suicide, of which one million actually kill themselves. Beyond these figures, alcohol creates problems not only for the drinkers themselves but also has implications for domestic violence, depression among women, which in turn, leads to mental health problems for children.

What are governments doing to tackle this huge problem?

The paradox is that although the burden of mental disorders is huge, and treatments for these are available and are relatively cheap, the problem continues to mount. The cost of treating epilepsy is about $12 per patient annually but about 30 million people suffer from epilepsy. The cost of treating people with mental disorders is not terribly expensive. A combination of relatively cheap medicines and family support can effectively handle the problem. If the burden is huge and cost-effective treatment is available, why is the gap so huge? Ninety per cent of people suffering from epilepsy in Africa are not receiving any treatment. Well, one can say Africa is a poor continent. But even in the U.S. less than 25 per cent of people with depression are receiving proper treatment. The gap between the treated and untreated, between those reached and those not reached, is enormous.

This gap exists because there are barriers to the implementation of the available knowledge in the field of mental health. The first barrier is stigma and the discrimination attached to those suffering from mental disorders. This prevents those affected from being properly treated because the family hides the patient from the health services. This means that the patient remains hidden. People imagine that this happens only in developing countries. It is not so. Imagine that a senior officer like me is suffering from depression, which requires that I take one month of medication and rest from my job. If this happens, it will affect my image and even my career. So, in a way, I am stigmatised. Nobody would regard my disorder like any other.

The second barrier is the wrong public health choice in the matter of allocating money for mental health. In many countries, 80-90 per cent of the financial resources go to maintain large, ancient, inhuman and outdated mental health institutions. There was the episode in India (Ervadi) of an institution which was supposedly taking care of mentally ill patients but basic human rights were violated. Money is being allocated to such institutions even when we know that the most effective interventions are community-based ones. Sometimes, this also explains why people do not seek treatment. If the only option is a psychiatric hospital, very far from the village and one that is terribly maintained, people will turn to strange healing systems.

The third barrier is that we do not have enough specialists to deal with the problems of mental illness. There is also a need to mainstream the skills and knowledge of mental disorders, particularly in recognising and treating them. This means training primary health care doctors, nurses and social workers. We need the knowledge at that level because they are the people who are working in the community. We must use the few psychiatrists as multipliers so that mental illnesses are treated effectively in the communities.

The fourth barrier is the discrimination against the mentally ill. This can have terrible consequences for non-treatment of mental illnesses. An example from the industrialised countries will illustrate this. Insurance schemes are not recognising the parity between physical and mental illnesses. Insurance companies reimburse expenses on physical ailments but not mental ailments. This practice is pervasive in many countries.

Simply put, the sad story of mental health is as follows: The problem is huge, although solutions are available at very little cost. The barriers to the implementation of these solutions are also high. We need more awareness among politicians and policymakers that investing in mental health is better than non-treatment. Non-treatment is much costlier than treatment because the consequences of non-treatment are huge.

WHO is already overwhelmed by a variety of health problems, particularly in developing countries. Diseases such as TB, HIV/AIDS, and malaria are already on the agenda. When does the issue of mental health figure in WHO's list of priorities?

It's a myth that non-communicable diseases are less relevant than communicable diseases. WHO is committed to addressing both sets of problems with the same level of attention. Take the case of HIV/AIDS, for instance. Look at the mental health implications behind the disease itself. Moreover, drug-dependence, via injections, is a major source of infection of HIV/AIDS. Unsafe sexual behaviour in youngsters is also linked to problems such as alcoholism, and therefore to mental health. We also have evidence that depression can cause non-adherence to drugs and drug dosages for treating diseases like TB, diabetes or hypertension. We have also noticed links between depression and heart attacks. Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer's disease and dementia are all major issues in global terms.

The process of globalisation has accelerated in the last decade. Societies in transition have experienced trauma, as a result. The tremendous churn that the world has gone through in the last decade has meant that families are less stable, jobs and incomes are less stable, and life is generally perceived to be less stable. What has been the impact of globalisation and market-based approach in the area of mental health?

From a scientific perspective, it is not easy to link the phenomenon of globalisation to the problem of mental health. We should have a well-structured definition of globalisation. Otherwise, we run the risk of using these concepts in a meaningless way. My view would be to keep a high level of science in understanding the problem. We know that job losses, not merely unemployment, are the contributory factor in suicidal behaviour. It's the effect of the job loss, resulting in frustration and desperation, which causes this. A superficial way of looking at the problem would be to claim that poverty is what causes suicides. I would say that "neo-poverty", which happens because of the sudden disruption of families, societies and communities, is a better explanation as a contributory factor. Conflicts and wars have increased - there are about 50 million refugees - and this has also exposed people to stress.

In the last three years there has been greater awareness about mental health. That is the good news. But there is also bad news. The good news is that mental health figures more prominently in the public health agenda. The efforts of WHO and also of many people across the world have convinced politicians and policymakers that the global burden of disease is highly influenced by the toll of neuropsychiatric disorders.

I think politicians have understood the magnitude of the problem. Moreover, politicians and policymakers in developing countries now understand that tackling only infectious diseases, following the traditional public health assumptions that only the poor suffer from infectious diseases and that the problem of non-communicable diseases is confined only to the rich, is an over-simplification.

There are many countries that are neither very rich nor very poor. They are experiencing the so-called epidemiological transition. They have all the diseases that go with poverty (diarrhoea for instance) but they also have the diseases of the industrialised countries (diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, cancer, mental disorders, for instance). In fact, the people of these countries - China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Iran and others - represent the majority of the world's population. These countries are undergoing a transition. They suffer from infectious and non-infectious diseases. Politicians are now realising that not addressing mental health problems in their countries results in many problems. The cost to the family when someone is mentally ill is also huge. Politicians realise that addressing mental health disorders is not simply a matter of addressing strange and bizarre disorders of people who are locked up in strange and bizarre places. Globally, one out of every four families has a person affected by a mental health problem.

Things are a little bit clearer in the political agenda. That is the good news. The bad news is that there still remains a lack of resources and skills at the primary health care level in poor countries. In India, for instance, there are not enough specialists at the primary level to address mental health disorders. We need more doctors at that level. Many countries need adequate supplies of psychotropic drugs. So, the bad news is that despite growing advocacy, awareness and recognition that mental health is a serious issue for communities and societies, a huge backlog of unaddressed needs remains.

You said that there is greater political awareness. Where has it come from? Has it come from the medical profession, lobbying by social activists... ?

It is a mix of all these. I would say that in the last 10 years civil society has played a more important role in creating awareness than the medical professionals. The most impressive advance in awareness about mental health disorders has come from NGOs, family associations and consumer associations. This was unthinkable 20 years ago. There are now thousands of NGOs doing things. I think communities and societies have matured in the last 20 years. The fact that there is greater awareness means that the scope for greater impact is also greater. People know better, they understand better than they did 20 years ago. But there still remain many obstacles in the path of implementing what societies are more aware about.

The first obstacle is that the discrimination against the mentally ill is still very high. The second is money. Money often goes to the wrong places. The cost of maintaining asylums for the mentally ill is huge. But the capacity of asylums to provide an appropriate response to the problem of mental health is pretty small. Countries are putting a large part of their resources in asylums although that money could be spent in better ways. However, much of the money actually needs to go to communities, which need to organise themselves so that they are equipped to address mental health disorders. So, there is an imbalance in the way money is spent.

The public perception is that a mentally ill patient is a dangerous person and is best locked up. But, paradoxically, doctors themselves strengthen this perception. They are delighted to remain in their offices instead of visiting the communities where the disease is prevalent. They find the option of staying back in their hospitals more prestigious. The pomp that goes with their office is also attractive. A senior doctor would rather be the chief psychiatrist in a large hospital. The larger the hospital, indicated by the number of beds, the greater is the prestige for the doctors working there. There is therefore a resistance from doctors to move towards the community where the problem is actually present. As a result, we tend to invest too much in hospitalisation, in acute care. But the long-term care at the community level is neglected.

In recent years the market orientation of governments across the world has adversely affected health budgets. The state is said to be stepping back from its traditional role as a provider of health services. How has this affected the treatment of mental health disorders?

Mental disorders are a mix of biological (or medical) and social issues. Privatisation makes it difficult for people to access adequate and long term care. I tend to agree that privatisation and the perception of health as a commodity creates a situation in which one forgets that health is essentially a human right. These issues came to the fore when the South African and Brazilian governments raised the issue of the exorbitant cost of anti-retroviral drugs for the treatment of AIDS. This was an ethical issue. It is not a matter of cost alone. The poor are saying: "We may be poor, but we want drugs and treatment at a reasonable cost."

You talked about NGOs and volunteerism. But there is worry that leaving matters to voluntary action and spontaneity is merely paving the way for the state to withdraw even more from its duty of providing access to health care.

This is a hot issue today. There is a generally nave understanding about voluntary action. Much of this is done in the name of the community, with a lot of goodwill... in much the same spirit as boy scouts. But the point is, where is the government in all this? We need boy scouts, we need solidarity, we need the community and we need voluntary action. But all this cannot be taken to mean that the problem of access to health is a question of mere charity. Health, like education, is a basic and core governmental responsibility. Governments should back the resources and efforts of community and voluntary action. The tragedy of the so-called "compassionate capitalism" is that the state cannot perform its basic tasks. We need the state as a provider. But the state should also make intelligent use of the hidden resources available in civil society.

Can you tell us something about the reform movement led by psychiatrists in Italy?

Large mental health institutions in Italy were inhuman and where freedom for the patients was violated. The situation was such that even clinical recovery was not happening and patient's condition actually worsened. Psychiatrists of my generation reacted to this. We started a reform movement in the 1970s, which resulted in a famous legislation (Law 180) which stopped the hospitalisation of patients in large psychiatric institutions, and promoted psychiatric wards in general hospitals and community mental health centres. In ten years the mentally ill in Italy were completely removed from these large institutions. There are now no psychiatric hospitals in Italy. There are three kinds of facilities for patients suffering from acute mental health problems. There are wards in general hospitals; for severely-ill patients we have protected apartments or half-way houses, not psychiatric hospitals; and for the ambulatory patients we have community mental health centres. These three levels of care have replaced the ancient and traditional psychiatric hospitals.

My experience in the field of psychiatry has led me to hold certain strong beliefs. Human rights and the full enjoyment of citizenship are the preconditions for any serious talk on mental disabilities. You are credible talking about mental health if you are really securing the full enjoyment of citizenship. Citizenship is the key word. Being a citizen is the best treatment for mental health problems. All kinds of isolation, separation and discrimination of patients lead to a worsening of health from a mental health perspective. This is the first principle which was truly applied in the reform in Italy. Italy, the Nordic countries, Australia and Brazil were among the leading reformers in the area of mental health. The second important principle is that there is a need to increase the level of science in treating mental illnesses. There is too much of theory and opinion going around.

We need to combine the civil passion, which recognises the rights of the patients, with the intellectual passion for science. Civil passion without science will be a disaster; and science without social commitment is a disaster as well. These two ingredients need to mix to make a difference to mental health and well-being. That is the lesson I learnt in Italy and later in Latin America.

`Sati' and the verdict

A Special Court acquits all the 11 accused in the Roop Kanwar case, thereby dealing a blow to the women's organisations that fought hard to get a law against sati in place.

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ON September 4, 1987, 17-year-old Roop Kanwar consigned herself to flames or was burnt alive on the funeral pyre of her husband Maal Singh Shekhawat at Deorala village of Sikar district in Rajasthan. This infamous incident came to be referred to as the "sati" case. Sixteen years later, on January 31, 2004, a Special Court acquitted, for lack of evidence, 11 persons, including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator and State party vice-president Rajendra Singh Rathore, charged with glorifying the incident as one of sati. They were among 16 persons (five of them have since died) accused of participating in the protests against the alleged police action in the wake of the incident. The protests were accompanied by the glorification of Roop Kanwar as well as the practice of sati. Among the 11 persons acquitted by Additional Sessions Judge Shiv Singh Chauhan are former Yuva Morcha president Pratap Singh Khachriyawas, who is the nephew of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, and Narendra Singh Rajawat of the Rajput Mahasabha.

Women's organisations, Members of Parliament and the people at large had called Roop Kanwar's burning a murder and demanded a strong Central law not only to prevent sati but deter its glorification. The media had reported that the incident described as sati had been followed by a number of congregations, ceremonies and festivals, and that attempts were made to collect funds for the construction of a temple at the site where the incident took place. The prosecution contended that on October 28, 1987, at a rally organised in Jaipur under the aegis of the Dharma Raksha Samiti, Roop Kanwar was hailed and slogans favouring sati were raised. Deorala itself had attracted huge crowds, giving rise to apprehensions that a temple would be constructed in memory of Roop Kanwar despite the High Court order of September 15 banning the proposed chunri ceremony. Nevertheless, on September 16, in flagrant violation of the order and the measures taken by the administration, the chunri ceremony was held.

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On October 1, 1987, the State government promulgated the Rajasthan Sati (Prevention) Ordinance, 1987. Following a demand made for a strong and effective Central Act, the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Bill, 1987, making attempt to commit, abetment and glorification of sati punishable, was introduced and passed in both Houses of Parliament. It received presidential assent on January 3, 1988, and came into effect on March 21, 1988.

However, all the 45 persons accused of murdering Roop Kanwar were acquitted some years ago. In the absence of any specific law dealing with sati at the time of the incident, the accused were booked under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Later, under the provisions of the Rajasthan Ordinance, 22 cases were filled in various police stations in connection with the alleged glorification of sati. The trial itself began after 15 years following appeals in the High Court as well as the Supreme Court challenging the validity of Section 5 (Punishment for Glorification of Sati) in the Rajasthan Sati (Prevention) Act. The Supreme Court rejected the appeals and lifted the stay on the proceedings in the Special Court in January last year. The trial resumed in June, but Judge L.N. Sharma passed away in September. The trial resumed after the government appointed Shiv Singh Chauhan in October. Arguments were finally wrapped up on January 22 and the judgment was pronounced on January 31. More than three dozen witnesses were examined, and the majority of them turned hostile.

Responding to the Special Court order, the Mahila Atyachaar Virodhi Jan Andolan, a broad front of several national women's organisations and civil liberty groups, has demanded that the government file an appeal. The Andolan organised a protest in front of the legislature building and sought a meeting with Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia in order to present their memorandum. They were told that the Chief Minister could not spare the time to meet the delegation. But the same evening Vasundhara Raje, along with some of her ministerial colleagues, reportedly went to see a film.

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Prem Krishan Sharma and Kavita Srivastava of the State unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said that the Special Court's argument that the crime of glorification has to have a link with a specific case of sati is not correct as there have been cases in the High Court as well as in the Supreme Court where appeals have been filed in incidents relating to the glorification of sati. "It has never been stated that first the act of sati has to be proved," they said. Section 5 of the Central Act and the now-repealed Rajasthan Ordinance make glorification of sati a separate offence. The Central Act states: "Whoever does any act of glorification of sati shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to seven years with fine which shall not be less than five thousand rupees but which may extend to thirty thousand rupees."

The incident of sati itself now may be difficult to prove. It is felt that the prosecution failed to collect the evidence required to prove the commission of sati as well as the incidents of glorification. No eyewitness to the Deorala incident was produced; the first information report (FIR) itself was sent three days after the incident to the court and did not contain the names of any of the accused; the District Magistrate who was empowered under the Act to issue orders prohibiting the commission, abetment or glorification of sati was not produced; several high-profile witnesses like the Additional District Magistrate, Sub-Inspector and Additional Sub-Inspector turned hostile; no relevant witnesses were produced as far as the publication of the event in the media was concerned; and the tapes that were recorded were not presented with challans or produced in court under proper legal procedures.

Special Public Prosecutor Buniyaad Mohammad admits that the collection of evidence was sloppy. "There was lack of coordination between the local police and the intelligence agencies," he said. He agreed that it was the responsibility of the police to keep the tapes properly. "Glorifying a death is still an offence," he said, rejecting the notion that for glorification to have taken place, the commission of sati had to be proved. Mohammad was apprehensive that the judgment might affect the fate of the remaining 18 cases. "Even if we were to get oral evidence, we will be asked for documentary evidence," the Special Public Prosecutor said.

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But Prem Krishan Sharma, senior advocate, avers that all the evidence that was needed was available. "There were speeches and slogans, and the issue was covered in detail. The tapes should have been kept in safe custody," he said. If there were photographs, then supporting documents were not furnished. There was no identification parade and the District Magistrate's orders prohibiting processions were not produced in court. "In my opinion, this is the first case where so many important people in the State machinery turned hostile," he said . It is believed that there was a lot of political pressure on the people concerned.

THE political implications of a conviction under the Sati Act could have been serious. The Representation of the People Act, 1951, was amended so as to disqualify any person convicted under the Sati Prevention Act from standing for election to Parliament or any State Legislature during the period of conviction and for a period of five years after his or her release. The propagation of an act of sati or its glorification by a candidate at such an election would also be deemed as a corrupt practice under Section 123 of the RPA. Section 19 of the Sati Prevention Act, which provided for the amendment of the RPA, laid down that a person convicted by a Special Court for the contravention of any of the provisions of the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act shall be disqualified from the date of such commission and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of five years since his release for membership of Parliament or State Legislature. This proviso has been inserted in Sub-section (2), Section (8) of the RPA. Secondly, Section 19 provided for the insertion of another clause in Section 123 of the RPA, where the propagation of the commission of sati or its glorification by a candidate or his agent or any other person with the consent of the candidate or his election agent for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate shall be deemed to be corrupt practices.

Ram Singh Manohar, one of the 11 persons acquitted, said that several prosecution witnesses had turned hostile as none had actually seen Roop Kanwar committing sati. "I was the convener of the committee formed against the police atrocities, on October 1, 1987. The police had rounded up more than 400 persons for allegedly glorifying the act," he told Frontline. He argued that when the prosecution failed to establish that sati was committed there was no question of its glorification. "Our meeting was on October 8, against the police atrocities, and was attended by nearly two lakh people," he said. Among those who attended it were Kalyan Singh Kalvi (since dead), Rajendra Singh Rathore, Narayan Singh Rajawat and Pratap Singh Khachriyawas. Said Ram Singh Manohar: "We all spoke against the police atrocities."

THE surprising aspect of the voluminous order of the Additional Sessions Judge is that it negates the existence of the act of sati itself and therefore surmises that there was no glorification either. In his order, the Judge goes into what he calls a more comprehensive definition of sati, one that goes beyond what is stated in the Rajasthan Ordinance and the Central Act. According to him, prior to the issuance of the State Ordinance, the common meaning of sati was that of a woman in a monogamous marriage. It referred to one who was of character and purity and had submitted herself to her husband entirely. Therefore, he observed that a sati was not only one who, after being widowed, joined her husband in the funeral pyre. "It cannot be accepted that the ordinance prohibits the wider, comprehensive meaning of sati," he observed. It has been argued that such interpretations of sati are indicative of the Judge having gone beyond his jurisdiction.

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In sum, the Judge observed that the prosecution failed to produce witnesses who could testify to an incident of sati as defined in the Rajasthan Ordinance; it failed to produce witnesses to show that any widowed woman was dissuaded from committing sati; it failed to prove the glorification of the incident; it failed to prove that the District Collector and Magistrate had, according to the Ordinance, issued prohibitory orders and also publicised the same; and the alleged incident of glorification was not covered either by the now-repealed Rajasthan Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, or the Central legislation as it had reportedly occurred prior to the coming into existence of these Acts.

Whether the State government would go in appeal is not clear. The Chief Minister has remained silent about the episode. Undoubtedly, this is a setback for all those women's organisations that fought to get a piece of legislation on sati in place.

A surplus of problems

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IN Hapur, a fertile agricultural belt in western Uttar Pradesh, a bumper harvest of sugarcane and potato has given much anguish to the farmers, for there are no returns.

Mahendra Singh Tyagi, a well-off farmer of Sikhera village, said that the farmers had put in their best and increased production of foodgrains and cash crops but were unable even to recover the cost in the absence of a good market for them and efforts by the government to purchase their produce. The plight of sugarcane and potato farmers, he said, was particularly bad as they produced perishable commodities.

One comes across harrowing tales of misery in this part of the State. Standing sugarcane crops on thousands of acres were burnt because there were no buyers and the field needed to be cleared for the next crop. Potato farmers are forced to throw their produce back into the field so that they could at least save the cost of manure.

Farmers in this region had shifted to sugarcane and potato because wheat and rice were not fetching remunerative prices. With the sugar mills lifting barely 40 per cent of the sugarcane crop, they are forced to sell their produce at dirt-cheap prices to jaggery-making crushers. "We are forced to sell sugarcane to these crushers because even if the price is low at Rs 40-45 a quintal against Rs.75-95 paid by sugar mills, at least the crushers pay immediately and it takes care of our urgent needs," says Tyagi. But even farmers like him are hard-pressed for money because they just do not get good returns for their produce even at the best of times. Besides, the payment from the sugar mills is staggered, which compounds their problems. "My last year's dues, roughly Rs.40,000, have been cleared only now. As for this cropping season, which is already into its fourth month, I still have not received a single paise," he says. Tyagi has had to postpone his daughter's marriage for want of money.

The plight of marginal and small farmers is even worse. Manbeer Singh of Duhri village in Pilkhuwa laments that "farmers have been ruined". He has taken up odd jobs to make ends meet. In family after family, one hears stories of marriages getting postponed, ailing people going without medicine and children's education suffering.

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The Central government claims that it announced a "one-time assistance of Rs.678 crores to the State governments to mitigate the hardships of sugarcane farmers who have not been paid sugarcane arrears for the 2002-03 season by private sector sugarcane factories in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana". (Of this, Rs.480 crores was meant for Uttar Pradesh.) None of the State governments has accepted this "one-time assistance" because, for one, it is conditional and takes away the State's right to declare a State Administered Price for all times to come, and two, it is a "soft loan" repayable in 10 years, not an aid package.

The area from Pilkhuwa to Garhmukteshwar in Hapur is known for its good potato crop. But now everywhere one comes across mounds of potatoes in the fields. Reason: there are no takers. Farmers are forced to sell the produce at Rs.100-150 a bag of 80 kg. They cannot afford to keep the crop in cold storage, as it is expensive at Rs.70-75 a quintal. Besides, even storing it for a while does not help fetch enough returns. Bishan Singh Tomar of Duhri village paid Rs.75 a bag for storage but was forced to sell it later at Rs.40.

There is no denying the fact that the farmers are facing the problem of plenty. The government could have helped by arranging to purchase the crop and exporting it, as a big market exists abroad for Indian potato. But nothing has been done.

According to Dr. S.M. Paul Khurana, Director, Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla, India stands fourth in the matter of area under potato cultivation and third in the matter of production, but the country's average share in world potato exports during the period between 1949 and 2000-01 was only 0.5 per cent.

The average yield a hectare grew from 6.58 tonnes in 1949 to 18.23 tonnes in 2000-01. Had the government thought of an export-oriented mechanism, the potato farmers would have been spared the problem of plenty. There exists a vast market for export because Indian potato is harvested in January-March when fresh potato is not available in most of the countries in the northern hemisphere.

The much-talked-about crop insurance remains only an idea in the villages. It comes into effect only in the event of crop failure, not when there is a bumper crop. Faced with the unremunerative prices, certain farmers have shifted to medicinal plants such as Ashvagandha and safed musli, which are used in Ayurvedic medicines.

Devendra Tyagi of village Imtori Amanpura, who grows medicinal plants, says he is not sure how much the Ayurvedic companies will pay. An advocate by profession, Tyagi can be called a prosperous farmer, but he too is neck-deep in debt because of the low rate of returns from agriculture. He invested Rs.30,000 in a digger for potato digging and employs other modern means of cultivation. But he has not been able to recover the seed money.

Not everyone can afford to shift to medicinal plants. Ashvagandha seeds, for example, cost Rs.350-400 a kg and its cultivation is labour-intensive and expensive. Besides, there is no guarantee of good return. The result is, farmers are shifting back to foodgrain cultivation. "One can at least store foodgrains at home even if one can't sell them immediately," argues Bishan Singh Tomar, although even wheat does not fetch remunerative prices despite the government claims of an increase in the market price. The reason for this is that there are not enough purchase centres and farmers are forced to sell cheap in the market.

Avnish Nagar, son of a farmer in Sikhera, who is pursuing his undergraduate studies, has decided not to waste his life in agriculture. Tyagi, who left his government job 35 years ago to concentrate full-time on agriculture, is now ruing the day he took that decision. He is determined not to let his son, pursuing an engineering course in Meerut, to take up agriculture.

Victims of 'new economy'

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NOT to be outshone by the Central government and to catch the fancy of the common man in much the same way as the National Democratic Alliance's "India Shining" advertising blitzkrieg, Maharashtra's Democratic Front government developed a populist slogan, "Maharashtra Leads". However, the advertisements were half the size, not quite as dramatic, belied the facts on the ground and, unfortunately, had to be abandoned within a week of its launch in January.

"What exactly does Maharashtra lead in?" asks S.L. Shetty, an economist with the Economic and Political Weekly Research Foundation in Mumbai. The State's debt burden amounts to a staggering Rs.80,000 crores and the social and economic growth indicators point to an abysmal performance over the past decade. Industrial growth has decreased, the employment rate has dropped by over 5 per cent since the early 1990s and employment programmes remain on paper. Little needs to be said about poverty, which is rampantly increasing. There is no effort to increase rural development and the public health sector is completely neglected. Infrastructure, the State's strong selling point, is concentrated in urban areas while the rest of the State is ignored, says Shetty. "It is unfortunate that a State once known for its progressive policies has today lost its way." Successive governments have paid little attention to fundamental areas of growth. Instead, there has been an enormous diversion of resources and a complete mismanagement of the administration, he says.

Speaking to a cross section of people on the decline of a State that was historically a leader in industry and development, Frontline found that the general perception was that a combination of poor political leadership and neoliberal economic policies has had a catastrophic effect on Maharashtra. From the early 1990s it has been almost a free fall for Maharashtra, and the growth curve has hardly looked up since. With industries, both small and large, rapidly shutting down, the most threatening enemy of the State now is unemployment.

Take the case of 25-year-old Nilesh Karad. His family could not afford to send him to college as it needed him to bring in an income. Karad hoped he could find a job in an engineering company, which would train him to be a skilled worker. He still holds out hope, but for now works at nights on daily wages in a caterer's kitchen. "I plan to save enough to study so that I can be better qualified. Maybe do a computer course because that seems to be the skill one needs these days," he says. In contrast, his father Shankarrao Karad came to Mumbai in 1963 after he heard about lucrative employment opportunities. Shankarrao boasts that he was offered jobs at textile mills, a pharmaceutical factory and even in the film industry. Today, he is a permanent employee working as an attendant at a well-known automobile company; not under contract, he is quick to point out.

With major industries shifting out of Mumbai and the `new economy' shutting its doors on skilled industrial workers, unemployment and poverty rates have only risen. In the 1950s and 1960s, Mumbai was the hub of the manufacturing sector. Textile and chemical units topped the list. Pharmaceutical companies had a strong presence, and several hundreds of engineering plants mushroomed in the city's industrial belts. During the past decade, the industrial trend has shifted from the manufacturing sector to the service industry, thus rendering millions out of work.

Mumbai's mill workers have felt the worst blow. From a 2.5-lakh-strong workforce in 1981, their number has dwindled to 20,000. The textile mills were once the backbone of the city's economy and the hope for thousands of migrants. Today most of the mills have shut down without paying workers their dues. Seven years ago, Suryakant Mahadik used to work at the Khatau Mills, earning Rs.6,000 a month. He now drives a taxi, earning about Rs.3,000 a month. "Even this work is very uncertain. I still have to borrow from friends," he says. Others like Abhay Jadhav see Mahadik as more fortunate. Jadhav, who worked at the Morarji Gocul Das Mills, now polishes shoes at a local railway station. He earns approximately Rs.2,000 a month. "We live on a day-to-day existence."

Suicides are not uncommon among the textile workers. Chandrakant Gavde committed suicide by jumping off a train after he was sacked from his job because he took two days' leave to look after his sick wife. "But suicides have several definitions. You cannot put an exact figure to the number of unnatural deaths because many have died owing to problems such as inability to pay hospital bills," says Datta Isvalkar, general secretary of the Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, a trade union working in the textile sector.

Isvalkar says that the past 10 years have been extremely hard on workers. "The government's policies are entirely responsible for this situation," he says. Even if a person does get employed, he or she gets appointed on a contract. This means he or she benefits from no safety net and can be fired at any time. In the early 1960s, 51 per cent of jobs in Mumbai were in the organised manufacturing sector, where workers had permanent employment and assured benefits like leave and provident fund. Today about 65 per cent of Mumbai's workforce works under contract.

The decline of Mumbai's textile mills also spurred the growth of the powerloom sector. In order to meet the demand for grey fabric, powerloom centres sprang up in various parts of the State. Textile and migrant workers came in droves to find work at these centres. Bhiwandi, about 50 km from Mumbai, became the largest powerloom centre in the country. The State government estimates that over 40 lakh people are dependent directly or indirectly on the looms of Bhiwandi. With cheap labour available, loom shed owners have exploited the situation. They pay well below the minimum wage and provide inhuman conditions to work in. "Hundreds die of tuberculosis because they inhale cotton lint and many are handicapped by physical disabilities every year," says Baliram Choudhary, a trade union activist in Bhiwandi. "There is absolutely no protection for the workers. If you protest, you can be sacked. In Bhiwandi, it is possible to pick anyone off the road and they are prepared to work for any amount."

A recent strike called by loom owners to protest against the Central government's proposal to levy excise duty on grey fabric led to the closure of sheds for one month. More than four lakh workers had no source to a livelihood. Mohammed Munir, who has been working in Bhiwandi for more than a decade, says: "Not that when the looms are working our lives are any better." Munir earns Rs.1.70 a metre of cloth he weaves on the loom. He operates four machines simultaneously to make about 44 m a day and what he earns hardly sustains his family. Munir lives in a slum with his wife and children. There are no civic facilities available. But he has no place to go. Having sold his farm in Uttar Pradesh to get to Mumbai and then to Bhiwandi, Munir has few options available.

Every day thousands of people like Munir make their way to Mumbai from drought-prone areas or from places where there is little hope of survival. Hoping to find work, which would help put an end to mounting debts, migrants are found in every sphere of the city. In fact, the situation came to a head recently when the Shiv Sena instigated attacks against workers from Bihar. The Sena, which has launched a "Me Mumbaikar" campaign, believes that work must rightfully be given to Maharashtrians before the immigrants. Even the original inhabitants of Mumbai, the koli fisherfolk, have begun an aggressive movement against the "outsiders" who are ruining their business. "Migration is a fallout of development with the focus on non-agricultural sectors. And the fallout of urbanisation is the proliferation of slums," says the 2002 Human Development Report (HDR) on Maharashtra. Almost 49 per cent of Mumbai's population lives in slums.

Ironically, Maharashtra holds the first position among States in terms of per capita Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) for the period 1998-99 to 2000-01. However, the compounded growth rates for the State have dropped sharply from 6.02 per cent a year for the period 1990-91 to 1995-96 to 3.27 per cent a year during 1995-96 to 2000-01. In contrast, Karnataka has registered an increase in growth rates from 4.64 per cent a year to 7.49 per cent a year during the corresponding periods. The human development index ranks Maharashtra fourth after Kerala, Punjab and Haryana.

Maharashtra continues to attract the largest investment, both foreign and domestic, says C.S. Deshpande, head of the Maharashtra Economic Development Council. He adds: "But the image that it once had as a business friendly destination appears to be lost." Hence Maharashtra lost out to the southern States in attracting investments in the Information Technology and biotechnology sectors. But things are looking up, particularly in areas such as tourism, the auto industry and manufacturing in a small way. Some employment is also being generated in areas such as business processing, the media and entertainment. But the government still needs to concentrate on employment programmes such as the Employment Guarantee Scheme for everyone to feel good.

Feel good and a fear

The National Democratic Alliance government, it seems, is slowly becoming aware of the risks involved in overdoing the `feel good' campaign.

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DEPUTY Prime Minister L.K. Advani recently boasted that he was the author of "feel good", the current election slogan of the Bharatiya Janata Party led-National Democratic Alliance (NDA). He claimed he borrowed the phrase from a similar-sounding catchword used by a prominent business house on one of its advertisement hoardings in Mumbai. However, even as the BJP and its allies begin to employ the "feel good" slogan as Indira Gandhi used "garibi hatao", which brought her huge electoral dividends in 1971, Advani himself appears to have realised the perils of over-dependence on the slogan, which many analysts have exposed for its hollowness.

Addressing a group of farmers from Haryana at his residence in New Delhi on February 19, Advani tempered the hype saying, "We feel the feel good factor will really be so when the farming community says so". He went on: "Today they are not saying so, although various sections of society are saying it."

Advani's decision to keep a tactical distance from the so-called societal sentiment of "feel good" is understandable, given the widespread misgivings about whether such a feeling indeed exists or is just a creation for the government's unabashed propaganda about its "achievements".

Asked to comment on the debunking of the government's many claims relating to the India Shining campaign, Jagdish Shettigar, a member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and a former member of the BJP's economic cell, told Frontline that the government did not claim that poverty or unemployment had been eradicated. "Through the campaign, we are only saying that India has started moving in the right direction," he said. The basic purpose of the campaign, he claimed, was to communicate the purpose of economic reforms and to inspire people to join the reforms process.

Shettigar said the government was aware that one-fourth of the population lived below the poverty line and that there was unemployment to some extent, but it did not mean development had not taken place all these five years. When pointed out that the critics of the campaign questioned the correctness of the government's statistics and the methodology adopted for the claims made on the development front, Shettigar denied that the methodology had been changed or diluted to suit the government's purpose.

He agreed that the claims of progress were more evident in urban areas than in rural areas. But it did not mean that rural areas had not benefited, he said. He pointed to the studies carried out by the National Commission for Applied Economic Research, a non-governmental institution, to drive home the point that the demand for consumer goods had gone up in rural areas, which meant that the rural people's purchasing power had gone up. He blamed the State governments whose performance in the delivery system was "not up to the mark" for the glaring rural-urban divide. The Public Distribution System, for example, was functioning well in Kerala as compared to Bihar, which State, he alleged, was not able to even identify the beneficiaries of the scheme. Some State governments had diverted Central funds meant for the rural roads project, he alleged.

It is conceded in official circles that in the areas of agriculture and social development, the government has made only a beginning in terms of launching a scheme or fixing targets, and that much more needs to be done to show any meaningful results. Then what is the rationale for the "India on the Move" campaign? The spin masters in the government hope to equate the current campaign with the Mera Bharat Mahan (My India is Great) slogan of the previous Congress(I) regime. The idea was to create positive thinking among the people about the expansion of the market economy, Shettigar said, adding that like the `Vande Mataram' programme, the campaign should continue irrespective of which party was elected to power.

The India Shining campaign, if the BJP's insiders are to be believed, is a response to the criticism within the party against the government's functioning and the absence of effective communication to publicise its so-called performance. Shettigar conceded that the "feel good" campaign was like offering the moon to the people below the poverty line.

Shettigar said that if the India Shining campaign was only rhetoric, the people were bound to reject it, thus admitting that it was basically an electoral exercise and that the outcome of the 2004 general elections would determine the success of the campaignIt is clear, however, that the BJP and the government have so far not shown any interest in rebutting convincingly the serious misgivings about the tall claims made in the campaign.

RURAL INDIA IN RUINS

UTSA PATNAIK cover-story

The gains made in agriculture and food availability over four decades have been wiped out in a single decade of reform, and nearly nine-tenths of the fall has taken place during the five years of National Democratic Alliance rule.

A MOST remarkable and disastrous feature of the last five years of National Democratic Alliance rule in India, has been the slide-back to levels of hunger in rural areas not seen for over 50 years. Reports of starvation, farmers' suicides and deepening hunger during the last three years should cause little surprise when we consider the official data on foodgrains output and availability. Net foodgrains output per capita has fallen by about 7 kilograms since the mid-1990s owing to the slowing of output growth. Availability (defined as net output plus net imports and minus net additions to public stocks) however, has fallen by thrice as much as output, as Table 1 shows. (A large gap between per capita output and availability was last seen during the food crisis of the mid-1960s, but in the opposite direction - at that time, since output fell, 19 million tonnes of foodgrains were imported over two years to ensure enough domestic availability. By contrast in recent years availability has been much lower than output, yet massive food exports have taken place.)

Availability is the same as the actual absorption of foodgrains, and the two terms will be used here interchangeably. There was a slow decline in the absorption of foodgrains per head between 1991-92 and 1997-98, after which it has fallen very sharply, from an average annual level of 174.3 kg in the three-year period ending in 1997-98, to only 151 kg by the pre-drought year 2000-01, an abysmally low level last seen during the early years of the Second World War, which included the years of the terrible Bengal famine. Thus, by 2000-01 the average Indian family of four members was absorbing 93 kg less foodgrains, compared to a mere three years earlier - a massive and unprecedented drop, entailing a fall in average daily intake by 64 grammes per head, or a fall in calorie intake by 256 calories from foodgrains (which accounts for 65 to 70 per cent of the food budget of the poor). Since the richest one-sixth to one-fifth of the population, mainly urban, has been improving and diversifying diets, the nutritional decline for the poorer three-fifths of the population, mainly rural, has been much greater than the average fall indicates.

Last year's drought, despite very low output, because it galvanised efforts to implement food-for-work programmes in the drought - hit areas, in fact resulted in slightly improved availability per head compared to 2000-01, though it remained lower than the 158 kg level of the previous year, 2001-02 which had registered the highest foodgrains output ever seen 212 million tonnes. Nevertheless, the average annual foodgrains absorption taking all three years ending in 2002-03 is only 154 kg per head, an absolutely inadequate level given the large inequality in its distribution.

THE massive decline in foodgrains absorption, as compared to 1998, is the result of an unprecedented decline in purchasing power in rural areas following directly from a number of deflationary policies at the macroeconomic level, combined with trade liberalisation, both of which are integral to neo-liberal economic reforms. The continuous decline in purchasing power and hence decline in foodgrains absorption, has been reflected in a continuous build-up of public food stocks year after year starting from 1998, with the cumulated total standing at 63.1 million tonnes by the end of July 2002, nearly 40 million tonnes in excess of buffer norms - and this in spite of declining per capita foodgrains output, and 2 to 4 million tonnes of grain exports every year.

Last year, the worst drought year for over a decade, between June 2002 and June 2003, the NDA government exported a record 12.4 million tonnes of foodgrains and continued to export a million tonnes a month, bringing the declared total exports to over 17 million tonnes by November 2003. Independent India has never before seen such huge exports, only made possible by more and more empty stomachs. It is an utter scandal that when millions of the rural poor were going hungry and those already hungry were being pushed into starvation, the government, rather than undertake widespread food-for-work programmes, preferred to feed foreigners and their cattle by exporting foodgrains, applying a heavy subsidy to beat low world prices. The concerned Ministry has placed full-page advertisements in newspapers recently celebrating, among other things, its export earnings.

Now that the perception of drought has ended, food-for-work projects have been wound up, and the media are full of a good monsoon and record projected grain output in 2003-04, the prognosis for a recovery of absorption levels to anywhere near those of 1998, remain bleak. Let us remember that millions of people were going hungry with the meagre average absorption level of 158 kg in the year of the largest harvest seen to date - 212 million tonnes in 2001-02, or 177 kg average output. The difference of nearly 20 kg per head, between output and absorption, was going as addition to stocks, held at increasing costs, and as exports.

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Neither the government nor its policymakers are prepared to recognise the fact that falling availability reflects a contraction of effective demand. On the contrary, the explanation put forward in official publications of the Finance Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India and propagated by most academic economists, is that there is `overproduction'. The Economic Survey 2001-02 (pages 118-130) argued that excess stocks were a surplus over what people voluntarily wish to consume, and represented a "problem of plenty". National Sample Survey data on falling share of cereals in the spending on food were quoted to argue that not only the well-to-do but all segments of the population were voluntarily diversifying their diets to high value foods away from cereals. It said that minimum support prices (MSP) to farmers have been "too high" resulting in excessive output and procurement. RBI's Annual Report 2001-02 (pages 20-25) repeated this argument, explaining the alleged mismatch between supply and demand as arising from rising administered acquisition price for rice and wheat against the global trend of falling market prices, leading to `wrong' price signals to the farmers and hence to `excessive' output and procurement of these crops.

For a country which has been seeing falling per capita foodgrains output and sharply rising rural unemployment, these arguments are illogical to the point of being foolish. We now know why the Central government undertook massive food exports last year in a situation of steeply falling food availability and despite a severe drought: it has all been justified and rationalised already, simply by interpreting deepening hunger and starvation as `voluntary choice,' and way below-normal consumption as over-production, in a grotesque travesty of reality. J. Maynard Keynes had once remarked that the world moves on little else but ideas: and the socially irrational outcome we see before our eyes, of increasing hunger amidst relative plenty, illustrates starkly the effects that fallacious theories and wrong policies following from them, can have in lowering mass welfare.

The fallacy involved in the official view is the fallacy of composition, where a statement that is correct for a part of the whole is wrongly assumed to be correct for the whole. With income distribution shifting sharply in their favour, the top one-sixth of the population has certainly been voluntarily diversifying diets, but the poorer majority of the population cannot afford to do so, any more than the hungry poor of Paris in 1789 crying for bread, could heed Queen Marie Antoinette's advice to eat cake.

It seems that the question of effective demand, and of demand deflation is simply not understood by most people. While everyone understands food shortage as in a drought, namely a physical output shortfall which curtails supply, it appears to baffle many that even more severe consequences can arise when the effective demand of the masses falls; that is, even though the physical supplies of foodgrains are there, people starve or move into deepening hunger, owing to their inability to purchase food or to access food.

THE reasons for declining rural mass effective demand in the 1990s to date are many, and are connected with deflationary neoliberal reforms combined with trade liberalisation.

First, rural development expenditures, which averaged 14.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), during 1985-90, before reforms, were reduced to 8 per cent of GDP by the early 1990s as part of the deflationary policies advised by the Bretton Woods Institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund). Since 1998, they have been reduced further, averaging less than 6 per cent of GDP and in some years falling to less than 5 per cent. In real terms, there has been a reduction of about Rs.30,000 crores annually in development expenditures on average during the last five years, compared to the pre-reforms period. If we assume a plausible value of between 4 and 5 for the Keynesian multiplier, this means a drop in incomes in agriculture annually to the tune of between Rs.20,000 crores to Rs.150,000 crores - a massive contraction indeed. This order of income fall, combined with real income declines owing to other causes detailed below, is broadly consistent with the observed fall in the contribution of agriculture to GDP during the 1990s, from around one third to barely a quarter at present.

Let us remember that rural development expenditures include all employment generation programmes, special areas programmes, village industry, irrigation and flood control, energy and transport, apart from agriculture and rural development. Further, public capital formation in agriculture has also continued to decline even more sharply in the 1990s. It is hardly surprising that the rate of agricultural growth has slowed drastically in the 1990s and has fallen below population growth for the first time in 30 years, and that the NSS employment surveys show an alarming collapse of rural employment growth to below 0.6 per cent annually from 1993-4 to 1999-2000 compared to 2 per cent annually during 1987-88 to 1993-94. Rural job losses are reflected in a lower participation rate, higher open unemployment, and an absolute decline in the number of people employed in agriculture.

Despite all its recent strident talk of development and the costly media publicity to every project, the reality is that no government has followed more systematically anti-development policies than has the NDA during the last five years. (It must be remembered that a rise in the size of the budget deficit as such is no indicator of an expansionary impact on material production, if the rise is owing to reduction in the tax-GDP ratio and increasing interest payments to the well-to-do, as has been the case with reform policies.)

The decline in rural purchasing power has also contributed substantially to industrial recession, through demand linkages for simple consumer goods and manufactured inputs. The economy has undergone de-industrialisation with the contribution of industry to GDP, which had been rising in the 1980s, falling from 28 per cent to just over 25 per cent in the course of the 1990s, and large net job losses have taken place in the organised sector. The only sector that has grown fast is the services sector, which has ballooned at the expense of the material productive sectors. As income distribution has shifted to the urban elites, a modern version of the medieval Mughal economy is emerging with dozens of service providers to each individual rich household. Only a small segment of the services sector is highly-paid computer related services: the major expansion comes from low-paid service activities.

Secondly, at the very same time that unemployment was growing and real earnings of the rural masses falling owing to deflationary policies, the government, under the pressure of advanced countries, removed all quantitative restrictions on trade by April 2001 and exposed farmers to unfair trade, global price volatility and recession-hit external markets. This, even before it was required to remove the restrictions under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime. While global primary prices were rising up to 1996, they went into a prolonged decline thereafter, with between 40-50 per cent (cereals, cotton, sugar, jute) to 85 per cent (some edible oils) fall in unit dollar price between 1995 and 2001. Prices of goods like tea and coffee continue to fall and others have seen only 10 to 15 per cent rise from the trough, in the last two years. It is one thing to open the economy to trade when markets are expanding and quite another to do so when the world capitalist economy is in recession.

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Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the behaviour of commodity markets should have been able to predict the crashing prices after the sharp rise of the early 1990s, and also predict the fact that advanced countries would immediately raise their subsidies as they have always done (this author had warned of both in a 1997 paper), but India's policymakers have been unequal to the task and have in effect sacrificed our farmers at the altar of the Bretton Woods and WTO dogmas. These free trade dogmas ensure reduction of protection to their own producers by gullible developing country governments, at the same time that advanced countries increase their non-tariff barriers and massively raise their subsidies - which they have, for their own convenience, already defined as non-trade distorting and placed outside reduction commitments in the Agreement on Agriculture.

Producers of all export crops, including raw cotton, have been badly hit by falling prices, especially as input prices rose with reform policies, inducing a severe squeeze on their already low incomes. With the implementation of the Narsimham Committee Report after 1994, bank credit became more expensive and reliance on private high-cost credit perforce rose. Reduction of input subsidies and higher power tariffs, all part of the reforms pushed by the Bretton Woods Institutions, were mindlessly implemented even as farmers were in difficulty, plunging virtually all of them, including the normally viable ones, into a downward spiral of indebtedness and causing many to lose land as the latest data indicate. Sale of kidneys and suicides are stark indices of deepening agrarian distress.

While the main prize for utterly servile implementation of deflationary Bretton Woods dictates against mass interests goes to the Central government and its policy advisers, a big consolation prize for the most disastrous State-level policies should go to the Chandrababu Naidu government in Andhra Pradesh which, entering into a direct structural adjustment programme with the World Bank, has hiked power tariff on five occasions. This State has seen more than 3,000 recorded cases of farmer suicides in the last five years as well as suicides of entire families of weavers. In 2002 alone, according to police records (The Hindu, Hyderabad edition, January 6, 2003) as many as 2,580 deeply indebted farmers killed themselves mainly by ingesting pesticides in three districts - Warangal, Karimnagar and Nizamabad. We have no record of suicides on this scale in colonial India: our present day politicians in their servile implementation of imperialist dictates routed through the BWI, have outdone even the colonial masters of the past in their disregard for the welfare of the mass of the people. At least agrarian distress at that time led to official commissions and inquiries: all we now see is bad theory and open apologetics.

ADVANCED countries, as they have always done in the past, have been increasing support to their farmers as global prices fall (the U.S. has legislated subsidies into the future, which will give transfers to its farm sector of $180 billion by 2008, compared to $84 billion in 1998). The majority of our economists, by contrast, are busy kicking the Indian farmer when he is already down, by saying that `the MSP is too high' and should be cut for these kulaks, and by shedding crocodile tears for the poorer farmers and labourers on grounds that they are net food purchasers and would benefit from lower prices. They are obsessed with the question of support price alone, not the issue price which is the relevant one; and by focussing on price alone, they implicitly assume that the population is on the same demand curve as before, whereas in fact the demand curve itself has shifted down so drastically for the mass of the rural population that tinkering with the support price is now likely to deepen the crisis. They seem not to realise that unemployment and income deflation have swamped this sector, that every price is also an income, and cutting MSP when agrarian crisis is a realilty, would further widen and deepen income deflation and lead to more indebtedness and more suicides.

They forget that for years and decades India's surplus farmers, the much reviled `kulaks', sold grain, without complaining, to the Food Corporation of India at half the global price when global price was high, thus ensuring cheap food for urban areas. Now, when the global price has crashed, they have a moral right not to be abandoned to unfair competition from heavily subsidised foreign grain, and a right to be given enough price support to prevent their total ruin. If these misguided economists with their unethical arguments about lowering MSP were seriously interested in the cause of the poorer farmers and labourers, they should be demanding an expansionary fiscal stance, a large hike in public investment and in rural development expenditures to restore purchasing power.

AN argument often heard is that since per capita income is rising, it is to be expected that people should consume less cereals and pulses, which become inferior goods, and more high-value food; in short, people should diversify their diets. A falling share of grains in the consumer budget as income rises, is known as Engel's Law. So, it is argued, there is nothing wrong if we see falling absorption of foodgrains per head. This is a total misconception regarding Engel's Law and it seems to have contributed to the incorrect official explanations of large stocks as arising from `overproduction'. It is a misconception because Engel was referring to the fall in expenditure for the direct consumption of grains as income rises, and not to the total absorption of grains which includes direct use as well as indirect use as feed for livestock, to produce milk, eggs, meat, and so on. This total absorption of foodgrains is always found to rise, not fall, as the consumer's average income rises. The figures of availability given here, as indeed the official figures of availability, refer to absorption of grain for all purposes.

Availability of foodgrains thus includes not only direct consumption (as roti, boiled rice, and so on) but also the part converted to animal products by being used as feedgrains (a part of the animal products are exported). It also includes the part converted to industrial products like starch and into processed foods with an urban market. The availability, or absorption of foodgrains per head, because it is for all uses, always rises as a nations's per capita income rises. This is a very well known fact and supported by an extensive literature on the global food chain, and by the Food and Agriculture Organisation's time-series data covering virtually every country. China, with a per capita income about twice as much as India's, absorbed 325 kg per capita of foodgrains in the mid-1990s, compared to India's less than 200 kg at that time. Mexico absorbed 375 kg per capita, high income Europe absorbed over 650 kg per capita and the United States absorbed the maximum, 850 kg per capita, of which about three-tenths was directly consumed and the rest converted to animal products, processed or put to industrial use.

The recent trend in India of sharply declining foodgrains absorption per head while average per capita income has been rising, is thus highly abnormal, not only in the light of international experience but also in comparison with our past experience - we have always seen rising grain absorption per capita as average incomes rose in the past. Between 1950 and 1991, per capita absorption rose slowly from 150 kg to 177 kg. These gains made over four decades have been wiped out in a single decade of reform, indeed nearly nine-tenths of the fall has taken place during the five years of NDA rule. The only explanation for this is the sharp increase in the inequality of distribution of incomes entailed in the collapse of rural effective demand. While real disposable incomes for the top segments of the urban population have been rising fast owing to reform policies of tax cuts and cheapening of primary goods and durable goods, rural mass incomes in real terms have been falling. There is rising absorption of foodgrains for the elites with a higher proportion going to processed foods and animal products, while the majority in rural areas are plunged into deepening undernutrition, owing to their reduced purchasing power and reduced institutional access to food. Very recent analysis of NSS data by fractile groups has confirmed this writer's earlier diagnosis of sharply widening inequalities in the last five years.

The five-year period of NDA rule has seen the most violent increase in rural-urban income inequalities since Independence. The urban elites have every reason to feel good as they play with their new toys in the form of the latest automobiles and consumer durables, enjoy a more diversified diet and reduce their resulting adipose tissue in slimming clinics: but the same neoliberal policies that have benefited them have immiserised millions of their fellow country men and women who are getting enmeshed in debt and land loss, and struggling harder merely to survive.

THE solution does not lie in trying to justify a bad situation with blatantly illogical theories, or by putting forward spurious estimates showing a reduction in the share of rural population in poverty, as the government and the Bretton Woods Institution economists and their domestic counterparts have been doing. The official and academic estimates of poverty have not been capturing the reality on the ground for a long time now owing to the faulty methodology they use. But this divergence between ground reality and official estimates has now reached ludicrous proportions.

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The basic problem is that the quantities consumed by people 30 years ago are being used in current poverty estimates. These quantities, derived from the 28th Round of the NSS relating to 1973-74 (which corresponded to a calorie intake of 2,400 in rural areas) were multiplied by the prices at that time to obtain the `poverty-level income' in the base year, and since then a price index is periodically applied to update the resulting estimate. Thus a Laspeyres index is being used with quantities in a base year, which by now is far in the past.

If the Planning Commission when it presented its estimate in 1979 had said that it had used the quantities of various foods people consumed 30 years earlier, that is, 1949, no one would have taken their estimate seriously. But present-day poverty estimates are based on a 30-year-old consumption pattern even though the pattern itself has changed, and not owing to voluntary factors alone. The change has occurred because, among other things, wages to rural labour are no longer paid mainly in grain and common property resources have been destroyed forcing people to buy firewood.

The NSS consumption data for 1999-2000 (Table 2) shows that only one-tenth of the rural population had a calorie intake around the norm of 2,400 calories, while two-thirds were below it, giving a total of 77 per cent at or below the norm compared to 69 per cent in 1993, indicating both very high levels of nutritional deficit and a substantial worsening over time. As much as 40 per cent of the rural population in 1999-2000 was at or below an intake of 1,950 calories. Since then the situation has worsened with further fall in grain absorption.

Yet the corresponding official poverty level estimates, even though they use the same nutritional norm based on the roundabout and faulty Laspeyres index method, show only about 37-38 per cent of the population as being in poverty in 1993 and, according to the government, this declines further to 27 per cent by 1999-2000. It is at most 33-34 per cent or so in that year according to the maximum adjustments made taking into account the change in the reference period in the latter year.

The academic poverty estimators are doing a grave disservice to the people by continuing with an indefensible methodology, and are thereby complicit in the formulation of incorrect policies lowering mass welfare. If these poverty estimates remained in the ivory tower of academia it would not matter: but now targeted food distribution is being directly linked to poverty estimates, so their failure to capture ground reality becomes very dangerous. The poverty estimates currently being thrown around have no meaning, and are not worth the paper they are written on. It is high time that the academics and administrators working in the area of poverty estimation used the direct indicators provided by the NSS data and by per head availability.

Utsa Patnaik is Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. One of the country's foremost scholars on agrarian issues, she has authored The Long Transition: Essays on Political Economy (Tulika, New Delhi, 1999), Peasant Class Differentiation (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987) and The Agrarian Question and the Development of Capitalism in India (OUP, New Delhi, 1986).

A bubble waiting to burst

C.P.CHANDRASEKHAR cover-story

The real intent of the India Shining slogan is to conceal the poor performance of the commodity producing sectors and the fragility of much else of the economy.

THE deliberate adoption of a myopic vision is writ large in the India Shining campaign, with its principal focus on a successful, urban, middle class India. This effort to manipulate perspective is revealed in the use of figures of economic performance in a single year or a couple of selectively chosen ones to cloud events of even the immediate past. It is reflected in the tendency to emphasise and elevate the double effect of speculative foreign institutional investment inflows in sharply increasing India's foreign exchange reserves position, on the one hand, and triggering a boom (however volatile) in India's stock market, on the other, while ignoring the poor performance of the commodity producing sectors. It is seen in the effort to celebrate new, and yet marginal, trends in employment while downplaying the devastation that poor agricultural labourers and small farmers must have faced because of the drought in 2002-03; the drought's effects on production was far more severe than any prediction - official or otherwise. A typical example of such new trends is the rapid rise, albeit from a small base, in employment and revenues from Information Technology-enabled services like call centres, which have reportedly generated jobs for around 1,70,000-2,00,000 young Indians.

The effects of this myopic vision are seen in the approach to all sectors of the economy. Consider, for example, industry. Conventionally urban prosperity was linked to the advance of a dynamic industrial sector. Unfortunately, going by the figures on the Index of Industrial Production, industrial growth was at an unremarkable 6.3 per cent during the first nine months of so-called boom year 2003-04, when agricultural production shot back from its 2002-03 trough.

During the peak of the liberalisation and reform euphoria in 1994-95 and 1995-96, industrial growth was at 9.1 and 13 per cent respectively, well before the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's magic ostensibly began to transform this country. The lack of dynamism that this decline in industrial growth since the early mid-1990s reflects is all the more disturbing because it combines with an overall stagnation in the investment rate in a country that is supposedly on the move and is the darling of foreign investors.

As Chart 2 indicates, after rising in the first half of the 1990s to touch a peak of 27.3 per cent in 1995-96, the rate of capital formation in the economy has remained well below that level in all but one of the subsequent years. This decline and subsequent stagnation in investment occurs despite the visible signs of movement, in sectors like telecom and, more recently, in highway construction - sectors that the Prime Minister has identified as epitomising the direction the rest of India should take. What he missed out was the fact that investment in these sectors, at whatever rates they are actually occurring, failed to pull along investment in the rest of the economy. Conventionally, through its effects on profits and utilisation in the rest of the economy, future investment is triggered elsewhere. This Shining India has not been able to ensure. Clearly, if investment is not buoyant, an economy could not be. Seen from the angle of vision of the principal commodity producing sector, what is happening is that the early gloss is fading under the NDA.

The lack of investment has been accompanied by dismal trends in employment over the 1990s, despite the Planning Commission's propagandist claims of the government having "created" 84 lakh jobs every year after the last years of the decade. This intriguing claim, it now appears is based on a comparison of the "usual status" workforce figures yielded by two National Sample Surveys relating to July-June 2000 and July-December 2002, which have as their mid-points the two dates (January 1, 2000 and October 1, 2002) that provide the 33-month period for which the claim is being made. As Prof. K. Sundaram from the Delhi School of Economics has pointed out (The Economic Times, February 14, 2004), there are a number of problems with using these surveys for such short-term comparisons. Thus the NSS surveys seem to suggest that employment increased by 76 lakhs (not 84 lakhs as claimed) in the 33-month period between January 1, 2000 and October 1, 2002, 68 lakhs in the 21-month period between January 1, 2001 and October 1, 2002, and 300 lakhs in the 24-month period between January 1, 2000 and January 1, 2002, while it declined by 90 lakhs in the 9-month period between January 1, 2002 and October 1, 2002. If the last of these is used as the basis for judgment, India is clearly not shining more recently. Given the specific focus of each round of the NSS, using the figures yielded for such short-term comparisons may not be the best way to assess increases (or decreases) in absolute employment.

But this is not all. Even if we stick by the two surveys and the two time points used by the Planning Commission in its advertisement, which claims that in the last three years "we" are getting close to achieving the Prime Minister's target of providing one crore new employment opportunities every year, the evidence on "whose India is shining" is quite damaging. First, urban areas, which account for 23 per cent of the workforce, account for 40 per cent of the increase in "employment opportunities" during the 33-month period. Second, the number of women workers in the country declined by 15 lakhs or around 5 lakhs per annum. Third, this decline in the case of women in rural areas amounted to close to 10 lakhs per annum. Fourth, the number of women workers in the 15-34 age group declined by 17 lakhs per annum. Finally, the share of all those in the 15-34 age group (who feature prominently in the India Shining campaign) in the new employment opportunities claimed to have been created amounted to just 25 per cent, whereas those aged '60 and above' accounted for around 17 per cent. Once we take note of these figures, little needs to be said about the dismal "quality" of the "employment opportunities" that the government claims to have created.

These trends, in output, investment and employment are indeed surprising given the fact that this has been the period when huge concessions and tax benefits have been handed out to India's corporate sector with the aim of reviving the animal spirits of India's dormant monopoly groups and kick-starting investment. The spur to industry does not stop there. It also comes from the consumption and housing finance boom that has been spurred by the reckless lending at declining interest rates that financial liberalisation has resulted in. According to reports on a study undertaken by KSA Technopak, personal credit outstanding in the country rose by 300 per cent from Rs.40,000 crores in 2000 to Rs.1,60,000 crores in 2003 and is still growing. Though this still accounts for only 12-14 per cent of aggregate consumption spending in the country, its concentration among the "middle class", especially in urban India, would imply that there is a growing credit overhang that is based on excessive exposure to a small section of the population. These are also the sections that are being provided large volumes of housing finance at low nominal interest rates by financial firms desperate to find vents for the liquidity that they can access. The Reserve Bank of India has already warned housing finance companies about the high risk portfolio that many of them are carrying.

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This credit boom may be increasing the fragility in India's increasingly liberalised financial sector. But it is also helping along sales volumes in corporate India and holding up profits. The problem, however, is that having bought earlier versions of the India Shining campaign, corporate India has created so much excess capacity in many areas that the increases in demand only go to increase utilisation of already created capacities, and has not helped spur investment in recent times.

However, combined with the concessions that have been handed out to the private sector, these trends have indeed helped the corporate sector declare reasonably high profits. This is one more recent trend that provides the gloss for India's shine. Those profits and the fact that India is the flavour of the season for foreign institutional investors (FII) have provided the basis for a spurt of speculation in the stock markets taking the Sensex to new temporal highs, even if this is accompanied by substantial volatility. Therefore, the Sensex has become one more barometer for a government in search of the shine that is constantly rendered murky by visible signs of poverty.

THAT search has been successful also because of another consequence of the stock market rush: the surge of FII investments in the country that have contributed substantially to the sharp and sudden increase in the size of India's foreign exchange reserves. Having crossed the $100-billion mark, those reserves have become a source of embarrassment and a problem for the government. Embarrassment because those reserves, which arise because of the RBI's purchases of foreign exchange to prevent the rupee from appreciating and affecting India's export competitiveness adversely, are now being cited as evidence of the fact that the rupee is "undervalued". Revalue the rupee, the United States argues, so that imports are not discriminated against in the Indian market.

The reserves are also a problem because, while the inflows that deliver them earn high returns that can be repatriated in foreign exchange, their investment abroad yields the country a less than 3 per cent average return. This implies that the country is paying a high price in foreign exchange in order to accumulate and maintain such reserves. To boot, the inflows that contribute these reserves are in the nature of "hot money" flows. If and when foreign investors begin to suspect that the shine was never there, there could be a rush of investment out of the country. Since the government, egged on by the reserves, has decided to encourage profligate foreign exchange spending and investments abroad by ordinary citizens who have the wherewithal, any such exit would soon turn into an exodus, precipitating a financial crisis of a kind that the world is all too familiar with.

Unwarranted claims in all these areas is sought to be strengthened by figures of recent performance. But even here the lie is hard to sell. It is indeed true that growth this year in agriculture has been remarkable. But that clearly is because of the bad monsoon-induced collapse of agricultural output that makes a return to output levels achieved in 2001-02 deliver a remarkable growth rate. It is true that the recovery in agriculture combined with a credit-driven spending boom has helped industrial growth along. But that growth is far short of what the advocates of liberalisation promised to deliver and did manage to do so for a brief period in the mid-1990s when the NDA was yet to take power. It is true that the software and IT-enabled services sector is witnessing high rates of growth of revenues, exports and employment. But that occurs on a low base in a sector which remains an enclave and cannot compensate for the slow growth in the commodity producing sectors. It is also true that India's foreign exchange reserve position, its stock markets and its financial sector are buoyant. But all that also reflects the fragility that underlies the kind of jobless growth process that the NDA government has unleashed during its tenure.

Why is the government choosing to manipulate the nation's vision by behaving as if what it says is true? It should be obvious that the real intent of the India Shining slogan is to conceal the poor performance of the commodity producing sectors and the fragility of much else of the economy. If India's economy is shining, that shine is similar to the light reflected off an overblown bubble. The coming election, therefore, is also one that would decide who would pick up the pieces when that bubble does burst.

Closing factories, losing jobs

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WITH the drought, debt and hunger driving rural peasants to suicide, is the feel good factor an urban phenomenon fuelled by the boom in Information Technology? The IT industry is the country's fastest growing sector, which billed revenues of Rs.117 billion (11,700 crores) in 2002-2003. Official estimates of the number of jobs created in the IT sector for Karnataka alone are in the region of 1.85 lakhs, a figure expected to touch two lakhs by the end of 2004. The majority of these jobs are in Bangalore. In Bangalore too are the largest number of jobs lost in the industrial sector, particularly in the once flourishing State public sector units which have been or are in the process of being closed or privatised by the State government in a conscious policy decision.

"Shining, did you say?" asks B.Rajaram, an ex-worker at NGEF, once Karnataka's most prestigious and profitable State public sector company. "The politicians are shining. There is nothing for us workers," he said. Rajaram, who was machine operator earning a monthly salary of Rs.6,800, opted for the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) that preceded the closure of the company in December 2002. As an employee he received free medical facilities for himself and his family, and free canteen and bus services. In his VRS settlement he received just Rs.72,000 after loan deductions. His three children were below 12 when he lost his job. He now sells peanuts in front of the factory gate, earning Rs.50 a day. Rajaram is one of 6,500 NGEF employees who, seeing the writing on the wall, had but to take voluntary retirement. They have received compensation ranging from Rs.50,000 to Rs.2.5 lakhs.

Of the original workforce, 119 employees have refused to accept the VRS package and are fighting a legal battle in the Karnataka High Court for a better VRS settlement. Machamma is one among them. She put in 21 years of service as an accountant in the company and was earning Rs.10,000 a month at the time of closure. Her husband is too ill to work and her two daughters are studying. "I have had to borrow for subsistence and am in debt for almost four and a half lakh rupees," she said softly as she brushed away her tears. She has not been able to find a job, and now pins her hope in her college-going daughter who intends to start working after her degree.

"About three lakh workers have lost their jobs in Karnataka since liberalisation started in 1991. Of these at least two lakh were during Prime Minister Vajpayee's `Shining India' period," said V.J.K Nair, president of the State unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). "There is nothing shining in the lives of the 4,000 workers, 80 per cent of them Dalits, who lost their jobs when the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) was closed. It was a company for which we gave several viable recovery proposals to the government. Nor is it shining for the workers of companies like Mysore Lamp Works Ltd, Mysore Kirloskar, NGEF, or textile mills like Binny Mills, Mysore Mills or Minerva Mills. All these companies have closed down or are on the verge of doing so," he said. Mysore Lamp Works which once "lit the streets of urban India with its sodium vapour lamps" according to V.J.K. Nair, was closed in May 2003. While, 1,046 workers applied for VRS, 523 refused to accept the scheme. According to official statistics, the decline in public and private sector employment in manufacturing in Karnataka has been from 6.25 lakhs in 1997 to 6.01 lakhs in 2001. Twenty seven State enterprises have already been closed or will shortly be closed or privatised as part of a comprehensive restructuring programme by the Karnataka government to meet the terms and conditionalities of the $250 -million Economic Restructuring Loan from the World Bank.

Karnataka's growth rate in the second half of the 1990s was around 8 per cent, much of it in what are seen as frontier areas of industrial development like Information Technology and biotechnology. Its growth has, therefore, been largely driven by private capital. This has, however, been accompanied by a stagnation in employment, the growth of rural and urban poverty, a shrinking workforce in the organised sector, and the growth of an unorganised workforce. As a city that has grown primarily in the era of liberalisation, the high-tech gloss of Bangalore conceals an urban reality where unprecedented levels of wealth and poverty coexist.

The Ambedkar Slum Dwellers Colony in Gangenhalli is one among the 733 slums of the city listed in the 2001 Census. The slum's 85 families, all Tamils, are mainly employed in the tar-laying industry in the city. A young worker, Marimuthu, was recently crushed to death when the road roller he was driving went out of control, plunged down a slope, and toppled over, trapping him underneath. "At least eight workers from this slum have died in the last 10 years in work-related accidents," said Dasarathan, president of the Gangenahalli branch of the Karnataka State Construction Workers Central Union (KSCWCU). Union office-bearers negotiated a compensation of Rs.85,000 to be paid to Marimuthu's family by the man who contracted his services.

"Marimuthu did not have a licence, and the vehicle did not have a registration number, which is why we are not filing a case under the Workman's Compensation Act in court," said S. Jeevanand of the KSCWCU.

"Although we have been fighting for separate legislation to be enacted at the Centre and in the State for unorganised workers, the governments have been unresponsive," he added.

For the thousands of casual workers of the city - constructions workers from drought-hit areas working on the city's flyovers and roads, domestic workers, petty vendors, head-load workers, child workers, rag pickers, flower sellers and people in a host of other marginal occupations - there are no employment certainties, and the promised legislation for the unorganised sector has not been enacted by the Central or State governments.

"The union has helped us get a number of amenities like water, roads and lighting in our slum," Murthy, a young resident of the slum, told Frontline. "But for people like us - who are seen as low-caste and uneducated workers - there has been no improvement in our lives in the last few years. Elections are near, and perhaps that is why they need to say that India is shining."

In the depths of despair

DIONNE BUNSHA cover-story

IF India is shining, Kheta Ravji Hatila cannot see it. He is blind. And he has been laid off from work for almost a year. There are no wages to support his family and it is difficult for him to find work in a labour market where even college-educated, able-bodied youth are unemployed.

So he took one of the most difficult decisions in his life. He made his 12-year-old son drop out of school last year to support the family by selling vegetables. "Some days he comes home with a little money. Other days, there is nothing," says Kheta. He used to earn Rs.4,000 a month. His nine-year-old son also quit school. "He does not even have proper clothes to wear to school," says Kheta.

Kheta was removed from work during an illegal lockout at his factory in Vadodara. His 24 years of service as a storekeeper did not matter much. Around 400 workers were left in the lurch. Even the government's Labour Department declared the lockout illegal. The factory started again, but it employed new contract workers at far lower wages. The company was willing to take back its original workers only if they signed a settlement stating that they would not demand anything for five years. Some caved in. But 389 workers refused to be bullied into submission.

They went to court against the closure and won even in the Gujarat High Court. But the owners refused to take them back. "The government lets them do anything they please," said Kheta. Even while they were employed, workers in his factory had not got a pay hike for 10 years. The company withheld salary payments for eight months at a stretch.

Although Gujarat is considered one of the most industrially developed States, employment opportunities are shrinking. Organised-sector jobs shrank from 17.69 lakhs in 1999 to 16.22 lakhs in December 2001, the same level it was at in 1990. Unorganised-sector jobs, where employment is insecure and wages are low, are now the norm. Several small-scale industries, the backbone of Gujarat's industrial development, have closed down or retrenched staff. Employment growth rate slowed down in the 1990s to 1.27 per cent, as compared to 3.64 per cent in the 1970s.

After the advent of liberalisation, labour laws have become even more lax. "During discussions, the former Labour Minister admitted to us that only about 3 to 7 per cent of industrial units are implementing labour laws properly," said Rohit Prajapati, leader of the Vadodara Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti.

Kheta and his colleagues even appealed to Chief Minister Narendra Modi when he visited Vadodara for a public function. But they were welcomed with tear-gas shells. One of them was badly injured when a tear-gas shell hit him.

Now, as they appeal to the Supreme Court, all they can do is wait. The company says workers are not allowed to work elsewhere because they are "suspended from service". But they do not even receive the suspension allowance due to them. With no income, several workers have piled up huge debts.

"I am willing to sell my kidney. There is nothing else left to do now. Anyway, we are sinking," said Rameshbhai Vasava, one of Kheta's colleagues. Ramesh's wife is ill. He cannot afford his children's school fees. It is tough scraping together the rent and electricity bills. "I've borrowed money at an annual interest rate of 60 per cent. How will I pay back? The company is also sitting on all our savings in the employees' cooperative bank," he said.

In today's labour market, it is a race to the bottom. "They want to get rid of us, get workers on contract and pay them far less," says Ramesh. "Who says India is shining? Yes, our leaders' faces are shining. But they have blackened people's faces. They have sold human beings."

Unorganised, exploited

Haryana's brick-kilns provide seasonal employment to migrant workers at less-than-minimum wages, and their condition is what awaits the growing number of job-seekers.

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IN what was clearly a pre-election sop, Union Labour Minister Sahib Singh Verma launched a social security scheme for workers of the unorganised sector. The pension scheme purports to cover one crore workers in 50 districts while the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) estimates that there are 36.9 crore workers in the unorganised sector. The scheme will be funded by contributions from workers, employers and the government. The ability of the workers to contribute to this fund has not been considered. Workers like those employed in brick-kilns (bhatta) would certainly be unable to pay, given the uncertain nature of their work.

The workers Frontline spoke to at the brick-kilns in Rohtak district in Haryana were unaware of the social security scheme. There are 2,500 brick-kilns in Haryana, each on an average employing up to 150 persons. Of the total of nearly three lakh workers, 40,000 are children. In Rohtak alone, there are close to 100 brick-kilns. Bhiwani and Hisar are the other districts where kilns are found in plenty.

Kamala, who started working at a kiln owned by Gulshan Rai Narang at Kalanaur in Rohtak, says: "The owners never dissuade the children from working. I know that children below a particular age are not supposed to do manual work, but the other workers either do not know or as they need the money, they let their children work." Kamala started working immediately after her marriage. "That day I resolved I would not let my children work in the kiln. Earlier, there were no pushcarts to carry bricks. We carried them on our heads. What to do, we need some regular occupation. There are no factories, nothing," she laments. She had earlier worked in Bhiwani district along with her husband Nandram Dhaanak. The couple moved to Rohtak in search of work as a result of which their children have discontinued studies. There are no schools, no health care facilities nearby. The workers at the kilns are almost like bonded labour.

Meet Mohan. He is all of 12 and works in the Kalanaur brick-kiln. He has never been to school. His earliest memories are of working at the kiln. He knows he has to work there for the rest of his life, like his father. The jamaadar or the middleman who procures workers from outside the State denies that there are any children working at the kiln. However, he says that since the work is done on piece-rate, thus unless the whole family gets down to it, it will be difficult to make ends meet. "It is their own choice," he says. Mohan's mother Usha, who has been listening, says it was not true that children are not employed. "My Monu has been working since the age of eight." There are other children too who are seen working and so the jamaadar cannot deny this, she asserts..

Rishi, 20, a local youth, remembers working in the kilns ever since he was a child. Rohtas Kumar and his friend are also kiln workers. Their job, like that of Mohan's, involves the digging up of earth and cutting it up to fit in brick moulds. The only difference is they are older and they are graduates from Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh. There are no jobs for the likes of us, they say. "A mazdoor (labourer) is always majboor (helpless)," Rohtas Kumar says. "The Prime Minister talks about a new India in the making. But where is it?" he asks.

The people working in the kilns belong mainly to the Scheduled Castes or Other Backward Classes. They belong to the world of the landless.

Although a good number of local people work in the kilns, the majority of the workforce comes from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Bihar. "The kiln owners, who are Jats, are like feudal lords," says Dharamvir of the Lal Jhanda Bhatta Mazdoor Union, an affiliate of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

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Brick-making involves four stages of work, and in these kilns there is almost a regional division of labour. The first is pathai, digging of the earth and wetting it, done by the workforce from Uttar Pradesh. The next step, bharai or filling mud in moulds is done by local workers and workers from Punjab. The third step jalai or baking, is done by workers from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. Workers from Rajasthan are involved in the fourth stage of work, which is nikasee, removing the baked bricks and loading on to carts.

Brick-making activity begins in October and goes on until June or until the onset of the monsoon. The work, when suspended, creates joblessness. Some workers find farm work but not everyone is lucky.

The workers never find work at the same kiln twice. All kinds of harassment are meted out at the kiln, they say. Apart from making the workers work for 12-14 hours a day, employers are known to harass workers by destroying the wet mould and denying them payment for the work already done. "My husband had high fever and I had no money. I sent Mohan to borrow Rs.100 from the accountant and he refused to give any money," said Usha.

The employers are in no better condition. They say that the brick business is not doing well. There has not been much of a demand for bricks from the government, which used to be one of their main clients, as government construction work has declined. Dharamvir says "the closure of government departments has had a cascading effect." Narang says, "Cement is preferred now for building construction as well as road-laying. Even private builders have started using cement columns. For a 10-storey building, I used to supply 10 lakh bricks. Now the demand has come down to a lakh and a half." As the demand has declined, the wages had to be cut, he says.

Ram Kishen Pratap is an agricultural worker-turned-brick-kiln worker. He is involved in baking and is seen using rubber as a fuel. The air is thick with black smoke and the pungent smell of burning rubber. He wears no gloves, no protection for his eyes and mouth. The owner of the kiln, who is from Punjab, argues that the burning takes place under the kiln and the fumes escape through the furnace. But this is not true. The workers do inhale the smoke.

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"The government rate is Rs.2,500 a month for eight hours of work a day but we are paid Rs.2,300 for 12 hours," says Ram Kishen. Workers doing jalai seem to hail from Pratapgarh. Their families live in shacks at the entrance to the kiln. Like the children of construction workers, their children too move from kiln to kiln.

Prakash Chandra Garg used to own several kilns in "partnership". Now he has only one. He admits there are no facilities for the kiln workers. There is even a shortage of drinking water. "In Kalanaur, water is supplied once in two days," he says.

THE workers, as in any other unorganised sector, are not registered. There are no records of their employment (they do not have ration cards). The work is seasonal and therefore the relationship between the owner and the worker ends with the season. The workers do not get any benefit, including those ensuing from enactments such as the Minimum Wages Act, the Employees Insurance Act and the Maternity Benefit Act. It was only after a protracted struggle in the 1990s that brick-kiln owners were forced to concede a decent minimum wage. However, where union presence is limited, owners violate the wage norms. The government is supposed to upgrade the rates from time to time but is reluctant to do so. Said Satbir Singh, founder-president of the Brick-Kiln Workers Union: "The brick kiln industry is covered under the Provident Fund Act but there are large-scale violations. Even basic facilities are not provided to these workers. Women are beaten up by farmers if they defecate in the fields." He said the owners were reluctant to implement the minimum wages revised by the Haryana government. Only one section of the workers, the ones engaged in baking, receive monthly wages, the rest being paid at piece rate, he said.

The size of the informal sector is expected to increase as more and more people are getting pushed from the organised to the unorganised sector. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, is in power in the State in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. As such there is not much difference between the policies of the Central and the State governments.

Already several Rohtas Kumars, educated and unemployed, are out in the market in search of jobs. Their ranks are expected to swell as government departments close down or get privatised. For instance, the closure of the Minor Irrigation and Tubewell Corporation in Haryana resulted in the retrenchment of nearly 4,000 persons. The closure of the Cooperative Spinning Mill at Hansi affected 1,500 workers directly and hundreds indirectly. Similarly, in the Public Health Department, several sub-departments were closed down; 27 employment exchanges were shut down and nearly 28 Municipal Committees were declared redundant in the past five years. The Haryana Electricity Board, which had 52,000 employees in 1991, has now only 27,000 employees after it was converted into a corporation. The per unit cost of electricity went up and the establishment costs increased, but the number of employees went down. There is, of course, a world of prosperity in Haryana, that of the high-rise buildings, the call centres and the shopping malls of Gurgaon. But it is the world of a few.

Anguish in Bolangir

The people of the Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput region are in abject poverty in the absence of any means of livelihood or relief assistance.

SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY in Bolangir, Bhubaneswar

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THE condition of the rural people, bad as it is in Orissa, is beyond imagination in the districts of Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput, which together form the KBK region, arguably the poorest and the most underdeveloped place on the map of India. The region, which has now been divided into eight districts, accounts for nearly 20 per cent of Orissa's population and covers over 30.59 per cent of the State's geographical area. More than 80 per cent of its people live below the poverty line. They suffer from severe malnutrition and endemic diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea. Starvation and migration are rampant, as agricultural yields in the region are abnormally low owing to erratic and unevenly distributed rainfall.

The situation in Bolangir district is particularly bad. The district is one of the most drought-prone regions in the country, with hardly any irrigation infrastructure in place. With more than 50 per cent of the forest resources depleted and in the absence of any alternative means of livelihood, hundreds of people from this region have been migrating to urban areas and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal in search of work and food. Only about 5 per cent of the land in the district is cultivable, and that too only for a single crop. Although the average rainfall a year is 70-80 cm, the rains are erratic. While the Government of India and the State government have launched numerous schemes, including the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, the food-for-work programme and the National Family Benefit Scheme, to ensure the development of the region and to protect the people from starvation, there has hardly been any improvement in the conditions on the ground. Success stories claimed by the government are galore, but the actual picture is grim.

A senior State government official in Bhubaneswar told Frontline: "Even though every new government comes up with a new scheme for the development of KBK, the implementation of it so far has not been done in a manner that would truly benefit the people. There is a joke that in order to reach some of the remote regions in KBK, four modes of travel are required - a car, jeep and boat ride and then footslogging. As a result of this inaccessibility, medical facilities and other basic development infrastructure are absent in the region."

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The official further said that land reforms were imperative in the KBK districts. One of the major causes of poverty in the region is the unequal distribution of land and the influence landlords have. In 1980, residents of Saraibahal Pada under the Tampakani gram panchayat, were allotted land to cultivate and to build houses. But to this day they have not received the title deed. Last year, 11 families were displaced from what was their home for the past 23 years, as the land the government had allotted belonged to another person. Bansidhar Banik, 45, and his wife and four children, who constituted one such family, now live in a makeshift hut on the roadside. "For years the landlord has been threatening us. I tried to explain to him that the government gave me the land, but he paid no heed," Bansidhar said. With his land gone, he can no longer cultivate. He tries to make ends meet by working for daily wages.

Surunani Sahu, 55, who lost her home to the landlord, is not willing to take it lying down. "I have filed a case with the Sub-Collector," she says. Pradip Pradhan, secretary of Humanity, a non-governmental organisation that works in the KBK region, told Frontline: "The villagers here live in constant fear of being displaced. Unless they are given on paper the legal right over the land the government has given them, they can be displaced from their dwellings any time." Those who have not been displaced yet are not in a comfortable situation either, as their lands give no yield and they are forced to supplement their income through manual labour. Most of the villagers in the region are yet to get their BPL (below the poverty line) cards, which would allow them some concessions in terms of rice purchase.

According to the 1991 Census, nearly 39 per cent of the population of the KBK districts belonged to the Scheduled Tribes. In Bolangir district, the condition of the STs is deplorable. At the Bolangir-Bargarh border, near the State's graphite mines, is the tribal village of Bartiya Barapali, inhabited by the Sabars, who were traditionally hunters. There is no road leading to the village; there is only one pathway through the bushes. The village itself is a picture of abject poverty; there are no visible signs of farming activity or food-for-work programmes. Even the surrounding forest cover is almost gone. Shikari Sabar, 85, the Sabar chief, told Frontline: "We get nothing from the government, not even water. When the river dries up, we dig the bed to collect water." A tubewell was dug a year ago, but it does not work.

The Sabars' only source of sustenance is what they can gather from whatever is left of the forest. "Mostly we collect bamboo and sell it in the nearby villages," says Shikari. But even the forest is out of bounds for them. "We cannot even collect fallen twigs from the forest floor without the foresters threatening us," says Prema Majhi. "They always threaten us that they will come and break our houses if we don't leave this place. Where can we go with our children? We have said, beat us, kill us, but still we won't leave," her sister Saibani says defiantly. "Officials of the local administration visit the place every year to collect a fine from us for encroachment in a protected area. Last year, they fined us Rs.700," Shikari said. Almost all the villagers possess BPL cards but no money to purchase food even at concessional rates. The closest medical facility is the hospital in Jamset, 15 km away.

Although pushed beyond the limits of endurance, these people have not forgotten the tribal tradition of hospitality and sharing. As this correspondent was preparing to leave the village, they humbly invited him to stay for dinner.

THE FEEL GOOD FACTORY

P. SAINATH cover-story

A government-media joint venture.

First the good news. There's been a huge decline in poverty levels. The Government, the CSO, the Media, the CMIE, and just about anyone else you talk to is bullish on growth. We have emerged one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The Sensex has crossed the 6000-mark three times in as many months. Our foreign exchange reserves are now so huge that Jaswant Singh commands Indian companies to "Go out and conquer the world. (George W. here we come). We will be there at every step for you. There is over 100 billion dollars of forex reserves. That is to be put to use, not to be kept under a lock and key." Leading economists are telling us we've never had it so good. In the media, The Golden Age is Upon Us. Leave alone the mainstream for a moment. You know it's a new world when the Economic & Political Weekly finds space for a piece that trashes the Millennium Goals as irrelevant. In India, we achieved those a long time ago. What's more, thousands of young Indians are successfully faking American accents. (If you can't beat `em, cheat `em.) And while we may have got thumped in the VB series, we did retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy. That too, against Australia in Australia. Pakistan, here we come. What more could anyone possibly ask for? When have we ever had it so good?

WELCOME to India Shining. To where the government spends - and various media receive - 4,000 million rupees of your money to tell you how good you're feeling.

Let us be fair, though. Most of the India Shining claims are true. As long as we are talking about 10 per cent of the population. When some of this country's top economists and academics tell me we have never had it so good, I believe that too. Truly, some of them have never had it so good. Never in the annals of Indian academia have so many `consultancies' brought so much to so few - at the expense of so many.

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But let us not deny true credit where it belongs - to the media as well. India Shines Best when they apply the polish.

In the media world of 2003, India shone brightest - justly so - in Mumbai. All the great events of the year could not rival a single week in that city. Remember those "Century's Greatest Drought" headlines? Or the farmers' suicides? Many young journalists tried hard to tell those stories. But they were denied the space or time to do so by their bosses.

The best figure I could come up with for `national' media journalists covering the rural crisis through one full week was six. Those covering the Lakme India Fashion Week for a full seven days? Over 400 (accredited plus daily pass holders). Between them, they produced in one count, some 400,000 words in print. Also, over 1,000 minutes in TV coverage. Some 800 hours of TV/video footage were shot. And close to 10,000 rolls of film exposed.

India does not get much shinier than that. Consider that this was the main media event in a country where less than 0.2 per cent of the population sports designer clothes. Where per capita consumption of textiles in 2002 at 19 metres was way below the world average. And this was a fashion show which drew more journalists than buyers.

The Sensex might be on a dream run and the markets booming and investors thrilled. But it's still worth recalling this happens in a country where 65 per cent of households do not have a bank account. (In rural India, that is 70 per cent, according to the Census of India household survey.) And where tens of millions of farmers live and die in debt.

The fastest growing sector in India Shining is not IT or software, textiles or automobiles. It is inequality. That has grown faster than at any other time since Independence. And at a stunning pace these past five or six years. What has grown with it, is the mindset that inequality breeds. One that dehumanises the poor. That sees their plight as solely of their own making. Where farmers committing suicide are people with `psychological problems' (code for being nuts). And `you know how much these people drink'.

It is in the shining years that we exported grain to foreign markets at prices far lower than those we forced our own people below the poverty line to pay. At the height of misery in rural Andhra Pradesh in 2002, the hungry were forced to buy rice at Rs.6.40 a kilogram. This, in drought-hit regions. At the same time, we exported rice at Rs.5.45 a kg.

Maybe Walter Bagehot got it right in the 19th century. This early editor of The Economist wrote: "Poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult (for them) to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell."

It is in these past few years, too, that India slipped from rank 124 to 127 in the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme. That is an index measuring average achievement in terms of "a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living." And it shows that you are better off being poor in Botswana, El Salvador, Guatemala or the Occupied Territories of the Palestine - than in India.

The orgy of celebration over elite consumption, under way these past so many years, is most dangerous. The exercise called India Shining might draw a little criticism in some sections of the media. (Usually those that did not get their share of the ads.) But it reflects fairly a national elite that is into kidding itself big time. (The Congress(I)-Bharatiya Janata Party debate over India Shining is mostly over who applied the polish first.)

Others, too, have joined the celebrations. The global media have done their bit to add lustre to the shine. Last October, an impressed New York Times gave much space to the rise of the Mall Culture in India. Which set off another round of self-congratulatory stories on this subject within the Indian media. The kids eating at McDonalds. The "mushrooming" of fast food joints. The idea of whole families spending much of their weekend at the Malls. All pretty symbolic of India Shining. "Feeding Frenzy" was one cover story last year about how well Indians were eating. How speciality restaurants were booming.

Sure, much of this is true. It is happening. Whether food or other items, rich Indians are consuming on a scale even they have never managed before. In a country which accounts for the largest number of malnourished children in the world. Which is still home to about half the planet's hungry people. Where nearly nine out of 10 pregnant women aged between 15 and 49 years suffer from malnutrition and anaemia. And where about half of all children under five suffer moderate or severe malnourishment or stunting. Most of these are girls. (Luckily, we do have a reassuring headline from The Times of India. That is from its Sunsilk Femina Miss India contest: "Beautiful Women Don't Starve." January 21, 2003)

In at least three States, no mid-day meal scheme was in place in 2003. That is, a year after the Supreme Court made it mandatory for them to have one.

It is an India where, as Prof. Utsa Patnaik devastatingly points out: "The average family is absorbing annually nearly 100 kg less of foodgrain today than a mere five years ago. (That is) a phenomenal drop... never seen before in the last century of India's history." As she has shown, the absolute amount of per capita food availability for the year 2002-03 was lower than during the time of the Bengal famine.

BUT the Utsa Patnaiks are talking of a different territory. Call it India Burning. The planned destruction of agriculture has pushed millions more into mass migrations. That in turn has seen more children drop out of school and even college in large numbers. Dalit and Adivasi students are worst-affected. Studies from crisis districts clearly show that. The number of days landless labourers find work has fallen steeply. For too many, there is no work to be found. Not that it is easy to get it elsewhere. Last year, lakhs of workers from Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh arrived in Bangalore and nearby towns. This simply crashed the daily wage there.

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Sure, it is nice that a few thousand youngsters in urban India are getting work at call centres. But it does not begin to address our problems. The years 1996-97 to 2000-01 had seen close to 9 lakh organised sector jobs vanish. Little has happened to turn that around.

In the villages, the collapse of communities has destroyed social bonds and broken up families. The debt owed to moneylenders has mounted as farmers are denied credit by banks. (It is simpler today to get low-interest loans to buy a Mercedes Benz than it is to raise one for agricultural purposes.)

As what little remains of the public health system goes under, people are more than ever at the mercy of private providers. Health expenditure is now the second fastest growing component of rural family debt. Meanwhile, the rich patronise super-speciality hospitals and weight-loss clinics. This season's big media story in Mumbai was the raid on Anjali Mukherjee's weight-loss clinic. Her outfit was accused of supplying `weight-loss tablets' with possible harmful side-effects. That to an elite clientele including a former Chief Minister and an ex-Municipal Commissioner.

There's India Shining in a nutshell. Thousands of well-off Indians trying to lose weight. Hundreds of millions of poor Indians, consuming less calories than before, trying desperately not to lose any more weight. Weight loss versus weight already lost.

The debt crisis in rural India has led to loss of land, spurred more migrations and pushed women and young girls into prostitution. In some villages, the number of marriage functions has dropped sharply as many cannot afford them.

At the other end of the spectrum are "theme weddings". In these, lakhs of rupees are spent on structures that will be pulled down in a few hours. This means building huge canvas and wooden structures replicating, say, the Taj Mahal or the Sistine Chapel for the couple to be wed in. Delhi, in its patriotic fervour, has had Kargil for a theme wedding. Where dead plastic soldiers lie atop the tent, doubtless to bring home the solemn nature of the occasion to guests. These costs are apart from what is spent on food, drink, transport and wardrobes.

And yes, CEO salaries in this period have been shining. Take the list citing Dhirubhai Ambani's last salary. This appeared in The Economic Times a little before his death. It showed him taking home close to Rs.9 crores. (And that from just Reliance Industries.) That is about 30,000 times what a poor landless agricultural worker in Kalahandi might make in a year. Which is around Rs.3,000.

What sort of society can endure such inequality? And for how long? Prof. Paul Krugman of Princeton wrote in The New York Times that he believed a gap of 1:1000 between the lowest worker and the top CEO to be more than bad. He sees that kind of gap as harmful to democracy itself in his country. How do we measure the impact on our democracy of a gap of 1:30,000? A country in which such inequalities still grow swiftly at so many levels?

In Mumbai, bowling alleys opened up in the past few years as part of this growing prosperity. This, on the land once occupied by textile mills - several of whose retrenched workers have taken their own lives. You might spend hundreds of rupees in such places in just hours. The laws then did not permit the use of this space for the leisure games of the rich. So the bowling alley and its add-on facilities went up as a "workers' recreation centre". The millionaires ran their alley. The mill workers face destitution. This is where India Shining meets India Burning.

The spread of such places of diversion for the better off is a major feature of India Shining. Water Parks are high on this list. Last May saw bad water problems in Mumbai. Countless thousands of women queued up for water in the slums each morning for hours on end. In and around the same Mumbai, others had no such problems. There were 24 amusement and water parks using 50 billion litres of water a day for the entertainment of the rich.

In Rajasthan, plagued by water scarcity for five years, we plan more water parks and golf courses. A single golf course takes 1.8 to 2.3 million litres of water a day through the season. On that amount of water, one lakh villagers in that State could have all their water needs met right through summer. This unfolds in a country that wants to spend what equals roughly a fourth of its GDP on linking tens of rivers.

IT has been during these shining years that the Supreme Court of India has pulled up six States - more than once - over starvation deaths. Still the deaths continued to mount. In October 2002, an angered court said it would hold the Chief Secretaries of the States directly responsible for such deaths. But they still occur. In Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa and several other states. Rich Maharashtra has seen a large number of such deaths in its tribal belt.

In 2001, these trends, amongst others, forced K.R. Narayanan to make the harshest Republic Day Speech ever heard from a President of India. "It seems, in the social realm, some kind of a counter revolution is taking place... As a society, we are becoming increasingly insensitive and callous...

"The unabashed vulgar indulgence in conspicuous consumption by the noveau riche has left the underclass seething... One half of our society guzzles aerated beverages, while the other has to make do with palmfuls of muddied water."

Last year in Rayalaseema, I found villagers ashamed to offer me water. It was a filthy, dark brown liquid. Sediment floated around the glass tumbler. However, Coke and Pepsi were easy to get. The soft-drink makers were able to access clean water in the region. But locals could not.

In May 2003, some colonies in Hyderabad were getting water once in two or three days. And that for a few hours. At the same time, the government of Andhra Pradesh was supplying clean, processed water to Coke at about 25 paisa a litre. The same stuff that can be resold to you at about 12 rupees a litre in a plastic bottle.

In the mindset inequality has bred amongst us, one aspect stands out as perhaps the saddest. The lack of outrage over farmers' suicides across the country. Too many academics, researchers and journalists have looked away. Where is the time? When there are so many `purchasing power studies' to be planned? So many consultancies and plugs to be done for the very forces driving the farmers to despair?

In just the single district of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh, over 2,000 people committed suicide between 1997 and 2001. Mostly farmers in severe debt. The next two years, too, saw suicides mount. In 2002, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was frank with the press. He said there had been at least 600 farmers' suicides in his State in the preceding year. One estimate in The Tribune placed the numbers of suicides in Punjab at 3,000 annually. In Uttar Pradesh, it has been sugarcane farmers. In Maharashtra, cotton growers. But when did farmers' suicides as a national phenomenon make the cover of any news magazine?

There is much achievement in India to celebrate. The claims of India Shining are not amongst them. And they will increasingly prove an embarrassment to the campaign's authors. Meanwhile, one small section benefits while many millions suffer the effects of our present economic policies. And while the gap between rich and poor gets ever more obscene, maybe we need another kind of campaign.

Call it India Thinking.

Health, for a price

The government makes claims about setting up superspeciality hospitals when the need of the hour is the upgradation of basic health care facilities.

in New Delhi 20040312008112901jpg

MANY of Delhi's resettlement colonies emerged in the mid-1970s when Sanjay Gandhi relocated a large number of the city's poor. Several plots in these areas were given in exchange for vasectomies that were done as a part of the government's family planning programme at that time.

Some of the plots were sold to people who could afford to consolidate them, and in the course of time resettlement colonies emerged. The people who stay in these colonies range from those belonging to the middle class to some of the poorest sections of society.

There are two government hospitals in the resettlement colony near the Uttar Pradesh border, the Swami Dayanand Hospital and the Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. There is a local dispensary, and a number of private clinics dot the streets. But do the residents of the area have access to basic health facilities? Says Chaya, a resident: "Many people visit government hospitals. Private hospitals are expensive. [In government hospitals] one has to wait in long queues for every small thing. When I was sick and could barely stand I was asked to run from one part of the hospital to the other."

A member's illness places an enormous financial burden on the family. Says Dulariya Devi: "My husband had symptoms of tuberculosis. Under DOTS [the internationally recommended TB control strategy], the government programme, we have to go and collect medicines from the dispensary. We have four kids and when he fell sick he could not work and it was difficult to manage at home. Four months ago we went to a private hospital. It cost us more than Rs.20,000 and he was not treated properly. So we took him back to the Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. The medicines were free. Most of the cost incurred was in travel and in staying there instead of working."

Most poor people go to private nursing homes because in government hospitals they have to wait in long queues and go through the rigmarole of procedures, resulting in the loss of working days and therefore earnings. Says Chaya: "My husband rides a cyclerickshaw. He earns Rs.3,000 a month. In August 2003, suddenly his hand began giving trouble. It began to shake. We took him to the Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. They gave him injections and a few capsules. They did not even check his blood pressure. Later on we took him to a private practitioner who asked for three X-rays to be taken in a diagnostic centre. At the Red Cross private clinic I had to pay more than Rs.90 per injection. I could not afford it after one week. Some time later my husband complained of a pain in his head. We took him to the Swami Dayanand Hospital. They asked me to go to the Emergency for a CTA scan. This cost us another Rs.940. We had very little with which we could pay this kind of money. They charged us Rs.50 for food and all the medicines had to be bought from outside. When he stopped working my child had to start working, even the smallest medicine cost money."

Though private nursing homes and hospitals are very expensive, the residents of this area do not have to face the inconveniences they do at a government hospital. They usually visit the local dispensary for less serious illnesses but go to the government hospital when they think that the situation is serious. Says Chaya: "If one person is in hospital everyone else in the family has to run around. People go to private hospitals because for the very poor, time is important. They want to get out of the hospital fast. The government dispensary opens at 10 a.m. and shuts at 1p.m. It has over 300 patients waiting to see the doctor. One has to run around for all the slips of papers and documents. After all the waiting we are asked to buy medicines from outside. The private doctor may prescribe 10 different medicines but at least their timings are right."

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At the government dispensary long queues of patients can be seen. The doctor on duty, Dr. Deepti Sachan, says, "We could see up to 350 patients a day. We are open from 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., with a half-an-hour break for lunch." The cursory glances that she manages to give the prescriptions of patients hardly seem to merit such a long wait. But for the residents of this area, it is an important facility. Some of them have tried changing the state of affairs in the dispensary but to no avail. Says K.N.P. Nair: "In the five years no one from the government has come to have a look at the place. There is no adequate facility for water or medicines - there is an open drain that borders the building. The doctors do not come on time. I complained to the PWD [Public Works Department] office but no action has been taken."

Whatever problems the existing government hospitals might have, people here believe that the answer does not lie in more private hospitals, but in improving the conditions in the government hospitals. Says Kunti Bhai, a resident of the poorer `jhuggi' area of the colony: "My 10-year-old child fell sick. I put him in the private hospital for a few days. When the fever did not abate, they charged me Rs.1,000 without even telling me what was wrong. The doctor performed an operation. After 10-12 days, the doctor said another operation had to be done. Finally the boy was treated at the Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. I should have gone there in the beginning."

* * *

SIX new institutions along the line of the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are to be set up in the country, in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttaranchal. One medical college each is to be established in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In its Interim Budget, the Finance Ministry has projected a total plan outlay of Rs.1,779 crores for the health sector, an increase of more than Rs.300 crores from last year. A major portion of the money will be spent on setting up AIIMS-like institutions under the Pradhanmantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana, which is touted as a major step in the "India Shining" campaign.

But are new superspeciality hospitals and medical colleges really needed? "No," says Dr. Puneet Bedi, a consulting gynaecologist based in Delhi. "Much before the government plans an AIIMS for every State in the country, it should evaluate if the AIIMS has done anything to improve public health in the country," he says. In 1946, the Health Survey and Development Committee chaired by Dr. Joseph Bhore, an Indian civil servant, recommended the establishment of a national medical centre, which would help nurture a core of highly qualified manpower to meet the nation's health care needs. The AIIMS was set up largely as a result of the efforts of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Health Minister Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, with the help of a grant from the government of New Zealand under the Colombo plan. It was created in 1956 as an autonomous institution.

What a hospital like the AIIMS can do at best is to set a high standard for health care. However, what is needed at the moment is drastic action to improve primary health care in the country. According to Amit Sen Gupta, co-convener, Jan Swasth Abhiyan, which consists of a number of national networks that work in the area of health, India has one of the poorest records in health care expenditure by the government both in terms of real expenditure and in terms of percentage of the total health care costs. The situation has become worse as prescriptions for restructuring the health sector over the past decade have been designed to maximise outputs from greatly reduced government support. The burden of cutbacks has fallen on supplies and materials, resulting in the virtual destruction of the public health infrastructure. The same government now says that the public health system has to be replaced by private services.

There is a fundamental contradiction in the concept of private medical care. Says Sen Gupta: "A private medical care provider stands to profit from illhealth. The larger the number of people who fall ill and the longer they remain ill, the larger the profit for the care provider." The private health sector grew unabated in the 1950s and 1960s and with it emerged the phenomenon of `medical entrepreneurship', its backbone being private health clinics and nursing homes. In the 1990s, the organised corporate sector began to enter the area of medical care.

The practice of medicine became technologically intensive and corporate entities, which could invest in expensive state-of-the-art technologies, began to control the medical care industry. Says Dr Bedi: "In this yeomanship of medical entrepreneurship and haste to buy the latest gadgets, public health was completely neglected. What happened was that ultrasound tests and CTA scans and cardiac, bypass and prosthetic joint surgeries were introduced without looking at costs and benefits. For instance, though ultrasound was introduced in the 1980s as a revolution, there is no proof that it has improved neo-natal care, and its misuse has resulted in large numbers of female foeticide."

According to Dr. C. Sathyamala, an epidemiologist who is part of the health and women's movement in the country, a dual system for the poor and the rich is being proposed to tackle the issue of equity in health care without altering the process of disinvestment that is under way. A high-technology-based medical service that is on a par with the system that is available internationally is to be provided by the private sector for a small section of the elite that can afford it and to cater to the needs of overseas clients in order to earn foreign exchange. "For the poor, all the government will be obliged to provide free is a minimum clinical package along the lines suggested in the World Bank Report of 1993, which bears little relationship to the morbidity profile of the poor and is inadequate to meet the health needs of this population," says Dr. Sathyamala.

The need of the hour is for the government to be more involved in providing health care. Says Sen Gupta: "No country has succeeded in providing universal access to health care without pledging a major share of public resources to the health sector. We need to have a closer look at the whole philosophy of healthcare in the country."

Facts speak 20040312008213001jpg

* The percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) allocated for health dropped from 1.4 per cent in 1991-92 to 0.9 per cent in 2001-02.

* India is one of the three countries where maternal mortality rates continue to be on the rise.

* The National Health Policy of 2002 does not mention the goal of providing universal access to health, a departure from the National Health Policy of 1983 and contrary to the goals of the Alma Ata Declaration.

* Although female foeticide has been on the rise over the past six years, and despite a Supreme Court directive to the government to enforce the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act, not a single doctor has been prosecuted as yet.

* Public expenditure forms only 14.3 per cent of the aggregate expenditure on health, one of the lowest figures in the world.

* The annual per capita expenditure on health is just Rs.160

* The infant mortality rate remains at a high 70 per 1,000 births; in the case of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the figures are even higher at 83 and 84.22 respectively.

Facts speak

SIDDHARTH NARRAIN cover-story

* The percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) allocated for health dropped from 1.4 per cent in 1991-92 to 0.9 per cent in 2001-02.

* India is one of the three countries where maternal mortality rates continue to be on the rise.

* The National Health Policy of 2002 does not mention the goal of providing universal access to health, a departure from the National Health Policy of 1983 and contrary to the goals of the Alma Ata Declaration.

* Although female foeticide has been on the rise over the past six years, and despite a Supreme Court directive to the government to enforce the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act, not a single doctor has been prosecuted as yet.

* Public expenditure forms only 14.3 per cent of the aggregate expenditure on health, one of the lowest figures in the world.

* The annual per capita expenditure on health is just Rs.160

* The infant mortality rate remains at a high 70 per 1,000 births; in the case of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the figures are even higher at 83 and 84.22 respectively.

The poverty of fiction

P. SAINATH cover-story

ONE sector - among hundreds - where India has become a `Global Player' in the shining years is Modern Indian Fiction.

Now I happen to be the world's leading authority on Modern Indian Fiction - I read more Government of India reports than anyone else. (I am even an avid collector of Press Information Bureau press releases.) We are talking truly creative writing here. I love their mastery in understatement. Like when: "The said amount was not used for the desired purpose" simply means that somebody has run away to Switzerland with 20 million dollars of your money. But it is on poverty that they outdo themselves.

Take Dharavi in Mumbai. Billed as Asia's largest slum, it is home to maybe a million human beings. In official reckoning, there are almost no poor people here. As of September 2003, there were only 128 Below Poverty Line ration cards serving just 740 people in this giant slum.

My favourite poverty story, though, goes back to 1995-96. (We had only just begun to shine.) The government was circulating - in the same period - two dramatically different poverty figures. At the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen, the government wailed that 39.9 per cent of our population was below the poverty line. Over there, bowl in hand, we had to beg.

Over here, with elections around the corner, we had to brag. A classic front-page story appeared in a leading business newspaper. In this report, "highly placed officials", who modestly chose to remain anonymous, revealed that "poverty had dropped sharply to the lowest levels ever". As low as 19.5 per cent. Here were highly placed officials seeking anonymity for such glad tidings. Rather like Einstein seeking anonymity for the Theory of Relativity. Or perhaps the bureaucrats and economists of the time were still possessed of some sense of shame. If so, they have shed it pretty thoroughly since then. Today, many would vie to have their names on such a report.

But while poverty fell on paper, P.V. Narasimha Rao really did in the elections. Madhu Dandavate became Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and called an end to the farce. In a matter of hours - officially - poverty shot up from 19.5 per cent to 39.9 per cent. The delegation to Copenhagen got the numbers it had demanded. Narasimha Rao was supplied with the numbers he demanded. Dandavate was supplied with the corrections he demanded. I think I am starting to get the hang of this demand and supply thing economists talk about.

The percentages game is not only going to be inconclusive, it will also be more than a bit misleading while India persists with one of the worst definitions of poverty anywhere. In 1993, an Expert Group set up by the Planning Commission itself had scathing comments to make on the poverty line. Among them that it "ignored structural inequalities and other factors which sustain, generate and reproduce poverty".

It also does not "take into account items of social consumption such as basic education and health, drinking water supply, sanitation... etc." Nor does it capture "important aspects of poverty... ill-health, low educational attainments, geographical isolation, ineffective access to law, powerlessness in civil society and/or gender-based disadvantages."

Those are just a few of its problems. (The rest require another story.)

To this, we added in the Shining Years a set of methodological fiddles that further debased the measurement of poverty. As Prof. Jayati Ghosh writes: "In the National Sample Surveys, a change in survey reference periods led to much lower reported inequality. As a result, although nine surveys from 1989-90 to 1998 had shown no poverty reduction, the 1999-00 survey reported 10 percentage points reduction in the poverty ratio!"

Still, even accepting all the failures and fudging what are we left with? With an official admission that 260 million Indians still go to sleep hungry every night. If taken as a nation, they would be the fourth largest in the world.

All the shine we work up will not conceal that darkness.

What lies beneath

ANUPAMA KATAKAM the-nation

THE Pune Bench of the Bombay High Court granted the Special Investigation Team (SIT) permission to carry out scientific tests on Abdul Karim Telgi, in order to aid investigation and facilitate the collection of evidence. A polygraph test, brain-mapping and a narco-analysis procedure were conducted on Telgi by the Karnataka Forensic Science Laboratory (KFSL) in Bangalore in December 2003.

Polygraph or lie detector test (conducted on December 20): The suspect or perpetrator is hooked to a machine, which records the blood pressure, pulse rate and respiration and muscle movements. The subject is questioned and the reactions are measured. Experts say that when a person lies, he/she perspires. When an uncomfortable subject comes up, the blood pressure may go up. All these reactions are corroborated with other evidence gathered. The polygraph test was among the first scientific tests to be used by interrogators.

P 300 or brain-mapping test (December 21): Sensors are attached to the head and the person is seated before a computer monitor. The subject is then shown certain images or made to hear certain sounds. Combinations of relevant and irrelevant words are shown on the screen. All the while, sensors monitor the electrical activity in the brain and register P300 waves, which are generated only if the subject has some connection with the stimulus, in this case pictures or sounds. In Telgi's case, the brain-mapping test was done in two stages. An interview was conducted before the actual test. Some of the sentences shown to him in order to elicit a response were: `Payment allegedly made to R.S. Sharma', `Threat by Roshan Baig', `Alleged payment of Rs.75 lakh to Dilip Kamath', `Connection with S.M Mushrif in Pune' and so on. According to investigators, he showed signs of recognising the sentence with Sharma's and Kamath's names.

Narco-analysis or `Truth Serum' tests (December 22): Doctors or experts mix a few grams of sodium pentothal or sodium amytal in distilled water. Depending on the person's sex, age, health and physical condition, the mixture is administered intravenously. A wrong dose can sent the subject into a coma, or even result in death. The drug depresses the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure and slows the heart rate, putting the subject into a hypnotic trance. In this state, the subject's imagination is neutralised by making him semi-conscious. Therefore he cannot lie, as he cannot use his imagination. The answers are believed to be restricted to facts that he is aware of or are spontaneous as a semi-conscious person is unable to manipulate the answers.

Sodium pentothal was first used as a `truth drug' during the Second World War. American psychiatrists reportedly used it on soldiers so that they would talk about repressed battlefield experiences resulting in catharsis. At times, it was also used on prisoners of war.

To conduct a narco-analysis test, investigators require permission from the court and the personal consent of the subject. The use of drugs on Telgi in order to extract the truth has created a controversy. Defence lawyers argue that these methods are primitive and no longer in use. Moreover, a narco-analysis test has no evidential value in court.

B.M. Mohan, Director of the KFSL, told Frontline about the procedure: "Sodium pentathol is routinely used in surgery. It is not dangerous when administered by professionals and in Telgi's case every precaution was taken." Mohan said that the rate of administration had been standardised for criminal investigation and that the questions were posed by a clinical psychologist who was part of the investigating team.

The deaths in Datiwas forests

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

WE know that six villagers died in Chithibanday and that their deaths almost derailed the Jammu and Kashmir peace process, but the truth about how and why they died remains elusive. It is a little like Akira Kurosawa's Roshomon: almost everyone you talk to has a passionately told but irreconcilable version of the same event.

All that these multiple stories have in common are bare facts: five civilians were killed in the course of a massive counter-terrorist operation in the Datiwas forests above Chithibanday, a small village in Bandipora. The Army admits that the five villagers were used as porters by the 10 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, and says that they died in an exchange of fire between terrorists and troops. Villagers, however, insist that the troops executed the five in cold blood to avenge the loss of three personnel in the first exchange of fire with terrorists.

Much of the evidence rests on testimony by Mohammad Yusuf Bani, one of the porters used by the military. Bani told reporters that he was forced into Army uniform along with the victims, forced into the terrorist bunker at gunpoint, and then shot in cold blood. Government officials investigating the case, however, insist that Bani's version is not credible. "If the Army's intention was to kill innocent civilians and pretend they were terrorists," one police official told Frontline, "they are hardly likely to have left people alive to tell the tale." The official described as unbelievable testimony by villagers that they stormed the bunker and thus stopped soldiers from destroying the bodies and later claiming that they were those of terrorists.

According to both the police and the Army, the five porters were asked to clear debris from a three-storey bunker from which a large group of terrorists had hidden out. The structure had been destroyed using explosives after a first round of fire contact, in which four terrorists and three soldiers had been killed. The Army says that two terrorists hiding under the debris then opened fire on the porters, who had been dressed in military fatigues and snow boots for protection from the extreme cold and sniper fire from commandos hiding out in the woods.

Even as protest broke out through northern Kashmir, more embarrassment was in store for the Army. Relatives of Mohammad Shafi Chechi, a Chithibanday resident missing for several days, demanded that the body of an alleged terrorist in the area be exhumed. A press release issued on behalf of the Army had earlier claimed that the body in the grave was of a Pakistani terrorist named Zia-ul-Haq, operating under the alias Sajjad Bhai. After the grave was exhumed, Chechi's wife and children identified the body as that of Chechi.

Police officials charged with investigating Chechi's alleged extra-judicial execution, however, have told the Jammu and Kashmir government that a fire-fight between troops and Chechi - or persons accompanying Chechi - did indeed take place on February 5. His body, they say, was brought to Chithibanday, where village residents were not able to identify him conclusively. Documents recovered from the body of Chechi, along with a Kalashnikov rifle and wireless set, formed the basis of the Army assertion that he was a Pakistani national.

According to police investigators, Chechi left his home in Chithibanday on February 4 to visit relatives. It was several days later, however, that his family filed a request for the body to be exhumed. No claim was earlier made by the family that he had been kidnapped by either soldiers or Armed personnel of any kind after he left home. "It is possible," the government official said, "that the family stayed silent at the time knowing Chechi was involved in terrorist activity, and now hopes to gain compensation."

Military officials complain that exaggerated or misleading charges of human rights abuses are too easily taken at face value by the media. In December 2003, the Army was blamed for shooting two sisters, Nuzhat Ahmad and Zahida Ahmad; troops of the 34 Battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles were charged with shooting them after they resisted attempts to arrest their brother. Subsequent official investigation, however, established that the shooting was carried out by Lashkar-e-Toiba commander Inayatullah Khan, who operated under the alias Bilal-e-Habshi. Both girls, officials claim, were told to lie about the incident or face reprisals.

Army chief General Nirmal Vij has now ordered an end to the use of civilian porters and guides in counter-terrorist operations. The Quarter-Master General, Lieutenant-General Vijay Patankar, is, however, struggling to work out just what could be done instead. Government regulations permit the raising of short-term salaried porter companies only in times of war mobilisation, not civilian combat - and the Defence Ministry is yet to change the rules. Villagers in Jammu and Kashmir who make a living supplying transport services and ponies to the military as well as by working as porters are also concerned: the Rs.250 crores the Army spends on these services each year is now at risk.

Government benefits for death or disability suffered while serving the Army is meagre, generally under Rs.25,000. Commanders in the Dras-Kargil area had entered into a contract with the General Insurance Corporation for providing benefits to porters working there, but the system is yet to be institutionalised. Porters hired for counter-terrorist duties were not entitled to even these meagre benefits. In order to ensure that those killed assisting counter-terrorist operations received the State government compensation that is due to all terrorism victims, deaths of porters were generally registered as those of civilians who simply happened to get caught in crossfire.

As a result, no accurate figures exist of the numbers of local porters and guides who have died assisting troops over the years: and in death, they were denied benefits, or even the gratitude of the nation they served.

Washington's double standards

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

UNITED STATES President George W. Bush's call to "all nations to strengthen the laws and international controls that govern proliferation" and his assertion that "America stands ready to help other governments to draft and enforce the new laws that will help us deal with proliferation" are viewed by many observers as yet another instance of American hypocrisy on the subject.

Delivering a major policy statement at the National Defence University in Washington on February 11 in the wake of the revelations about the unauthorised transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to Iran, Libya and North Korea, Bush issued a tough warning to nuclear proliferators. Pledging to stop proliferating nations in their tracks, he called for a reappraisal of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). He said that his administration planned to reduce the number of states permitted to produce nuclear fuel. "These terrible weapons are becoming easier to acquire, build, hide and transport... . We must confront the danger with open eyes and unbending purpose. I've made clear to all the policy of this nation: America will not permit the terrorists and dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most deadly weapons," Bush said in his speech.

Countries that promise not to develop nuclear weapons will be provided help in setting up facilities to produce nuclear power, he said. He urged the international community to work together and enact more stringent controls on the transfer of nuclear technology and material.

THE Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is claiming belatedly that the Bush administration was in the know of the clandestine activities of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the "father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb". Khan had made 44 trips to Dubai in four years. The commercial entrepot in the Gulf is well-known for underhand nuclear dealings. Khan had also made trips to Libya, Malaysia and Iran. U.S. officials say that the Pakistan government was informed about Khan's clandestine activities only in October last year. The Bush administration's tunnel vision focussed only on Iraq, despite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rubbishing its claims that Saddam Hussein was engaged in a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. The IAEA had consistently come under scathing criticism by leading Bush administration figures such as Under-Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation John Bolton.

The administration has also come out against the recent proposal of the chief of the IAEA, Mohamed El-Baradei, for an international, multilateral organisation to control the production of all nuclear fuel. Such a move, it is believed, would go against the interests of the U.S. Adopting a cooperative stance on the issue would have meant opening up the U.S.' own sites for inspection by the international agency. The U.S. and the four other declared nuclear states would never give up their monopoly over the production of nuclear weapons.

Besides, there is the problem of the U.S.' client state - Israel. In the past three years, not once has the Bush administration asked Tel Aviv to cooperate with the IAEA or sign the NPT. Israel is reputed to have the sixth largest nuclear arsenal and a plethora of long-, medium- and short-range missiles to deliver its stock of 200 nuclear warheads.

The international community has not forgotten that it was the Bush administration that scuttled the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Non-nuclear countries had agreed to the extension of the NPT on the premise that the CTBT would be adopted. The Bush administration had also embarked on a grandiose plan to nuclearise outer space under the guise of the National Missile Defence (NMD) programme. Washington has also announced plans to develop and test mini-nuclear weapons. This, according to experts, will trigger another nuclear arms race. Experts are of the opinion that the U.S. is already in material breach of the NPT.

Mohamed El-Baradei said in February that the battle against the spread of nuclear weapons had become more difficult now. He was indirectly blaming the Bush administration for trying to damage the IAEA's credibility on the issue of Iraq's nuclear capability. "People are now more cynical when you talk about the possibility of a country having weapons of mass destruction," he said. He did not openly criticise the Bush administration's double standards on the issue. Strategic affairs experts have said that the U.S. is in anticipatory breach of its security assurance to non-nuclear weapons states that it would not use nuclear weapons against them in return for their concurrence to a renewal and indefinite extension of the NPT.

RECENTLY, George A. Papandreou, Erkki Tuomioja and Laila Frevalds, Foreign Ministers of Greece, Finland and Sweden respectively, called for collective efforts to strengthen international agreements to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In an article they co-authored, the Ministers called on India, Pakistan and Israel to join the NPT. Cuba and Timor-Leste have signed up. After the recent revelations of the shenanigans by Pakistani scientists, international focus now will not be confined to Islamabad but include New Delhi and Tel Aviv, although the Bush administration would prefer that the attention be diverted to only Iran and North Korea. "We urge them (India, Pakistan and Israel) to join the NPT unconditionally... and to place all their nuclear facilities and activities under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards system of the IAEA," they wrote.

The three Ministers also stressed the importance of nuclear weapons states adhering to their NPT commitments. They said that the "perceptions of a lukewarm attitude" by nuclear weapon states would give rise to security concerns and resentment. They acknowledged that the stance adopted by the nuclear weapon states made the appeal for disarmament less credible. They said that embarking on the development and building of a new generation of nuclear weapons, as the Bush administration proposed to do, would have dangerous repercussions.

El-Baradei has echoed similar views. "Countries that perceive themselves to be vulnerable can be expected to try to redress that vulnerability, and in some cases they will pursue their clandestine weapons programmes," he wrote in a signed article recently. He went on to add that the international community should "abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security - and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their future use". In a- none-too-subtle way, he referred to the Bush administration's activities in the past three years.

The Truth Serum trial

A narco-analysis test on Abdul Karim Telgi, the mastermind behind the stamp paper scam, yields an immense amount of information, but doubts are raised about its value as evidence.

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ON December 22, 2003, doctors at the government-run Victoria Hospital in Bangalore prepared a cocktail containing three grams of sodium pentathol and 3,000 ml of distilled water and dextrose. Popularly known as "Truth Serum", it was intravenously administered to a patient over a period of three hours. The rate of administration was so controlled that the patient was slowly driven into a hypnotic trance. The patient was none other than Abdul Karim Telgi, mastermind of the Rs.3,000-crore stamp paper scam, is perhaps the largest case of fraud in the country's history. In order to get him to talk, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) leading the probe obtained permission from the Pune Bench of the Mumbai High Court to conduct a series of scientific tests on Telgi.

The SIT presented the findings of the narco-analysis test in court on February 10, 2004, and the court is yet to decide whether the revelations can be used as evidence. Investigators say that as the drugs took effect and the questioning began, Telgi sang like a canary. He named prominent people with whom he had had monetary transactions; explained his modus operandi, revealed places where he operated, his business associates, how he started his racket, the number of bank accounts he had, and what he owned. A copy of the narco-analysis report prepared by the Karnataka Forensic Laboratory, which Frontline procured, gives details of the test and Telgi's revelations. However, the most damaging information - the names of the persons involved - had been blacked out. "A substantial amount of information tumbled out of Telgi, but to reveal names at this stage would seriously hinder the investigation process," said Raja Thakare, lawyer for the SIT.

Before being subjected to the narco-analysis test, Telgi had undergone a polygraph or lie-detector test and a brain-mapping test. We need to corroborate all the information and substantiate it with other evidence before people can be charged, Thakare pointed out. Among the prominent names that have not been protected is that of former Mumbai Commissioner of Police R.S. Sharma, who Telgi says "was his good friend and helped him in the business and to sell all his goods at Mumbai". He says that he paid Rs.22 lakhs to Sharma, who was arrested in November 2003. Andhra Pradesh legislator Krishna Yadav, another friend of Telgi's, was supposedly paid Rs.32 lakhs.

Although some of the vital information contained in the report has not been disclosed, some damning material has been made public. The report states that when Telgi was questioned about the role of politicians and police officers in his stamp paper business, he said, "People who were in charge of the stamp paper business in each State were carrying out the business and had their own way to contact politicians and police officers." When asked about the involvement of police officers and politicians in Karnataka, Telgi refused to give names stating that there was a threat to his life. Under persistent questioning he revealed that the "threat to his life came from VVIPs and senior police officers". He also disclosed that he had "relations with some Ministers in the Karnataka Cabinet, Members of the Legislative Assembly, the Director-General of Police, Superintendents of Police, Assistant Commissioners of Police (ACP) and even Police Inspectors".

The Telgi scam involved printing and selling counterfeit stamp paper worth thousands of crores of rupees across seven States through a network that was reportedly initiated in 1995 by Telgi, a resident of Belgaum. Telgi started off by apparently colluding with officials of the India Security Press (ISP) in Nashik to purchase second hand equipment from the press and print fake stamp paper, which was sold through licensed agents at attractive discounts across the country. He ran the racket for a year before it was busted. But by that time he had built a thriving business with the help of agents and the complicity of police officials. Telgi was arrested in 2001 and lodged in the Bangalore jail.

It was only after Anna Hazare, the anti-corruption crusader, filed a public interest petition in July 2003 that the magnitude of the scam began to unravel. Since November 2003, the SIT investigations have led to the arrest of an unprecedented number of senior police officers in Maharashtra. As many as 65 persons have been arrested in connection with the scam and several more heads are likely to roll as the investigations continue.

Telgi's revelations may have provided important leads to the SIT, but the method used to extract information from the accused is being questioned. The use of scientific tests, particularly the narco-analysis procedure, has caused a furore among defence lawyers and human rights activists. Whether the information collected from the tests is admissible as evidence in court, whether the SIT is justified in conducting the test on Telgi, whether the information is credible, and whether the method of questioning was ethical or even legal are some of the points that are hotly debated.

On February 23, 2004, the Pune Bench of the Bombay High Court will decide the validity and evidential value of the scientific tests. Thakare, who initiated the use of scientific tests on Telgi, says, "The test results are not enough evidence to convict people. It should be looked at as a tool or an aid towards guiding us in the right direction or supporting evidence." Thakare, who is also the prosecution lawyer in the case, asks, "These people keep claiming they are innocent. If they are innocent why are they scared to go through the tests?"

According to a defence lawyer who prefers to remain unnamed, there are legal lapses in interrogation with the aid of drugs. For instance, he points out, the narco-analysis report has no evidential value as the test violates Article 20(3) of the Constitution, which states that "no person accused of any offence can be compelled to be a witness against himself". In addition, interrogators are not permitted to ask leading questions, he says. That was reportedly the manner in which the investigators questioned Telgi. "The narco tests are a very primitive form of investigation. Developed countries have stopped using this form of enquiry," he says. According to him, there are discrepancies in the information collected when Telgi was in a trance and when he was out of the drugged state. For example, during the Truth Serum test he initially admits to have deposited Rs.2,000 crores with the Bangalore police, but later says that the amount was Rs.2 crores. Eventually, he cannot decide the exact amount he deposited. And in a "normal" condition he denies everything. In another instance, he says that he paid Sharma Rs.22 lakhs and later denies it saying, "It is wrong and fabricated." The narco-analysis report, however, says that the entire procedure has been recorded on video and audio and that it will be available for scrutiny when the case comes up in court. With regard to the line of questioning, the report says, "the questions were designed carefully and were repeated persistently in order to reduce the ambiguities during drug interrogation."

According to S.S. Jog, a former Director-General of Police, Maharashtra, the use of scientific tests is a new trend in investigation. Usually, investigators use it for questioning terrorists or people who have committed heinous crimes, he said. "We need to put it in the context as to why the SIT felt compelled to use it on Telgi. Initially when the stamp paper case came up and Telgi was discovered, the police had no clue about the expanse of his empire. They thought it was a small racket concerning the circulation of some fake stamp paper," Jog told Frontline. It was only after the court instituted an SIT probe into the matter, on the public interest petition, that the scale of the scam became known. But Telgi refused to talk. "What did he stand to lose," asks Jog, "when he was already arrested?"

The intention of using `Truth Serum' was to help investigators with leads and to corroborate evidence that had been already gathered. Unfortunately, police officers, even if guilty of having accepted money from Telgi, have nonetheless been made scape goats for the real culprits. Meanwhile, 1,300 hours of tapped phone conversations between Telgi and his friends and associates have been transcribed by the SIT. Phone calls have powerful evidential value in court. SIT sources say many of the arrests made in connection with the Telgi scam were based on the calls. Now that the transcriptions are almost complete, they may not require the scientific tests, to nail many more culprits.

A peace process in peril

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

Dissension in Jammu and Kashmir's secessionist politics threatens the dialogue process with the Union government, and the beginning of peace, it would seem, is still distant.

ABDUL RASHID suddenly interrupted his critique on the peace process in Jammu and Kashmir, and paddled furiously as a Border Security Force (BSF) patrol boat neared his shikara on the Dal Lake. "Our shikara will tip over if the waves are more than a few inches high," he said. He smiled: "Just like the dialogue, no?"

When centrist leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) next arrive in New Delhi for negotiations with the Union government, two faces will be missing. On February 16, the APHC chose to recognise the leadership of Bilal Lone, who had usurped control of the pro-dialogue People's Conference from his brother Sajjad Lone days earlier. It is unclear just who in fact controls the People's Conference, since Sajjad Lone had expelled Bilal Lone from the party earlier, but the APHC decision now means one of the peace process' most visible advocates is no longer part of the secessionist platform. The APHC acted shortly after Sajjad Lone wrote an angry letter to its chairman, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, condemning the decision of Srinagar religious leader and leading centrist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to attend the funeral rites of top Al-Umar terrorist Rafiq Ahmad Dar. Dar, Sajjad Lone claimed, was responsible for the assassination of his father, Abdul Gani Lone, who was one of the architects of the dialogue process which is now under way.

No one is certain if Sajjad Lone's belief on his father's assassins is correct. Indian intelligence officials say that Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Shahbaz Khan confessed to a top Hizbul Mujahideen operative, Saif-ul-Rahman Bajwa, that his organisation had in fact carried out the hit. Al-Umar's Dar, however, is known to have been present in the crowd at the Friday prayer gathering where the elder Lone was assassinated. Whatever the truth, Sajjad Lone's expulsion reflects deep fissures over the continued influence of terrorist groups on APHC centrists. Mirwaiz Farooq, for one, is believed to have gone to Dar's funeral rites following threats passed on by an intermediary for Al-Umar commander Mushtaq Zargar, who also pressured him to break off the dialogue. Pressure from Islamists is also believed to have led Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi, a non-APHC leader close to elements in the Hizbul Mujahideen, to back out of the next right of dialogue, citing continued human rights abuse. Qureshi was earlier chosen by the Hizbul Mujahideen as its mediator during the Ramzan ceasefire of 2000-2001, and his decision suggests the organisation no longer wants to risk a dialogue process in which it does not have a direct voice.

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Pressures on the APHC to back out of the dialogue grew after the tragic killing of five porters in the course of a military operation near Bandipora, a tragedy which led to massive protests through northern Kashmir (see box). Moderates in the APHC seem to have weakened after the refusal of the Union government to release several prisoners held on terrorism-related charges, a key demand of the five-member team which held talks with Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. Recent events have been good news for the head of the APHC's rejectionist faction, the Islamist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Even as Sajjad Lone was expelled, Geelani announced that he would soon form a new party to "fight Indian rule in Kashmir through peaceful means, guided strictly by the Islamic tenets". Geelani had broken ranks with the APHC last year after it refused to expel the People's Conference, then led by Sajjad Lone, for having put up proxies to contest the 2002 Assembly elections. Significantly, terrorists have stepped up attacks on the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDF) and killed at least six party activists in the first three weeks of February alone: signalling a backlash against the PDP's efforts to break the secessionist political constituency, and win over a section of the Hizbul Mujahideen.

Matters have not been helped by the ill-concealed political meltdown within the PDP-led alliance in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 13, 10 new Ministers were appointed, bringing the strength of the Council of Ministers to 39 - almost half the size of the 87-member Legislative Assembly. The move came after weeks of bitter sniping between alliance constituents. Last month, Deputy Chief Minister Mangat Ram Sharma had walked out of a Cabinet meeting complaining about the PDP's position on bureaucratic appointments. The Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party, meanwhile, had claimed that the PDP was not fulfilling its promises of greater autonomy and development for Jammu province. Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh had even walked out of the alliance's coordination committee. In essence, the controversial expansion was a desperate attempt to firm up support from independent MLAs, who are key to thwarting any coup attempt by the National Conference (N.C.).

Apart from arousing widespread public derision, the expansion has, in fact, opened up the PDP-Congress(I) combine to further political assault. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) noted that the government had, only weeks ago, promised to introduce all-India legislation which would restrict the size of the Council of Ministers. The applicability of much Central legislation is subject to the approval of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, a constitutional privilege that enabled the expansion. Even supporters of the PDP-led alliance, notably Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, were incensed by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's decision to expand the Council of Ministers. Tarigami acidly noted that the Council of Ministers was turning into an "employment exchange," and warned that it would undermine the legitimacy of the PDP-led alliance. "When we don't have enough funds to provide relief to the family members of victims of terrorism or hire even Class IV employees, how can we afford all these Ministers?" Tarigami wondered.

IT takes little to see just what ordinary people in Jammu and Kashmir expect from the peace process: and it certainly is not more Ministers or APHC factions. Soon after India and Pakistan silenced the guns on the Line of Control (LoC) last year, large numbers of villagers in the Teetwal area of Tangdhar began to gather along the Kishanganga river - known as the Neelam in Pakistan. The first such gathering took place in Teetwal on January 18, after mosque public-address systems were used to announce a time for villagers to gather. The ensuing rush took normally stern troops on both sides of the LoC by surprise. "No one had any orders on what to do," an Army officer posted in the area told Frontline. "So we just stood by and watched the fun." At first, villagers simply shouted out greetings to relatives across the LoC, or floated bottles containing letters across the river. Soon afterwards, however, ropes lines were fixed across the Kishanganga, allowing baskets and sacks to be hauled across.

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By the end of January, enterprising villagers were using the ropeways to run a vibrant system of cross-border barter. Sacks bearing copra and textiles began to make their way across the Kishanganga, returning filled with live chicken and blankets. Foodgrain, edible oil and pulses were also bartered, while some families have also sent across cash gifts for births and weddings in their relatives' families. Alarmed officials, concerned that the ropeways could also carry less innocent cargo, stepped in to shut down the meetings in late January. Formal orders were issued on January 28, two days after thousands of villagers had gathered on the river bank to join an official celebration of Republic Day. Residents of the main village, Teetwal, have respected the restrictions, but meetings and trade continue near thinly guarded hamlets like Simhari, Truti Haji, Pahgwan and Kathwan. The last large meeting took place on February 5, after villagers slipped through the gaps in the fence on the LoC.

For the most part, the Indian Army has taken an indulgent view of events. Teetwal's ethnic-Pahari population has had little to do with secessionist politics in Jammu and Kashmir. The Tangdhar border was relatively open until 1988, even though cross-border movement was illegal. Villagers routinely crossed the LoC for community functions, weddings and small-time trade. But in recent years, the Kishanganga valley became the scene of some of the most fierce artillery exchanges on the LoC. Indian troops brought massive force to bear on this sector, cutting off Pakistan's strategically vital Karakoram highway which links the country to Gilgit and China. Little construction work has taken place on the Pakistan-held side of the valley for several years because Indian troops bring down heavy fire on any road movement in the area.

Has the clock turned again? Not quite. Even as Tangdhar residents celebrate the little open-border free trade zone they have created, Pakistan is taking advantage of the ongoing ceasefire to fortify its defences. Underground bunkers and trenches have been constructed to enable troops to move in the face of hostile fire, and entire hillsides blasted away to give Pakistani artillery greater protection from Indian artillery. India, in turn, has hastened construction of its counter-infiltration fence along the LoC, which is nearing completion on the Tangdhar heights. Terrorists seeking to cross the LoC will now face layers of razor-sharp concertina rolls, a welter of electronic motion sensors, and, most dangerous of all, lethal electrified wire. The Indian Army is also investing heavily in bunker-busting missiles and high-technology equipment which will let its Special Forces Regiments (SFR) take out the new defences Pakistan is putting in place.

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All this illustrates the enormous grass-roots pressure for peace in Jammu and Kashmir. "I'd like a just and permanent settlement to the problem of Jammu and Kashmir," says local businessman Mohammad Umar, "but I know it won't happen overnight. In the meanwhile, I would be grateful if the fighting would stop, and I could send my children to school certain they will come home safely."

Hopes for peace, without doubt, are also underpinned by economic self-interest. "Our apple sales have been hit hard by competition from imports arriving in the rest of India," points out Sopore orchard owner Javed Shah, "so our best hope of survival is to reach out to new markets in Muzaffarabad and Lahore." Srinagar high society, for its part, has already been lining up to ensure a seat on the first bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. None of this, however, is likely to take place unless terrorist violence actually stops and a genuine dialogue can begin, a prospect, recent events suggest, is still distant.

War on the LoC may have come to an end, but the beginning of peace, it would seem, is still distant.

'Any dialogue leading to peace is good'

the-nation

Interview with Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the 20th Prime Minister of Pakistan, began his political career as a member of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which he joined in the 1970s. He was elected to the Baluchistan Provincial Assembly in 1977. In the 1980s, he served in the national Cabinet of General Zia-ul-Haq, where he first served as the Provincial Minister for Information, Law and Parliamentary Affairs and later as Minister of State for Local Government.

Jamali was one of the contenders for premiership in the 1985 elections along with Muhammad Khan Junejo and Ilahi Bux Soomro. General Zia chose Junejo. Jamali served in the Junejo Ministry as Minister for Water and Power.

In an interview to Mohammad Shehzad on January 29 in the backdrop of the improving India-Pakistan relations, Jamali talks about his socio-political outlook, the Kashmir situation and, importantly, the need for India and Pakistan to shed their egos in order to achieve the bigger goal of peace. Excerpts:

You come from a place [Baluchistan] that is known for feuds. But the Jamali tribe is reputed to be a peaceful one. What is the secret behind this?

Education and upbringing. My ancestors laid strong emphasis on good education and upbringing. The first batch of educated people in our family dates back to 1939. Moreover, people of our family have been like saints. My great grandfather Sakhee Durmohamamd Jamali was known for his sakhawat [generosity]. So, the family inherited sakhawat.

I got the best education. As far as feuds, violence, and clashes are concerned, these are part of tribal culture. My uncle Mir Jafar Khan Jamali was a man of vision. We call him the Renaissance Man since he introduced education in our tribe. He joined politics and worked closely with [Mohammad Ali] Jinnah. He motivated the poor towards education. This is the secret.

Should not these qualities be part of our political outlook?

I am on record as saying that a transparent system of accountability will change our corrupt political culture within 10 years... the public will start respecting politicians. I believe I am a trendsetter; one must practise what one preaches. To the best of my ability, I have worked with full honesty, patience, tolerance and gentleness to set an example. We don't pick quarrels with others. We don't resort to backbiting. I believe people have started feeling this change.

You have seen good times when society was tolerant. Today, it is intolerant. The hate element is visible in our textbooks. Do you think this hate element is the reason for the growing intolerance and extremism in society?

I have also seen bad times. I used to play hockey. Sports give you three lessons in life. When you win, you should be humble. When you lose, you should learn from your mistakes. At times you draw and become even. Education is not only reading books. Education in my view is taleem [education] and tarbiat [upbringing]. Textbooks and teachers give you education but upbringing comes from parents. Upbringing would have a strong impact on the person.

Pakistani textbooks demonise Indians; even a man like Mahatma Gandhi is depicted as an evil.

I don't agree. Mahatma Gandhi played his role and it was appreciated all over the world.

Is the two-nation theory still valid? If so, then to which nation do the Muslims of India belong? And what is the status of non-Muslims of Pakistan?

I think the two-nation theory has become a one-nation theory. It was over half a century ago. And whichever nation is there, that is there today.

The first head of the Pakistan Muslim League, Chaudhary Khaliq-uz-Zaman, wrote in his autobiography Pathway to Pakistan that the two-nation theory has proved injurious to Indian Muslims.

Many Muslims were left behind in India. They suffered a lot then. They had contributed a lot for the creation of Pakistan. Owing to the conditions and circumstances, they could not make it to this country. Naturally, they had to suffer because they were held responsible for the creation of this country.

Pakistan hates India and at the same time Pakistanis love Indian music and movies.

How could you say that Pakistanis hate Indians? Why should we hate Indians?

Some commentators believe that the February 16 talks between India and Pakistan should have been at the political level instead of the Foreign-Secretary level. The apprehension is that the bureaucracy would sabotage the peace process. This is what happened in Agra.

It is government-to-government talks. It is not person-to-person talks. It is only a start. This is level-I. Level-II will be at the ministerial level. Level-III will be at the chief executive level, whatever the case may be. I see no reason why people think that bureaucracy would sabotage. I don't mistrust my team... As far as we are concerned, we are positive. Even India needs peace. Nobody wants war. War is no solution to any problem. It is peace, dialogue and the convincing power, which has to make a breakthrough.

What are your expectations from the February 16 talks?

I hope we shall reach a conclusion... Of course, the core issue of Kashmir will be solved. In this region, Kashmir is a problem. The Kashmiris need a helping hand. We are trying to contribute so that this issue is settled - it is in the interest of humanity.

What flexibility is Pakistan willing to show and what flexibility does it expect from India?

In my assessment, both parties should sacrifice their ego for the sake of better relations. We have to sacrifice it for a bigger goal. And when you come to dialogue, either you convince me or I convince you. So, let us see who is a better operator.

Columnist Ayaz Amir says that India has not reciprocated the flexibility Pakistan has shown and the confidence building measures it has taken.

I hope Ayaz Amir comes up with better CBMs.

What is the most significant achievement of the 12th SAARC Summit in the India-Pakistan context?

Two issues - for the past few years, internationally, it had been thought that there is no law and order in Pakistan and it cannot host any significant national or international event. The summit has disproved it. Second, Vajpayee saheb was able to convince his people and we ours that this issue has to be resolved. That is the biggest outcome.

What makes Pakistan believe that January 6 was a historical achievement? The India-Pakistan relations have just returned to the pre-December 13, 2001 position.

I never used the word historical. As the Prime Minister, I was the host [of the summit]. I was not in the government before December 13. Things worsened afterwards and now they are getting better.

Has Pakistan reached the level where it can say that India is no more an enemy country?

I have always said that we are enemies to none - that was my speech to Parliament. And we expect no one to be our enemy. There are some issues that need to be discussed and resolved but we have no enmity with anyone. We have no reason for it. But if someone tries to compress us, we won't allow that.

If the threat perception from India decreases, would you consider reducing the defence budget?

Let the time come. But there is a big `if' in this!

How does your government look at the Kashmir movement?

Every person has a right to one's freedom. We have been giving Kashmiris diplomatic and moral support. Kashmiris are the best people to decide. They are the best judges. They are suffering. That is why, in the interest of humanity, this issue must be resolved in a decent and honourable way.

How do you look at the recent All Parties Hurriyat Conference-Indian government talks?

Every country has a right... They have been able to get hold of Ansari, Mirwaiz, Bhatt saheb, the Lone brothers... I think that is politics. But whosoever they may be, they are Muslims and we hope better conclusions would come up. We would appreciate that. We want peace - whether it comes from the Pakistan side or the Indian side. If it is up to the satisfaction of the Kashmiris, it will be a worthwhile effort. If something is leading to peace, that is enough.

What is your reaction to [Indian External Affairs Minister] Yashwant Sinha's statement in the United States that India considers Kashmir its integral part.

He should talk to his Prime Minister because Vajpayee has said something else.

What is the harm in acknowledging the U.S. pressure on the India-Pakistan rapprochement?

There are friendly countries which have facilitated these talks. I would not name these countries.

Positive signs of peace

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

THE official talks between India and Pakistan from February 16 to 18 in Islamabad ended with both sides announcing a "basic road map" for peace. This was the first official level contact between the two countries since the July 2001 Agra summit. Both countries decided to hold a number of official-level meetings over the next six months.

The Indian side at the talks was led by Arun Singh, Joint Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, and the Pakistani side by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Director-General for South Asia. in the Foreign Ministry. Jilani was Pakistan's Deputy High Commissioner in India until last year. His tenure was cut short under unfortunate circumstances, when India-Pakistan relations were extremely tense. Pakistan had wanted the bilateral talks to restart at a higher level, preferably at the level of Foreign Ministers. The Indian side, on the other hand, wanted the first round of talks to be only at the Joint Secretary-level.

At the Islamabad talks, Pakistan asked for a joint agreement to ease the threat of war in the subcontinent. Pakistan wanted a "strategic restraint regime" as part of the agenda for future talks. It said that such an agreement would considerably lessen the risk of nuclear conflict in the region. India has so far only committed to a resumption of the "composite" dialogue covering eight topics, including Kashmir. Pakistani officials say that the real issue is Kashmir. The other issues that will figure in the composite dialogue, they say, have been thrashed out by the two sides at earlier talks. Agreement on issues such as Tulbul, Sir Creek and Siachen, Pakistani officials claim, could be solved overnight. They point out that both sides had almost reached an agreement on Siachen in the 1980s.

The Pakistani side is cautiously optimistic about the prospects of a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue despite the obvious reluctance of the Indian side to give primacy to the issue in the proposed road map for peace.

The Pakistani side had indicated that it would prefer the Kashmir issue to be discussed at a high political level, in a format similar to that adopted for the Sino-Indian border talks, which have been going on since the last year. External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, while expressing satisfaction over the progress of the talks, ruled out the inclusion of "nuclear proliferation" in the region on the agenda. Sinha said that nuclear proliferation was not a bilateral issue.

The United States State Department spokesman has, meanwhile, said that India and Pakistan have travelled a long way since the time the world community expressed fears of a nuclear confrontation in the region two years ago. The spokesperson acknowledged the "supportive" role the U.S. has played in the build-up to the talks.

THERE was a danger of the latest round of talks starting off on a wrong note when an attempt was made to derail the Indian cricket team's scheduled tour of Pakistan. Senior Indian Home Ministry officials started planting stories in some leading Indian newspapers alluding to a serious security threat to the touring Indian team in Pakistan. Minister of State for Home Swami Chinmayanand even categorically stated that the cricket team's tour to Pakistan would not take place. The reason he gave was Pakistan's role in nuclear proliferation. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also started echoing similar views. It was obvious that Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was himself not favourably inclined towards the idea of an Indian team touring Pakistan, at least until such time the general elections were over. It was also being said that a defeat on the cricket field would have an adverse impact on the "feel good" image being projected by the government. Advani has been viewed as a "hawk" as far as India-Pakistan relations are concerned. Pakistani officials had attributed a lot of the blame to the Home Minster for the failure of the Agra talks.

The Pakistan government had signalled that the cancellation or postponement of the much-anticipated tour would lead to serious repercussions on the diplomatic front. On February 14, at a meeting attended by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Advani, Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, it was decided that that the tour should go ahead as scheduled in March. "After taking into consideration all aspects, it was decided that the two countries should go ahead with their cricket matches as proposed," Sinha told the media after the meeting. Restoration of cricket tours was one of the confidence-building measures (CBMs) the two sides had agreed upon, when officials from the two sides met in Islamabad during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit in January.

Sinha told the media in Hyderabad in February that there was never any confusion in the minds of the government regarding the team's Pakistan tour. He said that reviving cricketing ties was one of the important CBMs. Sinha denied that the Home Ministry had issued any adverse note on the security situation in Pakistan. He said that the Ministry's stand on the issue was "clearly misunderstood".

The concerted campaign launched through the auspices of friendly sections of the media by the Home Ministry about the security situation in Pakistan, however, contradicts the assertions of Sinha.

A timetable for talks

India and Pakistan reconstruct the road map for the composite dialogue that was disrupted by the Kargil War, to carry forward the latest peace initiative.

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PROGRESS, as one commonly understands, is movement forward. But in the context of the India-Pakistan bilateral relations it sometimes involves going back, in distance as well as in time. Having moved to the brink of war in 2002-2003, the two countries had to step back in order to make peace and make a new start to resolve their differences. This is precisely what happened when the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries met in Islamabad on February 18 to consider the proposals drafted by the Joint Secretaries to carry forward the peace initiative.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shashank and his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Khokar agreed to step back to 1998 and pick up the threads from the composite dialogue interrupted by the Kargil War. It is a telling commentary on the ways of the establishments in both the countries as six precious years had been lost. The subcontinent was never so close to a nuclear war as in these tense years.

The finalisation of the time-table for a composite dialogue is a sequel to the understanding reached on January 5 after an hour-long meeting between Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Islamabad. A question that naturally arises is that if both sides planned to restart the process interrupted in 1998, why did it take nearly six weeks to reach an agreement on the format of the talks.

In answer to the question lies the torturous path ahead as both sides sit down to negotiate thorny issues such as Kashmir and Siachen. The sceptics are not enthused by the latest bear hugs. The drama and hype of previous moves towards peace, such as the famous bus ride by Vajpayee to Lahore, is not forgotten. The tragedy of India-Pakistan ties is that over the decades so many groups have developed vested interests in bad vibes. Even if the governments are ready, the initiative might not be entirely in their hands. This holds good more for Pakistan than for India. However, there is one reality that holds hope for the latest initiative: the changed world after 9/11. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that no country has been as shaken on account of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States as Pakistan. It has been reeling under one crisis after another since then, each having a direct bearing on the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York.

The military establishment is feeling the pinch of the growing perception in the international community (read U.S.) that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism. Since Al Qaeda with its headquarters in Afghanistan was seen as the architect of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban came under the scrutiny of Washington. Perceived as the patron of the Taliban, Pakistan was not far behind. Islamabad lost its so-called strategic depth and two decades of geo-political investment in Afghanistan once it was forced to withdraw support to the Taliban. The Musharraf regime is still reeling under the chain reaction of the development. From the Taliban the focus shifted to ultra-Islamic outfits and the jehadis (holy warriors). Ultimately it came down to Kashmir.

Significantly, none other than Musharraf brought out the challenges faced by Pakistan in the context of the changed realities. Addressing a government-sponsored Ulama and Mashaikh convention around the same time the Foreign Secretaries were putting their signature to the road map for a composite dialogue, he made a passionate appeal to the clergy to eliminate terrorism and extremism. Musharraf focussed on the theme of measures needed to be undertaken by Pakistan to undo the "four dangerous perceptions" prevailing about the country in the world community. He observed that Pakistan could suffer economically and face United Nations sanctions if these impressions were not removed. He identified sectarianism, nuclear proliferation, the alleged terrorist activities in Afghanistan and those in Kashmir from the soil of Pakistan as the challenges. Indeed, the head of the state of Pakistan was bracketing Kashmir with Afghanistan after assertions for years that what was going on in Kashmir was an "indigenous freedom struggle". Musharraf launched a diatribe against religious parties and individuals preaching jehad (holy war) and said that only the state had the right to declare jehad. "What kind of a country is ours where anyone incites people to take to arms in the name of jehad. This is not jehad," he said, amidst thumping of desks. Once again a remarkable statement considering that Pakistan was the transit camp for people from all over the world for the `jehad' in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1988. Of course, the U.S. and several Arab and Western countries were part of the venture.

There is little doubt that the new world and the vulnerabilities of Pakistan after 9/11 have contributed in a big way to the new approach of the Pakistan military in its dealings with India. The latest technology leak scandal involving nuclear scientists has only made the situation worse for the rulers. Against this backdrop, one has to read the progress on the India-Pakistan dialogue.

AS per the programme finalised, the talks are to begin at the level of Foreign Secretaries in May or June to discuss confidence-building measures (CBMs) on peace and security and Jammu and Kashmir. The road map, which has been sketched keeping in mind the general elections in India which are due in April-May, covers all the eight subjects identified in the 1998 format for composite dialogue. The first round is to culminate in a summit between the Foreign Ministers of the two sides some time in August to review the progress. A preparatory meeting at the level of Foreign Secretaries will precede it.

Significantly, the two sides have also agreed to hold expert-level talks on nuclear CBMs in May as agreed in the Lahore Declaration of February 1999. This would be followed in June by parleys on drug trafficking and smuggling. It is for the first time that the Musharraf government has incorporated an element of the Lahore Declaration into its official policy. Musharraf has been critical of the Lahore accord for what he had termed as its "passing" reference to Kashmir. The Lahore pact had said that respective governments "shall take immediate steps for reducing the risk of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons and discuss concept and doctrines with a view to elaborating measures for CBMs in the nuclear and conventional fields, aimed at prevention of conflict".

Talks on Siachen, the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation project, Sir Creek, economic and commercial co-operation and promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields would be held at the already agreed levels in July. Secretaries or senior officials of the Ministries/departments concerned would take part in meetings on other subjects. Besides, a technical-level meeting between the Director-General of the Pakistan Rangers and the Inspector-General of the Border Security Force would be held in March-April. It has also been decided to strengthen further the contacts between the Directors-General of Military Operations of India and Pakistan.

The public posturing of Pakistan was that it wanted the talks to begin at the political level. However, it is also aware of the pitfalls in the process beginning at a higher level, as it would raise high expectations. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri has been harping on the need for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute before Musharraf gives up his job as Army chief as promised. It is a bold and risky argument. Kasuri is known for his outspokenness. The moot point is, could he be talking on such a sensitive subject without the nod from the top? The risky part of the thesis is, would any accord with Musharraf hold when he is no longer a serving general. As one diplomat quipped, Kasuri seems to say: "Please conclude a Kashmir deal before the duck becomes lame duck."

CBI and national security

It will be judicious to expand the infrastructure of the CBI, a tried organisation with a lot of credibility, and give it the responsibility of handling cases involving national security, rather than create a new Federal Law Enforcement Agency.

THERE are speculations that the Government of India will be talking to State governments again, possibly after the Lok Sabha elections, on the need to create a Federal Law Enforcement Agency (FLEA) to handle cases involving national security. I suppose the outcome of this renewed exercise, after having failed at least twice before, will depend greatly on the alignment of forces in the post-election scenario. This political dimension apart, the move has a number of implications for law enforcement at the national level. I am in particular concerned over its impact on the Central Bureau of Investigation. Already some journalists are gleeful over the prospect of the CBI being "cut down to size". One worthy is excited that the CBI's days are "numbered"!

There are two issues here that require to be explained for the benefit of the lay reader. Why should the States be addressed when what is contemplated is only a Central agency? Secondly, why cannot the CBI continue to look after such cases?

Under the Seventh Schedule, Item 8, of the Constitution of India, `police' is a State subject. If the Centre, therefore, desires to create an agency that is labelled as a `police' force, enjoying all the powers of investigation provided by the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), it can do so only with the concurrence of the States. This is the reason why the CBI, which draws its powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, cannot operate in a State without the latter's blanket or case-by-case consent.

In the past, we have had the ludicrous situation of one or two States withdrawing their original consent to the CBI after an unsubstantiated suspicion that the Centre was using the Bureau for fixing its political opponents. Another State was known to be sticking to its stand that it would give only a case-by-case consent even if those investigated were Central government employees functioning in that State. Nothing can be more preposterous than this. The incalculable damage done to the task of successfully prosecuting a corrupt public servant has not altered that government's truculent stand. The point is that as long as the Constitution promotes this lack of will to cooperate, an attitude that almost borders on hostility to a Central agency, New Delhi cannot set up a new one even if it genuflects before all the States. The only alternative will be to bring the proposed creation under "Central Bureau of Intelligence and Investigation", a subject that figures under the Union list. Even in such a case, the new outfit cannot be a police agency.

Here I must refer to a suggestion made somewhat to this effect several years ago so as to free the CBI from the caprice of the States. Since it is the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that clothes the CBI with its authority, the latter is legally reckoned as a police force. The proposal made once upon a time, the one I am now speaking about, was to give the CBI all the powers of investigation such as arrest and seizure embodied in the CrPC through a special legislation and without actually calling it a police organisation. Possibly, psychologically speaking, the CBI set-up at the time the suggestion was made was not ready to `depolice'itself! Hence the proposal died a natural death within the CBI itself.

The States' opposition to the idea of an FLEA is substantial and unqualified. This is because they see a ghost behind the Centre trying to exercise authority that was ordained by the Constitution for the States. It doubtlessly highlights the sense of insecurity that haunts many Chief Ministers. It also speaks volumes for the dubious track record of New Delhi, especially those following the imposition of the Emergency in 1975. Under the present dispensation, even if political fortunes change drastically, I cannot see any Chief Minister easily changing his or her stand to give a seal of approval to the FLEA. Chief Ministers would prefer to live with the CBI than contend with a new agency. This brings me to two questions: What will be the charter of the proposed organisation? What could be the singular benefit that will accrue to criminal investigation by such agency?

The rationale for FLEA flows from the growing threats to national security from the hands of the terrorist. The worsening of the Jammu and Kashmir situation beginning from 1989, the horrendous Mumbai blasts of 1993, the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight in December 1999 and the more recent attack on Parliament in December 2001 had all unsettled the scene beyond belief. They pointed to concerted efforts from across the border to subvert the country's stable political structure.

A few attempts to secure sensitive information through infiltrants into the defence forces for use by unfriendly neighbours further highlighted the need to tighten up the intelligence and enforcement machinery for protecting our information assets and frustrating enemy manoeuvres. All this led to the feeling that more was to be done to quicken investigations into available leads from registered cases that revealed a foreign hand. Specifically, cases of treason and violence coming under the Indian Penal Code, and incidents attracting the provisions of the Arms Act, Indian Explosives Act, and similar legislation with a security connotation required to be handled expeditiously and with dexterity. The same sense of urgency and expertise was needed with regard to investigations under the Official Secrets Act.

This demand for professionalism and speed is unexceptionable. It requires serious attention that would point to a new resolve to prevent a happening of the scale of 9/11. This is the background to a move to create an organisation that was expected to take up the gauntlet thrown by terrorist outfits. I will be out of my mind to question the logic behind the proposal. I have, however, my own reservations over the belief that an FLEA will have to be created at the expense of the CBI and that the former will somehow be superior to the latter in terms of successful prosecutions.

Those who are for an FLEA are convinced that the CBI cannot deliver the goods if new dynamism and resolve were to be imparted to investigations impinging on national security. They believe that the CBI is overburdened with anti-corruption and conventional crime cases, and cannot therefore fill the bill. Undoubtedly, an element of truth exists in this perception. It must be remembered that the CBI started off as an essentially anti-graft outfit. In course of time, ordinary crime was also dumped on it. This was because State police forces were found inadequate and ill-equipped to deal with important inter-State crime. There was further the requirement for scrupulously non-partisan investigators who were selected nationally and were not influenced by narrow parochial considerations. It is now conceded that the CBI's resources are unbelievably stretched and the agency is finding it difficult to attract talent from the State police except at the Indian Police Service officers' level. But then, can sheer overload of an existing agency provide the justification for a new one which is also likely to be swamped in no time by too many investigations? Will it not be judicious to expand the infrastructure of the CBI, a tried organisation with a lot of credibility, rather than set up a new body?

ASSUMING that the States give their nod to the FLEA, the first issue that arises is, how does one find the enormous manpower it will need? At the IPS level, already, except the CBI, all other Central Police Organisations (CPOs) are finding it difficult to fill middle-rung positions. I am not all that sure that the FLEA will reverse this trend of definite reluctance of IPS officers to come to Central jobs. To fill the cutting-edge level positions that will actually do the investigation work in the field, what will be the FLEA strategy? We cannot obviously allow any depletion of CBI's existing resources by transferring some of its manpower to the FLEA, which will not also get non-IPS officers in the ranks of Deputy Superintendent and Inspectors from the State police. As a result, it will have to go for massive open market recruitment. What it will get through such a labourious process will be raw hands, totally innocent of the rudiments of investigation. Such a pool will have to be trained for several years before being asked to take up responsibilities for investigation and associated field work. What does one do in the interregnum? These are inescapable problems that the Government of India will have to ponder before taking any decisive step to form the FLEA.

Here I must refer to an interesting development in the United Kingdom. In the backdrop of 9/11 and the real terrorist threat to that island, particularly after the collaboration with the United States in Iraq, there had been a demand, for some time, that the country should opt for a Federal Bureau of Investigation -like body that will ensure swift action. This was expected to take care of the absence of a single national police force in the country that would coordinate efforts in a real contingency. Surprisingly, what was announced a few days ago in London by the Home Secretary fell far short of this need. The U.K. will now have a Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) that will replace the existing National Criminal Intelligence Services (NCIS) and the National Crime Squad (NCS). The investigative functions of the Home Office and the Customs & Excise will also be handed over to the SOCA.

Interestingly, anti-terrorist operations will continue to be the responsibility of MI 5 and Scotland Yard's Special Branch. What do we learn from this? We should not succumb to the temptation to copy blindly another country's system, although we can definitely learn from others' experiences and adapt these selectively over a course of time to suit our ethos and needs. This is why I would prefer to expand the CBI's resources to take up fresh responsibilities rather than create a new body. The CBI's wisdom and its unified control are invaluable assets to meet the challenges posed by inimical forces that are trying to destabilise us politically and economically. Given additional facilities and incentives, the CBI could be expected to rise to the occasion. Sharper performance will win for the CBI all-round confidence and put paid to all efforts to raise a new force.

Positive engagement

Relations between the United States and China seem to be acquiring a new dynamism and a strategic dimension that have not been witnessed in recent times.

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CHINA'S equation with the United States seems to be acquiring a new strategic dimension. In a symbolic move, Chinese authorities announced in Beijing on February 12 that `Blue Ridge', the command ship of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, would visit the Shanghai port for five days from February 24. While this has, in a sense, signified the U.S.' recognition of China as a rising power in the Asia Pacific theatre, the overall bilateral engagement between the two countries has implications on a global scale.

The United States' growing concern about the nuclear weapons `programme' of North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK), the consequences of the occupation of Iraq, and the revelations of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with Pakistan as the centre, are making China's centrality to the changing U.S. strategic calculus more obvious. Relevant to this emerging scenario is the global presence of China as Asia's only veto-empowered member in the United Nations Security Council.

Prominent issues between the two countries include Washington's stand on Taiwan and Hong Kong, the `human rights situation' in China and Beijing's attitude towards the new U.S. drive for a "strategic dialogue" on issues of global trade. Therefore it came as a surprise when U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said in Singapore on February 14 that his talks in Beijing a day earlier had shown that "the U.S. and Chinese positions overlap, quite well actually, in terms of their overall [trading] interests". Evidently, despite Beijing's undisguised self-identification as a developing country, the U.S. finds China, or at least tends to see it, as an increasingly compatible trade negotiator in the multilateral sphere. The Chinese Vice-Minister of Commerce, Yu Guangzhou, kept the concerns of developing countries in areas such as agriculture in focus but expressed appreciation for "the U.S.' efforts... in some sectors for resuming the [stalled] talks" on global trade.

Within the broad framework of the current Sino-American engagement, bilateral defence-related consultations have come into sharp focus, notwithstanding the fact that Washington's `take' on the political dynamics in Taiwan at any given time will remain the key determinant of the fundamental state of relations between the U.S. and China.

While announcing the impending visit of the U.S. warship to Shanghai, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said: "We are happy with the constant development of military and state relations between our two countries." She outlined the possibility of a greater diversification of Sino-American military contacts in 2004. This would be exemplified by "high-level visits, contacts between academies, mechanical contacts... and visits of warships as well".

Even more significant is the "positive and constructive" sixth round of Sino-American defence consultations, which concluded in Beijing on February 11 after two days of talks. The political ambience in which the consultations took place was defined by the momentum generated by the high-profile visit to Beijing by Richard Myers, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in January.

The process of periodic defence consultations was begun in 1997 following an accord between the then Presidents of the U.S. and China, Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin. The accord signalled a mutual recognition of each other's strategic compulsions in the post-Cold War period and marked a new phase of warmth in the relations which had plummeted in the wake of the Tinanmen Square incident. With Clinton's visit to China in 1998, the notion of some form of a Sino-American strategic partnership on major international issues, albeit in realpolitik terms, was beginning to gain currency in limited circles. However, the U.S.' bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May 1999 produced shock waves that were felt across the Sino-American political-strategic spectrum. The bilateral ties were back on a relatively normal track by the time Clinton left office in early January 2001. But the defence relations nose-dived after a U.S. naval plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided over the South China Sea in April 2001. By October 2002, when Jiang Zemin met U.S. President George W. Bush at his Crawford ranch, Sino-American engagement had acquired the kind of dynamism that rekindled hopes of a strategic dialogue.

Hu Jintao, who succeeded Jiang Zemin as the General Secretary of the governing Communist Party of China in November 2002 and as the President of the country in March 2003, met Bush twice on the sidelines of two different international conferences. A new high point on the bilateral front was reached on December 9 last year when Bush made a China-friendly comment on the Taiwan issue in the presence of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Bush called upon the Taiwanese leader, Chen Shui-bian, and Beijing to refrain from making any moves that might lead to a change in the status quo.

The timing and context of Bush's comment, coming as it did after the Taiwanese leader announced plans to hold a referendum on the territory's future in March this year, pleased Beijing. The U.S.' ability to rein in Taiwan, a territory which mainland China wants to be reunified with it in the light of `historical realities', is now being gradually put to test. It remains to be seen whether a plebiscite will be held in Taiwan on the issue of a perceived security `threat' from China. Such a public vote, Chen Shui-bian feels, will reaffirm the status of Taiwan as an entity that is independent of China, notwithstanding the `one-China principle' that the international community, including the U.S., has vowed to adhere to.

For China, the immediate political issue is whether the U.S. can indeed stop Taiwan from progressing on the path of `independence'. According to Patrick Tyler, who studied how six American Presidents up to Clinton had engaged China, "throughout the period in which six Presidents have come to know and to understand the People's Republic [of China], the [American] instinct for compromise has prevailed over the instinct to confront or isolate China". Whether the U.S. will act in a similar fashion with regard to Chinese expectations of some form of American pressure over Taiwan remains to be seen. Chen Dongxiao, a Chinese specialist on Sino-American relations, saw the U.S. as less than a "predatory hegemon" in the early phase of the post-Cold War period. However, according to him, "America's exceptionalist hegemonic instincts are not abating in the new century" and Washington's "political imagination has not really adjusted to an unfolding multipolar system".

Authoritative Chinese sources told this correspondent that Bush does not seem to have given any definitive anti-China thrust to his moves in 2003 to fashion "non-NATO alliances" with some countries in the Asia Pacific theatre. However, the extant U.S. plans for a theatre missile defence system in the Asia Pacific region, the distinctive issues of Taiwan and North Korea and the latest concerns raised by Washington on the issue of nuclear proliferation, will shape the course of Sino-American engagement in the short term.

With the U.S. identifying Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan as the virtual ring-leader of the `uncovered' mafia in nuclear arms proliferation, China may get sucked into a new Washington-led non-proliferation project. At the highest policy levels, China's permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council could afford the U.S. a chance to coopt Beijing into any new non-proliferation initiative. As far as `investigations' into instances of nuclear proliferation are concerned, according to observers, the U.S. may even seek to reopen old issues concerning suspected transfers by China of nuclear arms know-how, ballistic missiles or its components and related technology to Pakistan.

In the past, Beijing has always refuted American `intelligence evidence' regarding the alleged transfer of technology and equipment to Pakistan. Some Chinese entities were put under period specific U.S. `sanctions' too. Therefore there is a possibility that the U.S. might bring China under some renewed scrutiny in the specific context of the revelations regarding the activities of A.Q. Khan and his associates, it is speculated.... In this context it is relevant that in recent years, China has displayed a significant degree of diplomatic transparency in relation to publicising the legal and administrative measures that it has taken in the overall non-proliferation domain.

In fact, the view held in some sections of the U.S. policy establishment is that China can be considered as an important part of a potential solution, observers point out.

A key proliferation issue in China's neighbourhood is the nuclear weapons programme pursued by North Korea. North Korea has virtually acknowledged this fact by speaking frequently about its "nuclear deterrence" against the U.S. China, which hosted the first round of multilateral talks on the North Korean nuclear issue last year, has now prepared the ground for a fresh round in Beijing from February 25. The participants are the U.S., North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. The U.S. has publicly acknowledged China's positive contributions on the issue of proliferation vis--vis North Korea. It is against this background that Beijing tends to view Washington's plans for a theatre missile defence system in China's immediate neighbourhood as provocative. The Sino-American defence consultations cannot be divorced entirely from this dimension, although the official word on the latest round of talks is that besides the issue of military cooperation between China and the U.S. at the operational level (inclusive of maritime consultations), Taiwan and North Korea were also discussed.

China's interactions with the U.S. on the continued American occupation of Iraq and the resultant crisis will be a key factor in determining the future dynamics of the growing Sino-American engagement. China has not really done America's bidding in Iraq in a strategic sense. Beijing has, at the same time, expounded its policy of "constructive and cooperative relationship" with the U.S. in a manner that has kept Washington in good humour. The strategic bottom line is that the U.S. sees merit in not antagonising China at this point. According to diplomatic sources, the factors that are currently at play include China's leverage vis-a-vis North Korea and other anti-terror issues, and the huge Chinese market.

China has not been formally `banned' by the U.S. for reconstruction contracts in Iraq. However, one Chinese version is that a Shenzhen-based firm, Zhongxing Telecom Co., was recently awarded a $5-million contract in Iraq in the face of "some resistance on the part of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority". Whether it signifies growing competition between the sole superpower and a rising power remains to be seen.

The fight against hunger

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN world-affairs

The National Food Security Summit held in New Delhi calls upon political parties to accord high priority to food security with a view to eradicating chronic hunger by 2007.

THE National Food Security summit, scheduled over three days in the first week of February in Delhi, was planned as an occasion to mobilise opinion across the political spectrum in the cause of a programme that would ensure the end of hunger and chronic undernourishment by 2007. In the event, it was overtaken by political concerns of a more partisan character, with the beginning of frenetic preparations to fight national elections whose central themes would be whether or not the country is really "shining" and its people really are "feeling good".

The organisers of the summit - the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) - duly truncated the event to two days in order to adjust to the mood of distraction among the political parties. But in submitting the "Summit Statement" to the public, the chairman of the MSSRF, Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, placed on record his expectation that following the elections, the food security imperative would gain cross-party political recognition, paving the way for the adoption of a programme of action that would have a realistic chance of meeting the 2007 deadline.

The scenario is rife with seeming contradictions. Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, who delivered the Coromandel lecture at the summit, seemed implicitly to endorse the production-oriented approach towards food security. The most consequential invention of the 20th century, he said, could well have been the Haber-Bosch process, which allowed the fixing of atmospheric nitrogen in inorganic chemicals that could, in turn, be applied on the soil to enhance its fertility. Without this breakthrough in technology, global food supplies would simply not have been capable of sustaining an increase in world population from one billion at the beginning of the century, to six billion at its end.

Sachs pointed out though, that there are serious gaps in the argument that productivity enhancement serves to bring about food security. India had ridden the wave of the "green revolution" to achieve a degree of surplus in certain crucial food crops. In this respect, it stood on a different footing from much of Africa, which had missed out on the green revolution. Yet, India remained home to over a quarter of the world's chronically undernourished population.

A recent report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), indicates that over a fifth of India's population still suffers from chronic hunger. Indeed, India is one among 17 countries where the number of the undernourished increased substantially in the second half of the 1990s.Tracking the incidence of hunger in India over three reference periods - 1990-92, 1995-97 and 1999-2001 - the FAO plots an initial decline from 214.5 million to 194.7 million, before a near total reversal of all gains pushed up the number of the undernourished to 213.7 million.

In partial recognition of these grim realities, the Planning Commission has proposed that the Tenth Five Year Plan could shift the focus of food policy from aggregate, quantitative figures at the national level, to an individual-oriented, life-cycle based notion of nutritional adequacy and security. The summit endorsed this switch of emphasis and urged that "a life-cycle approach to nutrition interventions" be adopted. A life-cycle approach would focus especially on the stages that are most vital for ensuring healthy growth: pregnancy and lactation in the case of women, and early infancy, pre-school years, and the school-going years in the case of the entire population.

This apart, there is a need to enhance farm productivity "in perpetuity (and) without ecological harm". The irrationalities of the first Green Revolution, which often led to ecological damage and land degradation through excess use of fertilizer and the misapplication of water resources, are to be remedied and a strategic switch effected to more ecologically benign practices. A direct attack on poverty and hunger is then proposed through "improving the purchasing power" of the "socially and economically under-privileged sections of society".

The elimination of hunger also calls for a geographical focus on arid-zone and rain-fed agriculture. In most cases, this approach would dovetail with a direct approach towards the poorer sections, through a programme of promoting producer cooperatives that would enable more efficient and effective backward linkages towards input and technology sources and forward linkages towards remunerative markets.

UNDERLYING all these prescriptions in the recommendations of the summit, of course, is the perceived imperative of population stabilisation. An Atlas of the Sustainability of Food Security, which was released on the occasion, provides a more detailed account of the consequences of population growth, focussing especially on the ecological dimensions. But, if there is any lesson to be drawn from the aggregate of factors listed in the Atlas that have a bearing on population growth rate, it is that this is not a parameter that is amenable to direct control. In fact, chronic food and livelihood insecurity are known to provide a strong incentive for high reproductive behaviour, trapping the poor in a vicious cycle. Breaking this cycle may be a matter of direct empowerment of the poor through assets and assured sources of income.

A number of indices are employed in the Atlas to arrive at a composite index of the sustainability of food security. These include the net area sown, food production per capita, forest cover, availability of surface and groundwater, relative proportion of land degradation, extent of crop diversification, proportion of land sown with leguminous crops which help in fixing nitrogen, the average size of landholdings, the incidence of landless labour and various others. The composite index reveals that the food supply and distribution could be categorised as "extremely unsustainable" in one state, Nagaland. The situation in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Tamil Nadu feature in the "unsustainable" category. Among the agriculturally dynamic States, Punjab, Haryana feature alongside Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra in the "moderately unsustainable" category. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, because of the fairly widespread prevalence of subsistence-oriented agriculture, relatively undisturbed by commercialisation and the market calculus, are classified in the "sustainable" category. The rest are in what is called "moderately sustainable" category.

The bleak conclusion is that no State is free of problems, though each State provides room for optimism on particular kinds of policy actions that could mitigate the situation. The improvements in health care achieved in Assam and Himachal Pradesh, the food affordability achieved in Jammu and Kashmir, for instance, offer pointers to the policy actions that could enhance overall welfare in other States. From Kerala and Karnataka come the lesson that food security status can be improved through the direct provision of nutritional entitlements to all sections.

Underlying all these approaches, perhaps, is the common element of economic empowerment. This requires not merely the restoration of the shrinking asset bases of most of the vulnerable people, but the restitution of their rights to common property resources which have been eroded and encroached upon by commercialisation. The food security summit stops short of making this an explicit requirement of public policy. But the large-scale reform of property institutions is an unstated imperative in their approach. The wave of democratic decentralisation of the 1990s may have created a greater degree of political empowerment at the local level. But the agenda remains unfinished while the ownership of the economic assets base remains skewed against the poor.

Confident steps

S. NAGESH KUMAR advertorial

Under a far-sighted leadership, Andhra Pradesh has made commendable strides in various fields and is emerging as the country's leading Information Technology destination.

THE transformation of Hyderabad from "a quiet administrative centre of an agricultural State into a computer programming and pharmaceutical hub" exemplifies the multi-sectoral development that Andhra Pradesh has acheived.

The city has carved a niche for itself in the field of Information Technology. In the State's high-tech capital, e-Seva centres are almost as common as bank branches. It is also a place where the jobless throng for employment. Reflecting the changes that are sweeping across the State, the green city is slowly emerging as a tourism destination too.

Although the State's economy is predominantly agricultural, a strong service sector is emerging. Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has charted out plans for the State's rapid growth with China and the other `Tiger' economies of East Asia as models.

The State government has identified 19 "growth engines" in the fields of infrastructure, agriculture and the service sector to achieve its goal of creating `Swarna Andhra Pradesh' by 2020. "I am confident that our approach will make Andhra Pradesh the most prosperous State in the country," the Chief Minister said.

Around 1994, the State was just three points above Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in terms of investment as a percentage of the gross State domestic product (GSDP) and 87 points below industrialised States like Maharashtra and Gujarat. During the past decade, it has been bridging this gap, slowly but surely.

In terms of average GSDP growth rate at constant 1993-94 prices, Andhra Pradesh was ranked tenth during 1994-97, but rose to fourth place during 1997-2001. In this period, the State recorded an average GSDP growth of 5.7 per cent while the national average was 5.33 per cent. But for the recurring drought during the past three years, the GSDP growth rate would have been 6.5 per cent, planners say.

According to Chandrababu Naidu, the experience of Andhra Pradesh in the post-reforms period has been `exciting' with the State attracting investment proposals to the tune of Rs.1,36,227 crores between 1991 and 2003. Its strike rate of 68 - percentage of investment proposals that have been implemented - is the highest in the country.

The State is first in terms of live investments in the manufacturing sector, which stood at Rs.30,179 crores. From 1995 to 2003, the industry has provided employment to over 1.8 million people in the State. As a result of the initiatives taken over the decade, Andhra Pradesh has moved to the second position from the 22nd as an investment destination.

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Eight years ago, the government realised the vast potential of Information Technology and IT-enabled services (ITES) and enunciated a policy aimed at putting the State on the fast track. The thrust of the policy was employment generation and wealth creation. Along with incentives such as subsidies on investment and rebate on power tariff and land cost, Andhra Pradesh today offers a state-of-the-art communication infrastructure, including bandwidth. The Hitech City in Hyderabad alone has more than 19 lakh sq. ft of built-up IT space in Cyber Towers, Cyber Gateway and Cyber Pearl. Several IT majors have created additional space of nearly 3.5 million square feet.

It is not surprising that Hyderabad has achieved a phenomenal growth rate of over 300 per cent in ITES, making it the number one destination in the country. A leading international consultant, Mckinsey & Co., has predicted that the State can capture 35 per cent of the market share in IT by 2008.

Proactive policies, a modern infrastructure and innovative marketing strategies have brought major IT players such as Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, Computer Associates, Convergys, Keane, Vanenberg, Motorola, Nokia, Intergraph, Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Mentor Graphics, Satyam, Wipro, GE Capital and Baan to Hyderabad.

ONE of the key initiatives of the Chandrababu Naidu government is e-governance. Over four million registrations of land and properties have been done through the Computer Aided Registration Department or CARD. Equally novel is the e-procurement programme, which was launched on January 29, 2003, with the aim of reducing corruption and delays in procurement by the government. So far, goods and services worth Rs.2,000 crores have been procured, resulting in the saving of Rs.200 crores.

Tourism has been recognised as a sector with a huge potential to provide employment and earn foreign exchange. As many as 219 projects aimed at attracting tourists have been taken up in the public and private sectors with an investment of Rs.1,760 crores.

Andhra Pradesh is keen to involve the private sector in major infrastructure projects such as seaports, airports, roads and bridges and has initiated measures to improve infrastructure for the information technology, agricultural export, pharmaceutical/bio-technology, apparel, textiles and leather industries.

The State government has planned five apparel parks and 13 textile parks with a view to achieving an export target of Rs.25,000 crores by 2010 and generating employment opportunities for at least 15 lakh people. In order to leverage the State's traditional strength in leather goods, the government has decided to set up as many as 94 leather parks.

Andhra Pradesh is justifiably considered the pharmaceutical capital of the country as it accounts for 30 per cent of the national drugs output. It produces pharmaceutical products worth $1.62 billion, 20 per cent of which is exported. There are 2,500 pharmaceutical and 75 biotechnology companies in the State, many of them in the Genome Valley in Hyderabad.

An example of the success achieved by the State in e-governance is the turnaround witnessed in Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL), one of the largest public sector units in Andhra Pradesh, which operates 67 coal mines and employs around 96,000 people. During 1996-97, the accumulated losses of the company stood at Rs.1,219 crores, forcing the government to refer it to the Board of Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR). Following a series of reforms that focussed on technology upgradation, modern management techniques and workers' welfare, the SCCL wiped out all its accumulated losses and entered into the net profit regime for the first time in 27 years. The production of 33.24 million tonnes that the company achieved in 2002-03 is the highest in its 114-year-old history.

POWER is the most important ingredient for the growth of the economy and energy consumption is an indicator of the level of well-being of the people. Ever since the State government initated power reforms in February 1999, nearly 5,000 MW have been added to the existing capacity, an achievement second only to that of Maharashtra. Today, the State's total installed capacity is 10,635 MW.

This has been achieved by investing Rs.12,002 crores in power generation and Rs.6,758 crores in transmission and distribution. Today the thermal-hydel mix is 93:7 as against the ratio of 52:48 in 1990-91. As a result, power supply in the State is now less susceptible to the vagaries of the monsoon. The Credit Rating Information Services of India Limited (CRISIL) has given a rating of 73 per cent to the Andhra Pradesh Transmission Corporation (APTRANSCO), the highest for any electricity board or utility in the country.

A concerted drive against pilferage and technical shortcomings has led to a reduction in transmission and distribution losses from 38 per cent a decade ago to 26.13 per cent at present. APGENCO, the generation corporation, has achieved a plant load factor of 88.9 per cent with several of its plants bagging productivity awards from the Government of India year after year. A crucial component of the State government's policy is the supply of 12,520 million units to nearly 22.82 lakh farmers at a subsidised rate, which has cost the exchequer nearly Rs. 2,592 crores.

KEEPING the farmers' interests in view, the government has been giving high priority to irrigation, water conservation and management. Within a decade, investment in irrigation projects increased three-fold resulting in the creation of a new irrigation potential of 10 lakh acres and the stabilisation of 18 lakh acres. An outlay of Rs.10,845 crores is proposed under the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-07) with emphasis on completing ongoing projects in backward regions.

Agriculture, dairy, poultry and agriculture-allied activities figure high in the government's scheme of things. The net area sown is around 105 lakh hectares, which constitutes 38 per cent of the State's geographical area. In a unique experiment, since replicated in other States, the government has established Rythu Bazars in all cities and towns to assist farmers in exporting their produce.

HAVING identified education as one of the growth engines in its `Vision 2020' document, improvement of literacy is viewed as a step to build a strong foundation for the future. The efforts have yielded results with the literacy rate improving to nearly 62 per cent in 2001 as against 45 per cent in 1991. As a result of the emphasis on literacy through `back-to-school' programmes and lately through `Chaduvula Panduga' (festival of education), the mid-day meal scheme to retain children, the growth rate in literacy (17.02 per cent) is significantly higher than the national average of 12.99 per cent.

Andhra Pradesh can also take pride in the fact that it has nearly 210 engineering colleges today, a far cry from 1995-96, when it had just 32 colleges. The number of medical colleges has also doubled to 21 while dental colleges have increased from two in 1995 to 12 in 2002.

Women's empowerment is another issue on top of the government's agenda. A sustained effort over the years has led to the creation of 4.75 self-help groups with a staggering membership of 65.40 lakh members and an enviable corpus of Rs.1,624.95 crores.

Prioritising health

S. NAGESH KUMAR advertorial

The State government's multi-pronged strategy to check the spread of HIV-AIDS yields results.

RECOGNISING the grave threat posed by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) to the State's human resource development and being conscious of its gender dimensions, policy planners in Andhra Pradesh have emphasised the importance of a strong political commitment in tackling the epidemic comprehensively and effectively.

An HIV-AIDS epidemic is capable of wiping out the gains made by the State - by way of increased life expectancy and reduced morbidity and mortality among mothers, infants and youth - and affecting the population in the most productive age group of 15-49.

Political will, it is realised, is essential to ensure that all sections of society play their parts in the struggle against HIV-AIDS, adequate resources are allocated for effective prevention programmes, that partnerships are developed within the government and with non-governmental organisations and, that people living with HIV-AIDS are not stigmatesed and discriminated against.

A State-level conference of policy-makers was held in March 2003 by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu with a view to sensitising legislators to the HIV-AIDS issue and seeking their active support for and participation in prevention programmes. One morning, MLAs walking into the Assembly were surprised to find a giant-sized condom at the entrance and literature on safe sex plastered on the walls.

Anything less bold would not do since Andhra Pradesh accounts for 1/10th of HIV infections in India. From the time the first case was detected in Hyderabad in 1987, the number of HIV positive persons has grown to four lakhs, next only to Maharashtra in sheer numbers.

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Ninety per cent of HIV-AIDS infections were found to have been transmitted sexually, 3 per cent from parent to child and 1 per cent each through blood, blood products and infected syringes.

According to a study in 2002, although there has been a decline in HIV cases in recent years, the prevalence of the disease among pregnant women is quite high, at 1.62 per cent. The highest positivity rate of 6.75 per cent was recorded in Warangal followed by three per cent in Kakinada. The prevalence of the disease among pregnant women could lead to its spread among the general adult population. Equally worrisome was the finding that the prevalence of HIV among attendees at clinics offering treatment for Sexually-Transmitted Disease or STD was 23 per cent; the highest proportion of this was in Warangal (40.40 per cent) and Tirupati (39.20 per cent).

Among the major factors contributing to the spread of the epidemic in the State are the widespread prevalence of commercial sex, a network of national highways passing through the State, high incidence of STD among men and women, relatively low rates of consistent condom use and the presence of a large migrant population.

A survey done by ORG-Marg for the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) revealed that the percentage of men and women in Andhra Pradesh with non-regular sex partners is the highest in the country - 19 and 7. The State also has the highest incidence of STD while the use of condoms is relatively low (25 per cent) when compared to other high prevalence States and the national average (32).

According to data collected in 2002-03 from voluntary counselling and testing centres (VCTCs), nearly 50 per cent of the infected persons are aged between 15 and 29 years.

These facts made it clear that a multi-pronged strategy for prevention and control of HIV/AIDS was required. The State government worked out a strategy with five major components - prevention of HIV infection in high and low risk populations, programme strengthening through sentinel surveillance, care and support for people living with HIV-AIDS and inter-sectoral collaboration.

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A key aspect of the strategy is the focus on young people. The primary objective of the AIDS Prevention Education Programme (APEP), which has been taken up in 11,464 schools and has covered 1.3 million young people in the State, is to ensure that every young person has adequate knowledge and skills to protect himself/herself from HIV-AIDS. At least 1.2 million college students have been covered under the project.

In 2002, the government tabled a unique Bill in the Assembly - the A.P. HIV and AIDS Prevention Bill - which said that either party in a marriage shall undergo medical examination for HIV-AIDS at the request of the other and they shall exchange medical certificates. Moreover, if an HIV-AIDS-afflicted person gets married with a fraudulent intention (of extracting dowry), he or she could be jailed for up to seven years. Unfortunately, the Bill has not been passed.

Concerted efforts by the government, spearheaded by the Andhra Pradesh AIDS Control Society has yielded results, albeit slowly. According to Health Minister K. Siva Prasada Rao awareness levels among urban women have gone up from 44 per cent in 1998 to 96 per cent, HIV transmission through blood tranfusion has come down from 4 per cent to 1 per cent, the number of people accessing VCTCs has increased and the use of condom has gone up.

The latest sentinel surveillance study conducted during August-October 2003 shows that there is a decline in mean HIV prevalence level among ante-natal cases or ANCs when compared to the previous years. It decreased from 2.02 per cent in 2001 to 1.62 per cent in 2002 to 1.47 per cent in 2003.

However, among ANC attendees in 18 districts it is still above 1 per cent, which means that HIV has become a generalised epidemic in most parts of the State, which has 23 districts. However, the silver lining is that HIV prevalence has come down among ANCs in 10 districts - Chittoor, East Godavari, West Godavari, Warangal, Medak, Nalgonda, Ranga Reddy, Prakasam, Krishna and Hyderabad.

At least 14 government hospitals in the State are providing drugs that can go a long way in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV-AIDS. While the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the "truckers project", and Hindustan Lever takes care of the sexual health project for sex workers, other corporates are involved in capacity building programmes. With such public-private partnership, planners are confident that the battle against HIV-AIDS can be won sooner rather than later.

A tussle on the Yamuna's banks

Questions are raised about Union Minister Jagmohan's motives in evicting slum-dwellers at Yamuna Pushta on the eve of the elections, but there is general agreement about the need to resettle them.

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UNION Minister of Tourism and Culture Jagmohan is making yet another attempt to evict the people living in the illegal slum settlements on the banks of the Yamuna, this time armed with a March 2003 order from the Delhi High Court. Hearing a petition against the encroachment of government land by slum-dwellers and other individuals with vested interests, the High Court had ordered the Delhi and Central governments to clear the banks of the Yamuna. Jagmohan plans to have a promenade there, connecting the Yamuna to national memorials and the Red Fort.

The Yamuna Pushta jhuggis (slum settlements) stretch from the old Yamuna bridge to the Indraprastha Estate Gas Turbine, on both sides of the river. While the western side is the constituency of Janata Dal leader Shoib Iqbal, the Pushta area falls in the constituency of Congress(I) legislator Tajdar Babar. The Pushta population of over 1.5 lakh is mostly from Bihar, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, and about 70 per cent is Muslim. Traditionally, this section votes for the Congress(I). "Arrest me, but you will only remove these people over my dead body," said Babar as she protested against the winter evictions.

Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and her Ministers have resisted eviction attempts and even Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, during a visit to Holambi Kalan, one of the relocation sites, took a jibe at the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's India Shining slogan. The Shahi Imam of Delhi's Juma Masjid also turned up at the Pushta to lament the evictions. Jagmohan's mission to remove the slums has been viewed as a ploy to pump up his chances in the New Delhi constituency and cut into the Congress(I)'s vote share.

Farhad Suri, the Congress councillor from the area, claims that the evictions, starting with Gautampuri, are being done selectively with an eye on the elections and "defy all logic". They should begin where the Yamuna settlement begins near Wazirpur, he said. Jagmohan brushed off the charges, claiming that `petty politics' never interested him. "I started from Gautampuri because it is the most peaceful stretch in the area, compared to say, Sanjay Amar Colony, and evictions have happened without much resistance as anticipated," he said. Twelve companies of the Delhi Police were deployed to make sure things proceeded smoothly. "What about all the demolitions I have undertaken outside my constituency in the past?" he asked.

He claims that he had tried to get the settlements removed even when he was the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi in the 1980s, but the "plans had been persistently frustrated by vested interests". He hit out at the Congress(I) for exploiting the situation and using jhuggi-jhompri clusters as a "massive storehouse of bonded voters".

Of course, there is no way anyone can overstate the case for cleaning up the river, which is crucial to maintain the water table in the city and for its development. The Yamuna and its banks set new standards in squalor. Infectious diseases abound and the river is clogged with factory effluents, human waste and polythene bags. As such, the clearing of slums and factories is long overdue. Mehmood Pracha, a lawyer who has been involved in the Yamuna Pushta issue, said: "Pollution is the big issue that has been ignored in the conflict over land-use."

V.K. Das, a social activist working with Navjyoti, one of the largest non-government organisations in the Pushta area, admits that there are unauthorised, illegal entities. "But they cannot be arbitrarily resettled without basic amenities. And, let us face it, there is a huge gap between the number of plots available and the population at the Pushta," he said. After all, "it is not the electroplating units or large dairies that will bear the brunt of the dislocation, but poor squatter families", says Mona Singh, an education activist who has been working in the area for over a decade. As the Supreme Court has observed, the right to life is linked with the right to shelter. "India is a welfare state, we cannot throw people out on the roadside," said Pracha.

In 1990-2000, 22,000 families were resettled. "Once they are resettled, they will have security of tenure. And travelling some distance to your place of work is part of life in every metropolis," said Jagmohan. However, resettling slum dwellers in far-flung colonies betrays the city's original vision, which aims at both integration and segregation of different income groups within a given geographical area.

On the waterfront itself, chaos reigns. The slum wing and the engineering division of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which has been assigned the logistics of the shift, has registered familes willing to move. About 18,000 shanties have been targeted to move to sites like Madanpur Khadar and Narela. While each family has to give Rs.7,000, the government chips in with Rs.33,000 for the new plot. A January 30 court directive said that on a minimum payment of Rs.500, eligible squatters would be relocated with the assurance that they pay the remaining amount within two months. Families that settled before 1990 were promised 18 square metre plots and those who settled before 1998 would get 12 square metre plots. Also, the government claimed that children would be given admission in government schools within 5 km of the relocated site. However, these claims were questioned in several petitions seeking a stay on the eviction.

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"We have nowhere to go if we do not get a plot. Suddenly, everything we had is being snatched away," says Shashi, whose husband works as a mechanic. In contrast, scrap dealer Ashok says this is business as usual for politicians before elections. "Wait and watch, I will vote here again in the next general elections, five years later," he said.

However, that prospect looks increasingly unlikely with the High Court rejecting yet another petition to stay the eviction on the plea that school examinations were due in a matter of weeks. Congress(I) spokesperson Kapil Sibal, who argued the case, questioned the hurry to evict, while acknowledging that the need to shift was not under dispute. The six petitioners from Sanjay Amar Colony claimed that they were denied plots in the resettlement colonies and that the colonies did not have basic amenities. However, the government rebutted the claims and offered upgradation if required. The High Court accepted the assurance of the chief engineer (slum and JJ cluster) that minimum basic amenities were available at the resettlement colonies. While the petitioners promise to take the matter to the Supreme Court, the evictions are set to resume. Mehmood Pracha admits that "the only point that is debatable in the Supreme Court now is whether they will be ensured accommodation before they are thrown out".

Social activists argue that Delhi's slum problem is not a natural outcome of the urban phenomenon of overcrowding, but a result of the persistent denial of housing rights to the needy. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was allotted 19,182 hectares of land for residential purpose, including low-income housing, but it has used only 20 per cent of this area, according to an assessment by the activist group Sanjha Manch. In fact, in 1994, the year for which MCD figures are last available, squatter families accounted for a fifth of the city's population and occupied a fiftieth of the city's total land.

Gita Dewan Verma, the author of the book Slumming India, believes that the way out is to return to the Delhi master plan, which provides low-income housing to squatter families. Going by the last Census, the current slum population is consistent with this "implementation backlog", she claims. (Though hardly any housing for the poor was developed, the plan did anticipate that 4.25 lakh poor families would need housing by 2001. Delhi has four lakh slum families as per the Census.)

"The 13th Lok Sabha has not had the time to debate the DDA scam, which lies at the bottom of the Pushta problem," claims Verma. Worse still, the supposedly pro-poor initiatives like V.P. Singh's Slum Resettlement Policy, which was struck down by the court in 2002, only exacerbate the problem with measures that actually downsize their rights.

Criticising "this anarchist-endowment paradigm", Verma says "the big guys are all playing from the same side on Pushta. Their play is not going to benefit the river or the city. What the citizens in Pushta are facing may appear to be "their" crisis, but it is actually a crisis of all, betrayed by all in charge".

A people's project to conserve water

K. VENKATESHWARLU advertorial

A water conservation programme based on community participation has been a major success.

LIKE many of the dry-land farmers in the drought-prone Anantapur district, Hanumanthappa was a sad man. His eight-acre farm was barren as he could not make use of even the scanty rainfall that the region had. It was in this desperate situation that a team from the Water Conservation Mission (WCM) met him and suggested that he build a farm pond.

After a lot of persuasion, he agreed to the proposal and joined others in constructing a 2.4-acre-pond with a storage capacity of 8,662 cubic metres. Fortunately, soon after they completed the work, it rained and the pond was full. Today, Hanumanthappa is a cheerful man. He is able to raise two crops and earns an annual income of Rs.30,000.

The Neeru-Meeru (Water and You) programme launched by the WCM, on May 1, 2000, proved to be a boon for farmers like Hanumanthappa. The programme coalesced the water conservation activities of different departments to ensure optimum efficiency.

A look at the land and water profile of the State makes it clear that a large quantum of rainwater is lost owing to various reasons. The State receives an average annual rainfall of 940 mm. Of the 25,83,790 lakh cubic metres (9,130 tmc) of rain water received annually, 10,59,269 lakh cubic metres (3,743 tmc or 41per cent) is lost in evaporation and 10,33,516 lakh cubic meters (3,652 tmc or 40 per cent) is lost as surface run-off. While 2,58,379 lakh cubic metres (913 tmc or 10 per cent) is retained as soil moisture, 2,32,626 lakh cubic metres (822 tmc or 9 per cent) is recharged as groundwater.

The "Neeru-Meeru" approach involves soil and water conservation from ridges to valley, causes water to flow in dry rivers and streams, revives traditional water harvesting structures, adopts a participatory method to increase the rate of ground water recharge, takes up rainwater-harvesting structures in urban areas, promotes recycling of waste water and checks the pollution in water bodies through seepage.

Under the programme, 675 water-stress mandals (a secondary administrative unit like a taluk) have been divided into five categories depending on the water level, the extent of drinking water scarcity and on the location. The programme was a coordinated effort involving the departments of Rural Development, Forest, Minor Irrigation, Rural Water Supply, Municipal Administration and Urban Development and Endowments.

These departments took up various activities in a mission mode to create additional space for storing water and recharging ground water. Activities such as building continuous contour trenches (CCT), staggered trenches, check-dams, percolation tanks, bunds in fields, farm ponds, digging pits, desilting and restoration, were taken up as part of the massive campaign led by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Since May 2000, seven phases of the Neeru-Meeru programme, each stretching over six months, have been implemented until December 2003 and the eighth one is now on. In all, 41,12,698 works were taken up at an estimated cost of Rs.2,425.45 crores, creating 18,592 lakh cubic metres of additional water filling space, until December last year.

That the programme was not a routine one became clear at the implementation stage, when several innovations and experiments were tried out. If the `chain of tanks' concept was revived to link up existing tanks to harvest the surplus flow from one tank into the linked tank, sub-surface dykes were built to arrest the sub-surface flow of water. Further, diversion weirs were laid to fill up tanks with water from the rivulets and a `cascade of check-dams' were built to revive flow in the rivulets.

The WCM proudly claims that the seven-phase programme has created additional storage space for rainwater and raised the ground water recharge potential to 131 tmc, under normal rainfall conditions for the year 2003-04. The impact analysis studies of the Neeru-Meeru programme, conducted by the Ground Water Department, showed that in spite of a 7 per deficit in rainfall, the ground water level at the end of May 2001 stood at 11.73 metres as against 12.27 metres in the previous year (end of May 2000) - a net rise of 0.54 metres. Another study done in the following year found that there was a net rise of 1.23 m in the groundwater level between May 2001and May 2002 in spite of a 35 per cent deficit in rainfall, the ground water level being 11.73 m and 10.50 m respectively.

The availability of drinking water too improved. The WCM says that the number of seasonal/dried-up borewells has come down from 17,952 in May 2000 to 12,663 in May 2001 and to 4,111 in May 2002. During the same period, the number of drinking water transportation habitations came down from 1,083 to 817 and 537 respectively.

In terms of productivity enhancement, additional areas were brought under cultivation through silt application, soil and moisture conservation measures and drought proofing in dry-land farm areas. As for augmentation of irrigation, there was stabilisation of ayacut under the tanks and irrigated areas under borewells besides rejuvenation of dried-up wells and borewells. The soil and moisture conservation work taken up on barren hillocks helped in promoting natural regeneration from viable rootstock. Demarcation of forest boundaries by CCT and tank foreshore areas prevented encroachment.

While much of the funds for the project was raised by pooling the resources of different departments, and linking it up with the Food-For-Work programme, a major chunk came from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in two instalments of Rs.201crores and Rs.205 crores.

The WCM attributes the stupendous achievements to a series of initiatives and a multimedia campaign. It took up a "Jalachaitanyam" (water awareness programme) from April 5 to 14 last year, much before the onset of the monsoon. A major initiative was to ensure people's participation in the conservation effort through committees at the State, district, electoral constituency, municipal, mandal and gram panchayat levels, and involve elected representatives, non-government organisations, self-help groups and officials. The project was executed by stakeholder groups or committees, watershed associations, vana samrakshana samithis, (forest protection committees), water users associations and farmers' clubs.

Detailed documentation and display of works at the village level, a concurrent audit by the Principal Accountant General and a random inspection by the Engineering Staff College of India ensured transparency and accountability. Procedures were simplified so as to enable the local people to carry out water audits at the village level. Cost-effective structures and location-specific designs were adopted. Having successfully implemented a people-centric water conservation programme, the State has now developed a "Water Vision" to address the water concerns of the future.

The making of a township

Jamshedpur, a predominantly tribal village when the Tatas set up there the country's pioneering steel works, is now a bustling township that is home to more than seven lakh people.

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JAMSETJI NUSSERWANJI TATA'S interest in setting up an iron and steel industry in India began soon after he chanced upon a document in 1882 by German geologist Ritter Von Schwarz about the financial prospects of iron-working in Chanda district near Nagpur in the Central Province. But since the region lacked suitable coal, and iron ore itself was not in abundance and was far too scattered, prospecting operations were abandoned. In 1903-04, the Tata team, which included eminent geologist C.M. Weld and Jamsetji's eldest son Dorabji Tata, investigated another site at Durg, 224 km from Nagpur, after Dorabji came across a geological map of the region showing large deposits of iron ore. Conditions in Durg were perfect but there was no water, and as a result this site too was abandoned. Interestingly, 50 years later, on this very site the Bhilai steel plant came up.

The Tatas' search for an ideal location for their steel plant finally ended in December 1907, when on the advice of the geologist P.N. Bose, a village called Sakchi, near the confluence of the Subarnarekha and the Kharkai and surrounded by dense forests, was chosen. The Kalimati railway station was just a few kilometres away.

Construction work began on February 27, 1908. In February 1912 the steel works was commissioned and the first steel ingot was rolled.

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Within a few years the harsh, wild surroundings, sparsely populated by tribal people, started turning into a well-planned township. Dorabji was the driving force behind developing a model town at Sakchi. In 1919, Sakchi was renamed Jamshedpur, after Jamsetji, by Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India. From a population of just 6,000 in 1910, Jamshedpur (now in East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand), is at present home to over seven lakh people.

"Even though Jamshedpur is not technically a metropolis, the reason why its residents do not wish to shift to bigger cities is the quality of life Jamshedpur has to offer," Rajen Sahai, head of the print and electronics media, corporate communication of Tata Steel, told Frontline. It is not just any other industrial township with housing colonies and a hospital close to the main factory. Covering a total of 64 sq km of leasehold land, Jamshedpur, right from its infancy, not just catered to the financial needs of its inhabitants, but was concerned about their well-being. As it is a planned township, a lot of importance is given to the environment. Complete with parks, lakes and a wildlife sanctuary it is one of the greenest industrial towns in the country. In the past 10 years, 5.15 lakh trees were planted all over the town under the Green Millennium Count Down Programme.

The Jubilee Park, covering 225 acres (90 ha), was set up by Tata Steel in 1957, on the occasion of its golden jubilee. Adjacent to the park is the Tata Steel Zoological Park and Safari Park. The Nature Education Centre inside the Zoological Park maintains an excellent library.

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The town's drinking water is considered to be of the highest quality compared to that supplied in the towns and cities in the country today, and has been available on tap for the past 60 years. The drinking water here is popularly known as Aqua Tis. It comes from the Dimna reservoir and the Subarnarekha. Jamshedpur is kept almost clinically clean, with over 120,000 tonnes of garbage a year removed from the town by conservancy vehicles run by Tata Steel. Providing electricity to the town and maintaining electrical installations is the responsibility of the Town Electric Department. The Jubilee Park owes its privileged position of being one of Jamshedpur's main tourist attractions entirely to the Town Electric Department. Three times a week and on selected national and State holidays the whole park is lit up. Maintenance of Jamshedpur, however, is expensive. "To run Jamshedpur, Tisco incurs an average annual expenditure of around Rs.139 crores,'' said Sahai.

The Tatas have contributed immensely to the development of education in Jamshedpur. Today the industrial city can boast of a literacy rate as high as 75 per cent, which, according to the company, is unparalleled in eastern India. Tata Steel runs eight primary schools, nine high schools and a college. Apart from this, the town has five company-aided schools and six schools supported indirectly by Tata Steel. Further, the company extends Millennium Scholarships - unlimited number for engineering - and 50 scholarships for other professional courses. For the uplift of women in the region, the company provides 20 scholarships exclusively for them, and also organises domestic management programmes. It also undertakes awareness programmes on relevant issues such as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), alcoholism and drug abuse.

The Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI), one of the oldest business schools in the country and among the best in Asia, close relationship with the Tatas ever since it was established in 1949. A number of people from the top brass of the Tatas have served as chairmen of XLRI's board of governors. The list includes: Jehangir Gandhy, chairman and managing director (CMD) of Telco (Tata Motors); R.S. Pandey, managing director, Tisco (Tata Steel); Sarosh Gandhy, MD, Telco; and J.J. Irani, MD, Tisco. The current MD of Tata Steel, B. Muthuraman, is a member of the board of governors of the XLRI.

What makes the XLRI one of the most sought after institutions is not only its formidable reputation in imparting management education, but also its stress on the all-round development of a student. Speaking about the success rate of the students in finding jobs, the institute director, Fr P.D. Thomas said: "Companies vie with one another to reach the campus for recruitment; so much so that it becomes a challenge for the placement committee to schedule the process acceptable to the corporates and the students alike." Like the Tatas, the XLRI too gives as much importance to social development as it does to its area of core competence. The institute has for long been involved in promoting literacy, adult education, income-generation projects and health care for the poorer sections of Jamshedpur in general and East and West Singhbhum districts of Jharkhand in particular.

Jamsetji died in 1904 before witnessing the full realisation of his dreams. But to Dorabji, he entrusted the execution of his vision for the town. In a letter to his son, dated 1902, Jamsetji wrote: "Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches." Today, a full 100 years after Jamsetji's death, Jamshedpur can proudly claim to be every bit the way its founder envisioned it.

A world-class steel maker

A pioneering steel company that keeps growing and consciously remains environment-friendly, Tata Steel has transformed Jamshedpur into a thriving township.

TATA Steel, formerly Tata Iron and Steel Company Ltd (Tisco), the company around which the entire township of Jamshedpur was built, was registered in Bombay (now Mumbai) on August 26, 1907. It had an initial capacity of 160,000 tonnes of pig iron, 100,000 tonnes of ingot steel, 70,000 tonnes of rails, beams and shapes and 20,000 tonnes of bars, hoops and rods. It also had a powerhouse, auxiliary facilities and a laboratory. In 1917, the company increased its steel production capacity to 500,000 tonnes and introduced the modern Duplex process of making steel.

Since then the company has continued to add new units and increase capacity. It was in 1955 that Tata Steel began its two million-tonne expansion programme, the largest project in the private sector at that time. The project was completed in December 1958. Beginning in the 1980s, the company undertook in various phases an ambitious modernisation programme. The first phase, between 1981 and 1985, involved a total project cost of Rs.223 crores. This phase, among other things, saw the installation of two 130 tonne LD converters, two 250 tonne a day oxygen plants, a bar forging machine, two vertical twin-shaft lime kilns and a tar-dolo brick plant. Significantly, a six-strand billet caster and a 130-tonne vacuum arc refining unit were installed, that too in the integrated steel plant.

The second phase (1985-1992), involving a project cost of Rs.780 crores, saw for the first time in India coal injection in blast furnaces and coke oven battery with 54 ovens using stamp-charging technology. Apart from this, a 0.3 mtpa (million tonne per annum) wire rod mill, a 2.5 mtpa sinter plant, a bedding and blending plant and a waste recycling plant of 1 mtpa were installed.

The cost of the third phase (1992-1996) of the project was a whopping Rs.3,600 crores, and that of the fourth phase (1996-2000) Rs.1,300 crores. The company recently commissioned its 1.2 mt (million tonne) capacity Cold Rolling Mill Complex at a project cost of Rs.1,600 crores. This four-phase modernisation programme has enabled Tata Steel to be equipped with the most modern steel-making facilities in the world. As of today, the Tata Steel facility has a hot metal capacity of 3.8 mtpa and a crude steel capacity of 3.5 mtpa, corresponding to a salable steel capacity of 3.4 mtpa.

It is Tata Steel's constant endeavour to consolidate its position in the international market. World Steel Dynamics, a premier international magazine, has ranked Tata Steel No.1 among the 12 international companies it has identified as "World Class Steel Makers". Some of the factors that were taken into account for the ranking were: low operating costs, ownership of low cost ore and coal, favourable location for procuring raw materials, skilled and productive workforce, price paid for electricity, special company culture, profitability, and location in a country where steel demand should grow substantially.

The fifth phase lays stress on the utilisation of the intellectual capabilities of the employees to generate sustainable value for the stakeholders. Rather than create new physical assets, the focus has now shifted to how best to use those assets to get optimum value. The human resource management division of Tata Steel has developed what is called the "mindset programme", which is designed to bring about an attitudinal change among the employees. The programme seeks to inculcate in the employees self-awareness and a positive outlook.

In order to improve its performance further the company engaged the internationally reputed consultants McKinsey & Co, who suggested the Total Operational Performance (TOP) Enhancement Programme. A structured, time-bound, team-based programme, it uses the creativity and energy of the employees to increase output with the minimum investment and in the shortest possible time.

A UNIQUE feature of Jamshedpur is the Centre for Excellence. A magnificent structure, it was designed to be a common platform for organisations of varied management disciplines to work together for the promotion of professional excellence. This body is managed jointly by the corporate communication department of Tata Steel and the Society for Promotion of Professional Excellence (SPPE), a non-profit organisation founded by Tata Steel.

Tata Steel has promoted a number of enterprises in Jamshedpur.

TCIL: Prior to the First World War, India's supply of tinplates came primarily from South Wales in Britain. With the outbreak of the War, maritime trade between India and Britain got disrupted. In order to meet the country's requirement of tinplate, Tata Steel and Burmah Oil formed a joint venture, Tinplate Company of India Ltd (TCIL), in 1920. Today TCIL has emerged as the largest manufacturer of tinplate. TCIL has two units at Golmuri in Jamshedpur. One produces electrolytic tinplate (ETP) and tin-free steel (TFS), and the other is the cold rolling mill (CRM). The CRM plant has a capacity of 1,20,000 tonnes per annum. It gets its basic raw material in the form of hot rolled (HR) coils from Tata Steel. From the HR coils the plant manufactures tin mill black plate coils and the ETP/TFS makes tinplate from these.

Like other companies in the Tata group, TCIL too is committed to community development. In 1984, it set up the Community Development and Social Welfare Department to care for the needs of its 1,800-odd employees and their families, and also work towards the development of the community in general through self-help programmes.

TRF: In 1962, Tata Steel, Associated Cement Companies Ltd, Hewitt Robins Incorporated of the United States, and the Fraser-Chalmers division of GEC (United Kingdom) promoted Tata Robins Fraser, now known as TRF. Initially the company focussed on design, manufacture, supply and installation of bulk material handling equipment and systems. Later it diversified into manufacturing and supplying "engineered to order" systems in different fields. With Tata Materials Handling Systems and Tata Technodyne merging with TRF, the company has emerged as one of India's leading sources of port, yard and bulk materials handling equipment and systems. Power, steel, cement, chemical and fertilizer producers and ports, mines and collieries are some of TRF's end-user companies.

TAYO: Tata-Yodogawa Ltd (Tayo) was promoted in 1968 by Tata Steel, Yodogawa Steel Works Ltd and Nissho Iwai Corporation of Japan to make cast iron and cast steel rolls. The Tayo plant, located in Gamharia, 16 km west of Jamshedpur, is spread over 50 acres (20 hectares) and has the most modern technology at its disposal, with the help of which it has established itself as a quality rolls manufacturer. Its plant comprises suitable melting furnaces, a modern roll foundry and a sophisticated machine shop.

The company's customer base is not restricted to India; its products are in demand in West Asia, South-East Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia and the U.S.

Other important subsidiaries of the Tata Steel group of companies are Tata Pigments Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Steel (set up in 1927, it is now one of the largest synthetic iron oxide producing plants in India), and Tata Ryerson Ltd, a joint venture between Tata Steel and Ryerson International of the U.S.

The most recent addition to the Tata Steel group is Jamshedpur Injection Power Ltd, a joint venture between Tata Steel, SKW Metallchemie of Germany and Tai Industries of Bhutan. The company produces and markets desulphurising compounds used for external desulphurisation of hot metal in the steel industry.

Jojobera power plant: Tata Steel commissioned the Jojobera Power Plant on January 13, 1996. The purpose of setting up this 1 x 67.5 MW plant was to supply power to Tata Steel, which is responsible for distributing power to all consumers in its "command area". The plant was set up at a project cost of Rs.300 crores. In 1997, the Jojobera Power Plant was sold to Tata Power, the biggest power utility in the private sector in the country, which supplies power to the Railways and domestic and industrial consumers in Mumbai, and has the capability to cater to the requirements of entire Jamshedpur..

At the time when Tata Steel's expansion and modernisation projects were in full swing, the requirement for power had naturally increased. In order to meet this growing demand, 2 x 120 MW power units were added to the Jojobera plant. The first unit was commissioned in 2000 and the second the following year, increasing the total capacity of the plant to 307.5 MW.

The Jojobera plant is one of the most environment-friendly power plants in the country. Ever conscious of the environment, Tata Steel installed state-of-the-art equipment to meet the current pollution control norms and at the same time make provisions for any stringent rules in the future.

Another important Tata group company is Tata Motors, which has been separated from Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company Ltd (Telco), one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the country. Tata Motors, which has units in Jamshedpur and Pune, occupies the second position in the country today among passenger car manufacturers with 1,33,000 cars in 2003. In the previous fiscal (2002-2003), it sold 1,04,000 passenger cars. At a press conference in Kolkata in January for the launch of the new Indica V2 model, Rajiv Dube, vice-president of Tata Motors passenger car business unit, said that for the year ending March 31, 2004, the company hoped to record a 25 per cent growth in sales.

He said that in the next five years, Tata Motors would make a car for the common man, priced at Rs.1 lakh. The company has also found its way into the international market, with Indica being exported to western European countries following a tie-up with MV Rovers.

Competing well globally

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Interview with Sanjay Choudhry, Head, Corporate Communications, Tata Steel.

"After several years of consolidation, Tata Steel plans to grow in several directions, which will help it create more wealth for the nation and sustain its aspiration to being an EVA+ company on a continuous basis," according to Sanjay Choudhry, head of corporate communications, Tata Steel. In an e-mail interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, he said Jamsetji Nursserwanji Tata and J.R.D. Tata had laid special emphasis on social contributions of organised business. Accordingly, Tata Steel will commemorate the death and birth centenaries of the two by focussing on community initiatives in Jamshedpur and other locations of the company. Excerpts:

This is the centenary year for the Tatas in more ways than one. How do you plan to celebrate the occasion?

The Tata Group is passing through a historic year. Very few companies even at the global level enjoy this privilege of celebrating two birth centenaries. This year, 2004, Tata Steel is celebrating the birth centenaries of two stalwarts of the Tata House and doyens of Indian industry - J.R.D. Tata, who was conferred the Bharat Ratna, and Naval H. Tata, who was awarded the Padmabhushan. This year also marks the death centenary of our founder and visionary, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. Jamsetji believed that meaningful political freedom could come only when supported by economic independence. He set up industries that are now known as core sector industries - steel and power. He also set up the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Tata Steel, with which J.R.D. Tata was directly associated as its chairman for almost five decades, has planned to celebrate his birth anniversary by observing the 29th of every month [JRD was born on July 29] in a special manner. As both J.N. Tata and J.R.D Tata laid special emphasis on social contributions that organised business should make, we have decided to celebrate the centenary in a manner that will focus our attention on community initiatives in Jamshedpur and in our out-locations, such as mines, collieries and other manufacturing bases in the country.

Some of the big initiatives during the year will be the setting up of an athletics academy, conducting a national half-marathon and health, eye treatment and diagnostic camps for rural women, promoting adventure programmes among students and other activities that will showcase the company's commitment to the ideals of these great men. Tata Steel is also close to completing 100 years of successful existence.

What are Tata Steel's expansion plans?

After four phases of modernisation, starting from the 1980s, during which we invested Rs.7,000 crores in state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, Tata Steel can boast of being the youngest steel plant in the world at age 97. Today it has a rated capacity of four million tonnes. But as Tata Steel obtains much more than the rated capacity year after year, we hope to produce about 4.3 million tonnes this year. The Indian economy is healthy and growing at a robust speed. Thus there is a greater need for steel, and Tata Steel sees this as an opportunity. To begin with it will expand its capacity by a million tonnes. The project to achieve this is progressing on schedule. Tata Steel plans to go up to 7.5 to 8 million tonnes by 2007-08 and has already decided to double its capacity by adding another 7-8 million tonnes outside the Jamshedpur location, including in other countries, by 2010.

Could you tell us something about the current projects and also about the Jamshedpur Utility and Services Company (JUSCO)?

After several years of consolidation, Tata Steel has earned the right to grow. It plans to grow in several directions, which will help it to create more wealth for the nation and sustain its aspiration of being an EVA+ company on a continuous basis. Tata Steel plans to set up a Ferro Chrome project with a 0.12 mtpa capacity in South Africa and a titania project in Tamil Nadu. The prospecting licence for the titania project has been received and techno-economic feasibility study consultants have been appointed. Tata Steel also plans to set up a 0.6-mtpa capacity coke plant in Haldia [West Bengal] and participate in a port project at Dhamara in Orissa. JUSCO has been set up to enable Tata Steel to step out of its non-core activities and focus directly on its steel business. JUSCO will be able to concentrate on activities related to providing the best quality of municipal services to its customers, initially in Jamshedpur, and subsequently in other cities. It is hoped that with this arrangement both JUSCO and Tata Steel will achieve greater operational efficiency.

How prepared is Tata Steel to take the company into the global market in terms of plant, machinery, organisation and human resource?

Tata Steel's strength lies in anticipating changes in the global market economy and in its ability to listen to the voice of its stakeholders. Thus when the economy was being globalised and liberalised, Tata Steel first expanded its capacity, then made rapid moves to attain customer focus, and is now ready to enhance the market share of its products by branding them. The branding exercise at Tata Steel has helped it decommoditise steel and reduce the company's dependence on market forces for its turnover. The international automobile industry is highly price sensitive and is willing to source steel from any part of the globe to remain competitive. In India, there has been a boom in the automobile sector. Tata Steel, in spite of smaller volumes, has competed well in this sector. Major auto players such as Maruti, Hyundai, Honda, Ford India, Toyota, Tata Motors and Bajaj purchase steel from us. Tata Steel is also supplying to Malaysian car manufacturer Proton. Multinational white goods makers are also sourcing steel from Tata Steel.

In terms of organisation and human resource, Tata Steel compares with the best in the world. Its manpower is no longer skill-oriented but knowledge-oriented. Tata Steel has thus been adjudged one of the foremost knowledge-based corporates in Asia. Studies by Hewitt Associates have indicated that Tata Steel is at the top as an employer in India and has the best business leaders at the Asia-Pacific level. The company is now in the process of establishing manufacturing facilities in various parts of the world and in due course will become truly global.

Staying connected

TATA Steel has one of the best Information Technology (IT) facilities in the country today. In 1996, Tata Steel pioneered the system of intranet (a private network using the World Wide Web software), by virtue of which information could be shared within the organisation among the vast number of its employees dispersed all over the country. Today it has become one of the largest intranet systems in terms of the locations covered and the services offered.

Although the intranet did not arrive in a big way until 1998, in 1995 the Information Technology Services (ITS) department of Tata Steel started looking at ways of using the concept of Internet within the company. "At that time very few companies in the country were using the Internet and no company had an intranet," said V.P. Srivastav of ITS. Tata Steel had an advantage over other companies in that it already had an optical fibre backbone in place by which it was connected to its out-locations such as mines and collieries.

A dedicated team of the ITS set about the task of installing the intranet project. Its first job was to identify interactive points with the departments and set up a directory containing office information, telephone numbers, information on housing and seniority. Individual departments were encouraged to come online. Today more than 75 sites are maintained by various departments. These sites provide information about the departments and also act as a platform for the exchange of information and a means of communication between their internal customers and suppliers. In order to bring in more people within its intranet fold, ITS implemented SAP (systems, application and products in data processing). This enabled other stakeholders such as vendors and the company's secondary products department to get connected to the network. Varun Jha, chief of information, ITS, observed: "We conduct surveys and attempt to meet regularly with intranet administrators. Through the surveys we get to know what is required. We also meet the administrators of departmental sites to share the best practices and to evolve a common approach." According to company reports, one of the largest users of the intranet is the knowledge management department of Tata Steel, which has "made extensive use of the intranet to bring about a culture of learning and to develop a repository of knowledge pieces available within the company".

In 2002, at the behest of Tata Steel managing director (MD) B. Muthuraman, ITS completed a project of creating a virtual workplace. The MD could now be online with all the intranet users within the company. This service, known as MD online, allows the managing director to address employees through live video to every personal computer on the Local Area Network (LAN).

The company has also made the intranet the primary platform for employee self-services. This allows an employee to access information relating to him such as payroll, leave status and eligibility for various benefits. ITS is also planning to make the contents on the intranet available in Hindi, for employees on the shop floor. According to Rajen Sahay, who heads print and electronic media corporate communications, this project is already under way.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TODAS

On the origins, customs and changing lifestyle of the tribal community in the Nilgiris.

SINCE the early 19th century, a great deal of misinformation has been generated about the origins and socio-economic institutions of the Toda people of the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. But, for over a century now, following the arrival in the Nilgiris in 1901 of Cambridge University scholar W.H.R. Rivers, much painstaking anthropological and linguistic research has been accomplished. This has resulted, inter alia, in such books as Rivers' The Todas (1906), M.B. Emeneau's Toda Songs (1971), Ritual Structure and Language Structure of the Todas (1974) and Toda Grammar and Texts (1984), and this writer's The Toda of South India: A New Look (1986) and Between Tradition and Modernity and Other Essays on the Toda of South India (1998).

Despite this solid body of research, it seems that some writers have no qualms about propagating arrant nonsense in the name of information. As it is said, "a good story travels a thousand miles while the truth decides which pair of socks to wear". Unfortunately a "good story" on the Internet travels even faster, and spreads more widely than ever before.

A particularly galling assemblage of ancient errors and modern absurdities about the Toda people is the anonymously written article "The Todas: Pagan Rituals, Primitive Rites", posted on indiaprofile.com, apparently a site designed to promote tourism and disseminate information about India's people and their cultures.

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Setting a pattern of inaccuracy and blatant misinformation that characterises almost all that follows, the article begins thus: "Todas, an ancient people living in the Nilgiris, are according to anthropologists an offshoot of the `Lost Tribe' of Israel", who "in dress and stature strongly resemble characters from the Old Testament".

This old chestnut dates back to the 1840s. It was first proposed by John Ouchterlony in his "Geographical and Statistical Memoir of a Survey of the Neilgherry Mountains" (Madras Journal of Literature and Science of 1847). It lacked (as it still does) a historical, ethnological, genetic, or linguistic basis; it is simply one long-ago visitor's personal reaction to the appearance of a few Toda men he happened upon while surveying in the Nilgiris.

We may never discover the precise origin of the Todas, but what we do know places them in South India, not ancient Israel.

The Toda language belongs to the Dravidian family; it separated from Tamil-Malayalam circa 3rd century B.C. Todas' linguistic affiliations are with South India and even their much-remarked physical characteristics - tall, with fairish skins, aquiline noses and so on - are neither true of all Todas nor absent in the wider South Indian community.

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The purveyor of misinformation on the Net asserts that "the Todas live in small groups in the forests around Ootacamund", their "beehive shaped huts are made of reed and bamboo woven together" and "at present there are only a few munds [the local word for Toda hamlet] left, each one consisting of five families", which are "self-sufficient... "

Most of this is patently false.

The Todas were never, so far as we can determine, forest-dwellers. Traditionally pastoralists herding their buffaloes over the Nilgiri grasslands, they certainly made extensive use of the sholas (Nilgiri copses) as sources of building materials, shady refuges for their buffaloes, and the locale for ritual activities; but their munds, although near, were not inside them.

Today traditional Toda homes have largely disappeared. Only three or four of more than 50 Toda hamlets can still boast one. Modern dwellings are built of brick and cement, with tiled roofs; some would not be out of place in suburban Chennai or Bangalore.

In 2000 there were 56 occupied Toda munds, considerably more than "a few", and in that year this writer counted from as few as one to as many as 19 households per mund. Moreover, since they belong to specified exogamous patriclans, in turn constituted into two ritually conjoined sub-castes, these settlements are not (and never have been) self-sufficient.

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"The prosperity of each mund is judged by the herds of wild buffaloes owned by it. These ferocious but magnificent animals roam the forests living on wild vegetation and when it is time to milk them, the Toda in charge makes a rather weird call and immediately the wild herd returns to the mund. After the milking is over, the herd adjourns to the wilds again."

The special breed of water buffalo herded by the Todas is indeed a magnificent animal, and can be ferocious - at times even life-threatening - if disturbed by humans with whom it is unfamiliar. But these are not "wild buffaloes"; in fact they are quite docile with their masters, and even a small Toda boy may freely mingle with them.

Able to withstand the cool Nilgiri climate without man-made shelters, these buffaloes thrive on the coarse grasses of the high plateau. They do not "roam the forests living on wild vegetation", and being penned at night, they certainly do not "adjourn to the wilds again"!

It was generally (although not invariably) true - some 40 years ago - that a hamlet's prosperity could be judged by the size of its buffalo herd. It is now altogether another story. Scarcely 10 per cent of Toda households own sufficient buffaloes for economic viability and, for the most part, buffalo husbandry has been sidelined by agriculture.

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It is undoubtedly fair to describe Toda society as "patriarchal". But to write of post-pastoral Toda society in the 21st century as one in which "Toda women play a subsidiary role to the Toda buffalo" is patently absurd. Toda women, like women all over India, are still far from achieving socio-political and ritual parity with their menfolk. But much change is in the air. Moreover, this society seems always to have permitted greater liberty to its womenfolk than is the Indian norm.

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It is true that the Todas once practised female infanticide. However, even 130 years ago, the Todas resolutely denied early claims - blindly repeated by the Web-author - that this was accomplished by having the infant trampled to death by buffaloes.

Infanticide was criminalised in the early 19th century and had more or less vanished among the Todas by the end of that century - more than a hundred years ago.

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A modern Toda home would not be out of place in any Indian City.

Again, it is true that the Todas once practised the relatively rare, although widespread (in Asia, Africa and Oceania), marriage custom whereby a woman has a plurality of husbands. But it is quite untrue to write (in the present tense no less): "Women in each mund are common wives to all the men in the mund." According to traditional Toda practice, a woman in a polyandrous union was the shared spouse of a set of brothers, with whom she lived in a common home. But today, as with female infanticide, polyandry no longer exists among the Todas. To suggest otherwise is misleading.

It is deceptive also to write that "all the women in the mund are `earth-mother' [to a child born there] and all the men are `earth-father' ". Even more so to write that "children from different mothers are not considered related and can cohabit on reaching puberty". Children of different mothers but the same social father are brothers and sisters, and intercourse between them would be "vile incest".

In his (or her) quaint language, the Web author writes: "The birth of a child is in no way connected with togetherness." I trust this is not a plea to recognise virgin birth among the Todas, although it might just be, given that the text continues, the "Moon god is the benefactor and a child is produced when the god so decrees". I presume the writer is trying to explain that biological paternity is (traditionally, at least) unimportant among the Todas. This is correct. How could it have been otherwise in the days when Todas practised fraternal polyandry?

"Social" paternity, on the other hand, was (and remains) of crucial importance, for without it an individual has no social, economic or religious status in Toda society. Such paternity is bestowed, as the Web-author correctly observes, through ritual: the offering by a male (man or boy) of a symbolic bow-and-arrow to the pregnant woman, representing his acceptance of the fruit of her womb.

But this is not a Toda marriage ceremony, as is suggested. Marriage occurs in infancy, because of ritual requirements (no Toda should die unwed, for example). And it is entirely wrong that "a boy selects a girl and lives with her in her parents' home". On the contrary, the Toda people have always followed the common Indian custom of living with or near the husband's family, not the wife's.

"For the Todas a buffalo is sacred, as is a tree with a forked branch [how many trees do not have forked branches?] and the Moon god, not goddess, is the benefactor", "their temples are secret" and "the horns of different animals are kept as deities".

These statements are parodies of the complex Toda religious culture.

Central to Toda religion are sacred places associated with the community's dairy-temples, their related buffalo herds, appurtenances and priesthood. These are not simply places where gods reside, but are themselves divine, the "gods of the places", the Todas say. Entry into a Toda dairy is prohibited to all but Toda males of appropriate ritual status. But the dairy-temples are not "secret"; many are located within the munds themselves.

Loosely, it is right to say that buffaloes (specifically she-buffaloes) are sacred animals for the Todas. (Should that concept be deemed strange in the land that has for so long championed the sanctity of its other bovine, the cow?) But there is a basic dichotomy between those Toda buffaloes associated with dairy temples and those that are principally for domestic use.

Toda dairies, buffaloes and dairymen are graded within a complex hierarchy according to relative sanctity, with different rules and rituals pertaining to each grade. The higher the grade of a dairy, the greater the sanctity of its buffalo herds and the dairyman-priest who operates it. And the more sacred a dairy, the more elaborate are the rituals that accompany the milking, churning and other daily activities of the dairyman-priest, and the greater must be the condition of ritual purity in which he keeps the dairy, its appurtenances and himself. The key concepts underlying the entire dairy complex are also those that inform much of Indic religious culture.

Apart from the "gods of the places", the Todas recognise another category of divine entities, the "gods of the mountains", because most of them are associated with one or another Nilgiri peak. Unlike the "gods of the places", these are anthropomorphic deities, some of whom, the Todas say, once lived on earth as humans, or, better, as super-humans.

We are told that the Todas honour a male "Moon god". Certainly the sun and the moon are revered, but neither is accorded the status of a "god", presumably because the Todas do not associate these celestial bodies with the "sacred places" or with the mountain peaks. Moreover, the Todas are generally quite specific in ascribing female gender to the moon. Pish tienon moxm, tigel tozmoxmu idti [the sun is a male and the moon is a female]," they say.

Probably the Web-author's reference to a sacred tree "with a forked branch" refers to the hill mango, its bark being used in several ritual contexts as a purificatory agent; it is not "worshipped".

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Toda funerary customs, it is alleged, are "for a Toda chief... blood-curdling". Since there are no Toda "chiefs" - only influential men and women - this is already a non-starter.

"The elaborate ceremony is held at daybreak and close to a stream, nearly always 14 miles away from the settlement, of which three to four miles are covered by foot-slogging... . As tradition demands Kotah [sic] blowing numerous trumpet-like horns... precede the procession... considering it an honour to make music on the death of a Toda chief and accept no payment."

Almost every Toda's wish is to die at home amidst loved ones. Thus the first funerary rituals begin right inside the home of the deceased; and are followed by others within the hamlet, before the body is carried to the funeral place.

Each patriclan has at least one funeral place for males and another for females, certainly not all 14 miles away. How much foot-slogging may be involved these days depends entirely on the proximity of a bus stop or motorable track (for those who own or can hire a vehicle).

In the past, a principal male funeral place would have had a special funerary temple, and because of this, there had to be a nearby stream. But since such temples are no longer operated (and there were none in female funeral places anyway), there is no specific requirement that the rites take place, let alone begin, near a stream.

Kota musicians have not played music at Toda funerals for almost 60 years. The Kotas mounted a mobility campaign in the 1930s and 1940s to challenge the general perception of their lowly status, and one of the first things the reformers demanded was that their fellow caste men abstain from playing music at other communities' funerals. Today the musicians at a Toda funeral are professionals, hired for the purpose and paid in cash.

"The body of the chief lying on a decorated cot is carried by pallbearers immediately behind the musicians. Following him are the mund wives, each reclining on a blanket or sheet tied to parallel poles and carried by males... . The wives sit in squares of four and when the sun is high in the sky, at a given signal, they start wailing and weeping... "

The procession from hamlet to funeral place is adequately described - that is, if we substitute "deceased" for "chief" and "deceased's wife (if elderly or infirm)" for "mund wives". But the description of mourning is wrong. The traditional touching of foreheads is not unique to "mund wives" (itself a misrepresentation), but is practised by both males and females. The mourners form pairs, not foursomes, do not seat themselves in squares, nor do all begin to weep "at a given signal", nor, necessarily, "when the sun is high in the sky".

The description of the capture and sacrifice of buffaloes is also far from accurate.

From the early 1960s, if not earlier, it has been customary not to sacrifice more than a couple of animals: one temple and one domestic buffalo for a male, and two domestic ones for an aged and relatively important female, otherwise just one; for a child, only a calf was sacrificed. Moreover, since the mid-to-late 1970s, there has been much opposition by younger, reform-minded Todas to the sacrifice of any buffaloes at all. Many Toda funerals now omit the ancient custom entirely.

"A number of young, powerful, athletic young men dressed only in loincloths and armed with a hammer-like weapon, jump amidst the angry buffaloes to kill them with blows of considerable force between the horns. When the buffaloes charge, the young men nimbly throw themselves between the horns of the animals, and, in an effort to dislodge the riders, the buffaloes drive their horns into the turf. This is when the young men strike the death blow... . Any man in the gathering within reach, can administer the death blow." And, further on, we read: "The young man who kills the maximum number of buffaloes during the cremation ceremony is presented with a key to all the munds and the Moon god continues to be the benefactor."

Most of this description is either hopelessly confused or just plain wrong.

The men who strive to catch the sacrificial buffaloes do not carry any "hammer-like weapon" with which to strike the animals, but use their bare hands to seize the horns (usually two men to each horn), forcing down the animal's head and thereby gaining control of it. (There are no "riders" to be "dislodged".) Another man beats the animal on its flank and rear quarters with a cattle stick. In this manner, admittedly far from pretty, the captured buffaloes are compelled forward to the place of sacrifice.

If a temple buffalo is to be sacrificed, it is dragged up to a special stone or wooden post and tethered with a particular kind of shola creeper. In some circumstances a sacred cattle bell, or bell-like object, is hung around the animal's neck. A dairyman-priest of ritual rank equivalent to the sacrificial buffalo dispatches the animal with the blunt end of an axe, endeavouring to end its mortal life with a single blow directed to the skull between the horns. He should not draw blood since the object of the sacrifice is to release the spirit of an unblemished buffalo, so that it may join the deceased Toda in the afterworld.

For an ordinary domestic buffalo, no ritual tethering is dictated, but an ordinary non-sacred bell may be hung around its neck. The animal is similarly dispatched, but by a layman rather than by a dairyman-priest.

There is no question of a young man being rewarded for killing the most buffaloes. As for a "key to all the munds", does the Web-writer envisage walled Toda settlements with a locked gateway? And since the Todas do not recognise a "Moon god", we can forget that one too.

The Todas used to observe two funeral ceremonies: the first during which the corpse was cremated and the second, up to a year or more later, when certain bodily remains of the deceased were burned. The last second funeral occurred in 1966. To write in the present tense of preserving relics following the cremation is 40 years behind the times.

That, perhaps, is not so bad as the flight of fancy that has the Web-author writing that after the cremation is over, "it is now time for rejoicing. Women from other munds drag the mourning women into the stream nearby. Their clothes are torn off them [and] they are bathed. Their hair is washed and dressed with butter into cork-screw ringlets. It is, however, customary and polite to resist the bath and thus indicate a desire to go on mourning".

One can only stress that all this is pure imagination (an attempt, perhaps, to justify the "pagan" and "primitive" designations of the article's title?).

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This parody of Toda culture concludes, as it began, with a blatant falsehood. "The Todas today are fast disappearing . . . due largely to intermarriage and the brutal killing . . . [of] female infants."

So far as we know, the Toda community has always been a small one, kept so in the past by the combined institutions of polyandry and infanticide. It is also true that the community experienced an alarming demographic decline during the first half of the 20th century. But the reasons were not those given by our Web-person, since female infanticide had mostly ceased and outmarriage, except among Christian converts, was (and still is) rare.

It was rather the prevalence of venereal infections that seriously compromised female fertility, and the problem was tackled with penicillin between the mid-1950s and early 1960s. Today's Toda community, well over a thousand strong, is almost twice as numerous as it was when this writer began his research among them in the early 1960s.

The author, an Osmania- and Oxford-trained British social anthropologist, teaches anthropology and sociology at the University of Brunei Darussalam, Borneo.

He first came to India in 1959, working as a volunteer teacher at Mayo College in Ajmer for half a year before attending Osmania University in Hyderabad as an undergraduate student under a Commonwealth Universities scholarship programme. He conducted his first fieldwork among the Todas during 1962-63 under the auspices of the Delhi School of Economics and, since then, has returned to them 14 times, most recently in 2000.

Rendering criminal justice globally

Global Justice or Global Revenge?: International criminal justice at the Crossroads, by Hans Kochler; Springer Wien, New York, 2003; pages 448.

PUBLIC opinion in India normally asserts itself whenever misguided elements attempt to politicise any of our hallowed institutions. This is perhaps the core strength of our democracy. It is especially true at times when there is a feeling that the executive is trying to browbeat or in any way pressurise one of them into doing something that is even suggestive of a lack of ethics or unfairness. Fortunately, the founding fathers have given us the sinews in the form of the Constitution of India to make realistic our resolve to keep politics out of at least some institutions. The judiciary figures prominently among them.

Barring an occasional suspicion that the executive has brought to bear subtle influence in matters such as appointments, overall, our higher judiciary has a fair record for political neutrality and fearlessness. Not surprisingly, therefore, the average Indian expects similarly high standards of objectivity and rectitude on issues governing organisation and delivery of justice at the international level. Unfortunately, what we have seen around the globe, especially in the West's response to events since the Second World War, and more recently after 9/11, does not inspire us. For example, the experience related to our efforts to bring back Indian terrorists who have sought refuge abroad has been far from encouraging. This is in spite of an international consensus that claims of immunity on the basis of sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction are to be spurned while battling against common crime and terrorism. The same holds good for individuals guilty of crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

For quite some, unsatisfactory ad hoc arrangements in the form of special tribunals have been the only device to bring to book those guilty of genocide or war crimes. The Tokyo and Nuremberg tribunals in the post-Second World War period represent this shoddy attempt to render justice to the victims. By no means could the tribunals be considered international in character. They were, at best, regional bodies intended to dispense "unilateral justice". More recent examples are the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals created by the United Nations Security Council. The politics that dictated the formation of these bodies, however justified it may be, has robbed them of credibility in the eyes of non-partisan nations. Both the tribunals are viewed as creations to promote the interests of victors rather than the outcome of a genuine desire by neutral observers to punish the guilty. It is in this context that the coming into being of the International Criminal Court (ICC) appears to be a positive development. I must quickly add that we cannot be ecstatic about this because the ICC has had too many teething troubles, which have already raised serious misgivings over its ultimate effectiveness. The decision of a superpower such as the United States to keep away from the court, is in particular a blow to all those who want the ICC to blossom into a vibrant body that could be spurred into action whenever atrocities are committed on innocent citizens. This is disappointing if one takes note of the fact that almost all NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies of the U.S. have endorsed the ICC as set out by the Rome Treaty.

The ICC is the outcome of many years of international deliberations since the U.N. General Assembly adopted a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in December 1948. The resolution specifically directed the International Law Commission (ILC) to study the "desirability" and "possibility" of establishing an international judicial body. The progress was slow and halting for a variety of reasons. The exercise received a fillip with the General Assembly direction to the ILC in 1989 to resume the work that had remained suspended for years. The ILC draft of 1994 went through two committees before being accepted by the General Assembly. It was deliberated on for several weeks by an international conference in Rome in July 1998. Initially, as many as 120 countries voted to adopt the treaty. Seven, including the U.S. and China, voted against it, and 21 abstained. By the end of 2000, 139 countries had signed it. Interestingly, President Clinton signed it on December 31, 2000, the last day on which he could do so before handing over reins to his successor. However, on May 6, 2002, the U.S. notified the Security Council (the repository of the Rome Treaty) that it did not intend to become a party and that it was not bound by Clinton's assent. Notwithstanding this volte face by the superpower, since many more than the required 60 countries had ratified the treaty by the end of June 2002, the ICC's jurisdiction commenced on July 1, 2002, with The Hague as its headquarters. The ICC's governing body, the Assembly of States Parties, elected the court's first 18 judges (representing diverse regions and comprising seven women) in February 2003. They assumed office on March 11, 2003. In April last, the Assembly also elected Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina as the ICC's Chief Prosecutor.

PROF. HANS KOCHLER was a U.N-appointed international observer at the famous Lockerbie trial that heard the charges against two Libyan nationals accused of planting a bomb in the Pan Am flight 103; 270 persons were killed when the bomb went off on December 21,1988. This was an outrageous act of terrorism. Had it gone unpunished, it would have been a serious blot on the civilised world. But then, the issue of how to bring the two offenders to trial got bogged down in crass political and inter-state differences between the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Libya. The dispute as to who should try the case and where, proved extremely contentious. It was ultimately resolved on the basis of a Security Council resolution and in the form of a Scottish Court in the Netherlands. This was a unique compromise that raised several delicate issues of international law and concerns over the human rights of the arraigned Libyan nationals. (Of the two who stood trial, one was ultimately convicted.)

The Observer's Report of Prof. Kochler (reproduced at the end of the book) is a strong indictment of the procedure adopted at the Lockerbie trial. The long phase of detention of the two Libyans between their arrival in the Netherlands and the actual commencement of the trial, the unlisted and, therefore, unauthorised presence of two prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice and their informal supervision of the work of the trial prosecutors, and the deliberate withholding of relevant information from the panel of judges were factors that marred the fairness of the whole exercise and presented starkly the lack of a due process of law. Prof. Kochler's concluding remarks are significant: "Regrettably, through the conduct of the Court, disservice has been done to the important cause of international criminal justice. The goals of criminal justice on an international level cannot be advanced in a context of power politics and in the absence of an elaborate division of powers." Strong words indeed, but these make the Professor ponder over the problems that the present ICC is likely to face if due care to maintain fairness and keep power politics away is not taken. He is worried over the U.S.' attitude towards the ICC and cannot possibly manage greater eloquence in conveying his anger.

WHY did the U.S. go back on the clear undertaking given by Clinton through his act of signing the treaty days before he laid down office? Its main concern is over what it calls a lack of 100 per cent protection to its GIs and Commanders stationed in various parts of the globe. It also fears that the ICC is free to decide for itself what "disproportionate" use of force is. Perhaps its most serious apprehension is that the ICC has independent prosecutors with too much power in their hands, and they may start investigations on their own with the approval merely of the ICC. The U.S. has also demanded that the `probationary period', that is, the period for which there can be no amendment to the ICC Treaty, be extended from the present seven years to 10 years. Surprisingly, these reservations have cast aside summarily the fact that the ICC Treaty protects all bilateral agreements exempting U.S. troops stationed abroad from the processes of local criminal justice systems. Interestingly, the U.S. paranoia is reflected in the U.S. Congress' action (2002) in passing the American Service Members' Protection Act (ASPA), which lays down the relationship with the ICC. The Act prohibits any U.S. military assistance to most states that have ratified the ICC Treaty, except of course with the approval of the U.S. President. Also, the U.S. will not take part in any peace-keeping operations anywhere however merited it might be, unless the President certifies to Congress that U.S. servicemen are protected from the jurisdiction of the ICC. Significantly, the U.S., since the coming into being of the ICC, has signed bilateral agreements with more than 15 countries (including India) reaffirming its resolve to bring to justice those guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. This was one way of conveying to the rest of the world its determination not to cooperate with the ICC. In doing so, it has ignored assessments such as those of Ruth Wedgewood ( "Fiddling in Rome", Foreign Affairs, November/December 1998) that the ICC was meant to "... address the horrors of contemporary civil war, not cut down America's pre-eminence in the post-cold war period".

Kochler is quite conscious of the flaws in the concept of an international criminal court, especially in the face of a unipolar world. He is not oblivious of the need for the total separation of the judiciary from the executive, a generally accepted but an elusive feature of most modern polities. The clinical appointment of judges and prosecutors - a subject on which reams can be written on India's experience alone - who do not look up to the executive for any of their needs cannot be overemphasised. This is however an area where one can easily be accused of being dreamy. No doubt, the ICC Treaty does not give special privileges to Permanent Members of the Security Council in the matter of the appointment of ICC judges. Nevertheless, these five members can effortlessly stall or defer proceedings through the device of the Security Council, a collective that has already permitted many flagrant abuses for its own benefit. The saving grace is that the Rome Statute allows only a collective deferral. Where only one or more members of the Security Council seek a deferral, the ICC's Prosecutor can get any permanent member who supports the prosecution to exercise his veto against such deferral.

We know that if judges are to display independence, they need assurance of physical protection. Commenting on this, Kochler says: "The degree of `judicial security' and the safety of the members of the judiciary are not merely problems of `banana republics' but of Western democracies as well." Luckily, India has not had many questionable happenings on this front. But countries such as Spain, Italy and Columbia have had more than their share of problems with regard to judicial security. The ICC could face a predicament in this regard sometime in the future.

There seems to be no end to the exercise of picking holes in the Rome Treaty. The international community would do well to move away from such wasteful activity. It should remember that the ICC is an extraordinary body that is without question required in a strife-torn modern world. Notwithstanding its many shortcomings, as Kochler says, we must concede that the ICC is a definite improvement over the highly politicised ad hoc tribunals appointed by the U.N. from time to time. How it will function in a unipolar world, where one country can dictate terms to all the others, is undeniably tricky and debatable. For instance, very recently, the invasion of Iraq raised serious questions of propriety. Highly persuasive voices in different parts of the globe on this unilateral action by the U.S. were ignored if not totally silenced. We cannot but agree with Kochler when he says: "The new wars are fought in the name of `humanity'; armed confrontations are put in the framework of `good versus evil'; self-righteousness replaces legal scrutiny. The underlying normative concepts... are defined by the hegemonial power that sets the rules of the game and challenges the supremacy of the U.N." The action in Iraq explains the U.S.' perception of the ICC. This should not be allowed to demoralise those who conceived the ICC.

What we have on hand is a bold experiment that will be watched with great interest everywhere. If it has to succeed even modestly, member nations will have to display objectivity, courage and maturity. On the contrary, misguided endorsement of the U.S. intransigence could be ruinous and utterly dangerous to nations whose resources are limited and who are weighed down by the compulsions of geopolitics. They need to take Kochler seriously. Dissecting the ICC model with great dexterity, the Austrian professor successfully promotes interest in a subject that is of the utmost relevance. I would like to see many Indian scholars emulating Prof. Kochler whose work unmistakably bears the stamp of scholarship and clarity of thinking.

Welfare as the motto

Tata Steel's social work is not restricted to charity; rather its effort is to integrate the tribal people of Jharkhand into the fabric of society at large.

THE year 2004 is a special one for the Tatas. It marks the death centenary of Jamsetji Nursserwanji Tata, the founder of the Tata business empire, and the birth centenary of J.R.D. Tata, who gave full expression to the former's vision. Jamsetji's vision of a Tata iron and steel company is inextricably linked with the region in which the plant was built 97 years ago and its people. In the State of Jharkhand, which was carved out of Bihar, Jamshedpur, the chosen site of the Tatas' iron works, enjoys as important a place as the State capital, Ranchi.

It is Tata Steel's philosophy of returning to the land and the people what it gets from them that has made Jamshedpur and its surrounding areas a model for development and progress. For a State dominated by a tribal population, Tata Steel's social work is not restricted to charity, an approach that often runs the risk of dependence and isolation; rather, its continuous effort is to integrate the tribal people into the very fabric of society. The company has helped increase agricultural productivity among the tribal people through assured irrigation, encouraged and assisted them in forming self-help groups, and given them vocational training in areas such as software management, basic computer operations, shorthand, driving, and midwifery.

Tata Steel's Tribal Cultural Society, through its Tribal and Harijan Welfare Cell, has for the past 50 years been involved in a number of programmes, including education, health, women's development and drinking water supply. The cell is responsible for the welfare of 52 villages and four urban slums.

While bringing the tribal people out of isolation, the cell has been careful in preserving their unique culture. The Tribal Culture Centre, set up in 1990, has a room to exhibit tribal artefacts, a herbal garden, a library and an amphitheatre to promote tribal art and cultural traditions. The cell also offers scholarships to meritorious tribal students.

In 1979, at the behest of J.R.D. Tata, the Tata Steel Rural Development Society (TSRDS) was formed. The society began its work with 32 villages; today it reaches out to over 700 villages, not just in Jharkhand but in the neighbouring States of Bihar and Orissa.

In order to improve the quality of life of the tribal people, TSRDS implements a number of income generation schemes and provides assistance in animal husbandry, traditional arts and cottage industry. It also helps them start cooperatives and manage the sales of their products. It facilitates rural agencies and banks to liaise with the self-help groups and with individual entrepreneurs.

In order to combat deforestation, TSRDS, has since the 1980s, been on a mission to create awareness and form `save forest groups'. Forty-one such groups protect 1,700 hectares of land. Women's groups were formed to raise saplings that were transplanted in plantations and households.

The TSRDS can be credited with saving tribes such as the Birhores, the Sabars and the Paharias from the brink of extinction. The itinerant Birhores were compelled to live in temporary houses called `kumbas' when the depleting forest resources could no longer sustain them. They were forced to give up their traditional way of life and turn to other means of livelihood. Most of them became casual labourers. It was then that TSRDS stepped in and built mud houses for them on the fringes of the forests. This project was started in 1984 with 22 mud houses. The Birhores were taught trades linked with the forest. Similarly, TSRDS provides the Sabars and the Paharias, who are now engaged in agriculture, with lift irrigation assistance.

In collaboration with Humana People to People India, TSRDS has launched Project Uday, which aims to provide medicare and eyecare services and safe drinking water, construct low-cost toilets, and help dispose garbage without polluting the environment. Sixty villages have been covered under this project. The project also facilitates the empowerment of women in rural areas. TSRDS has also collaborated with Impact India Foundation and the Indian Railways to sponsor Lifeline Express - the world's first hospital on wheels. This project enables Tata Steel to reach healthcare facilities to inaccessible villages. The company has supported five such projects, which is a record in the corporate sector.

Tata Steel has always promoted sports and nurtured sporting talent. Among its employees, past and present, there are five Padma Shris, 20 Olympians, 30 Arjuna awardees and 50 other sportspersons who have done India proud in the international arena.

The company started two academies, the Tata Football Academy (TFA) in 1987 and the Tata Archery Academy in 1994. Archery is a traditional sport among the tribal people in the region. The academy was set up primarily to nurture this native talent and elevate it to world standards. Cadets chosen for a four-year training course are put up in a wing of the sports hostel at the J.R.D. Tata Sports Complex. They are provided a balanced diet as prescribed by a medical panel and educational and recreational facilities. The training schedules are planned out, and the latest training methods are used.

The TFA nurtures budding football players in a scientific way. Its strategy is simple: "Create superstars from small wonders." Youngsters are chosen carefully for a four-year training programme. The popularity of the TFA has increased over the years and today it is a household name in Indian football.

In the 1999 pre-Olympic games, 12 out of the 20 members of the Indian national football team, including the captain and the vice-captain, were TFA alumni.

In order to promote sports, Tata Steel has built up impressive infrastructure. The JRD Tata Sports Complex has a football ground of international standards, an eight-lane mono-synthetic track, two basketball courts and tennis courts, grounds for archery, hockey and volleyball, chess and boxing centres and a state-of-the-art gymnasium. Apart from this, there is the Keenan Stadium for cricket, which has a seating capacity of 22,000, and the Sumant Moolgaonkar Stadium at Telco.

Jamshedpur, over the years, has hosted innumerable national and international sporting events, including the Tata International Chess Tournament, the Asian Power Lifting Championship and basketball matches featuring the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. The company also regularly organises sporting events for physically challenged persons.

Letters

other
Battle lines

The Cover Story was a hard-hitting analysis of the current political situation ("The battle lines", February 27). Both the BJP and the Congress have understood the forumula of success: lure the regional parties, film stars, sportspersons and businessmen. In this round of general elections, too, the regional parties will play a decisive role in government formation.

The BJP may be accused of exploiting the government exchequer for electoral gain and banking on the "feel good factor", which is non-existent for about 50 per cent of the population. The Congress, which ruled the nation for about 40-years after Independence, is seen as a faction-ridden and tired party. The people should vote for a party that is honest and committed to develop India.

Akhil Kumar Delhi * * *

Seeking votes in the name of Ram is risible ("Back to Ayodhya", February 27). The Ayodhya issue should not figure in the BJP's election manifesto. For five years, when it was in power, the BJP could not take up the issue. Now it talks of Ayodya to win votes. People should see through this and vote for a secular party.

A. Vinoo Fabian Bangalore * * *

The Opposition, besides exposing the hollowness of the claims about the "feel good factor", should present an alternative that would make people feel good really.

A. Jacob Sahayam Thiruvananthapuram Hutton's report

This has reference to "The Hutton twist" (February 27). Lord Hutton's report amounts to giving legitimacy to unlawful acts. Iraq has been destabilised by propagating lies. What Hutton has found is an island of truth in an ocean of lies.

N.D. Sharma Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh Communal attacks

The attacks made on the Christian missionaries and their institutions in Jhabua by religious fanatics have to be condemned ("Terror in Jhabua", February 27). But it is not correct to describe the attempt to spread Hinduism among tribal people as a grand conspiracy and treat similar efforts made by Christians as `social service'. The Sewa Bharati or any such organisation has the same rights as the Christian missionaries to spread their religion.

T. Sankar Bangalore Nuclear power

Thanks for a splendid set of articles on the uses of atomic energy ("DAE at 50", February 27). Certainly, this technology is not new to the Indian mind, nor did we acquire it through unfair means.

Exploiting thorium to meet the primary energy needs of India is an even greater idea. France receives 74 per cent of its primary energy from nuclear sources. There is vast scope for improvement from the 3 per cent India currently generates. This would also minimise our dependence on hydro-electricity.

Malolan Cadambi Texas, U.S. * * *

The Special Feature on the Department of Atomic Energy was informative and educative. The country has made impressive progress in using nuclear energy for constructive purposes. However, as a person who was connected with the Department for over 30 years in various capacities, I feel that the feature could have covered the contributions made by Dr. Bhabha's successors, their viewpoints, and so on.

The best kept secret of the world is the contributions made by scientists and engineers beyond the successful l974 experiments. Indian scientists and engineers declared their boundless faith in Dr. Bhabha's prophecy that the "feasibility of generating electricity by atomic energy will be demonstrated beyond doubt" - as stated in the concluding session of the first Geneva conference. The prophecy has come true.

A.S. Raj Received on e-mail Mind matters

The facts about the functioning of the human brain are fascinating ("Mind matters", February 27). Certainly, brain is the most mysterious part of the human body.

As suggested by Moises Gaviria, Professor of Psychiatry from the United States, the government should treat mental health as a public health issue.

G.E.M. Manoharan, Coimbatore Taslima Nasreen

The genocidal violence against the members of the minority community in Narendra Modi's Gujarat is the best example that can be cited in support of Taslima Nasreen's argument in her interview to Frontline: "Fundamentalism with the support of a government, can become dangerously powerful" (February 13).

The author has expressed her disillusionment over the way women are treated as second class citizens in Islam ("I believe no religion gives women freedom"). However, this is true of even the "enlightened and civilised" Western society. Full emancipation of women has not been achieved anywhere in the world. Let us hope that through her crusade against fundamentalism and struggle for the "secularisation of Islamic countries" and women's emancipation, Taslima will once again prove the adage, "The pen is mightier than the sword."

K.P. Rajan Mumbai India shining

This refers to "Whose India is shining?" by Jayati Ghosh (February 27). In the last five years of National Democratic Alliance rule we heard only about corruption, hunger deaths, jobless growth, displacement of working people, and so on.

Yes, it is true that a small part of India is shining. It consists of less than 10 per cent of our population. This section benefited by the neoeconomic reforms at the cost of the majority people of this country. But, we must remember, this section was always shining and was never in trouble.

Hari Virudhunagar Mysore

In "A city in transition" (February 13), it is stated that Mysore reached its zenith during the rule of Chamaraja Wadeyar (1895-1940). This is not correct. The credit should to Krishnaraja Wadeyar IV who was the Maharaja during that period.

N.V. Suryanarayana New York

The end of agony

other

THE 999 government employees and teachers of schools run or funded by the government in Tamil Nadu, who were dismissed from service in the wake of the July 2, 2003 strike by public servants in the State, have been reinstated. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa made an announcement to this effect in the State Assembly on February 10. She said that she had decided to exonerate these "misguided" employees of the charges and give them a fresh lease of life, because she did not have any ill-will towards them. The orders dismissing them from service, issued on December 31, 2003 on charges that they joined or instigated the strike (Frontline, February 27, 2004), stood cancelled. However, all those reinstated, about 60 per cent of them employees of the State Secretariat in Chennai, have to forego their four annual increments with cumulative effect as punishment.

The announcement brought cheers to the functionaries of employees' unions and political leaders cutting across parties, who have been pressing for their reinstatement through peaceful agitations and legal action. "This is good news. This brings to an end our seven-month ordeal," said a union functionary, who was among those dismissed. "True, the increment cuts are very severe. Anyway, this is like a death sentence being converted to a life-term," he said.

Most of the 999 persons were arrested even before the strike began on July 2, 2003 and charged with instigating or supporting the strike, an offence under the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Essential Services Maintenance Act (TESMA), 2002, as amended by an Ordinance in July 2003, soon after the strike was launched. The government came down heavily on the strike by dismissing over 1.5 lakh employees and teachers and arresting thousands of them. At the intervention of the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court, the government released those arrested and reinstated those sacked, barring 6,072 employees against whom first information reports (FIRs) had been filed. The Supreme Court had directed the government to refer the case of the 6,072 employees to a three-member panel of retired Judges. The panel ordered the termination of service of 999 persons and the reinstatement of the rest, who were, however, punished with demotion to the next lower grade and increment cuts with cumulative effect.

While cancelling the dismissal orders served on the 999 persons and punishing them with increment cuts, the Chief Minister announced that those demoted earlier would be restored to their earlier posts but would suffer two increment cuts with cumulative effect. Employees who were punished with cuts in increments for three years would have to lose only one increment, though with cumulative effect.

Leaders of employees' unions said the petitions challenging the draconian TESMA were still before the Madras High Court and the State Administrative Tribunal. They wanted the government to withdraw all the penal actions against the 6,000-odd employees. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary S.S. Thiagarajan demanded the restoration of the customary "benefits and privileges" of government employees, only to press which they went on strike.

S. Viswanathan

Trial in Karnataka

other

THE Supreme Court rejected on February 17 Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's application for the transfer of the "disproportionate wealth cases" against her and others from a Special Court in Bangalore, Karnataka, to a court in any other State, preferably Andhra Pradesh. In an earlier judgment on November 18, 2003, the court had ordered the transfer of the cases from Chennai to Bangalore. Delivering the judgment, a Bench comprising Justice S.N. Variava and Justice H.K. Sema had said that "there is a strong indication that the process of justice is being subverted" in Chennai and that "it does appear that the new Public Prosecutor is hand in glove with the accused".

Jayalalithaa filed an application requesting a modification of the order, expressing fear about her personal safety in Bangalore. She pointed out that there was a stand-off between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the sharing of the Cauvery river water and that in Karnataka Tamilians had been attacked, the screening of Tamil films had been stopped and a "ban" was in place on the airing of Tamil television channels. She alleged that the atmosphere in Karnataka was "foul and vitiated". The relations between the two States came under strain when the forest brigand Veerappan abducted Kannada film actor Rajkumar, she said.

On February 17, the same Bench rejected her application, saying, "No case is made out for modification of our order [of November 18, 2003]. Justices Variava and Sema said that her apprehensions about the Cauvery water dispute and Veerappan "have got nothing to do with the judicial function..." They pointed to the Karnataka government's affidavit stating that the security of Jayalalithaa and the witnesses would be ensured.

In the first "disproportionate wealth" case, the allegation is that during her tenure as Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996, Jayalalithaa and three of her associates had acquired assets valued at Rs.66.65 crores, which were disproportionate to their known sources of income. As Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa voluntarily drew a salary of one rupee a month. The other accused are her friend Sasikala Natarajan, Sasikala's nephew V.N. Sudhagaran and Sasikala's sister-in-law J. Ilavarasi. The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), Tamil Nadu, filed the chargesheet in this case on June 4, 1997 in a Special Court in Chennai (Frontline, December 19, 2003).

In the second case, the accused are Jayalalithaa and T.T.V. Dinakaran, another nephew of Sasikala and the member from Periakulam in Tamil Nadu in the 13th Lok Sabha. The DVAC chargesheet alleged that Jayalalithaa had illegally funnelled funds amounting to Rs.43.98 crores to foreign countries and used them to buy two hotels in the United Kingdom. These hotels were bought by companies floated by Dinakaran.

The two cases were filed when the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was in power. After the AIADMK returned to power in May 2001, DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan filed two petitions in the Supreme Court, requesting the transfer of the cases to some other State to ensure a free and fair trial. Thus the cases were transferred to Bangalore.

On February 17, the Supreme Court also accepted the contention that transferring the cases to Pondicherry, as desired by Jayalalithaa, would amount to transferring them from the Madras High Court to a court under the jurisdiction of the same High Court.

T.S. Subramanian

A world-class steel maker

A pioneering steel company that keeps growing and consciously remains environment-friendly, Tata Steel has transformed Jamshedpur into a thriving township.

TATA Steel, formerly Tata Iron and Steel Company Ltd (Tisco), the company around which the entire township of Jamshedpur was built, was registered in Bombay (now Mumbai) on August 26, 1907. It had an initial capacity of 160,000 tonnes of pig iron, 100,000 tonnes of ingot steel, 70,000 tonnes of rails, beams and shapes and 20,000 tonnes of bars, hoops and rods. It also had a powerhouse, auxiliary facilities and a laboratory. In 1917, the company increased its steel production capacity to 500,000 tonnes and introduced the modern Duplex process of making steel.

Since then the company has continued to add new units and increase capacity. It was in 1955 that Tata Steel began its two million-tonne expansion programme, the largest project in the private sector at that time. The project was completed in December 1958. Beginning in the 1980s, the company undertook in various phases an ambitious modernisation programme. The first phase, between 1981 and 1985, involved a total project cost of Rs.223 crores. This phase, among other things, saw the installation of two 130 tonne LD converters, two 250 tonne a day oxygen plants, a bar forging machine, two vertical twin-shaft lime kilns and a tar-dolo brick plant. Significantly, a six-strand billet caster and a 130-tonne vacuum arc refining unit were installed, that too in the integrated steel plant.

The second phase (1985-1992), involving a project cost of Rs.780 crores, saw for the first time in India coal injection in blast furnaces and coke oven battery with 54 ovens using stamp-charging technology. Apart from this, a 0.3 mtpa (million tonne per annum) wire rod mill, a 2.5 mtpa sinter plant, a bedding and blending plant and a waste recycling plant of 1 mtpa were installed.

The cost of the third phase (1992-1996) of the project was a whopping Rs.3,600 crores, and that of the fourth phase (1996-2000) Rs.1,300 crores. The company recently commissioned its 1.2 mt (million tonne) capacity Cold Rolling Mill Complex at a project cost of Rs.1,600 crores. This four-phase modernisation programme has enabled Tata Steel to be equipped with the most modern steel-making facilities in the world. As of today, the Tata Steel facility has a hot metal capacity of 3.8 mtpa and a crude steel capacity of 3.5 mtpa, corresponding to a salable steel capacity of 3.4 mtpa.

It is Tata Steel's constant endeavour to consolidate its position in the international market. World Steel Dynamics, a premier international magazine, has ranked Tata Steel No.1 among the 12 international companies it has identified as "World Class Steel Makers". Some of the factors that were taken into account for the ranking were: low operating costs, ownership of low cost ore and coal, favourable location for procuring raw materials, skilled and productive workforce, price paid for electricity, special company culture, profitability, and location in a country where steel demand should grow substantially.

The fifth phase lays stress on the utilisation of the intellectual capabilities of the employees to generate sustainable value for the stakeholders. Rather than create new physical assets, the focus has now shifted to how best to use those assets to get optimum value. The human resource management division of Tata Steel has developed what is called the "mindset programme", which is designed to bring about an attitudinal change among the employees. The programme seeks to inculcate in the employees self-awareness and a positive outlook.

In order to improve its performance further the company engaged the internationally reputed consultants McKinsey & Co, who suggested the Total Operational Performance (TOP) Enhancement Programme. A structured, time-bound, team-based programme, it uses the creativity and energy of the employees to increase output with the minimum investment and in the shortest possible time.

A UNIQUE feature of Jamshedpur is the Centre for Excellence. A magnificent structure, it was designed to be a common platform for organisations of varied management disciplines to work together for the promotion of professional excellence. This body is managed jointly by the corporate communication department of Tata Steel and the Society for Promotion of Professional Excellence (SPPE), a non-profit organisation founded by Tata Steel.

Tata Steel has promoted a number of enterprises in Jamshedpur.

TCIL: Prior to the First World War, India's supply of tinplates came primarily from South Wales in Britain. With the outbreak of the War, maritime trade between India and Britain got disrupted. In order to meet the country's requirement of tinplate, Tata Steel and Burmah Oil formed a joint venture, Tinplate Company of India Ltd (TCIL), in 1920. Today TCIL has emerged as the largest manufacturer of tinplate. TCIL has two units at Golmuri in Jamshedpur. One produces electrolytic tinplate (ETP) and tin-free steel (TFS), and the other is the cold rolling mill (CRM). The CRM plant has a capacity of 1,20,000 tonnes per annum. It gets its basic raw material in the form of hot rolled (HR) coils from Tata Steel. From the HR coils the plant manufactures tin mill black plate coils and the ETP/TFS makes tinplate from these.

Like other companies in the Tata group, TCIL too is committed to community development. In 1984, it set up the Community Development and Social Welfare Department to care for the needs of its 1,800-odd employees and their families, and also work towards the development of the community in general through self-help programmes.

TRF: In 1962, Tata Steel, Associated Cement Companies Ltd, Hewitt Robins Incorporated of the United States, and the Fraser-Chalmers division of GEC (United Kingdom) promoted Tata Robins Fraser, now known as TRF. Initially the company focussed on design, manufacture, supply and installation of bulk material handling equipment and systems. Later it diversified into manufacturing and supplying "engineered to order" systems in different fields. With Tata Materials Handling Systems and Tata Technodyne merging with TRF, the company has emerged as one of India's leading sources of port, yard and bulk materials handling equipment and systems. Power, steel, cement, chemical and fertilizer producers and ports, mines and collieries are some of TRF's end-user companies.

TAYO: Tata-Yodogawa Ltd (Tayo) was promoted in 1968 by Tata Steel, Yodogawa Steel Works Ltd and Nissho Iwai Corporation of Japan to make cast iron and cast steel rolls. The Tayo plant, located in Gamharia, 16 km west of Jamshedpur, is spread over 50 acres (20 hectares) and has the most modern technology at its disposal, with the help of which it has established itself as a quality rolls manufacturer. Its plant comprises suitable melting furnaces, a modern roll foundry and a sophisticated machine shop.

The company's customer base is not restricted to India; its products are in demand in West Asia, South-East Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia and the U.S.

Other important subsidiaries of the Tata Steel group of companies are Tata Pigments Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Steel (set up in 1927, it is now one of the largest synthetic iron oxide producing plants in India), and Tata Ryerson Ltd, a joint venture between Tata Steel and Ryerson International of the U.S.

The most recent addition to the Tata Steel group is Jamshedpur Injection Power Ltd, a joint venture between Tata Steel, SKW Metallchemie of Germany and Tai Industries of Bhutan. The company produces and markets desulphurising compounds used for external desulphurisation of hot metal in the steel industry.

Jojobera power plant: Tata Steel commissioned the Jojobera Power Plant on January 13, 1996. The purpose of setting up this 1 x 67.5 MW plant was to supply power to Tata Steel, which is responsible for distributing power to all consumers in its "command area". The plant was set up at a project cost of Rs.300 crores. In 1997, the Jojobera Power Plant was sold to Tata Power, the biggest power utility in the private sector in the country, which supplies power to the Railways and domestic and industrial consumers in Mumbai, and has the capability to cater to the requirements of entire Jamshedpur..

At the time when Tata Steel's expansion and modernisation projects were in full swing, the requirement for power had naturally increased. In order to meet this growing demand, 2 x 120 MW power units were added to the Jojobera plant. The first unit was commissioned in 2000 and the second the following year, increasing the total capacity of the plant to 307.5 MW.

The Jojobera plant is one of the most environment-friendly power plants in the country. Ever conscious of the environment, Tata Steel installed state-of-the-art equipment to meet the current pollution control norms and at the same time make provisions for any stringent rules in the future.

Another important Tata group company is Tata Motors, which has been separated from Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company Ltd (Telco), one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the country. Tata Motors, which has units in Jamshedpur and Pune, occupies the second position in the country today among passenger car manufacturers with 1,33,000 cars in 2003. In the previous fiscal (2002-2003), it sold 1,04,000 passenger cars. At a press conference in Kolkata in January for the launch of the new Indica V2 model, Rajiv Dube, vice-president of Tata Motors passenger car business unit, said that for the year ending March 31, 2004, the company hoped to record a 25 per cent growth in sales.

He said that in the next five years, Tata Motors would make a car for the common man, priced at Rs.1 lakh. The company has also found its way into the international market, with Indica being exported to western European countries following a tie-up with MV Rovers.

Competing well globally

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Interview with Sanjay Choudhry, Head, Corporate Communications, Tata Steel.

"After several years of consolidation, Tata Steel plans to grow in several directions, which will help it create more wealth for the nation and sustain its aspiration to being an EVA+ company on a continuous basis," according to Sanjay Choudhry, head of corporate communications, Tata Steel. In an e-mail interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, he said Jamsetji Nursserwanji Tata and J.R.D. Tata had laid special emphasis on social contributions of organised business. Accordingly, Tata Steel will commemorate the death and birth centenaries of the two by focussing on community initiatives in Jamshedpur and other locations of the company. Excerpts:

This is the centenary year for the Tatas in more ways than one. How do you plan to celebrate the occasion?

The Tata Group is passing through a historic year. Very few companies even at the global level enjoy this privilege of celebrating two birth centenaries. This year, 2004, Tata Steel is celebrating the birth centenaries of two stalwarts of the Tata House and doyens of Indian industry - J.R.D. Tata, who was conferred the Bharat Ratna, and Naval H. Tata, who was awarded the Padmabhushan. This year also marks the death centenary of our founder and visionary, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. Jamsetji believed that meaningful political freedom could come only when supported by economic independence. He set up industries that are now known as core sector industries - steel and power. He also set up the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Tata Steel, with which J.R.D. Tata was directly associated as its chairman for almost five decades, has planned to celebrate his birth anniversary by observing the 29th of every month [JRD was born on July 29] in a special manner. As both J.N. Tata and J.R.D Tata laid special emphasis on social contributions that organised business should make, we have decided to celebrate the centenary in a manner that will focus our attention on community initiatives in Jamshedpur and in our out-locations, such as mines, collieries and other manufacturing bases in the country.

Some of the big initiatives during the year will be the setting up of an athletics academy, conducting a national half-marathon and health, eye treatment and diagnostic camps for rural women, promoting adventure programmes among students and other activities that will showcase the company's commitment to the ideals of these great men. Tata Steel is also close to completing 100 years of successful existence.

What are Tata Steel's expansion plans?

After four phases of modernisation, starting from the 1980s, during which we invested Rs.7,000 crores in state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, Tata Steel can boast of being the youngest steel plant in the world at age 97. Today it has a rated capacity of four million tonnes. But as Tata Steel obtains much more than the rated capacity year after year, we hope to produce about 4.3 million tonnes this year. The Indian economy is healthy and growing at a robust speed. Thus there is a greater need for steel, and Tata Steel sees this as an opportunity. To begin with it will expand its capacity by a million tonnes. The project to achieve this is progressing on schedule. Tata Steel plans to go up to 7.5 to 8 million tonnes by 2007-08 and has already decided to double its capacity by adding another 7-8 million tonnes outside the Jamshedpur location, including in other countries, by 2010.

Could you tell us something about the current projects and also about the Jamshedpur Utility and Services Company (JUSCO)?

After several years of consolidation, Tata Steel has earned the right to grow. It plans to grow in several directions, which will help it to create more wealth for the nation and sustain its aspiration of being an EVA+ company on a continuous basis. Tata Steel plans to set up a Ferro Chrome project with a 0.12 mtpa capacity in South Africa and a titania project in Tamil Nadu. The prospecting licence for the titania project has been received and techno-economic feasibility study consultants have been appointed. Tata Steel also plans to set up a 0.6-mtpa capacity coke plant in Haldia [West Bengal] and participate in a port project at Dhamara in Orissa. JUSCO has been set up to enable Tata Steel to step out of its non-core activities and focus directly on its steel business. JUSCO will be able to concentrate on activities related to providing the best quality of municipal services to its customers, initially in Jamshedpur, and subsequently in other cities. It is hoped that with this arrangement both JUSCO and Tata Steel will achieve greater operational efficiency.

How prepared is Tata Steel to take the company into the global market in terms of plant, machinery, organisation and human resource?

Tata Steel's strength lies in anticipating changes in the global market economy and in its ability to listen to the voice of its stakeholders. Thus when the economy was being globalised and liberalised, Tata Steel first expanded its capacity, then made rapid moves to attain customer focus, and is now ready to enhance the market share of its products by branding them. The branding exercise at Tata Steel has helped it decommoditise steel and reduce the company's dependence on market forces for its turnover. The international automobile industry is highly price sensitive and is willing to source steel from any part of the globe to remain competitive. In India, there has been a boom in the automobile sector. Tata Steel, in spite of smaller volumes, has competed well in this sector. Major auto players such as Maruti, Hyundai, Honda, Ford India, Toyota, Tata Motors and Bajaj purchase steel from us. Tata Steel is also supplying to Malaysian car manufacturer Proton. Multinational white goods makers are also sourcing steel from Tata Steel.

In terms of organisation and human resource, Tata Steel compares with the best in the world. Its manpower is no longer skill-oriented but knowledge-oriented. Tata Steel has thus been adjudged one of the foremost knowledge-based corporates in Asia. Studies by Hewitt Associates have indicated that Tata Steel is at the top as an employer in India and has the best business leaders at the Asia-Pacific level. The company is now in the process of establishing manufacturing facilities in various parts of the world and in due course will become truly global.

Staying connected

TATA Steel has one of the best Information Technology (IT) facilities in the country today. In 1996, Tata Steel pioneered the system of intranet (a private network using the World Wide Web software), by virtue of which information could be shared within the organisation among the vast number of its employees dispersed all over the country. Today it has become one of the largest intranet systems in terms of the locations covered and the services offered.

Although the intranet did not arrive in a big way until 1998, in 1995 the Information Technology Services (ITS) department of Tata Steel started looking at ways of using the concept of Internet within the company. "At that time very few companies in the country were using the Internet and no company had an intranet," said V.P. Srivastav of ITS. Tata Steel had an advantage over other companies in that it already had an optical fibre backbone in place by which it was connected to its out-locations such as mines and collieries.

A dedicated team of the ITS set about the task of installing the intranet project. Its first job was to identify interactive points with the departments and set up a directory containing office information, telephone numbers, information on housing and seniority. Individual departments were encouraged to come online. Today more than 75 sites are maintained by various departments. These sites provide information about the departments and also act as a platform for the exchange of information and a means of communication between their internal customers and suppliers. In order to bring in more people within its intranet fold, ITS implemented SAP (systems, application and products in data processing). This enabled other stakeholders such as vendors and the company's secondary products department to get connected to the network. Varun Jha, chief of information, ITS, observed: "We conduct surveys and attempt to meet regularly with intranet administrators. Through the surveys we get to know what is required. We also meet the administrators of departmental sites to share the best practices and to evolve a common approach." According to company reports, one of the largest users of the intranet is the knowledge management department of Tata Steel, which has "made extensive use of the intranet to bring about a culture of learning and to develop a repository of knowledge pieces available within the company".

In 2002, at the behest of Tata Steel managing director (MD) B. Muthuraman, ITS completed a project of creating a virtual workplace. The MD could now be online with all the intranet users within the company. This service, known as MD online, allows the managing director to address employees through live video to every personal computer on the Local Area Network (LAN).

The company has also made the intranet the primary platform for employee self-services. This allows an employee to access information relating to him such as payroll, leave status and eligibility for various benefits. ITS is also planning to make the contents on the intranet available in Hindi, for employees on the shop floor. According to Rajen Sahay, who heads print and electronic media corporate communications, this project is already under way.

Welfare as the motto

Tata Steel's social work is not restricted to charity; rather its effort is to integrate the tribal people of Jharkhand into the fabric of society at large.

THE year 2004 is a special one for the Tatas. It marks the death centenary of Jamsetji Nursserwanji Tata, the founder of the Tata business empire, and the birth centenary of J.R.D. Tata, who gave full expression to the former's vision. Jamsetji's vision of a Tata iron and steel company is inextricably linked with the region in which the plant was built 97 years ago and its people. In the State of Jharkhand, which was carved out of Bihar, Jamshedpur, the chosen site of the Tatas' iron works, enjoys as important a place as the State capital, Ranchi.

It is Tata Steel's philosophy of returning to the land and the people what it gets from them that has made Jamshedpur and its surrounding areas a model for development and progress. For a State dominated by a tribal population, Tata Steel's social work is not restricted to charity, an approach that often runs the risk of dependence and isolation; rather, its continuous effort is to integrate the tribal people into the very fabric of society. The company has helped increase agricultural productivity among the tribal people through assured irrigation, encouraged and assisted them in forming self-help groups, and given them vocational training in areas such as software management, basic computer operations, shorthand, driving, and midwifery.

Tata Steel's Tribal Cultural Society, through its Tribal and Harijan Welfare Cell, has for the past 50 years been involved in a number of programmes, including education, health, women's development and drinking water supply. The cell is responsible for the welfare of 52 villages and four urban slums.

While bringing the tribal people out of isolation, the cell has been careful in preserving their unique culture. The Tribal Culture Centre, set up in 1990, has a room to exhibit tribal artefacts, a herbal garden, a library and an amphitheatre to promote tribal art and cultural traditions. The cell also offers scholarships to meritorious tribal students.

In 1979, at the behest of J.R.D. Tata, the Tata Steel Rural Development Society (TSRDS) was formed. The society began its work with 32 villages; today it reaches out to over 700 villages, not just in Jharkhand but in the neighbouring States of Bihar and Orissa.

In order to improve the quality of life of the tribal people, TSRDS implements a number of income generation schemes and provides assistance in animal husbandry, traditional arts and cottage industry. It also helps them start cooperatives and manage the sales of their products. It facilitates rural agencies and banks to liaise with the self-help groups and with individual entrepreneurs.

In order to combat deforestation, TSRDS, has since the 1980s, been on a mission to create awareness and form `save forest groups'. Forty-one such groups protect 1,700 hectares of land. Women's groups were formed to raise saplings that were transplanted in plantations and households.

The TSRDS can be credited with saving tribes such as the Birhores, the Sabars and the Paharias from the brink of extinction. The itinerant Birhores were compelled to live in temporary houses called `kumbas' when the depleting forest resources could no longer sustain them. They were forced to give up their traditional way of life and turn to other means of livelihood. Most of them became casual labourers. It was then that TSRDS stepped in and built mud houses for them on the fringes of the forests. This project was started in 1984 with 22 mud houses. The Birhores were taught trades linked with the forest. Similarly, TSRDS provides the Sabars and the Paharias, who are now engaged in agriculture, with lift irrigation assistance.

In collaboration with Humana People to People India, TSRDS has launched Project Uday, which aims to provide medicare and eyecare services and safe drinking water, construct low-cost toilets, and help dispose garbage without polluting the environment. Sixty villages have been covered under this project. The project also facilitates the empowerment of women in rural areas. TSRDS has also collaborated with Impact India Foundation and the Indian Railways to sponsor Lifeline Express - the world's first hospital on wheels. This project enables Tata Steel to reach healthcare facilities to inaccessible villages. The company has supported five such projects, which is a record in the corporate sector.

Tata Steel has always promoted sports and nurtured sporting talent. Among its employees, past and present, there are five Padma Shris, 20 Olympians, 30 Arjuna awardees and 50 other sportspersons who have done India proud in the international arena.

The company started two academies, the Tata Football Academy (TFA) in 1987 and the Tata Archery Academy in 1994. Archery is a traditional sport among the tribal people in the region. The academy was set up primarily to nurture this native talent and elevate it to world standards. Cadets chosen for a four-year training course are put up in a wing of the sports hostel at the J.R.D. Tata Sports Complex. They are provided a balanced diet as prescribed by a medical panel and educational and recreational facilities. The training schedules are planned out, and the latest training methods are used.

The TFA nurtures budding football players in a scientific way. Its strategy is simple: "Create superstars from small wonders." Youngsters are chosen carefully for a four-year training programme. The popularity of the TFA has increased over the years and today it is a household name in Indian football.

In the 1999 pre-Olympic games, 12 out of the 20 members of the Indian national football team, including the captain and the vice-captain, were TFA alumni.

In order to promote sports, Tata Steel has built up impressive infrastructure. The JRD Tata Sports Complex has a football ground of international standards, an eight-lane mono-synthetic track, two basketball courts and tennis courts, grounds for archery, hockey and volleyball, chess and boxing centres and a state-of-the-art gymnasium. Apart from this, there is the Keenan Stadium for cricket, which has a seating capacity of 22,000, and the Sumant Moolgaonkar Stadium at Telco.

Jamshedpur, over the years, has hosted innumerable national and international sporting events, including the Tata International Chess Tournament, the Asian Power Lifting Championship and basketball matches featuring the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. The company also regularly organises sporting events for physically challenged persons.

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Oct 9,2020