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COVER STORY

08-10-2004

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Briefing

Myths and reality

ASHA KRISHNAKUMAR cover-story

The changing demographic patterns of the Muslim population ought to be studied in the context of their poor socio-economic conditions.

A CONSTANT refrain of the Sangh Parivar outfits has been that the population of Muslims is growing at a much higher rate than that of Hindus and that this would eventually pose a threat to the latter's majority status. This charade is being played out yet again, with the release of the First Report on Religion by the Census of India, 2001, which presented a distorted picture of the growth rates of population across religious groups without making adjustments for the non-inclusion of data on Jammu and Kashmir in the 1991 Census and of Assam in the 1981 Census. The picture changed dramatically when adjustments were made to make the data comparable across the years.

Contrary to the initial figures, which showed an accelerated growth rate (36 per cent) in the Muslim population between 1991 and 2001, the adjusted data showed that there had, in fact, been a deceleration from 32.9 per cent in 1981-91 to 29.3 per cent in 1991-2001. More significantly, the deceleration was the highest among Muslims compared to any other religious group.

Census officials also point to the fact that the Hindu population has, in fact, not fallen as is made out because many communities earlier classified as Hindu - Jains, Sarnas and Lingayats - have been recognised independently in the latest counting. Also some population groups such as tribal people, hitherto counted as Hindu, are now registered as "other religions". In fact, officials point out that the population of "other religions", under which category several sections that have broken away from the Hindu fold are grouped, has recorded a 103 per cent increase from the last Census.

Yet the Sangh Parivar does not want to see the new reality but continues to claim that "the situation is alarming as the Muslim community is conspiring to convert Hindu Rajya into a Muslim country"; that "the situation is of grave concern"; that "in order to appease the Muslims, they are allowed to marry many times, a practise now disallowed even in Muslim countries"; and that "the Hindu population is on the decline owing to religious conversion and family planning while the Muslim population is rising at a demonic pace because of infiltration and because they are encouraged by their leaders to have several children".

WHAT do the data reveal? According to the adjusted figures (excluding Assam and Jammu and Kashmir to make the data comparable), Hindus account for 81.4 per cent and Muslims 12.4 per cent of the total population. If Hindus formed 82.3 per cent of the rural and 75.6 per cent of the urban population, the figures for Muslims were 12 per cent and 17.3 per cent. Of the total Hindu population, 74 per cent lives in the rural areas and 26 per cent in the urban areas; the corresponding figures for Muslims are 64 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. Muslims are thus concentrated in the urban areas.

The decadal rise (1991-2001) in population is 20 per cent for Hindus and 29.3 per cent for Muslims. But the growth rate is decelerating, much faster for Muslims (by 3.6 percentage points since 1981-91) than for Hindus (2.8 percentage points). This is in line with the accepted demography theory that population growth will fall with development and ultimately stagnate.

Given these figures, there is not the remotest possibility of Muslims becoming the majority community in India in the foreseeable future. In fact, the earliest that Muslims can outnumber Hindus is three centuries from now and that too if the two communities continue to grow at the same rate as in 1991-2001. In the near term, say, the next three decades, Muslims will account for no more than 14 per cent of India's population.

Even the projections for three centuries are mathematical, not realistic. For, it is nothing short of the ridiculous to assume that Hindus and Muslims will keep growing at the same rate as in 1991-2001. In that eventuality, the country's population would be roughly 5,000 times today's numbers.

According to standard demography theory, the birth rate will decline and the population growth will eventually stop. Demographers estimate that India will reach this situation in the first half of this next century; even at that time, Muslims will account for around 14 per cent of the population. This is only slightly higher than the percentage (11 to 12) of Muslims in the population all through the past century.

The population growth rate of Muslims is higher compared to Hindus because of the higher fertility rate among them. Why is the fertility rate higher among Muslims? Is it because of their religion, or because of their socio-economic conditions?

Demographers have come to accept that religion does not have any major influence on fertility behaviour. Crucial is the socio-economic condition of the population. Hence R.H. Cassen, a respected social scientist in his book India: Population, Economy, Society writes: "It is virtually impossible to assess the part played by the content of religion in fertility. Even if we could state what is the net impact of encouragements and discouragements to procreation in scripture and teachings, we would not know how influential they are, and whether that influence is wanting."

R.H. Chaudhury, a well-known sociologist and an expert on demography, in his book Social Aspects of Fertility: With Special Reference to Developing Countries says: "The observed differences in fertility are mostly due to socio-economic differences between Muslims and other religious groups. Once these differences are accounted for, the fertility differentials between Muslims and other religious groups will largely disappear."

In the last Census, the lowest fertility rate for Muslims was in rural Tamil Nadu; Hindus in 12 States had a fertility rate higher than this. If indeed religion is the sole or the most important determinant of fertility, this is improbable.

A curious reversal of the pattern was observed in Jammu and Kashmir. The fertility rate of Hindus there was almost twice that of Muslims. This raises an important question: Does minority status, by inducing a sense of insecurity in a community, lead to higher fertility levels for the community? If so, is this one of the factors responsible for the higher fertility levels among Muslims in the country?

THE importance of socio-economic conditions in population growth is borne out by the population figures across States between 1991 and 2001: While the population growth rate across all communities in prosperous (in terms of socio-economic indices) States such as Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Maharashtra is much below the national average, in the poorer States of Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan it is substantially higher than the national average across all communities. The Muslim population is rising faster in the poorer States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh than in the developed Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka. In fact, in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the Muslim population growth is lower than the national average.

This suggests that socio-economic backwardness leads to higher fertility. This is borne out by the data on population growth and education levels. For example, Bihar has among the highest fertility rates, the lowest overall literacy rate and one of the poorest employment rates across all communities. In contrast, Kerala has one of the highest literacy levels, including among women, and the lowest fertility rates among all communities. Little wonder that Bihar's population grew at a much faster rate than Kerala's. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Delhi, Mizoram, Goa, Pondicherry, Chandigarh, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands have high female literacy levels (over 70 per cent) for all communities. They also have low fertility rates.

Overall, Muslims have a literacy rate of 59.1 per cent, 5.7 percentage points lower than the national average. Hardly half the Muslim women are literate. While in Haryana, just about one-fifth of Muslim women are literate, the figure is about one third in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir. In 15 States, the literacy level among Muslim women is less than 50 per cent. These States also have a high fertility rate among Muslims. This confirms that the higher fertility level among Muslims is because of their backward socio-economic conditions, particularly educational backwardness.

R.H. Chaudhury writes: "The higher fertility of Muslims is found to be associated with less economic activity and the scant education of Muslim women... One may, therefore, say that it is not mere affiliation with Islam, but one's socio-economic status that determines fertility behaviour."

That the socio-economic conditions of Muslims is worse than that of Hindus - particularly in the urban areas - is borne out by all available facts: some 59 per cent of Muslim women have not attended school; 60 per cent were married by the age of 17 and hardly 14 per cent registered work participation.

Cassen brings out the importance of education in reducing fertility: "The contribution of education to fertility decline is not just by the alteration of parents' aspirations, but by the spread of rationality itself. The basic differentiator of those for whom babies just come and those for whom the number that come as a result of more or less deliberate choice seems so often to be education."

The level of education for every 1,000 persons in every age group is lower for Muslims when compared to Hindus both in the rural and urban areas, particularly among women. This is an important reason for the high fertility rates among them.

According to Dr. K. Nagaraj, Senior Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, two such aspects that are important in relation to fertility levels are education - particularly of women - and the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR, defined as the number of infant deaths for 1,000 children born alive in a year).

Cassen discusses the relationship between IMR and fertility rate: "The basic ground for postulating a relationship between mortality and fertility is that what people want is not just children but surviving children. When children are known to be likely to die... the whole psychological nature of child-bearing is likely to be far removed from the careful consideration of supportable numbers... The gradual decline in mortality might have played a part in inducing parents to have fewer children - not probably because they consciously perceived that their children were more likely to survive and they therefore did not need to have so many, but rather because it was gradually found that more of them were surviving and were thus harder to support."

The IMR is higher for Muslims than for Hindus in the urban areas, where they are much more concentrated. This, according to Nagaraj, is a strong causative factor for high fertility of Muslims compared to Hindus in the urban areas.

The lowest work participation rate of 31.3 per cent is of Muslims at the national level; just about 14 per cent of Muslim women are registered to participate in work. Surprisingly, even in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which have high literacy rates among all communities, including Muslims, the work participation rate of Muslims is low - about 14 percentage points lower than that of Hindus.

But these scientific explanations for higher fertility among Muslims are overshadowed by the stereotype image that is projected to perpetuate the myths about their social and cultural behaviour. One of the common myths used to explain the higher fertility rates among Muslims is that "Muslims could marry four times and there is a religious proclivity to reproduce more number of children". That there is no basis for such myths is clear from the 1911 Census report, which stated that a Muhammadan may have four wives but usually he practises monogamy. According to the Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (1975, pages 66-67), during the decades 1941-51 and 1951-61, the percentage of polygamous marriages (where a man has more than one wife) among Hindus was 7.15 and 5.06 respectively while the corresponding figures for Muslims were lower at 7.06 and 4.31 respectively. Moreover, according to Kanti Pakrasi's paper, "Marriage Systems and its Impact on Family Formation and Family Planning" (presented at the conference "Recent Population Trends in South Asia", New Delhi, 1983), polygamous couples in general had lower rates of live births than the corresponding rates for all couples surveyed in urban India. He further reiterates that polygamy cannot lead to higher fertility as more than one female marrying one male is not likely to raise fertility; on the contrary, it is likely to lower fertility.

Clearly, the poor socio-economic conditions - key to the study of demographic patterns and change - of the Muslim population are responsible for the rise in their population. Doubtless, if their socio-economic conditions improve, their fertility rate will decline and their population growth rate will fall. Thus, the prescription to stabilise the population: raise literacy levels, particularly of women, enhance economic growth and distributive justice and make basic health care facilities accessible to all.

`The first report was correct and natural'

cover-story

Interview with Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, national vice-president, BJP.

Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president and spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi spoke to T.K. Rajalakshmi on the party's position on population and related issues. Excerpts from the interview:

What is the BJP's line on population control?

Excess population in any country, developed or otherwise, acts as a speedbreaker to development. To look at it from the religious angle is not correct. Those who say this is `un-Islamic' are not correct as several countries who are Islamic are conducting family planning programmes. It has to be seen in a socio-economic context.

Why the emphasis on the two-child norm now when the total population figures were available two years ago?

Let us keep aside the data for the moment. The population is growing at a very fast pace and unfortunately, among the minorities, the Muslims, the rate of growth is faster. I agree that this is owing to illiteracy and superstition. Today the population is 100 crores and if developmental plans are made for five years, then the excess numbers affect that rate of development. If you look at data over the last 40 years, while the population of Muslims has increased, their representation in government services, Parliament, Assemblies and the administrative service has gone down. This proves that a mere increase in population does not guarantee participation in the development process.

You spoke of representation. One important form of grassroots representation has been the panchayati raj system. However, the prevalence of the two-child norm in several States, including those ruled by the Congress, has seen elected representatives getting disqualified and several others declared ineligible to contest elections. How does such a norm improve representation?

We have to start from somewhere. It is possible that there are some minor disadvantages, but the overall advantage has to be seen. I think if the disadvantage is 5 per cent, the advantage is 95 per cent. Now it is only the panchayats, it should be taken forward to State Assemblies and Parliament. It is okay that it started from below but it should be taken upwards now.

At the BJP Chief Ministers' conclave held recently, the party leadership expressed concern about population growth and stressed the need to control it. What was the message the party wanted to convey?

We have expressed concerns that the high population growth rates were impeding the process of development. At least the BJP-ruled States can do something about it. When we talk about population control, we do not talk about any particular community. Some people are reacting on religious grounds. No religious text mentions population control as such concepts were not known when they came into being. No reform should be linked with religion.

Is the BJP of the view that any method of population control, including incentives and disincentives, can be used to implement the two-child norm?

Disincentives and incentives are definitely there to discourage and encourage people to adopt the two-child norm. The State governments have been told to see the ground position in their States and implement it accordingly. But the party is unanimous that this should be taken up.

There is a perception that the BJP has raised the issue of population control only after the religion data emerged, especially the unadjusted figures.

I think that the report itself is confusing. The first report was correct and natural. For some political reasons it was altered. I am not going to delve into that. I feel that there has been a 20 per cent underestimation of the population growth, especially of Muslims. I do not look at it politically. This is very dangerous for the Muslim community itself. The way their population is increasing coupled with socio-economic and educational backwardness is not good for any country.

The National Population Policy was formulated in 2000 and approved by Parliament during the National Democratic Alliance's tenure. A progressive policy, it prohibits the use of incentives and disincentives. But the BJP seems to be going back on those principles.

Policies have their limitations. And sometimes ground realities differ from policies. In such a situation, no responsible government nor any responsible political party can rely on policies alone. As far as international conventions are concerned, every country has its own peculiarities. In West Asia and Arab countries, there is a lot of stress on population control. Despite having a strong economy and being Islamic countries, they have strong population policies. We should be doing much more.

Narendra Modi's `concerns'

DIONNE BUNSHA cover-story

What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby-producing centres? Hum paanch, humaare pachhees [We five and our 25]. Gujarat has not been able to control its growing population and poor people have not been able to get money... . We have to teach a lesson to those who are increasing population at an alarming rate.

- Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's speech at the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra public meeting in Besraji village, Mehsana, September 9, 2002.

TWO years ago, Narendra Modi's speech shocked many, coming as it did a few months after the communal violence in Gujarat had died down. Given such a record, there was cause for suspicion when the Chief Minister announced the formation of a commission on population control headed by him soon after the religion-wise Census data was released. The government says the committee has been set up to "achieve the goals set in the State population policy".

Gujarat Law Minister Ashok Bhatt told Frontline that the commission was set up to implement the State's population policy framed in 2000. "The policy aims to reduce the infant mortality and maternal mortality rates so that the birth rate falls. It is a plan for the entire population, not for separate communities," he explained.

However, the Bharatiya Janata Party government's earlier population control plans leave room for doubt. In 2001, the Keshubhai Patel government proposed to undertake measures that would penalise parents for having more than two children by making them ineligible for benefits such as ration supplies, free education, health care and maternity leave. All such plans were shelved when the government came under criticism from various quarters. In March 2003, the Modi government asked the police to survey Christian organisations and find out how many people they had converted to Christianity. This was just before the government announced its decision to table the `Freedom of Religion Bill' in the Gujarat Assembly, which would have made it mandatory for those changing their religion to seek the permission of the District Collector.

While the Sangh Parivar prefers to project the Muslim community as one that is illiterate and underdeveloped, Census data proves the contrary. The 2001 Census shows that the Muslim literacy rate in Gujarat (73.47 per cent) is higher than the Hindu literacy rate (68.31 per cent); and the State average was 69.14 per cent. The annual growth rate of Muslims was 2.7 per cent, slightly higher than the Hindus' at 2.2 per cent. However, demographer Leela Visaria points out that Kutch and two taluks in Rajkot were not counted in 2001 because of the earthquake and may not have been included in the new Census data. If they were, it would have pushed up the Hindu growth rate.

However, the real problems facing the State are its abysmal sex ratio and infant mortality rates. At 878:1000 in the 0-6 years age group, Gujarat has one of the five worst sex ratios, lower than even Bihar's 938:1000. It implies that a rather different method of population control is being used. Infant girls are being eliminated soon after they are born. Economist Amartya Sen calls them India's `missing' girls.

`BJP has done an about-turn'

cover-story

Interview with Brinda Karat, general secretary, AIDWA.

The release of the Census report on religions has stoked an old controversy over the growth rate of Hindu and Muslim populations. All kinds of interpretations are being made from the data and policies formulated on that basis. The Bharatiya Janata Party's directive to its Chief Ministers to formulate population policies on the basis of the two-child norm, using incentives and disincentives has been criticised, coming as it does in the wake of the "growth rate" controversy. Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), spoke to T.K. Rajalakshmi on the politicisation of the population debate. Excerpts from the interview:

The Census data on religious communities have led to a lot of controversy. There is also a section that has questioned the wisdom of releasing such data. What is your response?

It is not the first time that religion-based data have been released. I have seen statements by certain Ministers that they are against the release of religion-based data. I don't agree with that. It is not the data that are at fault but the interpretation of them. It is the narrow political platform that seeks to misuse the data.

The first important aspect of the report is that unlike previous Census reports, which gave only religion data, this Census gives cross-classification of the socio-economic indicators of different religious communities, which is a very important contribution of the Census report.

What are the implications of the cross-classification of data?

All over the world it has been proved time and again that the choice of family size or family planning is not related to religious affiliation. If one looks at the demographic patterns in Muslim countries, we find that the determining factors of whether the population is going up or going down, are related to social or socio-economic indicators. In Bangladesh, which is a Muslim majority country, the contraceptive prevalence rate is as high as 50 per cent, much higher than that of India. Figures and facts prove that population size or family planning have little to do with religion. It is connected with economic status, income status, occupational status, infant mortality rates, levels of education and literacy and the ability of women to make choices. The issue of women's autonomy is a very crucial aspect of family planning or family choice.

In the National Family Health Survey II, which has a very large sample size, when the surveyors asked married women - the category is called "ever married women" - as to what would be their ideal size of their family, 75 to 82 per cent women replied that an ideal family should comprise two children, and maybe three. So the question was asked that if only two children were wanted then why was is it that they had more children. The respondents replied that one, that they were afraid of infant deaths, two, they did not have access to contraceptives and three, that they did not have rights over their own bodies.

Any government looking at the present Census figures will see reflected in those figures the deep inequalities between communities and within communities. There are also no monolithic groups like Hindus and Muslims. There is certainly a problem in the presentation of the data. To present the data in an isolated manner, obfuscating the very facts that the Census has brought out, can provide an extremely misleading picture. The problem is not the data. The presentation was misleading as the Census appeared to be contradicting its own findings as reflected in the cross-classified data.

The data on religions have provoked certain sections to talk about the two-child norm and population control policies. Despite India being a signatory to the Cairo declaration in 1994 and the apparent paradigm shift in population policies, it appears that the old notions of population control are being revived.

What is striking about the entire public debate after the release of this data is the shocking silence on the sex ratio. The sex ratios have been available for some time now and the Census Commissioner ought to be congratulated for his work on this aspect. But the BJP, which has been clamouring about certain growth rates, is deafeningly silent on the issue of sex ratio. One wonders that when they talk about population, they seem to be looking at it with a communally jaundiced view. No right-thinking person or citizen can look at the Census data without looking at the sex ratio. There is a clear preference against daughters, especially among the well-off in urban areas. In this context, to talk about the two-child norm is like female genocide. It must be remembered that it was also under the wise leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] that the National Population Policy was adopted just four years ago. A Population Commission was also set up with a corpus of Rs.100 crores with very eminent people. The NPP demarcated itself from earlier attempts of family planning by reiterating that the best population policies are those that eschew targeting, quotas, incentives and disincentives. The NPP made a commitment that it would do away with these four negatives and that it would look into the determining factors. Within four years, the BJP does an about-turn without explaining why is this so. In some States where the two-child norm has been implemented and people have been made ineligible for contesting elections, it has been seen that the poorer sections have suffered the most. First, the poor are being punished for their poverty by denying them the very basic constitutional right - that of standing for elections. Without a constitutional amendment, in the name of giving the State governments and panchayats the right to make rules, the power to tamper with a basic fundamental right has been given. Research shows that Dalits, the Adivasis and the rural poor tend to have a higher fertility rate owing to high infant mortality rates among them. The two-child norm discriminates against them.

The United Progressive Alliance government too, in the National Common Minimum Programme, has committed itself to strong population stabilisation measures.

We are concerned about the UPA's disturbing formulation in the CMP on population. They have also reverted to the use of the term population control and are once again bringing back population control ideologies into the government, which have proved so disastrous in the past. In this, a note is being circulated by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. It is shocking in the extreme as it promotes sterilisation as the key to population control and proposes a range of incentives to doctors to perform sterilisation. The first point is the utter failure of sterilisation as a means of contraception as people get sterilised after they have had the optimum number of children; secondly the entire programme is geared to against women. The entire burden is to be borne by women and so it is unacceptable. It is also unacceptable from the point of view of the NPP and the Cairo Declaration which the government is a signatory to.

A cry for democracy

The crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents in the Maldives puts under peril the country's transition to full-fledged democracy, which will depend on the pace of reforms and the government's ability to convince its critics that it will deliver.

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THE Maldives, a unique nation with its own variant of governance, is headed for politically challenging days. One of a select group of nations that were not under direct colonial rule, the Maldives was, at various points in its history, a sultanate, a republic and a British protectorate before it became a free nation. The continued sovereignty and absence of colonial institutions, coupled with its near geographical insularity, reflect in its state affairs.

Concentration of political power in a strong executive has been the hallmark of governance in the Maldives, which comprises 1,192 islets spread across 20 atolls and is home to 2.85-lakh Sunni Muslims who are in the top rungs in terms of development among South Asia's 1.3-billion people. Politically, however, the nation, which lives in 199 islets, does not have the basic building block of present-day democracies - a political party. Twenty-five years after accepting the government of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Maldivian now demands democracy.

Since last September, when prison riots brought the nation yet again under the international human rights spotlight, there are increasing signs of public dissent in Male, the 1.77 sq km capital with a population of just over 74,000. The common sentiment voiced on the streets of Male is: "We have undoubtedly gained on the economic front, but it is time for some form of basic political rights." This clamour for change is matched by a sense of political weariness and trepidation over the future.

Gayoom, who was re-elected President last year, has promised far-reaching reforms, but his opponents are sceptical about it. Legislative progress, too, has been halting. This June Gayoom announced a widely acclaimed reform agenda which provided for the creation of the post of Prime Minister and the separation of powers between the President and the Prime Minister in a changed Constitution. An elected Special Majlis (Constituent Assembly), which included the 50-member People's Majlis (Parliament), was sworn in on July 15. Subsequently matters took a turn for the worse, putting under peril the fragile transition path to full-fledged democracy.

The first meeting of the Special Majlis saw a walkout by pro-democracy dissidents demanding a secret ballot to elect the President (of the Constituent Assembly). The proceedings of the 108-member Special Majlis were stalled and the next sitting was scheduled for August 16. The uncertainty over the reforms was strengthened when a public protest in Male on August 13 culminated in a state of emergency being imposed on Male and nearby islands. Hundreds of protesters, including members of the People's Majlis and Special Majlis, were detained.

Over the next few days most of those detained were released, but the Members of Parliament and other Special Majlis members remained in jail. A prominent one among them was Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, the former Secretary-General of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) and a former Minister. Other prominent members who were arrested include Gasim Ibrahim, the biggest investor in resorts and the pro-democracy dissidents' choice for President of the Constituent Assembly, and Mohammed Munawwar, Ilyas Hussain, Ibrahim Ismail and Hussain Rasheed, all members of the Special Majlis.

In an interview to Frontline, Gayoom said the protesters were arrested "to safeguard public property". Pro-democracy activists disagree. "The entire reformist movement is in jail. They have not violated any law," asserts Latheef, a dissident activist based in Colombo. Pro-democracy activists want Gayoom to "adhere to the Constitution in letter and in spirit" and to "sincerely go ahead with the reforms". Meanwhile, sources close to the government said the government had agreed to withdraw the candidature of Law and Justice Minister Adam Zahir for the presidency and endorse that of Gasim Ibrahim if he was willing to push ahead with reforms.

Against this backdrop, the August 13 protests changed the complexion of the political situation in Male. According to several sources, the protests - held outside the headquarters of the National Security Service - were peaceful. But matters reportedly took a turn for the worse when the protests continued and a fundamentalist preacher, Ibrahim Fareed, addressed the gathering.

The government says his speech was inflammatory and cites a pamphlet he reportedly distributed, which hits out against "depriving men of their god-given exclusive right to divorce". Pro-democracy activists concede that Fareed's speech was "emotional" and disagree strongly with his views. Emphasising that they do not endorse fundamentalism, Latheef, who is a member of the Maldivian Democratic Party, said: "When there is a public platform, people with divergent views come and voice their grievances. We don't endorse Islamic extremism."

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While the government's position is that the arrests were made to "to safeguard public property", Latheef maintains that "none of what the President says justifies such a clampdown and deprivation of fundamental rights".

The pro-government view is that it is all for reforms but its agenda is stalled by dissidents. According to this view, given the high stakes of governance involved, the dissidents want a change in the person running the country, not in the system itself.

At the popular level, one of the biggest apprehensions is about a change in the person without a change in the system. As the current pro-reformers were earlier members of Gayoom's government there is a sense of uncertainty over what lies ahead. The dominant perception is: "They could all be the same finally. We are still not sure." The clamour, shedding aside the personalities involved in the unfolding political dynamic, is for a change in the system of governance.

AS the nation, which gained its independence on July 26, 1965, and became a republic on November 11, 1968, takes its first steps towards a changed system of governance, President Gayoom is emphatic about pushing ahead with reforms. The present Constitution, in force since January 1, 1998, places extensive powers with the President. Unlike in other countries, in the Maldives the President is elected through a circuitous process. Presidential aspirants have to secure their mandate from Parliament, which puts forward one name to be endorsed or rejected at a public referendum. "Under such a system the incumbent can stay for ever," contend the pro-reform dissidents. Gayoom, now in his sixth five-year term, wants to change the election process and restrict the tenure to two terms of five years each.

While the top-heavy executive would have to be the starting point of the political overhaul of the Maldives, the restructuring should not end there. Separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, which ensures proper checks and balances, is absent at present. Institutions that are in place also require strengthening and empowerment. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) is a case in point. Established after last September's prison violence in which four persons were killed, the HRC functions under an executive decree. A draft law in this regard, which was presented to Parliament, has been referred to a committee.

The legal system, reflecting the centuries that the Maldives spent as a sultanate, inherently provides for a strong leader with executive powers. President Gayoom is emphatic in the interview that he is ruling through collective decisions. But his critics allege that it does not boil down to much as "most of those in power are his relatives".

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The government disagrees with such criticism. "People are appointed to the Cabinet based on merit," chief government spokesman Ahmed Shaheed told Frontline. The charge of nepotism is also to be seen against the backdrop of a meritocracy that is in place. The absence of tertiary education in the Maldives has resulted in a modest, but increasing number of overseas-educated graduates, while close family ties in a small society are reflected in the proximity between education and the levers of power.

At a conceptual level, the early steps of a nation making a political transition have revived the development vs democracy debate. Gayoom held the view that these two "were not at cross purposes" and that one strengthened the other. The Maldives, he felt, was "now ready for change" reflecting the development-first thinking that has so far dominated Maldivian governance.

Constitutional and democratic formalism - where there is a disjoint between the letter and spirit of the law - is one of the apprehensions of those favouring real change. "Democracy," a senior Maldivian counselled, "has to be in letter and in spirit. Otherwise it is of no use."

Simply put, between a changed President and the present system and a changed system and the incumbent President, the popular choice - based on conversations on the streets of Male - is overwhelmingly in favour of the latter.

The ease with which the Maldives charts its promised transition to full-fledged democracy depends on the pace of reforms and the ability of the government to convince its critics that it will deliver on the promised political reforms.

In search of new frontiers

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Invitations for joint ventures and investments in the oil sector form part of Venezuelan Foreign Minister's talks with Indian leaders during his recent visit to New Delhi.

IN the first week of September, New Delhi had a visitor from the South American continent - Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jesus Arnaldo Perez. His three-day official visit to India came soon after the thumping victory registered by President Hugo Chavez in the referendum on his presidency in mid-August.

Venezuela under Chavez has assumed a high profile on the international stage, mainly because of his radical brand of politics and the tremendous economic clout the country enjoys owing to its position as the world's fifth biggest producer of petroleum. The bulk of Venezuela's oil goes to the United States. The downturn in diplomatic ties between Washington and Caracas has not disrupted the supply of oil. In fact, American oil companies are queuing up to do even more business with the Venezuelan government (though the latter does not want to be too dependent on them), despite the Bush administration's attempts at destabilising the Chavez government. Washington is still refusing to acknowledge formally the victory of Chavez in the internationally monitored referendum.

During his visit to New Delhi, the Venezuelan Minister emphasised that his government remained opposed to the " neo-liberal" programme promoted by Washington and the international financial institutions. He revealed that President Chavez would propose the creation of an "International Humanitarian Fund" (IHF) to tackle the problems of the developing world in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in late September. The IHF would prescribe a humane recipe for development, unlike the International Monetary Fund (IMF) prescription.

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One important reason why the Venezuelan Foreign Minister was in New Delhi was to spread the message that his country would welcome joint ventures and investments in the oil sector. Chavez has made it clear on many occasions that his country would prefer collaboration with other foreign public sector companies than with the representatives of Big Oil, the American energy industry. Vast new reserves of oil are being discovered in central and eastern Venezuela.

Perez said that his government's agenda was "mass empowerment". In this context, he said Venezuela had a lot to learn from the literacy programmes and political decentralisation being implemented in different parts of India, by progressive State governments. He described his visit to India as "very successful" and added that the Gandhian ideology was a source of inspiration for the Bolivarian ideology. The ideology inspired by the liberator of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, aims to reunite once again Latin America on an anti-imperialist platform.

The Minister told Frontline that the results of the recent referendum reflected the "complete defeat of the Opposition". At the same time, the Minister emphasised that the August 15 referendum was also "a day of reconciliation for the people of Venezuela because they rallied around the country's Constitution and embraced participatory democracy". Perez said that 10 million Venezuelans participated in the referendum. Of them, 40 per cent voted against Chavez while 60 per cent voted in his favour, reflecting the spirit of reconciliation in the country.

"At the international level it shows a complete failure of the American policy towards Latin America. The threat to democracy in Venezuela was coming from the U.S. They made all attempts to stage a coup d'etat in the country. After the referendum, all doubts have been cleared about the legitimacy of the presidency of Hugo Chavez," said Perez. The Minister recounted the concerted attempts by Washington to manipulate the media to make them give a distorted picture of the situation in Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution.

Perez said that despite the political turbulence, economic relations with Washington were good. Nearly 75 per cent of Venezuela's oil exports are routed to the U.S. "Venezuela sends 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the U.S. We also have investments in seven refineries in the U.S. and 19,000 service stations. We supply 15 per cent of the oil requirements of the U.S., which means that it is a very important relationship," he said. At the same time, the Minister emphasised that Venezuela wanted a relationship based on mutual respect. Venezuela, he said, would never use "petrol as a weapon" to pressure the U.S. as his country was against "all kinds of embargos or blockades, which constitute interference in another country's affairs".

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Talking about his country's relationship with Cuba, the Minister clarified that there were no "special oil prices" for its neighbours who were dependent on imported oil. There are agreements with countries like Cuba under which petrol is sold at a mutually agreed price. If the price of oil goes up in the international market, then Venezuela provides credit to these countries to make up for the difference and provide for long-term financing for the purchase of oil. At the same time, it creates a `Fund for Development' of the region. Developing countries can make use of Fund for Development projects such as those for road building. "There are no special prices as prices are based on agreements. We have an agreement with Mexico, called the San Jose Agreement. The Energy agreements of Caracas signed in 2001-02 are aimed at covering the energy bill of the poorer nations, such as Caribbean and Central American countries."

The Minister said that Venezuela was thinking of signing similar agreements with the most indebted countries of the African continent. "The entire human kind is in need of energy. That is why we make our petrol easily available," he said. The continuing boom in oil prices has helped reinvigorate the Venezuelan economy and boost spending in the social sector. However, Perez would prefer that the oil prices stabilise around $33 a barrel. Venezuela, he said, had created a band of prices. "A just price for petrol is that which is sufficient for Venezuela to finance its social projects, to pay off its foreign debt," said Perez.

The Minister was also of the opinion that a regime change in Washington would do little to improve relations between the two countries. "Whoever wins, whether it is John Kerry or George Bush, they should recognise that the way Washington handled its relationship with Venezuela was wrong. Kerry has already admitted that it was wrong. Now Bush should also do the same. Bush has admitted that he was wrong about Iraq and about the weapons of mass destruction there."

When asked for his views on the recent pardon given to four convicted terrorists by the outgoing President of Panama, Mireya Moscoso, the Venezuelan Minster described the action as a "very big mistake on the part of the ex-President. It appeared like a provocation. It sends a wrong signal in the fight against terrorism". Under pressure from Washington, the four Cuban exiles having close links with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the U.S. were allowed in August to go free. The four were convicted by a Panamanian Court and sentenced to long prison terms for their role in the plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro during an international summit in Panama City. Among those released is the notorious terrorist Luis Possada Carriles. He had escaped from a prison in Venezuela where he was serving a jail term for his role in the bombing of an Air Cubana passenger plane in 1976, which killed 73 persons. He has also admitted to six hotel bombings in Havana, which killed a tourist and several others. All the four freed terrorists were flown by a private jet to Miami in the U.S., where they received a rapturous welcome from the right-wing Cuban exile community.

Reforming governance

Any attempt to change the systems of governance must, therefore, look at the realities and devise ways in which they can be eliminated before changes are worked out. Any attempt to reform the administration has two major hurdles to clear: the complexity of the system and corruption.

PRIME MINISTER, Manmohan Singh, has rightly made the reform of the system of governance a key part of the immediate work he has set for his government. No development plan or project in any of the sectors he has declared to be priority sectors - education, rural employment, irrigation, health, among others - will really work and produce the results expected unless the means used are effective. A surgeon cannot operate with a blunt, infected scalpel.

One wonders, though, where he intends to start his reforms. At the top? Or at what is referred to as the cutting edge? Or at both, and at the levels in between? There have been attempts made to try to reform the system of governance before; we have two recent ones, and the reports of the two committees, both headed by former Chairmen of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Lt. Gen. Surendra Nath and P.C. Hota, are with the government. They do not, from what one has learned of them, cover the entire system, but certain key aspects of it. And we still do not know what the government intends to do with these reports.

Whatever the government finally does, the Prime Minister would do well to keep in mind that even the most well-meaning bureaucrat who examines proposals to reform the administration will not be terribly keen to recommend any action that might jeopardise the further advancement of his breed, or the security of service they have at the moment.

Besides, there are two other basic facts that are sometimes looked at rather cursorily. One is that the system of governance is not one system; it is a complex of a myriad, interlinked systems and some of which function in a context peculiarly their own. The second is that in most of these systems there is an inbuilt world of payoffs that are difficult to eliminate.

What this translates into, for one thing, is that streamlining procedures and practices in one area of governance may well give rise to some totally unworkable problems elsewhere. To give a minor example: in the years that when I was Director-General, Doordarshan, one of the problems that came up was the provision of some avenues of promotion to floor managers, who are people in the studios who literally `manage' the studio - ensuring that the settings are all right, that everyone is in the right place, that there is silence during a take, and so on. Years of doing just this naturally led to a frustration and demoralisation that showed in sloppy work, surly behaviour and even a refusal to work. Somebody then got a bright idea; why not promote them as production assistants? That would give them an incentive to work; the best would become production assistants and then go on even higher, perhaps, becoming producers in the fullness of time.

This sounded a good idea and was put into effect. What then happened was something that we should have foreseen but did not, and which resulted in a greater mess; we lost the best floor managers we had, and gained some totally clueless production assistants who were a liability to the harassed producers who were saddled with them. This was a direct result of trying to improve things in one system and not foreseeing what would happen in others.

Now imagine this happening on a far bigger scale, where crucial development projects are involved.

But even more sinister is the entire web of payoffs and bribes that permeate all the systems that deliver services to people, particularly the poor - from the medical orderlies demanding money from patients sometimes just to stand in a queue to get a receipt, to babus wanting percentages from those who owe some money for treatment, from the payment demanded to put children in schools to all manner of extra `fees' extracted from impoverished parents the business of feeding off people in need of services, and so on. Any move to remove this system, or install a system that results in an end to such payments or a reduction of the payments expected, will be opposed fiercely, in many cases by unions and associations of karamcharis and minor officials.

If these are not effectively dealt with, the result will be as effective as the government's pathetic efforts to stop the growth of inflation. They will have, as we have seen, many good reasons to explain why the inflation rate is going up - we are good and convincing with these - but do not seem to be able to stop it doing so.

Any attempt to change the systems of governance must, therefore, look at the realities and devise ways in which they can be eliminated before changes are worked out. It will help if traditional assumptions are thrown out and radical new ways of governance looked at.

Can, for instance, a particular project be given to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or a private agency to execute in one district, and that NGO or agency given all the powers it needs to implement the project, by taking away the powers by the established bureaucratic system to stop, impede or in some way slow down the implementation? Can the funds for this be given to the NGO or agency at the top, directly, without their having to go from desk to desk in some Ministry to get clearances and having to listen to broad hints that a little chai pani would ensure their funds would be released speedily?

Must proposals go to financial advisers who would write `Please examine' and pass it on to the deputy financial adviser, who would write `At once, pl' (that is, please) and send it to an assistant financial adviser, who would write `With pps' (with related papers) to a clerk, or dealing assistants as they are called? Then the proposal - provided for in the budget, mind you, as a part of the United Progressive Alliance's declared scheme to help the rural poor - comes up, when the assistant thinks it proper, to the assistant, the deputy and finally the financial adviser. Eventually, usually after some months, the proposal may be cleared. Unless the chai pani is paid and then the recipient personally takes the file from one desk to the other and brings it back with the approval.

But if the funds are released right at the top - it is not impossible, international agencies such as the Ford Foundation do it - the NGO or private agency can begin work straightaway. They may well do a bad job; but the agreement with them could have inbuilt safeguards, much as a contract with a builder. And the monitoring could be done either by senior, responsible officials personally or by other agencies known for their integrity and impartiality.

A system like this could be tried; or some other. The point is, the methods must be totally different, if the government wants results and not just statistical claims. The traditional systems can then either be altered to conform to the new models or done away with. Yes, there will be a drastic reduction of jobs; but a system of early retirement benefits would mitigate the hardships that this would cause.

It would be expensive, certainly; what the government needs to consider is whether the extra expenditure over a few years will not be worth it in the long term, when new systems of governance - totally new, staffed by a different breed of people - actually deliver on the promises made to the people, and policies bear fruit. That surely would be worth the expense.

Speculators' day out

V. SRIDHAR the-nation

Rampant speculation, rather than demand or supply factors, is fuelling the oil price in the international market which has caused panic across the world.

ZOOMING oil prices have caused widespread panic across the world. Although oil prices have fallen from the peak level of almost $50 a barrel on August 20, they still remain at their highest in over two decades. Given that oil markets are virtually synonymous with energy supplies, governments, central banks and consuming industries have reacted with panic. Meanwhile, nations as varied as India, China and the United States have undertaken efforts to build a strategic stockpile of oil supplies. And, trigger-happy central banks, generally prone to use the stick of interest rates against the slightest hint of inflation, have threatened to use them to counter the latest "oil shock". The ramifications of higher interest rates could have potentially devastating consequences for world economic performance, which is already faltering. Energy market pundits, who have a field day during an "oil shock", are divided on the seriousness of the threat posed by the higher prices. The pundits of gloom say that a major world energy crisis is round the corner. Those advocating a business-as-usual scenario argue that the world will bounce back from this crisis, just as it did from every previous one since the 1970s.

Although there is no doubt that oil prices have set a scorching pace in the last three years, and have been extremely volatile, the current price levels have to be seen in the context of long-term price movements. Although prices are apparently at their peak now, accounting for inflation enables a more accurate comparison with the price levels in the past. For instance, oil prices at their historic peak of $39 a barrel in February 1981 would actually be about $73.50 in terms of current money values. That is substantially more than the price of about $44 prevailing in mid-September. Although prices today are high when compared to the long-term price of about $30 a barrel, several questions remain unanswered. How far is the current upsurge in oil prices linked to market fundamentals, particularly demand and supply? And, how much has speculation in the market contributed to the dramatic increase of oil prices by over 40 per cent in the past year?

Market players attribute the sharp increase in prices to various factors. The rapid flow of oil from Iraq, which the markets expected to materialise after the U.S. occupation, has simply not happened. The gathering momentum of the Iraqi resistance has targeted oil installations and virtually stopped exports of crude. In any case, this would have amounted to only one million barrels a day (mbd), which is only a fraction of world crude output, which is in excess of 80 mbd. The markets also point to the rapid increase in oil consumption in China, fuelled by rapid economic growth. In fact, China has overtaken Japan as the second biggest consumer of oil after the U.S. The market has also speculated on shortages arising out of constraints in sources as varied as Russia (because of the clampdown by the tax authorities on Yukos, a major oil producer), Nigeria and Venezuela at a time when the demand for oil has been booming in the U.S., China, India and other markets.

On August 3, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, president of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), said prices were at "crazy levels" when prices in the New York market breached the $44 a barrel mark. OPEC, he said was powerless to cool the markets because there was no room to increase supply by its 11 member-countries (including Iraq). Later, in August, Yusgiantoro said that crude oil production by OPEC 10 - excluding Iraq - was close to 30 mbd, with an additional one mbd as standby capacity. He also promised that capacity additions would be possible, but only over the following 18 months. OPEC output in July was about 29 mbd with 27.5 mbd by OPEC-10 and the remaining by Iraq. Yusgiantoro said that "geopolitical tensions" and rampant speculation in the oil futures markets were responsible for the "over-inflated prices".

The latest (August) monthly Oil Market Report of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which primarily represents the interests of the advanced industrialised oil-consuming nations, terms the oil market as being afflicted by "irrational exuberance". It observed that although the demand-supply balance was "tight", the market had been "living with greater uncertainties for quite some time now". In fact, it pointed out that there was enough "buffer" to cope with "potential supply disruptions". The Report asks: Even if the market is tight and uncertain, and oil infrastructure may be less than desired, do these factors justify an oil price of $45 a barrel?

According to the IEA, the global demand for oil was 79.6 mbd in 2003 and it was expected to increase to 82.2 mbd in 2004. However, this does not give an accurate picture of the situation. Demand in the second quarter of 2004 increased at the rate of more than 5 per cent, the highest in the last six quarters. Demand has been particularly strong in the U.S., which was the biggest consuming nation, accounts for one in four barrels consumed in the world, and in China. The scorching pace of the Chinese economy during the last calendar year, and the stockpile that it is building currently are believed to have contributed to the higher Chinese demand, which increased from 4.7 mbd in 2001 to 5.9 mbd in the third quarter of 2003.

Since then demand has registered a more modest increase. The IEA points out that the "soft-landing" of the economy planned by Chinese authorities, and the restrictions on truckers in China are likely to result in demand slowing down in 2005. The Indian Oil Corporation, India's leading refiner, expects crude oil imports to rise to 11 per cent in 2004-05 as demand rises by nearly 4 per cent. India's crude oil import bill is expected to increase by rise 50 per cent to $27 billion this fiscal year.

After the September 11 attack, the Bush administration resolved to maintain the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) at 700 mbd. By March, the SPR held 647 mbd of oil. At an average fill rate of about one million barrels a day, which amounts to about 1 per cent of the U.S. demand of crude oil, it would take another six months for the SPR to reach its target. There has been criticism that the U.S. government has proceeded with the build-up programme even as oil prices have soared. The latest figures released by the IEA show that while demand in the second quarter of 2004 was 81.1 mbd, supply from all sources amounted to 82.3 mbd. While this does represent a tight situation, the point is whether this slim mismatch warrants the magnitude of price increases seen in recent weeks. For some time now, international oil market watchers have been arguing that the speculative forces have played a crucial role in pushing prices beyond levels warranted by "market risks" associated with supply constraints in one corner of the world or other - be it because of Yukos in Russia, or the war in Iraq or the unrest in Nigeria.

In the first 90 days of 2004, oil prices leapt by more than $7 a barrel, when the gap between supply and demand was about 2 mbd, according to data released by the IEA. Oil market commentators say that this price increase does not represent a normal or rational response to a supply problem. The problem is that since oil, the most important energy resource, is so basic to economies and societies across the world, its demand is relatively inelastic to price, at least in the short term. Thus, a minor shortfall in supply can trigger a relatively disproportionate increase in prices. This would be understandable because this is what often happens in commodity markets.

The collapse of the stock market a few years ago, the fall in interest rates, and fewer opportunities to bet on currencies have caused speculative adventurers to focus their attention on commodity markets, particularly oil. Hedge funds and other financial players are active in the futures contract market for oil. The peculiar features of oil, its relatively low elasticity of demand, and its strategic importance offer advantages that other commodities do not offer speculators. After all, when oil prices touch $50 a barrel, there may be buyers who may see it fit to buy at that price rather than wait to see prices touching $60 a barrel. In short, its volatility is what makes oil an ideal betting medium for speculators. The collapse of financial markets worldwide has caused hedge and pension funds to move into the markets for commodities like oil. The herd behaviour of such entities has caused further instability in the oil market. In recent months OPEC, for long the favourite punching bag of the media whenever oil prices rode high, has hit out at the way dealers in the market are marking a premium for oil in various part of the world. In fact, analysts have quantified the risk premium at between $5-10 a barrel. Although both OPEC and the IEA have said that demand is likely to be matched by supply, there are fears that in the run-up to the winter season, when oil demand typically peaks, prices could hit even higher levels if the speculative forces have their way.

Betting on oil

V. SRIDHAR the-nation

IT is increasingly evident that speculative forces have played a role in making markets more volatile and completely out of sync with fundamentals that ought to govern prices in the market. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when oil prices shot up, Rotterdam became the centre of the spot market (markets in which oil is traded 24-48 hours before delivery). Since the 1980s, the bulk of the trade in oil has been in the futures markets, typically involving contracts for deliveries after 12 months. The principal oil futures markets are the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and the London-based International Petroleum Exchange (IPE).

Although the trade in futures is defended on the grounds that it results in better "price discovery" and provides a hedge to cover risk, there are fears that it is a device for rampant speculation. Referred to as "paper barrels" each futures contract represents a transaction in 1,000 barrels. In 2003, betting in "paper barrel" contracts amounted to transactions involving over 100 billion barrels. In contrast, the total supply in 2003 was about 2.9 billion barrels. The traders transact a large volume of derivatives bets. Speculators purchase future contracts on the IPE and NYMEX exchanges; each single contract is a bet on 1,000 barrels of oil. More than 100 million of these contracts were traded on these exchanges in 2003, representing 100 billion barrelsl. A study conducted in 2000 showed that there was one underlying barrel of real oil that backed 570 "paper barrels" that were traded. Market sources have argued that in the oil market, which is characterised by relatively inelastic demand, if speculators bet long the piling volume of bets can actually result in even higher prices. In effect, betting activity on its own can cause prices to spiral.

Analysts argue that regulations governing trading in the oil exchanges actually facilitate speculation. For instance, a dealer in the IPE has to pay an up-front margin of a mere 3.8 per cent of the value of the trade. Thus, a speculator buying or selling a futures contract involving 1,000 barrels of oil at the price of $40 a barrel has to pay only $1,520 to get control of the contract. Thus, by making an investment of merely $1,520 the speculator gains control of 1,000 barrels of oil. If and when this happens on a massive scale, prices will move up incessantly. And, when many dealers want prices to move up, irrespective of what the market dictates through supply and demand, prices will go up because speculators want prices to go up further.

On May 14, contracts for Brent crude in the IPE amounted to 375 million barrels, the highest ever. This volume of trade is five times the global daily production. Although the Brent acts as the benchmark for crude oil prices in Europe, the production of Brent represents less than 0.5 per cent of world production. Energy analysts say that allowing the betting on Brent to set oil prices at a far broader level is much like allowing the tail to wag the dog. The situation is similar in the case of Western Texas Intermediate grade of U.S. crude, which acts as a benchmark for all oil trades in North America, although the sale of the grade of oil is only a fraction of the oil sold in the U.S. market. In the first quarter of 2004 there were 140,000 daily deals in the NYMEX, up from 50,000 four years earlier. Energy analysts say that speculative deals in the NYMEX account for one-third of all deals in the exchange.

A visitor from Senegal

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The visit of the Senegalese Foreign Minister to India has helped consolidate the relations between the two countries and highlight issues relating to the African continent.

INDIA and Senegal have had close relations ever since the West African state gained independence from France in 1960. Hence the three-day visit of the Foreign Minister of Senegal, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, to India in the second week of September, could not have been less welcome. While in New Delhi, the Minister held wide-ranging discussions with top Indian officials on important bilateral issues and matters relating to the African continent.

Senegal is a key player in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and has generally been a tranquil state in a volatile region. Four years ago, the country went through a peaceful transition of power when the Socialist Party, which had ruled the country since it gained independence, accepted the outcome of the presidential election held in 2000. Since then, the country's President has been Abdoulaye Wade of the Senegalese Democratic Party, a veteran politician, who had run for the presidency on several occasions in the past and had been incarcerated for his political activities.

Since assuming the presidency, Wade has been very active on the diplomatic front, especially on issues relating to the African continent. Wade, along with leaders of countries such as Nigeria and South Africa, has been in the forefront of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), a bold initiative that aims to bring about economic recovery through African-led reforms and good governance. Wade has been a prominent figure in the African Union (A.U.), which was formed two years ago as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). He has been forthright in his views on the Darfur crisis in western Sudan (where a conflict broke out between rebel groups and pro-government militia last year), demanding that Sudan act quickly to defuse the problem. Senegal is for sending African peace-keepers to the region at the earliest.

Senegal will soon be assuming the chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). The OIC has become an important international forum since its founding in the late 1960s. India had tried to be a member at the outset itself but was kept out owing to a variety of factors. Many diplomats are of the opinion that it was political ineptness that kept India out of the grouping. At the inaugural OIC meeting in Rabat, Morocco, in 1969, India first sent its Ambassador to the country to apply for observer status. The official was not a Muslim, which gave India-baiters an excuse to object to his presence. By the time the Indian government sent Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, then a senior Minister in the Central government, to Rabat, those opposed to India's admission had gained the upperhand.

Observers of the diplomatic scene point out that even a country like Gabon, where only 10 per cent of the population is Muslim, is a member of the OIC. Nigeria, another country, where the population is divided almost evenly among Muslims and Christians, is also an OIC member.

Diplomats point out that India, which is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, deserves to be a member of the OIC. This sentiment was echoed by the Senegalese Foreign Minister. "The issue of India not being a member of the OIC should be reconsidered, for its own strategic interests, especially at a time when Islam is under attack. We need help from all our friends," he told Frontline. Russia has already applied for observer status in the OIC. With a secular government in place in New Delhi now, there is a feeling among well-wishers of India in the Islamic world that it too should consider applying for observer status.

Gadio, an articulate diplomat who has a doctorate from an American University, said that his country gave great importance to strengthening bilateral relations with India. In the Indian capital, he met with senior Cabinet Ministers, including External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh. Gadio said that the Senegalese President is an economist by training whose goal is to make Africa self-sufficient and end its dependence on international aid and loans.

"He believes in building partnerships and wants Africa to play its rightful role in the global economy," he said. The Minister emphasised that India's experiences in fighting poverty and overcoming some of the problems of underdevelopment were very important examples for Senegal. The Minister said that the last two years had been extremely productive for India-Senegal relations. The Indian industry and investments have started moving into Senegal. Tata Motors has set up a vehicle production plant in Senegal and will be sharing its expertise and know-how with its Senegalese counterparts.

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India and Senegal have initiated the "Team-9" project, involving seven other west and central African countries. Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea and Chad form the other seven members. The countries will be involved in multilateral projects, with India providing the funding up to the tune of half a billion dollars. "India is now fully into multilateralism and we in Senegal want to propose the holding of an annual Africa-India summit on the lines of the Franco-African summit," said Gadio.

The Minister described the unfolding events in Darfur as a "tragedy". He clarified that his government had stated at the A.U. meeting in Addis Ababa in the first week of July that the population of Darfur was in urgent need of assistance and that the activities of the "Janjaweed" militias had to be stopped and a political settlement of the crisis expedited. "We believe in the unity of Sudan and the integrity of its territory," he added. The Minister said that the A.U. had a Peace and Security Council to tackle issues happening on the African continent. He is of the opinion that the international community should resist the temptation of sending peace-keepers to the region as it would only "aggravate" the existing problem. "What we propose is to bring an African solution to an African crisis. The current Chairman of the A.U., President Olusegun Obasanjo, is trying his best," said the Minister.

The Senegalese Foreign Minister wants Khartoum to do more to facilitate the presence of A.U. troops and observers in Darfur so as to bring a speedy end to the tragedy there, which he termed as a detriment to the goals of NEPAD and the A.U. At the same time, Gadio readily admitted that the events in the "Great Lakes Region" (the area consisting of Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo) constitute a much bigger tragedy for the African continent than Darfur. "In Darfur, around one million people may have been displaced. In the Great Lakes region, an estimated three million people have lost their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo itself. Like Europe before 1945, we hope Africa is paying its last dues to history. Ten years down the road, we will be okay," Gadio said.

The Senegalese Foreign Minister is firmly of the view that the A.U. is doing a better job than its predecessor. "The leadership is different, the spirit is different. I personally have a lot of respect for the A.U. Commission President Alpha Konare's leadership. He is a committed pan-Africanist," said Gadio. Konare is a former President of Mali. Gadio, however, warns that there could be pitfalls for the A.U. as some people are still caught in "the mindset of the OAU, not aware that the African continent is moving towards political unity and more federalism". He said that African governments are trying their best to deal with the challenges of good governance. "Corruption is not an African monopoly. A corruption scandal of the Enron scale will never happen in Africa. Their budget was perhaps bigger than the whole of Africa. Corruption is a beast that we will have to control and eradicate."

The Minister was all praise for the Indian model of democracy. "Conceding defeat and accepting defeat should be gracefully done all over the world, as it is in India." He was also appreciative of the fact that the United Progressive Alliance government in India is sticking to the commitments made by the former government to NEPAD and the Team-9 project. "From the Indian example, African countries can realise that you can struggle for development, fight poverty and still democratise your politics," he said. He added that the people of Senegal were now fully aware of their right to "hire and fire" their leaders.

A case against cars

The runaway growth of automobile sales in India, now a million units a year, spells bad news for the economy, the environment and public health. There is a need to reclaim the roads for pedestrians, bicycles and buses.

THIS past April, sales of passenger cars made in India (including those exported) crossed one million units over the previous year - for the first time ever. Exports in the last fiscal year clocked $1 billion - another landmark. The automobile industry is now celebrating the crossing of the one-million car barrier in annual domestic sales too, which are growing at 20 to 30 per cent.

Yet, for the larger public, this may be cause not for celebration, but anxiety and distress. India's growing automobilisation will seriously distort and corrode our already over-stressed urban transport system, raise our import bill at a time of record-high oil prices in the international market, impose a heavy burden on the environment through pollution, and lead to a deterioration in public health, which, in turn, will impose a further burden upon society. This column argues that we must stop promoting and under-taxing passenger cars and instead consciously encourage public transport - if we are to avert disaster.

First, consider a few salient facts. India is now producing more than three times the number of cars it made eight years ago. The number of models of sedans, jeeps and sports utility vehicles (SUVs, those abominations, on which more below) has increased about 10-fold over as many years. Today, a new car model is being introduced every couple of months.

The fastest growing segments are B and C, including mid-sized sedans, not segment A sub-compacts like the Maruti-800, as in the past. Diesel car sales - which should be strongly discouraged on grounds both of pollution and of that fuel's inappropriate use - are rising at 50 per cent, according to industry estimates.

This has happened not so much because the economy is booming (it is only growing at 6 to 7 per cent, or about a quarter of the rate of growth of car consumption), as because of a combination of factors: maldistribution of income and a spurt in the disposable income of the rich; a steady reduction in taxes and duties on cars (the latest being the pruning of the excise duty from 24 to 16 per cent in the last Union Budget); and a softening of interest rates and easier availability of car loan finance. The perversity of the automobilisation phenomenon is starkly captured by one figure: a Maruti-800 car costs the same as it did 10 years ago (Rs.2.20 lakhs or so), and prices of mid-sized and big cars have fallen. But foodgrain prices have risen by over 140 per cent over the same period.

The single greatest reason for this is not some techno-economic phenomenon like economies of scale, but a conscious attempt by successive governments to promote private cars by lowering taxes on components, ancillaries and assembled units. After the salary bonanza for government employees - who account for three-fourths of our organised workforce - through the Fifth Pay Commission, cars suddenly became affordable for lakhs of families. Easy finance at zero interest, and the extension of bank loan availability to rural and semi-urban areas has since brought cars within or close to the middle class family's reach. Today, one can put down a moderately small sum like Rs.40,000 and take home a small car, the rest of its price being paid through monthly instalments.

The Indian middle class is borrowing more and more to feed its consumerist appetite. The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) estimates that retail loans as a percentage of personal disposable incomes have grown from 3.5-4 per cent in 2000 to around 8 per cent in March 2004. Apart from low interest rates, this growth is driven primarily by the purchase of consumer durables and housing.

The point is simple. If the "external" props of low taxes and cheap finance are removed, the car boom will disappear. Yet, the government has absolutely no intention to do so. Why, just the other day (September 1 to be exact) Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, while addressing the annual convention of the Society of India Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), declared that the duty and taxation structure that governs the automotive sector needs radical changes, not marginal fiddling. Ahluwalia lent support and legitimacy to the industry's specific complaint that the reduction of Central excise duty on cars had been "more than offset" by an increase in the road tax and registration fees in some States.

Only seven out of every 1,000 Indian own a car. But they are among the richest people in the country. The automobile industry has emerged as a powerful lobby, the clout of which has grown at least in the same proportion as car sales. If experience elsewhere - in particular, the United States and Western Europe - is anything to go by, it can be expected to push hard for more concessions and mobilise itself against perfectly sensible measures to discourage automobile abuse of road-space in the public interest.

For instance, the Delhi government in July took the eminently reasonable step of levying a 2 per cent (a mere 2 per cent) additional cess on the price of non-commercial private diesel vehicles. SIAM has been lobbying against it as a "discriminatory" step - although there is a strong case, argued by the Centre for Science and Environment, among others, for discouraging, indeed banning, diesel-driven automobiles because they pollute more than petrol vehicles. The objective of the cess, as declared in the Delhi Budget, was primarily environmental: "to encourage people to opt for non-polluting alternative-fuel vehicles." The Delhi government, under SIAM pressure - and no less a person than Ratan Tata met Chief Minister Sheila Dixit - is reportedly reconsidering its decision.

Similarly, the car lobby has recently launched a major assault on proposals to raise parking fees in the highly congested central business districts of our big cities. For instance, in Delhi, the reasonable move to raise parking fees in such areas to Rs.100 for five hours or more is likely to be reversed. (Currently, the fee is only Rs.10 for the first two hours.) Similarly, the proposed Rs.1,250 monthly fee - a real bargain for car-owners - is also likely to be reduced. As we see below, there is a market-based case, as well as a powerful environmental and urban-planning argument, for raising parking fees several-fold.

WHAT is wrong with private cars? To start with, they are an extremely inefficient form of transportation and use of scarce urban space. They also consume imported fossil fuels, the costs of which are bound to rise. (Mass transportation modes are far more flexible in the choice of fuel.)

Secondly, for the private commuter, the real advantage of automobilisation is limited. A U.S. researcher has found that the average American spends so much time in looking after, maintaining, parking, or repairing his car, and stopping it at signals, and so on, that the average speed is of the order of 10 to 12 kmph - barely faster than a bicycle! Cars have limited utility in short trips, for instance, from home to public transport nodes like rail or bus stations. But there could be good substitutes for them, including auto rickshaws (even cycle-rickshaws), and electric mini-buses.

* Cars are individually six to eight times more polluting than auto rickshaws, which typically carry about the same number of passengers as them on commuter trips (as distinct from family outings).

* Cars pollute at least twice as much as buses per passenger-kilometre as do buses, and 8 to 10 times as much as light rail systems.

* Cars consume 14 times more fuel than buses, and almost 60 times more than railways, to transport a person.

* Cars worldwide cause eight times more deaths in accidents than do buses. They are over 100 times more lethal than railways.

* India accounts for 15 per cent of the 500,000 road accident-deaths worldwide, despite having only a tiny fraction of the globe's vehicular population. In India, there is one road accident every 100 seconds and one person is killed on the road every seven minutes. The proportion of fatalities claimed by cars is rising sharply.

Cars pose a problem not just when being driven, which represents less than a 10th of their average use, but when being stationary too. Each car occupies about 100 square feet of space. Now consider the true social cost of parking a car in the city centre, where prices of land are tens of thousands, if not lakhs, of rupees per square foot. If the parking fee were to be charged at the market rate for using such prime space, it would be upwards of Rs. 1,000 a day!

If car-owners were to really pay this, their cars would become unaffordable. At Mumbai's Nariman Point, where land costs are upwards of Rs.1 lakh a square foot, the market price of the parking-space per car would exceed its value by 20 times or more.

Society effectively subsidises car-owners, although they are among India's most privileged people. This is grossly iniquitous. The absurdity of this is further compounded by the fact that we are encouraging the use of fossil fuels, just when the prospect of their depletion and of climate change stares us in the face. Global oil production has now more or less peaked at 82 million barrels a day. Over the next 15 years or so, agree most experts, it will start decreasing significantly. Prices, now around $45 a barrel, could then shoot up further.

Our oil import bill surged 15.9 per cent in 2003-04 to $20.4 billion. There was some cushioning of this impact because of the appreciation of the rupee vis-a-vis the dollar. But this is unlikely to last. More recent trends are even more worrisome. Thus, oil imports rose by a huge 62 per cent in April-July this year to $9.9 billion (over the same period in the last financial year). This spells serious trouble for the economy in the middle and long run.

INDIA, unlike the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, but like many other profligate developing countries, has adopted an extremely energy-intensive growth path. To achieve a one per cent increase in gross domestic product (GDP), we burn twice as much energy as the rich countries. Take another number. Western Europe and Japan consume 40 to 60 tonnes of oil to add $ 1 million to their GDP. (The U.S. burns 84 tonnes). In India's case, the quantity is 189 tonnes. Of this, 128 tonnes is imported.

This growth trajectory is obviously irrational and wholly unsustainable. There is a clear imperative for us: reduce oil consumption, and use more non-fossil sources of energy, including renewable and biomass-based sources. Automobilisation directly militates against this rational imperative.

That is not all. Automobilisation spells a horrendous abuse of resources in an already unequal society - which does not even charge the car-owner one-eighth as much in road taxes as, say, capitalist America proportionately does. In our cities, road space occupied by a bus carrying 60 to 100 people is being replaced by five or six cars carrying between eight and 12 passengers. The proliferation of cars is significantly slowing down the speed of the movement of public transport, indeed all transportation, leading to an enormous waste of social time and resource. It is also discouraging mass transport.

But consider the impact of congestion, besides increased commuting time: health problems caused by vehicular pollution (which accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of the pollution load in our cities), and the time and money lost through illnesses and their treatment. A 1992 World Bank study estimated that urban air pollution alone claims 40,000 premature deaths a year and produces diseases to treat which huge sums of money are needed. The damage on this account added up to an estimated Rs.4,500 crores a year. Today, this cost could amount to 2 per cent of GDP.

We must adopt corrective policies. These are fairly straightforward: higher taxes and levies on cars, steeper parking fees and road taxes, banning of the plying of cars with even and odd number on specific days of the week, and higher taxes on people who own more than one car (as suggested by the Parliament Standing Committee of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways). We must altogether ban SUVs that exit truck-level pollutants and are obscurely wasteful of fuel. They are proving to be a millstone in the West and a major source of dust storms in Africa's desert regions.

We must invest heavily and wisely in public transport, including electronic trolley-buses, trams, high-capacity low-sulphur diesel buses, light rail and other modes of mass transport. And we must encourage the use of cycle-rickshaws and bicycles (through exclusive lanes for them) and create more zebra crossings for pedestrians. It is time for us to reclaim our roads from cars - and prevent disaster.

A wave of violence

ATUL ANEJA world-affairs

With the guerillas and the U.S.-led occupying forces sticking to their respective political goals, Iraq appears to be headed for an autumn of bloodshed.

AS the countdown for the elections in January begins, a fresh wave of violence is sweeping across Iraq, mirroring the tussle between the American-led forces and the Iraqi resistance. It has become evident that the Iraqi guerilla fighters are opposed to the U.S.-backed elections, which would elect a Constitutional Assembly in January 2005. In fact, the resistance is seeking to expand its hold over as large a territory as possible in order to make the elections as untenable as it can. Already the guerillas' control over parts of Baghdad and adjoining areas is considerable.

Falluja, which is around 50 km west of the Iraqi capital, is widely recognised as a "liberated zone", bereft of any U.S. military presence. After intense combat in April, U.S. troops decided to withdraw from the city, handing over administrative authority to an Iraqi force, which had links to the Baath Party of former President Saddam Hussein. Similarly, the hold of the resistance over neighbouring Ramadi is tight. North of Baghdad, the historic city of Samaara, which has a mixed Sunni and Shia population, is also a "no-go" zone.

There is a perception in Baghdad that the guerillas wish to radiate their influence from the cluster of towns and cities they control until they can militarily and politically dominate a large contiguous swath of territory. In Shia-dominated Najaf, the firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's Mehdi army, which had revolted against the occupation, is out of the holy city. However, these fighters appear to have regrouped and are a formidable force in Sadr City, a sprawling working class Shia district on the outskirts of Baghdad. Pitched battles are now fought in this impoverished neighbourhood. Fierce fighting on September 7 killed at least 40 people belonging to the Mehdi army, health authorities in Baghdad said. These clashes were preceded by heavy aerial bombardment, which began at 11 p.m. the previous day and lasted until 4 a.m. During the clashes, U.S. tanks rumbled around the neighbourhood and automatic fire echoed on Sadr City's main Al-Shuhader Street. Kidnappings, generally of nationals of those countries that are part of the U.S.-led occupation force, have become rampant. The purpose of these is to discourage countries from cooperating with the occupation, though in certain cases, it is monetary gains that have been the driving force.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has been shuttling across regional capitals in order to free two abducted Italian women, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. The two aid workers were taken hostage in Baghdad on September 7. The French government is also facing a hostage crisis and is trying to free two journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who were kidnapped in August. More than 100 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq since March 2003. Iraqi fighters have also targeted oil pipelines transiting oil either towards the southern export terminal of Basra or towards the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the north. The impact of their actions has been global, as the exploding of pipelines in Iraq has contributed to the surge in international oil prices.

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August turned out to be a month of nightmares for the U.S. forces. Pentagon figures revealed that the death roll of U.S. troops had crossed the 1,000-mark. In terms of clashes, August saw 87 incidents a day, an all-time high since President George W. Bush claimed victory over Iraq in May 2003. Significantly, the number of U.S. troops dying of bullet injuries has increased markedly. That means a step-up in the guerilla war to "phase-II" when fighters stand up to fight their more powerful adversary. Phase-I of guerilla wars usually revolves around recruitment. Ambushes during this period are rare.

With many parts of Iraq slipping out of control and the timetable for elections genuinely threatened, the U.S. occupation authorities, backed by forces belonging to the American-appointed Iraqi interim government, have begun a violent campaign to re-establish control. Falluja has borne the brunt of these attacks. Repeated air raids have been mounted in the city with the alleged objective of striking "international terrorists", especially those loyal to the Jordanian-born Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. The Americans have alleged that Zarqawi has Al Qaeda leanings and his followers have entrenched themselves in Falluja. The Arab media and a few Western news organisations, however, have a different perception. After a particularly heavy air raid on September 13, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television reported that at least 18 civilians were killed in the pre-dawn strike. The planes also destroyed an ambulance that was ferrying the wounded to hospital. Western news agencies reported an exodus of hundreds of families from Falluja following the air strike.

A day earlier, when nearly 100 Iraqis died, an American helicopter killed at least 13 people in Baghdad's Haifa Street, a stronghold of Palestinians. These people had apparently gathered near a burning American armoured vehicle. Among those killed was Mazen Tomeizi, the 26-year-old producer for the Dubai-based Al Araybia television. As the U.S. and the interim government focus on strong-arm tactics, they have ensured that sections of the media that can show the "other side" of the story are driven out. The most glaring example of "media management" has been the denial of permission for Al Jazeera to operate.

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Al Jazeera was first banned from operating for a month on August 5 for "advocating violence and inciting hatred". It faced indefinite closure under an order issued earlier in September. Al Jazeera's gagging has already led to an outcry in media circles, with organisations such as the Reporters Without Borders, the London-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, headquartered in Cairo, joining in the protests.

Despite the spiralling violence, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has not budged from his position that polls should be held according to the January schedule. He has, however, hinted that the electoral exercise might be modified. With clashes taking place in Falluja and the areas surrounding it, Allawi has begun to signal that these areas, which have a dominant Sunni population, can be temporarily cut out of the electoral process. In recent interviews to several Western newspapers, Allawi said: "If for any reason 300,000 people cannot have an election, cannot vote (that)... is not going to alter 25 million people voting. If the elections were prevented in Falluja, its inhabitants could vote later."

With both parties seemingly committed to achieving their goals, Iraq appears to be set for experiencing an autumn of bloodshed, which is likely to have Baghdad, its western neighbourhood and areas stretching northwards in the direction of Mosul bearing the brunt.

Surviving sepsis

the-nation

Interview with Prof. Gordon R. Bernard.

"Sepsis kills nearly half of the patients in intensive care units and several more who do not reach hospital," says Prof. Gordon R. Bernard, Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Research, Melinda Owen Bass Professor of Medicine and Director, Division of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, Nashville, Tennessee, United States.

Prof. Bernard has been researching the medical condition for nearly 25 years and is the coordinator of the International Sepsis Forum. He has been Chairman, Assembly on Critical Care, the American Thoracic Society (1995-1997); Chairman, International Sepsis Forum (1995-1999); Chairman, Committee on Pulmonary Artery Catheterisation and Clinical Outcomes, sponsored by American College of Chest Physicians, the American Thoracic Society, and the American Society of Critical Care Medicine (1999); Medical Director, Institutional Review Board, Vanderbilt University Medical Centre (1999 on); and member of the National Institute of Health Advisory Council (2002-2006).

The honours he has won include the Alfred Soffer Award (for best original research), Annual Meeting, American College of Chest Physicians, 1989; the Vanderbilt University Grant W. Liddle Research Appreciation Award, 1992 (awarded by the Vanderbilt University Medical Centre house staff to recognise faculty members who demonstrate exemplary leadership skills in promoting scientific research at Vanderbilt); the Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine Distinguished Teacher Award, 1992; and the Society of Critical Care Medicine President's Citation Award, Society of Critical Care Medicine, 1997.

Distinguished Lecturer of the Roger C. Bone Memorial meeting, American College of Chest Physicians, 2002, Prof. Bernard has authored several research papers and is a reviewer of several international journals. Prof. Bernard, who was in India to attend an international conference on `Critical Care Interventions', spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on the symptoms, causes and treatment methods of sepsis.

Excerpts from the interview: What is sepsis?

It is a systemic response to infection - usually serious. Sepsis usually leads to multi-organ failure and hence needs critical care at an ICU [Intensive Care Unit].

The most common are of a person suffering from pneumonia. Most people who are able to have access to a hospital remain in bed for a couple of weeks, take antibiotics and go their way thereafter. But a small percentage of those with pneumonia get into serious problems - they go into a shock, need drugs to keep their blood pressure up, their kidneys may fail, and so on - requiring hospitalisation for more than a month.

But if you look at a patient with pneumonia you cannot tell the difference between the one who had antibiotics and recovered from the one who had to go to the ICU. It can happen to anyone with an infection such as pneumonia. This is one of the most common causes for sepsis in the U.S.

In countries like India, there may be other causes for sepsis such as malaria, which can lead to multi-organ failure. Undoubtedly, many with malaria are not terribly sick but there are those who die because of it. So, sepsis is more at the end of the scale when people are dying of infection. And without intensive care, they would die.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Systemic problems such as rapid heart and respiratory rates, altered mineral status when the brain does not work properly, unstable blood pressure and so on. The symptoms are not found where the infection is - it is elsewhere. It is not the spread, but the reaction to the infection. For instance, you may have a sinus infection, but the response to that can happen anywhere in the body.

Are there studies on how the response to an infection actually happens?

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Oh yes, it is well studied because with antibiotics even severe infections can be treated adequately but it is much more difficult to treat the systemic response because a tissue injury like a burn or a broken bone takes time to heal.

What triggers sepsis?

The most common trigger would be endotoxin from gram-negative bacteria that typically causes renal infections. But one can also get it from gram-positive bacteria that usually causes pneumonia or meningitis. Those products in the cell wall from the bacteria trigger this response. So even if you kill the organism, you get the same response. Thus it is not the organism itself that is necessarily causing the problem, but the reaction to it.

Why does the body react that way? Has gene make-up got anything to do with it?

The second question is the more difficult one to answer. It appears there are certain kinds of genetic predispositions that make them more likely to react more violently to an infection. But the other reason is the `sleeping dog theory', as I would like to describe it.

What is the sleeping dog theory?

When a dog is sleeping and you come near it, it wakes up and reacts violently as opposed to when it is awake. In the latter situation, it watches you and can size up what you are doing as you approach him. Similarly, for people with slightly suppressed immune systems because of alcoholism, diabetes, cancer treatment, some post-operative situations and so on, the infection gets further along before the body recognises that there is a problem. But then when it does, it reacts violently. And when that happens you get multi-organ - heart, lung, kidneys, and so on - failure situations.

What is the percentage of survival for people with such a condition?

In a good ICU, we can save most such patients. But still one-third die, even if they were healthy before.

Have the genes that cause sepsis been identified?

Some such as the Tumournicosis factor (TNF) have been identified. When the immune system is exposed to a foreign and invading organism, it produces TNF that sort of marshals the immune system. It tells the immune system, "There is trouble, get ready to fight the bacterium." And there are people with a certain genetic make-up who produce much more TNF than normal when that happens, and that causes problems. There are other similar types of genetic make-up that cause sepsis. But they are all polygenetic genes - not just one gene. So it involves multiple genes and is more complicated.

Has the Human Genome Project been able to identify the genes responsible for causing sepsis?

It is getting there. There are several studies now involving tens of thousands of pneumonia patients in which they pull their genetic material to see which genes are turned `on', `off' or which have not changed at all. Through the various new software programmes they are trying to interpret a thousand genes among 20,000 people. They are beginning to be able to pin down some of the patterns of genetic responses to sepsis, mostly with respect to pneumonia, as it is the most common cause.

Does environment play a role in inducing sepsis?

Not exactly environment, but alcoholism, smoking, pollution, pulmonary problems like asthma and so on can cause sepsis. And, of course, contagious diseases such as malaria, dengue and so on put a person at great risk for sepsis.

What is the incidence of sepsis?

In the U.S., it is estimated to be around 750,000 cases a year. And, mortality is about a third. So, some 250,000-300,000 die every year of sepsis. About half to two-thirds of patients in the ICU die because of severe sepsis. Also, several cases of death after surgery, due to complications arising from pneumonia, or due to extended illness are all terms that usually describe severe sepsis. The root cause may be an infection that had happened two to three weeks before death. That infection may have been treated but the patients may go in for multi-organ failure and it sounds complicated.

It is very difficult to have a count of sepsis even in the U.S. because patients may come into the ICU with pneumonia and die owing to severe sepsis but it would be counted as a pneumonia death. Similar is the case with death due to organ failures.

During the intervening period, that is, between the affliction of an infection and the body's reaction to it, is there a way to detect the onset of sepsis?

That is an excellent question. This happens pretty much after the detection of infection. So we can culture the bacteria, look at it under the microscope and so on. But, as I said earlier, just having the bacteria does not mean it is sepsis; it is only an infection. There is no specific blood test for sepsis. It remains a clinical diagnosis.

How do you diagnose a person with sepsis?

When a person comes down with pneumonia and he just has symptoms of fever one does not suspect he has sepsis. But when he starts to develop oxygenation problem - that is, when he does not have enough oxygen in the blood - when he has an unstable blood pressure, when his urine output starts to fall... all these lead to organ failures or dysfunction. If one or more of these symptoms occur, then that is diagnosed as sepsis.

You have an infection, the body reacts to it, and then that leads to a multi-organ failure - within this process, is there no way to detect sepsis before it strikes the patient?

This is a good question too. If you just read about sepsis you feel that it is a progression that has a window of time between the infection and multi-organ failure. But most often it happens all at once, or at least within a matter of hours.

Can precautions be taken against sepsis?

Once you have the infection the risk is pretty much all there. So, the way to deal with sepsis is not to get infected in the first place. And certainly in a hospital environment there is a lot we can do to reduce the chances of infection though we cannot get rid of them altogether.

For example, one has to be very careful during surgery; if the patient is on ventilator, care should be taken not to contaminate the airways; washing hands and wiping [floors] constantly will prevent the spread of infection in the hospital, and so on. On the patient side, what is expected of him/her is to do away with predispositions such as smoking, alcoholism, obesity, and so on.

So, what a normal person can do is just to practise common sense and lead a healthy lifestyle. And if one gets infected, it is going to be the job of the medical system to figure out how to minimise the infection and treat it as soon as possible so that it does not lapse into a severe sepsis. But it does not necessarily happen that way as, at times, particularly in the case of meningitis, it happens within a few hours - from going to bed at night and waking up at midnight. In the case of meningitis, people who are perfectly healthy in the morning can be nearly dead by night time.

At what level should there be awareness about sepsis - at the hospital, at the ICU or at the public level? In a country like India, where most people who are critically ill cannot make it to an ICU, how can sepsis be avoided?

If you can get to an ICU then it is useful for people there to be aware of how a sepsis patient would look like because without intervention, the patient usually dies. The hospital staff in a nursing home or a non-ICU setting also needs to recognise the symptoms of sepsis as against that of a common flu or other illnesses. In the case of the latter the patient may feel terribly ill, but he may still be breathing comfortably and his brain working normally. But if the patient's heart is beating 130 times a minute, he is breathing fast, his skin is cold and clammy, and he is hallucinating, is disoriented or does not speak clearly - these are all indications that this is going way beyond a common flu or cold and leading to sepsis. Sometimes, people describe it as impending doom. The patients know they are in trouble. And, in a matter of hours they die.

What are the pharmacological developments in sepsis?

This is one of the really stubborn areas where even after several clinical trials no major headway has been made. I have been working on it for 25 years. Some five years ago there was some study on recombinant antibodies against TNF. But it did not work. An Xigris trial on activated Protein-C was our first positive trial. And till today it is the only positive one.

What are the recent research findings in sepsis that enable us to understand it better?

What we have found in the last four to five years is that patients with sepsis have coagulopathy - that is, their coagulation system is not normal. Clots start forming in small blood vessels in their body. And that is probably how the organs get damaged because blood flow is being cut off here and there. And we did not pay much attention to it because the typical laboratory tests that we used were not very sensitive to this and they did not pick up these small clots. Only when we started looking more carefully at not common but clinically available tests did we find that everybody who had severe sepsis had coagulopathy.

Activated Protein-C works to prevent these clots. There is a natural system in the body which works to dissolve clots fairly quickly when you have them. But when you have sepsis this system is messed up as well. Activated Protein-C helps that system to work properly.

I have not, until the last four to five years, thought of this problem as being related to sepsis. I only thought of it as an inflammatory problem. Somebody then pointed out that there are primitive organisms that have a coagulation system though they do not have circulating blood like ours. Why do they have a coagulation system? Presumably to fight infection. So, when you start to get infected in a certain place you coagulate the blood around that to stop it from spreading. That is the normal phenomena. But when it goes beyond that area and gets under the rest of the system, then it gets out of control and causes a lot of problems.

Is there a residue in sepsis survivors who have had multi-organ failures or dysfunctions?

Most people return to normal or near-normal lives even if they have had severe organ failures. But a few people (some 1 per cent) have residual renal failure and may have to remain on dialysis forever. A few may have persistent cognitive problems - they cannot think clearly and so on. We are just beginning to understand this after studying sepsis patients 12 months after their recovery. The brains of some of them never seem to get back to normal. Regular conversations may not be a problem for most. But when you have to use logic and connect pieces of information that are not obviously related to each other, then there is a problem. There are standardised methods now to test this.

Occasionally, there is a disaster situation when the clotting is so severe that the fingers and toes die - they become black and fall off; they self-amputate. Sometimes patients can lose some other parts like a part of the nose and so on.

But that is rare. Most surviving patients come back to being normal. That is why we need to find a treatment for it.

Is sepsis a topic of study in medical schools?

It is now taught. We did not have a standardised definition of sepsis until the early 1990s. Even now, many think sepsis is a bad infection. It is not. It is bad response to an infection.

We have launched a worldwide campaign called Surviving Sepsis. It is to educate people on what it is, how to recognise it and so on. It also aims at providing a standardised approach to treating sepsis.

There are a lot of things - 10 to15 - that needs to be done for a sepsis patient. For example, simple things like heparin to remove blood clot, Zantac for ulcers, inclining the bed at 45 degrees if the patient is on ventilator to prevent secondary pneumonia, and so on. Every time you leave out something from the list, you reduce the chance of the patient's survival. We teach them to put a checklist and go through each one of them carefully.

Is sepsis a specialty?

No. There is no specialty called sepsis. It is part of critical care. This has its problems.

I do research in sepsis but it does not belong to any one group. The heart specialist says, "that is not my problem" and the lungs expert says, "that is not mine either". But it really is their problem. You think sepsis belongs to the infection group. But they have an entirely different focus and do not work in the ICU, where severe sepsis is a major problem.

So, though sepsis need not be a specialty, critical care experts need to be aware and tuned into it. All critical-care doctors who deal with multi-organ failures need to specialise in sepsis. Things really changed by the end of 2001 when activated Protein-C was developed to treat sepsis. As treatment was available the doctors in critical care had to make the diagnosis. That was a challenge. Apart from just attending to organ failures and putting patients on ventilator or dialysis, doctors also had to treat severe sepsis.

Is activated Protein-C the only available treatment for severe sepsis?

Yes. It is the only specific treatment for sepsis. But there are a whole lot of other anti-coagulators being tested. Sepsis is recognised in the U.S. as the greatest unmet medical needs we have. Even with activated Protein-C nearly a quarter of patients still die. The health care burden or the sheer cost of intensive care owing to sepsis in the U.S. adds up to tens of billions of dollars every year. So a lot of effort is going into finding treatment options for it.

A blow for women's rights

The Delhi High Court upholds the principle of equal pay for equal work, in its judgment in a case filed by women workers of a government-run cooperative store.

AUGUST 13 proved to be an epochal day for 49 women working as packers in Super Bazaar, a government-managed cooperative store. In what was the culmination of a sustained legal battle stretching over 20 years, they reclaimed one of their basic rights that of equal pay for equal work. In a path-breaking judgment, the Delhi High Court upheld a claim filed by the women under the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. The workers were aggrieved over what they perceived to be discriminatory treatment at the hands of their employer. Their struggle dates back to 1984, when the packers, some of whom had been working since 1978, were regularised along with their male colleagues.

They found that their male counterparts, who were doing the same or similar work, were appointed at higher pay scales. According to the management of the cooperative store, the difference in pay scales was justified, as the women were "packing cleaners", as opposed to "packers", the designation given to the male employees. While the "packing cleaners" cleaned pulses and so on, the "packers" weighed the goods and packed them using electrical appliances. The women workers filed a claim under Section 7 (1) (b) of the Act, which provides for the appointment of an Authority - not below the rank of a Labour Officer - by the government concerned for the purpose of hearing and deciding claims and complaints. Initially, the Authority concerned heard the complaint and gave a decision in favour of the women. It observed that prior to October 1984, the remuneration being given to both men and women was the same for doing the same or similar work, and that the different pay scales had come up only after the workers had been regularised, though the work remained the same. The Authority held that the management of the store could not produce any evidence to show that the nature of the work performed by the men and the women was different. In fact, a clear case of gender bias emerged when a woman worker named Sujjan was erroneously included in the list of men workers and was paid a higher remuneration until the management realised the "error" and reduced her pay. The Authority, while noting that the educational qualifications of the "packers" and "packing cleaners" were different, held that the nature of work was the same, and that the differentiation of pay scales had come about after the workers were regularised. The petitioners, the Authority concluded, had been discriminated only on the grounds of gender.

The management of the cooperative store went on appeal to the Appellate Authority, who was of the rank of a Joint Labour Commissioner. In a reversal of the previous order, the Appellate Authority, in an order dated October 8, 1984, held that the Authority under the Act had misdirected itself by assuming that the petitioners were "packers" and not "packing cleaners". It held that since the difference in designation was not challenged, the petitioners were bound by the same.

Disappointed with this decision, the petitioners approached the Delhi High Court. The single-Judge Bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur, while considering the case, examined its constitutional basis, as well as international law and legal precedent before arriving at a conclusion. In M/s. Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co. Ltd. vs. Audrey D'Costa and Others (1987) 2 SCC 469, where women stenographers had been given a lower scale of pay than male stenographers, the Supreme Court held that the differential pay scales were in violation of the provisions of the Act. While upholding the constitutional basis enshrined in Article 14, which bars discrimination on the grounds of sex, and Article 39 (d), which provides equal pay for equal work, Justice Lokur also referred to the statutory basis of the claim - India is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation Convention concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value. The Judge also referred to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which India is a signatory, and specifically to Article 11, which deals with the elimination of discrimination in the field of employment.

Terming the Appellate Authority's emphasis on only one aspect - dissimilarity of designation - as "erroneous", Justice Lokur held that the designation given to an employee is of no consequence at all: "It is the nature of the work which is important and not the designation." Sujjan's instance was highlighted as an example. The Judge concluded that this showed the work she was doing was similar to the work of her male counterparts and that only the designation was the determining factor for fixing the pay scales. "This is obviously not permissible, both under our constitutional schemes as well as under the provisions of the Act," ruled Justice Lokur.

THE workers are relieved at the judgment, but some misgivings remain. Four of the 49 petitioners passed away in the midst of the legal battle. Says Anandi Devi: "I hope we get the compensation soon." She also requested Ashok Aggarwal, the advocate for the petitioners, to ensure that in the event of her death, the compensation amount be passed on to her heirs. Joher, another worker, worked at the cooperative for 18 years, nine of which she worked at a piece-rate wage. "We used to pack the red chilly powder with bare hands and endure severe burning for hours. We never told our families what we did for a living," she said. She started working when her son was a year old. "Now I am a grandmother and I am still fighting," she added.

Fifty-year-old Basanti recalls: "I worked for 20 years in Super Bazaar. My husband fell sick and became unfit for work. My eldest child was eight years old and I was around 24 years." Gyanwati's situation was equally tragic. Her husband suffered a paralytic stroke and she found herself the sole breadwinner of the family. "My son could not clear his tenth class exams as I could not afford to pay his fees and buy his school uniform," she says emotionally. Desperate for work, she joined the cooperative and then found herself fighting discrimination along with other women workers. Subhash Shankar Dube, general secretary of the Super Bazaar Employees' Union, also a former employee of the cooperative, added that the women were exploited in every conceivable manner. "They used to hide behind the huge piles of stocked foodgrains and eat their food. Today, it is a different story. They come to the union office confidently," says Dube.

The women know that there is still a long struggle ahead. Ashok Aggarwal says that there are very few precedents of claims being filed under the Equal Remuneration Act. He said that governments were often seen to refer to the Act at international forums in order to portray that the rights of women workers were being protected in every manner. "This form of discrimination, in varying pay scales for the same work, is very prevalent. In fact, it is worsening. With more and more women entering the unorganised workforce, instances of discrimination are also going up," he said.

Aggarwal, who is a leading campaigner of the rights of the child, revealed that even within child labour, which had increased tremendously over the last decade, the preference was for girl children so that employers could get away with paying them less. "Apart from the basic problem of unawareness of their rights, the delays by the judicial system in dealing with such cases also compound the problem several times over," he said. Sensitive lawyers and unions could work in tandem in such situations, says Aggarwal.

In an era where the ranks of the unorganised sector is growing and where more and more women seem to be preferred because of their inability to negotiate better wages, there is an urgent need to restore the language of rights for those who need it the most.

Unravelling the universe

R. RAMACHANDRAN science-and-technology

With the choice of technology to build a high-energy linear collider, the world community of particle physicists moves a step ahead in its effort to answer some of the fascinating questions about the nature of the universe.

ON August 20, the International Committee for Future Accelerators (ICFA) took the first significant step in setting the stage for the world community of particle physicists to embark upon an international collaboration of unprecedented nature and scale towards realising the goal of understanding the fundamental nature of matter, energy, space and time. The ICFA announced its decision on the choice of technology to be adopted to build the future gigantic particle accelerator - the linear collider - which, physicists expect, will enable them to unravel the mysteries of nature at the sub-atomic level. Today, all data point to new physics lurking at energies beyond the reach of existing particle accelerators.

Accelerators impart energy to sub-atomic particles with magnetic fields and radio-frequency (RF) fields and accelerate them so that they travel at high speeds in evacuated chambers as collimated and focussed beams. They are essentially of two kinds. In one kind, they move in circular enclosures and the machines are variously called cyclotrons, synchrotrons or storage rings, depending on the energies achieved and the particles that are accelerated. In the other, particles are accelerated in linear structures called linear accelerators (LINACs).

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Two opposing LINACs make up a linear collider (L.C). The proposed L.C. will bring intense high-energy beams of electrons (e-) to collide headon with positrons (e+, the antimatter counterpart of electrons) travelling with equal energy in the opposite direction (see schematic diagram). The envisaged total energy that would be available for particle production through electron-positron annihilations is 500 billion or giga electron volt (GeV) in the first phase to over 1000 GeV or one tera electron volt (TeV) in the second phase. Acceleration up to these energies will be achieved in 30-40 km long LINACs housed in tunnels. (One TeV is about the energy of motion of a flying mosquito. What makes this energy so extraordinary is that, in an accelerator, it is squeezed into a space about a million million times smaller than a mosquito.) However, it would be too costly ($ 7-8 billion) for a single nation to undertake such a huge project, especially after the experience of the cancellation by the Clinton administration of the superconducting supercollider (SSC) project midway in1993. The L.C. has, therefore, been mooted as a global venture and will be called the International Linear Collider (ILC).

From two mature technologies, developed over the last nearly 12 years by two different high-energy physics groups - a Japanese-U.S. collaboration that promoted the "warm" technology and a European collaboration that promoted the "cold" technology - the ICFA made the difficult but necessary choice to enable the international effort to take off. It has picked the "cold" technology, in which the basic accelerating structure will use superconducting niobium cavities where the electric field due to L-band RF field of 1.3 gigahertz will give energy kicks to electron bunches. This technology has been perfected at the German accelerator laboratory DESY in Hamburg as a collaborative venture (called TESLA) of 55 institutes in 12 countries. On the other hand, the "warm" technology, which the committee has rejected, uses copper accelerating cavities at room temperature operating at a higher (X-band) RF of 11.4 GHz. This has been perfected at the Japanese accelerator laboratory KEK in Tsukuba in collaboration with the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre (SLAC). An order of magnitude lower energy (50 GeV) electron-positron linear collider has been running at the SLAC since 1989.

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The ICFA's announcement was an endorsement of the recommendation made by 12 `wise men', on the International Technology Recommendation Panel (ITRP), which was constituted in January 2004 under the chairmanship of Barry Barish of Caltech. "Both the `warm' X-band technology and the `cold' superconducting technology would work for a linear collider," said Barish. "Each offers its own advantages and each represents many years of R&D... At this stage it would be too costly and time consuming to develop both technologies toward construction. The decision was not an easy one... and we knew the selection would have significant consequences for the participating laboratories," Barish added. Indeed, a rational selection could not have been made unless both `cold' and `warm' technologies had been developed to become mature and viable alternatives.

"The decision is of great importance for DESY and its international partners since they developed this technology," a DESY press release said. In any case, DESY had decided to paticipate in the ILC even before the technology recommendation. "With this recommendation, it becomes clearer how DESY could make useful contribution to the ILC," remarked Albrecht Wagner, chairman of the DESY directorate. "Scientists at DESY are currently preparing the European X-ray free electron laser (XFEL), which will also be based on the TESLA technology," Wagner said. XFEL is intended to be used as a probe for testing various aspects of LINAC, including beam diagnostics.

"We are certainly disappointed that our technology was not selected," SLAC director Jonathan Dorfan, who is also the ICFA chair, said. "As the only laboratory to have built an L.C, we have the experience and expertise in most areas critical to the L.C. design which transfers naturally and powerfully onto the design based on cold cavities," he added. KEK's director Yoji Totsuka has welcomed the decision and said that KEK looks forward to participating in the truly global project. Incidentally, Hirotaka Sugawara, KEK's former director, was a member of the ITRP.

"A decade ago such a high-energy linear collider was just a dream - a vision for a revolutionary tool to answer some of the most fascinating and compelling questions about the nature of our universe," said Cornell University's Maury Tigner, the chair of the International Linear Collider Steering Committee (ILCSC) that appointed the ITRP. "It will not only investigate new frontiers of physics and technology but also in international science collaboration. The decision opens the way for the world particle physics community to unite behind one technology and concentrate our combined resources on the design of the collider," he added. The Barish panel, it should be pointed out, has only recommended the technology, and not the design, though TESLA has developed and tested a design for the collider. "We expect the final design to be developed by a team drawn from the combined `warm' and `cold' L.C. communities, taking full advantage of the experience and expertise of both," the ITRP panel has stated in its report to the ILSC.

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The ITRP was charged with two important criteria. One, the ILC construction should begin by 2010 (for it to be up and running by 2015). Two, there should be sufficient temporal overlap between the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is being built at CERN - the European Centre for Particle Physics in Geneva - and the proposed ILC so that the physics derived from the two machines can complement each other. Colliders take a long time to plan and be executed. The LHC, which is expected to be ready by 2007, was being planned over 15 years.

In the LHC, circulating beams of protons will hit each other at 14 TeV energy. However, because protons are made up of more fundamental constituents called quarks and gluons, only about 2 TeV is available for each quark-quark interaction that will give rise to particle production. In the electron-positron annihilation interaction of L.C., on the other hand, the entire energy is available for particle generation. Also, L.C. interactions are much cleaner than LHC interactions as the latter will have the problem of large background. Other L.C. parameters that the ITRP considered in arriving at its decision included high beam luminosity (a measure of collision rate) of 1034 particles per cm2 per second and easy upgradability of the machine from 500 GeV to 1 TeV.

Besides the operating frequencies and temperatures, the two technologies differ in the following key aspects. A tunnel of about 40 km will be required for the `cold' technology as against a 30-km tunnel for the `warm' one. This arises basically because the warm technology, with its much higher RF frequency, can accommodate higher accelerating fields in its cavities and thus achieve a greater energy gain for a fixed length. Also the damping rings, which enable bunching of electrons before injection into the LINAC, and the positron source are simpler.

The `cold' technology, on the other hand, is a more efficient - nearly 100 per cent because of superconducting cavities - transmitter of power from the RF source. In the `warm' case, it is only about 30 per cent because of dissipation in the cavity walls. In order to reach the collision rates required, both the LINACs will have to be erected and aligned with extreme precision in the interaction region. For L-band or `cold' technology, it is around 0.5 mm whereas X-band requires a precision of few hundredths of a mm. Both technologies have wider impact beyond particle physics: `cold' technology has applications in accelerator-based research, while `warm' technology has applications in medicine and other areas.

According to the Executive Summary report of the ITRP, superconducting technology was chosen because of "attractive features" that follow from the lower RF and will facilitate future design. Having zeroed in on the `cold' technology, the report said: "A TeV scale electron-positron linear collider is an essential part of a grand adventure that will provide new insights into the structure of space, time, matter and energy. We believe that the technology for achieving this goal is now in hand, and the prospects for its success are extremely bright."

Since the mid-1990s, partly triggered by the SSC's demise, the world particle physics community has been veering around to the idea of a TeV scale electron-positron linear collider as an international endeavour. In 1995, under the ICFA's initiative, the first ILC Technical Review Committee Report (known as the Greg Loew Report) came out, which resulted in the idea gathering momentum worldwide. In 1996, the Asian Committee for Future Accelerators (ACFA), led by KEK, got into the act and issued an action plan for promoting an L.C. project. The original plan envisaged setting up an International Linear Collider Centre with the machine being built by 2001 in the Asia-Pacific region with KEK as the nodal laboratory. In 1997, the ACFA stated that Japan would host and fund such a centre. In 1999, the ICFA called for a worldwide R&D on TeV scale electron-positron collider, that would compliment the upcoming LHC. Consequent to planning exercises in Europe (involving the European ECFA), ACFA and the U.S. High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP), a common conclusion emerged in 2002. The next major high-energy facility should be an electron-positron collider with an initial energy of 500 GeV, running in parallel with the LHC, and later upgradable to a TeV and more, to be established as a truly global project. In fact, both the ECFA and the HEPAP recommended this as top priority. Following this, the ICFA constituted the international steering committee and came out with the Second Loew report in 2003. The ACFA too came up with a `road map' in February 2003 spelling out its technology options based on work on `warm' technology carried out jointly by the KEK and the SLAC.

"To succeed in this vision requires a new paradigm and key to that paradigm is our need to come together with a common set of technical decisions as the basis of an L.C. design that truly has the collective ownership of the partners," ICFA stated. And one saw political consensus too emerging with the ministerial statement from Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in January 2004 endorsing the plan for global collective initiative on L.C. The time seemed ripe for making the technology choice and the ITRP was constituted.

A sense of urgency is clearly evident in this global effort. The ITRP took only eight months - during which six meetings were held and DESY, SLAC and KEK were visited and over 3,000 pages of documents were studied - to arrive at the decision. However, there will be many other issues to be resolved before a construction decision can be made, including the choice of a site, which could become contentious, and the mechanism of international funding, but the ITRP's decision provides a firm basis to move forward.

A meeting to discuss the funding aspects too was held recently at the CERN on September 16 and 17. The international thermonuclear fusion project ITER could provide a model for ILC as well. While Germany's Ministry of Research and Education has made it clear that it is not keen on having the site in Germany, both the U.S. and Japan are keen that the ILC be located on their soils. Indeed, HEPAP in its long-range planning report has made a strong bid for its location in the U.S. And this also is perhaps why the U.S. has been supporting the location of the ITER fusion reactor in Japan - clearly Japan cannot afford both, having already spent $1.5 billion on its collider complex.

INDIA is one of the few developing countries that has, in recent years, made a reasonable mark in high-energy physics, particularly in international collaborative experiments. At the CERN, Fermilab and Brookhaven, U.S., India has made significant contributions in software as well as hardware, particularly particle detectors. In fact, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has set up an accelerator technology development group, which has a major cooperation agreement with the CERN for collaborating on the LHC. The India-CERN cooperation agreement was first signed in 1991 with a view to participating in CERN's technical projects. This was followed by signing a protocol in 1996 for specific participation in the LHC under which nearly 20 projects have been assigned to Indian groups. The major ones among these are the setting up of two of the detectors in the LHC, namely, the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) and A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE). Indian scientists have been contributing in a big way in LHC-related software as well. In recognition of its contribution to the CERN's activities, India was granted an observer status in the council of the CERN in December 2002.

With growing interest worldwide in the linear collider, Indian scientists have been carrying out studies under the Indian Linear Collider Working Group (ILCWG). The ILCWG is a multi-institutional forum that includes scientists from the DAE and non-DAE institutions as well as universities. It has been contributing to the deliberations of the ACFA as well as to the technical sub-committees of the ILCSC. In April 2003, the DAE organised an India-ACFA Meeting at the Centre for Advanced Technology (CAT), Indore. An India-U.S. Interaction Meeting on Linear Collider, organised by the Department of Science and Technology, was held in Delhi in November 2003. These culminated in India hosting the 6th ACFA Workshop on Physics and Detectors for Linear Collider in December 2003 at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. Indeed, some Indian research contributions to L.C. physics have formed a significant component of the international effort in setting benchmarks for the collider, which have served as important inputs for the technology choice.

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Indian participation in this global venture thus appears to be very much on the cards. In principle, the participation has been approved by both the DAE and the DST. In fact, a representative had been sent for the meeting on collider funding held at the CERN. "While Indian scientists (mainly phenomenologists) have been involved in LC-related activities right from inception, it is necessary to develop a strategy quickly for involvement as a nation in a formal, institutionalised manner," points out Rohini Godbole, a professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

Sometime ago, a section of scientists had felt that, since a good number of them would be engaged in the detector (ALICE and CMS) development for the LHC for the next few years, detector R&D for L.C. may not be feasible, unless young researchers are specifically identified and recruited for the purpose. "But with good part of the LHC work already over, the situation may be more conducive today than it was four years ago," says Godbole. However, according to V.S. Ramamurthy, Secretary, DST, the thrust of Indian participation for the present will be in the development of accelerator technology in view of the DAE's plans for Accelerator Driven Systems (ADS) related activities in the near future. Apparently the U.S. had shown interest in this area during the Indo-U.S. meeting.

Most important, since there already exists a successful model of cooperation with the CERN - which does not involve financial commitment but only hardware and software development - a similar arrangement could possibly be evolved for the ILC project as well. India has developed some expertise in fabricating superconducting cavities, albeit of low current carrying capacity for ion accelerators at the Nuclear Science Centre (NSC), Delhi, and TIFR. This could be an area where India can possibly contribute if R&D in the area is initiated and the expertise consolidated upon.

However, if India is to contribute meaningfully in the L.C. technology development, first it should have an independent management structure, with appropriate funding, and identify key leaders as part of it. Though this idea was mooted a year ago, things had not moved as quickly as one would have liked. Recent developments have, however, instilled some sense of urgency and the DAE is likely to put in place such a structure soon.

Looking east

Economic integration of the northeastern region with mainstream India and South-East Asia forms the key point of discussion at three public events in the region.

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FOR several decades, people talked about the economic integration of the northeastern States with the rest of the country, often referred to as the national mainstream, in order to aid the development of this underdeveloped region. Policy-makers, bureaucrats and intellectuals attributed the numerous armed separatist struggles and the political instability in the northeastern States to the region's underdevelopment and weak economic integration with "mainstream" India. They argued that the situation would come to a pass when the region catches up with the rest of India in economic activities. As part of the efforts to integrate the region with the rest of India, emphasis was laid on improving rail, road and air connectivity. A 20-km-wide "chicken neck" corridor of land connects the region with the country's mainland.

The focus has now shifted to transnational and sub-regional cooperation between India and South-East Asian countries as it is seen as the only way to bail out the region from its state of underdevelopment and political crisis. This was evident when the region played host to three important events between September 4 and 11. A congregation of policy-makers, diplomats, bureaucrats, academics and scholars discussed issues relating to the region's underdevelopment at these meetings.

The first one was Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's meeting with Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament from the region in Shillong on September 4 and 6 on the internal security situation of and development agendas for the region.

This was followed by two days of brainstorming sessions on September 10 and 11 in Guwahati at a forum called "Towards a New Asia: Transnationalism and the Northeast", which brought together the people engaged in the unfolding of this new Asia - diplomats, civil servants, academics, journalists, commentators, intellectuals and experts on the northeastern affairs. The forum was organised by the Centre for Northeast India, South and Southeast Asia Studies (CENISEAS) of the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, Assam, in cooperation with the Institute of Chinese Studies, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

The forum coincided with a two-day visit to Assam by the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Veena Sikri, ahead of the Home Secretary-level meeting between India and Bangladesh in Dhaka and a formal press briefing on September 11 in Guwahati by Veena Sikri with Rajiv Sikri, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs.

During their meeting with the Home Minister, which came in the backdrop of the present political unrest in Manipur and a fresh spurt of violence unleashed by the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in Assam, the Chief Ministers emphasised that New Delhi should exert diplomatic pressure on two of its neighbours, Bangladesh and Myanmar, to go the Bhutan way and demolish the militant camps on their soil. After the four-hour-long meeting, Patil issued an appeal to all the militant organisations of the region to come forward for unconditional talks and resolve their problems.

MPs from the region, particularly Urkhao Gwra Brahma from Assam and Robert Kharsing from Meghalaya, proposed that an all-party MPs' forum - on the lines of the panel headed by Ram Jethmalani to hold talks with Kashmiri militant groups - be constituted by the Home Ministry to open talks with the militant groups. Patil said that the Centre would provide all possible assistance for such efforts.

In his formal press briefing, Rajiv Sikri highlighted India's "Look East" policy vis-a-vis development of the region. He said that India and six other Asian countries - Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Thailand and Sri Lanka - have constituted a joint working group to curb terrorism in the region. The decision to set up a JWG to counter terrorism was taken at the first summit of the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand-Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC) held in Bangkok in July. The participating countries had then pledged not to allow their territories to be used by terrorist groups for launching attacks on friendly countries. The officials highlighted the opportunities that the northeastern States can utilise in cross-border economic activities between India and member countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Rajiv Sikri said that the region would get a good opportunity to showcase itself during the proposed car rally from Guwahati to Singapore in November. He also said that the region's prospects would brighten once the Asian highway and railway-networking projects make headway.

Noted economist and Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh kicked off the debate at the CENISEAS forum on whether the region can develop through its economic integration with South-East Asia or with the rest of India.

Jairam Ramesh, who is also the secretary of the Congress' Economic Affairs cell, underlined the need for adopting a new model of development for the region. He said that the region would have political integration with rest of the country and economic integration with South-East Asian countries. He argued that different models of development adopted in the past four to five decades in the region, the latest being the heavy doses of public expenditure, had failed to work. "If the initiatives to forge regional trading arrangements with East and South-East Asian countries through Myanmar bear fruit, that will integrate India and South Asia economically with the newly industrialised eastern bloc. But the share of benefits for the northeastern region from such integration will depend on how much of the trade traffic will move through the land routes via northeastern India," said Madan Prasad Bezbaruah, Banking Ombudsman, Government of India, and formerly Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, while deliberating on the forum. He cautioned that if most of the merchandise traffic between South and South-East Asia moved along the sea route, the region may end up being a mere dead-end market for goods coming from the newly industrialised countries.

Professor Sanjib Baruah, who heads the CENISEAS, said the forum aimed to break the notion that the northeastern region was landlocked and to discuss the opportunities and risks for the region from different kinds of transnational and sub-regional cooperation that are being forged at a time when Indian policy was "looking east".

But will the opening up of the border further encourage cross-border terrorism and lead to increased proliferation of small arms and drugs in the region? Is there any room for the region with its poor rural economy and slow pace of urbanisation to open its door for the growing South-East Asian market? What could be the possible impact of the South-East Asian connection on the ethnic scenario of the region? These are questions that will require further discussion and debate on the same mode as the recently concluded meeting in Guwahati.

Kashmir as the roadblock

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

The message Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri brought when he came for talks is that all major commercial deals will remain pending until New Delhi decides to discuss Kashmir seriously.

THE visit of Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri to New Delhi last fortnight for talks with his Indian counterpart, K. Natwar Singh, is a positive indication that both sides are still determined to continue with the dialogue process initiated at the beginning of the year. Islamabad has been signalling for quite some time now its unhappiness with the slow progress on the Kashmir issue. Indian officials on their part have criticised the "unifocal" approach of the Pakistani side.

Strong statements had emanated from Islamabad and New Delhi before Kasuri landed for talks on Indian soil. Indian officials focussed on what they described as Islamabad's unwillingness to curtail "cross-border terrorism" fully. Just before the Foreign Ministers' talks were to begin, there were stories prominently displayed in the Indian media about an increase in militant activity in Jammu and Kashmir, fuelled by cross-border terrorism. Indian Intelligence agencies, on the other hand, have confirmed that infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC), in comparison to recent years, has been the least this year. The months between June and September 2004 have shown a dramatic decline in contrast to the corresponding period in the preceding years.

The differing official views came into the open when the two Foreign Ministers addressed a joint press conference after the conclusion of the talks. Natwar Singh, while emphasising New Delhi's commitment to take the dialogue process forward, said that cross-border infiltration remained "a serious concern". Kasuri, who is known for his forthright style, said that he conveyed to the Indian External Affairs Minister his country's concerns about "the human rights situation in Kashmir". In his opening remarks to the assembled media, Kasuri said "that regardless of the word that we use and the gloss that we put, we are all aware of what has been the cause of perpetual tension between our two countries and what has caused three wars between us and a near war in 2002. And that was the issue of Jammu and Kashmir". Kasuri, however, took care to emphasise that Pakistan was willing to discuss other substantive issues that form part of the composite dialogue process agreed upon by the two countries and assured New Delhi that Islamabad did not attach any pre-conditions and would let the dialogue process continue.

Natwar Singh admitted that the two sides continued to have differences on some "difficult" issues but stressed the need to move forward in other areas. In this context, he mentioned the proposed gas pipeline project involving Iran, Pakistan and India, citing the importance of "energy cooperation" for the benefit of the entire region. He also said that New Delhi was discussing the issue of Kashmir in a frank manner while "respecting each other's views". The Pakistan Foreign Minister said that more meetings were needed between the two sides to discuss nuclear and related issues. Even on long-pending territorial matters such as Tul Bul, Sir Creek and Siachen, there was minimal progress. It was obvious from the outset that nothing substantial would emerge out of the talks. Both sides would only concede that there was "incremental progress" after the latest round of talks.

Both sides had agreed to reopen their consulates in Karachi and Mumbai earlier in the year, but from available indications the people of both countries will have to travel to their respective capitals for quite some time to get their visas issued. Kasuri said that the Indian side had still not identified a suitable location for the Pakistani consulate in Mumbai. New Delhi had earlier turned down Islamabad's request for the handover of "Jinnah House" in Mumbai.

The joint statement released two days after the conclusion of the talks spelt out 13 areas in which the two countries claimed to have made progress. The points listed included the resumption of the Munabao-Khokrapar rail link and advance notification about missile tests. A high-level committee will be set up to sort out contentious trade issues. A joint survey will be conducted in the Sir Creek area to mark out a mutually acceptable international boundary. Officials of the two sides will also be meeting to sort out the technicalities regarding the proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. Pakistani officials are optimistic about the service starting soon, though they say that there is no question of Indian passports being recognised along a disputed border. They also emphasise that the bus service is only for Kashmiris.

On the Siachen issue, there seems to be some sort of a stalemate. After the Defence Secretaries of both countries met in August, a joint statement was issued in which both sides agreed to discuss modalities regarding disengagement and re-deployment of their troops from the glacier. According to Pakistani sources, the Indian side is now insisting on bringing in "extraneous issues" and wants Islamabad to recognise formally the present location of the Indian troops on Siachen. "The proposal for demilitarising Siachen is an implementable proposal. Why bring in new arguments?" asked a senior diplomat.

The diplomat also was of the view that the issues of Wullar and Sir Creek can be resolved only through international arbitration. He pointed out that on previous occasions the two sides had solved issues through arbitration. "The Rann of Kutch issue was settled through arbitration. Sir Creek remains part of the Rann of Kutch. The map scale of the disputed Sir Creek is also too small and the border is drawn with thick ink," said a Pakistani official. Pakistan seems to be in no hurry to give India the most favoured nation (MFN) status. Islamabad wants to set up a high-level technical committee to discuss the issue. "We are not asking for the U.S. or the U.K. to arbitrate. We are only asking for a tribunal to be set up." It is therefore evident from the posture now being adopted by Islamabad that progress on easily solvable issues will be slow unless India gives more priority to the Kashmir issue. President Pervez Musharraf, strongly reiterated in the first week of September that Kashmir would remain the top priority for Pakistan. On previous occasions, Pakistani officials have stated that all the remaining issues on the agenda could be solved in no time once New Delhi starts addressing the Kashmir issue seriously.

However, both sides seem sincere in their attempts to foster more "people-to-people contacts". The Pakistani side was quick to accept the Indian suggestion of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) probationers visiting Pakistan every year. Islamabad has also given its assent to a bus service between Amritsar and Nankana-Sahib (Pakistan), religious centres of Sikhs. During the recent ministerial talks, the Pakistani side suggested the substitution of the Delhi-Lahore bus service with a service between Amritsar and Lahore. Pakistani officials are of the view that such a service would be more convenient and cheaper for most travellers.

THE Pakistani side has been suggesting that one way to break the impasse over Kashmir is for both countries to "name high representatives" to kick-start the process. There are reports that Pakistan's National Security Adviser, Tariq Aziz, and his Indian counterpart, J.N. Dixit, are engaged in secret parleys after the recent meeting of the Foreign Ministers. Both New Delhi and Islamabad remain tight-lipped about the alleged meetings between Aziz and Dixit. It is, however, clear that the Pakistani side wants some urgent forward movement on the Kashmir issue when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets President Musharraf in New York in late September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session. The new Pakistan Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, will also be visiting New Delhi in November, in his capacity as the Chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Pakistani officials want Kashmir to figure prominently in the high-level talks to be held in the next two months.

Pakistani officials are now saying openly that New Delhi is only "playing for time so as to maintain the status quo in Kashmir". This attitude, they say, puts their government in a bad situation domestically. The Musharraf government has cracked down on terrorism for a variety of reasons. Pakistani officials point out that the man who almost succeeded in the assassination attempt against Musharraf late last year was a Kashmiri militant. Islamabad has been sending strong signals that it is willing to be flexible on the Kashmir issue, provided the Indian side takes into consideration the entire gamut of Kashmiri public opinion. Pakistani officials say that the argument that elections have been held in Kashmir and therefore there is no need to get Kashmiris involved in the peace talks is not a valid argument. "Elections were also held during British rule in the Indian subcontinent," said a Pakistani official. He said that the two sides would soon have to resolve the issue of "how to discuss Kashmir and to get Kashmiris involved. These talks will have to take place within a reasonable time frame".

Pakistani officials are also not too optimistic about the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India materialising any time. They say that the ambitious pipeline is a trilateral, stand-alone project. According to the officials, the Pakistani people can be persuaded to accept the project as a "pipeline of peace". Islamabad can also earn revenues amounting to $150-200 million annually. Pakistani officials stress that the amount that Pakistan could earn from the proposed pipeline is not humongous, as is being projected by New Delhi. They also say that New Delhi is insisting on MFN status and transit rights for Indian goods to Central Asia as part of a package deal on the gas pipeline.

The other problem they envisage is the question of financing. It is estimated that around $3 billion is needed and it will take three or four years for the project to be completed.

Pakistani officials think that putting together the requisite international finance for the project will be difficult, given the American antipathy to any business deal involving Iran. If the gas pipeline does materialise, the major beneficiary will be India. Piped gas is 30 per cent cheaper than compressed natural gas (CNG). The sub-text in the message from Islamabad is that all major commercial deals will remain pending till New Delhi decides to talk about Kashmir seriously.

Returning to the road

The Madras High Court overturns a tribunal order and reinstates over 9,000 road workers retrenched by the State government.

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JUSTICE has at last been done to about 10,000 road workers who were literally thrown on the street en masse two years ago by an executive order of the Tamil Nadu government. These workers, who were appointed by the State Highways Department in 1997 for road maintenance, were among the first victims of the Jayalalithaa government's dogged pursuit of the policy of privatisation since 2001. A Division Bench of the Madras High Court ordered their reinstatement within three months with back wages and continuity of service and termed as "misadventure" the government's abolition of the post of "gang mazdoor" [G.O.Ms.No.160 (Highways) dated September 5, 2002] on the grounds of economy, which resulted in the loss of jobs to thousands of workers.

"As the Government Order is wholly illegal and invalid in law, the consequent orders of termination issued to 9,183 gang mazdoor are set aside," ruled the Bench of Justices P.K. Misra and F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla. The court held that the termination was in "gross violation of the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act" and allowed a batch of writ appeals against an April 16, 2003, order of the State Administrative Tribunal. The order upheld the abolition of the posts, but directed the State government to pay a sum equivalent to six months' salary to each gang mazdoor, irrespective of whether the worker had filed an original application of the Tribunal or not. The Tamil Nadu Highways Roadways Employees' Association was among the principal appellants.

For the retrenched workers, who have also been mounting pressure on the government through relentless struggles, the judgment would mean an end to their two-year ordeal. Trade union leaders hailed the judgment as a "whiff of fresh air" and appealed to the government to implement it immediately instead of treating it as a matter of prestige and preferring an appeal. The judgment contains several significant observations and also marks a break from the adverse judicial and executive decisions that government employees had to face in the past two years.

THE plight of gang mazdoors has to be seen in the light of their struggles of the past several decades to get their services regularised. Until 1977, gang mazdoors were recruited by work-charged departments of the government, mostly on a temporary basis, for specific projects and works. After the completion of the project, the workforce was generally disbanded. Of course, in certain cases these workers were engaged in other projects, resulting in a continuity even in their temporary assignments. There were two categories of workers, provincial and non-provincial, and two modes of payment of wages - one on the basis of a time-scale and the other fixed pay. In 1977, following a series of struggles by the workers, the government regularised their services and made them eligible for all benefits enjoyed by government employees. It, however, stopped the recruitment of gang mazdoors.

In 1987, the government passed an order with a view to creating 10,636 permanent posts of gang mazdoors. In 1992, by another order it imposed a ban on the filling of the posts. In 1996, at the instance of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, the government made a general assessment of the number of gang mazdoors needed to maintain the 60,000 km of road in the State. The number that would be needed was estimated at 14,872. Through two G.Os, the government created 4,280 posts, to be filled along with the little over 5,000 existing unfilled posts. It also announced, through separate G.Os, that each worker would be paid Rs.1,500 a month and that after the successful completion of a year of probation the worker would be put on the regular scale.

The recruitment was to be done locally, and the upper age limit was fixed at 35. The government also exempted this recruitment from the stipulation that all applications should be routed through employment exchanges. Division-level officials of the Highways Department selected persons with the required qualification on a 1:3 ratio and the final selection was done by a draw of lots.

The selected workers were regularised subsequently and had served for four years, enjoying all the benefits that came with regular service, until the September 5, 2002 G.O. abolished the post.

The Jayalalithaa government's decision to abolish the post stemmed from its decision to privatise road maintenance works. Public Works Minister O. Panneerselvam announced a major policy change in this regard in the State Assembly on April 29, 2002, five months before the axe fell on the gang mazdoors. He said the government had decided to involve the private sector in an integrated improvement-cum-maintenance contract for State highways. Significantly, almost a year after the abolition of the posts, the government signed an agreement with the World Bank (on August 28, 2003) to facilitate the implementation of a Rs.2,118-crore Tamil Nadu Road Sector Project (TNRSP).

The dismissed gang mazdoors challenged the termination of service before the State Administrative Tribunal. They questioned the validity of the G.O. abolishing the post, on the grounds that it violated Article 14 of the Constitution. The Tribunal, on April 16, 2003, accepted the government's submission that the abolition had been done in pursuance of one of its "policy decisions" and stated that it could not interfere with "policy decisions of the government".

The Division Bench of the High Court, hearing writ appeals against the Tribunal judgment, did not agree with the government's contention that the Highways Department was a part of the government and was not covered by the Industrial Disputes Act. It cited the landmark judgment in the Bangalore Water Supply case (1978) by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court to state that "all functions of the State need not necessarily be sovereign in nature, merely because such functions are either organised or administered by the State. In fact, in the Bangalore Water Supply case, the Honourable Supreme Court made it clear that while applying the dominant nature test, even in the departments discharging sovereign functions if there are units which are industries and they are substantially severable, they can be considered to be an industry to come within Section 2 (1) of the Industrial Disputes Act."

The Division Bench ruled that maintenance of road and allied activities carried out by the dismissed gang mazdoors were a "manufacturing process", thereby bringing it within the ambit of the definition of industrial establishment as defined in the Industrial Disputes Act. The provisions of the Act were, therefore, applicable to the Highways Department of the Tamil Nadu government. Also, gang mazdoors were "workmen" as defined in the Act.

Explaining the significance of the judgment, advocate R. Vaigai, who appeared for the petitioners, said it had really called the government's bluff in many respects. More than anything else, the High Court went by the government's own conduct to show that road maintenance was not a sovereign function. The Bench contended that if it was a sovereign function, it should be an inalienable function, something that could not be performed by a person who is not in governance. But here, after abolishing the posts the government itself had contracted out these jobs and so it was not a sovereign function and therefore it could not be exempt from the Industrial Disputes Act.

The Bench also categorically declared that the government's action in abolishing the posts was "a misadventure", because neither the reasons nor the manner in which the actions had been taken could be justified, said Vaigai. Since the Industrial Disputes Act covers the government, it ought to have followed the procedure set in the Act if it wanted to retrench workers. The Bench also said that the government in such respects should also be a "model employer".

The Bench did not agree that the procedure followed in the 1997 recruitment was faulty. The procedure had been laid out clearly and there was transparency in the whole system, it held. The contention that the appointments were illegal was therefore not tenable.

The argument that the courts could not interfere with "policy decisions" was also brought in. The tribunal upheld the contention. The government contended that the abolition of the post was a policy decision taken in the interest of the economy. Since the expenditure on the salary front for these works was going beyond manageable limits, the government thought it necessary to abolish the post. The court steered clear of these arguments, but was categorical that whatever action the government took should be in accordance with the law of the land. Referring to the government's stand that the reason for the abolition of the post was the annual entailment of an expenditure running to Rs.75 crores, the Bench observed, "If the rise in the salary component was due to spiralling prices of commodities and consequent revision of wages, the gang mazdoors cannot be blamed."

The Bench said it could never be held that there was lack of performance by the mazdoors, warranting removal from service.

Scaling new heights

The Sikkim government lays emphasis on policies that can transform Sikkimese society into a well-informed, efficient and robust entity.

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NESTLED in the shadow of its `guardian deity' Mount Khanchendzonga (8,598 metres), the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim merged with India on May 16, 1975, to become its 22nd State. Flanked by Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west and southern China including Tibet in the north, Sikkim covers an area of just 7,096 sq km whose strategic importance cannot be overstated. Majestic mountain peaks and frothing rivers that weave their way through virgin foothill forests and lush paddy fields lend to the State a rich biodiversity of breathtaking beauty.

The State has four districts, each with its own special flavour. East district, where the capital Gangtok is located, is the hub of all administrative activities. Also located in this district are the famous Rumtek monastery, Lake Tsomgo, Nathu La (pass), and the Saramasa Garden, home to many exotic orchids and rare tropical and temperate plants.

For white water rafting down the Teesta or treks through dense rhododendron forests and other such adventure sports, one has to head to West district. North Sikkim, with its Valley of Flowers and hot springs, is considered to be the most beautiful of the districts, while South houses some of the oldest monasteries and is the preferred area for mountain biking and trekking.

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Under the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) government, influx of tourists into Sikkim has increased by over 60 per cent in the last 10 years. Tourist arrivals have recorded an annual growth rate of almost 10 per cent in the last six years.

The SDF government's main thrust is to make Sikkim the "number one ecotourism destination in India". Special efforts have been made to develop tourist villages, trekking routes, adventure sports, biodiversity parks, hotels and cultural centres. Thirty model villages having all the modern facilities are being constructed to give tourists a first-hand experience of the traditional rural lifestyle.

Sikkim, endowed with a variety of flora and fauna, many of them unique to the Eastern Himalayas, is a paradise for nature lovers, environmentalists and botanists. They include more than 400 species of flowering plants, 33 species of ferns, 11 species of oaks, 144 species of mammals, 600 types of birds and 400 kinds of butterflies.

The State also draws a large number of pilgrims to its holy shrines and monasteries. This has prompted the government to promote `pilgrim tourism' vigorously; it has decided to support at least one tourist centre in each gram panchayat. Sikkim has 107 Buddhist monasteries, 32 Lhakhangs, 11 Tsamkhangs (meditation centres), nine hotsprings believed to have curative powers, 320 Hindu temples, 74 churches and six mosques.

A pilgrimage-cum-cultural centre is being developed on top of Solophok Hill near Namchi, the headquarters of South district, to attract tourists to the region, which is known for its natural beauty. A ropeway will link Namchi with Samdruptse, where a 108-feet (32.9 metres) statute of Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim, is being constructed.

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One of the main achievements of the SDF government is decentralisation and devolution of financial powers to panchayati raj institutions (PRIs). To empower rural communities and ensure human development, the government is focussing on a number of inter-related areas. The emphasis is on decentralisation and participatory and beneficiary-driven approaches to improve the delivery of drinking water, sanitation, connectivity, micro credit, health and education to the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. This would help bridge the gap between urban and rural societies.

Fiscal and administrative decentralisation is given adequate thrust in order to enable local institutions to undertake various development programmes. At the same time, community management for the sustainable use of natural resources and common property resources is encouraged through Joint Forest Management (JFM). The government is also trying to create off-farm employment opportunities so that rural enterprise can become the engine of growth and poverty alleviation.

In fact, 70 per cent of the State budget goes towards the development of rural areas. Gram panchayats have the power to prepare, sanction and implement schemes up to Rs.3 lakhs and the zilla panchayats up to Rs.10 lakhs. To enable the panchayats to exercise these powers, in the last fiscal the government provided Rs.10 lakhs to each of the 166 gram panchayats and Rs.50 lakhs each to the four zilla panchayats. The government is contemplating increasing the amount in the current fiscal.

All government institutions within a gram panchayat, such as primary schools, primary health centres and libraries, as also rural tourism, minor irrigation works and so on, are under the administrative control of the president of the respective gram panchayat. (In the panchayat elections, 33.5 per cent of the seats have been reserved for women.) "Transparency and accountability are the salient features of this democratic decentralisation. The common people of the villages are given equal opportunity in the decision-making process in all development activities," a government official told Frontline.

A positive fallout of the implementation of this system, including the devolution of financial powers to PRIs, is that life has become a lot easier for the common people in the villages. They no longer have to run from pillar to post in the district headquarters and in Gangtok to get their work done. All their requirements can be met at the gram prashashan kendra in their village.

The government is determined to make Sikkim poverty-free by 2015 by laying stress on pro-poor and poverty alleviation schemes. The government is promoting the use of modern and scientific methods in agriculture, which is the main source of income for the majority. It is encouraging the use of organic manure so that the soil retains its fertility. The low consumption of chemical fertilizers (5.8 kg a hectare) and the widespread practice of mixed farming are factors that will aid in the State going "fully organic" in terms of fertilizer use. One of the targets of the government is to make Sikkim an `organic State' by 2019.

"Sikkim's economy is dependent mainly on agriculture. Almost 85 per cent of the population live in the rural areas and only improvement in agriculture can better their lot. Agriculture, horticulture, livestock, fisheries and agro-forestry can be integrated to give viable farming systems to farmers," said Chief Minister Pawan Chamling. The government is also giving priority to the cultivation of cash crops such as cardamom, ginger, peas, pumpkin, squash, mushroom, and fruits such as pear, orange and passion fruit. Cymbidium orchid is also a thrust crop. Sikkim, in fact, accounts for 80 per cent of large cardamom produced in the country. The total food production in the State has increased steadily from over 58.56 thousand tonnes in 1980-81 to 1.03 lakh tonnes in 2000-01, all produced on just 64,000 hectares of net sown area.

"All possible avenues for self-employment shall be explored for the benefit of the educated unemployed youth in the State. All programmes undertaken by the government shall have a special bearing on the needs and aspirations of the youth,'' Chamling stated in his Independence Day address this year.

Sikkim occupies only 0.22 per cent of the total geographical area of the country, but it is home to about a third of the flowering plants of India. While forest cover accounts for over 44 per cent of the State's geographical area, 84 per cent of the State's total area is under the administration of the Forest, Environment and Wildlife Department.

Despite the considerable tree cover, its density in the main areas is low, and for that reason the government has initiated a major afforestation programme. The `Smriti Van' (memorial forest) project is an idea conceived by Chamling and involves all sections of society. Under this programme, social, religious and educational institutions; departments of the government, including Police and Tourism; and non-governmental organisations are voluntarily undertaking massive plantation programmes across the State in memory of their loved ones. The government has also launched a scheme called `green road', under which trees will be planted along the entire 2,025 km of roads in the State. This project is expected to be completed within five years.

To protect the eco-fragile forest areas, the government has banned the use of non-biodegradable products such as plastic bags. According to forest officials, Sikkim holds the distinction of being the first State in the country to implement this ban effectively. The government has also banned grazing of domestic and semi-domestic animals in the reserve forest areas. "The State government took this step at a considerable political risk, as this practice of grazing has been continuing for ages. But the government realised the importance of stopping this and went ahead with its decision,'' a forest official told Frontline.

Medicinal plants are another area that the government has focussed on. Sikkim harbours over 1,200 medicinal plants, of which only 424 species have been identified and documented. To oversee the formulation of projects and schemes related to these plants it set up the State Medicinal Plant Board two years ago. The Board has approved the creation of `herbal gardens' at 13 locations in the State, which will provide farmers material for the cultivation of medicinal plants.

The government also places a lot of importance on pollution control. Sikkim has four Air Quality Monitoring Stations, of which two are in Gangtok. "Pollution here is very much within the national standards. What we have here is mostly vehicular pollution as there are a lot of cars plying up and down the State," said Dr. Gopal Pradhan, Senior Scientist at the Sikkim Environment and Pollution Control Board. Sikkim has 227 water bodies, including three important lakes and five hot springs. Keeping a check on their pollution is also important. There are nine regular monitoring systems on the Teesta itself, and the pollution control authorities conduct bio-monitoring of the lakes in eastern Sikkim.

Apart from these, the State government conducts mass awareness campaigns on environment and pollution through ad-films, songs and the local cable network. "We also go to schools to deliver lectures and carry out different programmes," Pradhan said.

Census 2001 recorded Sikkim's population at 5,40,493. The literacy rate is an impressive 69.68 per cent and the State government is focussing continually on improving it. On Independence Day, Chamling announced that his government was determined to make Sikkim 100 per cent literate by 2015. Recently, the State won an award for best performance in the field of education among the smaller States. "This has further encouraged us to achieve our target of zero literacy in 10 years' time," said Chamling.

A house-to-house survey conducted by the government in 2001 showed that 15,000 children between the ages of six and 14 did not go to school. By the end of 2003, the number was brought down to 7,000. The Education Department's thrust area is to bring all these children within the fold of the education system, and it intends to accomplish this in a phased manner by 2007. "To attract these children to schools we have launched schemes such as supply of free uniforms, textbooks and exercise books up to class V; free textbooks and uniforms to girl students up to class VIII and textbooks at 50 per cent discount for girls from class VI to class IX," said an Education Department official.

The government has also started a `Total Literacy Campaign' for those between the ages of 15 and 35. Four hundred learning centres, managed by volunteers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), have been established for the purpose. The government has projected that 75 per cent of the 50,000 illiterate people will be covered by the campaign in the next three years.

The Education Department has also introduced the vocational stream in 40 senior secondary schools from the current academic session. Such vocational education is designed to cater to the needs of those outside the organised sector and aimed at reducing the mismatch between the demand and supply of skilled manpower.

Sikkim being a relatively new State, and also because of its topography, is not particularly developed in the organised sector. Hence the government's emphasis on the unorganised sector. The government is also trying to identify new vocational courses that will be able to realise the potential of local resources.

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Apart from its widespread forest cover, which is the source of timber, herbs and medicinal plants, Sikkim boasts rich mineral deposits of copper, zinc, dolomite, quartzite, graphite and talc. A recent study by water scientists put Sikkim's hydroelectric potential at 8,000 MW, of which only 0.2 per cent has been tapped. Aware of these natural advantages, the government is taking concerted efforts to attract more investments into the State.

With the opening of the Nathu La Trade Route after the recent accord between India and China, the State government is looking at a quantum jump in bilateral trade between the two countries. This is expected to give a great boost to the industrial sector in Sikkim. Apart from banking, transport and warehousing activities, tourism is bound to increase enormously.

The State has identified certain thrust areas for concentrated industrial development. These include floriculture, animal husbandry and dairy products, handloom, handicrafts and village products, electronics and software and tea, besides tourism and agro-based industries. To facilitate development in these sectors, investors have been promised additional incentives.

In its efforts to encourage more investments in the State, the SDF government is leaving no stone unturned to develop infrastructure. A new airport is being constructed at Pakyong, east Sikkim, to give a fillip to travel and tourism. The Gangtok Ropeway system, with three terminals and a total length of 1,000 metres, is complete and open to tourists.

One of the main reasons for the government's success in implementing its projects to promote tourism and investments is the tight monitoring and evaluation system it enforces at every level of operation. The vision for a new Sikkim is aptly put by Chamling: "Our aim is to transform the entire Sikkimese society into a conscious, well-informed, robust and capable entity. Our hallmark is competitiveness and efficiency with solid emphasis on respect for and conservation of our rich traditional heritage."

Pollution unchecked

A Supreme Court-appointed committee comes down heavily on the Kerala State Pollution Control Board for its failure to stop industries from polluting crucial river systems such as the Periyar.

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Implementing pollution control norms in industrially backward Kerala is like opening a can of worms. But as communities in the toxic shadow of industrial units have been saying, `the sooner, the better'.

In late August, a Supreme Court-appointed committee startled a recalcitrant State Pollution Control Board into action, to try and reform erring industries. For the first time since the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989, came into force, the Board issued closure notices to 198 of the 400-odd industries generating such wastes.

A three-member team of the Supreme Court's Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes and Hazardous Chemicals that visited the State recently found "to its shock" that Kerala had no treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF). Several industrial units did not have authorisation as required under the Rules, and they openly flouted the provisions of the Air and Water Acts. Pollutants from their premises had also contaminated ground water supplies. The committee found that near the Udyogamandal Industrial Area in Kochi, the Periyar river, the "lifeline of Kerala", had been converted into a "vast, illegal TSDF" because of the dumping of huge quantities of hazardous wastes. The large-scale, illegal dumping of wastes into the Periyar by hundreds of industries in the Eloor-Edayar industrial area had been consistently opposed by the people, citizens' groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). After conducting surveys, for example, in 1999 and 2002, Greenpeace, the international environmental group, had declared Eloor a "toxic hotspot of global proportions".

The committee said that several industries, many of them owned by the government, which "should have long been closed because they are still relying on obsolete technology and obsolete products", were in operation, "not only impacting negatively on the environment but losing crores of public money". " It looked as if the State had pushed itself into a time-warp from which it was unable to extricate itself," the team's report said.

In April 2004, the committee had asked the State PCB to take steps to ensure that no industrial unit would function without authorisation beyond May 31, 2004, the deadline set by the Supreme Court, and warned the Board of contempt proceedings if it failed to make this certain. It had also wanted the Board to monitor whether all industries displayed information at their gates about the hazardous chemicals and wastes they handled. It had asked the PCB to find sufficient land to be notified as the site for a common TSDF by May 31. The Chief Secretary was asked to ensure the PCB's compliance with these directions. Yet, the committee pointed out, the PCB had continued to disregard the court order.

At the conclusion of its visit, the committee issued a slew of directions to "reverse this terrible situation in the State and to ensure compliance of the court's orders." It directed the State PCB to order the immediate closure of industrial units that have no authorisation to operate under the Hazardous Waste Rules until they installed proper facilities to dispose of the wastes. Based on the `polluter pays' principle, it imposed a collective fine of Rs.2.5 crores on all the units in the industrial estate of Eloor and Edayar. The fine is to be utilised "to monitor the health of the river, to create conditions for the re-entry of life in the river and to restore its ecology". The committee said it could think of no other way "to raise an appropriate alarm and to jolt the industrial units into doing something drastic about the present state of affairs". The PCB was also asked to set up a Local Area Environment Committee (LAEC) to conduct an environment audit, within six months, of all the 247 industries near the Periyar and in the Udyogamandal industrial estate.

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The committee has warned that should it find that these actions do not turn the situation around and reverse the pollution of the Periyar within six months, "it will have no hesitation in directing the closure of the entire Udyogamandal industrial estate and ordering a special audit of the area. Units will be allowed to re-open one by one thereafter only if they are able to convince the KPCB that all measures have been installed to ensure discharge as per EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards and HW (Hazardous Wastes) Rules."

The three-member team had visited several industrial units from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi in southern Kerala, and the controversial Coca Cola and Pepsi plants in northern Palakkad district. The committee directed many industries, including Hindustan Coca Cola unit, Plachimada, the Binani Zinc Limited, Binanipuram, Edayar and Hindustan Newsprint Factory, Velloor, Kottayam, to provide water supply "through pipelines" to the residences of all members of the affected communities. It also asked the PCB to set up four committees under its Regional Officers "to create a register of persons affected and to ensure that the above companies install piped water supply to the residences of all the persons so affected" within six months. It issued directions individually regarding many industrial units it had visited. For example, it said that the Hindustan Insecticides Ltd., Eloor (a Government of India enterprise manufacturing insecticides, where a major fire had engulfed the endosulfan plant in July) should be closed down and that the area "should be allowed to recover from the various toxic materials and chemicals used by the company and discharged by it into the environment over the decades." It said that the company "should be allowed to reopen only if it can shift to clean technology and a new product mix." It also ordered the closure of Cochin Minerals and Rutile Ltd, Edayar, "until and unless the pollution of the Periyar is brought to a complete halt". It found that Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd (FACT) had discharged its gypsum wastes in the open environment and recommended that the Government of Kerala direct the company "to hand over five acres of the land degraded by such gypsum disposal for the construction of a TSDF which could be used to handle the wastes generated from the entire Udyogamandal area".

The committee said that the public sector Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd., Chavara (near Kollam) should not be allowed to function until it solved the serious problem of acidic iron sludge from seeping into the neighbourhood wells making the water useless. Perhaps the most significant direction of the committee was to the State government asking it to institute an inquiry to find out why the PCB had "wilfully and callously" disregarded the directions of the Supreme Court Order of October 2003 and identify the officials responsible for it. The Secretary (Health), Government of Kerala and the Chairman, KPCB, were both mentioned for contempt proceedings "for their wilful disregard and non-compliance of the order of the Supreme Court". It said that "given the current deplorable scenario of hazardous waste management in the State", the State government should "revamp the KPCB as necessary to inject dynamism, courage and foresight in its functioning and to make it a really performing Board."

At a meeting of trade unions and industry managements convened by the State government in Thiruvananthapuram on September 14, management representatives said they were willing to implement the directions of the committee but demanded more time to install facilities for effluent treatment and safe disposal of hazardous wastes. Considering the disruption that might be caused by the sudden closure of so many industries, the government has agreed to take up their demand before the monitoring committee to avoid closure and to find adequate land for a common TSDF near the industrial areas.

Allegations of corruption are rife within the corridors of the State PCB as explanation for its shocking inaction. The officials of the Board are a divided lot - those who had failed to take action under the Hazardous Wastes Rules all this while and those who were "in the dock for the inaction and misdeeds of the others". There have been strange coincidental instances where the PCB ordered the closure of a few erring industrial units when competing units with the same product mix came up in other States. Trade unions leaders too have asked the government to "stem the rot" within the PCB.

The dilemma of governance

The BJP attempts to champion States' rights seriously through a conference of its Chief Ministers. However, such articulation of federal issues on a party platform rather than among all Chief Ministers cutting across party lines indicates its political isolation.

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ONCE bitten twice shy, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has implicitly accepted that governance in States where it is in power needs to be spruced up and that mere boasting about its so-called achievements in office, as it did during the term of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre, would be disastrous. The party, which did not feel the need to convene a meeting of its Chief Ministers to discuss issues of governance in States all these years, now considers it useful to identify gaps in governance, articulate the federal grievances, and more important, adopt a united strategy to defend itself from the challenges posed by the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. As an exercise in this direction, the party convened a two-day conference of its six Chief Ministers (of Gujarat, Jharkhand, Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) and one senior Minister from the coalition government in Orissa, in New Delhi on September 11 and 12.

As former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani admitted in his inaugural remarks at the meeting, the BJP's earlier avatar, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), had tried to evaluate governance while in power in 1967 in some States as a coalition partner. Called the `Bhopal Ministers' meeting', the exercise was abandoned following the BJS' long stint in the Opposition, both at the Centre and in the States, and its merger with the Janata Party in 1977. Since 1980, when it was formed, the BJP was so preoccupied with the pursuit of power at the Centre that it did not consider it relevant to revive this legacy even in the 1990s, even though the party was in power in several States. During the six years it was in power at the Centre, the BJP probably believed that governance in the States where it was in power was secondary to the consolidation of power at the Centre. The holding of the BJP Chief Ministers' conclave at this juncture shows that the BJP is reconciled to a long stint in the Opposition at the Centre.

Whatever the political compulsions of holding the conclave, the deliberations therein show that the party is still grappling with a dilemma - whether to focus on governance or to play adversarial politics dictated by realpolitik. At the Mumbai national executive meeting held after the Lok Sabha election results, a section of the leaders felt that the failure to run an adversarial campaign was responsible for the party's rout. It was pointed out that the BJP's campaign was largely positive, in that it sought to project the so-called achievements of the Vajpayee government.

This section of leaders argued that as voters were generally swayed by a negative campaign, it was imperative to discredit the Opposition, by focussing on its lack of cohesion and its perceived inability to provide a stable government. By the time the BJP sought to make the required correctives in its campaign, it was too late, it was suggested. However, the party's official documents, released at the meeting, did not find anything wrong with the party's `positive' campaign strategy, underlining the divergence of perceptions within the party.

At the Chief Ministers' conclave in New Delhi, the issues of governance in the States, in terms of the implementation of the promises made in the party manifestos released for the State Assembly elections, did not dominate the discussion. The party entrusted the responsibility of examining manifesto-implementation to a five-member task force comprising Yashwant Sinha, Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie, Vijai Kapoor and Sudheendra Kulkarni. Instead, a "Charter of Action" was unveiled, making several new promises.

First, the conclave asked the BJP-ruled States to oppose the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which the UPA government has promised to do through an Ordinance. The conclave did not elaborate how the State governments should oppose the move. Secondly, it asked the BJP-ruled States to enact quickly anti-terrorism laws in case POTA is repealed. Obviously, both these steps are in line with what a section of the party believes to be an effective adversarial strategy to discredit the ruling combine. The party hopes to use the repeal of POTA as an instance of the UPA government's reliance on "vote bank politics" and "compromise" on internal security. Party general secretary Arun Jaitley criticised the Union Cabinet's decision to repeal POTA, claiming that the law was required to tackle the menace of terrorism. It could be argued, however, that the BJP pandered to the vote bank politics while enacting the law, dismissing all reasonable warnings from across the political spectrum about its likely abuse. Indeed, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government felt the need to create a Central Review Committee last year, admitting instances of abuse, to review the cases registered under the Act.

The BJP used the enactment of POTA - in the face of stiff opposition from the non-NDA parties in Parliament in 2002 - to advertise its commitment to fighting terrorism and thereby defending Indian nationhood. But the party found to its dismay that the anti-terrorism plank alone would not yield any electoral dividend. POTA was unable to prevent terrorist incidents from happening, nor was it an effective answer to secure the conviction of real terrorists. POTA's due process was unable to prevent its abuse against innocent persons, and this was widely acknowledged to be a factor contributing to the NDA's rout in the Lok Sabha elections. By appealing to the BJP-ruled States to reinvent POTA, the BJP, it seems, has learnt no lessons from its electoral debacle.

The States are no doubt competent to enact a new law to replace POTA, but under such a law, the scope for limiting its abuse is far more limited in the absence of a neutral authority to review the cases. As revealed by the People's Tribunal's report on Jharkhand, which registered the highest number of POTA detenus in the country, the BJP government in the State used POTA indiscriminately against its political opponents as well as innocent tribals fighting for their rights. The Gujarat government, too, invoked POTA against all the accused belonging to a minority community in the 2002 Godhra case. Only a national uproar forced it to reverse its move to impose POTA en masse on members of one community. If the BJP-ruled States have their way in enacting a new law to replace POTA, it would pose a serious challenge to the survival of civil liberties in these States. The BJP apparently has no patience to wait for the promised amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to strengthen the efforts to fight terrorism without the need for a special law.

The Chief Ministers' conclave proposed other steps as well: submission of a supplementary memorandum to the 12th Finance Commission for raising the State's share in Central revenues from the present 29.5 per cent to 40 per cent and for reducing the debt burden of States, with a one-time settlement of all old, high-cost loans; promotion of population control measures with incentives and disincentives to popularise the two-child norm uniformly among all sections of society. It also urged the UPA government to end delays in the allocation of funds to States, especially the BJP-ruled States, for construction of rural roads.

The BJP, it appears, has begun to champion States' rights seriously after losing power at the Centre. However, such articulation of federal issues on a party platform rather than among all Chief Ministers cutting across party lines suggests the BJP's isolation in the political spectrum. The Congress convened five conclaves of its Chief Ministers after 1999, the last one in Srinagar in May 2003, in order to expand its horizons and be inclusive. This tactic worked and the Congress came to power at the Centre despite losing power in some States. On the contrary, the BJP's politics of exclusivism would seem to be a serious liability in its efforts to improve governance in the States and prepare them, as former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said at the meeting in his valedictory address, for "greater responsibility" than what they have been entrusted with so far.

The population bogey

Disregarding the well-established principles of demography, the Sangh Parivar continues to thrive on myths about the growth rate of the Muslim population.

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IN the first week of September, the Census Office released the First Report on Religion Data emerging from the Census of India, 2001. The comparisons made in it of "unadjusted" and "adjusted" growth rates of the population of various religious communities created confusion and a political controversy. The Bharatiya Janata Party was quick to pounce on it, raising an alarm at the growing number of Indians, particularly the minority communities. With the Maharashtra elections round the corner, the Census figures became fodder for its campaign.

In Bangalore, on September 7, after a meeting of the party's national office-bearers, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu called for the uniform adoption of population control measures by people belonging to various communities. The findings of the Census, he said, should be a cause of concern for all those who think of India's unity and integrity in the long term. He was concerned that while the rate of growth of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists had come down, the population of Muslims and Christians was growing at a higher rate. Any imbalance, he cautioned, was not a healthy trend. It was time for a national debate on introducing incentives and disincentives to encourage the two-child norm, irrespective of religious considerations. The party expressed its commitment to the national target of population stabilisation by 2026. It also expressed concern over the "demographic invasion" of over 1.2 crore Bangladeshi "infiltrators", especially in the northeastern region.

A day later, Census Commissioner and Registrar-General of India J.K. Banthia clarified that he had, while releasing the report, explained to the media the facts relating to "unadjusted" and "adjusted" data. The "unadjusted" growth rates of population were based on a comparison of the all-India totals of populations emerging from the periodic Censuses, without taking into consideration the fact that no enumeration was done in Assam in 1981, and in Jammu and Kashmir in 1991. In other words, they were based on comparing incomparable data. The "adjusted" figures, on the other hand, involved comparisons of population totals excluding the figures for Assam and Jammu and Kashmir. Banthia said that these revised or adjusted figures showed that the growth rate of the Muslim population had been steadily declining over the years since 1971 and that motives were being attributed to what was at best a clerical error.

While the initial reactions of the BJP are understandable given its ideological orientation, it was surprising to see the issue being resurrected on September 11-12 in a different form despite the Census Commissioner's clarification. During the two-day BJP Chief Ministers' conclave held in New Delhi, it was proposed that the Chief Ministers should push a population policy, favouring incentives and disincentives and based on a two-child norm, for all sections of the population. On September 16, the BJP president announced the setting up of a committee on "demographic invasion" to be chaired by former Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi. The committee was to focus on the "infiltration" from Bangladesh.

Despite clarifications, the BJP and its ideological affiliates continued to make population growth an issue. On September 19, the Web site of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) carried an article suggesting that Muslims constituted one-third of Assam's population. The report is likely to create an uproar in the State which has seen agitations on the `infiltration' issue. The facts, however, as borne out by the Census report, are that in Assam and in Tripura, the growth rate of the Muslim population is the same and not higher than the national average for the community. And in West Bengal, it is below the national average. Hence the infiltration theory is simply not corroborated by the figures.

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An article by Sangh Parivar ideologue and columnist S. Gurumurthy in the same Web site says that the Census Commissioner should be congratulated on bringing out the truth. The article, titled "Congratulate him for bringing out the truth, bluntly", Gurumurthy writes: "The Census figures for 2001 have come out for the first time with statistics on religious demography in India. That the Muslim population in India is moving ahead of the rest is undeniable. Not denied in fact. Whether it is rising by 36 per cent in a decade or 29 per cent is the dispute. That all others Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists put together rise only two-thirds as fast too is undeniable." The Census-based fact that more Hindus than Muslims were added to the Indian population between 1991 and 2001 (4.8 Hindus for every one Muslim) was conveniently ignored while making such an assertion.

The September 19 issue of the RSS organ, Organiser, also carried several articles on the issue, including one titled "Census politics with Muslim numbers". The article suggests that in just two days, the Census Commissioner, under pressure from the ruling Congress, altered the figures of the rate of growth of the Muslim population by juggling statistics. The editorial titled "The Population Bomb" says: "The Census 2001 has given India a wake-up call. A Hindu majority in every region of the country is an implicit guarantee of its integrity, civilisational vitality and economic prosperity. It is a tragedy; India has no uniform civil code. In the absence of which some minority groups are given the privileges of democratic, modern, permissiveness, even as they enjoy the protections of outdated religious diktats. In such a situation all efforts of the state to have an enlightened population policy are defeated. The changing religious profile of Indian population has a strong impact on the future of India. And it continues to be amongst the major determinants of strife."

APPARENTLY, the BJP and its ideological allies have a short memory. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was in power when the National Population Policy (NPP) was approved by Parliament in 2000. The NPP embodied the spirit of the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, 1994, which laid stress on the slogan "development is the best pill". India became a signatory to the Cairo declaration and it was assumed that any population policy would be in consonance with the basic principles enshrined therein - the pursuance of population policies that are non-coercive and not based on any disincentives and incentives. The NPP, among other things, pledged to improve social indicators of women's development such as literacy, access to health and medical services and address unmet contraceptive needs. A National Population Commission was set up under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister with a corpus of Rs.100 crores to suggest ways to implement the policy. The NPP cautioned correctly that while a two-child norm was desirable, it should not be achieved by resorting to either coercion or by using incentives and disincentives.

So what explains the BJP's about-turn and the sudden emphasis on population control and the two-child norm? The only plausible reason is that the use of terms such as "demographic invasion" and the call for a national debate on population control stem from political expediency and not from a genuine concern for the health of the people. In a statement criticising the BJP's propaganda, the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), the Delhi Science Forum and the Sama (a group dealing with women's health issues) pointed out that in States that had higher indicators of social development the population growth rate for all communities had come down. "It was access to basic rights that determined the family size and not religion," it said.

Another fall-out of the controversy over the figures has been a debate within the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. While its vice-president Maulana Kalbe Sadiq declared that the Board would promote family planning, its president Maulana Rabeh Husni Nadwi rejected the idea and stated in Lucknow that family planning was "un-Islamic". It is intriguing that the socio-economic backwardness of Muslims, which has emerged as a result of the cross-tabulated data, has not been the focus of interest of any of these groups. Interestingly, the BJP welcomed the views of Maulana Sadiq on family planning.

Sughra Mehdi, vice-president of the All India Muslim Women's Forum, has a different take on the issue. She told Frontline that while there was nothing "un-Islamic" about family planning, the population problem was not that of a particular community as such. It concerned the entire country and nobody should be forced to adopt the small-family norm.

But there are other concerns as well. Sahba Farooqi, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), expressed apprehensions about the misuse of the Census data. She said: "Despite the clarification by the Census office, the BJP and others continue to focus on some selective aspects of population growth. While some of us can see the politics behind the growth rate hysteria, it is very difficult to reverse the damage done by the Census office and the manner in which sections of the media covered the issue." A little cynical about the release of such data on the eve of the Maharashtra Assembly elections, Farooqi said that it eventually reinforced stereotypes and gave an opportunity to conservative parties to attack the minorities.

Moreover, history has shown how Census figures have been manipulated. Charu Gupta, feminist historian and Reader in History in the University of Delhi, has documented several instances where the Hindu Right used such data to its advantage. In a paper titled "Censuses, Hindu Communalism, Gender and Identity: A Historical Perspective", she cites examples from Census Reports of pre-Independence India to show that historically Census data has been used not just for enumeration but also for comparison. According to her, in 1979, the Hindu Mahasabha brought out a publication, "They Count Their Gains, We Calculate Our Losses", which tried to raise a scare about rising Muslim population by using Census data in a distorted manner. Many of these debates, she says, can be linked to the present situation. With such arguments, even a religious majority can project itself as an endangered minority. The whole discourse of the Hindu Right around Census is aimed at obliterating the pluralism of identities, by provoking a fear of the "Other" and perpetrating myths about catastrophic decline of the Hindu population.

The BJP and its ideological partners are not going to stop harping on inflated growth rates or raising the bogey of minority population explosion. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, on the other hand, while not going into the merits of Census 2001, has declared its intention to conduct an inquiry into the confusion over the Muslim growth rate. This is despite the Minister of State for Home admitting that the confusion was the result of a "technical aberration".

It is surprising that neither the Congress nor the BJP has found it prudent to stress on the strengths of the data on religions - especially those relating to work participation, sex ratio and literacy - and dismiss the technical aberration.

Election-eve patriotism

The Uma Bharati-led Tiranga Yatra's six-day-long journey through Maharashtra raising emotive issues fails to strike a chord among the people despite the flaunting of the tricolour.

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DESPITE affirmations to the contrary, the Uma Bharati-led Hubli to Jallianwalla Bagh Tiranga Yatra evidently formed the vanguard of the Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra. During her six-day tour of the State, Uma Bharati repeatedly said that the yatra was meant only to express her personal beliefs that one should have pride in one's country and its flag and that "all other outcomes of the yatra are God's gift". Importantly, the Idgah controversy itself was not about disrespect to the national flag, but about Uma Bharati and others disobeying prohibitory orders issued by the Hubili police. That was the legal reason for her arrest. At no point was the right to raise the flag questioned. `Disrespect to the flag' is a convenient pre-election political ploy.

However, the yatra itself - the way it was organised and the issues it raised - left no room for doubt regarding the BJP's intentions. The bus used for the yatra was decorated with portraits of an array of important figures, past and present: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Bhagat Singh, V.D. Savarkar, Chandrashekar Azad, L.K. Advani, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Ashfaqullah Khan, Shivaji, the Rani of Jhansi and Kittur Rani Chennamma, a freedom fighter. Interestingly, the BJP preferred to refer to the Idgah Maidan in Hubli as the Chennamma Maidan. This has sparked a controversy with allegations that the BJP's insistence on calling it Chennamma Maidan was meant to provoke another conflict.

If, as Uma Bharati said on numerous public occasions, the yatra was meant to "satisfy personal beliefs and feelings about the tricolour" why was it an official yatra of the BJP? If it were a yatra to defend her right to raise the tricolour then why did her public speeches invariably turn to issues such as water scarcity, power shortages and unemployment, all election campaign points that the Democratic Front government in Maharashtra might find difficult to counter. There were exhortations at every public meeting to "cast your vote to topple the Congress and bring back the BJP". Equally noteworthy was the fact that the Tiranga Yatra in the State was organised by State BJP president Gopinath Munde, Legislative Council leader Nitin Gadkari and party leader Eknath Kadse, who together formed the core of the campaign committee for the Lok Sabha elections.

At a public meeting in Akola, Uma Bharati reaffirmed her commitment to build the Ram mandir at Ayodhya. Significantly, Akola has a history of communal strife and a minor communal riot had occurred a few days before Uma Bharati's arrival. The Muslim voter was directly addressed, first by a warning not to be fooled by the "vote bank politics" of the Congress and then to be reminded about the old points of dissent between the community and Hindu fundamentalist parties - Family planning, education levels and the singing of Vande Mataram. Also raised were issues relating to Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origins". Uma Bharati said: "Why do we have this foreigner craze? Marxism may have been a new idea for Europe but our philosophers have been speaking of the same ideals from as far back as the 12th century. Why not follow them instead of Marx? This foreigner craze has resulted in us being ruled by the Italian Mafia mind. And the minds that thought of making Sonia the head of the party are also minds that are leftovers of foreign thinking." Karnataka BJP president H.N. Ananth Kumar, who was travelling with the yatra, defended its aims: "Any campaign is the bouquet of many issues. This is not an election campaign. It is a national yatra to show how the Congress is degrading the flag. It is a yatra for national detoxification of secularism."

The Tiranga Yatra was a manoeuvre to position Uma Bharati, the BJP, the saffron flag and the tricolour on the same platform. Projected as a simple emotional device meant to touch people's hearts it was actually a political platform to harp on the party's pet issues. But, apparently, the intended message of the yatra did not quite get across to the masses. While Uma Bharati alleged that the Congress had an "unethical advantage" since its party flag bore a striking resemblance to the tricolour, there is no doubt that one of the expected outcomes of the yatra was to blur the distinction between the tricolour and the saffron flag. Numerous attempts were made to link the tricolour to the Hindu fundamentalist parties. At a public meeting in Risod in Vidarbha, a local BJP leader said: Hindutva ka josh rashtra ka tiranga, Dono ko saath leke bhagwa vapas aayega (the tricolour expresses the strength of Hindutva. If the two march together it will ensure the return of the saffron flag). In the Varvat Bakaal village in Buldhana district, Uma Bharati advised the people to keep the saffron flag, strength of spirit and the tricolour as their priorities. Her message was not lost on a small section. At a roadside reception in Washim, a small crowd presented Uma Bharati with a five-foot high brass trishul on which a saffron ribbon bound together two crossed tricolours.

However, indications are that the response of most of the people who attended her public meetings ranged from mild confusion to anger at being told that the national flag had to be respected. At a public meeting in Risod, a policeman on duty said he and his colleagues had been discussing the yatra and concluded that the BJP was trying to appropriate the flag. He asked: "What else can we think? We cannot figure out what Umaji is trying to prove with this yatra. Is she saying we don't respect the flag? Every school going child salutes the flag."

In any event, Maharashtra formed a focal point of Uma Bharati's yatra. On her way to Hubli to surrender before a court that issued a non-bailable warrant against her in the Idgah maidan case, she travelled through the State by train addressing people on station platforms at strategic places such as Pune, Sangli, Miraj and Daund in western Maharashtra, a Nationalist Congress Party stronghold. On her return, she undertook the Tiranga Yatra. Thus, she effectively covered the crucial areas of western Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha. "Unprecedented response" was how Ananth Kumar described the reaction of the people. However, the attendance was paltry when compared, for example, to her earlier visit to Akola 15 years ago. In that sense, the public's response was unprecedented, to the disappointment of the BJP.

One reason for the poor turn out is the failure of a faction-ridden State BJP to rally unitedly behind the yatra. At her point of entry into Maharashtra Uma Bharati was met only by Gopinath Munde who remained with her while she travelled in Marathwada. Then she was accompanied by Nitin Gadkari, who has a strong support base in Vidarbha, and later by Eknath Khadse. At no point was former Union Minister and senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan publicly involved with the yatra. This is curious, considering his well-acknowledged organisational abilities and his place in the party power structure. The State BJP attributed the absence of many senior functionaries in Uma Bharati's entourage to their preoccupation with the Assembly elections. The explanation was unconvincing. The real reason, according to some, was that it was too early to start the election campaign and the party leaders were wary of overstepping the Election Commission by bringing the national flag into the campaign.

Then why undertake the yatra when there is no consensus in the party on the matter, especially in Maharashtra? The answer seems to lie partially in the fact that Uma Bharati wishes to redeem herself with the party's top leadership and regain her position in Madhya Pradesh. When queried about this, she declined to reply saying: "I will not answer anything pertaining to me, mine, myself. I am not important."

`Elections are not fought on ideological issues'

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Interview with Pramod Mahajan, general secretary, BJP.

Pramod Mahajan, the Bharatiya Janata Party's general secretary in charge of party affairs in Maharashtra, is the architect of its Assembly election campaign in the State. He spoke to Dionne Bunsha about the BJP's strategy for the coming elections. Excerpts:

What is the BJP's strategy for the Maharashtra Assembly elections?

This is a regular election. So naturally, the main issue is the performance of the incumbent government. We feel it is the most non-performing and corrupt government Maharashtra has ever seen. There are four or five factors: The number of farmers who have committed suicide is the highest since the creation of Maharashtra. That itself shows the plight of the farmers. The number of Adivasi children who died owing to malnutrition is the highest [in the State]. It even prompted Sonia Gandhi to visit the State, which shows the gravity of the situation.

Maharashtra completed its rural electrification in the 1960s. But now there is unprecedented load-shedding in the State. Rural Maharashtra is not getting electricity for around eight to 10 hours every day. In the past few years, the government has put a ban on recruitment, which has led to large-scale unemployment. With riots and bomb explosions I don't have to explain the deteriorating law and order situation. Last but not the least, right from Telgi to sugar, you have had a scandal almost every month for the past five years.

All these factors put together have led to resentment in the people's mind. That is why even during the Lok Sabha election unlike the 1999 election, the Congress and NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] fought together. Still, we were able to snatch 25 seats. Although there is a tough battle ahead, I think there is an advantage for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance.

Despite these problems, why has the BJP taken out the Tiranga Yatra and brought forward issues like Savarkar and Afzal Khan's tomb?

As far as the Afzal Khan issue is concerned, it was not raised by the BJP. The VHP takes up such programmes throughout the country. None of the BJP leaders made any statement nor did anyone from the BJP participate in it. I don't think Afzal Khan is an issue.

As regards tiranga or Savarkar, both of them have nothing to do with the Maharashtra government. It was brought up by the Congress. Something happened in Andaman and Savarkar, being a national hero and very special to Maharashtra, it was discussed for the last few weeks. Similarly, since Uma Bharati's yatra is going from Karnataka to Jallianwala Bagh, it would naturally pass through Maharashtra for a couple of days.

We have emphatically said that whether Savarkar or tiranga, these are issues of national importance, but as far as Maharashtra elections are concerned, they are not fought on these issues.

How would you judge the success of the Tiranga Yatra?

How would I know? Why should I judge it? Overall it seems that people are receiving the yatra enthusiastically. But nowadays, I am concentrating on the Maharashtra elections and am not commenting on anything but that.

A section of the media is repeatedly bringing up Savarkar and tiranga, when I am saying repeatedly that these are not my issues. These may be issues of national importance, but they are not an issue for the Maharashtra elections.

In which regions do you think there will be a tough fight?

I see a good lead in Vidarbha, a slender lead in Marathwada and north Maharashtra. We will lag behind in western Maharashtra. I see a good lead in Konkan. And, I feel that Mumbai is the key. For Mumbai, I would normally have predicted a very strong lead. But after losing five Lok Sabha seats, I am keeping my fingers crossed. From rural Maharashtra, we will come with a lead to the gates of Mumbai. If we maintain the same lead in Mumbai, we will enter Mantralaya or we will stand outside. That is my assessment.

After the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP decided to focus on Hindutva. How does that translate into tactics on the ground level?

These are national issues. One must understand that elections are separate. Ideological issues are not tested every time in elections. I am of the firm opinion that ideological issues give you reasons to be in a party and stay in that party. But you don't fight elections on ideological issues.

Elections are fought, unless it is an abnormal election, on normal daily problems - bijlee, pani, sadak (electricity, water, roads). If there is something like the Emergency or Ramjanmabhoomi andolan, at those times, the normal issues subside and emotional issues take over. I don't think that the elections in Maharashtra are fought on emotional or ideological issues.

A tomb as target

The VHP's failed attempt to demolish the tomb of Mughal general Afzal Khan, an enemy of Chhatrapati Shivaji, is part of a larger Hindutva strategy that usually precedes elections.

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BY threatening to demolish the tomb of Mughal general Afzal Khan in Pratapgarh, Satara district, the saffron brigade in Maharashtra seems to be running out of ideas to catch the imagination of the voters in Maharashtra. Although the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine cannot be held directly responsible for this particular agitation by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, there is no doubt, say observers, that it is adopting a dual strategy - make the voters believe that it has given up its hardline communal stand even as its foot soldiers carry out the Hindutva agenda.

The Afzal Khan issue has from time to time been debated in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. Saffron parties have been demanding the removal of a building constructed in modern times by the Hazrat Afzal Khan Memorial Society, a charitable trust managing the property, near the site of the 17th century tomb of Afzal Khan, a general in the Army of Sultan Adil Shah of Bijapur, a powerful enemy of the Maratha king Shivaji. The building has a hall and several rooms, which are used by the society. The saffron brigade's grouse is that the building is illegal and that the Congress-led government is pandering to the sentiments of a minority community by allowing it to exist. Besides, they contend, it is unnecessary to "glorify" a man who is a desh drohi (enemy of the country). The issue remained in cold storage until the VHP decided to rake it up under the pretext of a campaign against the "unauthorised" structures. But political observers see a link between the VHP campaign and the elections.

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It was in late July that the VHP's campaign took a serious turn. The VHP, in a letter to Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, threatened to demolish the tomb if the government did not remove the structures near the tomb by August 31. If the government did not concede their demands, the letter stated, lakhs of VHP workers would head towards the tomb on September 12 and demolish the structures. The VHP also demanded that the State government deregister the Hazrat Afzal Khan Memorial Society, that the forest department take back the land leased to the trust, and that a statue of Shivaji be placed on the site of the tomb.

But the State government did not give in, and said that the memorial was an authorised structure. VHP leaders, workers and "Shiv bakhts", numbering about 1,200 (not lakhs, as the VHP had declared), assembled at Panchwad near Pratapgarh on September 12 to participate in a protest march. .

Unfortunately for the VHP, the agitation did not gather much steam. Attempts to head towards the tomb were foiled thanks to the timely intervention of the Satara district administration, which threw a cordon around the site and sealed off all roads leading to Pratapgarh well in advance. When the VHP activists began throwing stones and blocking traffic on the busy Pune-Satara highway, the police resorted to lathi-charge and arrested 286 protestors, including VHP leaders Venkatesh Abdeo, Babuji Natekar and Milind Ekbote, on charges of unlawful assembly and destruction of public property.

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"Although we were able to control the situation from getting out of hand, there is no denying that the VHP has made its point," an official in the district administration told Frontline. According to the official, the mob was restive. "With a little more provocation and if they were larger in number they would have clashed with the police and perhaps made it to the tomb. The illegal structure was an excuse. I am quite certain they would have destroyed the tomb," he said.

An eyewitness said: "When a VHP leader asked the crowd whether it wanted Afzal Khan's tomb here or not, they shouted: `No!' Judging from their mood, it is unlikely they would have left the tomb untouched had they made it to the hill-top."

As the agitation began to attract adverse public attention, the BJP and the Shiv Sena quickly distanced themselves from the entire incident. However, they condemned the lathicharge on a "peaceful demonstration". Speaking to Frontline, senior BJP leader Prakash Javadekar said: "We are concerned about the police brutality and will take it up with the Shinde government." As regards the structures near the tomb, he said: "Why is the government supporting a trust which looks after an enemy's tomb? Why do they permit annual celebrations at the site? We are against this and we want all illegal constructions there to be removed." According to Javadekar, the entire episode was "a deliberate effort by the Democratic Front government in the State to rouse communal tensions."

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The Shiv Sena, which is normally the first to take offence at any perceived slight to the Maratha king, has been silent on the incident. "We condemn the violent attack on the demonstrators. But we cannot speak for the VHP. We do not know what their intentions were," said a Sena spokesperson.

Reacting to the Sena's stand, well-known Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer said: "Of course they will not openly associate themselves with the incident. It would put them in the dock with the Election Commission. This double talk is a typical tactic of the saffron parties."

PRATAPGARH was a well-chosen target. The threat to demolish the so-called illegal structures was just an excuse to attack another Muslim monument. What the Hindutva brigade fails to realise is that the tomb has no religious significance. In fact, the local Muslim community resents the VHP's attempt to turn it into a religious issue. "The enmity between Shivaji and Afzal Khan was not based on religion. It was a political rivalry which is well documented in history texts," points out Asghar Engineer.

Historian Jadunath Sarkar in his book Shivaji and his times notes that after the Mughal invasion of the Deccan in 1657 rolled back, the Bijapur government (then a powerful force in the Deccan) had decided to punish its refractory vassals. The Sultan deputed Afzal Khan, a general of the "highest standing in the kingdom", to take on Shivaji, who was emerging as a threat to the Bijapur kingdom. Shivaji invited Afzal Khan for a meeting on November 10, 1659 at the foothills of Pratapgarh. Anticipating an attempt by the Bijapur general to kill him, Shivaji had prepared himself well. The encounter eventually resulted in the death of Afzal Khan. Shivaji's men beheaded Afzal Khan and buried his head beneath a tower called Abdullah burj on the southeastern side of the Pratapgarh fort. Later Shivaji apparently gave land in Pratapgarh for the burial of Afzal Khan's body.

Historians say treachery was a commonly used tool in medieval warfare. Even if Afzal Khan had planned to kill Shivaji in that meeting, it was one such act of treachery. In fact, in one of his early conquests Shivaji used the pretext of marriage to wrest control of a territory. After promising to marry the daughter of Chandra Rao More, the ruler of Javli, he killed More and took over Javli.

Moreover, Shivaji fought Afzal Khan for political, territorial and economic power, and not to assert his religious supremacy. At the time he met Afzal Khan, Shivaji's command was rising. He had already conquered several hill forts - which was one of the reasons why the Bijapur kingdom wanted to suppress him. "We must explode this myth that Shivaji fought as a Hindu against Muslims. He fought purely for power," said Engineer.

The State government has assured the VHP that its demands, except the one on erecting Shivaji's statue, would be considered. Whether the VHP's whole operation in Pratapgarh is aimed at creating another Ayodhya-type agitation is debatable. But what is clear is that the Hindutva agenda is very much alive.

BJP'S FAILING TACTICS

The Bharatiya Janata Party's game plan to transform itself into an effective Opposition force with a cogent agenda and an action plan goes awry as its Hindutva-centred campaigns fail to evoke mass support.

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The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain For promis'd joy.

- Robert Burns

A MONTH is often adequate to bring about stark and dramatic changes in the political climate and the fortunes of political players. The time is also enough for the best-laid plans of parties and politicians to go awry and spread distress and dismay instead of success and satisfaction. The Sangh Parivar and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been going through a similar experience in the past one month.

In the last week of August and in early September, the Hindutva combine sensed a great opportunity for a political revival and embarked on an intensive plan and action mode. Different segments of the combine launched agit-prop initiatives on several fronts covering a broad spectrum of political and ideological issues. The instruments used ranged from mass campaigns - the Uma Bharati-led Hubli-Jalianwala Bagh Tiranga Yatra, the `Andaman Satyagraha' led by Sushma Swaraj and the anti-price rise protest marches in all districts headquarters - to legislative and administrative interventions - the conclave of Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled States, the call at the conclave to formulate alternative "anti-terrorist laws if the Central government repeals the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) - and public debates on issues such as the alleged steep rise in the minority population in the country. An extremist Hindutva element was also thrown in in the form of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) agitation aimed at demolishing the tomb of Afzal Khan, a 17th century Muslim general, at Pratapgadh in Satara district of Maharashtra.

So vast was the array of topics and campaign formats unleashed by the combine that the Sangh Parivar and many political observers believed that the BJP and its theoretical mentors had finally struck upon a comprehensive Opposition game plan against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. But hardly a month into the agit-prop phase the BJP and its associates no longer seem to share this conviction. In fact, some of the BJP leaders seem to be so disillusioned with the components of the game plan that they have made a volte-face on the issues the game plan has highlighted. They have gone on record as saying that the "campaign issues may not have a decisive and positive impact in terms of popular appeal".

The single most important message of this contrasting mood and perception within the Sangh Parivar leadership is that the BJP has not been able to rectify its track record as a dithering Opposition party. It underlines the fact that the woes of the BJP and its ideological patrons in transforming themselves into an effective Opposition political force with a cogent agenda and an action plan continue unabated.

Two events that happened in a span of three weeks and involved senior BJP leaders Uma Bharati and Pramod Mahajan highlighted the change in the mood and perception of the Sangh Parivar leadership. The first event was Uma Bharati's campaign, where the mood was one of confidence, even elation, at having identified a "potent subject" to carry the Hindutva combine's political agenda forward. The second was an interaction between Pramod Mahajan and mediapersons in Delhi, which was marked by a realistic, almost dispirited, estimation of the campaign and its limitations.

On August 24, Uma Bharati after resigning as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh boarded a train in Bhopal with the stated purpose of surrendering before the magistrate's court in Hubli, Karnataka, in connection with a 10-year-old rioting case. Her departure was preceded by high drama with hundreds of slogan-shouting BJP activists thronging the railway station, some of them even lying on the track in a fervent show of support.

What gave the Sangh Parivar leadership's confidence a boost was not just the emotional show of support, but the issue on which she was going to surrender. The court had issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Uma Bharati in connection with a 1995 incident involving the hoisting of the national flag at the Idgah Maidan in Hubli despite a ban and making a provocative speech. The action, the court had pointed out, led to a riot and the death of four people in police firing.

A senior Hindutva ideologue, who spoke to Frontline a few hours after Uma Bharati began her journey, said the issue and the long-term campaign that would unfold would impart a new and decisive dimension to the Opposition politics played by the BJP. "The Congress-led government in Karnataka", he said, "has virtually given us on a platter an issue that not only helps us score major political points over the UPA but also resolve our own confusions on the Opposition agenda." This perception was shared by those at the helm of the Sangh Parivar and there was as much emphasis on resolving the confusion within as on scoring political points over the UPA.

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Until the Uma Bharati case came up, the constituents of the Hindutva combine had divergent views on what should constitute the central theme of the Opposition agenda. The BJP had, from the early days of the UPA government, focussed on the issue of "tainted Ministers" in the Manmohan Singh Ministry and made the demand for their removal its main campaign theme. Three months into the campaign, the party had scored a success of sorts by compelling Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) leader Shibu Soren to resign from the Ministry.

Yet, the Sangh Parivar realised than the campaign and the manner in which it was carried out - by continuously disrupting proceedings in Parliament - had failed to evoke mass support. In this context, sections of the Hindutva combine, including the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), raised the demand that the BJP should go back to Hindutva-related, communally sensitive issues in order to whip up popular support. Sections of the BJP, particularly the moderate elements guided by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were not convinced about the efficacy of this tactic.

The Uma Bharati case, in the view of the Sangh Parivar leadership, resolved this conflict - it facilitated the pursuit of the "oust the tainted Ministers" campaign and the Hindutva agenda at the same time. Uma Bharati claimed the high moral ground by resigning after she had been charge-sheeted. This example, it was felt, could be cited to bring pressure on the UPA to drop its charge-sheeted Ministers. She was also a Hindutva icon known for her fiery activism during the Ayodhya temple agitation, which led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.

Uma Bharati, on her part, went into the campaign with a unique nuancing of the Hindutva agenda. She claimed that the Congress government had revived the case against her essentially because the party was opposed to the hoisting of the national flag at the Idgah Maidan. The reason: Congress president Sonia Gandhi was a "foreigner who had no respect for Bharat and its national flag". Deshi-videshi ki samajh khatm ho gayi hai (People have become oblivious of the fine line between national and foreign), was one of her favourite one-liners throughout the campaign. And now it was her mission to set this right.

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That this was not an off-the-cuff remark of a maverick politician became clear when senior BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani came up with a new exposition of Hindutva as nationalist fervour or Bharatiyata. In short, the BJP and its associates saw the Uma Bharati case as a turning point in the development and implementation of an Opposition game plan.

The days following her August 24 trip to Hubli witnessed the unravelling of several initiatives in quick succession, all of which underscored the themes of Bharatiyata and the political, moral high ground that the BJP and the Hindutva combine sought to take. These included a conclave of BJP Chief Ministers, the renewed campaign to "protect the honour of the late Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarakar and the debate on the Census 2001 data.

INDICATIONS from the Sangh Parivar during the early stages of these agit-prop initiatives pointed to a firm conviction that it has carved a politically perfect script. In organisational meetings, leaders of the BJP and other organisations raised visions of recapturing the spirit of the Hindutva campaign of the early 1990s, when the Ram temple agitation was at its peak.

But as the campaign progressed the realisation dawned that 2004 is not 1990. Uma Bharati's Tiranga Yatra after her release in Hubli was a far cry from Advani's Rath Yatra in 1990. Politics, some leaders of the Parivar admitted in private, seemed to have undergone a dramatic transformation in 14 years. It was this realisation that came out predominantly when Pramod Mahajan interacted with the media in Delhi on September 17. He made it clear, as the leader in charge of the BJP's campaign in the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, that the issues raised in the new "national campaign" would not figure centrally in the electioneering. Mahajan asserted that the BJP's principal focus would be on development issues and the "misrule of the Congress-NCP government in the State".

Of course, Mahajan did not say that the attempt to string the "oust the tainted Ministers" campaign and the Bharatiyata agenda together was a failure. But it is a natural question, why the party and its associates chose not to highlight these themes after such a high-profile campaign across the country. The question is all the more pertinent because the Maharashtra elections is the first major political battle of the BJP after its shock defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. If a national campaign brings no tangible benefits in terms of real political battles, what is the point in launching it in the first place? This is the question sections of the Sangh Parivar ask, but there is no clear answer. For the moment, however, the BJP and its associates are going through the motions of carrying on with Bharatiyata agenda and the Tiranga Yatras and the Andaman Satyagraha.

A performance deficit

The general feeling of the United Progressive Alliance government's first 100 days in office is that it is paying little attention to the National Common Minimum Programme and that some of its decisions, taken without consulting the Left parties, smack of highhandedness.

HUNDRED days may be too short a period to judge a government, but the indicators for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre are anything but promising. The government has failed to carve a clear path for itself and deliver to the constituency that brought it to power, and has given the impression of pulling in different directions. The measures it has announced, whether in the fields of education, trade or economy, have invited criticism from its major partners, the Left parties, for not conforming to the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) and for failing to address the concerns of the common man.

The stint of the UPA government has been marked by the rising prices of essential commodities; an indifferent stock market; a rising inflation rate (which crossed 8 per cent from 5 per cent three months ago) and umpteen political controversies, be it on Savarkar, the national flag or the issue of `tainted' Ministers. On crucial political matters, too, the Centre has given the impression of not being in control: whether on the issue of Punjab terminating the river water sharing treaty it signed with its neighbouring States, the unrest in Manipur over the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the flip-flop by the Karnataka government following Uma Bharati's arrest, or Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren trying to evade arrest as a Union Minister.

The policy initiatives announced so far have left political observers wondering whether they would actually benefit the common man that the government keeps talking about. The most important among the decisions have been the ones to cut the interest rate on the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and increase the cap on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the insurance, telecom and civil aviation sectors. The government will have a tough time convincing the Left parties about the inevitability of these decisions and pushing them through.

The cut in interest rate on EPF to 8.5 per cent from the 9.5 per cent would affect about four crore workers, for whom this is the only social security net. If their families are also taken into account, it means around 12 crore people. The Communist Party of India (CPI) brought to light the fact that the Labour Ministry was not managing the EPF scientifically; there was no regular income and expenditure account and neither was there any double accounting system. The CPI's Gurudas Dasgupata pointed out in the Lok Sabha that the government's excuse of increased interest liability was not true because there was an overstating of the interest liability.

"In 2003-04 the actual balance on which interest was to be paid was Rs.55,816 crores but in effect interest liability was calculated on Rs.64,763 crores. This means they are overstating their interest liability," Dasgupta said in the Lok Sabha, adding that the government could very well pay a higher interest rate than it proposed. This point was also borne out by the CAG report, which pointed out that interest earnings every year were in surplus of liabilities towards the interest to be credited to members' account. The government could very well afford to pay a higher interest on EPF than it proposed, but it reduced the rate to be in sync with the "market" at the cost of the common man.

Increasing the cap on FDI in insurance, telecom and civil aviation has been proposed to make these sectors more "market-oriented". It is debatable whether this will benefit the common man, a point highlighted by the Left parties. They have taken exception to this proposal on the grounds that these are strategically crucial sectors where increased FDI will not be in the national interest. Increased foreign investment in these sectors could drive out domestic players, affecting adversely the economy as a whole.

Besides, the Left parties oppose these two decisions on the grounds that they do not form part of the NCMP and the government did not consult them in advance. "Our support to the government is based on the CMP and any deviation will invite trouble," Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet had said in an interview to Frontline. The Left would never compromise on its "people-oriented" policies, he said.

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sees nothing wrong in the contradictory stands of the Left parties and the government and says that "a dialogue is going on and I am hopeful of a consensus". Nevertheless, the government appears directionless at the moment.

Another sticking point has been the government's decision to appoint representatives of the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and McKinsey, a private consultancy firm, on the consultative committees of the Planning Commission for a mid-term appraisal of the current five-year Plan. Though Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia has justified the move saying these representatives would only review projects with which they were associated, the very rationale for associating them appears to be faulty. "There is a whole range of expertise available outside the government which we should make use of," Ahluwalia said in a letter to the leaders of Left parties, who, however, remain unconvinced. "Institutions like the World Bank and the ADB have always been opposed to the concept of planned development. Would their recommendations strengthen the Planning Commission or weaken it? We have all seen what they did to ruin the Latin American and South East Asian economies," said senior CPI leader Atul Anjan.

The Left parties declared unanimously that including representatives of international agencies and private companies in the review of the planning process "was an unwarranted step and the... Manmohan Singh government must explain why it wants World Bank representation in the Planning Commission". They said these agencies had their own agenda and were not accountable to the Indian people, hence their inclusion in the committees of the Planning Commission cannot be justified. They demanded that the government "reconsider" its step.

ON several other issues that are screaming for attention, such as the scheme to generate employment, there have been no initiatives so far. The much-touted Employment Guarantee Act is not in place so far. The Congress manifesto promised to bring it within 100 days of assuming office and it also occupies pride of place in the NCMP, promising employment for at least 100 days in a year for one able-bodied person in every poor family. The promised "massive food for work programme" in the interim is also yet to take off.

According to an estimate by the United Nations, in the period between 1987 and 1994 over 70 per cent of the youth in India (15-24 years of age) was unemployed. In terms of numbers, this meant 5.5-8.9 million people, which went up to a staggering 15.1 million in the period 1994-2001. According to Dr. Subhrokamal Dutta, a research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University, only 23 per cent of employable youth found jobs in 2001.

Even in the area of unorganised labour, which constitutes 93 per cent of the workforce, there has been no initiative so far, though the CMP promised "social security, health, insurance and other schemes for such workers". The same is the case with non-performing public sector undertakings (PSUs), for which the CMP promised effective steps to make them viable. There have also been no initiatives in education, health, infrastructure and administrative reforms, which have been demanding attention for long.

In education, though Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh took steps to weed out communal elements as part of his "de-toxification" campaign, and reconstituted the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) to advise the Central and State governments, more needs to be done to expand the reach and improve the quality of education. A National Monitoring Committee for Minority Education has been constituted, but it has no representation from the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) or the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It is difficult to imagine how minority education can be monitored if large States having a substantial minority population, such as Uttar Pradesh, ruled by a S.P.-led government, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, all ruled by the BJP, are kept out of its ambit.

Many other crucial issues, such as those concerning women and children, law and justice, power, drinking water, tribal affairs and agriculture, all of which found prominent mention in the NCMP, have been left untouched. Instead, non-issues such as the controversy on Savarkar and the arrest and release of BJP leader Uma Bharati have occupied centre stage. Though the Prime Minister said that the NCMP was a document to be implemented "over five years" and there was still time to work on many issues, it is apparent that the real issues concerning the common people are getting sidelined.

OBVIOUSLY, the Left parties, which provide life-support from outside to the government, are disappointed. At its national executive meeting on September 3-4 in New Delhi, the CPI expressed displeasure at the "slow pace of CMP implementation" and described the government's performance as "very disappointing". The party has decided to take to the streets from October 2 to 8 to demand that high-priority issues in the NCMP - the National Employment Guarantee Act, the legislation for unorganised workers and agricultural labourers, the expansion of education and health, the implementation of drinking water schemes, 33 per cent reservation for women and the repeal of POTA - be implemented on a priority basis.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said the campaign would also focus on the government's failure to consult the Left parties on major issues such as reducing the interest rate on EPF, increasing the FDI cap and foreign trade policy. Incidentally, the new foreign trade policy, unveiled by Commerce Minister Kamal Nath on August 31, replacing the earlier Exim policy, has attracted the Left parties' ire because they view it as being against domestic industry and as one that will make India a dumping ground for second-hand capital goods. Besides, they are also piqued that they were not consulted on it either.

Surjeet described the government's performance as "lacklustre" but blamed it on the politics of the NDA, saying that it did not allow the government to function because of its frustration arising out of its defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.

Whatever the reasons, the unanimous feeling is that the government has little to show after 100 days in office. And most of the decisions smacked of highhandedness as they were taken without consulting the Left parties. There is also a feeling that the UPA government is paying little heed to the NCMP, the document that the Left parties describe as the "Gita, Koran and Bible" of this government.

"They still seem to believe that this is not a coalition government but a government run by the Congress party alone. They will have to come out of this mindset and internalise the coalition dharma, otherwise they will invite trouble for themselves," warn senior Left party leaders. The Left parties have made no secret of the fact that they will criticise, oppose and take the government to task if it diverted from the NCMP and did not listen to them. "It is the responsibility of those running the government to ensure that they discuss crucial issues with us. By not doing this, the Prime Minister is inviting trouble for himself," warned Atul Anjan. This may well be the warning bell for the UPA government, which will have to walk the tightrope, balancing the compulsions of coalition politics with market-oriented dynamics.

The non-performance of the UPA government has given the BJP reason to rejoice. BJP leaders say the longer the government lasts, the better it is for them. "This government, because of its internal contradictions, will have a short lifespan. But as long as it lasts, it is good for us. We are getting issues on a platter," said BJP general secretary Rajnath Singh. In his opinion, the more this government dithered, the more the people would want the NDA back. He said it was intriguing that prices started rising the moment a Congress government came to power. The BJP is planning to hold dharnas and demonstrations all over the country on the issue of price rise.

Tough times lie ahead for the UPA government because it will have to contend with criticism from both within and outside. Its last 100 days have been marked by a mismatch between promises and performance, and the next 100 days promise to be its most challenging phase.

BJP's problems and prospects

BALRAJ PURI the-nation

Over the years, the Bharatiya Janata Party has diluted its ideology to retain power. If the party is to survive now as the leader of an alternative national formation it has to continue to change, and not revert to its old ideology of an extreme form of nationalism.

THE Congress had scored an ideological victory against its main rival before the battle for Lok Sabha seats started; the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began the process of "Congressisation" years ago and stole the Congress' ideological robes to project itself as the real Congress that is different from the one led by a foreign woman. L.K. Advani declared the BJP was what the Congress had been under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and that "Vajpayee was regarded as a natural Prime Minister by the people, as Pandit Nehru was". The moderation in the stand of the BJP, reflected in its manifesto and the speeches of its leaders, was obviously motivated, above all, by an urge for power. Advani conceded that with the ideology of the Jana Sangh, it could not have come to power in a vast country like India and that it had changed its thinking and diluted its ideology to retain power.

This underlines the sobering and liberating role of power, the point that has been missed by eminent political philosophers like M.N. Roy, Jayaprakash Narayan and Vinoba Bhave. They believed that the urge for power was the source of all evil in public life and condemned party politics as a "scramble for power". This school of thought denuded Indian politics of much moral and intellectual talent.

Any party that aspires for power must modify its ideology to suit the Indian reality. The most important aspects of this reality are the country's plurality and diversity. The BJP believed in a homogenised and uniform nationalism, an extreme form of the ideology. This was considered to be a threat to the integrity and democracy of India and hence was rejected in the elections. The party then tried to accommodate all types of diversities in the country, based on caste, religion and ideology. It came to terms, for instance, with the Mandal Commission, which was used by V.P. Singh to check the Hindutva wave of the BJP in 1990. Narendra Modi in Gujarat, Uma Bharati in Madhya Pradesh (M.P.), Vinay Katyar and Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) and S. Bangarappa in Karnataka, all belong to the Other Backward classes (OBC), which makes the BJP the most Mandalised national party of the country.

The BJP realised, more than its rivals, the reality of caste in Indian society, and tried to woo even castes that were beyond its reach. It made special efforts to win over tribal people in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and elevated a relatively unknown Scheduled Caste leader, Bangaru Laxman, to the post of party president. (He had to resign after the Tehelka episode.) The party, however, took the risk of supporting an unpredictable Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as Chief Minister of U.P. and invited her to campaign for the party during the elections to the Gujarat Assembly. Despite the acrimonious way in which it split with her, it made desperate attempts to keep things neutral when it could not win her and her party. Another departure from the concept of homogenised nationalism was the recognition of the fact, as Advani put it, that regional aspirations could not be overlooked and ignored. The party "established links with different regional political parties to cement the federal structure" - which "the Congress had weakened". From being a votary of a strong centre, the BJP came to believe in granting more powers to the States and accommodated regional parties that demanded autonomy, such as the Akali Dal, the National Conference and the Dravidian parties. Vajpayee admitted that the party used to have faith in the unitary form of governance in the Constitution, which it "gave up in favour of federalism". Its ideological flexibility extended not only to cover regional nationalism, but also regional parties from the Shiv Sena to be socialists and apolitical and non-ideological personalities. It claimed the legacy of Congress leaders who fought for freedom. Homage to Gandhi became a part of the morning prayers of the shakhas of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), accused of being responsible for his murder.

What facilitated the BJP's efforts to appropriate all secular and socialist nationalist leaders is the change in the definition of nationalism. During the days of Gandhi, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, nationalism was defined as being opposed to British imperialism. Subsequently, Pakistan replaced British imperialism as the main enemy of Indian nationalism. The BJP could play an anti-Pakistan role with more ease than its rivals, and tried to work on building mass hysteria, giving a call for aar paar (decisive) action against Pakistan and full-scale mobilisation of its armed forces on western borders. However, it soon discovered that it earned more dividends, in terms of international goodwill, by a peace initiative towards Pakistan. The response of popular opinion within the country to this was unexpectedly warm. In his characteristic style, Vajpayee tried to sell to his countrymen the U-turn in his Pakistan policy. This encouraged him to attempt a breakthrough in Kashmir and initiate talks with Jammu and Kashmir's separatist conglomerate, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, on what Advani called decentralisation of power, thus reversing the process - of integrating the state with the Union - a process initiated by the Congress leadership under Nehru. The APHC reportedly wished for the return of the Vajpayee government in the elections. Muzaffar Baig, a Minister in the Jammu and Kashmir government, was so convinced of Vajpayee's popularity in the Kashmir Valley that he invited him to contest the elections from a Muslim majority constituency such as Srinagar. The BJP for the first time contested all the three predominantly Muslim seats in the Valley. Armed with support from Kashmir and Pakistan, where Vajpayee was hailed as a man of peace, the BJP made another bold bid to enter a field that to date was forbidden to it, wooing Muslims of India.

This has been a long journey for a party that had its roots in the anti-Muslim ideology. Starting from the RSS-Jamiat-e-Ulama-I-Hind (a close ally of the Congress during the freedom movement) dialogue, Vajpayee and Advani separately addressed Muslim groups, wooing them with promises. Vajpayee offered two lakh jobs for Urdu teachers and handsome grants for madrassas. Despite its past hostility to Christians and secessionists, the BJP, alleges the RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya, has gone out of its way to accommodate "Christian secessionists" in the northeastern region. In its issue of December 7, 2003, it gives details of the BJP's collusion with "militant and secessionist" Christians groups for "political gains". Panchajanya reports that the BJP is a member of the ruling Democratic Alliance in Nagaland, which came to power with "the help of the militant organisation, the NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) and is known for funding church activities for the last many years".

The BJP also takes credit for the decision of P.A. Sangma, a prominent Christian leader from the northeastern region who has been a campaigner for the right to eat beef, to join the NDA. The BJP's attempts to earn the goodwill of Christian militants in the northeast and Muslim secessionists in Kashmir, in particular, as well as Muslims in the rest of the country, are relevant to the debate about secularism versus communalism, although it is a part of the wider issue of a homogenised and uniform notion of nationalism versus a pluralist nationalism.

While the BJP has achieved notable gains in other fields, its policy towards Muslims is still handicapped by its ideological and political baggage, which it has been unable to shed. BJP leaders have been wooing Muslims on the claim that the government led by it has improved India-Pakistan relations. In its election campaign in Muslim dominated areas of U.P., it displayed portraits of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali (who has since stepped down) hugging Vajpayee. Whatever the positive impact of improvement in India-Pakistan relations on Hindu-Muslim relations, the synonymity of the two, presumed by the BJP leaders, implies that Muslims of India are influenced by Pakistan. It needs to be remembered that the BJP and the RSS have been against Muslims not because of the way they worship or the theological beliefs they hold but because they were supposed to be not patriotic enough to treat India as a holy or sacred land and because they were not sufficiently anti-Pakistan. The traditional view of the BJP-RSS is that Hinduism or Hindutva is not a religion but a nation (rashtra). It is religionised version of Indian nationalism of which the most revered goddess is "Bharat Mata". The party has not done enough rethinking on this concept of nationalism and has not defined the status of religious minorities such as Muslims, who do not worship this goddess.

However, the party must have realised by now that it cannot mobilise the Hindu majority on an anti-Muslim platform and that even the support of Hindus depends on the softening of this platform. It has learnt that Hindus are not a monolithic community. It must also learn that neither are Muslims. They have urges other than religious, too, some of which they share with non-Muslims.

Despite its obvious handicaps, the BJP was able to rope in some Muslim personalities and groups. The process was helped by the lack of adjustments among the secular parties and their attempts to play the soft Hindutva card. Thus Advani could chide the Congress for raising the issue of cow slaughter in Madhya Pradesh when the BJP had based its election campaign on the issue of development. Further, he attributes the Ayodhya campaign to the opening of the locks of Babri Masjid by Rajiv Gandhi (BBC interview, April 5), though he admitted that the demolition of the Babri Masjid hurt his party's interests in the elections.

In fact, most of the advances that the BJP made were precisely in those fields that were vacated by its secular rivals. The Congress campaign in 1999 was more against the so-called parochial identities based on caste, region and language than those based on religion (defined as communalism) and more against the coalition system than the BJP. Its Panchmarhi resolution facilitated the task of consolidation of non-Congress parties. Thus the BJP tried to adopt the Congress agenda, its policies and its earlier broad-based character, minus the Congress. In the recent election, it was left with no issues to take on the Congress. Hence its exclusive emphasis on the foreign origin of the Congress leader. Lest the BJP should be accused of macho-nationalism, the Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal said that Vajpayee had always been a perpetual dove who had opposed making a nuclear bomb during the Janata government in 1978. He also accused the NDA government of reducing the Defence Budget to its lowest ever percentage of the GDP without bothering about lower allocations on social services.

The Congress under Gandhi and Nehru represented a concept of nationalism, which was cosmopolitan, humane, plural, federal, secular and democratic. It was opposed by narrow and aggressive forces, which believed in a majoritarian, uniform, homogenised and centralised concept of nationalism. In popular usage, the conflict between the two concepts of nationalism was translated as secularism versus communalism. It is a tribute to the strength of the Gandhi-Nehru heritage that the opposing forces gradually came to terms with the democratic traditions, institutions and diversities of the country though it is far from easy for them to make adjustments with their ideology and tactics; Hence contradictory voices within the Parivar and contradictory statement by the same leaders. Vajpayee may be adept in the art of ambivalence but this could not cover all the contradictions within the Parivar and the allies. While Pervez Musharraf's name was used to win over Muslims of U.P. for the party, Narendra Modi directed his campaign against "Mian Musharraf" and "Begum Sonia". The party invited Modi to U.P. soon after Vajpayee launched his campaign to befriend Muslims. This caused confusion not only among Muslims, but also the party workers. Meanwhile the Congress unshackled itself from the Panchmarhi resolution and went out in a big way to seek possible alliances to accommodate multiple type of diversities, including religious, regional, caste and political. Its understanding with the Left, which had never wavered in its belief in the pluralist character of Indian nationalism, gave the Congress valuable ideological and at places organisational strength. In an electoral battle on a ground that was more familiar for the Congress, the BJP cadre, according to Ram Madhav, RSS spokesman, were handicapped as they had diluted their own ideology.

If, however, in a defeatist mood, the BJP were tempted to revert to its old ideology and strategy, it would merely isolate itself from the mainstream of Indian politics. It would mean opting out from the race for power and resuming its old agitational role. It could profitably learn from its experience in Gujarat - which is the model of its original ideology and where its strength in recent polls almost halved - the limitation of jingoist and militant Hinduism. So far the prospects of power and Vajpayee's leadership have kept the BJP's allies together. But if the party is to survive as the leader of an alternative national political formation, it has to continue to move in the same direction as it did from the Jana Sangh to the BJP (via Janata) to the NDA and to Congressisation.

The foreign hand

JAYATI GHOSH columns

The issue in including representatives of multilateral donor agencies in the Planning Commission is not of their "foreignness" per se but of preventing the intrusion into the Indian state of elements that are effectively controlled by foreign states.

MOST people in the country and certainly those who have some opinion in the matter would probably say that the Planning Commission of the Government of India has yet to embark on its work. The formulation of the next Plan is, of course, still far off, but even the mid-term appraisal of the current Plan has barely begun.

The more difficult process of incorporating the declared aims of the government (as expressed in the National Common Minimum Programme) into the Plan, is thus still quite hazy. So far, even the direction of this process is not clear, at least from the public pronouncements made by Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Clearly, the real efforts of the Commission are only just beginning and there is a great deal to be done.

Yet, even before any substantive momentum has been achieved, the Planning Commission has become embroiled in a controversy, which at first sight may look like a non-issue, but has had substantial media and political fallout, and may reduce its subsequent credibility. It has generated a debate over whether representatives of multilateral donor agencies such as the World Bank and employees of private multinational consultancy agencies should be included in Committees constituted by the Planning Commission.

The controversy began when it was announced that some Consultative Committees set up by the Planning Commission to provide inputs into the Mid-Term Appraisal would include not only a range of outside experts but also representatives of external donor agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), along with employees of consultancy companies such as McKinsey and Boston Consulting.

It also became evident that such persons had been invited to be on the Committees not in their personal capacity (which in any case, would be problematic as long as they remained representatives of these institutions) but because they belonged to these agencies, specifically in order to ascertain the views of these agencies on programmes and policies in which they have an interest.

This was the first time in the history of the Planning Commission that such elements were invited to be part of Committees specially set up by it. The subsequent outcry focussed on a number of problems with such inclusion, ranging from the argument that this reflected not only intellectual subservience to the feeling that this suggested a bankruptcy of national talent in this regard.

The initial reply provided by the Deputy Chairman did little to rectify matters, since the justification provided was essentially based on the facts that only four of the 19 Committees that had been constituted had such members; that these agencies already gave large loans to India; and that Mahatma Gandhi's famous remark about "keeping doors and windows open" could be applied to this case.

As the controversy continued, leaders of the Left political parties also made statements against this move, but the Planning Commission remained adamant on this score. In the process, several things became apparent, all of which underline the complexity of the current political economy of the country.

The reaction of the mainstream English-language media was telling. They were more or less unanimous (with a few notable exceptions) in supporting the views of the Deputy Chairman and criticising the Left for being churlish on the matter. Most of the commentaries missed the basic point of the objections, as elaborated below. But in addition, they appeared to be more obsessed with highlighting differences between the Left and the government in this matter, and even to predict collapse of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. In the process, they not only presented a misleading picture of the actual issues at stake, but also used this relatively minor matter to stoke more fundamental differences.

CONSIDER the actual implications of having these agencies represented in government committees. The Planning Commission argued that since the World Bank and the ADB are already actively involved in financing programmes of the Central and State governments in several areas, this would provide an opportunity for them to share perceptions on programmes and policies in which they have been involved in an open forum, which would include others who have a different orientation and could express their disagreement. But there are several problems with this argument.

First, it is difficult to believe that these agencies could provide sound and dispassionate judgment on economic policies on which they have very specific (and remarkably unchanging) views. Indeed, in the Indian context, the often injudicious policy advice provided by these institutions in the recent past is only too apparent. The former leaders of State governments of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh (to take only three examples) should be able to testify to the adverse role of their advice.

Secondly, even if these views need to be heard, there is a substantial difference between requesting them to provide their opinions formally in a separate context, and providing them with a different degree of legitimacy as "independent" outside experts on par with others who are genuinely independent. This provides these institutions a platform to present their views in a manner that bears the imprimatur of the Planning Commission.

The significance of this should not be underestimated. There is no question that the Planning Commission must listen to a range of views, but this should not involve simple replication of the patterns of the debating societies of the undergraduate colleges that produced some of the current incumbents of this Commission as well as some of its critics. The Planning Commission is, above all, an organ of the Indian state - and within that, an institution with a long and proud history of nationalist endeavour. It must, therefore, preserve the essential identity of the Indian state: to represent and be seen to represent the Indian people.

It was within a nationalist umbrella that the Planning Commission under Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahalanobis invited foreign economists and statisticians to assist it in the process of nascent Indian planning. They were chosen not because they were representatives of donor agencies but because of their established individual expertise. All of them were eminent economists usually based in universities abroad. The issue, therefore, is not of "foreignness" per se but of preventing the intrusion into the Indian state of elements that are effectively controlled by foreign states (and particularly the United States).

It is in this context that the argument that such donor agencies in any case make inputs into the decision-making process "informally" and that, therefore, it is better to induct them formally into Committees, makes little sense. Of course, governments have to deal routinely with international donor agencies and even foreign-based consultancies with different interests. But doing business is quite different from legitimising their inclusion into officially constituted bodies of the Indian state.

The inability to see this basic distinction reflects a blurring of vision which has come about not because of some abstract "globalisation" but because of a blurring of interests of a section of the Indian elite with the interests of imperialism, and a consequent lack of recognition that this does not necessarily contribute to the well-being or even reflect the desires of the majority of the Indian population.

The real significance of this debate, therefore, has less to do with the immediate and relatively less critical matter of the number of such elements included in these committees and the like. It is ultimately about the control over the Indian state, and the official recognition that the organs of the state must represent the Indian people.

The blurring of interests among the section of the domestic elite and imperialism is a matter of serious concern. It is important not only in a general structural sense, but at this historical moment in particular, because it affects government policy at a critical conjuncture. There was a political and economic policy message of the recent elections - on which the very existence of this government is based - that cannot be ignored.

The previous government had used the advice of agencies such as the World Bank and foreign consultants, even though they were not incorporated into bodies constituted by the government, to intensify a programme of neo-liberal economic policies. This was rejected decisively by the electorate. The new UPA government officially declared its intention to change course, to reverse or mitigate the effects of several of these policies and to provide material relief to the people by addressing the problems of agrarian crisis and unemployment in particular.

A basic mandate of the present Planning Commission is, therefore, to re-examine past policy. But this cannot be done if the official attitude appears to institutionalise and internalise the status of the same foreign policy advice that needs to be re-examined. Perhaps, the insistence on having such people remain in Committees despite all the protests is an unwilling recognition of the changed politico-economic reality, reflecting a feeling of insecurity that without such people involved, the previous arguments will not be expressed with much force. But that is essentially tilting against a political windmill.

Perhaps, the most glaring evidence of this comes from Andhra Pradesh, which until recently had a State government that was following every neo-liberal tenet to the letter and completely adhering to the policy advice dispensed by the World Bank and other donor agencies. This State experienced a political earthquake, comprehensively defeating that government. As a result, Andhra Pradesh has contributed more MPs to the Congress Party at the Centre, than any other State. Without this earthquake, there would be no UPA government.

The new Congress(I) government in Andhra Pradesh has squarely laid the blame for the enormous agrarian crisis in the State on the World Bank-inspired policies which continue to cause so much damage to ordinary people. In order to arrest the appalling trend of farmers' suicides and generalised rural distress, it has called for major reversal of these policies.

It would be laughable if, in this context, the State government of Andhra Pradesh had approached representatives of the World Bank for further advice on how to undo the damage caused. But, in fact, it should be an equally laughable notion for the Central government, for which many of the basic realities are similar. The fact that this still not realised, is an indication of the extent of political ignorance of some of the current leadership.

A visitor from Senegal

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The visit of the Senegalese Foreign Minister to India has helped consolidate the relations between the two countries and highlight issues relating to the African continent.

INDIA and Senegal have had close relations ever since the West African state gained independence from France in 1960. Hence the three-day visit of the Foreign Minister of Senegal, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, to India in the second week of September, could not have been less welcome. While in New Delhi, the Minister held wide-ranging discussions with top Indian officials on important bilateral issues and matters relating to the African continent.

Senegal is a key player in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and has generally been a tranquil state in a volatile region. Four years ago, the country went through a peaceful transition of power when the Socialist Party, which had ruled the country since it gained independence, accepted the outcome of the presidential election held in 2000. Since then, the country's President has been Abdoulaye Wade of the Senegalese Democratic Party, a veteran politician, who had run for the presidency on several occasions in the past and had been incarcerated for his political activities.

Since assuming the presidency, Wade has been very active on the diplomatic front, especially on issues relating to the African continent. Wade, along with leaders of countries such as Nigeria and South Africa, has been in the forefront of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), a bold initiative that aims to bring about economic recovery through African-led reforms and good governance. Wade has been a prominent figure in the African Union (A.U.), which was formed two years ago as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). He has been forthright in his views on the Darfur crisis in western Sudan (where a conflict broke out between rebel groups and pro-government militia last year), demanding that Sudan act quickly to defuse the problem. Senegal is for sending African peace-keepers to the region at the earliest.

Senegal will soon be assuming the chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). The OIC has become an important international forum since its founding in the late 1960s. India had tried to be a member at the outset itself but was kept out owing to a variety of factors. Many diplomats are of the opinion that it was political ineptness that kept India out of the grouping. At the inaugural OIC meeting in Rabat, Morocco, in 1969, India first sent its Ambassador to the country to apply for observer status. The official was not a Muslim, which gave India-baiters an excuse to object to his presence. By the time the Indian government sent Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, then a senior Minister in the Central government, to Rabat, those opposed to India's admission had gained the upperhand.

Observers of the diplomatic scene point out that even a country like Gabon, where only 10 per cent of the population is Muslim, is a member of the OIC. Nigeria, another country, where the population is divided almost evenly among Muslims and Christians, is also an OIC member.

Diplomats point out that India, which is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, deserves to be a member of the OIC. This sentiment was echoed by the Senegalese Foreign Minister. "The issue of India not being a member of the OIC should be reconsidered, for its own strategic interests, especially at a time when Islam is under attack. We need help from all our friends," he told Frontline. Russia has already applied for observer status in the OIC. With a secular government in place in New Delhi now, there is a feeling among well-wishers of India in the Islamic world that it too should consider applying for observer status.

Gadio, an articulate diplomat who has a doctorate from an American University, said that his country gave great importance to strengthening bilateral relations with India. In the Indian capital, he met with senior Cabinet Ministers, including External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh. Gadio said that the Senegalese President is an economist by training whose goal is to make Africa self-sufficient and end its dependence on international aid and loans.

"He believes in building partnerships and wants Africa to play its rightful role in the global economy," he said. The Minister emphasised that India's experiences in fighting poverty and overcoming some of the problems of underdevelopment were very important examples for Senegal. The Minister said that the last two years had been extremely productive for India-Senegal relations. The Indian industry and investments have started moving into Senegal. Tata Motors has set up a vehicle production plant in Senegal and will be sharing its expertise and know-how with its Senegalese counterparts.

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India and Senegal have initiated the "Team-9" project, involving seven other west and central African countries. Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea and Chad form the other seven members. The countries will be involved in multilateral projects, with India providing the funding up to the tune of half a billion dollars. "India is now fully into multilateralism and we in Senegal want to propose the holding of an annual Africa-India summit on the lines of the Franco-African summit," said Gadio.

The Minister described the unfolding events in Darfur as a "tragedy". He clarified that his government had stated at the A.U. meeting in Addis Ababa in the first week of July that the population of Darfur was in urgent need of assistance and that the activities of the "Janjaweed" militias had to be stopped and a political settlement of the crisis expedited. "We believe in the unity of Sudan and the integrity of its territory," he added. The Minister said that the A.U. had a Peace and Security Council to tackle issues happening on the African continent. He is of the opinion that the international community should resist the temptation of sending peace-keepers to the region as it would only "aggravate" the existing problem. "What we propose is to bring an African solution to an African crisis. The current Chairman of the A.U., President Olusegun Obasanjo, is trying his best," said the Minister.

The Senegalese Foreign Minister wants Khartoum to do more to facilitate the presence of A.U. troops and observers in Darfur so as to bring a speedy end to the tragedy there, which he termed as a detriment to the goals of NEPAD and the A.U. At the same time, Gadio readily admitted that the events in the "Great Lakes Region" (the area consisting of Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo) constitute a much bigger tragedy for the African continent than Darfur. "In Darfur, around one million people may have been displaced. In the Great Lakes region, an estimated three million people have lost their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo itself. Like Europe before 1945, we hope Africa is paying its last dues to history. Ten years down the road, we will be okay," Gadio said.

The Senegalese Foreign Minister is firmly of the view that the A.U. is doing a better job than its predecessor. "The leadership is different, the spirit is different. I personally have a lot of respect for the A.U. Commission President Alpha Konare's leadership. He is a committed pan-Africanist," said Gadio. Konare is a former President of Mali. Gadio, however, warns that there could be pitfalls for the A.U. as some people are still caught in "the mindset of the OAU, not aware that the African continent is moving towards political unity and more federalism". He said that African governments are trying their best to deal with the challenges of good governance. "Corruption is not an African monopoly. A corruption scandal of the Enron scale will never happen in Africa. Their budget was perhaps bigger than the whole of Africa. Corruption is a beast that we will have to control and eradicate."

The Minister was all praise for the Indian model of democracy. "Conceding defeat and accepting defeat should be gracefully done all over the world, as it is in India." He was also appreciative of the fact that the United Progressive Alliance government in India is sticking to the commitments made by the former government to NEPAD and the Team-9 project. "From the Indian example, African countries can realise that you can struggle for development, fight poverty and still democratise your politics," he said. He added that the people of Senegal were now fully aware of their right to "hire and fire" their leaders.

A wave of violence

ATUL ANEJA world-affairs

With the guerillas and the U.S.-led occupying forces sticking to their respective political goals, Iraq appears to be headed for an autumn of bloodshed.

AS the countdown for the elections in January begins, a fresh wave of violence is sweeping across Iraq, mirroring the tussle between the American-led forces and the Iraqi resistance. It has become evident that the Iraqi guerilla fighters are opposed to the U.S.-backed elections, which would elect a Constitutional Assembly in January 2005. In fact, the resistance is seeking to expand its hold over as large a territory as possible in order to make the elections as untenable as it can. Already the guerillas' control over parts of Baghdad and adjoining areas is considerable.

Falluja, which is around 50 km west of the Iraqi capital, is widely recognised as a "liberated zone", bereft of any U.S. military presence. After intense combat in April, U.S. troops decided to withdraw from the city, handing over administrative authority to an Iraqi force, which had links to the Baath Party of former President Saddam Hussein. Similarly, the hold of the resistance over neighbouring Ramadi is tight. North of Baghdad, the historic city of Samaara, which has a mixed Sunni and Shia population, is also a "no-go" zone.

There is a perception in Baghdad that the guerillas wish to radiate their influence from the cluster of towns and cities they control until they can militarily and politically dominate a large contiguous swath of territory. In Shia-dominated Najaf, the firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's Mehdi army, which had revolted against the occupation, is out of the holy city. However, these fighters appear to have regrouped and are a formidable force in Sadr City, a sprawling working class Shia district on the outskirts of Baghdad. Pitched battles are now fought in this impoverished neighbourhood. Fierce fighting on September 7 killed at least 40 people belonging to the Mehdi army, health authorities in Baghdad said. These clashes were preceded by heavy aerial bombardment, which began at 11 p.m. the previous day and lasted until 4 a.m. During the clashes, U.S. tanks rumbled around the neighbourhood and automatic fire echoed on Sadr City's main Al-Shuhader Street. Kidnappings, generally of nationals of those countries that are part of the U.S.-led occupation force, have become rampant. The purpose of these is to discourage countries from cooperating with the occupation, though in certain cases, it is monetary gains that have been the driving force.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has been shuttling across regional capitals in order to free two abducted Italian women, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. The two aid workers were taken hostage in Baghdad on September 7. The French government is also facing a hostage crisis and is trying to free two journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who were kidnapped in August. More than 100 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq since March 2003. Iraqi fighters have also targeted oil pipelines transiting oil either towards the southern export terminal of Basra or towards the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the north. The impact of their actions has been global, as the exploding of pipelines in Iraq has contributed to the surge in international oil prices.

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August turned out to be a month of nightmares for the U.S. forces. Pentagon figures revealed that the death roll of U.S. troops had crossed the 1,000-mark. In terms of clashes, August saw 87 incidents a day, an all-time high since President George W. Bush claimed victory over Iraq in May 2003. Significantly, the number of U.S. troops dying of bullet injuries has increased markedly. That means a step-up in the guerilla war to "phase-II" when fighters stand up to fight their more powerful adversary. Phase-I of guerilla wars usually revolves around recruitment. Ambushes during this period are rare.

With many parts of Iraq slipping out of control and the timetable for elections genuinely threatened, the U.S. occupation authorities, backed by forces belonging to the American-appointed Iraqi interim government, have begun a violent campaign to re-establish control. Falluja has borne the brunt of these attacks. Repeated air raids have been mounted in the city with the alleged objective of striking "international terrorists", especially those loyal to the Jordanian-born Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. The Americans have alleged that Zarqawi has Al Qaeda leanings and his followers have entrenched themselves in Falluja. The Arab media and a few Western news organisations, however, have a different perception. After a particularly heavy air raid on September 13, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television reported that at least 18 civilians were killed in the pre-dawn strike. The planes also destroyed an ambulance that was ferrying the wounded to hospital. Western news agencies reported an exodus of hundreds of families from Falluja following the air strike.

A day earlier, when nearly 100 Iraqis died, an American helicopter killed at least 13 people in Baghdad's Haifa Street, a stronghold of Palestinians. These people had apparently gathered near a burning American armoured vehicle. Among those killed was Mazen Tomeizi, the 26-year-old producer for the Dubai-based Al Araybia television. As the U.S. and the interim government focus on strong-arm tactics, they have ensured that sections of the media that can show the "other side" of the story are driven out. The most glaring example of "media management" has been the denial of permission for Al Jazeera to operate.

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Al Jazeera was first banned from operating for a month on August 5 for "advocating violence and inciting hatred". It faced indefinite closure under an order issued earlier in September. Al Jazeera's gagging has already led to an outcry in media circles, with organisations such as the Reporters Without Borders, the London-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, headquartered in Cairo, joining in the protests.

Despite the spiralling violence, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has not budged from his position that polls should be held according to the January schedule. He has, however, hinted that the electoral exercise might be modified. With clashes taking place in Falluja and the areas surrounding it, Allawi has begun to signal that these areas, which have a dominant Sunni population, can be temporarily cut out of the electoral process. In recent interviews to several Western newspapers, Allawi said: "If for any reason 300,000 people cannot have an election, cannot vote (that)... is not going to alter 25 million people voting. If the elections were prevented in Falluja, its inhabitants could vote later."

With both parties seemingly committed to achieving their goals, Iraq appears to be set for experiencing an autumn of bloodshed, which is likely to have Baghdad, its western neighbourhood and areas stretching northwards in the direction of Mosul bearing the brunt.

Looking east

Economic integration of the northeastern region with mainstream India and South-East Asia forms the key point of discussion at three public events in the region.

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FOR several decades, people talked about the economic integration of the northeastern States with the rest of the country, often referred to as the national mainstream, in order to aid the development of this underdeveloped region. Policy-makers, bureaucrats and intellectuals attributed the numerous armed separatist struggles and the political instability in the northeastern States to the region's underdevelopment and weak economic integration with "mainstream" India. They argued that the situation would come to a pass when the region catches up with the rest of India in economic activities. As part of the efforts to integrate the region with the rest of India, emphasis was laid on improving rail, road and air connectivity. A 20-km-wide "chicken neck" corridor of land connects the region with the country's mainland.

The focus has now shifted to transnational and sub-regional cooperation between India and South-East Asian countries as it is seen as the only way to bail out the region from its state of underdevelopment and political crisis. This was evident when the region played host to three important events between September 4 and 11. A congregation of policy-makers, diplomats, bureaucrats, academics and scholars discussed issues relating to the region's underdevelopment at these meetings.

The first one was Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's meeting with Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament from the region in Shillong on September 4 and 6 on the internal security situation of and development agendas for the region.

This was followed by two days of brainstorming sessions on September 10 and 11 in Guwahati at a forum called "Towards a New Asia: Transnationalism and the Northeast", which brought together the people engaged in the unfolding of this new Asia - diplomats, civil servants, academics, journalists, commentators, intellectuals and experts on the northeastern affairs. The forum was organised by the Centre for Northeast India, South and Southeast Asia Studies (CENISEAS) of the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, Assam, in cooperation with the Institute of Chinese Studies, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

The forum coincided with a two-day visit to Assam by the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Veena Sikri, ahead of the Home Secretary-level meeting between India and Bangladesh in Dhaka and a formal press briefing on September 11 in Guwahati by Veena Sikri with Rajiv Sikri, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs.

During their meeting with the Home Minister, which came in the backdrop of the present political unrest in Manipur and a fresh spurt of violence unleashed by the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in Assam, the Chief Ministers emphasised that New Delhi should exert diplomatic pressure on two of its neighbours, Bangladesh and Myanmar, to go the Bhutan way and demolish the militant camps on their soil. After the four-hour-long meeting, Patil issued an appeal to all the militant organisations of the region to come forward for unconditional talks and resolve their problems.

MPs from the region, particularly Urkhao Gwra Brahma from Assam and Robert Kharsing from Meghalaya, proposed that an all-party MPs' forum - on the lines of the panel headed by Ram Jethmalani to hold talks with Kashmiri militant groups - be constituted by the Home Ministry to open talks with the militant groups. Patil said that the Centre would provide all possible assistance for such efforts.

In his formal press briefing, Rajiv Sikri highlighted India's "Look East" policy vis-a-vis development of the region. He said that India and six other Asian countries - Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Thailand and Sri Lanka - have constituted a joint working group to curb terrorism in the region. The decision to set up a JWG to counter terrorism was taken at the first summit of the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand-Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC) held in Bangkok in July. The participating countries had then pledged not to allow their territories to be used by terrorist groups for launching attacks on friendly countries. The officials highlighted the opportunities that the northeastern States can utilise in cross-border economic activities between India and member countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Rajiv Sikri said that the region would get a good opportunity to showcase itself during the proposed car rally from Guwahati to Singapore in November. He also said that the region's prospects would brighten once the Asian highway and railway-networking projects make headway.

Noted economist and Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh kicked off the debate at the CENISEAS forum on whether the region can develop through its economic integration with South-East Asia or with the rest of India.

Jairam Ramesh, who is also the secretary of the Congress' Economic Affairs cell, underlined the need for adopting a new model of development for the region. He said that the region would have political integration with rest of the country and economic integration with South-East Asian countries. He argued that different models of development adopted in the past four to five decades in the region, the latest being the heavy doses of public expenditure, had failed to work. "If the initiatives to forge regional trading arrangements with East and South-East Asian countries through Myanmar bear fruit, that will integrate India and South Asia economically with the newly industrialised eastern bloc. But the share of benefits for the northeastern region from such integration will depend on how much of the trade traffic will move through the land routes via northeastern India," said Madan Prasad Bezbaruah, Banking Ombudsman, Government of India, and formerly Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, while deliberating on the forum. He cautioned that if most of the merchandise traffic between South and South-East Asia moved along the sea route, the region may end up being a mere dead-end market for goods coming from the newly industrialised countries.

Professor Sanjib Baruah, who heads the CENISEAS, said the forum aimed to break the notion that the northeastern region was landlocked and to discuss the opportunities and risks for the region from different kinds of transnational and sub-regional cooperation that are being forged at a time when Indian policy was "looking east".

But will the opening up of the border further encourage cross-border terrorism and lead to increased proliferation of small arms and drugs in the region? Is there any room for the region with its poor rural economy and slow pace of urbanisation to open its door for the growing South-East Asian market? What could be the possible impact of the South-East Asian connection on the ethnic scenario of the region? These are questions that will require further discussion and debate on the same mode as the recently concluded meeting in Guwahati.

Returning to the road

The Madras High Court overturns a tribunal order and reinstates over 9,000 road workers retrenched by the State government.

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JUSTICE has at last been done to about 10,000 road workers who were literally thrown on the street en masse two years ago by an executive order of the Tamil Nadu government. These workers, who were appointed by the State Highways Department in 1997 for road maintenance, were among the first victims of the Jayalalithaa government's dogged pursuit of the policy of privatisation since 2001. A Division Bench of the Madras High Court ordered their reinstatement within three months with back wages and continuity of service and termed as "misadventure" the government's abolition of the post of "gang mazdoor" [G.O.Ms.No.160 (Highways) dated September 5, 2002] on the grounds of economy, which resulted in the loss of jobs to thousands of workers.

"As the Government Order is wholly illegal and invalid in law, the consequent orders of termination issued to 9,183 gang mazdoor are set aside," ruled the Bench of Justices P.K. Misra and F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla. The court held that the termination was in "gross violation of the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act" and allowed a batch of writ appeals against an April 16, 2003, order of the State Administrative Tribunal. The order upheld the abolition of the posts, but directed the State government to pay a sum equivalent to six months' salary to each gang mazdoor, irrespective of whether the worker had filed an original application of the Tribunal or not. The Tamil Nadu Highways Roadways Employees' Association was among the principal appellants.

For the retrenched workers, who have also been mounting pressure on the government through relentless struggles, the judgment would mean an end to their two-year ordeal. Trade union leaders hailed the judgment as a "whiff of fresh air" and appealed to the government to implement it immediately instead of treating it as a matter of prestige and preferring an appeal. The judgment contains several significant observations and also marks a break from the adverse judicial and executive decisions that government employees had to face in the past two years.

THE plight of gang mazdoors has to be seen in the light of their struggles of the past several decades to get their services regularised. Until 1977, gang mazdoors were recruited by work-charged departments of the government, mostly on a temporary basis, for specific projects and works. After the completion of the project, the workforce was generally disbanded. Of course, in certain cases these workers were engaged in other projects, resulting in a continuity even in their temporary assignments. There were two categories of workers, provincial and non-provincial, and two modes of payment of wages - one on the basis of a time-scale and the other fixed pay. In 1977, following a series of struggles by the workers, the government regularised their services and made them eligible for all benefits enjoyed by government employees. It, however, stopped the recruitment of gang mazdoors.

In 1987, the government passed an order with a view to creating 10,636 permanent posts of gang mazdoors. In 1992, by another order it imposed a ban on the filling of the posts. In 1996, at the instance of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, the government made a general assessment of the number of gang mazdoors needed to maintain the 60,000 km of road in the State. The number that would be needed was estimated at 14,872. Through two G.Os, the government created 4,280 posts, to be filled along with the little over 5,000 existing unfilled posts. It also announced, through separate G.Os, that each worker would be paid Rs.1,500 a month and that after the successful completion of a year of probation the worker would be put on the regular scale.

The recruitment was to be done locally, and the upper age limit was fixed at 35. The government also exempted this recruitment from the stipulation that all applications should be routed through employment exchanges. Division-level officials of the Highways Department selected persons with the required qualification on a 1:3 ratio and the final selection was done by a draw of lots.

The selected workers were regularised subsequently and had served for four years, enjoying all the benefits that came with regular service, until the September 5, 2002 G.O. abolished the post.

The Jayalalithaa government's decision to abolish the post stemmed from its decision to privatise road maintenance works. Public Works Minister O. Panneerselvam announced a major policy change in this regard in the State Assembly on April 29, 2002, five months before the axe fell on the gang mazdoors. He said the government had decided to involve the private sector in an integrated improvement-cum-maintenance contract for State highways. Significantly, almost a year after the abolition of the posts, the government signed an agreement with the World Bank (on August 28, 2003) to facilitate the implementation of a Rs.2,118-crore Tamil Nadu Road Sector Project (TNRSP).

The dismissed gang mazdoors challenged the termination of service before the State Administrative Tribunal. They questioned the validity of the G.O. abolishing the post, on the grounds that it violated Article 14 of the Constitution. The Tribunal, on April 16, 2003, accepted the government's submission that the abolition had been done in pursuance of one of its "policy decisions" and stated that it could not interfere with "policy decisions of the government".

The Division Bench of the High Court, hearing writ appeals against the Tribunal judgment, did not agree with the government's contention that the Highways Department was a part of the government and was not covered by the Industrial Disputes Act. It cited the landmark judgment in the Bangalore Water Supply case (1978) by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court to state that "all functions of the State need not necessarily be sovereign in nature, merely because such functions are either organised or administered by the State. In fact, in the Bangalore Water Supply case, the Honourable Supreme Court made it clear that while applying the dominant nature test, even in the departments discharging sovereign functions if there are units which are industries and they are substantially severable, they can be considered to be an industry to come within Section 2 (1) of the Industrial Disputes Act."

The Division Bench ruled that maintenance of road and allied activities carried out by the dismissed gang mazdoors were a "manufacturing process", thereby bringing it within the ambit of the definition of industrial establishment as defined in the Industrial Disputes Act. The provisions of the Act were, therefore, applicable to the Highways Department of the Tamil Nadu government. Also, gang mazdoors were "workmen" as defined in the Act.

Explaining the significance of the judgment, advocate R. Vaigai, who appeared for the petitioners, said it had really called the government's bluff in many respects. More than anything else, the High Court went by the government's own conduct to show that road maintenance was not a sovereign function. The Bench contended that if it was a sovereign function, it should be an inalienable function, something that could not be performed by a person who is not in governance. But here, after abolishing the posts the government itself had contracted out these jobs and so it was not a sovereign function and therefore it could not be exempt from the Industrial Disputes Act.

The Bench also categorically declared that the government's action in abolishing the posts was "a misadventure", because neither the reasons nor the manner in which the actions had been taken could be justified, said Vaigai. Since the Industrial Disputes Act covers the government, it ought to have followed the procedure set in the Act if it wanted to retrench workers. The Bench also said that the government in such respects should also be a "model employer".

The Bench did not agree that the procedure followed in the 1997 recruitment was faulty. The procedure had been laid out clearly and there was transparency in the whole system, it held. The contention that the appointments were illegal was therefore not tenable.

The argument that the courts could not interfere with "policy decisions" was also brought in. The tribunal upheld the contention. The government contended that the abolition of the post was a policy decision taken in the interest of the economy. Since the expenditure on the salary front for these works was going beyond manageable limits, the government thought it necessary to abolish the post. The court steered clear of these arguments, but was categorical that whatever action the government took should be in accordance with the law of the land. Referring to the government's stand that the reason for the abolition of the post was the annual entailment of an expenditure running to Rs.75 crores, the Bench observed, "If the rise in the salary component was due to spiralling prices of commodities and consequent revision of wages, the gang mazdoors cannot be blamed."

The Bench said it could never be held that there was lack of performance by the mazdoors, warranting removal from service.

Scaling new heights

The Sikkim government lays emphasis on policies that can transform Sikkimese society into a well-informed, efficient and robust entity.

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NESTLED in the shadow of its `guardian deity' Mount Khanchendzonga (8,598 metres), the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim merged with India on May 16, 1975, to become its 22nd State. Flanked by Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west and southern China including Tibet in the north, Sikkim covers an area of just 7,096 sq km whose strategic importance cannot be overstated. Majestic mountain peaks and frothing rivers that weave their way through virgin foothill forests and lush paddy fields lend to the State a rich biodiversity of breathtaking beauty.

The State has four districts, each with its own special flavour. East district, where the capital Gangtok is located, is the hub of all administrative activities. Also located in this district are the famous Rumtek monastery, Lake Tsomgo, Nathu La (pass), and the Saramasa Garden, home to many exotic orchids and rare tropical and temperate plants.

For white water rafting down the Teesta or treks through dense rhododendron forests and other such adventure sports, one has to head to West district. North Sikkim, with its Valley of Flowers and hot springs, is considered to be the most beautiful of the districts, while South houses some of the oldest monasteries and is the preferred area for mountain biking and trekking.

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Under the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) government, influx of tourists into Sikkim has increased by over 60 per cent in the last 10 years. Tourist arrivals have recorded an annual growth rate of almost 10 per cent in the last six years.

The SDF government's main thrust is to make Sikkim the "number one ecotourism destination in India". Special efforts have been made to develop tourist villages, trekking routes, adventure sports, biodiversity parks, hotels and cultural centres. Thirty model villages having all the modern facilities are being constructed to give tourists a first-hand experience of the traditional rural lifestyle.

Sikkim, endowed with a variety of flora and fauna, many of them unique to the Eastern Himalayas, is a paradise for nature lovers, environmentalists and botanists. They include more than 400 species of flowering plants, 33 species of ferns, 11 species of oaks, 144 species of mammals, 600 types of birds and 400 kinds of butterflies.

The State also draws a large number of pilgrims to its holy shrines and monasteries. This has prompted the government to promote `pilgrim tourism' vigorously; it has decided to support at least one tourist centre in each gram panchayat. Sikkim has 107 Buddhist monasteries, 32 Lhakhangs, 11 Tsamkhangs (meditation centres), nine hotsprings believed to have curative powers, 320 Hindu temples, 74 churches and six mosques.

A pilgrimage-cum-cultural centre is being developed on top of Solophok Hill near Namchi, the headquarters of South district, to attract tourists to the region, which is known for its natural beauty. A ropeway will link Namchi with Samdruptse, where a 108-feet (32.9 metres) statute of Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim, is being constructed.

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One of the main achievements of the SDF government is decentralisation and devolution of financial powers to panchayati raj institutions (PRIs). To empower rural communities and ensure human development, the government is focussing on a number of inter-related areas. The emphasis is on decentralisation and participatory and beneficiary-driven approaches to improve the delivery of drinking water, sanitation, connectivity, micro credit, health and education to the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. This would help bridge the gap between urban and rural societies.

Fiscal and administrative decentralisation is given adequate thrust in order to enable local institutions to undertake various development programmes. At the same time, community management for the sustainable use of natural resources and common property resources is encouraged through Joint Forest Management (JFM). The government is also trying to create off-farm employment opportunities so that rural enterprise can become the engine of growth and poverty alleviation.

In fact, 70 per cent of the State budget goes towards the development of rural areas. Gram panchayats have the power to prepare, sanction and implement schemes up to Rs.3 lakhs and the zilla panchayats up to Rs.10 lakhs. To enable the panchayats to exercise these powers, in the last fiscal the government provided Rs.10 lakhs to each of the 166 gram panchayats and Rs.50 lakhs each to the four zilla panchayats. The government is contemplating increasing the amount in the current fiscal.

All government institutions within a gram panchayat, such as primary schools, primary health centres and libraries, as also rural tourism, minor irrigation works and so on, are under the administrative control of the president of the respective gram panchayat. (In the panchayat elections, 33.5 per cent of the seats have been reserved for women.) "Transparency and accountability are the salient features of this democratic decentralisation. The common people of the villages are given equal opportunity in the decision-making process in all development activities," a government official told Frontline.

A positive fallout of the implementation of this system, including the devolution of financial powers to PRIs, is that life has become a lot easier for the common people in the villages. They no longer have to run from pillar to post in the district headquarters and in Gangtok to get their work done. All their requirements can be met at the gram prashashan kendra in their village.

The government is determined to make Sikkim poverty-free by 2015 by laying stress on pro-poor and poverty alleviation schemes. The government is promoting the use of modern and scientific methods in agriculture, which is the main source of income for the majority. It is encouraging the use of organic manure so that the soil retains its fertility. The low consumption of chemical fertilizers (5.8 kg a hectare) and the widespread practice of mixed farming are factors that will aid in the State going "fully organic" in terms of fertilizer use. One of the targets of the government is to make Sikkim an `organic State' by 2019.

"Sikkim's economy is dependent mainly on agriculture. Almost 85 per cent of the population live in the rural areas and only improvement in agriculture can better their lot. Agriculture, horticulture, livestock, fisheries and agro-forestry can be integrated to give viable farming systems to farmers," said Chief Minister Pawan Chamling. The government is also giving priority to the cultivation of cash crops such as cardamom, ginger, peas, pumpkin, squash, mushroom, and fruits such as pear, orange and passion fruit. Cymbidium orchid is also a thrust crop. Sikkim, in fact, accounts for 80 per cent of large cardamom produced in the country. The total food production in the State has increased steadily from over 58.56 thousand tonnes in 1980-81 to 1.03 lakh tonnes in 2000-01, all produced on just 64,000 hectares of net sown area.

"All possible avenues for self-employment shall be explored for the benefit of the educated unemployed youth in the State. All programmes undertaken by the government shall have a special bearing on the needs and aspirations of the youth,'' Chamling stated in his Independence Day address this year.

Sikkim occupies only 0.22 per cent of the total geographical area of the country, but it is home to about a third of the flowering plants of India. While forest cover accounts for over 44 per cent of the State's geographical area, 84 per cent of the State's total area is under the administration of the Forest, Environment and Wildlife Department.

Despite the considerable tree cover, its density in the main areas is low, and for that reason the government has initiated a major afforestation programme. The `Smriti Van' (memorial forest) project is an idea conceived by Chamling and involves all sections of society. Under this programme, social, religious and educational institutions; departments of the government, including Police and Tourism; and non-governmental organisations are voluntarily undertaking massive plantation programmes across the State in memory of their loved ones. The government has also launched a scheme called `green road', under which trees will be planted along the entire 2,025 km of roads in the State. This project is expected to be completed within five years.

To protect the eco-fragile forest areas, the government has banned the use of non-biodegradable products such as plastic bags. According to forest officials, Sikkim holds the distinction of being the first State in the country to implement this ban effectively. The government has also banned grazing of domestic and semi-domestic animals in the reserve forest areas. "The State government took this step at a considerable political risk, as this practice of grazing has been continuing for ages. But the government realised the importance of stopping this and went ahead with its decision,'' a forest official told Frontline.

Medicinal plants are another area that the government has focussed on. Sikkim harbours over 1,200 medicinal plants, of which only 424 species have been identified and documented. To oversee the formulation of projects and schemes related to these plants it set up the State Medicinal Plant Board two years ago. The Board has approved the creation of `herbal gardens' at 13 locations in the State, which will provide farmers material for the cultivation of medicinal plants.

The government also places a lot of importance on pollution control. Sikkim has four Air Quality Monitoring Stations, of which two are in Gangtok. "Pollution here is very much within the national standards. What we have here is mostly vehicular pollution as there are a lot of cars plying up and down the State," said Dr. Gopal Pradhan, Senior Scientist at the Sikkim Environment and Pollution Control Board. Sikkim has 227 water bodies, including three important lakes and five hot springs. Keeping a check on their pollution is also important. There are nine regular monitoring systems on the Teesta itself, and the pollution control authorities conduct bio-monitoring of the lakes in eastern Sikkim.

Apart from these, the State government conducts mass awareness campaigns on environment and pollution through ad-films, songs and the local cable network. "We also go to schools to deliver lectures and carry out different programmes," Pradhan said.

Census 2001 recorded Sikkim's population at 5,40,493. The literacy rate is an impressive 69.68 per cent and the State government is focussing continually on improving it. On Independence Day, Chamling announced that his government was determined to make Sikkim 100 per cent literate by 2015. Recently, the State won an award for best performance in the field of education among the smaller States. "This has further encouraged us to achieve our target of zero literacy in 10 years' time," said Chamling.

A house-to-house survey conducted by the government in 2001 showed that 15,000 children between the ages of six and 14 did not go to school. By the end of 2003, the number was brought down to 7,000. The Education Department's thrust area is to bring all these children within the fold of the education system, and it intends to accomplish this in a phased manner by 2007. "To attract these children to schools we have launched schemes such as supply of free uniforms, textbooks and exercise books up to class V; free textbooks and uniforms to girl students up to class VIII and textbooks at 50 per cent discount for girls from class VI to class IX," said an Education Department official.

The government has also started a `Total Literacy Campaign' for those between the ages of 15 and 35. Four hundred learning centres, managed by volunteers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), have been established for the purpose. The government has projected that 75 per cent of the 50,000 illiterate people will be covered by the campaign in the next three years.

The Education Department has also introduced the vocational stream in 40 senior secondary schools from the current academic session. Such vocational education is designed to cater to the needs of those outside the organised sector and aimed at reducing the mismatch between the demand and supply of skilled manpower.

Sikkim being a relatively new State, and also because of its topography, is not particularly developed in the organised sector. Hence the government's emphasis on the unorganised sector. The government is also trying to identify new vocational courses that will be able to realise the potential of local resources.

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Apart from its widespread forest cover, which is the source of timber, herbs and medicinal plants, Sikkim boasts rich mineral deposits of copper, zinc, dolomite, quartzite, graphite and talc. A recent study by water scientists put Sikkim's hydroelectric potential at 8,000 MW, of which only 0.2 per cent has been tapped. Aware of these natural advantages, the government is taking concerted efforts to attract more investments into the State.

With the opening of the Nathu La Trade Route after the recent accord between India and China, the State government is looking at a quantum jump in bilateral trade between the two countries. This is expected to give a great boost to the industrial sector in Sikkim. Apart from banking, transport and warehousing activities, tourism is bound to increase enormously.

The State has identified certain thrust areas for concentrated industrial development. These include floriculture, animal husbandry and dairy products, handloom, handicrafts and village products, electronics and software and tea, besides tourism and agro-based industries. To facilitate development in these sectors, investors have been promised additional incentives.

In its efforts to encourage more investments in the State, the SDF government is leaving no stone unturned to develop infrastructure. A new airport is being constructed at Pakyong, east Sikkim, to give a fillip to travel and tourism. The Gangtok Ropeway system, with three terminals and a total length of 1,000 metres, is complete and open to tourists.

One of the main reasons for the government's success in implementing its projects to promote tourism and investments is the tight monitoring and evaluation system it enforces at every level of operation. The vision for a new Sikkim is aptly put by Chamling: "Our aim is to transform the entire Sikkimese society into a conscious, well-informed, robust and capable entity. Our hallmark is competitiveness and efficiency with solid emphasis on respect for and conservation of our rich traditional heritage."

Pollution unchecked

A Supreme Court-appointed committee comes down heavily on the Kerala State Pollution Control Board for its failure to stop industries from polluting crucial river systems such as the Periyar.

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Implementing pollution control norms in industrially backward Kerala is like opening a can of worms. But as communities in the toxic shadow of industrial units have been saying, `the sooner, the better'.

In late August, a Supreme Court-appointed committee startled a recalcitrant State Pollution Control Board into action, to try and reform erring industries. For the first time since the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989, came into force, the Board issued closure notices to 198 of the 400-odd industries generating such wastes.

A three-member team of the Supreme Court's Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes and Hazardous Chemicals that visited the State recently found "to its shock" that Kerala had no treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF). Several industrial units did not have authorisation as required under the Rules, and they openly flouted the provisions of the Air and Water Acts. Pollutants from their premises had also contaminated ground water supplies. The committee found that near the Udyogamandal Industrial Area in Kochi, the Periyar river, the "lifeline of Kerala", had been converted into a "vast, illegal TSDF" because of the dumping of huge quantities of hazardous wastes. The large-scale, illegal dumping of wastes into the Periyar by hundreds of industries in the Eloor-Edayar industrial area had been consistently opposed by the people, citizens' groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). After conducting surveys, for example, in 1999 and 2002, Greenpeace, the international environmental group, had declared Eloor a "toxic hotspot of global proportions".

The committee said that several industries, many of them owned by the government, which "should have long been closed because they are still relying on obsolete technology and obsolete products", were in operation, "not only impacting negatively on the environment but losing crores of public money". " It looked as if the State had pushed itself into a time-warp from which it was unable to extricate itself," the team's report said.

In April 2004, the committee had asked the State PCB to take steps to ensure that no industrial unit would function without authorisation beyond May 31, 2004, the deadline set by the Supreme Court, and warned the Board of contempt proceedings if it failed to make this certain. It had also wanted the Board to monitor whether all industries displayed information at their gates about the hazardous chemicals and wastes they handled. It had asked the PCB to find sufficient land to be notified as the site for a common TSDF by May 31. The Chief Secretary was asked to ensure the PCB's compliance with these directions. Yet, the committee pointed out, the PCB had continued to disregard the court order.

At the conclusion of its visit, the committee issued a slew of directions to "reverse this terrible situation in the State and to ensure compliance of the court's orders." It directed the State PCB to order the immediate closure of industrial units that have no authorisation to operate under the Hazardous Waste Rules until they installed proper facilities to dispose of the wastes. Based on the `polluter pays' principle, it imposed a collective fine of Rs.2.5 crores on all the units in the industrial estate of Eloor and Edayar. The fine is to be utilised "to monitor the health of the river, to create conditions for the re-entry of life in the river and to restore its ecology". The committee said it could think of no other way "to raise an appropriate alarm and to jolt the industrial units into doing something drastic about the present state of affairs". The PCB was also asked to set up a Local Area Environment Committee (LAEC) to conduct an environment audit, within six months, of all the 247 industries near the Periyar and in the Udyogamandal industrial estate.

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The committee has warned that should it find that these actions do not turn the situation around and reverse the pollution of the Periyar within six months, "it will have no hesitation in directing the closure of the entire Udyogamandal industrial estate and ordering a special audit of the area. Units will be allowed to re-open one by one thereafter only if they are able to convince the KPCB that all measures have been installed to ensure discharge as per EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards and HW (Hazardous Wastes) Rules."

The three-member team had visited several industrial units from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi in southern Kerala, and the controversial Coca Cola and Pepsi plants in northern Palakkad district. The committee directed many industries, including Hindustan Coca Cola unit, Plachimada, the Binani Zinc Limited, Binanipuram, Edayar and Hindustan Newsprint Factory, Velloor, Kottayam, to provide water supply "through pipelines" to the residences of all members of the affected communities. It also asked the PCB to set up four committees under its Regional Officers "to create a register of persons affected and to ensure that the above companies install piped water supply to the residences of all the persons so affected" within six months. It issued directions individually regarding many industrial units it had visited. For example, it said that the Hindustan Insecticides Ltd., Eloor (a Government of India enterprise manufacturing insecticides, where a major fire had engulfed the endosulfan plant in July) should be closed down and that the area "should be allowed to recover from the various toxic materials and chemicals used by the company and discharged by it into the environment over the decades." It said that the company "should be allowed to reopen only if it can shift to clean technology and a new product mix." It also ordered the closure of Cochin Minerals and Rutile Ltd, Edayar, "until and unless the pollution of the Periyar is brought to a complete halt". It found that Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd (FACT) had discharged its gypsum wastes in the open environment and recommended that the Government of Kerala direct the company "to hand over five acres of the land degraded by such gypsum disposal for the construction of a TSDF which could be used to handle the wastes generated from the entire Udyogamandal area".

The committee said that the public sector Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd., Chavara (near Kollam) should not be allowed to function until it solved the serious problem of acidic iron sludge from seeping into the neighbourhood wells making the water useless. Perhaps the most significant direction of the committee was to the State government asking it to institute an inquiry to find out why the PCB had "wilfully and callously" disregarded the directions of the Supreme Court Order of October 2003 and identify the officials responsible for it. The Secretary (Health), Government of Kerala and the Chairman, KPCB, were both mentioned for contempt proceedings "for their wilful disregard and non-compliance of the order of the Supreme Court". It said that "given the current deplorable scenario of hazardous waste management in the State", the State government should "revamp the KPCB as necessary to inject dynamism, courage and foresight in its functioning and to make it a really performing Board."

At a meeting of trade unions and industry managements convened by the State government in Thiruvananthapuram on September 14, management representatives said they were willing to implement the directions of the committee but demanded more time to install facilities for effluent treatment and safe disposal of hazardous wastes. Considering the disruption that might be caused by the sudden closure of so many industries, the government has agreed to take up their demand before the monitoring committee to avoid closure and to find adequate land for a common TSDF near the industrial areas.

Allegations of corruption are rife within the corridors of the State PCB as explanation for its shocking inaction. The officials of the Board are a divided lot - those who had failed to take action under the Hazardous Wastes Rules all this while and those who were "in the dock for the inaction and misdeeds of the others". There have been strange coincidental instances where the PCB ordered the closure of a few erring industrial units when competing units with the same product mix came up in other States. Trade unions leaders too have asked the government to "stem the rot" within the PCB.

A deadlock in Manipur

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's meeting with the Apunba Lup leadership turns unproductive with the agitating parties agreeing for nothing short of the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the whole of Manipur.

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EVEN as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government dithered on the vexed issue of withdrawing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA, 1958, from Manipur, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's visit to the trouble-torn State in the first week of September raised hopes of resolving the ongoing stir there demanding the withdrawal of the Act. But the visit failed to yield any result in this regard.

Leaders of the Apunba Lup, the banner organisation of 32 social organisations and groups of Manipur, which is spearheading the more-than-two-month-long movement demanding the withdrawal of the Act, said that their meeting with the Union Home Minister had been "a waste of time and energy". The Apunba Lup also turned down Patil's offer for further talks and vowed to intensify the agitation until its demand for the complete withdrawal of the Act was met.

After a 30-minute meeting with Patil at the Raj Bhavan, leaders of the Apunba Lup accused both the Centre and the State government of passing the buck. They pointed out that while the State government claimed that only the Centre could take a final decision, Patil had tried to pass on the responsibility to the State government. They accused Patil of being "insensitive" to the issue and said they were totally "dissatisfied". "This reflects how serious Delhi is about issues pertaining to the northeastern region," said a spokesman of the Apunba Lup after the meeting.

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Patil, on the other hand, said at a press conference after the meeting that some of the demands of the Apunba Lup could be accepted while some others required further discussions. He said that the Centre was keen to deal with the situation with "sympathy and understanding". Leaders of the Apunba Lup, however, maintained that they had only one demand - that of the withdrawal of the Act - and that had not been accepted.

Patil was greeted on his maiden visit to the State by a general strike called by the Apunba Lup. The movement leaders initially refused to meet Patil in protest against the arrest of one of them, Sapamcha Kangleipal, president of the Manipur Forward Youth Front, on charges of having links with militants. The arrest came as part of the crackdown launched on the Apunba Lup by the Okram Ibobi Singh government in a bid to crush the movement.

THE ongoing agitation was stirred by the alleged rape and custodial death of a 32-year-old Manipuri woman, Thangjam Manorama, after she was picked up by personnel of the Assam Rifles engaged in counter-insurgency operations in the State, on the night of July 10. A nude protest staged by a dozen women on July 15 to condemn Manorama's killing sparked off a widespread movement demanding the withdrawal of the Act from the State. Educational institutions too came to a standstill with students boycotting classes in support of the agitation.

The Ibobi Singh government withdrew the "disturbed area" status from a 20-square-km area falling within Imphal municipal limits in order to render the AFSPA ineffective but the Apunba Lup insisted on the AFSPA's withdrawal from the entire State.

Close on the heels of Patil's visit, Irom Sharmila, a 33-year-old Manipuri woman who has been on a fast since November 2000 demanding the repeal of the AFSPA, was released from judicial custody. She had been remanded to judicial custody by the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal, until September 24 after she was re-arrested (and booked for attempting suicide) for refusing to end the fast. But Sharmila resumed her fast upon her release from the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital where she was being forcibly nose-fed. The ward she was kept in had been turned into a veritable jail. On two occasions earlier, when she was released after being held on the same grounds, she had resumed the fast the moment she was set free.

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Meanwhile the C. Upendra Commission, which is inquiring into the circumstances that led to Manorama's death, has sought an extension of its term by another month. The Army Court of Inquiry, for its part, is awaiting the results of the DNA tests on blood samples collected from 33 of its personnel.

About five days after Patil's visit to Imphal, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee reportedly said in Kolkata that the Centre was considering limiting the scope of the Act in the region. On September 14, the Chief of the Army Staff, General N.C. Vij, was understood to have told Patil during a presentation on the internal security situation that counter-insurgency operations in Manipur would be compromised if the AFSPA was diluted or withdrawn. Gen. Vij said that the withdrawal of the Act from Manipur could give rise to similar demands from other States in the region and from Jammu and Kashmir. Prior to Patil's visit to Imphal, the Army chief also visited it to take stock of the ground situation.

While the Army's perception of the situation in Manipur would be a crucial input for the Centre in its effort to devise a strategy for Manipur, any further delay in reopening the dialogue process between the Centre and the leaders of the Apunba Lup is most likely to complicate the situation. Observers, however, feel that much would depend on the State government's role; if it continues to crack down on the Apunba Lup leadership, it will fail to create an atmosphere that is conducive to talks.

On September 13, former Manipur Chief Minister Rishang Keishing called on Patil in Delhi and impressed upon him the need for reopening talks with the Apunba Lup. Keishing later told mediapersons that the Home Minister was quite prepared to talk.

Separatist strains

The political row over TRS leader Chandrasekar Rao's outburst against Congress president Sonia Gandhi blows over but the issue of statehood for Telangana will prove to be a constant source of strain in the relations between the two parties.

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THE demand for a separate Telangana State has remained a divisive issue in Andhra Pradesh politics for over five decades. Lives have been lost and political careers made and ruined, even as the debate on the advisability of breaking up a State formed on linguistic basis continues.

It was not surprising, therefore, when Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhar Rao stirred a hornet's nest by threatening to "drag even [Congress president] Sonia Gandhi and [Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister] Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy to the bazaar" if the Congress reneged on its promise of a separate Telangana.

Incensed Congressmen took to the streets, burnt the effigies of Chandrasekhar Rao and destroyed the TRS office in Karimnagar. At one point, the tenuous political ties between the Congress and the TRS appeared to be on the verge of snapping.

The TRS chief's remarks at a general body meeting of the party in Hyderabad were quite characteristic of his `blow-hot-blow-cold' attitudes towards his ally, the Congress. Just a few days earlier, Chandrasekhar Rao had embarrassed his partymen by describing Sonia Gandhi as `a goddess' whom the Telangana people would worship. Such lavish praise was apparently an expression of gratitude for the positive observations on Telangana made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his September 4 press conference in New Delhi. "The common minimum programme (CMP) has clearly spelt out what we need to do in this regard. We need to consult all concerned. Proper consultations have to be carried out, I think, if we are committed to the establishment of separate State of Telangana," the Prime Minister had said.

The TRS chief construed this statement to mean that the Union Cabinet would approve the formation of Telangana, most likely in December.His expectations run counter to the political realities in New Delhi and Hyderabad. Admittedly, the CMP of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has promised to look into the demand for statehood for the Telangana region at "an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus". But Chandrasekhar Rao claims that Sonia Gandhi had instructed senior Congress leaders to work out a timeframe to resolve the issue.

But, the Left parties, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), are not in favour of separation. They have always sworn by the concept of `Vishalaandra', or integrated Andhra Pradesh, comprising the coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema regions. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) too has consistently opposed the division of the State.

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The State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a proponent of smaller States, had passed a resolution favouring the separation of Telangana. It even solicited public support in the 1999 general elections on the rather specious slogan of "one vote, two States". But upon assuming power at the Centre, it abandoned the campaign under pressure from its ally, the TDP.

The Congress's stand on Telangana has always been ambivalent - favouring separation when out of power and pushing the issue under the carpet when in power. In fact, the latest demand for separation came from the Telangana Congress Legislators Forum, a ginger group in the Congress in the last Assembly. This demand was sparked off in no small measure by the Centre's decision to create the States of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal.

However, Chandrasekhar Rao wrested the issue from the Congress legislators and converted it into the TRS' election plank. He won five Lok Sabha and 26 Assembly seats in the recent elections. Emboldened by the public response to the Telangana issue, Chandrasekhar Rao went to the extent of claiming that he need not deal with State Congress leaders in view of his equation with the Congress high command. His stock had risen after he renounced the Shipping portfolio to accommodate the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's demands immediately after the Cabinet formation at the Centre in May.

Notwithstanding the mention of Telangana in the CMP, the Congress favours the constitution of a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) to look into the larger issue of creating smaller States. Chandrasekhar Rao is opposed to this idea and wants the ruling coalition at the Centre to abide by the recommendations made by the Fazal Ali Commission in 1954.

The first SRC had recommended statehood for Telangana on the grounds that in a united State there was the possibility of the Andhra majority cornering the benefits. To prevent such an eventuality, the Jawaharlal Nehru government gave several assurances to Telangana on sharing resources - water as well as revenue - and a quota in education and employment.

There is a strong feeling in Telangana that history had always given a raw deal to the region. The feudal system led to the exploitation of agricultural labourers. In the post-Independence period too, the grievance was that the region did not receive the same attention as coastal Andhra in terms of education, irrigation, employment and rural development.

As it did not take long for the dilution of the guarantees given by Nehru, a violent agitation for a separate Telangana erupted in 1969-70 when more than 370 persons, mostly youth, were killed. Riding high on these sentiments, the Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS) led by the firebrand separatist leader, Marri Channa Reddy, swept the 1971 Lok Sabha elections winning 10 seats in the region. But, the separatist cause received a body blow when the TPS merged with the Congress. Six years later, Channa Reddy became the Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh and took on board all the stalwarts of the Telangana movement.

Chandrasekhar Rao is no different from Channa Reddy when it comes to demagogy. He defended his remarks against Sonia Gandhi saying that `dragging to the streets', in native Telangana idiom, only meant agitating on an issue forcefully. But, as his remarks drew widespread condemnation, Chandrasekhar Rao reportedly expressed regrets to the Congress high command. The Congress also took up a damage-control exercise. AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh exhorted partymen to stop their war of words. Making an appearance at the residence of Chandrasekhar Rao in New Delhi, he said the Congress would abide by the decision of Sonia Gandhi on Telangana.

The process of consultation on Telangana is expected to begin after the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, where the issue of a separate Vidarbha State has been raised by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Having buried the hatchet, the TRS chief made a smart political move by announcing that he will campaign for the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra.

However, the last word on the strained relations between the Congress and TRS has not yet been said. Rajasekhara Reddy, who has not taken kindly to the TRS chief's remarks against him and Sonia Gandhi, said rather ominously that the controversy was not a closed chapter.

`Sikkim is among the best performing States'

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Interview with Chief Minister Pawan Chamling.

Sikkim Chief Minister and president of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) Pawan Chamling was voted to power for the third consecutive term in the Assembly elections held this year. His chequered political career began in 1972 at the age of 22. He first got elected to the Sikkim Legislative Assembly in 1985. After being dropped from the Nar Bahadur Bhandari government in 1992, Chamling formed a new party, the SDF, on March 4, 1993, thus throwing the gauntlet at Bhandari, his former political mentor. In the Assembly elections the following December the SDF recorded a convincing victory and assumed power. Known as the leader of the `bare-foot people', Chamling's main political thrusts have been the development of the rural belt, eradicating poverty and fighting illiteracy.

Chamling is popularly known as the `poet politician' of Sikkim. His collection of poems, Antaheen Sapna - Mero Biapana, won him the Chintan Puroskar Award in 1987. His new book Prajatantrik Andolan Ko Aatma Sangharsh, based on his political career as a believer of democracy, was released on July 15 this year. He also set up a publication unit called Nirman Prakashan and brought out a literary magazine Nirman in 1977. Nirman Prakashan has published more than 200 books till date authored by both novice and veteran writers. In this interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, Chamling speaks about his vision of Sikkim and the tasks ahead. Excerpts:

Sikkim recently won the award for the Best Performing State among the smaller States in the country in the field of education. Now where do you go from here?

Well, there is no looking back now. The recognition given to Sikkim in such a prestigious national forum not only was heartening and encouraging but also has inspired us to work with greater vigour in other sectors too where also we are bracketed in the top five. We have already started making vigorous effort on formulating and implementing long-term programmes to make Sikkim the best State in the country and the work which the government will accomplish in the next five years shall continue to bear fruits even after 100 years.

You are now in the third term of your government. What have been your contributions for the development of Sikkim in the last 11 years of your tenure?

It is there for everyone to see, the transformation that has taken place in Sikkim in all the different sectors of developmental activities and the improved living standard of the people. Though we joined the Indian Union 28 years after Independence burdened with excessive loans secured by the previous [Nar Bahadur] Bhandari government, we manage to overcome these handicaps with our sincerity and hard work and consequently today Sikkim is among the best performing States in the country. We have during the last 11 years restored all essential democratic freedoms and people no longer go through life under the shadow of state-inspired terrorism and various discrepancies but live with honour and dignity.

What are your priorities in the field of economic development?

Tourism, education, health and industries are our priorities though other sectors too receive our earnest attention. We have allocated 17 per cent of our entire budget for the education sector, which is the highest in the country. When we took over the government the literacy rate of the State was 56 per cent, which has now increased to over 70 per cent. We are now determined to make Sikkim a 100 per cent literate State by the year 2015. A range of education-related institutions will be established in Sikkim where stress will be laid on providing quality education.

Why is Sikkim a better investment destination than other Indian States?

Sikkim, an investment-friendly State, has the most liberal investment policy and its door is open to all investors, both from within and outside the country. Though Sikkim may not be in a position to give the kind of money and profits to the private investors like other Indian States, we can offer some distinct advantages like cheap and friendly labour, flexible labour laws, pollution-free environment, hassle-free atmosphere and above all peace and tranquillity, the precursor for any development venture. With priority on low volume and high value our State also offers a number of financial and other incentives to prospective investors, which are better than other States in terms of concession to industrialists. All these factors have created a very congenial climate for prospective investors and made Sikkim a better investment destination than other Indian States.

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What are these financial and other incentives offered to investors in Sikkim?

A new Industrial Policy has been extended to Sikkim along with other northeastern States. The new policy provides for a number of incentives to prospective industrialists willing to set up industry in Sikkim. There is a 100 per cent income tax and excise duty exemption to investors for a period of 10 years from the date of commencement of commercial production. Working capital loan will also be provided to all new industrial units in notified locations for 10 years with an interest subsidy of 3 per cent on the loan. Certain key areas in the State have been earmarked as industrial zones.

Do you have a single-window policy for expediting industrial ventures?

Of course, we have. In fact, the State government has now set up the Board of Investment under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister to implement the single-window policy. This is an apex body that examines investment proposals and gives clearance at the highest level. The objective is to provide efficient services to prospective investors in terms of speedy project approvals, grant of facilities and coordination among government agencies. This will considerably facilitate the investment proposals through a friendly and straightforward system.

We understand that education is free in Sikkim.

Yes, you are right. Not only education is free in the State up to the degree level, but students up to the primary level receive uniforms and textbooks free of cost. From this year, students of monastic schools and Sanskrit pathshalas will also be provided with free uniforms and textbooks up to the primary level. Financial assistance will be provided to BPL [below poverty line] students up to the college level apart from the regular stipends and scholarships.

Please tell us something about the health sector in your State.

Medical treatment is provided to the people free of cost in the State. Sikkim was the first State in the country to carry out the Hepatitis B vaccination for children free of cost. The State government is also going ahead with providing more health facilities, including linking up the STNM Hospital with the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi through telemedicine. We are also working towards covering all the BPL families under the health insurance scheme.

Sikkim has distinguished itself by constructing the tallest statue of Guru Padmasambhava in the world. How was the idea conceived and the seemingly impossible project successfully completed in a small state like Sikkim?

In 1994 when my government assumed power an idea was born in my mind to pay a fitting tribute to the great saint who blessed Sikkim 1,200 years back, by installing a mammoth statue of the saint which the people would behold with the awe and respect Guru Padmasambhava deserves. There were a few initial reservations from various quarters about undertaking such a gigantic project. However, with the blessings and unforgettable cooperation from His Eminence the Dodrupchen Rimpoche and dedication and hard work of a number of State government departments and devoted individuals, we could complete the prestigious project successfully.

What are the prospects in hydropower?

Sikkim is blessed with tremendous hydroelectric potential, to the tune of 8,000 MW, and plans to generate 4,000 MW of electricity by the year 2015. With proper planning and implementation of power projects in quick succession and with the help of other agencies, the power sector in Sikkim will be self-sufficient by the year 2006. After the completion of Teesta hydroelectric power project Sikkim will have surplus power and will be in a position to sell electricity to other neighbouring States. After the completion of this project Sikkim will be self-sufficient in power and economically self-reliant. My government has also decided to provide power to prospective industrialists and investors at the production and generation cost as incentives.

How is the opening up of trade with China through the Nathu La going to help business in Sikkim?

Resumption of the historic trade route through Nathu La is going to help business in Sikkim in no small measure. As you are aware, the trade route through Nathu La is the shortest route between India and China and Sikkim, through which this trade route passes, will derive multiple benefits as it will give a huge boost to the tourism industry and become a hub of commercial activities and the focal point of business transactions. Infrastructure will be created in Sikkim to facilitate trade activities, which in turn will generate more employment and economic prosperity for the people of Sikkim. Both India and China can reap benefits from the World Trade Organisation Centre which is being set up in Sikkim. It may be mentioned here that Sikkim is the first State in the country where a WTO Centre is being established.

Sikkim is gradually becoming an important tourist destination. Any major initiative to deal with the growing influx of tourists?

Sikkim is well-endowed with natural resources like mountains, forests, rivers, glaciers, etc. There is no scope for setting up heavy industries in the State which could be detrimental to the ecological balance of this pollution-free State known for its rich flora and fauna and bio-diversity. We are therefore planning to concentrate on eco-tourism by using our natural resources in a sustainable manner so as not to disturb the rich socio-cultural fabric of the State.

We are also promoting village tourism for which thirty model villages having all the basic and modern facilities are being constructed in different parts of the State. All these will enable tourists to enjoy a first-hand experience of the rich heritage and lifestyle of Sikkim. My government is ensuring that these model villages are in every tourist's itinerary. Pilgrim tourism is also being promoted to enable tourists to visit comfortably the old temples, monasteries, churches, gurdwaras, mosques and other shrines in Sikkim. The State government has also decided to support at least one tourist centre in each gram panchayat unit in the State. With the re-opening of the Nathu La we are also exploring the possibility of introducing pilgrim tourism to Mount Kailas and Manasarowar Lake in Tibet.

How are Sikkim's relations with the Centre?

Our relation with the Union Government are always cordial irrespective of the government at the Centre. Our party is a regional party with a national outlook. We receive adequate aid and assistance from the Centre as we always sincerely work for the interest of the people, the State and the nation, cutting across party lines. Whichever government is formed in the Centre, we expect them to give us due justice and respect the mandate given by the public in favour of the ruling State government. In return, the Union government can rest assured that Sikkim will completely maintain the peace and tranquillity in this sensitive border State and utilise the fund provided by the Centre in a most fruitful manner for the welfare of the State and its people.

What is the situation with Karmapa now? Will the Centre allow him to go to Rumtek?

This is purely a religious issue, so it is very sensitive. Our job is to maintain law and order and preserve peace and tranquillity. The people of Sikkim, of course, want that the Karmapa, Ugyen Thinley Dorji, should be enthroned in Rumtek as soon as possible. However, the matter is under the purview of the Union government.

Is some controversy brewing in Khechopalri Lake in West Sikkim?

The controversy is created by a handful of vested interests who are bent on disturbing the age-old communal harmony of this peaceful State. These anti-national forces are making an issue out of a non-issue. My government has declared the Khechopalri Lake as one of the sacred places in the State, along with a number of religious sites. Sikkim, like our great country, is a secular State where people from different faiths and beliefs have complete freedom of religion. The vast majority of our people live in complete harmony and are tolerant to each other's faith. It is a handful of these disruptive forces, who are inciting the simple and peaceful people and misleading the Central government with white lies. Any impartial individual or group can visit this sacred lake and find for themselves the truth.

A run-in at Raikia

The attack on a church in Raikia over a local dispute involving traders is symptomatic of the growing intolerance of Hindu fundamentalist elements in the tribal pockets of Orissa.

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KANDHAMAL district in Orissa, which is dominated by tribal people, is known for its turmeric cultivation and backbreaking poverty. But in recent years, it has earned infamy for the frequent communal conflicts involving the Sangh Parivar and the church. The latest incident was an attack on a 50-year-old Catholic church in the panchayat headquarter town of Raikia, and it had its roots in a dispute over the encroachment of government land outside a school run by the minority community.

The local administration of Raikia apparently failed to gauge the growing discontent among a section of the local traders over the encroachment. The simmering tension reached a flashpoint on August 26 when the traders attacked the church near the school. Since then the Hindu fundamentalists and the Christian clergy have engaged in a war of words and the communal polarisation seems to be complete. While additional security forces have been deployed in the town, the police and the local administration seem to have sullied their image in the eyes of the people, particularly those of the minority community.

On August 2, the church authorities are said to have put a wire fence around the land and some local traders objected to this. In September 2000, the administration had demolished the 80-odd shops constructed illegally on this land and relocated the traders' establishments near the local bus terminal.

On August 4, the traders staged a dharna outside the office of the Block Development Officer and submitted a memorandum addressed to the District Collector of Kandhamal demanding removal of the encroachment. The same day the Tehsildar of Raikia visited the spot and removed a portion of the wire fencing. At a peace committee meeting convened by the administration the next day, it was resolved that the fence would be removed and people from both the communities would plant saplings at the disputed site. The resolution did not make it clear who would coordinate the removal of the fence and the planting of saplings.

No action was taken to remove the fence and plant saplings. On August 26, the traders were holding a meeting (a routine on the last Thursday of every month) when they were told that the church authorities were strengthening the fence. This sparked tension in the area and a truck parked near the church was set on fire by miscreants. The truck belonged to a sympathiser of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in the locality and incensed traders rushed to the spot and attacked the church adjacent to the school. Although three policemen were present on the spot, the traders and their supporters desecrated the church, burnt the Bible, and damaged the statues, furniture and musical instruments.

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Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, and V.V. Augustine, a member of the National Commission for Minorities, condemned the incident in Bhubaneswar the next day and held Hindu fundamentalists responsible for it. They also met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and underlined the need for the setting up of a Minorities Commission in the State.

Senior government officials and top brass of the police rushed to the spot and on the basis of complaints filed by members of both communities two cases were registered. Twelve persons - seven from the minority community and five from the majority community - were arrested and released on bail.

The peace committee met again under the chairmanship of the Revenue Divisional Commissioner (South) and observed that the situation took an ugly turn because the earlier resolution on the removal of the fence and the planting of saplings had not been implemented.

While it resolved to restore peace, members of both communities continued to engage in the blame game. An organisation owing allegiance to the Sangh Parivar even demanded that the government stop allotting land to minority organisations to run any community service. While Christian leaders say that the attack was planned and carried out at the instance of the Sangh Parivar leaders, the organisations having links with the Parivar maintain that it was an outburst of the people's anger.

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Leaders of various Opposition parties visited Raikia jointly and blamed the Parivar for the attack on the church. They criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-Biju Janata Dal coalition government for being soft on Sangh activists and demanded the arrest of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati who works in the area. A BJP delegation, too, visited the place and its leaders said in Bhubaneswar that the incident related to land grabbing by the church and had nothing to do with the communal divide. They demanded that the government repair the church without delay and take steps to improve the relationship between the two communities.

"Although the Raikia incident had its roots in the encroachment of government land, the administration should not take it lightly as the incident has widened the gap between the two communities," said Rabi Behera, secretary of the Ambedkar-Lohia Vichar Manch, a Bhubaneswar-based human rights group. Behera, who led a six-member team to Raikia, demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation or a probe by the NCM.

While the Sangh Parivar is out to capitalise on the hostility created by the Raikia incident, the government needs to remain vigilant to avoid recurrence of such incidents elsewhere, particularly when the Parivar is gaining strength in the tribal pockets of the State.

The real concerns

The controversy over the population growth rates only serves to deflect attention from serious issues such as the declining sex ratios.

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WHEN Census Commissioner and Registrar-General of India Jayant Kumar Banthia released the first report on religion data, he was probably unaware that a reference to the growth rate of a particular community would spark a major controversy, obfuscating in the process the good work done by the Census office. This is the first time that the Census office has been dragged into an unsavoury debate and accused of not very honourable motives. One of the viewpoints during the debate was that such controversial data should not have been presented at all. But those associated with the Census office both in the past and the present argue that all data are open to interpretation and that the exercise is conducted in the spirit and hope that its outcome would be put to good use - for planning policy.

The projected growth rate was not given for comparable years, which created confusion. The belated clarification by the Census office about "adjusted" and "unadjusted" data did not help much as some political forces were bent on capitalising on the confusion. In the controversy that ensued, what the Census Commissioner wanted to project - the cross-tabulated data on religions with socio-economic variables - was ignored. Though data on religions had been presented in previous Census reports this is the first time that a cross-tabulation was done which showed that fertility and well-being depend on factors like literacy and other development indicators. Again for the first time in independent India, the absolute number of literate people, workers and non-workers, in all the religious communities at the national and State levels have been presented.

In his preface to the report, Banthia clearly says: "It is hoped that this will serve as an important ready reference document for the key stakeholders such as planners, policy-makers and all other data users who are interested in various aspects of the religious demography of India. A long felt need of the various demographic and socio-economic indicators of the religious communities based on Census results is thus being fulfilled ultimately by the Census Organisation." Although he had been advised by several persons not to venture into making the linkages, Banthia was convinced that the bold initiative of putting socio-economic and demographic characteristics based on religious composition was in public interest and ultimately would result in public good. And public good, in his words, was ultimately about providing better and equitable opportunities to the people of India.

According to a former Census Commissioner, for some time now there have been requests from data users such as the National Minority Commission for a cross-classification of religion data by the socio-economic characteristics of religious communities so as to assess the level of their development. The introduction to the report on religion data says that in the pre-Independence period, some kind of cross-classification was done on the basis of the age and marital and educational status of the members of religious communities. Post-Independence, only data pertaining to sex and residence were provided by the Census office.

It is pertinent to point out that Hindus form the biggest block among all communities, comprising 81.4 per cent or 828 million of a total population of 1,028 million people. Muslims form 138 million of the population, the second largest block, though in absolute numbers and as percentage of the total population (12 .4 per cent), they lag far behind Hindus. Then come Christians at 24 million (2.3 per cent); Sikhs at 19 million (1.9 per cent), Buddhists at 8 million (0.8 per cent) and Jains at 4.2 million (0.4 per cent).

But going beyond these figures, the report clearly states that the adjusted data for all communities shows a declining growth rate barring Jains and Christians. The section giving a brief analysis of the data emphasises that no effort has been made to interpolate the religion data for Assam in 1981 and Jammu and Kashmir in 1991. Data users, suggests the report, therefore, should exercise caution while drawing conclusions in respect of trends in the proportions and growth rates at the all-India level.

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WHAT emerges from the cross-classified material provided is the close correlation of fertility levels and sex ratio levels with overall standards of living. The data on sex ratio, for instance, have some surprises. While the sex ratio among Sikhs is the lowest, it is above the national average among Muslims and a shade lesser among Hindus. Among the States, religious affiliation matters little where overall development indicators are healthy. The highest sex ratio of 1,058 has been reported in Kerala among Hindus followed by Chhattisgarh (990) and Pondicherry (987). Correspondingly there is a high sex ratio among Muslims in Kerala (1,082), followed by Pondicherry (1,097) and Tamil Nadu (1,020). The overall sex ratio among Christians is also high.

The data on the declining child sex ratio, one of the most disturbing features of Census 2001, also reflect certain interesting trends. At the national level, the Sikh population recorded the lowest child sex ratio at 786 preceded by Jains at 870. Christians, having done well in the overall sex ratio, show the highest child sex ratio of 964 followed by Muslims at 950 and Buddhists at 942. Shockingly, the child sex ratio among Hindus - 925 females for every 1,000 males - is lower than the national average of 927. Even persons categorised as professing "other religions and persuasions" have recorded the highest child sex ratio of 976 at the national level. The minority communities, barring one, seem to be doing rather well as far as the girl child is concerned though they definitely could do better to bridge the difference.

Some equally important correlations have been made between the fertility levels and female literacy levels of religious communities. And even here, religious communities have been seen to respond to regional specificities of development rather than religious affiliation alone. The proportion of population in the 0-6 age group to the total population has been taken as a proxy estimate of the relative position of fertility among religious communities. There seems to be a negative relationship between female literacy and fertility levels and this applies to all the religious communities. Banthia writes that this indeed is a positive sign and shows that irrespective of religious affiliations, measures for increased investments and creation of better environment and facilities to improve female literacy would help lower fertility rates. This would be a long-term stable solution.

THE Census Commissioner's relentless campaign on the declining child sex ratio is well known. His report advocates higher female literacy for all communities. He writes: "The past legacy of low female Muslim literacy, which is to some extent true even for segments of the Hindu population, such as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes among them, has had possibly a (negative) role to play in not accelerating the pace of fertility decline. It is therefore imperative that governments invest in improving the overall female literacy particularly for the Muslims and sections of Hindu society and these communities in turn need to respond faster than ever before and remove if there exists any female bias in educating their women - girls and adolescents both... . While these trends on the relationship between female literacy and proportion of child population 0-6 are clearly visible and discernible from the 2001 Census data on religion, it would be prudent for the policy makers and planners to examine such issues in greater depth and isolate the influence of various other factors before jumping to firm conclusions."

As for the general literacy rate, Kerala, Lakshwadweep and Pondicherry have very high literacy rates for all the religious communities (above 80 percent). In Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Tamil Nadu, literacy is above 70 per cent for all the religious communities. On the other hand, in the Bimaru (a term coined by well-known demographer Ashish Bose) States like Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh the literacy rates are rather depressed and below 60 per cent for Hindus, Muslims and others. Hence, religious communities behave quite differently in different regions, - a clear indication that socio- economic and developmental factors matter a lot. The report states: "Thus, there are regions in the country where all religions have a high literacy rate or a low literacy rate. It appears that the religion effect may be weak in several parts of the country and the overall regional milieu and state of low or high development may be contributing to the improvement or stagnation in literacy rates."

Says Banthia: "The enumeration of religion has always been there. Unless religion was determined, it was very difficult to determine caste." The Census is deeply related to the planning process. Banthia says that nearly 60 per cent of resources are allocated on the basis of population details. The religion data has a lot of intra as well as inter-religion information and this explains why communities behave differently in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. Of the 41 paragraphs in the section on "Brief Analysis", Banthia says, only one was on growth rates but the media focussed mostly on it. "Our focus was on how to explain the underlying causes a little better. The idea was to break away from monolith explanations like Hindu or Muslim patterns," he says.

Elusive extradition

The U.S. government's rejection of India's request to extradite Warren Anderson, former Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, does not seem to be based on strong legal grounds.

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THE yet-to-begin trial in the Bhopal District Court of Warren Anderson, former Chairman of the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), for culpable homicide in causing the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster received a huge setback when the U.S. government rejected in June the Indian government's request to extradite him. The decision has raised questions about the U.S.' compliance with the letter and spirit of the Indo-U.S. Extradition Treaty and the Indian government's seriousness in pursuing its extradition request.

Anderson was arrested and released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh police in Bhopal on December 7, 1984, four days after the disaster. Since then, he has been ignoring the Bhopal court's summons. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was entrusted with the case on December 9, 1984, filed a charge-sheet against 12 accused, including Anderson, in the Bhopal court on December 1, 1987. The Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Bhopal, issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Anderson on April 10, 1992, so the extradition proceedings could be initiated.

In October 2002, the CJM issued a fresh arrest warrant against him, after rejecting the CBI's plea to dilute the charge against Anderson from culpable homicide (which would invite imprisonment up to 10 years if convicted) to that of rash and negligent act (up to two years' imprisonment if convicted) in accordance with a similar redress provided by the Supreme Court to an accused, an Indian, in the case.

The CBI, left with no option, forwarded the request to extradite him to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The government, which has all along been avoiding any attempt to seek his extradition under flawed legal advice, finally forwarded the request to the U.S. Departments of State and Justice in May 2003 through the Indian Embassy in Washington. This, after a Parliamentary Committee on Government Assurances indicted the government for the inordinate delay in seeking Anderson's extradition.

On July 2 the MEA conveyed the U.S.' decision to the CBI thus: "The Government of the U.S. has carefully considered the Government of India's extradition request for Warren Anderson and has concluded that the request of the Government of India cannot be executed, as it does not meet the requirements of Articles 2(1) and 9(3) of the Extradition Treaty." E. Ahmed, Minister of State for External Affairs, confirmed this in a written submission to the Lok Sabha on August 18. He denied that the U.S. has refused to extradite Anderson because of his age, as he is more than 80 years old. "Age bears no restriction regarding any person's extradition," he told the House in response to a supplementary question from Rajesh Kumar Manjhi, a member of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Ahmed also said that the government was currently taking no action regarding Anderson's extradition, which suggests that it has no intention of challenging the U.S. decision.

Article 2(1) of the Treaty says: "An offence shall be an extraditable offence if it is punishable under the laws in both contracting states by deprivation of liberty, including imprisonment, for a period of more than one year or by a more severe penalty."

Article 9(3) says: "A request for extradition of a person who is sought for prosecution shall also be supported by: a) a copy of the warrant or order of arrest, issued by a Judge or other competent authority; b) a copy of the charging document, if any; and c) such information as would justify the committal to trial of person if the offence had been committed in the Requested State."

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To test the U.S.' claim regarding Article 2(1), it is necessary to know whether the offence Anderson is charged with in India is punishable in the U.S. for a period of more than one year. Experts say that manslaughter - an offence under the U.S. law, which is equivalent to the offence of culpable homicide that Anderson is charged with under the Indian Penal Code - is in fact punishable with more than one year imprisonment in nearly all jurisdictions in the U.S. Manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice or premeditation, either express or implied and as distinguished from murder, which requires malicious intent. Although the federal nature of the U.S. legal system means that there are different sentences for manslaughter under the laws of each State as well as a separate sentence provided for under the federal statute, the offence is clearly punishable with more than one year imprisonment under all those laws.

Article 9(3) of the Treaty has three requirements: copy of arrest warrant, copy of charge-sheet, and "such information" as would justify the committal to trial, if the offence was committed in the U.S. One may assume that the Indian government would have had no difficulty in complying with the first two requirements, and would have most certainly annexed copies of the arrest warrant and the charge-sheet with its extradition request. But what "information" would justify Anderson's trial in the U.S., had the offence been committed there?

Article 9(3) deals with both procedural requirements (inclusion of appropriate charging documents, warrant of arrest, and so on) as well as the more substantive question of what is called "probable cause" under the U.S. law. Experts say it is not easy to define the requirement of "probable cause" under the criminal law of the U.S. since the concept has been elaborated and re-elaborated by close to 200 years of jurisprudence. The Black's Law Dictionary defines the concept of probable cause as "an apparent state of facts found to exist upon reasonable inquiry which would induce a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe, in a criminal case, that the accused had committed the crime charged". In other words, the term "probable cause" means something more than mere suspicion but less than the quantum of evidence required for conviction on the offence in question.

There is still no basis to suggest that the U.S. has denied the extradition request on the grounds of an absence of probable cause. It may be premature to reach any conclusion about this substantive issue in the absence of disclosure of the exact grounds of denial of extradition. However, experts point out that the Indian government has a fair chance of challenging the U.S. decision in the U.S. Supreme Court, if indeed the State Department based its denial on substantive issues.

The Parliamentary Committee on Government Assurances during the term of the 13th Lok Sabha revealed in its 12th report the opinion of the U.S. law firm, M/s Verner Liipfert, whom the MEA first approached for advice on the feasibility of extraditing Anderson. The firm sought to know whether there were legally mandated safety requirements that were not followed by the Bhopal plant before the disaster. Secondly, it wanted to know who was legally responsible for implementing the safety recommendations made in 1982 by a team of experts of UCC who had conducted a survey of the Bhopal plant. The Indian government provided the firm with detailed answers explaining how the stated safety requirements were not complied with, before the disaster. The government also pointed out that there were reasons to believe that Anderson was personally aware of the safety precautions in place in the UCC plant in West Virginia, and that he did not ensure that safety measures of the same standard were enforced in the plant in Bhopal. In spite of this, the firm concluded that there was no evidence to establish the necessary factual link between Anderson and the gas leak incident in Bhopal.

Soli J. Sorabjee, then Attorney-General, concurred with this view and dissuaded the government from making the extradition request to the U.S. Sorabjee opined that although it was not impossible to furnish the "missing evidentiary links" such as the extent to which Anderson had decision-making control over the safety and design issues of Union Carbide India Limited, and whether he refused to correct the hazard, he was not sanguine about securing such evidence, considering the time and the effort that it would involve. Sorabjee, however, believed that the U.S. would find policy reasons not to surrender Anderson to the Indian government. These are humanitarian concerns such as his age, and the inordinate delay in the Indian government's decision to seek extradition. The U.S. decision shows that these were indeed not the grounds for the rejection of the extradition request.

The U.S. must reveal in detail the specific reasons for rejecting the extradition request if it wants to show that it does not have contempt for the rule of law and the democratic institutions in India. The Indian government, too, must seek specific answers from the U.S., and if necessary, convince it about the merits of its request, in order to avoid the criticism within the country that it did not pursue the case with the diligence it deserved.

A diligent process

CENSUS work starts three years before the actual enumeration on the ground. What kind of data is to be collected is discussed by data users comprising officials from the government, social scientists, demographers and so on.

Census 2001 made a departure from the earlier practice in that it collected data on housing with a view to indicating the quality of life. "The emphasis was not only on where people live but how people live," Banthia told Frontline. Therefore, data on amenities were collected. Two million enumerators were employed, trained for the Census operations. "We conducted Census operations in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, which were excluded in 1981 and 1991 respectively. We are a neutral body. We state things as they are," says Banthia. The Census office plans to release data on age, fertility, migration, languages, educational levels and marital status in the coming months.

Recalling some of the difficulties the enumerators faced, Banthia narrates an experience in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands where an endangered community of the Sentinelise resides. Only 42 members of this unique tribe are left and due to their lack of exposure to the mainstream population, they are supposed to have a very delicate constitution. "We can even infect them by sheer proximity. We floated coconuts and bananas in the water which brought them near and then with the help of binoculars, we were able to count and videograph them," he says.

Today, people in the Census office are disappointed that all their hard work is being politicised. In the 1971, 1981 and 1991 Censuses, the governments did not allow cross-classification. A.R. Nanda, the Census Commissioner in 1991, feels that the Census office should not be blamed for this. Nanda, formerly Secretary, Ministry of Family Welfare and now the executive director of Population Foundation of India, says that everyone was warned not to jump to conclusions. "The Census can only flag off issues. It cannot do anything about restrictive interpretations," says Nanda. He lauds Banthia for initiating a strong campaign on the Civil Registration System. "He is ideally suited for the job. He has done it all in good faith and been more open in releasing the data. There are no motives here," he adds.

Narayan Banerjee, director of the Centre for Women's Development Studies, and who has been associated with the Census in the past, says that the novelty of the current data on religion lies in the cross-classification. "This type of classification never existed. There used to be only absolute figures earlier," he says. Terming the politicisation of the issue as unfortunate, Banerjee wonders why the political parties had not picked up the issue of the declining sex ratio - a feature brought out by the Census office.

In pursuit of excellence

B.S. PADMANABHAN advertorial

Through Mission REACH, the Department of Science and Technology aims to bring out the best in the industry and the academia and help usher India into the club of developed nations by 2020.

WHAT is common between the removal of bitterness from the juice of the Kinnow Apple in Punjab and the development of an orthopaedic prostheses in Bangalore, or between a mobile pollution monitoring van in Surat and efforts to improve petroleum reservoir management in Dibrugarh? All of these represent the outcome of a single programme - Mission REACH (Relevance and Excellence in Achieving new heights in educational institutions) - launched four years ago by the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

This programme aims to bring about an architectural change in the system of higher technical education so as to remove the bottlenecks in turning out quality manpower to suit the requirements of different industries.

At the core of the Mission is the establishment of Centres of Relevance and Excellence (COREs) in institutions of higher education across the country in partnership with diverse industries. The programme envisages three key players in economic development - government, educational institutions and industry - joining hands to tap the country's vast manpower resources in a bid to make India a force to reckon with in the new millennium.

The TIFAC-Centres of Relevance and Excellence (TIFAC-CORE) will marshal substantial resources to achieve excellence in focussed areas of relevance to the Indian industry in the large, medium and small-scale sectors. All the stakeholders, including the educational institutions, are required to make equal financial contributions up-front as equity investment in these centres.

M.S. Vijayaraghavan, who initiated the Mission, describes it as "a unique experiment in higher technical education". He says: "In most programmes the funds flow in only one direction, that is, from the government. But in this programme the funds are available from the industry and the partnering institutions as well. Educational institutions such as the IITs [Indian Institutes of Technology] and IIMs [Indian Institutes of Management] were created solely with government funds. May be, at that point of time the government was taking the lead, and rightfully so. But now the government investment in higher technical education is coming down. We are, therefore, encouraging industries to invest in programmes creating excellence."

Only in the last 10 or 15 years have the industries been making use of the expertise and excellence created in the IITs. It is not the case abroad, where the universities provided the seeds of many of the Fortune 500 companies. Indian industries continue to depend on foreign technology. Currently, if there is a market of any significance, the foreign vendor prefers to set up operations itself in the country rather than collaborate with an Indian partner. In order to survive, the Indian industries have to tie up with educational institutions as the industries in the West have done. Mission REACH provides industry with such an opportunity.

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According to Vijayaraghavan, large-scale industries have surplus money to invest in research and development (R&D) and attract a large number of Ph.Ds. One cannot expect the small-scale units to do so. Mission REACH is the only programme that addresses the requirements of all sectors. At one end of the spectrum is a TIFAC-CORE in Dibrugarh University, involving the Rs.50,000-crore Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and at the other end is the CORE in Sivakasi in partnership with fireworks manufacturers who are mostly in small and medium sectors. While the ONGC is looking for technology upgradation, the units in Sivakasi need skill upgradation with technicians and diploma-holders.

According to Deepak Bhatnagar, who heads Mission REACH, there are over 1,200 engineering colleges in the country and Mission REACH is a modest attempt to turn some of them into Centres of Relevance and Excellence in chosen areas as the nation cannot afford to set up IITs in every district. The target is to set up 80 to 100 TIFAC-COREs. So far, 18 centres have been set up. "It is only an experiment in involving industry in our efforts to make technical education relevant. It is for other stakeholders in higher technical education to replicate it. Since the TIFAC-COREs work on focussed areas, their impact would be extremely high," he points out.

There was also a need to re-orient higher education to the fast-changing requirements of industry. Dr. Bhatnagar recalls that up to the 1960s engineering education was based on the British syllabus, and each branch of engineering was almost like an island. But now, owing to technological advances, the requirements of industry are changing and technical education has become multi-disciplinary. For example, post-graduate programmes in mechanical engineering and electronics have been combined to form a course in mechatronics. Industries require engineers with multi-disciplinary skills. In the TIFAC-COREs, the curriculum is designed with inputs from the partnering industry. In a sense, the courses in TIFAC-COREs are "made to order" and "custom-built". About a dozen new courses have been designed in the last three years.

According to Neeraj Saxena, Mission Coordinator, this programme is founded on the belief that India is too big a country to boast of only a few elite institutions with centres of excellence. The Mission is totally objective-driven rather than resource-driven, which has been the approach so far and the shape of the CORE is left to the partnering academic institutions. "Ultimately, these centres are expected to be of the industry, by the industry and for the industry, each evolving into a mini-IIT," says Saxena.

The authority and the responsibility to implement projects at each TIFAC-CORE has been entrusted to a REACH Monitoring Committee (RMC). The committee functions as the Board of Directors. Represented by all the stakeholders, it is an autonomous unit, well within the partnering educational institution.

The existing TIFAC-COREs are located in small towns, addressing for the first time the vocational training requirements of the industries.

Plans are afoot to link electronically the centres through a good mix of ground and satellite-based connectivity. This would enable them to take up common programmes, tackle industrial problems and share physical and intellectual resources. It is expected to be a vibrant network with a huge reservoir of experts, state-of-the-art physical assets and large pool of researchers and students in multiple areas of industrial and societal relevance.

The Mission authorities feel encouraged by the degree of participation of the industries in the centres. In some of the centres the industries' involvement has increased after the activities actually took off. This indicates that the confidence level of industries in educational institutions has been increasing.

Some of the TIFAC-COREs that have been established cover a wide spectrum of industry including agro and industrial biotechnology, ergonomics and human factors engineering, environmental engineering, petroleum reservoir management, industrial safety, embedded systems, network engineering, medical electronics, collaborative product commerce, digital image processing and diabetic retinopathy.

Mission REACH is indeed an ambitious programme, which represents a revolutionary concept in the history of higher science and technical education in the country, designed to provide a much-needed industry-academia linkage. The centres are a vibrant testimony to what can be achieved if the government, academia and industry join hands in a mutually productive, value-based project. As R. Chidambaram, Chairman of TIFAC, observed at the TIFAC-COREs meet last year, India needs hundreds of such TIFAC-COREs, which develop not just human resource, but also customised technologies with their access to the intellectual and physical assets in the nationwide network. With its relevance and pursuit of excellence, Mission REACH has opened up an opportunity for the nation to achieve its vision of joining the ranks of developed countries by 2020.

A march with a difference

Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko makes his political presence felt in Tamil Nadu by successfully completing a long march across the State.

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IF there is one important outcome of the 42-day "renaissance march" of Vaiko and his cadre across Tamil Nadu, it is that his Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) has reached the people of the State. It was a march that began with a difference and ended with a difference. On September 15, the last day of the 1,025-km-long march, Vaiko outwitted the police and marched into Chennai on a route that was banned to him. The whole incident - the hamhanded arrest of Vaiko and six of his cadre and their release after six hours - showed the Jayalalithaa government in a poor light. Vaiko went on to address a huge public meeting at the Island Grounds in Chennai that evening to cap a successful march.

Two days earlier, Chennai Police Commissioner K. Natarajan had denied permission to Vaiko and his cadre to march into Chennai along the route they wanted. The permission was denied in the interest of the public, free flow of traffic and to maintain law and order, the Police Commissioner said. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa alleged that Vaiko insisted on marching through important roads in Chennai in order to create "confusion" and law and order problem. Processions were allowed in Chennai only on a particular road, and this was in accordance with the Supreme Court guidelines, she said. Vaiko said the march had all along been peaceful, and so denial of permission to him to march into Chennai was illegal and undemocratic. (The All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government had jailed Vaiko and eight other MDMK leaders for 19 months under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.)

The renaissance march began on August 5 from Tirunelveli town, about 620 km from Chennai. An important demand that the march highlighted was the inter-linking of rivers, especially the rivers in the south. Another demand was to affirm the rights of Tamil Nadu in sharing the Cauvery river waters with neighbouring Karnataka. The march also aimed at preparing the people to establish a society that was free of communal canker, propagating the tenets of the Dravidian movement and mobilising people's opinion against the ruling AIADMK's atrocities. "The march is not for deriving any political advantage. It has social, economic and cultural aims. We dedicate ourselves to establishing a casteless society. We want to reach the people," Vaiko said.

It was an eventful march with Vaiko and about 3,000 young MDMK cadre walking through cities, towns and hundreds of villages covering 15 districts. Vaiko led the march, dressed in spotless white dhoti and white shirt, with a black towel around his shoulders. The cadre were dressed in black trousers and black shirts. They walked in a file of three, holding MDMK flags.

Hundreds of people waited along the route to give them a rapturous welcome. As Vaiko said at a public meeting, "they showered unalloyed affection on us, expecting nothing in return". He was touched by the "selfless affection" that his cadre showered on him. When an old woman asked him why he was walking without an umbrella in the sun, he told her: "When you have walked a mile in the sun and you don't have chappals, where is the need for an umbrella for me?" In a village called Olimathi, near Tiruvarur, Thanjavur, an 85-year-old woman asked one of her two grandsons to press something into Vaiko's hands. It was a 50-paise coin. "I don't have more than this," she told him. Vaiko put the coin in an envelope along with a note on how he got it, and decided to treasure it forever.

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Vaiko addressed public meetings in big and small towns. As L. Ganesan, MDMK presidium chairman, and M. Kannappan, treasurer, said Vaiko and his men learnt of people's problems directly from them. He listened to the grievances of peasants, workers, women, Dalits and hut-dwellers. According to Vaiko, the universal complaint was the lack of drinking water in villages.

The march was to end at Island Grounds in Chennai on September 15, the birthday of C.N. Annadurai, the founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. On September 13, as the MDMK leader and his cadre reached Singaperumalkovil, 40 km from Chennai, the Police Commissioner denied permission to Vaiko and his cadre to march into the city. Vaiko vowed to march ahead. "Our march had so far been entirely peaceful. We have not created any law and order problem," he said.

On the night of September 14, after Vaiko had addressed a public meeting at St. Thomas Mount, on the outskirts of the city, he and his men were about to retire for the day at a marriage hall when the Superintendent of Police (Chengalpattu East) arrived there and told Vaiko that he and his men would not be allowed to go in a procession into Chennai. The police officer tried to hand over to Vaiko a copy of the notice on the regulatory order in force in Chennai. The MDMK general secretary, however, told him: "Our march [into the city] will be peaceful. Nobody will be put to any trouble," and declined to receive the notice. Vaiko rejected a suggestion that the marchers could travel into the city in vehicles. After the police officer left, Vaiko consulted Ganesan and a strategy was worked out.

Around 1 a.m. on September 15, Vaiko asked his cadre to resume the march. (As per their original plan, they were to march into Chennai only in the late afternoon of September 15.) And he started walking briskly, covering 16 km in less than three hours. The cadre moved after him, walking along the edge of the road. Mysteriously, street lamps went off on their route. As word spread, the police force was alerted. About a kilometre away, a police contingent tried to stop the marchers but to no avail. Reporters and television channel crew arrived on the scene. The police then tried to stop the march by parking jeeps further ahead, and at another point, parking water tankers across the road. "But we were able to get through," said G. Nanmaran, MDMK spokesman.

On Kamarajar Salai, Vaiko "took an on-the-spot decision", and took the service road that cut through the beach sands. They walked in pitch darkness. Near Anna Square the marchers again got into the main road and surged enthusiastically towards Island Grounds about 500 metres away. But police vehicles blocked the Napier Bridge, which leads to Island Grounds. Hundreds of policemen were massed around.

When the police asked Vaiko and his men to disperse and threatened to use force, Vaiko asked the party volunteers to squat on the road. After a heated argument with police officials, Vaiko told them that he would agree to be arrested if the police allowed his 3,000 men to march into Island Grounds in groups of three. The police agreed, and Vaiko and six of his men were arrested around 5-30 a.m. under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant). As Vaiko climbed into a police van, several cadre broke down. Vaiko and six others were detained at the police station in Chintadripet and released at 12-20 p.m. The release was celebrated with gusto by party volunteers, who hailed Vaiko as a "fearless fighter".

A huge crowd gathered at Island Grounds that evening. Manmohan Singh Kohli, who had climbed Mount Everest in 1960,1962 and 1965, was the chief guest. Addressing the public meeting, Vaiko said: "We need a new deal, a new deal for India. We need a new deal for Tamil Nadu, where farmers' problems should be solved." A terrible water scarcity prevailed everywhere in Tamil Nadu, he said. Paddy fields were lying fallow. Prosperous towns such as Pollachi, Arni and Kancheepuram were on the decline, he said.

The only solution for the water scarcity was the inter-linking of rivers in the country, he said. "Parliament should pass a legislation to bring all inter-State rivers under the Centre's control. As a priority item, all the rivers in the south should be inter-linked."

This was Vaiko's second long march. From July 27 to September 15, 1994, he had undertaken an "awakening march" from Kanyakumari to Chennai to highlight what he called the "anti-people policies" of the then AIADMK government.

Challenges ahead

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Mission REACH comes as a boon to the Indian industry in a highly competitive environment but it has a long way to go to realise its full potential.

M. SOMASEKHAR in Hyderabad 20041008005012001jpg

IN 1996, the `Grand Technology Vision 2020', an initiative focussed on about 17 core areas, was unveiled. The broad objective was to transform India, from the status of a developing country to that of a developed one. Perhaps for the first time the Indian scientific community and the industry represented by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) collaborated in the effort, led by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the present President of India and the then Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister. The result was that the Technology Information Forecasting Assessment Council (TIFAC) succeeded in bringing out the roadmap in the form of over 20 strategic documents. These well-thought-out and underlined strategies were perceived to become important inputs to the Planning Commission. They could be dovetailed with the Central social sector departments concerned and specific industries brought in to convert the plans into implementable action that could in the end reach the target customers and create both wealth and value for the country.

The delivery mechanisms developed to translate the Technology Vision 2020 into reality have been christened Missions. One such Mission was REACH, launched in 2000. The nodal Ministry was the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the active collaborators were the identified engineering colleges across the country, the Ministry of Human Resource Development and industries willing to participate in the programme.

The larger motive as understood is to move away from the favoured Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) - the erstwhile Regional Engineering Colleges (RECs) - and build quality centres in engineering colleges chosen from among the hundreds that have sprouted across the country in the recent past. The task is quite daunting given the brand that IITs have been able to create and thereby attract industry (including those operating at the global level) and the level of government support for research funds.

The need to churn out students of high quality in order to meet the needs of industries in the competitive market place is rather urgent, viewed in the context of what Bimal Jalan, the former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, said at the special session of the Pune Science Congress in 2000 on `Can we create Silicon Valleys in our Indus Valley"? He said the country needs a large number of engineers and post-graduates to sustain the high performance of companies like Infosys, Wipro, NIIT and so on. At present though, the university higher education infrastructure is rather poor and needs all the support from the government and industry to improve. Prof. V.S. Ramamurthy, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, and Dr. R.A. Mashelkar, Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, have often voiced concern over the shortage of manpower and the crumbling infrastructure in universities.

Therefore, the basic objective of Mission REACH - establishing centres of excellence (CORES) in existing engineering institutions to promote areas of industrial relevance and provide trained manpower to the partnering industries - is definitely a move in the right direction. The idea is to bridge the disconnect between the academia and the Indian industry.

The design of the Mission appears to have been well conceived. It has gone about identifying engineering colleges that have strengths but are located in far-flung places, with the idea of providing support in the form of infrastructure or funds and propel them into undertaking research in frontier areas.

THE Mission is also unique in the sense that is uses the matching grant system, which has no precedent in the education sector, says Prof. P.V. Indiresan, former Director of IIT, Madras. No University would normally think of the kind of programmes being evolved. For example, he said, the Industrial Security CORE in Sivakasi, where the fireworks industry is located, would not have occurred to him as Director of IIT. This was happening because of the involvement of the industry, he added. However, according to him, the Mission has not been successful quantitatively. That is, only 20 COREs have emerged so far, and some of them have just started. A matter of concern is also the geographical spread. A majority of these are located in southern India. Why are institutions in other parts of the country not showing much interest? Prof. Indiresan feels that the industry in these regions is perhaps not proactive.

What is also obvious is the fact that of the over 1,200 engineering colleges and technical institutes, the growth in private sector has happened predominantly in the southern States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. REACH perhaps has to go more aggressively in other regions to make an all-India impact.

The TIFAC team, which has been pushing the REACH programme, is of the view that the industries are willing not only to participate in their specialised areas of interest but in several instances also to invest up to 50 per cent of total funds required to set up a CORE at the academic institution. Under the Mission, TIFAC provides 33 per cent of the cost while the balance amount has to be put in by the institutions and industries. The institutes' burden can be reduced if willing industries are brought into the venture from the beginning. The return on this investment is expected to benefit the industry in the form of skilled manpower and research output. In 2003, after three years of its launch, Mission REACH was reviewed. It was decided that TIFAC would continue its catalytic role, create synergy between educational institutions, industry and government departments concerned, and continue to support the COREs. One important need in this effort is a high quality faculty, which can take forward the programme and consolidate the gains, so that in five to six years, the CORE in a particular college achieves true excellence and does not end up merely showcasing new infrastructure in the form of buildings and equipment. By most estimates, the existing faculty in several engineering colleges, especially those identified by REACH could just be good enough for teaching, but woefully inadequate to handle research projects. It is one thing to start off by organising conferences where top professionals present exciting developments or inviting international experts for a few weeks or months, but building a sound team is a different ball game altogether. Incentives, a challenging work environment and career growth, are key issues to be tackled. These are by no means unique to REACH, but applicable to most educational, scientific or even industrial environments. However, the time is perhaps ripe for REACH to focus more on this aspect now.

Another critical issue confronting education is the relevance of the curricula to contemporary demands from the industry. To address this issue, REACH is trying to involve industry representatives in designing courses and redrafting the curricula to suit the needs of the emerging new industrial sectors. Most textbooks followed in engineering colleges are of a different era. Similarly, there are not many incentives inbuilt in the higher education institutes for faculty to undertake work in collaboration with industry to develop technologies or patentable products. Market compulsions and the opening up of the Indian economy since 1991 have in a way played a crucial role in REACH gathering momentum and the Indian industry, big and small, showing interest in it. The industries' compulsions to buck up in the face of international competition on domestic soil have forced them to scout for talent in the universities and academic institutions. The question is how much investment has the Indian industry brought in by way of long-term participation and what tangible contribution it can make.

Perhaps REACH needs to concentrate on creating awareness among the small and medium enterprises and the small-scale industries, about the need for an interface with the CORE centres and academia to upgrade their capabilities and face competition from countries like China.

Of relevance and excellence

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Interview with Prof. V.S. Ramamurthy, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology.

It has been four years since the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), launched Mission REACH to achieve new heights in education through a network of Centres of Relevance and Excellence (CORE). How successful has the Mission been and what is its future? Prof. V.S. Ramamurthy, DST Secretary, spoke to B.S. Padmanabhan on the philosophy underlying the Mission, the impact it has made so far, the growing interest evinced in it by educational institutions and industries alike, and the bright future it promises for aspiring technologists and prospective entrepreneurs. Excerpts from the interview:

What was the context in which Mission REACH was launched?

Generally there is a feeling among students and the public that the kind of training one receives during education is not tuned to the requirements of industry. Industry also shares the perception that the students they get are not ready to work immediately, and need pre-job training to bring them to a level suitable to begin work immediately. There is also a feeling that the kind of training they get is not the best, or comparable to the best institutions both in India and abroad. The Mission was basically aimed at establishing linkages between educational institutions and industry to ensure that the educational institutions provide the right kind of training and at the best possible level. In the Mission, you will find two terms, "relevance" and "excellence". Relevance comes from the fact that we want to give training that would enable them to get into the industry as quickly as possible and excellence implies that whatever training they get, is the best possible.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), which is charged with the task of improving the quality of higher education, and institutions such as the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) are already engaged in this. What is the rationale for DST getting into this field through TIFAC?

20041008005511802jpg

If you look at any of the programmes of DST, you will find that we basically demonstrate a certain concept and once it is established and accepted as a successful demonstration, its replication is taken over by other Ministries. Whether it is technology development or education at the highest level, this is the general philosophy adopted. It is the same philosophy that we are adopting in this Mission. We are not competing with the Education Ministry. Definitely, education is the mandate of the HRD Ministry and institutions like the UGC and the AICTE. Education at the highest level is not possible without associated research in those areas in the very same institution. In specific areas of technology, where education has to be at the highest level, clearly it is our mandate to improve the research infrastructure in those institutions. That is the rationale for our getting into this field. I am sure that in a few years' time, when our model is assessed to be successful, it would be taken over by the other Ministries and we would gradually withdraw from it.

What is your assessment of the progress of Mission REACH?

The programme has been extremely successful so far. We have 18 institutions offering specialised training in cutting-edge technologies. Take, for example, Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, which is famous for its fireworks industry. One of the serious concerns of the fireworks industry is safety. No educational institution to my knowledge offers this as a specialised course in its curricula and there is no reason why it should not be so. Mepco Shelnk College of Engineering in Sivakasi offered to take this up and today offers courses at graduate and post-graduate levels focussing on safety in the fireworks industry. It also offers packages for skilled workers at the middle and lower levels. It has a mobile van that goes from factory to factory, educating the workers on safety aspects. This is something that did not exist earlier in the country. Hopefully, this will serve as a model for other areas in the country. The concept underlying the Mission has caught on. The fact that it is not looked upon as a government programme but as one owned by the industry adds value to the Mission.

The Mission's objective is to create nearly 100 COREs. So far, only 18 Centres have been established. When do you think the target of 100 would be achieved?

The start-up is always slow because we would try to look for mid-course correction. In a typical government programme, evaluation is done after five years. This Mission is now four years old and we will be evaluating its progress at the end of five years. Certainly, we will not be in a position to reach the target of 100 institutions within five years. But 18 is a good number and we may add another 10 or so in the next year. We will then make an assessment of the programme and try to bring more partners into the venture. It is heartening to note that unlike in the early years, when we had to work hard to convince industry to put in even a small amount like Rs.10 or 20 lakhs, today they are coming forward with crores of rupees as investment, because they have seen the value of such an effort. So, the programme is picking up now and I am sure more and more institutions will join.

20041008005511803jpg

Programmes funded by the government usually come to an end when the funding period ends. In the light of this experience, how do you visualise the future of this programme?

It is precisely for this reason that we insisted upon industry participation in this programme. Since the industries have invested, they have the opportunity to mould the programme according to their requirements, and they have seen the results. If the government withdraws at the end of the initial funding period, the industries would probably not want the programme to stop as their own money has gone into it. Since the industries have seen the results of the programme, we expect more industries to start contributing to it. We have also been discussing what will happen after the three years of funding. Should we withdraw totally or after evaluation raise it to the next level of investment, not as a partnership, but for upgradation of the programme in terms of infrastructure and other facilities? It is necessary that the industry should make a matching contribution. If the industry is willing to make the additional investment, it means that the programme has been successful and is fulfilling its mandate.

Based on the four years of experience, do you feel the need for any change in strategy?

One of the lessons we have learnt is that the location-specificity is extremely important. You cannot replicate what has been successful in one institution in another without understanding the needs in that region and the core strength of that institution.

Another thing we have noted is that some of the government-run institutions are not able to take part in the programme. The reason is that government procedures do not allow the management of such institutions to give us a financial commitment up-front. They have to go through a time-consuming process. Consequently, you will find that this programme has been successful in privately funded institutions and has not taken root in government institutions. We would not like to miss out that segment because government institutions form the majority of educational institutions in the country and more so in some States, where private investment in education has not taken place in a big way. So we are trying to find out how we can re-tune the programme so that more and more government institutions, which are enthusiastic and where the faculty is interested, can participate in it. One recent success story is the Delhi College of Engineering, which has joined the programme. Certainly, it is possible for government institutions to join the programme but we should make things easy for them to do so. This programme offers training, which is not only appropriate for one to get into the industry but also encourages entrepreneurship among the students. We are therefore encouraging the institutions to go in for options that would provide students the opportunity to start their own enterprise or to get into the industry.

Tribal travails

other

Thank you for highlighting the travails of tribal people through the cover story (September 24). There should be a national debate on the issues of their exploitation and the encroachments into their lives.

Sheojee Singh Chandigarh

* * *

Politicians are pursuing caste and communal politics and trying to outwit one another but have no time to address the concerns of the hapless tribal people. They have been utterly neglected by successive governments since Independence. The government does not have a proactive policy to integrate them into the national mainstream.

Siddhartha Raj Guha Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

* * *

The feature should touch the conscience of the nation. In spite of all the safeguards provided to them by the Constitution, Central and State laws, and Supreme Court judgments, tribal people are the most oppressed and exploited lot today. Their struggle is a classic example of how even those living in the Integrated Tribal Development Agency areas of Visakapatnam had to resist the pressures from the government and private companies to submit their lands for mining. With the change in government at the Centre and in Andhra Pradesh, one hopes the problem would be handled with more sensitivity. Tribal people are not against development. But in most of the places their land is encroached upon or alienated or taken away in the name of mining, building dams or other development works. They should be part of any development work and their identity, livelihood and culture should be protected.

A. Jacob Sahayam Thiruvananthapuram

Muslim women in India

Jayati Ghosh's brief but crisp review of the study/survey on Muslim women in India provides insights into many complex questions in the contemporary socio-political discourse ("Muslim women in India", September 24). Whether on the question of domestic violence or the low rate of literacy, the study has exploded the myth that only Muslim women are the victims of socio-economic backwardness. The task before the secular, democratic and progressive sections of society is indeed monumental.

S.V. Venogopalan Chennai

Research environment

This has reference to the article "A crumbing edifice" (September 24).

The university as a system has some structural and functional components, which work in unison for a greater cause. I would like to add a fourth component to the three mentioned by the author - the "output component". Strengthening the functional relations among all these components at various levels and broadening the scope for the system to evolve are the sine qua non of a robust and productive system. Policies and endeavours to stem the rot in the university system in India have failed to take cognizance of this underlying fact. Ironically, we do not have a standard set of indicators of the academic and research potential of our universities. It is time for introspection, both for the teacher and the taught, the supervisor and the researcher.

A point worth mentioning is the need for academic flexibility and encouragement to work at the interdisciplinary level. When academia around the globe is exploring the scope for the interface of various disciplines, we still think in terms of `theirs and ours'. Secondly, interpersonal relations and strong lines of communication are crucial to build the confidence level of the researcher and the student. The notion of "working under a supervisor" has to be changed to "working with a supervisor". Opportunities must be explored to broaden the academic and research network, in the form of collaborations, joint publications, presentations, and exchange programmes. Both the supervisor and the researcher must be judged from time to time on the basis of the number of publications and contributions to various academic forums. Administrative and academic factors that hinder such evaluation must be weeded out. "Publish or perish" must be the yardstick at every level.

The need of the hour is to locate the grey areas in the entire establishment and introduce measures to make the university system more productive. Taking into confidence all the stakeholders in this system may be the first step.

Jyotiraj Patra University of Helsinki, Finland

* * *

The education system cannot be improved as long as authorities think that whoever needs help should come to them personally. The authorities have to understand that information should be available on the Web, which can be accessed by students from any university or educational institution. The UGC should make it mandatory for every educational institution to have a web site. People should come to the educational institutions only for knowledge, not for information.

G.K. Dave, Received by e-mail

Terrorism

This is with reference to the article `A bloody trail (September 24). The Beslan school tragedy, the car bomb that killed 10 people and the aircraft crash that caused 90 deaths remind one of 9/11. By targeting innocent children, the brutal gunmen have proved that terrorism knows neither territorial nor moral limits. Such incidents can be avoided only through the joint efforts of the global community.

A.J. Rangarajan New Jersey, U.S.

Geriatric care

The interview with Dr. Koshy Eapen on the problems of the aged was enlightening (September 24). Experience shows that many old people do not want to reveal their pains or diseases lest they burden their children. This is owing to the high cost of and the lack of access to health care in India. Hence, there is a need for low-cost health care that would encourage people, especially the old, to make use of the medical facilities.

Also, as Dr. Eapen points out, there should be a paradigm shift in our thinking that "old age is synonymous with illness".

M. Pradeep Kumar Hyderabad

Cinema row

After the much-talked-about fight over the release of non-Kannada movies, theatre owners in Karnataka have surrendered to the strong lobby of producers ("The cinema imbroglio", September 24). Even if one accepts the argument that the language of the State cannot be sacrificed for the sake of "outsiders", banning other language films for seven weeks from the day of their release is not the solution. It will only affect revenue in Karnataka. Second, such moves affect adversely the image of Karnataka as a friendly State. Third, the only way to face competition is to make good Kannada movies.

Dr. U.S. Iyer Bangalore

Manipur

It is quite heart-warming to see that at least one magazine in the country thought of the protest in Manipur as Cover Story material (`Manipur on fire', September 10). The following statement in M.S. Prabhakara's article sums up the situation: "Rage and violence having become so embedded in the daily experience of most people in the northeastern region (and perhaps in many other parts of the country as well), and with an amoral and inordinately ravenous visual media feeding and being fed by the frenzy that it creates, one overlooks that ordinary life goes on even in Imphal. As always, the ancient poet spoke the most profound truths using the simplest language: that passed, this too will pass. However, it is impossible to be so glib and phlegmatic about the cumulative impact of such marginalisation and rejection on a people, so richly endowed in their past, and enveloped in so depressing a present and a future. That is the real fear of the future."

Tarun Nongthombam Received by e-mail

* * *

The AFSPA has become a time-bomb that threatens to turn the State into a bloody battlefield and, more crucially, posed a serious crisis to the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government. At the core of the crisis is the interpretation of "Special Powers", which is being allegedly used by the security forces to commit atrocities. If things are not brought under control soon, the Centre has the option of imposing President's Rule in the State. Arjyalopa Mishra Cuttack, Orissa

* * *

The AFSPA is so inhuman that its enforcement ultimately led to the deterioration of the State's law and order. Yet Chief Minister Ibobi Singh has refused to withdraw the Act. Even all the resentment and agitations do not seem to have moved the government.

Bibhabari Rath Cuttack, Orissa

Of relevance and excellence

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Interview with Prof. V.S. Ramamurthy, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology.

It has been four years since the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), launched Mission REACH to achieve new heights in education through a network of Centres of Relevance and Excellence (CORE). How successful has the Mission been and what is its future? Prof. V.S. Ramamurthy, DST Secretary, spoke to B.S. Padmanabhan on the philosophy underlying the Mission, the impact it has made so far, the growing interest evinced in it by educational institutions and industries alike, and the bright future it promises for aspiring technologists and prospective entrepreneurs. Excerpts from the interview:

What was the context in which Mission REACH was launched?

Generally there is a feeling among students and the public that the kind of training one receives during education is not tuned to the requirements of industry. Industry also shares the perception that the students they get are not ready to work immediately, and need pre-job training to bring them to a level suitable to begin work immediately. There is also a feeling that the kind of training they get is not the best, or comparable to the best institutions both in India and abroad. The Mission was basically aimed at establishing linkages between educational institutions and industry to ensure that the educational institutions provide the right kind of training and at the best possible level. In the Mission, you will find two terms, "relevance" and "excellence". Relevance comes from the fact that we want to give training that would enable them to get into the industry as quickly as possible and excellence implies that whatever training they get, is the best possible.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), which is charged with the task of improving the quality of higher education, and institutions such as the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) are already engaged in this. What is the rationale for DST getting into this field through TIFAC?

20041008005511802jpg

If you look at any of the programmes of DST, you will find that we basically demonstrate a certain concept and once it is established and accepted as a successful demonstration, its replication is taken over by other Ministries. Whether it is technology development or education at the highest level, this is the general philosophy adopted. It is the same philosophy that we are adopting in this Mission. We are not competing with the Education Ministry. Definitely, education is the mandate of the HRD Ministry and institutions like the UGC and the AICTE. Education at the highest level is not possible without associated research in those areas in the very same institution. In specific areas of technology, where education has to be at the highest level, clearly it is our mandate to improve the research infrastructure in those institutions. That is the rationale for our getting into this field. I am sure that in a few years' time, when our model is assessed to be successful, it would be taken over by the other Ministries and we would gradually withdraw from it.

What is your assessment of the progress of Mission REACH?

The programme has been extremely successful so far. We have 18 institutions offering specialised training in cutting-edge technologies. Take, for example, Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, which is famous for its fireworks industry. One of the serious concerns of the fireworks industry is safety. No educational institution to my knowledge offers this as a specialised course in its curricula and there is no reason why it should not be so. Mepco Shelnk College of Engineering in Sivakasi offered to take this up and today offers courses at graduate and post-graduate levels focussing on safety in the fireworks industry. It also offers packages for skilled workers at the middle and lower levels. It has a mobile van that goes from factory to factory, educating the workers on safety aspects. This is something that did not exist earlier in the country. Hopefully, this will serve as a model for other areas in the country. The concept underlying the Mission has caught on. The fact that it is not looked upon as a government programme but as one owned by the industry adds value to the Mission.

The Mission's objective is to create nearly 100 COREs. So far, only 18 Centres have been established. When do you think the target of 100 would be achieved?

The start-up is always slow because we would try to look for mid-course correction. In a typical government programme, evaluation is done after five years. This Mission is now four years old and we will be evaluating its progress at the end of five years. Certainly, we will not be in a position to reach the target of 100 institutions within five years. But 18 is a good number and we may add another 10 or so in the next year. We will then make an assessment of the programme and try to bring more partners into the venture. It is heartening to note that unlike in the early years, when we had to work hard to convince industry to put in even a small amount like Rs.10 or 20 lakhs, today they are coming forward with crores of rupees as investment, because they have seen the value of such an effort. So, the programme is picking up now and I am sure more and more institutions will join.

20041008005511803jpg

Programmes funded by the government usually come to an end when the funding period ends. In the light of this experience, how do you visualise the future of this programme?

It is precisely for this reason that we insisted upon industry participation in this programme. Since the industries have invested, they have the opportunity to mould the programme according to their requirements, and they have seen the results. If the government withdraws at the end of the initial funding period, the industries would probably not want the programme to stop as their own money has gone into it. Since the industries have seen the results of the programme, we expect more industries to start contributing to it. We have also been discussing what will happen after the three years of funding. Should we withdraw totally or after evaluation raise it to the next level of investment, not as a partnership, but for upgradation of the programme in terms of infrastructure and other facilities? It is necessary that the industry should make a matching contribution. If the industry is willing to make the additional investment, it means that the programme has been successful and is fulfilling its mandate.

Based on the four years of experience, do you feel the need for any change in strategy?

One of the lessons we have learnt is that the location-specificity is extremely important. You cannot replicate what has been successful in one institution in another without understanding the needs in that region and the core strength of that institution.

Another thing we have noted is that some of the government-run institutions are not able to take part in the programme. The reason is that government procedures do not allow the management of such institutions to give us a financial commitment up-front. They have to go through a time-consuming process. Consequently, you will find that this programme has been successful in privately funded institutions and has not taken root in government institutions. We would not like to miss out that segment because government institutions form the majority of educational institutions in the country and more so in some States, where private investment in education has not taken place in a big way. So we are trying to find out how we can re-tune the programme so that more and more government institutions, which are enthusiastic and where the faculty is interested, can participate in it. One recent success story is the Delhi College of Engineering, which has joined the programme. Certainly, it is possible for government institutions to join the programme but we should make things easy for them to do so. This programme offers training, which is not only appropriate for one to get into the industry but also encourages entrepreneurship among the students. We are therefore encouraging the institutions to go in for options that would provide students the opportunity to start their own enterprise or to get into the industry.

`A commendable job'

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Interview with Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman, TIFAC.

Dr. R. Chidambaram, present chairman of the Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), has played a pivotal role in the development of science and technology in the country. In an e-mail interview to Anupama Katakam, he speaks about Mission REACH.

What were the objectives and goals of Mission REACH?

The objective of this scheme is to develop high quality manpower relevant to industry and, in the process, effect necessary changes in higher science and technology in the education system. This is sought to be accomplished by proactive participation of industrial experts in formulating and modifying existing curricula at present being taught in engineering and other technical colleges. The content of the academic courses is modified, after seeking the views of industry as well as assessing the latest technological needs through the REACH Monitoring Committee experts and other domain experts. This has often led to the development of entirely new programmes in interdisciplinary areas of direct relevance.

An important goal of Mission Reach is also to set up state-of-the-art R&D facilities in a chosen area in the chosen institute so that students have access to the latest research tools for getting world-class experimental education as well as upgrading their skills. Another key benefit of having such facilities is that they create the base for industry-sponsored R&D and perhaps even incubation of new ventures.

Could you give us a critical assessment of TIFAC's and the Mission REACH projects?

I personally feel that Mission REACH has done a commendable job of meeting the objectives and goals originally set forth by setting up 18 TIFAC-COREs spread across the country in advanced areas, which are most relevant to Indian industry as well as societal needs.

The TIFAC CORE on `Agricultural Biotechnology' at Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala and the `Advanced Computing and Information Processing' at SASTRA, Thanjavur are some success stories. A few unique TIFAC-COREs have been set for meeting specific local needs like the `Safety in the fireworks industry' at Mepco Schlenk College, Sivakasi. COREs have also been set up in areas related to human health and medicine such as `Diabetic Retinopathy' at Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai. As you can see, the chosen institutions have already reached a level of excellence to which the TIFAC-CORE programme will add further value.

With regard to the success of Mission REACH, I feel that it has contributed to the technical education system of India by introducing a large number of new courses (some of them for the first time in the country) as well as turning out trained professionals, who are `tailor-made' to the needs of industry.

Several new and innovative products in the form of proto-types/formulations have been developed at these TIFAC-COREs, which are now being scaled up by the industry. For example, the TIFAC-CORE in JSS College of Pharmacy, Ootacamund, has developed an appetite stimulant for children - "HAPENZ", which is a polyherbal formulation. Likewise, about 100 prototypes of automobile industry-related and general engineering appliances have been tried out for major industries by the TIFAC-CORE in PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore.

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Oct 9,2020