Print edition : August 28, 1999

The way the Narmada issue is being handled by the government causes concern. It is now clear that most of the so-called benefits of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) are to be cornered by Gujarat, while the tens of thousands of people who will be displace d are primarily from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Government of Madhya Pradesh has filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court, stating that it does not have enough land to resettle the people, while the Maharashtra Government has conveyed the same message to the media. In this background, it is shocking to see the apathy exhibited by the Central Government, the Supreme Court and the Gujarat Government.

Vijay Kumar Manghnani North Carolina, United States

Mobilisation of Dalits

It is true that Dalits have been politically mobilised in Tamil Nadu as never before ("A consolidation of forces", August 27). But it appears to have happened more on a casteist basis. Could it be owing to the failure of major political parties to organi se them on the basis of principles and policies? Does it mean a setback to democracy? It is clear that the Tirunelveli massacre and the continued oppression of Dalits in the South have created a new awareness among them about the need for unity. It is es sential to ensure that caste differences are not widened. Instead of looking for short-term gains, the political leadership should show the vision to foster harmony.

A. Jacob Sahayam Vellore, Tamil Nadu Nuclear weapons

In "A flawed character" (August 27), the author quotes Henry Kissinger as saying that "the strategic arsenal of nuclear warheads is useful to deter nuclear attacks from the enemy and for little else" and makes a comment that this should provide a soberin g thought for "our nuclear hawks". The so-called "nuclear hawks" have no problems in accepting this reasoning. Strength in conventional arms is not a sufficient deterrent against a state like Pakistan, unless it is made known to it that any first strike with nuclear warheads would invite instant retaliation. In fact, it is the numerical and technological superiority of India's armed forces and its conventional weapons that would tempt Pakistan to deploy nuclear weapons and venture a first strike.

R. Anjana Chennai Neelan Tiruchelvam

Your coverage of the assassination of Neelan Tiruchelvam (August 27) was comprehensive. Several prominent personalities from different parts of the world have condoled the death of the Tamil leader. However, what puzzles and disappoints me is that neithe r the Tamil Nadu Government nor any prominent politician from Tamil Nadu has issued any statement in this regard.

K. Sabesan Madurai Solar eclipse

The article on the solar eclipse (August 13) was informative. It was an authoritative description of the natural phenomenon.

A.K. Bose Calcutta Kargil

In "A probe and its prospects" (August 27) the author says that the committee on the Kargil conflict has no statutory authority. Could he cite even one instance of any committees appointed by government in free India having statutory powers? The BJP is p laying the same game that was played by its predecessors in power. At least in the future all political parties should agree to respect and follow the findings of inquiry commissions. Their findings should be treated in the same manner as Supreme Court v erdicts.

R. Rajaraman Chennai * * *

As you rightly pointed out ("Now the cover-up", August 13), the decision of Lt. Gen. N.C. Vij, the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), to brief the BJP National Executive was indeed disgraceful. But the question is: did he do so on his own in itiative? The Chief of the Army Staff has disowned any responsibility, saying that he had no control over the senior officer who did the briefing. If that is so, did the DGMO carry out the briefing without clearance from his chief? Or does the Army chief 's statement betray a lack of moral courage? The Army should clarify.

Col. D. Lal (retd) Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh * * *

The quality of the victory in Kargil is questionable ("The unending cost", August 13). The conflict was the result of the BJP-led government's misgovernance. In order to evict a handful of infiltrators, the Indian armed forces had to fight a "war" for 50 days. They had to deploy powerful war machines, and hundreds of soldiers had to sacrifice their lives.

Rajan Ramarao Mumbai BJP government

By a strange stroke of luck, the BJP-led government's handling of the Kargil crisis has heightened the rating of A.B.Vajpayee and his government although it was they who were responsible for the crisis, as it was their failure to prevent the infiltration that resulted in the avoidable national tragedy. There is no reason to give special credit to the BJP-led government for the "Kargil victory". At best, it may be partially ascribed to Vajpayee's ability as an individual.

Democracy in India has reached a stage where a government which lost the confidence of the House and was voted out continues in office and functions with more independence, fearlessness and vigour than before. The reason is simple, while in power, it was subjected to pushes and pulls from its coalition partners.

But once it lost the confidence motion, it had nothing to fear because it could not fall any further and has therefore become hundred per cent stable. Neither house of Parliament is in session. The Government is no longer subject to its coalition partner s' pulls and pushes - and herein lies the strength of a voted-out government.

Even if the prediction that the National Democratic Alliance will win over 300 seats in the September elections comes true, Vajpayee of "Kargil fame" cannot be the same again. For, when every partner of the NDA - more than 20 parties that have temporaril y come together in search of power - starts demanding its pound of flesh, Vajpayee will become his old self - a person who could not lead an alliance. Unable to control the affairs of the NDA, the government will soon meet with the same fate of the previ ous government.

C.K. Lawrence Shillong The telecom tangle

My attention has been drawn to an interview given by Mr.Arun Jaitley to Frontline ("It is a revival package", August 27), in which he has referred to some alleged excerpts from my letter dated May 12, 1999, written to Prime Minister Atal Behari Va jpayee to the effect that "those who are overstating the ability of the industry to pay this licence fee are the interested quarters who want the industry in India to collapse. There is now an urgent need to change." After the quotation, he has said that he was quoting from the letter.

I am enclosing a copy of my letter dated May 12, 1999, addressed to Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister. There is no such sentence as has been purported to be "extracted" from my letter dated May 12, 1999, and in fact my letter does not contain any observation to that effect at all.

It is strange that a Senior Advocate of Mr. Jaitley's standing, claiming to be a key strategist of the BJP, is indulging in total disinformation, if not fabrication, trying to make out a desperate case finding that the government led by Sri Vajpayee has indulged in gross anti-people and anti-national activity.

Mr. Jaitley has questioned why the revenue sharing system of March 26, 1999 was not opposed. That policy was not applicable to the existing cellular operators. By my letter of May 12, 1999, I actually brought the representations made by the existing cell ular operators to the notice of the Government of the day and I categorically stated in my letter that "If it is ascertained by the Government, on a proper review, that the existing cellular operators cannot survive without introduction of a revenue shar ing arrangement, then obviously proper consideration has to be given upon an objective assessment of all the issues with an open mind." I further mentioned that upon such review and assessment, if the apprehensions of the cellular operators were found to be justified then the question of integration might be worth considering. Significantly, till today, the Government of India has not disclosed whether any study or review was made and if so, to what effect. I never asked the Government to take any wrong or anti-people decision based upon their subjective feelings.

I charge that the BJP and its so-called spokesmen and strategists are deliberately misleading the people in an attempt to extricate their government from a very murky situation, knowing that they have no proper answer and they are making insinuations and indulging in false propaganda in spite of the fact that their own Minister for Communications and Minister for Finance had objected to the change of policy regarding the existing operators, which clearly points to corruption at the highest level, which prompted the Government to take such a controversial decision.

I hope Mr. Jaitley would tender an apology in writing for the deliberately misleading and incorrect allegations made against me. I am enclosing a copy of this letter to Mr. Jaitley.

Somnath Chatterjee, ex-M.P., Leader CPI(M), Lok Sabha

* * *

Following is the text of the letter written by Somnath Chatterjee:

During my tenure as the Chairman, Standing Committee on Communications, and even thereafter, several cellular operators belonging to the concerned Association met me and brought to my notice the problems faced by them. They have been requesting for due c onsideration by the Government of the disadvantaged position they are occupying.

The Telecom Policy of 1994, it seems, very significantly, failed to achieve most of, if not all, its objectives. As a result, the expansion of the network that was expected through the efforts of DoT as well as the private operators, both in basic teleco m and cellular operations, has not been achieved.

The cellular operators have very categorically denied that they have received premium by sale of shares at a discount as has been alleged against them in some interested quarters. It has been represented by them, and as the facts appeared to be, that the Indian operators have not only participated in equity but also have had to provide guarantees to DoT apart from debt funding, which their foreign collaborators did not have to do. So far as I have been able to ascertain, the final stake of cellular oper ations in the different regions has been substantially more so far as Indian operators are concerned, compared to their foreign counterparts.

It is well-known that the cellular operators have not been able to have the targeted number of customers as per the projection of DoT, which, according to them resulted in poor cash flow, culminating in the failure on the part of cellular operators to pa y the licence fees. The Indian cellular operators have represented to me that by reason of additional induction of funds, their financial capability was put under great strain.

The new Telecom Policy formulated by your Government has provided for a dual system - one for payment of licence fees by existing operators and the other for revenue sharing by the new operators. This has, as has been represented by the cellular operator s, not only created an anomaly but has also made their future operations totally uncertain and unviable. Such operators, from time to time, have been requesting for review of the position.

If it is ascertained by the Government, on a proper review, that the existing cellular operators cannot survive without introduction of a revenue sharing arrangement, then obviously proper consideration has to be given upon an objective assessment of all the issues with an open mind. Indian concerns, who genuinely wanted to make a contribution for the development of the telecom network in our country, are almost now out of business for no direct fault of theirs. Certainly the Government has to ensure th at the foreign telecom companies should not at any time be able to take over our telecom network and for that reason also, it is essential that the Indian operators should be provided due consideration so that their financial viability is not affected.

Integration of the existing cellular operators into the new Telecom Policy framework seems to be worth considering, in the face of apprehensions that have been apparently expressed in some quarters. I feel that since there is considerable justification i n the representations that are being made by the existing cellular operators, this matter should be brought to your attention so that no Indian operator is ultimately denied justice, considering the present situation in an objective manner, consistent wi th national interest.

Somnath Chatterjee

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.


R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

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