Print edition : November 13, 1999

This has reference to the Cover Story "Back in business" (November 19). Foreign powers such as the U.S. and Britain and the Commonwealth have brought pressure on the military regime in Pakistan to reintroduce democratic rule. But they forget the fact that such pressure amounts to interference in Pakistan's internal affairs.

After all, democracy is not an end in itself. Democracy could also fail when corrupt, self-serving and incompetent politicians come to wield power and create an urge in the people for a "spell of non-democratic rule" that could correct the evils of misgovernance. The fact that the coup in Pakistan was "bloodless" could be an indication of such a desire. What people want is good governance and to them it does not matter whether power is wielded by politicians or generals.

K. Kumara Sekhar Eluru, Andhra Pradesh Diesel price

"The burden of diesel price" (November 19) is certainly going to be felt for a long time. While any increase in oil prices takes effect quickly, the customer hardly hears about prices being reduced.

What is surprising is the lack of interest or initiative to conserve petroleum products, which are scarce. With better coordination between rail and road transport services, the need for trucks can be eliminated except in regions without a rail link. Diesel is also wasted when buses are operated between towns that have a rail link. If the frequency of train services is increased, the number of bus services can be reduced.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore Courts and freedoms

Anupam Gupta has objected to the terminology 'courts of inquiry' ("Of courts and freedoms", November 19). When an inquiry is carried out by a single officer, it is called formal investigation under a set procedure. It is documented and is different from an informal investigation. A court of inquiry is a fact-finding mission and does not pronounce a judgment. It is an administrative procedure, not a court of law. There is no relation between a court of inquiry and a court-martial. The word 'court' is a misnomer in 'court of inquiry'.

At the command headquarters, the officer who examines such proceedings from a lower formation fills a vacancy, "judge advocate general"; he is neither a judge nor an advocate nor a general.

A court of inquiry starts its function on the 'terms of reference' as instructed by the convening authority. After examining witnesses it gives its 'findings' and 'recommendations'. The authority may or may not accept these. If the authority is not satisfied it may reject the whole proceedings of the court of inquiry and ask it to investigate further.

A court of inquiry is unique to the Indian armed forces and there is no comparable civilian body under the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Penal Code. Civilian witnesses are summoned very rarely - normally on occasions when a court of inquiry is constituted to go into accidents involving military vehicles and civilians or civilian property. It cannot compel civilians to appear as witnesses. A journalist summoned before it need not disclose the source of information.

An incomplete court of inquiry is a blot on the administrative facet of any commander. To avoid this possibility, the terms of reference are carefully worded. Not every convening authority gets the correct advice.

The Army Act, the Navy Act and the Air Force Act mention court of inquiry only briefly. Rules made under these Acts too do not deal with them at length. Regulations governing the three arms of the Services, which are enacted by Parliament, amplify some aspects.

A look at the powers of a Summary General Court Martial (SGCM) will be relevant to this discussion. A field commander of a relatively junior rank can convene an SGCM. A convicted individual can be awarded a "death sentence". And there is no provision for mercy petition to the Governor or the President. But an SGCM is convened very rarely.

Sqn. Ldr. B.G. Prakash Bangalore Silent Valley

Any story on the Silent Valley inevitably brings to one's mind the great war waged through the media for its conservation ("The Silent Valley story", November 5). Let us now hope that the plea for the establishment of a gene sanctuary for the wild strains of pepper found in the valley will be heeded. It is a matter of solace to all who love nature that the valley's animal population has thrived in the years since it was notified as a national park. One also remembers the pivotal role played by The Hindu in upholding the cause of the Silent Valley.

K.M. Ajir Kutty Edava, Kerala Indonesia

The November 5 issue carried an article titled "Towards democracy" regarding political and related developments in Indonesia. The article referred to Australia's policy on East Timor, including its involvement in the multinational force to restore security there, and to the so-called "Howard doctrine" under which the Australian Prime Minister supposedly claimed that Australia would act in a deputy peacekeeping capacity to the United States in the Asia-Pacific region.

It is quite wrong to suggest as some have done that Australia has adopted a policy stance which runs counter to Indonesian policy on East Timor. The decision to request the United Nations to organise a referendum in East Timor to choose between autonomy and separation was not part of Australian policy. It was Indonesian policy, and Australia supported it.

Australia's interests are best served by a strong, prosperous and unified Indonesia, and a constructive relationship between the two countries. Australia deeply values its bilateral relationship with Indonesia. There are undeniably some sensitivities in the relationship at present. Australia believes, however, that common interests will reassert over time, and we will work constructively and persistently to achieve this.

Media reports about the so-called "Howard doctrine" have not accurately represented the expressions used or the position taken by the Australian Prime Minister. What John Howard said was: "You have Australia as a medium-sized, economically strong regional power leading a peacekeeping operation which is largely, but not totally, regional with strong... lender of last resort support from the United States... I don't think it is necessary for America to lead every peacekeeping operation." He added: "We've shouldered the burden that we should carry. And we are a relatively wealthy, economically strong country. We have a particular responsibility to do things 'above and beyond' in this part of the world."

This is what Australia has done with its regional colleagues under the umbrella of the United Nations in the case of East Timor. Australia was asked by the United Nations to take a lead in forming a multinational force to restore security in East Timor. The violence and destruction in East Timor required an urgent response. Australia felt the responsibility, and had the capacity, to take on a central role in providing this, with the express agreement of the Indonesian Government.

Rob Laurie Australian High Commissioner New Delhi


This refers to the report "Monsanto's retreat" (Update, November 5).

I must, most regrettably, lodge a very strong protest with you - not on the views expressed in the report, but on the baseless and unsubstantiated allegations made by the president of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha who has publicly taken a political and ideological stand against the company.

Monsanto has been in India for 50 years and never once has it done anything that would blemish its track record in this country. It has always respected and operated within the laws and regulations in force. It has been a part of India's efforts to boost agricultural productivity, providing farmers with products and technology that have contributed positively to agricultural production and management. It is unfortunate that a magazine of your standing should have published such unsubstantiated remarks against a company which enjoys the trust and confidence of millions of farmers because they know from experience that it will not do anything that goes against their interests.

The suggestion of sterile seeds being smuggled in is preposterous. In the first place, sterile seeds do not exist. The technology is in the conceptual stage. Nothing more. Further, Monsanto has publicly pledged that it will not carry the technology forward to commercialisation. It is sad that Frontline should have provided a platform for innuendo and unsubstantiated and baseless allegations based on myths rather than reality.

I trust you will print this letter in full and guard against Frontline being misused in future by anyone to malign Monsanto with preposterous allegations.

Meena Vaidyanathan, Communications Manager, Agricultural Sector, Monsanto Enterprises Ltd. Mumbai

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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