LETTERS

Print edition : February 17, 2001
The earthquake

Ever since the Koyna earthquake, we have been hearing of disaster management plans. We have an almost ready-made force to tackle such situations. Huge numbers of armed forces personnel retire every year, some at a young age. Many of them search for alter native employment. They come from the Corps of Engineers, the Army Medical Corps, the Signals Corps, the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Corps and so on, and possess the expertise necessary to deal with situations of disaster. All that is required is to mobilise them into a force that can rush to the spot and commence work as soon as a calamity strikes. Since armed forces personnel hail from all States, the force can be mobilised in a manner that ensures that people knowing the local terrain and l anguage are sent where necessary.

The above plan has several advantages. By having a separate force, the regular army is not disturbed and external security is not compromised. The civilian staff inexperienced in tackling war-like situations, can be employed in the administrative work re lating to such situations. The Disaster Management Force, however, should be under the overall control of the Army, and whenever the force is requisitioned the entire area and command of the situation should pass on to it. All, including the police and t he civilian administrative machinery, should function under its supervision.

During peace-time, the force can be employed to restore environmentally degraded areas. Calamities such as floods are often caused by such degradation, and in time the impact of such disasters can be lessened, if not prevented altogether. In less than a decade the savings enabled by the force will pay for itself, and there will be no need to impose Kargil-type taxes.

It is said that the loss in the Gujarat quake is worth over Rs.30,000 crores. However, this works out to only Rs.15,000 per taxpayer and shareholder, who are in the uppermost economic stratum. What, however, deters most of them, is the fact that the vult ures among the government staff and also politicians would pocket much of the relief. One only needs to look at the plight of the victims in the Chamoli quake and the Orissa cyclone. Unless this aspect is tackled, voluntary donations will be hard to come by.

T.R. Ramaswami Mumbai * * *

A senior citizen, I wish to record my deep sense of sorrow at the unprecedented tragedy that struck Gujarat. The earthquake caused irreparable loss not only to Gujarat but to entire India.

I recommend a ban on high-rise buildings in quake-affected areas like Gujarat.

G. Varadappa Chennai * * *

It was indeed the most devastating earthquake experienced in India. The wounds it has left will remain for years to come.

Abhijeet D. More Nashik India and the WTO

This has reference to the interview with Dr. M.S. Swaminathan (February 16). On the WTO issue, I believe we are caught in a dragnet. Life is going to be miserable for us if we pursue the obvious options. We cannot renounce the WTO at this time, nor can w e readily implement the requirements of the WTO without causing grave socio-economic fall-outs. But there is one important option left, which the renowned environmentalist S. Faizi has been advocating. That is, to use vigorously the democratic space offe red by the WTO.

The WTO is structurally democratic and two-thirds of it is constituted by the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. If we are able to mobilise this majority, the WTO can be transformed into an institution to address unjust patterns of c urrent global trade. As a one-time leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, can India not take the lead in this? The West would then certainly backtrack and leave us alone. I believe this is the only sensible option left for us.

Sreedhara Moorthy Coimbatore D.U. munitions

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy reflected over the development of a 'super bomb' and said, "Man holds in his mortal hands the power to destroy all forms of human life." The depleted uranium (D.U.) munitions used in the Gulf war and in the NATO bombing s in the Balkan war have given rise to radiation sickness ("Slow, silent killer", February 16).

Experiments conducted after the Manhattan Project suggested that radiation at any level would affect human genes, meaning there is no "threshold dose" or minimum amount that is harmless. The type and amount of radiation and the rate at which radiation is absorbed will indicate the effect over a period.

Ethically speaking, once it is assumed that any exposure to radiation involves some degree of risk, then the choice of how much exposure has to be allowed is a moral and not a technical or scientific one. Nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the Co mprehensive Test Ban Treaty must include enforcement of the non-use of D.U. in munitions.

A.S. Raj by e-mail The farming crisis

This refers to the Cover Story "The farming crisis" (February 2).

Indian agriculture is plagued by multiple problems which are a byproduct of the economic policies pursued since 1991. Economic reforms, globalisation and the WTO regime have in combination proved catastrophic for the agricultural sector. The 1990s witnes sed a decline in productivity. Farmers, especially the small and marginal ones, have become vulnerable to market forces. Stagnation in the agricultural sector has worsened their condition. Farmers are hard-pressed to meet their daily needs. The purchasin g power of farmers has been eroded by high inflation and ever-escalating prices.

Agriculture contributes 28 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and provides employment and livelihood to about 64 per cent of the population. But the years of economic reforms have witnessed a continuous decline in public investment in and falli ng budgetary support to agriculture.

The economic reforms must be reoriented to cater to the needs of the agricultural sector. Agriculture and allied activities have great potential for employment generation, which helps poverty reduction.

Agriculture facilitates sustainable development. Thus it helps in solving environmental and ecological problems.

India should not march unbridled on the path of globalisation under the WTO regime. The policies and obligations of the WTO must be viewed from India's point of view. Its farmers must be shielded from unequal global competition and free trade. India's ag ricultural produce must be helped to gain access to the markets of developed countries.

There is an urgent need to bring a paradigm shift in Indian agriculture. Investment should be boosted and all efforts should be made to accelerate grow thin the agricultural sector. The high growth rate of GDP in the late 1990s was not matched by the gro wth in agriculture. This is why high GDP has not led to poverty reduction in a significant way.

Economic reforms must be made agriculture-centric and thus people-centred, which will then be eco-friendly.

Sanjai Kumar Hazaribagh * * *

The farming sector in India is in a crisis. The negligence of the government and its agencies is making the situation worse. India produces enough foodgrains, but its farmers are committing suicide. Unable to repay their debt, they find no place for them selves in society.

I congratulate Frontline on making the plight of farmers its cover story.

Pramod Pandey 'Parimal' Sri Ganga Nagar, Rajasthan

The PDS

This refers to Madhura Swaminathan's article "A further attack on the PDS" (February 2).

In the recent past, vested interests - and more particularly the monopoly press - have been carrying on a virulent campaign for the 'dismantling of the FCI', giving the impression that everything will fit in place with the break-up of the Food Corporatio n of India. Perhaps they do so without knowing fully 'what the FCI is, what it does and what it does not' within the restrictions imposed by the Central government. They should not turn a Nelson's eye to the fact that while the prices of almost all other essential commodities have gone sky-high, the open-market prices of wheat and rice are under control. This is solely because of the FCI. In the event of any curtailment of its activities the common man will be the sufferer.

It is hoped that the Frontline article will help remove certain misconceptions about the FCI vis-a-vis the mounting food subsidy.

V.M. Damodaran President FCI Employees Union Chennai

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy on the cover of Frontline again and so much of unfair criticism against Ramachandra Guha. This, Mr. Editor, is not fair. Guha is perhaps the only person who is not carried away by what Roy says or writes. After the runaway success of her book Roy now speaks on large dams, global warming, Pokhran and other social issues. She is taken seriously by many. Guha gave us the plain truth. He deserves a place on the Frontline cover.

C.A. Chaly Mulanthuruthy, Kerala String theory

I have been keenly following your reports on "Strings 2001", which has aroused much curiosity, especially because of the presence of Stephen Hawking. His approach towards string theory, I think, is cautious.

Are string theorists carried away by their sheer obsession? To me, they are like aliens trying to understand the football game by analysing the movements of the ball, which would produce some bizarre ideas and some beautiful mathematics but keep them awa y from the truth that it is just a game. Similarly, the stirring theorists may provide some beautiful mathematics of the quantum dance, but the dance itself will remain unexplained, let alone the relation between the cosmic and quantum dances. The ultima te theory uniting these two is nowhere to be seen in their path, even with a Hubble, because they are looking in the wrong direction.

Jose P. Koshy Ottapalam, Kerala Samba spy case

I appreciate your article on the Samba spy case (February 2). There are many instances of injustice in the Army. One of them is the promotional disparity that affects veterinary doctors. I request you to bring out these disparities to provide justice to these doctors who treat dumb creatures.

Dr. R.B. Subramanian by e-mail Freedom of the media

K.N. Panikkar's article "Outsider as enemy" (January 19) demonstrates the freedom enjoyed by the media, writers, publishers and the public in India, which is enshrined in the Constitution. I suggest that as a gesture of patriotism, the publishers of the magazine send a copy of Frontline to the Presidents of the countries bordering the Republic of India.

Syed Abdul Khadir London Impartial analysis

A friend from India brought with him a copy of your magazine. I was amazed to notice that your writers are really non-aligned. Many journalists in Europe and Africa (and possibly in the United States too) are aware of the fact that the market economy and globalisation mean profits for a small minority and declining quality of life and more poverty for most of the world's population. These writers, however, consider these developments as unavoidable. Your writers analyse what is wrong, what is unwelcome and what must be uncovered, opposed and fought.

Hassan Honisch Casablanca, Morocco Expressway

This has reference to "An expressway and some obstacles" (February 16).

It is unfortunate that the State government is going ahead with the plan for a four-lane expressway between Bangalore and Mysore despite objections from environmentalists and the affected people. The projected benefits from the project do not justify the displacement, human suffering and environmental degradation of such magnitudes. The expressway is supposed to cut the travel time between the two cities by half, but is this justified at such high costs? There is much enthusiasm while building a new roa d. The maintenance aspect hardly receives the attention it deserves. The expressway may degenerate into another badly maintained State highway within a short time, since there is hardly any funds to undertake timely repairs. Besides, high-speed expresswa ys are an open invitation to disaster in the form of accidents, considering the indiscipline of our drivers.

D.B.N. Murthy by e-mail
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