The earthquake

Published : Mar 03, 2001 00:00 IST

The Cover Story, "The aftershocks" (March 2, 2001), gives the picture of a chaotic administration, which failed to utilise effectively the flood of assistance that came from across the world. Worse still was to learn that casteism and communalism played a role in the distribution of relief materials and that corporators and councillors cornered some of these. Has human kindness really dried up in Gujarat?

The suggestions made in the articles should be looked into by the government so that it is not caught napping when another disaster strikes.

Mani Natarajan Chennai* * *

The cover photograph gives us hope in the midst of chaos and mass destruction. A woman with courage picks up the remains of her house to build a new home - it reveals the behaviour pattern of Indian society. She would not be scared even if thousands of a ftershocks occur in the coming days.

Beno A. Enose Kanyakumari* * *

The Cover Story made extremely painful reading. It seems even a strong military operation, armed with enough salvage and rescue materials, was not sufficient to relieve the people of the pain of the terrible tragedy.

R. Ramasami Tiruvannamalai* * *

The Cover Story ("The killer earthquake", February 16, 2001) was a blend of well-gleaned facts and poignant pictures of the destruction - bodies under debris, disruption of communications, shortage of water, lack of medical facilities. The promptness wit h which the military and other agencies helped the victims is applaudable, but the other side of the story is disappointing. Why were we unable to handle the emergency effectively? Why did the buildings crumble like sand hovels? Why was there a delay in reaching help to all quarters? The problem lies not in the attitude of the authorities but in the inadequacy of our preparation to meet the immediate problems arising out of a catastrophe.

Shahnawaz Karim By e-mail* * *

People from all walks of life have risen to the occasion and offered help to the people of Gujarat in whatever way they could. With the economy already in a bad shape (a huge fiscal deficit, rising inflation, and so on), imposing an additional surcharge of 2 per cent on income-tax in the name of Gujarat, raising railway fares, slashing food and fertilizer subsidies and so on do not augur well for the people. Politicians, instead of rendering lip-service, should undertake austerity measures themselves.

Among the aid received from foreign countries, perhaps the most welcome contribution was the supply of relief materials from Pakistan, which was followed by a brief conversation between Pervez Musharraf and Atal Behari Vajpayee. With the ice having been broken, leaders of both countries should make good use of the opportunity to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

S. Balakrishnan JamshedpurColliery accident

As your story on the Bagdiggi colliery accident showed, there is an almost total disregard for miners' lives in India (March 2). This was a disaster waiting to happen.

Prof. B.K. Kejriwal of the Indian School of Mines has analysed all the major accidents and disasters and made this remark: "Almost all cases of inundations have occurred due to gross negligence and utter disregard for the safety regulations on the part o f management" (Safety in Mines - A Survey of Accidents, Their Causes and Prevention, 1901-1993). Bagdiggi is no exception.

However, politicians should not be allowed to get away with just blaming Coal India or BCCL officials. In 1995, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted a new convention on the health and safety in mines (ILO Convention 176), which laid down t he minimum standards for mines safety. In accordance with the ILO Constitution, the government should have submitted this to the Lok Sabha by December 1996 at the latest. It still has not done so. A year ago the Ninth National Tripartite Conference on Sa fety in Mines was held in Delhi - the first such conference since the ILO adopted the convention. The Ministry of Labour draws up the agenda. Was the ILO Convention mentioned? No. None of the political parties - the BJP, the Congress(I) and various Third Front constituents - did anything serious about mine safety when it was in power.

Stirling Smith, Labour and Society International Bolton, England

* * *Rahul Jain AgraEconomic policy

Three contributions in Frontline (March 2), "Pre-Budget reflections" by Arun Ghosh, "A shoddy guidebook" by C.P. Chandrasekhar and "Development policy and right to development" by Arjun Sengupta, are splendid companion pieces that merit being read together. For good reasons.

The pieces by Professors Ghosh and Chandrasekhar put across very pertinently that the recipes proffered by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council's (EAC) recent report are evidently those from the World Bank's soup-kitchen, as it were. The report is neither innovative nor path-breaking. It does not capture the real state of the prevailing economic turf in India; it recommends a stiffer dose of the LPG (liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation) pill for every economic ill. The fact remains that a decade of administration of the pill has served only to swell the number of the poor and deprived in India and create, paradoxically, a band of consumerist middle class that is indifferent, if not hostile, to the plight of the poor.

The EAC report has lost sight of the fact that India lives in nearly six and a half lakh villages and scores of urban slums, the quality of life of whose inhabitants is indescribably miserable. It sadistically advises the removal of whatever protectionis t fig leaves that remain for the poor. The report follows the World Bank rationale that economic growth will take care of poverty alleviation - a rationale that puts the economic growth cart before the poverty horse. The report's advice has touches of th e Marie Antoinette counsel, that the poor eat cake since bread is scarce.

It is against this backdrop that Sengupta's essay becomes relevant, particularly since he argues that development is a human right, the ends of which can be served in a poor country like India only by ensuring distributive justice with priority rather th an chasing the mirage of economic growth. If China is attempting market-socialism now, it needs to be accepted that it has done quite some economic levelling over a period of five decades - a fact that the EAC report does not take into account at all. Th e EAC has not taken note of an interesting fact that Chandrasekhar has highlighted - the recent evidence that loss of employment has accompanied reforms in China, threatening a return of poverty among sections of the population.

Contextually, it merits mention that the World Bank has shifted its development idiom. The Bank's Presidents, from Robert McNamara to James Wolfensohn, used to parrot that the raison d'etre of the Bank's operation was poverty-alteration.

Of late, the Bank repeats the refrain, "Our dream is a world free of poverty". Does the World Bank intend to shift its identity from a 'doer' to a 'dreamer'? Is it well-advised to follow the advice of the EAC to toe the World Bank line? Obviously not. An alternative development paradigm, based on the plank of distributive justice with priority, warrants serious consideration, at least now.

John Mammen ThiruvananthapuramCrisis in agriculture

The problems faced by our agricultural economy owing to the impact of globalisation are acute. This shows clearly the lack of vision of our governments.

At each step towards globalisation, warnings were issued by experts, political parties and non-governmental organisations about the vicious impact it may have on the economy. Had the governments considered them, held discussions at various platforms and arrived at a consensus, we could have avoided these cries over spilt milk. At least we could have prepared ourselves for these changes. Even countries smaller than India could bargain and get more than it while India remained a mere spectator. If its agr icultural economy collapses, what will be the future of India?

Binoy Zacharia Kottayam* * *

It is true that the gains made by the State in the social sector are mostly because of land reforms. However, it must also be noted that productivity in the agriculture sector came down steadily after land reforms. Today the State's farm sector shows a d ismal picture. One of the original objectives of land reforms was to increase agricultural output. In almost all States that have not introduced any kind of land reforms, agricultural output has considerably increased after the Green Revolution. If land reforms would only fragment landholdings and bring down productivity, it should be viewed as something that is detrimental to the interests of the nation.

Dr. Swaminathan's scholarly views on the paradoxical situation that has emerged in Kerala is solicited.

Pradeep Krishnan Palakkad
Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment