Editorial 1/ Centre holds not
Editorial 2/ Big brother watches
Selling the family silver
Fifth Column/ Islands of tragedy and terror
Elusive dreams of green fields
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ CENTRE HOLDS NOT 
 
 
 
 
There is very little doubt that the Central government will soon have to take a stand on a couple of extremely contentious issues. The first issue is whether it accepts in full the recommendations of the 11th finance commission. The 11th finance commission has recommended a marginal increase in the proportion of the Central government’s tax revenues which have to be distributed to the states. While the states must have been hoping for a much larger increase, they would probably have accepted this after mild protests. But it is the formula for the allocation amongst the states which has generated very strong resentment within some states. Following the tradition set by previous finance commission awards, the 11th finance commission has also retained state per capita income as one of the determinants of the inter-state allocation, with poorer states getting a higher share. It has increased the weight given to this determinant from 60 per cent to 62.5 per cent.

The 11th finance commission has adopted an additional criterion of fiscal discipline, with those states which raise higher resources being rewarded. Since the richer states are typically the ones which practise fiscal discipline, it might appear at first sight that these states would not be at a disadvantage because of the income criterion. Unfortunately, there has been a tremendous increase in inter-state disparities during the Nineties. Hence, the net effect of the 11th finance commission award is that the richer states will face a substantial cut in their shares while some of the poorer states (Bihar, UP, West Bengal) stand to receive substantially higher shares. Naturally, the richer states are bitterly opposed to the award, while the poorer state are crowing with delight. So, one side or the other will be incensed with whatever decision taken by the Central government! Perhaps the Central government will take the path of least resistance and accept the 11th finance commission recommendations in full. In its defence, it could claim that the criteria adopted by the commission are not substantially different from those of its predecessors. If it wants to deliver a blow “below the belt”, it could also point out that the plight of Andhra Pradesh, which is leading the fight against the award, is due in large measure to its dismal record in the sphere of fiscal discipline.

The second issue — the level of petroleum product prices — is one in which all the states will be ranged against the Centre. International crude oil prices have been rising steadily. They will probably go up even further in the winter since the demand for fuel on account of heating increases sharply. Domestic prices of liquid petroleum gas cylinders, kerosene and diesel are substantially below the landed cost of these products, and the subsidy bill will soon reach unmanageable proportions. The government has two options. It can reduce the customs duties on imports of petroleum products. This will reduce the landed cost and hence lower the amount of subsidy. Unfortunately, this will also reduce government revenue. Alternatively, it can raise domestic prices of petroleum products, thereby earning the ire of voters as well as that of the regional parties in the ruling coalition. Prudence dictates that it walk on both legs — lower customs duties slightly and also raise prices. This is perhaps an appropriate time to lament the fact that the system of administered prices of petroleum products has not been scrapped, despite a cabinet decision to do so three years ago.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ BIG BROTHER WATCHES 
 
 
 
 
The shadow of the state over all aspects of Indian society refuses to retreat. The Board of Control for Cricket in India is the latest institution to feel the presence of the state. The BCCI since its inception has been an autonomous institution. But following the scandal over betting and match fixing by cricketers, the Union minister for sports, Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, has suggested that the BCCI and other similar sports bodies would be made accountable to the government. He added that the sports policy, which will be placed before parliament in the next session, will include this recommendation. Under the new policy, sports bodies would be answerable to the state. In other words, BCCI and other such institutions would lose their autonomy. When asked why state regulation and control were necessary over the BCCI, Mr Dhindsa remarked that national prestige was involved in the activities of the BCCI and this justified state intervention. This is an absurd proposition because it assumes that the presence of the state would automatically lead to a revival of national prestige in cricket or that it would raise the level of integrity and sincerity among the officials of the BCCI. Neither of these conclusions will hold water with anyone who knows how the state functions and is aware of the results of state intervention in the economy and other public institutions.

The state’s desire to spread its tentacles springs from a socialist hangover. It was the great delusion of the Nehruvian era that the state could act as the arbiter in all spheres of public life. It led to the state enlarging its activities with disastrous consequences. The state became a vested interest in itself and led to all round demoralization. Despite the progress of economic reforms and the dismantling of the state sector, the faith of politicians and bureaucrats in the state dies hard. The idea of a minimalist state is not something the official Indian mind accepts with any degree of approval and willingness. This is the principal reason for the slow pace of reforms in India. It is now clear that in the realms of sports and culture, the state and its representatives will continue to cling to outmoded notions of their self-importance.    


 
 
SELLING THE FAMILY SILVER 
 
 
BY BHASKAR DUTTA
 
 
There is no apparent connection between the troubles in Kashmir and the Central government’s struggle to implement economic reforms. But recent events seem to indicate that the pattern of progress (or more accurately the lack of it) in both contexts is remarkably similar. For instance, the peace progress in Kashmir often seems to proceed along a “one step forward, two steps back” path. This has also been the story of implementing economic reforms in the country. The current government seemed very enthusiastic about accelerating the process of reforms, and announced a number of measures which brought hope to the pro-reform school. But, recently the Ram Vilas Paswans seem to have gained the upper hand — free telephones and other goodies to government employees may be the most revolutionary steps undertaken by the government!

Perhaps the best example of the “one step forward, two steps back” path is the government’s experience with the disinvestment exercise. Throughout the last decade, the disinvestment of government holdings in public sector enterprises with the eventual goal of privatization has always been a top priority of successive governments. The current government has been no exception. It took bold steps to sell off Modern Foods. The state-owned airlines were also prime targets of the disinvestment programme, and there are hopes that Air India may soon be partially privatized.

The budget for the current fiscal year has set a target of Rs 10,000 crore, a figure which suggests that the government does mean business. Newspapers have also been full of stories that the Central government has been contemplating selling off part of its holdings in public sector banks. The target level of disinvestment is said to be as high as 74 per cent in the stronger public sector banks.

These have been positive steps. However, the pace of progress was too good to be true. Several ministers in the Union cabinet have been less than enthusiastic about the disinvestment programme. They have received staunch support from the leftist parties and the employees of the public sector undertakings threatened with privatization. Of course, the latter group’s opposition is easily understood. After all, they have cushy jobs in the public sector, and many of them may lose their positions under private management.

Unfortunately, the pressure may be proving too much for the government. The prime minister has just finished a meeting with the committee of public sector trade unions. The committee has decided to defer the proposed three-day nationwide strike by central public sector workers, ostensibly in response to an appeal from the prime minister. However, newspapers suggest that Atal Behari Vajpayee may also have made some conciliatory statements. He is supposed to have offered reassurances that the government is against the “indiscriminate” privatization and closure of public sector units. One newspaper even suggested that there was some sort of assurance that profitable PSUs would not be sold off.

The public sector employees will certainly lose out if the public sector is gradually shut down. Voluntary retirement schemes, retraining and redeployment will take care of the interests of the vast majority of employees. In any case, why should public money be tied up in protecting the interests of a section of workers in the organized sector when other workers do not have similar protection? So, the case for the survival of the public sector has to hinge on whether it continues to bring any benefits to the national economy

The public sector is often credited with having built up the heavy industrial base of the Indian economy. The argument runs along the lines that private entrepreneurs would simply not have shouldered the huge risks associated with setting up heavy industries. The initial size of the small domestic market would have acted as a deterrent since the private sector would necessarily take uncoordinated decisions. In contrast, the public sector could take coordinated decisions so that the steel industry would demand the products of the capital goods industry while the capital goods industry would demand the output of the steel industry. In other words, the simultaneous creation of several giant firms would circumvent the problem of small markets because each small firm would demand the products of the other firms.

This is no longer a justification for the survival of the public sector enterprises. These have outlived their usefulness. For instance, what does the country lose if Air India is privatized? Or if the Indian Tourism Development Corporation hotels are run by the Oberois or Taj Group?

As far as units in the service sector are concerned, what matters is whether the consumer gets decent service at reasonable prices. Air India offers lousy service. And on many occasions, it is Air India which has asked the government to intervene when foreign airlines offer heavily discounted fares!

Even a cursory look at the balance sheets of these enterprises suggests that they produce paltry returns on the capital invested in them — most of them are not commercially viable. Most of these units are now in sunset industries or operate with rundown machinery and obsolete technology. Only massive infusions of capital can possibly restore their viability. No private venture capitalist is likely to take the risk of lending money to these enterprises unless it is at exorbitant rates of interest. On the other hand, the government itself faces severe financial constraints, and so simply cannot infuse fresh capital into these enterprises.

So, it is time that the government shed its ambivalent attitude, and pressed on resolutely with the disinvestment exercise. The government can rake in a lot of money from the disinvestment exercise. This is also the appropriate point to emphasize that only convoluted thinking can come up with the argument that profitable public sector enterprises should not be sold. The more profitable the firm, the higher the price at which it can be sold. That is, the government loses nothing by selling off a profitable enterprise provided it can extract an appropriate price from the buyer.

It must also discard old prejudices. It is shooting at its own feet by imposing unnecessary restrictions. For instance, there is no reason why any government should continue to own 26 per cent of a company making bread or 49 per cent of a domestic airline. Surely, it cannot believe that it will have to act as a watchdog on these companies in order to protect the country’s interests. In that case, it should appoint watchdogs on all companies operating in India! Equally absurd is the decision of the government to debar foreign airlines from owning equity in Indian Airlines. It is obvious that the best price for the airline’s equity would have been paid by some foreign airline which could have come in as a strategic partner.

It is important that the government use this money wisely. Perhaps, the best option is for it to retire debt. A major problem for the government is the inordinately high level of interest payments — this is perhaps the single most important reason for its failure to keep the fiscal deficit to reasonable levels. The retirement of debt with the proceeds from disinvestment will serve two purposes. It will help in the eventual control of the fiscal deficit by reducing its debt service burden. More important, this will also enable the government to ward off allegations that it is “selling the family silver” to pay for its current profligacy. After all, the government would simply be selling some of its assets to reduce its overall indebtedness.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ ISLANDS OF TRAGEDY AND TERROR 
 
 
SUDIPTA BHATTACHARJEE
 
 
The visit of the Japanese prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, to India beginning yesterday has unleashed demands for an apology for wartime atrocities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In a letter to the president and the prime minister, the Homfraygunj Martyrs’ Memorial Committee said, “The Japanese forces committed untold barbaric torture, atrocities and mass murders...they eliminated people in a planned and systematic manner of so-called ‘round-ups’ with ulterior motive. These black deeds speak badly of the Japanese forces’ intelligence failure and inability to locate spies.”

The committee has sought the intervention of the heads of state to urge the Japanese prime minister to visit the Andamans during his trip to India. The members have demanded that Mori visit and offer floral tributes at the Balidan Vedi, established in 1978 to commemorate the massacre of 44 members of the Indian Independence League.

There is a monument to the valour of their brethren who were packed off to the cellular jail on the penal settlement by the British administration. Veering from the Port Blair-Wandoor road, shortly after the “spice farm” frequented by tourists, is a gateway. It makes for an interesting detour though, into the labyrinthine annals of an island’s history and a nation’s quest for freedom.

Remembering martyrs

The narrow metalled track disappears into a clump of vegetation but re-emerges and meanders across a hillock, coming to a stop before a pair of blue gates set in a red brick wall. It bears the legend: “Balidan Vedi — martyr’s memorial, Homfraygunj.” Had the Japanese not slaughtered 44 Indian freedom fighters and dumped the bodies in this place back of beyond, Homfraygunj would have remained unmarked on the Andaman map. But kill they did, shortly after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose visited the islands, in one of the ghastliest crimes in India’s freedom struggle.

The Japanese met with no resistance when they dropped anchor off Port Blair on March 23, 1942 since the British occupants had fled the penal settlement by then, leaving the islanders to their own devices. Three months later, the first unit of the Indian National Army was formed.

Initially, the Japanese went about setting residential houses ablaze. However, after the Allies deliberately orchestrated a disinformation campaign that the islanders (including the tribals) were British spies, the Japanese went on a rampage. Even women and children were not spared the slaughter and thousands of innocent people were flung by these troops into the high seas when food supplies ran short. This was recounted by Saudagar Khan, one of the survivors who managed to swim ashore.

Sorry, no way

Referring to the recent apologies by Japan to Korea for wartime excesses, the Homfraygunj committee has asked the Indian government to extract an apology from Mori for atrocities “by the Nippon Japanese Government Force during World War II when they were in occupation of these islands. Mori should also spell out Japanese compensation for the devastation of property from the very first day of occupation of these islands and the loss of lives due to mass murder. “The grant of such compensation should be similar in the ways as was granted to the people of many countries wherever the Japanese forces occupied, committed atrocities and performed systematic mass murder of the people of these countries and caused heavy damage to property,” the letter says.

But the plea, made on “humanitarian grounds” to the “great preacher of world peace” is likely to go unheeded. Firstly, India is keen on resumption of loans stopped by Japan following the Pokhran II nuclear tests in May 1998. The Delhi Metro project and the Shimadhari thermal plant in Andhra Pradesh are heavily dependent on Japanese aid and the Centre would hardly wish to antagonize a visiting head of state with pleas for apologies at this juncture.

Secondly, this is not the first time that the martyrs’ memorial panel has voiced the sentiments of a distraught island population. Since 1991, seven reminders were served regarding Japanese acknowledgement of war crimes but all of them drew a blank. Indeed, it would be naive to expect otherwise, however unfair the situation.    


 
 
ELUSIVE DREAMS OF GREEN FIELDS 
 
 
MADHUDHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
 
The taut sinews on Munshi Ram’s shoulders ripple in the late afternoon sun as he bends down to plant the first sapling on a five acre plot of alluvial slush outlying the Punpun delta. For the 50 year old Dalit farmer, it is a tumultuous moment— a red letter day — marking a watershed in his inconspicuous life, the better part of which has been spent toiling as a marginal farmhand on Bhumihar fields.

For the first time, landless Dalit farmers of Gawari village in Jehanabad district have access to land, plots which they can claim as their own under the protective shadow of ubiquitous red flags, a fleeting reminder of the turbulent underground. Munsi Ram received his patta (deed) in April, when surplus ceiling land was forcibly de-reserved by the Naxalites, but he did not have enough money to take possession of the land.

His benevolent underground patrons took care of that and Munsi Ram became a registered “land owner”. The change, though slow, is beginning to strike at the roots of Jehanabad’s land distribution pattern.

An increasing number of landless Dalits are staking claim on surplus ceiling land, which they once tilled for their upper caste masters. The turnaround was made possible by the Naxalite outfits, which imposed “blockade” on surplus land so that it could be redistributed among the Dalits.

Even till a couple of decades ago, land was the sole preserve of the upper castes. But this stranglehold eased as the upper castes’ political clout began to weaken following the Yadav upsurge.

A trip back in time helps unravel the genesis of change since Jehanabad’s turmoil has its roots in history.

Carved out of the Gaya district in 1986 shortly before the Arwal massacre, Jehanabad was intended to be a separate police district to make it easier for the authorities to tackle extremism. With a population of one million and a literacy rate of 31.01 per cent, higher than the state’s mean average of 26 per cent, the district is preponderantly agrarian. Over 85 per cent of the work force is engaged in agriculture.

Although the industrial action plan document cites that Jehanabad has no industrial base, there was a time when the turbulent district was famous for the coarse “Patna cloth”, a symbol of M.K. Gandhi’s “khadi and charkha movement.” But decentralization destroyed the industry, rendering thousands of Dalit weavers jobless. Over the years, they sought recourse in agriculture as the source of sustenance. As land was in control of affluent upper caste Bhumihars and Rajputs, the backward industry rejects became sharecroppers and tenant cultivators.

Before the abolition of the zamindari system, the bulk of Jehanabad formed part of the Tikari estate owned by the raja, Mod Narain Singh, scion of an affluent upper caste family which had consolidated base during the permanent settlement of land by Lord Cornwallis. The long rope given by Cornwallis to the landlords bred a social divide that led to an eventual churning.

The ruthlessness of the upper caste landlords was fabled. The backwards peasants were at their mercy. The noted peasant leader, Sahajanand Saraswati, in his autobiography, Mera Jeewan Sangharsh, observes that “tenants outside Masaurha zamindari in the district were unwilling to get their daughters married there as exploitation of backward women by upper caste landlords was rampant.” The first peasant movement was spawned at Masaurha (now known as Masaurhi or Masurdih) in 1928. The Kisan Sabha took nebulous shape when disgruntled farmers got together to take on the zamindars. But even before the Kisan Sabha took up cudgels on behalf of the tenants and the landless tillers, caste-based groups of different segments of the tenantry were already vocal.

The first class struggle between the Yadavs (or the Gwalas) was reported in early 1920 when the Yadavs insisted on wearing their sacred threads and barred their women from going to the landlords’ houses to deliver milk.

However, since class war manifested itself in terms of caste, the landlords were able to create schisms among the different backward caste groups. It was much later that the agrarian conflict assumed political overtones and found a common platform.

Many anti-peasant movement rallyists feel that land distribution in Jehanabad has been equitable. But a study reveals that at least 13,369 of the total 143,998 holdings in Jehanabad are owned by landowners through benami transactions. These lands, acquired fraudulently, proved to be another bone of contention between the peasants and the landowners.

Moreover, a sharp decline in productivity compounded agrarian tension. Landowners cracked down on the peasants with a vengeance, preventing the implementation of various laws. According to the 1988 Gurudas Dasgupta parliamentary sub-committee report, the Dalit farmhands were even denied basic wages under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.

Even the land reform movement initiated by the state government was faulty. The gairmazarua land (common or public land acquired through delimitation of surplus ceiling land), which was supposed to have been redistributed among the landless, continued to be illegally occupied by the landlords. Statistics cite that “settled” public land accounts for only 38 per cent of the total land holding in the district.

Denial of minimum wages, faulty land reforms and slow adjudication of land reform cases formed the crux of the class conflict in Jehanabad. Winds of change swept the terrain in the late Sixties when the ultra-left made inroads into Dalit villages. The Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha organized the Dalits so they could rise in revolt against the order. It coincided with the political decline of the Bhumihars in the state.

In 1967, the Bhumihars emerged as the second largest group in the Bihar assembly with 34 legislators. Paradoxically, it also marked a watershed as the backward groups assumed preeminence in politics thereafter by usurping the upper caste base. In 1969, the Bhumihar lobby in the state Congress decided to throw in its lot with Indira Gandhi, who tactfully engineered the Bhumihars’ marginalization in state politics. Caste isolation among the Rajputs and the Bhumihars also expedited the process of decay, much to the delight of the Dalits.

The Naxalites cashed in on this divide and created a new power base spearheaded by the backwards. Changing alignments have also transformed the region’s demography and land pattern. The upper caste dominance has given away to a backward class surge and Yadavs now form 20 per cent of the district’s population followed by the Bhumihars 16 per cent, Dalits 14 per cent, Muslims 10 per cent, Rajputs seven per cent, Koeris three per cent, Kurmis seven per cent and Brahmins seven per cent. Even the voting pattern has changed.

Ceiling land, once settled fraudulently, was blocked by the Naxalites and now the district has three categories of land — those distributed to the Dalits, blockade land and upper caste land. A study found nearly 12,000 acres of blockade land in Jehanabad and its adjoining districts last year. With the Naxalites imposing their writ on illegally occupied land the number of land dispute cases have also decreased. Between January 1999 and January 2000, only six new land dispute cases were registered in court.

This, coupled with a mass exodus of Bhumihar families from violence-prone villages to Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, tilted the balance in favour of the Dalits. But perhaps the most telling factor, in the words of the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, Laloo Prasad Yadav, has been a “gradual reconciliation of feudal forces to backward rule in the flaming fields of central Bihar”.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Research blues

Sir — Avijit Ghosh’s article, “Thought Shop” (Aug 20), was an eyeopener in more ways than one. It is truly unfortunate if academic research becomes completely dependent upon the priorities of the market. Not every discipline can attract private projects and consultancy. Does this mean that these subjects should be pushed to the fringes of academic engagement? Foreign currency is pouring into areas where private projects can be accommodated. This naturally enables more and better facilities, secretarial help and research assistance. The inevitable corollary to this is the segmentation of the academic world into the haves and the have-nots. Theoretical research is slowly becoming a marketable item, at least in the Indian context. The question that springs to mind is whether or not this is acceptable. What are we headed for? Will our future generations consider subjects like sociology fossilized relics of a “backward” 20th century? And if this happens, will all of us not be collectively responsible?
Yours faithfully,
Priyabrata Chatterjee, via email

Pressing concerns

Sir — It is unfortunate that the staff members of the coordination committee led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) showed no compunction in beating up journalists within the Writers’ Buildings (“Writers’ staff rough up scribes”, Aug 11). In the recent past, one of the ministers of the state cabinet hurled abuses at journalists in front of television cameras.

Apologies from the home (police) minister and the finance minister and formation of multiple commissions will not salvage the liberty of the press. What is even more surprising is that the members of the coordination committee dared to challenge the authenticity of the accreditation cards issued by the government. Did they not overreach their limits?

The incident amounts to a gross violation of Article 19(1) of the Constitution, which provides for the freedom of the press. Will the state CPI(M) secretary detect the evil hand of Mamata Banerjee behind this politics of violence as well?

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir — Even a casual student of military history has read of the terrors unleashed by Adolf Hitler on fellow Germans during World War II when he realized that his dream of ruling the world was about to be shattered. With the Russians slowly advancing on Berlin, Hitler made it mandatory for every soldier to fight till death; officers were shot for campaign failures, and soldiers shot if they retreated an inch.

A similar situation is staring the CPI(M) in West Bengal in the face. That the party believes in “might is right” has long been accepted. What is new is that the terror tactics, till now concentrated in the rural areas for drawing votes, has now come out in the open — in fact, within the premises of the Writers’ Buildings. With the Trinamool Congress making inroads into the red bastion, the party is now in such a tizzy that it has lost its sanity. Significant as well as ironic, the incident occurred before the information and culture department. Those whose duty it is to keep the nation informed were thrashed, and a female journalist was assaulted. This speaks volumes of the regard the ruling party has for information and culture.

Yours faithfully,
Santanu Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir — Buddhadev Bhattacharya was earlier criticized for the demolition of the press enclosure in the Writers’ Buildings. And now there has been an unprovoked attack by a group of employees of the department of information and cultural affairs on 11 journalists on duty. This kind of barbarism is reminiscent of the dark ages. Had the presence of journalists been disturbing, the attackers could have lodged a complaint with the authorities instead of taking the law into their own hands. If such assaults become common occurrences in the mansions of the rulers, what can one expect in other government offices?

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Sir — A section of political supporters, which has gained unbridled power, is destroying the image of the CPI(M) as well as the peace of the society. It is true that many media organizations have grown up in the last decade or so and their reporting has not always been to the liking of the powerholders. The government can accredit some journalists to cover important issues and request the rest to collect the news from them. If nothing else, this will be an infinitely better measure than such uncivilized ways of voicing protest.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Chakraborty, Howrah

Call all users

Sir — Calcutta Telephones is still in the dumps, despite the fact that telecommunications facilities in all other metros have improved considerably. Notwithstanding computerization and tall claims in the media, the fault repairing system here is almost non-existent. The numbers assigned to receive complaints about telephone connections either go unanswered or remain busy for the better part of the day. Of course, after working hours or during weekends it is impossible even to imagine that the service would be functional. Repeated complaints to the chief general manager are not acted upon, or even acknowledged.

Only a couple of months back the 440 exchange was upgraded. But, ever since this new upgradation, subscribers have lost many existing facilities. For instance, the special “long” ring which would enable one to distinguish between a long distance call and a local one is no longer available. Other facilities have vanished as well. And the receipt and despatch section refuses to accept letters addressed to the divisional engineer about this matter.

This is a very unpleasant state of affairs. Waxing eloquent about the telecom revolution does not make the slightest sense if even basic facilities are denied the subscribers. Could the formation of an authority like the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited be an answer?

Yours faithfully,
S.R. Khastgir, Calcutta

Sir — When the statutory telecom regulatory authority of India revised telephone tariffs upwards, an exercise which it was dutybound to conduct, the ministers and the government intervened to modify it. This intervention had no legal basis. When the Andhra Pradesh electricity regulation commission revised the rates, the government tried again to modify the decisions. While it is true that no one really likes the rise, the question is why the government feels obliged to interfere in the decisions taken by ostensibly autonomous bodies such as the TRAI. If certain powers are conferred on these bodies by statute, why should these powers be taken away through the back door? Then these autonomous bodies can be assigned powers of recommendation alone.

Yours faithfully,
T. Mani Chowdary, Secunderabad

Sir — The department of telecommunications should issue annual “business pages” directories in the mould of the “yellow pages”. It could tie up with reputed publishing houses to launch a useful annual publication of public utilities. In the event that the DoT cannot implement such an idea, it should sell publication rights of telephone directories to private companies. This can only enhance the convenience of the users. The present system of free but inconvenient distribution of directories in New Delhi is a drain on resources. At the moment the customers have to make the trip during office hours to the distribution centres to get the directories. It would ease matters if these directories were sold at post offices and other public places at a nominal charge.

Yours faithfully,
Subhash Chandra Agrawal, Dariba

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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