Editorial-1/ Customs does stale
Editorial-2/ Less law, more fun
Governed by sobriety
Fifth column/ Women in power can do and undo
Terrorisms visible and invisible
Letters to the Editor

In the general gloom and doom, exports are the only silver lining. At the economic editors’ conference, the Union commerce minister, Mr Murasoli Maran, maintained that exports are on target for 18 per cent dollar growth this financial year. This is plausible, since in the first five months, exports have grown by almost 24 per cent and have not yet been touched by the internal or global slowdown. Since the export-import policy, Mr Maran’s favourite theme has been special economic zones and he harped on these again. Four existing export processing zones in Kandla, Cochin, Mumbai and Surat will be converted into SEZs from November 1 and there will be six more SEZs in Positra in Gujarat, Nanguneri in Tamil Nadu, Kakinad-Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, Paradip in Orissa, Kulpi in West Bengal and Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh. Some of these will be developed in collaboration with the private sector, including Sumitomo of Japan and Jangtron of Singapore. Export processing zones have not performed well in India, so why should a change in nomenclature from EPZs to SEZs make a difference? Is private sector involvement alone sufficient?

At the time of the exim policy, Mr Maran suggested that SEZs would have more flexible labour laws than elsewhere in the country. The resultant flak means that this idea has gone for a six. The sole merit of SEZs now lies in easier procedures, based on self-certification and green channel procedures. While details are yet unknown, it is a sad commentary on the nature of procedural constraints that SEZs should be sold on the basis of this argument. Procedural constraints need to be eased everywhere, not just for SEZs. But perhaps the commerce minister is losing his reformist zeal. Why else would he talk about amending the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act? The amendment the government has in mind is the removal of the clause that requires mandatory permission by state governments from the Centre. While decentralization is important, the only real element left in the 1951 IDRA is small-scale industry reservation. If the logic of SSI dereservation is accepted, the IDRA deserves to be junked, not amended. Echoing what Mr Manohar Joshi said earlier, Mr Maran also suggested that import of second-hand cars will be restricted through tariffs and quantitative restrictions. High tariffs are bad enough. A mention of QRs befits Mr Joshi, not Mr Maran, even if Rs 50,000 crore of investments have been made in the automobile sector. Thankfully, the commerce minister was not ambivalent on the general removal of QRs, due in April 2001. He also cited figures to show that the shift of 714 tariff lines to open general licence in April 2000 has not led to an import surge, especially if one takes away gems and jewellery related imports. The value of imports of high profile consumer goods is insignificant, a fact that should console those who are worried about April 2001.

The exim policy also stated that Rs 250 crore will be allocated to the states and union territories, based on their export efforts. Mr Maran reiterated this. While overall budgetary allocation has been made, there are no details on how this sum will be distributed, particularly since statewise export figures are unavailable or unreliable. The only charitable view possible concerns the medium term export strategy, being worked out in consultation with export promotion councils and commodity boards. Perhaps reforms have been postponed to that announcement. If that is not the case, one will be left wondering at Mr Maran’s strange transition to the camp of Mr Joshi.    

Policemen have stopped being heroes for a long time. Police atrocities and the links some policemen have with criminals have been causes of concern all over India, but the scene has not shown any remarkable change. In West Bengal, the corruption and indiscipline the public perceives in the police has been put down largely to the politicization of the force. There can be no better substantiation of this than the shameless antics which took place at the Alipore Bodyguard Lines last week. The organizer of the shindig was the Calcutta Police Association, backed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It is not surprising that the five battalions of armed police at the Bodyguard Lines enjoyed nightlong programmes defying noise-level bars, ignoring the complaints of neighbours and, reportedly, senior police officials and oblivious to the intensive cardiac care units in two nearby hospitals. This incident is an overt example of the indiscipline and lawlessness that many policemen constantly display. It was noticeable this time because it was prolonged and came through as a concerted show of defiance. Such policemen have helped in riots, insulted girls, beaten up taxi drivers. Two days later they went a long way towards flouting the order of their seniors. They were asked to participate in a game that had been officially arranged. The defiant law-enforcers, led by members of the association, surrounded the the joint commissioner of police and turned tail only when the deputy commissioner threatened them with “disciplinary action”. Perhaps they felt their seniors had done the unforgivable. An inquiry had been ordered into their noise rule violations.

The phenomenon is very familiar. The police association is showing the same recklessness as the rank and file of the CPI(M) in flouting the law and dealing with anyone who opposes their wishes. Police offenders are rarely punished in India. In West Bengal, right at this moment, it is probably unthinkable. But unless the unthinkable comes to pass, there will be nothing left of the state’s rapidly disintegrating law and order.    

Bimal Jalan’s midterm review of monetary and credit policy for the year 2000-2001 was a non-event, even as Jalan had promised it would be. He had ruled out, well ahead of his statement, any changes in bank rate and the cash reserve ratio. He seems determined to reduce the hype that had surrounded the biannual credit policy. In fact, the occupants of the top floors of the Reserve Bank of India used to be quite concerned about secrecy, particularly about the details of the credit policy and its impact, the likely media reactions as well as their effect on the markets. It was also customary for the governor and his top aides to clear the broad structure of the policy changes with the powers that be at New Delhi.

I recall an occasion when one of Jalan’s predecessors, R.N. Malhotra, wanted to announce a decision on the decrease of interest rate for agricultural credit. Remember, those were the days when the RBI used to decide rates for different categories of credit? The then finance minister, who was a political veteran, felt that it would be more appropriate for the government, that is, himself, to announce these changes.

A compromise was arrived at. Jalan was chief economic advisor to the government of India at that time. It was decided that the finance minister would issue a statement in Parliament and indicate that the governor, RBI would be issuing a corresponding statement at Mumbai, incorporating the necessary changes. Propriety was observed on both sides. The bank’s right to be first, with the changes in interest rates, was safeguarded. So too was the finance minister’s ego, as he was the first to announce a politically important decision.

The origin of the busy season and slack season credit policy is mostly explained by the essentially agricultural rhythm of India’s economy and finance. In the busy season, the demands for funds increase as the crops come into the market. The slack season is when the farmers draw money from the banks for their cultivation expenses. The busy season credit policy had to be crafted, at least in the earlier days, keeping this distinction in mind.

Now, there are many more cycles for the RBI to contend with — the foreign exchange cycle, the portfolio flows and the exports. The RBI’s credit policy cannot be clearly distinguished between the busy and the slack season, purely on the basis of agricultural production. This must have been one of the many reasons why Jalan decided to devalue the importance of the credit policy. He also discovered that he had both the right and the obligation to react to the situation in the financial markets as they unfolded. They could not be expected to coincide with the timing of the policy statement. This is as it should be. The governor has every right to react to the changing financial scenario. He cannot ask the country to wait for the issuance of credit policy. The analogy of the credit policy statement by the governor with the budget is misconceived. Jalan’s decision to make changes in policy, as and when they are called for, is entirely rational. He has cited the example of many countries, including the United States, where such changes are made more frequently than biannually. It is only fair to add that even Jalan’s predecessors had retained the right to intervene, as and when necessary. At no time did the credit policy restrict the freedom of governors to intervene at times of their choosing.

Shorn of its mystique, Jalan’s credit policy statement is a workmanlike document going over the main features of the country’s economic performance. It comments on the growth of credit to business as sufficient. The fact is that flow of resources from banks to businesses in various forms has grown by nearly 15 per cent over the year. But this is not reflected in the growth of industrial production, mainly because there has been an increase in inventory of industrial products.

Increase has been seen in stocks of fertilizers, petroleum products and sugar, funded mostly by bank resources. Particularly to be mentioned is the stock of foodgrains of nearly 40 million tonnes, far higher than the buffer stock that India needs. This high stock is a reflection of the irrational policies on procurement and also the fact that there is not sufficient offtake from the public distribution system.

While it is true that a high food stock is part of food security for the country, there is room for difference as to how high it should be. High food stocks also contribute to heightened food prices. It is worth noting that Jalan has refrained from offering any critical comment on the government’s policies in this or any other matter.

The credit policy statement is refreshing for a transparent discussion of alternative polices that could have been adopted in managing the foreign exchange. The governor discusses the point of view that is advanced from time to time that recourse to one or two measures more sharply and intensively would have been more appropriate. Thus, for instance, the rupee would have been allowed to depreciate more sharply and find its own level. The governor concedes the argument that in certain circumstances, depending on the availability of firm information on what was exactly causing turbulence in foreign exchange markets, either of these positions would be valid.

But, the assumption made by the governor that the policymaker and his antagonists were in possession of precise information as to the causes of uncertainty is itself the source of the problem. Very often, the precise cause and the degree of volatility as well as its duration are difficult to estimate or forecast. In the situation prevailing in our exchange markets during May-August 2000, based on a continuous analysis of the evolving situations, recourse to a combination of measures was preferred. This enabled the RBI to reduce the adverse impact on the rest of the economy.

To quote the governor: “A reliance on one or two measures (for example, sharp monetary tightening or unchecked depreciation of the exchange rate, and/or unlimited use of reserves) could have had unacceptable longer term consequences for the economy and the financial system, including a much greater risk of nonreversible destabilization.” The governor’s statement of policy does include a number of structural reforms, which he has carefully packaged. The treatment of overdues on bank accounts has not so far been on internationally compatible lines. India has been a bit too considerate and allowed banks to get away with lower provision for higher overdues than permitted in other countries.

Jalan has pursued as a mission the transformation of India’s treatment of non-performing assets on the same footing as is globally compatible. This is entirely reasonable, although introduction of the same strict standards of accounting without the legal infrastructure to force defaulters to pay up may seem contradictory. Jalan has done what is in his power to change — the accounting treatment of NPAs.

The statement also incorporates important changes in the manner of accounting for changes in valuation of securities held in the investment account of banks. By and large, the changes are reasonable. Banks should see a gain for their bottomline, considering the high volume of gilts they hold to maturity.

The governor has brought about a revolutionary change in the policy regarding bank investment in the stock market. Now, banks can invest upto five per cent of the value of their total outstanding credit assets as at the end of the previous year. Earlier, it was considered that the limit should be fixed with reference to incremental deposits. Now, the limit announced by the governor is quite liberal. How exactly the banks will acquit themselves in their newfound freedom to invest in the stock markets depends very much on the quality of internal and external supervision and the guidelines to be laid down by the RBI and the bank boards.

To the extent that the investment can be made through the mutual funds, there is some degree of safety. One can expect a degree of professionalism and care in investments organized through mutual funds. The additional funds, which will now be flowing into the stock markets, thanks to Jalan’s latest decision, must be quite large. It can make or break the market.

One hopes that this venture into greater freedom for banks will be accompanied by a more careful supervision of the investing banks by securities and exchange board of India or the RBI. Ultimately, the quality of management of investments by banks in shares should be carefully nurtured by recruiting and placing the best personnel in charge. Supervision is also extremely important. Jalan’s new policy, shorn of hype, involves a number of new departures, but in a characteristic turn of style. For instance, he has avoided commenting critically on the high fiscal deficit, which leaves the RBI with the burden of having to manage a very large Centre’s borrowing programme. The policy statement is aseptic, involving no major criticism of the government. The RBI governor must have realized the futility of whistling against the wind.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India    

Almost drowned out by the blare of daily horrors in west Asia, the world’s first elected woman prime minister, Sirima Bandaranaike, died in Sri Lanka at the age of 84. Fittingly, she died on the way home from casting her vote in an election called by her daughter, the country’s current president. It was also fitting that the main issue of the election was how to stop the civil war “Mrs B” had done so much to start.

In the Fifties, there was still a widespread belief that women were too indecisive for the exercise of power. Later, in the Sixties, there was a theory that women in power would somehow be wiser and gentler than men. Sirimavo (the “vo” is an honorific in Sinhala) Bandaranaike was a living refutation of both propositions. She was fearsomely decisive, and profoundly unwise. Her legacy was a civil war.

At the moment, Sri Lankan citizens are killing one another in industrial quantities in the Jaffna peninsula in the north, what one aid worker recently called “the largest open prison in the world”. The north of the island is home to most of the Tamil-speaking minority, a group so alienated by Bandaranaike’s policies that it eventually fell under the thrall of rebels devoted to the creation of a separate Tamil state.

In the beginning

At least 60,000 people have already died in the 17-year civil war, a struggle that ranges all the way from car bombs to fullscale infantry assaults by both sides. Recently government forces have been losing badly, and are now besieged in Jaffna, the main Tamil city, despite having spent most of the Nineties first trying to capture the city and then to open up land communications from the south.

It is a brutal conflict in which captured teenage fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are routinely expected to commit suicide with cyanide capsules. Bandaranaike’s daughter, the president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, almost lost an eye in an assassination attempt last year, 11 years after she lost her husband to a more successful assassin. And it is all so stupid and unnecessary that the people responsible for it should be punished for their sheer ignorance.

Ignorance, not stupidity, is the right word, at least in the case of Bandaranaike, an intelligent woman and a brilliant political tactician. She was prime minister in three separate decades, but she never understood her own country, or at least that part of it that stood outside the Buddhist, Sinhala-speaking mainstream. She certainly never comprehended the fears of the Tamil minority.

No end to it yet

Indeed, she seemed barely aware of their existence, though Tamils are almost one-fifth of Sri Lanka’s 18 million people. Her first and most fateful decision, to make Sinhala the only national language, was inherited from her husband, prime minister before her, who was assassinated by a deranged Buddhist monk in 1959. But it was she who pushed the legislation through, and started the slide toward civil war in a previously civil society.

The open Tamil fight for independence from Sri Lanka did not start until after the nationwide anti-Tamil pogroms of 1983, at a time when Bandaranaike was out of office. But it was she who did the most to legitimize the attitudes that eventually led to that tragedy. No individual is ever solely responsible for the wreck of an entire country, but Sirima Bandaranaike came pretty close.

How ironic, therefore, that her daughter should be leading the effort to achieve a peaceful settlement with the Tamils. It is a thankless task, because the Tamil leadership has been radicalized to the point of intransigence while ethnic supremacism has become a staple of Sinhalese politics. In last week’s election, she did not win enough seats in parliament to push through constitutional changes that would give Tamil-speaking areas more autonomy, and she still refuses to talk to the Tamil Tigers directly, but she is trying.

The contrast between mother and daughter is of little consolation to Sri Lanka, since the daughter seems unable to undo what the mother has wrought. But in terms of those old arguments about women in power, the two constitute a kind of limiting case. If you can have such extreme variations among the women of one family, then there is no generalization you can safely make about women in power.    

When grievances are not attended to, they accumulate and emit highly inflammable gas: one burning match-stick thrown on it can cause an explosion of unforeseen dimensions. We have many books on terrorism in Punjab but none of its offshoots in the Tarai districts of Uttar Pradesh. Jitinder Kaur who teaches political science in Khalsa College (Delhi University) and has already three books to her credit (one on corruption in the management of the Delhi gurudwaras and two on the political perception of the Punjab peasantry), has come out with a fourth on terrorism in the Tarai. It’s a small book with a limited scope meant to examine the origins, eruption and impact of violence and means adopted to quell it. We can learn much from it.

The Tarai is a narrow belt of land between the foothills of Garhwal and Kumaon comprising the districts of Nainital, Bijnor, Pilibhit, Rampur and Shahjahanpur. It was originally inhabited by Tharu and Baxa tribals. It was full of dense forests, malarial swamps and wild animals including tigers, leopards, bears, wild boars and elephants. The tribals eked out a living out of fruits of the forest.

At the end of World War II, the Uttar Pradesh government decided to open the region to agriculture. The first to come were farmers from Bengal and Bihar. Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, extended an invitation to Sikh farmers, expelled from Pakistan. They were more enterprising and harder-working than Bengalis and Biharis. Also more aggressive. They were granted afforested land in generous measure. They acquired more by encroaching on neighbouring lands, buying off or bullying the tribals. Within a few years, the Tarai became the most prosperous agricultural region in the country.

It took the state government some years to wake up to the fact that they had got more than they had bargained for. It tried to dispossess Sikh farmers from lands they did not legally own but had tilled and harvested for many years. Tarai Sikhs became an aggrieved community. Then came Operation Blue Star and Wood Rose and attacks in Sikh gurudwaras in Punjab, followed by the widespread violence against Sikhs after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Sikhs began to feel aggrieved and fought back as best they could.

The best they could think of was to terrorise the state administration, the police and the public. As in Punjab, so in the Tarai, in the beginning they were religiously and politically motivated. Then they turned into dacoits living on extortion and robbery. The very people who had given them sanctuary became police informers. Again, as in Punjab so in the Tarai, the police tried to settle its scores by picking up innocent people and killing them claiming that they had been killed in encounters.

It detained thousands of people, almost all Sikhs, under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, accusing them of harbouring and helping the terrorists. And as in the Punjab, so in the Tarai, it was only after the peasantry turned against the terrorists and the police stopped persecuting innocent people that the two were able to join hands and stamp out the menace.

Jitinder Kaur’s credentials are impeccable. Although a Sikh teaching in a Sikh college, financed and managed by the Delhi Sikh gurudwara committee, she exposed the widespread corruption practised by it. Likewise in her latest book she spares neither the terrorists nor the Uttar Pradesh police while analysing the course of terrorism in the Tarai. It is an objective and scholarly study from which we can learn many lessons.

Farewell not so soon

A welcome addition to Kasauli’s landscape are refugees from Tibet. There are only about a dozen families who opened up small kiosks made of gunny-sacks, tarpaulin and wooden planks along the most frequented stretch of road extending from Jakki Mull’s building housing the main provision store run by Guptaji, a tailor and a photographer, to the Kalyan Hotel with its statue of a black cocker spaniel and a liquor vend.

They sell woollen goods like sweaters, scarves and gloves. Tibetan refugees, wherever they are, manage to live amicably with the locals. They are courteous, ever-smiling and law-abiding. In the very short season extending from April to the end of October, they manage to sell enough to make both ends meet. Then they go down to the industrial township of Parvanoo for the winter. The cantonment executive board used to charge them Rs 10 per month per stall. The rental rates were raised to Rs 70 per month. They paid that as well as other taxes.

The board allowed vegetable and fruit sellers to set up stalls as well. The board has now served them notices to shut shops so that it can build permanent shops. Nothing wrong with that provided those hapless victims of persecution are assured they will get the first option to resume their trade where they were and kiosks are not auctioned to the highest bidders.

There is a lot of pressure from local shopkeepers who have a lot more money to take over the site. This would be unethical and unfair. Tibetan refugees are our guests till as long as they can return to their homeland. And Kasauli will not be the same without their winsome smiles.

As often in the past, on most days I was in Kasauli, it rained intermittently everyday and night. But in the morning I left, the sky was an azure blue and the hills looked rain-washed and bright green. I had to wear my sweater, dressing gown and a shawl against the cold. Half an hour down the hill, it became warm enough to shed woollen garments.

An hour later we were caught in traffic jams at Parvanoo, Kalka and Pinjore. For many years I have been hearing of plans to build a bypass which would skirt round these growing towns but so far not even blueprints have been prepared. Chief ministers of the states concerned are taken up with more important matters like staying in power. By the time I got off at the Kalka railway station, I was sweating and cooling off under the hot breeze churned downwards by ceiling fans.

I had an uneasy feeling that I was being given a final farewell. In Kasauli, munshi Mohan Lal, our local millionaire who comes to me at least once every few weeks for my kadam bosi (feet kissing) came twice—the second time to invite me to a reception for his son-in-law who had been elevated to the rank of a brigadier in Lucknow.

At Kalka station there was quite a turn out of celebrities to shake hands with me: A.S. Deepak, Poonam (editor of Preet Lari) and her husband, Gaur and the pretty Nagina. Cold drinks were served all round.

I was escorted to my seat in the Shatabdi Express where Kaushik, conductor-cum-man of letters, took charge of me. They may have wanted to bid me a final farewell, but I have no intention of allowing them to do so. Come next spring, I will be back in the Shivaliks.

Diagnosing the malady

I was running high temperature
As high as hundred four
I consulted a doctor and he said,
“You have viral and nothing more.”
My fever did not subside a bit
Its intense pain I could not bear
Another consultant told me then
“It seems to be a case of malaria.”
The fever persisted for over a week.
So, I rushed to another guy
“You are seized of typhoid,”
The third doctor said with sigh.
What is wrong with my health
Will the docs please correctly tell?
If you can’t diagnose a minister’s disease
How can I hope to get quite well!
(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)    


Defence advance

Sir — Chandan Nandy’s report, “Work by night to fence off Pakistan” (Oct 20), gives us the good news that the Indian forces at the Pakistani border will be finally given electronic surveillance equipment and other advanced sensors. The plan that has been devised includes putting up fences throughout the entire stretch of the border. Pakistani shelling had thwarted such plans earlier. This time the task is presumably going to be completed. Israeli security experts who have visited Punjab have also given the Indians some expert tips. It cannot be argued that the India-Pakistan border is difficult to protect from infiltration. There are various kinds of terrain that have to be managed. The mountains in Kashmir, the plains of Punjab, the desert in Rajasthan and the marshy terrain of the Kutch sector require different kinds of expertise. It is heartening to read that despite these difficulties the security forces are determined not to let the Pakistanis in this time.
Yours faithfully,
Prasanta Bagchi, via email

Divided benefits

Sir — The divided justice on the Sardar Sarovar project has cleared the deck not only for the Sardar Sarovar dam, but also for the future Bharatiya Janata Party government of Uttaranchal to complete the Tehri dam. The Centre and the Gujarat government are busy trumpeting their victory. But it is likely to adversely influence resource mobilization in Uttaranchal. The ruling class is already predicting the burgeoning of tourism and electricity, attracting the multinationals.

The Supreme Court’s decision is not only divided, but it raises serious questions about the concern shown by law, and by society in general, about ecology. One should not forget the Nanaksagar dam break in the Sixties, the 1978 Bhagirathi blockade and the subsequent floods severely affecting West Bengal. This year again Bengal has experienced floods partially caused by the uncontrolled release of water from certain dams.

It has been the same story since the Fifties. Simply monitoring the dams is not enough because the problem runs deeper; it has more to do with human action than with judicial proceedings. India has one of the poorest river technologies, and questions of rehabilitation and resettlement have remained unanswered for decades. The argument that dams are not as dangerous as atomic power plants or polluting factories is also naive. The Tehri dam is in itself an atom bomb which endangers the Himalayas. In the newly formed state of Uttaranchal, the issue must be pondered over seriously All committed and conscientious individuals should stand by Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy and the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Yours faithfully,
Palash Biswas, via email

Sir — The reaction of Arundhati Roy to the recent judgment of the Supreme Court appears to be an unwarranted display of emotion by an intemperate loser (“Why Arundhati is laughing”, Oct 20). Her reaction proved that logic was not on her side. Building dams across rivers for multiple benefits to the people is axiomatic and NBA has no strong arguments against such dams. That the government should provide adequate compensation and arrange for the rehabilitation of the displaced, cannot be overemphasised. Human rights organizations should be concerned about this alone.

Nongovernmental organizations can also join in the effort to mitigate the hardship of displaced persons. Some activists have silently helped villages in Rajasthan and Gujarat fight scarcity of water. Both Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy would be better advised to make such positive contributions to human welfare, rather than trying to be always in the news.

As pointed out in the editorial, “Of human bondage” (Oct 20), the judgment of the Supreme Court should be respected by all who believe in rule of law. Further fracas on this subject should cease immediately.

Yours faithfully,
V. Prakasa Rao, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Of human bondage”, has not come a day late. As has been rightly emphasised in the editorial, development calls for some dislocation and the case of the Narmada dam is no different. What is important is that the dam will help provide water to millions in water-starved areas of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh besides irrigating heretofore crop-free areas. In addition, it will generate power for development. The rehabilitation has progressed well so far and hopefully all the displaced families will be able to live a dignified life after being rehabilitated. While the issue of the height of the dam is best left to experts, those agitating should be made to realize the futility of their continued protests and the law should take its own course in handling them.

Like the Silent Valley project in Kerala, this dam has also made the government sit up and analyse the pros and cons of building a dam. Finally, the Supreme Court has cleared the project. The matter should rest at that. It cannot be gainsaid, however, that millions in the three states will benefit, resulting in higher food production and better life for them.

Yours faithfully,
S.Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Sir — It was disappointing to read about Arundhati Roy’s comment on the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the reconstruction of the Sardar Sarovar dam over the Narmada. When a public figure of her stature says that the people will follow in the footsteps of Veerappan just because the government of India is going to flood a section of the valley to generate some much needed energy for the people, it can only be termed unfortunate.

It is for these reasons that the media should desist from glorifying villains. Roy should also stick to what she is best at, writing about pickles, and leave the Narmada issue to genuine environmentalists.

Yours faithfully,
Siddhartha Buragohain, via email

Sir — While Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra will no doubt benefit from the Sardar Sarovar dam, its immediate impact will destroy the dreams of four lakh displaced villagers. Rehabilitation should be on top of the government’s agenda. Neither the government nor the activists are completely wrong. One must realize that economic prosperity comes with a price tag. But the government should see to it that the human cost is kept to the minimum.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

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