Editorial1/ Lost monopoly
Editorial 2/ Work to rules
Serendipity in Sri Lanka
Fifth Column/ Too many echoes of the twenties
Mature beyond his age
Keep a safe distance from your neighbour
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL1/ LOST MONOPOLY 
 
 
 
 
After a long period, in which the reform process seemed to have come to a halt, a new era of reforms may have been initiated with the formal sanction for the entry of three new companies into the insurance sector. This has come in the form of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority issuing the first set of licenses to three domestic companies with tie-ups to foreign insurance companies. This marks a transformation of the insurance industry in India, which has been a government monopoly since 1973.

The dismantling of government monopoly in the insurance sector has not come without a long and bitter struggle. Employees’ unions in the insurance sector, along with most of the left parties, have fought hard to prevent the opening up of the sector. For the record, they have been claiming that the insurance sector does not have much untapped potential, and that private and foreign companies would indulge in profiteering and unfair practices. They would, therefore, convert the insurance sector into an essentially urban phenomenon by neglecting development of the insurance business into the less profitable rural sector. Neither of these objections is tenable. First, it is ridiculous to claim that the insurance sector has no scope for expansion in India. As little as seven per cent of the Indian population has life insurance. The corresponding figure in developed countries is several multiples of this paltry figure. Health insurance is virtually absent. Second, the nationalized industry, even today, has not really bothered to spread out to the rural areas. Also, one can turn the argument about profiteering on its head and argue that it is the private sector which will actively develop the insurance industry in rural India. This has started to happen in banking and there is no reason to believe that a similar development will not occur in the insurance sector.

The main reason for their opposition has been the apprehension that the entry of private companies in general and foreign companies in particular would eventually lead to the privatization of the existing nationalized companies. Privatization in turn is feared to result in retrenchment because of computerization and the weeding out of various inefficiencies. This has been a common fear of employees in all nationalized enterprises. However, similar fears were expressed when the banking sector was opened up to the private companies. No forcible retrenchment has taken place in the nationalized banks, and it is unlikely that the government of the day will allow any of the nationalized banks to close shop — though many will argue that this should be done. Almost everyone must acknowledge that the average consumer gets better service in the new private banks. There is no reason to believe that the experience in the insurance sector will be vastly different. Competition will result in lower premiums, while the much-maligned profit motive will ensure the introduction of new insurance products. Apart from improving the consumers’ welfare through lower premiums and better service, the insurance companies will typically raise the average savings rate in the economy. Of course, cut-throat competition can result in firms lowering premiums to unsustainably low levels, resulting in some firms going bankrupt. But the chances of this happening are extremely remote. The IRDA is sure to play a very active regulatory role in order to protect the interests of consumers. This must inevitably involve at least some efforts to ensure the orderly growth of the industry.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ WORK TO RULES 
 
 
 
 
A work ethic ought to be a matter of self-regulation. But undergraduate colleges in Calcutta seem to call out for supervisory mandates from above. Principals of colleges in the city will soon have to sign the attendance register, noting down when they arrive and leave each working day. At present, they are not required to do so. And it is entirely proper that they be made to sign like every other employee in the college. Everyone in a professional organization should be equally accountable for the work he does and the way he does it. Absolving the principal of this accountability fosters a spirit of hierarchical discrimination that would have unhealthy consequences for the college.

However, what is rather discouraging about the mandate is the way it came into operation. Such practices as the principal signing the attendance register should be quite naturally part of the internal discipline and organization of a college, created and enforced from within its administrative ethic. But, in this case, an elaborately multi-storeyed bureaucracy had to impose this obvious piece of regulation from outside, creating the sense of a feudal and inquisitorial hierarchy of vigilance outside whose stern eye the colleges would go into a riot of irregularities. The structure of enforcement is like some sort of a great chain. The mandate is part of a code of conduct formed by Calcutta University, which is acting at the behest of the state higher education council, which, in turn, is following a guideline from the University Grants Commission. The enforcement mechanism will involve the governor and university chancellor, the university registrar and a one man committee. The other items in this code — touching on teachers’ self-appraisal, deadlines and coordination — are also necessary. It is sad, and also rather alarming, that such essential points of principled and disciplined professional conduct should have to be imposed on institutions entrusted with the responsibility of creating educated professionals.    


 
 
SERENDIPITY IN SRI LANKA 
 
 
BY V.R. RAGHAVAN
 
 
A suicide bomber blasted himself and some others in Colombo even as the new Sri Lanka cabinet was being sworn in. The incident is a pointer to the prospect for peace in the troubled island state. The elections were the bloodiest so far with rival candidates getting killed. Even a Muslim candidate was done in. As a dramatic display of people’s perception, the two major parties saw their percentage of votes declining. The Peoples’ Alliance just about nosed up as the largest single party but did not get a majority. As for the United National Party, its claims to represent the Sinhalese opinion on the Tamil question were proved wrong by its less than expected performance. The government has been sworn in with at least one alliance partner demanding urgency in settling the ethnic question through the parliamentary process. An air of uncertainty hangs over the political future in Sri Lanka.

The elections brought about a significant shift in the two major political parties’ positions on the Tamil question. The UNP and the Chandrika Kumaratunga led Peoples’ Alliance both went on record to say that they will apply the military instrument in full measure against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. There is going to be no dialogue and the solution is to be sought through fullscale military operations.

The political measure of a constitutional amendment for a devolution package is now not to be heard. In its place, the government hopes to push through the political measures by an act passed by simple majority in parliament. The combination of the determination to find a military solution and the unilateral political initiative of a devolution package through a simple majority in parliament, portends troubled times for Sri Lanka. It will also have an undoubted impact on India.

The devolution package implemented on the basis of an act of parliament based on simple majority will not have the support of the UNP. This would mean the measures will be opposed outside the parliament, that is, in the streets. Such opposition would be backed by the Buddhist clergy which had taken to the streets on this issue just before the elections.

On the other hand, if the political measures are stalled, it will make the smaller parties now in the coalition government restive. At least one such group has already threatened to pull out of the coalition under such circumstances. If the UNP at some later stage comes to power it would have no difficulty in undoing the political package which the president, Kumaratunga, is wanting to push through. As a consequence, neither the Sinhala nor the Tamil population would know how long the political package would last. As for the LTTE, it has already rejected the proposed package. The prospect of political instability is therefore high in the future.

If the Kumaratunga government wishes, as it has announced, to pursue a military campaign to eliminate the LTTE, it will have major problems on its hands. It is not possible for the Sri Lanka military to effectively destroy the LTTE. Past record and current capabilities do not indicate such a capability. The government would have to produce military results on a scale and frequency which would be difficult to sustain. If it intends to capture territory under LTTE control, it will also have to occupy and hold it. That will place the military in immovable positions. These would be attacked piecemeal by the LTTE as was done earlier this year. Holding territory will also require a large force which would raise costs.

But the LTTE cannot defeat the Sri Lanka military except in some battles. It can however make things very difficult for the military by disrupting its supplies, by ambushes and through its patented assassination squads. It would certainly hit economic targets like oil tanks, tourism centres and so on. In military terms, the costs to the Sri Lanka government are going to rise greatly. Before long, the pressures will tell and political costs will become untenable.

In the interim, a demand has been made by the Buddhist clergy and others for a national government. This requires a major change of heart on the part of the two main parties. If it does come about, it would immediately be perceived as a device to marginalize the ethnic minorities. Such a development would further widen the divide between the Sinhala and non-Sinhala populations. Since both parties are now committed to a military solution, the emergence of a national government will accentuate the armed conflict and may even spread it into hitherto peaceful areas. If the Kumaratunga government carries on and chooses the military option, it can be sure of criticism from the opposition on insufficient military results. That, in its turn, will create pressures for ever greater military efforts. The net result is likely to be a greater than before ethnic divide.

The Kumaratunga government has begun to deal with Tamil political parties separately with a view to exploiting their ideological contradictions. In the recent elections the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party has gained some strength. The Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization appears no longer to be in favour with the government. As a consequence, arms which had been given to it have been withdrawn by the government. There is some connection reported between this development and the killing of a Jaffna based BBC reporter. A divided Tamil polity can be a recipe for more militant groups emerging or for some existing groups joining forces with the LTTE.

In the event of a military option being applied with some vigour, its impact on India will not be long in coming. Tamil refugees, inflamed political rhetoric in Tamil Nadu and pressures on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition to play a role will increase. India-Sri Lanka relations carefully built up by the Kumaratunga government, and nurtured by the Indian government through this year’s military crisis in the Jaffna peninsula, will be strained. There has already been evidence of LTTE links with militant groups in India. There is LTTE link of a kind even in the negotiations now underway in the Raj Kumar-Veerappan kidnap episode. The complexity of the Sri Lanka problem will impact on India in more ways than one.

In the Jaffna crisis earlier this year, India maintained a hands-off policy. It did not send any military assistance. It however assisted the Sri Lanka government in surveillance and by blockading the LTTE attempts to use Indian territory. India also provided a large credit facility to enable the Sri Lanka government to obtain equipment and other help.

Indian policy on Sri Lanka would inevitably be affected by the developments in the island state. India would like to see peace return through meaningful political arrangements in the Sinhala and Tamil polity. The prospects of that happening do not appear favourable in view of the divergent positions of the two main parties. On the other hand, India cannot remain unconcerned about the major impact a military or political crisis in Sri Lanka would create. As things stand, there are no signs of a political, diplomatic or military contingency plan in New Delhi.

When the Jaffna crisis emerged earlier this year the government was caught off guard. It neither had an intelligence assessment, nor a political plan to manage its Tamil Nadu allies, nor a military plan for assisting the Sri Lanka government. The government floundered and offered to assist in evacuating Sri Lanka forces from Jaffna. The government in Colombo justifiably assumed this to indicate India’s desire to assist in the creation of a Tamil state within Sri Lanka. The foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, had to be rushed to Colombo to smooth ruffled feathers.

New Delhi also did not know how to handle its angry Tamil allies in the government. M. Karunanidhi could get away with making contradictory replies which meant different things to different people. The foreign office announced the Indian readiness to evacuate the Sri Lankan army from Jaffna but without consulting the defence services chiefs. An evacuation operation could not have been put into place even if it was required. Where was the national security council, or the strategic planning group or the national security advisory board, which is serviced by the joint intelligence committee, at that time? For that matter where were the much vaunted intelligence agencies?

The challenge before the Indian government now is one of coordinating the activities of its diplomatic, military, political and intelligence wings. It needs to anticipate instead of reacting to events in Sri Lanka. A cohesive policy on Sri Lanka is otherwise unlikely to emerge.

The author is director, Delhi Policy Group and former director-general, military operations    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ TOO MANY ECHOES OF THE TWENTIES 
 
 
 
 
“The nation this year is fortunate in its choice,” wrote the Washington Post in an editorial last week, essentially arguing that Pinocchio and Dumbo are both decent, well-intentioned men despite their little problems with the facts. (Gore bends them, and Bush doesn’t know them.) If the main debate is about how to deal with all the money that’s pouring in and there’s not a cloud in the sky, it hardly matters which choice American voters make — which is why as many as half of them may not vote.

In this nearly perfect world, with no foreign threats and a perpetual economic boom, Bush’s ignorance and inexperience actually work in his favour. He’s a nice man who won’t rock the boat and he doesn’t make us feel stupid, so why not give him a shot? But what if there was a great big storm, and you needed somebody intelligent and experienced at the helm?

Consider Herbert Hoover, whose 1928 presidential campaign came at the end of the Roaring Twenties, when the economy had been booming so long that people were starting to believe that the business cycle had been abolished. The stock market, fuelled by “new economy” products like fridges and washing machines, automobiles and aeroplanes, telephones, movies and radio, was a one-way escalator that would carry everyone up to new levels of prosperity. Herbert Hoover thought it could never end.

Fairweather philosophy

The one great phrase he ever coined, “rugged individualism”, came as part of his declaration of faith in untrammelled free enterprise at the close of the 1928 campaign, when the post-World War I boom had lasted almost as long as the post-Cold War boom has lasted now. “When the war ended...we were challenged with a peacetime choice between the American system of rugged individualism and a European philosophy of...paternalism and state socialism.” Hoover believed America had got it right.

It was a great fairweather philosophy, but Hoover had only nine months in office before the great crash of October, 1929 brought a drastic change in the climate. The stock market plunged, credit dried up, bankruptcies soared, and millions of Americans lost their jobs. It wasn’t Hoover’s fault, but his beliefs and reflexes were exactly wrong for dealing with the crisis that followed. In fact, if somebody a bit more imaginative had been in office, it might not have become known as the Great Depression.

There are disturbing parallels between the Twenties and the Nineties, two decades in which the impact of new technologies produced a prolonged economic boom and big gains in productivity. In both cases, the rising productivity did not translate into more money per hour for the majority of employees: wages across most of the economy stayed relatively flat.

Hard landing

Productive capacity went up and up, but consumers were earning little more than before, so by the late Twenties, American industry was running at only about 75 per cent of capacity in most key sectors. It’s quite similar now, with global gluts of everything from cars to micro- chips. This would inevitably lead to a collapse of prices, profits and growth unless some way could be found to get the consumers to buy more — and the short term solution, both times, was a vast expansion of consumer credit.

In the Twenties, this was mainly achieved by the new phenomenon of instalment buying: for the first time in history, it became possible for most people to get seriously into debt, and huge numbers did. The comparable solution in the Nine- ties has been a huge expansion of credit card debt, currently growing at a staggering nine per cent annually. And there are no savings in the bank to cover it: the average savings rate of American families has dropped from eight per cent of after-tax income in 1992 to zero.

Stock market crashes don’t always produce great depressions, or even run-of-the mill recessions: “Black Monday” in 1988 caused scarcely a ripple in the “real” economy. What made the 1929 crash so destructive was the huge amount of unsecured credit that had sustained growth in the previous boom years. And now? Who knows?

It will probably be all right, but there are alarming similarities. If there is a “hard landing”, then amiability and a modernized version of Herbert Hoover’s “small government” ideology might not measure up to the demands of the situation.    


 
 
MATURE BEYOND HIS AGE 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
He did not know that I was present at his book launch. He read my name, among others’ who were present, in the papers the next morning and asked if he could drop in to see me. He spent over an hour with me. He did indeed resemble his late father, only an inch taller and handsomer. He even had the slight Byronic limp that Sanjay had. And like his father he is a teetotaller and like him, refused tea, coffee or cold drinks: simply a glass of water. I asked him what got him going to writing poetry. “I went to Oxford to see Christ Church College which had given me admission. I found it too huge for comfort, grey and cold. I decided against it and returned to the London School of Economics. That’s when I wrote my first poem. I was only 17.”

Sometimes I wish I lived alone/ and no one came by/ It would be nice/ to breathe alone/ All my thoughts in solitude/ And then it seems like being all alone/ is like being in a crowd/ my thoughts trapped in confusion/ Like a kite caught in the sky/ Imagine being caught in the sky...

He read it out to me. Then added, “Would you like to know which was the last one I wrote before this collection was completed?” I nodded. He read:

Hope is the need to be surrounded/ To know that I will lose again/ Do you know that/ your eyes lean on me like the/ atrophy of season/ and that moods are fears/ before they are moods/ If the sea is strength/ why must it protect the forbidden/ It was too long/ That I asked you to destroy me/ It took me a while to see/ that surrender is not armour.

There was no stopping him. He went on to reading his favourites. I will quote one:

Blood shot tears/ All indulgence/ Retreating into image/ Towns always making the same mistakes/ I confess/ I am a little in love with my sin/ As I stray/ I am told/ Don’t think but look/ The walk must show the way/ So there’s no accountability/ A stranger is just a victim you haven’t met/ That’s all there is to it/ Shadows cover the area surrendered/ It’s only really fear when realized alone/ Sometimes I walk the secret way/ Is it fate or is it me/ Stopping to watch the prince of wounds/ There is nothing left to understand/ You and I/ feeding the comedian his lines.

I was itching to ask him the question uppermost in my journalistic mind: “Did he plan going into politics?” I thought it would be bad manners to do so. But the way he talked about the sorry state of the country and what needed to be done left me in no doubt that he would enter politics in not too long a time. And if he does, he will give his cousins, Priyanka and Rahul, a run for all they are worth.

Across borders with good writing

K.S. Maniam was in India recently. A third generation Malaysian of Tamil origin, Maniam, was the first recipient of the Raja Rao Award for literature instituted by the Samvad India Foundation to honour writers of Indian origin settled abroad, mainly those in southeast Asia. I had the privilege of meeting him with some of the founding members of Samvad.

I asked Maniam what languages he knew. “I can understand Tamil but not speak it fluently. I speak, read and write Malay. The language we use at home with my Tamilian wife and two children is English.”

“How much mixing of races is there in your country?” I asked. “Limited”, he replied, “Malays, Chinese, Indians, though they are to be found working together in offices and plantations, they tend to keep their separate identities. Marriages between Indians and Chinese are not uncommon but rarely between the two minority communities and Malays because the law requires conversion to Islam before a Muslim marries a non-Muslim. Also no new non-Muslim places of worship can be built in the country. Old Hindu temples, churches and gurudwaras are allowed to function but no new ones may be erected. There is no other kind of religious discrimination.

“Can writers in Malaysia live in middle class comfort on the royalties they earn?”

“No. All have to do some other kind of job as well — teaching, journalism, government service — whatever.”

Maniam is a full-time writer. Despite having many titles to his credit and a few literary awards, he has to supplement his income by teaching English. He did only one year in a Tamil school before he switched over to English. He did a year’s training to be a teacher in Woolverhampton and taught in Malay schools. Creative writing began with a collection of short stories and plays. Two novels, The Return and In a Far Country, established his reputation as a writer of fiction: both novels are taught in universities of Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

Maniam is in his early 60s. He is a stocky, swarthy man with a shock of grey hair. He lives with his wife, Saroja, son, Ramajuna and daughter, Usharani in Subang Jaya Selangor. The remarkable thing about this man is that two generations ago his grandparents emigrated to Malaysia as indentured labourers to work in tea estates owned by the English; today he teaches English to the English, Australian and Asian boys and girls. A part of this story is told in his autobiographical novel, The Return. Young Maniam has left his Tamil school to join an English medium one. His English teacher is a Eurasian woman, “Miss Nancy”. Besides teaching them English, fairy tales and nursery rhymes she teaches boys how to use the toothbrush and paste instead of ash smeared on the index finger, the use of shampoo for the hair and soap for the body and so on. This creates tension between families which are used to the Tamil way of life and those which are becoming anglicized. The following repartees take place between Maniam’s father and a neighbour:

“You stay home from now on! Don’t join the riff-raff!” my father shouted from the front room. “Whom are you calling riff-raff?” Govindan, Ganesh’s father, called from his house. “I’m teaching my son manners,” my father said quietly. “And how do you think I raise my family? On the white man’s ideas? Soon your son will be wiping his backside with paper!” Govindan said. “It’ll be cleaner than your mouth,” my father said.

Maniam writes with sensitivity and has a picaresque sense of dry humour. He also paints in words the Malay countryside with great skill.    


 
 
KEEP A SAFE DISTANCE FROM YOUR NEIGHBOUR 
 
 
BY DEBAMITRA MITRA
 
 
Bhutan shares an open and porous border with India from Sikkim to West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Through the dense jungles of this border there is free flow of nationals from both countries. Taking advantage of this largescale transborder passage, many United Liberation Front of Asom and Bodo militants have sneaked into Bhutan and taken shelter in the jungle hideouts.

It is not that militants have built camps in the districts of Bhutan. As the home minister of Bhutan, Dawa Tshering, points out, the militants had already established camps in the dense forests along Bhutan’s border with India, close to their villages in India. Bhutan cannot cordon off the entire border. The militants were well-armed and had the dense forest cover to protect them. The increase of vigilance at the border check points only stopped their formal entry into Bhutan. There are other places in the porous border where militants can easily sail in.

The infiltration of militants has had an adverse effect on Bhutan’s socioeconomic development. The Bhutan government has stated that 12 of its 20 districts will be severely affected if the ULFA-Bodo problem is not resolved in India. Commerce will suffer in 12 districts stretching from Kalikhola to Daifam. All passengers, vehicles and industrial goods passing through Assam are exposed to serious risk because whenever trouble erupts vehicular movement virtually comes to a halt.

The ULFA-Bodo problem also poses a serious threat to the implementation of the eighth plan of the country and other development projects. The government is apprehensive about the alliance between Indian militants and anti-national elements in Bhutan who are supplying militants with food and rations.

Insurgency is bound to affect the close friendship between Bhutan and India. The royal government acknowledges that the ULFA-Bodo problem is an internal problem for India. However, it is threatening the sovereignty of a neighbouring country. The people of Bhutan in fact have been hurt by the observations in the Indian media which blames Bhutan for giving shelter to and providing training camps for the militants. They believe it is the action of the Indian security forces that have forced the militants into Bhutan.

In the initial phases, Bhutan was also suspicious of India’s interference in trying to drive out militants from the country. As members of the nonaligned movement and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, “it would be against the principles of these organizations for the Indian army to enter Bhutan to flush out the militants”. Bhutan therefore has set some preconditions to India’s policy on the militants. For one, Bhutan will not allow Indian forces to enter its territory unless in “hot pursuit” of the militants. The royal government has also referred to a consensus at the SAARC summit for a collective offensive against terrorism.

India feels that despite Bhutan’s vouchsafing that it will not allow its soil to be used for purposes detrimental to Indian interests, the assurance is not enough to mitigate a situation where militants are successfully running camps within Bhutan’s borders. Bhutan’s reluctance to give the go-ahead to India for an offensive may be prompted by domestic compulsions. Bhutan is already facing a critical internal ethnic problem vis-à-vis the Nepalis in the country.

Bhutan clearly is reluctant to go for a military action against insurgents, but it might be forced to do so in future. A joint operation by Indian and Bhutanese armies is under consideration. But given the ramifications, both countries are exercising restraint. At the same time, both the countries know that the army of Bhutan would not be able to match the modern firepower of the rebels. Despite the contention between the two neighbours, Bhutan, especially for its national interests, has for now resorted to indigenous ways of combating the ULFA-Bodo problem within its borders.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Festive gestures

Sir — It was interesting to read about the disappointment of the Indian-American community hoping for a gala celebration of Diwali in the White House (“Clinton in Diwali debut”, Oct 27). This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following Indo-US relations in the recent past. Indians have emerged as major contributors to the poll campaigns of both parties, a fact that is further demonstrated by the $1 million raised by them in an exclusive fundraiser for the Democratic party. President Clinton’s message to the Indian-American community and to the people of India should therefore be interpreted in this light. Why the American president should suddenly acknowledge “the talents, history and traditions of the Indian people’’ and recognize their contribution to “our national life and cultural heritage” is worth wondering. In fact, the remark is no doubt an indirect attempt to woo the political heavyweights in New Delhi and to reassure them of America’s change of heart where India is concerned.
Yours faithfully,
Maitreyee Halder, Calcutta

People’s Narmada

Sir — There is more than what meets the eye about the Narmada Bachao Andolan. So-called intellectuals like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, simply on the basis of sentimental appeal, are acting as self-appointed messiahs for the people displaced by the Narmada project. The foundation of their opposition to the project lies in the World Bank report. These reports should not be taken too seriously because, over the years, they have lost credibility because of their inefficiency in solving global problems.

By all standards, a project becomes viable if its benefits are higher than costs. In the case of the Narmada, this criterion is certainly met, because, despite the fact that some people are likely to be displaced by the building of the dam, drinking water, electricity, irrigation and other facilities are going to be provided by it for thousands of people in western India.

The “intellectualized” ambience, created by the collective symbolism of World Bank reports, the Magsaysay award, the Booker prize, ecology-consciousness, human rights and so on, has led to a loss of more than Rs 10,000 crore and thwarted progress on the dam’s construction.

The cosmopolitan, mineral water- toting Roy does not understand the “real” difficulty the people face in fetching water from miles away everyday. These Westernized intellectuals should actually stay within the confines of their expertise and not try to do everything that seems politically correct.

Yours faithfully,
Jay Kumar Pandey, Asansol

Sir — The Supreme Court verdict on the Sardar Sarovar project is deeply unsettling. It is a major blow to the faith that people have in the idea of mass mobilization in a democracy. The minority judgment by one judge has pointed out that all the official notes drawn up prior to the clearance brought out the fact that basic environmental impact studies had certainly not been conducted before 1987.

The Supreme Court verdict is full of contradictions. The Narmada tribunal award says that, under no circumstances will the land of an oustee be allowed to submerge till he has been rehabilitated. The court order that the construction of the dam can immediately proceed up to a height of 90 metres is a violation of the Narmada tribunal because all those who will become oustees with the dam built up to 90 metres have not yet been rehabilitated.

There is no land available yet for those people who have become oustees with the dam at its present height. This problem has existed for several years. How can the state governments propose to get the land in the next four weeks?

The oustees of the Bargi dam completed in 1989 are yet to be rehabilitated and a number of them have landed up in the slums of Jabalpur. The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, has gone on record saying that Madhya Pradesh does not have enough arable land for rehabilitation. An affidavit has been filed in court to that effect.

The chief minister of Gujarat, Keshubhai Patel, has said that the waters from the Sardar Sarovar project will not reach the drought-prone areas of Saurashtra. But isn’t this the same project which has been propounded as the saviour of Kutch and Saurashtra? What has happened now? Kutch and Saurashtra can get water in the next two years if rain water harvesting techniques are adopted, instead of depending on the waters of Narmada to reach them. But who will bell the cat?

Meanwhile, the people in the valley will go on fighting against the Supreme Court verdict because their lives depend on the river.

Yours faithfully,
Anita Balasubramanian, Madison

Electrifying disorders

Sir — In recent times the power supply to the city of Ranchi has been, at best, erratic. Frequent blackouts plunge the city into complete darkness.

There are many reasons for such frequent power failure. Strikes, trouble with transformers, lack of proper maintenance and poor generation of power at the Patratu thermal plant have contributed towards making the situation worse. Normal life comes to a standstill because of this. The humid climate makes the life of Ranchi’s residents miserable without fans.

The Bihar state electricity board has has done nothing to bring about a change in the situation. The transformers have not been repaired. Moreover a large quantity of power generated at the Patratu power station is diverted to Patna to cater to the needs of our politicians, leaving the rest of the people to languish in the darkness.

Yours faithfully,
N. Bose, Ranchi

Sir — The people of Narigram Daspara and Bagpara have been the victims of governmental apathy and neglect since independence. Despite repeated assurances the government has failed to keep any of its promises. The village is still without electricity. In spite of the West Bengal government’s claims of being a friend to the minorities, this village, mostly inhabited by scheduled castes and tribes, has been at the receiving end of the callousness of the administration.

Although the local authorities have been presented with mass petitions, the appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Many areas surrounding this village have received electric lines. No extra poles will be required to electrify the village: the last pole of the municipality has been erected at its edge. It is strange that although politicians have been saying that the electrification of the village is definitely a possibility, nothing of any consequence appears to be happening .

Yours faithfully,
Narendra Nath Malik, Burdwan

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