Editorial 1/ Parthian shot
Editorial 2/ Chiefly tribal
The wolf’s share
Fifth Column/ Reports from a disturbed front
Making a liability of an asset
A fast way to self destruction
Letters to the editor

Communists thrive on contradictions. The outgoing chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Jyoti Basu, a lifelong communist, claims the privatization of Great Eastern Hotel to be “a great achievement”. Yet earlier this year, Mr Basu’s party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), called for an all India industrial strike in protest against privatization. Left economists with sinecures in a university located in a southern arrondissement of New Delhi have shouted themselves hoarse decrying the economic reforms process of which privatization is a part. Either Mr Basu’s announcement is representative of the communist take on privatization or the other view is. Both cannot be held by communists at the same time. Even a dialectical materialist will admit this simple truth. There is an element of hypocrisy and hyperbole in Mr Basu’s statement. The privatization of Great Eastern Hotel has been one of his pet projects for more than five years. It was projected as a harbinger of a new economic era for West Bengal. The very fact that it has taken this long to push through such a simple thing should serve to explain why capital and capitalists remain West Bengal shy. What most self-respecting administrators would count as a failure, Mr Basu is tomtoming as a great success. This should serve as a measure of his tenure as chief minister.

A communist government owning and running a five star hotel is a travesty of communism, however defined. Yet Mr Basu’s government did exactly this with regard to Great Eastern Hotel. In other words, it used money that could have been used for the benefit of the people to serve the affluent. What is more, since the hotel in question was a loss-making enterprise, the left front government subsidized it : it used money levied from the people to benefit the rich. Great Eastern Hall actually stands as an epitaph to Mr Basu’s and the CPI(M)’s communism. It is also a monument to their hypocrisy. There is something ironic about this overriding concern over the future of a hotel which has nothing save a past. West Bengal in the last 23 years has been transformed into an industrial desert. Capital has fled and no new investments are forthcoming. In this gloom, Mr Basu has spent his and his government’s valuable time and energy in trying to revive a hotel. Common sense would suggest that if business flourished, hotels would follow as a matter of course. Communists, in their wisdom, chose to address the problem from the other end. They wanted to revive a hotel to tell the world that West Bengal under communist rule was investment friendly. It took them five years to do this. During this time, capital has succumbed to the charms of more persuasive and effective wooers. It is telling, in more ways than one, that privatization of a five star hotel is Mr Basu’ parting gift to West Bengal.    

The Congress has an incurable habit of trying to shoot itself in the foot. It has a good thing going in Madhya Pradesh, which is rare enough. It has an even better thing about to start off in the new state of Chhattisgarh, with 48 members in a house of 90. Yet the moment the tribal chief minister is named, things turn ugly. It seems incredible that a group of 200 people, reportedly supporters of Mr Vidya Charan Shukla, the chief minister aspirant who failed to make it, should surround the car carrying the chief minister, Mr Digvijay Singh, the general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh, Ms Prabha Rau and all India Congress committee general secretary, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, and actually beat up the chief minister and Mr Azad at the entrance of Mr Shukla’s house. This kind of exhibition of total indiscipline and rabid factionalism cannot be laughed away, although Mr Shukla claimed these were “lumpen elements” trying to tarnish his image and Mr Singh himself said that he was not thumped about. Yet the naming of the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Mr Ajit Jogi, had been on the cards for some time. There are two dozen tribal legislators in the Madhya Pradesh Congress. Headed by the animal husbandry minister, Mr Chanesh Ram Rathia, they had been talking to the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, for quite some time about the “political correctness” of having a tribal chief minister for the tribal dominated new state. The force of the argument lay in the fact that half of the 48 legislators in Chhattisgarh are of tribal origin, and the new state itself has a tribal dominated population, presumably 65 per cent. Among the many contenders for the post, Mr Shukla had made quite a show of his support for the formation of the state. Unfortunately, his loyalty credentials are viewed with some distrust in New Delhi. In contrast, Mr Jogi is fairly close to Ms Gandhi, close enough for Mr Singh not to have put any hurdles in the way of Mr Jogi’s elevation, by nominating a tribal candidate of his own choice, as had been expected. Mr Shukla might be in the sulks — he needs 16 legislators on his side to avoid the anti-defection law and start trouble in Chhattisgarh. But the behaviour of his supporters is appalling, and does less for the party’s image than for that of Mr Shukla.

Mr Singh must be acutely aware that this is a bad time for party infighting. That may have been behind the ill-fated peacemaking mission to Mr Shukla’s house. The Congress dominance in Chhattisgarh will naturally have the effect of weakening the party’s hold a little in Madhya Pradesh. To fight the Bharatiya Janata Party effectively, Mr Singh will need all his party’s confirmed bases and more. He has till 2003 if he is aiming at a third time chief ministership. But this is also time enough for any cracks within the party now to develop into yawning abysses.    

The last few weeks saw two significant developments. The first concerns the acquisition of significant amounts of shares in Bombay Dyeing by a certain Arun Bajoria. The second is a proposed bill by the government to bring down its holdings in the public sector banks to 33 per cent. The first resulted in the two premier industry associations of the country, the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, finding themselves in opposite camps. The second created the usual clamour by bank unions about the ill-effects of privatization and how it helps everyone else at the expense of labour.

The fallout of these events is very interesting. Bajoria has been accused of attempting a hostile takeover that will harm the minority shareholders. The bank unions have criticized the government for playing into the hands of defaulting borrowers who will buy up the banks and write off their outstanding loans from these banks.

At an individual level, labour and industry seldom agree on anything. For instance, industry blames labour for opposing market reforms, and labour blames industry for pushing market reforms. However, both now seem to be crying out in the interest of the cartoonist R.K. Laxman’s common man. Industry is worried about the small shareholder whose wealth will be eroded by Bajoria’s machinations. Labour is concerned about the wastage of resources, collected from the general taxpayer, which will be used to recapitalize the banks for the non-repayment of loans. One cannot help being impressed by the altruism being voiced by both industry and labour. However, the cynics are yet to be convinced.

The unions’ protest against the reduction of government holdings in banks was expected. What came as a surprise was their inference about why the government is doing what it is doing. According to them, big industrialists who have not paid back their bank dues, will buy up the shares in these banks, sit on the management boards and decide to write off each other’s outstanding loans.

One is reminded of a certain South American country where manufacturing corporations owned banks, took loans from them in the name of their corporations and never paid them back. Clearly, according to labour, India is a banana republic. It is difficult to see how with an independent authority regulating banks, such a thing will happen, but most conspiracy theories are seldom realistic. However, to be fair, one cannot emphasise enough the point that the regulatory system in India is not exactly independent, or entirely efficient. But, this is precisely because we believe that the government is fairer than the market. An independent body, by definition, cannot be subject to governmental interference.

Professional politicians, with or without criminal records, are not professional regulators and, hence, cannot be allowed to regulate market activities.

Otherwise, we have inefficient regulators, being controlled by non-specialized political appointees. I am reminded of an instance when a government appointee, on a judicial board dealing in company matters, admonished a counsel for confusing issues. The latter had referred to a working capital term loan. The learned judge maintained that a term loan and working capital are two different things and the counsel must make up his mind which one he is talking about! The only way out of such stupid incidents is to get the government out of our hair. In this, privatization is the first and necessary step.

But this is something most people already know, excepting labour — or should I say incumbent labour. In particular, industry has been crying itself hoarse about labour’s resistance to such market-oriented reforms. Yet, and this is most intriguing, they are so stridently opposed to “hostile” takeovers of public corporations. Recall that CII and FICCI have publicly taken opposing stands regarding Bajoria. CII believes that the Securities and Exchange Board of India should reign in “fly by night” corporate raiders like Bajoria. FICCI is of the view that Bajoria has done nothing wrong (provided his claims about informing the Bombay Dyeing management about his acquisition of more than 5 per cent of the shares are vindicated). Given the recent events that have generated a lot of friction between these two associations, some feel that Bajoria is just a catalyst around whom they are organizing a showdown.

Such a reading may not be entirely baseless. This is because, both the organizations, while voicing their respective views about the Bajoria incident, have strongly opposed the culture of hostile takeovers that seem to be developing in Indian markets. They are afraid that well-managed firms will be taken over by bad people with lots of money and no managerial experience. This will destroy the national economy as these prized assets will be mismanaged and, therefore, lose value in the market. There are a number of implicit assumptions in this line of reasoning. First, the “outside” shareholders, owners not involved in managing the firms, will allow this to happen.

This assumption is acceptable if the potential acquirer of the company lures the outside shareholders with high takeover premiums on their shares. But, if the acquirer of the firm pays high values, it is not clear why he, or she, will do so unless these assets are perceived to be more valuable than what the stock market currently reflects.

This brings me to the second implicit assumption — the incumbent management knows best and the market is stupid.

Of course, being a representative of an industry association that believes in the market, you do not want to be seen to harbour such feelings about the market. So, if you are sophisticated, you find faults with the takeover code implemented by SEBI. And the chances are high that you will be right. For instance, you will probably be right in pointing out that while an outsider can “creep” up from a five per cent to a 15 per cent stake, a promoter is not allowed to creep by more than five per cent in any given year. If a promoter crosses the (addi- tional) five per cent acquisition in any given year, this has to be publicly announced.

You are willing to take a chance that no one will question why, even though the takeover code has been in force for more than two years, promoters did not increase their holdings by this additional 10 per cent that they were capable of. But then that is a matter of detail which most of your audience will miss.

And, like labour, they are not worried about themselves. Their only concern is for the small shareholders who will see their assets plummet in value after they have been taken over by the Bajoria-type big bad wolf. So one needs a big brother to look after the small guys. And who best to do that job than the untried sons of erstwhile lobbying fathers who often own less than 10 per cent of assets, the rest being owned directly, or through nationalized financial institutions, by the so-called small shareholders?

India’s current problem, as always, is the inability of the general population to identify those who die on their behalf — be it the socialist, criminally inclined political leader; inefficient and organized incumbent labour or the unprofessional, family-controlled big business. Especially when they all believe in markets that must allow them to continue in their respective roles. And if the public wants globalization, they can always bring in their NRI wards.

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

Based on the report of the Kargil committee chaired by K. Subrahmanian, convener of the national security council, the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has constituted a group of cabinet ministers to review the national security system and to formulate specific proposals for implementation. The group has set up four task forces, one each for intelligence apparatus, border management, internal security and management of defence.

The task force for management of defence, under the chairmanship of Arun Singh, has some specific objectives. It seeks to examine the existing organization and structures and recommend necessary steps for improving defence management. Besides, it will consider the emerging nuclearized environment, information revolution, and so on, and prescribe changes. This task force will also make procurement recommendations to make defence deals more cost-effective.

The report submitted by the task force to L.K. Advani, who heads the group of ministers, has advocated a major revamp of the defence establishment and greater decisionmaking powers for the services. It has also recommended the creation of the post of the chief of defence staff. Unlike the present arrangement, which accommodates the three chiefs of equal rank, the CDS will be the seniormost single officer in the military hierarchy who will represent all the three services. He will have under him a vice-chief of the defence staff.

Borderline case

Defence analysts point out that the reorganization of services has major operational implications. Instead of allowing the three services to operate in relative insularity, the new arrangement aims at involving all the three services at all levels. These changes are driven by the principle of optimizing the use of resources available with the three services to achieve larger military objectives.

Among the recommendations is also freeing of defence services from bureaucratic interference in managing their resources, and a revamp of the agencies involved in developing and manufacturing military hardware. This implies a greater participation of the private sector in defence production.

The Defence Research and Development Organization has to be restructured in order to make it more accountable.

The task force for border management, headed by the former home secretary, Madhav Godbole, has recommended that paramilitary forces such as the Border Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Assam Rifles should man international borders, but operate directly under the army in cases where the boundary line is unsettled or under dispute.

Action stations

Another recommendation is a longstanding demand of the Indian army: that 50 per cent of border management forces should be recruited from the army through lateral induction and the remaining, directly recruited, should be given rigorous army training.

The task force has also recommended that the air force be given comprehensive management of air space. This envisages networking of Indian air force radars with those under civilian control. It will ensure rapid response in case of intrusions of Indian air space so that incidents such as the Purulia armsdrop are not repeated.

Regarding the vigil on India’s coastline, the task force has proposed that the coastguard should remain with the ministry of defence, more specifically, under the Indian navy for better integration in coastal areas. However, the task force has suggested that coastal states should be allowed to raise a marine police force to take care of patrolling of “very shallow” waters and prevent incidents of smuggling and oil pilferage.

All these recommendations are well meaning and are based on the exhaustive Kargil report. The government should, therefore, implement them without further delay. Or it will be an exercise in futility.

In the Eighties too, the Arun Singh committee was formed with the purpose of recommendations for reforms in the defence ministry for better functioning of the defence forces. The report is lying in cold storage. The government should handle the recent reports with better care and take immediate action on the recommendations.    

Large parts of the city of Hyderabad were flooded recently after it rained 24 centimetres in one spell. The floods caused much damage; there was loss of property and life. Rains are very significant for south India. Its six rivers from the Mahanadi southwards, their tributaries and distributaries, are rainfed (unlike the rivers of north India, which receive water both from the rains and the snows of the Himalayas). The southern rivers have one advantage — they have two monsoons to bless them with water.

The recent floods in Andhra Pradesh are a clear example of non-management of water. Had there been planned water management, these rains would have been an asset. Owing to lack of water harnessing, and management, the country and its people suffer.

Rains can and should be harnessed to irrigate the country and prevent floods. The hill streams fed by the monsoon can be trained to produce hydroelectric power. For Andhra Pradesh, rains are rich natural wealth. Its geography lends itself to the construction of dams and reservoirs. By harnessing water in the rainwater hill streams, it will be possible to generate large quantities of hydel power. In the Tata Hydroelectrical Power House in the hills above Mumbai, for instance, it has been possible to generate enough power for the city, and for around 1,000 miles outside it, by training gushing hill streams.

Elsewhere in the South, there are several instances of productive control of rains and rivers. For centuries, the southern monarchies have dug out huge reservoirs in the plains, with the intention of storing water against the failure of the monsoons. Such storage is necessary for the purposes of drinking, hygiene and irrigation. In the recorded past, under British rule, the Cauvery flowing through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has been trained to yield hydel power and irrigation for both the states. Before the creation of the state of Karnataka, the princely state of Mysore has been very progressive in matters of water management. This has caused disputes with Tamil Nadu (then Madras Presidency). Under the British, Delhi had often had to intervene to settle such disputes; once Madras Presidency had even to appeal against Delhi’s decision to London.

The model of the Damodar Valley Corporation in Bihar and West Bengal — a model of water management with multiple objectives — can be examined in this context. The Damodar is a small river from the Chhotanagpur plateau flowing through Bihar plains into West Bengal. Even after it is joined by another hill stream, the Barakar, it continues to be a small river, flowing for 330 miles before falling into the Hooghly estuary.

Yet in the past, in the days of its “unmanaged” life, the Damodar had immense capacity for causing damage to the land it flowed through. There were 13 devastating floods in the Damodar basin in the recorded past. Every time it rose in wrath and destroyed, the government thought of “controlling” the river. But before any constructive steps were taken, more crises cropped up, requiring immediate attention.

In 1943 again, the Damodar devastated much of its basin. In addition, the river had managed to destroy all lines of communication between Calcutta and the rest of the country. This threatened the fortunes of war between the British in India and the Japanese on the eastern frontier.

A committee was set up; it consisted, among others, of the great scientist, Meghnad Saha. Mainly owing to him, the committee reached a conclusion and a report was submitted in 1946. It recommended that the Damodar should be trained and managed on the model of the multipurpose development project of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States.

An engineer on the staff of the TVA came over to the Bihar-West Bengal region to inspect the ground. He agreed that a multipurpose autonomous corporation in the model of the TVA was feasible. A draft bill for the Damodar Valley Corporation was placed before the constituent assembly (legislative) for enactment.

Early in 1948, the act was passed. The DVC was set up. Within a few years, four reservoirs with dams were built. The Durgapur barrage was constructed and two main canals, one into the district of Burdwan, the other into Bankura, were excavated. The irrigation channels into the farmlands were dug by West Bengal.

Half a century after the setting up of the DVC, it is time for an evaluation of its achievements. Among the objectives set for the DVC were the prevention of floods, providing irrigation to Burdwan, Hooghly and Howrah, generating hydel power and creating navigable canals.

As far as the achievement of the goals are concerned, most of them have been achieved. The reservoirs and dams have prevented floods in the Damodar to a large extent. In 1978, Burdwan was flooded by very heavy local rains, but waters receded shortly. The DVC has provided irrigation to 100,000 acres of land. Besides, the subsoil water level has been raised making extra irrigation possible through deep and shallow tube wells.

The hydel power objective, however, has failed. In the four dams, about 104 megawatts of hydel power are generated. Yet the DVC has to rely on thermal power generation. The total generation of thermal power comes from the plants at Bokaro, Durgapur, Panchet, Chandrapura and Mejia. This quantum of power serves the need of the industry and the railway in the basin. The failure of hydel prospects may well be owing to the lack of enough water storage capacity in the reservoirs. There are only four reservoirs now — Tilaiya, Konar, Maithon and Panchet. The original plan was based on a seven dam concept. The reservoirs at Bokaro and Chandrapura have not been built owing to political problems in Bihar. Also, the DVC canals could not be made navigable, which may have been a result of the lack of riverine culture in West Bengal.

What is important, however, is that the DVC, as a semi-autonomous body, has succeeded in preventing floods, and providing West Bengal with a rice bowl. Besides, the corporation has proved that even small hill rivers can enrich; following this example, Andhra Pradesh does not have to depend on the Godavari alone. Yet there is no reason why the strength of this mighty river and the opportunities it presents should be ignored. There are useful projects in the Godavari. There can be a few more downstream.

The planners should take note of the navigational possibilities of the river. The dams and barrages should not bar steamers from navigating in rivers where such navigation has been proven feasible. In a powerful river system like the Godavari’s, much more can and should be done by the state and the Centre. What is needed throughout the country is a new look at the development balance sheet. It should always be remembered that water is an asset, not a liability.    

Freaking out at a fast food joint can be real fun. But are you prepared for the risks that go with it? The lip- smacking chicken chowmein, mutton burgers, enticing French fries and packaged snacks have a variety of chemical additives which are not too good for health. Nutrition is the last thing that fast food provides. Usually, these foods are high in cholesterol, sugar, sodium, additives and preservatives which cause chronic degenerative disorders.

They have very low fibre content, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants which make us vulnerable to heart attacks, cancer and diabetes. Besides, one of the food additives, ajinomoto, used in most of the fast foods has a notorious history of triggering nausea, chest congestion, dizziness and headache.

Carcinogenic and toxic coal tar dyes are added to strawberry shakes, candy and softdrinks to make them more colourful. Chemicals like butylated hydroxy anisole and butylated hydroxy toulene are mixed with oil-containing foods to prevent oxidation and stop rancidity. Almost all the aerated soft drinks contain caffeine which has a deleterious effect, especially on the children.

Watch the waistline

Worse still, the fat used by most fast food restaurants in India is hydrogenated vegetable oil or vanaspati which increases blood cholesterol levels. These eateries heat the oil again and again which further aggravates the hazard. The high cholesterol can lead to heart attacks.

Children’s waistlines are expanding worldwide , thanks to the mushrooming fast food joints. In a recent issue of Newsweek, it was reported that some six million American children are now fat enough to endanger their health. An additional five million are on the threshold and the problem is growing. The children of this generation are 30 per cent heavier than those of the Nineties.

Obesity among children is not limited to the United States. In China, obesity among 15 year olds has risen from five per cent in the late Eighties to as much as 17 per cent today. The scenario is dismal in France, Italy and India as well. Fast food is seen as the culprit by many doctors and nutrition experts.

Child specialists say obese kids suffer both emotionally and physically. They are at risk of developing insulin-indicated cardiovascular disease. The risk is however reduced if the rate of weight gain comes down. Studies confirm the association between dietary fat and cancer, especially of the breast, prostate and large intestine. So if you are taking your children out, stay away from the fast food joints.    


Future not tense

Sir — The New Delhi-based Indian astrologer, Bimal Singh, was recently interviewed by BBC’s Asia File. He had earlier predicted the return of Atal Behari Vajpayee as the prime minister of our nation and the Pakistani incursion into India. The last was vindicated by the actual occurrence of the Kargil imbroglio. During this interview, Singh, among other things, predicted that there was no possibility of any nuclear face-off between India and Pakistan. Singh also predicted that India and Pakistan were on the way to forming a “confederation” with a common currency. However, he added that the people of the subcontinent would have to wait for another 10 or 15 years for this to happen. A long wait indeed. Yet this prediction itself is reason to be cheerful. But may be the ministry of external affairs is taking this a bit too seriously. Otherwise, why would we have stopped all conversation with Pakistan? We have, after all, had negotiations with Pakistan in the past, even during times when it was under military dictatorships.
Yours faithfully,
Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai

Ecologically endangered

Sir — The attack on the ecologist, Sunderlal Bahuguna, has been deliberately underplayed by the media (“Cousin batters Bahuguna”,Oct. 26 ). It is essentially an assault on ecology itself, on the long battle against the misuse of the concept of the term “development” by the Indian state. It is because of the last that the Himalayas are today a disaster zone.

The question of nationalism should be re-analysed in the context of not only society, culture, the geographical entity, but also ecology. It has been historically proved that imperialism had its origin in a materialistic reality — the changed production system which prompted a search for raw materials and market, accompanied by new advances in science and technology that assisted in this drive for new markets.

The history of the United States shows how imperialism destroyed the ecology of the region. The same happened in Latin America, central Asia, southeast Asia and Africa.

In India, it was the Santhals, the Bhils and the Munda tribals who first declared war against the raj which was threatening their value system, their forests and their society. India is following a similarly imperialist policy of development, or resource mobilization. Indigenous ideology and knowledge have been dumped at the cost of nature and man.The recent verdict of the court on the Sardar Sarovar project exemplifies the pro-establishment swing of the judiciary.

Since the Fifties, disasters with dams and the recurring floods show we cannot control the rivers. Yet the question of rehabilitation and resettlement of the people affected by the government’s lopsided policies remains unanswered. The judgment on the Sardar Sarovar project has cleared the decks for the Tehri dam project. That is probably what prompted the recent attack on Bahuguna.

As in Narmada, resistance against the Tehri dam will continue. The government of India can forget, but the people of the Himalayas cannot forget that the mountains are very sensitive. The temperature of the earth is rising and glaciers are melting. If the people have to survive, they have to go on with their struggle.

Yours faithfully,
Palash Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — There cannot be smoke without fire. According to the version of the police regarding the recent attack on the enviromentalist, Sunderlal Bahuguna, the latter’s nephew attacked him over the sharing of foreign aid which Bahuguna is alleged to have usurped. Foreign assistance in environmental matters within India seems to be a disconcerting trend. Foreign aid actually is foreign interference in matters internal to the country. Huge amounts of foreign funds not only have the potential of corrupting activists, they can misguide and mislead social activism itself. People should be made aware of the menace.

Yours faithfully,
Jay Kumar Pandey, Asansol

Bollywood whimper

Sir — In the article “In praise of Hindi films” (Oct 29), Biswarup Sen is wrong when he says that the art films pioneered by Satyajit Ray have died.On the contrary, his films have become timeless classics because of their aesthetic as well as intellectual appeal, encouraging more experiments on those lines.

Sen tries to glorify the ephemeral. He forgets the fact that art has a nobler function than mere gratification of our senses. True art transcends life in its existing form and comes up with new visions of life. Hindi films fail on that account. Perhaps Sen is echoing the voice of the uncritical consumerist culture that fails to differentiate between the aesthetically superior and inferior.

Yours faithfully,
Indranil Chaudhuri, via email

Sir — Biswarup Sen’s “In praise of Hindi films” is the best gobbledegook I have read. Sen attributes imaginary qualities to Hindi films. In truth, despite their mass appeal, Hindi cinema is sub-standard, not only by Western standards but by any at all. Most Bollywood films insult the intelligence. I don’t even want to be reminded of the crassness and downright vulgarity in some examples of this “art form”. As someone put it some day, “Hindi films are made by asses for the masses”.

Yours faithfully,
Ashish Kaul, via email

Flooded with relief

Sir — The floods that have brought havoc to West Bengal are manmade and have presented the ruling Left Front government with a unique opportunity to pressurize the Central government into hiking the flood funds. At present the demand stands at Rs 1,487 crore. Experts have pointed out that the state government has failed miserably to take preventive measures to avert the crisis. However, the floods were an excuse for the West Bengal government to make some money at the expense of these desperate people. Since the assembly elections are just round the corner any financial assistance would go a long way in filling the party coffers.
Yours faithfully,
B.C. Bhadra, Calcutta

Sir — It seems that the people of West Bengal are put at the mercy of nature almost every year. The floods do not seem to be caused by the rains but are a result of the negligence of the authorities. Had the Damodar Valley project authorities not discharged huge quantities of water in order to safeguard the dams, the floods would have been less severe. The authorities should see to it that the water does not reach danger level.

Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banerjee, Bolpur

Sir — The editorial, “Unrelieved” (Sept 28), makes for interesting reading as it is both informative and timely. However I agree only partially with the views expressed by Ramakrishna Hegde. The idea of setting up a special common relief fund by all the states for the purpose of dealing with the effects of natural calamities is a brilliant one.

When a natural calamity occurs the state asks for relief from the Centre, that is, the prime minister’s relief fund. The Centre then makes a preliminary study, sends an expert team to assess the extent of damage inflicted before arriving at a conclusion. This process is time consuming and often defeats the purpose of the exercise. The existence of a relief fund would help in tiding over such a situation.

However this does not mean that the Centre can shy away from its responsibility vis-à-vis the states. Instead it should come forward on its own to help out the state on humanitarian grounds.

Yours faithfully,
N. Bose, Ranchi

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