Editorial 1/ Second best option
Editorial 2/ Moment of suspense
No reform in a hurry
Fifth column/ Another midnight tryst with destiny
This above all/ At home in the abode of peace
Harsher measures for a liveable earth
Letters to the editor

Despite the bank strike, the Union cabinet has cleared a decision to bring down equity in public sector banks from the required statutory minimum of 51 per cent to 33 per cent. This will apply to 19 nationalized banks. The State Bank of India and its subsidiaries are presently excluded. The problem lies with nationalization and the related Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Acts of 1970 and 1980. These prevent government shares in banks from being traded. Because of inflation, capital base of banks has to double every five to seven years and in the last seven years, the government has already put in more than Rs 20,000 crore. In the next five years, another Rs 15,000 crore is needed. Such capital infusion can either come from the government or from elsewhere. Given the precarious state of government finances, not to mention the argument that scarce government resources are better spent in providing physical and social infrastructure, capital infusion from the government is not a feasible proposition. However, the 1970 and 1980 statutes do not permit government shareholding to be sold. Dilution of equity is only possible through new issues and post-1994, a few banks have indeed adopted this route. However, weak banks may not find it easy to access capital markets. Even if they can, a minimum government shareholding of 51 per cent means that bank shares will be undervalued. The logic of the cabinet decision and implied amendments to the two acts in the winter session of Parliament are thus unassailable in so far as it goes.

Some elements of the cabinet decision are of course arbitrary. While exclusion of SBI is explained by the fact that it is governed by a separate act, the figure of 33 per cent is completely arbitrary. It is stipulated that government shareholding will not drop below 25 per cent and this is understandable. But what is the logic of prescribing that no individual shareholding will be more than one per cent? At an operational level, this suggestion is non-implementable. The crux of the matter is a question about why these changes were necessary. There is considerable operational inefficiency in public sector banks and this partly explains artificially high real interest rates. While nationalization may have led to more rural branches, it has failed to improve efficiency or provide credit to small businessmen and farmers, despite requirements on priority sector lending. If the present decision is to ease pressures on budgetary deficits alone, there is no problem. But if the intention is also to improve operational efficiency, it will not succeed and in this sense, the use of the word, “privatization”, is unwarranted.

Despite dilution of government equity, because of the two acts, the government will continue to exercise considerable control on banks. Mr Pramod Mahajan’s statement mentions this explicitly. Efficiency improvements require an end to government control and this can only happen if banks are taken away from the purview of these antiquated acts and treated as companies under the Companies Act. To ensure that bank functioning is in accordance with overall government policy, if this is done, the government can choose to retain 26 per cent share in equity. That would have been the best policy option. Because of political economy compulsions and pressure from unions, the government has decided to exercise a second best option. While this need not be denigrated, there is no need to applaud a second best option as the best one. The only privatization in banking so far has been through the entry of new private sector banks, not through dilution of equity in existing public sector banks. The status quo hasn’t changed.    

Twenty-four years is a long time. And if the same government runs a state for so close to a quarter of a century then people begin to feel that the quality of state administration is a divine judgment from which there is no escape. A change of chief ministers without an election could have been part of that continuity. But by suspending two senior Indian administrative service officers against whom the state vigilance commission has charges of defalcation of funds, the new chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, seems to have suddenly shot a pebble into a still pool. Proceeding against bureaucrats had not been the Left Front government’s style so far. The chief minister has made clear that removing corruption is one of his main goals, as are improving work culture and increasing accountability of government employees.

It is not only that Mr Bhattacharjee’s target is laudable and the hoped-for changes much needed, but that he has announced the target and followed it up with exemplary action at a very crucial time. Popular anger is as much directed towards unruly and violent supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as towards corrupt, indifferent and amazingly defiant state government employees. With Ms Mamata Banerjee waiting in the wings, Mr Bhattacharjee cannot waste any time before the assembly elections are on top of him. Too much damage has been done already. He needs to prove himself an effective and decisive leader and he needs to win back popular support for his party. The suspension of the two bureaucrats is a good start in this direction. But, obviously, this is not anywhere near enough. Mr Bhattacharjee really has very, very dirty stables to clean, whether he tackles corruption or accountability. But the most challenging job for him will be to discipline the rank and file of his party and contain their bullying and violence. If he can do this, much of his war is won.    

India’s economic policy reforms began in 1991. India’s reform programme is similar in many ways to the reforms undertaken in other developing countries, but implemented at a much more gradual pace than elsewhere. This gradualism, which is usually explained in terms of the compulsions of India’s democratic polity, has been criticized for producing a frustratingly slow pace of change.

While the reforms at the Central government level have been implemented in numerous sectors of the Indian economy, only a handful of India’s states have embarked on a significant reform path. Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu are more reform-oriented, while states such as Haryana, Kerala, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal have lagged in carrying out state-level reforms. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are even further behind. States that move against the populist policies and set up regular markets for services, such as power and water, are going to be ahead of the rest in the game. They are likely to garner faster state-level economic growth and job creation, from both domestic and foreign investments.

Currently there are rather significant differences in reform interest and economic performance between a large part of northern India and southern India. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are quite dynamic now in trying to improve the physical and legal infrastructure, in order to attract largescale foreign investment. In Bihar or UP one does not see the same kind of reform dynamism and the results are therefore poor in terms of economic growth. These differences will be noticed politically sooner rather than later, as inequalities between states in their economic performance become glaring. The states that are ahead will be rewarded with better performance while the states that are behind will find that there is the demand to catch up. This kind of interstate competition will spur the overall reform process, as has the inter-regional competition in China.

A slow moving reform process in the Indian states, lack of decentralization in terms of economic policymaking at the state level, stringent labour laws, product reservation for smallscale industry and poor infrastructure in terms of power, ports, roads and telecommunications are some of the crucial reasons why India is unable to attract large sums of foreign direct investment. FDI is seen as an important source of non-debt inflows, and is increasingly being sought as a vehicle for technology flows, and as a means of building inter-firm linkages in a world in which multinational corporations are primarily operating on the basis of a network of global interconnections. MNCs offer the capital, international market access and technology that India lacks, and are therefore vital to India’s change into a strong and rapidly growing economy.

India’s neighbours that are relying heavily on FDI, such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, have been pulling far ahead of India in economic growth, income levels and productivity, while also increasing their security and geopolitical influence in the world community. India’s continuing ambivalence to FDI exacts a heavy toll on the Indian economy. Undoubtedly, India is ceding billions of dollars of FDI to its neighbours each year, flows that otherwise would have come to India.

While China achieved actual FDI inflows of around $45.3 billion in 1997, India settled for a mere $3.2 billion. Why is it that India, which provides the largest market after China in the developing world, is unable to attract substantial volumes of FDI? Further, when it comes to comparing China and India, why can India not match or even outpace China in attracting FDI given India’s superior conditions regarding the rule of law, democracy and the widely spoken English language?

There are lots of international investors who would flock to India right now. But, they are put off by the fact that they cannot get reliable power and that the road system is dreadful. Continuing fiscal difficulties that are often linked to the chronic infrastructure difficulties remain a major challenge for India.

The government has set for itself an ambitious target of achieving $10 billion in actual FDI inflows per year. To meet this target, it is essential to undertake some hard reform steps. Of course, additionally, availability of infrastructure services, such as uninterrupted power, good roads and adequate port and telecom facilities are essential.

In order to achieve the government’s goal, it is crucial to raise the FDI approvals to actual ratio. On a cumulative basis, FDI approvals between April 1991 and September 1998 were of the order of $ 54,268 million, whereas actual FDI during the same period was a mere $ 11,806 million. Therefore, actual FDI as a proportion of FDI approved was only 21.7 per cent. The same ratio is much higher in China, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

Statewise approvals of FDI in India suggest differing performances among Indian states. States are now in competition with one another to attract private investment, both domestic and foreign, but this competition is largely confined to Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. State-level data on FDI approvals (aggregate FDI approvals between 1991-97) suggest that the relatively fast moving reformers have attracted higher investments, both from foreign and domestic investors.

From the long term development point of view, India has tremendous growth prospects through export-led growth and that export-led growth involves a broad range of sectors, both traditional and new. The most interesting by far of the new sectors is software and information technology. India is becoming one of the most important players of the world in this sector and it is the fastest growing foreign exchange earner for India.

Export-led growth in services is one of the most interesting developments, and export-led growth in manufactures, the more traditional textiles and apparel, in electronics and other labour-intensive operations remains an area where India could do a lot more than it has in the past. India has the resource base, it has the entrepreneurship, has the access to the sea coast, a vast labour force, it has everything that coastal China has had except the interest of the government. But it is a place where one could find tens of millions of jobs over the next few years in real, significant foreign exchange earning private sector activity. This would require a change of attitude.

Greater decentralization of decisionmaking in India is likely to lead to greater competition among the states and therefore to higher efficiency and productivity in these regions. In India, key fiscal, infrastructure, and regulatory decisions on economic management remain at the Central government level.

A gradual process of decentralization has begun in India as a result of the fact that regional political parties have been lending support in the formation and running of the government at the Centre. This is a healthy development. Also, this is the most plausible scenario in the Indian democracy wherein the Centre is virtually forced to allow greater decisionmaking to be done at the state level.

There are several reasons for being optimistic about India’s future growth prospects — a decade of opening of the economy has produced new dynamism, most dramatically in the IT sector, but in others as well. The new technologies, especially IT and biotechnology, give new opportunities for economic and social development. Demographic trends, especially a slowing population growth rate and a rising share of the population of working age, contribute to rising per capita income.

While rapid economic growth is certainly possible, it could founder for several reasons. First, large and persistent fiscal deficits can endanger sustainability of growth over time. Second, much of India remains mired in illiteracy and exclusion. Unless Indian society, and Indian governments at all levels, truly prioritize improvements in the access of all Indians to education and health services, hundreds of millions of Indians will have little practical prospect of improvement in life conditions.

Third, India must not rest on the laurels of a successful decade of economic reforms. Much was accomplished in the Nineties. But much remains to be done: improvement of infrastructure, in part through privatization and completion of reforms in key sectors; attraction of much greater flows of FDI; liberalization of labour, land, and other factor markets; fiscal reform and consolidation; and finally meeting the great social challenges among India’s poor and excluded groups.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Center for International Development, Harvard University. Nirupam Bajpai is director of the Harvard India Program at the Center for International Development    

Jharkhand’s midnight tryst with destiny was curiously quiet. Thousands of tribals, who flocked to Ranchi from the outskirts, were barred from the swearing-in ceremony which seemed cloaked in secrecy.

The mood was one of betrayal. Fear pervaded the streets as convoys of securitymen staged flag marches stamping their writ of terror on the nascent state. Riot control vans blowing shrill sirens added to a sense of doom.

Tall arches, done up in red and saffron and decorated with banners welcoming the Bharatiya Janata Party delegates, stood forlorn at the main square while hundreds of multicoloured paper flags fluttered in the late afternoon breeze.

A handful of BJP supporters, waving saffron flags, zipped through the city in white Marutis chanting “Jai Jharkhand”. But the feeble strains failed to allay the sense of despair.

“Jharkhand for whom? For the Dikus (outsiders)?’’ queried Parvati Soren, a potato farmer from Bundu near Ranchi. Soren trekked 30 kilometres from Bundu to get a feel of her “akua disum (own state).’’ But her “god” lay crumpled.

Alien rule

Under a canopy of tamarind trees on the lawn of a state government bungalow at Police Lines, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief, Shibu Soren, choked on unshed tears. “Like the trees in my garden and the wind which sings through their branches, I am an all-pervasive presence in Jharkhand,’’ said the “fallen hero’’. His partymen clustered around him in a tight semicircle, shielding him from the buffeting torrents of political change.

The leader is full of venom against the National Democratic Alliance. “Isn’t it an irony that the forces which we have been fighting for the past three decades should call the shots in our state?’’ he asks.

But the “forces’’ are unfazed. “It is a number game and democracy stipulates that the party with the highest number of legislators in its kitty forms the government,’’ says Ram Tahal Chowdhury, the BJP member of parliament from Ranchi.

So what about Parvati Soren and her like, who have waited with bated breath for statehood? “We have been taken for a ride in the name of statehood,’’ says Deo Sharan Bhagat, the JMM general secretary. The green of the forests clashes with the unfamiliarity of saffron, which remains isolated from the masses despite having formed the government.

Govinda Murmu, a panchayat worker in Khunti block, 30 kms from Ranchi, falters when asked the new chief minister’s name. “I am not so sure,’’ he manages to stutter. For Murmu, a JMM sympathizer, statehood is of no consequence. “We will still have to strive for the basics,’’ he observes with a sigh.

Bravehearts buried

The villagers of Tamar, who celebrated Birsa Munda’s birthday on November 15, were untouched by the extravaganza in Ranchi. They wound their way through the dense forests and knobbly hillocks to Ulayhatu, Birsa’s birthplace, to pay homage to the “legend” but not one of them cared to come near Ranchi. “It is an alien government which has been thrust on us. We are better off with our martyrs, who laid down their lives for Ulgulan (revolution),’’ shot back Lakkhan Horo, a school teacher in Tamar.

Birsa and his legion of “bravehearts” have no place in the saffron scheme of things. The revolutionary was reduced to a footnote at the NDA special session convened to elect the legislature party chief. “Birsa Bhagwan ki jai,’’ shrieked a legislator from Lohardaga towards the end of the session; long after the new chief minister, Babulal Marandi, had been elected the NDA leader.

Failing to find any takers for Birsa Bhagwan, the red-faced legislator sniped, “I was just testing my pitch. Its been ages since I cheered.’’ A “squirming” colleague promptly hauled him back to his seat. A few BJP leaders tittered at the “naive’’ old man from Lohardaga.

The faux pas lends credence to Shibu Soren’s fears. “The BJP is going to turn Jharkhand into a colony of non-tribal traders,’’ the JMM supremo had said at a rally early last week. If not a colony, the pro-Hindutva forces will ensure that ethnicity takes a backseat and tribal sentiments are diluted in the onslaught of saffron propaganda.    

It was my first day in Shantiniketan. The year was 1933. The monsoon was in full swing. From the window of the train to Bolpur, it was a vast expanse of water on both sides. Shamudro — it is like the sea, remarked the ticket collector, who happened to be the only other person in the compartment. Bolpur railway station looked drenched and desolate. I asked the station master how I could get to Shantiniketan. “Take a jutka,” he said.

I did not know what a jutka was. I found a small bullock-cart with a thatched roof, asked the owner if he could take me to Shantiniketan. “Baitho”, he replied, “do taaka” — two rupees. I hopped in. We drove through a flooded countryside.

He dropped me off at the office. I was expected. I signed the entry register and was conducted to a room I was to share with a Buddhist bhikhu from Sri Lanka. Then taken to the dining hall where I had a plateful of rice and maacher jhole — fish curry. I got to my room and made acquaintance with my roommate. The room had no furniture of any kind. The bhikhu had a hurricane lamp by his pillow and read late into the night. I spread my bedding roll at the other end of the room. I had never slept on a hard cement floor. I was tired and dozed off before bhikhu Manjushri blew the out the hurricane lantern.

I slept fitfully, uncertain about what I had let myself in for. I must have fallen asleep because I began to dream. I heard voices of an angelic choir at a distance coming towards me. I realized I was not dreaming; it was for real. I groped my way in the dark, and opened the door. A soft moonlight of the waning moon filtered through the mist of a gentle drizzle. I saw a dozen boys and girls dressed in white carrying lanterns and candles walking in a procession, singing as they went around the campus.

Later I learnt it was varsha mangal (welcoming the rains). It was customary to welcome the monsoon by going round singing in the early hours of the dawn, the prabhaat pheri. The scene has continued to haunt me ever since.

Prabhat pheris on Hindu and Sikh religious festivals are customary in the plains of northern India. Behind the block of flats where I live, there is a small gurdwara. A week or so before the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak (this year it was November 11) a loud cracker is exploded in the gurdwara courtyard at 4 am.

We are rudely shaken out of our slumber; must doze off again. About a dozen men and women assemble in the gurdwara and form a procession. The only music accompaniments are chimta and dholak (drum). They go round the block singing bhai Gurdas’s eulogy, Satgur Nanak pragatya, mitti dhund jag chaanan hoya — the true Guru Nanak make his appearance; dust and mist evaporated from the face of the earth. This is followed by some hymns composed by the guru. The singing is not very melodious, but it is a manifestation of the singer’s faith in their guru.

Guru Nanak was more conscious of nature than his successor gurus. His baramasi has some beautiful descriptions of natural phenomenon. Chirping of sparrows at the break of dawn, the drone of cicadas in forest glades and of course black clouds, thunder, lightning and rain during the monsoon. I give one example:

Mori run jhun laya, bhainey savan aya (Raga Vadhans)
Sweet sound of water gurgling down the water-spout
(The peacock’s shrill, exultant cry)
Sister, it’s savan, the month of rain!
Beloved thine eyes bind me in a spell
(they pierce through me like daggers)
They fill my heart with greed and longing;
For one glimpse of thee I’ll give my life
For thy name may I be a sacrifice.
When thou art mine, my heart fills with pride,
What can I be proud of it thou art not with me?
Woman, smash thy bangles on thy bedstead
Break thy arms, break the arms of thy couch;
Thy adornments hold no charms
The Lord is in another’s arms.
The Lord liked not thy bangle-seller
Thy bracelets and glass bangles. He doth spurn
Arms that do not the Lord’s neck embrace
With anguish shall forever burn.
All my friends have gone to their lovers
I feel wretched, whose door shall I seek?
Friends, of proven virtue and fair am I
Lord, does nothing about me find favour in
Thine eyes?
I plaited my tresses,
With vermilion daubed the parting of my hair
And went to Him
But with me He would not lie.
My heart is grief-stricken, I could die.
I wept, and the world wept with me.
Even birds of the forest cried,
Only my soul torn out of my body shed not a tear,
Nay, my soul which separated me from my
beloved shed not a tear
In a dream He came to me
(I woke) and He was gone.

Age cannot wither

The older one gets the more one laments the loss of youth. An Urdu couplet aptly sums up the plight of an old man:

Javaanee jaatee rahee

Aur hamein pata bhee na lagaa
Isee ko dhoond rahen hain
Kamar jhukaee huey

(Youth has passed/ And I was not even aware of it/ It is my youth I seek/ With my back bent double towards the ground.)

It is true that a person is himself not aware of the passage of years: he may have turned grey, lost his teeth, become hard of hearing and barely be able to see, but his vanity prevents him accepting that he has gone old and senile.

It is other people, mostly children, who rudely remind him that he has aged. Boys and girls who called him uncle start addressing him daadoo or naanoo. The other days a family accosted me in Lodhi park. The mother asked her four year old son to touch my feet. The child looked me up and down, shouted buddha — “old fellow” — and ran away. I was mortified.

I delude myself that I have not really become a buddha. My friends have but I still have a sparkle in my eyes and my heart is as young as it ever was. One of my lady friends, 20 years younger than me, is now a grand mother and turned grossly fat. I continue to pay her compliments I did 30 years ago when she was fair and saucy. The truth is encapsulated in another couplet:

Begum, terry husn key hukkey mein aanch naheen;

Ik ham hee hain
Kay phir bhee gud gudai jaatey hain

(Begum there is no fire left/ In the hubble-bubble of your beauty;/ It is only me who still keeps drawing on it/ Hoping to draw the smoke of the tobacco of your faded beauty.)

Explain this short one

A student was already on leave due to his father’s illness. He sent a telegram to the principal:

“Father dead shaved head go Ganga put bones and eat Brahmins one week leave sanctioned”

(Contributed by Prem Kumar Jauhar, Gurgaon)


Floods are becoming rampant in China and India. Drought has devastated the American midwest and Africa. Storms and hurricanes in Europe and the Carribean are taking heavy tolls. Waves in the north Atlantic are getting bigger since the Seventies. Rice production is expected to fall considerably in the coming decade.

There is environmental imbalance everywhere. This will affect health as well. Most children in Bangkok suffer from lead poisoning. In Mexico, 70 per cent of newborn babies have excessive levels of lead in their bloodstream. Lopsided development and rampant consumerism is leading to ozone depletion, global warming, unnatural greenhouse gas effect, rise in the sea-level and so on.

The quantum of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by over 11 per cent since 1958. Thirty per cent of the current CO2 emission comes from deforestation. Atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases—methane and nitrous oxide—have grown by about 15 per cent since pre-industrial times.

Global warming is not occurring at a uniform rate. It is happening faster everyday. If this continues, ocean waters will rise, glaciers and ice-caps will melt. Coastal areas like Venice, Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangladesh, Louisiana, Papua New Guinea, Maldives, Miami, Florida will disappear from the world map. Bangkok is sinking at the rate of one inch per year.

The rise in temperature does not merely threaten life and property of humans but endangers the entire biodiversity of the earth. Planktons that absorb over half the world’s carbon emission and play a vital role in the marine food chain will be badly affected by warm conditions. There are predictions that coastal mangrove swamps will shrink. Fish, crabs, crocodiles, turtles, to cite a few examples, will become extinct. Decades of conservation investment could be wasted because the atmospheric changes are taking place at too fast a rate for the species to adapt.

The ozone layer has been depleted by eight per cent in the last few decades mainly due to chlorofluorocarbons used in our refrigerators, airconditioners, sprays, foams and so on. A single chlorine ion from the breakdown of a CFC molecule can destroy 100,000 molecules of ozone. The latest scientific findings indicate that for one per cent decrease in the ozone layer, there is a 0.6 per cent to 0.8 per cent increase in eye cataracts.

Worldwide, today there are 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh additional cases of cataract induced blindness. It is predicted that in the lower latitudes, the eye cancer rate will greatly increase in the coming years. Presently, the rate of skin cancer is as high as two in three in Australia and three in five in the United States. The US environmental protection agency has projected that in the 50 years between 1991-2041, 12 million Americans will be affected by skin cancer and 2,00,000 will die from malignant melanoma.

Tests indicate a correlation between the incidence of ultraviolet radiation increase and the increase in winter temperatures. Studies have shown a 30 per cent increase in winter temperature levels in Tokyo in the course of the Eighties.

Climatic changes that earlier occurred over a century are now occurring in a decade and upsetting the ecological balance at an alarming speed. The change in the earth’s climate will sweep away one third of the global forests. The rain forests in Africa are shrinking by 1.3 million hectares annually.

Finding a solution to these problems is not going to be easy. Some of the solutions that have been implemented are either partial or have failed due to a variety of reasons. Although after the Kyoto protocol in December 1997, the US has reluctantly agreed to reduce its emissions to seven per cent below the 1990 levels by 2012, this cut is too little for a nation which consumes 80 per cent of the earth’s energy. And there are possibilities that even this binding target will be flouted by the US.

Ironically, though tinkerings in pollution control continue, global subsidies on energy that range as high as $ 230 billion a year are still not being checked. Besides, nonconventional energy sources are yet to be tapped and promoted properly.

As far as the depletion of the ozone layer is concerned, India is set for a switchover from the use of CFC by the year 2010. This will cost it about Rs 900 crore. The Montreal protocol decided 10 million dollars should be granted to India for this purpose. This amount is woefully inadequate.

The healing of the sky will call for a drastic shift in our thinking. Nothing can be achieved if the current dithering policies, political disinterest and discord, consumer attitudes and behaviour exist.

The present environmental problems question the very path of development which we are treading. This path is neither sustainable nor feasible in the long run. In the next few years, the average rate of warming could be greater than any seen in the last 10,000 years and scientists fear that if the climate keeps on changing in giant lurches, we may return to the ice-age and the problems will go far beyond the coping capacity of existing or forseeable ecological management practices. Ecosystems will find it impossible to adapt to the changing environment.    


Admission time

Sir — A popular joke has three young boys comparing how fast their fathers are, and nobody’s father is faster than the boy’s, whose father — a West Bengal government employee — finishes work every day at five pm and manages to reach home at three pm. The joke, obviously, is at the expense of the nonexistent work culture and punctuality in the government departments and offices of West Bengal. But are these days of late arrivals and early departures coming to an end? It would seem so from the fact that high on the priority list of the new chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is the improvement of work culture in the state run offices (“Buddha to crack whip on shirkers”, Nov 18). Bhattacharjee’s decision to adopt a “policy of productivity based assessment of employees” — which is in keeping with his earlier order that each state government employee should maintain a record of his day’s work — is in fact one of the biggest admissions on the part of the Left Front government. If Bhattacharjee is trying to make the administration transparent as never before, one can only wish him success.
Yours faithfully,
Sudeshna Pathak, via email

Long way to victory

Sir — It is quite strange that the world’s only superpower is struggling to choose its 43rd president. Many thousands of ballots that were at stake in four counties, especially those which were either overvotes or undervotes, required a manual recount. American people have been in the dark long enough to know the name of their new president.

Al Gore has kept a low profile. But it is clear that his partymen, who have already taken to the streets in Florida, consider Gore as the rightful inheritor of Bill Clinton’s mantle since he has secured the majority of the popular votes. He had earlier been considered the winner in New Mexico and given the state’s five electoral votes.

One significant lesson learnt from this memorable election is that every vote counts and voter apathy can make a crucial difference.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Sir — K.P. Nayar’s article (“The US political machine”, Nov 15) on the United States constitution rightly emphasizes the strength of the US democracy. Apart from occasional hiccups like the present Florida tangle, it is certainly the best available electoral system in the world today. The presidential form of government and the electoral system of the US with its electoral college can help in establishing a two-party system that is necessary for India. This can reduce corruption caused mainly by members of small parties through their party-hopping. Once a government assumes office it should run its full term so that party-hopping and election expenditure can be controlled. The money saved can be used to reduce public debt and for infrastructural improvement.

Parties based on religion and caste should be banned. But given the present situation, in which politics has become an industry where politicians flock to make money without bothering about the constituencies they supposedly represent, nothing short of a miracle can save India.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Sir — The Republican candidate for the US presidential election, George W. Bush, may well get pipped to the post by Al Gore because of the revelation that former was arrested for drunken driving, fined and had his licence suspended for 30 days in 1976 (“Bush admits drunken arrest”, Nov 4). Isn’t it a pity that India, the world’s biggest democracy, has many such leaders who are always busy misleading and cheating the very people who help them walk the corridors of power. Politicians in India have no compunctions whatsoever about swindling public money for they know they will never be brought to book for their misdeeds.

If Indian politicians were to contest in the US elections, they would be miserably defeated and even taken to court. For, the system followed in the US bears some resemblance to democracy, which, sadly, India’s does not.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Rave preview

Sir — Hrithik Roshan is known for his records. But this must be the most absurd kind of record — the world record breaking crowd (photo caption in The Telegraph, Nov 13) which gathered to see him perform on stage in Calcutta.

When this celebrity-son made his debut in Kaho Naa...Pyar Hai, the adulation showered on him was nothing short of a record. And going by the predictability of such stardom, one can also rest assured that Hrithik will fall as the cricketers have fallen. And when that happens, it will again be a record of sorts. Moreover, the trophy for setting records should go to the media. After all, the media has set a record in creating a larger-than-life image of an ordinary actor who also knows how to dance a little. Hrithik Roshan took the country by storm only because the media had built up his image before he appeared.

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Sir — The Hrithik bubble is finally going to burst. After Fiza, now even Mission Kashmir is about to flop. Box office hype can carry a film only thus far and no further. In the final analysis, it is invariably difficult to fool the masses.

The time has come to seriously question the insane heights the Hrithik popularity had reached. His earlier film, Fiza, was directed by the editor of Filmfare, and was given tax free status. One wonders why. Here is a 27-year-old star with one hit and two flops. Is there anything to start raving about yet?

Yours faithfully,
Neil Saini, Noida

Refuse to change

Sir — Rekha Talukdar, in her letter on October 13, is entirely correct when she claims that hospitals and nursing homes need to treat their waste matter. But the law is confusing. Hospital waste needs to be managed according to the provisions of the bio-medical waste (management and handling) rules 1998, which states that all healthcare facilities need to treat and dispose of their waste without damaging the environment. It allows hospitals to use alternative technologies to disinfect their waste but does not prohibit incinerators. Incinerators should be avoided because they are polluting agents. In fact, there are worldwide campaigns against them. It is only sensible that we follow suit.
Yours faithfully,
Anu Goel, New Delhi

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