Editorial 1 /One in the bush
Editorial 2 / Inexcusable
Missions on merit
Fifth Column / Four ways to make three new states
A catastrophe for science and society
Taking a short cut to the millions
Letters to the editor

Presidential elections in the United States have in recent times been informed by a sense of theatre. But even by American standards, the presidential election between vice president, Mr Al Gore, and the governor of Texas, Mr George W. Bush, was high drama. Although the secretary of state in Florida, Ms Katherine Harris, has certified the state’s election results, declaring Mr Bush the winner, a legal challenge has been mounted against the declaration by Mr Gore. Florida’s 25 electoral votes would give either candidate the presidency. Without Florida, Mr Gore has 255 of the required 270 electoral votes and Mr Bush has 246. Meanwhile, Mr Bush is putting a transition team in place even though the general services administration, the body responsible for ensuring a smooth transition, has not agreed to cooperate until Mr Gore formally concedes the election. Whatever be the formal outcome, the election result will remain mired in controversy, which will strengthen the campaign for electoral reform.

For India, both Mr Gore and Mr Bush offer opportunities and problems. Mr Gore is going to be more predictable. His stance on most issues is wellknown and even leaders of other countries have become familiar with his style of working. But is this enough? Admittedly, there will be a greater continuity to the Indo-US dialogue if there is a Gore administration, but it will be without the benefit of individuals whose personal interest made a difference to bilateral relations. It is unlikely that the deputy secretary of state, Mr Strobe Talbott, for instance, will find a place in a Gore government. Mr Gore, who probably recognizes Mr Talbott’s qualities, will still not keep him because of the overwhelming need to demonstrate that he is his own man. Without Mr Talbott, it may well mean a return to the old days of absolutist positions, especially on the nuclear issue. The Gore camp has many of the nonproliferationwallahs who have been the bane of Indo-US relations through most of the Nineties. In addition, Mr Gore comes with the huge baggage of environmental issues, which might translate into problems in trading relations with developing countries and may even see the possible introduction of environment-related non-tariff barriers. Add to this list the concern for human rights in Kashmir and elsewhere, and you may have the perfect recipe for a troubled US-India relationship under a Gore administration.

Although it is difficult to chart a definite course for Indo-US relations under a Bush administration, there seems to be some evidence that the Republicans may locate the relationship on firmer ground. There are at least two reasons for this optimism. First, the Republicans are more concerned about the future of China, and its possible emergence as a belligerent and revisionist superpower that will seek to challenge American influence and power, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Many Republicans are beginning to recognize that India, with its own deep concerns about China, could be one vital counterweight. This may mean that a Republican administration will be more sensitive to Indian security concerns, and more willing to accommodate India’s own aspirations to be a great power. Second, the Republicans, although no less concerned about proliferation of nuclear weapons, may have a less absolutist view of India’s nuclear policy. Most important, given their own scepticism about the comprehensive test ban treaty, the pressure on India to sign the treaty is bound to ease.    


Terror has found its proper home in greater Calcutta. And let there be no mistaking the fact that this has been possible only because the police has honed its ineffectuality into a deadly art. This, in turn, would not have been the case had the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, not come upon the most ingeniously artless excuses for his state’s descent into a nightmare of lawlessness. The spiralling crisis baffles every civilized effort at comprehension. Since the robberies in Kasba more than a week ago, the crime graph has been rising steadily, culminating recently in the brutal looting of 35 families by a gang of about a hundred in the South 24 Parganas. Paralysing entire stretches of the city and its fringes with fear, this continuing sequence of incidents has not yet been able to elicit from the police a single concrete breakthrough that could even remotely inspire confidence in these stricken citizens.

This shameful collapse of the state’s law-enforcing machinery is made doubly terrifying by the chief minister’s excuses and equivocations. During his recent visit to the looted village, he has repeatedly suggested to the villagers that the attacks were politically motivated. This idea has been taken up by some of his comrades, just as some of his other comrades have made no bones about the fact — and in front of the villagers — that the irremediably partisan police will never catch the actual offenders. It has taken a great deal of firmness from the villagers themselves to convince the chief minister that politicization of the crisis in their lives is the last thing that would work with them. Mr Bhattacharjee’s public statements regarding the Kasba robberies practice another kind of obfuscation. A “breakthrough” has been intimated, but any concrete information regarding this is being tantalizingly held back for the sake of “investigations”. Citizens are now being officially encouraged to take law in their own hands and to fall back on their own resources for self-defence, if they want a semblance of normalcy to return to their ravaged lives. Meanwhile, Bengal’s most venerable leader portends a “war”, and his political opponents talk of a violent “popular uprising”. Mr Bhattacharjee will need a great deal of ingenuity to talk himself out of this fearful mess.    

Amidst the tears and the pathos that dominated President Bill Clinton’s historic reconciliation visit to Vietnam this month, there was one unlikely figure who stood out wherever the president’s itinerary took him.

He was Douglas Peterson, a United States Air Force F-4 phantom fighter pilot who flew 66 bombing missions in 1966 over what was then North Vietnam and was shot down and captured just outside Hanoi on his 67th mission. Peterson, who was held as a prisoner of war for six and a half years in a jail — on whose location now stands the Hanoi Hilton — still has scars from rope burns he suffered during interrogation in Hanoi. His right hand goes numb from damaged nerves. Peterson’s family did not know if he was alive for three and a half years. His wife was expecting a baby when he left for Vietnam, but Peterson did not see the baby until he was six years old.

Peterson’s is the story of many American PoWs who wasted their best years in a senseless war, but what makes him unique is that he is now the US ambassador to Vietnam. Clinton, who opposed the war in Vietnam and avoided being drafted into fighting there, made one of the most thoughtful decisions in his effort to establish friendship with this erstwhile enemy when he asked Peterson three years ago to go as America’s first ambassador to unified Vietnam. Peterson, who has personified the values of courage and forgiveness in his new diplomatic incarnation in Hanoi, is today the central figure in bringing together America and Vietnam, bitter enemies whose reconciliation defied all possibilities for almost a quarter century after US troops pulled out of Indo-China.

At a time when South Block is going through its biggest overhaul in years, with scores of diplomatic jobs being filled on account of a spate of retirements and tenure completions, Peterson’s experience is illuminating. In three years in Hanoi, Peterson has become a role model for any ambassador anywhere: he typifies what foreign offices could achieve by picking the right envoy for the right job. Many years ago, in an Arab country which this columnist used to visit frequently, the Indian ambassador used to surprise his visitors with a trolley-full of the choicest spirits, wines and liqueurs, all displayed next to his work table. Few Indians or expatriates in that country were offended by the ambassador’s taste in alcohol even if they were teetotallers.

But even those Arabs who liked to imbibe were unpleasantly surprised by the envoy’s habit of generously offering drinks to his visitors, notwithstanding the fact that he was doing so within the embassy, which is Indian territory. It was not that the ambassador, an otherwise erudite and polished diplomat, drank at all hours, if at all. It was his way of protesting against his posting to that Arab country. What is more, this ambassador used to openly tell his Indian visitors that he was a misfit on posting, that his expertise lay elsewhere and that his presence in that Arab capital was testimony to how South Block frequently erred in choosing people for crucial diplomatic jobs.

Over the years, as standards of probity declined in public life, overseas postings became a vehicle for patronage, and cases like that of the ambassador in question became more of a rule rather than the rare exception. It is, therefore, refreshing to find that under the Atal Behari Vajpayee dispensation in South Block, considerable thought is going into postings abroad, especially to those missions which will have a crucial role in fashioning India’s destiny as a nuclear power and as an emerging global power in the 21st century.

For observers of the Indian diplomatic scene, who are used to some of the horrors of India’s official representation abroad over the years, the most comforting of recent appointments have been to a string of United Nations-related posts. These careful choices point to a long-term strategy in dealing with the UN and its agencies, where the Vajpayee government is determined to claim India’s rightful place.

This is easier said than done because India’s position in the UN is unique — regrettably so. Most Indians who want to see India as a permanent member of the UN security council do not realize that, next to Israel, India is institutionally the most isolated country among the UN’s vast membership.

In the world body, the Muslim countries have the Organization of Islamic Conference: each of the 53 Islamic countries have one another of the OIC’s membership to lean on. The Europeans have the European Union as a single bloc, the southeast Asians have the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the African states belong to the Organization of African Unity. Even the Latin Americans and the Caribbeans have their regional bodies to turn to for support.

Of course, it could be argued that India belongs to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, but anyone who knows SAARC also knows that, for New Delhi, this regional organization is more of a liability than an asset. More often than not, SAARC countries use the organization as a platform for treating India as a whipping boy.

Israel, at least, has the unerring support of the US, but India has to stand alone in the UN whenever it has to defend itself. It can only count on what is right from its point of view, a factor which often gives way to expediency where other countries are concerned. In its quest for its rightful place in the UN, India has to rely on a high calibre team of diplomats who can be relied upon to deliver: which is what makes the recent appointments made by South Block extremely significant.

Take, for instance, T.P. Sreenivasan, India’s new permanent representative to the UN organizations in Vienna, who will also be ambassador to Austria with concurrent accreditation to Slovenia, has been chosen for this job because of his extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy. He has served twice at India’s UN mission in New York and once as joint secretary dealing with the UN in South Block.

Sreenivasan, who is to present his credentials to the Austrian president next month, will have the landmark responsibility of refashioning India’s relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the organization which was set up originally with the aim of promoting the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Just as the five nuclear monopolists hijacked nonproliferation and disarmament to suit their narrow interests, they also commandeered the IAEA. Over the years, this international organization was reduced to being a mere secretariat for the nuclear weapon states to ensure compliance of others with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

Because India was not a de facto nuclear weapon state until its Pokhran-II nuclear tests, India was in a state of confrontation with the IAEA on account of the role imposed on it by the nuclear powers. But this is no longer so. It will, therefore, be Sreenivasan’s task to refashion India’s ties with the IAEA of which he will also be alternate governor. It will be his effort to get the IAEA to accept Indian formulations on nuclear safety, dangers arising from nuclear bombs being on hair trigger alert and so on — all of which will have a bearing on the Vajpayee government’s long term objective of gaining recognition for India as a nuclear weapon state.

Sreenivasan will also liaise with the Vienna-based Nuclear Suppliers Group which has kept India at arms length, but whose eventual membership is vital for New Delhi to have access to nuclear technology. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization is also in Vienna, although, as of now, India is not its member. A move is also afoot to shift the fissile material cut-off treaty talks to Vienna. Sreenivasan’s appointment to Vienna lends credibility to New Delhi’s current efforts both to regain its leadership role in the disarmament movement and to push ahead with its claim to be recognized as a nuclear weapon state.

It comes close on the heels of another judicious selection — the choice of Rakesh Sood as India’s first ambassador for disarmament based in Geneva. Sood is to Indian disarmament what Homi J. Bhabha has been to the country’s nuclear programme or A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to its missile development. In appointing Sood to Geneva, India broke new ground. Only the five nuclear powers have so far had disarmament ambassadors in Geneva. By taking their cue and appointing one, the Vajpayee government is leaving no one in doubt that India intends to gain recognition as a nuclear weapon state.

These appointments will be shortly followed by the choice of a new deputy permanent representative at India’s UN mission in New York. As in the case of Sreenivasan and Sood, the new DPR will bring with him several years of experience of having been the point man in South Block for UN matters. He also has the experience of having served in the mission in New York once earlier. These appointments based solely on merit have absolved South Block of charges, repeated often, of using plum postings as a way of dispensing patronage.    

The creation of more states by truncating bigger states has generally been justified on grounds of economic development of backward regions. The recent creation of the three new states of Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand has been on this basis as well. It has whetted the appetite of the statehood protagonists in several other parts of the country. We may now witness political movements for the creation of more states on grounds of economic development of backward regions. But this might mean further and unnecessary balkanization.

Regional imbalances exist even within the smaller states. How long can one go on fragmenting states on the basis of their development levels. There is every chance that the smaller states may turn out to be financially unviable. The experience with smaller states in the Northeast shows that there is no guarantee these states will lead to more sustainable development or better administration.

Roughly speaking, there are four models of development with direct government intervention. They are government-sponsored self-employment schemes, employment generation schemes, development of infrastructure, and the setting up and running of public sector undertakings.

Routes to development

An example of government-sponsored self-employment schemes is the gram samriddhi yojana in which the beneficiaries are provided with monetary loans and grants for taking up self-employment and other income-generating activities. Development requires huge expenditure and investment, which are usually financed by the tax collected from the people.

The experience of over half a century of fighting poverty signals that development is not an easy task. Substantial budgetary allocation for the development schemes and their utilization does not assure the desired results; not even in the long run. Development is an interplay of various socioeconomic forces. And it has its own dynamics. If we do not comprehend this then the euphoria of economic development of the new states might end in a nightmare of abject and perpetual dependency.

Our present strategy towards development lacks a proper perspective in planning. Each scheme of development at the micro-level is seen as a recurring and interminable exercise. For example, there is hardly any evaluation of how much credit ought to go to a village to lift all its residents above the current poverty line. Consequently, credit is pumped into rural areas in a routine manner year after year without keeping it strictly confined to financial and temporal limits. The process of development will remain incomplete until the investments yield the desired dividends in time and become self-sustaining.

Fostering dependence

The minimum size of a state should be decided not on the basis of its population or area, but on the strength of the economy and the resource base. These criteria will forestall an eventuality when even a big region, when given the opportunity, cannot become a viable state.

It is true that the backward regi- ons need pumping in of much more money than what can be mustered from the region in the form of tax. However, this is true only in the initial phase. This should not obfuscate the ultimate goal of achieving equilibrium in all the states in areas like the collection of tax and expenditure by the government.

This argument not only holds good for the states, it holds equally good for autonomous bodies under the government, like the municipalities, the panchayats and so on. In earlier times, the panchayats were successful because they were financially not dependent on any other region.

The creation of more states for better economic development can be justified only if the states can become financially viable as independent entities. This need not be so on the day of the creation. However, this must be achieved within a foreseeable future. The states must demonstrate that they are moving towards this goal at an adequate pace. Unless development in a state is achieved with limited financial resources, within a definite time-frame and with the ultimate objective of relying only on its own resource base, it will appear that by creating more states we are funding inefficiency, dependency and underdevelopment.    

A pronouncement made by the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, that poverty and squalor, and not the HIV virus, causes AIDS has stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest. Spin doctors of the government lost no time in supporting the president, with Mbeki himself making an attempt at troubleshooting by explaining what he meant by his statement.

Unfortunately for the government, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, its allies, both contradicted Mbeki, insisting that the authorities acknowledge that the HIV virus causes the AIDS pandemic. Recently, the Cosatu pointedly asked the government to withdraw its “scientific speculation” about AIDS. The Inkatha Freedom Party, the African National Congress’s coalition partner in national and provincial governments, has also taken the same position.

Reportedly, there is also some opposition even from inside the government. Most embarrassingly for the current president, the former president, Nelson Mandela, has openly said he shared the “dominant opinion that prevails throughout the world” that HIV is the cause of AIDS. He warned “public figures” not to dally with theories that might prove to have no scientific basis.

The timing of Mbeki’s pronouncement was inopportune, coming as it did before the 13th international biennial conference on AIDS held in Durban in July. Mbeki’s opponents lost no time in mustering 5,228 physicians and scientists from 84 countries to release a document they called the “Durban Declaration”. The declaration was published in the July issue of the well-known British journal, Nature. But the president was defiant; his spokesman said that the declaration “will find its comfortable place among the dustbins of the [president’s] office”.

The confusion surrounding the president’s stand was exemplified by the interview he gave to the American magazine,Time, published on Time’s website, www.time.com. Asked if he would acknowledge a link between HIV and Aids, Mbeki said: “No, I am saying that you cannot attribute immune deficiency solely and exclusively to a virus.” The government communication and information service later said that there was a “misunderstanding over [Mbeki’s] (generic or non-specific) use of the word ‘no’ ”.

A big row over an innocent, but misleading, conversational gambit? Not really. A statesman of Mbeki’s stature should have wondered if his statement would weaken the campaign against AIDS, especially when several years ago, the government was accused of squandering 14 million South African rands on an awareness-raising campaign through a controversial musical drama, Sarafina II. The government’s total ban of the drug AZT which, though very expensive, has been reasonably successful in controlling mother-to-child transmission of the disease, added fuel to the fire. Its “resolute sponsorship” of the treatment of the disease with a locally manufactured drug, Virodene, made matters worse. Detractors accused the government of selecting the drug even before it passed through peer review.

The composition of the National AIDS Council announced earlier in the year exasperated many AIDS activists as it excluded the country’s largest nongovernmental umbrella organization tackling AIDS, the AIDS Consortium and the professional community of physicians, while including two traditional healers. The debate reached its nadir when Mbeki accused the Central Intelligence Agency of working secretly with American drug companies to undermine him.

Mbeki continues to seek support from a cohort of scientists, whom he had gathered around him. A leading figure of this group is Peter Duesberg, professor of molecular and cell biology at Berkeley. Labelled by a South African journalist as “a self-styled Galileo of the modern age”, Duesberg has impeccable credentials. A member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Duesberg is credited with having isolated, for the first time, the cancer gene. So convinced is Duesberg about the lack of association between HIV and AIDS infection that he reportedly announced his readiness to inject himself with the virus in order to prove that it does not cause AIDS. Some other famous scientists, like Kary Mullis, Nobel laureate in Chemistry, support Duesberg’s views.

To be fair to Mbeki, one should remember his predicament. The AIDS pandemic has a devastating effect in South Africa, where every tenth person is HIV positive and where every day between 1,200 and 2,000 new people are getting infected.

One reason why the pandemic is so uncontrolled is the high cost of the available treatment. Affordability of AIDS drugs has been a sore issue for some time throughout the developing world. The South African government attempted to bypass the issue of patents so that local pharmaceutical companies could manufacture the generic equivalents of the successful drugs. But the multinational companies initiated legal proceedings to block the action. Parenthetically, the sale of generic AIDS drugs (manufactured by companies other than those who patented them), is possible in those countries which have not signed the intellectual property rights.

Concern for affordability moved the government to try to develop an indigenous anti-infection drug for AIDS. This has taken place in Uganda where a “promising new treatment” is said to be 70 times lower in cost than a short course of AZT and 200 times less expensive than a long course.

In South Africa, too, efforts are being made to produce a vaccine to combat AIDS. But for this, scientists have to grapple with the genetic diversity of HIV. Ironically, even among the infected, there seems to be a class system. Subtype B of HIV accounts for almost all infections in industrial countries, while most of the developing world is affected by a different genetic strain, subtype A. The South African Medical Research Council announced recently that clinical trials of a vaccine for subtype A would start shortly. The vaccine, said the council, would be available by 2005 after larger trials over several years.

It is hard to miss the implicit (and often explicit) messages in the South African president’s remarks made on different occasions. The central theme of the Durban conference was “Break the Silence” which, among other things, included the crucial issue of equal access to treatment and care, nationally and internationally. By pointing to the high cost of certain drugs and the stranglehold of multinational companies over the healthcare system of the world, Mbeki was attempting to break the silence concerning an important aspect of AIDS treatment. In this, some other leaders of the third world have supported him.

The sarcastic comments of Namibia’s health minister, Libertine Amathila, on this point placed the palaver in a wider perspective: “Africa has the least access to drugs but the greatest access to arms.” The facility with which Africa gets arms in contrast with the difficulty in obtaining medicines just about captures the ugly face of the global order. Behind the proxy war concerning AIDS, Mbeki in effect spoke for a better international system, more equitable, just and humane, where the intrinsic worth of human life would be valued equally everywhere. The uneven and uncontrolled spread of AIDS, like wild bush fire, is a stark reminder that we have a long way to go before this goal, as yet a utopia, is reached.

On a more fundamental plane, Mbeki’s stress on continuing an open debate on “the health catastrophe” should be welcome. Indeed, what he said in his opening speech at the Durban conference can be ignored only at our peril: “What I hear being said repeatedly, stridently, angrily is do not ask questions.” Science thrives on asking questions. In pressing for the right to hold unfashionable — to the orthodox majority, revisionist views — the South African president has stood by the spirit of science. Sadly, some of his other actions smack of veiled, if unintended, irreverence for science.    

Judith Keppel was announced the first jackpot winner on Who Wants to be a Millionaire last week. She admitted that she was not “a gambler”. But, no one is convinced. The popularity of the recent television quiz programmes like Kaun Banega Crorepati, Sawal Dus Crore Ka and now, even Govinda’s Chhappar Phaad Ke have demonstrated the intoxicating effects of quick money on people, especially in India. And why not? After all, this is a country where nearly half the populace lives under the minimum acceptable standard of living, recommended by the United Nations. About another quarter lives under conditions of extreme poverty.

When Harshavardhan Navathe won his crore, the nation was mesmerized. Newspapers completed his heroization. Why all this brouhaha over a television show in which one does nothing but make quick money? Others have made big money in this country, Harshad Mehta being one example. There was no inordinate interest in his “achievement”.

Easy money

The difference lies in the ease with which one can make money on KBCand other similar programmes. Imagine getting paid for answering questions like “which is the largest key on the computer key board”. The answer requires no general knowledge nor any great powers of observation. Money won in such quizzes has a different value from money that is hard-earned. This is a windfall.

In popular thinking, a quizzard is a “knowledgeable” person. At a time when quiz contests are de rigueur, isolated facts have become synonymous with knowledge. The popularity of such quizzes becomes dangerous because it creates an idea that knowledge is synonymous with trivia. It is no longer considered to be built up through the accretion of one’s own thinking, reasoning and subjective experiences.

Means to an end

One might argue that this kind of “general knowledge” is essential to succeed in competitive examinations like the Indian administrative services. But qualifying in such an examination should not be regarded as an indicator of knowledge, general or otherwise. It should be regarded for what it is: an instrument for landing oneself a good, prestigious job. There is nothing pejorative about this. But this kind of “knowledge” serves no other purpose, neither the larger social concerns nor of erudition.

The goal of knowledge should be empowerment. Knowledge should ultimately lead to freedom and happiness, not merely the freedom to purchase and consume. Unfortunately, in an age when consumerism is fiercely being pushed as an ideal, this is exactly what is happening. Objects, as indices of social differentiation, as Jean Baudrillard puts it, are being sought as ends in themselves. The easiest means to this is the TV quiz programmes.    


No work, no play

Sir — The report, “PM takes notice of out-of-work ministers” (Nov 24), about the 15 Union ministers without work, was amusing and sad at the same time. But the news comes as no surprise at all, given that one in four members of parliament of the National Democratic Alliance has to be given a cabinet berth owing to coalition compulsions. In the process, a major portion of government revenue gets spent on these superfluous ministers. The government does not seem to bother about the fact that the expenditure on these ministers is eating into the funds for infrastructure development, social security, education and reduction of public debt. None of the ministers who met Atal Behari Vajpayee wanted to be relieved of his or her portfolio, they were merely asking Vajpayee to assign them some work. The prime minister should do well not to take the meeting as an indication of his ministers’ enthusiasm. Instead, he should consider this as an indication that it is time for some cabinet pruning.
Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Blackmail economics

Sir — The editorial, “Thin end of wedge” (Nov 23), correctly points out that there are no economic grounds for rolling back the prices of liquid petroleum gas and kerosene, as the global price of oil has climbed since the hike in prices of petroleum products was announced. Even after the hike, the price of LPG was lower than the prevailing prices of the item in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Besides, less than six crore people in the country use cooking gas. Since people below the poverty line have little or no access to kerosene and LPG through the public distribution system, Mamata Banerjee’s claim that the rollback was a pro-poor move is not valid. The government’s volte face in giving in to Banerjee’s demand is a coming together of bad economics and, worse, politics which in the end will not be good for the national economy.

Any economic measure is aimed at benefitting the majority, even if it entails harming a few. It is unfortunate that a leader of the masses like Banerjee has resorted to such low populist politics. More unfortunate is the way the Bharatiya Janata Party has fallen in with her demands to get a foothold in West Bengal. From Banerjee’s fresh protests against the proposed reduction of government equity in nationalized banks, it seems that the Central government is on its way to being a voluntary hostage to her unceasing demands.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — The government’s decision to increase the price of the petroleum products, only to roll back the hike on kerosene and LPG available through the PDS, has already hit the brittle Indian economy. The anticipated oil pool deficit is Rs 23,000 crore and the government had no other alternative to raising the price in order to bridge the gap.

The hike could not have been averted, but it could certainly have been spread out over the year to make it easier for the economy. Most of the free countries in the world work in that way. India could have done the same and taken the nation into confidence instead of trying to evade the issue. It is a known fact that the high oil pool deficit is largely because of heavy taxes levied on petroleum products. If the government lifts all the taxes, the oil pool deficit would not be as high as shown.

The government should restructure the taxes on petroleum products so that we know exactly at what price petroleum products are imported and at what price they are retailed to the users. By agreeing to bear a third of the burden through the simple process of reducing taxes, the finance ministry has wisely acknowledged the fact that there are efficient ways of controlling the price instead of passing the entire burden on the oil pool account.

One hopes that the government would soon link the price of petroleum products with the international market instead of artificially regulating the price either by imposing tax or by paying subsidy to the oil pool account.

Yours faithfully,
Gautam Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — It was wellknown that any rollback in the decision to raise prices of petroleum products would put the national economy in peril. Moreover, a price hike should be rolled back, if there is any room for it, out of genuine consideration for peoples’ welfare and not on political considerations. The national economy shouldn’t be held at ransom merely to appease a coalition partner.

Yours faithfully,
Shib Sankar Mukherjee, Calcutta


Sir — The Central government’s decision to cancel India’s proposed tour of Pakistan has come as a shock to millions of cricket lovers in India. With the International Cricket Council working hard to globalize the game of cricket, this decision is a major blow. Since cricket is now slowly getting popularity in most of the Asian countries, it was important for India and Pakistan to play against each other to encourage the new entrants.

The decision also puts the Board of Control for Cricket in India in a precarious position, because according to the ICC’s new rule, each and every test playing nation will have to play against each other at home and abroad. So the decision may prove costly for Indian cricket. The government has assured that India will be allowed to play against Pakistan in a triangular series. But what difference does it make? Won’t India be playing against Pakistan there too? The Centre must realize that a solution to the Kashmir problem cannot be arrived at by stopping an India-Pakistan series.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Though the Centre’s decision to disallow the Indian cricket team from touring Pakistan was a retrograde step, the government deserves to be lauded for letting a Pakistan army polo team come to India. By cancelling the tour, one door to normalizing relations between the two countries has been closed. Even when India’s relationship with China was at its worst, sporting interactions between them were encouraged.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Sir — Is the cancellation of the Indian tour Uma Bharti’s opening gambit as the Union sports minister?

Yours faithfully,
Srimanta Sarkar, Calcutta

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