Editorial 1 / Mark of cain
Editorial 2 / Bigots in battle
The Sukhoi controversy
Fifth Column/ In the house of appalling manners
Congress gets a wake up call
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / MARK OF CAIN 
 
 
 
 
Violence seems to have come, as if on occult summons, to drive away capital and investors from West Bengal and to mock at the vision of industrialization that Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has projected. First, there was a pitched battle in a village in Midnapore and on Saturday, two managers of a jute mill in an industrial suburb of Calcutta were beaten up and burnt by a mob of workers. Even in a state known for its history of labour militancy, this was a unique occurrence. Potential investors are not going to investigate the exact sequence and cause that precipitated the gruesome incident. They will note that violence lurks just below the surface and that the law and order machinery is not quick to offer protection when a mob goes on the rampage. Well-meant statements and even the arrest of a large number of persons may not be sufficient to reassure investors that their money, property and managers are always safe in West Bengal. The state in West Bengal is failing again and again in performing what is its most important duty — the protection of lives and properties of the citizens. Saturday’s incident may have struck the death knell for the prospects of reviving industry in West Bengal. Something more than words will be required from Mr Bhattacharjee to stop the funeral march.

There are no signs that the concerned authorities are willing to think beyond their accepted stereotypes. The general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet, has decreed that the outbreaks of violence are the results of the ubiquitous “foreign hand’’. There is talk already of the shenanigans of jute mill owners. If Mr Surjeet’s statement borders on the ridiculous, the other raises a bogey that is not quite relevant to the issue. It is nobody’s claim that jute barons are pure as driven snow. In fact, as investors in an industry on which the sun has already set, they are forced to indulge in practices that are avoided by most self-respecting industrialists. But all this cannot explain and condone the killings that took place within the compound of the Baranagar Jute Mill. The workers may have had legitimate grievances; it was open to them to use the existing unions to voice these grievances and to seek redress. It was also the responsibility of the labour unions to explain to the workers that in a situation where most mills are facing closure or are sick, all demands cannot be met. The failure to do so and then to stand by and watch workers forming a lynch mob can only be described as a serious abdication of responsibility.

The violence and the irresponsibility are not unrelated. Trade unions under the direct control of political parties have, over the years, conveyed to workers the impression that all their demands will always be met and any kind of labour action is justified. Trade unions have ceased to be organizations that are regulated by the workers themselves; they have become wings of bigger political formations. Thus trade union leaders are absentees who only appear during negotiations and are never present when a confrontation takes place. The trade union leaders were nowhere on the scene when the mob broke the gates of the jute mill on Saturday. The myth that labour in West Bengal is docile has been punctured. Hot air will not make that myth go up again.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / BIGOTS IN BATTLE 
 
 
 
 
The Kumbh mela is not simply a grand celebration of Hindu pluralism. It also provides the occasion for a highly politicized turf war, which is certainly very Hindu, but not the least bit pluralist. It is, rather, a battle between two forms of bigotry. The icon at the heart of this holy war is, of course, the Ram mandir at Ayodhya — or its thermocol model in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad tent at the mela. The Ram mandir embodies the schizoid nature of Hindutva politics. The prime minister seems relieved that he has been able to put the whole thing off till 2002, but the pro-mandir elements in the sangh parivar want to fix a date for its construction at the dharma sansad to be held in Allahabad towards the end of the great mela. The VHP chief, Mr Ashok Singhal, is the sansad’s prime political motivator.

But the sansad’s mandir agenda is about to be complicated by a group of influential sadhus (some of the akhra leaders), who have broken away to form another akhra parishad. These men resent the politicization of religion that the VHP has brought about. But, it would be wrong to take their resentment as motivated by transcendent and apolitical spiritualism. It’s not that they want the mandir issue out of their path to salvation at the mela. But they want the parivar out of mandir politics so that they, the sadhus, can claim it back for themselves. They project their scramble for possession of this issue in an anti-political rhetoric. But their conflict with the VHP remains essentially, and virulently, political. This akhra-politics has a history in Uttar Pradesh. The hostility between the akhra heads and the VHP started over the regulation of religious buildings and places bill last year, which made the sadhus feel insecure. Mr Singhal had then desperately tried to keep the sadhus on his side because the Hindu fold must look marvellously united. This is, perhaps, why he is now insisting — in the face of this latest defection of some of the sadhus — that the rift has been engineered by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mr Yadav wants to see disunity in the dharma sansad before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The sadhus and the VHP men, therefore, represent two kinds of stakes in the mandir issue, both of them equally inimical to the spirit of pluralist Hinduism. In India, these stakes are called religion and politics. Like the meeting of the rivers at Prayag, bigotry makes them indistinguishable.

   

 
 
THE SUKHOI CONTROVERSY 
 
 
BY BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
The recent agreement between Russia and India for licensed production of the Su-30 MKI multi-role combat aircraft has evoked considerable interest. Not surprising, considering that the 140 aircraft production programme stretching over 17 years and worth over Rs 15,000 crore makes it the most expensive defence programme in Indian history and the single largest defence deal ever signed by Russia with a foreign country.

The Su-30 purchase since its very inception has attracted comments on two quite disparate counts. The first, as expected in any major defence purchase, is the lack of transparency and the real or imagined aspects of corruption. The second is the strategic and operational implication of the programme. So involved have the issues become that it becomes difficult to separate the two.

At the 1993 Bangalore air show, the Su-27 (of which the Su-30 is a derivative) was on display. At the time, the air chief, A.C.M. Kaul, had categorically stated that such an aircraft was irrelevant to India’s air doctrine. In a subsequent joint Indian air force-Confederation of Indian Industry seminar in February 1994, Kaul was openly critical of the indifferent product support being provided by the Russians to the detriment of IAF’s operational capability and appealed to the private sector to help in the indigenization process. Clearly in early 1994, neither the Su-27 nor the Russian aviation industry was in favour with the IAF.

In a surprising turnaround and without any perceptible change on the national security horizon, by April 1995, the IAF was evaluating the Su-27. Considering that the in-service staff requirement process for such major systems itself extends to some years, this sudden change was intriguing. Equally surprising was the unusually hasty decision-making process resulting in the purchase of 40 aircraft with an advance of Rs 880 crore paid by April 1996.

The decision to opt for the Su-30 MKI (I denoting India) was based on an evaluation of the Su-27. The former was to be a significantly different and heavier derivative with major design changes to the airframe, engines, undercarriage and avionics. The Indian government hence committed its resources to a major development programme in Russia at a time when the Russian aviation industry was floundering. It was undergoing considerable downsizing with the Russian air force not placing any orders on it, international media was reporting major financial irregularities and it was seriously defaulting in support to the IAF. Traditionally, the government of India is not known for taking such bold risks in respect of defence programmes as the services know to their peril.

To complicate matters, this major decision was taken by a caretaker Congress government, resulting in the then Bharatiya Janata Party opposition lodging a strong protest. Following subsequent elections, the Janata Dal government endorsed the previous government’s decision and later the shortlived BJP administration maintained status quo. The present government has now taken the programme a major step further. Reasons for the change of heart on the BJP’s part have not been made known. This programme has had the support of three governments of different political persuasions — in itself a rare phenomenon in Indian governance.

The first eight aircraft of phase one designated Su-30 K, but in reality Su-27 two-seat Trainers not required by the Russian air force, were formally inducted into the IAF in June 1997. Since then the programme has hit turbulence with reports of old components being fitted, serious delays in the development schedule and both sides pointing fingers at each other.

It was with the unfolding of the nuclear scenario in 1998 and the publication of two books on the Indian nuclear programme (India’s Nuclear Bomb by George Perkovich and Weapons of Peace by Raj Chengappa), that the possible nuclear connection has emerged. While this would appear probable and justify some of the earlier happenings, major question marks still remain.

Chengappa mentions that in 1990 the nuclear weapon design was being optimized for carriage on the Mirage 2000 with the issue of single-versus-two crew still to be resolved. Had this integration failed, then in late 1993 Kaul would have known and his response in Bangalore towards a new induction not been negative. A fair assumption is that by 1993 the nuclear weapon had successfully been integrated with the Mirage 2000. If operationally a two-man crew was preferred, then the Mirage 2000 Trainers were available although additional procurements would have been necessary, an item reportedly on the IAF agenda.

Even if the Mirage was perceived to have limitations and was an interim solution, a two-squadron nuclear strike force of Su-30 should have been adequate for a nuclear deterrent posture. After all nuclear wars, if fought at all, can only be shortlived.

With both India and Pakistan having declared themselves nuclear weapon states, there is a growing view amongst defence analysts that future conflicts, if any, will be limited in nature. The pressure on the armed forces to refrain from escalating even such limited conflicts, lest they inadvertently cross the nuclear threshold, will put severe limitations on the respective air forces in deploy-ing strategic strike aircraft or indeed surface-to-surface missiles. Kargil was a preview of the shape of things to come.

Today the IAF has squadrons of the Jaguar, Mirage 2000, Mig 27 and Mig 29 amongst others. In due course, two squadrons of Su-30 MKI would be operational. This is a considerable force to display a deterrent posture as also for offensive operations including nuclear strike. Why then has the government committed itself now to a six to seven-squadron force of an exorbitantly expensive and over-performing weapon system in the context of the Indian security scene when the crying need was for the Mig 21 replacement — a light combat aircraft?

One had expected that the decision to go in for licensed production would have been taken within the contours of an overall strategic defence review that the government had promised. It needs recalling that late in 1998, the government announced its intention to put in place a national security council and its supporting structures of a strategic policy group and the national security advisory board. The task of the SPG was to provide inter-ministerial coordination and conduct strategic reviews.The NSAB was to provide long term prognosis, analysis and solutions to policy issues referred to it.

The SPG was to have conducted the promised SDR based on which the NSC would presumably have evolved national security policy and priorities. Concerned ministries, including the ministry of defence, would then have evolved their respective strategies. Force development objectives, training, re-equipment and operational plans of the armed forces would have emerged from this logical sequence.

It is now well known that this eminently logical sequence was not followed and the draft “Indian nuclear doctrine” prepared by NSAB was officially released for debate. Where the doctrine now stands is not known. While there is talk of an SDR having been formulated, whether it has been deliberated and accepted by the NSC is doubtful since the latter has not even met.

Lack of or indiscriminate modernization of the armed forces is detrimental to national security. Licensed production of Su-30 would appear to fall in the latter category. Since the country is now committed to the Su-30 weapon system in India’s armoury, the IAF needs to get on with operationalizing the system unencumbered. A government paper providing the entire background would enable security observers to determine whether this programme is a strategic security imperative or a monumental blunder. The controversy can then be laid to rest.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ IN THE HOUSE OF APPALLING MANNERS 
 
 
BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
 
 
The ethics committee of the Lok Sabha has recently formulated a code of conduct for its members. If the code is accepted by the house then the members will have to act in accordance with it and observe its guidelines.

Unfortunately, the legislatures of India have lost their previous dignity and prestige owing to the chaos, indiscipline and disturbances during deliberations. Often the unruly members shout at one another, take away the speaker’s “mace”, tear up important documents, rush towards the “well” of the house, filibuster the proceedings and even walk out in protest against the speaker’s ruling. They conveniently forget that they have been elected so that they can devote their lives to the service of the nation. By voicing public grievances and by criticizing official omissions and commissions, they can keep reminding the ministers of their duties.

Instead, most of them act in a deplorable manner that goes against the dignity and decorum of the house. As a result, the speaker is unable to maintain discipline in the house and it gets adjourned for hours and days together. In 1997, during the golden jubilee of the Parliament, a resolution was passed by the Lok Sabha reminding its members that they must be conscious of their responsibilities and must conform to the rules and procedures of the house.

Speech habits

The members’ time is best spent in debating the issues facing the country and not in name-calling or inappropriate behaviour. Given that an hour of parliamentary debate costs about 40 lakh rupees, frequent disruption of Parliament results in a waste of money thereby straining the country’s exchequer.

For the last few years the sessions of Parliament are being shown on television, thereby bringing to light the ugly scenes in the house. Such scenes can destroy the image of the country in the eyes of children. Even though the former speaker of Lok Sabha, P.A. Sangma, and the former prime minister of India, Chandra Shekhar, had both repeatedly campaigned for the formulation of a code of conduct, their request had fallen on deaf ears. Finally, an ethics committee has been set up and Chandra Shekhar has been appointed its chairman. Under its guidance, a sub-committee has formulated a code of conduct for the members. If both the ethics committee and the Lok Sabha adopt it unanimously, then the popular representatives will be required to obey them or else face disciplinary actions.

The proposed code deals with the behaviour of the members both inside and outside the house. According to the code, the members must take their seats as and when the speaker begins to speak. They must learn to listen patiently while others are speaking without interrupting them.

Code of conduct

There should not be any side-talk during the speech of a member. No disturbance is to be made during the “question hour”. Members must address the speaker while making speeches and should not be allowed to speak directly to a member. They should also be forbidden from organizing demonstrations inside the house.

The sub-committee has also formulated certain norms of behaviour for the members outside Parliament. They should not take any favours from a person whom they have previously helped. No portion of their residence should be let out for rent. They must submit an authentic statement regarding their income annually. Violation of this code would entail punishment in the form of a reprimand, admonition, suspension and even imprisonment.

Since an elected sub-committee has formulated the code, it is very likely to be accepted. Mere rules and regulations are not enough — a lot depends on the integrity of the people for whom they are intended. Ultimately, it is the members themselves who uphold the dignity of the house.

Therefore, it is imperative that persons with criminal charges against them should be debarred from holding office. Moreover, the failure of articles 84 and 173 to stipulate any minimum educational qualifications for members, has complicated matters further. The only way that things will really change is if the legislature is composed of men and women with their heads and hearts in the right places.

   

 
 
CONGRESS GETS A WAKE UP CALL 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
A Delhi-based newsmagazine has published a poll showing a substantial improvement in the Congress’s political support across the country and a sufficient diminution in support for the National Democratic Alliance government to threaten its continuation if elections were to be held now. But of course, there is no election in the offing. So, this is no more than a blip on the radar.

Two years ago, in January 1999, there had been a similar poll and it showed the Congress ahead of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Sonia Gandhi well ahead of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A few months down the road, the Vajpayee government fell and the country went to the hustings. But the elections to the 13th Lok Sabha saw the Congress descend to the lowest number of seats it has ever held and the NDA re-emerge, albeit in somewhat altered form, as the coalition of governance, apparently more cohesive and stable than the previous combination. It is this coalition that is now on the skids. What lessons are there in this for the opposition, in particular the Congress?

I think the only lesson for the opposition is to hang in there. Clearly, the people are not being taken in by the Vajpayee rhetoric. And the many “triumphs” the establishment is touting have made little or only negative impression on the electorate — be it the Bomb, the “human face” of communalism, Clinton’s Imperial Progress, or the dismantling of the socialist economy. The distancing of the Congress from the BJP interpretation of reforms is also paying off but, more important, the dividing line between the BJP’s conception of the nature of our nationhood and the prevalent view not only on the opposition benches but even within the ranks of the NDA partners is taking its toll on the BJP’s image. You can fool some of the people some of the time, etc.

Yet, the time is far from ripe to attempt any bringing down of the government. Toppling has done the Congress little good on the last two occasions, and while that sets no precedent for the future, there seems little immediate purchase in upsetting the existing apple-cart. It will take a while more for the rifts in the sangh parivar to widen enough for the stability of the Vajpayee government to be seriously threatened. Eventually, it is less the opposition than the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their associates who are likely to bring down the government.

What then should the Congress do with the morale-booster it has received? Introspection is the answer. The term has been brought into our everyday political vocabulary by the Congress president. She invoked the expression for the Antony committee which reviewed for the party the results of the last Lok Sabha elections. And she evoked the term once again for the Pranab Mukherjee committee which has reviewed for the party the progress, prognosis and projection of economic reforms. The Antony committee report has been kept under wraps, although its main findings were summarized and largely approved. The Pranab Mukherjee committee report is under process.

The theme song of the Antony report was democratic decentralization. Its attention was concentrated on the nitty-gritty of party organization and poll preparations. Its observations on the political morphology of economic reforms have led to the Pranab Mukherjee committee. However, its political musings were slight. This was not accidental. For the basic sub-text of the report was a reflection on the contrast between the January 1999 poll prediction and the contrary ground results of October 1999. What went wrong? Not much actually. There was a marginal slippage which turned triumph to disaster. For a detailed analysis of the election results showed that the Congress had lost as many as 132 seats (including virtually all the reserved tribal seats and many of the reserved scheduled castes seats) by a margin of under six per cent. So, if a three per cent swing in favour of the Congress could be secured, the Congress would re-emerge as overwhelmingly the single largest party and, at around 250 seats, within striking distance of single-party governance or at least single-party dominance in governance, as in the West Bengal of Jyoti Basu. The committee, therefore, made a number of proposals for organizational rejuvenation, primarily aimed at taking election-related decision-making closer to the grassroots so that anomalies and delays in candidate selection and ticket distribution do not cripple the party’s electoral performance.

An opportunity for testing the party’s capacity for organizational reform will arise in the context of the forthcoming elections to five state legislatures. It will also give an opportunity for testing out the Pachmarhi formula for alliances and coalition governments. Three of the five states up for election were recognized at Pachmarhi as special cases — West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In West Bengal, the party has been in opposition for close on three decades and been substantially debilitated by the separation of the Trinamool Congress from the main body. Mamata Banerjee has, however, been forced on the backfoot by the dismal showing of the Vajpayee government in regard to economic policy for the poor, but even more by Vajpayee’s brand of Fabian communalism which is alienating the minorities from the illusions which sections of them once held about him.

In Tamil Nadu, the party has been in opposition for 34 years and looks set to remain there for the next 34. But the split down the middle of the Dravidian movement between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is such that parties with a minority of the vote matter — and even today, the Congress vote is around 18-20 per cent. Since 1996, that has been split between the Indian National Congress and Tamil Nadu’s version of the TMC — the Tamil Maanila Congress. However, it now looks as if the TMC — and the Congress separately but together might be coming into alliance with the AIADMK.

If that comes off, I predict with total confidence (cut this out and check back with me in May/June) that Jayalalitha’s alliance will win not less than 200 of the 234 seats in the assembly. That will give the Congress its toe-hold in the corridors of power — although whether this will extend to the chambers of power is still to be seen. And in Kerala, the Congress has always been in alliance through the United Democratic Front pitted against the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front. With the inevitability of a metronome, governments change hands at every election in Kerala. The Congress-led UDF will come out on top this time.

In the two remaining states of Pondicherry and Assam, the Congress is excellently positioned. The wave which is set to sweep through Tamil Nadu will sweep the Congress back in Pondicherry — although, if truth be told, it is really Pondicherry which is setting the tone for Tamil Nadu. The DMK is banking on the restoration of its ties with the Pattali Makkal Katchi to oust the Congress, but the Congress-TMC-AIADMK combination seems unbeatable — witness the failure to bring down the present Congress-led coalition despite defections from their ranks.

In Assam, the victory of the Congress is certain, unless an Asom Gana Parishad-BJP electoral alliance dashes the cup from Congress lips as the Telugu Desam Party-BJP alliance did in Andhra Pradesh. But whereas the TDP was a pretty buoyant entity, the AGP is hopelessly discredited. The BJP is, therefore, likely to be stained by the bad name of the AGP if it enters into coalition with the AGP. Moreover, the rank failure of the Central government to protect the linguistic minorities in Assam rankles with the Hindi-speaking community. That would seriously dent the contribution which the BJP could make to a potential AGP-BJP alliance. Therefore, even if the AGP tried to do a TDP on the Congress in Assam, chances are they will not pull it off.

Thus the best thing for the Congress appears to be to concentrate on the five state legislatures, leaving Delhi to take care of itself, and preparing for the mahayuddha of Uttar Pradesh next year — which will make or break the government at the Centre.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Laden with tension

Sir — Why does the United States, every now and then, work itself up into a frenzy about possible threats to its security (“Osama hunting for N-arms, says Pentagon”, Jan 12)? Its latest obsession with Osama bin Laden and Islamic fundamentalism is also quite unnecessary. The US defence establishment is now thinking about cooperating with Russia in order to formulate a plan to “secure” or “neutralize” all nuclear weapons material in Russia over the next decade — the fear being that bin Laden’s men will steal these from Russia. The US is finding it increasingly hard to imagine that the tag of a unipolar world is not enough to ensure that the US is the sole country which is nuclear-capable. With the entry of India, Pakistan and even North Korea into the foray, the US’s nervousness knows no end. But claiming that the vulnerability of Russian nuclear missiles and technology to theft is the “most urgent unmet national security threat” to the US is a bit much.
Yours faithfully.
Chandan Sinha, via email

Too much blood in them

Sir — The acrimony between the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) over the four dead bodies brought for forensic tests on January 11 corroborates the fact that Indian politics is plummeting into chaos. Common people have to suffer the whims and caprices of political parties.

Both parties are vying over possession of the dead as if it is a competition where one has to emerge triumphant.

Worse still, the government has ordered a DNA test to put an end to these ludicrous claims and counter-claims. Has the government lost its senses? Or is it trying to act as the noble middle man?

When the government should try to find out the identity of the dead people so that their bodies can be returned to their relatives with proper compensation, it is proposing a DNA test merely to pacify the parties. The bodies, so precious now because of the political intervention, would otherwise have been fated for mass cremation or burial.

It is unfortunate that most political parties enter the scene after the people are dead. Where are they when the people are being killed? And why kill the dead for a second time with the DNA tests?

With the common man a mere pawn in the political game, West Bengal seems headed for a future worse than the jungle raj.

Yours faithfully,
Renu Agrawal, Parlin, US

Sir — The Garbeta massacre is probably going to remain a mystery, what with the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress trying to blame each other for the killing of 11 people. The latest bloodbath gives an idea of what is to come before the assembly elections in April. The political parties are only interested in getting the maximum mileage from incidents such as this.

Yours faithfully,
Sushma Jalan, Calcutta

Sir — The series of killings in West Bengal over the past few months shows a particular trend: no sooner is a death reported than the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress start claiming the dead as their supporter.

The recent massacre in Chhoto Angaria in Garbeta was no exception. It is sad that the closest kin of the four dead could lay claim to the bodies only by going through the trial of an ugly political squabble (“Science test for politics”, Jan 12). That politics has entered every walk of life in this state is not news any more. It is unfortunate that every political party is participating in this dangerous game. How much longer will people continue to be killed so that one party can go one up on its rivals?

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The killing of 11 persons in Garbeta clearly illustrates the lawless situation in Midnapore. If stringent measures are not taken by the administration very soon, the matter will go out of hand for good.

The opposition in West Bengal — which now mainly comprises the Trinamool Congress — is following the same strategy employed by the leftists themselves to build up a substantial vote bank in rural Bengal. Effective land reform policies implemented almost 25 years ago are still bringing votes for the left. Yet there are people who are still landless. The CPI(M)’s umbrella is not big enough to cover all the grievances of the poor. It has not been difficult for the the Trinamool Congress to capitalize on these grievances. If the administration fails, nothing can stop the train of violence in the near future.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. De, via email

Sir — Even after atrocities of such magnitude in Chhoto Angaria and the events following it, one wonders why no one in the state has filed a public interest litigation against politicians.

Even the team of Central observers headed by Vijay Goel only collected items to present to the Union home minister. Politicians, who do not care about innocent lives lost owing to inter-party conflicts, should be brought to court without delay. In fact, a separate PIL can be filed against the Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee. There should be a PIL for calling a 12 hour bandh following an incident which, at least in part, was triggered by her.

Yours faithfully,
K.K. Mukherjee, Chennai

Rung up

Sir — The BSNL has advertised in newspapers inviting applications for the post of “graduate engineer junior telecom officers”. The BSNL has not reserved a single post out of the vacant 4,000 posts for physically handicapped candidates. They were not even exempted from paying the application fees of Rs 500. Yet the Equal Opportunities (Disabled Persons) Act passed by Parliament provides three per cent reservation in all government posts for the physically handicapped. I hope these candidates are not entirely left out of the recruitment process.

Yours faithfully,
S. Sudhir, Thiruvananthapuram

Sir — The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited’s new plan to let internet surfers use the web between 10 pm and 8 am free of charge is seemingly a boon (“VSNL offer”, Jan 6). But the real costs incurred by an internet user are the telephone bills. The telecommunications minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, should consider this problem. The more people use the internet the larger this problem will become. If the government has to make concessions, why does it not make sensible ones? What is the point in providing the internet free of charge if the telephone rates are prohibitive?

Yours faithfully,
Arijit Bose, via email

Trial by road

Sir — How pedestrians manage to survive the Sukanta Setu-Sulekha crossing is a mystery. There is no traffic signal and seldom do we see a traffic policeman. Pedestrians literally have to do all kinds of acrobatics just to cross the road. And what is most baffling is the cruelty of the traffic guard I chanced upon the other day. On being asked why he was turning a blind eye to people waiting to cross over, pat came his reply: he was there to control the traffic and “not the people”. Whatever happened to the hoopla about road safety week?
Yours faithfully,
Sraboni Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — Taxi drivers in Calcutta are perhaps the most shameless in the world. They never return loose change. They are lazy, and refuse fares with the greatest rudeness. Some of them do not wear their uniforms, which is just as well, given the state of affairs.

Yours faithfully,
Nina Rodrigues, Calcutta

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