Editorial 1 / Right to truth
Editorial 2 / Statue scene
A shutting down spree
Fifth Column / Killer uranium on the prowl
The billionaires of the world
How to make things move in the Writers’
Letters to the editor

The incident in Chhoto Angaria in West Bengal seems to have exposed a raw nerve in the state’s political administration. The chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is no exception to the brood of hypersensitive Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders. So sensitive is he to the question of what happened in the village that he has blocked out the wood for the trees. He has, in effect, dismissed the national human rights commission’s inquiry into the incident as unnecessary and irrelevant, declaring that he will remain unaffected by the NHRC’s findings and will wait instead for the report of the central intelligence department. It is amazing that the chief minister of a state, presumably concerned about the bloodshed and brutality that might have taken place in one of its villages, should only think of blocking a route to the truth on purely technical grounds. Given the mystery, misery and controversy surrounding the incident, he should, instead, welcome illumination. The facts are all that count, the department or body which finds them is surely just instrumental. His concern should be with justice, not with the possibility of his partymen being indicted in an alleged massacre. His display of nerves is bound to give rise to such unbefitting suspicions. As chief minister, he is the head of the state government first and partyman second. His jumpiness also suggests that he is neither comfortable with Ms Mamata Banerjee’s hotline to the Union home ministry nor with her following in the state.

Yet the NHRC is an apolitical body, and cannot really be made to seem an instrument of a hostile Centre. Its job is to look into human rights violations that are brought to its notice, even if the appeal comes from a political leader via the home ministry. Mr Bhattacharjee’s objections include the fact that the NHRC did not inform the state human rights commission of its intention. This is to invoke an absurd hierarchy of rights bodies. The state human rights commission had so far not moved a hair — there was no point in saying that this was the first human rights commission to be formed in the country. May be age has made it lethargic. But all this is hardly the issue. It is the chief minister’s objections that were irrelevant, clutching at red tape, rather than the NHRC’s inquiry. The implication that the NHRC’s trip to the spot was part of a Central government plot is too puerile for serious consideration. Any suspicion of human rights violations must be looked into as soon as possible, by any number of bodies empowered to carry out the job. This should be the first priority with a chief minister. Besides, it is an unfortunate fact that the human rights record of West Bengal is not a desirable model by any standard. Willingness and openness, rather than defensiveness, would have fit Mr Bhattacharjee better.


Parks are meant to be spaces where city-dwellers come to relax and children come to play. But the recent fracas in Calcutta’s Rokeya Park seemed to display some absurdly violent sentiments associated with such a space. It all began, incredibly, with a couple of statues; and in no time, life in the entire area was quite severely disrupted. The situation involved not only the local residents, but also civic bodies, government departments, political parties, the police and the Rapid Action Force. And inevitably, the conflict took on a vaguely communal character. But the civic, rather than the communal or political, implications of this unfortunate incident may provide a better key to what ails this hapless city. In fact, whether the political and communal angles are external impositions on an essentially civic problem is a valid question as well.

Memorialism is a sentiment that provokes excessive bureaucratic zeal in Calcutta. Making laughably bad statues of local worthies and renaming streets — not to mention the city itself — are emotionally charged matters that come with an impossible amount of red tape and fanfare. The most painful example is, perhaps, the replacing of Queen Victoria with Aurobindo Ghosh in front of the Victoria Memorial. The powers given to the public works department in making these decisions are perhaps responsible for the lack of aesthetic judgment usually shown in such matters. In a state which takes great pride in its cultural refinement, particularly in the highest political circles, such inappropriate prerogatives given to the PWD or municipal corporation speak of a lamentable failure of practical sense. Both the memorial committees fighting over the space seem to be driven by antiquated sentiments that overlook the more basic functions of a park. Municipal and civic bodies should ensure the maintenance of these public spaces, leaving their design and decoration to evolve out of the needs of the local residents. The voicing of what could be seen as an entirely valid civic grievance should not have to take such an extreme form to make itself heard. Urban planning in Calcutta seems to have become almost entirely the preserve of a combination of government departments, whose vision of how a city should develop tends to ignore completely the needs of the city-dweller. These departments run on principles designed to keep bureaucratic paraphernalia in place, paying little heed to practical requirements and to notions of beauty. Keeping the city clean, safe, user-friendly and visually pleasing must involve the ordinary city-dweller as part of a peaceable community which has a say in the decisions affecting its well-being. In such a set-up, such inessentials as the placing of statues should not have to turn into a riot that violates every norm of civilized behaviour.


You remember the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland? At the drop of a pin she’d scream, “Off with his head!”. Allow me to introduce you to a veritable reincarnation of the blood-thirsty queen, my erstwhile colleague, K.P. Geethakrishnan, once a formidable expenditure secretary in the ministry of finance who firmly believed that his task was to ensure the government spent no money. He had the most ingenious reasons to reject any scheme or proposal that a ministry might place before him. I have no idea how much expenditure he saved the government; my own belief is that he saved very little. The key lay not so much in what he saved, but in the pleasure that he took in saying no.

The Central government, in its wisdom, has decided to constitute a committee headed by him of all people, to recommend measures to cut down government expenditure. Among the ministries over which he has cast his basilisk-like eye has been the ministry of information and broadcasting, always one to raise the blood pressure of various dignitaries in the finance ministry. Geethakrishnan has not allowed that to happen; he has merely recommended that all the units of the ministry be shut down. Among them, the Film and Television Institute of India. His recommendation is, it seems, that the institute should be run by the industry itself, not by the government.

A recent report in some newspapers says that the institute has been given a “reprieve”, that the minister will review the recommendation that it be closed down or handed over to the industry. She could hardly have done otherwise; the recommendation is breathtaking in its lack of understanding of the context in which the institute functions, and of the actual conditions on the ground as far as the film industry is concerned.

One basic point needs to be made clear at this point; it is nobody’s case that the institute should continue to be run by the government for all time. Why should a government concern itself with training people to make films, or act in them? But for a variety of reasons, all of which must have been looked at by Geethakrishnan, the government set up the institute and has been funding it now for over two decades. The key here is not the institute and the love-hate relationship between it and the government, nor the theoretical justification for it to be a charge on public funds; it is the nature of the film industry.

The reaction of bureaucrats to films is a most interesting, even diverting one. Their secret attraction to different kinds of films apart, they make a virtue of their regarding it as unworthy of taking up their time in their offices. It has to be said in Geethakrishnan’s defence that he is not the first in the government to find the fact that public funds are being spent on the film and television institute an affront to their sense of what is government work and what is not. Whenever funds are sought for the institute, there is either high indignation, or sniggering attempts at a witty remark which is either very silly or merely irritating. In both cases, though, what is always the final reaction is a refusal to consider the most legitimate of requests for finance to run the place. There is never any consideration of the film industry, which this institute is meant for.

It is only recently that the making of films has been accorded the status of an industry, but just how that will translate into action needs to be seen. The key requirement is funds and very very few financial institutions will advance money for what they consider to be an extremely risky business. But that is only one issue. What is of relevance here is that, unlike other industries, this one is totally disorganized. There may be some bodies like the Film Federation of India or others, but the fact is that they are not a united lot, there is no collective identity or form. So exactly to whom does Geethakrishnan want the film institute to be handed over?

Has he asked why the government runs the international film festivals year after year, and, more to the point, how many times the ministry has pleaded with the industry to take it over? There is always a brave, swaggering public declaration that the “industry” (whatever that is) will run the festival; when faced with the actual prospect of doing so, there are private pleadings to the government to run it — because they are too disorganized to do it themselves. If even a film festival cannot be organized, just who will take on the running of the film and television institute and find the funds to keep running it? Granted that the way it is being run now leaves a lot to be desired; is there any group in the film industry who can do even this, and keep running it year after year?

If it were to be a unit affiliated to a university, one could see the sense of that, even though the funds would, finally, come from the public exchequer, unless, of course, it is decided that the costs would have to be recovered from the fees charged. That, too, is understandable, even though it may be a decision which would be hard on many talented young people who do not have access to funds. But then, some things have to be paid for. To become a civilian pilot one has to pay something like Rs 5 lakhs for the training. And if it is said that a pilot earns enough to repay such a high initial outlay, the same argument applies to films as well. The institute is not there to train people to make films no one will see; the key is that the films must be seen. But that argument has to be left at that for now.

We have such a great urge to pull down structures, to destroy what exists; how few are the instances where institutions have been enriched, encouraged to grow and develop more complex and meaningful identities. It is easy for Geethakrishnan to say, “Off with this or that institution!”. Can he build anything in place of these which will improve on what he recommends be done away with?

The point, surely, is that such an institution fulfils a specific need, gives creative people a space in which they can develop their gifts, their talent, and that in turn will, over time, bring about a change in the film industry as a whole. The institute has already done that, to an extent, but it could do much much more. That is the key issue: how can it do more than it is doing now, how can it become a catalyst in the true sense of the word, leading to the making of better films? The issue of ownership and funding has to be seen in this context. The government has to give up running the institute, certainly, but only when a viable, credible alternative structure is put in place. It is the setting up of this structure which ought to have concerned Geethakrishnan instead of the pleasure of saying, “Off with its head!”.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    

During the past decade, the United States has been using radioactive and highly toxic depleted uranium ammunition and getting away with it in the regional conflicts in west Asia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Americans and their North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have used tonnes of radioactive bombs and shells in Iraq and erstwhile Yugoslavia. This has caused widespread deaths from leukaemia among those handling the weaponry, and also among large sections of the civilian population residing in the war zone.

DU is used in the casing cone of the warhead to give it increased penetrability into steel armour and concrete bunkers because of its high density and its ability to ignite readily at high temperature. Uranium is also highly toxic.

A total of approximately 31,000 rounds of DU ammunition, weighing nine metric tonnes was used in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo. The radioactive pollution detected at some of the bombed-out places in Kosovo poses a serious threat to human health. When a DU penetrator makes contact with a solid object and burns, the radioactive U-238 aerosolizes and is emitted into the environment in tiny particles. This dust saturates targets and blows into soil, water and buildings. According to scientific research, these particles in U-238 can be transported by wind, dust or water and have been known to travel over 40 kilometres from their initial source of emission.

Radioactive blood

The toxic material can enter the human body through inhalation, ingestion and wound contamination. It penetrates the lung tissue and enters into the blood stream. It can be stored in liver, kidney, bone or other tissues, again for years, irradiating all of the delicate tissues located near its storage place. It can affect the blood, which is the basis of our immune system, and cause damage to the renal system as it is eventually excreted in the urine. It can also cause cancer.

Armour-piercing ammunition made of DU was first used in combat by American and British forces during the 1991 Kuwait war. Since then, the repeated use and rapid proliferation of DU ammunition have firmly established it as a tool of modern warfare. In spite of firing approximately 290 metric tonnes of DU during the Kuwait war, at no time during the war did the US or the allied forces brief ground troops of the safety hazards of this radioactive material.

Most of the troops deployed in the area came in contact with DU munitions or passed through contaminated areas. During and after the war, thousands of American and allied soldiers and local civilians may have inhaled or ingested DU dust while climbing on and entering contaminated equipment The World Health Organization has launched a study of the possible link between DU exposure and the dramatically increased cancer rates in southern Iraq since 1991.

Cancer dust

NATO forces extensively used DU weapons in their air campaign over Kosovo during the summer of 1999. Earlier, such weaponry was also used by NATO forces against Bosnian Serb targets in 1995 in the Balkans. The utter devastation left roads, villages and streams contaminated with many tonnes of radioactive, toxic DU oxide dust exposing thousands of unfortunate inhabitants in NATO’s “valleys of death” in Iraq and Yugoslavia. There is evidence that DU has been used in heavily populated areas in Iraq as well as in Kosovo, and that civilians were never warned of its dangerous consequences. Ironically, the US has rejected Iraqi charges that thousands of DU shells were fired during the 1991 conflict

After the Kuwait war, DU ammunition has proliferated to several nations, including Russia, China, Iran, Israel, Turkey, and Pakistan. Pakistan is reported to be the prominent user of this nuclear waste in its conventional warheads. This is certainly a very serious matter for India’s armed forces.

It is high time the international community voiced its concerns against flagrant use of such weapons of mass destruction, totally incompatible with international humanitarian laws. The legality of DU ammunition under existing international agreements needs to be strongly challenged at all international platforms, including the United Nations. The damage caused will not only affect the immediate victims, but the genetic damage can be passed on to many generations to come.


The old Indian adage, “It is not scarcity but abundance that gives satisfaction (Bhumaiva sukham, nalpe sukhamasti),” best sums up the thrust of capitalism. One of the principal constructs of this system is the concept of homo economicus who, being autonomous, self-serving and apparently with unlimited wants, is driven by the urge to maximize accumulation. Recently, attempts have been made to capture the thrust, manifest in the most successful of economic men, against a chronological and cross-cultural background. The Forbes magazine of the United States has been bringing out annual lists of the world’s richest men and women, each of whom possesses wealth worth at least one billion US dollars — in Indian rupees more than 4,000 crore.

Earlier Fortune International, another American periodical, published similar lists. This discussion uses the findings of Fortune,1992, Forbes, 1996 and 2000, to try and identify the unequal distribution of big money worldwide and to explain what light it sheds on the production and distribution of wealth internationally and in individual countries.

Despite talk of conspicuous consumption, the rich are not always easy to identify. The corporate world is a nightmarish network of links and cross-holdings forming a labyrinth that may baffle any investigation of who gets what, when and how. The growth of multinational companies has made the task even more daunting.

The other problem in collecting information about big money is the lack of transparency surrounding certain activities. This is why the Fortune International prepares its list based on published information, not on hearsay, without attempting to count the cash one may have hidden in the ceiling of one’s house or probe bank accounts held in little known idyllic islands far from the madding crowd.

This is a pity because the names of people like the former president of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, some rollicking showbiz figures, a couple of adored sportsmen, mafia dons and their ilk would have added more piquancy to the list. It would also have shown that often in a success story, especially from a country dominated by “gangster” capitalism, the distinction between fair and foul is faint, and the two may rub shoulders, especially when blessed by law-makers and law-enforcers.

The Fortune magazine’s list for the year 2000 contains 306 names accounting for $1.27 trillion. Of them, citizens of the US form the largest group. But currently, only 52 of the richest Americans have found place in the list. The details of the remainder will be available later. The numbers of billionaires of some other countries are given below: Japan 43, Germany 42, France 14, the United Kingdom 14, Hong Kong 13, India 9, Saudi Arabia 6, Taiwan 6, and Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan 5 each.

The number of billionaires is to an extent (and only to a limited extent) linked to a country’s economy, more particularly to its size, vitality and character. The pertinence of the size and vibrancy of the economy is demonstrated by a comparison of Nigeria and Japan. The population sizes of these two countries are roughly comparable. Yet Nigeria has no billionaire, whereas Japan has 43, the second highest number for any country after the US. This situation has to be interpreted with reference to the size of the Japanese economy that is more than 107 times larger than the Nigerian economy, and to Japan’s gross national product, which is more than 100 times higher than Nigeria’s.

Similarly, a comparison of China and India drives home the importance of the character of the economy. Is it an accident that, in spite of a larger national economy and a higher GNP per head, China has no billionaire, whereas India currently boasts of nine? What does this fact signify? Has India achieved greater economic progress than China, or is it that the rewards system of China is more equitable?

A country-by-country assessment of big money may thus be misleading, or even embarrassing for some countries. Which country is wealthier? Indonesia, with around 207 million inhabitants including two billionaires worth $4.2 billion, and GNP per capita at $580 in 1999, or Sri Lanka, with 19 million people with no billionaire and GNP per capita at $820? One way to establish a scale of equivalence for the unequal is to set up an indicator computing the number of people per billionaire in a country. The scores of a number of countries on this indicator are given below. India: one billionaire for every 111 million people; Malaysia: one billionaire for every 4.6 million people; Japan: one billionaire for every 3 million people.

Optimists may be thrilled to note that India’s position has improved over the years. The 1992 supplement on billionaires brought out by the Fortune International mentioned no billionaire based in India, but included the Hinduja family owning $2.4 billion in the list of 233 billionaire individuals and families. However, two of the four Hindujas mentioned had their headquarters in London and a third in Geneva. Only one, Ashok Hinduja, was said to have been operating from Mumbai.

The number of Indian billionaires increased from three in 1996 to nine in 2000, with their total assets rising from $4.7 billion to $28.3 billion. Two of the three billionaires of 1996 (the Ambani family with $6.6 billion and Lakshmi Mittal with $2.1 billion) are still in the list of 2000. The third group, the Birlas, is not listed jointly, but Kumar Mangalam Birla ($1.7 billion) is one of the nine Indian billionaires in the Forbes 2000 list. The other six are Azim Premji and family ($6.9 billion), Shiv Nadar ($3.7 billion), Subhash Chandra ($3 billion), Vinay Rai and family ($2 billion), Ramalinga Raju ($1.3 billion), and the Hinduja family ($1 billion).

A close look at the sources of the wealth of billionaires reveals the increasing relevance of new opportunities. The major fields here are media, information technology and telecommunications. Is it surprising that four of the nine Indian billionaires (Premji, Nadar, Rai and Ramalinga) are products of the information revolution and one (Subhash Chandra) runs a media empire? Ambani, Vinay Rai, and Kumar Mangalam Birla deal in telecom services, in addition to running other enterprises. Birla is said to be expanding also to the field of e-learning. While steel may still be Mittal’s preoccupation, his empire now includes a cable television channel. The prominence of the IT and associate enterprises is also evident from the position of “immigrants” in the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans. Of the nine richest immigrants identified there, three were born in India. All deal in software and fibreoptics.

But an increasing number of billionaires, providing atypical extreme examples of income, only accentuate the skewed nature of the distribution of the national cake. The health of a country’s economy is best gauged by measures of central tendency — the mean or the arithmetic average, the mode (the most frequently occurring value) and the median. The hike in the number of billionaires illustrates the “trickle up” effect of economic growth. The extent of the “trickle down” effect can be captured by using indicators of central tendency.

What is preferable, an increasing number of billionaires surrounded by a rising proportion of the population that is illiterate and lives below the poverty line? Or a country such as Sri Lanka with no billionaire but whose rate of literacy, under-five mortality rate, and the average per capita income measured by GNP are far better than the corresponding scores of India?


After nearly 24 years of Left Front rule in the state, government employees are being asked to come on time, be on the job and behave responsibly. This is almost like an adult being taught the alphabet or toilet habits. The government does not realize that its desire to retain employees who are incorrigible says a great deal about its attitude towards maintaining a standard of work.

Complaints against government servants are innumerable. Besides making it to editorials and letters to the editor, they have even provided the theme for contemporary songs that criticize the “sarkari karmachari”. Laziness, inefficiency and corruption among government servants are wellknown attributes. These received a fillip under Left Front rule because of its pro-labour policy. Workers began to feel pampered as labour became the only “honourable” factor of production. Unlike the private sector, the public sector was never profit-oriented. Which meant accountability for performance could be discounted and along with it, discipline. The deterioration of discipline in government sectors in fact was encouraged by sections of the left since this popularized its so-called “socialism” and strengthened worker solidarity under the left banner.

Taken in

The song of exploitation sung by the West Bengal Marxists distanced the workers from work. Work was no longer considered to be worship. The theme of exploitation suited the workers better. Discipline came to be despised on the grounds that it was a means of furthering the interests of the capitalists. Indiscipline eventually destroyed the very will to work. The helplessness of the former chief minister, Jyoti Basu, was evident when he decided to pull up the government servants with his famous assertion, “Whom shall I ask? Shall I ask the vacant chairs to work?” What chance does the present chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, have of improving his staff’s performance when his more illustrious predecessor failed in the task? How could an innocuous circular perk up the work culture?

Without reward and punishment clauses there cannot be any improvement in the present scenario. The government should have overhauled the West Bengal services and financial rules to punish the lazy and the inefficient and reward those who are hardworking and efficient with promotions and increments. Moreover, the circular is conspicuously silent on the work environment. Streams of visitors file into the Writers’ Buildings everyday. They have little business with the work being conducted there. While most of these people make a beeline for the variety of shops inside the secretariat, others go to visit the prayer hall inside. Stalls selling tea, snacks, cigarettes do brisk business on every floor and block disregarding all kinds of safety norms.



Bare bones of the matter

Sir — The melodramatic action of Mamata Banerjee, carrying flesh and bones to the prime minister’s office to make a point, flies in the face of civilized reason. Taking the cue from her, Maneka Gandhi may now like to carry carcasses of slaughtered cows and dogs, Jagmohan may lug cylinders full of the toxic and putrid gases he is so ardently trying to control, and Naveen Patnaik may decide to transport bucketfuls of fly-ash clogging Orissa’s nostrils, to the hapless Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Have we, as a nation, lost all our civic senses? Are we to silently suffer these antics of our elected leaders? This crass histrionics reflects an appalling erosion of and sneering disdain for our sense of social discernment. Even by Indian political standards, this is a terrible low. It would be juvenile to expect that the prime minister would be taken in by this stage show. While Banerjee’s tiresome displays may still appeal to a small section of her supporters, it will certainly disenchant the educated middle class in her so called urban stronghold.
Yours faithfully,
Madan Mohan Mitter, via email

SAARC slowdown

Sir — In his article, “South Asia’s weak link” (Jan18), J.N. Dixit has emphasized the sluggish development of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Apart from the bilateral tensions among its members (particularly India and Pakistan — two very important members), there are several other impediments to its progress.

First, the organization is “Indo-centric” in nature. One cannot ignore the fact that India is the central actor in the region and this is not only in terms of geographical location and vis-à-vis the contiguous boundaries with its neighbours. It is also with respect to the formation of cultural identities and historical and political evolution.

Dixit discusses India’s hesitation in joining the organization but he offers no details about the rationale behind this. He lists the asymmetry in development between India and its neighbours as one of the difficulties which has affected SAARC but he forgets to emphasize the responsibility of each of its members for creating this situation.

It is true that due to its vastness and proximity to its neighbours, virtually every contentious issue in the region involves India. But is it India’s responsibility alone to care for the region’s peace and security?

Apprehensions on the part of India’s neighbours are unavoidable because India stands as a giant in south Asia. If we compare the different SAARC members, we’ll find that besides being pre-eminent in military terms, economically too, India is strong with a diversified industrial base and a self-reliant strategy of growth.

This leads to a tendency among the nations in the organization other than India to believe that they are at a disadvantage. This feeling has been deliberately created by those who have political and economic interests in these countries. They thrive on anti-India and regionally centrifugal policies. Some of these members have even established links with forces outside the region.

Mutual distrust and lack of understanding in political and economic fields in south Asia are built into the prevailing structure of the political economy of the region. Unless this structure is modified, regional cooperation will continue to be exceedingly slow.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Kumar Sharma, Kankinara

Sir — There may have been a lull in the activities of SAARC in the last few years, but that is not reason enough to be sceptical about the raison d’etre of the organization. The objectives behind the formation of SAARC are some of the best, and the success of the European Union has shown that such objectives are entirely attainable. A little sustained effort from the member nations can see SAARC through its bad patch.

Yours faithfully,
Shafiq Hussain, Hyderabad

State of nature

Sir — A significant proportion of India’s tribal population is still partly or fully dependent on nature for their basic needs. They depend solely on natural supplies of water. Cooking energy has to come from leaves and firewood collected from the forests. They cannot afford to buy construction materials for their houses, but collect coal, mud, and timber from their natural surroundings. They till their land or work as artisans, for which they need manure and raw materials from nature. Milk doesn’t come from plastic packets, but from milking cattle, for which fodder is required.

Most of the demands of these people living in forests are perceived as conflicting with what is considered to be the requirements of biodiversity conservation. Consequently, the law stipulates that none of these activities is permitted in a national park, and only limited grazing is permitted in a sanctuary. As a result, the network of protected areas in India effectively displaces hundreds of thousands of the poorest by denying them access to the forest resources.

Government statistics show that over the years, the percentage of population dwelling below the poverty line has decreased. However, the absolute number has increased substantially over the years. In order to protect our forests and the poor landless people at the same time, the government should take concrete steps to rehabilitate them in nearby alternate sites, where they may be given necessary resources to lead a self-sufficient existence. Unless this basic requirement is met, it will be impossible to protect the forests.

Yours faithfully,
Gautam Dasgupta, via email

Rotting granaries

Sir — It has been reported that large quantities of wheat have been found rotting in Food Corporation of India storage and that the government does not agree with the recommendations of the parliamentary committee attached to the food ministry to dump the rotten grains into the sea. It is clear that the parliamentary committee, while recommending such an approach for its disposal, must have apprehensions about the misuse of this wheat by unscrupulous people.

The government must take care that the wheat does not fall into mischievous hands and is used only for making ethyl alcohol and fertilizer.

Yours faithfully,
R.K. Bhandari, via email

Sir — It is a cruel irony that surplus foodgrains should be rotting even as reports of starvation deaths are coming in from Orissa. The prime minister’s gift of the Antyodaya yojana (one wishes it was given an easier name), aimed at offering foodgrains to those below the poverty line, adds to this sense of irony. This scheme, however, is an inadequate response to the problem of surplus stock of foodgrains.


The best solution to the problem would be to reduce the price of foodgrain sold through the public distribution system. Another drawback of the scheme is that it will not be easy to find out who are eligible for this facility, given the incompetent civil supplies department.

Yours faithfully,
M. Hashim Kidwai, New Delhi

Work it out

Sir — The Left Front, and the other parties of West Bengal, should protest against the unwarranted remarks of Richard Celeste, the United States ambassador in India, on work ethics in the state. Celeste’s comment is another example of the US’s attempt to interfere in India’s internal affairs.
Yours faithfully,
S. Dasgupta, via email

Sir — How could Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee say, “I told Celeste that one bandh...cannot be described as a sign of poor work culture?” Soon after Celeste’s comment, the chief justice of the Calcutta high court also reportedly criticized the state’s poor work culture. Surely, both of them could not have wanted to malign the state government. Besides, if West Bengal could really do without US investment, wouldn’t the ruling communist government have refused it a long time back?

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

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