Editorial 1 / Dry run
Editorial 2 / People’s verdict
Drugs, dollars and deceit
Fifth Column / A market for spurious honours
Mani Talk / Memories of Gujarat
Treading a very slippery ground
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / DRY RUN 
 
 
 
 
There are strong signals that the run of bountiful agricultural harvests will soon come to an end. The monsoon has not been adequate in many parts of the country. The problem has been compounded by below normal winter rains. Drought-like conditions prevail in several parts of the country. This is not entirely unexpected — it would be too much to hope for the rain gods to smile down on the nation year after year. Nevertheless, the Indian economy does not seem prepared to face up to the crisis. Despite an impressive record of diversification which has seen tremendous structural changes in the economy, India is still rather heavily dependent on agriculture. This sector continues to provide employment to large numbers of Indians and also generates more than a third of the gross domestic product. A fall in agricultural output will have multiple effects which affect the economy from both the demand and supply sides.

First, the fall in output will obviously result in steep reductions in the incomes of even the rich farmers. Consequently, demand emanating from this sector for a wide range of non-agricultural products will go down. This is particularly unfortunate at the present juncture since the economy has not fully recovered from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. The cutback in agricultural output will also reduce the supply of inputs to those industries which are agro-based and thus push up their costs. Under normal circumstances, policy-makers would also have to worry about the effect on food prices. Fortunately, the situation is not normal from this perspective. The government is sitting on embarrassingly large stocks of foodgrains, which it cannot utilise in any way. It will be a blessing in disguise if the government can release large stocks of grain on to the market to compensate for any shortfall in production.

A failed harvest will raise an obvious question. Why is Indian agriculture so dependent on the vagaries of the rain gods after so many decades of planning? A planned economy should be able to withstand shocks such as provided by inadequate rainfall. The answer must lie in a long sequence of faulty policies followed by successive governments. The Nehruvian dream of building heavy industries contributed to the neglect of agriculture in the initial years of planning. There was an intervening period in which public investment in agriculture was stepped up. But, this has been followed by a long period in which cash-starved governments have had to cut back on all kinds of public investment. Naturally, agriculture has also been starved of public funds. The consequence of this has been inadequate investment in irrigation. In particular, water management facilities are deficient, thereby forcing Indian agriculture to continue to depend on the right quantities of rainwater year after year. A part of the blame has to be borne by the agricultural lobby which has always paid too much attention to the short-term interests of the richer farmers. This has resulted in procurement prices which are unduly high. In other words, the government has had to pay huge production subsidies. This has siphoned off some of the scarce resources of the government — resources which could have been spent far more profitably on investments resulting in higher productivity in the long run.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / PEOPLE’S VERDICT 
 
 
 
 
Few will mourn the departure of Mr Joseph Estrada as the president of the Philippines. Equally, the appointment of Ms Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as the new head of state and government should be widely welcomed although it will require great effort and determination on her part to stabilize her regime as well as the country’s polity and economy which have witnessed deep turmoil in the last few years. The removal of Mr Estrada is reminiscent of the departure of President Marcos in 1986. It was people’s power then as it is now, rather than constitutional procedures, which had led to the overthrow of the president. The widespread popular disillusionment with Mr Estrada, once a flamboyant film actor, was caused as much by the deep economic crisis that the country is facing as with his personal lifestyle, including charges of rampant corruption.

Consider just a couple of indicators. The Philippines currency, the peso, has collapsed under Mr Estrada — down more than a quarter against the United States dollar last year. In addition, a recent report by the World Bank estimated that corruption was costing the Philippines around $ 47 million a year. This scale of corruption, according to the World Bank, “undermines development, hurts the poor, diminishes the quality of public services and raises the price of goods and services.” Ironically, impeachment proceedings against Mr Estrada — based on allegations of corruption — in the country’s senate had collapsed, and this might have provided him with a fresh lease had popular power not intervened. Only then did the army, always a significant actor in the country, withdraw its support, as did most of his cabinet colleagues. The president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has a host of challenges before her, but she comes uniquely equipped to cope with them. Ms Arroyo is the daughter of the popular former president, Diosdado Macapagal, and has an impeccable reputation for personal and financial integrity. In addition, she is a trained economist. In a recent speech, Ms Macapagal-Arroyo emphasized the need for healing, unifying and rebuilding. These are laudable aims. But it is essential for her to ensure that even while she embarks on an imaginative set of policies to revive the economy and reconstruct the polity, she retains the confidence of the armed forces and does not lose touch with popular opinion.

   

 
 
DRUGS, DOLLARS AND DECEIT 
 
 
BY ACHIN VANAIK
 
 
Bill Clinton can look back with satisfaction at how he has helped institutionalize a fundamental deceit in the United States’ foreign policy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US found itself in the position of being able to impose its will, militarily and otherwise, on “enemy” countries, regimes and figures with greater impunity than at any time since the end of World War II. Of course, since the end of the Cold War was publicly touted as the victory of democracy worldwide, it was necessary to cloak this new American aggression in suitable garb. The most popular costume has, of course, been the dressing up of the US as the world’s defender of humanitarian concerns, forced therefore to intervene against the likes of Saddam Hussein, Noriega, Milosevic and whatever figure might be the current American bugbear.

But there has also been another disguise more relevant to Latin America and particularly Colombia, where there still continue to be forces arraigned against local governing tyrants who enjoy US support. This is the US government as the scourge of the drug trade and of those who would benefit from it. And surely here the credentials of Washington are fairly trustworthy, considering that so much of this trade is ultimately directed at users (low and high income) in the US itself? Not so simple however. A more detailed look at the trade in cocaine (the same basic pattern applies to the heroin trade) emanating from Colombia and Latin America explains why. Those who are most demonized, blamed and sought to be criminalized — the end-user on the one hand, the peasant farmer of coca leaves on the other — are precisely the ones who ought not to be.

To understand this we must note that there are six main stages through which cocaine is produced and distributed. The first stage involves clearing of land, planting of coca leaves and their harvesting. Most cocaine farmers in Colombia have been pushed off better lands and given jungle tracts as part of an “agrarian reform”. In a year the farmer can get about five or six harvests of leaves. The second stage involves making a paste or “base” out of the leaves. This used to be done by drug lords but because the technology for doing this is so simple and capital investment relatively low, farmers have also moved into this stage.

All one needs is cement, petrol and sodium bicarbonate. These ingredients are not particularly expensive, but transportation into the Colombian Amazon is fairly costly for farmers. A kilo of coca paste sells for $1,000. One hectare of land produces five or six kilos a year and the average holding of coca farmers is three hectares. So the overall turnover for a peasant is $15,000 to $18,000. However, after subtraction of costs of production and transportation and allowance for the higher cost of living in jungle areas, the peasant’s profit per kilo is only 10 per cent, that is, he earns a net of $1,500 to $1,800 and thus remains in and around poverty. The farmer also has nothing to do with the remaining four stages of the trade.

In the third stage, the base is taken to technologically advanced and high investment laboratories where it is industrially processed and turned into cocaine, thereby acquiring something approximating its real market value. This process used to be controlled by the two big Colombian mafias or cartels, the Cali and Medellin cartels but is now shared between a much larger number of cartels which is not just Colombian. Mexican cartels may soon dominate over Colombian ones.

In stages four and five, the cocaine is imported into the northern markets and sold wholesale. In these stages the cocaine is shifted into the hands of North American and European mafias which take most of the profit. Indeed, these mafias make over 80 per cent of all the profits in the whole cycle of production and distribution. The same kilo which gave the farmer $1,000 now sells in the US for $100,000 and in Europe for $150,000 and this is before it is adulterated in stage six by the same mafias or other buyers for street sale.

But these North American and European mafias are not the only capitalist companies to make large amounts of money from this drug trade. They are merely the illegal ones. There are a host of legal capitalist companies, institutions and entrepreneurs who thrive from this cycle. At each stage of the process there is also a parallel legal economy as well which, like its illegal counterpart, gets progressively more lucrative as one goes up the ladder. The farmer needs cement, petrol, other raw materials as well as transport.

In the industrial processing stage, the mafias need acetone and ether to make the paste into pure cocaine. The two largest suppliers of acetone and ether in the legal market, where these are bought by the mafias, are from Germany and the US. So important is this parallel legal market that the illegal drug trade could hardly survive without it. Besides, various suppliers for production and transport-circulation services, there is, of course, the perfectly legal banking and stockbroking companies through which the profits of the drug barons are laundered.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development calculated that in the Nineties, the international drugs trade generated profits of around half-a-trillion dollars of which 56 per cent flowed into the US financial system. While the US government has pursued the mafias, treated the farmers as narcotics traffickers and periodically pressed for harsh treatment of addicts, it has never seriously pursued the chemical companies or financial institutions that are part of the parallel economy.

In Colombia, there exists a brutal and repressive regime that, in recent years, has killed over 20,000 people and internally displaced over a million people. In August last year, this government was given $1,319 million by Clinton. Much of this is used to fight the internal insurgency movements which are supposed to be “protecting” the drugs trade. But insofar as these insurgency groups are involved, they confine themselves to imposing a tax on the drug barons on the export of the coca paste from the areas they control, nothing more.

The drugs trade is not a Northern problem caused by the South, but a Northern problem caused by the North. Too many powerful actors have too much at stake in the whole business. Indeed, the sudden loss of half-a-trillion dollars would cause enormous problems for the perfectly legal financial markets of the advanced world. If the end user is essentially a victim of the drugs trade and not a major culprit, this is true also for the farmer who is essentially cheap labour and supplier for the whole chain which is organized (albeit somewhat illegally) along firmly capitalist lines of efficiency and rational risk-taking.

If Colombian farmers were prevented from growing the coca all that would happen is that this worldwide capitalist network of immense lucrativeness will, like any other capitalist network, simply find other cheap suppliers for their raw materials. What else should be expected from the drug trade in this era of globalized competition?

The author has recently co-authored the book, South Asia on a Short Fuse: Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / A MARKET FOR SPURIOUS HONOURS 
 
 
BY V.S. MAHAJAN
 
 
During the last few years, with a rising demand for professionals in every sphere, there has been a mushrooming of private sector professional training institutes all over the country. When this started, there were a few of these, located mostly in the South, where some enterprising persons — mostly those with business and political links — had opened institutes purely with business motives.

Soon these institutes were able to raise enormous funds to finance their activities and obtain affiliations from neighbouring universities. And, because of their political clout, they could function even when they were far from fulfilling the minimum conditions laid down for the running of these institutes. Learning from their success, several others have entered this field and now it has become big business.

However, despite the monetary resources, most of these institutes lack infrastructural facilities. They have poorly built lecture rooms, ill-equipped laboratories and libraries, despicable hostel facilities and hardly any playfields. In fact, some of these colleges operate from rented buildings and without any affiliation to universities at all. Public pressure and judicial strictures instructing these institutes to improve their functioning within a stipulated time have failed to have any impact on their managing bodies who find some excuse or the other to postpone this exercise.

Private malpractice/h3> Despite these malpractices, private professional institutes are remarkably popular and they are growing in number everyday. Now they have spread to other states as well, particularly Maharashtra and Gujarat and recently even to Haryana. There is a large market for such privately-imparted technical education. Government institutions like engineering colleges, medical colleges, institutes of management and other professional areas have already reached a saturation point. Every year, thousands of students who seek admission into these institutions discover that they are competing with thousands of others and it is virtually impossible to get a seat.

The time will soon come when even these private institutions will be unable to accommodate the growing demand for such education. Due to the demand-supply mismatch, fees have been raised arbitrarily along with “capitation charges”. These are fees charged over and above the cost of education. Even financially disadvantaged parents, who are keen that their wards get professional degrees irrespective of quality, often take loans to admit the students into these institutes.

Urban advantages

In this mad rush for seats, not a minute is spared in finding out if the candidate has the ability to cope with the course or even the ability to clear off the loans incurred in order to access the seats in the first place. The social cost-benefit analysis in this scenario therefore figures extremely unfavourably.

Exactly how poor this system of education is becomes palpable from the recent goings-on in Haryana. In its endeavour to bring in higher engineering education within the reach of its citizens, particularly those in the rural areas, licences have been issued by the Haryana government for the opening of a number of private engineering colleges in the state.

Most of these licences are for colleges in rural areas, but almost every private college is based in an urban location. This goes to show how the managing bodies of these institutes, who almost invariably have close links with ruling politicians and bureaucrats, have been able to manipulate original licences and get them converted into licences for urban locations.

There are many reasons for this sort of manipulation, infrastructural advantages found in the cities being one. Part-time faculty members, who turn out to be cheaper in the long run, are also more easily available in urban areas. The majority of the faculty members of these new institutes in Haryana are part-timers, although there exists a strict provision that regular faculty members have to be recruited.

The state needs to intervene now. The authorities must look into the functioning of these institutes. Licensing of engineering colleges should be made more stringent. If these tasks are not undertaken immediately, the corruption will continue to affect our students.

   

 
 
MANI TALK / MEMORIES OF GUJARAT 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
As a probationer in the Indian foreign service, I was posted for my district training in early 1964 to the Rajkot division of Saurashtra, the jaw of India that juts out into the Arabian Sea from the main body of Gujarat. My divisional commissioner was a stern Bengali officer, Gangopadhyay, the epitome of the bhadralok culture. He spent the first two months working out in his mind what the protocol was of unbending towards a junior, very junior, officer. Eventually, perhaps because I belonged to a quite different service, he tempered his aloofness and invited (instructed?) me to accompany him on a tour of Kutch. It is everywhere he took me that now lies devastated. How many of those I saw have perished?

Later, with Rajiv Gandhi, I made many a visit to Kutch and Kathiawad (the feudal name for Saurashtra) criss-crossing virtually every district, more often than not by road. As I see the names of the places I once passed through so casually leap at me from newspaper stories of the earthquake, I am filled with a deep sorrow. Why them? Why not anyone else? Why not anywhere else? Why at all?

As a schoolboy, I had been introduced by a visiting New Zealand exchange teacher to a novel which in its day was renowned, but is today to be found only in the musty recesses of some moulding old library. It was called The Bridge at San Luis Rey. It told of how a bridge spanning two mountains collapsed, plunging to their death some half a dozen travellers making their way across, as hundreds did every day. Why, the novelist asked was it just these six who died? Accident? Happenstance? Or was there a thread of fate which bound them together to arrive at one time at one end of the bridge and then cross together to never reach the other end?

Because it was a novel, not even a factoid, the author could play god, spinning out the story of each of those who vanished to explain what sin it was to exculpate that had caused them to arrive together at the bridgehead. There is a pattern, reasoned the author, in all that happens, even if we cannot always discern it, and he who made us punishes us if we transgress his code.

Many of us implicitly believe that even if we can see no design, there must be some Grand Design behind such inexplicable calamities. Yet, is it not curious that not one of the many fortunetellers, those who read the Bhrigu or count the numbers or scan the skies for what the stars foretell, was able to predict that a disaster was in the making? Could the heaving of the earth have escaped the attention of all those who claim that what happens is written in our palms and explain the world from a grain of sand? When one Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, how much ink was spilt on explaining why none of the soothsayers foresaw the outcome of a stopover at Sriperumbudur?

Now, there are 20,000 dead and the toll is still rising. Had one astrologer, one numerologist, just one of the thousands and thousands of sadhus and ash-smeared holy men at the Mahakumbh known the least about Destiny, could not Gujarat have been forewarned? No, it is T.S. Eliot who wins the day: “Our beginnings never know their ends.” Those 400 schoolchildren, brushed up and bright, marching down the Republic Day parade, never knowing that not more than ten or twenty of them would survive to tell the harrowing tale: why them and not the thousands of other schoolchildren who so proudly marched in the Republic Day parade in towns like doomed Anjar all over the country?

On that long-ago trip to Kutch, we crossed the Little Rann into Bhuj. The circuit house was the first oasis I had ever seen — a jewel of a bungalow set in a lush green, palm-fronded garden against the backdrop of a dun-brown vastness. Is it still standing? Have the palms drooped and fallen? We went to Lakhpat and the salt pans. Have those who nourish us with a pinch of their labours every day been thrown into the roaring sea?

We had a night in Kandla, then at an early stage of construction, waiting for the doomsday of June 1998 when a devastating cyclone swept through the port flattening acres of buildings, twisting the girders into monstrous shapes, scattering bodies like confetti along the smashed roads. First, the typhoon. Now the earthquake. And the Lord said, “No more water. The Fire next time.” What human grit is it that makes people go back to where they have lost all? The belief that nemesis comes but once? Or that there is nowhere else to go?

Decades later, I was back in Kutch, with Rajiv Gandhi personally supervising famine relief. My most vivid memory is of a woman who complained that at the relief works the men were paid more than the women. The works manager retorted that this was because the men were more able-bodied and, therefore, earned more on a piece-work basis. The woman admitted this but said that while every man on famine relief had a wife who was earning too, she and many like her had been left behind by their men-folk who had gone far distant in search of employment. The needs of their families were no less than those of families with two and more members able to come on site. I was ordered to ensure on re- turn that this anomaly was cleared up. I did. But does it today matter whether my pathetic little letters from the prime minister’s office were acted upon? Is she still alive? And if she is, does she weep that those whose cause she raised with the prime minister, no less, lie buried today under a mound of rubble?

The commissioner and I returned from Kutch across the Little Rann and saw a herd of wild asses racing across the featureless flats. I told Rajiv Gandhi about it. And he tried more than once to take time off to drive around the Rann. The local politicians could not understand. Leading the Congress, did the prime minister really need time off to discover wild asses, they joked. I now think back on those innocent animals. Braving the forbidding rigours of the desert was life itself to them — but when the ferocious tremors started and the earth itself shook, would they not have run hither and thither, maddened to distraction, wondering, like the animals of Noah’s Ark, what incomprehensible disaster had struck the very ground upon which they grazed? And who is there to explain to wild asses, or even to the wisest of us — why? Why them? Why now?

The commissioner and I stopped at a dhaba on the edges of Morvi for a cup of tea. (Later, I had my tehsil training at Morvi: it was first drowned by the bursting of a dam and has now been tossed around in an earthquake: how much can humankind endure?). By now, Gangopadhyay had become almost human. I think I had begun earning his smile (beatific, when he cared to bestow it) when, a day or two earlier, I had been astonished to hear him berate a mamlatdar after a jamabandi at which the villagers had unanimously assured the commissioner that there were no outstanding problems in the village because the mamlatdar had attended to all of them.

As our jeep moved on, leaving behind a much-chagrined mamlatdar, I dared to ask Gangopadhyay why he had got so angry at a man who was doing his job so well. “You don’t understand, Aiyar,” he said. “In Gujarat, if they had nothing else to complain about, they complain of the price of sugar. Since they did not, I knew the mamlatdar had terrorized them into not complaining to me!” Lesson One.

It was time now for Lesson Two. I said, “Sir, it is obvious to me that you don’t care for all this bandobust.” He nodded his assent. “Then why,” said I, “do you permit it?” Gangopadhyay looked gravely at me, but there was no mistaking the twinkle in his eye. “Aiyar,” he replied, “modesty is a virtue; there is no need to flaunt it!”

Is there time any more for jokes in the arid wastes?

   

 
 
TREADING A VERY SLIPPERY GROUND 
 
 
BY TIRTHO BANERJEE
 
 
The threat posed to the Galapagos Islands’s biodiversity by the recent oil spill by an Ecuadorian tanker makes one shudder. Every year three million tonnes of oil, largely from oil slicks, pour into the sea. This not only throws aquatic life and marine habitat out of balance, it destroys the coastal flora and fauna and the entire bio-ecology of the region. The potential hazard of oil spills came to the fore with the Terrey Canyon disaster in 1967. Even after 35 years of the disaster, there has been no foolproof method to clean up spills.

Poisoned seafood is responsible for many human illnesses including neurological disorders, cardio-vascular diseases and gastrointestinal problems. Of late, there have been fatal outbreaks of poison-induced memory loss due to consumption of fishes that contain great proportion of oil inside their bodies. The tourism industry too is getting affected by marine pollution.

Clean up

Marine pollution experts believe that cleaning up oil spills is a very difficult task. Natural removal of oil by evaporation, biodegradation and photodegradation is a slow process. Oil spreads on water very fast and delay in responding to a spill can defeat the very purpose of cleaning it up. Burning oil slicks lead to air pollution. Toxic pollution caused by chemical oil dispersants may have a worse effect than the oil pollution it was supposed to control.

The best and safest way of treating oil slicks is by using biological agents for degrading oil. Many bacteria eat components of oil but no single germ can decompose all the components. But genetic engineering might produce a super germ with the ability to break all the components of crude oil.

Strict vigil

American coast guards have a computerized incident reporting information system by which they check the further spread of the leak. There are also European and Canadian satellites that monitor oil slicks. Indian coastguards are also building up the requisite capability for checking an oil spill contingency. Environmental groups in Germany and the United States have enforced stringent regulations to check the menace. There are international laws to penalize negligence and default of the codes set in marine standards.

In India, all tankers have been directed to comply with safety regulations. But strict penalty for offending vessels or non-conformity to marine international laws must be imposed. In Japan, there are laws which make it mandatory for all vessels carrying hazardous chemicals and oil to enter a contract for carrying pollution response equipment on board or pay the price for any oil spill contingency.

The seas are a vital source of food for both man and animals. They have to be preserved for posterity. Moreover, since oil spills damage the gene pool of a region permanently, it needs to be tackled with utmost urgency.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Fragrantly yours

Sir — The smellier the better. Call it fragrance, or call it odour, it’s a smell all the same. But now they say aromatherapy can cure you of that I-don’t-know-what’s-wrong-with-me feeling (“And sweet is the air with curly smoke”, Jan 21). Aromatherapy, like reiki or feng shui or vaastu shastra, is not new. It is, like all these, a novelty. Yoga, and probably ayurveda too, have outgrown their novelty value and have become established as “alternative” means to wellbeing. Even the less prosperous can afford the access to them sometimes. But the “alternative”, to retain its glamour, must sound esoteric, be expensive, and allow reams of print to be expended on it. Hence the digging up of pre-scientific modes of healing, and the apotheosis of revivalism. The point is not that these ancient systems were ineffective. They were wiser than we have hitherto given them credit for. What is interesting is the fashionable backlash against those very “modern” methods, the adherence to which once marked the “advanced” classes not so many years ago.
Yours faithfully,
Dikpal Roy, via email

Off the cuff

Sir — The objections raised against the issue of indirect elections and the constitutional review by the president of India, K.R. Narayanan, should be given more and more media coverage (“President stability stab at PM”, Jan 26). These objections embody the essence of democracy in India. The makers of the Constitution were farsighted enough to draft the document with the immensely diverse Indian population in mind. We pride ourselves on our democratic system. In fact, even when some of our neighbours were suffering under military dictatorships, we enjoyed freedom and liberty. The succession of coalition governments is being viewed as a sign of instability. But at the same time it is an indication of the federal nature of our nation. This should not be misconstrued or forcefully altered. The review of the Constitution is welcome, but not at the cost of the freedom of the people of India.
Yours faithfully,
D. De, via email

Sir — The president of India, K.R. Narayanan, is the de jurehead of the country and he should remain so. If he wants to be actively involved in politics, he could very well have selected the vocation of a politician for himself. What has he got against the Bharatiya Janata Party government and the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee? If he wants to dislodge Vajpayee’s coalition government, he should join a political party and contest elections. We will see how many votes he can garner for himself.

Yours faithfully,
Vivek Rathod, Jabalpur

Nicely booked

Sir — Rukun Advani’s discovery of “non-standard” marketing ploys for selling sub-standard books in his write-up, (“Reading beyond the hype”, Jan 26), should also be viewed vis-à-vis the publishing industry’s losing battle against the electronic media and the information technology sector.

A time will soon come when the sight of printed matter will make one wonder if it should be sent to the museum at once. Advani is also right in saying that we are witnessing a state of decay in the world of books. Against this backdrop, a tooth and nail fight for survival by publishers is understandable. Also, hype and gimmickry have made insidious inroads into the industry and this has affected book-lovers most of all.

That in spite of such a bleak scenario a few good books are still being published and reaching discerning readers is a saving grace.

Yours faithfully,
Nihar Ranjan Satpathy, Jamshedpur

Terror tactics/h3> Sir — The storming of the Srinagar airport by militants and the recent attack on the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir have exposed the loopholes in the Indian security system as well as the vulnerability of India’s defence system (“Lashkar storms airport”, Jan 17). It seems that despite the attack on the Red Fort, very little has been done to improve security arrangements. Indian military installations and security personnel continue to be vulnerable to such attacks.

Although terrorism remains one of India’s greatest challenges, the country has been unable to come up with a foolproof strategy to combat it. The existence of the cabinet committee on security has not helped.

Yours faithfully,
Kousher Raj Dodia, via email

Sir — The cabinet committee on security headed by the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has decided to extend the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir for another month from January 26 as a gesture of goodwill (“Atal gives peace another chance”, Jan 24). Reportedly, Vajpayee took this decision despite the reservations of the home minister, L.K. Advani.

Advani had rightly pointed out the futility of extending the ceasefire since there is little reciprocal action from the other side. Pakistan has not tried to bring terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad under control. India is responding to international pressure and trying to convince the world of its commitment to peace.

Moreover, reports indicate that militant groups have intensified their attacks on security personnel. If such attacks continue the morale of the armed forces will hit rock bottom.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit Kumar Sarkar, Baranagar

Sir — The government’s decision to extend the ceasefire cannot be acceptable to the average citizen. Given that neither India nor Pakistan is willing to compromise on Kashmir, the chances of peace in the valley seem doomed. How can India ignore the ramifications of the endless slaughter of security personnel in the valley day in and day out?

Yours faithfully,
Rakhal Chakrabarti, Howrah

Road to safety

Sir — After reading Amit Chaudhuri’s article, “Taking a ride on the wild side” (Jan 21), one cannot help voicing one’s misgivings about the appalling condition of the roads in Calcutta. Having driven on these roads, one can only shudder at the lack of a comprehensive traffic system. The building of brand new flyovers without wide approach roads has resulted in regular traffic jams which only add to the people’s disgust. Hawkers with permanent structures on the pavements bordering busy traffic routes complicate matters further.

Deplorable road maintenance is another serious malady. Moreover, the inefficiency of the traffic police results in traffic rules being violated by rickshaws, taxis and private buses. The increase of vehicles on the roads of Calcutta and the complete indifference of the authorities concerned to this aspect have further undermined road safety. Pedestrians are also responsible for adding to this chaos. By taking the roads instead of the pavements and by avoiding the subways, they block the roads as well as endanger the lives of others.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Nightmare city” (Dec 22), lays bare the chaotic state of the transport system in Calcutta. Public memory being short, the death of Riddhima Basu will be forgotten in no time. In Calcutta the setting up of an inquiry after such accidents is commonplace. Only nothing happens except the usual slew of verbose statements from politicians that come in the aftermath of such incidents. Instead of burning vehicles and blocking roads, Calcuttans should force the state administration to solve the issue once and for all.

Yours faithfully,
Amitava Chakrabarty, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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