Editorial 1 / Slow but steady
Editorial 2 / Red alert
Blues before the budget
Fifth Column / How to alter a political position
Stuck in an archaic system
Holding hands under the same sky
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / SLOW BUT STEADY 
 
 
 
 
There is some evidence to suggest that the incipient peace process in Kashmir is in trouble. During the last week, the Kashmir valley witnessed mass protests reminiscent of the early Nineties, as people came out on the streets to demonstrate against excesses by the security forces. In addition, militant groups like the Lashkar e-Toiba and the Jaish e-Mohammad have continued to escalate the violence in many parts of the state. It would, however, be shortsighted for the government to abandon its peace initiative despite these unfortunate incidents. Nearly three months ago, the prime minister initiated a fresh policy approach to Kashmir, with at least two elements. First, the Centre announced a unilateral ceasefire for Ramadan, which has since been extended till 26 February. This was an important move undertaken by the Centre in reducing the alienation of the Kashmiri people. While all evidence seems to suggest that the ceasefire was, by and large, being scrupulously adhered to by the security agencies for the first two months, there has been some weakening of this resolve during the last month. Particularly unfortunate have been two cases of “custodial death” and unnecessary firing by the security forces during a funeral procession. These incidents have sparked off the protests. But there is no doubt that the “Ramadan initiative” has been able to tap, in a substantial measure, the overwhelming sentiment against violence prevailing in the state. Indeed, there is widespread relief in Kashmir at the end of the cordon and search operations that were conducted by the security forces and which unfortunately often led to harassment of ordinary innocent civilians. Despite the recent protests, this relief is slowly but surely translating into a larger peace constituency, and is gradually eroding the powerful anti-Indian sentiment prevalent particularly in the Kashmir valley.

The Centre had also indicated its willingness to speak to any Kashmiri group or militant organization. It is significant that no mention has been made of conditionalities nor was there any suggestion that these talks have to be within the framework of the Constitution. All those who have been hesitant to talk to the Centre, believing that they would lose their credibility if they accepted conditions right at the beginning, are now beginning to get the confidence to respond to this offer of engagement. The Centre’s new Kashmir initiative requires patience and determination, and should continue to be handled by the top political leadership of the country. In his, “Musings from Kumarakom”, the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, wrote: “In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely the beaten track of the past.” If the prime minister meant those words seriously, the ceasefire must be extended further and care taken to ensure that security forces adhere to it scrupulously.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / RED ALERT 
 
 
 
 
The corpse that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had planted in its own back garden with the expulsion of Mr Saifuddin Chowdhury has now begun to sprout. The secretary of the district committee of South 24 parganas, Mr Samir Putatunda, resigned from the party. With him some other comrades have also given up their red cards. This is an unprecedented occurrence in the history of the CPI(M). There have been expulsions and suspensions but an open resignation of a district-level leader with the promise to set up a new party is a unique event. But the significance of Mr Putatunda’s resignation does not lie in its uniqueness. It is important as an omen for the CPI(M) just before an extremely tough election. It is clear that Mr Putatunda has not acted in a fit of pique. On the contrary, his move appears as a well-thought out one taken after considering all the placatory noises made by the party leadership. Mr Putatunda had been with the party organization for a long time and he has his own support base. It will take a lot of fire fighting on the part of the apparatchiki of Alimuddin Street to ensure that more comrades do not depart through the breach made in the red fort.

The new party of Mr Chowdhury and Mr Putatunda, Party for Democratic Socialism, can only be a threat, in electoral terms, to the Left Front. If the new party succeeds in some areas to split the left vote, Ms Mamata Banerjee’s path to Writers’ Buildings will have a few less obstacles. This cannot but cause concern to men like Mr Anil Biswas, however smug their public pronouncements might be. There is also the uncertainty over the future of Mr Subhas Chakraborty who for some time now has been feeling cornered within the CPI(M). His outburst that the CPI(M) is a party of semi-educated people is a measure of his anger against the party of which he still claims to be a loyal soldier. Mr Putatunda’s resignation is rooted not in any factionalism or organizational disagreements. He has fundamental ideological differences with the party line and the tactics that the party has been following. It is his contention that the CPI(M)’s refusal to see the Congress as an ally against communalism has resulted in the strengthening of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the rise of Ms Banerjee. The CPI(M)’s claim that Mr Putatunda’s critique has no basis in Marxism-Leninism is ridiculous since Marxism-Leninism cannot be treated as a closed gospel. Politics and alliances are to do with reality and perceptions of one’s strength and weaknesses. Mr Putatunda and the CPI(M) leadership read the prevailing political reality in radically different ways. If the CPI(M) cannot create space for those who differ with the party line and if it cannot make the party line adaptable, it will collapse. The red fort may turn out to be as fragile as a film set.

   

 
 
BLUES BEFORE THE BUDGET 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
There is good reason why the pre-budget blues, a hardy annual, have a much deeper shade this year. The finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, may not have lost his old bounce altogether. He continues to hope against hope that he can still somehow manage to take the economy ashore through what is to all appearance a particularly rough stretch of sea. Yet, the self-confidence he now oozes lacks conviction. A tough job calls for stern measures and he is not too sure whether anything which hurts the public even in the short run will get a nod from coalition allies who face assembly elections in their states.

The finance minister’s problem is not just finding enough money to take care of the trail of devastation left by the earthquake in Gujarat. Rehousing the 175,000 families which have lost their homes, and rebuilding a large part of Kutch from scratch will cost 20 times as much as the meagre sum mobilized until now, including the two per cent surcharge on income tax for the current financial year which may yield Rs 1,300 crore. Even if the total rehabilitation bill, which may add up to Rs 50,000 crore, is spread over five years, mobilization of resources on the requisite scale may be beyond the capacity of government and non-government agencies put together.

Even before the Gujarat earthquake took so heavy a toll of life and property in one of the most industrialized states in the country, the budgetary picture looked pretty bleak. The government had been unable to end the slack in the economy. The results of its privatization drive had been all too measly. The hope to make the climate more congenial to foreign investment had turned out to be futile. Though there had been a welcome drop in government borrowing, the fiscal deficit remained as worrisome as ever. The finance minister’s options are in any case severely limited when he has to look after a whole herd of sacred cows, which pre-empt a large part of government revenues.

The Western world had more than two centuries to reach its present level of affluence. A country like India requires a sustained economic growth of 10 per cent a year for at least two decades to assure its over a billion people even the basic necessities of life. It is not just a question of putting a more efficient fiscal regime in place. There are a host of other challenges including massive investment in the infrastructure, reducing the growing regional disparities of wealth and income and working out more equitable as well as more eco-friendly development strategies.

It is no use listing every year the all too obvious reasons which have prevented economic growth from acquiring a new momentum, allowed a large part of the benefits of heavily subsidized services and goods to be appropriated by well-to-do farmers in the countryside and middle classes in the cities, permitted vast leakages in funds earmarked for poor relief, barred policy-makers from investing enough in education and healthcare, made municipal authorities tolerate dangerous levels of pollution and, in some states, near breakdown of civic services, and inhibited those in power in checking the rot which has by now spread to every tissue of the body politic.

This rot can be seen in the growing nexus between politics and crime and the growth of a malign babu culture where few files move without the citizen concerned placing discreetly an envelope full of currency notes in the hands of the person who can spare him the harassment of periodical visits to a distant office to get some routine and legitimate job done. A thicker wad of currency notes can often persuade the petty official concerned even to bend the rules in favour of those who know the ropes. The Gujarat earthquake itself would not have claimed so heavy a toll of life and property in Ahmedabad but for the fact that, in the case of 80 or so new high-rise buildings that came tumbling down, the builders were allowed to get away with faulty designs, use of substandard materials and violation of most of the regulations prescribed for structures in a quake-prone zone.

No political party here has even cared to wonder how China managed to attract $ 300 billion by way of direct foreign investment in the last decade in contrast to no more than $ 25 billion received by India during the same period. The multinationals are not drawn to the Beijing regime because they prefer to work under greater constraints and in less profitable locations. If they find the climate for investment in China more propitious, it is because it has a more highly developed infrastructure, an administrative machinery which takes much less time in clearing new projects, a more disciplined labour force and a government committed to inculcating an industrial culture which promotes high productivity and better quality control to give its products a more competitive edge in the world market.

This is not to hold up China as a development model or even to suggest that the experiment of a changeover to a liberal economic system under the auspices of a party enjoying monopoly of power could be ever replicated here. It is far from certain whether in a sorely fragmented polity like India’s, with the fault lines along communal, regional, caste and ethnic divisions getting more ominous, the public would be prepared to pay the social costs of a tran- sition under similar conditions, with no space for genuine debate on contentious issues and no scope for open dissent or protest.

There is no reason, however, why even under the kind of parliamentary system this country has had for over 50 years, some means cannot be found to save the nation’s energies from being frittered away on petty issues in the struggle for short-term electoral gains. What prevents the government from making an all-out effort to reduce drastically the ambit of arbitrary powers vested in ministers and bureaucrats and prescribing new ethical norms to revive and protect the integrity of public life and foster a more exacting work ethic? All these changes are no longer a moral luxury. They have become a harsh economic necessity and indeed a condition for the very survival of the political system.

No constitutional reform, however far-reaching, will be of much avail in reinforcing the capacity of the system to resist the new dangers, both internal and external, and meet the challenges posed by the ongoing technological revolution and the globalization processes, in the absence of a new political culture and a value system designed to reduce the areas of conflict and match promises with performance. No hocus pocus about unity in diversity can validate the belief that perpetual feuds between an increasing number of interest groups can either ensure political stability or put the country on a faster growth track. A score of clashing group viewpoints never add up to a national perspective.

It is only against this background that the recent statement by the prime minister about his government’s commitment to a federal polity demands a closer scrutiny than it has received so far. He did not have to prove his case. The very composition of his government including a number of regional allies, with some lending it support from the outside, was evidence enough of his claim. Yet, this is only one half of the story. The other half concerns the resulting process of policy-making, with every powerful regional partner able to veto a decision, cramping the government’s style and often ruling out hard options in fields where there are no soft alternatives.

There is no need, however, to mystify the issue of what constitutes a genuine federal policy. Even the Congress for a long period, able to win large majorities in the Lok Sabha as well as in a majority of the state assemblies, could not afford to stifle regional demands or ignore the viewpoints of individual states for fear of losing its support base there. It, too, had to often resolve regional conflicts in the process of policy-making at the Centre. The only difference between one-party domination and rule by coalitions consisting of disparate groups is that conflicts in the one case can be resolved at the party level while in the other, as is the case today, the government has often to water down, or go back on, a decision under extreme pressure from a recalcitrant ally.

Even so, there is no cause to deny the prime minister the comfort of making a virtue of necessity. In any case, the whole discourse about a more authentic federal polity is not entirely free of ambivalence. The Bharatiya Janata Party may pat itself on the back in public at times for making concessions to its regional partners even at the cost of some loss of both face and identity. But it also has to justify to the sangh parivar stalwarts the way it has had to set aside its own core agenda because of the compulsions of coalition politics. The pretence that all this does not produce glitches in the decision-making machinery all too often has worn quite thin by now.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / HOW TO ALTER A POLITICAL POSITION 
 
 
BY SHABBIR AHMED
 
 
Elections are almost upon us again. West Bengal and four other states will be going to polls in March-April. Political parties, quite naturally, are rethinking their strategies and gearing up to meet the electoral challenge. Psephologists, astrologers and even vaastu shastra experts are in great demand. And they are found to be of great use particularly by the Congress.

The Congress is finding itself in a pitiable condition of late. No party is coming forward to have an electoral understanding with it. In West Bengal, the mahajot is destined to die a premature death, although an ambitious A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury is still hopeful of showing the door to the Marxists with the help of Mamata Banerjee. But the Bharatiya Janata Party-Trinamool Congress combine has already agreed to contest the forthcoming polls in West Bengal on a common manifesto. This has left the protagonists of the mahajot high and dry. Prominent Congress leaders have crossed over to the Trinamool Congress and others are waiting to follow suit. Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the truncated Congress in the state, has no political base in West Bengal. He is there only to preside over its disintegration and decimation.

Lend a hand

In politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav will have no truck with the Congress or the BJP. The unpredictable Mayavati, despite having responded to Sonia Gandhi’s recent call to opposition leaders to share the floor in Parliament on important issues, has rejected overtures for seat adjustments. In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, J. Jayalalitha has declared that her party, which she believes will be voted to power, will not share power with its pre-poll allies.

Given such a dismal pre-election scenario, the crisis management group in the party, which includes astrologers and vaastu shastra experts, are not sitting idle. Crisis managers feel only vaastu shastra can boost the fortunes of the country’s oldest party.

The party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road accordingly was subjected to close scrutiny by vaastu shastra specialists. The experts recommended renovation of the party headquarters as the first step towards the revival of the Congress. They also pointed out that if the party was not getting positive media coverage, it was because the media room was not ideally constructed and the spokesman was not sitting in the correct position.

The main entrance to the party headquarters was also declared to be inauspicious. To give more substance to their argument, the seers stated that the BJP had also changed the main entrance of their headquarters on Ashoka Road after its government fell after 13 days. This, according to them, had brought good luck to the party.

Need for a facelift

In a corrective mood, Congress leaders also took a look at its election symbol. Party managers found to their dismay that the hand had no fate line. Veteran Congress leaders however pointed out that it was the same symbol which had brought power and glory to Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi.

Vaastu shastra has become an obsession with the president of the party herself. Astrologers are always advising Sonia Gandhi on when it is auspicious for her to address public rallies. They, reportedly, also mark the location of the podium and specify the direction she should face.

Hectic preparations are on for the Congress plenary session in Bangalore next month. The chief minister of Karnataka, S.M. Krishna, is himself supervising the goings-on, assisted by a galaxy of astrologers and vaastu shastra experts. Neither Krishna, nor the Congress chief realizes that the fault is not with the stars.

It is not the Congress only which is invoking the shastras. The BJP chief minister of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi, who is in constant danger of being toppled by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha supremo, Shibu Soren, has taken to the advice of his pundits and shastris with gusto. Marandi apparently has directed his legislators to sit in a particular direction. “Leave Bihar behind and look towards Bengal”, is how Marandi described the position.

But would it do him any good if his ministers faced West Bengal? A prompt reply was, “Keep swinging in your chairs”.

   

 
 
STUCK IN AN ARCHAIC SYSTEM 
 
 
BY P.K. VASUDEVA
 
 
In a recent judgment, the Supreme Court has indicted both the government and the armed forces for not amending the Army Act 1950, Army rules 1954 and the defence services regulations (regulations for the army 1962) which are still following the draconian laws of the British colonial rule. India is one of the strongest and the largest democracies in the world, but its military laws are the oldest and they need immediate changes commensurate with changing circumstances. Soldiers do not get the freedom guaranteed under the Constitution. They feel aggrieved, because their kith and kin in civil society are enjoying this freedom.

There is no doubt that armed forces have to be highly disciplined, because they preserve the national security, integrity and sovereignty of the country. According to Field Marshal S H F J Manekshaw, “No country can ever hope to accomplish its task unless its soldiers maintain a high standard of discipline. Military discipline by its very ethos demands implicit obedience by the subordinates and fair play and quick dispensation of justice by their commanders. Armed forces personnel these days are better aware of their rights and privileges.” The laws governing them in the Army Acts and the defence services regulations have been severely criticized by the apex court a number of times for the inadequacies.

The Supreme Court in a judgment has termed the laws governing general court-martials in the army as archaic. It has criticized the government for not bringing in changes in the Army Act with other democracies in mind.

“Even today the law relating to armed forces remains static requiring changes keeping in view the apex court’s observations made in 1992, the constitutional mandate and the changes effected by other democratic countries,” a three-judge bench observed while delivering the judgment in an appeal against GCM proceedings. The time has come to allay the apprehension of all concerned that the system of trial by GCM was not the archetype of summary and arbitrary proceedings,” the bench comprising G B Pattanaik, R P Sethi and S V Patil said.

The Supreme Court in a judgment, Lt. Col. PPS Bedi Vs Union of India AIR 1982 SC 1413, declared, “Persons subject to the Army Act section 2 do not cease to be citizens and enjoy all the privileges under the Articles 5, 21, and 32 of the Constitution.”

The three-judge bench was examining the validity of a GCM proceeding where a judge advocate was junior in rank to the accused. Sethi said, “Judge advocate, though not forming part of the court, yet being an integral part of it, is required to possess all such qualifications and be free from the disqualifications which relate to the appointment of an officer to the court- martial.”

Upholding the contention of the accused, Charanjit S. Gill, the bench said, “A judge advocate appointed with the GCM should not be an officer lower than that of an officer facing trial unless the officer of such rank is not available and the opinion regarding unavailability is specifically recorded in the convening order.”

Referring to the 1982 judgment expressing concern over inadequacies in the Army Act, Sethi said, “Despite the lapse of two decades neither Parliament nor the Central government appears to have realized their constitutional obligations as were expected by the court.” He said the only change was the amendment of rule 62 providing that after “recording the finding in each charge the GCM shall give brief reasons in support thereof.”

In the absence of effective steps taken by Parliament and the Centre, the courts were duty-bound to “protect and safeguard the constitutional rights of all citizens, including those enrolled in the armed forces,” observed Sethi. However, he said the courts at the same time should not forget the paramount need for maintaining discipline in the armed forces. The bench said, “By joining the armed forces a person does not cease to be a citizen, be wholly deprived of his rights under the Constitution.”

The Supreme Court has pointed out three major anomalies in the court-martial procedures in the Army Act. First, the proceedings of the court-martial are conducted invariably in a somewhat biased fashion. Second, the judgment is somewhat sketchy. It should be detailed and substantiated by judicial reasoning while giving punishments, especially when the ruling is a death sentence or imprisonment. There is no review for the accused and an appeal cannot be filed before any army authority except the high courts concerned and the Supreme Court where the procedure is cumbersome, time consuming and prohibitively expensive in the civil law. Third, an officer of the same rank or junior to the accused is at times detailed as presiding officer, which is against the tenets of natural justice.

The intention of the apex court is to bring transparency in military law, especially the court-martial proceedings, and remove the fears of arbitrariness from the minds of the accused personnel. There is a feeling among armed forces personnel that the trials in the armed forces are not fair. Whomsoever the army authorities desire to fix is fixed, because there is no independent tribunal to hear the appeals against the decisions of the court-martials except the high courts and the Supreme Court where not everyone can go.

Last year, the law commission had recommended that the defence service should have its own tribunal where appeals against the court-martial verdicts could be challenged in the interests of speedy justice and the sensitive nature of the cases for security reasons. It had recommended the establishment of a tribunal like those set up to protect consumers and settle disputes under the Consumer Protection Act.

Based on the recommendations of the armed forces chiefs, the ministry of defence had recommended and approved the proposal of setting up a tribunal as far back as July 1999. The law ministry has been sitting on the files since then.

As per the structure, the tribunal chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge will have its principal bench based at New Delhi, with benches at five other places across the country at Jammu, Lucknow, Chennai, Guwahati, and Mumbai/Pune. A retired judge of the high court as vice-chairman will chair these benches with two members from the services. The principal bench will have eight members — four from the judiciary and four retired service officers — composing four division benches. The retired servicemen will be of the rank of Major General or above or equivalent ranks in other services.

The present government is known for taking quick decisions, especially concerning the armed forces. But why are the recommendations of the law commission and that of the Supreme Court not being implemented?

It will be in the fitness of things that the Army Act, army rules and the defence services regulations (regulations for the army 1962) are reviewed within the framework of the Constitution and recommendations implemented to maintain the morale of defence service personnel. In the meantime, the recommendations of the law commission should be implemented to give due justice to service personnel and to lessen the burden of defence personnel cases in the high courts.

Care must be taken that the security of the defence services is not compromised while reviewing the military laws and high standard of discipline in the services remains intact. It must be remembered that soldiers are trained to take the lives of the enemy and also to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the country. This is no easy task. For such training, the discipline has got to be of the highest level and the strictest possible. Laxity in discipline could be ruinous for the nation. The recent fires in the ammunition dumps at Bharatpur and Dehu Road are results of lax discipline on the part of some officials.

   

 
 
HOLDING HANDS UNDER THE SAME SKY 
 
 
BY ADITI CHATTERJEE
 
 
“Transnational communities” is a national research programme commissioned by the economic and social research council in the United Kingdom. Its chief objective is to conduct studies to broaden the understanding of the new and increasingly important place of globe-spanning social networks in labour, business and commodity markets, political movements and cultural flows.

A sum of £ 3.8 million has been allocated to the programme, which is a research initiative of the University of Oxford, though the projects range over a number of universities in UK and throughout the world. The programme spans several disciplines, though some projects can be said to fall within a single discipline.

Transnational communities are the products of, and catalysts for, recent globalization processes, generally associated with long distance migration. Their use of telecommunications and transport, their pooling of resources as well as patterns of investment or remittance and their successful exploitation of new international markets are evidence of their associations with globalization processes.

New culture

The varying social forms, political activities, cultural resources and group identities produced by the linkage of groups in a wide range of geographical locations represent an important dimension of the shift towards new kinds of cosmopolitanism.

Manuel Castells of the University of California has suggested that global networks are the definitive social form of the emerging “information age”. Some of the key manifestations of the network mode of organization are new communication technologies such as the internet, new business and management practices, new transnational social and political movements, and new ways of maintaining identity among ethnic diasporas. The programme aims to develop and implement a communication strategy to enable the exchange of knowledge with users, such as governments, industries, non-governmental organizations and the public.

In the aftermath of migration

The programme has developed links with the international metropolis forum, which brings together a large volume of researchers and policy-makers concerned with migration. Much has been written about Indian migration to other parts of the world down the ages. In April 2000, an international conference was held at the India International Centre in New Delhi, which brought together experts from India and abroad to analyse and discuss with politicians and bureaucrats the varied situations, interrelations and developmental dynamics of India’s vast diaspora for the first time.

Issues currently under investigation by researchers who are part of the transnational communities programme include Indian commerce and fashions. The research programme should be good for the international Indian profile as well as of use in the UK and elsewhere.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Fire in the sky

Sir — The report, “Strike on ‘intruder’ Pak plane” (Feb 20), is another reminder of the problems we have with Pakistan as our neighbour. Obviously, Pakistan learnt no lesson from the experience of August 1999, when the Pakistani Atlantique was brought down by Indian forces in the Rann of Kutch. Pakistani officials have called the intrusion an “inadvertent violation” and not “unusual” and have in the same breath accused Indian aircraft of violating Pakistani airspace from time to time. On what basis was this said? Unless the Pakistanis have evidence of this, they are in no position to make statements of this sort. If indeed Indian aeroplanes had violated Pakistani airspace would they have let these aeroplanes go without making a retaliatory strike? Whom do the Pakistanis think they are convincing? Certainly not the international community, which has been closely watching all the recent Pakistani moves, even during the unilateral ceasefire called by India. Pakistan cannot suddenly secure for itself a dove-like garb.
Yours faithfully,
Mainak Saha, via email

Lawful protection

Sir — The Companies Act 1956 has again been amended on November 27, 2000, and has come into force as the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2000. According to it, a small depositor is one who deposits in a financial year a sum not exceeding Rs 20,000 in a company. Every company accepting deposits from such small depositors will have to intimate to the company law board any default made in repayment of deposits or interest. This intimation will have to be given within 60 days from the date of default, on a monthly basis. Where the CLB has been intimated, it will pass appropriate orders within or after 30 days, and the depositors will be given an opportunity of being heard. They need not be present themselves at such hearings, but can be represented by nominated persons, including lawyers.

No company can accept further deposits from small depositors unless past deposits have matured and interests on them have been duly paid. Defaulting companies will have to mention details of their past defaults when issuing advertisements and application forms in future. Where a company accepts deposits from small depositors and subsequently obtains bank loans for working capital, it will first have to utilize these funds for the due repayment of deposits and interests, before applying these funds for any other purpose. Violators of these provisions will be punishable with imprisonment upto three years and may also have to pay a minimum of Rs 500 for every day of non-compliance.

While these mandatory provisions have been well conceived of to protect small depositors analogous to the other investors like shareholders, particularly minority shareholders for whom a good number of protective mandatory measures have already been ensured by the the company law and the securities and exchange board of India, the fears subsist because it is now likely that companies will accept deposits exceeding Rs 20,000 only and not otherwise to protect them against the protection mandatorily extended for small depositors. It would be pragmatic to frame appropriate guidelines for the corporate world to maintain the spirit which would ensure protection for small investors. They should be allowed to deposit in a financial year a sum not exceeding Rs 20,000 which may be in tranches. Given this, it is advisable for depositors to deposit only upto Rs 20,000 in a company in a financial year and not otherwise. If any company accepts only deposits exceeding Rs 20,000, that is, if the minimum deposit amount mentioned in the application form of any company is more than Rs 20,000, the depositors shall strictly refrain from depositing in such companies.

Yours faithfully,
K.K. Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — Inaugurating the diamond jubilee celebrations of the income tax appellate tribunal, the chief justice of India, A.S. Anand, has called for simplification of taxation laws, especially of the income tax law. India’s attorney general, Soli Sorabjee, concurred with Anand’s views. Income tax is no longer something only senior and middle level officers have to pay annually. Although the money income has gone up, real income has come down. Today, even a class IV employee comes under the tax bracket.

The complicated clauses and sub-clauses, however, remain incomprehensible even to the elite, let alone the lesser mortal. It is true that taxation laws have been amended several times, but no serious attempt has been made to simplify and standardize the laws. Complicated laws help only a minuscule section of the community, that is, the tax practitioners.

The havoc created by the complicated taxation system can be gauged from the fact that during the months of February-March, work in offices virtually come to a standstill as the entire workforce becomes engaged in calculating and recalculating their tax deductions. This affects production and productivity. Several billion man-hours are lost in the process, costing crores of rupees.

It is time for a look at the tax laws. Though the government laments the shortage of staff and the backlog of cases, the real villains are the complicated laws and the cumbersome procedures. A hassle-free legal system will win the confidence of the taxpayers and ensure better tax compliance.

Yours faithfully,
E.M. Adithyan, Edapal

Cell buy date

Sir — Recently, the cellular operators of Calcutta announced “a reduction” in the charges for the city’s mobile phone users. I fail to understand how the charges have been “reduced”. While the subscribers are actually paying much more than before, what’s more surprising is that few newspapers mentioned that cash card users like myself will end up paying Rs 200 extra every month due to the new tariffs, not forgetting that the charges for incoming calls have been raised. The grace period has been withdrawn, so that if someone is out of town, he loses his carry forward balance. The media should read between the lines of all such packages rather than echo what the companies have to say.
Yours faithfully,
Tejash Doshi, Calcutta

Sir — This recent revision of charges of mobile phones is not encouraging for cellular phone-users. Ever since the Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Limited has announced its service availability in Mumbai and Delhi, Calcutta-based mobile service providers have pulled up their socks. They will try and make as much money as possible till the MTNL or Calcutta Telephones brings this facility to Calcutta. They had better realize that such tactics are sure to make their subscription base fall sharply.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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