Editorial 1 / Beyond myopia
Editorial 2 / Rites of spring
Veterans of subservience
Fifth Column / What ails Indian civil society?
Just a slash is not enough
Looking beyond that haze
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / BEYOND MYOPIA 
 
 
 
 
Opposition reaction to the Bharat Aluminium Company saga becomes more and more bizarre. The Chhattisgarh chief minister, Mr Ajit Jogi, alleges kickbacks of Rs 100 crore to the prime minister’s office and threatens that land, power and other facilities to Sterlite will be denied if disinvestment goes through. Mr Arun Shourie, the minister in charge of disinvestment, denies that the PMO was ever involved and threatens Mr Jogi with legal action. Perhaps the government could have handled the political fallout better and roped in the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamool Congress in advance, without attempting to push through the last disinvestment of this financial year so desperately, just before Parliament was due to convene. The TDP and the Trinamool Congress have now withdrawn their opposition as long as the decision is deferred till discussions are completed in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. On its part, the government seems determined to push the deal through, without Parliament voting on the matter. At the heart of the matter is a question of transparency. Mr Shourie argues that the decision was cleared by the inter-ministerial group headed by the disinvestment secretary, the core group of secretaries headed by the cabinet secretary and the cabinet committee on disinvestment. The selection of the adviser, valuers and the eventual strategic partner was done through open and competitive bidding and Sterlite’s bid of Rs 551 crore for 51 per cent equity was more than double the second highest bid and more than the reserve price. This may indeed be true and after the deal is signed, relevant papers have been promised to the comptroller and auditor general for scrutiny. To work out a reserve price, the government used four different methods: discounted cash flow, comparative valuation, balance sheet and asset valuation.

Unfortunately, the reserve price is secret and so is the eventual method that yielded this price. The opposition is certainly irresponsible in bandying about figures of Rs 3,000 crore or Rs 5,000 crore as Balco’s worth. These figures are meaningless unless methods for asserting such values are stated and there are buyers willing to offer these prices. However, taking the opposition to task would have been easier had the government’s valuation methods been in the public domain. Nor is it transparent whether the independent valuer included land and buildings alone, or whether reserves and surplus were also included. Presumably, better prices might have been obtained had the government not insisted on 7,000 employees being retained for a year. Existing market shares also mean little in an era of competition and Balco’s profit after tax has dropped by almost Rs 100 crore within a year. The opposition’s personal attacks on the independent valuer may be in bad taste, but there is need to evolve valuation methodologies that stand up to external scrutiny, especially when disinvestment through the strategic partner route is contemplated.

Such controversies are also evident in other countries going through privatization. Given Sterlite’s penchant for attracting controversy, the government could have exhibited greater sensitivity and been less desperate in attaining the Rs 10,000 crore target for this financial year, a target that is bound to be undershot. Having said this, the credibility of the Indian reform process requires that more than a single bread manufacturer be sold and the Congress, which started the reform process, needs to ask whether it would not have divested Balco had it been in the government. Being in the opposition may require the scoring of debating points. But beyond the myopia, there is an issue of the country’s economic future.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / RITES OF SPRING 
 
 
 
 
The seemingly eternal Naga peace talks are beginning to bode well again. The Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, has been passing through the Northeast; and amidst all the vernal festivities marking his progress, newish assurances have been given regarding the ceasefire arrangements. However, the usual vagueness and the use of the future tense remain in place. The ceasefire may be “extended”, and this could mean several things. Extending it in time is nothing unusual and is no guarantee against ineffectuality. Extending it territorially to include other Naga-dominated areas in Manipur could be dimly in the agenda. But that would immediately revive old conflicts between the chief ministers over subordinating territorial concerns to principles of ethnicity. But if Mr Advani’s “reconsiderations” imply the extension of the ceasefire to all the other insurgent outfits, apart from the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), then it certainly sounds like a good idea. The tackling of militancy would definitely be a less impossible task if all the militant groups are simultaneously included in the peace talks.

In this context, the army’s suspension of operations against insurgents in Manipur for 15 days around Holi is a positive gesture. Here again, all the insurgent groups are being addressed. This looks like the first signs of the implementation of Mr Advani’s words. He has also spoken of regional development and of the rehabilitation of surrendering terrorists. In a society whose infrastructure has been ravaged by insurgency and Central neglect, and whose politicians and bureaucrats have become chronically incapable of the most rudimentary forms of stability and honesty, such improving financial packages are bound to look questionable. In particular, the appalling management of rehabilitation programmes has failed to inspire confidence in the insurgents contemplating a change of life. Hence, this small gesture seems to point to the only hopeful potential in the Centre’s vision of peace in the Northeast.

   

 
 
VETERANS OF SUBSERVIENCE 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
It is an ill quake that does not offer anyone at least a milkshake. The government of India has every reason to feel grateful for the ravages done to Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Kutch. The quake is allowing the government an opportunity to prove its loyalty to the tenets of the Washington consensus. At the time of writing, the Union budget is yet to be presented, but its contours are easily foreseen. There will be some increase in direct taxes, but of a perfunctory nature. Excise duties and other indirect cesses will be steeply raised; extra care will be taken to ensure that the incidence of such additional imposts falls squarely on the poor and lower middle classes. Hardly any five-year plan worth the name existed during the past decade.

A windfall is nonetheless a windfall, and the plan size, so-called, will be further slashed. With the Gujarat earthquake providing the grand alibi, public expenditure will be cut back in all directions. The pace of disinvestment of public sector undertakings will be accelerated; the pretext will be the need for extra resources to cater to quake relief. Too cap everything, much greater emphasis will be laid on financial sector reforms, which is an euphemism for speeding up denationalization of insurance and banking; the objective will be to throw out of employment hundreds of thousands of those who currently hold on to a job, even if precariously.

Not to allow grass grow under their feet, that formidable body of yes-men, the prime minister’s economic advisory council, sat in conclave and have come out with recommendations which include, inter alia, the following heart-warming proposals: (a) severe reduction in the average customs duty to make it 12 per cent by 2003; (b) two per cent cut in interest rates on small savings and provident fund accumulations; (c) of course, no change in personal and company tax rates; (d) easier exit rules for sick companies and most stringent labour legislation for cooking the goose of intransigent trade unions; (e) rise in railway passenger fares; (f) allowing foreign airlines to buy equity in domestic air service; (g) end of reservation in small-scale industries; (h) lowering of licence fees for private telecommunication units; (i) all-round reduction of the number of government employees; (j) drastic reduction in food and fertilizer subsidies. The prime minister and the finance minister could not be too grateful for this truly weighty support. This sense of gratitude, rest assured, is going to be reflected in the budget.

As if the experience of a full decade has not left behind any message. As if the nation does not know by now that the much-vaunted economic reforms have no legs to stand on. So what, the international financial institutions, those neo-imperialist bodies, do not deviate into sense. Or rather, they have a rationale which suggests that even if prescriptions prove wrong, they have to be persisted with; dogmas are ipso facto above questioning. Therefore the Washington consensus is both immutable and unchangeable.

As weather-beaten veterans of subservience, our government will continue to swear loyalty by the consensus. It does not feel the need to read the writing on the wall. The rate of industrial growth is falling from year to year. It could hardly be otherwise, since unbridled imports have made a mockery of capacity creation in domestic industrial units.

There is, besides, the looming reality of demand having failed to pick up from major sections of the community because of the lack of land reforms and other meaningful programmes for putting money in the hands of the poor. Small-scale industries are being opened up for foreign penetration; the consequences are appalling, not only for growth of income but also for growth of employment. The new agricultural policy initiated three and a half decades ago has run its course. Utilization of irrigation facilities has hit the ceiling, high-yielding varieties of seeds for only a limited number of crops have performed according to expectations, but the horizon for tomorrow is very unclear.

With foreign-directed upper limits set to public investments, irrigation in new areas has come to a halt, while better varieties of seeds are yet to be evolved for inferior grains as well as for a larger ambit of commercial crops. How many amongst the policy-makers are even vaguely aware that, in the decade of the great economic reforms, our rate of growth of foodgrains has lagged behind the rate of population growth?

The conventional index of economic development is growth in per capita income. But we are all proceeding along the learning curve; it is now standard practice to look at the change in the pattern in the occupational distribution, the rate of growth of employment, the levels of literacy and nutrition and so on, before reaching a judgment on actual development. The relevant facts can be easily summarized.

Over the past decade, employment has not grown, but shrunk in the private industrial sector. The story is the same in public sector industrial units, thanks to the policy of closures, lay-offs and compulsory retirement. Because of the heavy influx of multinational corporations in diverse retail outlets, including food and drinks, employment in the informal sectors is also appreciably reduced. A generalization is easily possible: the loss in employment at the lower end of the ladder in the service industries, including financial services, has not been even marginally compensated by increased absorption of employees at the upper end.

One does not need much intelligence to comprehend the logic of numbers in the ongoing process. The discharge from work of 10,000 employees in, for example, the banks is being sought to be made good by engaging 10 or 20 top-level computer-savvy executives of solid upper-class vintage. Now comes the most frightening of all statistics. Roughly two-thirds of the national population were dependent on agriculture and allied activities at the time of independence. Now, even at the lapse of almost five and a half decades, the proportion of the population latching on to primary activities remains just the same. And the latest National Sample Survey estimates draw a dismal picture of the progress in literacy and nutrition.

The ruling politicians, however, proclaim that the reforms are irreversible. They say so because, conditioned reflex apart, their faith in the kindness of the Western gods is unshakeable. It is the gleam of foreign direct investment, stupid. But FDI in India is hovering only around two billion dollars; it is close to 50 billion dollars in China.

We shall, therefore, drown and nobody will save us. Nobody will save us because we do not want to be saved. Death is to be preferred to breaking the trust the Washington consensus has reposed on our politicians. The era of nonsense will accordingly be elongated. It is as clear as daylight that the supposed crisis, for instance, in the banking industry, in the form of a proliferation of non-performing assets, is not on account of a surplus load of employees.

It is because industrial and commercial tycoons, nearest and dearest to the ruling establishment, have refused to repay the money they have stolen from the banks. These anti-socials, fat cats all, will not be punished; the punishment will be meted out to the innocent bank employees. Since a decision has already been taken to hang them, a bad name needs to be given to them: they are an indescribably lazy lot.

What else can you expect from a polity which, bowing to the dictates of the World Trade Organization, will not subsidize the supply of foodgrains to the poor and famished through the public distribution system, but will rather dump the grains into the sea? Or subsidize them for sale to foreigners overseas? The WTO will not object to the latter.

So, please relax, and enjoy the proposals in the Union budget. Are we not proud to be a nation of inveterate masochists?

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / WHAT AILS INDIAN CIVIL SOCIETY? 
 
 
BY SURENDRA MOHAN
 
 
When the British imperialists left India, the Partition had effectively eroded any semblance of unity in the region. Not only were the princes seeking sovereign status, groups among the Nagas, the Sikhs and the Tamils, to name only the more important ones, also demanded it. However, a majoritarian, popular quest for a united India adequately quashed any such aspirations.

In the initial years, various measures such as the sharing of Central revenue with the states, creation of linguistic states, reservation in employment, education, the Union and state legislatures for the scheduled castes and tribes, and the adoption of a three-language formula showed that a more just society was being created.

It was only when certain other processes intervened that strains began to appear. For instance, it must be admitted that even in the first decade after independence, the Naga question was handled with repression. In Jammu and Kashmir, too, needless suspicion led to unfree elections and a denial of human rights for many.

The use of the police and the paramilitary forces to quell public disorder and the consolidation of the colonial bureaucratic set-up made it clear that not much had changed. In the economy, though regulations were necessary to ensure equity, an excess of these generally stifled initiatives by the people. Here too, the regulations favoured certain business houses.

Growing rifts

This led to growing disparities between the rich and the powerful on the one hand, and vast sections of ordinary people on the other. It also affected the backward areas and the backward segments of the population like the religious minorities and the socially downtrodden.

Centralization of political power after the late Sixties, in a political milieu which had been bred on democratic and federal processes, led to regionalism. The efforts of the makers of the Constitution were to ensure that political democracy would also extend to economic and social spheres, and to undo the patriarchal and hierarchical social relations pervading Indian society. But successive regimes pursued contrary courses of action.

The injustices inherent in the social system corrupted the state machinery and justice was denied to all, except a few who could guard their vested interests with unparalleled gusto. Sectarianism received sustenance from these processes. It was a tool in the hands of the state to divide the people. For instance, the acceptance of the recommendations of the Mandal commission brought forth the worst frenzy among the masses. A few years before this, the democratic aspirations of the people of Punjab were being subverted by fanning a communal divide, but were ultimately suppressed by marching the armed forces inside the Golden Temple.

Not a tall order

Economic development having only benefited the already advantaged sections, casteism got strengthened. If alternative policies had been put into effect, national unity would have prospered. Therefore, commissions dealing with the religious minorities and other socially backward castes, women and human rights groups ought to be effectively empowered.

Federalism and pluralism must get due prominence in our multicultural and multi-regional polity. Institutions of the panchayat raj ought to be entrusted with genuine authority. Laws relating to scheduled areas need to be urgently implemented. Economic policies must focus on a massive generation of employment and the reduction of economic disparities among the people and regions. Elementary education needs to be universalized expeditiously. The structural adjustment programmes as directed by the World Bank and the economic regimes imposed by the World Trade Organization have been taking a heavy toll on small industry and agriculture. One consequence of this is that the economic and therefore social disparities have grown more pronounced.

Civil society in India also has to shoulder some of these responsibilities. Its response to the havoc generated by the Gujarat earthquake has demonstrated its capability to rise to the demands of a crisis. A lot can be achieved by voluntary efforts in the fields of irrigation, power generation by unconventional means, afforestation, education and health. All this might appear a tall order but they are certainly not unachievable.

   

 
 
JUST A SLASH IS NOT ENOUGH 
 
 
BY INDRAJIT RAY
 
 
The Reserve Bank of India recently slashed the bank rate — the benchmark for the country’s interest rate structure — by half a percentage point to 7.5 per cent. The RBI also cut the cash reserve ratio by half a percentage point to eight per cent. The RBI interest rate is the rate at which the central bank lends to other commercial banks who in turn set their own lending rates. On the other hand, CRR is the mandatory portion of deposits that has to be maintained by commercial banks with the RBI.

The RBI explained that the reductions follow after a “review of recent developments in the international and domestic financial markets”. The whole purpose of this exercise is clearly to revive the spluttering economy that is projected to grow at six per cent this year. The aim is that this measure will help contain the industrial slowdown. With more resources now available with banks due to the CRR cut, the reduction is likely to bring down the cost of credit for companies, thus spurring industrial growth. As the analysts rightly expected, many banks, including the leading nationalized banks, are thinking of reducing their lending and deposit rates.

There is of course another side to this situation. A cut in the interest rate is extremely good news for borrowers and industries but it is bad news for any net saver in an economy. One also has to wait for the Union budget as many expect the finance minister to bring down the interest rate on small savings, such as the postal saving rates. Undoubtedly, this would mean that the middle class with its propensity for small savings will suffer.

This cut has been seen by bankers and analysts as an effort on the part of the central bank to boost a slow economy. It is a perfectly understandable move. The RBI is not the first central bank to take such a step. In the last few weeks, the central banks in the United States and the United Kingdom have brought down their respective interest rates backed by the same arguments.

In a smoothly developing market economy, any reduction in the interest rate would create this desired effect. In the Indian economy, however, this argument sounds unrealistically optimistic. One should not expect that the day after the cut, the banks will be crowded with small businessmen and the self-employed. For big industries, with lots of existing loans, a cut in the rate is always welcome. For a small entrepreneur or a self-starter, getting new loans will be as tough as ever unless the banks do a bit more than just cutting their interest rates.

Ask any self-employed entrepreneur who has been looking for a bank loan and you will get to hear the same story of explicitly discouraging bank managers. Banks are never keen to give out a loan if you wish to start a new business. To deter your entry into the business world, they would not just ask for a high repayment interest, but would also probably ask you for a deposit.

The managers, of course, also have their own stories to tell. All young managers start their careers by optimistically approving loans to most applicants. But they soon have to face the reality when the borrowers fail to show up for repayment. As a result, all commercial banks have enormous amounts of outstanding unpaid loans, which are classified as their non-performing assets. Experienced managers, therefore, never trust borrowers, no matter how enterprising the latter seem to be.

One wonders why so many potentially enterprising borrowers fail to repay the loans. There are two types of borrowers. The first type is the one who wants a loan for personal consumption but cannot get one; hence, he comes up with a business plan, cons a young bank manager, gets a business loan and disappears with the money the next day. The other type has a genuine business plan. But the bank loan does not perform at all because the entrepreneur does not get any other practical support from the bank or from the government.

What would be the right role of a bank then? First of all, it has to be able to recognize these two types. The best way is of course to offer consumption loans to anyone who wants it. There would be no question of falsehood in business loans then. In the developed world, one can easily get an unsecured loan of £15,000 (more than Rs 10 lakh) from any bank or financial institution without a question being asked on how or on what the money would be spent.

In India too, consumption loans are increasingly available these days. Many retailers offer easy instalments, buy-now-pay-later schemes. Many banks and financial institutes offer credit cards and other credit facilities. Bank managers, therefore, are much relieved now that they do not face many pseudo-businessmen who need a loan for consumption and not for business.

Opening a business account or offering a business loan is simple. It is important to understand that each new business proposition represents a challenge, not just for the entrepreneur, but also for the banker. The manager has to take an active initiative to enhance the chance of success of the new business, by giving the borrower access to all relevant information and providing guidance on all aspects of the business.

Business bankers have to work with a businessman to help his business grow. A good proposal and a loan will not guarantee the success. The banker has to assess the personal qualities of the borrower, assess the market and plan ahead. There should also be other government organizations to provide help and advice for people starting their own businesses. However, the banks would be the first to discuss the business ideas and the challenges that lie ahead. Just reducing the interest rate would not be enough.

The author teaches economics at the University of York, UK    


 
 
LOOKING BEYOND THAT HAZE 
 
 
BY B. PAUL
 
 
The government has proposed a comprehensive bill to regulate tobacco advertising, sponsorship and sales. Given the fact that smoking — unlike the consumption of liquor — is intrinsically injurious to health, no one can protest against the motives behind the move.

The stock markets, in a knee-jerk reaction, savaged the scrips of companies such as ITC, Godfrey Philips and VST. But they clawed their way back just a day later. ITC has also announced that it will be withdrawing from all sports sponsorships, which has left organizations like the Board of Control for Cricket in India searching for alternatives. This is despite the fact that ITC has created surrogate brands — like Wills Sports — which can legally hope to escape the ban.

What the new bill will do is create entry barriers for new companies and brands. For example, most of ITC’s brands are already established in the marketplace. They do not need advertising, except in the face of competition. The tobacco industry spends almost Rs 300 crore in advertising and promotion. This can now be avoided.

Though the public posture is different, the new tobacco bill actually has the blessings of the Indian tobacco lobby. The major players are the least concerned about the ban on smoking in public places or the sale of cigarettes to those below 18. Past experience has shown that such restrictions do not work. People still smoke not just on railway platforms, but on the trains themselves.

The other injunction that cigarette brands will have to print a huge warning on their packs is likely to be equally futile. Hardcore smokers wouldn’t care, they know smoking is harmful.

Such warnings in fact might serve as an additional inducement to the young for whom smoking is an act of rebellion. Increasing excise on cigarettes — as is inevitable in the budget — hits smokers, not cigarette companies.

What the tobacco industry gains from getting the bill passed is that it immediately shackles the multinationals that have been waiting to get in. Without advertising and promotion, they can only become marginal players in the market.

As a quid pro quo for its stepping out of sports sponsorship, ITC has apparently asked the government to impose similar restrictions on foreign tobacco companies. The likely outcome: the government eventually might pressure cable operators and TV channels to black out the coverage of tournaments such as the Benson & Hedges Cup. The industry is also expecting more stringent controls on the smuggling in of foreign brands, which has been one of its major problems.

Tobacco stocks are undervalued today. But the company which had been spending the most on advertising will stand to gain the most as it will no longer need to incur that expenditure.

Abroad, companies like Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds have been flourishing in the stock market despite damaging court judgments. In India too, the losers will be the advertising industry and the hapless smoker.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Slothful behemoth

Sir — “India fails best bureaucracy test” (Feb 27) gives us proof of what we already know and accept as a way of life in India. The Indian bureaucracy has been said to be just a shade better than the worst bureaucracy in the world (Vietnam has this unenviable distinction). Nearly two crore rupees are spent every day to accommodate the cost of foreign travel by Central government employees. The cost of a cabinet minister is over Rs 10 lakh a month. All paperwork has to be done in duplicates or triplicates. Given these statistics, no wonder businessmen hate the Indian bureaucracy. For all intents and purposes, India’s size and diversity make it more difficult to administrate than, say, Hong Kong or Singapore. But what about China? China seems to have improved its performance remarkably. Why can’t India do the same? There is much talk about India getting about one-tenth the foreign direct investment that China receives. But is that a surprise if they consistently perform better than ourselves in every facet of life?
Yours faithfully,
Gautam Chaturvedi, via email

Fuelling trouble

Sir — One cannot help wondering about the actual reason behind the strike called by the dealers of West Bengal Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited. According to newspaper reports, this decision was taken after a petrol pump near Ruby General Hospital was showcaused and was shut down because of anomalies in its records. There is hardly anything unusual or unfair about the whole episode and one fails to understand what propelled the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers Association to call this indefinite strike. Could this matter not have been solved through negotiations, in court or in a tribunal, between the oil company and its dealers? However, solving an issue through peaceful negotiations is not something that the WBPDA is familiar with. Like most unions, it can understand only the language of protest.

A similar incident occurred some time ago when the excise licence of Pankaj Roy’s shop was temporarily suspended because of his alleged non-compliance with the prescribed norms. If the wine-dealers had a strong union, then Roy would have successfully prevented the closure of his shop. The dealers should remember that their fight against the oil companies does not give them the right to harass others. It is interesting how the formation of any pressure group is always a threat to the stability of our society.

Yours faithfully,
Joy P. Majumdar, via email

Sir — Commuters were greatly inconvenienced by the strike called by the WBPDA dealers. It appears that an errant petrol pump was booked by the petroleum supplying companies. This incident has only served to raise further doubts in car owners, given the fact that some petrol dispensing units adulterate the fuel with kerosene and diesel. Since petrol comes under the essential commodities act it is imperative that the government keep a strict vigil on the retailing of adulterated fuel.

Yours faithfully,
A.S. Mehta, via email

Strike out

Sir — The recent bombing of Iraq has only served to tarnish the image of the president of the United States, George W. Bush, in the community of nations. The newly elected president has undoubtedly followed in his father’s footsteps. He has commenced his presidency by taking up the task that was left unfinished by his father at a time when the world was expecting a change in the attitude of the US towards the troubled region. The only superpower in the world has once again failed to realize that a culture of hate will eventually have strong repercussions. The jihad call given by Saddam Hussein will strengthen the intentions of the Islamic terrorists, fundamentalists and other obscurantist forces like the taliban.

The illogical behaviour of the Americans will also provoke the Iraqis. Instead of exorcizing the ghosts of the past, Bush has only made them more restive. To the people of Iraq, who are suffering because of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the air strikes have vindicated their image of a barbaric West. India’s condemnation of the strike shows that despite its good relations with the US and the United Kingdom, it will not compromise on principles.

Yours faithfully,
Om Prakash, New Delhi

Sir — The air strikes on Baghdad, killing nine civilians and wounding several others, were both illogical and unjustified. The attack was probably provoked by the latter’s support for the Palestinian cause which goes against the interests of Israel, a known protégé of the United States.

The decade long UN sanctions against Iraq have crippled the nation. Education and healthcare have suffered tremendously. Children are dying for the want of proper food and medicines. It is sheer hypocrisy on the part of the US and of the UK to be screaming about human rights violations on the one hand while conducting air strikes on the other. What is worse is that the UN has become a puppet in the hands of the big powers. The imposition of no-fly zones north of the 36th parallel in 1991 and south of the 33rd parallel in 1996 had violated the sovereignty of Iraq.

It is unfortunate that there is no unity among the Islamic countries. The Arab League and Organization of Islamic Conference have remained mute on the subject. They, along with the non-aligned countries, should force the UN to lift the sanctions so that food and other essential commodities can be sent to Iraq.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — When will the US stop acting as the moral guardian of other less “fortunate” countries? The recent air strikes carried out by the US on Iraq not only violate its sovereignty but also serve to demonstrate the tyranny of a world power. In 1990, the US had attacked Iraq on the pretext of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. This had been given the name of humanitarian intervention when, in reality, millions of Iraqis suffered and many lives were lost. The US and its allies did not protest when Israeli troops occupied the West bank. It seems that the non-aligned movement assumes greater importance in the present scenario than it did all those years ago.

Yours faithfully,
Nilanjan Biswas, Malda

Unguarded borders

Sir — The unilateral declaration of the Indian government not to fight Pakistani terrorists during the ceasefire is unjustified and, in effect, harmful to the security of the Indian territory and people. The ceasefire has enabled Pakistani infiltrators to enter Indian territory and to destroy the property and lives of its citizens in Jammu and Kashmir. It will weaken the border forces and generally debilitate the preparedness of the Indian defence forces. The variable topography of the border between India and Pakistan requires an extremely skilful and effective round-the-clock vigil. Given these imperatives, the Indian army has to be kept alert all the time. Indefinitely prolonging a ceasefire can only breed a slackness which cannot be helpful.
Yours faithfully,
B.N. Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir — After the maiden test flight of the indigenous Light Combat aircraft, India has demonstrated its prowess in aeronautics to the world. India’s military potential will go up when the LCA will be inducted into the air force.

Yours faithfully,
Balakram Majhi, Bhubaneswar

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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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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