Editorial 1 / Pot and kettle
Editorial 2 / Divisions within
Disunited nations
Fifth Column / The armed forces will pay for this
Battle of the mouse
To make winding up less complicated
Letters to the editor

Not hitting an opponent while he is down is not a valid principle in the field of politics. In fact, the art of the possible flourishes by hitting at the opposition when it is most vulnerable. Thus, it surprises nobody that attacks on Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government have dominated the proceedings in the plenary session of the Congress in Bangalore. Ms Sonia Gandhi must be relishing the fact that Mr Vajpayee and the Bharatiya Janata Party are now carrying the same petard that exploded in the face of Rajiv Gandhi and dislodged him from power. She has declared war “to drive a venal BJP out of power’’. At the moment, of course, the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance are both sitting ducks against this kind of attack from the opposition. Mr Vajpayee has done little to restore confidence and credibility to his government. Ms Gandhi has seized the opportunity and launched a campaign to remove the NDA government. Her chief asset in the campaign is not the strength of the Congress organization, but the obvious divisions in the NDA and the sangh parivar, and the public perception that Mr Vajpayee’s government is by no means as clean as it was projected to be. The first move in the battle has been to paralyze the government by rendering Parliament active. A paralyzed government can only lose credibility, never gain it.

From the point of the view of the Congress, it will have to be acknowledged that its own record on the issue of corruption is hardly deserving of any recommendation. It cannot attack the BJP from a moral high ground. In the past, Congress ministries have not been beyond the call of venality. A former prime minister, Mr P.V. Na- rasimha Rao, remains implicated in a corruption scandal and the dark cloud of Bofors refuses to move away from top of Rajiv Gandhi and his family. The latter puts a big question mark over Ms Gandhi’s credentials to lead an anti-corruption crusade against the BJP and the NDA. The weakness of her own position is compounded by the past of the Congress.The effectiveness of a campa- ign to immediately dislodge the NDA government is also open to question since the party machinery, or whatever is left of it, is not geared to take on the demands of a national election. A war cry is not always followed by a war.

What is significant, however, is the posture the Congress is adopting towards crucial policy issues. There is an eagerness to abandon the entire project of economic reforms. This is ironic since the real authors of the project are Mr Rao and Mr Manmohan Singh, both of whom are still present in the decision-making bodies of the Congress. The rhetoric that is being heard harks back to pre-reform economic policies. There is a concerted move to criticize privatization and disinvestment as being anti-poor. Two features of economic reforms are openness and accountability. A reformed economy driven by the market is by definition less corrupt because controls and licenses are non-existent, as are hidden deals. Thus a political campaign based on an anti-corruption agenda sits very uneasily with economic policies that are anti-reforms. In the enthusiasm to disgrace and dislodge the NDA government, the Congress has overlooked the inherent contradictions in its own position. Clarity has never been the forte of the Congress under Ms Gandhior her husband.


Uttar Pradesh, since December 1992, is almost the mythic source of modern Indian sectarianism. The distant shattering of the Afghan Buddhas has therefore found a violent resonance in this state. Kanpur has been, over the last few days, paralyzed by riots sparked off by a confrontation between activists belonging to the Students Islamic Movement of India and the police, particularly the provisional armed constabulary. The activists were apparently prevented by the police from demonstrating against the reported burning of the Quran in New Delhi, which, in turn, was in protest against the taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. The situation in Kanpur soon went out of control. Arson, sectarian vandalism, acid bombs and firing led to the imposition of widespread shoot-at-sight curfews. There were 14 casualties, one of whom was an additional district magistrate.

Apart from showing up the extreme volatility of relations between religious communities in the state, kept barely within control at normal times, these riots also demonstrate the role and perception of the police in the lives of ordinary people in Uttar Pradesh. What could well have been a perfectly legitimate attempt at preventing the spread of violence turned into an entirely unmanageable “conflict” between the interests of the police and of the two communities. The people and the politicians in the state seem to regard society as deeply divided along lines of caste and religion, and the enforcers of law and order are seen as endorsing and aligning themselves along these lines of division. In a state which, along with Bihar, has the highest recorded number of human rights violations in recent times, the police are feared as being brutally divisive. The recent gunning down of 16 villagers, supposed to be Naxalites, in the state is another instance of the terror wielded by the police not only among the minority community, but also among the Dalits and tribals. Sectarianism is not a simple clash of polarized communities, but gets taken up into the fears, insecurities and hostilities of a particular society, fuelled by the political character and agenda of the state. Uttar Pradesh’s inner demons are perhaps more effective in sustaining such violence than what the state’s politicians are anxious to call an international conspiracy.


Relying solely on New Delhi newspapers it would have been difficult to tell that the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, was about to make a visit to the Indian subcontinent. There has barely been a mention of his visit that began last week with its first halt in Pakistan. It is, in fact, the Pakistani papers that have taken the lead in touting the visit. There have been expectant page-one stories, and even more hopeful editorial comments. Each has outdone the other in heralding his visit as a harbinger of peace, as though he were the messenger who can also deliver to Pakistan all that it wants.

This dissimilarity between two neighbouring countries — once joined by a common sense of belonging and now by an enduring conflictual relationship — is really a reflection of how India and Pakistan have grown apart. It is not merely a question of how differently the various institutions of state function in the two countries; but it is also one of how fundamentally differently they have come to see the world, their associations with and the role that these international organizations play in the cause of global peace. There are also the limitations in responsibilities and aspirations that stare them in their faces. Now that India has outgrown its phase of equating everything that has to do with globalization as an evil hegemony, this leaves only the UN. The different approaches of the not-so-friendly neighbours to the UN provide a glaring juxtaposition.

For reasons of psychology and history (the varied inheritance of 1947), the Kashmir question and the UN provide the best example of this unbridgeable divergence. Unbridgeable, because Pakistan’s position is cemented in the immense talent displayed by Mohammed Zafarullah Khan, its envoy to the UN, when the conflict began more than fifty years ago. In his intervention he cleverly broadened the scope of the discussion, as well as the subsequent approach to the situation created by Pakistan’s invasion of Jammu and Kashmir.

Khan linked the Kashmir situation with the sectarian riots in the state of East Punjab, and forced the UN to see the situation from a wholly irrelevant perspective. Therefore, the 20th January, 1948 resolution asked the UN commission for India and Pakistan to investigate the facts of “the situation in the Jammu and Kashmir State set out…in the Pakistan Government’s letter dated 15 January, 1948.”

This was something that India did not prevent and, since then, has alone tried undoing the damage caused to its judicious standpoint by the ineptness then displayed. Pakistan has not produced, after this, any of that brilliance in debate or in conflict; India has done very much better by way of righting the wrongs of 1947-49, in word and in deed. That is how the two countries have grown apart.

Soon after his arrival at the Chaklala airbase, Kofi Annan was asked by the Pakistani media if the UN would implement its resolutions on Kashmir as had been done in the case of East Timor. This is now the standard line adopted by the Pakistani state and its commentators, independent or otherwise. Apart from showing a complete absence of a knowledge of history, it also reflects a complete lack of understanding of how the UN functions.

The secretary general’s reply was technically appropriate and accurate: “When it comes to implementation of the resolutions we have to be clear. The UN has two types of resolutions: enforcement resolutions under chapter seven and other resolutions, which require cooperation of all parties to get implemented. East Timor is a chapter seven resolution. The resolutions you refer to do not come under chapter seven in the same sense. And these resolutions are not self-enforcing. The cooperation of the two parties is the route I recommend.”

The secretary general did well to remind Pakistan of the reality of the UN resolutions. Particularly since their implementation is dependent upon Pakistan first vacating its aggression in territory that had been legally ceded to India when confronting a large-scale invasion from across an internationally recognized boundary. Everything else was to follow subsequent to that vacation.

But that was not to happen, and never can, since Pakistan has altered the demographic landscape of portions of the state that fall in the areas under its control. That too has been in violation of UN resolutions. But then who is to bell the cat when subsequent events have altered the whole nature of the dispute. The two countries have been to war many times since then, and have only been able to exchange a few square kilometres through negotiations. The status of the Kashmir situation remains pretty much the same given that the two countries are treaty bound to resolve it among them.

That was precisely the thrust of the Shimla Accord of 1972 in which India and Pakistan “resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them”. All forms of law determine that there is an evolution of positions and those that follow quite obviously supersede those arrived at earlier. The Shimla Accord quite clearly superseded the UN resolutions of 1948 and thereafter. Even accepting the perverse Pakistani logic that the accord was signed by a country cut in half by a military defeat, the same cannot be said for 1999 and the agreement arrived at Lahore. A prime minister who enjoyed a two-thirds parliamentary majority in Islamabad reiterated Pakistan’s belief in the Shimla Accord. That he was simultaneously making yet another attempt at taking Indian territory is really beside the point.

Once again the glaring differences between the two countries become obvious. The Pakistani propensity to constantly seek the intervention of each and every state and organization, even those who are otherwise bound by international law, has not paid dividends for obvious reasons. And this is how it shall remain until it dawns upon a sufficient number of Pakistanis that there is really no legal basis for any other country or even the UN interceding on behalf of any of the parties. But only those bound by the rule of law can understand such parameters.

The secretary general would have done well to remind those present at the Chaklala airbase of the words of the president of the UN security council: “Negotiations between India and Pakistan might be complicated by any outside intervention.” This was said in 1964, when nobody could have visualized a Shimla type of accord. At the end of the day what it takes to live in a peaceful neighbourhood is to first share a sense of belonging with the neighbours. It is from such an identification that a desire for peace will flow, and in that sense Pakistan is, once again, not alone in facing this dilemma.

Israel, the other state created on the basis of religious identity, is confronted with the same problem. Identifying where they belong will greatly help these two exclusivist states. And that cannot be done by an external organization, country or even a benefactor.


It is unfortunate that modernization of the armed forces may take a back seat after the exposure of defence frauds by tehelka.com. The revelations came at a time when George Fernandes had complete control over the urgent requirements of the armed forces and was determined to modernize the three neglected services. This is going to adversely affect several major defence weapons and equipment purchases, negotiations for which were nearing closure. It is feared that the corruption scandal will retard the ongoing modernization of the armed forces hardware profile, apart from demoralizing the forces.

The defence ministry was likely to push through, among other things, a three billion dollar Sukhoi deal, the Mirage 2000 purchase, the MiG 21 fighter upgradation for the Indian air force; the unarmed vehicle for survey, the T-90 tank deal for the army, the Kilo class submarines, and the Barak missiles for the navy. In addition, India was on the verge of closing the deal with Britain for the most sought after 66 BAE Systems Hawk Jet Advance Trainers, for over $ 1.6 billion.

The Indian navy was finalizing the 44,500 tonne former Soviet aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, which is being offered to India for the price of its refit, estimated at around $ 700 million. The navy was also opening negotiations for over 40 MiG 29 K sea-based fighters for the carrier worth another $ 1.5 billion.

Stalled progress

Discussions for the imminent acquisition of desperately needed equipment slowed down last year when the former defence minister ordered an inquiry into all military purchases since 1985, despite the availability of funds. Consequently, the ministry shelved price and technical negotiations for all equipment. Thereafter, around Rs 1,000 crore, earmarked for capital expenditure in the financial year, 1999-2000, remained unused. The same situation or something even worse may arise this year following the Tehelka revelations.

For several years, following the Bofors scandal, no worthwhile decision had been taken on arms purchases. Consequently, our ill-equipped troops had to pay a very heavy price in the Kargil war. A large number of our troops, including the officers, lost their lives to Kalashnikov-armed militants, equipped with better night-vision devices and night-firing small arms, efficient radio and communication systems. The airforce continues to lose precious lives in the absence of the much-needed advanced jet trainers.

We have a prescribed procedure for the procurement of defence equipment. On a regular basis, the three services carry out perspective planning in which future military scenarios are examined and both the operational aspects of and the equipment required in future wars are listed. After this, the three services are asked to shortlist the type of equipment that would be required for tackling insurgency and United Nations peacekeeping commitments, for which India is often in the forefront.

How it all happens

This is the first stage where middlemen representing the large arms manufacturers try to influence decisions. These efforts are only to influence the shortlisting of their weapons systems. Once the equipment is short-listed, the services carry out the extensive user trials across battle-worthy terrain and the service headquarters forward their recommendations to the ministry. This is when large-scale lobbying starts taking place.

The authority lies with the defence minister, along with a few bureaucrats and armed forces officers who form the link between the ministry, the service headquarters and the bureaucracy. The final choice of the equipment is made on the basis of the price, the recommendations of the service headquarters and diplomatic pressures from friendly countries. All this is considered before the defence minister finally accords sanction.

The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has rightly asked for a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court to hold an inquiry into the defence scandal, and supply a report within four months. The opposition should play a responsible role in this process and help the government in getting to the truth since security issues are at stake here. The government should ensure that complete transparency is maintained in future defence purchase deals.


It is gratifying that our defence forces have realized the important role that information and communications technologies will play in battles of the future and begun initiatives to train officers in electronic warfare, command, control, communications and computers intelligence. As General S. Padmanabhan is a former director general of military intelligence, the integration of information warfare technologies into our geopolitical, military and intelligence strategies should get a boost.

For the last three decades, senior officers have been sent to the Indian Institutes of Technology for masters programmes in engineering and computer science. It is only now that the Military Intelligence Training School and Depot in Pune has formulated a course specifically on information warfare. In addition to C4I, techniques for obtaining information from enemy computers and communications networks, as well as counter-intelligence would be taught to officers. These functions have traditionally been performed by civilian intelligence agencies such as the Research and Analysis Wing and Aviation Research Center. However, Kargil clearly indicated the lack of cooperation between various civilian and military defence agencies.

Following the Pokhran blasts, India’s information infrastructure has been repeatedly attacked by Pakistan-based and sponsored hackers’ organizations, some of whom have links with pan-Islamic militant organizations. But a senior Indian intelligence official claims: “Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence does not have the expertise who are among the world’s best, it is China’s expertise in C4I which should worry India. According to one expert in the United States, the country which made the most thorough analysis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s operations in the Balkans and the Persian Gulf is China.

Three senior generals of China’s Peoples Liberation Army wrote an influential treatise on bringing internet warfare into China’s military system. They quickly convinced China’s political leaders that it could achieve hegemony in Asia only by integrating information warfare into its geopolitical strategies. China then established a special task force on information warfare composed of senior politicians, military officers and academics. To counter US influence in Asia, this task force prepared a dissertation in which it advocated an “electronic” Pearl Harbour to cripple US armed forces in Asia.

Detailed procedures were formulated for the PLA to “develop an all-conquering offensive technology to launch attacks and countermeasures on the net, including information-paralysing software, information-blocking software, and information-deception software; software for network scanning, breaking codes, stealing data; and taking anti-follow-up measures”.

Experts at Pentagon’s long-range planning unit and the US foreign policy council believe that China’s C4I and internet warfare capabilities are now almost as good as Nato’s. Another expert, Michael Wilson, stated: “PLA has successfully developed robust C4I networks for battle space coordination; long range, reliable and secure data and voice communications; surveillance and reconnaissance assets; and global positioning data for manned and unmanned weapons system navigation...China has deployed an advanced mobile communications satellite that utilizes laser gyro guidance control systems, remote measurement and telemetric technologies, and GPS technologies which enable real-time tracking of mobile targets on the battlefield.”Although China developed the capabilities to counter US influence in Asia, experts hold that it is India which is most at risk.

PLA conducted several field exercises recently. Five hundred soldiers simulated cyberattacks on Taiwan, India, Japan and South Korea in an “Informaticized people’s warfare network simulation exercise” conducted in the Hubei province. Ten functions were rehearsed in another exercise in Xian: planting information mines; conducting information reconnaissance; changing network data; releasing information bombs; dumping information garbage; disseminating propaganda; applying information deception; releasing clone information; organizing information defence; and establishing network spy stations. In Datong, 40 PLA specialists are reportedly preparing methods of seizing control of communications networks of Taiwan, India, Japan and South Korea.

In October, the Chinese chief of staff, General Fu Quanyou, presided over an exercise which simulated electronic confrontation with countries south and west of Gobi desert. This focussed on electronic and counter reconnaissance, electronic interference and counter-interference.

On the training front, PLA has a headstart over India’s MITSD, having enlisted support from universities. PLA established the Communications Command Academy in Hubei in collaboration with Hubei’s engineering universities. The Navy Engineering College, also in Wuhan, is collaborating on secret internet warfare and C4I projects with Communications Command Academy. PLA also established the Information Engineering University, in Henan. It did this by taking over and combining Henan’s civilian Institute of Information Engineering, Electronic Technology College, and Survey and Mapping College. This will specialize in remote image information engineering, satellite-navigation and positioning engineering, and map data banks of the regions from India to Indo-China.

PLA also established the Science and Engineering University by combining the civilian Institute of Communications Engineering, the Institute of the Engineering Corps, the Air Force’s Meteorology Institute, and the Research Institute of General Staff Headquarters. Over 400 civilian professors from universities all over China are to teach PLA officers electronic engineering, information engineering, network engineering, and command automation engineering. Around 60 experts of Chinese origin settled in the West were persuaded to return and work in the Institute of Computer and Command Automation. A fourth PLA institute is the National Defense Science and Technology University in Changsha where the “Yin He” series of supercomputers have been developed. Three hundred colonels are currently undergoing training here.

A saving grace for India is that China’s combat troops are facing difficulties in absorbing and operationalizing internet warfare and C4I technologies. Wilson recounted: “The reaction of officers to the automated operations room was one of trepidation, as all labels, displays, manuals and charts were in English. All operations-room personnel had to undergo intensive English-language training in order to operate and maintain the command systems. They found it very difficult to break away from their past modes of command and thinking as these required situational awareness far beyond their experience.”


In this year’s budget speech, the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, expressed concern that despite major industrial sector reforms, industrial growth has not accelerated to the expected double digit level. He informed the house that the government has accepted the key recommendations of the high-level committee on laws relating to revival, reconstruction and/or winding up of companies. The committee has proposed to repeal the Sick Industrial Companies Act 1985 and amend the Companies’ Act in order to set up a national company law tribunal in place of the board of industrial and financial reconstruction and the appellate authority of industrial and financial restructuring.

Under the existing system, the SICA insists that sick companies must refer themselves to the BIFR. Section 22 of the act shields companies from proceedings before other fora. It is a common practice that companies file references to the BIFR soon after lenders file recovery suits against them in courts. The BIFR looks after the rehabilitation of companies and high courts supervise the winding up proceedings.

Banks are not impressed

In the present act, sickness refers to the turning of the entire net worth of a company towards a negative proposition whereas the new law defines a 50 per cent erosion of net worth and debt default as sickness and proposes reference to the NCLT. Experts feel that the BIFR was being used solely to delay recovery. The revival and restructuring of companies would henceforth be handled by the NCLT that will also perform the work of the company law board and conduct winding up proceedings. The fresh proposals provide for registration of sick companies with the NCLT that must consider revival as a first option. Promoters, creditors and others must submit their views on a rehabilitation package in the form of affidavits. In case they fail to reach consensus, the NCLT may propose a scheme to be binding on all parties.

Financial institutions seem quite disappointed with the proposed law. They think that the new law merely renames the BIFR and burdens it with more work. They say that while the BIFR merely attempts to revive dying companies, the NCLT would have to deal with insolvency and sickness, handle the work of the company law board and deal with winding up at the same time. The financial sector had been insisting on debt default as the criteria of sickness so that recovery of dues from sick units becomes easier. The lending community has also been insisting on debt default as the sole criterion of sickness as the ground for reference to the NCLT.



Heart of the matter

Sir — After Saifuddin Chowdhury in West Bengal, it is the turn of P. Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu to take the plunge (“Split blow to Moopanar”, March 17). As Chowdhury did in the beginning, Chidambaram also insists that he is not “actually leaving the Tamil Maanila Congress or floating a rival party”. Like Chowdhury again, the former economist has also made democracy his main platform. But surely Chidambaram knows that fora of the kind he has in mind are not quite feasible in the Indian political dystopia. And what does he mean by saying that he expects the party to reunite under a leadership faithful to the party’s “noble objectives”? This only goes to show how much of Chidambaram’s ideological difference with the TMC leadership is actually motivated by the coming elections. However, given the élan with which Indian politicians cross floors and reconcile differences, it shouldn’t be surprising to find Chidambaram exchanging pleasantries again with G.K. Moopanar once the elections are over.
Yours faithfully,
Sukumar Moitra,Calcutta

Reign of darkness

Sir — The halo around Bihar’s de facto ruler, Laloo Prasad Yadav, is definitely dimming. The Tehelka tapes might have put the rebellion in Bihar on the backburner for the time being, but the chinks in the armour are already evident. It was apparent when Ranjan Yadav, second in the Rashtriya Janata Dal leadership, together with a host of RJD legislators and a few ministers, abstained from the Gaon bachao, desh bachao rally on March 4. Such behaviour from partymen would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

The rally itself indicated that Laloo Yadav is losing touch with reality. The state cannot afford the colossal waste of time and money the rally entailed. Trucks and buses were allegedly hijacked by the RJD cadre on the day of the rally. Pump owners were forced to give free petrol and diesel for vehicles to ferry RJD supporters to Patna and back to their villages. Contractors and businessmen were fleeced so that meals could be provided for those attending the rally. Despite all this, the rally turned out to be a miserable flop.

The rebels in the RJD can topple the Rabri Devi government if they get the promised help from the National Democratic Alliance. However, given Laloo Yadav’s craftiness, nothing can be predicted till the government is actually unseated.

Yours faithfully,
Mili Das, Sindri

Sir — The recent Gaon bachao, desh bachao rally organized by Laloo Yadav was aimed at silencing his opponents in the party (“Relative and right-hand walk out on Laloo, March 5). As it turned out, the rally completely upset his gameplan. Prominent legislators of the party, including his brother-in-law, were absent because they are annoyed at the way Laloo Yadav is projecting the party as his personal fiefdom. After putting his semi-literate wife on the chief minister’s chair, Laloo Yadav is supposedly grooming his eldest son, Tejpratap, to take over the chief minister’s mantle from his mother. Yet the RJD chief, along with his wife, is neck-deep in the fodder scandal and fighting charges of possessing disproportionate assets.

Both wife and husband condemned the Centre’s liberalization policy in the rally. While Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have accepted the Centre’s policy and attracted both foreign and indigenous investment to the states, Bihar has seen no new investment for ages. The state’s plight has worsened after the mineral-rich Jharkhand became an independent state. Given the RJD is now preoccupied with factionalism, there seems to be no light for Bihar at the end of the tunnel.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — It was interesting to read about Laloo Yadav having compared Ranjan Yadav to Brutus. Someone ought to caution the raja of Bihar about the “ides of March”. Who knows, it may be that March 2001 will see the end of his “jungle raj” in Bihar.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Khastgir, via email

Special category

Sir — The editorial, “Beg to differ” (March 2), rightly envisages the need to recognize the rights of sex workers. Devdasis were also once looked down upon by the purohits who themselves formed their biggest clientele. But these are not medieval times. A humane approach to these exploited women must be evolved and the state should lead the way.

The inclusion of sex workers initially in the category of “beggars” in census 2001 was completely irrational since beggars return nothing for what they get. Instead of being marginalized and misrepresented, sex workers should be treated at par with the other citizens of the country and be protected from harassment.

However, legalizing prostitution is not the solution to the problem, since it is an unhealthy way to earn one’s living. The government could go in for a phased rehabilitation programme to help them earn their livelihood in small scale industries. It is more important to prevent the exploitation than garb the profession in hypocritical misrepresentations.

Yours faithfully,
S. Lakshmi Narayanan, Tezpur

Sir — The census authority’s initial decision to categorize sex workers as beggars was ridiculous. The catering of sexual favours by prostitutes may be morally degrading in the eyes of the government and the Indian penal code may term it as a “culpable offence”. But it is a reality that a few million women in this country earn their livelihood this way. Misinformation about them in the census would make the document incomplete or half-true. It would also conceal a vital chapter in the economics of the country. It is typical of the Indian state to turn a blind eye to unpleasant social realities. But in an age plagued by AIDS, it would be foolhardy to ignore this particular social category.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Not your cup of tea

Sir — It is difficult to agree with Rachna Rastogi’s “Black as hell, strong as death” (March 12). Tea is seldom considered to cause illness. Many in fact refer to it as a “health drink”. Researchers have also found that it prevents cancer and several heart diseases.

The earliest application of tea was probably medicinal. But it has been used as a beverage for more than 2,000 years now. It is said that the legendary Chinese emperor, Shen Nung, discovered the stimulating effects of tea around 2700 BC. By the seventh century, tea had become a national drink in China, from where it was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in the beginning of the eighth century. The Mongols started a caravan trade in tea from China to central Asia and beyond. Tea reached the Arabs in 850, the English in 1598 and the Portuguese in 1600. The Dutch first brought tea to western Europe in about 1610. It reached Russia in 1618 and America in the middle of the 17th century. In Britain and the commonwealth countries, the consumption of tea began to develop rapidly in the 19th century. In the United States and the Scandinavian countries, tea was introduced in the late 18th century.

In addition to the chemical assessment of the quality of tea, analytical chemists determine the purity of tea and its fitness for consumption. The investigation includes determination of moisture, ash and caffeine, the detection of adulteration and analysis of the possible presence of foreign substances in the tea. The world production of tea is currently about 2,950 million kilograms per year. If this beverage was harmful, it would not continue to be a popular drink all over the world.

Yours faithfully,
Dev Guha, Calcutta

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