Editorial 1 / Know the future
Editorial 2 / Change of track
Two versions of openness
We didn’t start the fire
Linking India up with a bright future
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / KNOW THE FUTURE 
 
 
 
 
It is a sign of the times that the University Grants Commission has decided to introduce undergraduate, postgraduate and research degrees in astrology. The aim is two-fold. First, the UGC wants to promote astrology as a subject of utilitarian value, and second, it wants to rejuvenate the science of Vedic astrology. There is no need to debate the point that astrology is not a science since such a debate can never be resolved to the satisfaction of the two sides which use two completely different idioms and therefore talk at cross purposes. There are reasons to question the validity of astrology on more profound philosophical grounds. Astrology assumes that the future of an individual is predetermined and therefore can be predicted provided one knows the adequate tools to decipher the signs. The doctrine of predestination is a matter of faith. It cannot be proved. Faith cannot serve as the basis of a project of knowledge. This rules out astrology as an academic discipline. It can exist in society as a practice or as a hobby to which the faint-hearted, the insecure and the gullible can be drawn. To this extent, for some people, astrology already has an utilitarian value. The move to endow to it the status of an academic discipline can only be read as part of a wider cultural agenda driven by a particular ideology.

The propounded aim of rejuvenating Vedic astrology is a clue to identifying the ideology that powers the proposal. It is part of the broader goal to bring social and cultural life in India within the ambit of Hindutva. This ideology wants to shut off India from all external intellectual and cultural developments since it asserts that all wisdom and knowledge were known in India before the arrival of the Muslims. The contribution of Indians to the development of mathematics and astronomy is now widely acknowledged. It needed the acknowledgment of the West before India accepted its own scientific achievements. The concept of zero and infinity came back to Indiavia the Arabs. But astrology is not one such body of knowledge because nowhere in the world is it taken seriously enough to be considered an academic discipline. By promoting astrology through the UGC, the proponents of Hindutva are trying to assert the superiority of Hindu learning. What is despicable in all this is the role of the UGC. It is an independent body which has allowed itself to become a puppet in the hands of politicians and ideologues. This is not new. The UGC has always donned the colour of its political masters: it was red under S. Nurul Hasan, and is now saffron under Mr Murli Manohar Joshi. By its own spinelessness, the UGC only underlines its own irrelevance. By advocating the cause of astrology, the UGC has just written out its destiny. It does not need an astrologer to say that it is destined to go into the junkyard of history.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / CHANGE OF TRACK 
 
 
 
 
When the sea of troubles looks too vast, a plunge right in is the only way to start mopping it up. The inauguration of fast-track courts in four states is evidently such a plunge taken bravely by the Union law ministry. Kerala, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh now have these courts which aim to reduce the enormous backlog of cases which comes up to 2.35 crore across the country. The new courts will first tackle criminal cases pending for more than two years and those of undertrial prisoners languishing behind bars at a heavy cost to the state. This is a good start, perhaps even the very best, given the almost imperceptible pace of change in India. But it is possible to imagine obstacles even now to the functioning of fast-track courts. For example, high courts in the states will select the judges for the new courts. One of the major problems in the justice system of the country today is the number of vacant chairs for judges. As more and more fast-track courts start operating in other states, the process of appointment of judges must be speeded up. Without a coordinated approach, the very best beginnings tend to peter out. It is also necessary, therefore, for other states to ensure that fast-track courts are set up throughout the country as soon as possible. The Centre’s initiative must be taken up by the states themselves, if at all the target of clearing jails of undertrial prisoners by 2005 is to be met.

The promise of computerizing the courts in New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Calcutta is also particularly encouraging. Anything that might get rid of the dusty mountains of files is welcome. This is not an entirely frivolous point. Years of indifference have blunted members of the justice system to the impact the insides of courthouses make on a dazed and often fearful public. It is enormously important to look clean and efficient if the ordinary man or woman is to feel less hesitant or sceptical about appealing to the law to get wrongs righted. Apart from the question of image, there is real efficiency and speed in the offing if courts are computerized. More important, computerized records would ensure transparency, better communication between client and lawyer and free availability of relevant documents. Since the Centre is now laying out the funds for the cleansing of the system, the states should make full use of the good times. It is unlikely that the utopian vision of a smoothly oiled, lightweight justice system, with gleaming, uncrowded courtrooms will ever be a reality in India. The important thing is that certain reforms have been set in motion, which awakens hopes of some more. Multiplication of judicial venues is not a good idea. At the same time, it is necessary to set up a few more tribunals on selected issues. This will further stem the flow of cases into the courts and help clear up backlog too.

   

 
 
TWO VERSIONS OF OPENNESS 
 
 
BY NIRUPAM BAJPAI
 
 
Perhaps the most critical feature of fast growing economies has been the rapid growth of manufacturing exports. The rapid growth of manufacturing exports has been supported by trade policies that have allowed manufacturing exporters to operate at (nearly) world prices, both for inputs of capital and intermediate goods, and for the sale of exports on world markets. East Asian economies, for example, avoided the kinds of trade policies that undermine the capacity of manufacturing exporters to obtain necessary inputs at world prices, or that penalize exporters through heavy taxation of exports (effective taxation of exports can arise through tariffs and quotas on inputs, inconvertibility of the currency, state monopolization of exports on unfavourable terms for exporters, or explicit taxation of exports).

The exact form of the trading regime has differed across countries, but the following elements have been common features in most of the fast growing economies: first, convertibility of the currency for current account transactions; second, zero or low tariffs (and the absence of licensing) for capital goods and intermediate inputs and modest tariffs for most consumer goods; third, implicit or explicit subsidization of exports; and fourth, other institutions supportive of manufacturing exports (for example, export processing zones, state guarantees on export credits). The east Asian economies, for instance, have been quite open to trade both for imports and exports, especially in comparison with other developing countries. Industrial policies, where they exist, have supported manufacturers not mainly through the protection of the home market, but through the implicit and explicit subsidization of export activities.

Openness and the orientation to manufacturing exports have made several contributions to growth. First, it has helped to ensure the efficient allocation of resources, through specialization, comparative advantage and dynamic learning by doing. Second, openness has promoted domestic competition by limiting the market power of domestic firms, and by providing a rigorous international yardstick of performance. Third, openness has promoted the rapid accumulation of capital through foreign borrowing and foreign direct investment, which is then serviced by the rapid expansion of exports. Fourth, openness has promoted the rapid improvement of technology through the importation of foreign technologies.

India’s average tariff rate of 27 per cent vastly exceeds the average tariff rates of the other economies. India also displays continuing high barriers to FDI in contrast to most of the fast-growing Asian economies. It is true that not all of east Asia relied heavily on FDI to achieve rapid growth: Japan and Korea are the two main exceptions. But most of the region, especially in southeast Asia, has relied heavily on FDI, and the east Asian countries tend to have much simpler rules for FDI approvals than are now in place in India.

Common features, such as currency convertibility, moderate tariffs and strong private sector orientation, rather than specific industrial policies, are behind the widespread successes in the fast growing economies. While high-performing economies have differed widely in the scope and ambition of industrial policy, it is true that a few institutions of industrial policy have been widely applied and deserve a sympathetic look. Most important, virtually all of the east Asian countries have utilized EPZs or other special economic zones to help attract foreign investment and to initiate the process of manufacturing export-led growth.

These zones have not aimed to pick “winners” in the classic sense of industrial policy. Rather, they have attempted to carve out a geographical zone in which export-businesses can conduct profitable export-oriented activities, exempt from costly regulations, tax laws, and labour standards that apply more generally within the country. More generally, the relatively successful industrial policies have had a few common characteristics. First, they have aimed to promote exports, rather than to protect the domestic market; second, they have provided subsidies on the basis of successful performance (for example, the growth of exports) rather than to cover losses; and third, they have been temporary rather than permanent subsidies (for example, a five-year tax holiday for new export firms).

Since China is enormously relevant to India, as the world’s only other billion-plus population country, we must have a special look at the Chinese experience for possible lessons for India. Our interpretation of China’s recent growth experience is as follows. While China has indeed protected its large state-owned industrial sector, the source of dynamic growth in China lies in the non-state sector, which has operated much closer to market forces. Indeed, outside the state-enterprise sector, the Chinese economy has much in common with the other east Asian economies, especially when these other economies were at an earlier stage of development. While the non-state Chinese economy operates without many of the legal underpinnings of a more advanced market economy, it is at least subject to the strong market forces, international trade and low taxation which are the hallmarks of the fast growing market economies of east Asia. Despite appearances, India is probably less market-oriented than China at this point, despite the fact that China’s state sector is somewhat larger than India’s.

The key to understanding China’s economic success lies in understanding the scope, and limitations, of the socialist (or state-owned) sector. When Deng Xiaoping began market reforms in China in 1978, state-enterprise employment was approximately 18 per cent of the total Chinese labour force. Approximately 71 per cent of the population was engaged in peasant farming and another 10 per cent or so operated in various non-state activities outside of agriculture, especially urban collective enterprises attached to state enterprises, and industrial township and village enterprises.

The Chinese “gradual” reforms after 1978 have involved the liberalization of the non-state part of the economy, while preserving the socialist character of the pre-existing state-owned enterprises. Thus, in terms of the labour force, roughly 20 per cent of the labour force has been maintained in the socialist sector, while a little more than 80 per cent of the labour force has operated in the non-state part of the economy.

China’s boom has come in three main ways. First, agriculture boomed as soon as the commune system was dismantled, and peasant farming resumed on the basis of household plots of land (leased from the state) and markets for agricultural output. This return to household plots and agricultural markets led to greatly improved incentives on the farms and to a one-time boost in productivity between 1978 and 1985. After 1985, however, agricultural productivity returned to a lower long-term trend growth rate. Second, rural industry was greatly liberalized after 1978, especially in the form of township and village enterprises, which are a mix of collective and privately owned enterprises in the rural areas.

These TVEs operate outside the state plan, and largely without funds from state banks. Therefore, they are subject to quite rigorous market competition and hard budget constraints. Third, urban export-oriented enterprises were encouraged by the designation of a growing number of SEZs, coastal open cities and economic and technological development zones, all designed to encourage manufacturing exports. These special areas received various kinds of favourable tax and regulatory treatment, such as tax holidays, and duty-free access to imported inputs and capital goods needed for export production. Thus, the SEZs and other special areas were akin to the EPZs that had been used in other parts of Asia as part of their initial export-led growth.

A major aspect of China’s dynamism is the low rate of taxation of non-state enterprises. As already noted, many non-state enterprises are exempt from taxation as the result of special tax privileges associated with SEZs. Moreover, Chinese government spending is a remarkably low 14 per cent of GDP (compared with 33 per cent in India), so that China can maintain very low tax rates on an average throughout the economy. In China, for example, an individual taxpayer earning $ 4,000 pays a 10 per cent marginal tax rate, compared to a 30 per cent marginal tax rate on the same income in India.

China’s labour markets are also highly flexible in the non-state sector. While workers in the state sector are accorded generous job guarantees in both China and India, workers in the non-state sector do not receive guaranteed employment. One result has been the rapid growth of employment in China, since firms can hire workers without fear of being stuck with unwanted labour in the future due to restrictions on dismissals. Formal sector employment has increased dramatically, from 95 million in 1978 (9.7 per cent of the economically active population) to 148.5 million in 1994 (19.2 per cent of the economically active population). India, by contrast, has experienced a mere increase from 22.9 million in 1978 (just 6.8 per cent of the economically active population) to 27.4 million in 1994 (a mere 5.4 per cent of the economically active population).

Considerable evidence confirms that it is China’s non-state sector, largely operating under free-market rules, rather than China’s state sector, which has been the source of China’s dynamism. First, the state-owned sector has continued to make large losses, despite more than 10 years of active experimentation with alternative incentive schemes for management and workers. Second, the productivity growth in the state-owned sector has lagged far behind the productivity growth of the non-state sector, and according to some calculations, total factor productivity growth of the state sector has been close to zero. Third, the non-state sector accounts for the explosive rise of Chinese manufacturing exports. The share of TVE exports in total exports has grown from 16.4 per cent in 1980 to around 44.4 per cent in 1993. Fourth, overall GDP growth has been much faster in regions with a high proportion of employment in non-state enterprises, and in the special economic zones.

The author is a research fellow at the Center for International Development in the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and director, Harvard India Program

   

 
 
WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE 
 
 
BY CYRIL ARIJIT GHOSH
 
 
Two weeks ago there have been massive protests in the Italian city of Naples, leaving about 200 people hurt and another 50 protesters detained. This is yet another indication of the ineffectiveness of sporadic anti-capitalist demonstrations across the globe. This latest series of demonstrations started in Seattle when demonstrators broke up a World Trade Organization meeting in 1999. This has been followed by demonstrations in Davos, Naples, Gorleben and numerous other places — all directed against “conservative” institutions. The Naples disruption was targeted against the third global forum of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development where world leaders met to discuss the role of the internet in governance.

For the left, this is a good sign. Other world developments, like the triumph of left-wing parties in England and Germany, are also reasons for hope. Even in Austria — that bastion of neo-fascist forces — there has been a setback for the Freedom Party and the controversial Jörg Haider in the Viennese local elections. This hope is enhanced by the goings-on in Germany where thousands of demonstrators are protesting against the cooption of the ecology minister, Jürgen Trittin, of the Greens party, into right-wing politics. Although the protesters managed only to delay the train carrying nuclear waste from France by 24 hours, they did attract international attention to the matter. Between the ostensible ineptitude of these people and the water cannons they regularly combat lies a brutal world order. But it looks as if the left is finally rejuvenating itself internationally. Unfortunately, there is a larger, more disconcerting facet that needs to be looked at.

Protests against multilateral trading organizations and elite groups like the OECD are not going to offer any real threat to global capitalism unless it has the ballast of “active” political parties and a supportive intelligentsia. Many Western countries appear to be moving towards a situation where left-wing political parties and personalities are increasingly becoming key players in the international political economy. Sadly, this does not have any effect on global inequality, skewed distribution of global income and assets, lopsided development trajectories and an alarming growth in the distance between the privileged and the others.

Throughout the last few weeks, the British international development secretary, Clare Short, and the head of the WTO, Mike Moore, have been urging European Union development ministers that opening new markets is crucial to hitting targets set by the United Nations for reducing world poverty by 2015. This is a typical example of how extreme right-wing rhetoric promises the earth. According to them, all the adversities in the world are going to be magically overcome if the prevailing conditions are ideal — namely, if there is a transparent judiciary and governance, a perfectly competitive market, and a real, participative democracy at work. Once this caveat is set into their discourse, there is very little point in arguing with the protagonists of globalization about how the world is traditionally and intrinsically unequal.

Of course, everything will work fine — even the trickle-down hypothesis — if the objective conditions are conducive. But the objective conditions are never conducive and will probably never be. The solution then for the worst affected people — socially marginalized, impoverished, exploited, gender-discriminated, and otherwise handicapped national, sub-national, and transnational groupings — is that they have to wrest their pies, or at least slivers of it, through successful activism and lobbying (in the classic currency of the market economy, bargaining power).

But can this activism be brought about without any agency? Besides, a mindless activism can surely be of no use. What is needed then is empathy — and an empathy that mobilizes people; a debunking of the myth that the conservative institutions that form so much a part of our everyday lives are the panacea to abjection. It is not enough for a few demonstrations to occur randomly and with dissipated and inchoate energies. A larger and somehow more sensible, legitimizing and persuasive agency is required.

The ultimate source of this exercise would, or should, normally be the intelligentsia which can take on for itself the role of a guardian and flag-bearer for this task. They can provide the rationale for this exercise and express their empathy in secure, potent and, if necessary, irate voices. It is not adequate that concern for these issues leads to scholarly writing, esotericism and abstruse pronouncements. Something more needs to be done.

Despite the camouflage of benignity, aid flows from the North to the South are not increasing. The OECD levels of aid flows are at an average of 0.24 per cent of gross national product as opposed to the promised 0.7 per cent, and come tied up with oppressive conditions. It has been traditionally argued that, at its most effective, aid could provide for greater self-reliance through technological and other support, along with equitable economic growth. It does nothing of the sort. Aid works infrequently. It is most often not directed at the expansion of the productive base, enhancement of sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.

In a recent article in the Economic and Political Weekly, James Petras lashes out against left intellectuals. His invective, although at the risk of sounding sentimental, is really targeted at the convenience with which the modern left intellectual wears a neo-liberal mask, insists that globalization is “inevitable and irreversible” and claims, in resigned tones, that this is a “historical defeat”.

In doing this, they abdicate all responsibilities of initiating or collaborating with popular struggles. They become academic recluses and shroud themselves in obscure jargon which, far from being impressive, borders on the ludicrous. Thus, “stateless corporations”, “labour flexibility” and “structural adjustment” become euphemisms for “imperial state”, “intensive or extensive exploitation” and “reconcentration and monopolization of wealth”.

The role of the Bretton Woods organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and the World Trade Organization has been reduced to keeping a watchful eye on the development of a world market, necessarily unequal, where the major transactions take place between massive transnational corporations without physical or geographical identities. Since 1982, reports revealed by the WTO consistently show that every year world trade in goods has grown in real terms by about five per cent per annum, whereas world merchandize output has grown at about two per cent over this period. Yet, trade has not changed the status of the least developed nations in any way. If anything, the impoverishment of the poor countries is reinforced by a variety of means — and all the while with constant, and most often baseless, reassurances that the West is interested in extending aid and that trading in the global economy will be in everybody’s interest.

But the left intellectual is unperturbed. The only thing that he is concerned about would appear to be the security of positions in prestigious institutions. And for this he needs to distance himself from popular movements. What goes unnoticed is that by doing this he is genuflecting before the very institutions of capitalism which his political and other predilections exhort him to criticize. His greatest sense of achievement comes from landing himself with famous scholarships, much-sought-after conference invitations, sabbaticals and awards.

This intellectual’s radical views and anti-imperialist stance are a trump card to be normally stashed away, to be exhibited if and when it is required. He has altogether given up any attempt to provide intellectual bases to the arguments of the demonstrators and activists who are screaming themselves hoarse in Naples and in Gorleben and in heaven-knows-where-else.

It is hardly surprising then, that the minutes of these demonstrators’ meetings consistently talk about “systems of domination and discrimination”, which include, among other things, the following — capitalism, racism, patriarchy, homophobia, anti-semitism and a plethora of similar nouns. How all of these things can immediately be attributed to, say, the World Economic Forum (except by some erudite reasoning), is difficult to grasp. What then happens is that these demonstrations come across as necessarily stray occurrences, conducted by hysterical, dishevelled creatures who cannot really form any reasonably polemical argument against global capitalism.

This inevitable reduction of dissent into more or less ignorant hysteria is what the left intellectuals can prevent and are not doing. Popular discontent, without scholarly and intellectual support, is at best good op-ed material. It is as far removed from social transformation as global trade is from equitable distribution of resources. Arundhati Roy has recently disparaged the “academic heavy breathing stuff”. She is right. It does not bring about social change — and it should not pretend to.

   

 
 
LINKING INDIA UP WITH A BRIGHT FUTURE 
 
 
BY RADHAKRISHNA RAO
 
 
The much talked about communications convergence bill, which the government has planned to introduce in Parliament in May this year, is being keenly awaited by a number of Indian and foreign organizations which wish to launch their own direct-to-home services aimed at Indian consumers. The bill has been drafted by an expert group on convergence under the chairmanship of Fali S. Nariman and incorporates the broadcast bill formulated by the ministry of information and broadcasting. The bill seeks to replace the antiquated Telegraph Act of 1885, which has so long been applied to the broadcasting sector in India.

Incidentally, the broadcast bill was referred to the group headed by Nariman after it was felt that many provisions of both the bills shared common elements and that rapidly changing technological developments have resulted in a common ground for telecommunications, broadcasting and information technology services. Yet another compulsion for deciding to incorporate the provisions of the broadcasting bill in the communications convergence bill was that companies like Vodafone and Nokia have already started introducing handsets which can be used for receiving voice, video and data in Europe. In India, the Washington-based World Space, which provides a satellite-based digital audio broadcasting service, is planning to relay music to handsets.

Direct to home approach

From the point of view of the would-be DTH operators in India, the most encouraging part of the draft communications convergence bill is its provision to liberalize the guidelines for uplinking from Indian soil. This is aimed at turning India into a major uplinking hub on the lines of Singapore and Hong Kong. The recently announced DTH policy makes it mandatory for a DTH enterprise to uplink from India.

Further, the Indian broadcasting companies and their foreign associates — especially the ones planning to enter the DTH sector — are hoping that the ushering in of the convergence bill will enable them to offer multiple services with a single, common licence. The current DTH policy makes it compulsory for a DTH operator to obtain separate licences for broadcasting and non-broadcasting services. The Nariman committee has recommended that whenever requests are made for licences in more than one category, a composite licence for all or a combination of services may be granted provided it does not conflict with the overall spirit of the bill.

The equipment is ready

India has 60 million TV sets and more than 60 channels are available to Indian viewers. Most TV broadcasting companies in India, in anticipation of the plans to launch DTH services, are busy planning to go digital. Apart from companies like Barconet, which deals with high-end broadcasting equipment, other prominent suppliers of state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment to the Indian market are Sony, JVC, Panasonic, Tandberg and so on. They are all optimistic that DTH services in India will result in a large market for Ku-band dish antennae and integrated receive decoders. A recent study in the Asia Pacific region conducted by the United Kingdom-based Cultures Group shows that in the immediate future there will be a demand for 200,000 decoders in the region and India will account for 40 per cent of them.

Meanwhile, the Mumbai-based Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, India’s overseas communications service provider, has started uplinking digital TV channels. Digital uplinking makes for highly efficient utilization of satellite transponders and is accompanied by a corresponding lowering of the uplinking costs. In order to diversify its range of services, VSNL is planning to enter the DTH market in association with firms already active in the field. But no firm plans for DTH have yet been announced by VSNL, which can become a major stockholder in a joint venture offering DTH services.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A shoulder for the burden

Sir — The West Bengal unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has all of a sudden woken up to the unfairness of the retirement package offered to the former chief minister, Jyoti Basu (“Party wage”, March 26). The contrived nature of this startled realization only proves one thing: had the media not cooked up such a controversy over the issue, the party would have let the government go ahead with the expensive upkeep of the state’s former chief ministers. It is a matter of great shame that the question of the government providing special retirement benefits for its former chief ministers has only cropped up after the retirement of Jyoti Basu. Most of Basu’s predecessors, neither born into wealth, nor able to amass it during their tenures, had to live the life of ordinary citizens after giving up chief ministership. There is no reason why Basu, several times wealthier than some of his predecessors, should be provided for by the state’s exchequer. It would be a mistake to think that the CPI(M)’s decision to shoulder Basu’s expenses means the burden will no longer have to be borne by the taxpayer. The common people of the state, familiar with the regular donation-seeking ventures of the communists, must know that they will still have to bear the cross.
Yours faithfully,
Debkanta Ghoshal, Calcutta

Launching ditch

Sir — While nine launches of Indian satellites have been successful, five have been unsuccessful. That makes the number of failures greater than half the number of successes. There is more to the failure of the geo-synchronous launch vehicle, GSLV-D1, than the fact that it has embarrassed the country and its defence research establishment. As the report, “Military and market fears dog rocket” (March 29), points out, this failed attempt might make it easy for one or more players waiting in the sidelines to get into the “lucrative satellite launch market”.

Besides, this gives the esteemed research team of the defence services and the Indian Space Research Organization a bad name, more so because the rocket launcher failed to lift-off following the failure of a motor which had been tested prior to the launch attempt.

The veil of secrecy over all matters pertaining to defence must be partially, if not fully, removed for the nation to know what goes on behind the closed doors in the name of defence research and development.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Sanyal, Nagpur

Sir — The failure of GSLV D-1 to take off happened at a time when the scandal-ridden Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was in dire need of a success so that Vajpayee could reclaim his status as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s visionary (“Snag snuffs out space bazar splash”, March 29). One should not forget how Vajpayee took the credit for the Pokhran blasts and the Kargil victory.

It has been observed that when something goes wrong, it is never the prime minister’s fault, as if he is beyond all that, it is only in times of success that he chooses to claim the lion’s share of the credit. The media at least should be brave enough to demand that the prime minister be accountable for India’s satellite programmes being the butt of jokes around the world.

Yours faithfully
Shanta Kumar, Calcutta

Sir — The gaffe at Sriharikota is unfortunate, but the nation should not take it to heart. Instead, the country should try to build on this failure and make all such launches in future completely foolproof.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — After the unsettling Tehelka revelations comes the snag in the testing of the satellite. Such mishaps are not uncommon, but how could a tested motor let us down at the time of the actual launching? This proves once more that the Indian defence machinery is riddled with weaknesses.

Yours faithfully,
T.R. Anand, Budge Budge

Utility and the beast

Sir — The article, “Green revolution” (March 25) was both timely and informative. One has to agree with the author that the vegetarian movement is picking up in India.

One fact mentioned in the article was striking: that Saudi Arabia has banned the import of Indian beef since the middle of March, following the revelations about the foot and mouth disease. Isn’t it strange that with a BJP-led government — and one which has Maneka Gandhi in its cabinet — and a decades-old official stand of not slaughtering cows, India was still exporting beef?

Yours faithfully,
Vandana Rathi, via email

Sir — I agree with Paresh Rajda when he says that prevention of cruelty to animals, within limits, is a “noble pursuit” (“What’s wrong with meat?”, March 28). It is also true that a ban on animal slaughter is bound to affect thousands of workers who depend on the leather trade for their livelihood. The government, with the help of organizations like People for Ethical Treatment of Animals should seriously attempt to arrange for the rehabilitation of these people. Attempts to make these practices illegal will undoubtedly fail without a proper programme to provide a viable alternative source of employment.

However, Rajda seems to get carried away by his own rhetoric. He talks about cruelty inflicted on humans by animals. Such attacks are, more often than not, a result of provocation by humans. Cases such as these are mostly heard of in places where the natural habitat of these animals has been encroached upon.

In a recent case in which a girl was mauled inside a circus ring, the organizers were entirely to blame. The animals which are used for providing entertainment are treated abominably. Animals unfortunately do not have unions to fight for their rights. The earth belongs as much to us humans as it does to the animals. In any case, most of them were here before humans emerged on the scene.

Yours sincerely,
Kamalini Mazumder, via email

Bowled over

Sir — Courtney Walsh deserves to be congratulated for becoming the first bowler to reach the 500 wicket mark. More than the achievement — which would be difficult for a fast bowler to emulate — he will be remembered for his humility and the way he conducted himself on and off the field. He is able to treat success and defeat with equanimity.

In the cricketing world today, the worship of Mammon has become the custom, the end is more important than the means and the adage, “Winning is not everything, it is the only thing” is regarded as gospel. In such a world, it is increasingly becoming difficult to find people like Walsh, who believe in the traditional concepts of sportsmanship, honesty, dedication and commitment. He has proved that good people do not necessarily finish last.

Walsh putting his arms around the newly appointed West Indian captain, Brian Lara — confirming his support for the new captain at Sabina Park against England in 1998 after being himself jettisoned unceremoniously from captaincy — is a moment cricket lovers around the world will cherish. Once Walsh retires, it will be difficult to see the likes of him again on the cricket field.

Yours faithfully,
Ramani P. Easwaran, Calcutta

Sir — If any bowler deserved 500 wickets in cricket, it would have to be Courtney Walsh. A true sportsman inside and out, his many sporting gestures could provide lessons to cricketers in the times to come. In the Reliance World Cup in 1987, in a crucial match against Pakistan, Walsh merely let Wasim Jaffer, Pakistan’s last batsman, go with only a warning when he could have removed the bails of the wicket on the non-striker’s end, as Jaffer was out of his crease. West Indies went on to lose the match, but Walsh was rightly treated as a hero.

Given the taxing level of cricket played these days, Walsh’s fitness is extra ordinary. Wasim Akram once said that Walsh will be able to reach the milestone of 500 wickets just because of his fitness. Unlike other players, fast bowlers in particular, Walsh hardly missed matches because of injury. His fitness is something later cricketers are going to aspire towards.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — The Oscar winning film, Traffic, currently showing all over the West, has a derogatory line about Calcutta spoken by Michael Douglas. The film has nothing to do with Calcutta but the remark is used as a metaphor to describe a negative place or experience. This is nothing new — in the West, the word, “Calcutta”, is now used as a metaphor, and is widely used in conversation, books, films, television and so on.

This trend might cause damage to Calcutta’s image and its economic prospects. Today Calcutta is known as the city of beggars, lepers and a city where dead people lie scattered everywhere. Only Calcuttans can challenge this myth — unfortunately they are either oblivious or apathetic.

Three years ago, when the film, Titanic, made an oblique derogatory reference to a Scottish village with a population of 500, the entire village rose in protest. When will something similar happen in Calcutta? Will the film-buffs and intellectuals rise to the occasion?

Yours faithfully,
A. Chatterjee, London

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