Editorial 1/ Nothing ventured
Editorial 2/ Shipped off
Fatal obsessions
This above all/ Old nonviolent ways for the new age
Fifth column/ Treat thy neighbour as thyself
Letters to the Editor

Does the twice-a-year announcement of monetary and credit policy serve any purpose? Mr Bimal Jalan has himself argued that monetary and credit policy changes should be announced when they become necessary, and on a continuing basis, instead of on two fixed dates a year. Monetary and credit policy is usually associated with bank rate and cash reserve ratio changes and given the background, it would have been unrealistic to expect the Reserve Bank of India to announce changes in these. This is despite the recent cut in interest rates announced by the Federal Reserve. If anything, the RBI has tended to err on the side of caution. It is acknowledged by everyone, including the RBI, that the basic problem remains one of growth, especially industrial growth. Signals are not very clear on whether interest rate cuts would have been necessary or sufficient, since there also seem to be structural problems, with no great demand for credit or investments. There is no evidence that the banking sector faces a liquidity squeeze. While this is true, under very similar circumstances, the Federal Reserve decided to take the plunge and the RBI has decided to play it safe, although interviews with Mr Jalan also suggest a 0.5 per cent cut in the BR soon.

Arguably, the risk could have been taken, since the balance of payments is extremely healthy and by the RBI’s own admission, inflation is under control. Banks have however been allowed to lend at lower than the prime lending rate and this can lead to a downward movement in interest rates, despite the BR remaining unchanged. Interest rates have also been lowered on export credit and export finance schemes have been rationalized. In a transitory phase of reform, monetary and credit policy is not only about interest rates.

Historically, several financial sector reforms have been announced through monetary and credit policy and this time, the background was the stock market scandal. Understandably, the guidelines on bank exposure to stock markets will be revised and presumably tightened. Urban cooperative banks have been asked not to lend against shares to individuals or cooperatives. There are question marks about capital adequacy of urban cooperative banks. Pending the setting up of a separate regulator for this sector, as the RBI now proposes, one cannot complain. But one ought to be careful about not over-reacting to the present stock market scandal and clamping down heavily on lending against shares, an extremely desirable form of short-term finance. Lending against shares did not cause the scandal, it was caused by non-enforcement of norms and lax supervision by the RBI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India. Tighter prudential norms have been proposed for banks and financial institutions (for loan impairment) and these will have to be complied with by 2004. The interest rate on the CRR has been hiked and will eventually be unified with the BR. A differential deposit rate is on offer for senior citizens. There is also movement on the second stage of the liquidity adjustment facility. These are welcome reform moves in the banking sector. However, the overall signal conveyed is one of the RBI not having done much. It is a separate matter that nothing much was expected. Perceptions differ on how serious the growth problem is. The RBI clearly expects growth in the six to 6.5 per cent band this year. Drought-plagued agriculture and February figures for industry and exports have led others to revise growth projections downward to five or 5.5 per cent. Perhaps a risk-averse RBI will react with a time-lag.


A slave ship is a shocking concept in the 21st century. Fleets of slave ships from Africa thinned out and disappeared from the 1850s, and official eyes have grown unused to such monstrosities. So the news of a ship carrying 250 children sold into slavery from Benin has caused shock and alarm in Africa and the West. The event is searing because of the continent’s sharp awareness of the system of slavery and the efforts of many of its countries to change the conditions that made slavery possible in colonial times. But what dogs such efforts is the simple fact of poverty. The slave ship is just the dramatic symptom of a persistent disease, one which does not haunt African countries alone. What the slave ship has shown is that among the truly poor of the world, it is the children who are most at risk. No one has identified a slave ship coming from India. But the children of the poor in India are in some ways more exploited and physically tortured by both deprivation and actual violence than children in many African countries.

In India, the closest parallel to the slave ship phenomenon would be the practice of child trafficking. Awareness about this has grown and there have been efforts to break the chains that begin with the sale of a boy or girl by the parents to a middleman in a village and end when the child is sold into “service” in another country. These chains have proved both elusive and intractable. But there need not be such obvious variants of slavery. Little girls are sold into marriage to elderly husbands so the rest of the family can eat for a few months, children are sold into “jobs”. Domestic work absorbs a huge number. Often child servants, illiterate and unpaid, are unable to go back to their distant homes. In spite of the Supreme Court’s strong stand against child labour, and sporadic attempts of some states to do something about it, India still has the largest number of children in work. Government estimates say 23 million, unofficial assessments 44 million. In some states, traditional forms of bonded labour continue. Perhaps slavery never really disappeared in India. It still thrives, and needs no slave ship to remind Indians of what they are doing to their children.


The left in India is now faced with a crucial challenge. First, there are the forthcoming assembly elections. Second, there is the issue of how it should take advantage of the Tehelka scandal and its effect on the Bharatiya Janata Party. Right now the left is obsessed with the coming elections in Kerala and West Bengal. The crucial one is the latter. Even before the Tehelka scandal, the United Democratic Front was tipped to win in Kerala and a loss there for the Left Democratic Front would simply mean that the standard pattern of alternation has been followed with the LDF retaining its basic areas of support. Indeed, we must wait and see whether or not K. Karunakaran has caused so serious a turmoil in the UDF that the LDF might break the mould and re-emerge victors.

But the real prize is West Bengal. It has long been said that the left cannot keep on winning in that state but it has amazed everyone by ruling continuously for 24 years and it is not done yet. No doubt the Trinamool Congress under Mamata Banerjee is now mounting the most serious challenge ever to it and its new alliance with the Congress, despite the tensions created within the Congress, might just give it the needed edge. We will just have to wait and see.

What a defeat for the Left Front will do is not mark the beginning of a steady demise of the left in that state but probably inaugurate a more regular pattern of alternation between two main contending political forces of which the Left Front will remain one. Had the old Trinamool-BJP alliance held and should it have won, then the implications would have been much more serious and dangerous. The BJP would have been seen as a party on the rise, albeit as a junior partner, and could have looked forward to making further inroads in a state where it had hitherto received 10 per cent of the votes and was looking to expand its ideological and organizational influence. This is where Tehelka has come to the rescue of the left which remains the most determined and committed of the forces opposed to Hindutva.

If the Left Front loses in West Bengal, it will be preoccupied with trying to return to power and its capacity to play a more national role will be weakened. If it comes back to power, albeit with the thinnest of majorities, it will heave a sigh of relief and look to play a bigger role at the Centre. Either way, unfortunately, the only strategy it has when looking beyond West Bengal is to build a third front or people’s front alternative to the Congress-led and BJP-led formations. It is still not prepared to accept that this is a waste of time, indeed counterproductive. You cannot hope to build a principled political alternative to the Hindutva of the BJP by doing what Harkishen Singh Surjeet is trying to do. As soon as the Tehelka issue blew up, he began talking of a people’s front which would emerge from regional parties including those currently with the National Democratic Alliance or with the Congress but which might be persuaded in due course to come over to the third front.

In short, these parties’ established willingness to share the bed with a communal BJP or with a corrupt NDA government is not to be considered a permanent disqualification from building a supposedly principled third force standing for something fundamentally different.

This is the dead end in which the left not only finds itself but continues to rummage within. By doing so, it reduces “secular” politics to being merely the most opportunist form of anti-BJPism and signals the left’s willingness to ally with forces who are not in the least opposed to the neo-liberal economic direction that all parties barring the left have now taken as both unavoidable and desirable whatever the minor differences about pace and manner of implementation of such “reforms”. It is time the left accepts that all its efforts to build a genuine third front or force have comprehensively failed. The likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad Yadav, J. Jayalalitha, and so on, themselves corrupt, venal and expressive of upper-landed interests, are not the material from which a genuine alternative will emerge. It is another thing for this left to enter into tactical voting arrangements with other parties (including the Congress at the Central level) to defeat the BJP and its partners.

But apart from such tactical and limited electoral manoeuvres the left must concentrate on building up its own strength by challenging, consistently and determinedly, those very forces it keeps on trying to win over — the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Laloo Yadav in Bihar, and so on. A radical politics of mass mobilization on clear pro-poor, pro-democracy and anti-corruption themes is the obvious path to follow.

Yet even outside of West Bengal where much of its cadre base has become deeply corrupted by unbroken rule and cumulative bureaucratization, the left seems neither to have the inclination nor the energy to adopt such a path. Are there at least some low fuss-high impact measures that it might adopt that could improve its future prospects?

There are two such measures it could adopt. First, it should recognize that there are major social movements in this country from the Narmada Bachao Andolan to the National Fishworkers Union to the National Campaign for the Peoples Right to Information which attract some of the most dedicated and committed of youth and that the left can fruitfully connect to them provided it gets over its suspicions and begins to cooperate with them in a genuinely democratic and positive manner.

Admittedly, many of these movements have their own suspicions of the left but it is for the left parties to take the initiative in overcoming these. It can begin by simply acting as the parliamentary tribunal of these forces in state assemblies and in Parliament. That is to say, it can try and be the conduit through which the grievances of such civil society organizations are at least regularly aired, and many of their demands pressed for, in these main fora of public debate and legislation. Such a limited task has so far not been undertaken and no channels of steady and systematic communication between the left parliamentary parties and such CSOs exist even though this is not at all difficult to institutionalize.

Second, the mainstream left parties should institutionalize proportional representation (in relation to the composition of their memberships) for Dalits, backwards, women and tribals at all leadership levels up to the pyramid’s apex. This one move would bring in a major influx of recruits, infuse new blood, transform left awareness of the conditions of these groups, and transmit to it all the energy that the churning of these groups is already generating in Indian society.

Even as the left parties now recognize the importance (more so than in the past) of the Dalits, backwards and women’s movements, their leaderships continue to exhibit a hidebound politics. Changes along these lines is not just voiced from outside these parties but is felt and expressed within. In the Communist Party of India, voices have been raised demanding changes in the composition of leadership bodies to reflect new sensitivities to caste. In the Communist Party of India (Marxist), there have been strong voices raised for greater female representation.

In both cases, an upper caste and predominantly male leadership has ultimately refused to make the necessary transformations in internal functioning. Sadly, a stagnant and declining left is not yet prepared to even experiment along these lines. What, after all, has it got to lose? Failure to do so may well exact a heavy price in the years to come.

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


Despite 10 years in Delhi’s Modern School, an institution founded by the Jain family of Lala Sultan Singh, his son, Raghubir Singh, and currently controlled by Raghubir Singh’s son, General Virendra Singh, I knew nothing about the Jain faith. Even in college I had some friends who were Jains, but I never got to know anything about their religious beliefs except that they were strict vegetarians. I also learnt that Mahatma Gandhi was profoundly influenced by Jain tenets and Jains were among the richest in our country. Also, their temples are among the most beautiful in India.

It was only in the Sixties when I had to teach a course in comparative religions at Princeton University and later in Swarthmore College and the University of Hawaii that I read books on Jainism in order to pass on the information to my American students. I was deeply impressed with what I learnt. I admitted if I had to choose a religion to subscribe to, it would be Jainism. It came closest to agnosticism and the code of ethics to which, as a rationalist, I subscribed.

In the Seventies, when I was editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, then the largest and the most influential weekly journal in the country, I wrote to chief ministers of all states that if they imposed a blanket ban on shikar in their states in honour of Jain Mahavira, I would give them all the publicity they wanted. Eight chief ministers responded to my appeal and banned killing for sport. I might mention that at the time, the Jains who owned The Times of India group of papers, including The Illustrated Weekly of India, had been deprived of control over the company and it was run by the government. The Jains had nothing to do with my anti-shikar crusade. As a matter of fact, when the Jains regained control of The Times of India group, they sacked me.

Since we are celebrating the 2600th anniversary of the founder of Jainism, I take the opportunity to inform my non-Jain readers, who probably know next to nothing about this religion, about it.

The word, “jain”, is derived from jina, one who has conquered himself. Jains believe that their religious system was evolved by 24 tirthankaras (or makers of the river crossing), three of whom, Rhishabha, Ajitnath and Aristanemi, systematized their religious doctrines. Most of Jain hagiography is legendary. But we do have reliable historical evidence of the existence of Parasvanath (872-772 BC), the 23rd tirthankara, and Mahavira, the 24th (599-527 BC). There is reason to believe that in its formative phase, Jainism was a reaction against Brahminical Hindusim.

Vardhamana Mahavira was born in 599 BC in Kundagrama, a town north of Patna. He was the second son of a nobleman and was reared in the lap of luxury. The Jains love to enumerate everything. According to them, the child Mahavira was cared for by five nurses and enjoyed five kinds of joy. When he came of age, he was married and his wife bore him a daughter. But neither his wife, nor his child, nor affairs of state occupied his mind. On the death of his parents (according to one version, by suicide), he took permission of his elder brother to retire to the jungles. He was then 30 years old. For 12 years he fasted and mediated “in a squatting position, with joined heels, exposing himself to the heat of the sun, with knees high and the head low, in deep meditation.” In the midst of abstract meditation, he reached kevala (total) omniscience. He became nirgrantha — without ties or knots.

Mahavira discarded his clothes and spent the next 30 years of his life wandering from place to place. He spoke to no one, never stayed anywhere for more than one night, ate only raw food and strained the water he drank. He allowed vermins to feed on his body and carried a broom to sweep insects away from his path lest he trod on them. People scoffed at him and often tormented him. But he never said anything to them. He died in 527 BC or, as the jains put it, at the age of 72, he cut asunder ties of birth, old age and death.

Everything, animate or inanimate, has jiva (life-force). No one has the right to take another’s life. The way of deliverance, said Mahavira, is in the pursuit of three gems (tri-ratans): right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Right conduct prescribes five principles: sanctity of life (non-violence is the supreme law); truthfulness; respect for property; chastity and abandonment of worldly possessions.

God has no place in Jain theology. Instead, Jains believe in “enlightened” human beings because escape is only possible in human form. Jains also reject the Vedas, the priestly order of the Brahmins, and the caste system.

Jain influence in India is largely due to the comparative affluence of the community. Some of India’s biggest industrial houses are Jain — Dalmias, Sarabhais, Walchands, Kasturbhai Lalbhais, Sahus, Jains. The proportion of literacy among them is also high. Mahatma Gandhi, who was greatly influenced by the doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence), elevated it from a personal and ethical creed to a programme of national and political policy.

The buzz has gone out of Mumbai life

Every town and city has some person or the other who personifies that town or city. For me, Bombay was personified by the cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, and the columnist, Behram Contractor, who wrote a small daily column, “Round and about”. There was also Mario Miranda, but he quit the city to return to his native Goa. Laxman and Behram remained Mumbaikars like the Gateway of India and the Kala Ghoda. One is gone. Behram died in the morning of April 9.

For the years I was with The Illustrated Weekly of India, all three of us worked under the same roof. Laxman and Mario I saw every working day, Behram occasionally. He was an elusive character usually lost in himself. He was a lean, grey-haired man in a shabby bush shirt and creaseless trousers who did the round of the office floors like a ghost. He rarely talked to anyone. A gentle smile hovered on his face. I often saw him on crowded streets or sitting alone in an Iranian restaurant.

He was said to be a hard drinker and a chain smoker. During the days of prohibition, he was known to have his favourite haunts called Aunties (they were run by elderly women), where he could get his rum or gin. He was a mysterious figure. Few people recognised him but everyone in Bombay read his column in The Evening News: short, witty and full of whimsy. His main character were a dog, Bolshoi, two sons and man who lived some floors above him. He had a style uniquely his own. As soon as he left The Times of India group, people stopped taking The Evening News and it died out. People started taking Midday, largely to read his column. Then he started his own paper, Afternoon Despatch & Courier. His readership went with him.

Late in life, Behram married a much younger and very attractive Muslim girl, Farzana. She brought discipline in Behram’s life.He cut down on cigarettes and liquor, started wearing smart clothes and even talking to people. From eating greasy biryani in Irani eateries, he ate gourmet food both at home and the city’s best known restaurants. Farzana also became his business manager. Together they launched a lavishly illustrated Upper Crust devoted to tasty food, vintage wines, cut glass, good China and cutlery. It was an expensive magazine catering to expensive tastes. I did not think it would last long. I was proved wrong. With Behram’s name, added on to Farzana’s, (who is the force behind Upper Crust), it would not fail. With Behram Contractor gone, I feel when I go to Mumbai next, either the Gateway or the Kala Ghoda will be missing.

Caught in a tight spot

In an engineering college workshop, the instructor saw a girl trainee wearing loose garments which could get caught in a machine. He admonished her: “You must not wear loose garments while working with machines. Wear tight-fitting clothes.”

The girl replied, “Sir, if I wear tight-fitting clothes, it might imperil the life of the boy working on the adjoining machine.”

(Contributed by S.P. Dhawan, Chandigarh)


Given the frequency of invasions in India’s history, it would be reasonable to expect exemplary vigil along the country’s international borders. The reality is quite the reverse and even the post-Kargil scenario remains alarmingly insouciant.

While Myanmarese soldiers blithely enter Manipur, there are reports of Chinese infiltration into Arunachal Pradesh. And in a dramatic turn of events over the past week, jawans of the Bangladesh Rifles besieged a Border Security Force post in Pyrdiwah village near Dawki in Meghalaya, while at Boraibari in nearby Mancachar, 16 Indian jawans were tortured and shot dead in cold blood. Some of these bodies, charred beyond recognition, were handed back by our “friendly” neighbour, the country India helped create.

The reason behind this barbaric act appears unfathomable given the cordial relations between the two countries. The Bangladesh prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, is India’s staunchest supporter in the subcontinent. And till recently, sentries on either side of this border shared an enviable camaraderie. The Bangladesh Rifles commandant would readily step across no man’s land to greet his BSF counterpart. It was just as simple to walk across and buy Bangladeshi products with Indian currency.

In between land

The 4000-kilometre-long India-Bangladesh border not only comprises difficult terrain, its porosity is allowed to stretch to suit the purposes of illegal migrants, spies and militants. To counter the devious plans of such elements, the security forces of neighbouring countries (especially those enjoying warm relations) are permitted to set up camps on each other’s territory along the border. Pyrdiwah, the village in the news, is known as an “adverse post” in BSF parlance, implying a strategic location in Bangladesh. It was used by the troops to train freedom fighters during Bangladesh’s war of liberation, and post-1971, the BSF used it for intensive vigilance.

Records say India has 111 such enclaves while Bangladesh has 51 on each other’s territory. The confusion about possession possibly arises because Pyrdiwah (meaning “middle of the river” in Khasi) was bifurcated at Partition, with Pyrdiwah I falling in Bangladesh and Pyrdiwah II in India. Ethnic affinity of the residents resulted in free mingling over the years, and every time India or Bangladesh staked claim to the village in the past, the matter was amicably resolved at the sector commanders’ level.

While this could be why the BSF was slow to react, even after being alerted by Khasi villagers who were thrown out of their homes by the Bangladesh Rifles, the reason for the sudden flare-up needs investigation.

Road to nowhere

The Bangladesh opposition, baying for Hasina’s blood on the eve of the polls, would have a valid cause for provocation. But one cannot overlook the influence of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Militant outfits of the Northeast which have “training camps” in the vicinity could also have an instigative finger in this delectable pie.

Given a booming population and regional aspirations bordering on xenophobia, the issue has grown complex. India certainly does not appear to believe that good fences good neighbours make, and even the few boundary pillars that are erected are demolished by the “aggrieved” party. There were plans to issue identity cards for the border residents to mitigate genuine problems, but North Block’s pilot project has remained a pipe dream.

India’s lack of preparedness and pathetic surveillance efforts have inevitably led to humiliating situations and expensive operations. While the efforts of the two governments to restore normalcy must be commended, the fact that precious lives were lost remains. It is rare for a stronger nation to be the loser, and the only reason India held fire was because the skirmish was begun by the BSF’s move to build a road at a place in “adverse possession,” contravening all norms.

Despite the restoration of status quo ante, the controversy is far from resolved. Our nations must envisage a policy to either hand back these respective “occupied” enclaves or frame guidelines for the forces and residents of these areas, since they are the first to fall prey to the crossfire through no fault of their own.



Games of hostility

Sir — The United States does not quite know where to draw the line with its war games — a hangover of its Cold War days and a continuation of an elaborate enemy-hunting programme. The latest in their repertoire is an unnecessary whipping up of tensions with China. They do not understand that the Chinese army is neither a crouching tiger nor a hidden dragon. It is the world’s most formidable army with 2.5 million soldiers. If the US is going to embark on a collaborative mission with Taiwan, it has to be prepared for the worst kind of Sino-US tension in decades. Taiwan’s recent military exercises (“Taiwan spits Hellfire, tests Thunder”, April 21) are indicative of the self-confidence it feels in military terms because of friendship with the US. But this friendship does not exactly amount to collective security. The US too is playing it safe, especially in the aftermath of the recent mid-air collision of the spy planes. After all, it is not making any commitments about selling Taiwan the politically sensitive Aegis radar system.
Yours faithfully,
Gaurav Pandey, via email

Manifest discord

Sir — The party manifestos of the contesting parties for the West Bengal assembly elections are out. But by now most people are decided on the matter and so the enormous expense incurred in the party campaigns in urban areas to win over voters seems a futile exercise.

It is quite apparent from the election promises of the left that it believes in the excellent performance of the state over the last quarter of a century and hopes to keep up the services it has so far rendered to the people. The shortcomings have been attributed mainly to the government’s difficult relation with the Centre.

The Congress and the Trinamool Congress in their respective manifestos highlight the failure of the Left Front government and promise to give the people a meaningful alternative. But then every party in the opposition is likely to sing the same song. All will claim to be secular, yet technically, the government should have nothing to do either with secularism or non-secularism. All will vow to alleviate poverty, provide a clean administration, literacy, drinking water, sanitation, law and order and so on. If people go by manifestos, they will be fooled and bewildered.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Das, Calcutta

Sir — The reaction of Anil Biswas, state secretary of the CPI(M) to the Trinamool Congress manifesto resembles the frustrations of a has-been singer with newcomers in the profession. A manifesto is a package of promises presented before the electorate. It naturally contains both populist and attractive proposals. The Trinamool Congress also tries its best to attract its votebank with such promises. Its manifesto could not have been copied versions of the Left Front manifesto published on different occasions, as Biswas claims. But he seems to have missed Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Mamata-style campaigning. Shouldn’t he call that copying as well?

Yours faithfully,
Gautam Mridha, Calcutta

Sir — The manifesto of the Trinamool Congress deals with some immediate problems in the state. If the manifesto itself is regarded as a key to a party’s way of thinking, the Trinamool manifesto would appear remarkable. One of the principal pillars of development is education, which incidentally is in ruins in this state because of the left’s policy. The Trinamool Congress has picked on this dark side of left rule and promised to modify things with the introduction of English from class I. It has also promised to separate education from politics and give autonomy to educational institutions, which again is a crucial point.

It has focussed on investment, industries and information technology, which shows that Mamata Banerjee wishes to put the state on the global economic map. If it comes to power, the party should try to fulfil its promises and remain accountable to the people.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Sir — If one were to go by the CPI(M)’s graffiti on Calcutta’s walls, one is likely to mistake the current round of electioneering as the Lok Sabha elections. The party is shamelessly attacking Central government policies, especially Mamata Banerjee, although she has nothing to do with the Tehelka disclosure.

The left’s “achievements” in the past two decades and a half have been considerable. A number of left leaders have made fortunes for themselves and followers have been put in plum positions in schools, colleges and so on. Education has nosedived and healthcare has become a joke.

The infrastructure in West Bengal is nightmarish. Durgapur, which during B.C. Roy’s regime was regarded as the best industrial town in India, is today a ghost city. Dunlop, which produced India’s best tyres, is now a sick industry. The Haldia fertilizer factory, operative even in the mid-Eighties, hasn’t produced a grain of urea for years.

The panchayati raj has made panchayat officials richer and the rural poor poorer. The state has turned into a political killing field. Only in one area does the Stalinist machinery still excel — propaganda. The left still thrives on lies and half-truths.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — There is a Bengali tale. It says that a one-time thief, one of whose ears was chopped off for trying to steal, always bypasses a village where he is known. But a thief who has both his ears cut off is shameless enough to walk right through the middle of the village. Politicians now belong mostly to the second category.

However, there seems to be a faint ray of hope. The left is not on the list of the corrupt and a lone lady has spoken against corruption. But the hope is still “faint” because the leftists are always two decades old in their thinking and the lone lady is surrounded by starving bugs.

Yours faithfully,
Sukumar Roy, Kharagpur

Hardly plain sailing

Sir — The facts at the basis of the editorial, “Flying private” (April 16), are not entirely correct. The losses which Indian Airlines will be posting in the financial year, 2000-2001, are entirely due to two massive hikes in the prices of aircraft turbine fuel in 2000, in March and September. The cumulative effect of these hikes resulted in a 48 per cent increase in the cost of ATF, something which had not been anticipated while the budget for 2000-2001 was formulated.

The airline has absorbed this additional burden of nearly Rs 260 crore while its competitors passed this burden on to the consumers by hiking their fares.

Talking of level playing fields, it is a matter of record that Indian Airlines deploys 17 per cent of its capacity on the category II routes in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, as against the norm of 10 per cent fixed for these routes by the directorate general of civil aviation. This is done to ensure connectivity to the remote areas and in line with the social commitments of a public sector unit. It is seldom appreciated that while talking of connectivity to the remote areas, the principle of underlying social commitment of public sector units is invoked and while computing profits, this aspect is conveniently ignored. It would be too simplistic to assume that ownership per se is linked to efficiency of management in any organization. This is borne out by the fate of several private sector operators in the airlines business.

Indian Airlines has always kept the media informed about all facets of the airlines’ operations. It would have been appropriate if someone had taken the trouble of ascertaining the factual position on various issues.

Yours faithfully,
R.N. Pathak, director, public relations, Indian Airlines

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