Editorial 1/ Natural Allies
Editorial 2/ Catch those stars
Where knowledge is free
Fifth Column/ Slaves in the new world order
Mani Talk/ Another Kargil on the Bangla border
Mapping the future course of research
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ NATURAL ALLIES 
 
 
 
 
Politics, it has been famously remarked, is all about “choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable”. While looking for a partner for the West Bengal assembly elections, Ms Mamata Banerjee clearly found the post-Tehelka Bharatiya Janata Party a “disastrous” option and hence went in for the Congress which, until now, was utterly “unpalatable” to her. In so doing, Ms Banerjee demonstrated that she has graduated from a street fighter to a pragmatic politician who knows that politics is about capturing and wielding power. Ms Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, too showed astute political understanding by reaching out to Ms Banerjee in the face of dissent and distrust of powerful sections of the West Bengal Congress. For both, it was an opportunity, gifted by the Tehelka tapes, to make a virtue of their electoral — and larger political — necessity. If Ms Gandhi looked like stooping to conquer Ms Banerjee by agreeing to a paltry share of 57 seats and even sacrificing nine of the sitting Congress members of the legislative assembly, she also made capital gains in national politics by weaning Ms Banerjee away from the saffron camp on the eve of the assembly elections in five states. Fighting on its own, the Congress in West Bengal could only be further weakened, and its vote-share reduced to a single-digit figure from the 13.53 per cent it polled in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. With Ms Banerjee, it can hope to be counted as a game player. For the Trinamool Congress leader too, it made eminent sense to shun the tainted BJP, with which her relationship was distinctly uneasy. The loss of the BJP vote could be more than compensated, she rightly calculated, by even the dwindling Congress votes. It is also possible that despite ditching the BJP, she still will have the vote of many saffron sympathizers, for whom the first priority remains the end of the red raj. The Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance thus seems the best possible arithmetic against the Left Front.

This is not to say that the alliance has not had and will not have hiccups before, during or after the polls. There is no denying that the alliance is more a meeting of methods than of minds. It is not only Mr A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury in Malda or Mr Adhir Chowdhury in Murshidabad who represents the simmering dissent. Even for Mr Somen Mitra, the alliance is at best a truce, not a lasting peace. For large sections of workers at the grassroots level, the bitter rivalries between the two parties over the past two years is of greater concern than the usual suspicion and bickering among Congressmen in election time. The leaders of both parties are aware of this and have to work overtime to put things in place in the short time at their disposal.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ CATCH THOSE STARS 
 
 
 
 
Reforms in the electoral process are welcome, but surely not if they open the door to childish complaints. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has complained to the chief election officer of West Bengal that private television channels are showing films which feature the three candidates who are also actors, Madhabi Mukherjee, Tapas Pal and Nayana Das, in spite of the Election Commission’s orders to the contrary. If it is cold feet the CPI(M) is experiencing, it seems a little unwise to let the world know. But if this is just the joy of complaining about its rivals whenever there is scope, then there should be a bar against complaints made for complaints’ sake. The CPI(M) would not find it acceptable if the Trinamool Congress suddenly decided to complain because of the footage given to the West Bengal chief minister in TV news programmes. He is a candidate, and he is “invading” the drawing room or the bedroom as much as the actors are. He is doing his job, and it is inevitable that he should be part of everyday news. The actors are doing theirs, and it is unavoidable that they should be featured in films that are part of a TV channel’s schedule. Perhaps the CPI(M) thinks that the electorate would forget these actors till the moment of polling if they did not appear on their TV screens occasionally in the interim. There is no getting away from it — the CPI(M) has done something really silly.

There is, of course, the peculiarity of the EC rule being evoked. To hold that actors will not be featured on TV during the campaign period because they are contestants is to imply that all professional activity must stop for candidates during this sacred phase. So doctors might leave their patients to die, or teachers might stop teaching, thus proving that those who do not do their duty are prime politician material. In other words, only politicians must run for the polls. Electoral reform cannot be aimed at creating a closed circle of initiates, yet such would be the logical outcome of such a demand. Besides, there is the strange fear of the TV as especially insidious. Cinema halls are presumably innocent. It is not clear whether the profession is at fault — entertainment can turn the staunchest heart — or the medium of transmission. The strangest part of the kerfuffle is that it is the private TV channels which are being found at fault. If they are expected to follow the EC’s instructions — no one knows what terrible things will happen to them if they do not — then any private citizen can be hauled up for flying the flag of an opposition party from his own window. It seems the EC intends to clean up election funding. To stop professionals from carrying on their work and the media from receiving its rightful revenue could hardly achieve this end.

   

 
 
WHERE KNOWLEDGE IS FREE 
 
 
BY ARKADEV CHATTERJEA
 
 
The internet is an interesting medium. It is being used for acquiring information, deriving sexual gratification, selling gadgets and groceries, writing emails and what not. Along with television, it is being used for “distance learning” — students stay at home, learn at their own pace, exchange information with faculty, earn some sort of a credential, and fill the coffers of the education peddler. Gone are the days of handholding in teaching, and learning in the Oxbridge fashion from tutors through one-to-one interaction: roll the cameras and the superstar teachers will beam distilled knowledge directly into your drawing room. Although many serious educators think this model is flawed, it appeals to many. Many college and university professors in the United States and elsewhere use the internet to display and disseminate course materials that students can download anywhere and read. Some make it available only to registered students through a password protected access. Others open it to all for free — I did the same when teaching in Bloomington and Boulder. But a uniform standard is yet to develop.

Recently, the venerable Massachusetts Institute of Technology threw a bolt from the blue and changed the landscape forever. In an unprecedented effort, the president, Charles Vest, announced MIT OpenCourseWare — an initiative to open up almost all of MIT’s 2,000 courses and post materials like lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists, and assignments for each course for free on the internet.

OCW is consistent with MIT’s past history and educational ideology. Vest said: “We’ve learned this lesson over and over again. You can’t have tight, closed-up systems. We’ve tried to open up software infrastructure in a variety of ways and that’s what unleashed the creativity of software developers; I think the same thing can happen in education.” Although initially conceived as a revenue-generating model, OCW eventually came to reflect the idealism of MIT faculty — “the way education can be advanced — by constantly widening access to information and by inspiring others to participate”.

Why this idealism? In a pioneering article in the Forties, Columbia University’s distinguished sociologist, Robert K. Merton, showed how freedom of enquiry (which by definition cannot happen in an authoritarian regime) and evaluation by academic peers is crucial to the progress of knowledge. It is no wonder that the Soviet Union broke up. And it is no surprise that nowadays research advancements in nearly all fields of enquiry get published in peer-reviewed journals where fellow academics decide what should see daylight. Although companies around the world jealously guard access to many ideas and products they develop, a large body of knowledge is available to all through journal articles. MIT’s sharing of intellectual wealth is consistent with this paradigm. Moreover, higher education is an interesting business. If it is designed as a profit-making institution or run by politicians and bureaucrats, then it loses its identity and ceases to be higher education and becomes “higher training”, a breeding ground for political supporters or some such strange concoction. India seems to have fallen into this trap. Developed nations avoid these problems by zealously keeping the universities and institutes largely free from political pressure or commercial greed.

MIT sees many benefits from the OCW project. For example, institutions around the world can use these materials as references and sources for curriculum development, and they would greatly help developing countries trying to rapidly expand higher education, but lacking world-class scholars. Individual learners can use them for self-study or supplementary use. If other institutions follow this model, then over time, a vast collection of educational resources will develop and facilitate widespread exchange of ideas about innovative ways of using those resources in teaching and learning. And all these would serve as a common repository of information and channel of intellectual activity that can stimulate educational innovation and interdisciplinary ventures.

But OCW also raises many thorny questions. For example, why pay $ 26,000 a year in tuition when one can get all the materials online? Vest thinks that, on the contrary, it may attract prospective students by showing them what MIT teaches. And there is more to education than study materials. MIT’s “central value is people and the human experience of faculty working with students in classrooms and laboratories, and students learning from each other, and the kind of intensive environment we create in our residential university.”

Is making websites a good use of a professor’s time? Who owns electronic rights to a professor’s lectures and research? Many professors have already set up websites. Perhaps some professors will have two websites: one for internal use with, say, large portions of a soon-to-be-published textbook, and one for external use. But generally these issues have been minor and most MIT professors showed a willingness to share knowledge. Why give a valuable asset for free? A valid question, but reality knocks: it is hard to make money selling education through the web.

Wouldn’t this make students less likely to come to class? University officials seem not to worry about this. MIT’s provost, Robert A. Brown, said that when course materials are already posted, “it pushes the faculty in the direction of ‘How do I best use the contact hours so that people learn?’ which is clearly critical.” So easy availability of course materials does not make the teacher redundant; rather it makes him think harder about devising ways to teach, pushing him to better educate the students. This is the direction in which MIT pushes.

How do these concepts — information gathering, learning and teaching — relate to each other? In fact, some people view the acquisition of appropriate information as knowledge. A teacher is a facilitator who distils and fructifies the chaotic sea of information swirling out there. The dissemination of information is only a part of a teacher’s job. It has been emphasized at many times and in many places that there is more to the learning process. Socrates, for example, taught his students how to think. The Socratic method of teaching is a joint venture where teacher and students ask each other questions and try to understand the whole problem.

Law schools in the West often train students in the Socratic way to analyze problems, to reason by analogy, to critically evaluate arguments and to understand the effects of law. Elizabeth Garrett of the University of Chicago law school comments: “Socratic discourse requires participants to articulate, develop and defend positions that may at first be imperfectly defined intuitions. Lawyers are, first and foremost, problem-solvers, and the primary task of a law school is to equip our students with the tools they need to solve problems. The law will change over the course of our lifetimes, and the problems we confront will vary tremendously. Law professors cannot provide students with certain answers, but we can help develop reasoning skills that lawyers can apply, regardless of the legal question.”

Although many universities and institutes have explored the possibilities of making money through “distance learning”, the very best are increasingly finding out that the principles they stand for get lost along the way. However, MIT’s move preempts such attempts. And MIT’s seemingly puzzling step of making information available for free, retrieves learning from the maze of information and restores education to where it belongs.

The author is associate professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ SLAVES IN THE NEW WORLD ORDER 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“I don’t want to think about them being dumped (into the sea),” said Esther Guluma, the United Nations Children’s Fund’s representative in Benin, as the days lengthened with no word of the slave ship carrying up to 250 children that has been shuttling between West African ports for the past two weeks. “I hope the ship has slipped into one of the many small ports of Nigeria.”

That would be a better fate for the children than being weighed down and dumped overboard, as was routinely done in the old trans-Atlantic trade to get rid of the evidence when a slave ship was stopped by the British naval patrols off West Africa. But it wouldn’t mean freedom: they would just be sold as domestic servants in Lagos in Nigeria, rather than becoming “chocolate slaves” in the cocoa plantations of Gabon.

The only way these children will see their homes in Benin again is if the rust-bucket that they were being transported in, the Nigerian-registered motor vessel, Etireno, is arrested by somebody’s police and the children aboard removed into their care. But that seems unlikely.

Is this really happening today? Is it happening, of all places, in the same part of Africa from which millions of slaves were exported to the Americas between the 17th and the 19th centuries? And is it AFRICANS who are doing this to other Africans?

Three times over

Yes, three times. Everybody involved in this trade, from the desperate parents who sell their children into slavery (letting themselves believe the transparent lie that they will be given wages and a decent education), to the agents who buy the children for as little as $ 20 each, to the sailors who transport them, and even the plantation owners who buy them, would rather not be doing this. But poverty drives them all: none of them feel they have any choice.

Yet this is not the poorest part of Africa, and it has been relatively free from war, apart from the dreadful Biafran war over three decades ago. A number of the region’s countries even have a free press and some form of democratic government. Which poses a bit of a puzzle.

It was the Nobel prize-winning economist, Amartya Sen, who formulated the rule that no famine has ever occurred in a country with a free press and regular elections. Poverty may still be acute, but mass starvation is just not politically tolerable in a well-informed democracy. And what applies to famine surely must also apply to slavery.

Above all, it must apply to the subject of slavery in a country as conscious of its past as Benin, where the government has taken the remarkable step of acknowledging that while the millions of slaves who left its shores between 1700 and 1850 were bought by white slavers, they were first kidnapped or otherwise enslaved, shipped to the coast and sold by black slavers. Every ancient kingdom in the region engaged in the trade, and bears part of the blame.

Ghost of the past

So how can a government that acknowledges that past, and even has summoned its people to collective acts of atonement for their own ancestors’ share in the crime of slavery, allow the very same practice to occur today? Benin, moreover, is a country with a relatively democratic system and a relatively free press. It doesn’t make sense.

Well, actually, it does, because alongside the democracy and freedom lie immense corruption and great poverty, and the slaving just slips through the cracks in the system. It grew imperceptibly out of an old custom whereby poor rural families would send one or more of their children to do apprenticeships in the cities and get some education as part of the bargain.

But now thousands of children, many under 12, are living in slavery overseas, with no chance of an education and little prospect of seeing their homes again. Now that the case of the Etireno has brought the situation to the attention of Africa and the world, it should be relatively easy to stop.

The first steps would be for the countries of the region to make a serious effort to control the corruption in the ports that lets this human traffic flow between them, and for foreign buyers to insist that the production of cocoa does not involve slave labour.

In the longer run, the solution is to alleviate the poverty that makes this sort of thing possible. All suggestions gratefully received.

   

 
 
MANI TALK/ ANOTHER KARGIL ON THE BANGLA BORDER 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
For those like myself who were present at the creation, the irony is bitterest of all: our Border Security Force jawans murdered and mutilated by the armed forces of a country we played no small part in liberating.

I have twice been to the Dawki check-post, adjacent to the Khasi village of Pyrdiwah which the Bangladesh Rifles captured: once, in the first year of liberation, when we were working towards restoring limestone supplies by aerial ropeway from Cherrapunji on our side of the border to the cement factory at Chatak in Bangladesh, and next on the 25th anniversary of liberation when I returned on a mission of reportage to the Bangladesh I had known so well in the year of its birth. Next to the Bangladesh checkpost opposite Dawki is a memorial to the Bangla martyrs who were mown down by the Pakistanis with the same brutality and inhumanity which the Bangladesh Rifles have now inflicted on our soldiers. How have we come to such a pass?

The fault lies in ourselves. More specifically, in our bungling, incompetent government. The Subrahmanyam committee lists no less than 17 separate elements of evidence that the government of India had been alerted to the hostile build-up across the line of control in Kargil. It wilfully did nothing about this intelligence because it was so blinded by the prospective dividends of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus yatra to Lahore that it did not want to hear the bad news. That the government has learned no lessons from Kargil is now nakedly on display on the India-Bangladesh border. Intelligence reports have been filed away, unread or at any rate not acted upon. No pre-emptive action has been taken militarily, diplomatically or politically to forestall the disaster. Reports from our high commission in Dhaka have been ignored. The government has been caught napping — and a score of our jawans caught dead.

The root cause of this unforgiveable smugness in matters of national security is Pokhran-II. In the immediate aftermath of our becoming a nuclear weapon power, the former defence minister, George Fernandes, in his foreword to the 1999 edition of D.R. Mankekar’s The Guilty Men of 1962, wrote that Pokhran-II had exposed “the myth” of any danger from Pakistan! The Pakistanis killed 500 of our bravest and best to show Fernandes how criminal was his complacency.

The sacking of George Fernandes has done nothing to wake up his successor, Jaswant Singh, who combines responsibility for defence with responsibility for diplomacy, under the personal patronage of the prime minister. Never before in the half-century that India has been independent has one person merged under his control national security with foreign affairs, not even Krishna Menon. Jaswant is the first. He has fallen on his face, both as external affairs minister and as raksha mantri, in the very first month of this dubious double stewardship. He must be called to account. So must the prime minister — who stumbles from crisis to crisis, no less metaphorically than he does literally.

One needs no access to secret information to have known that a crisis was in the offing. The answer to the crisis lay neither in the James Bonds of the research and analysis wing nor the Mir Jaffery of Arun Singh. Common sense alone would have shown that the situation inside Bangladesh was explosive. And would have its ferocious repercussions on India. For consider: the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is coming to the end of her turbulent term as prime minister. Elections are in the offing. They will determine whether those who killed her father and family will return to power. Or whether she will be given the opportunity of finally bringing to justice the murderous subalterns who massacred her kith and kin and ruled for two decades thereafter.

It was inevitable and entirely predictable that India would be dragged into the blast-furnace of such an internecine war. Moreover, it was inevitable and entirely predictable that it would be the companions and comrades-in-arms of the mutinous murderers who would do the dragging. Above all, it was inevitable and entirely predictable that the instrument of dragging us in would be the director-general of Bangladesh Rifles, Major General Fazlur Rahman, a Bonapartist in the mould of Zia-ur-Rahman and Zia-ul-Haq, whose antecedents, character and political preferences are better known in Dhaka than the taste of hilsa or the fineness of Dhaka muslin.

This should have alerted even the average newspaper reader to the danger on the border, but not our videsh-cum-raksha mantri. Not a single alarm bell was rung. Nothing was done to instruct our border forces to the danger signals to watch out for. The home ministry took no special steps. The defence ministry remained mired in its lethargy. The foreign office was paralysed. The prime minster tended his knees. So lax was our vigilance, so cavalier the approach to national security, that when on the evening of April 15 the villagers of Pyrdiwah rushed to the BSF post with news of the imminent violation of our sovereignty, no one cared to even inform the Neros who run the government of India. The invasion was launched a few hours later, in the dead of the night. Even then, Vajpayee and his minions slept. Not even a fax message next day from the chief minister of Meghalaya woke our Kumbhakarnas from their oblivion. Inevitably and entirely predictably, the ants who had humbled the elephant went on their killing spree.

What has happened on the India-Bangladesh border is Kargil-II. Instead of being put on high alert, the BSF was put in deep slumber. Instead of RAW being revved up, their reports were junked. Military intelligence was unavailable, unasked for, not acted on. The high commission’s alarums and excursions were filed away as routine. The external affairs minister did nothing to warn his Bangladesh counterpart of the consequences. The defence minister too did nothing — for like Natha Singh and Prem Singh, the two are one and the same thing — to intimidate the Fazlur Rahmans of Bangladesh. The prime minister did not bestir himself to hammer things home to Hasina.

Pokhran-II has proved more soporific than the bomb. Our nuclear weapons have no more served us than they did the Americans in Vietnam or the Soviets in Afghanistan. We are thus today where Neville Chamberlain was when Leo Amery urged him, “In the name of God — go!” We say to our Chamberlain, “In the name of Ram — run!”

   

 
 
MAPPING THE FUTURE COURSE OF RESEARCH 
 
 
BY TUSHAR KANTI SAHA
 
 
The “book of life” has attracted more attention than the recent findings of three astronomers in Arizona whose research shows that specks of sugar in the Milky Way could have combined with other molecules to form ribose, a sugar that forms the basis of RNA and DNA. The human DNA consists of 3.2 billion pairs of genes twisted in the shape of a helix and packaged in 23 pairs of chromosomes. Genes are small stretches of DNA which tell the body how to make proteins.

With the completion of the human genome project, the possibility of studying comparative genomics has opened up. Man shares 98.4 per cent of his DNA with chimpanzees. Yet, mice, who share about 90 per cent of their codes with man, will be only the second mammal whose genetic code will be mapped. A decade of research on mice has made possible the identification of only 10 genes. Many are yet to be known.

Both India and Japan have missed the initial opportunity to be involved in the international human genome project, which required approximately $ 20 billion to obtain a genetic blueprint of man. However, the genome project has produced thousands of offshoots which will continue to be fascinating areas of study.

Neglected field

So far, India has failed to pay enough attention to this field, although its department of biotechnology in 1990-91 undertook to identify its role in global efforts to map the human genome. In 1993, a task force was set up to explore possibilities of research and investment. However, by 1995 the sub-committee had managed only to outline the “objectives” of such projects. In response to the universal declaration of human genomics and human rights adopted at the instance of the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1997, India decided to set up a national biological ethics committee, which has come up with a policy on human genomics and therapy. Governmental efforts in this sector, however, remain limited with a pittance allotted as funds. Private and non-governmental efforts have been more worthwhile.

The study of genomics has legal, scientific, economic and ethical ramifications. Issues like gene piracy and health insurance have also come into this discourse. Japan, realizing the importance of this research has already allocated $ 560 million for genome research in the last fiscal year. China also signed an agreement for cooperation with a multinational corporation in the human genome research to deal with illnesses such as schizophrenia and diabetes.

Join the club

India too needs to join this exercise. There are some 20,000 Indian pharmaceutical companies, which could enter into collaborative ventures for research on the matter. The mapping of the human genome has revolutionized the study of biology and is likely to revolutionize the production of drugs as well since most scientists now agree that all diseases have their roots in genetic disorders.

Diagnostics and therapeutics will thus be also radically altered, leading us to an era of predictive medicine. It will also be possible to understand and interfere with the process of ageing. Dead genes can be resurrected and pharmacogenomics and toxigenomics can together be made to address many congenital diseases. A microchip containing people’s molecular profile might also become available in the market, which will help detect diseases long before they become manifest. These developments call for a convergence of genomics with information technology and medicine. With it the meaning of life might change entirely.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

All is not fair in war

Sir — The United Nations war crimes tribunal is determined to try the former president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, for war crimes committed during the war in Kosovo, apart from accusing him of corruption. Although strange, even at the Nüremberg war crimes tribunal, there was not a single political leader or military commander of the victorious Allied forces, who was either tried or convicted for war crimes during World War II. All the accused were from the defeated countries. The same is true of the present UN war crimes tribunal. Is it possible that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops involved in the war in Kosovo were above war crimes? Why is it then that none of these people is ever tried at the same tribunal? This is a pointer to the absence of democracy in the current world order. The deep-set hypocrisy in all the odes that Western leaders sing in praise of liberal values, democracy, capitalism, is sometimes unmasked by relatively insignificant observations such as these.

Yours faithfully,
N.B. Grant, Pune

Stop work

Sir — The editorial, “Disrupting norm” (April 20), has rightly pointed out that “there looms the long shadow of irresponsibility between politics and governance” and that the democratic process is undermined when Parliament does not function. As a result, “democracy becomes a lame duck”.

It is believed that when Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister, the instigators of street riots used to be admonished and asked not to settle their problems on the streets. They were asked to take their problems to their elected representatives who would then resolve them either through dialogue or on the floor of the house. It appears that street fights are more civilized today when compared to the high-decibel bedlam that goes on in the Indian parliament in the name of democracy.

In contrast, those of us who are now living in the United States have witnessed the decorous and orderly manner in which the US congress went about its business during the public inquiry against the former president, Bill Clinton. One only wishes that our legislators would demonstrate some of that restraint in Parliament.

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Durham, US

Sir — “Disrupting norm” has hit the nail on the head by stating that the Congress will gain very little from disrupting the proceedings of Parliament. This attempt to discredit the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government will not pay off. What most political parties conveniently forget is that it is better to resolve an issue through deliberation than to engage in yelling matches.

What is even more disconcerting is that the railway budget had to be passed amidst all this confusion (“Rail budget rides voice and noise”, April 21”). This is the first time that the railway budget had to be passed through a voice vote and without any discussion. The situation would have been comical had it not been so pathetic.

Yours faithfully,
Neeta Sen, via email

Sir — It is imperative that in a democracy Parliament should be allowed to function smoothly so that the bills that are pending can be passed. By stubbornly blocking the orderly working of the Lok Sabha, the Congress has once again demonstrated its lack of scruples. It seems that it is determined to stick to its single point agenda — to prolong the deadlock, so that all work in the house remains suspended.

It is a pity that even after more than 50 years of independence, our legislators continue to behave in such an immature manner. The rule of “No work, no pay” should now be enforced so that legislators do not get paid when Parliament is not allowed to function.

Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy, via email

Sir — In a democracy, people elect their representatives, who are then entrusted with the responsibility of addressing the major issues confronting the nation. If these representatives do not do their job, people should have the right to recall them. What opposition parties do not realize is that by creating a fuss over Tehelka, it is merely distracting the attention of the government from more important matters. This time, the confusion has helped aggravate the situation with Bangladesh. It remains to be seen how long it will take the government to resolve this crisis.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Old woes

Sir — It is very disturbing that retired personnel of the government of Tripura who are now settled in Calcutta are having a tough time receiving their pensions regularly and on time in spite of the existence of official procedures to deal with such cases. The indifferent attitude of the subordinate staff and the lack of control of supervisory officers further contribute to the woe of the hapless pensioners. Even though the Supreme Court has ruled that pensioners should be adequately compensated if there is a delay in payments, nothing much has happened.

There may be legitimate reasons for the delay in settling the pension cases of some pensioners, but many are victims of the inaction of the administrative machinery at different levels. All pensioners, whether they choose to stay in Tripura, Calcutta or in any other place, are harassed by a delay of about three months. A great deal of time is expended in getting the paperwork done and it is after overcoming many a bureaucratic hurdle that the final order reaches the person concerned. Former employees of the government of Tripura who are settled in Calcutta, face the additional hardship of having to secure the final order from the office of the accountant general in West Bengal who acts on the authorization of his Tripura counterpart. The absence of work culture seems to be something that the two states have in common.

In Tripura it is easier to approach an official to expedite a particular case than it is in West Bengal. The situation is hardly different for the former employees of the West Bengal government. There have been very few changes in the system and the inconvenience of thousands of pensioners still get ignored.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — The plight of retired school teachers in West Bengal is really grim. Even though I have retired from service some time back, my pension payment order has not yet been settled. When I inquired at the Calcutta pension office, I was informed that my file was still being processed. In the meantime, my family and I continue to struggle to make ends meet.

Some time back we had heard from reliable sources that the pension directorate is opening a new department in Siliguri for the benefit of pensioners from north Bengal. However, nothing much has happened so far. The step-motherly attitude of the government of West Bengal towards pensioners in general and those of north Bengal in particular is very strange.

Yours faithfully,
K.K. Majumdar, Cooch Behar

Parting shot

Sir — It was embarrassing to read the report, “Ditched Kutch clasps Clinton hand” (April 5), on Bill Clinton’s Gujarat visit. Here he was — the messiah, the donor-cum saviour-cum father-cum ex president-cum everything under the sun. And the people of our country did not fail to grovel. As long as the government in India continues to display its monumental indifference towards its people, this sort of thing will happen. Shall we call it artificial calamity?

Yours faithfully,
Hirendra Nath Mukherjee, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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