Editorial 1 / Jury is out
Editorial 2 / Write pressure
Fair game in uniform
Fifth Column / Rising crime and a wonky leader
Daughters in the workplace
Grim picture in the Asian crystal ball
Letters to the editor

The president of the United States, Mr George W. Bush, has completed a hundred days in office, but it is too early to pass judgment on either the style or the substance of his presidency. Ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president of the US in the early Thirties, the first hundred days of the presidency have acquired a certain mythical quality. Public opinion, and the media especially, use the end of this period to deliver an initial verdict on the quality of the presidency. The new administration uses this “honeymoon period” to signal and shape the major policies that it wants to implement. No president, however, since FDR has really been able to transform the mould of politics in his 14 weeks in office. Taking office in the middle of the Great Depression, FDR was not just able to put into place many of the policies that eventually became part of what became known as the New Deal, but was able to inject a mood of hope and optimism.

Today, the US is neither in the middle of an economic crisis nor is there much of a chance that it will get embroiled in a world war. Sustained mediocrity rather than individual genius is required to run what remains the most powerful political office in the world. Under the circumstances, Mr Bush has proved to be reasonably capable in keeping the ship of his presidency in fairly calm waters. His public approval ratings are higher today then they were when he was sworn in. He has, in recognition perhaps of his own limitations, delegated authority to his cabinet and advisers. His team, even his harshest critics would admit, consists of some of the most capable people in US public life.

On domestic issues, Mr Bush has remained loyal to his ideological moorings. The highlight of his budget has been the huge tax cuts that have been recommended, which will — whatever rationale his spin doctors may present — benefit principally the richest 10 per cent of the American people. His decision to abandon the Kyoto protocol and reject any regulations on carbon dioxide emissions seems to be driven by his close proximity to the American automobile industry. Mr Bush has stuck to being a conservative, with the much-touted compassionate part of his conservatism in little evidence. He has done little to bridge the gulf between conservatives and liberals, which divided the US during his bitter electoral contest with Mr Al Gore. But the only real test that Mr Bush has faced during these days was over a foreign policy issue. The collision of a US spy plane with a Chinese fighter aircraft and arms supplies to Taiwan continue to threaten to derail Sino-US relations. Even here, however, despite the occasional faux pas, Mr Bush has virtually let his secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, and the national security adviser, Ms Condoleeza Rice, call the shots. And while the crisis with China may not have done much for Mr Bush’s image, it is worth recalling that John F. Kennedy, probably one of the most popular American presidents ever, was deeply scarred by the Bay of Pigs fiasco against Cuba in his first hundred days. It is still early to decide whether Mr Bush will emerge as the great statesman, that some Republicans suggest he could be, or the incompetent conservative that many Democrats are claiming he has already proved to be.


The moment of birth of something good is always exciting. The massive rally being organized in New Delhi by the National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education in order to demand the right to education is the signal that pressure group activism is coming of age in India. Jaded by electoral rallies and empty rhetoric, people can now actually participate directly in something that affects them concretely. The draft bill proposing to make education a fundamental right is still hanging fire in Parliament, caught and forgotten in the whirlwind of political disruptions. All those campaigning for universal and free elementary education now have an influential forum, as do those whose prime concern is universal literacy. It is possible, even if the public rally attracts 1,00,000 people, to remind the government that there are other priorities than the saving of politicians’ skins.

India has entered a danger zone in which it has few companions. The level of literacy in the country is so low that all the long-term fruits of its new economic policies are likely to wither on the tree. An illiterate population in the 21st century is paralysed from the point of view of locational and employment mobility. Economic liberalization can mean little when it creates jobs and there are no takers. Besides, in the age of the information technology revolution, illiteracy is a serious danger. Not only will people be left behind, but they might also find it impossible to know what facilities are available simply to carry on with their lives. India has entered the millennium with the largest number of illiterate people. So these dangers are only too real, and the less the time wasted on analysing reasons for the failure the better. Making education into a fundamental right would be a meaningful step certainly, but what is immediately needed is full attention to infrastructure and the examination of the substance of achievement levels. This is what Nafre and its members can work at most effectively, by actively engaging in programmes for the spread of education and supporting groups which do the same. But as a pressure body, its job would also be to ensure that the state and Central governments focus on compulsory elementary education and non-formal adult teaching as priorities.


For the second time in recent years, members of the Indian security forces have been tortured, killed in cold blood and mutilated by one or the other of our neighbours. The first instance took place during the Kargil conflict at the hands of Pakistan, whose sole strategic aim is to decimate India using means fair or foul and whose only belief is that the end justifies the means. The recent happenings on the India-Bangladesh border have surpassed even the earlier Pakistani brutality. That there was no open hostility between the two sides and that diplomatic relations were stable only makes the incident more revolting from the Indian perspective.

It is not one’s case to reflect on the tactical aspects of the recent incident or indeed the deeper political ramifications considering that Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s government stands for good relations with India while battling with hostile elements within her security and civil services. It is to reflect on why a country that stands by high moral values and has the fourth largest military in the world should have to bear the ignominy of having its men in uniform abused and defiled. What is it that makes Pakistani military and hostile elements within the Bangladesh military think that Indians in uniform are fair game? How many other forces inimical to our national interests feel the same way? And what is it about India that conveys the impression that Indian forces can be routinely exploited without exemplary retribution?

As commander at various levels, it has been one’s duty to break the news of tragedy to families whose kin have laid down their lives in the line of duty. Sometimes, as in the case of air accidents, it is not practical to even permit them to see the remains. Never in his service career did this writer ever face a situation where the next of kin was not convinced of the cause for which their kin had made the supreme sacrifice and never did one ever have to tell them anything but the truth. Taking heart from Tagore’s prayer, the tragedy was faced with the mind being without fear and the head being held high.

For the first time when the mutilated Kargil bodies were received on Indian soil and reported upon, shivers went down one’s spine. If one were the commander of the deceased how would he face the kin and what would he say to them? That their kin sacrificed their life in line of duty was fine. It was an occupational hazard they had accepted with dignity and honour. But with what degree of personal conviction would one convey that a nation, for whose cause they had made the supreme sacrifice, could not ensure their kin dignity in death and according to clearly defined international conventions? What had failed in the system to deny them a right that is afforded even to those condemned to capital punishment? Who could they turn to for solace?

It is this sense of deep remorse that has again overwhelmed one on learning of the recent India-Bangladesh border episode. How much more humiliation does this nation have to bear and how many more military men tortured and defiled before someone somewhere has the moral courage to stand up and say enough is enough.

This is not the time to point fingers and score debating points. It is a moment for introspection and reflection. And before we start passing the buck, let it be said that every individual and institution of this potentially great country has in some measure failed. We owe the dead men and their families not just an apology but a solemn commitment that this will never ever be repeated, whatever the cost. No price, even a political one, can be put on the izzat of the nation, its people, its institutions and its soldiers. And this needs deeds not words.

Ever since independence, there has been a consistent decline in the status of India’s armed forces institutionally, organizationally and as individuals. The services have been victims at the hands of the administrative and political classes, remaining mute spectators to their eroding status. This explains why India’s first and only living field marshal is under article 12 of the Warrant of Precedence. Such decline has lowered the izzat of personnel donning the republic’s uniform. In turn, unbeknown to its myopic leaders, the republic’s own izzat has suffered.

During Kargil and the present crisis, there has been much reporting and debate on the operational, diplomatic and political aspects of various security-related issues. Sadly, one has failed to see any meaningful commentary and debate on the moral, ethical and degenerative aspects of the latest trends of torture, cold-blooded murder and mutilating of soldiers that has newly emerged and their impact on military minds. This speaks of a media that is shallow with confused priorities set by a power-hungry and corrupt polity.

When television cameras tell us how our Parliament does not function, then one begins to wonder. Especially those that sit atop battlegrounds of 18,000 feet where survival itself is an achievement without the bonus of daily enemy fire. It was hoped that the Kargil Review Panel Committee Report would be debated in Parliament after it was tabled during the last winter session. Instead, the nation was rewarded with a spectacle of pandemonium with no discussion on this report. The message was clear. The price that our forces had paid in Kargil, including those tortured and mutilated, had already been forgotten. The message to our adversaries was also clear. Politics and power in India transcend national security.

The current budget session has met with a similar fate and the defence budget will be passed without debate through a guillotine. Our parliamentarians and political parties have forgotten that their priorities and performance are being watched not just by their electors, but the national security institutions and more ominously those across our borders that harbour us ill will. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that those ill-disposed towards India in Bangladesh saw this an opportune moment to humiliate our border forces and hence chose to act.

With the Tehelka exposé, it is almost certain that whatever service modernization plans were afoot post-Kargil will again be put on hold. A mere replay of Bofors, 1986. That is why we paid dearly with servicemen’s lives in Kargil. And that is why we have lost over 90 young pilots and over 250 aircraft in accidents during the Indian air force’s long wait for the advanced jet trainer. The 12th Lok Sabha standing committee on defence had made scathing remarks about successive governments using delaying tactics while accepting that absence of an AJT was costing loss of lives and equipment. The latest standing committee on defence has again passed similar grave strictures. Yet these people’s representatives have found no time to debate these vital national security issues within Parliament. It is this lack of concern by our legislators and administrators to the needs, safety and izzat of our armed forces that is giving our adversaries unconventional ideas that are aggressively being put into practice.

Post-Kargil, enough has been written about neglect to national security by our democratic institutions. Pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Action is now needed. Let the military leadership clearly articulate what essentials they need to implement government security policy and not acquiesce in governmental procrastination. Let Parliament hold a special and comprehensive debate on national security for people to judge where political parties stand on national security issues. And let the government continue to reorganize and modernize its defence apparatus without fear or favour.

Institutions of democratic India must now consider themselves on notice as the people are in no mood to tolerate torture and humiliation of our servicemen and defiling of our dead soldiers.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force


You can always count on the Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, like some perennially alienated teenager, to say the most extreme thing available. He was at it again last week at a conference in Tunis, urging Africans to drive white people out of the continent. “The white colonialists have no place in Africa and their presence is unlawful,” said the Bad Boy of international politics, dressed in his most fetching designer robes.

But there may be no need to drive the whites out. In South Africa, the only part of the continent where there is still a large white population — not “colonialists”, but people whose ancestors have lived there for generations and in most cases for centuries — they are leaving of their own accord. Trustworthy statistics are hard to find (mainly, one suspects, because the South African government is reluctant to collect them), but it seems likely that around 10 per cent of the country’s five million whites have left since the end of apartheid in 1994. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many more are thinking of leaving or actively preparing to leave.

Those who leave are primarily the most highly skilled and educated, who find a ready welcome elsewhere: poorly educated and low-skilled whites stand little chance of emigrating. And it’s not just whites who are leaving. Skilled black, Asian and coloured South Africans are also lining up for immigration visas to the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States or Australia, for much the same reasons.

Lacklustre economy

Crime, particularly violent crime, seems out of control in South Africa, and the economy is bumping along the bottom as the rand plunges ever lower against foreign currencies. There is a pervasive sense that the political system is becoming less tolerant and drifting into dangerous waters — and despite South Africa’s recent out-of-court victory over the big pharmaceutical companies, the AIDS plague is going to wreak havoc with its population: over 20 per cent of South Africans are HIV positive.

Two recent events underlined the speed with which the situation is deteriorating. One was when 12-year-old AIDS activist Nkosi Johnson, who moved the world with his speech to last year’s International AIDS Conference in Durban, was robbed recently at gunpoint in his own Johannesburg home. As the boy lay there, conscious but near death, armed men threatened to kill his nurse, ordered him to be silent, and stole his valuables.

And then, President Thabo Mbeki announced that three prominent members of the ruling African National Congress were under police investigation for a possible plot against him. Mbeki has always had a paranoid streak, but this unexpected turn of events suggested to many people that it is now getting the better of him.

Preemptive move

South Africa’s independent media have treated Mbeki’s allegations with contempt, explaining them as a pre-emptive move to thwart any plans that his old rival, Cyril Ramaphosa, might have to challenge Mbeki’s leadership before the next election in 2004. But involving the police in this little intrigue is a new step downwards.

South Africans of every colour live with the fear that their country, despite its high level of development and the promising start it made on a democratic future under Nelson Mandela, is somehow doomed to follow the grim pattern that has devastated its neighbours to the north. They look at war-torn Angola, at dirt-poor Mozambique, at an impoverished and tyrannized Zimbabwe, and they shudder with apprehension.

It is early days for such apocalyptic judgments. South Africa is still more miracle than disaster area. Its future once seemed destined to be a huge, unwinnable, endless racial civil war, like what happened in Lebanon at ten times the scale. Instead, it has become a peaceful, multi-racial democracy whose biggest problems are a sky-high crime rate, a lacklustre economy and a somewhat wonky leader. This glass is at least half-full.

But perceptions matter a great deal in life, and if the country’s skilled people continue to abandon it at the current rate, all its hopes for a more prosperous future will fail. Then the dire visions of calamity will become self-fulfilling prophecies. The two urgent problems to get under control, if this is not to come to pass, are the crime rate and Thabo Mbeki’s mouth.


Studies conducted in the United States in the early Nineties showed that young girls in the age group of nine to 15 years were showing “disturbing” changes. They were turning shy and awkward, constantly worrying about their looks. In response to these findings, a foundation which works with women in the US, came up with the idea of the “Take Our Daughters to Work Day”. April 26 was designated as the day when mothers were encouraged to take their daughters with them to work. This was to give the girls positive ideas about life and encourage career aspirations in them. This idea has since been expanded by some to include boys and rechristened, “Take Our Children to Work Day”. Since then, this idea has been taken up internationally and observed by several organizations. It was felt that both boys and girls needed to become familiar with images of women in the workplace.

Therefore, on this day, they would be given a live demonstration of how women are valued in the workplace, to reexamine the whole notion of women’s work and the workplace, which is necessarily distinct from the environment at home. Children need to go through this experience because, very often, reproductive tasks like bearing and bringing up children, and other tasks like cleaning, cooking, washing and so on, which are performed in the home and largely supposed to be women’s work, are not seen as work.

In terms of conceptualization, work is defined as activity that brings in money. The office is seen as a place that values women and where women deal with challenging and fulfilling careers. Also, since the idea of bringing girls into the workplace is to wean them away from worries and thoughts of looking good, the workplace is also projected as being free of such worries.

Women’s movements have continuously struggled against the tendency to devalue housework. Privileging paid employment over other forms of work such as housework or voluntary activities has strengthened processes of marginalization of women. This invisibility of women’s labour contributes to the lowering of women’s self esteem. Women who spend a large part of their day caring for their families see themselves as “women who do not work”.

This writer has no quarrel with the notion that paid employment provides many men and women with challenges and a sense of purpose. Many women have found an enhancement in their social positions because of the fact that they earn money. It is certainly important that children should not be brought up under the impression that the only purpose of a woman’s life is to be the perfect mate to a man.

However, the formulation of the April 26 event raises a range of questions. It requires a huge leap of imagination to conclude that because young girls are overly concerned about make-up and attracting boyfriends and because they suffer adolescent anxieties, they are necessarily eschewing a future as women with jobs or careers. The belief that “achieving” women necessarily have to be boringly severe-looking has been disproved long ago.

Again, if we examine the matter of being bothered about how a woman looks, it is tough to accept that the workplace frees us of such concerns. Most workplaces, all over the world, have a dress code, sometimes clearly articulated and often implied, both for men and women, and it is only exceptionally brave or foolhardy souls who cross these lines.

There is also an assumption that children grow up in environments which are somehow free of women earning a living. In countries such as India, many schoolgoing children grow up with women teachers. The more affluent also grow up with ayahs and cooks. Several shops have saleswomen. Hospitals have doctors, nurses and cleaning women. Surely, First World children too go to schools, shops, supermarkets, museums, libraries and hospitals that have women staff. Many children also have mothers and other female relatives who earn a living. The supposition underlying the April 26 event seems to be that women’s validation is in the workplace. Nothing could be further from the truth. Highly-educated women in positions of power acknowledge the existence of a “glass ceiling”.

Incidentally, many women have had to take their children along to work because they have no one else to care for them at home. Generations of children have grown up watching their mothers pluck tea leaves. Women carry infants on their backs as they precariously climb parapets at construction sites. Young children often accompany their mothers as they go cleaning and washing, working as part-time domestic help.

At various points, women’s movements have raised demands for safe and affordable childcare facilities at or near the workplace. Governments and employers by and large prefer to ignore such demands. In an increasingly market-driven milieu, the decision to have a child is seen as a matter of individual choice and the issue of social responsibility for childcare deliberately pushed out of sight. Societies that compel women to choose between paid employment and motherhood can hardly claim to validate women at the workplace.

Almost everywhere in the world, women in all sectors are paid less than men doing comparable work. In India, the largest number of women workers are concentrated in the agricultural and home-based work sectors. There is not a single state in India where women are paid the same wages as men for the same work. The tasks are divided along gender lines, and work done by women is invariably categorized as light or unskilled work. The well-educated, highly-paid, authority-wielding woman is somehow seen as the only symbol of the woman in employment. Of course, the fact that this woman may have had to work twice as hard as her male colleagues in order to be taken seriously is usually glossed over.

While there is no denying the fact that thousands of women have rich and rewarding careers, it is immensely misleading to come to the conclusion that the workplace treats all women well. For most women in countries such as ours, the workplace is a site of injustice, ill-treatment and exploitation. Wages are miserably low, hours inhumanly long and the jobs strenuous and tedious. Even in the 21st century, many girls in the age group nine to 15 are already in the workplace. They are employed in houses, factories, brothels and shops. For many of them, it would be a treat to have the leisure to think about how they look.

Denied an education, the only escape these girls can dream of is a fairytale marriage to a kind man who earns enough so that his wife does not have to go out to work. These daughters have not had a choice in matters of employment. For them, it is a harsh necessity of daily life. Even if they had not been employed, it is likely that they would have been out of school and at home, lending a hand with childcare and other household tasks. Events such as “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” seem to have been conceived with an inadequate analysis of women’s relationship with the workplace.

The workplace is likely to continue as a site of struggle for a long time to come. Entering the workplace and staying on is not simply a matter of having strong role models and information to make individual choices. The question we need to address is whether structures and systems that govern employment allow women to have a dignified life.


As recession looms over the United States, the economic situation in the world as a whole looks grim. Northeast and southeast Asia, key players in the global economic expansion for the past two years, are expected to be hit hard by a decline in imports from the US and Japan. The United Nations, which had predicted an average of 5.5 per cent growth among the 10 southeast Asian nations this year, has lowered its estimate to 4.5 per cent. For east and northeast Asia the average growth rate is expected to be 5.8 per cent against a forecast of 6.4 per cent. Fortunately, the ESCAP survey has predicted a higher economic growth rate of 6.5 per cent and a lower inflation rate of 5 per cent in 2001 for India. The ESCAP’s crystal ball goes one step further, forecasting growth rates of 6.9 per cent in 2002 and 7.2 per cent in 2003 for India, with inflation static at 5 per cent. The proviso is that there should be no major external and internal shocks and the second generation of economic reforms in the infrastructure, insurance, financial and public sectors sustain momentum.

What the survey says

The World Economic Survey, 2001 of the UN is confident that developing nations and economies in transition are in a better shape now to absorb financial upheavals than they were three years ago. ESCAP points out that short-term debt has declined and external reserve positions have improved or stabilized in virtually all south Asian economies. The UN report has not predicted any major change for the growth rate of gross domestic product of developing countries as a whole this year.

The developed economies are expected to grow by 3.6 per cent against 4.1 per cent in 2000. In Asia, the greatest cause for worry is Japan, the world’s second largest economy. Japan is still struggling to come out of the mire of sub-par growth over the past decade. This had occurred after a bubble in prices of shares, property and other assets burst in the early Nineties. Debt as a proportion of GDP in Japan has doubled to 130 per cent and is set to increase. This build-up of debt is the largest in the industrial world.

Rising out of the mire

Japan has been coming under growing global pressure to speed up disposal of bad loans to strengthen the banking system and lift the economy out of the mire. The International Monetary Fund has urged Japan as well as Europe to do more to promote sustained global growth. According to it, last year’s rise in oil prices, the slowdown in the US and weakness in Japan “had increased the downside risks in the global economy.” World oil prices have tripled over the past two years.

The UN identified certain trends in the world economy that may contribute to a slowdown. While higher oil prices is the most dominant factor, other causes include tightening labour markets acting as a trigger for inflation, higher interest rates, rapid appreciation of the dollar against almost all other currencies, falling corporate profits and rising debt. These trends should be partially offset by growth fuelled by information technology, particularly for countries in south and east Asia. The report predicted that investment spending on computer equipment and software, internet and telecommunications will continue to stimulate the global economy in 2001.

The net effect? The world economy is expected to grow by 3.5 per cent by the end of this year as against 4 per cent in 2000, according to the UN. World trade should also grow at a lower rate of 8.4 per cent in 2001 against 10.7 per cent last year. While such crystal-ball gazing is fine, it must be remembered that there are many pitfalls associated with predicting the economic future of the world.



Damning criticism

Sir — The resistance to the Narmada Bachao Andolan is getting increasingly complex every day (“Medha, Arundhati incur apex court ire”, April 24). The latest event in the ongoing controversy is the accusation that Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy and the lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, have all made derogatory remarks about the Supreme Court’s judgment and have filed an even more contemptuous affidavit in response to an earlier contempt notice issued by the court. The latest developments will effectively crush all the voices of protests that the NDA was appearing to have engendered. In a country where freedom of speech is a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Constitution, this would be unfortunate. There have also been attempts in the media to misconstrue the reactions of Patkar, Roy and others as eschewing of the rule of law. Perhaps this could have been avoided. Criticism, unless it is a direct incitement or unless it amounts to active rebellion against the existing social institutions, should not be stifled thus.
Yours faithfully,
Debashis Mohanty, Bhubaneswar

Small leaders, small gains

Sir — There was a time when West Bengal could boast of leaders like Prafulla Chandra Sen, Atulya Ghosh, Bejoy Singh Nahar, Asoke Krishna Dutta, Promode Dasgupta, Benoy Choudhury, Nirmal Bose, Nani Bhattacharjee and so on. Anyone would be deeply influenced by their simple lifestyle, dedication and the sacrifices they made for their work.

One could not imagine them telling lies, making false promises, disseminating misleading information or indulging in power politics. In my experience as an official connected with election duties in 1967, I could ask Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who was contesting from Chowringhee as the Lok Sabha candidate against Sadhan Gupta, to instruct his companions to leave the polling booth at Watgunge. I do not know if this would be tolerated today by the so-called political administrators. One suspects not.

Bluff has become an integral part of the election process today. The sky’s the limit for promises before the elections, personal scores are settled in the course of political speeches, decency flies out of the window. It is no wonder that young people are leaving West Bengal all the time and looking for better opportunities elsewhere. If the politics of this state has attained such an unremarkable distinction, is it any surprise that the quality of life here has also plummeted?

One remembers the announcements made by the chief minister at the Krishnagar and Contai election meetings before the last Lok Sabha elections to the effect that a sum of Rs 42,000 crore would be invested in West Bengal. Where is that amount?

Yours faithfully,
Amar Lahiri Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir — Manifestos of political parties as promises to the voters are evidently less attractive these days. This is perhaps because the futility of such things has been adequately displayed in the past. The first two priorities in the Trinamool Congress manifesto should have been the eradication of corruption and the reinvigoration of the administrative structure in order to regain the trust of the people in the promised result-oriented performance. These two things are fast corroding the national structure and jeopardizing our political culture.

Politicians have encouraged this degradation. They should have been bold enough to combat these problems in an organized, potent manner. Instead, they have silently watched as the economic strength of the region has deteriorated and all welfare measures have slowly disappeared.

There are far too many ills that need urgent correction. Corruption, inefficient governance, poverty, food security, shelter, housing, health, power, roads, irrigation — the list can go on. A strong political thrust is needed to tackle these issues. They cannot be solved by individual intervention, activism, or by non-governmental organizations. But this is where political parties have been most reluctant in action.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Credit where it is due

Sir — The Reserve Bank of India’s recent monetary and credit policy has focussed on the regulatory and supervisory role of the apex bank rather than on the health of the economy. It was long expected that the bank would initiate stringent measures to strengthen its powers of supervision in the aftermath of the post-budget stock market scandal, which exposed the loopholes in the existing market regulatory mechanism. The banning of urban cooperative banks from lending against shares as collateral security, the recovery of non-performing assets, setting up of more debt recovery tribunals and the separation of monetary policy from its debt-management activities by divesting ownership in financial institutions are judicious steps.

Again, the decision of bringing a special investment package for senior citizens with high interest rates is sensible. Those people who were upset about Yashwant Sinha’s “dream budget” may finally get some relief. But, apart from regulations, the focus should have been the sluggish growth of the economy in key sectors through further cuts in the bank rate and the cash reserve ratio. Instead, only a slight reduction in export finance has come through.

Yours faithfully,
Abhijit Roy, Jamshedpur

Sir — The Income Tax Act has had hundreds of amendments to it made in the last 40 years. The chief vigilance commissioner, N. Vittal, has also expressed concern about the amount of black money that circulates in our economy. The tax structure should be simplified to ensure honest and voluntary tax compliance. Surcharges should be abolished. A psychological barrier should be kept on the tax rates at about 30 per cent — which is not to be exceeded.

Revenue losses can be compensated for by the abolition of most of the 139 categories of tax exemption. To encourage savings, the network of nationalized banks should be used by introducing all tax saving schemes through the branches of nationalized banks and through the removal of the system of commissions, which are paid to agents.

Yours faithfully,
Subhash Chandra Agrawal, Dariba

Sir — The tax structure in this country is far too complicated to be useful. With regard to the “standard deductions”, retired persons, both those under the purview of pension schemes and those who are not, as well as those persons who come under the voluntary retirement scheme, should all come under the same rate of taxation. This will make matters easier of comprehension to the layman.

According to the existing structure, the persons who do not come under any pension scheme are often taxed at higher rates of interest than people belonging to other categories. This makes the system both unfair and unwieldy.

Yours faithfully,
A.L. Sarkar, Calcutta

Wrong cityscape

Sir — The letter by A. Chatterjee, “Parting shot” (April 3), makes a very important point. The derogatory remarks by Michael Douglas in the film, Traffic, about Calcutta, despite the fact that the city was not in the least bit relevant in the sequence, was most disconcerting. This is not to say that Douglas himself had much to do with this.

This disparaging remark not only hurts the sentiments of Calcuttans, but also goes against the economic interests of the people living in this city. If foreigners get this picture it could not possibly help us. The Calcutta film world and its supporters should organize a demonstration against this. We need to have active lobbying against these Western attitudes.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Pal, Calcutta

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