Editorial 1 / Work to goal
Editorial 2 / Swinging time
The triumph of the racers
Fifth Column / Our farmers, their farmers
Fixing a reasonable price for democracy
Letters to the editor

The 37th Indian labour conference witnessed the prime minister at his firmest. The budget tabled this year by the Union finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, had been aimed to give “second generation” reforms a hard push onward. The means proposed for the development of industry and higher productivity were enough to put off left parties and trade unions, especially since these were closely tied up with redefined labour laws and disinvestment. The protests reached a crescendo when the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the trade union affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, jumped on to the bandwagon. This was a potential embarrassment for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The RSS’s sporadic tirades against the policies of the National Democratic Alliance usually have Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the prime target. This time, the BMS made clear that it wanted Mr Sinha out of the scene. But the prime minister snubbed it roundly, moving away from his prepared speech for the conference to pick the BMS’s argument to shreds point by point.

The BMS, predictably enough, is not willing to face realities. The argument, in its essentials, is hardly different from those of the other trade unions and the amorphous grumbles of certain opposition parties. But the BMS’s voice is often shriller, since its focus is on the damage to national interests via the damage to workers’ interests. The demands ultimately boil down to a wish — or a fancy — that India should not abide by the World Trade Organization conditions. That, apparently, would solve all problems: stop disinvestment of weak public sector units, do away with streamlining of production teams — and with uncomfortable possibilities of accountability of workers, eliminate the worry of having foreign investors walking into native fiefs, erase the bother of competition from foreign products — in short, return India to the paradisal state it is in danger of losing. While Mr Vajpayee laughed off the idea of leaving the WTO and prospering in isolation from the rest of the world, he was firm but reassuring about the issues of disinvestment and the closing of sick industrial units. Nothing would be done without careful and detailed consideration. His remarks showed that an increase in productivity is inevitably tied up with industrial and labour policies, and that without the input of foreign direct investment, development at this stage would stall. But what he said was less important than the way he said it. The arguments have been trotted out repeatedly, and few are incapable of following them. His stance was the true message.

Two things have emerged from this little encounter. One, the prime minister is unlikely to be dislodged from his position at the moment. Even if there are some modifications under specific circumstances, the general attitude will probably remain the same, no matter how many sets of statistics are lobbed at him. And two, he is least likely to be dislodged by the BMS or its peers. This is important because it exposes the paradox that lies at the heart of the trade unions’ objections. The clash of class interests presupposed in their argument no longer works in the same way. If development is the goal, then it is beneficial to all grades of employees as well as to their employers. They need to display competence and accountability together in order to change the existing conditions. The BMS and its cohorts are sadly anachronistic. The prime minister simply underlined this point.


Calcutta’s hawkers must be all in a muddle about their exact legal standing in the city. Or perhaps they don’t care. It could even be possible that the city’s political and civic authorities equally do not care. The chief minister has now, after the elections, started sounding stern and purposive against hawkers. He has declared — so far in the vaguest terms — that the Left Front government will resume its original anti-hawkers stance. He remained elusive about the exact details of the process by which the footpaths in certain parts of the city are going to be freed of hawkers, who have so far shown a remarkable resilience in the face of such purges. But the chief minister has assured the public that 21 city roads are definitely going to be cleaned up.

His swing is quite spectacular, happening in just over a month. And this shows up the extent to which crucial municipal issues have been taken up, almost entirely, into the vagaries of electoral rhetoric. In early April, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was assuring the hawkers that the state government was quite willing to relax its vigilance on them, and had, indeed, gone to the extent of guaranteeing them protection from police harassment. Mr Bhattacharjee’s populism was unabashed, seeing the hawkers as embodying the people’s struggle against urban exploitation. He also saw them as belonging to the “unorganized sector”, which he, as the chief minister, and his police felt particularly obliged to protect. In this, he had then come around to a position that was identical to that of his political opponents. Operation Sunshine, by now reduced to a farcical debasement of civic concern, was first started about five years ago by the then transport minister, to be politically obstructed every once in a while, especially around the time of the civic polls. A few months ago the mayor had been prevented by his party leader from initiating an eviction drive. Hence, Mr Bhattacharjee’s latest invoking of the original position, in favour of eviction, will have to work backwards through a number of rather embarrassing oscillations before it comes to the original position. Through all this, what suffers is not only the physical condition of the city, but also the credibility of a government and its elected head, capable, it seems, of such effortless opportunism.


The United States says it wants a national missile defence shield to guard against possible nuclear attack or blackmail by “rogue states”, avert a possible accidental launch from anywhere (except by themselves), and to promote disarmament by shifting from an offensive nuclear strategy to a defensive one. These are all excuses, rather than reasons. The NMD envisaged by this Bush administration is a comprehensive, “multi-layered” system of missile interceptors along with the whole paraphernalia of electronic “eyes and ears”, and command and control apparatuses which can be used to destroy an “enemy’s” incoming missiles in inner and outer space or even in the earth’s atmosphere before they are able to deliver their nuclear warhead payloads.

Who are the presumed rogue states or “states of concern” as they are now called? Actually, the change in nomenclature is not unimportant. It shows the US is not as hostile as it was to countries like North Korea and Iran because mutual relations have improved. The other most cited country is Iraq. All are signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and have thus abjured making nuclear weapons. They could, of course, violate their NPT commitments, but that would itself be a dramatic step, opening them out to possible punishment (including efforts to destroy their bomb-making capability) from the nuclear states of Russia, China, US, Britain and France, either together or separately.

Moreover, technology-wise it would take Iran and Iraq twenty years or more to have a missile capable of reaching the US mainland. North Korea is simply using its bomb-making and missile-making potential as a bargaining counter to get material-technological help from the US in return for giving up or not going ahead with building these capacities. And the US knows this, which is why it has eased pressure on North Korea in recent years.

In claiming that it must protect itself from a possible nuclear strike by the supposedly irrational and “madman” regimes of these “states of concern” despite its overwhelming retaliatory nuclear power, the US is rejecting the principle of deterrence itself, the foundational argument for why nuclear weapons are supposed to promote security, and therefore why a country should have them. By this rejection, the US has, in fact, indirectly revealed the true reason why it wants the NMD. It has nothing to do with protecting itself — security through deterrence is enough for wanting to do that. It has everything to do with that other fundamental reason why countries want nuclear weapons — to use them as an instrument of foreign policy power and support. The US is trying to address a central question posed to it after the end of the Cold War — what role should nuclear weapons now play in its security and foreign policy ambitions?

The US security establishment was essentially divided on the best answer to this. In the early post-Cold War period, a majority within this establishment felt that the new situation demanded a greatly diminished role for nuclear weapons with stronger movement towards reductions and restraint measures. True, the overwhelming majority of the US security establishment never contemplated the elimination of nuclear weapons altogether. But, to begin with, a majority was strongly of the view that a greatly reduced role for nuclear weapons was both necessary and desirable for the US and the world. They were the arms moderators as opposed to the arms racers.

They were the ones, for example who pushed for the comprehensive test ban treaty and other forms of restraint and reductions. It wasn’t just altruism or concern for disarmament that motivated them to do so. Behind this was also the view that the US had emerged as the dominant power after the end of the Cold War and if everybody reduced their nuclear weapons and there was no further proliferation, the US would still comfortably remain top dog.

Then things began to change in favour of a more aggressive posture. The main factor promoting this development was the sheer scale and extent of the Cold War victory of the US which became ever clearer as the Nineties unfolded. Within the US security and foreign policy establishment, the dominant concern became how best to permanently institutionalize US supremacy over the next several decades, if not longer, and what the role of nuclear weapons could then be in regard to this aim?

Increasingly, the post-Cold War situation came to be seen not as an opportunity for reducing the role of nuclear weapons even while maintaining them, but to find not only a newer but also a more important role for them, although the numbers were going to have to be less. They would have to be less because the US could not point to a big enough threat to justify, to its own public, the maintaining of the same numbers, let alone further expanding them. Rogue states are too feeble a conjured threat to convincingly substitute for the former Soviet nuclear threat.

In short, the arms moderators have lost out to the nuclear arms racers. The Democrats have lost out to the Republicans on the nuclear front. The most aggressive right-wing unilateralists, militarists and imperialists, the weapons laboratories which want to produce ever more sophisticated systems, the defence contractors and industry suppliers who see huge and continuous profits from going ahead with a massive Star Wars programme, have all won out. Even the Democrats were pulled far enough to the right, so that they were prepared to support a much weaker and limited “Son of Star Wars” programme. It should be pointed out that the Bush version is much more advanced and comprehensive than even the Reagan version of a Star Wars programme.

The NMD, along with regional theatre missile defenses, aims to give the US two profound advantages that would prevent the recurrence of what the US never wanted but had to suffer during the Cold War era, namely a military-nuclear “parity” with the USSR. First, the shift to the NMD/TMDs is not a shift from an offensive nuclear system to a defensive one, but towards a lethal combination of offensive and defensive systems that greatly enhances the US’s offensive capabilities. Even if a missile shield functions at merely 50 per cent efficiency it can still be expected to take care of an enemy’s feeble second-strike capacity after a massive pre-emptive strike by the US on any country.

This is why China is so fearful of the NMD and why, to a lesser extent, even the Russians are, although both will be trying to develop various kinds of counter-measures, including developing more or better nuclear weapons. Just the threat, made so much more potent by a missile defence, of being able to “win” a nuclear war is an “advantage” that the Chinese and Russians think they have to fear and the US thinks it must have.

This new Star Wars programme gives a new impetus, and worse, a new direction to the global nuclear arms race. It does this by aiming to provide the US with the technological wherewithal to eventually dominate the new and crucial battleground of inner and outer space which will have become thoroughly militarized and nuclearized. This also deeply worries not only Russia and China but also many other countries who see real dangers and worsening inter-state tensions emerging as a result of this determined US drive for global nuclear and military dominance.

By enthusiastically endorsing the NMD/TMD plans, India has simply surrendered to the US, but must, of course, pretend this is not a surrender but an act of national self-interest. It can only do so by remaining silent about the real purposes behind the US action.

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


Despite the World Trade Organization’s stringent norms and regulations on disciplining agricultural subsidies, American farmers continue to be a pampered lot. Far from being affected by any diminishing support from the government, farmers in the United States are actually getting a very high share of financial support from the Federal Reserve.

With the agricultural subsidies increasing in the two biggest farm blocks — the US and the European Union — the resultant damage to the resource-poor farmers in India is going to be monumental. And that too when the Indian government continues to swear by the WTO’s agreement on agriculture, which urges drastic reductions in agricultural subsidies.

Early this year, with the strong backing of the White House, the US congress added $ 5.5 billion to next year’s budget blueprint to cover potential emergencies in the agricultural sector. This is in addition to the $ 22 billion that have already been doled out to the farming community by the former president, Bill Clinton.

Interestingly, the US farm bill promises to end agricultural subsidies by the year 2002 — a promise that is almost certainly going to remain unfulfilled. Large farmers around the country have complained to the congress that the right, “freedom to farm”, is impeded because their crops are selling at the same low prices that their grandfathers’ crops fetched 40 years ago. When law-makers passed the act in 1996, they approved generous subsidies for the first two years in order to give farmers a cushion to prepare for their independence and the absence of subsidies. But when the world market pushed prices down, farmers asked for emergency payments. And this trend continues unabated even today.

Barriers down

As if this is not enough, George W. Bush promises to aggressively lobby for the dismantling of foreign trade barriers and the elimination of other countries’ agricultural export subsidies. Bush has also promised to force open other countries’ markets, while protecting his own. Indians, for instance, are being told that the world is beginning to dismantle its subsidy support and, therefore, we need to open our trade barriers to make Indian agriculture competitive.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported a study according to which subsidies are, in a weak climate like the one that prevails today, the only barrier to insolvency for many farmers. These subsidies reportedly help farmers meet their current debt liabilities. In the last two years, direct government payments to farmers in the US rose by 86 per cent to reach $ 22.7 billion, and is expected to go even higher this year. Bush has already promised still higher federal support by way of direct payments. Incidentally, direct payments to farmers are excluded from the WTO’s subsidy reduction commitments.

Flood of imports

The US department of agriculture expects farm income to drop this year. “Crop receipts are forecast to fall by $ 2 billion in 2000, reaching their lowest level since 1994,” the USDA said in a report earlier this year. “Net farm income is forecast to be $ 40.4 billion in 2000, a decline of $ 7.7 billion from the preliminary estimate of $ 48.1 billion for 1999.” But, interestingly, what the USDA refuses to acknowledge is that farm incomes are also falling in the developing countries (including India) whose trade barriers are being forced open.

Where will all this lead? With the subsidy to the miniscule American farming community multiplying, and with the other industrialized countries also relentlessly hiking financial support for agriculture, there is practically no hope for India to find a foothold in the global food market. In turn, with the phasing out of quantitative restrictions, India is sure to be inundated with cheap and highly subsidized farm imports.

It has happened in the past in Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines. It is now India’s turn to be faced with a flood of subsidized agricultural imports, some of which have already started coming in. Unless India refuses to open up its agricultural market till such time that all farm subsidies in the developed countries are brought to zero, a disaster awaits us. But then, why hold the WTO solely responsible, when our own government is keen to allow the imports?


The sentiment which most unites our polity is the ineradicable belief ki “sab saale chor hain”. In the moral hierarchy, the politician falls somewhere between the prostitute and the brigand. Is there anything we can do about this? Yes, says Rahul Bajaj, scion of the family that was possibly second only to the Birlas in financing the politics of Mahatma Gandhi. The answer, he writes in a recent article, lies in state funding. Let the government of India do what the Confederation of Indian Industry is doing. In short, match the privatization of the economy with the nationalization of the polity.

The argument has the merit of being one of the oldest clichés in the idiom of value-based democracy. Prepare a transparent khaata of which party is entitled to what, free the private sector of the obligation to fill the greedy hands of politicians, break the nexus between favours granted at election time and favours reciprocally granted between times — and we will have a clean democracy. Alas, it does not quite work that way. As Dwight D. Eisenhower so perceptively observed many decades ago, there is a growing military-industrial complex which dominates America’s polity, and Tehelka has shown that the military-industrial complex is what has worked its insidious way into ours.

Unsurprisingly, the privatization of defence production just announced is precisely the clever sort of idea that the likes of Pramod Mahajan can be expected to come up with to oil both the cranky machine of our economy and, oh so coincidentally, perhaps also the slow and fitful grinding of our democracy.

When Watergate revealed the nexus between Nixon’s political treasure chest and money-laundering through Mexico, not to mention the hold over the White House of the American milk lobby (to what terrible uses do not these mlecchas put our revered gau-mata!) the Americans, in precisely the same kind of moral frenzy now overtaking us over Jayalalitha’s swearing-in, decided that the answer lay in the Rahul Bajaj formula — state funding.

With the thoroughness so characteristic of that nation, they elaborated what they believed was a fool-proof system of probity in politics. But, a quarter century on, it is well- documented that George W. Bush is in hock to his wealthy creditors, that Bill Clinton became governor of Arkansas only after he agreed to become pointsman for the truckers lobby, that even Robert Dole, the losing Republican candidate of 1996, began his quest for the nomination (let alone the presidency) with a modest piggy-bank of $ 43 million of other people’s money, and so on and so forth. State funding has not ended pecuniary prurience, it has only exponentially increased the payload of politics.

The fact is that before we start thinking of state funding, we first need a realistic national consensus on what constitutes “reasonable” expenditure on not just elections but the entire machinery of our democracy. Readers of newspapers such as this generally reel back in horror at the thousands of crores spent on elections. Yet, ask them what proportion of our gross domestic product would be reasonable to earmark for democratic politics and they turn to an economist (usually some dreary academic who could not get elected to a college mess committee). The Economic Survey tells us that our national income is around Rs 12,00,000,00,00, 000. Now what percentage of that would you think is reasonable to spend on our democracy? One percent? That is Rs 12,000 crore. Too much? Rs 2,000 crore more than Yashwant Sinha is willing to spare to feed the poorest of the poorest of Indians? Then, shall we say, 0.1 per cent? That would be Rs 1,200 crore. Over five years, it would amount to Rs 6,000 crore. Shall we start with that as a ball-park figure?

Divided over around 500 parliamentary constituencies, that amounts to about Rs 12 crore per constituency per term of five years. Far too much if only Parliament members were involved. There are, however, members of legislative assemblies too, averaging seven per parliamentary constituency. So, Rs 12 crore is to be considered in relation to one MP and seven MLAs, reducing the per capita share to, say, Rs 5 crore for the MP and Rs 1 crore for each of the MLAs over a five-year period. Then there are the three tiers of the panchayati raj. That amounts to about 35 lakh elected representatives in local government around the country as a whole, or about 7,000 in each parliamentary constituency.

To meet their expenditure, let us slash half from the earlier ball-park figure for the MPs and MLAs — that would leave about Rs 5,000 for each panchayat/nagarpalika representative on average for the full five years. Reduced to annual expenditure per capita, this would mean Rs 50,000 a year for the MP, Rs 10,000 a year for each MLA, and Rs 1,000 each year for the local government representative. On a monthly basis, this amounts to around Rs 4,000 a month for the MP, Rs 800 a month for the MLA and Rs 80 a month for the poor panchayat or municipality member.

I doubt that any reader of The Telegraph would accept a job where the infrastructure expenditure on running his office — telephone, postage, computer, secretarial assistance, travel, chai-pani, and elections at the end of the term — is Rs 1,000 a week (MP), let alone Rs 200 a week (MLA) or down to just Rs 20 a week (zilla parishad adhyaksha).Yet, that is what state funding of democracy to the tune of Rs 1,200 crore a year implies.

So, before we start asking who is to fund our democracy, let us first decide what would constitute “reasonable” expenditure — to both have a democracy and to keep it (relatively) clean. And in fixing what is “reasonable”, let us also take into account what economists call the “opportunity cost” — that is the cost of not having a democracy.

I am something of an expert on the costs of not having a democracy. Because the foreign service led to my spending a year in Hanoi under the dictatorship of Ho Chi Minh, two in Baghdad under the benevolent aegis of Saddam Hussein, and three in Pakistan kind courtesy Zia-ul-Haq. And it requires seven such searing years to thank the Almighty that one was born Indian. For not only is the price paid in liberty and human rights for not having democracy horrendous, the cost of running a democracy is a zillion times lower than that of running a dictatorship. At least, here we do not have to build a dozen marble palaces to accommodate the sleeping requirements of an Idi Amin. Race Course Road, New Delhi is about the limits of our over-expenditure.

If the countries of east and south-east Asia are the modern economic miracle, India is the contemporary political miracle. The democratic freedoms we take so much for granted are a distant dream for our brethren in the “miracle” nations. The Emergency showed that we, as a people, are not ready to lose those freedoms. But we still have no accounting for how much we as a people are willing to pay upfront to preserve those freedoms. It little matters whether the payment for our democracy will be made by the private sector or the national budget. What matters more is what we as a people are prepared to pay for our democracy. Once there is a national consensus on that, the rest is mechanics. And till that consensus is reached, articles by bleeding-heart capitalists are knee-jerks.

Since we now have a Calcutta-based chairman for the Confederation of Indian Industry, might I urge him through this column to start an earnest soul-searching among his colleagues, in consultation with the political class, and in open debate with the people at large, as to what constitutes reasonable national expenditure on our most precious national asset — democracy — and then see how the nation can consensually and cheerfully pick up the tab.

As for crooks, crooks will be crooks — on the taking front as much as the giving.



Talk about a talent

Sir — The photograph of Tracy Chapman (page 4, May 21) singing at a benefit concert in New York on Saturday was a reminder of the fact that Chapman is one of the finest singer-songwriters in the United States. The fact that she was invited to sing for the birthday celebrations of the legendary Bob Dylan underscores the respect she commands as not only a singer but also as a songwriter (which was, after all Dylan’s forte). And this, despite the fact that her only major album release, Fast car, was about 13 years ago. Her next album, Crossroads, unfortunately, did not do well at all. Last year, she released a chart-topping blues song, Give me one reason to stay here, that catapulted her into the limelight once again. Over the years, the decline of Western popular music has been hastened by less-than-mediocre songwriting. This is accompanied by even worse scores and singing. Given the circumstances, a fine artiste like Chapman redeems the cause of pop music more than adequately.

Yours faithfully,
Ronojoy Gupta, via email

Joke state

Sir — Bhaskar Ghose deserves the gratitude of all right-thinking people for his timely piece, “A joke called choice” (May 11). Elections are meant to be a platform on which one chooses the most responsible representatives for the people and this forms the very basis of a democracy. Unfortunately, over the last few decades, this institution has degenerated into a farcical system, bereft of any ethical sense at all.

In most cases, money and muscles are all that matters in the electoral process. This is why we find persons convicted of corruption charges, like Laloo Prasad Yadav or J. Jayalalitha, occupying honourable places in our polity. Political leaders of all hues have contributed in this degeneration. We find our elected representatives regularly and shamelessly stalling proceedings in Parliament. That this causes monetary and other losses to our country does not seem to affect them at all. The lexicon they rely on for their machinations does not contain the words, ethics, decency or rationality.

The political violence and the consequent repolling we seem to be having all the time is an indicator of the fact that elections here are seldom free and fair. To redeem the country from the morass of political corruption, a different political culture has to be ushered in altogether. And this can only be brought about by electing honest, devoted and enlightened people who can feel the pulse of the people. For the people to come to a position where they can make judicious decisions while voting, they need to be educated first. Poverty and illiteracy produce a myopia that disables them from making proper choices in exercising their franchise.

Yours faithfully,
Satyananda Bhattacharjee, Kharagpur

Sir — Bhaskar Ghose analyzes of the current dilemmas of the Westminster model of governance in the context of the assembly elections. His long-winded prose, with dollops of trivia about Mill, Bentham and Paine, boils down to the argument that the democratic structure of our polity is based on consent. From this hypothesis, buttressed by the idea of Rousseau’s social contract, flow his theories about Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Assam has been likened to a vast killing field, almost a mini Pol Pot regime. About Tamil Nadu, he tritely eulogizes M.G. Ramachandran’s idea of the mid-day meal and talks of population control. As far as West Bengal is concerned, he argues that Mamata Banerjee is the only thing that is wrong with the state.

Ghose considers people who are pro-change to be taboo because they are about to upset the status quo of the social order, which should be perpetuated because it is the “known devil”. One can hardly find a stauncher defender of the status quo.

There is also some talk about an impending crisis like the one generated by the notorious Joseph Estrada. Are we really in such a mess? How have we managed to survive as a democracy then? Is it rational to assume that our democracy stands only on the basis of a free press and a vigilant judiciary?

Yours faithfully,
Sunil Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — Bhaskar Ghose’s article gives a clear picture. We, the citizens, are deprived of most of our rights in our daily lives but are granted that one symbol of democracy — the right to vote. And this right to choose our leaders is indeed a joke, because the electoral process is nothing more than a process of choosing a less corrupt person from among several others. We are in a deadlock. The election process is leading us nowhere; we are faced with an apology for a democracy.

Yours faithfully,
Debasish Dey, Calcutta

Wards in hell

Sir — My mother, who is 88 years old, recently suffered burns while working in the kitchen. We rushed her to the SSKM hospital, where she was admitted to the emergency ward. Unfortunately, this place turned out to be a horror. There was not even a ceiling fan in the ward. We had to use a newspaper as a hand-fan. No one attended to her for a long while. Finally someone came and directed us to the plastic surgery department. Here, we were told that we ought to have taken her to the “Burn Ward”. All this while, she was kept lying on the stretcher that belonged to the ambulance we had hired to take her to the hospital.

A kind employee of the hospital, who was passing by, stopped and put some crude bandages on her wounds. A little while later, a doctor emerged and wrote something on a piece of paper and advised us to get a ticket made. The man sitting at the ticket counter said that this was not possible because it was after 12 noon and he had shut down the counter and checked his cash.

At this point, we were told that we should get in touch with the surgeon superintendent who would be able to admit her into the “Burn Ward”. But this person turned out to be even ruder than the rest as he mentioned that he could not admit the patient because the beds were all occupied. He also claimed that one patient was expected to expire by about 6 pm, and that if we admitted my mother to NRS hospital till that time, he would arrange for a transfer.

But the ward at NRS hospital was worse than what we had seen the whole day. It was stifling and dirty. Eventually we decided that we could not possibly go on doing this and we now had to rely on private hospitals or clinics. So we took her and got her admitted to Belle Vue clinic where she received the finest possible treatment.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyan Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — I visited Howrah General Hospital on April 30 to see an ailing friend. When I reached the second floor, I started getting a foul odour. The surrounding conditions also did not look particularly salubrious. If patients and their relatives have to be in this kind of set-up, how do the authorities think anyone will ever get cured here? Will the minister for health please visit the place and see the conditions for himself? Something needs to be done at once.

Yours faithfully,
Keshab Kumar Chowdhury, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — I cannot agree with Khushwant Singh’s “Healthy minds and healthy bodies” (April 16). He prioritizes a healthy body over a healthy mind. This is an avoidable fixation. A mind free of worries is as important as a healthy body. Often an unhealthy mind can induce all kinds of illnesses.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

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