Editorial 1/ Dream of order
Editorial 2/ Aids to development
Balancing act
Fifth Column/ What the assembly verdicts foretell
This above all/ A gentle way with words
There is no oasis for the elderly
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ DREAM OF ORDER 
 
 
 
 
It is absurd to invoke Scotland Yard with reference to the police in Calcutta or West Bengal, even if it is to say how far the police here fall short of the Yard’s efficiency. The new commissioner of Calcutta police, though, is undaunted. Mr Sujoy Chakraborty has talked of acquiring methods of scientific investigation and raising levels of efficiency and fitness. These are laudable targets, notable for two things. One, the striking lack of the reality principle, implicit in the imagined comparison with Scotland Yard. It is as if Mr Chakraborty is quite unaware of the depths of corruption, inefficiency, violence and indifference into which the Calcutta police has fallen. Two, the recitation of much-repeated aims which will involve an enormous amount of money and which have very little to do with the crude needs of lawlessness in the city now. Evidently, the new director general of police, West Bengal, Mr Dinesh Vajpai, is a greater believer in large aims and paraphernalia. He feels that it is most urgent to modernize the state police force. For that, he needs more security vans, buildings, computers, telephones and wireless sets. Besides, he believes with the chief minister that the police must learn to treat the poor man with respect. He envisions a “monitoring” system of circle inspectors, deputy superintendents and so on. That is, more people getting on one another’s toes, more paperwork, more gizmos, more bustle — and an impressive facade to hide the fact that the police refuses to take the bull by the horns.

There is nothing wrong with what the two officers have said, but their priorities are completely skewed. Mr Vajpai has spoken of the increase in the number of police vehicles, officers in charge and so on in the city. He has not said how this has helped in curbing political and mob violence, conventional crimes such as murder, the use of the city as a safe passage by militants, the abduction of businessmen and their children. It is not surprising, therefore, that he would talk of conducting a study on the pattern of post-election violence when asked what he intends to do about it. There is total silence from both officers about corruption and violence within the force, a terrible example being the rape of the deaf-mute girl in custody and the subsequent hushing-up. Police-public relations may be a priority, only when officers are willing to deal with issues like murder by the police, as of the political supporter beaten up while he was drowning, or policemen’s incitement of lynch mobs, as happened when a teenager was killed by a crowd a year ago. The police had given the impression that the boy was a robber while he was just speeding. Since the chief minister has retained the home (police) portfolio, perhaps he could urge the officers to lower their heads from the clouds and set them an example at the same time.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ AIDS TO DEVELOPMENT 
 
 
 
 
The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh seems to have hit upon a unique method of measuring development in his state. Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu thinks that the rise in the incidence of AIDS in Andhra Pradesh is the result of its high development profile. This new idea from a dynamic innovator will certainly revolutionize AIDS epidemiology in the country, the infrastructure for which will surely be provided by Mr Naidu’s recent passion for genomics. One wonders whether such a theory is medical, economic or anthropological, since Mr Naidu leaves the whole matter deliciously vague. One also wonders about Mr Naidu’s notions of how sexually transmitted infections are spread, and how he explains to himself, and to the prime minister, the connection between ignorant or irresponsible sexual behaviour and some of the fruits of “development”. Does a rise in literacy, for instance, lead to unsafe sex? He could be referring to the migration of people from the villages to towns. But that is hardly unique to Andhra Pradesh. Whatever he might mean, one could detect not only a defensiveness in his explanation, but also a positive note of pride. Any indication of development, never mind its human consequences, is a scoring point for this league-table-minded chief minister, whose technologically impressive presentation on the entire issue at the prime minister’s residence is yet another way of glamorizing the state’s achievement.

There are other, more seriously pernicious, messages regarding AIDS that Mr Naidu has conveyed to the people. The rise in AIDS, according to him, is not the fault of the people of Andhra Pradesh. It is an evil that comes into the state through “contact” with people from the neighbouring states, and of course, with foreigners. Mr Naidu has pointed out that Andhra Pradesh has a “long coast”, which makes it particularly prone to alien infection. This xenophobic explanation of contagion is a familiar strategy of disacknowledgement often used by conservative societies. It was doing the rounds, officially and unofficially, in the early years of India’s AIDS “awareness”. Fortunately, through the untiring effort of non-governmental awareness-raising, these fallacies and prejudices have been largely rectified, although the transformation of rhetoric into action is far from complete in the country. It is reassuring to see that the prime minister seems not to have been too impressed with this new development feather in Mr Naidu’s cap, and has asked him to tackle the situation through sensible and well-informed measures. Mr Naidu will have to take some time off his genomic obsessions, and learn the basic facts about AIDS if he wants to forestall the problem of a dangerously ill, or infected, populace in the state over and above other, undoubtedly development-related, distractions like extremism, child-trafficking and suicidal farmers.

   

 
 
BALANCING ACT 
 
 
BY S. VENKITARAMANAN
 
 
The planning commission has been at the receiving end of much abuse and criticism. It has recently been called the most expensive dustbin, a description which does little justice to the eminent personalities who occupy the posts of members in Yojana Bhawan.

In its latest draft approach paper to the tenth plan, the planning commission recognizes its new role for the state. It clarifies that while an all-pervasive role for the state may have appeared necessary at an early stage of development, the situation has changed dramatically in this respect. This is not to say that the government has no role to play or only a minimalist role in promoting development. The government’s role will have to increase in areas which are unlikely to attract private investment on reasonable terms.

While the approach paper cautions that the focus of development planning has shifted from a mere emphasis on growth of per capita income, it states, in keeping with the prime minister’s directive, India should attempt to double its per capita income in the next 10 years. With population expected to grow at 1.6 per cent per annum, the prime minister’s target requires a rate of growth of gross domestic product to be around 8.7 per cent over the tenth and eleventh plan periods. This compares to around six per cent, reached in recent years. However, the fact that there is a slack in the economy enables the planning commission to conceive of a higher target. But it cannot be achieved with a “business as usual” approach.

The approach paper cautions that development objectives cannot be defined only in terms of increasing GDP or per capita income but have to include the enhancement of human wellbeing. It aims at suitable targets in areas of education, health, water supply and basic sanitation.

The critical question is one of raising the resources for the level of investments needed to reach the above targets. The planning commission proceeds on the assumption that there is scope for realizing improvements in efficiency in both public and private sectors. However, this improvement in efficiency can be realized only if appropriate policy reforms are put in place by the government.

One important factor, which the approach paper points out, is that there is scope for reallocating resources away from subsidies to asset creation programmes. As the paper states, “The Plan provision for rural development is Rs 7,000 crore, for food subsidy Rs 13,000 crore and for kerosene and LPG subsidy about Rs 12,000 crore, making a total of Rs 32,000 crore. Against this, the provision for irrigation is only Rs 1,700 crore and for afforestation only Rs 400 crore. We need to examine whether the resources used for poverty alleviation schemes and for various types of subsidies in the name of the poor may not be more effective in alleviating poverty if directed to various types of asset creation programmes in rural areas.”

A good idea, but will it be acceptable to the political leaders?

One of the weaknesses of the approach paper is that while it spells out the details of the policy changes to be made, it does not clarify the magnitude of the resource effort that is implicit in its high targets. In specific terms, this will involve a substantial tax-raising effort on the part of the government of India and of the states. The paper reiterates the objectives laid down by the finance minister of India in the fiscal responsibility and budget management bill, which means that the planning commission is not proposing to finance the additional investment through deficit financing.

The disinvestment proceeds estimated by the planning commission seems to be unrealistically high, namely, to increase from Rs 2,500 crore in 2000-01 to Rs 17,000 crore in 2004-05. Considering the recent problems in attaining even the modest target of the 2000-01 budget, the estimate of the planning commission seems to be infeasible.

If the planning commission lays down too ambitious an investment target unmatched by receipts, there are two possible dangers. One is increased resort to deficit financing and consequent inflationary pressures. The other is dependence on external financing, which does not seem to be realistic. One hopes that in further detailed discussions of the approach paper, this issue would be thrashed out. In earlier approach papers, the planning commission had devoted considerable attention to the issues of sustainable external finance and internal price stability.

The planning commission has proposed a number of changes of policy in different sections. In keeping with its emphasis on agriculture, it recommends the need for increased public investment in irrigation. It also emphasizes the development of other rural infrastructure that supports not only agriculture but also of rural economic activities in general. It does not, however, come to grips with issues of opening up of agriculture to corporate investments. Ideological issues have, of course, to be resolved. But, the reform process will be complete only when we solve this problem.

Turning to the public distribution system, the approach paper reiterates the decisions of the government with regard to amendments to the Essential Commodities Act to enable free movement among states. Decentralization of procurement of foodgrains is also emphasized. The task of maintaining buffer stocks will then become the joint responsibility of the Central and state governments, deficit states being encouraged to buy directly from surplus states. This suggested solution, however, begs the question as to how the Centre will discharge its responsibility of preserving equitable distribution of foodgrains between surplus and deficit states.

The approach paper discusses the question, “Is there a viable alternative to the public distribution system?” It points out that there is temptation to blackmarket when, as in the present system, some consumers pay a price that is much higher than the price fixed by the government of India for those below the poverty line. The paper points out that there is no shortage of grains in the rural areas in the northern states. Further pumping of cheaper grains through the government is not necessary and is even against the interest of farmers. All these aspects emphasize the need for thoroughly redesigning the current PDS so as to make it efficient, while at the same time serving the interests of equitable distribution.

Turning to the ticklish issue of power sector reforms, the paper admits that it has been suffering from various problems. However, over the years, no corrective action has been taken and the result is that the power sector faces serious crises in most of the states. The main elements of the power sector reform should include rationalization of the power tariff. The paper recommends that the process of tariff fixation be depoliticized by entrusting it to the state electricity regulatory commission. This is too optimistic. If the SERC recommends a rise in tariffs, the politicians will disregard the commission and we are back to square one.

The paper makes a legitimate suggestion that if any section of the consumers has to be subsidized, necessary subsidies will be provided explicitly from the budget. But, this is also the spirit of the current budget procedures. The approach paper recommends the unbundling of the electricity boards by forming separate generation, transmission and distribution agencies. The ultimate aim is privatizing distribution so as to bring in expected addition in efficiency from the introduction of the private sector. One wonders how far this will be feasible given the attitude of trade unions.

The approach paper emphasizes the need for increased investment on railways and points out that the heavy cross-subsidization of passenger fares is not economically rational. It says that the rail transport services lack consumer focus and should be replaced by a system which provides services in line with consumer needs. Greater emphasis has to be laid on the completion of existing projects and proper prioritization of all ongoing projects has to be made to ensure that resources are not spread too thinly across projects.

As is to be expected, the approach paper is quite comprehensive and thorough. It emphasizes the problems in the economy as also the potential for development. It provides a starting point for a national dialogue on important issues. It is to be hoped that this ensuing dialogue will be constructive and yet critical and will result in the emergence of an agreed national policy framework which is, after all, the aim of the national plan.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ WHAT THE ASSEMBLY VERDICTS FORETELL 
 
 
BY SURENDRA MOHAN
 
 
The assembly elections for the states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and the Union territory of Pondicherry have caused great joy within the Congress. The party has captured Assam and the United Democratic Front that it leads has won in Kerala by a surprisingly huge margin. Besides, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance, which is a coalition partner of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, has lost in Tamil Nadu. This too should make it happy.

In fact, in the last three years, the Congress has had a string of successes at elections to the state assemblies. For instance, it won in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi over the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1998. In 1999, it wrested Karnataka from the Janata Dal. With its recent wins, it heads the governments in nine states and Union territories.

Yet, in Tamil Nadu, it could enter into an alliance with the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam only because of the support provided by the Tamil Maanila Congress leader, G.K. Moopanar, and has won only six seats in a house of 234 members. In West Bengal, where its partnership with the Trinamool Congress was on the way to becoming a formidable challenge to the Left Front, it had to content itself with 24 seats out of a possible 294. This is a drop from its previous record of 85 seats.

New roads

It also suffered a humiliating defeat in the prestigious Shahjahanpur parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh, where its nominee was the widow of the late Jitendra Prasada, a stalwart of the party. The Samajwadi Party came out a clear winner, defeating the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Moreover, the Congress should not forget that the results in Kerala and Assam have only confirmed the pattern of not reelecting an existing government in these states. Viewed this way, there is really very little cause for celebration.

If, however, it is able to consolidate its ties with the Trinamool Congress and the Tamil Maanila Congress, it would be a judicious move. It could also try persuading the Nationalist Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar into an alliance. This way it can strengthen its hold in states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharashtra. In Gujarat, it has already been making gains, although this trend could be upset by the resignations of Sanat Mehta and Chhabil Das Mehta.

It is clear that Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA has weakened during the last few weeks. Not only did the Trinamool Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi walk out of it, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam fought the elections in a manner so as to ensure a defeat for the DMK. N. Chandrababu Naidu, by refusing to campaign in the elections for the DMK-led alliance, exposed further the chinks in the NDA’s armour.

The other front

The NDA leaders are not too worried about its biggest possible challenger, namely, the People’s Front. The parties which have jointly floated this front, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, the Forward Bloc, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (Secular) are opposing the NDA’s economic policies.

But, most of these parties are disappointed about the prospects of the People’s Front. This disappointment is reinforced by the fact that the Left Democratic Front lost in Kerala. However; they point out that the erosion in the number of votes has been to the tune of about one per cent. The results in Tamil Nadu and Assam, or, for that matter, the victories in Shahjahanpur and Tiruchirapally, are claimed by them as a popular verdict against the Centre’s economic policies.

The front is pleased with the election results. A policy statement is ready for release after a final discussion among its constituents. Yet it has to show in practice that it means business. It will have to decide whether it wants an alliance based on coherent policies or if it is ready to make all sorts of compromises within the alliance to find strength in numbers. The follies of previous third front governments must not be repeated if and when it gets another chance to rule. It must ensure that it does not have to depend on the Congress. For that to happen, its mass base has to be consolidated — interactions with secular and progressive grassroots groups will help it.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ A GENTLE WAY WITH WORDS 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
A week before he died at 95, news of his precarious health began appearing in all our national dailies. I was rung up by some and the BBC and other TV channels and asked to be ready with a tribute — just in case. It showed the world-wide concern and regard people had for R.K. Narayan. On Sunday, the 13th of May at 5 am, my telephone rang. It was from the BBC in London. Narayan had died two hours earlier and would I say something about him? I did, in Hindi for the Hindi service and in English for the home services.

Narayan deserved the adulation heaped on him. He was the leader of the quartet comprising of Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, Govind Desani and himself which proved to the English-speaking world that Indians could handle the language as well as writers born to it. Narayan was luckier than his contemporaries in finding an enthusiastic patron in Graham Greene who launched his writing career and persuaded publishers to offer him lucrative contracts. He was the first to spot Narayan’s deceptively simple prose shorn of purple passages, completely free of sex or violence which most writers exploit to hold the readers interest. Narayan put his imaginary one-horse town, Malgudi, on the world map. His slow-moving, languid plots and characters were replicas of life and the people of southern India.

Narayan found ardent admirers in N. Ram and his English wife, Susan, who jointly wrote his well-researched, voluminous biography and opened up columns of The Hindu to him which made Narayan the most widely-read Indo-Anglian writer in the South. In the North, grudging acceptance of his craftsmanship came much later. Frank Moraes, the most celebrated editor of recent times, found Na- rayan’s novels “tedious reading”.

I first met Narayan when he was living in the suburbs of My- sore. He worked in the mornings and came into the town in the late afternoon. I accompanied him on his walks through the bazaar. He walked very slowly and stopped every few yards to complete what he was saying. He stopped at many shops to exchange namaskars with shopkeepers, introduced me to them and conversed in Kannada or Tamil, neither of which I understood. We resumed our leisurely stroll.

When he was in Delhi, he dropped in as often as he could to have a cup of coffee and chat with me. We also met at writers conferences in England and America. The one meeting which remains etched in my mind is a week we spent together in Hawaii.

Having said our pieces we spent our evenings together. He was not great company; I found his habit of suddenly stopping after every few steps to finish what he was saying somewhat frustrating. Finding a good place to have an evening meal also posed a problem. He was a strict teetotaller and a vegetarian; I was neither. We would go to a grocery store and buy a carton of plain yoghurt (dahi). Then we would go from one eatery to another to find out if they had what Narayan needed. “Do you have plain, boiled rice?” The answer was usually in the negative. When we found one, Narayan would get his plateful of boiled rice and empty the carton of yoghurt on it. He would have liked to use his fingers to eat it but condescended to use his spoon.

One evening, I decided to shake him off and either find a more sociable companion or go out alone. When he came to pick me up, I told him that I wanted to go to see a pornographic film which he may not like. “I’ll come along, I don’t mind,” he assured me. We went to a sleazy part of Honolulu which had several cinema houses showing pornographic movies. We chose one, bought our tickets and went in. It was showing sex with the vulgarest deviations. I thought Narayan would walk out, or throw up. He sat placidly without making any comment. It was I who said, “Let’s go.” He turned kindly to me and asked, “You’ve had enough?”

Narayan’s gentle, shy, laid-back manners gave the impression that he was a very humble, modest man. Humble he was, but not modest. Once when the All India Radio invited writers to give talks on literature and offered fees much higher than usual, all writers accepted its offer. Only Narayan made one condition that he should get at least one rupee more than the others. In his travelogue, My Dateless Diary, he writes about a lunch given in his honour. During the course of the conversation, one of the guests remarked that he thought R.K. Narayan was one of the three greatest novelists of his times and named the other two. Another guest disagreed about the other two but included Narayan’s name in his list of three greats.

I wrote about this in one of my columns, Narayan never spoke to me again. Now that he is gone, I miss his presence as much as millions of his admirers. A fitting tribute to him would be to name some town in Karnataka or Tamil Nadu after the locale of his novels and short stories — Malgudi.

Valley’s own voice

Agha Shahid Ali is an unusually gifted poet from Srinagar. He is now settled in the United States and is teaching creative writing in the University of Massachussetts. I had earlier commented favourably on his translations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and his own poems. His latest offering is, The Country Without A Post Office — Poems 1991-1995. The poems are largely about the plight of Kashmiris in the blood-sodden state. Though the tenor of the poems is that all the angels are on the side of Kashmiri Muslims and all the devils on the side of the Indian police and the army, the cry of anguish comes from the poet’s heart:

Yes, I remember it

The day I’ll die, I broadcast the crimson,
So long ago of that sky, its spread air,
Its rushing dyes, and a piece of earth
Bleeding, apart from the shore, as we
went
On the day I’ll die, past the guards, and
he,
keeper of the world’s last saffron, rowed
me
on an island the size of a grave. On
two yards he rowed me into the sunset,
past all pain. On everyone’s lips was
news
of my death but only that beloved
couplet,
broken, on his:
“If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this.”

A particularly moving poem is entitled, “I Dream I am the only Passenger on Flight 493 to Srinagar”. I quote its latter half:

Attar — of jasmine? What was it she wore

that late morning in October ’74?
When we were driven (it was the
sunniest
day) from Connaught Place to Palam
airport? She pressed
a note — Rs 100 — into my palm:
“Take it or, on my life, I will perish.”
They announced DEPARTURE. I
touched her arm.
Her sari was turquoise! She turned to
vanish,
but then turned to wave. (My silk is
stained,
How will I face my Lord? She’d set in
Pain —
her chosen raga that July in Srinagar.)
A week later: Ghazal Queen Begum
Akhtar
is Dead. She had claimed her right-to-die:
She had sung “Everyone will be here
but I”

Another poem inspired by a ghazal of Makhdoom Mohiuddin deserves notice:

Rumours of spring — they last from

dawn till dusk —
All eyes decipher branches for blossoms.
Your legend now equals our thirst,
Beloved —
Your word has spread across broken
nations.
Wherever each night I’m lost to myself,
They hear from me of Her — of Her alone.
Hope extinguished, now nothing else
remains —
only nights of anguish, these ochre
dawns.
The garden’s eyes well up, the flower’s
heart beats
when we speak, just speak of O! Forever.
So it has, and forever it should last —
this rumour the Beloved shares our pain.

Let’s get rid of the garbage

Q: What is the difference between a computer and an election which causes a change of government?

A: A computer means “Garbage in, garbage out”.

The change of government means “Garbage out, garbage in.”

   

 
 
THERE IS NO OASIS FOR THE ELDERLY 
 
 
BY P. S. M. RAO
 
 
The government, following the economic reforms, has a much reduced role in the problem areas of poverty, unemployment and social security. Its responsibility ends with mouthing platitudes, while leaving the people to fend for themselves. Yet all government reports, the budget in particular, indicate the plight of the people.

In the last budget, the government showed a lot of concern for the need to strengthen the system of old-age social and income security. One proposal was to create a pension fund for Central government employees from October 2001. This was to evolve into a contributory pension on the plea that pension payment was a heavy burden on the exchequer. The government was also anxious about the high 11 per cent interest on the provident fund balances of about 20 million employees under the employees’ provident fund scheme. It proposed to reduce this to 9.5 per cent.

In fact, the OASIS project, which aims at widening old-age security, does not provide any sensible solution for the millions of elderly people who have no financial support. It seeks to reduce the benefits available under the existing schemes to the workers in the organized sector.

However, the OASIS project incorporated in its report impressive and indisputable facts relating to the elderly. The report pointed out that the number of elderly people in India is on the rise. It is estimated that between 1991-2016, this population would be around 113 million, that is 8.9 per cent of the total population.

The problems of the elderly are bound to multiply as joint families break down. Add to this, the growing unemployment among the youth and the inadequate incomes which would make it impossible for the young to take care of elderly dependents. According to the OASIS-collected data, only 15 per cent of the working population in 1991 were employed on a regular or salary basis; 53 per cent were self-employed, while the remaining 32 per cent were casual or contract workers. In the organized sector, 11.13 million were in government service and enjoyed non-contributory pension. The remaining 35.87 million were eligible for the benefits provided by the employees’ provident fund organization.

Despite there being widespread discontent with the EPF, which is considered inadequate, the OASIS suggests further reduction in the benefits. Yet the committee was never asked to examine the need to reduce the benefits. Its job, if it was at all properly understood, was to suggest means to help those millions in the unorganized sector who had no security in their old age.

The pension available to any person under the existing employees’ pension scheme is calculated with a formula: pensionable service is multiplied with pensionable salary and the product divided by 70. Two years grace service is added if the service has been for more than 20 years. Since the salary ceiling for the purpose of EPF contribution is Rs 5,000 no matter what the person’s actual salary, the maximum pension allowed in cases where the employee has completed 33 years, is Rs 2,500. It is much lower in the majority of cases.

It is appropriate here to see what the employee foregoes to get the maximum pension. A sum equal to 8.33 per cent of the employee’s salary contributed by the employer every month into the employee’s PF account is pre-empted and another sum equal to 1.66 per cent of the employee’s salary is paid by the Central government. This sum, close to 10 per cent on a steady stream of income of Rs 5,000 a month for 33 years at an interest of 11 per cent, works out to about Rs 20 lakh. If this money is returned to the employee, which rightfully belongs to him instead of a paltry Rs 2,500 pension, he would earn many more times this amount.

OASIS fails to understand this. Instead, it asks for the withdrawal of the governmental contribution of 1.66 per cent. It further suggests that the benefits be given in such a way that there should not be any demand on the government to contribute. This would further reduce the available pension.

OASIS has also criticized the functioning of the EPF. It blamed it of inefficient asset management, poor customer service and a highly permissible approach towards premature withdrawals. The second and third points contradict each other. The customer service should be considered poor when benefits due to the customers are not delivered promptly. But the Committee says the EPF organization has a “permissible approach” towards releasing the entitled benefits, which annuls its complaint of poor customer service. The committee then sets out to suggest a scheme of self-help to the millions of people in the unorganized sector.

The scheme suggested include, among other things, individual contribution of a minimum Rs 500 a year in the individual retirement account; the maintaining of these accounts at centres, called “points of presence”, like post offices and bank offices; entrusting the money to the fund managers and investing the money according to the choice of the beneficiary.

It is amusing to see such suggestions from the “expert committee”. The committee alone knows how the poor, who do not have income sufficient to have two square meals, can save money for their future security. Their priority would be today’s survival, not security after 25 or 30 years. It is an absurd proposition that their saving of, say, Rs 500 a year would give sufficient returns to them to make their retired life happy.

Even more absurd is the belief that these unemployed or casual employees or those in the unorganized sector, most of them illiterate, can understand the sophisticated investment schemes and can choose from among the 18 options, calculating the costs and benefits, better returns, yields and so on. These suggestions were, perhaps, the result of the committee’s excessive concern that the government should not bear any cost towards the social security of the people of this country.

Equally, it appeared to have more concern for the private fund managers than for the people, encouraging more private participation than the participation of the government. As a result of this approach what was termed an “oasis” turned out to be a mirage which could not quench the people’s thirst for social security.

The areas of social security and old-age support should have been set aside from liberalization, since without the government’s active participation the benefits would not automatically trickle down to the needy.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Job satisfaction

Sir — Is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) really turning over a new leaf as senior leaders of the party would have us believe? It would certainly seem so, if one is to go by the events of the past few days. Not only has the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had a meeting with a delegation of businessmen last week, but the party’s state leadership has also issued guidelines for its ministers (“CPM code to keep ministers on leash”, May 26). According to these guidelines, the 33 CPI(M) ministers will have to draft annual plans and submit them to the industry minister, Nirupam Sen, for evaluation after a six-month period. While the top bosses of the party seem keen to ensure that the ministers do their job properly, this could well turn out to be a bit much for the ministers, given that many of them have been around for quite some time and are not used to this regimen of discipline. Bhattacharjee will certainly be hoping that his ministers cooperate as otherwise his dream of an improved Bengal could well bite the dust.
Yours faithfully,
Sanjoy Chowdhury, via email

Outside of all process

Sir — People are being killed mercilessly by both Palestinians and Israelis, now that the west Asia peace process is on hold. The latest attacks on Palestinian targets by the Israeli F-16 jets show the vicious intensity of the Israeli retaliation. Ariel Sharon’s hardline approach has made matters worse. International pressures which urge both sides to a dialogue have not been adequate. Apart from a few Arab nations, led by the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, others have barely shown interest in the peace process.

The decision by the Arab nations to sever all political ties with Israel and the condemnation of the attack by other influential nations is surely a step in the right direction. But a great deal more would have to be done to prevent the existing conflict from turning into fullfledged warfare.

Yours faithfully,
Avin Sharma, Calcutta

Sir — Although the American predilection for Israel is nothing new, Arshi Khan has made a valid point while highlighting this fact, especially in the context of American global irredentism (“Forcing itself on the rest”, April 25). There have been many occasions when one sovereign country has bombed another. The United States had bombed a Sudanese chemical factory. Later on, it was proved that the Sudanese plant was harmless. What is disturbing is that so-called democratic countries did not protest.

The moral and ethical questions raised by these incidents need to be addressed. Even though the US has tried to play the role of an impartial negotiator between Israel and Palestine, it is quite obvious on whose side it has always been. Israel, with its large population of European Jews, is more “real” to the US, while the Arabs are practically non-existent. It is up to the third world countries to protest against the hegemony of countries like the US.

Yours faithfully,
H.P. Mitra, Calcutta

Right perspective

Sir — The report, “Chokila diplomacy for daughter” (May 18), by K.P. Nayar, contains several errors of fact and interpretation that need to be set right.

The visit of the foreign secretary, Chokila Iyer, was planned several weeks in advance soon after the visit of the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, to Washington. This visit is part of the institutional dialogue architecture between the United States and India that envisions a natural progression of ministerial level meetings, foreign office consultations and meetings of the joint working groups which have now been scheduled to meet in June. The dates for these visits are worked out mutually by both sides.

The foreign secretary’s visit took place at the invitation of the under- secretary of state for political affairs, Marc Grossman. Iyer had a full round of meetings, including the structured foreign office consultations that covered bilateral and regional issues as well as global concerns such as international terrorism, non-proliferation and peacekeeping.

She met senior officials of the national security council and, on the Friday afternoon that Nayar believes was kept free, she called on the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage. Contrary to the assertion in the report that there was no meeting with the Republican congressmen, the foreign secretary met the congressman, Ed Royce, co-chairman of the Indian caucus.

The congressman, Jim McDermott, the other co-chair who was to be present at the meeting, had to leave Washington at short notice. The programme followed the normal pattern for any visit by the foreign secretary.

Both the Indian and US sides have expressed great satisfaction at the timeliness and the substance of these discussions, which are essential components for the agreed institutional dialogue between the two countries. It is regrettable that your correspondent did not focus on the substantive gains of the visit and instead, chose to launch a vicious and unwarranted personal attack on the foreign secretary.

Yours faithfully,
Navtej Sarna, Counsellor (Press and Information), Embassy of India, Washington DC

K.P. Nayar replies:

Navtej Sarna does not deny the main thrust of my story, that the foreign secretary’s Washington diplomacy was primarily an exercise to facilitate her presence at her daughter’s graduation ceremony in Boston. The Telegraph does not dispute Sarna’s assertion that Chokila Iyer’s trip was planned weeks in advance. The date for her daughter’s graduation was fixed months in advance. What Sarna conveniently overlooks is the fact that South Block proposed the dates for foreign office consultations in Washington so that the foreign secretary could go to Boston after meetings in the US state department. The Americans only concurred with the dates.

Chokila Iyer acknowledged at her press conference on May 18 that her meetings with the congressmen, Gary Ackerman and Benjamin Gilman, were cancelled because of “scheduling problems”. Now Sarna says her meeting with the co-chair of the India Caucus, Jim McDermott, was also cancelled. The foreign secretary’s meeting with deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, was hurriedly fixed after The Telegraph story about her visit was published. It was not in her programme circulated here: nor did Iyer even hint at the possibility of such a meeting at her press conference the day before The Telegraph story. Iyer’s visit to Washington at this juncture was a lost opportunity for India. Had she visited Washington after the talks of the Pakistani foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, with US leaders next month, India could have got a valuable new perspective of how US policy on south Asia was shaping up under the Bush administration.

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company