Editorial 1 / Price of learning
Editorial 2 / Sex and death
Dangerous questions
Fifth Column / Still not enough women in politics
Start at the very beginning
Public eye on a private administration
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / PRICE OF LEARNING 
 
 
 
 
Ever since he took over the reins of office, Mr Budhadeb Bhattacharjee has exhibited signs of steering the Left Front government along somewhat different lines. He has made no secret of his belief that West Bengal’s prosperity is crucially dependent on jettisoning at least some orthodox dogmas which have guided policy-making in the state for many years. He has quite openly wooed industrialists to set up ventures in the state, promising all kinds of government support. This kind of initiative cannot have gone down well with party die-hards. But, Mr. Bhattacharjee’s past actions (or more properly statements of intent since there has been very little concrete action so far) pale into insignificance compared to the state government’s plans to reduce the level of government subsidies for higher education. The middle class all over the country rises up in violent protest whenever the government announces any plans to raise user charges for services provided to them, and the citizens of West Bengal are no different. The fact that college and university fees have remained unchanged for several decades while prices of all other goods and services as indeed incomes have gone up several fold is completely ignored by virtually everyone. Since the cost of providing education has also increased over time, the amount of subsidy which has to be provided by the state has increased steadily. This has had at least two disastrous consequences. First, there has been a sharp deterioration both in the quality as well as availability of education. Second, rising subsidies have gobbled up a large share of the government’ s paltry resources, leaving the government with no money for investment in projects which can promote growth.

All kinds of subsidies result in a diversion of public resources, and a strong case can be made for reduction in other subsidies too. But the arguments in favour of a reduction of subsidies in higher education are particularly strong. No one can deny that subsidized higher education aggravates social inequalities. Even casual empiricism suggests that the overwhelming majority of beneficiaries of higher education today are the urban elite. Given the paucity of public resources, every rupee spent on higher education means one rupee less of expenditure on primary schools and the public healthcare system. And these are just a couple of examples of areas where the benefits percolate to the really needy. Since an important principle of government expenditure on social welfare programmes is proper targeting, it is difficult to build up a case for continuing with the present system of large-scale subsidization of higher education.

Any increase in fees will create additional hurdles for the really poor for whom every rupee counts; they may find themselves priced out of higher education. Higher education does generate higher earning capacities. Unfortunately, this comes about much later. In the absence of perfect capital markets, the poorer students just do not have the opportunity to take loans even if their prospects of repayment out of future earnings are bright. This is a sphere where pro-active measures are desirable. Side by side with an increase in fees for higher education, the government should also implement a scheme through which students can have access to loans which will allow students to pay for the higher cost of education. Even if some proportion of loans are not paid back, the overall expenditure of the government on higher education will come down.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / SEX AND DEATH 
 
 
 
 
The delegates to a major UNAIDS conference, to be held next week, are having to be very careful. They are treading the razor’s edge between cultural sensitivity and death. It is, quite simply, a matter of what can, and cannot, be said. The conference will have to devise a declaration of commitment which will somehow manage to get around the taboos in different societies regarding most of the key aspects of human behaviour determining the HIV/AIDS epidemiology. This is not only a question of political correctness, but also one of pragmatic strategies for maximum effectiveness in an unprecedented global crisis. More than being impolite, offending sensibilities could alienate a country’s political leadership and civil society from crucial policies of prevention, treatment and care.

The problem areas seem to be prostitution, homosexuality, extramarital sex and drug abuse. In some societies, where the epidemic is spreading alarmingly, these practices are invisible, unmentionable or criminalized. Disconcertingly, UNAIDS is beginning to realize that being careful about such laws and taboos could end up silencing their entire campaign of consciousness-raising and active intervention. How these societies look at women as sexual objects and agents is also deeply relevant here. If women cannot make any choice and assertion regarding what kind of sex they would like to have with their partners, then the entire business of ensuring safer sex remains out of their decision and control. HIV/AIDS policy-makers, workers and carers will repeatedly run against such challenging complexities in the daily practice of what they have committed themselves to. This calls for sensitivity, tact, firmness and also a great deal of courage and clear-headed prioritization. Having to go against the grain of a society’s lies, secrets and silences, occasionally even against its necessary and respectworthy fluidities and reticences, could often be an onerous and dangerous responsibility. But then, one has to weigh the stakes. In this particular case, it could be as simple as difference versus death.

   

 
 
DANGEROUS QUESTIONS 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
Hardly anybody bothers to, or dares to, ask the relevant question. If, in the 21st century, you persist with a monarchical system, is not regicide-cum-patricide bound to be the inevitable consequence? In medieval times, kings were routinely murdered, with no questions asked, by their sons or other relatives. That was apparently the natural order. Monarchy now is an anachronism by at least three to four hundred years, but not, we are told, in Nepal. This is logic-defying. The lurid drama enacted in Kathmandu in that sense is a re-assertion of irrationality. What is exasperating is not that such a foul deed should be perpetrated, but that reams and reams of precious newsprint will be wasted by the media to dole out details, real or concocted, of happenings during that night of mass murders in the royal palace. The press, it has to be assumed, has no other preoccupations; its social responsibility begins and ends with the serving of tittle-tattle.

The press barons no doubt will report; they are the servants of the people, they instruct their reporters to report what the people demand to be reported. If the public hanker after garbage, they have to be supplied with garbage. Is this not putting facts upside down? Does not, in such instances, supply create its own demand? Are not the public conditioned by the press to treat the trite as the be-all and end-all of human existence?

Let some plain-speaking enter the proceedings. The media have never tried to inform the nation on the genuine facts of life unravelling across the world. For example, not one Indian newspaper or television channel had the time or inclination to report a most essential passage from the press conference held by James Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank, at the conclusion of the last annual spring meeting of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Wolfensohn sought to post the world with some data in regard to the marvels achieved by socialist Cuba in the area of social welfare, including education and health.

By almost common consent among themselves, our media considers Cuba as dirt. Cuba has to be so, since she is not a lackey of the United States administration, nor of the Bank and the Fund, and does not subscribe to the great Washington Consensus. What a scandal that Cuba’s record of social and economic achievement has nonetheless been of an extraordinarily superior order. The island-country’s economy had suffered grievous damage following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the people’s republics all over eastern Europe, roughly a dozen years ago, and the cessation of assistance from those quarters.

Such assistance included oil supplies. Undeterred, the Cuban government continues to indulge in precisely the kind of policies and measures detested by the Bank-Fund hegemony. It exercises rigid control on all sectors of the economy, it keeps foreign investment on a tight leash, it has shown the door to private enterprise, it heavily subsidizes the public distribution of foodgrains and other essential commodities, it maintains a regime of both inconvertible currency and rigid exchange control.

Despite the practice of all such heresies, Cuba has scored stupendous success in areas where success really matters. The rate of net enrolment in primary schools for girls and boys is almost one hundred per cent; youth illiteracy too is zero. This is something even the US has failed to attain and is well above educational achievements in most advanced industrial countries.

The crucial point cannot be missed even if one tries; unlike in most poor countries, where not more than three per cent of national income is spent on education, Cuba’s outlay is close to seven per cent. In the sector of primary education, Cuba has one teacher for every 12 pupils; the proportion in India in most states is 50:1, or still worse. Cuba in addition devotes more than nine per cent of its national income for healthcare, a proportion which is as high as in Canada, whose per capita income is 50 times more than Cuba’s.

The island-country has close to six doctors per 1,000 people; this proportion too is by far the highest in the world. The mortality rate for children is down to seven per 1,000, not far behind the rate achieved in the United States. The World Bank president was contrite, he confessed to the media: “Cuba has done a great job on education and health...They have done a great job, and it does not embarrass me to admit it.”

It does not embarrass him, but evidently it embarrasses the Indian press. The press conference, or at least that part of the press conference which extolled Cuba, was blacked out in this country. Our media are more loyal than the king; whatever does not agree with the screenplay scripted by the Washington Consensus should be held from the people.

Meanwhile, are not other suitable materials available for the edification of commonality? The Nepal thriller apart, other interesting developments cry out to be highlighted by the press. To illustrate, expatriate economists, permanently resident in rich countries ten or fifteen thousand safe miles away, pontificate regularly on the wonders that have been ushered in in India ever since the initiation of the “economic reforms” in the early Nineties. Unlike in the past, when the rate of national income growth was a puny three per cent per annum, it now exceeds six per cent. The press is in raptures. What more do you want?

If only the press was a little more literate, or a little less class-biased, they could have asked what this supposedly accelerated rate of income growth has done to the overall welfare of the Indian people. Has aggregate employment increased as a result in the country? Have the pangs of hunger diminished, has there been any marked transfer of the working force from agriculture to industry and services, which is the hallmark of economic development? At an even more basic level, what about the literacy and child mortality rates? Are we anywhere near to the achievement in Cuba, even though we have accepted the tenets of the Washington Consensus and the Cubans have not?

Besides, should not one enquire into the morphology of this much-touted six per cent annual rate of growth in India? Dissect it, and you will discover that in recent years the combined rate of growth in agriculture and industry, the two most vital sectors of the economy, is not much more than one per cent per annum, while it exceeds 10 per cent in the so-called services sector. Less than one-half of national income originates in agriculture, industry and allied activities, which have, however, to cater to the livelihood of four-fifths of the population. On the other hand, in the services sector, which is now claimed to have more than 50 per cent of the total income generation in the country, employment is provided for as little as one-fifth of the total working force.

What a fat lot of good does an explosive income growth in the services sector mean for the welfare of the nation when it takes care of only 20 per cent of the population? And has the national press ever strained itself to analyse the riddle of a circumstance where while 50 million tonnes of foodgrains are lying in government godowns, one-third of the community has to go to bed with hunger in their bellies, even as an official committee suggests that a part of these stocks should be dumped in the sea, never mind if the starving continue to starve?

These are dangerous questions. It is wise, therefore, to place an embargo on the discussion of such issues and concentrate instead on the exciting regicide in Nepal. That apart, hope springs eternal in the human breast. The Cubans, George W. Bush and his cohorts will say, have no business to maintain such an excellent record in the creation of social welfare in spite of their refusal to bow to the Washington Consensus. Maybe, once Fidel Castro passes away, the island-country will not be able to maintain such a magnificent record of performance. Perhaps, that is the reason efforts at assassinating Fidel Castro continue.

The Central Intelligence Agency is for ever.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / STILL NOT ENOUGH WOMEN IN POLITICS 
 
 
BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
 
 
The elections for some state assemblies are just over, and this time too it has been proved that though we are now striving to reserve 33 per cent of the seats for women in all legislative bodies, they have not yet sufficiently been allowed to contest for the elected seats. This indicates that most of the parties are either reluctant to offer them candidature or are incapable of obtaining the confidence of the political heavyweights of the relevant parties in this respect. In this way, politics in India has become completely dominated by men.

It is an irrefutable truth that for a long time women had been kept confined within the home and denied even the right to vote. Even Europe, which has a long experience in representative politics, accepted the system of universal adult franchise only after World War I.

Sweden and Britain accepted this system in 1920 and in 1929 respectively. Despite France’s lofty slogan of “equality, liberty and fraternity”, in fashion since 1789, it granted women the right to vote only after the end of World War II. In Italy, it was recognized in 1918 and the former Soviet Union enforced such legislation only in 1936. The United States extended the franchise to women in 1919, and Switzerland in 1973.

Beyond suffrage

However, in India, Britain, Israel, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the highest offices have occasionally been occupied by women, although their participation in elections or involvement in political administration cannot be compared with that of men.

But the Indian Constitution almost brought about a silent revolution by inserting Article 326, which grants universal adult suffrage irrespective of caste, colour, religion, gender and place of birth. This right has two sides — it gives women the right to cast their vote as well as the right to beg for others’ votes. And now, the women’s bill, whose future looks uncertain, has been floated to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in all elected bodies in the country.

No political party in India has shown any promptness in sending a respectable number of their women members to the legislature. Even in the recent West Bengal assembly elections, very few of them have actually got tickets from their respective parties to put in their nomination papers. The following figures would make the point clearer. The Congress had a total of 60 candidates, of whom 9 were women. The Trinamool Congress had 226, of whom 21 were women. The Bharatiya Janata Party had 266 candidates of whom 9 were women.

Token numbers

In Tamil Nadu, the figure is on the decline as well. In the recent assembly elections only 104 women, out of 1,857 candidates, have appeared in the elections. In the last elections in 1999, however, the figure was 156. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has distributed about 20 tickets to women, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has nominated about 14. Kerala has also had few women as electoral contestants. In 1991, only 7 took part in the elections. In 1996, the figure rose to 53. But, this year it has again dropped to 32.

It is true that Indira Gandhi was prime minister between 1966 and 1977 and again between 1980 and 1984. Nandini Satpathi, Jayalalitha, Mayavati held key positions in different times in Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh respectively.

Rabri Devi has, albeit in an unusual way, been ruling in Bihar for some time. Sarojini Naidu, Padmaja Naidu and a few others held gubernatorial chairs, some women have served as Central and local ministers. Najma Heptullah has been the speaker in the Rajya Sabha. But these are essentially exceptions to the general trend.

This discriminative feature has manifested itself in our electoral politics, both Central and local. Although measures are being taken to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in all legislative bodies, at present their participation as candidates ranges between 9 per cent and 15 per cent in different states. This proves that women are lagging far behind men in actual electoral participation. Sushma Swaraj, Mamata Banerjee and a few others have been part of Central cabinets in recent years, but in a comparative analysis, the number of such female functionaries has always been meagre.

   

 
 
START AT THE VERY BEGINNING 
 
 
BY AMAR KRISHNA PAUL
 
 
It is time the Tarun Gogoi-led government of Assam and the Assam state Congress committee started trying to translate into reality the massive “economic agenda” which they harped upon before the assembly election. The Congress has come back to power in Assam after a long interval and the new government has its long list of promises in order to “restore peace”.

While economists, investors, traders, entrepreneurs and business barons for more than a decade have been insisting that “peace is the precondition” for development in the state, the Congress has decided to shift the paradigm to “peace through development”. The party holds that economic advance alone can usher in an era of permanent peace in Assam. It would be worth noting that the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led Asom Gana Parishad government had also made similar promises before the assembly elections. However, it had emphasized that peace was a prerequisite to development. The AGP and the Congress thus differed in their agenda.

The Congress, in accordance with its claims, has to promote development to curb insurgency and to balance the law and order situation. Gogoi has to remember that the defeat of the AGP ministers in charge of key departments like education, transport, agriculture, food and health indicates that the electorate expects his party to set things right in these sectors.

Fiscal imbalance, largescale corruption, backwardness of the rural sector, low private investment and the sinking fortunes of the public sector units are just a few of the issues the Congress will have to look into. In fact, the state is reeling under a virtual debt-trap. In order to rescue it, the new government has to fulfil its promises besides undertaking intelligent strategies and tactics when confronted with the actual problems.

The fiscal health of Assam has gone from “bad” to “worse” given the failure of the AGP-led government to address the issue. The situation has become precarious with the revenue deficit, primary deficit, the growing interest burden — all indicators of fiscal health — soaring to alarming levels. Though the underlying factors for this dismal condition are largely structural in nature and cannot be wished away by waving a magic wand, the Congress believes that it will be able to achieve a turnaround by pursuing the right set of policies and a proper ground plan for economic engineering. The Congress leaders and economic analysts now have to take utmost care in implementing the agenda.

There are certain priorities that need to be looked into right away to salvage Assam economically. One is reduction of revenue deficit. The state government cannot depend on any gimmick to better the fiscal health of the state. Fiscal responsibility involves hard decisions and for this, the revenue deficit has to be reduced to three per cent of the state’s gross domestic product by 2003. One important constraint to this is the progressively mounting interest expenditure. The public representatives will have to be educated about the indispensability of reducing the revenue deficit.

The second area that needs urgent attention is expenditure reforms. The government has to review all non-plan expenditure and initiate effective expenditure reforms by slashing avoidable public expenditure, that is, expenditure by the government itself.

The third target should be a zero-deficit budget. The state has to undertake this kind of budgeting to finance development, that is to see that cost-effective and proper resource allocation is made in the desired areas. The government has to keep a record of the gap in its attainments so that it is eventually easier to take decisions on rational resource allocation.

The government also has to try adding new dimensions to resource mobilization. The resource potential of the state has to be reassessed, covering all directions, for a “thorough” rationalization and expansion of the revenue base.

Administrative reforms in revenue collection departments is another target. The government departments involved in the collection of various forms of revenue will have to be reviewed before reforms are undertaken for a more efficient revenue collection and the plugging of all possible leakages. One has to remember that a large proportion of the sales within Assam are not accounted for. There should not be any complacency in this regard. Even by conservative estimates, the revenue collection should be Rs 5,625 crore for a population of 2.5 crore in the state. Assuming that 50 per cent of the expenditure is on non-taxable items, the total turnover should approach the figure of Rs 2,812 crore. However, figures of the total sales tax revenue collection taken from the commissioner of taxes, Assam, for the financial year 1999-2000 put it at Rs 950 crore.

Reforms in public sector units are a must. The government has to review the management policy of the weak PSUs to encourage professionalism. It should also look into the functioning of all PSUs and try to make them commercially viable.

There should also be development appraisal and monitoring. All government expenditure on development projects sh- ould be brought under an effective system of appraisal and monitoring with the onus of accountability fixed on the executives.

More emphasis should be laid on trade and commerce. Major contributions to the state exchequer have always been through the sales tax. That the total revenue from sales tax amounts to close a thousand crore in 1999-2000, only shows that the state’s economic strength lies in better trade and commerce. The government must adopt a policy to encourage consumers to spend, making Assam the hub of trade and commercial activities in the Northeast.

At same time, it should be kept in mind that there is a huge gap between tax realization and its actual potential. Tax rates are different in the different northeastern states. Consignments from outside the region are booked for the state where tax rates are low. Most of the consignments are offloaded and sold off in Assam. Moreover, consignments are booked for other northeastern states which charge at Central sales tax rates, which is much lower than the Assam sales tax rates. These consignments are also off-loaded and sold within Assam and for these traders often do not maintain records. This modus operandi causes huge revenue loss to Assam.

Apart from the above mentioned tasks, the new government has to chalk out a comprehensive plan for tackling large-scale corruption and malpractices by police officials, particularly those posted at the Bauxirhat and Srirampur gates. A truck driver has to pay over Rs 10,000 to reach Guwahati from Srirampur or Bauxirhat as he has to pay the amount both to the police and goons on the national highways.

The new government has to create a congenial air for business entrepreneurship in order to boost economic growth. More employment opportunities for the educated unemployed should also be made. The infrastructure also has to be paid proper attention. For one, drinking water supply schemes should be revived.

Underdevelopment and unemployment are the root causes of militancy in the state. The Gogoi-led Congress government has to douse the fires. Gogoi meanwhile has announced that a comprehensive plan would be drawn and implemented to cope with insurgency in the state. But until and unless the government minimizes corruption and nepotism in the administration, which includes both the bureaucracy and the political leadership, all issues on their agenda will remain on paper.

   

 
 
PUBLIC EYE ON A PRIVATE ADMINISTRATION 
 
 
BY RAHUL GHOSH
 
 
The right to information is important to all citizens. It is an integral part of the set of freedoms granted under Article 19 of the Constitution. The apex court had held that the right to life and livelihood could not be protected without the citizen being at liberty to obtain access to information that may have a bearing on the sustenance of life.

The freedom of information bill had been introduced in Parliament last year. But the contents of the bill have disappointed almost all those who campaigned for its introduction. The preamble describes the objectives of the bill: “To provide for freedom to every citizen to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, consistent with public interest in order to promote openness, transparency, and accountability in administration and in relation to matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” Citizens have been empowered to approach designated officials with their requests, either in writing or through electronic means, to ask for any information or any matter permitted by law.

Limited choice

The press council of India had proposed a limited number of exemptions and restraints to the freedom of information in certain specific cases where public safety and order, national security and sovereignty, ongoing criminal investigations, the individual’s right to privacy and commercial information were involved. The initial draft incorporated all these exemptions and more. The final draft extends the range of exemptions even further.

Cabinet papers, including records relating to the deliberations of the committee of secretaries, have been exempted from public disclosure. This provision came under severe criticism but all reservations were suppressed. Which would mean that the conduct of all ministers and officials of the state would be immune to any form of public scrutiny.

Another restraint incorporated into the bill is “legal advice, opinion or recommendations made by an officer of a public authority during the decision-making process prior to the executive decision or policy formulation.” Examination of the decision-making process is necessary to ensure full accountability. But the makers of the bill seem to have forgotten this important aspect.

Way to appeal

The draft bill does not institute a credible process of appeal and penalties for denial of information. In case of appeals, an appellant would have to go through the official hierarchy and the jurisdiction of the court has been ruled out. The irony is that those under suspicion for wilful denial of access to information to the public would themselves deal with appeals made against them.

The final draft of the bill departs successfully from the initial draft that exempted information connected to the management of personnel of public authorities. It is widely believed that recruitment to public agencies is a procedure full of corruption. Transparency in the working of these agencies was a long-standing demand. The final draft has incorporated provisions that may go a long way in ensuring an efficient way of functioning of these agencies.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that “there are few matters of public interest that cannot be safely discussed in public.” Experts feel that even if the bill is enacted in its present form, the scope of the bill could be pragmatically expanded through judicial review. Judicial review has been accepted as part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Citizens would always be able to knock on the high courts and the Supreme Court to ensure their right to information.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Driving too fast

Sir — Evidently, West Bengal’s transport minister is a man in a hurry. Five years is probably too short a time to improve on the narrow margin by which he won the Belgachhia (East) seat this time. Naturally, the redoubtable Subhas Chakraborty has started early (“Minister as rash as auto-rickshaw”, June 18). The announcement of the bounty for auto-rickshaw drivers is his way of keeping his head above the water. For Chakraborty knows that within the party, he is already a marked man. With Jyoti Basu — who had lent him a willing ear everytime he got into trouble — not in the hot seat anymore, and given his diminishing popular support (as the election results showed), he would not be able to hold on for very long. Chakraborty’s outrageous announcement is a defence mechanism working overtime. The minister probably feels that if he has the “people” on his side, it will be all the more difficult for the left to boot him out of Alimuddin Street. Perhaps he also thinks people are too moronic to see through his gameplan?

Yours faithfully,
J. Pal, Calcutta

Plans and figures

Sir — R.J. Venkateswaran’s “Not at all comforting in its approach” (June 14) on the approach paper to the 10th five year plan is disturbing. The benefits of wage schemes, anti-poverty schemes, rural housing subsidy schemes and so on do not reach the poor. Yet, the money sunk in by the government in these projects get siphoned off into the pockets of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors. The illiterate and unskilled beneficiaries of the schemes meanwhile continue to put their thumb impressions on receipts of measley amounts, thinking that something is better than nothing.

Unless there is a complete commitment to welfare and development, five year plans will continue to be ineffective. The poor will become poorer as the welfare schemes go on eluding their bona fide beneficiaries.

Yours faithfully,
N.S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Sir — The article, “New ways to use old wealth” (June 9), by Pratap Bhanu Mehta highlights an important point in the light of the liberalization policy being followed by the Centre. It seems that irrespective of which political party is at the helm, the policy of liberalization will continue to be given importance. The basic question raised by Mehta concerns the paradigm a new policy of redistribution should take, so that the benefit of economic growth reaches each citizen of the country.

The crucial requirement of any economic system is that it should be capable of adapting to changing conditions. The economics of a vast country like ours is bound to be subjected to disturbances and disruptions, but it will have to possess an inbuilt mechanism to overcome the vagaries or the conflicts of the global economy. India will have to adjust its resources, redistribute incomes and wealth among its economic units without significantly reversing these institutions. The changes may be brought about automatically by economic agents or, if the situation demands, by the conscious decision of the government. However, normative and coercive controls need not be fully sacrificed in our type of the economy to obviate some of the drawbacks of the open market economy.

Every economic system, in fact, will want a just distribution of income, wealth, power and opportunity among individuals. We must agree that there is no one objective formula that will balance ethical requirements of distributive justice against material well-being. On a social plane, it is the political process which translates ethical norms to reality. The most important thing in the Indian context is the equality of opportunity. However, even then there might be unequal distribution of benefits.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Kumar Guha Roy, Durgapur

Sir — There is an impression that the country has achieved runaway success in the policy of liberalization, privatization and globalization. The reality, however, is quite different. The National Sample Survey has estimated that the percentage of people living below the poverty line has dropped from 36 per cent in 1993-94 to 26.1 per cent in 1999-2000. However, the NSS, in its 55th round survey, has changed the methodology which shows a falling poverty curve. Several experts now have doubts about the statistics.

The growth rate of the economy is being projected at more than six per cent. The base year of the growth rate has been shifted from 1981-82 to 1993-94. This has resulted in one per cent increase in the old rate. In the seventh plan, the economy achieved a growth rate of 6.5 per cent. Compared to that, the real growth rate during the last seven years is around 5.5 per cent.

The shift in the base year of inflation rate, that is the wholesale price index, from 1981-82 to 1993-94 has blurred the real impact of the price rise. In absolute terms, the WPI has moved from approximately 112 to 150 points.

Industrial production at the old rate has been 9.6 per cent, but under the new base year, it appears at 10.2 per cent, an increase of 0.6 per cent only. The fiscal deficit is said to be down by 0.9 per cent, but at the old rate, it is still as high as 7 per cent. These are examples of how doctored data is used to project an illusory profile of the economy.

Yours faithfully,
B. Kumar, Dhanbad

A voice in the assembly

Sir — At the election of the speaker of the West Bengal legislative assembly last week, some members of the opposition objected to the nominated Anglo-Indian member of the legislative assembly participating in the balloting. The pro tem speaker, Gyan Singh Sohan Pal, eventually ruled in favour of the Anglo-Indian MLA voting.

As a former three-term MLA of West Bengal and former member of the Lok Sabha representing the Anglo-Indian community, I always enjoyed the privilege and right of participating in all debates and voting on all issues in the assembly and the Lok Sabha. I was not eligible to vote in the election of the president of India since the president is the nominating authority for the Anglo-Indian seats in the Lok Sabha. I even participated in the election of the vice-president of India.

By rule and by convention, nominated members have full voting rights except in the instance I have illustrated. As president-in-chief of the All-India Anglo-Indian Association, the only national body of the community, I would like to express the community’s gratitude to the pro tem speaker for upholding our constitutional right to participate in full in the legislative process of the state.

Yours faithfully,
Neil O’Brien, Calcutta

Welcome back

Sir — On our way back from Puri, we had to drive from the Howrah station and reach our residence via the Vidyasager Setu. But as soon as we crossed the toll post, we encountered a big pothole and a cluster of small ones.What an entry into Calcutta!

Yours faithfully,
Rajeev Goenka, Calcutta

Sir — Are the authorities aware that many cars drive straight pass the toll post on the Vidyasagar Setu?

Yours faithfully,
S. Kundu, Calcutta

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:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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