Editorial 1 / Prime cut
Editorial 2 / Signature off tune
The budget in jeopardy
Fifth Column / Kingdoms go and come again
Fixing the price of hope
How to clean up a very dirty river
Letters to the editor

Good sense and international pressure seem to be finally prevailing in Pakistan. The decision to freeze the defence expenditure, announced in the recent budget, has quite obviously been taken under pressure from international financial institutions, but there are signs that a domestic constituency in favour of economic prudence and political moderation may be consolidating itself also. Ever since the nuclear tests of 1998, Pakistan’s economy has been teetering on the brink of disaster. A combination of factors led to this dismal state. Most important were the economic sanctions imposed after the nuclear tests that led to a virtual stop on foreign aid, including from important donor countries like Japan and the United States. In addition, foreign direct investment fell sharply because of the absence of any national or international financial guarantees and the consequent high costs of borrowing. The military coup and the rise of Islamic extremism made the climate even more unfavourable for foreign investors, and FDI in the last year – for instance – was negligible in real terms. Poor economic management, through the last decade, too has contributed to the growing economic crisis. In recent years, debt servicing, government expenditure and defence have swallowed most of the budget, with trivial amounts spent on development expenditure. Only periodical financial injections by financial institutions, particularly the International Monetary Fund, prevented Pakistan’s economy from collapsing. But the pressure on Pakistan to radically reform its economy was increasing. The only area where a substantial reduction in expenditure could be made was defence, but this is one area that is politically so sensitive that most governments have left it untouched.

It is heartening, therefore, that President Pervez Musharraf has taken an important first step. The budget for 2001-2002, announced by the finance minster, Mr Shaukat Aziz, proposes no increase in the defence budget. While the budget for defence in 2000-2001 was Rs 133.49 billion, the actual expenditure incurred was Rs 131.63 billion and it will remain at this level for the current year. Given the current inflation rate of 4.5 per cent, this freeze will mean a reduction in real terms. Although sceptics may suggest that part of the expenditure on defence is “hidden” under other heads, and that Islamabad needed a more radical reduction if it has any hope of resuscitating its economy and restoring investor confidence, there is no doubt that the military government has taken a vital step in the path of reform given the substantial increases in the defence expenditure in recent years. What is equally noteworthy is the 27.4 per cent increase in development expenditure, and especially the increases in budget outlays for health and education.

It is quite clear that only a military government could have cut defence expenditure, and it seems to suggest that President Musharraf may have realized that Pakistan, if it has to survive as a viable nation-state, has no option but to exercise moderation, economically and politically. The budget announcement, although not timed as such, coincides with the visit of the Pakistani foreign minister, Mr Abdul Sattar, to the United States and comes just a month before the summit meeting between the Indian prime minister and President Pervez Musharraf. It will undoubtedly help in creating the right ambience for a meaningful dialogue. And if indeed the freeze in defence expenditure is part of a larger re-think in Pakistan’s establishment, it may not be too optimistic to hope that a new era in India-Pakistan relations may translate into a reality in the not-too-distant future.


Not everyone likes to sign on. The teachers of Jadavpur University in Calcutta are emphatic in belonging to this group. They have protested against the proposal that they sign upon their arrival and departure in an attendance register. Their spokespersons have said that signing upon arrival was not something that has ever been done in the history of the university. The argument can be extended. No reputed university demands that its teachers sign when they come in. The teacher’s presence is in the class, in his regular interaction with students, in seminars, lectures and tutorials, in his academic productions. In many ways, the position of the teacher is unique, because his workplace is like no other. Inevitably, the rules regarding a teacher’s accountability are expected to be different.

It is not surprising that the teachers of Jadavpur University have taken offence. But that does not necessarily make the argument about accountability being offered by the university authorities irrelevant. Achievement and excellence in a university are the result of the fruitful interaction between teachers and students, and, as the teachers in Jadavpur have pointed out, that is the best proof of their accountability. But there are certain pragmatic matters that cannot be avoided. Complaints about uncompleted syllabi and unfulfilled schedules are a blot on a university’s record, however bright the general picture seems. And no one can deny that there are always teachers who have interests other than classes and students. The point is, of course, whether the university authorities are being very canny in believing that an attendance register would solve all problems. An attendance record has never stopped anyone, be he teacher or student, from doing exactly what he wants. Such a measure is more likely to alienate all teachers by becoming a prestige issue instead of ensuring the kind of accountability being looked for.


It has taken less than three months for the “dream” part of Yashwant Sinha’s budget for the current year to dissolve into thin air. Not long ago, anyone talking of a recession round the corner would have been accused of raising a false alarm. A sharp slidedown in the economy is a dread reality today. The industrial growth rate for April is a miserable 2.7 per cent compared to the output for the same month last year. What is even more disconcerting is a decline of 1.8 per cent in the crucial capital goods sector. All the government spokesmen can do to keep up their morale is hope against hope that this will turn out to be a temporary aberration.

The only expedient the policymakers have been able to think of so far to boost industry is to provide it access to cheaper credit. But high interest rates have been only one of many factors responsible for the failure of industry here to make its products competitive in the world market. Indian industry works under many handicaps about which little has been done. Investment in research and development is still almost negligible. Productivity levels are dismally low because of gross over-manning. A large part of the public sector is run like a hospital to nurse scores of chronically sick units. Thousands of small units are desperately in need of infusion of new technology.

Indeed a large part of the industrial economy requires a thorough overhaul and restructuring. Tinkering with it here and there is not going to imbue it with the kind of dynamism it needs. It is not the finance minister’s fault if the second phase of the reform process has failed to take off. At the present rate, the target for accruals from privatization set by him seems absurdly out of reach. As for the proposed labour reform, the chances of a smooth passage in Parliament of the requisite bill to give it legislative sanction seem very slim.

The finance minister’s own party, already in panic over the prospect of losing further ground in its bastion of Uttar Pradesh in the assembly elections due early next year, will not risk owning responsibility for undertaking so unpopular a measure at this juncture. Nor will it be too keen to see differences between the coalition members on this issue explode in its face and give the opposition groups an opportunity to beat the living daylights out of the government.

Even a casual look at the economic scene, with so many problems calling for resolute action and all kinds of dilemmas demanding early resolution, shows in sharp relief the crippling limitations under which the government functions. Its predicament is easily summed up in the proposition that what is economically rational and rewarding in the long run can often be politically risky and even suicidal in the short run. It effectively answers the question why every now and then the government, even after having made up its mind, is forced to go back on its decision under duress. It is but natural for it to desist from having recourse to a policy which puts its own survival at risk.

The first brush with power did perk up not only the Bharatiya Janata Party but also the entire sangh parivar for a while. But as the logic of coalition politics, hailed by many as a gain for democracy, asserted itself, the leading partner had to abandon the core parts of its agenda which for a long time had been its badges of identity, differences between the hardliners and the moderates in the parivar grew sharper, and the prime minister realized that he could not afford to alienate certain partners, whatever the cost in terms of loss of face or fiscal indiscipline.

To keep the government going is one thing and to put the economy on a fast-growth track, promote a new work ethic, deal more effectively with the host of insurgencies, and do something to prevent the ungovernability crisis from disrupting the civil society quite another. The prevailing political culture has by now become a cruel parody of democratic values of integrity of public life, fair play and concern for the poor and will not allow management of change with the skill, determination, and integrity of purpose it demands or the building of a national consensus which alone can give the Central government the moral authority to take hard decisions and make them stick.

That a part of the reason for the current recession is due to the spread effect of a growing slackness in the United States economy is obvious enough. It certainly has had a disastrous impact on the buoyancy of the information technology sector here and led to a reduction in the demand for skilled Indian labour both at home and abroad. But neither the Indian government nor the local captains of industry can do much about developments that are entirely beyond their control. This however does not exhaust their scope for action to contain the ill effects of the recession abroad.

One of the major inhibiting factors in the growth of industry during the years of reform has been the woefully poor state of the infrastructure. Instead of so many ministers visiting the US, west European countries and Japan to implore multinational organizations to invest in this country to little avail, they should be asking themselves what keeps prospective foreign investors away from India. Last year alone there was more foreign investment in China than during the entire reform decade here. Again, though Asia attracted the largest chunk of foreign investment last year — as much as 145 billion dollars — India‘s share did not come to even 3 per cent of this total.

What has made China so attractive a destination for the foreign investor? It is not his greater regard for the Beijing regime or his expectation of poorer return on their capital here. It is because negotiating a project does not involve one half of the bureaucratic hassles it does here, the facilities for quick implementation there are much better, the infrastructure is far more adequate and the labour force is much more disciplined. Has any radical here honestly analysed the reasons behind China’s spectacular success in sustaining a huge positive trade balance with the US year after year?

There is good reason to upbraid the Central government for having allowed income disparities to grow to almost obscene levels during the reform period while starving social services to the point where thousands of schools have turned into educational slums and many hospitals and clinics have become derelict. There is even greater provocation for castigating it for its laxity in dealing with corrupt practices, its failure to reform the judicial system to make for quicker disposal of cases and its toleration of largescale thefts of power and leakages in almost all schemes intended to provide relief to the poor.

Even so, there is not a shred of justification for the nostalgia many radicals feel for the pre-reform period despite the country’s heavy dependence for long years on gifts of US wheat to feed millions of its people, a measly annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent for almost three decades, the reckless expansion of the bureaucracy and institution of a permit-licence raj which laid the foundations of corruption in public life through misuse of vast discretionary powers.

The main achievements of the period were self-sufficiency in food, a more diversified economy and a large pool of scientists and technicians. But despite these gains, the country lagged far behind many of its neighbours in the race for development and higher living standards.

In the final reckoning the choice before the country is very limited since opting out of the global market will in some ways be even more painful than getting integrated with it. But integration can lead to widespread discontent and even violence if the package of policies designed by the government for the transition period allows a small elite to cultivate Western lifestyles while millions are forced to live in conditions of near destitution. The most piquant irony of the current situation is that while almost every party talks of growth with equity, none has cared to define the precise means by which the processes of rapid development and narrowing of income disparities are to be promoted side by side.

No budget proposal so far has cared even to address this question seriously. It is no surprise if in this situation the political expediencies of coalition politics have the better of economic rationality every time there is a conflict between the two. Meanwhile those who preen themselves on having got the economy out of the trap of too low a rate of growth need to be reminded that a decade of reform, instead of leading to a far greater mobilization of domestic resources, has seen a decline in Central government revenues from 10 per cent of the gross domestic product to 8.8 per cent. This is certainly not something the Vajpayee government can afford to live with cosily.


Till 1990, most newspapers and even the electronic media had one favourite sobriquet to describe Nepal — the peaceful Himalayan kingdom. Then came the pro-democracy protests, the leftist rebellion in the hills and eastern parts of the country, and Nepal was an embattled state. Now a pall of gloom has descended on the land of the Everest. The nation’s first family and many others were massacred by one of the members of the royalty.

There is an eerie side to the episode in Nepal. The wave of grief that is sweeping this country is perhaps symbolic of the chaos that has accompanied the terrible tragedies that have struck most of south Asia’s first families.

In India, three Nehru-Gandhis met with bloody ends — two were murdered and one killed while attempting a foolhardy airplane exercise. Three men of the Bhutto family in Pakistan died in controversial circumstances. In Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who came to power after the country’s liberation in 1971, was killed along with 23 members of his family by suspected Bangladeshi military officials. Sri Lanka’s first prime minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, were widowed following the violent deaths of their husbands. Nepal’s recent tragedy is different from the others in that the crime was allegedly committed by the crown prince.

Old world charm

If one were to look for a common thread in all these tragedies, it would be in the almost similar trajectory of developments in the respective countries since the middle of the 20th century, that is, since the end of colonialism in the region. With independence, new leaders stepped in and for all their rhetoric of embracing their countrymen as brothers, they were the new gods, holier and more high-handed than their past masters.

Democracy, equality, justice for all and discrimination against none became the new buzzwords, but the new gods remained on pedestals, mesmerizing the people with their words. They became the gods that could do no wrong.

Independence had dawned with the promises of a new world, but the old world still remained. Hierarchy continued to rule supreme, and feudal notions of the political leader as the provider still held firm in people’s minds. The first families gradually acquired the almost divine prerogative to rule, the first step towards dynastic rule.

As with gods, the people came to develop almost a symbolic personal relationship with the rulers. With one’s god, it is easy to get angry, at times even to refuse to let on that one is beholden because of his overpowering infallibility, because one also knows that he is always ready to serve the worshipper’s interests.

Gods who failed

Indira Gandhi lost the general elections of 1977 to a people angered by a god who forgot that her magnificence could only be heightened by their prayers; yet she was promptly brought back in 1980, by a nation who felt she had repented. All faults were forgiven, all trespasses became memory.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto strode through Pakistan like a colossus through the Seventies. And despite Zia-ul-Haq’s best efforts to malign him, his execution in 1978 raised him to the status of a martyr, whose munificence still allows the Pakistan People’s Party to survive.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike played a prominent role in the colonial struggle and is now blamed for much of Sri Lanka’s present woes. He was shot dead by a monk who believed that the god had failed him. Bandaranaike’s wife ruled the country and now his daughter rules as the head of government.

In Nepal, the symbolism goes deeper. The king, a living incarnation of Vishnu himself, remained the ultimate arbiter in all matters. Though it was felt that he was forced into taking on a constitutional role, he remained above reproach, often invited to resolve constitutional crises. His family lived a charmed life in the palace, even as ever-rising poverty made life miserable outside.

Shock and anger followed the killings. People gathered on the streets, many shaved their heads in a gesture that united the nation in sorrow. His death has turned Birendra into an actual god, an omnipotent and far-sighted one. But with the taking over of the new king, Vishnu has been reincarnated again.


“A diagnosis of HIV positivity is no reason to lose hope,” says the man on television. Cipla’s current publicity on anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS seems to give the wrong impression, that AIDS is curable. On the contrary, ARVs have delivered less than what they’d promised when first announced at the 1996 AIDS conference in Canada. Toxic qualities and complications are reported regularly, and it is being found that they do not extend life expectancy of AIDS patients as much as first expected. Still, the international and domestic price wars on ARVs have opened up a series of questions on patents, generics and the public sector pharmaceutical industry.

At the heart of the controversy is the high price of essential drugs, particularly as marketed by the multinational pharmaceutical industry. The miracle drugs for AIDS cost $10,000-$15,000 per person per year. Treatment with a combination or cocktail of ARVs is out of reach for the vast majority of people who need them. Indian doctors treating AIDS patients point out that their patients represent the poorest of the poor; many cannot even afford one decent meal a day. The government’s ridiculously low health budget does not cover services it is already committed to providing, let alone treatment for AIDS.

Still, when in February, the Indian pharmaceutical company, Cipla Ltd, offered to sell voluntary organizations a three-drug cocktail at $350 per person per year, Cipla had to be applauded for playing David to the Goliath of multinational pharmaceutical companies, forcing AIDS drug prices down to 1/30th of the multinational rates. Cipla’s moves were made in the context of a battle between multinational pharmaceutical companies keen to protect their patent rights and maintain high prices, and an international campaign calling for accessible drugs.

MNCs argue that high drug prices and patent rights are essential not to protect their profits but to recover the cost of research and development for new drugs, and to promote new research. However, they refuse to reveal the details of their accounts. Their case is further weakened by the fact that many drugs (including some AIDS drugs) were first developed in the public sector, and then handed over to the private sector for marketing, but these drugs aren’t cheaper either. Drug companies are believed to spend as much as 15 per cent of their budgets on advertising.

Agitations for affordable drugs, by groups such as Medecins Sans Frontières, the Treatment Action Group in South Africa, the US-based AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power and the Consumer Project on Technology, have challenged patent protection for essential drugs such as antiretrovirals and drugs for opportunistic infections which affect AIDS patients. They note that international trade agreements permit generic production of essential drugs (compulsory licensing) or their import at the cheapest international rate (parallel import).

Both these options are important. Pfizer’s anti-fungal drug, fluconazole, essential for fungal infections common in patients with AIDS, sold for $12.20 a tablet in the US and $8.25 in South Africa (June 2000). Cipla sells it for $0.64 a tablet, and it costs half that price in Thailand. Surely poor countries should have a right to buy this drug at the cheapest possible price? And if countries like India have strong pharmaceutical industries, surely they have a right to produce essential drugs?

Thanks to a series of policy decisions in the Seventies, India can boast of a strong and self-sufficient pharmaceutical industry which today exports generic drugs all over the world. While most of these drugs are off patent, the absence of product patents in India allows us to manufacture patented drugs till 2005 when World Trade Organization regulations come into effect. In fact, in November 2000, Cipla was about to start exporting the anti-AIDS fixed drug combination Duovir to Ghana when Glaxo Wellcome managed to stop the export, claiming it was a violation of its patent.

Instead, in response to the generics threat, the United Nations announced, in May 2000, that it had negotiated a deal with five of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies (Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Glaxo Wellcome PLC, Merck & Co., Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH and Roche Holding AG) for ARVs at a special rate for poor countries. This was just two months before the Durban AIDS conference, where a growing agitation for access to affordable AIDS drugs would make its case.

The discounted drugs were expected to cost between $1,000 and $2,400 a year — a lot less than what they cost in the US, and even significantly less than current rates in Africa, but still relatively meaningless in a continent with a per capita income of less than $600. Since then, only Uganda, Senegal and Rwanda worked out agreements, providing drugs for a total of some 2,000 people in these three countries which have a combined HIV positive population of approximately 1.4 million.

MSF responded that the UN-negotiated deal contained neither commitment to provide drugs, nor a long-term solution; all it would do was to “further consolidate the AIDS-drug market in the hands of a small number of multinational drug companies”, and discourage manufacturing capacity in developing countries. “Generic drug production, using existing provisions permitting parallel importing or compulsory licensing, would enable the production of affordable drugs.”

In fact the UN and the World Health Organization have avoided taking a stand on the issue of patents versus cheap essential drugs. WHO refused to support the South African government in the case filed by 39 pharmaceutical corporations under the banner of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association of South Africa, against the South African government, challenging legislation which would allow the government to bypass monopolies granted to patent holders to ensure access to life-saving drugs. (On April 20, 2001, the PMA withdrew the case, conceded the government’s legislation complied with international trade agreements, and agreed to pay the government’s costs.)

Finally, the first significant blow against patents and in favour of accessible drugs came not from international organizations but from an Indian industrialist. On February 7, 2001, Yusuf Hamied of Cipla Ltd offered to supply an unlimited supply of a standard cocktail of three ARVs for $350/patient/year to MSF to use in its programmes. It was stated that the company would lose at the price. Governments would be sold the package at $600/patient/year.

The Cipla offer was soon followed by a rush of pharma companies into the ARV market. Between February 7 and March 30, at least three other Indian companies have announced plans to sell similar ARV combinations to the international market. Ranbaxy Laboratories promised to price its drugs five per cent lower than Cipla’s, “to garner a share of the Rs 120 crore market”. Hetero Drugs offered the three-drug cocktail to MSF for $347 and Aurobindo offered it at $295 per year per patient, both writing off to international organizations with the offer. In April, Cipla announced that it was selling at the $350 rate to governments as well, and had just sold the Nigerian government 10,000 people/year worth of drugs.

Cipla’s other moves have also been applauded: it announced to the Indian government two years’ free supplies of the drug Neverapine, to be given to HIV-positive pregnant women to reduce the chances that their babies carry the virus.

S. Srinivasan of LOCOST Pharmaceuticals, a Baroda-based organization committed to affordable drugs, notes that the most important determinant of drug prices is not their cost of production which depends on the price at which the bulk drug is supplied, the cost of making tablets, and the profit margin — but “what the market will bear”. Srinivasan proves his point in a study in Economic and Political Weekly, comparing companies’ quotations for government tenders with the retail prices for the same drugs. If government tenders represent a baseline price of a drug, their retail prices range from 2.5 times to over 52 times this price. Fifty per cent of the drugs on Srinivasan’s list had retail prices of more than five times the “baseline” price.

The cost of the bulk drug, or active substance, varies from drug to drug and the technology and process involved. Cipla manufactures its own active substances and is therefore able to manufacture at the cheapest possible price. Physicians note that even the reduced prices will not significantly increase access to ARVs in India. Only 10 per cent of AIDS patients at the Chennai-based YRG Centre for AIDS Research and Education can afford ARVs; the rest are only screened for opportunistic infections. “Many of my patients cannot even afford two full meals a day,” writes the doctor, P Manorama, in Chennai. Where is the question of buying ARVs even at the reduced prices?

In this context, while AIDS activists in India have welcomed Cipla’s offer, some also ask why it didn’t reduce prices in India earlier. Only recently did it bring down the triple cocktail’s retail prices in India, but the current price is still much more than the $350 offered to governments and nongovernmental organizations. In fact we can’t know if Cipla’s, Hetero’s or Aurobindo’s profits are reasonable, though the recent reductions suggest that they could go down further. Also, while Cipla’s drugs may be competitive on the international market, efforts such as LOCOST’s prove that the same drugs can often be manufactured for much less.

The public just doesn’t have the information on how much drugs actually cost to produce. The government apparently does not see it fit to keep track of drugs’ production costs, let alone deciding on reasonable profit margins. Srinivasan argues that government-administered price controls are more effective than the free market in establishing a reasonable price.

Cipla, Hetero, Aurobindo, and dozens of other Indian pharmaceutical companies are exporting drugs overseas. The Indian pharmaceutical industry pulls weight in the international market today. This is due in no small part to the Indian Patents Act which recognized process not product patents, and to a public sector pharmaceutical industry for bulk drug production, whose research supported private industry. Unfortunately, that public sector is no longer around to take on the challenge of producing essential drugs — for tuberculosis, AIDS or any other serious illness — at an affordable price. Nor is there any regulatory mechanism to intervene in the market, to keep a tab on drug manufacturing costs and set a cap on prices. So the Indian consumer must depend on the savviness and goodwill of companies like Cipla and hope for the best.


It runs through the heart of India enriching its lands and providing livelihood to millions of countrymen. Yet the very existence of one of the longest rivers of the world and one of the major natural resources of India is at stake. Environmentalists feel that in another twenty years, the Ganges will probably be turned into beds of sand, particularly in its lower course. This has already started happening with the river-bed silted to such an extent that the Calcutta Port Trust is thinking of suspending its ferry services soon.

A few kilometres upstream from the heart of the city, the river is in a worse state. In places like Kalyani, it has almost turned into a narrow stream, with most of its tributaries drying up or producing mud flats. But such a situation could have been avoided if the authorities had reacted earlier. No doubt there were a lot of plans made to keep the river alive, such as the Ganga Action Plan, but little has been done to implement such projects. Funding was adequate, but the Ganga Action Plan failed to fulfil its purpose. The major reason for such a failure was the lack of co-ordination between the states that were supposed to implement this project.

Failed endeavour

The Ganges brings down huge amounts of eroded materials from its upper course. So the action plan should have paid more attention to the river’s upper course than it did to the lower course. Once the river is overburdened with eroded rocks and silt in the upper and the middle courses, the riverbed gets silted in the lower course, when it gradually loses its velocity and becomes really slow. Instead of taking care of problems in the upper course, the authorities were more concerned in simply dredging the riverbed in its lower course. Such an attempt failed and the bed is so heavily silted now that even dredging comes to little help. Authorities have been forced to remove the dredging plans from the city and have now proposed it for places like Paradip and Haldia.

Indiscriminate building of dams, bridges and barrages across the river, especially in the upper course, caused another setback. Constructing bridges on a river creates mud flats that slow the river down. Unless a river is allowed to maintain its natural velocity, it cannot flush out its burden of silt. Instead, the silt keeps on settling on its bed.

Flush and dredge

The authorities never gave importance to the flushing techniques but only concentrated on the dredging process. Though the Farakka barrage was built over the river with the aim of helping the river get more water from the Padma and thus create a natural flushing process, it was disrupted by the water-sharing disputes with the Bangladesh government.

Even the numerous rivers that feed the Ganges as its tributaries are drying up primarily because of the overuse of water for agricultural fields. Most of these rivers are rain-fed and the country’s water-resource planning commission has done little to utilize the rain water to help increase the river’s resources, especially in a country in which the monsoon is long. Dream projects like the Damodar Valley Corporation also backfired. Although foreign analysts and engineers, many of whom were part of the team which built the Hoover dam on the Colorado river, the first integrated barrage system of the world, have proposed about 100 dams at the DVC site, only 10-13 have come up. They served the immediate purpose, but the failure to implement the original plan had far-reaching consequences. And the most important is the lack of water in the rivers feeding the Ganges.

India has exploited the Ganges since ancient times. The exploitation of natural resources leads to disaster, especially when it means destroying the river that has nourished a country for as long as the Ganges has done.



Parked unlawfully

Sir — It has been reported that the mayor of Calcutta, Subrata Mukherjee, has apologized for allowing the construction of the parking plaza coming up at the corner of Rawdon Street and Park Street. He has also admitted that in allowing the construction to begin, there has been an “error of judgment” on the part of the civic authorities. Is that all? Shouldn’t there be an investigation to find out who were responsible for such a monstrous error and what steps should be taken against them? Should Calcuttans settle for a mere verbal apology? The editorial, “A lot of parking” (June 15), points out rightly, citing the instance of Operation Sunshine, that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation under the Trinamool Congress goes back on its words whenever it suits the party. Mukherjee has also said that now it may be too late to stop work. What problems can there possibly be in stopping a construction that contravenes municipal laws? Does Mukherjee realize that if someone decided to move the court, the CMC would be be in a soup?

Yours faithfully,
H.P. Mitra, Calcutta

Hope for Assam

Sir — The task before the new chief minister of Assam is gargantuan. Crippled by financial scarcity, devastated by insurgency and threatened by political factionalism, Tarun Gogoi has his hands full. His contribution to the state was very small while he was in the Centre. It is possible that his good intentions were upset by the former chief minister of Assam and Gogoi’s political rival, Hiteshwar Saikia. To prove himself, Gogoi has to revamp the economy and make possible the inflow of investments that would generate employment and capital. Assam should not remain an aid-driven state.

Gogoi has to rejuvenate the work culture and re-mould the Assamese mindset which depends on the government for employment in the form of jobs in the constabulary and primary schools. The Assamese yearning for government jobs should be ignored because the state is in no position to fund the old posts, let alone have new ones. When a state like Haryana, which had nothing to boast of when it was created, can claim to be prosperous today, Assam with its ample resources can do the same.

The irony is that the province is riddled with insurgency and the people of the state are completely disenchanted. One person who could have taken the state ahead was the former chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Despite creating an initial euphoria, he belied all hopes and spent his tenure fighting terrorism in the first few years, followed by self-aggrandizement and nepotism in the remaining period of his governance.

Gogoi will have to set the balance right.

Yours faithfully
Arundhati Kakati, via email

Sir — The people of the Barak valley considered themselves fortunate to have witnessed a visit by officials from the human resources development ministry to the regional engineering college for the necessary survey to accord the college “national status”. The visit was in response to a letter from former chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who had written to the Union minister for human resources development, Murli Manohar Joshi, requesting that the college be brought under the jurisdiction of the Union government. The national status of this college will not only give it impetus to improve the education provided, it will also give a fillip to development in the valley.

Yours faithfully,
Amalendu Das, Itanagar

Net loss

Sir — The office of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, Calcutta, provides its clients with pathetic service. In a way, the VSNL has a monopoly in internet services over other service providers as they own most of the gateways. Instead of using this virtual monopoly to provide better services to its customers, VSNL employees prefer working like government employees, who seem to be answerable to no one. While other countries march forward to the internet age, thanks to the VSNL, India, the so called infotech superpower, crawls behind. Non-availability of connections, frequent disconnections, non-answering consumer helplines and low speed are some of the many problems. It is high time such organizations are pulled up and ordered to be more responsible and consumer-friendly.

Yours faithfully,
M. Das, via email

Sir — Internet-users under the Kharagpur node (dte server) of VSNL are having a trying time. Since January, 2001 the service of the dte server has been deteriorating daily. It is becoming nearly impossible to establish the dialup TCP/IP connection, specially from the Contai short distance charging area, that is, from 03220 SDCA. Even to send an email, at least 15 to 20 trials — each trial is charged, if the call matures — are required. If one establishes a connection finally, he cannot use it for longer than two or three minutes with minimum speed. Before January, 2001 there was a TCP/IP access number, 172226, and such problems were never encountered. But it stopped responding from the first day of this year. We have lodged several complaints with the local telephone exchange under Kharagpur secondary switching area and VSNL. But the two just blamed each other. A higher authority needs to look into the matter to ensure that internet-users in Kharagpur can have a reliable internet service.

Yours faithfully,
Sourav Maiti and others, Kharagpur

Fake glory

Sir — As someone who has been trying to organize serious research on Bengal art and to understand the domain of collectors, auctions and so on, I am amazed at the disingenuity of the report, “Husain present, but peak price for Pyne” (June 14). The report was pegged on Bonham’s auction of “Modern and contemporary paintings from the Indian sub-continent” in London on June 12. Beneath the veneer of delight at the good news for Bengal art lies a gory tale, of copying, subterfuge, and creation of provenance to justify patent fakes for a gullible public positioned too far away to be aware of the nefarious goings-on at home. An unholy nexus of painting providers, restorers and auction-houses have hit upon a surefire method of earning foreign currency. This involves passing off copies and even fakes as authenticated, genuine items.

Looking at a painting which is actually a copy or fake, one can, with justification, forever write off that so-called master and view Bengal art with contempt and scorn. The world of art-auctions is not a charmed circle of beautiful people floating lyrically in a perfumed garden. It has become a murky, cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world. The subject demands serious reporting.

Yours sincerely
H. Poddar, via email

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