Editorial 1/ Play Monopoly
Editorial 2/ A gifted child
Boldness, but not force
Flying with wings clipped
In dire need of a helping hand
Fifth Column/ Corporate killers must not get away
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ PLAY MONOPOLY 
 
 
 
 
The Union cabinet has cleared the competition bill, which is now likely to be presented to Parliament during the monsoon session. There is still the possibility of it being referred to a parliamentary committee, in which case, it will be a while before the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act is repealed and replaced. The major difference between the version cleared by cabinet and the original draft is in the dilution of the mergers and acquisitions clause. Those who believe in market forces often tend to argue that no competition law is necessary. It is doubtful that such blanket assertions will find general acceptability. Despite reforms and liberalization, competition is often non-existent. Trade liberalization does not suffice, because there will always be some barriers to trade and there are always non-tradables. The more substantive debate is about the form of this competition policy. World-wide, such policies are based on structure (market shares), conduct (unfair and restrictive business practices) or performance (profits, prices). The emerging consensus is that policies based on conduct are fine, but those based on structure or performance are best avoided. The original MRTP Act of 1969-70, reflecting the mindset that big is bad, incorporated all three types and required additional licences for MRTP companies, although subsequent reforms diluted provisions on conduct and performance. The proposed competition bill has moved all unfair practices to the Consumer Protection Act. This act applies only to non-commercial consumers. It raises a major point: why deprive consumers of an additional redressal forum that the MRTP commission (or subsequent competition commission of India) represents?

Much has been made in newspapers of the reduction in number of restrictive trade practices from 14 in the MRTP Act to four in the bill. This is largely taxonomy. The four in the bill are generic, while the 14 in the MRTP Act were expansions on those very themes. Under the bill, restrictive business practices are illegal if indulged in by dominant companies. This is a conundrum. Restrictive business practices should be illegal regardless of the size of the enterprise. Why retain a dominance legacy from the MRTP Act? Most controversy, since the draft surfaced, however focused on the structure provisions of M&A. Once the MRTP Act was amended post-reforms, no prior approval for M&As was required. There were those who argued that given the present small size of most Indian companies, this is not an issue the country should bother about now. Perhaps such provisions could be introduced after three years.

The revamped bill offers a via media, with no prior approval required for M&As, although voluntarily, companies may notify these to the CCI. Post-merger review of M&As will apply to companies with over Rs 3000 crore of turnover or Rs 1000 crore of assets: 22 are affected under the turnover criterion and around 150 under the assets criterion. It is, of course, not clear what post-merger review means, since that cannot amount to anything other than scrutiny of restrictive business practices. Shorn of the jargon, the M&A clause has therefore been effectively removed and the swadeshi lobby is bound to scream blue murder. Other than passing of the bill, interest will focus on composition of the CCI. The concerned committee made many salutary observations about technical expertise and independence of the CCI. There is scepticism on this, and hijacked by bureaucrats, the CCI will be no different from the MRTP commission.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ A GIFTED CHILD 
 
 
 
 
Poverty could work miracles in India. Ms Sita Halua from Bihar has chosen to give her baby boy away because she is too poor to look after him. A childless couple in north Bengal has taken in the baby, after publicly signing an informal agreement. Ms Halua has been paid Rs 300 by this couple, ostensibly to cover her traveling expenses. This incident baffles legal, ethical and human assumptions. The local police are desperately trying to hide their confusion in dealing with the matter. The foster family are overjoyed, but apprehensive that the child may be taken away from them on legal grounds. The Centre’s juvenile welfare board has started investigations. Ms Halua seems to have disappeared.

Brutal deprivation and a sort of fairytale law — overseen by a semi-rural, small-town community — seem to have baffled, and might even override, the more formal legal machinery in the area. There is a conflict here between official law and the rough-and-ready legality of human extremity and needs. The role of the people of the town, to whom Ms Halua had appealed for help, is perhaps most significant here. Ignored by the police, not only did they nurse the wandering mother and child back to consciousness, but they also arranged for the giving away of the child in the local marketplace, even supervising a signed agreement between Ms Halua and the couple who took the child. In the eyes of the community, this constituted a perfectly “legal” transaction. Moreover, accepting Ms Halua’s “gift” has been seen by the public as a noble and humanitarian gesture that renders the intervention of such institutions as the police and the panchayat quite irrelevant. In fact, what the locals had improvised around this mother and child is a combination of a popular court and a panchayat, which devised its own laws and rituals of adoption. Even the additional superintendent of police found nothing wrong with this. Thus, modern India could often cast aside, without misgivings, the trappings of official law and prefer to speak the language of Shakespearean romance or Victorian fiction instead.

   

 
 
BOLDNESS, BUT NOT FORCE 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
Of all the major steps of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, its initiatives regarding insurgency-affected border states have been the most far-reaching. Before 1998, the party seemed too committed to the concept of India’s territorial integrity under a strong Centre to even think on the lines of a ceasefire vis-à-vis the militants. The gun and not the olive branch was the principle of statecraft when confronted with threats to the integrity of India.

Once in office, the Bharatiya Janata Party has attempted to bring leaders of India’s oldest insurgency in Nagaland, and of the most deep-rooted in Jammu and Kashmir, to the negotiating table. One is a Christian majority state and the other the only Muslim-dominated state in the Union. There have been significant breakthroughs earlier, most clearly so in the Rajiv Gandhi-Laldenga accord in Mizoram in 1987. But incidentally, the BJP was the only national party to condemn the accord. Being in power has given it a somewhat different perspective on the matter.

In the process, it has continued with an older policy of engaging the Isak Muivah-led National Socialist Council of Nagalim. In addition to this process, it has also experimented with a political dialogue with the various groups in Jammu and Kashmir. For all their differences, all such insurgent groups and political outfits seek the opposite of what parties in the Hindi belt instinctively favour: a looser Union. This is the least that can work, given that opting out of the Union is such a significant idea in the political life of both states.

It is here that matters come unstuck. The recent conflagration in Manipur is a clear indicator that a discussion with insurgent groups is not enough. There are other players and parties that need to be brought into the picture. Over the recent weeks, there have been two new features to the peace process with the NSCN. One was the inclusion of the Khaplang-led faction in the talks, as long desired by the S.C. Jamir ministry in Nagaland. While this will complicate any move towards a settlement, it has not provoked outrage. It is the extension of the cease-fire to the other states in the Northeast that has provoked a strong response, especially in Manipur.

The latter’s five hill districts, especially Ukhrul, have long been a stronghold of the Muivah-led group of Naga insurgents. The deep cultural divisions and disparities in political aspirations of the different groups in Manipur have come to the fore. Many Nagas feel alienated enough to be attracted to the idea of a Greater Nagaland. But this would strike at the heart of the territorial integrity of Manipur. A broad spectrum of opinion in the valley is arrayed against the extension of the ceasefire to the hill areas of the state. Here, it is not the unity of India but the identity of Manipur that is at issue.

In yielding to the long-standing demands of the Naga insurgent groups, the home minister proved to be remarkably insensitive to the dangers inherent in such a course of action. If anything, he has given Meitei militant groups the ideal rallying point and battle cry. In a diverse and plural region like the Northeast, no insurgent outfit or ethnic group holds complete sway over a tract of land. One right often encounters another right.

Any dialogue has to be a protracted process. Despite this obvious point, the Union did not feel fit to consult the council of northeastern chief ministers on its measure. Even the governor of Manipur, a distinguished former police officer with considerable expertise in such situations, conveyed the feelings of the people of the state to New Delhi. The home ministry has put itself in a bind. The demand to review the ceasefire is not confined to Manipur. Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have also expressed their reservations. The former has an old and fractious border dispute with Nagaland; two districts in the latter have insurgent activity.

But revoking the extension of the ceasefire beyond Nagaland was a major concession to the NSCN: it is difficult to predict what its reaction to a revocation would be. But for the Centre, such a step backwards may well be seen as amounting to an erosion of authority.

More seriously, the four-year-old dialogue with Isak Swu and T. Muivah marked a welcome break from the previous policy of beating down the insurgency with security measures without looking at its root causes. The fact the dialogue was sustained right from the days of P.V. Narasimha Rao is testament to the broad consensus cutting across parties that have ruled India over the last six years.

Where L.K. Advani failed was in not examining the pros and cons of the extension of the peace initiative to adjacent states. The decades-old insensitivity to the Northeast, to its history and the aspirations of its people has only been compounded. The outcome will be watched very carefully and nowhere more so than in Jammu and Kashmir. Unlike the east, the state has long been the focus of attention, because of the peculiar circumstances of its accession and insurgency since the end of the Eighties. For the BJP, it represented the failure of Indian leaders, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Rao, to bring the state in line with the rest of the Union. Uniformity would be the prelude to deeper unity.

Once in office, Vajpayee has been willing to go beyond any of his predecessors. Rajiv Gandhi signed an accord with the National Conference; the National Democratic Alliance government proclaimed a unilateral halt to military operations against armed insurgent groups for much of the last two years. Further, it has come close to holding talks with the All Party Hurriyat Conference, a body whose members are unified in opposition to India, even as they paper over their own differences. So much so that the Farooq Abdullah ministry is itself wary that it will be sidelined in the process. The intransigence of the most extreme militant groups has derailed the talks, but the fact that the attempt was made is itself significant.

Again, there is a willingness to look afresh at the problem. What was denounced as “pseudo-secular appeasement” when in opposition, looks like sound statesmanship once in office. But there is one interesting contrast between Nagaland and Kashmir. In the latter, it is the BJP which is playing to the tune of smaller entities in Ladakh and Jammu who feel threatened by the initiation of a dialogue.

Yet, the Rubicon ought to be clear to all. No state in the Union can have its boundaries redrawn without its own consent. None of the parties engaged in a dialogue in Srinagar either in the past or in the future will forswear claims to any of the erstwhile Dogra dominions. This can still leave room for accommodation, within existing boundaries, in the form of sub-regional autonomy.

In the net, the Vajpayee government has begun to come to grips with a recurrent feature of Indian statecraft. Force is not a solution and can even be part of the problem. When in opposition, it will find it difficult to dismiss such measures as a sell-out of the country. But events in Manipur and the continuing impasse within Kashmir suggest there is no easy road to peace. It is here that the deeper flaw in the initiatives becomes evident. There is no broader move towards recasting the Union in a more federal mould. That still awaits another, bolder player, one whose need has never been felt more acutely under Indian skies.

The author is an independent researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum Library, New Delhi

   

 
 
FLYING WITH WINGS CLIPPED 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
 
It is not uncommon to see a party and its leaders adrift on a sea of confusion after a humiliating electoral defeat. It is also common to find such leaders trying to score points by apportioning blame for the defeat to others. But there is something uncommon about Ajit Panja, Bikram Sarkar, Nitish Sengupta, Ranjit Panja and to a lesser degree, Krishna Bose crying for the Trinamool Congress’s return to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.

Of the Trinamool members of parliament, these five are non-political personalities, who have made their mark in their chosen professions. Sarkar and Sengupta had had successful bureaucratic careers before they joined politics. Ranjit Panja is an eminent medical man who has excelled in his area of specialization. Krishna Bose has been a well-known chronicler of unknown facts of the life and times of Subhas Chandra Bose. Ajit Panja has been in politics for long, but he boasts a barrister’s profile.

These then were the honourable people who accepted Mamata Banerjee, who had no such social claim to fame, as their leader as they plunged into the muddy waters of politics. Such are the people who, despite joining politics, would privately talk dismissively and contemptuously of the archetypal politicos who stoop low to conquer the seats of power and the crumbs of office. Not for such honourable men the antics of a Laloo Yadav, the treacheries of a Mayavati or the grand deceptions of a J. Jayalalitha — lowly politicos, all unworthy of their esteem, let alone emulation.

Yet these Trinamool MPs have acted in much the same manner as politicos of Laloo Yadav’s ilk might have acted in a similar situation. Their demand for a return to the NDA has been prompted by nothing but a craving for power. Ajit Panja has been bolder in his revolt against Banerjee primarily because he is more impatient than the others for the ministerial mantle he has got used to wearing for years. To be fair to him, he was the only one to have raised the banner of revolt against Banerjee’s alliance with the Congress even before the elections. But that does not alter the fact that an insatiable lust for power remains his end, to which his call to purify and democratize the party is only a means.

But the others have even less justification for their advocacy of a return to the NDA. They did not see anything wrong in the alliance that Banerjee struck with the Congress. Even if they did, they did not have the moral courage to come out openly against it. And now, they show none of that courage by coming clean on their stance. All that they keep doing is dropping pro-NDA hints and insinuations , thereby giving the impression that they are into making a shady deal. Will they join Ajit Panja and split the party? Which ones of them could be made ministers if they do so and cross over to the NDA? Such are the queries about them among the people as well as their own partymen. In Bihar, Ranjan Yadav’s revolt against Laloo Yadav some months back had prompted similar questions.

All this is not to absolve Banerjee of her share of responsibility for this state of her party. She has done better in leading the masses than her party. She had not taken other leaders into confidence while deciding to leave the NDA in the wake of the Tehelka exposures of alleged defence scandals. Aligning with the Congress in the assembly elections was also largely her own decision.

And now, she has kept everyone guessing about the possibility of the Trinamool Congress going back to the NDA. She opened the floodgates of speculation by saying that she would not return to the NDA by “sacrificing honour and self-respect”. Again, there are reasons to believe that she has herself provoked the party’s members of the legislative assembly to speak out against rejoining the NDA. Unlike the MPs, the MLAs have nothing to gain by such a turnaround for they have nothing beckoning them to the corridors of power in Delhi. On the other hand, they have much to lose in their fight against the ruling Marxists if the understanding with the Congress, however flawed, is peremptorily called off. The Congress’s enthusiasm for the pact may have cooled off after the polls, but the party has so far done nothing to publicly cry it off.

Far more importantly, having insisted on the resignation of the then defence minister, George Fernandes, after the Tehelka episode, how could Banerjee return to the NDA or its government unless Fernandes — and the government — is cleared of the charges? Even if the Venkataswami commission does clear the government and Fernandes, how does she justify dumping the Congress, which went all out to accommodate her demands in striking up the poll alliance? She cannot be swayed by the argument, as put forward by the pro-NDA MPs, that the left and the Congress are allies in the fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party at the national level. If that were so, why then did she go for the alliance in West Bengal in the first place?

Obviously, Banerjee has to do a lot of explaining if she tilts once again the NDA way. The only possible reason why she may still think of yet another somersault is the push from the BJP. A section of the BJP leadership, still smarting under her desertion, is believed to have taken a hardline position and is not averse to splitting her party and thereby teaching her a lesson. Even among the other NDA partners, particularly the Samata Party, passions are still high against her re-entry.

Driven to humility by the poll defeat, Banerjee may have apologized to Fernandes for hitting him with the resignation demand. But the NDA convenor’s conciliatory gestures may have more to do with his own agenda of returning to the government than with receiving Banerjee in the NDA with forgiving arms. Besides, readmitting the Trinamool Congress to the NDA and the government is currently not a priority either with the BJP or with the prime minister. Unlike the Telugu Desam Party, the Trinamool, by itself, was never a factor for the government’s survival.

With another leader, all these arguments would have put a seal of finality against a return to the NDA. The problem is while other leaders “abide our question”, Banerjee has been “free”. But even in a country where politicians’ progress depends so much on irrationality, freedom to fly has its limits and perils that sometimes clip their wings.

   

 
 
IN DIRE NEED OF A HELPING HAND 
 
 
BY R.J. VENKATESWARAN
 
 
The administrative reforms commission in its 1968 report had strongly recommended the revival of the post of the deputy prime minister. The commission had observed that given the increased burden of work, the prime minister should be given “institutional support as well as relief from routine tasks”. Since then, the political, economic and social problems facing the country have become far more complex. The case for appointing a deputy prime minister is therefore much stronger now than it was decades ago.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, and Vallabhbhai Patel, the deputy prime minister, did not get on well. The two had serious differences on important issues like the approach to Pakistan and adoption of socialism. On many occasions they had tried to undermine each other’s authority. It was only after the assassination of M.K. Gandhi that they decided to work in harmony.

Myriad problems

Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram and Devi Lal are among those who have held the post of the deputy prime minister. Their relations with the prime minister were on the whole cordial.

Today, the responsibility of the prime minister has become far more onerous. The rapid expansion of the private sector, the flow of foreign direct investment, poverty, unemployment and the lack of basic amenities are some problems that require strong handling. The present prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, however has failed to rise to the occasion. His task has been made more difficult by the fact that personal and political considerations had to be taken into account during the selection of ministers.

Proper coordination

Chronic delays continue to take place in implementing schemes of vital importance. A ministry for programme implementation has been in existence for the past two decades, but it has been unable to ensure completion of projects in time. As a result, there have been heavy cost and time overruns, particularly in projects relating to railways, power, roads and so on. Lack of proper coordination among the different ministries at the Centre and between the latter and the state governments is the prime reason behind this.

The task of selecting a deputy prime minister will not be easy today, especially given the nature of the coalition in power. The parties do not see eye to eye on several major issues. It is also possible that a deputy prime minister, chosen from a different party, might pose problems for the administration. The prime minister, according to the Constitution, is head of the council of ministers and also the principal advisor to the president. His task is to see that the council functions as a team and that policies are evolved objectively and realistically. It would be in the interest of the nation if the post of the deputy prime minister is revived to assist the prime minister.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ CORPORATE KILLERS MUST NOT GET AWAY 
 
 
BY S. SUBRAMANYAN
 
 
The Kadalundi rail tragedy in Kerala has claimed more than 60 lives. Tragedies like this no longer trouble our social conscience. The visit by a hapless railway minister to the site, the mandatory railway inquiry, announcing a pittance for compensation have become routine.

The Sunday Times published, in the wake of the Eschede railway accident in Germany two years ago, a list of major world rail disasters. India occupied pride of place in that list. Two years later, India’s record has become even more infamous. The West already brands these accidents as “corporate killings”. Only a few months ago, newspapers and politicians in Kerala pointed out dwindling investments not only in new lines but also in much-needed maintenance. In July, 1988, several bogies of the Island Express fell into the Ashtamudi lake, also in Kerala. Railway officials put the blame on an approaching tornado. Perhaps some such meteorological excuse will be sought for the Kadalundi mishap as well.

It is, after all, the railways administration that determines the final allocation of resources for either new lines or repairs and maintenance. The officials at this level cannot escape shouldering at least a part of the responsibility.

Face the trial

If British citizens and media can call for criminal prosecution against their railway administration for manslaughter, why can’t Indians conceive of arraigning the chief engineer (maintenance) or the chairman of the railway board? Condemning the railway minister or some menial staff cannot be the answer every time. Senior railway officials should be made to face the music.

Ram Vilas Paswan had said, as railway minister, that he would not hesitate to take action even against the general managers. Others should be able to say the same. This is easier suggested than implemented. Legal lacunae will make prosecution difficult.

The answer is not to mutely witness the death of thousands of passengers and award compensation to their families. The answer is to pass effective legislation and persuade the law commission to suggest legal reforms.

Richard Thomas, director of public policy at Clifford Chance and a leading British solicitor, wrote in The Times, “Zebrugge, King’s Cross, Clapham and Southall were all transport disasters where managements were criticized but no company or director could be convicted for manslaughter. The new proposals will range much wider than transport and will not be confined to headline disasters.”

Suo motu action

Jack Straw, the former home secretary, said that “the transport disasters of recent years had demonstrated that the present law on corporate manslaughter was undeniably ineffective. All too often in the past, organizations have been able to escape liability for errors where if an individual had been responsible they would have been convicted.”

Spurred by the anger of some of the relatives of victims of recent disasters, the British government stopped short of jail sentences for individual directors. Instead, executives were disqualified from doing business and their companies made to pay fines that ran into millions of pounds. The new proposals in the UK provide that management failure must be looked into as a possible cause every time such a tragedy occurs.

The Indian government should decide to re-examine the existing statutes pertaining to rail transport and accidents. The best forum for taking this is the law commission. It should review the extant laws on the subject, keeping in mind the global legal reforms in the same area.

This exercise will be time-consuming. The least the government could do is initiate disciplinary proceedings, not against smaller fry, but against the senior officers in the departments concerned. Only such a tremor in the otherwise staid railway administration will bring results. Protected by secure service conditions on the one hand and perks like saloons and golden passes, railway administration has become too laid back.

The higher courts of the country have initiated action suo motu for other causes. Accidents like this should also sway the judiciary. It is a fit enough case for higher courts to initiate suo motu proceedings.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Foreigners in the city

Sir — It is not difficult to understand the plight of the students from the Northeast in large metropolitan cities of the country (“A Legal Alien”, June 23). Being isolated from the mainstream of Indian life for a long time, they have virtually become objects of curiosity. This is intensified when they join their contemporaries from the rest of the country in cities like Calcutta and New Delhi. This in turn gives rise to ghettos of students from the northeastern states in college and university campuses in the big cities. Even as a middle-aged lady, I have faced absurd queries regarding the Northeast. In Hyderabad, I was told that ladies from the Northeast were very fashionable because of the region’s proximity to Bangkok. In Delhi, people were surprised to know that Assam had more than one airport; in Agra, my companions and I were asked to pay $ 20 instead of the Indian price of Rs 20 for, as we often have to hear, “Oh, but you don’t look like an Assamese”. Pray what should an Assamese look like?
Yours faithfully,
Arundhati Kakati, via email

Learning on the side

Sir — The problem of private tuition is a deep-rooted one in West Bengal’s educational set-up (“Left disquiet over tuition ban bill”, June 24). There are, however, a few positive aspects to private tuition. It provides personal care to each student which classroom teaching is unable to do. It also helps a student make up for the lost lessons if he is unable to attend school for a considerable period.

Yet, the necessity for private tuition has cropped up primarily because of the deficiency in classrooms. Private tuition can be done away with only through a thorough revamping of the syllabi and improvement of the educational infrastructure. Most important, the teacher-student ratio cannot be more than 1:40. Lastly, teachers should be happy with the remuneration they are getting so that they do not have an urge to look elsewhere for material gains.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir — Recently, the West Bengal government has taken a number of positive steps for the betterment of education starting from school to the postgraduate level. The decisions are laudable; especially the decisions to reintroduce English from Class I, the compulsory signing of registers by lecturers in universities, the ban of private tuition by college and university teachers and so on.

But, although the reintroduction of English has been announced, it has taken very long for the government to take this decision. Besides, the signing of registers really means nothing in terms of the quality of education that is being imparted. And if the government has to ensure that classes are indeed being taken, why don’t they make it mandatory to appoint inspectors who will make surprise visits and determine if at all the classes are being held.

Private tuitions should surely be banned but before that the authorities must look into the fact that many of the teachers in the state, especially in private schools, do not actually hold the required degrees. The ruling party should look into these matters first before issuing their directives.

Yours faithfully,
S.A. Rahman Barkati, via email

Sir — I fully support Nirupam Sen’s initiative (“Sen turns tuition heat on teachers”, June 25) with regard to teachers making money from private tuition. He has gone to the extent of saying that “the jobless can fill up the vacuum left behind by teachers once the private-tuition ban is implemented.”

School teachers should spend a minimum of eight hours in the school and finish teaching everything in the syllabus before the examination. It will help students to interact with the teachers during their free time in school for specific queries. There is no reason why poor students should fail to achieve good grades simply because they are unable to avail themselves of private tuition. Teachers should respond to Sen’s initiative with enthusiasm.

Yours faithfully,
Sanjoy Mukhopadhyaya, via email

Sir — The low quality of teaching in most of the government-funded schools has its origin in private tuition. The teachers use their schools to enroll as many students as they can in their private “coaching” classes.

The government has feigned ignorance for a long time. The tremendous self-employment potential of private tuition cannot be ignored. If the already-employed teachers are banned from offering private tuition, this potential would increase. But everything now depends on how this bill is implemented. The unfavourable noises made by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is reason enough to fear a proper implementation of the proposal. The government’s integrity will be under the scanner till steps are taken in this direction.

Yours faithfully,’
Dhrubajyoti Ray, Hooghly

Sir — Nirupam Sen, well known as the CPI(M)’s man in the Left Front cabinet, did not echo the party’s stand on the issue of private tuition. While this may put him in the bad books of the Alimuddin Street bosses, it will make him popular as the one minister who does not fear to speak his mind.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Pal, Calcutta

Sir — The West Bengal government’s attempt to stop teachers in government and government-aided institutions from offering private tuition deserves support. All kinds of hurdles will be placed to prevent the implementation of the proposal, as pointed out in the editorial, “Shadow teaching” (June 25).

Equally deplorable is the clandestine private practice carried on by a large number of government doctors, both in the teaching and non-teaching cadre. The state government has kept on increasing their salaries over the years, bringing them up to the top bracket of salaried employees anywhere in India. On top of that, they draw non-practising allowances. Needless to say, this money belongs to the taxpaying public.

Apart from the legal and moral aspects, the fact that these doctors do not really serve the poor of the state, who have nowhere else to go but the free government hospitals, needs to be addressed firmly. The government has so far turned a blind eye to the problem, except making occasional politically correct noises against it. It is amply clear that unless the new administration is really serious in its intentions, things are not likely to start moving. Since the government has proposed a ban on private tuition by teachers, this is the perfect opportunity to extend the injunction to medical practitioners attached to government hospitals and medical colleges.

Yours faithfully
Anup K. Sinha, Calcutta

Traffic menace

Sir — West Bengal’s transport minister, Subhas Charkraborty, has requested auto-rickshaw drivers of the state not to blatantly violate traffic rules (“Minister as rash as auto-rickshaw”, June 18). Does that mean they can violate traffic rules not so blatantly?
Yours faithfully,
Vikash Goenka, via email

Sir — Recently, on my way to work, a speeding auto-rickshaw grazed past my car. After a short chase, I stopped the vehicle and I had a heated argument with its driver. As I was about to take down the number, I found to my utter surprise that there was none, and the driver was giving me a wicked smile. I later observed that a large number of the auto-rickshaws in the city and its outskirts do not have number-plates. As auto-rickshaws are fast becoming a nuisance, the government should wake up to this open violation of rules.

Yours faithfully
Ashim Nandy, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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Calcutta 700 001
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Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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