Editorial 1 / Line of violence
Editorial 2 / Grounded phoenix
No use blaming the General
Fifth Column / Genoa and the third world
From the base to the apex
Document / Vision for the new millennium
Letters to the editor

The setback to diplomacy in Agra has given a fillip to violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Pilgrims to the shrine of Amarnath, and 15 villagers in Doda district have been killed by militants. Innocent men and women have lost their lives for an elusive and illusory political goal. Both massacres are the work of militants apparently articulating the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. But behind the violence looms the forked shadow of Pakistan and Mr Pervez Musharraf. It would appear from the timing of the violence that Mr Musharraf, having failed in his efforts to make Kashmir the core issue in India-Pakistan negotiations, is now trying to force India’s hand by sponsoring an escalation in violence. The circumstantial evidence for an external stimuli to the violence is too close for comfort and all the clues point towards Islamabad. Pakistan’s not-too tacit support to terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be camouflaged by the rhetoric of support to the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. If Mr Musharraf is sincere about sitting around a negotiating table, he must first put an end to the politics of violence and blackmail. No negotiations are possible on innocent blood.

It would be simplistic, of course, to put all the responsibility for the bloodshed at Islamabad’s door. There is enough evidence now of the incompetence of Indian security forces to protect the lives and properties of common people in Jammu and Kashmir. The journey to Amarnath is an annual event. It cannot officially be suspended because that would seem like an act of surrender to the militants. But there can be no excuses for the failure to protect the pilgrims. It is difficult to believe that it is impossible to protect a line of pilgrims going up a hill over a fixed period of time. There is clearly also a failure of intelligence about the movements and the intentions of militants. The elimination of militancy cannot be achieved only through the use of counter-terror; the latter must be based on good and efficient intelligence gathering. The recursive nature of the violence in Jammu and Kashmir indicates that India is not doing too well on either count. From the Indian point of view, the flushing out of terrorists from Jammu and Kashmir cannot be counter-dependent on either the success or the failure of peace talks between politicians. Those in charge of maintaining law and order in the state must do their job and leave politicians and diplomats to do the talking. Peace is always the product of eternal vigilance. This elementary truth cannot be lost sight of, especially when the enemy is insincere and not beyond killing innocent people for political ends. India’s commitment to peace and to normalization of relations with Pakistan should not be allowed to be interpreted as a sign of weakness. One way of ensuring this is to take a stronger and a more effective line against militancy.


It will be difficult for this phoenix to rise again. Mr Shibu Soren’s occupation seems to have gone with the loss of his Rajya Sabha membership from Jharkhand. The Supreme Court has upheld the verdict of a Patna high court unseating him in May last year. The reason behind this is profoundly ironic. Mr Soren could not remain a legislator while holding an “office of profit”. In his case, this office was the chairmanship of the Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council, for which he was drawing a monthly honorarium and was enjoying other perquisites. Mr Soren had fought with the lower court for an exemption from this parliamentary bar, claiming the status of a minister while functioning as chairman of the interim council. But the apex court vetoed this petition on perfectly valid constitutional grounds.

The very political forum that Mr Soren had made himself an icon of has been the cause of this final running to ground of everything that he once stood for. It is also true that the long depleted radical charge of the tribal movement that Mr Soren embodied makes this inglorious end more of a sentimental moment than a politically crucial one. These sentiments could hardly remain unqualified by Mr Soren’s career of shady opportunism and cunning. There are alleged skeletons aplenty — real and metaphorical — in his cupboard: charges of murder, bribery and disproportionate assets. His relations with the Central Bureau of Investigation and with the courts have been fairly protracted. Corruption has not been the only problem. Political opportunism has subjected the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to a series of absurdly contradictory allegiances. There have been alliances with the Congress in the Eighties, and with parties like the Janata Dal and a wide leftist spectrum, including the Marxist-Leninists, in the Nineties. With the creation of Jharkhand, his stillborn alliance with the National Democratic Alliance, and then on being denied chief ministership by the NDA, his swerve towards the Rashtriya Janata Dal, his attempts to woo the Samata Party from the NDA after the Manipur debacle have all been part of this trajectory of decline. This path could be charted as the gradual coopting of a people’s movement by mainstream partisan politics leading to its inevitable displacement by, and debasement within, a predominantly saffron establishment. The government in Jharkhand is now a mini-Delhi, in which the original ethnic force of the Jharkhandi movement can be represented only in a hopelessly reduced and tokenized form. Mr Soren had been once the guruji of a revolutionary movement. The “messiah” of Dumka, the parliamentary constituency from which he won three victories, once embodied a charisma, admittedly dubious, which has long since faded into the light of common day. His unseating in the Rajya Sabha hastens this dwindling, as it deprives the JMM of its voice in the national mainstream.


The Agra summit has naturally generated a great deal of media attention on Pakistan. One article contained a comparison of the Pakistani and Indian economies. For several decades, our neighbours have been significantly better off than the average Indian. Indeed, the per capita income in Pakistan was almost 40 per cent higher than that of India by the end of the Eighties. The main point of the article was that in recent years, the Indian economy has far outstripped the Pakistani economy both in terms of growth rates as well as in terms of fundamental structural changes. The difference in growth rates has been large enough for the per capita income in India to almost catch up with that in Pakistan. The article went on to make projections based on the average growth rates in the Nineties — the average Indian would be almost twice as well off as the average Pakistani in twenty years.

It was rather ironic that just a couple of days after the publication of this article, the Central Statistical Organization came out with rather startling figures about the Indian economy. The CSO revised its earlier estimate about the rate of growth achieved during the last financial year from 6 per cent to 5.2 per cent. This means that the growth rate during the last year is comparable to that of 1997-98, a year when severe droughts in several parts of the country could be blamed for the unsatisfactory performance of the economy. Unfortunately, the monsoon cannot be used as an alibi this time. The sectoral growth rates suggest that all sectors of the economy have performed below expectations. In particular, the industrial sector has been experiencing a particularly hard time.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the overall scenario is that no one really has a plausible story about why the current year will be significantly better. The government seems to be in deep slumber, at least in so far as the economy is concerned. It would be too simplistic to explain the government’s inaction by saying that everyone was preoccupied with Pervez Musharraf’s visit. After all, the symptoms of the economic slowdown have been quite evident for some time now — certainly long before Musharraf’s visit was finalized.

The complete absence of any policy initiative from the government is matched by almost total inaction by the private sector. Indian entrepreneurs seem to spend most of their time chasing shadows — they have been screaming that the new World Trade Organization-induced trading regime will flood the domestic economy with cheap imports, although actual trade figures do not reveal any sharp increase in imports. Perhaps these apprehensions have resulted in a virtual absence of new capacity creation. Certainly, no industrial house has announced new ventures. The stock market gives an accurate picture of the overall apathy characterizing the economy. The Bombay sensitive index hovers around the 3400 mark, which is more than 20 per cent lower than the level in the pre-budget period.

Many readers will recall the euphoria generated by Yashwant Sinha’s last budget. The budget was warmly welcomed by the corporate sector. The budget contained an ambitious package of economic policies designed primarily to stimulate growth by releasing the shackles on the private sector in numerous ways. There were incentives for the manufacturing sector in general as well as tax breaks for specific industries such as automobiles. Everyone compared it to P. Chidambaram’s so-called “dream” budget of 1997.

Unfortunately, on that occasion, the government of the day could not implement the back-up measures which were required to derive the full benefits from the dream budget. It is an unhappy coincidence that the current budget too seems to be doomed to suffer the same fate. Perhaps, the Tehelka episode was the turning point. It certainly put the government on the back foot. Ever since that point in time, the government seems to be solely concerned with political events — at any rate, none of the measures promised in the budget has been implemented. There has been no downsizing of government, no attempt to reform labour laws.

Nothing symbolizes the government’s failures on the economic front better than the sorry mess over disinvestment exercise. Some time last year, the government declared that it would privatize Air India and Indian Airlines. But then it proceeded to frame unnecessarily restrictive conditions on eligibility to participate in the bidding process. This has now resulted in a ludicrous situation where no one is interested in bidding for Indian Airlines.

The situation is only slightly better in so far as Air India is concerned — only the Tata-Singapore Airlines combination is left in the fray. The government has declared that it will sell off Air India provided the offered price is higher than the reservation price. Of course, the lack of competition amongst bidders will ensure that it will not get a single rupee above the “likely” reservation price.

Meanwhile, the planning commission has recently released the approach paper to the 10th five year plan. The approach paper has targeted an annual growth rate of 8 per cent for the five year period. Given the current dismal economic scenario, one would have expected the approach paper to contain a careful analysis of the factors responsible for the slowdown, as well as the steps which need to be undertaken immediately to restore the economy to an even keel. After all, projections about future growth rates become credible only when they are accompanied by some evidence that the projections are based on a proper understanding of the underlying reality. Why should anyone expect the economy to move from a 5.2 per cent rate of growth to an almost miraculous 8 per cent?

However, in keeping with past practices, the approach paper shies away from any detailed description of the policies which will ensure that the targeted growth rate is within the bounds of feasibility. Not for nothing have plan documents in India proved to be completely useless as predictors of the future growth paths. Indeed, that is why one feels that any attempt at downsizing of the government should start at Yojana Bhavan.

The only silver lining today is that this year’s monsoon is expected to be very good. If this translates into a higher rate of growth for the agricultural sector, then the benefits can percolate to other sectors of the economy. Higher rural incomes will result in higher rural demand for a wide range of manufactured goods including consumer durables. On the supply side, at least the agro-based industries will benefit from an increased availability of raw materials. Of course, it is more than sad that growth prospects of the Indian economy continue to depend so crucially on random factors such as the state of the monsoon.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi


Only a dozen streets from Genoa’s ducal palace, the protesters will be assaulting the barricades this weekend like medieval siege engineers. Inside the palace, the eight men who rule the world’s richest economies — well, seven of the world’s richest economies plus Russia, which is there by courtesy — will pretend to each other that they are in charge of the world’s economy. But the G-8 summiteers don’t really control the global economy. In fact, even Alan Greenspan doesn’t.

The Federal Reserve chairman has cut interest rates in the United States every month since the start of the year, but the magic isn’t working any more. The world is teetering on the brink of a long, deep recession — which is, after all, what you’d expect at the end of a nine-year boom.

So what will the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors inside the ducal palace make of all this? The ones facing early elections, like France’s president, Jacques Chirac, will be frozen like rabbits in the headlights. Those whose reckonings with the electorate are further away, like the host, the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and the US president, George W. Bush, will be praying that it is a short, shallow recession, over and forgotten before the next election.

Lords in the palace

Their prayers are unlikely to be answered. “This US recession will be deeper and longer than the consensus currently expects,” predicted the team of economics at the HSBC bank in London last month. The US investment bank, Bear Sterns, was even harsher, “Despite occasional signs of US economic resilience, we think the world is falling into a long recession under the pressure of the ever-strengthening US dollar and crude oil rationing. Debt burdens in Argentina, Brazil and Turkey are crunch points in the global slowdown.”

So what does all this mean for the Lords of Creation inside the ducal palace and the revolting peasants outside it? You might assume that the neo-liberal consensus that has dominated the global economy for the past decade is in trouble, and that the anti-globalizers are going to win big in the hard times that are coming. It is not necessarily so. The current political incumbents may be punished severely by the voters for the miseries they will shortly be enduring. Yet popular demand in the rich countries will not be to overthrow the system, but to get it back on the tracks.

But what about the poor countries that the anti-capitalist demonstrators see as the first and worst victims of globalization? Surely they will take new heart from the troubles of the rich, and begin the long fight back against the system that has allegedly consigned them forever to the lower orders of global society. No, they won’t, because they are mostly doing well under the current dispensation.

Troubles of the rich

Some “third world” countries, especially in Africa, are falling ever further behind. Individuals and whole groups in every country lose out even when development is taking off. But a child born today in the developing world will live eight years longer than one born in 1970, and adult literacy has grown from 47 per cent to 73 per cent.

According to the 2001 Human Development Report published last week by the United Nations development programme, average incomes in third world countries have nearly doubled in the past 30 years, from $1,300 per year to $2,500. At the bottom end of the spectrum, the number of people in the developing countries living on less than $1 a day has fallen from 29 per cent to 24 per cent in the past decade.

The number of babies in the developing world dying before their first birthday has dropped by two-thirds to what was the level in the rich countries in 1970. Nearly all children now go to primary school, a majority make it to secondary school — and the proportion of girls in school in developing countries has risen from half the number of boys to about 90 per cent.

There are great disparities between different parts of the former third world, but you must admit that this is progress. And while it may not be happening because of globalization, it is at least happening despite globalization. So a recession, or even a full-blown financial crisis in the developed world, will not suddenly swing the world’s people behind the anti-globalization movement. The political careers of the suits inside the ducal palace in Genoa may be severely impaired by a lengthy recession, but the system will not be shaken.


The United Nations development programme’s latest human development report has maintained the excellent standards of its predecessors. The HDR owes its existence to the pioneering efforts of two eminent economists of the subcontinent. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, generated the ideas which Mahbub-ul-Haq, the late Pakistan economist, built upon in creating the first HDR eleven years ago.

The HDR lives up to its basic principles that human development encompasses much more than gross domestic product. Important as GDP numbers are, the HDR assembles figures regarding other dimensions of human development together with numbers relating to the GDP adjusted in terms of purchasing power parity. Among the important indicators, which the HDR takes into account, are longevity, literacy, availability of safe drinking water, infant mortality and other measures of human development. It is statistically a difficult exercise to build a common measure out of such disparate indicators.

The human development index announced by successive HDRs has proved a benchmark in assessing the progress of different countries in achieving the goals of a civil society. The HDR movement has generated so much acceptance that many countries have embarked on producing HDIs for different regions of the country. Suffice it to say that the exercise has started a healthy dialogue on the flaws in the current development model which sidelines the essentials of human need.

According to the latest HDR, India ranks a low 115th in the family of nations. It has an HDI of 52.9, which compares unfavourably even with the average of 64.5 of all developing countries together. It is significantly lower than that of the East Asia- Pacific region, which has 59.2. The main reason for India’s low HDI is the lower GDP per capita, at $2,248, while the average for all developing countries is $3,530 per capita. Our educational index is also low, at 0.56, and the world average 0.74.

While we in India may pride ourselves on the significant advances in various measures of development, the HDR’s summary indicator shows we have a lot of catching up to do. The irony of the situation is that these gaps require a substantial outlay of public resources. Private contributions cannot make up the gap, although they can help. This reflects the dilemma of economic reform, in that fiscal purity calls for a compression of public outlays — a dilemma which has to be resolved.

The latest HDR is significant for its emphasis on the productive uses of new technologies. It generates a new index, called “technology achievement index”. Many of the advances in human development for the last five decades or so are due to the gains in agricultural production and in health as a result of the contributions of science and technology.

Technological development has a great deal to do in meeting the challenges of the new millennium. The HDR is categorical in maintaining that developing countries gain especially high rewards from the new age technologies. But, they also face severe challenges in managing the risks arising from them. The HDR 2001 makes a pertinent point that the concerns that spur debates in the West on risks from genetically modified crops do not fully reflect the concerns and needs of the developing world. Western consumers do not face the food shortages and nutritional deficiency that characterize the poorer half of the world.

In assessing the TAI, the HDR takes into account country by country measures of achievement in different areas of technological development. The TAI is built up as a combination of indices of technology creation, diffusion of recent innovation measures and effective spread of old innovations, such as telephones and electricity. Technology creation is measured by the patents generated by residents of a country and receipts of royalties and licence fees. Diffusion of recent innovation is measured by the number of internet hosts as well as high and medium technology exports as a percentage of total exports.

Diffusion of old innovation is measured by the number of usage of telephones and electricity per capita. The TAI also incorporates a measure of human skill development in terms of mean years of schooling and gross enrolment ratio of tertiary students in science, mathematics and engineering.

The HDR 2001 shows the TAI rank of India as just 63 in a group of 72 countries. India ranks at the bottom of what HDR calls “dynamic adapters”. Even the TAI index of Thailand is higher, at 0.337, as against 0.201 for India. The number of Indian patents is almost zero, compared to 779 patents per million people developed by Korea and 289 patents developed by the United States. Technology creation is an area in which India is backward. This requires a totally different approach to research and development and also to education, with increased emphasis on innovative thinking instead of learning by rote. We may have a good population of scientists and technologists, but their contribution to the world of a new knowledge is not proportionate to the number.

HDR 2001 has made significant observations on the unfair deal for poorer countries in the present global scenario in technology development and dissemination. The report particularly refers to the absence of adequate research, which covers the concerns of the poorer half of the world. Even where such research is done, it is dominated by market considerations. There is inadequate research on diseases which are important for poorer countries, for example, HIV/AIDS.

HDR 2001 specially highlights the problem of high prices of medicines, which are at present available and emphasizes the need for differential pricing through which the world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers can sell these medicines at lower prices to poorer people.

Developing countries are at present a hostage to the demands of the market place. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries with 19 per cent of the world’s people accounts for 91 per cent of the new patents issued in 1998. The bulk of investment in research and development is by OECD countries. While global spending on research and development in 1998 was $70 billion, a measly $300 million was given to HIV/AIDS and $100 million to malaria research.

Out of 1,223 new drugs marketed worldwide between 1973 and 1996, only 13 were developed to treat tropical diseases. This uneven development of technology is primarily caused by the fact that research and development efforts are driven by market forces. This problem cannot be handled only at national levels. It requires dedicated attention by global agencies, such as the UN, the World Health Organization and the World Bank, which should fund research and development efforts concentrated on diseases affecting the poorer people of the world.

The HDR has done signal service by highlighting the problems of the poorer half of the world. In particular, it has emphasized the need for bridging the technological gap, as the tool of development of technology is second to none. This requires a great deal of emphasis and focus on the part of public policy. It is true that charities, especially the Bill Gates Foundation, can do a great deal to rectify this imbalance. But it is public policy, not charity, which is the means to better technological capacity in the developing world.

The HDR includes a contribution by M.S. Swaminathan recommending the antyodaya approach as a pathway to an evergreen revolution. He cites his experience in Pondicherry in India which has shown that women-managed and user-driven, computer-aided and internet connected rural knowledge centres help bridge simultaneously the gender and digital divide. He emphasizes particularly that demonstration and technology testing should be organized in the fields of resource-poor farmers. If they are successful, all farmers will copy it.

The antyodaya approach, that is, development based on attention to the poorest people, can prove very effective in including the excluded technology and skilled empowerment. This is a difficult challenge to the extent it departs from the conventional approaches.

The achievements of the last 30 years show that substantial advances are possible. The example of the East Asia-Pacific region has shown how poorer countries can develop. But the challenges still remain. Nine hundred and sixty-eight million people are denied access to improved water resources, 2.4 billion people have no access to basic sanitation, and 34 million people live with HIV/AIDS. The world has a huge challenge before it. The only way of overcoming this problem is to change the emphasis from concentration on GDP to improvement of the main dimensions of human development, such as literacy, health, and nutrition. Technology can play a part. The HDR 2001 has done signal service by highlighting the role of technology and innovation.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India


An honest narrative of the last century would raise questions of what became of the promises made for children and women, or of those pledges for international peace and commitments to universal human rights.

Clearly, not all have enjoyed the fruits of progress — and children and women especially have been denied.

Where leadership for children and women is just, their rights can be protected. Where leadership is abdicated, abuses and human rights violations follow.

When the story turns to leadership on behalf of the children’s rights, there are no more exhilarating chapters than those that tell of the 1989 convention on the rights of the child and the 1990 world summit for children.

For all the gains made, the story of the 20th century is also about failed leadership — a lack of vision, an absence of courage, a passive neglect. The number of violations of children’s rights that occur around the globe every day are staggering.

...The principles of the convention on the rights of the child provide the world with a vision of what the 21st century could bring — children and adolescents living in stable and nurturing homes and communities where, with adult guidance and protection, they have ample opportunities to develop the fullness of their strengths and talents and where their human rights are respected.

Despite the progress made on many of the goals set at the 1990 world summit for children, this has been a decade of undeclared war on women, adolescents and children as poverty, conflict, chronic social instability and preventable diseases such as HIV/AIDS threaten their human rights and sabotage their development.

Gender discrimination, so entrenched in social norms as to escape notice, keeps young girls from school and women from active involvement in their communities.

This discrimination is at the base of many of the violations of women’s rights, including the physical duress of domestic violence or the strategic use of rape and forced pregnancies as weapons of war.

And where women’s rights are at risk, children’s rights are too.

The number of people living in poverty continues to grow as globalization... proceeds along its inherently asymmetrical course: expanding markets across national boundaries and increasing the incomes of a relative few while further strangling the lives of those without the resources to be investors or the capabilities to benefit from the global culture.

...Nearly all of today’s conflicts churn within national boundaries, and 90 per cent of war’s victims are civilians, mainly children and women.

Like the ravages of poverty, the festering conflicts of today, many masked as “political instability”, threaten many of the remarkable achievements in health and education that governments, the international community and local citizens have laboured long decades to attain.

...It is in the significant achievements of the last decades, many in the face of considerable constraints, that hope for the future is found: improvements in child survival rates and the nutritional status of children, strengthened systems of basic education and health services, improved conditions for water and sanitation.

It is from these accomplishments and from the vision and language of possibility that surround the 2001 meeting of global leadership that optimism springs: the barriers to all children everywhere realizing their rights can and will be broken within a single generation.

...We start the 21st century with a vision for the children of the world: that every one of them — without exception — lives a full and healthy life, with rights secured and protected, freed from poverty, violence and discrimination; [and] with a commitment to spare no effort in making certain that all infants start life healthy, all young children are nurtured in caring environments, all children, including the poorest and most disadvantaged, complete a basic education of good quality and that all adolescents have the opportunities to develop fully and to participate in their societies.



Tales of the twisted

Sir — Jeffrey Archer’s name has been splashed all over the news the past couple of days, and not because his latest novel has hit the stands (“First among equals in sleaze”, July 20). Archer, embroiled in sex, scandal and perjury for the last decade, has now been jailed for four years. His life makes a racy novel in itself. It is after all incredibly rare that a well known politician turns to writing novels and becomes such a success at his venture with the pen. What is even more rare is that the author’s own life is as twisted as many of his tales. To get out of various libel and defamation suits, Archer fabricated an entire year of his life, only to have his secretary, his key accomplice and mistress, testify against him. It has often been conjectured whether famous authors, Edgar Allan Poe being one of the prime suspects, use their own life as the basis for developing plot lines. One has to wait and watch whether Archer will spend these four years reflecting on the error of his ways or write a new novel based on his own life.

Yours faithfully,
Shoumya Roy, Bangalore

Uneven power play

Sir — B.K. Paul, the managing director of West Bengal Power Development Corporation, is obviously unaware of the power situation in the districts of the state or was hedging when he commented that “we have sufficient power…and are selling our surplus power outside the eastern region” (“High tide for power sector”, July 7).

I live in Chinsurah, which is the district headquarter of Hooghly as well as the headquarter of the Burdwan division. Load shedding is a regular feature in our life. Each day we are without electricity for at least two hours in the evening and at least an hour during the day. Load shedding is also prevalent in the Hooghly subdivision towns. Hooghly is not an isolated case.

While Paul’s reply was ill-informed, the interviewer was as clueless as to commend the complete lack of load shedding in West Bengal. If Paul’s statement that we are selling power to other states is true, then this sale of power is being made possible only because the state is depriving its own people of electricity. While every other industry is surging forward, it is sad that the power department in the state is still in the dark about the reality of power supply in the state.

Yours faithfully,
Kalipada Basu, Chinsurah

Sir — The people of Prakashnagar, a small town near Siliguri, have not had a regular electric supply for many months, if not a year. Owing to the lack of electricity, the students of the locality have been unable to study. Since the street lamps are not functioning either, for the same reason, there has been an increase in accidents as well as in thefts. I hope the concerned authorities will realize that all is not well with the power supply in West Bengal and soon take some action in improving the electric supply in the area.

Yours faithfully,
Tshering Deen Sherpa, Jalpaiguri

Sir — During the past few months, our locality, ward 56, has been suffering from frequent power cuts throughout the day. These cuts have become a menace as they hamper our studies as well as other work. As it is summer, staying in the house is slowly becoming unbearable without electricity. The authorities have ignored our problems and are instead claiming that the power situation has improved to the point that there are no more power cuts. This is completely untrue. The people as well as the authorities need to realize that it is high time the power situation is rectified.

Yours faithfully,
Sukanto Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation’s uncharacteristic harassment of innocent consumers cannot go unchecked. Giving CESC due credit, it is surprising that the oldest electric supply body in West Bengal has begun to cut off the supply to its consumers based on suspicion of illegal use without any evidence. The matter must be looked into by the relevant authorities since citizens are helpless in the face of such harassment.

Yours faithfully,
Manoj Kumar Agarwal, Calcutta

Woes and wiles

Sir — Gender-based violence is increasingly being recognized as a violation of human rights. Statistics show that one woman out of three has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in her lifetime, most often by a member of her own family. In 1993, the United Nations general assembly adopted a declaration on the elimination of violence against women. Empowering women is indeed a key strategy for eliminating violence. But activists must keep in mind that though empowering tools might act as weapons of defence for most women they might be misused by others.

Yours faithfully,
Mohan Lal Sarkar, Budge Budge

Sir — It seems strange that the penalty or punishment provision in the sexual harassment bill has only been kept for men (“Penalty provision in harassment bill”, May 28). The framers of the bill seem to be under the misconception that women are not guilty of similar crimes. Contrary to popular belief, there are some women who take advantage of their image as the weaker sex and get away with sexually aggressive behaviour. If we men behaved in the same way we would immediately be slapped with a harassment suit — if not physically. If a law is to be imposed, it must not be biased. It should be kept in mind that a member of either sex can be the guilty party.

It has been found that the National Human Rights Commission consulted only women’s organizations to find a solution to the problem of sexual harassment. A more balanced inquiry into the problem taking into account both men and women will make for a fairer bill.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Sub-section 498A of the Indian penal code makes a husband and his entire family liable to be severely punished for physically or mentally torturing his wife. This sub-section has been incorporated in the penal code mainly to net dowry law offenders. The problem is that it might be misused. Granted there are many actual cases of wife torture, but there are many other cases where a woman wanting to punish her husband or his family resorts to this law and claims torture in order to punish them. Legal activists, such as Kirti Singh, admit that they sometimes advise a woman’s parents to build up a false case against the husband and his family to strengthen the case, whether that of divorce or alimony. The law is not foolproof and till it is made so there will be plenty of room for misuse.

Yours faithfully,
Rudra Sen, Calcutta

A taste of diplomacy

Sir — My wife and I were recently invited to Sweden for a holiday. During preliminary visa inquiries, travel agents informed us that the Italian consulate issued visas on behalf of the Scandinavian countries. After several phone calls and faxes to our hosts in Sweden, the Swedish embassy in Delhi and the Italian consulate, and a few bitter encounters with unhelpful visa officers and umpteen flight postponements, it took a month to finally get the visas. For many years I have enjoyed working with Italians in projects overseas and was aghast at the lackadaisical attitude of the Italian authorities in the consulate. Such arrogance and indifference are unexpected from those sent to represent their country. Is placing a person to confront the public and heckle visitors the latest in modern diplomacy?

Yours faithfully,
Denzil W. Sooting, via email

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