Editorial 1 / Bleak House
Editorial 2 / Oasis of peril
Contested cosmopolitans
Fifth Column /Three disputed, powerful words
Zealously guarding their turf
Document / Toward minimalist governance
Letters to the editor

India, it could be argued, has missed many trysts with destiny. One need not go back to the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and his grandiose dreams for the nation. In the last decade, with the onset of liberalization, India has hovered on the margins of achieving economic development. But a lack of political will and a series of unstable coalitions have pulled India back from stealing fire from heaven, Prometheus-like, to ignite an economic revolution. The coming to power of the National Democratic Alliance under the leadership of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee contained the promise that this hiatus between aspiration and achievement would be bridged, and India would cross over to a new era. Today, on Independence Day, there does not exist any ground for making such a claim with any degree of confidence. The Indian economy has not freed itself from periodic crises, and the much-vaunted second phase of economic reforms exists only in the rhetoric of the finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha. Investor confidence is low, and despite positive growth figures, there are no signs that in the near future, the Indian economy can break free of the label of underdevelopment. Key financial institutions are reeling under charges of corruption and mismanagement. There is widespread suspicion that corruption and mismanagement are related to political interference.

The prime minister, Mr Vajpayee, when he speaks to the nation this morning, cannot afford to ignore this context. His government has failed to govern the country in the most crucial areas. If economic governance fetches him very few marks, political governance will get him none. Violence in Jammu and Kashmir has escalated to such an extent that no one in the valley is safe any more from the attacks of militants. Nobody doubts that this violence is Pakistan-sponsored, but that cannot be an excuse for the failure to protect the lives and properties of ordinary people. Conditions in the Northeast are similarly volatile. The Central government, it is evident from its policies and their reversal, is clueless about the situation prevailing there and about the aspirations of the people who live in that part of India. Mr Vajpayee began his innings with a clean image. Such an image is no longer convincing. There have been too many charges of corruption against members of his team. His own handling of situations has conveyed the impression that he is no longer in control of things. He himself, by offering to resign, has articulated his own weariness about constant backbiting from within his own camp. Morale within the government has never been as low as it is now. The outlook for the future is gloomy. The NDA is not as stable as it was one year ago, and Mr Vajpayee not as keen to govern as he was when he took on the top job. He continues because there is no alternative for him and the country. India will muddle through. But the critical question is for how long?


One common frailty that afflicts rulers is that they speak, hear or see no evil about their own reign. For them, the problem is always the other rulers’. Unsurprisingly, West Bengal’s chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had much the same thing to say about the heinous killing of the chairman of the South Dum Dum municipality, Sailen Das. He mouthed the same old argument that his mentor and predecessor, Mr Jyoti Basu, put forward on similar occasions, describing the murder as an “isolated” incident in the “oasis of peace” over which he ruled. To know what a really crime-prone state looked like, he suggested, one should look far — at states like Uttar Pradesh and at cities like Mumbai. The problem is that Mr Bhattacharjee’s “isolated” incidents are coming rather too thick and fast for comfort. The Dum Dum assassination came close on the heels of the killing of two Trinamool Congress workers at Sonarpur, the abduction of the owner of Khadim, Mr Partha Roy Burman, and the series of arrests of criminals in the Yuva Bharati episode, not to mention the frequent fatalities in political violence in the districts. Mr Roy Burman’s case also blew the lid off the spread of international and inter-state mafia gangs to Calcutta. It has to be a rather grotesque “oasis” that has so much blood flowing. It would be cold comfort for the people of West Bengal to know that more blood possibly flows elsewhere. Whether it is the realtor’s greed, as suspected in the Dum Dum incident, or bigtime ransom in Mr Roy Burman’s case, or political rivalry in the Sonarpur double murder, the motive is less important than the atmosphere of fear that criminals seem to have succeeded in creating.

By all accounts, Sailen Das, who belonged to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), was a politician of rare integrity and respected by even Trinamool Congress supporters of the area. The Trinamool Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, promptly attributed the murder to the Marxists’ intra-party feuds in the area. Although the CPI(M)’s North 24 Parganas district unit is notorious for its factional strifes, investigations so far have not come up with any evidence pointing in that direction. She was more to the point when she offered her party’s help to Mr Bhattacharjee in curbing political and other violence in the state. It is no secret that criminals are patronized, funded and sheltered by political parties. It is time both ruling and opposition politicians realized that this is a dangerous game that usually destroys its players. It also extracts a price in claiming innocent lives. More important, the government must give the police a freer hand to ensure that the rule of law prevails. It is an inept state which lets the police surrender to unscrupulous partymen and their criminal cohorts.


I have now had the privilege of writing for The Telegraph for nearly ten years, but nothing I have previously published in these columns has quite evoked the response that my last essay, “Rooted cosmopolitans” (July 22), did. This advanced the thesis that the bhadralok intellectual had at least two nationalities. One nationality was constant, namely Bengali, wheras the other varied widely: from English to Russian to Chinese to Vietnamese to American. I had argued that this “ rooted cosmopolitanism” was to be welcomed, as an interest in other cultures, but also to be deplored, as a lack of interest in other parts of our own country. I had ended with the provocative suggestion that perhaps the last bhadralok of distinction to be both Bengali and Indian was Rabindranath Tagore.

The letters I received in response were a charming mix of approval and dismissal. I was accused of being a self-hating Bengali, or (if the writer in question knew that my surname actually conceals a Tamil identity) of being a professional “Bong-basher”. “Have you ever seen anyone from Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra derogating their own people in public?” asked one correspondent. “Don’t Tamils go in a herd to the US for IT jobs?” asked another. These critics at least had the courage (and courtesy) to use their own names, unlike the two letter-writers to The Telegraph who sought to hide themselves under those authentically Bengali titles, “Gabbar Singh” and “M.O. Gambo”.

The most damaging criticism came from a lady who pointed out that “if you take a survey of the people who leave their homes on a regular basis either to travel around the country or to work elsewhere you will find Bengalis topping the list”. She then quoted from a letter written by her son, in temporary exile in Scotland: “Late last night I was looking at the map and suddenly the tremendous romance of these places hit me once again: Peshawar, Aligarh, Allahabad, Meerut, Ambala. I will return I know for sure, and soon. I want to see Sasaram too.”

This was a salutary reminder, and indeed while writing my article I was not unmindful of the Bengali penchant for travel, as witness the bus companies and special railway compartments reserved exclusively for their journeys to temple towns and historic sites. (I have an enduring memory of a cold bus ride up to Nainital with a Bengali tourist, dressed in shirt and chappals, his conversation periodically interspersed, as gusts of snow-laden air hit us, with a flick of the cigarette and an expressive “ai shala”.) My essay, however, did not really deal with these patrons of Kundu and other Travels; rather, it focussed on the cultural aristocracy of Bengal, the writers and scholars and filmmakers whose journeys, both mundane and imaginative, have generally been made across these shores.

One correspondent, agreeing with me, succintly suggested that for the Bengali dual national “the rest of India is a geographical obsolescence. Dum Dum connects straight to JFK or Heathrow”. Juxtaposing this endorsement with the chastisements, I thought I should perhaps reformulate my thesis as follows: the sadharon lok are genuinely interested in other parts of India, the self-proclaimed intellectual, hardly ever.

This amended thesis finds confirmation from the remarks and comments of other correspondents. One friend asked how I could forget the renaming of Calcutta, that Marxist-inspired act of linguistic chauvinism. He then recalled how the dismantling of a statue outside the KGB headquarters in Moscow had brought forth an instant rebuke from the chairman of the Left Front: “We condemn this act of disrespect to Comrade Dzerzhinsky who is one of the greatest Marxists of all time.”

Another reader, a connoisseur of the films of Satyajit Ray, congratulated me on elaborating on what she called the master’s “I am first a Bengali and can be Indian if need be” stand. Then there was the respected scholar who suggested that perhaps even Tagore was not wholly exempt from my strictures. “I think Tagore’s Indianness was as much Enlightenment-generated as was his Bengaliness and to that extent he too was Eurocentric”, he remarked, adding: “If you compare Tagore with Gandhi, you’ll find Tagore was less Indian and more European by Gandhian standards.”

Other writers amplified the theme of bhadralok hypocrisy. I was told of the romantics who wished to merge Bangladesh and West Bengal into a “Sonar Bangla”, but who would not care to travel to the eastern side, while happy enough to exchange a comfortable life in Calcutta for a more comfortable life in New York. Another correspondent passed on a delightful story of how the eminent historian, Irfan Habib, was once introduced at a public meeting by a bhadralok Communist: not by his books, nor even by the length of his party membership, but by how he was linked by descent to the most sophisticated of Indian Muslim families, the Tyabjis.

Finally, there were those letter-writers who argued that my thesis, even if valid, really applied to the past. The question I should have addressed more directly was this: how would Bengalis fare in the homogenizing and globalizing world of the 21st century? One writer to the newspaper felt that they were indeed already “fast shedding or disguising their Bengaliness in an attempt to internationalize themselves”.

On the other hand, an economist friend believed that their history of rooted cosmopolitanism would stand them in good stead. The Bengalis, he perceptively remarked, were “actually survivors and the ones who can do so in new and hostile environments are those who can adapt”. They had become “coconuts” — white inside, brown outside — to better cope with British rule. This ability to retain elements of your own culture while absorbing elements of another, suggested the economist, was a “special case of the general theory of adaptability that we are increasingly going to see in a borderless world”.

Altogether the most curious letter came from a south Indian who claimed that the bhadralok “were merely self- deprecating slaves of some foreign master or the other, whether British, Russian or Chinese. All of them deserve to be held in the most profound contempt by all self-respecting people”. For this correspondent, “a ‘rooted cosmopolitan’ can exist only in the imagination”. Further correspondence revealed him to be an admirer of Bal Thackeray and Nathuram Godse, and the upholder of a chauvinism so extreme that even Gandhi was suspect for the sin of respecting the human rights of the minorities.

I would recommend — to this gentleman in particular but also to all readers who might not have seen it — a book titled The Mahatma and the Poet, published by the National Book Trust. Edited by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, this contains the complete correspondence between the greatest of modern Indians. Better than anything else I have seen, this exchange reveals both the perils and promise of what I have here termed “rooted cosmopolitanism”. For more urgently than ever before, the world we now live in forces us to declare our cultural affiliation — or affiliations.

We really have only three choices: to reject everything “foreign” (as the Hindu and Muslim chauvinists prescribe); to unthinkingly absorb everything “foreign” (as American advertisers ask us to do); or to work out an honourable accommodation between cultures, thus to discard what is useless or reactionary in “ours” while absorbing what is genuinely useful or progressive in “theirs”. In this vital and profoundly challenging exercise there can be no better — and still relevant — guides than the Gujarati-patriot-internationalist, Gandhi, and the bhadralok-Indian-world citizen, Tagore.

[email protected]



The Muslim personal law board has finally considered bringing in some drastic changes in laws pertaining to talaq in a single sitting, mehr and polygamy. This was made clear in a workshop organized by the Muslim personal law board at the Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi. It has been decided that a new nikahnama will be framed where both husband and wife will be required to sign that no separation will take place by announcing triple talaq in one sitting. The groom, in this new contract, will sign a clear undertaking that if, for some reason, he has to resort to separation, he will do so over three sittings spread over a period of three menstrual cycles, as is also the dictate in the Sharia.

The reform process began soon after the Shah Bano case in which a secular court ruled that the former husband of a Muslim woman would have to pay for her lifelong maintenance. The Muslim personal law board considered it an interference in matters of Islamic law, and started deliberating on the issue. According to M. Atyab Siddiqui, Muslim personal law, as it exists today, is based on the judgments of British judges whose knowledge of Muslim law was limited. The laws need to be codified by a committee of scholars, lawyers, social workers, educationists and the ulema consisting of both men and women.

Divorced from reality

A higher percentage of illiteracy among Muslim women than among women from other communities and the discriminatory treatment of women in the application of Muslim personal laws are responsible for the plight of Muslim women. Yet, Muslim women’s rights are enshrined in the Quran and the Sharia, and in the Indian Constitution. The fault lies in the lopsided and erroneous interpretation of personal laws and iniquitous provisions in the civil laws.

Talaq-e-bidat is ordained in one sitting. Talaq-e-sharia aims at spacing the entire process over a period of three months so that the frayed tempers are cooled, resulting in the restoration of matrimonial links. It is the Talaq-e-bidat that has been at the root of the breakup of many marriages. Islamic theologians are divided over which should be the true talaq. It is obvious that the intention of the law in prescribing three pronouncements of divorce separated by fixed intervals of time before the final separation was to leave room for reconciliation. The intention is defeated when the three pronouncements delivered at a single sitting have the effect of a final separation.

Time to reckon

However, Islamic law provides that Muslim women can also seek divorce, first, through mutual agreement or khulaa and, second, through a court of law. But the wife cannot have a verbal divorce, and has to move the court and obtain a decree in her favour in case the husband refuses to grant her divorce. This implies an inequality of rights, and the intervention of the state is required for the fuller protection of the woman’s rights.

The proponents of change within the Muslim personal law board think that some punishment should be instituted as deterrent for breaking the terms of the contract. They feel that the one-sitting talaq has projected a lopsided picture of Islam in modern society. Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, the president of the board, feels that the board should ensure that suitable maintenance is provided to the divorced Muslim woman so that she is able to live respectably. As of now, the Muslim woman is allowed maintenance only for four months in accordance with the sharia law.

The board also aims to put a check on polygamy. But what the critics of polygamy are missing is that polygamy got sanction in Islam because it was meant to save women from being prostituted or exploited otherwise. However, polygamy is not a widespread practice in India, with only 5.7 per cent of Muslim men being polygamous.

The board feels that a man must take the permission of his first wife before remarrying, just as Muslim men in Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey have been barred from remarrying without the permission of the court. But others feel that this would be a direct intervention in the sharia laws. These disputes need to be resolved since it is time Muslim women were given back some of the rights that the Quran has granted them, but the community has taken away.


It is all a matter of perspective. The Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena relationship has turned acrimonious not because the former suddenly feels embarrassed by Hindutva or regards Sharad Pawar as a more reliable ally. Nor is it because Balasaheb Thackeray has developed qualms overnight about consorting with a party which finds itself hemmed in by one scandal after the other despite having proclaimed itself to be “different”. The issue at stake is neither Hindutva nor corruption, but self-preservation.

For Thackeray, the doles from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, such as the power and heavy industry ministership, for his members of parliament are just crumbs thrown at him. With the Democratic Front government systematically cracking down on Mumbai’s extortion network — suspected to be created and expanded with great finesse by the Shiv Sena — and threatening to implement the Srikrishna commission’s recommendations, the Shiv Sena leadership is apparently in big trouble. Nearly two years out of power, Thackeray has lost some of his key activists in gangland violence and some of his own lung-power as well. The roar, which had Muslims fleeing for their lives in the early Nineties, has given way to tame warnings sounded through the pages of the party’s mouthpiece, Samna. When the sainiks did have a go at communal violence in Mumbai last year, the Democratic Front government put it down immediately.

For Thackeray, the repository of power is not South Block but Mumbai. As the de facto ruler of Maharashtra from 1995 to 1999, he could order the mighty Enron power company to leave his state and then return on his terms. He could make and unmake populist projects, much to the BJP’s unhappiness. With Maharashtra slipping out of his hands, it looks as though Thackeray’s pervading authority is slowly but surely eroding. Getting back into the state government may be the only way to preempt a political eclipse. This sense of desperation explains why Thackeray made no effort to hide the fact that he was unhappy with the BJP for its refusal to play ball when he was keen to overthrow the Vilasrao Deshmukh government with the help of the Nationalist Congress Party.

The BJP openly revels in Thackeray’s predicament. A political leader of Maharashtra, who was once his confidant, candidly spoke of how the BJP should not give up this “opportunity” to pull down Thackeray once and for all. The BJP was smart enough to forsee that retrieving the BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state would be on Thackeray’s terms and not theirs, which meant a Sena chief minister and a Sena agenda. Both are unacceptable to the BJP, which has realized the hard way that while Hindutva may be a short-cut to a partial victory in the elections, once ensconced in power, it could be an albatross even around the neck of the most saffronized sanghi. On the other hand, power in Mumbai would expectedly give Thackeray just the elbow space he needs to extract concessions — tangible and ideological — from the Centre.

What could such concessions be? An absolute no to a dialogue with Pakistan, no resuming ties in sports, renaming cities and towns, scrapping the minorities commission, banning cow slaughter and, of course, reconstructing the Ayodhya temple. The BJP had indulged the Shiv Sena on quite a few of these demands when they ruled Maharashtra together, but as the head of an ideologically disparate coalition in Delhi and, more importantly, as the central pole in Indian politics, Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and company are more acutely aware of the responsibilities that this primacy has thrust on them than the gentleman residing in Matoshri. Turning its back on Pakistan can happen only at the cost of upsetting the United States, while banning cow slaughter would deprive not just Muslims but also Dalits of beef, the cheapest of all available meats.

Indeed, Thackeray’s campaign against the India-Pakistan test series in 1991 was the first flashpoint in the BJP-Shiv Sena tie, which goes back to 1989. His sainiks forced the Centre’s hand on January 18, 1999, when they vandalized the office of the Board of Control for Cricket in India in Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium. The home minister, Advani, who was in Mumbai on an official visit, warned the Shiv Sena chief minister, Manohar Joshi, not to allow things to spin out of control. But Thackeray was in no mood to listen. He decided to despatch a band of sainiks to Chennai to disrupt the first test, at which point Advani directed him to call off the agitation or risk losing the Maharashtra government. The tiger was caged for the moment.

However, ideology is not the only source of contention between the two. In August 1998, there was a public feud between the Maharashtra deputy chief minister, the BJP’s Gopinath Munde, and the Shiv Sena’s minister for housing, Sureshdada Jain, over a new Rs 10,000 crore housing scheme which envisaged building two lakh low-cost houses for slum-dwellers. The BJP boycotted cabinet meetings and swore not to return until Jain’s housing policy was redrafted.

Two months later, in October 1998, while addressing his annual Dussehra rally in Mumbai, Thackeray got back at Munde by announcing that power tariffs for 24 lakh farmers would be waived off. Munde was the power minister. Worse was to follow. In January 1999, the Sena chief ordered his chief minister to hike cotton procurement prices, although the Maharashtra government purchased them for Rs 5,000 more per quintal than the other states and lost Rs 1,300 crore annually as a result.

Later, Thackeray opposed the Centre’s bid to disinvest in Air India and Maruti, prompting a cabinet minister to remark that whether it was Hindutva or the economy, Vajpayee’s most consistent critic was not the Congress or the left but Thackeray. The last straw was Sanjay Nirupam’s allegation against the prime minister’s family in the Unit Trust of India scandal. At this point, a beleaguered BJP decided to call Thackeray’s bluff, even if it meant breaking off from its oldest ally. Under pressure from his ministers and other MPs, for once the supremo had no choice but kowtow to its wishes.

Where does the alliance stand? The BJP privately admitted that it had no love lost for the Shiv Sena. Indeed, its leaders seem more inclined to teaming up with Pawar, given the captive caste base he has among the Marathas and his own image as one of the more durable politicians Maharashtra has produced. In contrast, the BJP claimed that Thackeray’s following in the urban areas and among the rural backward castes had slipped in the months the Shiv Sena was out of power and the Sena chief had “failed to deliver anything substantial”. Besides, there was a feeling that Thackeray’s rhetoric did not go down well with the public at a time it was thought that the economy had to be brought back on the rails before all else. And who could do that better than Pawar, the BJP suggested. Clearly, the tiger has no choice but retreat in his cage and wait for better days.


The tenth five year plan (2002-07) is being prepared against a backdrop of high expectations arising from some aspects of the recent performance. Gross domestic product growth in the post-reforms period has improved from an average of about 5.7 per cent in the Eighties to an average of about 6.5 per cent in the eighth and ninth plan periods, making India one of the ten fastest growing developing countries. Encouraging progress has also been made in other dimensions. The percentage of the population in poverty has continued to decline, even if not as much as was targeted...Literacy has increased from 52 per cent in 1991 to 65 per cent in 2001...Sectors such as software services and information technology-enabled services have emerged as new sources of strength creating confidence about India’s potential to be competitive in the world economy.

These positive developments are, however, clouded by other features which give cause for concern. The economy is currently in a decelerating phase and urgent steps are needed to arrest the deceleration and restore momentum. This reversal is all the more difficult because it has to take place in an environment where the world economy is slowing down. There are several aspects of development where our progress is clearly disappointing. Growth in the Nineties has generated less employment than was expected. The infant mortality rate has stagnated at 72 per 1 000 for the last several years. As many as 60 per cent of rural households and about 20 per cent of urban households do not have a power connection. Only 60 per cent of urban households have taps within their homes, and far fewer have latrines inside the house. Land and forest degradation in the rural areas, and over-exploitation of groundwater is seriously threatening sustainability of food production...

...We must respond to the growing impatience in the country at the fact that large numbers of our population continue to live in abject poverty and there are alarming gaps in our social attainments even after five decades of planning. ...We must draw up a reform plan instead of merely having a resource plan.

An important aspect of the redefinition of strategy that is needed relates to the role of government. It is now generally recognized that government in the past tended to take on too many responsibilities, imposing severe strains on its limited financial and administrative capabilities and also stifling individual initiative. An all-pervasive government role may have appeared necessary at a stage where private sector capabilities were undeveloped, but the situation has changed dramatically in this respect. India now has a strong and vibrant private sector. The public sector is much less dominant than it used to be in many critical sectors and its relative position is likely to decline further as government ownership in many existing public sector organizations is expected to decline to a minority. It is clear that industrial growth in future will depend largely upon the performance of the private sector and our policies must therefore provide an environment which is conducive to such growth.

This is not to say that government has no role to play, or only a minimalist role, in promoting development. On the contrary, government has a very important role, but a different one from that envisaged in the past. There are many areas, e.g. the social sectors, where its role will clearly have to increase. There are other areas, e.g. infrastructure development, where gaps are large and the private sector cannot be expected to step in significantly. In these areas the role of government may have to be restructured. It will have to increase in some areas of infrastructure development which are unlikely to attract private investment, e.g. rural infrastructure and road development. In others, e.g. telecommunications, power, ports, etc., the private sector can play a much larger role provided an appropriate policy framework is in place. Here, the role of the government needs to change to facilitate such investment as much as possible while still remaining a public sector service provider for quite some time...

Redefining the role of the government to reflect the changed circumstances facing the economy must be an important aspect of future strategy. This redefinition is necessary both at the Central government level and also at state government level.



Neither waiving, nor drowning

Sir — The Narmada Bachao Andolan activist, Medha Patkar, spent last month waiting on the banks of the Narmada to be drowned by the rising waters with other NBA activists. Thankfully, the waters refused to rise (“Nature, Narmada betray Medha”, August 11). This act of courting death by the NBA in the hopes of bringing the government around to their demands speaks very poorly of the NBA’s mode of action. The plight of the displaced villagers is undoubtedly pathetic. Yet, each extreme step from dharnas to mass drowning only leads to a rather futile waste of human resources. Patkar’s efforts to make the government treat these villagers with fairness is indeed commendable. But, some of the steps taken by her are so illogical that little can distinguish her actions from the arbitrariness of the establishment that she is against. These extreme measures can only aggravate the deadlock, which is already indifferent to the villagers needs. A less dramatic solution might go further, in the long run, to alleviate the villagers’ problems.

Yours faithfully,
Reena Roychoudhury, Mumbai

Trust unredeemed

Sir — According to the former director of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, L. C. Gupta, the bailout scheme (“Exit plan for US-64 investors”, July 16) announced by the chairman of the Unit Trust of India, M. Damodaran, involves a 16.66 per cent loss even after adjusting the 10 per cent dividend announced by the UTI. As it stands today, the net asset value is less than the announced dividend and the redemption value. The investor will also not know the NAV till January 2002. Till 2003, the scope for redemption for investors is limited, and even then the investor is promised only Rs 12 at the time of redemption.

Taking these facts into consideration, the small investor is not benefiting at all from the scheme, which is actually a well-calculated step to safeguard the management rather than to provide protection to investors. If the UTI earnestly tries to allow the NAV to rise to at least 14 we can expect that the late investors will get back their invested amount above par value around July 2000. But it is doubtful whether the UTI is as concerned about its investors as it was in the beginning.

The finance ministry certainly has a hand in the US-64 scandal. Unless the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, assures investors of the benefit that they legitimately expect, the public cannot regain the trust they had placed in the US-64 scheme. It is a pity that the ministry has meddled with the functioning of financial institutions. The government is also taking no steps to protect the middle class from the manipulations of these companies, including the UTI. It must set up an inquiry commission to put people’s minds at rest.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — The Centre’s lack of concern for the small investors in the US-64 units has been amply displayed by its response to the UTI scandal. Soon after the news of the scandal broke out in the media the government was alert enough to shake off all responsibility by first suspending the top guns of the UTI (“From pinnacle to police station”, July 22), and eventually having them arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation. In an attempt at saving face the government managed to secure the investor’s interest at only Rs10 per unit, although the investors bought the units at much higher prices. This is obviously not good enough to make up for the loss of the small investor’s hard-earned money.

This solution has only managed to reveal that the UTI, the largest financial organization in the country, dealing with crores of public money, is running unilaterally. It acts with an eye to the best interests of the management which does not hesitate to misappropriate public money as it does not have to answer to any higher authority. This is the position that the UTI has been placed in by the Centre.

It is clear that the declaration of the bailout package by the government is merely an attempt at diverting attention from the real agents of the scandal.

Yours faithfully,
Animesh Sen, Calcutta

Sir — Since the UTI was under the finance ministry, investors always considered the scheme to be safe. Is it possible after the US-64 scandal for the UTI to live up to the reputation with regard to its mutual fund? It is clearly understood that poor management of the UTI, because of political neglect and misappropriation of funds, is responsible for its current sorry state. Had it not been so, it would have been better to announce a new plan for US-64 before freezing it for six months.

I cannot help wondering how small investors will keep their money intact in this scheme for the long term or adapt to the new option of sale or repurchase of US-64 at NAV prices.

Yours faithfully,
Subhashish Majumdar, via email

Sir — There seems to be a Ketan Parekh in every investment sector, be it a government agency or a public agency. What is disheartening is that the government refuses to accept responsibility and wants to make a scapegoat of the former UTI chairman, P. S. Subramanyam. This is despite the fact that he does not possess unaccounted for or disproportionate funds. There is definitely more to the ongoing controversy regarding the investment of funds of Rs 32.8 crore in Cyberspace Infosys than meets the eye. Will a concrete solution to the controversy be arrived at or will this case be covered up with the passage of time?

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Bad air

Sir — Vehicular emissions are responsible for about 70 per cent of the air pollution in Indian cities. Although a court order stated that all petrol and diesel vehicles in Delhi were to start using compressed natural gas, this has not yet been implemented. Instead of natural gas, bio-gas should be used as it can be easily generated from sewerage and bio-degradable components of municipal solid wastes. Methane generation and the recycling of other components of MSW, as opposed to the use of fossil fuels, would also be friendlier to the environment.

A couple of months ago, I had drawn the attention of Kanti Ganguly, then member (conservancy), mayor in council, Calcutta Municipal Corporation, to the problem of environmental pollution. He sent me a leaflet mentioning the MSW utilization projects to be undertaken with the help of French and Canadian collaborators. I do not know whether these projects have even been undertaken or of their current status. It was clearly implied by Kanti Ganguly that there is no MSW available from the garbage produced by Calcutta to try out methane generation experiments on. I wonder whether this is merely an evasive response by a politician.

Yours faithfully,
Dipak Guha, Calcutta

Sir — The phasing out of cars, taxis, buses and lorries which are more than 15 years old has not yet been implemented. The utilization of compressed natural gas by buses and taxis should follow this move. There should also be a time-bound programme for the planning, modification and implementation of these steps. New automobiles should be restricted to cleaner fuel models as well. Since CNG is available in the Northeast, petrol and diesel will no longer need to be imported and the government cannot use the excuse of excess expenditure for not implementing emission laws. Automobile manufacturers, bus syndicates, taxi associations and motor vehicle departments should also be involved by the government to combat this health hazard. Until concrete and unified efforts are made to deal with the problem of air pollution, we will have no choice but to carry on breathing the poisonous fumes given off by vehicles.

Yours faithfully,
N.S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

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