Editorial 1 / The fall
Editorial 2 / The exile
Castles in the air
Fifth Column / toward the right kind of autonomy
Torture without a trace
The poor are the true poverty experts
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / THE FALL 
 
 
 
 
With her return to the National Democratic Alliance, Ms Mamata Banerjee has confirmed her place among those Indian politicians whose rank opportunism has reduced their profession to an entertainment of the gutters. It is amazing how in a relatively short time the fire-eating crusader for “value-based politics”, who once looked so refreshingly different, has been co-opted into the corruptions of power politics. It was still vintage Ms Banerjee, the shrill-voiced champion of political morality, who left the National Democratic Alliance government in March, protesting against the corruption exposed in the Tehelka tapes. Her high moral ground still looked real when she cried for the head of Mr George Fernandes, then defence minister, after that murky episode. Even if both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) cried foul, her alliance with the Congress on the eve of the West Bengal assembly elections did not look unprincipled. The Congress was her parent party, and more importantly, she had left the cushions of power to plunge into the electoral fight. Her failure to unseat the left from the Writers’ Buildings seemed to have changed all that. She moved brazenly to build bridges with the NDA. And who should be her broker but the same Mr Fernandes for whose blood she had been crying for in the post-Tehelka revolt? It is an irony, obviously lost on her, that instead of exonerating them, the latest sex twists in the Tehelka story show the accused in even worse light.

Next time she breathes fire and brimstone at Marxists in West Bengal, she is bound to sound pathetically hollow. It is possible that she and her party colleagues, instead of feeling dimmed and diminished about the return to the NDA, would hail it as a victory. It will be flaunted before party faithfuls as one more proof of her importance to the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who reportedly brushed aside objections from the Union home minister and the BJP’s number two, Mr L.K. Advani, and others to her re-entry. The railways or any other ministerial favour would be gratefully accepted because she now knows that politics is all about power. Nobody except Ms Banerjee herself really believes that Mr Vajpayee readmitted the Trinamool Congress into the NDA out of “sympathy and affection” for her. Personal equations between two individuals cannot be a legitimate basis for political strategy. The compulsions of coalition politics were clearly behind the re-entry of both the Trinamool Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi into the ruling alliance. Even if her alliance with the Congress, hastily struck up for the polls, did not work, Ms Banerjee had a more honourable, and politically more durable, course open to her. She could have made a fresh beginning with her own party, instead of stooping to concur.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / THE EXILE 
 
 
 
 
There is a sense of déja vu in the government’s approach to the millennium round. A ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization is due in Doha in November and this is expected to announce the launch of a new round of WTO negotiations. Unlike in Seattle, the three major groups (the United States, the European Union and Japan) will be better prepared and the likelihood of a Seattle-like fiasco is remote. Logically, there is a difference between agreeing to a new round of trade talks and agreeing to the inclusion of specific items on the agenda. The agenda is by no means determined. While the US prefers a narrow agenda, the EU wants a broad one. Barring the big three, other country groupings have also supported the new round, and India stands in splendid isolation as the only major country in the world that opposes negotiations, as against opposing the inclusion of specific issues like labour or environment. The commerce ministry has been screaming from the rooftops that there is no such isolation and India has the support of like-minded developing countries. Mr Murasoli Maran has gone off to Latin America to garner support and recently, the commerce ministry succeeded in persuading the prime minister to mouth the party line. At the last count, out of 142 members of the WTO, India had the support of 20. Some of these are countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Least developed countries belong to a different category and the leadership mantle of the LDCs has passed to Bangladesh. Since many WTO disciplines do not apply to the LDCs, there are ways of offering carrots to them to support the new round and this is no doubt what developed countries will seek to do.

This is reminiscent of the mid-Eighties, when India opposed the Uruguay round, projected itself as the leader of the South and soon discovered that it was a leader without any followers. The new round will happen, despite India’s opposition. In the process, India will not be able to influence the agenda and will react to it. India does have a point in that the promised liberalization of agriculture, textiles and garments did not take place. However, the problems lie with agreements signed in 1994, which allowed developed countries to circumvent the spirit of liberalization. But no law was violated. The issues cannot be resolved without re-negotiating the agreements and this requires a new round. Had India resisted labour, environment and competition policy alone, there would have been some support among developing countries, but the present obduracy only isolates and marginalizes India. It is possible to argue that India is looking for a quid pro quo before coming on board. If so, it is not clear what that incentive is. Perhaps the answer lies in public posturing for the benefit of a domestic audience. But internal compulsions do not justify external stupidity.

   

 
 
CASTLES IN THE AIR 
 
 
BY BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
Of late the Indian air force has been regularly in the news. A good sign, considering that this signifies greater interest and awareness in an institution representing a rapidly developing and potent aspect of modern warfare, namely air power. Not all the news, however, has been good, with the fare mixed and leaving one somewhat confused.

If reports are to be believed the good news is that final decisions on the induction of flight refueller aircraft and airborne early warning and control aircraft have been taken. Considering that these programmes were mooted in the mid-Eighties and will take about five more years to mature, we shall see the sons reaping the benefits of what their air force fathers wanted. This is a decision-making time-frame that must surely vie for the record books, except that even this will be surpassed when we look at the next item.

Lest readers take the father-to-son analogy seriously, let one hasten to add that air force fathers rarely encourage such family traditions, reasons for which are not far to seek. The IAF continues to have a very high accident rate, though much of it is because of factors beyond their control. Official reports had earlier quoted an average loss of some 22-24 fighters per year as normal. One urgent solution proposed by a 1984 committee on accidents was the induction of an advanced jet trainer. After sixteen years of deliberating, the jet trainer, instead of being in the hands of our trainee pilots, has come to symbolize wilful governmental procrastination, the latter allegation made by no less than the Lok Sabha standing committee on defence.

Some months ago, the defence minister made a statement to the effect that the selection had been made and the deal would shortly be concluded. Well-wishers of the IAF — and mercifully there are still many — had then hoped that the induction process was now finally under way — until the recent bombshell that the deal was off and the IAF was looking at a Russian alternative, an alternative earlier rejected by them and not yet fully developed. Obviously, the powers that be are not averse to denying a whole new generation of combat pilots the best training platform, not caring that in war there is no prize for a runner-up.

Observers of the national security scene were also happy that after five decades of an ineffectual and outdated national security management model, the government had accepted the recommendations of the group of ministers and seriously set about bringing changes. The services having in the past been victims of the frustrating decision-making process, where those in authority were not accountable, would have been the frontline cheerleaders of this rapidly evolving process of change. Recent happenings, if true, would defy even this elementary logic.

The IAF’s opposition to the concept of a chief of defence staff, and by extension to the concept of single-point military advise to the government, has been known. In fairness to them, they had reportedly expressed their reservations professionally in the correct fora and in equal fairness to our system of governance, their views would have been considered at the ministerial level first, followed by the cabinet level. Appropriate decisions would then emerge. Well-wishers of national security, the few that can be counted, were therefore hoping for expeditious action such that the process of organizational and management change can be set in motion. But much like the jet trainers, there is now a bombshell with reports that the air force is unhappy, and would like the process halted and its views reheard. One can only hope that these reports are without basis.

As if all this were not enough, press reports have frequently been quoting an IAF Vision 2020 document as the basis for future force level and programme projection. Reportedly, this document visualizes a combat force level of 55 squadrons. As one responsible for budgeting and planning a decade ago, this writer is aware of the balancing act then needed to meet the needs of a much smaller force with other equally important priorities that constitute modern air power.

With costs across the board perennially on the rise, specially with weapon systems’ costs doing so exponentially, and defence budgets barely beating inflation and exchange rate variations, one was beginning to marvel at how successive air force planners were managing to keep even the current air force afloat in financial terms. This writer is truly intrigued by how such a vastly augmented force level can now be envisioned and indeed afforded.

One is not aware if such a document is part of an integrated national security response to the strategic defence review that was evolved by the national security advisory board or is an in-house concept document. Considering the centrality of air power in any national security calculus one hopes that such a document, before being adopted as policy, will be discussed and deliberated not just within the official security establishment but in the public domain as well, as was indeed attempted with India’s nuclear doctrine. This becomes relevant as rapid changes are making it difficult to forecast the impact of information, space and other technologies on future security and battlefield scenarios.

There is no denying that air power today is all pervasive. A nation cannot think of security without a modern and balanced air force. Being technologically driven, the air force is at the forefront of rapid technological and operational evolution. In such a rapidly evolving scene, management of air power is naturally accompanied by risks, pitfalls, technological obsolescence or overkill and high costs. This poses challenges of finding optimum solutions to the management of security as a whole, included in which are issues of threats, military responses, missions, force levels, institutional integration and so on.

This complex scene is not made any simpler with the advent of nuclear weaponization within and in the neighbourhood. The south Asian region is already being billed in the international security context as the next region of conflict. With three nuclear powers and unresolved border disputes, this makes for a security planner’s nightmare.

Having said this, even the most brash amongst them will not seriously contemplate a nuclear war, because an exchange once begun will result in mutual destruction. Simply put, the task before our security planners is this. Ensure a credible nuclear deterrent capability alongside the potential to fight an intense limited conflict with tactics to ensure that the nuclear threshold is never approached. This, within the means that India can afford.

Cost effective integration of air, land and sea warfare into the future is exciting and challenging for leadership at all levels — a task demanding vision, astuteness and professionalism. This is because technological, operational and economic compulsions make old concepts and philosophies somewhat redundant, and overlapping of roles and missions coupled with high costs make inter-service and institutionalized co-operation, planning and execution an imperative. Finally, galloping advances in technology point towards intellect and knowledge being key players alongside skill and valour in future warfare.

When the government finally set about restructuring the defence management system, this writer, like many others, wondered whether one’s dream of a modern security management system was finally turning into reality. Here the first step of modernizing the defence management system would be followed by clear missions for each service based on an integrated land, air and sea operational plan driven by the compulsion of optimum and cost-effective application of military power. Leaderships of the services, arms and combat formations would then be free to envision how best to achieve their mission objectives. From the confusing signals being sent out, the dream seems to be turning distinctly sour.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / TOWARD THE RIGHT KIND OF AUTONOMY 
 
 
BY PARTHO CHATTERJEE
 
 
The University Grants Commission has agreed in principle to give autonomy to undergraduate colleges, so that they can manage their own affairs, and even award degrees independent of any university. But so far only 119 undergraduate colleges out of 9703 can avail themselves of this facility.

Not all colleges have the adequate infrastructure to run their own affairs, and state governments make the transition more difficult. Moreover, overburdened universities still decline to shed extra responsibilities, feeling threatened to part with their best colleges. The proliferation of students and political compulsion give way to more colleges lacking in infrastructure. As a result, college teachers in Bihar, Manipur and Assam don’t get regular salaries. This is also true of West Bengal, where a number of teaching posts are lying vacant. Barring few colleges, most of the institutions cut a sorry figure.

Meanwhile, P.C. Alexander, the governor of Maharashtra, has recently announced that colleges which are permanently affiliated to a university and had existed for more than 10 years are eligible to apply for autonomy — for five years initially, renewable after assessment. A similar proposal had been made to Presidency College, Calcutta, and was resisted by both Calcutta University and the West Bengal government. The UGC has suggested that autonomous colleges be accountable for the quality of graduates they are producing. Autonomy also tends to provide more say to the teachers regard-ing the syllabi and methods of teaching.

Right to control

Bangladesh has set up a separate university for conducting examinations alone. There should be provisions for training teachers for postgraduate teaching. The recruitment of teachers through the national and state-level eligibility tests is not enough. Providing autonomy indiscriminately to colleges will prove counterproductive. The worst sufferers are the finance and examination departments. There are only few affiliating universities that could publish results on time and undertake follow-up actions.

There is a recent phenomenon of competitive universities trying to establish their right to control, like Visva Bharati and the All India Council for Technical Education granting affiliation to a business school in Calcutta. The UGC chairman, Hari Gautam, pointed out at the convocation of the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages that “having hundreds and thousands of universities and colleges, we have to know who is who, and what is being done to whom?”

This statement reflects the dismal picture of higher education in the country. He has also hinted at the UGC’s move to empower the universities to operate multi-campuses and open foreign campuses. This experiment failed in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru University, which set up a campus at Shillong and Calcutta University which had a campus at Agartala.

Stop meddling

The UGC is also critical of the multiple agencies, meddling with Indian higher education. At the higher secondary level, where at least three agencies are responsible for framing the curricula and conducting examinations. One is a state agency and the other two are Central. They differ from one another in standards and course content. There are coordinating councils overseeing syllabi, teaching methods, infrastructure, but they do not look at the financial aspects.

If these bodies are competent enough to replace the UGC, then why not delink technical from university education, and give autoniomy to the latter. For example, a medical college, if affiliated to the Indian Council for Medical Research should be allowed to grant degrees. If state-run hospitals are brought under such colleges, they can raise money from their own proceeds. Thus, universities should be devoted exclusively to postgraduate studies and research in the humanities and the sciences.

The UGC, in competition with some foreign universities, is going to take a wrong decision by using its institutions as a market to lure the rich in the name of self-sufficiency. It is time Indian universities got rid of bureaucratic clutter and prioritized excellence.

   

 
 
TORTURE WITHOUT A TRACE 
 
 
BY RAJASHRI DASGUPTA
 
 
A few days ago, most of the city dailies missed a significant news item. Sixteen-year-old Anne (name changed to protect her identity) was awarded Rs 50,000 as compensation by the divisional bench of the Calcutta high court. Last year, on September 21, while Anne was being escorted to jail in a petty theft case, she was brutally raped by two policemen in the police van.

Anne’s trauma would have remained under wraps. On February 2, 2001, the chief of detective department submitted a report stating that Anne’s allegation of rape by the policemen was “baseless and far from the truth”. The truth took a further beating with a concerted smear campaign by the force against the hapless girl. The officer-in-charge of Alipore police station said, “The girl is a sexual pervert and is habituated to sex. She is a paramour to a gang of dacoits”. But the police could no longer hush up the case when it was discovered that Anne was in an advanced state of pregnancy.

As in a number of other cases, Anne would have become another forgotten file for “lack of evidence”. The abuse of human rights in police custody seldom grabs the headlines unless it concerns people like the biscuit magnate, Rajan Pillai, who was denied medical aid after he was arrested and died subsequently in police custody. Anne had even less chance of drawing attention with all the odds against her. She was poor, belonged to a minority community and suffered disability from speech and hearing.

The police would have got away this time too, if it were not for a number of social factors: a vigilant media, a Bengali daily (the English media were silent) immediately reported the rape. On the basis of the news report, a lawyer filed a public interest litigation in the Calcutta high court, demanding compensation for Anne; Maitree, a network of women’s groups kept the pressure on the police and at the same time in the public domain by regular street-corner meetings, demonstrations and distribution of pamphlets.

In some ways, Anne’s incident sets out the evidence of torture and ill treatment of prisoners in West Bengal, together with the attempt to cover up these abusive practices. It also demonstrates that sections of society can provide critical safeguards in identifying abusive practices and demanding change. The pressure from various quarters compelled the state government to provide Anne with healthcare during the birth of her baby in April. The recent high court order is also a victory for public effort and an indication of a responsive and sensitive court.

In principle, various sections of the criminal justice system — like public prosecutors, courts and doctors — are important agents in checking abusive custodial practices and in demanding justice. In reality, a research visit by Amnesty International delegates to West Bengal in June 1999 found that the system largely ignores gross and systematic violations by the police. This lack of interest is also largely a result of overload in the system, lack of resources, intimidation by the authorities and self-interest, as outlined in the Amnesty report released in August 2001 as part of its international campaign against the torturing of prisoners.

The report, Time to act to stop torture and impunity in West Bengal, voices concerns about the ill treatment of prisoners in the state. It quotes the national human rights commission report that between 1994-96, West Bengal had the highest total recorded deaths in police custody in the country with 27 deaths. The 1998-99 annual report of the West Bengal human rights commission admitted 409 unspecified “complaints against the police”, including torture and ill treatment of a large number of people.

The problem of “overload” in the criminal justice system leads, in turn, to the manipulation of safeguards in law, set out to ensure the rights of prisoners. This is aggravated by the inadequacies in the lower courts and the prosecution service. Thousands of cases are pending before the courts and hundreds of detainees pass through dingy, crowded courtrooms, day after day. There are numerous complaints that magistrates remand detainees in police custody without detainees being physically brought before a magistrate as required by the law. Seldom is the identity of the detainee verified or information sought from the detainee about the nature of treatment in police detention. Physical injuries caused by police torture go undetected and abusive police officers go scot-free.

Malpractices by other participants in the system have added to the erosion of the justice system. For instance, this is what the United Nations guidelines stipulate regarding the role of the public prosecutor: “Persons selected as prosecutors shall be individuals of integrity and ability with appropriate training and qualifications.” But the second West Bengal police commission noted in its 1998 report that there was no system of accountability for public prosecutors.

A group of lawyers told Amnesty researchers that the public prosecutors lacked professional pride in attempting to present a foolproof case. They accept “unquestioningly” the police version of the incident and are “pathetically dependent on them”. They rarely complain to the police about weak or conflicting evidence to prosecute a case or reject unsound witnesses; even rarer are incidences of prosecutors questioning the evidence which has been extracted from prisoners during torture. The former judge, D.K. Basu, of the Calcutta high court pointed out that it was quite normal for the police to hire witnesses in criminal cases and few public prosecutors question the use of these unlawful methods.

There are alarming examples in the Amnesty report of doctors refusing to provide medical treatment to prisoners, to take note of complaints of torture or injuries from torture during post mortem investigation. Doctors are also guilty of manipulating hospital records to show that detainees were admitted and provided with medical care when, in fact, they were dead on arrival at the hospital.

The WBHRC noted the case of Babi Biswas, who died in police custody on April 9, 1997, “but an elaborate exercise was undertaken to whitewash the matter. Attempt was made (by the police) to brow beat the doctor on duty and to rearrange the hospital in a manner which would show that not merely the patient was brought to the hospital alive and breathing but that he was even administered life saving injections before he died. The silent acquiescence of the higher authorities in the arrangement is sad and sickening.”

The state government took a bold step in 1995 when it set up the WBHRC, the first state in the country to do so. In 1998, the state government had announced that it had received 125 recommendations from the commission and that it had accepted them all. It is worrying that while the recommendations may be accepted in theory, they often lead to no implementation.

The undue delay in courts in obtaining justice, observed the Amnesty delegates, contributes to another dangerous trend in society. People become tolerant towards police torture and violence, and accept it as a means of justice and “instant punishment”. For similar reasons, the state cannot sideline human rights to human rights commissions only, whose strength lies in making these rights central to its policies.

There is a perception among police and government officials that the maintenance of law and order and of human rights are incompatible. However, rights activists have stressed that human rights are not an impediment to effective policing; on the contrary, they are vital to the ice’s achievements. If some members of the police are guilty of violating Anne, others of covering it up, there were others who had the courage to investigate their own force and book the guilty in uniform. This demonstrates the weakness of the criminal justice system, but it also shows up the potential within the system to rectify the injustice.

   

 
 
THE POOR ARE THE TRUE POVERTY EXPERTS 
 
 
 
 
Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon, encompassing inability to satisfy basic needs, lack of control over resources, lack of education and skills, poor health, malnutrition, lack of shelter, poor access to water and sanitation, vulnerability to shocks, violence and crime, lack of political freedom and voice. So when we want to look at what happens to poverty, we look at a number of indicators…

The poor are the true poverty experts. In preparing its World Development Report 2000/01: Attacking Poverty, the World Bank wanted to make sure the voices of the poor — their experiences, priorities, and recommendations — would be taken into account. The result was Voices of the Poor, which gathers the voices of 60,000 poor men and women from 60 countries…

The numbers show little progress in reducing income poverty over the last decade — impressive gains were made in east Asia before the crisis hit, but have been partly reversed, and little if any progress took place elsewhere — and a large majority of poor people said they are worse off now, have fewer economic opportunities, and live with greater insecurity than in the past. Poor people describe repeatedly and in distressing detail what has only been glimpsed before, the psychological experience and impact of poverty.

Trends in social indicators show that while there has been steady progress in average indicators of health and education, there are areas of worsening, and in all areas the income poor are systematically worse off than the non-poor. Poor people’s experiences with government institutions are largely negative, even when government programmes were rated as important. Corruption, rudeness and poor quality services seemed to be the norm, whether in health care or in programmes of social support. But the poor still greatly value government programmes, and feel governments have important roles to play in their lives. The presence of nongovernmental organizations in the various countries is uneven, but where they are at work their contributions are generally appreciated. The poor find their own local networks and institutions to be the most dependable. Gender relations are in troubled transitions, with violence against women frequent.

Extreme poverty declined only slowly in developing countries during the 1990s: the share of the population living on less than $1 a day fell from 28 per cent in 1987 to 23 percent in 1998, and the number of poor people remained roughly constant, as the population increased. The share and number of people living on less than $2 per day — a more relevant threshold for middle-income economies such as those of east Asia and Latin America — showed similar trends.

It should be emphasized that these historical estimates are subject to some uncertainty. Up-to-date survey and price data are not available for all countries, and the quality of household surveys can vary considerably between countries and over time. Some country surveys yield income measures of living standards, while others yield consumption measures, and these two sources are likely to give different poverty estimates for the same underlying population. The international measure of poverty used here is subject to error because of the difficulties involved in estimating purchasing power parity exchange rates. The estimates provide a fairly reliable view of poverty trends at the aggregate level, due to the substantial increases in the coverage of household surveys and in data accuracy over the past few years.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A feat forgotten

Sir — The report on the final Ashes test (“Rain stops play after England follow on”, August 27) portrays yet another sad story for the English cricket team this summer. But it is unfortunate that The Telegraph failed to highlight the most important event of the fourth day, the 400 wickets haul by one of the most successful leg spinners of all time, Shane Warne. Except for carrying this event in the most casual manner, as a follower of the game I would have been delighted to see more coverage being given by the paper. Warne, plagued by injuries as well as controversies in the recent past, has achieved a laudable goal which only proves his quality and potential. It would be good to see this bowler carrying on for a few more years and achieving some other feats in the process. Warne indeed represents the fighting spirit that the indomitable Aussies have come to symbolize. Aspiring spinners all around the globe may draw inspiration from Warne who is perhaps on his way to becoming a legend.

Yours faithfully,
Ritwik Sarkar, Calcutta

Moral of the story

Sir — The use of prostitutes in order to unearth corruption in the defence establishment by the Tehelka team is a matter of serious concern. The issue is not just a question of journalistic ethics and propriety. The nature and extent of the latest revelation suggest that the issue goes far beyond the realm of investigative journalism. The purpose of this letter is not to deflect public attention from the issue of corruption, but to examine the serious implications of the methods adopted by the Tehelka reporters in the furtherance of their objective.

The use of prostitutes by a website is fraught with dangerous consequences. All the more so because tehelka.com is said to be part of the institution called press. Over the years, the press has been carrying out its duties and responsibilities as a sentinel of democracy and the watchdog of public interest. It has been highlighting the failures of the government of the day, the omissions and commissions of the powers and the injustices and inequality of the system. If the mafia network, the methods of which the Tehelka reporters evidently used, eventually succeed in blackmailing the press, what would happen to the country?

We believe in a particular system of law that not only governs our lifestyle but also regulates our moral conduct and behaviour. And when an attempt is made by someone to transgress this moral conduct, there are genuine apprehensions among the people about the purpose and motive beyond this.

The Tehelka website owes an answer to the people of India as to what kind of public interest it has sought to achieve by hiring prostitutes. This is unprofessional, unethical and immoral. I would call this sick journalism that only shows a sick mind and a sick society.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Sir — George Fernandes’s lecture on morality couldn’t possibly ring less true (“George turns gun on Tehelka”, Aug 23). The former defence minister decries the media for “demoralizing” the Indian military, but he diverts from the issue of corruption among top-ranking army officials.

Fernandes is playing dangerously with the morale of the Indian troops, who sacrifice their lives when duty beckons, unlike the officials who take bribes. Fernandes’ concern now is not to punish those who received the bribes, but to pull up those who paid them. The blame could be put on the journalists had they tried to portray the people in the tapes maliciously. But in this case, they were not. They were only trying to reveal the depth of corruption.

Yours faithfully,
Aditya P. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The recent Tehelka exposures has cast a long shadow on the country’s defence and political system (“Army officers wanted sex”, Aug 23). The formation of the Venkataswami commission was a joke on the people of this country. Despite existing for three months, no progress has been made on the issue. Till date, none of the accused ministers, who were caught red-handed on tape, have been put behind bars or even hauled up by the judiciary. And now there are reports that Fernandes might come back to the ministry.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — During the first episode of Tehelka, one journalist-turned-Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman argued that since the alleged recipients did not ask for bribes they are not guilty, rather journalists offering the bribes are. In the same logic, sexual favours given to military officials are not an indication of their sinfulness, the ones bestowing them are sinful. If politics is the last refuge of criminals, then the National Democratic Alliance is definitely the safest of places to live.

Duality, false arguments and baseless counter-charges are proven NDA tactics to divert the main issue. In what sense is the supplying of prostitutes more criminal than jeopardizing national security?

Yours faithfully,
G.K. Reddy, Kharagpur

Sir — It was amusing and agonizing to read the report, “Arrest sword over sting sleuths” (Aug 23), which shows that the government is examining prosecution of the Tehelka rogues under sections 161, 165 and 165 (A) of the Indian Penal Code. But sections 161 to 165(A) of the IPC were omitted by the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, consequent to the provisions of “public servants taking gratification” and “abetment” being included under the new law.

Yours faithfully,
Arvind Lavakar, Mumbai

Sir — The report, “Tehelka shows politician as pimp” (Aug 24), only adds a feather to the cap of our political representatives. The tehelka.com team did a profound service to the nation by exposing the depth of graft. The reporters cannot be blamed for employing “unfair” or “unethical” means to trap the crooks in khadi. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Yours faithfully,
S. Kocher, Bareilly

All in a haze

Sir — One hears of rehabilitation camps for drug addicts and billboards today promise hope for addicts. But how much is actually being done? An area a short distance away from the New Alipore police station is frequented by men, mostly rickshaw or hand-cart pullers. These people seek the shelter of an enclosed place in front of the Rasoi factory to indulge in their addiction, and can be found there through the day. When the police was approached after a spate of thefts in the neighbourhood, they summarily dismissed the cases, attributing them to these drug addicts. Since the police are well aware of the facts, I fail to see why they cannot take measures to ensure that such activities are stopped in the neighbourhood.

Yours faithfully,
Kamalini Mazumder, Calcutta

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