Editorial 1/ One step back
Editorial 2/ Sanctioned joy
Regulating power
Afghan battle scenes
Document/ Standing in defence of human life
Fifth Column/ Battalion with green fingers
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ ONE STEP BACK 
 
 
 
 
There is evidently a limit to the extent a system can be pushed. Ms J. Jayalalithaa has, no doubt, had to swallow this harsh truth after the Supreme Court nullified her appointment as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Normally, this would have been considered the expected outcome. But Ms Jayalalithaa’s blinding self-confidence may have led her to believe that she would get away this time too. Unfortunately, there is one brass tack in this situation that even she cannot obscure. She has been sentenced to imprisonment for more than two years under the Prevention of Corruption Act and was forbidden to contest the elections. She might have taken a lesson or two from the former chief minister of Bihar, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav. In a similar situation, he dramatically handed over the crown to his wife, and continued to rule from behind the bars. Such an act would have given Ms Jayalalithaa the emotional clout that is needed to rule Tamil Nadu. Her departure only after the Supreme Court has dismissed her is more than a little embarrassing.

The choice of successor is revealing. Mr O. Pannerselvam cannot be called a leading light in the outgoing ministry. Neither was he the expected choice. The new chief minister has two virtues from Ms Jayalalithaa’s point of view. He is reportedly close to Ms Sasikala’s family. That would guarantee his unswerving fidelity to the great leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Besides, his light shines dim in the galaxy of the AIADMK, a guarantee that the seat will be Ms Jayalalithaa’s if she manages to make a comeback. More, that she will be able to rule anyway, whether she comes back or not. No one with the suspicion of personal ambition could have been trusted with so onerous a responsibility. The tradition of ruling by proxy is honoured by an ancient Indian epic. It is no wonder that a party such as the AIADMK, which exists solely because of a single undisputed leader — and is innocent of all hints of inner party democracy — should take to this tradition so smoothly. There is, however, a crucial issue at stake in this drama. Ms Jayalalithaa has claimed that the people’s choice in a democracy is more binding than the rule of law. The Supreme Court, of course, has refuted this. According to the Constitution, the people’s choice should be concordant with the rule of law. This is demanded by the normal sense of justice. A convicted person cannot be allowed to rule a state. On the one hand, the situation exposes loopholes in constitutional provisions that had permitted Ms Jayalalithaa’s elevation to chief ministership in the first place. On the other, it brings up questions of the people’s interpretations of lawfulness and democratic choice. It is the second question, with regard to the people of Tamil Nadu, that needs careful consideration.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ SANCTIONED JOY 
 
 
 
 
The decision by the United States to lift sanctions imposed against India and Pakistan after the 1998 nuclear tests will be widely welcomed. Restrictions against India were widely expected to be removed within the next few months, but Pakistan’s inclusion and the speed with which the decision has been made suggests that Islamabad’s recent policies may have played a decisive role in President George W. Bush’s re-evaluation. Pakistan’s offer to cooperate with Washington in its war against terrorism has, therefore, generated an immediate positive response from the American government. Recall that these sanctions, the most comprehensive ever imposed against India or Pakistan, were enforced under the nuclear proliferation prevention act of 1994. They included termination of assistance under the foreign assistance act of 1961, except for humanitarian assistance; denial of any credit, or credit guarantee; opposition to the extension of any loan for financial or technical assistance by international financial institutions; and termination of sales of defence articles, defence services or design and construction services. Most of these sanctions had been removed during the last months of Mr Bill Clinton’s tenure as president. However, some sanctions remained, and the lifting of these will now, hopefully, help to revive cooperation in the conventional defence sector.

More important, however, is the psychological impact of this decision. The climate for economic investment in India should improve, and may help to encourage greater foreign direct investment. But sanctions imposed after the 1974 Indian nuclear test still remain, and this means that there are still restrictions that prevent the import of dual-use technology and inhibit cooperation in the civilian nuclear sector. For Pakistan, the removal of these restrictions will come as a huge boon, although sanctions that were imposed after the military coup of 1999 still remain. Islamabad can look forward to the rescheduling of some of its external debts, and an unstated promise that Washington will not let the country’s economy collapse. India should have much to be glad about if this means that Pakistan will emerge as a modern state However, New Delhi needs to be cautious that US support to Islamabad does not include any significant military assistance. A similar decision taken to suspend sanctions against Pakistan in 1979 in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and providing it with military hardware played a large role in the creation of the terrorist networks that caused havoc on September 11 and are still active in Kashmir. It is critical, therefore, that Pakistan commits itself to a definite road map that includes the end of all terrorist groups and the return of democracy. Otherwise, the US may be seen as rewarding a military dictatorship that sponsors and harbours terrorists.

   

 
 
REGULATING POWER 
 
 
BY S.L. RAO
 
 
Three years ago, talk was about inadequate generation. All attention was on new investments in generation, preferably foreign investment, because India was supposed to be short of funds. There were “fast-track” projects, “mega” projects, projects with “sovereign guarantees” from the Central government, and “escrows” on future cash flows guaranteed by state governments.

Since 1998, when the Central electricity regulatory commission was formed, the semantics have changed. It is accepted that investment in production requires demand and ability to pay. Customers for almost all generation of electricity under the present laws are the state electricity boards, with rising annual cash deficits. Hence investors need assurance of payment. Investors will also expect higher returns on investment because of the greater risk than if the customer was generating enough cash to pay without demur.

The result is contracts as with Enron over Dhabhol, with multiple guarantees of payment and extra profit margins for the investor. The problems of our electricity system are not confined to the inability of SEBs to pay their bills. The SEBs are departments of government, with non-existent professional management, zero accountability because of the feeling that government was ultimately responsible, veto power over any fresh generation capacity, monopsony (sole buyer) rights of purchase which they could waive for a stiff fee and allow direct sales, overstaffing, poor work ethic, employees who colluded with electricity thieves, bills that could be fixed to show less, and collections that could be delayed or waived for a price.

In a subcontinental country like India, shortages and surpluses are not there every minute, day, week or season. It is possible for a fuller use of supplies if trading was encouraged through a market mechanism. For that, electricity must move from one part of the system to another. It requires legitimizing trading, establishing the equivalent of a stock exchange, and permitting easy movement. The only inter-state movement of electricity today is by Central government-owned generating companies. State governments do not permit such movement within their states except by the SEBs.

The Central government determined tariffs to ensure that their companies could make good profits at the cost of the customers, the SEBs. One reason is to generate a surplus for further electricity investment. Similar tariff formulae apply also to private investors. All costs are passed through, leaving little motivation to reduce costs, or to do so but not pass on the savings.

The state governments irresponsibly catered to perceived voter sentiment that electricity was their right, and gave subsidized or free electricity to farmers and households, while allowing direct theft or collusion in it by industries, commercial establishments and rich as well as poor households. The subsidies were not reimbursed and the SEBs had to charge rising tariffs to industry, commercial establishments and railways, which partially paid for the subsidies and other losses.

These customers soon found that the costs were unaffordable and moved into their own captive generation.Transmission capacity is inadequate and distribution lines inadequate for the load. Equipment, particularly agricultural, is wasteful. Though the law was amended in 1998 to allow private investment in transmission and distribution, there was none. Orissa privatized distribution but kept the windfall profits on revaluation of assets. Residual companies have huge liabilities, poor quality assets, little metering of consumption, hence poor billing and collection. Private investment in transmission was ham- pered because the central transmission utility is a monopoly with no desire to share it. The weak SEBs cannot attract private investment in intra-state transmission.

Load dispatch is a critical function because a mismatch can seriously damage the system. This function was entrusted to the transmission utility, a clear conflict of interest. Quality, in terms of frequency and voltage, requires discipline by generators and distributors. CERC ordered a scheme, which is in appeal. Changes are required on all these fronts. SEBs had to be made autonomous preferably by privatizing. Their monopsony role as sole buyers from all generating companies in the state has to go so that new investments can take place at least in captive generation.

Theft and collusion have to become serious criminal offences, with consequences also for managers. Central generators must be distanced from the Central government for tariffs to be on fair and transparent principles. Transmission and distribution capacity has to expand and improve. Private investors need assurance that there is no cherry picking by transmission utilities. Private trading and electricity markets must be enabled. For this, there must be open access to the wires. Rules and regulations for markets to function efficiently have to be created. Equipment efficiency in electricity use and conservation has to be compelled.

Regulatory commissions should have had people with little of the old baggage of ideas, been independently funded, not open to government pressures, determine tariffs on principles laid down after public consultation, applicable to state regulatory commissions, function openly, with powers to encourage competition, efficiency and economy. They have to find ways to support farmers and the poor with low tariffs.

The electricity bill now before Parliament is the culmination of two years of effort by the National Council of Applied Economic Research. It attempts to modernize the law while consolidating the three acts into one, and eliminate the inconsistencies and contradictions in acts passed first in 1910, 1948 and 1998.

Does it meet the requirements? The new bill enables trading, open access to the transmission and distribution wires subject to government and the concerned regulatory commission, captive generation for a fee (determined by the commission) to partially pay for subsidies (while they last), separates load dispatch from ownership and operation of the lines, unambiguously puts transmission licensing under the regulatory commission, and establishes a national load despatch centre. It creates the enabling conditions for trading and markets, but rules for markets have to be formulated.

It removes the sole buyer position of SEBs, but has no compulsion on state governments to make them autonomous, better managed, and distanced from state influence. It does not impose any penalties for their non-payment of bills. It imposes a private, non-transparent consultative process between regulatory commissions and regulated entities. It improves their financial independence.

SERCs shall follow common tariff determination guidelines of the Central commission. There is no means for their intervening on environmental compliance by electricity operators. Search, selection and appointments to commissions continue as before, giving in effect, greater weight in appointments to officers from government. A conservation bill is in the offing to improve equipment efficiency.

The bill is ahead of the old acts. But it does not have any compulsion on states to improve the financial viability of SEBs. Electricity is a concurrent subject under the Constitution. But this is a Central law. Any state that disagrees can pass its own. The Centre has avoided its duty by not addressing this core problem of the electricity sector and only tinkering with the peripheral issues. The bill will do little to reform the sector from its present state of crisis and chaos.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]

   

 
 
AFGHAN BATTLE SCENES 
 
 
BY V.R. RAGHAVAN
 
 
How will the United States conduct military operations in Afghanistan? What would be the scope and purpose of the military action? How long will the military action last? How will the military action in Afghanistan fit into the US call for a global war against terrorism? There are many uncertainties and even more doubts on the whole range of questions.

Osama bin Laden has been asked to leave Afghanistan of his own accord. That is the recommendation of the country’s clergy to the government. The recommendation is no more than a compromise. It is a compromise between not wanting to hand over bin Laden to the Americans and not wanting to be hit by the power of the American military. The US will be left with little choice other than to undertake military operations in Afghanistan.

What would be the strategic purpose of the US in Afghanistan? Much will depend on the strategic purpose of the Bush administration. If there is one strategic purpose of the US which is shared by the two political parties and the military establishment, it is the need for the US to lead the world. Leadership of the free world, for the American psyche, means being the most powerful nation, in every sense, of the world. That includes economic, technological and military power. That even includes putting down any entity which threatens US interests. Bin Laden and the taliban pose that threat. The anger and frustration in the Arab and Islamic world against American policies are another threat.

The US would see an opportunity to ensure a permanent presence in central Asia through a new Afghan policy. If the US can control Afghanistan, it will be in direct contact with the land mass separating central Asia from the warm water ports of Pakistan. An American presence in central Asia and in Afghanistan would bring immense influence over Iran. That would change the geopolitics of a wide region extending from Turkey to the western frontiers of China. It would bring a major strategic influence over Russia from its southern underbelly of central Asia.

US requirements today demand that its people’s anger against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks be pacified. That is only possible by military action against the most visible and widely accepted target, which is bin Laden. If he is not handed over quickly, the taliban is the obvious target which rules 90 per cent of the territory of Afghanistan. It also represents the majority Pushtun population of Afghanistan. Therefore, by striking against the taliban, the US will be striking against the majority Pushtun population.

The US would like to make a distinction between the two. The taliban may be Pushtun, but it has only brought disrepute to Islam and misery to the people of Afghanistan. The taliban rules by terror and brutal use of arms against its own people. That offers the US the opportunity to target the taliban and yet achieve the image of not attacking the people of Afghanistan.

The US is rapidly building up a military infrastructure in the region around Afghanistan. Its forces have been built up from the Gulf to the Arabian Sea. It has the capability to destroy the taliban’s military capability by air attacks. The aircraft needed for this are already located in west Asia and on the powerful naval fleets in the Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea. Additional military hardware is being positioned in all these areas. Pakistan will have no choice but to provide airbase facilities, which will put US attack air- craft almost next to Afghanistan.

The taliban’s military capability rests in some 500 tanks, many more artillery guns, multi-barrel rockets and some combat aircraft. All this will be destroyed within days of the US strikes. With its military hardware destroyed, the taliban will be left with its warriors, who may be fired by ideological zeal, but will be no match to the US and its coalition forces’ attacks.

The attacks on the taliban will continue with the destruction of its headquarters, transport, radio and telephone communications. Bridges and roads which facilitate the taliban’s movements will be knocked out, making it impossible for the leadership to function. Attempts will also be made to get the oppressed people of Afghanistan to rise against the taliban.

The main source of every form of help to the taliban is Pakistan. It would be forced to close the Afghan borders and to provide intelligence and other facilities to further military action against the taliban. If the US forces get an opportunity to locate bin Laden, special forces will be moved in to isolate and eliminate him.

In any case, he will have to be continuously on the move every few hours for safety. His movements will be tracked by satellite and surveillance aircraft, and there is every chance that he would meet his end in one such air strike. As of now, no country will accept him without having to either hand him over for trial, or, be targeted for action by the coalition against terrorism.

The long term question is about US intentions on a regime change in Afghanistan. If the US is serious about eliminating terrorism, there are greater threats to it from west Asia than from Afghanistan. There is more wealth, greater antipathy to the US and a better technology base for terrorists to operate from there. Even as the US prepares to launch military operations against the taliban, information is coming in on possible links between the September 11 attacks and west Asian sources. Does the US have the intention or the stamina to undertake the long and costly military operation in Afghanistan?

Past record would indicate that once its immediate purpose of a spectacular military strike against bin Laden or the taliban is attained and American public opinion assuaged, it will focus its attention elsewhere.

If the US seriously aims to rid Afghanistan of the taliban, it will have to rid Pakistan of the idea of jihad. It would also have to rid the minds of the Pakistani elite of the fixation on India. Pakistan is central to controlling Afghanistan. Pakistan’s commitment to be free of its jihad mentality would have to be demonstrated, before Afghanistan can be brought under liberal Islamic traditions. The fundamentalist elements in Pakistan are a force to reckon with even for the military government of General Musharraf.

Can the US control Pakistan when the polity there is sharply divided? There are no indicators to confirm that possibility. The US is therefore likely to be under many compulsions to its costs in the Afghan military endeavour and return to its major strategic interests in west Asia. The Afghanistan military operations will be a demonstration of what the US can do to those who are militarily weak. It will be the preparatory operations before the US turns its long-term attention to tackling terrorist elements in west Asia.

In these uncertain times, there is not much India can do in the military dimension of a global war against terrorism. However, there is a lot it can do to help military operations against the taliban and bin Laden. There is substantial intelligence capability about the taliban and its militant groups. India commands respect amongst liberal Islamic groups in Afghanistan, who can form the basis for a future liberal government in that country. India, with its large and liberal Islamic population, can be the bulwark of a peaceful future in south Asia. The battle against bin Laden may be won easily, but the war against the jihadis in Islam who use terrorism will be a long one.

The author is director, Delhi Policy Group, and former director-general military operations

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ STANDING IN DEFENCE OF HUMAN LIFE 
 
 
 
 
A systematic effort to curb custodial violence has been a major priority of the commission over the past five years. As early as December 1993, the commission issued instructions to all states asking them to direct all district magistrates and superintendents of police to report directly to the commission any instance of death or rape in police custody within 24 hours of its occurrence, failing which there would be a presumption that efforts were being made to suppress the facts. Subsequent instructions extended this directive to cover deaths in judicial custody as well... In the year 1998-99, the figures reported to the commission were 183 deaths in police custody and 1,114 deaths in judicial custody, compared with the 193 deaths in police custody and 819 deaths in judicial custody reported in 1997-98... It will be observed that there has been a decrease in the deaths reported to the commission in police custody and an increase in deaths in judicial custody, the latter providing an unfortunate commentary on health conditions prevailing in the prisons of the country.

The commission notes that there has not been a marked increase in the overall number of custodial deaths reported to it in 1998-99 when compared to the previous year. It further notes that the number of deaths in police custody as reported to it has shown a decline in a number of states, with Gujarat, Kerala, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Delhi being exceptions and a marginal increase also being reported in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The commission is of the view that the increase in the reports of deaths in judicial custody is the result of a more rigorous and better response to its repeated instructions that information regarding such tragic occurrences must not be suppressed, but must be reported promptly, and investigated and acted upon thereafter.

The commission would like to recapitulate and reiterate certain recommendations made in its earlier reports on the issue of custodial violence as these are still relevant and are yet to be implemented:

Early action needs be taken on the suggestion of the Indian law commission to the effect that a Section 114(B) be inserted in the Indian Evidence Act 1872 to introduce a rebuttable presumption that injuries sustained by a person in police custody may be presumed to have been caused by a police officer.

Section 197 of the code of criminal procedure needs to be amended, on the basis of ILC’s recommendation, to obviate the necessity for governmental sanction for the prosecution of a police officer, where a prima facie case has been established, in an inquiry conducted by a sessions judge of the commission of a custodial offence.

As suggested by the national police commission, there should be a mandatory inquiry by a sessions judge in each case of custodial death, rape or grievous hurt.

The memorandum of action taken, submitted by the Central government on the 1996-97 annual report, indicated that these recommendations were still being processed. In the absence of any further indication of progress, the commission strongly urges the government to give priority to the implementation of these recommendations.

In earlier reports, the commission has drawn attention to the detailed instructions of the Supreme Court in the cases of Joginder Singh vs the State of Uttar Pradesh and D.K. Basu vs the State of West Bengal. Meticulous attention needs to be paid both by the Central as well as the state governments to the directions of the Supreme Court in both the cases...

The commission has the powers, under section 12(c) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, to visit any jail or institution where persons are detained. In exercise of its powers, the commission directed the secretary general to inform all the states of its decision to undertake surprise visits to police lock-ups in various states through officers designated by it. The secretary general’s letter of August 1, 1997 on this matter requested the states to issue suitable directions to the competent police authorities to facilitate such surprise visits. So far, 29 states/Union Territories have acted on this proposal. Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Daman and Diu are yet to respond and it is recommended that they do so at an early date. During the past year, officers of the commission have visited a number of lock-ups in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and made a series of observations which are being attended to in consultation with the competent state authorities.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ BATTALION WITH GREEN FINGERS 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
The northern plains of the Indian subcontinent depend a great deal for their ecological and climatic balance on the Himalayas. They cause rainfall besides being the source of north India’s river systems. The middle and lower ranges are covered with a variety of forest wealth, ranging from alpine to sub-tropical trees. During the last decades, there has been unrestrained commercial exploitation of forest and mineral wealth by several unscrupulous elements from the Himalayan slopes resulting in denudation. The bared hills not only present an ugly sight but also lead to soil erosion, frequent landslides, lowering of the water table, decrease in rain and snow fall and related climatic changes in the region.

It was in the early Eighties that environmentally conscious citizens of the Doon valley discovered to their chagrin that not only were the mountain slopes of Mussoorie overlooking Dehra Dun robbed of their tree cover but also were badly stripped of their rocks by mining contractors. Other areas in the vicinity similarly affected were the Mohand forest ranges in the Shivalik hills adjoining the Rajaji National Park, and Aglar watershed in the Tehri district.

As the restoration of these ecologically devastated areas, particularly the Mussoorie slopes, required urgent attention in view of orders from the Supreme Court, the government decided to entrust the army with the responsibility.

Stop erosion

This led to the raising of the 127 infantry battalion of the territorial army in the form of a dedicated ecological task force affiliated to the Garhwal rifles. Its soldiers are drawn from amongst the ex-sevicemen from the Garhwal and Kumaon hills. This was an experimental joint venture of the ministry of defence, the ministry of environment and forests and the respective state governments.

The unit was first assigned the task of afforestation in the Mohand area of the Shivaliks, where the army personnel planted nearly 3,20,000 saplings covering an area of 700 hectares. In addition, they built 207 rock-filled check dams and dug contour trenches to stop soil erosion. After having proved its worth, the battalion moved to Mussoorie. Here, the task before them was to restore the badly ravaged ecological balance.

It was undertaking the task of afforestation and soil conservation by constructing 4,608 check dams and reclaiming 23 large stone quarries on 3,400 hectares of land in the Kairkhuli micro-catchment area on the southern slopes of the Musoorie hills. It took the unit almost a decade to accomplish the assignment.

By 1994, Mussoorie, the queen of hill stations, got back its natural grandeur. The hill resort had its first snow fall in 1997 after a long gap of 17 years. The effect on Dehra Dun was also visible. The people’s council of Dehra Dun honoured the 127 infantry battalion of with the award of Doon Ratna in 1998.

Ecological ambitions

Presently, this dedicated group of territorial army personnel is engaged in another ambitious ecological reconstruction project with the Aglar watershed, entrusted to them in 1994. This hill area is barren because of ceaseless tree-cutting and fodder-collection. Moreover, located as it is on the southern slopes, the watershed receives scant rainfall. The unit has so far planted 22 lakh saplings, including a large number of fruit-bearing trees in 2,800 hectares of land.

The jawans have so far constructed a number of check dams and repaired the roads and tracks connecting various hamlets in the area. The unit, is actively involved in mass awareness programmes at the project area and has achieved voluntary cooperation from the villagers.

Similar ecological task force units have also been at work in the Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir, the Thar desert in Rajasthan, the Chambal ravines and the Pithoragarh district in Uttaranchal. The success story inspired the authorities to set up a similar battalion in the union territory of Delhi to reclaim the stone quarries.

As the role of these battalions has been worth the effort in the field of afforestation and other related areas, other state governments should emulate and adopt such joint ventures involving the army and the Union ministry of environment to restore the ecological balance in their respective areas.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

His master’s whip

Sir — A government of wimps. Post-J. Jayalalithaa, that should be the most apt description of the Tamil Nadu government (“Thrown out by Supreme Court, Jaya springs successor surprise”, Sept 22). It is horrendous to learn that the apex court judgment on Jayalalithaa was greeted with tears by the leaders of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who could not wait to pay obeisance to the puratchi thalaivi, lest they be suspected of treason. Are these men who the people of the state elected to run the government? They seem to be slaves of a woman who whips them to submission. Jayalalithaa has already asked us to watch what control she exercises on the incumbent chief minister, O. Pannerselvam. That shouldn’t be surprising. Pannerselvam is a distant relative of Sasikala, friend of Jayalalithaa, and one who was moved up from the backbenches to the cabinet. In case Pannerselvam forgets his gratitude, he should keep in mind the state of one foster-son of Jayalalithaa and relative of Sasikala who once had a grand wedding.
Yours faithfully,
S. Sundaram, Calcutta Unfair hike Sir — Whenever there is a hike in rail fare, a suitable excuse is tagged to it. Yet time and again, people have seen that the measures for which the fares are increased are never put to practice. For instance, with the 3-tier system a reservation charge was levied in addition to the second class fare. The system provided sleeping accommodation for 72 passengers in the compartment during the night and sitting accommodation for the same during the day. Entry into the 3-tier compartments without reservation was impermissible. Nevertheless, a large number of unreserved passengers entered these compartments, least bothering the ticket collectors, most of whom were busy selling available berths at premium prices.

Subsequently, the 3-tier class was converted to sleeper class with the imposition of an extra charge of 25 per cent of the second class fare, plus the reservation charge. The idea was to implement the already existing clause of permitting only reserved passengers into the reserved compartments. Passengers are paying the extra money, although they are yet to witness the implementation of the clause which the Indian Railways was dutybound to implement even without the extra charge.

Currently, the fare has been increased under the pretext of raising Rs 5,000 crore for rail safety. This ever-important aspect did not occur to our learned planners during the preparation of the budget proposals, which were submitted only a few months back. The passenger’s primary concern is that the money paid by him (whether before or after the elections) be utilized solely for the purpose for which it is charged. If the government fails to utilize the revenue for the specified cause, as seen in the past, the hike should be considered unjust.

Yours faithfully,
Shashi Shrivastava, Kharagpur

Sir — It is strange that the Indian Railways has concluded that it cannot provide safe rail travel. The revenue that will accrue to the railways by virtue of the safety cess it has imposed on the 12 million passengers who travel everyday will hopefully form a separate fund from which only safety projects will be financed. Suppose the Indian Airlines and the road transport corporations take a cue from the Indian Railways and impose a safety tax? By the same logic, the state governments of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states can impose a safety tax to secure the population from robbery, abduction, assassination, caste wars and so on.

It would be better if this cess is treated as an insurance premium for the passenger travelling by the railways. Even better if the railways would establish a rail travel insurance corporation to which the amount would be given and every passenger is given the option to take this safety policy. In airports air travel insurance companies sell policies. Couldn’t the Indian Railways arrange for such a policy instead of taxing every passenger?

Yours faithfully,
T. Mani Chowdary, Secunderabad

Sir — Half of the 120,000 railway bridges in the country have outlived their estimated life span of 100 years and require immediate replacement or major structural repairs so that trains can ply safely through them. The government, however, pleads lack of funds. Couldn’t the Indian Railways float railway bonds to meet the financial requirements?

Yours faithfully,
B.K. Tekriwal, Mumbai

Sir — Indian Railways gives senior citizen concession to men and women at the age of 65 and 60 years respectively. Why is there a differential treatment for men and women? Even for the retirement age in government jobs there is no such difference. Also, most banks start giving an additional interest of 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent on fixed deposits to depositors when they are 60 years of age. If the Indian Constitution holds that there should be no discrimination made on the basis of gender, why should the Indian Railways hold such a policy?

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, via email

Sir — The amended rule for railway concessions for senior citizens says that at the time of buying the ticket, the senior citizen has to fill in the reservation requisition form for the concession. There is no mention of how this railway concession can be availed by a senior citizen travelling a short distance when no reservation is required or if he is a monthly pass-holder.

Yours faithfully,
I. Ahmed, Patna

Skeletons in the closet

Sir — Ashok Mitra in “A grand convergence” (Sept 14) candidly exposes Indian hypocrisy as evident in its foreign policy. Both India and Israel believe that they should not wash dirty linen in public. Hence the sordid picture of blatant discrimination and inhuman torture meted out to the lower castes in India, and by the Palestinians was kept under wraps at the Durban meet on racism. It is shameful that while India had felt no qualms about admonishing South Africa during the period of apartheid, it zealously guarded against being criticized for casteism. The economically liberalized India now hardly needs the people lying lower down the social hierarchy. The consumerist urban lot has emerged as the new avatar who will pave the way to India’s modernization, never mind if more than half the population still has to subsist on mango kernels.
Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The allegation against Israel of being a “racist apartheid state was not incorrect (NGOs stoke Israel embers at race meet” Sept 3). That the United States too had to pull out of the meet is unfortunate. One should remember that the US has done nothing to improve the plight of countries where human rights are constantly violated. The United Nations is its tool and has helped it intervene in Vietnam, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Korea, Panama, Iraq and so on. The US support for Israel is obvious, despite the latter’s attempt to destroy the Palestinians.

Yours faithfully,
Asif Ahmed, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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