Editorial 1/ Driven to death
Editorial 2/ Handle with care
An American somersault
There’s a time bomb close by
Document/ An uninspiring and disconcerting picture
Letters to the Editor

Most Calcuttans are resigned to their city being a form of slow death. But the killing machinery is speeding up. Last Thursday, there were six dead and three critically injured in different hit-and-run accidents in various parts of the city. Most of the offenders were speeding private buses, including a minibus. The other vehicles were a lorry and a Calcutta Tramways Company bus. In all the cases, the drivers managed to speed away despite the traffic and people on the streets. At least two of these accidents were followed by uncontrollable mob violence, with random buses being burnt, cars and policemen stoned, crowds lathi-charged and roads blocked for hours. The picture, in all its dimensions, is barbaric beyond hope. The various agents implicated in this scenario — drivers, pedestrians, citizens, the civic authorities and urban planners — have all shown a dogged resistance to reform that arouses nothing but dread and despair in those who have not been rendered entirely brazen by such recurrences.

First, the sub-human indifference to the value of human life repeatedly, and flamboyantly, displayed by the drivers of private buses and lorries has become almost symbolic of the energy that collective lawlessness has acquired in the city. Such concepts as the rule of law, traffic regulations, civility and a civic conscience seem profoundly alien when confronted with such wild and exulting abandon. The obverse of this wildness, and equally terrifying, is the rage of the mob and the way it expresses itself in utterly mindless violence and arson. This is, of course, not unrelated to the ineffectuality of the police. Thursday was labelled a “sad day” by the deputy commissioner, traffic, who has also come up with a unique piece of post facto logic in declaring accidents to be accidents. The police’s solution, routinely reiterated, is a stricter enforcement of traffic rules. The greed and cluelessness with which the police deal with the anarchy on Calcutta’s streets also help sustain the dread and despair. There are, of course, some structural problems, always lucidly explicated by the police and the civic authorities. The six per cent road space in the city is getting more congested each day with the rapid increase in vehicular and pedestrian flow. Flyovers eternally under construction and the triumphant return of the hawkers on the pavements and streets enhance the peril. Both phenomena speak not only of torpor, inefficiency and a sublime lack of civic conscience, but also of the lowest and most unabashed forms of politicization. The hawkers situation is a particularly shameless instance of the indifference to genuine civic priorities in every political party currently scavenging on the remains of the city. Brutal nonchalance, nonexistent civic values, ineffectual policing, debased political populism and the general air of resignation to the grimmest of fates prey, quite literally, on the seemingly worthless lives of Calcuttans.


Banning any organization is an extreme step, and the two-year ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India has naturally provoked violence, outrage and frenzied arguments among political parties. But the charges against Simi are too grave to leave unexamined. The Uttar Pradesh government has been uncomfortable about its activities for the last two years. The main charges include involvement in anti-national activities and the fomenting of communal tension. The organization is supposed to have links with terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan to Palestine, and is suspected to have been involved in the Independence Day bombings and the communal violence in Kanpur. But suspicion is not proof. The ban has left an uncomfortable feeling in its wake, only matched by the discomfort the outfit itself causes by openly making a hero of Mr Osama bin Laden. To counter charges of bias, the government has arranged for a tribunal which will examine the legality of the ban, together with the evidence against Simi. The Bharatiya Janata Party has to be especially careful about this. Generally perceived to be unsympathetic to the minority communities, the BJP becomes easy prey for the opposition every time it rules on an issue regarding minorities.

Yet it is clear that the case of Simi is not being regarded simply as an issue to bandy political words over. This is best seen in the alacrity with which all states, including West Bengal, have cooperated in the arrest of Simi’s leaders all over the country. The timing of the ban is interesting: caught in the ripples of a worldwide nervousness, no one is willing to take any conceivable risk. Not that the entire opposition has fallen silent. Chief among the accusing voices is Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav’s, demanding, with others, to know why the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the Bajrang Dal should not be banned at the same time. True, the BJP’s answers to this one sound shifty, but it cannot be said that these outfits foster anti-national activities. What they might have in common with Simi is the alleged tendency to provoke communal hostility. Mr Yadav’s offensive, however, is unlikely to be purely disinterested. The assembly elections in UP are as much on his mind as on the BJP’s. If both rivals are to be believed, the BJP is currying favour with the majority community while Mr Yadav is speaking up for the minority — with only the assembly elections in mind. But these predictable exchanges apart, the ban itself has some serious consequences. If it is considered lawful on the basis of the evidence, it might help to identify a source of terrorism within the country. But should it be declared illegal, the BJP will not only further sour its relations with the minority communities but will also enhance perceptions of its high-handedness with regard to them.


The world at large remains concerned and bemused by the policy statement made by the president of the United States of America, George W. Bush, on May 1 at the US National Defence University that the US will proceed with the implementation of the national missile defence system, and even before that proceed towards deploying theatre missile defence for the protection of Taiwan and Japan. There are reports from Washington since September 2 that the Bush administration is likely to resume underground nuclear tests in the foreseeable future. The last publicly declared nuclear tests were conducted by the US in 1993. The Clinton administration refrained from conducting nuclear tests, limiting itself to computer simulation experiments in the context of US’s strong advocacy for the finalization and implementation of the comprehensive test ban treaty which was negotiated between 1994 and 1997 in Geneva.

The operational aspects of the US non-proliferation agenda during the last eight years were, first, extending the nuclear non-proliferation treaty indefinitely (read permanently), changing the stipulation of this treaty being reviewed every 25 years. Second, to put in place two additional treaties to comprehensively prevent horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons, namely, the CTBT and then to move on to finalize the fissile material cut off treaty.

The CTBT stipulates a complete ban on all categories of nuclear tests. The FMCT aims at stipulating pre-emptive measures which will prohibit the processes of nuclear weaponization at their very root in terms of acquisition, production or processing of raw materials which could lead to the production of nuclear weapons. Parallely, the US desired and desires universal application of the missile technology control regime which has not been discussed in any United Nations forum nor has yet received any general consensus from the international community.

In addition, the US, in cooperation with other major like-minded powers, has initiated and implemented restrictive regimes on the transfer of what is called “dual use” technologies, which can be used for both civil and/or military purposes. The US still remains committed to these processes, but the new ingredient in the US’s strategic security policies is not just to sustain its superior military position as it exists today, but to acquire higher levels of military technology capabilities to ensure its long-term political and military superiority in the emerging international political and strategic order. This is the motive inherent in the reported decision of the US to revive its programme of nuclear tests.

The logic behind this inclination of the Bush administration is that a ban or long-term moratorium on nuclear testing would prevent the US defence experts and scientists from checking and updating the safety and reliability of the US’s nuclear weapons. This is apart from the argument that there is no reliable guarantee about the Chinese and Russians upgrading their nuclear weapons capacities and apprehensions about further enhancement and improvement of nuclear weapons capacities of new nuclear weapons powers like India and Pakistan. The macro-level strategic argument not openly articulated is that in terms of strategic balance of power between different regions of the world, the US has to potentially meet the ramifications of the Eurasian region, having some nuclear weapons powers or nuclear weapons capable powers, namely, the Russian Federation, China, India and Pakistan and potentially Japan.

Just conducting further nuclear tests for nuclear weapons would not complete the process of acquiring decisive military technological superiority. It is logical to anticipate that the US would also conduct tests to improve its strategic long-range missile capacities and delivery systems because ultimately the deployment of an effective theatre missile defence system and a national missile defence system in space would depend on rockets placing such weapons systems in space. This orientation of US policies is a logical consequence of the Bush administration refusing to ratify the CTBT and its advocacy to abrogate the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972.

These reports about the US resuming nuclear tests come after discussions between Bush and his high level envoys with top leaders of the Russian Federation, China and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is significant that these reports about the US reassuming nuclear tests have not been contradicted by US authorities so far. Even more important, this reported decision comes just before Bush goes for his first official visit to China in October. The national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, who has already had detailed negotiations on this subject with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his advisers, announced in the first week of September that Washington will undertake intensive negotiations over the next few weeks to convince China that the NMD and theatre missile defence plans of the US would not pose any threat to China.

She elaborated: “We want to have serious talks with them as to why this is not a threat to them. We want to have serious talks with China about why we think stability in the Asia Pacific will be well served with this (US) capability.” Accompanying these statements of Rice are pronouncements by senior US administration officials that the US and China would also discuss possibilities and procedures for resuming underground nuclear tests, if they were considered necessary to assure the safety and reliability of their nuclear arsenals. Indications have also been given that similar possibilities have been discussed and are under discussion with the Russian government.

The short and long-term ramifications of the US decision to revive nuclear and missile testing and to endorse similar actions by Russia and China are a matter of serious concern. The NMD scheme would erode the present Russian and Chinese capabilities to deter the US from nuclear confrontation. The concept of effective deterrence by these two countries will go off into a spin. This is a serious security challenge to China and Russia for whom nuclear and missile deterrence is important. The NMD system will take some time to become operational, and it is obvious that the Chinese will rapidly augment and technologically improve their nuclear weapons and missile capacities. There is every likelihood of the Russian Federation pulling back from START-II and START–III agreements and taking parallel steps to improve their weapons capacities.

Indications that the US may allow the Chinese and the Russians to conduct further nuclear and missile tests to assuage their threat perceptions, which also means that Chinese and the Russians would continue to maintain stockpiles of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, will destroy the logic of the non-proliferation treaty even further as India has been arguing for many years. Non-nuclear weapons states and nuclear weapons threshold states will be more convinced about the domineering inclinations of the present nuclear weapons powers, thus germinating prospects of further horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The movement towards deploying the NMD system would inevitably lead to demands for the deployment of anti-satellite weaponry in outer space to defend the NMD itself which in turn will violate the 1967 treaty banning weapons from outer space. The main ingredients of arms control arrangements, namely, selective and calibrated disarmament, gradual de-alerting of weapons systems, prevention of horizontal proliferation and stabilizing present nuclear weapons capacities of nuclear weapons powers at their present levels will qualitatively diminish in effectiveness and application. The long-term implications are fraught with uncertainties. A US government commission on technical assessment of the NMD project called the Welch report has given the assessment that any rushing in to the deployment of NMD systems would result in technology failure and high levels of infructuous expenditure. This argument is based on the decision of the US government to reach operational deployment state of NMD in about eight years’ time, whereas US experts have calculated that a fool- proof progress towards operationalization of the NMD should take 15 to 20 years.

US experts have also speculated that the first stage deployment of NMD cannot provide effective missile defence because the potential enemies, mainly China and Russia, who already have intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, can manufacture tactically effective counter-measures to penetrate the NMD in the initial stages. This assessment has been endorsed by the national intelligence estimate report of the US of the year 1999.

Implications of these developments are even more serious for India in terms of their impact on the regional security environment. First and foremost, it will initiate a new arms race by super powers located in our region, Russia and China. Given Chinese defence cooperation programmes with Pakistan, particularly in the spheres of nuclear and space technologies, any expansion and improvement of Chinese capacities will increase the strategic security threats to India. The security environment in the south Asian region will be destabilized. Augmentation of the Chinese and Russian nuclear and missile capacities may lead to the US endorsing Japan becoming incrementally self-reliant for its defence in these specialized sectors.

The logic behind two important policy decisions by the government of India becomes subject to doubts in the context of the likely revival of nuclear and missiles tests by the US. India, after its nuclear weapon tests in 1998, had announced that it will not hold any further tests and that there would be a moratorium on them. India had also given general indications that it will develop its missile and delivery systems subject to some self-imposed restraints. Should India remain committed to these goals given the prospects described above?

The second decision of the government of India was to support those sections of Bush’s NMD policy statement of May 1 in which he asserted that the objective of the NMD was to reduce the nuclear arsenals and delivery systems of the existing nuclear weapons powers. India’s support was a nuanced one, emphasizing that this aspect of US policy had a congruence with India’s objectives of nuclear and missile disarmament.

If the US resumes nuclear tests and other related experiments, and if China and Russia follow suit, these policy pronouncements of ours become irrelevant. Our nuclear missile defence planning is still in its initial stages. We must give deep thought and careful consideration to the implications of these most recent reports about what is basically going to be a resumption of the nuclear arms race at much more sophisticated levels.

The challenge that India faces now, post-Pokhran II, is both technological and political. Coping with it is not going to be easy.

This article was written before September 11. The author is former foreign secretary of India


The world today reveals a major fault line. It involves on one side those who attack civilian targets — something the communists did not do vis-ŕ-vis innocent citizens of countries who opposed their policies. The Russians, Chinese and Vietnamese did not attack American civilians in the United States of America; they focussed on military targets. On this side of the fault line there is no sign of a connection between the political goals and the military method or a sign that the public good is being served. To this day the connection cannot be made between the political aims of the bombers of the World Trade Center and the method of attacks. What was intended and what was gained? On the other side of the fault line are those who seek to develop a web of modern states, and are tied to a process of economic and political reforms and peaceful pursuits and self-defence, and not the liberation of the non- believers.

For the first time an international coalition is being built against jihadis whose actions have radicalized the politics of areas which historically formed the Asiatic buffer belt from Turkey to the Indian subcontinent in the days of the struggle between the Russian and the British empires during the 19th century. Islamic terror has become a growing force in this belt following the retreat of empires and the proliferation of new and weak states: most of them are undemocratic.

Since the ex-colonies gained independence this kind of terrorism was as much an anti-Western and anti-Israeli revolt, as it was a revolt by traditional Islam against their Muslim rulers who represented strongholds of power but had limited internal legitimacy. Hence the internal fights between Islamic forces and the professional military in Pakistan, between the Khomeinis and the modernizing Shah of Iran, between the Muslim brotherhood and the Egyptian leadership, between Hizbullah and the multi-religious Lebanese governments of the Fifties and the Sixties, between the Palestinian militants and the moderate Jordanian king and so on.

The internal fights are between the modernizers and the traditionalists; the external fights are between the believers and the non-believers. And when the modernizers align themselves with the Westerners, the alignment is called a sellout or betrayal of the Islamic cause.

The challenge before the US and India is not only to deal with the problem of terrorism in Afghan-istan but also to deal with Pakistan which, on the one hand, is seething with Islamic ferment and, on the other, is an important player in the American-led coalition. Since the mid-Eighties, Pakistan has developed a strong jihadi culture. Following Moscow’s retreat from Afghanistan and the end of the Cold War, Washington lost interest in Pakistan’s Afghan policy. But Pakistan, with the help of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic militants from Egypt, Sudan and Kashmir, maintained and nourished the pipeline of support into the taliban.

Arms bought in the marketplace through Dubai and Hong Kong, funds from international sources, and petroleum supplies were channelled to the taliban by Pakistan. Pakistani military officers and military tactics played a role in the taliban victory in Afghanistan in 1996. The Islamic fighters were prepared in camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, inside Afghanistan and within Pakistan. Two aims were pursued: to build the taliban as Pakistan’s strategic rear, as the gateway into central Asia of Pakistani and Saudi Wahabbi influence, and as the vehicle to liberate Kashmir from Indian rule.

Pakistan thus saw itself as a powerful hub at the crossroads of the Persian Gulf, south Asia and central Asia. For these aims, it developed a dual personality, first, as the jihadi and the guardian of Muslims in the subcontinent, and second as a moderate Muslim state. The two policies were contradictory, but they co-existed until September 11 when the low-risk policy of supporting the taliban and jihad became a high-risk position for Pakistan in the world community.

Now a situation has arisen which puts Pakistan in a dangerous position whether it supports the US or the taliban. Furthermore, in the context of the new Bush policy, it is imperative that organizations like Laskhar-e-Toiba be placed on terrorist list. Apparently, these are Pakistani groups who are engaged in Kashmir — and this shows Pakistan’s hand.

Islamic Pakistan can no longer sustain the image of a moderate Muslim state given the evidence which is emerging about the location of training camps and the 6000 madrassahs which are the breeding grounds for militants. It may happen that as the power of the Islamic forces appears on the street, Pervez Musharraf and the corps commanders may not be able to contain the violence and to carry out his promise to the US to aid the cause against Osama bin Laden and the taliban. Pakistan has been a failing state since the Nineties and now it faces the prospect of becoming a failed state unless it gives up its support of terrorism, and if it does so, it faces the prospect of internal civil war.

The challenge before the US and India is to work together because a civil war throws up the prospect of a power vacuum in a critical geo-political region. The issue now is that the fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are tied together. India will have to be proactive and work with the US to ensure that the western flank of the Indian subcontinent is stabilized.

The danger is that the geo-politics of the region will change if Pakistan breaks up under the weight of its internal social and policy conditions. If Pakistan breaks up or its internal balance of power tilts in favour of the militants, outside force may be required to correct the imbalances or to fill the power vacuum. So consideration must be given now to plans to safeguard against the danger that the unrest within Pakistan — which will grow as Afghanistan or the taliban or Osama bin Laden are targeted, and as more Afghan refugees enter Pakistan — could spill into the Indian political system.

The Indian armed forces may need to prepare for the contingency that if Mushrarraf and the corps commanders fail to root out the terror network in the region, if the Pakistan authorities continue to maintain that jihad in Kashmir is acceptable, then India and the US have a natural reason to combine on the issue of terror as well as the safety of Pakistan.

The time has come for the armed forces of the two democracies to work together to manage the danger of unrest in the region. Within Pakistan the unrest is likely to be uncontrolled but within India it is likely to be controlled. Hence the need to twofold: to contain Afghanistan and to stabilize Pakistan, and to do so by the application of diplomacy as well as the presence of the American military machine in the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf area and the Indian military machine in the Arabian Sea and the desert leading to Sind. Pakistan is now a time bomb which is ready to explode and India and the US will need to work together to secure regional security.

M.L. Sondhi is co-chairperson, Centre for the Study of National Security, Jawaharlal Nehru University Ashok Kapur is chairman, department of political science, Waterloo University, Canada.


Education is...the most important dominion of our national life. Needless to reiterate that education holds the key to development and progress in every sphere of our existence. From an integrated and synergic viewpoint, the educational system constitutes the foundation of the legal, administrative, civic and developmental domains of unfolding an India of tomorrow...

Discussion on this theme has been in motion since pre-independence days. Aware of the fact that the system of education devised by the erstwhile alien rulers was not in consonance with our national goals and aspirations and realizing the deleterious effect it had on our young minds, several leaders of the freedom movement initiated efforts to establish nationalist educational institutions...The service of these institutions in infusing a spirit of patriotism and national outlook cannot be forgotten.

In independent India, several committees and commissions were set up to propose recommendations for change in the educational system. The Radhakrishnan Commission (1948-49) on University Education, the Laxmanaswamy Mudaliyar Committee (1952-53) on Secondary Education, and the Kothari Commission (1964-66) on Education can be mentioned as the more prominent ones in this connection.

Notwithstanding the voluminous material that is available in the form of suggestions and recommendations flowing from these committees and commissions, educational reform continues to remain an elusive goal and no significant breakthrough could be achieved in bringing about fundamental changes in the system and making it an effective instrument of national reconstruction. The same incongruous system devised by the erstwhile colonial rulers continued to rule the roost with minor alterations mostly concerning the exterior details. As a result, we find a direction-less drift in the system today. The educational scenario presents an uninspiring and disconcerting picture.

The crisis in education is essentially a crisis of implementation. There is no dearth of ideas or suggestions regarding educational change. But enough effort in putting the ideas into action is lacking. The following facts bear out the truth of this statement.

In the realm of primary education, the goal of universalization that we set before ourselves as a constitutional directive is a distant dream. Whatever gains were made in terms of enrolment are set at nought by the high incidence of drop-outs. As a result, the number of illiterates in the population continues to swell.

The infrastructural facilities have remained extremely inadequate. The document entitled “Challenge of Education” (1985) gave a vivid picture of the pathetic conditions of the schools in the country. It is evident that enough resources were not made available even for providing the basic minimum facilities to the schools. The allocation for education continued to remain far below the recommended 6 per cent of the gross domestic product.

Vocationalization of secondary education was accepted as a policy decision. The aim was to see that 25 per cent of the students at the secondary level opt for the vocational stream by the year 1995. The time target was later revised to the year 2000 but even this target was not achieved and the scheme failed to take-off.

The objective of strengthening higher education is far from being accomplished. Rather, we are witnessing a fast deterioration in the standard of university education. Indian universities, by and large, have failed to function as centres of excellence and vibrant intellectual activity. Dissonant with their sprawling stretch out, their role in widening the horizons of knowledge and providing intellectual leadership to society leaves much to be desired. Hence, it is time that we make an earnest attempt to identify the causes of failure in achieving the declared objectives and remove such obstacles.

“Challenge of Education” candidly admitted that the objectives of the National Education Policy of 1968 could not be achieved to any considerable extent. The failure was attributed to following factors: tardy and haphazard implementation, progressive decline in the allocation of resources, absence of an operational strategy as well as functional instruments. It is imperative that sufficient care is taken to see that the mistakes are not repeated. The failures of the past must become the guidelines for the future if the reforms are to become a reality.

To be concluded



Of a prince and his tantrums

Sir — The royal family of Britain is known for throwing tantrums on the slightest of pretexts. The latest incident revolves around the prince, William, who has been the “victim” of stalking by a television crew during his first week at St. Andrew’s University (“William Intrusion”, Sept 28). The funny part of this story is that the crew belongs to the television production company set up by William’s uncle, Edward. This incident has not being taken in a good spirit by Charles, prince of Wales, who is reputed to be a protective and devoted father. But surely there is no need to give this particular subject such importance. Perhaps the media, especially the newspapers, should bear this in mind. It is true that private lives of individuals, especially celebrities, should be respected, but there is no denying the fact that it is also the rich and famous who love the limelight provided by the paparazzi, but the world at this moment has more things to think about than meditate on a prince’s sense of his privacy. Hope William gets back his frayed nerves soon.
Yours faithfully,
Bhumika Dogra, via email

Troubled poll star

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party’s claim that Ayodhya will not be made an issue in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections has not deterred the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh spokesperson, M.G. Vaidya, from declaring that irrespective of the party’s stand, the construction of the Ram temple is very much on the RSS agenda.

This provocative statement amounts to contempt of the judicial system in our country and is a grave challenge to the secular forces here. The RSS claim that all the Hindus are supportive of the demolition of the Babri Masjid is also baseless. Moreover, the threat of the RSS not to support the BJP during the UP poll, (“Atal anguish fails to sway Sangh”, Sept 11), reflects the nature of politics leaders indulge in for their own vested interests. The RSS should think over its decision because its plan might just backfire and result in its downfall.

Yours faithfully,
G. Hasnain Kaif, Bhandara

Sir — The coming assembly election in UP is likely to be an interesting event. The RSS is proving to be a tricky player in power politics. Although the prime minister, A.B. Vajpayee, is a wise politician, the RSS declaration is a worrying issue for the BJP in UP. More interesting would be the Congress’s reaction if the RSS actually does not work for the BJP. It will be sensible for the Congress not to fall into the trap of the sangh even if it offers its unconditional support. The double standards of the right-wing outfit is all too known and every effort should be made to stop both the BJP and the RSS from gaining victories in the approaching election.

Yours faithfully,
M. Murmu, New Delhi

Sir — The report, “Atal anguish fails to sway Sangh”, raises some pertinent points. The latest farce is related to the UP poll, in which the RSS has threatened not to work for the BJP. The RSS spokesman, M.G. Vaidya, even reminded us of the elections held after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, when the RSS had supported the Congress and the BJP was wiped out. If the same thing is repeated, the BJP will have a tough time. But this also raises questions about the credibility of the RSS.

Yours faithfully,
Monojit Sanyal, Chandernagore

Fast work

Sir — The construction work for the Metro railways, stretching from Tollygunge to Garia, entailed the eviction of numerous encroachers, living along the Tolly’s nullah. The whole process was fast, drastic and even ruthless. The project involves a large sum of money and unless the funds are properly utilized, the West Bengal government may have to face an embarrassing situation.

Whenever land is required by the government, encroachers are removed mercilessly, without adequate provision for rehabilitation or compensation. The government should not have allowed the people to settle there in the first place. Instances of encroachment are not new to this city and the civic authorities must take adequate measures to tackle the problem. The government however is morally bound to provide these unfortunates with compensation.

Yours faithfully,
M.K. Nandi, Calcutta

Sir — The report, “Mamata brings Afghan agony home”, shows the farce that was involved in the eviction drive along the Tolly’s nullah. The chief protagonist was no other than the Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, who compared the evicted settlers with the Afghan refugees. Banerjee seems determined to lock horns with the state government although the eviction drive was an urgent necessity. Once again, Banerjee has tried to hog the limelight. One can only hope that the people of our state won’t be misled by her latest gimmick.

Yours faithfully,
Ramol Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The fiasco of the eviction drive for the extension of the Metro railways reflects the duplicity of both the state government and the Trinamool Congress. First, the government should have been more responsible from the start and this situation could have been easily avoided. There is no point in accusing the illegal settlers. The authorities should make arrangements for the evicted. Second, Mamata Banerjee’s stand was a hollow one and she should realize that the electorate will not be duped by her tricks.Her rhetoric has long been discredited.

Another culprit is the mayor, Subrata Mukherjee, who changes his tune to suit his needs. The politicians should stop being hypocritical and deal with the crisis sensibly.

Yours faithfully,
P. Dasgupta, Santiniketan

Technical confusion

Sir — I am deeply saddened that an esteemed and responsible paper like The Telegraph should have printed an article which confuses plant biotechnology with current concerns and fears about terrorism and biological weapons.

In, “Anthrax Spores as Deadly Weapons” (Sept 20), the writer, Devinder Sharma, has mixed up totally unrelated issues to launch an attack on biotechnology companies. This is unfair to your readers and to the growth of science and biotechnology. As a responsible biotechnology company, we in Monsanto certainly have strong objections to such tactics.

The writer argues that “the threat (of biological weapons) becomes serious with more biotechnology companies emerging on the horizon and given the fact that the technology does not require much sophistication and investment.” He also argues that “the genetic engineering industry, entirely in private hands, is outside the purview of any regulation and control of the (sic) society or the (sic) democratic systems at large”.

He is wrong on all counts. Most important, the purpose of biotechnology is to make available foods, enzymes, medicines and vaccines for the benefit of mankind. Plant biotechnology promises the availability of food products with more desirable traits, such as higher quantities of vitamins or lowered amounts of saturated fats for consumers, reduced use of pesticides and other chemicals for environmentalists and increased yields for farmers.

The possibility of misuse of any technology by an individual or state does not justify throttling the development of that technology. Nor can one argue, as Sharma does, that the threat of nuclear weapons increases with more nuclear power companies. There are national and international safeguards in place to prevent the misuse of nuclear technology. Besides, private companies are easier to regulate/police than rogue states or governments.

It is also wrong to say that the genetic engineering industry is entirely in private hands. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia and public institutions like Murdoch University, University of Queensland and the University of Adelaide have undertaken 60 per cent of Australia’s biotech trials while the CSIRO alone conducts 40 per cent of all trials. The principal scientist of Indian Agricultural Research Institute, told a seminar in Andhra Pradesh on August 12, 2001, that biotech research had been going on for seven years at Indian research institutions on eggplant, tomato, cabbage, chickpea, mustard, basmati rice and wheat.

Facts also fly in the face of the argument that the biotechnology industry “is outside the purview of any regulation in control of society or democratic systems”.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjana Smetacek Director — Government and Public Affairs

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