Editorial 1 / Cheshire cat grin
Editorial 2 / Accelerated decay
Waiting for the war
Fifth Column / Buffer stocks and food security
Shadow on the palace
Document / To erase the indelible poverty line
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / CHESHIRE CAT GRIN 
 
 
 
 
In September, the International Monetary Fund scaled down growth forecasts in World Economic Outlook, compared to projections made in April. This is not because of September 11, the effects of which were not factored in. Instead, lower growth projections are based on the slackening growth in Europe and Japan (where growth is now expected to be negative), weaknesses of the information technology sector and financial sector problems in emerging markets. In 2001, global growth is now estimated at 2.6 per cent, 0.6 per cent lower than the previous estimate of 3.2 per cent. Simultaneously, while growth projections for 2002 have also been lowered, gradual recovery is expected towards the end of 2001. In so far as September 11 is concerned, the IMF draws an analogy with the Kobe earthquake of 1995. That had limited long-term effects and, in a macro sense, the IMF does not expect the impact of terrorism to be greater. There are essentially three reasons why the IMF is relatively optimistic — policy stimuli in the pipeline in major economies (interest rate cuts), stronger macro fundamentals (lower inflation and fiscal deficits, flexible exchange rates) and productivity growth in the United States of America. There should thus be a recovery in 2002. The recovery is however contingent on finding an engine and this remains elusive. Europe and Japan are unlikely to be the engine and independent of September 11, there are not yet any signs of consumption or investment expenditure picking up in the US. The problem is that globalization implies that domestic economies are no longer insulated from exogenous shocks. For example, although India has been relatively unaffected by this factor, east Asian economies face disruption because of reduced IT hardware demand in the US.

The IMF does argue that India and China, being relatively insulated, will not face growth reductions as much as more open economies. The growth forecast for India is 4.5 per cent for 2001 and 5 per cent for the fiscal year 2001-02. There are no convincing reasons as to why growth should pick up in the first quarter of 2002, unless it is pinned to the expected global recovery. But the 5 per cent rate is not out of line with what Indian forecasters have projected. The monsoon may have been better and the base for agriculture may have been lower last year. But because output prices may be under pressure and because input prices have increased, the value - added contribution of agriculture to the gross domestic product growth cannot be significant. Manufacturing has been under pressure and the traditional saviour in service sector growth is also elusive. Exports have actually declined in dollar terms and software exports also exhibit reduced growth. So 5 per cent will probably be as good as it gets.

A Press Trust of India correspondent wanted to know if internally generated reforms could propel India to 8 to 10 per cent growth. The IMF felt that having significant growth from reforms is something one can be optimistic about. Eight to 10 per cent is of course not for 2001- 02, but for the long- term. But even in the longer term, the internally generated reforms seem to be fast disappearing. True, there have been reassuring noises in the first half of September. But noises aren’t enough. If there is no Cheshire cat, the grin alone will not do.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / ACCELERATED DECAY 
 
 
 
 
Flesh and marble are both in deep peril in Calcutta. What the chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board has doomfully called “accelerated decay”, is eating into not only the Victoria Memorial but also the internal organs of most Calcuttans. A study on the effects of air pollution on non-smoking Calcuttans over the last five years has yielded grim results. Calcutta has the highest lung cancer risk among Indian cities. The incidence of diabetes in the city is more than three times the national urban average. There are other alarming indications of the air in the city affecting the bone marrow, blood and heart, causing progressive weakness and a range of fatal illnesses. The lung pictures of smokers and non-smokers are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish. In terms of public knowledge, all this is old hat. A morbid, yet curiously unscientific, fascination with the gory details of personal health coexists in the Bengali psyche with a deeply callous lack of a sense of hygiene, civic consideration and public health regulations. Therefore, most Calcuttans deal with the menace of pollution with a combination of selfish unconcern, lawless ignorance and habitual fatalism. In all this human peril, a heritage building losing its sheen because of the carbon compounds emitted by the nearby traffic seems to provoke more civic, ethical and aesthetic concern.

Pollution in Calcutta, as in all other Indian cities, is the result of a numbing of civic consciousness and political will. In a city whose environment is ravaged and traffic system thrown into chaos by criminally mismanaged construction work, and in which municipal torpor and indecisiveness are continually trying to pass themselves off as urban development, the monitoring and control of air pollution are entirely dispensable luxuries. The regulations are all in place. But as in the complete lack of scruples in the management and handling of hazardous and biomedical waste, the existence of the national ambient air quality standard is ignored, and emission control norms are corruptly relaxed. Location-specific, enforceable and affordable solutions like vehicle inspection and maintenance, traffic management and catalytic converters are still little more than way-out ideas in the pages of academic surveys. The ordinary Calcuttan is wonderfully immune to discomfort, disease and death.

   

 
 
WAITING FOR THE WAR 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
The American administration did not lose a minute in declaring a war on international terrorism after three suicide squads of pilot-hijackers rammed three flying Boeings into two buildings, which symbolized its economic and military power, and traumatized the country as never before. It was when it came to working out a strategy to use its military machine to rid the globe of this scourge that it found itself tied into knots. This was in a way inevitable since it was not easy to conjure away the shadow which its own past cast on its present predicament.

Osama bin Laden, the demonic figure behind the horrendous crime, which sent shivers down the spine of the only superpower, was once an instrument of its policy in Afghanistan. The taliban regime there, which played host to him and his network of terrorist training centres, was manned by products of madrassahs funded by the money doled out to Pakistan for ousting the Russians and the puppet government set up by them in Kabul. So the United States of America’s own past had come to haunt it menacingly.

What explains the US’s earlier indifference to the terrorist threat was not only the hubris resulting from its victory in the Cold War, but also the feeling fostered by the Kuwait war and the air-strikes in Serbia that all future armed conflicts could be won just by raining death and destruction from the sky without loss of American lives.

The other two factors were its cynical approach to the problems facing multi-religious and multi-ethnic states in keeping their territorial integrity and the tendency to view their conflicts with hostile neighbours not in the light of the long-term political stability needed by nations in the making but solely from the point of view of the political leverage it could secure in the concerned region. What has now sent shock waves through all the new hegemonic structures is the realization that neither the US territories nor the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries are immune to attack as US policymakers assumed, and that the new enemy was nowhere and everywhere, and could create havoc undetected.

The US administration’s failure to condemn Pakistan which harbours the outfit responsible for the latest terrorist outrage in Srinagar, despite the Indian prime minister’s letter to the US president, drawing his attention to Islamabad’s sponsorship of the very evil which the US-led alliance is now fighting, has to be seen in this context. The compulsion of first getting rid of Osama bin Laden, his al Qaida network of terrorist training centres and the taliban regime has prevented it even in being more discriminate in its choice of allies.

Having Pervez Musharraf on board as an ally does not quite fit with its declaration not to make any distinction between terrorist groups and those who harbour them. Whatever the Pakistan president and his aides may say, the media in his country have made no secret of the fact that outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad operating from bases in Pakistan-held territory are not very different in their jihadi mindset from al-Qaida.

Musharraf has neither succeeded in taming the taliban monster he nurtured with care nor been able to save his protégé regime from the retribution that awaits it. His main aim in trying to protect the taliban was to prevent the installation of a hostile regime in Kabul. Whatever lingering hope he had on this score has been dashed, now that the US has decided to use the Northern Alliance as the main instrument of its policy and thus prevent involvement of American troops in fighting on the ground in a treacherous terrain.

American planes will help in destroying such bases or equipment as stand in the way of the troops under the control of the Rabbani government in their advance towards Kabul. Since the Northern Alliance is based largely on the support of the Uzbek minority in Afghanistan, the former king, Zahir Shah, has been persuaded by a group of US congressmen to agree to head the state after the taliban’s ouster. With his patriarchal aura and Pashtun origin he is better placed than anyone else to mobilize the support of Pushtu-speaking tribes.

The taliban regime has the backing of only two Pashtun tribes. The majority of Afghan refugees in Pakistan belongs to other tribes though they, too, would also feel sore over any civilian casualties caused by allied bombing. The governors of many provinces, used to changing their loyalties in such uncertain times, may ditch the taliban. The repressive Omar regime has in any case brought nothing but new forms of repression and new levels of destitution to the country, and few will regret its departure from the scene apart from the generals in Pakistan. That is why there was a lump in Musharraf’s throat when he told the public that the taliban’s days were numbered.

The prospect of the taliban’s ouster from power and of having to deal with a regime in Kabul that is lukewarm, if not hostile, towards his country, is most painful for the Pakistan president who looks shaken by the new turn of events both at home and abroad.

Nor could he hide his sense of discomfort when a CNN correspondent asked him whether he was unaware of the thousands of young men from Arab and other Islamic countries entering Afghanistan through entry points in his country to be trained as terrorists and then being despatched to different destinations to do their murderous work. All he could say was that he had tried hard to “moderate” the taliban’s policies. That they played host to bin Laden, with his tacit consent, shows the degree of his success. A man who describes persons who daily indulge in acts of murder as freedom fighters needs some lessons in moderation himself.

A keener awareness of the contradictions in its own policy because of its old hang-ups and its gross underestimation of the threat posed by international terrorism to progress, stability and human rights, may in due course force the US to outlive its past. But it should be psychologically prepared for a long campaign. The sooner it gives up the illusion that the job will be half-finished once al Qaida is taken care of, the better. It must indeed start with the premise that all major militant outfits are interlinked, and that if the pending war is to reach a successful conclusion, the American establishment will have to pay as much heed to the security concerns of other victims of international terrorism as to its own.

It may be difficult for the US to overcome the trauma of the events of the morning of September 11. But the way the shattering experience jerked the entire American establishment out of its complacency should also serve as an antidote to its self-righteousness. The new menace it is now trying to eliminate indeed ought to serve as an opportunity to make amends for its past patronage of despotic and military regimes, whenever it suited its strategic aims, its continuous endeavour to foster a climate of opinion in the US in which the congress would vote staggering sums for a senseless overkill capacity and state-of-the-art weaponry. That the low-tech enemy it now confronts can penetrate its inner defences unseen should at last help it to get its priorities right.

After the end of the Cold War, the US has no credible adversary so far as big powers are concerned. The threat, if any, comes from religious zealots who misuse the teachings of the founders of their faith to work off their personal frustrations, wreak vengeance on innocent people who have done no harm to them, or foster separatist sentiments backed by terrorism, to disrupt the precarious unity of multi-cultural states they hate. It should also induce affluent societies to help the poorer states more generously even if it means making some cuts in their conspicuous consumption.

The supreme irony of the emerging global order is that affluent societies committed to liberalism and general welfare are invariably stingy when it comes to repairing the damage which their own bloated consumption levels do to the natural environment. There is also a growing concern in the third world over the new forms of domination through remote control fostered by high-tech societies which colonize the minds of the elite groups in poor societies. This as well as the charge which links the growth of fundamentalism to the globalization process by interpreting it as a violent reaction to Westernization may be highly contentious issues.

Whatever the truth, no war either on international terrorism or on virulent forms of fundamentalism can succeed unless those waging it learn to be less cynical and less self-centred in their approach to building the new world order. They should address the root causes of the evils they fight against instead of tinkering with the symptoms. This again raises the question why the security council stopped short of defining international terrorism in all its ramifications and revealing its true face, whatever the disguise under which it goes about its dastardly business.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / BUFFER STOCKS AND FOOD SECURITY 
 
 
BY JAYDEV JANA
 
 
The coexistence of the hungry millions and the rising buffer stock of foodgrains has exposed the serious imbalances in India’s food policy. It also shows the falseness of any sense of security regarding food. While our buffer stock of food grains has peaked at an all-time record of 61.7 million tonnes, the poor of Kashipur in Orissa are dying of starvation, let alone the regular under nourishment of the millions countrywide. The paradox of extreme starvation amid swelling grain silos makes our politicians play the politics of aid and drives the Supreme Court to enquire into the mechanism of food distribution to the poor.

The foodgrain inquiry committee (1957), headed by Ashok Mehta, recommended the purchase and sale of foodgrains to build up a reserve stock of wheat and rice. Following this, the Food Corporation of India was set up in 1965. It acted as a countervailing force to speculative activities of private traders, assured the price to farmers, made foodgrains available at government price and built up optimal buffer and operational stock, which could be used at the time of emergency. Each year FCI procures around 25 to35 percent rice and wheat produced at minimum support price. During the last few years one major problem faced by the FCI is that it is saddled with stock much above the buffer stock norms fixed for each quarter in a year

Farmers’ lobbies

The building up of the huge buffer stock has resulted mainly from government intervention in the food market through high MSP combined with poor distribution of food grains under the price distribution system. In fact, average annual increase in the MSP of rice and wheat seemed to be much higher in the post-reform period compared to the rise before 1992 - 93. Even in recent years, its annual enhancement is unrelated to the actual cost of production under the tremendous pressure of the farmers’ lobbies in India.

Whereas increase in MSP has led to higher procurement, the compulsion to move to a higher annual average increase in issue prices has aggravated the problem. The procurement policy has become a burden that the government can hardly shake off. Had the market prices of food declined, the poor could have bought more food from the market and this could have reduced poverty substantially. Moreover, had the income generation programmes been combined judiciously there might be no need for the ever-increasing food subsidy.

The gap between the economic cost incurred by the FCI and its average realization, based on the issue prices under the PDS, is made up by the Centre through the consumer subsidy.

Consumer subsidy

Undoubtedly, both the economic cost and the carrying cost get increased with the increase in volume of buffer stocks. So the only option left for downsizing the food subsidy appears to be the adoption of reducing the consumer subsidy through an increase in issue prices. But that again leads to poor distribution within the PDS resulting in the poor being deprived of food, together with the consequential accumulation of buffer stocks. Thus there is an urgent need to rationalize the present policy on setting procurement prices.

The recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee, headed by Devendra Prasad Yadav, regarding the dumping of 2.05 lakhs tonnes of damaged buffer stocks into the sea to avoid storage problem exposed the inherent faults of the poverty alleviation programmes and the incompetence of the FCI. Effort is required to reduce the cost incurred by the FCI through more efficient management in handling, storage and transporting of stocks. The buffer stock of food-grains has actually been built up by procurement from the top 2 to 4 percent of landowners and farmers at MSP and we are made to believe that its maintenance is essential for food security.

A hard truth has been revealed by the agriculture minister, Ajit Singh, who said that the food surplus would not have been created if people had the money to buy the grains. The adoption of policies of the maintenance of need-based buffer stocks, quick implementation of the poverty alleviation programmes and procurement of food grains at competitive prices in the open market for the PDS, seems to be the way to minimize the burden of buffer stocks and food security.

   

 
 
SHADOW ON THE PALACE 
 
 
BY TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
 
It was a balmy morning in the early summer of 1996. But the political temperature had already begun soaring in Gwalior’s palace. Madhavrao Scindia, denied a ticket following the hawala controversy, had set up the Madhya Pradesh Vikash Congress. He was scheduled to reach Gwalior by train that day. When he arrived, he was quickly taken over by a huge crowd, incensed over the injustice meted out to the maharaja by the then prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao. Looking a bit crestfallen when he got down from the train, Scindia’s mood changed with the crowd cheering lustily in his favour and vowing to die for him. The people were applauding his new venture, whistling, hammering on wooden boards, their collective voice thunderous.

The crowd and his close supporters grew more aggressive, mouthing the choicest of expletives against a section of Congress leaders. Uncharitable remarks were also being made against the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Digvijay Singh, for his loyalty to Rao. As Scindia rose to speak from the roof of a car, he held the mouth of a worker tight, to prevent him from spitting any more venom. Scindia never tolerated any indecency after a point. But he never shouted. With gestures of affection, he just persuaded them not to cross limits.

The message from the crowd was clear and even before the poll, Scindia looked a victor. He won, defeating the Congress candidate, Sashibhusan Vajpayee, by 2,23,995 votes. One of the highest margins, it was significant because for the first time he was fighting against a party whose name had become indelibly etched into his existence in Gwalior. The big surprise was that the Congress came third in the race and the second position was grabbed by the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Bharatiya Janata Party did not field any candidate.

In the party or outside, the palace played a deciding factor in the politics of the region and the palace characters, whether in the BJP or the Congress, swept the polls despite the sporadic attempts by anti-palace forces to make inroads into the Bundelkhand areas of Madhya Pradesh. Directly or indirectly, it was either the rajmata, Vijayraje Scindia, or Madhavrao Scindia who wielded influence on the voters. The reason was the palace’s symbiotic relation with the people of the region. This would also suggest that the aura of the palace and the halo surrounding despotic feudalism worked as a kind of magic to the voters. Whatever it was, the Scindias continued to be an enigma to their rivals in politics.

With two successive tragedies striking the palace in 2001, the palace legacy faces an unprecedented onslaught .When the shock over Scindia’s accidental death wears off, the Congress may have to fight its own candidates to retain the seat. The BJP will have to fight its own men to retain the pockets of influence that the rajmata had held on to for over four decades.

Without Madhavrao, will his son, Jyotiraditya, little exposed to the politics of the region, be able to hold the fort? In Guna, where the rajmata’s daughter, Yasodhara Scindia, is just a member of the legislative assembly, will the mothers’s sway remain intact? Would the other daughter, Vasundhararaje Scindia, a member of parliament from Rajasthan, be of any help in the battle to protect the legacy?

There are over 40 assembly constituencies in the Gwalior, Guna, Shivpuri, Mandsaur areas of the Baghelkhand-Bundelkhand region where the palace writ worked for the last forty years.In a state where regionalism is the hallmark of politics, the Scindias had to turn at least six districts into their fortress. The bordering districts of Rajasthan, including Mandsaur and Ratlam, had a sprinkling of their influence which often acted as a deciding factor for candidates.

The influence has been shrinking in parts of Bundelkhand bordering Uttar Pradesh owing to the rise of the Dalit bogey. But the spread of the Kanshi Ram-Mayavati brand of backward caste politics got checkmated largely due to palace hegemony. When a number of Congress satraps failed a couple of times to hold on to their bastions, Scindia nurtured his constituency by his charisma and candour. The voting pattern in all these constituencies shows that Scindia’s candidates won not only with upper caste, urban voters, they were supported by the backward and minority voters who were drifting away from the Congress in the rest of the country. In Guna, in 1999, Scindia got at least 40,000 backward votes which could have gone to the BSP.

Since 1967, the Gwalior seat was under the control of the palace, except in 1971 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee won with 58.37 per cent votes. But even this vote was not without the influence of the palace since the rajmata had broken off ties with the Congress by then and joined Jan Sangh. Since 1984, however, Madhavrao kept alive his winning spree, the highest percentage of votes being in 1984 when he defeated Vajpayee, with 66.87 per cent of the votes.

In Gwalior, the Congress was a divided house ever since an anti-Scindia lobby began to get support from Digvijay Singh, who obviously wanted to spread his base from Raghogarh towards Bundelkhand. Singh sensed a godsent opportunity to invade the Gwalior region when Scindia was thrown out of the party. Orchestrating a virulent attack on the Scindias and palace politics, Sashi Bhusan Vajpayee, a pro-Digvijay Singh Congressman, campaigned for the Congress against Scindia, elucidating how the political ethos of the region had been held prisoner to palace influence for decades.

Even after Scindia got back to the party, the anti-palace lobby refused to sink into oblivion because of the encouragement from the Singh lobby. With Scindia’s death, the Gwalior bastion would be up for grabs, and under threefold attack. The anti-palace lobby in the Congress might strike with a vengeance, although the party might give a chance to Jyotiraditya to contest. The actual battle might start after he wins or loses.

The BJP will try to get the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bajrang Dal lobby to expand its base. After all, Gwalior belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha in 1952 and it was Madhavrao who transformed it into a Congress citadel. It may just revert to the the sangh parivar. The third force in Gwalior is the BSP, which has been trying to organize the backwards of the region and which even managed to get majority in the Gwalior municipality in 1996.

Guna will be the other battleground for a replay of this territory war between the BJP and the Congress. This Lok Sabha constituency with eight assembly segments was associated with rajmata’s name but Scindia had shifted the constituency here in the 1999 poll. The region saw a battle among members of the royal families in 1998 when Yasodhara Scindia’s supporters fought with Sardar Angrey, her mother’s advisor, for denying tickets to Yasodhara. In the absence of her mother and elder brother, Yasodhara would be facing the BJP-RSS lobby which calls her a foreigner. Born abroad, Yasodhara got her Indian citizenship only in 1998. There are rumours that Angrey might himself fight what he calls “decadent palace influence in Yasodhararaje Scindia”. In effect, he would be fighting a proxy war against the palace politics represented by Madhavrao’s legacy.

The leading non-palace character in the BJP is Jaybhan Singh Pavviya, a former Bajrang Dal president who had contested the Gwalior seat against Scindia in 1998. He lost to Scindia but during the campaign put together a team which is active in the Gwalior-Shivpuri-Guna belt. With a Hindutva card, the hardcore members of the sangh parivar are expected to start a battle for supremacy.

Scindia and his mother’s deaths have cleared the landscape for a gladiatorial battle among parties of multiple hues for control.And this could soon end up being a political chaos like Rewa, once fortress of the raja of Mandar, Arjun Singh, but now under the control of a political mix from Dalit outfits, the BJP, socialists of the Mulayam Singh brand and of course the Congress under warring local satraps.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / TO ERASE THE INDELIBLE POVERTY LINE 
 
 
 
 
Since independence, Indian governments have accorded great importance to poverty reduction. All the five year plans have had poverty reduction as a major goal. To measure its success in achieving this goal, the government commissioned a series of household surveys on poverty, beginning in 1951. These surveys provide an unparalleled record of a developing country’s efforts to reduce poverty.

India has reduced the percentage of population living in poverty since the Seventies, but progress has been uneven ... From the early Fifties to the mid-Seventies, poverty rates fluctuated without a clear trend... Then, from 1973-74 to the mid-Eighties, poverty incidence declined fairly steadily — from 54 per cent in 1973-74 to 38 per cent in 1986-87... Poverty reduction slowed in the late Eighties, probably due to poor weather conditions and the downturn in agricultural production, but the public distribution system and anti-poverty programmes kept poverty from rising... Poverty incidence dropped sharply in 1990, for reasons that are not altogether clear, and whatever contribution the macroeconomic situation made was clearly unsustainable.

In 1991-92, a transitory worsening of poverty incidence occurred with the 1991 balance of payments crisis, decline in growth and stabilization measures. The increased poverty incidence was also related to other factors — poor harvests, limited agricultural imports, and large agriculture procurement in the following year that kept food prices high ... By 1993-94 the incidence of poverty had fallen to 35 per cent, well below the 53 per cent of the early Seventies, but only slightly below the 38 per cent achieved in 1987-88.

India also reduced the depth and severity of poverty even faster than the poverty rate (the headcount ratio). Thus, the decline of poverty was not simply a process whereby a segment of the population which had previously been located just below the poverty line was able to lift itself above the line, while the remaining poor were left unaffected. Rather, the process through which poverty was being reduced also improved the consumption of those far below the poverty line.

Despite these successes, over 310 million people were living in poverty in 1993-94... Poverty in India remains predominately rural: three out of every four poor persons live in rural areas. Changes in urban and rural poverty followed a similar path over most of the last 25 years, the progress more rapid in rural India in the Seventies and the Eighties. By 1990, urban and rural poverty rates had nearly converged; an unusual pattern compared to other south Asian countries. In the early Nineties, poverty rose faster in rural than in urban areas, and then did not decline as rapidly.

A wide disparity in poverty across Indian states and their uneven progress in poverty reduction is a key feature of the evolution of poverty in India. In most cases, better-off states remained relatively affluent and reduced poverty, while poorer states remained poor and made less progress in poverty reduction.

There are also cases where poorer states made major progress in poverty reduction and growth. In Kerala, for example, rural poverty declined at 2.4 per cent per annum between the early Seventies and early Nineties. Other states where poverty incidence fell substantially... include West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, and, to a lesser extent, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Notably poor performers include Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The stronger performing states typically managed to reduce poverty at a rate of 1.5 per cent to 2.0 per cent per annum. Poor performers rarely averaged above 0.5 per cent per annum.

Although the states’ poverty rankings vary with alternative indicators, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh generally have among the highest rates of poverty...; Kerala, Haryana and Punjab have the least. It is also important to note that the sample sizes in some of the states are small, implying a large error of estimate in their figures. Finally, it is important to note that there exist large disparities in poverty within the states (Dreze and Srinivasan).

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A time to regulate

Sir — Any bill that aims to regulate medical research in India is welcome (“Winter bill to monitor medical research rules”, Sept 29). The absence of guidelines to medical research has led to unscrupulous doctors and researchers who have been taking advantage of the desperation and poverty of patients. The recent controversy over Thiruvananthapuram’s Regional Cancer Research Centre, which was found guilty of violating procedural norms, could have alerted the health ministry to the dangers of unauthorized research. The decline of medical ethics has complicated the situation and has led to the emergence of quacks in urban and rural India. Experiments are an important part of any research. However, the violation of rules can claim lives as well as tarnish the image of the medical profession. It is shocking that a country with a population of one billion spends only Rs 1,150 crore on medical research. It is not surprising that researchers here have been unable to come up with any path-breaking theories.

Yours faithfully,
Mita Ghosh, via email

A bunch of bureaucrats

Sir — In a democracy like India, the relations between civil servants and politicians assume special significance. A committed bureaucracy can ensure the prevalence of the rule of law and keep a check on the actions of politicians. The decline in ethics and the desire to make more money have created a new class of bureaucrats who are more interested in satisfying their bosses for a promotion than they are in the proper discharge of their duties.

The bureaucracy must be freed from political interference and this could easily be done by appointing a legislative authority over the civil service. A select committee of the Parliament or of the state legislatures comprising of the members of the ruling and opposition parties could be constituted to see that the postings and promotions of bureaucrats do not depend on the patronage of self-serving politicians. This would ensure that hard work and honesty are appreciated. It would also minimize political pressure and would restore the integrity of the services.

Yours faithfully,
Nina Singh, via email

Sir — Even after three years in office, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has not learnt how to handle the bureaucracy in an effective manner. S.L. Rao — in his article, “The boys in the back room” (Aug 27) — has rightly pointed out the need to lay more emphasis on quality rather than on individual friendships while recruiting officers to the prime minister’s office.

Since India has a prime ministerial form of government, it is the prime minister who is at the helm of the administration, and is also the policy-maker in his government. The growing power of the PMO over the last few years has led to the rise of people like Brajesh Mishra who now play a more important role than other civil servants, like the foreign secretary, K. Raghunath.

One remembers how the PMO managed to sideline the foreign office completely after Kargil. The role played by the PMO is taken for granted in a parliamentary democracy. However, this power should not be misused to advance the political ambitions of a handful of politicians.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Rightly dismissed

Sir — The Supreme Court has done the right thing by dismissing J. Jayalalithaa from the chief ministership of Tamil Nadu. A person who has been convicted in a court of law should not be allowed to become the chief minister of a state even if he has been backed by a popular mandate. Given that Jayalalithaa had been convicted in the Tansi land deal case and the Pleasant Stay Hotel scandal and was sentenced to more than two years of imprisonment, she should not have contested the elections in the first place. She would then have been spared the humiliation of being dismissed by the Supreme Court. Amma’s greed for power and her desire to get back to the political hotseat made her file her nomination papers from four constituencies, even though this was in direct violation of the provisions of the Representation of the People’s Act. After she won the elections, Jayalalithaa was invited to form the government by governor, Fathima Beevi.

Jayalalithaa’s over-confidence made her think that she would be able to use the loopholes in the law and the Constitution. She was proved wrong. It would not be a bad idea for the crafty Amma to take sanyas from politics and think of a way to get all outstanding cases against her dismissed. Only then would she be able to return to power. The Supreme Court’s judgment assumes special significance as it will act as a warning to other corrupt politicians and remind them that they are not above the law.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — The argument put forward by J. Jayalaithaa’s counsel justifying her appointment to the post of chief minister has rightly been dismissed by the Supreme Court. As pointed out by the five-member bench, the people’s verdict is supreme only when it is not ultra vires with respect to the Constitution. The makers of the Constitution had entrusted the high courts and the Supreme Court with the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution and of making sure that the law prevails.

The Constitution is silent on the appointment of a convicted person to the post of chief minister. Had Jayalalithaa already been a member of the legislative assembly when she was convicted, her conviction would automatically have been set aside. It is important that the Constitution is amended so as to ensure that no convicted person can hold a public office in our country.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — The historic judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of the state of Wisconsin which recently put a man in jail for being unable to provide for his children is interesting from India’s point of view. It is incredible that the state should have to intervene to prevent a man from having more children when he is unable to provide for them. While this may have been an isolated case in the US, thousands of poor families battle poverty and hunger in our country on a daily basis. The state and the Centre have failed to spread awareness about family planning among all classes of society. It is high time the Centre tries to enforce the two-child norm.

Yours faithfully,
T.H. Chowdary, Secunderabad

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