Editorial 1 / The reveille
Editorial 2 / Two down, 11 to go
Mani Talk / WTC: the Saudi connection
Solidarity with caution
Document / Planting the seeds of prosperity
Letters to the editor

The die is cast: iacta alea est, as Julius Caesar said when he crossed the Rubicon sometime in 49 BC. The bombing by British and American planes of Afghanistan begins what the world has been waiting for with bated breath and more than a hint of terror. Nobody loves a war, especially in modern times, because everybody knows the costs, human and financial, involved in an armed conflict. Yet there are situations when war is the only effective solution. No matter what self-styled ideologues may say, the options before the president of the United States of America were limited. The moment it was clear that terrorists based in Afghanistan and sheltered by the taliban regime had masterminded the attack of September 11, a war on some scale had become inevitable. It is not that the Bush administration did not try war by other means, diplomacy, but the taliban, not unexpectedly, was not amenable to any kind of reason. The present military initiative has a limited objective: to smoke out, to use Mr George W. Bush’s telling Texan phrase, Mr Osama Bin Laden. The subsequent phases which may not be entirely bereft of military action will have wider goals: the establishing of a stable regime in Kabul, which will be committed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and the eradication of terrorism across the globe.

In the current state of play, India cannot be a major player. The fruits of India’s foreign policy will thus not be evident immediately. India can draw some satisfaction from the plight of the Pakistan president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, who is caught in the most unenviable position. The economic recovery of his country is dependent on US goodwill which runs against the grain of Pakistan’s loyalties towards and ties with the taliban. India’s hopes are pinned on the battle against terrorism all over the world. It believes that the US, in the attempt to fulfil its own agenda against fundamentalist violence, will be forced to help in India’s war against terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. To those who are in haste and are paranoid about US aid to Pakistan, such a perspective is not obvious at the moment. But not to see things in such a perspective is to be myopic. The US is still uncertain about the extent of co-operation it will actually receive from Mr Musharraf. But US policy-makers know that India’s commitment to a war against terrorism is without any codicils. This can only strengthen India’s standing in the aftermath of the war. The duration and the nature of the war is by no means predictable. The terrain of Afghanistan has defeated many armies but this may well be a different kind of war in which bombs will play a more important role than infantry and armoured corps. The killing of innocents by fanatics has created this war. The inevitability of the war can in no way take away from the suffering that war entails. Everyone will hope that the beginning is also the end.


The cabinet committee on disinvestment has taken two and a half decisions. Seventy-four per cent equity in Hindustan Teleprinters Limited will be sold to Himachal Futuristic Communications for Rs 55 crore and 51 per cent equity in Computer Maintenance Corporation will be sold to Tata Sons for Rs 152 crore. Lock-in periods are four years for HTL and two years for CMC and employees will also be offered shares at one-third the bid price or the market price, whichever is lower. Since Balco occurred last financial year, these signal the first disinvestment this year. One way to look at combined receipts of Rs 207 crore is that precisely 1.725 per cent of proposed receipts of Rs 12,000 crore in 2001-02 have been achieved. The target is unlikely to be reached, although 11 more public sector undertakings have been earmarked for disinvestments this financial year, of which, only six months remain. The half-decision concerns offloading 51 per cent stake in Mecon and Mecon and Hindustan Zinc should be up for disinvestment next. However, the target is important only from the point of view of Mr Yashwant Sinha’s fiscal deficit. Since the efficiency argument is more important than the fiscal one, whether disinvestment happens this year or the next is irrelevant, as long as it happens. This is where resistance becomes an issue. Exclusive reliance on the strategic sales route is bound to raise allegations of under-valuation, especially if there are few bidders (as with CMC).

This is in addition to allegations of Himachal Futuristic having links with Ketan Parekh. However, the CCD should be complimented for not postponing the CMC decision given allegations of price rigging of CMC shares. That rigging has taken place is evident, CMC shares having bucked the bearish trend. At the root lies a problem the Bhagwati committee failed to resolve satisfactorily. Shouldn’t open offer prices to retail investors be the same as that paid by successful bidders? Instead, the securities and exchange board of India picked an open offer price that is based on a 26-week average. Unsuccessful bidders can thus artificially rig prices and complain, with the support of opposition politicians, that PSUs are being sold for a song. In the CMC case, the Tata Sons offer is Rs 197 per share and is above the reserve price. But the 26-week average will be more like Rs 280 per share. A Sebi inquiry into price rigging has been ordered and it would have been easy for CCD to conclude that CMC disinvestment should not take place until the inquiry is over. Instead, Mr Arun Shourie rightly argues that the CMC sale should go ahead regardless. But the political flak could have been avoided had Sebi been more reasonable and vigilant. HTL and CMC are small-ticket disinvestments. Allegations of non-transparency will be more serious once big-ticket disinvestments like Maruti take place.


The American Federal Bureau of Investigation has released photographs of the 19 accused in the Boeing Bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The photographs are accompanied with brief biographical information. They make extraordinary reading.

Of the 19, eight are identified as Saudi nationals. An equal number, eight, have not been identified by nationality but names like Alghamdi (three: Hamza, Ahmed and Saeed), a dominant tribe in the northern reaches of Saudi Arabia with strong connections to Saudi royalty, make it almost certain that at least four of these eight are Saudis. Thus 12 of the 19, and possibly more, are nationals of the Arab country which has the closest possible relations with the United States of America. The only non-Saudi specifically identified is Mohammad Atta, an Egyptian, another Arab country in excellent standing with the Western world. There are no rogue states involved, only rogues.

I would have expected furious Palestinians, angered Lebanese, Iraqi agents, Iranian fanatics, avenging Afghans, incensed Pakistanis, or professional Libyan assassins to have figured in the list. After all, it is in these countries that hatred of the Americans is most manifest. But, no, none of these countries and none of their nationals appears to have been involved. Only friends of America, and the very best of friends at that. Does the clue to the disaster lie in this?

After all, can you imagine an Iraqi or Libyan applying to an aviation academy in Florida and not being reported to the police? Would you think Palestinians shifting from motel to motel and one seedy lodging to another, as Mohammad Atta and his colleagues in crime did, would not have been tailed by US intelligence? Is it not their nationality, as certified friends of America, which enabled them to get away with using American facilities to terrorize America?

Nothing is more rewarding in material terms than being best friends with the US. At the same time, friendship with America can be a pretty soul-searing experience. Therefore, while some Arab governments, particularly monarchies and the like, may enjoy the warmest diplomatic, military and business relations with America, there are those in these very countries for whom the benevolence of America breeds hatred. For American benevolence is very discriminating and nuanced: the tighter governments close their eyes to American errors, and the more vigorously they applaud American thought and action, the more bountiful is the reward. Equally, the more critical countries are of the US, and the more inclined to point to the mote in the American eye, the more terrible is American retribution. There are, therefore, those in America-baiting Arab countries who long for American benediction, even as there are those in America-supportive Arab countries who feel their souls being prostituted in the cause of Satan. American preparations for dealing with terrorist outrages by this latter group of hate-America nationals from love-America countries were hopelessly inadequate; indeed, this angle appears quite simply not to have been taken into account. For which American bank would not welcome massive money transfers from Dubai; and which American bank would not be deeply suspicious of a similar transfer from Tripoli or Gaza?

If indeed the Boeing Bombings were fashioned by Osama bin Laden (and the jury is still out on that), then his whole strategy seems to have been predicated on this gaping self-inflicted lacuna in America’s internal security system. There would appear to be little point in bombing Stone Age Afghanistan into the Stone Age if all that is required to protect America from terrorism is to protect America from itself.

Then there is the international angle. The House of Saud is not only a royal House; it is also a religious House. It is given the veneration it receives on the understanding that members of the House will conduct themselves in a manner befitting the anointed guardians of the most sacred shrines of Islam. The surface behaviour of Saudi royalty conforms to these demanding norms. What goes on behind palace walls may be known to none. But what goes on at the Dorchester in London is the most lucrative scandal in England since Nell Gwynn said to herself, “Nell, darling, you’re sitting on a fortune” and went out to seduce Charles II. Most Saudis, one imagines, shrug off these goings-on with whatever is the Arabic equivalent of “Boys will be boys”. But there are millions of the faithful who ask what legitimacy there is to the Guardians of the Holiest when the fence gobbles the grass. It is from Saudis of this ilk that the three Alghamdis emerged. Which is why the FBI list is replete with rogues, not rogue states.

Modernization would involve opening the political space in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies to allow for the airing of views such as those espoused by the FBI’s Saudi terrorists Alshehri, Alsuqami and others. That, one would have thought, would have been the first political lesson learned by the Americans on the sudden and comprehensive overthrow of the Shah of Iran. The Islamic political tradition might indeed have held that tyranny is to be preferred to anarchy, but it could only entrust the safeguarding of the Ka’aba to the purest of the pure. In 1979, the invasion of the sanctum sanctorum in Makkah by the gun-wielding faithful was in essence an assertion of the need for the guardian to be as pure as that he was guarding. The Pope, after all, could hardly marry and still remain the Pope.

In Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in good standing with the West (all authoritarian regimes), there are many million “ordinary folk” (as George W. would call them) who believe, with or without reason, that it is American support to these regimes which keeps the hollow crown rounding the heads of their monarchs. Therefore, for reasons right or wrong, there is bound to be fury among many, even if not a majority. The course that Iran has taken from the Ayatollah’s revolution to today’s moderate Khomeini shows that in the 21st century there is little place for fanaticism or fundamentalism in governance provided a little democracy, as in the case of contemporary Iran, is available to the people. Therefore, if the steam is let out in the Arab sands, Saudi dissidence of the bin Laden kind would be a domestic Saudi matter for the Saudis to sort out and they would probably do it fairly easily. But if the lid is kept on Arab steam, it can only be let out in the very wicked lands where religion-sanctioned royalty behaves unbecomingly.

The Americans believe they can have it both ways — both be the playground for what most Muslims regard with horror as unrestrained vice and also extend the armed patronage required to make a medieval political system flourish in the Arabian sands. So they have found, as Macaulay did in India a century and a half ago, that they cannot teach Palestinians about Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine in American universities, and then expect them to accept without demur Israeli occupation with American blessing. It is the American failure to guard against the political fallout out of this double whammy that is at the root of America having become — and remaining — such a vulnerable target for Arab terrorism. Nineteen motivated Arabs have made nonsense of George W’s national missile defence and theatre weapons of mass destruction. Four trained pilots have shown they can take the system out.

However much I might be tempted to do so after having served in Vietnam during the American war there, and seeing US hi-tech being taken out by peasants on bicycles, I am not exulting. Terrorism is not to anyone’s advantage, as both intelligent Palestinians and intelligent Israelis have learned from the bitter experience of a half-century of mutual terror. Bar Palestine, no country knows more about terrorism than India. Some of the terrorism we face is cross-border. Much of it is home-grown. Indeed, as K.P.S. Gill showed in Punjab, when domestic terrorism is stamped out, cross-border terrorism withers away.

Moreover, if all terrorism is classified as “global” and handed over to the Americans to tackle, we will soon find ourselves in the position of the Carnatic nobles in the eighteenth century who thought they could hire the rival French and English East India Companies to fight their domestic battles, only to eventually have their former mercenaries train their cannon on the Highnesses who had hired them. Can you see the Marines swarming all over Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tripura and Nagaland battling the People’s War Group, the United Liberation Front of Asom, the Tripura Liberation Army and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland — all of whom are reinforced by cross-border terrorism — and India still remaining an independent country?

When action beyond one’s borders is taken as a substitute for internal security and political/diplomatic action, as the Americans appear to be doing in their War Against Terrorism, they are stoking not slaking the fires which lit the World Trade Center. The Americans seem not to understand this. And India, as the inheritor of the Gandhian legacy, is doing nothing under its present non-Gandhian government to bring Gandhian good sense to the attention of the Americans. Cross-border military action is a cry of despair. To see the Americans mobilizing from the Sea of Japan to the Gulf of Aqaba to capture one man “Dead or Alive”, in the felicitous phrase of the leader of World Civilization and the Free World, is blind vengeance, not sound long-term policy — which lies in democracy for all, including those whom Nature has made rich with oil.


When it comes to fighting wars in Afghanistan, the foreign and commonwealth office in London has some dusty files they would like President George W. Bush to take a look at. Britain in its imperial era had an unhappy experience of the Khyber Pass. It had been there, done it and got the T-shirt. And a humbling experience it was. Memories of empire may be distant, but talk of the Pathans and the Northwest Frontier still brings a quiver of fear to the British stiff upper lip.

A warning about the terrain and the tenacity of its warriors during two catastrophic encounters in the 19th century may have been part of the battle-plan the British premier, Tony Blair, took to New York and Washington the week after the bombings. Whatever was in the 10 Downing Street briefcase, it has had a dramatic effect in tying Britain into whatever it is the Americans are about to do next.

The theory goes in London that with the investment of some major political and military capital in “standing shoulder to shoulder” with the Americans — perhaps some Tornado bombers, the special air service operating behind-enemy-lines and the foreign secretary whizzing off to places like Tehran, which has barely seen a Union Jack for 22 years — then perhaps the Yanks can be gently dissuaded from doing something completely crazy in that far-off country of which they know so little.

Such a game-plan plays to a British sense of self-importance. With the world’s most robust and rabble-rousing tabloid press, the mood is of the British bulldog gallantly in the frontline, taking on Johnny Foreigner once more. We are being told that however much firepower the Americans can rain down on Kabul, Uncle Sam can’t match the British forces for those SAS “special operations” and does not have Britain’s low-tech intelligence- gathering capability. In a scenario which seems more and more like it was devised in and for Hollywood, the British would like it to be remembered that they still have copyright on the role of James Bond.

This, then, is the special relationship between Britain and America at its most special. The British traditionally tend to think of it as more special than the Americans do, but for now, at least, they seem agreed. Tony Blair may not have been the first foreign leader into the White House after the crisis struck (France’s Jacques Chirac beat him to it), but the top Brit was given the rare honour of attending the joint meeting of the United States congress where Bush’s landmark speech included two name-checks. Americans have seemed genuinely moved by British gestures, such as their national anthem being played at the changing of the guard at London’s Buckingham Palace. And it is not just a common sense of purpose, but also of loss: perhaps 250 of Her Britannic Majesty’s subjects perished in the World Trade Center, the worst terrorist death toll for Britain in any incident by a long way.

This was, after all, not only an attack on the American economy. European investment in the US has increased ten-fold in the past ten years, and the roll-call of corporate casualties in the World Trade Center was testimony to how closely integrated European business is with that of the US.

That real sense of self-interest as well as solidarity explains a hard-nosed desire in London, as in other capitals, to strain every diplomatic sinew to restrain America’s instinct for revenge. And this is where the alliance becomes far more than just the UK-US special relationship. All of Europe is engaged in trying to draw America into a more sophisticated international response. It has been unprecedently united in its solidarity with the US. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also based in Brussels, and casting around for a role in the post-Cold War era, invoked for the first time ever the treaty article that says an attack on one is an attack on all. America stood by Europe in its darkest hours, said Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, and now Europe will stand by America.

In this process, the 15-member European Union is taking giant strides forward in terms of developing a common foreign and security policy. It has spoken with one voice, and has moved quickly to introduce tougher coordination of its arrest warrants and extradition laws in a bid to counter terrorism. Crisis is clearly a time for change, and the EU may be one of the most significant alterations in geopolitics. Problems over trade with the US have been put aside to stress how close an alliance this is. But the EU — soon to scrap 12 currencies in favour of one euro, and soon to expand from 15 to perhaps 27 members — also looks increasingly like playing a major part in providing a counterweight to America’s hegemonic power.

Until September 11 and under the Bush presidency, throughout European capitals there had been increasing unease at Washington’s disengagement from the rest of the world. America was having as little as possible to do with the continuing troubles in the Balkans, most recently in Macedonia. And its lack of engagement with the Israel-Palestine troubles was leaving Europe to take a leading role in a seemingly impossible task. That American isolationism was suddenly changed on the morning of September 11. And with that abrupt shift, European leaders found themselves struggling to contain America’s fury. The language was all of solidarity, but the underlying message was also of caution.

Europeans have learned quite a bit about terrorism over the past 30 or so years, from Basque separatists in Spain to socialist revolutionaries in Germany, France and Italy. For the UK, the trouble in Northern Ireland has spilled onto the British mainland — part-funded by Irish-Americans who think the Irish Republican Army are merely the modern incarnation of the heroic colonial revolutionaries of 1776 Massachusetts.

Europeans have been politely pointing out that George Bush’s “war against terrorism” doesn’t have much meaning, except that it gives the terrorists the legitimacy they want. And what they are offering the Americans is a knowledge of much of the rest of the world, translating into hard-nosed intelligence-gathering which is now vital to the task in hand. Many European cities have large ethnic minority populations which contain the cover for terrorist planning and funding. France and Britain, in particular, have long-standing links with Arab capitals where America’s sponsorship of Israel causes barriers to go up.

So the experience of empire — the British raj, for instance, the French in Algeria — may be very much in the history books, but it has some real relevance in the 21st century. America has discovered that it needs some friends in the world, and Europe helps provide historical and cultural bridges which the mighty dollar can’t build.

In Britain, for now, there is strong support for Tony Blair’s leadership in the crisis. But there are also warnings. The opposition Liberal Democrat Party pleads for caution and argues against the civil liberty curbs which are now expected from the Labour government.

And from that party also comes a warning to America — that if it wants to create an alliance against terrorism with the rest of the world, it might also have to think about working in alliance with its international partners on global warming, the international criminal court and on its missile defence plans, just three of the issues on which it has blithely ignored international opinion and pursued its own interests.

Only two days after the bombings, the US ambassador to the European Union took his leave of Brussels, telling journalists as he departed that he hoped Europe would come to see America as less of a “unilateral cowboy”. Those allies may take some persuading yet.


The author is political editor of the Sunday Herald


Although statistical issues clearly exist, differences between the 1980s and the 1990s in terms of inflation and agricultural performance do give some credence to the slowdown in poverty reduction. Other things being equal, higher inflation tends to increase poverty...as noted above, and average inflation was higher in the 1990s than in the 1980s. Research has shown the poor to be particularly susceptible to increases in the relative price of food...and here the increase was even larger in the 1990s compared to the 1980s. The large increase in foodgrain prices was a particular factor and reflects large increases in procurement and issue prices associated with the public distribution system in the early 1990s. Recent...governments have targeted lower inflation because of its negative impact on the poor, and have had some success. However, transitory shocks in food prices... related both to poor harvests and the rigid, still-highly regulated food distribution system, continue to cause transitory increases in inflation.

Differences in agricultural performance in the 1980s and 1990s are also an issue.... agricultural growth was a major factor in reducing poverty in India in the 1980s. Rural growth was...broad-based, and labour-intensive, leading to a reduction in poverty in the 1970s and 1980s. Production of oilseeds, and dairy and poultry products grew remarkably, and the adoption of scale-neutral, high-yield technology spread agricultural growth to the lagging rain-fed and highly populated eastern regions. Real wages were pushed up by the increase in labour demand and the productivity increases that lowered costs.

The rate of agricultural growth in the 1990s was similar to the 1980s...albeit with continued year-to-year volatility. However, the growth of real daily wages in rural areas — a key link between agricultural growth and poverty reduction according to the analysis of the 1980s — slowed in the 1990s, suggesting that agricultural growth in 1990s may have been less poverty reducing. Among the possible explanations for the slower growth in wages are: a) slower growth of demand for agricultural labour in the 1990s, associated with the new crops that account for the continued high agricultural growth in the new national accounts; b) a slowdown in productivity growth in agriculture, possibly related to environmental issues and the need for private investment, such as generation sets, to make up for poorly performing public infrastructure...and c) a less well distributed agricultural growth, with the eastern states, where poverty is concentrated, suffering a slowdown. The latter two explanations are in turn related to the public sector’s approach to agriculture, with its continued focus on providing implicit and explicit subsidies, which contribute to inefficiency and have uncertain distributional consequences, rather than on public investment and technological upgrading; its increasing fiscal constraints that have led to a decline in public infrastructure investment; and its continued regulation of the agricultural sector in contrast to the deregulation of the urban sector. Clearly, further analysis is needed, particularly once the state GDP accounts are fully re-based. Whatever the conclusion, a reduction in implicit and explicit subsidies, a refocusing of the public sector on poverty-alleviating spending, and a deregulation of agriculture would all probably improve the impact of agriculture on poverty reduction.

Analysis also suggests that off-farm employment is an important means of escaping poverty in rural India. Unfortunately, India’s recent high GDP growth does not appear to have created more off-farm employment opportunities.... In some regions, employment in agriculture actually increased in the nineties. Recent work... documents a rise in the proportion of workers who are self-employed or in casual wage employment in the 1990s, and a fall in... salaried employment. Two factors are responsible for the sluggish response in the non-farm sector: not only are there distortions in the agriculture sector, but there remain...distortionary policies in the non-farm sector, for example, small-scale reservation, over-regulation of markets and agro-industry, etc ...Removing distortions and improving infrastructure, social sector delivery and the legal framework could help to unleash a substantial round of labour-intensive growth in the rural non-farm economy.

To be concluded



About time we struck back

Sir — Even though India has been playing one-day cricket for over two decades, it is yet to overcome its dependence on individual performances to win matches. The inability to perform as a team and deliver when the chips are down has once again resulted in the team’s defeat in the tri-series opener against South Africa at the Wanderers (“Kirsten upstages Sourav-Sachin effort”, Oct 6). India could take a lesson or two from the South Africans who gave a thoroughly professional performance, with the veterans, Gary Kirsten and Jacques Kallis, excelling with the bat and making up for the missed chances during fielding. The Indian skipper, Sourav Ganguly, must take the initiative and make every player accountable for his performance. He must also inspire the team to look beyond this defeat and prepare for the forthcoming matches. After his return to form with a scintillating knock of 127 in 126 balls, Ganguly is undoubtedly brimming with confidence and must take this opportunity to defeat the supposedly invincible South Africans on their home turf. And put an end to the controversy over his retaining the captaincy of the Indian team.

Yours faithfully,
Anuradha Gupta, via email

Up in the air

Sir — It is now obvious that the Alliance Air flight, CD 7444, was not hijacked. The Centre, which has been criticized by the opposition for over-reacting to the crisis, has been trying to cover up its recent faux pas by describing the incident as a well-executed drill exercise (“Mockjack, hijack or high-joke”, Oct 5). If this incident was indeed a mock drill aimed at finding out whether the crisis management group and the pilots are well-equipped to deal with such a situation, then why did the Indian prime minister spend the whole night awake? Given that the officials in the prime minister’s office exert a great deal of influence in defence strategy and planning, it is unlikely that they were not aware that such an exercise was being carried out. It seems pretty clear that a communication gap between the pilot and the air traffic control officials led to this incident.

The incident has once again exposed the inefficiency of the National Democratic Alliance government and its failure in crisis management.

Yours faithfully,
Rajaram Mohta, Calcutta

Sir — Though it is not yet clear what happened aboard the Alliance Air Boeing 737, it is obvious that there was no attempt to hijack the plane. An anonymous call to the Ahmedabad ATC led the pilot to panic. The government, too, over-reacted and this led to further confusion. The incident however demonstrates the fear that has become a part of our lives. As has been pointed out by aviation experts, every time a plane takes off, there is a chance that it may be hijacked. It is therefore important to have a special task force with the training to deal with such situations effectively and with the least possible damage.

Yours faithfully,
Renu Agrawal, New Jersey, US

Sir — The use of four hijacked planes by terrorists to mount attacks on the US has raised serious doubts over the future of air travel in India and in other parts of the world. However, India created aviation history recently when an Alliance Air plane was first declared to be hijacked and later on the whole incident was described as a hoax. As has been pointed out by Chandrakant Khaire, a Shiv Sena member of Parliament from Aurangabad, the incident could not have been a routine drill exercise.

There are a number of unanswered questions. The lack of communication between the pilot and the crew shows that official procedure was not followed. While the passengers assumed that the hijackers were in the cockpit, the pilot thought they were in the cabin. The civil aviation minister, Shahnawaz Hussain, even went on television and declared that a hijacking had indeed taken place. Such behaviour from our ministers only makes the government look foolish. The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has expressed his displeasure over the incident and has even ordered an inquiry. It is unlikely that the truth will come out though.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Accidents and anarchy

Sir — Calcuttans have by now become used to the violence that usually accompanies road accidents in the city. The pattern is always the same — pedestrians being run down by speeding buses which is followed by a violent mob taking law into its own hands and torching a few buses and other state-run vehicles. These incidents are almost always followed by token noises of grief expressed by the transport minister accompanied by promises to address the problem of traffic control and road safety.

The editorial, “Driven to death” (Oct 1), is right in pointing out the total disregard for human life among the reckless drivers of private and public buses who speed away from the scene of the accident. It is incredible that none of these guilty drivers is ever caught or punished. After the destruction of public and state property, the people of this city, like their elected representatives, manage to forget about the accidents until another one occurs.

Yours faithfully,
Mandira Roy, via email

Sir —The Telegraph deserves praise for condemning in very strong words the road accidents that claimed the lives of six people some days ago. Given that the state’s law and order has been getting worse over the past few years, it is not surprising that these accidents seem to be occurring on a regular basis. It is also ironic that the deputy commissioner of police, traffic, should describe this day as a “sad day”.

Had the accidents occurred anywhere else in the country or abroad, the deputy commissioner would have been demoted. To say that Calcutta has only six per cent free space and then use this as an an excuse to justify the occurence of the accidents is unpardonable. There is no denying that the streets of Calcutta are congested and that there is far too much vehicular traffic. However, stating the obvious does not help matters. It is also true that the situation has worsened since the construction of flyovers in strategic junctions of the city. It is time for the police to enforce traffic regulations properly so that such incidents do not occur repeatedly.

Yours faithfully,
Monojit Sanyal, Calcutta

Sex rights

Sir — The editorial, “Rights and wrongs” (Sept 18), highlighting an issue such as rape is indeed a laudable effort. It is true that a section of the society which does not hesitate to carry out a crime like rape goes on to violate and destroy the liberty, dignity and other social frames in the process. This is more because of the lack of proper implementation of judicial policies and police apathy toward a rape victim. The politicians also try to make an unnecessary issue of cases such as this, only for their vested interests.

There would be some respite for victims of rape as the chief justice, G.S. Anand, has appealed to the judges and to the human rights commission to rethink the legal procedure in the lower courts in case of rape. Punishment and rigorous imprisonment should be meted out to the culprits and proper counselling and other help should be provided to the women, to ensure that there can be life afterwards for them. Anand has requested the head of states to implement the process immediately otherwise, social injustice and chaos will spread in Indian society.

It is to be recalled that few months back, there was a conference held in Calcutta, where sex workers and various non-governmental organizations participated, requesting the West Bengal government to redress their grievances. In the name of human rights, their trade should be legalized as it is their only means of livelihood.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Sir — The sex workers in our country are one of the worst sufferers of social injustice. The editorial, “Rights and wrongs” (Sept 18) , is timely and apt. By raising the vital subject of rape, it has brought to the fore the various kinds of violation women suffer. Sex workers are often raped behind the guise of their profession and the victim suffers without getting any justice. The change in the legal structure should address this problem immediately.

Yours faithfully,
B. Sarkar, Calcutta

Unfair fair

Sir — I visited a job fair on September 29 which was touted as the first job fair of its kind in Calcutta. I have participated in a couple of job fairs and some of my colleagues have participated in job fairs in Pune and Mumbai.These job fairs were professionally managed and some of the best information technology organizations in the country had participated in them. The organizations participating were charged a fee, but no fee was charged from the visitors. Everyday, the attendance at these fairs was beyond our expectation and organizations participating did brisk business, so to speak.

What was shocking for me at the job fair in Calcutta was that a fee, and that too a hefty one of Rs 50, was being charged to visitors. On top of this, when I enquired about which of the companies were participating in the job fair, I was told by the young boy sitting at the counter with a holier-than-thou attitude that I should buy the ticket, walk in and see for myself. I might have parted with Rs 50 if there was a proven track record of the organizers in arranging job fairs. I came back home without parting with my money and I do not regret it.

Yours faithfully,
Dipankar Mukherji, Calcutta

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