Editorial 1/ Tangled in the net
Editorial 2/ Curtains on noise
Stagnation and anarchy
Good fences make bad neighbours
Document/ To look before and after
Obituary/ Charm, beauty and learning
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ TANGLED IN THE NET 
 
 
 
 
It is a sad and familiar story. Red tape, politics, inefficiency, ignorance and xenophobia — all of the most obstructive variety — are the basic ingredients of the Sankhya Vahini episode. Messrs V.S. Arunachalam and Raj Reddy, professors at a distinguished American university, have communicated their final exasperation to the prime minister regarding the high bandwidth data infrastructure project they had initiated more than two years ago at the invitation of the national task force on information technology and software development. Carnegie Mellon University and IUNet (set up by the university to work on the project) have now refused to wait any longer for the Centre’s co-operation, and are finally pulling out of the whole thing. The obstructions to the project at its inception and its eventual demise rehearse a sequence familiar to those who have been following the Air India or Enron saga. The initial hindrance always comes from ignorant politicization, a knee-jerk and mindless obstructiveness passing itself off as commitment to swadeshi. The benighted fringe of the sangh parivar as well as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had slowed down the initial sanctioning of the project. American spying and other security threats, violation of the national telecom policy and high-minded concern for the fate of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited were all cited, across the political spectrum, as reasons for stopping the project. The memorandum of understanding was signed almost a year after IUNet and the department of telecom had discussed the joint venture. One year is long enough to render any IT project superannuated, and since then, deferral and delay have become part of Sankhya Vahini’s miserable history.

The first step taken towards implementing the project was purely ritualistic. Messrs Arunachalam and Reddy were promptly presented with Republic Day honours by the president. Every subsequent step led to a slow miring of the project in complicated shareholding arrangements, an impossible tangle of ministerial collaboration and conflict, and obstructive litigation. In all this what emerges clearly is the Centre’s chronic inability to co-ordinate and implement, to use its legal and bureaucratic infrastructure as a facilitating, and not a hindering, machinery. Also evident is its equally chronic tendency to cover up this ineffectuality with the rhetoric of principled protest. Sankhya Vahini could be a lesson for the chief minister of West Bengal. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, together with his industry and finance ministers, must make sure that none of this self-destructive obstructionism is allowed to mess up the Reliance Group’s project of creating a fibre-optic network in the state. Improved connectivity and everything else that comes with the facilitation of technological progress are far more important than the insecurities of an ignorant bureaucracy.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ CURTAINS ON NOISE 
 
 
 
 
Polishing up a silver lining is a rewarding activity, since there are not too many of them around. The West Bengal pollution control board has decided to build on its success of reducing noise pollution during the festive season. The last three years have seen a definite scaling down in the noise of crackers and loudspeakers during Durga Puja and Diwali and a general compliance with the time limits set down by the board. This year, however, there is something new. The board is now empowered to put cases directly under the recently introduced Environmental Pollution Act, which provides for a fine upto Rs 1 lakh and imprisonment if presidents and secretaries of puja committees are found guilty of violating the norms. The cases will also be registered under the Police Act. The board has stuck to its noise limit of 90 decibels at five metres, refusing to entertain requests from firecracker dealers that the limit be raised to 125 decibels, which is the national standard. There are also very clear guidelines for monitoring noise levels with a central booth and mobile teams. Loudspeakers blaring beyond the prescribed time limits will bring on the wrath of the board too.

The board’s determination has shown good results so far, but there is perhaps one feature that should be emphasized. The results would have been very different had there not been cooperation from the people of Calcutta and its surrounding areas. The credit can be claimed by the WBPCB on the basis of its awareness programmes. But it is a sad truth that numerous such programmes regarding other equally or more urgent issues have failed miserably. There is no reason why the WBPCB’s sound pollution programme should work so miraculously. It has to be acknowledged that however impalpably, there is a gradual cultural shift going on. People are generally more conscious about the harm noise does, or are simply irritated by loud noise at all hours of the day. Ideas about festivity and enjoyment are changing too. There is markedly less enthusiasm about the local puja, a better understanding of the economics of such festivity, a disaffection, for better or worse, among a large segment of young adults towards certain forms of cultural excess. The WBPCB’s intervention comes at a very good time. The point is, though, that if so many citizens are supportive of the sound pollution norms, it indicates that they would welcome stringently enforced norms in other spheres of environmental pollution. The WBPCB should not hesitate there either. The big advantage of the sound pollution programme during the festive season is that it is fairly politics-free. There lies the rub. What the WBPCB must do also is to get ahead with similar projects in areas where political and other resistance is inevitable. Its success will ultimately be judged on these counts.

   

 
 
STAGNATION AND ANARCHY 
 
 
BY S.L. RAO
 
 
It is good that all attention is focussed on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If it were not, we would have more of the cacophony about the economy that we heard before September 11. The prime minister talked about growth at 8 (or was it 10?) per cent, the finance minister stuck to 8 per cent and everyone else was talking of 5 to 6 per cent. If ministerial wishes were horses, India would be a galloping economy. Alas, not even diktats, let alone wishes of this government about the economy, have any sign of coming true.

It all started with the budget, which that constant torchbearer for the government, the Confederation of Indian Industry and its very amiable (to any government) Tarun Das, gave a near-perfect score. It was a thoughtless rating, because the budget was long on lists of things to do, with neither enough money being provided for any of them, nor the organizational ability to spend it speedily and effectively. Then the finance minister went to the United States of America for his surgery and came back to remember that he had forgotten to monitor the implementation of the Deepak Parekh report on the Unit Trust of India bailout of three years ago, and, as it turns out from the evidence of the finance secretary to the joint parliamentary committee, that the UTI chairman had, in fact, informed him in advance that he would have to freeze repurchases of the US-64 units. This led to a free fall in the secondary market, and subsequent world events enhanced it. Primary markets continued to be dormant.

Then we have had the clutching at straws, with the finance minister egging the Reserve Bank of India for most of last year to lower interest rates, and the RBI improving liquidity and reducing rates a little. But there was no demand for this liquidity. Bank credit to the commercial sector has grown this year (to September 21) by 11.85 per cent versus 14.5, 18.3 and 14.8 per cent in the preceding three years. Deposits by banks maintained 17.8 per cent growth over the last year. Banks are awash with liquidity and lower interest rates have not stimulated the economy. Demand growth for most products has been poor.

What has happened to the fast growing Indian markets of the first half of the Nineties? The slowdown in industry started after 1995-96. But agricultural growth was heading downwards throughout the Nineties because of declining public investment, distortions in pricing which resulted in overproduction of high priced food grains that could not be sold even at subsidized prices, declining productivity growth, balanced to some extent by growth in other agricultural products like fruits and vegetables. Rural demand began to slow down from around the mid-Nineties.

Industry, which appeared to be doing well, got hit by primary capital shortages, over-capacity built up till the mid-Nineties, inflexibility in products and marketing of most Indian manufacturers, poor productivity growth, little attention to improving costs, poor attention to distribution, low levels of capital formation, and low public investment which depressed demand. Many companies (Securities and Exchange Board of India talks of 200) tried to make easy money by rigging prices of their shares. Their subsequent fall further frightened investors from equity.

For a while, the information technology sector was the saviour of industry and the stock markets. But greed and poor common sense resulted in the short-lived dotcom bubble, which collapsed with a lot of borrowed funds. Other service sector companies that let the economy down were the banks and financial institutions. Nemesis visited them from the mid-Nineties when the loans given in the past to cronies and even crooks, became non-performers. Non-performing assets now haunt bank managers, who would like to lend on zero risk.

Throughout the Nineties, every government — Congress, United Front and National Democratic Alliance — kept cutting public investment in their search for fiscal balance, since they were unable and unwilling to cut current expenditures. This led to a declining infrastructure of roads, railways, ports, irrigation and so on, which affected productivity generally, and particularly, industry. It also adversely affected demand for basic products like steel, cement, aluminium and so on. This hit the demand for commercial vehicles, and other sectors of the economy. The chaos in infrastructure management is reflected in the huge and growing losses in the electricity sector, while huge losses on water are hidden within government accounts. State governments have no resources for development because of this rising drain on resources.

High and varying indirect taxes across the country also affected demand growth for manufactured products. We have not harmonized, despite eight years or so of trying, the consumption tax system over India. This needs simplification and rationalization. The multiplicity of tax rates and their cascading effect are obstacles to growth. Value-added tax at the state level is an urgent need, to bring rates down, improve collection and minimize evasion.

Corporate and business culture remains largely speculative in mentality, and in most cases, is unwilling to modernize. This is another cause of industrial stagnation — the inability to innovate and create new demand. Our industrial class has been unable, unlike China, to leverage Indian talents in labour-intensive production. China has, in contrast, dominated world trade in products such as garments, toys and leather.

Our industrial class is also unable to improve its systems for reducing cost, improving quality and becoming more customer-oriented. Is there any hope that we will ever come out of this morass? It seems unlikely that we can easily rise out of it. The rot is too deep, and there is no leadership with the courage to pull us out of it — in politics, government and business. One hope is that increasing economic anarchy will itself provide the solution, as it did for many years in Italy, where a thriving black economy gave it good growth and prosperity.

What are some easier actions for revival of growth? Declining world trade may not hurt us much. [Exports in gross domestic product are only around 9 per cent against the higher numbers for China (25 per cent) and even more for east Asia]. We should use the foodgrains mountain to stimulate work on infrastructure by sending Central teams to help state governments, and advancing the money for the payment of the cash part for such work. It can also be used to win friends among the poor nations of Asia and Africa. The best officers in government should be put into emergency task forces to see that large public investment projects take off quickly.

The Centre must exert pressure on states — at least, on the large ones — to equalize tax rates, and lower them. The Centre must also reduce excise duties on products with high multiplier effects on the economy, automotive products being among them. The finance minister’s fear that the reductions will not be passed on to consumers can be met by close monitoring, with penalties for not doing so. The Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan models of infrastructure reforms, especially in electricity, should be replicated. The Centre could publicize them in detail to other states. We should remove reservations for small-scale units especially on processing of edible oils and other agricultural processing so that they become competitive and can grow.

The contours of radical changes in agricultural policies to raise productivity growth are well-known, and must be accepted and implemented — land leasing, separating minimum support from procurement prices, getting private players to move technologies from lab to land, accepting genetically modified seeds that are harmless to humans, setting up task forces to push speedy implementation of public rural investment programmes and so on. We do not have to wallow in our chaos and misery. There are things we can do. Unfortunately, they need dynamism and leadership, which the tired old men who run our economy cannot give.

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

   

 
 
GOOD FENCES MAKE BAD NEIGHBOURS 
 
 
BY TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
 
An infructuous exchange of letters, telephonic persuasions and stormy meetings at the bureaucratic level have brought them to the edge. Both sides have drawn swords on so many issues. Bihar and Jharkhand seem to be on a collision course with history now.

About a year after Bihar was bifurcated and Jharkhand was born, both states are caught in a cycle of disputes. These have made them scramble down thorny roads ending nowhere.

In September, when four Jharkhand VIPs failed to get one of the guesthouses in Delhi’s Bihar Bhawan complex allotted in the name of Jharkhand state, the relationship between the two states went into a tailspin.On their return to Ranchi, the VIPs informed the chief minister, Babulal Marandi, about the stubborn stand of the Bihar government. Marandi seethed in anger. “This is nothing but the badmashi (mischief) of Bihar,” he said.

In a day’s time, the letter of the Bihar special secretary, Girish Shankar, reached Ranchi. Quoting law, he informed the Jharkhand government that Bihar Bhawan was and would be for Bihar only. “The state reorganization act stipulates retention of immovable goods by the successor state (Bihar),” he argued. On the other hand, the Jharkhand government pleaded that in case of bifurcation in a state, there should be equitable distribution of assets between both the parts. No one was ready to budge an inch from their respective positions.

Jharkhand and Bihar dissolved the political bond but not the institutions that connected them. Out of three states, Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, carved out of big states last year, nowhere does hate run through politics so strongly as it does between Bihar and Jharkhand. Bifurcation blues trigger off societal and political fissures. But in case of the two states of eastern India, the feuding is not only endemic, it often reaches cataclysmic proportions, shaping political agenda too.

Bihar courted chaos after bifurcation, unable to pull its economy out of a steady fall. Jharkhand got off to a rather confused start towards fulfilling the aspirations of its population. Yet through the prism of hate between the two states, politicians see a possibility of legitimacy and a chance of improving their political prospects.

A year back, all the Jharkhand legislators revelled in a political ethos contemptuously referred to outside the state as “Bihari syndrome”. Today, the same legislators who have joined the Jharkhand assembly warn against “Biharization of the assembly”. The Bihar legislators, on the other hand, look upon Jharkhand as “a baby dwarfed by his drunken parents”. For the politicians of Chhotnagpur-Santhal Parganas, Laloo Prasad Yadav always epitomizes the exploitation of the region by the north. After the fodder scandal broke, in which Yadav became one of the prime accused, the slogan of the loot of the south by the north became shriller for the epicentre of the scandal was Jharkhand. Hence when the possibility of Yadav’s arrest and his detention loomed large, Jharkhand looked for a fitting penalty by treating him in jail “as an ordinary undertrial”. The wishful thoughts of revenge overtook, although temporarily, other pertinent agenda.

In Patna, the diehard anti-bifurcation camp headed by Yadav (he had reluctantly agreed to the separation) panders to a refusal to reconcile with the independent existence of Jharkhand. Yadav still dreams of a time when “the two will pull down their boundary walls”.

Hatred of mutual vices has affected the social life of the two states. Last month, when a Bihari businessman insisted in his heavily Bhojpuri-accented Hindi at a posh Ranchi club that his liquor and food bills be given separately, the tribal bar manager shot back, “You Biharis create all sorts of trouble.” The businessman was unfazed. “Don’t worry, you are fast catching up with us,” he said. In a private bus running between Gaya and Baktiyarpur, a conductor did not lose an opportunity to taunt a 45 year old tribal headman and two of his associates when they asked if the bus would go to Hazaribagh. “You Jharkhand fools, why do you venture out of your state?” he roared near Patna station.

Hostage to this psyche of mutual acrimony, the politics of the two states has failed to transcend disagreements. The conflict between the Bihar state electricity board and the Jharkhand state electricity board is just a saga of ego fights. In Jharkhand high court, the number of writ petitions soared following the swirl of disagreements, the latest being the waiving of Rs 40 crore imposed by the BSEB on Usha Belton. The ongoing power tariff dispute, the division of assets and liabilities, have created a stand- off that is likely to get worse. Besides, raging battlelines have been drawn, the disputes in this case being over the the Tenughat power plant, cadre distribution and division of Bihar council employees.They are either at the respective high courts or in referral committees of the Central government.

Bihar is a victim of its empty socialist jargon liberally used as a cover by the unscrupulous rogues. Jharkhand is vying to catch up with this administrative chaos. Political conglomerates of the National Democratic Alliance have formed fighting brigades as most cities except Ranchi and Jamshedpur are crumbling into ruins. If Bihar is trying to overshadow the supposed tribal homeland with its intimidating weight of decadent culture, Jharkhand too is no Australia early in the last century, trying to distance itself from the leviathan of Britain’s Anglo-Saxon culture. It has nothing on ground to justify sending Bihar “down the time tunnel to the cultural fringe” where it has come from.

Mr J.J. Irani, the former managing director of TISCO who headed undivided Bihar’s industry commission, called for an attitudinal change among the politicians of both states to be able to tap the industrial potential of the region. Politicians lack vision, he had said, and they failed to act as a catalyst to the growth process. According to the commission report, both Bihar and Jharkhand would be on “the crossroads of history”, if the potential of industry is not tapped. In fact, the commission admitted that both the states should play a complementary role for the sake of their mutual growth. If Jharkhand has huge mineral resources, neighbouring Bihar has abundant agriculture potential. So why don’t the politicians come together ?

A number of non-political organizations in both Bihar and Jharkhand are joining a growing crescendo of demands that the chief ministers of both states undertake goodwill visits. Why did not Marandi visit Bihar by overcoming his injured ego, asks a foreign aid activist. Instead of pouring venom, why does not the chief minister of Bihar make a goodwill visit to Jharkhand and begin a healthy dialogue, ask others in the social sector.

A people-to-people meet was initiated from Patna last month when 20 young persons undertook a padayatra in a bid to reach Jharkhand and exchange goodwill with the people. “We are brothers, separated because of compulsions,” one of them cried as they began their journey. The incident was ignored both by the local media and the politicians. It is easy to see why. The slogan of brotherhood to them is politically less catchy.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ TO LOOK BEFORE AND AFTER 
 
 
 
 
Develop maternity hospitals at sub-district levels and at community health centres to function as FRUs for complicated and life-threatening deliveries. Formulate and enforce standards for clinical services in the public, private, and NGO sectors.

Focus on distribution of non-clinical methods of contraception (condoms and oral contraceptive pills) through free supply, social marketing as well as commercial sales.

Create a national network consisting of public, private and NGO centres, identified by a common logo, for delivering reproductive and child health services free to any client. The provider will be compensated for the service provided, on the basis of a coupon, duly counter-signed by the beneficiary, and paid for by a system to be devised. The compensation will be identical to providers across all sectors. The end-user will choose the provider of the service. A group of management experts will devise checks and balances to prevent misuse.

Support community activities, from village level upwards to monitor early and adequate antenatal, natal and post-natal care. Focus attention on neo-natal health care and nutrition. Set up a National Technical Committee on neo-natal care, to align programme and project interventions with newly emerging technologies in neo-natal and peri-natal care.

Pursue compulsory registration of births in co-ordination with the ICDS Programme. After the birth of a child, provide counselling and advocacy about contraception, to encourage adoption of a reversible or a terminal method. This will also contribute to the health and wellbeing of both mother and child.

Improve capacities at health centres in basic midwifery services, essential neo-natal care, including the management of sick neo-nates outside the hospital.

Sensitize and train health personnel in the integrated management of childhood illnesses. Standard case management of diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections must be provided at sub-centres and primary health centres, with appropriate training, and equipment. Besides, training in this sector may be imparted to health care providers at village levels, especially in indigenous systems.

Strengthen critical interventions aimed at bringing about reductions in maternal malnutrition, morbidity and mortality, by ensuring availability of supplies and equipment at village levels, and at sub-centres.

Pursue rigorously the pulse polio campaign to eradicate polio. Ensure 100 per cent routine immunization for all vaccine preventable diseases, in particular tetanus and measles. As a child survival initiative, explore promotional and motivational measures for couples below the poverty line who marry after the legal age of marriage, to have the first child after the mother reaches the age of 21, and adopt a terminal method of contraception after the birth of the second child.

Children form a vulnerable group and certain sub-groups merit focused...intervention, such as street children and child labourers. Encourage voluntary groups as well as NGOs to formulate and implement special schemes for these groups of children.

Explore the feasibility of a national health insurance covering hospitalization costs for children below 5 years, whose parents have adopted the small family norm, and opted for a terminal method of contraception after the birth of the second child.

Expand the ICDS to include children between 6-9 years of age, specifically to promote and ensure 100 per cent school enrolment.... Promote primary education with the help of aanganwadi workers, and encourage retention in school till age 14. Education promotes awareness, late marriages, small family size and higher child survival rates.

Provide vocational training for girls. This will enhance perception of the utility of educating girls, and gradually raise the average age of marriage. It will also increase enrolment and retention of girls at primary school, and likely also at secondary school levels....

Strengthen, energize and make publicly accountable the cutting edge of health infrastructure at the village, sub-centre and primary health centre levels. Address on priority the different unmet needs, in particular, an increase in rural infrastructure, deployment of sanctioned and appropriately trained health personnel, and provisioning of essential equipment and drugs.

   

 
 
OBITUARY/ CHARM, BEAUTY AND LEARNING 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 

Dharma kumar (1928-2001)

Dharma Kumar died early in the morning on October 19 in New Delhi after a prolonged illness. All those who knew her before her illness will see her death as a deliverance from pain and suffering. But that will not take away from the sense of loss, for Dharma, as she was known everywhere, was an unforgettable person.

She was born to privilege but carried it invariably with a certain charm and graciousness. She was always great company, witty, gossipy without being malicious and with a fund of good humour. Her social graces, her undoubted beauty and her vivacity hid an analytical mind that was capable of going to the root of an issue with great swiftness. This made her a formidable adversary in academic debates. She gave no quarter and expected none. But after the debate was over, she was the first to sit over a drink with her opponent to discuss the cricket score.

The PhD dissertation she wrote in the University of Cambridge became a landmark book called Land and Caste in South India. In this book she took up some of the shibboleths about caste and challenged them on the basis of south Indian data. The caste system, she argued, was not as inflexible and unchanging as had been made out. It had room for accommodation. She identified a large body of landless labourers and showed that the condition of this section of the population, contrary to the assertions of nationalist historiography, had not deteriorated under the impact of colonial rule.

This last conclusion did not win her too many friends in the world of Indian historians. In the simplistic and facile divide created in the Sixties and Seventies when a queer kind of marxism dominated Indian history writing, she was seen as somebody who was not on the side of the angels. In other words, she was identified as a pro-imperialist historian, and this to eminent economic historians like Irfan Habib and Amiya Bagchi, whose contributions in their own fields were formidable, was an unforgivable sin. But Dharma was undisturbed by such ideological cannonades. She readily admitted the contributions of historians like Habib and Bagchi and differed with them on specific issues.

She edited the second volume of The Cambridge Economic History of India which has now become a standard reference work on the subject. Her choice of contributors to the volume showed that she did not allow her ideological predilections to cloud her academic judgment. Tapan Raychaudhuri, Binay Chaudhuri, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya — none of whom shared Dharma’s views on many issues — wrote major and substantive chapters in the volume.

More than her book on south India, her collection of essays and her editorship of the Cambridge History, Dharma will be remembered for her stewardship of the Indian Economic and Social History Review. The journal was begun in the early Sixties in the Delhi School of Economics when Tapan Raychaudhuri taught economic history there to focus on the two areas mentioned in the name of the journal. Dharma took over the editorship and under her, it acquired an international reputation. Virtually every scholar of Indian history of a particular generation cut his teeth by writing reviews and articles in the IESHR. The journal had a strict system of refereeing and not everything that was sent was published. This gave to the IESHR a certain standard. The journal helped Indian history writing to mature and some of the key debates of Indian economic and social history were printed on its pages.

Dharma’s success with IESHR was the direct outcome of her refusal to be tied down to any clique or to sectarianism. She published all that she thought was well-researched and well-argued; contributions had to meet the high standards of the historian’s craft. This refusal was related to the strong liberal values she upheld. She made no secret of her anti-Marxism, and of her commitment to secularism. She never hesitated to speak her mind and to state an opinion. This won her enemies and also lifelong friends and admirers.

Ashin Das Gupta, Partha Sarathi Gupta, Ravinder Kumar and now Dharma. The gods seem to be angry with India’s liberal historians. Or may be a Marxist deity — if such a thing is possible — presides somewhere above. Dharma would have loved the contradiction and is probably having a good laugh where all historians one day will come together.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Misguiding lights

Sir — “Hammer attack on Indian girl in Derby” (Oct 19) is the flipside of the clash of civilizations. The next time, it might be an attack on a Pakistani girl in Derby and the picture would be the same — angry mother, helpless father and a very scared girl. It is this picture that will continue to elude the Osama bin Ladens and George W. Bushes at war over who will have the last say. They might never understand that the clash has only made Americans and Afghans on either side of the globe afraid of each other. There are thousands of other lives involved. Sikh taxi drivers and immigrant Pakistanis in America, the minority Muslim population in a majority Hindu India, impressionable south Asian teenagers who will turn murderers for a non-existent “cause” and little girls like Radhika who will either be abused and killed for no fault of theirs. The hammer attack on the school girl is just one indication of how unsafe and unsure our lives have become. And only because some people like to get a kick out of seeing if they can change history.
Yours faithfully,
T. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Problem spot revisited

Sir — The visit of the Unites States of America’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, to India has definitely opened more avenues for talks with Pakistan regarding the Kashmir dispute. However, Powell’s reference to Kashmir as “central” to India-Pakistan relations is quite unnecessarily being given importance. The ministry of external affairs too understands the meaning of the word “central”, but since Powell has exercised no partiality with respect to Pakistan, the issue is being highlighted.

Powell’s visit will certainly strengthen India’s voice against Pakistan-sponsored militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. The treaty signed between India and the US regarding support in legal matters could be taken as a stepping stone for a mature relationship with the superpower in the future. The dispute over US involvement in Kashmir speaks volumes about the helplessness of successive governments of India. If our leaders know the US is partial towards Pakistan, why have they been trying to involve America in every fight against militancy? One should commend the efforts of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government for actually engaging in talks with Pakistan, which, unfortunately, none of our previous governments have done with so much sincerity.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — Colin Powell’s visit to south Asia has ruffled feathers on both sides of India’s border. Many cannot understand why the US while harping on its attempt to wipe out terrorism from the face of this earth is not attaching due importance to cross-border terrorism between India and Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf, ever since he assumed office, has been crying hoarse over Kashmir. It is an irony that Powell chose to echo the same sentiment on Pakistan soil and refuted the charges of doing so on Indian soil.

India has been shocked by the way Pakistan has been cosying up to the US. It has gained enormously from the lifting of US sanctions. Post-global war on terrorism, the country can hope to gain even more from both the US and the European Union. It is probably time India should pull up its socks and confront Pakistan over Kashmir rather than have mediators do the talking. India must not also forget that the US has woken up to the menace of terrorism, which has been tearing India apart for years, only after its fingers got burnt. India should fight its own battle now and with its teeth clenched.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — To overcome the problem that is Kashmir, the government of India has to act resolutely. Unfortunately, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has committed monumental errors, which have allowed militants in Kashmir to regroup and take advantage of the situation. India’s policymakers are short of the will and determination necessary to give anti-terrorism measures the right direction.

Yours faithfully,
Ashis Chowdhury, via email

His grace

Sir — The pseudo-intellectuals of the country surely cannot appreciate what the West does not. Because, if Clint Eastwood never addressed a gathering at Eton, how can Amitabh Bachchan do so at Doon? (“Kaun Banega Chief Guest”, Oct 14). One wonders why Bachchan should suddenly be regarded a “disgrace” when The Telegraph had itself invited him as a key speaker in its first debate. Was it, too, preferring “show to substance?” If so, then another important daily must have done the same thing by inviting him to conduct its prestigious awards ceremony for corporate excellence. And probably the Confederation of Indian Industry is also doing the same by inviting him to be a speaker at their summit to be held in the city in November.

This is probably not a matter of preferring show to substance, but of wanting show and substance. Bachchan is an icon of the country not only for his acting excellence. He has been the undisputed king of India’s entertainment industry for close to three decades, and yet is a walking lesson in punctuality and modesty.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Kejriwal, via email

Sir — One would like to know the reasons for which Amitabh Bachchan has been considered a disgrace. Bachchan has always been known as a thorough gentleman, with a rich intellectual and cultural background. Beyond the megastar there is a down to earth individual who has witnessed the ups and downs of life. Recently, The Telegraph had published reports on surveys carried out on teenagers (“Friendship pushes sex out of teen list”, Oct 6). Bachchan was one of the Indians whom teenagers chose as their role model.

Yours faithfully,
Nilanjana Sen, Calcutta

Collision course

Sir — Duty compels me to caution the government against the harebrained idea of having an airfield at Devanahalli, Bangalore. I am a professional jet-bomber navigator and a qualified flight controller and I have conducted air strikes against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. It was because of my experience that the government appointed me as a member of the expert committee to solve the air space problem around Hyderabad in 1973.

At the time, Begumpet, the civil airfield, was conducting flying training. So was Hakimpet, the air force base, and the Air Force Flying Academy at Dundugol was also training pilots for the Indian air force. All three air field zones were overlapping — an ideal situation for mid-air collisions. Our team presented a workable solution then.

Nearer home, we have the active Hindustan Aeronautics Limited airport, Yelahanka, the air force training wing and Jakkur, the flying club operating some light aircraft and gliders which do not even have radio communication. A problem already exists. One more airfield at Devanahalli will make matters worse.

The volume of international traffic into and out of Bangalore does not justify a separate airfield. Augmenting of existing facilities and streamlining procedures will more than suffice Third, notwithstanding the Mekhri Circle underpass and the proposed Hebbal flyover, there will be massive traffic snarls along the route to Devanahalli. We need to look beyond our nose.

Yours faithfully,
H.P. Hande, Bangalore

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
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