Editorial 1/ Public relations
Editorial 2/ Party and self
Tomorrow’s wars
When the giant awakes
Document/ A little more equal every five years
Fifth Column
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ PUBLIC RELATIONS 
 
 
 
 
The visit of the Pakistani president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, to the United States of America was entirely predictable in both its style and its substance. In his speech to the United Nations general assembly and in bilateral meetings, Mr Musharraf followed a strategy that has become familiar to Pakistanwatchers over the past few months, and particularly after September 11. The most vital part of this strategy is to put forward a posture of being reasonable and moderate. Notice the manner in which the Pakistani president emphasized the need to resume a .structured, comprehensive and integrated. India-Pakistan bilateral dialogue, and his eagerness to put into place a nuclear risk reduction regime in south Asia. Or consider his description of Pakistan as the .frontline state in the battle against terrorism.. These statements are clearly designed to ensure that the international community, and especially the US, views Islamabad as not just a vital ally against terrorism perpetuated by Osama bin Laden, but as a responsible nuclear weapon state. The second plank of the strategy is to present India as an obdurate and irresponsible state that is unwilling to sustain a dialogue with Islamabad. The purpose of the anti-India vitriol is also to draw attention to the Kashmir issue, seek international intervention, and suggest that unless disputes like the one over Kashmir are not resolved, the root cause of terrorism will not be addressed. Finally, of course, Mr Musharraf, privately more than publicly, has clearly been demanding a price, political and economic, from the US for his support to the coalition against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Much of what Mr Musharraf says these days, as is self-evident, is patently false and seems to assume that either the international community is suffering from collective amnesia or that the politics of expediency will make the US and its allies forget Pakistan’s past behaviour. Neither is true. Admittedly, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to support Mr Musharraf through its public statements and by pledging economic support. And clearly Mr Musharraf, internationally isolated even a few months ago, is being given access to the top leadership throughout the Western world because he is seen as being more preferable to any other viable alternative in Pakistan. While short-term tactical reasons are responsible for much of this warmth towards Islamabad, the situation will inevitably be transformed once there is a change of regime in Afghanistan and the terrorist outfits operating in the country are crushed. The attention will then focus on Pakistan. Not because India has been demanding that the international community address the question of cross border terrorism. But because the US, and much of the world has realized that unless conditions that generate terrorism are addressed, terrorism will continue to flourish and attacks like the one on September 11 will be repeated. Despite Islamabad’s propaganda, it is clear to most of the international community that the seeds of the network that created the havoc on Black Tuesday were produced in Pakistan. If Mr Musharraf then seeks to cooperate and fight terrorism and terrorists in his own land, he will continue to get global support. But if he shies from this fight, not even the best of public relations experts can then save him from international isolation and condemnation.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ PARTY AND SELF 
 
 
 
 
Rituals often add colour, if not necessarily substance, to the life and times of a political party.Ms Mamata Banerjee’s election as chairperson of the All India Trinamool Congress Committee could well be viewed in this light. She needed to go through the electoral motions, although the party had been identified with her own self ever since it was launched in 1997. It is not her fault if she did not have a challenger for the top party job. Nor is she to blame if the elected members at other levels are all known to be her confidants. It is unlikely that the Election Commission will see anything wrong if the expelled partyman, Mr Ajit Panja, complains to it about procedural irregularities in the elections. Actually,Mr Panja should not complain because he clearly does not consider it his party any more and was therefore holding elections to his own parallel party. It is generally known that all political parties in India . from the far right to the extreme left . are personality-oriented and derive their strengths . as well as weaknesses . from their leaders. Ms Banerjee is not the only leader who may not be able to match democracy with dissent. What goes on in the organizational elections of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the name of .democratic centralism. is mostly a stage show scripted by the ruling cabal.

Having gone through the routine, Ms Banerjee now needs to give her party the substance of an organization. The last assembly elections must have taught her that her own fiery rhetoric and a ragtag band of followers did not add up to a match for the Marxists. organizational might. Her party’s performance showed that it would have done much better if her popularity was aided by a well-groomed organization. But then the party is young and has inherited the Congress legacy of organizational chaos. What she needs is not so much a team of smalltime leaders anxious to make media headlines as a band of dedicated workers building the party foundations against all odds. Since hers is the main opposition party in West Bengal, it is important that it emerges stronger as the state’s voice of democratic dissent.

   

 
 
TOMORROW’S WARS 
 
 
BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
Over five weeks have gone by since the United States of America commenced its air strikes on Afghanistan. The political objective of the military campaign was clear enough. It was to capture or eliminate Osama bin Laden and al Qaida network and bring about the downfall of the taliban government. Military objectives were, however, less clearly defined and, as has happened so often in the past, military planners, no doubt egged on by political compulsions of quick action, capitulated in the hope that once a merciless air onslaught was unleashed, clearer military options would emerge along the way.

By now it is quite evident that the campaign in Afghanistan is not progressing as the Pentagon had hoped, the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif notwithstanding. Resistance to the taliban in the south from local chieftains and Pashtun tribesmen has been disappointing.Opportunities for use of special forces have also been few. If reports are to be believed, some of their operations have gone wrong and some precision weapons have strayed from their intended targets causing collateral damage.

And if these were not daunting enough frustrations, the month of Ramadan is fast approaching bringing with it added diplomatic, political, religious and public relations challenges, all of which will then push political leaderships to drive a vague military campaign even harder. Use of carpetbombing by B-52 strategic bombers and fuel air explosive bombs, euphemistically named Daisy Cutters, indicate that this is already happening. All in all, not the best way to be approaching a military campaign and certainly not how it must be played in sophisticated war-gaming rooms in the heart of the Pentagon.

Security commentators are already beginning to question the value of air power in this campaign. Depending on one’s orientation some claim that air power will smoke the taliban out of their foxholes while others caution that ultimately it is the ground forces that must get the taliban out of their caves. And so the philosophical battle rages much as it has done through war and peace in military headquarters and messes in every country. Rather than risk value judgments, let us look at some recent campaigns.

In the Vietnam conflict, over sixty lakh tonnes of ordnance was air dropped under conditions of virtual air superiority. Notwithstanding this massive asymmetry of air power in its favour, the US lost the conflict. But this was not a conventional war. The enemy was elusive and lived off the land. The US military was fighting for an unknown cause in a distant land. Air power is not a magic wand to enable victory under conditions of vague military aims.

The Kuwait war on the other hand commenced with the clear military aim of liberating Kuwait and forcing Iraq to withdraw. Few appreciate the complexity of planning and executing an air campaign consisting of nearly two and a half thousand sorties per day operating from different airfields thousands of kilometres apart located in different countries, aircraft carriers and interspersed with cruise missile attacks. The 38-day air campaign paved the way for the ground offensive which overran the formidable Iraqi Republican Guards in a mere 100 hours. Rarely have ground forces had such a cakewalk. Credit must go to air power.

Operation Allied Force, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization air campaign in Kosovo was a contrast. The president, Slobodan Milosevic, refused to back down in the face of threats of air attacks. The objectives set out for the subsequent air campaign were political rather than military, as the US president had already ruled out the use of ground troops. Also because of the intense media and public attention, application of air power was severely curtailed. This put air power in a highly restrictive solo performance role, one for which in spite of its great potency, it is not ideally suited. While the political objective was achieved, militarily the campaign was not a great success. The blame cannot be put on air power, but on the philosophy of using this instrument in isolation without clearly defined military aims.

At the time, The Weekend Australian concluded that .the war confirmed, once again, the rise of air power as the dominant arm of US military might. Because it allows Washington to use force with speed, precision and from distances that keep US casualties down, it is likely to remain the favoured instrument of military power in future, particularly in conflicts with less-than-vital interests at stake.. This was before September 11 when in the eyes of the US, the US homeland was impenetrable.

It is commonly said that militaries prepare to fight the battle of yesterday. If ever there was a doubt in the mind of sceptics about this maxim, it is proving to be true today in Afghanistan. The Western world was not blind to the scourge of terrorism that was rearing its head in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. It chose to ignore the fact that the taliban was fathered by the Inter-Services Intelligence of the Pakistan army, that many Pakistani military personnel were serving with the taliban and that countries like Saudi Arabia were the source of funding. And that these terrorists were finding their way as far afield as Jammu and Kashmir and Chechnya. Even as this cancer was taking root within their own backyard, they chose to believe that it was a security problem for countries far removed from their secure boundaries. By ignoring pleas made by countries like India, they unwittingly but surely encouraged the strategic minds that control these terrorist networks. Unmindful of such dangers, their own strategists and militaries continued to arm and plan for yesterday’s wars.

Today the US likes the world to believe it is fighting a campaign in Afghanistan where its vital security interests are at stake. Yet it remains reluctant to commit ground troops. It is going out of its way to woo Pakistan, the creator of the taliban and still suspected of sending supplies to taliban forces. It talks of a war of good versus evil, yet crawlingly sups with Pervez Musharraf, thus casting morality to the winds. It hopes that by using its air power and the Northern Alliance troops, it will have the best of both worlds. Victory without body bags. It hopes that such tactical moves will somehow give it strategic space to deal with terrorism later. A premise fraught with horrific consequences in the future.

Given time and patience, its awesome air power will undoubtedly succeed in dislodging the taliban and neutralizing al Qaida. But times have changed and this is not yesterday’s war. In the war against terrorism victory in one remote battle does not mean winning the war. Today air power alone can bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age with minimal US body bags. There will be rubble and smoke and civilian casualties, but out of the ashes will emerge hundreds of bin Ladens within the borders of US’s allies like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and within the Western world itself. As September 11 clearly demonstrated, their strategic planners have already conceived and trained for asymmetric warfare . the warfare of tomorrow. They will do so using cyber warfare and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in public places.

Today at least there is the taliban and bin Laden to target in Afghanistan. Tomorrow nations will not even know when they are under attack,who the attacker is or where he is located. Or where the division between internal law and order and external threat lies? These are the security challenges facing not just the Americans but civilized societies across the world.They are not futuristic but real.

National security planners and militaries should be war-gaming these scenarios and preparing to meet these challenges. In today’s international security environment, therefore, arguments of what air power and ground forces can or cannot do are academic and best left to military historians.

The author is retired air marshal of the Indian air force

   

 
 
WHEN THE GIANT AWAKES 
 
 
BY DIPAK BASU
 
 
China has entered the World Trade Organization. Although both the Western countries and Japan have saluted the prospects, there are frictions. For India the consequences can be alarming.

China can affect India in a number of ways. It can export directly to India. It can export to India via Nepal and Bangladesh. It can re-export from southeast Asian and central Asian countries. It can take away India’s share in the world market and thus affect India’s export. The illegitimate way is smuggling through Nepal and Bangladesh. In either way the Indian economy can be seriously affected through the effects on India’s balance of trade and domestic production. The potentially positive effects of China are India’s export possibilities to it and reductions of India’s cost of production due to cheaper imports of intermediate products from China. A serious analysis may reveal that the negative effects can outweigh positive impacts of China’s entry to the WTO.

China’s exports to the world grew from $14 billion in 1979 to $195 billion in 1999. In 2000-2001, China shipped $184 billion worth of goods, and imported over $140 billion. To the United States of America alone, it will ship over $70 billion worth of goods in 2001, up from just $324 million in 1978. Two out of every three toys sold in the US are made in China. China has a bottomless pool of cheap, reasonably efficient labour. The country is unbeatable in lowmargin, quick-to-market manufactures.

While China has enjoyed open market for its exports, its own markets were closed until very recently. Average tariffs in China until 1996 were 42 per cent, it came down to 22 per cent recently, but for many items, such as automobiles and agricultural products, these can be as high as 100 per cent or more even today. However, non-tariff barriers, such as absence of legal remedies, quotas, import licences, registration and certification requirements, restrictive technical and sanitary standards are still dominant. These, along with protected and subsidized public sector industries, create obstacles for any exporter in China.

China restricts the number and types of entities that are allowed to import goods into China. Foreign companies are not permitted to directly engage in trade in China.Trading rights of many agricultural products are given exclusively to Chinese state trading companies. Most companies cannot sell their products directly to Chinese consumers either. Government procurements in China are not subjected to competitive bidding. Foreign suppliers are restricted from participating in most domestically funded projects and foreign firms face discrimination in favour of Chinese firms.

China is still constrained by managed trade in some ways. The greatest constraint is in textile exports. China’s share of the world market in garments is kept at 17 per cent, thanks to quotas imposed under the multi-fibre agreement. Some 62 per cent of Chinese exports to the US and 48 per cent of exports to the European Union faced non-tariff barriers in 1993. Since then, the US has imposed new quotas on Chinese-made silk, and Europe has slapped quotas on a range of Chinese goods, including footwear, toys and kitchenware. Membership of the WTO will do away with all of these restrictions.

After entry to the WTO, China will cut its overall tariffs to an average of 17 per cent from the existing 22.1 per cent, with some lower rates for specific agricultural products. China has no transparent legal system, there are layers of regulations. These, along with the languages, customs, and special relationships of Chinese producers with the officials would create a series of insurmountable non-tariff barriers which will protect the Chinese market. At the same time, China will have the open market of the world to increase its export.

The unleashing of China’s export-oriented manufacturers is a fearsome prospect for the third world countries that have depended on low wages to give them a competitive advantage. The China challenge assumes different forms around the globe. In India, it is felt by the producers of batteries; in Taiwan, computer hardware. Manufacturers of apparel and electronic components in southeast Asia have suffered as Japan, the region’s leading foreign investor, has shifted its subcontracting to China. There are fears that China will use its membership of the WTO not to comply with its rules but to bolster and protect policies it is using to gain preeminence in the Asian and the world economy.

The source of China’s achievements are the greater China area, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and partly Korea. These countries have shifted a wide variety of labour-intensive products (shoes, toys, electrical products) into China taking advantage of China’s low wage rates and militaristic discipline for the workforce. Many products once produced and exported by Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea are now being produced and exported by China.

India is an insignificant trading partner for China. However, the rate at which the trade between China and India is growing may be significant. The total trade with China was only $2.3 billion in 2000-2001, rising from $69.5 million in 199192. India’s trade deficit with China was $640 million in 2000-2001.

The four most important items of imports from China are chemicals (33 per cent), mineral products like coal and coke (20 per cent), machinery for mining (16 per cent) and textiles (12 per cent). The four most important exports from India are mineral products, mainly aluminium oxide, iron ore and chrome ore (30 per cent), textiles, mainly cotton yarns and raw cotton (22 per cent), food items like oilcake and soyabeans (21 per cent) and chemicals mainly pharmaceuticals and organic (7 per cent).

Exports of toothpaste from Nepal to India rose by 139.5 per cent, of polyester yarn by 86.4 per cent, of medicine by 103.4 per cent, of soap by 40 per cent. Nepal is now exporting a number of new items, like textile yarn, zinc oxide, shoes, sandals, juice concentrates, plastic goods, and so on. Nepal has become a convenient export processing zone for China. It is not difficult to understand the source of these export items of Nepal, where there are only a few manufacturing industries.

In the export market, India, along with Bangladesh, is affected already in the international textile market due to competition from China. China’s quota for exports to the US and Canada market is four times higher than that of India’s. The quota for the greater China area is eight times that of India’s.

Within the WTO regime, developing countries like India have very few remedies. For the next 16 years, it is possible for developing countries to take anti-dumping action against Chinese exports if they threaten domestic industries. However, one needs to prove that the demise of the industry is due to excessive imports but not due to neglect, bad management and lack of investments. In the case of India some industries in the public sector suffer from these problems. Again, by the time the government can take action or the WTO approves the action against excessive Chinese exports, the endangered industry may disappear.

There is one instrument which can affect China very badly. If developing countries can compel the WTO to include .acceptable labour standards and human rights for workers. as part of its agenda, China will lose its comparative advantages of low cost labour force. Unfortunately, India and other developing countries have decided to oppose the inclusion of .labour standard. in the future treaty negotiations of the WTO.

The argument that India will be isolated from the rest of the world if it does not stay within the WTO is not tenable. In 1992, at the time India joined the WTO, there were 27 countries including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Norway who had not joined; nor were they isolated. India has important trade relationships with about eight or nine countries, others are not significant. Thus it is not an insurmountable problem for India to arrange bilateral trade treaties with these countries. India can manage its trade to maximize its national economic interests, rather than submitting itself to the forces of international capitalism which are not serving these.

A managed trade is always superior to a free trade system for stable economic development. Economic reforms and the resultant free trade policy in India so far have produced only apprehension. The entry of China will intensify these fears.

The author is professor of economics, Nagasaki University, Japan

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ A LITTLE MORE EQUAL EVERY FIVE YEARS 
 
 
 
 

The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women.

Within the framework of a democratic polity, our laws, development policies, plans and programmes have aimed at women’s advancement in different spheres. From the Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-78) onwards, there has been a marked shift in the approach to women’s issues from welfare to development. In recent years, the empowerment of women has been recognized as the central issue in determining the status of women.

The National Commission for Women was set up by an act of Parliament in 1990 to safeguard the rights and legal entitlements of women. The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution have provided for reservation of seats in the local bodies of Panchayats and Municipalities for women, laying a strong foundation for their participation in decision making at the local levels.

India has also ratified various international conventions and human rights instruments committing to secure equal rights of women. Key among them is the ratification of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993.

The Mexico Plan of Action (1975), the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (1985), the Beijing Declaration as well as the Platform for Action (1995) and the Outcome Document adopted by the UNGA Session on Gender Equality and Development & Peace for the 21st century, titled "Further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action" have been unreservedly endorsed by India for appropriate follow up.

The Policy also takes note of the commitments of the Ninth Five Year Plan and the other Sectoral Policies relating to empowerment of Women.

The women’s movement and a wide-spread network of non-Government Organisations which have strong grassroots presence and deep insight into women’s concerns have contributed in inspiring initiatives for the empowerment of women.

However, there still exists a wide gap between the goals enunciated in the Constitution, legislation, policies, plans, programmes, and related mechanisms on the one hand and the situational reality of the status of women in India, on the other. This has been analyzed extensively in the Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, .Towards Equality., 1974 and highlighted in the National Perspective Plan for Women,1988-2000, the Shramshakti Report, 1988 and the .Platform for Action, Five Years After:An assessment..

Gender disparity manifests itself in various forms, the most obvious being the trend of continuously declining female ratio in the population in the last few decades. Social stereotyping and violence at the domestic and societal levels are some of the other manifestations.

The underlying causes of gender inequality are related to social and economic structure, which are based on informal and formal norms, and practices.

Consequently, the access of women particularly those belonging to weaker sections including Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes/ Other backward Classes and minorities, majority of whom are in the rural areas and in the informal, unorganized sector . to education, health and productive resources, among others, is inadequate. Therefore, they remain largely marginalized, poor and socially excluded.

TO BE CONCLUDED

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN 
 
 
MOHIT SEN
 
 

Now set the priorities right

It is unfortunate that little attention has been paid so far to the effects of the global economic recession on the country. Some feel the crisis is not of much importance since India’s share in the global trade is relatively small. This is, however, a rather simplistic view of things.

Crucial sectors of our economy are dependent on imports and foreign investment. As a result of liberalization, imports of a large number of consumer goods have increased and are likely to increase further. This has adversely affected agriculturists and small-scale as well as medium scale industrialists. The situation will deteriorate as the decrease in demand in the American and other markets forces importers, especially Chinese, to penetrate Indian markets.

Global recession will have its impact not just on trade.Over the last decade, India has emerged as a leader in information technology, both in terms of software exports and in contributing scientists and engineers to the industry. However, the IT sector has recently been hit by a pall of gloom brought on by a cutback in software demand and the retrenchment of its highly skilled work force. The cumulative result of all this is the end of the .feel good. factor concerning the India’s economy. Since the Bharatiya Janata Partyled government had taken the initiative in encouraging the private sector, the fall in its morale has also contributed to the slowdown.

Key to survival

Further, the government’s emphasis on curbing the fiscal deficit has made it cut down on public investment. Yet, the latter holds the key to the revival of the economy and further growth. The economic slowdown over the past year has aggravated a crucial problem . growing unemployment.

One could also recall the image of rotting foodgrains on the one hand and starvation deaths on the other. Besides that, the National Democratic Alliance government is guilty of not implementing the employment schemes and the food for work projects that could have helped eradicate poverty and generate work at the same time.

The global recession has been further compounded by the way the United States of America is conducting its war against terrorism. While there should not be any doubts that the challenge posed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaida has to be met, India should not allow itself to be manipulated by the US. It would also be difficult to ignore the role played by the US in building these terrorist organizations to combat the threat posed by enemies like the Soviet Union and Cuba.

It is time India realized that the US will not help it combat terrorism. Nor will India’s support for the US mean that the latter will support its claims against Pakistan. Yet it would be wrong to assume that India’s first priority is to oppose the US and therefore not support the war against bin Laden.

Domestic front

It is also interesting to see that the posturings of India’s political parties with respect to the war on terrorism has become entangled with the electoral politics of Uttar Pradesh. The BJP has tried to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments by hinting that most dangerous terrorists in the world are Muslims and that a majority of Muslims in India support terrorism. Therefore, UP would be better off with a BJP-led government which would protect the state from terrorists.

The Samajwadi Party and its allies, namely the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, have come to the conclusion that cooperating with the US would further alienate Muslim voters. Moreover, it would be wrong to condemn bin Laden for being a Muslim just as it would be wrong of Muslims to support him on the same grounds.

It is quite obvious that the BJP intends to bring about communal polarization in UP.While the communal and caste question cannot be avoided, it would be wrong to focus solely on these issues in UP, Uttaranchal and Punjab. The people of these states are more concerned about questions of governance and development than about temples, mosques and reservations.

The Congress, on the other hand, is all set to stage a significant recovery in UP, Uttaranchal, and Punjab. It should advance its programme for the progress of these states as soon as possible. But the war on terrorism on domestic politics should not make us ignore more pertinent economic issues.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Slam it with flowers

Sir . If the prince of Wales were an Indian, he would surely have been pleased to have a pretty Latvian lady hurl a blood-red carnation at him (Photograph on Page 1, Nov 9). One wonders why in the West such lovely and delicious things as carnations and pies are thrown by the public at people who top their hate-list. In India, politicians have to combat slogans and abuse, and that too, only if they can escape being roughed up by the angry mob and landing up in the hospital. It is strange how the symbols of protest and affection seem to be interchangeable in the political culture of the West, perhaps because of the considerable degree of detachment of the people from the difficult business of statecraft. A similar distancing would be impossible in India because its democracy implies the involvement of the maximum number of people in the running of the state. Till this distance can be created, and some affluence . enough to afford carnations . injected into the economy, Charles will remain the Indian politician’s subject of envy.
Yours faithfully,
Suman Kumar, Kharagpur

Medics’misrule

Sir . Anyone living in West Bengal is aware that the government healthcare system in the state has completely broken down in the last 25 years of Marxist misrule. This is most surprising since in countries previously under communist rule, and even in present day Cuba, ordinary citizens enjoy excellent modern healthcare facilities.West Bengal’s Marxist rulers don.t seem to have learnt anything from their counterparts around the world.

Once admired as some of the best government hospitals in the country, the state’s hospitals are now in a shambles. They certainly live up to the motto of health for everyone, with dogs, cats, pigs and rodents finding safe haven within their precincts. What can be said about a state where superintendents of government hospitals are beaten up by hoodlums backed by political parties?

Taking advantage of the decline of government hospitals, a number of private nursing homes have mushroomed. Many of them get away with providing sub-standard healthcare while charging astronomical fees.

It is easy for the state ministers to turn a blind eye to the rapidly declining healthcare system, because they either receive treatment in other cities in the country, or abroad.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir . Some months back, I visited the Burdwan Medical College to look up an ailing relation. I was shocked to find that several teachers from the departments of surgery, orthopaedics, medicine, cardiology, radiology, gynaecology and so on have a flourishing open private practice in the area adjoining the medical college. This in spite of their being members of the Medical Education Service,which prohibits them from private practice. In fact, I also discovered that their prescriptions were being tagged with the patient’s ticket at the time of admission.

It was even more shocking to find that the violators of the rules were secure in the knowledge that the .association. of which they are members enjoys the support of the ruling Left Front government. Although the new health minister of West Bengal, Surya Kanta Mishra, has declared a uniform transfer policy for government doctors, in the Burdwan Medical College, a few doctors have been practising for more than a decade now. After such revelations,my relation was lucky to have an uneventful recovery at the hospital.

Yours faithfully,
Ira Chatterjee, Mumbai

Sir . Both the chief minister of West Bengal and the health minister, Surya Kanta Mishra, have talked about taking steps towards a private-public partnership in the health services and education sectors of the state.We have witnessed a systematic decline in the quality of medical education provided in the state-funded medical colleges. This is consonant with the overall decline of higher education in the state. The calibre of the students in the state and their commitment to higher education have not changed, but the educational environment has.

The whimsical transfer of teachers and the ad hoc appointments in the various medical faculties have been much debated. It is certainly encouraging to find that the new administration is trying to address the shortcomings of its earlier policies.A transition from the state-controlled appointment of party faithfuls to merit-based appointment would be the first step in restoring credibility. There is a wealth of talent among self-exiled professionals who are eager to return to their state, provided the infrastructure is conducive. The state government should try to tap these resources.

Yours faithfully,
Indranil Chakravorty, Calcutta

Sir . Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has identified medical facilities for the common people as one of the key areas for action on the part of his government, and rightly so. Since Bhattacharjee is an elected member of the legislative assembly from Jadavpur, he would do well to note that the residents of Jadavpur are often required to go to the M.R. Bangur hospital for treatment. But the K.S. Roy TB Hospital in Jadavpur is struggling for survival. It might be a good idea to utilize it first as an outdoor unit for general patients and thereafter upgrade it as a general hospital. Given the number of tuberculosis patients coming here for treatment, one feels that this establishment is not being fully utilized.

Yours faithfully,
K.B. Gupta, via email

Sir . The recent orders of the state government to discontinue the payment of Employees. State Insurance allowance to doctors from September 2001 have come as a surprise to many. This allowance was committed to be paid in the appointment letters issued to the doctors manning the ESI hospitals and service dispensaries along with the usual pay and allowances admissible under state government rules. In fact, this allowance has been paid for the past several years and its discontinuance without convincing reason has rightly caused dismay.

This also goes against the rulings of the various courts allowing the continuation of the existing benefits to employees. The orders issued may be applied to new appointees, but certainly not to the existing employees. The health and finance ministries should arrange for the restoration of the allowance to the doctors as early as possible.

Yours faithfully,
Sohag Sen, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir . Much has been said recently about promoting the Durga Puja festival as a tourist attraction for visitors to West Bengal. There is much in our state that might attract visitors; the problem, as one recent contributor to the .Letters to the editor. columns (.Price of the festival., November 6) has indicated, is whether we have a tourist department. I visited the West Bengal Tourism Development offices in BBD Bag recently, and was greeted with shut-down computers in the middle of a working day, refusal to impart any information, and a sullen unwillingness even to ask me to sit down. I was told with some complacency that there was no printed material relating to any place of interest, and moreover, that tourist lodges in places like Mukutmanipur were uninhabitable. I doubt whether the state’s undeniable natural and cultural wealth can attract visitors in this climate of apathy.
Yours faithfully,
Supriya Chaudhuri, Calcutta

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