Editorial 1/ Wide Ball
Editorial 2/ Voices within
The ravages of peace
Fifth Column/ The Trade winds may bring bad news
Taking it apart, brick by brick
Document/ Bring them to centre stage
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ WIDE BALL 
 
 
 
 
For those who had clung to the delusion that cricket was a gentlemanís pastime will, after develop ments in South Africa, be forced to descend from their cloud cuckoo land. A most unseemly, and an entire ly avoidable, controversy now surrounds the game with charges of discrimination being levelled at Mr Mike Den ness, the match referee for the IndiaSouth Africa series. The Indian team and the Board of Control for Cricket in India have demanded that Mr Denness be removed from his position and a replacement sent by the International Cricket Council to officiate in the third and final test match.There are a number of issues which are entangled in the highly charged affair. On the top of the list, is the verdict against the Indian star, Sachin Tendulkar. Emo tion and patriotism should not stop one from accepting that by the rules of the game he has done something wrong. He did clean the seam of the ball without the per mission of the umpires. This is a breach of the existing rules but is not tantamount to ball tampering. Since the ball was not damaged and since neither the umpires nor the batting side complained about the state of the ball, the punishment meted out to Tendulkar can only be de scribed as over the top. A stern word of warning would have been enough to alert a player whose past conduct on the field has been impeccable.

Four others have been punished because of excessive and intimidatory appealing, and the captain, Sourav Ganguly, has been given a one test match and two one day international matches ban for failing to control his team. Even if one accepts for the sake of argument that the players were indeed guilty as charged, the punishment meted out hardly merits the offence. Excessive appealing is a feature of modern cricket and there are no guidelines for the players, the umpires and the match referee re garding what constitutes excessive appealing. The judg ment is thus entirely subjective. Given this, it is reason able to expect that the match referee will be consistent in his definition of excessive. It is clear from available tele vision footage that the South African captain, Shaun Pol lock, has been as vociferous in his appealing as some of the Indian players. Yet, Mr Denness chose to ignore Pol lockís behaviour and lay himself open to charges of dis crimination. Moreover, most of the Indian players who have been singled out are youngsters . in fact two out of the four are on their first tour . and it would have been fair on Mr Dennessís part to have cautioned them and the team management. Like a typical sixth form head pre fect, he chose to cane youngsters when a firm rap on the knuckles would have sufficed.

The cause cťlŤbre from Port Elizabeth should be a wake up call for those who run the game from the Long Room at Lordís. There is far too much ambiguity in the rules. There should be a clear guideline about what of fence merits what punishment. The subjective element should be ruled out as far as possible. Match referees should be urged to be consistent and if necessary trained for the purpose. Most importantly, a stringent regime of warnings to precede punishment should be spelt out. This might be reminiscent of the yellow card in football. But cricket is no more or no less a game than soccer.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ VOICES WITHIN 
 
 
 
 
Personal law in all religions makes women the vic tims of injustice. Any reform in this sphere be comes particularly complicated if the religion is practised by a minority community. It is, therefore, a promising development when the need for reforms is voiced from within the community. The recent Supreme Court verdict in favour of maintenance being provided to divorced Muslim women beyond the threemonth iddat period has found resonances within such defenders of the shariat as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. This is, of course, not the first time the need for adapting Islam to changing times is being voiced. There exists a long tradition of reformist expression on the issues of verbal talaq and divorced womenís maintenance within the community, particularly among women. Public hear ings of Muslim women conducted all over the country by the national commission for women have also repeatedly proved this sort of critical awareness. But any concrete legal and social change concerning these issues remains slow and hindered by conflicts between the judiciary and the traditional keepers of the shariat. The Supreme Court and several high courts have repeatedly attempted to place civil law above personal law. Last year, the Cal cutta high court had ruled, on a revision petition filed by a woman deserted by her husband, that Muslim women are eligible for maintenance till they remarry.

Rulings by the judiciary and changes in the law are im portant landmarks in social progress. But the political manipulation of the relationship between minority sen timents and majoritarian interventions has always com plicated the cause of equality and uniformity within mi nority communities in India, in spite of articulate dis sent from Muslim and Christian women on the issues of marriage, divorce, maintenance and inheritance. In the specific case of maintenance, the reversal of the Shah Bano judgment by the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, endorsed the setting apart of Muslim women from the Criminal Procedure Code, forc ing them to look towards their family or the wakf boards for maintenance after divorce. The All India Muslim Per sonal Law Board is respectful of the divine nature of the shariat. But in reopening debate on maintenance it is not only initiating a less complex relationship with the judi ciary and with civil society, but also looking at the issue of gendered injustice all over again.

   

 
 
THE RAVAGES OF PEACE 
 
 
SHAM LAL
 
 
The rush of events in Afghanistan has made many in the West fear that winning the war there can as well mean losing the peace. The relentless bombing of the taliban oppos ing the Northern Alliance broke their spirit and made them abandon one city after another without a fight. It will not be long before their only remaining base in the north, Kunduz, will have to sur render to the enemy, surrounded as it is on all sides by Northern Alliance forces. The 20,000 strong taliban militia are keen on seeking a safe passage back home for the large number of their Arab and Pakistani comradesinarms. Is it not rather craven for wouldbe martyrs, each with a ticket to paradise, to ask for being treated as tourists?

When the Americans began pound ing the taliban positions barring ad vance along the road to Kabul, they did not expect the jihadi force to melt away so soon. Indeed, no sooner did George Bush tell Pervez Musharraf that the Tajik and Uzbek soldiers would be kept outside Kabul than he had to reconcile himself to their overweening presence in the Afghan capital. Tony Blair had to suffer a similar snub when the thousand troops he sent to maintain law and order in the city were told by Rabbaniís men: .This is our job. If you do not want to pack up and go, the best you can do is make sure that food and other aid reach es the right persons..

In Kabul itself the changeover was a smooth affair. The scare of a bloody car nage the Pakistanis had raised turned out to be a figment of their overheated imagination. Radio music was back on the air after six years. Even the grubby television studios got back to work and put together a threehour programme, with a young womananchor back in ac tion.There was a mad rush for tickets for the film screened by the first cinema house to resume its business. Some of the girls. schools were opened without delay and even unveiled womenís faces could be seen on the streets of Kabul after the killjoy taliban stealthily left the city early one morning. The general feel ing was one of relief at having been rid of a most oppressive regime.

All this does not mean that life in Afghanistan will soon return to what it was before the country was pushed into the maelstrom of the Cold War in the late Seventies. It will take a long time to undo the ravages of twenty years of war and civil conflict, dispel the new interethnic fears and hatreds and end the evil legacy of the taliban regime. Even after they have relinquished power everywhere, the danger of a prolonged guerilla war will continue to haunt the country.

Ironically, the very speed with which the Northern Alliance has been able to take over twothirds of Afghanistan in a matter of days, has sharpened the ethnic and other divi sions between its constituents.Even as it is, the occupied territory has been par celled out for the present between local warlords. Though in theory they are all committed to a broadbased government in Kabul, it is doubtful whether they will agree to the kind of give and take which a functional ruling coalition demands. It is a question not merely of an amicable sharing of the spoils of office but also of arriving at a consensus on the ambit of autonomy for different ethnic regions and on the priorities of reconstruction work and renewal of civil society.

Just now, there is an all too open con flict of interests not only between the prospective partners in the ruling coali tion in the making but also between members of the United States of Ameri caled war alliance. The Russians and India want a dominating role for the Northern Alliance. The Pakistanis are plumping for moderate taliban though such creatures are hard to find. The US wants Zahir Shah to play a crucial, though symbolic, unifying role. But his dotage, absence from the country for three decades and isolation from the new forces at work make this a dubious proposition.

Large bribes to governors and some military leaders played no small part in the talibanís seizure of power. Even today, greenbacks are being used liberal ly in securing defections from the tal iban. But including such purchasable men under the guise of moderates is not going to make credible whatever ruling coalition is put together.

The Bush administration does not need any reminder that its victory in Afghanistan itself can turn into a defeat if thousands of taliban and al Qaida ter rorists manage to cross into Pakistan and then spread to neighbouring and other countries which have had to con tend with active militancies for long years. Indeed US official spokesmen are themselves painfully aware of such an eventuality. This is why they are stoutly against Northern Alliance commanders negotiating surrender with hard pressed taliban and al Qaida cadre, ex cept on the condition of treating them as prisoners of war and punishing those guilty of terrorist crimes.

The Tajik and Uzbek generals have their own problems. They are averse to streettostreet combat in Kunduz which can mean a large number of civilian ca sualties. Whatever the outcome of the surrender talks, one can only hope against hope, that the calamity of their safe passage back home and consequent destabilization of neighbouring coun tries would be averted.

A large part of the responsibility for letting things get out of control lies squarely with US policyplanners. The panic with which they reacted to the hor ror of September 11 by talking of .the first war of the 21st century., the way they got fixated on getting hold of Osama bin Laden, the cynical manner in which they accepted as a frontline ally the very country which created the taliban and worked in collusion with al Qaida, be tray serious flaws in their thinking. Their initial reluctance to come unre servedly to the aid of the Northern Al liance because of Pakistani pressure and the delay in their decision to ban ter rorist outfits having close links with the taliban, without any followup action to capture their leaders, have also high lighted their failure to go thoroughly into all the ramifications of their pres ent strategy.

There is, indeed, something weird about the composition of the war coalition, with crusaders for a world rid of the menace of terrorism, creators of the taliban and sponsors of a host of terrorist groups in league with al Qaida, countries which generously fund ed bin Ladenís organization, and West ern countries playing hosts for years to terrorist leaders from the third world out to dismember their societies all sup posedly working in tandem.

Yet, it must be said for some US poli cymakers that they at least realize the kind of mess they have got into. In India some government spokesmen are still busy selling the story that the defeat of the taliban will, by itself, result in a re duction of the incidence and intensity of crossborder terrorism in Kashmir. How can they be sure that many al Qaida and Taliban militants will not move into the Pakistanoccupied part of Kashmir and join the more extreme terrorist outfits there? Perhaps the results of their crimes can be written off as part of col lateral damage, and even if there is some compensation, it will be pretty meagre since the poorer a country the smaller the price tag carried by the victim of a terrorist crime.

In any case, the end of the war in Afghanistan, if and when it comes, will not dispel the spectre of internation al terrorism which haunts the world. The terrorist organizations which oper ate in Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Chech nya and have a much larger popular base than al Qaida, are no less victims of the martyrdom complex than bin Ladenís setup. How do the US and its allies pro pose to deal with these outfits?

Even the option of bombing Iraq is not as free of risk today as it was until recently. Any such action will only further weaken the position of Americaís client states in west Asia, al ready unpopular with their people. As for bin Laden, if a bomb kills him or a US commando shoots him dead, the West will have to reckon with his ghost. In death he may indeed become, in the eyes of people in large parts of the Islamic world, the chief martyr to the cause of ridding Islam of every vestige of West ern contamination, except for those technologies which can be used to keep the Western world itself in a state of fright.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ THE TRADE WINDS MAY BRING BAD NEWS 
 
 
DEVINDER SHARMA
 
 
The manner in which the .quad. countries . the Unit ed States of America, the Eu ropean Union, Canada and Japan . forced their way to advantageous positions on virtually every issue at the recently concluded fourth World Trade Organization ministe rial meet at Doha shows that the world is certainly up for sale. Dohaís greatest tragedy was that the worldís richest economies, which swear in the name of democ racy, used undemocratic means to force a .consensus. down the throat of developing countries. The autocratic process of takeover of the global economy put at risk mil lions of people who have little basic rights and opportunities.

Such was the urgency to bypass the WTO rules that developed coun tries did not even stop to consider them, let alone agree to their imple mentation before the next round of talks was launched. Pushing ag gressively on new issues regarding investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade facilitation, they redefined the agenda, even if in a limited way, to ensure that the economic takeover of the developing world is complete in the future. The eco nomic recolonization through the WTO ensures that the sun never sets on multinational companies.

Small gains

Since the Uruguay round, develop ing countries have become accus tomed to the armtwisting and high handedness that comes in the name of trade and investment. But what surprised the world this time was the defiant stand taken by India. Convinced that WTO is a .neces sary evil., Murasoli Maran, Indiaís commerce minister and represen tative at the meet, refused to submit to the unjust demands and pres sures, although he had to relent fi nally under political pressure.

Even for the other developing countries which could muster enough courage to stand up to un democratic pressures, it was diffi cult to hold on to the final whistle. Among these were Egypt, Malaysia, Tanzania and Pakistan. From textiles to antidumping, everything that has been negotiat ed at the successive WTO meetings has been to the advantage of the rich trading countries.

Much is being made about the concessions wrested by developing countries on agriculture and medi cines for public health. But what has been incorporated in the final text is a mere reiteration of what was spelt out in the agreement on agriculture. In reality, agricultural subsidies in the .quad. countries are on the upswing. The richest trading block, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Devel opment, provides a phenomenal support of one billion dollars a day for agriculture. The US, under its new farm bill pending before its congress, has already promised its farmers an additional $ 170 billion in the next 10 years.

Tripping over

Developing countries, and also the civil society groups espousing the cause of the farming communities in the South, are refusing to read the writing on the wall. The mere mention of .food security. is no safeguard against heavily subsi dized food imports, given that de veloping countries have opened up their trade barriers by lifting the quantitative restrictions. Unless the removal of QRs is linked to the removal of agricultural subsidies in the West, food security in devel oping countries cannot be ensured.

Equally damaging is the decla ration on trade related intellectual property rights and public health. To think that the decision to allow the production of cheaper generic drugs to meet any health crisis is historic is to ignore the ground re alities. Once the patent laws are amended to conform to the TRIPs agreement, Indian companies will be forbidden from producing any cheaper version of generic drugs.

Yet international trade is sup posed to play a major role in the promotion of economic develop ment.We are told that the WTO rec ognizes the need for people to bene fit from the opportunities and wel fare gains that the multilateral trading system generates. What it does not tell us is that global trade is being aggressively pursued by the rich industrialized nations to garner more benefits from the poor and marginalized societies. The new trade paradigm will increase the economic divide between the North and the South. It will not only usurp democratic traditions in the name of trade and sustain able development, but also lead to the denial of human rights and economic and political freedom.

   

 
 
TAKING IT APART, BRICK BY BRICK 
 
 
SUDHIR KUMAR MISHRA
 
 
The .temples of modern India., the gateway to prosperity, if one can borrow Jawaharlal Nehruís words, are about to be demol ished by his own countrymen. Following the Union cabinetís inability to come up with a viable plan for the revival of the Food Corporation of India run fertilizer plant at Sindri, the board for industrial and financial reconstruction has .recom mended. its closure.

Although .food for all. continues to re main at the top of the government agenda, the Union cabinet, since April 1997, has not been able to decide on the fate of the plant in Sindri. This fertilizer plant not only happens to be among the first facto ries set up by the government after inde pendence, it also played a crucial role in bringing about many revolutionary changes in agriculture. The foundation of this plant was laid in November 1944 at the recommendation of a highpowered com mittee formed to formulate the food policy of the country. The committee had suggested the installation of a fertilizer plant that could produce 350,000 tonnes of ammonium sulphate every year. Accord ingly, the Sindri fertilizer project came to be.

In February 1947, the Chemical Con struction Corporation, based in the Unit ed States of America, was engaged for the design, construction and production con sultancy of the proposed Sindri plant. Ex perts from at least two more countries were also involved in the project.Commer cial production, however, could not begin before October 31, 1951. The Sindri Chemi cals and Fertilisers Limited was the first public sector undertaking in independent India.

On March 2, 1952, the then prime minis ter, Jawaharlal Nehru, officially inaugu rated it. It was in this inaugural address that Nehru talked about the temples of modern India. Enthused by Nehruís touching words, production made a jump start in Sindri. In 1954, a coke oven plant was set up. In 1959, plants producing lean gas, double salt, ammonia, urea and nitric acid were installed.

The fertilizer plant in Sindri turned out to be a temple of modern India in every sense of the term. During the Fifties and early Sixties, every impor tant foreign dignitary visiting the country was brought to Sindri. The town still re members how its roads were flooded with different types of vehicles when the prime minister of the former Soviet Union, Nikolay Bulganin, accompanied by the So viet communist party general secretary, had visited Sindri in 1956. The Chinese premiere, Zhou en Lai, came here twice. His last visit was in 1960, when he was greeted with the slogan, .HindiChini bhai bhai..

Marshal Tito from Yugoslavia, Egyptís president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, King Naresh of Nepal, and veteran freedom fighter Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan are among other prominent dignitaries who visited Sindri. At that time, Dhanbad had no good hotels, there were no superfast trains to link the coal capital with New Delhi or other metropolitan cities like Cal cutta. Most of these personalities reached Sindri by road and were put up at the com panyís guest house.

Sindri, in due course, also became an important centre for academics. The Bihar Hindi Sahitya Sammelan organized its first conference here in 1952. Biharís first chief minister, Srikrishna Singh, had presided over one of these functions. Im pressed by his surroundings, Singh imme diately decided to set up an engineering college here. And BIT Sindri soon became a centre for academic excellence.

The state government also set up a superphosphate manufacturing fertilizer plant here. To make farmers aware about the use of fertilizers, an agriculture de partment was formed by the managers of the fertilizer giant. This department later came to be known as the planning and de velopment wing of the company and played a crucial role in the setting up of different fertilizer plants in the country. It also received contracts for production from different countries.

Till 1975, the plant in Sindri produced 70 lakh tonnes of fertilizer and earned a net profit of Rs 16 crore. Despite that, ex perts felt that the modernization of plants had become necessary. Modernization programmes began in Sindri in March 1975 and in 1976, the old plants were shut down. Oil based plants in Sindri produc ing 900 tonnes of ammonia and 1,000 tonnes of urea became functional eventu ally. Only these plants are still function ing. But government apathy towards these plants can be gauged from the fact that Sindri has so far managed to get only a meagre aid of Rs 183 crore from the World Bank for renovation programmes.

In April 1978, five companies run by the FCI was divided and it was only in October that production again started in the Sindri plant following its rationalization and modernization. In April 1988, the Sindri rationalization project was writtenoff and in April 1992, the plants under FCI was referred to the BIFR in accordance with the new economic policy formulated by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government. In November 1992, BIFR declared FCI Sindri a sick unit and in March 1994, the BIFR ap pointed ICICI as the operating agency for the revival of this ailing industry.

In 1994, 15 topranking politicians al leged that a scandal worth Rs 2,300 crore involving the Sindri plant was being cov ered up. The issue prominently figured in Parliament and Rao ordered his minister for fertilizer to have the matter thoroughly examined. Consequently, Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav came to Sindri and after an inquiry announced that the charges were baseless. This again stirred up a hornetís nest and the opposition demanded a probe either by a joint parliamentary committee or the Central Bureau of Investigation. The Rao government did not agree to this. Incidentally, the opposition has not cared to have the matter probed now that they are in the government.

In January 1995, ICICI submitted its re port on the revival plan. In April 1995, the government approved of the proj ect. In January 1996, the recommendation was referred to the committee of secre taries. Eventually, in October 1997 the cab inet met to decide on the fate of the plants run by the FCI.However, no decision could be taken at this meeting because represen tatives from Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh wanted the other FCI plants at Talcher, Ramakundam and Gorakhpur to be bailed out along with that in Sindri. Since that was impossible, the meet ended in a farce.

In the meantime, the Peopleís Union for Civil Liberties also alleged that there were gross financial irregularities in FCI Sin dri. Three first investigation reports were lodged. Though the police initially main tained that the charges levelled by the PUCL were frivolous, the court observed that there was enough evidence to believe that funds were swindled in the purchase of spare parts and coking coal. One of these cases is now being probed by the CBI and the other two by the Dhanbad police. In 1994, the Central Industrial Security Force accused Bharat Coking Coal Limit ed of adulterated supply of coking coal to the plant. It also held that there were gross irregularities in the supply of spare parts. About 90 employees, including top offi cials of the BCCL and FCI Sindri were ac cused in this case. Consequently, the then director general of police ordered the Dhanbad police to pay special attention to the case and the police has already submit ted chargesheets against accused persons.

The BIFR deadline for the revival of the Sindri plant expired by the first week of this month. Since the Union cabinet has not been able to come out with a firm decision on the count, the fate of over 6,500 employees still hangs in balance. Should the temples of modern India be doomed because politicians find no time to rise above petty politicking and some more people serving these temples cannot overcome their greed?

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ BRING THEM TO CENTRE STAGE 
 
 
 
 
Programmes will be strengthened to bring about a greater involve ment of women in science and technology. These will include measures to motivate girls to take up science and technology for higher education and also ensure that development proj ects with scientific and techni cal inputs involve women fully. Efforts to develop a scientific temper and awareness will also be stepped up. Special measures would be taken for their training in areas where they have special skills like communication and informa tion technology...

In recognition of the diver sity of womenís situations and in acknowledgement of the needs of specially disadvan taged groups, measures...will be undertaken to provide them with special assistance. These groups include women in ex treme poverty...,women in con flict situations, women affect ed by natural calamities, women in less developed re gions, disabled widows, elderly women, single women in diffi cult circumstances, women heading households, those dis placed from employment, mi grants, women...victims of marital violence, deserted women and prostitutes etc.

All forms of violence against women, physical and mental, whether at domestic or societal levels,... shall be dealt with effectively ...Institutions and mecha nisms/schemes for assistance will be created and strength ened for prevention of such vi olence, including sexual ha rassment at work place and customs like dowry... A special emphasis will also be laid on ... measures to deal with traffick ing in women and girls.

All forms of discrimination against the girl child and viola tion of her rights shall be elim inated by undertaking strong measures both preventive and punitive within and outside the family. These would relate specifically to strict enforce ment of laws against prenatal sex selection and the practices of female foeticide, female in fanticide, child marriage, child abuse and child prostitu tion etc... There will be special emphasis on the needs of the girl child and earmarking of substantial investments in areas related to food and nutri tion, health and education,and vocational education...

The media will be used to portray images consistent with the human dignity of girls and women. The policy will specifically strive to re move demeaning, degrading and negative conventional stereotypical images of women and violence against women. Private sector part ners and media networks will be involved at all levels to en sure equal access for women ...

All Central and state min istries will draw up time bound action plans for trans lating the policy into a set of concrete action through a...process of consultation with Centre/state depart ments of women and child de velopment and national/state commissions for women. The plans will specifically include the following: measurable goals to be achieved by 2010; identification and commit ment of resources; responsi bilities for the implementation of action points; structures and mechanisms to ensure effi cient monitoring, review and gender impact assessment of action points and policies; introduction of a gender per spective in the budgeting process.

In order to support better planning and programme for mulation and adequate alloca tion of resources, gender de velopment indices will be de veloped by networking with specialized agencies... Gender auditing and development of evaluation mechanisms will also be undertaken along side.

Collection of gender disag gregated data... will be under taken...All ministries/corpo rations/banks and financial institutions etc. will be advised to collect, collate, disseminate and maintain/publish data re lated to programmes and bene fits on a gender disaggregated basis. This will help in mean ingful planning and evaluation of policies.

TO BE CONCLUDED

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Seamless defence

Sir . It was disappointing to see the media whip up public senti ments by defending the actions of the six Indian players who were penalized by the match referee, Mike Denness (.Bouncer burst strikes Denness dumb., Nov 21).A careful analysis of the television footage of Sachin Tendulkarís action will reveal that he did rub his fingers along the seam, an action which could be interpreted as ball tampering. He was also guilty of not asking for the umpireís permission before doing so. It could be pointed out that neither the media, nor the team management nor, for that matter, the Board of Control for Cricket in India would have reacted so strongly had the accused been anyone other than Tendulkar. That Tendulkar is an extraordinary player and has had a relatively clean record as a cricketer are facts that are well known to his critics and cricketlovers.However,he is also fallible, both as a player and as a human being, and should be judged by standards which are ap plicable to everyone else.
Yours faithfully,
Sneha Roy, via email

Film nonsense

Sir . A great deal has been written on the banning of the Russian film,Taurus. While the editorial, .The CM and the commissars. (Nov 17), warned the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, of the dangers of allow ing the aparatchiki of Alimuddin Street to interfere with his authority as chief minister, Rudrangshu Mukherjee in his article, .Come all ye faithful. (Nov 17), analysed the issue from a historical perspective.

Given that India is a democracy, Jyoti Basu has the right to air his views on films or any other subject of his choice. The problem, however, lies not in the air ing of views but in what this leads up to. The screening of Taurus was stopped. This should be condemned on all counts. The banning of Taurus could well be compared to the unrestrained hooligan ism displayed by the Hindutva brigade in their protests against Deepa Mehtaís Water, or the banning of Salman Rushdieís book, Satanic Verses, and in deed with the burning of books in Nazi Germany and Maoist China.

While individuals must have the free dom to express their opinions, the state must stand aloof from such gestures and take action, if only to prevent the so called luminaries from imposing their will on a largely inert mass of moderates. Idolatry seems to be alive and well, the difference lies in the choice of an idol.We are yet to see in print or in any other medium an honest biography of our great cultural icon, Rabindranath Tagore. Once that happens,we could ex press some progress.

Yours faithfully,
Partho Datta, via email

Sir . It was shocking to read the news report, .Party veil on Lenin movie. (Nov 16). That a film should be banned on the grounds that it portrays Lenin in a less than complimentary light says a great deal about the sensibilities of Marxist politicians in West Bengal. What is even more ironic is the fact that the chief min ister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhat tacharjee, had not only watched the film, but had also found nothing objectionable in it.

The banning of Taurus has deprived the filmlovers of the city from seeing and judging for themselves the merit of the film. This in a way is a violation of their fundamental rights. It also violates the artistic freedom of the Russian direc tor, Alexander Sokurov. It hardly matters whether or not the film has denigrated the memory of Lenin.

Yours faithfully,
Sohini Mitra, Calcutta

Sir . By banning the Russian film, Taurus, the Marxists of West Bengal have proved that they are in no way dif ferent from their sangh parivar counter parts. Both are guilty of cultural chau vinism and a mindset that makes them believe that they have the right to control public opinion. Moreover, it is the prerog ative of a filmmaker to make a film on a subject of his choice. Even if Taurus had criticized Lenin, the film did not deserve to be banned.

It is also disappointing to see the con trol exerted by the former chief minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, on Bud dhadeb Bhattacharjee. That Basu and other stalwarts in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) did not see the film before condemning it is even more shocking.

Yours faithfully,
Anuradha Sen, via email

Nail on the reforms head

Sir . Ashok Mitra has hit the nail right on the head by saying that Indiaís policy of aping the decisions of the Unit ed States of America will not rejuvenate its economy. Every time the Federal Re serve lowers the bank rates, the Reserve Bank of India follows suit (.Dead theo ries die hard., Nov 9). It is quite obvious that Indian policymakers do not realize that the economic problems faced by India are unique to it. Given the current economic climate of our country, entre preneurs are not interested in investing.

Even though the Indian prime minis ter had promised that the Centre would create about one crore jobs every year, not much has actually happened. The vol untary retirement schemes have only succeeded in retiring efficient personnel from staterun organizations. There has been no investment in important sectors like infrastructure and public health. Be cause of the lack of planning and fore sight, even those organizations that have received foreign aid have not really bene fited from it.

Yours faithfully,
Prosenjit Choudhuri, Burdwan

Sir . Ashok Mitraís article is a forceful defence of the rights of the Indian poor. Frequent reductions in bank rates will not improve the economy.A reduction in bank rates is almost invariably followed by a reduction in interest rates,which causes a great deal of hardship to the poor and to retired persons and nonpen sioners. Car loans given by banks are not of much use to the poor,who need higher interest rates generating more income.

Mitra is right in saying that the gov ernment should concentrate on the de mand, rather than the supply, side of the economy. There can be no justification in flooding the markets with products that would cater to the needs of only a few. Yet that is exactly what the government has done over the past few years. It should have concentrated its efforts on introduc ing reforms in key sectors like agricul ture, education and infrastructure.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir . I have recently noticed that medi cine retail shops have introduced a new pricing system. Some chemists charge five to eight per cent above the printed price of the medicines as sales tax. Yet, they refuse to write this in the cash memo. Upon being asked to do so by a customer, most shopkeepers show their displeasure and even turn the customer away sometimes. Till the government comes up with a clear guideline or direc tive regarding this problem, the con sumer has no alternative but to meet the demands of these shopkeepers. Con sumers need to realize that they aren.t as helpless as they think themselves to be.
Yours faithfully,
Asoke Chakraborty, Calcutta

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