Editorial 1/ Too many cooks
Editorial 2/ Law against nature
Not to be banked upon
Keep going on the road to peace
Thoughts on the least developed nations
Fifth Column/ Healing touch for both sides
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ TOO MANY COOKS 
 
 
 
 
The possibility of peace returning to Sri Lanka is only marginally linked to electoral politics. The verdict of the 12th parliamentary elections may have made it even more difficult to launch a peace initiative soon. Only if the new prime minister, Mr Ranil Wickremsinghe, and the incumbent president, Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga, bury their political differences in the larger national interest can there be any real hope for peace. The elections have been the bloodiest in Sri Lanka’s violent political history. More than 60 people were killed, and thousands were apparently prevented from voting, especially in the Tamil-majority provinces in the north and the east of the island. Not surprisingly, international election observers have been deeply critical of the electoral process.

Consider also the fractured electoral result. While Mr Wickremesinghe’s United National Party emerged as the largest grouping, it was still four short of a majority. Mr Wickremsinghe was invited to form the government, but only after the UNP secured the support of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. In addition, the UNP government will probably be supported from the outside by the Tamil National Alliance, which campaigned on a pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam platform. Both these small parties will now wield influence out of proportion to their real strength. Past experience demonstrates that single-issue parties are unreliable allies, and may withdraw support if the new government does not further their sectarian political agenda. The last parliament was dissolved within a year after the smaller partners of the People’s Alliance government pulled out and it became clear that the government would be defeated in a no confidence motion that was brought in by the opposition parties.

Moreover, Mr Wickremesinghe will have to cope with a hostile president, Ms Kumaratunga, whose People’s Alliance was trounced at the polls. There are continuing differences on the policies that Colombo should adopt towards the Tamil separatists. Kumaratunga’s proposed plan was to unilaterally give more autonomy to the Tamil-majority regions of the north and east of the island state even while continuing with the military offensive against the Tamil Tigers. Wickremesinghe has promised to hold talks with the LTTE. In the past, the LTTE has been unwilling to accept anything short of a separate Tamil state. And while the LTTE continues to be a deadly fighting force, it seems to be becoming clear to its leadership that the goal of an independent eelam may not be realized, and it could be willing to negotiate with Colombo. But even if Wickremsinghe succeeds in persuading Kumaratunga of the desirability of a new policy towards the LTTE, he will still have to contend with another extra-parliamentary force, which could wreck any peace initiative: the force of Sinhalese nationalism, led by hardline Buddhist monks, who are strongly opposed to doing a deal with the Tamils. In sum, peace in Sri Lanka will continue to remain elusive until parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forces are ready for a process that will inevitably involve making concessions and compromises by all the parties concerned.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ LAW AGAINST NATURE 
 
 
 
 
It is sad when the idea of personal liberty in a modern democracy brutally excludes a man’s right to have sex with another man, or a woman’s with another woman. It is even sadder when the state has to be made aware of such an abuse of fundamental human rights in the context of a deadly epidemic. A nongovernmental organization, involved in HIV/AIDS prevention work with homosexual men, has filed a writ petition in the Delhi high court against section 377 of the Indian penal code. Section 377 lumps together homosexuality, bestiality and a wide range of sexual abuse as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Framed in the mid-19th century, this law — whose shuddering vagueness seems not to be able to imagine lesbians — is the basis for the criminalization of homosexuals in India. It is invoked by the police to keep in place a profoundly discriminatory punitive machinery that works through abuse, extortion and intimidation. In terms of HIV/AIDS-related work, this has become a serious impediment. First, seeing homosexuality as an unnatural offence results in the official denial of its existence in society. This, in turn, results in a dangerous gap in any HIV/AIDS prevention policy. Second, safer sex, and the dissemination of information regarding this, become that much more difficult in an environment of fear, furtiveness and disavowal. Outreach workers constantly run up against police harassment when working with men in these criminalized environments.

Homosexuality remains caught between the criminal and the deadly in India. In Western societies, its decriminalization, achieved several decades ago, was part of a far more robust and exhilarating history of the civil rights movement and of a vigorous identity politics. Many of the legal and social battles have been won in these societies. The Indian reality remains bleak, and nothing short of a pervasive revolution would manage to transform the long history of denial and indignity. The affirmation of sexual identity ought to be a fearless and pleasurable thing. This is why it is sad that a crucial transformation in Indian society has to take place in the grim and pragmatic shadow of the fear of disease and death.

   

 
 
NOT TO BE BANKED UPON 
 
 
BY S. VENKITARAMANAN
 
 
The Reserve Bank of India has come out with yet another report on the trend and progress of banking in India. The latest report keeps up the excellent tradition of its predecessors.

Ever since the reforms, the RBI has been adopting the practice of bringing Indian standards in line with international requirements. This is particularly so in regard to non-performing assets: the legal system for recovery is far more favourable for banks outside India. The requirement of capital adequacy has also been raised, in keeping with international practices. The report devotes considerable space to cataloguing the changes in regulatory requirements and supervisory practices. While this is welcome, it does detract from the focus on the state of health of the financial system.

Turning to the actual performance of the banking sector, the report points out that credit extended by all scheduled commercial banks together registered an overall increase of 17.3 per cent in 2000-01. Non-food credit accounted for an increase of 14.9 per cent, as compared to 16.5 per cent in 1999-2000. Even taking into account the investments of banks in shares and bonds of corporates, the total outflow of resources given by banks to the non-government sector registered a slower growth of 16.1 per cent, as against 17.8 per cent in the previous year.

What is more important is that in the recent period, that is, upto October 19, 2001, the growth of bank credit was only 6.4 per cent compared to 9.7 per cent for the same period last year. Non-food credit grew at 4.8 per cent, significantly lower than the figure of 8.3 per cent in the previous year. Even including investments in bonds and equity by banks, the total outflow of resources to the non-government sector showed a year on-year increase of 12.3 per cent as on October 19, 2001 as compared to 19.3 per cent on October 20, 2000. The overall decline in credit off-take confirms the slowdown in the economy.

This is, of course, offset by increased investments in government and other approved securities. While reforms started with a planned reduction of statutory liquidity ratio — which prescribed the extent of mandatory bank investment in government securities — today bank investments in gills and other approved securities are considerably in excess of the requirement. They amount to 41 per cent of the deposits, as compared to the SLR of 25 per cent. The excess investments over the statutory requirement alone amounted to as much as Rs 1,06,000 crore. Excess liquidity in the banking system, low demand by non-government borrowers and the insatiable appetite of the government for resources have all contributed to the situation.

The RBI’s latest report incorporates a comparison of the operations of the various bank groups. The operating profits for SCBs as a whole increased by 7.9 per cent over the previous year. Nationalized banks alone accounted for an increase of 11.8 per cent. The new private sector banks, however, showed an increase in net profits of 12.3 per cent. For SCBs as a whole, net profits showed a decline of 11.3 per cent. The causes for the difference in the performance have not been analysed in the report.

The performance indicators of the various bank groups deserve scrutiny. The “spread” of all SCBs, being the different between the interest charged and interest paid, was 2.84 per cent of the total assets. Foreign banks had a spread of 3.64 per cent, while private sector banks figured in the lower range with 2.84 per cent. New PSBs did not do any better, with a spread of only 2.14 per cent. The wage bill as percentage of assets is highest in respect of PSBs at 2.03 per cent. Foreign banks with a wage bill of 0.97 per cent of assets and the new PSBs with 0.32 per cent reflect the comparative effect of the spread of new technology. Other income at a level of 2.47 per cent, that is, other than interest, played an important role in the higher profitability of foreign banks. In respect of all SCBs, this ratio stood at 1.52 per cent of assets.

Ever since the inception of reforms, attention has been focussed on the growth of NPAs in the banking system. The gross NPAs of banks increased to Rs 63,883 crore in 2000-01. Most of the NPAs become unrecoverable in time. Ultimately, these NPAs have to be “provided for”, with a hit on banks’ profitability. In the recent past, the government has recapitalized banks to the extent of Rs 20,000 crore, essentially a reflection of the growing burden of NPAs. If NPAs increase further, more recapitalization from the fisc will become inevitable.

While for all SCBs, the gross NPAs as percentage of assets stood at 5.5 per cent at the end of March 2000, the ratio declined to 4.9 per cent by March 2001. PSBs, however, had a higher ratio of 6.0 per cent at the end of March 2000, declining to 5.3 per cent by March 2001. Old private sector banks carried a higher ratio of gross NPAs to total assets at 5.4 per cent at the end of March 2001, as against 5.2 per cent (March 2000). New private sector banks have shown a lower ratio, which, however, rose from 1.6 per cent in March 2000 to 2.1 per cent in March 2001. Foreign banks in India had also a relatively high figure of gross NPAs to total assets at 3.0 per cent. Net NPAs as a percentage of assets stood at between 2.5 and 2.7 per cent for all SCBs, while the figure for PSBs was between 2.7 per cent and 2.9 per cent. Foreign banks, which make liberal provisions, had a low ratio of 0.8 per cent, while new private banks had a ratio of 1.2 per cent. Old private banks, with a ratio of 3.3 per cent, did not fare too well.

Various methods have been suggested for setting right the problem of NPAs. The M.S. Verma committee, which was appointed a few years back, had recommended the setting up of a financial restructuring authority. Action is still pending at the government level. It is to be hoped that the government of India will take an early decision in this regard, especially with reference to setting up the financial restructuring authority and passing the necessary enabling legislation.

The RBI’s latest report emphasizes the importance of the cooperative movement in the credit structure of India. Significantly, it points out that the NPAs of rural cooperatives accounted for 17.2 per cent of the total outstanding loans at the level of central cooperative banks. It is necessary to reorganize the cooperative credit structure of the country, keeping in view the fact that the basic problem in the cooperative structure is that of recovery. Whether the country should experiment in the direction of integration of rural credit and marketing cooperative is a matter to be considered. The success of the Amul type of cooperative, which has integrated marketing and credit, is a pointer of the potential of this change. An innovative approach a la the Amul experiment in respect of all cooperatives seems to be worth investigating.

The RBI’s report has cited with gratification the initial success of the Kisan Credit Card scheme introduced in 1998-99. PSBs have issued nearly 36 lakh Kisan Credit Cards by the end of March 2001. Hopefully, the problems of recovery will not haunt this sector.

The RBI’s report sets out the problems of all-India financial institutions, which disbursed nearly Rs 72,529 crore in 2000-01. Sanctions increased by 16.2 per cent and disbursements by 7.3 per cent. Particular mention has to be made of the growth of disbursement of ICICI during the periods 1999-2000 and 2000-01. ICICI alone accounted for 62 per cent of the disbursements of the major financial institutions. Net NPAs as percentage of net loans stood at a figure of 14.8 per cent in respect of the Industrial Development Bank of India, 5.2 per cent in respect of ICICI and 20.8 per cent in respect of the Industrial Finance Corporation of India. Clearing up of the asset books of the financial institutions is a matter of the highest priority.

Overall, the RBI’s latest report on trend and progress of banking presents a clear picture of the state of affairs in India’s financial sector. The structural problem of banks remains, in that while they can lend, they are not sure of recovery — mainly due to the lacunae in the legal system. The report emphasizes the need for the implementation of these legal reforms. In the absence of these reforms, the story of banking will continue to be one of loans lent without hopes of recovery, and banks having to be rescued from time to time with hefty bailouts by the government of India. Financial sector reforms without the needed overhaul of the legal structure are bound to fail.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India

   

 
 
KEEP GOING ON THE ROAD TO PEACE 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
 
It has been a long season of sorrow — and fear — in Kathmandu . The June 1 massacre of King Birendra and most of his family at Narayanhitty Palace was followed by the death of yet another royal, Princess Preksha, in a helicopter crash and now the Maoist mayhem. The state of emergency, which King Gyanendra declared in the wake of the Maoist onslaught, gagging the press, curtailing civil rights and virtually stopping all political activity, seems an apt symbol of a nation living under the shadow of dark premonitions.

Ingenuous parallels have been drawn between the September 11 terrorist strikes in the United States of America, which triggered the war in Afghanistan, and the Maoist strikes in remote Solokhumbu district at the foot of Mount Everest that finally forced the king to order counter-offensives by the Royal Nepal Army.

The Nepalese prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, called the Maoists terrorists, obviously to send a message to world powers busy fighting terrorism. As US marines and US allies raid cave after cave in the mountains around Kandahar and Jalalabad in search of Osama bin Laden and his comrades in terror, helicopter gunships strafe forested mountains in western Nepal to hunt down Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, his military chief, Ram Bahadur Thapa, and party ideologue, Baburam Bhattarai. And one has the same daily diet of claims of military successes and killing of key leaders, which, to use the phrase familiarized by the media coverage of the Afghan war, cannot be “independently verified.”

Yet, the tension between the Maoists and the monarch seemed to be easing, raising hopes that the kingdom’s tryst with tragedy would give way to happier times. The Maoists, who questioned the legitimacy of King Gyanendra’s accession to the throne, not only had three rounds of discussions with the government but indicated their willingness to drop the old demand for the abolition of the monarchy if the king and his government agreed to dissolve the present parliament and form a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. It looked as if managing the Maoists would literally be King Gyanendra’s crowning glory — for himself and for his country.

But instead of a breakthrough came a bitter and bloody breakdown. Several theories are now circulating in Kathmandu as to why the Maoists suddenly walked out of the talks and mounted attacks on the police and the army on an unprecedented scale. It is the result, says one theory, of a rift between the political and the military leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). But, in times of crises, when information is as foggy as the mountainscape surrounding the city, Kathmandu always re-invents itself as the valley of rumours and conspiracy theories. Pick your favourite rumour/theory of the day, the city and its rulers seem to be telling scribes and others trying to see things through the mist.

It is unsurprising therefore to find theorists spinning yarns in Nepal about India’s seen and unseen roles in the kingdom’s battle against the Maoists. No country would like to see a neighbour plagued by instability because of extremist violence. India’s concerns with the developments in Nepal, with which it has a 1,751 kilometre, mostly porous, border, are understandable. The concerns have bilateral as well as regional aspects because of unsettled issues involving China and Pakistan.

As in several other countries in India’s neighbourhood, anti-India rhetoric is the staple of political activism in Nepal, particularly with its many communist parties. The Maoists’ tirades against Indian “expansionism” are only a shade less raucous than those of the CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist), the biggest communist group when it is out of power. Kathmandu’s streets reverberated with anti-India slogans over the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in 1999. Rumours of Bollywood hero Hrithik Roshan’s “derogatory” remarks about the Nepalese sparked looting of Indian-owned shops and a ban on Indian movies in Kathmandu before the whole controversy turned out to be another fake. When the royals were massacred, the Maoists were quick to see an Indian plot, aided and abetted by Washington, to eliminate “anti-India” King Birendra. As he ascended the throne, India-baiters were revelling in circulating stories about King Gyanendra’s “pro-Chinese” sympathies.

Yet, the Nepal Maoists have long been a concern for India for their activities and links, not only in areas bordering Nepal but also elsewhere. It is no secret that the Nepal rebels maintain liaisons with rebel outfits in India like the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre. The CPN(Maoists) was one of the two foreign communist parties — the other was from Turkey — that sent “fraternal” delegations to the second party congress of the PWG held secretly last March in the jungles near Dandakaranya in Orissa.

There are credible reports that the PWG’s People’s Guerrilla Army, raised last December, exchange arms and training with the Maoists in Nepal who are believed to be also aiding a new Maoist outfit which is trying to garner strength in Darjeeling and Sikkim. The CPN(Maoists) is one of the nine founding members of the recently-formed — and grandiosely named — Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations in South Asia . The launch happened in India with extremist groups from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, along with those from India, attending it.

While India may have very valid concerns about the Maoist threat in its neighbourhood, the battle has to be fought by Nepal. The king, the Nepalese army and the government seem to have now passed the stage of weighing options and consequences of an all-out fightback. By all counts, there were differences between King Birendra, the top brass of the army and the political parties about whether the army should be used to deal with what was seen essentially as a political problem. Even King Gyanendra is said to have been in favour of a negotiated settlement. But the Maoists have now limited the immediate options, forcing the government to take recourse to extreme measures. It was not only the attacks on police and army outposts in Solokhumbu that got the government in a state of panic. The king and the prime minister could no longer afford to consider soft options after the Maoists declared a “parallel government” throughout the country a couple of days before their offensive. They had been running such administrations in some western districts for more than a year. But declaring such a government across the country was a challenge King Gyanendra and Deuba could not countenance.

Yet this cannot be the end of talks. Former prime minister and leader of the CPN(UML), Madhav Kumar Nepal, has said that he would try to mediate with the Maoists “through the media” and persuade the rebels to return to talks. It is generally known in Kathmandu that Madhav Nepal and other leaders of his party have more than media contacts with the Maoists. They had once opposed the government’s plans to use the army against their extremist fellow-travellers.

The Maoists may not love the monarch, but they have no love lost for parliamentary democracy either. Failures of elected governments over the past 10 years have strengthened Maoist propaganda and swelled their ranks. Both Madhav Nepal’s party and the Nepali Congress have to do better to stop frustrated youths and the impoverished masses from joining the insurgents.

   

 
 
THOUGHTS ON THE LEAST DEVELOPED NATIONS 
 
 
 
 
We underscore the urgent necessity for the effective coordinated delivery of technical assistance with bilateral donors, in the OECD Development Assistance Committee and relevant international and regional intergovernmental institutions, within a coherent policy framework and timetable. In the coordinated delivery of technical assistance, we instruct the Director-General to consult with the relevant agencies, bilateral donors and beneficiaries, to identify ways of enhancing and rationalizing the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least-Developed Countries and the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme (JITAP).

We agree that there is a need for technical assistance to benefit from secure and predictable funding. We therefore instruct the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration to develop a plan for adoption by the General Council in December 2001 that will ensure long-term funding for WTO technical assistance at an overall level no lower than that of the current year and commensurate with the activities outlined above.

We have established firm commitments on technical cooperation and capacity building in various paragraphs in this Ministerial Declaration. We reaffirm these specific commitments contained in paragraphs 16, 21, 24, 26, 27, 33, 38-40, 42 and 43, and also reaffirm the understanding in paragraph 2 on the important role of sustainably financed technical assistance and capacity-building programmes. We instruct the Director-General to report to the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference, with an interim report to the General Council in December 2002 on the implement- ation and adequacy of these commitments.

We acknowledge the seriousness of the concerns expressed by the least-developed countries (LDCs) in the Zanzibar Declaration adopted by their ministers in July 2001. We recognize that the integration of the LDCs into the multilateral trading system requires meaningful market access, support for the diversification of their production and export base, and trade-related technical assistance and capacity building. We agree that the meaningful integration of LDCs into the trading system and the global economy will involve efforts by all WTO members. We commit ourselves to the objective of duty-free, quota-free market access for products originating from LDCs. In this regard, we welcome the significant market access improvements by WTO members at the third UN Conference on LDCs (LDC-III), in Brussels, May 2001. We further commit ourselves to consider additional measures for progressive improvements in market access for LDCs. Accession of LDCs remains a priority for the membership. We agree to work to facilitate and accelerate negotiations with acceding LDCs. We instruct the secretariat to reflect the priority we attach to LDCs’ accessions in the annual plans for technical assistance. We reaffirm the commitments we undertook at LDC-III, and agree that the WTO should take into account, in designing its work programme for LDCs, the trade-related elements of the Brussels Declaration and Programme of Action, consistent with the WTO’s mandate, adopted at LDC-III. We instruct the Sub-Committee for Least-Developed Countries to design such a work programme and to report on the agreed work programme to the General Council at its first meeting in 2002.

We endorse the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least-Developed Countries (IF) as a viable model for LDCs’ trade development. We urge development partners to significantly increase contributions to the IF Trust Fund and WTO extra-budgetary trust funds in favour of LDCs. We urge the core agencies, in coordination with development partners, to explore the enhancement of the IF with a view to addressing the supply-side constraints of LDCs and the extension of the model to all LDCs, following the review of the IF and the appraisal of the ongoing Pilot Scheme in selected LDCs. We request the Director-General, following coordination with heads of the other agencies, to provide an interim report to the General Council in December 2002 and a full report to the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference on all issues affecting LDCs.

We reaffirm that provisions for special and differential treatment are an integral part of the WTO Agreements. We note the concerns expressed regarding their operation in addressing specific constraints faced by developing countries, particularly least-developed countries... we also note that some members have proposed a Framework Agreement on Special and Differential Treatment (WT/GC/W/442). We therefore agree that all special and differential treatment provisions shall be reviewed with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective and operational. In this connection, we endorse the work programme on special and differential treatment set out in the Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns.

To be concluded

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ HEALING TOUCH FOR BOTH SIDES 
 
 
BY KUNAL SAHA
 
 
Lately there has been much talk of medical “malpractice” in India. A comparison between the way systems in the United States of America and India respond to doctor error is relevant in this context. Such a comparison highlights a despairing number of inadequacies. But the continuing high numbers of deaths in India from “malpractice” are equally devastating.

A recent public interest litigation before the Supreme Court has forced a comparison between the two countries’ state medical councils — called state medical boards in the US. The apex court has declared that these councils — forums for protecting patients and addressing their grievances — have become outdated, and that the Indian Medical Council Act of 1956 must be reformed. So what can India’s medical councils learn from the system in the US? And must any “pro-patient” charter necessarily be “anti-doctor”?

A glance at any of the US state medical boards’ websites suggests the first of many ways in which the medical councils must improve: no such internet service exists in India, nor does any such easily digestible information concerning the function of the medical councils. And whilst the medical boards convene at least once a month and place the minutes on their website for public viewing, the medical council of West Bengal meets only twice a year.

Double function

The US website also informs the browser that the medical boards are not exclusively made up of medical practitioners. Up to one half of its members must be selected from citizens, generally nominated by the governor of the state, whose primary job is to oversee the procedure of the investigation of complaints against a doctor — medical aspects being left to doctors. This avoids the obvious “conflict of interests” that might emerge when a complaint is investigated only by the doctor’s “peers”. In sharp contrast, none of the medical councils in India, except New Delhi’s, has any “non-medical” member.

Each medical board decides whether or not a doctor is “guilty” of malpractice within a specific timeframe rarely exceeding 4-6 months. There is no such time limit to investigate complaints against the doctors in West Bengal, or probably anywhere else in India. As a result complaints may linger indefinitely, sometimes for 10 years or more. Furthermore, every medical board in the US has a provision whereby an “interim” suspension can be imposed on a physician accused of committing a “grave” error. It is obvious that when human lives are at stake, “innocent till proven guilty” may not be the best choice. Such extreme measures, though they might at times hurt innocent doctors, can protect many patients from falling victim to medical violations by the same person.

Insured against error

However the different environments under which doctors work in India must be recognized. A doctor in India has to see a much higher number of patients. The need for their skills is such that sufficient time might not always be spent on each case which increases the likelihood of mistakes. Furthermore, unlike in the US, doctors in India are not protected against the ultimate consequences of “malpractice”. If found guilty, they must pay the compensation themselves; a single and often unintentional medical mistake can bankrupt a doctor. “To err is human” and in the US, where doctors are found “guilty” everyday, “malpractice insurance” protects them and their families. It should also be noted that it is the patients themselves, and not the medical boards, who must pursue any compensation claims. And no doctor in the US ever fears that he will be beaten or killed as sometimes happens in India.

The system in the US, and indeed, many of the changes to the Medical Councils Act proposed by the apex court are thus only superficially “anti doctor”. The establishment of “checks and balances” and of doctor accountability, can only improve the environment where doctors must work. And that environment must not be restricted to the developed world, especially when the principle of a doctor’s responsibility already exists here. With modernized medical councils both doctors and patients can work towards improving our nation’s quality of healthcare.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Temple etiquette

Sir — The debate over whether the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, should visit the Renkoji temple in Tokyo is both ridiculous and ill-timed (“Netaji ashes shadow on Vajpayee itinerary in Japan”, Dec 8). Instead of focussing on how the visit could go a long way in strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries while promoting India’s business interests, the prime minister’s advisers are more concerned about what Vajpayee would write in the visitor’s book in the temple, if he finally decides to visit it. Officially, the Indian government is yet to accept the fact that Subhas Chandra Bose died in a plane crash more than 50 years ago. Further, given that every Indian head of state has visited the temple, the decision not to do so will not only invite criticism, but will also be a departure from tradition. Indian officials will, however, be hoping that Vajpayee will remain silent on the ashes issue and not make the same faux pas as Jaswant Singh.
Yours faithfully,
Manjira Sengupta, via email

Reservation damage

Sir — The editorial, “Reserved rungs” (Dec 3), deserves praise for its criticism of the government’s reservation policy. Our politicians seem to have decided that the easiest way to winning elections is to implement the quota system in promotions for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The Congress and the left did not think it necessary to protest against the government’s decision to introduce the 92nd Constitution amendment bill in Parliament.

The Supreme Court’s ruling that caste-based reservations are inadmissible merely underlines the devaluing of merit in India’s reservation policy. It is time for Indian politicians to be candid about the demerits of the reservation system and admit that such a policy has only compromised quality and led to further social injustice. There should only be one criterion for promotions — that is, merit. It would not be a bad idea to scrap the reservation system altogether and then work towards the eradication of caste and class distinctions.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The system of reservations was first introduced in our country more than 50 years ago with the novel intention of righting the wrongs of the past, and of trying to undo some of the damage inflicted by the rigid caste system. The makers of our Constitution had believed that poverty and the lack of exposure would have seriously disadvantaged the backward castes who would not have been able to compete with their more privileged counterparts. The system of reservations would enable them to get secure jobs and help them become self-sufficient. This would in turn be the first step towards integration.

However, things did not work out as planned. After more than 50 years of reservations, the SCs and STs continue to be marginalized as far as getting better jobs are concerned. Instead of benefiting those who are actually poor and in need of help, reservations have benefited those who are better placed among the backward castes. It is also disappointing to see political parties compete with one another in trying to promise more reservations for the underprivileged classes. The Bharatiya Janata Party, too, is no exception to this rule.

The introduction of the 92nd amendment bill is nothing more than a sop handed out by the party before the Uttar Pradesh elections. It is intended to keep the backward classes happy, while giving the party a new look at the same time. The Congress, on the other hand, is too spineless to do anything other than look the other way.

Yours faithfully,
Rupa Saha, via email

Fan mail

Sir — Having been an avid fan of The Beatles all my life, I was shocked to hear about the death of George Harrison. However, being an Indian I could not help feeling proud to read that Harrison had wanted his ashes to be immersed in the Ganges. Harrison, who was known as the “quiet Beatle”, was a lot less popular than other members of the quartet like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and was also overshadowed by them. It was he who introduced the quartet to Eastern mysticism and sparked off their interest in India.

It was his love for Indian spiritualism that made him take up the sitar and thus began his long association with Ravi Shankar, the Indian maestro. He also used the sitar in some of The Beatles’ compositions like “Norwegian Wood”. It was Harrison who was responsible for popularizing Indian classical music in the West.

Yours faithfully,
Kaushik Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — I enjoyed reading the editorial, “Don’t look so sad” (Dec 2). The Beatles epitomized all that was memorable about the Sixties. Their lyrics were simple and it was this simplicity that captivated young people not just in Britain and the United States but also in India. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that they were mobbed during their visit to India. With their boyish charm and tender love songs, The Beatles captured the hearts and imagination of a generation that had not quite recovered from the defeatism of the post-World War II era.

Yours faithfully,
Mita Haldar, via email

Sir — Why are George Harrison’s mystical leanings towards India being so vapidly sentimentalized? They are nothing novel among foreign celebrities. Is Harrison in Benares any different from Richard Gere in Dharamsala?

Yours faithfully,
Sadhna Collins, Cochin

Parting shot

Sir — The Rajabazaar mosque which is situated at Keshab Chandra Sen Street is a place of worship which remains surrounded with filth. A garbage vat has been installed by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation in front of the mosque. This has resulted in the piling up of garbage which is not disposed of at regular intervals by the CMC. The smell of garbage has destroyed the sanctity of the place. If the garbage is not removed immediately, the area will continue to be a breeding ground for flies and stray animals.
Yours faithfully,
M.R. Ahmed, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and postal address of the sender

   
 

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