Editorial 1/ A fine balance
Editorial 2/ Get to work
Spared for charity
Suspended belief
Document/ Threat from positions of trust
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ A FINE BALANCE 
 
 
 
 
The American secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, performed a remarkable balancing act during his recent visit to India and Pakistan. That both New Delhi and Islamabad were satisfied with the visit is a tribute to Mr Powell’s deftness. In what has been viewed as a zero-sum game, the American visitor seems to have convinced the governments of India and Pakistan that the relationship of the United States of America with New Delhi or Islamabad will not be at either side’s expense. This is an unprecedented achievement. Mr Powell’s public statements witnessed a careful choice of words which displayed sensitivity to audiences both in India and Pakistan. In Islamabad, Mr Powell signalled the US’s strong support for the Pervez Musharraf regime, his admiration for the Pakistan president’s recent speech and for the action that had been taken since the address. He also emphasized the need for an early revival of dialogue between India and Pakistan, and for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute through peaceful negotiations, and in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state. All this was clearly music to Pakistan’s ears.

In New Delhi, on the other hand, the secretary of state, without contradicting what he said in Islamabad, seemed to be in agreement with India’s stand. For instance, he stated clearly that while it was important to de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan, it was necessary for New Delhi to see some visible changes in the ground reality, in terms of the Musharraf regime’s action against terrorist groups, before it could be expected to lower the diplomatic and military ante. And only India, as a sovereign state, could make the judgment if Pakistan was acting sincerely. Mr Powell also agreed with India’s position that a dialogue on Kashmir needed to be embedded in a larger process that would address all the outstanding issues between the two countries. He ruled out the possibility of US mediation in the Kashmir dispute even while indicating that the US would be available for any help that India and Pakistan may seek.

Mr Powell’s visit has clearly revealed that the US policy towards south Asia will be governed by three objectives. First, Washington clearly sees Mr Musharraf as the best bet for Pakistan, and for furthering American interests in the country and beyond. The US will therefore do nothing that will weaken or undermine the military regime, even while nudging it to move further in the process of reforming the country. Second, the US continues to view India as long-term strategic partner, an ally in ensuring stability in Asia, and will seek to reassure India that its relationship with Islamabad will not affect the growth of the Indo-US relationship. The visit of the home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, and the defence minister, Mr George Fernandes, to the US, and American willingness to let the Israeli Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System be purchased by India, could be viewed in this light. Finally, it is not in American interests if there is a military conflict between India and Pakistan. The US will use its leverage in both countries to make sure that there is no war. While Mr Powell’s visit has indicated that the US is capable of a fine balancing act, it remains to be seen whether Washington can perform as well in the future.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ GET TO WORK 
 
 
 
 
It is taking time to persuade the Centre that sex could be work for some, like building houses or teaching. Getting prostitution officially recognized by the state as a significant economic activity is tied up not only with the question of human rights, but also with more practical issues of law and order. This seems to be slowly dawning on the Centre. The department of women and children has suggested certain amendments to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act which could take prostitution nearer to decriminalization. The department has recommended the deletion of the clause in the act which punishes sex workers for “seducing or soliciting for purposes of prostitution” in a public place. The punishment for this could be imprisonment or a hefty fine. This act comes under the Criminal Procedure Code, and is implemented by the police, who use this particular clause to harass and extort money from sex workers. Deleting this clause would therefore significantly decrease the extent of violence and exploitation sex workers have to face routinely from the police. Incidentally, although the main part of this clause takes the offender to be female, there is a provision in it for male offenders as well. This, and section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, empower the police to harass homosexual men in certain public areas, mostly in the cities. The deletion of the entire clause would make this equally exploitative abuse of the law difficult as well.

Sex workers’ unions all over the country and collectives like the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee and the Lawyers Collective would, however, like to maintain the distinction between decriminalizing prostitution and legalizing it. Simply doing away with the laws controlling prostitution is not enough, according to this argument. Statutory recognition of the fact that female and male sex workers have the same rights as other citizens is essential. The last national census could barely manage to accommodate sex workers as beggars/ vagrants/ street children, or at best singers and dancers. Much more than the deletion of a clause from an act is required to counteract the long history of double standards enshrined in the state.

   

 
 
SPARED FOR CHARITY 
 
 
BY S. VENKITARAMANAN
 
 
The concessions given to charitable trusts and for donations given for charity have been the focus of attention of tax reformers from time to time. An impression gains ground that these concessions lead to widespread evasion. There is also an impression that charitable trusts, which sometimes conduct other businesses with the help of funds raised through donations, are devices to evade taxes. Both these views seem to have influenced the eminent economist, Parthasarathy Shome, formerly of the International Monetary Fund, who headed the advisory group of the planning commission on tax policy and tax administration for the tenth plan.

The advisory group’s report, which is generally marked by a pragmatic approach, has its main focus on plugging loopholes in the tax net. Its recommendations with regard to tax treatment of charitable trusts and non-profit institutions in general are, however, too radical even for Shome, who is well known for his fundamentalist approach to fiscal questions. In taking a critical view of Shome’s recommendations, I am emboldened by the strong reactions of Raja J. Chelliah, the eminent economist, who has mentioned to the government the inadvisability of accepting the advisory group’s recommendations on this subject. His views on the Shome group’s report, published in the Economic & Political Weekly of December 29, 2001, to January 4, 2002, deserve much wider publicity. It behoves the government to give due weight to the recommendations of Chelliah.

The fact that charitable trusts and non-profit organizations perform a useful role in providing social services, especially with regard to health and education, deserves to be widely recognized. The general provisions of the Income Tax Act, which covers the treatment of charitable trusts, come under section 11 of the act. In effect, the Shome group recommends elimination of the concessions under section 10(23C), which lighten the tax treatment of income of educational institutions, hospitals and other medical treatment facilities existing solely for philanthropic purposes.

There is a built-in safeguard in the current concessions in the sense that they apply only to cases where the income is not distributed to any one who controls the trust, a trustee or a board member — a sensible device to prevent abuse of charitable institutions for personal aggrandizement.

The Shome advisory group has recommended the scrapping of section 10(23C), which today exempts from tax the income of non-profit organizations, hospitals and other medical facilities. While the group has a laudable objective to enhance revenue, the measures recommended should be viewed from the point of view of their overall impact. As far as I can see, the Shome group has not made an overall estimate of the total services rendered by non-profit organizations in the social sector in India. The group, however, makes an estimate of the loss of revenue that the tax concessions lead to.

The basis on which the group makes this estimate is to calculate the total income attributable by charitable institutions as a percentage of gross domestic product. This estimate gives gross income and not the net income, which can be derived only by deducting the expenditure of the non-profit organizations. Even on this basis, the group’s estimate of the loss of revenue is roughly Rs 3,000 crore and odd.

If this is the tax lost on the gross revenue, the substitution of the services rendered by charitable institutions would definitely cost much more than the loss of revenue. This is true, especially if we take into account the comparative inefficiencies of operation of public social institutions as compared to charitable facilities. The loss of revenue may well be outweighed by the benefits that the charitable institutions, which enjoy exemption under section 10(23C), provide.

The Shome group argues that if the tax concessions are to continue, they should be confined to “donative” institutions. A donative non-profit organization is defined as “one where 90 per cent of the annual receipts is through donations, including lump sum aid”. Any one with practical experience of running charitable and non-profit institutions would recognize that this definition is too restrictive.

Most charitable institutions survive on much more than donations. They have a mix of income, from interest on corpus and fees for services rendered. If the non-profit organization is an educational institution, the definition will tend to disincentivize the institution from raising fees, lest donations account for less than 90 per cent of the income. Similarly, hospitals and medical institutions have receipts of various kinds, including sale of drugs, food and fees for research services rendered. Such institutions might get disqualified under the very restrictive definition suggested by the Shome group. In fact, the aim of tax reform should be to induce the non-profit organizations to supplement their income from fees for services rendered in addition to donations and lump sum aid. It is to be hoped that at a minimum the government of India takes care to dilute the restrictive definition of donative institutions.

It is on tax treatment of donations that the Shome group has taken a very radical view. At present, tax concessions are conferred either under section 18-G, which permits a deduction equal to 50 per cent of the donations and under section 35(1)3, 100 per cent of the donations. The eligibility criteria for these sections are quite severe and involve, in many cases, consultation with the ministry of science and technology and a survey of the services rendered by the non-profit organizations for which the donation is made.

The Shome group argues that deduction of donations from income would mean, in effect, treating the more affluent more liberally than the lower income groups. This alleged inequity is implicit in the progressive structure of taxation, under which the higher income groups pay higher rate of taxation than the lower. In order to avoid this perceived inequity, the Shome group suggests that donations should be adjusted by tax rebate calculated on the amount of donation at a specified rate against the tax liability and the recommended rate for this is the present lowest marginal rate of taxation, which is 10 per cent.

Chelliah has effectively countered the logic of this recommendation by saying, “It does not seem equitable to tell a tax payer that if you add a certain amount of income to the existing level, we will tax that additional amount at the marginal rate, but that if having earned that amount you give it away as donation to a charity, we will reduce your tax liability only at a lower standard rate. The point to keep in mind is that tax liability is to be linked to ability to pay, which is reflected by income. If part of the income earned is given away to approved donees, there is reduction in the ability to pay and it seems proper to reduce the tax liability accordingly.” Chelliah’s argument makes sense and it does not seem proper to accept the recommendation of the Shome group, which will effectively reduce to a trickle the already small flow of donations in India.

There is a big gap between what the government can provide through its resources and what the voluntary sector can contribute through its efforts. The voluntary sector not only contributes its donations, it also brings in managerial and other skills, which compare with the best that the government can offer. The spirit of giving, which is the characteristic of advanced affluent societies, like the United States of America, deserves to be encouraged, rather than curbed.

There are many communities in India, including Marwaris and Jains, who have made it almost a religious duty to contribute to social causes. Countless are the institutions, which survive on the basis of their charities. While the religious impulse can be counted on to continue a part of the donations, the carrot of tax deduction is also an important incentive. Those who have experience with soliciting donations for charitable causes from the affluent section of the society will testify to the power of the notification allowing the tax concessions. It would be a pity if in the pursuit of the goal of tax equity this vast flow of funds to charitable and essential social purposes gets reduced to a trickle.

The experience of charitable foundations in countries like the US should be drawn upon to promote, instead of hindering the growth of social activism. While every safeguard should be taken to widen the tax net, the approach adopted by the Shome group is not the optimal one. Chelliah’s reasonable arguments give a lie to the Shome group’s logic. I do hope that the government will take a balanced approach to the recommendations of the Shome group, which are uncharitable, to say the least, to charities in India. Let it not be the case that Indian charities are reduced to a trickle with Shome’s recommendations. There should be other methods of increasing revenue, which do not hurt the flow of funds to essential public donations in the field of health and education.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India

   

 
 
SUSPENDED BELIEF 
 
 
BY M.L. SONDHI AND ASHOK KAPUR
 
 
September 11 and December 13 were major setbacks to American and Indian interests in relation to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But they also gave India the opportunity to shape a new strategic, long term military relationship with the United States of America, and Pakistan the chance to build the foundation of a new and stable society and polity. One must think constructively on a continental and a global basis. However, as recent developments show, it pays India to think smart rather than to act big.

President Pervez Musharraf has cracked down on Islamic extremism in Pakistan and appears to have rejected jihad in Kashmir, arguing instead for a jihad against poverty and backwardness in the country. These are positive first steps. They are real steps. Musharraf was not personally involved in the decision to attack the Indian parliament on December 13. This was an old plan. But as head of Pakistan, he has to take responsibility for what happens inside Pakistan. He needed an escape clause for December 13, and his recent public broadcast of a crackdown on Islamic extremism must be appreciated. But the appreciation must be measured because Musharraf owed it to himself and to Pakistan and Islam to clean the stables.

However, by maintaining his public support for the struggle for Kashmiri independence, Musharraf is boxing himself in when he should be looking for a way to develop an exit strategy on Kashmir and a strategy to build a new Pakistan. Just as the political structure and the external policies of Germany and Japan were radically reformed after World War II, a way must be found to scale down the size of the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence. Together with this, international aid, including significant Indian aid, should be linked to the development of a new political class in Pakistan which is interested in internal development rather than insurgency. A stable, growing economy and a democratic polity are a must for Pakistan if it is to live in peace with India.

Too much should not be expected of Colin Powell’s India policy because Powell’s state department is part of the problem. The Cold War is over but the state department’s warriors have difficulties with clearing their minds of the Cold War legacy, just as the British political establishment has difficulty forgetting that it is no longer running an empire. Powell and officials like the assistant secretary of state for policy planning carry the Cold War as well as a Clintonesque baggage in relation to India-Pakistan affairs. They speak in terms which suggest that India could be treated as a defeated third world state or country which could be intimidated by state department démarches.

The reality is that the state department has been the author of several major failed policies for over 50 years. The policy of building Indo-Pak military and diplomatic parity was pursued relentlessly and it failed because America’s horse in the field — the much touted Pakistan army, and later the ISI, has never won a war — not 1965, not 1971, not Khalistan, not Kargil, not Kashmir and not even the talibanized Afghanistan.

Then for years the state department tried to secure India’s nuclear disarmament. One of the stalwarts of the department, Thomas Pickering, was bold enough to declare that the US wanted to see a freeze, rollback and elimination of Indian nuclear arms and missiles. The exact opposite happened. During the Clinton era, the US state department unleashed Madeleine Albright to promote US mediation in Kashmir. It also gave cover to China’s opportunistic policy in Pakistan.

This was to promote Pakistani nuclear and missile proliferation despite the disquiet about mounting Central Intelligence Agency evidence, to strengthen Pakistan’s position as a line of military and diplomatic pressure against India, to encourage Pakistan’s policy to bleed India in Kashmir, prevent Indo-Pak reconciliation which would degrade China’s special position in Pakistan, and to build China’s military and naval presence in Pakistan and Myanmar — two major flanks of India. China is not a factor for peace in the Indian subcontinent, but the Clinton administration acted as if it were, despite evidence to the contrary. During this time, Washington and Beijing tried to build a system of US-China condominium over India.

The odour of Clintonism still exists in the state department. Powell and his policy planners such as Richard Haas, do not have a problem with military dictators who are friendly to the US. That was why Haas was asking Indians in December 2001, to reward Musharraf. So the basis of the deepening Indo-US military relationship lies not only in the state department, but also in the White House, the vice-president’s office, the Pentagon and the US congress.

In considering new and bold policies, Indian strategists need to reflect on the reasons why India is no longer an intimidated and a confused country. It is only by discarding Nehruvianism that India has effectively increased its diplomatic and strategic space in the international arena. Many doors opened after Pokhran II which made nonsense of Pickering’s imperial declaration about rolling back India’s nuclear programme. In Kargil, Atal Bihari Vajpayee showed that unprovoked aggression would be fought back, but that there was also restraint in not crossing the line of control, as it was being advocated by some members of the Indian cabinet.

Firmness and restraint was again evident in Vajpayee’s actions after December 13. Powell was moved to action not because he was concerned about Pakistani terrorism in India. He cut short his Christmas vacation because the Indian army moved into forward positions. A situation had to be created, messages had to be sent about what actions Musharraf and the West needed to take before the Musharraf crackdown came. The lesson is that coercive diplomacy works when it is accompanied by carefully orchestrated messages which the Colin Powells, the Tony Blairs and the Richard Haases cannot challenge.

India should not close its option with Musharraf because he has shown the willingness to think. But it should not buy the Powell line that Pakistani actions are now principled. The crackdown will last as long as the pressure is there. India needs to develop a line of thinking that would make sense of India’s embarking on a partnership with Israel just the way it makes sense for the US to extend its hand to Russia as a strategic partner in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

This assumes that terrorism is not finished, Pakistan needs international help to transform its war economy and war establishment into a peace economy and a democratic polity, and with the flight of Osama bin Laden and his able deputy, the Egyptian doctor, Zawahiri, the fight will now move outside Afghanistan. The US, Russia, Israel and India can form the hub of a mini-NATO that could prove effective in major conflict situations.

M.L. Sondhi is co-chairperson, Centre for the Study of National Security, Jawaharlal Nehru University Ashok Kapur is chairman, department of political science, University of Waterloo, Canada

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ THREAT FROM POSITIONS OF TRUST 
 
 
 
 
Representatives of Sakshi wanted us to recommend the deletion of the Exception, with which we are unable to agree. Their reasoning runs thus: Where a husband causes some physical injury to his wife, he is punishable under the appropriate offence and the fact that he is the husband of the victim is not an extenuating circumstance recognized by law; if so, there is no reason why concession should be made in the matter of rape/ sexual assault where the wife [is] above 15/16 years. We are not satisfied that this Exception should be... deleted since that may amount to excessive interference with the marital relationship.

...So far as the proposed section 376 is concerned, we are not suggesting any substantial changes except two, and adapting the language of the section to accord with the change in section 375. In the light of instances coming before the courts and the instances mentioned in the note prepared by Sakshi, we have proposed the addition of a proviso to sub-section (1) (while treating the existing proviso as the second proviso) providing that where the sexual assault is committed by the father, grandfather or brother, the punishment should be severe. On the basis of suggestions made by Sakshi, we have also added the words, “or any other person being in a position of trust or authority towards the other person”. The second change suggested by us is in the matter of the age of wife referred to in proposed sub-section (1) as also of the person assaulted in clause (f) of sub-section (2). The age “fifteen” is raised to “sixteen”.

3.2.1. The reasons for these changes are: To visit with a severe penalty the near relations and persons in position of trust and authority who more often than not commit the offence of sexual assault on the members of the family or on unsuspecting and trusting young persons. We have in this connection taken note of the extremely odious and debased conduct of the father of the minor girl in the facts highlighted in Sudesh Jakhoo vs K.C.J. and others; and to maintain uniformity in the matter of age of wife or any other young person who needs special protection.

3.2.2. ...Though the representatives of Sakshi have suggested that we should delete the second proviso to section 376 (1) and the proviso to section 376 (2), (which confer a discretion upon the court to award a sentence lesser than the minimum punishment prescribed by the sub-sections), we are not satisfied that there are any good reasons for doing so. Any number of situations may arise ...which may necessitate the awarding of lesser punishment than the minimum punishment prescribed. Safeguard against abuse is provided by requiring that adequate and special reasons be mentioned in the judgment, for awarding such lesser punishment. Nor is there justification in the criticism that such discretion once conferred is liable to be abused or that it will always be misused to help the accused.

3.2.3. ...We recommend that section 376 shall be re-cast as follows: — “376. Punishment for sexual assault — (1) Whoever, except in the cases provided for by sub-section (2), commits sexual assault shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may be for life or for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine unless the person subjected to sexual assault is his own wife and is not under sixteen years of age, in which case, he shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

“If the sexual assault is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority towards the person assaulted or by a near relative of the person assaulted, he/she shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to life imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine. Provided that the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than minimum punishment prescribed in this sub-section.”

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

As ugly as a contest gets

Sir – The report, “VHP push for politician Dara” (Jan 16), is no more a bolt out of the blue, given the pathetic condition of the legal system in India. In a country where criminals and corrupt individuals are elected to seats of power, it is not surprising that Dara Singh will be contesting the Uttar Pradesh elections. Singh, allegedly responsible for the gruesome murder of the Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two sons, has managed to get support from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for contesting the polls. The VHP, famous for its reactionary politics has also found a way of justifying its stance on the ground that Singh is yet to be convicted for his alleged crime. The annoying part of this is that the available legal provisions and the keepers of law have failed to evolve strong sanctions against the convict. Certainly, the only party to be embarrassed by the events has been the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is clear that the VHP is determined to be a thorn in the BJP’s side, no matter how hard the latter is trying to improve its image. The BJP should act now and in a way which befits its role as the party in power.
Yours faithfully,
Sourya Mitra, Calcutta

Speech in time

Sir — If one follows the speech delivered by the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, it becomes evident that he has tried to downplay the relevance of the Shimla and Lahore declarations (“Musharraf lays down the law”, Jan 13). He has also appealed for third party mediation on the Kashmir issue, one purpose of it being to monitor the so-called brutalities of the Indian forces. One wonders how he would justify his actions during the uprisings in Baluchistan and the Mohajir movement in Karachi.

Moreover, he has invited the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to shed current mindsets and historical references. This indicates that he is no longer willing to accommodate the Shimla and Lahore agreements within the parameter of his future talks with India. India must oppose this, as the spirit of the Shimla declaration forms the very core of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. Musharraf has no right to alter that since he has not been democratically elected in his own country.

Yours faithfully,
Avishek Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — Pervez Musharraf’s long awaited speech, which would “change the course of history — especially India-Pakistan relations — and would lay out a new blueprint for Kashmir”, according to the United States of America, proved to be a sequel to his December 25, 2001 speech. His speech on January 12 seems to have been more focussed on the internal problems of Pakistan and was meant for the domestic audience and the US, which thinks that Musharraf is making progress in tackling terrorism (“Washington pat for Musharraf, Jan 14). But although his speech was well delivered, Musharraf failed to address the issue of terrorism, with reference to India, along expected lines.

Perhaps, for the first time, he has publicly denounced terrorism in all its manifestations. As usual, he remained adamant on the Kashmir issue. He, however, sent a positive signal by not calling terrorists freedom fighters and by declaring that no militant activity will be carried out in Kashmir from Pakistani soil. Whether Pakistan occupied Kashmir is part of Pakistani soil is a matter that only time will show.

His invitation to the US to mediate on the Kashmir issue and his appeal to the United Nations to solve the Kashmir issue “according to the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir” is a suggestion which will never be accepted by India for obvious reasons. The special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution is proof enough that utmost importance is being given to the state as compared to other states of India. Musharraf’s appeal to the Amnesty International and other organizations to look into various human rights violations and acts of “state terrorism” in the valley, surprisingly, did not have any takers. As expected, Musharraf has also failed to address India’s concerns satisfactorily on the list of 20 terrorists so far.

However, the positive aspect of Musharraf’s speech is that he has come a long way since the former president, Zia-ul-Haq, who had turned Pakistan into a fundamentalist Islamic state. Musharraf should be lauded for taking a strong stance against the imams of the mosques and maulavis of the madrassahs, who, instead of presenting the true face of Islam have been encouraging fundamentalists to engage in mindless bloodshed and violence, bringing disrepute to Pakistan and its people.

By banning sectarian groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Tehrik-e-Jaffria Party, along with terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, he has tried to cool tempers in India while also sending a message to the world that he is trying to make some progress on the terrorist front. By citing that “Kashmir runs in our blood”, referring to India in particular, he has managed to woo his domestic audience as well (“Ban on Lashkar & Jaish, hedging on handover”, Jan 13).

One cannot deny the fact that Musharraf, in such trying times, is perhaps the only army chief in Pakistan who is sincerely trying to give a facelift to Pakistan. He is bound to face internal dissent from radical groups, but with the support of the silent majority who yearn for a peaceful and progressive Pakistan, things should work out for the better. As far as India-Pakistan relations are concerned, Musharraf’s offer to Atal Bihari Vajpayee for a meaningful dialogue on all outstanding issues including that of Jammu and Kashmir is a welcome step. However, one has to wait and see if his words are translated into action at the ground level, meaning a complete stoppage of infiltration of terrorists across the line of control.

Given the history and the current situation in Pakistan, one cannot hope for more from Musharraf ,who is trying to maintain a balance among his own people, the global community as well as India. Let us give him one more chance to prove his mettle.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — In his address to the nation on Saturday evening, Pervez Musharraf made it clear that India should not commit the mistake of crossing the border. The armed forces of Pakistan are fully prepared to meet any challenge. History bears testimony to the fact that Pakistan has always been a victim of Indian aggression.

India, however, should have no illusion about Pakistan’s determination to defend its territorial integrity. It is, however, hoped that sanity will prevail in India and its leadership will refrain from plunging the south Asian region into conflict by pushing its hegemonic agenda. The two countries are nuclear powers, which calls for a greater degree of responsibility and restraint on their part. It is unfortunate that Indian leaders seem unmindful of the ramifications of their bid to push Pakistan towards the wall.

India cannot live in peace if it continues to hurt Kashmiris and keeps on interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbours.

Yours faithfully,
Mishy Khan, Saudi Arabia

Sir — Pervez Musharraf has called upon the international community, particularly the US, to play an active role in resolving the Kashmir dispute for lasting peace and harmony in south Asia. He said the legitimate demand of the people of Kashmir should not be suppressed. The Kashmir issue is recognized by the international community as south Asia’s nuclear flashpoint. It remains on the UN security council agenda as a dispute between India and Pakistan making it obligatory for its permanent members to resolve it in keeping with the world body’s resolutions and aspirations of the Kashmiris.

It is an unfinished agenda of the Partition and is thus the root-cause of tension in the region. The two countries have fought three wars over Kashmir. India has brought the subcontinent to the brink of war in its capricious bid to exploit the present anti-terrorism environment and to crush the Kashmiris’ legitimate demand for the right to self-determination. The US and other permanent members of the UN security council thus are morally accountable to the Kashmiri people to maintain regional peace, security and stability.

The recent gesture on the part of the US, to offer “assistance” to facilitate talks between the two countries is timely (“Powell mediates in garb of helper”, Jan 17). It would be heartening to see the Indian leadership for once shun arrogance and accept Kashmir as the root-cause of tension in the region. The ball is now in India’s court. It must take tangible steps for settlement of the dispute, rather than beat the old theme of cross-border terrorism.

Yours faithfully,
Salman Khan, Dammam, Saudi Arabia

Untrained

Sir — If a proper survey is conducted annually, it will be observed that few long distance trains reach their destination at the scheduled time. The condition of the sleeper coaches of the Indian Railways is appalling to say the least. The passages are blocked up by unauthorized passengers, debarring bona fide travellers from using the bathrooms. Incidents of theft and robbery are rampant. The railway ministry feels it is the state’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the passengers. But the passengers pay the Indian Railways. Moreover, the price of food is high, given the quality and quantity of food provided by the railway authorities.

The staff of the Indian Railways should provide better and efficient service to the people.

Yours faithfully,
B.N. Bose, Calcutta

Sir — Despite several complaints, the Southeastern Railway deprives passengers of basic amenities. This is particularly applicable to the 467 up Bhadrak fast passenger express. Not only is there a lack of electricity and water supply in the train, the toilets are also unusable, there are too many stops and several unnecessary delays, allowing the local trains to pass.

Recently, while travelling in this particular train, we suffered from dry water taps and windows that could not be shut, as a result of which I suffered from fever for the next four days.

It is unfortunate that repeated complaints to the railway authorities have failed to bring about any positive change in these matters. It would be heartening to see proper attention being provided to the passengers before they decide to take things in their hands.

Yours faithfully,
Prasenjit Bhakat, Jhargram

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