Editorial 1 / Just do it
Editorial 2 / Roll out the vat
A century of crises
Fifth Column / Much ado about civic polls
Lies, damned lies and statistics
Document / Some more patience with the victims
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / JUST DO IT 
 
 
 
 
Violence and terrorist attacks are no longer things that happen in far away places like Jammu and Kashmir. They happen early in the morning on Calcutta’s most important thoroughfare. The attack on the police picket outside the American Center on Tuesday morning underlined Calcutta’s vulnerability and the incompetence of the city’s police. The two may not be entirely unrelated. Assailants armed with AK-47s fired from motorcycles and killed four and injured 23 persons. In retaliation, not a shot was fired even though a posse of policemen were on the spot. This absence of reaction explains why West Bengal is seen by organized criminal gangs as a soft target. Groups that have claimed responsibility for the act probably have international links and are clearly identified as militant Islamic outfits. The motives for the carnage remain obscure: it could have been an action aimed at the United States of America or an act of revenge against the police or both. At the moment, the motives are far less important than the implications of the incident and what they suggest about the state of law and order in West Bengal. The delusion that West Bengal is a state where its citizens are safe has been dispelled by a spray of bullets from Kalshnikovs. The mention of the weapon is deliberate as its use indicates that sophisticated arms are freely available in the state and there is very little intelligence available about it.

The sense of crisis should provide for the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a remarkable opportunity to push through something that he was earlier stopped from doing. The threat to security should allow him to revive the prevention of organized crime ordinance and to have it endorsed by his cabinet. On an earlier occasion, he was prevented from doing this by pressure from the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and his Left Front partners. These upholders of political correctness are no longer in a position to oppose an ordinance that has become a necessity in West Bengal. Mr Bhattacharjee must remember that his primary loyalty is to the inhabitants of the state and not to the politburo of his party. He has been elected by the people of West Bengal and he must act to provide them with security and to give them confidence. To act in any other manner would be irresponsible and disastrous for the future of the state and the image of the chief minister. Despite his best efforts and intentions, Mr Bhattacharjee is still compelled to move with a lot of baggage — the baggage of political correctness, of pious platitudes from the politburo, the hocus pocus of human rights violation and so on. Mr Bhattacharjee should allow nothing to stand in the way of doing what he thinks is good for the security of the state. He should have POCO passed. Do it, Mr Bhattacharjee, and do it now.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / ROLL OUT THE VAT 
 
 
 
 
Fifteen states and five Union territories were supposed to switch to value added tax from April 1, 2002, with others following suit. This deadline will be missed, because states are not ready with legislation. Nor are systems in place. The more important issue is the question of VAT rates. Part of the problem with the present indirect tax system is not just multiplicity, non-transparency and cost cascading effects, but variations in sales tax rates across states. These need rationalization and minimum rates have already been unified. The dispute is over the maximum. If states have discretion to choose VAT rates, the objective of rationalization will not be achieved. Because of fears of revenue losses, the idea is to replace sales tax with a revenue neutral VAT rate. But if revenue neutrality is across the board, states with high sales tax rates will end up with high VAT rates and this will defeat the objective of harmonization. While there is broad agreement on 4 per cent for industrial raw materials and 20 per cent for demerit goods like tobacco, states with high sales tax rates are reluctant to accept the revenue neutral rate of 10 per cent to 12.5 per cent for other products. The Centre is attempting to solve the problem by allowing states to tax some services, and 51 such service sectors have apparently been identified. There is a legal problem in this, since the Constitution includes services in the Union list and states cannot tax them until the Constitution is amended.

Alternatively, a new service tax act can be passed along the lines of the Central Sales Tax Act so that services are taxed by the Centre, but collection and revenue retention remain with states. This, too, cannot be done immediately. Also the fact that taxing services on turnover without the benefit of VAT credits messes up the system. But this seems to be the least of the Centre’s concerns, since the Centre itself wants to tax other services along similar lines and might even increase the rate from 5 per cent to 10 per cent. Nor is the Centre likely to junk the Central Sales Tax or reduce the rate from 4 per cent, since states have been harping on the possible revenue loss of Rs 10,000 crores. Driven by revenue compulsions, the Centre is also unlikely to scrap the special excise duty or additional excise duties on a few products. Witness the recent unnecessary attempt to raise Rs 2,000 crores through excise on petroleum products, by pushing through an ordinance. VAT was indeed meant to simplify matters, allow a World Trade Organization-compatible system of export incentives and make life easier for exporters. It is clear that before making life simpler, halting attempts towards VAT will make life much more complicated.

   

 
 
A CENTURY OF CRISES 
 
 
BY ANUP SINHA
 
 
The 20th century witnessed unprecedented economic change. The growth of income has been phenomenal, rising from $6.4 trillion in 1950 to $35.4 trillion in 1995. An implication of this is that in every decade since 1950, the world has added more to output than the cumulative total from the days of the hunter-gatherer to the middle of the last century. Our lives have changed in an astonishing fashion: in the ways we live, work and play. Science and technology have probed and unravelled many deep mysteries of nature. Markets and giant corporations have evolved into awesome entities with concentrated power that goes beyond the might of most nation-states and their central banks.

The transformation of capitalism and markets has been remarkably fast and deep, creating a global economy far removed from the world of Adam Smith. Despite substantial changes, the transformation has also been fragmented and bumpy. It is in this sense that the economic legacies that the 21st century has inherited are challenging, fraught with uncertainties and dangers that seem difficult to confront and overcome.

One such legacy is about markets and their instability to fully utilize available economic resources such as labour and physical capital. While many great economists had earlier expressed doubts about the stability of unregulated markets, it was only in the Great Crash of 1929 and its aftermath that this instability was witnessed on so large a scale. Out of it all rose the Keynesian wisdom that called for a managed capitalism where utilization of resources, and the control of inflation would be fine-tuned by domestic fiscal and monetary policies. Unlike the competitive models of economic textbooks, real life wages and prices never fall enough to clear markets, and the failure of demand was a distinct possibility that had to be encountered through policy-induced stimulation.

The post-World War II decades saw a spurt of unprecedented growth, not only of incomes but international movement of goods and financial capital as well. The world began to get increasingly integrated and networked. Many new countries and new regions began to grow rapidly and became an increasing part of the global system. Mild recessions, however, did continue to occur, usually triggered by some unanticipated economic event. Slowly but surely the world opinion on how to make markets function well began to change.

Market dynamism was all about voluntary exchange and freedom of decisions. Government interventions were deemed to be unwanted and obtrusive. The conventional wisdom on sound economic policy began to get regimented into what is now referred to as the Washington Consensus. It evolved a rigid formula on what constituted necessary and sufficient conditions for economic growth: sound budget with a low fiscal deficit, low inflation, free trade and unregulated markets. Economic growth, in turn, was supposed to be the panacea of all economic woes from unemployment to lack of technological progress, and the source of all happiness and welfare.

The economic reality changed dramatically in the decade of the Nineties, with an unambiguous comeback of the Keynesian symptoms of recessions and crises. Yet, influential thinking in policy circles continues to depend on non-interventionist supply-side thinking that focusses exclusively, and perhaps obsessively, on growth. The recurrent crises that shook so many economies across the world have a number of interesting features worth examining. An appreciation of these features is important for managing the economy of the 21st century.

First, a recessionary slump with a currency crisis can occur in any economy at any time. The probabilities may be different to the extent that they can be measured, but the possibility is always there. This is a characteristic of the globalized world economy where capital mobility is significant and financial capital markets are volatile. Economies with diverse histories of performance from Japan to Mexico have all suffered problems of illusive growth and serious slowdown. The inability to grow, and the inability to utilize existing capacities are independent of the recent histories of these economies. Japan’s impeccable record of earlier growth as compared to a late starter like Thailand, or the sluggish inertia of Argentina, were all irrelevant when it came to the crunch, with investors losing confidence and consumer spending simply refusing to perk up to stimulate the economy.

Second, the lack of strength of financial institutions, especially banks, is never the initial cause of a crisis. The close connectivity of southeast Asian banks and financial institutions with government and business was looked upon as a source of strength that facilitated the nation’s industrial and foreign trade strategies. The exemplary model was of course the ministry of international trade and industry in Japan. When crisis struck, this same source of strength was depicted as the Achilles’ heel of the economy, where the anonymity of the competitive marketplace had been replaced by a somewhat murky brand of crony capitalism. Indeed, on hindsight, every economy that went into a crisis and recession could be seen to have quite a few frailties and weaknesses, many of which had been touted in the past as unique positive features of that economy.

The third important feature is the fact of the mobility of financial capital, at a pace faster than ever witnessed before. It is not merely the astonishing volumes of financial flows that matter, but also the size of the players in these markets, especially the species of organizations called hedge funds. An implication of this mobility has been the volatility with which these players have reacted to the first indication of economic trouble particularly in developing countries. They are so big and powerful that their “sentiments” constitute, for all practical purposes, the entire market’s sentiments. And a sudden swing of market sentiments can create self-fulfilling panics. These panics cause a run on the currency and create tremendous pressure to devaluate, which contributes to a further fuelling of speculative responses.

Recessions are no longer domestic phenomena in the days of globalization. They are, more often than not — unless some form of capital control is in place — associated with financial panic, which further aggravates the slump. Similar kinds of responses by hedge funds (that a wise man once described as masters of the universe) in similar economies can cause a contagion decisively and at a lightning speed.

The final feature is the significance of market sentiments. Market sentiments have often turned adverse quite suddenly and without having anything to do with changes in macro-economic fundamentals. The Mexican crisis is a good example of this feature. The same signal may convey different information when emanating from different countries. If Australia devalues in dollar, investors may extract information that a necessary market correction has been done and the investment climate has improved. If Thailand devalues; the information extracted from the same signal could be that there would be further devaluation, triggering off an exit from the baht. The scramble would then not be restricted to the baht, but currencies like the ringitt, the rupiah, and even the Hong Kong dollar would be affected.

A basic lesson is that (mis)perceptions matter, and quite often these perceptions are based more on cultural prejudices than on hard economic facts. The hedge funds, despite employing the best brains and best software that money can buy, run into problems of mutual distrust. Suppose one fund exits a currency in a big way. A second fund finds apparently no objective reason to do this. However, if the second fund believes that everybody else will follow the first fund, then the second fund will also exit, fearing that a run on the currency will anyway depreciate its value. It is a peculiar form of assured mistrust that works amongst these institutions.

The current recession in the United States of America that had set in a few quarters before the terrorist attack, will be a good test of how perceptions are fed by images of stereotypes rather than hard facts. If any nation has lived beyond its means, it is the US. It is in deep recession with spending refusing to pick up. It is also an economy where there has been an enormous amount of foreign portfolio investments in the past decade. Why do we believe that it is unlikely that the US dollar will be under attack? The reason is perhaps simple enough. It is not an issue of changing market sentiments clashing with strong economic fundamentals. In the 21st century, the sentiment of the rich and the powerful is the fundamental.

The author is a faculty member of the economics group, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / MUCH ADO ABOUT CIVIC POLLS 
 
 
BY STEPHEN REGO
 
 
Earlier expectations that the failure of the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party to put together an alliance to fight February’s civic elections in Maharashtra had handed over the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance have been belied by a series of dramatic developments over last week.

Among the most significant of these is the turmoil that rocked the Shiv Sena. It began with the defection of some important leaders from the Shiv Sena to the NCP, including former member of legislative assembly, Gurunath Desai, and sitting member of legislative council, Shantaram Nandgaokar. This was followed by rumours that the Jalgaon MLA and minister in the earlier saffron alliance government, Sureshdada Jain, along with some others, would also join the NCP.

These events brought the dissatisfaction within the Shiv Sena out into the open. In fact, the final announcement of the official list of party candidates had to be delayed to the very last so as not to allow dissidents enough time to file nominations. Also, a number of sitting corporators, including the present mayor, Hareshwar Patil, have been denied tickets. It is also rumoured that the rift between Uddhav and Raj Thackeray, son and nephew of Bal Thackeray respectively, is one of the factors responsible for this turmoil. But with elections only a few weeks away, the Shiv Sena cannot be sure that this time its famed strong arm tactics against dissidence will quell the trouble in time.

Rebels all

Dissidence in the Shiv Sena has also spread to Thane, where the exclusion of some sitting corporators has sparked off a revolt. In fact, the Shiv Sena has been facing problems in Thane ever since its popular leader Anand Dighe died a few months ago. The formation of the Anand Sena by a group of dissidents has provided NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal an opportunity to fish in troubled waters. The NCP has left a few seats in Thane for Anand Sena candidates.

But the Shiv Sena is not the only one facing dissent. As the last day for filing nominations ended on January 10, it became clear that the polls would be as much about battles between the various parties and alliances as it would be about “official” candidates versus rebellious “independents” from within their parties.

The BJP too is beset by rebellion, with a few corporators going against party candidates. The Congress too, fearing rebellion, delayed the announcement of its official list to the very last.

While the NCP is not free of dissidence, it seems to be the only party to gain from this week’s events. Not only has it managed to accommodate Shiv Sena defectors, but it has also bolstered its secular image with an eye on the Dalit-Muslim vote bank. Bhujbal has declared that his party is ready to ally with the Congress and warned that if the BJP-Shiv Sena combine come to power because of a division of votes among the “secular” forces, it would be the Congress’s fault.

Cash cow

The NCP has also forged a seat sharing arrangement with Ramdas Athavale’s Republican Party of India. The party has also been helped by the recent shifting of loyalties by some Muslim leaders from the Samajwadi Party. But the party is weak in Mumbai city, and can best hope to have a role in forging post poll alliances.

Civic elections in Mumbai have always been closely fought since control over the BMC, with an annual budget of Rs 5,000 crore, implies access to power and pelf. There are also the concomitant benefits by way of kickbacks in the awarding of civic contracts, as was revealed by the recent Tinaikar committee report.

Disgusted with corruption in the BMC, a vocal section of the middle class has formed the Action for Good Governance and Networking in India to campaign for cleaner candidates and more transparent civic procedures. While AGNI might not affect the outcome of the elections, it could be a strong pressure group on the administration from the outside.

However, one thing seems definite. The events of the past week are only a trailer of the bitter battle that will unfold in Mumbai over the next few weeks, and many more deals may be struck and crossovers affected before the actual day of reckoning.

   

 
 
LIES, DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS 
 
 
BY ARIJIT NAG
 
 
Statistics and figures are an integral part of any economic analysis. In fact, one can hardly imagine discussing the economy, either of a country or of the world, without taking refuge in a maze of figures. But when figures start to misguide and confuse rather than illuminate and elucidate, things seem to get out of hand.

Post-liberalization, the state of the Indian economy has become such that nothing can be said about it without quoting some esoteric figure or another. Quoting figures is fine, but delving into different sets of figures for the same thing may prove to be confounding at times.

Take for instance the gross domestic product of India which appears to be growing at five different rates for the last 12 years. If the National Council of Applied Economic Research states that the GDP in a particular year is growing at the rate of 5.5 per cent, the Economic Survey of India will state, without refuting the NCAER figures, that the rate of GDP growth is six per cent. The Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry will come up with their own GDP growth figures which are invariably different from those of the NCAER and the Economic Survey. Of course, the smaller chambers of commerce will have their own set of figures. Then, the economic think tank, the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, may present some piece of information which would prove that all the other figures given out by the various agencies were wrong and the economy is, in fact, growing at an absolutely different rate.

The Union finance ministry usually has a minimum of three sets of figures for GDP growth. The first is the projected rate of growth, after which comes the revised rate of growth and finally, the actual rate.

This entire exercise of arriving at a definite statistical count is extremely tedious and confusing for the man on the street. He would definitely like to know how the national economy is faring. After all, he pays his taxes and contributes in his own, admittedly insignificant, way towards the growth of the country. But every time he tries to figure out what is going on with the economy, he is swamped by a deluge of figures. His efforts to understand the machinations of the economy end in absolute confusion.

The covert oneupmanship indulged in by the various chambers of commerce does not help the cause of the common man either. If the CII says that the agricultural sector has been performing satisfactorily, then FICCI will invariably refute that contention, without stating it in as many words of course, and say that Indian agriculture is heading towards inevitable doom.

If the Punjab Haryana Delhi Chamber of Commerce and Industry claims that the devaluation of the rupee against the dollar has proved beneficial for Indian exports, then you can rest assured that the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry will argue that the Reserve Bank of India should immediately buy greenbacks from the market to stem the downslide in the rupee.

Another example. The Union minister for finance, Yashwant Sinha, has repeatedly assured the nation that the downturn in the information technology sector in the United States of America has not had an impact on the Indian market. The two IT giants from India, Wipro and Infosys, provided figures which announced their march forward but at the same time also warned about bad days ahead.

Yet Bangalore is swarming with jobless IT professionals. If things are as satisfactory as the finance minister would have us believe, then why is the jobs scenario in the IT sector so bleak? In fact, it is the discrepancy between the rosy picture painted by the finance minister and the grim reality facing citizens that has been eroding their faith in the figures churned out by the country’s economic think tanks.

India’s IT exports continue to grow despite all the recent hurdles, but we still make for less than one per cent of global exports. It is amazing how radically realities on the ground differ from what is portrayed from time to time by our economists.

Around the end of May, in other words, close to the end of the first quarter of the financial year, the first set of figures on the economy does the rounds. Even as newspaper readers start coming to terms with these figures, the agency which had come up with the first set of statistics informs that owing to factors beyond its control, a fresh set of statistics is being published for the consumption of our gullible countrymen.

All this generally happens around the end of August. As the financial year nears its end, such contradictory statistics are published with greater frequency, in the process completely confusing all but the keenest followers of the Indian economy.

Of course, none of this juggling around with figures is of any use to the ordinary citizen. These are definitely not meant for common consumption. This mindless number-crunching is targetted at the multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank and so on. It also becomes the business of Harvard and Yale-educated economists in the US, who decide whether the Fortune 500 companies, whose interests they represent, should invest in India.

It hardly matters to the harassed Indian on the street whether the economy is growing at the rate of 5.5 per cent or at almost seven per cent. At the end of the day, he will still have to suffer power cuts, unhygienic drinking water, noise and air pollution and the rising costs of daily existence. His savings in the post office will continue to earn less and less interest as will his provident fund. After all, whatever be the growth of the economy, allocations for health and education never increase significantly, no matter who the Union finance minister is or what is the colour of the ruling regime.

The government makes noises about downsizing the administration from time to time. One cannot help but wonder about the utility of so many agencies which exist only to feed the media with contradictory and confusing figures about the national economy.

Can the nation afford so many of them when one or two should suffice? One may argue that since these chambers of commerce are lobbies and are self-supporting for that reason, they do not require tax-payers’ money for their maintenance. Which would mean that nobody could actually object to their existence. But does that mean that they could get away with not doing their homework more thoroughly before they publicize their projections? For years together their figures have proved widely off the mark. Just being self-supporting associations doesn’t entitle them to release unsubstantiated figures that misinform the public and help them to manipulate the system.

On the other hand, the government-funded agencies have no reason to exist at all. There is no need for these agencies to make projections and advise the government on aspects of the economy when the Union finance ministry is doing a fine job itself, without much help from them, in taking the common man for a ride.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / SOME MORE PATIENCE WITH THE VICTIMS 
 
 
 
 
Amendment of sections 376B, 376C and 376D. Given the gravity of these offences, we recommend enhancement of punishment, with a minimum punishment of not less than five years. We have also added an explanation which will govern all these three sections. The explanation defines “sexual intercourse” to mean any of the acts mentioned in clauses (a) to (e) of section 375. Explanation to section 375 will, however, apply even in the case of sexual intercourse as defined by the explanation to this section.

3.4.1. Modifications in sections 376B, 376C and 376D of the Indian Penal Code recommended. Accordingly, section 376B with necessary adaptations and changes shall read as follows: “376B. Sexual intercourse by public servant with person in his custody. Whoever, being a public servant, takes advantage of his/her official position and induces or seduces any person, who is in his/her custody as such public servant or in the custody of a public servant subordinate to him, to have sexual intercourse with him/her, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of sexual assault, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than five years and which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine. Provided that the court may, for adequate and special reasons mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than five years.”

Explanation: “Sexual intercourse” in this section and sections 376C and 376D shall mean any of the acts mentioned in clauses (a) to (e) of section 375.

Explanation to section 375 shall also be applicable. “376C. Sexual intercourse by superintendent of jail, remand home, etc. Whoever, being the superintendent or manager of a jail, remand home or other place of custody established by or under any law for the time being in force or of a women’s or children’s institution takes advantage of his/her official position and induces or seduces any inmate of such jail, remand home, place or institution to have sexual intercourse with him/her, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of sexual assault, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than five years and which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.

Provided that the court may, for adequate and special reasons mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than five years.

Explanation 1. “Superintendent” in relation to a jail, remand home or other place of custody or a women’s or children’s institution includes a person holding any other office in such jail, remand home, place or institution by virtue of which he/she can exercise any authority or control over its inmates.

Explanation 2. The expression “women’s or children’s institution” shall have the same meaning as in explanation 2 to sub-section (2) of section 376.

376D. Sexual intercourse by any member of the management or staff of a hospital with any woman in that hospital. Whoever, being on the management of a hospital or being on the staff of a hospital takes advantage of his/her position and has sexual intercourse with any person in that hospital, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of sexual assault, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than five years and which may extend to ten years 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 five years.

Explanation: the expression “hospital” shall have the same meaning as in explanation 3 to sub-section (2) of section 376.

3.5. Insertion of section 376E. This is a wholly new section recommended by us. We have called it the offence of “unlawful sexual contact”. This section is intended to cover a wide variety of offences including sexual harassment at the work place and sexual perversions of the kind mentioned in the note submitted by Sakshi. Sub-section (1) of this new section covers touching, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, any part of the body of another person (not being the spouse of such person), with sexual intent and without the consent of such other person. In case the other person is below sixteen years of age, we have recommended higher punishment.

Sub-section (2) is an extension or elaboration of the offence mentioned in sub-section (1), while sub-section (3) deals with a case where such offence is committed on a young person — a person below the age of sixteen years. If the offence of unlawful sexual contact is committed on a young person by a person with whom such young person is in a relationship of dependency, the punishment is rigorous imprisonment which may extend to seven years or with fine or with both and in case the offender happens to be the father, grandfather or brother, a still higher punishment is provided for. In the case of a “young person”, consent is treated as irrelevant.

(Sections 151, 152 and 153 of the Canadian Criminal Code also contain similar provisions).

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

War mongering

Sir — One cannot but disagree with Imran Khan’s statement that the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh were instrumental in influencing the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to take a tough stand on terrorism (“Imran reads election spin in war rhetoric”, Jan 13). Such a simplistic analysis of the situation not only ignores the spectre of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, but also fails to take into account the possibility of the two neighbours going to war. Further, Khan’s statements also expose his hardline stance on the issue of terrorism. He waxes eloquent on Pakistan’s military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, and at the same time avoids speaking out against the violence that is being perpetrated in the name of jihad. It is even more surprising that he holds India responsible for the escalation of tension between the two countries. While his concern about the effects of war on the people of the two countries is understandable, one cannot fail to notice his jingoistic rhetoric.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Sinha, Berhampore

Defence is the best offence

Sir — In his article, “Get the arms for the man” (Jan 8), Brijesh D. Jayal has rightly pointed out that at a time when India is poised to enter into an armed conflict with Pakistan, defence matters assume prime importance. The bravery of our soldiers has helped India win more than one war, but this pride will not be enough while facing a better-equipped enemy. Given this, the fact that the government of India has not made any defence purchases since the Kargil conflict sounds ominous. Further, the corruption in the army and the defence establishment, already exposed by the Tehelka scandal and the more recent coffin scandal, has affected the morale of the armed forces.

Successive governments of India have always tried to cut down defence expenditure. It is sad that the government does not realize that a soldier cannot fight without arms. Many of us remember the hardships Indian soldiers had to undergo during the Indo-China war, when the lack of proper footwear exposed them to frostbite.

Jayal hints that there has hardly been enough procurement of arms since the Tehelka scandal. Shouldn’t the security of the nation take precedence over the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh?

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — Brijesh D. Jayal quite rightly believes that December 13 should act as a wake up call for the Indian defence establishment (“Get the arms for the man”). It would be impossible for our armed forces to defend India without proper gadgets and the latest technology. Which means that defence procurement should be a continuing process. Yet, by asking the central vigilance commission to review all defence deals since 1985, the Central government inadvertently put an end to the process since this meant all defence deals now had to be approved by the CVC before they were passed. It is imperative that the government gets the process going and eliminates middlemen who have so far played an important role in brokering most defence deals.

Yours faithfully,
Debalina Majumder, Calcutta

Sir — Despite the tall claims made by the army chief, S. Padmanabhan, the Indian armed forces are not ready for another war (“Delhi adds war drums to diplomacy chorus”, Jan 12). Padmanabhan may have been reassuring his countrymen that the security forces were capable of protecting the country in the advent of war. But it is also true that the sheer size of the Indian army is not necessarily a measure of its strength. Besides, the December 13 attack on the Indian parliament has once again demonstrated the vulnerability of the Indian defence establishment.

Despite the surprise Pakistan intrusion in Kargil and the obvious intelligence failure, India continues to take such incidents lightly. It is unfortunate that in almost every armed conflict, India has had to rely solely on the heroism of soldiers. There should an effort to streamline the armed forces with a retirement scheme for all officers above forty-five.

Yours faithfully,
Nandini Guha, Calcutta

Sir — Brijesh D. Jayal’s article, “For a harder state” (Jan 17), has raised some interesting points. As rightly pointed out by Jayal, despite the innumerable terrorist attacks on India, our politicians continue to remain nonchalant to India’s security concerns. While the United States of America responded to the September 11 attacks by carrying out air strikes on Afghanistan, it prevented India from doing the same when the Parliament was attacked.

Perhaps, India needs to accept one fact — the US can never be its friend. A careful analysis of Indo-US relations during the last decade would reveal that the US has always been driven by self-interest in its relations with India. Despite being aware that Pakistan was flooding Kashmir with militants or that China was involved in the clandestine transfer of missiles to Pakistan,the US did not take any action. Therefore, any talk of partnership between the two becomes irrelevant.

Yours faithfully,
Anuradha Dasgupta, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — The chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, should be congratulated for trying to prevent smoking, spitting and indiscriminate sale of tobacco on the streets. This is an issue that requires serious attention. Another disgusting practice which seems to be a male prerogative is that of men relieving themselves on the streets. There are other problems as well. Local trains in the city have compartments littered with filth. Commuters remain blissfully oblivious of the fact that they are spoiling public property and inconveniencing fellow-passengers. Unfortunately, there is a basic lack of civic sense among most Indians, and no magic wand can rid these practices overnight. However, they can certainly be limited and controlled with strict legislation.

Yours faithfully,
Bhaswati Sengupta, Konnagar

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