Editorial 1/ Chamber music
Editorial 2/ Snapped links
An alien happiness
Fifth Column/ Strategy of silence in times of war
Change is in the air
Document/ Statements of gender sensitivity
Letters to the editor

Part of the problem for any government, when it comes to policy change, is lack of consensus among different chambers of commerce. In the lead-up to the Union budget, the two main chambers, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry, seem remarkably united in their views. However, the finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, is not in a position to deliver everything on the wish list. First, the chambers do not want import duty reductions, meaning import duties on manufactured products. But the finance minister has virtually announced a peak customs duty of 20 per cent in three years. To remain credible, a reduction in the peak from the present 35 to 30 per cent is inevitable in the budget. Second, the chambers want agricultural income to be taxed. While the point is valid, the Constitution prevents Mr Sinha from taxing agriculture. He can attempt to generate a consensus among states, but earlier attempts to generate consensus on the public distribution system, power and even value added tax were not particularly successful. Instead, Mr Sinha will tax more services and perhaps even increase the rate from 5 to 10 per cent. Third, industry wants the budget to reduce the peak corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 30 per cent. This is possible, as the argument of aligning corporate tax rates with personal income tax rates is compelling.

It is unclear what these sops mean. Given increased movement towards VAT and rationalization of Central VAT and the special excise duty, discretionary fiscal treatment is impossible, quite apart from its inefficiency. Nor is the Keynesian idea of kick-starting very compelling. Many such sectors are state subjects and Central schemes have bad track records of delivery. There are also implementation problems, and money sanctioned is not spent. But the agriculture demand will probably strike a chord, and the finance minister will announce new schemes for agriculture and rural poverty alleviation and increase allocations to existing schemes, regardless of what they actually achieve.

Kick-starting apart, industry wants lowering of interest rates. Real interest rates are indeed inordinately high. But this cannot be addressed without lowering the fiscal deficit, slashing the bank rate or reducing interest rates on small savings. Mr Sinha is likely to remove several exemptions, not just for personal income tax, but also excise concessions for small-scale industry. Hence, a reduction in interest rates on small savings may be too much to expect, and bank rate reductions will take place outside the budget. Industry should by now have realized that, given the political economy, restoring a growth stimulus is outside the finance minister’s control. Industry should also have realized that the euphoria of 9/10 budgets amounts to nothing unless promises are implemented. Nonetheless, a consensus across the chambers is welcome, as it makes the task of policy formulation easier. In fact, there is considerable consensus about what the budget should do, even outside industry. Andhra Pradesh may have pioneered the placing of budget proposals in the public domain. There is no reason why Mr Sinha cannot also do so. The hype over budgets should disappear.


The ruling government always has reasons to be nervous. The Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine in Punjab is trying its best to get its act together as the assembly elections loom ahead. A chief minister suffering from injury, and therefore prevented from “being with” the people is not helpful, although Mr Parkash Singh Badal has made his campaign van almost into his living quarters. Rebellion haunts his party. So does the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal issue. After the court ruling that Punjab should complete work on the link within a fixed time so that Haryana can get its share of water, the Akali Dal has decided to go to court again, because it feels Punjab cannot give any other state even “a drop” of water. The issue has been further muddied by the fact that the BJP has parted ways with Mr Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana, and is now backing the Akali Dal’s stand. Even if it is a case of interstate disagreement without the Centre’s intervention, as the BJP vice-president has declared, the SYL canal remains a thorn in the SAD-BJP’s side. More so, because the Congress in Punjab is harping on the state government’s failure in this, as on many other fronts. It does not help Mr Badal’s logic that he has also blamed the Congress for Punjab’s inability to complete the canal.

In contrast, the Congress, led by the chief ministerial candidate, Mr Amrinder Singh, is projecting itself as the party of change and development. It is a campaign with a difference for a party which is mumbling indecisively in the other states. Mr Singh is talking of improvement in the agricultural sector, and of the transformation of Punjab into a technologically savvy state like Andhra Pradesh. Drawing on its past success in curbing militancy in the state, the party is on a high, since the SAD-BJP combine has provided it with enough scope to criticize the government’s corruption and failures. The exposure of the drugs route through Rajasthan into Punjab has not helped Mr Badal. Neither has the decision of the Election Commission to remove the block development officer whose signature decorated the pieces of paper promising plots of land to villagers in the name of the chief minister. The SAD-BJP government is facing a tough one this time.


Law, W.H. Auden wrote in 1939, is like love. “Like love we don’t know where or why,/ Like love we can’t compel or fly,/Like love we often weep,/ Like love we seldom keep.” The law, in India, brutally criminalizes homosexuality. Section 377 of the Indian penal code punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” with imprisonment for life. Framed in the 1860s by Victorian lawmakers, this is the dread voice of Michel Foucault’s “imperial prude”. But astonishingly, Section 377 remains a rather accurate expression of modern India’s perception of homosexuality. The IPC considers penetration “sufficient to constitute carnal intercourse”. This is, therefore, a law against sodomy, most frequently invoked by the police against male homosexuals in India — and often violently, for extortion and abuse. Lesbians fall through this net because women cannot sodomize each other.

However, there seems to be a possibility now that Section 377 may be amended to decriminalize and legalize homosexuality between consenting adults; the Delhi high court has sought the attorney general’s assistance in this matter. This is in response to a recent public interest litigation filed by a nongovernmental organization, and to a 1994 writ petition by another NGO in the Delhi high court. Both NGOs work primarily with HIV/AIDS, and were urgently trying to bring to the state’s notice the crucial link between homosexuality and AIDS. Decriminalization would have a profound effect on the AIDS epidemiology in India, and this does not seem to have occurred to those at the helm of the national AIDS campaign. Moreover, the 172nd report of the law commission of India, reviewing the existing Indian rape laws, also recommends — rather more cautiously — the deletion of Section 377. This is in the context of making rape laws more comprehensive and gender-neutral, to include even such things as the sexual abuse of males.

The pressure against Section 377 is therefore building up in India before a grim background of AIDS and rape. It is as if the contingent demands of disease and death on the one hand and violent crime on the other are making certain measures unavoidable. And this is the sad, and sordid, paradox of homosexuality in India. Its legalization cannot but endorse more firmly its links with pathology and criminality. The taboo must be broken in order to prevent a national calamity. Both high court petitions invoke fundamental and constitutional rights, equality and freedom. But it is the sense of a national emergency that compels them both, overrides every other consideration and guarantees them a hearing. Fear is proving to be a greater compulsion than freedom.

But in all this, what about happiness and pleasure? What about equality, independence, honesty, candour and delight? What about love and desire, flirtation and fun? How scandalously out of place these words sound in this joyless AIDS-and-rape-driven scenario! Is it possible to talk about such essential frivolities, and still be taken seriously, in the midst of this legal-medical-political grimness? Yet, is “sexual health”, in its fullest sense, at all possible without these things? Surely, sexuality is much more than simply the mechanics of sex, safe or unsafe, legal or illegal; the affirmation of a sexual identity involves a great deal more than learning about condoms and lubricants, or avoiding being beaten up by policemen and patriarchs. Perhaps there are more fundamental issues at stake here, issues and processes which go far beyond anal sex and penal codes.

If the legalization of homosexuality is to have any real meaning or value in people’s lives, if it is to make any actual difference at all, then nothing less than the whole of society, and all its institutions, with all their habits of thinking and acting, must be directly or indirectly implicated in this change. This is not a preposterous and hysterical claim, and Indian homosexuals have no reason to feel diffident or embarrassed to make it in these absolute and all-encompassing terms.

If it is not criminal any more for two consenting adult males or females to have sex in private, then what does this “freedom” imply or entail? What kind of room will have to be made in society for this to happen naturally and healthily? These sound like philosophical and political questions. But they also demand precise and pragmatic thinking, starting at the level of specific human situations and circumstances.

Freedom is ultimately the privilege, and the responsibility, of the free. A mature and fulfilling sexual existence can only be founded on the individual’s acknowledgement of this responsibility and on society’s honouring of this entitlement. In middle India, this two-way process must begin at home and in the family, within the most basic relationships with parents, siblings, servants, and then with the extended family, worked out in the most mundane situations of everyday life. This is where the damage could be most lasting, and correspondingly, the empowerment most radical. This is where the problems could be as material as money and space, and as intangible as filial love and expectations. And most often the material and the intangible, the practical and the sentimental could turn out to be inextricable from each other.

What is at stake here is a certain quality of critical independence, of being able to look at the familiar and the familial, at what one has always taken for granted (or what has always taken one for granted) from a distance, dispassionately, and then to live out the fruits of this lucidity, humanely but firmly, without guilt and with a clear, sharp sense of one’s natural entitlement to it.

Does the middle-class Indian family naturally foster this independence? Or is it necessarily achieved and sustained against the grain, bringing an inevitable rupture in its wake? Does it come automatically with economic independence, or is it more an emotional and psychological state, not necessarily guaranteed by material self-sufficiency? Is it, paradoxically, easier for Indian women to achieve this inward condition, because they know that they have to let go of what has nurtured them, whereas the convenient and seamless continuities in the lives of most Indian men enmesh them more uncritically and inescapably in the domestic status quo, creating habits of thinking and living which are more difficult to shed, and are therefore more “conservative” in essence?

This inner distance is perhaps the privilege of certain forms of marginality. (I am reminded here of Emily Dickinson’s “internal difference,/ Where the Meanings are…”.) In it lie the great risks of unthinking arrogance and separatism. But this “internal difference” could also be the basis of a profound reconstitution of the self, and of the many concentric nests, private and public, in which the self exists and plays itself out — the family, the university and the workplace, to name a few. It is easy to underestimate the extent to which the seemingly private choices and decisions of individual lives could touch other lives and consciousnesses.

Homosexuality, lived out freely and fearlessly, places before the individual and society a real set of imperatives, challenges and opportunities: to put reason and humanity before fear, habit and prejudice; to test our unexamined assumptions regarding some of the basic elements of human life — the family, marriage, parenthood, independence, loneliness, companionship, fidelity, promiscuity. To confront these possibilities in an environment of ignorance, evasion and hostility, and in a condition of vulnerability and powerlessness, is to walk the razor’s edge between spirit-crushing victimhood and martyrdom on the one hand and what I would call the “too-much-to-ask-for” mentality on the other. The former is familiar, in some form or the other, in an unequal society battening on deprivation of every kind. But the latter works more insidiously in a society given to spectacular feats of self-denial and unobtrusiveness. It breeds a habit of apologies and compromises, an all-too-ready compliance with the sentence to disappear and the injunction to silence, with the myriad forms of blackmail — from the crudest to the most refined — which keep families and societies together. Nobody, one has to remind oneself relentlessly, is too old, or too fragile, to be made to shed the habit of oppression. When South Africa gave up apartheid, its senior citizens were not exempted from making the necessary mental adjustments.

The language of risks has taken on mortal connotations after AIDS. Safety and caution are, quite understandably, the millennial virtues. But is it possible to live interestingly and creatively without taking any risks at all? In the 17th century, Pascal saw faith as a wager, a leap in the dark. And Portia’s leaden casket — the one that would free her from the injunction to sexual passivity — asks of him who chooses it nothing less than the ability “to give and hazard all he hath”. Is it not possible then to salvage the lost art of hazarding from the realm of the fatally irresponsible and restore it to a life lived with courage, gusto, humour and lucidity? For nothing new could happen to us if we never took risks.


Events following the terrorist attacks on Parliament and the ensuing military build up along the line of control by both India and Pakistan, signal a very real possibility of war breaking out between the two embittered enemies. Given the intensity of hostility between the two neighbours, an occasional flaring up of tension is hardly surprising. What is disturbing is the nature of the present escalation and the sheer magnitude of the military preparation by both sides.

Yet, experts say that firing across the border has gone up by 15 to 20 per cent only. This reinforces the truth that such cross-border exchanges are “routine” phenomenon. But if such high levels of military mobilization constitute normal state behaviour, there must be something really wrong with our foreign policy and security thinking.

There are several aspects to this problem. To begin with, even rudimentary communication between the two states seems to be failing. This is surprising given the two states are now self-proclaimed and responsible nuclear powers, and nuclearized adversaries are supposed to “talk”, no matter what the compulsions.

The problem here is not so much about the futility of talking as the growing realization, particularly in India, that talking is meaningless because there is nothing to talk about.

Inviting trouble

Indian thinking has manifestly shifted from communication to action. Yet, wholesale military action runs the risk of inviting international disapproval and also gives rise to the possibility of a cycle of retributive exchanges culminating in nuclear strikes. Paradoxically, a military dictatorship seems more eager and open to talk, while a democracy cites “substantive action” as a precondition for talks to resume.

Also disturbing is the fact that, riding on the international movement against terrorism, India has unleashed a diplomatic offensive to garner international support in favour of its demands against Pakistan. This amounts to internationalizing the Kashmir issue. If Pervez Musharraf does manage to take effective, credible and determined action against extremists and jihadis in Pakistan, he will gain a long term advantage on the Kashmir issue. Besides, terrorism is not all there is to the Kashmir imbroglio.

India has also never welcomed international involvement, whe- ther through past interventions of the United Nations, or by Western powers like the United States of America. Once sanity returns to the subcontinent, India will find it extremely difficult to ask for a withdrawal of the outside intervention in the Kashmir issue.

This reinforces the suspicion that the concentration of troops along the LoC is welcomed by India as a guarantee against possible normalization, which might reactivate the regular international modalities on Kashmir.

No place for critics

Another disturbing feature relates to “constructions” of national security. The image of a “hard state” and the ideology of hard realism naturally gain importance during such times of crisis.

Also of concern is the trend towards disapproval of any “criticism” of the country’s policies on security and other delicate issues. Frenzied radicals and mindless extremists apart, no one denies the seriousness of the problem of terrorism in India.

If India wants to sell its image as a democracy, it cannot deny its citizens the right to difference of opinion. But this is precisely what the Indian state seems to be increasingly denying. In fact, the objective of the state here seems to be long term. The prevailing “abnormality” presents the Indian state a perfect pretext to “silence” all critics, to punish the deviants and to reward those who support, justify and propagate the official view of the state.

It is unnatural to find a democracy embrace silence and turn its back on communication. Nevertheless, this seems to have become the strategy employed by the Indian polity, in its present state. But India needs silence not as a long term preparation of war. A war between two nuclear powers is logically ruled out. We need silence for our polity and our economy. We need to stretch our patience as far as it will go.


Soon after the Alliance armies marched into Kabul and later Kandahar, and delivered Afghanistan from the taliban, women of the country were significantly declared to have been “liberated”. Everywhere, pictures appeared of women smiling, their veils lifted and several spoke of how they were no longer afraid. Away from all the hullaballoo in Afghanistan, the dawn of the new year also saw the start of a quiet revolution in Turkish society, when centuries of legally enshrined inequality between the sexes came to an end.

Since January 1, 2002, Turkish men are no longer regarded by law as the heads of their families. This was part of a series of sweeping reforms to the country’s civil code that have been described as the result of nearly 50 years of hard work. Turkey rejected Islamic law in favour of a more secular legal code decades ago, but the civil code that was still followed did not legally treat men and women as equals. Now a woman is legally allowed to take up a job without first seeking her spouse’s permission, and the husband no longer has the right to decide on his own where the couple will live. But by far, the most significant element of the new legislation is the provision that married women are entitled to an equal share of joint assets in the event of divorce.

The new law also gives women a much greater say in decisions concerning the home and children. Women are now entitled to sue for divorce if their husbands commit adultery, and have acquired the right to claim compensation and alimony.

The new law also addresses the question of terminology. Women are now entitled to continue to use their maiden names. While women have long had the right to vote, and Turkey is one of the few Muslim states to have had a female prime minister, these adjustments have been long overdue, according to several women’s rights groups. Many women feel that even this new law does not go far enough. It does not automatically apply in retrospect, so 17 million Turkish women, who are already married, will still be deprived of legal support should they wish to get divorced.

While these changes in the civil code are part of the country’s bid to enter the European Union, women’s rights activists also hope they will serve as a model to other Muslim countries. Turkey, which lies physically between Europe and Asia, and culturally between the secular West and Muslim East, has long struggled to balance its ambitions as a modern democratic nation with the faith of its people.

Women’s rights have been one element in the conflict between the need for a secular outlook and the preservation of older values. For instance, the traditional headscarf or hijab worn by women has always been an emotive symbol in Turkey, and has been seen by secularists as the flag of political Islam threatening to overturn the strictly secular constitution. In an attempt to quash fundamentalist Muslim tendencies, the Turkish government banned the wearing of hijabs on campuses and parliament buildings, but this aroused great controversy.

Those in support of wearing the hijab have called it a matter of freedom of expression, and their campaign has won the support of a number of international human rights groups. On the other hand, many people believe that those demanding the right to wear the headscarf ultimately want to force all women to cover up, whether they like it or not.

In April 2000, thousands of female students were prevented from entering their universities and colleges because they wanted to wear the headscarf. The students protested that their human rights were infringed upon, but influential figures in the state education system held that wearing the scarf was a statement of political intent and current laws allowed them to ban it. The secular elite which has ruled modern Turkey for more than 75 years now says that the headscarf has become a disruptive political symbol. But it remains an issue which goes to the heart of Turkey’s complex effort to define the role of the state and the role of religion in society.

As the dispute goes on, it is claiming many victims. One human rights group estimates that in 1999 alone, more than 16,000 women were prevented from entering universities or taking examinations because they refused to remove their scarves.

In August 2000, Turkey’s state-run religious foundation also incurred the wrath of the people after it published a booklet that approves of wife-beating. The booklet, published by the Pious Foundation, part of the government’s religious affairs directorate, says men can beat their wives as long as they do not strike the face and only beat them moderately. The Muslim’s Handbook also says that if a man’s wife is ill and he cannot afford a servant, he can take a second wife. A leading woman deputy in the Turkish parliament expressed her disappointment at the publication of the booklet, describing it as totally unacceptable. In its justification, the foundation claimed that several books published in the past had approved of wife-beating, the Muslim’s Handbook merely tried to present a modern interpretation of Islam with greater rights for Muslim women.

Turkey remains a country full of contradictions. These contradictions often manifest themselves in the conflict between the military and the civilian establishments of the government, in their mutual quest to define a “modern” Turkey. The military believes that civilian institutions have come increasingly under the influence of radical Islamic groups. Turkey’s influential National Security Council, dominated by the military, has long called for the dismissal of civil servants linked to separatist or radical Islamist groups to help protect Turkey’s unity and its secular system. But the president refused to approve a decree authorizing such dismissals on grounds that they were unconstitutional. The military has also accused the schools run by an Islamic brotherhood known as the fethullahcilar, or disciples of Fethullah, of seeking to brainwash young people.

Until recently, the Turkish establishment had been delighted by the way in which these schools had enhanced Turkey’s international image. The man behind this, Fethullah Gulen, was even fęted by Turkey’s secular establishment; his message seen as one of tolerance and seeking to promote a private, non-politicized form of Islam that can peacefully coexist with Turkey’s strongly secular state. But the Turkish military, that sees itself as the custodian of the country’s secular tradition, has always remained suspicious of Gulen’s motives. Gulen has now been charged with plotting to overthrow the country’s secular state.

But while this conflict rages among the educated elite, concentrated in the urban areas, huge sections of Turkish society — especially in the rural areas — remain deeply conservative. Which is why there are those who have expressed pessimism regarding the new legal code. They believe that the people’s way of thinking needs to be changed first. Attitudes in the interior are still rooted firmly in the traditions of eastern Mediterranean and Muslim societies. It is going to take more than just a new legislation to change this. The real battle must now take place in the country’s small villages and neighbourhoods, where custom and tradition are more powerful than the law.


Deletion of section 377. — Section 377, Indian Penal Code, deserves to be deleted in the light of the changes effected by us in section 375 to 376E. We leave persons having carnal intercourse with any animal to their just desserts.

Amendment of section 509, IPC — We recommend that the existing section 509 be amended as follows: “509. Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman: Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”...

We recommend that a new section 166A be introduced in the IPC in the following terms: “166A. Whoever, being a public servant —

(a) knowingly disobeys any direction of the law prohibiting him from requiring the attendance at any place of any person for the purpose of investigation into an offence or other matter, or

(b) knowingly disobeys any other direction of the law regulating the manner in which he shall conduct such investigation, to the prejudice of any person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.”

No definition of the expression “consent” is called for at this stage...

Insertion of sub-sections (3) and (4) in section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. — We recommend that the following two sub-sections be inserted in section 160 of the CrPC:

“(3) Where under this chapter, the statement of a female is to be recorded either as first information of an offence or in the course of an investigation into an offence and she is a person against whom an offence under sections 354, 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D, 376E or 509 of the IPC is alleged to have been committed or attempted, the statement shall be recorded by a female police officer and in case a female police officer is not available, by a female government servant available in the vicinity and in case a female government servant is also not available, by a female authorized by an organization interested in the welfare of women or children.

“(4) Where in any case none of the alternatives mentioned in sub-section (3) can be followed...the officer in charge of the police station shall, after recording the reasons in writing, proceed with the recording of the statement of such female victim in the presence of a relative of the victim.”

We recommend raising the age mentioned in the proviso to sub-section (1) of section 160 from 15 years to 16 years...

We recommend that in addition to the above modification, the proviso to sub-section (1) of section 160 be substituted to read as follows: “Provided that no male person under the age of 16 years or woman shall be required to attend at any place other than the place in which such male person or woman resides. While recording the statement, a relative or a friend or a social worker of the choice of the person whose statement is being recorded shall be allowed to remain present. The relative, friend or social worker so allowed to be present shall not interfere with the recording of statement in any manner whatsoever.”

Insertion of a new section, namely, section 164A in the CrPC, 1973. “164A. (1) Where, during the stage when any offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C, section 376D or section 376E is under investigation and it is proposed to get the victim examined by a medical expert, such examination shall be conducted by a registered medical practitioner, with the consent of the victim or of some person competent to give such consent on his/her behalf. In all cases, the victim should be sent for such examination without any delay. Provided that if the victim happens to be a female, the medical examination shall be conducted by a female medical officer, as far as possible.

“(2) The registered medical practitioner to whom the victim is forwarded shall without delay examine the person and prepare a report specifically recording the result of his examination and giving the following details: (i) the name and address of the victim and the person by whom he/she was brought, (ii) the age of the victim, (iii) marks of injuries, if any, on the person of the victim, (iv) general mental condition of the victim and (v) other material particulars, in reasonable detail.

“(3) The report shall state precisely the reasons for each conclusion arrived at.

“(4) The report shall specifically record that the consent of the victim or of some person competent to give such consent on his/her behalf to such examination had been obtained.”

to be concluded



Games people play

Sir — Raju Mukherjee is not right in saying that non-cricketers have done more for the game than cricketers (“Those who played ball”, Jan 17). A look at the present state of the game — tangled in a number of controversies — is enough to disprove Mukherjee’s thesis. Could Jagmohan Dalmiya have attracted spectators to the grounds during his tenure as the International Cricket Council chairman, if the Sachin Tendulkars and Steve Waughs had not been around? What have K.P.S. Gill, who has recently been elected president of the Indian Hockey Federation for a third term, and politicians like Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, at the helm of affairs in the national football federation for a long time now, done for the sport? Administrators like Dalmiya, with their keen business acumen, might be successful in ensuring greater monetary returns but cannot add to the game in terms of quality. It is time to face the fact that persons who have no direct knowledge of a game can never bring to it any real or long-term good.
Yours faithfully,
Sasanka Sekhar Ganguly, Calcutta

Electric blues

Sir — The article, “The price of inefficiency” (Jan 28), by S.L. Rao was disappointing, besides being inconsistent. Rao advocates a hike in electricity charges for domestic consumers, but common sense would dictate that in order to achieve faster economic growth in the country, it is necessary to provide electricity and other services at cheaper rates.

Electricity can easily be provided cheaply by reducing the cost of its generation and distribution. Overstaffed and inefficient managements are at the root of many of the problems in this sector. The cost of electricity can be brought down by at least 20 per cent by checking pilferage and losses in transmission. The installation cost of power stations can be cut by about 25 per cent by controlling the delays in project construction. There are several factors behind our power stations running at losses. Over-invoicing of raw materials (when coal is used) is one of them. In the circumstances, why must consumers be burdened with higher tariffs on electricity? A comparative study of power tariffs in some developed countries can provide a clue to a satisfactory unit rate in India.

Rao also advocates the withdrawal of the 30 per cent subsidy provided by the government for the cost of fuel consumed in electricity production. But the cost of fuel does not account for more than a third of the cost of an unit. Hence, there will be a minimal effect on tariffs if the fuel subsidy is withdrawn. However, a 30 per cent subsidy may be granted when fuel prices rise in the international market.

It is perhaps necessary to initially make electricity supply dearer to facilitate industrial growth, which in turn will result in the growth of national income. Eventually, the revenues earned as a result of the increase in national income can be utilized to provide better health and education. But this need not become permanent.

Yours faithfully,
Bubun Roy, via email

Sir — The recent spell of load shedding in Calcutta was attributed to the West Bengal state electricity board stopping power supply to CESC. This followed CESC’s non-payment of dues to the WBSEB. Ironically, WBSEB was penalized by the National Thermal Power Corporation last year in a similar case of default. At that time too, the shortfall in power was passed on to CESC and consumers in Calcutta suffered. The recent hike in power tariff proves that it is always the consumers who bear the burden of financial mismanagement by the WBSEB or CESC.

One solution could be for WBSEB to float bonds. Similar measures have been adopted before to settle outstanding dues between state electricity boards and NTPC. An alternative proposal could be for CESC to transfer certain assets — preferably a power plant — to WBSEB, which in turn would hand it over to NTPC to liquidate a major part of the dues. This has proved successful in Uttar Pradesh. The beneficiaries have been the people of the state, the UP state electricity board and NTPC, since the NTPC management raised the production of the transferred power plant from 18 per cent to 80 per cent within two years.

These measures would prevent power cuts which do not occur because of shortage in installed capacity but owing to the irresponsibility of large power utilities whose annual turnovers run into crores.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — I was astonished to read, inscribed in bold below my usual WBSEB bill, the warning — “Power theft is punishable by imprisonment”. We, who pay our bills regularly and always within the specified time, know that power theft is a punishable offence. But are the people who are stealing it aware of it? We pay the electricity board whatever they charge us — which means we pay for our usage and also for the electricity stolen. In a sense, the recent load shedding in Calcutta occured because somebody hadn’t paid his dues.

The sad part is that such power theft continues unchecked. This means that recent events will be repeated again, and yet again. Government intervention is a must to check power theft. This can be done either by imposing heavy penalties on people stealing electricity or by making the power distribution tamper-proof.

Yours faithfully,
N.R. Venkateswaran, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — The first anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Bhuj was highlighted by the media in the manner of a grand birthday bash. Bhuj will make headlines again around the same time next year, and the year after and so on till it fades out. One can’t help feeling that like politicians, the media too have no qualms about exploiting the sentiments of the suffering millions. Do journalists ever put themselves in the shoes of the victims and try to see what it feels like to be merely headlines and prime time items?
Yours faithfully,
Mahua De, Jamshedpur

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