Editorial 1/ Razor’s edge
Editorial 2/ Deep cleanse
A matter of relationship
Fifth Column/ On the path to flight safety
Mani talk / The goddess of big things
Document/ For a breath of fresh air
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ RAZOR’S EDGE 
 
 
 
 
A consensus is the most difficult to achieve in an atmosphere vitiated by mistrust. The proverbial slip between the cup and the lip has spoiled for the moment the compromise solution which had been suggested by the Kanchi sankaracharya for ending the Ayodhya dispute. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board has rejected the solution. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board was of the view that the dispute needed a holistic solution rather than the piecemeal one being suggested by the sankaracharya. The board has decided to move the Supreme Court to stop the symbolic puja slated to be performed on the undisputed land on March 15. But the board has given an assurance that it would not launch an agitation if the apex court allowed the puja. It is clear that the board has lost an opportunity to arrive at a solution based on consensus. It might regret this decision, especially if the Supreme Court’s verdict goes against it. If that happens, the Muslim Personal Law Board will be left empty-handed and utterly bereft of a bargaining ploy. It was open to it to accept the solution with a few caveats; these caveats could have been concerned with certain reassurances from the other side. Those reassurances could have acted as its fallback position if the court verdict was adverse. It has now thrown out the baby and the bath water and is hoping perhaps that a new baby will be born through what it calls a holistic solution. The Muslim Law Board’s position is disappointing, and in the short to medium turn it may have even let down those whose interests it seeks to represent.

The problem with the ongoing negotiations is that the hawks on both sides are speaking to each other. It has become a dialogue of the deaf. On both sides, there exists a middle ground which does not have strong and persuasive spokesmen. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas have both reverted to their extreme positions following the Muslim Personal Law Board’s rejection of the compromise formula. Those claiming to represent Muslim opinion have permitted the VHP and those sailing with the VHP to take advantage of the high moral wind. The VHP can now pretend to be the injured party who in all goodwill had agreed to a compromise only to have the offer spurned by Muslim fundamentalists.

The solution to the Ayodhya dispute has obviously hit an impasse. This should not lead to the conclusion that all is lost; some degree of see-saw is inevitable in all tortuous negotiations. The atmosphere is charged but this should not lead to a complete retreat from the negotiating table. The dispute is complex because the issue is emotive. In a controversy involving faith, reason is the first victim. The irrationality that informs the present context is further compounded by the growing mistrust that pervades the relationship between the two sides. Caught in all this is the government of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It must be haunted by the fear of a revival of religious violence in India in an era marked by a global revulsion against religious militancy. Mr Vajpayee has adopted the only civilized response in the given situation. He has said that his government will honour and go by the court’s verdict. The middle path has not yet entered a cul-de-sac.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ DEEP CLEANSE 
 
 
 
 
The Assam government must move quickly and earnestly to defuse the tension between different ethnic groups in Kokrajhar and other Bodo-dominated areas of the state. These areas have periodically witnessed ethnic killings on a scale unrivalled elsewhere in the Northeast. Bodo militant outfits have often resorted to ethnic cleansing to ensure their community’s majority status in the areas and also to stifle all voices of opposition from the non-Bodos. The All Bodo Students’ Union’s threat to hit back at the non-Bodos’ agitation cannot therefore be taken lightly. It is not difficult to understand why 18 organizations of non-Bodo communities began the agitation in protest against the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council. Their sense of insecurity has been worsened by the increasingly militant tone of the Bodo outfits and frequent attacks on non-Bodos. The ABSU needs to do much more to assuage non-Bodo feelings than promise to reserve some assembly seats for them in the Bodoland areas. Instead, the ABSU president, Mr Rabiram Narzary, has complicated matters by questioning the locus standi of the non-Bodo leaders and urging the government not to hold any discussions with them. This is no way to assure non-Bodos that their interests would not be harmed by the proposed BTC.

Both the Assam government and the Centre should take adequate care to consider the pros and cons of the BTC before it is finalized. Earlier attempts to create a local government in the form of the Bodoland Autonomous Council have been stillborn, largely because of the Bodo outfits’ refusal to accommodate other ethnic groups in it. The ABSU must also unequivocally condemn the murderous activities of banned groups like the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the Bodo Liberation Tigers which continue with their depredations in the name of their fight for a “sovereign Bodo state”. The ABSU’s demand for an early intervention by the state and the Union governments for creating the BTC has some merit. But it too has to respect democratic norms and ensure not only the security of other ethnic groups but also their representation in the local government. The immediate task however is maintaining peace and ethnic harmony.

   

 
 
A MATTER OF RELATIONSHIP 
 
 
BY J.N. DIXIT
 
 
Hamid Karzai, chairman of the interim government of Afghanistan, visited India on February 26 and 27, putting to some extent at rest speculation that he is not too enthusiastic about India. No major political or security agreements were signed with Afghanistan during his visit, nor were there any declarations of profound policies about bilateral relations or regional developments. He had all the scheduled meetings with the leaders of the Indian government as well as with the leader of the opposition, Sonia Gandhi. His more substantive discussions were with the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, and the defence minister, George Fernandes.

Given this general factual background, the question arises whether his visit was of political significance or whether it laid the foundation for an entirely new and positive edifice of Indo-Afghan relations. His discussions in New Delhi have to be assessed in the context of his foreign policy initiatives and discussions since he took over charge of the interim Afghan administration nearly nine weeks ago.

First, we must take note of the management of domestic politics which he undertook. Given the absence of any cohesive Pashtun military force in Afghanistan, he had to accept the troops of the Northern Alliance as the main national instrumentality for defence and security of Afghanistan. He also had to give a number of important portfolios to leaders from the Northern Alliance (Uzbeks and Tajiks) in the interim cabinet to ensure a manageable coalition in this initial stage of re-stabilization of Afghanistan.

The writ of his government does not run effectively in different parts of Afghanistan with local warlords supported by armed cadres following their own agenda. He has not only had to cope with the Pashtun, non-Pashtun politico-ethnic divide in Afghanistan society, but he has also had to face internecine factionalism and violence within Pashtun factions and within the Northern Alliance. The conflict between the Tajik and Uzbek cadres of the Northern Alliance in northern and north-eastern Afghanistan, the assassination of the minister for civil aviation of Afghanistan, and the refusal of local tribesmen and governmental leaders south of Kandahar, in Paktia and in Pakhtika, reflect the complex factiousness which permeates Afghan politics.

Karzai has had to undertake high-level foreign policy consultations with leaders of important powers of the world while trying to keep his government together and initiate domestic consultations for the summoning of the Loya Jirga or the grand national tribal assembly. There was criticism and concern in some circles in India that despite the unqualified support which India gave to the campaign against the taliban and the promptitude with which India extended developmental assistance to Afghanistan, Karzai has not given sufficient attention to India. As usual, the irrelevant Indian lament was he went to Pakistan but he had not given any final dates for a visit to India.

An objective assessment of his trips abroad and discussions with other heads of government indicate that he structured these visits and discussions with a careful sense of priorities. The priorities were to establish his government’s credibility and effectiveness in the eyes of the major powers of the world led by the United States of America; second, to obtain the maximum amount of economic and developmental assistance for Afghanistan as speedily as possible to stabilize his government and to restore civil administration in Afghanistan, responsive to Afghanistan’s immediate and multi-faceted requirements.

The third priority was to establish contacts with immediate geographical neighbours to seek their cooperation in the above processes. The fourth priority was to restore Afghanistan’s identity as a moderate Islamic country within the community of Islamic states. And the fifth priority was to interact with governments which have a direct interest in Afghanistan’s stability and development and to inform them also of his plans and his difficulties and his anticipations about political prospects in Afghanistan.

When one takes note of these logical priorities which underpin his foreign policy approach, Indian angst about his not coming to India before going to Pakistan and so on is not logical or practical. He visited Japan, the US, and the United Kingdom. He has visited China, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. And then in the last leg of his journeys he visited Iran and India between February 23 and 27. The chronological order of these visits affirm that they took place within the framework of his priorities mentioned above. His visit to Iran is of particular significance given the fact that he went to talk to Ayatollah Khameini (the supreme Iranian leader) and the president, Mohammad Khatami, after the declaration of the US president, George W. Bush, that Iran was a part of “the axis of evil” in his “state of the union” speech in January. It showed that despite Afghanistan’s dependence on the US, Karzai has a capability of independent foreign policy options which are of importance to his country despite the obvious macro-level political constraints affecting the Afghan predicament at present.

His delaying coming to India need not be interpreted as India having a low priority in his scheme of things. It should be that Indo-Afghan relations are pegged to a different and long-term framework of importance. Karzai has had connections with India in his youth. He did his graduation from a college in Shimla. He apparently has positive memories of his time in India. He was, of course, critical of India for India’s support to the Soviet-backed Babrak Karmal government in Afghanistan as he was part of the Afghan struggle against that government. That resentment, however, does not seem to linger in his psyche or policies towards India. His visit was the culmination of the process of high level consultations between his interim government and the government of India which have taken place since December last. The Afghan defence minister, Fahim Khan, the deputy defence minister, Rashid Dostum, and interior minister, Yunus Qanooni, visited New Delhi for discussions on Indo-Afghan cooperation which led to an agreement about economic and development assistance and extension of training facilities to the Afghanistan government. India has pledged a hundred million dollars of assistance to Afghan- istan at the Tokyo conference in January.

During Karzai’s visit, Vajpayee announced another ad hoc immediate assistance package of the value of ten million dollars. There are also indications that his discussions with Jaswant Singh and George Fernandes have resulted in decisions about cooperation: with Afghanistan in countering terrorism, in ensuring a proper security environment, for certain categories of defence supplies and some training facilities for Afghan administrative and security personnel in India. A practical and measured revival of long-term stabilization of Indo-Afghan relations stands initiated with Karzai’s visit. He also gave his assessment about political prospects in Afghanistan which are of equal importance. He has acknowledged that the convening of Loya Jirga will be a complex exercise given the politico-military tensions in Afghanistan compounded by the escape of large number of taliban cadres who have dispersed in the Afghan countryside (leaving aside those who escaped into Pakistan).

He indicated that an international peace-keeping or peace maintenance force (separate from the anti-terrorist coalition force), operating in Afghanistan will have to be augmented and may have to remain in Afghanistan till Afghanistan creates a cohesive national army and police force. He and the foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, were, however, clear in their mind that once the above process takes off, the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan. They were also averse to having military personnel from neighbouring countries who might generate internal antagonisms in the emerging Afghan power structure. He emphasized that India has an important role to play in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and re-stabilization and in resisting the revival of religious extremism and terror. It was also the assessment of the Afghan delegation that close relations with India and the US would strengthen India’s role in Afghan developments.

A positive revival of Indo-Afghan relations has been initiated by this visit. There is no need to evaluate these relations through the prism of our relations with Pakistan, Afghan-Pak relations or the US’s relations with Pakistan, as far as these relations do not manifest trends which may negatively affect Indian interests.

The author is former foreign secretary of India

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ ON THE PATH TO FLIGHT SAFETY 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
India has lost two prominent political leaders in small aircraft crashes within a span of less than six months. Before the Lok Sabha speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi, died in a helicopter accident on March 3, a small passenger aircraft crash led to the death of Madhav Rao Scindia, then deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. Apart from these two accidents, there have been several other mishaps which fortunately have not ended up in fatalities. This particular crash, involving a civilian helicopter, was the sixth one within a year. A recent inquiry conducted by the director general of civil aviation, H.S. Khola, into the management of small aircraft by private operators had found that 77 per cent of crashes in India over the past five years involved small transport planes and helicopters.

Hardly a month back, a Madhya Pradesh government helicopter, usually used by the chief minister, crashed while flying between Indore and Bhopal. Before this, a helicopter had crashed in Manali. There were three helicopter accidents in 2001. In January, a helicopter crashed on the Himalayan foothills, followed by a fatal crash in Arunachal Pradesh in May. This was followed by a helicopter of the Jammu and Kashmir government crashing near Amarnath in July.

Flying in style

That the safety norms were sidelined in the helicopter carrying Balayogi is obvious from the fact that the company owning it ignored the mandatory requirement of having a co-pilot. Subsequent preliminary investigations also revealed that the tanks were not carrying sufficient fuel.

The increasing frequency of helicopter and small aircraft accidents raises questions about the safety of these aircraft owned by private companies and state governments, which have become the favourite means of transport for politicians these days. Flying by chartered or government-owned aircraft not only saves time but also raises the politicians’ status in their constituencies. However, the safety aspects of these privately owned aircraft flying on non-scheduled paths, do not receive sufficient attention from the authorities.

In recent years, more and more state governments, despite their poor financial status, are vying to own small executive planes and helicopters. Corporate houses own fleets of expensive aircraft. Also, several aviation companies owning light aircraft and helicopters have also sprung up. But the infrastructure needed to maintain these is lacking. Also, there are no checks to ensure that pilots are trained to fly different types of aircraft. Another area of concern is the accuracy of the DGCA’s safety and security audit.

Unsafe skies

As usual, the civil aviation ministry has ordered an inquiry and appointed the controller of aviation safety, Bir Singh, to investigate into the likely causes of the Balayogi crash. But this inquiry will be effective only if its findings are implemented and complied with by operators, ministry of civil aviation, DGCA and the airports authority of India. The authorities’ callousness is indicated by reports that the DGCA’s accident prevention cell, whose job it is to ensure that recommendations of inquiry committees are abided by all concerned, is manned by a single person.

The DGCA, which issues airworthiness certificate to these aircraft, is responsible for their maintenance and safety checks. The DGCA is also supposed to maintain a list of all aircraft owned by companies and individuals in India. But the DGCA seems to have failed to do this.

The March 3 crash should make the ministry of civil aviation and the departments under it look into their present inefficiency. The recommendations of the inquiry instituted in the wake of Scindia’s plane accident need to be implemented.

The ministry must ensure flight safety regulations are enforced given the increasing number of accidents. Cash-strapped state governments, which cannot even pay salaries to employees, must stop investing in expensive aircraft for their ministers. If needed, aircraft can be requisitioned from the nearest Indian airforce base. This would be much more economical and would also ensure safety as these aircraft are routinely checked.

   

 
 
MANI TALK / THE GODDESS OF BIG THINGS 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
It was through Sunday, now, alas, lain to sleep, that I discovered Arundhati Roy. She had written a piece on the making of the film, Electric Moon. Quite bowled over by the way she manipulated the language, like Hunterwali with her whiplash, I called the editor, Vir Sanghvi, to ask who was his outstanding discovery. Then came her rubbishing of Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen, again on Sunday — another masterpiece of polemics, deeply imbued with her profound empathy for the Persecuted Other. All this was before The God of Small Things rocketed her into the stratosphere of fame and recognition.

I know no one else — at least not since Mahatma Gandhi — who has so effectively used her perch of eminence to fight the battle of principle, however unpopular or out of sync with the general national mood that principle might be. None matched either the power of her logic or the closeness of her argument on the greatest stupidity of them all — the nuclear explosion at Pokhran. And none came close to refuting her tellingly argued case against that ultimate crime on humanity — the most powerful country in the world bombing to rubble the weakest country in the world, in pursuit of one man. Even him they could not catch. Meanwhile, far more innocents than were killed by bin Laden on September 11 lie dead in the killing fields of Afghanistan, victims of the pernicious American ethic that when others murder it is because they have no respect for human life; but when the Americans murder it is an expression of the deep humanity of Western civilization. It was many years after Electric Moon that I first chanced on Arundhati.

Now, I dare call her a friend. Certainly, there are few — possibly none — I admire more. Not only as a writer and political analyst is she streets ahead of the ponderous bores who run seminars at the India International Centre, as a human being her puckish humour, her delightful mimicry, her deep commitment and dedication to the causes she makes her own, her generosity, with money and of soul, and her preference for the company of the humble — all make her one of the best companions and comrades one could ask for. Also, she is quite extraordinarily lovely — Madhuri Dixit with an IQ of 200.

So when the Supreme Court punishes her for speaking her mind, my heart goes out to her. And my mind travels back to Gandhi in 1922, after the first non-cooperation satyagraha, in that makeshift court-room in the Ahmedabad Circuit House, telling the judge that it is the judge’s duty to inflict on those who break the law the severest punishment ordained by the law, even as it is the duty of citizens like him who believe in justice to fight unjust laws but take unflinchingly the punishment which comes with the struggle. It is that which made freedom for the nation ineluctable. It is Arundhati Roy as the Mahatma who can win the next battle — freedom for the citizen. And just as Gandhi used the institutions of imperialism to fight imperialism, so does Arundhati use the institutions of our democracy to fight for democracy.

But tragically last week the comparison ended right there. Arundhati blew it. Instead of exercising her satyagrahi right to spend three months in prison — Gandhi had cheerfully accepted six years for “sedition”, leading to the sentencing judge expressing the hope that the government would see the light and release Gandhi much earlier — Arundhati chose to pay a token fine in lieu of continued incarceration. She explained this decision, taken with all deliberation after agonizing over it through her night in Tihar Jail, as follows:“Paying the fine does not in any way mean that I have apologized or accepted the judgment. I decided that paying the fine was the correct thing to do, because I have made the point I was trying to make. To make it further would be to make my- self into a martyr for a cause that is not mine alone.” The Hindu, from where I have taken that quote, has a story from London immediately below headlined, “UK media hails Arundhati as political icon”.

So, is Arundhati Roy a “political icon” — or just a somewhat eccentric, self-indulgent merchant of words, with a sharp nose for publicity? Is she just the author of The God of Small Things — or herself The Goddess of Big Things? The choice is, of course, hers, but I pray the gods, small and big, to make her the political icon of our generation, for the country is desperately in need of crusaders like her, who can use their skills in one field for activism in another, who have better uses for the Booker prize money than buying a flat in Chanakyapuri (she already has one there, no need for another!). Her values and instincts are right. Her causes are well-chosen. Her potential for good — great good — is immense. She must hang in there. Certainly, I hope she will be nominated to the Rajya Sabha.

But first things first. She says she paid the fine because she thinks she has “made the point I was trying to make”. No, she has started making the point she was trying to make. Very effectively too. But freedom is not won in a night. Had she refused to pay the fine, the Supreme Court would have had no option, in the light of its own sentence, to keeping her behind bars for another ninety days — each one of which would have exposed the judgment for the abuse of true justice it is. She says the cause is not hers alone. Nor was Gandhi’s cause his alone. He fought for all of us. Arundhati is not fighting for herself. She is fighting for all of us. The longer she keeps the focus on the wrong done to her, the longer the rest of us have to get our act together. By spending one night in Tihar, Arundhati got one day’s headlines, one day’s editorials, one day of public anguish. Had she spent ninety more nights within, the impact of her blow for freedom would have been ninety times greater.

I think it was more her desire not to “make myself into a martyr” — a reflection of her innate humility — which is what is really at the root of her decision to pay the fine rather than hog the headlines any longer. That would have been the thing to do if her aim was what her denigrators say it is: headlines-snatching. But the fact is that her goals are greater than herself and embrace a great national cause. Every cause needs its martyrs. I cannot be a martyr because I have not won the Booker. Were I to go to jail, people might snigger; I doubt anyone but my wife and daughters would shed a tear. When, however, Arundhati Roy spurns the comforts of a post-Booker somnolence to throw herself into battle, she embodies the stuff of which martyrs are made.

The bugle has not sounded the end of the battle. I think Arundhati has lost this round, but there are many more to follow. I trust we will see the emergence of a new icon who will win her cause before she is martyred. But she will win it only if she is ready for martyrdom. I commend to her a book I know she must know by heart: T.S.Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. For her dilemma is the same as that of Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury: how not to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Best of luck, Arundhati, I shall be there in the shadows cheering you on.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ FOR A BREATH OF FRESH AIR 
 
 
 
 
Priority work under the committee and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development should include elaborate studies for better understanding of the relationship between trade and environment, particularly for sustainable development in developing countries. India realizes the vital need for international cooperation — bilateral, multilateral and regional initiatives — in implementing Agenda 21.

India is committed to developing and strengthening the process of international cooperation, which would cover not only cooperation among governments and international agencies, but also among the private sector, civil society and voluntary organizations. The international community should develop the appropriate open, equitable, rule-based, cooperative, non-discriminatory and mutually beneficial economic environment....taking into account the special needs of developing countries, in line with the concept of common but differentiated responsibility affirmed in Agenda 21.

Thus, the international community should aim to attain the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product for Official Development Assistance from developed countries. There is also an urgent need for new and additional financial resources on a predictable and assured basis from the international community for developing countries. These resources should be available commensurate with the needs and priorities of developing countries and without any conditions....

The responsible government bodies dealing with aspects of sustainable consumption and production patterns include — the agricultural products export development authority, the Indian Institute of Plantation Management, the Central Pollution Control Board, Bureau of Indian Standards and National Productivity Council, the state environment protection councils, and the National Consumer Council...Legislation which seeks to promote sustainable consumption and production include the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

Show cause notices under section 5 of the Environment Protection Act have been issued to all defaulting units. In addition, national ambient air quality standards and noise standards have been notified. Industries have been directed to install necessary pollution control equipment within a stipulated time frame. More stringent norms for vehicular emissions have been notified under the Central motor vehicles rules ...The supply of unleaded petrol in the four metros of Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai was introduced in April 1, 1995, in four wheel vehicles fitted with catalytic converters. The use of unleaded petrol will be gradually extended to other cities in the country. For enhanced energy and material efficiency, waste reduction, recycling, public transport and quality of life, norms have been laid down by the Indian government. Industry has adopted Environment Management Systems voluntarily to attain more sustainable production.

The national strategy and policies that address the concerns of this area include — National Conservation Strategy, Environment Action Programme, Statement of Abatement of Pollution Control and National Forest Policy.

The issues such strategies and policies address are increasing energy and material efficiency in production processes, reducing waste from production, promoting recycling, promoting the use of renewable sources of energy, using environmentally sound technologies for sustainable production, reducing wasteful consumption and increasing awareness of sustainable consumption.

The ongoing initiatives of the government to improve the environment include preventive as well as promotive measures. Fiscal incentives are given to encourage the installation of pollution abatement equipment in the form of customs waivers and soft loans. Industries are encouraged and fiscal incentives support the installation of equipment for pollution control; punitive measures including legal action are taken against defaulting units.

To achieve the goal of pollution abatement, emission and effluent standards for air, water and noise have been notified. Regular monitoring is carried out and enforcement efforts have been intensified. A majority of units have installed pollution control equipment. According to data collected by the Central Pollution Control Board on September 30, 1996, out of 1,551 units from 17 categories of highly polluting industries, 1,259 units have facilities to comply with environmental standards...and 180 did not have adequate facilities.

TO BE CONCLUDED

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Too many scores to settle

Sir — “Is cooperation possible in the face of political disharmony? I am afraid not,” said Pervez Musharraf at the start of the south Asian association for regional cooperation conference on information and communications in Islamabad. Although the rhetorical question was ostensibly thrown to the representatives of SAARC nations, Musharraf’s specific target was undoubtedly the Indian minister for information and broadcasting, Sushma Swaraj. As the report, “Tea, not talks, with Pervez” (March 8), suggests, the conference has been reduced to an occasion to settle scores between the two estranged neighbours. The interests of other countries have had to take the backseat. Nobody would have known better than Musharraf that Swaraj had no say in the ban on overflights by the national airlines of the two countries. And yet, he requested Swaraj to end the ban. This was an attempt to embarrass Swaraj in public and at the same time, win some sympathies. How much longer will the sympathy-wooing, tit-for-tat policies continue?
Yours faithfully,
Arunabh Bajaj, Jamshedpur

Bitter pill

Sir — Besides selling off sick public sector units and vastly improving revenue generation, an effective solution to the financial mess in Assam would be to offer the comprehensive voluntary retirement scheme to excess employees above 40 years of age and those who have completed 20 years of service. The Centre can be expected to gladly disburse the amount as a one-time settlement, especially given the fact that at present, the Assam government does not know where the next month’s salary for its employees will come from.

Two realities must be hammered into the minds of the people of Assam. One is that providing employment is not the primary duty of a government. Second, monitoring is also not the entire responsibility of the government. Governments in the West limit their activities to maintaining law and order, providing health and education facilities, building up the infrastructure and evolving a suitable economic policy so that business and industry flourished. Private enterprise provides mass employment in these free-market economies.

In India, state governments in particular have tried to take on the responsibility of providing employment. The result is the peculiar situation that one finds in Assam. The state government there has three times the required number of employees. Yet, the chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, has stated that he is not in favour of retrenchment of government employees as it would “compound the unemployment problem”. The duty of the chief minister is to create ideal conditions for private enterprise. Random employment does not solve the unemployment problem.

Yours faithfully
Krishanu Krori, Guwahati

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar’s estimate that the Congress would need to steal at least 50,000 votes from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and poach on the non-communist and non-Congress vote bank is sound (“Tremors in Tripura”, Feb 26). However, Aiyar’s optimism about a Congress alliance with the Indigenous National Party of Tripura is not so convincing. The INPT did not want to show its full strength before the elections, possibly to avoid the persecution of its workers and tribal members by the CPI(M) party cadre, the police and civil servants. To gain a stronghold in Assam, the Congress has to fight the politicized bureaucracy as well as the rigging machinery of the CPI(M). The CPI(M)’s various alliances with the Congress has also created confusion regarding the anti-communist status of the Congress. To destroy the monopoly of the CPI(M) in Assam and to free tribals and non-tribals from its grip, there has to be a unified anti-communist front.

Yours faithfully
Rajeshri Deb Barman, Agartala

Keep a few drops to drink

Sir — It is apparent from what Anita Bhattacharyya had to say in her letter, “Clean up first” (Jan 20), that she has not understood the concept of rain water-harvesting. Today, fresh water sources are being heavily exploited to meet the demands of the population and often to unsustainable levels. Over-exploitation invariably leads to detoriation of the quality and quantity of groundwater. Arsenic pollution is part of this multifaceted problem. If we want to ensure clean and adequate water for the future generations, we have to rethink the problem. It would be unwise to concentrate only on removing arsenic from contaminated groundwater. Though science should continue its research on arsenic removal, we should also focus on rainwater harvesting, which looks like the only solution to the of water shortage.

The average annual rainfall in India is 46 inches. But this rainfall occurs during a short period of high intensity and leaves very little water to recharge the groundwater. The rain falling over a region can be tapped fully and used either for direct use or recharging of groundwater. The decision should be made on the basis of the average rainfall of the region. In Kerala or Mizoram, rain falls throughout the year (April to October) and it is convenient to directly use that water. On the other hand, in areas like Delhi, Gujarat, West Bengal total rainfall occurs only in monsoon and therefore recharging of groundwater is the feasible option. Efficient recharging balances the groundwater reserve and reduces levels of depletion. Rainwater contaminated by atmospheric pollution can be purified through chlorination, charcoal or sand filter or by using float filter. Several types of urban rainwater harvesting is in force in cities like New Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, but in a very limited way. While the most vital life support resource is rapidly depleting, the government and the policy-makers are yet to frame a clear-cut strategy on urban rainwater harvesting.

Yours faithfully,
Somnath Bhattacharyya, via email

Sir — In matters of reducing air pollution, the authorities have paid little heed to emissions from tractors. A recent study has shown that 60 per cent of the tractors in India ply on the roads. They also transport goods and passengers. Around 70,000 tractors add to the existing number. Shouldn’t the matter be paid more attention?

Yours faithfully,
Laxmi Narain Modi, New Delhi

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