Editorial 1/ Year that was
Editorial 2/ White noise
Flaw in the system
Fifth Column/ False alarms and fantasies
Plotting land reforms
Document/ Where do they go now?
Letters to the editor

If there was anything new about the sixth term of the Left Front in West Bengal it was the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Willy-nilly, he figuratively shouldered the burden of the hopes and disillusions of an electorate intimately acquainted with the failings of Left Front rule. A year later, it is stock-taking time. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the chief minister so far cannot be put into quite concrete terms. A general feeling of hope that West Bengal may be beginning to change is not really something that can be concretely assessed. Yet this is Mr Bhattacharjee’s greatest achievement. He has systematically taken certain firm positions, enunciated defined policies, has got down to the brass tacks where industrialization is concerned, and has occasionally acknowledged earlier errors. With Mckinsey to advise the government, the state’s prospects in agro-business look good. The sights for information technology and engineering have been set high, and there is evidently some hard work going on to involve interested organizations in the process of building the appropriate institutional infrastructure. Meanwhile, the problems in Haldia Petrochemicals look well on the way to being sorted out, which is a notable breakthrough. Hard decisions about closing down sick industrial units and inviting private participation in some others are apparently also being taken.

But now that a year is over, it is concrete achievement that must be looked for. Mr Bhattacharjee has taken the right steps in the spheres of education and health reform, and some strict measures have been implemented in government hospitals. But these are not enough, neither is there a guarantee yet that all measures will continue to be implemented. The situation in education is bleaker, although Mr Bhattacharjee is taking a strong stand regarding private tuition and syllabus reform. So far, only the stand has been taken. The government could not stick to it in its first round against the teachers. This is a story that could be, and often is, repeated. The chief minister’s harping on work culture has not had a noticeable effect on government employees yet, and bandhs still plague the state. It is true, as Mr Bhattacharjee has said repeatedly, that a mindset cannot be changed in a day. At the same time, firmer ground rules applied without fear or favour would greatly encourage a change of mindset.

For the chief minister, change would begin close to home. The fact that some criminals close to Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders have felt the heat of the law is a good sign, although here too the cleansing needs to be far more severe. Simultaneously, the awareness that change is needed in the attitude of the police is again a promising advance, but its results are yet to be seen. The picture cannot be called rosy yet. Even where action seemed certain, Mr Bhattacharjee has stepped back once in a while, in the case of his ordinance against organized crime for instance. To battle against the problems of the state, the chief minister has opened up many fronts. Everything now depends on whether the pragmatism he and his team have shown in their decisions translates into action.


In a multi-racial society, whites could also feel, and be, discriminated against. Acknowledging this is dodgy business, since such arguments teeter on the brink of the far-right abyss. But Britain’s commission for racial equality has recently felt compelled to open itself to “young, disaffected white men”. The chairman of the commission, Mr Gurbux Singh, sees this as an essential shift dictated by the specific set of problems tackled by the CRE. The emergence of the far right in Britain has not been as spectacular, and as well publicized, as in France, Holland, Austria or Italy. Whatever the home secretary, Mr David Blunkett, may have had to say about his fears of ethnic “swamping”, he comes nowhere close to the demonic stature of a Le Pen or a Haider. But violent rioting, particularly in northern England, is by no means a thing of the past. And the racist British National Party has had its best ever electoral showing at this May’s local elections, winning three council seats — although out of a national total of over 6,000 — in the deprived and racially divided Burnley. Again, 3 out of 6,000 sets Britain a little apart from the European resurgence. But Mr Singh has certainly taken the plunge into what is a difficult, but inevitable, approach to social justice.

Inextricable from the issues of immigration and asylum-seekers, Mr Singh understands racial violence to be experienced by the ordinary citizen, black or white, as primarily a law and order problem. Hence, his emphasis on violence, rather than on discrimination. Divisions within communities will have to be seen, therefore, not only in terms of race, but also in relation to poverty, to poor housing, education and employment opportunities. Linking these factors is the feeling that the existing political system is not seriously responding to the particular needs of certain people. Political parties and commissions like Mr Singh’s will have to accommodate all this in their understanding of public disaffection. Incorporating such empathies in their agenda has been the selling point of the far-right parties and their leaders. Therefore, addressing issues like crime and immigration — traditionally dominated by the right — through job creation and the reform of labour markets and welfare systems becomes an important means of countering fascism. Perhaps, this is what Mr Singh is trying to point out.


The two months of continuing killings, loot and rape in Gujarat once again raise crucial issues about the flaws and failures of public governance in India. The fundamental flaw is its inability to guarantee that the minimum expectations of citizens will be fulfilled, that is, their lives, property and personal dignity will be protected. There are many other failures. To name a few: not ensuring education for all; poor quality of state-provided education and health services; the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the public distribution system, which according to many surveys, is anti-rural and anti-poor; the abysmal quality of infrastructure services and the pork barrels that they have become for thieving customers and corrupt government officials; the all-pervasive burden of procedures and red tape that dogs anyone involved with the government — farmer, consumer, industrialist, builder, or hawker; the blatant corruption among politicians and government officials at every level.

The reputation of the government is such that it is not surprising that there is a decline in the quality of candidates for the Central government services like the Indian administrative services, Indian police services and so on. The quality of officials now in service is also poor in comparison with their counterparts thirty years ago. Although there are apparently more engineers, management graduates and medical doctors, the idealism and desire to build a just India seem to have declined. An indicator is that dowry rates for Central service officers rise with services that give opportunities for making quick and illegal incomes. Occasionally, officers are caught, rarely punished severely, and they continue to enjoy the ill-gotten wealth. They are only indicative of the extent and pervasiveness of the corruption.

Those who govern are not subject to intelligent rules for accountability, performance evaluations, training, and specialization in assignments, succession planning, transfers and promotions. An amorphous collective takes all decisions. The “marking on file” system means that even a low level and ignorant junior can hold up major decisions proposed at the highest levels of government. Performance evaluations are exercises in cowardice by senior officers, anxious not to cross juniors who could prevent them from functioning, and worse, file charges against them.

Training budgets are large but there is no particular method in choosing candidates for particular training, no way to ensure that trainees actually attend programmes, nor of evaluating the quality of the training and the absorption of the learning. Specialized training is rarely followed by assignment in a department that could use the corresponding specialization. There is no planning for succession. Particularly at higher levels, succession is often a result of cultivation of the political and administrative decision-makers. Despite this of course, there is the occasional honest and competent officer who makes it to higher levels. Transfers and even promotions take place at the will of the political powers. They are powerful instruments available to the political ruling group to ensure that officers and others are compliant to their will, even when their will is for illegal or criminal purposes.

It would be fair to say that governments in India do not have human resources development plans for its servants, despite large ministries for the purpose at the Centre and the states, and substantial budgets provided for the activity. Few politicians have interest in reforming this area. They do not see their role as being that of reformers who leave a better system of governance behind them than when they came. Ministers like P. Chidambaram, who held charge of the personnel and training portfolio for some years in the first Rajiv Gandhi government, did bring in significant changes. His successors had no interest and allowed their officers to scuttle them.

The need to accommodate political factions has led to the truncating of ministries. Each ministry jealously guards its turf, helped by the vigorous turf-fights of their bureaucracies, making speedy coordination impossible. For example, education in most states is split into multiple departments, in many cases with separate ministers. Energy is split among coal, electricity, oil and gas and atomic energy. Others are no better.

The political system is polarized on communal and caste considerations. Political scientists analysing riots have concluded that caste politics is accompanied by declining communal violence. But the lack of adequate political representation of minority communities probably leads to their harsh treatment by the majority. In this process the influence of majority vote politics on administrators makes them subservient to the majority will and deny protection to the minorities, as has happened most recently in Gujarat. Hopefully, the diminishing influence of national parties and the rise of coalition politics will lead to greater power with minority voters, if they could learn the large power of their small but balancing votes. Used intelligently this might reduce the virulence of the violence against them in some states.

Government budgets are exercises in spending, not in achieving the results for which the money was allocated. There is no pilot testing of new programmes. They are invariably introduced nationally without any experience of the likely problems in implementation. Inefficient programmes like food rationing are never modified because modification to improve their effectiveness would adversely affect the corrupt interests of officials and ministers. All budgeted amounts have to be surrendered at the end of the financial year, leading to a scramble to spend in the last month. Any saving by a government agency on account of efficiency or differential tariffs to well-off users has to be surrendered to government. There is no incentive to innovate and improve programme efficiencies.

Despite all these weaknesses, there are some innovative officers who introduce new methods of work, and new technologies in order to provide better services to the citizens. There is little recognition of their contributions, and more likely than not, such an officer gets transferred out soon after the public expresses appreciation of his efforts. This is certainly true of efficient officers who are also incorruptible. Time and again, in different states of India, such officers have been shifted out because they came down heavily on incompetent contractors and others.

Contractual employment of top civil servants has been suggested as a way to induct specialized skills into government. It is a method in use in the United States of America, where top civil servants change with each new elected administration. But the US is subject to much better legislative overseeing of government than is India. Such appointments have to get the “advice and consent” of the legislature, which is not easily given. The work of such officers is also under close scrutiny by the legislature. The worry is that in India, it might then be used by the corrupt to entrench themselves into the bureaucracy.

A new instrument of governance, the independent regulatory commission, was introduced around 1996. It was to take decisions openly and transparently, with wide consultation, on infrastructure services issues with significant financial implications. But it has become a haven for retired bureaucrats and their independence has sometimes been doubtful.

Improving public governance in India calls for simple and common sense solutions. They are common to well-run organizations in India as in other countries. It is their sincere introduction that has been the problem. There are strong interests that prefer the status quo. The present system gives enormous powers to the minister or elected official who can threaten transfer or offer promotion to get the administrator to fall in line. It is preferred by the class of civil servants which is now very large, that prefers to achieve its personal goals by backdoor means than by honest performance of tasks. The only way is to bring the required changes in one fell swoop, rather than gradually and through discussion.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]


One day your sister, who lives in a very safe neighbourhood and doesn’t get out much, is burgled. Afterwards, she keeps calling you up and she talks of nothing else. What upsets her even more than her actual losses is the fact that her home has been violated, so you install an alarm system, put bars on the windows, and listen patiently. She’ll get over it in a while.

Only months pass, and she doesn’t. She becomes a nuisance to the police with her constant false alarms, and she fantasizes about funny-looking people lurking in the neighbourhood. All her other interests fade away and now the world’s only real problem is burglars. You try to put up with it, but after eight months you snap. It’s time for either frank talk or psychiatric counselling.

Talk is cheaper, so let’s start with that. Over 3,000 Americans died horribly in the terrorist attacks eight months ago: a ghastly toll, equal to a full month’s shooting deaths in the United States of America. The US responded by destroying the headquarters of al Qaida, the organization held responsible for the attacks, and the taliban government of Afghanistan that sheltered it. Which made perfectly good sense.

But eight months later, even with al Qaida’s main base smashed and its surviving leaders on the run, the US government is still a gibbering mess of insecurities, obsessions, and paranoid delusions about the “terrorist threat”. Here is a partial list from just one day in mid-May.

Propaganda machine

On May 13, the former US president, Jimmy Carter, was in Cuba touring the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. A harmless visit, but Carter spent the day fighting off an accusation by John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, that Cuba is helping terrorist groups to buy or develop biological weapons.

It was mere propaganda, and eventually the secretary of state, Colin Powell, was forced to recant: “We didn’t say [Cuba] actually had some weapons, but it has the capacity and capability to conduct such research.” But so do thousands of other biotechnology laboratories in universities and industrial facilities around the world. The point is that nowadays the lying allegations are always about terrorist links.

On the same day, US attorney general, John Ashcroft, was in Canada to discuss the group of eight counter-terrorism action plan. When Canadian journalists suggested that this was all just to reassure nervous Americans, Ashcroft replied that the September attacks had been aimed at “the entire civilized world...It is not how other countries can serve the US. The question is how we...can serve each other in a war against those who would destroy the things in which we believe, namely freedom, human dignity, liberty and opportunity.”

Enough is enough

Nonsense. The September attacks were aimed at the US because the militants who planned them hate America’s policies, and even its presence, in the Arab world where they come from. They were wicked men, but they didn’t spend one second considering whether they should attack Sweden, Japan or Brazil.

As for “freedom, human dignity, liberty and opportunity”, the al Qaida terrorists couldn’t care less. They are simply not interested in America’s domestic arrangements, so long as it goes away and leaves them free to reshape west Asia. It won’t, so it’s going to have to fight them, but this is really about regional politics, not high ideology, as the US pretends, or religion, as al Qaida pretends.

Also on May 13, in New York City, Democrat senator Charles Schumer was hysterical about terrorists smuggling nuclear weapons into the US: “We probably have a year or two before any terrorist gets hold of such a device and smuggles it in.” Who told him that? The risk of some terrorist getting control of a nuclear weapon and smuggling it into a US port has existed ever since the Sixties, but the chance has always been slim.

Taken a bit at a time, none of this foolishness is very harmful. Cumulatively, however, the obsession with terrorism is distorting American policies, distracting the US government from its real priorities, and driving everybody else crazy. It’s time to get over it.


New research offers real hope that India can elevate the worst of the nation’s persisting rural poverty in a way that is sustainable, affordable, and politically feasible. Poverty in India is overwhelmingly rural. The worst-off segment of the rural population is the completely landless, conservatively estimated at 11 per cent of rural families or 65 million people. Such landlessness is a far better indicator of rural poverty than either caste or illiteracy. Yet in most Indian states there is little or no political will to address the problem directly through traditional land reform. Indeed, with a few notable exceptions (including West Bengal and Kerala), traditional land reform in India has met strenuous opposition and has not been adequately implemented.

But new research just completed in India, coupled with fresh review of experience in a series of other countries, suggests a highly practical alternative to the traditional land reform approach. The traditional approach has rested on the assumption that the landless will need at least 1 to 3 acres of land to serve as a new, primary (if not sole) source of livelihood. An average of 1 to 3 acres for anything close to all of India’s landless households requires far more land than the states or the Central government can afford to purchase at market prices. Hence the “traditional” approach typically involves attempted near-confiscation of the needed land, resulting in strong opposition and resourceful evasion by the “above-ceiling” landowners and virtually no actual implementation.

The alternative approach arises out of an important realization that if the completely landless received ownership of a small homestead plot — one sufficiently large to have space for a garden, trees, and animals adjacent to the house — they could supplement their current income and nutrition from activities and resources on the homestead plot. They will then have a greatly enhanced opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. Such a homestead-cum-garden plot needs to be only a fraction of an acre. Distributing such plots to all of the 13 million completely landless rural households would require less than one-third of one per cent of India’s arable land, transforming all existing assumptions about the affordability and feasibility of “land reform”.

Recent research conducted in West Bengal and Karnataka, together with a review of experience in other countries, indicates what could be accomplished by a programme to distribute homestead-cum-garden plots and at what modest cost. The research included interviews of 246 rural households that owned homestead plots but little or no agricultural land. The results show that even very small plots typically allowed an agricultural labourer family to achieve at least some significant non-housing benefits such as increased income, status, food, consumption, and access to credit.

An analysis of homestead plot size shows that the economic uses and benefits increase substantially as the plot size expands beyond that needed for the house itself. Specifically, those who received homestead plots from 1,800 to 6,500 square feet in size (about 4 to 15 cents or 0.04 to 0.15 acre) were realizing substantial benefits. They had planted an average of seven trees yielding food or income (and nearly all had planted vegetables or other crops). Two, they had kept an average of nearly three large animals on the plot, generally cows or buffaloes. Three, they cited an average of roughly two positive impacts on their lives, most prominently increased status in the village, increased income, and increased access to credit.

There was also a resulting increase in the family’s capital assets. In that same-size group, these poor families had substantially increased the market value of their homestead plots by planting trees and making other improvements (including cattle sheds, storage, fencing, wells and so on). These plots of 0.04 to 0.15 acre in size had given a previously landless household not only income, status and credit access, but also a place to put “sweat equity”and other resources that substantially increased the value of household assets.

The research results from West Bengal and Karnataka parallel the findings on benefits from similar small homestead plots from a variety of settings around the world, ranging from Indonesia to the Caribbean and the former Soviet Union.

The research also points to the potential of transforming existing rural housing or house site schemes into programmes that provide real economic and social opportunity for landless households — the poorest of India’s poor. The existing housing schemes, both state and Central, focus on the house alone and not the house sites. Therein lies a significant limitation. The research pointed to three problems with the existing housing schemes that substantially limit their potential:

One, the plots provided are often too small, as little as one cent (435 sq ft), and almost always less than 3 cents (1,307 sq ft).

Two, existing schemes either require the beneficiary to already have land (and the government then provides funding for a house), or they distribute homestead plots from the existing available government land. But those who already have land are not the poorest of the rural poor, and available government land — if it exists at all — is likely to be common land needed for other purposes, or land of very poor quality or location, unsuitable for homestead-and-garden use.

Nearly all of the substantial resources spent on rural housing schemes go into house construction for the rural poor, not into land acquisition. Yet, experience in India and elsewhere shows that once a landless household owns a plot (even a very small plot) of land, they find the means to construct their own housing, starting with the very simple and improving it over time.

This last point is especially important on the question of costs and benefits. In recent years, the Central government alone has been spending about Rs 1,700 crore per year on rural housing schemes, nearly all of it earmarked for housing construction costs on very small 1 to 3 cent plots. Recent research in India and experience elsewhere suggests that the government could be providing far more benefits and to larger numbers of families if more of these resources were devoted to acquiring larger house sites and less on the house itself.

In fact, the Central government could provide 10 cent plots (1/10 acre, or about 45x100 ft) to all 13 million landless households in India over 10 years for a fraction of what it currently spends on rural housing. The average market price for enough dryland to provide an adequate homestead-cum-garden plot of 10 cents is about Rs 3,500 in a typical Indian setting. Minimal infrastructure costs to support colonies of 10 cent plots (simple roads and electricity line, and a hand pump well) might double the cost to Rs 7,000 per beneficiary. This is still less than the Rs 20,000 per beneficiary currently spent on rural housing schemes.

An India-wide programme to provide 1/10 acre plots to all of the country’s 13 million landless agricultural households would require some 13 lakh acres (only 1/3 of one per cent of the nation’s farmland). Government purchase of all such land at market prices (through mandatory acquisition if necessary) would cost roughly Rs 4,300 crore or Rs 430 crore per year spread over 10 years. Government provision of minimal infrastructure to these new colonies of 10 cent plots (through new or existing schemes) might double the cost to Rs 860 crore per year, half of what the Central government alone now spends on the largest rural housing schemes.

Poverty in India is inextricably linked to landlessness. Government efforts to alleviate rural poverty cannot afford to ignore this connection. This new evidence points to feasible option for addressing poverty by giving completely landless rural families ownership of 45x100 ft homestead plot. The Central and state governments should consider pilot-testing the concept.

Roy Prosterman is professor at the University of Washington School of Law and president of the Seattle-based Rural Development Institute Tim Hanstad is executive director of RDI and currently heads their office in Bangalore


Dr Gandhi Ki Chali, Chamanpura (near the late Ehsan Jafri’s house):

We met Shahnaz Bano, who lived in this area, in the Juhapura camp. She told us that on the morning of February 28, at about 10.00 am, a mob of thousands came into their area…She said that the attackers were shouting the most obscene abuses and threats (very sexually explicit) and were setting whatever they could on fire.

She along with some others were able to leave from the back of their chali and reach the Kalupur Railway Station. Her own house was looted and burnt. She said that other people from her area took shelter in Ehsan Jafri’s house in Gulmarg Society believing that they could not be harmed there. One of them was her neighbour, Zubi, who was eight months pregnant. She was killed.

The son of another neighbour, Bikhiben, and her two younger brothers-in-law were also killed along with Ehsan Jafri and his family. Bikhiben pretended to be a Hindu and told the attackers that she only worked for Jafri’s family. She was allowed to leave the house which she could do only by walking on the dead bodies of her son and brothers-in-law. She is in the Shahibagh camp.

The unbridled extent of the violence in Ahmedabad is illustrated by the fact that a national handicrafts exhibition organized by the government was attacked because many of the stalls were owned by Muslims. Many of them were from Bhagalpur, Bihar. Of these, three, Abdulla, Rehmatulla and Saidulla, are dead and two are missing.

These facts were made known to us by one of the leaders of our joint delegation, Subodh Roy, who is the Lok Sabha member from Bhagalpur. They were later corroborated by the police commissioner, Ahmedabad.

Mehsana district:

One of the members of the delegation visited the camp at Vizapur in Mehsana district where victims from Sardarpur village are staying. They told him that on the night of March 1, the houses of 84 Muslim families were attacked and totally burnt. Many of the women and children took shelter in the only pucca house.

This was then doused with petrol and set on fire. Twenty-two people died. The total number of dead is 54. The survivors were rescued by the police and brought to the camp. There are 1,000 people in the camp including 400 students from the Visnagar hostel. The victims said that their standing crops and bore-wells had been completely destroyed. They also said that some Dalit families who had given them protection have also been driven out of the village. (This is only one small example from a district where many incidents are reported to have taken place.)


As we send this report to the press, news comes of fresh violence from the rural areas of many districts in central Gujarat. The most disturbing report is that the Central government is withdrawing the army to prove that there is normalcy in Gujarat. This will be disastrous for the state. The army must stay just as Narendra Modi must go, the first as a temporary measure, the latter permanently. Gujarat cannot and must not become the future face of India.




On a moral high horse

Sir — Will politicians give entertainment and sports celebrities moral science lessons now (“Moral class for icons”, May 17)? Admitted, Home Trade — the stock trading and e-brokerage company of Sanjay Agarwal which has gone bust — was endorsed by the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Sachin Tendulkar. But this scandal cannot possibly be any more sordid than the hundreds in which the members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are involved. Besides, Amar Singh, who hobnobs with celebrities all the time, should know best that their agents decide for Tendulkar, Roshan and Khan, when it comes to business endorsements. On top of that, Tendulkar and company were cheated of their rightful pay for appearing in the commercials. And if doing a commercial for a company makes a person responsible for its faults, then what does failing to pay his income tax make Amitabh Bachchan, Singh’s favourite star? Singh ought to know.
Yours faithfully,
Sadhana Jaitley, New Delhi

Charged verdict

Sir — In a recent judgment, a division bench of the Calcutta high court has increased the power tariff consumers will have to pay CESC for the years 2000-01 and 2001-02. Thus the recommendations of the West Bengal energy regulation commission have been overruled (“Go-ahead for power tariff hike”, May 15). There will surely be an appeal against the high court order in the Supreme Court, which might help resolve a few fundamental problems that have surfaced about the powers of the WBERC and its functioning. The judgment follows the provisions of the Indian Electricity Act, 1910, which was in force when the case was filed. It has since been repealed and the electricity bill 2001 has come into effect in its place.

This ordinary consumer has reasons to feel unhappy with this judgment. The judges, instead of criticizing the unusually high capital expenditure for the Budge Budge power station — it has exceeded the estimated cost by 70 per cent — have rewarded CESC with a higher interest-charge component in the tariff structure.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — Thanks to the Calcutta high court verdict which allows CESC to increase power tariffs, Calcuttans will now have to pay hefty electric bills. But will the power cuts, now a part of Calcutta’s daily life, be as frequent now as before?

Yours faithfully,
A. Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — CESC is forcibly collecting additional security deposits from consumers whose power connections have been cut even though such consumers have paid the entire outstanding amount to CESC before requesting reconnection of power supply. Helpless consumers are forced to pay the deposit, else their power connection is not restored. This demand is unfair and violates Article 14 of the Constitution.

CESC has not cleared its dues to the West Bengal state electricity board, running into hundreds of crores of rupees, for the power supplied to it by the public sector power distribution company. CESC is a well-known defaulter and should not preach what it does not practise.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Khemka, Calcutta

WHO speaks

Sir — The recommendations of the World Health Organization on world health day (April 7) would serve developed countries better than underdeveloped and developing countries (“Keeping unsound health”, May 15). The WHO’s statement that “reduced physical activity, changing diets and increased tobacco use were largely responsible for the world-wide epidemic of non-communicable diseases” is much too generalized. The contradictions in the statement are evident. Despite intense physical activity, daily-wage earners in India do not possess sound health. Few people around the world stick to a constant diet, so that cannot be one of the factors leading to the spread of diseases. Perhaps tobacco-consumption is the only credible reason mentioned by WHO.

The WHO does not focus on the crux of the problem — nutrition. More than half the world’s population suffers from malnutrition. Farmers die of hunger in India while surplus foodgrains rot in godowns. Governments are more interested in opening up the economy than in ensuring healthy citizens. The WHO should interfere to prevent such mismanagement of food stocks. Also, healthcare centres must be upgraded and medical personnel adequately trained.

Another area of attention is medical malpractices. An article in the October 2001 issue of the journal of the Indian medical association says that a scrutiny of 4,000 prescriptions in different parts of Calcutta had revealed that several drugs had been “over-prescribed”. About 62 per cent of the doctors prescribing these drugs have post-graduate medical degrees and 34 per cent hold MBBS degrees. The WHO must look at such specific problem areas instead of addressing health issues in a generalized manner.

Yours faithfully,
N.R. Venkateswaran, Calcutta

Sir — Contrary to what Sandhya Srinivasan argues, the mere availability and access to food are not enough to ensure nutritional security and health. Environmental hygiene and sanitation are as important. Poor sanitation and unsuitable drinking water adversely affect absorption and retention of food. This is no less serious a problem than the availability of food.

In third world countries, hookworms cause about 55,000 deaths per year and many more suffer from chronic diseases caused by hookworms. The United Nations’ “Millennium Report” states that “unsafe water and poor sanitation cause an estimated 80 per cent of all diseases in the developing world. The annual death toll exceeds 5 million, 10 times the numbers killed in wars, on an average, each year. More than half of the victims are children.”

Yours faithfully,
Jaydev Jana, Calcutta


Sir — In my music review, “The Marathas love the bard too” (May 17), the choreographer and lead dancer of Bhanusingher Padavali, Sumita Mahajan, has been inadvertently named as Sumita Mahapatra. The artiste who portrayed Krishna was Gauri Desai, and not Gourav Desai. The errors are regretted.
Yours faithfully,
Anshuman Bhowmick, Calcutta

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