Editorial 1/ East in the red
Editorial 2/ Tough luck
Some of the bitterest pills
Fifth Column/ Allying for the wrong reasons
Kingdom of anarchy
Document/ To breathe a cleaner air
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ EAST IN THE RED 
 
 
 
 
It took a meeting between West Bengal’s finance team and the planning commission to confirm what was already suspected. In 2002-03, West Bengal’s expenditure on the revenue heads of salaries, pensions and interest payments will exceed its revenue income. Forget development expenditure. Given the revenue deficit, West Bengal will have to borrow to finance the non-development expenditure of past borrowings and costs of maintaining government employees. The past debt is already around Rs 70,000 crore, and another Rs 9,400 crore will be borrowed this year. By 2007, the debt is expected to be Rs 1,10,000 crore. To the extent that borrowing is from the market, had the borrower been an individual, he would not have found willing lenders. The probability of default is 100 per cent and there is no credible intention to reform. For long, West Bengal has blamed stepmotherly treatment on the Centre’s part for all its travails. With reforms, the focus of change has shifted to the states and blaming the Centre will not suffice. Nor is the government able to utilize all it obtains from the Centre. During the ninth plan, only Rs 8,506 crore out of Central assistance of Rs 12,395 crore was utilized. Utilization has also deteriorated. Inevitably, Central assistance during the tenth plan (2002-07) will decline.

Having said this, there are three legitimate points West Bengal can make. First, had the Centre’s revenue remained buoyant, West Bengal’s share in tax revenue would have been somewhat higher. Second, the interest charged by the Centre is inordinately high. Had this been lowered to the bank rate or thereabouts, as it should be, West Bengal’s finances would have been less precarious. Third, there are other states which are in a similar financial plight. But there is no getting away from reform. The state needs a surplus on the revenue account to fund an expected deficit on the capital account, required for developing physical and social infrastructure. What needs to be done to generate a surplus on the revenue account is obvious. Slash expenditure and increase income.

But West Bengal’s internal resource mobilization has deteriorated and the state is unwilling to change. User charges for services need hiking, especially because such across the board low rates do not truly benefit the poor. Subsidizing the poor is better done by financing such subsidies through state budgets, instead of through low administered prices for enterprises that should be run on commercial principles. Power is the obvious example, but there are others. Loss-making public sector enterprises need continuous bailouts. If these cannot be turned around, the family silver needs to be sold. The bloated government workforce has not been downsized and nothing has been heard about a voluntary retirement scheme. Pension payments far exceed the government’s pension corpus. As the Centre has shown, why cannot pension payments for future employees be eliminated? If West Bengal needs to look for reform suggestions that do not emanate from the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, the other red bastion of Kerala will suffice. Can the West Bengal government afford its own mindset?

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ TOUGH LUCK 
 
 
 
 
New Labour is bringing back old laws on asylum-seekers. Asylum legislation will get tougher in Britain once the home secretary’s amendments make it through the Commons. Two new powers have been proposed: first, no right of appeal in Britain for any asylum-seeker with a “clearly unfounded” claim, and second, the removal of other asylum seekers to a “safe country” from which they could appeal again. This will be the fourth asylum bill in nine restive years, marking a clear regression to the very principles Labour had opposed during the 1997 elections. It had vehemently opposed Mr Michael Howard’s playing of the race card with the 1996 asylum and immigration act, repealed within two years of Labour’s victory. But the latest ignoble turnaround covertly reinstates Mr Howard’s notorious “white list” of countries from which all applicants would be presumed to be clearly unfounded. The home office has already overspent its budget for dealing with asylum-seekers. Besides, it is making much of an eight per cent rise in Britain’s quarterly asylum statistics, keeping quiet about the fact that last year’s figures had fallen by 11 per cent. This sudden panic also stems from the visible rise of the far right in significant European pockets, although this resumed toughness could only make the far right feel more smug.

Everything is wrong with these new amendments. The home office has always had bizarre notions regarding safe countries, sending back applicants to Zimbabwe when things had hit rock-bottom there. Expecting asylum-seekers to launch appeals from overseas is unrealistic, and therefore deeply unjust, when it is difficult enough for them to appeal from within Britain. Finally, there is no guarantee yet that a third country, say France, would agree to take in Britain’s rejects, in the absence of any clearly worked out bilateral deals, or any common European approach to asylum-seekers. In Britain, this new blow to civil liberties is not only the result of xenophobia, but also a direct consequence of a long tradition of systemic inefficiency in the home office and in the office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. A more efficient Britain would end up being more humane than a tougher one.

   

 
 
SOME OF THE BITTEREST PILLS 
 
 
BY S.L. RAO
 
 
There is ample field research to show that healthcare in India is far superior for the relatively rich than for the poor. It is more urban than rural in the availability of hospitals, doctors and nursing. “Free” government healthcare is in fact expensive for the poor because of the rampant corruption in hospitals and primary healthcare centres. Medicines are rarely available and the patient almost invariably has to pay by purchase or by bribery. Healthcare in India is gender biased in favour of men. Class 4 employees’ rule government hospitals. Pinky Virani’s true story of a nurse in a Bombay hospital who was raped in the hospital corridors at night when on duty, and has been in a coma ever since, is a common fear among nurses and women patients in government hospitals.

Fake drugs are rampant all over the country. Chemists sell the most dangerous drugs without prescription. Medications that must have zero defects in manufacturing are allowed to be made under primitive conditions of hygiene by small-scale manufacturers. Indigenous medicines (ayurveda, unani and so on) many times make scientifically unsubstantiated claims of cures, and mix dangerous allopathic drugs into their products. The medical profession is not held accountable for its mistakes. Self-regulation by medical practitioners only serves to protect practitioners, not patients. Corporate hospitals and nursing homes put pressure for high utilization of investment in equipment, rooms, doctors and other facilities, leading to high expenditures by patients.

Government provided healthcare must become more effective and honest. At the same time, costs of essential drugs must be kept at levels that are affordable to the majority. For this we need to identify a basic list of such drugs and offer them even in safe but generic form so that prices can be kept low. Generic drugs today account for only 2.3 per cent of the turnover of the industry. But to ensure their quality (as indeed that of all medicines) requires far superior, transparent and honest supervision than exists today.

The pharmaceutical industry is also affected in this chaotic scenario of healthcare. There is need for greater equity in the provision of healthcare. Our penchant for encouraging small-scale manufacture has created 20,053 pharmaceutical manufacturers. However, the top 50 of them account for 74 per cent of the market. The remaining are microscopic in size. These small manufacturers are largely responsible for the low quality image and for the large volume of fake drugs against which the unwary consumer has no protection. The promotion of drugs especially by the large companies is excessively aggressive and highly expensive. Instead of educating the medical practitioner about the drug, it pushes him to over-prescribe and overdose medicines. There is little supervision of such promotion, of retailers, of fake drugs, of manufacture, or in almost any area where the government has a legitimate role in protecting the consumer.

Pharmaceuticals (including biological products) are one of the few industries not affected by recession. Growth continues to be strong. Pharmaceutical company shares have outperformed most others in the stock market. But expenditure on medicines per capita in India is very low, at about $3 against $5 in Indonesia, $7 in Pakistan $30 in Chile and $412 in Japan. Indian sales of pharmaceuticals are 1 per cent of global value sales and 8 per cent of global sales in volume, indicating not merely the low levels of consumption, but also the significantly lower prices ruling in India. One result according to the pharmaceutical industry association is the low levels of after-tax profitability in India as compared to many other industries and to the pharmaceutical industry in most other countries. This is said to have significantly deterred foreign investment and consequently denied India the benefits of the new medicines that are discovered as results of the latest research.

However, there is also another perception. It is that pharmaceutical prices in India might be low in comparison to many other countries, but they have gone up dramatically during the Nineties. The industry has at times stopped production of certain drugs, unmindful of the effect on sick and needy patients, on the plea that the profit margins were too low. Some argue that the majority of the Indian population cannot afford and hence does not need many of the new research drugs. These usually make small improvements on existing treatments but add substantially to the cost of treatment. The industry through its excessive promotional expenditures, keeps prices high, promotes higher dosages than desirable being administered to patients, and encourages the use of the most powerful drugs for relatively minor illnesses. Indian drug companies argue that foreign companies work on very high margins and therefore charge high prices.

Foreign companies, joined by the recently successful Indian research companies, have argued that the patent regime in India for pharmaceuticals does not adequately respect intellectual property rights. By 2005 India has to legislate according to the World Trade Organization protocols and provide for product patents instead of the process patents as hitherto. These companies would like the strongest protection to be in place immediately.

Process patents enable copying of products made by a different process and have been of immense help to Indian companies in offering a variety of drugs at low prices that would have been much more expensive under a product patent regime. Some of the biggest names among Indian pharmaceutical companies established themselves through copying under the process patent regimes. They invested their profits in research and development and are today discovering and patenting their own research products. The product patent regime now being legislated for enables the inventor of a new product to recover, during the permitted patent period, the high costs that have been incurred in the research and also to bear infructous research costs on other drugs. Under the WTO, legislation can be brought to provide for the compulsory manufacture through licensing of any products whose patents are accepted under the revised laws. Foreign manufacturers consider this to be unfair. Some may prefer to focus production in a few countries only.

Does India need to attract large foreign investments in this sector? Or should we do everything possible within the framework of WTO rules to encourage Indian companies? Although the Indian pharmaceutical industry as a whole spends little on research, hardly 2 per cent of sales, there are some companies who spend much higher percentages. For example, Indian companies who spend high amounts include Torrent (8.3 per cent of sales), Wockhardt (8.2 per cent), Lupin (6 per cent), Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (5.2 per cent), Ranbaxy (4.3 per cent), Cipla and Sun Pharma (3.6 per cent each), Aventis (3.0 per cent), and Kopran (2.5 per cent). Many of them are now also strongly for the product patent regime. These companies could in future years be at the forefront in global pharmaceutical production if we compel product patent holders to manufacture in India under licence.

In the larger framework of health care in India and economic liberalization, compulsory licensing of pharmaceuticals under product patents requires a balancing of the interests of the poor and the drugs for mass uses, with the freedom to patent holders to manufacture wherever they wish. The law needs to provide for a public and transparent mechanism for the decision on each such product.

In summary, the state of our health care sector in India is poor. It needs more effective and transparent regulation. It needs to become equitable. The government has a major role that it performs inefficiently and ineffectively. Medical care providers and manufacturers need effective regulation as well, to ensure quality and that they do not exploit the consumer. When people’s health and lives are the issue, consumers find it impossible to resist such exploitation. For the poor, price control on a basic list of essential drugs that relate to the majority of their illnesses is unavoidable, as is the need to market a larger quantity of generic drugs.

The comparison with other industries that are becoming deregulated under liberalization is not wholly appropriate. We have to implement our international agreements, but safeguard the interests of the poor. The prospects for growth and international dominance are good. We must as in information technology, formulate policies to get there.

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

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ ALLYING FOR THE WRONG REASONS 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
For fifty years Russian diplomats mischievously claimed that they wanted to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. If it was really a European security pact, they insisted, then they ought to be part of it. But that old Soviet sarcasm hardly compares with the cynicism of the president of the United States of America, George W. Bush, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who were both in Rome recently for the NATO summit held to inaugurate the NATO-Russia Council.

The recent addition of former Soviet satellites in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had already expanded the NATO to 19 members, and it is shortly to absorb up to 10 more eastern European countries. Yet its consensus-based decision-making processes were already so cumbersome that they drove Washington crazy during the Bosnia and Kosovo wars. The Pentagon planners learned their lesson, and despite eager offers of help from the NATO, they kept the alliance strictly out of their recent operation in Afghanistan.

So why does the US now back the further expansion of the NATO, and why did the Russians agree to be associated with it? Because an expanded NATO promises to paralyse European decision-making utterly. The last thing Washington wants is a European superpower challenging its global hegemony.

Show of goodwill

The likelihood that such a power might actually emerge from the current ramshackle process of European “unification” was always remote, but if you are the reigning global superpower, you can’t be too careful about these things.

As for Putin, he has enough vision to see the advantages of a strategic partnership with the US — even a junior partnership — and enough boldness to grasp it. It does involve ditching the Europeans, of course, but Putin has already concluded (probably correctly) that the grand project of European unification is heading for shoal waters.

So swallow your old objections to NATO expansion, feign enthusiasm for the Bush administration’s ballistic missile defence project (a military nonsense, but Bush’s domestic constituency loves it), and sign up to the NATO-Russia Council to show Washington your goodwill.

Putin will happily fight the “international terrorists” alongside Bush, and assist in the castration of NATO. His investment is small, and the potential payoff is significant. Unless, of course, Bush is really serious about attacking places like Iraq, Iran and North Korea, none of them far from Russia’s southern border, in which case life could get quite difficult for Putin.

Hollow threats

Is Bush serious about that? He may not know yet himself. He is doing very well politically out of the “war on terrorism”, and he could go on reaping its profits for many months — at least until the mid-term Congressional elections in November — without having to commit a single American unit to battle outside the existing Afghan theatre. You can’t read the man’s mind, especially if he hasn’t made it up yet, but you can guess which consideration will play the biggest role when he finally does decide.

Bush is as alert to photo-ops as the next politician, and the day before the NATO summit in Rome, he went to a US military cemetery near Utah Beach in Normandy. The rhetoric was the usual mix of severely stretched analogies and overheated patriotism: “Today’s struggle against terrorism will require the sacrifice of our forefathers, but it is a sacrifice I can promise you we will make,” he told the local French people and the cameras. But it won’t happen.

There are 9,386 young Americans buried in the Ste Mere Eglise cemetery, all of whom died in the first few days of fighting after D-Day on June 6, 1944. A third of a million Americans died in World War II, and as late as the Vietnam War the US took 55,000 dead in 10 years before it buckled under the losses. There is zero likelihood that the American public would accept even 5,000 military dead if Bush launched a war against Iraq, Iran or North Korea. Bush’s threats are as hollow as those of the terrorists he strives to inflate — and Putin’s downside exposure is not really very serious.

   

 
 
KINGDOM OF ANARCHY 
 
 
BY TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
 
Another intense political turmoil has gripped Nepal in less than a year after the massacre of the members of the royal family in June 2001. The turmoil and its political repercussions added to the uncertainty in the country. Since the middle of May, massacres by Maoists, a unilateral ceasefire and its withdrawal were followed by a surprise announcement of the prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, to dissolve the parliament. Deuba’s recommendation appeared initially to be a move to give democracy another chance and to tempt the rebel Maoists to enter mainstream politics. But it soon became clear that he was responding to his political compulsions.

Deuba’s political gimmick contributed more to the confusion that characterized Nepal’s political system, which has a tradition of reverting back and forth between the insipient democratic institutions and a monarchy eager to subvert the political system. As a nervous chatter has begun to rise over the possibility of change or a coup, Deuba’s self-proclaimed war against the Maoists has shifted gear. He is now focussed on a different war of attrition against Girija Prasad Koirala, his rival in the party. In July last year, Koirala was replaced by Deuba, leaving in trail a saga of political infighting. Once in power, Deuba faced the same kind of revolt that he himself had engineered against Koirala when the latter was in power. In November, Deuba proclaimed emergency with the approval of the cabinet, in which his loyalists were in a majority, faced with insurgency from the Maoists.

It appeared that it would be difficult for Deuba to secure an extension of the emergency, given the steady growth of his detractors in the Nepali Congress Party. Ignoring his party’s advice, he recommended the extension of the emergency for another six months. Koirala, the Nepali Congress Party chief, tried to put a spanner in his works by first suspending and then expelling him from the party. But Deuba brushed these obstacles aside and not only extended the emergency, but, with the approval of King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev also managed to become the chief of a caretaker government.

The country is awash with conflicting rumours now. Will elections, slated to be held in November, be held at all? In case they are held, will they be rigged to perpetuate the Deuba regime? Or will the recent development be a prelude to another form of oligarchy, with the monarchy co-opting Deuba loyalists and seizing power with this coterie to begin ruling the country? The monarchy couldn’t have found a more opportune moment, since a section of the people, already cynical about the ability of the political parties to deliver, have pinned their faith in the royalty. The history of Nepal also has several examples of such experiments. In 1846, Jung Bahadur Rana’s success in sidelining the monarchy ushered in an oligarchy that continued to rule Nepal for 104 years. Again in 1980, in the wake of a popular agitation, the country witnessed another form of oligarchy which banned political parties and introduced the panchayat system. “We are known for our ability to confuse the world. We seem to have perfected the art of fuelling and sustaining confusion of one kind or other”, wrote Kirti Nidhi Bista, a former prime minister, while criticizing the present day politics in Nepal.

As the political confusion becomes increasingly obvious, the Maoists, who were in a mood to retreat following army operations, have seized the advantage. Having terrorized the western districts of Nepal by virtually pitting one set of Nepalis against another, the Maoists are now seeking to legitimize themselves by focussing on the incompetence of the elected government as well as the king, and the growing discontent among the marginalized people of the country. Despite their repugnant ways and macabre killings, the Maoists are getting a sympathetic ear on the issues of corruption, land reforms, caste discriminations in the Nepal Royal Army and the sorry state of the government’s poverty alleviation programmes.

The under-represented and poor backward castes have been the biggest support base of the Maoists in Nepal, as in India. A recent summit of the United Nation’s food and agriculture units in Nepal revealed a 29 per cent rise in the number of people living below the poverty line in the country owing to the failure of the government to concentrate on improving the social indices.

Political observers in Kathmandu are, however, unanimous that the Deuba government should have opened more fronts against the Maoists rather than stopping at deploying the army. They feel that Deuba should have taken up the offer of the chief of the Indian army, General S. Padmanabhan, to lend all logistical support for Nepal’s war against the Maoists.

The economic policies of the government are also responsible for things coming to such a pass. Even while trying hard to liberalize, the government only sought to create opportunities for traders without creating job opportunities for the educated youth. Pro-trader policies were necessary given that the major source of government revenue has shifted from agriculture to import duties.

But in spite of a pro-trader government in power, the Nepali politicians are poorly focussed on the decentralization of governance and strengthening of the social welfare parameters. Major reforms are required to evolve a steady local self-governance. Although such reforms have been the subject of discussions time and again since the 1980 plebiscite, political will has not been strong enough to put them into practice.

The problems do not end here. Although discriminations based on caste considerations have been declared illegal, the pious pronouncements continue to remain confined in the books of law. The poor backward castes like Kami and Damai, involved in professions such as tailoring and leatherwork, do not get any major protection from the government. There are 63 such backward castes who form about 15 per cent of the total population of the country. Most of the earning members of these families work as municipal sweepers in the towns. “Had Deuba taken the war against the Maoists to the social sector also, he would have at least had some success in taking the wind out of their sails. But this never happened”, laments a social worker based in Doti district.

After the extension of the emergency, the army has renewed its offensive against Maoists even as the question of the RNA’s caste bias continues to be a major political issue. Dominated by Chettri, Rana and other upper castes, the RNA refuses to be the people’s army as its top ranks are allegedly bagged by members of a single ethnic group. It also reportedly refuses to recruit jawans from other backward castes. The army can use force to keep in check villagers who form the support base of the Maoists, but to win over the people and alienate the Maoists would require a different strategy altogether. A similar bias is reflected in almost all the national institutions including the recently set up national women’s commission in which seven of the eight members hailed from upper caste Bahun-Chhetri community.

The Maoists were involved in six major “people’s wars” in Nepal. The encounter at Dang on November 25, 2001 was the worst of these in which the NRA suffered heavy losses. There was another setback in the Achchan district operation on February 16 this year. Stray successes of the army in subsequent encounters will certainly not be enough for Deuba to wipe out the Maoist problem.

But Deuba did raise hopes initially. When he took over in July last year, he had announced an eight-point reform programme, which included plans for massive land reforms. Deuba even announced that he had set up a commission to probe the records of people holding dubious public properties. But these never materialized. By November, he was beseiged by the Maoist problem. Devastated by the loss of soldiers to Maoist attacks in Dang and Achchan districts, Deuba went on an international mission to get assistance. Only to return in May to be welcomed by a rising revolt in the party.

Deuba’s latest gamble of the dissolution of parliament may be his last chance in a game he has already lost. The decrepit economy, joblessness and the downsliding social indices are provoking popular discontent. The Nepali Congress Party being on the verge of a split, Deuba may be forced to float his own party or be in the good books of the monarchy for a political space. In the absence of a proper political structure, elections offer little hope to Deuba. His image would be better projected if he were to hold on to power and go down fighting the Maoists. Deuba has squandered an opportunity to rule Nepal, falling prey to his own political insecurities. The country is unlikely to give him another chance.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ TO BREATHE A CLEANER AIR 
 
 
 
 
The civil aviation sector has three main functional divisions — regulatory, infrastructural and operational. On the operational side, Indian Airlines, Alliance Air (subsidiary of Indian Airlines), private scheduled airlines and air taxis provide domestic air services and Air India provides international air services. Pawan Hans renamed Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited provides helicopters services to Oil and Natural Gas Commission in its offshore operations and to inaccessible areas or difficult terrains. Indian Airlines operations also extend to the neighbouring countries, southeast Asia and west Asia. India has been a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization and is also on its council...

The government has ended the monopoly of Indian Airlines and Air India on the scheduled operations by repealing the Air Corporation Act, 1953. There are at present three private scheduled airlines operating on the domestic network rendering the passengers a wider choice of flights. Apart from this 37 air taxi operators are providing non-scheduled air services. A new policy on domestic air transport service was approved in April 1997 according to which barriers to entry and exit from this sector have been removed; choice of aircraft type and size has been left to the operator; entry of only serious entrepreneurs has been ensured; and equity from foreign airlines... in this sector has been prohibited. The existing policy on air taxi services providing for a route dispersal plan to ensure operation of a minimum number of services in the northeastern region, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir has been retained.

The Airports Authority of India manages 92 civil airports including five international airports, 28 civil enclaves at defence airfields...

To reduce emissions from vehicles and to increase the engine efficiency, a number of steps have been taken in India. Apart from introduction of unleaded gasoline, the sulphur content of gasoline has been reduced from 0.2 per cent to 0.1 per cent wt in the entire country with effect from 1.4.2000. About 0.05 per cent wt sulphur gasoline is being supplied in the national capital region in Delhi with effect from 1.4.2000 and other metros with effect from 1.10.2000.

Benzene content limit in gasoline has been introduced from 1.4.2000 as 3 per cent maximum in metros and 5 per cent maximum in the rest of the country. The same is further reduced to 1 per cent maximum in Mumbai and NCT, Delhi with effect from 1.10.2000 and 1.11.2000 respectively...

To reduce the emission of sulphur dioxide from diesel vehicle, sulphur content of high speed diesel has been reduced from 1 per cent wt to less than 0.5 per cent wt from 1.4.1996 in four metros and Taj trapezium zone. Sulphur content in HSD was further reduced in the Taj trapezium and Delhi to 0.25 per cent wt with effect from 1.9.1996 and 15.8.1997 respectively and the same is implemented in all four metros that is Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai and Chennai from 1.4.1998. With effect from 1.1.2000, 0.25 per cent wt “S” HSD is being supplied in entire country. Further “S”content is reduced to 0.05 per cent wt in Delhi & Mumbai with effect from 1.4.2000 and 1.10.2000 respectively and Calcutta and Chennai with effect from 1.1.2001.

In addition to the sulphur content , other important parameters of HSD like Cetane number and distillation specifications have also been improved with effect from 1.4.2000. Apart from the above, there is proposal to reduce sulphur content of both gasoline and HSD to 50 ppm in future.

In order to encourage use of eco-friendly alternate fuel, a programme has been launched for the use of ethanol blended gasoline. For this purpose two pilot plant projects, one each at Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have been taken up. Lead-free petrol has been inducted all over the country.

About 65 to 70 per cent of the air pollution in metropolitan cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta) are attributed to vehicular emissions. The vehicular exhaust emissions include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and sulphur dioxide. In accordance with the “White Paper on Pollution in Delhi with an Action Plan” two wheelers account for about two-thirds of the total vehicular population in Delhi. Because of inherent drawbacks in the design of two-stroke engines, two-wheelers emit about 20-40 per cent of the fuel un-burnt/partially burnt.

Mass emission standards known as India 2000 norms akin to Euro-I norms are effective for all categories of vehicles manufactured with effect from 1.4.2000 in the entire country. Further, Bharat Stage-II emission standards akin to Euro II norms are effective from 1.4.2000 for four wheeled private (non-commercial) vehicles in Delhi and the same is effective in Mumbai from 1.1.2001 and in Chennai and Calcutta from 1.7.2001 in accordance with the requisite notifications issued by the ministry of surface transport. According to the ambient air quality data, there is an improvement in the air quality during the current year as compared to previous years in Delhi.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Women beware women

Sir — There is something seriously wrong with the women members of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance cabinet. Monobina Gupta does a laudable job of exposing the hypocrisy underlying the women’s empowerment rhetoric of the saffron political establishment (“About a gender bias”, May 29). When George Fernandes says that there’s nothing new in women getting raped during riots, he is dismissed as a male chauvinist. But when Sumitra Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharti and company make it their mission to retrace the steps back to the dark days of medieval patriarchy, then the going is likely to get quite tough for women’s lib in India. The more these women talk of stree-shakti, the less they intend to lend shakti (power) to the long-suffering lot of Indian women. But what can Mahajan and the rest possibly gain out of keeping their sorority in chains?
Yours faithfully,
Sanjukta Basu Roy, Burdwan

On top of a volcano

Sir — As a resident of Godhra, I would like to put forward a few thoughts, which I hope can contribute in some way to the restoration of communal harmony in Gujarat.

Justice should be provided to all affected Muslims as well as Hindus in Gujarat, in the form of registration of first information reports, investigation into their complaints, punishment of the guilty and compensation to the victims.

Muslims should also introspect on why the Hindus are so “angry” with them. Controversial issues, for instance words like kafir and jihad, should be re-examined in the present context. Leaders of both communities should forsake their confrontationist attitudes and try to encourage fraternal relations. On Id, every Muslim should be called upon to meet at least one Hindu family, so that ties of friendship and love may develop between them.

The issue of family planning must be debated thoroughly by Muslim religious leaders and a solution worked out. Misconception and propaganda against minorities should be probed into and the truth about them brought to light. The government too must keep its end of the bargain and bring an end to the Ayodhya and Kashmir disputes, so that the distance between the two communities can be bridged. Religious leaders should impress upon people that the laws of the nation come before those of a religion.

Yours faithfully,
Shujaat Vali, Godhra

Sir — I found Ashis Chakrabarti’s article about Gujrat a little surgical (“Myopic vision”, May 24). The author treats the subject of religious fundamentalism from afar, without trying to prescribe a solution. Such articles are good for keeping fresh memories of what happened in Gujarat, but they do not go into the depths of the problems affecting secularism in India. Why is it that the Muslims in India have never really got a chance to lay claim to their identity as “Indians”? The crux of the problem lies in the fact that most Indians tend to identify themselves as Hindus or Muslims or Christians first and then as Indians. No wonder, fundamentalists have no problems sowing seeds of religious intolerance in the minds of the people.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Chowdhury, Edmonton, Canada

Sir — Ashis Chakrabarti states things we know but may have failed to realize. Perhaps it would have been better had the sangh parivar, at the time of independence, been powerful enough to uphold Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s claim of a separate Muslim state comprising all the Muslims of undivided India. India may have been spared the many bloody riots that followed.

How can India be called a secular state, when its prime minister complains about the problems created by a particular religious community? Perhaps, the adoption of a uniform civil code may be a solution to the problems.

Why has the term “underworld” become synonymous with Muslims? Why are Hindus so fearful of Muslims? A part of the blame surely lies with politicians, who have followed the old colonial dictum of “divide and rule” while dealing with the two communities.

What happened in Gujarat has not brought to book the Muslims who were responsible for torching the Sabarmati Express. Instead, it only led to immense loss of human lives and property. The Central government will have done its duty by announcing compensation for the victims. But will the money ever reach the people it is intended for? The answer is well-known, and very soon, a few more politicians will be even wealthier. Can’t the people stand up and demand that the ruling politicians, who did not try to control the damage, be made to pay back every penny of their ill-gotten wealth?

Yours faithfully,
N.R. Venkateswaran, Calcutta

A leader is born

Sir — Contrary to the popular belief that leaders are born, Sonia Gandhi has proved that leaders can also be groom- ed (“The road ahead”, May 28). Sonia Gandhi does not know Hindi too well, nor has she great oratorical skills or a magnetic personality or much political acumen. Her only qualification is that she is, by marriage, a Nehru-Gandhi. Now that the Congress rules in 14 states, its president is hopeful of a resurgence in the next Lok Sabha elections. While her detractors have milked dry the issue of her foreign origin and even a few of her party’s leaders have not taken too kindly to her leadership, she has taken everything in her stride. She could well be the next prime minister in waiting.
Yours faithfully,
Asheem Kapoor, Calcutta

Sir — Reports on the recent session of the all-India Congress committee suggest that Sonia Gandhi has changed the takia-faraas-topi culture for good and replaced it with that of chairs, tables and business suits. But the photograph of Sonia Gandhi in Shantivan (May 28), with a Congress worker holding out her sandals, shows that some things never change.

Yours faithfully,
Chameli Pal, Howrah

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