Editorial 1 / Back again
Editorial 2 / Spoil sport
Fortify the home front
Fifth Column / Case for a second dose of reforms
Water as weapon of war
Document / Help save for the future
Letters to the editor

The fortunes of the Tamil Maanila Congress in Tamil Nadu have been less dramatic than those of the two chief regional parties in the state. But its short history is no less circular. Its return to the Congress is graphic illustration of this. Six years ago, the state Congress unit with strong leaders like G.K. Moopanar split from the parent party after the central leadership decided to tie up with Ms J. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam for the elections. The TMC’s tie-up with Mr M. Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1996 initially gave it a dream run. It thrived on the traditional Congress base and was an important partner in the United Front coalition. The United Front’s exit from New Delhi was followed by the DMK’s inclining towards the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had grown jumpy with the AIADMK and its redoubtable leader. Tensions between the TMC and the DMK began to multiply, with Moopanar, increasingly made to feel like the “little brother”, beginning to recover his old bonds with the Congress. He paved the way for a return to the fold, although colleagues like Mr P. Chidambaram were not at all happy.

With the DMK supporting the BJP and the AIADMK offering the latter “cause-based” support, the TMC is taking the avenue most hospitable to it. Undoubtedly, the Congress gains too. Its sorry state in Tamil Nadu predates 1996, and the decision of the Congress led by Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao to tie up with Ms Jayalalithaa at that time was a measure of the party’s desperation. The traditional Congress vote bank had turned towards the TMC after its formation, and had been slowly dispersing as the TMC’s fortunes waned. In other words, the Congress presence in the state was better termed an absence. The TMC’s return would give the Congress a toehold again. Besides, it is always a loss when part of a party breaks away; a return therefore signals revival of a kind. The more metaphysical-minded may read further signals into the situation. The Congress had lost Moopanar’s group just before it was to lose New Delhi, so its return might foreshadow a return of a bigger kind. Certainly the Congress looks to be on the ascendant after a long time. But the TMC’s return alone will not do the trick in the southern state. The parent party still needs the partnership of either of the two bigger parties to make a dent. Ideology or history is never a hindrance in this kind of urgent necessity, but the fact that the DMK and the AIADMK are both BJP-friendly might be an obstacle. For the time being though, the TMC’s return is enough to infuse a desire for reorganization in the state Congress unit.


Anything could turn into free entertainment in Calcutta — and the consequences are not always jolly. Free-for-all soccer on television might embody the spirit of the city, but it could also result in an entirely avoidable tragedy, like the one at Rabindra Sadan Metro station recently. A young student fell on the tracks and was crushed to death by a train while watching a World Cup match on one of the TVs perched above the platform. These TV sets, like the Metro itself, were fast becoming the pride of Calcutta. They are now at the centre of a controversy, the resolution of which ought to occasion some hard thinking on the matter. Whether or not this accident was a case of suicide is not for the Metro authorities to decide and declare. The chief operations manager should have been better aware of the limits of his operations while making public statements about the incident. The rethinking should happen at a more fundamental level. The Metro rail is a means of transport. Its function is to make moving about in the city quick and convenient for its inhabitants, and not to provide free entertainment. This is the simple premise from which the authorities should start thinking about what to do now.

The platforms of Metro stations are for safely boarding and getting off the trains. They are not, by any stretch of the fun-loving civic imagination, meant for TV-watching. The TV sets should therefore go. In other words, not only is it wholly inappropriate to be showing soccer matches at the stations, but it should also be clearly understood that any form of visually distracting entertainment is likely to detract from the original purpose of such a space. This is a question of how urban space is to be planned and regulated for public use. After a great deal of political nonsense and every kind of public hazard, Calcutta is yet to realize that pavements, for instance, are not meant for selling sundry wares but for walking on. Metro stations should be convenient, safe and able to display essential information as clearly as possible. What to do in case of a fire, how to get in touch with security and first-aid personnel quickly, how to use the escalators and stop them in an emergency are some of the essential things users of the service should be told about and trained in. And this is the responsibility of the Metro authorities. Matters of etiquette are also inseparable from questions of safety and convenience. Ensuring that commuters are queuing properly for tickets, making the right use of exact-fare counters, letting people get off before getting on the trains, and not leaning on the closed doors of a moving train should be the concern of the authorities as well. One does not have to be a killjoy to banish soccer matches, slapstick comedy and popular music from these stations to where they are properly meant to be enjoyed.


The prime minister revealed no secret when he told a Hindi paper that the country had come very close to a war with Pakistan which was averted only by new American assurances. That the two hostile neighbours had mobilized their forces all along the border not for a show of strength but as part of their preparedness for an armed conflict is an old story. The same is true of the pledges secured by Richard Armitage and Donald Rumsfeld during their recent visits to Islamabad from the Pakistan president that he would not only end all cross-border terrorism but dismantle the camps of all the militant groups operating in Kashmir from bases in his country.

That this has helped to ease the tension between the two countries does not however mean that what has happened so far is either a guarantee of peace in Kashmir or of a more friendly relationship between the two estranged neighbours. In any case, a new war would have been an unmitigated tragedy for both. The four wars fought by them in the past had only added to the reservoir of mutual distrust and hatred. Even the Shimla accord of 1972 neither prevented Pakistan from trying to internationalize the Kashmir issue nor blunted the edge of its desire to avenge old defeats.

If there is widespread scepticism about the Pakistan president’s ability to keep the promises secured from him under duress, it is because of the uncertainties surrounding the prevailing situation in Pakistan. According to the American media, hundreds of al-Qaida men have spread themselves out in various parts of the country, an assortment of jihadi clerics are crying out for Pervez Musharraf’s ouster from power and anti-Western sentiment has acquired a pathological dimension. It is highly doubtful in these circumstances, even if the general means what he says, whether he can match his performance with his promises.

When a United States of America traumatized by the events of September 11 last year undertook to wage a war on international terrorism, it had no idea of what it was in for. With all its hi-tech weaponry, its state-of-the-art surveillance techniques, its vast armada standing in the Gulf and its takeover of three bases in Pakistan, it could neither get hold of Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, nor of Mullah Omar and the chief aides of the two men.

Indeed after its humiliating defeat in Vietnam in 1974, it is the first time that the US has been made to confront the limits of its power. This is all the more hurtful to its ego at a time when it was preening itself on being the only superpower and beginning to treat even some of its west European allies with disdain. In Afghanistan itself, it had to suffer the disgrace of seeing not only volunteers but soldiers of its frontline ally fighting on the enemy side.

The US may have managed to oust the dreaded taliban regime from power. But is it sure that it can help to establish a stable and modern regime in that country, ravaged by twenty years of war and civil strife? Thousands of its citizens have been brainwashed by a clutch of fanatical clerics, trained in Pakistani seminaries and madrasahs, into putting their life at stake in the cause of a version of jihad contrary to the spirit of scriptural injunctions. And now the country is suffering from a power vacuum, with foreign forces keeping law and order in Kabul and local warlords in control of many regional fiefs.

Hamid Karzai may be doing his best to create some order out of the prevailing anarchy in the loya jirga which has been in session for over a week. But judging from the squabbles in this tribal assembly, the destruction caused by bombing raids, the large number of people without any means of livelihood, the inter-ethnic rivalries, the enormity of the task of rebuilding a state and a civil society in an advanced stage of decay, any government that takes over for the next 18 months will have an extremely hard time. As for putting the country on the road to democracy, even the most optimistic among American policymakers dismiss it in private as a pipe-dream.

If the American establishment seems to have come to the end of its tether in trying to evolve a viable strategy for fighting an enemy who may be sitting in a business suit in a passenger plane, drinking at a restaurant in the company of friends, or studying science in an American university, how does it expect Musharraf to sort out the problems he faces in eliminating the very terrorists he hailed as freedom-fighters not long ago and who have been waging a proxy war for years on behalf of Pakistan? How many al Qaida men now in that country has he been able to arrest so far and hand over to the Americans?

If the Americans are painfully aware of the limits of their power, they cannot be so naïve as to believe that Musharraf is in full control of the situation in Pakistan. After all, the kidnapping and murder of a high-profile American journalist, the killing of 13 French engineers near their hotel and the recent attack on the US consulate in Karachi were not merely manifestations of the new frenzy of anti-Western feeling in his country. They were, as Musharraf knows too well, also a violent voicing of protest against his so-called sell-outs.

Unlike Musharraf, Zia ul-Haq did not have to push his luck. He had unstinted US support and a plentiful supply of weapons and money at his disposal. And since he was leading the war against the Russians in Afghanistan, the US took care not to notice the excesses committed by him. Zia ul-Haq also managed to mobilize the support of all the powerful religious groups in the country to make up for his sidelining of the mainstream political parties. Musharraf is in a far more dicey situation.

He had his first unnerving experience of a contingency in which push came to shove when he had to ditch the protégé taliban regime in Afghanistan at US behest in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Wa-shington. He put a brave face on what he did but could not altogether conceal his anguish at having to betray a client state. His recent turnabout on Kashmir and promise to eliminate all terrorist groups in his country has been even more hurtful. But the choice this time was between saving his old Kashmir policy and ensuring his own survival. The rigged referendum, violating both the letter and spirit of the constitution, may have secured him a five-year tenure as head of state. But that will be of little use in the face of his loss of credibility. No public relations exercise can prevent the people in Pakistan from seeing the wreckage of both his Afghan and Kashmir policies.

It may have taken the Bush administration a long time, because of hang-ups from the past, to acknowledge that many of the terrorist outfits operating in Kashmir are an integral part of the same global network in which al Qaida is by far the most dangerous. What remains to be seen now is how a more comprehensive approach to the problem of fundamentalist global terrorism gets translated into concrete results. In any case, the Indian government cannot take a positive outcome of the change for granted in the midst of so many pulls and counter-pulls on both American and Pakistani policies. In fact both New Delhi and Washington will have to keep a close watch on what goes on in Pakistan to make sure that Musharraf does not have recourse to dodges and subterfuges.

For the rest, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has for months used the warlike conditions to detract attention from the deteriorating economic and political situation at home. The demonstration of the government’s will to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity will be of no avail in the end if something is not done soon enough to counter the processes undermining its inner defences.

The spectre of political instability, with the Centre forced to go back on its decisions all too often, the gross fiscal mismanagement which forces the country to live on borrowed money and time, an event like the Gujarat riots which shakes the very foundations of a secular polity and the exposure of a scandal like the one in Punjab which shows how the integrity of public services is being destroyed at its very source, yielding place to an extortionist bureaucratic culture, are all signals from a system in distress. Any failure to take the necessary corrective action can be far more subversive of both the state and civil society than any external threat.


One of the most worrying aspects of the current industrial slowdown in the country is the shortfall in domestic private investments. Also disturbing is the unmistakable downward trend in the manufacturing sector in the first three-quarters of the fiscal year 2001-02.

This was confirmed by the May 2002 report of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy. Describing 2001-02 as the worst year since crisis-ridden 1991, the report gives an even more grim prognosis for 2002-03. It predicts a real gross domestic product growth of only 4.5 per cent in 2002-03, down from the 5.7 per cent rise estimated for 2001-02. The report projects a growth rate of only two per cent for the agricultural sector as well as a decline in the food products, capital goods and petroleum-refining segments. Overall, industrial growth may rise slightly from 2.7 per cent to 3.5 per cent in 2002-03.

Another recent survey, conducted by the World Bank and Confederation of Indian Industry, also painted a dismal picture of India’s investment climate. The survey based its conclusions on the analysis and competitiveness of over 1,000 manufacturing industries spread over 10 states during the past three years.

The results show that Maharashtra and Gujarat are the two states most attractive to investors, though Gujarat’s image has taken a beating after the recent riots. West Bengal continues to rank poorly — clearly, the left-ruled state government’s efforts at wooing investment are not paying off.

Inclement weather

But even the states with a good investment climate are way behind east Asian competitors. According to the survey, India’s marginal competitiveness in value added per unit of labour is eroded by other drawbacks such as infrastructure bottlenecks, regulatory hassles, the high cost of power and interest rates.

One important reason for falling investments is inadequate and unreliable infrastructure, although the fall in manufacturing output can also be attributed to the cyclical fluctuations in industrial growth and the slowdown in overall global demand.

Low consumer demand explains the present lack of demand for investment, but in the medium term, private investments are inhibited by “the existence of substantial excess capacity, structural bottlenecks, slow pace of reforms and cost of borrowing,” as the Asian Development Bank puts it. A CII survey in April is hopeful that investments on infrastructure, including road development projects, will kick-start growth in related manufacturing sectors.

According to the World Bank, India’s gross domestic investment has been around 27 per cent of its GDP in the late Nineties, one of the lowest among developing countries. In China, for instance, it is 42 per cent.

Widening gap

For long, an unfortunate feature of investment in the country has been greater capital-intensity, with a high import content even in consumption goods. With liberalization, the diversion of resources to cater to the demands of the affluent segments of society has increased. Thus, there has been no lowering of the capital-output ratio, which has serious implications for the economic welfare of the masses. The solution to this is to divert more funds to infrastructure creation.

Private domestic investment is naturally drawn to areas that are developed, particularly in terms of infrastructure. One of the goals of the planning process was to divert funds to backward areas so that they could catch up with the other, more advanced parts of the country. Liberalization has subverted this with investors flocking to economically advanced states.

Another impediment to investments is the high and chronic fiscal deficits. Technically called “crowding out”, this refers to the lowering of necessary investment expenditure because a rise in national income means a rise in interest rates. Thus, reduction in fiscal deficits and fall in real interest rates are imperative for stepping up domestic private investment.

This underscores the necessity of launching the “second generation” of economic reforms at both the Central and state levels. And this is the point the World Bank and CII make in their report.


The day after the termination of the standing agreement on the Indus basin, India shut off water supplies from the Ferozepur headworks to the Dipalpur Canal and to the Pakistani portions of the Lahore and main branches of the Upper Bari Doab Canal. As a result about 5.5 per cent of sown area and nearly 8 per cent of culturable command area in Pakistan were left without water at the beginning of the critical kharif-sowing season. Lahore was deprived of its main source of municipal water and distribution of power to Pakistan from the Mandi hydroelectric scheme was cut off. Why did India do this? Because of the “situation in Kashmir”. India was “anxious to take every measure to bring pressure on Pakistan to withdraw her ‘volunteers’ and her violent objections to Kashmir’s accession to India”. In addition, “certain of the Indian leaders were completely unreconciled to the emergence of Pakistan as an independent state (some still are)....they felt entitled to use every means at their disposal to wreck her economy, to demonstrate that she could not succeed alone, and thus to bring her back to India. Denial of vital irrigation water would be one way to expedite the process.”

That was the spring of 1948. Eerie echoes are evident in the current “situation in Kashmir” and the shrill demand from some sections in India to scrap the Indus treaty and use water as a weapon of war against Pakistan. The above description of the 1948 crisis is from Aloys Arthur Michel’s massive study, The Indus Rivers. The “Standstill Agreement” signed on December 18, 1947, which provided for maintenance of the allocation of water in the Indus basin irrigation system, terminated as scheduled on March 31, 1948. On April 1, India shut off water supplies.

Geography dictated that “India held all the cards”, as one of the chief Pakistani negotiators summed up simply during the Indus treaty negotiations. Michel describes Pakistan’s negotiating position as “feeble” in 1948. Their only possible recourse was war, but the newly created state risked extinction since all the strategic advantage lay with India. Unable to survive without water, Pakistan signed an “Inter-Dominion Agreement” with India on May 4, 1948. India claimed all the waters of the eastern rivers and demanded payment from Pakistan for its supply until “replacements” could be developed. Pakistan was required to deposit in the Reserve Bank of India a sum to be specified by the prime minister of India. In short, a neat spot of blackmail using water as weapon by an upper riparian state against a weak and helpless neighbour.

The chorus currently demanding that India scrap the Indus waters treaty and “shut off” water supplies to Pakistan therefore has an unhealthy precedent. India has done it before. It used water as a weapon for political ends. It cut off a vital source of life from a shared resource to millions of fellow human beings, motivated by the conflict over Kashmir. It used the geographic advantage afforded by Partition to squeeze its weak neighbour. Pakistan tried to bring her case to the International Court of Justice, but India would not cooperate. Twelve years passed before the Indus waters treaty was signed between India and Pakistan in 1960. The negotiations involved an initiative from David Lilienthal, chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, mediation by the World Bank, and the Bank’s persuasion of “friendly countries” like the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, West Germany, Australia and New Zealand, to finance the deal.

So then as now, the resolution of a subcontinental crisis became the white man’s burden. As a senior water resources analyst in the US puts it, essentially the two sides were “bought off” by the international community in 1960. Indeed, the Indus treaty was published as an “annexure” to the Development Fund Agreement, which Michel takes as a clear indication that the World Bank and the US in particular had “purchased” the agreement from the two warring states.

Whatever it took to get the parties to sign, the Indus waters treaty has stood the test of time so far and was not revoked even during the 1965 and 1971 wars. It is widely held up as a model for hostile states to come to a negotiated arrangement over shared resources. No surprise, as Professor Peter Rogers of Harvard University points out, since it is the only treaty of its kind brokered by the World Bank. All the more reason, one would think, for India and Pakistan to stick to it. More than 200 river basins are shared by two or more countries, accounting for about 50 per cent of the earth’s land area. Despite the absence of a uniform legal framework, the situation “is not a Hobbesian jungle”, according to Rogers. Nearly 300 agreements have been signed by countries on water issues and a body of conventions has built up over time which “inhibit some of the worst aspects of sovereign behaviour by upstream, and in some cases, downstream, states”.

In recent times, there has been much speculation that water might be at the heart of future international conflicts, especially in west Asia. Serious water disputes exist within countries as well, such as between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India, and Punjab and Sind in Pakistan. In the tension surrounding the annual Indus commission meeting amidst calls in India to revoke the treaty, concern has been expressed both in the Indian media and foreign editorials that India and Pakistan may go to war over water. In this context it is interesting to note the view of Professor Aaron Wolf of Oregon State University, coordinator of a water disputes database, that no inter-state war has actually been fought over water except one between the Sumerian city-states, Lagash and Umma, 4,500 years ago. However, there are violent conflicts related to water disputes and water can clearly be used as a weapon in a wider conflict. Usually international attention has focussed on a water conflict only after a crisis, such as in the case of the Indus. Early dispute resolution is a key to avoiding future conflict.

Unfortunately, in addition to calls to revoke the treaty, the ongoing dispute over India’s construction of the Baglihar project on the Chenab has not been suitably addressed yet. A similar dispute had arisen in the Eighties over the Wular barrage/Tulbul navigation project. Pakistan maintains that the Baglihar project, as currently designed, violates the Indus treaty since there would be a significant degree of water extraction. India argues that Baglihar represents a “run of the river” hydroelectricity project to which it is entitled. However, as per the Indus treaty, India may only build new “run of the river” hydel plants with Pakistan’s agreement and subject to the treaty provisions for dispute resolution. Large storage or diversion works on the western rivers on the Indian side are ruled out.

Professor Robert Bradnock of King’s College feels that a suitable design of Baglihar could be agreed upon to ensure that India obtained the added benefit of the project without seriously disadvantaging Pakistan. However, he adds, “I believe that it could be held to be in breach of the treaty to proceed unilaterally without Pakistan’s agreement.” A site inspection due to be held last December was postponed by India and despite the routine annual meeting of the permanent Indus commission held in May, the issue is unresolved.

Many commentaries in India blithely refer to the Indus treaty as being “biased” in favour of Pakistan. No such bias is evident in scholarly works. Rather the treaty is seen as a remarkable achievement in conflict resolution and river basin development despite deeper hostilities between India and Pakistan. Bradnock reflects the general view when he says that “the treaty has brought — and continues to bring — enormous benefits to both India and Pakistan. The fact the treaty has survived through the Indo-Pakistan wars is a testimony to this mutual benefit.”

There is something deeply demeaning therefore about the venom against the Indus treaty that is spewing from senior echelons of India’s government, diplomatic service and strategic analysts. By demanding that the Indus treaty be scrapped and water be used as a weapon in a political conflict, these “patriots” are inciting India to simultaneously violate an international treaty and commit a crime against humanity. Indeed, they are asking India to become the sort of country that would not be worth fighting for.


We will pursue appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks at our respective national levels and in a manner consistent with national laws to encourage public and private initiatives, including at the local level, and foster a dynamic and well functioning business sector, while improving income growth and distribution, raising productivity, empowering women and protecting labour rights and the environment. We recognize that the appropriate role of government in market-oriented economies will vary from country to country.

Fighting corruption at all levels is a priority. Corruption is a serious barrier to effective resource mobilization and allocation, and diverts resources away from activities that are vital for poverty eradication and economic and sustainable development.

We recognize the need to pursue sound macroeconomic policies aimed at sustaining high rates of economic growth, full employment, poverty eradication, price stability and sustainable fiscal and external balances to ensure that the benefits of growth reach all people, especially the poor. Governments should attach priority to avoiding inflationary distortions and abrupt economic fluctuations that negatively affect income distribution and resource allocation. Along with prudent fiscal and monetary policies, an appropriate exchange rate regime is required.

An effective, efficient, transparent and accountable system for mobilizing public resources and managing their use by governments is essential. We recognize the need to secure fiscal sustainability, along with equitable and efficient tax systems and administration, as well as improvements in public spending that do not crowd out productive private investment. We also recognize the contribution that medium-term fiscal frameworks can make in that respect.

Investments in basic economic and social infrastructure, social services and social protection, including education, health, nutrition, shelter and social security programmes, which take special care of children and older persons and are gender sensitive and fully inclusive of the rural sector and all disadvantaged communities, are vital for enabling people, especially people living in poverty, to better adapt to and benefit from changing economic conditions and opportunities. Active labour market policies, including worker training, can help increase employment and improve working conditions. The coverage and scope of social protection needs to be further strengthened. Economic crises also underscore the importance of effective social safety nets.

We recognize the need to strengthen and develop the domestic financial sector by encouraging the orderly development of capital markets through sound banking systems and other institutional arrangements aimed at addressing development financing needs, including the insurance sector and debt and equity markets, that encourage and channel savings and foster productive investments. That requires a sound system of financial intermediation, transparent regulatory frameworks and effective supervisory mechanisms, supported by a solid central bank. Guarantee schemes and business development services should be developed for easing the access of small and medium-sized enterprises to local financing.

Microfinance and credit for micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises, including in rural areas, particularly for women, as well as national savings schemes, are important for enhancing the social and economic impact of the financial sector. Development banks, commercial and other financial institutions, whether independently or in cooperation, can be effective instruments for facilitating access to finance, including equity financing, for such enterprises, as well as an adequate supply of medium- and long-term credit. In addition, the promotion of private-sector financial innovations and public-private partnerships can also deepen domestic financial markets and further develop the domestic financial sector. The prime objective of pension schemes is social protection, but when those schemes are funded they can also be a source of savings.

Bearing in mind economic and social considerations, efforts should be made to incorporate the informal sector into the formal economy, wherever feasible. It is also important to reduce the transfer costs of migrant workers’ remittances and create opportunities for development-oriented investments, including housing.

It is critical to reinforce national efforts in capacity-building in developing countries and countries with economies in transition in such areas as institutional infrastructure, human resource development, public finance, mortgage finance, financial regulation and supervision, basic education in particular, public administration, social and gender budget policies, early warning and crisis prevention, and debt management. In that regard, particular attention is required to address the special needs of Africa, the least developed countries, small island developing states and landlocked developing countries.

To be concluded



Paler shade of red

Sir — The left parties in general and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in particular have finally realized what a hypocrite Mulayam Singh Yadav is. He claims to be against dynastic rule of the Congress kind, but has no compunctions about fielding his own son as a Lok Sabha candidate. His dislike for the Bharatiya Janata Party does not stop him from supporting A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the presidential candidate nominated by the BJP. Yadav’s Samajwadi Party is all for socialist causes but does not care to support Lakshmi Sahgal who has been a socialist all her life. It is good that the left has stood firm on its decision to field Sahgal instead of riding piggyback on pseudo-secular elements like the Congress or the Samajwadi Party. But the fact that it considered the likes of Yadav as its allies in spite of their opportunistic ways shows up its gullibility. Worse still, it shows that the left is no better than the parties who enter into alliances of convenience to come to power.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Sengupta, Berhampore

Boarding and lodging

Sir — Having been educated in a boarding school for seven years, I would like to point out a few things to Rajlakshmi Bhattacharyya (“Boarding pass”, June 8). Boarding schools offer a broad-based education that cannot be easily attained elsewhere. I used to study in a reputed school in Calcutta before I joined the Doon School. At Doon, as in most boarding schools, academics went hand-in-hand with co-curricular activities. Besides learning woodwork, oil painting, batik, metalwork, I learnt to recycle paper, to repair minor malfunctions in cars at the motor-mechanics shed, and also to play the guitar. I learnt to share a room, and eventually become friends, with five boys with whom I had little in common. I was able to play soccer every evening, go for a swim, or even a cross-country run, none of which I could have done so easily in a crowded metropolis like Calcutta.

Being away from home, most children learn to appreciate the little things that one gets only at home, and which are usually taken for granted. Living without one’s parents also instills a sense of confidence in children. This is why Mani Shankar Aiyar’s comment that life in boarding schools is “nasty, brutish and short” surprised me. If only Aiyar cared to visit his alma mater, the Doon School, he would find that a house master takes care of only 30 to 40 boys, and not hundreds, as Aiyar believes. And if Aiyar did not get to know girls till he was 20, he should perhaps question his own social skills before placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the school and the system. Most important, Aiyar was a day scholar, and as a result, missed out on the best experiences of boarding school. Unfortunately, he did not think twice about passing judgment on a system of which he has never been a part.

Yours faithfully,
Tapojoy Mandal, Dehradun

Sir — While one appreciates the good work that play-schools and Montessori houses are doing, it is important to take stock of the hype surrounding these institutions. These schools, by introducing a strict regimen early on, encourage many parents to put undue pressure on their children from a very young age. It is important to distinguish between early grooming and raising parrot-like children. Many parents want to exhibit their children’s proficiency in English and force them to rattle off pleasantries in English. Little do they realize that aiding the development of a child’s creative faculties is more important than concentrating on his presentability.

This is not to say that all the playhouses that have mushroomed in and around the city are run along faulty lines. But many of them are undoubtedly being run by people who have no training. Since most parents now try to send their children to school even before they have learnt to form words, such Montessori schools flourish. The trend has already begun to have its effects on the society by producing children who walk, talk and even play in identical fashion. Perhaps it would be a good idea to go back a few decades and let children have their initial grooming at home, rather than in schools which could harm them for life.

Yours faithfully,
Smita Toppo, Calcutta

Aiyar and his money

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “An MP and his money” (June 18), is a classic example of self-publicity at its best. Throughout the article, Aiyar has boasted of and praised his own work in south India; work which he is anyway supposed to carry out diligently in his capacity as a “public servant”. The underlying theme of the article is “I, the Superman” who works late into the night, democratically spends “his” money on developmental activities, gets an architect to improve designs of the community halls and so on.

Aiyar needs to be reminded that the money he is speaking of is in no way his money and he should refrain from calling it his own. He has consistently used the phrase “my money”. It is the hard-earned money of the tax-payer, and not that of a government servant. The general trend in India is that first politicians call the public money their own and then, believing in their own words, transfer all the money to their pockets. This is the basic principle underlying political corruption.

To give the devil his due, if Aiyar is really doing the work he claims he is, then his facts and figures must be evaluated and scrutinized by an independent non-govermental organization. If his claims are found to be true, he should be praised and honoured as a rare politician who is really working for the people. After all, it is so common for bridges and roads to exist only on paper nowadays.

Yours faithfully,
Asheem Kapoor, Calcutta

Sir — Do “251 funeral sheds, 132 bus shelters, 95 link roads, 34 bridges and culverts, 61 bathing ghats, 30 revetment walls, 12 TV rooms, and 11 public lavatories” and unspecified assistance to schools, colleges, hospitals, healthcare centres and veterinary centres really cost Rs 8 crore? Two other questions come up immediately in connection with Mani Shankar Aiyar’s claims. First, doesn’t the demand for funeral sheds show how little people have come to expect from their representatives? Second, for whom are Aiyar’s facts and figures meant? 10, Janpath? The government? Or “his” people? There is one fact that comes through Aiyar’s rather pompous piece. Members of parliament indeed have great power of benefaction. If only they stopped beating their own drums.

Yours faithfully,
Jaisurya Acharya, Calcutta

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