Editorial 1 / Coils of the past
Editorial 2 / Kashmir fragments
Defence in the new world
Fifth Column / Left behind the rest of them
Argentina shows how not to play
Document / Chipping away at the economic divide
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / COILS OF THE PAST 
 
 
 
 
The Gregorian calendar says unmistakably that this is the year 2002. But a large part of the official mind in India is still stuck in 1955. In that year, when the dominant influence on policy-making was Nehruvian socialism, the Union cabinet took a decision to prohibit foreign investment in print media. In 47 years, despite many changes in governments, this decision has not been reversed. It stands as the last relic of an era in which state ownership and state regulation were the watchwords of policy, and foreign capital was perceived as an extension of imperialism. In the Nineties, when Mr Manmohan Singh initiated the process of dismantling the socialist edifice, the entry of foreign capital in print media entered the domain of public debate and discussion. For the proponents of liberalization, the logic for supporting the entry of foreign investment in print media was a simple one. The Indian economy was being opened up to foreign capital, global trends and greater competition. Better performance was seen to be the immediate result of the openness that would follow the removal of the licence raj and regulated markets. There existed no grounds for cocooning the newspaper industry from this process of opening up. There were many who believed that Indian journalism and Indian editorial control were robust enough to stand up to foreign competition and even, if it came to that, to foreign interference. The bureaucratic mind, the priorities of politicians and the play of narrow vested interests are often not amenable to logic. The cabinet decision, vintage 1955, stood despite the winds of change that blew over the Indian economy in the Nineties.

This refusal to relinquish the past has produced a ridiculous paradox. Foreign-owned television channels telecasting from foreign countries are available for viewing in India. Foreign newspapers and magazines are sold in India. But foreign investment is not allowed in Indian print media. At the root of this paradox is not even a legislation, but an antiquated decision which has no relevance today and may not have had any even in 1955. The only fallout of this is that Indian newspapers and magazines remain starved of capital and of new technology. The contradiction between allowing foreign television channels and disallowing foreign capital in print media is especially striking because in a country like India television has far greater impact and reach than newspapers. The argument that the press moulds public opinion and therefore should be free of foreign influence falls in the face of this contradiction. There has been a recent initiative on the part of Ms Sushma Swaraj, the minister of information and broadcasting, to review the 1955 decision at the cabinet level. The initiative is to be welcomed rather than derided, and it is to be hoped that the present cabinet can free the press from 1955 and allow it to enter the 21st century.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / KASHMIR FRAGMENTS 
 
 
 
 
There is considerable merit in the demand for autonomy made by the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Farooq Abdullah. It is unfortunate that the Centre has rejected the idea without giving it serious consideration. Simultaneously, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s revival of the call for a division of the state along communal lines signals that extremist forces may be taking advantage of the dangerous drift in the Centre’s policy on Kashmir. There is, of course, bound to be cynicism regarding Mr Abdullah’s strident expression of support for autonomy at the event in Srinagar organized to appoint his son, Mr Omar Abdullah, the president of the National Conference. Critics will relate the chief minister’s declaration that “peace was not possible without autonomy” to the forthcoming assembly elections in the state. This criticism misses a larger point. Autonomy carries a tremendous resonance with the people in Jammu and Kashmir because it is felt that puppet leaders from the state colluded, over time, with the Centre and eroded the autonomy promised by the Constitution. Restoration of autonomy will go a long way in reviving the people’s confidence in the Indian Union.

Granting autonomy to the state will not weaken its relationship with India. Autonomy must be viewed in terms of empowering people, making people feel that they belong, and increasing the accountability of public institutions and services. It is synonymous with decentralization and devolution of power. Indeed, there is no contradiction between wanting Kashmir to be part of the national mainstream, and the state’s desire for autonomous self-governance. Separatism grows when people feel disconnected from the structures of power and the process of policy formulation; in contrast, devolution ensures popular participation in the running of the polity. What, however, is a recipe for disaster is the VHP’s demand for a division of Jammu and Kashmir into four parts. Not only does it want a separate statehood for Jammu and Union territory status for Ladakh, but it is also seeking to partition the Kashmir valley to create a special enclave for Kashmiri Pandits. This could lead to violent social disruptions in the state and create a communal polarization that would irretrievably destroy the cultural and social fabric of Kashmir. Division would forever end the possibilities of reviving the plural traditions of communal harmony in the state. It is imperative for the Centre to not just pay greater thought to the question of autonomy, but also immediately reject the preposterous idea of the division of the state.

   

 
 
DEFENCE IN THE NEW WORLD 
 
 
BY BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
In the midst of a grave security challenge facing the country, it was reported that a committee constituted to look into the formation of a national defence university had formally submitted its report to the defence minister. That this barely elicited any comment is understandable what with Indian and Pakistani forces on operational alert on the borders, Pakistan repeatedly brandishing its nuclear sword, experts in the West painting grim scenarios of many million deaths in a likely nuclear exchange and international “do gooders” flying to and fro with big- brotherly advice. Of late so much information flak has been generated both internationally and within the subcontinent that it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction and information dissemination from information management — or, worse, information warfare.

Yet much of what is happening on today’s subcontinental security stage could well have had a different plot with actors reading to our script, if only Indian national security institutions had learnt early on in independent India’s history that national security, apart from rearing a professional military, is also serious intellectual business. That to mould and guide issues and perceptions so that they best promote national security interests require researched study and analysis with a strategic vision on one hand and a transparent means to share information and openly debate issues on the other. That involvement of not just those within the governmental system, but academics, thinktanks, individual researchers, universities and other private and public institutions, is also mandatory. That leaders entrusted with national security policy formulation cannot do justice unless they have been through a process of in-depth research-based education, whether they be generalist administrators of excellence, diplomats of repute, economists of standing, soldiers of impeccable professional credentials or indeed specialists in so many other areas, all of which combine to contribute to national power.

While the Indian security management system has stagnated, the national and international security environments have been changing constantly, driven by spread of weapons of mass destruction, march of weapon and space technology, information revolution, revolution in military affairs, emergence of non-state actors with or without geographical boundaries and even the spectre of dirty bombs. As the world has learnt at great cost, few countries would be willing to forecast where the next threat will come from and what the nature of future warfare will be. India can be no exception.

With an archaic security management system it is not unnatural that the nation has been compelled to follow a reactive approach to all recent security challenges whether it was terrorism in Punjab and now in Jammu and Kashmir, intrusions in Kargil and the more brazen attacks against Parliament and the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, not to mention the spread of terror across the country. When after the terrorist attack on Parliament the nation took an uncharacteristically bold step to move its forces to the borders, it came as no surprise that the public seemed psychologically unprepared for such a move. Barring exceptions, the impression that was created in public debate was one of a knee-jerk over reaction without a clear-cut plan.

As weeks and months rolled by, exaggerated fears of many commentators appeared to ring true. Speculative assessment of huge expense to keep troops on the border and of sagging morale amongst the forces became the flavour of the day. All this did nothing to lift the morale of the nation as a whole and must have made the task of our field commanders that much more difficult. But the question that must concern students of national security is why the national psyche has been reduced to a state of such security-indifference and under-confidence.

Historically, India has a record of neglecting national security thought at the strategic level. This weakness stretches across the political spectrum, bureaucracy, academia, media and the military. We neither have the ethos nor the institutions to prepare potential security leaders and the information community at large with the requisite in-depth education on matters relating to security and the nation is devoid of a strategic road map. Consequently our security practitioners do the best they can reacting to situations and crises as they unfold. It would be fair to say that what little successes have come our way have been due to individual contributions and not by institutional design.

In our system of governance members of the civil services move frequently on transfers and security management is not high on their preference. The armed forces headquarters being outside of the governmental structure are not involved in policy making. Not only do the civil and military services thus work in watertight compartments, but this even stretches to the individual services and sometimes intra-service as well.

Worse, the system still does not understand the potential of information management and information warfare. Those who followed the American media even months after the September terrorist attacks would have noted how the system responded to a larger national interest during the crucial months when national morale needed to be sustained, willfully downplaying the many failures involved. Contrast this with our own performance during Kargil, when criticism of intelligence failures was high on the public agenda even as our soldiers were preparing for “do or die” battles. More recently, our forces have been on the highest state of alert and yet there has been no formal means of routinely disseminating information, with the result that the public has been at the mercy of the fare that the electronic or print media are able to provide. When one considers that there is a woeful scarcity of genuine scholars on security issues, the resulting constraint becomes all too obvious.

Notwithstanding this picture of pessimism, recent events as they are unfolding do indicate that the national leadership and security establishments have displayed determination and skilled planning. This appears to be paying diplomatic and security dividends. More crucially, the perception that India is a soft state has evaporated, much to the discomfiture of pacifists in our midst. While international understanding has also to do with the United States of America-led global war against terrorism and respective national interests, credit must not be denied to our national security managers at the helm. Using the threat of force, as a diplomatic and military tool has not come easy to the Indian psyche, welcome though this newfound confidence is.

But before we start celebrating, some introspection is in order. Firstly, we have embarked on a tortuous route with many ups and downs before terrorism and Pakistan are brought in line. And secondly, these achievements are not because our approach to security management has suddenly become professional, but in spite of it. It is important therefore that in the euphoria that may follow any tactical diplomatic victory, we do not lose sight of our long-term objective of laying the foundations of a security management system based on sound education and professionalism.

It is here that the concept of a national defence university finds place. As a result of the Kargil review committee, subsequent task force reviews and a group of minister’s recommendations, the cabinet committee on security had approved many far-reaching recommendations.

Many significant changes have been effected, and many more are in the pipeline though progress is slow. On the national defence university the GOM had concluded that “university research in India in the field of defence is not managed, funded, or structured effectively and it lacks both in a policy orientation and in synergy between the academic community and governmental functionaries”. The GOM had therefore recommended that a committee study the need for a national defence university. Now that this committee has submitted its report, security compulsions dictate that efforts be made to act on this report on a war footing.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / LEFT BEHIND THE REST OF THEM 
 
 
BY MOHIT SEN
 
 
The nomination of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as a candidate in the next presidential elections should have been welcomed by the left parties as well, since Kalam enjoys the support of the other secular, democratic and nationalist parties. The left’s decision will prove to be foolhardy.

The strongest argument of the Left Front in favour of its decision not to support Kalam is that Kalam is the candidate of the National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and supporting him would mean endorsing the BJP’s policies. This is largely unfounded, since the left has not in the past objected to other important appointments made by the BJP. In fact, there is reason to believe that it had decided to support the vice-president, Krishan Kant, as the presidential candidate irrespective of whether the NDA too supported him.

Is it correct to claim that Kalam is the NDA’s candidate? Legally speaking, his name was proposed by the NDA. But this was done only after it realized that its first choice, P.C. Alexander, did not stand much of a chance in the contest. Then the name of Krishan Kant was proposed and hurriedly withdrawn in favour of Kalam. This was aimed at making K.R. Narayanan withdraw from the contest. He would have looked rather silly fighting against a person who enjoyed the collective support of the Samajwadi Party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham and the Telugu Desam Party, and the NDA.

He’s the man

The left parties have claimed that it was the NDA’s sudden opposition to Alexander, together with its traditional dislike for the Congress and other secular parties, that compelled it to do a volte-face and choose Kalam. But before choosing Kalam, it had to be certain about where Narayanan stood. After all, it was the Congress and the People’s Front that had asked him to run for president. He had neither agreed nor refused to stand, meaning that his final decision would be taken on the basis of the NDA’s choice, and an idea about the likely outcome of the contest. Once Kalam’s name was announced, and widely supported, it was clear that Narayanan would not stand for office.

After that, the left should have done what the Congress did — lend its support to Kalam to make him the unanimous choice. Apart from being a distinguished scientist, Kalam’s views on nationalism, self-reliance and secularism make him a good choice, who would bring honour to the president’s office. The left should also have considered the fact that Kalam worked for long under Satish Dhawan, a radical, nationalist and communist. Dhawan played an important part in shaping Kalam’s views and ideologies. There is every reason to believe that Kalam could turn out to be the best president India has ever had.

Forget the difference

Kalam’s nomination comes at a time when the secular ideals of the Constitution have been threatened by recent events. It has even been questioned whether a Muslim can be a true Indian. To have a Muslim as India’s first citizen under these circumstances can only have a positive influence on the shape of things to come. His simple and austere lifestyle makes him a good role model for young Indians. To say he is not political enough is absurd.

The Congress dilly-dallied for a while before finally declaring its support for Kalam. It first needed to know where Narayanan stood in the race, and second, because it would have liked the Left Front to ally with it in its cause. But this was not destined to happen. Yet it is unfair to say that this is an example of the Congress leaving the left in the lurch. In fact, it would have been wiser for the leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India if they had not broken so abruptly with the Samajwadi Party on the issue of the presidential candidate.

What this break exposes more than anything else is the futility of the concept of a third front, proclaimed as the left’s sterling strategy. It is time that the left parties went in for serious introspection. Whatever the differences between the Left Front and the Congress on the next president, they should give way for dialogue, rather than acrimony, at least for the sake of the country’s future.

   

 
 
ARGENTINA SHOWS HOW NOT TO PLAY 
 
 
BY ALOK RAY
 
 
A heated debate is raging over the causes and the lessons of the unfolding Argentine economic crisis. To some it may appear odd. Latin America is notorious for economic debacles and even debt defaults. So, what’s new? In fact, some would say the real problem lies in the fact that it is not new. Policy-makers, including international institutions like the International Monetary Fund, have not learnt from past mistakes and have repeated themselves in Argentina.

Argentina was the richest country in Latin America in the Nineties. Between 1991 — when free market reforms started — and 1997, the average annual growth rate of the gross domestic product in Argentina was 6.1 per cent, the highest in the region. The two cornerstones of reforms were a currency board and privatization accompanied by large-scale foreign ownership of banks and public utility services — gas, electricity, telecommunications.

Under the currency board system, one peso was convertible by law into one dollar. The government was forced to restrict the printing of peso notes, otherwise the fixed exchange rate between the peso and the dollar could not be maintained. This was considered a big virtue in the Latin American context where hyper-inflation and devaluation of currencies were perennial problems. The pegged exchange rate made the Argentine inflation rate move in line with the low US inflation rate. Investment, especially foreign investment, would not be forthcoming in a country with a lot of uncertainty about the future inflation rate and the exchange rate. The currency board, by removing these risks, made Argentina a favoured destination of foreign investors. This policy package had also the backing of the so-called “Washington consensus”. For a while, it worked great.

Then came a series of external shocks. The global financial crisis of 1997-98 pushed up global interest rates, which increased Argentina’s debt-servicing burden. Interest rates went up by 20 per cent in Argentina as the spectre of exchange rate risk and debt default loomed large. Note that the currency board had made financing of budget deficit by increasing money supply more difficult. But that had forced the government to take recourse more to borrowing, which created a mounting external debt. Brazil, a major competitor, devalued its currency. Argentina could not because of pegging with the dollar. The dollar meanwhile was also going up against the euro and other major currencies, which made the peso correspondingly overvalued.

This hurt Argentina’s international price competitiveness. Increasing protectionism in the European Union and the United States of America against farm products and falling commodity prices in the global market, starting from 1999 onwards, particularly affected Argentina — a major exporter of agricultural products. The overvaluation of the peso against non-US currencies hurt Argentine exports more because a large share of its exports were to non-US markets, in particular Europe and neighbouring Brazil.

The swelling trade deficit and foreign debt servicing made future devaluation inevitable and led foreigners and Argentines to shift money elsewhere. There was no penalty in the form of exchange loss as the peso-dollar rate was fixed. Argentina eventually had to default its $140 billion public debt, devalue its currency, adopt fiscal austerity by cutting down government expenditure and increasing taxes — the standard IMF medicine. At the same time unemployment went up by nearly 25 per cent. The GDP is estimated to shrink by 10 per cent this year, 44 per cent of the population has come below the official poverty line and violent street protests have forced the resignation of Argentine presidents in quick succession. The system which worked so well became the engine of disaster under external stress.

Who is to blame? Opinions sharply differ. Most analysts agree, with the benefit of hindsight, that the currency board is a major culprit. But whose brainchild was it? Some believe the IMF encouraged the idea. But according to The Economist (March 2, 2002), it was the invention of Carlos Menem, the much-lauded economy minister of Argentina, and the IMF is supposed to have been suspicious of it from the beginning. Suspicions aside, it is strange that policy-makers could not see the inherent inability of a fixed exchange rate system to cope with external shocks. The folly of this policy became clear in the Mexican peso crisis in 1995 and then again in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries during the southeast Asian crisis in the late Nineties.

Another alleged villain is the IMF. Joseph Stiglitz, the recent winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and the former chief economist, World Bank, thinks that the IMF’s policy of fiscal tightening — by cutting government expenditure, raising taxes — in an economic downturn only worsened the situation. The policy mistake was first made in southeast Asia and then in Argentina. The IMF, on the other hand, believes that fiscal profligacy was the main cause of the crisis.

Others think that the rising fiscal deficit was the result, not the cause, of recession as tax revenues automatically fall and welfare payments rise in a recession. The IMF policy package further aggravated recession and thereby the fiscal deficit. In fact, even last year the fiscal deficit in Argentina was less than 3 per cent of the GDP (in India it is 5.7 per cent) while the US federal deficit in 1992 — when the US had a mild recession — was nearly 5 per cent of the GDP. Even the debt to GDP ratio in Argentina was around 55 per cent, whereas the ratio is 130 per cent in Japan. In the US the ratio was 64 per cent in 1992.

The foreign ownership of banks — another pillar of the IMF package for improving efficiency — is also held responsible for lending less to small and medium-scale enterprises. This contributed to falling investment, declining output and rising unemployment. The foreign-owned utility companies were allowed to set the tariff rates in dollar. With devaluation of the peso this meant rising cost of production in the peso, further undermining of the international cost competitiveness of Argentine industries.

Foreign and domestic investment will come back to Argentina only when the over-capacity ends. The need of the hour is demand-generation through fiscal and monetary stimulus. Unemployment is the enemy now, not the inflation. Developed countries, the US in particular, can help by allowing a temporary market access to Argentine exports. That is what helped Mexico recover. The standard IMF policy is counter- productive.

What are the major lessons emphasized by analysts like Stiglitz? First, globalization and fixed exchange rate regimes are not compatible. Globalization implies greater exposure to external shocks. Adjustments in exchange rates are part of the coping mechanism. Second, a single-minded focus on inflation — without concern for unemployment or growth — is fraught with risk. The currency board or any other fixed exchange rate system may lower inflation but is not likely to promote sustained growth.

Third, growth requires financial institutions that lend to domestic firms. Selling banks to foreign owners, without appropriate safeguards, may impede growth and stability. Fourth, economic strength or confidence of investors can seldom be restored with policies that force an economy into a deep recession. That is what the IMF policy often does.

Fifth, the standard Keynesian prescription is a better remedy for fighting recession and restoring business confidence in an economy in deep recession. The IMF orthodoxy of trying to attract private investors back by fiscal austerity, restoring confidence in banks and equal treatment for foreign and domestic creditors can and should wait. The priority should be ways to increase output, not convincing the capital markets that there are no problems.

A final word of caution. Stiglitz and company are not against markets or globalization, as some left-wing commentators try to project. They are in favour of integrating with global markets but with proper safeguards. They are against the standardized policy package forced by the IMF on countries in crisis, irrespective of the country-specific conditions.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / CHIPPING AWAY AT THE ECONOMIC DIVIDE 
 
 
 
 
A universal, rule-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system, as well as meaningful trade liberalization, can substantially stimulate development worldwide, benefiting countries at all stages of development. In that regard, we reaffirm our commitment to trade liberalization and to ensure that trade plays its full part in promoting economic growth, employment and development for all. We thus welcome the decisions of the World Trade Organization to place the needs and interests of developing countries at the heart of its work progr- amme, and commit ourselves to their implementation.

To benefit fully from trade, which in many cases is the single most important external source of development financing, the establishment or enhancement of appropriate institutions and policies in developing countries, as well as in countries with economies in transition, is needed. Meaningful trade liberalization is an important element in the sustainable development strategy of a country. Increased trade and foreign direct investment could boost economic growth and could be a significant source of employment.

We acknowledge the issues of particular concern to developing countries and countries with economies in transition...including trade barriers, trade-distorting subsidies and other trade-distorting measures, particularly in sectors of special export interest to developing countries, including agriculture; abuse of anti-dumping measures; technical barriers and sanitary and phytosanitary measures; trade liberalization in labour intensive manufactures; trade liberalization in agricultural products; trade in services; tariff peaks, high tariffs and tariff escalation, as well as non-tariff barriers; the movement of natural persons; lack of recognition of intellectual property rights for the protection of traditional knowledge and folklore; transfer of knowledge and technology; the implementation and interpretation of the agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights in a manner supportive of public health; and the need for special and differential provisions for developing countries in trade agreements to be made more prec- ise, effective and operational.

To ensure that world trade supports development to the benefit of all countries, we encourage the members of the WTO to implement the outcome of its fourth ministerial conference, held in Doha, Qatar, from November 9 to 14, 2001.

We also undertake to facilitate the accession of all developing countries, particularly the least-developed countries...that apply for membership of the WTO...

We also commit ourselves to enhancing the role of regional and sub-regional agreements and free trade areas...in the construction of a better world trading system. We urge international financial institutions, including regional development banks, to continue to support projects that promote sub-regional and regional integration among developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

We recognize the importance of enhanced and predictable access to all markets for the exports of developing countries, including small island developing states, landlocked and transit developing countries and countries in Africa, as well as countries with economies in transition.

We call on developed countries that have not already done so to work towards the objective of duty-free and quota-free access for all leastdeveloped countries’ exports, as envisaged in the Progr- amme of Action for the Least Developed Countries adopted in Brussels. Consideration of proposals for developing countries to contribute to improved market access for least-developed countries would also be helpful. We further recognize the importance for developing countries...of reducing trade barriers among themselves.

In cooperation with the interested governments and their financial institutions...we invite multilateral and bilateral financial and development institutions to expand and coordinate their efforts, with increased resources, for gradually removing supply-side constraints; improve trade infrastructure; diversify export capacity and support an increase in the technological content of exports; strengthen institutional development and enhance overall productivity and competitiveness. To that end, we further invite bilateral donors and international and regional financial institutions, together with relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, to reinforce the support for trade-related training, capacity and institution-building and trade-supporting services. Special consideration should be given to least-developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing states...and countries with economies in transition, including through the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries and its follow-up, the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme, the WTO Doha Development Agenda Global Trust Fund, as well as the activities of the International Trade Centre.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Like father, like son

Sir — Just when it seemed that the Bharatiya Janata Party was on the best of terms with its many allies, came Omar Abdullah’s sudden outburst about the “shabby treatment” of his father (“Omar fights for ignored father”, June 22). While everyone has pledged support for the BJP’s presidential candidate, the same cannot be said about the vice-president. Abdullah Jr has decided to stand up for his ever-doting father, who has not been considered as a possible candidate. However, Omar’s criticism is nothing but a ploy to strike a bargain with the government, given that a cabinet reshuffle is in the offing. Moreover, with the impending polls in Jammu and Kashmir, Omar well knows that the National Conference is indispensable to the BJP, if the latter wants to gain a toehold in the state. That the BJP has been caught off-guard by the Abdullahs shows that Omar has picked up the tricks of the trade rather well from his father. Politics, it is rightly said, runs in the family.

Yours faithfully,
Aveek Mitra, Siliguri

At the receiving end

Sir — The recent incidents of violence against schoolteachers in West Bengal is less an indication of the inadequacies of our education system and more of the inefficiency of the law and order machinery (“Teachers under attack”, June 13). Whatever be the reason for the anger against teachers, nothing can justify such horrifying activities on the part of guardians as dousing the headmistress of a school with hot engine oil in a marketplace or beating up teachers just because their wards have not been promoted.

These unpleasant incidents reflect the cultural degeneration within modern society. We tend to take the easy way out by blaming the West for such degradation. But it is we who are to be held responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

Yours faithfully,
Keshav Garg, Ranchi

Sir — It is a shame that the West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association had to ask the government for security measures to put a stop to the growing incidents of assault on teachers by students (“Students wield cane on teachers”, June 13). Gone are the days when students idolized teachers and accorded them lifelong respect. It is ironic that it is the teachers who are asking for police protection when not too long they had opposed the entry of police into campuses.

While the changing social order is much to blame, teachers cannot absolve themselves of all responsibility for the rising incidences of violence against them. In two successive incidents in a school in Shyamnagar, teachers caused bodily harm to students. But all these are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg because only a fraction of such incidents gets reported in the media. Often, the guilty teacher gets away with the crime because of the political leverage he enjoys. The teaching vocation does not entitle the use of violence to reprimand a child. Article 3 (ix) of the national policy for children pledges to protect children against neglect, cruelty and exploitation.

Unfortunately, it is only when teachers are at the receiving end do they raise an alarm. Hooliganism by students is as inexcusable as physical abuse by teachers.

Yours faithfully,
Chameli Pal, Howrah

Sir — Recently, the principal of Patna Veterinary College paid with his life for punishing some students caught cheating (“Teacher dies in war against cheating”, June 14). This shows how apathetic our society has become — nothing provokes a reaction. Those responsible for this state of affairs are obviously the politicians who have all but ruined the moral fibre of the country. One hopes that the sacrifice of the likes of the principal, Mani Mohan, will help improve our society.

Yours faithfully,
S. Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Sir — Of late, the incidence of teachers getting roughed up is on the rise. Many people believe that the teacher’s job is an easy one, with long vacations. This is not so since in summer, teachers remain busy with invigilation and correcting answer papers. And now, they have been barred from giving tuitions. This will not stop the practice of tuitions, instead the vacuum created by the teachers will be taken over by unemployed youth, who are no match for the former in terms of competence and experience. One way to reform the system is to forbid teachers from tutoring students from their own schools,

In the West, teachers are allowed sabbaticals to catch up on academics, but their Indian counterparts have no such privileges. In today’s consumer age, one cannot expect teachers alone to hold high the banner of altruism and self-abnegation.

Yours faithfully,
Debal Kumar Chakravarti, Calcutta

Men in black

Sir — Italy joined the list of big names like France, Argentina and Portugal which have been eliminated in the first round of the World Cup 2002, after it was defeated by South Korea, with some help from atrocious decisions by the referee (“Italy victims of refereeing”, June 21).

In a game where a number of yellow cards were shown to both teams, Italy’s Francesco Totti was unlucky to be given a red card. To add to Italy’s woes, one of Damiano Tommasi’s goals was signalled offside, a highly controversial decision. Such flawed decisions in a crucial match cost the Italians the game. For a country where football is more than a passion, the defeat against South Korea was a huge blow.

Yours faithfully,
Shankar Prasad, Osaka

Sir — World Cup 2002 has been marred by poor decisions by referees and linesmen that have infuriated many a player and have even attracted strong criticism from the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter. For example, the controversial red cards shown to Italian striker Francesco Totti and Ronaldinho. Unfortunately, it has taken Italy’s ouster and the resultant protest by the side for the media to highlight the poor refereeing.

There is nothing wrong if referees adhere to the strict Fifa guidelines, but such indiscriminate use of red and yellow cards can become a killjoy. This also results in the loss of mutual trust and respect between players and referee, so necessary for an enjoyable match.

With a few matches still to go, Fifa should either caution these inefficient referees or disqualify them.

Yours faithfully,
Shiuli Ray, Calcutta

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