Editorial 1/ Feel good after
Editorial 2/ Lawful hold
Currently low
Fifth Column/ Thinking in terms of the future
Up against a global scourge
Document/ Help those who help others
Letters to the editor

Mr Jaswant Singh has begun with the right noises. It is true that the economy’s macro fundamentals are sound, and many problems are due to negative sentiments. Some negative sentiments can be ascribed to Mr Yashwant Sinha’s last budget having alienated the urban middle class. Mr Singh is entirely right that money is needed in the hands of consumers and that they need to spend. How consumers get this money is the key. Populism is not the answer, and some of Mr Sinha’s opposed budget proposals were sound ones. Not that Mr Singh has promised populism. Instead, he has got the taxpayer on his side by talking about tax administration and its corruption and laxity, for example, the Saral form that is anything but simple. A team is also about to take its place in North Block, after having been missing for much of Mr Sinha’s tenure. Mr Vijay Kelkar will be adviser to the finance minister. There will be a finance secretary, Mr C. Rangarajan will head the finance commission, and by mid-June, there should be a chief economic adviser.

The economy has also perked up. With gross domestic product growth rate of 5.4 per cent in 2001-02, a growth of 6 per cent plus in 2002-03 is possible. Tax revenue has increased in the first quarter, infrastructure is performing better, and in the capital market, there are some signs that investment activity may finally be taking off. World economic recovery, with favourable impact on India’s exports, is also certain. Many business expectation surveys have been bullish, suggesting that although agriculture and service sector growth may be unclear, manufacturing is past the worst of the downturn. If Mr Sinha was a singularly unlucky finance minister, Mr Singh seems to be a lucky one.

This restoration of the feel-good factor is strong enough reason for the swap. But once this immediacy is over, Mr Singh will have to do something about reforms. As he has himself said, the finance ministry is a creative ministry, not an accounting one. The reform agenda is known, so creation amounts to implementation rather than invention. The agenda has several layers, some internal to North Block, others involving a political economy that encompasses other ministries and states. In the immediate category are subsidies, a full-fledged value added tax, and implementing the recommendations of the expenditure reforms commission. The citizens’ euphoria will disappear if downsizing of the government does not materialize and superfluous jobs in various ministries and departments continue to remain. The financial sector also requires reforms and is an area where Mr Sinha’s tenure left several bad tastes in the mouth. In the long-term reform list, agriculture is the most important, and reform of procurement will antagonize major allies. Mr Singh’s creativity will thus require roping in the prime minister and his office on reforms. The new finance minister has been lucky enough to ensure a GDP growth rate of 6 per cent in 2002-03. The feel-good factor may be unsustainable if growth does not pick up to 7 per cent or more. That cannot happen without substantive reforms. There is yet another lesson of the Sinha legacy. Mr Sinha over-promised and under-delivered. It is far better to under-promise and over-deliver.


Ms J. Jayalalithaa has a flair for the awkward. The chief minister of Tamil Nadu and the top boss of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam knows exactly how to put different groups of people simultaneously in a spot with just one action. The arrest of the former chief minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi, showed her flair at its runaway best, although she did have to back down after. This time it is Mr Vaiko, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, a National Democratic Alliance partner and a member of parliament, who is the target. An arrest order has been issued against him and eight others under the new Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. In her letter to the deputy prime minister, Ms Jayalalithaa has declared herself quite helpless in the matter since Mr Vaiko is reported — and recorded — to have proclaimed his support for the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at a public meeting. The Bharatiya Janata Party is in a bit of a fix: it cannot defend Mr Vaiko without seeming to support the LTTE. The other awkwardness is the use of the new anti-terror law, which Mr Vaiko helped pass together with the other NDA partners. The BJP is even nervous about saying that a speech reportedly detailing the miseries of Tamils in Sri Lanka may not be quite the same as a terrorist act or proven support for terrorist activity. This would invoke the same danger of its appearing to support the LTTE, and the greater danger of losing the AIADMK as a potential ally. The MDMK as an ally, even in the best of times, has rather less to give than the AIADMK.

Everyone is feeling awkward. The Congress has agreed with the principle of the arrest order, especially since the organization in question is the LTTE, but is silent about the use of POTA. Ms Jayalalithaa has neatly turned this act against its originators. Nasty-minded speculation has suggested that this is her revenge against a Centre that has refused to lift the case under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act against her. It might also be Ms Jayalalithaa’s way of gently nudging the BJP, since she cannot be pleased with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s comfortable persistence in the NDA. A bargaining chip is always handy.


One of the disturbing features of the global economic scene is the American economy’s mounting current account deficit and its dependence on capital inflows from abroad to bridge the gap. It is a potentially explosive situation. The International Monetary Fund in its World Economic Report 2002 expressed its fears about the crisis threatened by the high current account deficit in the United States of America. Surprisingly, the secretary of the US treasury, Paul O’Neil, took umbrage at the IMF economists, who had drawn attention to the current account deficit. He stated publicly that “the Fund’s economists did not know what they were talking about”. In O’Neil’s view, “The current account deficit itself is a meaningless concept and policy-makers should pay no attention to it.”

Economic reality cannot be brushed aside merely by bold statements by powerful persons, like the treasury secretary. Current account deficit is as important a concept as fiscal deficit. It is even more important, in the sense that it measures the excess draft on the world’s resources that an economy is making when it imports more goods and services than it exports. Current account deficit is not a meaningless concept. It measures the difference between what the economy buys and sells. It is not merely an accounting entry; it reflects the extent to which the economy requires support from capital flows from abroad to be able to survive.

The remarks of the US treasury secretary are inconsistent with his administration’s general stance, especially when it comes to emerging economies. Emerging economies faced by current account deficits of the order of 4 per cent of the gross domestic product, which is what the US also has, would have been advised categorically to devalue so as to make exports more attractive and imports expensive. In fact, even at the height of the southeast Asian crisis when countries were struggling to stabilize their currencies, the IMF and the World Bank advised consistently that the economies concerned should devalue and face the consequences. All aid was conditional on acceptance of this advice. The US treasury backed this advice.

But, when it comes to the case of US, such remedies are difficult to enforce. The US economy is receiving substantial capital inflows from the rest of the world, partly as foreign direct investments and partly as portfolio investments, which help it bridge the gap between the economy’s imports and exports. In absolute terms, the gap, which is thus filled by the eager foreign investors, is a mind-boggling $ 300-400 billion a year. One estimate has it that the US economy needs $ 1-2 billion a day of capital flows to keep it afloat.

It is another matter that investors in the rest of the world have found it convenient and attractive to invest in the capital markets of the US as well as in direct investments. Whether such flows will continue and in the order of magnitude in which they are required is, however, a question, which has to be answered based on the development in the US capital markets.

Unfortunately, the US capital markets have been recently facing increasing episodes of erosion of trust. The debacle of Enron and of Worldcom has contributed to keeping the stock markets at a somnolent level. The attractiveness of the US capital markets as an investment destination of an investor in equity is found to be in doubt, with the continuous disclosures of irregularities and of executive malfeasance as evidenced by recent episodes.

Further, the failure of reputed accountants, like Arthur Andersen, to keep to established standards of behaviour also calls in question the integrity of the yardstick by which investors can judge the profitability of their investments. While it is true that the US administration and the congress are trying their best to “fix” the system and set right its abuses, a question mark is apparent on the general level of confidence in the US investment markets. This has its repercussions in the world as a whole.

The moment the attractiveness of the US as a destination for capital flows decreases, the balance of payments in the US will be threatened. The inevitable consequence will be a decline of the dollar, which is already evident. In a sense, the US administration may itself be subconsciously supporting such a move because a devalued dollar is perhaps the only hope of restoring its BoP to viability. But a threat of a declining dollar itself leads to a vicious cycle, in that it dilutes the confidence of potential investors and worsens the prospects of a steady flow of resources into the US.

What is more disturbing than the decline of the US capital markets and the erosion of confidence is the reversal of the fiscal fortunes of the US government. From a situation in which the US president is examining ways of how he distributes the fiscal surplus, we have come to a situation in which the US fiscal deficit is reaching alarming proportions. The US fiscal deficit will also mean that the US Federal Reserve may be forced to reverse its policy of lowering interest rates, which has been one of its responses to the recessionary situation. The US Fed may very well tighten its monetary policy if the fiscal deficits continue to rise. What is important from the BoP point of view is that the US economy will look to external investors to partly fund its government.

The potential decline of the US dollar and a consequent rise in other currencies may well turn out to be one possible option for the US administration, which is faced with compelling pressures for protection of its industries. Adjustment of the exchange rate in a free exchange market is, of course, difficult. But the US administration may turn a Nelson’s eye to the inevitable development, which is forced on it by the declining capital inflows and consequent reduction in the supply of foreign currencies to meet their current account deficit.

A strong yen and a strong euro will inevitably mean a weaker dollar. Earlier, when similar problems threatened the US economy, the US administration used its clout with the other group of seven economies to manage the market so that their currencies rose in comparison with the greenback. Whether O’Neil commands that kind of influence in today’s geo-political situation is not clear. Anyway, a treasury secretary, who says that current account deficit is a meaningless concept, will find it difficult to convince his counterparts and lead concerted action to manage the exchange rates.

Ultimately, the laws of economics do not brook defiance. It is inevitable that the US dollar will have to fall, faced as it is by a continuing imbalance in the US’s current account. It is true that a current account deficit may be justified when the imports are primarily needed to step up investments for potentially productivity enhancing enterprises. But all evidence points to the fact that the current splurge in consumption in the US is what is feeding the imbalance. Current account deficit is not an accounting fantasy. It is a very real economic fact with all its consequences for the US economy and the world as a whole.

The foreign exchange reserves of the rest of the world, especially developing economies like India, are held in the securities of the US and other developed countries. If the value of the dollar drops, there will be a potential loss, which will hit these poorer nations to the extent that their reserves are in dollar securities. It is to be hoped that the Reserve Bank of India would have taken necessary anticipatory measures to hedge itself against a possible decline in the value of the greenback.

This problem is even more significant in the case of China with its plus 200 billion dollars of reserves. It is likely that the emerging economies, where reserves are today centred on dollar securities, may change their mix taking into account the dangers of a decline in the value of the dollar. This will, in turn, potentially speed up the decline of the dollar because it will reduce the inflows of resources into the US.

O’Neil’s remark that the economists of the IMF did not know what they were talking about was, indeed, an intemperate one. It may very well be that he may soon realize that he himself did not know what he was talking about. US current account deficit is a persistent problem and cannot be wished away by highfalutin statements even by as powerful a dignitary as the secretary of the US treasury. The world is sitting on the top of a volcano in the form of the US’s current account deficit. If the economic statesmen of the world have to bring order to the world’s economy, they have to sensibly address the problem. Solutions are not easy. But, an unsolved current account problem will only mean increased volatility and further instability for the global economy.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India


When India initiated structural reforms in 1991, it was predicted that they would herald an era of steady growth. That has not happened yet. The new millennium has started on a dismal note, with a gross domestic product growth rate of 4 per cent for 2000-2001. However, there has been a slight improvement in 2001-2002, with the GDP rising to 5.4 per cent.

A look at the earlier four plans brings out the downslide in the Indian economy. The GDP growth rate averaged 6 per cent during the seventh plan, while it slipped to 5.4 per cent during the ninth plan. In fact, the growth rate at present is lower than that in the so-called controlled economy of 1990-91. The liberal inflow of foreign investment, technology and expertise was supposed to help India achieve a high growth rate.

This did not happen. Foreign investors and multinationals have not been attracted to areas where there are shortages. Instead, they preferred to concentrate on consumer goods. India, with a large middle-class population, offered a far more lucrative market for their products. The fact that the country is now virtually flooded with a large number of cars and vehicles is proof of this.

The question that arises is: why have the foreign investors not branched into areas where the government wanted them to, such as power, telecommunications, and areas which need investment, latest technology and expertise? Some firms did venture into these sectors, but found the experience unpleasant. This is especially true of the power sector.

Rural and backward

The situation has been far worse in the rural areas where it was assumed that foreign investments would open up the rural markets, thus ushering in an economic revolution where three-quarters of the country’s population live. This was the most ridiculous belief since foreign investors have always been uninterested in putting their investment where there is little chance of getting any return. Most of the rural areas lack in the basic facilities. With poor per capita income level, it would have taken several years to build a viable rural market.

But it is still pertinent to ask, what was the government doing to stimulate growth in the rural areas? Since globalization, governmental expenditure on rural capital formation has been on the decline although from time to time, the Centre has announced schemes for the distribution of funds as part of its poverty alleviation programmes. Splitting the ministry of agriculture into several departments has only raised the budget of the ministry several fold without improving its functioning. This exercise has been nothing but a political gimmick to accommodate the maximum number of aspiring politicians. No one was ever bothered about the larger interest of agriculture.

Downward slope

If the country today is groaning under the weight of food surplus, it is because of the capital invested in agriculture and allied areas before. The negative growth rate we are facing today in agriculture is not an encouraging sign.

A similar problem is plaguing the industry as well. Having pinned all its hopes on foreign investment, the government quietly withdrew its earlier efforts, which would have helped in financing social development programmes. Most of the resources earned in the past have actually been diverted to financing non-productive projects.

If there was not such an awful hurry to get rid of the country’s basic capital created over the years, India would have been less dependent on foreign capital as well as imports today. The development scenario that has emerged through the Indian brand of globalization is not a bright one. The neglect of capital investment in rural areas, negative thinking towards public sector units, poor functioning of infrastructure like communications, power — are the main causes for the current slump of the Indian economy. The declining growth rates are merely a reflection of this.

It is clear by now that expecting too much of globalization and giving the short shrift to the basic developmental commitments do not pay in the long run. Therefore, in formulating a strategy, attention must be paid to meaningful growth and more pragmatic and transparent policies.


The largest worldwide meeting ever over a health issue, the 14th International Conference on AIDS, began in Barcelona on Sunday. As many as 14,000 delegates from 145 countries have come together for six days to exchange experiences and knowledge of the latest developments in the fight against a major global problem. With no definite cure or vaccine, AIDS has become the biggest challenge facing mankind, most certainly for the millions infected by the virus that causes it.

While the Barcelona conference is a sign of the importance the international community accords to the AIDS menace, consider some of these horrifying comparisons. For every delegate at the conference, there are over 2,000 people living with HIV all over the world today, and 1,000 children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Also take in the fact that for every person who is participating in the conference, there are hundreds of leading health workers, bio-medical and community AIDS experts around the world who have not made it to Barcelona to share their expertise.

Last year, 14,000 persons all over the world got infected by the virus every day. In the 20 years since HIV was first identified as the deadly “bug” responsible for AIDS, over 21 million men, women and children have died of it, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. And today, according to the latest report on the global HIV/AIDS situation prepared by the United Nations programme on AIDS, 40 million people are infected. This figure is as much as 50 per cent higher than what the World Health Organization had estimated in 1991.

The report, released on the eve of the conference, also warns that the pandemic is still in its early stages in most countries in the Asia-Pacific region. While on the one hand, this gives countries in this region the chance to intensify measures to check the disease from spreading further, on the other, it serves as a reminder that no country is immune from a serious HIV epidemic. There have been several well-documented and successful HIV control programmes — some in India as well — but the epidemic continues to spread far and wide. The report warns of a dangerous trend: in some parts of this region the situation is rapidly changing, with the virus having infected over one per cent of the population. “The low national prevalence rate in several Asian countries conceals serious, localized epidemics in many areas.”

In China, the virus is fast moving into new groups of the population. At first, it was through unsafe blood transfusions, and now it is through needle-sharing by drug users. Prevalence rates are as high as 70 per cent among drug injectors in the Yili prefecture of Xinjiang province and Ruili county in Yunan.

In India, more than two per cent of the women attending ante-natal clinics in Andhra Pradesh, and above one per cent of the population in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Manipur, have been found to be HIV positive. In countries with such huge populations as China and India, even a comparatively low prevalence rate translates into a large number of infected persons. The official prevalence rate in India, for example, is below one per cent. But the estimated 3.97 million HIV positive population means the country takes second spot after South Africa, where over 4.6 million citizens have been infected by the virus.

During a visit to New Delhi in May, Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAIDS, warned that India could well overtake South Africa in a few years time because of its huge population. The fact that 20 per cent of the adult population in South Africa was infected, compared to only about 0.7 per cent in India was no reason to be complacent. Instead the populational imbalance was the premise on which Piot based his warning that unless strong measures were taken by everyone concerned, the AIDS situation in the country could well get out of hand.

That the stakeholders in the country’s fight against AIDS are not sitting idle is indicated by India’s strong presence at the Barcelona conference. After the United States of America, from where 2,287 proposals of presentations were submitted, the highest number of submissions in all the six tracks at the meeting were from India (867, of which 415 were selected for oral or poster presentation). Nongovernmental organizations, doctors in the government and private sectors, scientists, mediapersons and persons living with HIV/AIDS are all taking part in the conference with the hope that they would learn of new methods to combat AIDS.

Indeed, several new things are expected to come up at the conference. For example, the unveiling of two new classes of treatment which will bring fresh hope to AIDS patients who were found resistant to existing therapies. A twice daily injection, called T-20, is a new class of “fusion inhibitors” that stop the virus from getting into the T-4 fighter cells of the human body. Backing this are the new “integrase inhibitors”, another class of compounds designed to attack HIV from a different angle.

Other than getting to know of such breakthroughs, developing countries will also use the occasion to persuade pharmaceutical companies and international pressure groups to further reduce the price of AIDS drugs. Despite the price cuts that have come about over the past year, only about 15 per cent of those needing them throughout the world are able to afford the anti-retroviral therapy that is required to prevent death from AIDS. “Against the 500,000 people treated in the West last year, where 25,000 died, only 30,000 received treatment in Africa, where 2.2 million people died. The difference is unacceptable,” says Piot.

But even as the Indian delegation seeks new and affordable methods of prevention, treatment and care, and comes to a newer understanding of ways to curb the discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS, two stalwarts in the country’s AIDS control programme will be absent. The former health minister, C.P. Thakur, had, over the last two years, taken several initiatives in the implementation of the national AIDS control programme. He and former project director of the national AIDS control organization, J.V.R. Prasada Rao, were synonymous with the country’s efforts in AIDS control. While Thakur resigned from the cabinet priorto the recent reshuffle, Rao was promoted to the post of secretary in the family welfare department.

Both were key figures when India took over as head of the UNAID’s programme coordinating board. Thakur also led India’s delegation to the epochal UN general assembly special session on HIV/AIDS in June last year. Incidentally, UNAIDS, which was formed in 1996, comprises the UN International Children’s Fund, the UN development programme, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the UN educational scientific and cultural organization, the UN population fund, the UN international drug control programme and the International Labour Organization.

Thakur’s inclusion of the leader of the opposition, Sonia Gandhi, in the team representing India at the UN general assembly created a good impact nationally and internationally, since the Indian delegation was the only one at the UN that reflected a united political will to combat AIDS. It was at this session that the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, announced the creation of a global fund to fight tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. The fund would raise $7 to 10 billion annually from donor countries for disbursement to countries that needed it the most.

Rajat Gupta, managing director of the international management consulting firm, McKinsey & Co, was invited to be the private sector representative on the global fund board. That the first year’s disbursements, announced last month, did not give much importance to India or any other Asian country is a different story. The Indians at Barcelona would be seeking to improve their share in the next disbursements.

The focus at the UN session last year was on Africa, with several donor countries and organizations offering technical and other help for the AIDS-ravaged continent. In Spain this time, Asian delegates will have to convince the North that if adequate attention is not given to their region, many countries could go the Africa way.


It was equally disturbing to see children with various stress-related problems. Women reported that their children would wake up at night crying, and get agitated on hearing loud noises. Children were afraid of anybody in police uniforms; they expressed fears that they would be killed or burnt; they did not want to leave the camp. Some were deeply disturbed and clearly needed professional help for their psychological problems.

United Nations Emergency Fund had conducted a training programme for medical officers deputed to provide medical care at the camps. Using a structured protocol, they screened 723 children for signs of mental trauma and found that 239 children required counselling...This need was rephrased as “parental support” in the interim report data. In addition, 12 children required referral to a psychiatric specialist.

These findings seem to underestimate the extent of trauma. There was no information about whether the symptoms recorded in the protocol were probed or only recorded if reported spontaneously. Also there were no details about which children were screened.

No assessment has been made of the mental state of adults. However, the experiences of heinous attacks, and a prolonged period of unabated violence have taken a heavy toll. The extremely hostile and insecure atmosphere prevents people from moving out to look for work. This has led to feelings of depression and anger. Uncertainty about the future, and a loss of faith in civil society and the state have led to a feeling of desperation.

Medical professionals and camp volunteers had strikingly different attitudes to people’s mental health needs. The medical officers providing medical care at camps consistently undermined the importance of dealing with psychological trauma. Any sign that people were returning to a routine was taken as proof that they were not traumatized. This was illustrated when the team attended a vigilance meeting of medical officers deputed to the relief camps. When a team member mentioned that disturbed appetite could be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder, and officer immediately retorted, “Oh, they eat very well…”

At the same meeting, medical officers repeatedly cited the UNICEF study to indicate that the scale of the problem is very small. It was quite clear that they did not want to get involved with providing counselling; they wanted to limit their intervention to treating physical ailments. There is a strong reluctance even to acknowledge that a problem exists.

A senior official commented that doctors attending the camps were “not capable” of assessing or treating symptoms of psychological distress. This indicates that no attempts have been made to orient medical teams to look for and address psychological trauma. At the same time, it suggests that authorities look upon psychological trauma as a distinct problem to be treated, rather than a pervasive problem, which will affect all other health problems.

Even more disturbing was the authorities’ general disdain for the suffering of those whom they treat. A senior government health administrator opined, “The camp inmates do not have brains to understand that they are suffering from stress and mental trauma.”

On the other hand, camp volunteers are extremely concerned about the mental state of survivors. They spend several hours talking to people and listening to them. In several places, they have organized makeshift schools for the children, and also games. Their role in providing emotional support to survivors is very important.

However, volunteers have already spent more than two months providing support, and they themselves are mentally exhausted. They would benefit from some training inputs and appropriate referral support for the seriously disturbed. They need to be able to discuss with others the mental health trauma, which they are witnessing and counselling on a daily basis.

By ignoring the importance of psychological trauma, health services are underestimating the scale of damage, and undermining the need to rehabilitate the affected. There is no acknowledgement of the need to provide treatment for PTSD, a well-known sequel to any disaster. The only emotional support is provided by camp volunteers, who have no training for this kind of work. Volunteers’ own needs of support and sharing have not received recognition.

To Be Concluded



Fun is never politically correct

Sir — When political correctness is taken too far, fun, enjoyment and humour suffer the consequences. The most recent example of this is perhaps the strong protest sounded by the Jewish community against the anti-euro campaign in Britain, featuring the comedian, Rick Mayall, as Adolf Hitler (“Anti-euro campaign’s Hitler joke sparks outrage”, July 4). But what could be so objectionable in some harmless fun? Politically incorrect jokes are always among the funniest, and that is so because the intention is not to hurt individuals or communities. And if the use of the figure of Hitler is what is being objected to, shouldn’t there be separate campaigns against Mayall’s more illustrious predecessors, such as Charlie Chaplin, John Cleese, Mel Brooks and Spike Milligan, who have caricatured Hitler in the past? By the time those are through, there is sure to be someone else somewhere playing the Nazi baddie again. Will the protestors still not give up?
Yours faithfully,
Kiran Dubey, Calcutta

Failed quarter

Sir — The lion’s share of the credit for the Left Front’s uninterrupted 25-year-long reign in West Bengal should go to Jyoti Basu. He placed the front in a respectable position on the map of Indian politics. True, the government has had its quota of crises during this quarter century, but it has reasons to be proud about its performances in agriculture, economy, trade and industry.

However, in health, education and technology, the left has failed miserably. It is shameful that diseases like malaria and gastro-enteritis continue to claim human lives in the state, and people regularly go to other states for better treatment. Compared to the southern states, West Bengal lags behind in technological advancement. If the left wants to perpetuate its rule, it cannot afford to sit pretty on its laurels. The completion of 25 years is as good a time as any to begin introspection.

Yours faithfully,
Md Ahtesham Ahmad, Andal

Sir — Ashis Chakrabarti, in “Rethink on the fundamentals” (June 6), has highlighted the chequered history of the Left Front’s education policy in West Bengal. Only recently has the left realized that the scrapping of English in schools, following the recommendations of the Ashok Mitra commission, was a mistake. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s reformist agenda is in keeping with the demands of the modern job market. But instead of improving the infrastructure in schools, why ban private tuition? Bhattacharjee and his education minister should remember that whimsical and myopic policies will not take them very far.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — Even if a government wants to flaunt its achievements, spending lakhs of rupees on just advertisements in newspapers is certain to raise many eyebrows when the government in question is run by communist parties.

The editorial, “Tarnished silver” (June 21), presents a realistic picture of West Bengal under communist rule. Economy, health and overall administration are in poor shape. Labour problems and political clashes have made investors unwilling to try their luck in West Bengal. And how long will the left harp on its success in land reforms?

It is good that the chief minister recognizes what ails his government and gives a patient hearing to people’s problems. The faster the left returns to reality, the better it will be for the people of West Bengal.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj, Murshidabad

Sir — Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s well-intentioned efforts may well go down the drain, simply for the myopic attitude of certain government agencies. A classic example is the Calcutta Municipal Development Authority’s East Calcutta Township Project’s FC block, which is a part of Bhattacharjee’s constituency. In early 1989, the CMDA allotted plots as part of the ECTP for the middle and lower income groups. Unfortunately, most of the allotted land was occupied by shanties. Moreover, the slum dwellers used the drain and the nearby canal nearby as lavatories, vitiating the entire locality with terrible stench. The lack of basic infrastructure such as proper roads and street lights makes this area quite uninhabitable. Now that the local representative is the chief minister, would he take the necessary steps to solve these long-standing problems?

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Basu, Calcutta

Trial run

Sir — It is significant that the United States of America, in order to save its own troops from being tried for war crimes, tried to block the establishment of the international criminal court, on the day American planes bombed an Afghan wedding killing over 40 people (“American birth pangs for world court”, July 2). It is a fact that since the end of World War II, the US has committed more war crimes than the rest of the world put together.

Who can forget the air raids on Iraq or the continuing economic blockade against them? Since when has the US been respecting the sovereignty of other countries that it now calls the formation of the court an “infringement of national sovereignty”?

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, Shillong

Sir — It has taken more than 50 years to establish an international criminal court, mainly because of the opposition from the US, Russia and China. With atrocities committed by these nations against civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya, it is not surprising they would demand immunity for their overseas peacekeeping troops. The arrogance of the US is outrageous, particularly in its demands from the United Nations, which has always been a stooge in the US’s hand. Alarmingly, the new court will not be able to probe crimes committed before July 1, 2002. This means that no action can be taken against the perpetrators of the genocides in Somalia or erstwhile Yugoslavia. It can still be hoped, though, that later amendments in the court’s functioning will help bring countries like the US to the dock.

Yours faithfully,
Suparna Pramanik, Calcutta

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