Editorial 1 / Some recovery
Editorial 2 / Twice born
What the market forgot
Fifth Column / Air power minus aircraft
The political dimension of Kashmir
Document / Affairs of a diseased state
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / SOME RECOVERY 
 
 
 
 
Several surveys (including the one by the Confederation of Indian Industry-Associations Council) have suggested that good times are here again, at least for manufacturing. The ASCON survey for April to June 2002 reports an increase in production and sales of all major consumer durables sectors. Whether there was indeed an industrial recovery can now be confirmed from company results for the first quarter of 2002-03 that have now begun to trickle in. Quarterly results are available for more than 400 companies and they do not substantiate the hypothesis of a broad-based recovery. Instead, the picture that emerges is one that varies greatly across companies and across sectors, with excess capacity, competition and overall slackening demand still very much around. However, overall sales have increased by 7-8 per cent and, depending on the sample, aggregate net profits have increased by 15-20 per cent. This improvement is confirmed by an almost 25 per cent increase in operating profit margins. Cost reduction attempts have worked and better product mixes have resulted in increased volumes. Better results generally characterize sectors like steel, automobiles, auto ancillaries and pharmaceuticals. The improved steel-sector performance could have been interpreted as a harbinger of recovery, had it not been for the fact that cement seems not to have done well. The information technology performance varies widely, especially if one takes out Infosys Technologies and Tata Infomedia.

Taken together, IT companies report a decline in sales by almost 10 per cent. The biggest surprise is the performance of fast-moving consumer goods, especially Hindustan Lever. The hypothesis of industrial recovery has largely been based on good agricultural performance last year. The HLL performance, with reduced sales and net profits in the first quarter, does not substantiate this hypothesis. Hence, the euphoria about recovery was somewhat premature. This does not mean that the recovery did not happen, but its spread was extremely sector- and company-specific. There will now be a huge question-mark about the recovery, thanks to the weak monsoon and drought. This will not show up in corporate bottom-lines in the second quarter, but in the third or fourth quarters. Mr Bimal Jalan still talks about a 6.5 per cent gross domestic product growth in 2002-03 and the planning commission sticks to a trend-rate of 8 per cent. However, the former chief economic adviser has recently written a paper arguing that India’s trend rate of GDP growth cannot be more than 5 per cent. A former CEA should know. The corporate track-record for the first quarter probably reflects 5 per cent rather than 8 per cent. The champagne bottles should be re-corked.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / TWICE BORN 
 
 
 
 
There are some political leaders who are blessed with a second lease of life. Ms Mamata Banerjee, the mercurial leader of the Trinamool Congress, seems to be one such. Her fall from prominence in 2001 was as dramatic as her rise had been meteoric a few years ago. After her poll debacle in the assembly elections of 2001, it had seemed that she was at sea. She remained a part of the National Democratic Alliance but she was uncomfortable within it. Her discomfort stemmed from lack of relevance. To the NDA she was of no consequence once she had, of her own volition, resigned from the Union cabinet. In West Bengal, her home state where she had won her spurs, her popularity and her clout seemed to be waning compared to what it used to be. But the controversy over the bifurcation of the Eastern Railway and the decision of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to reject Ms Banerjee’s demands and objections, may have provided her with an advantageous perch. She is already trying to claim for herself the position of someone who thinks only of West Bengal’s interests. A “Save Bengal” slogan, however chauvinistic it sounds, is bound to raise popular sentiments. This was evident in the large crowd she attracted at her rally in Calcutta a few days ago. This might be the road back, but it will all depend on what steps Ms Banerjee decides to take to revive her political fortunes.

The crucial question before Ms Banerjee will be her relationship with the NDA. There is a section within her party which is reluctant to leave the alliance: there is always the lure of the loaves and fishes of office. Ms Banerjee will have to weigh the pros and cons of staying within the NDA and the risks involved in a split in her party. There is also her past record. She cannot convincingly claim that she was completely unaware of the plans to hive off a part of the Eastern Railway to Bihar. She will have a lot of explaining to do if she goes ahead with a campaign directed against the NDA. She cannot deny that as long as she is part of the NDA, she is a party to all its decisions and actions. Her present dissent cannot take away from her past complicity. According to reports, she has expressed her relief at being pushed away from what she called the “circus” in New Delhi. But she was a part of this circus for a very long time and she cannot now conveniently get out of the tent because the clowns played pranks on her. Public memory is proverbially short, but it is not as short as Ms Banerjee would like it to be. All this is to emphasize that Ms Banerjee has before her an opportunity, but it is not an easy one. Her first life, especially that bit of it which she committed to the NDA, may go against the possibility of her second coming.

   

 
 
WHAT THE MARKET FORGOT 
 
 
BY PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
 
 

Capitalism’s unprecedented ascendancy and legitimacy, especially in the United States of America, during the Nineties was as much a cultural phenomenon as anything else. As governments came to be the object of suspicion, identified with inefficiency and corruption, the market became a repository of hope. In contrast to government, the market became synonymous with energy and innovation, freedom and prosperity. It was a template on which one could project one’s dreams. Bill Gates enjoyed an iconic status, unprecedented fortunes were made, productivity was impressive, unemployment low, the stock market became as popular as any sport, economic theories that suggested that economic expansion could not be endless were considered passe, the Dow Jones index was projected to cross thirty thousand by the end of the millennium, and although the east Asian crisis put a damper on global economic hopes, in the end it was seen as being responsible for pushing countries like Indonesia towards openness and democracy.

September 11 was a turning point that reminded Americans that government was still necessary. That one event pulled the rug out from under the feet of the one article of faith that seemed to dominate American politics: balanced budgets. The three indices of American success during the Nineties, a balanced budget, a strong dollar, and a booming stock market almost symbolically came to be unravelled at the turn of the millennium.

Many economists had pointed out that the success of the American economy was built on the fragile foundation of mountains of private debt, which would come to haunt them. The gains in prosperity had been, to put it mildly, unevenly distributed. But in terms of the cultural politics of capitalism, the emergence of a series of scandals: the Microsoft anti-trust suit, the astonishing bankruptcy of Enron, the dissolution of Arthur Andersen, and now the impending bankruptcy of WorldCom began to sully capitalism’s image as a font of virtue and all good things.

In the long run the cultural image of institutions matters almost as much as their real achievements: the political suspicion of government during the Nineties exaggerated its weaknesses and undermined some of its key functions; the euphoria over markets exaggerated its real achievement and possibilities and led to an imprudent undermining of all restraints and oversight. But just as it was important during the Nineties to keep the solid achievements of the state in perspective, it is as important to get the true measure of the woes of American companies at the turn of the millennium. The one truth of capitalism: that perception drives the world as much as reality ought to be taken seriously. If there is one single lesson to be learnt from the current crisis of confidence in corporate America it is this. Much of the root of the current scandals lies in the enormous pressure to keep up appearances, to send the right signals to Wall Street, even at the expense of hard facts.

The theory was that if a company could keep up its appearances, somehow disguise its genuine weaknesses, investor confidence would bail it through hard times. Hence the enormous effort in making stock prices the only measure of success. The fact that companies had stock prices far in excess of any possible earnings, seemed only to confirm the view that perception drives the market. The most important thing was to maintain the façade by sending out right signals: restructuring with an eye to Wall Street, mergers and acquisitions which often had less to do with market synergies and were more a signalling device to investors. A company like WorldCom seems to have got into trouble not because it fudged its accounts. Rather it fudged its accounts because it was already in trouble.

It is important to keep distinct aspects of the current crisis of confidence in corporate America in perspective. The Enron bankruptcy was a case of pure sleaze, implicating many levels of government. Enron was a new robber baron in disguise, cheating shareholders with impunity. It was sustained by support from different levels of government, and if Americans had not suddenly come to feel so insecure without their government, it would have become much more of a political scandal than it has. More than two dozen elected judges in the state of Texas seemed to have at one time or other received contributions from Enron, not to mention senators and other high officials.

The fact that this scandal has not shaken American politics testifies to the fact that we often judge institutions as much by the hopes we invest in them as by the real soundness of their workings. The WorldCom fiasco is, at least as far as is currently apparent, more a product of the merger and acquisitions mania that hit the US in the Nineties. Most of these mega mergers produced untenable companies far less sound than the original businesses that composed them.

Ironically, American capitalism forgot the one useful lesson it gave to government during the Nineties: get the incentives right. It is now clear that consultancies and brokerage firms who stood a lot to gain by ill thought through mergers drove much of the merger and acquisition mania during the Nineties. Capitalism during the Nineties was premised on an incontrovertible faith in the probity of consulting firms, brokerage houses, auditors and so forth. These would be the free market institutions that would provide oversight, give an objective rendering of the situation, keep the markets transparent and so forth.

But like with government regulators, there was one small problem: who would regulate the regulators? In theory the desire of these firms to maintain good reputations would be incentive enough. In practice the short-term allure of high auditors and consulting fees, the bonuses that accrue on mergers going through distorted the judgments of these companies. It is not a coincidence that the main crisis of confidence is afflicting not so much corporate American, as much as it is hitting quasi-watchdog firms like Arthur Andersen and Merrill Lynch. The incentives for these companies to do the right thing were much too distorted and they are now paying the price. In retrospect, giving stock options to managers was another incentive distorting move. It made them excessively beholden to Wall Street. In short, incentives matter for markets as much as they do for states. The market forgot its own great lesson.

In historical perspective the recent scandals have still not reached crisis proportion: Enron was the largest bankruptcy in US history, every company’s earning reports are under suspicion, but there is still no meltdown of the markets. Compared to the banking scandals of the Eighties there have hardly been any great government bailouts and the taxpayers have so far not borne the brunt. Perhaps there might even be something comforting in the fact that the high and mighty have fallen, that so many indictments have been so rapidly issued, and so many firms fined and exposed. After all does it not prove the fact that only under capitalism you can fool all people for some of the time and some people for all the time but not all the people for all the time?

The author is professor of philosophy, law and governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / AIR POWER MINUS AIRCRAFT 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
Whatever the reasons behind the Bangladesh government’s recent decision to dispose of 8 modern MiG-29 fighter jets it purchased from Russia two years ago, hard economic realities certainly must be one of them. Considering the anti-India stance of the Begum Khaleda Zia government, this must have been a difficult decision which would deprive the country of some air power. Not only does the fiscal problem seems to have dawned on Zia. but Bangladesh also must have realized that it no longer faces any danger from India. Its other neighbour, Myanmar, does not pose much military threat, despite the fact that mutual relations between the two countries cannot be termed friendly.

Zia has already instructed the country’s air force to commence proceedings for the sale of the fighters which were purchased by the previous Awami League government against which there are allegations of financial irregularities in this particular deal.

Each aircraft was priced at $ 11 million and $ 36 million was allocated for training and spare parts. Ten fighter pilots and 70 technicians were sent to Russia to undergo training as part of the contract. The deal exceeded $ 100 million, which must have been a burden for a country of Bangladesh’s size.

Sale, sale

The MiG-29s were grounded as they could not be maintained for want of expensive spare parts costing more than a million dollar per year. The decision comes at a time when Bangladesh has been making efforts to emerge out of a quagmire of poverty by adopting pragmatic fiscal policies. Disposing of costly military hardware is part of this process.

Bangladesh’s policy is in direct contrast to that of Pakistan which is now finding itself on the verge of a debt trap because of its military spending. Islamabad’s obsession with Kashmir has already forced it to launch four attacks against India since 1947. Now more than one-fourth of its total annual budget is earmarked for its armed forces.

Pakistan is still frantically acquiring weapons from all over the world to be one up with India. It recently purchased T-80 tanks from Ukraine, forcing New Delhi to buy T-90 tanks from Russia to counter the threat. In addition, Pakistan has acquired submarines from France and fighter aircraft from China. Washington has cleared the sale of spare parts for the 40 F-16s which Pakistan acquired from it in the Eighties.

Whichever size fits

Recently, Pakistan requested the United States of America for the sale of C-130 cargo aircraft, associated equipment and services for a total value of $ 75 million to meet its current and long-term airlift shortfall. Islamabad also spends substantially on its atomic weapons and missiles system which it built following India’s 1974 nuclear test in response to China’s attack. But New Delhi’s “no first use” nuclear policy has never been aimed at intimidating Pakistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s military dictators, including Pervez Musharraf, has time and again threatened to use nuclear weapons against India and carried out nuclear tests in affirmation of that intention.

Pakistan is alleged to have used the proceeds from the Inter-Services Intelligence’s narcotics trade to buy sophisticated weapons and finance the proxy war in Kashmir. But how long can Pakistan bear the fiscal burden of its military machine? How long can it compete with its bigger and economically stronger neighbour in the game of oneupmanship? Did not the economically weaker Soviet Union crumble while playing a similar game with the US?

New Delhi, in addition to applying military pressure on Pakistan coupled with coercive diplomacy, must also weigh the option of putting economic pressure on Pakistan. Islamabad must be made to feel the pinch of the expensive war of terrorism. Surely, there must be several non-military ways by which New Delhi can raise Pakistan’s costs of maintaining its oversized combat machinery. It might be too much to expect Pakistan to follow Bangladesh’s example of selling of its aircraft. Yet, Pakistan’s ruling clique must be made to realize the folly of living militarily beyond its means.

   

 
 
THE POLITICAL DIMENSION OF KASHMIR 
 
 
BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
 
If we thought that the United States of America would keep up the pressure on Pakistan and leave Jammu and Kashmir alone as India’s internal matter, such unrealistic hopes lie shattered after the visit of the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, to New Delhi.

Powell’s latest visit marks two fundamental changes. For a few years now the political component of the Kashmir conflict has become secondary to the concerns of ending armed militancy and cross-border terrorism. The events of September last year, the subsequent terrorist strikes in India and the US-led global war against terrorism helped in further subordinating the political question to the priority of fighting the menace of terrorism. Now, Powell has revived the political dimension of the Kashmir question.

The context in which the US speaks of Kashmir has changed significantly. In the past decades, the US made several statements about Jammu and Kashmir which could be considered aggressive from the Indian point of view. However, during the Cold War and its continuing hangover in the early Nineties, India could explain away the US attitude by claiming that America was inimical to India’s interests. That argument can no longer be made. Also, today the US enjoys unprecedented leverage in the region.

Yet there is a reluctance to openly take note of the full implications of the US formulations on the Kashmir issue. The government’s spin doctors are claiming that there is nothing new to Powell’s statements. They say that on the question of ending infiltration, on Pervez Musharraf being asked to keep his pledge of stopping cross-border terrorism or to abstain from violence aimed at sabotaging the legislative elections in Jammu and Kashmir, Powell’s statements support the Indian position.

They also argue that the awkward statement Powell made in which he urged India to release “political prisoners” was subsequently modified in Islamabad where he said that those desirous of participating in the elections in Jammu and Kashmir should be released. They emphasize that in private conversations with Indian leaders, Powell has apparently accepted that while India will not allow any foreign election observers in Jammu and Kashmir formally, diplomats and journalists based in India and others coming on normal visas would not be denied access to the state. So, those in the government claim that nothing has really changed with the Powell visit.

The opposition, on the other hand, is agitated over the so-called internationalization of what for a long time was presumed to be an internal matter. Like the government their perception is also wrong. That the Kashmir conflict causes international unease is a fact of life, especially when the armies of two nuclear- armed neighbours have been face to face with each other in Kashmir for the last seven months. The fact that we have to accept today is that as long as the Kashmir issue remains unresolved it will continue to agitate the world.

It would be short-sighted to deny that the change in emphasis in US statements on Kashmir is designed to push Indian policy in a particular direction. Up to now, each time a US visitor came this way, India felt ecstatic at Pakistan being beaten with the terrorism stick yet again. It is not as if terrorism does not need to be countered effectively. The US pressure on Pakistan is in fact slowly paying dividends, although the jury is still out on that issue.

However, by making terrorism the sole issue of public discourse on Kashmir, a perception gained ground in India that terrorism alone was the problem — it was sponsored by Pakistan and once it ended, the Kashmir issue would stand resolved. Such is the jingoism on Kashmir in India that this argument was lapped up by a gullible public. But the world certainly did not buy it.

Instead of spelling out India’s case on Kashmir, the complexities involved in the issue, the need for a comprehensive dialogue with the Kashmiri people and with Pakistan, an oversimplified and, in many ways, a false argument was presented to the public. What the people were being asked to believe was that it was merely a matter of excising a cancer that would cure the patient while hiding his underlying heart condition. What the US is now telling India is that ending terrorism in Kashmir is necessary; but equally, it is also imperative to address the deeper malaise. India and Pakistan have both been told that the world would be watching their actions in Kashmir with concern.

It would, therefore, be a gross underestimation of the Powell visit if India continued to believe that the US strategy on Kashmir was not changing. It has in fact opened a new political chapter on Kashmir. Once the political dimension of the Kashmir issue has been emphasized once again, India has the option of either doing nothing about what the world expects it to do or to fashion the means and measures necessary to deal with the Kashmir issue politically.

The worst case scenario would be that India does nothing significant to address the issue politically, a resolution is moved against India on Kashmir in the United Nations security council (and there may be no veto in India’s favour under the changed international circumstances), and if even after that India does not move in the right direction, it invites sanctions.

This is, of course, the absolutely worst case scenario. However, then the obvious question is: what are we doing to avoid such a scenario? There could be a variety of steps that India could take — from ensuring that the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are free and fair and are held under governor’s rule, that there is no rigging either during voting or during counting, to ensuring that the voters are not frightened to exercise their franchise and turn up in large numbers. Unless the voter turn-out is about 40 per cent, nobody is going to believe that the election has been free and fair. Also, if conditions are not created for including the militant groups in the electoral process, a free and fair election would lose its meaning.

But elections may be just one of the measures to deal with the Kashmir issue politically. Others could include diplomatic measures to strengthen anti-jihadi forces in Pakistan internally and initiating Track-II contacts with Pakistan, leading to a full-fledged official dialogue on all issues including Kashmir. Each of these measures may invite public criticism on its own and therefore these would have to be a part of a well thought out composite package. For this India would have to improve its internal political management in Jammu and Kashmir.

As of now New Delhi has not been able to manage Farooq Abdullah or even the fraternal organizations of the Bharatiya Janata Party which are demanding a trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. How then will it manage the other factors linked to finding a lasting political solution to the vexed issue of Kashmir?

If up to now the US strategy in this region was to increase the pressure on Pakistan incrementally to put an end to infiltration and cross-border terrorism, now the pressure will also be on India to address the Kashmir issue politically.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / AFFAIRS OF A DISEASED STATE 
 
 
 
 
Thirty eye surgeons of hospitals test-checked performed 10,054 operations (10 per cent) as against the norm of 105,000 operations during 1996-2001.

State government fixed lower targets (10 to 20 per cent) for Intra Occular Lens Operation against the norm of 30 per cent, as per guidelines. Even this lower target remained unachieved.

The Regional Institute of Ophthalmology, Calcutta, sent intimation of the availability of corneas to wait-listed blind patients by post. Due to such delays, only 321 eyes (34 per cent) could be transplanted out of the 946 eyes collected.

The Sentinel Surveillance Unit, established for working out a reporting system, could not start functioning for want of feedback from the concerned Deputy Chief Medical Officer Health-II, although Rs 0.75 lakh was provided by the government of India in May 2000.

Out of Rs 8 lakh sanctioned (1999-2000) by the GOI towards renovation and furnishing of operation theatres and eye wards in 7 medical colleges and hospitals and 17 district hospitals in the state, two district hospitals of 4 test-checked districts failed to utilize the sanctioned amount of Rs 0.95 lakh.

Of the Rs 14 lakh released by the GOI for preparation of a village-wise blind registry in 7 districts, only Rs 0.54 lakh could be utilized by one district and the balance of Rs 13.46 lakh remains unutilized, as of March 2001.

Rupees 70 lakh, released by the GOI in May-June 2000 for construction of eye wards and eye operation theatres in 5 selected hospitals, remained unutilized till March 2001 due to non-receipt of approval for construction sent after March 2001 to the GOI. Central assistance of Rs 50.10 lakh towards purchase of equipment also remained un-utilized on grounds of shortage of time for observance of purchase formalities...

The National Leprosy Elimination Programme was launched in the state in 1955 to eliminate leprosy initially by the use of Dapson Mono-therapy, and by Multi-Drug Therapy on introduction. The objective was to bring down leprosy patients to less than one per 10,000 population by 2000. The State Leprosy Society and District Leprosy Societies were the implementing agencies. GOI grant (Rs 5.66 crore) was diverted for payment of salaries and allowances of the units created in the earlier period.

A survey was not conducted regularly for detection of new cases. A large number of cases were either discharged or deleted from the patients’ register before completion of treatment. Patients having no ration cards or voter identity cards were not included in the report in order to show higher achievement and thereby a lower prevalence rate. Reports/returns right from the base level to DLS level did not agree with the relevant basic records. Thus, the status report of the state showing the prevalence rate as 2.72 per 10,000 population as of March 31, 2001, was not reflecting the actual prevalence rate.

Under two Modified Leprosy Elimination Campaigns only 18 and 16 per cent of suspected cases were confirmed as leprosy patients though GOI fund of Rs 6.64 crore was spent for this purpose. DLS, Uttar Dinajpur, incurred expenditure of Rs 46.36 lakh during 1996-2001 in violation of prescribed limits under GOI guidelines...

AIDS Prevention and Control Programme was introduced in the state in 1992. The state government was able to spend 30 to 90 per cent of available funds received from the GOI during 1996-2001. No new blood bank was established nor were all the old blood banks fully modernized. Blood collected was not HIV-tested to the fullest extent and was utilized, endangering patients’ life. HIV positive cases and AIDS cases were tending to increase gradually in the state. Information, education, communication activity was also not up to the mark in the districts to prevent/control these diseases.

Sophisticated machines in State Blood Banks valuing Rs 40.79 lakh remained idle for years. No monitoring of the programme at the state level was done by the National AIDS Control Organization or by the state government and thus, the programme remained neglected.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Enforcing peace

Sir — It is clear that no matter how many trips are made by the secretary of state of the United States of America, Colin Powell, to the Indian subcontinent in order to ease tensions between the hostile neighbours, peace will be difficult to come by (“Powell hands list of must-dos to Delhi”, July 29). With both India and Pakistan determined to carry on with their blame game, the US intervention is increasingly proving to be futile. It is a pleasant surprise that Uncle Sam has still not given up on the two. Powell’s latest peace package sounds promising for south Asia except that the US’s affection for Pakistan evidently goes much deeper than it does for India. While Powell has been quite strict with the Indian government regarding the list of must-dos, one does not have to stretch one’s imagination to suppose that Pakistan will be spared from such step-motherly attitude. Meanwhile, amid the melodrama of the biggies, the common man’s voice is getting lost steadily.

Yours faithfully,
Sagnik Chatterjee, Santiniketan

It’s voting time

Sir — The report,“Paswan, Sharad queer Congress pitch” (July 29), reveals that most Indian politicians are ideologically bankrupt. It is difficult to believe that politicians such as Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Pawar are unaware of the fact that they will be helping Narendra Modi’s cause if they fight the Gujarat elections without coming to an understanding with the Congress, the main opposition party in the state.

The decision of Paswan’s Janshakti Party and Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party to contest the polls in Gujarat will reduce the number of votes that would have otherwise gone to the Congress. This move will only ensure that normalcy remains a distant dream for Gujarat. Both Paswan and Pawar should give up their ego hassles and fight the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat in alliance with the Congress and other secular parties.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyan Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — With L.K. Advani rejecting outright the opposition’s demand for the imposition of president’s rule in Gujarat, it is clear that the grievances of the minority community will never get redressed. Advani’s statement that what happened in Gujarat recently is not as bad as is being projected by NGOs and the media is unbecoming of a deputy prime minister. For one, he is justifying the inaction of the Narendra Modi government and the shameful acts committed by sangh parivar faithfuls.

The National Human Rights Commission has made it clear through its report that Modi is to be held responsible for the carnage. Evidence provided by various NGOs suggest that the massacre was state-sponsored. Yet the BJP has been steadfast in its support for Modi. Advani even rejected earlier demands for Modi’s dismissal. The party support for Modi is probably linked to the fact that the BJP’s success in the assembly polls depends entirely on Modi.

Yours faithfully,
Wasim Khan, Calcutta

Sir — The report, “War cry greets Gujarat-bound EC” (July 28), shows the aggressive attitude of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad with respect to the Gujarat elections. Though the VHP has realized that it cannot commit the unconstitutional act of turning Gujarat into a Hindu rashtra, it continues to make every effort to prevent Muslims from settling down. The VHP might even prevent them from exercising their constitutional right of casting votes.

One only hopes that the Election Commission takes this factor into consideration while taking decisions regarding early polls in the state. Instead of trying to destroy the secular fabric of India, the VHP should focus on solving problems that are plaguing the country such as unemployment and poverty.

Yours faithfully,
Mohammed Asif Iqbal, Calcutta

Charity begins at home

Sir — Calcutta is evidently the favourite destination of international celebrities who are willing to spend their money for charitable causes (“Melanie checks in as Martin did”, July 26). The Australian cricket star, Steve Waugh, started the trend by setting up Udayan, a home for children of leprosy patients. Ricky Martin, Penelope Cruz and Melanie Griffith soon followed. It is hard to understand why celebrities chose Calcutta over other Indian cities. Is it the city’s rich culture and the caring attitude of its people that attract them? It is a shame that while foreigners are doing their bit to improve the lives of the poor here, Calcuttans steer away from their social responsibilities.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The Australian test captain, Steve Waugh, is not only a great cricketer, but he is also a man with a heart. It is his kind heart that brings Waugh to Calcutta every year to work for the rehabilitation of the poor and destitute girls through his pet project Udayan. Indian cricketers should learn a lesson or two from Waugh. It would be heartening to see the Gavaskars and the Gangulys actively participating in charitable projects.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Off the track

Sir — The people around the region of Asansol comprising Ranigunj, Durgapur, Chittaranjan and Dhanbad have to travel an extra 150 kilometres and spend a substantial amount of money in order to board the Pune-bound Howrah-Pune Azad Hind Express either from Howrah or Kharagpur. Passengers have to undergo the same ordeal on their return journey. Passengers would benefit a lot if the Azad Hind Express were scheduled to travel once a week to and from Asansol via Adra and Kharagpur, with stoppages at Adra and Bankura.

Yours faithfully,
S.S. Sen, Sitarampur, Burdwan

Sir — The decision of the railway authorities to ban smoking on platforms and to impose a fine of Rs 100 for violation of the rule is praiseworthy. As a result of this stipulation hawkers can hardly be seen selling cigarettes or bidis on railway platforms nowadays.

The authorities need to note another aberration — the practice of playing cards within crowded train compartments. Quarrels over the game often cause discomfort to travellers. The authorities should ban the game from being played inside crowded compartments.

Yours faithfully,
Subhasish Majumdar, Sonarpur

Sir — Given the paucity of trains plying on the Howrah-Bokaro Steel City sector, the overnight Howrah-Bokaro Steel City passenger remains the only option for passengers on this route, especially since most cannot afford the Shatabdi Express. Although trains up the route run according to schedule, the Howrah-bound train is often late, making the journey nightmarish. The train also makes unscheduled stops at non-descript stations to make way for goods trains and others heading for the yards in Tikiapara and Santragachi. The last stretch of the journey, which could have been completed in half an hour, takes three to four hours. Do the railway authorities believe that passengers’ time and money have no worth at all?

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and full postal address of the sender
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company