Editorial 1/ Woman scorned
Editorial 2/ Savings grace
A faulty model
Who’s afraid of meditating whales?
Document/ Beyond all safety limits
Fifth Column/ War clouds on the horizon
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ WOMAN SCORNED 
 
 
 
 
A bandh is the first resort of a political opportunist. This is the generalization that suggests itself to observers of the tactics of Ms Mamata Banerjee today and of the left a few years ago. Ms Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress, is a part of the National Democratic Alliance which has rebuffed her and her demands concerning the bifurcation of the Eastern Railway. She still has not summoned up the courage to walk out of the NDA. But her immediate reaction has been a bandh call to paralyse life in West Bengal today. She is furious with the NDA, but the victims of her wrath are the hapless people of West Bengal who are defenceless when faced with the machinations and greed of politicians, including Ms Banerjee. The logic of this bandh passeth all comprehension. Why the people of West Bengal must suffer because Ms Banerjee wants to demonstrate her displeasure towards a coalition of which she is still a member is a question that she has not answered and will not answer. Today’s bandh could not have come at a worse moment. After a long time, West Bengal has a chief minister in Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who is sincerely concerned about the absence of investments in the state. He is trying to change the external environment for business so that it evokes faith among businessmen and entrepreneurs. Today’s bandh will undo some of the good work. The bandh may massage Ms Banerjee’s oversized ego but it will do West Bengal no good. It is ironic that Ms Banerjee, a political leader who mouths the “save Bengal” slogan, should work overtime to tarnish the reputation of the state.

Any condemnation of Ms Banerjee for calling today’s bandh must note that she is doing today what the left did till a few months back. The left, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist), made a fine art of calling bandhs at the slightest pretext. The CPI(M) has since seen the light and realized the futility and the long-term adverse consequences of calling bandhs and paralysing work. The CPI(M) now often behaves with the zeal of a reformed rake. Ms Banerjee has learnt her streetfighting skills from the left and now uses it much to the detriment of the left. Even Ms Banerjee has the political savvy to recognize that a bandh in West Bengal will not make the slightest dent in the decisions and the consciousness of the NDA government. Today’s bandh can only affect West Bengal: its impact will not be felt across the borders of the state. The bandh will serve, of course, to obscure two important questions that Ms Banerjee faces. One, what is she still doing in the NDA? And two, what steps had she taken against the bifurcation when she was the minister for railways? But when in history has a rabble-rouser addressed important and rational issues?

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ SAVINGS GRACE 
 
 
 
 
Mr Jaswant Singh has the brief of reversing negative sentiments and bringing back middle-class support to the Bharatiya Janata Party. However, what has been announced is not significant enough to be described as a rollback. Nor will these announcements alone bring back the middle class. First, the ceiling for tax deductions under Section 80L has been increased from Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 and this is probably the largest give-away in quantitative terms. Second, as widely expected, 5 per cent service tax on LIC has gone. Third, the threshold for exemption from tax deducted at source on dividend incomes has been increased from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,500. Fourth, there will be a new tax-free bond at 7 per cent. However, this will have no ceiling. While the direct give-away is only around Rs 1,000 crore and no major provisions in Mr Yashwant Sinha’s budget has been reversed (thus negating the argument that this is a rollback with major reversal of negative sentiments), there is a message of boosting household sector savings. This is not only through the new tax-free bonds, but also through assurances that the Unit Trust of India’s commitments will be honoured. The major thrust of Mr Singh’s announcements lies elsewhere. Three task forces will be set up to streamline procedures and income tax and indirect tax laws.

The income tax and indirect tax task forces will report within 90 days, while the paperwork task force will report within 45 days. There have been reports that Mr Singh was none too happy with the present procedures. If procedures are indeed simplified, that will aid the avowed objective of increasing the tax-to-gross domestic product ratio. Mr Singh has also announced a serious frauds bureau to deal with vanishing companies (does it need to be set up within the department of company affairs?) and a two-slab customs duty of 10 per cent and 20 per cent by 2004-05. For the present year, the growth forecast (without factoring in drought) is 5.5 per cent, with a breakup of 6.9 per cent for services, 5.9 per cent for industry and 3.5 per cent for agriculture. Unless the drought wreaks havoc, and a judgment on this is yet premature, this seems reasonable enough, unlike the 6 to 6.5 per cent that continues to be stated by the Reserve Bank of India. For a higher growth rate like the 8 per cent touted by the draft tenth five year plan, substantive reforms are needed and the agenda has been listed ad nauseam. On those, Mr Singh is yet to be tested. The middle-class objective has forced him to address the issue of savings. But looking beyond immediate announcements, the problem is not one of savings, but of investments. The problem there is not merely one of high real interest rates, but is more endemic and structural in nature.

   

 
 
A FAULTY MODEL 
 
 
BY S. VENKITARAMANAN
 
 
Newspapers have recently been dominated by news of the fall of many erstwhile dominant chief executives of businesses in the United States of America and Europe. Media had paid great attention to what these CEOs said and did. They had held them up as exemplars.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, became a byword for efficiency. The Jack Welch style of management became a model for many. Chief executive officers around the world took lessons from the success of the American CEOs. Recent news is, however, full of stories of the fall of CEOs, like Kenneth Lay of Enron, Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom and Percy Barnevik of the Swedish giant, ABB. In particular, the disaster of WorldCom, which has accumulated huge debts and losses, has shocked the American public. WorldCom, a telecommunications giant, has filed for chapter XI bankruptcy protection.

The collapse of WorldCom was hastened because of news of fudged accounts to the extent of $3 billion and overstatement of its profits. The megalomaniac journey of its erstwhile chief, Bernard Ebbers, is at an end.

Similar is the story of Dennis Kozlowski of the conglomerate, Tyco International. Rich though he was, he was caught in a relatively petty sales tax violation, which led to his resignation and further unravelling of the problems of the company itself. Many more CEOs have distinguished themselves and extinguished their careers by accounting frauds and obscene self-enrichment.

The decline and fall of the CEOs, as evidenced by these examples, has resulted in an erosion of trust and collapse of stock prices. Considerable introspection has followed among regulators and in the US government itself. The genius of capitalism admittedly lies in marrying the very human characteristic of greed with benign self-interest. But, if the system is to survive and succeed, it needs countervailing checks and balances, such as competent and honest auditors and efficient regulators, which alone can keep “infective greed” in check.

Not only have the chief executives been negligent of corporate progress, but they have also been guilty of fudging accounts. As many as 1,000 firms are reported to have “restated” their accounts since 1997. This means that the original accounts of these 1,000 firms were not true and fair and that the stock markets were kept on the “boom” track with wrong information. The role of auditors in enabling this fudging and concealing it from public knowledge has been particularly regrettable. Incidentally, Arthur Andersen was also the accounting firm of WorldCom. The operation of market forces on which capitalism depends is very much a function of trust in the facts and figures, which annual reports of accounts show. Stock markets channel resources into shares of companies depending on information, which they derive from the balance sheets. If such basic information is “poisoned” at the source, disaster awaits the whole system.

The decline of trust in the system has been hastened by the misdemeanour of various kinds among CEOs themselves. Many are the CEOs who have cashed their stock options early knowing that the stock prices are due to crash. The CEOs have flourished and indeed become extremely rich, while the companies have been bust.

A particularly grievous abuse of CEO’s privilege has been that of Percy Barnevik, who granted himself substantial retirement benefits of the order of $100 million in spite of the huge emerging losses of the company. Subsequent pressures on the part of the investors forced Barnevik to refund a large part of his admittedly large pensionary benefits. But, the harm had been done. Trust had been betrayed. Stories of American CEOs, who have been granted large compensations even at a time when the companies’ profits were declining are also legion.

The Amreican president, George W. Bush himself — who is incidentally an MBA — has taken serious note of the crisis. Although belonging to the Republican Party, which believes in deregulation, Bush has declared himself to be in favour of regulatory reforms for ensuring better corporate governance, albeit initiated by the Democrats. Pressures for such reforms have come from all sides of the political spectrum and in particular, from managers of pension funds. Currently, the US congress and the senate are debating a measure to bring in better regulation of accounting companies. There is an ongoing race between the Republicans and the Democrats to introduce a better legislation in this regard. A proposal is also under consideration to set up a public body to supervise the audit companies — a much-needed regulation, resisted by the accounting industry itself. Especially after the recent debacle of Andersen, the accounting industry will find it difficult to resist increased regulation.

The New York stock exchange has also taken on itself the duty of insisting on better corporate governance. It is making it obligatory for boards of companies to have an adequate number of independent directors. Needless to say, the basics of good corporate governance are well-known. The problem in the US as in India is to ensure proper implementation. Independent directors can contribute to better governance. But ultimately, a strong CEO can very well decide what information to give and what to exclude from the agenda papers.

An independent part-time director cannot have either the time and energy or the information to collect details unless they are elicited and pulled out of the guts of the company by the auditors. Maybe, independent management consultants can help.

Recent exposures have also spoken about the tendency of the investment banks to fudge their reports to give improper and incorrect investment advice to investors. Recently, the attorney general of the state of New York fined the famous investment banker, Merrill Lynch, a sum of $100 million for the alleged offences of its investment analysts, who were privately disparaging particular stocks, while publicly recommending them for investment. Attempts are under way to bring the operations of investment bankers under the watchful eye of regulators.

The failure of CEOs to perform has brought about a season of discontent in the American system. The American free market society depends for its success on the efficiency of the executives, and the efficient performance of stock markets. That the CEOs who have autocratic ways have to be disciplined by investors, adequately manned boards and auditors is commonly accepted.

One lesson, above all, is obvious. The churning of American capitalism and its troubles shows that it is a difficult model to imitate and replicate. Before developing countries, like India, embark on a total imitation of the American version of capitalism, it is important to learn the lessons of the recent fiasco, particularly the erosion of trust, which is gripping the American system. There is need to restore the sense of public service and ethical and social values if the American model of capitalism is to be transplanted into poorer countries, like ours. The war on corporate terrorists, which Bush has undertaken, is at least as important for the survival of the American economy as is his other war on global terrorism.

Indian policy-makers have to watch and learn what to do and what not to do from what the US does and adapt it to the social conditions of India. A wholesale copy of the American capitalistic experiment, such as encouraged by the advocates of the Washington Consensus, is bound to lead to destructive misadventures. Witness what happened in the Russian transition to capitalism and the emergence of the Robber Baron type of capitalism at the end of the Soviet empire.

A blend of caution with better regulation should guide our attempts to model the economy on the American pattern of stock market based capita lism. Let us proceed with caution and care before copying wholesale the US experience in our next phase of reform.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India

   

 
 
WHO’S AFRAID OF MEDITATING WHALES? 
 
 
BY BARUN DE
 
 
The Bharatiya Janata Party is having it yummy these days. An aggressive Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak fights for election against an ex-member who has gone over now to the Congress in Gujarat. Bangaru Laxman’s successor by one remove is on media sound-byte that the party over which he now presides “yumm-phatic-ally” is opposed to international observers being allowed in domestic matters of the Jammu and Kashmir elections. The classic syndrome of repressive bourgeois authoritarianism is back in operation.Under the guise of a coalition, the Central government can have it both ways, condoning carnage on the one hand and appearing self-sufficiently patriotic on the other.

Let us take the most recent issue of two-facedness in which M. Venkaiah Naidu is now the mukhauta for the doves, who are firming up India’s newly-found “natural alliance” with the United States of America, despite the latter’s “strategic alliance” with Pakistan. He merely repeated known Indian foreign policy since India referred the Pakistani-backed raiders’ attack on Kashmir after 1947 to the United Nations. The principle is one that the moderates of the BJP, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a foreign minister way back in 1977-78, inherited or may we say, ran away with the clothes of the Congress centre and rightwing. India brooks no mediation in internal disputes in which neighbours encourage dissension. It tolerates no international monitoring of elections in Indian sovereign territory. As far as this is a repetition of swadeshi consensus, the matter needs neither argument nor any special praise.

But what requires notice is the way in which behind the present rhetoric lies the really new thrust of Indian foreign policy in the hands of the BJP. This takes three forms — a nuclear strategic ideal of equalization with all other large nuclear powers, with the exception of the US — friendship with all possible Asian powers from China to Israel with the purpose of marginalizing Pakistan; and cosying up with US security structures and interests. All these have a bearing on India’s early 21st century Asian perspective and its view of its place in the contemporary world.

Let us start with nuclear strategy and the no-first-use doctrine. When in the jargon of missile scientists, Buddha smiled again and the National Democratic Alliance establishment published pictures of their jubilation at Pokhran II, India not only joined the league of declared nuclear weapon preparedness, but it also made it easier for Pakistan to come out in the open as an equal aspirant for nuclear power. It was in the US interest then that south Asian militarism should lay its cards on the table and be evident competitors. But it was also open to India at that time, given that it wished to follow a route that China had taken in the previous quarter century of being a medium-range nuclear power and one which bargained for peace on the basis of avowed proliferation, to come out as a magnanimous south Asian leader.

The Lahore Declaration of 1999 certainly appears to have been a sincere attempt to bargain for subcontinental amity through strength, which the Gujral Doctrine, of dialogue alone, lacked. But amity with as unstable a force as Nawaz Sharif’s family was as arbitrary as the earlier US policy of making friends with central American dictators without any popular mandate. Pervez Musharraf’s speech upon taking power emphasized the old Sino-Pak strategic partnership. Pakistan has used this to create a sense of threat in the Himalayan lands. Whatever the results of Kargil, they did not alleviate the military tensions in the Karakorums and between Nanga Parbat and Gilgit.

The no-first-use strategy was nothing original. What was new was that it evolved after detailed discussion between India’s foreign minister and relatively middle-rank functionaries and think-tankers in the US state department. India chose to be a subordinate ranker in the Western network of strategic relationships. There was no talk of any further rapprochement with the Pakistan part of the Sino-Pak system. Rather, India followed the policy of piecemeal understandings with Asian powers, including China. The old Congress alliance with the Russians was not given up. But even here, the very warm and friendly relations that central Asian Muslim republics such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and their post-communist leaders had with India, “the land of peace” (Induskii mir), were wantonly pushed aside.

Relations improved with secularists or newly re-secularizing regimes such as Turkey or the Iran of Mohammad Khatami, or Myanmar of the generals. There was an attempt to build a rimland crescent from the Black Sea to the Java Straits based on India being friendly with these Asian states which look south to the seas. However, no coherent “Vajpayee doctrine” emerged of India’s clear primacy in regional stability for the lands and islands bordering the Indian Ocean. Such a strategy may be implicit. But it does not yet challenge the Sino-Pak axis which stretches from Beijing through Kashgar to Karachi.

The diplomatic revolutions of autumn 2001 did not change India’s subordinate position as an aspirant rising power. Yevgeny Primakov’s feelers about a strategic triangle in Asia between Russia, China and India had already been rejected in 1999. So, Vladimir Putin and nationalist security advisers similar to those who had worked with Primakov, went it alone.

Pakistan is still a crucial factor for the Russians and central Asians as well as for the Chinese because of its geopolitical wedge between east and west Asia and its access for north Asia to the “warm waters” of trade with the southern hemisphere. Central Asia was allowed, without a splutter from Indian diplomacy, to swing west into NATO embrace. The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan swung away from the measly support that Indian foreign policy and Russian mountain troops in Tajikistan had given it into direct relations with the US which had only recently winked at Pakistan arming the taliban against it. The taliban may have gone underground. But central Asia and Afghanistan are now openly in the arms of the US; as early as October last year, the Central Intelligence Agency was advertising in the Uzbek press vacancies for young Uzbeks who could teach it their language.

In Asia’s heartland, it is India which has marginalized itself largely in default of coherent foreign policy there since the departure of P.V. Narasimha Rao, J.N. Dixit and their excellent ambassadors from the scene. What India’s position is in either east Asia, or Europe or Africa is for those who have followed regional trends there to judge. But, in general, India is content to follow initiatives set by Atlantic interests. The material benefits, indubitably superior to Indian life today, of the Western world, the approbation of Americans and Europeans, the example of Israel and the competition with Pakistan for American support for policies in the Kashmir valley, represent the new tactics of a Western turn.

These are the interests and broad concerns that play a part in shaping India’s dealings with the world. They look west, not east, nor to the Islamic world, nor by and large, Africa. The Afro-Asian concerns of Jawaharlal Nehru, and of Abul Kalam Azad’s cultural diplomacy, are now relegated to the historical past, from which Hindu chauvinism seeks to shake itself. Such concerns may rant against international observers and third party mediation, but they have become a part of a culture of mediation by imitation of NATO culture in the name of “the moment of the global”.

E.P. Thompson once wrote an article predicting American control over Britain, hook, line and sinker. He called it “Outside the Whale” and imagined a “Natopolitan whale” cruising off the shores of Cornwall. The whale has beached itself all over south Asia in a way that was unthinkable in the supposedly elitist era of the Sixties to the Eighties. That era has many critics today. But it has few sophisticated historians. When its cultural history is written, only then will we know who were the people who did reject mediation by international agencies and did uphold the sovereignty of Indian policies. Perhaps only then will the story of India’s slide into unplanned globalization be adequately chronicled.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ BEYOND ALL SAFETY LIMITS 
 
 
 
 
The Teesta barrage project, which commenced in 1976, was completed to the extent of 70 per cent and only 0.96 lakh hectare of irrigation potential was created against the target of 9.23 lakh hectare even after investment of Rs 833.47 crore. The cost benefit ratio has not been revised despite the revision of estimates. The Kangsabati reservoir project taken up in 1956 was still under execution, even after lapse of 45 years. Cost overrun was 11 times of the original cost. On extension and improvement of barrage and irrigation system of Damodar Valley Corporation Rs 81.10 crore were spent to create irrigation potential for 4.91 lakh hectare. Cost overrun worked out to 264 per cent over the original estimate.

In Subarnarekha barrage project, taken up in 1994, project work was not started even after 7 years, despite expenditure of Rs 27.93 crore. Government took no action on the audit report of wasteful expenditure and malpractices in the implementation of anti-erosion scheme on Ganga-Padma system.

Unplanned and unnecessary procurement of steel and hume pipe in excess of requirement resulted in blocking of Rs 5.01 crore and loss of Rs 29.28 lakh...Besides, purchase of boulder at higher rate resulted in extra expenditure of Rs 2.80 crore.

Physical verification of stores was not done in most of the divisions for 16 years. As a result, misappropriation of stores, retention of idle stores, obsolescence of stores etc were not controlled. Deployment of manpower... was not linked to workload, thus increasing scope for unproductive and uneconomic use of manpower. Rupees 4.99 crore was spent on 270 staff in 6 divisions without adequate work.

The superintending engineers and executive engineers did not inspect the units as required. They were thus unaware of various deficiencies in the field.

...The environment department is responsible for formulation of policies relating to all environmental issues and their execution through the West Bengal Pollution Control Board. The board failed to take appropriate measures against the polluting industries for violation...of pollution norms... Large number of small industries were operating without consent. Control of pollution from vehicular emission by the transport department was ineffective. Thermal power stations operating within the residential areas in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation did not observe ambient air quality standards. Due to pollution, blood lead level of about 55 per cent of children in Calcutta was above safe limits. Calcutta’s citizens had almost ten times higher alveolar macrophage count in their sputum. According to an estimate following a study conducted by the World Health Organization based on air quality of Calcutta in 1995-96, hospitalization and sickness requiring medical assistance and pre-mature death in Calcutta were 55 lakh and 0.11 lakh respectively. The CESC’s Cossipore unit alone contributes 64 per cent of Calcutta’s particulate matter. In the absence of any notified site, hazardous waste was dumped in low-lying areas causing serious environmental hazards. Bio-medical waste in most cases are not segregated and dumped along with the domestic garbages in the water bodies and even on the riverside in one case. The pollution control mechanism was virtually non-operational in the state.

Against total budget provision of Rs 45.23 crore during the years 1997-2001 the department could utilize only Rs 23.05 crore.

Out of 3.1 lakh industrial units registered in the state, the board could identify only about 10,000 polluting units (3.23 per cent).

Out of 127 grossly air polluting units, 69 units did not conform to pollution standards set by the Central Pollution Control Board.

Out of 9,496 industrial units under consent regime, the board conducted 3,347 inspections on an average during 1999-2001 and analysed only 541 stack samples which would be 36.17 per cent and 3.9 per cent respectively of the required number considering at least one inspection/analysis per unit per year for 4,627 red category units.

To be concluded

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ WAR CLOUDS ON THE HORIZON 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“I always kid him and say: Mr President, there is a reason why your father stopped and didn’t go to Baghdad,” said Joseph Biden, chair of the senate foreign relations committee. “He didn’t want to stay for five years.”

Biden’s powerful committee opened hearing on July 31 on the George W. Bush administration’s plans to bring about a “regime change” in Iraq, if necessary by a full-scale military attack. It is a striking illustration of the virtues of a constitutional system of che-cks and balances: Bush may be the most powerful man in the world, but he can’t ignore congress.

Americans are sleep-walking towards a war with Iraq that they have been told is inevitable. While most of the stars of the country’s mass media are on holiday for the summer, congress is doing its job. Biden’s committee is summoning senior Bush advisers in the midst of a Washington summer to explain what they are planning to do and how they think they can get away with it. Nor is it in the least a partisan attack by Democrats on a Republican administration.

Last month, USA Today, a down-market tabloid, had the novel idea of asking Republican members of congress what they thought about the enterprise of overthrowing Saddam Hussein

Raging debate

“You hit the other guy, but only if you know he’s going to hit you,” said congressman Henry Hyde, chair of the house international relations committee. “US forces are already stretched to the limit,” said Trent Lott, Republican leader in the senate. “Our focus should be Israel,” said congressman Dennis Haskert, speaker of the house. Or as Biden put it a few weeks later: “I want them to refine their objectives...I’d like to know how important our allies are in this.”

He won’t find out, of course. The administration witnesses will hide behind “national security”, as administration officials always do in these circumstances. But the senate hearings might finally open a real debate in the US on whether this war is really such a good idea. Given that the war is to start somewhere between next October and early next year (depending on the strategy adopted), this would not be a moment too soon.

The United States of America’s friends and allies are close to unanimous in believing that an attack on Iraq would be stupid, illegal, costly in American and Iraqi lives, and enormously counter-productive in terms of west Asian politics. As Jordan’s King Abdullah said on Monday after meeting Tony Blair: “All of us are saying: ‘Hey, US, we don’t think this is a very good idea’.” But Americans don’t listen to foreigners, so it’s really down to the congress, the media and remarkably, the US armed forces.

Security leaks

Selective leaking of documents and plans is very much part of the Washington political process, and recently there has been a flood of such leaks. On July 4, the New York Times received a thick dossier on Pentagon’s plans for an Iraqi invasion — named “son of Desert Storm”— involving a three-month build-up and 250,000 American troops. The leakers were clearly military, and equally clearly thought that the plan was a very stupid idea.

On July 28, the Washington Post told readers that “senior officials” at the Pentagon opposed any large-scale campaign to overthrow the Iraqi government. A day later, the New York Times got a new leak about a plan to destroy Hussein’s regime by a blitzkrieg involving a thousand bombers to paralyse Iraqi military communications and a first-day aerial descent on Baghdad by thousands of US troops to capture or kill the monster in his lair. Does anybody imagine that the leakers thought this was a good idea?

The conclusion from all this is that the “system” is working, after a fashion. When one branch of the system gets a really dumb idea, the other branches try to stamp out the aberration. They may not succeed — the executive has enormous power in today’s US — but they continue to fight. And as a fallback, there is always George the First. However much he hates Hussein, George Bush Sr loves his family more, and would not want his son’s presidency to end in defeat and disgrace. All the evidence points to an all-out US attack on Iraq in the next six months, but it is still not a foregone conclusion.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

India out of fashion

Sir — On the evidence of the photograph accompanying “Pleated trousers for women, saris for men” (Aug 3), it is hard to agree with Seema Goswami’s assessment that Kiran Uttam Ghosh’s clothes at the 3rd Lakme India Fashion Week made a “strong style statement”. It is just that the designer has (rather unsuccessfully) tried to evoke the shock effect by getting men to wear saris, the saris themselves were the same smattering of sequins, glitters, zardozi and embroidery that one sees at every other fashion show. Despite all the hype and hoopla, contemporary Indian fashion either unashamedly peddles a certain kind of the “rich” and the “oriental” that has come to symbolize India in the West. Or it remains beholden to innovations abroad. And despite the annual jamboree that goes by the name of India Fashion Week, fashion remains a pastime of the rich and anorexic — it hasn’t penetrated the pockets of the middle classes or expanded to drape the girths of ordinary Indians.
Yours faithfully,
Reeth Mullick, New Delhi

Railing against

Sir — The Trinamool Congress seems to have perked up over the bifurcation of Eastern Railway. Mamata Banerjee might have called a 24-hour bandh on August 5, but the fact that she is part of the National Democratic Alliance makes her complicit in all its decisions. Thus it is difficult to absolve her of all blame for the situation today. There seems to be a kind of conspiracy at the Central level to weaken West Bengal economically, by hiving off important railway zones to Bihar. This is a serious matter with far-reaching implications — the gravity of the situation does warrant a bandh. I wonder what the left, which has called bandhs on far flimsier grounds in the past, is doing? Also, it will be better for Banerjee to come out of the NDA now. Already, she has taken the right decision to abstain from the vice-presidential elections. Some issues are more important than a mere show of political unity.
Yours faithfully,
Debal Kumar Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — The cabinet has rightly turned down the demand to reverse the bifurcation of Eastern Railway. At present, the government has enough numbers not to care whether Mamata Banerjee quits the National Democratic Alliance yet again. If only the Centre could be as stern with N. Chandrababu Naidu when he comes to New Delhi, begging bowl in hand. When she was the Union railways minister, Mamata Banerjee had known of the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway and the creation of east-central railway, headquartered at Hajipur. It is another matter that in the original proposal, Dhanbad and Mughalsarai — the most profitable of the railway zones — were with Eastern Railway, while now it lies with the east-central railway.

Yours faithfully,
Manjul Saha, Rourkela

Sir — In the Fifties, Eastern and South-Eastern Railway were merged to avoid the expenditure of maintaining two administrative set-ups. More recently, there were efforts to merge Metro Railway with Eastern Railway. And today Nitish Kumar wants to create five new zones so the railways can perform better. Since there is hardly any chance of increased revenues from these zones, the creation of five new offices will only prove a further drain on the railways. But ministers taking decisions based solely on political considerations is nothing new. Take A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s creation of the Malda and Sambalpur divisions, a decision that defied financial logic. If this trend continues, the railways will have to be privatized.

Yours faithfully,
K.L. Bose, Howrah

Sir — Indian Railways used to be a symbol of unity in our country. Unfortunately, it is no longer so. Moreover, the argument that it would function better with an addition of zones, does not hold good. Had it been so, there would have been as many zones as there are states in our country. This decision will only benefit some high-level railway officers who will get windfall promotions. And, it will benefit politicians like Nitish Kumar who will be able to appease their supporters with jobs. Isn’t it frustrating that ordinary citizens can do nothing about a move that will only prove a further drain on the exchequer?

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti Ray, Mankundu,

Sir — It should now be clear to Mamata Banerjee that she and her party have become irrelevant in West Bengal and are not taken seriously by the NDA government either. She has run out of options. Banerjee should now rejoin the Congress and concentrate on fighting the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies in the NDA whom she has been trying to please all this while.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyan Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Mamata Banerjee is being ridiculed by the media and the left, who want to stop her from getting back to her old form. If bandhs are no solution, what is? Should the people of Bengal forego their interests and allow the NDA and Nitish Kumar to have their way?

Yours faithfully,
Pabitra Kumar Das, Calcutta

Sir — It is unfortunate that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has not protested enough against the bifurcation of Eastern Railway. An enemy’s enemy might be a friend but by supporting the NDA over Banerjee, is not the CPI(M) harming the interests of Bengal? The Congress too has been lukewarm on the issue. If the recognized political parties do not stop the parochial politics of the NDA today, tomorrow they may be faced with something worse.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — If the cabinet decided to bifurcate Eastern Railway way back in 1996, why did it take so long to implement it? Also the creation of the new zones, specially East Central Railway, will not be cost effective as the Rakesh Mohan committee has warned.

This bifurcation is primarily intended to shore up Nitish Kumar’s diminishing popularity so he can take on Ram Vilas Paswan on his home turf. Is Hajipur to have five divisions and Calcutta, once the second city in the British Empire only four, Howrah, Sealdah, Malda and Asansol?

Can Nitish Kumar stop ticketless travel in Bihar in reserved and airconditioned coaches? Instead of adopting these populist measures, Kumar should ensure the safety and security of passengers and a hassle-free journey through Bihar.

Your faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

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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
   
 

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