Editorial 1 / Death chamber
Editorial 2 / Cold draft
Valley of fear and hope
Fifth Column / Getting the wrong message
Another disastrous partition
Document / Three colours of disobedience
Letters to the editor

The horrors in Malda continue to unfold. The two deaths in a court lock-up a few days ago have now revealed a sub-human situation involving brutality, corruption and mismanagement which implicates the police, the courts and the state government. As with all other failures of public administration in the state, this episode has also been taken up by the political parties and has sparked off conflict between the police and the lawyers — all this obscuring the particular human rights issue in a welter of bureaucratic distortion and delay. The basic brutal facts therefore need to be rehearsed. Up to 400 people are regularly being kept locked up under police supervision in a room meant for about a hundred people awaiting trial in court. This room is inadequately ventilated, and the accused are deprived of the food and water they are entitled to by statute. These conditions then become the basis of a system of bribery and corruption where everything from the official release from lock-up to getting a glass of water comes with a charge pocketed by the officers on duty. These officers usually keep themselves entertained by watching fights and various forms of physical suffering among their charge. It was in such an environment that two of the accused had died of acute dehydration and lack of food, while several others had to be hospitalized.

The brutality is sustained at different levels. First, directly by the cruelty and greed of the police officers. The horrific testimonies of some of the accused have revealed the extent to which these practices have been indulged in and covered up by the senior officers. Second, the inquiry following these deaths seems to have led to no conclusive findings or action yet. There is still confusion as to whether the government has ordered an inquiry or not, and the routine investigation conducted by the police presents contradictory information. Third, it is natural that lawyers will take this entire episode very seriously. But suspending the work of the courts in protest perpetuates one of the fundamental problems of the legal system which lead to overcrowding in court lock-ups: the unmanageable pile-up of cases. It is only in such extreme circumstances that the police, the courts and the government wake up to such brutalities, and to the errors in the system which keep them in place. It never occurs to any of these institutions to supervise the state of the lock-ups in the normal course of things. Nobody had noticed, for instance, before these casualties that the food bills for the lock-ups had not been submitted to the treasury, thereby depriving the accused of their basic human requirements. It would actually need a death or two for such inhumanities to register in the consciousness of the public administration system.


The Supreme Court’s directions for certain amendments in the Representation of the People Act have finally been rendered toothless. It took a while for political parties to completely draw the poison from the draft amendment bill, but they have done it. An all-party meeting agreed unanimously that the clause disqualifying a candidate on the ground of charges for “heinous” crimes in two separate courts would have to be dropped from the bill. The government, appropriately, has sung the virtues of consensus while agreeing to make the necessary change. Dropping the proposed Section 8-B from the draft eliminates all possibility of excluding criminals from the legislature. The denuded draft now becomes identical in this respect with the act that was meant to have been amended. The old provision of disqualification in case of a conviction of two years or more has been revived, with pious references to Ms J. Jayalalithaa’s unfortunate brush with electoral laws not so long ago. The fact that it ultimately made no difference to Ms Jayalalithaa’s decision to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu — all she needed was an overturning of the conviction by the high court — is being equally piously overlooked. The law always takes its own course.

The electorate may justifiably ask why this elaborate joke on the people was deemed at all necessary. Each of the Supreme Court’s recommendations, supported by the Election Commission, has been thwarted or evaded. It is true that instructing Parliament to introduce amendments into a law is not within the Supreme Court’s purview of authority. But that does not mean that the changes proposed were not needed. It has become urgent to at least attempt to destroy the criminal-politician nexus, to ensure transparency in public life and convey full information to the people. The farce put up by politicians to persuade the people that the Supreme Court’s recommendations about declaration of educational qualifications, assets and liabilities, and the barring of chargesheeted candidates from the contest are being seriously considered is a token of bad faith. It has been a while since the EC has been trying to delink criminality from politics. None of its more serious recommendations has been implemented, neither has it been able to progress very far with the fundamental issue of funding for the elections. It is very clear that politicians at any given point of time will always find such recommendations inconvenient. In order to perpetuate the system that has elevated them to power, legislators will tend to sit on all possible amendments. It will need strong political will on the part of the government — that is, extraordinarily responsible legislators — to tighten the relevant provisions of the RPA.


The problems related to Kashmir are mostly viewed through the prisms of Pakistan’s sustained subversive activities over the last decade and a half or of ongoing internal security operations undertaken by the government of India and state government of Jammu and Kashmir. There is also a segment of Indian political circles which advocates either an absolutist jingoistic stance of laying claim to all the territories which belong to the old state of Jammu and Kashmir or advocating the trifurcation of the areas of Jammu and Kashmir now part of India on religious lines in terms of the demography in Ladakh, in the valley, and in Jammu.

Assessments through the prisms mentioned and the advocacies referred to above result in opaque and confused perceptions on the Kashmir issue. It is time to move beyond events and developments to analyse the roots of the problem as we face it today, and to understand the reality of political dynamics affecting Jammu and Kashmir.

First and foremost, India must consciously accept the fact that the old princely state of Jammu and Kashmir which came into being in the mid-19th century was an artificial creation of the Dogra Imperium. The collective political entity of Jammu and Kashmir as a plural multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic united territorial entity based on the feelings of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is only a post-independence phenomenon which was being consolidated since 1947. Second, this process of consolidation and the affiliation of Jammu and Kashmir to India stands disrupted because large segments of people in the Kashmir valley are alienated from the present power structure in Jammu and Kashmir and have lost their convictions about the logic of the state’s affiliation to India (which most of them believed in till the Seventies).

The reasons for this disaffection are well known and have been the subject-matter of much analysis and cogitation in the Indian media as well as scholarly circles here. It must also be noted that in a recent public opinion poll, the Mori report, only 6.2 per cent of the people of Jammu and Kashmir favoured the state’s becoming part of Pakistan. Most of them indicated a desire for independence or extensive autonomy.

One cannot gainsay the fact that this sense of separateness in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, when compared with the other states constituting the Indian Union, is partially the result of the separate status and jurisdictional arrangements given to Jammu and Kashmir when it acceded to India. A political post-mortem of the manner in which India handled the Kashmir issue, politically and militarily over the years, has only limited relevance to the complex predicaments which we face today. It would be more pertinent to squarely perceive the current situation and then to examine what can be done to overcome the present impasse. One has to accept that the state government of the National Conference does not have much credibility among the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It is equally true that the political groups constituting the Hurriyat do not really represent the broad cross-section of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh and Jammu remain unrepresented in the Hurriyat. So are sections of the population in the valley. Infiltration and terrorism continue, which, though sponsored and supported by Pakistan, cannot be sustained unless there is some residual support from local disaffected youth and other cadre who participate in this violence either out of political conviction or under the threat of violence by foreign-based terrorist groups.

The outright rejection of the resolution on autonomy passed by the state assembly of Jammu and Kashmir nearly an year and a half ago by the government of India, without even an offer to discuss it, has generated an undercurrent of resentment in political circles. There is also the profound contradiction on this issue between the Hindu and Buddhist populations of Jammu and Ladakh on the one hand, and the disaffected political groups in the Kashmir valley on the other. So developing a consensus on possible political solutions among the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be a complex and difficult task. This is made more difficult because externally sponsored violence continues to disrupt a rational dialogue among political parties of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as between them and the representatives of the government of India.

It is equally important to note that the discussions between political parties themselves in Jammu and Kashmir on this issue are practically non-existent. The gulf between them is wide; no meaningful efforts have been undertaken to bridge this gulf. The number of special envoys or representatives who are entrusted with the task of interacting with political groups in Jammu and Kashmir by the government of India have not so far been able to enter a substantive and meaningful discussion with Kashmiri political parties (not even with the National Conference).

There is also disillusionment among the separatist groups in Jammu and Kashmir about terrorist groups operating from foreign bases with foreign mercenaries who are operating in the state under the guidance of Pakistan and other extremist Islamic groups. It is by taking note of this disillusionment that the government of India has entered into dialogue with various dissident groups in Jammu and Kashmir to wean them away from terrorist violence and persuade them to join the political processes. K.C. Pant, Ram Jethmalani, A.S. Dulat, the former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing of the cabinet secretariat, and Arun Jaitley are engaged in this exercise, now perhaps with some urgency to ensure their participation in the scheduled state legislative assembly elections in September.

The expectation is that if elections are held with the participation of dissident groups, the political democratic processes in Jammu and Kashmir could be brought back on the rails. Although this effort is on, there are still uncertainties about the dissident political groups joining the electoral process.

The assassination of moderate leaders like Abdul Ghani Lone and the government of India’s decision to take drastic action against hardcore anti-Indian leaders like Syed Ali Geelani have only increased this uncertainty.

India, however, is keen about holding the elections and reviving the democratic process which it hopes would become a springboard for a long-term political solution to the internal problems of Jammu and Kashmir. Ensuring that elections are manifestly free and fair is also subject to differences of opinion between Farooq Abdullah and the government of India about holding the elections under president’s rule. This is apart from India’s reluctance to allow institutional foreign observers for the proposed elections. It is clear that Pakistan would try to disrupt the electoral process. It is this consideration which made the government of India reticent about squarely blaming Pakistan for the Qasim Nagar massacre (near Jammu) of civilians of July 14.

Accusing Pakistan would have clearly involved an operational response against Pakistan which in turn would have delayed the elections. A military operation with prospects of escalation would inevitably delay the polls. Internal discussions on the Jammu and Kashmir issue are at a crucial stage at present. It is clear that holding the elections with participation by all political groups is imperative. So is the requirement of elections being manifestly free and fair.

More important, the government of India should realize that a political package containing maximum autonomy responsive to local aspirations is the only solution to separatism. Dilatory tactics on this issue would be counter-productive, even dangerous to the unity of India. The other suggestion from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other quarters about trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir on ethno-religious lines reflects desperation and exhaustion, apart from striking at the pluralistic terms of reference of the Indian policy.

he most important consideration which should underpin our policies is that unless India finds a practical solution regarding the internal political dispensation of Jammu and Kashmir acceptable to the people of the state, the external dimensions of the problem, that is, coming to terms with Pakistan, cannot be resolved. Resolving the internal contradictions of the political dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir is the litmus test for India’s commitment to democracy.

The author is former foreign secretary of India


Recent police operations in West Bengal under the pretext of clamping down on the People’s War has opened a can of worms. The suicide of Abhijit Sinha, one of the persons questioned about his suspected links with the outfit, after his release from police custody, has complicated matters. The attack on the American Center in Calcutta earlier this year had exposed the state police as a bunch of ill-equipped and inefficient vigilantes. The drive against the People’s War, the Maoist Communist Centre and the Kamtapuri Liberation Organization has made the force’s glaring weaknesses in organization and information back-up more than visible.

Sinha and Subodh Kar, another suspect, were both picked up from their residence in the dead of the night without any formal arrest warrant. In both cases, a frantic house search by the huge police contingent established beyond doubt that the “suspects” were unarmed and incapable of any physical assault. More interesting, both men were released after interrogation at the Baguiati police station, giving clear indication of a terrible misunderstanding.

In an age of terrorism, the police undoubtedly have to act tough and quick. But action has to be backed by authentic information. And this is exactly where the pandemonium starts.

Dismantled network

Since the days of the raj, Calcutta police have invested enormous effort and money into building up a widespread human information network in the entire eastern region. The effort gained momentum with the spurt in insurgency in the region during the Thirties. Beginning with Charles Tegart, successive police chiefs at Lalbazar have had a distinctly cut-out working plan — develop a human information network and nip all subversive activities in the bud. The shadowy informers litter contemporary literatures.

Today, countries such as the United States of America, despite the revolution in information technology, admit the importance of human information. Its absence has been the main reason behind the failure to check the recent terrorist attacks in the US. As a corrective measure, the US state department has already entered into arrangements with the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan, to deal more effectively with the threat.

Our myopic Left Front administrators, however, think otherwise. After coming to power in 1976-77, the Left Front granted amnesty to all political prisoners. It went a step further and dismantled the entire ground information network of the state police besides hauling up a number of top- and middle-level police personnel for human rights violations during the Naxalite movement or thereafter. There are even allegations that senior police personnel were shunted out to obscure postings for vehemently opposing the front’s attempt to make a secret list of police informers public.

No cutting edge

What the left failed to realize is that a change of political ideology does not necessarily eliminate social evils. The front has realized it now but it is a bit late in the day. Instances of rampant corruption, indiscipline in the guise of trade unionism in the lower ranks of the state police force and maladministration at the top levels have rendered the state police into a force which lacks cutting edge.

The police in West Bengal are looked down upon by the people of the state as a pitiable lot. Politically biased and financially ruined, the West Bengal police looks a pale replica of its glorious past. The Left Front cannot deny its responsibility in aiding this process by pursuing an ineffective home affairs policy during the last 25 years. The result is the bungling of any combat operation like the recent faux pas regarding the People’s War. There was probably no lack of sincerity in this police action, what the force sadly lacked was ground-level information or human intelligence. That bit has been systematically dismantled by the Left Front administrators two decades ago.

That this loophole did not come to light earlier is simply because Calcutta was, and still is, far less criminalized than Mumbai, Delhi or even Patna and Lucknow.


Consequent to the announcement of the minister for railways, Nitish Kumar, in June and the subsequent cabinet decision, the formation of the two new railway zones — East-Central with headquarters at Hajipur and North-Western with headquarters at Jaipur — is confirmed. There has also been talk of the creation of five new zones — East-Coast with headquarters at Bhubanes- war, North-Central at Allahabad, West- Central at Jabalpur, South-Western at Hubli and South-East-Central at Bilaspur. With this the number of railway zones will increase overnight from 9 to 16.

The move will entail a one time cost of about Rs 100 crore per zone and a recurring expense of about Rs 50 crore per year, making a deep hole in the already tattered pockets of the Indian Railways. This is a major setback for the 1.7 million worker strong behemoth which has been struggling for the last decade to reduce its bloated workforce, improve productivity, upgrade technology and so on, in order to remain competitive. Incidentally, the road sector has already hiked its market share for freight from 20 per cent to about 80 per cent over the last five decades

In one stroke, Nitish Kumar has not only undone years of painstaking downsizing, cost-cutting, improvement in productivity, but he has also firmly put the 64,000 kilometre network on the path to financial bankruptcy. Meant more as a sop for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, each of which can now boast a zonal railway headquarter, the creation of the seven additional zones is not likely to bring any additional freight or improve productivity. On the other hand, problems related to inter-railway coordination are likely to assume serious proportions with the railway board having to increasingly play the role of a traffic police-cum- mediator.

India inherited 42 railway systems from the British in 1947, including 32 privately owned railways, some of which belonged to the erstwhile princely states. The credit for the first ever major re-organization exercise goes to N. Gopalswamy Ayyangar, then minister for railways. The objective was clear — reduce overheads, eliminate duplicate facilities and cut to the bare minimum problems associated with coordination between various systems. While Ayyangar favoured the creation of only 6 zones, the commissioner of railways — the same as the present day chairman of the railway board — proposed 9. The railway minister had his way and only 6 came to be created, though over the years experience necessitated the addition of three more zones.

Four decades later, in 1985, the railway reforms committee headed by H.C. Sarin looked into the “need” and not “demand” for re-organization. During the course of 4 years Sarin’s committee produced no less than 26 volumes on various aspects of the working of the railways. The committee saw reorganization basically as a means to improve efficiency and productivity. But being aware of the complexities involved, it recommended the formation of only four new zones. The implementation of this was to be spread over three phases, with phase I involving the creation of only two zones.

The first zone to be formed consisted of most of the metre-gauge sections carved out from Northern and Western Railways with headquarters at Ajmer and not Jaipur as has been proposed now. In fact Ajmer has been the de facto headquarters for the day-to-day working of the metre-gauge section of the erstwhile Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway, though it is still reported to be Mumbai for all important policy decisions.

The second zone was proposed to be carved out of the sprawling Central and South Eastern Railway, with headquarters proposed at Jabalpur. The second and third phases involved setting up of two new zones with headquarters at Allahabad and Bangalore respectively. While no time frame was given, it was generally understood that the reorganization was to be a planned and carefully executed exercise spread over a few decades.

The committee was emphatic that ethnic, linguistic, territorial or such other considerations should not be taken into account while considering the formation of new zones or divisions and re-organization of the territorial jurisdiction of the existing ones. It also noted that such an exercise would involve considerable expenditure and every possible effort should be made to keep the number of additional zones or divisions to the bare minimum. Interestingly, in all these deliberations Hajipur was nowhere in the reckoning.

The financially disastrous unigauge project initiated by C.K. Jaffer Sharief more than a decade ago has by now resulted in most of the metre-gauge section of Western and Northern Railway being converted to broad gauge. This makes redundant the need for a new zone exclusively for the metre-gauge sections. While the choice of Jaipur over Ajmer is undoubtedly a politically motivated one, the accident of Hajipur materializing out of nowhere has made Ram Vilas Paswan’s supporters ecstatic. Once again intense political rivalry necessitated the creation of an additional zone at Bilaspur, which makes Chhattisgarh very happy. Mercifully, Hubli being more centrally located was preferred over Bangalore. Bhubaneswar was a virtual windfall for Orissa.

While the Sarin committee recommendation found no takers, subsequent parliamentary committees, comptroller-auditor general reports and even the recent Rakesh Mohan committee on railways rejected the need for new zones. In fact the Rakesh Mohan committee has gone a step ahead and proposed effective downsizing, which may result in the number of zones being reduced. Given the growth of information technology and the need for cutting flab, reduction of purely administrative units seems to be inescapable. The Saran committee, which recommended redistribution of staff and other support infrastructure among the existing zonal systems, is likely to remain elusive, leading to a further increase in the workforce.

Undoubtedly, the railway board will be burning plenty of midnight oil in identifying the new zonal boundaries, issuing posting orders, organizing transfer of assets and so on. It should brace itself for an avalanche of paperwork which the new zones would undoubtedly generate. Indian Railways can ill afford to indulge in the luxury of proliferating facilities, overheads, and more power centres, spending scarce resources on creation of non-performing assets such as brand new office buildings, staff quarters and other supporting infrastructure. And that too at a time when it is facing a severe financial crunch and has had to borrow from the open market at ruinous rates of interest.

The “have-nots” — Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala, Punjab and Jharkhand — are itching to lodge their respective claims. In fact, Bharatiya Janata Party members of parliament from Jharkhand have reportedly already shot off a missive to Nitish Kumar, demanding a new zone. S.M. Krishna, the suave chief minister of Karnataka, is also believed to have registered his unhappiness at the reorganization which has denied him some vital railway divisions.

Over the past few days events have proved that the prime minister, despite his promise to personally intervene in the unholy imbroglio, has proved ineffective in controlling his ministers. Yet Atal Bihari Vajpayee should have allowed his more able men like Arun Shourie or Arun Jaitley to look into the matter. After all, would the ruling party not be loathe to go down in history as the one which “Hajipurized” the railways?

The author is former member (mechanical) of the Railway Board


In order to prevent, control and abate air pollution, government of India enacted the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981. In West Bengal, the transport and industrial sectors are the major contributors to air pollution. Untreated solid wastes including hazardous wastes and bio-medical wastes also cause environmental degradation.

The environment department is responsible for formulation of policies relating to all environmental issues and exercises its control through the West Bengal pollution control board. The board is responsible for the planning and execution of programmes for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution and pollution from solid wastes, inspecting the Pollution Control System adopted by industries, analysing stack samples and prescribing standards for control of industrial and vehicular pollution. The motor vehicles department and the home (police) department are the nodal agencies for checking the standards of vehicular emission while the municipal bodies are responsible for solid waste management.

The principal secretary of the environment department is the nodal officer of the state who is assisted by one chief environment officer and three senior environment officers...The principal secretary is also the chairman of the board and the member secretary is the chief executive officer of the board, which includes 15 other members nominated by the state government. The board has 11 regional offices with its headquarters in Calcutta.

A review of the working of the department and the board relating to water pollution was included in the report of the comptroller and auditor general of India for the year ended March 31, 2000. Records of the office of the deputy commissioner of police (traffic) and 27 municipal bodies were also examined.

Expenditure towards management of environmental controls was financed from the state budget. Against total grants of Rs 45.23 crore for 1997-2001, the department spent Rs 23.05 crore, which included Rs 18.10 crore released to the board as grant. Thus, there were savings of Rs 22.18 crore (49 per cent). The government stated that out of Rs 22.18 crore, Rs 20.41 crore was meant for improvement of infrastructural facilities of the board which could not be executed due to some problems.

Besides a receipt of grants from the governments of West Bengal and India as the state’s share of water cess, the board’s own receipt accrued from issuing of NOC, consent, sale of forms, and so on during 1996-2001. The board’s receipt and expenditure were Rs 53.36 crore and Rs 32.91 crore respectively.

The board had not conducted any district-wise or category-wise survey for identification of polluting industries and assessment of pollution from such industries. 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) till March 2001 in relation to the provisions of the Water Act, 1974, and the Air Act, 1981. However, details of industries attracting the provisions of the Water Act and the Air Act could not be furnished by the board. The board contended that only 10,000 major and medium factories registered with the chief inspector of factories were running. This was not tenable since a recent survey sponsored by the department and the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority identified 9,600 polluting industries within the Kolkata Municipal Corporation area. Of those about 4,400 units were running only on the strength of trade licenses issued by KMC. Thus, the board was not aware of the polluting industries or the extent of pollution caused by small industries in KMC area.

According to the Air Act, 1981, polluting industries should take necessary pollution control measures including the installation of PCS for treatment of emission before discharging into the air. The consent of the board was mandatory for any industry to continue its operations. The provisions of the act were, however, not enforced effectively by the board:

Polluting industries running without consent:

Consent is granted for 1, 3 and 5 years to Red (4,627), Orange (3,934) and Green (935) category of industries respectively. As of March 2001, 3,850 industrial units were running without consent from the board. Out of 9,496 units brought under its consent and administration, the board granted consent to 6,514 units only during 1999-2000. Against 2,300 red category units (as of April 2000) consent could be granted to 1,775 units only, which was indicative of the fact that at least 525 red category units were running without consent. The board did not maintain a consolidated consent register as required under the Air Act. In the absence of such a register, the board had no consolidated information of the industrial units running without consent or monitor their units centrally.

To be concluded



Difficult times

Sir — J.M. Lyngdoh’s statement that the Jammu and Kashmir elections would be “good and credible” is over-confident and simplistic (“Call for ballot with crack of blast”, July 3). It also reveals Lyngdoh’s naivete. The success of the forthcoming polls would depend more on how well the state government can convince Kashmiris that the elections are the first step towards normalcy, than on the EC’s efforts in that direction — however commendable. The attack on the Congress headquarters in Srinagar is just the beginning — these are likely to become more frequent in the coming weeks, so that the people’s confidence in the state is undermined. The Centre also has to contend with the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference which has declared the elections “an act of desperation”. Then there is also Colin Powell’s call for international observers for the elections. In short this is an acid test for the EC. Does not all that call for crossed fingers, Mr Lyngdoh?

Yours faithfully,
Anuradha Sen, Chandigarh

Course correction

Sir — The decision of the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education to lighten the higher secondary syllabus in the state is a pragmatic one (“HS syllabus ready for trim”, Aug 2). Interestingly, this move was prompted by the criticism of the existing syllabus by the economist, Amiya Bagchi. Hopefully, Bagchi’s comments on how students depend on private tuitions to help cover the huge syllabus will discourage the government from banning tuitions altogether without first trying to improve the existing infrastructure in schools.

Another pertinent point Bagchi made was on the need to encourage the study of social sciences like economics and history among bright students. But all this will be possible only if the present education policy, which is based on a meaningless egalitarianism, is replaced by one which gives priority to merit.

Yours faithfully,
Indranil Chaudhuri, Calcutta

Sir — While trimming the higher secondary syllabus will undoubtedly reduce the burden on students and help them do better, it will by no means solve all the problems ailing the present education system. Schools and colleges today do not encourage innovative thinking or help a student put his learning into practice. All it emphasizes is performance in examinations, which depends on a student’s ability to “cram”. The only success the Left Front can claim in this sector is the expansion of primary education.

Amiya Bagchi’s concern at the tendency of meritorious students to opt for engineering and medicine is justified. No one wants to study history and political science today. Will the state government now also reconsider its decision to ask colleges to switch to more “modern” subjects?

Yours faithfully,
Rituja Chattopadhyay, Calcutta

Sir — The Left Front government has failed to implement many of its pet projects. Take the fiasco that was Operation Sunshine. The ban on private tuitions is another such well-intentioned but difficult-to-implement proposal. If it finally gets implemented, the ban will bring some fair play to the system since teachers who give private tuitions often leak out question papers to students. But it is doubtful whether the state government will manage to implement the ban. Teachers in West Bengal are a captive electorate for the left and it is unlik- ely the government will do anything to jeopardize its interests.

Yours faithfully,
Sanjoy Kumar Poddar, Calcutta

Deaths in custody

Sir — The report, “Suffocation deaths in police gas chamber” (Aug 2), was shocking. That two people died from suffocation after being stuffed in a small, windowless lock-up with 400 others is a telling commentary on the human rights situation in the state. Not only were the prisoners denied water, but the policemen were inhuman enough to charge Rs 40 for a glass of water. Many more would have died had the police not been forced to open the gates after a few became unconscious. Recently, the media reported how convicts have to wait for their turn to sleep in an over-congested jail in Patna.

Countless cases of human rights violations are lying with the national human rights commission. Over the years, several committees have been set up which have made innumerable recommendations but very little has been done to sensitize the police. The police in India are infamous for their corruption and misuse of power. The solution lies in making higher education mandatory for recruitment to the police force, proper training and increase in salaries. Punishing those guilty of violating procedural norms will also go a long way in boosting the morale of the force.

Yours faithfully
S.A.R. Barkati, Calcutta

Sir — The suffocation deaths in the Malda judicial lock-up reveals the double standards in Indian society. A person who thrashes a pickpocket will go and watch a Hindi movie produced by a mafia baron or vote for a noted criminal without any pangs. The Telegraph must be congratulated for putting on its front page the plight of the 400 people dumped in the lock-up — many of whom had already been granted bail. Exemplary action must be taken against those responsible.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

Parting shot

Sir — That taxi fares were to be hiked from August 1 was common knowledge. But nobody seems sure of the exact fares now. Shouldn’t the state transport ministry have made sure that conversion charts were widely disseminated and provided to all taxi drivers well before that date. As a result of this oversight, taxi drivers are now taking passengers for a ride, both literally and figuratively.

Yours faithfully,
Jaydeep Choudhury, Calcutta

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