Editorial 1 / Free and fair
Editorial 2 / Agitated idyll
Playing along with America
When it doesn’t rain, it pours
Document / Gross violation of pollution norms
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / FREE AND FAIR 
 
 
 
 
The announcement of the schedule for the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has generated a controversy in the valley. The Election Commission has announced a four-phased plan for the elections, which will begin on September 16 and end on October 8. The counting of votes will begin on October 8. The schedule has disappointed all those, including many moderate separatist leaders, who had been suggesting for the past few weeks that postponing the polls may help to make them more inclusive and credible. Indeed, the announcement has been criticized even by well-known pro-India political parties, including the People’s Democratic Party of the former Union home minister, Mr Mufti Mohammed Syed. There seems to be a widespread belief within the Kashmir valley that elections held under the National Conference government would not be free and fair. It is being alleged that the National Conference regime has posted officers “loyal” to the party in key positions all over the state, who may work to ensure the party’s victory. There was a feeling that a period of governor’s rule would ensure that the electoral contest is not one- sided, but becomes a level playing-field. Many moderate separatist leaders had been asserting that a dialogue and the announcement of confidence-building measures by New Delhi before the polls would make it easier for them to enter the electoral fray without losing credibility with the people.

Predictably, the National Conference seems to be pleased with the electoral schedule. Indeed, if most of the opposition parties, especially the separatists, do not take part in the elections, the National Conference is likely to sweep the elections without much of a contest. However, it is likely that the polling percentage will be very low and threaten to reduce the elections to a farce. There is still time for the government of India, in conjunction with the EC, to take steps to ensure that the elections are as inclusive and credible as is possible given the years of violence in the state. New Delhi could do well to release many of the separatist leaders who are in jails in various parts of India. Simultaneously, a signal, preferably from the prime minister, that the Centre will negotiate devolution of powers with all those elected to the assembly could help the separatist leaders overcome their reservations. There must also be an assurance that adequate security cover will be provided to all those who contest. Finally, the Centre could also set up a group of eminent Indians who could be asked to monitor the elections in addition to the officially mandated observers. Given the international attention that these elections will invite, it is vital that New Delhi be seen as doing its best to ensure that the elections are free and fair, in letter and in spirit.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / AGITATED IDYLL 
 
 
 
 
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is often described as the world’s last Shangri-La. But its idyllic peace has been threatened for some time by insurgent groups from India’s northeastern states which have set up bases in the jungles in southern Bhutan. It is as much in Bhutan’s interest as in India’s that these bases be dismantled. It is significant, therefore, that India’s external affairs minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, has sought the help of Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuk in weeding out the insurgents from Bhutanese territory. The United Liberation Front of Asom, which failed to keep its promise to wind up four of its camps inside Bhutan last year, has been a constant source of anxiety for the kingdom. But the Himalayan nation has shown remarkable patience in the face of grave provocations by the ULFA, which had once threatened to blow off the royal palace in Thimphu. That its patience is wearing thin was evident in the Bhutanese assembly’s recommendation to the king to use force to drive out the ULFA militants if they do not leave the country on their own. Once the ULFA is forced to close its camps, smaller groups such as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the Kamtapur Liberation Organization are expected to follow suit. The king’s assurance to Mr Sinha of dealing with the problem urgently is a welcome signal.

New Delhi, too, has to help Thimphu tackle the problem. Since the two countries have a history of close diplomatic and military relationships, any attempt to meet the insurgent challenge has to be mutually beneficial to both. Miscalculations on either side may give other countries a pretext to enter the arena and complicate matters. New Delhi cannot be unaware of the fact that certain elements in Thimphu want to take Chinese help to drive out the insurgents from Bhutan. If this happens, India’s eastern neighbourhood would become a larger playing field for China, which has already increased its presence in Nepal and Bangladesh. Fortunately for India, the Bhutanese government and people have long been wary of allowing China a larger space in the region’s politics. India has been a trusted ally which has helped Bhutan preserve its sovereignty and cultural identity. New Delhi stood by Thimphu, even at the risk of annoying Nepal, over the issue of the expulsion of thousands of ethnic Nepalese from southern Bhutan in the early Nineties. Largely because of India’s unambiguous opposition to their use of Indian territory, Bhutanese pro-democracy agitators failed to destabilize the Thimphu regime. India is now helping Nepal in its long and bloody battle against the Maoist insurgents. It is crucial for India and Bhutan to fight together the battle against the insurgents who threaten the region’s peace and stability.

   

 
 
PLAYING ALONG WITH AMERICA 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
The biggest impediment to any worthwhile discussion on Indo-American relations in public fora in India is the simplistic conviction among much of the country’s political class that American policy in south Asia has to be in a straitjacket: it has to be either pro-India, as they would like it to be, or pro-Pakistan. What was largely forgotten in the heat generated in Parliament and elsewhere in the aftermath of the visit of the American secretary of state, Colin Powell, to the sub-continent was that a superpower like the United States of America does not tailor its policies to suit anyone else. It crafts its line, be it on India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Britain, to advance its own interests, not that of other countries.

If everything that Powell said and did in New Delhi and Islamabad had been viewed through the prism of America’s self-interest, those who railed against the American foreign minister may have, instead, been tempted to see if his visit did at all advance India’s national interest. That, in fact, should have been the bottom-line of any assessment of Powell’s talks in south Asia.

It is impossible to consider this bottomline unless one goes back in time. It is a cliché to say that public memory is short, but when such short memory is collectively applied to politicians, it becomes the nearest to a national tragedy. Ten years ago, India was so vulnerable on Kashmir that in closeddoor meetings in North and South Blocks, officials were actually willing to consider the possibility — howsover remote — that Kashmir may not remain a part of India for ever. In any case, in those days, India’s actual control over the valley could at best be described as tenuous: the militants could do anything they pleased.

Those who criticized the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government for allegedly having surrendered to Powell should have paused to consider how far India has moved off that road towards a precipice. There is an elected government now in Srinagar, whose legitimacy is not questioned by anyone abroad who matters. Not even the key members of the Organization of Islamic Conference equates Farooq Abdullah’s government in Srinagar to the regime of Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan in Muzaffarabad.

Pakistan still attempts to make noises about Kashmir at international events — even if it is a conference on AIDS or a conclave on climate change — but no one loses any sleep over those attempts any more. Indian delegations no longer have to look over their shoulders for Pakistan-sponsored potshots on Kashmir when they walk into multilateral gatherings. It is a far cry from what used to happen at the United Nations human rights commission in Geneva a decade ago — or even at the non-aligned summit in Durban in 1998 when the venerable Nelson Mandela referred to Kashmir, albeit followed by an apology to Vajpayee conveyed by his then deputy, Thabo Mbeki.

Yet there is heightened international activity over Kashmir at levels which were not witnessed 10 years ago. It is only to be expected. Ten years ago, it was unthinkable that a US secretary of state would visit New Delhi three times in a space of ten months. Or that a US defence secretary would travel to New Delhi twice within eight months. The Vajpayee government takes pride that it authored the most comprehensive dialogue with America in the last 55 years. But even that dialogue, hugely productive though it has been, was conducted by India’s full-fledged foreign minister not with his counterpart, but with the equivalent of his junior cabinet minister in the Bill Clinton administration.

But all that has changed since the terrorist attacks on America on September 11. And it has changed not merely between the US and India. Even a third-rate power like Britain — to borrow I.K. Gujral’s infamous description on the eve of the Royal visit to India in 1997, without necessarily subscribing to it — finds it necessary to have its prime minister’s and foreign secretary’s periodic presence in New Delhi. So, Powell cannot be faulted for saying that “Kashmir is on the international agenda”. Ask Vajpayee, and if he was to honestly answer that question, he would have to agree with Powell as well.

But there is a crucial difference between the way the international community regarded the Kashmir problem 10 years ago and now. A decade ago, Kashmir was on the international agenda because Pakistan was able to convince a large number of countries that India was negating in the valley everything that the new, post-communist international order stood for: human rights, democracy, self-determination, ethnic rights, religious freedom...

All those who rambled in criticism of Powell and Vajpayee since the visit of the secretary of state should have realized that international concerns about Kashmir have undergone a sea-change since the days when India was in the dock for human rights violations and an unrepresentative government in Srinagar. Kashmir is today on the international agenda because it is a focal point for all governments which recognize south Asia as the fountainhead of international terrorism.

All those who simplistically accuse the Vajpayee government of grovelling in Washington fail to realize that such a change is a boon for India: in it rests any hope of ever settling the problem of Kashmir and forcing Pakistan to come to terms with the status quo in the state whose lot Maharaja Hari Singh cast with India.

However visceral or habitual the dislike of America may be for some politicians in India, the truth is that this change could not have come about without a shift in the way Washington looked at India — and Pakistan. Washington’s kaleidoscope on India and Pakistan did not change on September 11. The fundamental changes occurred during the second Clinton administration: in part, they came about because P.V. Narasimha Rao had rewritten New Delhi’s rules for engaging with America. The Vajpayee government built on that foundation after the nuclear tests in 1998.

Other nations helped too, especially Russia and France. But the catalyst for change in Kashmir was the US. Today, it is axiomatic in every world capital — including Islamabad — that the line of control in Kashmir must be respected. General Pervez Musharraf, who personally violated it when he ordered his troops into Kargil, was forced to recognize this fait accompli when he gave a commitment to the Americans in June that he would end infiltration across the LoC. This is lost on those in India who rubbish the Powell visit. Given America’s power and influence, the LoC would never have got its present level of international acceptance if the Clinton administration had not held it up as the standard during its intervention with Nawaz Sharif over Kargil.

It is to the credit of the Vajpayee government that after September 11, it doggedly pursued India’s supreme interests vis-à-vis Pakistan and on Kashmir in major capitals, but primarily in Washington. If not Musharraf, some of his key advisers in uniform, who are used to the ways of New Delhi, may have grossly miscalculated in thinking that the Vajpayee government would throw a tantrum when George W. Bush decided to cosy up to the generals in Rawalpindi after September 11.

Indeed, the pressure on the National Democratic Alliance government to do just that was very great. But Vajpayee’s key advisers resisted the temptation to do so and argued vigorously against it in internal meetings. The change, as a result, is there for all to see; if only those who rush to criticize the NDA government’s America policy would pause to see logic and reason.

A year ago, when Musharraf had his famous television breakfast with Indian editors in Agra, he was unwilling to even concede, for the sake of argument, that there was cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere. In private, he was even more uncompromising. This general who scaled unlikely heights in Islamabad for a mohajir was cocksure that he could have his way in Agra. He almost did.

What a change it has been since then! The man who once believed that he could bring India to its knees by exporting terror across the border and calibrating General Zia ul-Haq’s low-intensity war against India — as evidenced in Kargil — has been forced to abjure terrorism in public irrespective of its root causes.

Nine years ago, Narasimha Rao refused to share any intelligence about the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai with the Americans although he had conclusive evidence of Pakistan’s complicity in the plot. He told his cabinet colleagues and other aides that the Americans would not act on it even if they were convinced about the evidence. All that may happen is that India may compromise its valuable intelligence sources in Pakistan in the process.

Today, India’s wireless intercepts of terrorist communication and other evidence, which are shared with the Americans, constitute valuable information about terrorism in south Asia. India had no hope of ever undoing on its own even a fraction of the Pakistan-sponsored terrorist network not only in Afghanistan, but all across India’s neighbourhood, including non-Muslim Nepal and Sri Lanka. If any government has used another government to achieve its ends in this battle against terror in south Asia, it is the Vajpayee government which has used the Bush administration, post-September 11, to achieve its goals, however modest they may be.

The question is logical: where do we go from here? It is in constructing an answer to this question that one has to recognize America’s compulsions and the logic of its ways. The US really couldn’t care less how much India bleeds from terrorism or the Musharraf-inspired low intensity war. But the US certainly wants to make sure that Kashmir is not a new breeding ground for al Qaida or its other incarnations which have the potential to bring down another skyscraper in America.

There are enough people in the Bush administration who recognize that this objective cannot be realized simply by joining a chorus with India against terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The solution, as they see it, lies in the US cooperating with Musharraf, even going along with him in the hope of manipulating or coercing him — on occasions even giving him ultimatums, as it happened after September 11.

Those in New Delhi who advocate a Jawaharlal Nehru-Krishna Menon style of confrontation with the US fail to recognize that there is much more to be gained by playing along with the Americans, extracting the best deal possible and unabashedly pursuing the single-minded objective of what suits India. Diplomacy, after all, is the art of telling your interlocutor to go to hell in such a way that he thinks he is being sent to heaven. So far, Vajpayee has been able to do that to Bush, of course, to Powell and even to Donald Rumsfeld.

   

 
 
WHEN IT DOESN’T RAIN, IT POURS 
 
 
BY DEBABRATA MOHANTY
 
 
Nature has a puckish sense of humour. A year ago, Orissa was wrecked by devastating floods as the rains refused to take a break. Now it is the absence of rains that has sapped the soul of this riverine state, 80 per cent of whose population are farmers. From southern Raygada to Balasore in the north, about three crore people are in the grip of a drought as the rains come in trickles. Most often they deceive — the skies get clouded in the morning and clear up by late afternoon.

Ravaged by nature over the last three years — super cyclone in 1999, drought in 2000 and floods in 2001 — Orissa seems to have become the unsuspecting subject of nature’s wrath. This year promises to be no exception. If the current dry spell continues for a few more days, farmers in 28 of the 30 districts in Orissa could be in for one of the toughest times of their lives. At least that is what officials of the state agriculture department predict.

One hopes they are proved wrong. But the grim statistics forewarn an impending disaster that could be worse than the drought of 2000. Till July 31, the state had received only 343.3 millimetre rainfall against an average of 539.4 mm, or barely 36 per cent of the normal rain. Districts like Balasore, Malkangiri, Sundargarh, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Angul and Jagatsinghpur have experienced very little rain in the last two months. Even in 2000, the state had received more rains by this time.

Although officials of the meteorological department in Bhubaneswar still hope that the state will see a revival of the monsoons, very few are willing to bet that Orissa will get even half its annual rainfall of 1,132.4 mm in the “chaturmasya” or four-month period which is crucial for kharif crop production. Though each monsoon sees at least 4 to 5 depressions, this year so far no depression has formed over the Bay of Bengal, thereby leading to deficient rainfall.

In the absence of any rain, water level in major reservoirs like Hirakud have hit rock bottom. The reservoir, which normally stores 7.3 million acre feet of water during June and July, has only one-fifth of that water. The situation in other reservoirs is no better with watermarks lying just above the “dead storage” level. Hydropower production has been paralysed, plunging the state into near-total darkness. Irrigation department officials are unsure if they can release any water through the canals for irrigation.

Officials in the government’s agriculture department also paint a grim scenario. Of the total 42 lakh hectare meant for paddy production in the state, only 21.62 lakh hectare has been covered by paddy and 2.38 lakh hectare of non-paddy cereal crop so far. How badly the state is dependent on the monsoons can be gauged from the fact that only 15 lakh hectare of the total 42 lakh hectare area for paddy is irrigated. Of the area covered, transplanting of the crop is taking place in only 92,000 hectares. Generally transplanting goes on in full swing during this part of the year. Last year, by this time 25.75 lakh hectare of paddy crop area had been covered.

But coverage statistics do not mean much if the rains come in fits and starts. Last year, 70.3 lakh metric tonne of rice was produced despite massive floods that damaged crop in 6.19 lakh hectare of the paddy area in almost all coastal districts and a few interior pockets. This year, nobody is sure as there have been no rains during the crucial months of June and July.

If it rains after a week or so, the paddy seeds would have withered by then. The rains would only wash away the withered seeds and seedlings, doubling the agony of the farmers. According to Bishnupada Sethi, director of agriculture, the crop loss could be worse than 2000, when 42 lakh metric tonnes of rice was produced despite drought in the rice-producing Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput belt.

The area covered by pulses will fare no better. By this time last year, 2.31 lakh hectare of crop area had been covered by pulses against the 2 lakh hectare crop area covered this time. Crops have started withering in huge tracts of land which now resemble craters.

But the worst hit would be the farmers in the western districts of Orissa, where distress sale of paddy had almost broken their financial backbone last year. Despite reaping a bumper crop, the farmers had to sell paddy at a throwaway price because of the unholy nexus of rice mill owners, politicians and Food Corporation of India officials, as a report by a senior bureaucrat established last year.

Though government officials have chalked out alternative cropping plans like resowing of pulses such as ragi, black gram, green gram, gram, cowpea and til in case of the rains arriving late, everything now depends on the effective implementation of the plans. Unlike during the floods last year, the state government this time has to make sure that the farmers get the pulse seeds as well as fertilizers on time. Only then can the situation be salvaged to a large extent.

But foresight never has been the strength of successive governments in Orissa, where policymakers wait for one disaster to make the population forget the vagaries of another. As Orissa last month demanded an interim assistance of Rs 500 crore and three lakh tonnes of rice to tide over the drought, it was the turn of the Central government to gently remind that the state had failed to access its calamity relief fund allocation of Rs 45.26 crore due in May this year. The reason: non-submission of the earlier utilization details. If the details had been provided, the Centre could have provided the November instalment from the CRF in advance. Which means the state could have started the drought-mitigation measures without waiting for further funds. The delay in providing the earlier utilization details will prove costly for Orissa’s people. The reason why the government failed to submit the details is obvious. Of the Rs 107 crore CRF fund, the government has allegedly spent Rs 29 crore to pay salaries to government employees this year.

And one thought that bureaucrats and ministers have learnt better after three successive disasters! But what can one expect in a state where the chief secretary is reported to have fled when a devastating cyclone has ripped apart the state’s coastline? Accountability has never been the hallmark of the Orissa administration which is known to initiate grand schemes that almost always end up as failures.

One good example could be the Pani Panchayat scheme, a pet project of the chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. The scheme, launched last year by Patnaik amid much fanfare, was aimed at empowering the farmers through the creation of water-user associations. These associations would have supervised the management of about 10,000 lift irrigation points throughout the state. The state-owned Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation that managed these points now refuses to repair the faulty equipment. The farmers, who are now in charge of these points cannot repair these as they do not have the money or the required expertise. Had the scheme been successful, a large area could have been irrigated by now. What is worse is that these points can no longer function as the state is reeling under a massive power shortage due to poor electricity production.

The distress could have been mitigated to some extent had the state government taken quick action. Instead of allowing its top officials to waste precious hours in fruitless “disaster-mitigation” seminars at swanky hotels, the government should have sent them to the affected districts as relief commissioners for overseeing drought-related works.

The affected farmers need to be provided seeds of cereals, pulses and oil seeds for the pre-rabi and rabi seasons at a low cost. Their short-term loans, taken from various cooperative banks, need to be converted into medium-term loans. Efforts should be made so that the farmers who have insured their crops under crop insurance schemes get the money as quickly as possible. Rabi crop financing should also be started so that the farmers do not lose out.

Now is also the time for the 6,000-odd NGOs in the state to redeem themselves. For the past few years, most of these organizations have been hogging the limelight and media attention, which means more foreign funds, without much to show by way of hard work. The NGOs, which are more adept in carrying journalists in air-conditioned cars from Bhubaneswar to the disaster zones, should work sincerely instead of taking part in the blame game.

But in Orissa, it is almost like asking for the impossible. After all, everyone — NGOs as well as government officials — loves a good drought and the aid that comes with it. As the joke goes in the corridors of power, Orissa has three seasons — rabi, kharif and relief.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / GROSS VIOLATION OF POLLUTION NORMS 
 
 
 
 
During 2000-2001, out of 127 grossly...air polluting units, 69 units failed to maintain pollution standards. The percentage of failure to maintain pollution standards in respect of individual units ranged between 25 per cent (4 units) and 100 per cent (46 units). Thus, performance of the pollution board in controlling air pollution was grossly ineffective. As a result, air pollution load of the state was on the rise. The government stated (July 2001) that the board issued show cause notices for non-compliance and some units were asked to submit action plans to comply with the standard within a specific time limit. As seen during audit, there was little effective follow-up on such notices and industries continued to violate the norms...

For planning, control and abatement of pollution, the Air Act, 1981, emphasizes compulsory and regular physical monitoring through field inspections. For grossly polluting units...the norms for inspection were monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, half-quarterly or yearly and for other red category units the inspection schedule was at least once a year. Out of 9,496 industrial units, the number of inspections conducted by the board during 1999-2001 was 3,347 (obtained from the annual report of the board — no centralized information was available from board) on an average per year which would be 36.17 per cent of the required number considering at least one inspection per unit for 4,627 red category units. The board did not maintain any record showing the time schedule of inspection, dates of inspection, name of units covered under inspection and results of inspection. Thus, there was no systematic monitoring of inspection and compliance of controls. The government admitted that...grossly polluting industries were kept under strict surveillance through a prefixed inspection schedule with the board’s limited manpower.

For assessment of effectiveness of the pollution control system installed by the units for maintenance of pollution standards in conformity with the standards set by the Central pollution control board, the board was required to collect and analyse stack samples on a regular basis. During 1998, 1999 and 2000 the board collected and analysed only 541 stack samples which would be only 3.9 per cent of the required number considering at least one analysis per unit per year for 4,627 red category units. Considering that more than 55 per cent of grossly polluting units failed to maintain pollution standards, the number of stack analysis done were too meagre for such an important checking regime. The government admitted...that the board did not have adequate facility to collect samples from...industries.

CPCB developed Minimal National Standards for stack emission to be tested according to categories of industry. The board did not follow those standards and except particulate matter, other parameters were not tested for which the board relied on the test reports submitted by the units. Scrutiny revealed that while the report in respect of a unit submitted by a board’s approved laboratory indicated that all parameters tested were within limit, the PCS of the unit was defunct during the period of the test. The member secretary of the board stated that in the absence of facilities, some parameters...could not be ana-lysed in its laboratories. This is despite the fact that till date the board could not utilize a grant of Rs 4.52 lakh received from the government of West Bengal during 1995-96 for procurement of laboratory equipment. Thus due to failure to equip its laboratory properly the board was not in a position to assess the pollution status of the units to be monitored by them.

Major sources of air pollution in the state are industrial and vehicular activities. The estimated air pollution load of Calcutta during 2000 was about 3.53 lakh tons (source-report of the committee — 2000 — constituted under the order of the Calcutta high court). No systematic data on air pollution load of the state as a whole was available. Of the total pollutants, transport sector contributes 50 per cent, industrial sector contributes 48 per cent and domestic sector contributes the rest.

Automobiles are the largest contributors of pollution in Calcutta. Due to rapid urbanization in and around Calcutta, there has been a sharp rise in the number of vehicles. The total number of vehicles registered up to January 2001 in the city was 7.21 lakh. Pollution load from this sector increased from 311 tons per day in 1998 to 486 tons per day in 2000.

About 54 per cent of the total vehicles plying in the city of Calcutta were more then 15 years old. The state government had not implemented any policy for phasing out old vehicles off the road. Vehicles with two-stroke engines (scooters, motor cycles, auto-rickshaws, tempos, and so on) comprise about 46 per cent of the city’s vehicles. Emissions of pollutants from two-stroke vehicles are much higher than that from vehicles with four-stroke engines. There had been a steep increase (70 per cent) in two-stroke engine vehicles in the last ten years. About 40 per cent of the auto-rickshaws plying in the city have no authorization from the public vehicles authority.

To be Concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Mangoes of wrath

Sir — Given that the juices of friendship and cordiality have all but dried up in the India-Pakistan relationship, it was certainly an innovative idea on the part of Pervez Musharraf to inject some in the form of the fresh, juicy mangoes (“Pervez fruits of heaven for PM, President”, Aug 3). Whether Pakistani leaders make it an annual ritual of sending the luscious Samar Behisht mangoes to leaders of south Asian countries is quite irrelevant here. Especially so since the mangoes inspired more raised eyebrows than salivating tongues in the Indian prime minister’s office. And since old habits die hard, there has been no end to talk about which country produces the best Samar Behishts, India or Pakistan. Perhaps the boxes were not packed with goodwill after all. Reading between the lines, the Pakistani message seems to be: what India can do, we can do better. Evidently, even the “fruits of heaven” failed to achieve any let-up in the hostility between the two fractious neighbours in the subcontinent.

Yours faithfully,
Cynthia Rodrigues, Calcutta

The plot thickens

Sir — The nexus between the Mumbai film industry and the underworld, though never a secret, is beginning to get too hot to handle. This is proved, more or less conclusively, by the recently released tapes of a telephone conversation between Sunjay Dutt and Chhota Shakeel (“Brotherhood of Bollywood and the boss”, July 30).

If the former cricket captain of India, Mohammed Azharuddin, could be banned from international cricket for the rest of his life for being “allegedly” involved in match-fixing, doesn’t Dutt deserve a much harsher penalty? Azharuddin has betrayed the hopes and aspirations of millions of Indians, while Dutt has placed the security of his country in peril by associating with the underworld. The fact that Dutt has served a prison sentence as an accused in the Mumbai blasts case under the now-defunct Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act will also go against him in the present case. He deserves nothing less than a complete ban from films and rigorous imprisonment for life.

Yours faithfully,
Ashok Pandeshwar, Ranchi

Sir — What is the use of our gallant jawans fighting to protect the country when a group of filmstars are bent on selling it off to underworld bosses like Dawood Ibrahim, Chota Shakeel and Abu Salem. From the taped conversation between Sunjay Dutt and Chhota Shakeel, it is clear that the Dubai-based don is quite used to financing the whims and fancies of the current crop of Hindi film actors. Since the Indian government does not seem to be able to net the big fish, most of whom are based in Dubai and elsewhere in west Asia, the least that it can do is tighten the leash on the film industry.

As Bollywood has been formally recognized as an “industry”, all industrial laws pertaining to corruption and crime ought to be applicable to it as well. Just as industrial houses with dubious financial sources are investigated and brought to task, every Hindi film should be made to pass through similar scrutiny. This will certainly put a check on the shady deals between Bollywood and the underworld. What’s more, once the source of funds is plugged, I am sure there will be less reels of junk that pass off as mainstream Hindi cinema.

Yours faithfully,
Shivaji K. Moitra, Kharagpur

Sir — The taped conversation between Sunjay Dutt and Chhota Shakeel, recently released by the Mumbai police, may be proof of the friendly terms between Bollywood stars and the underworld. But nothing in the tapes points to anti-national intentions on the part of Sunjay Dutt. Given his fame and stardom, it is not very unusual that Dutt was on speaking terms with mafia dons. Besides, Dutt is not the only filmstar with such dubious connections. But given that Dutt has already been in prison once for hobnobbing with the underworld, he should have been more careful about his “friendships”.

There is enough to suggest that the recent controversy, including the release of the tapes, is a carefully orchestrated political drama. But if the Mumbai police is indeed serious about getting to the bottom of the sordid liaisons, it should steer absolutely clear of politicians and their vested interests.

Yours faithfully,
A.S. Ahmed, Calcutta

Sir — Why is it that Sunjay Dutt is forever on the wrong side of the law? Is it because Dutt is more guilty than the others, or because he is the only one stupid enough to get caught?

Yours faithfully,
Shoma Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Boy zone

Sir — There has been an alarming increase in cases of child abuse in India (“Foreigner convicted in child abuse”, July 14). The regular raids and checks on the movement of foreign nationals in India do not seem to have done anything to help the situation. But whether these raids by the police have achieved anything or merely ended up fattening their purses is worth probing into. With increasing numbers of homeless boys flocking the streets, institutions trying to make money by vending perversions to foreigners, who willing to pay for them, are having a field day. Such activities are common in most cities in India although they are carefully kept under wraps. Railway stations are among the biggest peddling zones.

The exploited children are either very young or very poor, and in most cases, both. Merely reserving the strictest of punishments for the offenders is not enough. The police must also be prevented from accepting bribes from these fake do-gooders in exchange for letting them carry on with their unholy trade.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The government of Goa took a bold step by going ahead with the conviction of a foreign national for sexually abusing a minor after his country extradited him. The United States of America could follow in India’s footsteps and take some concrete measures to curb the widespread child abuse within that country’s ecclesiastical establishment. Not very long ago, there were several reports in the media about a number of Roman Catholic priests in the US found guilty of forcing young boys to have sexual intercourse with them. There has not been any report of action being taken against the guilty clergymen. Americans, who act as moral guardians of the rest of the world, should learn how to put their house in order from the government of one of the smallest states in India.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Reddem, Kharagpur

Game keepers

Sir — While the disgustingly overpaid and over-indulged cricketers of India are managing to earn pots of money and fame even after losing the first test match against England at Lord’s, a group of lesser Indian mortals are busy doing their country proud at the Commonwealth Games a few hundred miles away in Manchester. It is indeed a pity that the sportspersons who are on a medal-winning spree will be forgotten soon after they return home and will disappear, unheralded and unsung, into eventual penury. The attention of the media, and through them, of the nation, will continue to remain trained on the boring antics of “the flannelled fools”.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, Shillong

Sir — India’s performance at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Manchester — 32 golds in a total medal haul of 92 — has been the best in living memory. Thus the poor coverage of the games in the national media has been quite mystifying. All sports news seemed to concentrate on was cricket, which had brought nothing but disappointment to the country after 1983. Even The Telegraph put the gold-winning girls of the Indian hockey team on the front page a full 48 hours after their win. But couldn’t the scorer of the winning goal be spared the humiliation of being compared to the bandh queen, Mamata Banerjee? Indian sports will remain in a sorry state if the media continues to give the cold shoulder to athletics and all other sports but cricket.

Yours faithfully,
Ruma Sen, Jamshedpur

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