A dash of selfishness
Sir — Sonia Gandhi seems to be lately setting too much store by the desire to do the right thing, in the “national interest” (“Congress puts faith in politician Sonia”, Oct 30). First, she allowed the mufti to have his way in Jammu and Kashmir, and then she refused to respond to the Samajwadi Party’s overtures in Uttar Pradesh. Also over-ruling a veteran politician like S.M. Krishna on the Cauvery waters issue may have been very statesman-like, but it just might cost the Congress the state in the next elections. Also, much as the Congress would like to give all the credit to its president for its having governments in 14 states, a less charitable, though equally plausible, explanation could be that the wins were nothing more than happy coincidence — a combination of the anti-incumbency factor, charismatic leaders and a divided opposition. Politics is hardly the place for gentlemen as Sonia Gandhi should know. It involves grabbing a half inch and forcing it to go the whole mile.
Ranjan Saha, Jamshedpur
Sir — The austerity drive announced by the West Bengal government last month has run into resistance from government officials. A close watch on phone and fuel bills makes sense but what is the guarantee that the funds thus saved will also not go to pay salaries to the government’s inflated workforce' And how successful has been the drive' Even now officials fly business class when they travel on official duty. The cabinet of the multi-party coalition government is necessarily large — for example, there are four ministers overseeing education. Also, the government takes loans indiscriminately which it does not always use to meet the said objectives. The report of the comptroller and auditor general has revealed how the government raised close to Rs 5,000 crore in infrastructure bonds which it diverted to pay salaries to its employees. The recent Central loan of Rs 878 crore will also not help to mitigate the financial crisis in the state. Already the interest on such loans has become too high.
But the government is even now loath to take the only step that will really improve matters — shed its workforce, as other states have done. Neither is it forcing universities and other state-aided institutions to become self-financing.
Ramawatar Jalan, Calcutta
Sir — The state government’s austerity drive is commendable, but it is too little, too late (“Save or splurge, babu wins”, Oct 12). Already puja bonus and ex gratia payments have been cut, and dearness allowance has been frozen. If something drastic isn’t done soon, West Bengal will become as bad as Bihar where employees are not paid for months. But our babus haven’t learnt a lesson — they still grudge having to share government cars with their subordinates.
Madhabi D. Ghosh, Calcutta
Sir — On the one hand, Asim Dasgupta wants all government offices to economize, and on the other hand, the state transport minister proposed to buy 800 new buses (“Green bus for clean roads”, Oct 18). Why can’t the existing fleet be used more efficiently'
P. Pramanik, Calcutta
Sir — In the last one and a half years, the number of police stations in the Calcutta metropolitan area has increased to about 42 against the 35 that existed earlier. Is this not wasteful expenditure, sanctioned by no less than the home (police) minister who is also the state’s chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee' It is little use saying that the Mumbai or Chennai metropolitan police force is bigger — their revenues are also higher. Mindless acquisitions of new vehicles, mobile phones, redundant public relations exercises like football matches and, no less important, indiscriminate recruitments in the last few years have all taken their toll on the state’s resources. If Calcutta today has four police stations within a radius of less than four kilometres (Bhowanipore, Kalighat, Tollygunge and Charu Market), why blame the finance minister alone for the state’s poor finances'
Swarup Majumdar, Calcutta
Sir — Instead of undertaking an austerity drive, the West Bengal government should do something to check corruption, especially in regional transport offices. Thousands of vehicle owners visit the RTOs every day for registration, re-registration, driving licences, and so on. The procedures are very complicated and often, the necessary forms are out of stock so that one has no option but to go through a broker who collects “cha pani” (anywhere between Rs 200 to Rs 250) for the babus. If the government were to charge this amount upfront by setting up a single window for the entire procedure, it could earn crores.
Sudarsan Nandi, Rangamati
Sir — Is an overweight person always a fathead' At least that is the message that comes across in the television commercial of a popular medicated soap. The sage advice that one can save a lot on purchase of this soap comes from a rather petite — and by inference, wise — housewife, at the expense of her overweight, and hence less savvy, companion. Another TV commercial of a brand of paints too equates obesity with ugliness. In the West, such objectionable ads would raise such a ballyhoo that they would have to be taken off air. But why blame TV commercials' They are only following in the footsteps of Hindi films which are incomplete without the stereotypical fat buffoon.
Ajay Jha, Ranchi