Who is more endangered'
Sir — With friends like the Wildlife Trust of India, the chiru does not need enemies (“Have a shahtoosh shawl' Get legal”, May 12). Are the rich and the famous so gullible as to purchase shahtooshes unknowingly' And who is the trust saving — the chiru or the rich, who are being so zealously “redeemed”' Once the illegal is given a chance to get legal, the process, much like the voluntary disclosure scheme, will come up again and again. The demand for shahtoosh will remain steady, and chirus will continue to die violent deaths. African countries executed the “Save the Elephant” campaign by burning up all the seized ivory. It did great service to elephants as the demand for ivory and rich peoples’ craving for it were also burnt. With no way to get ivory legally, and running the risk of punishment for illegal possession, demand slumped and poachers found it unviable to kill elephants. If the government is really committed, a bonfire of shahtooshes, legal or illegal, is the right thing to order for. The trust should note that ignorance of law is never an excuse. Borrowing its logic, paedophiles and those who possess drugs may also claim immunity.
Tapan Pal, Batanagar
Sir — The proposal to include “donations to political parties” within the ambit of donations which qualify for tax exemption under section 80 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, is a boon to the pro-tax exemption lobby (“Tax break plan for party donors”, May 10). One hopes that the draft proposal did an analysis of the strength, weakness, opportunities and threat, SWOT in common parlance, of the policy before seriously pursuing it. There is however no doubt that the law minister, Arun Jaitley, certainly deserves kudos for calling a spade a spade. It is wellknown that political parties of all colours accept donations. The money, which did not have a legal sanction till now, brought in unaccounted black money. The move will thus go a long way in eradicating the evil by encouraging both parties, the donor and the recipient, to come clean. This will also enable the bureaucracy to save itself from getting embroiled in any unwelcome controversy involving the political funding of parties. However, political parties have to be transparent in its dealings.
Bijoy Ranjan Dey, Tinsukia
Sir — The proposed bill will no doubt help cleanse the political system, but only to the extent that the money actually donated by cheque would reach its destination intact and all underhand dealings stop. The system, if it works, will prevent intermediaries from pocketing a major portion of the donation meant for the party. But will it ensure that donation in black money will stop completely' The new system in fact could give rise to several other malpractices. Arun Jaitley was so confident about the bill that he supposed that he would need only a day to pass it in Parliament. But has he sought public opinion on the matter' Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that the budget session ended without the bill being passed. The public will now have the opportunity to debate on the issue and even raise its objections to it.
Democracy demands political parties be formed of individuals who share a common ideology and contribute financially to party activities. But business establishments have for long been connected with the activities of political parties and at times even dictated political conclusions. Which is why it is good that we are beginning to acknowledge a reality. But the bill does not answer all questions. For one, will there be a ceiling on the amount that an individual or a business house can donate to a political party' Will there be a ceiling on the donation received by any political party with respect to its size or membership' What about independent parliamentarians and legislators' Will they be able to receive donations' Will an individual or business house be required to donate to any one party or more than one political party' Is it ethical for any company chairman to donate money to a particular political party without the consent of the shareholders' Companies could also indulge in other malpractices. For example, it could pay a given sum to any political party in cheque and take back 80 per cent of it in cash, thereby escaping the income tax dragnet. Chances are that political parties would not mind the practice at all so long as money kept coming in.
One more question. Will the legislators be able to guarantee that they will not give any undue favours to any particular company that has given it an enormous amount of donation' Can our political leaders assure us that the donations they receive are all “voluntary”'
Govind Das Dujari, Calcutta
Sir — By exempting all donations to political parties from income tax, the government is opening the floodgates to corruption. From now on, elections will be openly sponsored by business houses, although that will not stop politicians from draining the public exchequer. And businessmen and profiteers will demand their pound of flesh in return from legislators, all at the cost of the common man.
Madhu Tripathi, Calcutta
Sir — Jairam Ramesh’s article, “Just a mountain away” (April 31) made for pleasant reading. India and China have a longstanding cultural and business linkage that dates back centuries. Scholars like Huen Tsang and Fa Hien had come to India made it their home. As Ramesh has noted, India made a mature diplomatic move by sending the defence minister, George Fernandes, even in the midst of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, to China. Fernandes, on his part, also shed off his Sinophobic image and added a new dimension to India-China ties. At a time the United States of America is muscle-flexing across the globe, it was important for India to rekindle its ties with its most powerful neighbour in the north.
I had the occasion to visit interior China in the Nineties when I came across a wide section of the Chinese population who were staunchly pro-India and recalled several instances of Sino-India friendship. It is probably time to say “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” again. Together, India and China can make a major difference to the southeast Asian politics. Let us hope that the prime minister of India consolidates whatever benefits the Fernandes visit has brought to India.
P. Misra, Calcutta
Sir — Couldn’t China have shown a little more generosity to a nation which extended its helping hand during a national emergency which SARS has brought on' Yet during his visit to China, George Fernandes got scarcely more from the Chinese leaders except their pious wish to settle “border” disputes with India. Yet, by joint admission, the border occupies only 0.01 per cent of bilateral affairs.
S. Mohanty, Calcutta
Sir — It is strange that the Chinese community in India gets so little attention in bilateral affairs between India and China. The latter country has no interest in these people, nor does India. Which is why the Chinese still live without the right to vote and without any claim to the consequent benefits of representation in Indian politics. Yet much like the Chinese diaspora elsewhere in the world, the Chinese in India have become an integral part of the nation’s cultural life. Shouldn’t the Chinese be given a voice'
Himangshu Chatterjee, Calcutta
Sir — “Guilty or innocent' Let accused speak”(April 22), attacks the basic concept of human rights. We have borrowed our judicial system from the British based on the principles of natural justice and fair play. It is fine to suggest that criminal laws need to be reviewed, but the basics cannot be altered. In India, most of the criminal cases are initiated to settle personal scores. If the burden of proof is shifted on the accused it will be a violation of basic human rights. There is a need to strike a balance between shifting the burden of proof on the accused and his right to muster evidence for rebuttal.
C.K. Deora, Calcutta
Sir — One of the many recommendations of the Malimath committee is to shift the burden of proving oneself innocent on the accused. But in our judicial system, the accused is first arrested, put into custody and only then does the investigation begin. In the meantime, the accused languishes in custody. He is released if there is not enough evidence, but by then he has suffered enough torture already. The law should guarantee the right of the accused to gather evidence to defend himself. Without it the liberty of citizens cannot be guaranteed.
Md. Moinuddin, Calcutta