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Who do not help themselves

Sir — The fact that West Bengal lies at the bottom of the list of spenders of public funds is symptomatic of the unprofessional attitude that has seeped into the collective psyche of our political leaders. Members of parliament from the state cutting across political lines, have often blamed the economic backwardness of Bengal on an “unhelpful” Centre. The report,“Bengal leaders laggards in spending” (August 25), will now punch gaping holes in that supposedly “infallible” logic. MPs from West Bengal must remember that it is their responsibility to ensure that the fund at their disposal is used for various public development schemes. Tightening purse strings when development in the state has been delayed is a criminal offence. It is time the electorate in the state started questioning leaders they send to Parliament about exactly how they planned to spend the development funds. Only greater awareness about Central and state fundings will make politicians more accountable.

Yours faithfully,
Tanmoy Mukherjee, Calcutta


Old pesticides in new bottles

Sir — As the editorial, “Identifying pests” (August 26), indicates, the debate over the setting of safety standards for soft drinks and bottled water has only just begun. The questions that will crop up in this interchange are the wisdom of forming the joint parliamentary committee, the role played by agricultural run-off in contaminating groundwater, and the process of setting standards for potable water.

But it must be remembered that JPCs cannot be the mechanism for solving such problems. The committee will automatically become defunct once the Lok Sabha is dissolved, leaving its deliberations in a limbo. A wiser option would be to form a committee comprising non-governmental organizations working to protect consumers’ interests, manufacturers of food products, experts from the government’s food analysis laboratories, institutions that deal with standards and a few concerned members of the public.

The setting of standards is a problematic issue. Actually, “standardization” is a trade-off between quality and affordable costs, although certain minimum parameters of quality and safety have to be met. It is for the informed consumer to decide what exactly he wants.

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Madison, US


Sir — Days after the Centre for Science and Environment came out with its report on the pesticide levels in 12 major soft drinks available in the country, the government was treating the multinational corporations producing them as pariahs. The drinks were banished from the precincts of Parliament and the government only seemed to have stopped short of banishing them from the country altogether. What has overtaken it now' Afterthought on where election funds would come from if the MNCs were thrown out' If not, why doesn’t the government come clean on its findings'

Yours faithfully,
Jyotsna Sen, Calcutta


Sir — The clean chit given by the government to cola giants has severely damaged the squeaky clean image of the CSE (“Probe fizz after cola clean chit”, August 22). On the basis of tests conducted in state-owned laboratories in Hyderabad and Calcutta, the Union health ministry has reportedly stated that there is no harm in consuming these soft drinks. One always had doubts about the CSE report which generated unnecessary controversy. Such blatant attempts at creating a sensation should be punished. The media should also share the blame for highlighting a report without checking its credentials. It would be better if the government, voluntary organizations and the consumer bodies pay no attention to CSE reports in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Arunabh Das, Calcutta


Sir — The revelation by a senior agricultural scientist has given a new twist to the cola controversy (“Water poison eats scientists’ guts”, August23). The report clearly indicates that scientists were aware of the impurities in drinking water for the last five years. But the fear of a severe backlash prevented them from going public with the news. The suppression of such vital information is a heinous crime. While castigating the cola giants, we must make sure that those guilty of this lapse should not go unpunished.

Yours faithfully,
Govind Das Dujari, Calcutta


Sir — In India, there are other food products more contaminated than colas. When a multinational corporation makes a mistake, the government threatens it with ouster. But the percentage of people adversely affected by soft drinks is minimal when compared to the numbers affected by air pollution and contamination of ground water. Why are we so lackadaisical about air and water pollution'

Yours faithfully,
L. Krishna, Calcutta


A shot of law

Sir — A large number of students who had taken chemistry as an optional subject have failed in the subject in this year’s higher secondary examinations held in West Bengal. This has jeopardized their academic career. Many among these students have successfully cleared their joint entrance examination but since they failed in chemistry, they have not been permitted to take up their courses in engineering. It is obvious that there has been a serious flaw in the checking of their answerscripts or in the teaching of the subject, both of which are not the students’ fault.

This year the West Bengal council of higher secondary examinations had supposedly asked students to get the papers they suspected of being marked wrongly scrutinized before they moved the court. But scrutiny means tallying the marks shown on the mark sheet with that already recorded by the council and does not involve checking the answersheet again. Thus the best thing would be to approach the law courts for swift action.

Yours faithfully,
Anjan Majumdar, Calcutta


Sir— The state of higher education in West Bengal requires urgent attention. The functioning of the West Bengal council of higher secondary education needs to be changed. Students’ careers are far too important to be left to the whims and fancies of the council members who have failed to maintain the basic standards of higher education. Can the board justify its glaring lapses like the misplacement of answer scripts and substandard teaching quality' Legal intervention seems to be the only solution to the problem.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Roy, Calcutta


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