Editorial 1/Net results
Editorial 2/China gate
Disarming success
Letters to the Editor
That arrogant Yorkshire man/Book review
Twists in time/Book review
Offbeat and feelgood/Book review
Ready for the next pollution check/Book review
Bookshops just a click away/Bookwise

Control of information often amounts to a mindlessly obstructive exercise of power. This was rather nastily brought home to many of the nearly one lakh candidates in Calcutta and West Bengal who were awaiting the results of their secondary and higher secondary level examinations, conducted by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations. The results were released on the internet from New Delhi, and even until late evening the next day many students had not managed to get them. Till the printed versions are released the coming week, access to this much slogged for, nervously awaited and crucial piece of information will depend on the computing facilities of individual schools, and more crucially, on the manner in which these facilities are used by the authorities or made accessible to the students. These delays have already caused considerable agitation in some schools, including gheraos and angry destruction of school property.

The control, in this case, is twofold. Last year, the candidates could themselves access the results on the internet with a uniform code. But this year, the council has assigned a code to each school, which has been sent to and kept by the school authorities, rather than the students. Accessing, downloading and then communicating the results are therefore entirely the prerogatives of the institution. This is fundamentally inimical to the spirit of the internet. Surely, the whole point of putting the results on the net is to provide candidates, guardians and the school authorities with quick and unrestricted access to this information. But both the council and most of the schools display an ingrained and instinctive unease with the lifting of such restrictions, and with the consequent democratization of the examination process. Firmly entrenched hierarchies of information and power continue to structure educational institutions in India, fostering a culture of bureaucratic sadism. A perverse enjoyment of causing endless harassment through delays, restrictions or obstruction, or simply sitting on information that one is entitled to when availing oneself of an essential service often characterizes the authorities, not just of schools, but of many other institutions. Often banks, hospitals, law courts � to name a few � quite deliberately fail to exploit the transparency and the minimizing of hassle that computerization could bring about. The head of a school going away on holiday with the school�s access code, keeping the candidates waiting indefinitely for their results can only be described as gross irresponsibility. But the attitude of the council and of these schools displays contradictions that are beginning to emerge in the entire nation�s divided response to the information revolution brought about by the internet. The possibilities of freedom � and indeed of civil liberties � it generates are heady. But, as the illiberalities of the 1999 information technology bill indicate, the state apparatus is yet to overcome its kneejerk resistance to these liberties.    

China�s arduous struggle to stabilize its trade relations with its most important export market, the United States, is all but over. With the house of representatives voting to grant China normal trade relations � a new term for most favoured nation status � in perpetuity, the annual trade battle over China on Capitol Hill is now a historical footnote. The senate is yet to vote but as it is overwhelmingly in favour of the bill, the real test was always going to be the lower house. Hectic lobbying by Mr Bill Clinton swung enough Democrats to join Republican members to vote 237 to 197 in favour of the China trade bill. He and the US business lobby had to fend off determined opposition from US labour unions, with a few human rights and environmentalists thrown in for good measure. It was not easy for the administration, especially during an election year when organized labour�s support is crucial to Democratic fortunes. However, the president has defied the protectionist, left wing of his party before on trade issues.

The arguments against granting China full trade status were always specious. The US had never been able to extract any human rights concessions from China in its previous battles. Having already agreed to Beijing�s joining the World Trade Organization, refusing to pass the bill would have potentially violated WTO rules and denied US businesses the benefits of China�s WTO membership. It would have also hurt the reformist lobby in Beijing. The key issue was really whether Washington should surrender the leverage it gets from absorbing some $ 70 billion of Chinese exports each year. Washington�s foreign policymakers had no doubts. China�s economic transformation, it was believed, would pry open the iron grip of the communist party. Integrating China into the world economy, embedding it in institutions like the WTO, was the best way to ensure Beijing followed the right evolutionary path. Beijing was determined to join the world�s most important economic organization and normalize its single most important trade relationship. China is only weeks away from signing agreements with all WTO members. The last major hurdle, the European Union, was overcome after China made sweeping concessions opening up its retailing sector. China is not a WTO member out of Maoist folly. Today, when its exports total nearly $ 200 billion every year, China�s absence from Geneva reflects well on neither itself nor the WTO. It is equally true neither the world nor the two Pacific powers benefit from making a political football of a trade link that should otherwise be buffering the harsher edges of their relationship. The gates are now open for the third world�s greatest exporting nation to take its rightful place in the world trading system.    

The outcome of the recently concluded review conference of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty in New York City poses some interesting and awkward policy dilemmas for the Indian government. Against most predictions, the treaty�s 187 members agreed to a final document containing an �unequivocal undertaking� by the nuclear-weapon states to �accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals�.

This declaration was not only stronger than any previously issued, but also backed by commitments to take major, concrete steps such as reducing �the operational status� of nuclear weapons, cutting tactical nuclear weapons and increasing transparency with regard to existing arsenals and stocks.

This outcome has variously been described as a �triumph� and a �victory� for the non-nuclear weapon states, particularly the states associated with the �new agenda coalition� who held their nerve and insisted the NPT�s five nuclear powers commit themselves, both rhetorically and programmatically, to go further and faster than ever before down the long road to zero.

True, the final document contains no timetable for achieving a nuclear-weapon free world. True, the nuclear powers are already obliged, under article VI of the treaty, to try to disarm. And true, a United States decision later this year to deploy a national missile defence system would decisively wreck whatever momentum has been gained. But the fact remains that the NPT regime, rocked by severe disappointments since it was made permanent in 1995, has, in the eyes of many states and observers, redeemed itself as a credible vehicle for delivering a safer world.

This is not the result the government in New Delhi either expected or wanted. Only four states � India and Pakistan, Cuba and Israel � stand outside the NPT. Naturally, the review conference strongly urged all these countries to join. It reserved special condemnation for Israel, for its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities, and India and Pakistan, for their �deplorable� decision to conduct nuclear tests two years ago.

Without the undeniable progress made at the conference in persuading the five NPT nuclear powers to commit themselves more seriously to disarmament, this condemnation would have meant little. India has consistently lambasted the NPT for being ineffectual and hypocritical. Until the conference, an increasing number of NPT states were tending towards agreement. But no longer. The insistence of Israel, India and Pakistan on their right to possess weapons of mass destruction � to seek to ensure their security by demonstrating a capacity and preparedness to annihilate their neighbours � is regarded as obscene and indefensible by almost all other nations. More importantly, it is regarded as a major obstacle in the path of achieving, or even bringing within realistic striking distance, a nuclear weapon free world.

If the five NPT nuclear powers are, as many suspect, not serious about the new commitments they have just entered into, then the nuclear weapons programmes of these three countries are a godsend to them, making it infinitely easier than it would otherwise be to retain their arsenals.

In recent months, India has been sounding increasingly confident that, after the initial barrage of criticism and condemnation, its decision to test has been increasingly well understood and, if not appreciated, then at least accepted as realistic and reasonable. Its diplomatic relationship with the US seems almost to have been strengthened by the tests. Russia is keen to sell nuclear reactors to India even though it does not have a full-scope safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Other states, including France, have talked about the prospects for increased civil nuclear cooperation with India if it joins the comprehensive test ban treaty.

Indications have not been hard to find � particularly when taken in conjunction with the demise of Pakistan�s international standing since the military coup there � that India as a nuclear power is quickly and effectively establishing itself as a stronger, more influential player on the world stage.

Having the bomb pays off. This is the strident subtext, the brutal political calculus of routine statements by the Indian leadership that it remains fully committed to nuclear disarmament, that it will only ever possess a minimum �credible� nuclear deterrent, that it threatens nobody, that the only hypocrites are the NPT nuclear powers, that the 182 non-nuclear weapon NPT states are fools to believe in the treaty, and so on.

Such statements may once have had power and credibility. The outcome of the NPT conference should alert New Delhi to the fact that those days are gone. India cannot hope to be taken seriously as both a nuclear weapon power and a champion of the anti-nuclear cause.

Alongside this laughable self presentation, New Delhi continues to insist � as it stressed repeatedly to Bill Clinton during his visit in March � that there is no danger of a nuclear exchange between itself and Pakistan, that nuclear weapons have made the region safer, not more dangerous. Such a conviction is deeply worrying, on two counts.

First, the logical implication of identifying and praising nuclear weapons as a stabilizing factor in the security equation � a conclusion which, like Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Paris and London, it would rather no other state was ready to draw or act upon � is that it would be reckless and irresponsible to get rid of nuclear weapons except in conditions of idyllic, permanent harmony, conditions which a nuclear balance of terror is hardly likely to bring nearer. So much for the continuing commitment to disarm.

Second, and even more serious for the people of the region, the argument that nuclear weapons will not be used because their use would be so terrible should reassure nobody. In a crisis situation, would not the prospect of suffering a first strike be so terrible that a first strike would appear the only �sensible� option?

And would it not be therefore �sensible� to make sure you were able to strike with such speed and devastation as would radically diminish the impact of any counterstrike? And would this not suggest the �prudence� of a formidable, widely dispersed and well protected arsenal � the prudence, in short, of an arms race?

The Indian leadership will obviously wish to state � and to believe � that all will be well; how could it argue or accept that millions of lives are at risk? If there ever is a nuclear exchange in south Asia, it will be the �sensible�, �rational� outcome of the �prudent�, �reasonable� decision taken by the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in May 1998. The road to nuclear hell is paved with wise precautions.

As the overwhelmingly majority of the world�s states are now beseeching India, Pakistan and Israel to understand, the only way back from catastrophe is to reject the nuclear path completely. Almost all the world has done so. All the world has to.

The author is founding editor, Disarmament Diplomacy, journal of the Acronym Institute, London    


Some play it hot

Sir � Playacting appears to be a very important aspect of Indian cricket today, as Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar et al are illustrating in the long drawn drama now in full swing. To add colour to that, Sourav Ganguly says that the allegations �shouldn�t put us under any pressure� (�Sourav stays fixed on cricket�, May 23). But will it be as easy as he would like to persuade the public? Does Ganguly not realize that comments such as one is innocent till �proven� guilty are too cliched � especially post-Hansie Cronje � to be taken at face value any more? Truth is, the Asia Cup, to be held in Dhaka between Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India will make clear how much Indian cricket has been affected by matchfixing allegations. Indeed, after Prabhakar has finally broken his six-year silence, and named Kapil Dev as the man who offered him bribes, it would be bizarre to believe that Indian cricketers would remain unaffected in their performance during the forthcoming series with Kapil Dev as their coach.

Yours faithfully,
Neeladri Sen Gupta, Calcutta

No baby, no cry

Sir � The birth of India�s billionth baby is time for some honest introspection (�Flashbulbs bombard billion baby�, May 12). The question is why this spiralling population growth? A number of factors contribute to this problem. One, the indispensability of marriage in Indian society. Even the poorest of the poor marry. Two, the practice of early marriage, which leads to large families, despite the Sharda Act, 1929. Three, the ineffective family �planning� programme in India, especially in rural areas. Four, widow remarriage, although this is a lesser vice. Five, fertility.

The government�s family planning programme, now known as the �family welfare� programme, is never short on schemes. What is forgotten is that welfare measures are directly linked to economic status and the level of education. In India about five million marriages take place every year and in four million of them the bride belongs to the 15 to 19 age group. Pressure from elders, customs and parental anxiety about daughters lead to girls being married off at an early age. To tackle this social menace it is essential to improve the female literacy rate, raise the status of women and promote anti-poverty programmes. The last is particularly important as it should be remembered that among the poor, couples can seldom afford to use contraceptives.

In fact, the larger goal of the population policy should be to wipe out poverty. For this we need to plan economic development in such a way as to create general affluence in society. Healthcare should be the object of greater attention. Moreover, psychological and intellectual factors should also be taken into consideration.

Yours faithfully,
Vinod C. Dixit, Ahmedabad

Sir �The editorial, �Billionth child� (May 11), warns of the disastrous consequences India will have to face in the coming decades because of a manmade calamity. The impact of population density is felt most strongly in the metropolitan centres. In the West, since the concentration of population in urban areas is less, it has been easy for the respective governments to implement measures to improve the infrastructure. But in India, the five year plans for development have always been hamstrung by fund constraints, political change and red tapism. Further, the benefits of the small family have reached only the educated for whom living expenses, education and housing are all planned out. For a country as diverse as India, both direct and indirect measures have to be taken to discourage large families.

One could be the implementation of a legislation which would give less privileges in education and property to any couple going for a third child. This should not be interpreted as a human rights violation as the matter concerns the future of the coming generations. At the same time, incentives should be given to families which have a single child or no children at all.

Perhaps the measures implemented by Sanjay Gandhi were harsh. But that should not blind us to the fact that legislations are still a must. Instead of projecting the happiness of the small family in its public promotions, the government should clearly state the nature of the impending disaster if population growth is not controlled.

Yours faithfully,
Amitabha Ray, Calcutta

Sir �Taxpayers� hard earned money is being swallowed by those who, instead of limiting family expenses by birth control, cry for more subsidies and facilities. Instead of wasting public money on family planning programmes the government should withdraw all facilities, including reservations, government service or promotion and rations to people who go for the third child. People often go for the third child for the want of a son. The government can improve matters by promoting the welfare of the girl child. Bigamy should be made illegal, irrespective of personal law.

Yours faithfully,
Madhu Agrawal, Dariba

Sir � Floods, droughts and cyclones every year claim enormous resources. Thirty six per cent of the population live below the poverty line. Unemployment is rampant despite the inflow of foreign investment. Hundreds of public sector units have become non-functional. The work culture is abysmal and corruption almost a culture with public servants.

The overwhelming need of the hour is population control. In these times of increasing deforestation and lowering of the groundwater level it is doubtful the country will be able to feed its existing population. But is the government listening?

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sorry, come again

Sir � Our attention has been drawn to the report, �NEEPCO to negotiate with rebels� (April 17). In this context, it must be clarified that the North Eastern Electric Power Cooperation is willing to participate in any talks regarding the release of its six employees, who were taken away from Tuirial H.E. Project site.

With reference to the telephone conversation by S.B. Dey, director (technical), NEEPCO Limited, with the correspondent of The Telegraph, Silchar, it must be mentioned that he referred only to the matter concerning the release of the employees and not to the payment of any ransom. Regarding the contribution from salaries of some senior engineers as ransom, this is not the view or decision taken by the management of the NEEPCO.

Yours faithfully,
P. Hazarika, assistant manager (public relations), NEEPCO Limited, Shillong

Our Silchar correspondent replies: I stand by my story.

Sir � The attention of the Northeast Frontier Railway has been drawn to the letter by M.K. Sharma (�Train spotting, April 7). The adverse law and order situation in the Northeast has not brought the NFR�s operations to a standstill. During the last year, from April 1999 to March 2000, there have been 37 bandhs called by various organizations. Despite the large number of bandhs, the endeavour and efforts of the railway personnel have allowed the supply of foodgrains and essential commodities; passenger services have also continued. There have been five cases of abduction of railway employees on this railway in the last two years. However, such threats to personal safety have not deterred the railway personnel from carrying out their prime duty and they have kept the wheels in motion. The loyalty of railway personnel cannot be doubted and therefore, it is unfair to conclude that railway employees lack patriotism. Patriotism does not only mean fighting with the enemy but also means performing one�s duty which the railway employees are carrying out with dedication.

Yours faithfully,
Utpalparna Hazarika, chief public relations officer, Northeast Frontier Railway, Guwahati

Letters to the editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: ttedit@abpmail.com    

Boycs: The True Story
By Leo McKinstry, Partridge, � 10.50

�Hey Garth, look at this four eyed ****er. He can�t ****ing bat. Knock these ****ing glasses off him.� If Leo McKinstry is to be believed this is how Bobby Simpson and the rest of the Aussie cricket team welcomed Geoff Boycott into test cricket.

This unauthorized biography of Boycott, perhaps the dourest of cricketers ever, is readable in patches. But that�s about it. Mckinstry is good with the anecdotes but there are too few of them anyway. Crammed with cricketing minuteae and averages, this tome seems destined for only the most dedicated of cricket lovers.

Which is a real pity, because Geoff Boycott, in many ways, is one of the most interesting characters to grace the cricket field ever.

Universally reviled by most, and loved by a few, it is no wonder that the tabloids have hounded him all through his life.

The book starts off with a lot of promise, but soon enough the writer is telling us things about Boycott that we have known all along. Mckinstry seems obsessed with furnishing Boycott�s yearly averages in each chapter. This despite there being a statistical index at the end of the book. And the figures are not given away to establish anything.

The early half of the book is the most promising. Geoff Boycott�s is a poignant story. But one can�t help feeling it could have been told so much better.

The son of a poor coalminer who took refuge behind foul language and slow scoring seems to be the most vulnerable when young.

Boycott was 17 when poor eyesight forced him to start wearing spectacles. Many had thought then that this would signal the end of his cricketing career. But like in so many instances after that, most of the doomsayers were proved hopelessly wrong.

The book does succeed in portraying the chronic insecurity of the dour and apparently joyless Boycott who was given to asking very often, �Do you think I�m a good player?�

It was this insecurity and selfishness that would prompt him to run out so many of his team-mates and then blame them later. �Boycott has transformed the admirable quality of determination into fetish. Every wicket he plays on is made to look difficult and batsmen later on in the order frequently got themselves out trying to compensate for his slowness,� accuses a contemporary of his.

In fact, the joke used to be that all the opposing team had to do was to keep Boycott at one end and their job would be done.

That he was always a good speaker � something he proved later as a radio and television commentator � was evident right from the days when he took the witness box during a case against Kerry Packer. He regaled those assembled in the court and made a strong case against the Packer circus.

Despite his boorish behaviour, Boycott wanted to be liked and loved. But as Mckinstry points out ever so often, his chronic insecurity let him down every time.

When he played DJ at a Sydney nightclub, he quickly joined his team-mates later only to ask them, �I was all right, wasn�t I?�

Geoff Boycott has acquired a lot of fans in India in recent years, after he made several visits to the country as a TV commentator. The irony is that when he was playing for England in the Seventies, he always shied away from touring India.

He might not be on everyone�s invitation list back in England but in India he is mobbed wherever he goes. That is partly due to his cute Yorkshire accent, and partly due to what appears to be a genuine love for Indian cricket.So much so that he has even been plugging commercial products on Indian television.

For those Indian fans bitten by the Boycott bug, this book will help dispel some of the myths about him. But some of Geoff Boycott�s apparent characteristics seems to have seeped into the book. It is dour and staid, and not a com pelling read at all.    

What If? Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been
Edited by Robert Cowley, Macmillan, � 13.50

It is humanly impossible to have not wondered and argued over how different the world would be today if the die of history had rolled in a different direction. What if the Romans had held back the barbarians? What if Islam had conquered Europe? What if the third reich had succeeded? E.H. Carr called them �idle parlour games� but historians cannot escape wondering �what if� when they see momentous events decided by individual acts or sheer accident. When historians use their greater knowledge to weave a �counterfactual�, to use the egghead term for what if scenarios, the fabric that results can be both entertaining and revealing. There is nothing like a probable, well reasoned alternative history to bring alive how closely present and past are interlaced. Written by specialists, this collection of what if pieces from the Journal of Military History provides many credible hypotheses. Because of their plausibility, the alternative futures that some project are more than a little scary. The degree history can change is most dramatic when looking at the twists and turns of fate in the ancient world, when armies were smaller and nations lived from hand to mouth. If the Assyrians had sacked Jerusalem in 701 BC, argues William McNeil, monotheism would have been buried along with the city. Eastern despotism would have prevailed over Western pluralism if the larger Persian fleet had succeeded in defeating the Greeks in Salamis bay. Athenian democracy, Victor Davis Hanson points out, was only 27 years old at the time. Excellent essays cover two obvious turning points in history. The first is Poitiers where Charles Martel brought an end to the Muslim invasion of western Europe. Barry Strauss hypothesizes that if he had not, both Europe and the Americas would have converted to Islam and �today there would be only one world religion: Islam.� The second is the sudden withdrawal of the Mongols from the gates of Vienna in 1242. The Mongols had swept everything before them until then. Given their Pol Pot like hatred for cities, Cecilia Holland argues they could have thrown Europe back into a dark age from which it might never have recovered � the kind of blow the Mongols dealt to the caliphate. This is an example where the broad sweep of history does seem to rest on the tiniest circumstance: the Mongols withdrew because a chieftain died of illness and tradition required a new one be selected in the Mongolian heartland. When the what ifs turn to the conflicts from early modern times, when larger economic and industrial forces come into play, it is noticeable many historians posit second order counterfactuals. In other words, even if individual fortunes worked out differently, larger historical forces would have forced things to go pretty much the way they actually did. Geoffrey Parker shows how the Spanish Armada could have easily landed its army in England. But then he argues it may have made no difference. The Spanish were just as likely to lose on land as they were on sea. James McPherson has General Robert E. Lee accept a transfer to the Mississippi front during the United States civil war. Lee routs the Union forces there. All that happens is that Ulysses Grant makes an even earlier appearance and the Confederacy still loses. John Keegan wonders if Operation Barbarossa would have succeeded if Adolf Hitler had opted for a plan to capture west Asia�s oilfields first and then move on to Russia. Perhaps Germany would have taken Moscow but given that Joseph Stalin was ready to fight from behind the Urals, one doubts it would have made much difference. More interesting is the idea of a failed Normandy invasion and the Allies resorting to nuclear weapons against Germany. Many of the historians have dug up little known, potentially epochal events. In 1771, a British captain, Patrick Ferguson, had the future of the US in his hands when he came upon a solitary George Washington. Washington was able to gallop away, saved by Ferguson�s unwillingness to shoot an unarmed man in the back. During the Ypres bloodbath in World War I, a small band of Englishmen turned back a German advance into a yawning hole in the British lines. That was lucky enough. But Robert Cowley points out, in one of his five alternative 1914 universes, that the Bavarian unit chased away included a young Corporal Adolf Hitler in its ranks. What a difference one bullet could have made. Arthur Waldron recollects how Chiang Kai-shek lost his best chance of defeating Mao Zedong militarily when a well meaning Washington ordered him to stop his spectacularly successful 1945 Manchurian campaign. Theodore Cook jr�s tale of a Japanese victory in the battle of Midway is one of the best essays in the book, in large part because of its plausibility. World War II carrier battles, with scattered ships depending on circling aircraft to be lucky enough to spy the enemy first, could go either way in a matter of a few minutes � as Midway did. Cook admits this would probably not have stopped an eventual Japanese defeat. For philosophers of history it is hard not to wonder if the chain of causality following from small acts on the battlefield would really have had sufficient repercussions to change the big picture. Would, as Strauss argues, a Roman defeat of the Visigoths at Adrianople have saved the empire? The Romans beat them four times afterwards without saving their capital from Alaric. Even if Hitler had been strategically perfect, historians like Gordon Wright have underlined how Allied war production dwarfed Germany�s. Europe may even have prevailed over the Mongols. After all, just two decades after Vienna, the Mongols were defeated in Egypt and Vietnam. Of course, it is exactly the debate that most flow from such imponderables that make what ifs � and this book � stimulating, pleasurable and simply fun.    

The Other India
Edited by Sudeep Chakravarti, Books Today, Rs 500

There are coffee table books and coffee table books. But The Other India is a pleasantly-flavoured offering. A collection of short features by India Today journalists, the tastefully designed volume celebrates India and the Indian�s tryst with the past and the present, superstition and persecution, ranging from the exotic to the curious.

Culling through the hundreds of articles presented in the magazine�s �Off Track� section during the past 25 years, the editors have chosen a representative swathe of experiences and reportage to present a country with a heart, a mind of its own and a will to surmount the legacy of apathy generated by decades of insensitive governance.

There are the faces of men and women, some infirm and physically handicapped, who have surmounted immense odds, to drive home a conviction or a message. The stories take the reader to remote corners of India where the unusual blends with present-day technology, where the old rubs shoulder with the new.

A mostly feelgood collection of articles, The Other India strives to drive home the point that off the beaten track there lies a country whose people and places are still being discovered.

Take for instance the opening article about the 1938 V-8 Cadillac which had once belonged to the Maharajah of Jaipur. A car that once carried the likes of Winston Churchill, Nikita Krushchev and Indian statesmen like Jawaharlal Nehru still purrs along the roads of Rajasthan�s capital city cared by its ageing driver, Madan Singh.

The articles are stuff that socio-anthropologists, political researchers and documentary film makers are always on the lookout for. In fact, editor-in-chief, Aroon Purie, proudly declares in his foreword that many of the �Off Track� stories have generated researches, retellings or films.

Some of the stories deal with the harsh reality that most Indians choose to ignore. The Dafars of Gujarat, a so-called criminal tribe supposedly descended from the marauding Huns, still languish in their branded, secretive world. The short articles sum up the plight and the dilemma faced by such tribes dotted across the country. Persecuted and denied a position even in the lowest rungs of society, the Dafars typify the problems that India carries over to a new century.

The Zyeds of Karnataka face an almost similar predicament. Having been generations of snake catchers, they are left without a means of sustenance what with new laws protecting wildlife and trade in animals. What is a typical tale of hardship can actually be interpreted as the manner in which a blinkered, educated class strives to stride over communities making them direct victims of hastily-formulated legislation.

Among the scores of stories that the book narrates are those of unique personalities: do-gooders and preachers, social workers and sufferers. Take for instance the bachelor in Hyderabad who calls himself Garbha Nirodh (preventer of pregnancies) and spreads the word, adopt children instead of conceiving. From a pickpocket-turned-jailer, to a restoration expert, the pieces weave an interesting jigsaw of journalistic experiences.

The Other India is presented by the Aditya Birla Group, which underscores its commitment to the community at large. In fact, some of the group�s big companies have their logos in the beginning and the end of the book professing the group�s involvement in community development schemes.

One of the strong features of the book are the photographs that accompany every article. But a major flaw of this otherwise attractive book, whether by oversight or by design, is the absence of the date in which each article appeared in print, a crucial piece of information for the discerning reader.    

Environmental Economics in India: Concepts and Problems
Edited by Gautam Gupta and Joyashree Roy, Allied, Rs 100

The book analyses the economic aspect of environmental issues pertaining to India. It comprises six well documented research papers relating to environmental problems like wetland depletion, air pollution and water pollution in paper industries and tanneries in India. It focuses on the recent approach of contingent valuation method of environmental resources.

In his paper titled �Standards and incentives for prevention and control of industrial pollution�, U. Sankar has rightly pointed out that pollution prevention and control systems in most countries, including the developing ones, rely on a �mix of regulatory and economic instruments�.

According to him, most countries prescribe source specific and ambient standards for prevention and control of water pollution and air pollution.

Although, historically, most countries relied on command and control based policies, there has been a gradual shift toward the adoption of market based instruments.

The first section of U. Sankar�s paper, which deals with issues pertaining to the design and implementation of pollution prevention and control policies in industrial sector with a focus on water pollution. Section two concentrates on large and medium industrial units, while the third section covers management problems relating to small units.

Among the case studies on economic evaluation of environmental problems, Madhumati Dutta Mukherjee deals with the depletion of the sprawling east Calcutta wetlands, which has affected fisheries in the region.

In chapter three, the authors examine the environmental aspects of the woodfuel based energy system of a selected block � Gorubathan in Darjeeling. The authors have tried to find out whether Gorubathan can support its growing energy needs in future. An estimate has been made of the woodfuel needs of the block in the coming years, which has in turn been compared with traditional open chulha and an alternative improved energy conservation device to find out policy options. These options revolve around two costs � the cost of afforestation on the one hand and that of improved technology on the other.

The cost benefit ratio of industrial pollution and its control has been analysed with respect to the tanneries in Calcutta. The distinguishing feature of the study is that the researchers indicate a line that needs to be explored to control pollution from these tanneries.

The large pulp and paper industry is a major source of water pollution and has been named among the 17 highly polluting industries by the Union ministry of environment. in trying to estimate the marginal costs of abatement of this industry, the book discusses the scope of the study, the data used and the framework adopted for the estimation.

The authors stress that some environmental standards must be set and followed in certain areas and at economically appropriate levels. It is necessary to ascertain whether the marginal cost for achieving the 65 decibel noise standard for Calcutta will exceed the marginal benefits. According to the authors, the answer to such queries requires measuring the benefits and the cost of controlling noise pollution.

Here, valuation methods have been analysed with the help of methodologies to explain the stages of this process.

The book is an authoritative document in the field of economic analysis of environmental problems. It will be useful to readers interested in environmental economics and environmental sciences.    

Dotcom mania is finally catching up with the Indian book world. Apart from American and British publishers and electronic retailers on the web, some Indian publishers and distributors have put their lists on the web with the promise of getting any book from anywhere in the world within two months. Add this to the issue of international credit cards by some credit card companies, and the sprouting of countless cybercafes in every corner, and it would seem that electronic retailing is ready to take off. But will it actually work with us?

First, a simple definition of electronic commerce. It is trade that takes place over the internet, usually through a buyer visiting a seller�s website and placing an order with the payment made by punching the credit card name and number. For instance, if you visit Amazon.com or barnesnoble.com, two of the large book distributors in America, you could place your order, punch in your credit card number along with despatch instructions and you will receive the book. Although the web is being used more for information than commerce, some publishers are shifting entire lists in anticipation of business on the web.

Now look at the profile of the Indian buyer � the individual and/or the institutional library. Over 90 percent Indians buy a book to fulfil a specific need: to pass an examination in schools, colleges and beyond; to add to professional knowledge in medicine, engineering, architecture, law, accountancy, fashion design, cookery and so on.

Unlike the West, where general publishing is increasingly a sub-division of the entertainment industry, Indians do not buy to read for leisure or entertainment. They buy to increase their knowledge or their professional expertise. But the Indian buyer always wants to check out a book before putting in hard cash for it. Distance selling via catalogues, advertisements or book reviews have not elicited much response. This is especially true of libraries who want �books on approval� before placing a firm order. In other words, there is no impulse buying.

Of course, this does not hold true for replacement buys or for books that have been tried and tested. For instance, books like Gray�s Anatomy, that have been well-established, do not need to be re-examined unless they are �new, revised and up-dated editions.� Also, for regular buyers who visit bookshops to browse and perhaps buy, shopping fulfils a social function that the web cannot replicate.

But there are some positive gains. First, since there are no limits to shelf-space on the web, e-commerce can outdo the real world. Amazon.com quickly proclaimed itself to be the world�s biggest bookseller even though its own physical stock was tiny (Orders placed with Amazon.com are re-routed to the publishers who service the order and pass on the discount to Amazon.).

More importantly, warehousing costs are eliminated and this saving can be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher discounts.

It is the economics of the web that makes it seem that e-commerce will become more powerful in the years to come. With no warehousing costs, no shelf-space restrictions, not much need for a working capital, far greater reach and richness of lists, the electronic retailer seems all set to go. And with technological change increasing all the time, it will be possible to customize a buyer�s needs and interests and inform him about what�s in store well in time.    


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