Editorial 1\No nonsense
Editorial 2\ Fees of learning
Arms and the soldier
Fifth Column\What the Colombia plan will reap
Letters to the Editor
Into the forests of endless night

In some extreme situations there can be no hemming and hawing. Or at least that is what the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, seems to believe. In the kind of sudden decisive act which has always caught his critics on the wrong foot, Mr Vajpayee unceremoniously stripped Mr Ram Jethmalani of his law minister�s portfolio. The move would be seen as eminently proper � and it has other merits as well. Mr Jethmalani�s public outburst against the Supreme Court and the attorney-general, Mr Soli Sorabjee, was quite astonishingly indecorous. Mr Vajpayee has never believed in confrontations with institutions like the Supreme Court or the president. By assailing the dignity of the institutional relationship between the executive and the higher judiciary � thus undermining his own dignity � Mr Jethmalani tried the prime minister�s patience too far. His aggressive arguments proving the legal viability of scotching the Maharashtra government�s proceedings against the Shiv Sena chief, Mr Bal Thackeray, sat ill on a Union minister. That Mr Jethmalani was the Shiv Sena�s nominee made the episode even more improper. Mr Vajpayee wasted no time. He has at least taken one brickbat away from the opposition. And on the way, he has made this decisive move obscure for a time the persistent criticism that he is shillyshallying over the Thackeray issue.

It is being said that the prime minister has been unhappy about Mr Jethmalani�s controversial behaviour for some time now, and this was the last straw. But it does not look as if Mr Vajpayee would have done anything else even if the former law minister did not have a list of embarrassments trailing him. Mr Jethmalani�s conduct was typical, only if more brash than usual. The adamant and arrogant line he had taken during the lawyers� strike had put his own government into an awkward spot, and his brush with the chief justice of India over the appointment of the chairman of the monopolies commission left a bad taste in the mouth all round. His simmering tension with the attorney-general did not help things either. Mr Vajpayee, heading a coalition which gives him enough trouble, needs to give everybody a longish rope in order to carry on the job of governance at all. His sangh parivar brethren make things difficult too. His response to the Christian question has been far from adequate. But his sacking of a cabinet minister shows that whatever the limitations of his present position, he is not willing to brook what he considers rank impropriety. In a broader perspective, this is the first step in the sorting out of the Srikrishna commission report imbroglio. An equal firmness in handling the situation developing around Mr Thackeray will silence charges of non-performance for a good while to come.    

Scales are falling from eyes heavy with outmoded dogma. Even well-known leftists have begun to accept that there exists very good grounds for a hike in fees in colleges and universities. Mr Deepak Nayar, the new vice chancellor of Delhi University, has accepted that fees in the institutions of higher learning should be restructured. The left had, in the past, steadfastly opposed any increase in fees. The argument of those on the left was that a rise in fees would take education outside the reach of the less privileged in Indian society. Underlying the argument was a fundamental philosophical belief that the state should subsidize higher education. And this has been the predominant ideological underpinning of all policy decisions relating to higher education. Education has thus become a drain on the exchequer and state support has bred smugness and absence of accountability among academics. Today, academics are realizing the untenability of a situation in which a student of Delhi School of Economics pays a fee of Rs 18 per month. In Calcutta, a student of Presidency College pays Rs 15 per month. This amount does not even cover a fraction of the cost incurred to educate a student in these institutions. The scale of the subsidy increases when students are given concessions on public transport. One consequence of this dependence on state subsidy is drying up of resources. Higher education now gets less and less of the resource pie; colleges and universities are thus starved of funds and the condition of most of them can hardly be described as one that is conducive to the cultivation of excellence in learning.

The left turnaround on fees is to be welcomed but it should be realized that increase in fees is only a small step in the improvement of standards and conditions. The overall aim has to be to take higher education outside the state�s ambit. There is no reason why an institution like the University Grants Commission should continue to exist. It is a relic. Colleges and universities should be independent of the state, in terms of the courses and curricula they offer and in terms of resources they mobilize. There are reports that Jawaharlal Nehru University, in a major step to move away from the ideology of the man after whom the university is named, is seeking private funding for the opening of new departments. Reform in higher education should not be treated as a reaction to a resource crunch. More than expediency, there is the need for a change in attitude to learning and to the role of the state. Learning is best nurtured in an atmosphere of freedom and independence. This can only be ensured if scholars are forced to cut off their dependence on the state and are made accountable to their peers and their students. A necessary condition for this is a minimalist state. The real change will come when Nehruvians and leftists accept this as a premise.    

On July 26 the prime minister is scheduled to light a candle to pay homage to those that fell at Kargil. It is expected that many well-meaning citizens across the country will do the same. Used as we are to paying rich homage to those departed, there is little doubt that the occasion will be a well-publicized affair. It is safe to assume that as soon as the candles are lit, in our small selfish consciences we would amply have repaid our debt to the 474 men killed and 1,109 wounded. They will then be forgotten.

As has happened to nearly 1,200 killed and many thousands maimed in the Indian peacekeeping force operation, thousands more killed and wounded in the 1948, 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars. Not to mention the casualties that our forces have suffered in counter-terrorist and insurgency operations as also our young pilots in peacetime training and mountainous operations. Such debt in young lives should have weighed heavily on the conscience of any nation. So far no such emotion has been in evidence � hence the symbolic importance of July 26.

This small sentimental step therefore raises huge hopes and expectations in the hearts and minds of those whose lives are inextricably linked to our men and women in uniform. They expect that alongside the homage that will generously be showered on those that are no more, the nation will also resolve that every step will be taken to set right the system of governance so that our dedicated service men and women are not denied the basic necessities to perform their onerous tasks and that their lives are not needlessly put at risk.

The findings of the Kargil review committee report that was tabled in Parliament brought out that there were grave deficiencies in India�s security management system and that the political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appeared to have developed a vested interest in the status quo. These are serious criticisms of the governance of a nation that has border disputes with two neighbours and that boasts the fourth largest armed forces in the world.

As a consequence, the government has appointed a task force to review the management of defence. Let the government solemnly resolve that the recommendations of this task force will be looked at and implemented with a sincerity of purpose and not allowed to be buried deep in the vaults of South Block because of vested interests. Few will recall the ugly political acrimony that continued alongside the valiant battles that our servicemen were fighting at Kargil last year. Although elections were around the corner, this was not the expected response of a responsible democracy faced with external aggression. The demoralizing message that was conveyed to those who were fighting the enemy was that politics in our country assumes a higher pedestal than national security and honour. Let the political parties and their functionaries resolve, therefore, that when faced with a national crisis of any kind, they will stand united as symbols of national solidarity and not indulge in petty debating points irrespective of their political or treasury affiliations. This does not inhibit a free and frank discussion on the floor of Parliament as this enhances the strength of our democracy � provided it is conducted with the dignity and sobriety.

The standing committee on defence (1998-99) of the 12th Lok Sabha had in its fourth report on a long outstanding air force programme made the comment that the government had been indulging in a procrastinating technique with a view to wash its hands of the matter, albeit for frequent temporary durations. This, despite the government�s admission that the absence of equipment for the air force was taking a heavy toll in terms of training related accidents.

In spite of this strong condemnation, none of the 45 committee members drawn from both houses and across the political spectrum, thought it worth their while to raise this serious security matter on the floor of either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. Let our parliamentarians resolve that they will use Parliament to further national security interests and not become mute spectators to the undermining of national security or its institutions.

Quoting the army chief�s press statement in the midst of the crisis that if war came, the army would fight with whatever it had, the Kargil review committee confirmed that India was not well prepared militarily. To a nation that was on the brink of war, the implication that successive governments had not provided the armed forces with the wherewithal to carry out their missions should have had the people demanding accountability. Instead, there was stoic silence. Let the civilian hierarchy in the ministry of defence and finance resolve that the present system of delay, denial and obstruction will be replaced by one of facilitating legitimate service requirements.

The services have for too long been fighting to preserve each other�s turf. With parochial individual service interests strong, the services work largely in isolation and there is a strong tendency to grab as large a share of the shrinking cake as possible. This ethos results in wasteful duplication, misuse of scarce resources and unfocussed military capability.

Let the service leaderships resolve that inter-service turf battles are a thing of the past. If the country has to manage a viable security machine in an affordable manner then future planning and operations will be on a sound integrated philosophy shorn of inter-service rivalries. Few outside the uniformed fraternity understand the ethos of a serviceman.

An ethos that places flag, country and honour beyond one�s life. All that the soldier wants in return from the people and the system is izzat. And it is this izzat that successive governments have systematically taken away from the services. The progressive decline of service chiefs in the warrant of precedence is illuminating. After the 1947-48 war, their rank dropped below that of Supreme Court judges, next below that of cabinet secretaries, later below attorney general level and finally their rank was placed next to that of the comptroller and auditor general.

Today a joint secretary with 16 years of service features higher in the pecking order than a brigadier with 32 years of service � much of it in operational areas � and a jawan is equated with an unskilled worker. The people of India must resolve to muster the moral courage to give back izzat to our service men and women, for if we fail in this most basic of our duties the only victim will be national honour.

In the midst of this gloom there is a silver lining. Our officers and men in the field are made of sterner stuff than all the above institutions put together. They made their resolutions the day they donned the uniform and will carry them to their graves. That is why, notwithstanding our frail institutions, we have retained our sovereignty.

As events unfold on July 26 and as the prime minister lights a candle, let us in our own ways resolve to repay the debt we owe the faceless men who are with us no more. If we fail to do so, all the symbolism will merely be candles in the wind.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force    

Fifteen years ago, long before Barry McCaffrey became a general, I was riding in the hills south of San Augustin with my teenage sons when a Colombian army skirmish line swept up over the lip of the plateau. They passed us without a word and vanished down the other side of the mountain, searching for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC guerrillas who also operated in the area.

Small incident, nobody hurt. But the point is that the war in Colombia is 36 years old. The guerrillas have been around far longer than the current government or the drug cartels, and it is neither the United States�s fault nor its business.

�We are winning this war that they have declared on Colombia,� said the Colombian president, Andres Pastrana, in a belligerent national television broadcast on July 20. �The country knows well that I will not accept peace at any price.� In other words, no more Mr Nice Guy. Now I have the whole US military machine behind me.

Pastrana�s frustration with the peace process that he launched just after the presidential elections two years ago is easy to understand. He met Manuel Marulanda, legendary leader of the main guerrilla group, FARC, and granted him a Switzerland-sized safe haven in the south-east of the country while they negotiated a final peace settlement.

FARC trouble

But there is no peace. One reason is that the guerrillas have a profound mistrust of peace deals with Colombian governments. M-19, in its day the leading Colombian guerrilla movement, made just such a peace with a previous government in order to enter legitimate politics, and then saw hundreds of its activists murdered by right-wing paramilitary forces hand in glove with sections of the army.

FARC hasn�t been helpful either, waging a fullscale campaign of guerrilla attacks and kidnappings, including atrocities like the recent decapitation of a kidnapped woman by an explosive collar set to blow up if the ransom wasn�t paid promptly. Just last Thursday a FARC force killed 32 militia members in the village of Santa Rita and destroyed a cocaine processing laboratory run by the rightists.

Pastrana feels that his willingness to negotiate isn�t getting him anywhere, and meanwhile his own political position in Colombia has collapsed. In March, after allegations of coca-corruption in the congress � do the cocaine cartels pay off Colombian congressmen? Do bears defecate in the woods? � Pastrana tried to call a national referendum to reform congress and hold fresh elections. Instead, his governing coalition disintegrated.

The shipwrecked president found himself with no political support to speak of, a collapsing economy (the reform package agreed with the International Monetary Fund has little prospect of passage by the congress), and a becalmed peace process. So he grabbed the first piece of flotsam to float by: �Plan Colombia�.

Terror rules

Plan Colombia was originally Pastrana�s own, presented to Washington. It envisaged a variety of economic and social programmes that he hoped would transform the poverty on which the guerrillas feed. Two years later, it has re-emerged from the Washington machine as a plan for a mini-Vietnam.

The real father of the revised �Plan Colombia� is General Barry McCaffrey, a soldier who realized early that political skills, not military ones, are the road to fame and fortune. As Bill Clinton�s �drug tsar�, he has a whole �war on drugs� that can be fought solely in terms of public relations, and he has exploited it for all it�s worth.

McCaffrey�s version of Plan Colombia redefines the FARC as �narco-terrorists�, and provides millions of dollars for military operations against them. (FARC does �tax� the coca and opium-growing operations on its territory, but is less involved in the trade than its rightwing militia opponents, and perhaps even than the army.)

Pastrana has grabbed this plan like a drowning man grasping a straw, and it gives McCaffrey a whole war to run. So everybody wins except rural Colombians, who can look forward to being sprayed from the air with the fungus fusarium oxysporum (guaranteed to wilt coca plants) in between the gunship attacks. Colombia will never be a fullscale Vietnam, for the US will not do that again. But it will be an extravagantly stupid mess.    


The world beneath her feet

Sir � What gives Daily Express the idea that �empowered� women are ice maidens and have nothing to do with matters of the heart (�E-jilted Yukta yearns for Mr Right�, July 23)? One might still argue with the Miss World organizers� claim of giving power to the women through their G-string ritual, but even if it did, would Miss Worlds be required to give up their emotions? Thankfully, Yukta Mookhey is not �empowered� the Daily Express way. She is a beautiful and intelligent woman who has the guts to declare that she is unhappy over an e-mail break up and would like another boyfriend, less pretentious this time, to stop feeling miserable. What Miss World organizers and the foreign media do not realize is that although Indian women have travelled lightyears ahead, Indian society and the �boyfriends� who emerge from them have not changed much. The typical Indian man from a �good family� and doing well would still opt for a partner who is less high profile and more docile, unlike the Miss Worlds of today.
Yours faithfully,
J. Sen, Calcutta,

Who will bell the tiger?

Chargesheeting Thackeray will be taken as an assault on the defenders of India�s unity. Prosecuting him will consolidate the Hindu vote.
Yours faithfully,
K. Srinivas, Hyderabad,

Sir � The �secularism� the editorial, �Deeper issues� (July 21), refers to needs elaboration. For, secularism in India has become synonymous with vote bank politics: in short, Hindu bashing, Muslim appeasing.

Bal Thackeray�s column in the Saamna was written in the politically and communally charged atmosphere of 1992-93. He had written his columns as the editor of the paper. The question is: is Thackeray as a journalist wrong? The vituperation against him is more because he is a Hindu espousing the Hindu cause.

Contrast this with the unexecuted non-bailable arrest warrants against several members of the largest minority community of India. Recall that the Calcutta police had failed to enforce its sound pollution norms on the mosques of Calcutta because of the fear of creating a law and order problem. Remember how Rajiv Gandhi was forced to overturn the Supreme Court�s verdict on the Shah Bano case? And you will realize which community is more powerful politically.

India has been lulled by the song of unity in diversity. Vote bank politics in the name of secularism has played havoc with the lives of innocent countrymen. Calling a spade by any other name at this time amounts to hypocrisy, and Thackeray is no hypocrite.

Yours faithfully,
R.H. Putran, Calcutta

Sir �The statement made by the vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, J.P. Mathur, that the Shiv Sena chief should not be arrested as his arrest will only aggravate the prevailing tension in Mumbai, is ridiculous (�BJP shield for Thackeray�, July 18). He should have remembered that nobody in India is above the law. Senior leaders of Mathur�s stature should abstain from making such irresponsible comments.

Instead of suggesting to the Maharashtra government that it should not reopen an old issue, he should suggest to the government at the Centre to stop spending crores of rupees on commissions the recommendations of which are never to be followed. The money should be used in welfare work.

Yours faithfully,
Satyajit Kumar, Jamshedpur

Sir � The Centre has been at its most nervous in handling the issue of the arrest of Bal Thackeray. The Supreme Court is justified in reprimanding it. Granted, Thackeray wields tremendous power in Maharashtra, yet the prime minister needs to do more than sack the law minister who spoke out of turn. The prime minister also needs to come out with his government�s and party�s stand. If he is siding with the communal forces, then he should be forthright about it.

Yours faithfully,
Sami Rawat, via email

Dog days are here again

Sir � I wonder which is better, a girl getting married to a dog, or a girl marrying a man and being treated worse than a dog on grounds of belonging to different caste, creed or religion (�Four year old married to a dog�, July 14). I think the four year old girl, Anju, has been saved from the evil eye, that is, the evil eye of the society once and for all through this marriage. What more can a poor dog do to spoil her life? What further misfortune could befall her?
Yours faithfully
Malika K. Sarkar-Desai, via email

Sir � The news of the four year old girl being married to a dog came as a shock, but is not all that surprising in the context of our present social condition. All the same, this should make us deliberate whether we really have the right to call ourselves civilized. We cannot blame poverty or illiteracy any more, simply because even those who are neither poor nor uneducated act with this kind of mindlessness. No matter how much progress we make in science and technology, we will continue to remain immersed in the depths of superstition.

Yours faithfully,
Saikat Ray, Hooghly

Sir �Could not Subal Karmakar, the father of the child married off to a dog, use the money he spent to feed the guests at the farce of a wedding to treat his child for her illnesses? Such shameful acts should be punished severely (�Dog bride father held�, July 17). But what about those others who stood as silent spectators, and contributed to the �success� of the event?

Yours faithfully,
A. Matthew, Calcutta,

Sir �People in West Bengal, who supposedly understand and chant the verses of Rabindranath Tagore, follow the ideals of Vivekananda, and keep the Bible, Quran and the Bhagvad Gita in their homes, have really gone to the dogs. Or else how could some people tolerate a four year old girl being married off to a dog?

Yours faithfully,
K.C. John, Barisha

Sir �The editorial, �Look back in superstition� (July 15), rightly holds that a macabre incident like that of a girl-dog wedding shows the undying power of superstition. The silver lining is that the girl�s father has been arrested. But to put an end to such cruel incidents any further, middlemen, like the priest, the astrologer, and the opportunist guests who relished the wedding feast should first be punished severely.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir � Girl-dog marriages were not heard of even in primitive days. It is worse than the crime of female foeticide or infanticide. Rights organizations should focus on it.

Yours faithfully,
N. Bose, Ranchi

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The death of a dozen tigers at the Nandankanan zoo in Bhubaneswar, has, sadly enough, shown that even zoos, the last refuge for some of the wild and endangered species, are no longer safe for the animals. The king of the jungle has been on the run for some time though. It is ironic that such a valuable animal has no takers. But if we allow capitalization of valuable wildlife, we will discover that commerce can promote conservation.

There are estimated to be only 7,000-7,500 of tigers left in the wild. Another couple of thousands may be in captivity in zoos and circuses around the world. Unless serious lessons are drawn and drastic reforms made in the organization of zoos, and changes in the Wildlife Protection Act initiated, the days of tigers and those of many other wild animals in India will be truly numbered.

However, the response to this tragedy of the tigers so far has been extremely pedantic. A committee has been formed to investigate the deaths. And according to one newspaper report, the committee reached its verdict within a day of arriving at Bhubaneswar. It reportedly found that the original diagnosis was correct, even if arrived at rather late, and has absolved everyone concerned of any responsibility.

This tragedy calls for a serious review of the policies that guide zoos. Rather than trying to pin responsibility on some particular official at Nandankanan zoo, or in the central zoo authority, we need to focus on the system that made the tragedy possible. At issue here is our whole approach to wildlife conservation.

Today, zoos, with the support of modervn science and technology, and growinvg concern about the fate of the dwindlinvg number of wild animals, can and mvust play a much more significant rolev. They can become centres of specialivzed research in wildlife, developing expertise in the captive breeding of endangered species, while continuing to be among the popular tourist spots.

Many of the famous zoos around the world are already engaged in these kind of knowledge-based activities. They raise funds, generate revenue and attract some of the best talents to work with them.

In contrast, as was seen from the Nandankanan experience, even major zoos in India have difficulty in following the stated guidelines about keeping the animals in a healthy environment. Most zoos lack manpower, training and equipment.

Pressure on finances means that in many instances animals get less than their required diet. Medical facilities are quite inadequate. As one zoo director was quoted saying recently, �In a country where many hospitals do not have sophisticated equipment for the treatment of human beings, you cannot talk too much about animals.�

Already some people think that more attention and money are being expended on animals like tigers than on people. According to one estimate, Central and state governments may have spent between Rs 25 to 50 lakh per tiger in the country in the past 25 years. And at the end we have less than 5,000 tigers to show.

In fact the biggest irony is that despite the tiger�s endangered status, zoos have a standing direction not to breed too many tigers. Being in the cat family, tigers are easy to breed in captivity. But since an adult tiger needs about 10 kilogrammes of meat a day, the animal becomes too expensive to maintain. In Punjab, a zoo has been sterilizing lions and tigers because there are no takers.

The problem is that the tiger and many other wildlife species are considered priceless, and laws have been enacted to prohibit any economic use of these species. It is felt that economic utilization of wildlife will push the species further down the road to extinction. Consequently, the laws have foreclosed the possibility that commercialization may actually be conducive to conservation.

Consider the evidence though. The most exploited species in the world today are cattle, sheep, poultry and other farm animals. Yet, these are nowhere near extinction. Millions are bred, sold and killed each year and have made significant contributions to the economy. In many countries, even some of the exotic wild species like the crocodile, ostrich and deer have become valuable economic products. And have moved away from extinction. But Indian laws have prevented people from capitalizing on the economic demand for wildlife.

We are concerned about the death of these 12 tigers, but turn a deaf ear to the suffering of say, crocodiles, in a Chennai park. The park has been extremely successful in breeding crocodiles, and providing alternative economic opportunities to some local tribals, yet the government has for years been refusing to grant it permission to sell its animals and generate income.

This despite the fact that crocodile farming has become big business in countries as diverse as Australia, South Africa and the United States. Species such as tigers also have enormous economic potential when alive in forests and wildlife parks. Tourists, who come to see these animals in their natural setting, help boost the local economy. In Zimbabwe, local villagers in many areas are given ownership rights to many wild animals, and share in the income that tourist and hunters pay to see or shoot a limited number of animals. And because of this economic interest, the local population take an active interest in maintaining the population of wildlife in their areas.

With economic interest, of course, comes the motivation to deploy and train people and harness modern technology to ensure that the animals are kept in the best of conditions.

Likewise, zoos can be vanguards in the matter of preserving wildlife. But for that to happen, laws need to be changed to allow the harnessing of the economic potential of wildlife in a myriad forms. Many zoos then will become economically viable, and able to function as efficient corporate entities providing their knowledge and services to wildlife managers and farmers.

The global trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth between eight and 20 billion dollars, a major chunk of it �illegal�. India is rich in biodiversity. Yet we have been wasting one of our natural assets � wildlife resources � by bans and restrictions on trade, tourism and hunting.

Unless we quickly realize the value of commerce in conservation, the fate of wildlife, whether in the wild or in captivity in zoos, will continue to hang in the balance. One cannot help but think that for many people, bureaucrats and activists alike, who are proposing various restrictions on wildlife, there is a vested interest in continuing the crisis facing wildlife.

After all, if the animals survive, these self-proclaimed lovers of wildlife will be extinct. It is time to see beyond the crocodile tears of these activists, or else the tragedy of the tigers will only turn into a great farce.    


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