Editorial 1/ Three�s a crowd
Editorial 2/ States of autonomy
Dangerous charade
Fifth Column/ Indian cities on the brink of chaos
The secret of disinvesting PSUs
In sickness and in corruption
Letters to the editor

The decision of the Pakistan based leadership of the Hizbul Mujahedin to scrap the two week old ceasefire could abort the embryonic dialogue between militants and New Delhi. It could also give rise to a more comprehensive dialogue. Which fate will befall the process depends on the depth of tactical differences between the Hizbul�s Lahore based leader, Mr Syed Salahuddin, and its operational commander, Mr Abdul Majid Dar. Terminating the ceasefire is part of Islamabad�s game plan. Pakistan initially did not take the ceasefire seriously. However, when the Hizbul�s field commanders unanimously backed Mr Dar�s proposal, Islamabad attempted to control the process. The Pakistani foreign office claimed credit for the ceasefire and senior officials said Islamabad would have no problem with a solution reflecting Kashmiri opinion. But as the Hizbul and New Delhi moved closer, Pakistan began to pull out all stops to get aboard the dialogue train. The one day slaughter of over 100 people sent the message that militants controlled by Inter-services Intelligence could make a mockery of any Kashmir solution. When New Delhi steadfastly refused tripartite talks, Mr Salahuddin was persuaded to withdraw the ceasefire.

The question is whether India should allow Pakistan to be part of the dialogue. The answer is assuredly no, especially at this stage. The importance of an agreement with Hizbul lies in its being the largest militant group dominated by Kashmiris rather than foreign mercenaries. If its negotiators are puppets whose strings are being pulled by Mr Pervez Musharraf, there is no point in talking to Hizbul. Talks might as well be held directly with Islamabad. Pakistan�s chief executive officer has pushed for this since he came to power. New Delhi has refused. Mr Musharraf is believed to have been a key architect of the Kargil attack. He has bluntly given the Lahore process a thumbs down. India has demanded he show a commitment to peace by ending crossborder terrorism and infiltration. He has declined to do so. Mr Musharraf is sorely lacking in legitimacy at home and overseas. It is questionable whether any agreement with him will be upheld by any civilian successor. When he cannot muster the political strength to get Lahore shops registered, it is hard to see him stitching together a Kashmiri solution. There is no international pressure on India to come to an agreement with Hizbul or include Pakistan in the talks. Since Kargil, Washington believes it is Islamabad which needs to show good faith. United States officials blame Pakistan for the collapse of the ceasefire.

India now hopes Hizbul will either reconsider the ceasefire or that its fighters will renounce the Lahore leadership. Mr Dar had indicated New Delhi might have to tinker with the Constitution. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee conceded this to him when, before Parliament, he said that he would not let the Constitution get in the way of talks. New Delhi reportedly continues to be in touch with Mr Dar and his supporters. It can afford to take a hard negotiating stance, and has nothing to lose if the Hizbul initiative falls through. The insurgency will merely return to its pre-ceasefire condition � bloody but bearable. If Hizbul splinters or comes back to the table, India will have found a real negotiating partner. It will also have shown Pakistan that massacres and blackmail will not earn it passage aboard this or any other Kashmir forum.    

The Union of India often acts like an echo chamber. The conflict in Kashmir over autonomy seems to have stirred Assam to reiterate its own campaign for autonomy. This also links up with the three states reorganization bills recently making it past the Lok Sabha, to bring up the larger issue of the nature of Indian federalism. The chief ministers of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir have been united on this particular forum for a while now. It is significant that the former, Mr Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, has invoked the Sarkaria commission report on Centre-state relations � submitted more than a decade ago in 1987 � to lay out the �terms of reference� of the current Assamese committee on autonomy.

The Sarkaria report, although bringing about a constitutional revolution passing into law in all Indian states, is most often ignored when it comes to the actualities of Centre-state relations. The principal thrust of these changes was � and will remain in this latest revival of urgency � the devolution of power from Centre to states. This translates into a series of decentralizing moves at the political, administrative, fiscal and cultural levels, that would ideally broaden the base of India�s democratic polity. This has often prompted reorganization of the allocation of prerogatives in the concurrent and state lists. In the hill, and particularly tribal, states the formation of the autonomous councils was another step towards such a goal. Both instances point to the emphasis on the strengthening of local government in such a strategy of devolution. Decentralization does not apply only to the Centre-state relationship, but to governance within the state as well. The systematic empowerment of local self-governing bodies, through a fiscal federalism restructuring revenue distribution between Centre and state will have to remain at the core of what Mr Mahanto has called the �all round economic development� of an impoverished state like Assam. Insurgency and the ongoing immigration problem have left little scope for development in the region. In a state where linguistic and ethnic politics renders the notion of autonomy even more problematic, focusing on the fiscal and administrative aspects of self-determination would perhaps avoid the more disruptive forms that a struggle for autonomy might take.    

Is the Kashmir problem, already a bloody mess, fated to turn, to muse on a modern thinker�s words, into �a game with floating, arbitrary, rules, a jeu de catastrophe�? Judging from the abrupt decision to call off its unilaterally announced three-month ceasefire even before it had come fully into force, the Hizbul Mujahedin has put the very future of peace in the subcontinent at risk in a bid to get into a position where it calls all the shots.

The prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, went as far as he could go in creating a climate congenial for substantial negotiations. He even conceded the Kashmiri militant organization�s demand that the talks could go beyond the limits set by the Constitution. But it is one thing for his government to promise concessions which are strictly outside its powers. It is a different matter altogether to give them the sanction of law.

The Hizbul leaders are not so dumb as not to know that decisions on issues which lie beyond the confines of the Indian Constitution require approval of the requisite amendment by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and thus a wider national consensus on the future of Jammu and Kashmir which is not in sight today. Has not the Bill Clinton administration been committed to the comprehensive test ban treaty for many years and yet miserably failed to persuade the congress to endorse its decision?

Or do the Hizbul leaders mistake the Indian prime minister for another Pervez Musharraf who can change his country�s constitution at will, force the supreme court judges to take an oath of loyalty to the new military regime he himself set up after subverting democracy and seizing power from a duly elected government? Perhaps, having led a terrorist outfit dependent on Pakistani money, arms and logistic support for so long, democratic norms and niceties are by now beyond their comprehension.

It is no use wasting time on speculating about the identity of those pulling the strings to make Hizbul leaders declare a unilateral ceasefire, seek to involve Pakistan in the peace talks from the start, enlarge the ambit of their demands and drive as hard a bargain as they can. They are the ones who continue to raise the scare of a nuclear war in the subcontinent without even caring to ask whether a reckless policy of exporting terrorism is designed to increase or eliminate this danger. India wants peace but not at the cost of giving the other side the right to predetermine the course of the negotiations and the substance of their outcome.

The Vajpayee government has by now developed a special talent for absorbing shocks. While it was celebrating the success of its bus diplomacy and busy overselling the Lahore declaration, it was oblivious of the Pakistani plan under way to occupy a large stretch of strategic territory in Kargil commanding India�s lifeline to Ladakh. The result was a war on snowbound heights which froze the body and spirit of the men engaged in it. Only their success in forcing Pakistanis to vacate their newly built bunkers at many key heights, together with American pressure to make the Nawaz Sharif government withdraw all its forces to its side of the line of control in Kashmir, brought that treacherous chapter in India-Pakistan relations to an uneasy end.

Since the humiliation suffered by the Pakistan army in this miscarried venture rankled, its generals started planning another ugly surprise for India. That the end of the Kargil war was immediately followed by an alarming increase in the intensity of cross-border terrorism was no spontaneous affair. The enhanced terrorist activity which included many daring attacks on Indian security posts and even military headquarters bore all the marks of meticulous planning. Perhaps these attacks caused as many casualties as the Kargil war. Here was one more instance of the Indian government being taken unawares. Again, its capacity to absorb shocks stood it in good stead.

Viewed against this background, it was rash for the government to invest much hope in the outcome of the shaky peace initiative. The brusque end to this dubious move even before the modalities of the ceasefire had been agreed upon has only justified the sceptics. All the forces have to be kept on full alert in any case. Even before the peace initiative was called off, the Hizbul leaders themselves spoke in different voices, the Lashkar-e-Toiba was by no means committed to the ceasefire and many other militant outfits were hostile to the very idea of ending cross-border terrorism.

It is difficult to see how the Indian government could agree to make Pakistan a party to its talks with the Hizbul leaders in the absence of convincing evidence that the chief executive of that country had put a stop to all cross-border terrorist activities. Vajpayee had rightly reiterated this condition once again in unambiguous terms. Whether Musharraf can do so without giving a lie to his earlier disowning of Islamabad�s responsibility for the activities of the various militant groups is his problem. This is, however, no insuperable difficulty since no one outside Pakistan ever bought the story that the cross-border terrorism was anything but Islamabad�s way of waging a proxy war against India.

The hysteria in Pakistan over the Kashmir issue is not hard to understand. The arms race with India is straining the country�s economy, already sick to the bone, to the point of a breakdown. Musharraf does not feel half as secure as Zia-ul-Haq because of the growing aversion among the big powers to military regimes and a diminution in Pakistan�s importance as a client state of the United States after the recent changes in the global balance of power. The general also must be sensing, at least in his more lucid moments, that in nurturing jehadi forces he was playing with fire since the latter could easily get out of control as so many Islamic regimes had found to their dismay.

All this can, however, bring little comfort to India, where at least those even with a rudimentary grasp of the nature of the new world order in the making know how increased trouble in Pakistan can spill over into this country and impel the military regime to embark on a dangerous adventure. Even otherwise, the splintering of political life here has made the building of a broad national consensus on vital issues pertaining to internal security and the economic reform process more difficult. To add to New Delhi�s woes, the situation in Kashmir has never looked so bleak nor the confusion over its future so disconcerting.

At times it looks as if the government itself, not to speak of the political establishment as a whole, does not know its mind. After having rejected outright the autonomy resolution demanding a return to the pre-1953 position, how could the prime minister even think of any concessions beyond the limits set by the Constitution? Does his government have a clear idea of the boundary lines which divide autonomy from independence and flexibility of approach from infirmity of purpose?

Even in regard to the massacre in Pahalgam and other places of a hundred persons in one day, who is one to believe? The prime minister who claims that the security arrangements were adequate or the defence minister who asserts that the tragedy could have been averted if the defence measures had been more stringent? Meanwhile the massacre appears in an even grimmer light after the revelation that 20 of the victims died of Central Reserve Police Force bullets in cross-firing because the securitymen concerned were not trained for counter-insurgency operations. Can there be a shred of excuse for such moronic casualness after decades of dealing with a host of militancies in different parts of the country? Even as the government here tries to create some order in its thought processes, it must not succumb to the new pressures to which it is being subjected by some groups at home as well as foreign powers to go out of its way in coming to terms with terrorist outfits and their Pakistani patrons. Both New Delhi and Islamabad, of course, have their own compulsions in conducting a dialogue, if and when it is resumed, from entrenched positions, for fear of a violent backlash at home in case they relent. Fortunately for them, both neighbours are committed to respecting the LoC in Kashmir under the Simla accord.

The only viable solution in the long term therefore is for the two to find more effective means of ensuring the sanctity of that line and wait until such time as relations between them become friendly enough to convert this line into an international border. The three unsuccessful wars Pakistan has fought so far to alter this line ought to have brought home to it the futility of any other basis for meaningful talks with India. Have not both countries had enough of this charade in the past, except for a few years following the Simla agreement, when it seemed that Islamabad had at last digested the lesson of its defeat in the Bangladesh war?    

Although India is now a billionaire on the demographic map of the world, population is threatening to destabilize urban management all over the country. The rush for urban homes is giving rise to homelessness, poverty and increasing crime rates. Metropolitan cities like Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai are getting dotted with highrises, causing environmental pollution on a scale that might be difficult to control after some time.

As vehicular traffic is growing exponentially, roads are getting choked. Even with flyovers being constructed at busy crossings in the big cities, the situation may still not improve much. Jammed highways, overflowing landfills and unhealthy urban air are compounding problems. Consumption patterns are colliding with financial obstacles in building new systems to replace the old ones.

Slums and squatter settlements are growing faster than urban planned colonies. In fact, each city has two settlements: one for the poor and one for the rich. In New Delhi, slums on either side of the Yamuna thrive in the total absence of civic amenities like regular water supply and toilets. Thanks to the increasing pressure on land, even posh colonies have begun coming up in the midst of such poverty, degradation and want.

Crisis of demography

The new colonies built for the middle and upper middle classes don�t seem to lack anything as the inhabitants are willing to pay for civic services. The poor slum dwellers, on the other hand, are being driven to uninhabited areas to avoid being eyesores for the residents of the new colonies.The root of all the problems lies in the burgeoning population to control which there has been little concerted action from the government. Except Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, birth rate has not declined in any other state.

In fact, the cow belt area, also known as the BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), now accounts for 40 per cent of the population and 48 per cent of India�s total illiterate people. Curbing population growth involves sustained efforts to change the reproductive behaviour of millions. But rather than attaining the objective of checking population growth within a fixed time frame, the demographic situation has been worsening from year to year. The conflicting allegiances and dependencies of a coalition government also make the population control measures difficult to enforce.

Civic pandemonium

According to the 1991 census, India had 21.7 crore people living in cities, 25 per cent of the entire population. This is expected to go up to 33 per cent buy 2001. The growth of population in medium and small towns follows more or less the same trend. About 1,292 medium towns share 24 per cent, and the remaining 3,104 small towns constitute 11 per cent of the urban population. The unsavoury manifestation of growth is degeneration of old cities, lack of planning in the modern colonies and haphazard growth in the peripheral areas. In new towns, especially those springing as a result of industrial growth, urbanization is becoming coterminous with a total absence of planning and infrastructure.

Planners never tire of talking about improving the human condition. Yet, very little is actually being done for the people whose development matters most. An emphasis on social services for the urban poor and linking social development with infrastructure must replace the callous indifference witnessed now. Solutions have to be cost effective as well. Or else, they will be of no use in view of the low purchasing power of the poor.

After surveying the provision of drinking water facilities and sanitation system in the country, the national commission on urbanization stated: � If the water supply system is unequal and unjust, being highly biased in favour of the rich, the sewerage system is even more so�. The malaise lies in the pattern of our society, where the rich can make the government bend whichever way they like. If the galloping population is raising the number of poor, it is also adding to the ranks of the rich.

The new economic reforms may or may not do any good to the country, but the swollen ranks of the poor will be in the same pit, unless some radical reforms save them from the civic pandemonium.    

The Economist in a recent edition observed that moving enterprises out of the public sector is too much of an �ideological challenge� for the National Democratic Alliance government. It further added that the plans of the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, for privatization are �notable for their modesty, not their ambition; his budget talks of raising just 100 billion rupees from disinvestment�.

Yet, even this modest plan does not seem to have made much headway, if the statement of the former Union minister for disinvestment, Arun Jaitley, on the floor of Parliament is to be believed. The disinvestment commission headed by G.V. Ramakrishna is now in limbo. The cabinet committee on disinvestment has decided on 19 enterprises during the current fiscal year out of the 58 identified by the commission. In the �in-principle category� there is another lot of 14. The new minister for disinvestment, Arun Shourie, is now busy utilizing his proximity with the sangh parivar and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch to enlist their support for the success of the much touted programme.

Ironically, since 1991, public sector units have more or less remained in the same state, no matter who is ruling the government or how reforms � globalization-liberalization-privatization � have progressed in other areas. Is this because of the government�s confused thinking or lack of political will? Or is there a popular perception about public enterprises, which, despite their inefficiency, makes it difficult for any government to sell them in part or in whole?

Signs of confusion were most evident when the Union cabinet�s decision to privatize a small Calcutta based PSU, Metal Scrap Trade Corporation, was made public. While actual investment in the company has been a little over one crore rupees, MSTC has paid Rs 11 crore as dividend, mostly to the government. Strong suspicion persists that its debtors, who mostly hail from outside the state and whose liability hovers around Rs 28 crore, might have influenced the decision. They probably hoped when the company closed down or was sold to a private party, their past debt would be written off.

Then consider the mindset of large sections of the people who consider public enterprises as something of their own. They may not be the best performers, but they served the country against all odds and operated in areas shunned by the private sector. Examples may not be plenty, but neither are they rare.

Take the National Thermal Power Corporation, which is now the sixth largest power utility in the world with an installed capacity of around 20,000 megawatts, amounting to 20 per cent of India�s entire power generating capacity. NTPC runs its plants at as high as 80 per cent plant load factor and has been making substantial profits from 1978 when it was set up.

What is pathetic about the policy of globalization-liberalization-privatization is that no adequate groundwork had been done before undertaking a programme of disinvestment. Restructuring of enterprises and improving their health must precede the launch of such an enterprise. Success of disinvestment hinges as much on this activity profile as distancing itself from outright privatization. Privatization cannot be an end in itself, but may be the outcome of a process of disinvestment.

The agenda of disinvestment has essentially two facets. First, there is much confusion about the elements of ownership and management. One cannot always quarrel with government ownership and view it as a hindrance to efficiency. Rules can be made to distance ownership from management.

Disinvestment has to go beyond 50 per cent if management is to be passed on to private hands. So where disinvestment is less than 50 per cent, management has to be corporatized by making it autonomous like that of the corporate sector. Management will have complete autonomy in matters relating to operation, investment, production, pricing and employment. Government control as the majority stakeholder will be exercised only through the board taking an overview of the performance in accordance with transparency criteria. Such corporatization of enterprises can only be a reality if it is statute-backed. Only then can these enterprises and be freed of the control of the comptroller and auditor general, who oversees the operations of departmental undertakings.

Disinvestment in the Indian context has always been seen as a means to meet the fiscal deficit, the uncovered gap between revenue receipts and revenue expenditure. This is where we have possibly gone wrong. PSU investments are generally made with reference to commercial considerations with an eye towards profitability of the enterprises. But investments which are socially beneficial will be much more lucrative. So if the proceeds of disinvestment are not spent on current consumption or covering the revenue deficit, but are utilized in areas with larger social benefits, the programme will have greater appeal and acceptability and hence better chances of success.

After structural reforms and firming up policy on the use of proceeds, comes the categorization of the enterprises for disinvestment. Profitmaking PSUs stand on a different footing from the lossmaking ones. For the former, autonomy in management and changed governance are the first steps. This is to be followed by disinvestment, so that that the sale proceeds are used for investments with higher rates of return.

Disinvestment in lossmaking units is the real challenge. The question of liberal compensation of labour and chances of reviving potentially viable enterprises invariably crop up. If the cost of compensation is more than that of professionalizing the units for viability, the latter should be accorded priority over the former.

Shares of lossmaking companies have little chance of marketability. Kerala is an example. Despite the promulgation of the new industrial policy in 1994, disinvestment has not been resorted to � or cleared politically. Once lossmaking enterprises are revived through a process of restructuring and professional care, the shedding of shares later will have better market acceptability. There will also be trade union concurrence when such attempts are preceded by a proper evaluation of the legitimate concerns for compensation.    

A government hospital in West Bengal may be termed hell on earth. Patients who visit these hospitals do so at their own risk. Recently, the government has announced that the doctors in these hospitals also belong to the category of government employees. That is, their integrity is being doubted. They have been held responsible for forcing patients to go outside the state for treatment.

Although there is substance in this, can the government deny its own responsibility for the dismal state of the health service in West Bengal?

Today, the government has initiated reforms by appointing doctors on periodic contracts which will enhance performance-based and work-linked salary. Not only doctors, group D hospital staff will also be appointed on a contract basis through agencies, which the R.G. Kar, Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial and the Nilratan Sarkar hospitals have already adopted. But will only these measures help in improving the work culture?

During the health ministership of Prasanta Sur, compulsory house staffship was abolished. Earlier, two years house staffship was compulsory to procure a certificate of a �proficient doctor� after completing medical studies. Sur took a populist measure of direct appointment. So who is responsible for filling up hospitals with inefficient doctors today?

If the government is aware of the fact that doctors are neglecting their duties at the hospital by spending more time in private practice, what�s stopping it from preventing such malpractices?

The reason is unionism. Unions are used to hush up and legitimize corruption. Recently, a superintendent at the Calcutta Medical College, under the pressure of the coordination committee, had to undergo a penal transfer because he himself had directed a penal transfer of a coordination clerk from accounts to the establishment department in the same office.The administration has completely surrendered to the political parties and unionism.

Interestingly, the position of the director of health services has not been filled up after the retirement of R.C. Das, possibly because the government has not yet found a person with the �right� political inclinations. It seems the director of medical education, who is in charge of seven medical colleges in West Bengal, has been additionally given the power of the DHS. The DHS has the overall responsibilty of all government hospitals in 16 districts of the state. Under such conditions, how can the government do without a person in the position of a DHS?

At the receiving end of all this are the patients. What further increases their distress is the lack of availability of medicines. Calcutta Medical College sources say that the yearly allotment of Rs 1.2 crore (this year) is not sufficient for maintaining a good stock of medicines. The crores of rupees that are sanctioned are also not used for the patients.

Union rights have been conferred on all hospital staff. So far, unionism has only led to stagnation and closures. Hospitals might also be closed down. If the government intends to provide health services to the people in right earnest, then they should take up the problem of unionism and administrative inefficiency more seriously.    


Whose rule is it anyway?

Sir � Bihar has finally consigned itself to the dark ages (�Rabri crushes corn to go against infotech grain�, Aug 8). Rabri Devi has decided with a vengeance to have her hands sift grain from chaff rather than press buttons on the keyboard. Is this what happens if you have a fulltime housewife for a chief minister? Probably, no. For to puppet �rule� the way Rabri Devi does, you also have to have a complete nincompoop for a husband. One only has to remember the sight of Laloo Prasad Yadav in his dressing gown and solar hat entertaining non-resident Indians to promote investment in his state to realize what a joke the Yadav duo has made of the administration in Bihar. Laloo Yadav doesn�t quite understand that he is not ruling, albeit through his wife, a personal fief. He and his wife can grind corn, worship gods and follow medieval rituals as much as they want in the private ambit of their family. But neither he nor his wife has the right to decide the future of a modern state.
Yours faithfully,
Ranabir Chatterjee, Calcutta

Money spinners

Sir � The insurance regulatory and development authority has stipulated some stringent laws for new entrants in the insurance sector (�Insurance watchdog sets stiff rural coverage targets�, July 25). The move is a little unfair on the new entrants, since the existing insurance companies do not fulfil the rural quota, which has now become mandatory for the freshers. However, the huge rural market, not yet properly tapped, is likely to prove happy hunting ground for the newcomers in the sector.

The icing on the cake, however, is the tabs set on advertising agencies and copywriters to prevent them from misleading their consumers. If the watchdog body performs its duty in right earnest, it can only spell prosperity and less corruption for the insurance sector. The regulatory bodies in other sectors, especially in the electricity sector, have become hubs of corruption. They are mere pawns in the hands of the multinationals, who have entered the distribution sector with the aim of fleecing gullible customers. The regulatory bodies in these sectors choose to look the other way when it comes to awarding compensations to consumers.

Seen in relation to other regulatory bodies, it can be said that unless the watchdog body in the insurance sector acts tough right from the beginning, it will end up taking the customers for granted as has been the case with its counterparts in the other sectors.

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Sir � Variations in the wholesale price index are reported by the media regularly, mostly on Sundays. On July 9, the index had dropped by 0.8 points, which was attributed mainly to the fall in the prices of fruits. Again, the following week, on July 16, there was another dip, said to be due to the lowering of the prices of food articles and vegetables. These figures are reported to demonstrate the credible performance of the government. But in actuality, they have little bearing to the retail prices in the daily markets of the cities and the suburbs. For instance, there was no noticeable fall in the prices of fruits and vegetables in Calcutta markets during the weeks mentioned. And prices of food articles in Calcutta are always a little lower than in other metropolitan cities of India.

Perhaps, the economy has become inherently inflationary. Any attempt to paint a contrary picture is not a healthy tendency. Politicians and legislators need to pay attention to this growing inflationary tendency and curb it in the interest of the poor millions.

Yours faithfully,
Satyendranath Nath Kar, Calcutta

Sir � The annual rate of inflation of 6.2 per cent for the week ended June 24, in contrast to 2.2 per cent in the corresponding week last year, is good news. There will, however, still be arguments among economists and experts regarding the ideal rate of inflation. When the rate of inflation was 2.2 per cent last year during the arrival of the monsoons, farmers were unable to gain much from their agricultural production. This year, farmers are in a better position.

As far as workers are concerned, they have the benefit of dearness allowance. Moreover, an inflation rate of 6.2 per cent incites traders and businessmen to make more investments than a rate of 2.2 per cent would have. It is thus a sign of movement towards prosperity.

It may still be argued that consumers are the losers. This is true in the short term. But in the long run, they will certainly gain from larger production leading to economies of scale and a reduction in prices of commodities.

Yours faithfully,
Rajeev Bagra, Naihati

Sir � The Central government has proposed to open two schemes named Suvidha and Sahayata to provide better assistance to taxpayers (�Suvidha, Sahayata to solve tax problems�, July 14). Such schemes are welcome. But the hurdles lie in the execution of them, owing to a lack of sincerity among the officers and staff. For instance, there are specific instructions regarding the issue of refunds within a given period. But thousands of refunds are still pending. Innovations are being introduced at regular intervals though first appeals are pending.

It is interesting that for every default of assessees, there is a bunch of penalties, but none for the defaulting officers and staff. It is time such penalties are introduced for effective execution of such schemes.

Yours faithfully,
Nimai Chand Banerjee, Calcutta

War of words

Sir � Solving the quick crossword of The Telegraph is an experience I look forward to every day. However, since the newspaper started publishing the crossword from The Daily Telegraph instead of The Guardian, a lot of its charm has been lost. Previously, the phrases, quotations from Shakespeare, proverbs and cryptic messages given as clues were more enjoyable. Couldn�t the newspaper go back to publishing the previous types of quick crossword?
Yours faithfully,
Manoharkant Desai, Calcutta

Sir � The crosswords are a delight. It is relaxing to attempt the quick crossword, the clues provided in which have a direct relation to the word. The crossword in the inside pages of the newspaper is a tougher one. Can The Telegraph provide its readers some general guidelines on how to solve this crossword, together with some examples?

Yours faithfully,
N.S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

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