Editorial 1 / Aid signal
Editorial 2 / Second time round
It�s the economy, stupid
Fifth Column / No leisure for temple talk
Merging with the boundaries of the city
Letters to the editor

The picture of a Pakistan Air Force plane on the tarmac of Sardar Patel airport in Ahmedabad is imbued with significance. The plane ferried relief material and carried the banner �gift from the people of Pakistan�. At one level the significance is obvious. Faced with an enormous natural calamity, human beings tend to forget their animosities. The recognition that human beings are ever vulnerable to the furies of the elements makes people extend help and succour to the affected. Hostilities, national boundaries and the sabre-rattling of governments become irrelevant. People across the border from Bhuj know that they escaped the earthquake on January 26 through sheer accident. There may be a little more in the gesture than the natural bonding that follows devastation. Mr Ilyas Hussain, the director of the emergency cell of Pakistan, was clear that his country wanted good relations with India and that the planeload of relief material was a step towards establishing that. The signal to India�s ministry of external affairs and to the prime minister�s office is thus without any disturbance and crackle. The earthquake has cracked the ice that had frozen the relationship between India and Pakistan. It is the first, and perhaps the only, silver lining in a grim scenario.

It is quite clear that there is a great deal of awareness and concern across the globe about what has happened in Gujarat. The extent of damage and the total number of casualties are still unknown but they are likely to be higher than available estimates. Under the circumstances and given India�s resource position, the government cannot be too choosy and prickly about accepting help and aid. The situation is not one in which pettiness and ideological bickering should be allowed to prevail. There are two things that the government in New Delhi and the state government in Gandhinagar must ensure. First, whoever wants to provide aid should be allowed to do so; and second, the aid should reach the people for whom it is intended. The necessary condition required to guarantee these two things is the immediate removal of all bureaucratic bottlenecks. This is not the time to quibble over niceties of rules and regulations, which is the stock-in-trade of the bureaucracy in India. It needs to be accepted that India does not have a very good record in the way aid and relief is handled. There have been too many reported instances of material intended for relief being sold in the market. Such corruption is impossible without the connivance of those responsible for managing and distributing relief. Stopping such practices is easier said than done but the government must take a firm position on this. By definition a disaster affects the poorest in the worst possible way because they have nothing to fall back upon. Aid and relief are essentially aimed at them and should reach them without let or hindrance.


A second chance is always welcome. The Supreme Court has decided that a complaint that has been dismissed the first time by a magistrate without consideration of its merit can be filed a second time by the same complainant with the same allegations. The case in question was originally filed by a woman who claimed her husband had first married her and then tricked her sister into marrying him. The man had challenged the hearing of the case after it had been dismissed once. Since the case had been dismissed because the complainant had been absent on the day of the hearing, and not on the basis of its merits, the Supreme Court felt there was no legal bar to hearing the complaint a second time. It made clear that if any complaint does not end in conviction, acquittal or discharge, it can be placed and heard a second time. Else the same complaint could not be heard again, unless there were exceptional circumstances.

There are, of course, two sides to every question. The ruling opens the door to misuse of a particular kind and might give rise to a fresh slew of legal technicalities. At a time the administration is beginning at last to get worried about the ever-growing pile of cases in every court, a second-time complaint provision threatens to eat further into the courts� time. Such fears can be put to rest only with overall changes in the legal system. Skimping on time, when the situation is patently unfair, would hardly be the way to go about corrective action. A woman who claims that her husband has cheated her deserves to be heard. Besides, this particular case is sensitive, since it appears to exemplify one kind of cheating that women face regularly in Indian society. It is, therefore, the positive aspect of the Supreme Court ruling that is far more important. In the situations it has visualized in its ruling, hastily propounded technical objections could be truly damaging to the process of dispensing justice. Here, it is better to err on the side of caution. The problem of piled-up cases is a real one, though. Proposals for a screening system, which would prevent insubstantial charges from reaching the bench, have not yet been taken on board. Besides, as long as so many judges� posts remain vacant, progress on old cases is bound to be slow. Allowing a complaint a second time might also mean extra expenditure on the part of the complainant. There should be a rational basis of payment to lawyers, one which would include in its scope situations out of the plaintiff�s control. But these are problems affecting the functioning of the judicial system as a whole and it would be sad if fairminded rulings had to be held in suspension till the problems have been solved.


While most commentary focussed on the musings of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, about Ayodhya, his observations on the economy surely deserved a closer look. There is a note of concern and a sense of drift due to the ways in which key aspects of the reform programme have got entangled with politics. In a sense, he does have it right. Ayodhya as an issue will depend on the whims of the sangh parivar. But it is the management of the economy that will weigh on the minds of many if not most Indians when they judge his regime.

In fact, the tone of the comments evokes comparison with the mood of the P.V. Narasimha Rao regime after the assembly poll results from the south in late 1994. It became a common refrain then that the reformers were �tired�. But the road ahead over the next calendar year makes the Rao agenda tame by comparison. From April on, Indian markets will be open to imports to a greater extent than ever before.

As if the problems in agriculture were not enough, significant sections of industry are already raising a howl over cheap imports from China. In the long run, Indian manufacturing will have to adapt to compete or perish. India, in the words of Vajpayee, cannot be bought over by anyone. But the share of manufacturing as a percentage of gross domestic product has declined through the latter half of the Nineties. More seriously, in key sectors like auto parts, much of the investment is clustered in the south and the west. Much of Gangetic belt north India seems caught in a time warp. Even pressing economic concerns seem rarely to impinge on the minds of those in power.

The swadeshi angle remains in focus. The line here is clear: �Who can dare sell out today�s India?� he asks, �And who can dare buy out today�s India?� This is clearly a swipe at those in the extended family of the sangh, including the former strategist, K.N. Govindacharya, and the present chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, K.S. Sudarshan. Both hark back to a golden era of India when foreign enterprises were non-existent and artisan production the mainstay of a large segment of the population.

Sangh swadeshi is clearly in retreat in the corridors of power, but there is more to it than just that. Vajpayee�s critics in the saffron combine have been elbowed out of the party but will wait their turn, much as he did through the Eighties. The Swadeshi Jagran Manch led by S. Gurumurthy plans to take issues to the masses over a two-year spell.

The baton may well pass out of the sangh�s hands altogether. In much of the north, a bumper harvest seems on the cards, even as parts of central and western India are in the grip of one of the water shortages for drinking as well as irrigation. Wheat prices, always a sensitive issue in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh are much lower in the pre-harvest season than they ought to be.

Large parts of the country, as many as six states, are already experiencing serious drought that will worsen by the pre-monsoon months. A ten-year low in oilseeds output will also add to import bills. The Bharatiya Janata Party is in a piquant situation. It is in power in the province worst hit by water scarcity, Gujarat, but there is little evidence it has learnt from last year�s errors in being under-prepared. Its overall underpreparedness is underlined by the earthquake and its aftermath. Allies in Bhubaneshwar and Hyderabad are as concerned about the political fallout of the drought.

But it is in the north that a different kind of problem threatens to rear its head. It has less to do with scarcity and is more a problem of plenty. From Punjab in the west through to the plains of north Bihar and West Bengal, the crops have been good and all expect a bumper grain harvest. What that will do to the government�s relations with the peasantry is another matter.

Over the last decade, the rise of the BJP in the Hindi belt has attracted much commentary. The entry of Dalits and other backward classes into the fold has been the particular subject of attention. But these have not been as marked as the adherence of large sections of intermediate peasant communities such as Jats to the fold. Traditional anti-Congress sentiments found a new channel of assertion in the BJP. Even as the proportion of the party�s OBC members of parliament in the Hindi belt remained constant at about one in every six, the percentage of the dominant peasant groups rose markedly. These groups are, however, tied to the party by very slender threads and the farm prices issue may well see them bolt.

No wonder that the Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been addressing meetings galore on the issue of the potato and paddy harvest. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Rajnath Singh, has even offered to match the cane price paid to the farmers in next door Haryana, a feat that will put his state�s finances under enormous strain. The farmer with a surplus unable to get a fair price today looks to the sarkar or government for succour and support.

The Hindutva party�s problem is one of both image and substance. Long labelled as a force representing the bania or money-lending caste, it has consciously and successfully sought to project a different image. Even the recent poll by MARG for a leading new magazine, gave it an 11 per cent lead over the Congress among OBC voters across the country.

Yet these are a group the adherence of which is recent and will come under severe strain should their economic interests not be defended by the rulers of the day. Cultivators of whatever caste, cluster or group are open to economic platforms. This is the spectre that haunts the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh. No wonder it is set to launch a mass contact programme in the rural hinterland to counter the opposition. Having been in power in Uttar Pradesh for the better part of the last five years, it should have put in place long-term policies aimed at redressing the underlying problems of agriculture.

What emerge are not a picture of crisis but one of deep-rooted problems that demand attention. A contraction or slowing down of growth of demand in rural India, whether due to drought or because of the problems of post-harvest disposal of the farm produce will have adverse consequences for industry. Add to that the impact, as yet unknown, of the lifting of controls on imports of farm products in April 2001, three years ahead of the schedule required by international treaty.

Part of the problem is that the finances of the Union as well as those of most state governments are in a mess. Interest payments are the single biggest item of expenditure. Salary bills have grown manifold as a result of the fifth pay commission, and more unrest is round the corner from groups not covered by it. Unable to come to grips with the management of public finance, many measures of government end up as non-starters.

Over the last year, the National Democratic Alliance has sailed smoothly. Its ship is entering choppy waters. In a year�s time, the sangh will take up the Ayodhya issue on a war footing. Or at least, that is what it has promised. But more seriously, the rise in food and energy prices is coming at a time of industrial slowdown. Vajpayee has never been one for economic issues. Always a leader, who looks at the big picture, he is most at ease with foreign policy.

But it is on the economic front that the challenges will multiply and become the litmus test for his government. As the Democrats in the United States said during Bill Clinton�s bid for the presidency in 1992, �Its the economy, stupid.�

The author is an independent researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum Library, New Delhi    

On December 6, 1992, Babri Masjid was demolished in the name of Ram with the hope that a temple would be constructed in its place. Passions were whipped up, bombs were blasted and people from both the religious communities � and perhaps those from others too � lost their lives and property in the violence that followed. With the passing of years, the memories faded though the emotional scars remained.

The prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, raised the issue again with a few calculated remarks, thereby affirming his party�s plans to build a Ram temple at the site of the demolished mosque. The hardliners of the Hindutva brigade were pleased, so was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. After all, Vajpayee had demonstrated his true Bharatiya Janata Party credentials.

Vajpayee�s utterances led to a costly debate in the Lok Sabha which resulted in a complete waste of the nation�s energy, time and resources. A day long session of the Lok Sabha costs the nation approximately rupees three crore. While this figure may or may not be correct, such fruitless activity only serves to divert the attention of the administration from other critical and substantive issues.

Does India not have other pressing issues? India has a population of one billion people. Has hunger been eliminated? The granaries of the Food Corporation of India may be full but the food rarely reaches the specific targets. For example, food did not reach the victims of the Orissa cyclone in time.

In sickness and disaster

Natural calamities occur again and again but the government seems to have failed to learn from repeated disasters. The earthquake proves this. Widely dispersed hunger is an enormous problem. Eliminating hunger requires a clear-cut plan, focussed attention and commitment and adherence to that plan.

In fact, the failures of the government extend to all departments. It has also been unable to provide basic health facilities, despite the existence of ministries like health, family planning and social welfare. The re-emergence of malaria, specially that caused by the deadly falciparum parasite, has not been dealt with properly.

AIDS is another disease which has already claimed many lives in the country, but the health ministry has failed to take the right steps. According to an estimate, a staggering four per cent of the population will be infected by it by the end of the year 2005. That is, about four crore Indians would have AIDS. The lackadaisical attitude of the government has led to the fast spread of the disease in India.

Almost one and a half crore Indians are suffering from active tuberculosis. About seven crore suffer from goitre and other diseases caused by iodine deficiency.

First step in knowledge

The record of the government in the field of security is also dismal. Be it Veerappan in the jungles or exortionists in the cities of Mumbai and Bangalore, criminal activities have been continuing unabated. The special task force that was established to nab Veerappan was unsuccessful and resulted in a waste of money that could have been spent elsewhere.

Even though the culprits are well-known fugitives from the law, the police has had no success in catching them. The police force has been unable to bring about an improvement in the law and order in the country.

Another basic human right is education. The spread of education would have helped eradicate ignorance which in turn would have led to progress and prosperity. Unfortunately, 40 per cent of India�s population continues to be illiterate. The rate of literacy is even lower among women. An increase in the levels of literacy will also help in related activities like population control, health, education, productivity and, ultimately, in national growth.

There is a pathetic lack of infrastructure in India. Our railways are overcrowded and backdated. The people of this country need basic economic necessities and the security to lead normal healthy lives.

Raising controversial issues like the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya will only divert the attention of the government from more important work. Vajpayee should stop playing the role of a modern day Nero and focus his attention on governance. The people of India will thank him for it.


The explosion of population in urban areas has led to challenging problems. The demand for public utility services and infrastructural facilities has to be met. However, the standards of civic services are deteriorating and are becoming unmanageable. The alarming rate of rural migration has led to homelessness and encroachments of slums and of squatters on public land.

This has happened particularly in large cities like Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Chandigarh, Chennai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kanpur, Lucknow and Pune. These gigantic urban settlements have recorded the rising rate of population accompanied by acute housing crises, traffic and transport bottlenecks, frequent power breakdowns, lack of medical and educational facilities. An acute public utility services breakdown can be predicted in the urban Indian scenario of the new millennium.

The emerging national urbanization policy should be concerned primarily with evolving a slum resettlement programme and with putting a check on alternative site-selling through appropriate legal measures. Also, suitable legal sanctions must be provided for the master plan to protect specified land from encroachments.

The emphasis has to be placed on streamlining to facilitate decentralization at the grassroots level with specific reference to the small and medium town settlement. At present, the Central government scheme for integrated development of small and medium towns is in accordance with the matching grant contribution of states.

The IDSMT�s progress has not been successful in providing the excess of rural migrants with adequate employment. Also, the socio-economic, power and infrastructural facilities in the small and medium town settlements are not sufficiently developed.

Surprisingly, the few shopping and infrastructural facilities in the IDSMT scheme, intended to boost production, income and employment prospects, have been unsatisfactory in their results.

Keeping in view the haphazard growth of urbanization and lack of growth in small and medium town developments, there is a need for evolving an national urbanization policy for ensuring a congenial living environment in the comprehensive urban settlements.

The Town and Country Planning Organization in its national urbanization policy resolution has highlighted some recommendations. One would be to evolve a spatial pattern of economic development and a hierarchical location of human settlements consistent with the exploitation of the natural and human resources of their respective regions while ensuring functional links. Another would be to secure the optimum distribution of population between rural and urban settlements within each region and also among the towns of various sizes

Also, economic activities in small and medium sized towns and in growth centres should be so distributed as to achieve maximum economic growth for the future. This would be accompanied by controlling and, where necessary, arresting, the future growth of metropolitan cities by dispersing economic activities, and establishing new counter-magnets in the region. There should be constant effort to provide maximum services for improving the quality of life in rural and urban areas and to reduce the difference between rural and urban living.

In the 21st century, there is likely to be wide economic variations in the rural and urban settlements. Thus, the national urbanization policy should be formulated effectively for developing the small and medium town settlements by reducing the alarming pressure of population in urban India.

In a seminar of the National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi, the following recommendations of an NUP were mentioned. These included the formulation of a feasible NUP with clear indications as to its various dimensions in the short and long range. Then, in the context of the constraints, especially due to energy, the urban land policy would ensure the optimum use of land and avoid wastage.

There should further be the formulation of planning design standards to ensure a minimum living environment for the majority of people in various community types, be they rural or urban. The policy would take into account the positive role of the informal sector in cities and towns with a view to boosting optimal employment opportunities as a positive element in the community planning efforts. While there is a larger number of small and medium towns, it is important to identify the potentially viable centres for development and this should be linked to the servicing of the agricultural hinterlands. In the formulation of a developing city plan, specific emphasis must be given to land use and density pattern for minimizing transport needs.

A more innovative approach is required than has yet been attempted, particularly in the planning of large urban settlements and metropolitan centres. Due regard must be paid to alternatives of development choices. Whether it is conservation of environment and natural landscape or manmade resources, the planning effort so far has lacked pertinent measures for the adequate protection of the environment.

There should be multiple use of open space in and around cities and towns. Environmental impact studies outlining measures to conserve the environment (natural and manmade) must from now on be an essential pre-requisite of all major projects in the country before they are taken up for execution.

Recognizing the dynamics of the urban process would be necessary for envisaging a well-conceived programme for recycling and, where possible, making more than one use of land and built space. In fact, it should be possible to plan buildings for several uses.

According to the demands of a particular situation, it should be possible to change one specific use for an alternating set of activities and sometimes even for multiple purposes.

It is worthwhile to note that the positive intervention of the government is a vital factor in regulating the process of urban planning and development. Therefore, the NUP should be formulated for tackling urban problems, but also lay out urban growth prospects in accordance with the landuse provisions of the master plan. This is important for ensuring an effective pace of systematic economic and social development. The formulation and implementation of an NUP presupposes the existence of a competitive administrative machinery at all levels.

The NUP has to be initiated with reference to the nature and magnitude of migration, so as to decentralize the spilling population in terms of socio-economic, infrastructural and commercial activities. To ensure a sufficient economic base and power availability, employment opportunities need to be promoted.

Emphasis in the NUP has to be given to planning cities not limited within itself in terms of physical boundaries, but set within wider interactions of a regional, spatial and economic development framework. The integration of small-cum-medium towns and rural growth centres has to be linked within the urban settlements in terms of transport and the telecommunications network.

Undoubtedly, metropolitan cities like Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Chandigarh, Chennai, Lucknow, Kanpur and Pune have created an enormous number of economic activities both in the formal and informal sectors which has eventually resulted in employment opportunities for both skilled and unskilled workers. Consequently, the population growth has resulted in a growth phenomena resulting in the haphazard increase of industrial developments in the few metropolitan and large cities.

India�s urbanization policy in the context of 2001 will have to be visualized with reference to the slum environmental programmes, the largescale planning of low cost housing, a quick and efficient transport network system, availability of cheap land, decentralizing urban economic planning and, above all, a spread of industrial and economic activities to check the increase in environmental pollution.

Due to the burgeoning of industry, automobiles and population in Indian cities would create a health hazard rooted in air pollution in the 21st century. Already in metropolitan and large cities like Ahmedabad, Calcutta, New Delhi, Chennai and Kanpur, industrial waste has become a serious threat to the health of the inhabitants.

A proper legislation is required for ensuring an appropriate treatment of industrial waste in urban areas before it is discharged into the rivers. Such a legal provision should be embodied in the NUP. It would be one of the chief means to save Indian cities in 2001 from the challenge of air and water pollution and provide a congenial living urban environment. Only then would the NUP would become meaningful in our country.

A new, balanced orientation of human settlement patterns and dispersal of economic, industrial employment opportunities and population over wider areas needs to be spelt out in the NUP. Such a situation has to be visualized, keeping in view the magnitude of urban challenges in the 21st century.

During the new millennium, the predominantly rural character of India will drastically change and thus the growth of urbanization will gather momentum. It is felt that �India�s policies and programmes on population, urbanization and settlement structure should, therefore, be based on the realization that neither sustainable economic growth nor social equity can be achieved without a demographic balance between urban and rural areas, and an equilibrium within the urban order, comprising capital cities, metropolitan complexes, small and medium-size settlements�.

The NUP has to ensure that widespread dispersal of excess urbanization should be emphasized together with the overall shifting of industrial, economic and commercial activities to the viable small and medium town settlements. This could be visualized in the context of the national capital region.

The master plans of cities must have a wide outlook: each city must be linked to others while conforming with the regional perspective. There is the need for ensuring the inducement of an appropriate spill over of the excess population into the rural growth centres and viable small and medium town settlements for promoting a balanced regional development. Without these steps, the NUP will remain a policy on paper.



Election shy

Sir � The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Rajnath Singh, is probably the most nervous man in the state. Or he could be a man with rare political acumen. Either way he is categorical about not contesting byelections in the state which are scheduled for February 19 (�Rajnath shies away from byelections�, Jan 26). Ever since he has come to occupy the chief minister�s office, he has been conducting public meetings with traders, organizing kisan panchayats and so on. Singh knows that if he has to win the elections and become a member of either house of the Uttar Pradesh legislature, he has to impress the people in some way or the other. In this he has shown respect for Indian voters, who are unlikely to forget that he was a minister in the Kalyan Singh government in 1991, as a member of the legislative council and not the assembly. Neither are they going to ignore his defeat in the assembly polls in 1993 to a Samajwadi Party debutante. Singh, at some stage, will have to directly win the allegiance of the people.
Yours faithfully,
Kapil Upadhyay, Meerut

Tragic land

Sir � Like so many people of this country, the earthquake in Gujarat has been a harrowing experience for us. Yet we cannot but admire the courage of the common man who invariably comes to the rescue of his fellow men in times of adversity. We relive our experience to express our gratitude to him..

My daughter and her three friends had started their trip to Kutch on January 24. They reached Bhuj the next day and on Friday, January 26, moved out of Bhuj towards Dhola Veera. Near the Kabrao village, the car in which they were travelling started shaking; there was a heavy wind and cattle and dogs were seen running away from the village towards open space. The driver brought the car to a halt after much difficulty and asked them to get down and sit in the open. While returning, they found the village Dhamanka, which they had visited only half-an-hour back, in complete ruins. Village after village wore the same look. Bhuj was now a picture of complete devastation and panic.

The subsequent experience of my daughter is only one example among the many, I am sure, of how ordinary people have come out to help one another in distress. One of the many who lent a helping hand to my daughter and her friends is Shakoor Bhai � the man who was driving the girls to Dhola Veera. At a time when one would have rushed to see whether one�s family was safe, Shakoor tried to help injured villagers. He took my daughter and her friends to an open maidan and let them stay in his car. He even offered to let the women stay at his place. Shakoor managed to get them food from his place. He even offered to drive them back to Ahmedabad..

Shakoor wasn�t the only one. While death and destruction stalked Bhuj, two strangers found it their duty to serve the women hot khichdi because they were on their own. The next day my daughter and her friends were safely brought to Ahmedabad by another driver, Dharmesh, who undertook this difficult responsibility. It is remarkable that he did not take advantage of the situation and charge them a fortune..

Sitting in Mumbai, our experience was of a different kind. Television channels went on repeating the same news over and over again. It seemed to us that the distress of the people in Ahmedabad drowned the much larger picture of death, misery and disaster in Kutch and Bhuj. The people of Gujarat will limp back to normalcy in a while. But we will forget Kutch and its people who live in a barren territory with little of nature�s bounty. However with Shakoors and Dharmeshes, it is likely to survive all adversity.

Yours faithfully,
S. Subramanyan, Mumbai

Sir � The prime minister claims that India has removed all restrictions on acceptance of foreign technology and assistance. Yet the Fairfax county team is waiting for the government�s nod although the offer was made immediately after the earthquake. Similarly, the Taiwanese offer of help was not accepted as India does not recognize Taiwan.

The secretary of the Indian crisis management group declared that it is government policy not to seek foreign help, but to accept it if it is offered without asking for it. The Swiss and the British rescue team reached on their own on Sunday after waiting for the government�s clearance. The Japanese team said on January 31 that it was waiting for visas which were not issued as the office in India was closed for holidays. These delays have occurred because no minister�s family was trapped under concrete.

Why didn�t the prime minister request foreign assistance? Is the government trying to make the rescue operations in Gujarat a sangh parivar show so that it can win an election that it was bound to lose? When I look at the death count I try to imagine how many more could have been saved had the foreign rescue teams arrived on Saturday morning instead of Sunday evening.

Yours faithfully,
Krishnakumar Desai, San Jose, US

Sir � The devastating earthquake struck Gujarat on Republic Day at around nine am in the morning. Within minutes towns and villages were reduced to rubble. The whole nation meanwhile went on duly celebrating Republic Day. News started coming from around 10:30 am.Yet our leaders seemed unaware of the proportions of the tragedy that had struck or maybe they considered the celebrations more important.. There was no effort to stop the gaiety immediately or appeal to the world for help. It is evident that had rescue teams, which started flying in almost after 100 hours of the earthquake, arrived earlier, or had the army been moved in faster, more lives could have been saved. It is a pity that we have to look up for assistance to these political leaders, who will now slowly file into hospitals to visit the injured, show their grief and shake their heads.

Yours faithfully,
Arijit Kundu, Calcutta

Sir � I was moved by the report, �Life rises out of debris of death� (Jan 29). At the VS Hospital in Ahmedabad, a group of over 100 young Muslims have been donating blood since the day the tragedy hit Gujarat. Here the divisions created by the fundamentalists seem to have vanished by this single act of compassion. Indian politicians have a lot to learn from this tragedy. The spontaneous humanity of the selfless young people in Gujarat has sabotaged the nefarious designs of the political community.

Yours faithfully,
Debal Kumar Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir � Having read about the efficacy of the Swiss rescue team and its superior gadgets, I would suggest that the government arrange for crack teams to be sent abroad for training. It should also acquire the best gadgets and the techniques available. Retired army personnel can be enrolled so that efficient relief methods are at hand whenever natural disasters occur.

Yours faithfully,
P. Kumar., via email

Sir � It is shameful that while on the one hand thousands lay dead and dying, new entertainment programmes were launched on television with great pomp and show. Could we not have observed a minute�s silence before these programmes for those who lost their lives in one of the greatest tragedies of India?

Yours faithfully,
A.S. Mehta, via email

Sir � It is quite ridiculous to see the prime minister confess that the nation is not equipped to tackle the crisis (�Atal finds broken relief chain�, Jan 30). This is not the first time that India is facing problems after a natural disaster. The same problems cropped up in 1999 after the supercyclone devastated Orissa.Yet, surprisingly we are yet to have a proper disaster management team in our country.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

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