Editorial 1/ Yen for Reform
Editorial 2/ Left to panic
Keep your fingers crossed
this above all/ In pursuit of her music
There are both big and small fishes in the sea
fifth column/ watch out, they’re already here
Letters to Editor

The economic survey does not make for very pleasant reading. The overall image created by the survey is a rather gloomy one. The message seems to be that the year ahead will be more difficult than the year which has just passed. The survey notes that the rate of growth of gross domestic product has decelerated to six per cent, and real consumption growth has come down to 5.8 per cent. The survey expresses concern about a number of developments. One of the more important ones is the implication of the huge and persistent fiscal deficit — the government has very little resources for public investment, which has slowed down appreciably. Each of the major sectors of the economy is a cause for concern. For instance, the growth impulses in the services sector seem to have slowed down — the sector as a whole has recorded a lower growth rate. Agriculture is also in the doldrums, food grain production actually being lower this year that it was in the previous year. There is also no sign of any strong industrial recovery. Not surprisingly, there has been only a marginal increase in organized sector employment. The only silver lining is the encouraging performance of exports, which has grown by a staggering 20 per cent till December. There has also been some reduction in the level of external debt, at least as a proportion of the country’s GDP. However, the buoyancy of exports has not been able to contain the trade deficit, which has actually increased over the year. This is mainly on account of the huge oil import bill caused by the sharp increase in crude prices. However, no payments crisis is imminent since foreign exchange inflows, perhaps because of portfolio investment, leave the country with a comfortable reserves position.

The most remarkable feature of the survey is its clear and strong advocacy of a staggeringly large range of reforms. No official document of any recent government in India has been quite as forceful in proposing a reforms agenda. In order to curb the fiscal deficit, it recommends downsizing of governments, and the winding up of entire departments which have outlived their usefulness since they no longer have to perform their regulatory functions in the new market economy. There is also the obvious suggestion about the need to rein in subsidies, particularly on sugar and fertilizers. There are several suggestions about taxation, such as the need to remove a number of economically unjustifiable tax exemptions and widen the tax base by bringing in the services sector into the tax net. Since the survey is written in the finance ministry, it should not come as a surprise if an attempt is made in the current budget to implement some of these measures. A big push towards the strengthening of market forces is recommended with the proposal to deregulate coal and petroleum sectors.

Another proposal would have been blasphemy even very recently. This is the suggestion to reform laws regarding contract labour so as to encourage greater outsourcing of services such as cleaning and transport. Of course, labour unions will register violent protests if there is any such change in labour laws. This is the crux of the problem. Most of the suggestions will meet with strong opposition from vested interests. It is unlikely that the government will be able to muster the political will to resist these pressures. After all, this is one area where the various constituents of the National Democratic Alliance do not speak with one voice.


The illness which has severely affected everyday life in Siliguri is still a mystery. The toll has risen steadily and apart from the medical crisis, the increasing panic level in the city and its surrounding areas is becoming a separate problem. The health ministry may not be held responsible for the creation of a new virus (if, indeed, this is a new virus), but the indecision, delay and misinformation evident at every level of its response to the outbreak are shocking. A pervasive and shamefully unscientific slothfulness seems to characterize governmental reaction to emergencies, medical and natural, both at the Central and state levels. The outbreak is beyond its third week, but everything about the nature of this fatal disease remains completely unknown. The entire process of consulting experts, conducting the right tests and then spreading the right sort of words around has not even begun happening. Moreover, the experts are themselves giving out alarmingly conflicting information about the nature of the infection, how it could have spread and how far it has actually spread. A senior member of the special team of virologists has even suggested the possibility of a version of the plague — but in the vaguest of terms. This fatal slowness, inefficiency and lack of clear public communication have, of course, been politicized, and the resulting paralysis of life in Siliguri is now total. The non-governmental organizations working to prevent the exodus of medical personnel and to clean up the city are getting no support, apart from verbal urgings, from the state.

The municipal and public health infrastructures remain utterly inadequate in the city. Open drains, inefficient garbage disposal and cattle-sheds in residential areas make Siliguri prone to such diseases as malaria, the state government’s mishandling of which has now become an annual event. The North Bengal Medical College Hospital lacks neurology, nephrology and oncology departments. There is hardly any up-to-date equipment, and diagnostic facilities are inadequate. The health ministry’s short and long term attitudes and reactions remain deeply culpable factors affecting the lives of those who are battling it out in Siliguri.


In a few days’ time, Yashwant Sinha will present his fourth budget. This year’s budget comes against the backdrop of the tragedy in Gujarat, which has naturally overshadowed all the other events during the year. We are probably still too close to the event to be able to make a proper evaluation of the economic costs of the earthquake. But the Central government, in what many have called a knee-jerk reaction, has imposed a special two per cent surcharge on income tax in order to raise resources for the relief operations. The prime minister has also been talking about the need for hard measures to raise additional resources. Sinha has been somewhat more circumspect, and has not been making any such dire threats about what is in store for us.

This may not be such a bad idea after all. Despite the several years of liberalization, the Indian economy continues to be heavily regulated. Consequently, government policies have a tremendous influence on the economy — much more than they would have if market forces were allowed greater freedom. The Central budget is undoubtedly the single most important policy measure adopted by the government during the year. So, it is perhaps appropriate that the main features of the budget be guided by considerations of what is necessary for the overall economy, rather than a single catastrophe. The government will in all probability garner the necessary resources for the relief and rehabilitation measures in Gujarat more easily if the economy presses ahead full steam.

It was probably no coincidence that the prime minister’s council of economic advisers met only a couple of weeks earlier. Indeed, many of their recommendations are essentially fiscal in nature. Although none of the suggestions is particularly novel, they seem to have a common or consistent objective — fiscal consolidation. This is not at all surprising. For several years now, various tiers of governments in India have been living well beyond their means.

Like all entities which spend more than they earn, governments too have to bridge the gap by borrowing. The huge scale of borrowing has meant that the government has increasingly preempted the nation’s savings. So, public borrowing has crowded out the private sector, and put an upward pressure on interest rates. Past sins have meant increasing debt servicing burdens on the government, leaving it with very few degrees of freedom in so far as compression is concerned.

Against this background, the council has argued that all subsidies need to be phased out. It has specifically recommended that second class train fares should be raised so as to cover costs over a three-year period, while freight rates should be reduced, presumably because the railways are losing customers to road transporters. Unfortunately, second class fares have become a highly politicized issue — all reports indicate that Mamata Banerjee has dug in her heels, and is refusing to make more than a token increase since she will soon be engaged in a bitter electoral fight in West Bengal. Similarly, kerosene prices should also be increased gradually so as to bring it close to market prices. Another controversial recommendation is to effect a sharp increase in university fees and postal rates.

The other major avenue for reduction in expenditure is downsizing of government. The government has in fact appointed an expenditure reforms commission, which is expected to recommend the abolition of many posts and even departments. The government must bite the bullet and carry out all the suggestions made by this commission.

Sinha is unlikely to make too many changes in direct tax proposals. Both the basic personal and corporate tax rates have been gradually reduced over the years, and there is not much scope for any further reduction. The advisory committee has more or less endorsed this position by stating that there is no scope for any further reduction in corporate tax rates. However, many people will hope that the surcharge will be abolished. Central governments have often used the surcharge as a clever ploy since the proceeds from the surcharge do not have to be shared with the states.

In the last couple of years, the government’s direct tax revenues have shown a healthy buoyancy. Much of this has been due to better tax compliance. The tax authorities’ drive to make all potential taxpayers file returns through the “one-in-six” criterion is obviously paying rich dividends. This trend is likely to continue since the increased use of computers will enable the tax department to maintain better records.

As far as direct tax reforms are concerned, public finance experts have one piece of advice for Sinha. This is to abolish at least some of the exemptions which the taxpayer can use to reduce tax obligations.

This is particularly true of the number of exemptions given to promote household savings. It is debatable whether the overall savings rate is particularly sensitive to these exemptions. What is more likely is that these exemptions affect the allocation of overall savings in different savings instruments. For instance, the exemption on dividends declared by mutual funds has resulted in an increased inflow into the coffers of mutual funds. But this has been at the cost of savings in the form of fixed deposits with banks or with companies.

One of the major successes of the reform process has been the rationalization and simplification of the system of excise taxes. That is why there is likely to be very little change in the structure of excise taxes. Again, several tax experts have been advocating a greater use of the value-added tax in order to avoid a cascading effect in which a final good is essentially taxed at several stages of production. But the replacement of the current system of excise taxes with the value-added tax is a drastic change. In particular, the government has to do a lot of homework in order to work out appropriate rates of taxation in order to achieve revenue neutrality. Since there is no evidence that the government has done the requisite homework, it is a safe bet to assert that there will not be any wholesale replacement of the present system of excise taxes.

Perhaps the most interesting issue is what the finance minister will do in the sphere of customs duties. This is a battle that he cannot win, because he has to satisfy too many contradictory demands. On the one hand, many domestic producers have been demanding lower level of duties on inputs so as to get a “level playing field”. On the other hand, the country’s World Trade Organization obligations require the gradual dismantling of barriers. This has also raised demands from other domestic producers for protective rates of duties. Sinha may just throw up his hands, and maintain the status quo.

Will the coming budget act as a catalytic agent and facilitate a faster rate of growth? About two weeks before D-day, the Bombay sensitive index breached the 4,400 mark. But, speculative unloading brought down the index by about 100 points in a single day. Clearly, most punters cannot make up their minds about what the budget has in store for them. So, keeping one’s fingers crossed is probably the best option.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi


I first saw her at a dance recital by Malavika Sarukkai, whom I admire vastly, at the India Habitat Centre. She was sitting in the row in front of mine. As usual in Malavika’s dance performances, before the curtain went up, there was an announcement that no photographers or movie cameramen would be allowed to take pictures during the dance performance, people must switch off their mobile phones and not bring young children into the theatre. I entirely approve of Malavika ensuring that no one should be allowed to distract an artiste or her audience during a performance. What about other distractions? This lady sitting in front of me had a large diamond in her nose-pin which caught the gleam of the stage lights and sparkled like the Kohinoor every time she turned her head. Her handsome face was enough of a distraction. And once she stood up to adjust her sari, so was her figure. I decided she was a dancer: she had come unescorted.

I was looking for an excuse to talk to her. In the first intermission, it was she who turned around to speak to me. “I sent you an invitation to my recital at the India International Centre, I don’t think you came.” I mumbled some excuse: “I don’t understand pucca raag, only light stuff like ghazals. In any case I rarely go out in the evenings during the winter. My fireside is cosier than those draughty theatre halls.” We got talking. “I am not pucca; I specialize in light classical Hindustani: thumri, dadra, ghazal and that kind of thing. I’d be happy to sing for you one evening.”

I have yet to hear Rekha Surya sing, but I have got to know her. She says she looks upon me as a father: it is a price aged men have to pay for ogling at good-looking women. Rekha is the daughter of Punjabi parents, who at the time of Partition, migrated from Lahore to Lucknow where she was born and schooled till she went to Miranda House, Delhi, to take a degree in English literature. There was no music in the family, but a storehouse in her, waiting to be discovered. She heard Nazakat and Salamat Ali in Lucknow and decided that music would be her calling. She went to Calcutta to learn under Girija Devi.

Back in Lucknow, she asked Begum Akhtar to teach her. Begum Akhtar first turned her down, then seeing the depression on her face, asked her to sing a few lines for her. She was enchanted and accepted her as a pupil: “Sirf iss liye kay aawaaz zaayaa na jaye (Only for this that this voice should not go to waste).” Begum Akhtar left the stamp of her genius on Rekha Surya. She was taken up by All India Radio as a producer-singer. Since then she has sung in most Indian cities as well as in England, Canada and the United States. Two years ago she represented India at a music festival in Sri Lanka. She has made 17 documentaries; four of her CDs are to be released this year.

I could not resist asking her why she never married and had children. “I love children, other people’s children. I toyed with the idea of marriage for some time. Then decided to remain single and pursue my music. Mind you, Delhi is not an easy place to live in for a single woman,” she said.

I can well believe her: any city in the world would be difficult to live in for an unattached woman who has talent and good looks.

Questions about existence

I am beholden to K. Hussain, of Salar Publications in Bangalore, for drawing my attention to a Sufi poet, Amjad (I had not heard of him), who raised the same questions as did Adi Sankara: Kastwam? Kohum? Kutah Aayat? Ko mein Janani? Ko mein tat? (Where have I come from? What for? Who are my real father and mother?)

It is these vital questions that people who believe in the existence of god and life hereafter are puzzled by, and find no answers to. Amjad put it in simple Urdu:

Bahut socha, samajh mein kuch na aaya/ Mujhey usnay banaaya, kyon banaaya?/ Adam mein kis mazey say so rahaa tha/ Mujhey kis nay jagaaya, kyon jagaaya?

Bahut door ik koney mein para tha/ Mujhey kis nay bulaaya, kyon bulaaya?/ Phir aakhir us bharee mehfil say Amjad/ Mujhey kis nay utthaya, kyon utthaya?

Hussain translates these lines as follows:

I have pondered very much, but could not understand anything./ He created me...But why did he create?/ I was sleeping comfortably in the state of my non-existence./ Who awakened me from my sleep, and why was I awakened?/ I was lying in a distant obscured corner./ Who called me up, and why was I called up?/ Then, in the end, from this crowded (worldly) congregation, Amjad/ Who had recalled me to the heavenly repose, Why was I recalled?

Bengal renaissance revisited

The size of the novel is daunting — 743 pages. The canvas stretches over half a century; the translation by Aruna Chak-ravarti, flawless; above all, it is the delicate blending of facts and fiction by Bengal’s best known novelist, Sunil Gangopadhyay, which goes into the making of First Light, a saga of classical dimensions.

The novel begins in the princely state of Tripura. The raja, despite the desolate life he leads, is a connoisseur of literature and is charmed by the composition of who was then a little known poet, Rabindranath Tagore, and seeks his friendship. We see the beginning of the movement of women demanding equal rights with men. Also of double standards of leaders like Keshab Chandra Sen, demanding a raise in the marriageable age for girls but giving his 11 year old daughter to the Maharaja of Cooch Behar.

We meet Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita and dozens of scientists, revolutionaries, actresses and commoners. It is the story of the Bengal renaissance. The connecting link is provided by the liaison between a bastard princeling and a maid servant, who became the heart throb of Bengal’s theatre lovers. There is far too much in First Light to be summed up in a few paragraphs. How does anyone review War and Peace?

Wifely tales from here and there

My wife dresses to kill. She also cooks the same way.

A good wife always forgives her husband when she’s wrong.

I bought my wife a new car. She called and said, “There was water in the carburettor.” I asked her, “Where is the car?” She replied, “In the lake.”

The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.

After a quarrel, a wife said to her husband, “You know, I was a fool when I married you.” The husband replied, “Yes, dear, but I was in love and didn’t notice.”

When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.

I haven’t spoken to my wife in 18 months — I don’t like to interrupt her.

My girlfriend told me I should be more affectionate. So I got myself two girlfriends.


A controversy has recently arisen over the proposed competition bill, which is reportedly being opposed by various lobbies. The Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry want the bill to be diluted.

Their concerns, surprisingly, have been articulated by the original votary of economic reforms — the planning commission member and former Union finance secretary, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. In a letter to the Union law minister, Arun Jaitley, Ahluwalia has argued: “It may be better to allow or even encourage consolidation among domestic producers, creating fewer large Indian players who can hold their own in the world.”

The resurrection of the monopolies and restrictive trade practices commission in the incarnation of a new competition commission would also mark a throwback to the days of bureaucratic controls and governmental interference. This is certainly undesirable in the context of liberalization.

The Union budget 1999-2000 had decided to set up a committee to frame the new competition law with the possibility of subsuming and integrating other laws such as the Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Act. As the budget put it, “The MRTP Act has become obsolete in certain areas in the light of international economic developments relating to competition laws. We need to shift our focus from curbing monopolies to promoting competition. The government has decided to appoint a committee to examine...issues and propose a modern competition law suitable for our conditions.”

To be sure, there are excellent grounds for encouraging healthy competition among a large number of market players. Most important among these is consumer interest, since a single large producer or group of sellers can control distribution and supply networks, thus inconveniencing the consumer.

The MRTP commission, established under the MRTP Act, 1970, did not object to a concentration of economic power, but considered it necessary to intervene when it became a “menace to best production (in quality or quantity) or to fair distribution”.

Most developed countries have laws or commissions against monopolies and oligopolies. There is the anti-trust legislation in the United States, the monopolies commission in the United Kingdom and the cartel office in the European Union.

But protectionism (in various insidious forms) cannot be wished away, nor can monopolies or cartels. In fact, there is such a thing as a natural monopoly. Virtually all public utilities are natural monopolies. Municipal water supplies, electric power companies, sewage disposal systems, telephone companies and other similar industries are natural monopolies, at least at the local level.

Natural monopolies arise from a peculiar market situation. They come into existence when the minimum average cost of production occurs at a rate of output more than sufficient to supply the entire market at a price covering full cost. Or, to put it differently, natural monopoly occurs when an industry’s long-run average cost curve continues to fall indefinitely as production increases.

In traditional manufacturing, a natural monopoly is extremely rare because, above a certain level of output, a manufacturer’s costs almost invariably start rising sharply. But over the past few decades, the cost structure of firms has undergone drastic changes. The cost of procuring and transporting basic raw materials has become negligible.

In India, the largest monopoly has been the government. The public sector units have been the country’s largest industrial monopolies. Some of these behemoths, like the oil companies, have become global players, precisely because they are monopolies. But they have seldom looked after consumer interests; the railways, for instance, have hiked fares year after year without any appreciable improvement in services. They have, however, fulfilled other social goals, like generating employment opportunities. In the private sector, the main reason why mergers take place among firms is to tap economies of scale. This is why monopolies are so often born out of mergers.

When an inefficient firm is taken over by a better-managed one, it ensures better goods at lower prices. This is through improved technology and through specialization and division of labour. The unit cost of production is reduced by expanding the firm, after adjusting all inputs optimally.

It must be admitted that India faces a very real threat from multinational corporation monopolies. Large firms operating across borders may combine to become dominant players and thereby manipulate markets in less developed countries. This is a distinct possibility in a globalized scenario.

So there is enough justification for a competition commission that is not a paper tiger like the MRTP commission. Since India is no longer autarkic, allowing import competition vis-a-vis domestic producers would go a long way in promoting consumers’ interests. But it must guard against oligopolistic tendencies by MNCs and regulate public sector monopolies.


After the recent stalling of the direct entry of foreign media in the Indian press under largescale protests, including some from the media itself, a legitimate question has arisen. How long can this be avoided, especially when we seem to be opening up every field of the national economy to international investment?

In fact, we are already overdependent on the global economy through the multinational corporations, who virtually control our local consumer economy — the economy’s biggest sector. These MNCs have sounded the death knell of a large number of local manufacturers. Several of these have already been taken over by the MNCs, while others have died a natural death. Thus, for all practical purposes, the whole consumer sector is left open for the MNCs to do their business in.

Behind all these developments lies the giant advertising machinery of a handful of foreign firms. Their advertisement bills run to billions of rupees. This has been the major factor in the monopolistic control of the consumer sector.

In this way, global players already have a big say in and through the Indian press. In this process, the editors of quite a few dailies have already, it is rumoured, been restrained from following an independent approach and instead, are having to toe the line dictated by the owners of the press and compulsions related to advertising.

Too much paper

Recently, there has been an unprecedented growth in the number of newspapers — a situation where even comparatively small cities, which earlier had just one or two dailies (and even these would be about half the size of the present-day mega dailies), are now publishing several newspapers. A place like Chandigarh, which even in the recent past could boast of only a couple of newspapers, today has over a dozen, catering to a population of about a million. The same is true of several other places which are enjoying this boom.

One may ask how so many publications are able to survive? The answer is clear. It is the advertisement revenue which helps foot the bill for all these newspapers. Indeed, novel schemes have been struck upon lately to reach out to the maximum readership.

There is another interesting aspect which can be looked into. With the rapid growth of the press, there is a competition among dailies to add more and more matter to each edition (irrespective of their news or entertainment worthiness). This leaves the readers in a state of confusion about what to read and what to leave out.

From this rises another pertinent question — who pays for the use of several tonnes of newsprint everyday? And from where is this newsprint obtained? Currently, our country does not produce sufficient newsprint, particularly of the quality being demanded today.

The foreign hand

We have to import a large quantity of newsprint. Because of globalization, this task has become easier too. We come back here to the question of advertisement revenue again because that is what supplies the money for the imports.

It is unfortunate that when India faces a shortage of stationery in educational institutions, particularly in the rural areas, and pays a high price for textbooks, it should allow the press to waste paper in such massive amounts. After all, newspapers are discarded like banana skins once they are read.

There is no point in lamenting the shortage of paper and the high cost of stationery and textbooks when we do not express any concern about the waste of newsprint. And especially so, when a lot of newsprint is better quality paper than the paper used for textbooks. Stopping foreign investment is ultimately a form of tokenism. In the current scenario, foreign investors already operate. The only difference is that they exercise their influence in an indirect manner.

Although there is much justification in permitting the entry of foreign investors into the Indian economy, India has to be cautious. In the current situation, the foreign media still has a long way to go to intervene in the social fabric of the nation, but this cannot be taken for granted for an indefinite length of time. India should not shy away from the overt entry of foreign investors because their covert presence is undeniable. What India needs to see is that they are not allowed to dominate this sector entirely.



Naughty boy in the hood

Sir — Eminem is obviously the Real Slim Shady (“Slim shady triumph”, Feb 24). Who does he think he is? He belongs to that typical tribe of parasitic music makers who ape all the characteristic traits of a popular subculture, join the bandwagon, generate a few controversies and then vanish into thin air in no time. He has neither the talent to release a musically rich album nor has he got anything to be proud of except a loud, foul mouth. Gay-bashing, drugs, serial killing, rape and other such things, about which his corny comments are propelling him into stardom today will soon lose their novelty. Marshall Mathers should know that the recording industry and the Grammy awards necessarily thrive on publicity gimmicks. But the listeners’ discrimination is the final indicator of an artiste’s worth. If he has to become a genuine star, he has to, in the end, make good music. And if he really has to get controversial, let us hear a few nasty things about Black music and the birth of rap — his forte.
Yours faithfully,
Sayak Mukherjee, via email

Life by water

Sir — Dipankar Bose’s “Join the dots by land and water” (Feb 21) gives us an insight into three vital issues connected with the economy. He has quoted figures from a transport committee report on the levels of energy required in different modes of transportation. It works out that the cost of energy on a tonnes per kilometre basis by rail electric traction is 11 paise, diesel electric is 16 paise, carriage through roads (the highest) is 41 paise and the lowest is by river transport varying between four and eight paise.

Central Inland Waterways Transport Corporation, a neglected child of the government of India, has miserably failed to deliver the goods because of many factors. One important factor is that it is always managed at the top by non-professionals. Invariably, there is an understanding in the government that officers from the administrative cadre are good managers in professional services like power, transport, aviation and so on. This ensures for these people the posts of chief executives whatever be the level of their managerial expertise. The basis of this assumption is difficult to understand.

Opening up of river transport to the private sector for an adequate capital input will reduce the cost of transportation drastically. Neglected rivers will be better maintained. It will also cause an enormous saving of oil which costs the Indian economy crores of rupees each year. The planning commission is the final decision-maker in this matter. Such a weighty issue should get due attention from it, as should the mega-projects for a super highway connecting the four corners of the country.

Yours faithfully
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — Dipankar Bose mentions that the decision by the prime minister to broaden national highways, so that New Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai and Mumbai are connected, will cost the country Rs 58,000 crore. Why is this project being taken up at all? Far cheaper would be the use of inland waterways and the railways. Although the country needs to develop infrastructure in order to appear foreign investment friendly, it cannot afford to go bankrupt in the process.

Yours faithfully,
Asutosh Das, via email

All spiced up

Sir — Tejash Doshi’s letter (“Cell buy date”, Feb 22) makes a few mistakes in its information regarding the grace period offered by mobile phone service providers.

For instance, the grace period for Spice cash cards has not been withdrawn but has been reduced from 30 days to 15 days. Also, if the customer recharges within the validity period, he can carry the full-unutilized talk time forward. As far as the tariff charges are concerned, we would like to reiterate that Spice Telecom’s tariffs are still the lowest among all metros and Spice customers enjoy value-added services that correspond with the rest of the country.

Yours faithfully,
R. Mahesh, general manager, Spice Cell Limited

Warm welcome

Sir — The selection of Narendra Hirwani in the Indian team to play the visiting Australians in the first test is unlikely to pay off. By giving an ageing spinner like Hirwani a chance, the selection committee has let down several promising spinners from the current pool of talent in the country. It also does not speak too highly of the grooming of cricketers in India if a player well past his prime has to be recalled four years after he played his last international match.

If Anil Kumble is unavailable and another leg spinner could not be found, the selectors could have gone in for other conventional spinners. To think that the Aussies will be more susceptible to Hirwani is erroneous. The tests will prove the selectors wrong.

Though Steve Waugh has officially lauded the selection committee’s move, one is sure his team is gleefully waiting to make mincemeat of a bowler who now finds it hard to get wickets even on the domestic circuit.

Yours faithfully,
Sunil Garodia, via email

Sir — The visit of the Australian team to India should be looked upon as a blessing in disguise. All the talk about the unbeatable world champions should actually help the Indians, as they will start out as the underdogs, with nothing to lose.

Besides, the pre-series comments made by the Australian captain, Steve Waugh, should inspire the Indians to prove him wrong. As the events before the series indicate, the series will prove to be as exciting as the verbal duel between the two skippers.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — Sourav Ganguly is becoming increasingly more mature as captain (“Steel Sourav versus Sting Steve”, Feb 12). Modern cricket needs captains like Ganguly, who will be aggressive towards opponents on as well as off the field. What the current Indian captain is doing is what Indian captains should have done in the past; Ganguly’s retorts will make Steve Waugh think in a different way. In Ganguly, Indian cricket has got an aggressive captain for the first time since Sunil Gavaskar.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Slippery with blood

Sir — Jyoti Basu’s apology for the violence in Midnapore over the last few months poses a crucial question (“Basu apology on Midnapore”, Feb 4). He has claimed that he had not received proper information from the administration and the party about the violence.

This is a serious allegation. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the then home minister, should either refute the charges or resign from his post as chief minister. Keeping the chief minister in the dark about such serious violations of law and order is a grave offence and Bhattacharjee, if all this is true, should volunteer to be tried in court for this.

Yours faithfully,
Arun Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — One wonders how Jyoti Basu said that he came to know about the violence in Midnapore only a year after it started. Clashes during the Panskura byelections took several lives. How could he have not known this?

On the one hand, Basu slammed the administration for not giving “due importance” to the initial round of violence, but, on the other, he has applauded Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for tackling the issue with an iron hand; this, despite the fact that Bhattacharjee was home minister during that period. What sort of hypocrisy is this?

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

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