Editorial 1/ A rare mix up
Editorial 2/ Breach of promise
Collective obsession
It’s murder, they said
To work with dignity and freedom
Fifth Column/ Island of acrimony in the floods
Letters to the editor

It seems a good thing that Ms J. Jayalalitha was allowed to become chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Without such an unprecedented event, the anomalies in the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act would not have been examined by a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court. A set of petitions challenging the appointment of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader as chief minister has been passed on to the Constitution bench to be heard in the week beginning September 3. These are not the only petitions against her. The court has rejected a number of human rights violations petitions, at least, for the moment. To some extent, the human rights violations petitions are likely to cause political involvement and the court clearly wishes to scotch such a possibility. Besides, there is now an ongoing conversation between the Centre and the AIADMK on this issue. The AIADMK has refused to accept the Centre’s criticism and has argued that nothing unconstitutional was done during the arrests of Mr M. Karunanidhi, Mr Murasoli Maran, Mr T.R. Baalu and the hundreds of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam workers. This is a nakedly political conflict at all levels, thinly veiled by the rhetoric of administrative policy. As such, it is unlikely to be resolved without the ballot now that the question of Article 356 does not arise. The communication of the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, warning the Congress’s senior partner in Tamil Nadu about rights violations, is part of the same phenomenon. The court may have felt it unnecessary to take up this particular question at this juncture. But the constitutional crux needs urgent expert attention.

Two different principles for two distinct situations allowed Ms Jayalalitha to become the chief minister after an election in which she was banned from contesting because of her conviction in corruption cases. She was banned according to a clearly-defined law. On the other hand, she was the leader of the largest party in the winning combination. Therefore the governor had the right to invite her to form the government. The fact that she had not even contested the elections did not stand in the way because the electoral law allows an unelected minister to keep his seat if he can win an election within a set time. The resultant anomaly is absurd and dangerous, best exemplified by Ms Jayalalitha’s present position. It makes nonsense of the Election Commission’s efforts — even if sporadic — to destroy the nexus between criminals and politicians, simply because a convicted person is now chief minister. It also creates peculiar administrative situations. It is strange to find Ms Jayalalitha sternly lecturing tahsildars about the corruption and loss of revenue associated with the undervaluing of land. Events will progress towards greater grotesquerie till the court decides how to resolve the anomaly.


The crisis of political accountability in West Bengal has been confirmed again with a rather disgraceful clarity. An assembly panel has revealed that less than a third of the promises made by ministers in the house have been kept in the year 1999-2000. These wonderful visions were all hatched in the developmental sectors, and declared in the assembly itself. Eighteen ministers have been identified as being especially generous with their unkept promises. A selective list of their portfolios points up the extent to which some of the most crucial areas of everyday life in the state are overseen by people whose administrative, ethical and general human endowments are alarmingly inadequate with regard to the demands of any public office. Health, family welfare, home (police), industry, power, technology, social welfare and transport are all areas where there has been grievous neglect in delivering the promised goods. Public works, tourism, and information and cultural affairs are some of the less critical ministries, although non-performance in these spheres is no less culpable.

Mr Partha De, the former health minister, seems to have been the most dangerous of them all, having managed to implement only one out of 23 projects promised within January 2000. The intentions and the execution are both equally alarming. That something as important as public health had been entrusted to such recklessly incapable hands is a matter of very grave concern indeed. The chief minister’s past also seems to have caught up with him in these revelations. The home (police) record is fairly inglorious — nine out of 16 commitments honoured. The hesitation to use a word like “commitment” in such a context ought to be quite profound. The debasement of public office by the utterly irresponsible populism of a certain brand of electoral politics is surely behind such a frightening picture of uselessness. The damage cuts both ways — not only in the nullity of promise-making rhetoric, but also in the seeming indifference of the electorate to what it is being cheated of and denied. One wonders if these revelations are going to make any difference at all, either to the professional vigilance kept on the ministers or to their electorate’s perception of what ought to be done with these politicians. Most of these people are continuing as ministers. It is also significant that most of them have made the same excuse when held to their failure. They have all blamed the finance department for not releasing the funds. This too is patently false. Less than a quarter of the money sanctioned for the modernization of the state police force has been used in the last financial year. The inability to plan, administer, meet deadlines and honour public accountability has become part of the antique charm of Bengal’s political establishment. But the repeated empowerment of the useless, the dangerous and the unabashed still comes as a shock.


There is a Bengali word that isn’t easy to translate, but which very aptly describes the behaviour of the media before, during and after the visit of Pervez Musharraf to India. This is the word, hujug (the “u” pronounced as in “put”), and the nearest one can get to it in English is “instant fixation” or “sudden mania”. As one senior journalist once acidly explained, it means that if you suddenly started running down Chowringhee for no reason at all, you’d soon find hundreds running with you. When you stop, they’d stop. That was what the word meant, he said.

What exactly was this obsession with Musharraf all about? Short of doing handstands, the media did everything they could to cover his visit as if he were some conquering hero coming home in triumph. Television networks had live coverages of practically all he did, short of going to the loo. Some starry-eyed reporters had breathless accounts of Musharraf’s wife visiting various tourist sights, even quoting her exact words as if they were pearls of wisdom or great poetry. They dwelt at length on her dress, what dish she liked and what she didn’t. Apparently, Musharraf held her hand when they went to see the Taj Mahal, a fact that drove our mediapersons insane with excitement. As they say in the movie magazines, “Cho chweet, no?” It was enough to make one sick.

It remains a marvel that ever so often the media are seized by these fits of excitement — of collective, frenzied, delighted tail-wagging — by some events. What happens to their sense of perspective, of their awareness of events other than the one which they fasten on with such great excitement is a mystery. Musharraf is a general in a country’s army — like many others, senior and junior to him. He has, with the help of some brother officers, taken over the country, which, in Pakistan, is no big deal. Generals do it from time to time, and there’s no doubt that they will continue to do so in the future.

He happens also to be the architect of a piece of military action that was resolved in our favour, but which cost us dearly in terms of lives, and he is now heading a country which has never concealed its ill-will for India. None of this makes him an exciting hero-come-visiting. The issues which India has to work out with him are not issues it has to work out with him in his personal capacity. We have to work them out with whoever is the president or chief executive, or whatever they happen to call their ruler at any point of time.

There are officers in India’s armed forces who are certainly more shrewd, more battle-hardened and experienced; the difference is that they have not taken over the country, and act as disciplined servicemen should. Merely because this general thinks his country’s politicians are useless and he can run the country better is no reason for our media to fall over themselves — in one case, in Agra, literally — to deify him, hang on his every word, note his every smile expectantly. Did he say Kashmir was the only issue, or the main issue? Did he say main issue or core issue? Does it really matter?

Kashmir is a problem that we have to resolve, and a part of the process of resolving it involves, inevitably, some kind of dialogue with whoever the ruler of Pakistan is. But Kashmir is not our only problem, nor is it the most serious. That, again, is what the media make it out to be, quite wrongly. It may be that a large number of those who give it that importance are from areas where it alone seems the major issue facing the country. And, again, it may not, it may be just some inexplicable “tilt” that has crept in over the years. But whatever it is, one would reasonably expect that seasoned, experienced journalists would be able to see the overall picture more clearly than they have done in the last two weeks.

Has anyone really paid any attention to the very serious situation which is developing in the Northeast? Of course not. For 53 years we’ve never taken that region seriously, a region which has been talking of India as a foreign country for decades. Many years ago, Ved Marwah, now governor of Manipur, had told me with more than a touch of bitterness that, when he was inspector-general in Mizoram, he had sent a report to the home ministry that two persons had been shot because they were Indians, for no other reason, and that the repercussions of that would be very serious indeed. He found that report some months later when he had been summoned for a meeting to Delhi, lying on the table of a deputy secretary in the home ministry, who told him that he’d been very very busy and hadn’t had time to read it.

This is the way we handle a problem which now threatens to rip the Northeast apart, thanks to the monumental ineptness of one particular official. And are we concerned? Of course not. We are more anxious to get a sound byte from Musharraf, or one of his lackeys. We obsequiously defer to some tuppenny ha’penny reporters from Pakistan, on television and in our newspapers, people who, in their own country, have dutifully to write what is acceptable to the authorities, and then we take great pleasure in excoriating our own leaders for lack of PR or some other failing.

We forget that we can do so, with impunity; can these journalists from Pakistan say one word about Musharraf or his ministers? Would we have put ourselves out in this insane fashion if, say, the president of South Africa had come visiting? Certainly not. Ah, our media experts will say, but with them we don’t have the kind of problems we have with Pakistan. So, is the obsessive attention to such things as Musharraf’s comments on the kebabs he had for dinner problem-driven? If so, to make the point again, what about the Northeast? Is it any less a problem than Kashmir? Oh, the nuclear question, of course. Pakistan has the bomb, so we have to be careful. But then so do we, or was all that noise in Pokhran an elaborate cover-up for an extra-loud cracker we’ve got ourselves from Sivakasi?

One well known media personality said, during the Musharraf visit, that we can kick Pakistan out of the Commonwealth, but not from our backyard. Clever, very clever. But the fact is that there’s a world beyond our backyard; only the Americans, being a superpower and very affluent, can afford to think there isn’t. We cannot, but the tragedy is that the media, which are supposed to be the proverbial watchdog, which are expected to put events and issues in perspective, seem to think we can. Meanwhile, sundry experts will analyse Musharraf’s every word for hidden meanings, deconstructing his comments à la Derrida and Foucault. And while they mull over what this Pakistani army officer said or didn’t say, the storm clouds will continue to gather over the Northeast — that region for which our great and powerful profess such concern.

In one way, their concern is genuine; they really are worried about how quickly they can come back to Delhi if they have the misfortune of being posted there. After all, the action’s all in Delhi, they will tell you; and the real excitement is when you get to go to Lahore and Islamabad.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting


Titli flits around her foster home. She lurches from one room to another on unsteady legs and loves to look at the Sydney harbour from the windows of her “penthouse’’ in the Australian capital.

Titli (not her real name) has come a long way in her one-and- a-half years of life. She has spanned a continent, crossed an ocean and scoured the outback with her “flier” parents. Her beginnings are, however, shrouded in a veil of torment. Discovered by a farmer on a diara (sandflat) in the Ganges near Danapur in central Bihar, the ailing newborn was deposited at the Danapur police station. The police placed her in the care of a local organization, Sativardhini, which routed her to a Patna-based non-governmental organization, Aditi.

After preliminary treatment and months of care, Aditi put her up for adoption through a Pune-based adoption agency, the Sophos. And in no time, Titli (butterfly, in Hindi) found a snug home in Sydney. She is one of the lucky few.

There are hundreds of others like her, who are discarded everyday as “junk” in Bihar. They are found at all possible places — behind police stations, in lonely diaras, paddy fields, garbage vats and even on cremation grounds.

Those cast off as “unwelcome” have better chances of survival for they are often rescued by unwitting intinerants. But the ones whose lives are snuffed out soon after birth are the “hapless’’ victims of fate, sacrificed at the altar of a barbaric social system. Bihar has witnessed an alarming rise in female infanticide over the past decade. According to a survey by the Indian Medical Association, it is at par with Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with an average of 500 girls (per thousand) in the age group of zero to six being killed or discarded.

Systematic elimination of girls has led to an imbalance in the sex ratio with boys outnumbering girls in many of the north Bihar districts. An apathetic state government, poor awareness about the “plight” of the girl and a vicious dowry system have contributed to the malaise, which spreads unchecked.

The practice has also led to the growth of a parallel economy — that of abortion clinics and ultrasonography centres. Patna abounds in such centres, followed by Sitamarhi, Bhagalpur, Purnea, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Samastipur and Begusarai. A random survey by a Patna-based non-governmental organization shows that the posh Boring Road-Bailey Road stretch of the city has nearly 20 maternity “clinics” and scanning centres. There are twice the number of such “centres” on the outskirts of the city and its adjoining districts.

However, only a fraction of the “crimes” are committed in these state-of-the-art slaughterhouses. Their sky-high rates act as deterrents. The bulk of the slaughters takes place in the remote backwaters — away from the prying eyes — at the hands of the village “dais (midwives)”. The methods of execution are primitive and macabre.

A sixty-year-old former primary health centre nurse in Purnea specializes in the “salt dip” method. After delivery, she feeds her “victims” concentrated salt “dips’’ at regular intervals for six hours to melt the tiny vocal chords. No one in the neighbourhood hears the infant cry when she is smothered to death with a heavy pillow. Sometimes the “girl child’’ is done away with even before the mother regains consciousness.

According to the Union minister of health and family welfare, C.P. Thakur, “hard-baked chappatis are often stuffed into the babies’ mouths to block their windpipe. The practice, prevalent in Sitamarhi, makes use of a variety of food items which are difficult to swallow.

Other “capital punishments” include poisoning with local herbs and roots, burning the throat with red chilli paste and consequent choking, snapping of the infant’s collar bones and sealing the new born in an earthenware pitcher and throwing it into the Ganges.

Midwives in Muzaffarpur are adept at the “jhatka” method. The infant is held by the scruff of the neck and wrung like a wet rag. This breaks the collar bone and eventually blocks the supply of blood to the brain. Death is instantaneous.

The former nurse says, “The delivery rates in the villages are paltry. We are paid between Rs 20 to Rs 50 depending on the economic condition of the family. But the midwives are not paid for delivering girls. Instead, they are asked to kill for money.’’ Poverty drives these women, usually hailing from the “extremely backward Chamar caste” to bow to the whims of the “perpetrators”.

Reluctant midwives are often intimidated by the menfolk and the mothers-in-law to do away with the girl child. “The husbands of the women who give birth to girls play an active role in the crime along with the family. But the in-laws take the lead specially among the Bhumihars and the landed Yadavs in central and north Bihar,’’ says a senior office-bearer of Aditi. Usually the first girl is spared.

A recent study by Aditi in four districts (one block in each district) — Sitamarhi, Bhagalpur, Purnea and Gumla — reveals an alarming decline in the female sex ratio. While Dumrah in Sitamarhi recorded 819 girls in the 0-6 age group, the ratio in Bhagalpur’s Gopalpur block was an abysmal 739 girls (per 1,000 according to the 1991 census). Bhawanipur in Purnea recorded 757 girls whereas Palkot in Gumla maintained status quo with 781 girls per 1,000. Infanticide, according to Aditi, is more common in north Bihar than in Jharkhand where tribal girls migrate out of the state as semi-bonded labourers and domestic help.

Economics also has a role to play in the “elimination” of the girl. While “post-natal” killings are rampant in villages, upper caste Thakurs and Brahmins flock to the ultrasonography-cum-abortion clinics for detection and “medical termination of pregnancies” in case of girls.

C.P. Thakur attributes the trend to the tilak system. The bride’s family has to pay “hefty” tilak (dowry) to the groom on the eve of marriage. Bihar tops the tilak rates which often run into crores. “It is difficult to marry off girls in the villages as the farmers and the landless labourers cannot afford to pay the tilak,” says Thakur. In Muzzafarpur, the asking rates for a lower division government employee is Rs 2 lakh. Professionals and white-collared servicemen fetch anything between Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore.

Sociologists feels that the problem has been “imported” from the western part of the country. Infanticide (or even foeticide) is not endemic to Bihari culture for the state has been historically known to accord “equal status to women”.

Thakur cites the example of Gargi and Maitreyee, the learned and wise women of ancient legend, who were said to be from Bihar, to prove the point.

But a population boom and a poor literacy rate have compounded matters. According to the 1991 census, Bihar recorded the highest population growth rate after Andhra Pradesh.

The Patna chapter of the Indian Medical Association cites lack of political will in tackling the problem. For the past few years the Rabri Devi government has turned a blind eye to the lack of health awareness among women in villages. The closure of the charwaha vidyalayas (cowherd schools) and the adult literacy campaigns in villages have further isolated the women.

A collusion of ministers and block-level officials help doctors shirk their rural postings for fat sums. As most of the primary health centres are without doctors, there is no one to teach the women the rudiments of family planning. This leads to unwanted pregnancies and the consequent “ills”. The IMA has launched a “bhageru doctor pakro abhiyan (catch the absconding doctor drive) in rural Bihar to tackle the problem. It has also passed strictures on this brood and threatened to “disown” members involved in the “trade”.

Thakur, however, harbours a different plan. He intends to host district and block-level family planning melas like the one organized at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan last year to spread the “gospel”. More than 130 women benefited from the camp.

But a long-term solution to the problem seems far-fetched with the Rabri Devi regime preferring to look the other way.


Most of the 36.1 million people infected with HIV are in the prime of their working lives. The effects are momentous — not just on workers and their families, but on enterprises and entire national and regional economies. AIDS has become a crucial workplace issue and a massive development challenge.

It is estimated that at least 23 million workers aged 15-49 — the most productive segment of the labour force — carry the HIV virus. It is devastating the lives of individuals, their families and communities. In the most affected countries, the epidemic is undermining decades of development gains. It is a real threat to economic and social progress.

HIV/AIDS hits the world of work in numerous ways. In badly affected countries, it cuts the supply of labour and slashes income for many workers. Increased absenteeism raises labour costs for emplo- yers.

As illness forces workers to leave their jobs, valuable skills and experience are lost. Often, a mismatch between human resources and labour requirements is the outcome.

Along with lower productivity and profitability, tax contributions also decline, while the need for public services increases. National economies, especially in badly affected regions like sub-Saharan Africa, are being weakened further in a period when they are struggling to become more competitive to weather the challenges of globalization.

AIDS threatens fundamental principles and rights at work and undermines efforts to provide women and men with decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Many affected by HIV/ AIDS have no social protection or medical help. The poor suffer disproportionately.

Discrimination against HIV-positive persons (or even people suspected of carrying the virus) worsens existing inequalities in society. Screening people for HIV infection in order to bar them from work, deny them promotion or exclude them from social protection and benefits, counts as AIDS-related discrimination. So do breaches of confidentiality or the refusal to establish alternative workplace arrangements for workers with HIV/AIDS.

As the epidemic strikes families and households, more children are forced out of school and into child labour, often into exploitative and extremely hazardous forms of work. Young female orphans are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

Gender inequality — linked to patterns of social, economic and cultural inequality — makes women more vulnerable to infection. As the epidemic spreads, women are faced with the double burden of having to work and cope with the additional responsibilities of providing care and support to family and community members who fall ill.

Most women are still confronted with limited access to secure livelihoods and socioeconomic opportunities. As a result, their dependence on male partners and their subsequent vulnerability to circumstances that may carry risks of HIV infections — increase.

Research suggests that men working in occupations that involve spending long periods away from their families are more likely to engage in unsafe sex. This also increases the risk that their partners might become infected with HIV.

In June 2001, the International Labour Organization adopted a code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work. The fundamental aim of the code is to help safeguard conditions of decent work and protect the rights and dignity of workers and all people living with HIV/AIDS.

The code is intended to help prevent the spread of the epidemic, mitigate its impact on workers and their families, and provide social protection that can help them cope with the disease. The code provides practical guidance to governments, employers and workers’ organizations (as well as other stakeholders) for developing national and workplace HIV/AIDS policies and programmes.

The code addresses several important issues, including preventing infection through information, education and gender-awareness program- mes and by promoting behaviour change. It covers the protection of workers’ rights (including employment protection, gender equality, entitlement to benefits and non-discrimination on the basis of HIV status). And it deals with the challenges of care and support (including confidential voluntary counselling and testing as well as treatment in settings where local health systems are inadequate).


Orissa seems to be caught in a never-ending cycle of misfortune. After the supercyclone of 1999 and last summer’s severe drought, this eastern state is now being ravaged by floods. Already 40 people have been killed and at least one million people in 16 districts have been affected by the spreading floodwaters from the state’s major rivers. At a time when the government should be concentrating on tackling this disastrous situation, the chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, has sacked three members of his cabinet on July 9, triggering a political crisis in the state. Preoccupied with the intense fighting within the ruling Biju Janata Dal, the chief minister has had little time to activate a sluggish bureaucracy for urgent relief and rescue work.

After conducting an aerial survey of the worst affected areas with the chief minister, the revenue minister, Biswabhushan Harichandan, stated that crops worth Rs 1250 crore have been destroyed while around 16,000 cattle have perished. The state revenue secretary and additional development commissioner, S. Rath, however, says that floodwaters have entered only 12 districts. According to him, relief work has begun in five of these districts. According to government reports, major portions of coastal districts such as Baleshwar, Cuttack, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Ganjam and Gajpati as well as western districts such as Kalahandi and Koraput have been submerged.

Unrelieved failure

Even as the Orissa government has belatedly taken up the task of distributing relief materials to marooned people, the political fallout of the sacking of the ministers threatens the stability of the BJD-Bharatiya Janata Party government. The followers of Nalinikanta Mohanty, one of the sacked ministers, claim that the former public works department minister has been axed because of his growing popularity. If this is true, the move may backfire as about 40 dissident members of the legislative assembly have reportedly expressed their support for Mohanty and it is suspected that a number of BJD ministers may soon resign to show their solidarity with the sacked minister.

Political analysts are apprehensive that the flood relief operations in the state may be impaired due to political instability in case a significant number of MLAs and ministers openly decide to back Mohanty.

The Congress, the main opposition party in the state, has already termed the Patnaik government the most inept regime Orissa has ever seen because of its slothful performance in combating the natural calamities that affected the state in the last couple of years. Any slackness in flood relief on the government’s part will therefore provide the opposition with further ammunition.

Enemies in wait

According to the Congress, the ruling coalition is busy with its internal squabbles instead of caring for the suffering people. Floodwaters have damaged crops covering about two lakh hectares of land as well as thousands of dwellings. The present regime is widely considered to have failed to provide succour to the people devastated by the supercyclone and the recent drought. It is also perceived to be a weak government that cannot force the Centre’s hands to get its due.

So the government will have to show exemplary alertness in tackling the flood situation. Because of the heavy rains, the rivers in the Mahanadi river system are overflowing. Moreover, the release of a huge quantity of water from the Hirakud reservoir to the Mahanadi river has further worsened the floods in western Orissa.

Yet both the ruling coalition and the opposition forces are carrying on their usual political games. Within the coalition, the relations between the BJD and BJP are far from cordial. Asked whether the BJP was informed about the sacking of one of its ministers, the chief of the state BJP said he was not. Evidently, the BJP is also unhappy with Patnaik’s style of functioning.

However, the immediate danger for the Patnaik government comes from the powerful Orissa Gana Parishad leader, Bijoy Mahapatra, who was unceremoniously expelled from the BJD before the last assembly elections. If Mahapatra decides to join hands with Mohanty, the chief minister may find it impossible to contain the growing discontent within the BJD. And in such a scenario, the BJP may be forced to support a rebel BJD leader as a contender for the chief minister’s post, if only to keep the Congress at bay.



Talking point

Sir — When contrasted with the media-savvy image that General Pervez Musharraf has created for himself, the Indian prime minister may well come across as an ageing politician who has been unable to score diplomatic points against his more charismatic Pakistani counterpart. Indeed, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s reluctance to address the media even after Musharraf has repeatedly done so, may send out wrong signals to his political rivals as well as to detractors within his party. It is imperative that every diplomatic overture is accompanied by press releases and briefings. By keeping the press informed, the government is in fact communicating with the people who have a right to know what is happening. Yet the recently concluded Agra summit was characterized by the Centre’s unwillingness to share any information with the press who were kept waiting for almost 24 hours after Vajpayee’s first meeting with Musharraf on July 14. Citing confidentiality as the reason for this silence will not suffice.
Yours faithfully,
Joyita Saha, via email

Speaking in tongues

Sir — It was heartening to read the editorial, “The lower the better” (July7). One of the many mistakes made by the Left Front government and one which has played havoc with the future of the children of West Bengal, was the decision to introduce English from class VI. This experiment, which reminds one of Lysenko’s infamous experiments in the field of agriculture in the Soviet Union, has been responsible for saddling a generation of students with a serious drawback which has put them at a disadvantage in competitive examinations. It is a fact that in the age of communications, the world has become a much smaller place and a sound knowledge of English will help students communicate better with their Western counterparts.

It is difficult to understand why the government chose to interfere in the field of education in the first place. The government’s reluctance to undo past mistakes is lamentable. By preventing the opening of private engineering colleges in West Bengal over the years, the government was responsible for the flight of thousands of students to engineering colleges in south India. Instead of encouraging a culture of gheraos and bandhs, the government of West Bengal should have prioritized education.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ghose, via email

Sir — Given that a thorough knowledge of English is an imperative in today’s world, it is difficult to understand the government’s reluctance to accept this fact. Students should have been given the choice of not studying English or not sitting for it in the school leaving examination. What makes things worse is the underlying hypocrisy that is evident in the state’s attitude to this issue. While many of our politicians have vociferously objected to the introduction of English from class I, they have chosen to send their children or grand-children to English medium schools.

Yours faithfully,
Madhumita Saha, Calcutta

Sir — The other day I saw a small group of children studying English at a roadside makeshift school on a footpath on Madan Street. As I watched the children struggle to master the English alphabets, I was struck by the underlying foolhardiness of any proposal that tried to teach English to students in the age group of five to 10. Those who advocate the teaching of English from class I seem to be of the mistaken opinion that the teaching of English is synonymous with primary education. Perhaps the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is not aware that even after the abolition of the pass/fail system, the number of dropouts at the primary level is about 40 per cent. While children from urban areas may not find it difficult to master a foreign language at a very young age, their counterparts from the rural areas may not be so lucky.

Those who advocate the introduction of English from class I have accused the West Bengal government of playing with the future of students in this state. However, it is the lack of quality education rather than the absence of English from the curriculum that has been responsible for the poor performance of students from the state who have failed to excel at the national level. After being taught their mother tongue for a few years, English should be introduced from class V when they are mature enough to tackle a foreign language. It is disappointing to see the Communist Party of India (Marxist) bow to political pressure and give up its stand on this issue.

Yours faithfully,
A.C. Chakraborty, Calcutta

Simple taxman

Sir — The Saral forms introduced by the government of India will go a long way in easing the problems faced by tax-payers. In fact, the government has done away with the system of scrutiny in most cases, hoping that this will help it win the trust of taxpayers as well as build a more comfortable relationship with them. However, even though the system of scrutiny has been done away with, at least officially, in most of the cases the information that was sought in scrutiny cases is now demanded in the Saral forms. For example, taxpayers have to volunteer information for any expenditure over Rs 50,000, as well as provide details of investments in immovable property, movable assets (above a specified limit), expenditure on the maintenance of vehicles, on children’s education and on foreign travel.

The general impression about scrutiny was that it caused severe harassment to taxpayers, besides increasing corruption. The government seems to have foxed the people by bringing back scrutiny into the system, though in a different form. Taxpayers are doomed, whether or not they file returns.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, via email

Sir — It is a pity that subsequent finance ministers after Manmohan Singh have not bothered to think about the problems of the working class or the middle-income groups. Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party has talked about increasing the income tax exemption limit from time to time, it has failed to deliver on its promises. Instead, it has been squeezing the working and the salaried classes.

By implementing a five per cent reduction in excise and customs duties, they are doling out favours to the business class while the middle class continues to be burdened by the levying of one surcharge after another. Bad policy decisions have been responsible for the present economic slowdown and it is not fair that the government should penalize the taxpayer for it. Levying of taxes should always be considered as the last resort.

One hopes that the opposition will register a strong protest against existent government policies which have inconvenienced so many people.

Yours faithfully,
A. Thenmozhi, Chennai

Thought for food

Sir — It was shocking to read about the deplorable condition of the kitchens of some of Calcutta’s best loved restaurants as revealed by the inspection carried out by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation authorities. Even though most of these restaurants charge exorbitant prices, they have not bothered to observe even the basic rules of cleanliness in their kitchens (“Eating is out”, June 29).

That most restaurant-owners take their customers for granted is disturbing, to say the least. The absence of accountability and the lack of awareness among the people of this city have led to the present situation. One hopes that the CMC will lay down a set of regulations for the restaurants in the city and see that they are implemented.Otherwise, eating out could well turn out to be a nightmare for most people.

Yours faithfully,
P.K. Bagchi, via email

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