Editorial 1/ Landfall
Editorial 2/ Woman with the rod
The boys in the backroom
Doors closed to difference
Document/ All�s not well with the Indian PDS
Fifth Column/ The Soviet Union deserved to die
Letters to the editor

The truth hurts. Even the hint of truth can send some people scuttling about in alarm. That is what has happened after the police got into action following the murder of Sailen Das, the Dum dum municipality chairman, who had decided to pit himself against the powerful interests of building promoters in his area. That this was not the first murder along the same lines speaks volumes of the kind of unobstructed power promoters have become used to. The murder of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, Gurupada Bagchi, is suspected to have taken place for similar reasons. Popularly referred to as the building mafia, promoters have gained unprecedented sway through the good offices and active complicity of members of the major ruling party. The recent �building boom� in West Bengal, especially within and around Calcutta, has far more to do with patronage games with land than with market forces. It is enough to observe the blatant way rules are flouted against all norms of civic welfare and environmental standards to understand what is going on.

A peculiar dilemma now faces the CPI(M). Concealed business interests have wrought a complicity the party cannot easily shake off. And complicity proceeds by its own laws. The CPI(M) gains strong electoral support from the promoter lobby, whose kingpins are tied up by many threads to various other members of the underworld. The police�s activity after Das�s murder has made two things obvious. One, the police, contrary to impression, had always known what to do. Two, the constraints on them to investigate and arrest suspects have eased. It has become obvious that so far political pressure to let suspects off had been the main hurdle to police action. This is, of course, not new information for the ordinary citizen. What is interesting is that a divergence of aims in the party has brought it to the surface. For once, it would seem that the CPI(M)�s pious resolutions about self-reflection and self-purging are bearing serious, if unexpected, fruit. It may be that the balance in the leadership is at the moment inclined in favour of the cleansers. Additionally, the fact that the party is back in its usual position for the sixth time may have given this leadership the confidence to take some of the more destructive bulls by the horns at the risk of creating divisions within.

The problem, though, is not very simple. The cleansers are tarred with the same brush, just by virtue of coming to power alongside people who would rather take advantage of dirt. Frankenstein�s monster was famously difficult to contain. With political will and police cooperation the illegal operations of the building mafia can be stopped. The will should express itself in actual policy too. Selling plots of land at market prices would be the first and foremost way to transparency. Given the present � deliberately created � chaos, even this single change of policy has to be worked for with the same determination that the police are showing in hunting down Das�s killers. And there is one more alarming message in Das and Bagchi�s murders that leaders and lawkeepers should note. The murder of CPI(M) leaders was also a show of muscle power. If leaders can be so vulnerable, the ordinary householder had better be really scared.


An atrocity beyond the imagination of the Uttar Pradesh police must be something truly unspeakable. What has shocked the special superintendent of police in Allahabad is a recent instance of custodial death in the city. Third-degree torture leading to deaths in police or judicial custody ought to be bread and butter to the UP police, given the uniformly horrifying human rights record in the state. But the death in police custody of Sivaraj Dubey in Allahabad happens to be a very special case. Dubey was allegedly denied drinking water, medical treatment and finally tortured to death by a female police officer. Ms Vijay Laxmi, in charge of the Mahila thana to which Dubey was brought for interrogation, has been accused of calling in seven other policemen to conduct these atrocities under her supervision. Outraged by the cruelty of a 45-year-old �matronly� woman, Ms Laxmi�s superiors have acted with exemplary speed and humanity. Her immediate suspension and promises of an inquiry have been supplemented with 3,000 caring policemen contributing from their salaries towards the wedding expenses of the victim�s daughter.

Such rectitude, leading to prompt action, could only be good for the state and its police. Yet, it is also interesting to note what provoked this wholly uncharacteristic response � the unnaturalness of female cruelty. �Who could have imagined such a thing?�: the SSP�s outrage sums this up. The national human rights commission received more than 70,000 complaints of human rights violation in the year, 2000-2001, out of which almost 42,000 were from UP. The state has remained consistently on top of this inglorious league table, followed by Bihar and Delhi. Between April and September, 2000, the NHRC�s figure for the total number of deaths in police and judicial custody is almost 500. Here again, UP is a close second to Bihar. The Supreme Court has cried itself hoarse against custodial brutality and deaths. But in most Indian states the follow-up in such cases is notoriously slow. Extreme brutality, supported by incontrovertible evidence, is repeatedly hushed up with the connivance of the police. Very often the victims are utterly powerless women. The Allahabad police�s unconcealed outrage prompted a reaction which is technically correct. But it shows up, nevertheless, a deep and instinctive gender bias within the police system the implications of which are significant and alarming.


It is commonly accepted that governments all over the world are moving towards the form of executive presidencies. Even a cabinet system based on the Westminster model, where the prime minister is supposed to be only the first among equals, has changed to one where the prime minister is supreme. The United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair are good examples though Blair has as his treasury secretary a politically powerful and extremely able minister in Gordon Brown, whom he cannot afford to cross.

The task of governments and their chief executives has grown much more complex and difficult in these days of instant transmission of visual images and information. Foreign policy is conducted at the highest level. �Summit� meetings of heads of government to resolve issues are common. Ministers and the permanent bureaucracy might do the homework, but it is the chiefs who get the glory and face the flak. Each aspect of government working has to be looked at in terms of the social benefit, the vested interests that will be affected, whether it can pass the legislature, the possible reaction of media and public opinion, and then has to be monitored for implementation.

In a democratic system, not all ministers are competent, and some may deliberately or because of incapability, impede or delay implementation. No single chief executive officer of a government has the time or the ability to do all this for any length of time. It is not surprising that all over the world, offices are being created around the CEOs of governments, staffed by loyal and competent people, who oversee the work of ministers who have either been elected or are confirmed as heads of their departments by the legislatures.

In India, this is the PMO, the prime minister�s office. Among those who ran this office, P.N. Dhar is the only one to have described and discussed its functioning. He writes in his book, Indira Gandhi, the �Emergency� and Indian Democracy: �The concept of the collegiate system of the cabinet, in which the prime minister is but the chairman of a council of ministers, or first among equals, has been obsolete in the country of its origin for more than a century and is now only a hoary and pedantic anachronism�Cabinet deliberations are therefore centred more around the elimination of overlaps and jurisdictional conflicts and the harmonization of viewpoints of different ministries�The prime minister�s office is sometimes described as a �think-tank�, which it is not. But...it certainly did assemble ideas and policy inputs from other parts of the system, and from sources available outside the system�(It) is to be judged not merely in terms of its own performance but even more in terms of its contribution in the galvanization of the entire secretariat for better performance�(This) is even more true for the implementation and monitoring of policies at the Centre and in the states.�

It is really surprising therefore that all political parties, including some in the ruling ones of the coalition, are objecting to the role of the present PMO in policy formulation, monitoring and sometimes, even implementation. When judicial bodies have to take over the role of non-functioning or incompetent executive authorities, a prime minister�s office is surely entitled on behalf of the prime minister to assure speedy implementation of his policies? The important thing is that the office is properly staffed with people chosen for competence and skills, not connections and abilities to �fix�, or to collect pay-offs. Indeed, such offices attached to CEOs are quite common in the corporate world. A chief minister of a state or a minister heading a complex and important ministry might benefit the country if he also had such support.

The American system makes this possible by a wholesale change of people when a new president or governor of a state takes office. So the new CEO has executives in different departments who are chosen by him for their loyalty to him and his party, to his ideas and their execution. But the new CEO still brings in a core group that belongs only to him and can, on his behalf, advise on any issue and monitor implementation throughout the administration.

Analysts of economic reforms programmes around the world have found that the most successful finance ministers are those who not only have a vision of what changes they want to bring about and with what results, but who also have a committed group of like-minded experts that they assemble at the outset. Manmohan Singh was able to bring in dramatic changes because his prime minister had a clear vision. This vision was fully shared by the finance minister and the commerce minister, (P Chidambaram).

Manmohan Singh assembled in his ministry a group of economic experts from outside, and administrators, who shared the vision. He also tapped researchers and institutions outside the governmental system, and Indians who had gone to teach or research overseas. The present finance minister by contrast, has no such team, and he has systematically gone about disassembling the team that he inherited. The contrast in poor performance and even more in execution, is striking. Indeed, there was a similar decline in performance in the second half of Manmohan Singh�s term compared to the first half, when many members of the original team left the government for one reason or the other.

Unfortunately, we have not woken up to the need for major reforms that are required in the staffing in government if we are to be effective in making rapid strides in human development. Instead of depicting the PMO as an extra-constitutional and unelected authority, we should be debating the qualifications and experience of its members. We should ensure that the best and brightest from amongst Indians all over the world � and who can contribute � are inducted on contract as members of the PMO, the various CMOs, the offices of the ministers for finance, external affairs, defence, agriculture, health and education. We must pay them whatever it takes to minimize the financial sacrifice of working in government.

Indira Gandhi argued many years ago for a �committed� judiciary. She was wrong. The judiciary must be impartial and neutral. Its task is to interpret the law according to the Constitution. Nor should we be asking for a �committed� bureaucracy. The permanent bureaucracy should be implementing the will of the people as expressed by the elected government. It must suggest alternate routes to achieve given objectives. It must point out the flaws and pitfalls in any course of action. It must then go on to execute it in the most efficient possible way.

But governments must have committed people as well. These are what I would call the �personal� offices of prime ministers, chief ministers, and senior ministers. They must be qualified people, not loyal relatives and retainers. Their job must be to build on their chief�s vision, give it flesh, and then monitor its implementation, anticipating bottlenecks and opposition, and helping to remove and resolve them.

This is possibly why the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as much as the Congress would like Brajesh Mishra removed as head of the PMO. He gives strength to the prime minister, by being fully tuned into his vision, and entirely loyal to his success. The same thing might be said for others who have been personally attacked once they proved their effectiveness in the PMO. Bowing to this criticism is not in the interest of the faster development of India.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research rao_I@vsnl.net


Despite several high-profile measures and publicity garnering acts, little effort has been expended by either the Centre or the state governments to alleviate the plight of the disabled or the differently-abled, in India. This is why, six years since the Disabilities Act came into effect in 1996, the decision of the Karnataka state commissioner for people with disabilities to constitute an access audit to see how accessible public buildings in the state are should be hailed as a first step in the right direction.

At the time that it was enacted in 1995, the persons with disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) bill was deemed one of the most comprehensive and progressive legislative acts of its kind. Yet the government tabled the legislation, a full three years after India became one of the signatories to the full participation and equality of people with disabilities in the Asian and Pacific region resolution passed during the Beijing United Nations economic and social commission for Asia and the Pacific meeting in 1992. This meeting also proclaimed the years 1993-2002 the Asian and Pacific decade of disabled persons.

The act of 1995 was enacted only after a concerted, collective struggle by people coping with diverse disabilities, nongovernmental organizations, wholeheartedly supported by other non-disabled visionaries, policy-makers and professionals. On paper, the act has opened doors to people with disabilities so that they can, individually and collectively, become an integral part of the mainstream, for it guarantees full equality, independence and freedom to all people with disabilities.

Five years since the act came into effect; there still remains a wide gap between intentions and reality. For instance, the act advocates free access to education for persons with disabilities, until the age of 18 and calls for the promotion of integration of disabled students in regular schools, besides setting up of special schools for those who need special education. By and large, such activities have remained within the purview of NGOs. Special education, instead of forming part of the human resources development ministry, remains under the ministry of welfare, social justice and empowerment.

To facilitate accessibility, the transport sector was also instructed to take special measures, like installation of sound signals at traffic lights; kerb cuts and slopes in pavements; Braille symbols and sound signals in lifts, and so on. But there are no specific provisions for sign language to accommodate persons who are deaf.

Many social workers too are united in their conviction that India�s decade-long pro-market reforms have in fact led to a decline in the economic condition of the disabled population. While employment opportunities and self-help schemes for the disabled have shrunk in the past few years, there are also not enough state schemes to provide jobs or self-help facilities. India has more than 15 million physically handicapped people and the majority belongs to the poorer sections of society. The disabled in the rural areas are almost totally ignored. Voluntary organizations were able to reach out only to about five per cent of the handicapped population. Of the many million employable disabled persons, only a few lakh are registered at special employment exchanges for the handicapped, of which, shockingly, only a few thousand are currently employed.

This frustrating condition prevails despite the Centre and state governments� claim that a vast network with 914 employment exchanges, 23 special employment exchanges for the handicapped, 55 special cells, 17 vocational training centres in regular exchanges exists. Corporate India too has largely ignored the statutory reservation for disabled persons, violating the Disability Act of 1995 by employing only a handful of disabled employees. Although there are growing sectors such as information technology, tele- marketing and call centres that can provide jobs for the handicapped, this sector has hardly seen any employment of disabled people.

Since the last year, two unrelated events have helped highlight once again their plight and the insensitive legislation that rules their lives. Stephen Hawking, the renowned astrophysicist, was denied a visit to the Taj Mahal because there were no ramps to allow him easy access. The second propelling factor was the widespread complaints voiced prior to census 2001 over the insensitivity of clubbing the disabled with mentally ill people.

Little wonder then that the Karnataka state commission�s decision has provided the proverbial silver lining to an otherwise dismal scenario. The access audit will carry out a spot evaluation on how far the buildings are accessible and its first focus is directed towards the Karnataka high court. Like all public buildings in most places in India, this building too leaves a lot to be desired, though the Disabilities Act of 1995 has explicitly provided for ramps and elevators along with steps that many wheelchair victims find inaccessible.

Suggestions made by the audit experts are then communicated to the heads of departments while the commissioner�s office will follow up on the changes to be made. Although such gestures are well intentioned, the Disabilities Act unfortunately makes no provision for financial support from the government and the commission�s guidelines are also not legislatively binding.

Other states have similar state commissions for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, it is the state commission in Karnataka that has taken the initiative in setting forth a broad range of steps to assist and alleviate the plight of the disabled. In fact, it was Karnataka that became one of the first states to issue a comprehensive statement about the need for community based rehabilitation, while it was an NGO, the Association of People with Disabilities, that became one of the first to institute CBR in villages in the Kolar region.

The social audit wing in the commissioner�s office also assists in monitoring the utilization of funds allocated for the welfare of the disabled. The legal cell constituted with the assistance of the alternative law forum in Bangalore provides free legal aid in the form of consultation, information and conciliation of disputes. Fast track services to the disabled have been instituted with the objective of facilitating their access to public utility services without being subjected to much hardship. Surprise inspections of NGOs receiving grants from the Central and state government are also being conducted.

The audit exercise, however, comes as some source of comfort for the disabled whose accessibility question has so far been ignored by governments. In a society which has shown little sensitivity to disabled persons, this is certainly a positive beginning.


Despite a hefty increase in the annual food subsidy from Rs 2450 crores in 1990-91 to Rs 9200 crores in 1999-00 and to Rs 13,000 crores in 2000-01, all is not well with the targeted public distribution system in India. There is 36 per cent diversion of wheat, 31 per cent diversion of rice and 23 per cent diversion of sugar from the system at the national level.

The TPDS does not seem to be working in the poorest north and northeastern states. The allocation of poorer states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam was more than doubled, as a result of shifting to TPDS in 1997, yet due to poor off-take by the states and even poorer actual lifting by the below poverty line families, the scheme has not made any impact on the nutrition levels in these states.

There is lack of infrastructure and shortage of funds with government parastatals in most states except the few in west and south. Some other problems associated with the scheme besides illegal diversion are:

i) The poor do not have cash to buy 20 kg at a time, and often they are not permitted to buy in instalments.

ii) Low quality of food grains � A World Bank report (June, 2000) states that half the stock of the Food Corporation of India is at least two years old, 30 per cent between 2 to 4 years old, and some grain as old as 16 years.

iii) Weak monitoring, lack of transparency and inadequate accountability of officials implementing the scheme.

iv) Price charged exceeds the official price by 10 to 14 per cent.

While the growth rate in availability of foodgrains per capita was 1.20 per cent per annum during the Eighties the growth rate has come down to minus 0.28 per cent per annum during the Nineties. Despite the fact that food consumption of the poor in India is 40 per cent below as compared to per capita consumption of the top 10 per cent (and therefore there is potential for increasing their consumption), the level of foodgrains stock with the FCI has been increasing, signifying lack of purchasing power with the poor, and distorted food security policy. It is painful to note that with 50 million tonnes of foodgrains in the FCI godowns more than half of the children 1-5 years old in rural areas are under-nourished, with girl children suffering even more severe malnutrition.

The challenge is to reduce foodstocks to roughly half its present level and use it for reducing malnutrition, without adversely affecting the farmers. This would need the following legal and policy changes, which would enhance the role of private sector and make markets less distorted than these are at present.

i) Amendment of the Essential Commodities Act to make it an emergency provision that will have to be formally invoked by notification for a limited period of time.

ii) Enactment of a Central Act to ban controls on movement between states.

iii) Phase out of all levy or monopoly purchase.

iv) Remove licensing controls and de-reserve all agri-based and food-processing industries, including sugar, its derivatives and milk processing.

v) Announce a policy renouncing the use of export restrictions on agricultural commodities. Domestic shortages should be met by imports, but not by imposing export controls.

vi) Completely decontrol sugar and also remove sugar from the PDS.

vii) Remove the present restrictions on establishing new milk processing capacity...

viii) Lift the ban on Futures Trading and stocking of all agricultural commodities, and on institutional credit and finance for such activities.

ix) Remove all restrictions on the export of agri-products.

It is important to emphasize that these initiatives are resource neutral. They do not require the investment of significant public resources but they will help improve agricultural income generation.

In addition, the proposed changes discussed below will reduce the surplus with the FCI, as well as reduce leakages. There would thus be massive saving in the food subsidy that can be used to form direct income transfer to the poorest and for improving land and water productivity in the poorer areas.


It�s ten years this month since the failed Communist coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev that marked the effective end of the old Soviet Union, and the predictable rash of articles lamenting its loss has started showing up on the editorial pages, mostly written by the usual suspects. How awful it is there now. Maybe the standard of living in the �motherland of socialism� was low, but at least it was reliable. Russian democracy is a sham and its capitalism only serves the rich. So it�s time to say it again: the Soviet Union deserved to die.

There are as many excuses for Communist regimes as there are na�ve outsiders who want to believe in heaven on earth and cynical insiders who want to hang on to power. A prize example of the latter, the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, who recently assured journalists from the New York Times: �Should China apply the parliamentary democracy of the Western world, the only result will be that 1.2 billion Chinese people will not have enough food to eat. The result will be great chaos, and should that happen, it will not be conducive to world peace and stability.�

Lies and lawlessness

Why can�t China be a democracy? The United States has five times the population of France and still works as a democracy. China has only five times the population of the US. Does some weird mathematical law kick in so that the first jump in scale is fine, but the second is impossible? Are the Chinese just so stupid and disorganized that they cannot cope with democracy? Of course not. Jiang is protecting his own position and that of his fellow communist bosses by claiming that the Chinese cannot do without them. Oligarchs always talk like that. The Chinese could handle democracy just fine � after a while.

Come back to the case of the old Soviet Union. Gorbachev�s aim back in the Eighties was to �reform� communism in the direction of democracy and fix the economy without destroying the party�s �leading role� in society. In other words, he wanted to turn a fish into a bird and teach it to ride a bicycle � underwater. It couldn�t be done, because the old Soviet system was fundamentally based on force, lies and lawlessness.

What was necessary for democracy, or even for long-term economic growth, was the destruction of the entire communist system. The subsequent decade has been hard on most citizens of ex-communist countries, but that does not mean that the change was a bad idea. It just means that after a lifetime of dealing with a brutal and corrupt system, people�s attitudes and habits were not well fitted for dealing with the problems and choices that democracy and a market economy brought them.

A bad idea

It won�t be easy for China to democratize either. Twenty years of reforms may have given ordinary Chinese people a better grasp of how free economies work than the Russians had ten years ago, but there are huge upheavals and great pain ahead as the hundreds of millions who still live in the old command economy are forced into the market one. Moreover, most Chinese are as unfamiliar with the ethics and norms of democracy as Russians were in 1985, before the Gorbachev reforms began.

So it will be a hard transition for China too, but it will come. When a communist party starts seeking capitalist entrepreneurs as members (Jiang Zemin�s main ideological innovation), you can safely say that it is dead even if its beneficiaries won�t let it lie down. And after some initial turbulence the Chinese will doubtless turn out to be perfectly capable of living in a free society, even if they have no historical experience of it.

Every country that is now democratic started out from that position at some point in the not-too-distant past. Three or four centuries ago every country was a tyranny that would make modern China look permissive. The notion that some cultures are naturally better at democracy than others is merely a temporal fallacy. Some just got started on the new agenda a bit earlier, that�s all.

But Jiang Zemin can�t admit that, any more than he can admit that the whole half-century of communist rule in China was a horrible waste of time, money and lives, just like the Soviet �experiment�. But then, Mikhail Gorbachev can�t bring himself to admit that even ten years after the fall of communism in Russia.



Badly played

Sir � If there is a message in the Indian government�s decision to cancel the Indian cricket team�s participation in the Asian test championships to be held in Pakistan, then it was lost not only on the Pakistanis, but also on the Indians (�Agra host no-balls Pakistan test tour�, Aug 22). It is well known that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and company, perhaps with reason, put the blame for the failure of the Agra summit on Pakistan�s shoulders. But this was hardly the right way to play that bouncer. In fact, the ill-played shot has resulted in a neat catch in Pakistan�s hand, with the former captain, Wasim Akram, claiming for the umpteenth time that India is scared of losing to Pakistan. That Pakistan has left India behind in performance on the 22 yards has come to be more or less accepted. Was there any need to invite Pakistan to rub it in? Wasn�t it enough that the cricketing establishment openly showed its disgruntlement towards the government for being victimized every time India�s diplomatic relations with Pakistan went downhill?
Yours faithfully,
Shankar Mohanka, Calcutta

Not always right

Sir � The announcement of the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, that amnesty would be granted to the security personnel accused of human rights violations should be welcomed (�Advani holds up shield for terror troops�, Aug 20). Human rights activists had severely hampered the operations of the security personnel in Punjab, filing as many as 1,800 cases against them, a large number of which are alleged to be false. One sub-inspector of police, a recipient of the Rashtrapati medal for valour, committed suicide following severe harassment after charges of human rights violations.

A number of human rights organizations have their own biases. That the judiciary too has grown wary of such activists is evident from the fact that two public interest litigations on human rights violations have been turned down.

India shares a porous border with neighbours who are none too friendly. Bangladesh continues its demographic aggression, Pakistan its terror tactics. China and Nepal are not particularly benign in their quieter actions either. Given this situation, India has to be cautious. The home ministry should deal with human rightswallahs with an iron hand and go ahead with the cleansing of terrorist-infested regions in the country.

Yours faithfully,
G.V. Ashtekar, via email

Sir � There is much ado about the home minister�s alleged soft approach to police officers under the scrutiny of the National Human Rights Commission for their alleged violation of human rights while fighting terrorism, especially in Punjab. Terrorism was at its peak perhaps in the Eighties. The police took great risks to curb militant activity during this time. Many policemen died in the struggle. It was, and still is, quite natural for the police to make mistakes in such situations.

People who were in no way involved with militancy might have been killed during the operations. To compensate for this irreparable loss, the government has offered the kin of these people monetary help. It is the failure to execute this duty or the neglect of it which should have been brought up with the human rights commissions. Targeting dutybound police officers for their alleged violation of human rights is nothing but the NHRC�s avoidance of its duty to protect the rights of individuals.

The human rights commission should not be mortgaged to the interests of militants and foreign missionaries. Particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, terrorists seem to get more strength and confidence from these commissions. There are plenty of cases of rights violations which should be given priority. The cases such as dowry harassment, delayed court verdicts, child labour and so on have been neglected by the NHRC. It should concentrate on these first.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir � It is most unfortunate and alarming to note that police officers, who had staked not only their own lives but also that of their families to establish peace in Punjab by killing, where necessary, insurgents and saving the lives of hundreds of Indian citizens, now face charges of human rights violation. Some of the brave men have already been jailed, some suspended and some debarred from further promotions. Is saving Indians from militants a crime? I wonder when the Indian armed forces will face similar charges for �violating� the human rights of Pakistan soldiers by killing them (as in the Kargil war).

Yours faithfully,
Manu Bhattacharya, Midnapur

Bill without the coo

Sir � The pending and much talked about lok pal bill was finally introduced in Parliament a day before Independence Day. The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his address to the nation from the Red Fort stated that the bill would include him as well. The opposition parties, instead of extending wholehearted support to the National Democratic Alliance government fortrying to pass the bill in Parliament, are busy finding fault with it. They argue it is obvious that the category, member of parliament, includes the prime minister; so there is no need to mention it separately. This is nothing but habitual criticism of the government for the sake of opposition.

Tamil Nadu has shown us that a person disqualified from contesting the elections can be sworn in as the chief minister, since the law allows such people to govern for six months. H.D. Deve Gowda was sworn in as prime minister without being a member of either house. If the lok pal bill does not specially mention the prime minister, there is every chance that, if he is not a member of either house, he may escape the bill. So the special reference to the prime minister in the bill is necessary. The opposition would be well-advised to lend its wholehearted support to the bill, preferably in the current parliamentary session.

But the opposition parties and NDA partners might think of pressing for the inclusion of the members of the family of the prime minister and other Union ministers within the ambit of the bill. The only individual who should be excluded is the president. Even the chief justice should be brought within its purview. Since corruption has spread like wildfire, the purview of the bill should be expanded accordingly.

Yours faithfully,
S. Sundaramurthy, Madurai

Sir � The power minister of Uttar Pradesh,who was recently sacked, allegedly has wealth of more than Rs 100 crore. When a minister in a state cabinet can amass such wealth in a short time, it is easy to imagine the state of the coffers of parliamentarians. It is therefore not surprising that almost no MP is showing interest in passing the lok pal bill. It would ensure that their assets are scrutinized.

Yours faithfully,
Tamal Basu, via email

Parting shot

Sir � Khushwant Singh certainly did not mean �Gangster�s mole becomes a lady�(Aug 11), that is, �mole�, a betrayer or spy. I think he meant �moll�, which means a gangster�s female companion. The article was typical of Singh, with its usual masala. Its purport was not clear to me though. Was it meant to show a Phoolan Devi the public is unaware of, or to indicate how desperate she was for connubial bliss? The article failed to impress, with all its steamy details, as it missed out on how the lowly Phoolan Devi rose above her peers through all vicissitudes. With due respect to Singh, I think he is lucky that Phoolan Devi�s family is not educated enough to retaliate.
Yours faithfully,
Binsy Francis, via email

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