Editorial 1 / Deed and speech
Editorial 2 / Teething trouble
Diplomacy / Delicate balance
Fifth Column / Justice delayed and denied
Drawn to many centres
Documeent / Changes in the family welfare programme
Letters to the editor

The seriousness of the proposals mooted by the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the National Development Council meeting is evident from one simple fact. Mr Vajpayee, while formulating a 14 point programme to reverse the economic slowdown, emphasized the urgent need for the downsizing of the government. On the same day, Mr Vajpayee rehuffled his own cabinet. There was no sign of any downsizing there, the number of ministers stands at a staggering 75. Unlike charity, downsizing obviously does not begin at home. Mr Vajpayee cannot be unaware of this contradiction and is perhaps forced by political compulsions to give economic issues secondary importance. The points made by the prime minister in the context of the approach paper of the tenth five year plan cannot be faulted on principle. He has spoken of taking tough and unpopular decisions. If experience counts for anything then it can be said without any exaggeration or loss of perspective that the success or the failure of economic reforms hinges on the government’s ability to take hard decisions without bothering about their electoral consequences. Even the most ardent economic reformer needs political support to push through reform measures. That political support is predicated upon a government’s will. Mr Vajpayee’s best economic intentions may flounder upon the rock of electoral calculations. Till Mr Vajpayee moves to implement the measures he announced, a question mark will hover over the future of economic reforms.

A failure of political will is not the only obstacle holding back economic reforms. The other hurdle is ideological posturing. And this was manifested by the chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Mr Bhattacharjee expressed his disapproval to the approach paper; he said that it had been prepared according to the dictates of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This is a voice with which the people of West Bengal have become unfamiliar because in Calcutta, Mr Bhattacharjee, ever since he became chief minister, sings a completely different tune. Like Mr Vajpayee, Mr Bhattacharjee is also keen — or so his Calcutta persona would suggest — on foreign investment and disinvestment. Yet he expressed his opposition to what is clearly a manifesto for economic reforms. If one discounts the view that Mr Bhattacharjee spoke thus under the influence of the powerful members of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who are anti-reforms, then the only explanation is Mr Bhattacharjee’s dependence on an antiquated rhetoric which is nonetheless familiar to Mr Bhattacharjee. He has to abandon the cosiness of this familiarity. He has done so in West Bengal, he must now demonstrate his own independence and his political will by doing the same in New Delhi. The future of economic reforms and the future of West Bengal are both related to the abilities of the prime minister and the chief minister to match their words with actions.


The first government of a new state has the daunting task of living up to the popular aspirations that gave birth to it. While charting out the map for development, the government has to embark on policies that would give the state its distinct identity. Jharkhand’s chief minister, Mr Babulal Marandi, has to do a balancing act in assuring tribals that it is their state, while ensuring that non-tribals do not feel alienated. It is true that Jharkhand, like Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh, was carved out as a new state mainly on ethnic considerations. But there is no denying the demographic changes that have made non-tribals an integral part of the state. While announcing the new state’s industrial policy last month, Mr Marandi had encountered his first challenge. Predictably, he has been accused, by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and some other political parties, of “sacrificing” the interests of tribals at the altar of economic development. His opponents have threatened to launch agitations if industrialization results in the displacement of tribal people. A bigger challenge, though, awaits his government when it announces its job reservation policy. Apparently struggling to work out an acceptable policy in the face of persistent demands for reservation of 60 per cent of the government jobs for the tribals, the chief minister went back on his promise to announce it in July. He cannot hold it back for much longer because the absence of a policy is believed to have left hundreds of vacancies. Mr Marandi cannot afford to take a populist line because the decision on this issue will eventually affect the state’s growth plans as well as its ethnic harmony. He has moved fast enough on the Panchayat Act and announced the rural body elections by this year-end. Grassroots democratization could go a long way in meeting the challenge of the Naxalites who hold sway over large areas of the state.

Mr Marandi’s problems have been compounded by the delay in the division of assets and manpower between Jharkhand and its parent state, Bihar. Although the Bihar Reorganization Act, 2000, set this November as the deadline for the division, this seems unlikely to happen. The Centre has to help the two states sort out the contentious issues, particularly those relating to the state undertakings and corporations. The other problem the chief minister faces is from opponents within the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Dissent within the National Democratic Alliance is getting louder because the NDA has failed to set up the coordination committee that was supposed to monitor the government’s performance. Mr Marandi would do well to take an initiative in forming the committee to inspire confidence among colleagues and make his government more cohesive.


Predictably, there has been elation in New Delhi over the Bush administration’s decision during the last weekend to impose sanctions on China and Pakistan for their bilateral cooperation in missile development. Administration officials in Washington are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to portray the sanctions not only as evidence of the White House’s commitment to non-proliferation, but also as proof that the United States intends to draw the line where the two proliferators are concerned. They were quoted in The Washington Post as saying that the Chinese were “stunned that we actually sanctioned them”.

In the euphoria over the upcoming meeting in New York between the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the American president, George W. Bush, and the possibility that some sanctions on India may be waived — not repealed — Indians are apt to be taken in by the administration’s hectic weekend activity on the Sino-Pakistan front. The sanctions prohibit US firms from doing any business with China Metallurgical Equipment Corporation, a private company closely allied to the Beijing government. The Americans have said the company transferred missile components and technology to Pakistan in violation of an assurance last November not to do so.

Lest anyone in India should assume that the sanctions would cripple CMEC or affect China’s access to missile technology, it is necessary to point out that the US action is merely symbolic. The CMEC does not do any worthwhile business with American companies and the sanctions, therefore, are proverbially akin to water off the duck’s back.

An appropriate comparison of these sanctions is to the action taken by Australia against India in 1998 in the wake of the nuclear tests. Australia, among other things, suspended all military sales to India. The fact of the matter was that India, in any case, was buying no defence equipment from Canberra, prompting Brajesh Mishra, the national security adviser, to sarcastically comment that the Indian army could no longer have boomerangs.

Washington has also made a big thing of the Bush administration’s internal debate, in the wake of Chinese missile technology transfers to Pakistan, on the issue of suspending licences for US aerospace firms to launch their satellites on Chinese rockets. Once again, the truth is that in the nearly eight months that it has been in office, the Bush White House has not given a single licence to any US company to launch either their satellites or any satellite with American parts on Chinese rockets.

Several such requests are pending. Such launches require a presidential waiver of the kind Bill Clinton has been liberal with. India should not, therefore, make the mistake of seeing this as a sanction measure: if no waivers were given all through the Bush presidency so far, the reason must be found elsewhere, not in Chinese help for Pakistan’s Shaheen I and Shaheen II, which are capable of delivering nuclear warheads on India. It is significant that the ritual, symbolic sanctions on China and Pakistan were imposed during the weekend just before the US congress resumed after its summer recess.

Indeed, the key to the sanctions is a letter addressed to Bush on August 24 by the senator, Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, who is the new chairman of the senate foreign relations committee. Biden favours the withdrawal of sanctions imposed on India for its nuclear tests over three years ago, but with riders. He wants India to reciprocate with concrete steps towards non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction if the sanctions are, indeed, withdrawn.

Biden also conveyed in the letter his intention to personally discuss with Bush the problem of Chinese proliferation of WMD, especially the assistance Beijing gives Islamabad in developing missiles. Last month, Biden led a team of US senators to China: he discussed with the Chinese president, Jiang Zem in, the issue of Sino-Pakistan missile collaboration.

On his return to the US, Biden told PBS Television’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer that if the Chinese “want to be treated as every other major nation in the world, they had to play by the rules. They couldn’t have this economic cooperation and become a member of the World Trade Organization and continue to be proliferators of weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missile technology”.

Pointedly and specifically, Biden demanded that the US should impose sanctions on Chinese companies which had transferred missile technology or parts to Pakistan and others. “I’d urge the Bush administration now to do it, to identify those entities within the Chinese government that transferred whatever technology meets the requirement of breaching the deal that they have made with us and sanctioning those companies from being able to do business...” And that precisely is what Bush did during the weekend.

Biden continued: “What they do is they play a game with us, though. They tell us well, we are not going to proliferate; then they go ahead and send something out that is proliferation, but is not covered by any international agreement that they are a party to. They are trying to play it both ways. And I think we have to call them on it, when in fact, we catch them. And take the action that is appropriate and that is measurable in response to the action they have taken.”

On Capitol Hill, there is bi-partisan support for what Biden demanded. A Republican senator from Tennessee, Fred Thompson, who accompanied Biden to Beijing, said on the same programme. “Just recently, of course, they (Chinese) were caught shipping additional missile components to Pakistan. They have outfitted Pakistan soup to nuts. And of course that has caused a major problem between India and Pakistan, who are now trying to outdo each other in the nuclear field.”

“I think the next step now is what are we (Americans) going to do about it? I think for the last 10 years we’ve let these things pass, and we have refused to impose sanctions even when our law calls for it. We’ve imposed them temporarily, then lifted them when they gave another promise...I think we’re going to have to take some action there because clearly they do not believe that they have to do any differently.”

Bush wants to visit China in October, within weeks of his meeting with Vajpayee. He, naturally, wants the visit to be a success. So, last weekend, even as sanctions were imposed on CMEC, the US offered to share with China, in advance, details of the Bush national missile defence plans.

What is of greater import to India is that the White House sent out a message to Beijing last weekend that if China wanted to resume nuclear testing in order to modernize its nuclear arsenal, the US would have no objections to the idea. Washington’s curious rationale was that it had not altogether closed the option of testing forever: so the same privilege could not be denied to other countries. At the same time, the administration floated a trial balloon suggesting that there could be a quid pro quo for Chinese acquiescence to the NMD. Beijing could build its own fleet of nuclear missiles. If one looks at the complete picture in Washington, instead of looking selectively at the sanctions as in New Delhi, it is very clear that what is being played out in the White House and the state department is a sophisticated game of shadow boxing.

The Bush White House has multiple aims. It wants to withdraw the sanctions on India. This is hardly likely to come about unless similar sanctions for nuclear tests against Pakistan are also withdrawn: realpolitik demands that the waivers should be simultaneous.

But there are those who strongly oppose the withdrawal of sanctions against Pakistan. For them, as a sop, the White House announced last weekend that sanctions had also been imposed on a state-owned enterprise which imported missile parts from CMEC, the National Development Complex.

Powerful elements in the Congress, Biden downwards, want sanctions on China for its various acts of commission and omission ranging from proliferation of WMD to human rights. So the White House readily gave in to the demands for sanctions. But long-time practitioners of foreign policy such as the national security adviser, Condole-ezza Rice, know that the Chinese are such proud people that they would not put up with sanctions against them even if they were only symbolic.

So the White House added a sweetener to the sanctions in offering to overlook future Chinese nuclear tests,and more importantly, proposing the quid pro quo of a Chinese nuclear build-up in exchange for a more concilia tory approach from Beijing to NMD.On the eve of the resumption of legislative work on Capitol Hill, the reaction to all this has been unfavourable. So the whole package remains a game that will be played out in the coming weeks.


The law minister of West Bengal has estimated that till March this year, 2,79,370 cases were pending before the Calcutta high court. The pile-up of cases is not unique to Calcutta. Practically all the judicial bodies in India are over-burdened with inconclusive cases. And the fate of innumerable Indians is hanging in the balance. Although people generally tend to esteem judges, they have lost faith in the judicial system because justice in India has become a costly and dilatory affair. The judicial process is so cumbersome and prolonged that for some it is preferable to accept injustice to seeking justice by the standard procedure.

The Constitution has created an integrated judiciary under the Supreme Court. The entire process of a case appearing before the Supreme Court after coming up in a lower court takes years. In the process, the litigants give up hope. The law commission of India once pointed out that nearly 36 per cent of cases put up annually remain undecided. Therefore, a huge number of cases continue for years while heaps of new cases are tabled for legal settlement. The failure to clear this backlog adds to the feeling of insecurity and, gradually, creates a sense of “judicial injustice”.

Judicial injustice

It is, of course, true that the judicial process is inherently slow because the judges must pronounce the final verdict after having heard all arguments and examined all documents. Interrogation and cross-examination also require much time. But if an inordinate delay is involved in every step of the procedure then justice may often elude the unfortunate litigants during their lifetime.

The problem of delayed justice has meanwhile become so acute that any half-hearted measure can be of little avail. Only a comprehensive plan and concerted actions could deal with the crisis. First, the number of law courts and subordinate courts needs to be increased throughout the country. Second, the number of judges and other staff of each law court should also be increased. The existing strength of judges is inadequate to deal with the cases pending. The law commission thinks that the number of judges must be increased in order to minimize the delay in the judicial process and to ensure proper settlement of the litigations within the stipulated period. In recent times, the law minister of West Bengal has disclosed that 48 judges are now serving in the Calcutta high court, but there are till now 12 vacancies in the bench. Almost all judicial courts of India are functioning with such structural deficiencies.

Outworn legacy

A great deal of delay is also caused by the adjournment of cases for insufficient reasons. This is why the former chief justice of India, P.N. Bhagwati, once held that judges should strictly adhere to some norms in allowing adjournment. The proper choice in the appointment of the judges can go a long way in mitigating the delay in the judicial process. As H.R. Khanna, former justice of the Supreme Court, once held, an efficient judge obviously settles his cases much earlier than his inept colleagues. Therefore, the right recruitment to the bench can help in making the judicial process inexpensive and prompt.

The problem of infrastructure needs to confronted. Most of the country’s lower courts have to function in a precarious condition. Some of the buildings are old. The courtroom, judge’s chamber and library are too narrow to serve any purpose. The law minister of West Bengal has claimed that the state government has computerized the high courts and judges have been provided with personal computers. But there are hundreds of law courts which have to make do without new typewriters, xerox machines and computers. In some courts there is also a dearth of clerical staff, typists and other junior staff. Such mismanagement should be corrected in order to ensure the speedy dispensation of justice.

The judicial process is a legacy of British rule. In many ways, the law is not Indian in spirit, form, content and language. In fact, the slow moving machinery of justice is an impediment to the rule of law and inconsistent with the social conscience of the day. For these reasons, a big change in the judicial system should brook no delay.


This is the time of the year when our 18-year olds literally step into their future lives as they take their first steps into a new college or a university building. These 18-year olds, in a few years’ time, are going to be the most important building block of our nation: the human resources, the educated labour force. The higher education they get at this stage is therefore important not just for them but also for us, for the whole nation. The structure of higher education thus has a lot of responsibility and accountability.

There are quite a few important issues regarding our higher education system that need to be carefully looked at. Unfortunately, most of these issues are tied up with each other and therefore are not easy to be dealt with separately. One of them, namely, the issue of financing higher education, catches the limelight often. It has done so once again recently as the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has proposed to hike the tuition fees in state-run universities and colleges in order to remove the subsidization of higher education.

It is undoubtedly true that the cost of running these institutions and providing higher education, especially in streams like engineering and medicine, has increased tremendously over the past two decades. But the earnings from these institutions remained at a pathetic level. Hence, the government finally had to take the decision of raising the tuition fees. As a direct consequence of this decision, protests against the fee rise are being held while some have vowed to launch a movement countering the campaign against the increase in tuition fees.

Among all these rather political protests and anti-protests, real issues are easily forgotten. How to finance higher education is clearly an important question; however, there are other issues that should be quite high up in the agenda. The University Grants Commission has agreed in principle to give autonomy to undergraduate colleges, so that they can manage their own affairs, and even award degrees independent of any university. This particular issue deserves a closer look. What we badly need now is a clear policy on state-run higher education.

There should be a forward-looking policy that would first and foremost identify the proper need of higher education. That is, exactly who and where, in terms of geographical location, the customers are, and would suggest how to provide higher education for all of them. Finally, the right system, format and content of it includ- ing the right pricing scheme, should be discussed.

It would be handy to realize first exactly how many need to be catered to. This year, for example, altogether 575,731 candidates appeared in the Madhyamik examination. About 70 per cent of these students passed the examination; about twenty per cent — 86,871 — in the first division. These numbers have been fairly stable over the last few years. One would expect that most of the students who pass the Madhyamik examination actually do go for the next step of the education ladder and appear for the higher secondary examination after two years. Indeed, this year 377,377, which is about 90 per cent of those who passed their Madhyamik, appeared for the higher secondary examination. This year, about 250,000 passed this level of which 32,383 were placed in the first division. Therefore there is a healthy annual stock of about 250,000 18-year olds who pass their higher secondary examination and thereby qualify for the degree level. They are the potential customers of the higher education system.

It is not just the number, but also the geographical location of these students that is important too. Most of the higher education activities in West Bengal centre on the city of Calcutta. The city and its neighbourhood are the location of most of the prestigious colleges, universities, medical and engineering schools of the state. Although these colleges are open to all students in the state, the high schools in the city and nearby districts seem to provide most of the candidates for these institutions. This is probably because the high schools in Calcutta have the traditional advantage of providing the right education leading to the universities.

It is clearly not any reflection on the quality of the students in other districts. Indeed, there are thousands of good students who are just deprived of the good training that is needed to find a place in the prestigious colleges in Calcutta. Good students do come from all corners of the state. Just to prove that fact probably, in recent years, district schools have outshone schools in Calcutta and elbowed Calcutta out of the top positions in both Madhyamik and higher secondary examinations by grabbing a large chunk of the merit list. Students from schools in places like Dinhata in Cooch Behar, Balurghat in South Dinajpur, Bheduasole in Bankura, Adra in Purulia draw attention year after year. Undoubtedly, the students these district schools are producing deserve the best quality of higher education available.

The question is: where do these 250,000 students, particularly those who come from the little known district schools, go for their higher education? What happens to them after they pass their higher secondary examination? What kind of higher education is on offer for these youngsters? Clearly, the most prestigious and lucrative option available is going to the engineering and medical schools. These schools however absorb only a few thousand, which is a tiny percentage of the number we are talking about.

A big chunk of students go for standard university degrees. The state universities are only a handful; there are however many colleges affiliated to these universities, where most of these students go. Since most of the prestigious colleges and universities in and around Calcutta cannot offer many places to students from other districts, understandably, most of the good students in the districts end up having a college education in their own district colleges affiliated to one of the state universities. For example, students in Purulia district go to the J. K. College in the district town that is affiliated to Burdwan University. There are a few state-run polytechnics and other vocational institutions that take a few students. We are still far from being able to offer college seats to all these 250,000 students.

The aim clearly should be to offer graduate programmes to 250,000 students who come from all the 18 districts in the state, preferably close to their hometowns. Of course, this brings up the issue of resources to do this. Therefore the suggestion of raising the fees, or even part privatization, is understandable, if not justifiable. But whatever be the pricing scheme, it has to be remembered that all these 250,000 students should be offered places.

This is more than just a moral and constitutional obligation that the government has to fulfil. We should think of it as an investment. These 250,000 potential graduate students can build up a tremendous workforce for the nation. We should invest on their higher education, as they are probably the most valuable assets we have. It is not a stock that is being talked about here, rather an annual flow of assets from which the benefits can be reaped year after year once there is a stable system of education for all of them.

What is needed for the ability to offer places to all these students is many more new colleges and universities. What would be a feasible way to do it? One obvious solution would be to build new campuses in different districts of the state. With the binding resource constraints, this is going to be a task. The alternative is to rely on the existing structure and try to build on it.

Ideas about decentralizing the existing framework of colleges being affiliated to a central university could be considered. There are some valuable lessons from the success of Jadavpur University that is a one-campus university unlike Calcutta or Burdwan Universities. Many colleges or polytechnics can certainly be upgraded to universities. The J. K. College in a district town like Purulia is a good exa-mple. It would probably be an ideal place for the university of Purulia and would attract all the students in that district and beyond.

It is time to put resources into new ventures in higher education. The benefits are clear. There should be a decentralized higher education structure that would be both accessible and attractive. The new places would have to main tain the standards set by the traditio-nal good universities like Calcutta and Burdwan that they were affiliated to in any case. This way, there will be new campus-universities and there would be no need to start from scratch for that.

It is clear a desperate reshuffle of the existing higher education system is needed. Many issues must be sorted out. First it is the quality of service that must be decided upon. The price of it can be considered after that. Let us not try to do it the other way round.


The Family Welfare Programme in India has undergone important changes in...the last five or six years. The government has dispensed with its procedure, initiated during the fourth five-year plan, of monitoring the family welfare programme on the basis of method-specific family planning targets to achieve a couple protection rate of 60 per cent. Experience has shown that the emphasis on achieving method-specific targets, particularly sterilization targets, has created a situation in which targets for numbers of acceptors gained precedence over everything else and the programme was not driven by demand. This led to the acceptance of sterilization by older and higher-parity couples at the expense of the promotion of spacing between children among younger couples. The target approach, along with incentive schemes to encourage better performance, led to unhealthy competition among states and among personnel at different levels within states. This emphasis had an adverse impact on the quality of services and care provided by the programme. Adequate emphasis was not placed on informed choice, counselling, and follow-up services to clients...

In 1993, the government of India constituted a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan to draft a new National Population Policy. The committee submitted its report in May 1994. The report consisted of a number of important recommendations, one of which was to abolish the target-oriented approach. After the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 in Cairo, the programme was gradually reoriented towards the holistic approach of the Reproductive and Child Health programme. In addition to the activities covered under the CSSM programme, the RCH programme includes components relating to sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive tract infections.

The family welfare programme’s target-free approach was implemented throughout the country in 1996. This was done after some initial experiments to gauge the impact of making the programme target-free in a few selected districts. The essence of the TFA was to modify the system of monitoring the programme and to make it a demand-driven system in which a worker would assess the needs of the community at the beginning of each year. Such an assessment would form the basis for planning and monitoring the programme during the year. Workers are supposed to assess the needs of the community on the basis of consultations with families in the area, Mahila Swasthya Sangh, anganwadis and panchayats...

The recent National Population Policy, released in February 2000, paid special attention to the health and education of women and children to achieve population stabilization for the country by 2045. This suggests a paradigm-shift to reproductive and child health with utmost concern towards improving the quality of care. The policy document begins with the statement that “the overriding objective of economic and social development is to improve the quality of lives that people lead, to enhance their well-being, and to provide them with opportunities and choices to become productive assets in society” (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2000).

For the first time, the policy prepones to 2010 the time for attaining replacement level fertility (that is, a net reproduction rate of 1.0). The NPP has elaborated 12 strategies to achieve its socio-demographic goals. The strategies can have far-reaching implications, including reductions in the high level of unwanted as well as wanted fertility. Unwanted fertility is high due to high levels of unmet need for family planning as first revealed by the 1992-93 National Family Health Survey. Unwanted fertility is expected to decline with the control of infant and child mortality.

To achieve its objectives, the NPP reaffirms continuation of the TFA and emphasizes informed contraceptive choice and the availability of good quality services. The policy proposes decentralized planning and programme implementation. Towards the goal of lowering fertility, a number of strategies were suggested to improve RCH services, including an emphasis on education, women’s empowerment and the involvement of men in the programme. The policy envisages free and compulsory school education up to age 14, a reduction in the infant mortality rate to less than 30 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, and a reduction in the maternal mortality ratio to less than 100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The policy also aims to achieve universal immunization of children, delivery assistance by trained personnel for all births, and 100 per cent registration of births, deaths, marriages, and pregnancies. Another important emphasis of the policy is the need for promoting delayed marriages for girls, the provision of wider choice and universal access to family planning information and services, and the prevention of major infectious diseases, including RTIs and AIDS. All these goals are to be achieved by 2010 to realize replacement level fertility by that year with an estimated population of 1.11 billion and population stabilization by 2045.



Temple of doom

Sir — That the Ram mandir at Ayodhya is growing apace does not speak too well of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (“Atal talks, mandir masons toil”, Aug 31). Although Vajpayee had promised he would resolve the mandir issue by conducting talks with the parties involved, all evidence proves otherwise. News reports claim that neither the Vishwa Hindu Parishad nor the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee has conducted any talks with Vajpayee. So who is the prime minister conducting his talks with? Is he merely placating the masses while standing back and watching the mindlessness of the VHP? It is, after all, impossible that Vajpayee is oblivious to the threat to India if the mandir is erected on the disputed site. His inaction might be linked to the home minister, L.K. Advani, one of the protagonists behind the demolition of the Babri masjid. Hopefully, Vajpayee’s indifference is a false impression and he is actually aware of the graver implications of the building of the temple.

Yours faithfully,
Seema Arora, Karjat

Power to shirk

Sir-— It is difficult to remain unconcerned after reading Bhaskar Dutta’s article, “Wishes are not horses” (Aug 30). Dutta’s analysis of the present state of the Indian economy is both shocking and depressing. It is not surprising that Dutta has questioned the integrity of the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha. Instead of admitting his government’s failure in dealing with the Unit Trust of India fiasco, the finance minister has maintained time and again that the Indian economy has not been affected by the slowdown in the West and by the current crises. India is a developing country and still has a long way to go before it can seriously challenge other Asian countries like Malaysia and China. Therefore, Sinha should have come clean with the Indian people. India needs an honest and knowledgeable finance minister who will be able to initiate reforms as well as give the economy a face-lift.

Sinha should be advising the prime minister to downsize the government. Instead he is busy misleading the people by refusing to admit that the Indian economy is in a deplorable state. Instead of lowering interest rates at regular intervals and causing an inconvenience to the middle-income groups, Sinha should have prioritized the growth of infrastructure. This would have made industries more competitive and would have also attracted foreign investment. Even a relatively inexperienced politician like Rajiv Gandhi had tried to revolutionize communications and information technology.

The government needs to take its focus off caste and religion, and should instead concentrate on the economy. Japan or the United States are economic superpowers not because of their respective religious beliefs but for their economic management.

Yours faithfully,
Aditya P. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The finance minister’s lack of interest in providing protection to the needy clearly indicates that the people of the country are not properly represented in the government. He is more interested in extending support to industrialists to help them recover from the slowdown.

The three-fold increase in the salaries of the members of parliament also reveals the government’s irresponsibility. The industrialists are mainly responsible for the industrial slowdown. They are expected to possess the technical know-how of production and should take appropriate measures when there is a slump in the market and study the consumer behaviour, which is vitally linked with market trends. Instead, they are being encouraged by the recent Reserve Bank of India directive to the banks to reduce the prime lending rates. The consequence of this will be the deprivation of smaller depositors. This example itself amply proves that although the politicians who run the government want to capture vote banks by paying lip service to the people while campaigning, they completely ignore the needs of the people once they come to power.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Women in terror

Sir — Whatever pressure the Lashkar-e-Jabbar may place on the women of Kashmir, their authoritarian rule cannot last forever. The only reason behind the recent increase in the number of Kasmiri women wearing burkhas is the fear of the action that the militants might take against them.

The campaign seems to be the Lashkar-e-Jabbar’s attempt at grabbing headlines by asserting its presence alongside other terrorist organizations in the region. It is true that a number of women do wear the burkha but the decision to do so should be left to the free will of the womenfolk. The government should be careful not to impose its view on this issue and leave it to the people of the region to deal with the burkha controversy.

Yours faithfully,
A.N. Dhar, New Delhi

Sir-— The report, “Shabana joins burqa protest”(Aug28), only helped prove that militant groups activities are still carrying on unthwarted. Mere protests by celebrities will not solve the problem faced by Kashmiri women. It would be heartening to see some activists actually going to Kashmir to experience the effect of terrorism on the people.

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Sir — The policy adopted by India on Kashmir has become ridiculous. Its double standard is shown by the “soft” attitude toward the secessionists on the one hand and the deployment of huge security forces to combat insurgency on the other. The government should take a firm decision whether it wants to succumb to the demands of pro-Pakistan militants such as the Hurriyat, or enforce full military power to suppress the activities of the terrorists in Kashmir.

Yours faithfully,
M. Dasgupta, via email

Parting shot

Sir — The condition of the Belur-Ghusuri road is pathetic. Drivers have no choice but to use this road as the parallel road is one-way. Could the Calcutta Municipal Corporation ensure that we do not have to travel on roads at the risk of damaging our vehicles?

Yours faithfully,
T.K. Chakraborty, Calcutta

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