Editorial 1 / Just food
Editorial 2 / Timely exit
Disgrace abounding
Fifth Column / The making of a civil servant
Ideology into actuality
Document / God help those who can�t help themselve
Letters to the editor

Speaking up for a right cause gives the champion a kind of automatic immunity. So it is doubly disturbing when the Supreme Court starts inquiring into the mechanics of food distribution to the poor. The cause of the court�s interest is truly tragic. Yet it cannot be denied that food distribution is not really something that the court is expected to look into so directly. The paradox of undernourished and starving people in a country in which excess foodgrains rot in storage is striking enough to have brought the Supreme Court into this arena a few weeks earlier. It had then asked the Centre and certain states to account for the imbalance. The recent series of deaths in Orissa from poisoned mango kernel has given the issue a further edge. The Supreme Court has now wished to know why 11 states and four Union territories have failed so far to complete their survey of people below the poverty line. Without such an account, it is impossible to make full use of the public distribution system. It has been evident for a long time that the most heavily subsidized foodgrain reaches a very small proportion of the targeted population. Those who are lucky enough to get it often receive much smaller quantities than the mandatory amount. The imbalance is rooted in the food policy itself. Unwilling to alienate the powerful farmers� lobby, the government buys the grain at very high rates. Even subsidies cannot bring it within reach of the poorest in the country. Mismanagement of the PDS and the routine corruption during transit of grain simply add to the imbalance that has already been created.

The absurdity has had tragic results, and it is up to the Central and state governments to do something about it as fast and as sensibly as possible. That their failure has brought the Supreme Court into the arena is an unfortunate portent. The executive, the legislature and the judiciary are three distinct arms of the democracy and they have well-defined functions. Administration can function smoothly only if these three work in coordination, each within its own space. The food folly is entirely the responsibility of the government. The government has been elected by the people; they alone can penalize it for failing in its duty. The moment the judiciary steps in, issues are blurred. Most confusing is the impression conveyed by such episodes that the court is the knight in shining armour, willing to step in whenever any other arm of the democracy abdicates responsibility. The potential imbalance here is almost as grave as that in the food distribution system. The polity is based on principles which dictate a certain distance among the spheres of action of administration and justice. The court interprets the law and the Constitution, and administers justice. It should not allow itself to be drawn into a battle with poverty.


Scandals add glamour to some careers. For others they could be rather unglamorously inconvenient. Mr Prafulla Kumar Mahanta seems to have had no illusions as to where his alleged bigamy was going to leave him. He has put in his resignation from the leadership of the Asom Gana Parishad and of its legislature party. This is perhaps the best way open for Mr Mahanta to forestall public indignity. The pressure against him within the party was building up steadily, with its executive meeting and the general council meeting providing opportunity for public humiliation, Mr Mahanta�s resignation looks like good damage control. The AGP is a party struggling to keep its foot in the political door. It would be difficult for it to weather the adversity on its own, without the prop of a strategic tie-up. For this it would have to turn to the Bharatiya Janata Party. But since the inglorious defeat of the AGP-BJP combine in the latest assembly elections in Assam, that particular relationship, already beleaguered with doubts, has been steadily on the wane. The latest bigamy allegation has proved to be the final nail in the coffin. The state BJP unit seems to have resolved its dithering and has decided not to go into any electoral understanding with the AGP for the forthcoming Titabor and Dibrugarh by-elections and the panchayat polls. It has also become difficult for the AGP to invoke a �Congress conspiracy� following Tehelka�s withdrawal of its story alleging a Congress minister�s lucre-driven hand in vilifying Mr Mahanta�s name. Ms Sanghamitra Bharali�s recent tantalizing silences have also not helped either way. Hence, Mr Mahanta�s resignation is perhaps the most convenient way of purging the air for a scandal-haunted party.

Apart from the political implications of Mr Mahanta�s action, the development and aftermath of this affair show an interesting aspect of the relationship between politics and public morality. The use of scandals in political games is an ancient tradition. But India�s moral paganism had always been rather tolerant of sexual transgressions in the political arena, compared, say, to the United States. The scandals that would rock the Indian political establishment would mostly have to do with money, big or small. Mr Mahanta�s is perhaps the first instance of an alleged sexual irregularity precipitating such a definite political consequence. The Indian public is too jaded with financial scandals for these to topple political careers or parties. It is true that the aspersions have now widened to include Ms Bharali�s allegedly disproportionate assets, being looked into by the state anti-corruption and vigilance bureau. But this is understood to have been initiated by the Congress. Alleged bigamy definitely has more lustre than alleged theft.


There is something obscene about the way the Central government has denied the fact of starvation deaths in the Kashipur taluka of Orissa, one of the most backward areas in that near-destitute state. Does it not have the decency to see that it is not a question of semantics, and that whether the tragedy is ascribed to chronic malnourishment or poisoning because of eating fungus-infected mango kernels, it makes no difference to the fact that the deceased tribals did not have enough to eat by way of cereals for a long time. The question whether mango-kernal is regarded as a delicacy in this wretched part of the state or not is entirely irrelevant in the present context. The crucial point is that the hunger-stricken in this case took to eating it as the only accessible substitute for rice or wheat which was beyond their means to buy even at subsidized prices.

The sheer ineptitude of the food administration at the Centre as well as in the state in not rushing enough rice and wheat to the drought-stricken areas in Orissa at the very first intimation of acute scarcity is all the more inexcusable at a time when New Delhi has 60 million tons of cereals in its granaries. While the current annual offtake by the public distribution system does not come to even one-fifth of this amount, there is grievous shortage of storage capacity and a fairly large part of the old stock is likely to rot if nothing is done soon enough either to export quite a few million tons or distribute the stuff free to the very poor who cannot afford to buy enough food even at the highly subsidized prices.

The seductive images of new lifestyles among the upper crust of the burgeoning middle classes projected daily by a multitude of television channels may keep at bay the spectres of hunger that still haunt many backward areas in the country. But they cannot blot out the stark fact that over 300 million people still live below the poverty line. And at a conservative estimate there must be at least 50 to 60 million of them who cannot buy even enough of rational food.

The Union food minister said the other day in the course of a TV debate that there was no question of supplying free the needed quantities of food out of government silos since this would cause a slump in food prices, and induce the farmers to grow less. But it is hard to understand his logic. How can supply of free food out of fast accumulating and unmanageable stocks to a few million families who, in any case, do not earn enough to buy all the rice or wheat they need, bring down market prices? Even leaving aside economic rationality and considerations of compassion for the hungry, the choice is between allowing large quantities of food to go waste and giving it free to those living at the edge of destitution.

That the government should not be able to act with alacrity in such a critical situation is one more piece of evidence of its slovenly ways. It is a disgrace that it should have to be goaded time and again by the Supreme Court into facing up to its elementary responsibilities. Only recently it has had to force vehicles plying on Delhi�s roads to use a cleaner fuel to reduce the intolerable level of pollution in the national capital. It found to its dismay that, because of the failure of the Centre and the state government to do their home work properly, the two between them have made a miserable mess of the job.

It is not surprising in this situation if the Supreme Court has issued notices to the Orissa and many other state governments why they had not even cared to identify so far the number of those below poverty line and why only 25 kilograms of cereals were being supplied to some of the destitute families when the law entitled them to receive thrice as much. Some of the states where government leaders never tire of shedding tears over the plight of the poor, have been so apathetic that they have failed to lift as much as half of the 7 lakh tons of rice and wheat gifted by the Centre for free distribution in the drought-stricken areas.

The state governments have lived down many such embarrassments in the past and they will again have recourse to flimsy excuses for their grave lapses which have in fact by now become badges of their identity. How can they keep track of all those below the poverty line when their numbers add up to the population of all the countries of the European Union put together? They do not have the means, they will plead, to provide them with identity cards or even make sure that the very poor get the ration cards without greasing the palm of some petty official or even see that part of the supplies received from the public distribution system does not find its way into the black market.

There are many hitches, moreover, in the communication between the very poor and the local officials, the starving villages and the district headquarters, the districts and the state capitals and, last but not the least, between the states and the Centre. Then there are flaws in the public distribution system itself. Some close observers of the scene even suspect that not every ton of food that is procured in the market reaches the assigned silo safe and sound. If in one of the poorest states in the country like Bihar, Rs 1,000 crore of public money � 16 times the sum involved in the Bofors payoffs � can be misappropriated from a minor department, and the racket go unnoticed for ten years, how can any limits be set to corruption or misgovernance?

The highest judiciary can reprimand any government guilty of not doing its duty. It can even haul up officials for contempt of court where they fail to abide by its orders. But how can it clean entire political and administrative systems up to their neck in sleaze? To add to its problems, some of the laws in force are themselves antediluvian. It seems that only when the crop failure in a particular area is 50 per cent, is the state government obliged to launch a work-for-food programme. Does this mean that it has no responsibility to come to the aid of the hungry if they are in dire distress but the loss of crop in the village or taluka concerned is only 40 per cent?

What is still more shocking is that even where work-for-food programmes are launched their administration is seldom above board. I remember that nearly thirty years ago, when I was editing a paper, there was an acute drought in a part of Rajasthan and I sent a senior reporter to the area to investigate how the relief work was going on. According to his despatches, of the 75,000 workers supposed to be engaged on the project, as many as 30,000 just existed on paper, their wages at the rate of Rs 2 a day, that is a total of Rs 60,000 daily going into the pockets of those running or supervising the show. As for the rest, they were paid only Re 1.50 a day while made to sign receipts for Rs 2, thus contributing their mite of Rs 22,500 a day to the well-being of their benefectors.

There was no official denial of these published facts. Indeed when I personally drew the attention of the then prime minister to this sorry business, her response was a wan smile, carrying hints of both cynicism and helplessness.

Both the strain of cynicism and the sense of helplessness infecting the political and administrative cultures have become more pronounced with the passage of time, the increasing vulnerability of the Centre to parochial vested interests of all kinds, and the more ample space being created in public life for lumpen and criminal elements. In this situation, being a stickler for enforcing the law � as the case of the former minister for urban development, Jagm-ohan, who has just been relieved of his portfolio under pressure from po-werful lobbies and assigned one more harmless � ironically becomes a big handicap.

That the reform process has almost come to a grinding halt is no surprise. While political skullduggery and a lack of any serious attempt at consensus-building block the disinvestment programme and trade unions stymie the proposed changes in labour laws, the Enron muddle is sending out the wrong kind of signal to prospective investors in the badly rundown infrastructure. There is not a ghost of a chance of any state � most of them already teetering on the brink of bankruptcy � accepting responsibility for food procurement.

Those who man the new cell to be set up in the prime minister�s office to monitor and speed up the reform process can therefore count upon having to contend against more sources of frustration than they can possibly cope with.


Yet another girl from West Bengal, Paramita Chowdhury, has made it to the toppers� list of the civil services examination this year, but she too felt that she would probably not have passed the test had she appeared for it from her home state. Such is the state of education in West Bengal that whenever it comes to any all-India examination, be it the Indian administrative service or national eligibility test or the all India medical entrance test, students from other states always secure good ranks while good students here fail to even qualify.

The following data would give a clearer picture. In 1964, about 70 students from West Bengal passed the Indian civil services examination, the number dropping to just 5 in 1997. In 2001, only 5 students from the state went to the main interview round.

Who is to blame for this? The lack of motivation among students or the callousness of teachers and the politicization of education? The prestige and power that plum IAS posts hold out do not seem to impress students in Bengal. They either shy away from the civil services because they do not consider it a lucrative profession, the social structure in this state being different from that of the rest of the country, or they are unable to compete with students from other states who seem to be a more committed lot.

Turn off

It is true that the feudal system that still reigns in most of the towns and villages of northern and central India is almost absent in Bengal. Thus a bureaucrat in West Bengal does not command as much awe as he would in other states nor carry as much authority as in a caste-ridden society. An IAS as a groom in most Indian states can lay claim to the highest dowry. Bengalis still prefer an MBA/chartered accountant/engineer groom for their daughters.

It is not surprising then that thousands of students from other states aspire each year to qualify in the civil services examination. For once they get through, they will enjoy tremendous power and prestige and the corrupt system will also enable them to earn more than what their salary entails. West Bengal is not free from corruption, but the middle class psyche still holds on to the ideal that some merit is required to achieve an ambition. The Bengali middle class would be much happier to serve as doctors in state run hospitals than serve as IAS officers under a political system where they would probably have to work according to the whims of a corrupt politician. The trend was different in the Fifties and Sixties though. Bright students, serious about their career, took the civil services examination. They would now be more interested in doing their MBA which would assure them lucrative job offers.

No guiding lights

Among those who still appear for the IAS, there is an utter lack of commitment. Interviews with most toppers in the state board examinations show that they either dream of becoming an engineer, a doctor or a physicist, none ever aspires to become a bureaucrat. This lack of interest perhaps poses a hindrance and it is the average group of students who sit for IAS.

To be successful in this examination, one needs to have a definite focus and a lot of perseverance. After preparing for almost a year when one finds that he has failed to qualify in the preliminary round itself, it is quite demotivating. Automatically, the seriousness subsides and students not serious about the career start venturing into other avenues.

Probably our teachers too fail to motivate students. In the South, teachers hold special classes after college hours free of cost to help students aspiring to be an IAS officer. Lack of proper IAS training institutes in our state contributes its bit. Other than the Indian Insitute of Social Welfare and Business Management, there is hardly a committed IAS academy in our city to groom students properly. In other states, such training institutions are rampant. In almost every nook and cranny of Calcutta, there are tutorials to prepare students for the joint entrance examination, but none to guide for the IAS examinations.

Moreover, the syllabus followed by the state board and the state university in many subjects has failed to evolve with time. And hence like any other competitive examinations, IAS, too, is proving to be difficult for students.


�Realizing economic and social advancement at the same time� is equivalent to �ensuring the coordinated development of population, resources and environment,� comments a book on China�s �socialist market economy�. I would have dismissed this as typical communist propaganda, had I had not been invited to China. That made me see that it is not only possible to have health, nutrition, education and a means of livelihood, but also the best of the modern amenities in the schools, hospitals, workplace, through the implementation of the latest technologies. China can compete with any country of the developed West. It has wide, smooth roads with separate lanes for normal speed, overtaking and cycles, and nobody ever changes lanes to inconvenience others. There are multi-layered flyovers, though the traffic is not as heavy as in our big cities.

Only a socialist economy can think of utilizing technology and foreign investment to save water and power, though there is no shortage. China, like India, is blessed with a wide network of perennial rivers and it has made optimum use of hydro-electricity potentials. The 2,250 years old Dujiangyan �gravity� irrigation project is still maintained. The river Menjiang�s current was split at the source, thus dividing the water into �inner flow� and �outer flow�. The former is used for irrigation and the latter as a sluiceway.

Unlike the irrigation dams of India, this irrigation system cannot cause floods. The project, till today, irrigates 670,000 hectares. The Funan river of Chengdu was terribly silted and polluted even till the Eighties. After the introduction of market economy or globalization policy, 363 million dollars have been utilized to �rebuild� 29 kilometres of the river. The surface of the river has been widened upto 80 metres to stop flooding altogether. About one lakh residents have been resettled in 24 new buildings.

Has our government, whether in the pre-or post- globalization era, even planned or implemented plans with �people� as the foremost beneficiary? Was the tribal woman, who was made to press the first irrigation project of independent India into operation, resettled with work and housing? There has been a drastic depletion of forest cover in India, with the forest peoples reduced to destitution. Afforestation, like all other �peoples� welfare� measures, has remained mostly limited to ribbon-cutting and calling for patriotism and sacrifice. China�s natural areas have been carefully retained and developed into ecological parks and ecological demonstration zones.

Chinese farmers are trained in desert and drought management. They are now adequately informed about what crop is good for which soil and what produce can be marketed best in which area. Training is imparted not merely through television, radio, video shows, but by the experts and the cadre, who spend as much time with the farmer as is needed for him to get the best results from the field and the latest technology. Eighty per cent of the Chinese are farmers and that is why the industries are geared towards higher agricultural produce.

The hospitals are equipped with state-of-the-art machinery, always in working condition. Therefore, private hospitals or privatization of medical facilities are not necessary. Schools, libraries and training institutions too, are fully modernized, yet accessible to everybody. Health and education are free of cost for all the 56 ethnic minorities or non-Han Chinese. Each of them enjoys the opportunity to learn his own language/dialect, wear his own dress and practise his own social and religious customs.

The fundamental reason behind why foreign investment in China is a boon and in India a bane, is that China built up its market economy on a strong foundation of people�s welfare economy. It abolished serfdom and brought all land and natural resources under firm state control. The state also controlled the prices and the availability or distribution of food and other necessities. Infrastructure for health and education was carefully created and continuously strengthened.

China invites and allows foreign investments on its own terms. The nation is strong enough to do so. The local governments do not bend or compromise with regard to the wages and working and safety conditions of the workers. Since the land is in the government�s hands, factories can never be set up in �ecological zones�. Separate zones are constructed to invite industry. Even the profit margins are discussed and decided in advance. Unlike in India and a few southeast Asian countries, the foreign companies do not move wholly in order to save money on labour, safety conditions, hours of work. Besides, all investments are on a cooperative basis.

In China�s market economy, market forces are allowed to operate freely. The actual quantity of produce or supply is not suppressed to allow unfair spiralling of prices and profit. Prices have come down (in case of medicine, for example, drastically), whenever foreign expertise and investment have significantly increased production of food.

Foreign investment has been invited and collaboration encouraged only in cases where technological excellence is necessary for China to compete with the developed economies and to become a giant economic power.

In India, the policies of relating to globalization and privatization are not as clear-headed. While there is a widespread tendency to adopt Western ways and habits of consumption, gender, caste and ethnic inequalities remain as strongly in place as before. Big and modern industries have not grown in China at the cost of small, traditional, rural and cottage industries. The latter have received more encouragement and opportunities to grow and do better in the competitive market. They too get training and knowledge from the experts and the cadre, and better markets through information technol-ogy. In India the opposite has happened as a result of globalization. The cottage industries have almost died down.

The World Trade Organization annual report of 1999 puts China as the foremost exporter among the developing countries. Hong Kong was above China with $188 billion, but in a year its position came down to $175 billion. China improved to $184 billion from $183 billion. India�s position was lower than even Mexico�s and Indonesia�s � at $34 billion, declining to $33 billion in a year. China�s position was higher than developed countries like Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and Australia.

China�s development could be rapid and stable because the power to plan and implement was and is decentralized. The area and people-specific need-management created interest and involvement among its beneficiaries. So, time and money were not wasted in tackling popular protests and violence. Benefits increase with increased productivity and benefits also increase productivity. Not only do the provinces and the various autonomous regions enjoy this privilege, but cities have these special rights and responsibilities as well. The cities negotiate and collaborate directly with the foreign collaborators, and frame their own terms and conditions.

On the occasion of the 80th birth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1, the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, has said, �Under these circumstances, whether or not one has wealth or how much one has cannot crudely be used as the standard for whether that person is politically progressive or backward....What is important is the state of political ideology, how wealth was obtained and how it was managed and utilised and what contribution has been made to socialist modernization�.

If our government, including the communist government of West Bengal, is able to answer these �how�s� honestly, then globalization can turn into a boon in India as well. More and more young Chinese people and students are applying for the membership to the Communist Party because the improved standard of living has created greater confidence in the party. In West Bengal, the left is struggling to retain power even after 24 long years of unquestioned rule. It has only managed to retain a stranglehold, without any real grasp over what could revive its ideological foundations or restore the commitment of the people to these ideals.


Despite safeguards in the Constitution and in law, certain groups remained particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses based on discrimination. Access to justice for women, dalits and others who suffer from social and economic discrimination remained problematic.

In January, India�s initial report under the United Nations women�s convention was heard by the committee which monitors adherence of states parties to the convention... (Its) recommendations included the need for rigorous implementation of existing legislation prohibiting such practices as dowry and caste-based discrimination. International attention continued to focus on violence against Christian minorities but victims of apparently state-backed violence in several areas included Muslims, dalits and adivasis...

Harassment of human rig hts defenders in many parts of India continued...In Gujarat in August, several hundred people were arrested under preventive detention provisions to stop them from going to a public hearing organized by the Narmada Bachao Andolan... They were released after the public hearing had taken place.

In November, T. Puroshottam, joint secretary of the Andhra Pradesh civil liberties Committee, was killed and other human rights defenders in the state received threats. These attacks were believed to be the work of former members of an armed group operating with the tacit and often active support of state authorities...

In April, the law commission of India submitted the draft prevention of terrorism bill 2000 to the government prior to its introduction to Parliament. Provisions of the bill reflected many of those found in the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, which lapsed in 1995. In July, the National Human Rights Commission indicated its opposition to the bill..., stating that it would violate international human rights standards and lead to human rights violations...

In April Amnesty International raised concerns with the authorities about the use of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. The Indian government dismissed clear evidence of its abuse... The Indian government also dismissed claims that TADA was still being used in Jammu and Kashmir to detain people retrospectively, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

The fate of 50 people, including 12 women, detained under TADA in Karnataka, some since 1993, received national attention after a notorious sandalwood smuggler kidnapped a veteran film star and listed the release of these detainees as one of his demands. While the state governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu expressed their willingness to drop charges against them, the Supreme Court stayed their acquittal despite their detention without trial for up to seven years...

The NHRC submitted recommendations to the government of India for amendments to its statute � the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993. The NHRC�s recommendations were not made public and by the end of 2000 the government had given no indication that it was considering amendments to the Act. The NHRC continued to indicate its frustration at statutory limitations on its powers, particularly in relation to investigation of allegations of human rights violations by armed and paramilitary forces...

In Rajasthan, the chair of the state human rights commission established in early 2000 resigned after four months, complaining that no resources had been provided by the government for it to operate. In Uttar Pradesh the government had still not set up a human rights commission by the end of 2000 despite a high court order to do so.

At least 30 people were sentenced to death in 2000. It was not known if any executions were carried out... At least 60 people remained on death row. Legislation to extend the use of the death penalty to crimes of rape remained pending.

In April, the sentence of death against Nalini, one of the four whose death sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1999 in connection with the assassination of a former prime minister was commuted to life imprisonment. The clemency petitions of the remaining three remained pending...

Abuses by armed groups operating in many areas continued...Hostage-taking, including of children, continued in Tripura, where in November it was reported that members of an armed group had tortured a four-year-old hostage. In Jammu and Kashmir, civilians continued to be targeted for attack.



Where are all the children?

Sir � The news report, �Hate explodes on Belfast children� (Sept 4), shows how children are increasingly becoming victims of sectarian violence all over the world. In Belfast, Roman Catholic children had to face the anger of aggressive Protestant hardliners. This must have been an agonizing and traumatic experience for children, who in most cases are affected psychologically and scarred for life. Although baton-wielding cops and troops tried to protect the Catholic children from the unpleasant experience, one doubts whether they were successful in their venture. It is frightening to find Protestant paramilitary groups, such as the Red Hand Defenders, warning parents to keep their wards away from school. This would definitely affect the normal life of the young ones for whom going to school is a part of daily routine. The time has come to put a stop to such atrocities on children who are easy targets of any form of violence. The government of Northern Ireland should act now before it is too late.

Yours faithfully,
Karen Sema, New Delhi

Change of colour

Sir �- The activity of the human resources development ministry has come under severe criticism because of its continuous effort to �saffronize� the education system. Renowned historians such as Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib have expressed doubts about the motive of the ministry (�State snub to saffron syllabus�, Aug 7). The Central advisory boa- rd of education and the national council for education research and training have changed the school curricula without consulting the state governments concerned.

Since last year there has been a move to introduce Vedic astrology in the educational institutions through the University Grants Commission. Recently, the Jawaharlal Nehru University had snubbed the directive to introduce astrology as a branch of science. At a conference hosted by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust in New Delhi, the West Bengal minister for education, Kanti Biswas, mentioned the refusal by the Rabindra Bharati University to introduce the same in their course. Other institutions should keep in mind the encouraging example of the two universities.

Yours faithfully,
M. Shaheen, Calcutta

Sir �- While attacking the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in Parliament, the leader of the opposition party, Sonia Gandhi, accused it of attempting to push through its communal ideology in the field of education (�Govt in the dock over syllabus saffronization, Aug 17). The Bharatiya Janata Party led government has been blamed for undermining India�s unity and integrity by substituting the national agenda with a �hidden agenda�.

The cultural nationalism espoused by saffronites goes against the multi-culturalism of the Indian Constitution. The educational institutions of the minorities, especially the madrasahs, are the greatest obstacles in the way of cultural nationalists, who wish to propagate the ideology of Hindutva. To justify their stance, the saffronites are unjustly accusing the madrasahs of being sympathizers of the taliban and active supporters of the Inter-Services Intelligence.

The madrasahs impart Islamic education and contribute to the national literacy campaign. It has become essential to preserve the democratic and secular character of India and its educational institutions, which is being threatened by saffronizing attempts.

Yours faithfully,
G. Hasnain Kaif, Bhandara

Sir �- The news report, �Ally heat on syllabus tinge� (Aug 20), once again brought to the fore the pseudo-secularism of the politicians, who are making a hullabaloo regarding the saffronization of education merely for the sake of votes. The opposition as well as the allies were dead against the introduction of Vande Mataram in the school curricula. This is utterly wrong, because Indian children should be taught about the greatness of their own culture, rather than ape Western values and education.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Sharma, Kharagpur

Sir �- There are charges against the NDA government that it is distorting the curriculum with communal ideology. The existing school curriculum says a different story altogether. Since independence the education policy has been more or less under the control of leftist scholars. The same set of people who painted the curriculum �red� is protesting against the new education policy branding it �saffronization�.

Last week, I had been to a cantonment area in Bangalore. Thousands of people clad in saffron had gathered there. At the outset it appeared to be a gathering of Vishwa Hindu Parishad supporters. It turned out to be a church-organized function to celebrate St Mary�s Day. Can one blame Murli Manohar Joshi for this? Leaders of the church have realized that Indians feel closer to the �saffron� colour. Joshi has been unnecessarily attacked for his sincere attempts to improve the education system.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, via email

Fuelling woes

Sir �--The crisis triggered off by the unavailability of compressed natural gas in Delhi has meant a plethora of woes for daily passengers travelling to their workplace and the students. The government�s firm decision to allow only CNG driven public transport has meant great difficulty for those at the receiving end. Merely introducing the norms will do no good and any such drastic action should be carefully thought over before implementation. With only a few CNG fuelling stations, there are often serpentine queues for hours on end.

Also, there was no safety analysis carried out on CNG as fuel. The overhead costs involved in changing over to the CNG specifications are pretty high and once the subsidy on CNG is removed, its price is expected to rise further. A good option would be to reduce the subsidy on kerosene and liquid petroleum gas and provide some incentives to CNG users.

Yours faithfully,
H.S. Chawla, Haldia

Sir �- The news report, �Pollution check� (Aug 6), was a landmark judgement by the Delhi high court to check noise pollution. This should be an eye opener for other state governments in the country. Sound pollution has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years and flouting of the apex court�s order regarding the use of blaring loudspeakers during election campaigns and festivals is routine. The Supreme Court must immediately introduce some strict measures compelling the state authorities to punish those who violate the existing rules regarding pollution.

Yours faithfully,
M.L. Sarkar, Calcutta

Unexpected rescue

Sir �- On August 23, a baby crow had got badly entangled with the twigs and strands of its nest. No one dared climb the tree. An idea then struck me and I immediately called up the fire brigade. They arrived within ten minutes and helped me rescue the baby crow. I am extremely grateful to the officer in charge and the fire tenders who helped me save the crow from inevitable death.

Yours faithfully,
Helen Rodgers, Calcutta

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