Editorial 1/ Unsettling event
Editorial 2/ In the family
Brands under pressure
Designed to master the globe
Document/ The ups and downs of the poverty graph
Fifth column/ Closer look at caste brutality
Letters to the Editor

Confused thinking makes for bad politics. And it poses a serious hindrance to effective action. The mess Ms Mamata Banerjee landed herself in with regard to the evictions from the Tolly�s nullah area is a telling example of the first. Some extreme left groups, proposing constructive help, are going a similar way. These groups have suggested Ms Medha Patkar as a possible leader in a movement against the government�s evictions. Ms Patkar, for good or ill, has been fighting on behalf of people whose traditional rights to the land they live on are threatened by the immediate results of development, that is, flooding after the building of a dam. Development versus eviction is not a simple equation. If anything, the struggle of Ms Patkar and others like her should have made that obvious. The status of those being evicted is an essential factor in the way moves for the sake of development are assessed. Traditional rights are one thing. Illegal settlers are a very different matter. There can be no denying that the evicted residents were by status illegal settlers.

True, it can be said that the government is not completely without responsibility. Allowing them to settle in the first place was certainly not something the state should have countenanced. If temporary workers are needed for a project in the city for a long spell of time, the government or the organization concerned should make sure of their shelter first. This was not done, in this as in other cases. But to suggest that a moral responsibility such as this one should be the prior consideration for a government with scarce resources when a development project has to be carried through is to mix up sentimentality with material reality. And sentimentality again is a hindrance to real work. Those evicted have the right to a home and a normal life as everybody else. Since the state has failed to provide it, and technically it cannot be faulted, then this has to be provided in some other way. If the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which is heading the agitation for the rights of those evicted, is serious about its cause, it must realize that invoking human rights and anti-globalization slogans will not help. Neither will it improve its image by running to well-known leaders outside the state. All this is pointless, both from the political and practical point of view. Any outfit wishing to help needs to mobilize resources for immediate relief in terms of shelter and restoration of a degree of normalcy. It also needs to make plans for the longer term, so that those who have been evicted can achieve some security. For this, the cooperation of the people who are actually fighting the crisis would be most useful. To turn this into a political battle will be to occupy the space that Ms Banerjee had done till recently. It will also put an end to constructive action.


Forty three mentally ill inmates were charred to death, shackled to their beds, a few months ago in a semi-religious asylum in Tamil Nadu. This provoked the token outrage, and then �civilization� got the better of �madness� again. More recently, the World Health Organization has released its latest global report on mental health. The Indian picture emerging from it confirms the horrors that came to light around the Tamil Nadu episode. It also confirms the extent to which stigma, discrimination and brutality could be institutionalized within the family, society and the state. The problem is systemic in the broadest sense. Mental disorders are the result of a complex interaction between biological, psychological and social factors, and would include a wide range of conditions, from depression to epilepsy and Alzheimer�s disease. It is because of this complexity of interconnected factors that any revolution in the treatment of and attitudes to mental illness must involve every level of personal and political existence in India. And a revolution it would have to be.

The WHO report suggests, particularly for poorer economies, a �public health� approach to mental health. The model for care would have to shift from the institutionalization of the mentally ill to a �community care� approach backed by the availability of beds in general hospitals for acute cases. This shift would have to be founded on respect for the human rights of the mentally ill, and implemented through the development of adequate human resources, updated interventions and treatment, and better distribution of essential psychotropic drugs. In India, the �community� that accommodates the mentally ill is still, primarily, the family. Compared to Western societies, this is both a strength and the problem. It is a problem because the stigma around mental illness originates within the family, in its internal value system and in the instinctive shame culture that binds it to the larger social environment. The family also constitutes a private, insulated sphere within which violations and brutalities could be invisibly and silently contained, making both reform and intervention more difficult to effect. It is also the middle-class family that persistently refuses to see mental illness as a medical problem capable of being treated and cured. Psychiatric treatment is for the �mad� and the derelict, and therefore a shameful breach of respectability. In India, any form of policy-making or awareness-raising regarding mental health, if it is to work with the �community care� model, must address this central significance of the family. This would also, of course, involve looking at how the structure of the traditional family is changing in urban India. And outside the problems of �middle� India, are the larger and grimmer brutalities of the poor and the illiterate.


For over fifteen years now, the National Council of Applied Economic Research has been collecting data about ownership and purchase of many manufactured consumer products by households. The sample size used has been of over 3,00,000 households, and from every district in the country. It is the only published data of consumer purchases over such a long period, and available by states, population strata, major cities and by urban and rural populations.

The methodology is subject to some question because it expects households to remember purchases made over the year, at one point in time, a difficult feat, especially when the purchases are repetitive as in the case of soap, or of small value at any one purchase. Also, purchases might have been made by someone other than the respondent to whom the question was administered, or by more than one person in the household, leading to wrong estimation or wrong identification of brands. However, this is the only such data that is available, and since comparisons are made over a period of years, hopefully, the errors would largely cancel themselves out.

The other very useful side to this survey effort is that it is the only continuous data set that is available that gives a trend of incomes as reported by the respondents, not precisely, but in a range. This has enabled a far better understanding than from any other data set, of the dramatic changes that have taken place at least since 1985 in the distribution of households in India within these income ranges.

Attempt has been made in the data collection to equalize income for inflation. No doubt this is a relatively crude attempt since it takes no account of varying prices in different parts of India, different consumption habits than represented by the basket of goods for which the national price index is calculated. It uses the wholesale price index, and hence includes a variety of products other than consumer goods. However, this effort at equalizing prices over time was the best possible, and enables a look at how household distribution has changed by income categories.

The trend data showed a dramatic fall in the proportion of households in the lowest income groups in urban India, and a somewhat slower drop in rural India; as well as a large increase in the proportion of households in the highest income groups. It shows a continuous graduation of lower income groups into higher ones in both urban and rural India. It shows that manufactured goods of all kinds are bought even by the households in the lowest levels of income, both in urban and rural India, thus exploding two myths.

One myth is about the increase in so-called �poverty� levels since 1985. It is a myth since even households that were defined as not being able to afford one square meal in a day, were buying soap or owned bicycles, transistor radios, mono-cassette recorders and wristwatches. The other myth was that the Indian market for consumer goods was small, confined largely to urban India, and to the better off. It was now apparent that the �consuming classes� were also among the lowest income levels, and in rural as well as in urban India.

This led for some years to Western journalists and consultants talking about a �middle class� in India that ranged in numbers from 200 million to 300 million. This miscalculation led to many new entrants building capacities and spending on advertising at rates that were far higher than the resulting sales could bear. Many of these were new multinational corporations entering India and they lost a great deal of money before they understood the reality of Indian markets for consumer products.

This reality was that the market was there, but it was a very price-conscious one, and most of its composition was of households who could afford little at any single purchase incident. Clever marketing people began to offer their products in small pack sizes at low per unit prices, and others to redesign products so that there were fewer frills, the resulting lower costs leading to lower prices.

Another interesting finding from this data was the high levels of loyalty to leading brands. If a brand was number one, it tended to stay there, and not be dislodged. This led many of them to become complacent about their positions in the minds of consumers.

By 1997 the warning signs were being sounded by fresh data. The rate of growth of penetration in any income group was beginning to plateau. This meant that many new consumers had come into purchasing these products till then, but others in the same cohorts were more resistant to the temptation to buy. Persuading new households to buy was becoming difficult. At the same time, competition was leading to all manufacturers offering similar features, packaging and price. To succeed, some innovative and memorable advertising and product features were essential. The consumer was starting to notice that there was little difference between brands, and therefore had to be wooed by other means, and in most cases this meant lower or special prices.

As a result we began to see a sharp increase in �below-the-line� advertising, as companies actually bought customers through special offers. The problem was to retain them when the promotion was over. This was where advertising that was memorable, had a major role to play.

Companies also began to realize that most of their customers were using much less of their products than would be expected from the size of households. The problem was to change consumer habits so that consumers used more of a product, and to do it in a way that the benefit of increased usage accrued to their products and brands, and not to those of the competition.

While these fundamental changes were taking place in markets, companies began to apply the concept of �core competence� to their product and brand portfolios. These had become not only extensive but each product was different in brand name and brand identity, thus dissipating advertising money over many products and brands. When companies like Nirma with much less spending were able to achieve number one status in the markets, it was a message to others to prune their brand lists, and to seek as much carefully planned brand extensions as possible.

The plateauing of penetration of purchase for most product categories in all income groups in the mid-Nineties has thus led to many new lessons for marketers in India. They include the need to get other similar customers to those who are already buying, to buy, persuading them that their brands offer superior value both in attributes and in price. Product offerings had to come down to the levels of purchasing power that was there with consumers. Those who were buying had to be persuaded to buy and use more of the same product and brand.

Consumers who were �bought� with special promotions and offers had to quickly be held to the brand through memorable advertising and products that offered real performance. Instead of a huge portfolio of brands, companies had to seek to prune them and extend brands that had won consumer respect to cover more product categories, while taking care to see that the image of the brand was not tarnished.

The second half of the Nineties has taken consumer product companies through a marketing crucible of fire. How many will emerge better and how many will be badly burnt, remains to be seen.

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


Beyond the common condemnation of, and horror about, the tragedies of September 11 in New York and Washington DC there has emerged a serious political divide in India concerning the American proposals and preparations for fighting �international terrorism� through an international coalition of states led by itself.

This is not the usual divide between the left and the right (though one can easily imagine where each would line up) but essentially between those who are morally and politically cynical and selective about defining the agents of international terrorism and therefore about fighting them, and those who insist on a moral-political universalism and impartiality. That is to say, between those who prioritize the application of uniform principles of international justice above other considerations, and those who prioritize foreign policy interests, that is, seeking �advantage� out of current American policy preoccupations.

The latter talk of eliminating Islamic and other terrorist groups and of certain selected countries (like Pakistan) being terrorist states because they sponsor cross-border terrorism. But of course, state terrorism is only selectively identified. The Indian state�s repressions in Kashmir or the Northeast are not considered.

The government which has no remote rival in the number of civilians (in the millions) it has killed outside its own borders, or in the scale of its use of nuclear (in Japan), chemical (in Vietnam), biological (in Cuba) weapons, or in the frequency with which it has flouted international norms and rulings, is the United States of America. But since the Indian state and its supporting chorus which make up so much of the �foreign policy establishment� are so keen to become strategic allies of the US how can it dare to accuse the US of terrorism? Besides, wouldn�t it be insensitive to do so at this juncture?

In fact, this precisely is the time when the US must be so reminded and criticized for its own atrocious record of terrorism; when it must be declared that the fight against terrorism must include the indictment of all states as well of sub-state agencies which are guilty. At a time when the US along with selected allies is making itself an international anti-terrorist task force, it must be announced as widely as possible that the elementary principles of justice are flouted when agencies of terrorism themselves, unpunished and unrepentant, are not only allowed to become the judges and policers of terrorism but actually hailed and legitimized for playing this role.

Any commitment to principles of moral and legal impartiality has to insist that the task of adjudicating on and enforcing any sentence regarding the international crime committed on September 11 must fall on an international mechanism like the international criminal court (whose setting up has been opposed by the US and India) and through appropriate procedures involving an unmanipulated United Nations.

Opposing the US effort to set up an international concert of nations behind it to justify its waging war on Afghanistan is all the more imperative because there is a much deeper design behind it all. In declaring that when it comes to retaliation there will be no distinction between the specific agency of terrorism and the country harbouring such agents, and that the US�s response to what is effectively an international crime must be a long term war, Washington has calculatedly sought to massively extend the scope of its reaction in keeping with its much larger strategy for furthering its global aims behind the mask of �fighting international terrorism�.

It is extraordinary that so many in India have failed to understand this. The US is demanding through its unfolded �long term programme of 8-10 years to fight terrorism� an effective carte blanche to militarily-politically intervene in any country which it deems to be providing a �safe haven� for any �terrorists� identified as such by the US alone. Washington has also put the world on warning that it feels free to topple regimes it considers to be supporting the �worldwide network of terrorism�. Indeed, toppling the taliban regime establishes a vital precedent for the US�s longer term perspectives.

What the US is doing is thus another systematic step forward in a longer gameplan that has unfolded since the end of the Cold War. In 1991, quite unexpectedly the US found itself dominant in the system of nation states in a way that has never existed for any single country in over a century. During the first half of the 20th century the eminence of Britain was being challenged by the US, Germany and Japan. After World War II the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics challenged the US. After 1991, in the beginning uncertainly, later on more clearly and determinedly, the US has gone about extending and consolidating this unique situation of its uncontested global pre-eminence on all fronts � economic, cultural, political and military.

The 1992 Kuwait war became the excuse for Washington to reinforce control over west Asia and its oil. Afghanistan and central Asia have been throughout the Nineties an arena in which the US has sought an increasing influence for itself and for its multinational corporations, given the oil-gas potential of the region. This has required wooing the Central Asian Republics away from Russian dominance and considering ways of expanding its influence in Afghanistan itself.

Thus on three occasions the US considered recognizing the taliban regime in return for concessions concerning the building of oil and gas pipelines from central Asia to more amenable seaboards. They have by no means lost sight of this issue of strengthening American control of energy resources in this region in this current �war against terrorism�.

In Europe, the central issue posed after the Cold War was what would be the shape of the new security architecture? Here there were three alternatives � strengthening the Western European Union�s independent defence force or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The first two approaches would have involved the diminution of American and the expansion of German and Russian influence in Europe. The sub-text of the Balkans conflict (Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia) was the emergence of the US as principal arbiter of European affairs. Along with the consolidation and expansion of NATO, the pre-eminence of the US in Europe was thereby established.

The ascendancy of the distinctively Anglo-American form of contemporary capitalist globalization called neo-liberalism reflects the success of the US in clawing back part of the economic ground lost earlier to Germany and Japan. The national missile defence programme represents the US search for nuclear dominance and eventual control of space. The one big US failure in the post-Cold War era was its inability to drive a wedge between the Ukraine and Russia, the two most powerful countries to emerge from the wreckage of the former USSR.

The Balkans also provided precedents for American expansion through manipulation of the universal human rights discourse. And now in this �war against terrorism�, once again through a manipulation of a crucial human rights issue, the US seeks to establish a flexibility and freedom for conventional military intervention (including the right to topple regimes) throughout the world that is truly unprecedented. And any number of countries for parochial and shortsighted gains are even prepared to be part of a coalition legitimizing this effort. That the Indian government backed by its usual set of factotums, courtiers and salespersons (that is, the �foreign policy establishment�) is desperate to join this coalition is testimony not only to its moral hypocrisy in the fight against international terrorism but also to its incredible political naivety regarding the larger scheme of things.

The author has recently co-authored the book, South Asia on a Short Fuse: Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament


The historical evidence, across countries, in India over time, and across Indian states suggests that the major factors in reducing poverty are a) faster growth, particularly agricultural growth that raises agricultural wages and tends to depress the (relative) price of food, b) lower inflation, c) infrastructure, and d) human resource development, notably female literacy. Most anti-poverty programs seem to have had little sustained impact on poverty reduction, though they certainly eased the impact of the 1987 drought. Rural to urban migration also seems to have played only a small role.

Regarding the role of growth, India�s sustained decline in poverty began as GDP growth picked up from the 3.5% rate that characterized the country in the early years. A decomposition of the changes in poverty (in the National Sample Survey) into a growth component (of mean consumption) and a distribution component shows that the rise in growth in mean consumption accounts for about 87% of the cumulative decline in poverty and changes in distribution only 13% (Datt 1997). The opposite side of the coin is that the Surveys suggest that inequality was not increased much by higher growth � according to the National Sample Surveys, the Gini coefficients of expenditure rose (worsened) by about 10% from 1974 to 1978 in both rural and urban areas, and since then have remained fairly close to 0.29 and 0.35 respectively, a relatively even distribution of income for a developing country.

Different rates of agricultural growth and increases in rural wages were major factors which led to different levels as well as rates of decline of poverty across Indian states (Ravallion and Datt 1996b). Green revolution technology, irrigation and infrastructure were associated with rising rural wages and increased rural non-farm employment, such as in Punjab and Haryana which had the highest GDP per capita up to the early 1990s (and continue to be among the top five states in 1996-97). Growth in the urbanized part of the economy was less significant in reducing poverty across states, reflecting the capital intensive, import-substituting nature of India�s industrial development, its requirements for skilled rather than unskilled labor, and labor market regulations that limited the growth of formal sector employment. These factors limited the impact of urban growth on labour demand and kept the proportion of urban population relatively small (around 27%), so that its proportionate impact was low. The human resource approach to poverty reduction across Indian states is exemplified by Kerala, which exported relatively skilled labor internationally and benefited from remittances, even though its GDP growth was not particularly rapid. A variety of international evidence supports the contribution of human development to poverty reduction.

Finally, inflation had a negative effect on poverty. Higher inflation in India is often associated with poor harvests and a relative rise in the price of food. The poor are doubly hit, as their consumption is largely food, and their wages...rise less than prices in years of poor harvests. ...there is the traditional macroeconomic argument that the inflation tax hits the poor hardest because relatively more of their assets are held in the form of currency. International evidence supports the importance of a stable macroeconomic environment for growth and poverty reduction, for example in East Asia (World Bank 1993).

In the mid-1990s, the decline in poverty slowed...particularly in rural areas, according to recently available NSS data.... An estimated 34% of the population was still below the poverty line in 1997 compared to 35% in 1993/94. During the mid 1990s, GDP growth exceeded 7.5% p.a. and agricultural growth seems to have remained high, while social sector indicators such as literacy and infant mortality improved.

What changed in the mid-1990s to undermine the strong relationship found before the 1990s between poverty reduction, growth and social indicators? As discussed below, the lack of decline in poverty may well be a statistical artifact. However, a closer examination of recent developments also raises concerns regarding inflation, the changing role of agricultural growth, and, more fundamentally, a lack of progress in reducing poverty in the poor states.



The hanging of 15-year-old Vishal and 16-year-old Sonu by their parents in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh recently can only be described as one of the most heinous crimes that we have witnessed in a long time. What makes this incident even more horrific is the fact that no one from the entire village came to the rescue of the teenagers, who according to the villagers had committed an unpardonable sin and therefore had to be punished.

This incident is not a solitary instance of caste brutality. Other disturbing reports followed. In Bilaspur district, six youths tortured a young boy and a girl, belonging to different castes, for having a love affair. In another case, a young girl in Ahmedabad took her own life after a Hindu Mahasabha activist allegedly forced her to convert to Hinduism and desert her Muslim husband. Many similar cases go unreported.

In rural areas, inter-caste or inter-community marriages or love affairs often lead to social boycotts or the hounding of the couple out of the village. What is common in such incidents is the display of rigid and regressive social attitudes and a tendency to take the law into one�s own hands. To make matters worse, politicians often mislead villagers and encourage them to behave in an irrational manner. After all, how can the political class, which promotes and patronizes caste-based mayhem, express concern at the barbaric acts of those whose votes it needs for survival?

Medieval age

A senior minister of Uttar Pradesh even defended his government�s indifference to the Alinagar incident on the plea that both parties involved had agreed on killing the young couple and therefore the administration could not interfere.

One reason why these villages continue to be in the grip of medieval social codes is the abysmally low levels of literacy and the poor quality of education available. Nothing substantial has been done in the past five decades to spread the kind of education that extols modern-day ideals and eradicates centuries-old prejudices based on caste and religion.

The government has often tried to reform society with the help of laws but the results have been far from satisfactory, largely in the absence of the political will to implement them. More often than not, officials entrusted with the responsibility are themselves the practitioners of those out-dated customs against which the legislation is aimed. As a result, despite the existence of elaborate laws and regular amendments to them, social ills like dowry, child marriage, untouchability, endogamy and so on continue to exist. Even states with high levels of literacy like Kerala and West Bengal have been unable to stop such practices.

Penalties set by the law have not been able to instil fear among the culprits because of widespread corruption which seems to have strengthened the belief that it is possible to escape punishment with a bit of ingenuity. Not even two per cent of above mentioned cases reach the stage of conviction.

Rule of lawlessness

Slipshod investigation, tortuous legal procedures, lack of evidence, manipulation of the law and the abrasive attitude of the police are other impediments that stand between crime and punishment.

The misuse of authority by the panchayats, which deal with such cases, makes a mockery of the very concept of the panchayat system. Instead of playing an increasingly active role in ushering socio-economic change, these organizations have helped perpetuate these obnoxious social customs. Those who do not comply with the panchayat have to face social boycott.

This reminds one of B.R. Ambedkar�s stern warning that the introduction of panchayati raj without proper education and the just exercise of powers, would result in disaster. What we have witnessed in Muzaffarnagar and other places has proved him right. One way to stop panchayats from behaving as kangaroo courts would be to make them collectively responsible for any social injustice that takes place in their jurisdiction.

Death is too high a price to pay for anyone who wishes to marry outside his or her caste or religion. Those guilty of this crime must be brought to justice, otherwise such crimes will continue to occur and undermine the supremacy of the law and the Constitution of India.



Back with a bang

Sir � The news, �Khaleda storms back to power� (Oct 3), was unexpected. After the stunning victory of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Begum Khaleda Zia, one would be keen to see how Bangladesh�s policies change with respect to the domestic and international fronts. There is little doubt that the victorious side would try to change the constitution of the country at the first go. This is because the BNP wishes to satisfy the hardliners in the party. This would surely change the secular nature of the country, especially if the promised new working system is introduced which would have Friday as the only holiday of the week. Besides, the aftermath of the elections will witness more troubled times because of the Awami League�s refusal to accept defeat in good spirit. The more exciting bit of this result would be in respect to relations with India. The former Bangladeshi government was said to be pro-Indian. Would the new government dare to put up an anti-Indian front with its closest neighbour?
Yours faithfully,
Titash Sen, Calcutta

Use the stick

Sir � The report, �Special forces on the prowl� (Sept 29), refers to the possible attack on Afghanistan by the United States of America and the British forces escalating into a full-scale war. This seems to be inappropriate and unjust because the US does not have the necessary permission to do so from the United Nations. Also, without authentic evidence against Osama bin Laden, the US has no legal or moral right to strike the war torn country.

Moreover, the US as a super power, should be in a position to fight its own battle and therefore it has no right to involve other countries in the war against a sovereign country like Afghanistan. Does the war mania among the Americans reflect their sense of insecurity similar to that suffered during the Vietnam war? Any outbreak of war in the world would mean the death of the civilian population, particularly children. Thus, any strike by the US on Afghanistan should be considered as a violation of international law and justice. The UN should immediately intervene to prevent the outbreak of war and regain its neutrality.

Yours faithfully,
Asoka Kumar Addya, Puri

Sir � It is disappointing to see the UN once again fail to bring the US and its allies under control with respect to the impending war in Afghanistan. The UN writ, evidently, does not run in the US and the only possible explanation for this is the latter�s status as a super power. The mute victim of this roguery is the common man in Afghanistan. The number of refugees there is increasing everyday despite the neighbouring countries having closed their borders to the population. Many are dying of hunger and diseases and the situation is getting out of hand. If the UN general-secretary, Kofi Annan, is useless in his capacity as a senior official to handle the situation, there is no reason for the UN to exist.

dt>Yours faithfully,
Abdul Aziz, Cuttack

Sir � The UN, along with its other wings, has always been an ardent follower of the US ever since its inception in 1945. This is unfortunate because the very reason for its foundation was to maintain an unbiased and neutral stand on any event. But the recent developments after the terrorist strikes on the US says a different story altogether.

Although the carnage on September 11, was dreadful and should be criticized, mere military action cannot be the solution. It is true that the US is the most powerful country in the world and could well carry out its president�s warnings against the terrorists, who he wants caught dead or alive. But it would be laudable if it deterred from initiating another battle in the name of humanity.

The US�s double standards are well known. Now that this tragedy has struck, the US is calling other countries to stand by it. But what about the Palestinians who are being killed by the Israelis with the full support of the US? In this case also, thousands of people will be maimed or killed for no fault of theirs. The US has committed a lot of atrocity in the name of democracy and peacekeeping. This should be stopped now. It is sad that so many people were killed in the US, but that does not mean that the US government should start a war.

Yours faithfully,
Shaazi Nehal, Calcutta

Court marshalled

Sir � What kind of judiciary does India have where the Supreme Court has no faith in the high courts (�Patna crown under threat as Supreme Court lobs Laloo to Jharkhand, Oct 6).. If the rule of law prevails in India, then why the need to transfer corruption cases of a politician out of the state under his influence? Is it then true that a politician can manipulate the course of law in his favour? If the answer is yes, it would mean even a cabinet minister is out of the reach of law. Which means in that instance, cases have to be filed against him outside the country.

The cases against the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, have been set aside on technical grounds. But the apex court has not set any time limit or compulsion for the Uttar Pradesh state government to rectify the technicality so that he can be tried under the prevailing laws of India for his role in demolishing the Babri Masjid. It seems that there is no concrete law in India and political powers can make or break them. It is unfortunate that the courts should be influenced by the changing faces in politics.

Yours faithfully
G.K.Reddy, Kharagpur

Sir � The chief vigilance commissioner�s argument that law-breakers should not be law-makers is apt. His belief that even if a person is chargesheeted, he should not be allowed to contest is most appropriate, particularly in India where politics has become a cesspool of corrupt persons. Since corruption is nurtured at all levels, the common man has to bear the brunt of it. Even the Representation of People�s Act, which gives the limit of more than 2 years of conviction to ban a person from contesting elections, is inadequate. This creates room for the exercise of the discretionary powers of politicians. It would be more appropriate to ban a person from contesting elections irrespective of the time limit of his conviction. It is only by suitable amendments that the corrupt can be kept away from politics.

Yours faithfully,
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore

Time frame

Sir � There has been some discussion and public awareness related to the necessity of a separate time zone for the Northeast, which will be different from the existing Indian standard time. Recently, there has been media reports which say that Guwahati starts work six hours after the sun rises. Practical considerations dictate that we should start work earlier in the Northeast in order to maximize the use of daylight. Work starts early in the tea and oil industries in Assam even without a different time zone. Similarly, other establishments can also start work early.

Though a different time zone has its psychological advantages, even without it an early work schedule can be implemented. Instead of 10 am, the day can be advanced by one or two hours. The people of the region feel that the advantages of such an arrangement will far outweigh the disadvantages. Will the authorities consider the advantages of an early work schedule and initiate necessary action for a new look administration? It can be started on a trial basis in the first instance. The matter of a different time zone can be sorted out as a separate issue. However, unless punctuality is maintained and discipline enforced, there will no benefits even with a changed system.

Yours faithfully,
K.Z. Ahmed, Guwahati

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