Editorial 1 / Danger sign
Editorial 2 / Party time
Inaction and half measures
Fifth Column / A case for children�s rights
The new lady next door
Document / Why some failed to track the poverty line
Letters to the editor

The military regime of the Pakistan president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, is showing serious signs of instability. Mr Musharraf�s decision to sack or sideline three of his closest aides reveals that the threat to his regime is as much from within the armed forces, as it is from the outside. Not only has the chief of the Inter Services Intelligence, Mr Mahmoud Ahmed, been sacked, but so has the deputy chief of the army staff, Mr Muzaffar Usmani. Mr Ahmed was considered to be particularly close to the taliban regime and had also led negotiating teams to Kandahar. Equally significant is the sidelining of Mr Mohammed Aziz, who was considered to be one of the closest confidants of Mr Musharraf. Mr Aziz has now been given the largely ceremonial post of the chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee. While this major shake-up within the armed forces may have been able to diminish the chances of a military coup in the near future, it is unlikely to quell the growing opposition to the Musharraf regime.

The cause of the growing discontent and the principal source of instability is the hostility to Mr Musharraf�s decision to cooperate with the United States of America in its war against terrorist groups in Afghanistan. While in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, it did seem that Mr Musharraf had been able to convince the bulk of public opinion that Islamabad had no choice but to provide support to the US if it had to protect its vital interests. However, public resentment seems to have intensified after the recent US air strikes in Afghanistan. The bulk of these protesters have been supporters of right wing political parties and activists from other extremist groups. These groups have traditionally commanded �street power�, but very little support in absolute numbers. In recent days, these numbers have shown signs of dramatic growth. The real danger, however, is not just from fringe groups, but also from elements within the armed forces. As is wellknown, a section of the Pakistan army has, since the rule of Mr Zia-ul-Haq, become radicalized, and it is this part of the officer core that could pose a real threat to the Musharraf regime in the future and despite the sackings. It is also clear that Mr Musharraf has now very few choices left. No longer can he afford to carve out a balance between the jihadis and moderate sections of public opinion. An escalation of violence in Kashmir is likely to inflame international opinion. The only real policy option for Mr Musharraf is to fight these extremist groups decisively and with determination and without making any compromises, within the army and on the streets. If Mr Musharraf does see the wisdom in following such a course, the international community, including India, has a stake in strengthening his regime.


The chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and his health minister, Mr Suryakanta Mishra, must be wondering who are their real enemies: their own party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or an opposition party like the Trinamool Congress? Mr Bhattacharjee�s project to build a new and rejuvenated West Bengal seems to have hit a block in the mindset of the CPI(M) cadre who refuse to give up the politics of strikes, go slows and rallies. A complement to this is the experience of Mr Mishra, a man committed to the superhuman task of bringing back some order, integrity and humaneness to the state�s health system. As a first step towards reform Mr Mishra has ordered the eviction of all unauthorized occupants in hospitals. The difficulty of carrying out such a task was demonstrated in the Calcutta Medical College on Sunday when the superintendent of the hospital, Mr Sachchidananda Sinha, was roughed up by protesters, all belonging to the CPI(M). It is not clear if the chief whip of the Left Front, Mr Lakshmi De, was actually present when Mr Sinha was manhandled but he was certainly around during the protest and took no steps to stop it. It is clear that the health minister and the cadre of his party are completely out of tune. The latter are unwilling to surrender their vested interests acquired through an utter abuse of power. The CPI(M) has no one but its own mode of functioning and its own arrogance of power to blame for this situation. The cadre are now biting the hand that fed them.

The CPI(M) is still unable to slough off its old attitudes and forms of behaviour. This is clear from Mr Bhattacharjee�s failure to take action against Mr De. This may well be a face saver but the chief minister may consider the goodwill he would have gained if he had moved against Mr De. The protest in the Medical College was probably a hiccup in the process of cleaning up Calcutta�s hospitals. But the protest exemplifies an attitude that could pose serious longterm problems for the progress of reforms in West Bengal. At the heart of the situation lies the blurring of distinctions between the party and the government that has been the hallmark of left rule in the state. Illegal occupation of hospital premises � in other words, trespassing � is a straightforward law and order problem which should be tackled by the police. But in West Bengal, the situation is complicated by the fact that all the trespassers enjoy the protection of the CPI(M); and the police, because its spine has been broken by the political dominance of the ruling party, are hesitant to take action against party workers. The real challenge before Mr Bhattacharjee is to break the hold of the party on the government. All indicators suggest that Mr Bhattacharjee has not yet confronted this challenge. Till he does so, his vision of a new West Bengal will be no more than an insubstantial dream.


The Indian economy has been in a tailspin for well over a year. All projections of growth rates for the economy have had to be revised downwards as all sectors of the economy continue to perform well below expectations. A notable feature of the overall economic scenario was the almost complete absence of any government initiative to revive the ailing economy. The entire energy of the government seemed to be spent in tackling one financial crisis (perhaps �scam� is a more descriptive word?) after another.

Finally, after several months of almost complete inaction, the government seems to have woken up and decided that there is no substitute for action. The prime minister convened a meeting of the advisory committee on trade and industry, a group which included many of the leading industrialists in the country. During the course of the meeting, he signalled the government�s intention to revive the economy primarily through massive public investment in infrastructure and other crucial sectors. He also promised to push through reforms in areas such as labour and power sectors.

These are merely statements of intent. Indian entrepreneurs may refuse to place much trust in the prime minister�s words until these are backed by concrete action. Indeed, they could well point out that the last budget contained a large number of promises regarding reforms in many sectors, including some very contentious ones such as labour market reforms. There has been absolutely no progress in implementing any of them. Most of the recommendations made by the various task forces appointed by the prime minister have met with a similar fate. So, the current government does not score very highly in terms of credibility � at least insofar as implementation of reforms is concerned.

Perhaps, the government has realized that the time for half-measures is long past. Of course, even if the prime minister and his close allies are seriously contemplating implementing the promises made at the meeting, one could still question whether the government as a whole has the political will to carry out the reform programme.

Consider, for instance, the specific promise to carry out labour reforms within three months. Very soon, the Bharatiya Janata Party will have to participate in the elections in Uttar Pradesh. Already, reports indicate that the BJP is on a very sticky wicket. Contentious issues such as labour sector reforms will obviously be exploited by the opposition parties, who will portray the BJP as pro-rich and anti-poor. In the past, these concerted efforts by various opposition parties to �brainwash� the public have been the single major factor slowing down the pace of reforms. There is really no reason why labour market reforms should not meet the same fate given the proximity of the UP elections.

The fact that the government allows politics to interfere with economics was vividly demonstrated when the agriculture minister announced a hike of Rs 20 per quintal in the procurement price for rice, although the commission on agricultural costs and prices had recommended an increase of only Rs 10 per quintal. The procurement price is now considerably higher than the market price, so that all farmers prefer to sell to the government. As everyone knows, the Food Corporation of India does not have enough storage facilities for the huge stocks of grain procured by the government. And yet the government caves in to pressure from the influential farm lobby and raises procurement prices every year, thereby preventing market prices from performing their allocative function.

The other, and perhaps more important component of the prime minister�s package of measures to revive the economy, is the promise to boost public investment. He has promised additional investment in railways, airport projects, national highways and other urban infrastructure projects, and has mentioned that the funds will be comparable to the Rs 17,000 crore earmarked for the Railways Safety Fund. Given the recessionary conditions prevailing in the economy, no one can deny the importance of vastly accelerated public investment. In fact, it is debatable whether any other prescription will work at the present juncture. For instance, the other obvious alternative of an expansionary monetary policy � providing adequate credit at low rates of interest � is unlikely to be very effective. Commercial banks are already flush with loanable funds, and the rate of interest has been coming down steadily. But, potential investors are shying away simply because of their extremely pessimistic expectations about the future course of the economy.

That is why, increased public investment, which is a more direct and concrete signal of the government�s intention to revive the economy, is a more effective instrument. If the increase is on a large enough scale, then it will represent a significant expansion in aggregate demand. Since infrastructure investment is also typically labour-intensive, it will also expand employment opportunities. Of course, the process of revival can be sustained only if private investors step in soon after the government embarks on some of the new projects.

The million-dollar question is how the government will fund this additional investment. The fiscal deficit of the Central government alone is absurdly high. So, it makes no sense for the government to finance the increased spending through additional deficit finance. But, there are reports that the expenditure on plan investment during the year has been well below the budgeted level. The government should take immediate measures to ensure that the target levels of plan expenditure for the year are met.

Another major source of funds is its holdings of public sector enterprises. During his budget speech, the finance minister mentioned that he expected to raise Rs 10,000 crore from the disinvestment exercise during the year. But the entire disinvestment exercise has been a dismal failure � it is no exaggeration to state that this is one of the areas in which the government�s score in achievement ratings has been the lowest. Various wings of the government pull in different directions, while different officers and ministers issue contradictory statements. Obviously, potential buyers keep away since they are unsure of the government�s intention. Perhaps, only the prime minister�s personal intervention will ensure that the disinvestment exercise raises significant funds to finance the additional public investment.

Even if the additional public investment actually materializes, it is doubtful whether there will be an immediate impact on the economy. In particular, it is almost certain that the economy will continue to limp along for the rest of the current financial year. However, public investment can be a very effective tonic in the medium term. If the private sector responds to the growth impulses generated by additional public investment, there is no reason why the economy cannot move to a significantly higher growth path during the next financial year.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi


Earlier this month, children in a housing complex in south Calcutta were banned from playing games outside their homes because their neighbour, a civil judge, claimed their playing near his house disturbed him. The police intervened, insisting that their playing be stopped because if a written complaint were made, they have to take the parents of the children into judicial custody for seven days. While the rule of law has prevailed over these children�s games, this incident is in contrasts with the increasing legislative activity in other countries aimed at protecting children�s rights.

In Scotland, attempts are being made to clarify and improve the law on the punishment of children ever since the issue of the smacking of children became a subject of public debate following two high-profile cases. In Lanarkshire, a father was found guilty of assault after smacking his eight-year-old daughter when she refused to have her tooth extracted. In Aberdeen, a father who repeatedly belted his 11 year-old daughter was convicted of assault. He claimed in court he had used �reasonable chastisement� to punish his child whom he suspected was involved in solvent abuse. Though Scottish law already protects children from �unreasonable chastisement�, a consultation paper has been published which states that although the Scottish executive believes parents should have the right to discipline their children, grey areas of the law need to be cleared up.

Chastise reasonably

However, it is still widely felt that the rights of parents to exercise their parental responsibility and to bring up children without undue interference from the state also needed to be recognized. Equivalent papers are being issued in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These proposals intend to clarify how the defence of �reasonable chastisement� is defined, and when it can be used. Currently, under common law dating back to 1861, any parent or guardian, when accused of physically harming a child, can use this defence if brought before the courts.

Children�s rights groups have attacked the government for refusing to outlaw the smacking of children in England. Groups such as Save the Children and Children are Unbeatable are among those calling for a more radical change in the law. Last year, Save the Children published guidelines advising parents how to admonish a child without resorting to violence; while the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said that it would continue to press for child victims to have the same legal status in assault cases as adults. According to such groups, the government�s refusal to scrap the Victorian defence of �reasonable chastisement� fails children in the new millennium. It loses the opportunity to bring England in line with many European countries.

Degrading treatment

The �reasonable chastisement� defence breaches the European law on human rights, and article 3 of the convention: �No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.� Although European law will be enforceable in the UK from October 1 this year, it remains important to clarify what is meant by �reasonable chastisement� and enshrine it in English law. The government also maintains that it should not and does not want to interfere in the private relationship between parents and their children, and that most people know the difference between a �mild rebuke� and assault.

Physical punishment of children is already banned in eight European countries � Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Cyprus, Croatia and Latvia. In 1979, Sweden was the first country in the world to prohibit corporal punishment of children. This legislation was followed by an education campaign lead by the justice ministry, which sent a leaflet to all households with children. It stated: �The law now forbids all forms of physical punishment of children including smacking, although�you can still snatch a child away from a hot stove or open window if there is a risk of it injuring itself.�

And more countries are, in the same way, paving the way for a ban on hitting and smacking being legalized. Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, Belgium and Ireland are all processing legislation to protect children from physical rebuke. In the United States and Canada, some states still allow caning in schools. However, groups like Project No Spank in the US and the Natural Child Project in Canada continue to actively campaign against it.


As the October 1 general election day in Bangladesh approached, Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her party, the Awami League, had one fervent prayer: the United States of America�s attack on Afghanistan should not happen before the poll day. Officially, both the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party endorsed the support of country�s caretaker government for the US-led coalition�s war efforts against international terrorism. But the League�s secular politics and its traditional acceptance among the Hindu minority made it vulnerable in a campaign that increasingly gathered religious over- tones since the September 11 attacks on America.

Although the League�s principal contender, the BNP, did not overtly play the �Islam under threat� card, its partner, the Jamat-e-Islami, found in the American war efforts a precious opportunity not to be wasted. Irrespective of what the contending parties did, the anticipation of the attack on Afghanistan, which was painted in the public mind as the first assault on Islam, had definitely coloured the poll-eve political consciousness in the Muslim-majority country. America�s Afghan war eventually did not begin before the election day; but the imminent conflict did its bit to shape the climate of opinion. The covert campaign told the people that Awami League�s boat (the party�s elect-ion symbol) could not ensure a safe ride in the gathering storm over the Islamic horizon.

But the world events only rocked the League�s boat that had already found itself adrift on choppy poll waters. Even before the September 11 terrorist strikes on the US, Wajed found herself up against tremendous odds. Her fate seemed to have been sealed the day the BNP struck up the alliance with the Jamat-e-Islami, the Islami Oikya Jote and a faction of the Jatiya Party, thereby ensuring that the anti-League vote was not split in any significant manner. Thus, arithmetic put her at a great disadvantage. The Jamat secured only three seats in the 1996 elections, but its voteshare was nearly nine per cent. The split in the anti-League votes had helped the party in as many as 46 marginal seats in those elections. The BNP�s poll managers realized that their chance lay in uniting all anti-League votes.

Once the BNP succeeded in this, the League banked on the possibility of the Jatiya Party of the former president, H.M. Ershad, cutting into its opponents� votes. The 75-year-old former military dictator, who cobbled up another coalition with the Islamic Shashantantra Movement, was hoping to play kingmaker again, fielding candidates for 281 out of 300 seats. In 1996, when the League won 146 seats and the BNP 116, Ershad�s Jatiya Party with 32 seats came in handy for Wajed. She held out the carrot to the majority of the Jatiya Party MPs, split the party and made one of them a minister in her government. But the Jatiya Party has since split into three factions and Ershad�s diminishing appeal is now confined to his native Rangpur district. The Ershad coalition�s tally of 14 in the elections this time could still be a factor in a hung verdict. But the results left him in the lurch as much as it stumped the League.

If the arithmetic was against the League, the politics of the Wajed government, particularly in the months preceding the elections, also queered the pitch for the party. The lawlessness and the rule of the goons made it look as if the government had abdicated before it faced the polls. The criminals who created this fear psychosis belonged to both the League and the BNP. But the League government�s failure to stem the tide cost it dearly at the hustings. Similarly, the corruptions of League ministers and leaders hurt its poll prospects more. Public memory being short everywhere, the people did not remember that the previous BNP regime was as corrupt, if not more.

While its failings took the campaign centre-stage, the League government�s successes were relegated to the background. And the successes were truly laudable. Wajed not only gave the country�s economy a 5.9 per cent growth last year, but achieved the first ever self-sufficiency in food. The inflation rate was kept under control. In the early years of the government, it brought to an end the decades-old insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Despite opposition from the BNP, the old controversy over the sharing of the Ganga water with India was settled through the 1996 pact. For a nation whose birth pangs began way back in 1949 with the demand for Bengali as the official language of former East Pakistan, Wajed brought international recognition to her people�s long and bloody language struggle by getting the United Nations to declare February 21 as the International Mother Language Day.

But the past, however glorious, does not always help either the present or the future in electoral politics. The League�s obsession with the 1971 liberation war and the legacy of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could not give it the poll advantage it had so fatuously hoped for. As the Congress in India could not reap electoral benefits forever by harping on M.K. Gandhi and its role in the Indian freedom movement, Rahman or the League�s role in Bangladesh�s liberation war could not be the inexhaustible fund from which the League could draw poll benefits. Actually, the League�s invocation of history did not stir many of the post-1971 generation of voters to its side. No wonder it did not create a ripple of hate toward the anti-liberation forces like the Jamat and a section of the BNP.

As it takes over power, the BNP-led alliance government will certainly try to undo much of the League�s legacy. To begin with, it will dislodge Rahman from the constitutional pedestal on which Wajed had put her father. He may now be placed alongside Ziaur Rahman, Khaleda Zia�s husband, in the new pantheon of national heroes. Wajed passed an incredible piece of legislation which made it a criminal offence to publicly denigrate Mujibur Rahman. That law may now go. Khaleda Zia may not interfere with the trial of Mujibur Rahman�s assassination. But her government will definitely not give it the priority that Wajed had given it. It is unlikely that Zia will oblige her Jamat and Islami Oikya Jote partners by changing the constitution to make Bangladesh an Islamic nation.

But it is Wajed�s foreign policy initiatives, especially with regard to India and Pakistan, which might undergo substantive changes in the new regime. The first test will come in December when the Ganga water pact is due for a review. The BNP may also change some clauses in the agreement that brought peace to the Chittagong Hill Tracts because of their implications for relations with India. The concern in some Indian quarters that the mili-tants in India�s Northeast will be again encouraged to set up camps inside Bangladesh, which Wajed dismantled, seems exaggerated.

Pakistan may want it so, especially in the context of a beleaguered western front of terrorism against India. But Zia may be more circumspect than before because of the international concern against terrorist groups and the instruments of terror. There is, however, no doubt that the new Bangladesh regime will be as keen to do business with India as the previous one. The BNP�s earlier tenure showed that the sound and fury at Dhaka�s Paltan maidan is merely the business of politics. The business of government is a different ball game.


Since the mid-1970s, a number of states have managed to reduce poverty, while in some low income states, notably Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, growth and poverty reduction have lagged. This differential performance appears to have increased in the 1990s. It is likely that urban poverty shows, if anything, an even greater increase in the differential. Rates of rural poverty reduction began to diverge in the late 1970s: While both groups of states evidenced a steady decline in rural poverty incidence, the rate of progress in the 5 northern and eastern states was somewhat slower in the late 1970s. The divergence increased in the Nineties as poverty stopped falling in the low-income states. By 1997, the gap in poverty incidence between the two groups of states had reached nearly 18 per cent, and poverty incidence in the low-income states was over 50 per cent higher than that in other large states ...

What explains this large cross-state differential in poverty reduction? Partly it reflects lower growth in the poor states. Most of the states that began the 1970s with relatively low per capita GDP had slower growth in GDP and its three main components � agriculture, industry and services � than the middle and higher income states...The differentials in private GDP growth and public investment in infrastructure and human capital partly reflect weak legal and regulatory frameworks for business; and problems of governance, law and order, and weak institutional capacity more generally. Finally, the lagging states, despite allocations of central funds that favoured them in per capita terms because of their low per capita incomes, suffered from fiscal problems. This was particularly the case in the 1990s, because their lack of fiscal adjustment and increased debt service payments coincided with a decline in overall central grants and loans to the states and rise in interest costs. These fiscal problems led the states to reduce their capital and human resource spending as a percentage of GDP.

India reduced poverty substantially since the mid-1970s, as growth rose and human development indicators improved. In the mid-1990s, growth increased sharply and human development indicators continued to improve. Yet poverty rates... declined only marginally. The inconsistencies between the National Accounts and the National Sample Surveys that are used to measure poverty suggest that this may be a statistical artifact. Partly the slowdown may also be explained by the higher average inflation in the 1990s compared to the 1980s, especially the more rapid increase in food prices. There are also concerns that the pattern of agricultural growth is producing less of a rise in labor demand/fall in poverty than in the past. More fundamentally, while some states were able to take advantage of the stabilization and reforms to speed up growth and poverty reduction, others increasingly lagged, due to poor governance, infrastructure, lack of human development, lack of fiscal adjustment and compression of development spending...

Should the recent developments be taken as evidence that stabilization and reforms have worked against the poor? We would argue not. First, there continues to be some reduction in poverty, particularly in the urban areas and in some states. Second, and more importantly, the issue is not reforms and stabilization, which were clearly needed to correct an unsustainable situation, but incomplete, and partial reforms. In particular, it is generally agreed that agriculture, which may have lost its impetus in reducing poverty, remains the least reformed, most distorted sector. Lack of reforms of labour and product markets limit both the rate of growth and its labour intensity. Reform of India�s anti-poverty programmes is now underway, but has taken place too recently for the benefits to show up ... moreover further institutional and governance improvements will be needed to make the programmes fully effective. Institutional and governance issues also arise in social sector services. Finally, at the state level, differences in governance and fiscal adjustment have led to differences in human development, infrastructure and private investment that contribute to the differences in growth and poverty reduction across the states...

Against this backdrop, there is a concern that poverty reduction will continue to stagnate unless a second phase of reforms occurs.



Favourite whipping boy

Sir � Despite their critical objectivity, political commentators like Mukul Kesavan are making the United States of America an international whipping boy (�Selective democracy�, Oct 7). Britain created Palestine but today the US is being made to look like the main culprit. Vietnam was a problem created by French expansionism, but America got embroiled in it. On the other hand, nobody remembers the US intervention which ended Anglo-French adventurism in the Suez Canal. The newsprint on US foibles has outstripped that which followed Tiananmen Square. Kesavan should realize that national interest and professed political ideology may be at odds when it comes to a country�s international stance. Hitler is thought to have allowed the evacuation of Dunkirk so that Britain would ultimately turn his ally. About US crimes in the name of democracy, more people have died in the name of religion than under communism or Nazism. The world has rubbished these concepts but not religion. There are wheels within wheels, so our commentators should try not to oversimplify things.

Yours faithfully,
Mala Shelly, via email


Sir � The decision of the three-judge bench of the apex court to transfer the 36 pending cases relating to the fodder scandal to �corresponding courts situated within the territories of Jharkhand� is a step in the right direction which will be welcomed by the common man (�Patna crown under threat as Supreme Court lobs Laloo to Jharkhand�, Oct 6). Laloo Prasad Yadav, like Nadir Shah, has plundered the Bihar treasury of a whopping Rs 720 crore for which he needs to be tried, convicted and punished.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, however, should tread cautiously before prosecuting Yadav. There should be a fool-proof case against him. Yadav has reportedly cited the example of what a magnificent treatment he had meted out to L.K. Advani during the rath yatra to illustrate how he too should be treated by the chief minister of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi. But Yadav�s stars fortell a different story. Given the current situation in Jharkhand and his kind of caste-based politics, Yadav is likely to get the same treatment that the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, had given to M. Karunanidhi. And that would indeed befit the leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. The people of Jharkhand are eagerly waiting to see Yadav behind bars. They are also waiting to see how the Raghuvansh Prasad Singhs and Shivanand Tiwaris manage to protect Rabri Devi�s throne in her husband�s absence.

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jharkhand

Sir � Now is probably the time for the raja of Bihar to pull up his socks. Accused in 36 cases of siphoning off public money, Laloo Prasad Yadav is all set to be tried in enemy territory, and that too as an �ordinary prisoner�, if Babulal Marandi keeps his word. The transfer of the cases by the Supreme Court to Jharkhand means that he shall not be available at Patna to run his proxy government and would have to rely entirely on his cronies to carry out his job. But hats off to Yadav for putting up a brave front. He is also definite that the privileges of a class I prisoner will be given to him and he will escape as easily from the long arm of justice as he has done before.

But one should recall that the judiciary has set a record of sorts by unseating the amma of Tamil Nadu by calling her tenure unconstitutional. Perhaps, a similar justice will be done in the case of the RJD chief. The judiciary needs to do justice to the people of Bihar whose money has been looted by their very own government. Only then can it restore confidence among people in its efficacy.

Yours faithfully,
H.S. Chawla, Haldia

Sir � The apex court�s judgment has truly been a bolt from the blue for Laloo Prasad Yadav, the invincible ruler of Bihar. Captive to National Democratic Alliance whims now, Yadav stands to lose both his freedom and his empire in Bihar. One can only wait and see how this messiah of the lower castes handles the situation. He is already trying hard to mobilize sympathy. But should his people forgive him?

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Adverse sweep

Sir � The sweeping victory of Begum Khaleda Zia�s Bangladesh National Party in alliance with the fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami and the defeat of Sheikh Hasina�s Awami League should serve as a wake up call to the mandarins of South Block. In a run up to the general elections of October 2, 2001, the four-party alliance of Khaleda Zia had launched an Islamic crusade against India and denounced Awami League for selling out Bangladesh�s interest to its neighbour. The Jamat-e-Islami has openly declared that they will rule the country through the Quran and drive the Hindus out of Bangladesh.

If Khaleda Zia�s past record serves as any indication, she is bound to create trouble for India. Bangladesh might now collaborate with militant outfits in Pakistan and give logistical and financial support to all extremist groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, the All Tripura Tiger Front and so on.

The Bangladesh government will now invariably rake up the issue of water-sharing, unfair trade practice and demarcation of the border with India to popularize Zia�s government in the country. India should not take Bangladesh�s threats lightly. It must not allow another Pakistan to grow in its backyard.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, via email

Sir � Sheikh Hasina�s defeat reflects a change of mood in Bangladesh. With Khaleda Zia, India�s bilateral relations with its neighbour are bound to suffer since the government has come to power mouthing pro-Islam and anti-India slogans. Despite that, chances are that Zia might be a better administrator than her predecessor. The Indian home minister and foreign minister should make all efforts to keep friendly relations with Bangladesh as it should try to improve its affairs with smaller nations like Mauritius, Nepal and Bhutan.

Yours faithfully,
Abdul Aziz, Cuttack

Closed forum

Sir � As the report, �Rs 5 lakh fine for delivery death� (Sept 3), points out the Hooghly district consumer disputes redressal forum has directed a gynaecologist to pay compensation for the death of a woman during childbirth. This advances the cause of the protection of consumer rights. So far such courts have disposed 12 lakh and 1.2 crore cases in the district and national levels respectively. However, some of the changes that are being brought about might be counterproductive to consumer interests.

The amendment to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, would severely limit the scope of dispute redressal. Cases can be filed before consumer courts only if the consumer could not seek remedy through the Indian Contract Act, Act of Sale of Goods and so on or through arrangements made with the respective organizations in case of complaints regarding electricity. Further, to reduce the volume of frivolous litigation, it has also been proposed that the complainant will have to pay a fee for filing a complaint.

Such amendments would go against the primary aim of consumer courts established all over India to enable consumers to avail themselves of a parallel system of consumer justice which is comparatively simple, speedy and less expensive. Although the system is not perfect, efforts should be made to extend the scope of consumer courts by bringing under their ambit civil and health services.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

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