Editorial 1 / Sound and fury
Editorial 2 / Unshackled
A step too far
Fifth Column / State of decline and no control
Some learn and some don’t
Document / Make them stand on their own feet
Letters to the editor

This is Mr Yashwant Sinha’s last big bang budget. If he is around to present the budget for 2003-04, it will be under the shadow of the impending general elections. There is not much scope for a big bang. With value added tax postponed by a year, Central sales tax and special excise will remain. Nothing substantial can be expected on taxing services. A reduction in peak customs duty on industrial goods by 5 per cent is almost pre-determined. Perhaps the investment allowance will be back, and perhaps the peak corporate tax rate will be reduced from 35 per cent to 30 per cent. There will be easier norms on de-mergers and amalgamations. Nothing to be done on personal income tax rates, except the removal of exemptions. There is not much of a big bang there. A host of new schemes on agriculture and poverty alleviation is possible, apart from increased allocations on existing schemes (and on defence) and food stamps in place of the public distribution system. But no one will buy this bang for the buck because promises made in Part A of the budget speech for 2001-02 have remained promises. What has just happened can thus be regarded as a dress rehearsal for Part A of 2002-03, with new “reforms” and easier justification of what did not materialize. The background is the parliamentary committee’s knocking out quantitative targets and timeframes from the fiscal responsibility and budget management bill. The 4.7 per cent fiscal deficit to the gross domestic product target would have been impossible. The background is also the Central Statistical Organization’s remarkable lowering of the GDP growth in 2000-01 by two full percentage points. This blows up the GDP growth in 2001-02 to around 5.4 per cent, and improves the fiscal deficit performance by inflating the denominator.

Consider disinvestments. Rs 3000 crore (and the figure may increase because of Maruti and some hotels) is a far cry from the promised Rs 12,000 crore. But IBP and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited have brought in Rs 2800 crore at one stroke, and Rs 3000 crore is far more respectable than Rs 200-odd crore. To deflect criticism on the Unit Trust of India, the idea of new legislation to replace the UTI Act has been approved. There is a voluntary retirement scheme for government employees, lest anyone criticize the government for not implementing downsizing promises. It is a separate matter that no one knows how and when the surplus pool, to be retrained or earmarked for the VRS, will be identified. There was a promise about agriculture reform, implying the PDS and the Essential Commodities Act. The PDS reform has gone for a six. The food mountain grows and exports are unlikely, even if there is a decision to scrap quantitative restrictions on exports of non-basmati rice and wheat. But one can tackle the ECA, at least at the Central level. The sugar decontrol was a budget promise and the end of levy sales to the government is indeed significant.

However, the ECA and agricultural reform is not possible until states follow suit. The relaxation of price controls on drugs through the drug price control order is also ECA-related. The administered price mechanism on petroleum products will also go. Mr Sinha’s defence has become easier. Even if the government does nothing, it must be seen to be doing something. That is the point of the present flurry.


The Supreme Court has kept up its judicial activism, this time in the sphere of mental illness. The generally barbaric treatment of the mentally ill in India came to a head last August when 43 men, women and children were charred to death, chained in their beds at a semi-religious asylum in Tamil Nadu. The apex court’s recent directive takes into account every aspect of this horrific episode. First, it has ruled that no mental patient could be shackled any more. The Mental Health Act of 1987 barely differentiates institutionalized patients from vagrants and criminals; and this ruling is an almost symbolic reversal of this punitive and custodial attitude. Second, every state and Union territory has been directed to set up at least one mental hospital with state-of-the-art facilities. Third, the court has asked for existing unlicensed and substandard institutions to be identified and shut down, and the patients transferred to approved government hospitals. This identification will have to be done after a thorough two-week survey.

All this amounts to a long overdue humanizing of the entire system of care for the mentally ill, the concern for which has also been repeatedly voiced by the national human rights commission and by the World Health Organization. The latter, in its latest global report on mental health, has again brought to notice the grim Indian scenario, advocating a “public health” approach incorporating more community care than institutionalization. The issue is as much the availability of medical facilities and trained personnel as a transformation of social attitudes to mental illness and to psychiatry. The court’s directive addresses this two-fold problem, while ensuring the implementation of the existing laws on mental health and disabilities. The only worry regarding this vision could be the role of the police and state-level bureaucrats in some matters of action and vigilance. If this is balanced by a proper degree of involvement of medically trained and specialized consultants and supervisors, then the court’s intentions of bringing justice to the mentally ill would come closer to a more humane fulfilment.


For all the standing ovations he got from congressmen for his state of the union address, George W. Bush has managed to make the rest of the world, including some of his Western allies, feel uneasy with his jingoism. What irks those who are only too willing to back the war on international terrorism is a new arrogance of power betrayed in the American administration’s impatience of any criticism of its policies.

Though it is a broad coalition which is supposed to conduct the war, the United States of America has turned it into a one-power show. To some extent this is natural since it can on its own mobilize an amount of hi-tech weaponry which the other members of the coalition put together cannot match. Indeed it is its air power which has been mainly responsible for breaking the taliban resistance in Afghanistan.

Yet its decisive say in determining the coalition’s war strategy does not mean that the weaker allies have to keep quiet even where they think that a particular American policy decision is all wonky. Thus some allies, including quite a few North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, have good reason to feel alarmed at the way the US president spoke of the evil Iraq-Iran-North Korea axis not just because this is no more than a figment of an overheated imagination but also because so kinky a security perception threatens to upset the priorities of the war on international terrorism.

Again, many allies are rightly perturbed over the inhuman way in which the US is keeping al Qaida and taliban prisoners in iron cages at its Guantanamo base. The plea that, with their brutal record, these terrorists deserve no better sounds all the more callous, coming as it does from the world champion of human rights. That these prisoners are being treated worse than pigs has justly provoked some critics to ask whether the US should flatter al Qaida by imitating its sadistic methods. Apparently, the US administration feels so peeved over such remarks that George Bush, at one point in his address, threatened to go it alone. He wants the allies to be more restrained in what they say about the leader of the war coalition.

That such differences within the war coalition should have surfaced when the first phase of the campaign is just over is not as surprising as it may seem. The coalition has been a loose affair from the word go, with no genuine agreement on strategy or goals. The west European powers, barring Britain, resent the US’s steamrolling methods in building what is euphemistically called a consensus. They are also unhappy over its unbeatable lead in technology which has dashed their hopes of making the European Union a credible rival power centre. Many Arab states are sore at heart because the war has acquired a marked anti-Islamic slant.

As for Pakistan’s military regime, it lives in fear of a backlash because the jihadi mindset is shared by large sections of the armed forces in the country at every level. The Indian government for its part is not too certain how far the US will be able to rid its hostile neighbour of the terrorist outfits and ensure that the territorial status quo in south Asia is not disturbed in any way. It serves no purpose to maintain the pressure on both countries to engage in negotiations in the absence of either a meeting ground or a propitious climate for meaningful talks.

Even the post-war scene in Afghanistan is spiked with ironies. The bombing raids made the taliban relinquish power and run for cover sooner than anyone expected. But the same cannot be said about winning the peace. The interim government, having inherited devastated cities, half-destroyed civic amenities, thousands without work or a place to live in, and an empty treasury is completely dependent on outside aid. In this situation, it is the main donors who will both determine the priorities of reconstruction and monitor how the money is used.

Six years of taliban rule have brutalized the population as never before and destroyed what little remained of civil society which will have to be rebuilt from scratch. This will not be easy both because it demands a change in the thought processes of the brainwashed taliban, who have been allowed to return to their homes unharmed by various local warlords, and a degree of inter-ethnic understanding the country has not seen for decades.

Thus the emergence of a peaceful, not to speak of democratic, Afghanistan is yet a pipe-dream. The accumulated reserve of hatreds between different ethnic groups will not disappear all of a sudden. Nor can a certain amount of rigging be avoided in the election of a loya jirga. It will be equally quixotic to expect a drastic curtailment in the power of local warlords. The Bush administration is painfully aware of the terrible legacy which can obstruct the creation of a viable state in a country ravaged by over two decades of war and six years of training in fundamentalist terrorism.

The US has also some reason to feel frustrated over the outcome of the war which, though providing one more theatre for demonstrating its hi-tech prowess, has by no means been an unqualified success. The two most wanted men on its hit-list — Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the September 11 attacks, and Mullah Omar — as well as their closest associates in al Qaida and taliban networks, have managed to escape both the bombing raids and the commando search parties. The general suspicion that the most likely site of their refuge is located somewhere in the wild tribal belt of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan only adds to the irony as well as the ignominy of this botched affair.

Even so, the US can draw much comfort from the compensating gains the war has brought it. The victory in Afghanistan with almost no loss of American lives has given a new edge to the country’s status as the only superpower and a new leverage to its policy-makers in south and west Asia, with a chain of bases in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. American presence on a larger scale than ever before in this vast strategic area adjoining Russia and China looks like becoming a permanent feature of the new geopolitical scene. As Henry Kissinger would say: why crib about these changes when they merely reflect the increased military clout America wields, spending more on defence every year than the next nine states in the global power hierarchy put together?

Even west Europeans who often regard with disdain the gaucheries of American life, the rawness of its popular culture, the callowness of its public rhetoric and the pervasiveness of its market philosophy, have a healthy respect for its sheer vitality, its prodigious productivity and its permanent presence on the frontiers of science and technology. It is the double sanction of economic power and hi-tech military strength behind its words, which inspire both fear and dismay. One recent instance of the wonders this does is the discreet silence maintained by China over the issue of the 27 bugs placed in the special presidential plane it ordered from Boeing. It does not want to risk vitiating the atmosphere for George Bush’s impending visit to the country.

It is this respect for the US’s strength which has impelled Russia to float the idea of a Moscow-Beijing-Delhi axis. The reasons why any such project is apt to come a cropper are pretty obvious. The first member of the proposed troika looks up to Washington for investment capital, its gross national product today being barely equal to that of the Netherlands. The second depends on the US market which enables it to sell 50 billion dollars worth of goods more each year than it buys. As for the third, it is waiting for a paradigm shift in the US’s south Asia policy in its favour. All this cannot, however, make the US take the rest of the world for granted. Paradoxically, some of the very factors which have given the US its new clout have also made the world a far more difficult place to manage and police than the bipolar world of the Cold War era.

It is hard to predict the course the war on international terrorism will take. No think-tank can visualize all the possible contingencies or devise measures to guard against unintended consequences of action. So far as India is concerned, there are no pat solutions to its problems in the midst of murky politics at home and a fast-changing international situation. This is hardly the time for it to indulge in brinkmanship, with its prohibitive costs and inherent dangers. Playing it cool, while holding fast to the position that there can be no talks until there is an end to cross-border terrorism, will be a safer as well as a more rewarding course. What sense does it make for the armies of two hostile neighbours to confront each other indefinitely in full war gear when a war is the last thing either of them wants?


Economic policy is not shaped by economists or politicians. It is shaped by economic and political forces, and as these forces shift, so does economic policy. For India, as also for other countries that attained freedom after World War II, independence meant the transfer of power from an alien class to the political class. Although this class had economic interests, its overriding objective was to control and maintain a hold on the state. The former prime minister and head of the planning commission, Jawaharlal Nehru, said that the main role of the five year plans was to strengthen the nation-state by giving it a larger role in development, while also seizing control of the economy.

But things are different now. The state is in retreat everywhere, and power is being transferred from the political to the business class. Under the garb of globalization, power is being transferred first to the Indian business class, and through it to foreign business led by multinational companies. It is ironic that power, which was wrested from foreigners more than 50 years ago, is passing back into the hands of foreigners with the active assistance and collaboration of our new political class.

Foreign factor

The Indian business class is closer to the international business class than to Indian politicians, whose clout is slowly diminishing. When Bill Clinton was here two years ago, he spent more time with businessmen in Mumbai than with politicians in Delhi. The gesture did not go unnoticed. It marks the coming of age of the new business class, which is now seeking power on its own and in conjunction with its powerful business friends as well as governments in the West.

These governments, which are now virtually run by big conglomerates, support their investors in their preference to do business directly with their counterparts in India, rather than with ministers and officials. For, the ministers and officials in New Delhi cannot wield any real power. The powerlessness of the political class can be seen in the way it reacted to the Dabhol scandal. Politicians in Mumbai and New Delhi who underwrote the tariff proposals made by Enron are said to have received kickbacks to the tune of nearly Rs 800 crore (out of a total project cost of Rs 12,000 crore). This illustrates how the transfer of power is taking place in India.

However, the ultimate beneficiaries of the transfer of power will not be Indian businessmen, but the MNCs who hold the purse strings. The World Economic Forum, which enjoys participation from most governments including India, is financed entirely by the MNCs.

Weakest link

Ten years from now, maybe five, most things that are currently in the name of the Indian state are likely to pass into the hands of the international business class through their intermediaries in India. In fact, several important businesses are already in their hands. Indian banks, including the State Bank of India, are partially owned by foreign banks or foreign shareholders. Seventy per cent of the Housing Development Finance Corporation is owned by foreign shareholders, although the management is in Indian hands. Insurance companies will come next, followed by industries like steel, power, petroleum and even railways.

The main objective of the International Monetary Fund’s financial programme is to weaken state-owned organizations and agencies. The ultimate aim is to remove the state from the economic scene altogether, as was done recently in Argentina. Foreign defence corporations are very keen to establish a base in India, and the government is equally keen to oblige them.

Surprisingly, few Indians are aware that a transfer of power on this scale is taking place. Most think that liberalization and globalization are interchangeable terms.

One explanation for foreign invasion in India is that the government seems to be entirely at the mercy of the economic forces. But the main reason is that the MNCs and the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organization are helping foreign investors make inroads into countries like India. India is being colonized yet again, this time, sadly, aided by the country’s political class.


An unstated, but willingly accepted, policy of segregation stands out as a hallmark of our school education system. Recent reports show government schools, attended by the vast majority of children, sliding into non-performing institutions from where the less privileged are dropping out unable to pass the board examinations. In contrast, a scattering of public schools at the top of the ladder is venturing into experiments with computers, skirting the boundaries of information technology to equip the privileged with skills that would make them competent citizen-cum-stakeholders in public life.

The Constitution decrees equal rights for all. But the majority in this country begin their lives on an uneven keel. Attending school is itself a privilege; attending a “good” school a privilege well outside the reach of their pockets. But not all in positions of power and influence are willing to come out clean on this issue. They shun state schools when it comes to sending their children but would not hesitate to recommend them for “others”.

A glaring example of this hypocrisy stood out when the Jyoti Basu government in West Bengal dropped English from its primary school education syllabus but its ministers continued to send their children to the affluent English medium public schools. The lower middle classes and the poor had no such choice. Their children went to government schools which used Bengali as a medium of instruction.

In a similar vein, the minister of state for human resources development, Rita Verma, says that there is no reason to think that children sitting on a “tacky mat” in a run-down government school are not receiving proper education. But the fact staring us in the face is that most government schools for millions of children are not giving their students adequate, let alone good, education.

The fault does not lie with the pupils but with the system that sustains itself on a philosophy of inequity — offering unequal opportunities to different socio-economic categories of children, further stratifying an already stratified society. The question of merit comes only when the primary school system has a semblance of uniformity as far as quality of education throughout the country is concerned .

The middle class perception very often dismisses disadvantaged children as genetically inferior in intelligence, coming from families generating a predictable chronicle of domestic violence, alchoholism and so on. The parents, believed to be mostly unlettered are indifferent to the education of their children.

The authoritative PROBE report on the state of education explodes this myth. The demand for education is growing by the day. Parents, far from being indifferent to the education of their children, desperately want the next generation to get out of the rut they are in. And this would mean sending them to schools — proper schools where teachers take their jobs seriously.

The Centre is not entirely unaware of the disastrous slide in the status of schools run by the states. However, education is a subject that falls clearly in the domain of state governments. “We want to narrow the bridge between government and private schools. And for this we are trying to incorporate in the education fundamental right bill, recently passed in Parliament, a quota that would make it mandatory for private schools to admit a certain number of poor children,” says the education secretary, B.K. Chaturvedi, in the HRD ministry.

But others in the same ministry point out that most private schools even now are expected to take in a certain percentage of disadvantaged children, as a quid-pro quo for the land given by state governments at subsidized rates. This is definitely not happening. A branch of Delhi Public School, a well-known educational institution in the capital, has recently started having afternoon classes for the children from the nearby colonies. “But these afternoon classes last far less than normal school hours. The school’s best teachers keep out of them,” says M.M. Jha, a senior official in the HRD ministry. He is firmly of the opinion that the policy of apartheid in Indian school education can end only when the less privileged can sit with the privileged in the same classroom and receive equal benefits from a holistic education.

One of the main snags in putting government schools on the rails has been the attitude of teachers. Their salaries, over the years, have doubled — but the attitude to teaching is as lackadaisical as before. Most government school teachers are condescending towards, if not outrightly contemptuous of, their pupils. They consider ther jobs a “punishment” — better ignored than carried out conscientiously. Absenteeism is high — sometimes even if the teachers are in the school premises, they are not in the classrooms.

The flip side of the story is a litany of teachers’ grievances. They are at the beck and call of state governments. “If the governments want any survey done we are expected to pitch in. We are put on duty in election time, regardless of the school schedule,” says a government school teacher. In the villages the concept of employing teachers from the neighbourhood is non-existent. As a result, a teacher who is expected to travel three miles to reach school and does not want to wait hours for a bus ends up bunking classes while students return home without learning anything worthwhile.

In this scenario, where the government is unable to streamline teachers and teachers are sticking to their truant ways, the practice of “para-teachers” is gaining ground. It is an easy way out for governments. They can employ a 8th standard or 10th standard drop-out to teach the children who have no other option but to go to state schools. Much to the disappointment of the economists, Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze, of the Delhi School of Economics, even the Left Front government in West Bengal, lagging behind in literacy, has jumped onto the para-teacher bandwagon with a lot of enthusiasm.

The HRD ministry at the Centre does not see anything particularly damaging in para- teachers even though education experts say that the whole system has turned out to be yet another cog in the wheel of an unequal education system. “We do agree that the skills of the para-teachers must be upgraded,” says Chaturvedi. This is again a floating concept which has to be grounded and implemented.

A probable way out of this impasse could be to trust local communities and entrust them with more responsibility. Most education experts believe communities should act as vigilant groups who will ensure the attendance of teachers and students. They will also decide penalties for absentee teachers. Community participation is also a credo much used by governments at the Centre and in the states. But when it comes to the real delegation of authority and power, the governments are tight-fisted and moved only by partisan considerations.

This has been the general experience of the panchayat system in most states. Ruling parties tend to centralize power along partisan lines and real decentralization does not really take place. Reports have shown that the West Bengal government has hardly involved local communities unless they are sympathizers or card-holders of the left parties, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in policy decisions at the grassroots.

At the moment, the system of segregation in school education seems too well-entrenched to be rooted out with one miraculous effort of the political or administrative will. But the process has to be put to work immediately or else it will be too late for reform.


There are about 60 million disabled people in the country. Out of these, about 7 million are awaiting employment.

According to the Directory of Institutions, compiled by the National Information on Disability and Rehabilitation, there are more than 2,000 non-governmental organizations working in the area of disability. Most of these organizations are engaged in service delivery — providing education, distributing aids and appliances and imparting vocational rehabilitation.

The voluntary sector’s pioneering effort in providing services to the disabled people is indeed creditable, but in terms of employment they have very little to offer. Although there have been some isolated cases of success, these have been poorly handled. In future, the NGOs will have to play a major role alongside other sectors... Dearth of well-researched data on disability is the biggest hurdle in identification of jobs for the disabled. It is therefore important to create an authentic database on existing services for disabled people.

The disability movement has gained pace in recent years. It would therefore be interesting to see the level of participation of people with disabilities in decisionmaking in this very sector.

No effort or analysis or discussion would be complete without taking a special note of women with disabilities. In a society where gender inequality has become a convention, disabled women are the most isolated and marginalized. After years of struggle, disabled men have succeeded to some extent in making their voice heard; a special intitative is required to make sure that disabled women are also heard.

Hence, the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, in collaboration with the National Association for the Blind-Delhi, conducted a research study to create a gender-segregated database on the role of NGOs vis a vis the employment scenario in India with reference to persons with disability.

The objective of the study was to collect authentic data from organizations working in the area of disability on their administrative structures, their budgets vis a vis support from government, the level of participation of people with disabilities in decisionmaking, on employment within the sector and outside, on education, vocational training, availability of aids and appliances and other services that are being provided to disabled persons in India. It was collected in such a manner that it was gender-segregated. The data will enable NCPEDP, NAB-Delhi and other NGOs to delve deeper into the existing scenario.

The outcome of the research study will guide the functioning of both NCPEDP and NAB-Delhi with realistic targets. And hopefully, the functioning of others in the sector as well.

The research questionnaire was sent to 150 organizations working with disabled people all over India. Out of these, 119 responded, and their data has been included in the research study. The analyses presented in this report are based on the data of 119 organizations.

…A special effort was made to include NGOs working with disabilities such as thalassaemia, haemophilia, autism, learning disabilities, etc. In order to maintain the disability balance, a separate category of “other disabilities” was created instead of clubbing them under locomotor impairment or mental impairment.

The trend that has emerged indicates that the majority of the organizations studied work in more than one area of disability, but only 11 organizations (9.24 per cent) work in all areas of disabilities (cross disability). A person with a specific disability definitely needs specialized services because of his/her special needs. The Indian situation is grim, as 1.5 to 2 million disabled people are being added to the population every year. And even now, 80 per cent of special rehabilitation facilities are found mainly in cities. According to available statistics, existing services are only reaching about 4 per cent of the physically disabled and 0.2 per cent of the mentally retarded.

The trends reveal that though the majority of the respondent organizations do seem to have computer facility, only 24.37 per cent have got an email connection, which is one of the least expensive and the fastest means of communication today. It is essential that organizations keep in touch with one another.

Maintaining alliances is indeed difficult, involving time and money from participating organizations. In order to be effective, alliances also need a clear vision of purpose and a focus on a single issue. While people recognize its importance at one level, the input of time and energy...is often regarded as a waste of time. As the need of the hour is better networking amongst NGOs, it is crucial for them to adopt new and faster methods of communication.

To be concluded



Rabri comes of age

Sir — It was a revelation of sorts to see the chief minister of Bihar, Rabri Devi, follow her own script without being ghost directed by hubby, Laloo Prasad Yadav, or by some desk-bound bureaucrat (“Lonely Rabri lectures Atal on bias”, Feb 4). Sharing the dais with the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at a meeting in Patna recently, Bihar’s first lady was vociferous in her criticism of the biased attitude of the Bharatiya Janata Party towards Bihar. Unlike Yadav, who tends to go overboard in his verbal skirmishes with the opposition, Rabri Devi was honest enough to admit her party’s drawbacks. Also admirable was the way she restrained herself from making baseless allegations against the BJP and urged Vajpayee to forget past differences. If Rabri Devi continues to show such good sense, it could well usher in better days for the people of the state. The RJD leader seems quite capable of delivering a good speech when not accompanied by her husband — it remains to be seen whether she can administer the state better when not influenced by him.

Yours faithfully,
Gauri Ghosal, Calcutta

Two is company

Sir — It was with good reason that the general secretary of the all India Congress committee, Ambika Soni, took exception to the presence of Amitabh Bachchan at blood donation camps alongside the Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls (“Cong salvo on Big B”, Feb 2). Ever since the popular programme, Kaun Banega Crorepati, wound up, Bachchan seems to have become desperate for a political platform to help sustain his image and popularity. The Bachchan couple are also major income tax defaulters — their arrears to the IT department runs into lakhs of rupees. This is disquieting in an under-developed country whose economy is in bad shape.

No doubt the Bachchans need the patronage and blessings of politicians. Even so, it is disappointing that the ageing megastar has chosen to fraternize with a politician like Yadav who is unscrupulous enough to use blood donation camps for political mileage. Politics, they say, makes strange bed-fellows and it should surprise no one that Yadav and Bachchan find each other’s company so conducive. But Bachchan should remember that a man is known by the company he keeps.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhusan Saha, Balurghat

Sir — In the past few months, the Samajwadi Party leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has organized a number of “social” functions in which Amitabh Bachchan and his wife have participated. This shows the heightened political activity in Uttar Pradesh, where elections will be held later this month. Obviously the Samajwadi Party leader is out to gain political mileage from the presence of the Bachchans at these events, however much he may deny it. The party is determined to give a tough fight to the Bharatiya Janata Party in UP, which is not being supported by the Bajrang Dal and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh this time.

By playing the backward and minority cards, Yadav is certain he will prove a formidable obstacle for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the state.

However, the people of UP are not so naïve that they will be taken in by Yadav’s works of “charity” involving the Bachchans. He had better find other means of winning over voter support, instead of using cine stars to do the trick for him.

Yours faithfully,
Mrinalini Gupta, Chandigarh

Dial a complaint

Sir — Now that the Telephone Regulatory Authority of India has slashed STD and ISD call rates, it should focus attention on the problems of telephone subscribers. Although the Union minister of state for communications, Tapan Sikdar, had served notice to line staff, directing them to provide new connections to all subscribers, this work was done haphazardly. Also, the hike in local call charges and telephone rentals from April 22 will prove a further burden on consumers.

The former Union telecommunications minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, had promised domestic telephone connections for all, and announced that the Central government would bear the expenses of this scheme. Instead of increasing call charges, Sikdar should have followed up on Paswan’s promise.

The TRAI should consider reducing local call charges especially for senior citizens, in the same way they are provided concessions on railways and air fare.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Calcutta

Sir — The reduction in telecom tariffs is not a windfall for subscribers but a long overdue correction. The country has long suffered from high tariffs and low density of telephone connections because of the department of telecommunications’s rigid structure, outdated technology and low consumer awareness. Even after liberalization, the DoT continues to influence telecom policy in order to preserve its grip over the system, at the cost of the subscribers’ convenience and country’s long-term interests.

With enhanced competition, it is the providers of telecom services who now have to run after subscribers to please them. The emergence of new technologies has brought about a telecom revolution, enabling the spread of telecommunications at an affordable cost to every nook and corner of the country. Even if they do not own a telephone, all citizens at least have access to one.

When this revolution spreads to the rural areas as well, the rural economy will get a tremendous boost. The growth in purchasing power in these areas will in turn revive industries in urban areas. More important, self-employment opportunities will be created all over the country thus easing the unemployment problem.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Pai, Mumbai

Sir — Although the STD rates have been revised from Jan 14, 2002, public call offices in west Bokaro, Ghatotand and Hazaribag continue to charge the old rates. Moreover, telephone authorities have no control over these local booths , adding to consumers’ woes. Since these are important commercial centres in the new state of Jharkhand, the state government must do all it can to improve matters.

Yours faithfully,
J. Singh, Hazaribagh

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