Editorial 1 / Still down
Editorial 2 / Too much in the sun
Not snuffed by an article
So near, yet so far
Document / Goals, targets and commitments
Letters to the editor

Arecent analysis shows that India�s 1,000 largest companies may have registered sales growth of less than 1 per cent in 2001-02, the lowest since 1994-95. These are unaudited and incomplete figures and the sample excludes banks and financial institutions, but there is no reason to dispute the thrust of the findings. Gross domestic product growth in the Nineties can be divided into three clear periods � faltering recovery to around 5.5 per cent (1992-93 to 1993-94), hype of 7 per cent plus (1994-95 to 1996-97) and slowdown since 1997-98. If manufacturing slowdown became more accentuated in 2001-02, this is largely because of sluggish global demand. While it may be unreasonable to expect the index of industrial production to grow at 13 per cent, as it did during 1995-96, is it destined to grow at 3 per cent or less, as it has since the last quarter of 2000-01? Stated differently, are findings of 2001-02 likely to be extrapolated to 2002-03? Business confidence indices by the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries, the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the Institute of Economic Growth do suggest that 2002-03 is likely to be better, and several indicators have performed better since April 2002, if not earlier. The IIP increased by 2.9 per cent in April, export growth in dollar terms by 18 per cent and six core infrastructure industries by 6 per cent. Consumer expenditure seems to have recovered. It is also necessary to mention the global recovery, now robust and confirmed in the United States of America. While India�s export to GDP ratio is still only 10 per cent, a 10 per cent growth in exports can explain the difference between 5 per cent and 6 per cent GDP growth rates.

Reform promises in the budget remain unimplemented. This is not to suggest that 2002-03 will not be better. But only marginally so. For a start, the recovery is confined to manufacturing and is not broad-based. Service sector growth remains uncertain, as does agriculture, despite predictions of a normal monsoon. Since rural demand is uncertain, investments have not picked up, notwithstanding a 0.5 per cent cut in interest rates. This is reflected in the state of the capital goods sector and in dampened non-oil imports. Credit offtake has not picked up and there is little activity in the capital market, although some new issues have been announced. Therefore, barring the Reserve Bank of India, no one expects real GDP growth in 2002-03 to cross 6 per cent. In the absence of reforms, the 6 per cent minus band is what India is restricted to.

Global recovery, consumer expenditure fuelled by the world cup and disappearance of the war threat have reversed some negative sentiments. That largely explains the euphoria, especially for consumer durables like televisions. However, it is too early to pop the champagne corks. Forget shaking the economy, the present finance minister has been unable to even stir it. A better mover and shaker might be able to get reforms going. At the very least, markets might react favourably. While the present mess is partly about macro-fundamentals, it is also partly about expectations and sentiments.


Democracy and dynastic politics are not strange bedfellows in south Asia. It was no surprise, therefore, when the prime minister of Bangladesh, Ms Khaleda Zia, anointed her elder son, Mr Tareq Rahman, to the leadership of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party. This coincided with India�s minister of state for external affairs, Mr Omar Abdullah, taking over the reins of the National Conference from his father and chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Farooq Abdullah. Mr Rahman�s elevation continues a tradition which saw Ms Zia succeeding her late husband and former president, Ziaur Rahman, in the BNP leadership. The leader of the opposition, Ms Sheikh Hasina Wazed, had also followed her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as the chief of the Bangladesh Awami League. Since Ms Zia�s return after the general elections, Mr Rahman has been the power behind the throne. His role in the distribution of party tickets before the elections was as important as in the allocation of ministerial portfolios after the polls. His induction into the party leadership may have been hastened by voices of dissent against his alleged interference in the government�s affairs. It is obviously an attempt by Ms Zia to give her son�s actions some kind of legitimacy, while confirming his accession to the party leadership in the future.

Behind Mr Rahman�s anointment are the unseemly circumstances in which the president of Bangladesh, Mr Badrudozza Chowdhury, was forced to quit after the BNP parliamentary party�s �loss of confidence� in him. He had apparently annoyed Ms Zia by refusing to endorse her view of the role of Ziaur Rahman in the country�s liberation. One would assume that Mr Chowdhury had done the right thing by trying to keep the office of the president above party polemics. The way Ms Zia forced his departure can only weaken democratic institutions in a country which has suffered military dictatorships for most of its short history. His resignation may be yet another cause for conflict between the ruling coalition and the BAL. The BAL members� return to the parliament, which it had boycotted after accusing the BNP of rigging the polls, had raised hopes of an end to the political stalemate. Mr Rahman�s rise and Mr Chowdhury�s fall have clouded Bangladesh�s political horizon yet again.


The Nepali-American woman who was seated in the dentist�s waiting room was sifting furiously through the pages of three or four issues of Time magazine which were scattered on the table along with copies of Food and Wine, Country Living, Burda and a few other assorted publications. When her frenzied search did not yield what she was looking for in any of the issues of Time, she turned to me � whom she recognized as an Indian from my conversation with the dentist�s receptionist � and asked if I had read the article on the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

I told her that at least 25 friends and journalist colleagues had e-mailed Alex Perry�s by-now-notorious column to me. It appeared on June 17, I told her. �But it is not here�, she responded, �This is the June 17 issue.� She continued her search and eventually found what she was looking for. It was not easy because the American edition of Time did not carry all of Perry�s 1, 950-word column. Instead, it used less than 500 words from the column and then tucked it away in the magazine�s �Notebook� column. To find the piece, one really had to go searching for it!

If New Delhi�s babudom had not made such a fuss about Perry�s piece, far fewer people would have read it than have now. Much less, no one would have discussed it from continent to continent in drawing rooms and at cocktail parties with any south Asian presence the way they are doing now.

My acquaintance in the dentist�s waiting room in the Maryland town just outside Washington would not have heard about the article. Because the American edition of Time had buried it as a �Notebook� item, it would not have attracted the attention of many Americans, let alone policy-makers, corporate leaders or even the Indian community. Since Perry�s column appeared in toto in the Asian edition of the magazine, it is safe to say that the same is true of Europe, Africa or Latin America. In any case, hard-boiled decisions on India are seldom influenced, much less determined by columnists. Never, at any rate, by a columnist who was, until the other day, merely the travel editor of Time and before that a reporter with Agence France-Presse in Hong Kong.

Such an assertion is not meant to show any disrespect to the tribe of columnists or to underrate the role and influence of the media. When India was burning in the aftermath of the demolition of the disputed mosque in Ayodhya, The New York Times sent one of its most respected columnists, Anthony Lewis, to India.

One of the most evocative pieces to appear in the print media anywhere in the world was a column by Lewis. It was obviously written after Lewis visited the home of Salman Haidar, then a secretary in South Block, whose wife is a Hindu. For weeks after the piece appeared, every worthwhile ambassador resident in New Delhi had a clipping or a photocopy of that column on his table. Each one of them had either cabled it home or sent it by the first diplomatic pouch.

Alex Perry is not Anthony Lewis. Nor is Time in the same class as The New York Times. Responses by governments must be commensurate to what they have to deal with in the press. In this case, Perry would have been best ignored by New Delhi�s babudom. Of course, Ashok Tandon, the prime minister�s chief media aide, had a duty to write, at least for the record, a rebuttal of what Perry wrote. But that should have been the beginning and the end of the sordid episode.

Not one Indian MP will vote against Vajpayee in Parliament because he is convinced that the prime minister is �asleep at the wheel�, as the title of the controversial column goes. Forget that for a moment, not one Indian will be influenced by Perry as to vote against the Bharatiya Janata Party under Vajpayee�s leadership. No head of state or government or any minister in a foreign government will in any way be decisively influenced on dealings with Vajpayee�s government because of what Perry has written. No multinational company will decide to drop a project in India because it thinks, after reading Time, that Vajpayee has been found wanting in leadership and that investment in a country led by such a prime minister is, therefore, a risk.

Because Indian prime ministers have often been septuagenarians, their health is a constant subject of discussion in the chanceries in Chanakyapuri and in the Asian divisions of foreign ministries of every country which takes India seriously. Rumours and even gossip are fed to their headquarters by ambassadors in New Delhi as the envoys prepare for visits by their prime ministers, presidents or ministers: just in case anything went wrong during those visits. Diplomacy, after all, means playing safe.

Articles similar to the one by Perry are not unique to Vajpayee. When P.V. Narasimha Rao was prime minister, his health was a constant subject of discussion. It is easily forgotten now, but so was Rao�s personal life and his family. It was the same with Jawaharlal Nehru, at least during the last five years of his prime ministership, making allowances, of course, for the journalistic ethics of those years.

This columnist would be the last person to fault Vajpayee, if indeed, he does sleep at meetings. Once, when Winston Churchill was Britain�s prime minister, he nodded off during a debate in the House of Commons. An opposition MP who had the floor noticed that Churchill was not all there. He turned to the speaker: �How can the honourable prime minister express an opinion on my speech if he is sleeping in the house?� The words, �prime minister�, being uttered on the floor awoke Churchill, but the master of repartee was unruffled. Churchill stood up and addressed the speaker: �My sleep, Speaker Sir, is an opinion on the honourable member�s speech.�

Columnists like Perry, who have just moved to New Delhi, do not have the faintest comprehension of what an Indian prime minister has to sit through day in and day out by way of his official meetings and other engagements. The quality of cabinet discussions is not a patch on what they used to be during the days of Nehru. Never mind his cabinet colleagues, bureaucrats increasingly tell a prime minister what they think he wants to hear. That has been Delhi�s changing culture since the Seventies. Men like Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw � whose banter with Indira Gandhi as India prepared for the war over Bangladesh, is now the stuff of legends � are, alas, no longer in the capital�s power structure. Sound advice often has to be sought outside the �proper channel�, and a prime minister is often better off sleeping during the �due process�, which no one in the establishment has the courage to jettison, howsoever useless it has become.

The accounts which this columnist has had of Vajpayee�s performance at cabinet-level meetings tell of a prime minister who has been completely misrepresented in Perry�s column. Two instances bear narration. One was a full meeting of the council of ministers soon after Vajpayee�s ill-starred Agra summit with Pervez Musharraf. The general perception in the country was that Musharraf had taken India for a ride and the resentment within the cabinet, albeit subdued, reflected this feeling. Vajpayee left it to a senior minister to brief the cabinet. The minister, out of loyalty to Vajpayee, felt that the prime minister had to be bailed out and proceeded to do so.

Vajpayee was silent throughout the minister�s eloquent briefing. But when he stopped, the prime minister asked if he had finished. Then he said a few sentences, effectively consigning the long ministerial briefing into the dustbin. But what is important is that after those few sentences, even the doubting Thomases in the cabinet had no doubts � and no questions of the prime minister.

The second incident was during the Kargil conflict and is, therefore, particularly relevant to those who think a nuclearized India is a danger to humanity. The men in uniform were called to a meeting with Vajpayee at the height of the crisis: to many of them who did not yet know the prime minister well, he was still more of a BJP leader and less of a statesman. After all, he had not been prime minister for very long. They proceeded to tell Vajpayee what they thought he wanted to hear. India must cross the line of control, they told the prime minister. Actually, they went further. A new front must be opened, maybe in Rajasthan or Punjab, they argued.

Vajpayee remained silent throughout the �well-informed� discussion. In the end, he asked the generals one simple question: what happens after we cross the LoC or go across the border elsewhere? Well, the Pakistanis would be forced to order a ceasefire, the men in uniform replied. And we could negotiate from a position of strength. Vajpayee countered in two short sentences that such a ceasefire would leave the intruders on the Kargil heights, and we were fighting because we did not want the intruders in Kargil in the first place. The generals had no answer to this logic and Vajpayee vetoed the idea of crossing the LoC or opening a new battlefront.

One shudders to think what a former prime minister, who was young, hands-on, articulate, handsome and fully immersed in everything that was going on around him, would have done if the generals had presented their logic of expanding the Kargil front to him. That is something to reflect on for anyone who may take Perry�s column as serious journalism.


The Congress-led ministry in Maharashtra, arguably the most important state that the party now governs, may have survived. But it only highlights the distance the Congress has yet to travel before it once again emerges as a party of power in New Delhi. Following the all India Congress committee session in May, caution is the watchword. It will await its turn till 2004 and make no effort to play on divisions in the ruling alliance.

The strategy has a lot going for it but falls short of addressing the deeper ills that confront the oldest political formation in the country. The emphasis on waiting is a direct consequence of the realization of the gaffe of a lifetime made by Sonia Gandhi in April 1999, when she claimed to have 272 members of the Lok Sabha in her fold. It also draws heart from the fact that in successive assembly elections in key states where it was the principal opposition force, the Congress has returned to power.

The oft-quoted figure of 14 chief ministers disguises the fact that two govern union territories with limited financial powers, Delhi and Pondicherry. But it is still significant that the Congress rules the most industrialized state in the country even if in partnership with a breakaway group, the Nationalist Congress Party. Karnataka, an emerging centre of the new economy, and Punjab, the home of the green revolution, are also under Congress rule. Similarly, the Congress ministry in Madhya Pradesh defied the odds to return to power in 1998, and hopes to retain office next year.

In comparison to the sangh parivar, mired in a debate over whether or when to play the Ayodhya card, the Congress looks like a safe team to bet on. Sonia Gandhi�s consolidation has been marked by the reshuffling of key leaders and the movement of trusted confidantes to pivotal positions. The state-level picture is still reassuring. The chief ministers have become a major selling point for a party badly in need of a new look.

An inexperienced central leadership, itself under fire from the National Democratic Alliance, has been less intrusive than its predecessors were. Congress governments are more cohesive and stable as a result, with the centre of gravity slowly shifting towards the chief ministers. Sharad Pawar may have left four years ago, and everyone but everyone may swear loyalty to the Congress president, but the party is not quite as tightly controlled as it was under Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi or P.V. Narasimha Rao.

This has often been evident during controversies. The Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Digvijay Singh, spoke out in favour of astrology, arguing it is a science just when the central leadership was up in arms against M.M. Joshi�s proposed changes in university syllabi. A.K. Antony backed A.P.J Abdul Kalam for president even before his party had taken a considered view on the matter.

This reinforces the view that there are shifts and changes, even if they are below the surface. India has now entered its seventh year of non-Congress rule. It is already 12 years since a member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan occupied the prime minister�s office in South Block. It took Sonia Gandhi nearly two years after the party�s rout in 1996 to stake her claim to leadership. Barely a year later, she helped her prime adversary, the Bhara-tiya Janata Party, by helping pull down the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government only to see that move backfire badly.

There is now an acceptance within the party that the NDA ministry may complete its term in office, giving India its first ever non-Congress government to serve a full five years. This also means that the Congress concedes it is no more the natural custodian of power. Its role as the pivot of the polity had already eroded away steadily by the end of the Eighties.

The central role it played in unleashing reforms in 1991 is a legacy it is still coming to terms with. Part of the reason is the unwillingness to acknowledge Rao�s work: he is still the man who led the party to its defeat at the hustings. But it is also owing to the divisions of the old Nehruvians from the new reformers within the fold.

It is here that recent months have seen a new patchwork formula to bridge the divide, perhaps the most significant �ideological� issue in Congress circles in the recent past. Rajiv Gandhi is now credited with having initiated reforms, putting the issue beyond the ken of debate, while making a bow to acolytes of the family. Unlike in the past, the Congress is now running with the left-wing hare while hunting with the pro-reform hounds. The ambivalence is a sign of confidence, not weakness.

Anxieties remain. At a pan-Indian level, the party still looks ready to strike but afraid to wound. It is unable to take the offensive even on issues where the Vajpayee regime is vulnerable. Last year it allowed an NDA ally, the Shiv Sena, to take up cudgels on behalf of Unit Trust of India investors.

It tried to make the Gujarat issue critical in the Goa assembly elections only to find it did not cut much ice.

The inability to play the role of a strong opposition is not surprising given the sheer length of time the party has been in office. It also suffers from the inertia of its leadership. Indira Gandhi in 1977-79 was far more energetic in galvanizing the cadres and keeping the party in fighting shape. A decade later, Rajiv Gandhi was already finding it difficult to counter the shift in the polity from anti-Congress-ism towards anti-BJP-ism.

The party is now unable to decide whether to trust its instincts and play safe, or to go full tilt against the ruling party. Too often, its timidity forces it to do the former. In the process, it is ceding important political ground to its rivals. The Congress has yet to grasp the fact that the BJP is a cent per cent anti-Congress force that will displace and replace the icons of the past with its own markers and symbols.

In the presidential election, the older party was easily out-foxed by the leadership of the BJP and the latter�s regional allies. Lining up with the ruling alliance has brought no political dividends, even as the presidential candidate speaks in an idiom much more conducive to the ruling party�s worldview than that of the Congress.

As the government moves into the second half of its five year term in office, it is time for the premier opposition to ask where its heart and soul lie. A new generation of voters will not easily be excited by symbols of the past. Stability will no more be a monopoly of the Congress. If it wants to get closer to a majority, the party has to do more than choreograph its meetings.

It needs to hone itself into a force that can take on the NDA. A dozen assembly polls are to be held over the next 18 months. The party will have ample time to turn the heat on the ruling alliance. Local factors notwithstanding; the polls will become a mini-referenda on the Vajpayee regime. They will no less be an acid test for Sonia Gandhi�s stewardship of her party.

The author is an independent researcher and political analyst and a visiting assistant professor atCornell University, Ithaca


Multilateral assistance is also needed to mitigate the consequences of depressed export revenues of countries that still depend heavily on commodity exports. Thus, we recognize the recent review of the International Monetary Fund compensatory financing facility and will continue to assess its effectiveness. It is also important to empower developing country commodity producers to insure themselves against risk, including against natural disasters. We further invite bilateral donors and multilateral aid agencies to strengthen their support to export diversification programmes in those countries.

In support of the process launched in Doha, immediate attention should go to strengthening and ensuring the meaningful and full participation of developing countries, especially the least developed countries, in multilateral trade negotiations. In particular, developing countries need assistance in order to participate effectively in the World Trade Organization work programme and negotiating process through the enhanced cooperation of all relevant stakeholders, including the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the WTO and the World Bank. To those ends, we underscore the importance of effective, secure and predictable financing of trade-related technical assistance and capacity-building.

Increasing international financial and technical cooperation for development:

Official development assistance plays an essential role as a complement to other sources of financing for development, especially in those countries with the least capacity to attract private direct investment. ODA can help a country to reach adequate levels of domestic resource mobilization over an appropriate time horizon, while human capital, productive and export capacities are enhanced. ODA can be critical for improving the environment for private sector activity and can thus pave the way for robust growth. ODA is also a crucial instrument for supporting education, health, public infrastructure development, agriculture and rural development, and for enhancing food security. For many countries in Africa, least developed countries, small island developing states and landlocked developing countries, ODA is still the largest source of external financing and is critical to the achievement of the development goals and targets of the Millennium Declaration and other internationally agreed upon development targets.

Effective partnerships among donors and recipients are based on the recognition of national leadership and ownership of development plans and, within that framework, sound policies and good governance at all levels are necessary to ensure ODA effectiveness. A major priority is to build those development partnerships, particularly in support of the neediest, and to maximize the poverty reduction impact of ODA. The goals, targets and commitments of the Millennium Declaration and other internationally agreed development targets can help countries to set short- and medium-term national priorities as the foundation for building partnerships for external support. In that context, we underline the importance of UN funds, programmes and specialized agencies.

We recognize that a substantial increase in ODA and other resources will be required if developing countries are to achieve the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration. To build support for ODA, we will cooperate to further improve policies and development strategies, both nationally and internationally, to enhance aid effectiveness.

In that context, we urge developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product as ODA to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNP of developed countries to least developed countries, as reconfirmed at the third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries, and we encourage developing countries to build on progress achieved in ensuring that ODA is used effectively to help achieve development goals and targets. We acknowledge the efforts of all donors, commend those whose ODA contributions exceed, reach or are increasing towards the targets, and underline the importance of undertaking to examine the means and time frames for achieving the targets and goals.

Recipient and donor countries, as well as international institutions, should strive to make ODA more effective. In particular, there is a need for the multilateral and bilateral financial and development institutions to intensify efforts to: Harmonize their operational procedures at the highest standard so as to reduce transaction costs and make ODA disbursement and delivery more flexible, taking into account national development needs and objectives under the ownership of the recipient country;

Support and enhance recent efforts and initiatives, such as untying aid, including the implementation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development/Development Assistance Committee recommendation on untying aid to the least developed countries, as agreed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in May 2001. Further efforts should be made to address burdensome restrictions...

To be concluded



Speaking of a privileged birth

Sir � The joy and exultation that was apparent after Priyanka Gandhi gave birth to her son, Rehan, was surprisingly missing when she gave birth to a daughter recently (�Congress pregnant with expectation�, June 25). When Rehan was born, laddoos were distributed freely, people danced bhangra and shouted slogans outside 10, Janpath. One wonders what lies behind the Congress�s subdued reaction to the new baby�s birth. The most obvious reason seems to be the sex of the new baby. Like most other female children in India, the newborn does not seem to merit the same treatment which was accorded to her brother. Maybe the Congress has forgotten that if it were not for the female line of the Nehru-Gandhi clan, the party would be far away from the position in which it finds itself today. Also, most of these women were daughters-in-law of the family. Maybe Congresswallahs remember that without the Nehru-Gandhi men, there would have been no daughters-in-law to lead the Congress to victory. And hence the celebrations after the birth of a male member of the clan and little of it after the birth of a female member.

Yours faithfully,
Swati Aneja, Guwahati

Be a sport

Sir � The editorial, �Spoil sport� (June 20), and the reports carried after the death of Aveek Tarafdar at the Rabindra Sadan Metro station make it obvious that The Telegraph has decided to take a stand against having television sets on Metro station platforms. While Tarafdar�s death is tragic, one must realize that his death was an accident. To blame the existence of television sets on the platform as the only reason behind the death is to be illogical. Both the likely scenarios of the accident that have been reported � that Tarafdar fell onto the tracks as he walked backwards, his eyes still on the TV, or that he fell while trying to peer over shoulders � show that the accident happened because of carelessness.

All passengers should exercise a certain amount of caution while travelling by the Metro. A freak accident is not a good enough reason for the TV sets to be turned off. The Metro Railways is the only public transport system in Calcutta which is comfortable to travel by. The TV sets provide commuters with entertainment while they wait for the train. Their removal will take away one of the few comforts Calcuttans can enjoy on the public transport system.

Yours faithfully,
Goutam Koner, Calcutta

Sir � The decision of the Metro Railways to continue beaming the world cup matches even after the death of Aveek Tarafdar shows its callousness (�Death hurts, Metro hurts more�, June 19). The telecast of the matches draws a large crowd, which only increases the risk of such accidents underground. Such swelling masses of people also increase the possibility of the occurrence of crimes like pick-pocketing and molestation. Since there are no security guards on the platform to ensure that such incidents do not take place, the railway authorities either need to ensure complete security or stop the telecast of programmes at stations.

Yours faithfully
Aparajita Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir � The Metro Railways may have acknowledged the connection between the death of Aveek Tarafdar and the increasing crowds on the platform owing to the telecast of football matches (�Metro volte-face�, June 25). But it still needs to answer if it is necessary, in a overcrowded city like Calcutta, to facilitate gatherings in places which can lead to fatal accidents? The question we need to ask ourselves is whether giving people the privilege to watch football matches in a railway station is more important than ensuring the prevention of yet another accident like Tarafdar�s death?

Yours faithfully,
Anirban Basu, Chicago, US

Sir � People who do not have access to a television are buying minimum price tickets to watch the world cup football matches on the Metro rail platform. Several passengers also do not board the train as they are busy watching the match and would rather take the next train. There is no way Metro officials can prevent this from happening. Yet the Metro is supposed to provide safe, economical and rapid transport to people. To keep its commitment, the Metro authorities must stop people from thronging in front of the TV sets. It was irresponsible on part of the authorities to give in to the public demand for the football matches. The Metro is not here to provide entertainment to people. Its prime duty is to provide an efficient transport system. The Metro should concentrate on sprucing up its services instead.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Howrah

Sir � According to Metro Railway rules, no passenger is allowed to stand on the platform longer than 20 minutes. But owing to the broadcast of the football matches, many commuters are staying put on the platform for the entire duration of the match. Since the TV sets are promoting the flouting of rules, the Metro should dismantle the sets.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

Start at the beginning

Sir � In the article, �Elementary mistake� (June 18), Tapas Majumdar suggests that the right to education may prove futile given the current trend in education. Majumdar shows that in many of our reputed schools, weaker students are not given adequate attention by the teachers who would rather concentrate on the brighter students.

Given the nuclear set-up of today, with both parents working, it is necessary that there is clear communication between the schools to which the children go and the parents. More often than not, school authorities resort to threats or accuse parents of not doing their duty whenever there are questions about the poor results of some of the students. Schools often argue that they fail students because they do not wish to mollycoddle them. Parents who disagree are asked to take away their children to another school. This is both unfair and unjust.

As a teacher, I have often found that children who have dropped out of a particular school or have been expelled and have subsequently managed to gain admission in another school, have fared well eventually. Owing to pressures from the school authorities, one of my students had to leave in class VIII. Today he has his own chartered accountancy firm. This is just one example of how a student can improve his academic performance given the right support and attention.

I agree with Majumdar when he argues that social activists should take up the cause of students who have been expelled from schools or have dropped out because of poor academic performance. This will ensure accountability on part of the schools and also assure a better future for the students.

Yours faithfully,
D.J. Azavedo, Calcutta

Sir � Tapas Majumdar is right to point out the fundamental mistake of weeding out weaker students in elementary schools. This is particularly important as the issue relates to primary education whose universalization is a government objective. As Majumdar indicates, the system of disciplining poorer students at the lower classes seems incongruous when compared with the benefits given to students in the higher classes. Failed students are given a chance to reappear in examinations immediately. Why won�t younger students have the same opportunity?

Yours faithfully,
Jandhyala B.G. Tilak, New Delhi

Nightmarish journey

Sir � I fail to understand why mini-buses are allowed to charge higher fares than other private buses. After all, it is neither comfortable to sit in them nor stand in them. In order to create more space for those who stand, bus owners have made seats smaller. Further, the space between two consecutive rows of seats has also been reduced, making it impossible for a man of average height to sit properly without hurting his knees. The overhead rods hit passengers on the head. Ventilation in these buses is terrible. The low ceilings coupled with the small windows and overcrowding makes the journey nightmarish.

Yours faithfully,
A. Miharia, Calcutta

Sir � It was shocking to read the report, �Subhas soothes bus owners� (June 9). The promise of the West Bengal transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, to ensure that fines collected from bus-owners, who have been penalized for running damaged vehicles on the city roads, would be returned, will send wrong signals to transport organizations as well as to the police.

It is indeed ironic that whenever the police takes action against erring bus-owners, the latter complain of harassment. There is hardly any point asking the police to oversee transport if it is not allowed to punish the law-breakers. It is time the state government stops responding to repeated threats issued by transport operators who blackmail the government by threatening to go on a strike at the slightest pretext.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

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