Editorial 1 / Guns and votes
Editorial 2 / Off the rails
Butterflies, nuts and potatoes
All about cooking the books
Document / Disservice in an emergency
Letters to the editor

The dissolution of the Gujarat legislative assembly is the first step towards fresh polls in the state. The final decision lies, of course, with the Election Commission. But Mr Narendra Modi has announced that he is ready to face the people. This obviously has the endorsement of the high command of the Bharatiya Janata Party and may be even of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and his deputy, Mr L.K.Advani. There is no doubt that the EC will have a close and unbiased look at the situation in Gujarat and make its own assessment about the suitability of holding polls there in the very near future. But all reports seem to suggest that the situation is far from normal in the state. Mr Modi is in a tearing hurry to prove otherwise; so are those who sail with him and condone his actions. The violence in Gujarat is still fresh in public memory; many of its victims are still unable to return to their homes and their usual occupations. Fear and intimidation still stalk the streets. The scale and the motives of the one-sided violence are still to be accounted for by any official body. Glib reactions and official insouciance still prevail. Immediate elections will provide Mr Modi with the opportunity to try out an ugly and pernicious experiment. Mr Modi’s attempt is to capitalize on the violence in which he was complicit — many will say which he perpetrated.

Democracy is premised on the confidence of the people. They must feel secure enough to come out and vote without fear. It is difficult to imagine that Gujarat has returned to such a state. It is true that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is also marked by violence. But there the violence has a long history and is often provoked and promoted by outside agencies. Gujarat, although it has witnessed violence before, has never seen a holocaust. This is exactly what it witnessed in the months of February and March. This is a different phenomenon from encounters between security forces and externally sponsored militants. The EC will have to bear these in mind when it reviews the situation in Gujarat and decides on the suitability of holding immediate elections. No harm can come out of putting Gujarat under a spell of president rule. An administrative set-up without any prejudices will probably be better equipped to restore normalcy in Gujarat and to bring back confidence to the electorate. An election must be based on a genuine democratic need and not on the desire to fulfil cynical ends. Mr Modi has shown that he has neither scruples nor compassion. He should not be allowed to prove that violence and the murder of Muslims can pave the way to electoral success. Violence and its fallout cannot be subjects of an experiment in a democracy.


Politicians in distress can do desperate things and harm the interests of the people in whose name they pretend to act. Ms Mamata Banerjee’s threat to call a three-day bandh in West Bengal to force the Centre to stop the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway is clearly such an act of desperation. Irrespective of how New Delhi reacts to her threat, its effect on the state can only be disastrous. For a state that has long earned a dubious distinction for the bandh culture, even the call for a three-day shutdown, let alone its implementation, is suicidal politics. The irony is that Ms Banerjee thinks her bandh plan will “save” Bengal. As if to match the fallacy of her argument, she has likened the planned bifurcation of the railway to the partition of Bengal. The absurdity of the comparison shows how desperate she is to whip up passions on the issue. There is the same ring of absurdity in her call to her followers to “give blood, not the railway”. Unlike the ruling Left Front and the Congress, which also have opposed the plan to split Eastern Railway, her party, the Trinamool Congress, is an ally of the government that has taken the decision. She therefore has to fight her friends in the National Democratic Alliance, and not her Marxist arch-enemies, to “save” Bengal. It is ridiculous that, despite being an ally of the NDA government, she has to publicly demand the resignation of the railway minister, Mr Nitish Kumar. Instead of doing Bengal much good, her campaign may entangle the state in an unseemly row with both New Delhi and Bihar — the latter stands to gain from the division of the railway.

The contradiction of her situation is actually a measure of the change her position in the NDA and its government has undergone. That she no longer enjoys her earlier clout with the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was evident when she failed to regain the railway ministry in the recent cabinet reshuffle. This has prompted her political opponents to suspect that her strident rhetoric on the railway issue is actually a ploy for her own rehabilitation in New Delhi. In this sense, her battle for Bengal is a desperate attempt to regain the ground she had lost in the last assembly elections in the state. Her stand on the railway issue may have its merits but it should have logically prompted her to leave the NDA. It is no use arguing that her fight is against Mr Kumar, and not against the NDA government, because the railway minister is only implementing a cabinet decision. Besides, this exposes her to the charge that she is using Bengal’s interests as a pretext for her personal battle against Mr Kumar. The problem is that Ms Banerjee wants to exploit the railway controversy to regain both Bengal and New Delhi.


Recently, I attended a seminar on Indian agriculture. Everyone agreed that Indian agriculture was backward. Consensus eluded us the moment the discussion turned to why Indian agriculture was backward. A prominent farmer (and farmer leader) alleged that backwardness was primarily because of unnecessary state intervention. For example, not providing farmers ready access to technology. Trying to control, for instance, access to Bt technology.

There were several pretty young things at the seminar. (Have you noticed how pretty young things invariably gravitate towards seminars where the environment figures?) Anyway, one of these pretty young things lost her cool the moment Bt was mentioned. What about Monarch butterflies she said? What about Brazil nuts? What about poisonous potatoes? These three — butterflies, nuts and potatoes — are the staple diet of most environmentalists. I politely suggested she should read Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist. She hadn’t heard of Lomborg. Most environmentalists haven’t. Lomborg is a dirty word among environmentalists. This is what Lomborg has to say about these three episodes.

First, the butterfly story. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterium found in the soil. Bt toxins occur naturally. They are bio-degradable and harmless to humans. They are therefore used as insecticides and pesticides in organic farming. The corn borer is a pest that causes havoc to corn. It’s not very easy to get at it through external pesticides, because the borer is inside the plant. Thus the idea of genetically modifying cotton.

Genetically modified cotton has the Bt toxin gene inserted into cotton. GM cotton increases productivity several-fold. In 1999, Cornell University researchers decided to study the effects of GM cotton on Monarch caterpillars. These feed on milkweed. Milkweed sometimes grows next to cornfields. Corn pollen, with the Bt inside it, is carried by the wind to milkweed. In the lab, the Cornell University researchers fed Monarch caterpillars with milkweed sprinkled with Bt and fed another batch (for control purposes) with ordinary milkweed. Those that were fed on Bt sprinkled milkweed died.

Although the Monarch butterfly is not endangered, this set off alarm bells and environmentalists got into the act. GM cotton was destroying bio-diver- sity. However, note the following. The corn borer belongs to the lepidoptera family. So do butterflies. If something is toxic to the corn borer, it is likely to be toxic to Monarch butterflies also.

This is regardless of whether the Bt is sprayed as an organic pesticide or is used in Bt cotton form. The issue is Bt, not the GM part of it. Subsequent studies show that outside the lab, the chances of Monarch butterflies running into Bt cotton are extremely low. Who knows? If less of Bt pesticides are used as a result of Bt cotton, GM may even be good for Monarch butterflies. The pretty young thing got her facts wrong.

Second, the Brazil nut story. In 1996, a story surfaced that a gene from Brazil nuts was inserted into soyabean. Because some people are allergic to Brazil nuts, this GM episode was likely to endanger the life and limb of a vast majority of consumers. So ran the myth. Here are the facts. In the Eighties, a California-based biotech firm was concerned with malnutrition problems in developing countries. Many people in developing countries survive on a diet of beans. These may provide nutrition. But they lack two essential amino acids — methionine and cysteine. These are found in abundance in Brazil nuts.

How about taking the methionine and cysteine genes from Brazil nuts and splicing them into soyabean? So ran the idea. But this GM bean was never made. The allergic reaction to Brazil nuts was known. The project was dropped. No one got poisoned from eating GM soyabean. Subsequently, a similar idea surfaced, not for humans, but for soya-based animal feed. However, because of similar reasons, that idea was also dropped. In this particular case, labs that dabble in GM food were remarkably responsible. This does not mean that everyone is going to be responsible. Nor does it mean that one does not require strict testing norms. However, GM soyabean didn’t poison anyone.

Third, the poisonous potatoes. This story goes back to 1998, when a scientist named Arpad Pusztai appeared on British TV and claimed that GM potatoes stunted growth and suppressed immunity in rats. This led to a huge controversy, with claims and counter-claims. Other scientists, including some from Pusztai’s research institute, argued that the data showed no such thing.

As for Pusztai, he changed his stance. He now argued that there were no effects on growth and immunity. But parts of the gastrointestinal tracts of rats could have been affected by GM potatoes. The potato line Pusztai used was modified with gene coding for lectin. Lectin is known to be toxic. The issue therefore is the choice of a toxic gene, not GM technology per se. If you choose a toxic gene, you are bound to end up with a toxic potato. The upshot was that everyone was thoroughly confused and the data showed nothing. In principle, some varieties of GM potato may indeed be poisonous. But Pusztai had proved nothing.

Yet, despite Lomborg’s book, these three instances keep surfacing. Lomborg speculates about why we believe in doom. Why are we pessimists? Why do we think the environment is deteriorating, even if data show that fears are greatly exaggerated? Lomborg’s speculations centre around the role of research and the role of media. Good news is no news. Bad news is news. There is a lot of research funding available for bad news. If the research establishes otherwise, fresh funding will not be available. Hence the system feeds on itself. You establish the bad news through the first round of research and this justifies funding for a second round of research.

There are also some Indian figures in the data Lomborg reports. For example, ten years ago, around 40 per cent of Indians believed that environmental problems seriously affected their health. Today, that figure is up to around 72 per cent. Around 82 per cent of Indians believe that 25 years from now environmental problems will seriously affect their health. The perception that the world is getting worse and worse cuts across all countries.

Many of these concerns are misplaced. Many of today’s problems cease to be problems tomorrow. Three hundred years ago, do you know what problem occupied the minds of London’s denizens? There were hundreds of horses in London then and copious quantities of dung were produced. Disposing of horse dung was a huge problem and there were serious concerns that London would be completely submerged in large quantities of dung. No such thing has happened and London has survived. The horses have all but disappeared.

It is a pity that Lomborg’s book is not read more seriously, especially by pretty young things. In case you are interested, it was published by Cambridge University Press in 2001. He is an associate professor of statistics in the University of Aarhus, Denmark. And butterflies, nuts and potatoes account for just four pages in a 500-page plus book. There are more serious discussions on rainforests, degradation of agricultural land, the ozone layer, global warming, health and water problems, energy and resource shortages and environmental pollution — the bread and butter of every environmentalist.

But let me throw in one more argument as to why we are perpetual pessimists. This is not a Lomborg argument. Perhaps it goes back to pre-history, when the survival of the species depended on assuming the worst. You didn’t know if a sabre-toothed tiger was around. But you had to assume it was and act accordingly. Because if you were wrong, you and your progeny would be wiped out. The best-case scenario was fine. However, you needed to assume the worst-case scenario.

This survival of the species instinct may have something to do with our being natural pessimists and risk averse. What about Indian agriculture? I think the pretty young thing was wrong and the farmer’s leader was right. Bt cotton may have been cleared. But not broader varieties of biotechnology or GM food. Biotechnology is critical to increasing India’s agricultural productivity and bringing in a second Green Revolution.

Why does the government need to decide what is best for farmers? Why should one assume that farmers are stupid? Yes, farmers need information. Yes, one needs stricter product liability laws, because sometimes side-effects of GM food (or other products) don’t surface today, but are discovered 20 years down the line. Yes, one needs better standards, testing and monitoring. But if you think the government is particularly good at these things, you are barking up the wrong tree. Many recent instances of farmer suicides are because of inferior seeds, inferior fertilizers and inferior insecticides sold through government or government-approved outlets. We do have a governance problem in India. But that is not an argument against GM food or technology.

The author is director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi


The disturbing news about the evidence of “creative” accounting practices and dubious transactions in the corporate world, especially in some well-known business houses in the United States of America, does not reflect the failures of corporate governance alone. It is symptomatic of deeper problems associated with the way global economic power has become concentrated in the hands of a few large corporations in every industry. In addition, the power of decision-making has been, de facto, in the hands of a few key individuals within each organization. There is also a growing trend of inter-corporate networking across large corporations. All these, when put together, indicate increasing power in the hands of a rapidly shrinking set of individual chief executive officers and senior corporate functionaries.

This trend is true of financial institutions and hedge funds; it is also true of manufacturing industries. The new economy is certainly not immune to the broad sweep of consolidation of corporate power. The propensity for growing concentration is, of course, endemic to capitalism. What is new is the pace and strength with which this force is operating, embracing every new technology and every market.

Large organizations invariably create large bureaucracies with increasingly low accountability. Big corporations are like big bureaus and big political parties, where effective power is in the hands of a few people operating in hierarchical structures. This is despite the oft-heard rhetoric about flat organizations, and empowerment of workers and managers. Large business organizations are like centrally planned economies that decide on every detail of resource allocation, and more often than not, determine prices and quantities. Internal decision-making does not reflect the one-person-one-vote rule of political democracy. Most employees in the organization are not consulted before major decisions. Quite often, most do not have an idea of the entire picture of their employers’ global operations and international strategies.

The world’s 200 largest corporations employ only one third of one per cent of the world’s population, yet they control almost 30 per cent of the world’s economic output. The top 300 transnational companies (excluding financial companies) own about 25 per cent of the world’s productive assets. The top 50 banks and financial services companies own about 60 per cent of the estimated $ 20 trillion stock of global productive capital. About a decade ago the sales of the world’s five largest diversified service companies, all of which were Japanese, were roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of the former Soviet Union in 1988. Cuba ranks 72nd in the list of what are effectively centrally managed economies, the first 71 being business corporations.

In these giant firms with global networks, the top management takes all the critical decisions of buying and selling. It decides to dismantle or set up subordinate units, merge or shed existing units, and hire and fire people. The top management sets transfer prices and other terms governing transactions among the firm’s globally distributed component organizations, and decides whether units under its control can buy or sell in the open market or must do business only with other units of the firm. Unless the top management desires to invite dissenting views, most of its decisions are seldom open to question by any person or unit. Shareholder activism exists more in textbooks on corporate governance than in practice.

When five firms control more than 50 per cent of the global market in any industry, most economists would agree in identifying the market structure as highly monopolistic. According to some estimates, concentration ratios in major industries have been rising in the past decade with the wave of mergers and acquisitions. In consumer durables, for instance, the top five control 70 per cent. Similar ratios can be found in the automotive, airline, electronic components, aerospace, and steel industries. In oil, personal computers and the media, the top five control about 40 per cent of the global market. Concentration ratios are also quite awesome in the business of grain exports, meat, processed food and seeds. Globalization of markets has been associated with a significant rise in monopoly power.

There are two associated trends that the thrust of global consolidation is bringing about. The first concerns the concept of what is called the “relationship enterprise”. This concept is all about creating networks of strategic alliances across firms in different industries and across different geographical territories, to act like a single enterprise. This is like Boeing, Airbus, McDonnell Douglas, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and Fuji, all coming together to build a new generation aircraft. Many market-watchers believe that this trend will grow fast in the coming decades. According to an estimate, the combined revenues of such enterprises could, by the end of this decade, be somewhere near a trillion dollars, which is close to being the seventh or eighth largest economy of the world.

Restricted competition among the giants is, however, associated with more intensive competition among millions of smaller firms in the fringes of world markets, fighting for survival. Profits must be made at all costs. And the financial giants exert great compulsions for more profits to be acquired at ever-quicker speed. Little wonder firms will go to any length to show sales, revenues and profits, even if they have to be invented by accounting wizardry. No wonder large corporations make good people do bad things!

The second trend is the much-talked about downsizing or rightsizing of firms. Most large firms have undertaken massive job-cuts when the going has been good. Indeed, profits did escalate, and all functions beyond the core competencies of the firm have in general, been farmed out. There is an uneasy cooperation amongst the controlling giants at the centre of the market for maintaining their oligopolistic power. Their direct employees are well paid in return for commitment and loyalty. The employees are expected to ensure higher profits, more control over new technologies and emerging markets, and to improve brand equity and network with political alliances. The more power one has, the higher is the pay. The more one can downsize, the higher are individual executive benefits. The more profits one can show (never matter how it is shown) the better the personal perquisites and privileges.

On the other hand, the fringe firms, where many of the operations of the large firms are farmed or contracted out, face severe and intense competition. As a result, these firms are compelled to drastically cut costs. Here pays are low, jobs are risky, benefits are almost non-existent, and the giant companies control their markets and technologies. Apart from production operations, many service organizations like insurance companies and banks have their back offices in low- paid, cheap-labour locations, far away from the plush ambience of corporate headquarters. This trend has contributed to a worsening of income distribution, world-wide, in the past two decades.

Within the firm, income distribution has also worsened, with CEO compensation packages soaring sky high. The price of failure becomes lower the higher one is in the corporate hierarchy. There have been a large number of instances where CEOs have been awarded severance packages of anywhere between $ 10 to 50 million, even when companies have not done well. Sometimes organizations have justified this by taking a long view of the person’s earlier contributions, but very often they have come at significant costs to the company. In one case, the CEO of a toy manufacturing company was awarded a $ 50 million severance package. According to an estimate, the company has to sell an additional half a million dolls every year for the next decade to cover the $ 1.2 million pension component of the package.

A survey, conducted two years ago by a leading business magazine, found that 72 per cent Americans believed business corporations have too much power over too many aspects of their lives. The main bones of contention were excessive top management pays, influence over political decisions, too much control over creative artistic activities, and an overarching consumerism that even allowed commercial advertisements in public schools. Over and above these, there were wider issues of environmental degradation, genetically modified foods and sweatshops with poor pay and working conditions.

Since then, the bursting of the information technology bubble and the general slowdown of the global economy have substantially added uncertainty to the list of anxieties and concerns. The unearthing of an astonishing variety of fraud and global corporate corruption is merely adding to the scepticism about the kind of globalization we are witnessing. Central planning has perhaps risen from the grave to haunt the elan vital of laissez faire.

The author is faculty member of the economic group, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta


The team’s interactions in the camps suggested that people are losing faith in the existing health services; inadequate services, given in a perfunctory manner, without a sense of commitment to people’s right to treatment — all of this has further undermined the credibility of the health services... The team did not find mobilization of non-religious voluntary organizations of the scale that was evident after the earthquake in Gujarat... However, the few organizations who have been involved in the relief work have done extremely good work in the face of physical danger as well as intimidation by the state and right wing forces.

...Public hospitals have been working under a constant threat of violence against Muslim patients... There have been instances of mobs attacking hospitals, preventing injured persons from entering their gates, and even moving around in the wards, terrorizing and even attacking patients and relatives. There is no indication that the government has made serious efforts to protect the health services, and maintain people’s access to them. Despite this pressure, health professionals in the hospitals have functioned neutrally, providing treatment without discrimination on the basis of community...

In an abnormal situation, where there is a threat to people’s safety and movement, the barriers to access to the institution have much worse repercussions. By depending on people to come to them for treatment, the services do not reach those who need them the most...It is also important to comment that several ad hoc measures that were taken to deal with emergency situations such as segregating hospitals and patients on the basis of community may threaten the secular character of health institutions and lead to accentuation of polarization within the profession. However, it must be noted that the responsibility of ensuring the safety of patients and staff in the hospitals lies with the agencies such as the police, which have clearly been party to the violence themselves. It is apparent that while the hospitals have largely been non-discriminatory, they have been unable to mobilize support to protect their...humanitarian role. This is reflected also in the fact that they have opted to give sympathetic leave to their Muslim employees, probably because they feel that their safety cannot be guaranteed.

...Some medical professionals have also been involved in propagating an ideology of hatred. As members of the BJP and the VHP these professionals have also been responsible directly or indirectly in perpetrating grave injury to Muslims in Gujarat...

...The medical associations, which represent the medical profession, have been clearly partisan. They have made no attempts to mobilize any relief...The condemnation of attacks on doctors followed only after Dr Amit Mehta was attacked, although many other (Muslim) doctors’ property had been destroyed earlier and they had faced physical attacks. The attack on Dr Mehta too has been misrepresented to project that generally, doctors of the majority community are under attack by the Muslim community...

The fact that the religious identity of the professional has become significant is a dangerous sign. The neutrality and humanitarianism of the profession is important, both in actual practice and also in the people’s perception. If the profession is seen to be acting in a partisan manner, or it is observed that only a certain section of the profession responds to a large scale crisis, it reflects the vulnerability of the profession to external pressures as well as sectarianism within.

On the other hand, doctors have...not been spared during the violence... The lack of safety is a serious issue. However, ensuring their safety will not be enabled merely by providing security for them but is contingent on the return of peace. On the whole, doctors have acted professionally within a very narrow definition of the word. While they have not actively discriminated against any community, they have not pro-actively made any attempts to safeguard the rights of their patients or even their peers. The medical profession has also not made any attempts to contribute to the process of securing justice for the survivors by documenting medical evidence or highlighting the problems that victims have faced.

Although the team could not conduct a systematic investigation into the quality of medico-legal documentation, it was evident that there have been several lapses. Post-mortems were not conducted in several cases, dying declarations were not recorded and medico-legal cases were not recorded in several cases. It remains to be seen whether these were deliberate because such lapses in documentation are common in normal times as well. However, in this situation, these lapses have serious consequences for survivors in their attempts to get compensation and punish those who inflicted violence on them.




In letter but not in spirit

Sir — The fact that Narendra Modi’s open letter to the people of Gujarat is written (or perhaps translated) in terrible English is probably the least of its faults. Far more disturbing is his chosen way of justifying the actions — or lack of them — of his government in the aftermath of the torching of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra. While he thinks that “attempts are going on even today to save the Godhra killers”, he does not care to mention the carnage that followed Godhra. It is a well thought out plan of invoking collective amnesia, erasing out days and weeks from a people’s history; as if the Gujarat disturbances began and ended with Godhra. The insistence that “the five crore brothers and sisters of Gujarat longed for support and compassion” and were denied them is another clever ploy. It goes without saying that Modi’s five crore does not include the residents of the various relief camps in the state who too were longing for the same and were denied by none other than Modi and his government. But the people of Gujarat need not worry. Not everyone is like Modi. Not everyone victimizes a community for the acts of a few.

Yours faithfully,
Gita Bandopadhyay, Howrah

Too little, too late

Sir — At first reading Tapas Ghosh’s report, “Rs 21.75 twenty nine years ago, Rs 21.75 even now” (July 18), is bound to move a reader to tears. But after reading it a few more times on the on-line edition of The Telegraph, I found that there were some questions to which the report did not provide any answers.

It is true that in 1973, the year when Pranab Kumar Sengupta joined Basak Bagan Primary School, the salaries of school teachers were much lower than what they are now. But not as low as Rs 21.75. What could have forced Sengupta to join at such a low salary? Or was he just naïve?

The report does not provide any detail of Sengupta’s educational and teaching qualifications at the time of his joining the school. Nor does it give any clue which would help the reader place him in a social context.

I was also wondering how one could survive on a monthly salary of Rs 21.75 for 29 years, till I read the report, “Banned tuition lifeline when govt breaks law” (July 19), and learnt that he earns his bread by giving private tuitions.

Ghosh’s report says that Sengupta obtained a directive from the Calcutta high court eight years ago. But why did he wait for 21 years before moving court? Although these questions remain unanswered, the report establishes the fact that corruption was, is and will continue to be a part of the daily lives of Indians.

Yours faithfully,
S. Mukherjee, via email

Sir — After reading about the singularly unfortunate story of Pranab Kumar Sengupta, I wonder why, when loads of incriminating evidence is at hand and the culprits have been identified, justice still cannot be delivered. Unless the report can help initiate a process which will ensure that justice is done to Sengupta, I think the story will remain just another instance of sensational reporting.

Yours faithfully,
Debu Sen, Cambridge,

Sir — No word of praise and commiseration is enough for Pranab Kumar Sengupta and his fight against the system for his dues. It is surprising that he has managed to retain his faith in the Indian justice machinery. For this alone, if not for anything else, Sengupta deserves to attain his goal. The Telegraph too deserves thanks for assuring us that the man on the street is more important than those in the air-conditioned comfort of ministerial offices.

Yours faithfully,
Birendra Kumar Roy, Calcutta

Sir — The apathy of the West Bengal state education department towards teachers has once again been exposed. Not only did the education department officials ignore for decades the pleas of the primary schoolteacher, Pranab Kumar Sengupta, they also dared to flout the court directives Sengupta had obtained. The department and the ministry must be sternly reprimanded by the court for refusing to obey its ruling. Action must be initiated against the officials who had the gall to demand hefty bribes to comply with the court order.

Yours faithfully,
Avishek Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — Come summer, there will occur the yearly exodus of students to other states of India and abroad. This is a pointer to the extent of educational decline in the state. Having realized that the education system has become a liabilty, the government seems to be determined now to bleed it dry. The result is the irregular payment of salaries to teachers, contractual appointment of teachers in schools and colleges and the exploitation of part-time teachers. Several times in the recent past, newspapers and journals have carried pictures of retired schoolteachers begging on the streets because the government would not give them the retirement benefits due to them. What takes the cake is certainly the story of the primary teacher who still carries home a monthly salary of Rs 21.75. Are we still living in the dark middle ages? That the administration can merrily flout court orders and contempt petitions only confirms that the Constitution has been reduced to a meaningless document and the judiciary into a useless institution.

Yours faithfully,
Santanu Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir — Pranab Kumar Sengupta’s case shows exactly why the West Bengal government’s ban on private tuition is never going to be implemented successfully. It is because the government, by denying teachers their dues year after year, has prepared the ground for a flourishing network of private tutors. And now that the teachers have got the taste of some easy money, it is unlikely that they will be mollified even if they are offered a few pennies more, and on time. Does Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee realize that the menace the Left Front’s 25-year old reign has created has enough potential to topple his government some day in the near future?

Yours faithfully,
Sushobhan Guha Majumdar, Churulia

Critical depreciation

Sir — The noted British film critic, Derek Malcolm, recently commented that Devdas is not fit to lick the boots of Lagaan. But this is both funny and preposterous. Would he also say that Romeo + Juliet was not fit to lick the boots of Schindler’s List? Comparing two films diametrically opposite each other in content and treatment does not become a critic of Malcolm’s reputation.

Yours faithfully,
C. Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Two loves had he” (July 21), is quite accurate in describing Devdas as “drink-sodden, sel-indulgent and generally wet”. In fact, the Devdas-mystery that the editorial talks about is that such a character still holds a nation in as much thrall as it did the two women in the novel, Chandramukhi and Parvati.

It is time film-makers moved on to stories which are more suited to the maladies of the times. The likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali are not helping anyone by bringing back the stereotypes that should have been shrugged off decades ago.

Yours faithfully,
Shekhar Sengupta, New Delhi

Sir — It is strange that Shah Rukh Khan does not have anything to say about his co-actor in Devdas, Aishwarya Rai, while showering praise on Madhuri Dixit, the other female lead (“Love”, July 12). This is not only unfair on Rai, but also speaks ill of Khan’s professional courtesies.

But this is unlikely to raise any eyebrows since there is already too much controversy about the liberties the director has taken with the original Bengali novel. Why can’t people forget the amount of money spent on the film and its star cast and treat it the same way as any other Bollywood film that hits the theatres?

Yours faithfully,
Subhadra Datta, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — The traffic police of Calcutta are not known for going out of their way and helping the people on the roads. Which is why it is always a pleasant surprise to find an act of exceptional vigilance on the part of the Calcutta Police.

One afternoon recently, at the crossing of A.J.C. Bose Road and Sarat Bose Road, I was refused by a taxi driven by a young man from Bihar. I contacted a mobile sergeant, who immediately spoke to the sergeant on duty at the crossing. The latter was very prompt in locating the errant taxi and directing it to take me to my destination. Moreover, the policeman was extremely courteous and polite in hearing me out, notwithstanding the tremendous traffic pressure that had built up following a heavy spell of showers. I was very impressed by the promptness displayed by the two officials, biased that I was against them given their record of noncooperation.

However, not all Calcuttans are always so lucky. Therefore, something must be done about the erratic behaviour of the taxi drivers in the city, who do not seem to care two hoots about either the traffic system or about their own duties as taxi-drivers in a public transport system. If the police can find a way to fix truant drivers, they stand to gain the confidence of the people in the city.

Yours faithfully,
Sarbari Gomes, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and full postal address of the sender

Maintained by Web Development Company