Editorial 1 / Noble rot
Editorial 2 / Front foot defence
Unlettered assembly
Fifth Column / Still Getting away with murder
July is the cruellest month
Document /Money that went back to the banks
Letters to the editor

It is not surprising that the credibility of Mr George W. Bush and his Republican administration has been considerably eroded in recent weeks. A spate of corporate scandals, a sharp dip in investor confidence, continued gloom in the stock market and few sustained signs of economic recovery are translating themselves into a drop in public approval of the American president. Worse still, there is some evidence to suggest that key members of the Bush administration, including the president himself, may be tainted by the rot within corporate America. A recent opinion poll revealed that Mr Bush�s �job approval ratings� had gone down to 65 per cent. The president�s ratings had touched an all-time high of over 90 per cent after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington. Clearly, the �rally round the flag� effect which had occurred after the terrorist attacks had continued to hold until the recent polls. Even today, most Americans would not quarrel with the Bush administration�s foreign policy, especially the continued war on terrorism. The president�s public support level would be much lower had it not been for continued public concern about terrorism.

But the anger about American corporate practices and anxiety about the economy are beginning to affect the public mood. Ordinary American shareholders have been affected by fraudulent practices of the leaders of what were some of the most flourishing American businesses. Unfortunately, the Republican administration cannot convincingly distance itself from the scandals within American corporations. Key members of the Bush administration are former chief executive officers of American companies. For instance, the vice-president, Mr Dick Cheney, was head of an oil company, Halliburton; the defence secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, was in charge of General Instruments; Mr Paul O�Neill was chief executive of the aluminium company, Alcoa, while Mr Thomas White, the secretary of the army, held a senior position at Enron. There is growing evidence to suggest that senior officials may too have been guilty of malpractices in the past. Indeed, there are even allegations to suggest that Mr Bush himself may have been guilty of insider trading in 1990 while being director of an oil company and similarly, the American securities and exchange commission is investigating possible irregularities while Mr Cheney was the head of Halliburton. The house and senate have passed corporate accountability bills that toughen penalties for corporate irregularities, but a legislative compromise has to be worked out still. But, more than anything else, Mr Bush has to be seen as being tough on corporate crime. This, unfortunately, has not happened yet.


In the Lok Sabha, the deputy prime minister, Mr L.K. Advani rejected the demand of the opposition parties that Gujarat be placed under president�s rule. Mr Advani put forward a stout defence of the Gujarat chief minister, Mr Narendra Modi, and even declared that describing the killings in Gujarat as a genocide is wrong. By this it can be said that the Central government has moved from tacit support to Mr Modi to an overt upholding of his cause. The debate on the recommendation to dissolve the Gujarat legislative assembly cannot be carried out at the level of legal nitpicking. There are issues wider than constitutional propriety involved here. Gujarat went through a scale of violence seldom witnessed since the killings in Calcutta in August 1946 and the communal riots that followed the Partition. Even three months after the violence has abated, there are strong indications that Gujarat is far from normal. There are grounds to suspect that Mr Modi is trying to take advantage of the prevailing situation and to seek an endorsement of his past actions or lack of action. What Mr Advani said in the Lok Sabha was a partisan statement. The faith expressed by the Bharatiya Janata Party national executive in Mr Modi should be of no relevance when Mr Advani stands up to speak in Parliament as the deputy prime minister who is also the home minister. Gujarat should have come under president�s rule long ago. Mr Advani�s refusal now only compounds an earlier refusal to face facts.

A similar attitude is revealed in Mr Advani�s rejection of the term genocide to describe the events in Gujarat. Mr Advani is merely being disingenuous when he says that people from both communities were killed and therefore it was not a genocide. All observers, except sangh parivar loyalists, agree that for days on end in Ahmedabad and in other towns the killings were one-sided and often backed by the administration or ignored by the latter. The retaliations came later and were nothing compared to the scale of the violence the majority community perpetrated on the minorities. Mr Advani also rejected the forensic report on Godhra which says that the railway compartment was burnt from inside and thus modifies the accepted script on the episode. The scale of the bloodshed and destruction and their overall onesidedness justifies the use of the word genocide. Mr Advani may find this wrong but he is by no reckoning without prejudice in the matter. Mr Modi, it has become obvious, has very strong supporters within the BJP and the sangh parivar. It is a pity that India�s deputy prime minister, instead of being above all this, has decided to strengthen this lobby. Violence of the kind Gujarat witnessed cannot be open to cynical manipulation.


In the recent controversy over what candidates ought to be required to disclose when filing their nominations, one curious item has produced a lot of discussion. This is whether candidates ought to be required to disclose their educational qualifications. The debate over the importance of educational qualifications is curious because it reveals more about the politics of education than it does about electoral reform. What does the fact that judges, bureaucrats and their middle-class supporters seem to lay great stress on revealing educational qualification reveal about them?

There is a monumental irony in the fact that the educated attribute some of the malaise of our politics to the fact that the voters seem unaware of, and do not take seriously, the educational qualifications of their candidates. The obvious retort to this sentiment is that the relationship between formal educational qualifications and civic and legislative competence this assumes is, at best, an unsubstantiated guess. After all, it is in the middle class that civic dereliction seems to increase in proportion to its educational qualifications.

Manmohan Singh loses elections in south Delhi, thanks to the educated exercising their civic duties by not voting. Benazir Bhutto�s Harvard and Oxford credentials did not do much for Pakistan, not to mention what Pol Pot�s association with the Sorbonne did for Cambodia. Closer home, Subramanian Swamy�s doctoral degree from Harvard has hardly made him a paragon of responsible politics and intelligent policy; and P. Chidambaram�s much flouted financial education at the same institution did not prevent him from capitulating to vested interests and coming up with a profligate budget that made our fiscal deficit go through the roof.

Our current minister for human resources development � who also has earned the appellation, �doctor�, and is in charge of education � seems more interested in ideology than education, a distinction that seems lost on his refined intelligence. To be sure, it does not follow from the fact that the educated behave badly, that education is not important for politicians, but clearly the hope that educational qualifications ought to be part of a package of cleaning up politics requires more argument.

It is part of what it means to be educated in India that we can have opinions but not subject them to the rigour of disciplined analysis. What is the empirical evidence that lack of education in our legislators is the source of ill-thought policy, bad legislation, uncivil deliberation and high-pitched grandstanding in Parliament?

Just a quick perusal of the facts on the educational background of parliamentarians ought to give us some food for thought. In the first Lok Sabha, 23 per cent of the legislators were �under matriculates�, that is, had not completed their schooling. By the ninth Lok Sabha, that proportion was less than three per cent. The number of parliamentarians holding graduate degrees during the same period has risen from 37 per cent to almost 49 per cent, and of those holding post-graduate degrees has risen from 17 to 25 per cent. The unequivocal trend in Parliament is that our members of parliament are more educated in terms of formal degree requirements than ever before.

Of course, it speaks volumes for the quality of our higher education that this fact seems not to register in our consciousness with the force that it ought to. If the quality of deliberation has declined in Parliament, as most analysts agree, you can be certain it has almost nothing to do with the educational attainments of our legislature. But it certainly ought to give pause to those who think that the vacuousness of our politics has something to do with their lack of accomplishment in attaining formal degrees.

There is something troubling about a stance that stresses the importance of educational qualifications for politics in a society which has not taken education seriously as a collective enterprise. We did not want to spend a greater proportion of our gross domestic product on education because we laboured under the false illusion that the poor were incapable of reaping the benefits of schooling. The very same classes whose dispositions, ideology and social outlook made them reluctant to make primary education a national priority seem to want to express their contempt for politicians by exposing their apparent lack of education.

Although the stress on education for all classes and all occasions is generally a good thing, the new-found middle-class desire to make the disclosure of educational qualifications mandatory seems to have little to do with a genuine fondness for education. At its most innocuous, this concern that somehow education is the key to getting our politics right is a kind of causal mistake. We are misattributing the weaknesses of our politics to causes that will not bear the weight of explanation. At its worst, it is a form of class snobbery, a way of distancing the educated from the uneducated demos which has to be told that education is important. The demos will not take the education of its elected officials seriously unless mandated by middle-class judges to do so.

The fuss over making these disclosures mandatory has not only revealed the fact that our judiciary is assertive, or that our politicians can exercise self-serving and decisive collective action when their own interest and complicities are at stake. It also reveals the ways in which our educated classes, having distanced themselves from politics, engage in wishful thinking about what it will take to reform it. We are too often tempted by the thought that for every problem there has to be a legally mandated solution. It is astonishing to think that in a free and open society, people or individuals will not be able to collect the information about their candidates if they deem it relevant.

Getting some measure of a candidate�s financial assets is important, but is that what we are really after in this current round of reforms? Again, this is not meant as a brief for politicians, but there is something deeply hypocritical about all of us wanting to pry into our politicians financial assets when the vast majority of us, other than the helpless salaried class, have taken tax evasion to new art forms. Genuine, sustainable and intelligent reform of an entire gamut of institutions and practices, especially the financing of elections, is necessary, but our politicians are half right in suspecting that much of the recent attempts to produce reform through legally mandated disclosures are more about displacing our complicities on them, than it is about achieving genuine reform.

The educated are disguising their own civic disengagement by blaming most of our ills on the fact that the educational qualifications of our politicians have not been made more of a political issue. As for the privileges of politicians and the uneducated voter who elects them: the Indian Parliament has amongst the highest turnover of legislators in any election. The probability of a sitting MP getting reelected is never more than 50 per cent. Some of the demos are at least exercising choice, which is more than can be said of the educated who so dislike what is produced as a result. The educated need a lesson in politics at least as much as our politicians need a lesson in education.

The author is professor of philosophy, law and governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi


July 1 should have been a day for global rejoicing. After several years of negotiations, the international court of justice had finally come into being with the power to prosecute those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Seventy-six signatory countries had agreed with the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, that in �an international criminal court lies the promise of universal justice�no ruler, no State, no junta and no army anywhere can abuse human rights with impunity.�

But many governments did not share this view. The list of non-signatories to the 1998 Rome treaty, which formulated the new court, makes some unlikely bedfellows: the United States of America, Iraq, India, Pakistan and China. India has decided not to join. Such decisions of third world countries has often led to international institutions with a heavy Western bias. But, it is the US�s refusal to ratify the treaty under George W. Bush�s administration, which has threatened to wreck the newborn court. The greatest advocate of globalization and the greatest democracy in the world would appear to share uncomfortable common ground with several repressive dictatorships.

Honourable intent

The ostensible reasons these countries have given have a beguiling uniformity. Dilip Lahiri, head of the Indian delegation to the Rome conference spoke for most when he argued that the court would violate the principle of �non-intervention in internal affairs of the state.� The US has expressed further concern that the court will be used by hostile regimes to harass its peace-keepers. Bush recently said, �As the US works to bring peace around the world, our diplomats and/or soldiers can be dragged into the court. That�s very troubling.�

This is, however, a woeful misrepresentation of the intentions of the court. It is designed to encourage nations to use their own judicial systems to bring cases against nationals who have committed war crimes in their own countries or abroad, and only allows cases to be brought when the nations have failed to do so.

Unfortunately, the common fear which grips the US, India, Pakistan and China is not that the court will be impartial, but that they will have no control over its workings. This resistance is a sad recognition of the fact that the priority of the US government might not be to ensure fair and impartial �peacekeeping� operations in Afghanistan; that Indian troops in Kashmir might not be primarily concerned with rooting out terrorism.

Dreams of justice

Unlike India, the US has been determined to actively destabilize the court. At the beginning of July, the US threatened to withdraw from the Bosnian peacekeeping mission if the Rome treaty did not adopt its amendments. These included giving the UN security council, of which the US is a member, the power to decide on the validity of the court�s prosecution cases. As any security council member can veto a decision, this would, in effect, give immunity to US troops.

The American threat appears to have worked. On July 12, it was agreed that US troops would be granted immunity from prosecution through an amendment to be renewed annually. This type of fudge has not been restricted to the US. The United Kingdom has asked Afghanistan to sign an accord which prevents it from registering a prosecution case against British troops serving there. Such actions by Western powers explain why celebrations since July 1 have been muted.

During World War II, Lord Atkin famously declared, �In this country, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace.� These sentiments became one of the founding principles of the UN convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, passed in 1948, along with the principle behind the international criminal court.

Sadly, while governments continue to operate within the narrowest of concepts of �national self-interest�, prevention or punishment of genocide and other war crimes by the court does not seem an immediate possibility.


It is that time of year when India�s famed diversity becomes stark � while some states are hit by floods, others are on the threshold of drought. Every year, myriad rituals are held in July to appease the rain god. Marriages of frogs and donkeys are organized, animals are sacrificed, yagnas performed, children abducted, desperate women parade naked on parched fields and nomadic eunuchs are assigned to do the rain dance. Annual rituals to ensure a modicum of respite from the drought.

Of the 35 meteorological divisions in the country, 25 remained dry till last week, with the cumulative rainfall from June 1 to mid-July falling short in 20 divisions. This �variation cycle� is rare, but not non-existent. A similar pattern of scanty rainfall in July had been recorded in 1992 and 1995.

In Orissa, the government has already sounded the drought alert with the arid spell looking more ominous than the one a couple of years ago. Even though the rains had been plentiful last year, the interior districts, barring Koraput, had registered only 16 per cent of the expected rainfall. Jagatsinghpur, which experienced major floods around this time last year, is today on the verge of being declared drought-hit, along with Kalahandi, Bolangir, Ganjam, Rayagada, Kandhamal, Angul and Bhadrak. Drought has become such a recurrent phenomenon here that villagers have started resorting to largescale migration.

But instead of implementing policies to provide succour at this juncture, state governments resort to delaying-tactics like calling meetings, drafting preliminary reports, dispatching these to New Delhi for the Centre�s appraisal, asking the district administration to assess funds requirements and so on. All the while the spectre of devastation and death continues to grow. By the time the government does get around to finalizing schemes such as food-for-work, rehabilitation projects or arranges to disburse funds from the calamity relief fund, the intended beneficiaries are either dead or untraceable.

Our politicians thrive on a brand of �disaster politics�; they love to take centrestage during natural calamities in order to glean the maximum mileage from the calamity.

This has a bearing on our fiscally disastrous farm policies. High procurement prices have led to 65 million tonnes of foodgrain (nearly a third of India�s total production) being stashed away in our granaries. Much of this simply rots, or is pilfered or devoured by rats. But to our politicians, this is evidence of immaculate planning, for it is this excess foodgrain that will be used to feed the drought-hit population and will help reduce inflation since prices tend to spiral after a bad harvest.

Take the fiasco in Andhra Pradesh last year, when the food-for-work programme introduced in the aftermath of the drought benefited not the villagers but corrupt contractors, politicians and bureaucracy. But that is no deterrent to a repeat of the same mistakes this year. Although the chief minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, admitted to the state assembly that there were irregularities, he turned down pleas for an investigation. Take also the �water mafia�, comprising owners of water-tankers and private tubewells who continue to make a killing in states like Rajasthan.

Maharashtra, on the other hand, is a study in contrast. Faced with drought conditions this year, the state administration was quick to supply water-tankers to 439 villages and 566 hamlets. Nearly 1.77 lakh workers were also engaged in the employment guarantee schemes to tide over crisis.

The scanty rainfall has impacted the power scenario in most states, especially Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. There has been a steep rise in power consumption in the cities, which has further worsened the situation. The drought, which will lead to depressed rural demand and income will also threaten the bottomlines of corporate India. But instead of implementing a comprehensive contingency plan, the Centre has decided to wait and watch until July 31.

The Union minister for agriculture, Ajit Singh, had a marathon meeting with relief commissioners of 12 drought-affected states yesterday. These included Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. But besides declaring that this is the country�s worst drought in 12 years (320 of 524 districts are affected) and unfolding a four-fold �preliminary package�, what they came up with could have been done weeks ago � seed procurement methods, operational conditions of irrigational facilities, rescheduling of loans to farmers, drought-resistant crop varieties and the like.

Last week, the Congress, donning its opposition-as-watchdog role, demanded a �white paper� on the drought scenario. It also wanted a national task force to be set up to tackle the situation, and, true to form, assailed the National Democratic Alliance government for its apathy. Why is it that our politicians never wake up to a task before it is too late? The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, has chosen to �write letters� to chief ministers of states ruled by her party in which she has asked them to put in place task forces. Surely such a exercise could have been initiated a month ago?

The situation is hardly different in the flood-affected areas. Embankments are seldom reinforced before the rainy season. Standby shelters are always an afterthought. States like Bihar and Assam are prone to floods every year, yet the routine circus of �surveying� the vast, flooded plains precedes any concrete action plan. Closer home, anti-erosion work in flood-prone Malda was taken up well after the onset of the monsoons. While the irrigation and finance departments played pass-the-buck, boulders meant to fortify the embankments are rapidly being washed away by the rising waters of the Ganges. Those affected are never shifted to higher ground when the first alarm is sounded. Like in previous years, they continue to live in dread, waiting for the water to come swirling in one night.

The country�s size is usually cited as an impediment to framing disaster management strategies that are common in southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia which share our climatic pattern. The administrations in these countries are ready with artificial rain at the first sign of drought. In India, states like Sikkim and Maharashtra have exhibited a more pragmatic response to natural disasters. Take for example the landslides in hill states over the past fortnight. While the administration in Uttaranchal�s Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts and Assam�s Barail ranges looked on helplessly as villages turned to rubble, in west Sikkim residents were evacuated well in time from remote hamlets in Dentam, Richenpong, Burmoik, Soreng, Daramdin, Yuksome and Tashiding. Of the 10 flood-affected districts in Assam, rail and road links to Dhemaji, which is the worst hit, remain suspended. This is only the first wave of floods, but the toll has already risen to seven, while five lakh people have become homeless and the world�s largest river island, Majuli, lies half-submerged.

It is not that all our leaders lack vision � to their credit they have begun to think of alternatives in places where fixed crops have failed due to the delayed monsoons. But perhaps they are helpless � somewhere along the way, all vestiges of the desire to serve the people that they swear by during election campaigns are swamped by the urge to ensure their own future. There is a semblance of hope though for the 11 states where elections are due in the coming months. At least in these states, the governments will go all out in their reaction to calamities, so as not to alienate the electorate. But for the other areas, there will be the usual grim images of old women on bamboo rafts, emaciated children clinging on to the roofs of submerged huts, �aerial� shots of the prime minister or chief ministers getting a bird�s eye view of the damage.

Elsewhere, too there will be similar pathetic images � but of the drought. The distraught farmer surveying the cracked earth, groups of migrant villagers carrying all their possession in bundles on their heads and fleeing the heat and aridness, photographs of ministers �inaugurating� deep tubewells, and the fervour and hope in the �rituals� to propitiate the rain god. Unfortunately, these images have become all too predictable, thereby detracting from the gravity of the situation and the suffering of millions.

Unlike earthquakes and supercyclones, drought and floods can be prevented. The government should be held accountable for the recurrence of floods and droughts since most of the time these are man-made. It is only in India that one may find hapless farmers striving to salvage their Kharif crop in the sweltering heat, while the governor and chief minister of the state locked horns over whether it was the former�s yagna or the latter�s pilgrimage that brought on the rain that quenched the thirst of the parched minions.


Supplementary provision of Rs 4,107.50 crore obtained during the year constituted 14 per cent of the original budget provision of Rs 28,407.44 crore. Supplementary provision of Rs 1,422.55 crore proved insufficient in 10 cases by more than Rs 10 lakh in each case, leaving an aggregate uncovered expenditure of Rs 8,537.29 crore. On the other hand, provision of Rs 490.98 crore obtained in 53 cases during the year proved unnecessary. In 23 cases, supplementary grants aggregating to Rs 2,153.70 crore proved excessive...

Of the total amount of Rs 73.50 crore drawn in abstract contingent bills between April 1982 and March 2000 adjustment against Rs 41.85 crore...had not been submitted till March 2001. This indicated poor financial discipline...

Financial rules require that the departmental controlling officers should reconcile the departmental figures of expenditure with those booked by the principal accountant general (accounts and entitlement). During 2000-2001, out of Rs 23,426.25 crore of revenue and capital expenditure, the expenditure of Rs 12,114.51 crore... was not reconciled by various department including home (constitution and election), labour, refugee, relief and rehabilitation and school education departments. There were also no system to control and monitor the progress of expenditure against budget estimates/allotments and there was no designated officer for this purpose...

To ensure socio-economic development of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes communities, family oriented schemes, community development schemes, various educational schemes and infrastructural development schemes were implemented with partial assistance from the government of India. Though various schemes were implemented in the state to ameliorate the condition of the SC and ST people, the performance under such schemes were far from satisfactory and the basic objectives of the schemes remained unfulfilled. This was attributable mainly to the lack of proper supervision and near total dependence of the government on West Bengal scheduled castes and scheduled tribes development and finance corporation and the banks for the implementation of the schemes. While Rs 253.38 crore remained parked in the deposit account and banks, there was little follow up and intervention by the government to ensure that the schemes were implemented effectively and benefits accrued to the SC/ST people in a timely and effective manner. The programme was hampered by delayed release of funds by the government and further delay in release of funds to the implementing agencies. On the whole, the programme suffered from lack of attention and monitoring by the government, though funds were not a constraint.

Of Rs 355.01 crore of budgeted scheme funds parked in the deposit account during 196-2001 Rs 69.26 crore remained unspent as of March 2001. Besides, a government owned corporation parked Rs 127.65 crore of scheme funds in short term deposits in banks instead of prompt implementation of the schemes. Scheme funds of Rs 130.14 crore was released to WBSCSTDFC at a delay of 3 to 12 months from the date of sanction and due to late receipt of departmental directives Rs 159.25 crore were released to the executing agencies at a delay of 3 to 23 months. Further out of Rs 4.40 crore of scheme funds lying idle in the bank account of implementing agencies, Rs 1.24 crore represented educational scholarships lying undisbursed since 1985-86 in the district of South 24 Parganas. Rupees 1.60 crore meant for development of the Lodha community was not utilized at all. Undisbursed subsidy and margin money loan of Rs 2.98 crore was refunded by the banks to WBSCSTDFC without implementing the schemes. Projects (3,411) valued Rs 3.60 crore were not implemented by the beneficiaries as they refunded their bank loan... within a short span of time...

Failure to construct 37 central hostels at an estimated cost of Rs 8.73 crore deprived 2,712 SC and ST students of hostel facilites. Though Rs 5 crore was received from the government of India, work of construction of 5 residential schools specially for students of three tribal communities identified under Article 275(1) of the Constitution was delayed by 2 to 3 years.

Though Rs 16.94 crore was awarded as pre-matric scholarships, 3.75 lakh students dropped out from their studies in various states. In five districts, pre-matric...and post-matric... scholarship funds for SC/ST students remained unspent as of March 2001. Of Rs 5.75 crore meant for implementation of the national scheme for liberation and rehabilitation of scavengers, Rs 4.14 crore remained unspent as of March 2001...

Of Rs 21.28 crore released by the department for execution of 937 community development schemes in five districts, utilization certificates for Rs 13.88 against 479 schemes were not obtained ... from the executing agencies. Further, Rs 1.81 crore of special Central assistance funds for community development schemes were sanctioned/released for ineligible works.

As per evaluation study conducted by the Cultural Research Institute of the Government... 29 to 60 per cent of the schemes were defunct while only 12 to 40 per cent beneficiaries could be gainfully employed on implementation of the schemes.

To be concluded



Out in the cold

Sir � The Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century event has been in the news for the last few days � and not for all the right reasons. Wisden had drawn up a list of 16 nominees, and Mohammed Azharuddin was one of the names on the list. Azharuddin had been invited to the event, much like the other nominees. But Wisden abruptly withdrew Azharuddin�s invitation without stating any reason (�Welcome, but not welcome�, July 22). Ostensibly, this was done to prevent the adverse publicity that would, it was presumed, invariably accompany Azharuddin, once accused of match-fixing. Wisden obviously did not felicitate Azharuddin keeping this in mind. But then Azharuddin should not have been included in the list in the first place. To consider a cricketer worthy of making it to the list, but not the event is ridiculous. Let us not forget that Kapil Dev, now the Cricketer of the Century, was also named in the match-fixing scandal. That did not stop Wisden from awarding him.

Yours faithfully,
Hema Singhania, Calcutta

Count the bodies

Sir � Sunando Sarkar�s report, �Surgery queue casualty� (July 15), cites the case of 69-year-old Rabindranath Sarkar, who, despite running the risk of significant damage to his kidneys because of prostatic enlargement, has been given an operation date 14 months later by the state government-run North Bengal Medical College in Siliguri. Sarkar�s case points to the deteriorating condition of state-administered teaching hospitals.

The hospital superintendent has reasoned that lack of adequate infrastructure has made it impossible for the institution to cope with the number of patients. That is why Sarkar could not be accommodated immediately. If this is true then the government has to construct a few more referral hospitals without delay. Crores of rupees are spent every year to maintain the North Bengal Medical College, which is supposedly a grade A hospital. It is obvious that the money is not being put to good use. The hospital says that it is �confident� of improving in seven to nine months. By which time the number of casualties may go up. The state government should make alternative arrangements so that patients can be treated in other hospitals during the interim period.

Another thing. The hospital seems to be merely making excuses to cover up its inefficiency. A simple operation like trans-urethral dissection does not require specialists. All it requires is a competent general surgeon.

Yours faithfully,
Mohan Lal Sarkar, Budge Budge

Sir � According to the report, �Sterilisation scalpel cuts short two lives� (May 23), two patients died and 40 others were sent to the Tamluk sub-divisional hospital in a serious condition following a surgical error in the laparoscopy performed on them in a one-day sterilization camp. The district magistrate has stated that the deaths were not due to medical negligence on part of the surgeon, but possibly owing to dehydration. But then why did the eminent gynaecologist decide to operate on 104 women on one of the hottest days in the season when the temperature climbed to 43 degrees Centigrade? Even if the camp had been organized for that day, the doctor, having observed the soaring temperature, should have exercised his medical judgment and postponed the camp. After all, post-operation complications are common in excessive humidity and heat. Also, why was only one doctor asked to operate on all the 104 patients? Fatigue induced errors are something the medical professionals should guard against. What is worse, despite two months having passed after the incident, the state health department is yet to take any action.

To prevent such accidents it is necessary that the number of patients be limited for each doctor and proper rules and regulations are drawn up for holding such camps. If patients regularly complain of complications following surgeries in camps, these should be promptly stopped.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir � Although many claim that state-run hospitals are in a deplorable condition and patients risk their lives while visiting one, I have always disregarded these claims. My opinion changed after a visit to the Bankura hospital a month ago. The patient I accompanied was forced to wait for hours on end before he met the doctor. The distribution of medicines was also done in an unprofessional manner. The state government needs to take a serious look at the working of the Bankura hospital if it wishes to improve healthcare facilities in the state.

Yours faithfully,
Sudip Das, Bankura

Next in line

Sir � With L.K. Advani taking over as deputy prime minister, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between his, rather troubled, relationship with A.B. Vajpayee, and that between his predecessors, Vallabhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru (�Crown brings Advani closer to Atal�, June 30). The anointment of Advani comes at an important time, when the Bharatiya Janata Party needs to shore up its image before the 2004 general elections. Advani�s leadership qualities � evident in 1992, when he astutely used the Ram mandir issue to raise the party�s stocks � are well-known. The party�s morale will be boosted by his elevation.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Murshidabad

Sir � By promoting L.K. Advani to the post of the deputy prime minister, A.B. Vajpayee has laid down the line of succession. The only fear is that Advani, the hardliner that he is, may give in to the whims of the sangh parivar. Vajpayee, who is a moderate, may then repent. One may recall the instance of V.I. Lenin making Joseph Stalin second-in-command of the Communist Party in Russia and later repenting the decision.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Srivastava, Salboni

Measure for measure

Sir � Ever since the January attack on the American Center in Calcutta, at least half the entry and exit points in the Metro Railway stations have been closed as a security measure. This creates problems for commuters. There is no reason why the closure of entry and exit points should decrease the incidence of terrorist attacks. The number of security guards and constables at the stations should be increased to combat this problem instead. Even if the step was necessary immediately after the attack, extending the measure for over six months is irresponsible on the part of the Metro rail authorities. To make stations more safe the authorities should stop allowing pavement dwellers inside the stations.

Yours faithfully,
Jagdish Kumar, Calcutta

Sir � I have recently noticed a number of female passengers being harassed during the peak hours on the Metro. It is obvious that most women find it uncomfortable to stand amongst the crowd of men crowding the trains at this time. Much like the local trains in Mumbai, the Metro railways should reserve at least two compartments for women during the rush hours.

Yours faithfully,
Gaurav Chaturvedi, Calcutta

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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

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