Editorial 1 / Informed demos
Editorial 2 / Oil and grease
Season for war games
Fifth Column / Before the valley decides
Beating them with their own stick
Document For a better quality of life and air
Letters to the editor

Democracy in India has been taken a step further by the Union cabinet. A draft bill on the freedom of information has been approved, and might be tabled in the ongoing session of Parliament. The approval of the draft is, however, only the beginning of a long process at the end of which might come an important piece of legislation. Decades of drafting and campaigning constitute the history of the freedom of information bill. The right to the freedom of information is only implicit in the Constitution, following on indirectly as a concomitant right from the right to freedom of speech and expression in Article 19 and restricted by contingencies mentioned in the same article. However, the chief enemy of this particular freedom in India has been the Official Secrets Act, 1923, reeking of imperial and military paranoia. George Orwell�s phrase for this mindset was �maniacal suspiciousness�. This dated act is not always allowed to lie dormant, and was invoked, for instance, to prohibit the entry of journalists to the site of the Sardar Sarovar Project. From the late Forties to the present regime, there have been several attempts and promises regarding changes in this act. Individuals, governments, working groups and committees have not been able to counter so far the lack of political and administrative will in seeing these alterations through. Citizens� groups and various other non-governmental bodies have been campaigning for its repeal together with the enactment of the freedom of information act. These campaigns have often arisen from the grassroots level, as in the jan sunwai experiment done by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan. The draft bill was introduced in Parliament in July 2000, although Tamil Nadu and Goa had already passed similar laws in 1997.

This draft bill is about �openness, transparency and accountability� in democratic governance at every level, from the panchayats to Parliament. What it assures the citizen is access to information under the control of public authorities, consistent with public interest. In India, this attitude to public information can never be purely a matter of legislation. In a society ridden with illiteracy, feudalism and a certain set of attitudes to authority and to subordinates, the entire notion of the citizen�s entitlement to certain kinds of information from the government is likely to be profoundly alien to a vast majority. This is as true for the rulers as for the ruled. It is difficult to understand the importance of inquiry committee reports or even the list of casualties in a railway massacre if one is not able to read at all. The ability to access and independently use such information is what the citizen�s active presence in a democracy should be all about.


Discretion leads to abuse and Mr Ram Naik�s proposition that dealer selection boards must have been above board because they were chaired by retired judges is no argument. The prime minister�s announcement cancelling allotments of 3,211 outlets (1,371 petrol pumps, 1,604 liquid petroleum gas outlets and 236 kerosene pumps) made since January 2000 has led to legal problems. One, dealership agreements were never scrutinized legally earlier and they do not provide for summary cancellation. Notices of 30 to 90 days have to be served and there must be arbitration proceedings. Summary cancellations are only possible on mala fide grounds like adulteration or poor performance. Hence oil companies have been asked to file caveats in various high courts so that dealers do not secure ex parte stay orders against cancellation. There are already some cases filed by applicants who did not receive allotments. Meanwhile, notices for dealership cancellations have not been issued, and confusion prevails over whether supplies to dealers should continue until notices have been issued. Two, what happens to these outlets since oil companies are in no position to manage them on their own? Three, there is the legitimate argument that not every allotment went to relatives and acquaintances of the ruling party and why should ex-army or handicapped allottees suffer? Favouring such disadvantaged people was indeed the rationale for the discretionary allotment scheme, started in 1983. But such schemes inevitably lead to abuse and corruption.

The first-best solution is to eliminate shortages. If they exist, auctioning is the second-best solution. While scandals linked to petrol pump allotments have occurred earlier, in this sector the Congress had not managed to institutionalize corruption the way the Bharatiya Janata Party has. The party with a difference has proved to be no different, a point made by Mr Arun Shourie in the party�s recent conclave in Delhi. If the prime minister�s unexpected decision has been described as emotional by the BJP and pathetic by the opposition, he must have done something right. But only in a limited sense. Had it not been for the investigative media, the present scandal would have continued undeterred. There is a sense in the ruling party that largesse must be distributed to kith and kin. If a signal of change is to be conveyed, Mr Naik must go. There must be acknowledgment that there has been a scandal and the guilty must suffer. If the indefensible is defended, as the ruling party is doing, the opposition will be right in arguing that the prime minister�s action is nothing but a pathetic attempt at a cover-up. Past actions do not inspire confidence and given the complete collapse of governance, there is perhaps no substitute for a vigilant civil society and a vigilant media.


Will there be war during the Dussehra holidays this year? The festival of Dussehra falls in October every year by the Hindu calendar. The festival is closely linked in Indian mythology and history with war. It is related to war over evildoers and the virtuous are always victorious in such wars. The victory of the virtuous over evil is commemorated during Dussehra through the Ramayana theatre. The virtuous god-king Rama defeats the evil Ravana in battle. The event is commemorated in north India by erecting huge effigies of the ten-headed Ravana and his colleagues. Two mere mortals dressed as Rama and his brother Lakshman shoot burning arrows to set the evil king�s effigy aflame. This denouement brings a high mood of virtuous victory. The ceremonies are hugely attended. In Delhi, the prime minister and his cabinet also witness this ritual.

Dussehra and its war linkages are observed in their many variants. In south India, a day is marked during Dussehra for venerating the weapons of war. It is the day of ayudha puja, the day of worshipping weapons. Many Indian army regiments observe this event by offering obeisance to weapons. In Maharashtra, the day historically marked the beginning of the campaigning season. Wars were waged to gain territory and to fill the treasury through loot. Today the event is still marked by groups dressed in mock war robes, setting out with swords to strike down a particular variety of plant in the countryside. The leaves of the plant are brought in sacks and distributed amongst friends and family as gold obtained in war.

In Mysore, the ceremony of parading the erstwhile royal military appurtenances still continues. In Nepal, the day is marked by animal sacrifices for prosperity. Indian Gorkha regiments mark the day with an orgy of animal sacrifices including buffalo sacrifice. Dussehra seems to energize war plans elsewhere too. China had attacked India in October 1962. The United States of America launched its war against the taliban and Osama bin Laden in October last year.

India�s armed forces have been kept on war readiness on the borders with Pakistan for the last eight months. An Indian offensive into Pakistan was a real probability. The prime minister confirmed it, going so far as to say that he was quite prepared to accept in the process a nuclear strike from Pakistan. As we have been assured by those who claim to know nuclear strategy, if Pakistan had lobbed one nuclear bomb at us, India would have let loose a nuclear barrage which would have obliterated Pakistan. General Pervez Musharraf, not to be outdone, had assured India of a nuclear strike, if it had dared cross the sacred borders of Pakistan.

Later, under pressure and not a little ridicule from the international community, both governments retracted their nuclear assertions. We have been assured by Indian strategists that war was never considered as an option by New Delhi. We are of course yet to be informed of the need to mobilize the army for war, if the plan was not to go for war.

General Colin Powell has made his third trip to India and Pakistan in less than a year. He has pleased India by asking Musharraf to end cross-border terrorism and infiltration. He has pleased Pakistan�s leader by asking India to accept international observers at the October elections in Jammu and Kashmir. He has asked Pakistan to keep off Jammu and Kashmir and the electoral exercise there. He has told New Delhi that after the elections, the India-Pakistan dialogue should commence.

New Delhi has announced that its army will remain on the border until October. It has no intention of reducing pressure on Musharraf. The general seems under no pressure, and is happily touring outside Pakistan. He says Pakistan�s conventional military strength is enough to deter India from launching an offensive. It does not suit the general sahib to let the elections in Jammu and Kashmir go through smoothly. That will negate his claim that these elections are being thrust upon an unwilling Kashmiri population. There is every possibility that he will do little to prevent violence and terror being inflicted in Jammu and Kashmir in the coming months. He will of course claim that the violence is part of the Kashmiri freedom struggle and has nothing to do with jihadis based in Pakistan.

What would New Delhi�s response be if its carefully laid plans for the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are sabotaged? What would be its response, if a series of bomb blasts or terrorist attacks take place between now and October? There are elections being urgently sought by New Delhi in Gujarat. They may well take place around October. If, as is being estimated, terrorist attacks occur in Gujarat, as happened in Mumbai after the pogrom against Muslims there, how will New Delhi respond? The army, poised for war on the border, offers the option of immediate military action. The political temptation of taking all bad news off the front pages by a little war would not be a small one either. Kaluchak effectively achieved that for Gujarat.

That brings us back to the auspicious occasion of Dussehra in October. The rains, scanty as they are, would be over. The drought-affected parts of India would be clamouring for relief. Squabbles between states over sharing meagre river waters would be more pronounced. Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and the murky political goings on about power-sharing in Uttar Pradesh, would all be pressing on the leadership in New Delhi. A sentiment of being besieged would be a likely outcome. How would a leadership under pressure make its strategic decisions? Past precedents neither offer insights nor inspire confidence.

The political leadership, which is accountable to Parliament, people and the party cadre, is under compulsion to act and demonstrate resolve. That drives elected governments to act in haste. More often than not governments act by grasping the only instrument that can quickly respond. The military instrument is the easiest to apply and that is what comes into play. The Indian army deployed on the borders is ready for striking against Pakistan. It would be a political lifesaver, if conditions described above indeed come about.

What kind of war would New Delhi want to wage against Pakistan? If it must be fought, a war needs to obtain a decisive outcome. A war must force a change of policy on Musharraf�s part. He is not going to be forced into that condition unless an Indian offensive makes rapid and substantial gains. These gains may be of territory vital to Pakistan, or a dramatic collapse of the Pakistani military machine. The gains may be of major damage to Pakistan�s economic infrastructure. If these are indeed likely to be gained, Musharraf and his corps commanders are very unlikely to wait for it to happen. They will bring or threaten to bring nuclear weapons into play. That catastrophic scenario is not going to be allowed to come about by major powers.

New Delhi�s war options against Pakistan are thus limited by the presence of nuclear weapons in the subcontinent. There is a group of strategists which recommends �salami slicing� as a war option. This implies that India captures small slivers of Pakistani territory through a series of small wars. This overlooks the fact that by this approach India would be fighting a number of small wars for a long time to come. That would still not force a change of policy on Musharraf�s part. Thus New Delhi may find itself left with its army deployed on the border, and unable to force an outcome. Come October, the government may well have to ask the army to do a major training exercise and return to its positions in the hinterland. The cycle of makebelieve, of playacting a war, and returning with leaves of desert plants as symbols of conquest, would then have been completed. The customs of Dussehra would have been sustained.

The author is former director general military operations, and currently director, Delhi Policy Group


The terrorist attack on July 13 at Qasim Nagar, and now the killing of nine Amarnath pilgrims, have driven home the point that the coming elections in Jammu and Kashmir are going to be far from peaceful. But the Indian government�s restrained response to the attack displays a guarded optimism at the Centre.

In the past few weeks, major political groups in Jammu and Kashmir have begun making their stands clear in regard to the elections. The most startling volte-face was made by the Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Ghulam Muhammad Bhat. He reversed the party�s stand of five decades, refusing to call for a boycott of the polls, even as the party stuck to its decision to not participate in them. More encouragingly, the party also distanced itself from the Hizbul Mujahedin, its brand of militancy and its demand for Kashmir�s accession to Pakistan. Bhat�s stance is a sign of the moderation seen among certain Hurriyat elements.

Certain sections within the 24-member All-Parties Hurriyat Conference have also rejected the United Jihadi Council�s demand that the Hurriyat should actively initiate a poll boycott campaign or quit the movement�s leadership. The rejection of the UJC�s demands and a reiteration of the Hurriyat�s independent stance have been seconded by leaders like Bilal Lone and Abbas Ansari. This shift in stance brightens prospects for the elections.

Divided track

The government has meanwhile continued with its Track II diplomatic efforts. Its emissaries, including K.C. Pant, Ram Jethmalani, A.S. Dulat, Salman Hyder, P.N. Dhar and top leaders of the Muslim Majlis Mashawarat Hind, have held talks with several separatist leaders. But the National Democratic Alliance government will have to tread a fine line between giving in too much to the separatists and alienating its ally in Kashmir, the National Conference. The imposition of president�s rule being demanded as a pre-requisite by several political groups might ruin chances of ensuring the participation of the Hurriyat in the elections, and also irrevocably alienate the NC.

Even as the NDA waffles, throwing generous doses of financial packages to the state while waning in its appeasement policy towards the Hurriyat, other political groups are firming up their electoral issues. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in its June conclave has demanded a trifurcation of the state, not on communal, but on geographic lines. The Union home minister has rejected this demand, stating that it will not only weaken India�s case on Kashmir, but may also lead to further communal tensions in the country. However, the demand for trifurcation is bound to be a major issue during the elections.

Improving relations

The NC has condemned trifurcation as a communal demand and has dared the government with dismissal, by threatening mass protests. The NDA offer of an emissary to look into devolution demands is a conciliatory gesture in the face of the NC�s growing unhappiness with the Centre.

For the present, the NDA�s task is cut out. But the immediate constraint to ensuring inclusive participation in the elections is the Centre�s insistence on the emergence of a broad-based government first, with which it would initiate talks in post-election Kashmir. But the Hurriyat, that claims to speak for most of Kashmir�s Muslims, and other moderate elements still remain largely non-committal as they have long insisted that the government must first call for unconditional talks to decide Kashmir�s future.

A certain degree of flexibility would no doubt help the Centre. While systematically marginalizing the more hard-line elements � as seen through the arrests of Yaseen Malik and Geelani � it would also help to encourage discussions with moderate elements besides those constituting the third front � the Awami National Conference and Shabir Shah, the leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party. Efforts to involve them should move beyond the informal channels of Track II diplomacy. Free and fair polls and a broad-based participation by separatist groups would be the biggest public relations boost for the Centre.


Ravi Prasad owned a small tea-shop near the Doranda area of Ranchi. Although his descendants hail from the Chhapra district of Bihar, Ranchi was the town Prasad was born in and never felt alien to during the last 10 years of his business.

On the afternoon of July 24, ten frenzied young tribals mobbed him. Before they hurt him, they asked whether he was A, B, C or D. Angry, Prasad still tried to comprehend the meaning of the abbreviations. The tribal youths clarified. Did Prasad come from Ara (A)? Biharsharief (B)? Chhapra (C)? Or Darbhanga (D) in Bihar? Those hailing from these districts of Bihar are the most hated ones in Jharkhand. �Burn down the ABCDs and save Jharkhand�, the youngsters shouted as Prasad mumbled that he was from Chhapra. In a few minutes, Prasad saw his little shop go up in flames as the youths lobbed petro-soaked balls of fire at it.

Back in Chhapra this week, Prasad now ambles through the maze of streets and shops. He does not know if it will be ever possible for him to return to Ranchi again. He has seen a lot of fury in the eyes of his neighbours, who, till yesterday, appeared to be so friendly . He hopes in vain to bury the animus of the times to return to the Jharkhand where he breathed easy, and tasted success. It was always his homeland.

But not anymore. For the Jharkhand chief minister, Babulal Marandi, has decided to put the state through an unusual exercise. He suddenly announced early this month a policy to debar from government jobs people who did not have their domicile certificates in accordance with the land records of 1932.It was in that year that the British conducted a demographic survey, the state government alleges. In an affidavit to the Jharkhand high court the state government has stated that those applying for the job of class IV staff in the police department must have a domicile certificate. In support of his argument, the chief minister has fished out a 1982 circular in which the then Congress government of undivided Bihar had directed employers to offer jobs to the indigenous people of Hazaribag who had a domicile certificate.

The announcement predictably kicked off a whirlwind. At least six persons were killed, scores of people attacked and houses burnt in the clashes that followed. The conflict has taken an appalling turn over the last few weeks.

A political opportunist always seizes a chance to carry through what he thinks is the most effective strategy for his survival. He is often unable to create history, but can give history an unfortunate twist. Did Marandi visualize the huge dividends the ethnic divide in the state would reap ever since he formulated the reservation policy and then whipped up a pro-tribal sentiment after he sensed loss of his party�s support base in the state?

The chief minister argues that he is waging a war against a tyranny which has never been surpassed. What he wants to draw attention to is the deprivation of the indigenous people who suffered land alienation, remained poorly represented as far as government jobs were concerned and so on. So, all that Marandi could do is whip out a 1982 labour circular and dangle it as the foundation of his domicile policy? Could he not anticipate the results as well? The announcement set off a litany of attacks and polarized the population of the state.

But even when the rhetoric of the Bharatiya Janata Party escalated, the political undertones of the war could not be missed. The incidents brought to light a grim message � Biharis were the target of much of the violence. Marandi�s statements in self-defence also made this clear. He said, �The same people who had exploited the region for the first 50 years of our independence are demanding my resignation.�

While thrusting on Jharkhand what he called a �domicile policy�, Marandi never bothered to think if he were on solid legal ground. For the 1982 rule he was quoting had been issued by the former Congress chief minister of Bihar, Jagannath Mishra, who claims that this particular circular had been applicable to employment in private and public sector undertakings. Besides, it was supposed to be a labour policy statement and not an administrative directive. For matters relating to employment in government, the personnel and administrative reforms department are the relevant departments to issue instructions, Mishra argues. Mishra further clarified that Marandi, by re-issuing an old labour circular and using it to debar settlers from government jobs, has overstepped his constitutional powers for only Parliament is empowered to state an employment policy

But should Marandi worry about the judiciary striking down his policy? Perhaps no. For Marandi has probably been thinking beyond the parameters of law. The 45-year-old chief minister has been, for some time now, clearly striving to set an agenda for the people of the state, projecting himself as the messiah of the indigenous people much the same way as Laloo Prasad Yadav laboured to create the image of a social justice messiah in the wake of the Mandal mania in 1989. The Mandal bogey had whipped up as much caste passions as in the present Jharkhand crisis, if not more. In the early ages of the electronic media, the television had perpetuated the image of a young man who had set himself on fire to protest against the reservation policy.

Despite the ethical and moral outcry against the Mandal recommendations, Laloo Yadav had emerged as a rising star in Bihar politics. No one could have missed the broad smile that lit Laloo Yadav�s face as the results of the 1991 polls kept pouring into Patna only a little time later. No wonder Laloo Yadav, the astute politician that he is, has now demanded the resignation of Marandi.

Marandi�s political insecurities date back to the time when he became the chief minister of the new state two years ago. Having beaten veteran leaders like Kailashpati Mishra and Karia Munda to the chief minister�s chair, he looked like a pawn in the sangh parivar�s game. Later, as he doddered in the administrative and economic arena, Marandi faced the threat of removal by the Central leadership. Then came the party�s defeat at the Dumka bypolls, which came as a bolt from the blue. Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha won despite the corruption cases against him.

When the BJP had projected Marandi as the chief minister, the party had aimed at consolidating the Santhal Parganas like Godda, Dumka and Sahebgunge. Marandi, a Santhal, was pitted against Soren, who still holds sway in the Santhal Parganas, where the BJP is yet to strengthen its base.

The defeat at Dumka might have prodded the chief minister to look for a weapon to trigger off a militant passion in the indigenous people. His advisors too banked on the consolidation of Sarna-Mahato Santhal votes as the last resort, even if it meant alienation of a section of the urban settlers who had voted for the BJP overwhelmingly. For they felt that the loyalty of the urban settlers was unpredictable and could be split between the Congress, the JMM and even parties based originally in the residual Bihar � like the Samata Party and Janata Dal(United). Did the Left Front in Bengal not gain by concentrating more on the rural voters? Did not Laloo Yadav, closer home, strengthen his base by focussing more on the Yadav and Muslim combination?

Marandi�s domicile policy is clearly aimed at politically re-positioning the chief minister, even though it has triggered a lot of hatred that will alter the course of politics in the state. This chasm is unlikely to end since Marandi has already gone a step further and made 100 per cent reservation for the tribals in the districts for single post units in the forthcoming panchayat polls. Marandi knows that the hatred of one section of the voters will get him closer to another.

The same thing had happened to the JMM which had indulged in a virulent anti-settlers campaign through the Eighties in Jharkhand during the movement for statehood. Marandi would invariably try to take the wind out of the JMM�s sails given that the polls are drawing closer.

Given the social and emotional turmoil, Jharkhand is poised to remain a crucible of ethnic politics, social discord and welfare measures for the indigenous people. Ethnic questions are bound to colour politics here, even if it means that this will be the beginning of the end of Jharkhand as a more investor-friendly state than the neighbouring, chaotic Bihar.


Excess use of 2T oil in two-stroke engines by one per cent increases smoke and particulate matter by 15 per cent. Though premixed 2T oil dispensers were installed at all the petrol filling stations in Delhi and sale of loose 2T oil was banned from December 1998�in West Bengal, sale of loose 2T oil is still continuing, contributing to increase in vehicular pollution. The government stated that the issue of an appropriate ban order on the sale of loose 2T oil was under active consideration.

Lack of control of vehicular emission: though the transport sector contributes about 50 per cent of the total air pollution, neither the department nor the board made any effort to control pollution from this sector. There was no coordination between the two agencies. More than 75 per cent of all category of vehicles plying on the roads emit air pollutants beyond permissible limits.

In Calcutta, there were only seven motor vehicle inspectors for checking 7.2 lakh vehicles. A committee constituted under the order of the Calcutta high court observed that during the last ten years only 5 per cent of the vehicles registered in Calcutta was tested for the issue of the certificate of fitness, but the condition of the engines were not seriously checked and emission standard was never checked... In-use vehicles are to obtain �pollution under control� certificates from the public vehicles department, which remain valid for six months.

In Calcutta, issue of PUC certificates for 7.2 lakh vehicles by conducting auto-emission test were entrusted to 75 private automobile testing centres by the public vehicles department from time to time. The number of such testing centres was inadequate. According to a study conducted by the board, the integrity of such centres was not only doubtful but their performance was also unsatisfactory, due to the absence of skilled and trained manpower, regular maintenance of equipment and lack of supervision and assessment of the performance of these automobile testing units. Scrutiny revealed that out of 1.93 lakh vehicles checked by Calcutta Police during 1998-2000, 1.36 lakh vehicles failed to pass the test of which 0.29 lakh vehicles were running with PUC certificates.

Emissions from industries including thermal power stations is the major source of air pollution other than the emission from vehicles. Though Durgapur and Howrah have been identified as critically polluting zones by the Central Pollution Control Board, the state board did not conduct any comprehensive study to assess the impact of the pollution of these zones on environment and human health. In the state, 16 TPS discharge about 2,181 tons of PM per day. A few major cases of polluting units are discussed below:

Kolkata Metropolitan Area: TPS, big industries dealing with hazardous chemicals, batteries etc and several clusters of small industries operating in the KMA are the major contributors of air pollution. A study conducted by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority for identification of industrial units within KMA indicated the presence of a large number of tiny hazardous units in densely populated areas.

(i) Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation: each of the 5 stations of the CESC located in densely populated areas often failed to maintain pollution standards. Of these, the Cossipore station was the most polluting station, alone contributing 64 per cent of the SPM of Calcutta. On prayer, the board relaxed the standard of SPM from 150 mg/m3 to 350 mg/m3. Nevertheless the test reports of November 2000 (SPM � 539mg/m3) and January 2001 (SPM � 788.27 mg/m3) did not indicate any improvement in emission quality. The station though located in a densely populated residential area, could never maintain ambient air quality standard set for such areas.

(ii) Exide Industries Limited, Shyamnagar: the unit engaged in manufacturing of acid lead battery and grouped under the grossly polluting industries, consistently failed to maintain the pollution standards. The height of the stacks (11-15 metre) attached to different operational units were much less than the minimum stack height (30 m) during 1996-1997 the company continued its operations in spite of denial of consent by the board. In 1998, the board granted conditional consent subject to the upgradation of the pollution control system of the company. The board again granted conditional consent for two consecutive years in spite of the failure of the company to comply with its directions.

In May 2000, concentration of lead (23mg/Nm3) in stack emission exceeded the set standard (1 mg/Nm3) by 2200 per cent and in January 2001 concentration of SPM (8826 mg/Nm3) exceeded the set standard (150 mg/Nm3) by 5784 per cent. The government stated that it was the board�s policy against the errant units to allow a reasonable time period for the erection of a PCS. The unit is presently under the monitoring of a fixed schedule.

To be concluded



Spectacle of death

Sir � The world may rave and rant at the organized violence against Muslims, but the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is obviously not finished with inciting violence in Gujarat (�Campaign-mode VHP plans Godhra tableau parade�, Aug 6). It now wants to take a tableaux depicting the Godhra tragedy all over Gujarat in the run-up to the assembly elections. In other words, it wants to inflame communal passions in areas which were left untouched by the February-March riots so that the cycle of retributive violence is set off again. With Narendra Modi�s gaurav rath having been stopped in its tracks by the more circumspect Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre, the VHP calculates that as a �cultural organization� it is not bound by any scruples. This is cynicism at its most ghoulish � the lives of not only Muslims, but also Hindus, who might be caught in the violence, are just cannon-fodder in the saffron quest for power. Are the Hindus in the state taking note?

Yours faithfully,
Jaya Singha, Jamshedpur

A question of merit

Sir � Andre Beteille hits the bull�s eye with the observation that merit is often given short shrift in India, not to meet any higher social objective but for the pettiest of reasons (�The Meritarian Principle�, Aug 2). But he fails to assess the full impact of the rejection of the meritarian principle on our socio-political set-up. The degeneration in the quality of legislators and the flooding of the bureaucracy with the mediocre and the third-rate have, by now, put in place a system that almost always throttles merit either through ignorance or by design. Even where merit or talent luckily manages to get its due, it is almost invariably lost to the country through brain drain.

The empowerment of the mediocre by virtue of a perverse system of positive discrimination has enabled those entirely devoid of merit to judge merit in others. As this mediocrity has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, it succeeds in stifling all excellence so that we do not take note of even the exceptionally talented until recognition comes from abroad. And then our universities rush to shower honorary degrees and the government, decorations.

Yours faithfully,
Indrajit Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir � In �The Meritarian Principle�, Andre Beteille espouses the egalitarian view of meritocracy. Every person finds his place in society according to his merit and his ability to contribute to its development. This is important both for the individual and society, whose duty it is to identify, nurture and invest in individual merit.

Today, most jobs require a high degree of specialization. For example, a good civil engineer may not make a good doctor. The idea is to test an applicant to gauge his suitability or �merit� for a particular job. Unfortunately, our representatives are elected not on the basis of how well they can govern us, but because of their ability to garner votes through means fair or foul.

Beteille raises the problem of defining merit without throwing light on how to overcome it. India needs to nurture a pool of talent in order to progress. At present, specialization is not encouraged during the first ten to twelve years of schooling, where equal weight is given to a host of subjects in which students are supposed to do equally well, irrespective of their abilities and aptitude. But the idea should be to pick talent early. A nationwide test could be held at the age of six where, instead of judging how well a child can parrot a few nursery rhymes, a child should be set tasks like constructing a structure using blocks, or sketching, in order to judge his natural skills, after which he may be admitted to a special school. A child showing promise in literature need not study mathematics of the same standard as one who shows an aptitude for computers. Those without any particular skill may be put in a general stream. Reviews should be conducted every three to five years for students who want to specialize further in their areas of interest. This way, we will have specialized manpower in different fields and people who are trained according to their natural ability.

Yours faithfully,
Dhananjoy Misra, Calcutta

Sir � Andre Beteille observes that the �meritarian� principle is a modern phenomenon, barely 200 years old, which was given an impetus by Napoleon. It may be mentioned that the earliest historical record of the recognition of merit as the sole criterion for public employment dates back to the Han dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) in China. The Han emperors and local governors felt the need to appoint meritorious civil servants for efficient administration. So they introduced civil service examinations.

Yours faithfully,
P.C. Banerji, Calcutta

Identity cards

Sir � The ration card is a relic of the raj. Just like the appendix in the human body, it serves no useful purpose, but has the potential of creating a lot of trouble. When India is sitting on the highest ever foodgrain stock in its history, it is not understood why one should have a card at all. Yet despite one and a half decades of reforms, the issue seems to have missed the attention of policy-framers. In a market-savvy economy, ration cards smack of regimentation, and look like a Soviet hangover or a Cuban nightmare.

Wherever one goes to get some work done, be it the motor-vehicles department for the renewal of driving licence or the gas dealer to register a change of address, one is asked for the ration card. Other documents fail to satisfy the demand for �particulars�. When I am paying for a product, why should I be asked for my ration card?

Will the major gas companies please ask their dealers not to pester customers for their ration cards when they are asking for a connection that is necessitated by a change of residence and the previous dealer has already issued impeccable transfer documents? For the connection is always provided after confirming the identity and bonafides of the customer.

Yours faithfully,
Chameli Pal, Budge Budge

Sir � Ration cards were issued when foodgrain was in short supply. But now there is no such shortfall and supplies are available at a cheaper rate in the open market. Ration cards only matter when there is a question of identification. The clause which makes ration cards liable for cancellation if ration is not withdrawn for consecutive weeks should be waived immediately since this has become an excuse for shopkeepers to harass ration card holders.

Yours faithfully,
J.S. Jha, Howrah

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