Editorial 1 / Drooping flag
Editorial 2 / Half a decision
Never had it so bad
Fifth Column / Bridge the language divide
Going with the flood
Document /Departments which turned a deaf ear
Letters to the editor

India�s celebrated tryst with destiny is turning out to be a rendezvous with despair. India has been independent for 55 years and a democratic republic for 52 years. Eminent social scientists note that over this period, democracy has deepened, larger sections of the population have become aware of their democratic rights and other rights given to them by the Constitution. This awareness has resulted in a sense of empowerment among groups whose access to education and participation in politics were previously limited. Nobody can doubt that this represents a major political achievement of independent India. The scale of this achievement is analogous to the continuity of the democratic process in India. Except the Emergency, lasting 18 months, India has never deviated from the path of democracy. But under the bright lamps of independence and democracy, there is an area of darkness. To take one immediate but telling example. According to a calculation presented to the speaker of the present Lok Sabha, 24 per cent of Parliament�s time has been lost because of mindless disruptions. This translates into 57 days lost out of 176 days and 355 hours out of 1219. These figures are staggering. They suggest that the government has been stopped from governing for large periods of time or has been forced to govern without the Lok Sabha. Neither is a healthy sign for a democracy. This should lead to serious reflection about the nature of democracy in India and the purpose of independence among the members of the political class. But that class is smug about its own role.

This class, nursed by privileges, is more concerned about the correct forms of showing respect to the national flag. A considerable amount of time has been spent on the fact that at a meeting called by the election commissioner the flag had been inadvertently inverted. Before that there had been official notifications about the proper etiquette and protocol concerning the national flag. This preoccupation with the national flag over far more pressing and deeper issues concerning the nation is a sure sign that symbol has become more important than substance. Somewhere down the line from 1947, the priorities of the political class and of the nation as a whole have become warped.

Freedom from alien rule was by any reckoning an important achievement. But much more important than that, half a century later, is the use that has been made of that freedom. It would not be unfair to say that the people of India are paying the wages of freedom and the beneficiaries are the members of the political class. The latter have taken advantage of the spread of democracy to further their own interests and to feather their own nests. The phrase, spread of democracy, is used advisedly to distinguish it from the notion of deepening of democracy. The extension of democracy over a bigger demographic space is not necessarily a sign of deepening. Participation in democracy has spread and the ethos of democracy has not struck roots. That is the paradox of Indian political life. The paradox demands reflection but the latter is not a priority among pedlars of venality, cynicism and obtuseness.


After weeks of indecision, Ms Mamata Banerjee has moved to half a decision about her party�s ties with the National Democratic Alliance. No wonder that the damp squib of her conditional withdrawal from the alliance has not set political circles either in Calcutta or in New Delhi on fire. It shows her own reduction from a fire-eating, no-holds-barred leader to the prevaricating politician whom nobody trusts. In other circumstances, her decision to not join the Union cabinet and then to dissociate the Trinamool Congress from the NDA would have been hailed as a courageous step. But her half-measures have not convinced her own partymen, let alone the people in general, about her sincerity of purpose. No one seems to take seriously her claim that she has made a great personal sacrifice by not joining the cabinet to protest against the bifurcation of Eastern Railway. The way she conducted her campaign prompted the suspicion that she smarted more under her failure to regain the railway ministry, for which she lobbied hard during the cabinet reshuffle, than under Bengal�s loss of railway divisions. Now, by keeping open the option of returning to the NDA � and to the Union ministry � if the railway issue is �sorted out� to her satisfaction, she has confirmed the suspicion that she is only trying out another ploy.

Yet, this was perhaps her best opportunity to come clean and walk out of the NDA decisively. She has lost much political credibility with her in-again, out-again relations with the NDA. She could have regained some of it by ending her half-hearted alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, for whose policies and programmes she has little sympathy. The futility of her alliance with the saffronites has grown in direct proportion to her growing unimportance in the NDA�s scheme of things. The indifference the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and other BJP leaders showed to her protests over the railway issue should have convinced her that the time for the final break with the NDA has come. For far too long, she has played the dual role of a minister in New Delhi and a dissenter in Calcutta. Her latest withdrawal symptoms show her in no better light.


The Bharatiya Janata Party has never had it so bad. The erosion of its support base, revealed by a series of reverses in state assembly elections, left it demoralized. The Tehelka tape showing its then president receiving a lakh of rupees from a mediaman impersonating as an arms dealer savaged its public image. By persisting in its harassment of the image-destroyers to a degree which matches its own embarrassment, the BJP is further exposing the humbuggery of its commitment to transparency in government business and a cleaner public life.

The scandal pertaining to the way petrol stations and cooking gas agencies have been allotted under the BJP government�s dispensation has shocked the public by the extent to which the cover of distributors� selection boards, headed by retired judges, was used to keep intact the same discretionary powers, which were supposed to have been done away with, to benefit relatives or hangers-on of ministers and party officials with even greater recklessness. If the party�s hands are clean, why is it afraid of a judicial inquiry into the whole murky affair?

Cancelling all the allotments given during the last two and a half years means punishing those who have got these on merit together with the beneficiaries of nepotism or party patronage. Or does the decision to make a clean sweep of all that was done amount to an admission that most of the transactions had been too shady to risk too close a scrutiny? The anti-hero in this sorry tale is the minister concerned who is completely unfazed by the shindy raised over the goings-on in his fiefdom. Those who listened to him while he was taking part in a television debate were shocked out of their wits when he disowned any responsibility for what official in his ministry told any head of a particular DSB. The buck, for all one knows, can stop at the humblest desk in his office. How is a minister supposed to keep a tab on his subordinates� telephone conversations?

The Kashmir issue remains the same awfully tangled problem it has been for years. Whether the decision to hold elections to the state assembly will give the new government greater legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, however low the percentage of voters who turn up at the polling booths, cannot be answered with certainty at present. For one thing, it will depend on whether the Pakistan government desists from disrupting the polling, and for another, on the American reaction to the Hurriyat�s boycott of the elections. Last, it is far from certain yet whether the increasingly confused situation in Pakistan will make the Hurriyat leaders change their separatist stance.

The international community�s stand that all terrorist infiltrations across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir must come to an end, and all the camps of the militant groups operating from bases in Pakistan must be dismantled, has certainly had some sobering effect on the hawks in the state. But after the disruption of their daily life for over a decade, its people need more than absence of violence at the polls to correct the disorientations caused in their political thinking. They need a fairly long period of peace before they can take a calmer and more realistic view of things.

For the rest, many in this country are not quite sure whether keeping the army in a state of mobilization all along the LoC for so many months has yielded results commensurate with the enormous expense of spirit and money. The real problem in Kashmir is not to rid the state of pro-Pakistani elements who have acquired a vested interest in promoting a climate of fear and uncertainty, but to free it of the mindset which all too often persuades many to resort to violent means to achieve their ends. In this context, the mobilization has been of no avail. There has indeed been some disturbing evidence of late of how the strain of being kept in a state of war preparedness for so long is telling on the minds of some jawans.

On the economic front, too, there is little to cheer the BJP-led government. The failure of the monsoon in large parts of the country has led to destruction of vast areas under crops in several states. That this may result in a negative rate of growth in agriculture is worrying enough. What makes the situation worse is the inexcusable failure of the concerned government agencies to rush sufficient quantities of wheat and rice to all drought-stricken areas even when millions of tons of foodgrains stored in silos are otherwise likely to go to rot. Could there be a more touching story than the one from a Rajasthan village where a school introduced a free lunch scheme and hundreds of pre-school age kids accompanied their older brothers and sisters in the hope of getting at least one square meal a day?

Since sangh parivar ideologues attributed the erosion of the BJP�s base to middle-class discontent caused by Yashwant Sinha�s last budget, his successor hurried to offer a sop to this class by raising the tax exemption limit on income from bank deposits by Rs 3,000. It is the same concern which has persuaded the new finance minister to bail out once again the Unit Trust of India with a further injection of a whopping Rs 8,000 crore into its half-decrepit body. While it is far from certain whether this will win back the BJP its lost middle-class votes, it will definitely push the fiscal deficit far beyond the already high level projected in the budget.

The government�s economic policy-makers still continue to pin their hopes on a 5.5 per cent growth this year despite all the adverse factors, some of them arising from the global recession. What they forget is that in a country like India what matters more than the rate of growth is the rate of increase in the number of jobs on offer. What is causing most discontent today in both cities and villages is the lack of work opportunities. And yet, this is precisely the issue on which what they get from the government by way of response is a deafening silence.

So far as the leading partner in the government at the Centre is concerned, its preoccupations and priorities are entirely different. It would have required a feat of imagination greater than any living novelist could achieve to order a special plane for the prime minister made to match exactly the one in which the chief executive of the only superpower travels. �No, you cannot have an exact replica of that one�, New Delhi has been told in effect. �The best you can hope for is something according to your own specifications. But please remember that a designer plane like that will cost a hell of a lot of dough.�

The snag in this story is that by the time the plane is delivered, adding its mite to the fiscal deficit, the present Parliament�s term may be over. And who can say that the new head of government, faced with a still more unmanageable situation at home, will have much time for jaunts abroad. But the plane project is still on paper. What monopolize the government�s attention today are the pending elections to the Gujarat assembly in which timing is the essence of the matter.

Narendra Modi�s � and the BJP�s � calculation is that the post-riot deepening of the communal divide assures the party a certain victory if the elections are held in early October. With the passage of time, the fading of the traumatic memories, the healing of the psychic wounds caused by the orgy of murder and arson, and an economic slidedown, its chance of getting a clear majority can diminish. This is why the BJP is hell-bent on selling the story that life in Gujarat has already returned to its normal rhythm.

The trouble is that neither the members of the human rights commission headed by a former chief justice of India nor a dozen non-government organizations, going by eyewitness accounts of the teams sent to the state by them, are prepared to buy this piece of fiction. It is for the Election Commission to fix the time-table for the polls. Since it has seen things for itself, it has every reason to go by its own judgment and not by the Narendra Modi government�s calculation or by the angry noises coming from the BJP headquarters.

The comparisons with some elections held in the past in Punjab, Assam and Kashmir when most voters preferred to stay away from the polling booths are odious because in all these cases the states concerned had been infected by internal insurgencies and in at least two also ravaged by exported terrorism.

In any case, there is no reason for the BJP, besieged as it is by a host of problems, each of which is acquiring frightening dimensions, to set store by a renewed mandate in Gujarat when the primary challenges before the government are shoring up the wobbly political system and a vulnerable national economy.


Research has highlighted the migration of labour, largely illiterate, from the Bimaru states to the north, especially to Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, where there is more opportunity for employment. But another peculiar phenomenon has not been brought to light � the simultaneous migration of the educated unemployed from the Bimaru states, where their number has picked up fast recently.

In fact in Chandigarh itself where around three-fourths of the total migrant population is made up of labourers from the Bimaru states, the registers of the employment exchanges show a growing number of the educated unemployed from the same region. Obviously, the states � Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh � have failed to create enough job opportunities for their educated manpower.

The public sector has limited potential to create jobs and the recent disinvestment policy has only added to the uncertainty of the employed. The private sector has also failed to open up avenues. Structural reforms and globalization were expected to bring some relief, but the situation has not improved. The private sector has concentrated only on select areas which have development potential or are already developed. In the poorly developed Bimaru states, the lack of industrialization has only added to the pressure on the employment situation.

Treasure hunt

Colleges and universities in these states have been churning out graduates and postgraduates in ever increasing numbers. But this educated manpower neither has the skills required to get a good job nor is it in a position to pick up jobs in other states because of the language barrier. Educated in Hindi and with a limited knowledge of English, these degree-holders do not have much bargaining power in other states.

Even postgraduates have problems finding employment. Although many of the youth are willing to put in long hours at the workplace, their poor knowledge of English hampers their performance. And since all modern offices and establishments, as also government departments, use English as the medium of communication, the drawback has an adverse effect on their careers.

The situation is even more difficult in the South where the local language is the dominant medium of communication. A person from the Bimaru states is rendered a complete outsider in, say, Tamil Nadu, where Tamil or English holds sway. This is also the reason why the educated unemployed from the Bimaru states would not consider migrating to the southern states to find work. The same logic holds true for the Northeast where the tribal languages act as a barrier.

Gaining currency

The overemphasis on Hindi in the Bimaru states has worked negatively for students, since it has discouraged them from taking up subjects like information technology which are primarily taught in English and have a fast-expanding market. The language handicap often prompts students to concentrate mostly on the humanities, which excludes them from most mainstream professional courses.

Thus, the step-motherly treatment meted to English in these states needs to be done away with. Even in an industrialized nation like Japan, English has been accorded a certain respectability. In our own country, it should be noticed that the states which enjoy a high degree of industrialization are also the states where English has considerable currency. This is probably the flipside of liberalization and globalization.

One cannot help feeling that the flow of foreign capital and technology is also connected to the language factor. The reason why Bimaru states have very little of the two � and the modern business, production and marketing practices that go with it � is also related to the insignificance accorded to the English language.

The lesson is obvious. The youth thrown into the job market should be exposed to English so that they can compete effectively with their contemporaries from other states. This would also work to the advantage of the Bimaru states as the educated youth, instead of seeking employment in other states, will work for the uplift of their own states.


Nearly 60 kilometres from Giridih town, the road suddenly dips into a hilly cleft and forks out to the left. The non-metalled track skirts a low hill and enters a bowl-shaped valley. A loose circle of trees frames the edge of the valley, cradling a sleepy village. At first glance, it looks like just another adivasi settlement in the heartland of the Santhal Parganas. But Kodaibank is a cut above the rest. It is the ancestral village of Jharkhand�s chief minister Babulal Marandi, and is therefore �blessed�.

Development, which had bypassed Kodaibank for more than a century, suddenly seemed to have made a detour. A plethora of welfare schemes professed to turn Kodaibank�s wilderness into a model of rural growth. The economy, it was predicted, was poised for a turnaround and the lives of the tribals were about to undergo cataclysmic changes. Kodaibank�s illustrious son of the soil had set the wheels of progress in motion.

An ambitious check dam, estimated at over Rs 2 crore, was billed as the crucible of change. It promised water to the parched fields of the drought-ravaged hinterland and a consequent spurt in agriculture. The scheme, sanctioned on May 14 by the chief minister, was implemented on a war-footing. Such was the pace of work that by the first week of June, Kodaibank was ready to enter its second phase of the eco-tourism project that is close to Marandi�s heart. Giridih pinned its hopes on Kodaibank as the minor irrigation department in charge of the construction of the dam prepared another ambitious blueprint. According to official estimates, Rs 87 lakh was spent on the first phase.

Kodaibank appeared to be a miracle in the making. For it had overcome red tape and proved the triumph of political will over bureaucratic protocol. The design for the second phase was ready within a week and the money sanctioned almost overnight. The water resources minister, Ram Chandra Kesri, was willing to pump in an additional Rs 2 crore and the department was in a hurry to spend the amount allocated for the first phase before the monsoons. As the rain-clouds massed over the hills, the stray voices of dissent were swept aside. Warnings about the design being vetted by an expert panel were overruled. Kodaibank had begun its journey into the future.

Barely a week later, nature decided to put the chief minister�s vision to the test. It turned on its fury one fine July night, lashing Kodaibank�s embankments with sheets of blinding rain. By dawn, a freak flood had washed away Kodaibank�s ramparts, leaving behind a gaping chasm and debris. The swirling waters swamped the fields, drowning 98 families. When the news reached the cabinet secretariat a couple of hours later, a stumped bureaucracy and an equally flummoxed chief minister scouted around for a scapegoat. Summons flew thick and fast until the punching bags were lined up. The chief minister�s first jab got the dam officials. He ordered the principal secretary to draw up a list of the officials and submit it to the chief secretary. Their suspension seemed imminent. The entire minor irrigation department converged on the dam site to take stock of the damage and cook up convenient excuses.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the design and the construction were faulty. The Sasaram-based builder, who had been awarded the contract by the department, had used �dead� stones to lay the foundation and topped it with mud, weakening the structure in the process. Moreover, the water level in the dam was just 9 metres while the rules stipulate that a check dam of Kodaibank�s magnitude should have had at least 13.5 metres of water.

Check dams, according to experts, are small temporary structures built across a channel to rein in the velocity of storm water run-off and to check erosion. They are usually built with gravel, rocks, sandbags, logs or straw. �The stones used for constructing check dams should be at least 2 to 15 inches in diametre, but in the case of Kodaibank, they were triangular and smaller with sharp edges,� says an irrigation expert. As the government debated over the dam�s flawed mechanics, villagers blamed the nexus of engineers, block-officials and contractors. �The chief engineer bungled the entire project,� alleged the chief minister�s brother, Radhey Marandi.

Though the Marandi government has announced that it will remake the dam on the lines of Kodaikanal in Karnataka, the incident serves to highlight the deep-rooted corruption in the government. Detractors say corruption in the coalition is like a downward spiral. It seeps down the minister�s cubicle to the peon�s chair, tainting everyone on its way. It even spreads like an oil slick to the field where the foot-soldiers of progress are busy shaping the chief minister�s dream, says an opposition leader. The stakes were high in Kodaibank where Rs 2 crore was spent in three months and hence the mad scramble for the booty. According to the probe report, the builder had been given Rs 50 lakh in advance. The rest, if sources are to be believed, �went as cut money at various level�.

This is not the first dam fiasco in Marandi�s fiefdom. On June 1, the Paraspani check dam in Garwhwa�s Dhurki block collapsed days after its inauguration by the governor. The dam was located in the constituency of the water resources minister. The inquiry attributed the disaster to �substandard building material and faulty planning�. No action has been taken so far. This disaster was followed by the collapse of two smaller check dams in Hazaribagh district.

The mainstay of irrigation in drought-ravaged Jharkhand is the check dam. As all the major rivers and water channels are seasonal, rain water is stored to irrigate fields. The easiest way to hoard rain water is by building check dams on the slopes and inclines over the fast-flowing streams. Since check dams also help curb erosion, they have been very effective in retaining the light top soil cover in the hilly terrain. There is an incessant demand for state funds for such minor irrigation projects.

Soon after assuming power, Marandi tried to assuage his fellow tribals by unveiling a series of ambitious check dam projects. Those estimated to be worth Rs 1 crore and above were to be built by the minor irrigation department and the rest by the rural engineering department. The chief minister planned to have a check dam in almost every village to end recurring droughts. He even went on record saying that he did not care how the work was done, provided the projects were completed on time.

His zeal seems to have taken its toll on quality. At a time when the state has been declared drought-hit, the check dam charade adds to the sense of unease. Had Kodaibank been functional, large tracts of arid Giridih would have turned green again. Similarly, Paraspani would have fed the blistered fields of Garhwa, Latehar and Palamau, where a prolonged dry spell for the past three years has fuelled fears of a famine. Three starvation deaths have already been reported from Palamau and a recent study says tribals in the interior villages are subsisting on wild roots and herbs. The situation has been aggravated by contamination of the depleted water resources and empty granaries.

The drought has spread to the government as well. The Marandi government is facing a moral drought which is reflected in the inept handling of the crisis. The government is yet to institute an official probe into the disaster to identify the culprits. The chief minister did not even succeed in suspending the irrigation officials since his own men share a substantial part of the blame. While the questions about the dam remain unanswered, his government has begun spinning colourful dreams again. But this time, too, the dreams could die a premature death if Marandi fails to stem the rot within his own rank and file.


Under the Bio-Medical Wastes (Management of Handling) Rules, 1998, the pollution board was declared as the prescribed authority for implementation of the rules. Under the said rules, authorization of the board was mandatory for each medical institution handling bio-medical wastes. In West Bengal there were 0.11 lakh medical institutions in the public sector under the management of the director of health. Figures for medical institutions in the private sector were not available with the board.

Records of 25 municipalities in the state revealed that they had no system for collection and disposal of medical wastes separately and those were being disposed of collectively in the adjoining low lying areas. The aspect of irregular disposal of bio-medical waste in the Howrah Municipal Corporation area was incorporated in the Comptroller and Auditor General�s report ending March 2000. Follow-up action in this respect is still awaited. In the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area only 78 institutions were running with authorization, while outside the CMC area the number was 100.

Handling and disposal of bio-medical wastes need special care to avoid any adverse effect on human health and environment. In the state, facility for incineration of medical wastes was not available and none of the units had any proper facility for disinfecting. Out of the 607 health units in Calcutta, 585 units participated in the CMC�s waste disposal system. Under the instruction of the green bench of the Calcutta high court, the CMC adopted a system for collection of bio-medical waste directly from the health units and final disposal through deep burial. The CMC observed that in the hospitals of the CMC area all the bio-medical waste generated in the units were not being handed over by the hospital authorities to CMC vehicles; in many cases the wastes were not properly disinfected and segregated according to the category of wastes and in several cases, medical wastes were disposed off along with general garbage in the CMC dumping ground causing severe environmental and health hazards, particularly to the waste-handlers. Some of the wastes were finding their way into unauthorized recycling. The media also frequently reported the matter of unauthorized recycling of used syringes or needles.

Scrutiny revealed that there was lack of adequate co-ordination between the environment department and other concerned departments or agencies (transport, industry, municipal affairs, local bodies) regarding implementation of statutory provisions relating to pollution. No periodical reports or information on control of air, water and other types of pollution were received in the environment department from the concerned implementing departments.

For example, though vehicular emission was the largest contributor to air pollution, no feedback was obtained from the public vehicles department regarding the steps taken by them in this regard. Several polluting industries were functioning on the strength of trade licences issued by the CMC without the knowledge of the industry department in the board, which was to monitor the pollution control measures taken by such industries.

Thus, evidently there was lack of coordination between the environment department, the industries department and the municipal affairs department. The department and the board took no effective steps regarding pollution from bio-medical wastes on the plea that responsibility for this matter lay with the municipal affairs department. Lack of coordination among the departments significantly contributed to the failure in implementing the schemes and containing pollution in the state.

Submission of the environment audit report by May 31 each year is mandatory for the units falling under any of the prescribed 17 categories of industries. Scrutiny revealed that time limit for submission was not maintained and those were submitted along with the consent applications only. The board did not make any effective use of the EARs for assessment of extent of pollution and its impact on human health and environment. Thus, an important control mechanism remained non-operational.

To be concluded



Some more tinkering

Sir � Nitish Kumar should know when to leave well alone (�Now Nitish the match-maker�, Aug 13). The bifurcation of Eastern Railway has worked very well for Kumar, thanks to the numbers game in Parliament working in favour of Bihar. But Kumar�s latest brainwave � reserving jobs for youth who marry outside their caste � is a bit much. That these attempts at social engineering don�t work can be seen from the fact that no amount of monetary or other incentives have been able to ensure the success of family planning programmes in India. If even that knowledge does not deter Kumar, he can look to Babulal Marandi in neighbouring Jharkhand and the storm he has kicked up with the move to secure yet another category of reservations for �domiciles�. Kumar will have done his bit for the uplift of the lower castes if he can stop the massacres of Dalits that take place with horrifying regularity in Bihar.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Banerjee, Jamshedpur

Stripping assets

Sir � The total non-performing assets of banks and financial institutions in the country is estimated to be a mind-boggling Rs 110,000 crore. Thus the securitization ordinance that was promulgated in June this year, in the face of much opposition from industrial lobbies, is a timely measure since it mandates that banks may take possession of the assets of loan-defaulters with the �right to transfer by way of lease, assignment or sale�.

Three years ago, the Confederation of India Industry instituted a banking reforms task force which recommended that the loss-making Indian Bank, United Commercial Bank and United Bank of India be shut down. When the bank unions pointed out that many big industrial houses were also loan-defaulters, the CII dropped the issue and has not referred to it since. This year, all three banks posted profits. It is not as if the business houses mentioned had ploughed back the money they �borrowed� to create more wealth and jobs. In most cases the money was spent to maintain a rich lifestyle.

The securitization and reconstruction of financial assets and enforcement of security interest bill, 2000 � as the NPA ordinance was to be placed before the Lok Sabha � needs to be made more stringent. There should be a provision to disclose the names of all defaulters. If the names of those who declared unaccounted money under the voluntary disclosure of income scheme can be �leaked� to the media, why can�t those of loan-defaulters? Their passports should also be impounded, and bank accounts and lockers sealed. They should also be prosecuted and proceedings to that effect be started against them. This is the only way to make defaulters pay their dues.

Yours faithfully,
Ashok Kumar Prasad, Mangalore

Sir � The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited was one of the brightest stars among the navratna public sector units � highly profitable and cash-rich. But after the Tatas gained control of it, it diverted a major chunk of its cash reserves to the ailing Tata Teleservices. If this is what the Tatas do, what can one expect from the other private sector companies. After all it is the private sector that is responsible for the staggering NPA of Indian banks. Should profitable PSUs then be handed over to business houses which merely want to strip them of their assets even as they take loans from banks which they have no intention of returning?

It will better if the PSUs are sold to the public through initial public offers. Though this is a more labourious process, it will not only prevent corruption but also reduce taxpayers� burden and benefit them instead of a few business houses. This move will also ensure that we do not unwittingly create monopolies. The money raised through IPOs should be used to close sick PSUs, give generous voluntary retirement benefits to employees and improve infrastructure.

Yours faithfully,
R.K. Mani, Mangalore

Outside chance

Sir � Amiya Bagchi�s contention � that students in West Bengal resort to private tuitions because the vast syllabus is often left incomplete in class � is not entirely true (�Harder times�, Aug 3). The syllabus given by the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education is much easier than that of the Indian School Certificate examinations. Take the syllabus for economics. The ISC economics textbook is in two volumes, one for class XI and the other for class XII. The standard of the syllabus equals that of the undergraduate pass course of the University of Calcutta. It has been revised many times over the years in keeping with the changes in the world economy. It now includes topics like the nature of the Indian money and capital markets, fiscal policy, welfare economics, World Trade Organization and the like. The state board economics syllabus on the other hand is more historical and theoretical in nature, and includes many topics that have become redundant today.

The higher secondary syllabus has nothing to do with private tuitions. The real reason is the stiff competition post-higher secondary.

Yours faithfully,
Kalipada Basu, Chinsurah

Sir � Students of boards other than the WBCHSE have only two to three seats reserved for them in city colleges. This is unfair and discriminatory. With the government directive that colleges should cut down on the number of seats, the situation will become even worse. Perhaps the only way to prevent such discrimination is to have a central board.

Yours faithfully,
Preeti Chaturvedi, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir � Doordarshan�s two popular serials for children � Nandu Apna and Timba Roocha � are sponsored by two famous sanitary napkin brands. Given that programmes for children are difficult to come by, the little ones are very enthusiastic about the serials. The problem is they ask as many questions about the animals as about the commercials of the sponsors.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

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