A darker shade of green
Sir — On the one hand, there is the proposal of attracting more tourists by constructing a commercial complex around the Taj Mahal. On the other, the draft of the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Act, 2003, illustrates a complete disregard for the protection of the environment which needs to be taken proper care of (“Bengal cuts trees to size”, June 24). It is rather unfortunate that instead of taking proper initiatives in the direction, the West Bengal Government has come up with innovative clauses which will adversely affect the environment. How is it that when people are aware of the harm that felling trees might cause, the authorities remain ignorant' Or how can the men who matter talk of trees only in terms of their length and width' Can the usefulness of trees ever be measured in those terms' This new policy of the government, which goes against all environmental norms, is only an index of its insensitivity and lack of foresight.
Anindita Roy, CalcuttaSmall change
Sir—Why exactly does the constitution of India still speak of things like secularism, when the leaders of the country have repeatedly failed to fulfil its requisites' The clashes between the Jats and the Dalits in Punjab’s Talhan village earlier this month demonstrated the inability of the Indian authorities to follow the principles of secularism (“Living too closely apart”, June 23). In the 50 years after independence, the Dalits have hardly benefited from governmental legislations or reforms, precisely because the legislations were not implemented with care and efficiency. Political leaders, who depend on the landed elite for support, have little interest in pursuing reforms for the uplift of the backward sections of society. Whatever help the Dalits can hope to receive comes from private groups, who in their desire to change society radically, end up encouraging violence.
Religious ideologies centering around the cow have united the major upper castes against the Dalits. As people are raising their voice to ban cow slaughter, many Dalits are being murdered, looted and lynched. For every lecture on the gau-mata, some Dalit women are raped and tortured. In a socio-cultural setting where the relationship between the governing and the governed is skewed, torture and suppression have become the common fate of the Dalits. Many Dalits are converting to Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, vowing never to return to Hinduism again.
The best way to let the Dalits assert their identity and demand their basic human rights is by educating them. But the desire to improve their condition, which appears nothing more than empty vaunts at this moment, must be there. False promises and lies will just not do.
Ranjana Das, Calcutta
Sir —Educating the tribals in tribal language alone will not be of much help to the community in the long run. There are many ways to protect the cultural heritage of the tribals. It is not correct to claim that the tribals are being educated if they are not given proper training to go out into the world and demand their rights. The education system devised for the tribals should be reconsidered. Basic education up to standard two can be imparted in tribal language, but the national language must be added in the curriculum at a later stage. Their ethnicity should not act as an obstacle in the path of their overall progress.
Rajneesh Oraon, Kharagpur
Life less ordinary
Sir— The memoirs of Hillary Clinton has become an instant hit (“Hillary book is a hot cake”, June 12), with or without a little help from the media. However, Living History has aroused the curiosity of people all over the world as everyone is eager to know about Hillary Clinton’s reaction to her president-husband’s sexual misdemeanours. Like all books dealing with the personal lives of public figures, Living History too will be a predictable success.
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge
Sir— Hillary Clinton’s newly published memoirs tell a story already told several times before, by newspapers and television channels all over the globe. It is amazing that she earned her a mind-boggling advance of eight million dollars. Her life, she was well aware, would attract readers, less for her own achievements than for her husband’s sexual escapades. In deciding to cash in on that, the former first lady has merely acted as an astute and calculating politician.
Phani Bhusan Saha, Balurghat
Sir —For the past few years the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has been imposing a water fee on buildings connected to the water main with a ferrule exceeding half inch (15 millimetres) diameter. This fee is over and above the consolidated rate being levied at the prescribed percentage on an annual value determined thereof. The corporation has imposed water tax on domestic users from April 1, 2003. Owners of houses having a valuation of Rs 5,000 or above will have to pay 10 per cent of the property tax amount as water tax. The term, “consolidated rate”, has been changed to property tax. These buildings have thus been brought under a double water-tax net, which includes elements of water rate and water fee, both being percentages of the annual valuation.
The CMC had been levying only a consolidated rate on land and buildings under the Calcutta Municipal Acts of 1923, 1951 and 1980. What was levied prior to the 1923 act is not known. Also, the constituents of the consolidated rate are not there in these acts. The provisions of the Bengal Municipal Act 1932, and the West Bengal Municipal Act of 1993 may be studied for comparative analysis. Under the 1932 act, the rate on holding and on one or more services like water, electricity and conservancy were levied on land and buildings at prescribed rates on their annual values. In the 1993 act, a consolidated rate has been levied in place of the rates separately as in the 1932 act. In Calcutta too, even if the rates had been levied separately for the three services prior to the 1932 act, there was no doubt that the term consolidated rate included in it rates for those services as well.
Under the CMC Act of 1980, a fee may be levied for the grant of licence or permission for specific items. Water fee does not fall under this. Termed a fee, this is actually a tax. The question is whether by imposing a water tax over and above the existing water fee, the government is not resorting to double taxation. Both the government and the CMC owe an explanation to the taxpayers.
B. Basak, Calcutta