Why not feel good if you can'
Sir — Gouri Chatterjee’s “Steer Clear of Grim Truths” (Sept 4) raises a very important issue: that of the media’s running after the so-called “feel-good” stories. But then, it has its bright side too. One of the most important factors behind the boom in the Indian economy, as S.L. Rao points out, is that for the first time we have a president who truly believes that India is a great country and will be a superpower by 2020 (“Is the economy on a roll'”, August 25). He repeats all that is positive about India in every speech and by doing so, he actually manages to make people believe him. Feel-good stories in newspapers have a similar effect. I, for one, would have a more productive working day if I started my morning reading encouraging news than otherwise. Does that mean that bad news should not be reported' No. We have a right to know what is going on around us, be it good or bad. The solution, perhaps, would be to strategically surround the “feel-bad” news with a few “feel-good” ones.
Vidhu Shekhar, Kharagpur
Freedom to fly
Sir — The induction of advanced jet trainers into the Indian air force will definitely make it easier for young pilots to graduate from their current low-speed training aircraft to supersonic ones (“Hawk after many lives & 21 years”, Sept 4). Whether it was the absence of the AJTs or defects in the ageing MiG fighters that has caused nearly 300 crashes and killed 105 pilots over the last 19 years, is unlikely to be resolved. But criticism of the defence ministry’s negligence is certainly not unwarranted. If the total cost of acquiring these aircraft appears exorbitant, it should be remembered that the cost is inclusive of the price of the aircraft, licence fees, cost of training pilots in Britain, production cost incurred by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and infrastructure facility for the IAF.
Hopefully, the flying coffins will now be things of the past.
Chiranjib Haldar, Calcutta
Sir — Punctuality is not regarded as a virtue in our country. It therefore does not raise too many eyebrows when it takes more then two decades for our defence ministry to purchase the much-needed advanced jet trainers. Every paise of the Rs 6,000 crore has been worth spent. But knowing our political establishment, charges will surely be levelled against the defence ministry of favouring the British company, which is supplying the AJTs, in return for a fat commission.
Jang Bahadur Singh, Jamshedpur
Sir — It is a matter of disgrace that it has taken more than two decades to acquire advanced jet trainers for training Indian pilots. The young men who dedicate their lives to the defence of our nation certainly deserve better. The tremendous pressures of graduating from the subsonic Kiran jets to the supersonic MiG-21s may have lifted somewhat, but moving from a state-of-the-art modern jet trainer to the MiG-21s — which are antiquated compared to the AJTs — may prove to be equally dificult. It is important that at the same time that pilot training is being modernized with the AJTs, the ageing MiG-21 fleet too be replaced with more advanced fighter aircraft. In fact, our own defence scientists can modernize the MiG-21 into a safer and more effective aircraft. The help of friendly countries like Russia may be taken, if necessary. Above all, the government must ensure greater transparency in defence-related decision-making.
Subhra Sen, Dhanbad
Sir — Now that the president has expressed concern over the bureaucratic indifference at the routine loss of MiG aircraft and the media has headlined the grief of the mothers of pilots killed in MiG crashes, a small anecdote must be told. In the Seventies, the ministry of defence set up an ultra-modern factory to manufacture, among other products, the sophisticated metals and super-alloys required for the MiG — and subsequently the Mirage and Jaguar — aircraft. By 1979-80, almost a hundred crore had been invested in this public sector unit, named Mishra Dhatu Nigam (or Midhani in short). Regular development of aircraft alloys started in 1979, and by 1981, a large number of critical super-alloys like Nimonics, Incolloy, Inconel, maraging steel, and so on, used in fighter planes and rockets, had been taken up for production.
The MiGs required about 30 special superalloys, of which Midhani successfully developed about 10 through its own research and development efforts. Things reached a state, when, to expediate the work, it was considered necessary to import a minor knowhow from Russia, instead of re-inventing it at Midhani. A meeting was called to decide about this knowhow import sometime in April 1981, at South Block, and Midhani promised to develop the entire range of MiG alloys within two years, provided the knowhow was obtained from the Russians. However, the then scientific adviser to the defence minister strongly objected to the import of any technology, no matter how minor, as it would hamper the development of indigenous scientific talent. He promised that the laboratories would develop all the alloys. But since they would need at least 10 years to do so, the assumption was that the country could go on importing the fighter-plane parts in the meantime.
Midhani’s proposal was thus rejected. The import of super-alloys for the aircraft continued thereafter. The production of MiG-21 and MiG-21 bis was discontinued in Russia after some years, and the defence supply chain was disrupted following the break-up of the Soviet Union. It is doubtful whether the MiG spareparts are produced now, since India’s requirement would be too insignificant. Are poor-quality, old stocks being used then under duress' Could this be why the MiGs are crashing despite being manned by a dedicated band of pilots' How many mothers would have to beat a path to the Rashtrapati Bhavan before we get an answer to these questions'
P.K. Sandell, Hyderabad
Sir — The gimmickry of the defence minister, George Fernandes, has been well exposed in the editorial, “Georgie in the sky” (August 3). It was a rather poor method of convincing the people of the country and the families of the deceased pilots that the MiG aircraft are safe. But grounding the MIGs on the excuse that they are unsafe is also not a solution since they are the mainstay of our air force. It is sad that after several high-powered enquiry commissions and four decades of massive facility establishment at the HAL, we are still dependent on imports of critical components, and unable to locate the cause of the loss of lives and several hundred crores worth of machines.
Bijit K. Sarkar, Calcutta
Sir — It is really irritating to see photographs of actors, actresses or models everyday on the front pages of The Telegraph’s “Metro” supplement. Very few people are interested in the activities of the glamour brigade, who seem to focuss all their energies on looking good or apeing some Bollywood stars. Is there no more to this city than models and filmstars'
Kushal Poddar, Calcutta