Using the dead
Sir — In India, media hype often misleads public attention and opinion. The tragic death of the six-month-old Shabana Parveen is a case in point. Given the recent furore over rallies, the little child’s death may have made a good story (“City rallies, baby dies”, Oct 15). However, if looked at carefully, the report seems rather biased. Shabana’s was more a case of medical negligence than political waywardness. Diarrhoea seldom proves to be fatal. How could the Howrah hospital, where Shabana was admitted, release a sick and suffering child without treating her properly' Admitted a second time, the callous hospital authorities once again failed the child and her poor parents. It is only in their incompetence and carelessness that hospitals in the state can compete with each other. Shabana’s case should have given the media an excuse to refocus attention on the state of healthcare here. Unfortunately, they couldn’t resist making use of Shabana differently.
N. Chakraborty, Calcutta
Sir — In the article, “In good company” (Oct 8), S.L. Rao has rightly observed that it was the professional approach of the foreign institutional investors that prompted Indian companies to gird their loins and reorient themselves to delivering service in the social sector as well. We now have companies like Reliance effectively contributing towards social uplift. Major Indian companies today are aware that they cannot afford to confine themselves to making profits alone at the expense of a social commitment. Rao also draws attention to corporate governance. However, the unbridled control of family-owned and -managed companies over the functioning of the company still leaves a lot of scope for personal enrichment at the expense of the companies’ larger social responsibilities.
Social commitment should be drilled into future corporate executives right from the B-school days. They need to be taught that the overriding objective of corporate governance is to maximize shareholders’ wealth. However, even now it is probably too much to expect the corporate sector to be true to their social responsibilities entirely. Especially since most of them are yet to fulfil their basic goal of providing quality goods and services to their consumers who pay for them. For the people of this country for whom a cable fault or power failure is still a nightmare, social service from the CESC or the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited is still a distant dream.
Masood Md Sohail, Calcutta
Sir — In the Nineties, investing in the stock market was such an easy task that even women did it. The Securities and Exchange Board of India was content to limit its regulatory role to asking promoters to mention risk factors, often in extremely fine print. No wonder, almost every issue was sold at a premium. As a result of the inflated prices of equities, billions of rupees got locked in penny stocks of little or no value. Most of these scrips were transferred to the Z category and with the huge brokerage, it was no longer viable for small investors to trade in them. Although some of these penny stocks have lately started creeping up on the bourses, it is because of some bulk buyers who can afford to pay the steep brokerage.
The SEBI, the finance ministry, the stock exchanges and the pink papers have been responsible for the plight of the penny stock holders. They had created the hype that led to the rush for such bogus stocks. Till now nothing has been done for the penny stock holders. The SEBI recently took action against a fund manager for insider trading, but it has done little against promoters who hold 20-25 per cent of such equity whose value is often less than a rupee. The other shareholders can do nothing because they don’t have the numbers at annual general meetings. The managers of such funds have no worries because they are paid fat salaries.
The government should dispose of all financial institutions which cannot serve small investors. A corporate criminal investigation board may be set up to look into and seize the properties of the promoters of vanishing companies. The seized asset should be auctioned and the proceedings paid to petty investors.
Pannalall Mundhra, Calcutta
Sir — The editorial, “More advice” (Oct 13), talks of the predictions of the chief economic adviser to the government. He has reportedly said that India “will grow by between 6 and 8 per cent” during 2003-04, and has held out the hope of growth touching a higher figure. Do we need an economics wizard to make such pronouncements' Given the good monsoons, and the approaching elections, optimism comes naturally to Indians. But we forget that a few months ago, the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had clearly said that a “sustained” growth of 8 per cent year after year, and not just in one year, is needed to make a real dent on poverty levels in India. If the monsoons fail next year, will the chief economic adviser be just as predictable' What India needs is sustained reforms in agriculture, which alone will assure a sustained rate of economic growth.
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Madison, US
Sir — In the election campaigns that will create a storm in the states going to assembly polls, reservation for economically backward classes is bound to be made into an issue by the saffron brotherhood. In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot is likely to capitalize on his pro-reservation stand, and the rival parties will tamely follow his gambit before the general elections next year. But the reservation policy has proved to be a failure already. If India is to follow positive discrimination, the criterion of the policy should be changed. Only those who have a small family should be given priority in all fields. This policy will also give a fillip to India’s failed programme of family planning.
Madhu Agrawal, New Delhi
Sir — Most political parties have agreed to back reservations for economically backward classes as each of them wishes to cash in on the policy’s political dividends. The question is, will the policy help the poor' Scheduled caste and scheduled tribe commissions have shown how the reservation policy has failed to serve its purpose amidst massive corruption. The case might be similar for EBCs also.
Danish Anwar, New Delhi