Thursday, September 30, 2010

A judgment after sixty years

The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court today pronounced its judgment in the long running Ram Janmabhoomi - Babri Masjid land title case. So far, the response of the principal parties in the case has been very balanced and dignified. Quite expectedly, though, one group of litigants is not satisfied with the judgment and has declared its intention to prefer an appeal against it to the Supreme Court within the given ninety days. But what is, heartening is that except for a human rights lawyer, who has called the judgment a political rather than a judicial decision, and a senior politician, who has made an effort to make political capital out of the situation, all others interviewed on a plethora of television news channels – be it politicians, religious leaders, lawyers, social workers, journalists or ordinary people on the street in Ayodhya or elsewhere in the country – have responded to the judgment in a very cool and collected manner. This definitely is going to have a calming effect on all those thinking in terms of having “won” or “lost” the case.

Today’s is an important date in the history of our country, almost as important as the 6th December 1992, but in a positive way. Let us all resolve today that now on we Indians - whether Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, Jews or atheists – shall put what divides us behind us and shall build on what unites us, and that we shall build well.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Repeat of Ayodhya 1992 – no way!

Earlier today while flipping through the pages of one of my old diaries, a noting caught my attention, it was “Logic and anger can’t coexist in our mind.” How topical it is now when some people on the fringes of the Hindu and Muslim societies are working up an anger in anticipation of the Allahabad High Court’s judgment in the Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid land title case. But instead of reacting to tomorrow’s judgment and exploding in anger or in raucous celebrations, if they care to understand the logic leading to the judges’ decision their responses would be muted and mature.

Anyone with average intelligence and some familiarity with the functioning of the political parties in India would say that the Ayodhya issue is well past its sell-by date. People of Ayodhya, nay of India, have moved ahead and they do not want to be dragged back to those dark days when religious fanatics and misguided politicians were playing with the people’s baser emotions and inciting them to do what they would regret for the rest of their lives.

It is time for us, Indians, to tell the lunatic fringes of the two communities and their sympathisers among politicians in unmistakable terms that they should accept the High Court’s judgment, which ever way it went, with good grace leaving it to the losing litigant to prefer an appeal to the Supreme Court or not. On their part, the central and state governments must act decisively and forcefully to put down any communal violence in the wake of the judgment. Indecision might have been a form of decision to Narasimha Rao, but this luxury is not available to Manmohan Singh and the state chief ministers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It takes all sorts to form a nation

Increasingly there is a tendency among various sections of the Indian society to acclaim their own and at the same time belittle the others’ contribution to building and preserving this country. The executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the press and the civil society – each one of them is known to be enamoured of its own importance and to be looking down upon the others. It is also the centre-states divide, Hindi against regional languages, cities versus villages, metros vis-a-vis small towns, Mumbai against Delhi, the agriculture pitted against the industry and the services against them both. But today I am going to focus on the growing disconnect between the serving or retired defence services personnel (for brevity I will call them “military”) and the civilians.

The military quite naturally dislikes the habitually indisciplined civilians and their usually shoddy ways of doing things. It claims that the politicians and bureaucrats first mess up the things and when the situation becomes desperate they call in the military to control it and bring it back to normalcy. It could be the army, on the state governments’ failure, having to call the tune in the declared “Disturbed Areas” of the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir, all the three wings of the defence forces coming to the government’s help in its fight against the floods and other natural disasters, and only a couple of days back the army being called to save the Commonwealth Games in Delhi from their inept and blundering organisers. The military concedes that it is not free from individuals’ greed and corruption but then avers that their incidence is much lower than in the civilian wings of the government and that it moves very fast against allegedly corrupt officers and others and has instituted courts of inquiry, even court martial proceedings, against lieutenant generals who are equal in rank to the secretaries of the Union government; whereas in the government the big fish are always allowed to escape. But the issue which has aroused the military’s greatest anger against the ruling politicians and bureaucrats is the denial of ‘One rank, one length of service, one pension’ to the retired military personnel.

I find merit in all above claims of the military and consider it the final bulwark against disorder in the country and one of the strongest glues - like the judiciary, railways and telecommunication - to hold it together. But it does not mean that the other components of the state are not important. The much maligned police has its own role to play, what it does to maintain law and order can be appreciated only when the policemen go on strike and the goons and criminals have a field day. We may remember that it was the Punjab police, of course ably assisted by the army and the para-military forces, which crushed separatism and terrorism and brought the state back from the precipice. Other departments of the government too make their singular contributions, be it the food and agriculture, income tax, customs and excise, education, health, public works, external affairs, environment and forests, et al. In their own fields they are irreplaceable.

Certain degree of rivalry and competition to out do the other is welcome between the military and civilians, but care has to be taken that it should remain within the safe limits and should never come down to the level of mutual recrimination. Just as the rest of the nation needs the military to safeguard the country’s borders and be the ultimate security against internal disorder, the military needs the rest of the nation to feed and arm it. In my ideal scheme of the things I will have the military and the civilians racing each other in having more honesty, professional competence and commitment to the nation.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Whither the Hippocratic Oath?

A majority of medical doctors in India today are known to resort to unethical, some times illegal and criminal, even murderous, practices to make more money. For them, it is not patients any more, they are just customers, and like any unscrupulous shopkeeper they do not mind short-changing and fleecing their customers. What follows is a long, yet not exhaustive, horror list of these nefarious practices:

# Practicing medicine and surgery without the mandatory degree,

# Unnecessarily prescribing expensive medication at the behest of drug companies who reward them with costly gifts and all-paid foreign jaunts and cruises for them and their families in the name of the doctors attending medical conferences and refresher courses,

# Compelling their patients to undergo a number of diagnostic tests, many of them absolutely unnecessary, and this to earn their cut on each of the tests,

# Demanding extra fee for doing surgery for supposedly freshly discovered diseases after the patient has been cut open on the operation table,

# Delivering babies by Caesarian section even if natural delivery was possible,

# Charging for medical procedures not performed and the doctor’s visits not made,

# Government doctors often attending hospitals and clinics only to net patients for their own private practices or for referring them, for consideration, to a private specialist,

# Doctors in many private hospitals meeting daily targets for expensive medical procedures like angioplasty and cardiac by-pass and also assisting the hospitals in raising the average room occupancy percentage by delaying the patients’ discharge.

# Even after the death of a patient in their care, keeping his or her body hooked to a ventilator and other expensive machines as if making last ditch efforts to save life, and of course making the dead person’s family pay for this through its nose, and

# Even more devilishly, stealing healthy bodily organs while performing surgery and selling them in the black market.

The situation is seemingly hopeless. The Medical Council of India, which was charged with regulating the practice of allopathic medicine in the country and suspending, even canceling, the unethical doctors’ licence to practice medicine, has itself recently been found hugely corrupt and, therefore, disbanded by the government.

In defence of the doctors not living according to the Hippocratic Oath it can be said that they are very much part of the highly corrupt and unconscionable Indian society in which unmitigated greed is the presiding deity and where money earned by whatever means gives a person respectability and fame. That said, the people in ill health can not be just left in the hands of unscrupulous doctors and hospitals out to squeeze the last penny from them. The government can start by doing the following, making new statutes and laws where necessary:

  1. Make it mandatory for the doctors to prescribe medicines by mentioning their generic (or chemical) names, and not brand names,
  2. Make laws to award life imprisonment without parole, if not capital punishment, for doctors and others stealing bodily organs or selling them in the black market,
  3. Severely punish drug companies that reward the doctors for prescribing their products,
  4. Change medical schools’ curriculum to give due importance to the teaching of medical ethics, in each of the five years of undergraduate and two years of graduate studies, by the entirely participatory case study and group discussion methods,
  5. To ensure practice of medicine on ethical lines, form a Medical Ethics Committee, having a two year term, in each State Assembly constituency headed by a judge serving in the local court, the other members being three senior doctors having minimum 20 years of practice, the local MLA, his nearest rival in the last Assembly elections, a lawyer, a journalist and a social worker - care exercised to ensure that none of the eight members was ever punished or charge-sheeted by a court; such committees should also be made at the Parliamentary constituency, State and Central levels,
  6. Create awareness among the people, through repeated publicity over print and electronic media, regarding their rights vis-à-vis the medical community, and
  7. Bring even private hospitals and independent medical practitioners within the ambit of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Passion over ‘One rank, one pension’

Retired defence forces officers and other ranks have great amount of resentment and indignation, if not outright anger, against the government’s niggardliness on the matter of ‘one rank, one pension’, that is, one uniform scale of pension for a particular rank of officers (or other ranks) whether they retired last month or thirty years ago. Today, the situation is that an officer who had retired some years back gets a pension much lower than his counterpart of the same rank retiring now. This is iniquitous because both the officers rendered the same kind of service to the nation. Not able to tolerate this any more, twenty thousand retired soldiers have returned their service medals to the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, the president of India. This naturally has cast a long shadow on the morale of the hundreds of thousands serving officers and other ranks in all the three defence forces, something which the government and people of India can ill afford. What galls these ex-soldiers further is the fact that all retired officers of the Indian Administrative Service get the same pension irrespective of their dates of retirement.

However, in their deep hurt the ex-soldiers forget that there are millions of non-IAS civilian government and public retirees who are in the same boat as they, their levels of pension also depend on when they retired; the earlier they did the lesser pension they get. It is unfortunate and against elementary logic because the older retirees, ex-soldiers or civilians, are more susceptible to disease and infirmity and, therefore, need higher regular income, in the form of pension, to be able to pay for their treatment than their younger counterparts. The older people also suffer from another handicap – their non-pension retrial benefits like provident fund even if invested in interest-earning bank deposits have smaller current values than such benefits to the people retiring now.

If the government thinks the current agitation by ex-soldiers is a passing phase, it is fooling none other than itself. There is a real chance, on the other hand, that millions of the non-IAS civilian retirees will join the ex-soldiers in demanding one pension for one rank. Before that happens and it becomes impossible for the government to hold its present position, it should, in good grace, rationalise the things across the board by raising pensions of the old retirees of a particular rank, ex-soldier or not, to the level of the pension of those of the same rank retiring presently. No doubt, this will result into an extra burden on the exchequer, presently, say, of Rupees thirty thousand crore, but it will be a burden worth bearing in the interest of equity and justice and welfare of the people who had given the best years of their lives to the service of the nation. This gesture on the part of the government will be appreciated by the serving officers and other ranks, military and civil, because ultimately they would retire and then be benefited by ‘one rank, one pay’.

After instituting ‘one rank, one pension’, the government can reduce its incremental outgo of funds on account of paying salaries and pensions by lowering slabs of dearness allowance, for instance, instead of fully compensating the retired and serving personnel for inflation the government could compensate them for only 50% of inflation. This could save the government about ten thousand crore rupees in the first year and larger and larger amounts in subsequent years. And the serving and retired employees would accept this because it would be absolutely non-discriminatory. Moreover, the government employees, serving or retired, military or civilian, do understand and appreciate the fact that more than ninety per cent population of this country is outside the government or the organized sector and they have no one to compensate them by even 1% of the level of inflation.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In India, the land is for grabbing

With only two per cent of the world’s land mass and eighteen per cent population India is a land-scarce country. This is the reason Indians find the lure of the land irresistible, the mentality is to own it, by fair means or foul, before the competition gets there. Not only individual Indians but also the various departments of the government, Railways, defence establishment, corporates in public and private sectors, infrastructure projects, builders, educational institutions, hospitals and all sorts of non-government organizations are either sitting on huge tracts of land or are out to grab as much land as possible and that by paying much less than what the market decides.

For developing Special Economic Zones, large Indian businesses have purchased tens of thousands of acres of land at highly subsidised prices decided by the state governments. They want to duplicate what was done in China, of course thirty years too late. The world has moved ahead; today employment generation is not so land-intensive as it was back in the nineteen nineties but so what? Then we have the Singur fiasco, in which the Tata Motors finally gave up the small car project after a long battle with the Trinamool Congress. For more than a year the company had been insisting on having no less than 1,000 acres for its factory and that at one place. Maruti Suzuki produces more cars in a

500 acre factory at Gurgaon than the number the Tata Motors had planned for at Singur. But the Tata Motors did not have to revise down its requirement for land, in fact it was able to take on long-term lease from the Gujarat government more than 1,100 acres at Sanand at nominal lease rent.

Similar was the case of the now abandoned gas-based mega power plant at Dadri near Delhi which the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) had planned and for which the U.P. government had purchased 4,000 acres of land at far less than the going rate in the area. The ADAG wanted to produce 4,000 mega watts of power initially, increasing the capacity to a maximum 8,000 mega watts over time. No justification was ever sought or offered for requiring that much land when the 330 mega watt gas-based Pragati Maidan power plant in Delhi could be built over only 37 acres. At that rate the Dadri plant should not have needed more than 900 acres.

The Orissa government has helped the Vedanta Group buy 4,000 acres for the latter’s proposed university but the Vedanta is not satisfied. It had originally planned for an 8,000 acre university a la Stanford University in California and reluctantly settled for 6,000 acres. The Vedanta and the Orissa government have failed to appreciate the fact that the Stanford University was built in the 19th century in an almost empty California when compared to the bursting-at-the-seems India of the 21st century.

These are only representative cases, the illness is prevalent across the board. The government of India can not afford to continue to adopt a policy of laisse faire; after in-depth consultations with experts in different fields it should lay down guidelines on land use and land holdings for various commercial and institutional activities. Land should be allowed to be bought for legitimate uses but not for the purpose of building land banks.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Make the process of recruitment free of corruption

A couple of weeks ago there was a news story in the Times of India about a young auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi who by working day and night saved a sum of Rs.4 lac and used that amount to get jobs in the army for himself and his brother. The story highlighted his stamina, determination and single-mindedness to get what he had set his sight on and which, to the author, justified his name, Sikander. But for me the most noteworthy feature of the story was Sikander’s and his brother’s recruitment in the army in exchange for Rs.2 lac each. That there is rampant corruption in the recruitment of Class III and IV civilian government employees including police constables and sub-inspectors, government teachers and junior engineers is well known. Even some, if not all, of the state public service commissions are not above selling jobs. But the report that the malady has spread to the army was shocking – pay Rs.2 lac for a chance to give up your life on the border or fighting sundry terrorists and insurgents. We, as a nation, may not have reached the nadir yet but we can not be far from it.

What kind of idealism, patriotism or commitment to his job and to his fighting unit can be expected from a soldier who had joined the army in the first place by bribing the recruiting officers? And the constable, who perhaps had paid a princely sum of Rs.5 lac to buy himself a place in the police, would he not be justified in resorting to all sorts of corrupt and criminal practices to first recover the amount he had paid and then for financially securing his and his children’s future? This type of employees in whatever government departments can never be faithful to their jobs; born through greed, they are condemned to live their life in greed and ignominy and bring nothing but disaster to their organizations.

It is, therefore, imperative that the process of recruitment of employees at all levels be kept transparent and fair. The government, including the defence forces, should entrust the task of selecting new employees to its best and most honest officers and other ranks, and not to those who could be easily dispensed with. When the selection is on merit and according to the laid down criteria, new recruits would appreciate it and take pride in their success and such persons could even be inspired and trained to give off their best to the organization. If the government is really concerned with reducing the governance deficit in this country cleaning up the recruitment process is one of the sure ways to go.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nearly half of our young children are chronically malnourished!

Sixty and a half million or 48 per cent of all Indian children below five years of age are chronically malnourished. This situation is even worse than that obtaining in the sub-Sahara Africa. In its drive to reverse the situation, the government runs nurseries, called Aanganwadis, in the villages where a teacher and an assistant look after the under-five children of their area of operation, also serving each of them meals with 500 calories. But the work involved is too much for the teacher and her assistant; as a consequence the Aanganwadis have not been able to make the intended impact on malnutrition in the target group. There is, therefore, a demand that one more assistant be provided to each Aanganwadi. However, the government is unable to accede to it because it is not finding the necessary funds for that.

If there is one Aanganwadi for every 1,000 of India's rural population of 800 million, providing one extra assistant to each Aanganwadi would mean employing 800,000 more assistants. Annual expenses on each of them, including salary and travelling allowance, would not be more than Rs.48,000 or US$1,000, and for all such extra assistants US$800 million. But these extra hands, absolutely essential to make Aanganwadis effective, are not being recruited. It seems that the Indian government which has just splurged US$16 billion (or Rs.70,000 crore) on the inconsequential Commonwealth Games is not willing to spend, rather invest, the one twentieth of this amount every year on its children below five years of age. After all, it is a matter of priorities!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The enigma that China is - 3rd and concluding part

We may be uncomfortable with it but China is a powerful reality and now it is not only across the Himalayas but all around us. Its bases in Pakistan, East Africa, Seychelles, Madagascar, Maldives, Srilanka, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal watch us constantly and so does its blue-ocean navy operating nuclear powered and armed submarines. At the same time, it is also our biggest trading partner and may turn out to be a significant investor in out telecommunications and power sectors. It is a participant country for setting up an international university for Buddhist studies at Nalanda and it admires Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and, to some extent, Jawaharlal Nehru. China, as we have seen, is a complex country and India should have a whole set of strategies, some of them even contradictory to each other, in its quest to deal with China effectively.

Let us first look at how India can measure up to the Chinese military challenge. Undeniably, at least on paper, today that country is far stronger than India in its preparedness both for conventional and nuclear conflict. But if we display even for ten years the same single-mindedness and determination as the Chinese have over the past three decades in adding to their military muscles, we would at least be in a position to make any armed adventure against us unacceptably costly for the Chinese. We can do so by buying the best which our money can but, more importantly, also by bringing up our defence production by a few notches, both in terms of quantity and quality. And then in our world-famous software capabilities we have an ace up our sleeve. We have to have our best young brains engaged in developing defensive and offensive software for war in the cyber space. With some will at the political level and hard work by our scientists and technologists we can gain and maintain an edge over the competition in this all-important theatre of modern warfare. Here, we may also have a lot to learn from Israel, thankfully with whom now we have very strong military ties. In the sharpness of intellect Indians are not behind the Jewish people but we can definitely profit emulating their determination to prevail over all odds.

Apart from the above, we have to be more like the Chinese in responding to and dealing with them - friendly and hostile alternately but generally inscrutable, at times even confusing. We should be friendly in our trade relations and cultural exchanges, be supportive of them in their opposition to the west on new environmental norms but clearly assertive, if not aggressive, in rejecting China’s territorial claims over our Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Ladakh, in decrying Pakistan’s gift of Sinkiang to China, in protesting against the Chinese questioning Jammu and Kashmir’s status as an Indian state and against their military presence in Gilgit and Baltistan, in expressing our support and admiration for the Dalai Lama as the cultural and religious head of the Tibetans, in saying that we recognise Tibet as an autonomous region of China and that since the 1950s China has been encroaching upon that autonomy by increasingly extending its direct rule over Tibet and by settling there in large numbers the Han Chinese.

In the countries whose shores are washed by the Indian Ocean and elsewhere too we must do man-to-man marking of the Chinese, we may not have huge funds to splurge around but we have English language, strength in computer software, managerial expertise, vibrant private sector and long democratic traditions to leverage. China, which considers the South China Sea as its sole property, has been engaged for long in a bitter conflict with Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and South Korea. It also disputes the Japanese control over some islands. India is naturally friendly to all these countries; through ASEAN or otherwise this relationship should be made to further flourish. Also, we should help our strategic alliance with the United States take deeper roots; it would not hurt to have the world’s greatest power as our ally in a possible showdown with the world’s second greatest.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Trains collide while the government sleeps

Another rail accident, this time a head on collision between a goods train and a passenger train near Shivpuri, about twenty passengers killed, scores others injured! The railways ministry has announced compensation of rupees five lac to the next of kin of each passenger who died in the accident and rupees one lac for each injured. The injured have been removed to nearby hospitals for treatment and a special train has been provided for the other passengers to complete their journeys. The Commissioner of Railway Safety has ordered an inquiry into the circumstances and causes of the accident. The Railways have mastered the routine by now, after all they have had to repeat it time and again with boring regularity.

In Japan, Western Europe and China trains run at speeds up to 350 kmh but accidents are rare there, in fact, there has been only one accident involving a Bullet train in Japan in 45 years. In comparison, our fastest trains, the various Shatabdi Express, do not go beyond 150 kmh and yet we have all sorts of train accidents causing hundreds of deaths every year. But why does it have to be like this, are these accidents inevitable? No, they are not! Even with the present state of the railway tracks, engines and other rolling stock, and signalling and telecommunication equipment, railways can be made a lot safer by installing an anti-collision device on each train. These devices are very much available in India, manufactured as they are by the Konkan Rail Corporation. They have also passed the stringent safety tests when they were used in actual field conditions by the North-Eastern Frontier Railway. A few improvements suggested by the users have now been incorporated in the devices. So, the tried and tested technology to prevent train collisions is available indigenously, all the government has to do is to allocate three to four thousand crore rupees to the Railways to buy a sufficient number of anti-collision devices for equipping all trains, passenger or freight, with them. The process, if now initiated and given the right push, will take two to three years to complete.

Unfortunately, however, the Indian government is not finding the funds for the purpose. Mind you it is the same government which does not think twice before setting apart rupees 70,000 crore for readying Delhi for the Commonwealth Games and for holding them. If there are absolutely credible charges of large scale corruption against almost everyone entrusted with this work, so what? For this government, the games are an opportunity to showcase India’s achievements to the world, they are the nation’s coming out party, et al, Ultimately, it is a matter of priorities and it is obvious that on the UPA 2.0 government’s scale of priorities railway trains and the tens of millions of Indians who use them every day figure quite low. If the trains are unsafe, why do these people not travel by air, haven’t we, for this end, opened India’s sky and promoted private airlines at the cost of Air India – the Maria Antoinettes of Delhi seem to be saying. Or perhaps the government is waiting for the day when these train passengers will turn stone-pelters and earn some real respect for themselves in its eyes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The real danger in the Commonwealth Games' success

Anyone having access to news reporting by the print or electronic media is well aware of the highly corrupt and incompetent manner in which the Organising Committee and the various agencies of the central and Delhi governments are making arrangements for holding the Commonwealth Games in Delhi from the 3rd to 15th of the next month. The total cost of the games, including expenditure on stadia and urban infrastructure, will never be known to the people of India who have to bear it like a cross. It could easily cross rupees seventy thousand crore or US$15 billion, here it can be noted that the entire expenditure on the 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne (Australia) had come to US$1 billion, of course there they did not have to spend money on providing modern infrastructure. What has made it worse is that all this construction, except perhaps of the Delhi Metro, is of suspect quality because it has somehow been put up on the ground. Since only the last of the seven years given to Delhi for the games’ preparation was used for this purpose, in very many cases proper tendering and other codal requirements were suspended because it had become a matter of national prestige to complete all projects related to the games in time. Why could the UPA I & II governments at the centre having a continuous run of six years and four months to the games and the Congress government in Delhi having been in place since 1998 not prepare for the games in a planned way? There is no answer to this question; the Organising Committee headed by Suresh Kalmadi of the Congress and a multiplicity of central and Delhi government agencies are being blamed collectively for the monumental mess. And since the culprits are far too many, they all will escape punishment; after all there is security in numbers.

Somehow, however, the games will be held and because of the colourful pageantry and servile hospitality, for which the Indians are known the world over, throughout the games together with heavy-duty gyrating by the Bollywood stars at the opening and closing ceremonies they may even be called successful. There will be another reason behind the tag of ‘successful’ – the Commonwealth Games Federation can not afford to call any such games ‘unsuccessful’ for the fear of dissuading future bidders. The games are a cash cow for the Federation and its functionaries and must, therefore, go on at all costs (to the cities and countries holding them).

And there lies the real danger. Having held the Commonwealth Games ‘successfully’ the Indian government will be emboldened to bid for the 2019 Asiad and 2020 Olympics when the bidding for them will be held around 2012-2013. To the Indian people the government will claim that most of the infrastructure is already in place in Delhi and will only require refurbishing. But in reality, for holding the Olympics in Delhi, India will have to outspend what China did on the 2008 Beijing Olympics - US$45 billion were officially spent, actually it was close to US$60 billion. Making allowance for much worse corruption and inefficiency in India, total expenses of the Delhi Olympics is not likely to be lower than US$100 billion or rupees 4,80,000 crore at 2008 prices. For estimating the actual amount to be spent in 2020 or later cumulative inflation since 2008 will have to be taken into account. There is a real possibility that the amount will thus inflate to rupees 10 lac crore in 2020. So, whenever the Indian Olympic Association or the government speaks about holding the Olympics in Delhi we should know the kind of funds to be deployed – Rs. 10 lac crore or more. Can the people of India afford this extravaganza, particularly when they know that half of the amount is going to be gobbled up by the unholy alliance of politicians, bureaucrats, builders and other free-loaders? The expenses over the 2019 Asiad would be about one-fourth for the Olympics, and so would be the loot.

Let this be decided once and for all that until Indians have a per-capita income of minimum US$5,000 at 2010 prices, India will not bid for any games – Asiad, Commonwealth or Olympics. Let the Indian government beware that its ultimate masters, the Indian people, are now awake and watching its moves carefully.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A solution to the Kashmir problem - Part II

Ever since I have started taking interest in the current affairs, it must have been in 1960, I have found the government of India adopting a defensive position when ever it comes to talking about Jammu and Kashmir as if it had a chip on its shoulder. The Kashmiri Muslims and Pakistanis on the other hand have been expressing their views on the problem very confidently, oftentimes outright aggressively. When logic is with India, the government should be assertive. There has been a propaganda that India has gone back on its solemn promise to the United Nations that it would have a plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir which would determine whether the state would remain with India, or become a part of Pakistan or it would become an independent country. This long continuing propaganda has never been countered effectively by the Indian government. The promise made in 1948 was to go in for a plebiscite when Pakistan had fully withdrawn its forces from the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a condition that Pakistan has not fulfilled in 62 years and has no way of ever fulfilling. The reason – Pakistan has been occupying a large part of the Kashmir Valley since October 1947, it calls it Azad (or free) Kashmir but directly controls nearly all levers of government thoroughly justifying its Indian nomenclature of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK); Gilgit and Baltistan, very much parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, have been annexed to Pakistan as the Northern Territories; and another part called Sinkiang was gifted long ago by Pakistan to China. India is, therefore, absolutely justified in not having a plebiscite in the only three parts (Jammu, portion of the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh) of the state of Jammu and Kashmir remaining with it. Let Pakistan restore to India all the parts it controls, has annexed or gifted to China, and let India rule over the entire state, as it existed when Maharaj Hari Singh acceded it to India, for as many years as have been denied to it, that is minimum 63 years, then yes, a plebiscite could be had. This should be the official position of the Indian government, not at all apologetic and full of supreme confidence, in the United Nations, or while talking to Pakistan or to its surrogates, the Kashmiri separatists.

India should also highlight the fact that the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has a tradition of holding free and fair elections, the last two certified as such by a number of neutral observers from other countries, to choose its own government as against the POK, Gilgit, Baltistan and Sinkiang being ruled with a heavy hand by the central governments of Pakistan or China. Democracy in J & K is India’s strength and it should be proud of it.

Progressing from the above, as a final and permanent solution to the Kashmir problem, the Indian government, of course with the full approval of both houses of Parliament, can consider granting autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir keeping foreign relations, defence, communications and currency in the central control provided :

1) All political parties and independent politicians in J & K take an oath of allegiance to the Indian Constitution and acknowledge and aver that the entire kingdom of Kashmir, as it had existed till the 24th October 1947, had acceded to India and that as and when the other parts, now under foreign occupation, are restored to India they would also form part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and as such would also have proportionate representation in the state assembly, till that time a token number of chairs would be kept unoccupied in the state assembly hall as a constant reminder that very many citizens of the state are under foreign rule and that they have to be freed at the earliest.

2) All Kashmiri Pandits, who were made to suffer the indignity and inhumanity of ethnic cleansing and forced to migrate to other parts of India in the 1990s, are welcomed back in the Valley fully restoring to them their properties and also giving them generous compensation for two decades’ loss of use of the properties and other opportunities of life.

3) There takes place in the state fresh delimitation of the assembly and Lok Sabha seats on the basis of population.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A solution to the Kashmir problem - Part I

For more than two months the Kashmir Valley has been on a boil. In stones the Kashmiri youth now hold a more potent weapon in their hands than the AK 47 or 56. The script is simple - the “azaadi, azaadi” shouting youth would pelt a barrage of stones at the police and other security forces, badly bruised and hurt and more than that humiliated security forces would retaliate by hurling at them tear gas shells and finally by firing rubber and hard bullets; one or two of the stone-pelters would get killed, at their funeral the next day there would be more protests and stone throwing followed by the predictable and by now familiar police action and so the circle of violence and counter-violence would continue. International observers have started comparing what the Kashmiri youth are doing to “Intefada” of the Palestinians, the protesting youth of Kashmir have become the torch-bearers of separatism, its new icons.


The voluble but inexperienced and not-so-competent chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is at his wits’ end and keeps rushing to New Delhi asking for help. He wants the centre to mitigate the situation by granting concessions like diluting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and if that is not possible by withdrawing it from six districts of the state where terrorist violence is on the decline, and releasing from custody the stone-pelters. New Delhi is expected to play along but the leaders of the separatists, Umar Farouq and Yasin Malik, have already rejected what they call half-measures. They demand independence from Indian rule and desire merger of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan. The present government at the centre is weak and irresolute and is not able to articulate an effective policy to counter the determined separatists who have been playing to the international gallery quite successfully so far. 


The situation undoubtedly is very difficult but it is not impossible to tackle. What is required at the level of the decision makers in Delhi is absolute clarity about the issues involved, courage to put their views forward and solid determination to counter with facts and figures the separatists’ and their Pakistani handlers’ sustained campaign of misinformation. However, all that would be wasted if the central government lacked a back-bone and a political will to solve the problem once and for all.


For a start, the central government must recognize that the Kashmir problem can not be solved piecemeal, the solution may have many components but together it has to be one comprehensive solution. Further, it must understand and so declare that India’s territorial integrity can never be compromised. Jammu and Kashmir has very much been an inalienable part of India ever since its ruler, Maharaj Hari Singh, acceded to India in October 1947 and no sacrifice would be considered too great by the Indian people and government in order to keep J & K within India. Having settled this issue beyond the pale of any doubt by the separatists in the Kashmir Valley, their masters in Pakistan and the international community at large, the Indian government should get down to the task of unraveling the Kashmir tangle, and how – we shall see in the next post.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The enigma that China is - Part II

How much more about China do I know – let me see. I will record my thoughts as they occur.

The Chinese society is in a flux with more than a hundred million young men and women from the villages having migrated, in the past decade, to the cities and the special economic zones for taking up jobs, mostly in the export-oriented manufacturing. But the demand for manufacturing exports has been shrinking because of the western world suffering from the ill effects of the 2008-09 recession and this has already forced hundreds of thousands of industrial workers to go back to their villages to lead a life of explicit or concealed unemployment. Since the situation is showing signs of worsening, the government is finding it tough to deal with the disaffection and turmoil in the society. 

China  has been and still is absolutely ruthless in conquering nature. In the absence of a civil society and green parties, the government pays not even a lip service to sustainable development. It loves huge civil engineering feats, be it the Three Gorges Dam, be it the Beijing-Lhasa railway line over hundreds of kilometers of permafrost, and let the environment be damned. 

It is planning to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra, called Tsangpo in China, to serve the water-scarce northern plains and cities like Beijing. That lower riparian states of India and Bangladesh too have rights on the Brahmaputra is of hardly any concern to the over-confident China. 

China has the world’s highest number of mobile phone connections, it is next to the U.S. in broadband connections, it’s on road to dislodge the U.S.  as the biggest producer of automobiles and it is the biggest consumer of steel. 

It is the biggest trading partner of the U.S. and also of India. The annual China-India trade has touched 60 billion dollars and the trade balance is greatly in China’s favour which has flooded India with manufactured products and capital goods. About half of power generating machinery put up in India is of Chinese origin, and the Chinese are also well-positioned in supplying sophisticated telecom hardware to India  at extremely competitive prices. Unfortunately, even today the iron ore is the most important component of India’s exports to China. 

The Chinese society is aging fast. Though the present median age is 35, compared to 45 or so in the developed world, but the one child norm for the Chinese families could result into the Chinese becoming old before becoming rich. 

The Chinese economic miracle of the past three decades has got its roots in the massive investment of half of the GDP year in, year out. The government is now realising that consumption-driven growth is more durable even if it is comparatively lower. 

The people living in the central and western China are very poor compared to their eastern and coastal cousins. The government is conscious of this and working for making development opportunities available in the hinterland. It is also worried about the urban-rural divide and planning efforts to bridge it in some ways. 

The Chinese are a very proud people and have a long memory. They have been nursing wounds inflicted on them by the western countries and Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries, they wants their revenge but China still finds those countries too powerful to handle, particularly when they have the ultimate protection from the United States. It has, therefore, taken upon a relatively weak India, which it considers a surrogate for the west and Japan.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The enigma that China is - Part I

To be able to deal with China effectively one has to know that country well. How much do I know of China - let me see. 

I know that China with 1.35 billion people is the most populous country in the world, that the Han race makes up for about 92 per cent of the population, that its land area is over 3 million square miles but it is largely desert or semi-desert except the eastern one third of the country, that till the 18th century contributing about one-fourth to the world's GDP China was the richest country in the world, that it was the world's leading technological power before the industrial revolution in west Europe having invented silk, paper and gun powder, that it had a truly blue-ocean navy in the 17th century that could have dominated the world had a navel gazing emperor not ordered it back to the home ports and then to burn down all its ships, that China suffered great humiliation in the 19th and early 20th centuries because of the European powers' gun boat diplomacy, that the Japanese raped and ravaged the country before and during the World War II, that it became free in 1949 after a prolonged armed struggle by the Mao-tse Tung led Chinese Communists against the forces of the Kuomitang, that Mao ruled the country with an iron hand as his and the communist Party's dictatorship, that he tried to industrialise the country rapidly sacrificing agriculture leading to millions dying due to the man-made famine, that through the Cultural Revolution of the late 'sixties he struck at the intelligentsia sending them to the villages to do hard physical labour, that after Mao's death in 1976 Deng Xiao Ping gave the farmers the rights to the land tilled by them, that by saying "Do not see the colour of the cat as long as it catches mice" Deng reduced the ideology's importance, that in 1980 he opened Shenzen special economic zone with liberal labour and tax laws, that with Shenzen started the golden era of China's manufactured exports, that the Chinese GDP has been growing at an average of 10% per year from 1980 to the present day, that its GDP is now next only to the U.S.', that China now has forex reserve of US$3 trillion and it is increasing at the rate of hundreds of billions every year, that it is known as the world's factory, that China is scouring the rest of the world for raw materials and fuels to feed its factories and galloping economy, that in the process of re-industrialising as if with a vengeance China neglected and abused its natural environment, that it is the world's biggest producer of global warming gases, that the China has the world's largest standing army, that for 46 years it has been a hydrogen bomb power, that it has a large number of ICBMs and IRBMs aimed at the U.S., west Europe, India, Japan and some others, that it has a modern blue-ocean navy including nuclear powered and armed submarines, that it has been a nuclear proliferator for long having helped Pakistan and North Korea become nuclear powers, that China considers India its rival in Asia and won't mind humiliating it again as it did in 1962 by giving it a sound military defeat, that China has surrounded India on all sides by having military or military-capable bases in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Srilanka and Pakistan, that it considers Jammu and Kashmir as an internationally disputed territory but Gilgit, Baltistan and the Pak-occupied Kashmir as Pakistan's, that it regards Indian state Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet and hence a part of China, that four of the Chinese universities have been adjudged among the world's best fifty this year, that the Chinese civil, electrical and telecom engineering capabilities can be considered among the world's best, that the Chinese are a very homogeneous and most determined people and they are extremely proud of their country calling it the middle country, that the Chinese have some respect for India as the home of the Buddha.

The rest in the next post!


Thursday, September 9, 2010

A river strikes back

Thirty two years after the highest flood of 1978 the Yamuna river is expected to flow more than two metres above the danger mark in Delhi tomorrow. It will not only inundate its natural flood plain but also many low lying localities beyond. This is going to be the river’s mighty reminder about its capability to the politicians, bureaucrats and realtors, who had been so dismissive of the possibility of another high flood in the river. Taking from this line of thought, in the past decade they had violated the sanctity of the flood plain in a big way, thereby appreciably reducing the area available to accommodate a swollen river. Therefore, if this time the river touches a level 2.60 metres above the danger mark, as it did in 1978, the havoc caused will be much greater.


In the State of Delhi the flood plain of the Yamuna measures about 15,000 acres or 6,000 hectares. That is a lot of land and no wonder the capricious triumvirate of politicians, bureaucrats and realtors have been drooling from both ends of their mouths at the very mention of this vast expanse of vacant land. They want to own, usurp in some way or sell this land because they fear that if they are not able to do it their successors, for sure, would not fail in doing so. Even at an extremely conservative Rs.10,000 per sq. metre this land is valued at a mind boggling Rs.60,000 crore. Naturally then they have been colluding, scheming and planning on how to build on this land in the name of development, in the name of providing civic amenities to the city’s suffering masses or whatever.


In the recent times, the first two major government-approved encroachments on the flood plain  were made when the BJP-led NDA was ruling at the centre. They were the Swaminarayanas’ Aksharadham temple on 72 acres and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s Shastri Park depot on 60 acres. Then it was the turn of the Congress-led UPA to permit the Commonwealth Games Village and the DMRC’s huge Yamuna Bank station to come up on perhaps hundreds of acres of the flood plain. When the athletes leave at the close of the games on the 15th October 2010, each of the hundreds of flats in the Games Village will be sold for about Rs.5 crore by the builder from the United Arab Emirates. The Uttar Pradesh government also has been planning for some time to build residential and commercial complexes on 300 acres of the flood plain it owns in Delhi. So far the Delhi government has not permitted its U.P. counterpart to change the land-use  but the Congress-BSP political equation may change any day and the necessary permission granted.


More damaging in its reach was a talk in Delhi’s ruling circles that the Yamuna should be restricted to a 500 metre wide cement-concrete channel, like the Thames in London and the Seine in Paris, releasing 15,000 acres of land for beautiful river-fronts and other architectural delights and for modern housing for millions which would make Delhi a world-class city. R. Sridharan, the legendary chief of the Delhi Metro, supported this view forgetting that there are no south-west monsoons in England or France. In those countries the annual precipitation is less than that in the north India and it is distributed fairly equitably over 8-9 months as against the 80 to 90 per cent of the annual rainfall in only a little over 2 months here. Naturally then, the Thames and the Seine can never come anywhere near a marauding Yamuna in high floods.


Let this flood in the Yamuna be a warning to the land grabbing class that they can not take nature for granted and that when nature strikes back it does strike really hard. Unfortunately, it is the city’s poor who would bear the brunt of the flood and not the real culprits who have violated the sacrosanct laws of nature for their selfish gains.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A leader must have integrity

Take any leadership primer and you will find in it that a leader must have a vision, a plan or pathway to achieve that vision, ability to inspire team members or followers with whom he or she would carry out the plan and above all - integrity.

Integrity is not just pecuniary or financial honesty (that you will return the money entrusted to your care, that you will not steal, etc.). It goes beyond pecuniary honesty to cover in its reach truthfulness, fairness, and consistency of attitudes and actions.

Now, let us look at our politicians objectively and dispassionately. We find that most of them do not even have pecuniary or financial honesty. Why, because the public money is not safe with them, they will have their cut if not gobble up the entire thing. Newspapers and electronic news media are full of their misdeeds; I, therefore, need not elaborate further.

In terms of reputation, Manmohan Singh belongs to the very top among the honest politicians. But does he have integrity - let us examine in some detail.
a) Financial honesty : Yes.
b) Truthfulness : He keeps on giving clean chit to the Telecom minister A. Raja despite the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), TRAI, Central Vigilance Commission, and the Central Bureau of Investigation finding serious irregularities and favouritism in selling, at the minister's direct orders, 2-G spectrum to new companies in January 2008 at the 2001 prices and on first-come-first-served basis. There are so many other instances of Singh being economical with truth but the Raja episode alone punctures all his claims to truthfulness. He fails this test miserably.
c) Fairness : His selecting P.J. Thomas as the next central vigilance commissioner over the objections of the leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj, that Thomas, till the 31st August 2010 Telecom secretary under the minister A. Raja, was not a man of impeccable integrity, establishes the fact that Manmohan Singh is not fair. An 'F' again.
d) Consistency : CBI, directly under him, has been blowing hot and cold, sometime saying that it has sufficient proof to prosecute Mayawati, Laloo Prasad Yadav, and Mulayam Singh Yadav for having assets beyond legitimate means, and some other time that it does not have prosecutable evidence. And this depends on whether the ruling party does not need those politicians' support in parliament or it does. Manmohan Singh, therefore, can't be said to be consistent in his attitudes and in his actions. Yet another 'F'.

We have thus seen that most of our politicians, including the present prime minister, lack integrity, one of the very pre-requisites for leadership. These people, therefore, can not be called leaders. At best, they are people in the business of politics.

The tail wagging a willing dog

P.J. Thomas has been sworn in as the central vigilance commissioner. Now he will oversee the working of the Central Bureau of Investigation, which had till recently investigated the massive 2-G spectrum sale scam of an estimated rupees sixty thousand crore in the Telecom department where he was secretary until a week ago. Also, only last month, he had sought the Law ministry’s opinion on his view that neither the Comptroller and Auditor General, nor the CBI, could question the policy decisions taken by his department. It is a bit too much even for the patently amoral UPA II to ignore the obvious conflict of interest inherent in Thomas taking charge of the Central Vigilance Commission. Why should Manmohan Singh, generally believed – rightly or wrongly – to be an honest person, so brazenly disregard the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj’s objection to Thomas’ selection that he did not fulfil the most important selection criterion of having impeccable integrity? In fact, she was quite game to either of the other two persons on the panel being picked up for the post.


It is common knowledge that the prime minister did not want A. Raja, who had brought so much ignominy and shame to the UPA I government, in the UPA II cabinet but had to surrender to the demands of the so-called coalition dharma. And now to secure Raja from all sides, against all hostile investigations and inquiries, his puppeteer, Karunanidhi, thought of getting Thomas appointed as the country’s chief conscience keeper. With Thomas’s term of four years set to outlast the UPA II’s remaining life, Raja’s well-being was sought to be ensured for this period. Manmoan Singh, as usual, was no match to the master strategist in Chennai.


Whatever mercenary objectives Karunanidhi might have had, if Singh had a spine and had shown that he had one, he would have gone with Swaraj to select some one other than Thomas as the CVC. The skies would not have fallen at this; after a few tantrums, not immediately but at an opportune moment on some populist matter, a statement would ensue from the southern metropolis that the DMK was considering withdrawing from the central cabinet and lending an issue-based support to the government from the outside. But after a few air dashes to Chennai by a couple of central ministers to pay court to him, the patriarch would have relented. After all, the DMK is not going to sacrifice the power and pelf due to an important part of the central government so easily, particularly when there are almost four years to go to the end of the term. It is just that Manmohan Singh blinked first, as he does so often. In his more than six years as the appointed prime minister he has come into his own only once while pushing the US-India civil nuclear deal through.


Lastly, however, it would be less than fair to the ruling Congress if it is not given the credit its due. It is not just to keep an important ally in good humour that Thomas has been appointed as the CVC. The Congress for its very own reasons too loves bureaucrats with tainted reputation, the more tainted the reputation the better, occupying positions of statutory regulators or watchdogs of various types. Such bureaucrats of less than impeccable integrity prove willing accomplices and are an asset to the ruling party in that they unquestioningly do its bidding, are extremely reverential to the royal household and speak only what their masters want to hear.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rule of law? Sorry, we're Indians!

The rule of law has all along been a casualty of the type of governance that we have had and are still having in our country. The worst criminals and offenders against the laws of the country have gone scot-free or the legal cases against them are taking so much time that by the time they would be decided those people could be safely dead.

No country, and more so a democracy, can hope to survive for long without deep respect for laws of the land in the hearts of its citizens. And the people develop this respect when they see the laws and the judicial system working effectively even against powerful offenders. When the administration of justice flounders in dealing with the rich and well-connected, every one loses faith in it. This is what has happened in India, here law-breaking has assumed monumental proportions.

The only way out is for the central and state governments, prosecuting agencies and the courts to take up the cases of a few well-known persons and take them speedily to their judicial conclusion. If in the eyes of the courts people like Jayalalitha, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Reddy brothers, Ramalinga Raju, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler, Sanjay Dutt, and Raja (central telecom minister) are innocent, free them of the stigma of having legal cases against them pending for so long but if they, or some of them, are found guilty, put them behind the bars without losing another minute. We are sick of the legal cases going on interminably and in the mean time the accused politicians can continue on the Union cabinet, they can be chief ministers in the states, the actors among them can rake in hundreds of millions from new films, the ex-cricketers can give lectures on morality in cricket, and so on.

We, members of the concerned citizenry of this country, have to create sound and solid public opinion for this, and then put tremendous pressure on the governments, in the centre and in the states. Only then these modern day Kumbhakarnas and Dhritrashtras would wake up, take notice and do what is required.