|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Saturday, January 30, 1999
man & millennium
FAIR price shops acquired distinct features of unfair price shops on Thursday. Wheat, rice and sugar which are available at these outlets will cost more by between 30 and 45 per cent. Even those people who are quaintly categorised as living below the poverty line, or in plain English the very poor, have not been spared. Their bare necessity, wheat and rice, will now be dearer by as high as 30 per cent; since they are known to spend nearly 60 per cent of their meagre earnings in buying foodgrains alone, the real burden of the price hike is much more than what the percentage figure reveals. The non-poor variety has had a harsher deal: wheat will cost 45 per cent more and rice 29 per cent more. There is some consolation though. The new rates are lower than what the Food Ministry recommended. It wanted the poor sections to fork out 50 per cent of the economic cost and the non-poor 90 per cent. That way the first group would have paid Rs 4 a kg for wheat as against the revised Rs 3.25 and rice Rs 5.58 as against Rs 4.50. For the slightly better off, rice would cost the same (Rs 9.05 a kg) and wheat 70 paise more, rather Rs 7.20 instead of the actual Rs 6.50 a kg. The 60 paise increase in sugar prices will slash subsidy to one-third, or to Rs 232 crore in a full year.
The BJP-led government
officially explained that the increase in procurement
price of both wheat and rice during the past two seasons
warranted an increase in the sale price. Otherwise the
foodgrain subsidy would keep ballooning. Privately a view
is being canvassed that the government is sending out a
powerful signal of its seriousness in pushing ahead with
reforms. Doing away with subsidy is on the top of the
agenda of reform-mongers.The first is a down-to-earth
financial statement, designed to soothe the ruffled
feelings of the poor and lower middle class ration card
holders. The other, the ideological slant, is an attempt
to squeeze some credit out of a forced act, where none
exists. This brazen two-facedness is not the only curious
thing about the decision to increase foodgrain prices.
The non-Left opposition parties too indulged in a bit of
double-talk. Privately they agreed with the government on
the unavoidable nature of the decision, but refused to
endorse it publicly, lest they become the target of
public fury. As is to be expected, the Left has opposed
the increase and announced that it will organise a
jail bharo agitation early next month and a
march on Parliament on March 1. For good measure, the
Left castigated the government for resorting to soft
options which are anti-poor. Instead, the government can
cut expenditure by a mere half a per cent to find Rs 3000
crore that it hopes to save now. Or, it can raise taxes
on those items which are the exclusive preserve of the
rich, again to mop up the same amount. Now those living
below the poverty line are being forced to cut down their
food consumption to stabilise the government finances!
The timing of the price increase is particularly
maladroit; this is no way to shore up the sagging
A sound step to control pollution
THE Supreme Court, by emphasising the need for the inclusion of a High Court judge sitting or retired and a group of knowledgeable environment scientists in the Appellate Authority under the Water (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1974, in all states to adjudicate disputes relating to environmental pollution, has hit the nail on the head. There are too many laws and rules which aim at preventing pollution from becoming a greater menace. The number of governmental and non-governmental anti-pollution organisations is impressive but the environmental or ecological hazards continue to increase with every passing day. The court has found that it is necessary to amend Rule 12 of the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, for this purpose. The governments at the Centre and in the states have been asked to initiate immediate proceedings on the suggestion and take appropriate steps for its quick implementation. The apex court has taken cognisance of the various pollution control boards and the Society for the Preservation of the Environment and Quality of Life (SPEQL). The Water Act has to be recast and the deteriorating ecosystem has to be preserved. The results of the ever-growing pollution are not being analysed or monitored properly. This fact is on the record of the court. The maili Ganga" is one of the most glaring examples of our polluted water courses. Publicity-conscious men and organisations are making money from allocations made for various environment-friendly projects. Owing to the absence of experts and a judicious approach to the whole range of issues on which the survival of the planet earth depends, laws are being rendered ineffective. The Supreme Court's directives have been flouted with impunity even in the Union Capital.
Let us consider the role of the main polluterman. Let us have a look at a few bare archival figures. Between 1901 and 1951, India's population grew from 238 million to 361 million, an increase of about 52 per cent in 50 years. Between 1951 and 1981, it expanded from 361 million to 685 million, a hopping rise of about 90 per cent in just 30 years. As has been rightly observed by demographers, India literally added a second India to it in 35-odd years of its Independence. In 1967, William and Paul Paddock wrote a book called "Famine 1975America's Decision: Who Will Survive?" They classified developing countries, based on their population growth rates and food production potential, into three categories: Can't be saved, Walking wounded and Should receive food. India suffered the ignominy of being classified as can't be saved with the comment that it "is the bellwether that shows the path which the others, like sheep going to the slaughter house, are following". India was a country, according to the authors, to which the USA should not have bothered either to provide aid or food.
Fortunately, our food
production managed to keep ahead of population growth,
which helped it through some of the most critical drought
years like 1979. But the apparent stagnation in
agricultural production in 1983-84 set a new record. The
foodgrain production of over 150 million tonnes was
finally recorded. Once again, it created despondency. The
1981 census results turned out to be more of a shocker
than usual. The Planning Commission had just given the
finishing touches to the Sixth Five-Year Plan when the
Registrar-General of Census announced that the country
had some 13 million more people than the number estimated
by the planners and that the birth rate was not 33 per
1,000 people but around 36. Can India's land support such
a large and growing population? Unfortunately, not one
expert in the country has attempted to quantify the
carrying capacity of the area under a single development
block, leave alone the whole country. India's
environmental prospects are not bright. The country has
enormous problems. But it also has enormous resources. As
suggested by the highest judicial institution of the
land, qualified and responsible people should make a
major difference to the present annihilating situation.
Difficult and contentious environmental issues have to be
submitted for arbitration to the duly formed statutory
committees. There has been too much of politicisation of
our ecology and environment. Let us have a deep and hard
look at what the late Dr K. L. Rao had suggested with
regard to the basic question of the survival of man and
INDIA today is faced with a variety of difficult, rather intricate, problems in the social, economic, educational and political spheres. Even after about five decades of freedom, we have not been able to find satisfactory solutions to the challenges of poverty, low production, unemployment, student unrest, widespread corruption, costly elections, class conflicts and violence. The moral fibre of the people has been weakened almost beyond repair. Unscrupulous pursuit of material welfare, without heeding certain ethical values, has eaten into the very vitals of our national life and culture.
Today the decent people in politics are a fast vanishing species in our land. This leads to the question why more decent people are not entering the fray? This is proving the dictum that politics is the last resort of the scoundrel. Today politics has undergone a sea change. Now it stinks. Politics has degenerated to the level of corruption, dishonesty, rank opportunism, expediency, manoeuvrings and manipulation of all kinds and above all, greed devoid of moral fabric.
In retrospect, I am convinced beyond doubt that the only practical way to resolve our difficulties in a lasting manner is to turn once again to the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, study them in depth and find proper solutions for our ailments. The Mahatma was, doubtless, a practical leader, his approach to various issues was always scientific and rational. One may not agree with all the details of his fundamental philosophy, but we cannot afford to bypass his basic advice and guidance, which has stood the test of time. In my view quintessence of Gandhian thought is that pure means must always be employed for the achievement of noble objectives. We shall be overlooking this eternal law at grave peril to ourselves and the nation.
Gandhi was the apostle of peace and nonviolence peace not of the graveyard and nonviolence not of the weak, with the possibility of a nuclear holocaust as well as low intensity conflict (LIC) threatening to destroy the nation and humanity, the significance of Gandhis philosophy is even greater today than ever before.
However, for Gandhi peace and nonviolence was merely a means, though he believed in equality and purity of means and the end. But it does not mean that he wanted to sacrifice the end for the sake of means. No doubt, he preferred nonviolent resistance but in case it was not workable he did not hesitate to accept even the violent means to achieve the goal. In any case he did not choose cowardliness against the violence. He never liked to surrender to the aggressor so as to avoid violence. He loved nonviolence not for the sake of it, but as a mean to transform the earth into a better world. Hence, ideologically Gandhis thought on defence and armed forces has never been unpractical or outdated.
It has, perhaps, become our national habit to adore and worship great saints and leaders and then conveniently forget their ideals. These days it is almost a fashion to ask whether Gandhian ideas are still relevant under modern conditions. This question itself is thoroughly irrelevant because Gandhi stood for certain eternal principles, which were relevant during his life time, are relevant today and would continue to be so for centuries to come.
The more I think about diverse problems facing India at present, the more I feel convinced that Gandhian approach alone will be able to solve our difficulties on a lasting basis. In fact, it was the well-known international economist, Dr Gunnar Myrdal, who reminded us recently that Indian planners had failed mainly because they had not kept so close as they should to the fundamentals of the teachings of the Father of Nation. A large number of books on Gandhian thought are being published in foreign countries with an increasing sense of appreciation and it appears that we may have the misfortune of importing Gandhi once again from the west. This would, indeed be a tragedy too deep for tears.
Gandhi wanted us to turn the searchlight inward, instead of pelting stones at others. All reforms, including the rooting out of corruption from public life, must begin with oneself. If each person who shouts loudly about corruption these days is himself incorruptible, the polluted atmosphere would register a remarkable change in no time. When a Professor asked Gandhiji about his message to nation while he was walking barefoot from village to village in the Noakhali region, The Mahatma replied: When you feel within yourself that you are right but everything around you is wrong, the conclusion you should draw for yourself is that everything is all right, but there is something wrong with you.
I have no shadow of doubt that India needs Gandhi today more than ever before. He is not alive today but he lives in the hearts and minds of millions of Indians. Gandhi is not a relic of the past, but the prophet of the future. His ideas always inspire India and can be applied to each concrete situation in the context of the changing scene in India and the world. Gandhism is not a doctrinaire or dogmatic creed but a dynamic philosophy that can be applied to complex and concrete problems.
The fundamental essentials of Gandhis teaching are of abiding value. They are not only relevant today, but shall continue to be relevant for as long as we can foresee. The Gandhian light will continue to shine and to illuminate this country for many years. These are the words of Mahatma himself.
So long as my faith burns bright, as I hope it will even if I stand alone, I shall be alive in the grave, and what is more, speaking from it.
In one of his publications, Louis Fischer declares:
If man is to survive, if civilisation is to survive and flower in freedom, truth and democracy, the remainder of the 20th century and what lies beyond must belong not to Lenin or Trotsky, not to Marx or Mao or Ho or Che, but to Mahatma Gandhi.
Will euro sink with dollar?
ADVENT of the euro marks exciting possibilities. There is no doubt that it will challenge the dollar as the worlds reserve currency and it may well herald the end of the US economic, and therefore, political hegemony. For this beneficent scenario to materialise, however, it is necessary that the euro countries dismantle their burgeoning welfare state. That seems to be a tough prescription. Moreover, the future of the global economy is itself somewhat uncertain. One country after the other is entering recession. Thus, while it is certain that the euro will challenge the dollar, it is unclear whether it will itself deliver prosperity in Europe. For all we know the euro may sink along with the dollar.
The 11 countries which have joined the European Monetary Union have accepted the euro as their legal currency. The German mark, French franc and Italian lira have all been pegged to the euro once and for all. With it, these countries have transferred their sovereign right to determine their individual monetary policies to the European Central Bank (ECB). The governments of Germany or France will not now determine the amount of currency to be printed. Like the US Federal Reserve Board, the monetary policy will henceforth be determined independently by the ECB.
One of the implications of this transfer of power is that euro countries will no longer have the option to print money to service their bloated welfare state. The only way they would be able to raise money now would be by imposing taxes or borrowing. The former is not practicable because it will lead to shifting of business to low-tax countries. The latter is not permitted under the Stability and Growth Pact which they have signed. This pact provides that if a country has deficit in excess of 3% of GDP, it will be subject to sanctions by other members. Thus, the euro countries have virtually no option but to dismantle the welfare state. They simply will have no money to fund free health and generous pensions and unemployment compensations. This has been recognised by none other than the President of the ECB Duisenberg. In a speech he called for continued wage moderation in both public and private sectors.
If the euro countries can go through with this hardship they stand to reap immense benefits. A globally competitive Europe would impart stability to the euro and herald its emergence as an alternative to the dollar as the worlds reserve currency.
According to the IMF, dollars held by foreigners to maintain adequate foreign exchange reserves amount to a staggering amount of 500 billion. Most countries hold dollars because their trade is denominated in that currency. For example, an Indian exporter will quote to a German purchaser in US dollars. Both wind up holding dollars although there is no connection with the US economy. Euro countries account for 20% of Indias trade yet only 10% was denominated in European currencies. The US accounts for only 25% of the world trade yet as much as 50% is denominated in US dollars. The US is a beneficiary of world trade being denominated in dollars. Countries have to hold dollars not because they want to purchase goods from the US but because they are used for payments to third countries.
These dollars are like an interest free loan to the US. If the euro should become a stable currency, much of such global trade and all of the European trade could be denominated in the euro. This would lead to the euro getting the same interest-free loans which the US has been enjoying till now by virtue of its status as the worlds reserve currency. It has been reported, for example, that the RBI is considering converting a portion of its dollar reserves into the euro.
European countries would no longer have to hold reserves to meet the payments obligations of intra-euro trade. Previously, if France had to make payment to Germany, it would hold some foreign currency reserves, most often US dollars, to meet such payments obligations. No longer. Since the euro is a legal currency in both the countries, there is no need to maintain dollar reserves to that extent. Then there are reduced costs of transactions within the euro area.
man & millennium
HOW important should be the moment which will tick the old millennium off, out of its existence by kicking right near the cusp and bring the new one to its being. How crucial should be that moment which will quietly roll into eternity and herald a new beginning. How singled out would be that moment which both millennia would claim to be their own. Oh to be equal in status to that moment! many may cherish.
Moment after moment, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, and likewise such a moment takes shape and fades out. And so will that special, that unique, that different moment, take birth and make history.
History of its being. History of its end. History of its importance. History of its relevance. And History of its nothingness. Could a man be likened to a moment?
Countless people would feel their existence quite differently in the 21st century. Others may not even know of the change. Still others may find in that situation as if nothing moves except nothingness.
At the same time there would be innumerable people who would enjoy every bit of that precious moment. Its beginning, its being and its end. Isnt it surprising to be dwelling so much on one moment? One single moment? One special moment? One moment like other moments? Just another moment!
Then why so much anxiety? Why so much curiosity? Why so much of wait? Why so much of concern? Why so much of so much ? for a mere moment: I never knew that a moment was such a complex entity.
Surely then, moment can definitely be likened to a man. Moment and man in their glory. Moment and man their being. Moment and man in their spacing, where space does not exist at all. All the more, moment can be felt like man.
But hang on. I have a visual right in front of me purely in bones and flesh. I see the merry-makers. I see those rejoicing. Some drowned in drunkenness. Others sunk in spirits. Still others frolicking in frenzy and euphoria. One fellow sleep-walks trampling the other sleeping on a walking path of some metropolis roadside. Hay, wake up! scoundrel! New millennium has arrived! Its the turn of the century.
The scoundrel wakes up, not really agitated, takes a turn to the other side (like a century) and sleeps over. The moment has come and gone. The man has woken up, turned and slept again. The millennium has arrived and will end soon. Yes, very soon!
Moment after moment. Tick
after tick. Pulse after pulse. Well, tick and pulse can
be likened. So can be moment and man. Tick enlivens up
and consumes the moment; pulse enlivens up and consumes
the man. Welcome Millennium ticking, pulsating and
Even best hospitals lack hygiene
THIS week I write from a hospital bed. I have ended up here for the stupidest of reasons but am definitely incapacitated and no longer firing on six cylinders or eight or whatever it is that human machines my size are supposed to fire on. My computer rests on one of those trays that can be wheeled over your bed in more upmarket hospitals and I am working with a plastic catheter stuck in a vein through which sisters from Kerala duly arrive to pour vast amounts of antibiotics that burn as they enter the vein. Uggh! Tomorrow, there is to be an operation on my leg that got infected badly from, all things, an insect bite. See, what I mean about ending up in hospital for the stupidest reason? But, then, I am a firm believer that the gods of hackdom take joy in perpetrating needless miseries on unsuspecting hacks in the vague hope that we will use our miserable experience to try and solve the problems of that great mass of humanity whom we continue to call (despite our politically correct age) mankind. And, who would remain voiceless were it not for us of the Fourth Estate.
If that sounds a bit more rambling than usual, bear with me. You would be ga-ga too if you were mainlining on cocktails of the strongest drugs and if you knew that by tomorrow this time you would be out for the count in some grubby operation theatre. But, to get to the point of this piece a little more quickly than I have so far done may I say that I am in one of the best hospitals in this country and although the doctors are wonderful, and my room quite pretty and full of flowers and sunshine, the standards of cleanliness, even here at the top end of the market, have left me quite terrified.
Even as I write this, a man in a crumpled, blue uniform is wandering about my room casually sweeping dust off the floor. He would be considered ineffective if he were only cleaning your living room. Then comes someone with a duster and again he wanders around the room with a disinterested expression on his face and apparently quite oblivious to the layers of dirt encrusted on the fly-proofing in the windows. I hesitate to draw his attention to it because my own estimation is that it would take a whole day to clean.
What has worried me the most, though, is the state of the operation theatre. I was taken there as soon as I arrived because the surgeon needed to dress my infected leg and, although it may have been clean by Indian standards, I have to tell you that by the standards of hospitals anywhere else in the world it would be considered less than completely sanitary. You want to know how I know this? Well, its because I had the fortune to give birth to my son in London and since I was completely conscious and in no pain (anaesthetised via an epidural) through this momentous event I had the opportunity to observe exactly what was going on. The first thing that struck me was that not a single instrument that was used on me was touched by human hands. Doctors with surgical gloves on removed each one from brown paper bags in which they had been placed, again untouched by human hands, immediately after sterilisation. The operation theatre was so spotless that if looked as if it must have been similarly sterilised as did my room.
Now, before you start imagining that this kind of cleanliness is a luxury that only developed western countries can afford please let me tell you that this level of cleanliness is absolutely essential in hospitals. And, it is because we do not pay enough attention to it in our own hospitals that even the smallest of surgical procedures can end up giving you the most terrible diseases.
Did you know, for instance, that thousands of people who enter our hospitals have a small gynaecological investigation or even a boil removed come home with diseases like Hepatitis-C? Let me tell you the story of someone quite close to me. She is a woman in her mid-thirties who needed a routine gynaecological examination. Her gynaecologist admitted her into one of Delhis more upmarket clinics and six months after the procedure she discovered that she was suffering from chronic fatigue. A blood test revealed Hepatitis-C. Everyone told her to sue the hospital but when she discussed the matter with a lawyer he told her that not only was it unlikely that she would be able to prove her case but it would be a wasted effort anyway since the case could take 20 years to be settled. This was confirmed to me by Dr Bibek Debroy, who has done serious work on the problems of our judiciary, and concluded that it will take 300 years before our courts manage to clear their backlog of cases. But, thats another story.
To return to what is wrong with our healthcare and why every senior politician or bureaucrat wants to rush off abroad every time he gets seriously ill. The reason, dear readers, is simple. We have some of the best doctors in the world. Most of them keep up with the latest medical advances and spend several months a year on the international conference circuit boning up on the very, very latest. So, no Indian, really speaking, needs to go abroad for medical care (except in a few very rare cases) but its on account of our appalling standards of hygiene that those who can afford to, and those who go free on taxpayers money, choose to go abroad. In India we have not even begun to understand that hospital standards of cleanliness have to be a thousand times better than the best that you can find in outside hospitals.
It is on account of this that one small, slightly unclean instrument is all it takes to spread diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis-C. And, it is for this reason that most people have such a total dread of hospitals. As I said at the outset I write this from one of the best hospitals in the country so you can imagine how much worse things are in government hospitals and those in the mofussil that cater to the poorest of the poor.
My own experience of those
has been journalistic rather than personal. It came
through writing a series of articles on conditions in
Delhi hospitals more than 20 years ago. In return often
to those same hospitals, in the course of my work, and
can report truthfully that almost nothing has changed. I
should consider myself lucky that my leg is not being cut
open in one of them but keep your fingers crossed for me
Gloomy Republic Day
THE sun did come out in the Capital for Republic Day, as every commentator took care to repeat several times. And the DD cameramen did their bit as usual, they are now past masters at covering the parade. Wish one could say the same of the commentators. The Brigadier outdid himself with his unctuous tones. He seemed to think it was a poetry recital. The two English commentators on the India (international channel) were so busy with their accents and their indeeds that somewhere along the way they lost both their grammar and pronunciation. No amount of haw-hawong could cover up their lack of descriptive power. The veterans like Sunit Tandon and Rini Khanna stuck to their script, did comments on what was before their eyes, which is what commentating is about and some new voices followed suit. Clearly it is time that DD discovered and trained some real commentators and got rid of the cliche-ridden platitude-laden pseudo-patriot, one of whom described India as a tolerant, peace-loving nation even as other channels were showing harrowing shots of the widow and daughter of the missionary and his two sons at the funeral of their charred remains. To add to the poignancy, the camera close-ups of the names at India Gate settled on the letter M and many of the names which followed were those of Muslims. There is a moral in this somewhere, especially as the news of the Padma Shri for Tendulkar was accompanied by a newsitem describing the strict security provided for him. No, this was not a Republic Day to rejoice over and the many young Indians who voiced their disillusionment on Star News about the state of the country on Republic Day were further testimony to this.
And while on the Republic Day coverage, the reception of the national DD channel was very poor colourwise and when one slipped over to the international channel of DD, which was presumably going to many parts of the world, the colour was fine but the dreadful commentaries made one cut off the sound and watch the pageantry (which was also pronounced wrong, as was democratic). For some reason, the channel broke down towards the end, so it was back to the national channel and poor colours. Doordarshan, still treated as an official channel, had better get its act together.
Added to the violence in real life is the violence that appears on the screen. In the afternoon, every channel took advantage of the holiday to screen a feature film. It was violence and horrifics on most channels, both Indian and foreign. Coming on top of the murders in Bihar, Orissa and Delhi, and the corpses of newborn infants in Hyderabad, it added to the general gloom.
Was there then, nothing to be cheerful about? Yes, there was. First shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan again beginning the Republic Day telecast, as he has done as long as I can remember, except for a few missed years. Then the exuberance of children as they danced and sang their way down Rajpath (or the Rajpath as our friend on DDs international channel called it). Our motor-cycle riders who have passed into the Guinness Book, 27 riders on seven motor cycles. Phew: Did someone get the timing wrong when the aerial acrobatics by our Air Force took place simultaneously.
Then we had the Australian Open tennis and some exciting matches. And now, at long last, we have started watching the Indo-Pakistan cricket series. Perhaps the sporting spirit will redeem us all, and the terrible phase through which our great country is passing. And television, in doing its share of responsible reporting and honest exposes, must continue to play its part, which is considerable, in upholding the values which this country holds dear.
Tailpiece: Full marks to
newscaster Vishnu Som for what must have been a heroic
effort to get rid of his warts. Gone are the unwanted
emphases, he now knows how to open and close a bulletin
and has even been known to smile. Keep it up, Vishnu.
Public Service Commission
THE Public Service Commission will assemble in Delhi in the first week of March. Lord Lee and his colleagues are expected to be in Delhi by March 4.
The procedure for the conduct of enquiries cannot be fixed until the Commission assembles.
Meanwhile, Mr Haig, former
Deputy Secretary, Finance Department, and Secretary to
the Fiscal Commission, has been placed on special duty to
do the spade work. As regards the questions, nothing can
be definitely settled till the draft has been approved of
by the Commission.
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