Sunday, February 4, 2001,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Lessons from disaster
By Rakshat Puri
HE Gujarat earthquake may have a few lessons for people in and outside the State to reflect upon. It may be possible also to blame the authorities in the state and at the Centre for some degree of unpreparedness.

Carry ration card next time you get stuck!
By Prem Kumar
ND the Chief Minister of Gujarat said, so says a media report, that he had ordered an inquiry into the causes of the earthquake and had declared a statewide alert. Thank him for his seriousness and thank God that he did not call for God's explanation for having caused the earthquake. Our hands may be full dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake but our feet are free so anyone who matters can put his foot in his mouth.


Timid tremor tax
February 3
, 2001
A budget for disaster
February 2
, 2001
Disaster mismanagement
February 1
, 2001
Earthquake economics
January 31
, 2001
The world responds
January 30
, 2001
Mother earth as killer
January 29
, 2001
The Kumbh mela — a tradition that lasts
January 28
, 2001
Wheat man’s burden
January 26
, 2001
Pressing on with peace
January 25
, 2001



Law and systems
By Chaman Lall and Bela Gupta
E are entering the new millennium — what we may or can often call tormented by flashes all around eventualised by the multi-dimensional changes at a global pace much due to scientific and technological advancements which instead of illuminating have been causing more glare than enlightenment. 

Universities of Haryana: academic ghettoes?
By D.R. Chaudhry
ROF. Amrik Singh's article 'Varsities in Punjab, Haryana' (The Tribune, Jan 11, 2001) in response to Prof V.N. Datta's anguished comment on the decline of research in our universities dilates upon the malaise in the universities of two neighbouring states.


By Humra Quraishi
Fewer scrambling to the top
ECENTLY, a few European friends pointed out that research conducted went on to prove that people living in high-rise apartment buildings suffered from mental stress of a peculiar sort. 

  • Medicines and truth from Iraq

  • Quetta earthquake worse than this one?

  • Decaying us in these decaying times


Vajpayee ushers in transparency
HE Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, has of late taken the lead in living up to the BJP-led Government’s assurance to usher in transparency. He has taken a bold step in demystifying the Budget. 

  • Like father like son

  • Bureaucratic relief

  • ‘Political’ dip

  • Overhearing controversy


By Harihar Swarup
A writer in love with India
IXTEEN years back I received an envelope from Paris. The contents surprised me. Carefully folded inside was a photograph with a covering letter. It was my photograph with Dominique Lapierre atop the Eiffel Towers and scribbled on the letter were memorable words, penned in a clear, neat handwriting: “In happy memory of a good time”.




Lessons from disaster
By Rakshat Puri

THE Gujarat earthquake may have a few lessons for people in and outside the State to reflect upon. It may be possible also to blame the authorities in the state and at the Centre for some degree of unpreparedness. But in sum, reflection on the earthquake brings to mind immediately a perspective on the frailty and essential helplessness of humankind in the face of any major natural disaster; a perspective on humanity and inhumanity in humankind; a perspective on the place of the earth and humankind in the unimaginable endlessness of the universe; a perspective on the unending need to search for and concentrate on core values of life and death; and a perspective on the terrible character of nature’s wrath when it rages - in whatever form.

Of lessons from the terrible disaster: it may be true that the people and the permission-giving authorities ought to have been much more concerned than they were about the way in which structures were continuously built. It seems in even many of the high-rise buildings insufficient thought was given to laying suitably quake-safe foundations and to reinforcing walls and roofs with steel support. This may not be easy to forgive in the ruling circumstances - the corrupt ways in which, for example, sanction is given and obtained for buildings and their infrastructural requirements. This kind of rampant corruption is not restricted to Gujarat. Corruption, including bribery and various ways of violating the law, is a disease that holds every metropolis, every city and almost every village in the country - why bother about disastrous consequences?

Some voices have been heard blaming the authorities at the Centre and the state for tardiness in responding to the occasion with the various kinds of assistance needed immediately. This is not really justified, nor even fair. The immensity of the disaster dawned on everybody, in and outside government, only gradually after that fateful morning of January 26. The full impact of what really had happened came only hours later when news began to trickle in of Gujarat’s having been really the epicentre of a high-measuring earthquake.

The Centre may have awakened late to the disaster; but it did, soon enough. Rescue teams as well as aid of all kinds began to be rushed to Gujarat. As usual, it was the armed forces contingents which led the rest. Thousands of soldiers and military engineering groups brought sophisticated machinery to help in the rescue. Some two score air force craft were pressed immediately into service. The naval arm sent in a number of ships and helicopters.

Gradually, as the international community awoke to the magnitude of the disaster, aid and sympathy began to come from other countries. Notably, Pakistan’s General Pervez Mushrraf was among the first to send a message of condolence to Delhi, and to offer also relief for the victims. The Pakistan High Commissioner in India was reported saying he was waiting to hear from the Indian authorities for coordinating relief activities. Nothing like a fearful, awesome natural disaster to bring people together. And also to highlight the various shades and aspects of humankind.

In Gujarat itself, in every city struck by the earthquake everybody went to everybody else’s help as if the state’s entire population was one family. Reports spoke of young and old rushing into and out of dangerously positioned buildings, digging to rescue people from under collapsed roofs and beams and bricks - reports of casual heroism that might surprise subsequently even the heroes and heroines themselves! But there were also those, heartless and inhuman, who took advantage of the situation to enrich themselves. Men used the occasion to loot jewellery from the dead and the injured, approaching in the garb of helpers; they rummaged in the rubble for cash, ornaments and for whatever else they could get, breaking open safes and cupboards. What is it, really, that conditions and diversifies people into such varying responses to a disaster of this magnitude?

The mind turns almost instinctively to a question of core values that are supposed to govern human life and its many attitudes and ramifications. This in turn leads to reflection upon the general lack of inclination or opportunity to view ourselves in perspective and proportion to our real size and station in the universe. The scientists tell us, in the words of one commentator, that “the surface of the earth is in continuous slow motion”. Seven 100-150 km thick plates form the surface. These collide with and push one another all the time.

The Indian plate continues to push against the Eurasian plate. The resulting strain created the Himalayas about 50 million years ago. It would not be irrelevant to quote here the Director of the National Geophysical Research Institute, Harish Gupta. He is reported saying that the earthquake in Bhuj “unleashed energy equivalent to a 5.3 megaton hydrogen bomb”; and that the aftershocks of the violent force would last for months. Consider the measure, against the earth’s moving surface plates, of man’s own scientifically created violence-source!

So, where does this movement on the earth position us when considered in the perspective of the universe’s endlessly vast space-time? Stars which are hundreds of light-years away may have collapsed and vanished. We continue to see them for hundreds of years when they are not really there, because light takes that time to reach our eyes. Compare this, for an idea of what this means, with the fact that light from the sun takes a few minutes to come to the earth. So much for the reach of our senses! And the significance of planet Earth in the universe?

The earth is a small element in the solar system; the solar system is a small element in the Milky Way; the Milky Way is a small galaxy among many-times-larger galaxies moving in the limitlessness of space and time. If the earth, an almost invisible speck in the universe, disappeared, what difference would it make to the incomprehensibly out-reaching space-time-matter that is the universe?

Measured in this perspective, what is the place of the human individual in the endlessness of universal reach, in the endlessness of time? What is the measure of his or her worldly ambitions, worldly progress, in science, in art, in living? Where, in this context, do we place human value-systems? Where in human value-systems do we place community, creed, nationalism, patriotism, race, and human relationships? Where do we place things such as nuclear progress, nuclear defence, and nuclear offence? Those lines from Macbeth thrust themselves into the mind - “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, / To the last syllable of recorded time; / And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. / Out, out brief candle! / Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more: it is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing”.

And this tale, full of sound and fury signifying nothing, will of course go on, and on, in all its familiar detail and ritualisation as long as the earth lasts and humankind endures.

— Asia FeaturesTop



Carry ration card next time you get stuck!
Prem Kumar

AND the Chief Minister of Gujarat said, so says a media report, that he had ordered an inquiry into the causes of the earthquake and had declared a statewide alert. Thank him for his seriousness and thank God that he did not call for God's explanation for having caused the earthquake.

Our hands may be full dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake but our feet are free so anyone who matters can put his foot in his mouth. And that is how they all kept on giving out figures of the dead. It started with 130 and went on to 50,000 and even more. The more cautious said over one and a quarter lakh were trapped under the debris, another way of saying they could be dead for there was no way to reach them. The rescuers had not even reached the debris when these figures were being shelled out.

And how do they know? The difference between 5,000 and 10,000 and 20,000 and 30,000 seemed so thin. The man in charge of a cremation spot was ready with his figures, district authorities had theirs and man or mediaman in the street had his own exclusive information. The State Home Minister and Chief Minister did not lag behind and occasionally came out with theirs. Nobody will accept the fact that nobody knew. Perhaps no one will ever know the exact figure ever.

The figures are important for relief money and compensation will come accordingly. And the authorities want to be sure. While quake victims were chasing their kin, dead or gasping for their breath, local officials were demanding ration cards or other documents to decide on relief. Next time you are trapped in collapsed building, remember to keep your ration card!

Talking of next time, please also remember to run to the nearest town in a calamity for rescue or relief effort takes a long time to reach villages. Even counting of casualties is confined to bigger towns, then smaller towns and if resources permit, the villages afterwards. VIPs, of course, will visit only towns where planes can land. Mediamen do reach smaller places but they, unfortunately, are not trained in rescue and have no resources for relief.

That brings us to training part. Not that the people engaged in rescue and relief effort, government men or private individuals, are a trained lot either. The trained ones, even the dogs, will come from other countries. As in the past, Army and paramilitary forces were rushed to help. Often, they are trained in warfare and enforcement of law and order, not relief and rescue work in floods, famines and earthquakes. Of course, they take their job, whatever it is, seriously and honestly, so they are the only ones to be called in to deal with such situations.

We mentioned dogs above. Do we have sniffer dogs in our country? Surely, a lot of them with the Army, paramilitary forces, police and perhaps revenue enforcement staff. But they are trained to sniff explosives and drugs and are deployed to "sanitise" public functions of VIPs and not to rescue common people.

And why troops and paramilitary personnel and well-meaning volunteers from NGOs cannot be successful in rescue operations just as the groups from Switzerland, Germany or Britain? Our men did not have the same kind of equipment — sensors, cutters, cranes and heavy earthmoving vehicles. Our authorities never tried to procure them and keep them handy for such emergencies.

A lot of relief supplies, even though inadequate have come. Where were they to go? How to distribute them? Who was to distribute them? Who was to organise it? Who was to co-ordinate? Who was to monitor? A host of agencies and organisations have been engaged in this effort but without much coordination, much less of direction. After days, mediamen were the first and only ones to reach some villages. The Prime Minister too has admitted delay in relief.

Coordination? There is a disaster management set-up by the Central Government at Delhi, quite a distance from Gujarat. It holds meetings and Press briefings. Its spokesman referred to India as being a vast country, not asking for assistance from other countries. Of course, he added, help was coming spontaneously and was welcome. Was it necessary to say India did not ask country for aid? Why not seek something which could help save lives? What a false sense of pride!

Did I say pride? Yes, we like to believe we have disaster management committees. People in Delhi were worried because it is second most hazardous seismic zone. Reassurance came promptly. The state government said that it had a committee as well as a plan. The Lt. Governor held a press conference to talk about three control rooms for a population of one crore plus and many police control room vans. Hospitals were being equipped for any calamity and about 150 from among thousands of Delhi policemen were trained in disaster management. We are ready for any disaster, the authorities in Delhi say. God bless them and God save us! Those who know Delhi and its administration know better. 


Law and systems
Chaman Lall and Bela Gupta

WE are entering the new millennium — what we may or can often call tormented by flashes all around eventualised by the multi-dimensional changes at a global pace much due to scientific and technological advancements which instead of illuminating have been causing more glare than enlightenment. In such a state one may come round to think ‘what to do?’ ‘where to go’ and ‘how to combat?’. This is so because the fabric of society has become so complex and complicated that it may not be possible to respond to the call of Dr Tagore’s ‘Ekla chalo’ (march alone).

When we ponder over different strata of society the only ray of hope turns towards a ‘community or fraternity of lawyers’ along with their allied legal and judicial system, which have been with us since the very dawn of civilisation. Nancy M. Anderson, in the paper delivered at the Commonwealth Law Conference 1999 remarked: “Law is as old as the world itself. Changes in the world precipitate changes in law. Both are constantly evolving, expanding and become more complex.”

Naturally, this segment of society, who has brain reservoirs, can find a better way because of indepth insight into multifarious fields, and the problems confronting them throughout.

In another paper published by Messers Derek P Hilton and R.E. Megarry, titled: “The role and responsibilities of lawyers in the modern world” observed that the field of lawyers “is not limited to what is brought to them, but embraces all to which the lively mind of a professional man of affairs can contribute.”

In this back-ground, the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Legal Education and conduct placed particular emphasis on the need for lawyers to be made aware of the ethical dimensions of the practice of law. It was further emphasised that the lawyers must maintain and improve their contribution to fundamental democratic values, including protection of human rights providing legal services or disadvantaged section of society.

The fulfilment of the lawyers’ role of “protecting individuals and groups from the abuse of public and private power” was held to be of paramount importance. This may sound like utopia in the context of multidimensional challenges of the new millennium but if we seriously consider that it can bring out sea-change.

Nancy M. Anderson maintains: “The objectives are relevant today as we enter the new millennium with considerations of general objective and broad statements about cooperation and exchange of information are a starting point, as is shown from the discussion of activities of specific states, the aim must be to tailor the most appropriate scheme for each country.”

At the same time Nancy sounds a note of caution:

“The new century will prove resolutions in the form of opportunities and challenges. Presently, one of these challenges is to be able to use the new technology in the information revolution to its optimum. Opportunities need courage, foresight and a vehicle of achievability.”

The attention towards lawyers is natural when we come across the following memorable word of Justice Vivian Bose, retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India, who observed as under:

Lawyers occupy a specially privileged position in society and that thrusts great responsibilities on us (lawyers); at the same time it gives us immense opportunities to mould the life and thought of the Nation, not so much by talk though we can also be great talkers, beaten only by another class politicians and ministers, but by our life and example, by what we do in the courts of course, but also in spheres outside the range of bread and butter life.

The most vital factor for our inclination towards this class is that this class is illuminated, not much dependent on the vote-bank and no dependability on any other source or factor. The lawyers can be less dependent on any other segment of society than any other professional or functional group.

To further substantiate we find it relevant to paint a vivid picture of the Indian society in the words of Justice Vivian Bose:

“Ministers at the top are corrupt. Their corruption seeps down to the official below them who have to condone and forward the corrupt practices of their bosses in order to keep their jobs; it forces them to be corrupt. From them it seeps down to Administrative Officers below them till it reaches the lowest rungs of the ladder.”

In the wake of above observation from the men who matter it is obvious that the whole mechanism of society has gone out of gear and many parts of the machinery have rusted for which we certainly may require the qualified ‘social engineers’ whose initiatives should begin from their own self after invoking the spiritual self with the impartial words of Socrates “Shine Inward”. There is no dearth of laws and rules and the codes but when moulded on wrong side can lead to disasters. Then let these be moulded to achieve the utilitarian concept of “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” or the keyone to Hon’ble Prime Minister when he concluded the dream of world with the happiness of all with impartiality and extinction of miseries and worries of one and all as to quote him “Sarve Bhavanti Sukhina, Sarve Santu niramaya, Sarve Bhadrani Pashyantu, Ma kaschit dukh bagh bhavet”.

This can be achieved through attempts in the direction of Adjustment, principally through legislative, administrative and judicial means, of traditional and static social and legal institution to the needs and demands of society aiming at economic development and social advancement. It is this area that the role of lawyers as a social engineer can come up as the instruments of social change to meet the multidimensional challenges facing the country in particular and the globe in general. This happy situation presents a scholarship which regards theory on truth stated in an abstract form to be constantly measure by practice as a test of correctness, for a theory and practice are correlative, each of which requires the aid of the other for proper development as observed by Ms Lakshmi Devi, an eminent advocate of Andhara Pradesh High Court.

“A theory which does not agree with the facts relating to a stage where society has reached or which does not work in practice in the age in which it is required to work is simply wrong. A practice, on the other hand, which is not guided and enlightened by abstract or theoretical study is short-sighted, unprogressive and likely to be based upon a blender. Thus the theories in constitutional law should be so developed as to meet the changing requirements of the fast changing society.”

She continues: “It is not however only on the greatness of judges that the legal profession is dependent in discharging their obligation. Every Indian lawyer is in a sense, therefore, a statesman by virtue of his profession and may at any time find himself called upon to decide questions destined to leaving a lasting mark upon the Government of his country.

She concludes “Advocates’ immediate client may be an individual human being but his long term client is the whole community public duties rest upon the profession as a whole”.

Ms Lakshmi amplifies: The courts, which term includes judges and the lawyers, are symbolic of our preference for law over force as the ruling mechanism in a democratic society.

So this keeping the ruling mechanism in a democratic society so as to ensure the ‘happiness of all’ is the multi dimensional challenge of the new millennium for which mechanism we require the social engineers among lawyers.

Justice H.R. Khanna, Chairman, Law Commission of India, and former Judge of the Supreme Court of India in a lecture delivered at Bangalore had said as under:

“The legal profession is a profession of service to the community.... To curb and control that brute, we need the rule of law”

We have heard the names of great lawyers like Daniel Webster, who, in the words of John Kenney could throw thunderbolts at Hayne and dominate the Supreme Court as the foremost lawyers. On similar strain we can speak of Motilal, and Sapru, Bhulabhai and Munshi and Alladi Krishnaswai Ayyar as well. “Role of lawyers in a developing society is linked with the question of the contribution which law can make for the development of society. Used as an instrument of social the act of change, prevent upheavals and eliminate jolts....Law synthesizes change with stability, sets up a rapport between past and present and projects such rapport into the future.... The relation between law and social changes is reciprocal, for, law in its turn can have a moulding effect on social development.”

Space may not permit us to further elucidate but we would like to conclude that since the lawyers are better equipped they are to be channelised through state and voluntary association to develop the traits of a sage never compromising quality with quantity and never giving away the social good for the individuals gains. A full-fledged system is the one and only device to meet multi-dimensional challenge of the millennium. Dangerous signals are heard as Edmund Blunden had said: “Old liberties are closed, peace broken by new noises, rusticity depraved by new urbanism”. Let us join hands and heads to ensure the saving of the country in particular and globe in general, by providing a leadership of adjusters through the legal and lawyers professional and social channels.


Universities of Haryana: academic ghettoes?
D.R. Chaudhry

PROF. Amrik Singh's article 'Varsities in Punjab, Haryana' (The Tribune, Jan 11, 2001) in response to Prof V.N. Datta's anguished comment on the decline of research in our universities dilates upon the malaise in the universities of two neighbouring states. He has done grave injustice to the state of Haryana by lumping its universities with those of Punjab. Haryana occupies the lowest rung in the academic ladder in the field of higher education in several northern states of India and would not like to share this pride of place with any other state.

Prof Singh laments the absence of autonomous colleges in Punjab and Haryana and the erosion of university autonomy through regular government interference. There is a need to see through the fetishism of university autonomy. Autonomy of university or any other institution is to be understood in its societal context and cannot be conceptualised in a vacuum. In the absence of a sufficiently strong democratic movement and a culture of critique on the campus, university autonomy is likely to degenerate into autocracy of an individual Vice -Chancellor in this context. Can any one imagine a Vice-Chancellor appointing himself a paper-setter and examiner in a prestigious entrance examination of his university and then taking upon himself the task of re-valuating the answer books of several examinees in different disciplines? All this was meant to help some candidates. This has happened in Haryana. This is how autonomy operates in Haryana universities.

It is the mechanism of checks and balances within the university itself that can curb the arbitrariness of its functionaries and successfully resist the intrusion of the state power in its domain. A democratic movement on the campus is an essential constituent of this mechanism. If this constituent is non-existent or weak, the state government is tempted to use a university as its preserve. Haryana provides a fine example of this phenomenon. During the last few years, the political leadership through its bureaucracy has taken over all effective powers in the decision-making bodies of a Haryana university like EC or AC by amending the University Act. No financial matter can be taken up in the absence of government nominees. The government, in a nutshell, can stall any decision taken by a university. As a consequence, Haryana universities have become third-rate government departments.

The quality of a university is determined by a complex inter-relationship of the ruling set up, the top university functionaries and the campus community at large. If this relationship is mutually cohesive, purposive and dynamic, a university grows as a centre of excellence and its autonomy is never a point of issue. A closer look at these three important segments in Haryana would make the point clear. The Haryana ruling set up is strongly marked by feudal mindset. A university primarily is a dissenting academy where various societal issues are subjected to a ruthless critique, giving rise to creative turbulence in society. Such a vision has no place in the feudal world - view. In such a world-view, a university is a set of unnecessary headache, a potential trouble spot that must be quietened at all costs. Complete peace must prevail there even if it is the peace of a graveyard. This explains the obsessive desire of Haryana rulers to rely more and more on retired army officers and bureaucrats to run the universities. This is not to suggest that these worthies are lacking in sincerity and competence. They may be highly motivated individuals. But in this age of specialisation and hi-tech professionalism, everybody cannot do every thing. A university professor, howsoever scholarly he may be, cannot command a battalion in the battlefield. Likewise, an army officer cannot run a university as it should be run, howsoever capable he may be. His emphasis is on discipline and by the time he starts understanding the intricacies and complexities of academic life, his term is over.

All four universities of Haryana at present are headed by those whose link with the academic life has been either non-existent or at the best tenuous. They are blissfully ignorant of the nuances of academic life that come to one's share only after a long period of teaching and research. This is not an act of oversight on the part of rulers of the state. It is an outcome of a calculated design. By updating a village school a Haryana politician may get a few more votes. But by building a university he gets nothing except possible headache. If the system permits, he would be glad to close these extravaganzas and save a lot of money to distribute largesses in the state to strengthen his vote bank.

All the Haryana universities have teachers' organisations. Periodic elections are regularly held with great fanfare. Office-bearers are elected and their names appear in the Press. They are quite vocal in raising demands on better pay scales and other economic issues. But none of these bodies has ever assailed the rulers for foisting non-academic leadership on a university, now or earlier. In private, the teachers can be heard grumbling and complaining. They treat the phenomenon of the non-academic leadership of a university a menace to the academia. But in public none is willing to stick out his or her neck. The teachers' body maintains studied silence on this vital issue. Every body on the campus wants the academics to improve but none is prepared to openly question the unhealthy trends, let alone offering a concerted fight against it. One cannot eat the cake and have it too. Fault, as observed by Shakespeare, “is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

The non-academic leadership of a university, the lack of democratic movement there, the apathy and indifference of the public at large and the philistinic attitude of the ruling set up towards higher education are the major causes of the malaise in Haryana universities. To talk of purposive teaching and quality of research in such circumstances is to cry in the wilderness. Axe always falls on libraries and labs in the name of economy. The number of quality research journals keep on declining constantly and the labs are often starved of necessary equipment. But ironically enough, there is no shortage of funds for constructing buildings. A chief minister happened to express his dislike for the main gate of a university that had excellently served its purpose since the inception of the university. The gate was razed to the ground and an imposing structure erected in its place at a big cost to satisfy the whims of an individual. A building that costs more than 50 lakh rupees is lying idle in a university and the authorities are in a fix regarding its proper utilisation. All Haryana universities have impressive physical infrastructure but the structures of cement and concrete alone do not make a university. Classes are still held under the shade of trees in Vishwa Bharti in West Bengal but this has not deterred it from showing excellence in certain fields.

The fact that Haryana rulers hold academics in utter contempt is proved by a recent hideous act of appointing a non-descript, briefless district courts lawyer as PVC to 'assist' a 'general sahib' ensconced in VC's chair. Such kinds of acts are a rule rather than an exception in Haryana universities. This leads one to conclude that rulers treat these seats of higher learning as sinecure where loyalists and faithfuls, howsoever worthless they may be for the academic world, can be dumped safely. This nihilistic and cynical mindset has turned Haryana universities into academic ghettoes that breed mutual distrust, intrigue and infighting at the cost of teaching and research.

The way the universities in Haryana are constituted at present leave no scope for any kind of meaningful teaching and research. But people have to survive in every kind of eventuality. Caste-feuding is the major mode of survival and advancement in this environment. Sycophancy is another mode. Those who cannot fit into these modes have to face a highly unenviable situation. Most of them end up as academic morons. Very view with iron grit and firm determination manage to swim against the tide and do some meaningful work against all heavy odds. One feels like saluting them. But a swallow does not make a summer. Likewise, this miniscule minority does not constitute a campus. An individual in this category is an odd man out and has to work in a highly inhospitable terrain.

The situation is really distressful. The point, however, is that somebody has to remove this distress, Who will take the lead? The question posed by Prof Amrik Singh at the end of his peace is really problematic. We, with folded hands, can wait for the divine intervention to come to our rescue in distress when the rot has crossed its limit, as promised by Lord Krishna in Gita. But the divine promise is proving too elusive to be reliable in this age of Kalyuga. Human intervention is the only hope. A university cannot continue to exist as an idyllic oasis for long in a vast desert full of filth and dirt. Even prestigious central universities like JNU and DU have suffered an incalculable decline over the years.

The ominous shadow of mafia is not confined to the tinsel world of Mumbai alone. Thugs, pindaris and swindlers rule the roost in every walk of life. Indian society is facing a grave crisis. There is a need of ruthless critique of the rot at the centre of our system, backed by social movements for radical transformation of the existing social arrangements. This is a long haul. But there is no short cut in life. This does not mean that people in a university or any other social institution should do nothing till the eventual large - scale social transformation takes place. Those who feel the pinch of the rot and cannot reconcile with it must consistently strive for betterment. This is how an organic link between the immediate and the ultimate is established.


Fewer scrambling to the top
By Humra Quraishi

RECENTLY, a few European friends pointed out that research conducted went on to prove that people living in high-rise apartment buildings suffered from mental stress of a peculiar sort. This was because of the very fact that apartment living is not really conducive to good health or call it good living.

And now after this recent earthquake, people living in Delhi’s and surrounding Gurgaon’s high-rise buildings couldn’t really agree more for none of the builder giants of the city have come out with statements confirming or denying whether earthquake resistant material has been used in the construction of these concrete structures. In fact, one particular builder’s credentials are still shrouded in haze after fire had engulfed and claimed several lives in a certain South Delhi film- theatre constructed by them. And though we blindly ape the West but lag behind in the very vital. For instance it’s absolutely essential to know about the state of the building you’re living in otherwise phobias would play havoc — that is much before the actual disaster strikes. Together with this it is absolutely essential to know the fate of the relief material donated/gifted by you. Yes, it is essential because even till Wednesday night relief material was found lying at New Delhi’s airport cargo section — that is yet to be airlifted even after five days. We’re talking of big money and bigger promises so why this callousness? In fact the office bearers of the Khan Market association (one of the busiest and exclusive market places of this city) are sensibly by- passing the government or any of ifs agencies and are hiring matadors and directly carting the collected items to the villages of Gujarat. I sincerely suggest that other associations should follow this example.

Medicines and truth from Iraq

And in the face of this tragedy it was touching to know that two plane loads of essential medicines have been flown in from Baghdad (This when Iraq is itself facing an acute crisis of medical facilities because of the ongoing sanctions). In fact I overheard about this gesture, at a meet arranged with the visiting adviser to President, Mr Saddam Husein, Mr Hamid Yousef Hammadi. Hammadi had been here earlier last year and speaks without any “its and buts” — absolutely frankly. And in the same strain blasted the USA and this time went even a step ahead — quoted and named specific sources from the London Institute of Strategic Studies which go on to state that the USA is no longer interested in bombarding Iraq “for it’s new game-plan is to contain and contaminate Iraq through the television, educational programmes etc and to corrupt the middle-class by capitalism. But we are fighting these contamination tricks by censoring television channels and monitoring educational programmes etc”.

And hearing this I turned to K R Malkani (think-tank man of the Right Wing political parties and very much part of the invitees list that afternoon) and asked him whether he thinks the USA is trying to contaminate us too, the hapless Indians, through the dirt screened on the small screen and the rise in materialism, and if so what are the counter measures. Malkani, probably infected by Hammadi’s frankness had this to say: “Yes, all this is true but can one dare raise a voice against the USA government can, though we know we are getting contaminated! No, no how can we censor programmes ..this situation will go on ...we’re under the thumb of the USA. Nothing can be done about this reality.” A pity that no finger (s) can be effectively raised at that super power responsible for keeping our already bruised selves under their thumb.

And when Hammadi was asked about what has kept the people of Iraq going, in spite of all possible odds, he said” one of the tricks was to buy foodgrains directly from the farmer with the result farmers in Iraq have become millionaires ...richest people in the country and the other reason could be that we’ve followed President Saddam Husein’s philosophy that life must go on in spite of setbacks.” And Hammadi made it quite apparent that days are brightening up and countries are getting closer to Iraq — “India too can resume trade with us by using Article 50 which allows resumption of trade by merely informing the UN’s Secretary General and it can also resume air services with us, for why keep the people of the two countries apart....but don’t come to us on the 23rd hour!” Probably we’ll have to take permission from Uncle Sam !

Quetta earthquake worse than this one?

Last weekend Bhai Chand Patel (I have already put in a brief introduction on him in one of my earlier columns) hosted a do for New York Times’s former South Asia correspondent Barbara Crossette and as expected talks couldn’t help getting revolved around this earthquake. Pakistan’s High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, sitting on the same table as I, recounted details of the worst earthquake to have hit this belt — the Quetta earthquake of 1935. “I belong to Quetta and to this day people recount that the ground was flat — from one end of the town you could see the other end, that is all the buildings had been razed to the ground! And earlier when I had been posted in Tokyo though one felt tremors during a powerful earthquake but the buildings are so built that when hit by an earthquake they sway from one side to the other but they don’t topple because they are truly earthquake-proof. “For some strange or say not so strange reason even whilst writing this I can visualise government chaps all set to go to Japan “to study the earthquake resistant buildings of Tokyo” ! What do you say to this except that we are decaying with the decaying times. In fact there’s more to write about this get-together, especially about what artist Satish Gujral had to say on another sensitive topic but space limitations are staring me in the face. So please wait patiently till the next week-end.

Decaying us in these decaying times

I must end on this bit otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sit patiently. Last month whilst interviewing the so-called who’s who of this city on how they have handled emotional pain, the one answer that was hard to digest (at least for a romantic like me) was the one I got from counsellor-cum-psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh .This is what he had to say “I tell my clients that before they enter into a relationship they should make a list of pros and cons of what they stand to lose or gain in that relationship and accordingly whether they ought to pursue it or not.” Shocked ,when I pointed out the instrumentality and calculation underlying this process he added “ The choice is yours — either be rational or go through a nervous breakdown! “ I’d rather go through a nervous breakdown than maintain an accounts- register on love ....what decaying times are we living in. Probably that’s why there’re no lover pairs around.


Vajpayee ushers in transparency

THE Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, has of late taken the lead in living up to the BJP-led Government’s assurance to usher in transparency. He has taken a bold step in demystifying the Budget. Unlike his bureaucrat-turned Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, who keeps matters concerning Budget proposals close to his heart, Mr Vajpayee has been speaking his mind out.

Soon after the earthquake shattered Gujarat, there had been reports that the Government was contemplating levying a calamity tax. Finance Minister Sinha, true to his style, dismissed the reports as speculation. The Prime Minister was more bold. He clearly indicated that harsh steps were needed to raise resources. Even after the surcharge, the Prime Minister went ahead to announce that more taxes would follow in the Union Budget proposal. On the contrary, Mr Sinha quipped that one liners often lead to misunderstanding of the economic policies.

Similarly, the Prime Minister also indicated that railway fares would go up in the coming Railway Budget. His Railway Minister however, differs. Ms Mamata Banerjee says she would explore alternative methods to raise resources. Will the Prime Minister prevail this time.

Like father like son

Late Sant Narotam Singh, who took active part in the development of gurdwaras, has an admirer at home. His son Dr Komal Avtar Singh has taken to his father’s footsteps. After retiring from the Indian Foreign Service as a diplomat, Dr Singh took up social work as a Karamyogi.

As a Gurmat researcher, he has been preaching the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib for the past 25 years in Kampala, London, Jakarta and Bahrain. The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Committee has recently nominated Dr Komal Avtar Singh as a member of Dharam Parchar Committee in recognition of his deep and devoted study of Gurbani, Sikh history and culture.

Bureaucratic relief

The team travelling with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Gujarat last week was witness to an interesting tale of red tapism. It so happened that two senior officers of the administration were deputed to handle relief and rehabilitation work in Bhuj city. The officers went about their duty promptly and began with the first task—that of locating an office. Since they could find no suitable building, they settled for an open space near the airport. Having found the space, temporary tents were erected for the two officers, which were to function as their office.

However, the senior among the two was not happy with the tent allotted to him and decided to tick off his junior in the typical Government style. He got his stenographer to type out a letter to the junior officer, detailing the sitting arrangements and other duties. The junior officer was not only unhappy at the development but was also seething in anger. He was heard complaining that the departmental order would take a couple of days to reach him as it would have to move through the proper channel. Since he was at a whispering distance from his senior, he felt the order could have been delivered orally. So much for the initial action of the bureaucracy in providing relief for quake-hit Gujarat!

‘Political’ dip

Congress President Sonia Gandhi may have touched many a heart by her decision to go on a pilgrimage to Kumbh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders do not seem impressed. One, they say, she did not take a dip in the traditional way and, second, she made political comments. “If she had come for a religious visit why did she make a political statement,” asked a senior VHP leader. The VHP reaction is no surprise since the Congress and the Parishad have hardly ever been friends.

Overhearing controversy

Constitution Review Commission Chairman, Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah seems to have learnt the knack to handle the privileges of the hot seat. Constitutional matters like a fixed term for Parliament or for that matter the Gandhian model of indirect elections have been much in the news. And since the President and the Prime Minister have different views on the subject, it was only of natural interest to know the mind of Justice Venkatachaliah on the matter.

At a meeting with mediapersons, the Chairman probably had an inkling on what was up on the scribes’ mind. The moment the controversial subject was raised, Venkatachaliah quipped that he had overheard them thoroughly before coming to meet them. He refused to be drawn into a controversy. To another question on the kind of responses being received by the Commission on its suggestions, the Chairman retorted that the responses could not be categorised as fan mail and hate mail.

— (Contributed by TRR, Satish Misra, T.V. Lakshminarayan, Prashant Sood and P.N. Andley).


A writer in love with India
By Harihar Swarup

SIXTEEN years back I received an envelope from Paris. The contents surprised me. Carefully folded inside was a photograph with a covering letter. It was my photograph with Dominique Lapierre atop the Eiffel Towers and scribbled on the letter were memorable words, penned in a clear, neat handwriting: “In happy memory of a good time”. I had accompanied Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Paris in June, 1985, and covered the inauguration of the Festival of India. Rajiv Gandhi and the French President declared open the festival from the dizzy height of Eiffel Towers. Among the invitees was Lapierre, who was introduced to me by our Ambassador to France. I had, by that time, read “Freedom at Mid-night”, which took India by storm, and was delighted to meet its author. As we stood arm-in-arm , someone clicked. So considerate was the creator of “Freedom at Mid-night” that he sent me the photograph which is one of my valued possessions; I got it framed and put it in my drawing room.

Last week Lapierre was in India and this time he was accompanied by a contingent of journalists from Europe. The ostensible purpose of his visit was to have a dip at the Mahakumbh. One does not know if he really had a dip but he took the scribes from the continent around the world’s biggest congregation. He then went to Bhopal, a place “with wonderful landscape with amazing people and a rich cultural heritage”. He has fallen in love with the capital of Madhya Pradesh.

Lapierre has written a book on the Bhopal gas tragedy which he says, “is more than a tragedy retold”. The book is slated to be released next month in Italy, France and Spain. An English version may follow soon. Lapierre came to Bhopal in 1997 to find out from the people who had survived the gas tragedy and still living, their first hand experience, the trauma they had undergone.

Lapierre has been among the most distinguished journalists of half a century and hardly needs an introduction in India. His another book — “The City of Joy” — was another landmark in his literary career. He and his wife met Mother Teresa in 1981 and donated the royalty from the book for rescue of leper children and for the eradication of tuberculosis. Royalties from “Freedom at Midnight”, “City of Joy” and now “A Thousand Suns” support a network of relief programmes throughout India, particularly in Kolkata. In the past 17 years, Lapierre and his wife have contributed over $ 6 million to these projects. Besides Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi inspired Lapierre the most. In his words: “He is the most inspiring of all the heroes of the 20th century. I have never met Gandhi. He was dead long before I became a journalist. But I researched him so extensively that I feel I have met him. I think in some other incarnation, I must have been a disciple of Gandhi”.

Born in France from a father who was a diplomat and a mother who was a journalist, Dominique Lapierre traveled all over the world since he was 14. After 15 years as international correspondent with the European magazine “Paris Match”, he joined up with US journalist Larry Collins to write five of the major bestsellers of the past 50 years — “Is Paris Burning?”, “Or I’ll Dress You in Mourning”, “O Jerusalem”, “Freedom at Midnight” and “The Fifth Horseman”. “Is Paris Burning?” was made into a major movie by Paramount with 50 international stars.

Lapierre is now racing towards 70 but maintains the spirit of his adventurous days. India awaits his latest work on the Bhopal gas tragedy. People in India, will like to have an English version as soon as possible.



Tongue is the armor of the body. Tongue, ear, eye, hand and mind should be trained from boyhood upwards to avoid evil.

— From the discourses of Sathya Sai Baba


Of all the fine traits a man may possess the best is pleasant speech. There is nothing of equal benefit that he can have.

A man's success or failure in life depends upon the nature of his speech. Hence one should carefully guard himself from careless speech.

In making a statement so carefully weigh your words that your statement may not be easily contradicted by others.

While addressing others be pleasing in your speech. While listening to others, catch the sense without being hypercritical. That must be the aim of a wise man of spotless excellence.

— The Tirukkural, chapter LXV, 641-642, 645-646


Have you ever given thought to those millions of people who go hungry from day to day? There are thousand who have never had a full meal, who have only rags to cover their bodies. Millions of men, poor villagers, like cows and buffalows, pass their lives in huts surrounded by dirt and rubbish. Hundreds die by the roadside, uncared for. Mahatma, if you wat to love Atma, think of them and look after them as you do of your own limbs. They alone who do this are Mahatmas ad entitled to be called lovers of Atma.

— Swami Dayanand's admonition to a Sadhu on the banks of the Ganges.

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