Bye bye boycott
End of Sonia’s ordeal
Age-old ties on test
Moustache, the main issue!
Making India world’s ‘skill capital’
Bye bye boycott
THE Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision not to adopt tactics of disruption in Parliament is welcome. The defeat it suffered in the recent elections has opened the party’s eyes to the fact that the voters have taken a dim view of the confrontationist strategy it adopted in the last Lok Sabha session. Far from critiquing government policies, the BJP chose to boycott almost the whole session. It did not even show the elementary courtesy of letting the new Prime Minister make his maiden statement in the House. What’s worse, it allowed the passing of the Budget, involving thousands of crores of rupees, without any debate. Little did it know that the people were not enamoured of the BJP’s conduct, which was born more out of pique than rational thinking.
Mr L.K. Advani, a few weeks before the Maharashtra elections, had expressed regret over the boycott of Parliament. Now that he holds both the posts of party chief and Leader of the Opposition, he will be in a better position to ensure that the BJP sticks to parliamentary norms. It is true that the BJP was defeated in the Lok Sabha elections. However, the verdict should be seen in a more positive manner: the people chose the BJP to play the role of Opposition in Parliament. Needless to say, the responsibility of the Opposition is no less than that of the ruling party. By keeping vigil both within and without Parliament, it can prevent the government from running amok.
In the parliamentary system, the Opposition has many ways, including the right to move a no-confidence motion, to keep the government on tenterhooks. Boycott of the House and its committees is not one of them for it only plays into the hands of the government. It also amounts to dereliction of duty entrusted to it by its constituents. That the Congress’ conduct vis-ŕ-vis Mr George Fernandes in the last Lok Sabha was not exemplary was no justification for the BJP to follow in its footsteps. The voters expect the BJP to provide constructive opposition to the government. It will do well to bear in mind that there is no shortcut to success in democracy.
End of Sonia’s ordeal
After 25 days of the nightmarish experience, Sonia, the woman who was asked by community elders to annul her marriage with her husband Rampal and treat him like a brother, has come to an end. But this ugly episode will have a happy ending only if steps are taken to ensure that no other woman has to undergo a similar torture. Imagine the plight of the pregnant woman who is forced to do the unthinkable by insensitive khap members for whom the gotra of a person is more important than his or her dignity. Such irrational and patently illegal diktats have been issued many times in the past. Let the media attention that the case has drawn be the catalyst for putting an end to such farcical orders. In today’s times, such matters should be left to the choice of the individual rather than being pushed down their gullet by others. There is no denying the fact that many villages of the country are still seeped in medieval traditions but when such beliefs come into conflict with the rule of the law, they must be resisted tooth and nail, as Sonia did.
The khap members created the ruckus mainly because of the apathetic attitude of the administration. Had the officials swung into action at the first sign of trouble, things would not have come to such a pass. Even senior officials were insensitive to the extreme when the pernicious practice was exposed by the media. The Tribune was in the forefront of the crusade to get Sonia justice and her gratitude matters a lot to us.
In the end, tough handling by the police burst the canard spread by the community leaders who were made to accept a simple “oath” by the father of Sonia that he belonged to the Hooda gotra. While they have been subdued for the moment, there is still a very real danger of the conservative elders creating problems for the harried couple. It is now the responsibility of the government and social organisations to ensure that the brave lady is not made to pay for her bold stand. More than that, youth of the community too have to come forward to tell their elders that their advice is welcome as long as it is good for the society, but they should not think that they can be bigger than the law. Only such social pressure can make them realise their mistake.
Age-old ties on test
The normally cordial kisan-arhtiya relations, which remained unshaken even during militancy in Punjab, were recently under strain at a village in Bathinda district. A court had ordered the auction of a Chathewala farmer’s land after he reportedly defaulted on a loan. The farmer, whose four of the nine acres were scheduled to be auctioned, claims he has repaid the loan, but the arhtiya refuses to return the blank bond papers he had signed. Thousands of farmers had rallied to his support. A confrontation was avoided as on the request of the district administration, the court postponed the auction to January 20, 2005. This was the only possible way out of a highly charged situation.
Instead of registering cases against farmers’ leaders, the police should come out with the facts. Once the uncontested facts emerge, the case becomes easier to handle. If a loan has been taken, it has to be repaid. The court verdict has to be honoured, though the aggrieved farmer can go in for appeal. If any wrong-doing by the arhtiya is established, he must pay for it. If the farmer is at fault and is unable to clear the debt, his supporters should raise money to save him instead of building a “do-or-die” situation. Loans, whether taken from banks or arhtiyas, have to be cleared. The trust in the age-old farmer-arhtiya ties must be restored. Both need each other.
Arhtiyas are known to charge high interest rates. Illiterate farmers are frequently exploited and made to sign blank papers. The UPA government has announced plans to make cheaper credit available to agriculturists. Banks have been directed to be liberal in extending farm credit and compassionate in recovery. NABARD schemes for farmers have been well received. Still credit availability falls short of demand. Farmers usually turn to the arhtiya for easy, hassle-free access to credit, even if it is many times more expensive. Farmers indeed need to form cooperatives to take advantage of government schemes, bank loans and crop insurance.
The mid-term review of the annual credit policy announced by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Dr Yaga Venugopal Reddy, on October 26 has sent out one signal in a rather loud and clear manner: inflation is the biggest problem facing the Indian economy. This single factor alone will result in the rate of growth of gross domestic product (GDP) decelerating considerably and is likely to stymie the prospects of a revival in the investment climate that appears nascent at present. While the interest rate structure has not been tinkered with, the RBI has made a number of veiled and not-so-veiled references to the difficulties that lie ahead.
The country’s central bank and apex monetary authority has made it clear that the annual rate of inflation — measured point-to-point by the official wholesale price index (WPI) — would rise sharply from a level of 5 per cent projected in May to 6.5 per cent at the end of the current fiscal year (March 31, 2005). The rise in the inflation rate is largely a consequence of the sharp increase in international prices of crude oil that were in excess of $ 55 a barrel at the time of writing. The continuing tensions in Iraq together with the surge in winter demand are among the many reasons why world petroleum prices are not expected to ease in a hurry — which is pretty bad news for India which currently imports close to three-fourths of its requirements of crude oil.
There are limits to which the government can cut excise and customs duties on petroleum products to cushion domestic consumers from the impact of high international prices. On August 18, the Ministry of Finance had cut taxes on petroleum products thereby sacrificing revenues to the tune of around Rs 5,500 crore. It obviously cannot continue this exercise despite the demands of the Left parties. Prices of petroleum products were increased on June 15 and again on July 31. Given the unrelenting rise in world prices, another price hike at home has become inevitable. Higher transportation costs because of a rise in diesel prices would, in turn, again fuel inflationary fires across the board. Few would be surprised if the rise in the WPI breaches the 8 per cent mark one more time this year as it did in August. In other words, the RBI view that the headline inflation rate would be contained at 6.5 per cent at the end of the financial year is itself a rather optimistic expectation.
Like imported inflation, another factor that has contributed to higher prices has been the uneven monsoon — over both of which the government has absolutely no control. As the RBI’s review pointed out, the expected 3 per cent growth in agricultural output is certainly not going to materialise this year given the fact that the monsoon has been deficient in 13 out of the 36 meteorological subdivisions in the country. Thus, the RBI has reduced its GDP growth forecast from 6.5-7 per cent to 6-6.5 per cent. Once again, as is its wont, the RBI has been cautious. It would indeed be creditable if the economy manages to grow by 6 per cent during 2004-05.
On the positive side, Dr Reddy has highlighted the fact that the disbursement of non-food credit went up robustly to 11.5 per cent during the first six months of the current fiscal year (April to September) against 6 per cent in the corresponding period of the previous year. Whether this rise will be sustained in the coming six months remains to be seen. Business confidence surveys indicate that most corporate entities in the country expect a reduction in profitability in the October 2004 to March 2005 period. Although turnover had risen by around 30 per cent in the first half of 2004-05 and profitability by nearly 50 per cent, such impressive growth rates will clearly not be repeated during the second half of the year.
The RBI has pointed out that till October 21, the Union government had completed almost 50 per cent of its gross market borrowings and nearly 30 per cent of its net borrowings for the full fiscal year. “The market borrowing programme in the remaining part of the year needs to be calibrated carefully in view of strong credit demand,” the RBI Governor has stated. In other words, if the government borrows more than what it intends, this could lead to what is described as a “crowding out” phenomenon which, in turn, could lead to an upward pressure on interest rates.
The central government and big business have the greatest interest in a continuation of the “soft” interest rate regime. The government, after all, is the biggest borrower and wants low interest rates so that it can keep its revenue deficit low to meet the stringent terms and conditions of the newly-introduced Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. Whereas interest rates in nominal terms are at their lowest in thirty years, in real terms, given the spurt in the inflation rate, interest rates are negative. The question is whether such negative real interest rates would adversely affect savings and investments and if so, when. There may not be a clear answer to this question, but what cannot be denied is the fact that the high inflation rate is resulting in a situation in which it would be difficult to prevent interest rates from rising in the not-too-distant future.
The problem simply is that there is a distinct possibility of the government borrowing more than what it has budgeted for. There is pressure not merely from the Left but also from Sonia Gandhi herself to embark on an ambitious employment guarantee scheme that intends providing 100 days of gainful work (at the minimum wages) to one able-bodied member of each family living below the poverty line as has been promised in the national common minimum programme of the United Progressive Alliance coalition. Such a scheme is certain to require large sums of money which can come only from fresh borrowings.
More borrowings, in turn, could add to the strong inflationary impulses that already exist in the economy. Inflation, as any home-maker will tell you, hurts the poor and makes the government unpopular. This is the biggest dilemma being faced by India’s first Prime Minister who happens to be an economist by training. Dr Manmohan Singh was Indira Gandhi’s advisor when she talked about garibi hatao (banish poverty). That proved to be a hollow slogan. Will he now be able to reduce, if not remove, unemployment (berozgari hatao) given the financially-strapped state of the Indian economy? That is a tall order
Moustache, the main issue!
Valiant friend,” asked the Chairman of the four-member inquiry commission, “tell us why the late Shri Veerappan, our eminent brigand, trimmed his moustache.” The STF officer looked puzzled — he thought it was rather trivial.
The Chairman, a veteran of many commissions, smiled benignly. “Heroic officer, the public and its duly elected government feel this is the real issue. It may also throw light on his earlier escapes. It will also help all those biographers and film-makers lining up for the kill.”
“Sir, our boys did a great job. They wore costumes of cowherds, beggars, masons, etc. Imported stuff sir — more authentic and durable. Imagine a desi moustache fixed with nakli gum coming off while chatting to that dacoit, murderer …”
“Enough, courageous officer! Remember, we Indians always treat the dead with respect,” admonished a senior member, “don’t you see his garlanded pictures circulated by the Opposition party and his fan clubs? Shri Veerappan has become more eminent now. He was considered Robin Hood..”
“Tell me,” interrupted another member,” why 20 long years and over 100 crores, to get him? You are all bragging about this operation — but shame on you.” The STF chap looked puzzled again. “But, sir, I thought veterans like you four would know. Most such funds are called ‘secret’ and kept beyond audit. You know what the leaders, bureaucrats and top policemen do with them! Add their foreign tours for studying modern advanced methods in the field and imports of costumes and machines! And sir, at least 20 years were needed for making many political careers, settling scores through him, and …” The chairman squirmed, “Kindly stick to the point. Procedure and decorum are more important than what you describe as facts — that’s the essence of Indian democracy. Why did Shri Veerappan trim his legendary long and twirling moustache ?”
“Sir, it will take time to gather this information from various quarters like Maneka Gandhi. Now that Veerappan fear is gone, she wants to shift the focus from saving street dogs to elephants — remember he butchered hundreds of them. Also from those Human Rights wallahs crying hoarse that we should not have shot him down. That we should have arrested him, if possible after giving him notice and adequate opportunity to defend his noble self. Preferably without handcuffs, in a civilised manner.” “All right,” beamed the Chairman, “we give you three years for all this. We request the government to extend our term till then…..”
Making India world’s ‘skill capital’
India is the IT hub of the world and the preferred choice of back office operations. Our capital markets are attractive and there is macroeconomic stability. We are grain surplus, our forex reserves are $ 120.6 bn, we have a robust manufacturing and service sector, our corporates are dynamic and on an acquisition spree. We have stable institutions of a free market economy and a well-developed financial sector. Each of these victories has come because of affirmative positive action that drives enterprise.
The per capita income of India is $ 460 compared to $ 833 in Sri Lanka and $ 30,000 in the US. We are 127th in the Human Development Index and 55th in the Global Competitiveness Index. There are 40 million unemployed and many more underemployed in India today. This figure could reach up to 60 million in the next five years.
To put things in perspective, this is more than the entire population of countries like France, Italy and the UK. The per hour capita productivity of Indian workers is $ 5.45 compared to $ 11.69 in Thailand and $ 20.51 in Mexico. Whilst we are grain surplus, yet 280 million of our population live below the poverty line and over 400 million live on less than $ 1 a day. Of the 300 million children between 6 and 16, over a 100 million are not school going and of the balance, only a mere 10 per cent will complete school.
While we talk of India, most urbanites circumscribe the nation to the top 20 cities in India. Over 70 per cent of India lives in the rural reaches of the nation, even the urban areas have their own set of problems — be it rising poverty, straining public services, rise in youth delinquency and prostitution, burgeoning slum dwellings or lack of adequate civic amenities.
Over the years, surplus labour has been migrating to the urban areas in search of livelihood and better standards of living. If any, they only find low-paid employment in the unorganised sector and contribute to the proliferation of slum dwellings and urban poverty. These, in turn, put pressure on urban civic amenities, public services and infrastructure. Reports say that if the rural-urban migration continues at the rate that it is, urban public services will soon become unsustainable.
More than 400 million workers are part of the unorganised sector and 140 million do not have permanent year-round employment. Over 70 per cent of the labour force in all sectors combined (organised and unorganised) is either illiterate or educated below the primary level.
Cheap labour can be costly as unskilled workers are liable to accidents and unable to perform consistently. Without any skills and education, they do not meet the standards of industry for employment.
To ensure that the population rallies behind a progressive India, there is need to take everyone along. We would be naďve in thinking that as a nation we can move ahead without ensuring social inclusiveness.
Youth is India’s greatest asset, it can be enthusiastic and productive and at the same time amenable to new ideas and change. Hence they can be trained to think and work differently. Since traditional methods have not yielded the desired results, one would bet on the young more than anyone else to be the torch-bearers of transformation. The time is opportune for India to increase its knowledge and skill workforce base and boost productivity of agriculture, industry and services.
A study by the Population Reference Bureau, a private think tank, indicates that several developed countries will see a drop in their population over the next 50 years. Japan will lose 20 per cent of its population. Russia’s will drop by 17 per cent. Even a country like Iran is expected to lose people. About 44 per cent of the world’s population currently lives in countries where fertility is at or below replacement levels.
As these economies see their workforce depleting due to superannuation, they will find numbers difficult to replace. Second, a huge inadequacy of skilled workers in the Indian economy, presents an opportunity for productive employment of a sizeable number of our citizens. Third, as the world sees less and less growth opportunities in developed countries, investors and enterprises are keen to enter global developing markets that hold the promise of growth and higher return. As capital formation occurs there would be a greater demand for skilled workers that meet international standards of quality and productivity.
The question that now arises is, what preparations do we need to undertake to capitalise on these opportunities? Quite simply, we need our manpower skilled to standards that are nationally and globally bench-marked. This would help resolve the problem of unemployment domestically and at the same time remittances from our workforce abroad could ensure a better standard of living for people back home.
It enhances the image of the Indian workforce globally and encourages investment flowing inwards, thereby putting the multiplier into action, generating more jobs and encouraging further development. If we do not act with a sense of urgency, others would seize the initiative and in many ways shut this window of opportunity for India.
The downside of not investing in human capital and ignoring skill development on a countrywide scale can be catastrophic . First, the unemployment and underemployment figures are reaching an alarming proportion. This generates significant amount of negative sentiments amongst the victims of this socio-economic inequity. These push them towards anti-social activities, and they could join the ranks of terrorists, separatists and criminals, thus engendering socio-political instability.
Second, with societal needs comprising manufacturing, services and agriculture not being met, and as other economies meet the skills requirements of their industries, the handicap is going to hurt our industry even more and adversely undermine our competitiveness .
Third, as we have seen in some cases amongst the BPO/ITES, if the requisite skills are not available in the country, foreign establishments not willing to compromise on quality are likely to take flight and look for other countries to establish their operations. Apart from all this, there is the real problem of rural-urban migration.
India was the world’s largest economy in the first millennium and a late comer in the industrial revolution. We now have a unique chance to catch the bus we once missed. We need to reach out to the young, across the country, and provide them skill sets, which link with jobs and generates a climate of self-employment and growth. We have enormous potential, and are uniquely placed to being the Skills Capital of the world.
The early part of the week saw Dr Manmohan Singh addressing the commanders of the country at the Combined Commanders Not only was it an important moment for the Armed Forces but also it was the first time that Dr Manmohan Singh was addressing the commanders of the country.
He suggested that India was prepared for cooperation with neighbouring countries for a coordinated action against the insurgents.
This comment came just a day after Myanmar had said that it would not provide any shelter to insurgents. Dr Singh’s statement assumed importance as Myanmar had recently also carried out operations against insurgents and destroyed their camps in its territory.
But this vital statement of the Prime Minister was not mentioned in the press release issued by the Ministry of Defence.
A also missing was the Prime Minister’s remark: “as, our defence purchases are large and substantial, we must leverage them to serve the larger political and diplomatic ends”.
Last year an official of the Directorate of Public Relations, MoD, had faced a tough situation for deleting just one sentence from the Prime Minister’s address, which actually should not have been there in the address itself initially. But the deletion was not liked by the PMO.
Infantry Day celebrated The Indian Infantry, which is one of the most decorated, battle-hardened and combat rich force in the world, celebrated the Infantry day earlier in the week with functions all over the country with the main function being in Delhi and one that saw the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen N.C. Vij, visiting the Amar Jawan Jyoti. October 27, 1947, was a red letter day in post-Independence India when the first Infantryman landed in the Kashmir valley and repulsed the Pakistani invaders from the vicinity of Srinagar air field. It was this gallant action that reversed the tide of the battle, routing the invaders, thus saving Kashmir. So every year this day is commemorated as the Infantry Day. In this historic defence of Kashmir, where the Pakistani Kabbalies had almost entered Srinagar town, Maj Somnath Sharma, an Infantryman of the Kumaon Regiment, was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously for gallantry of the highest order. And this was the first such award earned by any soldier in post–Independent India. Besides General Vij laying a wreath at
the Amar Jawan Jyoti, wreaths were also placed by senior retired Infantrymen, and by other senior officers representing the Infantry Regiments. Infantry has to its credit a large number of awards, including 17 Param Vir Chakras, 37 Ashok Chakras, 171 Mahavir Chakras and 176 Kirti Chakras.
The Indian Infantry, which is one of the most decorated, battle-hardened and combat rich force in the world, celebrated the Infantry day earlier in the week with functions all over the country with the main function being in Delhi and one that saw the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen N.C. Vij, visiting the Amar Jawan Jyoti.
October 27, 1947, was a red letter day in post-Independence India when the first Infantryman landed in the Kashmir valley and repulsed the Pakistani invaders from the vicinity of Srinagar air field. It was this gallant action that reversed the tide of the battle, routing the invaders, thus saving Kashmir.
So every year this day is commemorated as the Infantry Day. In this historic defence of Kashmir, where the Pakistani Kabbalies had almost entered Srinagar town, Maj Somnath Sharma, an Infantryman of the Kumaon
Regiment, was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously for gallantry of the highest order. And this was the first such award earned by any soldier in post–Independent India.
Besides General Vij laying a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, wreaths were also placed by senior retired Infantrymen, and by other senior officers representing the Infantry Regiments.
Infantry has to its credit a large number of awards, including 17 Param Vir Chakras, 37 Ashok Chakras, 171 Mahavir Chakras and 176 Kirti Chakras.
Parliamentary panel The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence consisting of 16 MPs and nine officials visited 14 Corps this week. The committee members, led by Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, were welcomed by the Corps Commander, Lt Gen ML Naidu. The MPs were briefed about the Corps Zone and the Sadhbhavana Projects undertaken by the Army. Infrastructure development options in Ladakh were discussed by the committee. Besides Ladakh, the committee visited the Dras and Kargil sectors. The committee members also met the jawans admitted to the Military Hospital of Leh which provides crucial life-saving facilities for both jawans and locals. They also visited the Siachen glacier.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence consisting of 16 MPs and nine officials visited 14 Corps this week. The committee members, led by Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, were welcomed by the Corps Commander, Lt Gen ML Naidu.
The MPs were briefed about the Corps Zone and the Sadhbhavana Projects undertaken by the Army. Infrastructure development options in Ladakh were discussed by the committee.
Besides Ladakh, the committee visited the Dras and Kargil sectors. The committee members also met the jawans admitted to the Military Hospital of Leh which provides crucial life-saving facilities for both jawans and locals. They also visited the Siachen glacier.
Emancipation means release from which all souls wish to be released. After being released from pain, the emancipated souls get happiness and live in God. — Swami Dayanand Saraswati I do not dabble in duality; I worship none but God. I neither visit tombs nor crematoria. — Guru Nanak The rope alone is true, the snake is untrue. Similarly, Paramatman alone is real; this world is unreal. The latter appears as real in man’s vision, hearing and thoughts, but it lasts only as long as the things seen in a dream last. — Lord Sri Rama Faithful is he who is possessed of knowledge, seeing the way that leads to Nirvana; he who is not partisan; he who is pure and virtuous, and has removed the veil from his eyes. Such a one will wander rightly in the world. — The Buddha
— Swami Dayanand Saraswati
I do not dabble in duality; I worship none but God. I neither visit tombs nor crematoria.
— Guru Nanak
The rope alone is true, the snake is untrue. Similarly, Paramatman alone is real; this world is unreal. The latter appears as real in man’s vision, hearing and thoughts, but it lasts only as long as the things seen in a dream last.
— Lord Sri Rama
Faithful is he who is possessed of knowledge, seeing the way that leads to Nirvana; he who is not partisan; he who is pure and virtuous, and has removed the veil from his eyes. Such a one will wander rightly in the world.
— The Buddha