|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Saturday, July 25, 1998
Knowledge embargo, US style
LIVING up to its erratic tradition, the USA has fashioned a new weapon to attack recalcitrant countries: knowledge. These days India tops this bunch and hence the denial of a visa to top nuclear scientist, Prof Chidambaram, and the cancellation of the visa of seven scientists doing research in US laboratories. Until now the USA resorted to unilateral trade sanctions, occasionally directing other countries to emulate its action at the risk of economic retaliation. It is by invoking its own rules that Washington banned business ties with Cuba, froze Irans millions of dollars in bank deposits, and is presently trying to starve Iraq into submission. Knowledge has now joined the ban list. It is a startling first, since even at the height of the cold war there was no blatant discrimination against the Soviet bloc experts. It is a different matter that knowledge and information are notoriously censorship-resistant and the latest advance in information technology has made nonsense of impounding research findings within a country. There is the ludicrous side. Will President Clinton stop US scientists from visiting this country to interact with their own kind? The world has become a global village, but the USA is setting up an intellectual slum there.
It is ironical that Washington is singling out this country for ordering a knowledge quarantine. Only recently one of its specialist agencies admitted that Indias nuclear and missile technology has mostly been developed inside the country unlike in Pakistan which has borrowed or bought it from China. True, India still needs sophisticated equipment, which is available only from the USA. And even here there is already a ban on several items. Thus both trade sanctions and now segregation of scientists are not going to derail the ongoing programmes. What these will prompt is to juxtapose the US attitude to India and to a few other countries. Pakistan has always been a pet ally in this region and this is evident in clearing the way for an IMF loan in double-quick time. China is a new friend and President Clinton downwards every American woos it with adolescent ardour. After accusing Beijing of every conceivable crime, the USA has promoted it as one of its top trading partners. The latest is about Iran. The original mullahcracy test-fired a medium range missile earlier this week but provoked only a brief verbal lament, accompanied by a soothing assurance that the policy of normalising relations is still very much in place. It would appear that the US administration, like the country itself, is a confederation of near autonomous departments and the Indian desk is presided over by a NPT-CTBT fundamentalist. And he is hunting for hurting measures to hurl at this country. The watchword perhaps is duck, and duck some more.
HARYANA, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have already passed legislation opening the transmission sector to private investment. With the Electricity Law (Amendment) Bill passed by the Lok Sabha by voice vote on Thursday, the Centre has accorded it its legal imprimatur. This will empower the state electricity boards and the public companies to invite private investment in the transmission sector on a lease-term basis. The power potential of the country is vast but it has been lying untapped because of lack of funds. Transmission is the step-brother: there is even less investment there. For every rupee invested in generation, the investment in transmission is only 46 paise whereas actually it should be as high as full one rupee. With the country thinking of going in for an all-India grid, this weakness is being acutely felt. That is why the way has been paved for a larger private investment in this sector. Under a mandatory competitive bidding process, private companies will be allowed to build, maintain and make available transmission lines for moving excess energy from surplus states (like Orissa) to deficit areas. Interestingly, while the earlier version of the Bill had proposed an assured 16 per cent rate of return, as was being offered for generating companies, the modified Bill has removed this clause. Only the bidding procedure will determine the rate of return. Under the circumstances, it is uncertain how eager companies will be to come forward and invest money, particularly because the management control over the inter-state transmission lines will remain with the central transmission setup. Transmission losses in the country are phenomenally high and that includes theft, not often with the collusion of officials at various levels.
What is important is that the government is grudgingly admitting that transmission is an activity quite independent of and distinct from generation. Clubbing these together used to provide an excellent opportunity to the officials concerned to pass the buck. The government has also constituted the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and an official notification in this regard is to be issued soon. Its success will depend on how much regulatory powers it has while fixing electricity tariff. The experience so far is that politicians are extremely wary of increasing electricity rates for fear of a voter backlash. If they want, they can now use the CERC as a whipping boy in public while acquiescing (privately) in the harsh steps that have to be taken if the electricity boards are to remain functionally afloat. But the apprehension is that most of the recommendations of the CERC might be simply ignored and the prices might continue to be fixed on political considerations. In the garb of discharging their social responsibilities, some politicians have followed their personal profitable agenda. The CERC and the state electricity regulatory commissions can help in keeping their ambitions in leash. But for that ideal to come true, it is essential that these bodies are not put in a straitjacket.
Chandigarh, C for crime
THAT the graph of heinous crimes in Chandigarh has been going up at an alarming pace is no longer news. The fact that the residents expressed shock over the pre-meditated killing of a property dealer in full public view on Thursday morning is not going to help banish either the incidents of crime or criminals from the City Beautiful. The latest incident proves beyond an iota of doubt that the Chandigarh Police is not up to the task of evolving an effective crime prevention strategy. Since Chandigarh is a Union Territory it is about time the attention of the powers that be in Delhi is drawn to the increase in the incidents of violent crime in the city. Mr Satya Pal Jain, who represents Chandigarh in the Lok Sabha, has either failed in his primary duty of informing the Union Home Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, about the crime situation in his constituency or whatever he has said on the subject in Parliament has not been adequately reported. The residents of the city should put pressure on their elected representative to plead Chandigarhs case for improved security more forcefully than he has done so far. He cannot take the plea that his voice is not being heard in Delhi. Mr Jain is a competent lawyer and he should marshal all the legal resources available to him to make the Union Government understand the gravity of the situation in Chandigarh. If a Lok Sabha member whose party is in power at the Centre says that he is helpless in doing anything to prevent his constituency from becoming another Mumbai or Delhi, he has no moral authority to continue to represent the people.
Of course, the situation in Delhi is far worse. The other day Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was constrained to admit in the Lok Sabha that Delhi is already full of criminals. The statement was made to mollify the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal members who had objected to the Delhi Chief Ministers reference that the leaders of the two parties had brought in criminals from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to give his government a bad name. Perhaps Mr Jain should follow the example of Delhi where the High Court on Thursday took serious note of the deterioration in the law and order situation and directed the city administration and the police to file a status report on how they were tackling the problem. The Delhi High Courts direction was in response to a public interest petition filed by a local advocate, Mr Rajiv Awasthi, drawing the attention of the court to the inability of the police to provide reasonable protection to ordinary citizens. Mr Jain, or other public spirited citizens, should file a similar petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. It must be understood that a stitch in time saves nine. The murder of the property dealer is the fourth incident of shootout in the city in less than two months. Of the other three incidents two took place outside the district court complex and a cinema hall. But the one which occurred in the Sector 10 market claimed the life of a SAS Nagar resident. It is better to raise the alarm when the situation can still be brought under control rather than wait for it to become as alarming as it is in Delhi. If the present trend is not reversed, both the police and the people of Chandigarh will have to share the charge in equal measure of not doing enough for protecting from blood stains the official title of the City Beautiful.
Mistakes galore, big and small
by A.N. Dar
PICTURES appeared in newspapers recently which should have put the BJP to ridicule. These showed one of its top leaders on a hunger strike. Mr K.L. Sharma, a vice-president, started a fast but the photographs showed him eating a banana, with more fruit before him. Lucky fellow, someone might have said, eating fruit when the prices are so high. Luckier still, when he is on a fast. The newspapers explained that Sharma had gone on a cereal fast, whatever that might mean.
After a couple of days his picture appeared again. This time he was breaking the fast. This picture was more comic than the first one. The Chief Minister, Mr Sahib Singh Verma, had a plate of food in his hand to offer to the leader. Three others, ministers and party officials, stood there with their fingers thrust into his mouth, pushing in food.
Mr Sharma had protested against the poor functioning of the Delhi government. The ministers now assured him that they would do their best to improve their working. Mr Sharma felt satisfied and decided to break the fast. He didnt perhaps know that to go on a cereal fast is rather comic. When do you stop taking cereals and when do you go on a total fast? Gandhiji had left behind no guidelines. In India if some people get a couple of bananas to eat, they cant say that they are on a fast. And why were so many people putting food into Mr Sharmas mouth as if he was a reluctant baby and had to be cajoled into eating? Why do politicians, not only of the BJP but of all parties, behave like children? Putting laddus into each others mouths is a favourite pastime with them whenever a notable event takes place, like getting elected or becoming a minister.
I had thought that Mr Sharmas fast would create a great deal of mirth in the media but it didnt. This is because Mr Sharma is known to be a serious politician. He is not usually given to gimmicks. He is the party spokesman. While he does not seem to have a flair for charming the press, he is held in respect because he gives the impression of being an honest and straightforward person.
That is why there was not much derision on this fast. But it showed the BJPs thinking and activity in poor light. Why go on a fast and what miracle had been achieved for him to give it up? These are the ways that parties which are not performing well usually resort to. The BJP should better devote itself to concrete issues and try for good results. That is what will help it.
Mr K.L. Sharmas fast was a small affair and should by now have been forgotten by most people. But there have been big decisions to which the BJP has not given proper thought. Take the nuclear explosion of May 11. The first question while deciding on it should have been what use would the test be if Pakistan also did the same. It should have occurred to the policy-makers that the effect would come to zero if Pakistan also went for a test. And we would have to go round the world telling everybody why we did it and Pakistan would get a long-sought opportunity to internationalise the Kashmir dispute. This is exactly what happened.
In the aftermath mistakes continued to be made. The Foreign Office was sidelined. If the Foreign Secretary is a self-effacing person, that does not mean that he should be ignored. Alternatively, what about the Principal Information Officer, who also could be the spokesman? To make Pramod Mahajan the spokesman but let that be. Even to make the Principal Secretary of the Prime Minister the spokesman was a mistake. To send him out as the Prime Ministers envoy to meet the French President or the British Prime Minister or President Mandela was even a greater mistake. This should not be taken as a reflection on Mr Mishra. But he himself, a seasoned diplomat, should have known that delegations like these carry little weight. These should usually be headed by politicians of standing. How can the Prime Minister send to Mandela his Principal Secretary to talk to him and be heard? Simple lack of protocol.
The Principal Secretary could have been one of the members of the delegation and, between you and me, do most of the talking but the team should have been headed by a top politician. The Prime Minister should have chosen his more articulate ministers for the assignment. We could have used some of our more respected leaders on one pretext or the other. It could be someone like the President, Mr K.R. Narayanan, going to some countries, like South Africa, which will be the host to the coming nonaligned summit. After the 1965 war Lalbahadur Shastri sent President Radhakrishnan to eastern Europe from where we quickly wanted heavy armaments. Although he was old and nearly blind, he was listened to respectfully. Mr Krishna Menon, though not in the government, was sent to Egypt to talk to President Nasser. One of the delegations could for instance have been headed by the Vice-President, Mr Krishna Kant. These high-level teams would have produced a good response.
Other mistakes. The price rise is not being tackled well. From the day the budget was presented the government should have found ways to meet the coming situation. Everyone except the Finance Minister said that it was an inflationary budget. The person most surprised about the price rise surprisingly seems to be Mr Yashwant Sinha. He was reported to have said recently that he had not levied any tax on tomatoes and potatoes; yet their prices had risen. It was insulting of the Finance Minister to talk like that. Even a schoolboy could tell him that you dont have to levy a tax on tomatoes to increase their price. If you increase the price of petrol, the price of tomatoes would automatically rise. As simple as that, Mr Sinha.
For a government which is not doing too well, there have been too many strikes. The authorities should have seen to it that strikes by nurses and postal employees were avoided. The honest employees should have been kept satisfied. If Sushma Swaraj wanted to show her strength, postmen need not have been the target. The impression that outsiders were being called in to break the postal strike and that too from the ministry headed by George Fernandes, the mother (pardon the wrong gender) of many a strike, was unfortunate. The hospital staffs strike was only for a day but when patients died, there was nobody to take the bodies to the morgues. They rotted on the beds on which they had died. You can know how bad the relatives must have felt. These are small things which the authorities should attend to when strikes are bandied about.
The less said about the womens bill and the new states the better. The fault is that little thinking had gone into these measures and not enough done to talk to other parties. If the two Yadav leaders were going to create a stir, the government should have expected it.
75 YEARS AGO
The Gaya programme
Resolution of Punjab Congress Committee
Mr Santanam interviewed
IN view of the resolution that was passed at the meeting of the Punjab Provincial Congress Committee held on Wednesday, Mr K. Santanam, President of the Punjab Provincial Congress Committee, interviewed by a Special Representative of The Tribune, explained the position of the majority party of the Congress in the Punjab and made the following statement in the course of the interview.
Representative: Well, Mr Santanam, does this resolution of the Provincial Congress Committee mean that the Punjab has changed its opinion as regards council entry?
Mr Santanam: No. As far as one can see, people are still for the boycott of councils, but the workers realise that unity among Congress is, at the present moment, more important than the council question in the larger interests of the country.
Representative: Does it mean that those who voted against the resolution are irreconcilable and do not desire a compromise?
Mr Santanam: I do not think so. All of them are anxious for a compromise and closing up of our ranks, but some are against compromise on these terms while some others have objection to the wording of the resolution but it seems likely that they will loyally carry out whatever decision is arrived at by the All-India Congress Committee.
|Hong Kong bubble is bursting
by K.P. Bhanumathy
WHAT is Tungs Package I asked Mr Willy Wo-lap Lam, Associate Editor and China Editor of the South China Morning Post as we sat sipping Indian tea in the Consul General, Mrs Veena Sikris office in Hong Kong. Incidentally Tung is Mr Tung Chee-Hwa, Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region (SAR), Hong Kongs new name. The package, explained Mr Willy W. Lam, contains measures to lift the sagging economy and ward off an economic crisis largely in the areas of small and medium industries; the strength of a service-based economy as in Hong Kong lies in the perceptives of the international banking system.
Hong Kong, until recently a highly flourishing economy, today has lost its lustre and vibrancy. One hardly finds quality or large range of products as in Dubai super brands or high customer choice is hard to find. Even Mary Quant or Yardley, leave alone a Balenciaga or Worth perfumes are not on display. There has been a 22 per cent decline in tourists from last year. Tourists from the mainland are increasing but they are no big spenders. Foreign investors are shifting to Singapore. Shares are falling fast. Layoff by top department stores and corporates is adding to the unemployment woes rising to 7 per cent. Trade deficit was $ 19 billion by March this year as demand for foreign goods slackened. Growth has also dropped sharply by 2.7 per cent. Moodys had earlier predicted this.
The GDP is at $ 139.88 billion which inspires confidence but a sluggish retail market causes concern. Reunification has brought its own teething problems. The Bird Flu Red Tide and poisoned fish and vegetable brought health problems. Property market went sliding down after governments policy on properties. South East Asian investors had a major share in the property market with the currency crisis they began to pull out. The inflexible housing policy of 85,000 units annually and meddling with market forces brought a slump with no takers. With the 50 per cent increase in property prices the ball began rolling down the mountain. Property prices have dropped drastically, the bubble grew to big and fast that it had to burst, said a businessman. Inept handling and over-ambition blew in their faces.
A 44 billion $ rescue package to ease pressure on the economy has not brought much hope. The credit crunch in the banking sector remains static.
The government is under heavy criticism. Is it the milking from the mainland and remote control rule? No, we are our own masters comes the reply. SAR held its first election to the Legislative Council in May. Four different parties plus geographical constituencies, businessmen and other professionals were elected to the 60-member council. The six and a half million population comprising 97 per cent Chinese are votaries of a democratic lifestyle.
Hong Kong has a lively press with no holds barred. The local and international press are more like watchdogs of the political and economic situation. But for the press, life would have been a guessing game for the people. The warning by the press of the economic fallout, the high interest rates, credit contraction and rising unemployment had alerted the people. For the first time in the history of Hong Kong professionals are facing redundancy. Now there is a freeze on land sales but the large numbers of homeless will only increase the offer of interest-free loans to buy flats in the private sector have no takers. Civil servants are offered a 5 to 7 per cent increase in housing allowances. A lot of blame is being directed against the Chief Executive and Chief Secretary of SAR for the crisis. In spite of it all Hong Kongess are optimistic that they will bounce back.
|On brink of youth
by I.M. Soni
A 12-year-old young grandson is a wonderful but odd character. He walks like a growing elephant. Knick-knacks on the shelf tremble when he goes from room to room but a sly trip to the refrigerator finds him going with the lightness of a gazelle.
His laughter is like braying. But it is so infectious that you join him.
His conversation is carried on as if others are slightly deaf. Except when a girl is on the line. Then his voice drops to a murmur.
He is highly concerned about Indias chances of winning against Sri Lanka or any other team, however, lowly it might be. But the rearranging of his room is accompanied by growling and grunting.
His favourite posture for watching television puts all the pressure on his spine. If his brother stands before the blue screen, the little fellow is in for some well-deserved roughing and howling.
He is fond of cosmetics and needs a shelf in the bathroom cabinet. He pats my after-shave lotion on his face after bath. Often he feels that his worth is not truly reflected in the mirror. He throws up a cactus-like barricade against any goodwill gesture. Or comment about his face.
Whatever affection he feels for his parents, he is careful not to disclose. His mothers hugging is an act of embarrassment. Discussion of his love for parents, or theirs for him, is taboo.
In the rush for independence, he is often impatient with rules and regulations and is sometimes quick with the current smart crack. He is acquiring the habit of saying, Im sorry, without permanently damaging his ego.
He flushes when someone makes a derogatory remark about teenagers. He holds his tongue, though he slams the door.
He is crazy about soles that emit light, new cars, popcorn, girls and cartoons on TV. He is content to play Dil to pagal hai 80 times a day. Popcorn is a must while viewing television.
He feels any question about his study is invasion of privacy. He is as silent as a sphinx about what he really thinks and feels. And some days his total vocabulary seems to consist of two words: yes and no.
He dreams of being a Test player and winning fabulous prizes in every contest. His ideals are the brightest star in any field.
This is his age for making mistakes. A time to turn the corner and enter the threshold of youth. He looks for a new kind of love. This is the time he himself needs it most.
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