|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Monday, October 12, 1998
gamble in Delhi
petrel from South
a look at flight
by Anupam Gupta
by Humra Quraishi
BJP gamble in Delhi
The Bharatiya Janata Party's decision to drop Mr Sahib Singh Verma and bring in Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj as the Chief Minister of Delhi is a desperate act on the part of the BJP high command. The change of horses in midstream is not a good tactical strategy. But politics is an exercise in compulsive management of men, matters and issues. The meaning of the change of guard at the "Old Secretariat" is diverse. Mr Verma's refusal to step down in favour of Mr Madan Lal Khurana, who had resigned because of hawala allegations and wanted his gaddi back after being absolved, had highlighted his craving for power. His over-dependence on RSS support had made his base shrink in the gradually self-liberalising BJP. His frequent threats of revolt by party men in Delhi did not prove genuine. Circumstances not quite of his own making began to conspire against him with unfortunate rapidity and relentlessness. The water and power crises in the Union Capital became a point of condemnation. The dengue deaths could not be forgotten. The adulterated mustard oil took a toll of more than 60 lives. Elementary civic services failed. The transport problem became worse. And the deteriorating law and order situation made the Delhi government appear more guilty than the Union administration. Then came the onion crisis. Mr Khurana had greater clout at the Centre. But Mr Verma kept him away from the power that Chief Ministership brings and the Chief Minister was virtually friendless in the Union Cabinet. When the shadow of the coming elections started looming large in the BJP mind, the choice of someone less unfortunate to lead the party to the hustings became an immediate necessity.
Since the current
situation does not indicate much popular enthusiasm for
the BJP, Mr Khurana did not show his keenness to get the
old post back. Had he been commanded to replace Mr Verma,
he would not have found himself comfortable. It is an
uneasy time for the present Delhi government and the
party that runs it. The Lahore-born naturalised
Haryanavi, Mrs Swaraj, has been pushed into the mess and
her discomfiture, like her obedience to the orders of the
BJP's top leaders, is obvious. It is Mrs Swaraj versus
Mrs Sheila Dikshit in the trial of electoral strength.
Although Mrs Dikshit has the benefit of a rich political
legacy and closeness to Mrs Sonia Gandhi, her personal
contribution to her party's fortunes in the November poll
is not expected to be startling. Mrs Swaraj is a better
crowd-puller and election-manager. However, she may not
be able to turn the tide in favour of the BJP because of
her rather remote association with the sizeable Punjabi
segment of the electorate. The Verma faction's
non-cooperation even defiance should be
kept into the reckoning. The ruling party has two major
rivals the Congress and the Verma coterie. The
disenchanted Khurana group may also hurt the party's
interests. The Sushma mask will provide some distraction
to the voters from their disappointment with the BJP
dispensation. The Vajpayee-Advani factor too will have
its effect. But the going is not likely to be smooth. The
Congress has a chance to do well. But it must keep the
Bhagats and the Tytlers out of the active campaign. Its
Pilots are its best bets. But how many of them are there?
It ought to approach the alienated communities with
humility. It is time to spare a thought for good
governance in the former Union Territory. The citizens
most of them migrants must not be seen
merely as vote-bank components. The BJP has done what it
could: last-minute crisis-management. Its "political
supremacy" cannot be made evident even under the
leadership of Mrs Swaraj.
Stormy petrel from South
INTER-PARTY relations between the BJP and its alliance partners will never be the same again, and thanks are due to AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha. During her stay in the Capital last week, she concentrated her energy on shaking up the political scene, created a platform for fellow BJP allies and elevated rank opportunism to an ideological mantra. All this without any damage to her personal standing or political clout. This speaks volumes for the moral-political atmosphere, or the absence of it, in New Delhi. At a time when a partys number of MPs alone counts, and not the compatibility of its policies, Ms Jayalalithas 18 seats in the Lok Sabha are a lifeline for the ruling combine. The spineless submission of her supporters to her whims has greatly added to her power. And she has no inhibition from exploiting her unchallenged stature to administer pinpricks at periodic intervals to a variety of momentary rivals.
Ms Jayalalitha targeted this time the authority of the Prime Minister to constitute his Council of Ministers. Distressingly, she has got away with her mischief. Reports have it that she was bent on turning the long-delayed expansion of the ministry into a crude opportunity to humiliate her Tamil Nadu ally, Mr K. Ramamurthy, Petroleum Minister, for thinking without consulting her. She insisted on the Prime Minister stripping him of his key portfolio and allotting it to her own chosen minion, so that both her supporters and critics would know who calls the shots. It is one thing to demand a certain number of seats in the Council of Ministers and also the preferred portfolios, but quite another to demand that this or that BJP ally should not head a particular ministry. It is good that the Prime Minister refused to give up his prerogative, preferring instead to postpone the whole exercise. But why were the other parties silent on Ms Jayalalithas outrageous stance? Coalition politics is all about compromise; but the lady from Chennai wants surrender.
It is dangerous that she
had been allowed to get away with a draw. A bit of
skilful manoeuvring and a tougher stand could have put
her in her place. The bottomline, even for the
beleaguered BJP leadership, is the authority of the Prime
Minister, not so much as an individual but as an
institution. This apart, she has cunningly managed to
deny the Big Brother BJP the role of trouble-shooter-in-
chief; Mr Jaswant Singh had to yield place to Mr George
Fernandes, a man known for his pro-Jaya weakness. The
famous tea party at Ashoka Hotel may well have launched a
coordination committee of all allies to firm up their
grievances against the BJP. The greatest damage she has
inflicted is a psychological one. She has given
legitimacy to small parties making exaggerated demands
for ministerial berths and also instilling a fear that a
reasonable compromise will be viewed by the people as a
letdown of the respective states interests. See the
rigid stand of the Samata, the Biju Janata Dal and even
the Trinamool Congress. This is the new
chakravyuha she has cast around the top BJP
leaders, and they would have to summon up greater
political acumen than they have so far shown to break
free from it.
THE Central Bureau of Investigation was constituted through an executive order of the government in 1963 by renaming the former Delhi Special Police Establishment set up in 1939. The SPE was to deal with corruption and economic offences arising out of World War II involving federal government employees and federal funds. It was a very small organisation at that time, as it is even now. Its charter of duties was limited.
The British India governments objective was not to root out corruption. Its objective was to ensure the safeguarding of its imperial interests. The corruption account in free India was opened with the Mundhra scandal in the 1950s. The result was that the then Finance Minister of India, Mr TT Krishnamachari, lost his job. Feroz Gandhi, the firebrand husband of Indira Gandhi, was responsible for exposing the skeletons in the cupboard. He was the son-in-law of the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the father of Rajiv Gandhi.
Corruption remained in the background, because there were still leaders fired with idealism. Senior leaders themselves led comparatively clean lives. Their example seeped down the line. Being branded corrupt or mere suspicion of corruption was enough to finish a man politically. People like Jawaharlal Nehru never forgave anybody with shady connections. A stalwart like Sardar Partap Singh Kairon, then Chief Minister of Punjab, had to demit office only on the ground that he should have controlled his family members morally, though technically and legally he was not responsible for the actions of his grown-up children.
The nationalisation of banks done with the laudable objective of utilising the resources of the country for the greater good of people soon degenerated into loan melas with elections in view. Complaints, if any, were normally swept under the carpet. As those in power were utilising the bank funds for giving loans without safeguarding the banks commercial interests, as a quid pro quo they did not or did not want or could not take action for many misdemeanours. The result was the loss of thousands of crores of rupees in the form of bad debts. The agencies, whether the departmental vigilance wing or the Central Vigilance Investigating Agency were under the same government whose top functionaries had created the mess.
It was almost asking the accused, who was also the authority to take action, to have his conduct looked into. As long as one single party remained in power at the Centre, probes, if ordered under public or Opposition pressure, were not expected to be pursued seriously. Nothing was told orally, only hints were thrown or subtle suggestions conveyed. They were expected to be understood by the concerned officials if they wanted to survive and get extensions.
The vigilance set-up in the Central government is the smallest unit. For over three million employees, the total number of officials engaged in vigilance would not exceed 6,000 to 8,000, including those of the CBI and the departmental vigilance officers. This figure is a very generous estimate. Even in the best of times, vigilance is considered an unavoidable nuisance. Vigilance itself is misunderstood. It is an aid and a tool to the government. Its objective is the same as of the government. It is to ensure that money is spent for the purpose for which it is sanctioned, and not siphoned off.
When action is taken against somebody for plundering the state treasury, the message goes down to all concerned to beware. Otherwise, they may lose their jobs or land up in jail. The real crunch comes when action is sought to be taken against those in power. Sometimes it is the same set of people who have been responsible either by collusion or negligence for the very crime or action which is sought to be enquired into. No support can be expected from such people or such governments to strengthen the vigilance set-up. That is one reason why the CBI, the only multipurpose investigation agency, has remained in such an unsatisfactory state.
The basic law has remained unchanged since the British times. Unlike the USAs Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has jurisdiction in the entire country, the CBI functions at the sweet will of the state government. No action can be taken against the Central government employees posted in the states where no consent has been given to it to operate.
Even if consent has been given to it to function in the area of a particular state, no action can be taken against any employee without the approval of the state government. Income Tax Department, Central Customs and Railway officials are there in every state. Even if they defalcate or play havoc with the Central revenues, a state can withdraw its consent to operate and nullify the probe. Whenever there has been a clash, the states have withdrawn consent for the functioning of the Central investigating agency in their area. States like Karnataka, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh had at one stage or the other withdrawn their consent, and the CBI had to close shop there. Some states give consent on a case-to-case basis. The latest case of a state which has asked the CBI to pack off is that of Goa.
It is essential that the Central government should have vigilance jurisdiction over its employees no matter where they are posted. This matter and the case for a CBI Act have been gathering dust for the past 10 years. The babus in the government have not put it up to the political masters. Most of the time proposals are returned with a query, or rejected at the level of a very junior government functionary. All the labours of the Supreme Court to grant limited autonomy to the investigating agencies would come to naught if the CBI cannot investigate freely where investigation is required into a Central government employees conduct, irrespective of his or her posting in a particular state.
The excuse that the police is a state subject would not do. It is a simple question that should be sorted out at the next Chief Ministers conference. No Chief Minister would object to any investigation by the Central government against its own employees if the matter was properly explained. This matter has not been raised even once at Chief Ministers conferences which take place at the drop of a hat to discuss matters of much lesser significance than national vigilance. At a conservative estimate, the country would have lost more than Rs 30,00,000 crore in leakage or non-performing losses by the financial institutions. The actual figures of all the departments of the Government of India from the time of Independence would be much higher.
Despite the massive size of the country, the CBI has been a lean and trim organisation. It is not that there is not enough work. It is because any proposal takes years to be cleared or rejected. The trick lies in not saying no. It is in raising endless queries or not replying to the proposals sent, or avoiding dealing with the proposals. The result has been that things have remained static. They stem from the basic fact that vigilance is not and has never been the darling child of any government.
In fact, the problem has been the other way round, how to prevent vigilance from being vigilant? This can be gauged from the fact that the Central vigilance authorities have no power to enquire into the misconduct of the all-India services officers belonging to the Indian Police Service and the Indian Administrative Service posted in the states. In the case of all-India services officers the appointing authority is the President of India. They cannot be dismissed, removed or reverted by the state governments, irrespective of the fact whether they are working in connection with the affairs of the state government, by the Governor or the Chief Minister. In their cases, all reports of misconduct have to be sent to the Central government for disciplinary action.
There is built-in insulation in the system to prevent an enquiry from being launched. In some states, permission is required to launch any enquiry against all categories of officers. The state vigilance unit is also shackled by not reacting to proposals for years together. The provision of taking permission for starting any vigilance enquiry has been struck down by the Supreme Court. The travesty of the system is that quite often vigilance reports end up at the table of the accused person who is asked to comment on what vigilance has.
The only way the vigilance set-up can be strengthened is by the government to make up its mind about its scope and powers. There is a mistaken belief that taking action for malpractices will demoralise bureaucrats. On the contrary, it will make them work as per rules.
It is equally essential to have a set-up which will ensure that the guilty are brought to book and the innocent cleared of the charges against them. Ultimately, it will be a cost-effective plan to have a cleaner administration. It will make the bureaucracy responsive. At present, the CBIs proposals for filling up vacancies take years to be cleared. Unless every small functionary is appeased or his ego bolstered, the file will not move to the next table. For instance, it is expected that no CBI official should use any vehicles except from the government pool. The proposal for giving extra 300 and odd vehicles to the organisation kept on shuttling up and down till I appeared on the scene. I brought to the notice of the then Prime Minister, Mr Deve Gowda, the proposal regarding the extra vehicles and the sanctioning of the staff for strengthening the CBI.
The Prime Minister himself took up the matter of solving the infrastructure problem of the CBI. The Principal Secretary, however, took objection to my raising the subject with the Prime Minister. He said the Prime Minister was not the level at which these small things should have been raised. I said that my predecessors had tried their best at the officers level and except for answering queries, nothing had come out. Neither the government nor the CBI was any wiser or better. Since I did not know anybody except the Prime Minister who could cut the bureaucratic knot, I had decided to approach him.
I got my way by raising the level, which I have always done in achieving any set target of the organisation for which I have worked. The trick of successful working in the government is to keep the heat on. CNF
IAF: a look at flight safety
THE IAF is once again in the limelight. An MI-25 helicopter on September 7, a MiG-23 on September 3 and three MiG-27s on August 31, all written off in a matter of a week. Losing three aircraft in a single accident along with two innocent lives in peace time is indeed a catastrophe for the nation. In this instance, a landing aircraft seemed to have crashed into a parked plane. Normally, the aircraft are parked far away from the runway in order to obviate the chances of an odd aircraft veering off the runway in some grave emergency. Most accidents, as also this multiple one, have occurred as a result of a combination of factors that compound together. The need of the hour is to arrest this downward trend that is manifesting all over again.
Only in the beginning of the year, the CAS had literally boasted of the IAFs record-setting performance in matters of flight safety. The IAF had achieved, for the first time, in post-Independence India a lowest accident rate. The IAF had lost mercifully only 10 aircraft during the entire year of 1997. It is noteworthy that seven of these aircraft were the vintage MiG-21s. From May onwards this year (1998-99 ), the IAF has already lost 10 aircraft. For any reasonable claim in matters of flight safety, the criteria must necessarily cover a long enough period to even out the peaks and depression for reflecting a genuine performance. The IAF flight safety record unfortunately swings like a pendulum from one end to another with monotonous regularity.
The bulk of the 13 aircraft lost during 1997-98 belonged to the fighter category and the vintage MiG class. Of the 10 aircraft lost this year since May 1998, three were MiG-27s, one MiG 23, one Kiran trainer, one MI-25 helicopter and the rest MiG-21 class. In the absence of the AJT, MiG-21 FL, the oldest variant, is being used for training (operation) prior to routing the pilots to the fighter squadrons.
It is not only the oldest but also more difficult to fly in certain profiles.
Losing 10 aircraft in a mere four months is tantamount to a loss of two and half aircraft per month. It doesnt augur well for the CAS who is to lay down the office in another four months. The government is not without a blame either in this sorry state of affairs. While the service continues to battle within and make the best of the worst situation, the exact remedy lies at the governments portals. Enough has been said of the La Fontain and Abdul Kalam committees but accidents continue to happen and MiGs remain in the news forever. Of the 136 fighters lost between 1991 and 1997, most belonged to the MiG class.
No amount of cosmetic measures will help improve the image of the fourth largest airforces safety record, unless the government takes cognisance of alarming situation resulting in a big loss of national assets. The aircraft could be replaced but not the loss of lives. The IAF lost 63 pilots and 147 aircraft in various accidents between 1991 and 1997.
The Air Forces demand for advance jet trainers has been pending with the government for over a decade now. Repeated presentations made to the bureaucrats and the politicians justifying the need for and the urgency of acquiring these trainers on a priority basis have not altered the lackadaisical approach of the government. The BJP government has also not been any different from its predecessors. Time and again it has been hammered at the government that 41 per cent of the accidents in the Air Force occur due to pilot error and another 44 per cent due to technical defects. Most Air Forces the world over phase out vintage and accident-prone aircraft from their inventories. F-I04 is one such example that took a heavy toll of human lives. This is not to say that MiG-21 is in that category of accident-prone aircraft. No, not at all. It has been the workhorse of the IAF for the past 36 years. Now it is just too old to serve any more without a blotch.
After the ab initio operational training on MiG-21s, young inexperienced pilots are routed to the fighter squadrons to fly ultra modern, highly complex, computer-operated Mirage-2000s, MiG-29s, Su-30s and even MiG-27s. The base with which these pilots arrive with the fighter squadrons is just not good enough to cope with complex machinery and emergency situations that may arise from time to time. The technology gap between MiG-21 and the aircraft like Mirage-2000 and Su-30 is just too large to cope with easily. A complex cockpit and a high workload are perhaps a bit too much for the inexperienced young pilots coming out of MiG-21 units. There is an urgent need to replace MiG-21s with medium technology advance jet trainers like Hawk and Alpha jets that were shortlisted by the Air Force more than a decade ago. The time lapse is so large that new trainers may have to be identified in order to stay with the current technology levels.
All this does not augur well for the IAF. Indian pilots are among the best in the world. The IAFs pattern of training and defect analysis is second to none. But what the IAF lacks is the hardware for proper training. Is somebody listening in the government?
AS the shadows lengthen, the courtyard stands empty and forlorn. A silent reminder of a million and one laughs, tears, successes and failures the mango tree is gone. The shady tree, a slice of the history of the family is nowhere to be seen. Instead, just the logs are scattered here and there. Good heavens! They have struck the bargain for four hundred bucks as if this paltry number of rustling papers is the end of their vision. The lush green tree that gave mouth-watering daseri mangoes was planted years ago. Time hasnt been able to erase the memory of the hour Man Mohan brought the sapling. How I watered it by covering my head and saying prayers, flashes before my eyes.
I go down memory lane he nurtured it like an over-indulgent and caring parent day and night. He declared it a day when he spotted the first ever ripe mango on it. Children and grandchildren clustered around it to taste the first fruit of that tree. The gusto and commotion that marked the occasion is still firmly etched in my memory. With his legs dangling around his grandpas neck, little Sudhir insisted on having the mango all by himself. The consequent cribbing among the rest resounds in my ears even today. He gave me a surprise of my life when he pacified everyone so tactfully.
Raw mangoes were always everyones delight, but he wont permit them to have though they masterminded the expertise of tasting the forbidden fruit. Afterall, forbidden fruits are always sweet. Either of them would be caught red-handed now and then, which it would add spice to the otherwise placid life. Could the clock be reversed.
As if we were the chosen and blessed few that our mango tree became a favourite haunt of birds. The melodious notes of cuckoo would transport me to the far-off lands. Come summer holidays and it would become the hub of all activity in the house. A swing would be fitted on it. That is how the month of Savan was celebrated in our family. Otherwise too whosoever arrived first from the school would climb the tree to seize the days catch.
More water passed under the bridge. Time, as is its wont, displayed its might on both of us. Instead of having glowing and beaming faces, ours were a criss-cross of a crows feet old, tattered and palsied. Bread-earners of yesteryear had now to look upto others and feel grateful even for a spare meal a terribly painful and hard fact of life. Indifference and neglect, ill-concealed or deliberate, started showing itself on every face around us. The mango tree too grew old and did not yield that much fruit. Times transformed the youngsters values of life.
Sudhir, who loved to be carried shoulder high by his grandpa to pluck mangoes, was the most vocal of the whole progeny. Last summer and this summer too it did not yield fruit. What use is such a rotten thing in the house? My husband got out of his chair with a start as if our own blood had revolted against us. Instantly, he protested in a voice that whistled through his toothless jaw. But of no avail. Soon the man with the axe appeared. It seemed as if Satan himself had descended on the earth to take away one life. We looked at each other with tearful eyes. Leaning upon his stick, Man Mohan managed to reach near the tree. He stood there caressing it with wistful eyes as if recalling the time when he watered the sapling regularly and waited for the new leaves and branches to emerge! I could see the tears trickling down his hollow cheeks. As if the flood would sweep away the globe itself. My cataracted eyes got glued to the one which symbolised our deeply cherished longings and aspirations. A host of memories cropped up in my mind since it had carved a special niche for itself in our nostalgic mindset. He came back a broken and disheartened man.
The axe not only hit its
target mercilessly, it also pierced our very beings with
its sharp edge. Bleeding hearts we were, in fact. He
mumbled in a low and shaky voice Dearie, we too
will meet the same fate. We have lost our worth like our
mango tree. The words trailed, and only a guttural
sound could be heard. Pressing his chest with both his
hands and a bowed head, he sank in his chair.
WERE all profoundly hurt by what the President has done. But this investigation must be ended fairly and quickly. It has hurt our nation and it has hurt our children. We must not compound the hurt.
Democrat, minority leader in the US House of Representatives and a potential candidate in the next election to the American Presidency, Richard Gephardts speech in the House last Thursday on the issue of impeaching President Clinton would appeal to most right-thinking people. Within and outside the United States. Weary of the sexual Armageddon waging on Capitol Hill, the silent majority round the globe would prefer to judge Bill Clinton more by what he has done for America and the world than by what he has done with a White House intern called Monica Lewinsky.
And yet, President Clinton has only himself to blame if, driven by motivations that are entirely and transparently political, the House of Representatives voted last week to impeach him. For, as a leading framer of the US Constitution and one of the ablest lawyers in America at the time, James Wilson put it two centuries ago, impeachments and offences and offenders impeachable, come not......within the sphere of ordinary jurisprudence. They are founded on different principles, are governed by different maxims, and are directed to different objects.
Political objects, that is. A strong votary of the impeachment power, Wilson, who was elevated to the Supreme Court by George Washington in 1789 (two years after the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia), proceeded bluntly to explain that impeachments were addressed to political characters, to political crimes and misdemeanours and to political punishments.
The most eloquent description of the politics, or the ideology, behind the exercise comes perhaps from Gerald Ford, then a Congressman and later President of the USA. No less than the President, Vice-President and other civil officers, American judges are liable to impeachment under the selfsame provision of the US Constitution Article II, Section 4. Moving a resolution to impeach Supreme Court Judge, William ODouglas in April, 1970, Ford referred to the precedent of US district judge Halstead Ritter, impeached and removed from office by the Senate in 1936.
Judge Ritter, said Ford, as instructively as colourfully, was a transplanted conservative Colorado Republican appointed to the Bench in solidly democratic Florida by President Coolidge. He was convicted by a coalition of liberal Republicans, New Deal Democrats, and Farmer-Labour and Progressive Party Senators in what might be called the north-western strategy of that era.
Politics or no politics, and President or judge, the Congressional power to impeach is absolute and judicially unreviewable. And, whether the people like it or not, for a very good reason.
Judicial involvement in impeachment proceedings, ruled the Supreme Court of the USA in 1993 in Nixons case, is counter-intuitive because it would eviscerate the important constitutional check placed on the judiciary by the framers. The argument (it said) in favour of judicial review, if accepted, would place the final authority with respect to impeachments in the hands of the same body that the impeachment process is meant to regulate. In our constitutional system, said the court, speaking through Chief Justice Rehnquist and quoting Alexander Hamilton, impeachment was designed to be the only check on the Judicial Branch by the Legislature.
The parties, it added, did not offer evidence of a single word in the history of the Constitutional Convention (the American Constituent Assembly gathered at Philadelphia) or in contemporary commentary that even alludes to the possibility of judicial review in the context of impeachment.
That is the leading case on impeachment, Nixons case of 1993. Not President Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 on the eve of an impeachment trial, but Walter Nixon, Chief Judge of a US district court for Mississippi, who was impeached, convicted and removed in 1989 for, inter alia, giving false testimony before a grand jury.
That (falsely testifying before a grand jury) is a charge against Mr Clinton as well, and the case will only enhance the difficulties of a President who has already lost his moral authority and whose political support base is slipping away. An interesting sidelight is that Kenneth Starr, then Solicitor General of the United States, successfully opposed Judge Nixons case before the Supreme Court.
Nor can Abraham Lincolns successor, President Andrew Johnsons acquittal on impeachment by a slender vote of one the only other occasion in American history when a President has actually faced an impeachment trial offer any great solace to Mr Clinton.
The biting political passion with which Johnson was pursued by his foes in the Senate has shocked many legal analysts. Among them is Raoul Berger of Harvard, author of a pioneering study on impeachment published in 1973. Johnsons trial, writes Berger, represented a gross abuse of the impeachment process and constituted a long stride towards the very legislative tyranny feared and fenced in by the founders.
Others differ. On each side, write Profs Kelly, Harbison and Belz, leading constitutional historians, Senators were prepared to vote according to their political convictions regardless of the evidence. This should not be taken as a constitutional irregularity or failing. Whether one employs the broadly political or narrowly legalistic definition of high crimes and misdemeanours, impeachment can hardly be expected to occur except in highly charged political circumstances. Under such conditions political convictions and principles rightly exert influence.
WHAT would one say to the state of affairs, when the centre of discussion at socialite parties, art gallery inaugurations or even at high powered bureaucratic meets is the plain and simple onion? Shocking but all plain and simple truth. In fact, I must confess that till recently I detested eating raw onion because of the odour but on October 7 at the opening of the new art gallery at Hotel Intercontinental I heaped plenty of raw onion on my dinner plate as Satish Gujral kept on stressing that it was luxury item dont forget it is selling for Rs 60 per kilo in the open market.. eat it well whilst it is there ..... and so saying he not only put it generously on his plate but also on Uma Vasudevs who was sitting on the same table. Looking around one could see that most of the guests were actually munching loads of freshly cut onion, partaking of it with greater relish than those chicken and korma and biryani spreads. And with onion stuffed in those mouths, it is not just that the wonders of this vegetable that were discussed in bated onion breath but also the prices that accompanied it. Two well known art critics went further ahead, talking of the upward price graph of coriander (no artist exists here by the name of coriander, it is the plain and simple dhania leaves) and lacing it with minutest details. For two rupees I got one coriander stem which had just two leaves on it.... Can you beat that?
In todays times one can beat just about anything, including the fact that the latest high level meeting chaired by the Cabinet Secretary was conducted not along the lines to probe the massacre, rape or crime trends but on how to solve the onion crisis. Though latest reports state that 13,000 tonnes of onions are to be imported which could solve plug the shortage but I have my doubts. Not without reason, for though there is much hype on how onions would be sold at Mother Dairy booths for Rs 15 (as against the hitherto selling price of Rs 45 at these very booths) but on October 9 evening when I went along with the shopping bag to at least three Mother Dairy booths there seemed no trace of onions around. Said to be all sold out as the stocks were very, very limited and to further squeeze their sale they were sold only to those who had come equipped with ration cards and at the right time for onion buying 2.30 p.m.!
Moving along the onion trail, at one of the absolutely authentic Avadhi dinners that I ate last Sunday, at gourmet Rafia Hussains home there was a beeline for the finely chopped onion slices placed on a platter, along with sheermals (flavoured bread made from milk and maida and a speciality of Lucknow) and galawati kababs and biryani. And in that line were the faces of the ambassador of Pakistan and his spouse. After tucking into the onion they were rather intrigued by the sight of orange coloured sheermaals but after the hostess explained its ingredients it too was heaped along.
What is autism?
And this week Shyama Chona was instrumental in arranging for a three-day meet on autism. Held in the capital, at IIC, besides experts and parents, members of the National Autistic Society of the UK were invited to discuss the various aspects of autism. And it is definitely high time that focus gets shifted on it, for if you were to ask what is autism it is indeed difficult to even describe it, though 15 out of every 10,000 people are autistic. Autism is a severely incapacitating lifelong disability which typically shows up by the time the child is 2½ years old. The main problems of the autistic child are communication and behaviour problems and inability to relate normally to other people. Other symptoms include problems in feeding and sleeping, self injurious behaviour and repetitive self stimulatory behaviour. There seems no cure for the autistic, except specialised education programme where the affected is made to come out of her/his dream world by patience and love and dedication.
SIR Basil Blackett introduced the Paper Currency Act Amendment Bill. It was explained in the Statement of Objects and Reasons that in order to meet the seasonal demand for an expansion of the currency, the step was being taken. When the Indian Paper Currency Act was amended in 1920, Section 20 of the Consolidating Act 10 to issue currency notes up to an amount not exceeding a few crores of rupees against Commercial Bills of Exchange, the class of bills against which the notes were to be issued and the procedure to be adopted were being determined by rules framed by the Governor-General-in-Council.
These rules, as they stand at present, provide that the issue of notes under the above provision shall be against internal Bills of Exchange and Hundis, that they shall be issued only on the request of the Imperial Bank of India and that they shall bear interest at a rate not below 8 per cent.
The experience of two years working of the above provisions rose at the beginning of the busy season. Each of those years has shown that the objects of these provisions and the rapidity with which the bank rate in each of those years have shown that the objects of these provisions were not being fully achieved, that the aim should be to anticipate and prevent monetary stringency and not merely to relieve it. For this purpose, facilities should be afforded for making additional currency available when there is a genuine trade demand for it of a seasonal and temporary character and for automatically retiring it when that demand ceases.
Accordingly, it is considered desirable to modify not only the maximum limit which is prescribed in the Act but also the condition under which these loans can be granted. It is accordingly proposed to amend Section 20 of the Act so as to raise the maximum limit from 5 to 12 crores.
The Government of India
propose further that if the Bill is passed, the rules
framed under Section 20 of the Act of 1923 to be
admissible as soon as the bank rate rises to 6 per cent.
The amount of loans which should be permissible at 6 per
cent should not exceed 4 crores. Similar amounts should
be available at 7 and 8 per cent. The interest on loans
shall be payable at bank rate subject to a minimum of 6
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