|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Thursday, October 22, 1998
A myopic agenda
THE agenda for the "in-house conference" of State Education Ministers and Secretaries beginning in the Union Capital today suffers from an uncreative tilt towards anti-secularism. Whatever colour one would try to give to the scheduled topics for discussion, the impression that the show is RSS-oriented cannot be obliterated. In fact, there is no obvious occasion for this conference. It is a pity that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has been roped in to inaugurate it. He knows Mr P.D. Chitiangla of the Vidya Bharati set - up well. The organisation is a part of a chain of educational institutions run by the RSS. Does the Prime Minister not know that the participants are going to be put through the idea of amending Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution? Mr Chitiangla has been trying to prescribe what children should be taught and what they should be kept away from in primary schools. He has been lobbying his point of view with government educational bodies, including the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). He has openly opposed missionary education in the North-East. Most of such schools are run by reputed organisations like the Society of Jesus. The unhelpful part of the agenda seeks to bring in a group of unidentified "experts" who are supposed to advise the Union Education Ministry on the nature, content and objectives of primary education. Nobody should have any complaint against the proposal to familiarise all Indians with their recorded heritage. These include the Vedas and the Upanishads. Similarly, there should be no objection to the introduction of moral and spiritual education in schools. But how can one justify a ban on the minorities who want to run their educational institutions? The Constitution guarantees them the right to this effect which is absolute. The Minorities Commission has predictably reacted to the possibility of the dilution of the provisions of Article 30. The protective cover of this Article cannot be chiselled out through any fresh legislative action. When one attacks Article 30, one also impinges on the reasonable broadness of Article 28. To call the agenda in question "a national agenda for governance" is an act of illusion.
It is true that Justice
J.S. Verma, who now heads the Curriculum Revision
Committee of the Ministry for Human Resource Development,
observed in what is being described as his "Hindutva
judgement" of 1996 that Hinduism was a way of life
and not a mere religion. But there are various
interpretations of Justice Verma's views which do not
make him a biased law-giver. When his words were quoted
by votaries of ununiversal and anti-secular Hinduism by
supposedly Hindutva-minded politicians, a large number of
legal luminaries, including Mr Nani A. Palkhivala, Mr
Rajinder Sachar, Mr V.M. Tarkunde and Mr Soli Sorabjee,
explained that the learned judge did not mean to give
narrow parameters to a great philosophy. The inclusion of
Articles 28 to 30 in the Constitution was deliberately
made to ensure that the basic structure of the
Constitution remained a shining example of secularism and
multi-racialism. Now is the time to think in terms of the
ideas of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen who wants India's
society to be empowered to tackle its problems mainly
through education. Professor Sen was involved in the
deliberations of the Education Commission in 1967 and he
forcefully pleaded for adequately financed universal
primary education which made the consciousness of every
growing child illuminated with the light of the liberated
soul. By an act of choice, he thought, man could turn a
crisis into kairos, into a celebration of inner
illumination. The greater the consciousness, the greater
the self. It is easier to break than to build. Today,
there is more twilight than light in the field of
education. One expects the Prime Minister to distance
himself from all narrow-minded and sectarian ideas about
BJP in a spot
IT is becoming abundantly clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party does not know how to control the damage it has caused to its prospects of retaining control over Delhi in the Assembly elections after the unceremonious removal of Mr Sahib Singh Verma from the post of Chief Minister. In a desperate attempt to win back the support of the powerful Jat lobby in rural Delhi Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Tuesday took the strange decision of writing a personal letter to Mr Verma offering him a Cabinet berth at the Centre. The former Delhi Chief Minister, like a dutiful soldier, is reported to have accepted the offer but has requested the Prime Minister to keep it on hold until the Assembly elections. The usually secretive PMO did not mind sharing with the media the information that Mr Verma was likely to be sworn in either today or tomorrow. In fact, it was also stated that Mr Verma would be given the portfolio of Rural Development or Agriculture keeping in mind his rural roots. The entire exercise was a wellrehearsed show to create the impression that all is well with the political health of the BJP. To be fair, the BJP lost Delhi the day it turned down Mr Madan Lal Khuranas request to be re-inducted as Chief Minister. The difference between Mr Khuranas and Mr Vermas style of functioning is the difference between cheese and chalk. Mr Khurana had stepped down in favour of Mr Verma not because he was found wanting as an administrator but because his name figured in the hawala scam. The BJPs stock would have gone up in Delhi had Mr Khurana been re-appointed Chief Minister after his name was cleared by the court hearing the hawala case. Today the BJP is a divided house and the latest gimmick of offering a Cabinet berth to Mr Verma is not likely to make much difference to its chances of winning the Assembly elections in Delhi.
Mrs Sushma Swaraj is
making all the right noises for the BJP. However, so long
as she does not give up her Lok Sabha seat the BJP may
find it difficult to sell her as the future Chief
Minister of Delhi. The leadership cannot be deaf to the
fact that the Delhi unit of the BJP is speaking in
different voices. The attempt to pacify the Jat lobby by
offering a Cabinet berth to Mr Verma has not gone down
well with the supporters of Mr Khurana. In simple terms,
by trying to humour the Jats the BJP may lose the support
of the Punjabis in Delhi who are reportedly so angry with
the turn of events that they may even ignore Mr
Khuranas request to vote for the BJP. The Bania
lobby too is cut up with the BJP because Mr Rajendra
Gupta has not been included in the Government formed by
Mrs Swaraj. Reports from Rajasthan are also not very
comforting for the BJP leadership. The reported political
arrangement between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the
Congress in Madhya Pradesh is not good news for the BJP.
Of course, the outcome of the Assembly elections in the
three States (plus Mizoram) would have a bearing on the
future political strategy of the Congress and the BJP.
However, for the BJP the mild political tremors in
Himachal Pradesh over the claim of the Himachal Vikas
Congress over the lone Baijnath Assembly seat has added
to its worries. The three HVC Ministers have sent in
their letters of resignation to their leader, Mr Sukh
Ram, to mount pressure on Chief Minister Prem Kumar
Dhumal for giving up his partys claim on the
Baijnath seat. The BJP high command knows that without
the HVC support the BJP Government in Himachal Pradesh
would not survive for a single day. The BJP may have
created a storm in the last Lok Sabha over Mr Sukh
Rams alleged corrupt deals. However, in the current
situation it has no option but to keep him on its side if
it wants Mr Dhumal to continue as Chief Minister.
TADA for Mumbai thugs
IN an open admission of failure to combat gangster raj in Mumbai, Chief Minister Manohar Joshi has started talking of enacting a TADA-type special law to meet the situation. TADA or its later-day look-alike is a draconian measure, condemned by legal pundits as a lawless law and only reluctantly recommended to deal with a desperate law and order problem. And Mumbai has slipped into this stage in a steady fashion over the past three years, corresponding to the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance rule. Mr Joshi would do well to remember that his proposed TADA progeny will work only if the police successfully breaks into the extortionist gangs, builds a reliable dossier and uses the TADA provisions to immobilise the goons. The key aspect is to plant agents in the targeted groups; but the way the Chief Minister has gone about arming his administration with TADA gives a contradictory impression. He wants the police to arrest individuals on suspicion and dish out detention statistics as the governments progress in containing the new-fangled extortion racket. But a stray shooting can expose the futility of this drive and further terrorise the business community.
The rise and rise of the
gangs in the premier commercial city of the country has a
strong organic link with the Shiv Sena capturing state
power. As is well known, the Sena has openly backed
selected mafia groups in the name of containing the
Muslim anti-socials. In fact, Sena chief Bal Thackeray
once lambasted the city police for eliminating Hindu dons
with a view to encouraging their rivals across the
communal line. He went one step further; he warned such
biased policemen of reprisal. Incidentally, shortly after
this Thackeray thunder, several leading figures
associated with the Arun Gawli gang were shot dead by the
police in a series of encounters and in one such case
which went to a court of law thanks to public interest
litigation, two policemen have been ordered to stand
trial for murder. As a result the police today is seen as
an active player in gang wars, which impression has
robbed it of the opportunity to have a low-down on every
gang. Nor do common people share information with the
police for fear of being betrayed and becoming easy
targets of the affected gangs. The death of six
businessmen at the hands of gun-toting gangsters this
month is as much a reflection of the daring and
desperation of the underworld as of the total erosion of
police credibility and efficiency thanks to direct
political interference. And to think that Mumbai (or
Bombay of yore) was the safest of the four metropolises
in terms of safety of life and limb!
NO breakthrough was expected in the just concluded India-Pakistan talks at the level of Foreign Secretaries, and none has taken place. This is no surprise, therefore, nor much of a news. More material, and welcome, is the fact that the talks did not break down as could well have happened, judging by the dismal history of the dialogue in recent years. And even this is by no means all. The intense three-day conversations have produced a ray of hope which is very faint at this stage but surely can be built upon, given the necessary will and skill on both sides.
To be sure, differences on crucial issues continue to be profound. For Pakistan this is the core issue and its solution lies in the implementation of the antiquated UN resolutions calling for a plebiscite. As a first step in that direction, Pakistan wants India to reduce its troops in the state, release all prisoners, end its repression and so on. India has made it clear that the key issue in Kashmir is an end to the trans-border help to terrorism.
Even on the question of ensuring that India and Pakistan, as two declared nuclear weapon powers, do not run the risk of a nuclear conflict through misunderstanding, accident or unauthorised use of such weapons, attitudes are diametrically opposed. Pakistan rejects out of hand the extremely useful idea of the No first use. For it, Kashmir is the nuclear flashpoint and therefore the solution of this problem is the best confidence-building measure. To this country any linkage between Kashmir and the nuclear issue, which stands by itself, is totally unacceptable.
However, when all is said and done, the bottomline is that the two sides have reaffirmed their commitment to reduce the risk of conflict by building mutual confidence in nuclear and conventional fields. Despite major differences between the two sides approach to the issue, they have at last adopted the language of disarmament and deterrence which should help them both to allay international concern about a nuclear conflict or confrontation in the subcontinent.
Another barely visible glimmer of hope emanates from the time-table of the further talks between Mr K Raghunath and Mr Shamshad Ahmad, along with other members of the working groups contemplated under the framework announced by the two Prime Ministers, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mr Nawaz Sharif, at New York on September 23. It is noteworthy that what the two Prime Ministers resolved was an easily avoidable dispute between the two sides over the interpretation of the work schedule settled on June 23, 1997 by the then Foreign Secretary, Mr Salman Haider, and his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Shamshad Ahmad. This kind of waste of time has to be avoided in future if the dialogue is not to get stuck in the old rut.
As prescribed at New York, a calendar of meetings was worked out through diplomatic channels. Under this, the Indian side showed flexibility and agreed to giving priority to two issues: peace and security, including confidence-building measures; and Kashmir. Pakistan responded by agreeing that discussions on these two subjects at Islamabad on October 15 to 18 will be followed by a series of meetings in the first week of November in Delhi to continue the composite dialogue on other six issues that include Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage, and, above all, economic cooperation and people-to-people contacts.
These talks are to take place duly and are not being cancelled or postponed because there has been no progress over Kashmir at Islamabad. On the contrary, even while playing to both national and international gallery, Mr Shamshad Ahmad went out of his way to declare that there could be no quick fix of an issue so terribly complex and complicated as Kashmir.
In short, for all practical purposes, the present state of the play represents a subtle but significant change from the Pakistani position, held for practically a decade, that there cannot be any move or even discussion on any other problem until the core issue was solved. Strange though it may seem, this stratagem was used by Mr Shamshad Ahmad at Edinburgh just a year ago when Mr Nawaz Sharif offered to sell India electric power in which Pakistan in surplus and Mr Inder Kumar Gujral promptly accepted the offer. The subject was immediately dropped.
This is doubtless a relatively small matter. But among the countries which face intractable and highly emotive problems, as India and Pakistan undoubtedly do, every positive factor, no matter how little, surely matters. Tremendous backlogs of bitterness and suspicion cannot be swept away overnight. These deposits have to be chipped away slowly, small bit by small bit. This can be an excruciatingly difficult task, requiring the stamina of Hercules.
What are the factors on which will depend the future course and pace of the dialogue that has belatedly got going? The most important of these is the duration for which Pakistan can keep alive its illusion or hope that it can persuade the international community (for which read the USA) actively to intervene in India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir. Usually, time provides the correction to such notions. But Indian diplomacy also has its task cut out for it.
There is an unacknowledged overlapping in Indias dialogue with the USA, which has not yet produced the desired result, and the dialogue with Pakistan which has just restarted. Washington was constantly talking to Islamabad and New Delhi separately before the meeting of the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries. Every American statement on the nuclear issue in South Asia includes a homily on the need for the two countries to solve their disputes, including Kashmir. Of course, the USA adds that this should be done by peaceful negotiations by the two sides. But Pakistan hopes against hope that the USA might agree to a more interventionist role in relation to Kashmir.
At Islamabad Mr Raghunath did well to declare categorically that no third party involvement in Kashmir would be tolerated. The time has come to hammer home this message in Washington where quite a few makers of policy are amenable to the Indian position provided they are approached actively enough.
If and when this happens, the outlook is bound to brighten materially. Mr Nawaz Sharif won the last election 19 months ago on a platform of resuming trade with India and improving relations. Thereafter things changed and nothing moved. Now, however, new elements have entered the situation. Mr Sharifs power has grown immensely, some say dangerously because there is no longer any countervailing centre of power. At the same time, the Pakistani economy is in dire straits, indeed on the verge of collapse. The manner in which the IMF, the World Bank and the foreign governments are pressurising Pakistan on both economic issues and nuclear non-proliferation has a lesson of its own.
In short, Pakistans
economic vulnerability and political polarisation (as Mr
Sharifs power has grown so has the bitterness of
his opponents) are such that continuance of unremitting
hostility to India can do it no good at all. How the
Pakistani Prime Minister gets over the problem of
delinking relations with India from the incredible hype
over Kashmir in Pakistan remains to be seen. But it is
encouraging that he has made a unilateral gesture to
release all Indian prisoners languishing in Pakistani
jails. It is not enough to reciprocate this gesture.
India should take similar initiatives to make the
dialogue with Pakistan more creative than it is.
Sena-BJP alliance under strain
NORMALLY, Balasaheb Thackeray, Shiv Sena Leader and remote control Chief Minister of Maharashtra, reserves his Dasehra day party rally address to hurl invectives on Muslims, the Congress, Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the critical Press. This year it was different. Moved by some newfound love for the state farmers, he announced that the 20-lakh farmers would now be provided with free power.
The announcement shocked the state government, particularly the BJP Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Gopinath Munde, who also holds the Energy portfolio. Thackeray, as usual, had not consulted anyone before making such an announcement. As the bureaucrats made some quick calculations, it was found that the state would need a whopping Rs 832 crore to implement the latest bombshell announcement from the Sena chief.
Only weeks earlier, disturbed over reports that the state was on the verge of bankruptcy, the Maharashtra Governor, Mr P.C. Alexander, had summoned senior officials from the Finance Ministry for consultation. It was for the first time the Governor had directly summoned the bureaucrats, and the Chief Minister found it difficult to hide his embarrassment. He later issued a Press statement that the states financial position was sound. But no one in the government knew how the huge amount of Rs 832 crore was to be collected to implement the free-power-to-the-farmer scheme.
From the time the alliance government came to power, it has had to face frequent surprise decisions and announcements from Thackeray. The BJP ministers in the Cabinet were particularly upset that announcements concerning their departments were made by the Sena leader without ever consulting them. Some of the Sena ministers too followed the example of their boss. Housing Minister Suresh Jain Dada, a favourite of Balasaheb, chalked out a grandiose Shivshahi Punarvasan Praklpap scheme for the rehabilitation of the millions of slum dwellers without consulting the BJP. Stung by this, the state BJP leader, Mr Kirit Somayya, lashed out against Mr Jain who hit back using abusive language of the worst kind. The political situation became tense, the BJP boycotted a couple of Cabinet meetings and it was only the intervention of Balasaheb which brought about peace between the two leaders.
The rift in the Cabinet is no longer invisible, and everyday there are new tensions. The Sena stalwarts often spoke as though they would like to fight the next elections on their own and Thackeray recently challenged the Congress for a one-to-one confrontation during the next assembly polls. The BJP, despite being under great pressure, has kept its cool but no one knows how long it will be able to do so.
The Chief Minister was also under considerable strain, having received brickbats and bouquets, in turn from his political boss. The other day Balasaheb announced that he would sack the Chief Minister even if there was a single stricture against him by the Bombay High Court in the Pune land allotment case involving his son-in-law, Mr Girish Vyas. Mr Joshi, who also holds the Urban Development portfolio, was accused of using his influence for getting a prime piece of land meant for a school dereserved for his son-in-law who was planning to build a shopping complex. The dereservation was challenged in court by Pune corporator Nitin Jagtap and local journalist Vijay Kumbhar. They submitted to the court that the land was allotted to Mr Vyas in gross violation of the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning (MRTP) Act and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) Act. The final hearing of the case in the Bombay High Court has been fixed for November 4.
As if these troubles were
not over, the ruling alliance was also on a sticky wicket
over its outright rejection of the Srikrishna Commission
report on the Mumbai communal riots. The Supreme Court,
now seized of the matter, has asked for an explanation
from the state government. In the meantime, the law and
order situation is not getting any better. The latest
victim in shootouts was 38-year-old Bharat Shah, owner of
the wellknown Roopam Department Stores. He was gunned
down outside a public telephone booth near the famous
Crawford Market by two youths who fled to safety on their
motorcycles. The city police failed miserably to arrest
and punish the killers who had been on the rampage for
several months now. The state governments weak and
pathetic explanation that people need not concern
themselves with gangland killings can no longer hold
good. There is a lot of justification in the stand of the
Opposition that Mumbai is being held to ransom by the
mafia and has come to resemble the Chicago of the 1920s.
IF one habit is to be chosen as collectively symbolic of the trendy generation today, chewing gum touches the tape. The youngsters chew it here, there, everywhere. Everytime is chewing gum time for them.
One girl student of mine did it openly (not defiantly) in the class. When I happened to look at her, she stopped the jaw-jogging. The moment I looked the other way, the jogging resumed.
Why this craze for a flavoured stick which has no food value?
Perhaps, it has look-alike value. Some famous cricketers, for example Ajay Jadeja, Mark Taylor and Ranatunga keep chomping on the field. Youngsters, looking for role models, imitate them.
Another reason could be the influence of advertisements on television. Though I wonder if the exchange of the stuff can convert adversaries into friends as shown on TV. But the chew-culture has spread so widely that, as in America, it threatens to become a national trademark here too.
This is, in fact, a foible. The dictionary defines it as weak point in character, quality one mistakenly prides on.
What is even more baffling is that the stuff has no food value. The flavour is soon chewed out. Nor can one swallow it. One may, however, say that it takes one back to the days of infancy which provided oral erotic pleasure.
But the fact cannot be chewed away that it is a harmless way to relieve boredom, soothe strung nerves and work off frustration the probable reason why cricketers chew. The South African captain shows it all. It is an acceptable outlet for nail-biters. I do not know why Sachin did not pick the habit.
It is a non-fattening alternative for chronic nibblers. One addict told me that he gave up smoking, chewing gum providing a substitute.
There could yet be another reason: jaw-jogging is akin to placebo. The later is medicine which has no medicine in it. The former is food which has no food value. Thus, it is like dining but getting up empty-stomach.
The innocent pleasure has drawn pique from many who brand it vulgar, distracting and indicative of a shallow mind. Tabacco-chewers call it sissified. Others a tool of the devil!
Recent research has found that it speeds up the flow of saliva and delays decay-promoting tartar. It massages the teeth and leaves a pleasant flavour in the mouth.
Punjab needs land use policy
PUNJAB Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is worried at the deteriorating farm economy of the countrys food basket. The alarming decline in agricultural productivity, the growing indebtedness and the resulting rural unemployment are ominous signs.
Addressing the national council of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) at Chandigarh recently, Mr Badal was at pains to explain how a deteriorating rural economy could jeopardise the gains, if any, of industrial growth. Urging the industry to come out of the confines of the city and spread out into the rural areas, he warned: The failure to rescue the rural economy can result in a farmers backlash and that too within the next 10 years.
A week earlier, he had asked the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission to institute a detailed study on soil erosion and nutrient depletion in Punjab. True, much of the problem confronting agriculture stems from excessive soil use and abuse. At the same time, economic inequalities and the snapping of the inter-sectoral linkages in the post-green revolution period have compounded the agrarian crisis. Add to it the official neglect and apathy, the virile farmers of Punjab have all been forgotten.
The alarm bells have been ringing for nearly a decade now. Declining ability of the physical parameters that go into producing a bumper harvest, and economic disparities that makes farming a losing proposition have led to a stagnation in crop yields. Instead of initiating any corrective measures, the State Government on the advice of agricultural economists tried to salvage the emerging farm crisis by encouraging crop diversification. In the bargain, it further widened the disparities and sucked the lands dry. The resulting heavy indebtedness forced many a farmers to take the only route available to escape the misery commit suicide.
For Mr Badal, the remedy lay in only providing free electricity to farmers.
Thinking that by providing free power to farmers he had done a great service to the cause of agrarian reform. Mr Badal had then devoted all his energies to prop up the industrial sector. And in bargain, and like his predecessors, he failed the Punjab farmers.
What has to be explicitly understood is that the answers to the ills plaguing the agricultural sector have to be found within Punjab. All that the Chief Minister needs to do is to put together a team of experts, including farmers and minus the economists, to study and suggest policy initiative that can restore the pride in agriculture. If the past experience is any indication, leaving the task alone to economists is going to further exacerbate the crisis.
In brief, what the farmers desperately need is a unique resurrection window kisan sahayak. Drawn on the lines of the industrial promotion cell, called Udyog Sahayak, the farmers to need to be wooed to make farming not only a remunerative but a profitable venture. If the State has the resources to attract NRI investments by providing incentives that include 10 per cent reservation of industrial plots for allotment in all focal points, establishing industrial estates and provide export-oriented units, there is no reason why farmers cannot be provided similar incentives. After all, farmers are the pride of Punjab.
For the NRIs, the buck does not stop here. The government has announced a series of concessions, including reduced income tax on shares, debentures or deposits and complete tax exemption on money borrowed for the purchase of plant and machinery. They are also being allowed up to 100 per cent in equity shares with full reparation benefits in industries requiring compulsory licensing, including the small-scale sector. For those investing in hotels, tourism and placement services, the list of sops is endless. And this, despite the fact that a majority of the original allottees of the focal points have all but disappeared.
While the thrust is on agri-business, agriculture continues to be neglected. Instead, all-out efforts are being made to bring in an industry which encourages more and more of intensive agriculture rendering the lands barren in the times to come. Setting up more sugar mills, for instance, is not the answer considering that the region is faced with the severe decline in groundwater resources. Nor is the Punjab soil suitable for sugarcane farming. Such kind of agri-business enterprises, encouraged more out of political considerations, is gravely detrimental to the farm health and economy. While the economic benefits are lappped up by a few, the resulting adverse fallout affects millions of poor farmers. Punjab, therefore, needs a land use policy, which is in tune with the long-term ecological and economical requirements of the State.
Easy availability of agricultural credit is the only catalyst for enhancing performance in the rural sector. Unfortunately, while the industrialists continue to receive adequate credit, farmers are no longer being found credit-worthy by the banking institutions. This was essentially the fallout from a faulty recommendation made by the World Bank about 10 years ago. While the World Bank has accepted its folly, with the President of the bank publicly apologising for the mistake, the Indian banks have not yet made necessary corrections under the rural credit programme. Mr Badal can definitely set a new trend by restructuring the farm credit supply.
For Mr Badal, following on
the footsteps of the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr
Chandrababu Naidu, will be politically suicidal.
Punjabs agrarian economy can also be made equally
productive and attractive given the right kind of policy
initiatives. If only a right beginning is made.
What ails Chandigarhs
EIGHT years have passed since its inception, but basic facilities still elude the 2045 members of Defence Services Officers Institute (DSOI), Chandigarh. Embroiled in technicalities and disputes, the institute is the bone of contention between the Punjab Government, its members and the Armys Western Command (WC).
The idea of having a DSOI in Chandigarh was conceived by the Army way back in 1982. The then GOC, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Area, registered a society named Defence Services Officers Association for a DSOI in Chandigarh and applied for land to UT Administration. In June, 1991 the then Secretary, Defence Services Welfare, Punjab, also sought allotment of land for a similar purpose. Consequently, in August, 1991, a two-acre plot was allotted in Chandigarhs Sector 36.
The run for control of the institute between the State Government-aided society and the opposing members led to disputes and litigation thus stalling the institutes development.
The allotment letter was addressed to defence organisation. Not specifying which this organisation is, it was sent care of Punjab Sainik Welfare Board, Chandigarh. Its Director then advertised its membership and later got a society registered as Defence Services Officers Club (DSOC).
The Punjab Government also constituted a governing body to organise the construction of the building. It was a mix of defence and IAS officers. Some members of the DSOC governing body allegedly got themselves nominated by name; the fact that was perhaps later amended to ex officio. All went fine till a few members, objecting to the participation of the Punjab Government in establishing the DSOI, moved court. Running the DSOI is the prerogative of the defence forces, they contend. Meanwhile, some other members got another society registered as DSOI that conformed to the composition of the existing governing body. Now the DSOC filed a suit praying that these members should be forbidden from interfering in the club affairs. As of now a receiver has been appointed by the court and both societies have been refrained from transacting club business.
The DSOIs at various stations are flourishing under the aegis of the defence forces. The DSOI at Bangalore is looked after by the Air Force while a similar institute at Mumbai is administered by the Navy. The Army runs those at Pune and Delhi. Membership to any institute is a status symbol all over the country. They all are administered by common rules and traditions. In fact, all are centrally controlled and financed by the Army Services Officers Fund a registered association of Army headquarters.
The DSOIs are social platforms that provide serving and retired defence officers with facilities for intellectual exchanges and recreation. Members here are also facilitated with CSD, subsidised liquor, tax-free cinema, concessional amenities etc. In the words of Major S.S. Johal: What a mess is to a battalion, an institute is to a station. Since serving officers too are to be members of these institutes, Army Act Section 21 read with Rule 19 is taken care of. This Act forbids those subject to the Army Act to be part of any institution or society which is not recognised by the armed forces unless it is of recreational nature. In the later case too a prior sanction of the superior officer shall be obtained.
The DSOI at Chandigarh is with a difference. Its not funded by Army Services Officers Fund of Army headquarters. To be so defence forces need to own and recognise it. Neither is the case here; and in absence of this recognition, the members though authorised are denied their basic right to the inherent facilities within. With the Army not recognising it, the serving defence officers should be seeking prior permission of their superior officer to be its member. Most of them have not done so; could be inadvertently!
This is where the tiff between Western Command and the Punjab Government figures. The state government is unwilling to part with the institute, the Western Command does not recognises it as DSOI. Since it was a Western Command formation which, in 1982, first applied for the land for DSOI, Western Command demands the property and management of this institute. On its part Western Command is firm about running it only if the institute is transferred and membership is governed by DSOI rules. Addressing the Governor of Punjab at a joint meeting at Raj Bhavan in September, 1997, Lt-Gen H.B. Kala, GOC-in-C, Western Command clarified thus: If it is DSOC then I have nothing to do with it; if at all it is DSOI you all have nothing to do with it. Western Command also wants audit of expenditure incurred on the institute, before it is handed over to the Army. According to sources at Western Command the Army intends making a determined bid to claim this institute. Western Command is reportedly monitoring the on-goings closely.
The Punjab Government on the other hand expresses its own constrains. It has so far spent over Rs 1 crore on the project. Of this, about Rs 89 lakh has come from the additional excise levy on the sale of liquor in the cantonments that the State Government has collected for cantonment boards. Loan on various subscriptions too are being allegedly utilised for the ongoing works.
But in this ongoing feud,
the members are the ultimate sufferers; the income of the
DSOI has also declined. Its ground rent too is pending
clearance. In the absence of subsidised food and
beverages, many local members refrain from frequenting
the institute. We are surviving more on the
patronage from outstation members, says Col
Harinder Singh, an official at the institute. Attendance,
however, is encouraging at the weekends, he adds.
THE attitude taken up by the Government of India in both Houses of the Legislature during the discussion of the Kenya decision on Monday was exactly what one would have expected from a subordinate government. Such a government may make any amount of representations to the higher authorities so long as the issue is still in doubt, but the moment a decision is arrived at by those authorities, it considers that it has nothing further to do, unless, of course, it chooses to make more representations along the same ineffective lines.
That is exactly the attitude which the Government of India took up in this matter the other day. We recognise they said in effect, that on certain material points the decision is such as you cannot accept. We recognise, too, that it has caused justifiable resentment in India. But we would ask you to be calm, to be patient, to be unflinching in your faith in British justice. We promise you that we shall soon consider the decision in all its bearings and if we are convinced that it is a decision we as a government cannot accept we shall make fresh representations to the Imperial Government.
Neither Sir B.N. Sarma nor
Sir Malcolm Hailey can be unaware that no colonial
government, which took up a position of philosophical
detachment like this in regard to a question of such
tremendous national importance and on which the public
felt so strongly, would be permitted to continue in
office for one single day.
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