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Thursday, November 25, 1999
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editorials

A welcome decision
THERE is apparently a bankruptcy of ideas in the government on ways to nudge the bank lending rate down by at least one percentage point.

Lal Krishna v. Advani
IT may not be wrong to say that Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani has countless friends and just one enemy. Himself.

“Austerity”, Chautala style
THE way the Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, is showering largesse on all those whom he wants to keep in good humour, it would seem that he has hit upon a huge goldmine.


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STOPPING KASHMIR MILITANCY
Ending infiltration holds the key
by A.N. Dar

IF it has done its homework, the Government of India should have by now a tight plan operating in Kashmir to fight militancy. Its high point should be to stop infiltration from across the Line of Control.

Indo-UK ties on the mend
by Amar Chandel, who was recently in England
AFTER the Pokhran-II explosions of May 11-13 last year almost torpedoed the relations between India and Britain, there has been a remarkable improvement in the situation.



He brought the micro-credit revolution to B’desh
From K.P. Bhanumathy

AMIDST a poor economic and political graph perpetuated by incompetent political leadership stands a reputed and immensely successful non-government organisation, Grameen Bank. It promotes the micro-credit system to reach out to the poor with a view to removing poverty.

Middle

Truth and statistics
by A. C. Tuli

WHILE you are going through your morning newspaper, how do you react to such snippets: “The number of AIDS orphans rose by 400 per cent in Namibia between 1994 and 1997”, “76 per cent school-going girls prefer skirt-blouse to salwar-kameez”, “80 per cent of landmines victims are civilians”, “50 per cent of paddy crop in Bihar washed away by floods”, “69 per cent American girls experience sex before marriage”, and so on? Do you regard these statistics as gospel truth?


75 Years Ago

November 25, 1924
Lord Winterton Again
THE political correspondent of The Times is responsible for the statement that Lord Winterton is expected to be Under-Secretary of State. It does not really matter much who may be appointed Under-Secretary, for the Under-Secretary will be a real Under-Secretary and not the master of his superior.

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A welcome decision

THERE is apparently a bankruptcy of ideas in the government on ways to nudge the bank lending rate down by at least one percentage point. If the interest rate comes down, the biggest beneficiary will be the government itself since it is sitting on a mountain of debt. Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha keeps repeating that it is up to the RBI to take a decision, which is theoretically right. But if the government is really serious about making credit cheaper, it can do a number of things to make it happen. In the absence of a vision and will, it is making a feint of activism, hurting those who can neither protest nor bear like the investors in small savings schemes who now earn lower returns on their fresh deposits.Last week the Planning Commission pressed the government to cut the interest rate on provident fund but it has fortunately rejected the suggestion. PF is often the only genuine form of saving for the salaried community and bringing the interest rate down from 12 per cent to 11 per cent will mean a substantial loss as the money remains locked up for many years. The government eyes the provident fund to pull off at least two tricks. It wants to manipulate the interest on it to send a signal to the banks to do likewise. Needless to say, it thinks it is an easier option but the fear of a labour outcry has held its hands back. The more effective step will be for the government to prune its borrowing, which is beyond its capacity at present.

The second function it wants to assign to provident fund is to buoy up the stock market. The fund is worth more than Rs 1,00,000 crore and even if a part of it is invested in stocks, the price index will climb steeply. This step is suggested in the name of earning a higher return on the deposits which are now fully deployed in government securities. This is a bizarre idea since dividend on shares is paid on face value and all attractive shares command a price which is 20 or 30 times the face value. The only way diverting the fund to shares will provide 15 per cent return is through a regular rise in their prices and unloading them at the higher value to make a tidy packet. Will not unloading hundreds of crores worth shares upset the stock market and undo the good work of pumping in money? This is the recommendation of the Dave committee and the fierce opposition from the provident fund trustees exposes the unsound nature of the proposal.

The government’s approach to interest rate has been mechanical. It should consider bringing forward a sliding scale as is the case with housing loans. Even this is not fully satisfactory as the difference is a minuscule half a per cent between what is charged on the lowest amount and the next slab. It is possible to link the rate with the broader social objective and encourage borrowing for wholly desirable objectives. Housing is a priority sector and a combination of a suitable interest rate and tax incentives should spur construction. A more important field is education. At present student loans attract a prohibitively high rate. This at a time when the government is slashing grants to universities and asking them to charge a fee which is close to the economic cost. It is clearly a case of the government’s right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. When a parent wants to send his son or daughter to a foreign university, he burns a big hole in his own pocket. Does the government want to discourage bright young students from seeking a foreign education?
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Lal Krishna v. Advani

IT may not be wrong to say that Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani has countless friends and just one enemy. Himself. He is, perhaps, not aware that the enemy within him seems to be working overtime for destroying his image as a man of reason and a leader of broad vision. The “other Advani” has evidently convinced him that as Home Minister of India he must talk tough and appear to be tougher than his talk. His latest statement on Kashmir should serve as an example of what he ought not to be saying as the next most important leader after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The irony is that he made the statement warning Pakistan of a “Kargil-type” response during a visit to the Buddhist pilgrimage centre at Sarnath which is identified with the universally respected philosophy of ahimsa. The provocation for Mr Advani’s warning to Pakistan to keep off Kashmir was provided by the militant attack on the office of the National Conference at the Nawa-e-Suboh complex in Srinagar. The complex is located in as secure an area as the headquarters of the Army’s 15th Corps, recently targeted by activists of Lashkar-e-Toiba. Offices and studios of Doordarshan and Radio Kashmir as also the residences of some ministers and senior bureaucrats are located in the same area. The road leading to the complex is closed to general traffic. As Union Home Minister he had to take notice of the incident. But what exactly did Mr Advani mean by promising a “Kargil-type” response if Pakistan did not give up promoting cross-border terrorism in Kashmir? One interpretation could be that Pakistani troops would be allowed to capture sensitive peaks along the Line of Control for the Indian Army to offer a “Kargil-type” response. Which means another “Subrahmanyam-type” committee would have to be set up to investigate reasons for the intrusions!

What Mr Advani actually meant was that if Pakistan did not give up backing terrorism in Kashmir, India would do unto Pakistan what it had done unto India by capturing Kargil and other peaks. If this is what the Home Minister of India meant in his unveiled threat to Pakistan, the statement can be faulted on two counts. One, the decision to capture peaks in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir by sending troops disguised as whatever should logically be taken by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Defence Minister, the National Security Council, the Home Minister and other top functionaries. Two, Pakistan did not make a public announcement about its decision to capture Kargil and other peaks on the Indian side of the LoC. Pak intrusions were going on while Mr Vajpayee was being praised for the bus diplomacy for improving relations between the two countries. Having spent the best part of his political career in the opposition Mr Advani, like some of his other colleagues in the National Democratic Alliance, has yet not been able to master the art of making diplomatically correct noises without appearing to be harsh. The voice of reason is usually too feeble to be heard over the ear-splitting decibel level of the rhetoric of unreason. The trick is to cut off the rhetoric, which External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh does with great finesse, for the voice of reason to acquire body and substance. Besides, Mr Advani is a good student of history and should know that a major source of strength for Britain, which once ruled the world, is its amazing command over the art of understatement. It is evident that the Union Home Minister who promised a “proactive” Pakistan policy last year was once again merely making a “reactive” statement on the latest act of dare-devilry of the militants.
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“Austerity”, Chautala style

THE way the Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, is showering largesse on all those whom he wants to keep in good humour, it would seem that he has hit upon a huge goldmine. The biggest beneficiaries are his ministerial colleagues of course. The number of telephone calls that they can make from their residences has been doubled to 40,000 every two months. Mind you, there is no limit on the number of calls they can make from their offices. This is connectivity and effective interaction, Haryana style. Rest assured that every chachi and mami and tau will now get calls from the houses of various mantris! What is interesting is that the number of calls was similarly doubled by the previous Chief Minister, Mr Bansi Lal, only a few months back. So, the upper limit has been quadrupled within this very year. If that is not interesting enough, the real fascinating story is that this facility has been provided with retrospective effect. That means that the maximum limit of 10,000 local calls imposed on the ministers and other beneficiaries for the last 12 years, from September 16, 1987, to February 4 this year, has also been waived off. No prizes for guessing who are going to benefit the most from the bounty. And that is not all. Mr Chautala is also keen that his colleagues become more technology-savvy. He has allowed them the use of mobile telephones. The bill? A puny Rs 1.20 lakh per annum per minister. For 21 ministers, that will come to no more than Rs 25.20 lakh per year, and that of their residential phones a little more than Rs 60 lakh. That is a small price to pay for keeping them well connected (and satisfied), isn't it?

The only people who could have raised questions are the bureaucrats. But the magnanimous Chief Minister watches everybody's interests. So, an order of the previous Chief Minister has been reversed and now every IAS officer who is in the Super Time scale will have a sarkari airconditioned car at his command. Earlier, there was a pool, which had an AC car for every three officers. That is called doing things in style. A bit of running around will prove the fact that there has been no discovery of a goldmine in the state. The only money that can be spent or squandered comes from the pockets of taxpayers. One would expect the government to use it prudently, considering that the Chief Minister had said only recently that the previous government had left the coffers of the state empty. But the pragmatic Chief Minister has ways and means to make sure that the burden of the expenditure on cars and mobile phones is not felt by the exchequer. One convenient way by which he can find money for these facilities is by curtailing expenses on public-service schemes. If all goes well, the demand for similar perks will rise to a crescendo in the neighbouring states as well.
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STOPPING KASHMIR MILITANCY
Ending infiltration holds the key
by A.N. Dar

IF it has done its homework, the Government of India should have by now a tight plan operating in Kashmir to fight militancy. Its high point should be to stop infiltration from across the Line of Control. If foreign militants continue to come in, India will not be able to control militancy in Kashmir.

The attack on the Srinagar cantonment at Badamibagh (literally meaning the “Garden of Almonds”) on November 3 should be taken as the ISI notice on the authorities in the summer Capital of the state that it will not allow militancy to die down. So also the earlier bomb attacks on the state Secretariat in Srinagar. The latest reminder is the blast in Puja Express going from Jammu to Delhi at Kandori station.

The proxy war will go on with greater vigour. This is the impression one gets after the coup in Pakistan by General Musharraf. He obviously wants to continue the tension across the Line of Control and the militancy in the Indian part of Kashmir. It is generally not the Kashmiri militants who are responsible for most of the blasts but the foreigners whom Pakistan sends across with high-calibre equipment.

The Srinagar cantonment and the Secretariat are not outlying areas guarded by a few security personnel. They are heavily secured locations. That the militants could come so near and inflict heavy damage not only demands a thorough investigation but also a full-scale review of the existing arrangements as well as minute-by-minute supervision. The militants must not be able to repeat these acts because this will embolden them and dishearten the people in general. How could a militant climb a 10-foot wall outside the Army PRO’s office in Badamibagh and not be shot down? The fight between the three or four militants who entered the high security zone and the Army’s Rapid Action Force spread from 5.30 p.m. to 4.30 a.m. next day in an area which should be the Army’s home ground. From this one can guess how heavy and surprising an attack it must have been. This shows how well-trained and well-armed the militants had been.

The cantonment at Badamibagh at the foot of the Shankaracharya hill with the Dal Lake on the other side is one of the oldest military establishments in the country. It was set up before Independence and it housed part of the Maharaja’s 10,000-man army. After the 1947 invasion it has been serving the Indian Army. It is well fortified as cantonments usually are and provides facilities to the top-most Army officers visiting Kashmir. The localities around Badamibagh — Batwara, Shivpur, Sonwar and Indiranagar — are well-known residential areas, considered the safest in the valley.

Many employees who work in government offices live there because these were considered secure. It has often been said that Kashmiri Pandits, instead of migrating to Jammu, should have been settled in this area because of its safety. Raj Bhavan and the Chief Minister’s residence are not far from it. This area is at the beginning of the land route from Srinagar to Jammu. That such an area should become the target of militants is understandable from the militants point of view, but that it should have been reached so easily has created grave unease. While the militants have the advantage of surprise, the country expects the security forces to give them a bloody nose to deter them from repeated acts of destruction. The militants entering the cantonment area shows that it too has become unsafe. This is the first time that the cantonment has been attacked since militancy started in Kashmir. During a visit to Srinagar a few weeks ago I drove through the area and found it safe.

Those days several security forces’ camps had been attacked. Inflicting damage to bystanders and targets on the roadside is one thing but entering camps where large numbers of security personnel live often alongside arms dumps is quite another. I saw some of the camps. The layout showed that they were not highly fortified. They were guarded at places, but I was told that one could enter the camps in bad weather and at night. In one camp the militants entered at night and an officer, woken from sleep, came out not with a gun but a torch. He became a target. What kind of deficiencies are there in fighting the militancy manned by people who have been in the Pakistani army or who fought in Afghanistan and are equipped with arms made in America and China?

The Army has said that there are from 1,200 to 1,500 militants in the valley. A few hours before the attack on the cantonment, Lieut-Gen Krishan Pal, Corps Commander of 15 Corps, who is also the Security Adviser to the state government, said that a higher estimate would be an exaggeration. Can 1,500 militants create such havoc in fighting a combination of one of the world’s best forces?

The ISI under a new command, after the arrest of Lieut-Gen Ziauddin and his replacement by Lieut-Gen Mehmood Ahmad, has obviously instructed the militants in Kashmir to step up their activity. This apparently is what General Musharraf wants. One of the new strategies is to attack positions occupied by security personnel. The attack on the cantonment was a prize achievement timed with the congregation of the Lashkar-e-Toiba near Lahore. General Musharraf would want this kind of a warfare to continue, so as not to let the Kargil wounds dry up and keep India under pressure. He has also to show to the people in Pakistan how ineffective the Nawaz Sharif government was.

Kashmiris are said to have become tired of militancy, which has in the past 10 years created a history of killings, arson, curfews, invasion of private homes by militants — who come in to kill, loot and molest — and searches of houses by security forces looking for militants and arms. They want to see the end of this kind of a life. They want to settle down to secure jobs, unharassed families, proper education and no outside interference. That is why the number of local militants has been falling.

The immediate question is: what should be done to end militancy? If it ends, Kashmir will slowly settle down in peace. Before Kargil this is what seemed to be happening. After its defeat in Kargil, Pakistan wanted to go back to morale-raising retribution. It reverted to greater militancy. It pushed in more foreign militants. “The maximum infiltration took place in September this year,” Gen Krishan Pal has said.

Pakistan’s aim is also to engineer a revolt to get local support. A responsive government, conscious of the needs of the people, could defeat Pakistan in this. Many factors disturb the situation. Pakistan’s media pours out fundamentalist propaganda designed to hit Indian secularism. The point is often made that the people must be prepared to sacrifice their lives to uphold Islam. Osama bin Laden’s cry for jehad against India gets into this fundamentalist mindset. Pakistani propaganda keeps religious beliefs at a violent high point. To an extent India can beat this off by showing up the high points of a secular way of life. The campaign against Christians in India shatters the minorities’ belief in Indian secularism. Madarsas should be properly controlled without curbing religious freedom.

It has so far not been possible for the Indian forces to control foreign infiltration. The usual explanation is that the terrain comes in preventing infiltration. Yet, India has to succeed in this. Otherwise, militancy will go on. This is the hard fact. Foreign infiltrators tell the local people that they are devout Muslims to find hiding places in villages and outlying clusters of cattle-grazers, the Gujars. In Punjab, much of the infiltration from Pakistan was ended by putting up barriers along the border. The same cannot be done along the mountainous Kashmir border. One of the ways of ending infiltration is to make it extremely expensive for Pakistan to send militants across. The security forces should be in a position to eliminate those who come in.

Is this possible? There seems to be no other way out.
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Indo-UK ties on the mend
by Amar Chandel, who was recently in England

AFTER the Pokhran-II explosions of May 11-13 last year almost torpedoed the relations between India and Britain, there has been a remarkable improvement in the situation. In fact, the ties today seem to be as cordial as ever before. One does not have to go by diplomatic nuances alone to perceive this. The real situation can be assessed more accurately by reading the overall picture.

The shrillness of one year ago is no longer there, either in the reaction of the man on the street or in the comments of the British media. The stories in the newspapers are mostly positive despite some “undesirable incidents”.

Take for instance the opposition by the Vishva Hindu Parishad to the Pope’s recent visit. The British media would have gone to town on this subject at any other time. But, surprisingly, there was almost no response. Similarly, the treatment meted out to a British couple in Goa did not make it to the front pages for long. The young Britons had remained in jail for almost 19 months as suspects, undertrials and even as convicts for illegally possessing drugs during their stay in Goa but were finally acquitted by the High Court.

On the contrary, there has been tremendous public interest in things Indian during the recent past. The Raj nostalgia seems to be in full operation once again. In 1998-99 the Indian High Commission in England cleared as many as 63 documentaries on India, of which 51 were by the BBC alone. (Such approval is mandatory according to the current arrangement.) That means that India featured on the television channel on 102 out of 365 nights. During this year, 39 such films have already been approved, while seven are in progress. With five more months to go, the figure may be better than last year. It is such everyday occurrences that let one gauge the British mind.

The Indian Government and the diplomats stationed in England would like everyone to believe that the situation has improved thanks to their concerted efforts. But that would be telling only half the story. The factors go far beyond that.

The main cause is the maturity shown by the outside world as such. The nuclear explosions have been condemned harshly no doubt but are now seen as a fait accompli. The international community has decided that life has to go on after all. The harsh words used during the heat of the moment have actually made some to realise that India has been treated rather shabbily. So, there is a hidden desire to compensate it in a subtle manner.

The coup in Pakistan could not have come at a better time from the Indian point of view. The restraint shown by India during the Kargil operation has already established its peaceful intentions. The ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the advent of Gen Pervez Musharraf have woken up Britain to the sincerity of Indian justification for going in for nuclear explosions.

As far as British investors are concerned, it was the form and stability of the government which was the most important factor. The recent turn of events has reassured them. And the Hindutva bugbear has not proved to be rabidly anti-foreign investor. Despite the political turmoil, economy has continued to perform reasonably well. In all this, the emergence of the Indian middle class as a huge consumer market has also played a crucial role.

One factor responsible for the mending of relations, which has not been highlighted fully, has been the sustained dialogue between the US Deputy Secretary of State, Mr Strobe Talbott, and the Indian Foreign Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh. It might seem never ending and even meandering at times but has helped India present its case in detail. British foreign policy is factored in that of the USA and the effects of the Indian team has helped clear many doubts. Now that the Indian High Commissioner in England, Mr Lalit Mansingh, has been designated the next Foreign Secretary, there may be even better appreciation in Britain of the Indian stand on various issues.

The domineering emergence of China as a world power is viewed with trepidation by many in India. Interestingly, these suspicions are shared by many policy planners in England as well. This common belief has been a blessing in disguise for New Delhi, in that India is now seen as the only serious counterweight to the Chinese hegemony. India has been sleeping too soundly for too long but it has the potential of an Asian giant nevertheless. Its shortcomings are legion but suffice it to say in this write-up that the recent turn of events has made the world see it in a new, more positive light.

The warm response that it received during the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Durban is another manifestation of the fact that the relationship is almost fully back on the rails.
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Middle

Truth and statistics
by A. C. Tuli

WHILE you are going through your morning newspaper, how do you react to such snippets: “The number of AIDS orphans rose by 400 per cent in Namibia between 1994 and 1997”, “76 per cent school-going girls prefer skirt-blouse to salwar-kameez”, “80 per cent of landmines victims are civilians”, “50 per cent of paddy crop in Bihar washed away by floods”, “69 per cent American girls experience sex before marriage”, and so on? Do you regard these statistics as gospel truth? Or, do you take them with the proverbial pinch of salt? As for me, I have always wondered how such definitive conclusions are arrived at.

Granted that behind some statistics there is painstaking research and intensive field survey. So we seldom question their veracity. But there are some statistics not so easy to accept. Sometime back I read in a newspaper that 56 per cent adults in our country have bad breath. It was indeed puzzling how these statistics were worked out. Did the investigators, I asked myself, go from door to door sniffing mouths? Hardly likely. But then, without sniffing a mouth or coming very close to it, you cannot tell that it smells bad. So, to me this 56 per cent statistic about bad breath looked rather unrealistic.

A few days ago, I came across another statistic that might have been swallowed by the credulous but somehow got stuck in my gullet. So ran this little nugget of information: “Worries about jobs and the future have left one in five Italians unhappy”. Now, Italy has a population of nearby six crore people. If one in five Italians is unhappy, that gives us a formidable total of Italians who have lost their happiness. In fact, I wondered if I visited Italy one of these days, would it be possible for me to walk in a crowded market square of Rome without bumping every now and then into an Italian with a glum face?

Another statistic that appeared in the same news item about Italians was like this, “Fifty years ago a typical Italian would have enjoyed a good laugh for at least 15 minutes a day but in 1999 it has come down to statistical five minutes.”

First, one would like to ask whether the Italian scientists have invented some instrument which precisely measures the total number of minutes that an Italian laughs in a day? I, for one, have never heard of it. Second, how was it ascertained that fifty years ago the average Italian laughed for 15 minutes a day? Third, how has it been computed that the duration of this laughter over the past five decades has been whittled down to just five minutes?

Newspapers in western democracies carry out such surveys from time to time. The trend is catching on in our country too. The way they go about it is mostly like this. A few hundred people from different strata of life are chosen at random for the survey. Questionnaire forms are sent to them to elicit the required information. But whether such surveys are carried out correctly and under ideal conditions has always remained a moot point.

Besides, sometimes a survey on the same topic conducted by two newspapers produces dissimilar results. What if in the coming days some other Italian newspapers were to tell us that the average Italian today laughs not for five but seven-and-a-half minutes?
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He brought the micro-credit revolution to B’desh
From K.P. Bhanumathy

AMIDST a poor economic and political graph perpetuated by incompetent political leadership stands a reputed and immensely successful non-government organisation, Grameen Bank. It promotes the micro-credit system to reach out to the poor with a view to removing poverty.

The moving spirit behind the concept is an economist, whose visionary zeal has attracted world- wide attention. Prof Mohammad Yunus, a reformer and innovator of the micro-credit system, received the Indira Gandhi Award for Peace, Disarmament and Development on November 19 in New Delhi. Bangladesh’s “messiah of the poor” has also been a recipient of the Magsaysay Award and many other honours.

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. Famine and floods have only brought more poverty and hunger. During the 1974 famine, Prof Mohammad Yunus was teaching economics at Chittagong University. Appalled at the miserable conditions and stark poverty around the campus and surrounding villages, he was moved to do his bit in reducing the poverty-stricken conditions, especially among women and children,the worst affected. The economist in him realised that charity was no solution: he hit upon the idea of lending small amounts to the needy on a credit basis. Selecting 42 among the poorest he lent $27 to each party, a majority of them women, and initiated them into self-employment measures like buying a cow, poultry or basket weaving.

The system brought small profits and borrowers paid back loans. Having thus created the spirit of self-enterprise he moved from village to village lending small amounts. Resigning from the university he widened his sphere of activities which enabled the village women to move out of the poverty line, enabling them to repay the loans. The number of defaulters were small — mainly due to death or natural causes.

A sustainable source of income helped to bring cheer to residents of Johra village in Chittagong, where the first experiment took place. Thus was born the micro-credit system, which gradually spread to other villages in Bangladesh. With the banks having refused to lend money to the poor as they could not afford collaterals. Even Yunus’s offer of standing guarantor involved hassles. He, therefore, decided to set up Grameen Bank in 1983, nearly 13 years after the initial step was taken.

A pioneer of the micro-credit system today in the world, it is now a component of the World Bank. Running it meticulously with a repayment system tailored to meet village needs and income levels, Grameen Bank has grown into a 1.45 billion business, lending an average of 21 million a month. The system has benefited 2.3 million families and brought them employment. “We focused on lending exclusively to women as they constituted the majority of the poor. Poor women had the vision to see further and were willing to work hard to build up their children’s security. Money in a woman’s hands brings more benefits to the family, 94 per cent of our borrowers are women, said Prof Mohammad Yunus explaining why the bank lends exclusively to women.

The bank’s growth was not all that smooth sailing — opposition criticism and vested interests (banks) created problems for the banker who was trying to free the poor from poverty. Criticism came from politicians, government bodies, clerics and husbands. Opposition was mostly on the 22 per cent interest and one year period for repayment. Last year’s flood in Bangladesh was one of the worst disasters in its history when 30 million people were left homeless and Grameen’s 2.4 million borrowers half of them became destitute. The bank, however, has over the years developed a built-in capacity to deal with disasters. Grameen does not offer charity as the poor do not benefit from it. Food, medicine, clothing and other needs are given out including small loans. This works more efficiently, says the man who brought a cultural revolution in Bangladesh. To bring world recognition Yunus had organised a world summit in February 1977 with plans to provide credit to 100 million of the poorest families in the world by 2005.

Political analysts are of the view that micro-credit has brought about a drop in the poverty level (to 53 per cent) by providing education, jobs and credit by NGOs who had created a social revolution in the conservative Muslim society of Bangladesh. The country has the largest number of NGOs — about 20,000 of them functioning in 86,000 villages. It is almost a parallel government financed from outside the country.

Prof Mohammad Yunus, devoid of the teflon veneer of the social worker, still looks like a staid professor. He has proved to be a forceful challenge to the social system of the wealthy as he stubbornly lends only to the poorest of the poor.

Nearing 60 and one of the nine children of a Chittagong goldsmith, he was a brilliant student who was later awarded a Fullbright scholarship for doing Ph.D at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. “I was teaching elegant theories of economics but when famine struck those theories wore off as I faced reality outside my window where the real economics faced the poor”. Prof Yunus stepped out to establish a counter-culture the Grameen way. He has just completed writing his experience “Banker for the Poor,” an autobiography.

In an informal chat with Prof Mohammad Yunus in his office in Dhaka last month, he spoke about his dream of eradicating poverty from the face of the earth — a gargantuan task indeed! “Development is not building dams, international airports or buying a Jumbo jet for building a beautiful highway, which will affect the bottom 50 per cent of the people by removing them from their habitat because you have invested money. You call it development if you want an index of development. Provide a per capita set of clothing, food intake for the bottom 50 per cent, a second piece of clothing or a second meal a day — that is development in my view. In Bangladesh we meet women who cannot come out of their home to talk to us as she has to wash the clothes she is wearing: When she has two pieces of clothing it is the most wonderful thing that has happened to her”, he paints a grim picture.

The Grameen Bank concept is spreading around the world but not fast enough, says the ambitious innovator of the micro-credit scheme, but in his country the achievements are astounding - employing 13,000 people, serving 38,551 villages and helping to build 440,00 homes is no small matter. Training centres for weavers, agricultural workers and artisans have been set up. Grameen Udyog provides work for handloom workers, once the most ill-paid.

Grameen’s next project on the cards is software technology, which is expected to change the lives of the educated in the villages. The cell-phone project launched recently in villages to provide jobs for women has become popular. Literate women are being helped to run phone kiosks or provide cell-phone services to the people and internet services through cyber kiosks.

Commenting on the Indira Gandhi award, Prof Yunus said he felt honoured that a mere social worker fighting poverty alleviation was selected for the award.

Delivering the Lakdawala Memorial Lecture in Delhi in 1977, he had said: “Poverty is not created by the poor, it is created by the institutions we have built and the politics that we pursue. We need a conceptualisation to create a poverty - free world”.
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75 YEARS AGO

November 25, 1924
Lord Winterton Again

THE political correspondent of The Times is responsible for the statement that Lord Winterton is expected to be Under-Secretary of State. It does not really matter much who may be appointed Under-Secretary, for the Under-Secretary will be a real Under-Secretary and not the master of his superior.

Still India has seen so much of Lord Winterton — so much that shows how thoroughly reactionary he is — that Mr Baldwin would have been better advised not to have inflicted him upon her again.

Perhaps the only redeeming feature in the appointment is that it saves India from a worse person — Sir George Lloyd, for instance.
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