|Friday, January 28, 2000,
POLITICS OF PACKAGES
time for tough measures
may be hatching an oil crisis
January 28, 1925
Power sector impasse
THE 11-day-old strike by electricity workers in UP has ended but the impasse continues. Both the state government and the trade unions are claiming victory and hoping to build on their own perception of gains for the next round in a years time. Uninvolved parties are passionately rooting for this or that side, mostly for the government. Workers in general are wary of reforms, politicians only half-hearted but the common man has ardently embraced the glamorous buzz word. A cursory glance at newspaper reports, analyses and reaction of the people underline this. The pro-reforms politicians are sure to sway to this mood and stick to the present schedule and in the already set sequence. That path should be avoided for the present and for several weighty reasons. As several studies have revealed, the electricity boards are loss-making organisations not because of any serious flaw in their structure but because of faulty policies and equally flawed working. A closer look at the UPSEB proves this. In UP thermal plants work at 50 per cent of their capacity (plant load factor) while the Tatas crank up the 92 per cent! Free power to the farming sector takes away more than one-fifth of the generation. More than 40 per cent of the power produced in plants with outdated equipment is lost in transmission and distribution, but actually in theft and dacoity. (The all-India average is just over 21 per cent.) The revenue-generation portion comes to between 25 and 30 per cent. If the board were to bill the government for the supply of free electricity to agriculturists, its revenue will jump by more than Rs 19,000 crore, obviating the need for hurried and half-baked reform. Two, electricity is very costly in India; in some states and for certain categories of consumers, it is five times the international rates. Three, even so power is not always available and often is of uneven quality, the so-called voltage fluctuation. These two factors must be removed if this country wants to enter and capture the information technology era.
There are more serious
issues. The nearly bankrupt states do not have the kind
of revenue surplus to fund free power supply to farmers.
Without this the proposed corporation for transmission
and distribution will incur a huge loss. The only
alternative is to increase the already high tariff. One
calculation is alarming. In the case of UP there should
be a fivefold hike in the tariff to break even. The Union
Energy Minister thinks that once a government-backed
corporation enters the picture, everything will fall in
place. His faith is touching but it may not turn out to
be so painless, at least it has not been in Orissa, a
pioneer in power sector reforms. Simultaneously he also
talks angrily of vested interests and mafia of causing
the recurring losses, as though some street-level dons
are doing all the looting. Pilferage of hundreds of
crores of rupees is unimaginable without political
patronage and the connivance of senior officials. It
should not be difficult to identify and subject them to
the N. Vittal treatment (posting their names on the
Internet). So this should be the order in which the
reforms should move. One. cut down free supply of power
but ask the Centre to increase procurement prices; two,
crack down on the scandalous theft and expose the
abetters in this crime; three, introduce a token
incentive scheme to minimise line losses; improve the
quality of power; and convince the workers that reforms
will not be entirely at their cost. Finally, the
government concerned should stop believing that it is
interested in reforms for reforms sake. It should admit
that the promised World Bank loan is the mighty
propellant $ 1 billion in the case of UP and $ 600
million for Haryana. Reforms should be driven by
confidence and not foreign loans which generate friction.
THE Supreme Courts latest directive to the Delhi and Haryana governments to prevent the discharge of untreated industrial effluents in the Yamuna is essentially a reiteration of a similar order passed last year. The earlier directive had fixed November 1, 1999, as the deadline for compliance. However, Delhi Chief Secretary Omesh Saigal informed the court that the government had not yet implemented the earlier order. The order issued by the apex court on Monday has once again brought into sharp focus the limitations of even judicial activism in making a comatose and indifferent administrative machinery discharge its basic duty as an essential component of a welfare state. Had the executive fulfilled its constitutional obligations faithfully, there would have been no need for the higher judiciary to go beyond its assigned role of law-interpreter as opposed to law-enforcer. Hopefully, the Delhi and Haryana governments would be more responsive than they have been so far in implementing the order of the apex court and stop industries from discharging untreated waste in the Yamuna. They should accord to the issue of combating all forms of pollution the priority it deserves. Statistics show that it is far less expensive to treat the malady at source than to invest on expanding basic health services for treating pollution-related problems. As far as the Yamuna is concerned, it is without doubt among the most polluted rivers in the country. That the judiciary has had to intervene once again to remind the administration its duty is a sad reflection on the effectiveness of the Ganga Action Plan and the Yamuna Action Plan launched with great fanfare by Rajiv Gandhi.
In spite of periodic
expressions of concern by public men and
environmentalists the scale of pollution of the two
holiest rivers and countless other water sources has
increased manifold. In most areas water instead of
becoming the lifeline, which it ought to be, has become a
source of death and disease for all forms of life. The
Central Pollution Control Board provided figures on the
level of the pollution of the Yamuna in Haryana and
Delhi. They exposed the criminal indifference of the
industries and the law-enforcers in bringing down the
extent of pollution of the river to an internationally
acceptable level. Against the permissible limit of 5000
coliform per 100 ml the Yamuna water was found to contain
11 crore coliform at one point of time. Out of this 15
lakh coliform could be attributed to faecal matter. The
CPCB provided more damning evidence to the apex court to
expose as hollow the Delhi and Haryana governments
professed commitment to according priority to the
implementation of issues which fall in the domain of
public health. It informed the court that the bio-oxygen
demand standard for primary drinking water was 3 mg per
ml. But the Yamuna at one point was found to contain 80
mg per ml. The same was the case with chemical oxygen
demand for which untreated industrial effluents are
primarily responsible. The CPCB report made it clear that
the Yamuna water was not fit for drinking as it contained
pollutants far in excess of the standard set for the
worst quality of drinking water. Hopefully, when the apex
court resumes hearing in the case on March 3 the Centre
and the Delhi and Haryana governments would have taken
effective steps with a view to achieving the
desired results in checking the pollution of the
THIS POLITICS OF PACKAGES
PRIME Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced last Saturday at Shillong a Rs 10,271 crore economic package for the North-East and Sikkim.
Roughly two years ago, the then Prime Minister, Mr Inder Kumar Gujral, too, had unveiled a Rs 7,500 crore bonanza for rapid industrialisation of the region. This announcement, made at Guwahati, read like a decade-long annual central package for the North-East.
Eighteen months prior to Mr Gujral's public show of generosity, yet another former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda had unfolded an economic package of Rs 6,100 crore during his first visit to the North-East.
Going by such generous packages, the region should have been flush with money. Still, development projects languish there either for want of funds or simply because of the failure to translate promises into plans of action. The process of alienation in sensitive states cannot be tackled by once-a-while public announcements of "goodies". Such gestures tend to be counter-productive in the long run.
Personally, I do not favour the idea of our Prime Ministers behaving like feudal lords, distributing "lollipops" among terrorism-affected states. They should have given up this habit after half a century of Independence and conducted themselves in a more restrained and democratic manner.
It is certainly not the job of the Prime Minister to make such cash-soaked announcements to win cheap popularity and applause from the sycophants and hangers-on.
There has to be a proper system for the allocation of special funds for the states. We have a Planning Commission which examines special requirements of the states in different categories. Their needs do deserve special attention as part of a responsive system.
Unfortunately, instead of strengthening the system and ensuring fairplay in governance and development, the political bosses of the day tend to politicise very sensitive facets of Centre-state relations. In the process, wittingly or unwittingly, they look like treating the states as their personal fiefdom a sort of zamindari abolished long back.
Habits die hard. Politicians forget that the country cannot be run by gimmicks. Running national affairs is a serious business and it should never be subjected to cheap vote bank politics.
Economic imbalance and the forces of insurgency cannot be tackled by promises without visible results on the ground. Personally, I do not know what sort of statistical jugglery goes behind such announcements. Of course, Mr Vajpayee has inserted safety clauses in his announcement. He calls his economic package as agenda for socio-economic development. He has also said that the North-Eastern Council will act as a nodal agency for the implementation of the new package while the Prime Minister's Office will directly monitor its implementation.
It has also been stated that the Prime Minister himself will oversee the development process and anti-insurgency operations in the North-East. How far he will be able to live up to this self-assigned task is difficult to say. As it is, Mr Vajpayee's preoccupation with several desirable and undesirable political goings-on within his party, the NDA and beyond is total. Since he is a well-meaning person, we shall have to keep our fingers crossed.
Insurgency cannot be fought by economic packages alone. Nor can terrorism be contained by raising more battalions. The problems in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states are basically different in nature. Each problem has to be seen in its historical perspective taking into account the mistakes committed by the authorities from time to time.
The alienation in the North-East has its own bloody tales. For the majority of people there, Delhi appears to be a distant place. For erecting this psychological barrier, we have only to blame leaders and bureaucrats. Their Delhi-centric approach to men, matters and issues has only complicated the problem.
Socio-economic issues in the North-East cannot be treated in isolation. They have to be seen in terms of local conditions and needs. We cannot impose a development model of, say Punjab, on the North-East. The North-Eastern states have to evolve their own models of development, and what the Centre should do is to respond with a positive attitude and provide a helping hand.
Over the years, vested interests have got entrenched in the region. That some leaders operate as a clique to remain in power is not a secret. There have also been cases of Chief Ministers raising the bogey of insurgency to keep themselves in power. They have often diverted funds meant for development programmes to fight insurgency.
Of course, the Centre has never initiated comprehensive steps in a determined manner to end or reverse the alienation in the region. It has always resorted to adhocism devoid of any vision and sound rules of governance.
It is necessary that the development process in the North-East is speeded up. The funds earmarked for different projects too must be utilised properly to get the desired results. A viable infrastructure for telecommunication, air, road and rail networks and water supply can go a long way in strengthening economic and social bonds with the rest of the country.
As it is, Indian society at all levels today is undergoing many changes.Things are no longer static. The socio-economic structure is in a flux and ferment which, though bordering on dynamism, is in the grip of no-changers.
This is not peculiar to India. Every developing society is exposed to two opposite forcesone promoting change and the other wedded to the status quo. There are also stimulants fostering change and change-inhibiting developments in the North-East and the rest of the country. In this context, it is necessary to remember that there is nothing like an "all-India strategy" for development. Problems vary from region to region, and from area to area within a region; as also from district to district in a state and even from village to village in the same district.
All that is required to be done is to evolve a broad framework and approach, allowing growth to be generated from every single village and district. This should not only make growth and development more stable but also more participative in nature. It could also check corruption and make democracy more meaningful at the grassroots.
Though such a participative development strategy is now accepted by official agencies, it has lacked a sense of commitment and direction. Even when it is attempted it is sabotaged by the vested interests.
I, of course, do not advocate a rigid institutional approach to participation. My concept of participation in development, as often analysed by eminent thinkers, is, simply put, decentralisation functional, administrative and financial.
Nourish the roots to improve the quality of the Republic. I am not indulging in mere rhetoric. This time-tested suggestion is based on the existing realities. The present policy of announcing packages, sanctioning grants, subsidies, free services and "development" projects administered from the top downwards is "regressive, because it stunts the initiative, self-dependence and the sense of responsibility. It encourages "Ma-Bapism".
In other words, feudalism should have no place in a democratic India. I do hope that the Prime Minister will take note of the points raised here and help establish healthy security-cum-development strategies and norms for the country's federal polity.
Make India a land of
opportunities minus red-tapism and see the difference.
The exposure of young persons from the region to new
technology and developmental ethos without disturbing
their basic cultural values can be greatly helpful in
taking the region forward with the rest of the nation.
Population: time for tough measures
RECENTLY Prof Amartya Sen was in Delhi and he once again emphasised the need to control Indias population growth. He stressed that India should achieve economic development through remarkable progress in population control as in China. But he also cautioned us not to follow Chinas coercive policies for solving the population problem. In fact, he has always applauded Kerala for its better social indicators as compared to China and has often quoted Keralas example of a low birth rate to prove that benign methods of population control are better than malign ones. School education and women empowerment have always been emphasised by Professor Sen as the key to population control. This time too he reiterated his views with all force. Indeed, the role of women empowerment and school education is well known and cannot be over-emphasised.
Way back in 1935 Mahatma Gandhi stressed the need for women empowerment to control the procreation of children born out of sheer libidinal aggression of husbands. So much so that he went on to emphasise that if only women could realise that they were not subordinate to men and could say no to their husbands, there would not remain any need for contraceptives. It is well known that Gandhi was quite opposed to the use of any contraceptive as he considered sex without the objective of procreation harmful both for the individuals and society. However, it is not so well known that Gandhi was not opposed to male sterilisation. While opposing the sterilisation of women, he said that he would not care if men, who are after all the akramankari (the aggressors), got themselves sterilised voluntarily.
The issue of women empowerment has been a burning issue in our country since long, and many of our great reformers have endeavoured hard to uplift our women folk. No doubt, things are gradually improving but perhaps at a very slow pace so much so that even after five decades of Independence the nation needs to be told to provide education to the women the majority of whom are even now illiterate. Professor Sen is right in saying that illiteracy is one of the major factors that leads to human deprivation and inequality. And this brings me to his clarion call to universalise education in India.
The Constitution, which we gave to ourselves about five decades ago, requires the government to provide free and compulsory school education to all the children. But even today 90 per cent of our children do not have any access to schools. Let me explain this.
According to the official government data, the number of children enrolled in primary schools was 10.16, 10.54, 10.82, 10.90, 10.98 and 11.04 crore during 1991-92, 92-93, 93-94, 94-95, 95-96, and 96-97, respectively. Thus we find that the enrolment in primary schools during these six years increased by only a meagre 88 lakh, that is, at an average rate of only about 15 lakh per year.
It is very well known that we are adding at least about 1.5 crore additional children every year to our population. Thus the reality is that hardly 10 per cent of the additional children accruing every year in India are getting (even) enrolment in primary schools and the rest 1.35 crore per year are being left to grow up without any school education. Thus we need to open at least 60,000 new primary schools per year to meet the constitutional requirement whereas we have been opening only 6000 new primary schools per year. Thus, our education rate is, in fact, declining by about 1.4 per cent per year. Is it feasible now for the country to open 60,000 new primary schools per year and provide free and compulsory primary education to all the children as required in the Constitution without first controlling our population growth? And, again, is it possible to empower women without even primary school education?
It might be recalled that in 1970, Dr Norman Borlaug, in his speech that he gave on the occasion of receiving the Nobel prize, cautioned that whatever was being done by way of increasing food production would give us a breathing time of not more than 30 years which should be used to tame the population monster. We have now come to the end of that grace period but our population is still increasing by about 1.6 crore per year. Also, according to a recent study report, Population, Food Production & Nutrition in India, published by UNFPA, India (Oct, 1999), there is an urgent need to reduce population growth so that the demand for foodgrains can be reduced and effectively met. Despite all the achievements of the Green Revolution, our per capita foodgrain production has only recently crossed the 200 kg per year mark which is said to be just about enough for a country to be out of famine-like conditions. We need to produce equivalent to around 300 kg per person per year to be free from the hunger trap. But the UNFPA study warns that it is quite likely that the supply of foodgrains may slowly decline in future years.
We are even worse off on the water front. The total amount of utilisable fresh water resource available per year in India is about 1150 cubic kilometres (cu km) and our total water requirement is estimated to rise, due mainly to our rising population, to 1050 cu km in 2025 A.D. Realising that our total water resource of 1150 cu km per year is not uniformly distributed throughout the country (29 per cent of our water resource is available in the Brahmaputra basin only which constitutes 6 per cent of the countrys area and where only 3 per cent of our population resides) and also there exists a lot of water pollution, it can easily be comprehended that we are fast heading towards a state of perpetual water famine even under normal monsoon conditions.
So, it is absolutely imperative to envision that what is the population level which is sustainable for India not just for mere survival as is the condition now but for maintaining an adequate and respectable standard of living, and how much time we are left with to stabilise our population at that desirable level. In my opinion, Indias population is already far above that desirable level and, in fact, we are now approaching the crisis level. So, what is required now is to first achieve, as early as possible, the zero population growth rate and then strive to bring down our population to the desirable level.
Even if it is accepted that the appreciable demographic transition in Kerala is primarily because of education, women empowerment and health care though I feel the Gulf factor and the consequential economic betterment of specially the artisan and working classes has been the primordial cause of Keralas demographic transition we must not forget that Kerala has already taken almost 40 years to bring down its population growth rate from 2.2 per cent per year during 1951-61 to about 1 per cent per year during 1991-2001. The state is likely to take two or three decades more to reach a zero population growth rate. Can we now afford such a slow process of demographic transition in the other states of India which please note may not be having the privilege of the Gulf factor either.
We have now reached a stage where some hard measures will be required even to promote and universalise the much-needed school education itself. No wonder, demands have been made for quite some time to amend the Constitution to make school education a fundamental right/duty. But no government has really shown any seriousness to do so for obvious reasons as stated earlier. Such are the ground realities in India.
If India is to be saved from the impending crises as highlighted above, then, I think, it is essential to take some suitable and harsh measures albeit for a limited period to control our rapid population growth before it gets too late.
USA may be hatching an oil
A NEW oil crisis may be around. This time, it will be solely the handiwork of the United States.
The Gulf continues to be the main supplier of oil to the world. But the reserves are being drawn down rapidly. The only regions which can serve the 21st century are Iraq, Iran, Caucusus, Central Asia and Mangolia. In none of these regions, America has any presence or influence. In trying to gain entry into these regions by hook or crook more often by crook America is bound to create a prolonged oil crisis.
Oil politics dominated the 20th century. It seems it is going to dominate the 21st century too, for one of the principal objectives of the USA is to eliminate the Russian influence from the region. The argument is simple: whoever controls these regions will control the world supply. Whether Russia will go down in the long run is, however, doubtful. The cold war may well be back with us.
The three states Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan possess the worlds largest oilfields and natural gas reserves. Kazakhstan has a quarter of the worlds uranium. Uzbekistan has enormous gold deposits as also cotton. And Turkmenistan is the fourth largest producer of gas. No wonder the American MNCs are ready to pay a price for entry.
America moved into the Caucusus and the Caspian recently. Contracts have been signed for two major pipelines. Russia is nowhere in the picture. The idea is to skirt Russian territory.
The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will link the oilfields of Azerbaijan with the Turkish oil terminal on the Mediterranean via Georgia. Of 1730 km in length, this southern route is expected to pump 60 million tonnes of oil in a year. How important this project is can be gauged from the fact that it was signed by the Presidents of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, as also by President Clinton as an observer. The President of Kazakhstan is also associated with this project through a special agreement.
The other agreement is for the construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline for the transport of gas from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Georgia and Azerbaijan. This will go along the Caspian seabed. This agreement too was signed by all the Presidents mentioned earlier, as also by the President of Turkmenistan.
In both the cases, the initiative has come from the USA. Though Russia and Iran have pointed out the ecological consequences of laying pipelines in the Caspian seabed, these have been brushed aside.
Washington has not been able to hide its political motives. The Financial Times of London called the signing of the first batch of agreements a political act. And The Guardian (UK) said that the USA continued to work for the weakening of Russia. Moscow is now well aware of these designs.
Experts have said that these are highly expensive projects. Even uneconomic. But America has disregarded it. How is one to explain this? There is only one explanation: the USA want to eliminate Russian influence from the region at any cost. Who will pay this cost? You and I, in increased oil prices. The gainer? American oil companies.
The northern route of Baku-Novorossisk is considerably cheaper and, therefore, more profitable. But this was rejected by the USA for two reasons: it went through Russian territory and because of Chechnyan insurgency. But this is merely an excuse.
Oil specialists have said that unless 50 million tonnes of oil are pumped yearly, this project will be uneconomic. There is no guarantee that this stipulation can be met. Azerbaijan, a major oil producer, produces only 14 million tonnes at present.
The trans-Caspian gas pipeline is in no way more economic. This pipeline is 2.5 times more expensive than the Russo-Turkish Blue Flow project. A pipeline from Turkmenistan via Iran would cost about $ 1.5 billion. It is also feared that Turkmenistan may not have enough gas for this size of operation. But this does not seem to worry the USA. What it wants is to pressure Turkey to give up the Blue Flow project with Russia.
The cheapest way to transport the Caspian oil is to deliver it to the Iranian terminals in the Gulf, but the USA is totally opposed to any deal with Iran, although US oil companies are in favour of it.
The point I want to make is this: the Caucusus and Caspian oil when it comes to the market will be highly priced. The USA will impose it on the world by creating an oil crisis. This will enable it to peg the price at a higher level. Two birds in one shot: elimination of Russian influence and higher oil and gas prices.
Washington can create a crisis for other reasons too. Iraq may well explode in the near future. It has been under siege for a decade. This time it will be supported by three permanent members of the UN Security Council Russia, China and France.
Iraq has vast reserves of top quality oil. The cost is said to be half that of the Caspian oil. When the oil embargo against Iraq is lifted (there is no reason why international pressure will not ultimately force the issue) anything can happen. Iraq can supply oil to Turkey from its northern fields through the existing pipeline. This will create a crisis for the American plans in the Caucusus and Caspian.
US oil companies want to enter Iraq. But will Iraq admit them? Not likely. For the present, Iraq seems to favour Russia, China, France and India.
Will the USA try to extend the embargo against Iraq in these circumstances? If it does, it will not go down well with the world. Russia, China and France will fully back Iraq.
Iraq has announced its intention to raise its production. Iraq exports two million barrels a day. It is thus the third largest exporter after Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iraq wants to raise exports to 3.5 million barrels a day by December 2000. Before the Gulf war in 1991 it used to export 4.5 million barrels a day.
Iraq has a long way to go before it gains normalcy. The south of Iraq is the richest oil region, but it was also the worst to suffer during the Gulf war. Most of the pipelines, reservoirs and other infrastructure have been destroyed. Thus, there is need for much investment. And the USA and UK have been blocking the efforts of Iraq to buy new oil equipment.
China has struck deals for two fields. Russias Lukoil and the French companies, El Aquitaine and Total, have acquired concessions, and Indias ONGC has gone for the Tuba oilfields. Thus the short-term contours are already there.
Representatives of oil companies from the USA, UK, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Brazil were turned away or given the option of less promising fields.
China is putting pressure for lifting the ban on oil exports. At present, only the food-for-oil export, initiated three years ago, is permitted. France and Russia have backed the Chinese efforts.
Lifting of sanctions against Iraq will no doubt bring about radical shifts in the politics of oil. What role Iraq will play then in the OPEC is, however, not clear.
The Seven Sisters have
so far been invincible. You are not going to bully
the Seven Sisters, is the usual refrain of the oil
lobby. Yet environmentalists are turning the spotlight on
the havoc done by the fossil fuels coal and oil.
Coal, oil and natural gas account for about 80 per cent
of man-made carbon-dioxide emissions. Earth warming is
now a fact. It has been confirmed by the world scientific
community. But like the tobacco barons, the Seven Sisters
will not go down without a fight. In the meantime, the
oil era seems to be setting. Already the Royal Dutch
Shell and Amoco are investing heavily in the solar
The NRI in the USA, with warts
IT has been a rough few days for persons of Indian origin in America. The non-resident Indians (NRIs), who were rather proud of their model community status, are uncomfortable at this headline-grabbing negative attention on certain members of their community.
Dalip Singh Saund, the first Congressman of Asian origin in the USA, Narinder Singh Kapany, the father of fibre optics, Sameer Bhatia, founder of Hotmail, and the legions of Indians who have dominated the headlines for so long in both the USA and India abound. The NRIs were used to being lionised by the media, hailed as success stories that fed on the American dream. Suddenly they are facing the inquisitorial spotlight.
In a way it represents the loss of innocence and coming of age of the community.
Indians were first recorded in American records in 1790, but the first significant immigration of people from that country did not occur until the end of the 19th century. By the 1900 US census, 2,050 East Indians were found in the USA. According to one estimate that number had grown to 7,000 by 1923.
A major riot erupted on September 4, 1907 in Bellingham, in what is now eastern Washington state, and the loggers who were there fled to Canada and to California.
They were called East Indians or Hindus to differentiate them from the local Indians. They did not have the right to possess land. Most married women of Mexican origin and prospered as farmers.
Though they were doing quite well materially, they remained very concerned about their motherland and provided the support base for the Ghadar movement in 1913 for the freedom of India. The Ghadarites, as these people were called, were eventually crushed. They were convicted in 1917 of violating the US Neutrality Act.
The flip side of such strong ties is that it gives rise to rather narrow perspectives, where prejudice prevails over rationality.
A lady who is a reputed scholar in the USA once narrated the story of how her parents, Punjabis who had migrated to the USA in the middle of the last century, did not educate her elder sister since girls are not sent to school back home. It was a visit to India, thereafter, that opened their eyes and made them send the younger one to school!
We seem to carry the baggage of our prejudices with us. Gurdwara politics has been rather spirited in the USA, and disagreements have, at times, even culminated in gunplay, the not-too-distant dispute over the seating arrangements during langar in Florida comes to mind immediately, as does one in Fremont in 1994. It would seem that we still have to learn how to agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
Gurdwaras had got a lot of positive coverage during various natural calamities when Americans were surprised to see truckful of food stuff and other necessities being brought in from gurdwaras all over the state for the affected. The concept of soup langar was evolved and succour provided in an hour of need. Internal wrangling and politics, however, cast a shadow over such good deeds, specially when they end up in violence.
Politics, however is not said to be involved in the El Sobrante case. According to San Jose Mercury News, Ajmer Singh Malhi reportedly told the accused, Joga Singh Sandher, that he could not address the congregation.
Malhi, (48) a father of three described as a bedrock of the Sikh community, co-chair of the math department at Skyline High School in Oakland and was a top negotiator for the Oakland Education Association. Sandher already had addressed the congregation the week before.
He walked into the shrine and fired one shot, then went directly towards the person who had told him he was not allowed to speak, and fired numerous shots, one of those striking the victim in the head, the police said.
As far as the arrest of Kashyap, (36) on corruption and extortion charges is concerned, we have to remember that such things take place everywhere, and should not read too much into it.
Paramjit Kaur, whose husband Rajwinder Singh had been granted asylum in the USA, had apparently taped a conversation in which Kashyap had threatened to scuttle her application for refugee status unless she paid him more than $ 13,000.
The arrested person is pointing towards others who are also said to be involved, and we can be fairly certain that the US investigation will be thorough and swift.
Indians have been migrating to the USA in ever-larger numbers, though various kinds of provisions in the US immigration laws and this has definitely changed the demographic profile of the NRIs.
The 1980 US census showed that there were 4,00,000 Indian immigrants in the USA. As many as 11 per cent of the men were physicians, and 17 per cent engineers, advocates or surveyors. The census found that 8 per cent of the women were physicians and 7 per cent nurses. The picture that came about was that of yuppies.
Ten years later, by the next census, things had changed. Now the Indian population had risen to 8,15,000 with the pattern shifting to traditional immigrant profile of shopkeepers, restaurant owners, newsstand operators, cab drivers, traders and labourers.
The demographic shift had, according to some social scientists, lead to resentment based on rising unemployment and the perception of immigrants taking away the jobs of Americans. Such feeling found violent expression in the state of New Jersey that acquired a notoriety because of Dotbuster attacks, and the attack on Harjinder S. Bajaj on May 23,1991, who had to have 33 stitches for head wounds.
In the last decade, there has again been a rise in the number of emmigrants to the USA, especially in the number of white-collar ones, with information technology experts taking the lead, working on contract on H-1 visa.
It was this group that was targeted by the INS in a rather rough and hamhanded manner, for allegedly working in a place that was other than the one they had permission for.
Immigration rules have generally become more and more restrictive in the USA, especially since 1986 when the Immigration Reform and Control Act made it an offence to employ illegal aliens in the USA. Before that, it was illegal on the part of those foreigners who did not have any work authorisation, though it was not illegal for the employers to give employment to such persons. Thus the employers were free to exploit this legal loophole. And they did.
Bali Reddy (62) has been living in the USA for the past 40 years and is a successful businessman. In his hometown he had made a name for himself for his social work, and for taking so many of his compatriots to the dream destination.
The Oakland police contends that often the dream turned into nightmare as the women immigrants were turned into prostitutes. The police say that Reddy brought at least three girls to the USA from his hometown of Velavadam, in Krishna district, as sex slaves.
The charges came after
two girls suffered carbon dioxide poisoning in an
apartment that he owned. Sitha Vermireddy, (17) died and
her 15-year-old sister recovered after both had been
found unconscious in their apartment on November 24. Back
home in Andhra Pradesh, Reddys brother asserts his
innocence, and the local people tend to believe him. What
do all these incidents show? The streets of America are
not quite paved with gold, and every NRI is not gilded.
These incidents have exposed the soft underbelly of the
Indian diaspora. We have our wonderful success stories,
we have our weaknesses. It is time for a reality check.
ONE of the surprises of Wednesdays debate was the peculiar kind of defence of the Governments policy which Colonel Crawford put forward. It was a somewhat extraordinary combination of many of those platitudes which officials are never weary of uttering, and of some really solid arguments which only make one wonder how the speaker could be among the supporters of the official policy instead of being among its most earnest critics.
Take the following as a sample of the letter:- If it was true, as the Home Member asserted, that Mr Subhas Chandra Bose was connected with the revolutionary movement both prior to and subsequent to his appointment as the Chief Executive Officer of the Calcutta Corporation, he could not understand how the Government could have given its sanction to his appointment. Or take the following.
None of his
community believed that the Government could be run
continuously by the use of emergency powers of this
nature. The Government must take early steps to remove
the real cause of the trouble. These arguments
would have done honour to any Opposition speaker and
adorned any Opposition oration. And yet they were
actually adduced by a speaker who whole-hearted
supported, or thought that he whole-hearted supported,
the official policy.
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