|Wednesday, March 1, 2000,
High on hype, low on delivery
LALOO'S TREMENDOUS TRIUMPH
to make hotels eco-friendly
Chechen struggle spill over border?
March 1, 1925
High on hype, low on delivery
DISAPPOINTMENTS awaits those who were expecting as dramatic a departure in budget making as in 1991, the year of Mr Manmohan Singh. Then the self-effacing Finance Minister rewrote the basic text of government policies, throwing out long-tested nostrums and boldly striking out a new path. Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha had a similar opportunity. The economic fundamentals were both right and compelling. The national mood, rightly or wrongly, favoured a radical departure and the first year of a fairly stable government provided an excellent springboard. A casual look at his offering suggests that he has not gone the whole hog, but has contented himself with tinkering with minor issues. As the Economic Survey repeatedly said and as media analysts and academic experts told him, he had to accomplish two things. Cut deeply into subsidies and widen and deepen revenue mobilisation. That was what was repeatedly stressed by referring to fiscal consolidation, a soft term for urgent correction of distortion in public finance. The popular belief was that he would wield the axe on all forms of financial assistance which are of doubtful social benefit. In the event he has just toyed with hiking the price of wheat and rice sold to the very poor from fair price shops by a hefty 40 per cent and has taken income tax payers out of sugar quota from the same fair price shops. These two measures are purely token in nature as a number of studies have shown. They will not set the right mood for general belt-tightening. Similar is the case with urea and other fertiliser prices. He threatened to recover the cost from the farmers but has turned tail by effecting a nominal increase. Those in this region will welcome this final decision as the consumption of fertiliser is easily the highest here and any harsh price rise would have mounted hardship on the already harassed farming community. But the point is that the Finance Minister has blinked first and that is bad for what he has often prescribed for reviving the Indian economy: hard decisions.
One other area crying for a close look was export subsidy. All export earnings were tax exempt and the government had no idea how much each exporter earned or how profitable were exports. Now he has hesitantly imposed a 20 per cent tax, and given the dilapidated status of accounts keeping, the tax will not net much revenue. And the trust he has placed on the exporters is welcome but it may not work if the need for a series of raids on customs officials in Mumbai and Delhi is any indication. Mr Sinha has also steered clear of the high-flying software exporters, boasting that the spectacular growth was because of the governments hands-off policy. He is wrong, and as Mr Nandan Nilekani, managing director of Infosys, said, a token tax would not hurt the growing sector since the percentage of profit is so enormous as to shake the share market into taking IT to the top. Similarly, Mr Sinha had set before himself the ideal of ending all those income tax exemptions which were of doubtful use. But he pulled his punch at the last minute. Farmhouse income will be taxed, but who will keep an eye on the commercial use? Dividend income will now be charged a tax at the rate of 20 per cent, up from 10 per cent. But this will still not correct the distortion of reducing the real rate of income tax to about 10 per cent, if an individual avails of all available rebates. Income tax officers have often complained that super stars in the private sector, particularly working in foreign companies, pay very little tax, since the income is packed in exempted categories. Mr Sinha should have taken a close look at this and plugged the loopholes.
It is on the side of reducing expenditure that the lack of decisive action is glaring. Downsizing of the government receives a casual mention and there is talk of integrating some departments but that is more for efficiency. Recruitment of fresh hands is now difficult and not impossible. All those thousands of employees rendered redundant after the sweeping economic reforms, will continue till their date of normal retirement. Why? So the downsizing, rechristened rightsizing, now stands as samesizing. This was supposed to be the key aspect of the second generation of reforms. The brave words of the Economic Review, published a day earlier, sound so much hot air in the pages of the budget. It is possible that the survey talked of what should be done and the budget talks of what can be done. This gap is regrettable. Even those who do not agree with the thrust and basis of the reforms would question the governments readiness to hold its hand at the moment of decision-making. The radical changes may not work but then the ruling alliance or other parties do not have an alternate vision and hence the need to experiment with the proposals so powerfully articulated in the survey. The Finance Minister claims that he has increased the defence outlay to Rs 59,000 crore from last years 45,000 crore. These are budget figures. In reality, the revised estimates have put the amount close to the new allocation, indicating that the Minister has merely formalised the increase incurred in the wake of the Kargil conflict.
Not as part of the hesitant privatisation programme but as part of ongoing economic reforms, the budget has initiated two moves. From now on foreign institutional investors will be permitted to hold 40 per cent of equity in Indian companies, up from 30 per cent. It is a daring move considering that until recently the share was pegged at 24 per cent. Obviously the Bombay Club of big business, which opposes a decisive say to foreign pension and hedge funds in the running of local units, is now more confident of meeting the challenge or the government is forcing it to face up to it. Either way, it is a brave move whose progress is worth watching.
Tucked in an insignificant para is this solemn assurance. No bank will be closed down, no matter what the CII says. And no worker will be thrown out of job. Similarly, working class interests will be fully protected in the event of a public sector undertaking being wound up. The national renewal fund will be used to provide a safety net, read voluntary retirement scheme, which is nothing but sweetening the bitter prospect of loss of employment. Both the Economic Survey and the budget are coyly silent on the extent of bad debt which public sector banks have accumulated. The survey merely mentioned a small amount involved in those cases referred to the debt recovery tribunal, a fairly toothless organisation. The budget says more tribunals are being set up, without mentioning anything about more powers to them. With a deep bow to the Trinamool Congress, the budget has pledged to persist with the Calcutta-based Industrial Investment Bank of India, easily the sickest bank in the country. It is unusual to use an important occasion like the presentation of the budget to hold out a purely administrative decision but then coalition politics has its own rules.
It is in the social sector that constraints of resources and the absence of sharp commitment are evident. The entire rural development programme is once again based on NABARD-channelled funds. Money does not translate into benefits and the rural institutions which will receive the money and use it have not been identified. This is because they just dont exist. This has been a chronic malady and the mood of great expectation Mr Sinha and his colleagues created in the run-up to the budget offered an excellent opportunity to launch this stalled programme. The old and tired approach to primary education is no help either. He has fixed a target, made an allocation and hopes that all children will be literates in another five years. But education in the most backward districts of the country is not merely a question of funds and wishes. It is motivation and the government, even if one of its members is passionately devoted to change as Mr Sinha is, cannot supply it. Housing too has received the same mechanical treatment. Mr Sinha and his aides can rightly retort that it is not the function of the Union budget to go about creating social organisations. It can only set apart money and expect the rest to follow. They will be right but not this year. It is supposed to be a year of the great change. Every thing is just about right. The industry is growing after two years of stagnation; national wealth is up, although agriculture has yielded disappointing results shrinking by about 2 per cent; exports are rising; the revenue is rolling in even if expenditure is overshooting; inflation is at the global rate of just under 3 per cent and it is the first year of what now looks like a stable government. What is more, there is a national consensus on changing the structure of the economy. This is a combination of propitious circumstances a Finance Minister will not come across for a long time. And there is so much to be done. And so much not to be done. In the second category is the retreat of the government from higher education. Mr Sinha has flashed the green signal. Alone among the Third World countries India has produced a rich corps of highly educated students who today lead research institutions, the information technology sector and medicine. There is the benign hand of the government in their grooming. Now the government wants to abdicate its responsibility.
As experts have pointed
out, the government is staying put where it says it does
not want to, like running all those public sector
undertakings. Here it is caught in its own rhetoric of
disinvestment; what it craves for is to sell off these
units. It is hurriedly withdrawing from those areas in
which only it can offer services: electricity, public
health, drinking water and transport. The citizen is
becoming self-reliant with the help of inverters and
generation sets, mosquito repellants, mineral water and
Maruti cars. Last year there was a stunning
non-utilisation of about 20 per cent money set apart for
the social sector! There is a paradox here. The
government will not cut expenditure where it should and
will not spend money where it should. The new millennium
has had a muddled start. And Finance Minister Yashwant
Sinha says this century belongs to India. Every Indian
will pray he is right!
LALOO'S TREMENDOUS TRIUMPH
LET there be no mistake about it. Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav is the undoubted victor of the bitterly fought assembly elections in Bihar. What makes his triumph all the more spectacular is that his ignominious defeat was taken for granted by politicians and pandits alike. Everyone was convinced that politically speaking, he would be "buried" for good. No one was more convinced of this than the ruling combination in New Delhi, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). For it the only issue to be decided in Bihar was who would be the next Chief Minister. The voter, however, has willed otherwise.
Fighting partially with his back to the wall, isolated almost completely and campaigning alone as against the galaxy of Central ministers, including the Prime Minister, and a number of film stars Mr Yadav has amply demonstrated his remarkable, indeed enviable, hold on what is the country's poorest and worst-run state.
To be sure, he has not got a clear majority in the state legislature. But, then, neither has the NDA that was so confident of a sweep in its favour that it was already celebrating the end of Laloo's "jungle raj". (Laloo's apt retort was that whenever someone tried to destroy a jungle, the animals inhabiting it were bound to go berserk.) In any case, his party, the RJD, has one seat more than the combined tally of the entire NDA. The NDA's largest constituent, the BJP, is more than 50 seats behind the RJD.
Even before the counting of votes was complete, the NDA and its drumbeaters, expecting that the combination would be ahead of Laloo's party by at least a whisker, had started demanding that it be given the first option to form the government. They had argued that the NDA was a pre-poll, not a post-election, combine and therefore had the same rights as a party.
Questionable even if the NDA's expectation had been fulfilled, the doctrine now operated in favour of the RJD. All eyes are, therefore, focussed on the Governor, Mr Vinod Pandey. Being a former Cabinet Secretary, he is expected to play fair and not allow himself to be pressurised by the NDA's godfathers in New Delhi.
Whoever gets the first chance at ministry- making surely has an advantage in the Indian milieu where the small parties and Independents are always ready to be bought by the highest bidder. In this respect the situation in Bihar is even murkier than in the rest of the country. But, as an elated Mr Laloo Yadav has been pointing out, even reckless bribery cannot win for the NDA the requisite numbers. For this there are two reasons.
First, the NDA, desperate to grab power by hook or by crook, can surely get the support of the 11 members of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (S) but only if it clearly commits itself to creating a separate state of Jharkhand within six months flat. Any such commitment would alienate potential support in North Bihar where people are resolutely opposed to the separation of the state's mineral-rich area.
Secondly, the Congress with 23 seats and Left parties commanding over a dozen seats may not be particularly fond of Laloo any longer. In fact,they fought the election against him. But they are in no mood to allow power to pass to the BJP-led alliance. Mr Yadav is thus in a stronger position to form the Bihar ministry though he would have his difficulties with his potential supporters in the "secular camp".
Be that as it may, the discussion on the reasons for Mr Yadav's splendid performance is revealing. The BJP believes that the squabbles within the NDA's constituents over the distribution of seats, preceded by the Samata Party's walk-out from the Janata Dal (United) it had joined only weeks earlier, were primarily responsible for the BJP-led alliance's poor showing and for the "unexpected" support to Laloo. While there is an element of truth in this, it is not the whole story.
The verdict in Bihar has underscored the reality that in the present-day politics of India caste and personal loyalties override all other considerations. The fond belief of the chattering classes that most Indians desperately want "good governance" has been totally belied by the pattern of voting. Any number of Bihari voters, interviewed by various TV channels, bluntly declared that they were not bothered by the dismal lack of development in their state or by the charges of corruption against Laloo. Their sole resolve was to stick to their "Leader" who cared for the poor and had given the downtrodden "self-respect". This phenomenon is no different from the blind support by huge numbers in Tamil Nadu to Ms Jayalalitha. In such a situation political analysis is of little use. Mass psychoanalysis might help.
The saffron camp will be deluding itself if it fails to notice that the Muslim minority in Bihar, which evidently gave the BJP the benefit of the doubt in the parliamentary poll only six months ago, has swung against it and in favour of Laloo this time around. For the simple reason that it is appalled by the unveiling of the Hindutva agenda of the saffron zealots. Their attacks of Deepa Mehta's film, Water, mindless vandalism on Valentines Day, the removal in BJP-ruled Gujarat of the ban on government servants joining the RSS and irresponsible statements by the UP Chief Minister about the construction of Ram mandir at Ayodhya all speak loudly for themselves.
The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, will have to do hard thinking about his apparent inability to rein in the hotheads within his ranks and even to enforce restraint on top leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal and so on. He has another reason to worry. Mr Govindacharya, the more articulate of the BJP General Secretaries, has openly stated that the Bihar poll results have brought into the open the party's failure to win over the poor in India.
It is in this context that another message of the assembly elections must cause concern to the BJP. In Haryana and Orissa, the BJP has been shown to be a poor second to its junior partners in the NDA. Both Mr Om Prakash Chautala in Haryana and Mr Navin Pathnaik in Orissa both scions of towering leaders in the two states, incidentally are in a position to form the respective state governments on their own. The BJP is irrelevant to them. However, they both want the BJP to join the two state governments, if only to maintain cordial relations within the alliance in New Delhi. However, any aspiration on the BJP's part to act as the Big Brother is bound to lead to trouble.
So much for the BJP and its woes. The plight of the Congress, the other major national party, is even worse. It is no good for Congressmen to crow that their seats and votes in Haryana and Bihar have increased, compared with 1995. The bitter truth is that the once grand old party is not a meaningful force in any of the states that went to the polls. On the contrary, its position has been slipping in election after election.
Under the circumstances, it should be no surprise that two-thirds of India is now ruled, at the state level, by regional parties which, in most cases, are one-state organisations. For this purpose, the CPM and its allies must also be reckoned as regional parties for they remain confined to West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. The Congress rules only four states Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Maharashtra in the last in coalition with the Nationalist Congress Party. The BJP rules Gujarat on its own and UP in partnership with a big bunch of dubious defectors from other parties.
Unless the Congress can
somehow revitalise itself and rebuild the party
organisation in states from which it has disappeared, its
decline could become irreversible. That is not a good
prospect for the country that needs more than one
national party to occupy the central space in the
spectrum of federal polity.
WHEN you are young, you dream of falling in love. Once in love, you wish that the dream should never end; that it should simply go on forever.
Something of this nature has been my affair with books. I had started dreaming of books much before I actually got to read any. In a business family, such as the one I was born into, moolah always got priority over the book. Of course, there was that forlorn shelf, tucked away in a lonely corner, lined with dust-coated thick volumes, pride of the living room. Often, I would stare at the awe-inspiring hardbound covers, blink in childish wonder and step back, intimidated. Those thick volumes, like the bushy frown of a strict father, never gave me much of a chance to enter the forbidden territory.
Then came teens, waving a flag of freedom and raking in a liberal pocket allowance to boot. Though it wasnt much, in those days of plenty, it was enough to fan my flame and what is more, keep it alive as well. I suddenly found that it was now possible to walk into a bookshop and flirt around with a bevy of beauties Occasionally, I could even afford to walk out, with the best among them, leaning gently over my arms, a smile of conquest on my face. As I look over my shoulders now, those adolescent days appear rather strange and unfamiliar. How we move from one conquest to another, with little thought for our hearts, and much less for our minds. Flame rages unabated, even at the risk of burning a hole in the pocket sometimes.
All affairs do not always flower into a marriage. I was lucky mine did. I became a teacher, though not necessarily wise. Knowing my passion, any bookseller could have predicted that it couldnt have been otherwise. All too often, I would walk arm in arm with great beauties, feeling small. Each time I renewed my romance, I would discover how little I knew and how much more there was to know. I learnt that it was not enough to flirt. Like any good wife, loyalty and commitment is what books also prize. The game of furtive glances was now a thing of the past as I, too, had grown to cherish the warmth of friendships.
Friends! The course of the true love never does run smooth. I confess, we had our share of problems too. There was that rather longish spell of estrangement I shall never forget. That is when I had stopped buying books altogether, realising that I had more on my hands than I would care to read. I guess when love gets too strong it begins to choke. As with humans so with books. There ought to be spaces in togetherness. But we went so wide apart that fungi began to grow on the barren patches of my soul. So much so, now I began to yearn, almost with the sobriety of a grown up man, to return once again to my old flame. Once I was able to do so, I simply prayed, O God! Let me not stray anymore.
Once in a while, when a
book fair comes to town, the vagrant, old lover in me
stirs again. When a thousand new faces are
about to be launched, heart aches for the younger days.
As I pick my way through dust and haze, fresh
faces beckon from behind the shelves, wink and
smile, warming the cockles of my heart. I look at some
longingly, feel others inside the wraps and let a several
thousand go. With my wallet, unlike my spirits,
constantly dipping, I cant afford to have too many
by my side. The raging passion has sobered down. And
whenever the temptation grows too strong, I chastise
myself, No more flings for you, old man! Its
a life-long affair.
Petroleum products supplies
THE government has put off the implementation of its decision for a hefty increase in the administered prices of cooking gas and kerosene. That has been admittedly done for such a narrow, indeed churlish, consideration as the local body election in Andhra Pradesh. That the increase has been postponed for a fortnight only emphasises this position.
The fact is that an increase in the prices of all petroleum products has become unavoidable. The grim truth about oil supplies, demand and prices as well as policy lapses, in particular during the so-called reform era, leading to the present gravely stretched position on the oil front should be properly realised and squarely faced.
The position on the supply side had become comfortable, relatively speaking, late in the seventies of the last century when production of crude oil from the fields developed and the refinery capacities set up by Indian companies in the public sector were able to satisfy to the extent of the 70 per cent of the domestic demand for petroleum products.
But there was a sharp setback in the exploration and production of crude oil in the mid-eighties, and more markedly in the first half of the nineties when official policy came under the spell of the so-called liberalisation-globalisation policy. Crude oil imports now stand at more than 70 per cent of its demand in India.
The vital need to moderate the rise in the consumption of petroleum products has been ignored. On the contrary, official reform policy has assumed that the rise in its consumption way beyond the availability of indigenous supplies is not only necessary but even desirable for the economys growth and modernisation. The pattern of the consumption of commercial energy has shifted in favour of petroleum products even as it has become more and more import-intensive. This position has become glaring with the import of gas on a massive scale for power generation and the development of the auto industry. The effort to develop hydro and coal resources, let alone non-conventional sources of energy, has become half-hearted.
The periodic increases in the prices of petroleum products, therefore, has not curbed their consumption. The hike in prices cannot regulate the pattern of energy consumption in the absence of a rational and cost-effective economic and technology policy for the optimal development of the countrys energy resources. Given the reliance placed by the reformers on foreign investment and imported technologies, the demand for petroleum products is growing at a faster pace than the economic growth rate in India.
Meanwhile, discovered oil reserves in the country have declined sharply and investment of the exploration and refining of oil has tended to be meagre. India is indeed heading towards a severe energy crisis. The irony of the energy story under the reforms dispensation is that the upward revision of the prices of petroleum products is no longer inspired by the idea of curbing their consumption. The prices have to be raised, as obliquely admitted from time to time by the Finance Minister, under pressure from foreign suppliers of crude oil and to attract foreign investment with guaranteed high returns on their investment.
The key to the easing of the pressure on the supply, demand and the price of petroleum products, logically enough, is priority investment for the exploration and production of oil and its refinancing in the country. To this end, the government, as part of its globalisation programme, has hit upon the idea of the return of foreign companies for oil exploration, as a soft option. But, considering past experience, this is a counter-productive, indeed a dangerous, option.
The ostensible purpose of inviting the oil multinationals, to begin with, was to supplement the domestic effort for oil exploration. Subsequently, after some token work for exploration by some selected foreign oil companies, which produced no tangible result, the government has opened up for them the refining of oil as well as the marketing of petroleum products in India which Indian oil companies are quite capable of undertaking on their own. The international oil companies have moved with alacrity into marketing activity but have not gone in seriously for oil exploration. Indian oil companies in the public sector have developed a vast marketing network. The foreign companies are now demanding direct access to the Indian market and use of the marketing network of Indian companies at a nominal cost and eventual takeover.
A review of the policy
for the development of the oil sector, especially the
so-called new oil exploration policy, is of utmost
urgency to prevent the energy crisis from overwhelming
the countrys economy. Measures are, of course,
necessary to maintain a sustainable supply and demand
balance in the critical energy sector. Efforts for oil
exploration, production, refining and marketing must be
on sound lines to develop an appropriate energy resource
mix. It must be combined with a determined shift away
from energy-and-import-intensive investment and
technology policy towards self-reliance in the economic
growth process. The periodic upward increases in the
prices of petroleum products cannot, after all,
meaningfully regulate consumption and demand patterns,
given the increasing reliance on foreign investment and
imported technologies. The question of pricing the
petroleum products must not be tackled in populist or
narrow cost plus terms either.
IT has been rightly said: No hotels, no tourism. Hotel industry is so closely linked with the tourism industry that it is responsible for about 50% of the foreign exchange earnings from tourism. Tourism has emerged as the third largest industry in terms of foreign exchange earnings in India after gems and jewellery and readymade garments. It occupies a strategic position because of its large contribution to economic growth. In spite of its vast potential and the attention focused on this sector, lack of infrastructure has hampered its growth.
In the last two decades, environmental pressures have affected a much wider range of industries, including the hotel industry.
The Hotel Catering and Institutional Management Association (HCIMA) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reached an agreement in 1993 to cooperate in developing acceptance of environmental issues throughout the industry. The WTTC developed the Green Globe strategy to promote environmental management in hotels and travel companies. Hotels abroad have started taking the requisite steps for protecting the environment. But in India cognisance of the environmental stress being generated by the hotel industry is being taken note of only recently.
Keeping this in view, a detailed reconnaissance of the hotels in Chandigarh was carried out to ascertain the locations of various activities and operations.
Given below are the conclusions which are apparent from the study carried out about the environmental management of the hotels in the City Beautiful:
i)The maximum daily consumption of water in hotels far exceeds the limit imposed by the Chandigarh Pollution Control Committee (CPCC) based on Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution ) Act, 1974, and its subsequent amendments of 10 kl per day. This may be because the hotels are incurring huge water losses due to wastage.
ii)The characteristics of effluents discharged from the hotel kitchen are in the following ranges and exceed the permissible limits.
The hotels are discharging effluents into public sewers without any proper treatment. This is adding to the problem of environmental pollution and its management.
iii) The most disturbing parameter is the discharge of extremely high amount of oil and grease which may cause serious damage to plants and animals or their physical surroundings and thus impede human exploitation of natural resources.
iv) Noise arises from the traffic entering and leaving the hotel, from plant and equipment (such as extractors, garden equipment etc ) and from activities of people in the hotel (such as leisure clubs, live entertainments, discos etc.
v) The hotels are contributing to the thermal pollution due to the installation of ACs etc. However, towards their abatement and management, no steps have been initiated.
vi) The hotels in general have not taken cognisance of the environmental pollution caused by them. But then the environmental managers have also not imposed any restrictions on the hotel industry.
vii) The quantity of solid waste generated varies from hotel to hotel. For large hotels, it is 299 to 250 kg per day, for medium hotels, it is between 100-150 kg per day and for small hotels, it varies from 50 to 100 kg per day.
viii) Kitchen is the main source of waste water generated from a hotel.
ix) Very few hotels have adopted energy saving criteria.
Concrete measures are needed to achieve a heightened level of environmental sensitivity in areas such as water conservation, energy efficiency, air quality management and waste water management. Water use audit in hotels should be carried out to identify potential areas of savings. Saving water charges, associated with unnecessary use of water together with effluent charges resulting from the disposal of waste water, will save the hotel money and conserve the water resources. Lighting accounts for about 15 to 20 per cent of a hotels electricity consumption. In addition, heat generated by lights increases air conditioning loads. The hotels should replace incandescent light bulb with fluorescent bulbs which give four-time more energy for a given consumption of electricity and can last up to 10 times longer.
Kitchens are among the least energy efficient operations in hotels. Large amounts of electricity, gas and water are wasted because of poor planning and management. Extraction fans should be fitted with variable special motors and the staff should be able to adjust the fan speed, according to the rate of extraction required. If fans are left running when little cooking is taking place then more warm air will be extracted out and will cause energy wastage.
In order to control noise, efficient motors and transmissions should be installed and maintained periodically. Maximum sound levels within guest rooms for telephone, TV, radio and music should be set and not allowed to exceed at any cost.
Local regulations should determine the necessary segregation of waste water into categories such as foul (from WCs ) waste ( from sinks and baths) and storm or surface water. Periodic checks should be made to ascertain that split or unwanted fuel oils, paints, garden chemicals and detergents are not disposed of down the drains. Arrangement, to treat the effluents to achieve permissible limits before discharge should be made.
To improve the air quality, the discharges should be minimised by locating chimneys or discharge vents as far away as possible from the neighbours of hotels. Absorbent filters should be used to avoid cooking odours in case of some hotels.
struggle spill over border?
MORE than 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) up in the forbidding, snowbound Caucasus mountains where southern Chechnya meets Georgia, Russian paratroopers, Georgian border guards and Chechen guerrillas are engaged in a desperate confrontation.
For the several thousand Chechen guerrillas, it is a fight for sheer winter survival against the overwhelming force deployed by the Kremlin; for the Russians, it is a no-holds-barred chance to destroy the Chechen resistance; for the Georgian border guards, the frontline keeps the Chechen war from invading their country.
A spillover into Georgia would threaten the young post-Soviet countrys fragile independence and territorial integrity, worsen tense relations with Moscow and trigger diplomatic and strategic dilemmas that could reach far beyond the Caucasus.
The Russians are angry, the guerrillas are desperate, the Georgians are alarmed and the USA is frightened that Georgia will be dragged into the Chechen conflict, says a senior western diplomat in Tbilisi. You have all the ingredients for an explosive situation. The Russians want to move the conflict into Georgia, one senior Georgian official said.
Bowing to months of pressure from Moscow, the Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Unions last foreign minister, ordered the 50-mile (80 km) border with Chechnya and Russia sealed last week.
It is extremely inhospitable territory, with only one road at the crossing point of Shatili, the route linking Tbilisi with the destroyed Chechen capital, Grozny. But there are almost three dozen other footpaths across a frontier that cannot be comprehensively patrolled.
The Russians constantly contend that the Chechens are ferrying men, arms and supplies over the mountains, and they accuse Georgia of harbouring guerrilla training camps. Tbilisi dismisses this as nonsense, provocation and an example of Moscow seeking pretexts for a possible intervention.
Mr Shevardnadze, Georgias leader for seven years who expects to be re-elected in April, has so far resisted Russian demands to station troops on the Georgian side of the border. But Russian troops stationed at four bases inside Georgia outnumber the army of Georgia, a small but strategically vital country of 5.5 million.
Last November, the Russians agreed to close two of the bases by next year, but no one in Tbilisi is holding their breath the air is thick with mistrust. We cant see how these bases are needed, says a Georgian official. But the Russians are not serious [about closing them]. The Chechen war is now concentrated 10 miles (16 km) from the Georgian border, which explains the soaring apprehension in Tbilisi. Nine unarmed monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been warily watching the border standoff at the Shatili crossing point since taking up their posts 10 days ago. The situation is tense but stable, says a source, adding that any unauthorised movement across the border is immediately destroyed by the Russians. The monitors can hear the constant bombing and shelling from the Russian onslaught on the rebel redoubts. Seeking to advance up the Argun valley on the last rebel stronghold of Shatoi, the Russians have thousands of guerrillas hemmed in, their backs to the Georgian border and Russian paratroopers.
The Russians claimed to have thwarted an attempt by the rebels to break out across the border into Georgia, precisely the scenario the Georgians fear. But as spring nears and the fighters become more mobile, there is little doubt they will head for Georgia.
There is already a native Chechen community of 5,000 living compactly in the Georgian mountains, which has been swollen by 7,000 refugees from the war.
You have a base, you have a guerrilla movement and you have a porous border, says a senior western official. Its a Palestinian situation. And another big bone of contention for Georgia. Mr Shevardnadze, (77), appears to be about the only thing preventing the small, feuding country from drifting into implosion.
Georgia has yet to recover from two separatist wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the past eight years. There are 300,000 refugees from Abkhazia living in Georgia two-thirds of the population from the breakaway region, which remains a no-go area for Georgians.
THE Bihar Council has not enhanced its reputation by rejecting by a large majority a resolution recommending early steps being taken to prohibit and stop the sale, manufacture and consumption of all intoxicants except for medicinal purposes.
The rejection of the resolution would have been unfortunate even of if had asked for immediate prohibition.
As a matter of fact, it only wanted early steps leading to that end, which is an entirely different thing.
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