|Tuesday, May 2, 2000,
on Pak knuckles
FRONT, DIVIDED REAR
strategy for tackling drought
May 2, 1925
IT is one step short of the USA dubbing Pakistan a terrorism-sponsoring and terrorism-exporting country. And it has declared that it will not take the decisive step since it has major financial consequences, meaning mandatory full-scope economic sanctions which will cripple Pakistans already ailing economy. But the State Department report on terrorism is a milestone in two ways. One, it describes South Asia as the hub of international terrorism and, two, nearly brackets Pakistan with Afghanistan, a pariah state. Until now the USA kept a sharp eye on West Asia, treating it as the centre of uncontrolled militant elements; actually it was wary of several Palestinian groups, particularly the one led by George Habbash, and not any other country. Since it has named Pakistan, it has to frame a chargesheet. It accuses Pakistan of harbouring Islamic militants, allowing terrorists to be recruited and trained on its soil and winking at unhindered supply of arms by the Afghan Taliban. Then comes the stern demand: crackdown on Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which the USA has termed a terrorist outfit. The report is much more important than its findings suggest. The timing of the release is revealing. Only recently President Clinton administered a public snub to the military rulers. At the lower level officials have been gently mounting pressure to prevent armed jehadi groups from crossing the border and entering Kashmir. The US envoy in Islamabad had early this week sought the host countrys help in nabbing Osama bin Laden to stand trial in the USA. That is a serious accusation by implication. Does it all mean that the Clinton administration is getting ready to finally turn the screw? Far from it; it is trying to be even-handed in its own way.
The report praises
Pakistan for its past acts of handing over its citizens
to face murder charges in US courts. It also recalls the
close ties and strategic partnership. It is well to
remember that only last week a senior State Department
aide, Mr Thomas Pickering, had asked India to
transcend Kargil and resume talks with
Pakistan. Then there is the formidable Mrs Madeleine
Albright hectoring India to sign the CTBT and get back to
the Lahore process. Reports from Pakistan have it that
General Pervez Musharraf had banned four
sectarian groups for indulging in terrorist
attacks but they are the warring Sunni and Shia factions.
He had also promised to stop free flow of arms to the
jehadi groups and also stop them from
crossing Pakistani border. The drastic watering down of
the blashphemy law, which mandated death sentence for
anti-religious crimes, has won him grudging praise from
the West. Is the military ruler eager to emerge as a
liberal reformer? Many believe this to be the case. If he
were to even partly succeed, say, by banning the
Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and throwing out a dozen or so
Afghan mercenaries, the pressure on him will ease. And,
the demand that India should restart the dead talks will
become shrill. A senior analyst anticipates this and has
warned the Vajpayee government to be ready with its
response and not be caught unprepared as it has often
been in the recent past.
THE official decision to ask the CBI to investigate alleged acts of misdemeanour by cricket administrators and players deserves a qualified welcome. The announcement was made in Parliament by Union Sports Minister S. S. Dhindsa a day after he discussed the issue with former and current players, administrators and coaches. After the Delhi Police released excerpts of the infamous "Cronje tapes" early this month the demand by disappointed fans for a thorough probe by an official agency into the alleged misdeeds of Indian players and administrators had acquired the frightening trappings of a nationwide movement. Yesterday's idols were being looked upon with scorn. The credibility of the Board of Control for Cricket in India had itself become suspect in the eyes of the lovers of the game. The match-fixing controversy first surfaced three years ago following Manoj Prabhakar's claim that he was offered Rs 25 lakh by an unnamed senior cricketer to play badly. The controversy assumed a sinister dimension after disgraced South African captain Hansie Cronje admitted to having done what Shane Warne and Mark Waugh had done earlier provided a pitch and weather report to a bookie in exchange for money. The findings of the Chandrachud Committee into match-fixing allegations, based on Prabhakar's version, giving a clean chit to Indian cricketers, was cleverly projected by vested interests as an attempt to cover up unproven misdeeds of unnamed players by the high and mighty of Indian cricket. The controversy has a frightening ring to it. It is both surprising and upsetting that no Indian cricketer, administrator or fan has ever demanded the head of Warne and Mark Waugh, the "original sinners". They are not even celebrating the success of the Delhi Police in having broken into the secret world of illegal betting and possible match-fixing, which exposed the true face of the "Mr Clean" of international cricket. Instead, petitions have been filed in different high courts demanding transparency in the affairs of the BCCI. It is evident that someone, somewhere desperately wants heads of a few Indian players and administrators to role on the cricket fields of the country. Cricket crooks have actually been spotted in Australia and South Africa, but Indian fans have been cleverly led into demanding action against their own players! First demand the head of those whose guilt stands proven, before insisting on a larger enquiry for smoking out the black sheep among Indian cricketers and officials.
New Zealand has not
ordered a probe into the conduct of its players after
Cronje's admission of guilt. Neither has the West Indies
nor Sri Lanka nor any other Test playing county reacted
the way India has to Cronje's confession of wrong-doing.
The "original sinners" continue to play for
Australia and South African public opinion is firmly
behind Cronje. But the well-orchestrated campaign by
magazine after magazine has made most fans see a Cronje
in every Indian cricketer. Whose name has not figured in
the list of "crooks of Indian cricket"? The
names of Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad
Azharuddin, Nayan Mongia, Ajay Jadeja and Ajay Sharma
have surfaced in the reports of the so-called
investigative journalists. With the spotlight having been
turned on the Indian cricket scene, the real issues,
which needed to be discussed and debated before the
crucial International Cricket Council meeting beginning
today, have been pushed into the background. What will
the CBI enquiry reveal? Cricket sins are not actionable
under the criminal or civil laws of the land. The basic
objective should not be to see cricketers being
humiliated, but the game being rid of the effects of
sponsorship-related sickness. Cricket sins, or those
related to the organisation of the game, can only be
addressed through putting into place stricter laws for
punishing the black sheep among international players and
administrators. This job can only be done by the ICC in
consultation with member-countries. Under what Section of
the Indian Penal Code would a player be tried for having
agreed to fix a match? The ultimate responsibility of
keeping the game of cricket as clean as is humanly
possible belongs to the ICC. As for Indian cricket, it
needs to be saved from the manipulations of the current
stock of office-bearers. An issue which should have been
debated, by fans across the country, in the context of
the frequent and fair reports about the mismanagement of
Indian cricket by self-serving office-bearers is the role
retired cricketers can play in raising the level of the
game which has acquired trappings of a parallel religion
in the subcontinent. Ajay Jadeja virtually became a
stateless cricketer because Haryana cricket is controlled
by Mr Ranbir Singh! How about giving only former
cricketers the right to elect office-bearers, even such
persons as need not have played the game but have sound
administrative skills? For instance, only former district
players should be allowed to elect the officials of their
district associations, state players of their state
bodies and national players of the BCCI. The great game
can only grow in stature if Mushtaq Ali and Lala
Amarnath, two surviving founders of Indian cricket, have
a say in the administration as voters.
IT is a matter not of surprise but of shame that Punjab, the richest state of India, does not have enough potable water. The plight of the Malwa and kandi areas was brought to the notice of the government by The Tribune through authentic information and pictorial evidence some time ago in the hope that the rulers would wake up, see the agonising reality and act. But disappointment and utter lack of interest on the part of the authorities concerned have forced us to take a quick and hard look at Barmers or Kalahandis in the making. The Hoshiarpur belt has provided metaphors for callousness and neglect. In that area the water supply system has broken down, making daily life miserable. Arid parts proclaim thirst both of the earth and the inhabitants. Travel beyond Malwa in any direction. You will find parched land and waterless homes because an effective water supply system is not truly operational. As our April-end study points out, 2000 villages are living a miserable existence. A quantity of 40 litres of potable water is the minimum individual requirement. Apply the criterion on a large scale and you have more than 5000 villages on the unpotable water supply list. The ground water level has fallen. Pumping mostly manual has become difficult. Salinity has dimished the quality of the painfully procured water. Water-trek has become routine for hundreds of village women. At least 8,500 villages were chosen for assistance. Suffering flowed fast at the dry subterranean level. Why feel good about the unmarked hamlets? At least 50 lakh people are affected by the drinking water shortage. Call them denizens of problem areas if you like. But the list is growing longer. Why?
Chief Minister Parkash
Singh Badal's take-over was marked in the sphere of water
by an allocation of Rs 378 crore; the availability
stopped at the Rs 171-crore mark. The Ninth Five-Year
Plan targets are parts of a folklore. Raja Narinder
Singh's assurances are cheerful. But promises and
piecrusts are meant to be broken. The matching grant
proposition gives a great excuse: you don't give; you
don't get. If you do not have enough drinking water,
drink "Buddhe naley da paani". It was served
for a considerable period as mineral water to the
railways in its contaminated form. Don't worry; be happy.
There are "meetha malta" outlets at the turns
of the roads. Then there are "theka sharab
desi" points. Why feel sad about the allocated money
not being available? Is the water supply programme the
only scheme which has floundered on the rocks? No, if you
know the fate of the Minimum Needs Programme. The first
three years of the Ninth Plan have witnessed things going
awry in most of the areas of public utility. This
awareness makes the annual list of the government's
achievements talk like lies that shout down truths. The
millennial thirst is emerging as an arch enemy of civic
contentment. You cannot keep half of the population of
2.5 crore waiting for safe drinking water and
water-borne-disease-free life for another term of another
set of political masters.
FRONT, DIVIDED REAR
IT was Leon Trotskys picturesque phrase to spell out the united front strategy of the Communist International ( Comintern) towards other parties in democratic countries in the 1930s. The Indian communists adopted it towards the then Congress Socialist Party and swallowed up large chunks of the accursed organisation. The idea was to forge joint action at the top and burrow into the ranks. Now the Stalinists are politically extinct as are the Congress Socialists, and the strategy has lost even academic relevance. But a different kind of the same phenomenon is in place, namely parties formally coming together for a perceivably shared purpose but working at cross-purposes in practice.
It happened in Bihar during the recent assembly elections. The Samata Party of Mr George Fernandes took the lead, by first abrogating its alliance with the Janata Dal (United) of Mr Sharad Yadav and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan. It then joined an electoral alliance of the BJP, the Janata Dal (U) and itself, with a regional grouping, the Bihar Peoples Party, in tow. Not unexpectedly, scramble for seats, with each party trying to outbid others, and mutually destructive electoral tactics put paid to the combination. Mr Laloo Prasad Yadavs Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which was to be defeated at the polls by avoiding multi-cornered contests, romped home to be the largest party in the assembly. It is now heading a coalition of itself, the Sonia Congress and a Jharkhand faction.
Ms Mamata Banerjees proposal for a one-to-one contest against the CPM-led Left Front in West Bengal, first in the local bodies polls and then in next years assembly elections, portends to end up similarly. To prevent the CPM and its allies from cashing in on divided opposition is sound commonsense. But for the consummation to materialise, Ms Mamata Banerjees Trinamool Congress, the Sonia Congress and the BJP have to pull together. The Sonia Congress in the state is vertically split with one section resisting any dealing with Ms Banerjee, not to mention the BJP. They have to agree on and announce a common leader to head the government if the combination comes through. That did not happen in Bihar although the BJP had stood down. Ultimately, the Samata Partys Nitish Kumar was made the leader of the combine, the local version of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but it was too late. Because of infighting among NDA constituents in many evenly balanced constituencies, the basic purpose of one-to-one contest against the RJD was defeated.
In ultimate reckoning, the BJP, which was the strongest link in the chinky chain, was the biggest loser. First, it had to sacrifice some of its hopeful constituencies to accommodate alliance partners. Fielding of criminals by allies like the Samata Party and the BPP punctured its claim to be a principled party. Above all, it was a severe setback to the ruling alliance at the Centre when Mr Nitish Kumar failed to win confidence vote in the state assembly and had to resign.
In West Bengal, on the other hand, the BJP is the weakest partner but its stake in the proposed alliance or mahajot is heavy. If it flops and the Left Front returns to power the BJPs narrow base in the State can be eroded. Secondly, it is the target of both the communists and a section of the Sonia Congress. Although the state Congress leader, Mr A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, seems to have got the endorsement of the High Command to join the alliance with the Trinamool Congress and the BJP. He insists it doesnt mean liaison with the BJP. According to him, although the BJP becomes a part of the mahajot it is an ally of Trinamool and we do not have anything to do with the party. It has also been said that the Congress will field candidates against the BJP making it a triangular contest from which the communists will benefit most. That was what had happened in several Bihar constituencies. Because of the scramble for seats, caused by the presumed prospect of the NDA coming to power, rebel candidates of the alliance partners had entered the fray in many constituencies negating the very purpose of the alliance. They did it while paying lip service to the United Front idea.
There will be no such make-believe in West Bengal. With a section of the Congress closest to the so-called high command making no secret of its hostility to the BJP, the party has to be doubly on guard. After all, when it comes to the crunch Ms Banerjees first priority will be replacing the CPM as the dominant factor in a future ruling dispensation. For this purpose she will be more interested in ensuring the participation of the Sonia Congress in the alliance than in safeguarding the interests of the BJP. The BJP as the junior-most partner in the proposed combine can become expendable in such a situation.
At the same time, the BJP is not helpless. It is an open secret that scores of Congress leaders stealthily go along with the BJP. That was how the Trinamool Congress came to team up with the BJP. If the BJP is able to muster the support of such Congressmen it need not be totally dependent on the Trinamool Congress for access to mainstream politics in the state. In other words, the proposed mahajot will be like a game of checkers, with each partner plotting against the other. Even if it endures it will be a mechanical arrangement solely for the purpose of defeating the Left Front, particularly the CPM. That is what the BJP wants because it will facilitate its own advance into the vacant political space. Most importantly, once the CPM is vanquished in its bastion, it will suffer as a serious factor in national politics.
Canberra protests too much
AUSTRALIA protests too much when charged with racism. It reacted with righteous anger recently when the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) criticised its treatment of the countrys Aborigines. Not only are the Aborigines routinely imprisoned for minor offences (their rate of incarceration, like other statistics about them, is grossly disproportionate to their numbers), they are also targeted under mandatory sentencing laws in some parts of the country.
Indeed, according to Australias prophet of racism, Pauline Hanson (who has lately fallen on bad days, as her race agenda has been appropriated and incorporated by the Howard Government), the mandatory sentencing should not only be extended all over Australia but made more rigorous. She has said, Stop making them (the jails) as if theyre holiday camps... a jail is a prison and a form of punishment, not there to get you off the streets and get a roof over your head.
She believes the Aborigines like jails so much (because of better living conditions there than at home) that they are tempted to commit more crimes to be back in. Therefore, there is need to make jails truly horrific for them.
Pauline Hanson might be given to dangerous hyperbole, but she reflects mainstream racial prejudice against the Aborigines, Australias most vulnerable and tiny minority. It is this which has led the countrys conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard to roll back the few gains made by them, following the 1992 court judgement overturning the principle of terra nullius.
Under this Australia was deemed a vast empty continent. Its White occupation and settlement was, therefore, legally valid. By overturning terra nullius, the court acknowledged previous Aboriginal settlement entitling them to limited land rights. But under new legislation, even those limited rights have been wound back with very restricted scope for Aboriginal ownership.
The government is also refusing to apologise for the atrocities committed on the countrys indigenous population. It argues that the present generation of Australians cannot be held responsible for what happened in the past. In any case, even though the past atrocities might not stand the scrutiny of present-day standards, it was nonetheless done under the accepted laws of the time, so goes the argument. But so was the Nazi Holocaust in World War II.
Ever since the present Howard government came to power in 1996, the Aborigines have been on the defensive for their presumed acts of omission and commission, even when they don't have any real power to invite such chastisement. In other words, they are being too uppity for their own good by making noise, now and then, about their rights, their continued neglect and racial discrimination.
The worst of all, some bloody do-gooders among White Australians have been bitten by a conscience-bug that has led them to propagate the black arm-band view of Australian history, highlighting Black sufferings, John Howard believes in the White arm-band view of history based on mateship and hard work by the countrys pioneers, with some possible blemishes. In other words, the dispossession, poisoning, massacre and cultural genocide of the Australian Aborigines was merely a blemish or two in an otherwise heroic saga of White occupation of the continent.
Indeed, according to the government, there is need to keep things in perspective on the Aboriginal question. It has debunked the stolen generation report (Bringing Them Home) issued by Australias Human Rights Commission in 1997. It is a searing account of the tragedy of mixed-blood Aboriginal children snatched away from their mothers and put in Christian missions.
While the full blood Aborigines were considered a dying race (through systematic killings and natural attrition), the mixed-blood among them were supposed to become, over a period of time, almost White. But things havent worked out as planned. Not only have the full blood refused to be finished off in entirety, the mixed blood among them are now proudly and nosily proclaiming their indigenous status and leading the movement for Black rights.
The government, though, is busy peddling its own version of history. On the question of stolen generation, for instance, Australias Aboriginal Affairs Minister, has said: There was never a generation of stolen children. The proportion of separated Aboriginal children was no more than 10 per cent... and that the treatment of separated Aboriginal children was essentially lawful and benign in intent.
In other words, everything was hunky-dory and anyone who is saying otherwise is not telling the truth. Not surprisingly then even Senator Aden Ridgeway, a moderate Aboriginal leader, was constrained to remark that the governments denial was like denying the Holocaust. The countrys Aboriginal leadership is, therefore, on a warpath with the Howard government, threatening protests to highlight their conditions during the September Sydney Olympics.
The obvious question: why is the conservative Howard government doing this to further humiliate Australias small indigenous population? Havent they suffered enough?
The government has a medium and long-term agenda to remove the Aboriginal question as a significant national issue. It doesnt like this being posed as an issue between two separate Australian communities: the mainstream Australia and the countrys Aborigines. Therefore, it has consistently sought to propagate measures and solutions to alleviate Aboriginal disadvantage (though not much has been done even in this area), and to downgrade and debunk the process of reconciliation based on the recognition of Aboriginal cultural symbols, heritage and land rights. The latter tend to emphasis Aboriginal separate identity. And this could become a problem in terms of compensation for those who suffered, and as an embarrassing issue of periodic international scrutiny.
THE news on the TV was on. My little puppy, Micky, lay curled on the carpet in my study, with a soft cushion under him in a corner from where he always has the TV in view. The headlines included information on match-fixing. More news followed. Mickys eyebrows started doing a sea-saw, one up, the other down. But rubbing his snout against the wall, he fixed his eyes on the TV screen. News in detail followed and Micky lent his attentive antenna-like ears to the newscast.
With a jerk he sat on his haunches, sighed with more rapidity, sniffed a little, sneezed and left the room. I was amazed at this sudden change of mood in Micky and followed him. He was in conversation with the neighbours pet Snoopy. Good Lord! Do animals really talk? I couldnt believe my ears and rubbed my eyes to know if I wasnt actually watching a story being enacted out of Panchtantra.
What rubbish, there is no animality left in these human beings and particularly the ones who are said to be living the spirit of the sports, day in and day out! Micky spat out his disgust and articulated his criticism of the match-fixer cricketers. Even snoopy was red with rage. Did you also hear that-unbelievable? said he.
The debate began in a corner of the lounge and I went behind the curtains hiding myself, more out of shame and less out of curiosity, on knowing that the animals too talk, talk sense and can target the human beings raising an accusing finger at their conduct.
Snoopy dear, now please tell me,when we pounce upon each other and fight, do we not fight with our heart and soul? When we frown at each other, from a distance, do we not have all the contempt and venom spewed in full measure? When we bark at each other on the sides of our respective fences, do we not almost tear our vocal chords to empty our disgust completely? When I hear you barking at a stranger in the house, do I not join you in the duet and our collective endeavour deters the house breaker, who leaves with a resolve to find some other house, where the likes of us, sincere fellows, arent there to chase or even bark to caution the landlord or the master? Micky hurled a volley of questions.
An eavesdropping me could not believe he was making those assertions to bring home the point of sticking to certain norms of decent behaviour, even while fighting. And fighting for a cause or even without a cause, as animals do. For once, I experienced as if Manoj Prabhakar was speaking through the pet in my house.
Now it was the turn of Snoopy: Oh yaar Micky, I was, the other day witness to a cockfight in the back street where the labour class lives and regularly enjoys the pleasure of brawls. These cocks, true to their salt bury their long, sharpened-with-zeal-to-win bills, into the flesh of the adversary. For whose pleasure? After all, is it not for the human beings around, or else theirs is not the property dispute being settled then? The screams of these cocks can scare even pussy aunt Mano as also our Blackie uncle in the household of the street-Dada, the gangster. I have seen blood oozing out of the torn skin and plucked feathers of the fighting duo, confirming that they did not spare any milder or kinder thoughts while fighting, for their enemy.
Micky became all the more serious when he said: It is only the film actors who indulge in a blood-chilling fight but wise people know that it is a mock fight only, and everybody knows that they are paid for that. But when the entire country, nay the entire world, knows that it is a sport in right earnestness, how con they afford to go astray, and instead of being true to the pitch, develop an itch on their palms. Chi-Chi-Chi. I dont think doomsday is any far! Remember Punit Issar? Even during a mock fight, he became a little more serious and unmindfully punched Amitabh Bachchan a little too hard.
All this while Snoopy had become a little easy with himself. Even Mickys coaxing did not tickle him anymore. It sounded to Micky as if Snoopy was becoming somewhat practical and he exhorted Snoopy: I can sense you are going to make some kind of a confession as confirmed to me when I evoked my sixth sense!
Snoopy smiled and
collected the trickling saliva in his mouth and said:
Well, my friend, being true to ourselves, let us
admit that whenever strangers or intruders throw a bone
at us, we not only are up for grabs but wag our tails
also in gratitude. Micky shared the sense of
sincerity and honesty and questioned meekly, almost
whispering in Snoopys ears: But when do we
use cell-phones to strike a deal with the go betweens,
bookies and brokers. And even if you use them, how
are they going to prove it? A mere denial should set at
rest all the controversy, Snoopy quipped and
noticing me hear the canine conversation he cautioned
Micky: Hey, your master! Immediately they gathered
themselves and started a fight, barking, howling,
grunting, woofing, as if they were the sworn enemies of
each other. Yes, at least they should appear to be on
logger heads with each other not at all even suggesting
fixing their pugnacity at whatever cost! I tried to
scrape my dog-sense to understand human-behaviour but
strategy for tackling drought
AT least for once our feel-good media has come down to ground reality. For months, most of them had reserved their below-the-fold page one space for NRI success stories, miracles of the knowledge industry, celebrities and glitterati. Suddenly the harsh realities of Indian rural agonies have dawn on them. The whole dream world of plenty and prosperity in colour have given way to the detestable piles of animal corpse and empty pots waiting at the dry water points.
Coming after 12 years of bountiful monsoons, this years drought has been a study in painful contrasts. It was only a couple of weeks back we felt so elated over the US Presidents global endorsement of an emerging plentiful rural India where village women order their grocery through dot com. The contrast is really painful. The whole talk of the urban elites improved quality of life, record sale of cars, world standard mansions and the live in splendour shows becomes meaningless when thousands of hungry villagers along with their tired cattle trek to get a few drops of water.
While crores in the famine-hit areas are waiting for doles from the relief camps, the FCI is worried over the embarrassing pile of food stocks. Paradoxically, Orissas Kalahandi, a perennially famine-hit region, often shows higher procurement during the worst drought years. The rice stocks as on April 1 has been 160 lakh tonnes as against the prescribed maximum accumulation of 118 lakh tonnes. This is nearly 30 per cent more. Wheat stocks have shot up to 128 lakh tonnes more than 300 per cent in excess of the manageable limit. Just the problem is not of non-availability of food but the lack of financial access to food. In Gujarat, owners of the water amusement parks drain away the last drop in the village wells and market triumphs.
In Bill Clintons Rajasthan alone 23,410 villages in 26 districts covering an estimated 2.62 crore people are in the grip of severe drought. Officially, 9,421 villages in 17 districts in Gujarat have been declared drought-hit. In Andhra Pradesh 17,431 villages spread over 18 districts have been reeling under the drought and an additional 3,240 villages in seven other districts are set to face the spectre of famine. At least as of now, over 5.4 crore people one-sixth of the US population have been severely affected. Every 20th man we see lives under acute famine conditions without even water. In all, 11 states are affected in varying degrees of intensity.
All this should awaken us to the impending disaster. Though droughts have been endemic in India, what should cause concern has been a drastic change in the rulers mindset and approach to the problem. True, the failures of the 45 years of planned development may be phenomenal. But it is also true that some earnest beginnings have been made during the much maligned Nehruvian era to identify the problems and take remedial measures. Several experiments have been conducted on fighting the drought and crisis management. Rajasthan Canal, which had liberated large tracts from drought in a whole region, is a testimony to the visionary initiatives of the planning era.
The entire procedure for setting up relief camps, food-for-work programmes and norms of drought aid has been evolved in those days. The new reformers have only half-heartedly continued with those norms and procedures to reduce the burden of looking after the poor. Their anti-subsidy policy influences all their approach towards resolving the problems of the poor whether rural or urban. As a result, in the entire reform era no serious move has been made to tackle the problems of recurring drought. On the contrary, the absence of any massive drought during the 12-year bountiful monsoon period has been interpreted as being the miracle of the reform.
In the long run, the Vajpayee Government faces a deeper dilemma due to its own unshakeable commitment to the new market philosophy. Apart from the commitment and obligation to the global forces which itself would act as a restraint in terms of the inviolable fiscal discipline, the new philosophy leaves little room for any worthwhile programme for the upliftment of the rural and backward areas. The whole segment is totally out of the reach of market forces. The market, which is widely expected to replace the functions of the state has its own logic, rules and ethics. Humanitarianism and philanthropy are the virtues of the old generation super rich and successful industrialists.
Market works on the strength of purchasing power. And hence we have the lofty concept that consumer is the king. But the market has no meaning for the kings in the vast arid tracts with no purchasing power. Who will set up industries in such isolated places which do not have any commercial advantage? This is true of even the infrastructure. Under the market economy that we witness today, infrastructure denotes power, roads, rail, communication, cheap labour and economic concessions. The whole concentration is on putting up such facilities to woo investment, preferably foreign. They do not cover rural drinking water or irrigation for agriculture.
True, market also thrives under shortages. And so we have shortage-based industries like inverters and domestic generators, water purifiers and mineral water in economy containers all for those with purchasing power. Incidentally, the business press is more worried over the steep fall in the sale of corporate-produced consumer goods in drought areas. Of late, foreign and domestic firms have been producing cheaper versions of their products to capture the rural market, especially the well-to-do segment. Even soaps and detergents of the big brands have their rural versions to ease out the local small units from the market. Hence their concern for the reduced sales.
The forced withdrawal of the state from such neglected backward regions should pose a very serious question. We all owe an answer to this query. Who will tackle the long-term problems of such economic deserts? Apparently, this is not a priority for the new government. The present dispensation is only haltingly continuing with the old schemes. Cut in farm subsidies, raise in PDS prices for the poor, decreasing priority for the rural programmes aimed at progressively scrapping them altogether all this talk of the determination to leave the poor and weaker at the mercy of the market forces.
The whole drought-fighting mechanism and the schemes like accelerated rural water supply programme have been a hang-over of the pre-reform regime. How many long-term projects have been initiated for such backward areas during the entire reform period? This is the most crucial question the recurring droughts have raised. The whole burden has been left on the already crippled states who are not in a position to take up such gigantic tasks. Unfortunately, the Vajpayee Government at the Centre lose no opportunity to discourage the suffering states from pursuing even the old programmes. After all, it will help achieve the most supreme task of reducing the Budget deficit.
In Delhi, everything is viewed from the narrow mindset of the doctrinaire reform. When this week the Gujarat Government approached the Centre for funds for projects under ARWSP, Delhi put spoke claiming that the State had already overshot the allocation for irrigation. In fact, the State should have been patted for the quick work on such long-term projects. Rajasthan, another chronically drought-prone state, had last year spent Rs 500 crore on relief. But the Centre had handed only a paltry sum of Rs 20 crore.
This year, having realised the gravity of the situation the State had sought Rs 1,145 crore to prepare for the worst months ahead. About four crore cattle is set to perish if no adequate assistance is extended immediately. However, all that the Vajpayee Government gave was Rs 103 crore. The Centre finally woke up only when reports of horrid water and fodder famine began to occupy the glitter pages of Delhi dailies and demands mounted from the Opposition and alliance partners alike.
Dr M.S. Swaminathan, father of Indias green revolution, in a different context puts this reform dilemma more succinctly: The recipe for poverty alleviation is micro-enterprises organised by self-help groups supported by micro-credit.... Free trade ceases to be fair trade when the products of mass production technologies compete with those produced by micro-enterprises.... From his own experience he says that irrigation and improved agricultural productivity can make major contribution to poverty eradication. Neglect of this sector resulted in a slowdown in the growth of rural non-farm employment. During the reform decade, both investment and growth in real wages have slowed down in the rural areas for which he squarely blames the new economic philosophy.
For a decade, we are being warned of an impending water crisis in India. It now looks that the doomsday is nearer than feared. In the worst drought areas of Gujarat, over-exploitation of water by market forces has reached a critical stage. Highly water intensive industries like chemicals and water-intensive quick-profit crops have led to a competitive exploitation of water leading to the steep fall in the watertable.
Village lakes and
natural reservoirs have either been grabbed by the land
sharks or are in a state of disrepair. Water table
depends on such water fronts. With the state withdrawing,
NGOs too weak and the panchayats left with little funds,
who will undertake the long-term durable programmes?
Unlike floods or tidal waves, drought gives several
months of advance notice. All that is needed is right
planning, enough funds and prompt implementation.
Therefore, the crucial task is to redefine and redraft a
strategy to deal with the twin issues of drought and
IT has seldom been our lot to notice so virulent an attack upon a national leader as The Statesman of Calcutta has thought fit to make upon Mr C.R. Das in a recent issue. Mr C.R. Das, writes the journal, is Indias evil genius, determined blindly driven on by his egotistic passion for leadership to prevent every advance of self-government. He is the servant of chaos and his spiritual home is Moscow, the General Headquarters of the forces of hate.
Again:- Mr Das says in effect that if there is to be any progress it shall be over his body. So far as in his power lies he is determined to represent his countrymen as devoid of any political sense and as strange and petulant people unintelligible to the western mind.
Lastly: He sees every issue through his masterful personality as through a destorted mirror. India must be saved by Mr C.R. Das and in Mr C.R. Dass way of not at all.
Who can deny that the
censure is well-deserved, that The Statesman and its
friends had very nearly led the ark of India to the haven
of freedom when Mr C.R. Das and some others like him
stepped in, took charge of the helm and caused the ship
to founder and be irretrievably wrecked?
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