Tuesday, August 8, 2000,
Chandigarh, India



Engineering & practical training

THIS refers to the article “Harassment & a hole in pocket” by Mr Peeyush Agnihotri (August 4). I was surprised to read this ill-informed piece in The Tribune.

Engineering is not only theory. It is not sitting in an office and pushing files. It is not fancy imagination and wild castles in the air. It is not a paper degree to be mounted in a gilded photo-frame. It is the knowledge of science and engineering converted into real products, which actually work and deliver. Products to be worth their salt must improve human life in some form; make it faster, make it more economic, make it better, make it more comfortable. An engineering degree is not meant for tying tapes of different colour through life or for peddling soap.

It is the sad neglect of this fundamental tenet of the engineering profession over the last half a century that we still run for foreign knowhow even for twiddling our littlest thumbs. The resultant disaster for us as a nation is well known: mounting trade deficits, spiralling foreign debts, begging bowl, sell-out, etc. Brain-drain, of which we carp about so much, is the other consequence.

The six-month practical training as a compulsory component of the syllabus for engineering degree by Punjab Technical University was introduced to break this bogey plaguing our society, and ushering in a new era where engineers actually delivered their calling. I have been a passionate advocate of this change on the national scene for the last many years and was also a member of PTU’s syllabus group, which introduced this change in its syllabus.


The writer then talks of hardships and large expensive incurred by students for getting training in electronics, and queues for training at SCL in Mohali. We used to have a similar craze for training in Punjab Tractors. What both teachers and students have yet to understand is that what is relevant for an engineering future which delivers is not fancy name-tags of places of training, but shedding one’s ego and getting hands wet and in that process developing the capability and confidence in mind-motor coordination.

Training with any wayside mechanic would do. While in college, I took practical training with a wayside welder, a pavement watch-repairer, repair mechanics with a tractor dealer and a carpenter. My career been none the worse? Life has been interesting and creative. It has been and continued to be fun. At the same time, calling of the profession have also been delivered.

former Vice-Chairman and MD,
Punjab Tractors Ltd

Wasteful expenditure

The announcement by the Indian Bank Chairperson that the Government of India had agreed to recapitalise the bank to the extent of Rs 1,750 crore, on top of the earlier capital infusion of Rs 1,850 crore, requires a serious study of its implications.

The recapitalisation process is basically one of book entries, the Government of India instructing the Reserve Bank of India to debit its account by Rs 1,750 crore and credit the Indian Bank account. The bank, in turn, invests the amount immediately in Government of India bonds. These bonds earn the bank an interest of not less than 10 per cent. In other words, year after year the bank is rewarded with an interest of Rs 175 crore plus Rs 185 crore on an earlier amount by the exchequer! Thus, India’s already heavy debt burden goes up further and this interest burden falls mostly on the poor people who pay indirect taxes!

The Comptroller & Auditor-General of India has to examine the propriety of this transaction, and the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Finance should examine what is patently a trespass on Parliament’s power to raise taxes and decide on appropriations.

If these bonds are to be justified at all, they should carry a 10 per cent negative interest so that the bank has an incentive to retire them, by earning profits.

Instead of indulging in the wasteful exercise of recapitalising the bank, as in the case of the Bank of Karad, the commercially sensible decision is to put the Indian Bank on the auction block. On the asset side, it has valuable property in prime areas. On the liability side, its technology is primitive and it has an oversized employee force with a weak work ethic. Moreover, most of the NPAs are as good as lost as they are known to have arisen from politically inspired loans.


BBMB finances

This refers to the news item "BBMB employees not paid salaries" (The Tribune, July 30). The BBMB is an extremely fine organisation. Unfortunately, its partner-states have let it down as they do not share the financial burden even though they enjoy benefits in terms of free power and water from the BBMB projects. The problem is also partly due to the maladministration in the BBMB.

The present management has taken up numerous unproductive works such as the renovation of its corporate office without any substantial gain. A lot of money is being wasted on unwanted schemes such as consultancy services (to earn false euphoria only), avoidable inaugural functions and other similar celebrations held with great fanfare.

The Financial Adviser of the BBMB has a clearly defined and specific role to play on behalf of the Government of India. Therefore, apart from arranging funds from the partner-states, his duty is also to stop all expenditure of infructuous nature.


Issue of AIDS awareness

It is very distressing to learn from the findings of UNAIDS that 3.1 lakh people had died of AIDS last year alone in India. But the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) has confirmed only 1.1 lakh deaths. And the irony of the situation is that India has the second highest HIV infection rate in the world after South Africa.

According to the statistics available, there are about 37 million people who are HIV positive in India and about 34 million all over the world. The most vulnerable states in our country are Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. NACO which was set up to tackle this problem, has failed to contain the spread of this dreaded disease. Studies show that the basic problem in India is the total lack of awareness even among the educated class. People are totally ignorant about the disease and about the modes of its transmission.

When the number of HIV positive cases and full blown AIDS cases is on the increase, the issue of rights of those living with the virus needs a thorough debate. UNAIDS has formulated guidelines to ensure that those infected are not deprived of their basic human rights. But in our country it is really very unfortunate that NACO's directive prevents the infected persons from knowing their HIV positive status.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that an HIV positive person does not have the right to marry as this would mean further spreading the disease. If the infected person goes ahead with his marriage plan he is liable to be punished under the law. Section 269 of the Indian Penal Code lays down that a negligent act likely to spread the infection of a disease dangerous to life shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to six months or with a fine or both. Section 270, IPC, says that any malignant act likely to spread infection of a disease which is dangerous to life shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend upto two years, or with a fine, or both. But in our country when a person donates blood at a blood bank only then his blood is tested for AIDS, and if it is found HIV positive, the blood is discarded. But the donor/or a patient whose blood is tested positive is not informed. When a person who is infected with the virus does not know, how can we expect to contain the transmission of the disease? NACO's directive needs to be reviewed. In my view, the donor must be informed about the status of his blood and, if found positive, must be counselled to go for confirmatory tests. Moreover, now anti-HIV drug combinations are also available. Though they are very expensive, they do ensure a longer and healthier life.

There is need for NACO to chalk out an innovative strategy to bring about the much-needed awareness about this disease so as to contain at least its further spread.



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