Sunday, December 17, 2000,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Global concern over children’s plight
Himachal takes a bold initiative

By P. P. S. Gill

THERE is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they grow up in peace”, says UN Secretary-General, Kofi A.

Political frolics at public expense
By Rakshat Puri
HE Congress-led Opposition in Parliament did not allow the House to do business for some seven days. As the result, it is responsible for transgressing in at least four ways. First, it has prevented people from getting information about what precisely led Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee into making the curious deviation from his known moderate views.


A ritual with meaning
December 16, 2000
Bush and court ambush
December 15, 2000
Disadvantage public
December 14, 2000
Problems can wait, we are parliamentarians!
December 13, 2000
Custodial violations
December 12, 2000
Thaw in PM’s stand
December 11, 2000
Bhopal gas disaster
December 10, 2000
Paralysed Parliament
December 9, 2000
Sharpening a controversy
December 8, 2000
Enron’s power burden
December 7, 2000

Random thoughts
Updating land records
By Shyam Ratna Gupta
RBAN development which is at the top of the agenda for the twenty-first century is a multi-layered, complex and daunting problem.

A former PM now in exile
By Harihar Swarup
T is too early to say if the exile of Nawaz Sharif will mark an ignominious end to his political career but it is the beginning of a new phase of struggle for him. He had, after all, emerged as the most powerful Prime Minister of Pakistan by 1999.


It is all smiles in the BJP camp
THE debate on the Ayodhya issue over in the Lok Sabha, the Cabinet Ministers in the Vajpayee Government, who were under pressure to resign for their alleged role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, are smiling once again.



Hope for undertrial prisoners
By Humra Quraishi
can’t quite describe how disturbed and pained I feel by the whole question of undertrials — imagine being stuffed into a jail cell and imprisoned for years, even if you are absolutely innocent.



Global concern over children’s plight
Himachal takes a bold initiative
by P. P. S. Gill

THERE is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they grow up in peace”, says UN Secretary-General, Kofi A. Annan, describing it as a rallying call to the international community to renew its commitment to children’s rights by advancing a new vision for the 21st century, a vision in which every infant has a healthy beginning, every child a quality education and every adolescent an opportunity to develop his or her unique abilities.

If that is so, Himachal Pradesh endeavours to do just that. It has prepared, with the support of UNICEF, a Special Plan of Action for Children. These children (0 to 14 years) constitute 35.55 per cent of the state’s population as per 1991 census.

The document is unique in the sense it weaves together cold statistics (on state’s geography and demography) and startling facts and figures (often boring) to present a mosaic of stark realities on the state of the child and mother.

It is a report card on the gender bias, wants and aspirations of children and mothers. It focuses on child health and maternal health, nutrition, drinking water and sanitation. It identifies challenges and opportunities before the state. It refers to women empowerment and children in difficult circumstances.

It discusses the role, performance and functions of government and non-government organisations et al.

The Special Action Plan for Children has been prepared by Chandigarh-based Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development. The State Social and Women’s Welfare Department will act as the nodal agency to implement the Plan.

The Plan pictures the beauty, healthy environment and salubrious climate of Himachal Pradesh. It also gives an in sight into the state’s economy, culture and social life. It profiles state’s 12 districts, which together constitute barely half-a-per cent of the country’s population. The state population is 5,170, 897. Females number 2,553,410 as per the 1991 census.

In the global concern for human rights child finds a special mention. A child also needs protection against hunger, abuse, family abuse, drug trafficking, cruelty and arbitrary separation. There is always a loud protest over child labour, use as a guinea pig in hazardous industry. If there is concern over gender bias (preference for son remains) there is also stress on education for the girl child. All this makes “survival, protection and development of children” obligatory for the family and the community.

The Plan is as much a comment on current status of the child and mother as a study in contrast of the Hill State’s districts, towns (58) and tehsils and sub-tehsils (103).

On the one end is the populous Kangra. On the other end are the sparsely populated Lahul and Spiti. If districts Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur, Solan, Sirmour and Kangra, along the lower reaches of Himalayan range, accommodate three-fifth (57.61 per cent) of the total population, Kinnaur, Chamba and Lahul and Spiti, in the higher reaches, house 9.5 per cent of the state’s population. The middle range districts Kulu, Shimla and Mandi account for 32.80 per cent of the population.

Himachal is primarily a rural state, where 91.31 per cent of the population lives in villages. The literacy rate is 63.86 per cent as per 1991 census. The state has pastoral-agricultural characteristics where main working population is engaged in the primary sector. Hardly one-tenth of the population is gainfully employed, while, one-fifth is in the service sector. The scheduled caste and schedule tribes constitute 25.34 per cent and 4.22 per cent, respectively.

The sex ratio is 976 females per 1,000 males. The state has witnessed substantial decline in fertility, birth rate and mortality among older people during 1981-91. Martial status shows child marriage, a social evil, is not fully eradicated. Not yet. An insignificant reporting of children having martial status as widowed, divorced or separated was seen in 1991 census. In fact 3.05 per cent males and 16.59 per cent females between 15 years and 19 years are married, indicating violation law prohibiting marriage of boys below 21 years and girls below 18 years. Most of the child marriages take place in villages.

One major goal the Plan has set is on child health. It envisages reducing infant mortality to less than 60 per 1,000 live births by 2002 and 55 by 2005.

Even prenatal mortality is targeted to be to less than 35 per 1,000 live births by the end of 2002 and 30 by 2005.

The state, however, has a long way to go in child health care because neonatal mortality, prenatal mortality and stillborn birth rate are high. The state desires to reduce mortality rate of 1 year to 14 year old from the current level of 19.3 to less than 10 by the end of 2002. Mortality rate of children below four years is as high as 30.4 per cent. Trained assistance or institutional help for deliveries is absent.

Immuni-zation coverage against tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio and measles is poor. Maternal mortality is prevalent. It is largely due to septic abortion, anemia, obstructed labour and toxaemia and post-partum infections. Majority of these deaths is preventable.

Diarrhoea is a major killer of the children, especially, under five years of age. Death due to diarrhoea is common. Though 69 per cent mothers know of the Oral Rehydration Therapy only 47 per cent use it.

Children also suffer from acute respiratory infections, primarily, pneumonia.

The Plan goal is to reduce deaths due to this to 15 per cent by 2002 and 10 per cent by 2005.

AIDS is now a serious threat to the state. The first case was detected in 1987. Since then the number has risen to 59, including five children. This was in 1998.

An issue of major concern today is fertility among teenagers under 20 years.

It is a matter of grave concern. Children born to child-mothers are more prone to death during childhood. As such infant mortality in Himachal Pradesh is highest for children of mothers under the age of 20 (81 per thousand live births) as per the National Family Survey. In fact 39 per cent of women marrying in the age group of 13 years to 19 years have already become mothers or are pregnant with the first child. And the percentage of women in this age group getting married is 17 as per 1991 census. The women and society has to be educated about the dangers of early marriage and motherhood.

Women constitute a large work force in the Hills. But their nutrition intake is woefully low. Consequently, malnutrition among children is high. Therefore removing this from adolescent girls and lactating mothers is very important. The current status of presence of anemia in pregnant and lactating mothers is 62.3 per cent and 34.3 per cent, respectively as per Reproductive Child Health and Integrated Child Development Services survey. Moreover, the percentage of under weight children is high, twice as high among illiterate mothers. The mothers need special education on the importance of nutrition and infant feeding (particularly breast-feeding) to ensure proper mental and physical growth of the child.

The high female child mortality (44 per cent higher than males) shows the gender bias. This is evident even in immunisation programme as per National Family Health Service survey.

In fact three out of every 10 persons in India and one in every 10 in Himachal is malnourished according to a finding of the Experts’ group on Proportion and Number of Poor report of 1993.

Children and women, unfortunately, are caught in the relentless sequence of “ignorance, poverty, inadequate food intake, diseases and early death”. This makes malnutrition a major cause of early illness leading to child death. About 14 per cent children (0-5 years) in the rural area are malnourished, while, percentage of urban children suffering from malnutrition is 5. As many as 44 per cent children below 4 years of age are malnourished and 13 per cent severely malnourished. Anaemia and under nourishment lead to lower birth weight of the newborn because more than 50 per cent pregnant and lactating mothers are anaemic.

Drinking water is a luxury. This facility is not available to a large percentage of the population. Only a small percentage has partial access to drinking water. More than 12 per cent rural population has no access. Women and children are the worst affected by this as they are the ones engaged to fetch it from long distances sometime up to 0.5 km or more. Sanitation facilities are also inadequate. Children suffer due to lack of drinking water as well as sanitation in schools. At least 19 per cent schools are without drinking water and 25 per cent are without sanitation. Even the water available is not clean which results in water borne diseases, affecting nearly 28 per cent people. This is very high. Unless hygiene, sanitation and clean water become available the state will, continue to suffer from diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, schistomiasis and giardiasis. Education is another area that seeks immediate attention and improvement. Unlike in plains, 1 km to 3 km is not a small distance in the mountains that elementary school children traverse each way daily to get to a school. Distance has distanced much school going children from enrolling themselves in schools. The State will do the young (6 years to 14 years) a service if distance factor is kept in mind while opening new schools. The dropout rate is high, 31 per cent, at middle-level. It is 29 per cent at primary-level. Distance also leads to dropping out of children from school. Endeavour has to be to reduce the dropout percentage in the Ninth five-year Plan. Percentage of dropouts among boys and girls is not much different but syllabus is an impediment in education. The creativity of a child is also lost in the marking system.

School infrastructure is extremely poor. It is inadequate in both private and government schools. Pucca buildings are few. Schools mostly have thatched roof or are housed in tents. Some are even under the sky. Toilet facilities are woefully inadequate. What to say about staff there are no toilets for children. Looking for separate toilets for boys and girls is a dream.

The Plan document chapter on ‘girl child’ makes a pathetic reading. Low education skills due to marriage at a very young age deprives the girls from acquiring skills that otherwise can make an effective contributor to the family income. This can help her have a stronger say in decision-making at home.

Her low productivity before and after marriage makes a woman weak. This factor precipitates dowry deaths, leads to abutment to commit suicide and results in cruelty to her and even murders.

The statistics of such atrocities and crime against women results in increasing incidence of violence against women. It means caring for the girl child is missing. Police reports indicate the rising crime and violence against women. Incidents include kidnapping and abduction. Available figures are only a tip of the iceberg as a large number of cases go unreported.

Both health and education are considered to be the key to empowerment of women. Both are at a premium for women in Himachal. And female literacy is just 51.31 per cent. But their the work participation is 34.82 per cent While 90 per cent women are cultivators 10 per cent work in livestock, forestry, fishing, quarrying, trade, commerce and transport. This is a big national loss because 66 per cent women are not engaged in any economic activity in the state.

The state has scant data on children who are challenged, physically or mentally. The urban child is better placed than a village child is. The focus in the Plan is on health, nutrition, schooling of children and mothers’ protection against diseases. This is to be achieved through government and non-government organisations. Against 700-odd NGOs only 35 are active.

A UN document, The State of the World’s Children 2000, begins and ends with the premise that the “wellspring of human progress is found in the realisation of children’s rights”. Himachal Pradesh lacks awareness and education. It is hoped targets set with conviction and commitment will be achieved in the same spirit in which the Plan of Action for Children has been prepared. The document is a telling comment on the Hill people, their life’s needs and aspirations and smiles and sighs. It sums up what they lack and what they desire. The Plan should serve as a constant reminder of state’s obligation to the people; irrespective of political outfits in power.


Political frolics at public expense
By Rakshat Puri

THE Congress-led Opposition in Parliament did not allow the House to do business for some seven days. As the result, it is responsible for transgressing in at least four ways. First, it has prevented people from getting information about what precisely led Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee into making the curious deviation from his known moderate views and approximating to the approach and opinions of the RSS on the Ayodhya temple-masjid incident of 1992. Secondly, it caused wanton waste of tax-payer’s money. Thirdly, the forced adjournments prevented other business in the Lok Sabha — important Bills are waiting for attention. Fourthly, the forced adjournment of Parliament added up to a regrettable detraction from democratic convention in the country.

The most astonishing aspect of Vajpayee’s turn-around from his known sense of moderation — about the cause of which the country was waiting to learn from discussions in the Lok Sabha — was its timing. His sense of moderation had always contrasted sharply with the fundamentalist opinions of some of his party colleagues in and outside government. It came in for frequent reference in public conversations and commentary after he offered a ceasefire unilaterally to Kashmiri militants with the onset of Ramzan. But on almost the heels of the offer came his observations on the temple-masjid squabble at Ayodhya. Both, the timing of his observations and their substance astonished and puzzled his supporters and admirers.

Against the Opposition’s routine endeavour to utilise the masjid-demolition anniversary for embarrassing the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, Vajpayee stood up in an unexpected way for charge-sheeted colleagues L K Advani, Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi — they were present at the site on December 6 1992 when the structure was demolished, but to associate them with pulling down the disputed structure is against established facts. This testimonial of blamelessness came even though the matter is in the court and the three are expected to go on trial shortly. Vajpayee retorted to the Oppositions demand for the dropping of the three Ministers by saying the law would take its own course.

The Prime Minister has also constantly referred to the need for serving national sentiment in construction of the Ram temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. But there is Hindu sentiment and also Muslim sentiment. While some sectors of Hindu sentiment may want the Ram temple where the Babri Masjid was, Muslim sentiment may not. Is temple-favouring Hindu sentiment to be equated with national sentiment? The question of the ownership of the land at Ayodhya where the temple is sought to be built is in the court. The court has yet to decide on the case. Why did the Prime Minister not state here too that the law would take its own course? Some answers to such puzzles and complications might have become available had the Opposition allowed a simple debate in the House.

The Opposition would also have saved a great deal of the tax-payers’ money. It is estimated that a single hour of parliamentary work costs the country about Rs.17 lakh. All told, adding up various other costs, the daily expenditure on Parliament is said to be in the region of Rs.1.6 crore. Why should the tax-payer have to bear the cost of such politicking, which might, at best, serve the interests of a few politicians or political groups? How is he served by such political fizz and flurry, which offers neither tangible gain nor information on what the higher echelons are about? The higher echelons, it is hardly necessary to state, include the Opposition. And parliamentary sessions are expected to show work done. There are many other issues that remain to be discussed, and Bills to be passed — all scheduled for this session.

These include, for example, the Central Vigilance Bill (1999), planned for tabling in this session. The changes that the joint parliamentary committee has suggested, which would dilute the CVCs powers, might call for intensive discussion. Then there is the Constitution (85th Amendment) Bill, often referred to as the Women’s Representation Bill. Ironically, some of those who seem most eager that this Bill becomes Act are also involved in the Oppositions House adjournment-tactics. Other Bills waiting to be taken up include the Financial Companies Regulation Bill, the Banking Companies (Amendment) Bill, the Juveniles Justice Bill, and so on. Stalled, too, are debates on the Subramanyam Committee Report on Kargil, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh’s statement on Pakistan’s stand on the J-K Line of Control, and the statement regarding the Howrah-Amritsar train accident? It may be true that the present seven-day adjournment in Parliament forced by an obdurate Opposition is not the longest in the Lok Sabha’s history. The record was set perhaps over the Bofors issue — adjournment for almost a month! The Dunkel proposal in 1993, the securities scam repeatedly in 1994, the Jain Commission issue in 1997, among others — all these might be recalled in this context. But the fact that the present adjournment is not unprecedented does not take away from its being contrary to the democratic convention of debate and discussion.

At almost every level in the country, much pride is taken and expressed at the fact that India is stubbornly democratic, and proposes to remain so notwithstanding difficulties and obstacles. But the seven-day adjournment that the Congress-led Opposition has forced in the House on this occasion, and the kind of past adjournments that have taken place in Parliament, hardly go with such pride and democratic resolution. The essence of the democratic way is that arguments are heard and then answered.

This is the process whereby transparency is imported into government, and whereby government becomes of, for and by the people. There seems more than passing relevance to our situation in an observation of Richard Nixon’s, made during his inaugural address in January 1969 after he became President — we cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another, until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.


Random thoughts
Updating land records
By Shyam Ratna Gupta

URBAN development which is at the top of the agenda for the twenty-first century is a multi-layered, complex and daunting problem. It involves such multiple considerations as humanism and social justice, land use and ecological balance, consumer needs and production units, mandatory restraints on elitism and high priority to poverty alleviation programmes. These are the essential components of the mosaic of harmonious urbanisation.

Only a Don Quixote will tilt against any one of these components to the exclusion of all others — a Don Quixote at the dawn of the third millennium of human civilisation who, propelled by good intentions, regards himself or herself as the repository of all urban wisdom.

Should these be tackled separately or as a group? These are daunting tasks in urban development, not only in India but all over the world beset by geo-political, racial, and traditional diversities.

In Delhi, the city of road rage, violence and bandhs, as well as elsewhere in metropolitan cities, the problems of urban development are being analysed meticulously. But the basic premises of land use, land settlement, landscape variations are apparently ignored.

Do the plans for the metropolitan cities in India indicate the use of every square metre, or say 100 square meters of land, an endowment of nature on our planet?

Our second Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, suggested that in government bungalows and estates the green areas should grow wheat, vegetables and other crops. Why should surplus land in these days of insatiable "land hunger" be the exclusive, personal property of the occupants whosoever they may be?

Is it possible to limit land holdings by the state or by individuals as an integral part of moral and human rights? Karl Marx, Krishna, Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammad in some ways have recommended abolition of personal immovable property. Is this practicable in the present century?

It is strange, if not also abominable, that the main centre of Delhi, possibly of other metropolitan cities, has a low density of population while the peripheral colonies are crowded. Should not the master planners do something to resolve such imbalances in land use?

Simultaneously, derelict land in urban areas should be reclaimed and put to use for public good. If slums and polluting industrial units have to be removed, as, of course, they should be, it is imperative that urban development planners and the civic authorities should embark on an intensive survey of land use and ensure that not one square metre of land is left "unused" or is wasted. To do so, well-meaning community welfare associations have to be activated and supported in consultation with eco-experts. An autocratic approach as that of a Grand Mughal to land use on an inequitable basis in Delhi and other cities is not only anachronistic but also a negation of democracy.

Towards the end of the 18th century, Lord Cornwallis, a Governor- General endowed with foresight, ordered a "land settlement" survey in the British territories in India. But it was a colossal failure because measurement units varied from village to village and land surveyors or "patwaris", a hereditary clan, were uneducated or dishonorable. This led to innumerable land disputes and litigation. Is it possible now in India to constitute a statutory body, with identical constituent bodies to survey and map out land honestly and meticulously? Such a land survey, undertaken by eco-experts, geographers, architects and cartographers, could gradually rationalise land use and demarcate it for numerous purposes. Such a nation-wide survey of land records could be updated possibly every five years.


A former PM now in exile
By Harihar Swarup

IT is too early to say if the exile of Nawaz Sharif will mark an ignominious end to his political career but it is the beginning of a new phase of struggle for him. He had, after all, emerged as the most powerful Prime Minister of Pakistan by 1999. It is a quirk of destiny that he has been exiled by General Pervez Musharraf, the person whom he wanted to sack in the aftermath of the Kargil misadventure. The military ruler threw Sharif in jail and prosecuted him, claiming that the step was in the national interest and, ironically banished him from Pakistan in 14 months on the same plea — ‘‘it is in the best interest of the country and the people.’’

Gen Zia-ul-Haq hanged Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto because he was afraid of his re-emergence and, almost in the same way, Gen Musharraf was scared of the possible resurgence of Sharif. Even the deposed Prime Minister's presence in jail was proving detrimental to the military regime's long-term interest. Interestingly, Sharif owed his grooming in politics to General Zia, who pitchforked him to the position of Punjab's Finance Minister.

With his exile to Saudi Arabia, Sharif has joined the rank of yet another Prime Minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto, living in self-imposed exile in London, and the MQM leader, Mr Altaf Hussain, who too has been separated from the home land. Unlike the UK, the Saudis are unlikely to permit political liberties to Sharif and, as of now, there is remote possibility of his seeking shelter in a democratic country. A Saudi official has been quoted as saying that the deposed Prime Minister would not undertake any political activity during his proposed 10-year-long stay in the kingdom.

The ban on his freedom notwithstanding, the first act of Sharif on Saudi soil was to contradict the comment of a Pakistan military spokesman that he was in broken spirit, mentally shattered and just stared for hours at the wall. ‘‘My morale is high and my health continues to improve,’’ the ousted Prime Minister said in his first interview after banishment.

With both Sharif and Benazir in exile, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and the Pakistan's People Party (PPP) find themselves rudderless. Once bitter foes, both former Prime Ministers confronted for power in the nineties, were elected and dismissed twice and now share a similar fate; they lead their respective parties from abroad and keep their political aspiration alive. Incidentally, Benazir after being implicated in corruption cases by the Nawaz Sharif Government, went into exile. Sharif now finds himself in the same boat with 80 per cent of his property confiscated by the military regime.

While Sharif, it is said, secured his release under a deal which included the plea of medical treatment abroad, Benazir's husband, Sardar Zardari, in detention since 1997, declined the offer of the military rulers to go into exile to buy his freedom. This will, evidently, raise the popularity of the PPP while the stock of the PML, Pakistan's founding party, may go down further.

What made Nawaz Sharif different from the run-of-the-mill Pakistan politician was the confidence the middle classes reposed in him. The traders and the business community also trusted him as the one who could revive the economy. Sharif and his PML emerged in the 1993 elections as the party with the highest vote bank with a popular support base of 42 per cent, having secured one million votes more than the PPP. His image of a home-spun politician with indigenous roots and rapport with the people of Pakistan enabled the PML win the 1997 election.

It was in 1990 that Sharif emerged on the national scene of Pakistan, heading a grouping of nine parties under the banner of the Islamic Democratic Alliance which won a decisive majority in the 1990 elections. His government lasted for 30 months and was marked by an accent on opening up the economy, energising the entrepreneurial skills and working as a bridge-builder among the provinces of Pakistan. He acquired the icon of a doer who delivers. When his elected government was dismissed arbitrarily by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Sharif 's defiance earned him popular support across Pakistan. The first thing he did after returning to power in 1997 was to amend the constitution to eliminate the President's right to sack a Prime Minister.

While in the Opposition Sharif faced challenge after challenge and was implicated in over 150 cases against him personally and against his family members. Inducted in politics at the behest of General Zia in 1981 when he was barely 32, his rise was meteoric, having been appointed Finance Minister of Punjab and within three years he rose to the office of the province's Chief Minister. He became the youngest Chief Minister of the most populous province of Pakistan.

Whatever may be the charges against him, he has, doubtlessly, a democratic temper and it is sad that he is separated from his country. 


It is all smiles in the BJP camp

THE debate on the Ayodhya issue over in the Lok Sabha, the Cabinet Ministers in the Vajpayee Government, who were under pressure to resign for their alleged role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, are smiling once again. Media managers in the BJP are interpreting the victory of the Treasury Benches in the House during the division on the debate as an indication of the Lok Sabha exonerating the Ministers.

A former spokesman of the party and the Minister for Rural Development, Mr M.Venkaiah Naidu, who is considered close to the Union Home Minister, Mr L.K.Advani, found a perfect way to celebrate the occasion. He threw a lavish lunch for party functionaries and media persons for what he called a house warming party at his new and more spacious residence at Aurangzeb Road. Right from the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, all the bigwigs of the BJP were present at the party. Mr Advani used the opportunity to open up and come out of the shell in which he had entered during the past few days. He was liberal with giving interviews to the media and proudly defended his ideological leanings.

Language of the people

It was the debate of the session. And, no party was taking any chances to score over the other in the discussion on the Prime Minister's stand on Ayodhya. The Congress, after considerable discussion, decided to field Mr S.Jaipal Reddy, who was considered the best bet to counter the indomitable Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Mr Jaipal Reddy stood up to his reputation and used his oratorial skills to the full extent to embarrass the ruling side. He was unsparing in his remarks against the Prime Minster and his three Cabinet Ministers, who were under a cloud. So much so, that it prompted former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar to remark that Mr Reddy should not have used those words against the Prime Minister.

An unfazed Prime Minister was also in his elements when he intervened in the debate. He made some remarks on Mr Reddy's antecedents that made the Congressmen squirm. Having settled scores at the personal level, the Prime Minister scored yet another victory. While Mr Reddy spoke in flawless English, Mr Vajpayee spoke in impeccable Hindi, which was welcomed by the audience he was targeting.

Quota demands

The Constitution makers would not have perhaps realised that quotas would last 50 years and keep going strong. Not satisfied with the existing reservation in the government services, the demand now is to extend quotas to the private sector and to areas like the judiciary which have so far been kept away from reservation system. At a recent rally in New Delhi, the demand for quota spawned a new area — of journalism. According to a leader addressing the rally, none among the over 800 Government-accredited journalists belongs to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes.

Demanding that the ‘‘imbalance’’ be corrected, he, however, refrained from spelling out the means to achieve this. To those who would ask him why he advocates more and more quotas, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh who also spoke at the rally, had a simile to offer. ‘‘It is like inviting a man for lunch and disappearing after offering him a chapatti. After four hours, you may taunt the guest that he is still at the dinning table, but has his stomach been filled?’’ questioned Mr V.P. Singh.

An old question

It is unfair to expect that the Congress would let off a chance to embarrass the government and the Ayodhya episode has given the party a lot of ammunition. Digging for reports of what happened on December 6, 1992, after all those recent remarks of RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, the party's media managers came across editorials written at that time. One of these, written by Mr H.K. Dua, who was the Editor of The Hindustan Times at that time, interested them in particular. Mr Dua, in his signed front-page editorial, had suggested that while Mr Lal Krishan Advani was at Ayodhya to give boost to his prime-ministerial ambitions, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi wanted to keep alive his chances of becoming the BJP President. Interestingly, the Congress spokesman did not ask any questions from Mr Dua, who is now Media Advisor to the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. Instead, the question was for Mr Vajpayee. The Prime Minister should explain if he agreed with the editorial by Mr Dua who is working with him now, the Congress spokesman demanded.

Regional politics

Regional politics is supreme as far as the two main parties in Tamil Nadu are concerned. While the entire Parliament was excited over the Ayodhya controversy, the members of the DMK and the AIADMK still found time to be at each other's throat. Members of the two sides spared no possible opportunity to level allegations against the opposite side. The two parties clashed twice during the day the Prime Minister intervened in the debate. During Zero Hour it was a clash over an allegation that the DMK had links with Tamil militant groups while later in the day it was over a remark that one of the parties had sent kar sevaks to Ayodhya. Are the elections nearing?

One upon Carnegie

Dr Najma Heptullah, Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, has a special way of giving compliments to members. After the Indian Divorce (Amendment) Bill was introduced, Dr Heptullah asked the Law Minister to consider Mr Eduardo Faleiro's suggestion. Mr Faleiro expressed his gratitude for his kind observation. To this Dr Heptullah said:‘‘You know how to win people. You must have read Dale Carnegie's ‘How To Win Friends And influence people.’’

(Contributed by Satish Misra, T.V. Lakshminarayan, Tripti Nath, Prashant Sood and P.N. Andley). 


Hope for undertrial prisoners
By Humra Quraishi

I can’t quite describe how disturbed and pained I feel by the whole question of undertrials — imagine being stuffed into a jail cell and imprisoned for years, even if you are absolutely innocent. In fact undertrials constitute over 75 per cent of the total jail population of the country and are thrown behind those jail bars even before they are proved guilty. What a slight to human dignity and that too in a democratic setup like ours! But there could be some hope for them in the form of a possible solution just round the corner. It was, indeed, very reassuring to know that the Chief Justice of India, Dr Adarsh Sein Anand, is himself worried on that account. “I am deeply pained when I notice that all over the country, a very large number of undertrial prisoners suffer prolonged incarceration even in petty criminal matters merely for the reason that they are not in a position, even in bailable offences, to furnish bail bonds and get released on bail. Many of them during such confinements only develop criminal traits and come out fully trained criminals.”

The Chief Justice is said to have written to all the Chief Justices of the country “that every Chief Metropolitan Magistrate or the Chief Judicial Magistrate of the area, in which a District jail falls, may hold his Court once or twice in a month, depending upon the workload, in jail to take up the cases of those undertrial prisoners who are involved in petty offences and are keen to confess their guilt. Legal Aid Counsel may be deputed in jails to help such prisoners and move applications on their behalf on the basis of which the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate or the Chief Judicial Magistrate may direct the investigating agency to expedite the filing of the police report. Thereafter, if the prisoner voluntarily pleads guilty, he may be awarded appropriate punishment in accordance with law. There may be some cases in which the undertrial prisoners after moving such applications may change their mind and decide to contest the cases. Such cases may be transferred to the Courts concerned for trial in accordance with law. I feel, this exercise can go a long way in providing speedy justice to the poor undertrial prisoners and also reduce the jail population which is becoming a cause of concern.”

He seemed also very dismayed by the matters pending in various courts in which older persons are involved, particularly those who are above the age of 65 years — “efforts are being made to identify the matters relating to older persons and to get them disposed of on priority basis”.

Hopefully this new year sees a definite change in the state of the undertrials.

Reach out to the crux of the problem

Last week I interacted with several people who are trying to do their bit to reach out to the disadvantaged segment. Chairperson of Guild Of Service Mohini Giri held a day-long symposium at the IIC to focus attention on the changes that ought to be brought about for the betterment of the Muslim woman. Then, Deputy Inspector-General of Police UNB Rao, has gone beyond policing and has set up the Urivi Vikram Charitable Trust for the disadvantaged youth and has recently prepared what he calls the ‘national policy for young adults.’ I could go on with details of what individuals like Giri and Rao are doing for society. However, as I said during the symposium and will repeat now, we could have any number of seminars or symposiums together with schemes and policies but until communalism is ebbed, these noble efforts may not find their mark. In fact at the seminar I had to talk on the custody rights of the child but in the times we are living in, it is prudent to go beyond the small unit of the society — that is, the family — to society at large, which is getting more vulnerable each day. The child has to be safe outside the home and the family structure, and not get crushed and sidelined along religion and caste lines. Ironical it may sound but it is a fact that though most of the policies vis a vis the child and the woman are formulated by the HRD Ministry yet it is manned by the two ministers who have been chargesheeted by the CBI. What do you say to this? Signs of the decaying times we are living in.

With understanding, from Lebanon

In this context it was very heartening to hear speakers at a special symposium, arranged by the Sahitya Akademi, Gibran National Committee and the Embassy of Lebanon, on the works, times and words of the great poet-philosopher Khalil Gibran. In fact, Robert Kfoury who had especially come from Lebanon to speak on the occasion went beyond this to state that Gibran was definitely influenced by the Vedantas and the teachings of Rabindranath Tagore, Krishnamurti, Ananda Coomaraswami and Anne Besant. “He (Gibran) also read the publications of the Theosophical Society as well as the texts of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita (two of the prasthana traya — 3 pillars of Vedanta). This is what the writer and poet Mikhail Neaime, a very close friend of Gibran confirmed to me a few years before his death. It seems both had relied on Indian spirituality to certify their views about life, without declaring it openly. But Gibran especially admired Mahatma Gandhi whom he considered ‘the greatest man among the living.’”

It is a pity that Gibran died so young — at the age of 48 years. Leaving behind those words, those thoughts which are universal and so apt. Try reading him and you’d understand what I mean. There is an answer to every pain, every upheaval or emotional chaos we go through. 

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