Tuesday, January 16, 2001,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Signals from Maghi mela
HE political agenda for tomorrow in Punjab has already been set by the Maghi mela at Muktsar. The setting is familiar to the people. The charges and counter-charges hurled by the Akali and Congress leaders at one another have a familiar ring about them. It was a typical Punjabi show of a political tug-of-war in a no-win situation.

The attack on Farooq
HE nation shares Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's sense of outrage over the dastardly attempt on the life of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar on Sunday. Dr Abdullah was addressing a public meeting at Habba-Kadal in the old city when the abortive attempt was made.


Lynching labour force
January 15, 2001
The Clinton Years
January 14
, 2001
The passport tangle
January 13
, 2001
Sugar melts in PDS
January 12
, 2001
Maruti in third gear
January 11
, 2001
Enron power cut
January 10
, 2001
With a bamboo sword
January 9
, 2001
Lower phone tariff
January 8
, 2001
Integrating IT into mainstream industry
January 7
, 2001
Flight of fancy
January 6
, 2001

Entertainment taxing
ULLS ruled the stock market last year. These are bear days. First they pulled down the glamorously called knowledge sector scrips. This is the name given by the economic media and it caught the fancy of all players — brokers, dumb retail investors, mutual funds and foreign buyers.


The law is not for its misuse
by Poonam I. Kaushish
HIS is a tale of a fixed political ball game. Of right and wrong. A story of three states — Manipur, West Bengal and Assam. Saddled with a prejudice referee, the Centre. Wherein what is right for Imphal is declared as wrong, and what is wrong for Kolkata is justified as right.


Greying of the Green Revolution-II
OR the diversification of agriculture, there is need for developing and continuously refining cost-effective and eco-friendly technologies for which training of PAU scientists at the leading universities/research institutes in the developed countries is a must.
Time for state-of-the-art silos

by G. S. Kalkat
N terms of the actual requirement of society, the country cannot be considered surplus in foodgrains. However, the buffer stocks have accumulated because a large segment of the population does not have the purchasing power to meet its nutritional requirements.


The mask is the message
By Abu Abraham
OME describe Mr Vajpayee as a mask. Others say he is a mask inside a mask. But I believe that behind all his masks, he is faceless. A faceless person needs no mask. The masks are imagined by other people to suit their own moods.



Fielding calls from aggressive headhunters
By Kate Hilpern in London
WANT to be put through to the head of IT. What’s his name?’’ ``Oh, I’m sorry, Sir, I’m not allowed to disclose that information.’’ ``Look love, I’m not getting off this line until you do . . .’’




Signals from Maghi mela

THE political agenda for tomorrow in Punjab has already been set by the Maghi mela at Muktsar. The setting is familiar to the people. The charges and counter-charges hurled by the Akali and Congress leaders at one another have a familiar ring about them. It was a typical Punjabi show of a political tug-of-war in a no-win situation. The message, however, is loud and clear: elections are knocking at the doors of the political parties in the state. As it is, elections are scheduled for only March, 2002.But a gamble instinct seems to be there right now. The ruling combination of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the BJP might wish to make the best of the available opportunity and seek an early poll. As for the Congress, it has already geared up itself for such an eventuality.

The pointers are crystal clear. The SAD-BJP coalition is on the defensive. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has had a golden opportunity to make Punjab once again a model state in development. But despite his good intentions, he could not galvanise the politico-bureaucratic machinery on new lines of growth that Punjab badly needs. There has, of late, been considerable activity, but not much time is left for the state government to add to the credit side of its performance. All that Mr Badal seems to be busy with is to play the populist card to regularise illegal acquisition of land, etc. This does not add to the reputation of the state administration. At Muktsar, the Chief Minister no doubt put up an impressive show by roping in two Chief Ministers of the neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal and Mr Om Parkash Chautala respectively. However, for the people what matters is the performance of the state government and not "well-done" certificates from the two Chief Ministers. True, Mr Badal has consolidated his political base. But the presence of Mr Chautala and Mr Dhumal would have been more meaningful if he had solved some of the unresolved issues — river waters, etc — with Haryana. Also, special efforts were needed on the power front with Himachal Pradesh. That is, however, a different story. Even otherwise, it is a tough going for Mr Badal. The Sarv-Hind Shiromani Akali Dal President, Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra, and his supporters are bent on upsetting his political calculations. What must have added to the Chief Minister's discomfiture is the charge by the Akal Takht Jathedar, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, and the Jathedar of Takht Keshgarh Sahib, Prof Manjit Singh, against the SAD-BJP coalition government and the Punjab police of not controlling the drug menace in the state. This is a serious allegation and Mr Badal will have a lot to explain on this count even if one were to ignore the charges of corruption and criminalisation of the polity levelled by the Congress.

The battle of the ballot may still be months away. Mr Badal has surely retained his image as a gentleman politician. He is still considered to be the best bet among the Akalis for Punjab. In any case, his major advantage is that the Congress is still a house divided against itself. Although Capt Amarinder Singh must have derived some satisfaction from the response he got at the Muktsar rally, Mr Jagmeet Singh Brar has already earned the reputation of being a crowd-puller. However, if Congress leaders bury their differences and work unitedly, the going will indeed be tough and rough for the SAD-BJP combine, specially when the two partners are not feeling comfortable with each other. Be that as it may, Punjab will be worth watching politically in the months to come. 


The attack on Farooq

THE nation shares Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's sense of outrage over the dastardly attempt on the life of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar on Sunday. Dr Abdullah was addressing a public meeting at Habba-Kadal in the old city when the abortive attempt was made. Although the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen has claimed responsibility, the fact remains that without the overt and covert support of the Pakistani establishment such an incident is not possible. The Habba-Kadal episode is part of the countless unIslamic acts of violence in the name of waging jihad against India in which Pakistan-trained militant groups routinely indulge in. The failed attack on Dr Abdullah was Pakistan's way of telling India what it thinks about the unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir. A sense of desperation over the possible success of the peace initiative of Mr Vajpayee seems to have forced the Mujahideen, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and other militant groups to step up the scale of violence in the valley. Restoration of peace in the land, which was once considered the equivalent of heaven on earth, is a prospect which even Pakistan fears for two reasons. One, its "Mission Kashmir" helps it deflect public attention from its inept handling of domestic issues. Two, the well-trained and armed terrorists would become a threat to the Pakistani establishment itself if India's attempt for the restoration of early peace in Kashmir is allowed to succeed. As far as the militant groups are concerned, Dr Farooq Abdullah's is the most prized scalp they would like to add to their overflowing kitty of innocent victims. His commitment to secularism embarrasses them and his love for India, coupled with the assertion that Kashmir's accession is non-negotiable, makes them look stupid as the votaries of Islamic brotherhood.

The intensity of hatred by the Mujahideen and other Pakistan-based militant outfits for him has increased following his decision to join the government at the Centre headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party which the BBC calls the right-wing Hindu nationalist party . Dr Abdullah himself must have lost count of the number of attempts made on his life after he took up the responsibility of implementing Sheikh Abdullah's unfinished agenda of making Kashmir realise its full economic and cultural potential as an integral part of India. Few leaders in Kashmir have been as vocal as Dr Abdullah is in attacking Pakistan for the mayhem it has caused in the valley and beyond. However, Pakistan must realise that the Chief Minister's bold approach in winning the trust of the Kashmiri people and the sensible handling of the Kashmir problem by the Indian leadership has isolated it as never before. The only option available to Islamabad for thwarting the possibility of its total global isolation for providing training to the so-called mujahideen and thus lending support to international terrorism is to fall in line with popular opinion. It should abandon its flawed approach on Kashmir and treat the Indian offer of dialogue for settling all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, as a crucial helpline and grab it before it is too late.


Entertainment taxing

BULLS ruled the stock market last year. These are bear days. First they pulled down the glamorously called knowledge sector scrips. This is the name given by the economic media and it caught the fancy of all players — brokers, dumb retail investors, mutual funds and foreign buyers. Three factors fed this dream. There were rosy reports about India emerging as a super power in information technology, actually only in software programming, Nasdaq, the US exchange dealing almost exclusively in dot.com stocks was booming and newly launched mutual funds (MFs), or asset management companies as they style themselves, poured in more than half of their collections. The shrinking technology stocks pulled the mutual fund along with them. Infosys, headed by the much-talked about Mr Narayana Murthi, hit the over Rs 9000 mark last February; today it sells at half that price. No doubt MFs have lost, not on paper but in terms of hard cash, around one-fourth of their holding. Barring a few exceptions, this is the sad story of all MFs and this is reflected in their sudden disappearance from television commercials and newspaper advertisements. Which means that hundreds of thousands of small investors who parked their meagre savings in these companies hoping for both security and a reasonable return have reasons to be deeply worried. The MFs are the victims of an inbred herd mentality. The top men and the economists associated with them have learnt in their business schools that funds go into long-term investment that offer high dividends and that all US insurance and pension funds invest in the stock market and forget about the daily swings in prices. If they distribute the funds among a large number of shares, the loss in some sectors will be made up by profits in some others. In India real time trading is the key to stay afloat. One has to remain glued to the trading screen to switch money from one share to others not only to cut losses but to make some profit in the process. An Indian manager associated with a foreign fund lists the fatal flaws of Indian fund managers not in a boastful way but with anguish. He calculates that investors in MFs may have lost more than Rs 80,000 crore in the past 10 months.

If the MFs’s is a sad tale, that of the entertainment companies is the saddest. Zee TV, the high profile channel which boasts of beaming in several languages, has lost more than 85 per cent of the market value. Its share with a face value of Re 1 commanded a price of over Rs 2800 last February but today it fetches just Rs 241. However, when compared to its price on January, 2000, the devaluation is only about 75 per cent. Simply put, if an individual had purchased about 40 shares for Rs 1 lakh or so during the frenzied days of February and if he wants to unload them on the market today, he would recover just Rs 10,000. Similar is the fate of other media stocks which are now selling at half the price at which they entered the market. One analyst has warned a further setback because more channels are fiercely competing with one another for declining advertisement spending and this translates into lesser or negative profits. That is the time when stock markets will panic and witness a bloodbath. One thing is certain however. Bharat Shah’s arrest and the nervousness in the market does not belong to the same league as the sensational securities scam of 1992-93 but comes close to it. Blessed are the stolid savers who patronise the small savings schemes and are content with a lower return but can sleep without a worry.


The law is not for its misuse
by Poonam I. Kaushish

THIS is a tale of a fixed political ball game. Of right and wrong. A story of three states — Manipur, West Bengal and Assam. Saddled with a prejudice referee, the Centre. Wherein what is right for Imphal is declared as wrong, and what is wrong for Kolkata is justified as right. Caught in this is Guwahati, which can be tossed around as either proper or improper. It doesn’t matter that in the process the Centre’s fanatic zeal of double standards has overtaken the religious fervour of the ongoing Mahakumbh mela!

There is a mathematical principle which has been turned on its head. Which tragically has further ripped apart the facade of democratic norms and functioning. A power-play wherein democracy has been reduced to a harlot of coalition politics. The bone of contention is once again Ambedkar’s dreaded “dead letter” — Article 356 of the Constitution of India, which provides for the imposition of President’s rule, nee Central, in a state. Reactivated for the umpteenth time by different parties for three states. The Trinamool Congress wants to use it for West Bengal, the Congress for Assam and the BJP favours it for Manipur but doesn’t make its stand clear.

True, there is nothing new or exceptional in this. Parties are known to making state autonomy the plaything of Central adventurism and political expediency by Delhi’s little minds with large powers. More so at the time when Assembly elections are round the corner — as in the case of West Bengal and Assam. The perfect time for Ms Mamata Banerjee and Mrs Sonia Gandhi to turn the heat on their rivals — the CPM and the Asom Gana Parishad respectively. Both rest their case by camouflaging political and ethnic killings as worsening law and order situation. However, what is unfortunate is that it has descended into a game of numbers — majority and minority, and of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Manipur is a classical example of this quid pro quo. No one care that the state government has virtually ceased to exist. Chief Minister Nipamacha Singh and Assembly Speaker Dhananjay Singh are openly fighting, each claiming majority support in the ruling United Front of Manipur. More. Killings and huge extortions by insurgent outfits, reportedly in connivance with some ministers in the ruling Front continue. Governor Ved Marwah has already briefed Home Minister Advani, who views Manipur as a fit case for Central intervention but does not initiate action.

Therein lies the catch. The ruling NDA coalition government at the Centre will be unable to get a proclamation for President’s rule in Manipur passed by Parliament. Such an Ordinance requires to be approved by a majority of those present and voting in both Houses. While the NDA has the requisite numbers in the Lok Sabha, it lacks the numerical strength in the Rajya Sabha. It needs the support of the Congress, which refuses to play ball till the Central Government reciprocates the same in Assam. In Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s eyes, her party, which is trying to regain its foothold in the state, stands a better electoral chance under President’s rule than under the present AGP dispensation. The Congress argument in support of its demand is the ongoing ultras’ violence against the non-Assamese. Specially against the Hindi-speaking people in upper Assam.

Ditto is the case in West Bengal. Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee too wants to go to the polls under President’s rule. She wants dismissal of the CPM-led Left Front government and accuses it of unleashing a killing spree in Midnapur district for the last two months. A five-member NDA team has already confirmed her view, but the BJP seems to be having second thoughts. First, Home Minister Advani categorically ruled out the imposition of President’s rule, but later seemed to have changed his mind. It is now under active consideration, even as he has issued an “advisory” to the state government, asking it for an impartial probe into the allegation of mass killings.

The moot point is: why is this BJP somersault on West Bengal? Does it want to oblige Ms Banerjee? More so after the Congress has queered the pitch by impliedly voicing its readiness to support the imposition of President’s rule in the state. Two theories are doing the rounds. One view is that the saffron brigade is piqued at the Mamata-Congress coochie-cooing for an electoral tie-up for the Assembly polls slated for May. Senior leaders have reservations about the stormy petrel’s future political moves. They doubt whether she would continue with the NDA.

Already, bets are being laid on whether she would break from the saffron alliance before or after the polls to oblige her Muslim constituency. Another viewpoint is that it would suit the BJP to sing Ms Banerjee’s tune. By imposing President’s rule, the BJP would kill two birds with one stone. It will oblige Ms Banerjee and make a martyr of the CPM government, enabling the Left Front to recapture its red bastion. Which would keep the Trinamool chief “in place”.

There is no gainsaying that these diabolical manoeuvres raise important constitutional, political and moral questions of serious and far-reaching ramifications. Whereby it has once again opened Pandora’s box on the entire gamut of the quasi-federal status of our democratic polity. Law and order has been used as the Centre’s favourite whipping stick against state governments over one 100 times in the last 53 years. Thus, a Chief Minister is invariably handicapped in properly discharging his constitutional obligations and achieving the desired target in the interest of the state for fear of the Centre’s axe falling on him. He is never sure how long he will remain in power.

In the present context, the Centre’s indecisiveness underlines the weakness of the BJP-led government in New Delhi. Undoubtedly, the Union Government is acting under pressure at its best and blackmail at its worst from its coalition partner. True, one can put it down to the price of power via coalition. Or, that it is entirely up to Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani as to what extent they want to stretch their “appeasement policy” for their partners. However, in the process the Centre has completely ignored the damage such accommodation of coalition blackmail does to our federal structure of governance, the delicate balance between Centre-state relations and to the polity as a whole.

Arguably, do political killings in West Bengal tantamount to internal disturbance? Will Home Minister Advani also despatch post-haste a Central team to saffron-ruled Gujarat, where attacks on Christians have rocked the country. Besides, of course, UP where murders, crimes and rape fail to stir anyone’s conscience. Not to forget Andhra Pradesh where the Naxalites rule the roots.

Not only that. Has the murder of non-Assamese in Assam created a serious law and order problem? More than the one at the time of the demolition havoc of the Ayodhya temple in 1992? Has the BJP leadership forgotten its own severe indictment of the then Congress Prime Minister, Mr Narasimha Rao, for dismissing its state government in Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Unfortunately, for our country and its Constitution, power corrupts so absolutely that the “conscience” of our “conscientious leaders” does not prick. History, truly, has come a full circle. “If things go wrong, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that the man was vile.” So said Ambedkar in 1949 when the Constituent Assembly was discussing the draft of Article 298(1), now Article 356 of the Constitution.

Observed H.V. Kamath: “The invasion (Centre’s intervention in the event of internal disturbances in a state) must not be an invasion which is wanton, arbitrary and unauthorised by law. Will any petty riot or a general melee or imbroglio in any state necessitate the Centre’s intervention in the internal affairs of that state? There are grave dangers lurking in the Article brought before us today.”

Tragically, however, the abuse has continued unabated. Reaching up to flashpoint where it is beginning to erode the quasi-federal structure of our states, and introduced a serious imbalance in our constitutional scheme. Mr Vajpayee and his government should heed Kamath’s words: “If you are going to set a new precedent, you are welcome to do it. But let us beware of the catastrophes that have followed in the wake of arming the executive with unnecessary, uncalled for, tyrannical, dictatorial powers. We are laying ourselves open to snares and traps in our path wherein we shall be caught beyond any rescue. This whole Constitution will be in danger.” Please, mind your intentions, Prime Minister. — INFA


Time for state-of-the-art silos
by G. S. Kalkat 

IN terms of the actual requirement of society, the country cannot be considered surplus in foodgrains. However, the buffer stocks have accumulated because a large segment of the population does not have the purchasing power to meet its nutritional requirements. Empowerment of about 300 million people belonging to this category so that they can afford two square meals a day will take considerable time. As such, the demand for foodgrains is not likely to increase in the next five years or so. We are facing artificial problems of plenty (due to the lack of purchasing power). The ground realities have changed. The Government of India is finding it very expensive to procure all the rice and wheat produced by farmers.

On the other hand, if the procurement policy is withdrawn, the price of paddy and wheat will fall to a level at which even the cost of cultivation may not be recovered. Consequently, the farmers will lose very heavily. Whereas the country is striving to improve the economy of the masses, even the current level of income of the farmers will be drastically reduced. Thus, in this paradoxical situation, either the government loses or the farmers suffer. Since 70 per cent of our population depends on agriculture, as a welfare state and to ensure social equity, we must watch their interests. To address these issues a number of alternatives will have to be explored. The current procurement policy should be continued for an adjustment period of 7-10 years during which private trade can be encouraged to improve investments in the storage and handling of surplus foodgrains in the country.

We should develop massive state-of-the-art silo storage facilities in the surplus states for mechanised handling of foodgrains to maintain quality and minimise losses during the prolonged storage for three to five years. The silos should be declared market yards and the foodgrains automatically cleaned, graded and stored in different chambers as per different grades. The farmers should be paid accordingly. These silos should be strategically located, near railway lines for bulk handling and transportation of foodgrains. Similar facilities should be developed at the ports. Our present system of marketing foodgrains includes bringing agricultural produce to the market yard, cleaning it, putting in gunny bags, weighing, stitching, loading in trucks, transportation, unloading of trucks in storage yards, stacking of gunny bags (often in open spaces), again loading in trucks, transporting to railway stations, loading the gunny bags in trains and rail transport. This system is very inefficient and costly, and results in losses during storage and transportation. Bulk handling of foodgrains can greatly help in reducing costs and losses and may enable us to supply the foodgrains to deficit states/importing countries at competitive prices. The private sector could be encouraged to invest in the development of silos and port facilities, and participate in the marketing and export of foodgrains.

Water balance studies conducted by PAU have indicated that Punjab can support about 40 lakh acre area under rice. Unless the 25 lakh acre currently under rice is “retired” from production or put under other crops, water balance in the state cannot be restored. The diversification options are very limited and require a very secure market, demand intensive research for improving productivity and profitability, investments in market infrastructure and clearly stated policy to ensure remunerative prices. The possible options could be fruits and vegetables (one lakh acres each), fodder (two lakh acres), forestry (10-15 lakh acres), and about 10 lakh acres under oilseeds and pulses.

Fruits, vegetables, fodder and forestry will replace both rice and wheat whereas other crops will substitute for rice or wheat only. To support such a system of possible diversification, there is need for massive investment (both public and private) in market infrastructure in terms of establishing cool chains as well as strengthening and improving the cold storage facilities as was done by providing link roads, rural electrification and procurement centres in the villages in the case of wheat and rice. These facilities should be extended right from the producer to the consumer, including long-distance refrigerated transport, scientific grading and packaging, value addition by processing and scientific marketing of the fresh and processed perishable commodities in the identified target-markets in India and abroad.

An increase in the area under fast growing trees like poplar is possible if marketing at remunerative prices is assured. The area under forests in the country is decreasing whereas the demand for wood is increasing. Imports of wood and wood products which were of the order of Rs 957 crore in 1996-97 increased to Rs 1936 crore in 1999-2000. At present the area under poplar in Punjab is 1.34 lakh acre. Most of the poplar wood is used for making plywood. There are 60 small and 28 large plywood factories in the state which are at present running at one-third of their installed capacity. An increase in the area under poplar to the tune of 15 lakh acres is possible if we are able to set up wood processing units in the state for improving the characteristics of soft (poplar) wood for use as hard wood. Such technology is available in some developed countries. A beginning in this direction is being made by the Punjab Forestry Department under the Wood Densification Project. Convergence of public and private sectors in this venture with assured returns to the farmers can result in a six-year cycle of harvesting 2.5 lakh acres of poplar every year.

For the diversification of agriculture, there is need for developing and continuously refining cost-effective and eco-friendly technologies for which training of PAU scientists at the leading universities/research institutes in the developed countries is a must. On return to PAU, these scientists will also train farmers for adopting modern technologies and provide technical advice for establishing agro-processing industry and for improving marketing infrastructure for rice, wheat, vegetables, fruits, milk, wood etc.

A reduction in the area under rice through legumes, fodder, forestry and fallow land will help in restoring water balance in the state. It will also help in reducing environmental pollution due to a reduction in the use of fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The environmental quality would also be enhanced by bringing in more area under forests. The soil health and resilience will be improved as a result of the cultivation of green manures and improvement of soil structure in the absence of paddy cultivation. Iron and manganese deficiencies, which have resulted from rice cultivation on sandy soils, can be removed by not growing this crop on the highly permeable soil. The problem of seasonality in the use of resources would be reduced and the resource use efficiency in agriculture improved. An attractive price has in the past been used as a mechanism to increase the production of the commodity in demand.

I personally feel that the time has come when farmers should share a part of the expenses involved in the development of new techniques/technologies to address the short-term and long-term agricultural problems in the state. To begin with, an agriculture technology cess at the rate of 0.5 per cent ad valorem should be levied on the surplus produce of rice and wheat. This will provide approximately Rs 45-50 crore annually for research and advanced training. A standing committee of the Board of Management of PAU should be set up for this purpose. This committee should include two international scientists (from the IRRI, Manila, and the CIMMYT, Mexico), two eminent agricultural scientists from the ICAR, two scientists from PAU, one expert from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (Government of India) and one eminent marketing intelligence expert. The committee should meet twice a year in March and October (at least for five working days each time) to determine the priorities for research and training in selected strategic disciplines for Punjab agriculture.


The writer is Vice-Chancellor, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.


The mask is the message
By Abu Abraham

SOME describe Mr Vajpayee as a mask. Others say he is a mask inside a mask. But I believe that behind all his masks, he is faceless. A faceless person needs no mask. The masks are imagined by other people to suit their own moods.

When he said, referring to attacks on Christians in Gujarat, ‘we need to have a national debate on conversions’, he was merely evading responsibility; he was being insensitive — of course without knowing it.

If you ask me whether India has made any progress in the last year, I’d say “No”.

Mr Vajpayee would say: ‘Yes, no don’t know, can’t say’. This has been the Year of Apathy — the government’s apathy, the public’s apathy. Apart from the games played in Parliament, there has been little action. While the rich watched television and played with computers, the common people struggled for food and shelter and medical care. There was an abundance of senseless violence.

On this New Year’s eve as I write this piece, I’m filled with such gloom and pessimism as I’ve seldom felt in my life. At the year-end, Rajeev Dhavan of the Supreme Court, writing in The Hindu, recorded a few score of atrocities committed by seemingly ordinary people. These included child sacrifice to appease gods, torture of “witches” and cases of violence within the family — murder of wife, rape of daughter. In September last year, “a woman pinned down her 25-year-old daughter, while her son slit his sister’s throat”. Add to these the assaults on Christians and Muslims, and the torture and murder of Dalits all over the country, then you have a gruesome picture of the kind of society we live in.

And all this has been happening under a chorus of discourses on spirituality, spiritual values, “our ancient culture” and great philosophies. As India’s population increases and its wealth multiplies, the cruelties will only increase, says Dhavan. He adds: “If ordinary people do not check their unforgivable inhumanity, India will continue to lead the world for cruelty, not for spirituality”.

Those criminals and thugs who attack minorities and Dalits also wear masks. Nobody can say which parivar outfit they belong to. This leaves the police and the general public with a sense of freedom to go about their daily business without being disturbed and with a clear conscience. For those who want alibis there is always the ISI.

I see before me the whole edifice of Nehru’s philosophy and ideals coming down like a slow-motion Babri Masjid. He saw in our current civilization the seeds of its own destruction. In Discovery of India, Nehru writes: “Indian civilization has shown an amazing staying power despite all that has happened. But a progressive decline is visible....Probably this was the inevitable result of the growing rigidity and exclusiveness of the Indian social structure represented chiefly by the caste system....No marked progress was possible under these conditions without changing the structure and releasing fresh sources of talent and energy. The caste system was a barrier to such a change. For all its virtues and the stability it had given to Indian society, it carried within it the seeds of destruction....There was decline all along the line — intellectual, philosophical, political, in technique and methods of warfare, in knowledge of and contacts with the outside world, and there was growth of local sentiments and feudal and smallgroup feeling at the expense of the larger conception of India as a whole....Progress was always tied down to and hampered by far too many relics of the past”.

Does this not ring like a familiar bell in today’s India?


Blood sugar and heart diseases

MEASURING levels of sugar in the blood can help doctors predict if a patient is at risk of developing heart disease, study findings show.

The report in the January 6 issue of the British Medical Journal suggests that blood glucose (sugar) may join the ranks of cholesterol and blood pressure as indicators of heart disease risk.

“(Blood glucose) measurement may identify individuals at higher absolute risk of heart disease who might benefit most from established preventive interventions such as cholesterol lowering or antihypertensive medication,’’ lead study author Dr. Kay-Tee Khaw, from the University of Cambridge in the UK, says.

The study included more than 4,600 men from England aged 45 to 79.

Men with type 2 diabetes, a disorder in which blood glucose can soar to dangerously high levels if not controlled, were more than three times as likely as men without diabetes to die from heart disease, the report indicates.

Diabetic men were more than twice as likely to die of all causes compared with men without diabetes. And as blood glucose increased, the risk of dying climbed higher regardless of age, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking status.

Even men who had not been diagnosed with diabetes but who had high blood glucose had a greater risk of death, findings show. People with blood glucose below 5% were at lowest risk of death. (Reuters)

Kangaroo care for low birth weight babies

A low-cost concept of care of new born babies — the “Kangaroo mother care” — can play a positive role in stabilising the low birth weight babies, who form two-third of all new born deaths in the country, according to scientists at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.

The institute performed a two-year study to evolve the physiological and clinical benefits of the Kangaroo care or skin-to-skin care of new born babies who were less than 1500 grams in weight. In Kangaroo care, naked babies are kept in skin to skin contact with mother’s body.

It was found that Kangaroo care gives warmth to the new born and promotes bonding between the new born and the mother, Dr V K Paul from the AIIMS’ WHO collaborating Centre for Training and Research in Newborn Care, told PTI.

The babies were found to be more stabilised in terms of heart rate, pulse rate, breathing, and breast feeding capabilities, he said. Their temperature was higher and they had better weight gain.

Low birth weight babies who were given Kangaroo care had earlier hospital discharge with only 27-day stay in hospital in comparison to babies without Kangaroo care who had 34-day hospital stay.

The practice was found to have high acceptability among mothers and increased their milk output, Paul said. (PTI)

Health” guide

The view that “foreigners are dirty” might seem old-fashioned, especially in Madrid, a city that welcomes hordes of tourists each summer. But Valencia’s new health guide for immigrants suggests the Costa Blanca city has a low opinion of the thousands of migrant workers, mainly from North and sub-Saharan Africa, who flock there in search of poorly paid jobs picking oranges.

The 50-page booklet, published in Spanish, English, French and Arabic by the regional government’s health council, has drawn a storm of protest from local aid groups because of its patronising tone and apparent belief that most immigrants enjoy amenities such as hot running water.

One section advises immigrants that showering or bathing every day is recommended, and offers the following technique: ‘Wet your body with plenty of water, soap your own sponge and run it over the different parts of the body, then rinse with plenty of water and, last of all, dry off by rubbing a towel energetically over the different parts of your body.’

It also notes that the face should be washed upon rising and before going to bed, and teeth should be brushed several times a day. Dental floss is also advised.

Javier Botey of the Information Centre for Immigrant Workers denounced the guide, adding there were immigrants who came to Spain ‘with better and cleaner habits than ours’ who could “give us advice”.

The guide also explains how to dress: work clothes should be worn to work, along with work shoes, while pyjamas are used in bed, house shoes are for the house and trainers are most suitable for sporting activities. Taking up sports, of course, is ‘a great way of filling your free time’.

The authors do not seem to be familiar with the back-breaking work and squalid conditions faced by many thousands of illegal immigrants in southern Spain, especially those on the farms that provide fruit and vegetables to much of Europe.

North Africans often find it impossible to rent decent housing because many Spaniards claim they will destroy property. Migrant workers are forced to share squalid shacks and derelict buildings without running water or electricity. Even so, they are dotted with buckets of hand-carried water where clothes lie soaking.

The guide adds that immigrants should clean their lavatories every day and clean plates and cutlery in a dishwasher. Beds should be “comfortable, with no dip in the middle, and with a mattress at least 18-20cm thick”.

In real life, many workers are forced to share rudimentary beds, a slab of wood padded with cloth, and can only dream of a tap.

‘To us, this guide seems to show a terrible lack of respect,’ says Toni Vigo of SOS Racism in Valencia. (Observer)


Fielding calls from aggressive headhunters
By Kate Hilpern in London

‘‘I WANT to be put through to the head of IT. What’s his name?’’ ``Oh, I’m sorry, Sir, I’m not allowed to disclose that information.’’ ``Look love, I’m not getting off this line until you do . . .’’

Sound familiar? If not, it may only be a matter of time. Headhunters are hot on the trail, stealing staff from companies — and using front-line staff such as receptionists and secretaries to get the information they need. What’s more, their tactics are becoming increasingly cunning and aggressive, causing growing numbers of secretaries to quit their jobs as a result of the strain. Quite simply, headhunters use any means necessary to build up a database of names, job details and direct telephone lines, so they can then approach the relevant people as and when an employer becomes interested. It is estimated that secretaries at some multinational firms receive up to 50 such calls a day.

A particularly hostile story is currently doing the rounds, detailing an imposter faking an imminent conference. ``I need a faxed list of the sales team right now,’’ he demands of the innocent at the other end of the line.

``I’m really sorry, but I don’t think I’m allowed to do that,’’ she says, following the company line. ``Well, I’m allowing you. I work for this company, too, and am a damn sight higher up than you, so if you don’t do it, I can assure you you’ll be out of a job.’’

``Oh yes, OK, I’ll get on to it immediately,’’ seems the only possible answer to the threat. The list is delivered straight into the hot little hands of the headhunter.

So why the sudden explosion of this behaviour? The UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development puts it down to the unprecedented growth of the recruitment industry.

``Around the world, the shortage of skilled people in many sectors of industry means that headhunting is increasing at a dramatic rate, with 20,000 companies alone in the UK,’’ explains a spokesperson. ``There is huge competition between them to get details of the best people.’’

Paul Sampson, an ex-headhunter adds, ``A lot of young people working in recruitment realise that if they set up their own headhunting company, they could make a lot more money. Not surprisingly, they’re hungry to get a database started and so they’ll be as aggressive as need be to get it.’’

Sampson believes it’s no coincidence that we are witnessing a high turnover of secretarial staff. ``Understandably, they can’t hack these calls,’’ he says. ``They leave the office feeling used, abused, guilty and exhausted. No wonder they get to the point where they think, `Is this worth it?’ Meanwhile, the employers suffer by losing their staff. It’s bad news all round.’’

So severe are the repercussions, he says, that this month he has launched Anti-Headhunting UK, a service with a training package specifically aimed at front-line staff. ``We’ve been successfully running an anti-headhunting service on the continent for two years, but since staff data is at greater risk in the UK than almost any other European market, we’ve decided to expand here.’’

Shock tactics are not spared. ``The seminar starts by us making live phone calls in front of the secretaries to prove the problem exists,’’ he explains. Perhaps he’ll phone a receptionist and say, ``Hi, it’s Phil from IT. We’ve had a breakdown of a system and need to be reminded of your password to Lotus Notes.’’ Phoney Phil may then be able to access anything from staff lists to salaries. Alternatively, Sampson might opt for a more antagonistic example. ``You think you’ll never give such information away, but we show it’s actually very easy to take advantage of people’s ignorance,’’ he says.

The trick, he believes, is to teach secretaries specific tactics in handling callers that both protects their emotions and the company’s interests. ``Some employers are so paranoid about access to staff data that receptionists come across as unhelpful and rude. That’s the other end of the spectrum in responding to headhunters that we try to avoid,’’ he explains.

Secretaries within the IT industry — which is facing a particularly harsh skills shortage — are most likely to hear from headhunters, with those working in telecommunications, banking and insurance companies close behind. Indeed, organisations such as Deutsche Bank and Worldcom have recognised that there is no point investing vast sums in computer security if systems are being consistently undermined by human error.

Nevertheless, even Sampson admits that the recent surge in the headhunting of secretarial staff themselves makes such tactics only part of the solution. Employers must work harder than ever at retaining staff so that the sales pitch of a recruitment consultant won’t be enough to lure them away. ``We are never going to stop the problem of headhunting altogether,’’ admits Sampson. ``In some instances, you will genuinely be offered a better job.’’

Research shows that among the top retention techniques for secretaries are flexible perks, flexible working hours and a focus on development. At least then, secretaries suffering the brunt of headhunting can console themselves with the knowledge that the more they grow, the more justified they will be in demanding the benefits that these extra responsibilities entail. — By arrangement with The Guardian 



Through His Hukam, He creates and dissociates; everything is created and also dissolved. Through His Hukam He becomes high-up and also lowly and also manifests Himself in many ways.

— Guru Arjan Dev, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 277


Though unrestrained all else, restrain thy tongue,

For those degraded by licentious speech

will rue their tongue's offence....

The wound may heal, though from a burning brand,

And be forgotten; but the wound never heals

A burning tongue inflicts.

— Tirukkural, Chapter XIII, verses 127, 129.


A man is hid under his tongue.

— Ali Ibn-Abi-Talib, Sentences, 83


The tongue is more to be dreaded than the sword.

— Nipponese proverb


Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee.

— Bible, The Gospel According to St. Luke


Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt,

that ye may not know how ye ought to answer every man.

— Bible, Colossians, 4.6


In the faculty of speech man excels the brute; but if thou utterest what is improper, the brute is thy superior.

— Sheikh Sa'di, Gulistan


O God! Bestow on us the best treasures;

An efficient mind and spiritual luster,

The increase of wealth, the health of bodies,

The sweetness of speech and the fairness of days.

— Rig Veda, 2, 21.6

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