Tuesday, January 30, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


The world responds
HIS year there was no Beating Retreat ceremony on Monday. The musical finale to the Republic Day celebrations was cancelled to express the nation’s mood in the wake of the earthquake disaster. 

The curse of Bofors?
ISTORY may remember Bofors as the gun which caused political turbulence in three continents. Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme's friendship with Rajiv Gandhi influenced the decision in favour of Bofors.


Menace of middlemen
Advocating an alternative food security system
by M. G. Devasahayam
YOPIC and straight-jacketed thinking of politicians and government functionaries not withstanding, food security does not mean overflowing FCI godowns with foodgrains procured and stored at costs twice or thrice the prevailing market prices with some of them sub-standard and rotting. 


Mother earth as killer
January 29
, 2001
The Kumbh mela — a tradition that lasts
January 28
, 2001
Wheat man’s burden
January 26
, 2001
Pressing on with peace
January 25
, 2001
VVIP as a pilgrim
January 24
, 2001
For the sake of Samjhauta
January 23
, 2001
Ayodhya — blowing cold
January 22
, 2001
January 21
, 2001
It pays to act tough
January 20
, 2001
MP as a tenure job
January 19
, 2001
An avoidable controversy 
January 18, 2001
Panchayat polls in J&K
January 17, 2001

The daunting doubt that vanished!
by P. Lal
RETENCE of honesty a man, honest makes not, nor the gestures of goodwill do one, dishonest make’’, declared Comrade Channan Singh, the Sarpanch of village Tugalwala, Police Station Kahnuwan, district Gurdaspur, on a hot summer afternoon in June, 1971, as I, an IPS probationer, sat hunched on a cot, under a village tree, hungry and tired, after a gruelling work schedule of investigation into a case of theft.


by Tavleen Singh
When will order replace chaos?
FTEN I find myself thinking that India will only change when Indians begin to travel abroad in larger and larger numbers and discover for themselves how bad India looks compared to the rest of the world. 


“Adopt Chinese model of rice transplantation”
ECOMMENDING the Chinese model of rice transplantation, the Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Dr R S Paroda, says that narrowing down of crop diversity, improper use of technology and socio-economic factors are largely responsible for the declining crop productivity in several pockets of Haryana and Punjab. 




The world responds

THIS year there was no Beating Retreat ceremony on Monday. The musical finale to the Republic Day celebrations was cancelled to express the nation’s mood in the wake of the earthquake disaster. It was a symbolic gesture but carried a load of symbolism. President Narayanan has postponed his three-day trip to Jaipur which was to start today, apart from calling off a reception to the delegates of an international seminar on media. His is not a personal reaction but as the First Citizen he was giving voice to the collective sensitivity of the whole nation. It is as effective as the money, material and manpower pouring in not only from within the country but also from outside. The magnificent response has been commensurate with the scale of death and destruction. As it happened during the Kargil conflict, so now India is breathing and behaving like one man. And that offers a glimmer of hope for preserving the basic character of the land. Aid from many countries has grown into a giant tide and overwhelmed by the rush, the Gujarat government has set up a high-powered committee to coordinate the movement and deployment of doctors and field hospitals. Organised fund collection is yet to gather momentum but spontaneous and locality-level efforts are in top gear. This is a much more sincere way of saying that Indians are one than showy announcement of individual donations. Even so, there are certain actions that are touching. Several Gujarat-based industries have adopted some of the flattened villages. The Centre should goad them to build earthquake-proof homes without disturbing rural culture. (In Latur, people bitterly complained that they had been herded into concrete boxes which were incongruous to the local setting and their way of life.) The Maharashtra government has set up a kitchen in one of the worst affected villages with an offer to rebuild it. Two senior officers are camping there. Urgently required equipment have rolled in from industries to step up relief work.

Nuclear scientists are heaving a sigh of relief since the reactor in Kutch has escaped damage. It is particularly gratifying since many civil engineers criticised the idea of building a nuclear reactor in a highly vulnerable region. Of course, their objection helped in redesigning the structure to make it earthquake resistant. Another controversial structure to remain unaffected by the killer quake is the Sardar Sarovar Dam across the Narmada. So have most industrial structures. Big units such as ONGC, Reliance, IPCL and others are located in the region. None of them is affected. Still a somewhat detailed analysis by FICCI indicates that the disaster could cost the nation upwards of Rs 15,000 crore. Putting up all the crumbled houses will need about Rs 10,000 crore and repair to infrastructure another Rs 5000 crore. All this is bad news for Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. Not only he will have to find money for relief work going on in a furious pace, but also make do with a shortfall in excise revenue. Normally he collects more than Rs 1000 crore a month from the state. It is even likely that he has to make major alterations in the budget work to fit it in the post-quake situation. A major calamity makes a nonsense of public and private finances and it normally takes more than five years for the adverse effect to wear off. Here is a suggestion for whatever its worth. Mr Sinha should lean on his Cabinet colleagues to agree to impose a earthquake surcharge on income tax or a cess on petrol. The nation in its present mood will smilingly accept it. Apart from revenue raising, it will also cement the sense of unity and solidarity, something more precious than mere rupees. 


The curse of Bofors?

HISTORY may remember Bofors as the gun which caused political turbulence in three continents. Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme's friendship with Rajiv Gandhi influenced the decision in favour of Bofors. Palme was assassinated before the gun deal assumed the dimensions of a major scam. After Bofors became a scam it saw Rajiv Gandhi lose power in 1989. And now British Prime Minister Tony Blair is neck-deep in the worst political trouble of his otherwise impressive career because of his "links" with the Hindujas. The brothers are currently in India to face trial for their alleged involvement in the Bofors deal. Like most cornered politicians Mr Blair tried to play down the controversy relating to the role his close confidant and Cabinet colleague Peter Mandelson in helping Mr Srichand Hinduja get British citizenship. Mr Mandelson was forced to put in his papers, but the demand for more Hinduja-linked heads has not abated. In fact, the controversy has given the Conservative Party the perfect opening to go for Mr Blair's jugular. The British media deserves credit for keeping the pressure by digging out fresh evidence every day about the wilful violation of rules and procedures by the Blair government in granting Mr Srichand Hinduja a British passport in 1998. Mr Gopichand Hinduja had obtained British citizenship in October, 1997, under equally dubious circumstances. The issue assumed the dimensions of a full blown political controversy after enterprising journalists dug up Mr Mandelson's role in the passport deal. It is said that Mr Srichand Hinduja virtually bought British citizenship by roping in his brother Mr Gopichand Hinduja to jointly donate sterling pounds one million to the Faith Zone of the British government-sponsored Millennium Dome. Ironically, the Dome itself was recently abandoned as an ill-conceived project.

Mr Blair has had to learn the hard way that few projects with which the Hinduja brothers are associated are ever “well-conceived". Mr Mandelson himself kept changing versions about his involvement in the "passport-for-Dome" initiative of Mr Srichand Hinduja before accepting responsibility. The next step was to resign. Mr Mandelson's fall may have a negative impact on the Labour's election campaign. His ability to raise funds brought him close to Mr Blair and the same ability was responsible for his exit from politics in disgrace. He may have saved his job had he known that the Hindujas are rather liberal in granting financial favours, but very impatient in demanding their pound of flesh in return. The request for British citizenship from Mr Srichand Hinduja was made six days after the donation for the Dome. The heat is now on another British minister to explain his friendship with the Hindujas. It is being alleged that Mr Keith Vaz was made a minister after Mr Srichand Hinduja wrote to Prime Minister Blair. Mr Vaz's Indian origin was sold as a sound political reason for making him Britain's most senior minister to come from an ethnic minority. Mr Vaz has admitted to having written letters to the Interior Ministry about the applications for British passports by two of the four Hinduja brothers. He should count himself lucky if he survives what can be called the curse of the Bofors.


Menace of middlemen
Advocating an alternative food security system
by M. G. Devasahayam

MYOPIC and straight-jacketed thinking of politicians and government functionaries not withstanding, food security does not mean overflowing FCI godowns with foodgrains procured and stored at costs twice or thrice the prevailing market prices with some of them sub-standard and rotting. Food security actually means access to foodgrains to all sections of society at all times at affordable prices. This does not require huge stockpile of grain being kept under asbestos roofs and canvas canopies exposed to sun and rain. In fact, the crux of the matter is, whether the government or its agencies like FCI or Warehousing Corporations should take over physical possession of huge stocks, or would it suffice to keep the foodgrains trade within well-specified parameters of social discipline. Governments in many countries have chosen the latter path with considerable success. The first alternative, as has been the experience, cannot but be an expensive one. In India farmers who are the producers of foodgrains are suffering, not because consumers and the taxpayers (in the form of subsidy) are paying less, but because middlemen (official as well as non-official) is expropriating more than half of what they are paying.

This matter was studied, deliberated and debated at great length by the “High Powered Committee on Agricultural Policies and Programmes” in 1990. Based on these deliberations the committee submitted specific recommendations to the Government of India under Chapter: 5 — “Alternative Food Security System”. The author had the privilege of being a key member of this committee. These recommendations with suitable modifications in line with the emerging trends in the Indian economy are discussed in this article.

The core issues identified by the committee for a pragmatic food security system in the country were:

  • Need to rely more on the personal involvement of the farmers who are the producers and the market mechanism that influences consumption;
  • Protecting the farmer and the consumer against the vagaries of production and the market forces in order to enhance agricultural productivity and ensure fair prices;
  • Reduction in the cost of foodgrain procurement, storage, transportation and distribution;
  • Efficient delivery system under which those in genuine need of subsidies and support are properly targeted and given sufficient access to foodgrains;
  • Effective interventionary powers in the hands of the government in times of need to protect the interests of producers or consumers as the case may be;

Once this alternative concept was accepted and adopted the government could implement the system by taking the following policy initiatives:

(i) Withdrawing all controls, except quality controls, on movement, processing, marketing and export of farm products except in years of scarcity.

(ii) Announcing “parity prices” for foodgrains which fully compensate the farmers for rise in cost of inputs and their other necessities of life, with reference to an agreed base year, and also setting the limits between which the foodgrain trade will have to operate. This can be done by fixing a floor and a ceiling price, respectively, to be called “support price” below which prices will not be allowed to fall and “intervention price”, beyond which prices would not be allowed to rise. If the trade — cooperative or private — crosses these limits, interventionary powers of the State will come into effect. The “support” and “intervention” prices will be below and above the parity prices, preferably at levels of 85 and 115 per cent.

(iii) Establishing a chain of rural and periurban godowns with warehousing/foodgrain banking facilities, one godown being located in a cluster of 10 to 12 villages or around small towns. The warehouses should have all infrastructure facilities and professionally managed. The farmers may, at any time, sell their produce to the warehouses at the “support” price, in which case, the stock will go in government account. The farmers will have the option to deposit the same in their own accounts and take bank loans against their pledged stock. These warehouses should also function as sale agencies on behalf of farmers selling farm products to buyers — consumers, cooperatives, government agencies — at a price set by the owner of the stock. Instead of individual farmers going to buyers, which puts them in weak bargaining position, buyers may go to these warehouses for their requirements. Farmers should also be helped and encouraged to set up cooperative shops in cities to sell their produce directly to consumers, so long as they do not transgress the “intervention” prices.

(iv) Making it obligatory on all stockists, who wish to stock more than 20 tonnes of foodgrains, to do so only in these warehouses. Private sector could be involved in building and managing these godowns.

(v) Making it known that as soon as the price of foodgrains in the open market would rise above the intervention price (already fixed) all stocks would stand transferred to the government account, which would acquire the whole or part of it, on payment of “parity” price plus storage charges. If the price would fall below the “support” price, the farmers would have the right to sell their stocks to the government at the rate of the support price already fixed, plus the storage charges.

(vi) Establishing appropriate food security regulatory authorities invested with adequate powers to implement and monitor the new food security system. A heavily pruned and right sized FCI, if the government so desires, could be one of the agencies involved in managing this system under the control and supervision of the regulatory authorities.

Pricing of foodgrains should seek to achieve the twin principal objectives of maintaining purchasing power parity for the producer and ensuring fair price for the consumer.

The principle of “parity” aims at maintaining the purchasing power of agriculturists, in terms of those commodities, which they have to buy for their use. In other words, if in 1990-91, the farmers could purchase a certain mix of consumer goods and agricultural inputs with the proceeds of one quintal of wheat (or paddy, or any other farm produce) then the present price of their produce should be so fixed as to enable them to buy the same mix of consumer goods and agricultural inputs. This would mean that the “parity” price of foodgrains should be determined based on changes in the composite index of prices paid by farmers for consumer goods and agricultural inputs.

The fundamental rationale of State procurement and “support price” is not to commercially underwrite or guarantee sale of farm products of any quality at any price, but to intervene in times of possible distress and hold the hands of the farmer. The “support” price, therefore, should be at a level less than the “parity price”, say 85 per cent. Similarly, foodgrain prices should not be subject to runaway inflation due to imperfect market conditions. This is necessary to safeguard the consumers, both rural and urban. Hence the need for “intervention” price. This “intervention” price should be at a level reasonably higher, say 115 per cent of the “parity” price, as determined above. In case the market price of foodgrain falls below support price, it would be obligatory on the part of the State to purchase all stocks offered to it at this price. Similarly in the event of market price exceeding the intervention price, the State shall have the right to acquire all stocks wherever located and to whomsoever these may belong at “parity” price leaving with the stockist, grains required for his private consumption and agricultural needs, if he is a farmer.

Under this policy for foodgrains trade, farmers will be assured of minimum support price and consumers of supplies at reasonable and relatively stable prices. Traders —private as well as cooperatives — will also know the limits within which they can operate. Small farmers will be saved from going in for distress sales, and the government will have the facility to quickly locate and acquire foodgrains stocks in times of need.

The present impersonal, “command and control” bureaucracy oriented policy and system regarding food security has the following fatal flaws:

*Keeping food prices artificially depressed, through State intervention in foodgrains trade, and providing huge subsidies to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to enable it to sell foodgrains at less than their “economic cost” which is exorbitant. This has neither helped the predominantly urban consumer nor relieved the suffering of the vast majority of poor living in villages and towns. The only beneficiaries are a few thousand corrupt and pampered employees in the FCI and the food departments, some traders/contractors and their political and “mafia” mentors.

*Stunting the growth of Indian agriculture that has vast potential not only for productivity and production growth but also in providing additional employment in rural areas. This is because the present policy discourages intensity of agriculture, which is the key to higher productivity and production.

*Keeping a larger number of rural and urban people out of employment and, therefore, in poverty and penury, than the number of genuinely poor, whom the current policy proponents are helping with more food. The word “genuinely poor” is being used because there are many in cities, deriving benefit from the Public Distribution System (PDS) of foodgrains, who are not poor according to the officially accepted norms.

*Procuring, storing and maintaining huge buffer stocks of foodgrains in the garb of meeting scarcity situations, at huge cost and low efficiency, which actually helps dishonest traders and officials to make big fortunes through theft, corruption and gross manipulation of figures. This is burdening the overstrained exchequer with heavy subsidy commitments, which the State and the taxpayer are finding difficult to bear.

Adding insult to injury vast quantities of grains procured at such huge cost are allowed to rot in storage and waste in transit. This is because the entire administration and management of food security system is left to faceless and impersonal bureaucrats with hardly any involvement from the stakeholders.

The alternative food security system proposed by the High Powered Committee and advocated in this article reverses all the above flaws by suggesting the simple device of relying on the people who have personal stake in the system instead of a bunch of “employees” who are more interested in their job security rather than the nation’s food security. This is sought to be done by trusting the farmers and giving them incentives to stock foodgrains at the chain of government/private owned or contracted godowns and warehouses located in rural areas and small towns. Even if a small fraction of the procurement and storage cost incurred by the FCI is passed on to the farmers as an incentive in addition to the parity/support price, they would gladly leave their stocks in these godowns, to be lifted and utilised as and when required by the government. This, in turn, would achieve real food security that has eluded the people so far.

This policy had a “more than fair” chance of being implemented in mid-1990 when Mr Devi Lal, under whose initiative the High Powered Committee was constituted, was the Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Agriculture Minister of India. But all of a sudden in a crisis engineered by certain vested interests and lapped up by the media, exaggerated version of a non-existent Rural-Urban divide was touted depicting Mr Devi Lal as an enemy of the urban poor. This vilification campaign had strong ramifications leading to Mr Devi Lal’s exit from the V.P. Singh Ministry which itself fell a few months later. The report of the High Powered Committee, submitted to Mr Devi Lal in July, 1990, was put in cold storage out of reach of even researchers and scholars. No wonder, one finds no mention of this report and any of its important findings and recommendations in any of the literature pertaining to India’s agriculture and food policies and practices.

Be that as it may, India and its teeming millions have paid a very heavy price for this ingenious perfidy while the venal and vested interests that perpetrated this charade laughed all the way to the bank and positions of power. Over the years this issue of food security has become a war of people vs the power brokers. In a true democracy people would normally triumph since politicians would be representing the interests of the people and not those of the power brokers. Is India a true democracy and does Indian politicians represent the interests of the people? This, in fact, is the moot question that will determine India’s national security in the years to come. For, it is not the nuclear arsenal or the armed might, but cost-effective, adequate and timely access to food for the vast majority of Indians that is going to determine the security of the nation.


The daunting doubt that vanished!
by P. Lal

‘‘PRETENCE of honesty a man, honest makes not, nor the gestures of goodwill do one, dishonest make’’, declared Comrade Channan Singh, the Sarpanch of village Tugalwala, Police Station Kahnuwan, district Gurdaspur, on a hot summer afternoon in June, 1971, as I, an IPS probationer, sat hunched on a cot, under a village tree, hungry and tired, after a gruelling work schedule of investigation into a case of theft.

Earlier in the day, I had arrived in the village, accompanied by an Assistant Sub-Inspector and two constables, having cycled down the 9 km distance from the police station. The First Information Report into the crime had been registered by me that very morning in my capacity as the Station House Officer, on the complaint of the village chowkidar who had reported that certain burglars had broken into the office-room of the local school the previous night and had decamped with knickknacks, valued at no more than Rs 100. Fresh from the Police Academy, I had thought that the recording of the FIR was a legal requirement, no matter what the value of the stolen articles was, though the regular SHO who took over the charge of the PS after my tenure of two months, frowned upon me for having recorded the FIR for such a paltry sum, as my action had resulted in the increase of the crime statistics by one!

In the village, as I sat under the tree, I was feeling very hungry indeed, and so were, I am sure, the other policemen accompanying me. However, there was no ‘‘dhaba’’ or a hotel in the village or nearby, where we could take our meal.

Lots of villagers had also collected by now, for the arrival of a police party in a village is an event not many would like to miss. From amongst them, an elderly man walked up to me and introduced himself as Comrade Channan Singh, the Sarpanch. First and foremost, he apologised for not being available earlier, as he had gone out to a neighbouring village and had just returned. He then invited me and my policemen to have lunch at his residence.

I looked at him and was tempted to accept the offer, but then, the thought occurred to me: ‘‘You don’t know this man. The case of burglary is of his village. He may try to influence you.’’ And, I declined the offer by saying that I was not hungry! However, I hastened to add that if the other policemen wanted, they could have the meal. The ASI and the two constables looked at me and declined the offer saying that they, too, were not hungry.

Channan Singh looked aghast, for no policeman had ever refused to take meal at his residence, earlier. He persisted with his request; we persisted with our refusal. At long last, infuriated, he uttered the words of wisdom as penned in the beginning, and added ‘‘ASP Sahib, I don’t know whether you are honest or corrupt. However, if you are honest, taking of a meal with me would not make you dishonest. And, if you are corrupt, refraining from doing so would not turn you honest.’’

The words fell on the ears like molten glass, hot and hitting. However, we stuck to our decision, cycled back to the police station and ordered tea and snacks for us from the market.

That evening and for many years thereafter, a doubt assailed my mind: whether I had done the right thing by refusing to take the meal? Where does a policeman eat at, when he visits a village, specially the police station staff whose visits to the countryside are legion and which may extend over a number of days? If a police officer became stiffnecked, who would lay information to him on crime and criminals?

As I advanced in my career, I became a Superintendent of Police, and had the opportunity of attending a three-month training programme for senior officers at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, in 1978. IPS probationers of the 1977 batch were also under training there. Mr R.D. Singh of Bihar cadre of the IPS, who later rose to become the CBI chief in the Government of India, was the Director of the Academy.

The Director used to hold a joint session of the IPS probationers and the senior officers, once a fortnight, where experience sharing was the keynote of the exercise. In one such session, I recounted the incident of this write-up whereafter the Director threw open the matter for discussion. Everyone who spoke, including the probationers, decried my action in refusing the meal.

Then, the Director summed up the discussions thus: ‘‘What Mr Lal did in the given circumstances was the only right thing he could have done. He was a young officer at that time. He belonged to a state other than Punjab, and did not know many people out there, and was not greatly aware of the customs and traditions of that state. His sense of judgement and discrimination was not expected to have been refined at that young age and that early stage of his career, to an extent as to be able to decide correctly from whom to accept the hospitality in the form of a meal without compromising his official position. Now, however, when he has put in more than eightw years of service and has gained in experience, I can expect him to exercise his discretion correctly in such matters, so that his official decisions remain unaffected by such an acceptance of hospitality.’’

And, the daunting doubt melted away that very moment!


When will order replace chaos?
by Tavleen Singh

OFTEN I find myself thinking that India will only change when Indians begin to travel abroad in larger and larger numbers and discover for themselves how bad India looks compared to the rest of the world. As one of the small handful of Indians who is lucky enough to travel abroad at least once a year I make it a point to write about my travels and the contrasts I come across in the hope that I succeed in, however, small a way in drawing attention to the contrasts. So, this week I begin writing this piece at Zurich airport. It is a cold, dark morning and snow covers the tops of cars and gives runways a wet, icy look but inside the arrivals terminal it is so warm that winter clothes become uncomfortable. The airport is full of Indians, some of whom have travelled with me on the flight from Mumbai. Do they see the contrasts, I ask myself, do they notice that this airport looks nothing at all like Mumbai airport? Did they notice, as I did, the haze of polluted air that hung over our biggest city as we drove through crowded, chaotic streets all of which seemed makeshift and half-built, like a country under permanent construction, like a country where everything is makeshift? Did they notice that Mumbai airport was an even bigger mess because, although it is one of our newer airports, it has been built with so little foresight that there are already too many cars, too many passengers? Did they notice how passengers had to fight their way through traffic jams and large clusters of people to get into the terminal? Did they notice the chaos inside as passengers scrambled over each other fighting to use the hopelessly inadequate facilities? Did they notice when they got to Zurich that the Third World disappears instantly as chaos is replaced by order?

There are all kinds of Indian travellers here. There are rich businessmen whose wives wear expensive Swiss watches and carry luggage made by Louls Vuitton and Fendi. They wear smart trouser suits and seem to have an endless supply of foreign exchange. In the Caviar House, which caters to the world’s gourmets, an Indian woman asks for “the largest tin you have of Beluga caviar”. Prices are exorbitant this year because production in the Caspian Sea is now controlled by the Russian mafia and the “eggs of the virgin sturgeon” can cost several his hundred dollars a tin but seems not to worry the Indian lady. I peer closely to see if she is the wife of the some important Indian tycoon but she turns out to be just another rich Indian.

There are poor Indians too in much larger numbers. They wear the lost, slightly frightened expression of first time travellers and they stand around uncertainly in obscure corners as if hoping that nobody will notice them and send them home before they can find the jobs they have come desperately seeking. They wear ill-fitting suits, hastily put together by small town tailors, and when it comes to their turn in the immigration queues they face a virtual inquisition.

What brings you here? How long will you be staying? Where will you be staying? How do you plan to support yourself? They answer nervously in incomprehensible English while their richer compatriots sail through with their Louis Vuitton luggage. Nobody wants to risk helping them out in case they themselves get into trouble, not even the middle class Indians who look mostly like officials and wives of officials. By the time we get to London I notice that the interrogation of our poorer countrymen becomes almost a humiliation. Sometimes they are ordered to sit and wait while others go through. They look so scared and confused that I am tempted to offer some help but the immigration officer I am sent to is an Indian, a clean-shaven Sikh wearing the traditional steel kadda, but he is a British Indian and seems keen to give me as hard a time as possible. Are you here on business or pleasure? Where will you be staying? Are you sure you are only staying for four days? How can I help someone else when I seem almost to need help myself?

London is as cold and grey as Zurich. The streets are wet and a thin, nasty drizzle falls permanently. Even gardens are grey and colourless and filled with leafless trees. It is a Sunday morning and when I get to the safety and warmth of my hotel room I pursue the Sunday Times for news of India. It is the day after America got its new President so pictures of George W. Bush are splashed everywhere and nearly all the news is of other countries. But buried on an inside page I notice a headline that says,‘Britons take war holidays in Kashmir’. “At least 900 young British Muslims are leaving the country each year to take part in the battle for Kashmir, with many using holidays from good jobs to fight in what they regard as a holy war, an investigation has revealed.”

“Recruited in mosques, bookshops and community groups, they spend three months being trained in mountain camps on the Pakistan border before entering the conflict against India”. Did it make the front pages of our own newspapers I wonder only to remember that we have been more concerned, for reasons unknown, with whether Hurriyat leaders will manage to get to Pakistan.

That night I meet an Indian writer and his wife. They live in England but return to India every year to keep their roots alive. They puzzle over why India seems so completely unable to get its economic act together. They tell me that they always go home with hope and return to the West in despair. “Nothing seems to get any better,” they murmur “and now the pollution in the cities is so awful, the poverty so grim that the thought of living in India permanently is difficult to contemplate”. They want to know why Mr Vajpayee’s government has not managed to get its act together and I tell them that I have no answers for their questions but admit that unless things start getting better soon India will be left so far behind by the rest of the world that we could be written off as a basket case. Our talented software, doctors and management whiz kids will simply disappear into the global village the world now is with India still dreaming of becoming an economic super power.

In India this does not seem like such an impossible dream. In recent months I have heard more than one speech by the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister with their boasts of how we will soon be growing at 9 per cent and how if we can sustain this kind of economic growth for 10 years then we will certainly become the world’s next economic superpower. But, this year we have grown at less than 6 per cent and whatever growth there has been seems to have not filtered downwards at all so our villages still look as if the 21st century has passed them by. In Orissa, not long ago, I travelled through village after village that had no radios, no television, no means of communication with the rest of the world and in most cases not even the cheapest kind of consumer goods. I think of this as I plough my way through the crowds on London’s Oxford Street and notice that the vast stores filled with their expensive goods are filled with shoppers. The restaurants are full as well because even at this time of the year London is full of tourists, many of whom are Indians. Will we have one Indian city that looks like this in even 50 years I ask myself and admit that it does not seem possible even if we do grow at 9 per cent for the next 10 years.

I remember a calculation that an Indian economist told me he had made : if India grows at 9 per cent annually it will still take us 28 years to reach the standard of Thailand. But, even that is an achievement that could be out of reach unless our politicians realise that they need to spend more time doing things that are useful instead of completely useless. Think of the fact that in the past ten years or so Bombay has become Mumbai, Madras as has become Chennai and Calcutta now proudly calls itself Kolkata. Has it made any difference? No, all these cities still provide hopelessly inadequate municipal services and vast numbers of their citizens live in shanties so grim and unsanitary that they would be considered unfit for human habitation anywhere else in the world.

While walking through London’s winter streets I find myself marvelling, like some villager, at the wideness of the roads, at the fact that I see not a scrap of garbage anywhere and that even in poorer parts of the city there is no evidence of real poverty. There are also proper systems of public transport, housing and sanitation so that even the poorest immigrants from India and China live in decent homes instead of in shanties. 


“Adopt Chinese model of rice transplantation”

RECOMMENDING the Chinese model of rice transplantation, the Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Dr R S Paroda, says that narrowing down of crop diversity, improper use of technology and socio-economic factors are largely responsible for the declining crop productivity in several pockets of Haryana and Punjab. He is categoric that alternative cropping system should be put in place. He told GAURAV CHOUDHRY in an interview that agriculture is a question of livelihood for India and appropriate policies need to be put in place to help farmers recycle crops.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. What was the outcome of the Indian Science Congress?

A: The outcome of the Indian Science Congress (ISC) in particular was to gear up research and development activities towards addressing the concerns of poverty and nutritional security as also conservation of natural resources. This is despite the significant achievements on food front. So, we have to ensure that poverty is reduced in the next two decades to at least half the present level of about 27 per cent BPL. The objective is to reduce it to 10 to 12 per cent. That is possible only by providing more employment opportunities and giving economic access of food to the poor. This would require significant agri-based rural industrialisation besides diversification in agriculture and better post-harvest management. At least 2 per cent of agricultural GDP should be made available to address these challenges and for agricultural research and development.

Q: Research has been concentrated in a few select public sector institutions. What role do you see for the private sector in the crucial agriculture sector?

A: The private sector has played its role in the recent past, especially in the seed, the fertiliser and pesticides sectors. Now they have to come forward in post harvest management and agro-based industrialisation through capital infusion. Moreover, they have to adopt a more aggressive approach in providing inputs to farmers by organising more extensive demonstration activities at the field level. This would ensure proper dissemination of information about the correct technologies and facilitate making the appropriate inputs available to the farmers.

However, we feel that because of their obvious interest in technologies where they have their intellectual property protected, the private sector may not come forward in all the areas of agriculture. Their interests would still be in specialised fields. Investment from the private sector might not be easily forthcoming. It can be in the range of 15 to 20 per cent.

Q. An ICAR report had expressed concern about the decline in crop productivity in Haryana and Punjab. What measures would you suggest to reverse the trend?

A: In general if one looks at the productivity increases in rice and wheat (these are two most important crops and the lifeline of our food security) even in states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh there has been consistent increase in production and productivity. That is why we have been getting record harvests. Therefore, decline in productivity should not be seen as a general trend. But in some farms and districts there are concerns of second generation problems pertaining to the green revolution. The problems are due to increase of salinity or salt, depletion of water tables because of excessive use of underground water and micro-nutrient deficiency especially zinc and sulphur.

Q: Despite the talk for a “green revolution” in eastern India, nothing much has been done. What are the reasons for this?

A: Now it is beginning to happen. The growth rates of eastern India are also picking up and are almost comparable to those in the northern part of the country. After achieving very high levels of growth, rates have slowed down in northern India. From a low base the growth rates in eastern India has begun to pick up in recent times. The gap is narrowing down. Secondly, in the eastern region farmers are gradually switching from the rainy season to the winter season. Resilience in Indian agriculture has grown primarily because we have started to adopt more technologically oriented methods of cultivation compatible to the winter season. This gives more control to the famers and reduces dependence on the vagaries of the climate and weather and precision farming becomes possible. West Bengal and Assam in the East have made rapid strides especially after the implementation of the shallow tubewell programmes. Assam has now become self-sufficient in rice. In Bihar water is found even six feet below the ground and we can work wonders there too. I mean to say that things are picking up both in terms of mechanisation and yield.

Q: Food wastage in India is in excess of Rs 70,000 crore annually. How do we minimise the losses?

A: The losses range between 3 and 4 per cent in cereals to almost 30 per cent in vegetables and fruits. Personally, I feel that post-harvest management and value addition is an important area requiring major attention. We are paying a lot of attention on research and development in this matter. It would require massive involvement of the private sector. The formation of cooperatives by the farmers in the rural areas and going into the operations where they can produce and market has become necessary so that the dependence on the intermediary is reduced to ensure the consumer get fair prices.



Fear is conquered by practicing courage; selfishness by practicing charity.

Avoid the excessive use of those scales by means of which you measure other people, financially, mentally and morally.

Avoid egoism, and you will do something to avoid the inferiority feeling.

Avoid the fear of comparison - the dread that you may be outclassed.

Avoid the temptation to run away from your troubles; in fact you cannot run away from them. They follow on your heels.

Avoid the idea that your case in infinitely worse than others. There is always one that is superior in agony to yours.

Maintain a hopeful attitude, even in days that are dark and dreary.

Keep your mind fixed on the possibilities ahead of you. Nothing can be done to change the past but much to avert its less agreeable consequences.

Face the unpleasant fact with courage never with fear.

There is a superiority for you, somewhere. Go forward until you find it.

— Pelmanism. Lesson no. 3 and 7.


In one's own interest one should first improves one's conduct.

In order to make process on the spiritual path one should take to pure thoughts everyday.

When the mind is set on conduct based on truth, all the defects get destroyed of their own just as darkness recedes in the presence of light.

— Mahatma Mangat


She (the Mother) is in this body-contraption. Only by knowing her can one escape from this contraption. Otherwise, you will be whirlers round and round endlessly.

— Sri Turiyananda, Prabuddha Bharata, November 1972.

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