Friday, February 2, 2001,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


A budget for disaster
OR the second day running Prime Minister Vajpayee has talked of a tough budget, both the general and the railway ones. And taking an obvious clue, Finance Minister Sinha has given up his earlier reluctance and has agreed to impose new taxes. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is pathologically opposed to increasing burden on the people, should hopefully fall in line.

The Sukh Ram verdict
ITY the Congress for having expelled Mr Sukh Ram from the party for his alleged role in the multi-crore telecom scam in 1996. The Delhi High Court on Monday discharged the former Communications Minister and the then Communications Secretary Runu Ghosh in the case in which a contract worth Rs 30.20 crore for the supply of sophisticated equipment was given to a Hyderabad-based firm by allegedly bending the prescribed norms. 


Disaster mismanagement
February 1
, 2001
Earthquake economics
January 31
, 2001
The world responds
January 30
, 2001
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


Nation in dire distress
Disaster as a new symbol of liberal nationalism
S a people, we rise as one nation during times of crises, whether it is a war or a natural calamity. This has been amply proved during the past five decades or so of Independence. During the armed conflicts with Pakistan in 1965, 1971 and 1999, public response had to be seen to be believed. In the wake of natural calamities in Uttaranchal's Uttarkashi, Orissa, Maharashtra's Latur and Himachal Pradesh, national solidarity and resolve were very evident.


Rigmarole of the Richter scale
ISASTER time is a good time for grappling with life’s unknown facets. Like the Richter scale to measure the intensity of an earthquake. Many youngsters ask why a natural phenomenon measuring 6.9 on a scale — yes, 6.9 — should kill so many and destroy so many houses. 

  • A God-sent saviour

  • Padma Shri & Padmaja


Davos: whining and dining as usual
By M.S.N. Menon
NDIA would no more be a petitioner at the councils of Europe. So said Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of Indian independence. India is now over 50 years old. It has not ceased to be a petitioner. Perhaps it is India’s habit?


Diabetes affects salary
IABETES takes a substantial toll on patients’ pocketbooks as well as their health, researchers report. People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are more likely to miss work than their healthy colleagues. As a result, their annual income may be reduced by as much as one-third, according to study findings published in the January issue of Diabetes Care.

  • Pill-shaped endoscope

  • Follow his orders




A budget for disaster

FOR the second day running Prime Minister Vajpayee has talked of a tough budget, both the general and the railway ones. And taking an obvious clue, Finance Minister Sinha has given up his earlier reluctance and has agreed to impose new taxes. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is pathologically opposed to increasing burden on the people, should hopefully fall in line. But officials indicate that Mr Sinha’s efforts will be confined to raising an additional Rs 1000 crore to replenish the National Calamity Contingency Fund, out of which Gujarat stands to receive Rs 500 crore. Railway earnings are down by about Rs 1000 crore compared to the budget estimate and she too may be satisfied with just covering this deficit. In both cases it would not do to raise small amounts to paper over earthquake-induced cracks in government finance. The Gujarat disaster is an opportunity to launch a major reconstruction of the way funds are raised and spent. Offhand there are two areas to boost revenue. Abolish all direct tax exemptions and reduce the rate of taxes. This has two virtues. High income earners misuse these concessions to deny Mr Sinha his due. Tax evasion is a growth industry in this country and that cries out for early and total demolition. Who knows, if the rates are lowered more people may join to swell the rank of tax payers. Many studies have shown that a lower rate does not bring down the revenue; it actually increases it. The second area is the wholly distorted pricing of petroleum products. Petrol is over-priced, as a homage to the so-called socialist thinking of yore when car was treated as a luxury item. Diesel is subsidised, even after the cess of Re 1 a litre for road development. In the name of rationalising, Mr Sinha should equalise the prices of the two and also claim that this will end the pernicious practice of adulterating petrol with diesel. Of course, he will demur saying that diesel demand is already falling and a price increase will worsen the situation and add to inflationary pressure. The first is more closely linked to economic slowdown and cheaper petrol will neutralise dearer diesel. The petroleum sector needs urgent reform and let it flow as an earthquake aftermath.

Mr Sinha’s greatest challenge is to slash government expenditure. One item, salary and allowances to central government employees, takes away Rs 75,000 crore. He should aim at reducing staff strength by one third during the next decade. This is no revolutionary suggestion; the fifth Pay Commission made a generous wage increase conditional on downsizing. For at least one year the government should ban all those lavish lunches and dinners in five-star hotels. The Prime Minister’s Iftar party at the Ashoka went ill with the general standard of living. Since the VIP guest list is the same every time, these costly meals do not win any new support, political or social. There is a streak of feudalism in all this. Like in carting a planeload of senior reporters with the Prime Minister to assess the extent of damage in Gujarat. Or, the totally avoidable expenditure of Rs 2 crore to “greet” him in Lucknow. He is not surely pleased with the 76 torans the Rajnath Singh government set up. Actually it was an unabashed demonstration of servility surviving from a bygone era. This is mental feet-touching as is suffocating a VVIP with bouquets on all odd occasions. A modern mind rejects all this. And a poor country should be appalled by this show of Mughal courtesy. A frugal way of life blends well with the tradition and truly reflects the common lifestyle. And the “leaders” should set an example. Let 2001 be the year of Gujarat and revival of simple living even if high thinking is beyond most of the present set of leaders. Go ahead Mr Sinha, denying funds for these irritating tamashas is a better way of cutting down expenditure than making fair price grain costly.


The Sukh Ram verdict

PITY the Congress for having expelled Mr Sukh Ram from the party for his alleged role in the multi-crore telecom scam in 1996. The Delhi High Court on Monday discharged the former Communications Minister and the then Communications Secretary Runu Ghosh in the case in which a contract worth Rs 30.20 crore for the supply of sophisticated equipment was given to a Hyderabad-based firm by allegedly bending the prescribed norms. Special Judge Ajit Bharihoke had allowed the framing of charges against Mr Sukh Ram, Ms Runu Ghosh and Managing Director of the Hyderabad firm P. Rama Rao on the basis of the CBI’s chargesheet against the three. Allowing the revision petition Justice R. S. Sodhi ruled that there was no material in the CBI’s chargesheet to support its allegation that Mr Sukh Ram had abused his office to cause “pecuniary advantage of Rs 1.68 crore to Rao at the expense of the government”. Had the then Prime Minister, Mr P. V. Narasimha Rao, known that what the CBI was indulging in was a witch-hunt, he may not have sought the resignation of Mr Sukh Ram from the Council of Ministers. This is the case which gave the Bharatiya Janata Party the opening to stall the proceedings of the Lok Sabha for nearly a fortnight. It is a different matter that the BJP-led coalition is in power in Himachal Pradesh because of Mr Sukh Ram’s support! The verdict in favour of the former Communications Minister should make the anti-corruption lobby to demand a thorough restructuring of the laws and procedures dealing with economic offences. Something is seriously wrong somewhere in the approach of the CBI in investigating cases of corruption in high places. It is clear as daylight that the CBI’s functioning itself needs a thorough probe before it is allowed to continue to perform the role of the premier investigating agency in the country. Because of the failure of the agency to secure conviction in some of the most high profile cases it has handled, the credibility of the media too has taken a beating.

For nearly a fortnight most newspapers led with stories of raids on the premises of Mr Sukh Ram and Ms Runu Ghosh in which cash and jewellery worth crores of rupees were allegedly recovered. Mr Sukh Ram, who was in London at the time of the raids, delayed his return, which was sold to the gullible media by the CBI as proof of his guilt. The fact that on his return he got himself admitted at the AIIMS for treatment too went against him. In the famous Jain hawala case, too, the CBI had claimed to have procured clinching evidence for ensuring the conviction of a large number of senior politicians, cutting across party lines. However, the trial court in Delhi was not impressed with introduction of a diary of the Jain brothers containing initials of the political leaders who had allegedly taken non-refundable amounts for rendering unspecified services. Mr L. K. Advani set a healthy precedent by retiring from politics so long as his name was not cleared by the judiciary. Exactly a year before the verdict in the Sukh Ram case the city court in Delhi put the lid on the case by stating that “prima facie there is nothing on record to show that any of the accused, who are public servants, have obtained any pecuniary advantage either for themselves or for someone else”. The Delhi High Court gave much the same reasons for throwing out the case against Mr Sukh Ram. The fate of the hawala and the telecom cases should leave no scope for doubt that the legal and investigative parameters for a more meaningful and effective campaign for rooting out corruption in high places need to be drastically redrawn. The Union Law Minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, should give the highest priority to seeking the views of top legal luminaries and investigators for plugging both judicial and investigative loopholes for improving the rate of conviction, particularly in cases involving senior politicians and bureaucrats. This is necessary for the lawmakers to retain the trust of the people in their professed commitment to rooting out corruption in high places.


Nation in dire distress
Disaster as a new symbol of liberal nationalism

AS a people, we rise as one nation during times of crises, whether it is a war or a natural calamity. This has been amply proved during the past five decades or so of Independence.

During the armed conflicts with Pakistan in 1965, 1971 and 1999, public response had to be seen to be believed. In the wake of natural calamities in Uttaranchal's Uttarkashi, Orissa, Maharashtra's Latur and Himachal Pradesh, national solidarity and resolve were very evident. In all such situations, the jawan invariably hogged the headlines. He has emerged as a national hero —a folk hero and a symbol of national action.

In the latest Gujarat tragedy also, it is the defence forces—the Army, the Air Force and the Navy—which have been in the forefront of relief and rescue operations. This is a tribute to their experience, commitment and discipline. In fact, they have come to symbolise the nation on the move. The people have come to depend on them.

At the civilian level, it was said during the Emergency that trains and planes ran on time. For a dynamic and forward-looking polity like ours nothing can be more shameful than to see work discipline and professional response working under the shadow of an emergency and not in a normal course.

To say this is not to minimise the importance of the civilian machinery. There are dedicated and responsive bureaucrats who do make a difference and provide a healing touch where it is needed the most.

In Gujarat, there is a rich tradition of voluntary service. I was an eyewitness to voluntary efforts during the Morvi dam disaster in Saurashtra in 1980. There was a Gandhian touch in the functioning of dedicated persons and voluntary organisations.

What matters is the spirit of service — the sort we could see in Punjab, especially in gurdwaras. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's noble gesture of running a huge kitchen for the quake-affected persons in Gujarat is in tune with Punjab's tradition of selfless service set by the great Gurus and saints.

However, one disquieting fact of public life is that we have politicised practically every facet of national thinking and functioning. There is too much of politics — that too of a negative variety — in every area of activity.

An overdose of politics at workplace can be killing. We have seen how even economic decisions have got politicised. A number of projects have gone haywire simply because they were decided on political considerations rather than on the basis of realistic economic and professional appraisal.

Besides, we forget about a disaster the moment the crisis is over. Lessons are hardly learnt. Follow-up actions are often a non-starter. That is the reason why we are not prepared for calamities and are as exposed to the fury of nature as before. This is a matter of attitude and mindset.

Some problems never go away. If anything, they have a way of reappearing, often in a more virulent form. By now we should have evolved some consensus on major concerns.

Most aberrations seen in our disaster management system (a mere paper work) result from the poor quality of leadership. Spineless leaders operating at all levels of governance live by adhocism and think mostly in terms of votebank politics. They do not hesitate to cash in on human miseries for the sake of money and power.

Then we have a highly bureaucratised system of governance which, for all practical purposes, has delinked itself from ground realities. Most administrators living in air-conditioned comfort are insensitive to the people's sufferings and inconvenience. They hardly interact at the grassroots level and, therefore, do not know what the pangs of deprivation, poverty and hunger mean. This is a major reason why the development process in most parts of the country has either been lopsided or inadequate.

Another harsh fact is the lack of adequate seriousness in addressing ourselves to the pressing problems of the people. It is an open secret that certain areas in the country are in high seismic zone. This should have prompted leaders both at the Centre and in the states to work out concrete plans to meet any eventuality arising out of a high intensity earthquake or supercyclone.

That the Kutch region is highly vulnerable to earthquake of high intensity has been known to the authorities. Still, no serious efforts were initiated to prepare the people to face a severe challenge.

Because of its geographical position, climate and geological setting, India has to face natural disasters almost every year. There has hardly been a year when one part of the country or the other does not suffer. The failure of the monsoon or excessive rain and flood and even cyclones in coastal areas have become quite common.

The fragility of the Himalayan region too is a major cause for concern because of the possibility of an earthquake, landslide and avalanche. According to one estimate, nearly 60 million people in the country suffer every year in one natural disaster or the other.

Comprehensive data are now available dividing the country into various seismic zones which demand a highly professional response system for the type of houses that should be built in concert with the necessary infrastructural facilities to meet disaster challenges. Indeed, every disaster-prone area has to be specially earmarked along with the requisite backup as part of disaster management.

A number of studies have been undertaken in the past in this regard. But hardly any action has been initiated. The only silver lining is provided by the follow-up action taken in the aftermath of the Latur earthquake of 1993. I understand that a well-organised disaster management plan is in place in Maharashtra after the Latur tragedy.

The time has come for the country to think on new lines in a positive manner. It is gratifying to note that the response from the world community to the Gujarat disaster is tremendous. The people have cut across the barriers of caste, community, creed, region and religion to offer a helping hand. This display of oneness is what has to be seen as a symbol of India's new liberal nationalism with a human face.

In fact, such a thinking should manifest itself even in normal times. This is possible if the persons at the helm, especially at the political and administrative levels, show a better sense of commitment to the people as well as a degree of honesty and transparency. It is a pity that we have an overdose of corrupt and inefficient politicians and administrators.

We have brought ourselves to the absurd level not because we lack the capability or the resources to do better, but because of our half-hearted and casual approach to basic issues.

As on the sports field, we as a people seem to lack a definite purpose, the requisite killer instinct, the ability to carry through what we deem essential.

In every walk of national life, we ought to be professional and business-like in our thinking and working. The miseries of the people who suffer in Gujarat could have been minimised to a large extent if we had taken preventive steps and worked out a viable disaster management plan.

Such a plan should automatically get into action in any crisis situation. In the final analysis, a preventive action plan will not require massive funds which are spent for relief and rehabilitation operations after a disaster strikes.

The important thing is to think about the directions we ought to take. If our direction and goals are chosen strategically and pursued relentlessly, we may see impossible to begin to look possible.

Democracy demands nurturing and growth of civil society, citizen participation and citizens' association in order to provide a fertile basis for the working of collective human enterprise for common public good. But the moot point is: where do we draw the line to make governance more effective and decision-making more independent?

What prevails here is not mere hypocrisy of manners or of language; it is something deeper. In any case, the damage is done. For, hypocrisy corrupts and absolute hypocrisy corrupts absolutely.

There are, however, no short-cuts to the challenge of managing the country professionally and efficiently. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee should think on modern professional lines and lead the nation in the 21st century with the sole resolve of "less rhetoric and hypocrisy and more action"—the action which has to be for the good and welfare of the people and not for filling the pockets of operators, manipulators and power brokers. 


Rigmarole of the Richter scale

DISASTER time is a good time for grappling with life’s unknown facets. Like the Richter scale to measure the intensity of an earthquake. Many youngsters ask why a natural phenomenon measuring 6.9 on a scale — yes, 6.9 — should kill so many and destroy so many houses. It sounds innocuous and harmless at 6.9 on the Richter scale. That is the most tightly hidden scientific secret.

The Richter scale is supposed to be open-ended, meaning there is a starting point but no ceiling. But rarely does it register more than 8 points because at that level of intensity, an earthquake will destroy everything and there will be nothing more to suffer damage and hence there is no need to redefine the scale.

Before Charles Richter of California rigged up in 1935 this mechanism to measure the destructive potential of an earthquake, the world relied on Mercalli’s to understand the true nature of nature’s anger. What Richter did was to use logarithm to reconstruct the earthquake study. As every high school student of arithmetic knows, this logarithmic way jumps by 10 times as the number goes up by one. For instance, 5 is not one point more than 4 or just an increase of 25 per cent but is 10 times powerful than four. As the scale point goes up, the intensity goes up by several times. Truly, the number is totally misleading in this case.

There is right now a debate about the magnitude of the Gujarat earthquake. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) records it at 6.9 points on the Richter scale but the US authorities maintain it is actually 7.9. The difference of opinion is easily explained. The Indian figure is about the energy released by the shifting of surface rocks. The USA goes by the surface tremors. Obviously, there is a sharp difference between the East and the West even in assessing the death-dealing effects of an earthquake.

If it is any consolation, there are hundreds of earthquakes the people do not feel because the effects are too little and there are a few which leave no room for people to feel because these kill many. The Gujarat earthquake has set off panic and media persons in Delhi have started worrying about their own safety and that of lesser mortals.

If you believe in this report, Delhi is a few months or years away from a greater disaster than Gujarat’s. But in India nobody believes in Cassandras until they become silent victims.

A God-sent saviour

IT may not be straight out of a Shakespearean drama. But in real life, tragedies produce their share of heroes too. Take the case of Col S.K. Saxena of the Army Medical Corps (AMC). As a man in uniform, he has taken the oath in the Academy: “Your nation comes first, always and everytime”. On January 26 Col Saxena was taking part in the R-day ceremony at the military hospital in Bhuj when the earth stirred uncontrollably. Least did the Colonel realise momentarily that his Oath will be put to one of the severest tests.

Structurally half of the hospital was reduced to rubble, direly needed equipment lost and electricity snapped. Within half an hour, the hospital was flooded with traumatised and severely injured quake-affected people. Unnerved by the alarming situation, Col Saxena led a small team of three other doctors in performing on the spot life-saving operations in a non-clinical ambience.

With just one portable X-ray machine and a generator to provide electricity for the makeshift operation theatre, Col Saxena and his team waged on relentlessly battling through broken limbs, hands and heads. Considering the pressure building up he operated continuously for close to 28 hours — including one Caesarian section.

In his career he must have faced similar challenges on the war front while tending to wounded soldiers. But, as he himself said, the present situation was different in that it was the fury of the elements. And the sheer enormity of the natural calamity and its telling impact on a populace which least expected an earthquake of such devastating magnitude posed a tremendous challenge. At last count 1500 surgeries had been performed during what seemed an unending march of tending the wounded.

For Col Saxena it was reminiscent of the “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Needless to say there were no canons to the right or left of him but an endless stream of benumbed people with broken bones in their body. Col Saxena, who stood his ground and performed his duty despite the imposing odds, deserves a salute for keeping up the finest traditions of the armed forces.

Padma Shri & Padmaja

ALPHA Marathi, a Zee channel, featured Padmaja Joglekar as the judge of its musical contest on Tuesday. She failed to set the show on fire, partly because the singers lacked the classical and dramatic touch so characteristic of light classical music of the state. As is customary, she belted out a number at the end and again sadly failed to inject a degree of excitement Maharashtrians are vulnerable to. Anyway, who is this Padmaja Joglekar?

Her claim to fame rests on two closely related events. In 1999 she hit the headlines by singing 10 verses penned by someone called Atal Behari Vajpayee and more than a year later, that is last week, found her name in the list of Padma Shri awardees. Yes, she won the lowest civilian award for her musical labours in boosting the poetic image of the Prime Minister, and the regional television channel promptly recognised her talents since she is the latest musical star from Maharashtra. Padmaja has proved that one can sing his or her way to award-dom!

She has not yet become a singing sensation as her Padma Shri demands. But if she plays her cards, sorry chords, well, she will soon join the ranks of filmi artistes in Bollywood. She is not an unknown entity in Marathi cinema but then there is more face recognition than money there. She keeps repeating that she is willing to sing in Hindi films but that is not the same as producers signing her.

Padmaja has a hybrid musical heritage. She studied for some years under Pandit Jasraj; his daughter was her friend. She then shifted to the most accomplished sarangi player, Pandit Ram Narain, before seeking the help of Hridayanath Mangeshkar, the brother of the more illustrious Lata. This is inexplicable. In Maharashtra, as in most parts of India, students are fiercely loyal to their gurus and the gharanas make one a member of the family.

Back to Padma awards. Normally it is given for the service to society in a chosen field. Sportsmen win it for their outstanding performance. Others after years of work. The Padma award is a recognition of service and not a stepping stone to public recognition or a thank-you gesture. If this sounds cynical and harsh, try this. Another name in the haloed list is Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat. Ranawat who? He is the Indore-born surgeon who has settled in the USA for years but who became famous for repairing Mr Vajpayee’s left knee.

Between Padmaja Joglekar and Dr Ranawat the connection is too obvious to escape the eye of anyone.


Davos: whining and dining as usual
By M.S.N. Menon

INDIA would no more be a petitioner at the councils of Europe. So said Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of Indian independence. India is now over 50 years old. It has not ceased to be a petitioner. Perhaps it is India’s habit?

We used to take our petitions to the UN before. But the UN is no more a place for redressals. So we, take them to other agencies. For example, to the WTO for problems connected with trade.

We can, of course, take our complaints to the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos. But that is to let off steam. It can serve no other purpose, for it has no powers to bring you help. The WEF was created to promote globalisation. Its task was to force economic reforms on the developing countries. But globalisation has run into serious debacles. For instance, in Mexico and Asia. Millions have been reduced to poverty and destitution.

But that has not made the WEF any wiser. It continues to press on with its mission. Claude Smadja of the WEF is an indefatigable man. He was here in India last November to tell us that we are not doing enough for reforms, particularly financial reforms. He wanted India to open up its doors wider for foreign direct investment.

Now, India is divided on this issue. The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), a body of consisting of most of the MNCs, agrees with Smadja. But FICCI does not agree. To prove its point, it got a study done on the subject among 400 MNCs. And they (75 per cent) said that India is one of the best destinations for investment, and that profits are average to good. That means “excellent.”

How can we account for this contradiction? Because CII is expected to get more concessions.

Armed with the FICCI, study, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha was at Davos this time, no doubt with his petition. He complained that although our doors are wide open and profits are good, foreign investors are “shy” to invest in India. He wanted to know why the promises of globalisation have failed.

Globalisation made two major promises: to promote foreign investment as also exports. With what outcome? China receives $ 50 billion foreign direct investment yearly. (It is true that most of it comes from overseas Chinese). The returns are said to be good in China and labour is disciplined. What about India? With great difficulty we are able to attract $ 4 billion investment yearly. The returns are as good as in China, if not better, but the labour is a problem. The fact is: in India some of the investors make super-profits. But, as they say, there is no limit to greed. The foreign MNCs want more. Hence the tantrums.

But Yashwant Sinha was not brought up in a culture that calls a spade a spade. So he talked about the growing “inequity” of the present economic system. He advanced three specific problems: that the rich countries continue to protect their markets; that while their lifestyles damage the global environment, they ask poor countries to cut down growth to protect environment; and that the rich are becoming highly selective in their immigration policies.

Well, the Davos audience was not stunned by these revelations, for these are ideas repeated ad nauseum. Why couldn’t Mr Sinha declare the figures of returns made by foreign MNCs in the last two decades, their takeover tactics, their tricks, their expansion in India, and the astronomical growth of their assets? As I said, he is a gentleman. Surely only in India there are MNCs who regularly declare a dividend of over 50 per cent?

So, how is one to explain this constant pressure on India to open up? Greed, that is one answer. The other is: India is a “soft” state always ready to bend under pressure. China is not known to bend.

India must tell the world: take it or leave it. We must know our strength. We have the third largest market in the world. And we have the third largest scientific pool. Our weakness lies in our inability to make a “capital glut”, just as we have a potato glut today. It can be done. But we must know how it can be done.

As regards the promise of huge exports, especially of agro products, the story is rather murky. Our Ministers (Jhakar and Mukherji, in particular) went ga-ga about it. They promised a growth of 20 per cent yearly. Today, we are disappointed. No use blaming the WTO alone for it, as our politicians are doing. We must know our weaknesses as also follies. But first our weaknesses.

India accounts for 10 per cent of agricultural production, but only 1 per cent of the world exports. But why? Because we have no proper export base. We sell what is surplus, and in bulk. When we sell our surplus, we are unable to ensure quantity, quality and fail in our commitment to importers. And when we sell in bulk, we forgo all value additions.

To go into export, we must be sure of our supply base. This is possible only if we commercialise our agriculture, at least the export sector by involving our corporates. In any case, to promote genetic engineering, tissue culture and biotechnology, we have to put our agriculture on a scientific basis. This cannot be done by the two-acre farmers.

India is among the largest producers of groundnuts, rice, vegetables and fruits. But our yields are poor. In groundnut, we are 72nd, in rice 54th, and so on. If only we can step up yield, we will be more competitive in the world.

And we must be in tune with the times. Today, the rich nations are highly health conscious. Here is scope for value additions. But our farmers are blissfully unaware of these matters. Whose fault is this? Of our agricultural authorities.

Without domestic and foreign markets, it is dangerous to step up production. It can only lead to suicides among farmers. This was what happened in Karnataka and Andhra. And, now, with potato farmers. I blame again the agricultural authorities and agricultural universities.

India has price advantage in some items. But this is being ruined by stepping up support prices. For example, wheat. We have an unsold stock of 42 million tonnes now because we have priced it out of the world markets. This is “vote bank” politics at its worst.

India can be an agricultural super power. But this calls for a highly developed processing industry. Today, processed foods are so costly that there are no buyers for it.

Take atta for instance. Only 1 per cent of atta consumption is processed and packaged. This is because the price of processed atta is unreasonably high.

Agro processing in India is still in its infancy. Packaging is perhaps in a worse position. Yet here is a potential giant which could have provided millions of jobs and earned billions for the country by way of exports. Today the industry is under real threat.

The government is planning to give it a tax holiday in view of its decision to reduce import tariffs further and to remove all quantitative restrictions on imports.

Tax holiday will not mitigate the crisis. Farmers must diversify in order to survive. But this calls for markets for new products. The Uruguay Round reforms were expected to provide a solution by forcing the rich to give up their tariff walls. But the rich are putting up non-tariff walls.

So, India has called for a re-cast of the globalisation process on the principle of equal opportunity to ensure greater market access. The rich are deaf to such appeals.

Yashwant Sinha told the Davos meeting that the poor are no more prepared to suffer poverty. An old cliche. This kind of winning will not bring about any solution.

India has already made great sacrifices for the sake of globalisation. The rewards are almost nil. It is time to give up the culture of the petitioners. We must show our strength.


Diabetes affects salary

DIABETES takes a substantial toll on patients’ pocketbooks as well as their health, researchers report.

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are more likely to miss work than their healthy colleagues. As a result, their annual income may be reduced by as much as one-third, according to study findings published in the January issue of Diabetes Care.

The report, based on data from 1989, found that diabetes reduced the annual income of US workers anywhere from $3,700 to $8,700. For example, the average healthy white American man aged 55 or older earned about $27,500, while a similar man with diabetes earned about $18,800, Dr Ying Chu Ng, from Hong Kong Baptist University in China, and colleagues explain.

People with diabetes were 3.5% less likely to be in the labour force than those without the disease, after adjusting for age, social circumstances and health status, the authors note.

Diabetics who also have complications were 12% less likely to be employed, compared with diabetics who do not suffer from medical complications. And those with complications worked 3.2 fewer days every two weeks, results show.

“In sum, diabetes complications have an enormous effect on work loss,” study co-author Dr. Philip Jacobs, from the Institute of Health Economics in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, told Reuters Health.

Diabetes accounted for $27 billion in direct medical costs and $32 billion in indirect or lost productivity costs in 1997, according to the American Diabetes Association.

“The avoidance or retardation of complications will have an impact on indirect health-related costs,” the researchers conclude.

The findings are based on an analysis of national data on more than 1,300 people with diabetes. Data included workforce participation, hours of work, job and demographic variables, and health status. The study included blue- and white-collar workers. (Reuters)

Male contraceptive injection

IN a finding that may come as welcome news to women tired of being responsible for birth control, a new study shows that an experimental form of male contraception suppresses the production of sperm.

The study provides some good news for men, too, since the contraceptive injections used in the study only have to be given every six weeks, not every week or two as in some other male contraceptives being tested.

The regimen tested in the study includes a form of the male sex hormone testosterone, testosterone undecanoate, and norethisterone enanthate (NETE), a hormone used in some female contraceptives. Over the course of 24 weeks, all 28 healthy men in the study, who were aged 18 to 45, received a testosterone injection every six weeks. Half of the men were randomly selected to also receive NETE injections, while the other men took a placebo, or dummy pill, every day.

Men in both groups experienced a decline in sperm count, but the reductions were larger in the men taking both hormones, according to Dr. Eberhard Nieschlag and colleagues at the University of Munster in Germany. By the end of the study, sperm production had completely stopped in 13 of the 14 men receiving the hormone combination but in only 7 of the 14 taking testosterone alone. The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Both sets of injections did cause some sideeffects, including mild acne and pain where the hormones had been injected. And several men taking testosterone and NETE experienced an increase in nighttime sweating. But none of the men dropped out of the study due to sideeffects, and none complained of changes in mood or sexual function, the report indicates.

However, the injections did affect cholesterol levels, raising LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowering HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Although the hormone combination had more pronounced effects on cholesterol than testosterone alone, cholesterol levels in all men stayed within the normal range, according to the researchers. (Reuters)

Pill-shaped endoscope

A disposable capsule small enough to be swallowed like a tablet, yet equipped with lights and a video camera, can help doctors find problems in the stomach and small intestine, a team of London researchers reported in the January 18 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

If approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the technology could help patients avoid uncomfortable endoscopic procedures, in which a lighted tube is passed down the throat or up the rectum.

Mark Appleyard and his colleagues at the Royal London Hospital tested the inch-long device, made by Given Imaging of Yoqneam, Israel. Two of the three members of the team have links to the company.

In tests on four patients who had evidence of intestinal bleeding, the researchers were able to locate the sources of the bleeding in all four cases, according to their letter to the Journal.

“In general, capsule endoscope provided good views from mouth to colon,’’ they said. ``All four patients described the capsule as easy to swallow, painless and preferable to conventional endoscope.”

Its biggest drawback is that doctors can’t use the capsule—as they can an endoscope—to stop bleeding, take tissue samples, remove growths or repair problems.

“Although this technology cannot be used for biopsy or therapy, it may prove valuable in the assessment of bleeding in patients” in areas that are difficult to reach through endoscope, the Appleyard team said.

A clinical trial of the device began in New York last year. Other tests are underway at Assaf Harofe Hospital in Israel, the company said.

The capsule, propelled through the digestive tract by the same muscle contractions that move food, broadcasts images to antennas in a belt worn by the patient. The signals are recorded by a device on the belt that looks like a Walkman.

After about eight hours, the patient returns the belt to the clinic where the data are transformed into still images or a 30-minute video. The disposable capsule eventually ends up in the toilet and patients do not need to retrieve it. (Reuters)

Follow his orders

PSYCHOLOGIST Marilda Lipp after extensive interviews with criminals, the police and victims has come up with a manual which may just help people to save their lives in a situation of assault. Unfortunately, in a violent country like Brazil her manual is a case of live or die. The main principle of the book is: always do whatever they ask, never react, and remember that they have the gun and they are the bosses.

A graduate of the George Washington University and a Master in Social Stress from the National Institute of Health, in America, Marilda Lipp is a pioneer in Brazil in research on stress. She proposes the theory that both sides — the victim and the criminal — have only one second to make a decision and this increases the possibility of making a mistake.

According to her, in a scale of stress from 1 to 10, the assault reaches 9, behind only events such as death of family members under tragic conditions. Specialists suggest that those who follow the orders of the assailant during an assault reduce the risk of a tragic end. — (WFS)



Mother, I throw myself on Thy mercy;

Keep me in constant thought of Thee!

I seek no sensuous pleasures, Mother,

No fame or supernatural powers;

All that I ask is love for Thee,

Love unalloyed, unstained bydesire,

That seeks no share of wordly things.

Grant, too, O Mother, that Thy child,

Enchanted by the world's bewitchment,

May not forget Thee. Grant that the spell

of lust or gold may never lure me.

Mother dist Thou not understand

That I have no one else but Thee?

I know not how to chant Thy Name;

Devoid am I of all devotion,

Of wisdom too, that leads to Thee,

Of Genuine love. Bestow on me

That love I beg, in Thy bondless mercy.

— Sri Ramakrishna's Prayer to the Divine Mother


When arrows pierce or axes wound

A tree, if grows together sound;

From cruel, ugly speech you feel

A wound that time will never heal.

All spoken words if harsh and heedless

And inappropriate and needless

Are Self-condemnatory slips

That turn to poison on the lips.

— The Pachatantra, Book-III


Utter the praises of the Lord with your tongue.

— Sri Guru Granth Sahib, shlok M.9. page 1427

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