Friday, February 16, 2001,
Chandigarh, India



Nation in dire distress

This refers to Mr Hari Jaisingh’s article “Nation in dire distress: disaster as a new symbol of liberal nationalism” (Tribune, February 2). After the Gujarat earthquake everybody who is somebody is advocating the need for a foolproof disaster management system, especially in areas which are prone to earthquakes.

The support that the country has received from all over the world is a welcome sign. Everybody will contribute his or her bit and so will the government servants. In recent times, the cost of living has soared and the government employees were expecting the income tax limit to be raised from the existing Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 or more. Now the government has imposed a two per cent additional surcharge on income tax. The tax-payer is already paying a surcharge of 10 per cent on income between Rs 60,000 and Rs 1,50,000 and 15 per cent on income exceeding Rs 1,50,000.

When the employees are voluntarily contributing to the earthquake relief fund, where is the need for the additional surcharge?

Any disaster management scheme can only lessen the suffering but it cannot prevent the tragedy. The author is right in pointing out our half-hearted and casual approach to basic issues. The nation cannot afford to employ permanent staff for disaster management everywhere. This can only be done in selected areas. We can meet the tragedy by being austere. We shall have to be fairly simple in our official functions and avoid pomp and show and lavish spending.

IQBAL SINGH, Bijhari (Hamirpur)



True nationalism: Mr Hari Jaisingh has described the good work done by various societies and communities as a symbol of liberal nationalism.

No doubt, such good work needs to be appreciated. But this is no sign of nationalism. Most of our people remain unconcerned about their duty to the nation, specially in normal times. Not only that, there is no shortage of people, who do not mind indulging in anti-national activities for small personal gains. True nationalism is tested during peace time or when things are normal. And if we achieve that true nationalism, national disasters will be reduced.



Rhetoric & hypocrisy: In the face of any national crisis the Indian masses have stood as one man in their resolve and solidarity to the national cause. Their sense of commitment to the cause shines in sharp contrast to the lack of vision of our politico-bureaucratic response.

The leadership politicises every facet of national functioning, and subsists on ad hoc and patchwork solutions with an eye on the vote-bank. Their feudal mindset is betrayed in their style of functioning — holding darbars, lavish lunches and dinners in five star hotels, building arches and pandals to welcome VVIPs at the taxpayer’s cost. Our polity remains restricted to impressive rhetoric. Successive disasters — Kargil, Orissa and now Gujarat — have not made our leaders learn any lessons.

Our bureaucratic administration — not that it has any dearth of sincere, dedicated and responsive officers of integrity — has proved insensitive to the people’s sufferings. We have added manyfold to the cadre of officers and experts but have failed to develop a professional response system for the problems that visit us almost every year.

Can we hope that our politicians and bureaucrats will, at this moment of crisis, learn to avoid rhetoric and hypocrisy and make a serious and dedicated effort to mitigate the sufferings of the masses?


Ad hoc measures: As a country which is racked by disasters frequently, India still has its disaster management plan on the drawing board. At the level of the Central Government, the Ministers concerned take note of the crisis under the guidance of the PMO. The Cabinet Secretary is the Principal Coordinator for crisis management at the official level. The secretaries of the departments concerned constitute the crisis management committee on an ad hoc basis under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary.

There does not exist even a semi-permanent arrangement at the level of the State Governments. The Chief Secretary is supposed to be the principal coordinator. the rest of the administration and organisational arrangements are put together on an ad hoc basis as the crisis occurs. We have been managing the crises with hastily prepared arrangements. It is imperative that we give some thought to remedy this situation and take organisational and logistic steps to ensure prompt and efficient response to such critical developments.

Disruption of telecommunications in this age of information revolution is unacceptable. Alternative fail safe systems should be kept in operational readiness.

Besides, we do not learn any lesson from the past. In Orissa, the level of preparedness on a formal basis is still not there. Formal preparedness at the level of institutions as well as the community is crucial.

K. M. VASHIST, Mansa

No lesson learnt: Our nation shows remarkable unity in times of crisis whether it is war or a natural calamity. But it is shocking that our rulers, politicians and bureaucrats, have learnt nothing from the calamities. After the crisis is over, no serious effort is made to prevent it from recurring. After Latur, the Gujarat government should have taken preventive steps as Kutch is known to be an area highly vulnerable to earthquakes.

Mr Hari Jaisingh has rightly observed that a preventive action plan will not require massive funds which are spent for relief and rehabilitation operation after the disaster.


Mindset must change: Most of the administrators, living in air-conditioned comfort, are insensitive to the people’s sufferings. Policies are framed in five-star hotels without taking into consideration the ground realities, the people’s problems, needs and difficulties. The policy makers never bother to visit, examine and scrutinise the area and sphere for which the policy is made. That is why most of the policies fail to withstand the test of reality.

The casual approach and complacent attitude of the administrators aggravate matters rather than setting them right. Only when a disaster strikes, heads are put together to formulate schemes, plans and policies.

We show unity in adversity. But this spirit is required not only in catastrophic situations but also during peace and normalcy.

It is true that everything functioned excellently during the dark days of the Emergency. It is because we do not work on our own and like to be driven by some force. We have not developed a work culture. The old mindset will have to change if the country is to be run efficiently not only in times of distress but also in normal times.


Need for austerity: Mr Hari Jaisingh has advised the Prime Minister to think on modern professional lines and lead the nation with the resolve of “less rhetoric and hypocrisy and more action”. The government has to act for the good and welfare of the people and ensure that operators, manipulators and power brokers do not fill their pockets at the cost of Gujarat.

Few will oppose the government’s decision to impose a two per cent surcharge on income tax. The taxpayers will take it as their duty to contribute to the reconstruction of the quake-hit areas. It is worth mentioning that the tax-payer in the Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,50,000 bracket is already paying a surcharge of 10 per cent. For those over Rs 1,50,000 the surcharge was raised to 15 per cent in the last budget on account of Kargil.

As an impost is calculated on the marginal rate of taxation, the effective tax rate will be 22 per cent for the Rs 60,000-1,50,000 bracket and 35 per cent for those earning Rs 1,50,000 and more. The government has to ensure that the targeted amount of Rs 1,300 crore is collected through the surcharge effectively. The government must also think why a large segment of the population, especially the rich farmers, are not taxed.

Above all else, it must be ensured that the duty-free material arriving in the country is used for relief work and is not diverted to the open market. The politician-bureaucrat-builder nexus has to be smashed. “Tamashas” like receiving the Prime Minister by the UP Chief Minister in Lucknow at a cost of Rs 2 crore need to be condemned, particularly by Mr Vajpayee. Austerity, not pomp and pageantry, should be our watchword.

S. S. JAIN, Chandigarh

Dumb victims

A photograph on the front page of The Tribune (Feb 8) showed domestic animals in earthquake devastated Gujarat looking up with pleading eyes for some water and fodder. They remained on their legs as they had no place to sit and no trace of their owners. While mineral water is being supplied to humans, these dumb creatures remained without water for many days after the earthquake.

As is clear from the photograph, fodder thrown at them will only be taken by the fittest among them and the week, and the injured will remain hungry. Small calves may die in the freezing cold.

These animals do not understand why they have been taken away from their homes. Many are old and emaciated. These unfortunate animals desperately need the attention of the government. Their welfare should not be ignored while gigantic efforts are being made to rehabilitate the people of Gujarat.



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