Sunday, August 12, 2001, Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


UTI imbroglio has wider ramifications
Surinder Singla
N an era of liberalised economy, the sensex index carries no less a shock value than the Richter scale. It is the economic thermometer, the inherent fluctuations of which have the capacity to transmit warning bells, screaming for therapeutic intervention. Successive crises in the UTI has shaken both the Government and investors. 

Legislating morality in cyber cafes
Rakshat Puri
HE Union Government is reportedly intending to widen the scope of information technology laws in order to counter the immoral exposure of people to pornographic material in cyber cafes. A statement on behalf of the Government says a Committee of Secretaries is examining suggestions “received from the public who favour compulsory licence and policing of cyber cafes. 




Let the youth resolve J & K problem
Abu Abraham
N spite of all the post-summit wringing of hands among certain commentators, I think that among the ordinary people of Pakistan and India there has been a surge of optimism and hope that the two countries will come closer and bring about peace on the sub-continent. 


Eradicating the social evil of tuitions
S Anuradha Gupta is perhaps the first bureaucrat after India’s Independence who has shown guts and courage to bring to the surface this “social evil” and publicly raised her voice to stem this rot. All educationists and academicians must support her in this noble task of exterminating the nefarious trade of private tuition which has undeniably lowered the status of teacher in public.


Harihar Swarup
He makes the desert bloom again
AJENDRA Singh, who was dismissed by his father 18 years ago as a “nincompoop”, has brought about a revolution in water harvesting and, as if, by an act of God made the dry rivers flow again; parched fields bounced back to life with bumper crops and the forest cover in Sariska reserve in Rajasthan increased by over 40 per cent. 


Sorting out UTI tangle, government way
ONTRARY to expectations, heads in the Government did not roll for the Unit Trust of India muddle. An ill-prepared Opposition, especially the Congress, failed to nail the Government on the issue in Parliament. The adjournment motion on the issue in the Lok Sabha caused little trouble for the Government as it was defeated by voice vote.

  • Bold suggestions

  • Samata sulks

  • Angry Jaswant

  • Mulayam tricks


Humra Quraishi
Education — “a big leap backwards”
did not attend the August 5 evening dedicated to ‘Monsoon Moods’ (courtesy the Austrian Ambassador to India , Herbert Traxl and spouse Shovana Narayan ) because that entire day was spent listening to what experts had to say about “ the big leap backwards “ vis-a-vis the very education policy of this government. 



UTI imbroglio has wider ramifications
Surinder Singla

IN an era of liberalised economy, the sensex index carries no less a shock value than the Richter scale. It is the economic thermometer, the inherent fluctuations of which have the capacity to transmit warning bells, screaming for therapeutic intervention. Successive crises in the UTI has shaken both the Government and investors. India’s prime institution of savings and mobiliser of development funds is crumbling and the redemption package being worked out this time from the Indian banking system and other financial institutions may actually trigger off crisis in those institutions as well.

Last time, since the bail out was provisioned for in the Indian budget, its impact was prevented from travelling to other financial institutions. US-64 is not the only scheme of UTI; there are other schemes that may require future redemption of approximately Rs 2,000 crore as assessed by the Indian Express in its recent column. The dimensions therefore have a wider ramification as the UTI investments have suffered a loss of approximately Rs 10,000 crore.

The growth of UTI had also been exponential. It raised and steadied its corpus to Rs 70,000 crore for a good number of years. Such a large-scale investible resource available with the UTI naturally broadened its vision to provide development funds to private and public sectors without sacrificing the interest of millions of savers.

In its endeavor to give shape to this noble vision, the UTI Board took an entrepreneurally bold decision of placing its funds with a private company (Reliance) to the tune of Rs 1073 crore in two transactions in 1994. Since it was a pioneering decision, it naturally attracted public attention and later, a parliamentary probe was instituted in response to an uproar in Parliament. The economic scenario at that time, the reforms process as initiated by Dr Manmohan Singh, was on its way to successfully unleash the entrepreneurial drive and energies of Indians — the animal spirit as he prefers to call it, and was in the process of catapulting the Indian economy to higher plateau of growth. However, with the reforms still in its infancy, the leftist and socialist forces naturally smelt a rat in the deal. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that those who were opposed to the reform would paint this to be ‘a dubious or fishy deal’ and would raise the bogey of corruption involved. Parliament took up the issue and a probe conducted in 1995.

The parliamentary probe under the chairmanship of Mr Jaipal Reddy (of which I was a member) represented all the parties. The scrutiny consumed lot of time to look into the matter. Elaborate evidence was elicited from the UTI, IDBI, General Insurance and LIC, the prime institutions for funding the private placement with Reliance. The core issues that engaged the attention of the parliamentary committee were: One, whether the price of the share transacted was the market price and a fair price? Two, whether it was a right investment. And three, what is the track record of Reliance vis-a-vis the rates of return UTI was making from its investments in public sector and private sector companies as well as professionally run companies like L&T and ITC.

On the issue of the price of the share transacted, we must note the RIL’s GDR offering of US $ 300 million (approx. Rs 950 crore) in the international equity markets to the global investing community at a price of Rs 369 per share in February 1994. In accordance with the SEBI guidelines for private placement, the minimum price came to be prescribed as Rs 377 per share. The market share price at the time of the transaction was Rs 410-415 per share.

If one calculates the effective share price for UTI, less interest of 16 per cent earned for one year, i.e., Rs 64 per share, resulted in a net cost of Rs 337 per share to UTI. Therefore, while deliberating on the first question, the committee, in all justification, concluded that there was no higher price that was paid by the UTI, considering the fact that global investors had put their vision into the growth of the company and the anticipated resultant profits.

On the issue of validating the prudence of such a decision in its conceptuality, it was assessed that the growth of petrochemicals in the country was likely to be phenomenal. The future projections estimated by the Montek Singh Committee on Petrochemicals indicated enough scope of the industry to grow by leaps and bounds. Reliance, as one of the major petro-chemical companies, other than the IPCL, was in the process of establishing one of the five major units, worldwide in the petrochemical area. Global investors as well as the UTI were looking forward for an opportunity to get recurrently better dividend incomes from such investments and increasing the evaluation of their investments. As such the marrying of the funds of UTI with Reliance was considered a match with lot of potential and promise.

On the final issue of the track record of the company, the committee looked into the rates of returns of the UTI from both public sector and private sector companies in the last 10-15 years. The track record of Reliance was amazing. The UTI made a higher return from the investment in Reliance than in any other public sector/private sector or for that matter any professionally run company. Even at this time of depressed sensex, the profits likely to accrue out of placement of funds with Reliance were to the tune of Rs 804 crore on an investment of Rs 1073 crore. If one takes into account the average cost of shares to UTI at Rs 140 per share and considering the total shares being Rs 10 crore, the UTI investment would amount to Rs 1400 crore. At the current price of Reliance shares, being at Rs 312, the realisable capital gain would be Rs 1700 crore to UTI. Just imagine the scene if and when the sensex goes up — and the resultant capital gain shooting up instantly!!

Relatively speaking, the HDFC was the only other company that showed a profit (of Rs 102 crore) while all other companies where UTI placed its fund in 1994 only (Mafatlal, Garden Cotton & Yarns, Rajasthan Spinning & Weaving, Royal Cushion Vinyl, Balkrishna Industries, Mangalam Cements and Hanil Era) showed a complete washout.

At this juncture, while analysing the performance of UTI investments in these companies, it would not be out of place here to mention that the stock price performance of public sector companies like VSNL, MTNL, ONGC, IOC, and GAIL, private sector companies like TISCO, TELCO, Tata Chemicals and Essar Steel and professionally managed companies like L & T, all had a negative growth ranging between 30 per cent and 97 per cent from 1994 till date.

On the depressed sensex scene in India, if one calculated the crunch share price of Reliance shares, then, UTI definitely made about Rs 814 crore in return while all others were losing. The stock performance of leading Indian companies during the last 7-8 years show that Reliance had the maximum growth (more than 50 per cent) during this period. Moreover, corroborating on the findings of the committee, more recently, on December 8, 1998, the Finance Minister, in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, had also affirmed that no loss was incurred by the UTI on placement of funds with Reliance during the last three years.

Mr S. Gurumurthy professes to be India’s “self-styled sentinel, custodian and caretaker of “corporate world”. A decade and a half ago, beginning his career as a front person of rival business houses of Reliance, he indulged in smear campaigns, whistling like an uninvited referee, at any imaginary infringement. Unable to cut ice with the investors, they were continuously getting capital evaluation and dividends on their investment; he was forced to retreat and hibernate. Since the proof of pudding lies in its eating, the public was, naturally, not biased by his fatiguing crusade.

Once monsoon arrived he has re-emerged. Now, as other business houses are knee deep, having looted the money of financial institutions and banks under the garb of restructuring their companies and the UTI funds in these companies having been virtually evaporated, Gurumurthy has resurfaced in his usual style of finger pointing. True to his profile, he finds fresh opportunities to fish in the troubled waters of UTI. Having been in hibernation for so long, he wants to pick up the lost cudgels and revive his aggression on Reliance by hypothesising that the private placement of its shares with the UTI was at a friendly price. Given his background, the timing of Gurumurthy raking up this issue of private placement and alleging that Reliance caused a loss of a few hundred crores to the UTI, is a crucial indicator of his purpose and motives. The attempt is clearly at diverting the attention of the people from other private companies, a large number indeed who are the real culprits involved in looting of the UTI funds. Is’nt it a disreputable way of defending the interest of these companies?

Having been part of that august committee, I, however, wonder whether the parliamentary committee could really go into the question of the private placement, targeting a single company like Reliance and ignoring UTI’s placement of funds in all other companies in 1994 was prudent. The funds of UTI could have been salvaged in case all the companies mentioned above were covered by Parliament probe.

It may not be out of place to mention that, however, it would be better to leave such commercial decisions to the professionalism of the financial institutions and not to burn or butter one’s finger while deliberating on such matters in the serenity of the committee’s precincts.

These unnecessary “self-assigned” charter of duties, besides offering the committee members such awkward temptations and later exposing them to avoidable insinuations, also fritter away a lot of their time and energy that the nation demands from them for serious debates on policy matters. After all if every parliamentarian starts intervening in the loaning decision of these institutions, we had it. In such a setting and locale, the intentions of Gurumurthy need to be investigated !!

The writer, a former MP, was a member of the Parliamentary Committee that inquired into the UTI’s investment in Reliance.


Legislating morality in cyber cafes
Rakshat Puri

THE Union Government is reportedly intending to widen the scope of information technology laws in order to counter the immoral exposure of people to pornographic material in cyber cafes. A statement on behalf of the Government says a Committee of Secretaries is examining suggestions “received from the public who favour compulsory licence and policing of cyber cafes. Suggestions have also been received [from the public] to make viewing of undesirable sites a punishable offence”. Allegations, it is said, have been heard to the effect that cyber cafes are allowing teenagers to surf adult pornographic sites on the Internet. This, it is stated, threatens society’s moral character.

Some questions come to mind immediately in relation to the proposed widening of laws for curbing the showing of pornographic material in cyber cafes, and for punishing owners as well as viewers in case the proposed law is violated. First, there is the question of how this will be effected to protect the “moral character” of society at large, in a general and overall way. Attendance at cyber cafes by viewers is a fraction of those who can and perhaps do view on private, individually owned computers the material sought to be prohibited in public, commercial showing — at cyber cafes.

If people are at liberty to see on privately accessible Internet sites what is prohibited for accessing in public, commercially available viewing, at cyber cafes, how will the proposed law serve to protect overall the “moral character” of Indian society? The proposed law will presumably apply equally to all citizens. So, is it or is it not intended to take within its scope also private accessing of sites that are going to be prohibited? This brings us to another question that also comes immediately to mind in relation to the proposed widening of laws for curbing access to pornographic material. Will such a law square with the country’s democratic system? Will it square with the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution?

A third question: the Union Government seems greatly exercised — on suggestions from the public of course — with social morality in the matter of pornographic viewing by individuals and opportunities offered for this by cyber cafes. What prevents the Government from urgent action in other — certainly not less important — sectors of social and political life where morality has been violated and continues to be violated?

Corruption at almost every level in almost every State and Central department, for instance. Corruption cases go on for years without any final result; senior political leaders are known to have been involved in scandals but are blithely going about as if nothing has happened; brazen and hardly-concealed untruths and half-truths have been uttered by senior Union Ministers before judicial commissions of inquiry but that does not seem to matter; stock market scandals have hurt and are hurting people, and JPC inquiries are ritually ordered, but hardly anyone among Government and non-Government leaders seems bothered except with the political fall-out; bribes running into crores are being offered and accepted at some of the highest official levels, but this is now taken to be almost part of India’s democratic political culture!

Then the issue of “cultural license” — which has often enough been described by leaders in the main NDA constituent, the BJP, as some kind of “cultural corruption”. There is the widely accepted, applauded and emulated Bollywood hip-shaking and swing-beat, invariably decried as surrender to American and European culture.

Astonishingly, too few point out that such “cultural” corruption and corruptibility — the leaning to western ways of dress and behaviour — have not really affected the essence of Indian ways and Indian response to experience. Recently, a newspaper commentary recalled how, when television channel MTV came to India in the 1990s, the expectation was that it would turn Indian youth to “teenage mutant Americans”, eating coleslaw and T-bone steaks, and calling parents Mawm and Dayd. But for business success, the channel had to cater to Indian taste, to Daler Mehndi and Baba Sehgal — “urban [Indian] youngsters [were] fed their daily dose of Indian pop culture by an American company”. Or consider Susheela Raman, originally from Chennai — she is in London singing old Telegu and Sanskrit songs, composed by Thyagaraja and Dikshitar, to Rap music beat. Her latest album contains all these and also a Shiva bhajan in Hindi. Some “purists” have charged her with corrupting and “bastardizing” culture.

Evidently, cultural borrowings and inputs from America and Europe are not taken tamely, all by themselves. There is sufficient cultural resilience here. So they are thoroughly Indianized in course of their adoption. All this does not seem to strike the Government leaders who are so greatly concerned with the immorality of undesirable viewing on Internet sites at cyber cafes — nor does it strike those who want the Government to move in the matter.

This is not to say that viewing pornographic material in cyber cafes or privately at home is desirable. Far from it. There cannot be two views about the need for eradicating it. But extension of information-technology law and its enforcement are not the effective way to do it. The old cliché comes to mind — “stolen kisses are sweet”. Presumably they would not be sweet if they were permitted! Stolen viewing of undesirable material may very well make them even more attractive.

There is, only one way to eradicate the evil of viewing undesirable — including pornographic — material on Internet sites. Revulsion for it must come from the viewer’s own mind, from its disinclination. How would this be possible? By thoughtful schooling and higher education, by careful upbringing, by example, by turning individual mind and inclination inward in order to give it outward social consideration and depth. It was not for nothing that Mahatma Gandhi disfavoured prohibition. He observed that the only way to end the evil of drinking was for the educated individual to rule himself. Externally applied restriction and enforcement simply could not, he insisted, show permanent results. The history of prohibition everywhere bears out his view.

Those who are concerned about morality and moral character in India and among Indians would do well to take heed — which signifies that, first, the leaders begin by exemplary legal and political action against themselves for their very obvious immoral conduct; and secondly, with the resulting establishment of their credibility, they think of ways to build social character with education and in other ways so that every individual is morally and intellectually equipped to rule himself. This may be asking for the moon. The moon may not be for the asking. But asking for the moon may bring some much needed silver.


Let the youth resolve J & K problem
Abu Abraham

IN spite of all the post-summit wringing of hands among certain commentators, I think that among the ordinary people of Pakistan and India there has been a surge of optimism and hope that the two countries will come closer and bring about peace on the sub-continent. Even some of our more hardboiled political analysts share that feeling.

Whether Kashmir is a core issue or not, or whether the Agra summit was a success or a failure, there is no point in arguing about it now. Kashmir is too complex a problem to sort out in two days. In any case neither side had a clear idea of what they wanted or what they would agree on. It was mainly a curtain raiser for future detailed talks.

What is needed now is patience on both sides. I am in sympathy with the reader in the Hindustan Times who says: ‘I feel the only way to achieve a breakthrough on Kashmir without the two countries compromising on their respective stands is to agree that the Kashmir problem be sorted out by the younger generation, say 30 years from now. Let us spend the intervening period attending to more pressing social and economic problems, otherwise we will be left behind by the winds of change that are sweeping the world.’

If religion can divide, as it usually does, it can also unite. But such unity and understanding can come only if we reduce the heat of religious faith. Not only religious books, but even school text-books and books on history contain much pernicious material that is intended to poison young minds. This must be countered.

The popular perception of Moghul rule in India is based on the reign of Aurangzeb. The liberal periods are largely ignored or played down. Thus by regarding Indian culture as stemming from the Hindu religion, the Hindu nationalist does it great damage.

How many of us, for instance, know that Dara Shikoh, elder brother of Aurangzeb, in 1657 translated the Upanishads into Persian and from it went to the western world for the first time? Dara sought to build a bridge between Islam and Hinduism. Though he never gave up Islam, he believed the answer lay in the philosophy of the Upanishads, which he called ‘the most perfect of the divine revelations’. He was a mystic and a free thinker, who hated ulemas and mullahs. In a poem, he lampooned the clergy:

‘In Paradise there are no mullahs,

One never hears the racket of

Their discussions and debates...’

There are innumerable such instances of liberal thought permeating religious fervour. Unfortunately, in spite of the many cultural contributions of Islam — in architecture, painting, music and garden design — there has been more rivalry and violence than fusion between Islam and Hinduism. This is the tragedy of our history. Given time, it can and must change. If change is not brought about by the mullahs and merchants of hate, it will come through the winds of change that are blowing across the globe.

Javed Akhtar had this to say about Indo-Pakistan relations: ‘Once cultural relations normalise, all other things will automatically follow.’

I share his hope, as I believe millions in the sub-continent do. So let there be an abundance of visas, a proliferation of seminars, a free exchange of artists and students and academics, a free flow of books, newspapers and periodicals. Let cross-border tourism prevail.


Eradicating the social evil of tuitions

MS Anuradha Gupta is perhaps the first bureaucrat after India’s Independence who has shown guts and courage to bring to the surface this “social evil” and publicly raised her voice to stem this rot. All educationists and academicians must support her in this noble task of exterminating the nefarious trade of private tuition which has undeniably lowered the status of teacher in public.

However, in this context, I suggest a few remedial measures for her consideration. First, entrance test of all kinds should be dispensed with forthwith. The entry to the higher course should be on the merit of the qualifying public examination.

Secondly, during the academic session weak students may be identified and competent college lecturers be put on duty to hold separate classes for them under the direct supervision of the Principal on a nominal fee after college hours and the fee so collected by deposited in the account of the college. The lecturers teaching such classes are whole-time teachers and their contribution to this sacred cause is akin to the one rendered by the other teachers incharge of various co-curricular activities, ie. games and cultural items etc.

Thirdly, the principal of the college be held accountable if his or her college teacher indulges in private tuition. And finally, a clear legal undertaking be taken from the college lecturer at the time of giving him/her employment that private tuition is prohibited under the law and, if found guilty, his/her services will be terminated.

O. P. Bhardwaj (Retd Principal), Chandigarh


Many good teachers have left the job and many others will follow suit since the ban on private tuitions. This practice was started by doctors a few years back following the ban on private practice. A few good doctors work in charitable hospitals because they are allowed private practice there, after duty hours. If the ban on private tuitions is not lifted, all good teachers especially in science, will resign and start their private academies. The poor parents cannot send their wards to these academies as their wards depend on class room teaching.

Many teachers were taking only one or two small groups of six, eight or ten students, charging only a nominal tuition fee. In this way they were keeping themselves busy, giving proper guidance to a few intelligent students preparing for competition examinations etc. A teacher after leaving the job will never teach eight or ten students in a group as it is a full-time job. He requires 60, 80 or even more in a group.

It is our humble request to the Chief Minister that a teacher be allowed to take two hours tuition work in small groups of six, eight or ten students with the permission of the principal. He may give a part of his extra income to the institution, the tuition fee should be nominal and the poor students should be taught free.

Nakul Kumar and 33 others, Hisar


For the past few weeks higher education in Haryana has been in public focus because of the bogey of private tuitions raked up by the Higher Education Commissioner (The Tribune, July 15). A bureaucrat in the role of a reformer of higher education appears to be amusing and ludicrous. Her long article is a rigmarole in which Shakespeare, W. B. Yeats and Robert Pirisig have been quoted out of place just to display her knowledge of English literature.

Earlier, as the Home Secretary of Chandigarh Administration, she tried to improve the working of the police by suspending three police officials without consulting the then DGP, who made it an issue which resulted in her transfer to Haryana taking charge of the education department. Idealism is the medicine which she prescribes for the ills of higher education but the medicine is in short supply in her own office. IAS is just one-time success in a competitive examination and any assumptions of superior intellect by any one are fallacious and ill-founded.

We are in a terrible mess because of the political-bureaucrat nexus in which honesty is the first casualty. The Higher Education Commissioner believes in downsizing the department and closures of some post-graduate courses in certain colleges are on the anvil. If she succeeds in having her way, it will be a retrograde step. It is not difficult to imagine as to whose coffers will be filled by the money saved after the abolition of some posts of college lecturers.

Just at the entrance of Columbia University at New York is the statue of a teacher with the inscription “Columbia University is what its teachers have made it to be.” In Haryana, however, teachers are greeted with contemptuous looks at Chandigarh and are made to realise that they are subordinates.

After 54 years of Independence, the continued shabby treatment meted out to a highly educated section of society calls for deep introspection and a positive change in the behaviour of the authorities. Demoralising the teachers by raising public controversies and publicising the details of catching them doing tuition work may further deteriorate the standards of higher education which are already not very high.

R. P. Singh Walia, Mohali


This has reference to Mr S.S. Jain’s views on tuitions " Tuitions: pros and cons " (July 29). He puts the blame on the teachers. Most of the teachers devote their maximum time in reading and writing books relevant to syllabi and general knowledge so that they are able to guide the students properly. Though exceptions are there, teachers consider themselves as students throughout their career. How can the writer doubt that the teacher’s wick is not burning so as to enlighten the students?

The government should tackle this problem in a rational manner. Overcrowded class room teaching should be stopped. For this, the student-teacher ratio should be fixed and rationalised so that the teacher can pay personal attention to the students. Syllabi should be streamlined and overhauled to cater to the demands of the time.

Superfluous, outdated matter should be deleted. For getting admission to Engineering, Medical and other professional institutes of higher learning, performance of the students in the board exams should be relied upon and special competitive tests should be abolished because the craze to get the highest score in these tests have made the student mad in search of tuitions in cheep coaching academies.

As for the code of conduct, teachers must follow it in letter and spirit. But no section of society must be exempted on any ground. What about the political leaders, legislators and bureaucrats who run the affairs of the state? Here om lies the crux of the problem. They should lead the people and the teachers should never lag behind.

K. L. Batra, Yamunanagar


He makes the desert bloom again
Harihar Swarup

RAJENDRA Singh, who was dismissed by his father 18 years ago as a “nincompoop”, has brought about a revolution in water harvesting and, as if, by an act of God made the dry rivers flow again; parched fields bounced back to life with bumper crops and the forest cover in Sariska reserve in Rajasthan increased by over 40 per cent. 

Milk production registered a five-fold increase in the region and diesel consumption was cut by half.

In recognition of his service to the community, Rajendra Singh was bestowed the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award. Earlier, his role in spearheading a mass rural movement for water conservation in Alwar district was lauded by the United Nations, which described his low-cost project of raising check-dams as the best example of water harvesting.

Rajendra Singh heads an organisation known as “Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS)” which he set up in 1975. He revived — with the help of villagers — traditional check-dams (johads) in Alwar district which enabled successfully recharging of ground water in the region. The results were miraculous; dead rivers came back to life, youth who had migrated to other states in search of work returned home. Check-dams or, “johads” in local parlance, built by villagers are roughly 1,400 feet long, 20 feet high and 50 feet wide and is completed in an year’s time. The TBC claims to have built 4,500 “johads” in 850 villages but not before officialdom put all sorts of hurdles. The Rajasthan Government filed a case against Rajendra Singh, charging him with violating the 1957 Drainage Act. Another dam raised by villagers faced threat of demolition needing the intervention of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Rajendra Singh was away in the interior when the Magsaysay Award , considered to be the Asian version of the Nobel Prize, was announced . His wife, now a partner in his missionary work, was the first to hear the news followed by a stream of congratulatory calls but she was not able to communicate the message to him.

Rajendra Singh was barely 28 and married for a year and a half when he embarked upon his venture, quitting his government job. His father was enraged and called him names — “fool, irresponsible and a good for nothing fellow”. Having a post-graduate degree in Hindi from Allahabad University, Rajendra Singh was a qualified Ayurvedic physician and held a government job in Jaipur.

He sold all his household belonging — furniture, TV, fridge — as his wife left for her parent’s house. As Rajendra Singh boarded the bus for “pastures new”, he had four companions fired by missionary zeal like him. Initially, villagers suspected them; Rajendra Singh’s beard was a handicap and many thought he was a terrorist. Nobody would give them shelter and nobody was prepared to let out his house to them. They spent the first few nights in a “ Hanuman” temple, spreading their bed sheets in the night and sleeping. It was not to be so all the time. Rajendra Singh and his companions were able to earn the trust of the people by their service and dedication and soon they had a roof over their heads.

He heard aweful tales from the locals; how the Aravalli hills were denuded of forests. Elders recalled how the “ greedy local prince” auctioned blocks of forests when the princely states were to be merged with the Indian Union. With the indiscriminate felling of trees the area became barren and the land infertile. Rajendra Singh, almost in a flash, set the objective of his mission and it was garnering of the life-giving liquid; water. He noticed that the Arvari rivulet had a trickle of water only in the monsoon as the check-dams were dilapidated and the government would neither repair them nor allow others to do that.

Giving a lead, Rajendra Singh mobilised the local people to desilt and deepen ponds. Come the rains and the villagers danced with joy; the water-level in the pond was the highest-ever and it had recharged the wells in the vicinity. A decade of hard work and hundreds of ponds and check-dams were built along the course of the Arvari, converting a once dry stream into a perennial river.

The story of the revival of the 90-km-long Ruparel river is miraculous indeed. There was a time when the river had totally dried up and inmates of a village high on a ridge of Sariska hills had migrated. In the unfortunate village, only two women were left. Rajendra Singh and his volunteers swung into action. In about two years the dried pond was full of water and the villagers returned home. Encouraging by the wonderful result, the village folk adopted the water harvesting technique in the region and built as many as 350 ponds and check-dams on the Ruparel basin ; the life-giving river was born again.

Rajendra Singh’s TBS starts work only when everyone in a village agrees to work voluntarily or contribute money for the project. Sometime it takes little more time to complete a check — dam or dig a pond but Rajendra Singh says: “This principle helps us. The Netagiri type of people leave us and the genuine ones are left with us. We never decide things for the people; we only train them to take decisions”.

He is of the view that “if harvested properly, rainwater alone can meet all our water requirements even in the cities. The objective can be achieved at a very low cost”. Many people in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have been trying out his experiment.


Sorting out UTI tangle, government way

CONTRARY to expectations, heads in the Government did not roll for the Unit Trust of India (UTI) muddle. An ill-prepared Opposition, especially the Congress, failed to nail the Government on the issue in Parliament. The adjournment motion on the issue in the Lok Sabha caused little trouble for the Government as it was defeated by voice vote. Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha should be thanking his stars for escaping the noose, at least for the time being. By the time the JPC begins its probe into the UTI affairs, much progress would have been made in the damage control exercise.

Observers point out that the Government has wasted no time in overcoming a piquant situation vis-a-vis the UTI muddle. To begin with the Prime Minister took the extreme step of offering to resign when a constituent of the NDA linked his office with the irregular investments of the UTI. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee’s move had the desired effect as it helped silence the critics from within the coalition grouping.

Attention has now turned on the former UTI chief, P.S. Subramanyam, who had started singing while in CBI custody earlier. Overnight there has been a marked difference in what the Subramanyam camp has been saying about the Government and vice versa. The Government has been careful not to drag Subramanyam’s name in the flop of the US 64 scheme and has instead blamed the Congress for all the ills of the scheme.

On his part, Subramanyam has clarified that he did not receive instructions from the PMO on investments made by the scheme. Have the two sides arrived at a compromise? This is the question doing the rounds in the corridors of power in the capital.

Bold suggestions

The Congress does not always leave matters after criticising the government, sometimes it also offers suggestions aimed perhaps at making the government realise the gravity of its mistakes. First came the suggestion from Mr Natwar Singh, who heads the Foreign Affairs Department of the Congress, about the “failed” Agra summit. Mr Natwar Singh, who apparently does not see any gain for India from the summit, said that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee could have interacted with mediapersons from Pakistan in the manner of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who had a win-win interface with top Indian media personalities at Agra.

The Congress, which has been lambasting the Government for its “poor” media management at Agra, feels that a more open attitude towards the scribes was necessary to counter Pakistani propaganda. While Mr Natwar Singh’s suggestion was to the Prime Minister, Congress chief spokesman Jaipal Reddy just stopped short of recommending post-resignation alternatives to Home Minister L.K. Advani. Seeking his resignation for failing to check the massacre of innocent people in Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Reddy suggested that Mr Advani should go back to the role he excelled in -”of an agitator”.

Bemused mediapersons asked Mr Reddy if he was suggesting that Mr Advani should resume the agitation for Ram temple (for which he gained considerable popularity). Sensing that his suggestion was being misinterpreted, Mr Reddy retracted. “It is for Mr Advani to decide what he should do after resigning. We are only interested in his resignation,” he clarified.

Samata sulks

The Samata Party has an identity problem. Ever since party supremo George Fernandes was made to step down from the Cabinet, the party members can’t decide whether they are part of the Government or not. This is despite the fact that there are other Ministers from the party in the Vajpayee Cabinet. The crisis becomes pronounced in the Lok Sabha.

To begin with Mr Fernandes occupies the last benches and rarely comes to his allotted seat, which is in the front row. He did resume his seat when he spoke on the adjournment motion on the UTI and this was questioned by the Opposition members who wanted to know how could Mr Fernandes occupy the front row when he was not a Minister any more. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan came to the former Defence Minister’s rescue by pointing out that Mr Fernandes was occupying his rightful place as the seat had been allotted to him.

The crisis surfaced yet again during the week, when the Speaker clubbed the entire NDA constituents as one unit while deciding on allotting time for a discussion in the House. This was protested by the Samata member, Prabhunath Singh. He said the time of the Samata Party should be mentioned separately and it could not be clubbed with the other NDA constituents. The MP got so agitated that at one point Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayyed had to warn him.

Angry Jaswant

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh rarely loses his cool and it was just one of those moments in the Lok Sabha last week. The occasion was the nearly one-and-a-half hour intervention by the External Affairs Minister on the debate on the Agra summit.

Jaswant Singh began in his characteristic diplomatic language but somewhere down the line he got drawn into some of the comments by the Deputy leader of the Congress, Madhavrao Scindia.

Referring to Mr Scindia’s remarks that the action of the Government in Kandahar and Agra had made Indians hang their heads in shame, Mr Jaswant Singh said it was a “bahut badi gali (a big abuse)”. He went on to add that people in big positions are used to giving big abuses. Thereafter, in his inimitable style, the External Affairs Minister demolished the Congress contention and blamed them for all the ills plaguing Indo-Pakistan relations.

Mulayam tricks

Not many noticed the absence of Mulayam Singh Yadav from the Lok Sabha on Thursday. On August 9, when Union Home Minister L.K. Advani was making a statement on Jammu and Kashmir, the Samajwadi Party supremo was not present. It was not known to many that Mr Yadav was away to Hardwar, but nobody attached much importance to it. Less than 24 hours later the importance of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav visiting Hardwar became known. He had gone to have a secret meeting with Naresh Aggarwal, the leader of the Loktantrik Congress Party and high-profile Minister in Rajnath Singh’s Cabinet who was sacked on Friday.

Obviously, political manoeuvring has begun as Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are round the corner. The people of Uttaranchal are, however, unhappy over the latest trend of UP events casting their shadow on Uttaranchal. The Phoolan Devi murder was another case in point.

Contributed by Satish Misra, T. V. Lakshminarayan and Prashant Sood.


Education — “a big leap backwards”
Humra Quraishi

I did not attend the August 5 evening dedicated to ‘Monsoon Moods’ (courtesy the Austrian Ambassador to India , Herbert Traxl and spouse Shovana Narayan ) because that entire day was spent listening to what experts had to say about “ the big leap backwards “ vis-a-vis the very education policy of this government. Believe me, hearing what disasters await us on the education front, would leave you in no mood for anything except to introspect on the havoc that’s just round the corner. Havoc, because young minds are getting poisoned by biased historical texts being read out to them day after day.

The three-day meet organised by SAHMAT had historians and scientists from all over the country but what left me particularly impressed were the views expressed by mathematician T. Jayaraman (Reader at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai) who lashed out at the directive by the UGC to all universities to start teaching ‘Jyotisshara (Vedic astrology) and even ‘Karmakand’ (performing Brahminical rituals). Needless to go into details of what disasters these degrees — or rather the men equipped with them — could cause (imagine, for example, the District Commissioner saying that according to astrological predictions a so and so is guilty, or another is to be released or some similar nonsense!) but what can be termed as disturbing is the fact that communal slants are getting introduced even at the scientific levels. And what can be termed as petrifying is what Nalini Taneja (teaching History at DU) had to say about the government funds getting reallocated to the running of particular schools” In Goa alone at least 51 Vidya Bharti and Shishu Mandir schools received funds which were meant for the running of government schools, with the plea that government schools don’t work so let us shift the funds .And as a responsible citizen it is our concern to know what they teach at the Vidya Bharti and Shishu Mandir schools for what they are teaching in these RSS-backed schools is against the very spirit of the Constitution …” And judging from the excerpts that she read out before the packed Constitution Hall auditorium, out of the history text books being used in the above mentioned chain of schools, it was more than obvious that these history texts painted a certain minority community as having a most treacherous past, as though almost provoking this generation to take revenge for the doings of a certain king and so on …..I think it is time that that these text books be banned and the ‘sherbet’ drinking men who are responsible for spreading for this sort of communal virus be asked to proffer an immediate explanation. Afterall, what right have we to poison young minds, whipping up sentiments, on the basis of distorted, out of context historical data. And what can be termed as most commendable is the fact that thanks to the efforts to a handful of thinking people — Romilla Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Irfan Habib, Ram Puniyani, Obaid Siddiqui, Gita Kapur, Shabnam Hashmi, Rajan Prasad, Krishna Kumar, Anil Sadgopal, Teesta Setalvad, Arjun Dev and several others, there will be a special debate in Parliament on this Tuesday centering around the very education policy of this government.


This time of the year there is quite an upheaval on the diplomatic front. A number of diplomats are on the move and with that there are fresh arrivals too. In fact, last week Khushwant Singh hosted a do in honour of New Zealand’s new High Commissioner to India, Caroline McDonald. She had come along with her spouse, Simon Mark and what I particularly liked about the couple was their ‘no-nonsense’ attitude. There were none of those pretences or those high flown talks and the couple seemed to mingle well with the other guests — Simon, a keen golfer, seemed to hit off well with Khushwant’s son Rahul and the High Commissioner with Bubbles Charanjit Singh, the woman who is behind hotel Le Meridien’s success .Other guests included Bhaichand Patel, Anjana Kuthiala, Shiela Reddy, Geeti Sen and as I often mentioned that the best aspect about the dos hosted by Khushwant is that they begin at exact 7 pm and never go beyond 8 pm. There’s no wastage of time or those endless sessions where you end up waiting for the so called chief guest. If only other hosts pick up this punctuality streak, Delhi’s social scene would be a better managed affair.

Whilst on the social scene let me also add that when the longest serving ambassador (perhaps in the world) — Jordan’s Ambassador to India, Hisham Muhaisen, who has been in the diplomatic service for over 40 years, and in India for six years — left for home territory, Amman, the number of farewell dos in his honour were no less than those that were lined up for Pavan Varma. In fact, it seemed that the parties alternated — one evening for him and the next for Varma. And now, with both of them away to Jordan and Cyprus respectively, there stands a lull! 

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