Tuesday, March 11, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



Budgeting for defence

Apropos your editorial “Budgeting for defence” (March 5), I wish to state that a hike of 16 per cent and more over the last year’s Budget is totally unjustified, immoral and wasteful for the Third World country where half the population is living below the poverty line. There is no potable water for the general masses and in some of our states the very poor are dying of starvation and malnutrition.

There is also no probity, transparency and accountablity in the Defence Ministry which manages this vast wealth. The Tehelka and coffin scandals have shaken the confidence of the general public and the front-line soldier in the defence set-up.

In Punjab alone the armed forces have stayed on too long, for more than a year. Farmers whose fields came under landmines or were otherwise occupied by the Army have not been paid due compensation. The road of our border district Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur are totally ruined because of the heavy traffic of the Army. The Centre has not paid any compensation for their repair.

Pakistan and India are both dangerous nuclear powers and are not without their deadly share of chemical and biological weapons. In the event of war Punjab will inevitably become the battlefield. Therefore to avoid total annihilation and devastation of the Punjabi race on both sides of the Radcliffe Line, we want peace and scrapping of the weapons of mass destruction by both Pakistan and India. It is worth our while to have listened to Mr Vajpayee of the futility of war in his speech in Parliament this week.


We are also worried about another scenario, that is, if the USA, the western powers with their military and NATO might, want to disarm India and divest it of its nuclear and other deadly weapons, as is happening in Iraq, would India be able to stand up and fight? The answer is a big No. The Indian defence budget has not shown any innovation to match the West’s technical superiority in the state of art weaponry. It has also not evaluated this new power, but made contingency plans to meet a threat from China and Pakistan alone.

The Indian state has divided the population on communal lines. The secular principle has been sacrificed for small, petty religious fanaticism of the worst kind.

As a responsible member of Parliament representing a frontline border state I warn the country of a terrible catastrophe if these issues are not rectified and addressed and we go on building reckless military budgets without examining the depths of our hollowness.


A ‘wolf & lamb’ repeat

There is obvious merit in the suggestion you extend in your editorial “Saddam’s suicide note” (Feb 27) pertaining the need for UN peacekeepers as an honourable way out of the stalemate that has been created by the belligerent Bush on one hand and a foolishly adamant saddam on the other. But that is possible only if the USA stops baring its fangs at every supposed and perceived provocation from Baghdad.

Apparently, it is all about oil with a capital letter the hidden design behind the whole obsession is the underlying desire for world dominance. Beware, West Asia and Kashmir seem to offer the most stable and comfortable footholds to the USA for this purpose.

An epitaph for Saddam has already been written and cast even before Hans Blix began palpating Iraq on behalf of Bush Jr. Weapons inspections under the aegis of the UN are nothing more than veild reconnaissance of the area, strength, and strategic deployment of the Iraqis before the actual blitzkrieg begins.

This sham is reminiscent of the age-old children’s fable in which the wolf intent on eating the hapless lamb keeps cooking up all kinds of excuses, one after another, till he actually manages to gobble up the lamb. A neo-colonial world order is in the offing if the situation is not diffused amicably. And it is not going to be in any nation’s self-interest to let the USA get away with daylight hijacking of the UN and world opinion so easily, secure in the knowledge that no one dares to oppose it in reality, come what may.

As Pastor Niemoeller warned:

“First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out-

because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists

and I did not speak out-

because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out-

because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me-

and there was no one left

to speak out for me.

Vivek Khanna, Panchkula

Ghalib and mangoes

In his beautiful middle article “No laughing matter this” (March 4), Mr N.S. Tasneem has mentioned that Mirza Ghalib was once eating mangoes with his friends. A donkey sniffed at the remains of the fruit and went away. A person having no liking for this fruit, remarked that even donkeys did not eat mangoes. There was a loud guffaw when Ghalib said that only the donkeys did not eat mangoes.

With all due respect for Mr Tasneem, the incident was like this. One day, Hakeem Raziuddin, a famous physician of Delhi, who did not like mangoes, was sitting with Ghalib in the latter’s house. Some donkeys passing through the street sniffed at the mango peals lying there and moved away. The Hakeem ejaculated that even donkeys did not eat mangoes. “Yes. The donkeys certainly do not eat mangoes”, the Mirza shot back.

On some other occasion, Ghalib was eating mangoes in the company of some persons, including his close friend, Maulana Fazl Haq. Every one talked about the qualities of mangoes. On being asked by the Maulana to express his views on this fruit, the poet remarked: “Aam meethey hon aur bahot hon” (mangoes should be sweet and in plenty). All burst into laughter.

In fact, Ghalib had great fondness for mangoes. His friends and admirers, including the Nawab of Rampur, sent him delicious mangoes. In his poem “Dar sift-e-ambah” (In praise of mangoes), he called them sealed jars of honey.

One day, Ghalib and the then Delhi King, Bahadur Shah Zafar, were strolling in the royal gardens. Gazing at the beautiful ripe mangoes on the trees, Ghalib recited the verse “Bar sar-e-har daanah ba-navishtah iyaan/Ka-een falaan, ibn-e-falaan, ibn-e-falaan” (On every grain is clearly written the name of the person it is meant for) and said, “I am looking for the mangoes bearing my name and those of my father and grandfather”. Zafar smiled and sent a basketful of mangoes to the poet’s house.

During his stay at Calcutta, Ghalib specially wrote a letter to Nawab Akbar Ali Khan Tabatabaai, trustee of “Imam Barah”, Hugli, to send him mangoes. In fact, he very much liked the mangoes of Bengal. He said:

“Hamah gar meva-e-firdaus ba khaanat baashad.

Ghalib aan amba-e-Bangaalah faraamosh ma-baad.” (Even if all the paradisical fruits are on your dining mat, yet, Ghalib, do not forget the mangoes of Bengal).


Currency notes

Apropos the RBI advertisement (Feb 27), all banks, government departments and the public have been advised and directed against multiple stapling of currency notes, but no mention has been made against piercing and cording of wads of currency notes which damage them more than the staples do.

Banks would do well to refuse stapled or corded wads of currency notes. It should be obligatory on the part of banks to issue to their customers only good quality notes and weed out torn and mutilated notes at their end itself. The RBI’s advice in the ad that the public should accept only good quality notes from banks appears sane only on its face value. Members of the public know the practical difficulty faced while pleading for this at the bank counters.

Some foolproof system sans staples and cords for sealing wads of currency note should be devised (may be poly-tape) to avoid repetitive counting which is quite cumbersome, especially when the amount in a transaction is large. Electronic note counting machines should be installed in all branches of banks for use by their customers.


Senior Citizens

Mr Jaswant Singh, Union Finance Minister, deserves commendation for his bid to take care of employees as well as Senior Citizens. The hike in standard deduction, withdrawal of surcharge, restoration of LTC and income tax free education expenses on two children with Rs 12,000 per child as the limit have cheered the salaried class.

Senior Citizens too must be a happier lot with having tax-free income up to Rs 1.83 lakh, including standard deduction. The Finance Minister has proposed a pension scheme for Senior Citizens with a 9 per cent annual guaranteed return. A health insurance scheme for Senior Citizens has also been proposed. However, Senior Citizens are unhappy over the one per cent cut in interest rates on PPF and various small savings schemes. They also oppose the half per cent cut in interest rates on bank deposits as announced by the Reserve Bank of India.

The Finance Minister has failed to honour his commitment made on the eve of Gujarat elections to give Senior Citizens one per cent higher rate of interest than the normal rates on bank deposits. The Budget is silent on this issue. All those above 60 be treated as Senior Citizens. The Railways, banks and income tax rules define Senior Citizens differently. It is ridiculous.


A shameful act

What can be more tragic than comedian Jaswinder Singh Bhalla and B.M. Sharma (both respectable officers) being slapped and kicked by a responsible Secretary in the presence of employees of the secretariat and security personnel. Even the police thinks twice before doing so to a criminal.

If comedians are treated like this, then the fate of Shekher Suman, Jaspal Bhatti, Mann, Chacha Raunqui Ram and Ghuggi can be well imagined. The shameful act should be condemned by all.

S.S. BAINS, Chandigarh

Cell phone rates

Cell operators are announcing new tariff rates every other day, quoting these as Rs. 249, Rs. 299, Rs. 349 etc and the call rates as Rs. 1.99, 0.49, 1.98 etc. Instead of this, announcing the tariffs as Rs. 250, Rs. 300, Rs. 350 etc and call rates as Rs. 2.00, 0.50, 2.00 etc looks much simpler and more appealing. Marketing pundits should revise the rates to round figures.

Er. JAGVIR GOYAL, Chandigarh

Opening bank account

For opening a bank account, is there any justification for third party introduction? This practice is very old when no ration card or PAN was asked for. Does it still hold good? If not, then it should be dropped. In case of an affidavit for a proprietorship A/c, is there any ban on opening more than one account. If so, then why the same type of affidavit is not asked by all other account holders? Will the RBI intervene?


Reduce age limit

The government should reduce the age limit from 65 years to 60 years for income tax relief for Senior Citizens. There is a need to adopt a uniform age limit of 60 years for defining a Senior Citizen for all purposes i.e. travel concession, income tax relief, medical checkup, health insurance, pension schemes etc.


Excellent English prose

Some of the letters that appear in your columns present the very best example of English prose. One such compulsive writer is Mr Bhagwan Singh of Qadian. His views on any subject are laced with choicest Urdu/Persian couplets, very relevant and meaningful. This makes all his letters a delightful reading, I must admit I never miss reading his letters.

Paramjit Singh, Chandigarh

Stray dogs

In spite of the fact that the Union Ministry of Culture has notified Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules. 2001 (ABC) to control rabies and the dog population, the unsterilised and unvaccinated stray dogs pose a potential threat of rabies, which permits no treatment. It is distressing and disappointing that 35,000 deaths occur every year due to bites of rabid dogs and consequent rabies. Every year million of humans and animals who are bitten by rabid dogs opt for post bite anti-rabic treatment which entails a huge sum of money. The reason for the ever increasing number of deaths is that the emphasis in India is more on the treatment of dog-bite victims with vaccine rather than initiating elimination of the disease from the vector animal species, almost always the dog.

Dr Soshil Rattan, Amritsar


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