Perspective | Oped | Reflections


Ambala-Chandigarh road to have
4 lanes: Khanduri
CIVIL engineer with over three decades of service in the Army, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Major-General B.C. Khanduri (retd) was entrusted with the task of implementation of the prestigious National Highways Development project by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Separate force needed to manage disasters
by Rakesh Datta
HE Union Government’s decision to transfer disaster management from the Union Ministry of Agriculture to Home Affairs needs to be examined in the context of its serious implications. 


Sops for middle class
January 10
, 2004
Towards social security
January 9
, 2004
Demystify GM crops
January 8
, 2004
SAARC pledge
January 7
, 2004
Beyond courtesy
January 6
, 2004
Science mela
January 5
, 2004
Anti-incumbency will help Cong in LS polls: Jaipal
January 4
, 2004
Loner’s lamentation
January 3
, 2004
Magical growth rate
January 2
, 2004
Punjab the victim
January 1
, 2004
Looking for allies
December 31, 2003



Mishra: Key diplomat and negotiator
by Harihar Swarup
HEN Mao Tse-tung smiled at Brajesh Mishra 33 years back and remarked that “India and China should have good relations”, hardly did the hero of the long march realise that Mr Mishra would be giving a new dimension to India’s foreign policy at the turn of the 20th century.

A spate of lenses zooming into the past
by Chanchal Sarkar
N sombre moments now and again come spasms of introspection: How is journalism changing? What difference have radio and television brought to ways of expression? Are we forging ahead or retreating?

Countless plays getting enacted here
by Humra Quraishi
ALL New Delhi a happening place, for the time being at least. Till about March it will remain so with all the hustle bustle around it, with the who’s who making hurried entries and quicker exits.







Ambala-Chandigarh road to have 4 lanes: Khanduri
Prashant Sood

Maj-Gen B.C. Khanduri
Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways Maj-Gen B.C. Khanduri (retd)

A CIVIL engineer with over three decades of service in the Army, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Major-General B.C. Khanduri (retd) was entrusted with the task of implementation of the prestigious National Highways Development project by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He took the task with the precision of a bull’s eye and pushed his staff to adhere to the deadlines. Elected to Lok Sabha from Garhwal in 1991, 1998 and 1999, he has been the party’s Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha. He was made the Minister of State for Road Transport (Independent charge) in November 2000 and was elevated to the Cabinet rank in May 2003.

Q: What is the target date of Golden Quadilateral Project?

A: The National Highways Development Project, being implemented by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), is a major initiative towards improving the National Highways. It involves development and four/six laning of about 13,150 km of road at a cost of over Rs 54,000 crore (1998-99 prices). Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s project includes the Golden Quadrilateral (Delhi-Kolkata-Chennai-Mumbai-Delhi circuit) involving 5,846 km at a cost of over Rs 25,050 crore. About 96 per cent of the project is expected to be completed by December 2004.

In Phase II, North-South and East-West Corridors (from Srinagar to Kanayakumari and Silchar to Porbandar), involving a distance of 7,300 km is slated to be completed by December 2007. It will cost over Rs 30,000 crore. Major ports including Haldia, Paradip, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Tuticorin, Cochin, Mangalore, Mormugoa, Jawaharlal Nehru Port and Kandla are being connected to NHDP highways. Other projects involve about 600 km of road development. There will be no railway crossing on NHDP and over 75 railway overbridges are being constructed in the Golden Quadilateral.

Q: Is NHAI facing problems in project execution?

A: The problems mostly relate to land acquisition and law and order. We are yet to get 80 per cent of the required land in Tamil Nadu and about 40 per cent in Maharashtra. The NHAI is facing law and order problems in Bihar and some works are suspended. The progress is slow and the officials face threats. No one is willing to work after 5 pm. The courts have also asked the state government to provide adequate security.

Q: What is the progress on widening the road between Ambala and Chandigarh?

A: The stretch between Ambala and Chandigarh and Kalka and Shimla will be four-laned as part of the Ministry’s project to connect the state capitals with NHDP highways. We have given priority to Ambala-Chandigarh stretch and are now processing the bids. The road from Chandigarh to Shimla forms part of Stage I of tendering. The work on Ambala-Chandigarh-Kalka section (58 km) will completed in the next three years. The work on widening the NH between Kalka and Shimla (90 km) may take some more time as detailed project reports are being prepared.

Q: Besides the cess being charged on petrol and diesel, toll is also being charged on NH.

A: Half the money collected from cess goes to the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yogna annually. It goes to states for constructing new roads to connect villages. An additional Rs 1,000 crore goes to states for improving state roads. Only Rs 2000 crore of the cess collected goes for national highways every year. According to a World Bank report, completion of Golden Quadilateral will result in annual saving of Rs 8,000 crore (at 1999 prices). The toll tax collected would be only around Rs 1,500 crore annually leading to a saving of Rs 6,500 crore to the users. Toll is a user charge and the concept prevails all over the world. If you calculate, savings are far more than money given in toll. Only a third of the toll collected is being spent on construction of highways. The toll rates were fixed in 1997 and are linked to the price index. These are not on the higher side. It costs at least Rs 3 crore to construct a kilometre of NH. We received complaints about higher toll rates from truckers which has been sent to a committee.

Q: What have you done to prevent incidents like the murder of Satyendra Dubey?

A: In my view the incident occurred due to law and order problems in the state. We can only convey our concern. I had written five letters to the Bihar government in the past year-and-a-half telling that work was suffering due to extortions, beatings and threats. We have been telling our problem and it is for the state government to act. Law and order is a state subject and I cannot interfere.

Q: Bad roads was a major poll issue in Madhya Pradesh. Has the state government approached your ministry for assistance?

A: A major problem in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh was overloading of transport vehicles due to which Central funds were stopped. After new governments in these states took over, steps were taken to curb overloading.

Q: What is the feasability of opening Srinagar-Muzzaffarabad road and the road connecting Rajasthan to Sindh?

A: The opening of roads between India and Pakistan will lead to greater people-to-people contact. The modalities will be worked out after an agreement between the two countries. We started a road link between Bangladesh and Tripura three months back.

Q: Will construction of roads help the NDA in elections?

A: The immense potential of road transport could not been tapped fully since Independence, largely due to absence of a good all-India road network. The thrust on road development under the present government can be gauged from the fact that whereas in the past 50 years (1947-1997) only 556 km of NH were four-laned, 24,000 km are slated to be four-laned in the less then seven years. The road projects will give direct employment to over three lakh workers a day.


Separate force needed to manage disasters
by Rakesh Datta

THE Union Government’s decision to transfer disaster management from the Union Ministry of Agriculture to Home Affairs needs to be examined in the context of its serious implications. It is doubtful to what extent the Ministry of Home Affairs would be able to manage disasters because of its preoccupations with problems relating to security and the like. Disaster Management is a specialised task. Just as the period of peace is also the time for the preparation of war, the same holds good for disaster management too.

It involves a systematic observation and planned measures relating to disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation, emergency response, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Surely, it cannot be handled in a hamhanded and misguided fashion. It should neither be put hostage to events nor played to the gallery.

Over the years, India has been witnessing the horrendous spectacle of disasters in one form or the other — plague, floods, fires, cyclones, landslides, drought, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and so on. In fact, quite a few regions are prone to locational disasters year after year with no permanent relief measures available to the affected population of such areas. Tonnes of money and material are pumped into those areas for providing relief to the people which seldom reaches the needy. The practice is repeated with sickening regularity and no lessons learnt.

The term ‘disaster’, which originates from the French word ‘disastre’, implies ‘des’ (bad or evil sense) and ‘astre’ (star). It is defined as a crisis, which outstrips the capacity of a society to manage it resulting in the colossal loss of life and property. Here comes the role of the defence forces. A close look at the new Disaster Management Board would reveal that there is no representative from the defence services on this Board. As part of their training, military men are tailored to handle disasters of various kinds. But the new Board does not have any member from the armed forces or even a Member Secretary for consultation and expert opinion. The Indian troops have always given their best whether it was fighting at Kargil or undertaking salvage operations during civil disasters. Their planning, execution and good behavioural actions are a result of their excellent military training.

The Gujarat earthquake was a natural disaster. But the resultant loss of death and destruction of men and material could be equated to the dropping of an atom bomb. The big lesson we could learn from this catastrophe is to prepare for the scenario of this nature when our adversary may choose to be an adventurist. Have we calculated the reaction time from this sordid event since we have doctrinated our self to the ‘No First Strike’ position on the nuclear front?

Unfortunately, the political response to the Gujarat earthquake was not up to the expectations. It was a classic example of bureaucratisation and apathy. All that the government had done in the days soon after the disaster was to constitute a 35-member Disaster Management Board headed by the Prime Minister and all Cabinet Ministers from important ministries as its members. Incidentally, these are the same people who have been nominated to the Board time and again to pull the nation out of a grave crisis.

Any natural calamity striking the country in a normal period will necessarily have a separate disaster management plan. But during a conflict situation like a nuclear attack, what is needed is altogether a different perspective. For instance, the magnitude of the crisis will be so serious in its nature and scope that there will be no relief supply from other countries nor adjoining tates for fear of radiation. If the country has no evacuation plan for the states, the people will just die with huge material destruction and there will be no immediate salvage operations of any kind. Besides, the morale of the people in the rest of the country will shatter due to the loss of their near and dear ones.

It is unimaginable that in the event of such a military disaster, the country will swiftly swing into action and would be courageous to give a second strike to its adversary. One would do well to remember that any nuclear attack will completely overthrow all channels of command, control and communication. Long back, we have stopped preparing for conventional air attacks because the Civil Defence Organisation in this country has ceased to function as far as its duties of educating people about emergency relief operations are concerned.

The Gujarat earthquake was witness to the fact that the only organisation which can work in the event of such a crisis are the defence forces of the country. The early retirement of defence personnel and the two-year enhancement of service have brought in stagnation and made the services old. This has also blocked the promotional avenues of young officers. It would be eminently sensible if this rich human resource is effectively deployed on disaster management duties. Worthy of consideration in this contest is the creation of a Disaster Management Force (DMF). While the DMF may comprise retired non-commissioned officers and sepoys, officers from defence services could also join it on deputation.

The significance and utility of such a force will be tremendous. Having specialised in disaster management tasks by virtue of their training, the members of the DFM will be an asset during emergencies, especially at the time of relief operations. Managing civil disasters has much to offer and to learn from. It would also enable to handle military crisis of any complex nature more effectively and efficiently.

The writer is Reader, Centre for Defence and National Security Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh


Mishra: Key diplomat and negotiator
by Harihar Swarup

WHEN Mao Tse-tung smiled at Brajesh Mishra 33 years back and remarked that “India and China should have good relations”, hardly did the hero of the long march realise that Mr Mishra would be giving a new dimension to India’s foreign policy at the turn of the 20th century. Nor did Mao realise that India’s the then Charge d’ Affaires in Peking, Mishra, would be the key figure in shaping the Sino-Indian relations. One does not know if Mao’s remark was off the cuff or calculated but the frosty relations between the two countries started improving since then and Mishra played a vital role in the initial stage in alleviating the bitterness of the 1962 war. As Mr Mishra flies to Beijing today in an attempt to solve the long-standing border issue, Mao’s famous smile and the meaningful remarks on May 1, 1970 “My greetings to President V.V. Giri and to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi” may be echoing in his mind.

Mr Mishra’s diplomatic skill sparked at Islamabad and “the historic leap forward” in Indo-Pak relations is primarily attributed to him. All eyes were focussed on him since he landed in Pakistan’s capital on January 1 and began the process of back-room negotiations. Six meetings with President Pervez Musharraf’s principal aide, Tariq Aziz, and the deal was clinched. He reached the President’s office at 9.30 am on January 6 and hammered out a possible draft of the “joint statement”.

Moving cautiously and mindful of the “misunderstanding” that derailed the Agra summit, Mr Mishra told his Pakistani interlocutor, Mr Aziz, that it was only a draft and subject to the approval of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Musharraf. Only after the two leaders approved the draft that Mr Vajpayee talked to Gen Musharraf over telephone and both complimented each other. “Agra mein jo tar tootey tha, who Islamabad mein jurh gaaye” (The string that was snapped at Agra has been fixed in Islamabad), said the Pakistani President.

When Vajpayee picked up Mishra for the key post of his Principal Secretary, he was well aware of his wide experience and capability. Two years after his retirement in 1986, Mishra joined the BJP and was among the party’s think-tank on foreign affairs. Subsequently, he was appointed convenor of the party’s foreign affairs cell. Mishra has perhaps been one of the brightest young officers of the Indian Foreign Service in the Fifties. He saw the functioning of Jawaharlal Nehru and days of “Hindi-Chinni Bhai Bhai”. Brajesh’s father, the late D.P. Mishra, was a close associate of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and powerful Home Minister of the old Madhya Pradesh with Nagpur as its capital. A staunch critic of the RSS, D.P. Mishra came to be known as “Chanakya” of Indian politics in the Sixties and later became the Chief Minister of new Madhya Pradesh with Bhopal as its capital in 1963.

Mr Mishra has inherited some of the qualities of his father who was also known as the “Iron Man of Madhya Pradesh” and the traits included foresight, vision, administrative ability and rock-like firmness. Brajesh’s first IFS posting was in Karachi where he had made several life-long friends. Subsequently, he was posted to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and later to China when the Sino-Indian relations had touched the lowest ebb. His prize posting was at the UN as India’s Permanent Representative. Incidentally, Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister at that time and Vajpayee the External Affairs Minister. It is said Vajpayee handpicked Mishra for the sensitive UN posting and since then both have been enjoying a perfect equation.

Mr Mishra’s tenure at UN has been a notable success. During the short tenure of Charan Singh as the Prime Minister, Soviet Union’s troops had occupied Afghanistan and on the Prime Minister’s explicit instructions, Mr Mishra made a statement criticising the USSR. When Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister again in 1980, she wanted him to retract his anti-Soviet statement and make a conciliatory one. Mr Mishra was in a dilemma and felt a reversal of the stand would be embarrassing to him. Mrs Gandhi was annoyed, but before he could be shifted, he accepted an UN appointment and was posted as the UN Ambassador to Namibia.

Mr Mishra originally belongs to a village of Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh from where D.P. Mishra hailed. He got his early education in Kanpur but, as his father shifted his political activity to Nagpur, Brajesh also moved. He graduated from Morris College, Nagpur when D.P. Mishra was the state’s Home Minister. Among his college mates and friends were former Union Ministers V.C. Shukla and Vasant Sathe.



A spate of lenses zooming into the past
by Chanchal Sarkar

IN sombre moments now and again come spasms of introspection: How is journalism changing? What difference have radio and television brought to ways of expression? Are we forging ahead or retreating?

Wars, where deaths and disasters are tragically compressed, usually bring forth confessions and boastings from mediapersons, sometimes built around brave moments and also around instances of regret. Recently there’s been a spate of lenses zooming into the past. Part has been fired by the Iraq War, part hung on other pegs.

Let me begin with a backward glance. Ramananda Chatterjee as one of India’s greatest journalists — founder, real (not nominal) editor as well as owner of the Modern Review and the Prabasi (Bengali). Recently I came across the text of a talk he gave on March 10, 1934 to a group of young students about the duties of newspapering: the qualities needed, the labour and the versatility. Despite the stupendous change in the technology of printing and broadcasting there’s hardly a paragraph which needs rewriting after 70 years. He spoke of the gathering of news ideas and facts laid out by thoughtful people from the world over; the putting it all down in a language that a person on the street can understand; the faithful coverage of public opinion along with the boldness to challenge it if that opinion is not pointing in the right direction; a close knowledge of politics and governance; the history of the rise and fall of nation; economics; currency fluctuations; social science and life insurance; the worldwide struggles of labour; the trials that beset women; different religious beliefs; proper display on the pages; the posting out of correspondents; reporting, book reviews, letters, pictures — what else can one write on that is new in 2004?

A good model of war reporting was this year’s Huw Wheldon Lecture (on communication) “In Saddam’s City” given by Ragie Omar, one of BBC’s young and very best correspondents who stayed on in Baghdad from before the war. Omar’s lecture, accompanied by a wide range of cuts from television, brought in the question of the “iconic” scenes like the pulling down of Saddam Hussain’s statue in Baghdad’s Paradise Square accompanied by Omar’s comment that what was much more of an icon was the scene of doctors mounting guard at hospital gates with guns to keep looters away. Also, John Simpson’s description of the terrible effects of “friendly fire” from Americans jerking up casualties (10,000 civilian Iraqis died apart from the coalition losses — if I remember right) and shots of bodies in hospitals and the streets permitted on screen by the editors. Often those allowed were minimal. In such coverage by TV-radio the professional challenge was to capture the inner thoughts and fears of men and women on the roads and bazaars trying to live through the near-certainty of annihilation by bombs and by missiles stockpiled over months by the most war-inclined nation in the world, leaving the ordinary Iraqis in shops, homes and hospitals expressionless and apathetic. On the other hand were the harangues from Saddam’s Information Minister and from Vice-President Tariq Aziz about the imaginary world of victories which had also to be transmitted. Impressions on videotape had to be edited down to takes of no more than a few seconds — a task of awesome skill and responsibility for the editors at the base in London or wherever.

What moved me in Ragie Omar’s pity-crusted lecture and what John Simpson has described in his collected “Dispatches from the Frontline” are the indication that television reporting has, in this time’s Iraq War, changed for all time and will take a different hue in the next war, or other human trial that arrives. As a watcher, mostly inactive now in the media, I could feel as I read and watched the pricklings and responsibilities of reporting from the core of a red-hot event. American media, like CNN have too often chosen to glorify the men and women in uniform.

I wish our media people and our viewers would be as critical and introspective about their coverage of the million sensitive challenges, if not the million mutinies, that is India. CAS or no CAS, Indian television is an unfulfilled promise. So much tape and so much unimagination and non-innovative dullness are monumental examples of short-changing the public.

It has been a terrible experience for viewers to realise that the sanitised war they see is not, in reality, sanitised at all but means the blowing up of buildings with people in them, shells and missiles pounding into highrise apartments, each fiery hit spelling death and destruction; the looting and chaos in the streets and hospitals; the wives, mothers and friends helplessly wandering or standing around with the grief of ages in their faces. The only images to beat them, I think, are the shots of bereaved families in Iran’s Bam.

One tends to emphasise TV all the time. This is horribly wrong because words and the way they are spoken can have an effect much greater than pictures on a screen. We in India are very hobbled by the language and depend a great deal on English. I feel sometimes, a sense of opportunities missed when hearing pedestrian descriptive broadcasts about some of our problems. I heard recently on BBC a feature about the largest HIV-AIDS hospital in India in Tambaram, Chennai. Without pictures on a screen I had to imagine the looks of what I heard and it was all the more moving. Listening to the series on “Putin’s Russia” scripted and spoken by BBC’s former correspondent in Russia, Bridget Kendall, the images of that vast country’s land and people were unforgettable and saddening — a great power left with dregs and shards.

For Col Gaddafi it may have been a simple mathematical formula: what was spent on destruction will now be used for ploughshares. People in the West are disbelieving; they think there must be a catch somewhere. But imagine the joy that would break out in Pakistan and India if war there were abolished. It is ironical to hear the country with the largest stock of weapons of mass destruction “good showing” Libya. An analyst and observer like Ramananda Chatterjee would have found today’s Indian reporting full of plagiarism and mediocrity.



Countless plays getting enacted here
by Humra Quraishi

CALL New Delhi a happening place, for the time being at least. Till about March it will remain so with all the hustle bustle around it, with the who’s who making hurried entries and quicker exits.

On Friday Act Two of the Pravasi Divas took off. This is the second year when the NRIs’ Association was surrounded by an overdose of attention. It is too early for me to fit in details of the tamasha during the course of its three-day Divas. But last year the non-seriousness of it and the political colour given to it seemed   completely off putting. Why make an NRI a commodity and use him to expand business and political clout and much more?

Then, the “Promise of India” programme took off mid-week. Their target group was  the loyal Indian living in the country and who never really ventured out in search  of pastures — greener or not so green. Ironically, the two-day ‘Promise of India’ series is organised by a body of Indians who call themselves the global community of Indians. Don't ask me whether this is another face of the NRI or what with  weird definitions and façades into foreplay my mind is going in circles and rounds of confusion.

Why did the organisers take the trouble of inviting Messrs I.K. Gujral, Julio  Rebeiro, Aruna Roy, Tarun Tejpal, Amartya Sen, Nirmala Deshpande, Swami  Agnivesh, Paul Zacharia, Harsh Mander and many other like-minded people to  speak out and share their views? Reasons for this seem bordering on deep concern for each other and for the country, as their motto runs along these lines and  sentiments: “To reaffirm our faith in a democratic, secular, pluralistic, and united India, to make strong linkages between peace, communal harmony, and India’s social and economic development ...”

The deliberations are long winding and can't be fitted as space constraints tighten  like a noose, but you can well imagine the concerns you and I are all faced with in today's changing political climate.

On ICCR’s platter

It seems that the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), being big bodied,   cannot really manage sensitive souls it invites on the one-to-one basis, through  the so-called exchange programme, which run along the rationale — you take   mine and I take yours. Whatever!. This week two of the intellectuals the ICCR had got on its platter were Jafar Mirghani, who is head of the Sudanese  Civilization Institute and Turkey's well known writer Orhan Pamuk.

It was left to Ajeet Cour to invite the duo to her Institute of Arts and Literature and help them meet the writers and poets of the city. Yes, she did the job rather well and the large lounge-cum-hall of her institute got filled up by the time the two  writers began interacting with a strong contingent from our side.

There were several of our poets who can be dubbed shy as they recite only and when invited. New Delhi-based writers H.K. Kaul, J.P. Das, Kusum Ansal, Indu Jain filled up the evening with their presence. And yes, let me not forget to mention the very presence of Sudanese Ambassador to India Abdalmahmood  Abdal Haleem. He is not just a career diplomat but one of the finest writers of his country. He continues to write for Sudanese newspapers and periodicals.

Poet to tie the knot

Germany’s former Poet Laureate and our very own man Rajvinder Singh got in the good news…Yes, he is finally getting married. New Delhi-based artist Jyotika Sehgal and Rajvinder Singh tie the knot on January 11 and that should bring to halt his romantic wanderings all over the world.

Rajvinder Singh indeed stands out. He has been the only non-German to become Germany’s Poet Laureate for the year 1997. In 2003, German President bestowed him with yet another honour — the President’s award for his contribution to German literature and culture. Again the only non-German to be so awarded.

What impressed me about him was when last year (around this time) he refused to be awarded here in New Delhi as part of the Pravasi Divas tamasha.

Haunting reality

In the backdrop of all these events and more events, there is this haunting reality — there are no night shelters for the poverty-stricken women of the Capital city (except the one run by the YWCA). Whatever be the rationale of the Delhi government about this problem, there are hundreds of women who lie or sit in the  open whilst we sit attending seminars and saying this or that should be done for the women!



I seek no dominions for me, nor deliverance either

For, I crave for nothing

But the love of thy Lotus Feet.

— Guru Nanak

You have to put yourself last, and others before you. The senses say, ‘Myself first’. Ethics say, ‘I must hold myself last’. Thus, all codes of ethics are based upon this renunciation: destruction, not construction, of the individual on the material plane. That Infinite will never find expression upon the material plane, nor is it possible or thinkable.

— Swami Vivekananda

A foe to God was never a true friend to man.

— Young

If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.

— Voltaire


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