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EDITORIALS

Water! Water!
Budget shows the way
T
he deepening water crisis that affects the lives of crores of people has rarely been given a serious thought in a Union budget. For a change, in the 2004-05 budget Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has not only proposed flood control and water harvesting measures, but also announced a massive scheme to repair, renovate and restore natural and man-made water bodies like lakes, tanks and ponds.

One House or two?
It is better to abolish the Councils
T
hursday’s resolution passed by the Andhra Pradesh Assembly seeking revival of the Legislative Council in the state after a gap of 19 years does not come as a surprise. The Congress made it an issue in the recent Assembly elections.






EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

Language war
French dog barks at English
I
t is possible for the East to meet the West. However, to make the French say "good morning" or the English "bon jour" is still a linguistic impossibility. The story of the blind Quebec student who wanted to learn English may not have acquired political overtones had President Jacques Chirac played ball with President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair over Iraq. 

ARTICLE

Chidambaram’s new avatar
Growth cannot be allowed to slacken
by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
H
arvard-educated Palaniappan Chidambaram used to be considered a market-friendly liberaliser. As a lawyer he has held briefs for at least two controversial companies — the failed US energy giant Enron and the infamous Mardia Chemicals that has large outstanding bank dues. 

MIDDLE

In equal measure
by Raj Chatterjee
T
he springtime of life when the young heart rejoices with youthful zest and the apparently endless vista of life spreads before us with its boundless enthusiasms and ideals. Many years ago I copied that passage from a book. I can’t enlighten you as to its name or its author as I failed to make a note of either.

OPED

The state of agriculture in Punjab
CAG exposes govt’s malfunctioning
by P.P.S. Gill
I
f the Punjab Government accords low priority to agriculture, part of the blame must be apportioned to the Department of Agriculture for its failure to perform. An “integrated audit” of the department by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India for the year ending March 31, 2003, reveals that various state or centrally sponsored schemes had faltered as much due to the delayed release of funds as non-utilisation of funds or unfruitful investments.

Life is not a race to death
by Barefoot Doctor
I’
VE been spending a fair bit of time on the road of late with my work, mostly on the degenerating motorway system dodging, as you do, bumps, potholes, tailbacks and mad people who pull out without warning or come screaming up your rear in the fast lane when there’s clearly a slow-moving line of 20 cars directly in front and nowhere else to go.

 REFLECTIONS

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Water! Water!
Budget shows the way

The deepening water crisis that affects the lives of crores of people has rarely been given a serious thought in a Union budget. For a change, in the 2004-05 budget Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has not only proposed flood control and water harvesting measures, but also announced a massive scheme to repair, renovate and restore natural and man-made water bodies like lakes, tanks and ponds. There are some 10 lakh such water bodies in the country and only half of them are gainfully used for irrigation. With the arrival of tubewells and a better spread of canal water, traditional water bodies fell in disuse and accumulated silt. Many village ponds in this region have been levelled.

Traditional water structures are a part of Indian heritage. Their importance in recharging underground water and serving common community needs has never been fully understood. The Finance Minister has now mooted pilot projects to reclaim and redevelop water bodies in at least five districts — one in each of the five regions of the country. These will cost Rs 100 crore and he proposes to draw funds from the existing water programmes. Thereafter, Mr Chidambaram plans to launch a national water resource development project, to be completed in seven to eight years. Public awareness and involvement in such projects is vital for their successful completion.

India witnesses the unusual phenomenon of water scarcity in some parts and floods in others. Of late, there has been plans of inter-linking rivers, but their viability is yet to be properly assessed in view of the huge costs involved. Mr Chidambaram’s budget speech made no mention of the Vajpayee government’s plans to interlink rivers. However, he has allocated Rs 30 crore for the ongoing flood control projects. Water harvesting is another neglected area. In the absence of structures to pool and preserve rainwater, much of it goes waste. The minister has launched a nationwide water harvesting scheme with NABARD providing concessional funds for it. Instead of squabbling over water issues, state governments should also think afresh and take steps to supplement the Central efforts to avert the impending water crisis.
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One House or two?
It is better to abolish the Councils

Thursday’s resolution passed by the Andhra Pradesh Assembly seeking revival of the Legislative Council in the state after a gap of 19 years does not come as a surprise. The Congress made it an issue in the recent Assembly elections. Now the resolution will go to Parliament for concurrence before the revival of the Upper House becomes a reality. Under the Constitution, an upper chamber can be constituted in a state only after a resolution, passed by the State Assembly, is ratified by both Houses of Parliament and then obtains the President’s assent.

The resolution brings to the fore the relevance of second chambers in the states. The Andhra government’s rationale is devoid of logic. Clearly, the ruling Congress wants to rehabilitate those who could not get an opportunity to contest elections to the Assembly or the Lok Sabha. If the Council is revived, how would the government meet an additional burden of Rs 20 crore on the state’s treasury? Moreover, it is doubtful whether the second chambers have served any useful purpose of bicameralism, as visualised by the founding fathers of the Constitution. It is a pity that party politics and political expediency determine the creation or abolition of an upper chamber in the states.

Clearly, there is need for a national policy on bicameral legislatures. The question of reviving the Council should not be left to the whims of a State Assembly of the day. The fact that only four states have two Houses at present — Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh — proves their irrelevance vis-a-vis the State Assemblies. (One cannot count the Council in Jammu and Kashmir as it is governed by its own Constitution). The Legislative Councils have really not performed well in these states. In many respects, the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House, enjoys a different status and a role in the scheme of things. While the Rajya Sabha acts as an effective check on the Lok Sabha, it is not so in the case of the Legislative Councils. The country will not lose anything in case they are abolished altogether.

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Language war
French dog barks at English

It is possible for the East to meet the West. However, to make the French say "good morning" or the English "bon jour" is still a linguistic impossibility. The story of the blind Quebec student who wanted to learn English may not have acquired political overtones had President Jacques Chirac played ball with President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair over Iraq. He stood his ground and came out on the right side of the invasion. Now the French have scored another victory over the English people and their language in the French-speaking part of Canada and that too through a dog.

The Canadian university, where the blind student was attending English classes, need not have made an issue of the guide dog's inability to follow English commands. It was, perhaps, one of the dumbest academic decisions to insist that the student should teach even his canine helper to understand English. Animals understand only sounds, not language. No one could give this dog a bad name because he was the eyes and ears of his blind master. The controversy resulted in a double insult for the university and those who get pleasure by pointing out that the "E" of English comes before the "F" of French.

They have lost the language war over a dog's ability (or was it canine insistence?) to respond to French commands only. The university authorities evidently ignored an old saying that you cannot teach an old dog a new trick. The Labrador had been taught 17 basic commands in French to help his master. The authorities backed off and withdrew the order that barred the student from attending English classes, although his dog understood only French. Otherwise, they may have had to face the further humiliation of being ticked off by the human rights commission. The story has several morals. One, you cannot force the English language down a French throat without facing résistance. Two, even a dumb dog would not have barked up this tree for promoting any language.
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Thought for the day

A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline. 

— Harvey Mackay
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Chidambaram’s new avatar
Growth cannot be allowed to slacken
by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

Harvard-educated Palaniappan Chidambaram used to be considered a market-friendly liberaliser. As a lawyer he has held briefs for at least two controversial companies — the failed US energy giant Enron and the infamous Mardia Chemicals that has large outstanding bank dues. He is the darling of chambers of commerce and industry associations. However, in his second stint as Union Finance Minister and during the presentation of his third budget in eight years, the 58-year-old MP from Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu, who belongs to an affluent family of Chettiars, has acquired a brand new image for himself.

In his latest avatar, Chidambaram perceives the Communists as his conscience-keepers. The Finance Minister may or may not have altered his ideological persuasion. But he is surely aware that the very survival of the United Progressive Alliance government led by Manmohan Singh depends on support from the Left. He has nevertheless gone ahead and announced a few budget proposals that have antagonised the Marxists. These relate to the proposals to hike the foreign direct investment limits in three sectors: from 26 per cent to 49 per cent in insurance, from 40 per cent to 49 per cent in civil aviation and from 49 per cent to 74 per cent in telecommunications. Chidambaram's decision to raise close to Rs 4,000 crore by riding piggy-back on the public offer of shares to be made by the National Thermal Power Corporation has also made the Left uneasy.

The Finance Minister, however, is of the view that these differences are relatively minor and can be ironed out. It is indeed true that the Communists have, by and large, gone along with the rest of his budget although there have been murmurs of disappointment about the outlays on social sector schemes like health-care and education not being big enough. In aggregate terms, the government intends spending only an extra Rs 10,000-odd crore on new social initiatives — an amount that is clearly inadequate given the magnitude of the tasks ahead. Chidambaram, however, asserts that shortage of funds would not come in the way of implementation of schemes aimed at fulfilling the goals of the national common minimum programme. He has further talked about the limited capacity of the economy to absorb additional inflows of funds using existing delivery mechanisms (that are highly inefficient, to say the least).

At the beginning of his budget speech, the Finance Minister fondly quoted the Prime Minister saying Indian people had "sought a change in the manner in which this country is run, a change in national priorities and a change in the processes and focus of governance". The budget, not surprisingly, talks of an "assault on poverty" and unemployment and has, to an extent, sought to define the contours of the blueprint for a "new deal" for the farm sector.

Hence, the emphasis on food-for-work and other employment generating programmes, stepping up the flow of credit to farmers, speedy completion of ongoing irrigation projects, an improved health insurance scheme for the underprivileged, restoration of silted water bodies, not to mention a host of schemes for water harvesting, flood control, crop diversification and development of the rural infrastructure. A cess on all taxes is expected to generate additional resources worth Rs 4,000-5,000 crore that would be earmarked for health-care and education.

At the same time, Chidambaram's budget has several proposals aimed at improving the industrial climate. The list of items reserved for the small-scale sector has been further pruned, a National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council has been proposed and an Investment Commission would be set up to promote both foreign and domestic investment while the role of the existing Foreign Investment Promotion Board would be changed. The Finance Minister has done away with long term capital gains tax but his move to impose a tax of 0.15 per cent on all transactions in securities in stock exchanges has aroused the ire of brokers. He says he is willing to reduce the transactions tax or hike the tax on capital gains provided there is no impact on revenues.

The one proposal in the 2004-05 budget that has drawn the maximum amount of attention is the "good news" to exempt all individuals earning a taxable income below Rs 1 lakh from payment of personal income tax. The Finance Minister hopes this decision would ensure better compliance thereby increasing the number of taxpayers in the country. He points to his experience in 1996-97 and expects the story to be repeated.

What cannot, however, be denied is the fact that less than 3 per cent of this nation of more than a billion people pays income tax in the first place. The number of income tax paying assessees is currently 27 million and more than half this number (14 million, to be precise) would benefit from the proposal to increase the threshold level for imposition of income tax. The BJP's criticism that those with an income in excess of Rs 1 lakh a year would have to pay a higher amount of income tax (because of the 2 per cent cess) would be applicable irrespective of whichever limit of taxable income that is considered as a cut-off point.

The service tax rate has been hiked and the tax net widened although truckers have kept out of it. Significantly, as the FM pointed out, no excise inspector would be visiting the owner of a handloom or a powerloom. Senior citizens would be eligible to receive 9 per cent interest on their savings. The interest rate on loans to state governments has been lowered by 1.5 per cent while Bihar has been provided special financial assistance to the tune of Rs 3,225 crore. As a concession to the Left, a new Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises would be established.

The biggest task ahead of the Finance Minister is to ensure that the growth impulses of the economy do not slacken. For the first time since 1996-97, the real rate of growth of gross domestic product stood at 8.2 per cent during 2003-04. This growth rate was possible because the economy had grown by only 4 per cent in the previous year that saw agricultural production fall by over 5 per cent on account of a severe drought.

The monsoon has been normal during the current fiscal year. Still, it would be a Herculean task to ensure that the real rate of growth of GDP during 2004-04 would be in the region of 7-8 per cent as has been implicitly assumed in the budget. Never in India has GDP grown by over 8 per cent for two years in a row. The UPA government should consider itself singularly lucky if world oil prices do not rise and inflation as measured by the official wholesale price index is contained below 5 per cent. In all probability, the real rate of growth of GDP would be around 6.5 per cent and inflation around 5.5 per cent resulting in a nominal rate of growth of around 12 per cent.
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In equal measure
by Raj Chatterjee

The springtime of life when the young heart rejoices with youthful zest and the apparently endless vista of life spreads before us with its boundless enthusiasms and ideals.

Many years ago I copied that passage from a book. I can’t enlighten you as to its name or its author as I failed to make a note of either.

But now that the springtime of life is a long way behind me I like to hark back occasionally to the days when I felt that there was nothing in the world I could not do and no happiness, however brief, that could not be mine.

The other day the son of an old friend came to see me for some advice. He was joining the company, now predominantly Indian, in which I had served for nearly 30 years.

I told him that there was nothing I could tell him of what conditions are today as I had retired nearly 40 years ago and the company that I had known had changed beyond recognition into a vast monolithic structure with diversifications, streamlining and what not. Young men occupying top executive positions whose fathers had been my colleagues talked in a jargon that I was unable to comprehend.

“Then tell me about your early days” said the young man. “The things you did inside and outside your office. Your relations with your seniors who, at the time, were all British.”

“Well, for one thing” I said, “we didn’t take life too seriously. There weren’t so many problems to cope with and hardly any competition from Indian companies. So that gave us plenty of time to mix our social with our official lives.”

“As to our bosses and colleagues” I continued, “we were something of a novelty for them. Unlike the ICS or the army they had never met on equal grounds Indians who were as well, or better, educated than themselves. They had to make rapid adjustments in their outlook and, by and large, they did it with good grace.”

“We were, of course, expected to keep up a certain standard. I remember my first branch manager, a veteran of the first World War, with an MC to his credit, who, in the course of giving me the ‘gen’ about my job, gave my clothes the once over and casually mentioned that there was an excellent cutter at the Army and Navy Stores to whom he would be pleased to give me an introduction.”

“One never went out on tour those days without a dinner jacket and one was expected to call on the collector, the S.P and, in a cantonment, on the area commander. Also, I might mention, one always carried a 12 bore gun and a fishing rod in the boot of the car.”

“Sounds as if you had more play than work in your time” said the lad. I would have put it differently. We worked hard and we played hard.
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The state of agriculture in Punjab
CAG exposes govt’s malfunctioning
by P.P.S. Gill 

Carrying on without state help
Carrying on without state help 

If the Punjab Government accords low priority to agriculture, part of the blame must be apportioned to the Department of Agriculture for its failure to perform. An “integrated audit” of the department by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India for the year ending March 31, 2003, reveals that various state or centrally sponsored schemes had faltered as much due to the delayed release of funds as non-utilisation of funds or unfruitful investments.

The department had not only failed to make use of the “macro management work plan” framed by integrating 27 centrally sponsored schemes to overcome the problem of ''unspent money”, but also to give a “second push” to an agriculture' scheme of 2000-01 that was intended to facilitate shifting from wheat and paddy to cash crops.

In fact, under this scheme, out of an allocation of Rs 71 crore, the expenditure was Rs 44 crore in 2000-01 and 2002-03. And where was it spent? At least Rs 39 crore was given as loan to the PAIC and Pagrexco.

Punjab agriculture is heading towards stagnation, though 22.42 per cent of the population is dependent on it. While income from the agriculture sector had registered an increase of 85 per cent in 1993-2002, its contribution to the gross state domestic product had decreased form 33.06 per cent to 26.11 per cent.

The CAG report has analysed the ''quality'' of the activities, performance and achievements of the department in terms of administrative goals, implementation of policies and management of personnel. It makes a dismal reading. The observations are a telling comment on the department's performance or lack of it, where no evaluation and monitoring was done, no fiscal controls were exercised and no stock taking of the utilisation of funds was done.

While failing to furnishing the requisite data to CAG, the department flouted the financial rules. Non-implementation of schemes was the hallmark of its performance. It was at least successful in getting its large funds "blocked' in schemes, such as bee-keeping, due to bad investments.

Sample these: It was a shocking revelation that no terms and conditions were defined on the repayment of Rs 12 crore the department gave as loan to the Punjab Agro-Industries Corporation (PAIC). It is not mentioned why an investment of Rs 79.61 crore in five statutory corporations turned “unfruitful” in 1980-99.

On the PAIC and its protege, Pagrexco—Punjab Agricultural Export Corporation, the report has many disturbing comments. CAG has observed that it was not known how the money was spent or who were the beneficiaries, if any, or if benefits accrued to farmers or not, though these two corporations had an easy access to funds. At one place it also says “Actual utilisation of funds is awaited”.

Also, despite depositing Rs 80.45 lakh with the PWD in September ,1994, the department had failed to set up five soil-testing laboratories till April 2002. These labs were to educate farmers on the balanced use of fertilizers. After Rs 47.71 lakh was spent, work was stopped and labs were incomplete even in June, 2003.

Likewise, a lackadaisical attitude of the department is evident from another instance. This pertains to an unauthorised occupation of the 25-acre government seed farm at Sohian in Ludhiana district. The court had decided in favour of the department in January 1991, yet it has failed to take possession of the farm till now.

The department had an unspent Rs 25.86 crore as on March 31, 2003, pertaining to 11 fully funded centrally sponsored schemes. Even after the state had released Rs 12.34 crore in 2003-04, it could use just Rs 4.36 crore on seven schemes.

On the working of soil testing, pesticide, insecticide labs or taking of samples, it was pointed out that when the samples failed, no action was taken against the defaulters and the department officials were not proceeded against when they had failed to achieve even the assigned targets of taking of samples.

Interestingly, there was far less expenditure on sugarcane development despite the collection of taxes for this. Though a tax of Rs 6.75 crore was collected, barely 8 per cent of it, Rs 53 lakh, was spent on sugarcane development in 2000-03. On the other hand, sugarcane arrears of farmers amounting to Rs 165.31 crore for 2002-03 were not cleared.

Against a crushing capacity of 2,786.40 lakh quintal of sugarcane in 22 mills, the actual milling was 1,740.83 lakh quintal in 2000-03. This means at least 38 per cent capacity had remained under-utilized, whereas the government had made 70 per cent investment in the share capital in 14 mills. And all these were in losses to the tune of Rs 139.88 crore in 2002-03.

A random cross-check of the certified seed in six districts, distributed by Punseed in 1998-99, revealed that 7,888.30 quintal seed, involving Rs 15.78 lakh as subsidy was disbursed to ''non-existing farmers and beneficieries''. The department did not make available details of Rs 1.10 crore subsidy, involving 55,220 quintal seed, distributed in the remaining 11 districts.

The department had failed to reclaim alkaline soil, implement the national pulses development project, the oil seed production programme and the integrated cereal development project. Neither area nor production targets were achieved in these schemes. The blame was put on the Department of Finance.

In sum, Punjab had failed to promote diversification from wheat-paddy to cash crops — pulses, oilseeds etc. Actually, there was an increase in the area under wheat and paddy and a decrease in the area under cash crops.

The department had even failed to distribute the requisite inputs under various schemes it was expected to promote and implement, thus, depriving farmers of income benefits that would have otherwise accrued to them.
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Life is not a race to death
by Barefoot Doctor

I’VE been spending a fair bit of time on the road of late with my work, mostly on the degenerating motorway system dodging, as you do, bumps, potholes, tailbacks and mad people who pull out without warning or come screaming up your rear in the fast lane when there’s clearly a slow-moving line of 20 cars directly in front and nowhere else to go. But anticipating and evading the potentially devastating effects of poor surface maintenance or reckless hand and foot movements of others on wheel and pedal, presumably respectively, that I may arrive at my destination in one piece, while the essential subtext of my driving experience has not always been the overriding stream of thought in my mind as I’ve negotiated the tired tarmac of our green and pleasant land. On a recent trip, having exhausted the joys of the radio and CDs, I fell into a line of internal dialogue: your body as a motor vehicle.

It’s a hackneyed metaphor, but nonetheless appropriate in light of the high-speed journey most of us are making along hazardous fast lanes. Against a backdrop of modern life’s spiritual potholes, its emotional bumps, the intense competition screaming up your rear to be great, look great and earn great amounts, the workload tailbacks and senseless decisions of others that affect your own progress and possibly directly or indirectly endanger your existence, there you sit, as it were, in this vehicle, your body doing its best to get you and any passengers or dependants from cradle to grave safe and sound without getting caught speeding nor slowing down anyone else or doing them damage as you go, and just as when driving you have a variety of options available to you, the choice of which will determine the kind of experience and outcome you have on the road.

You can resist the whole idea of making the journey in the first place and thus in unconscious reflexive response hunch your neck and shoulders, depress your chest, inhibit your breathing, use too much strength in your arms and hands to turn the wheel as you handle all the momentarily miniscule internal and external shifts of direction you undertake every day; you can keep your lumbar region crumpled and legs stiff and feet tense on the pedals that determine all the myriad accelerations and decelerations involved in your local affairs, thus wastefully expending precious vital energy and leaving yourself prey to stress and lowered immune response, or you can graciously accept where you are in the moment and make the best of it, come what may, by expansively relaxing your body, lengthening your spine, breathing freely and only using as much energy as is required to do what must be done, thus conserving precious vitality for general well-being.

You can accelerate and break with excessive pedal pressure and sharpness or keep your actions smooth and light, likewise the way you begin, sustain and close any particular project or endeavour.

You can distract yourself with the music of your inner stereo, getting lost in your thoughts, or let your symphony be the sound of you bringing the fullness of yourself to bear on the task at hand.

Above all, you can treat the entire enterprise of life as a race with your fellow humans, always pushing for maximum advantage to be the first to reach the final destination — death; or you can just regard it as a journey to be enjoyed and valued for what it is, a most edifying and mystifying motion of body and soul that lasts for 79 years or so if you’re lucky and then suddenly stops, whichever way you play it.
— The Guardian
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By love of truth the sincere escape iniquity. Like the elephant well subdued and quiet, who permits the king to mount on his trunk, thus the man that reveres righteousness will endure faithfully throughout his life.

— The Buddha

One becomes good or bad in accordance with God’s will.

— Guru Nanak

People talk glibly of God and Brahman, while they are attached to the things of the world. What does all this amount to? Mere blowing of the conch (Sankha) for Divine service without an Image to worship within the temple.

— Sri Ramakrishna

We need men who can dream of things

that never were, and ask why not

— George Bernard Shaw

Adopt the pace of nature.

Her secret is patience.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson
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