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Children aren’t for burning
Make all schools safe

T
he fire at Kumbakonam’s Lord Krishna Higher Secondary School in which at least 90 children perished is a horrifying tragedy that was entirely avoidable but for the criminal negligence of the school and education authorities. The ghastly incident has not only shocked the nation but also triggered widespread fear and anxiety about the safety of children in schools.

Teachers’ betrayal
Why did they desert the kids?

T
he Kumbakonam school tragedy is all the more heart-wrenching for the undeniable fact that the teachers simply fled the scene, leaving the children to roast. While a thorough probe may throw more light on the role of the teachers, there is no dearth of reports to show that as the conflagration began spreading, almost all 23 teachers abandoned the scene, leaving the trapped children to perish or find their own way out.




 

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Celebrating diversity
UN report explores its impact on growth

T
he UNDP-commissioned Human Development Report 2004, released in Delhi on July 15, has a special significance for India. It closely examines the relationship between cultural diversity and development. The conclusion drawn is: diversity need not hinder development. Many wealthy countries — the US, Britain, Canada and Belgium — are multi-ethnic.
ARTICLE

A growth-oriented budget
Time to concentrate on fiscal consolidation
by D.N. Patodia

M
R P. Chidambaram deserves to be complemented for presenting a progressive and growth-oriented budget for 2004-05. Comfortably placed with impressive performance in the preceding year, achieving a growth rate of 8.2 per cent, inflation running low and the balance of payments in good health, the Finance Minister structured his proposals with skill and finesse.

MIDDLE

Fear is the key
by Bibhuti Mishra
W
hen punishment does not smite, it does not remain punishment any longer; the fear of punishment should act as a deterrent to crime. But what happens when punishment becomes a pleasurable experience to look forward to?

OPED

Document
Globalisation and cultural identity
Human Development Report celebrates diversity
T
he following are extracts from the UNDP’s Human Development Report, 2004:  Globalisation has increased contacts between people and their values, ideas and ways of life in unprecedented ways. People are travelling more frequently and more widely. Television now reaches families in the deepest rural areas of China. From Brazilian music in Tokyo to African films in Bangkok, to Shakespeare in Croatia, to books on the history of the Arab world in Moscow, to the CNN world news in Amman, people revel in the diversity of the age of globalisation.

Reform customary laws
The debate over personal laws often comes down to the following:
Gender equality — how patriarchal customs and laws, be they Hindu or Muslim, treat men ad women differently in terms of their legal entitlements.

People
Endorsement spree
A
mitabh Bachchan's films are not doing too well at the boxoffice but that does not stop him from minting money left, right and centre. He is not only signing new films galore but is also endorsing as many as eight brands, ranging from torches, soft drinks and chocolates to suit brands.

  • Most effective fund-raiser
  • Tusshar was bullied

 REFLECTIONS



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Children aren’t for burning
Make all schools safe

The fire at Kumbakonam’s Lord Krishna Higher Secondary School in which at least 90 children perished is a horrifying tragedy that was entirely avoidable but for the criminal negligence of the school and education authorities. The ghastly incident has not only shocked the nation but also triggered widespread fear and anxiety about the safety of children in schools. The inferno has revived memories of the gruesome fire in December 1995 which killed over 440 people, mostly children, at the Dabwali DAV School’s annual function in Haryana. While this calls for a nation-wide alert for tightening rules and stricter enforcement of safety regulations in every school, the cruel extermination of so many schoolchildren highlights the appalling absence of fire-safety in Tamil Nadu. Earlier this year, in January, 59 people died in a fire that engulfed a marriage hall in Srirangam, near Tiruchi. Some two years ago nearly 30 inmates of a mental hospital in Erawadi were scorched to death. These apart, the match factories and fire-cracker units in the state are potential pyres which periodically consume lives.

However, none of these tragedies stirred the state government to ensure the adoption of requisite fire-safety measures. In the event, while the school principal and management are directly responsible and the education department indirectly, the state government itself is guilty of supreme indifference. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has rightly held the school guilty of criminal negligence, closed it and cancelled its licence. But there is urgent need for her government to go further and take a close look at every school to ensure that they are equipped for fighting fire.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has acted promptly in treating it as a national tragedy and deputing Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran to coordinate relief. Given his concern, it would be fitting if he directed every state to ensure compliance with safety measures in educational institutions. This needs to be done on a war-footing and schools that fail to make the necessary provisions should be shut down forthwith.
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Teachers’ betrayal
Why did they desert the kids?

The Kumbakonam school tragedy is all the more heart-wrenching for the undeniable fact that the teachers simply fled the scene, leaving the children to roast. While a thorough probe may throw more light on the role of the teachers, there is no dearth of reports to show that as the conflagration began spreading, almost all 23 teachers abandoned the scene, leaving the trapped children to perish or find their own way out. The teachers of Class III and IV functioning under a thatched roof failed to clear the students even after seeing the fire in the kitchen. One of the teachers who has been detained for interrogation — the rest having gone into hiding — has revealed that when the fire was noticed, the teachers on the ground floor fled without informing the others. All the children who died belonged to the primary section. These tender lives could hardly have been expected to save themselves when the teachers in whom children put their faith were not on the scene to lend them a guiding hand.

The teachers' unfeeling abdication of their responsibility raises a number of questions that have deeper legal, social and ethical implications. A judicial ruling has held that when a child is admitted, the school acknowledges responsibility for the safety of the student. This implies that every member of the teaching and non-teaching staff is singly and collectively responsible for the student's safety. The social and ethical aspects require not only that teachers fulfil the call of duty but also go beyond it when there is an emergency. In this incident, the teachers repudiated the call of duty and deserted those who were in their legal, social and moral care.

The teachers of Lord Krishna School are guilty of gross and wilful negligence of duty and should be held to account for desertion of their charge. This underscores the need for the authorities — and the teaching community — to evolve a binding ethical code for such emergencies.
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Celebrating diversity
UN report explores its impact on growth

The UNDP-commissioned Human Development Report 2004, released in Delhi on July 15, has a special significance for India. It closely examines the relationship between cultural diversity and development. The conclusion drawn is: diversity need not hinder development. Many wealthy countries — the US, Britain, Canada and Belgium — are multi-ethnic. At the same time, the 35 countries ranked at the bottom of the Human Development Index are also multi-cultural. Development is missing where unscrupulous politicians take advantage of cultural differences. In India politicians are known to inflame passions over religious, linguistic and other concerns of minorities.

The UN report also focusses on the impact of globalisation on local cultures. The free flow of Western ideas, goods, films and music excites some, but many feel threatened. India has been a recipient of Western values and lifestyle symbols. There have been protests against the cultural invasion through TV as also against the patenting of Indian Basmati and neem by foreigners. Westerners too are worried about immigrants taking away their jobs. The solution the UN report suggests to avoid ethnic confrontation is: celebrate diversity, protect cultural liberty and expand people’s choices because sticking to tradition can hold back development. “In no society are lifestyles or values static”, it observes.

The role of language in development is also discussed in detail. Limitations on people’s ability to use their mother tongue can exclude them from “education, political life and access to justice”. Many people wonder whether lack of education in one’s mothertongue stalls their growth. The report asserts that “children learn best when they are taught in their mother tongue, particularly in their earliest years.” Giving examples from the US, Canada and the Philippines, the report says children learning in their mother tongue outperformed those receiving education in English or French. It recommends the teaching of one international language, one local link language and the mother tongue. Published every year since 1990, the Human Development Report does raise issues of global concern, even if governments tend to be cool towards them.
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Thought for the day

Life levels all men: death reveals the eminent. — George Bernard Shaw
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A growth-oriented budget
Time to concentrate on fiscal consolidation
by D.N. Patodia

MR P. Chidambaram deserves to be complemented for presenting a progressive and growth-oriented budget for 2004-05. Comfortably placed with impressive performance in the preceding year, achieving a growth rate of 8.2 per cent, inflation running low and the balance of payments in good health, the Finance Minister structured his proposals with skill and finesse. Laying the deserving emphasis on agriculture and rural economy and on the alleviation of poverty, he opened up more avenues for employment, made liberal allocations for basic infrastructure, and offered incentives for foreign investment while conforming, at the same time, to the guidelines of the Common Minimum Programme adopted by the UPA.

In dealing with the implementation of these deserving proposals, however, the Finance Minister was clearly hesitant and non-committal. With the reconstitution of the Planning Commission, he decided to leave it to this institution and the respective ministries “to redefine their priorities and redraw their programmes in accordance with the NCMP”. Until such review and reorientation are completed, including the adoption of new schemes and restructuring of the old ones, he decided to continue with the ongoing programmes.

Similarly, in respect of the fiscal consolidation, tax reforms and expenditure management, instead of acting upon the recommendations which were acceptable to the government, the Finance Minister chose to wait until the revised recommendations of the Kelkar Committee Task Force are submitted and processed by the respective ministries. In substance, therefore, the budget for 2004-05 turns out to be another interim budget after the one presented by Mr Jaswant Singh before the elections. And the entire process of economic reforms and fiscal consolidation has been deferred until the next budged. By delaying this process he has missed a valuable opportunity and failed to take advantage and appropriate the economic climate prevailing at present.

The fiscal management of the country is indeed in a very bad shape. With revenue deficits reaching over 4 per cent for the last four years continuously and unproductive expenses rising fast — of which interest payment alone takes away 47 per cent of the total revenue receipts and major subsidies another 17 per cent — the government has been forced to borrow heavily even to meet its rising revenue expenditure. The total debt of the Central government within five years from 1998-99 to 2003-04 has increased from 51.2 per cent to as high as 64.4 per cent of the GDP. While the resources have been spent wastefully development has suffered.

Today, therefore, the most important element of economic management, as also stated in the Economic Survey of 2003-04, is “effecting fiscal consolidation and eliminating the revenue deficit through revenue enhancement and expenditure management”. And to eliminate the revenue deficit, which is a major drag on the country’s resources, the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act was enacted in 2003. It was notified on July giving the mandate to the Central Government to take appropriate measures to eliminate revenue deficit by 2007-08 and thereafter to build adequate revenue surplus. The Central Government seeks to move an amendment for extending the deadline by one more year till 2008-09. To ask for such extension will be a step in the wrong direction.

Enforcement of this Act in its present form will, in fact, enable the government to resist political pressures and adopt suitable measures for achieving the accomplished results by 2007-08.

The Central Government spends around Rs 55,000 crore every year towards salaries, pensions and other expenses on its 34.48 million employees. The Pay Commission made some useful recommendations for downsizing the army of employees by imposing moratorium on new appointments and gradual reduction of 3 per cent every year for 10 years. Such a recommendation needs to be accepted and implemented immediately.

There are other areas where reforms could have been started immediately without waiting for any revised recommendations. Considerable resources are spent on wasteful subsidies of which hardly 20 per cent reach the real beneficiaries. Constant financing of the non-performing assets of sick public sector undertakings is another major drag on the government’s resources. The inability of the state agencies to recover even the minimum user charges is a matter of great concern. Fiscal consolidation demands that in all such areas wasteful expenses are immediately controlled and gradually eliminated.

Similarly, in respect of tax reforms useful recommendations have been made for simplifying procedures and widening the base, which will result in a significant increase in the collection of tax revenue. Foremost among them is to keep the rates of taxes low and eliminate wide-ranging but insignificant exemptions. It will improve compliance, increase tax collection and widen the base. Another important recommendation is to reform the judicial system to make it faster and less expensive.

The State is the biggest litigant involved in nearly 70 per cent of the disputes pending before different courts in the country. Government departments should be directed not to go for litigation unless it is unavoidable, and in respect of all the pending cases a deadline should be fixed — from six months to one year — for their final disposal.

The Finance Minister may recall his own commitment and the commitment made by the Prime Minister declaring that “‘we are not compromising on our firm commitment to fiscal discipline”. Hopefully, the commitment will be kept and the process of fiscal and economic consolidation will start now without waiting for another eight months.

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MIDDLE

Fear is the key
by Bibhuti Mishra

When punishment does not smite, it does not remain punishment any longer; the fear of punishment should act as a deterrent to crime. But what happens when punishment becomes a pleasurable experience to look forward to?

Recently I had been to an open-air jail. There are 40-odd lifers there undergoing sentence. The building is built like a hostel. The rooms are big, spacious and airy. There is a large kitchen and to go with it a kitchen garden. There is no guard. The “prisoners” live here without a care in the world and it is believed that such a free life would bring about a change in their heart.

When I reached there a few sat in a group singing songs to the accompaniment of the harmonium and the tabla. A few worked at the kitchen, others were just loafing about listening to music, and waiting for the food to be served piping hot! A jail? Well.

Recently in Orissa the death sentence of a criminal found guilty of triple murder, including that of a child, was commuted to life sentence by the Governor. The media was busy projecting the criminal's family and his wife's tearful pleading for mercy; but what about the relatives of the victims? Did they get justice? They are the only ones to pardon such a crime. However, when the law court holds him guilty of a heinous crime who is the Governor or even the President to pardon him, thus perpetrating another injustice on the victims' family? And pray what is life sentence? Maximum 14 years. That too can be commuted by a few years and one can be set free in just 10 years! All your worldly needs taken care of by the government could be a cool deal for many prospective criminals!

Well, there are a number of arguments against capital punishment; but it is true that what man is most afraid of is losing his life. Therefore, when the ultimate punishment can be death, it is a powerful deterrent to crime!

I know a retired officer who has been doing a reform of a different kind by distributing schoolbooks to the deprived children of the prisoners. A veteran of jail administration and reforms having spent 30-odd years there, he believes that the reform inside jail should stop at ensuring humane approach only. "Jail term is a punishment and that feeling should never be diluted. You can take care of their family; you can respect their human rights. But never do anything that would make them look forward to jail as a free boarding house for the unemployed!" says he.
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OPED

Document
Globalisation and cultural identity
Human Development Report celebrates diversity

A view of the cover of the Human Development Report, 2004
A view of the cover of the Human
Development Report, 2004

The following are extracts from the UNDP’s Human Development Report, 2004:

Globalisation has increased contacts between people and their values, ideas and ways of life in unprecedented ways. People are travelling more frequently and more widely. Television now reaches families in the deepest rural areas of China. From Brazilian music in Tokyo to African films in Bangkok, to Shakespeare in Croatia, to books on the history of the Arab world in Moscow, to the CNN world news in Amman, people revel in the diversity of the age of globalisation.

For many people this new diversity is exciting, even empowering, but for some it is disquieting and disempowering. They fear that their country is becoming fragmented, their values lost as growing numbers of immigrants bring new customs and international trade and modern communications media invade every corner of the world, displacing local culture. Some even foresee a nightmarish scenario of cultural homogenization—with diverse national cultures giving way to a world dominated by Western values and symbols. The questions go deeper. Do economic growth and social progress have to mean adoption of dominant Western values? Is there only one model for economic policy, political institutions and social values?

The fears come to a head over investment, trade and migration policies. Indian activists protest the patenting of the neem tree by foreign pharmaceutical companies. Anti-globalisation movements protest treating cultural goods the same as any other commodity in global trade and investment agreements. Groups in Western Europe oppose the entry of foreign workers and their families. What these protesters have in common is the fear of losing their cultural identity, and each contentious issue has sparked widespread political mobilisation.

The impact of globalisation on cultural liberty deserves special attention. Previous Human Development Reports have addressed sources of economic exclusion, such as trade barriers that keep markets closed to poor countries’ exports, and of political exclusion, such as the weak voice of developing countries in trade negotiations. Removing such barriers will not itself eliminate a third type of exclusion: cultural exclusion. That requires new approach based on multicultural policies.

Global flows of goods, ideas, people and capital can seem a threat to national culture in many ways. They can lead to the abandonment of traditional values and practices and the dismantling of the economic basis on which the survival of indigenous cultures depends. When such global flows lead to cultural exclusion, multicultural policies are needed to manage trade, immigration and investments in ways that recognise cultural differences and identities. And the exclusion of traditional knowledge from global regimes for intellectual property needs to be explicitly recognised, as does the cultural impact of such goods as films and the cultural identity of immigrants.

The aim of multicultural policies is not to preserve tradition, however, but to protect cultural liberty and expand people’s choices — in the ways people live and identify themselves — and not to penalise them for these choices. Preserving tradition can help to keep the options open, but people should not be bound in an immutable box called “a culture”.

Unfortunately, today’s debates about globalisation and the loss of cultural identity have often been argued in terms of upholding national sovereignty, preserving the ancient heritage of indigenous people and safeguarding national culture in the face of growing inflows of foreign people, films music and other goods. But cultural identities are heterogenous and evolving — they are dynamic processes in which internal inconsistencies and conflicts drive change.

Four principles should inform a strategy for multiculturalism in globalisation:

«Defending tradition can hold back human development.

«Respecting difference and diversity is essential.

«Diversity thrives in a globally interdependent world when people have multiple and complementary identities and belong not only to a local community and a country but also to humanity at large.

«Addressing imbalances in economic and political power helps to forestall threats to the cultures of poorer and weaker communities.
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Reform customary laws

The debate over personal laws often comes down to the following:

Gender equality — how patriarchal customs and laws, be they Hindu or Muslim, treat men ad women differently in terms of their legal entitlements.

«Cultural freedoms and minority rights — whether the state should reserve the right to intervene in matters of religious practice to assert liberty and equality while protecting the right of groups to practice their religion.

Personal laws of all communities have been criticised for disadvantaging women, and there are strong arguments for reforming almost all traditional (and usually patriarchal) laws and customs in the country, bringing Hindu and Muslim personal or customary laws in line with gender equality and universal human rights. But implementing equality — an objective that is central to concern of human development — is not the same as implementing uniformity.

What is needed is internal reform of all customary laws, upholding gender equality rather than imposing identical gender-biased, prejudicial laws across all communities. Crucial in this is a genuine effort to establish consensus on the code. Legislation imposing uniformity will only widen the majority-minority divide — detrimental both for communal harmony and for gender equality. — Human Development Report, 2004

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People
Endorsement spree

Amitabh BachchanAmitabh Bachchan's films are not doing too well at the boxoffice but that does not stop him from minting money left, right and centre. He is not only signing new films galore but is also endorsing as many as eight brands, ranging from torches, soft drinks and chocolates to suit brands.

His latest is a jewellery brand Damas and Amitabh will be endorsing this brand in UAE and rest of the world. Damas Jewellery LLC, the internationally renowned retail jewellery chain, will be leveraging Amitabh's brand equity in the international markets for business development.

The brand has also received endorsements from international celebrities like Claudia Schiffer and Bollywood stars like Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty, Mahima Chudhary and Celina Jaitley.

Most effective fund-raiser

Indian American Bobby Jindal, who is running for the US Congress from the 1st District of Louisiana, is the best fundraiser in the race to Washington.

As Jindal, a Republican, wrapped up his latest round to reach an earmarked fundraising goal of $1.3 million and attended an event that featured Vice President Dick Cheney, it is evident he is ahead of other candidates running against him for the party's nomination process which begins August 2, says Louisiana's leading paper Times-Picayune.

After his narrow defeat in the state's gubernatorial race, Jindal moved to Kenner in the safer 1st District and has raised $500,000 in the second quarter of the campaign, getting some $300,000 of that amount in just 10 days, his campaign manager Timmy Teepell told Times-Picayune.

Formerly from Punjab, he also has a virtual army of volunteers who go out in the southern heat to convince voters about their leader. The 1st District encompasses East Jefferson, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes, parts of West Jefferson, Orleans and St. Charles parishes.

Compared to Jindal, State Rep. Steve Scalise, also a Republican, has raised only $200,000, the report states.

In a largely conservative district, Jindal's win appears predestined.

Tusshar was bullied

With "Koi Mil Gaya", Bollywood seems to have caught on the sci-fi bug. Tusshar starrer "Gayab" tries to toe the same line. In fact the similarity goes a little further. Taking a cue from 1987's "Mr India", the super-hit film starring Anil Kapoor and Sridevi, "Gayab" is the story of a man who gets noticed only after he learns the trick of becoming invisible.

Like Hrithik Roshan of "Koi Mil Gaya", Tusshar plays Vishnu Prasad who has always been a loser. With a nagging mother breathing down his neck, friends who ridicule him and a love interest who isn't even aware of his existence, things change dramatically in one defining incident that renders him invisible.
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What more can a man in the street want to learn than this, that the one God and Creator and Master of all that lives pervades the Universe?

— Mahatma Gandhi

Many take the name of God after receiving blows in life. But he who can offer his mind like a flower at the feet of the Lord right from his childhood is indeed blessed.

— Sarada Devi

The company of those who cherish the True Lord within, turns mortals into holy beings.

— Guru Nanak

If you are in right earnest to learn the mysteries of God, He will send you the Sadguru, the right teacher. You need not trouble yourself about finding out a Guru.

— Sri Ramakrishna

Courage in danger is half the battle.

— Plautus
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