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EDITORIALS

Not by boycott
The committees are as important as Parliament
T
HE decision of the National Democratic Alliance to boycott all Parliamentary Standing and Consultative Committees is tantamount to boycotting Parliament. With Parliament meeting only for a few weeks in a year, it is through these committees that most of its work is carried out. 

Schools fail fire test
Constant public vigilance is necessary
M
OST schools in India have not taken the requisite steps to ensure the safety of the children studying there, although the Kumbakonam fire in which 90 children died should have stirred them to act. The Tribune’s survey of schools in the region shows that many have only one entrance. 



EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

Ministerial misconduct
Birthday bash at state expense
H
ERE is a minister of near bankrupt Punjab, admitted to the PGI, Chandigarh, with a fractured arm, flying off to his village, Dhaliwal, near Jalandhar, in a helicopter to celebrate his 70th birthday. A temporary helipad was hurriedly raised. With great difficulty the helicopter pilot manoeuvred to land amidst a maze of electricity and telephone wires.

ARTICLE

Move for quota in private sector
A noble idea perverted by politicians
by Amulya Ganguli
T
HE misuse by the political class of one of the positive aspects of modern governance — affirmative action in favour of the underprivileged — is a distressing feature of India’s post-1947 history. The latest example of this sad tendency is the move to reserve jobs for Dalits and Adivasis in the private sector. But there have been any number of other such instances.

MIDDLE

Going home to the valley…
by Aditi Tandon
T
his was the first time I was visiting Kashmir without my mother by the side. Though I had never thought I could muster the courage to return to her homeland without her, there were temptations that I found hard to resist. And then there was the official brief that required me to report from a place which, until now, had been anything but a source of news for me.

OPED

Why PSEB is in a financial mess
Thein Dam and Shahpur Kandi projects are partly to blame
by Harbans Singh
T
he present financial woes of the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) are caused primarily by two major factors: (i) free supply to the agricultural sector and (ii) the Thein Dam project: The responsibility for the financial mess rests entirely on the state government. The burden of free supply has become fully realised by the public and the government.

Get an ethical shopping plan
by Lucy Siegle
I
T WAS about five years ago that my eco conscience began to form. There was no epiphany. It was more down to the drip drip drip effect of images of melting polar icecaps, landfills spewing rubbish, and crops sprayed with pesticides. So I decided to limit my own ecological footprint.


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Not by boycott
The committees are as important as Parliament

THE decision of the National Democratic Alliance to boycott all Parliamentary Standing and Consultative Committees is tantamount to boycotting Parliament. With Parliament meeting only for a few weeks in a year, it is through these committees that most of its work is carried out. The committees provide the members of Parliament an opportunity to examine the functioning of the government and thereby keep a check on it. By boycotting these committees, the NDA is depriving itself of its legitimate rights. Ultimately, it is the people who stand to lose because there will be no one to restrain the government from doing wrong things if their own representatives shirk their responsibility.

The NDA has justified its decision on the ground that the UPA government has been adopting a confrontationist attitude. But its own conduct in Parliament on the issue of “tainted ministers” has not been in the best democratic traditions of the country. There is no denying that the common man is worried over criminal elements contesting elections and eventually becoming ministers. This is possible only because political parties do not fight shy of collaborating with them. There are also loopholes in the law, which enable such characters to strut about as ministers. The irony is that there are as many “tainted” members on the Opposition benches as there are on the Treasury side. Little surprise, the NDA has to quibble over the nature of crime committed by its members while claiming to be holier than the UPA.

If the NDA’s attitude is anything to go by, it seems its constituents have not reconciled themselves to the defeat they suffered in the elections. They seem to be at a loss when the UPA government takes decisions which are not palatable to them. The UPA has got a mandate and that mandate is to bring about changes. The Opposition should have the courtesy to concede this right to the government. In that case, the NDA will not object to the sacking of some governors or to the removal of signboards from the national highways. What the people expect from them is to play the role of watchdogs by taking an active part in the proceedings of Parliament, whether in the two Houses or in its committees. Boycott is certainly not the way to perform this role.
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Schools fail fire test
Constant public vigilance is necessary

MOST schools in India have not taken the requisite steps to ensure the safety of the children studying there, although the Kumbakonam fire in which 90 children died should have stirred them to act. The Tribune’s survey of schools in the region shows that many have only one entrance. They do not have any fire-fighting equipment worth the name. The post-Kumbakonam shock and concern should have provided the impetus for everyone to ensure that such a tragedy, which could have been averted, does not occur again. No lessons were learnt from the fire tragedy that struck Dabwali, Haryana, in December 1995, in which 442 children and their parents attending a school function perished. The case moved at a snail’s pace and the families of victims and survivors suffered agonising delays and denials of due relief and rehabilitation.

Safety regulation is the responsibility of the state, which should ideally work at two different levels, a promotional one, in which efforts are made to evolve and enforce better standards, and a punitive one, under which breaches of safety are accounted for and adequately penalised. After every tragedy, there is a call for punishing the guilty, but the focus has seldom been on creating the right atmosphere for safety, through proper equipment and training. It has often been found that the lacuna is not in the laws, but in the enforcement of the same. Coupled with it is the “chalta hai” attitude of the public and the parents who should be more active in making schools safe for their children.

The people as a whole will have to be involved in public safety by demanding it and actively participating in it. Fire fighting drills are common in schools and public institutions the world over. Why should India be any different? It is only through public involvement that greater awareness and consequent enforcement of safety regulations would come about. Fire safety should be made the No.1 priority for schools and authorities. Otherwise, there will be periodic visitations like Dabwali and Kumbakonam.
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Ministerial misconduct
Birthday bash at state expense

HERE is a minister of near bankrupt Punjab, admitted to the PGI, Chandigarh, with a fractured arm, flying off to his village, Dhaliwal, near Jalandhar, in a helicopter to celebrate his 70th birthday. A temporary helipad was hurriedly raised. With great difficulty the helicopter pilot manoeuvred to land amidst a maze of electricity and telephone wires. Local Government Minister Jagjit Singh may be forgiven for foolishly endangering his own life. That he put to a serious risk the life of the pilot is unpardonable. Such blatant show of power and misuse of public money may not surprise many.

That people like him have played havoc with the state finances is all too evident. Punjab today is in debt, which has grown from Rs 36,854 crore at the end of 2002-03 to Rs 40,327 crore on June 21, 2004. In squandering resources, the Amarinder Singh government has, perhaps, beaten the record of the previous Badal regime. It has openly violated the spirit of the recent law limiting the size of the ministries by raising a battalion of parliamentary secretaries. It has appointed MLAs as chairpersons of loss-making boards and corporations. The government has no money to buy sufficient power, discomforting ordinary people and causing huge losses to industry and agriculture. However, ministers like Mr Jagjit Singh seem to have enough funds at their disposal to use them the way they like. A CAG indictment makes no difference.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been trying to evolve new ethics of governance. He sticks to work and discourages hangers-on. In Punjab, members of his own party’s government function contrary to his ideals. The entire district administration of Jalandhar went on virtual mass leave on Monday to prepare for and attend the minister’s birthday. It is unlikely that anyone at the state or Central level would admonish, let alone sack, the irresponsible minister for misusing the official machinery.
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Thought for the day

Silence is a woman’s finest ornament.

— Auctoritates Aristotelis
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Move for quota in private sector
A noble idea perverted by politicians
by Amulya Ganguli

THE misuse by the political class of one of the positive aspects of modern governance — affirmative action in favour of the underprivileged — is a distressing feature of India’s post-1947 history. The latest example of this sad tendency is the move to reserve jobs for Dalits and Adivasis in the private sector. But there have been any number of other such instances.

As may be expected, the beginning of the process was praiseworthy. At the dawn of Independence, the new Indian government decided to undo the centuries of injustice that had been meted out to the “untouchables” — the Scheduled Castes — and the original inhabitants of the land, the adivasis or the Scheduled Tribes. To lift them out of their depressed social, economic and political condition, it was decided to reserve seats in Parliament for them and provide employment opportunities.

Although Jawaharlal Nehru believed it was “manifestly absurd to carry on with this reservation business” speaking mainly in the context of the reserving seats, Ambedkar’s arguments carried the day. He pointed out that the “administration was unsympathetic to the Scheduled Castes because it was manned wholly by caste Hindu officers” and that this “tyranny and oppression” will continue unless the Harijans, as the dalits were called at the time, joined the civil services.

What is noteworthy, however, is that despite the use of such strong language by Ambedkar and by Jaipal Singh, who represented the Adivasis, the reservations were specified for only 10 years. Since then, however, not only has the quota system for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes been routinely extended after every 10 years and even expanded to include promotions in the services, the very concept has also been enlarged to include groups for whom no claims were made in the Constituent Assembly.

Nor are the reasons for this show of magnanimity by politicians any secret. It is purely for the sake of garnering votes, with no thought for the adverse impact on the social scene. The most blatant of these manoeuvres was by Mr V.P. Singh when he sought to counter a challenge to his premiership by the late Haryana strong man Devi Lal by roping in the Other Backward Classes into the reservation net by his acceptance of the B.P. Mandal report. Its immediate fallout was Mr L.K. Advani’s Somnath-to-Ayodhya rath yatra in 1990 to consolidate the BJP’s vote bank. The country hasn’t yet recovered from this Mandal-kamandal clash which these events generated.

It is worth noting that the protagonists of these cynical tactics haven’t gained anything either for themselves or their parties. Mr V.P.Singh today is a marginal figure in politics while Mr Advani and his party have just lost an election and are thinking of reviving the politics of kamandal even though few believe that it will be of much help. But the divisive poison of caste and community which these two introduced is still spreading through the system.

However, their failure to attain greater glory with the help of their vote banks do not seem to have dissuaded others from pursuing the same course. Just before last year’s assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, their Chief Ministers came up with new ideas of reservations. While Mr Ashok Gehlot wanted the poor among the upper castes to be included in the quota system, Mr Digvijay Singh was keen on extending the reservations for the OBCs well beyond the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court. But their apparent concern for the poor didn’t help them to win.

Through their acts, however, we can see how the original purpose of introducing affirmative action for a limited period for the genuinely deprived Dalits and Adivasis is being gradually expanded. Not only are new groups like the OBCs being brought in, an economic criterion is being introduced to supplement the old social ones. In addition, apart from the social and economic groups, gender has been brought into the quota system with the proposal to reserve seats for women in Parliament and the state legislatures. Now, the private sector is being targeted by politicians, ever on the lookout for new vote banks. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently promised reserving jobs and educational facilities for religious and linguistic minorities.

While only the later generations will find out whether this runaway policy of reservations has helped or harmed the recipients, the disastrous effect of quotas in the private sector are obvious. It takes no great insight into politics and society to see that once such a step is taken, the private companies will become hostages to local politicians who will ensure that their nominees are included in the muster rolls. The latter, having secured their jobs, are unlikely to exert themselves in the workplace, for they know that they have the protection of their godfathers — the politicians. The hapless entrepreneurs will also be loath to sack them lest they face labour unrest. The vicious cycle will ensure that any well-managed private company will be reduced to the condition of the average, loss-making public sector outfit.

At a time when the Indian companies are finally on the verge of competing on equal terms with international players, a move to subject them to the quota system will spell disaster. It may not be too fanciful to say that the investors will generally prefer to take their money elsewhere — say, to China. Only a few weeks ago, Sundaram Fastener became the first Indian engineering company to set up a manufacturing base in China, with its chairman pointing out how helpful the Chinese officials had been in finalising the deal. It will be a pity if due to the threat of job reservations in the private sector along with the aversion of the Indian communists to FDI, more Indian companies look towards China for investment.

What is noteworthy is that affirmative action can also have a harmful effect on the targeted community, an aspect of the policy to which enough attention has not been paid. But it is a fact of history that the easy employment opportunities provided by the British Indian government to the Anglo-Indians in the police and railway services ensured that this otherwise energetic and forward-looking community never made any notable advance in the field of education. Why should anyone if a job waits for him at the end of his school education? The Parsis, on the other hand, present the other picture — how a community can scale great heights by its own endeavours and without the crutch of the quota system.
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Going home to the valley…
by Aditi Tandon

This was the first time I was visiting Kashmir without my mother by the side. Though I had never thought I could muster the courage to return to her homeland without her, there were temptations that I found hard to resist. And then there was the official brief that required me to report from a place which, until now, had been anything but a source of news for me.

In the back of my mind, some words resonated ceaselessly. These were among the last few words my mother had said to me, “If you ever feel the need to locate me, go to Kashmir. You will sense me all around. And as you go, I may follow you and lead you through the boulevards of my homeland. Don’t forget to visit the Kheer Bhawani. Only after you enter its portals will you make sense of the fables I told you, and the faith I asserted.”

The words stayed until my heart ached with emptiness. I was back in Kashmir, failing to relate its grim reality with the soothing memories of boulevards that I had inherited. I yearned to reach Kheer Bhawani and see if its waters still fell into the pattern of “Om”. But my mind reminded me of “news” which I was there to gather. It was not until the last day of my stay that I could set out for Tulla Mulla, where the temple stands.

Given the painful alterations in the Valley, I wondered if Kheer Bhawani would be the same as it was when we used to visit it in the “dungas.” The very mention of this word fills me with romantic notions about houseboats. “Dunga” is a small houseboat which Kashmiri Pandits used to hire for reaching the temple by waterways. They would travel all night and disembark in the temple backyard by the morning.

The “dungas” are no more, but Kheer Bhawani continues to embody Kashmiriyat as always. Kashmiri Pandits from all over still visit the temple, especially for “Jyeth Ashtami” celebrations associated with mystical happenings like rapid “Om” formations in water. The temple still has Muslim helpers, who brave terrorist threats to sell flowers/ fruits used as “prasad.” I even met 70-year-old Ghulam Bhatt, who formed part of my mother’s narrations. He remembered her and asked me to get her along the next time.

Inside the temple I watched the sacred waters in the “kund” come together as “Om”. I looked harder to see if they had overtones of black, which my mother said they had when the tribals raided Kashmir in 1947. It’s said these waters turn black whenever misery awaits the Valley. But they were crystal clear, as if reinforcing hope in the Valley’s peaceful future.

I looked around to see if my mother was watching. I knew she had followed me to the portals of Kheer Bhawani.
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Why PSEB is in a financial mess
Thein Dam and Shahpur Kandi projects are partly to blame
by Harbans Singh

A view of Ranjit Sagar Dam (Thein Dam).
A view of Ranjit Sagar Dam (Thein Dam). 
— A Tribune photograph

The present financial woes of the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) are caused primarily by two major factors: (i) free supply to the agricultural sector and (ii) the Thein Dam project: The responsibility for the financial mess rests entirely on the state government. The burden of free supply has become fully realised by the public and the government.

Its future burden has been substantially compensated by the order of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission which would enable a reasonable improvement in the PSEB’s financial crisis.

Unfortunately, the public is not aware of the financial burden on the board caused by the Thein Dam. Though the installed capacity of the power plant is 600 MW, but due to inadequate water availability, its full capacity cannot run for more than eight hours a day.

The total cost of the project has touched Rs. 5800 crore, and 88 per cent of this cost is charged to the power system i.e. the PSEB, which works out to a little over Rs. 5100 crore. First, this cost allocation is completely wrong and unjustified. The cost allocation of multi-purpose projects was the subject of a seminar of the Central Board of Irrigation and Power about 30 years back; in my paper, I had suggested the “use of facilities method”, which was considered most appropriate. The primary object of the Thein Dam was to use unutilised Ravi waters for irrigation and power generation was a secondary objective. Primacy of irrigation flows from the fact that water releases throughout the year are governed by irrigation requirements and power generation remains limited to such releases.

Based on the water availability, the total energy content of the dam is just about 1450 million units (MU). The total working costs of the power generation system amount to about 16 per cent and work out to about Rs. 815 crore. After taking into consideration energy used on works, transmission, transformation and distribution losses (nearly 20 per cent), the energy available for sale comes down to 1160 MU. The average return on sale of energy being about Rs. 2.5/ unit, the total revenue from this project works out to just about Rs 290 crore, resulting in a net loss of Rs. 525 crore annually.

Considering the primacy of irrigation in the matter of water utilisation, the burden of the PSEB should be only 35 per cent i.e., Rs 2030 crore against the present burden of Rs 5100 crore; at least 55 per cent of the cost i.e., Rs 2750 crore should be charged to irrigation and at least 10 per cent should be charged to flood control, ignoring other benefits. This would reduce the loss from the sale of power from Rs 525 crore to just about Rs 65 crore, which would be a good relief to the Board’s financial difficulties. As an alternative, a 600 MW thermal project costing about Rs 2500 crore would, in addition to meeting a peak demand of 600 MW, provide nearly 4000 MU of energy which is more than two and a half times the contribution of the Thein Dam.

Another financial white elephant is marching towards the board’s door-step in the shape of the Shahpur Kandi Project. The additional annual energy yield of this project is just about 850 MU. Though the present cost estimate is Rs 1675 crore, the experience from the projects executed by the Irrigation Department in the last five decades is that no project is completed in less than twice the estimated time and cost. Experts connected with this project feel that when completed, the project cost would be about Rs 3000 crore. With an annual operating cost of Rs 480 crore, the saleable energy would be 680 MU which would fetch a revenue of only about Rs 155 crore, resulting in an annual loss of Rs 325 crore to the board.

A very erroneous impression has been given by the Irrigation Department to the government, the PSEB and the authorities concerned that full utilisation of the Thein Dam power generating capacity is not possible without the Shahpur Kandi Project. The Thein Dam power plant is primarily a peaking station with a capability of generating its full capacity of 600 MW for not more than eight hours in a day with water release of 24000 cusecs. To maintain a constant flow for irrigation canals during all the 24 hours, all that is necessary is to have a small balancing barrage like the one at Nangal or Ropar which can hold the flow of 24000 cusecs during peak load operation and regulate the release of the stored water, during the remaining 16 hours when the power plant is not operating. This needs a small storage and diversion barrage of 12000 acre feet capacity which may cost Rs 50 crore. In case, however, the canal is needed for giving some water to J&K and improve irrigation facilities in Punjab, the financial burden of the PSEB should be limited to half the cost of the barrage and the balance financial burden should be borne by the Punjab Government or jointly by Punjab and J&K, depending upon the benefits accruing to either of them.

Apart from the direct financial burden of the Thein Dam on the PSEB, it has proved to be the major cause of continuing power shortage. This aspect of this project has not been appreciated and realised by any authority concerned. Since the time this project work started, practically the entire capital budget of the PSEB had been diverted to it with the result that the PSEB was rendered unable to take up any other major generation projects.

Technically speaking, 1450 MU energy can be generated by one 250 MU thermal plant at a cost of about Rs 1000 crore and completed in about four years. This would have averted power shortage faced by Punjab, which has in turn blocked industrial development and forced some industries to move out of Punjab.

Now if the Shahpur Kandi Project is forced down the throat of the PSEB, the same situation as created by the Thein Dam would be repeated. The 850 MU which is the generation capability of this project in a full year, can be produced by one thermal unit of 150 MW at a cost of about Rs 600 crore or alternatively one 250 MW unit could produce nearly twice as much energy just with an investment of Rs 1000 crore. So far as energy potential of the Thein Dam is concerned, it is being fully harnessed and Shahpur Kandi will not mean any addition in it.

The writer is a former Chairman of the PSEB
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Get an ethical shopping plan
by Lucy Siegle

IT WAS about five years ago that my eco conscience began to form. There was no epiphany. It was more down to the drip drip drip effect of images of melting polar icecaps, landfills spewing rubbish, and crops sprayed with pesticides. So I decided to limit my own ecological footprint.

It would have ended there — with organic box-scheme delivery, eco light bulbs and a small composting bin - but then I felt the urge to live more ethically, adding a raft of social justice criteria to my environmental checklist. And so it was no longer just about minimising my eco footprint, but making sure I hadn't stamped on anyone else in the process.

Essentially, I now buy organic bananas not just because they are pesticide-free, but also because they have been produced under a fair-trade agreement, giving producers a fair price and protecting their health and livelihood.

Being part of a consumer society increasingly means buying into a perpetual consume-and-chuck-it happy hour that is unsustainable. The `McWorld' culture is very much in the frame. Global corporations which exercise more power and possess more wealth than many decent-sized countries have created an out-of-sight, out-of-mind buying culture.

International branding masks the real origins of all the stuff we buy. We forget who's really picking up the tab; the sweatshop workers, concentrated in the developing world, paid a pittance to produce cheap clothes and components for low-cost, flat-screened PCs and wide-screen TVs.

I'm not ready to renounce all worldly possessions, but I'd rather not unwittingly buy garments from sweatshops, paper products that destroy virgin southeast Asian forests or appliances from multinationals with links to the arms trade. The ethical approach is a useful layer of protection.

Instead of buying impulsively, I have to go through a sort of consumerist catechism. Who made this product? Why did they make it? Why do I need it? Consumer power is notoriously efficacious. According to the Cooperative Bank's Ethical Purchasing Index, boycotts alone cost big brands an estimated Pounds Sterling 2. 6 billion every year. By flexing our responsible purchasing muscles, consumers are already beginning to have major effects on manufacturers and market-places. For example, consumption of fair-trade products has trebled over the past three years and 130 products now carry the Fair Trade logo in the UK. Meanwhile, designers will focus on designing inherently ethical products and appliances that are easily recycled.

Over the next 10 weeks, this column will take an inventory of everyday occurrences and habits - from eating a Sunday roast to going to the gym and shopping on the high street - and give them an ethical work-out. It will also show that small beautiful steps can make a huge difference. You don't need to be a heroic whistleblower or front-page activist when you can be a legend in your own living room. — The Guardian
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The Sun is many times larger than the Earth, but distance makes it appear like a small disc. So the Lord is infinitely great, but being too far away from Him, we are incapable of comprehending His real greatness.

— Sri Ramakrishna

By dwelling on the Name, bathing in the water of virtues and imbibing the fragrance of righteousness, the face lights up and reflects glory. This is the gift of a million of gifts.

— Guru Nanak

Abide in peace, banish cares,

take no account of all that happens,

and you will serve God according to

His good pleasure, and rest in Him.

— Saint John of The Cross

A false modesty is the meanest species of pride.

— Gibbon
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