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EDITORIALS

Rains are here, at last!
Hardy farmers can still recover

T
HE news of widespread rain in the region may bring some cheer to the grim faces of farmers. The kharif crop cannot be fully redeemed. It is already too late for that. But never-say-die farmers can salvage some yield even at this stage. In some parts of Punjab, even Basmati may be sown, although yield will be low.

The message from Geneva
WTO talks back on track
T
HE dominant concern at the just-concluded WTO ministerial summit in Geneva was to reach a settlement of sorts. A failure, as witnessed at the last of round of talks in Cancun (Mexico), would have delayed, if not derailed, the Doha round.




EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
Kerry’s idea of America
Impressive bid to capture White House
M
R John Kerry, who has won the Democratic nomination for the November 2 US Presidential election, has impressed not only the Americans but also the people elsewhere in the world with the acceptance speech he delivered in Boston.
ARTICLE

Problems before the PM
Time to exercise greater control over ministers
by S. Nihal Singh
C
ONVENTIONAL wisdom has it that a new government is assessed on its performance after the first 100 days. Yet the coming to power of a Congress-led coalition relying on outside support is a circumstance unique enough to bend the rule. The pattern of problems faced by the Manmohan Singh government is clear as also the truculent mood of the defeated Bharatiya Janata Party.

MIDDLE

A life lived full
by A.J. Philip
W
HEN a senior journalist died, we decided to have an obit on him. But nobody in the newspaper I worked for then knew him so well as to write a piece on the newsman. At the height of the anti-Press Bill agitation, Doordarshan sought to defame the journalistic fraternity by interviewing him when he was in an inebriated state.

OPED

Power crisis can be avoided
Punjab spends money to save paddy
by S.S. Johl
D
URING the 2002-2003 kharif season, Punjab purchased electricity worth about Rs 1,200 crore from outside to save the rice crop from drought effects. If the opportunity cost of the electricity withdrawn from the industrial and domestic sectors, which was diverted to the non-paying agriculture sector is considered, the total social cost of the domestic resources could be around Rs 6,000 crore.

Delhi Durbar
Political rivals face to face
P
OLITICAL rivals need not be at each other’s throat all the time. It is often seen that there is much back-slapping and closeness in private among those whose ideologies are poles apart. This inevitably is not the case with everyone in the political spectrum.

  • Minister sans portfolio

  • Tarlochan Singh receives citation

  • Workaholic minister

  • BJP’s ‘chintan baithak’

 REFLECTIONS

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Rains are here, at last!
Hardy farmers can still recover

THE news of widespread rain in the region may bring some cheer to the grim faces of farmers. The kharif crop cannot be fully redeemed. It is already too late for that. But never-say-die farmers can salvage some yield even at this stage. In some parts of Punjab, even Basmati may be sown, although yield will be low. Elsewhere, moong, toria and pea seeds are being distributed free of cost. These will give farmers something to fall back on. Overall, the drought-like situation may become a little less bleak with the present rainfall. That spells good news not only for the kisan but for the entire populace. Had the monsoon played truant even in August as it did in July, the consequences on the economy would have been disastrous. Low precipitation does not affect crop yield alone. There is also the problem of shortage of drinking water, fodder scarcity affecting livestock and, above all, power shortage.

Hopefully, the rain that started with the new month will be evenly distributed and will not subside as in the past. The rain is beneficial only when it is not concentrated in a particular area and is also distributed over a large period of time. The promise that the dark clouds hold has less than one month to come true.

That shows how hopelessly dependent we are on the rains. Every time there is good monsoon, alternative arrangements are conveniently put off. This false sense of security can prove to be suicidal if rain gods do not oblige even at the last minute. At the same time, farmers should display a greater sense of discipline by listening to government suggestions while deciding what crops to grow. In a time of crisis, it does not behove loan-ranger farmers to insist on water-guzzling crops like paddy which deplete underground water.

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The message from Geneva
WTO talks back on track

THE dominant concern at the just-concluded WTO ministerial summit in Geneva was to reach a settlement of sorts. A failure, as witnessed at the last of round of talks in Cancun (Mexico), would have delayed, if not derailed, the Doha round. The complicated nature of talks, misleading claims and an extensive use of jargon often make the WTO issues scary and confusing for ordinary people. The negotiations this time focussed on agriculture, and the farmer must understand what these mean to him. The WTO is aimed to promote global trade and remove hurdles through talks. The Uruguay rounds of talks lasted seven and a half years. The present Doha round involving 147 countries is already on and is expected to take longer time for completion.

The dispute over agriculture is on the extent of subsidies and access to markets of developing countries. The developed world gives massive subsidies to its farmers. This brings down the production cost of their produce. They produce much more than their domestic demand and look for overseas markets to sell the surplus production. The developing countries deny them market access, fearing that cheaper imports would ruin their own farmers. The Cancun talks broke as African nations had insisted that the US subsidies on cotton must go. The developed nations want to expand the ambit of talks by including issues like investment, competition and government procurement. First raised at the WTO summit in Singapore in 1996, these are now called “Singapore issues”.

The big five that dominated the Geneva talks are the EU, the US, Australia, Brazil and India, the last two representing the developing world. Others like Japan and Switzerland depend on the EU to protect their interests i.e. farm subsidies. China, a late entrant to the WTO, is grumbling over the outcome as it too wants a bigger role to play in keeping with its emerging status. The victory achieved at Geneva, seen from the Indian angle, is limited to the extent that the EU and the US have agreed to cut their farm subsidies by 20 per cent, but no time-frame has been finalised. The Indian government has bought more time to put in place a safeguard mechanism to deal with farm imports and fortify the farmer with appropriate measures. The ministerial-level talks will resume in Hong Kong in December, 2005. 

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Kerry’s idea of America
Impressive bid to capture White House

MR John Kerry, who has won the Democratic nomination for the November 2 US Presidential election, has impressed not only the Americans but also the people elsewhere in the world with the acceptance speech he delivered in Boston. Analysts consider it as the best address he has ever made. How far he has succeeded in convincing the electorate that he can prove to be a better guardian of American interests than Mr George W. Bush will be known only after the election results are out. But the way he elaborated his priorities for the post-9/11 US must have made the poll managers of President Bush to have another look at the challenge from the Democrats.

As Mr Kerry has been stressing during the primaries, besides endeavouring to provide better economic opportunities to the Americans, he will concentrate on international alliances where Mr Bush is believed to failed. That is why his remark that the US needs "a President who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden…" He is right. The US has lost the trust of most of the countries which allied with it at the initial stage of the post-9/11 war against international terrorism. This happened mainly because the US went to war against Iraq under Saddam Hussein defying world opinion. The result is that the US today is known more as a war-monger than a facilitator of peace. This is not what the world expects from the sole surviving super power.

Mr Kerry does not admit it obviously because of his electoral compulsions, but what he says about the war on terrorism indicates that the US has derailed it because of its policy failures. Today it has fewer genuine friends than it ever had. American soldiers engaged in anti-terrorist operations are overstretched. They are losing lives despite being the most efficient in the world. This situation can be reversed if the US builds bridges with like-minded countries. The problem requires special attention on international affairs.

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Thought for the day

The ignorance is not innocence but sin.

— Robert Browning



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Problems before the PM
Time to exercise greater control over ministers
by S. Nihal Singh

CONVENTIONAL wisdom has it that a new government is assessed on its performance after the first 100 days. Yet the coming to power of a Congress-led coalition relying on outside support is a circumstance unique enough to bend the rule. The pattern of problems faced by the Manmohan Singh government is clear as also the truculent mood of the defeated Bharatiya Janata Party.

It was wise of Mrs Sonia Gandhi to decline the Prime Minister’s job in favour of Mr Manmohan Singh. At the same time, she created a dual authority, which added to the burdens of the new government. Even in the decades of single-party Congress governments, friction between the executive head of the government and the party has been a recurring theme, and the solution adopted was often to combine the two posts. The non-confrontational persona of the new Prime Minister is helpful in mitigating the awkwardness of the present arrangement but it cannot be an ideal solution.

Second, the Left parties, principally the two Communist parties, have chosen not to accept shared governmental responsibility so as not to lose the support of their constituencies. But differences between the Congress-led government and the Left after Mr P. Chidambaram’s budget proposals on foreign direct investment and, more recently, over the increase in fuel prices has been strident, often stridently expressed.

Some of these differences aired by the Left leaders are in the nature of posturing but even after agreement on the formation of a coordination committee to discuss and whet proposals, the CPM has gone ahead to announce the launch of an agitation on fuel prices. Obviously, a government hobbled at every step by the Left parties that have chosen to stay out cannot perform its tasks smoothly or convincingly. Since the last thing the Left wants is to pave the way for the return to power of the BJP, the Left has to find a better method of seeking redress on issues.

A third albatross around the neck of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the choice of some of the ministers in the government, somewhat shamelessly exploited by the BJP (given its own record) in terms of launching an agitation against “tainted” ministers. The Prime Minister’s own integrity is above reproach and, as he made clear at a Press conference in Bangkok, he is bound by the compulsions of coalition politics, judging by the fractured nature of the electoral verdict.

Even disregarding such problems as the Punjab waters issue gratuitously thrown into the government’s lap by the Congress party’s own Chief Minister, the Prime Minister has other burdens to bear, with Nature conspiring with the Opposition to deprive North-West India of a normal monsoon. Floods in the eastern states, particularly Assam, on the other hand, add to the misery of others. The latter is, of course, not a rare occurrence.

Against this backdrop, what are the prospects for the fledgeling government? Unless the BJP has a change of heart after its Goa conclave, the Prime Minister must expect unmitigated hostility from the main Opposition party. The BJP has taken its unexpected defeat hard but the former Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, seems to be playing a curious role. Surely, the boycott of parliamentary committees is not a responsible way to demonstrate the party’s opposition to the government. Nor does it enhance the BJP’s credentials as a future governing party to be seen as an obstructionist party.

Perhaps the BJP will take some time to reconcile itself to its famous defeat. The pulls in the party between the so-called hardliners and others more mindful of its longer-term prospects are obvious. Hindutva, in a sense, is a flexible term which can be stretched or contracted to suit the party’s fortunes, but there are red lines that, ones crossed, can make life difficult for any party hoping to return to power.

Despite his less than statesman-like role as the Opposition leader, Mr Vajpayee himself has successfully coped with the contradictions inherent in running a motley coalition of a score of parties. There is no reason why Mr Manmohan Singh cannot emulate his predecessor in this regard. But a set of corrective measures must be put in place quickly if the government is not to come a cropper.

It will be a fair division of labour to let Mrs Gandhi tend to the affairs of the party and coalition politics while the Prime Minister focuses his attention on pressing domestic and international problems. But the dividing line is invariably thin and one set of problems inevitably spills into the other sphere. The danger is not so much Mrs Gandhi wishing publicly to interfere in government functioning (her announcement of a government grant for the victims of the Tamil Nadu school tragedy was a relapse) but one of her guarding against party tale-bearers with an axe to grind. Given the background, the Congress is prone to fall victim to the evils of a court culture.

Mr Manmohan Singh cannot change his persona merely because he has come to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair. But surely he has to exercise greater control over the performance of his own party’s ministers. A case in point is the less than stellar performance of his External Affairs Minister. A man with a Foreign Service background and long in charge of the party Foreign Affairs cell must surely realise that a foreign minister should talk in measured tones, choose his words carefully and not give wing to vague and grandiose ideas that are subject to misinterpretation and take the country nowhere.

The most immediate and urgent task for the Prime Minister and the Congress party leader, however, is to do some plain speaking to the Left, particularly CPM leaders. The Communists have their own known predilections, undergoing some encouraging changes in West Bengal, the state they rule. But the coalition at the Centre is not a Communist party government and the Left must make compromises to help the Prime Minister run it smoothly, leaving scope for its own posturing. Mr Manmohan Singh has his work cut out in the days and months ahead.

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A life lived full
by A.J. Philip

WHEN a senior journalist died, we decided to have an obit on him. But nobody in the newspaper I worked for then knew him so well as to write a piece on the newsman. At the height of the anti-Press Bill agitation, Doordarshan sought to defame the journalistic fraternity by interviewing him when he was in an inebriated state.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's 'chamchas' in the I&B Ministry would have been happy when they saw him blabbering on TV. But what they could not fathom was that even in his state of "high", he spoke brilliantly against the Bill, describing it as an attempt to gag the Press. He would have gone up in the esteem of countless journalists who saw that programme.

I would have filled the bill had I known him a little more closely. It was then that the idea of contacting Mr Dipto Sen to write the obit occurred to me. They worked for the same newspaper and were particularly close to each other. But how could I contact him, particularly as he was battling against cancer at that time. Would it be an intrusion into his privacy?

Somehow, I summoned up courage and spoke to Mr Sen. He was very happy that I contacted him for the assignment. He agreed to write it provided we sent someone to pick it up from his home. In less than 600 words, he brought out the essentials of the man as a writer, a trade unionist and a raconteur. It was easily one of the most moving obits that we ever carried.

Unlike many others who love their bylines, Mr Sen wrote sparingly. "Why cause heartburn to the readers?" he would reason out. He took the deadlines so seriously that he invariably waited for them to begin his writing. But the editors seldom complained because his editorials always measured up to a T. Years of economic reporting stood him in good stead as he wrote full-length editorials on the Budget as was the custom those days.

He took his drinks so seriously that he could give a lecture on why a certain kind of trout should be washed down with red wine and not white wine. For starters, he was even ready to describe the differences in the tastes of Portuguese red wine and English white wine. Small wonder that his evenings were always reserved for the Embassy parties where he regaled audiences with anecdotes he had gathered over a lifetime of active journalism.

Every time he got an invitation, he would check whether it was properly addressed to "Mr and Mrs D. Sen". He never disappointed those who included "Mrs" in the invitation. It was not unusual to find him bringing his wife to the Press Club where he spent his afternoons before he wrote those "spirited" edits.

At a time when China-gazing was not fashionable, he spent considerable time reading about Mao's dreams and the reality. He knew a smattering of Chinese and could distinguish between Peking Duck and what passes off by that name in India.

Every time he visited a foreign shore, he brought crates of cut glasses, which he proudly displayed for the benefit of his visitors.

For all his Bohemian habits, he was a loving husband and a doting father. When his son passed out from one of the country's most prestigious management institutes and joined an ad agency, he told me that his son's first salary was much more than his last salary in the Hindustan Times. I could see a gleam of pride in his eyes as he said this.

Mr Sen loved his family, friends, food and drinks — not necessarily in the same order. All those who knew him recall how valiantly he fought cancer till Monday morning when he was called to eternal rest. It can be truly said of Mr Sen that he lived every moment of his life.

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Power crisis can be avoided
Punjab spends money to save paddy
by S.S. Johl

DURING the 2002-2003 kharif season, Punjab purchased electricity worth about Rs 1,200 crore from outside to save the rice crop from drought effects. If the opportunity cost of the electricity withdrawn from the industrial and domestic sectors, which was diverted to the non-paying agriculture sector is considered, the total social cost of the domestic resources could be around Rs 6,000 crore.

If all these costs are factored into the cost of production, the actual economic cost of production of rice in Punjab was more than 150 per cent of the minimum support price the farmers of the state received. Unfortunately, no where the domestic resource costs figure in fixing the minimum support prices and as a consequence, Punjab and, to some extent, Haryana, keep subsidising the consumers, specially of the deficit states, on the grains produced in these surplus states.

This year due to the severe drought, Punjab will end up buying electricity worth more than Rs 3,000 crore (electricity price + transmission costs) to save the rice crop. If the opportunity cost of the electricity diverted from industrial and domestic sectors is factored in, the social cost or the domestic resource cost will be more than Rs 10,000 crore.

The question that stares at our face is: will the farmers receive a matching price or will the state, industry or the domestic consumers of the state get compensated in any manner for the financial loss and the utter inconveniences suffered by them?

During the last three years (up to April, 2004), the Government of India released 24.8 million tonnes of foodgrains for export. Every tonne of foodgrains exported from India results in a net loss of about Rs 5,000 to the government. The international market for rice being very thin, larger release of rice has direct adverse effects on world market prices.

More than two years ago, we proposed from Punjab that, if the Government of India compensates the farmer with Rs 5,000 per acre per year for not growing rice and wheat, it will help us not to produce and procure 8 tonnes of foodgrains per hectare. If one million hectare of land from under rice-wheat rotation is withdrawn, 8 million tonnes of foodgrain production will be reduced and the government will save Rs 5,000 crore, which loss they incur otherwise on exports.

If these grains were to be supplied to the poor and the needy consumers inside the country, such a loss could be perhaps justified, but to grow, procure, handle, store, spoil and to export at such a loss makes no sense, specially when the country has a very low cost alternative.

This one million ha area could be diverted to oilseeds and pulses, which we import worth over Rs 12,000 crore annually. Happily, the logic was understood and appreciated, but the case got lost in the corridors of power in the Krishi Bhavan.! The languorous approach of the government administration preferred to lose money on exports of foodgrains and imports of oilseeds and pulses, but went indifferent to the low-cost alternative cropping pattern adjustments in Punjab.

The Punjab Government system is also indifferent, rather immune to any innovative change. Routines are easy and considered safe, whatever may happen to the health of the economy. New thinking does not easily seep into the system. For instance, irrigation water and consequential electricity crisis in Punjab could be easily avoided, if some vision and political will power were there.

First, as I have been suggesting for the last about eight years, why the three phase electricity supply for tubewells could not be supplied by turn continuously 24 hours for one day in a week in May and up to the first week of June just like turns on canal water supply?

More than 50 per cent cause of the watertable receding in Punjab is the pumping of water for rice crop in the dry months of May and early June. Paddy grown in this period also advances the pest generation that affects the timely sown crop. This paddy comes to the market when purchase agencies are not there in the market and the government is pressurised to lift this defective paddy. fire-fighting appears to be more exciting and news worthy to the powers-that-be in Punjab than taking appropriate preventive measures.

Again, instead of spending more than Rs 3000 crore on buying electricity from outside and diverting the electric supply from industrial and domestic sectors to the agriculture sector, Rs 1250 crore could have been spared for compensating the farmers for growing rice in ten lakh hectares or land and instead going in for less water-consuming crops of oilseeds and pulses. This would have reduced the demand for electricity by about 20 to 25 per cent after meeting the water requirements of oilseeds and pulses.

The electricity so saved, if diverted to the industrial and domestic sectors, would have earned an additional revenue for the Punjab State Electricity Board that could have compensated for the money spent on crop adjustments. This required working on the demand side.

Unfortunately, whole effort has remained confined to the supply side only. What Punjab was demanding from the Central Government could be easily accomplished through its own resources and thereby save on huge financial and domestic resource costs.

This approach could put the state on a strong footing to demand remunerable prices for the foodgrains it produces. No one respects the weak. Punjab should not expect any consideration on prices of the foodgrains from the Centre with bloated godowns and little absorptive capacity for additional stocks. In fact, Punjab has the capacity to adjust its crop patterns in such a manner that commodities can be produced on demand. This needs vision and a certain level of political will, which is a rare commodity with the present-day governments.

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Delhi Durbar
Political rivals face to face

POLITICAL rivals need not be at each other’s throat all the time. It is often seen that there is much back-slapping and closeness in private among those whose ideologies are poles apart. This inevitably is not the case with everyone in the political spectrum.

A case in point is that of former Health Minister Sushma Swaraj. She had contested against Sonia Gandhi in the Bellary constituency in Karnataka in 1999. She raised much hue and cry when the Congress President seemed just a whisker away from becoming Prime Minister.

Recently, scribes were witness to the two leaders coming face to face in the corridors of Parliament. They passed by rather grimly without even looking at each other.

Minister sans portfolio

There have been ministers without portfolio in the past. In the previous Vajpayee government Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee was given that position as her favourite Railway portfolio was with Nitish Kumar.

In the present UPA government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Telenga Rashtra Samiti chief Chandrashekhar Rao is a minister without portfolio. This position suits Rao and facilitates him to travel back and forth to his home state of Andhra Pradesh as was the case with Mamata Banerjee, who was constantly in West Bengal.

However, Union minister Santosh Mohan Deb’s case is different. He has been given Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises as minister of state with independent charge though there is no classification as heavy industries. This startling information was given in response to a question.

But Deb did not withhold information on a technical matter and provided details of profits and losses of Central public sector undertakings.

Tarlochan Singh receives citation

Rajya Sabha member and National Commission for Minorities Chairman Tarlochan Singh was honoured with a citation by the County of Nassau in the USA recently in recognition of his “exemplary service toward harmonious relations between India and the United States.”

Tarlochan Singh was in Washington DC in connection with the opening of the Sikh Gallery in the Smithsonian museum.

Workaholic minister

Minister of State for Statistics and Programme Implementation Oscar Fernandes is causing some unease to the babus unused to sitting at their desks late hours.

Their earlier political bosses were in office only in the day time. Known for working long hours, Fernandes gives appointments to his political guests after 10 pm and sometimes closer to midnight. His department staff used to leaving office at 6 pm or even earlier are scratching their heads.

BJP’s ‘chintan baithak’

As top BJP leaders huddled themselves at the International Centre, Goa, for a “chintan baithak” to assess the reasons for the party’s defeat in the recent Lok Sabha poll and chalk out strategies to take on the political challenges ahead, many in the party feel that it could well turn out to be just another futile exercise.

A BJP worker observed: “I do not really understand whether it is chintan baithak or a chinta baithak!”

————

Contributed by Satish Misra, Gaurav Choudhury and S. Satyanarayanan.

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For those who wish to climb the mountain of spiritual awareness, the path is selfless work. For those who have attained the summit of union with the Lord, the path is stillness and peace.

— Sri Krishna (Bhagavadgita)

All guise, colour and caste look like dust.

— Guru Nanak

Not a single one of Krishna’s deeds was done for Himself. Every one of them was for the good of others.

— Swami Vivekananda

Wherever my mind is, let there be. Thy form; wherever my head is, let there be. Thy feet.

— Sri Adi Sankaracharya

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