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EDITORIALS

Loss of interest
A safety net for all is necessary
T
HE decision to slash the EPF interest rate to 8.5 per cent for 2004-05 will hurt some three crore employees. With inflation ruling at 7.5 per cent, their anguish is understandable. The Left-leaning trade unions had insisted on 12 per cent interest rate for the Employees Provident Fund.

Water dispute
Vajpayee’s consensus idea is worth a try
C
ONSENSUS is the best way to solve a problem when people’s emotions are involved. Since the river water dispute between Punjab and Haryana falls in this category, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s idea of evolving a consensus to resolve the problem is worth an attempt.



 

EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

‘Deserters’ no longer
Will scars of their families heal?
B
EING declared a bhagoda — a deserter — is the ultimate humiliation anywhere in the world, all the more so in India with its glorious military tradition. Still, the families of Lance Naik Jagsir Singh and Sapper Mohammed Arif had to bear this cross for five long years for no fault of theirs. 

ARTICLE

Human Rights Diary
Turmoil in Manipur
Unrestricted power to security forces must go
by Kuldip Nayar
I
HAVE seen it happening in Kashmir: men baring their chests and challenging the security forces to shoot them. What youthful Kashmir leader Yasin Malik was demanding when he went on fast unto death for the first time was that Amnesty International should visit the valley to report on the violations of human rights. Foreigners could not be allowed. 

MIDDLE

Nothing Presidential
by A.J. Philip
L
AST time I visited Kerala, my niece Priya was at her garrulous best narrating her encounter with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. She showed me the hotel in Kochi where she and some other selected children had a meeting with the first citizen of India.

OPED

Bridge urban-rural divide
E-governance shows the way
by I.K. Gujral
A
s you know information has now come to play a key role in the social, economic, cultural and political growth of the nation. Information technology has revolutionised the way we live, think and perform. The use of IT can increase productivity and governmental transparency. Today digital technology is ubiquitous.

When Ladakhis lost innocence
by Lt-Gen Baljit Singh
P
rimitive logistics and forces of harsh geography were the twin factors which shielded Ladakh’s ancient identity against external influences, from the first dawn right up to the decade of 1940s. 




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Loss of interest
A safety net for all is necessary

THE decision to slash the EPF interest rate to 8.5 per cent for 2004-05 will hurt some three crore employees. With inflation ruling at 7.5 per cent, their anguish is understandable. The Left-leaning trade unions had insisted on 12 per cent interest rate for the Employees Provident Fund. Twice the Central Board of Trustees’ meetings postponed a decision for want of a compromise. Finally, on Monday, the board decided with a 7-to-35 majority on the 8.5 per cent “interim” rate of interest. For the first time, a board decision was not unanimous. The EPF and Miscellaneous Provisions Act has no provision for an interim interest rate. The 1 per cent lower payout will still leave the EPF organisation with a Rs 206 crore deficit. There was also a talk of introducing differential rates of interest for the PF. A higher interest rate for the low income group and a lower rate for the high income group would have been more acceptable.

Once again, the stage is set for a possible Left-government showdown. The rate cut has impacted the Left’s constituency and its leaders are sure to make critical noises. However, they may not stretch their opposition to a breaking point and will not like to pull down the coalition government at this juncture. When in opposition, the Congress had protested against the NDA government’s decision to reduce the EPF interest rate to 9.5 per cent. It remains to be seen how the NDA partners react now.

Interest rates in India are comparatively very high. This forces the corporates to raise money from foreign markets. This has also led to a massive inflow of foreign capital. In a globally integrated economy, the interest rates cannot be artificially kept high. The government hopes inflation will average at 6 per cent for the whole year. But the employees’ concerns for social security are also valid. The employees still have some protection. The vast majority in the unorganised sector has no safety net at all. While implementing the imported market-driven economic model, the government should also introduce social security as is available to citizens in western societies.
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Water dispute
Vajpayee’s consensus idea is worth a try

CONSENSUS is the best way to solve a problem when people’s emotions are involved. Since the river water dispute between Punjab and Haryana falls in this category, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s idea of evolving a consensus to resolve the problem is worth an attempt. Knowledgeable circles have been warning the nation against the dangerous consequences of letting the river water dispute linger on. Punjab’s unilateral decision to abrogate all the inter-state river water agreements has created a situation the like of which the nation has not experienced. And to cap it all, the chief ministers of the two states have been indulging in a slanging match, which does not redound to the credit of either.

Needless to say, it is difficult to find a consensus on the sharing of river waters than on any other subject. The protracted war of nerves between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on the sharing of Kaveri waters is a case in point. Mr Vajpayee should know it better than anybody else that a political party cannot be expected to take a stand which may erode its following in the states concerned. That is why even his own party units in Punjab and Haryana have taken diametrically opposite stands. The same is the case with the Congress, whose Punjab government took the lead in abrogating the river water agreements while its Haryana unit has been egging on the Indian National Lok Dal government to challenge the Punjab Act in every possible manner.

Consensus can be evolved only when political parties rise above their parochial interests to use their “vision to make water into a factor that unites our country”, as Mr Vajpayee suggests. They need to have the necessary will to achieve this noble goal. It is not impossible to find a formula protecting the interests of both Punjab and Haryana. Experts believe that the construction of a big dam in Uttaranchal for storing the Yamuna water can help solve the water problem in Haryana to a considerable extent. Once the water availability increases, the rigid attitude that has precipitated the crisis will also go.
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Deserters’ no longer
Will scars of their families heal?

BEING declared a bhagoda — a deserter — is the ultimate humiliation anywhere in the world, all the more so in India with its glorious military tradition. Still, the families of Lance Naik Jagsir Singh and Sapper Mohammed Arif had to bear this cross for five long years for no fault of theirs. Now that they are back in India from Pakistan where they were held captive as prisoners of war, instead of being deserters, the bitterness of the stigma has turned into pride. But it is doubtful if the scars that the terrible five years have given them will be healed that easily. Their families have been as good as shattered. In real life “they live happily ever after” does not really happen. A small consolation is that they are back home alive and their honour has been restored.

One admires these unusual men who despite a harrowing experience at the hands of the Army hold no bitterness against it and are even eager to rejoin their units at the earliest so that they can serve the country till their last breath. This is fauzi spirit at its finest. While these men in the hot seat might have decided to forget the past and turn a new leaf, the nation owes it to them to find out whether the Army was justified in declaring them proclaimed offenders. Was sufficient care taken to fully eliminate the possibility that they might have fallen into the enemy’s hands? What is ironic is that they have only been given their balance payment. There is no certainty about any compensation for the living hell that they and their families had to undergo all these years just because the Army jumped to the conclusion that since they were not reporting for duty, they must have deserted.

Even now, their names will be cleared only after an enquiry into the circumstances under which they strayed into Pakistan. If their story proves to be true, the Army also owes them an apology. It must also ensure that nobody else suffers a similar fate in future.
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Thought for the day

The greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty.

— George Bernard Shaw
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Human Rights Diary
Turmoil in Manipur
Unrestricted power to security forces must go
by Kuldip Nayar

I HAVE seen it happening in Kashmir: men baring their chests and challenging the security forces to shoot them. What youthful Kashmir leader Yasin Malik was demanding when he went on fast unto death for the first time was that Amnesty International should visit the valley to report on the violations of human rights. Foreigners could not be allowed. He agreed to an Indian team which confirmed the atrocities committed by the security forces. Still there was no let-up in the excesses. The result is the alienation of practically every Kashmiri.

Manipur is going the same way. A dozen women paraded naked in Imphal the other day and chided the Army, “take our flesh”. The response of the security forces was no different. They picked up the defiant Manorma Devi as they did in Kashmir with all those who did not “obey” the law. Her family, too, like several households in the valley, was given a memo by security personnel that Manorma would be “handed over to the nearest police station the next morning”. Instead, her body was found with multiple torture and bullet marks.

How familiar is the response of the Congress-led government which has co-opted quite a few NGOs and which has the support of the Left. There is no proposal to repeal the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). So far it operates in the North-East and Kashmir besides Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. It gives a jawan powers to search any premises at his will, detain a person without warrants and shoot to kill without any warning. New Delhi should realise that certain laws are bad in concept and content. Even when they are enacted — AFSPA was passed by Parliament when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister — they have to be examined again and again to see whether they had served their purpose. What held good in 1958, provided it was at all “good” at that time, could not be true today.

If a government wants to depend on “extra-judicial powers” to administer any part of the country even after 57 years of Independence, there is something basically wrong with the approach of that government. Former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Ranganath Mishra admitted that AFSPA was “grossly misused”. The present government cannot brush aside his criticism because he was brought to the Rajya Sabha on the Congress ticket.

All governments suffer from a false sense of prestige. The Congress-led government should have been more considerate and humane when Manipur is in the midst of an agitation over the misuse of AFSPA. The state Chief Minister sits at Delhi for several days. He should have returned with something concrete. There was not even an official statement to regret the killings of the past or to announce the amendment, if not the repeal, of AFSPA. Even a clerk in the Home Ministry would have anticipated the protest if the Chief Minister went back empty-handed. This was what happened. People came out in the streets to demand for the repeal of AFSPA. The government answer was on the expected lines. There was police firing on thousands of demonstrators. Many students in the throng were injured.

Such methods to curb insurgency or militancy are responsible for driving people to the wall. Even an ordinary person loses his or her cool. Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir and parts of Andhra Pradesh remain disturbed because the basic problems like employment have not been solved. The rulers should realise that the armed forces are not there to solve political problems. The government and the complainants have to sit together, across the table, to solve them.

Since the security forces are used to “rough and ready” methods, they do not know how to deal with those who differ or defy. They are dissenters, not the country’s enemy. For the armed forces, there is a target or a salient feature to be possessed. This cannot be the approach when our own nationals are involved. I do not know how the claim that AFSPA has “helped the Centre to fight militancy”. If an independent assessment were to be made it would be found that if there was one piece of legislation which had made people to raise their standard of revolt, it was AFSPA. Manorma’s family members tell how the jawans dragged her out of the bed, beat up the family members when they tried to intervene and thrashed her brutally for almost half an hour. Is this the enforcement of the Act.

Partial amendment of AFSPA will not do. Untrammelled power is bad to whichever hand you give it. The solution is not to entrust anyone with unchecked power. It is bound to be misused. The operation of TADA and POTA shows that. What is comical is that even though TADA lapsed nine years ago, the detainees under it continue to stay behind the bars. The government has announced that POTA will go. The Left has also said so with all the flourish. Why was there not an Ordinance to repeal it on the day the government assumed power? A Bill will be passed by Parliament. I am sure of that. But what could have been done nearly eight weeks ago awaits formal legislation.

The problem is that whichever government is there it is the establishment that rules. It has its own norms which are not liberal. It has its own way of governance which is hurtful to people. Today it is POTA, tomorrow it will be something different. Home Minister Shiv Raj Patil says that some part of POTA has to be retained. Similarly, if and when AFSPA is amended, its teeth will remain. This is the refuge of the rulers in the system which has to stay democratic. Parties that come to power use it as a cover. The question which should be posed to them is: Whose country is it, any way?

***

The Human Rights Commission in the states should see that the rights of people are protected. I have received complaints from Punjab that “some officials in high and responsible position are not paying heed to the orders of the commission. This is unfortunate. Even the commission behaves strangely. A petitioner says that his case was disposed of even when there was no discussion in the matter and when there was no redress to Human Rights violation.
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Nothing Presidential
by A.J. Philip

LAST time I visited Kerala, my niece Priya was at her garrulous best narrating her encounter with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. She showed me the hotel in Kochi where she and some other selected children had a meeting with the first citizen of India.

She wanted to ask the President a question but the organisers could not squeeze it into the programme. Yet, she was on cloud nine when she returned home. There was no doubt that he made a lasting impression on my impressionable niece.

How does he manage to do that? Does he not get bored meeting hundreds of children everywhere he goes? What purpose does it serve in asking children to say in chorus: "India is great"?

Thus when I got an opportunity to accompany a group of children to Rashtrapati Bhavan, I grabbed it. All the children lived in slums but studied in a good school in the Capital. They were keen to make the visit a memorable one for the President too.

For days together they rehearsed a unique dance that represents, among others, the Bharat Natyam of Tamil Nadu and the Bhangra of Punjab. Once they were inside the chandeliered, ornate hall, they felt as if they had been transported to another world.

The President arrived unobtrusively on the dot. As he watched the performance, he had many queries about the dance form. Once it was over, he began to ask them questions.

How are day and night formed? How much time does the earth take to rotate once on its axis? The children were too awe-struck to answer them, though he spoke in a gentle, modulated voice. We got worried. "Don't worry, they take some time to warm up", the President consoled us.

Of course, he knew children better than any of us. As he told them in a simple, intelligible language about the Milky Way, they began to answer his questions in a rapid-fire manner. It was obvious that they had established a rapport.

After the question-answer session, he asked them whether they liked to hear a story. "Yes", they shouted, children-like, forgetting for a moment that they were in the august presence of the President. The President began his story:

God created the earth. But He was no longer happy with His creation. You know, why? Man had made a mess of it. He wanted to do something about it. He called an archangel and asked him whether he could retrieve the situation.

The archangel surveyed the earth and told God, "It is a tough task. I may take a couple of decades or a couple of centuries or a couple of millennia to restore the earth to its former glory".

"But are you sure you will be able to do it?" asked God.

"No, I am not, because man has caused havoc to your system", replied the archangel.

God then called Satan. Even before He could ask him, Satan told God, "Yes, I can do it".

"How quickly"? asked God

"In an instant", confidently answered Satan. God, who knows Satan, did not want to entrust the job to him. So He gave him a difficult task: Count the stars in the galaxy. In no time, Satan gave the exact figure. He wanted to test him further. "Now count all the sand particles in the world". Again, Satan gave the exact figure.

Still, God did not want to hand over the earth to him. So He gave him yet another assignment: "Go to the earth. There is a country called India. Count the political parties there. And come back to me with the exact figure." Satan is yet to return to God!

All of us, young and old, laughed and laughed. Now I know why my niece was ecstatic about meeting the President. Even her uncle does not feel differently.
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Bridge urban-rural divide
E-governance shows the way
by I.K. Gujral

Girls in Kashmir prepare for call centre jobs
Girls in Kashmir prepare for call centre jobs 

As you know information has now come to play a key role in the social, economic, cultural and political growth of the nation. Information technology has revolutionised the way we live, think and perform. The use of IT can increase productivity and governmental transparency. Today digital technology is ubiquitous. The ease and speed with which new knowledge is collected, organised, retrieved and disseminated through IT has become a crucial determinant in whether a country, a region, an institution or even an individual is moving ahead or not.

Information and communication technologies go a long way in realising the vision of good governance. Many countries in the world are using these to achieve their developmental goals. Today e-governance has become a buzzword. To put it simply, government online or e-government means taking the government to the doorstep of the people through net-working. The citizens can get online immediate access to information, which may be otherwise time consuming. It makes governmental functioning transparent that can also help in checking corruption.

E-governance is not just about government website and e-mail. Also, it is not just about service delivery over the Internet. It is not even about digital access to government information or electronic payments. It is about how citizens relate to each other. It brings forth new concepts of citizenship, both in terms of needs and responsibilities. Indeed it is a neo-culture.

During my recent visit to China, I learnt about its large investments in e-government that are growing at a compounded annual rate of about 40 per cent. Similar investments in Singapore and South Korea are growing at the rate of over 20 per cent compound.

We are late starters. The government took note of its utility in 1986 when the Computerised Rural Information Systems Project was launched for the first time. It is now renamed Rural-Soft. Under this project, every district was supposed to provide computers and software to help the districts rural development agencies manage the rural development programmes. But its progress fell short of expectations. The agencies, it seems, were not adequately equipped to fully exploit the capabilities of the software. Sufficient skilled manpower was not available and facilities for maintenance of the systems were not in place either. The need of the hour is to speedily enhance and enrich our IT capacity in the rural areas.

Rural development with e-government as its tool must now be made an important agenda item of the government’s budgetary allocations, particularly because e-governance in the rural development sector is still meager. It is due to weak infrastructure and limited awareness regarding its potentialities among the officials particularly at the lower levels. Some states are now devoting attention to it and have provided connectivity up to block levels that takes e-governance to the rural areas.

The biggest challenge that the country faces today is how to bridge the rural-urban divide. Strengthening of infrastructure in the rural areas is of crucial importance for the purpose. According to President Kalam, “this requires some major kinds of connectivities : The physical i.e. roads and power. The electronic: telecommunications and internet; and the knowledge and market”.

We now have a separate Ministry of Information Technology to promote IT in the country. The government has allocated 2 to 3 per cent of the budget for IT development. With this India has emerged as the fourth largest spender on IT. The 10th Five-Year-Plan gave importance to e-governance. The launch of the India-portal, setting up of the National Institute of e-governance, Central Repository of Data, Citizen Service Centres for one-stop, non-stop delivery of public service, dissemination of information relating to best practices/innovations in e-governance, and awards for best websites and innovative use of IT in the delivery of public services go to serve a useful purpose.

Despite all that I have said, realistically e-governance is still in its infancy in our country, though the limited progress offers hope. It is encouraging to see that 20 states and Union Territories now have an IT policy in place. In terms of basic computerisation, police departments, treasury, land records, irrigation, and justice are seen as having the maximum potential. Andhra Pradesh takes the lead with its various projects. Bihar, you may be happy and surprised to know has introduced e-governance in sales tax administration while Chhattisgarh has taken several steps in this direction. Haryana, of course is the latest entrant in e-governance but it has come to occupy a leading position.

Karnataka has gone miles ahead and digitized 20 million rural land revenue records covering 6.7 million people. Today, a printed copy of the Record of Rights, Tenancy and Crops can be obtained online. The traditional manual land record system causes delays, harassments and bribery. Patwaris often manipulate the land records to cause immense misery to the poor, illiterate farmers. The Karnatak system, if I may call it so, takes care of this.

The biggest challenge in a continental size and complexity like ours is how to bring rural India on the IT map. For some years now we are worried about the very limited development in the eight north-eastern states that are inaccessible in many ways. The IT now offers hope. Some steps have been taken in this direction with the setting up of information centres all over the North-East. These should help in provision of services and also in ending various insurgencies plaguing the region.

Despite our limited advance, the ranking index of 2003 released by the International Telecommunications Union places India in the category of middle access economies. And the Global International Technology Report 2003-04 ranks India at number 37. Even though it has ranked India above China, this is not of much satisfaction. The fact remains that majority of our rural population does not have access to IT, electricity, healthcare and even drinking water. Such imbalances in socio-economic development and the persisting urban-rural divide can be arrested only if the four-pronged infrastructure in rural areas is speedily built.

It is now possible for India to be a Super Power in knowledge if the potentials of I.T. are prudently exploited. Thus far our attention has been narrowly focused on the export potential of the IT sector. But far greater potential lies in the extension and application of IT to stimulate the development of our domestic economy.

Information is a revolutionary force in bridging the digital divide that separates the haves and the have-nots. Apart from generating new employment opportunities, the application of IT can vastly extend access to education, healthcare, markets, financial services etc. to many more people at far lower costs. It can dramatically reduce the cost of communications, improve access to technology and marketing capabilities for the rural poor.

Excerpted from the 3rd Dyal Singh Memorial Lecture delivered at Dyal Singh College, New Delhi, on August 5
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When Ladakhis lost innocence
by Lt-Gen Baljit Singh

Primitive logistics and forces of harsh geography were the twin factors which shielded Ladakh’s ancient identity against external influences, from the first dawn right up to the decade of 1940s. Then those natural defences just crumbled in the wake of the Chinese entry into Tibet in 1950 and their subsequent armed intrusion into fringe areas of North-Eastern Ladakh. Mercifully, the conflict remained localised between the two armies and the peace-sworn people of the Buddha were spared the carnage per se of the battlefield. When the smoke of guns lifted in 1962, the National Geographic provided a vivid retrospective of Ladakh’s history. There was one episode in that narrative which my memory re-plays at once whenever I come by news of modern-day Ladakh.

The incomparable Sqn Leader Mehar Singh, DFC, had audaciously landed the first aircraft (a Dakota) in Ladakh on the only small strip of land, free of boulders, on the outskirts of Leh town. That in essence was the de-facto inauguration of the Leh airfield, and the beginnings of a paradigm shift in totality, of the insular way of life of Ladakhis since millennia. It became a ritual for Ladakhi octogenerians and toddlers alike to throng the airfield fence and gape agog at craft land and take off. They betrayed no emotions such as one might have expected; to clapp, applause or spontaneous dance and song. Instead, they wore expressions of awe, a bit of bemusement but mostly of gnawing incomprehension. No outsider could penetrate their inner catharsis.

Later, when the airstrip was fit to accept larger cargo aircraft, the “Packets” (successor of Dakota) started plying to Leh. The National Geographic reporter accompanied by a local interpreter was there to see one “Packet” offload two jeeps and as was the practice in those days the aircraft was re-airborne the very next instant. The two jeeps remained static where they were, looking lost and abandoned. The Army would have been busy going over the hundred and one entries on the cargo-manifest, lest the IAF pass on two duds to them!

It was at this stage that a wizenld old Ladakhi was overheard in an intimate conversation with a young teenager: “Look my son, the mother-bird has flown away leaving behind her two chicks. Soon the chicks will grow wings and one day they will fly!” To me, that episode signified the beginning of the end of Ladakh’s aeons-old innocence. It was never the same again.

A decade later, their primeval innocence was not wholly lost but it was getting dented by ambition to “get ahead” in the nuance of the 20th century. For catering to its own needs, the Army had encouraged the Ladakhi poney owners to adopt modern animal husbandry practices, maintain large herds and ply them for the Army with assured and rich monetary gains. In time, the headman of Lakung village came to have one of the largest herds of ponies. Like most such villages, Lakung was no more than half-a-dozen stone huts and less than 20 acres of total arable land from which the entire community reaped one crop of peas and barely in the year. But situated at the northern tip of the Pangong-Tso lake at 14000 ft ASL, its rugged natural setting left you breathless and speechless.

One of the Generals stationed at Leh had mastered the local dialects rather well and he enjoyed fraternising with the Ladakhis. In turn, he was greatly admired and accepted by them. By that time, the Lakung headman had earned so much from 15 years pony rentals that one room was rumoured to be stacked upto the roof exclusively with Indian currency notes. This is not altogether unbelievable because the nearest shop for spending on consumables was five days pony ride from Lakung, one way and that too for four months in the year only. One day the General landed at Lakung in helicopter. His friend the headman, received the General and invited him to his dwelling. Over interminable cups of butter-tea and servings of mo-mo, when conversation became convivial, in all humility the headman made this proposal to the General: “Sir, I cannot count beyond one hundred. I would like you, as I trust no one else, to please count all the currency notes I have and tell me if it will buy me a helicopter!” Unwittingly, the Ladakhis had embarked to shed their ancient “living” styles for modern day “Survival” practices.
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No amount of speeches will ever make us fit for self-government. It is only our conduct that will fit us for it.

— Mahatma Gandhi

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

— Sri Adi Sankaracharya

God’s Word is the Guru and the mind which attuned it is the disciple.

— Guru Nanak

The soul that suffers is stronger than the soul that rejoices.

— E. Shepherd
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