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EDITORIALS

Doping shame
Buck passing won’t do

T
HE euphoria over winning a silver medal in shooting has evaporated quickly with the ignominy of two Indian weightlifters testing positive for drugs. Worse, more names may be added to the list of shame. The dismal performance and truancy of some of the star players raise doubts about their condition.

Refined uncertainty
Why keep Bathinda refinery project hanging?

T
HE much-delayed refinery project at Bathinda faces uncertainty again. Hope had resurfaced last week when the Punjab Finance Minister made the startling claim that HPCL would complete it on Punjab's terms.



EARLIER ARTICLES

Delayed duty cuts
August 20, 2004
Silver streak
August 19, 2004
Peace in Parliament
August 18, 2004
Unrest in Northeast
August 17, 2004
Ethics in politics
August 16, 2004
We won’t force Centre to follow Left agenda, says Karat
August 15, 2004
Tiding over the flood
August 14, 2004
At cross purposes
August 13, 2004
Goodbye POTA
August 12, 2004
Loss of interest
August 11, 2004
Criminals in politics
August 10, 2004
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
Empire strikes back
British army curries favour with the Indian
E
VERY army fights on its stomach and the British army is no exception. And a stomach for war calls for spicier stuff than the tinned cheese and stale biscuits the British troops have fed on these last 40 or more years.
ARTICLE

Spectre of inflation
The government does not have easy options
by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
|IF there is one economic phenomenon that politicians not only understand rather well but also fear the most, it is inflation. Rising prices affect all sections of society but hurt the poor the most. As a matter of fact, economists unanimously agree that inflation indirectly results in a transfer of resources from the underprivileged to the wealthy and it is precisely for this reason that political leaders — irrespective of their ideological beliefs - realise that the phenomenon of rising prices of articles of mass consumption is a surefire prescription for erosion of popular support for those in power.

MIDDLE

A hair of honour
by M.S. Kohli
L
ast April I suddenly decided to accompany my younger son, Ravinder, to Islamabad to see the much-publicised cricket match between India and Pakistan. My elder brother too decided to join us. After a couple of days in Islamabad, my brother and I took a day off to visit our native town of Haripur in the North West Frontier Province, some 50 miles north of Islamabad.

OPED

Heritage, arts in neglect
State is duty-bound to protect monuments

by Simranjit Singh Mann
A
propos your expose, “Tapestries removed from the court of Chief Justice,” (August 3), I think we sub-continental people have no respect for our arts and our past. The first recorded loot and plunder was of the Temple of Somnath by Ghazni and Ghori. Subsequently, all foreign invaders and rulers have stolen our art treasures. After the fall of the Sikh empire in 1849, the minor Sikh ruler Dilip Singh was coerced by Lord Dalhousie into giving Kohinoor to Queen Victoria. Sikh national treasures — all looted — lie in a museum in London.

Defence notes
HAL bags contract from Airbus
by Girja Shankar Kaura
H
industan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has bagged its biggest ever export contract from Airbus Industries, France. The Rs 380-crore contract, bagged against stiff global competition, envisages the supply of 1,000 ship sets of forward passenger doors for the family of Airbus Aircraft A-319, A-320 and A-321.

  • Submarine deal

  • Anti-tank missiles

  • BEL ranks first

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EDITORIALS

Doping shame
Buck passing won’t do

THE euphoria over winning a silver medal in shooting has evaporated quickly with the ignominy of two Indian weightlifters testing positive for drugs. Worse, more names may be added to the list of shame. The dismal performance and truancy of some of the star players raise doubts about their condition. A great game of passing the buck is being played. Pratima Kumari, one of the disgraced lifters, the other being Sanamacha Chanu, has sought to put the blame on her foreign coach while Indian Olympic Association (IOA) officials have been making a vain attempt to present it as the individual players' fault. But its lie has been nailed by the International Weightlifting Federation whose President has said that "we had told the IOA to be careful but they did not listen". Ironically, Indian media had reported before the departure of the contingent for Athens that two members had tested positive and officials were trying to suppress the results. Instead of acting on this report, the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India had dismissed the report as "anti-national".

Insiders reveal that drug use is rampant, particularly among lifters. That is why many of those who do exceedingly well in state and national meets either skip international competitions or come a cropper there. Now that the egg has burst in the face of the country, even the Sports Ministry is asking the IOA as to why it had been sending its weightlifters and others for coaching mainly to Belarus and Ukraine. What all those linked with sports should realise is that the doping menace can be eliminated only if they all help in digging out its roots. Surely, not everyone takes drugs. Such persons' clean reputation will also get besmirched if the guilty are not nailed.

India has suffered reverses in its medals hunt as well. Losses in hockey and tennis rankle. That only underlines the fact that we not only need to get rid of the drug nuisance but also the millstone of non-performance. A country of a billion people does not deserve to finish near the bottom of the medals tally.
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Refined uncertainty
Why keep Bathinda refinery project hanging?

THE much-delayed refinery project at Bathinda faces uncertainty again. Hope had resurfaced last week when the Punjab Finance Minister made the startling claim that HPCL would complete it on Punjab's terms. Debunking that claim, Union Petroleum Minister clarified in Parliament on Wednesday that the project could restart only if the Punjab Government restored the incentives agreed to in 2000 by the then Akali government. This is unacceptable to the Amarinder Singh government. Hence, the deadlock and the consequent cost overruns of the project.

Despite a liberal package of incentives by the previous Parkash Singh Badal government and a friendly Akali-BJP alliance at the Centre, the project did not take off. Why? When HPCL tried to drag its feet, the Vajpayee government held out the commitment that the project would be seen through. Mr Badal touted it as a big gain of his government. Despite encashing it politically, he lost the election. The new Congress government, badly strapped for cash, looked afresh at the project. It calculated that the state would lose about Rs 15,000 crore if the project was given a sales tax waiver for 15 years. It, therefore, reneged on the Akali deed of assurance. It is not clear whether the state government has included in its calculations the over-all project benefits like employment generation through ancillary units.

The situation, meanwhile, has changed both inside and outside the country, and not just politically. The current global oil crisis has forced the Centre to think of overhauling the oil sector. The Petroleum Minister talks of merging all oil PSUs to create two giants which can meet global challenges. If HPCL loses its independent existence, the refinery project could again be doomed. The Congress leaders at the Centre and in Punjab should sit together and decide, once and for all, the future of the project. Why keep it hanging? Experts can examine whether it is still viable and in Punjab's interest?
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Empire strikes back
British army curries favour with the Indian

EVERY army fights on its stomach and the British army is no exception. And a stomach for war calls for spicier stuff than the tinned cheese and stale biscuits the British troops have fed on these last 40 or more years. Henceforth the rationed bag meal of the British armed forces will have Indian curry, balti chicken and pulau. King curry would be driving the army of a Britannia that once ruled the waves and lorded it over the curry-eating subjects of the subcontinent. It's a good thing that the British are not chicken about adopting the culinary flavours of the once-subjugated. In fact, they would appear to be laying to rest the myth that the rice-eating species is bereft of the gut for a good fight, if not war. For this is a myth that has persisted despite the Vietnamese humbling the mighty United States.

In his 'The Wretched of the Earth', the celebrated Algerian writer Frantz Fanon speaks of how the oppressed colonial victim internalises (and later manifests) the oppressive attributes of the oppressor. Trust the British to stand Fanon on his head, if only to prove that a colonial power is no less predisposed to internalising the tastes of the colonised. Armed forces are for rearguard action and it is rearguard action for British troops to be fed on curry and balti chicken, long after chicken tikka rose to the top of the high table as Britain's national dish.

English, the Westminster model and cricket have long been excelled in by the Indian. Now, far from Indians eating the humble pie, the conquering British army is having to swallow rice and curry. And, there's more to come. It is not only the demography of this sceptred isle that is changing, but in 10 years from now, studies show, the religious map of white Britain too would be dramatically altered.
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Thought for the day

I hated every minute of training, but I said, don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.

— Muhammad Ali
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Spectre of inflation
The government does not have easy options
by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

IF there is one economic phenomenon that politicians not only understand rather well but also fear the most, it is inflation. Rising prices affect all sections of society but hurt the poor the most. As a matter of fact, economists unanimously agree that inflation indirectly results in a transfer of resources from the underprivileged to the wealthy and it is precisely for this reason that political leaders — irrespective of their ideological beliefs - realise that the phenomenon of rising prices of articles of mass consumption is a surefire prescription for erosion of popular support for those in power.

After the uneven spread of the monsoon had sent jitters through the new United Progressive Alliance government over the last few weeks, it was the sudden spurt in the wholesale price index (WPI) that caused considerable panic in both South Block (where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sits) as well as North Block (where the office of Finance Minister P Chidambaram is situated). On August 7, news came in that the point-to-point comparison of the WPI was yielding a rate of inflation in excess of 7.5 per cent, the highest in over three years. The annual inflation rate (as opposed to the point-to-point rate) during the current fiscal year is currently hovering around the 5.5 per cent mark. The last occasion the annual inflation rate had exceeded 7 per cent was during 2000-01 (7.2 per cent) and before that, in 1995-96 (8 per cent).

The annual inflation as measured by the WPI had come down significantly from 6.5 per cent in 2002-03 to 4.6 per cent the following year, 2003-04. However, inflationary pressures were building up and this became apparent in early-January itself when a point-to-point comparison of the index yielded an inflation rate in excess of 6 per cent. Though this rate came down below 5 per cent right through March, April and early-May, by the end of May, the level had exceeded the 5 per cent mark. By the end of July, the rate was above 6.5 per cent.

What is worse as far as the government is concerned is that the point-to-point rate of inflation is almost certainly going to go up further in the coming weeks and could perhaps breach the 8 per cent barrier. The reason is evident to economists. It is termed the “base effect” - namely the inflation rate will rise relatively when the base of comparison is lower. It is, therefore, not too difficult to predict a higher point-to-point inflation rate before it eases in September. Given the inevitability of the rise in the inflation rate what was particularly surprising were two statements made in late-July and early-August by Ashok Lahiri, the Chief Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance. On both occasions, he was quoted as saying inflation had “stabilised” and was “unlikely to rise from the current level”.

We all know that officials in the Finance Ministry are paid to be optimistic. However, the statements that were made were clearly unwarranted. This is because everybody and his brother knew the main reason for the sudden rise in the inflation rate that was fuelled (pun intended) by the jump in international prices of crude oil and petroleum products. As is common knowledge, world crude prices are at present ruling at record levels. India has become especially vulnerable to oil price shocks since close to three-fourths of the country’s requirements of crude oil and petroleum products has to be imported, much of it from West Asia.

As the Economic Survey has pointed out, 2003-04 started with double-digit (11.2 per cent) inflation for the fuel group. World oil prices slackened in the immediate aftermath of the commencement of the US war against Iraq in March, 2003, but rose thereafter to levels that were the highest in more than 12 years. The price rise has not abated. What compounded the problem for the UPA government was that the earlier regime had deliberately not increased the domestic prices of petroleum products for over six months for purely political reasons.

Although the administered pricing mechanism for petroleum products had formally been done away with from April 1, 2002, and the Union Government had started reducing the subsidies on particular politically, sensitive products like kerosene and cooking gas, in actual practice, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas wielded considerable influence on the prices charged by “autonomous” petroleum refining and marketing companies. Thus, companies like the Indian Oil Corporation were armtwisted by the government not to hike prices of petrol and diesel at a time when world prices were shooting skywards. The “price” of following such a hypocritical practice by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government is now being paid for by its successor, the Manmohan Singh government.

After a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on August 10, the Finance Minister told journalists that inflation was a cause for concern and that the government was not complacent about the rise in prices. He added that some domestic producers were pushing up prices without justification by taking advantage of the worldwide spurt in commodity prices. Chidambaram said the government would take action “in a measured manner” to control inflation through monetary and fiscal policies.

There is general consensus that the rise in inflation is more on account of “cost-push” rather than “demand-pull” factors. It is not just oil prices but the prices of iron ore and steel that are at record levels. Among the fiscal measures that are likely to be initiated are reductions in the customs duties on imported crude oil, petroleum products, steel and agricultural commodities like sugar and edible oils. A reduction in duties, especially duties on crude oil and petroleum products, would compress the government’s revenues.

Various monetary measures have been suggested to the Reserve Bank of India. One suggestion is that the RBI should allow the rupee to appreciate vis-à-vis the US dollar. This would make imports relatively cheaper. But the flip side of the coin is that exports would become more expensive. The RBI could also mop up excess liquidity in the system due to the country’s high foreign exchange reserves by increasing the cash reserve ratio (CRR) of banks (or the proportion of deposits that banks must maintain as cash reserves at any point of time), by issuing more market stabilisation bonds and by stepping up the repo (or repurchase option) rate, which is the interest rate at which banks keep their surplus funds with the RBI for seven days. The consequence of such moves could be a hardening of interest rates.

Whatever fiscal and monetary measures the government chooses to implement, the short point is that there are no easy options before the authorities to check the runaway rise in prices.
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A hair of honour
by M.S. Kohli

Last April I suddenly decided to accompany my younger son, Ravinder, to Islamabad to see the much-publicised cricket match between India and Pakistan. My elder brother too decided to join us. After a couple of days in Islamabad, my brother and I took a day off to visit our native town of Haripur in the North West Frontier Province, some 50 miles north of Islamabad. I had spent 15 years of my life at Haripur. It is undoubtedly the most unique town in the world. Situated on the bank of the Indus and surrounded by hills on all sides, it had running water through all its streets — a marvel of engineering. It was the only town founded by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and named after his most illustrious General, Hari Singh Nalwa.

We spent the entire day roaming around, visiting our old house, shop, the local fort, and even the hill facing Haripur where my ancestors were martyred in 1820. We also visited the house of Field Marshal Ayub Khan who had saved our lives during the partition of India. I went to my school, then the Khalsa High School, the most prestigious school where Ayub Khan and several eminent personalities had studied. It had now become a training college for teachers. During my visit to the school, I was asked to talk to the students and teachers about memories of my school days and successful expedition to Mount Everest. There was considerable excitement.

While walking through the street of Haripur, an interesting thing happened. The news of my visit had spread throughout the town. An old gentleman was eagerly awaiting our arrival at the main crossing. As soon as we reached there he rushed to us and started crying. For a moment we were quite puzzled about his crying. He soon recovered composure and opened his heart to us. “I had borrowed Rs 200 from your father, around 1942-43. I am now on the verge of leaving this world. According to my religion, if I do not return this debt I will go to hell. Therefore, please accept Rs 200.” He held out the money to us. My brother told him that our father had also left this world and “now that you have offered to give this money to us, consider it as debt paid.”

Then, out of the blue, he made another stunning revelation. “When I took the loan from your father I had given him a hair of my moustaches as mortgage. If you still have the hair, please return it to me. Being a Pathan, it is a matter of the honour I pledged”. I then realised that in those times it was quite customary for Pathans to pledge a hair from the moustache as a collateral against the loan. We told him that this honourable hair was lost with our other family heirlooms during the partition. The old man smiled and said, “Consider it as returned”, and walked away happily.
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OPED

Heritage, arts in neglect
State is duty-bound to protect monuments

by Simranjit Singh Mann

A tapestry designed by Le Corbusier lying in the Vidhan Sabha in Chandigarh.
A tapestry designed by Le Corbusier lying in the Vidhan Sabha in Chandigarh. — Photo by Manoj Mahajan

Apropos your expose, “Tapestries removed from the court of Chief Justice,” (August 3), I think we sub-continental people have no respect for our arts and our past. The first recorded loot and plunder was of the Temple of Somnath by Ghazni and Ghori. Subsequently, all foreign invaders and rulers have stolen our art treasures. After the fall of the Sikh empire in 1849, the minor Sikh ruler Dilip Singh was coerced by Lord Dalhousie into giving Kohinoor to Queen Victoria. Sikh national treasures — all looted — lie in a museum in London.

The museums of London, Moscow, Stockholm, Brussels and Paris are full of priceless artifacts stolen from their respective colonies. The works of Peter Hopkirk speak of the European interlopers who looted the treasures of Central Asia, especially Sven Hedin of Sweden who ravaged ancient Buddhist art on the famous Silk Road.

I would have thought that with a civilised person like Jawaharlal Nehru at the helm in 1947, the destruction of our art, sculpture and heritage would cease. His regime removed all the beautifully sculpted statues of the British rulers from all over India. Indira Gandhi sent the Indian Army into the Golden Temple and destroyed the valuable art and architecture of the Sikhs. The Army stole priceless artifacts from the Sikh Reference Library and the Toshakhana.

All these precious treasures have not been returned to the Sikhs by the Indian state yet. My questions in Parliament on the subject received no response from the last BJP-led government, though the Defence Minister admitted that not his ministry but the Home Ministry had committed the plunder.

After the Nehru-Indira Gandhi era, the right-wing, ultra-nationalist BJP, following the diktat of the RSS, has sent many ancient British buildings up in smoke in Simla, and destroyed the Babri Masjid and many churches in peninsular India.

All these acts of vandalism are no less criminal than what the Taliban did in Afghanistan by destroying Buddhist art treasures a few years ago.

Under the last BJP-led government, there was a sinister plan to destroy the Taj Mahal in collusion with Ms Mayawati, who nearly got away by proposing a concrete shopping complex at the foot of this edifice, which, if built with heavy materials on the sands of the Yamuna bed would bring the Taj down by its sheer weight. This heritage site is still endangered by right wing forces.

In Delhi, Lutyens’ famous bungalows on Race Course Road are exposed to destruction to accommodate the whims and fancies of successive Prime Ministers. Hopefully, the new Prime Minister, a modest man, will put a stop to this vandalism.

Our new rulers create a museum out of a beautifully Lutyens’ designed house, fit for a Prime Minister in all respects, where Nehru lived, and destroy other buildings of this famed architect to accommodate his successors.

The Americans and British have had famous executives but neither the White House nor 10, Downing Street, have been turned into museums. The house of another Prime Minister on Safdarjang Road, that of the late Indira Gandhi has also been converted into a museum.

Closer home, Messrs Tohra and Badal have vandalised precious Sikh monuments and built marble monstrosities in their place. They have no aesthetic sense. The SGPC is ignorant of experts and chemicals that can help preserve ancient historic sites. They have destroyed our murals and frescoes out of sheer ignorance — a criminal act.

Now to the Punjab and Haryana High Court affair. The destruction of Le Corbusier’s tapestry that hung in the room of the Chief Justice is the last straw on the camel’s back. A person of the stature of the Chief Justice, with his legal mind and knowledge of the constitution and international law, allowing such a grave act, just about takes the cake.

I am sure His Lordship is aware of Article 49 of the Constitution which puts an obligation on the state to protect every monument or place or object of artistic or historical interest.

By ordering the destruction of this treasured tapestry and further ordering renovations and additions to the Corbusier designed High Court, His Lordship is guilty of not following the spirit and letter of the Constitution.

Moreover, the 1972 UN Convention for Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage has neither been signed nor ratified by successive Union governments despite my numerous pleas as an MP on the floor of the House. Had the Indian state done so, the calamities that have befallen the art, architecture and monuments of the minorities living in India could have been averted.

As a member of the parliamentary standing committee on Home Affairs I had questioned the then Union Home Secretary and the Administrator of UT Chandigarh about the additions made to the official residences of the Chief Ministers of Haryana and the Punjab in Chandigarh.

These were not in the scheme of what the great architect, Corbusier, had conceived. I got no answer, or help from my chairman, who was none other than the present Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukerji. He should have helped me in making the top civil servants give us a commitment in removing these ugly and unauthorised structures.

As a people, we have no pride in our heritage, art, sculpture and architecture. That is why after Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Shergill we have not produced a person of international fame in this field.

The case of the famous tapestries will die a natural death. But I do appreciate The Tribune for raising this issue. It’s important for some of us.
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Defence notes
HAL bags contract from Airbus
by Girja Shankar Kaura

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has bagged its biggest ever export contract from Airbus Industries, France.

The Rs 380-crore contract, bagged against stiff global competition, envisages the supply of 1,000 ship sets of forward passenger doors for the family of Airbus Aircraft A-319, A-320 and A-321.

HAL has been in the business of export of work packages for civil aircraft to Airbus France and Boeing of the USA for the last few years. HAL’s performance in the supply of work packages has been credited with “no rejection” and “no delay” at the most competitive prices. HAL plans to increase its production volume to meet the required delivery schedules.

Submarine deal

The Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Arun Prakash, clarified last week that the long-pending Scorpene submarine deal with the French was not being renegotiated and was pending a final clearance by the Union Cabinet.

Interestingly, the Congress-led UPA government is going ahead with the same submarines on which some of its senior leaders had raised questions when the previous BJP-led NDA government had started negotiations for its purchase.

Some of the senior Congress leaders were of the opinion that all was not right about the Sorpene deal and that the negotiations should be probed. Besides, these leaders had not only on several occasions written letters to the media raising doubts about the submarine deal but had also actually held press conferences against it.

But as it happens in politics, a change in government also changes perceptions and views regarding particular issues. The same politicians are not raising any questions now when the UPA government is all set to give a clearance for the purchase of the Scorpene submarines.

Anti-tank missiles

The first lot of the indigenously produced main battle tank, Arjun, having been handed over to the Army recently at Avadi, the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) is now working on making it more lethal by developing a special anti-tank missile for it.

Although, the rollout of Arjun was long overdue, the DRDO has completed a feasibility study for integrating this anti-tank missile with Arjun. This laser-homing missile is called “Lahat” and the integration has been successful in the first round of firing.

Firing demonstrations to prove the concept of Lahat missile firing from the main gun of MBT Arjun were successfully conducted in the Mahajan Field Firing Ranges in January earlier this year. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

BEL ranks first

Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has been ranked first in a study of top performing companies for the year 2004. The study, carried out by a publication called Aviation Week & Space Technology, points out that by ranking first, BEL has also gained the distinction of becoming the only Indian company to find a place in this global study. A public sector undertaking under the Ministry of Defence, BEL has been ranked first in the medium-sized category (less than $ 4 billion) out of 42 companies, which were considered.
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