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EDITORIALS

On a different track
Truckers must move with the times
T
HE ongoing truckers' strike is misplaced. Their protest is essentially against the10 per cent service tax imposed in the latest Budget on goods booking agents. Why should the transporters object? Earlier, the cable operators had shut their services to oppose the service tax.

Another jailbreak
Prisoners seem to have a free run
A
FTER the sensational Burail jailbreak earlier this year, there was a flurry of activity in jails all over the region. Investigations were conducted, inquiries were ordered and voluminous reports prepared.


EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
PSUs as milch cows
Will PM's appeal remain a pious wish?
P
RIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh has appealed to his ministers not to milch public sector undertakings (PSUs) and follow norms of good corporate governance.
ARTICLE

Forces of insecurity
Harsh laws need built-in safeguards
by Amulya Ganguli
D
RACONIAN laws of the kind which have caused civil unrest in Manipur have to be considered from several angles in a democratic society. First of all, their necessity cannot be denied, especially in this day and age.

MIDDLE

Spinster’s garland
by R.K. Kaushik
T
HERE are reports of the Sutlej overflowing and creating flood situation in certain areas of Himachal Pradesh, including Rampur. This takes one back to the year 1940 when Mr Fredric Jack Maclintic was posted as A.S.P. at Shimla. Maclintic had come from Liverpool in England and joined the Indian Police (I.P) in 1936.

OPED

Punjab economy depends on water
State resources lost in building food security
by Ranjit Singh Ghuman
O
NE Congress Chief Minister of Punjab, the late Mr. Darbara Singh, sacrificed the interests of Punjab in 1981, first by withdrawing the suit pending in the Supreme Court and later by signing an agreement on December 31, 1981, to share water with Haryana and Rajasthan just to save his chair.

Delhi Durbar
CPM left red-faced
W
HEN the CPM central committee met the other day to discuss decommercialisation of education there appeared to be an about-turn. The committee noted in its official statement that it is necessary to have Central legislation to regulate the admission and fee structure in higher education and to establish “commercial” control over private and self-financing institutions.

  • Unhappy with Garuda

  • Naik shifts track

  • Savarkar a poll issue

 REFLECTIONS



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On a different track
Truckers must move with the times

THE ongoing truckers' strike is misplaced. Their protest is essentially against the10 per cent service tax imposed in the latest Budget on goods booking agents. Why should the transporters object? Earlier, the cable operators had shut their services to oppose the service tax. The government did not bend and the strike failed. The operators ended up hurting themselves. The public usually has little sympathy for the protesters who inconvenience it. If the government gives in to the pressure exerted by one aggrieved party, another would take to the street next. Besides, the strike as a weapon has lost its relevance. The new economic scenario has thrown up new challenges and opportunities, and everyone wants to make the best use of these.

The agitating truckers' capacity to hurt is tremendous. According to one estimate, the strike inflicts on the country a loss of Rs 15,000 crore daily. The stiff oil prices have already raised the costs of living. Housewives have started feeling the impact as the prices of vegetables and fruits have begun to soar. More than the consumer, it is the producer of perishables who is crippled financially. Himachal and Kashmir's apple growers, who had thought of profiting from a bumper crop, are left with unsold stocks that would go waste if the strike lingers. The storage and processing capacity for fruits and vegetables is extremely limited and a significant part has already gone waste.

The transporters have ignored the government appeals to end the strike. So they must be dealt with firmly. They have to understand that the loss is theirs too and no one gains from the strike except perhaps hoarders. Besides, everyone with an income above a certain level has to pay tax. The truckers' mindset is not in tune with the changing times. The government too must make road transportation smooth and hassle-free. The harassment of truck drivers by policemen and transport department officials is known. All barriers in the speedy movement of goods must go. The proposed VAT is expected to stop their harassment at octroi and check-posts.

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Another jailbreak
Prisoners seem to have a free run

AFTER the sensational Burail jailbreak earlier this year, there was a flurry of activity in jails all over the region. Investigations were conducted, inquiries were ordered and voluminous reports prepared. The nation was assured that all loopholes had been plugged, a massive manhunt for the escaped Beant Singh killers had been launched and it was a matter of time before they would be behind bars again. They continue to be untraceable till today and the jails also seem to be as vulnerable as they always were. The way three inmates of the Ferozepore central jail - two sentenced for life for murder and one undergoing 10-year rigorous imprisonment for smuggling - escaped on Sunday makes one wonder whether these are any better than open houses. The prisoners gingerly walked out even as the jail staff looked on. Reports even allege that one armed security man was asked to fire at the fleeting convicts but did not do so.

Apparently, no lessons have been learnt from earlier such incidents. Burail was supposed to be the last straw. Now it appears that there is no dearth of last straws. This time too, several jail officials have been put under suspension. But since such action has not shown any results in the past, how can the latest "crackdown" make any difference?

It is very difficult to believe that such daring escapes can take place without the active connivance of jail staff. It is not exactly impossible that the officials could have been bribed or blackmailed into silence. Even if there has not been any collusion, as senior police officials claim, there has certainly been a gross dereliction of duty. Unfortunately, punishment for such a crime is never as exemplary as it ought to be. Overcrowding and criminal activities within the jails have made them unmanageable. Criminals who go inside return hardened instead of getting reformed. The much-needed reforms have to be implemented on the ground instead of remaining confined to the files.

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PSUs as milch cows
Will PM's appeal remain a pious wish?

PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh has appealed to his ministers not to milch public sector undertakings (PSUs) and follow norms of good corporate governance. However, it is doubtful whether his appeal will have any effect on his colleagues. Recently, Tourism Minister Renuka Chaudhary used two deluxe suites of ITDC-run Ashok Hotel in New Delhi, each at a daily rent of Rs 27,000. The hotel managers and cooks attended to her and the staff by showing the rooms as "unoccupied" in the register. Surely, it is with a view to helping ministers and top officials to use this hotel as a "pleasure dome" that the Vajpayee government made it an exception while privatising most hotels of the ITDC.

Central Vigilance Commissioner P. Shanker's reported "complaint" (of course, denied by him) to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee against six former ministers for their flagrant misuse of PSUs kicked off a major controversy at that time. What happened to Mr Vajpayee's promise to get the matter inquired into by a group of secretaries? It was perhaps aimed at mollifying the Congress which wanted an inquiry by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

If Dr Manmohan Singh really wants to check corruption in the PSUs, he should order a comprehensive inquiry. The inquiry will find that hotels, cars, phones, laptop computers, air-conditioners and furniture belonging to the PSUs are flagrantly misused by the ministers and officials. If a large number of PSUs have become white elephants today, it is because of such misuse by successive governments. The Prime Minister's exhortation to his ministers to lead the PSUs under their control by setting examples of "efficiency, rectitude and austerity" is well intentioned. However, this would remain a pious wish as long as the PSUs remain tied to the apron strings of the ministries and are not run by their boards in a professional manner.
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Thought for the day

What we are looking for is what is looking.

— St.Francis of Assisi


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Forces of insecurity
Harsh laws need built-in safeguards
by Amulya Ganguli

DRACONIAN laws of the kind which have caused civil unrest in Manipur have to be considered from several angles in a democratic society. First of all, their necessity cannot be denied, especially in this day and age. It isn’t only the threat of Islamic fundamentalism which underlines the need for such harsh measures, they are also necessitated by the unfortunate fact that India has had to cope with several kinds of insurgencies throughout its post-Independence history. Punjab, Kashmir and the north-eastern states have been the regions which have suffered the most from such violent outbreaks. Except for Punjab, the conditions remain volatile in the regions.

However, even as harsh laws cannot easily be dispensed with, there is a need to look at them in a certain context. This includes the country’s colonial past which has bred in the law-enforcing agencies a lack of empathy for the ordinary people and a sense of not being accountable to anyone for their deeds. Perhaps this isn’t only a colonial legacy, but also a feudal one, considering that powerful landlords have long employed lathi- and gun-wielding thugs to keep their opponents and an assertive peasantry at bay. Now, politicians with a criminal background also maintain such “armies”.

Since most of the rank and file of the police and the army come from sections of society which have often been at the receiving end of cruel and intimidating behaviour by social overlords, they have been brutalised enough to think nothing of replicating such conduct when they themselves are the wielders of power. And when their power becomes as enormous as under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the danger of the black sheep in a force crossing the limit cannot be discounted.

What is also obvious is that their training does not seem to place as great an emphasis on the need to prevent excesses as one might expect in a democracy with its focus on social harmony. In the case of the army, the fact that military personnel have virtually to perform policing duties for years on end in areas affected by insurgency means that there is an even greater need to inculcate the values of restraint in the force. After all, it is trained to defend the country and not conduct anti-guerrilla operations for decades. That the Armed Forces Act has been in operation in Manipur for a quarter of a century tells its own tale.

But it isn’t only the long years that the security forces have to spend in performing duties for which they were not originally intended which begin to tell on their nerves. India’s ethnic diversity is another complicating factor, for the police and army from one part of the country can find themselves in territories and among people who can seem completely alien to them in terms of language, dress and customs, although this does not apply to the presence of the Assam Rifles in Manipur.

The failure of our political leadership to take such factors into consideration cannot be gainsaid. It is patent enough that adequate attention has not been paid to this crucial aspect of policing. Perhaps a belief that such injunctions will make the security forces “soft” has precluded a focus on human rights. In any event, it is not unfashionable in this country for people to openly mock at the very concept of human rights — a strange example of insensitive behaviour which is partly responsible for the incidents of “fake encounters” for which the Indian police is known.

Another term associated with the police is “third degree”, which relates to the use of torture during interrogation, an aspect of police functioning which is routinely denied but which is known to exist. Once the security forces become accustomed to such essentially lawless behaviour against criminals, they become prone to treat everyone — suspects and ordinary citizens — in the same manner.

That the colonial rulers themselves were aware of the common failings of the supposed guardians of law and order is known from the observations of the police commission’s report of 1905. Referring to the “corruption and inefficiency of the great mass of investigating officers of higher grades”, it said that “money is extorted as the investigation proceeds” and the “station house officer will sometimes hush up a case in payment of his terms”. Its conclusion was that the “commission have the strongest evidence that the police force is regarded as far from efficient and is stigmatised as corrupt and oppressive”.

Half a century later, Justice A.N. Mulla of the Allahabad High Court noted that “there is not a single lawless group in the whole of the country whose record of crime comes anywhere near the record of that organised unit which is known as the Indian police”. If the framers of the laws kept this unsavoury background in mind, they would have tried to incorporate as many safeguards into the draconian laws as possible to forestall their misuse.

It is clear, however, that no such endeavour has marked the drafting of these laws. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been so many complaints against virtually all the “special” laws on the statute book from the Defence of India Rules to MISA to TADA to POTA. All these acronyms have become symbols of oppression. Now, the Armed Forces Act may well join this infamous list.

It doesn’t take great wisdom to realise that if the security forces think nothing of violating even the limited safeguards that are a part of these laws, the reason is that they are confident that they will get away with their transgressions. If their excesses raise too much of a public outcry, they can be expected by the authorities to lie low for a time till the furore dies down. The pity is that such indulgence is shown in the name of maintaining the morale of the force. Yet, a better alternative will be to encourage a practice where a unit will become known for its traditions of excellence both during combat and in peacekeeping duties.

But, in India, the opposite seems to be true. The Assam Rifles has already earned infamy as a force which has occasionally been charged with committing excesses. The Bihar military police is another such unit, as is the Provincial Armed Constabulary of Uttar Pradesh, which once even revolted against the government. What is more, there are few instances of the members of the security forces being seen to be punished unlike the court martials which the US army is now holding in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Once prompt and credible inquiries as well as expeditious trials become the norm, the scope for excesses will die down. There is no other way to ensure disciplined behaviour by the security forces in a democracy.

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Spinster’s garland
by R.K. Kaushik

THERE are reports of the Sutlej overflowing and creating flood situation in certain areas of Himachal Pradesh, including Rampur. This takes one back to the year 1940 when Mr Fredric Jack Maclintic was posted as A.S.P. at Shimla. Maclintic had come from Liverpool in England and joined the Indian Police (I.P) in 1936. Maclintic had his training in England and was given the Punjab, Delhi, NWFP and Balochistan cadre. He had another friend, Evan Jenkins, a 1920 batch ICS officer of Punjab Commission; who was Chief Commissioner of Delhi at that time. Both Maclintic and Jenkins were bachelors. The ruler of Rampur Bushahr had built a small bridge outside the town of Rampur on the river Sutlej. The ruler was a personal friend of Evan Jenkins. The ruler invited Jenkins to inaugurate the bridge.

On the day of the inauguration, the officials of Rampur Bushahr administration and villagers collected in large numbers. The king and his officers arrived before the arrival of Evan Jenkins (then Chief Commissioner of Delhi) who was holidaying in Shimla with Maclintic, the then SP of Shimla, was on ex-India leave and Maclintic was officiating as SP of Shimla).

When Jenkins and Maclintic arrived on the bridge site, they were warmly received by the king of Rampur Bushahr and flower petals were showered on them. A young and beautiful village girl also stood there with a garland in her hand, perhaps to garland the guest who would cut the ribbon on the bridge. Maclintic was a close family friend of Jenkins. Jenkins insisted that the bridge be inaugurated by Maclintic only. The officiating SP of Shimla obeyed the orders of Jenkins obsequiously. The village damsel standing there garlanded Maclintic.

Time passed by and the very next year Maclintic was shifted as Additional S.P. at Kasur (now in Pakistan). One day Maclintic was seeing his dak (letters) when he was amazed to see a letter written by a Minister of the princely State of Rampur Bushahr informing him that according to the tradition followed in villages of that area, a spinster was considered married to a bachelor when she puts a garland around his neck. And since the village girl Radha was a spinster and Maclintic, a bachelor, Radha is supposed to be married to Maclintic and would remain his wife till her death. Nobody else would merry Radha now. Maclintic was flabbergasted, perplexed and dumb struck and did not know what to do.

He ignored the letter. After his tenure as SP at Gujranwala (1943-46) he became AIG at Lahore in early 1947. Meanwhile, Sir Even Jenkins got the knighthood and took over as Governor of Punjab at Lahore on April 8, 1946. Jenkins visited Shimla in September, 1946, and inaugurated an official Municipal Committee building on the Ridge.

One day a Minister of Rampur Bushahr state along with village elders came to call on His Excellency at Cecil Hotel. They reminded him of the inauguration of the bridge outside Rampur in 1940. They informed the Governor that the beautiful girl was now considered the wife of F.J. Maclintic and cannot be married to any other person. Had Maclintic been married at the time of inauguration then the situation would not have arisen.

Sir Jenkins himself was a bachelor and promised that he would advise the police officer to accept his wife. Sir Jenkins had quite a few counselling sessions with Maclintic in Lahore and just a few days before partition when it was certain that India would get independence on August 15, 1947 and British officers would leave India, Maclintic accepted Radha as his wife and a brief ceremony was held at Lahore.

Thereafter, he took her to England with him. Maclintic was a distinguished police officer in England before retiring from service almost 30 years ago. He started his own business after that. One of the two sons born from Radha is a top diplomat in Britain and another a famous doctor in Harvard. These days when there are talks of threat to bridges in Rampur area due to floods, one gets reminded of Maclintic and Radha.

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Punjab economy depends on water
State resources lost in building food security
by Ranjit Singh Ghuman

ONE Congress Chief Minister of Punjab, the late Mr. Darbara Singh, sacrificed the interests of Punjab in 1981, first by withdrawing the suit pending in the Supreme Court and later by signing an agreement on December 31, 1981, to share water with Haryana and Rajasthan just to save his chair. Another Congress Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, on July 12, 2004, got enacted the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act (PTAA) 2004 at the cost of his chair to safeguard the interests of Punjab.

There are many missing links between 1981 and 2004, not to talk of the pre-1981 situation. Former Akali Dal Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, during his 1977 tenure, challenged the validity of Sections 78-80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 in the Supreme Court. The lesser known fact is that after the withdrawal of the waters case from the Supreme Court by the Darbara Singh Ministry, a farmers’ organisation of Punjab filed a fresh writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court challenging the validity of Sections 78-80 of the Act. The case was abruptly transferred to the Supreme Court, for reasons best known to the powers-that-be, in 1983, and has been waiting for a decision since then. It speaks volumes about the “efficiency” of Indian judiciary politics. Even during the pendency of the case in the Supreme Court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court on January 15, 2002, ordered the completion of the SYL canal within a year. The then Akali Chief Minister, Mr Badal, did not have time to challenge it in the higher court.

Some eminent persons have argued that the agreements once entered into cannot be revoked unilateraly. They conveniently forget that Punjab was not only forced to withdraw the case from the Supreme Court in 1981 but was also pressurised to sign the agreement with Haryana and Rajasthan. It was under that agreement that Punjab, though a riparian state, was forced to take only a residual out of the total 17.17 MAF Ravi-Beas water (never estimated scientifically) assessed on the basis of pre-1981 availability.

Rajasthan’s claim on Punjab waters is based on the proceedings of a meeting chaired by the then Central Irrigation Minister, Mr. Gulzari Lal Nanda, on January 29, 1955. This cannot be termed as an agreement. Much water has flowed down the stream since then. At present the estimation is of 14.37 MAF water. If Haryana, Rajasthan, J & K and Delhi (3.5 MAF, 8.6 MAF, 0.65 MAF and 0.20 MAF, respectively) are given their shares of water as per the 1981 agreement, then Punjab is left with only 2.8 MAF instead of 4.22 MAF, as stimpulated in the1981 agreement.

The water table in Punjab is going down at a fast rate of 36 to 42 inches per annum. According to Dr. S.S. Johal, Vice-Chairman of the Punjab Planning Board, if canal water is reduced by 10 per cent, the water table in Punjab would recede by more than 50 inches per annum turning most of Punjab’s fertile land barren. However, if all the four claimant states are given their shares, the canal water would reduce by 68 per cent which would make the water table to recede by more than 90 inches per annum. Accordingly Punjab’s journey towards barrenness would be further accelerated.

Not only that Punjab does not have any surplus water, but also the national interest of food security demands that Punjab’s fertile land should be saved from being turned barren.

Being a student of economics, I have also tried to look into the whole issue from the stand point of economics and the eonomy. Punjab must be given due credit for transforming India from a food-deficient to a food-surplus economy. It is the food security provided by Punjab which has enabled India to be on a sound-footing in International bargaining. Punjab specialised, under the national policy guidelines, in the production of wheat and paddy since the advent of the Green Revolution in the late 1960s. The state contributed 60 to 74 per cent wheat throughout the period since the 1970s and 40-45 per cent rice since the 1980s to the central pool. In the process its soil texture and ecology suffered an irreparable loss in terms of water table and micro and macronutrients.

Out of the total 140 development blocks 65 to 70 have already turned dark and another one fourth have turned grey. Nearly 20 development blocks in the South-West Punjab are facing a peculiar problem as the sub-soil water is saline and cannot be used for irrigation and drinking. This area is in a dire need of canal water as canal water not only helps irrigation, it also prevents the sub-soil harmful salts from coming to the surface. Thus, if there is shortage of canal water in Punjab the livelihood of the two-third of the farmers in Punjab would be immediately at stake and that of the remaining farmers would be adversely affected in another ten years.

Punjab has been extracting sub-soil water through pump-sets and tubewells at a dangerous rate just to husband its paddy crop and thereby provide foodgrains to the rest of India. In fact, Punjab has been subsidising the rest of India at the cost of its non-renewable sources, and now the rest of India (forgetting its contribution to both food and national security) is running away from its responsibility towards this border state. It would not be in the larger interest of the country.

The colour of the Green Revolution has already started fading as the per hectare combined return on land in wheat and paddy, over variable costs, during the decade of the nineties has been 2.18 per cent per annum. It has already rendered the small and marginal farmers economically unviable. It is in this context that the Punjab Assembly had to enact the PTAA, 2004, a bold and historic step, indeed.

The writer is a Professor of Economics at Punjabi University

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Delhi Durbar
CPM left red-faced

WHEN the CPM central committee met the other day to discuss decommercialisation of education there appeared to be an about-turn. The committee noted in its official statement that it is necessary to have Central legislation to regulate the admission and fee structure in higher education and to establish “commercial” control over private and self-financing institutions.

When mediapersons asked politburo member Prakash Karat about the abrupt change in the party’s stand, the embarrassed leader admitted that it was a mistake. To put the record straight, he observed “we meant establish social control.”

Unhappy with Garuda

Garuda is giving pain to a lot of senior Central government officials, bureaucrats and diplomats. No, we are not talking about the giant bird of Hindu mythology which happens to be the vehicle of Lord Indra, the god of rain. But for the past few months since the Government of India has allotted MTNL’s Garuda mobile phone to its senior officials, the allottees are bristling with anger.

The reason is not far to seek. A majority of them are totally dissatisfied with the Garuda phone. They feel cheated when in the midst of an important conversation the phone gets disconnected or the signal is too weak for a clear and uninterrupted conversation. And this happens a bit too often. A Joint Secretary in South Block complained: “The Government of India gives a RAX phone to officials of Joint Secretary and above ranks. But when it comes to a mobile phone, we are given a raw deal.”

Naik shifts track

For any politician who has enjoyed power, it is very difficult to remain out of it for long. So how can former Petroleum Minister Ram Naik be an exception? Naik had lost the Lok Sabha poll against cine star Govinda from Mumbai and failed to make it to the Upper House as there was only one vacancy from Maharashtra in which BJP General Secretary Pramod Mahajan was accommodated.

According to sources in the BJP, the former minister has expressed his desire to contest the assembly poll in the state. His calculation could well be placed on the party’s internal assessment that the BJP-Shiv Sena combine has a chance of returning to power in Maharashtra. In that event, how can anyone stop him (such a senior leader) from becoming a minister there, of course, if he manages to get the ticket and wins.

Savarkar a poll issue

The BJP-Shiv Sena combine in Maharashtra is very happy over the Congress-led UPA government adopting a “stubborn” attitude on its demand for reinstalling Veer Savarkar’s quote in the memorial constructed in the Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The attitude of the Congress has come in for severe criticism from many Maharashtrians, who rever Savarkar and his contribution. With the assembly poll in the state round the corner, the leaders of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine believe that they have got an emotive issue to turn the tide against the Congress-NCP alliance in the state.

Contributed by Gaurav Choudhury, R Suryamurthy and S Satyanarayanan.

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I am in the world feeling my way to light “amid the encircling gloom”. I often err and miscalculate… My trust is solely in God. And I trust men only because I trust God. If I had no God to rely upon, I should be like Timon, a hater of my species.

— Mahatma Gandhi

There is light among all; and that Light is God’s own self which pervades and enlightens everyone. But it becomes manifest only through the teaching and leading of the Guru.

— Guru Nanak

Rise from dreams and loiter not, Open your mind to truth. Practice righteousness and You will find eternal bliss.

— The Buddha

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