A new beginning
Pruning the police
Indonesians for change
The missing birds
Contract farming hurts farmers
A new beginning
It is really "a new beginning" towards improving relations between India and Pakistan. The joint Press statement issued after Friday's one-to-one meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf in New York showed considerable understanding of each other's sensibilities. After a long time the leaders of the two countries adopted a conciliatory approach in their addresses to the UN General Assembly. At the joint Press conference too they gave the impression that they were consciously avoiding saying anything that could come in the way of the "constructive dialogue" continuing between the two. Shunning old posturing and expressing their commitment to continue the dialogue are welcome, though the road to peace remains as slippery as it has been.
The two leaders have given no time-frame on the Kashmir question, even otherwise not in the realm of possibility. They will have to look for ways for finding a mutually acceptable solution. This means no urgency may be shown in this regard. Terrorism will be tackled in accordance with the January 6 joint statement issued at Islamabad. But it remains to be seen how far Pakistan is prepared to go in pursuing Kashmir-centric terrorists and winding up their training camps. It is heartening to note that the significance of confidence-building measures (CBMs) has been underlined by Pakistan too. The CBMs have been playing a unique role in creating an atmosphere of understanding and an urge for friendship that can be seen on both sides of the divide today.
The economic aspect got highlighted with Dr Manmohan Singh and General Musharraf discussing the pipeline project that will bring Iranian gas to India through Pakistan once it becomes a reality. India has begun showing interest in the gas pipeline idea with the hope that Pakistan will honour the commitment it is making with regard to its security. The project will result in an adequate availability of cheaper energy, speeding up industrial activity in the two countries. Peace will benefit the subcontinent in many other ways too. Let us hope and pray that it is there.
Pruning the police
The Punjab Government’s decision to prune the police force is welcome. It is, however, only a small step forward. At the last count, the state had as many as four Director-Generals of Police, 17 Additional Director-Generals of Police and 22 Inspector-Generals of Police. The government, however, plans to abolish only three posts of Inspector-General of Police and five posts of DIG. Time was when the undivided Punjab was policed by one Inspector-General at the top. In the neighbouring states an SP heads the district police. Punjab has deployed SSPs for the same job and the results are nothing to crow about. The police districts created to combat terrorism still continue. Policemen deployed to guard the whole lot of VIPs do not act as gunmen, but are used for running personal errands and as a status symbol.
Although terrorism ended in the early nineties of the last century, Punjab remains a heavily policed state. Medals and quick promotions to police officers risking their lives to curb militancy were understandable then, but the top officers continue to be pampered. Well-entrenched interests do not let things change easily. Besides, the police is heavily politicised. The force is often misused to settle political scores and influence elections— from the panchayat to parliamentary level. Both Congressmen and Akalis have often used the selected police officers for wrong ends.
The civil administration too is obscenely bloated. The number of IAS officers in the state is much more than the sanctioned strength. If the top brass of the police is slimmed and the IAS “biradari” left untouched, it would unnecessarily create heart-burns. Should one expect such money-saving reforms from the political leadership that cuts the ministry’s size to meet the legal requirements, but raises a whole battalion of parliamentary secretaries or appoints MLAs as chairmen of bankrupt boards and corporations? With resources thus squandered, development stops or slows down. It is the ordinary people who pay for the perks of power enjoyed by all those who take the oath to serve them. Captain Amarinder Singh badly needs to cut the size of his government. The bureaucracy might not like this kind of operations, but he will earn praise from the people.
Indonesians for change
The outcome of Indonesia's first direct presidential election is on the expected lines. The people were yearning for a change and they have voted for it. Gen Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono (retd), who has won the battle of the ballot with a thumping majority, will take up the reins of power on October 20. The reason is that the election results will be announced officially on October 5. The poll was conducted almost peacefully and in a smooth manner. There is enough evidence of Indonesia emerging as the second largest democracy in Asia after India.
The would-be head of government, popularly known as General SBY, has the image of a tough and caring administrator which he earned as the Security Minister in the Megawati government. He may launch a concerted drive against those suspected to have links with Al-Qaida like the Jemaah Islamiya whose activities have created an atmosphere of insecurity throughout the country. Three major terrorist attacks — the 2002 bomb blasts in Bali, the 2003 attack on Marriott Hotel in Jakarta and the September 9 truck bombing outside the Australian Embassy this year — in Indonesia after 9/11 had forced many foreign investors to move out of this country. The situation is likely to change after the formation of the new government.
Outgoing President Megawati Sukarnoputri could not deliver on every major front and people were sick of her rule. Once an Asian Tiger, Indonesia could not recover from the 1997 East Asian financial crisis whereas the other affected Tiger economies were doing much better. The result was shrinking job opportunities and growing poverty among the marginalised sections. This was accompanied by endemic corruption at every level, making life miserable. People had no choice but to throw her out of power at the first available opportunity. They have great expectations from General SBY.
It is common knowledge that the very survival of the United Progressive Alliance government led by Dr Manmohan Singh depends on the support from the Left. The 15-party UPA, led by the Congress, will not be able to muster a majority in the Lok Sabha without the support of the 60-plus MPs belonging to the two Communist parties and their allies. It was, therefore, surprising that Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and a close confidante of the Prime Minister, should have chosen to antagonise the Left by his decision to include representatives of multilateral financing agencies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as well as multinational firms such as McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group in various consultative groups constituted for the mid-term appraisal of the Tenth Five Year Plan (April 2002 to March 2007).
Dr Ahluwalia was working with the IMF before he moved into Yojana Bhavan. He was associated with the World Bank in Washington DC during the late1960s and the early 1970s. It does not require a genius, leave alone an eminent economist like him, to be aware of the fact that mere mention of consultations with the Bank or the Fund to a communist is akin to waving a proverbial red rag before a raging bull. What is, however, interesting is that Dr Ahluwalia’s actions seem to have united the Left with its arch political opponents in the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Socialist George Fernandes, convener of the National Democratic Alliance, too has decided to support the communist parties on this issue.
Let us consider the arguments in favour of inducting consultants representing foreign organisations in the planning process. In his letter to leaders of the Left parties, Dr Ahluwalia claimed that the consultative groups would not be “committees of outsiders”, that there was “enormous expertise” outside the Indian government and that it was necessary for the Planning Commission to make itself aware of the views of these experts instead of relying on one set of bureaucrats commenting on the views of another group of civil servants. He added that the members of the consultative groups would include experts from different walks of life, including representatives of the trade unions supported by the communist parties.
Dr Ahluwalia reportedly stated: “Representatives of the World Bank and the ADB have been included in four of these groups that deal with areas in which these agencies are actively involved in supporting the Central government or state government projects … By including individuals from outside the government in the consultative groups, we are not in any way handing over to them critical decision making involved in the mid-term appraisal on policies and policy corrections that need to be introduced to achieve the objectives laid out in the National Common Minimum Programme.”
In his letter to leaders of the Left parties, he wrote: “… we recognise fully that the individuals whom we hear have their own agendas, but I would like to assure you that we will subject the views expressed in our consultative process to careful professional scrutiny”. Moreover, he stated that the multilateral institutions “in any case interact regularly” with Central and state government agencies and “this has in the past also included the Planning Commission”.
Going beyond this formal response, those critical of the Left position claim the Marxists are being hypocritical since the West Bengal government has obtained a loan from the ADB for the urban renewal of Kolkata. The CPM-led Left Front government in the state had also engaged McKinsey to prepare reports on information technology, agriculture and the state’s overall industrial potential. The counter-argument of the communists is that borrowing money from a multilateral funding agency is one thing; seeking its advice on policy matters is a different kettle of fish altogether. As Mr A. B. Bardhan, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, asked: “… one can certainly informally consult and interact with as many experts as one wishes … (but) why institutionalise the process by including representatives of such foreign institutions in regularly constituted panels?”
While the position of the Left has been described as xenophobic, the Marxists argue that they have nothing against particular individuals but are opposed to the policies propounded by the organisations they represent. The country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the father of Indian planning, Dr P. C. Mahalanobis, had both solicited the advice of eminent foreign economists but they were brought in as consultants in their individual capacities and not as representatives of multilateral funding agencies or consultancy firms. No hue and cry was raised at that time.
A number of prominent economists who had worked with the World Bank are today its bitter critics. Among them are Mr Joseph Stiglitz and Mr Jeffrey Sachs. Both today wonder whether a select coterie of economists situated at Washington’s 19th Street should be dictating economic policies to the governments of the countries in which billions of poor people live. The supporters of the World Bank and the IMF, however, say these two agencies have learnt from the mistakes of the past and have become more responsive to the aspirations of developing countries.
Nevertheless, the communists remain rather wary of the policies of the Fund and the Bank. They claim that these agencies act on behalf of American interests and prescribe “one-size-fits-all” policies that are usually detrimental for developing countries. Typical Fund-Bank policies include outright privatisation of all public sector undertakings, currency devaluation, elimination of subsidies aimed at helping the poor, user charges for the use of public utilities, cuts in customs tariffs in the name of globalisation and removal of controls on capital account transactions. The mindless application of such policies has wreaked havoc on the economies of many countries all over the world, from Russia to South Asia, East Asia and Latin America.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has surely not forgotten the difficulties he faced in 1991 and 1992 convincing his political opponents (which included the Left at that time) that he had not compromised the country’s economic sovereignty by obtaining a $ 5 billion structural adjustment loan from the IMF. He had vociferously argued then that the Fund’s 3D prescription – deflate, devalue and deregulate – would be good for India. In subsequent years, however, Dr Singh tried to restore the sharp cuts that had been made to the government’s capital expenditure on health and education during those difficult years.
Given the experience of the past, Dr Singh should have realised the consequences of Dr Ahluwalia’s decision to induct representatives of foreign organisations in the consultative groups constituted by the Planning Commission. If consultations had not been formal and institutionalised, this controversy could have been easily
The missing birds
There was a myth that I had grown up with which said that no bird ever came near a eucalyptus tree. This myth was shattered when I came to live in Mohali. There was a thick bank of eucalyptus trees just outside my house and in the evening thousands of birds came to roost in these trees. There were kites and hawks and sparrows, crows and parrots and parakeets. I would listen as the chatter of the birds gradually gave way to the sonorous sounds of the rehraas from the nearby gurdwara and feel at peace with the world. I was grateful that the new Principal’s residence enabled me to live on the campus.
If I came back late I would see wild rabbits jumping around in the grass under the fruit trees, unfazed either by the security lights or by the loud noise that my battered, old Sumo made as it came to a sharp halt in the porch.
And in the morning, on Sundays, I would find hundreds of partridges foraging for seeds in my front lawn followed by graceful egrets searching for insects and worms.
One, clear, bright, Sunday afternoon as I sat in the porch reading a book I looked up and saw a beautiful green snake racing across the grass. I have never seen anything more breathtaking. The shades of green were fresh and crisp and the movement was sensuous in its speed and elegance. All my cumulative dread of snakes disappeared in an instant and I wished I had been sitting close enough to caress it as it slithered past.
The stairwell of the house has long narrow windows of filmed glass.
When you look in you see only your reflection. But you can look out.
Every morning a beautiful peacock would step up to the lowest of these windows, look carefully at his reflection, then suddenly jump into the air and attack the “other peacock” with his beak. Then frightened by his failure he would run away. Yet he came back each morning to repeat this manoeuvre at such a precise time that you could set your watch by it. It became a family event – specially enjoyed by my grandchildren.
Then the world of development caught up with this quiet corner of Mohali. The school had been without a boundary wall for 25 years and now the shrubs and trees on the periphery were cleared to make way for a smart brick-faced wall. The bank of eucalyptus was felled to make place for a new parking lot and on a quieter part of the lot a massive three-storied building came up to accommodate the junior school.
The school and its children were now secure within their boundary wall, the staff and visitors were happy with their shaded parking lot and I know that generations of parents and junior children would be grateful for the spacious new building. But I can only feel a deep sadness when I look at these signs of development because they demanded a terrible price. The eccentric peacock, the cranes and partridges, the wild rabbits, the myriads of birds and their evening cacophony and of course the beautiful snake are all gone and I alone know of their
Contract farming hurts farmers
The Punjab Government launched contract farming in February, 2003 as part of diversification of agriculture in the state. This was a follow up measure of the Johl Committee report (II) submitted in October, 2002.
For implementation of contract farming, Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation Ltd. (PAFC) was made the nodal agency. The companies involved include Rallis India, Pepsi Foods, Mahindra Shubhlabh Services and Advanta India.
Since PAFC did not have field staff at the block/village level, it largely relied upon Agriculture Development officers posted at the block level for enabling private (big) companies to have contracts with farmers for specific crops. These companies did not have their network at the block/city level. Therefore, they appointed dealers/traders, who could enter into contract with farmers on behalf of the companies.
The purpose of contract farming has been to shift area from wheat and paddy to hyola (gobhi sarson), barley, winter maize, durum wheat, sunflower, spring corn, Basmati, kharif corn, guar gum, castor/jastropha, groundnut, organic Basmati, vegetables, fodder and horticulture.
The working of contract farming has not produced the desired results. The expected four lakh acres of area away from wheat and paddy cultivation has not been achieved during 2003-04. In fact, the area under both these crops has increased. The statistics available with the Agriculture Department of the state show the area under paddy has increased from 25.30 lakh hectares in 2002-03 to 26.14 lakh hectares in 2003-04. The area under wheat has increased from 33.75 lakh hectares to 34.40 lakh hectares during this period. In kharif crops the areas had declined under oilseeds and sugarcane while in rabi crops there is a marginal increase in the area under pulses and oilseeds.
The investigation into the working of contract farming has brought out a number of problems for farmers in relation to private companies. Farmers of Sudran (Dera Bassi), Ajrawar (Rajpura), Ramgarh Chhanna (Nabha) and Khatriwal (Samana) villages complained to the Chief Agricultural Officer, Patiala, about the inferior quality of seed hyola supplied, leading to a low level of sprouting of the seed or mixed varieties of plants of hyola and mustard affecting the quality of the produce.
The farmers of Sudhoheri and Saholi filed a complaint against the inferior quality of seed supplied for the crops of peas, carrot, and sweet chilly. The farmers of Samana and Asarpur Chupki (Samana) found that seed of winter maize supplied by private companies did not sprout properly and the number of plants grown was much less than the requisite quantity.
Most of the complaints were verified and found to be correct by the Agriculture Department. But farmers could not be compensated, they felt cheated and dejected. Consequently, the companies claimed that hyola has been contracted for 910 acres in Patiala district, but the actual area (as per records of Agricultural Department) under hyola crop was on 109 acres during 2003-04. The farmers blamed Advanta India, an MNC, for seed hyola and Pro-Agro company for winter maize seed of doubtful quality.
None of these companies have their research laboratories or research stations in different agro-climatic regions of Punjab to test the suitability of their seeds. PAFC and the Punjab Government failed to protect the farmers against the spurious/doubtful quality of seeds. When farmers approached the company offices or PAFC offices, they got no technical advice/ extension service. In case of Basmati contract, the farmers were made to pay Rs 150 per acre as consultancy/extension service fee.
In case of peas and other vegetables when there was glut in the market, the farmers’ produce was not accepted on the grounds of quality when the seed was supplied by the companies and they were supposed to provide technical advice too. In case of Basmati marketing, the cleaning units installed by PAFC at Dudhan Sadhan, Shatrana (Patran) and Rajpura were not working leading to harassment of farmers. They were paid a price in the range of Rs 1,100 to Rs 1,250 per quintal. As soon as the companies closed their procurement, the price of Basmati increased by Rs 100 to Rs 150 per quintal causing a loss of income to farmers.
The Punjab experience demonstrates that the corporate sector, both Indian and foreign, is primarily interested in trading, not in agro-processing as envisaged in the Tenth Plan. These companies supplied seeds at high (agreed) prices and saved money by not arranging extension service/technical advice. They purchased the produce at an agreed price which proved to be low after their withdrawal from procurement and they could subsequently gain from enhanced Basmati price in the market. Thus, contract farming has worked to the disadvantage of farmers.
Earlier, sugarcane growers were not paid for years by sugar mills for the sugarcane supplied by them. The incapability of the state to get the contracts enforced in letter and spirit is working to the disadvantage of farmers.
The way contract farming has been designed and implemented in Punjab it creates private monopoly/monosony (single buyer) in the market which has a tendency to use monopoly/ monosony power to the advantage of companies and against the farmers.
In search of Helen
How on earth does anyone think that Helen can be found again? In an era of voluptuous vamps, Helen still stands apart for her trim and flexible figure. Finding Helen was the theme of an evening at a new restaurant called Filmi Masala What a damp skills evening! The cabaret sensations impersonated by various models were completely out of step, breath and line. The dress code was of the sixties, but no one seemed to follow that and all came dressed as they wanted. The Helen of yesteryear is still so fresh in our memories that trying to fake her is impossible. Ah, those jhatkas, that look and those dancing feet were out of this world.
The cabaret sensations impersonated by various models were completely out of step, breath and line. The dress code was of the sixties, but no one seemed to follow that and all came dressed as they wanted. The Helen of yesteryear is still so fresh in our memories that trying to fake her is impossible. Ah, those jhatkas, that look and those dancing feet were out of this world.
An evening of music The other night we were back to discoing with Boney M. Yes guys. Even though it was not the usual atmosphere of an international artist’s concert, it was still wonderful listening to Liz Mitchell and Bobby Farrell live. His “namaste” was well taken and his belting out all time favourites like “Daddy Cool” Rivers of Babylon” got everyone high. As it was held in Gurgaon, we had a lot of the naive rich swooning to music, dancing bhangra, hooting and whistling. One Behenji, who was called on stage, neatly fainted.
The other night we were back to discoing with Boney M. Yes guys. Even though it was not the usual atmosphere of an international artist’s concert, it was still wonderful listening to Liz Mitchell and Bobby Farrell live. His “namaste” was well taken and his belting out all time favourites like “Daddy Cool” Rivers of Babylon” got everyone high.
As it was held in Gurgaon, we had a lot of the naive rich swooning to music, dancing bhangra, hooting and whistling. One Behenji, who was called on stage, neatly fainted.
Of Misa, Kursi
and Jalebi Bihar is getting all ready for Misa. In this case, Misa is King Laloo’s daughter. With Laloo as Central Minister, Rabri as Chief Minister, both Laloo’s saalas as members of Parliament, Misa is now taking an active interest in politics. She may be contesting the coming byelections. Laloo in all has nine kids, two short of a cricket team and the kids have names like “Kursi”, because when Kursi was born, Laloo was elected. There is one called “Wicket”, which has something to do with a cricket match. Laloo also has a sister-in-law called “Jalebi”. I remember an incident when former President K.R. Narayanan went to Patna and visited Laloo’s house. One or two of Laloo’s kids stormed into the drawingroom and wanted to sit on the President’s lap for a picture. But the security had to stop all nine kids from clambering all over the President at the same time. The RJD is a full-fledged family affair of sisters and
brothers and their relatives. This is enough fodder for thought for Paswan and Pappu Yadav. Incidentally, Misa is an MBBS and in fact all Laloo kids are supposed to be brilliant academically. They also seem fully prepared for politics as one of Laloo’s daughters just slapped a videographer on a family trip to Kerala. The clipping was even aired by a television channel. Now does she have her father’s temper?
Bihar is getting all ready for Misa. In this case, Misa is King Laloo’s daughter. With Laloo as Central Minister, Rabri as Chief Minister, both Laloo’s saalas as members of Parliament, Misa is now taking an active interest in politics. She may be contesting the coming byelections.
Laloo in all has nine kids, two short of a cricket team and the kids have names like “Kursi”, because when Kursi was born, Laloo was elected. There is one called “Wicket”, which has something to do with a cricket match. Laloo also has a sister-in-law called “Jalebi”.
I remember an incident when former President K.R. Narayanan went to Patna and visited Laloo’s house. One or two of Laloo’s kids stormed into the drawingroom and wanted to sit on the President’s lap for a picture. But the security had to stop all nine kids from clambering all over the President at the same time.
The RJD is a full-fledged family affair of sisters and brothers and their relatives. This is enough fodder for thought for Paswan and Pappu Yadav. Incidentally, Misa is an MBBS and in fact all Laloo kids are supposed to be brilliant academically. They also seem fully prepared for politics as one of Laloo’s daughters just slapped a videographer on a family trip to Kerala. The clipping was even aired by a television channel. Now does she have her father’s temper?
SMS humour at Jogi’s cost Who said that our politicians don’t have a sense of humour? When Ajit Jogi was in the Capital other day begging for “darshan” of Sonia Gandhi, an SMS was doing the rounds on several politicians’ cell phones cutting across party lines, that read: “Naa mangoon sona chandi, mangoon darshan devi, tere dwar khada ek Jogi” (I don’t ask for gold or silver, but just a glimpse of the Devi, and a cleric stands at your steps). Another SMS followed a day later, as an answer to the first one: “Jogi lutgaye tere raj mein“ (the clerics have lost in your reign). The Congress and BJP leaders started an investigation to find out who the prankster was, not to punish but to appreciate his/her sense of humour.
Who said that our politicians don’t have a sense of humour? When Ajit Jogi was in the Capital other day begging for “darshan” of Sonia Gandhi, an SMS was doing the rounds on several politicians’ cell phones cutting across party lines, that read: “Naa mangoon sona chandi, mangoon darshan devi, tere dwar khada ek Jogi” (I don’t ask for gold or silver, but just a glimpse of the Devi, and a cleric stands at your steps).
Another SMS followed a day later, as an answer to the first one: “Jogi lutgaye tere raj mein“ (the clerics have lost in your reign). The Congress and BJP leaders started an investigation to find out who the prankster was, not to punish but to appreciate his/her sense of humour.
Whenever virtue subsides and wickedness prevails I manifest Myself. To establish virtue, to destroy evil, to save the good I come from Yuga to Yuga.
— Sri Krishna
A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.
Ignorance causes the ruin of the world. Envy and selfishness break off friendships. Hatred is the most violent fever, and the Buddha is the best physician.
— The Buddha
I consulted my Master and He convinced me that there is no other place but God’s.
— Guru Nanak
It is vain to trust in wrong; as much of evil, so much of loss, is the formula of human history.