Of Sonia and Gudiya
Rain struck now
TV news limited in range
The vanishing curves
Nobel Prize winner celebrates it with omelette
A liquid lunch in New York
The brazen allotment of petrol pumps, LPG and kerosene outlets to friends and relatives was one of the most sordid sagas of political patronage authored by the NDA government. When the scandal got exposed thanks to the media, the National Democratic Alliance compounded the blunder by cancelling all allotments made between 2000 and 2002. This was an unwarranted blow to those who had got the petrol pumps on merit. The apex court saw through the game and set aside the order. It handed over scrutiny of the allotments to a high-powered committee which considered 409 cases. The denoument has finally come. A Supreme Court Bench of Mr Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Mr Justice D. M. Dharmadhikari has given its approval to the cancellation of as many as 297 allotments. That means that as many as 73 per cent of the allotments under scrutiny were blatantly improper. The judgement should lift the shroud of hopelessness that had enveloped the country when it was found that the petrol pumps had been turned into instruments of spewing favours on relatives and friends of the BJP and its allies.
One does not know if this stinging indictment will make the powers that be learn any lessons in probity and integrity. After all, this is not the first time that the judiciary has called the bluff of the government. Earlier, the Congress had to eat the humble pie when the then Petroleum Minister Satish Sharma was found to be misusing the “discretionary quota” to favour his own men. Instead of being chastened, Mr Ram Naik of the BJP did exactly that when he got the ministry. Rather, he made allotments to BJP and Sangh Parivar sympathisers on a much larger scale.
It is a sign of times that now that the Supreme Court has sought to undo the mischief, there are apprehensions that those who are certain to lose the dealership may make the most of the time that they have with them to maximise their profits by adulterating the petroleum products. After all, using unfair means is nothing new for them. The government has not only to ensure that the Pumpgates do not occur in future, it has also to be vigilant that the unsuspecting public is not ripped off by the dealers whose only claim to merit was their proximity to the then rulers.
Of Sonia and Gudiya
The story of the plight of Gudiya and Sonia of Asanda village in Haryana are strikingly similar. Gudiya was eight months pregnant with Taufiq’s child when her first husband Arif, a soldier, returned after five years in Pakistani jails. An overbearing television channel literally manipulated the panchayat and some Muslim clerics into forcing her to abandon her second husband. Sonia is three months pregnant. The village panchayat has declared her marriage, performed 18 months ago, as illegal and directed her to accept her husband as her brother.
Sonia has shown more gumption by taking a public stand against the irrational directive of the village khap. Gudiya’s initial response too was balanced than her final decision. She had said that marriage was not a “gudday gudiya ka khel” and that she would stay with Taufiq. Neither the television channels nor the ulema’s had any business to traumatise her into changing her mind. Similarly, the village panchayat has no right to poke its nose in the domestic affairs of the happily married Sonia and her husband Rampal. Did the couple come to it 18 months after marriage to find out whether their gotras allowed them to live as man and wife?
Civil society itself should be placed in the dock for not doing enough to prevent gender abuse. The stories of Sonia and Gudiya are not isolated instances of oppression. Not all the Gudiya tales have forced endings. A Hindu woman from Hardoi, in UP, married again after her first husband went to Delhi in search of a job and instead spent four years in jail. He was presumed dead. The woman, a mother of three children from her second marriage, was allowed to reject her first husband. Gudiya’s case too should have been treated as a private matter involving her, Taufiq and Arif. Human rights and women’s organisation should have put a protective ring around Gudiya when the electronic media and the mullahs got together to hound her. They should at least now atone for the sin of inaction by coming to the aid of Sonia who has said that “I will prefer death” to following the order of the panchayat.
Rain struck now
Untimely rain has damaged paddy — harvested, standing in the fields or lying in the mandis. Apart from Punjab and Haryana, reports of ruin have poured in from Himachal Pradesh as well. The Punjab Government has ordered an assessment of the loss. It claims about 50 per cent of the paddy has been procured. That means the loss is mostly of the government agencies. The Haryana and Himachal governments are yet to respond to the damage. The delayed monsoon had already hit the kharif crops. Those who pumped out more water to save crops saw their production costs swell, while the minimum support price for paddy this year has been raised only marginally.
Farmers’ losses due to inclement weather, floods and droughts are recurrent. How official machinery responds, whenever crops fail or get damaged, is all well known. The states assess the losses, knock at the Centre’s door for relief, themselves being near bankrupt. The Centre has its own guidelines for relief that exclude better-off claimants like Punjab. Even if relief is announced, a large chunk of it is swallowed by sharks in the system. The little that reaches those affected is taken away by the influential among them. The small, illiterate farmer is seldom a beneficiary of state relief.
The relief-grab exercise, frequently repeated, so well suits the vested interests that no alternative is thought out or encouraged. With state governments interminably facing a cash crunch and the Centre too often being under pressure, one option that needs to be considered is crop insurance, already prevalent in some states. Neither Punjab nor Haryana has tried this. It seems farmers are not prepared for this. Small farmers cannot afford it. Others have almost assured irrigation. The flood threat has been minimised. Untimely rain is rare and, if there is damage to crops, farmers expect a government bailout. But crop insurance remains a workable solution with the government paying part of the premium.
TV news limited in range
The Doordashan News channel in its present avatar completes one year this month. As a 24-hour national news channel, it stands out for its overall performance. But news bulletins of neither of the news channels, including DD News, distinguish themselves as representative of India. An analysis of seven news channels for their contents brings out this fact. The extent of coverage of rural India, even in the case of DD News bulletins, is limited. This has been much below 2 per cent of the items in a week. In fact, about half of the items of news bulletins, including DD News, are from Delhi and Mumbai. DD News lags in terms of fineness in the production quality and in the quality of transmission at the receiving end in the case of Cable TV households.
DD’s 24-hour news channel came up in November 2003 rather abruptly in place of the then popular Metro channel. The earlier DD News channel was closed in January 2002, 18 months after it came into being without a convincing explanation. NDTV/ STAR (April 2003), Sahara News (March 2003), Aaj Tak (December 2000) and Zee News (1995) had been there for a longer period than DD News. The last couple of years have witnessed hectic activities on the political and economic fronts to enable news media to catch up and prove their mettle. Despite uncertain support and ambiguous policies, DD News channel did better than what many critics expected it at the outset.
DD News also witnessed certain “revamp” in terms of people manning the channel. But DD operations remained at the mercy of the ministry. DD was thrown into a competitive mode in the “market place”. That is how I supported the amendment to the Cable TV Regulation Act making it obligatory for Cable TV operators to show the DD News channel. It could not have withstood competitive compulsions in the case of cable TV households without such an intervention.
News channels are expected to be concerned in their coverage about at least four parameters. Such a concern is expected to expand the scope of news coverage and viewership of news bulletins much beyond the present levels. The parameters are: origin of news, concern as evident from the subject matter of contents, the extent of repeat of certain news, and scope of coverage as news or features.
Contrary to general impression, and claims by some channels, DD News fared relatively better. Although 40 per cent of news items of the DD News bulletins are of Delhi-origin, against 37 per cent of other news channels, in terms of spread of news coverage across DD News does better. For example, a little over 10 per cent of the news items in the DD News bulletins originate at Kolkata and Chennai, as against hardly a little in the case of other channels. Half or more of the news bulletins of the national channels cannot be from Delhi and Mumbai month after month.
The coverage of rural India by all news channels, including DD, has been a casual affair, as if to remind the viewers that they are a “national channel”. Hardly 1 per cent of the items in the news bulletins of these various channels are from rural India. As much as 90 per cent of Budget coverage by channels in July- August 2004 was limited to Delhi. Even at times like the elections (national and state) the coverage from rural areas has not crossed 3 per cent against 7 per cent crime-related news. In the case of DD News, however, only 2 per cent of the news items are on crime. The extent of items in the news bulletins from abroad has been far higher, next only to Delhi. About one-fifth of the items in the bulletins are from abroad and one-fifth of them, of course, are India-related. Certain shift in news coverage in favour of business and sports is striking.
Even as to the subject matter of news items covered by round-the-clock news bulletins, the range has been limited, which perhaps explains why the “penetration of TV” in general and news channels in particular remained almost stagnant during the last one year. The preoccupation with the politics of news channels is even more than the newspapers, as is evident from CMS Media Lab analysis. DD News, however, devotes only a quarter of the items of its bulletins on politics against about 33 per cent by other TV news channels.
Despite the proliferation of channels and intense competition, their over-all coverage of India has not expanded beyond what it was earlier in terms of news origination or subject focus. On the contrary, certain hype and trivialisation in coverage has been too obvious, and in the process the very definitions of news has changed. But technical quality and designing elements have come a long way. So also in terms of anchoring and interactivity.
News channels, of late, have been under hype in their coverage of certain items much beyond their relevance or significance as if it is a misperception that such coverage earns TRP points. These channels seem to have not realised that their very credibility over time is getting eroded as an analysis of the CMS study has recently brought out. In fact, despite so many news channels and round-the-clock news bulletins, TV news is being viewed as an “appetiser” for prompting newspaper readership. That is, the more one sees news channels, the more likely one reads newspapers. That is how newspapers have recently proliferated and improved readership more where TV viewership has been higher.
There is an urgent need to revisit the basic tenets of public service broadcasting. DD must cater to a larger majority of the Indian audience. This means going much beyond cities. DD and AIR, put together, have far more field reporters across the country to ensure such a balance.
Doordarshan and AIR are facing challenges on several fronts today. These include financial sustainability, human resource development and deployment, marketing and positioning of the news channel. To be able to meet these challenges and make the most of new opportunities that the technology brings in, it is far more important for Prasar Bharati to operate as a corporate entity and professonalise the organisation. For this, the government should ensure financial support as annual “budgetary grant”. Some serious efforts are already being made in this direction.
What is the problem with AIR and DD in becoming global players, except perhaps a lack of vision, mission and sustained support. An ad hoc view of broadcasting by each successive regime in the last 30 years has let down these two national institutes despite their unique role and immense potential. In fact, sometimes one gets the feeling that DD is being sabotaged, wittingly or unwittingly. Unless we have a vision first about broadcasting in its various forms and an understanding of the changing global scene in this regard, the right kind of initiatives cannot be
The vanishing curves
When our government is engaged in miff on Hubli tricolour fluttering and tiff on Savarkar’s saying, the British government is busy in measuring the vital statistics of an average British woman. There the Department of Trade and Industry conducted a survey that continued for three years and after taking 1.5 million measurements of women aged over 16 has the findings that an average woman is 5 feet and a half inch tall, her waist is almost 34 inches compared with 27 and a half in 1951, bust is now 38 and a half, while hips measure 40 and a half inch, both one and a half inch more than in 1951. It means ring out the hourglass figure and ring in the straighter bodies.
The attractive curves of the female form are gradually vanishing. Barbie doll or 36-24-36 are going to be the dream figures or figures in dream for the British.
Sir P.G. Wodehouse writes in “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”, “Daphne Dolores Moorhead has a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway.” I do not know whether future Daphnes are likely to have curves or not, I also do not know whether Shimla-Kalka railway, with 102 tunnels, reminds one of the curves of one’s girlfriend but I am pretty sure that in the curvaceous road between Manali and Rohtang hugging a wrong curve sitting by your side instead of cutting the curve down below would definitely result in auto wreck, if not more.
Elisa Jose was damn excited the other day when in a bikini she said, “Isn’t it wonderful that the cotton of it was grown in Punjab, it was made into cloth in Maharashtra, thread came from Gujarat, carried Rajasthani pattern, was designed in Delhi and I bought it in Goa?” “What is so wonderful about it when I see more of Elisa and less of bloody cotton and design in it?” said irritated husband Jose. “So many States paying attention to my curves!” was a straight-faced reply. I pity that all such humour is going to be lost to the British if the present trend continues.
I had read in geometry that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Mae West, the American vaudeville and film actress, has modified this rule by saying that a curved line is the loveliest distance between two points. East is East and West is West, but, on this rule, ever the twain shall meet. While the curves of the British women are vanishing, the chant of the “Sweater Filler” exercise in the Universities of Nebraska and Michigan in the USA is, “I must, I must, I must, / I must increase my bust./ I’d better, I’d better, I’d better, / I’d better fill out this sweater”.
All over India shells are found, most of them perhaps life expired ones, but quite a few live ones too. They have been located in Navi Mumbai, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bulandshaher and other places in UP and Punjab. Latest reports are from a Tughlakabad container depot, mentioning shells in four containers.
It all started with an explosion of a shell in Ghaziabad, killing 10 people and injuring scores of others. These shells and rockets are said to be part of consignments of steel scrap meant for steel melting and re-rolling mills.
The widespread distribution of shells and rockets indicates that many such establishments having received and opened the containers, discovered these shells and have tried to dispose them of in a rash and negligent manner by throwing them away at all sorts of odd places.
It is typical of lackadaisical and negligent attitude of our authorities, public and industrial establishments that there has been no countrywide alert and all the importing firms have not come forward readily with information, the port authorities have not given any data on such containers downloaded in various ports in the last few weeks.
This also exposed how lax is the handling of cargos in our ports and how slipshod and careless are our steel re-rolling firms in their overseas dealings. Even now it cannot be certain whether this is a trial run by a terroristic organisation to smuggle in live bombs or radio active dirty bombs and other weapons of mass destruction.
One cannot even rule out the possibility that such materials had not already been shipped in along with a large number of dud shells and they have not yet been spotted. This should explain why the Americans are so keen on their container initiative as an anti-terrorist measure.
There has to be a thorough investigation of the origin of these shells and India should now promulgate a container initiative and insist on all cargoes coming to the Indian ports being screened at the ports of origin.
In the past there have been shipments of highly dangerous and toxic materials from industrialised countries to be disposed of in developing countries, including India. In those cases they were mostly one time or a limited number of shipments and those who received them for payment for service of disposal knew about their nature and did it out of profit motive.
But the handling of shells, though time expired, still with explosives which can cause casualities as it did in Ghaziabad is a different proposition.
This development exposes the extreme vulnerability of this country to terroristic attacks from outside. Part of the explosives used in Mumbai serial blasts of March 1993 were imported from outside, with the connivance of the Customs authorities.
The present findings of shells in different states are first handled by the state police. Then either the armed police of the state or the National Security Guard is brought in to defuse them. There is no central organisation to take charge, promulgate a countrywide warning, issue directions to different organisations, liaise with external and internal intelligence organisations.
Following the 9/11 attack on the United States, the Congress created the Homeland Security Organisation to deal with terroristic attacks. Though this country has been subjected to terroristic attacks for more than two decades, there is no Central counter-terroristic organisation to deal with the threat.
An attempt to create such an organisation during the NDA government’s tenure was vetoed by the Chief Ministers, who were very zealous about state autonomy and possible encroachment on their turfs by the Centre. Partly this antagonism by the states was attributable to the way the Union Home Ministry tried to impose the idea on the states.
The right approach would be for the Union Home Ministry to prepare a paper on the problems of dealing with nationwide terrorism in consultation with a number of State Directors-General of Police. Thereafter the paper should be placed before a conference of Chief Ministers and they should be asked to suggest solutions to the problem of dealing with terrorism. A task force of Chief Ministers should be entrusted with the task. Then as it happened with the VAT, the Chief Ministers will in all probability come up with the logical solution of creation of a central organisation to deal with terrorism.
Today the handling of terrorism is extremely ad hoc. Though there is a National Security Council, it does not seem to have anything to do with terrorism. The issue is being handled by the Home Ministry through the CBI or IB on a case-by-case basis. It transcends any single ministry’s jurisdiction.
As in this case, the Ministry of Transport is involved. There can be cases in which the Ministry of Civil Aviation will be involved. Organised crime is handled by the states and narcotics by the Finance Ministry. While 9/11 woke the US up and the 9/11 commission has come up with a very radical reorganisation of the government, in this country two decades of terrorism and the attack on our Parliament (13/12) have failed to wake up our politicians, irrespective of the party they belong to.
The present government has a lot of talent on economic reform, but is very poor on national security reform. Otherwise, it is very difficult to explain having a National Security Council, a
National Security Adviser and an adviser on internal security and still keeping it preoccupied with routine matters and away from important issues like counter-insurgency and terrorism.
Nobel Prize winner celebrates it with omelette
Edward Prescott, this year’s joint winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work on so-called time-inconsistency was a victim of the clock when the Oslo committee called with the good news on Monday.
It was too early for champagne, but the 63-year-old economist knew his victory demanded a solid, if diet-conscious, start to the day.
“It was 4 a.m. when my cell phone rang and I was up after that. But I did get a good breakfast to prepare for the long day ahead, dealing with all the press,” he told Reuters in an interview from Arizona State University, where he works. “I’m on low-carb, so I had a nice omelette.”
Prescott and co-winner Finn Kydland of Norway share a 10 million Swedish crown ($1.36 million) prize for their work on central banking in the 1970s.
Their study of the costs of inconsistent monetary policy helped shape a debate that years later would convince politicians to grant independence to the Bank of England, European Central Bank and other institutions around the world.
Prescott said they were only trying to make things work better and confessed he has been surprised over the years at the impact of their efforts. But he was also proud of the difference his contribution has made to ordinary people.
“There are big gains from being able to constrain yourself in terms of macroeconomic policy,” he said. “Central banks are now independent. We have much more stability in the payments systems and we’re not trying to stimulate the economy all the time and as a result we have much fewer fluctuations.
“It really changed my thinking and subsequently changed other people’s thinking as well,” Prescott said of their work.
Policy-makers in Europe and the United States now anchor their actions in commitments, implicit or explicit, to price stability without bowing to political agendas.
In doing so, they have helped to curb boom-bust business cycles and to deliver more growth and employment.
Back then, central bankers often suffered direct political interference, including pressure to let inflation build up in return for a reduction in unemployment.
This trade-off was common until Prescott and Kydland helped underscore the costs.
“The way that macroeconomics is done today is very different than 20 years ago and that is because of the work of Prescott and Kydland,” said Craig Hakkio, head of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
Former Fed Board Governor Alan Blinder, now an economics professor at Princeton University, agreed.
A liquid lunch in New York
Drinking is not always easy in New York. The liquid lunch is still mostly frowned upon — unless you are talking iced tea or water — and, according to my girlfriends, first dates with American men are still more likely to involve tepid lattes at Starbucks than inhibition-loosening martinis in a dimly lit bar.
It has been 70 years since the repeal of Prohibition, but this country remains curiously neurotic when it comes to consuming alcohol. There are more laws and regulations in America to do with booze than there are bubbles in a magnum of Veuve. I am not sure who is to blame.
Even today, there are communities across the country that are dry. As many a gap-year traveller to the US knows, there is no penetrating the bars or clubs here if you are not 21 — even though kids here are deemed old enough to command a car when just 15.
Coming to New York for the first time, there are a few things to get used to. Supermarkets can sell beer, except on Sundays, but no wine or spirits. Liquor stores cannot sell soft drinks, which normally includes tonic water.
It gets worse. There is no walking home with your purchase in plain view. Booze must be brown-bagged at all times, lest you flaunt your intention to partake and, God forsake, encourage others to do the same. To be spotted actually swigging on the street by a police officer spells immediate arrest.
But things are improving. For a year now, a new law has allowed a limited number of liquor stores in New York City to open on a Sunday. If they do so, they must close on another regular weekday, however.
Needless to say, the new regulation is not simple. Only a “bona fide restaurant”, with “suitable kitchen facilities connected therewith, containing conveniences for cooking an assortment of food”, can send patrons home with half-full bottles. The wine must have been “purchased in connection with a full-course meal” and that meal cannot be consumed “while standing or walking”. Bar food does not count.
Moreover, the restaurant must take several steps before handing back the bottle. The bottle must be recorked and then placed in a clear plastic bag that is sealed and “tamper-proof” and, finally, the receipt for the full meal must be attached to the outside.
— The Independent
Two men please God — who serves Him with all his heart because He knows Him; who seeks Him with all his heart because he knows Him not. — Panin When I have You with me, I have everything. You, O God, are my master! As you abide within me, I enjoy all peace and feel blessed. — Guru Nanak Just as you don’t like pain, others too don’t. Knowing this, treat others with care, respect and compassion, as you treat yourself. — Lord Mahavir Be not like them: for your Father knows what you need, before you ask him. — Jesus Christ Wherever virtue or vice is discussed, everyone present must take some share at least of that. — Sri Sarada Devi
When I have You with me, I have everything. You, O God, are my master! As you abide within me, I enjoy all peace and feel blessed.
— Guru Nanak
Just as you don’t like pain, others too don’t. Knowing this, treat others with care, respect and compassion, as you treat yourself.
— Lord Mahavir
Be not like them: for your Father knows what you need, before you ask him.
— Jesus Christ
Wherever virtue or vice is discussed, everyone present must take some share at least of that.
— Sri Sarada Devi