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EDITORIALS

Captain’s pack
Reshuffle a case of too little, too late
J
ust a fortnight after stoutly denying the “rumours” of a Cabinet reshuffle, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has changed the portfolios of his Cabinet colleagues, as well as Ministers of State, Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries, without dropping even one of them. 

Paltry hike
Farmers need more for paddy
A
small hike of Rs 10 in the minimum support price of paddy is bound to leave farmers disappointed. Regardless of the coming elections in Punjab, the Centre has stuck to its policy of avoiding a significant increase in the MSPs for cereals year after year.



EARLIER STORIES
Moving ahead
July 28, 2006
Pak N-stockpiles
July 27, 2006
Limits of power
July 26, 2006
Bloated babudom
July 25, 2006
Do what you say
July 24, 2006
Suicides tell no tale
July 23, 2006
Who is to pay the bill?
July 22, 2006
Caught in crossfire
July 21, 2006
General Officer Thieving
July 20, 2006
Message from St Petersburg
July 19, 2006


Beware of priests
When spirit is willing and flesh is weak
C
leanliness may be next to godliness, but the stink of scandal is unfortunately spreading in places of worship and among godmen. The famed Sabarimala shrine of the bachelor God, Ayyappa, who draws millions of pilgrims annually from all over the country is in the thick of an unholy controversy.

ARTICLE

Sinister thoughts
Broadcasting Bill may be the first salvo
by Kuldip Nayar
P
RIYA Ranjan Dasmunshi was a hatchet man during the Emergency in India. What Sanjay Gandhi, who ran the country at that time, liked about Dasmunshi was his uncanny ways of needling the media, particularly the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group of newspapers in West Bengal. But Dasmunshi’s regret was that he never got the chance to legalise the illegal. Mrs Indira Gandhi was defeated at the polls.

MIDDLE

Heartbroken in Srinagar
by Satish K. Sharma
F
or those who wish to take to golf in the middle age to keep their heart healthy, here is a warning. They say it is like love. If you are not serious you won’t enjoy it. And if you are, it’ll break your heart.

OPED

Time to end disconnect between cotton growers and industry
by M.S. Swaminathan
P
rof R.C. Sobti, a renowned biotechnologist of the region, has taken over as the 11th Vice-Chancellor of Panjab University replacing Prof KN Pathak, who remained the VC for six years.

Failed trade talks usher in uncertainty
by Paul Blustein
S
o now it’s official: Global talks to lower trade barriers are ``suspended,’’ perhaps never to resume. Tuesday, leading negotiators continued to fling accusations at each other for the breakdown. But the more profound issue confronting policymakers around the world is whether globalization has been fundamentally redirected, slowed or possibly thrown into reverse.


From the pages of

 
 REFLECTIONS

 

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Captain’s pack
Reshuffle a case of too little, too late

Just a fortnight after stoutly denying the “rumours” of a Cabinet reshuffle, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has changed the portfolios of his Cabinet colleagues, as well as Ministers of State, Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries, without dropping even one of them. Well, you cannot exactly accuse him of going back on his words. This is indeed an insipid, half-hearted non-event which is not going to change anything of consequence. At best, it is a political exercise in which the loyalists have been rewarded handsomely, while the men who should have been shown the door have instead been re-accommodated, albeit in a less fancied corner of the overcrowded room. Hopes of spring cleaning were raised when the Chief Minister had announced that the tainted ministers won’t be given tickets in the forthcoming Assembly elections. This was considered an admission of sorts that there were undesirable members in his team. But the stirring that this statement caused alerted him to the possible negative fallout, what with the Akalis ever eager to go to town with it. So, he has refrained from dumping anyone, in spite of the fact that some of them have courted controversies galore. Perhaps he also did not want to be hounded by MLAs dying to fill the vacuum caused by the anticipated exit of some ministers, that too so close to the elections.

Leave alone the tainted, even the non-performers have been spared the blushes. The maximum “punishment” that has been handed out is the transfer of a few to less important ministries. But since they have been handed out portfolios which may be less glamorous but are not exactly inconsequential, the exercise is at best cosmetic.

If at all the reshuffle were to qualify as course correction, it should have been undertaken a long time back, ideally midway through the term, instead of now when the elections are only a few months away. This last-minute change may neither impress the voters nor give the chance to the ministers to prove themselves worthy of their new charge, considering that most of their time from now onwards will be spent in familiarising themselves with the new ministries and touring their constituencies. The Captain sure knows how to talk tough and still explore softest possible options. May be he wants the electorate to decide the fate of some of his colleagues rather than wield the axe on the deadwood in his pack himself.

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Paltry hike
Farmers need more for paddy

A small hike of Rs 10 in the minimum support price of paddy is bound to leave farmers disappointed. Regardless of the coming elections in Punjab, the Centre has stuck to its policy of avoiding a significant increase in the MSPs for cereals year after year. In 2002 when the NDA government did not raise the MSP for paddy, the Punjab Chief Minister set a precedent by staging a dharna outside the Prime Minister’s residence. As pressure mounted, the Centre gave Rs 20 per quintal bonus, but did not touch the MSP. The idea was to shift farmers from the wheat-paddy cycle as foodgrains rotted in FCI godowns.

Besides, paddy is a highly water-intensive crop. With the water resources fast depleting, experts advise farmers in Punjab and Haryana to shift areas under paddy to other crops. However, paddy still fetches higher returns for farmers than other kharif crops. Since an overnight shift to non-paddy crops is not possible, the government will have to rescue farmers from the steep rise in the cost of farm inputs. Though Punjab farmers get free electricity, the supply is erratic and they have to depend heavily on diesel-run tubewells. Their counterparts in Haryana have to pay for power as well as diesel.

Significantly, the Centre has announced an incentive of Rs 50 per quintal in addition to a rise in the MSPs of bajra, jowar and ragi, but it will be paid only if the coarse grains are supplied through the public distribution system in place of wheat. How far this condition is met and how this arrangement works will be known only later, but encouragement to farmer to grow what is regarded as coarse grains is welcome. Also if the government wants to protect consumers from the brunt of higher foodgrain prices, it should encourage private companies as also cooperatives of farmers to set up silos and godowns so that the cost of foodgrain handling comes down, wastage and pilferage are minimised and the FCI is asked to improve its efficiency. 

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Beware of priests
When spirit is willing and flesh is weak

Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but the stink of scandal is unfortunately spreading in places of worship and among godmen. The famed Sabarimala shrine of the bachelor God, Ayyappa, who draws millions of pilgrims annually from all over the country is in the thick of an unholy controversy. The head priest of the temple, Mohanararu Kantararu has been sacked for his alleged sexual escapades. He is accused of “visiting” an alleged prostitute who was once arrested under the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act. The head priest has reacted by denying all the accusations and claiming that he is being framed. He has sought an impartial inquiry and till the investigations come up with conclusive evidence finger pointing would be unfair.

Nevertheless, it is disturbing that the houses of God, abodes of spiritual and religious sustenance which are the receptacles of faith for millions of God-fearing people, should be tainted by such unpalatable developments. In December 2004, the arrest of the Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, in a murder case, brought forth dramatic revelations of not just other mysterious deaths, but also allegations of sexual overtures by the seer. At least three women, including a writer, alleged that the Sankaracharya had indulged in indecent proposals.

While these two have been in the headlines because they and their temples are better known, there are plenty of others who are periodically booked for their illicit sexual activities. There are instances of religious men and preachers in the northern states also being accused of molestation and worse. These may well have been going on for a long time, much before media reports began appearing in recent years. That these are being made public and being more openly debated by devotees as well as right-thinking people now suggests more awareness of the proclivities of some who have opted for priesthood. The way to hell, we all know, is paved with good intentions. But the way to God… Although generalisations are not in order, it is a pity that not all the priests are pious or saintly. 

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Thought for the day

God doesn’t look at how much we do, but with how much love we do it. — Mother Teresa

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Sinister thoughts
Broadcasting Bill may be the first salvo
by Kuldip Nayar

PRIYA Ranjan Dasmunshi was a hatchet man during the Emergency in India. What Sanjay Gandhi, who ran the country at that time, liked about Dasmunshi was his uncanny ways of needling the media, particularly the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group of newspapers in West Bengal. But Dasmunshi’s regret was that he never got the chance to legalise the illegal. Mrs Indira Gandhi was defeated at the polls.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi gave him the chance to do what he wanted to do when he was appointed the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in place of the urbane and cultured Jaipal Reddy. In the name of de-bureaucratising the ministry he has played havoc with its working. It has taken him time to place his “trusted men” at key places. Now that he has done it, he has the launching pad ready.

Dasmunshi’s first salvo is the Broadcasting Bill. Luckily, the Left, the leading ally of the ruling combination United Progressive Alliance, has expressed its doubts. Post-Stalin comrades are sensitive to the press freedom. This has made Sonia Gandhi retract. Otherwise, Dasmunshi was all set to have the Bill passed in the current session of Parliament. Imagine what he seeks to do, as a few leaks suggest: The Government of India will have powers to shut down any TV channel or broadcasting station in “public interest.” Even a deputy commissioner can order local cable operators to stop disseminating any programme from any channel.

This is a crude form of censorship, authoritarian in content and in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution which makes freedom of expression a non-negotiable right of any Indian citizen. But then Dasmunshi is a practical man who has learnt from the days of the Youth Congress that it is the power that counts, not principles.

The difference between what he did during the Emergency and is doing now is that he had to circumvent the Constitution then to impose censorship but today he brazen-facedly brings a Bill to muzzle the media. I am amazed at the audacity of the minister when he argues that the Broadcasting Bill is “media-friendly, progressive legislation, not seen anywhere in the world.” The word, progressive, must have undergone a change since he has become minister.

Dasmunshi has singled out the English media for attack. “Do their journalists enjoy freedom in their own organisations and is their work not subjected to pressure from the management?” he asks. I can assure him that “the pressure” which he talks about is the fallout of the Emergency. That was the watershed. That was when established administrative procedures and conventions were subverted for the benefit of individuals, who had contacts at the “right places.” When the government could do so, why not others?

Never before had the newspaper management dared to suggest even indirectly what to print or not to print. The chit “BM” (Business Must) was thrown in the wastepaper basket whenever received in the editorial room. Since those who gagged the press during the Emergency got away with the crime without being punished, the newspaper management has followed suit. The press freedom has been the casualty from those days. Dasmunshi’s Bill, if pursued, would have reduced the constitutional guarantee to a farce.

Dasmunshi wants to supervise the TV networks and broadcasting stations, to begin with. Newspapers are next in line. He wants to separate the print medium from that of electronic so that both do not join hands to make a common cause. He lets the cat out of the bag when he says that there is a need to facilitate the growth of vernacular media. “We want to give priority to language press.” But then this has been the stock argument of every government to attack the influential segment of the press. Who is Dasmunshi kidding?

The government used the same kind of language when it adopted repressive measures in 1975 to smother dissent. People voted the Congress out of power. Let Dasmunshi and his masters go to the polls on this issue. I dare them.

Indira Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, also tried to shackle the press in the name of “defamation.” Media men raised a united voice and the government had to make a hasty retreat. Let Dasmunshi, Sonia Gandhi and others be not under any illusions. The Broadcasting Bill will be fought at every step and in every part of the country. Public interest has been used as an excuse to destroy the freedom of expression and to disturb the rhythm of vibrant and independent media.

The government came a cropper twice before. It would meet the same fate again if it brings the Broadcasting Bill. The Editors’ Guild of India had convened an urgent meeting to devise a strategy to defeat the Bill. The timely reversal by the government has averted the clash. However, the media is willing to take up the gauntlet thrown down at it.

The media is not opposed to a code of ethics, but a draconian law is not needed to write the code of conduct. It is a voluntary act to which the people in the profession are busy finalising. For that matter, even MPs should adopt a code of ethics. Much of what is happening in the two Houses to the exasperation of the common man will go.

Free media is one of the pillars on which the democratic structure rests. In a free society, the media has a duty to perform without fear or favour. At times, this is unpleasant, but necessary because a free society is founded on free information. The truth is that the media is often more charitable towards authority than it need be. The government should not ask for more.

It is a pity that the Congress-led government like the BJP-led coalition has not allowed the Prasar Bharti board to be autonomous. Dasmunshi wants to dilute its authority still further. What is needed is an autonomous board of professionals and experts to draw the Lakshman rekha and persuade the media not to cross it. But what does one do about Dasmunshi’s authoritarian streak?

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Heartbroken in Srinagar
by Satish K. Sharma

For those who wish to take to golf in the middle age to keep their heart healthy, here is a warning. They say it is like love. If you are not serious you won’t enjoy it. And if you are, it’ll break your heart.

The dangerous temptress that golf is, within a few months you would feel you have mastered it and when some experienced golfer gently reminds you — that is only a beginner’s luck, you would dismiss it as figment born of jealousy. The truth you would realise by and by, but by then, it would be too late.

We were in Srinagar in 2004 — my first visit to Kashmir with family. My wife and daughters wanted to see as many spots as possible in the available time but I wanted to squeeze in a round of golf at the picturesque Royal Springs Golf Course, in our itinerary.

Sensing how keen I was, my wife relented and agreed to accompany me. On reaching there, we learnt that non-players were not allowed to walk on the course. However, on being told that we had come all the way from Gujarat, the staff let my wife and daughters walk with me for a few holes. Losing no time, I bought half a dozen new balls from the pro-shop and hiring a golf-set, teed-off merrily with a caddy in tow.

Being a late convert, I could only think of the game. But ball seemed to have a mind of its own, perhaps affected by the heady ambience. I could keep it steadfast only as much as a man of my age could a young beloved. As I lost much time searching it, I asked my wife to go ahead to see the course.

After some time, I lost sight of them and didn’t know when they returned to the clubhouse.

Nearly two hours into my misery, I was returning towards the ninth green, close to the clubhouse. I took a shot a hundred yards from hole. The ball soared into the air, and then veering off towards the little lake by the greenside, went plop into the water. That was the last straw. I gave up.

Utterly frustrated, I walked down to the gazebo outside the clubhouse where my wife and daughters were having coffee. Seeing me, wife asked why I had not finished the hole. “Damn! I lost all the balls,” I muttered unable to conceal my disappointment.

“Perhaps you should have taken used balls. Aren’t they more steady?” was my wife’s enigmatic comment.

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Time to end disconnect between
cotton growers and industry
by M.S. Swaminathan

Prof R.C. Sobti, a renowned biotechnologist of the region, has taken over as the 11th Vice-Chancellor of Panjab University replacing Prof KN Pathak, who remained the VC for six years.

As a Panjab University syndic and senator, Prof Sobti has been advocating more coordination among university departments, colleges and institutes running similar courses to synergise efforts for the evolution of disciplines.

Prof Sobti has a three-decade association with the university, first as a student and then, as a faculty member, joining as a teaching assistant in the Department of Zoology to establishing the Department of Biotechnology in 1989.

Recipient of the prestigious Young Scientist Award of the Indian National Science Academy for his doctorate work on cancer and genetic disorders, Prof Sobti branched into cell biology and has to his credit today 16 books and over 175 academic papers.

As a scientist you have been deeply involved in high-end cancer research. What are your plans now as the Vice-Chancellor in terms of academics and research?

I have always held that collaborative research bears better results. I intend to facilitate more tie-ups with PGIMER, AIIMS, CSIO, IMTECH and Panjab University’s science departments. Also there is an immediate need for the university to work in partnership with the industry without which high-end science research is doomed.

In order to boost research in the departments, the younger faculty members have to be encouraged. The comforts of a cushy job should not be the aim of those who are entering the university system to teach. We would be taking steps like giving special grants to research projects suggested by the younger lot to stimulate them into research.

Why do you think Panjab University, despite being one of the oldest universities in the country, has not been able to create a brand name for itself like Jawaharlal Nehru University, for example?

Panjab University is one of the best universities in the country and also has tremendous potential. We have set excellence as our aim but how to achieve it is the question now. No doubt, there was a time when departments were known after the names of its faculty members. Stalwarts heading these departments had unflinching command over their subject and were responsible for igniting the same spark among the younger faculty as well as their students.

That phase can be revived. We have some very capable faculty members but they seem to have become disillusioned and hidden themselves while continuing to work arduously for their subject. There is a need to bring their work in the limelight. The biggest challenge before me is to build confidence among the public and the students that this university has great potential.

How do you intend to bring about improvements in the day-to-day functioning of the university?

Enhanced coordination between the faculty and students, in the faculty itself and among the various wings of the administration can sort out a large number of problems that occur in a university system. The closest to my heart is the wish to see teachers interact more with their students.

Whatever I am today is because of the role my teachers have played in my life. Also I believe that though a substantial amount of computerisation has already been done within the university, we need to do more work in that direction. Moreover there is a crying need for improving the working conditions of our teaching and non-teaching staff. As the first among equals, I too intend to keep my ears to the ground regarding the day-to-day activities of the university.

In the past few years, colleges have been showing irreverence towards the university’s authority especially when it comes to affiliation of courses. Do you think the university should accept autonomy of colleges?

The University Grants Commission (UGC) is already working out a system as part of which colleges can be made autonomous. But the colleges which need university affiliation will have to ensure that standards of education are maintained. I have reasons to believe that colleges want autonomy not because they want to get away from the mechanism of checks and balances but because they feel confident that they can run their own system. But I am also aware that the process of granting affiliation is arcane and lengthy and this is what the colleges object to the most. We are introducing some changes in this process.

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Failed trade talks usher in uncertainty
by Paul Blustein

So now it’s official: Global talks to lower trade barriers are ``suspended,’’ perhaps never to resume. Tuesday, leading negotiators continued to fling accusations at each other for the breakdown. But the more profound issue confronting policymakers around the world is whether globalization has been fundamentally redirected, slowed or possibly thrown into reverse.

The talks’ failure raises the prospect of weakening the multilateral system that has governed global commerce for the past six decades, possibly even a splintering into regional blocs. Another potential is an erosion of respect for the World Trade Organization’s authority to settle disputes, increasing the chances that countries will resort to tit-for-tat trade wars that could disrupt the global economy.

Ensuring that economic interconnection would continue to advance was one of the chief reasons for launching the talks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. With fear of disintegration then haunting the globe, the member nations of the WTO meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha sent a powerful signal that they would deepen their mutual ties by starting a new round of multiyear negotiations aimed at reducing tariffs and other trade obstacles.

For all its boldness, the initiative was fraught with risk—and on Monday, those risks loomed menacingly, when WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy called a halt to the talks because trade ministers from the United States and five other major powers were at such loggerheads over the main issues. The upshot could have ``serious systemic implications for multilateral trade,’’ Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, said Tuesday.

Critics of the 149-nation WTO are jubilant, seeing evidence of a backlash to the fast and furious pace at which globalization has proceeded. ``The cause of this collapse is not specific countries’ unwillingness to concede on particular themes, but growing public opposition in poor and rich countries alike to the very WTO model,’’ said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a group founded by Ralph Nader.

Even free-trade enthusiasts see some validity in that interpretation. ``Countries want to liberalize trade, because they recognize the link between open trade and economic growth, but there just isn’t a whole lot of interest right now in the kind of liberalization that binds countries to new rules and new commitments,’’ said Daniel J. Ikenson, a trade specialist at the libertarian Cato Institute. ``Countries want to liberalize at their own pace.’’

It would be misleading to view the problems besetting the Doha talks too apocalyptically. Globalization is not about to stop in its tracks; new forms of cross-border commerce are continuing to proliferate, especially because of the Internet and the fast-growing efficiency of container shipping. ``A lot of globalization goes on outside the world of negotiations and agreements,’’ said Edward Gresser, a trade analyst at the Progressive Policy Institute.

But for the WTO and its multilateral rules, which underpin the system and maintain its stability, the outlook has darkened. That is in part attributable to the success of the WTO and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, in sharply reducing trade barriers since World War II.

Eight rounds of negotiations over the past six decades have slashed tariffs and eliminated quotas in many countries and in many industries such as electronics, automobiles and machinery; the sectors that still have high levels of protection in rich countries are the most politically sensitive, notably agriculture, textiles and apparel. Those are the areas where much of the current haggling has proven so fruitless.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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From the pages of

January 30, 1970

Chandigarh given to Punjab

New Delhi, Jan 29 (U.N.I.) — The Chandigarh Capital Project area will be transferred to Punjab within five years under the Centre’s long-awaited decision on the city’s future announced here today.

Punjab will also get the Punjabi-speaking areas which had been added to the city to form the present Union Territory, while Haryana will get the Hindi-speaking part of Fazilka tehsil in Ferozepur district of Punjab, and the Hindi-speaking areas in the Union Territory.

To provide contiguity between the Fazilka areas and the rest of Haryana a furlong-wide “strip of territory” along the Punjab-Rajasthan border will also be transferred to Haryana.

(According the 1961 Census of India, Fazilka tehsil has 289 villages).

A press communiqué, announcing the decision of the Government, said Haryana would be given Rs 20 crore, half of it as grant and the other half as loan, to build a new capital.

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We two are inseparable. As the river empties itself into the sea, what’s inside me flows within thee.
—Kabir

The man of God rids himself of envy and enmity.
— Guru Nanak

And when you speak, be just, even though it be (against) a relative.
—The Koran

The fear of God keeps the love of him firm
—Guru Nanak

Do not waste food simply because the taste is not to your liking.
—The Upanishadas

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