SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
O P I N I O N S

Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Painkillers, not a cure
Money must be used efficien
tly
In a coordinated action the government and the RBI have lowered the cost of loans, enhanced liquidity and opened the doors for more foreign funds to stimulate growth. Loans for buying cars, computers or houses will get cheaper.

Colombo’s gain
It should not give up search for a political solution
S
ri Lanka’s offensive against the LTTE has entered a decisive phase. After a prolonged fight the Sri Lankan forces recaptured Killinochchi, the town having the LTTE’s administrative headquarters, on Friday. The LTTE had been operating from Killinochchi, 328 km from Colombo, after the terrorist outfit established its control over this district headquarters town 10 years ago.


EARLIER STORIES

Fight against terrorism
January 4, 2009
Warning from Assam
January 3, 2009
LeT’s admission
January 2, 2009
Hasina returns to power
January 1, 2009
Generational change
December 31, 2008
Sonrise
December 30, 2008
Voters’ victory
December 29, 2008
Transformation of polity
December 28, 2008
Abandoned by Pakistan
December 27, 2008
Triumph of democracy
December 26, 2008
Guillotine at work
December 25, 2008


Making law humane
Cr PC amendment to prevent misuse of arrest
T
HE Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2008, passed by Parliament is a step in the right direction meant to stress that the state is not supposed to be inhumane. Even though Parliament passed it, along with eight other Bills, without debate, it is a humane, rational and progressive piece of legislation.
ARTICLE

Public Service Commissions
Look for persons of merit and integrity
by P. P. Rao
T
he recent terrorist attack in Mumbai has given us a rude shock. To combat terrorism, India has to take all possible measures, immediate, short-term and long-term. It is imperative to plug the loopholes in the Constitution and the laws to strengthen the system of governance.

MIDDLE

Disciplining Peitho
by G. K. Gupta
P
eitho, the Greek goddess of seduction, forceful persuasion, elopement and bridal abduction, is in the news.  Mostly she is seen in   the  company of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.  Both   the goddesses were sculpted together on the 5th  century BC frieze  that once decorated the Parthenon and other buildings in Athens.  The frieze suffered repeated damage when the Venetian forces besieging Turkish rulers blew it up.

OPED

50 years of Cuba
Rickety Communist regime has managed to survive
by Leonard Doyle
W
ith a nose ring and a mop of black curls, Gorki is an unhappy child of Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. The punk rocker, who is passing into middle age, sat in his sparsely furnished flat in Havana on Friday contemplating the viciousness of his recent punishment: four years of hard labour for irritating the neighbours by holding band practice at home.

Aviation: victim of greed
by Abhijit Bhattacharyya
A
ccording to Jane’s, of all the world’s aircraft 2008-2009, five airlines of India (Air India/Indian Airlines, Go Air, Indigo, Kingfisher and Jet Airways) collectively have placed order for 433 new Airbus and Boeing aircraft of various capacity worth Rs 131350 crore plus during the last eight years, thereby making India the second most important market for the aircraft manufacturers of the US and Europe.

Chatterati
Mani sings
by Devi Cherian
M
ani Shanker Aiyar has always been a politician with a difference. He proved it once again on his third daughter’s wedding in the capital last week. Mani has three daughters who have got married in the last three years.

 


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EDITORIALS

Painkillers, not a cure
Money must be used efficiently

In a coordinated action the government and the RBI have lowered the cost of loans, enhanced liquidity and opened the doors for more foreign funds to stimulate growth. Loans for buying cars, computers or houses will get cheaper. The boost to housing and infrastructure is aimed at reviving these troubled sectors, which are labour-intensive and benefit cement and steel industries too. It is a second package in less than a month and the last in this financial year. With its own hands tied due to the earlier large financial commitments for subsidies, the staff pay hike and the rural job guarantee scheme, the Centre has turned to states for follow-up support to the slowing economy.

The states, already under fiscal pressure due to pending steep staff wage revision on the Central pattern, have been advised to borrow more up to Rs 30,000 crore from the market for reviving demand. The India Infrastructure Finance Company will raise Rs 30,000 crore extra through bonds offering 8.5 per cent tax-free returns. As bank deposit rates are set to fall, the government-guaranteed bonds will offer an investment opportunity to risk-averse people with surplus cash. Since inflation is coming down, the RBI has signalled banks to reduce interest rates. Another round of rate cut cannot be ruled out at the RBI’s scheduled meeting on January 27. The interest rates are, or close to, zero in countries like the US, Japan and China.

Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia has warned of a difficult year ahead. Despite its relative insulation from the global economy, India is bound to feel the heat of recession in the rich world. “A period of painful adjustment is inevitable”, he cautions. More steps are, therefore, needed to ease the pain. The government need not wait any more to further slash the oil prices. Besides, it is not enough to throw money at housing, infrastructure and other projects. These must be viable and efficiently executed without delays and without sharks — who have proliferated during the last few years in the system — eating away large chunks of money meant to be spent on projects. It calls for close monitoring and improvement in the standards of governance.

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Colombo’s gain
It should not give up search for a political solution

Sri Lanka’s offensive against the LTTE has entered a decisive phase. After a prolonged fight the Sri Lankan forces recaptured Killinochchi, the town having the LTTE’s administrative headquarters, on Friday. The LTTE had been operating from Killinochchi, 328 km from Colombo, after the terrorist outfit established its control over this district headquarters town 10 years ago. It was at Killinochchi where the Norway-brokered talks for a ceasefire were held between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE. The fall of Killinochchi may shatter the morale of the terrorists, who had made life difficult in the island nation in the name of fighting for a separate Tamil homeland.

The LTTE had begun its violent campaign way back in 1983 in an organised manner. All these years it has been getting clandestine support from various quarters, including Sri Lankan Tamils in the West, by highlighting the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. This enabled it to grow into the most dreaded terrorist outfit in the world. However, the fresh military campaign launched against the LTTE after the end of the ceasefire has resulted in the destruction of its bases in the two major eastern districts —- Killinochchi and Mulaithivu. The LTTE cadres who remain alive have only the jungles to hide themselves. Whether they will be able to regroup themselves remains to be seen. The LTTE supremo, Prabhakaran, still remains alive, much to the chagrin of Colombo.

The success in the military operations against the LTTE has certainly emboldened the Sri Lankan government to keep up the pressure on the LTTE. It should, however, not overlook the importance of a political settlement with the Tamil community. Not all Tamils are terrorists. Redressing their grievances will help Sri Lanka deal with the LTTE better and find a lasting solution of the Tamil question. The earlier Colombo finds it the better it will be for Sri Lanka, which needs unity as well as peace. After all, it has remained badly caught in continued violence and disruption for over 25 years.
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Making law humane
Cr PC amendment to prevent misuse of arrest

THE Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2008, passed by Parliament is a step in the right direction meant to stress that the state is not supposed to be inhumane. Even though Parliament passed it, along with eight other Bills, without debate, it is a humane, rational and progressive piece of legislation. It seeks to check the increasing misuse of the power of arrest by the police which is often insensitive and ready to arrest a suspect. Under the new law, for cognisable offences punishable with a maximum imprisonment of less than seven years, the police can arrest a person only on the basis of “credible information” or a “reasonable complaint”. In the absence of this explicit provision in Section 41 of the Cr PC, the police was abusing its power of arrest indiscriminately. All along, before the amendment, on the mere presence of “reasonable suspicion”, the people were being arrested often without warrant. Hereafter, to arrest a person, the police officer concerned must be prima facie satisfied on the basis of available information that he or she is involved in a cognisable and non-bailable offence.

Now that the President has given assent to the Bill, the police will have to exercise its power of arrest with utmost circumspection. If the arrest of a person becomes necessary for reasons such as to prevent him from committing further crimes or tampering with evidence, the police needs to record them in writing. If the reasons are not strong enough to warrant arrest, all that the police can do is to ask him or her to appear before it for proper investigation of the crime. It is the duty of the police to ensure his presence in the police station in the matter of investigation. This provision, recommended many times by the Supreme Court and the Law Commission, is salutary.

While the enforcement of the new law merits a fair trial, doubts may arise among some sections about the amended statute’s possible lenient attitude towards the accused. However, these seem far-fetched because if a person wanted in connection with a crime does not respond to police summons, the police can arrest him by recording the reasons for it. Undoubtedly, the new law has many advantages. It will promote human rights, check congestion in the jails, and reduce the number of undertrials in over-crowded prisons, especially those accused of petty offences.
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Thought for the Day

For now I see/ Peace to corrupt no less than war to waste. — John Milton
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ARTICLE

Public Service Commissions
Look for persons of merit and integrity
by P. P. Rao

The recent terrorist attack in Mumbai has given us a rude shock. To combat terrorism, India has to take all possible measures, immediate, short-term and long-term. It is imperative to plug the loopholes in the Constitution and the laws to strengthen the system of governance. The composition of Public Service Commissions is one area that needs a fresh look. To quote Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly, “the Constitution has placed Public Service Commissions on an independent footing so that they may discharge their duties without being influenced by the executive. One of the things against which we have to guard is that there should be no room as far as it is humanly possible for jobbery, nepotism and favouritism. I think the provisions which we have introduced into our Constitution will be very helpful in this direction.”

Five decades later, dealing with a Public Service Commission chairman, the Supreme Court pointed out that having regard to the “need to observe absolute integrity and impartiality in the exercise of their powers and duties, the chairman and members of the Public Service Commission are required to be selected on the basis of their merit, ability and suitability and they in turn are expected to be models themselves in their functioning”.

It goes without saying that the quality of personnel recruited to public services reflects the quality, calibre and character of members who selected them. It is not just a matter of deep regret, but one of grave concern, that selections made by some State Public Service Commissions, Staff Selection Boards and other recruitment agencies are suspect. Courts have set aside many a tainted selection. Corruption, nepotism, favouritism and political interference in the selection of candidates for public employment are on the increase. They have to be checked.

As pointed out by H.V. Kamath, “A country without an efficient civil service cannot make progress in spite of the earnestness of those people at the helm of affairs in the country. Wherever democratic institutions exist experience has shown that it is essential to protect the public services as far as possible from political or personal influence and to give it that position of stability and security which is vital to its successful working as an impartial and efficient instrument by which the government - of whatever political complexion - may give effect to their policies.”

There is urgent need to eliminate the corrupt and the deadwood, which has outlived its utility, from the system and ensure replacement by the most deserving candidates in terms of qualifications, ability, integrity and suitability.

The proviso to clause (1) of Article 316 of the Constitution dealing with the composition of commissions was drafted on the lines of Section 265 of the Government of India Act, 1935. It only requires that, as nearly as may be, one half of the members of every Public Service Commission shall be persons who, at the dates of their respective appointments, have held office for at least 10 years, either in the Government of India or under the government of a state. The Constitution is silent about the level of office to be held and the qualifications needed for the remaining members. This silence is being exploited by unscrupulous politicians in power to pack the commissions with pliable persons.

In Subhash Chander’s case, the Punjab and Haryana High Court lamented “that the dream of the founding fathers, in creating the State Public Service Commissions as the bulwarks of our Constitution to ensure the independence, integrity and apolitical nature of the Civil Service and to effectuate the constitutional guarantee of equality of opportunity in matters of public employment, now stands wholly soured.” The court noted that no qualifications whatsoever were prescribed for the office of the member or the chairman. A former member of a Public Service Commission had pointed out to the court that even in the case of official members, a matriculate who has served as a clerk in a government office for 10 years becomes eligible for appointment and instances were not lacking where this had indeed been done, whilst for the rest of the members, even a floor level qualification is not laid down. The High Court observed “that often enough, men are picked from amongst the stragglers of the political process and after six years or less of tenure on the commission are left as flotsam and jetsam on the high seas of insecurity.”

It is common knowledge that several selections made by the Punjab Public Service Commission during the tenure of Ravinderpal Singh Sidhu as chairman were cancelled by the appointing authorities after criminal cases were registered against him for corruption following the recovery of Rs16 crore from his and his relatives’ custody. Referring to him, Dalveer Bhandari J. observed: “His clandestine activities and misdeeds reached the pinnacle of disgrace, ignominy, dishonour, degradation and humiliation. Perhaps, no one could have polluted the entire system in a greater measure.”

In his view, “this unfortunate episode teaches us an important lesson that before appointing the constitutional authorities, there should be a thorough and meticulous inquiry and scrutiny regarding their antecedents. Integrity and merit have to be properly considered and evaluated in the appointments to such high positions. The impact of the deeds and misdeeds of the constitutional authorities (who are highly placed) affect a very large number of people for a very long time. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that only people of high integrity, merit, rectitude and honesty are appointed to these constitutional positions.”

The plight of innocent, meritorious and deserving candidates who are not selected can be imagined. Deep frustration and righteous indignation tend to turn some of them into extremists. It is evident that very many bright youngsters, having lost hope of getting selected by the Public Service Commissions and Staff Selection Boards in the country, look out for opportunities abroad. In order to build a strong and united India, it is necessary to arrest brain drain and utilise the precious human resources.

Persons recruited to the police or paramilitary forces on extraneous considerations cannot match terrorists who come well prepared, well equipped, well guided, fully motivated, totally dedicated to their cause and ready to sacrifice their lives. It is high time Parliament in the case of the UPSC, and the state legislatures in the case of State Public Service Commissions prescribe suitable conditions of eligibility for chairmen and members and ensure that only persons of ability, integrity and standing and having adequate knowledge of relevant subjects and long experience in a high, responsible position are appointed to these commissions.

Over the years, several state governments have excluded many posts from the purview of Public Service Commissions and entrusted the selection of candidates to selection boards or committees which function under the executive, contrary to the intention of the framers of the Constitution. Selections made by them do not at all inspire confidence. It is necessary to abolish such selection boards and committees and bring back all the posts within the purview of the Public Service Commissions with enlarged composition and make selections objective and transparent.

It is equally essential to streamline public services at all levels, if need be, by amending Article 311 of the Constitution. In addition to attractive voluntary retirement schemes, a provision for premature retirement of undesirable public servants on payment of some compensation could be a feasible alternative for getting rid of them quickly, instead of initiation of time-consuming criminal prosecutions or disciplinary proceedings. Speed is the essence of any cleansing operation.
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MIDDLE

Disciplining Peitho
by G. K. Gupta

Peitho, the Greek goddess of seduction, forceful persuasion, elopement and bridal abduction, is in the news.  Mostly she is seen in   the  company of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.  Both   the goddesses were sculpted together on the 5th  century BC frieze  that once decorated the Parthenon and other buildings in Athens.  The frieze suffered repeated damage when the Venetian forces besieging Turkish rulers blew it up.

Lord Elgin  was the British ambassador to Greece when it was  under the Ottoman rule. Obtaining permission from the Turkish authorities, he removed about half of the structures and shipped them over to      Britain for the British Museum. But he was careful to keep away from the infamous statue of Peitho which was embedded in  the rubble.

Britain’s pre-Victorian period was already rife with mounting    cases of divorce, elopement, abduction and cuckoldry and by sending  Peitho,   he did not want to add to the misery of the people.  But the British consul in Italy thought otherwise.  Having no such compunctions in this regard, he  acquired the statue of  Peitho.  Soon after it was carried   to Sicily where the crafty goddess was  honoured with a temple.

Now the Greek government has been demanding the return of   Elgin Marbles which  is keeping the British and the Greek in locked   horns.   However, Italy has agreed to return the statue   of  Peitho to Greece.  This Italian generosity is veiled in mystery.  Perhaps it is aimed to give a romantic angle to the raging cultural controversy  or  by setting this example the Italians hope to  get back their Mona Lisa from Louvre   in Paris.   

Our own Ministry of Culture is considering swapping some cultural treasures from the museums in India with similar artefacts from abroad. What better way to start the process than to opt for Peitho in exchange  for an erotic frieze from  Konarak or Khajuraho?  

True, at first,  the cheeky Peitho will chuckle to see India rampant with divorces,  rapes and marital discords so dear to her heart.  But before long she will be confused and bewildered to see 2000 marriages getting solemnised in a day as it happened in Delhi recently.        

Thousands of couples taking marriage vows amid  continuous chant of vedic mantras would be jarring to her ears.  The steps  of so many  couples walking around the nuptial fire with their garments knotted together would  have a chastening effect on the mischievous  goddess. 

The holy smoke of burning mango wood, ghee and aromatic herbs in the Havan Kunds would discipline the wayward prankster and   she will join the sobbing bridal folks in  the reverberating Bidaai song, Babul ki duaayen letee ja,  ja tujhko sukhi sansar miley.....
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OPED

50 years of Cuba
Rickety Communist regime has managed to survive

by Leonard Doyle

With a nose ring and a mop of black curls, Gorki is an unhappy child of Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. The punk rocker, who is passing into middle age, sat in his sparsely furnished flat in Havana on Friday contemplating the viciousness of his recent punishment: four years of hard labour for irritating the neighbours by holding band practice at home.

Gorki, who has been released on probation, is a model of good behaviour. His flat is bare boards and unadorned. There are no instruments around and the ashtrays are overflowing. The single couch is ripped at every seam.

He tips back and forth on a wooden rocker, trying to make sense of his predicament: as an enemy of the Revolution he is now forbidden from performing in public. The 40-year-old musician mimes with an air guitar how he and the band practice as silently as possible. “I am being slowly suffocated by this regime,” he says with a look of desperate hopelessness.

A four-year jail sentence was lifted after a global outcry in August. But the threat of prison still hangs over him. “Cuba is just like Alice in Wonderland,” Gorki says. “Everything is upside down, nothing makes sense. I’m not into politics but my songs are deemed politically incorrect and I get sentenced for practising! Its absurd.”

He survives as a silkscreen artist making rock band tribute T-shirts.

As he described his predicament, on his flickering television set play scenes from an invitation-only birthday party honouring the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. On the screen, Raul Castro, 77, the author of Gorki’s misfortunes, intoned that many difficulties and much work lay ahead in the never-ending Revolution.

“There are many positive things, but at the same time there are new problems that we have to confront. We haven’t had peace, we haven’t had tranquillity,” he told the assembled party apparatchiks. Later on Friday night, Castro spoke from the balcony in Santiago de Cuba where his brother, Fidel, declared victory over the ousted Batista dictatorship on 2 January 1959.

Gorki snorts in derision.

Havana woke from a night of New Year celebrations without much of a hangover. There was a brief flurry of fireworks as midnight struck and sound trucks dashed around the city extolling the virtues of the Communist Party. Most families gathered for loud celebrations in their apartments but ignored the official events.

In the heart of Old Havana the fastest way from Ernest Hemingway’s favourite hotel to La Floridita, the bar where he took his sundowners, is up the cobbled Avenida de Obispo. It is where tourists and Cubans rub shoulders and a good place to see the apartheid system that has grown up in 50 years of Communism.

The Communist state survives, nonetheless. Poor as they are, Cubans are among the best educated and healthiest in the world. Life expectancy is almost as high as in the United States, 76 years for men and 80 for women. In its near neighbour Haiti, by contrast, people die 20 years younger on average.

Raul Castro, now 77, is in charge and as dour a Stalinist technocrat as can be found. He has little of his ailing older brother Fidel’s strategic vision and none of his genius for publicity. And now, his Communist regime faces a time of great peril.

Three hurricanes ravaged large parts of Cuba last year and the hard currency that pours into the regimes coffers from tourism is sharply down. For decades, Cuba could blame its problems on the bellicose US and the American trade embargo, in place since 1961.

But with Barack Obama heading to the White House and extending a hand of friendship to the Cuban people, the regime finds itself on boggy ground as it tries to whip up anti-American sentiment.

When Raul Castro formally took over in Cuba in February, he was hailed as a pragmatist who would relax the Communist Party’s grip. There was a flurry of excitement when he allowed Cubans to buy mobile phones. But the call tariffs, at $1 a minute, are among the most expensive in the world. He also ended the ban on Cubans staying in hotels, another meaningless gesture.

A night in the Hotel Riviera, where the mobster Meyer Lanksy held sway in the Fifties, costs the equivalent of several months salary. Yet as masterful as Fidel Castro was at uniting Cubans against Washington’s predatory plotting, Raul has none of his flair. His expertise instead is instilling fear.

Raul’s purges of the military have worked spectacularly well. There has never been a coup attempt, never a mutiny or even a barracks revolt in the regime’s 50 years of existence.

One of Raul’s most scathing critics inside the country is Yoani Sanchez, 33, who is Cuba’s best-known blogger. She openly describes the regime as “scientific repression”. Her ironic blogs are popular outside Cuba. Inside the country they are blocked.

Inside her flat, Ms Sanchez keeps up her searing attacks on the regime: “They don’t have to kill us with bullets any more, these days the regime uses a more scientific method of killing us as citizens,” she says. “The regime understands it’s not necessary to kill us physically. All the Cuban citizens are already dead. We police ourselves and censor everything we say before we open our mouths, we are dead men walking.”

Words like those would be enough to earn Ms Sanchez a 20-year jail sentence but she feels protected, thanks to the internet. She is often asked why she is allowed to stay free while so many others rot in Raul Castro’s jails. “The security services are well aware that if they so much as lay a hand on me, the internet will explode,” she says. “They will have an even bigger problem on their hands then.”

Ms Sanchez’s dispatches are translated into 12 languages and available at desdecuba.com/generationy. When she was awarded Spain’s prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize for online journalism this year, the regime refused her permission to travel to pick up her award.

She describes the personal internal Gulag that Cubans have learnt to construct inside their heads to survive under Communism. “We censor ourselves much more effectively than the regime ever could,” she says. “We even police our brains before we even utter an idea.”

The name Barack Obama pops up in almost every conversation around Havana these days. His charm and easy smile already herald an end to decades of sabre-rattling between Washington and Havana. Mr Obama may be able to disarm the current Cuban regime without another shot being fired in anger.

Mr Obama took a risk on Cuba in the campaign by calling for “a new strategy” to improve the lives of Cubans. Two immediate changes are expected as soon as he takes office – the lifting of all travel restrictions for Cubans to visit their families and raising the limit on financial transfers from the current $300 every four months.

Cuba will not be Mr Obama’s top priority in office but it may be the first test of his promise to engage in “direct diplomacy” with America’s enemies. If direct talks take place he will be the first US president to engage directly with Cuba since 1961.

Optimists are already building scenarios in which the 75 political prisoners in Cuba’s jails are released in return for US concessions, followed by the return of Guantanamo as the US rids itself of the infamous 45 acres, which have only brought it ignominy in recent years. — By arrangement with The Independent
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Aviation: victim of greed
by Abhijit Bhattacharyya

According to Jane’s, of all the world’s aircraft 2008-2009, five airlines of India (Air India/Indian Airlines, Go Air, Indigo, Kingfisher and Jet Airways) collectively have placed order for 433 new Airbus and Boeing aircraft of various capacity worth Rs 131350 crore plus during the last eight years, thereby making India the second most important market for the aircraft manufacturers of the US and Europe.

All of a sudden, it was raining money for the foreign aircraft makers, booming bankers banking on new clients from a third world “developing” India and “party time” for the promoters and CEOs from the Orient at the chalets and stalls of Le Bourget (Paris) and Farnborough (UK) air shows. With more than 20 per cent growth in traffic, liberal banking credit, bustling stock market and fast paced government clearance, one suddenly thought Indian civil aviation to be on an uninterrupted long overdrive.

However, soon the bubble burst in the Indian civil aviation market. Suddenly, the private carriers appeared incapable of learning lessons of the mismanagement and over-spending leading to the premature demise of Modiluft, East-West, City Airlink, Damania and NEPC in the 1990s. Some of them also appeared nonchalant and oblivious to the fact that the latest victims of financial mismanagement, owing to “living beyond one’s means,” were the Sahara and Deccan who completely lost their identity as Jet and Kingfisher consumed them with glee.

Nevertheless, the results of reckless “route expansion” and mindless purchase of new aircraft had to hit those who banked heavily on wrong financial advisers and over-ambitious operational managers to establish their authority and endear their credentials to the promoters of virtual cartel, bordering on monopoly of the Indian air traffic market.

It simply became a case of unbridled greed and over-ambition and undercutting of the state carriers with the help of the very people who may have camouflaged their twin stakes of “cash” and “cashing on” in the garb of “public-private partnership” slogan.

Clearly, if an aircraft burns fuel 50 minutes for doing nothing and 95 minutes for flying Delhi–Mumbai sector, its balance-sheet has to be red. On October 10, IC-809, an Airbus-321(VT-PPA), took off from Mumbai’s runway 27 (East to West) in 34 seconds the flight took an hour and 40 minutes (8.30 am — 10.10 am) to cover Mumbai–Delhi with a Mach .79 speed (i.e. 850 km per hour) and landed Delhi’s new (third) runway 29-11 at 264 kmph. However, significantly, it took 30 minutes from the final security clearance to boarding the Mumbai aircraft at the remote bay number 60 which is virtually at the Shivaji airport’s international wing.

Similarly, after Delhi touchdown at runway 29-11 it took 27 minutes to get out of the aircraft and 45 minutes to get the baggage. The Mumbai-Delhi flight in 2008 reminds one of the Howrah-Danapur Fast Passenger (HDFP) experience of 1968. Crowd, chaos, commotion, confusion and a virtual cracking of a rickety system owing to thoughtless action and mindless motion.

One saw it again in October. Bangalore-Mumbai flight IC-108, an Airbus-321(VT-PPA), with a take off weight of 63.6 tonnes, lifted off the runway 27-09 in 32 seconds and covered the distance to Mumbai in an hour and 12 minutes (8.01 pm – 9.13 pm). Flying at an altitude of 34000 ft (i.e. 10400 metre) at Mach speed .80 (i.e. 880 kmph) the aircraft got the remote parking bay 93 despite the availability of aerobridge and the parking of several private airline aircraft near the domestic terminal. Being a government airline, perhaps Air India does not fit into the commercial city of private entrepreneurs’ scheme of things. Hence, the passengers of the “Sarkari” carrier could afford to wait and waste a few more minutes owing to the conspicuous absence of marshals and engineering staff at the parking bay and the bus to terminal encircling the subsidiary 14-32 runway in 20 minutes.

The two real-life scenarios reflect the dipping plight of aviation in India today. Indian aviation is “shining”, no doubt. How else was 433 aircraft ordered by five carriers? But aircraft cost cash. Who is paying for it? Understandably, the banks. But the banks charge interest. That would escalate the debt–liquidity ratio. Hence, the passenger load factor has to be high for return of the investment. Unfortunately, however, that is not happening because the private carriers managed to extract all the concessions from the Government of India on the plea of high fuel cost but would not spare a single farthing to the tax-paying public and passengers even when the price of aviation turbine fuel crashes.

Thus, some private carriers are too keen to expand and diversify their ground activity to an exorbitant racing car business thereby cutting corners from their aviation profit. The British Airways is now scouting the Indian market by striking a franchise agreement with Go Air which would allow the London carrier to extend its network within India without having to make any investment.
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Chatterati
Mani sings
by Devi Cherian

Mani Shanker Aiyar has always been a politician with a difference. He proved it once again on his third daughter’s wedding in the capital last week. Mani has three daughters who have got married in the last three years.

This wedding being of the youngest daughter, Mani turned emotional, bidding farewell to her. At a lunch hosted by him where only close friends gathered, Mani sang for his three daughters. His whole family joined him on the stage.

The audience included Shiela Dikshit and Rahul Gandhi. During his second song the Vice-President of India, his old diplomatic colleague, walked in and went straight to the stage to hug Mani. Protocol went berserk. But with Mani it’s expected.

A welcome change from other political wedding receptions. He had a place for all to dance with their special DJ and music. And, of course, he himself danced the most.

A bright sunny winter afternoon for all to mix and socialise. The food was mouth-watering right from Amritsari tikkas to the best of south Indian dishes.

‘Azad’ now

Ghulam Nabi Azad is a relaxed man once again after making sure that the young Omar Abdullah heads the coalition in J & K. The Congress veteran can now play a major role in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress party is in dire need of organisers and experienced leaders. He was the blue-eyed boy of Indira Gandhi and then the right hand of Rajiv Gandhi. He has always managed to deliver.

Even now in the J & K elections he delivered a result with his day and night slogging and development work of two and a half years as the Chief Minister.

Ghulam Nabi does not visit his own constituency but manages to make all his opponents lose their deposits. Remarkable! With experience and deliverance being in short supply at the party headquarters, Ghulam Nabi’s return is eagerly awaited by Rahul Gandhi’s team.

Omar Abdullah, who has tough times ahead with an opposition of a large number of BJP legislators and an immense nuisance value of the PDP, is going to need all the Congress support possible.

BJP money

People in the capital are shocked at the weird news of the theft in the BJP headquarters. The BJP had hardly got over its defeat in Delhi and Rajasthan when this theft of nearly three crore rupees in its own office surfaced. It is almost the same amount that was noted in Parliament in the cash-for-vote scandal.

They are busy blaming one group or the other. No locks were broken. Private detectives are all over their office now. Not cops! No F.I.R. Leaders are suspicious about their opponents. The treasurer does not know what has hit him with fingers pointing at him.

The savvy spokespersons are shy of speaking of the theft. Bad days for the BJP.

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