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EDITORIALS

More open to FDI
India needs to tread carefully

A
t
the fag end of its term, the UPA government is rushing ahead with reforms, hitherto held up by its former Left allies. The Left had stoutly opposed the opening up of certain sectors such as insurance, media, defence production, banking and multi-product retail to foreign direct investment.

Uncertainty in Israel 
Setback for peace-seekers

I
sraelis
want peace more than any other thing today, but the just-concluded parliamentary (Knesset) elections there have thrown up a hung House. As a result, those opposed to any dialogue with the Palestinians are now in a better bargaining position. 


EARLIER STORIES

Pitfalls of democracy
February 15, 2009
One step forward
February 14, 2009
Amarinder’s expulsion
February 13, 2009
Violence in the House
February 12, 2009
Deaths in custody
February 11, 2009
BJP in two minds
February 10, 2009
Nuke Khan is set free
February 9, 2009
To handcuff or not
February 8, 2009
Vanishing jobs
February 7, 2009
Resignation as a farce
February 6, 2009
Shorter the better
February 5, 2009
Trouble in EC
February 4, 2009
Terror networks intact
February 3, 2009


Sop opera
Haryana liberal with giveaways
I
T is rare for a chief minister to shower concessions on the day his finance minister presents the budget. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda did exactly that on Friday, announcing Rs 700 crore worth of incentives for various sections of society, while Finance Minister Birender Singh unveiled a Rs 1,500-crore stimulus in his budget.
ARTICLE

Pakistan under pressure
Containing jihadis a complex task
by K. Subrahmanyam
T
HE continuous flow of flip-flop statements from Pakistan over the last one month on the Mumbai terroristc attack finally ended in the somewhat unexpected announcement of admission that the plot for the attack was at least partially hatched in Pakistan by many of Pakistani citizenship, and most of the facts in the Indian dossier were unchallengeable.

MIDDLE

The chatelaine
by Raj Chatterjee
I
T was quiet. The shadows on the clipped lawn lay long and still and the air was heavy with the scent of jasmine. The house that stood at the end of the gravelled drive was solidly built, and in spite of the large number of window’s it bore no resemblance to the inverted shoe boxes of today in which the small quantity of actual masonry looks like strips of adhesive tape designed merely to support the window frames.

OPED

Life in the war zone
Lanka civilians caught in crossfire
by Emily Wax

T
rying
to quiet her crying infant son, the young mother grabbed her 11-year-old’s hand and told him to follow her. Starting out at dusk, they spent hours hiding in the jungle terrain, crouching amid the crossfire between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels.

High social cost of Renuka project
by Manshi Asher
T
HE Renuka dam project, to be set up by the Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation limited in Sirmaur district, has been in the news for more than a decade. The project has been a pipe dream, literally and figuratively, for the government of Himachal Pradesh, which hopes to generate 40 MW of power from the scheme and for the Delhi Government, which hopes to quench the thirst of the water-guzzling capital of the country by transporting 23 cusecs of water from the Giri Ganga nine months a year.

Chatterati
by Devi Cherian

  • Youth to the fore

  • Priyanka’s gesture

  • Dynastic politics



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More open to FDI
India needs to tread carefully

At the fag end of its term, the UPA government is rushing ahead with reforms, hitherto held up by its former Left allies. The Left had stoutly opposed the opening up of certain sectors such as insurance, media, defence production, banking and multi-product retail to foreign direct investment. On Wednesday the government eased the FDI guidelines, which led CPM leader Sitaram Yechury to decry them for allowing “back-door entry” to foreign investment beyond the ceiling in restricted sectors. Though insurance remains out of bounds for FDI, requiring a parliamentary nod, the rest of the sectors are open on the condition that FDI has to be routed through companies owned and controlled by Indians.

Now if a foreign company partners with an Indian firm having 49 per cent and 51 per cent equity participation, respectively, a downstream subsidiary of this firm can invest in any sector barring insurance and the investment will not be treated as FDI. The government has removed confusion in some areas and created it anew in others. For instance, if a foreign company has a controlling stake of 49 per cent in a firm and the rest of its equity is held by two or more Indians, would it be Indian-owned or a foreign company? One will have to wait for the fine print to see what constitutes “ownership” and “control”.

It is one thing to open the door to greater foreign investment and quite another for FDI to flow in, especially in a difficult economic environment where investible capital is no longer easily available. Though the controversial measure may raise a political storm in Parliament, going by the initial reaction of the Left, there may not be any immediate foreign response to the opening of the FDI gates. Besides, in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown, one has to be careful about throwing open sensitive areas like banks to FDI. At least, a debate is called for in Parliament and the media. 

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Uncertainty in Israel 
Setback for peace-seekers

Israelis want peace more than any other thing today, but the just-concluded parliamentary (Knesset) elections there have thrown up a hung House. As a result, those opposed to any dialogue with the Palestinians are now in a better bargaining position. The liberal Kadima party, led by Ms Tzipi Livni, has emerged as the biggest group with 28 seats in the 120-member House. But very few parties are willing to form a coalition government under Ms Livni’s leadership. The only group that can be expected to make common cause with the Kadima is former Prime Minister Yehud Barak’s Labour Party with its 13 members. This, however, cannot help the Kadima leader to manage the support of 61 members, needed to run the government.

Mr Benjamin Netanyahu of the conservative Likud, leader of the second largest party having 27 seats, is better placed to become the next Prime Minister. He can manage to weave a coalition of the rightist parties, which have together captured 65 seats. Mr Avigdor Lieberman, hardliner head of the Yisrael Beitenu, which got 15 seats, is ready to play the role of the kingmaker. Mr Netanyahu, however, must be aware of the fact that taking along a motley crowd of those subscribing to extremist ideologies will not be easy for him. That is why he has offered Ms Livni to agree to join a government led by him and help end the political crisis in Israel.

If Mr Netanyahu heads a government supported by extremists he cannot be expected to push forward the revival of the stalled peace process. Those who want to prevent the rightist forces from controlling the government are working on the idea of a broad national government dividing the Prime Minister’s four-year term between the Kadima and the Likud. Only such an arrangement can help ease the heightened tension in the wake of the Israeli action in the Gaza Strip. The US may possibly be working quietly for a Kadima-Likud coalition with the support of a few others so that President Barack Obama has the advantage of a more amenable government to tilt the balance towards peace in West Asia.

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Sop opera
Haryana liberal with giveaways

IT is rare for a chief minister to shower concessions on the day his finance minister presents the budget. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda did exactly that on Friday, announcing Rs 700 crore worth of incentives for various sections of society, while Finance Minister Birender Singh unveiled a Rs 1,500-crore stimulus in his budget. Strangely, the budget made no provision for the Chief Minister’s bonanza. The Finance Minister was quick to reassure journalists that he was not kept in the dark and that “we will find resources”.

Agreed, Haryana is not in dire financial straits like its neighbour, Punjab, but the gloomy economic situation does not warrant such unplanned use of state resources, especially for furtherance of the ruling party’s fortunes in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. There is no harm if a revenue-surplus state turns revenue-deficit, but the additional spending must be on creating productive assets, increasing employment or helping the distressed. The state gets much of its revenue from automobile and manufacturing industries, which are in a downturn. The economic stimulus in this context is welcome, especially when the Centre’s hands are tied by a cash crunch. However, the finance minister has earmarked only Rs 625 crore in the 2009-10 budget and will have to arrange Rs 875 crore more next year.

Haryana reaps the benefits of its proximity to Delhi. It has pockets of prosperity, while large parts beyond G.T. Road are backward where people lack basic amenities. There is an acute scarcity of potable water, and power supply is erratic. Power reforms have been suspended mid-way. The quality of education and health services is so poor that in an emergency patients rush to either Chandigarh or Delhi. The leadership must remember that good governance, too, attracts votes and the budget need not always be a sop opera. 

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Thought for the Day

Beware of the man who does not return your blow: he neither forgives you nor allows you to forgive yourself. — George Bernard Shaw

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Pakistan under pressure
Containing jihadis a complex task
by K. Subrahmanyam

THE continuous flow of flip-flop statements from Pakistan over the last one month on the Mumbai terroristc attack finally ended in the somewhat unexpected announcement of admission that the plot for the attack was at least partially hatched in Pakistan by many of Pakistani citizenship, and most of the facts in the Indian dossier were unchallengeable. Some statements, which came along with this basic admission, were bizarre and could be ignored. Internet facilities spread over a number of countries being used or equipment being purchased from a number of countries do not necessarily make the conspiracy an international one.

There is silence on the training of the terrorists and their ideological affiliations. Pakistan has understandably a number of queries for India --- 30 in number. This was also to be expected. Historically speaking, only one country, Libya, after some 12 years of intense international pressure had to concede that the Lockerbie airliner explosion might have been carried out by two of its citizens and handed them over for trial to the country where the explosion took place --- Scotland. A bit of territory in the Netherlands was temporarily used, and the two Libyans were tried there by Scottish judges under the Scottish law.

This development needs to be reminded to the rest of the world at this time because even British Foreign Secretary Miliband and the Indian journalists who quizzed him on the issue of venue of trial for the Mumbai terrorist outrage overlooked this precedent.

In spite of all its shortcomings and justified pressure on Pakistan to follow up on their initial findings to its logical conclusion, there is no denying that the Pakistani admission that its citizens using its territory committed the terrorist aggression against India is a break from the past which was one of blank denial. That this admission did not come about easily but happened after a long internal struggle can be inferred from the number of disinformation statements which appeared regularly in the Pakistani media since January 5 when the Indian dossier was handed over to them. It was alleged that conspiracy was not hatched on Pakistani soil, but in Europe and other countries. Ajmal Qasab’s citizenship was denied even after local and foreign media had exposed it. Why, after all those attempts, did Pakistan come out with a clear admission on the issue?

On February 11 President Barack Obama put in his first telephone call to President Asif Zardari and, according to Pakistani official sources, discussed the war on terrorism. One Pakistani paper, has speculated on the unusual call of the US President to Mr Zardari even as his Special Representative Richard Holbrooke was in Islamabad. Though the Pakistani paper had not gone beyond raising the issue, it is a legitimate line of speculation whether the presidential call was the result of the Special Representative reporting that he had reached a dead end in persuading the Pakistanis to accept the conclusions reached by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) team which visited Pakistan after completing its investigations in India with full cooperation of Indian agencies.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi publicly gloated over his assertion that the issue of 26/11 had not even been raised by Mr Holbrooke in his discussions with him. It is obvious that till the admission of Pakistanis conspiring on Pakistani soil was revealed by Interior Minister Rehman Malik, significant sections of the Pakistani establishment were in total denial mode. Earlier, there was speculation of a rift between President Zardari, heading the pragmatists, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, leading the hardliners, and that resulting in the sacking of National Security Adviser Mohammed Durrani, who belonged to the Zardari camp.

The two camps appear to be divided on the approach to the future development of Pakistan and its policy towards India. The camp supporting the Army, an expansionist foreign policy with Afghanistan as strategic depth, a nuclear Pakistan as the leader of the Islamic world and bleeding India through a thousand cuts hopes to continue with the past strategy. They are of the view that US needs them to fight the Afghan war and they can continue to take the US for a ride as Gen Pervez Musharraf did during the last seven years.

The other camp is more realistic about the changes in US perceptions and the US readiness to go ahead without Pakistani help if necessary. Washington is also aware that Pakistani dependence on the US is too much to permit the Pakistani hardliners to continue with their past policy. The hardliners have been lying to their own populations about their dependence. While the Pakistan government issues formal statements condemning the US drone attacks, they have not told their people that the Pakistan government has permitted the drones to operate from Pakistani bases. They have not told their people that Pakistan needs another $4.6 billion loan and in spite of their boasts of China’s friendship and China having $1.9 trillion surplus, they have to approach the International Monetary Fund.

In his latest testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the US Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, has said, “Pakistan’s law and order situation is dismal, affecting even Pakistani elites, and violence between various sectarian, ethnic and other groups threatens to escalate”. He stressed that no improvement in the security of Afghanistan is possible without progress in the control of the Pakistani border areas and improving governance.

Mr Zardari and his supporters realise that the war is no longer an American war but one for the survival of Pakistan. It is no longer possible for the Pakistan Army and the hardliners to continue to blackmail Washington on the basis of the US need for Pakistan. In these circumstances the Pakistani Army and hardliners have played their last card, threat of nuclear proliferation to the state and non-state actors. That is the message they have sent through the total repudiation of A.Q. Khan’s responsibility for past proliferation.

In such circumstances, India and the US have to collaborate to formulate a strategy to support the pragmatists in Pakistan and contain the Army and the jihadi hardliners. One must expect the jihadis and their supporters in Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence wing to attempt to provoke India in various ways, including acts of terrorism. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Muellen has pointed out that the Pakistan Army and the ISI function in a delegated framework to enable them to have plausible deniability.

The containment of Pakistni jihadis is an exceedingly complex task. It cannot be successfully pursued unless the US security establishment at middle levels changes its mindset and works with India as a strategic partner in this war against religious extremism. Their past cronyism vis-à-vis the Pakistan Army enabled Islamabad to acquire nuclear weapons and condition large sections of their population towards jihadism. The Holbrooke visit provides an opportunity for the Indian side to assess how far the Obama administration has moved towards coming to grips with the realities in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.

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The chatelaine
by Raj Chatterjee

IT was quiet. The shadows on the clipped lawn lay long and still and the air was heavy with the scent of jasmine.

The house that stood at the end of the gravelled drive was solidly built, and in spite of the large number of window’s it bore no resemblance to the inverted shoe boxes of today in which the small quantity of actual masonry looks like strips of adhesive tape designed merely to support the window frames.

I pressed the bell. A bearded servant appeared looking as if he had stepped out of the books written about India by Kipling and E.M. Forster. He wore spotlessly white salwars, an achkan and a turban with a starched end. He salammed me respectfully and motioned me to a chair. He switched on the ceiling fan and asked me if I would like a cold drink which I politely declined. His mistress, he said, was expecting me and would be with me presently.

And then the lady of the house came out followed by a black labrador whose shining coat told me that much care had been taken on him by his mistress. She must have been in her seventees but she walked a firm step. Her head was a snowy white but her wrinkled face had not lost its serene beauty.

“You have come in answer to my advertisement,” she said when we had both sat down. “Well here’s my dog. He’s nearly 10 years old, as I said in the advertisement he has been my closest companion since my husband died five years ago. I would have had him put away but I haven’t the heart to do so. I’m looking for someone who will be kind to him in the last few years of his life. Yours was the only offer I received. People must have been put off by his age.”

I patted the dog’s head and he licked my hand. I asked the lady why she was giving him away.

“I am going away,” she said. “And perhaps for a long time and I have no children to whom I could hand over the dog.”

I said that my wife and I would do our utmost to provide a happy home for her pet. It was arranged that I should pick him up in 10 days’ time.

When I went there again the place had a forlorn look. No doors or windows were open, but when I rang the old retainer came out and salammed me as he had done before. His face, I noticed, bore a look of infinite sadness.

Before I could open my mouth he said that his mistress had died in her sleep just a couple of days after I had seen her. Completely taken aback, I asked him about the dog.

“He died too,” said the man. “He kept howling and didn’t touch his food for three days. On the fourth day I found him lying dead on his cot in the memsahib’s room.

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Life in the war zone
Lanka civilians caught in crossfire
by Emily Wax

Trying to quiet her crying infant son, the young mother grabbed her 11-year-old’s hand and told him to follow her. Starting out at dusk, they spent hours hiding in the jungle terrain, crouching amid the crossfire between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Like thousands of other civilians stuck in the epicenter of the seemingly final battles of this civil war, Sashi Kumari Selvarajha’s family was struggling to flee through marshlands and across the front lines, hoping for safety, she said through tears. But just as they crossed the line, she said, rebel forces open fire.

“We started running on Monday night. But we didn’t think it was safe. So we stopped to sleep in the jungle. As the sun rose, we fled. But my husband and mother-in-law got killed,” said a distraught Selvarajha, 31, as she unloaded her bags at a crowded camp for the war-displaced in government-held Vavuniya District, where 2,000 haggard and dehydrated civilians arrived Wednesday. “I’m never going back to that place.”

Hers is a rare firsthand account of the harrowing flight of thousands of civilians to this heavily fortified frontier town. It came as the Sri Lankan army said it would end a largely ineffective “safe zone,” which health officials and diplomats said had been shelled by both sides. Instead, troops would set up a new safe zone on a 7.5-mile-long strip of land on the northeastern coast where civilians were already seeking refuge, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said Thursday.

Most civilians who flee the fighting are put into military-run camps that officially do not allow outsiders. Stone-faced and red-eyed relatives line up behind sandbags, coils of barbed wire and machine-gun nests as soldiers check their identity papers before they can find missing loved ones.

A brother and sister stood weeping inside the camp and told how their 41-year-old father was shot dead when they attempted to cross into government-held areas. Their mother and sister are fighting for their lives in Vavuniya’s hospital.

“We lost our father. We lost everything,” said Rasendran Nitha, 17, who huddled with her brother, Rasendran Radanraj, 20. “We don’t know what to do. We desperately need peace in Sri Lanka.”

As the army continues its offensive to end the 25-year-long rebel war, the Sri Lankan government has come under increasing international pressure to halt its offensive and allow an estimated 250,000 civilians trapped in the northern Wanni region safe passage.

The government has refused and says the number of trapped civilians is lower. It argues that the Tigers, known for their frequent use of suicide bombers, are using civilians as human shields, a claim that rebels deny but that diplomats and human rights workers here agree is taking place.

Letting up on the fighting would allow the rebels to escape along with the displaced, President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government has said. The United States has labeled the Tigers a terrorist group. The government says tens of thousands of civilians have fled the ever-shrinking coastal strip controlled by the Tigers, now estimated at less than 61 square miles.

Here in Vavuniya, many traumatized civilians said the past few weeks of fighting have left them confused about where to find safety. John Manni, 38, spent a harrowing Monday trying to decide on which side to stay in Vallipunam, a forested area between the army and rebel lines. He believed the government side would be safest, but as his family crossed over the front lines, his 12-year-old niece, two uncles and an aunt were killed. He isn’t sure who did the firing.

“Army said to come to their side. The LTTE said to stay with them,” said Manni, using the abbreviation for the rebel group’s official name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. “We thought we should come to army side. Then someone fired on us. We had to leave the bodies so we could run away. There were so many bodies lying in the jungle.”

The government has largely sealed off the war zone to journalists, so reports have been impossible to verify. The refugee camps have also been closed to journalists, although in recent days more aid workers and visitors have been given short periods of access.

The Tamil Tigers accuse the government of waging a genocide against ethnic Tamils — who make up about 18 percent of the island nation’s population of 21 million people — in the north and east of the country. They say the international community should be aware of the “false propaganda of the Sri Lankan state,” according to Tamil Net.

“People wander from place to place seeking refuge and are forced to lead a life worse than animals in the marsh and jungles,” the LTTE’s political division said in a statement. “They are being shot.”

Several diplomatic sources in Colombo said the Tamil Tigers have prevented civilians from leaving for three reasons. First, the civilians act as a human shield for the rebels. Also, they are a potential pool of conscripts and the rebel group’s only real hope of survival now that large numbers of their own people have been killed. Finally, the civilian suffering could embolden the Tamil diaspora and others to force a cease-fire on the government.

The conflict has also raised a problem for those trying to help fleeing civilians, international aid workers in Vavuniya said. Some in the government worry that rebels are mixing among the civilian population.

The Tamil Tiger rebels are accused of forcibly recruiting at least one member of each family in their de facto state in the north, which until recently occupied 5,600 square miles of land. Those entering one of five camps in Vavuniya go through a series of screenings to make sure they are not fighters for the rebel group, aid workers running the camps said.

But checkpoints have become dangerous. On Monday, a female suicide bomber blew herself up and killed 30 people while pretending to be a refugee.

At the same time, aid workers and some Tamil activists are concerned about government plans to create long-term “welfare villages,” where civil war refugees would live for up to three years. The government has said it needs that much time so troops could clear mines and finish fighting, but experts warn of alienating an already fearful Tamil population.

“Yes, we have a problem since the population has for so long been under the Tigers. But Sri Lanka also has a real opportunity here to reach out to the Tamils in the camps and not turn them into cages,” said Kumar Rupasinghe, chairman of the Foundation for Co-Existence in Colombo. “We urge the government to ensure that people are resettled quickly and given a good livelihood. Otherwise they will be angry and dependent on aid. It could ... increase ethnic tensions.”

From this town, where Sri Lankan flags fly from every shop and armored personnel carriers are driven through the main shopping district, civilians said they were too exhausted and terrified to move.

In Vavuniya, soldiers jump in and out of auto-rickshaws, machine guns in hand. Many families in surrounding villages have become members of the patriotic civilian paramilitary force, armed with AK-47s “to protect their villages” from Tamil Tigers. Some here worry about how a transition can be made from war to peace with so many guns around.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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High social cost of Renuka project
by Manshi Asher

THE Renuka dam project, to be set up by the Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation limited in Sirmaur district, has been in the news for more than a decade. The project has been a pipe dream, literally and figuratively, for the government of Himachal Pradesh, which hopes to generate 40 MW of power from the scheme and for the Delhi Government, which hopes to quench the thirst of the water-guzzling capital of the country by transporting 23 cusecs of water from the Giri Ganga nine months a year.

The Giri Ganga river originates in the Kupar peak just above a town called Jubbal in Shimla district. The river then flows down in the south-east direction and divides Sirmaur district into equal parts.

After providing water for irrigation, fisheries and running watermills as it flows, the Giri eventually meets the Yamuna river in Rampur ghat.

The 148-metre tall and 24-km long dam will not only ensure that the Giri river virtually stops flowing but also that it submerges an area of almost 2000 hectares at its stoppage in Dadahu in Renuka tehsil of Sirmaur.

More than 100 households will be displaced and more than 200 will lose fertile agricultural land, cultivable wasteland and private forests. Locals estimate that a total of 340 families will be affected upstream of the project.

Many of the farmers cultivate cash crops like ginger and other vegetables on their farms apart from floriculture.

The irrigation water supply for the villages downstream of the project area is also likely to be affected. In terms of impact this is likely to be the second biggest project after the Pong dam in Himachal.

A social impact assessment report for the project is yet to be completed and made public. Despite this, the HPPCL along with the district administration has already initiated the procedures for acquisition.

The way the departments are going about the land transfer process is perhaps more disturbing than the fact that they have yet to publicise the rehabilitation and resettlement plan, which is supposed to be based on the findings of the SIA report.

While on one hand land acquisition notices are being issued, on the other HPPCL has proposed a compensation of Rs 50,000 a bigha for uncultivable waste land, Rs 1.5 lakh for un-irrigated agriculture land and Rs 2.5 lakh for irrigated land to those who are ready to sell directly to HPPCL. The registries and sale deeds have already started and the HPPCL is encouraging people to accept the current rate willingly in order to be declared as beneficiaries under the project.

Amidst all the banter about land prices one of the reasons because of which the project has been delayed for so long seems to have been forgotten — the Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2001 had rejected the forest clearance for the project based on the Supreme Court orders on reservation of sanctuaries.

However, in 2005 after recommendations of the Wildlife Board the forest diversion of 49 hectares of the Wildlife Sanctuary was cleared by the Supreme Court. Apart from this, an additional 400 or more hectares of forest land would be submerged by the project.

The environment clearance for the project has been recommended by an expert committee of the MoEF and is likely to be granted soon. However, in a recent memorandum to the Ministry of Environment, the Renuka Bandh Sangarsh Samiti has demanded that the environment clearance public hearing for the project be re-conducted on the grounds that “environment impact assessment reports were not made available in advance and there was no information about the public hearing amongst people of the area and as a result, the attendance in the public hearing was extremely poor”.

The other issue that the Samiti has raised is of the Renuka lake that will be in the vicinity of a few metres from the dam. There is no doubt in the mind of local people that construction work involving the use of explosives will impact the Renuka lake, also a major religious and tourist destination.

People of the affected villages are wary of questioning this project lest they should be termed as anti-development or insensitive to Delhi’s needs. The most critical question that no one seems to be asking is: “Are there no other alternatives for Delhi’s drinking water needs?”

Does not a project with such environmental and social costs at least warrant a cost-benefit analysis? Unfortunately, decades of experience with large dams seems to have taught our governments virtually no lesson. 

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Chatterati
by Devi Cherian
Youth to the fore

Rahul Gandhi’s youth brigade has got the BJP in a fix. The Congress projection of its young leaders has got L. K. Advani desperately reaching out to young voters.

As part of his efforts to counter the Congress age factor, the 81-year-old prime ministerial candidate of the BJP decided recently that all Gennext leaders, most of whom are in the Rajya Sabha, will contest the Lok Sabha elections.

But youngsters of the BJP are much older to Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora and Jyotiraditya Scindia. The average age of the Congress youth brigade is between 30 and 40 years. The BJP’s youth club has Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, M. Venkaiah Naidu, all above 50.

To consolidate the BJP’s strength in the Lok Sabha, Advani had asked Jaitley, Sushma and Naidu to contest elections. Sushma is most likely to contest from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Naidu and Arun Jaitley have opted out.

Priyanka’s gesture

Priyanka, along with her two children — eight-year-old Rehan and six-year-old Meira — visited Khalil, their old chauffeur, who is now a heart patient. He lives in the Darbanga House Lane, which is bang opposite 10 Janpath, where Sonia Gandhi stays. Khalil, in his late thirties, was surprised and overwhelmed. A Gandhi family loyalist, he has been their driver for 18 years and is on Priyanka’s duty now.

An ill-looking, scruffy and unshaven Khalil was taken aback by the sudden appearance of his former employer. Priyanka enquir-ed to after his health and offered help. She asked him to get in touch with P.P. Madhavan, an officer at 10 Janpath, anytime for help.

Hearing the commotion some NSG officials’ children stepped out to see what was happening. When Priyanka, who seemed to be in a jovial mood, asked them what they were doing, others said they were playing, others said they were studying. Priyanka then took the playful children in her car to a nearby park.

Khalil and his family, who hail from Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh, have been associated with the Gandhis for generations. His father worked as a cook for Indira Gandhi.

Priyanka has always been kind and concerned about people around her. She has often visited Dalit families in Amethi and Rae Bareili and even shared their food.

Dynastic politics

BJP prime ministerial candidate Lal Kishen Advani is questioning the dynastic politics of the Congress. The younger lot in the Congress almost entirely consists of inheritors of a legacy — Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Sandeep Dikshit, Jitin Prasada and Priya Dutt.

The BJP claims to be cadre- based but goes on to spot talent of the spouse, offspring or relative of a leader. The BJP is not above using spouses and children of its politicians in its set-up. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s wife, Sadhna, is an active politician, as are the sons of former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje and former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.

Pramod Mahajan’s daughter Poonam is being put forth as a candidate to carry on his political legacy. In fact, Pratibha Advani, the daughter of the BJP leader, already functions like a political aide to her father.

Dynastic politics in regional parties is there for all to see. From Sukhbir Badal to Bhajan Lal, Chautala and Mulayam. It’s an open book. So dynastic politics is really not an election issue any more. 

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