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EDITORIALS

Zardari courts trouble
Deepening crisis in Pakistan
Pakistan’s two principal political parties, the PPP and the PML (N), are back to the politics of confrontation. The PML (N) has launched a countrywide protest against the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from taking part in elections.

Decline of Parliament
Lows surpass highs in 14th Lok Sabha
L
AST Thursday was the last day of the 14th Lok Sabha. This House had its highs and lows. However, a close study would suggest that the lows have surpassed the highs. This is a sad reflection of the image of Parliament. Disruptions by Opposition members have been all too frequent. According to a report, these cost the House nearly 24 per cent of the total time it spent in session.



EARLIER STORIES

In quest of a new identity
March 1, 2009
Perfect 10
February 28, 2009
Zardari vs Nawaz Sharif
February 27, 2009
Just three years?
February 26, 2009
Terrorism is un-Islamic
February 25, 2009
‘Jai Ho’, ‘Jai Ho’
February 24, 2009
Modi’s claim nailed
February 23, 2009
A question of EC’s credibility
February 22, 2009
Habitual offenders
February 21, 2009
Punjab budget
February 20, 2009


Beyond inquest
Importance of FIR in suicide cases
T
HE Punjab and Haryana High Court has rightly ruled that the registration of a first information report (FIR) is mandatory in all cases of suicide. In a significant ruling on February 27, Justice Surya Kant has ruled that as suicide is a cognisable offence, the police authorities will have to register a case and investigate it. 

ARTICLE

‘Near-miss’ as wake-up call
Need for national aeronautical policy
by Air Marshal Brijesh D. Jayal (retd)
T
HE recent “near-miss” incident at Mumbai airport involving the fleet of helicopters flying the President of India and her party speaks poorly of the management of national air space. The ensuing public spat between the Minister of Civil Aviation and the Chief of Air Staff underscores the view that air space management, like so many other issues of governance, is a victim of turf wars.

MIDDLE

Droll designations
by Jagvir Goyal
Stagnation is a killer. First, it kills the morale then the motivation. Master scales and annual increments often lead to acquisition of higher scales but without getting promotions. A person displaying the same designation over a long period of years begins feeling stale, stagnated and suffocated.

OPED

Managing food stocks in India
Build silos to avoid wastage
by S. S. Johl
Food grain management policy in India has come full circle. It is an irony of fate that in spite of food grain supplies, in respect of wheat and rice, from domestic production far exceeding the demand over the last more than two decades, the country has been witnessing the unmanageably bulging stocks and shortages alternately.

Beyond the point of return
by Papri Sri Raman
Sri Lanka’s President, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, said: “On behalf of the entire Sri Lankan nation, I make an open invitation to all Sri Lankans — Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and all other communities — who left this country because of the war, to return to your motherland.”

Chatterati
Fast project clearance
by Devi Cherian
The UPA government is in a great hurry to clear infrastructure projects. Also in making the Babu’s and businessman happy after the DA hike and excise cut. Just like kids finishing their homework before holidays start. After taking it easy for four years, now they are speeding up the pending infrastructure development work.





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Zardari courts trouble
Deepening crisis in Pakistan

Pakistan’s two principal political parties, the PPP and the PML (N), are back to the politics of confrontation. The PML (N) has launched a countrywide protest against the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from taking part in elections. The court cases against the Sharifs had no meaning as these were registered at the instance of Gen Pervez Musharraf soon after he came to power by staging a coup. By “managing” the judgement that suits his political objectives, Mr Zardari has earned the dubious reputation of “implementing the Musharraf agenda”. He has exposed himself to the charge of keeping the Sharif brothers away from power, as General Musharraf did. Mr Zardari cannot hide his true intentions as he also got the PML (N) government in Punjab dismissed and President’s rule imposed soon after Mr Shahbaz Sharif resigned as Chief Minister.

Through his own actions Mr Zardari has replaced the former military ruler as the target of popular anger in Pakistan today. On the other hand, Mr Nawaz Sharif is seen as a “principled” politician, paying the price for refusing to compromise on a vital judicial issue, which was the main factor that caused the end of Musharraf rule. But it is doubtful whether Mr Sharif will be able to translate his popularity into an electoral victory. There is no provision for mid-term elections in the Pakistani constitution. The protests by PML (N) activists may get intensified in the days to come. Mr Nawaz Sharif’s party is bound to use the lawyers’ Long March on March 12 to expose President Zardari for not honouring the commitments he had made on various questions, including those relating to the restoration of the judiciary’s old status and removing the distortions introduced in the constitution by General Musharraf.

Under the circumstances, the people of Pakistan are the real losers. The Zardari regime has no time to concentrate on the people’s economic problems and meet the threat posed by extremists. The militants must be the happiest people today. If the PPP and PML (N) leaders refuse to read the writing on the wall, the Pakistan Army can be trusted to exploit the uncertainty arising out of the political confrontation for its own advantage.

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Decline of Parliament
Lows surpass highs in 14th Lok Sabha

LAST Thursday was the last day of the 14th Lok Sabha. This House had its highs and lows. However, a close study would suggest that the lows have surpassed the highs. This is a sad reflection of the image of Parliament. Disruptions by Opposition members have been all too frequent. According to a report, these cost the House nearly 24 per cent of the total time it spent in session. Of what use is Parliament if members don’t behave? Most members were least bothered about its importance as a forum for useful and constructive debate of major problems and their effective resolution by the government. Unfortunately, attendance too was very thin even during crucial debates. In this context, all the three major parties — the Congress, the BJP and the CPM — will have to share the blame. The decline of Parliament can be gauged by the fact that even in terms of its sittings, the number has been gradually coming down year after year. In 2008, Parliament had met only for 46 days.

The Manmohan Singh government deserves to be lauded for the manner in which it pursued the Indo-US nuclear deal to its logical conclusion despite the withdrawal of support to it by the Left parties on the issue. It successfully won the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha with a comfortable majority on July 22, 2008, proving the prophets of doom wrong. Nonetheless, the cash-for-votes scam and some BJP members waving wads of notes on the floor of the House were disturbing. Worse, the disqualification of 11 members for their involvement in the cash-for-questions scam showed the extent to which they mortgaged national interest.

Notwithstanding these lows, due credit should be given to Parliament for enacting progressive legislation in the last five years. It enacted as many as 258 pieces of legislation, including the Right to Information Act, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Protection for Women from Domestic Violence Act, the Disaster Management Act and the National Investigation Agency Act. Of course, there is a general impression that Parliament should devote more time on debate and discussion, and that important Bills should not be rushed through for lack of time. At the same time, Parliament must increasingly work through its committees to exercise more effective supervision and control over the executive.

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Beyond inquest
Importance of FIR in suicide cases

THE Punjab and Haryana High Court has rightly ruled that the registration of a first information report (FIR) is mandatory in all cases of suicide. In a significant ruling on February 27, Justice Surya Kant has ruled that as suicide is a cognisable offence, the police authorities will have to register a case and investigate it. Undoubtedly, mandatory investigation of a suicide case will enable the police authorities — as also the kin of the victim — to know the actual cause of the death. Moreover, if a case is promptly registered and then investigated, the scope for someone killing a person and then hoodwinking the criminal justice system by dubbing it as a case of suicide will be reduced. The ruling is also in conformity with the Supreme Court directive to all the states and Union Territories on compulsory filing of FIR by the police. Currently, a larger Bench of the apex court is also examining the points of law involved in the directive given by Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice G.S. Sanghvi.

Sections 306 and 309 of the Indian Penal Code deal with suicide. Under Section 306, if a person commits suicide, whoever abets it shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years and shall be liable to fine. Under Section 309, whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with a simple imprisonment of one year. In many countries, attempted suicide is regarded more as a manifestation of one’s afflicted condition of mind which deserves suitable treatment and care rather than punishment as an offence. Indeed, countries which have decriminalised suicide have registered a perceptible decline in the rate of suicide.

The Law Commission of India, in its 42nd and 210th reports, has examined the issue in depth and called for the repeal of Section 309. It said that it is “cruel” to visit a troubled person with punishment on his failure to die and that he deserves sympathy, counselling and treatment. While Justice Surya Kant’s ruling has considerable merit, it can be properly enforced only if the working methodology of the police machinery is suitably changed. Clearly, the police should not use the order as a tool to harass or extort money from the grieving kin of the victims.

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Thought for the Day

Growing old is no more than a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form.

— Andre Maurois

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‘Near-miss’ as wake-up call
Need for national aeronautical policy
by Air Marshal Brijesh D. Jayal (retd)

THE recent “near-miss” incident at Mumbai airport involving the fleet of helicopters flying the President of India and her party speaks poorly of the management of national air space. The ensuing public spat between the Minister of Civil Aviation and the Chief of Air Staff underscores the view that air space management, like so many other issues of governance, is a victim of turf wars.

The “near-miss” is still under investigation. But one thing is intriguing. What happened to the earlier rule which required closure of air traffic for a specified time both before and after the VVIP movement? Had this still been in vogue, an error by anyone involved would not have compromised the safety of the President. From the reported sequence of events, it would appear that this rule now stands abolished. Is one to believe that somewhere along the line, the demands of civil aviation with its attendant commercial underpinnings have resulted in this compromise?

Ever since civil aviation in the country was opened to private enterprise, there has been an exponential growth in air traffic. Not unnaturally, as competition has become fiercer, there has been increasing pressure on the infrastructure on the ground, on the air traffic control services and on the use of the airspace itself. In the recent past the Ministry of Civil Aviation has set up no less than four committees to cover various aspects. In none of them did the ministry find it fit to co-opt IAF representation, thus indicating a somewhat parochial mindset.

Airspace is a national asset and needs to be used optimally towards enhancing national security, air safety and commercial interests. Much like the pressure on the defence forces to release more wireless spectrum for civil communications, the pressure on the IAF to release more air space for commercial use has been going on for some time. Reports indicate that progress has been made and the IAF has agreed to flexible use of some of its airspace. This is all to the good, but only a small part of the overall problem. Clearly, when competing demands for resources confront us, the nation must take a call and arrive at priorities. In the context of airspace, it is not difficult to see that national security and air safety must precede other interests. After all, the first two are facilitators towards smooth civil air operations and by no means obstacles or competitors. Sometimes one wonders if this message is understood by the mandarins who man civil aviation!

The responsibility for the security of national airspace vests entirely with the Indian Air Force. The air safety aspects rest in their respective spheres, both with the IAF and the Director-General of Civil Aviation. The commercial areas are solely within the domain of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and various agencies under it. While it is administratively necessary to separate the areas of responsibility; operationally, the use of the same airspace by multiple users, operating the platforms of vastly differing performances, carrying out differing missions and routines, reporting to different agencies in a dynamic environment where decisions and actions need to be taken in seconds rather than minutes, calls for a well-crafted Air Traffic Management System.

In general this system would cover en route and airport air traffic control, airspace management, communication, navigation and surveillance, contingency planning and crisis management, aeronautical and meteorological information, and search and rescue. The Naresh Chandra Committee had commented that “under the existing arrangement, wherein both airports and ATC services are controlled by a single organisation (i.e. the AAI), ATC services often remain neglected on account of inadequate attention from the top management”. Even a casual observer of civil aviation will endorse this view.

If all this were not complex enough, as hijacking and other terrorist threats become more sophisticated, misuse of the country’s air space under the guise of civil air movements for terrorist type attacks or clandestine activities is becoming an ever-looming threat. The Purulia episode in 1995 should have cautioned us that we were not masters of our airspace and that coordination between the IAF and the civil aviation authorities was sorely lacking.

It is, however, the 9/11 attacks in the US that have brought home the grave danger that can be posed by terrorism from the air. Today not just airliners, but even light aircraft, micro-lights and unmanned air vehicles can all be converted into lethal weapons, and the only way to neutralise the threat is to maintain undivided military control over the entire airspace of the country on a round-the-clock basis. The recent Mumbai terrorist carnage indicated that our coastal defence system failed us primarily because of divided responsibilities. We cannot afford a repeat of this in the air, although the lack of co ordination that the minister recently talked of points precisely to this type of weakness.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation had in 2003 constituted a committee under the erstwhile Cabinet Secretary, Mr Naresh Chandra, to prepare a roadmap for the civil aviation sector that would provide the basis for a new National Civil Aviation Policy. Among many other issues, the committee had highlighted the current drawbacks in the air traffic management services and recommended hiving these off from the current jurisdiction of the Airports Authority of India into a separate corporate entity in line with international trends.

Five years on, even this limited recommendation remains on paper. In addition, the National Civil Aviation Policy that was put up to the Cabinet in 2007 has still not been approved, although nothing in it would have overcome the burning issues of national security and air safety that constitute the subject of the current discussion.

Recognising that aeronautics is the most significant technological influence of modern time and is a major tool for economic development having a significant role in national security and international relations, the Aeronautical Society of India under the Presidentship of Dr Kalam had in 1994 proposed a comprehensive National Aeronautics Policy document for consideration of the government. In 2004, the Society resubmitted a revised proposal. The proposed policy anticipates the issues discussed above and proposes a viable organisational and management model to cover various institutions like a Civil Aviation Authority, a National Air Safety Board, a National Air Traffic, Space and Air Navigation Agency, an Airworthiness and Quality Assurance Agency, Civil-Military Coordination among some others. This proposal remains lost in ministerial archives.

This “near-miss” can become a wake-up call to the government to seriously look at aeronautics across the country as one entity. This must cover national security, air safety, commercial aviation, R&D and the aerospace industry. The aim should be to lay out a time-bound road-map to introduce organisational and management changes so that aeronautics in India makes the best use of the resources in the country and in turn enables it to become a generator of wealth. In this endeavour the government already has a head-start. All it has to do is dust the National Aeronautics Policy proposal and consider its implementation. It took the Mumbai carnage for the government to set up the Coastal Command post-haste. For once, let us be a step ahead.

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Droll designations
by Jagvir Goyal

Stagnation is a killer. First, it kills the morale then the motivation. Master scales and annual increments often lead to acquisition of higher scales but without getting promotions. A person displaying the same designation over a long period of years begins feeling stale, stagnated and suffocated.

To overcome this problem, we devised certain designations for engineers. It was decided that an SDO reaching Executive Engineer (Xen)’s scale will be called Xen while an engineer actually posted as Xen will be called Senior Xen. The scheme went well and engineers enjoyed the new designations without actually getting promoted.

Once a newly designated ‘Xen’ was attending a party when someone asked him his designation. He proudly told it. ‘Are you the real one or the other one?’ was the next question he faced. ‘I have reached the scale,’ the Xen started explaining but was interrupted: ‘Don’t you feel like a woman wearing artificial jewellery? Others think you are wearing gold but actually you are not,’ came the sarcastic remark.

A university was holding an interview for selecting an executive engineer on a deputation basis and I was sitting as the technical expert. VC was in the chair. A ‘Xen’ and a ‘Senior Xen’ of a department appeared in the interview. Before leaving the interview room, the Sr. Xen said, ‘Sir, I am Sr. Xen and actually a Xen while the last candidate was just designated as Xen!’ The VC was quite annoyed over the confusing statement. ‘Why is he telling his seniority?’ he asked and it took time to explain the designations to him.

A colleague narrated a funny happening. An engineer was promoted as Director. People went to his residence asking for celebrations and a treat. His old mother opened the door. ‘Mata ji, Where is director sahib?’ the employees asked.

‘He has left for the office,’ Mata ji told them.

The employees were not deterred by this: ‘No problem, Mata ji, we will congratulate director sahib on phone and call him back. What’s his new number?’

But mata ji didn’t know that also.

‘We’ll find it out,’ said the defiant employees and asked, ‘Mata ji, Where is the directory?’

‘Oh taan puttar nahaundi pai hai! (She is taking her bath, son),’ came the reply.

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Managing food stocks in India
Build silos to avoid wastage
by S. S. Johl

Food grain management policy in India has come full circle. It is an irony of fate that in spite of food grain supplies, in respect of wheat and rice, from domestic production far exceeding the demand over the last more than two decades, the country has been witnessing the unmanageably bulging stocks and shortages alternately. All this is due to the irrational export and import policy being followed by the policy makers.

The country, on several occasions, exported surplus food grain at very low prices, incurring huge losses. Just after such exports, there have been crying shortages and food grain imported at exorbitant prices. For instance, in 2001, the country had huge food grain stocks of around 58 million tons. What it lacked was proper storage leading to an unacceptable level of spoilage and wastage. Some lots deteriorated so much that they were not fit for even animal consumption. As a consequence, quite a few of the consignments were rejected by the importing countries.

From the year 2001 to September 2005, the country exported 35 million tons of food grain, of which 23 million tons was rice and 12 million tons wheat. Even in nine months of the year 2005 up to September, India exported over 5 million tons of rice and 0.72 million tons of wheat. A very large portion of these exports was made at below the BPL prices. After just about two months, the food grain managers of the country started crying shortage.

Now the policy has come full circle. With estimated more than six million tons of wheat that would be in stock on April 1, when new rabi food grains start pouring into the domestic market, it is expected that by the end of marketing season of wheat the country will have food grain stocks between 32 to 34 million tons. It is said that the government of India has engaged private consultants on how to mange these stocks. These consultants have recommended exports with export subsidy. It is a foregone conclusion that such consultants would recommend exporter-friendly export policy.

In the first place, the very appointment of private consultants is questionable. It suggests incompetence of the policy makers, who have not as yet learnt any lesson from their experience of handling food grain in India for over a period of more than five decades. They have made enough mistakes to leave them wise. Yet, it appears they are refusing to learn any lesson.

Considered from the point of view of the food and nutritional needs of its population, India has never been surplus in food grains in the real sense. These surpluses are spurious in nature because a large majority of the Indian people do not have enough purchasing power to access these stocks. It is a situation of only supply exceeding the demand.

The system of grain handling in India is such that storage, spoilage, thefts, leakages and exports at loss are costing the nation a fortune and on the other hand large sections of the financially-disadvantaged population cannot have access to two square meals a day to fill their bellies.

The country needs to invest substantially, yet rationally on safe storage and scientific management of food stocks. It makes no sense to keep spending on production, if storage and management is handled indifferently as is being done today. Not to speak of storage in the open that is resorted to at the time of post-harvest marketing season in the surplus producing areas, even plinth storage is not proper storage for food grains.

India needs to create silo-storage capacity of at least 20 million tons, wherein aeration, temperature and humidity are controlled at optimum levels. Although such silos can keep the grains in good condition for five years, yet three years recycling of the grains should be planned so that the stocks are renewed continuously and the grains remain healthy and fit for human consumption These silos should be built mainly in the surplus producing areas from where the consignments can be dispatched to the consuming areas/states as per need. At least three silos should be built at one place to cater to the requirement of the three-year cycle.

Of this silo-storage, about five million tons should be marked as emergency stocks and recycled to renew the stocks every two years in order to keep the grains in excellent condition. These emergency stocks should be put under the direct control of the Prime Minister. These stocks should be considered as ‘Not Owned’ by the Food Corporation of India and when used, must be paid for into a separate Emergency Food Account operated by the PMO.

Beyond these 20 million tons, the normal operational stock should be held in covered storage with stock life of not more than one year. These stocks should be used to keep regular flow of supplies to the consumers, supplemented by the silo-storage stocks.

There is tremendous scope of reduction in undifferentiated across-the-board input and consumer subsidies. Even if these subsidies are halved, the savings will be enough to create the required capacity of scientific storage in less than five years.

Competitive populist politics has spoiled the agriculture credit culture of the country through undifferentiated loan waivers. Unfortunately, the BJP is further promising a complete waiver of farm loans if the party forms a government. This callous approach amounts to playing with the taxpayers’ money.

It will be much more productive, economically justified and socially as well as politically acceptable if the amounts involved in such waivers are used for building modern storage capacity for food grains and related infrastructure in the country. Yet, such economic trade offs and socially justifiable investment of scarce capital resources can be considered only by the mature statesmen, not by the myopic politicians.

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Beyond the point of return
by Papri Sri Raman

Sri Lanka’s President, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, said: “On behalf of the entire Sri Lankan nation, I make an open invitation to all Sri Lankans — Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and all other communities — who left this country because of the war, to return to your motherland.”

Judging by past experience, the February 5 appeal is unlikely to find a positive response among the fugitives, mainly Tamils, from the island’s war-torn north to Tamil Nadu across the Palk Strait.

Even before such appeals, 1,99,546 refugees in India have returned to Sri Lanka over the years, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. Aid agencies, however, point out that 50 per cent of them have come back to India. In the Tamil Nadu camps, there are refugees who have come back for a third time, after repatriation.

The numbers reeled out by the aid agencies are truly numbing — 90,000 Tamil Muslims driven out of Jaffna overnight, another 50,000 Tamils told to leave the city in a day. Up to 2005, as many as 2,78,549 people are said to have come to India in three phases of displacement, the first in 1984, the second between 1989-91 and the third since 1996. Half of all these were children.

In December 2008, the 117 camps in Tamil Nadu sheltered a total of 73,613 people. As many as 23,500 refugees live outside camps. Since January 12, 2006, when the latest war began, yet another 21,000 have arrived in India.

India has refrained from taking aid from any country or external agency for the Tamil refugees. For the first time in 2008, however, funds from the USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance and the Public Law (PL) 480 (also called the Food for Peace) programme were used through international relief organisations to rebuild some shelters gutted by fire in the Metupatti camp in the Namakkal district, upgrade sanitary facilities in the Mandapam camp and construct new structures in the Thappathi and Kulathuvaipatti camps in the Tuticorin district.

“Mandapam is our best camp”, says D. Jothi Jagarajan, one of the most senior government officers and the secretary in charge of public affairs, under whom a Rehabilitation Commissioner and a department facilitate refugee rehabilitation.

The Mandapam camp in Rameswaram, with flood-lit high walls, barbed wires and armed guards, is a transit facility for more than 5,000 where the refugees are given shelter, after their authenticity is verified and they go through a quarantine procedure. Most camps are rows and rows of palm-thatched cubicles besides dusty highways, flooded during monsoon.

There are two special camps, one in Chengalpet in Kancheepuram district and another in Cheyyar, Thiruvannamalai district, holding about 40 specially interned people. Some of the Indian camps are very large. The Tiruvallur camp houses nearly 5,000 inmates, of whom 1,300 are children. There are 1,497 children in a camp in Madurai, and the Bhavanisagar camp has more than a thousand children.

All the refugees are required to carry identity cards, are under 24-hour police surveillance, have to report to authorities whenever required to do so and their access to the media is severely restricted.

A category of refugees, to whom Mr. Rajapaksa’s appeal is not addressed, is that of the internally displaced. Together, the internally displaced and the refugees abroad are estimated to total 6,00,000 as of today.

‘There is actually no difference whether a person is an IDP (internally displaced person) or a ‘refugee’ in another country. For the victim, it is not only a loss of home and livelihood, it is also a loss of ownership and freedom, a loss of identity,” says Ashok Gladston Xavier of the social work department of the Loyola College, Chennai.

Particularly distressed among the internally displaced are the 2,00,000 Tamils herded into 13 barbed wire camps by the Sri Lankan government in last two months of the ongoing war. The Rajapaksa government has declared its intention of keeping them in camps for at least three years and is seeking foreign aid.

After a visit to the IDP camps, British Labour MP Robert Evans has said: “These are not welfare camps: they are prisoner-of-war cum concentration camps.” People are allowed to get out of these camps, “only if a relative stays behind,” say Amnesty International officials.

The refugees are fleeing not only the endless war but also its economic fallout. Sri Lanka, according to most United Nation reports of the 50s and 60s, was a state with better human development indices, literacy and healthcare than Singapore and Malyasia. Now, in the island’s north, every step is a mine-field, most buildings are burnt-out shells, and village after village bombed out.

“It has been estimated that the ongoing war has annually taken one to two per cent off the GDP growth in Sri Lanka”, says economist S. Narayan, a former finance secretary of the Government of India.

He adds: “When cumulated over two decades, it is possible to argue that per capita incomes should have been twice what they are now, which would be equivalent to that in Malaysia or at least Indonesia. The cost of the war in terms of overall welfare is, therefore, quite evident. The displaced persons camps are a part of this cost.”

What will the refugees’ rehabilitation cost? Says Narayan: “approximately US $ 600 per person per year including administrative overheads, leakages etc—a huge amount, given the numbers of displaced persons.” Not exactly an easy target to reach, one may add, in these times of recession.

This article is supported by a C-NES UNHCR media fellowship

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Chatterati
Fast project clearance
by Devi Cherian

The UPA government is in a great hurry to clear infrastructure projects. Also in making the Babu’s and businessman happy after the DA hike and excise cut. Just like kids finishing their homework before holidays start. After taking it easy for four years, now they are speeding up the pending infrastructure development work. In a span of two months the government has cleared projects worth an astonishing Rs 71,000 crore. The UPA government’s sense of urgency is apparent. Before it goes to election, it wants to create a poll plank which would highlight whatever little that has been achieved in the five years of its term, and all that is going to be done in the next term. The setting up of power projects and building roads are critical, and the delay was only due to negligence and laziness in sanctioning and commissioning. The other schemes such as awarding scholarship to minorities are populist measures which are at the top of the agenda. With these projects in their manifesto, the UPA government is apparently trying to create a wave it hopes to ride to electoral victory.  However, they may not benefit in the BJP or NDA ruled states as they are cleverly stating how they had to bully the UPA central government to get the projects through.

Inauguration binge

The other person who has no time to breathe is Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel. He has been flying overtime to Goa, Kashmir, Bihar, Gujarat and other parts of the country to inaugurate terminal buildings or lay foundation stones. All ministers are racing around since the model of code of conduct expected to be in place very soon. In the meantime, in the fishy waters of Gujarat L K Advani inaugurated a gym and a swimming pool in his constituency while Rahul Gandhi had, some time back, opened a chain of gyms named after his father.

Playground Lucknow

Lucknow seems to be the new location for Bollywood. Sanjay Dutt, backed by his Manyata, is doing his padyatra there. He is sure to fight as a candidate from there. To beat the Samajwadi in its own game, the BJP is getting ready to field Hema Malini from there. Basanti will be given company by most probably the newly-inducted all-rounder cricketer of the Congress party, Azharuddin Wow! The town which give us Atal Behari Vajpayee now has turned into a playground of has-beens or let’s say retired candidates. Who to vote for? My sympathies for the voters of Lucknow. We can understand their dilemma. It’s absurd that you can’t find a local leader or a clean dedicated non-fussy fellow to field from Lucknow. What have our parties comes to? Such desperation! Hema has not uttered a word while she was Rajya Sabha member. Just like her other retired Bollywood colleagues who are with her in the upper house.

Hunting for allies

To ensure that both major parties have enough seats to form government after the general elections in May, they are going ally-hunting. The BJP has made a strategy of not attacking the UPA allies. This is to keep doors open for them in case the regional parties want to join them. The BJP is facing a problem in getting sufficient seats from the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the BJD in Orissa and the Akalis in Punjab. So, the solution arrived at is that the Lok Sabha they should get a larger number of members while letting the allies rule the states. Very smart, if it works.

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