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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Pawar at play
NCP makes Congress climb down

A
lthough
powerful regional satraps, such as Mr Sharad Pawar of the NCP and Ms J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK, have been making overtures to the Congress party, Mrs Sonia Gandhi appears to have sensed that the advantages require her to make compromises. Soon after Ms Jayalalithaa asked the Congress to dump the DMK and join hands with the AIADMK, Mr Pawar asked the Congress to lead the United Progressive Alliance into the elections rather than go it alone. 

RBI relents
Interest rates may decline

T
he
RBI has cut the repo rate — the rate at which it lends money to banks for short terms — and the reverse repo rate — the rate at which it borrows funds from banks — by 50 basis points. As a result of these cuts, loans for buying houses, cars, two-wheelers and white goods are expected to become cheaper in April as banks have indicated that they may reduce interest rates by then.


EARLIER STORIES

Blame-game won’t help
March 5, 2009
Pak terror in sporting arena
March 4, 2009
A destabilisation game
March 3, 2009
Zardari courts trouble
March 2, 2009
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


Gone are medical ethics
When doctors violate the oath

T
here
has been degeneration of medical ethics in India for quite some time. The case of a Chandigarh-based cardiac surgeon, Dr RS Dhaliwal, who connived with chemists to dupe unsuspecting patients, charging them for treatment he never provided, is yet another dismal reminder of the ethical crisis in the medical profession. The medical ethics code may profess that the prime objective of the medical profession is to render service to humanity; reward or financial gain is a subordinate consideration. However, a number of doctors have been falling prey to greed.

ARTICLE

Threats from Naxal terrorism
Shameful neglect of police reforms
by Inder Malhotra
E
NTIRELY understandably, everybody worries about jihadi terrorism, especially that emanating from Pakistani soil, but is it baffling that so few are troubled by the apparently unending terrorism by Naxalites, who are hyper-active in a swath across several states from the border with Nepal to the Andhra coast. On two days running over the weekend they targeted two railway stations in Bihar, vandalising or burning them.


MIDDLE

Exam blues and clues
by Rajbir Deswal

A
pril
may have been the “cruellest month” for T. S. Eliot, for it prompted “mixing memory and desire”; but March seems to deserve that description in respect of students, who have to write exams missing the colourful fun of Holi. Memorise and revise. Desire, but don’t deserve fun.


OPED

Crumbling infrastructure
It is scaring away foreign investors
by Kamlendra Kanwar

The credit crunch in the Indian banking sector as a consequence of the global economic meltdown has hit the crucial infrastructure sector hard. Economist Jagdish Bhagwati, who now teaches at Colombia University, said recently that this country’s impressive growth rate would have been 2 per cent higher but for the sluggishness in the infrastructure sector.

Tough times ahead for Haryana
by Gobind Thukral

H
aryana’s
economy is moving from boom to recession. Industrialists in major townships like Gurgaon and Panipat are cutting costs and workers are losing jobs. During 2007-08 the economy grew at a whooping rate of 9.3 per cent at constant prices with 1999-2000 as the base year and for 2008-09 it is 8 per cent.

A farewell to jobs
by Jill Andresky Fraser

A
ccording
to a recently released poll, 32 percent of Americans are crazy. At least, that's how I read the data. What the poll, conducted by Associated Press-GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, actually found is that an astonishing 32 percent of those surveyed are confident that they are secure in their jobs.

 


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Pawar at play
NCP makes Congress climb down

Although powerful regional satraps, such as Mr Sharad Pawar of the NCP and Ms J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK, have been making overtures to the Congress party, Mrs Sonia Gandhi appears to have sensed that the advantages require her to make compromises. Soon after Ms Jayalalithaa asked the Congress to dump the DMK and join hands with the AIADMK, Mr Pawar asked the Congress to lead the United Progressive Alliance into the elections rather than go it alone. On the face of it, Mr Pawar wanting to ride in the boat steered by the Congress may appear to be a sign of his weakness. Yet, it was an understated way of expressing his strength; and, making known the NCP’s ambition of wanting to contest as a Congress ally outside Maharashtra. The Congress hastened to underscore that it would not go beyond seat sharing in the states.

In the event, the best Mr Pawar could bargain for was a larger share of the 48 seats at stake in Maharashtra, of which it had contested 21 in 2004. And, he didn’t want this figure to be seen as one that makes or breaks the deal. With characteristic brinkmanship, Mr Pawar pretended to be courting the Shiv Sena; and, that was enough to make the Congress party scramble to seal the deal and offer the NCP more than the 21 of the 48 seats in the state.

Despite Mr Pawar’s trans-party appeal, his strength is the Congress party and how much he can bend the leadership of that party to further his own objectives. The Shiv Sena, as much as the BJP and the others, is aware of this. Hence, the Sena’s declaration to back Mr Pawar if he emerges as a prime ministerial candidate. Such a stand adds to Mr Bal Thackeray’s bargaining clout with the BJP, and at the same time boosts Mr Pawar’s value to both the Congress and the BJP. And, given the inevitable uncertainties after the election, Mr Pawar would like to keep his lines open to both the big players and smaller parties. Uncertain situations provide opportunities for quick smart moves — certainly in politics.

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RBI relents
Interest rates may decline

The RBI has cut the repo rate — the rate at which it lends money to banks for short terms — and the reverse repo rate — the rate at which it borrows funds from banks — by 50 basis points. As a result of these cuts, loans for buying houses, cars, two-wheelers and white goods are expected to become cheaper in April as banks have indicated that they may reduce interest rates by then. In the US, Europe and several countries interest rates have been slashed sharply, even to zero per cent, to encourage consumers to spend their money instead of keeping it in banks. In India, however, interest rates cannot fall to those levels because the RBI keeps the bank deposit rates high to encourage savings and help pensioners surviving on interest income.

In a tough economic environment as corporate earnings plunge, there is a danger of defaults on loan repayments and banks getting saddled with bad loans (non-performing assets). That is why despite there being sufficient funds, banks are hesitant in extending loans and lowering the cost of borrowings. As troubled banks in the US and Europe are being bailed out or nationalised, fear has gripped banks all over. Indian banks appear strong enough to survive the turmoil, thanks to the RBI’s stiff regulatory system, but it is natural for them to be wary.

In reviving economic growth, banks play a major role. The RBI controls money supply in the system through its key rates. If there is too much money and inflation goes up, the RBI tends to squeeze liquidity. Now that inflation is quite low at 3.03 per cent, the RBI is releasing more money in the system. Since September last year the RBI has cut its key rates frequently and injected Rs 1,60,000 crore more in the system. The latest repo rate and reverse repo rate cuts should be seen in this context. Their aim is to spur consumer demand and stimulate the economy. 

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Gone are medical ethics
When doctors violate the oath 

There has been degeneration of medical ethics in India for quite some time. The case of a Chandigarh-based cardiac surgeon, Dr RS Dhaliwal, who connived with chemists to dupe unsuspecting patients, charging them for treatment he never provided, is yet another dismal reminder of the ethical crisis in the medical profession. The medical ethics code may profess that the prime objective of the medical profession is to render service to humanity; reward or financial gain is a subordinate consideration. However, a number of doctors have been falling prey to greed.

This is not the first time medical scruples have been thrown to the winds. A kidney scam brought to the fore Dr Amit Kumar’s horrific deeds. In Sabarkantha district of Gujarat, doctors reused syringes and aggravated the hepatitis outbreak. In a shocking sting operation, doctors were allegedly found to be in a nexus with the beggar mafia, ready to amputate healthy limbs for a price. Otherwise too, commissions and favours from drug companies have almost become a norm in the medical profession. Unmindful of the Hippocratic oath — “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of over-treatment and therapeutic nihilism” — often doctors recommend a number of unwarranted diagnostic tests. Among those who seek medical help in India, nearly 40 per cent have been pushed into poverty.

The Supreme Court’s recent order, preventing consumer forums and criminal courts from issuing notice to a doctor or a hospital without receiving an expert committee’s report, was meant to prevent unwarranted harassment of doctors. Indeed, it is nobody’s case that medical science is a perfect science. But then unscrupulous intent and act are not the same as an error of judgement. The CBI court has done well to sentence Dr Dhaliwal on charges of criminal conspiracy, forgery and cheating. Since doctors like him are a blot on the noble profession, the medical fraternity, too, must come together to ostracise such black sheep. It is in the interest of the profession to remove the growing trust deficit between doctors and patients. 

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Thought for the Day

An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject and who manages to avoid them. — Werner Heisenberg

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Threats from Naxal terrorism
Shameful neglect of police reforms
by Inder Malhotra

ENTIRELY understandably, everybody worries about jihadi terrorism, especially that emanating from Pakistani soil, but is it baffling that so few are troubled by the apparently unending terrorism by Naxalites, who are hyper-active in a swath across several states from the border with Nepal to the Andhra coast. On two days running over the weekend they targeted two railway stations in Bihar, vandalising or burning them. Ironically, the second attack took place barely 15 minutes after five eastern states had started a bandh in protest against the first outrage

These two attacks may not be so dastardly as some other Naxalite crimes such as brazen slaughter of special police inside their camps in Chhattisgarh or the massacre of Andhra’s “greyhounds” sailing on Chilka lake on the way back home after completing a counter-terrorism mission in Orissa, but they cannot be dismissed lightly. They underscore that Naxal terrorists can operate with impunity. No matter how brazenly heinous their crimes, none of them has even been arrested, leave alone being punished. This is so despite the thundering announcements of “massive manhunts” to bring the guilty to book.

Many people other than the victims are somewhat indulgent to these Maoists because their violence has socio-economic overtones. Some see them as protectors of tribals that are usually exploited and oppressed by forest contractors and others enjoying official patronage. But doesn’t this run counter to the fundamental doctrine that no cause can be a justification for terror?

To cite reports on world terrorism by America’s State Department is not very pleasant. But we ned to devote serious attention to the three pertinent points they have made year after year. First, that India is the country “worst afflicted” by terrorism. Secondly, this country’s counter-terrorism efforts get “hampered” by “ill-equipped law enforcement” and “slow and laborious” legal system. Thirdly, both the institutions involved are “prone to corruption”.

Throwing politeness to the winds, let me mention another deeply depressing fact. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has stated more than once that the Naxal threat is the “greatest” India faces. In the past, whenever the good doctor said so, the then Union Home Minister, Mr Shivraj Patil, contradicted him. According to the latter, the Naxal movement menaced not one-fourth of the country’s districts but only 3 per cent of its police stations!

Mercifully, in Mr P. Chidambaram, the country has a hands-on Home Minister. Moreover, as a result of the horrific Mumbai attack, this country has filled a grave and yawning gap by forming the Federal Investigation Agency to deal with terrorist attacks, presumably of all hues, including the Naxal terrorism. However, unlike the US Department of Home Security, the Indian FIA needs the consent of the state government to initiate investigation. This serious shortcoming must be overcome. There cannot be any contradiction between the rights of the states and the imperatives of rooting out terrorism.

In any case, the setting up of one more agency and expectations of better coordination among the various intelligence agencies on the one hand and between them and counter-terrorism institutions, on the other, do not, by themselves, solve the acute and agonising problem of incompetence and corruption of the police that is as deep-seated as it is chronic. The crux of this problem is the utter unwillingness of the Central and state governments to usher in desperately needed police reforms because of their vested interest in ensuring that the various forces remain the servants of the politicians in power and are not made the servant of the law.

This is the stark rationale of the disgrace that, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the Indian Police continues to be governed by the law the British enacted in 1861. Is there any surprise, therefore, that the police has retained its colonial mentality and the citizen looks upon a policeman not as a protector but as a tormentor-cum-extortionist?

There is no dearth of elaborate and wholesome schemes for police reforms, of course. Successive Police Commissions and expert committees have made excellent recommendations over the years. The saga of how all concerned have scuttled them would make any sensitive Indian cry.

In 1977, the Janata government appointed a high-powered commission on police reforms, headed by Dharma Vira, a former Cabinet Secretary and Governor. Its report was submitted after Indira Gandhi came back to power and the Janata government was history. Unsurprising-ly, the report was pigeonholed. A number of other commissions and committees followed, yet nothing happened.

So, in 1996, two public-spirited retired Directors-General of Police, Prakash Singh and N. K. Singh, filed a public interest petition in the Supreme Court. Ten years later, the apex court gave a judgment setting out directives on police reforms, based on the recommendations of various expert committees. Most state governments immediately filed objections to the court’s directives consisting of seven salutary steps towards making the police forces independent of political interference and making these forces professionally accountable.

After hearing all the objections and considering them, on January 11, 2007, the Supreme Court upheld its earlier order. Yet the states remained reluctant to carry them out. This was a clear breach of the law and contempt of court. Concerned citizens filed applications for the initiation of contempt proceedings. But, for some reason, the apex court seemed reluctant to take this stern step. For their part, the defiant states made a show of implementing the court’s directives, partially or wholly. The more imaginative of them resorted to the stratagem of disobeying the highest judicial authority in the name of obeying it. Almost every state is drafting laws the contents of which are not always kosher.

Instead of taking action against the defaulters, the Supreme Court appointed a monitoring committee to oversea the compliance of its original judgment. Both this committee and the states whose work it is supervising seem to be working at a leisurely pace.

In 2005, the Central government had appointed a drafting committee, headed by former Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee to prepare a Bill to replace the ancient and archaic law of 1861. This committee submitted its report within a year but even the Union government took no further action.

Nothing much can be expected in terms of a corrective to the messy state of affairs now that the country is in the throes of Lok Sabha elections. But it is to be hoped that whoever comes to power in May will attend to this much-neglected task more earnestly.

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Exam blues and clues
by Rajbir Deswal

April may have been the “cruellest month” for T. S. Eliot, for it prompted “mixing memory and desire”; but March seems to deserve that description in respect of students, who have to write exams missing the colourful fun of Holi. Memorise and revise. Desire, but don’t deserve fun.

Even now when I have successfully written all my educational and professional examinations, I cannot understand why I still occasionally have nightmares of not being able to reach my exam venue in time. I always dream, “Hell barring my way!”

If I make it on time in a certain dream sequence, then invariably I am unable to attempt all the questions. Ink spills on paper or pen goes dry. Things keep going wrong. The reason perhaps lies embedded in my psychological make-up at the subconscious level. So, may be, this is the case with all examinees who stand to various tests in life.

Empathising with the hard-pressed examinees of today, I recall the times when we took tests in a comparatively relaxed manner. My friend Bheema, a wrestler, during my pre-university course studied what we called “26 hours a day”. He believed that desi ghee could make him win a bout, as also “enlighten” his mind to write exams. He, however, failed and attributed his flunking to “impurities” in the desi ghee he consumed.

We had in our hostel boys who spent more time on preparing “chits” for copying. These were “compressed chips” - small in size but enough for storage. The chits being deposited at the appropriate places on their person used to be the copycats’ delight. And being caught with this “explosive material” - as the invigilators called them, would invite devising newer ways of concealing.

Then we had groups of “crazy” guys who would be united in purpose of not appearing in the exams for all the silly reasons. Their aim was “not to pass out of the hostel”; classes they seldom attended. They would have their heads shaven to demonstrate their solidarity. Admitting honestly, they were there to redeem us of our scoring less, thus saving face.

The stereotyped examinees entered the “Hall” with folded hands and prayer on their lips. They would be alarmed if some others finished in time, or asked for more sheets to fill in. They had their own stock of ink, pens and pencils. They would always leave margins on the answer-sheets and attempt questions with clinical precision.

Then there were the ones who popped anti-sleep pills, kept waiting for the desired effect, and slept over the whole night, to wake up all blank. Very few had what is called examination fever. In high school and college, the invigilators were known for being either “Khadoos” or “Biba” (inconsiderate or gentle).

I recall with nostalgia a test which was given to me in the 2nd or 3rd standard by a female teacher who, I thought at that time, was in love with me. She stood at my back to have a peek at how I was solving a sum. I made a wrong answer subtracting, while she very gently spanked my head. I promptly made it a “plus” and looked up at the “Miss”. Her smile is with me till date. “Mera Naam Joker” was made later on.

Recalling our exam days to my son the other day, I was shocked and surprised at what he told me in return. Four of his friends decided neither to prepare for exams nor know the syllabus, nor even revise, but write the exam straightaway. Lo and behold, they got through with fair scoring! On second thoughts then, I must say, that only filling sheets have been replaced with online tests and OMRs (optical mark readers). Otherwise, the examinees remain the same, whatever times they live in — stressed and de-stressed. 

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Crumbling infrastructure
It is scaring away foreign investors
by Kamlendra Kanwar

The credit crunch in the Indian banking sector as a consequence of the global economic meltdown has hit the crucial infrastructure sector hard.

Economist Jagdish Bhagwati, who now teaches at Colombia University, said recently that this country’s impressive growth rate would have been 2 per cent higher but for the sluggishness in the infrastructure sector.

The founder and chief mentor of software giant Infosys, Narayana Murthy, summed it up aptly in a recent interview: “If our infrastructure gets delayed, our economic development, job creation and foreign investment get delayed. Our economic agenda gets delayed—if not derailed.”

In the ramshackle state in which infrastructure is today, it is robbing the country of substantial investment that would otherwise have come its way. Besides, it is deterring tourists and affecting industry in myriad ways.

While India has climbed to the number two position in attracting foreign direct investment, many potential investors are shying away, deterred by the abysmal condition of Indian roads, traffic congestion, flight delays, and chronic shortages of power and water.

There is indeed much to do in the infrastructure sector to come up to international standards. Highways, modern bridges, world-class airports, reliable power and clean water are in desperately short supply.

Bringing them to global standards involves a huge challenge and substantial resources. With much of Indian infrastructure in the public sector, all the ills of this sector, including poor quality of services, wasteful expenditure and low productivity, plague the infrastructure sector.

Power shortage is estimated at 12 per cent at peak levels and 8 per cent at non-peak levels. With politicians of all hues acquiescing in power thefts for the sake of votes and the local authorities looking the other way, the government loses a big chunk of revenue which it could otherwise have ploughed back into improving power availability.

Indian ports have a vessel turnaround time of three to five days, as against only four to six hours in Singapore and Hong Kong as a consequence of inadequate berths and poor road and rail connectivity. For an exporter this is a major justification for shying away from exporting to India on a big scale.

The famed Indian Railways with the largest network in the world has old technology and slow average speeds. Overstaffing and the heavy outgo on salaries leave little for modernisation though in recent years there has been a turnaround in the profitability of the Railways which is a happy sign.

The airports have inadequate aircraft handling capacity and lack of parking space. They also do not measure up to international standards when it comes to passenger amenities and basic infrastructure to cater to services.

Most large Indian cities are overstretched in terms of infrastructure due to fast growth. The national highways account for 2 per cent of total road length, but 40 per cent of total traffic. By adding significantly to the cost of doing business, infrastructure bottlenecks deter foreign and private investors, and constrain the process of growth.

Unless these issues are addressed quickly, India faces the prospect of missing the bus after all the hype that has accompanied the impressive rate of growth in the last few years.

The signs are indeed ominous in the wake of the global economic crisis. For April-December, 2008, the growth of the infrastructure sector — crude oil, petroleum refinery products, coal, electricity, cement and finished steel —-dropped to 3.5 per cent from 5.9 per cent in the same period of 2007-08.  

Considering that the sector accounts for a weightage of 26.7 per cent in the overall index of industrial production, this is reason enough for the overall growth rate of the economy to slow down from the erstwhile 8-9 per cent to 6-7 per cent.

In December, 2008, the latest month for which figures are available, steel and crude oil production declined by 0.8 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively, an indication of how deeply the economic slowdown has impacted these key infrastructural indices. Petroleum refining products, however, made a marginal gain of 3 per cent.

Mercifully, over the years the foreign direct investment norms have been substantially liberalised in regard to infrastructure investments. Today, FDI in infrastructure is permitted upto 100 per cent in various sectors like roads and highways, ports and harbours, electricity generation, transmission and distribution, mass rapid transport system, industrial parks/SEZs, integrated townships over 100 acres, hotels & tourism, LNG projects, and greenfield airport ventures.

If even with this there is no deluge of foreign investment into India it is because there is a feeling of exasperation with India’s rampant corruption and the plethora of regulations that foreign investors find very irksome. There is far too much red tape for it to go unnoticed by investors.

The licence-permit raj may have formally ended, but the bureaucracy is still very obstructionist. Bribe-taking is chronic with the terrible nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and traders taking a heavy toll of anybody who wishes to set up a project in India, be it in infrastructure or any other sector.

A recent blog on the Internet hit the nail on the head when it said: “China can build an airport from scratch in one year; that is the same amount of time the Indian government takes just to propose building an airport. Going through the bureaucracy is the biggest hurdle. There is no dearth of skill, labour, or technical know-how. The biggest problem is the hurdles one must cross with the government.”

The Central government has responded to the all-round credit crunch by asking state governments to build infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships and has offered liberal assistance. It has set up an inter-ministerial committee on infrastructure, tasked with establishing a framework to effectively benchmark the performance of PPP projects. The committee is tasked to find a mechanism to monitor PPP projects and ensure that they are completed on time.

But so often have committees ended up as mere talking shops that a measure of skepticism is a natural reaction. Good intentions are not enough. They need to be backed by bold measures that attack the problems and deficiencies at their root. Corruption and red tape need to be tackled head-on if any headway is to be made in putting things on track.

Public-private partnership is a good principle to follow but it remains to be seen how it works on the ground.

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Tough times ahead for Haryana
by Gobind Thukral

Haryana’s economy is moving from boom to recession. Industrialists in major townships like Gurgaon and Panipat are cutting costs and workers are losing jobs. During 2007-08 the economy grew at a whooping rate of 9.3 per cent at constant prices with 1999-2000 as the base year and for 2008-09 it is 8 per cent.

With dwindling taxes, it is becoming worrisome for the government to be on the fast track of development. It was allocating huge funds for all sectors, particular social services; education, health and welfare of the Scheduled Castes, backward classes and the poor. The saving grace could be the agriculture sector, whose share though declined from 21.2 per cent to 19.6 per cent. Over two-third people, directly or indirectly, depend upon farming and allied sectors. It ought to grow fast enough – around 4 per cent – to beat the blues of recession.

Less than a year earlier, Finance Minister Birender Singh, scripting Haryana’s unprecedented growth story, was claiming, and rightly so, “Most states, including neighbouring Punjab and Himachal, are resorting to borrowings to meet even revenue expenditure. Haryana has over Rs 6,300 crore cash surplus parked with the RBI” and adding that “it’s a two-fold jump in as many years. We are so comfortably placed that it is for the first time that the state has not taken a credit limit from the State Bank of India for wheat procurement but footed the procurement bills on its own”.

Now the government will have to resort to market borrowings and deficit financing to maintain the present pace of development. It has mopped up Rs 1,500 crore. There is nothing wrong in this as economies worldwide take that route. But the money will have to be more carefully spent. No profligate spending.

For the Congress government and the Finance Minister, the budget for 2009-10 presented a tough choice. With the Lok Sabha elections under way and assembly polls not far off, budgeting under recessionary pressures could be unnerving.

While there was a realistic effort to acknowledge the slow growth and the falling revenue, populist measures to woo the voters did not lag, putting the Opposition on the back foot.

Birender Singh admitted a 50 per cent shortfall in the state’s share from the Central sales tax. It is all due to a fall in the exports, which is all set to be pronounced now.

Let us look how the government plays its cards. The big effort, and it carried the stamp of the Finance Minister, is to provide Rs 1,500 crore to boost the economy through a slew of a dedicated eonomic stimulus package during the next two years in a focussed manner for specific projects in infrastructure sectors across the state. All these projects are to be taken up in a mission mode.

In addition, the government has proposed a record plan of Rs 10,000 crore for 2009-10. It is a hefty increase of 50 per cent. Add Rs 1,196 crore from the centrally sponsored schemes. Also, Rs 17,725 crore expenditure on the capital side during 2005-2010 is more than double as compared to Rs. 8,308 crore during 2000-2005.

The annual plan should push the demand for raw materials and finished products, thus slowing the much-dreaded recession.

If efficiently implemented, it could save the public from the pains of recession and the government from severe fiscal strains. Agriculture, erratic at present, could be the ultimate saviour.

Haryana is a net exporter of manufactured goods and is thus more securely integrated with the national and global economies. As the government has often claimed, “Haryana is the flag-bearer in the hitherto fastest growing sectors of housing and real estate”.

These sectors are now in a dreadful condition. Real estate major DLF has already withdrawn from its favoured project and others may follow soon. The revenue from the stamp duty and other related taxes is sure to fall. The government has already lost nearly Rs 1,000 crore. One has to see how many of the 43 SEZs finally become operational.

The meltdown in real estate and housing is severally hitting the government finances. In overall terms, the estimated revenue receipts at Rs 21,771 crore in the revised estimate for 2008-09 are expected to be about Rs 2,020 crore more than the actual receipt during 2007-08 representing a growth of about 10.2 per cent. A good achievement, indeed!

The overall total receipts net of public debt in the revised estimates of 2008-2009 at about Rs 25,565 crore are likely to be about Rs 5,588 crore more than the actual receipts during 2007-08.

The biggest outgo is due to the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report. The revised pay package is being implemented from January 2006, and the liability on account of the payment of salary arrears alone is assessed at Rs 4,350 core. This is a deferred liability of 36 months.

After factoring in dearness allowance, the liability works out at Rs 4350 crore. Now these liabilities, created in earlier financial years to the extent of about Rs 3,210 crore, will have to be discharged during this and next financial year.

If the government wants to see its scarce resources well spent, it should have a strong monitoring system in place before it’s too late. So far emphasis has been largely on more allocation of funds as the kitty had enough. This system should be able to check corruption that is increasing and take care of delays.

Delayed projects become costlier and the projected benefits are denied to the public. The Chief Minister ought to call attention to efficiency in the government functioning. It should be a good idea to link part of the salary increase to efficiency and innovation among the employees. This is one way to discourage inefficiency.

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A farewell to jobs
by Jill Andresky Fraser

According to a recently released poll, 32 percent of Americans are crazy. At least, that's how I read the data. What the poll, conducted by Associated Press-GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, actually found is that an astonishing 32 percent of those surveyed are confident that they are secure in their jobs.

How can anyone today feel safe? Many industries – automobile manufacturing, media, the retail sector, financial services and construction to name a few – are in free fall. And now even technology giants such as National Semiconductor and Dell have begun laying people off. So has that symbol of all symbols, Microsoft, which recently announced the first major layoff in the company's history.

And it all trickles down. As computer programmers cut back on their lattes, Starbucks workers lose their jobs. And as taxes shrink, governments contract, which means that tiny branches of local libraries are laying off people too – despite the fact that, in many communities, libraries have emerged as gathering spots for unemployed people of all ages and at all stages in their careers.

The official U.S. unemployment rate is 7.6 percent and growing, and the actual rate is probably closer to 14 percent if you include people so discouraged that they've quit looking or taken part-time jobs because that's all they could find. Surveys have found that most Americans have friends or family members who have been laid off in the last six months. So it's hard to look at the one-third of Americans who remain optimistic and not conclude they're nuts.

In the global marketplace, mass firings have become the knee-jerk reaction to whatever bad news comes along. As defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a mass layoff occurs when at least 50 initial claims for unemployment insurance are filed by the former employees of a single establishment during a five-week period. During December 2008 alone, there were, by those standards, 2,275 mass-layoff "events" nationwide, down slightly from November's record high of 2,333. As a point of comparison, there were "just" 1,352 mass layoffs in November 2007 and 1,469 the following month.

The bureau also reports on what it calls "extended" mass layoffs, which is what happens when private-sector nonfarm employers report that 50 or more employees have remained out of work for at least 31 days. During the fourth quarter of 2008, 3,140 extended mass layoffs left 508,859 people "separated" from their jobs. The construction and manufacturing sectors hit highs for extended mass layoffs, and so did eight states, including California.

So who are these confident workers? As a longtime journalist, married to a longtime editor, living on the same island as Wall Street, it's fair to say we have so many friends who are out of work that actually having a job is coming to seem odd. I can practically count on one hand the families I know in which both spouses seem "safely" employed.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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