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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Jail for Telgi
What about the politicians linked to the scam?

A
bdul Karim Telgi
, the prime accused in the multi-crore fake stamp paper scam, has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment by Ahmedabad’s Special CBI court on Thursday. There are as many as 50 cases pending against him. A Pune court had awarded him 13 years of jail in 2007. His operations are believed to have extended across 12 states through a network built from 1995 onwards.

The Aravalis in danger
Mining cannot be allowed to play havoc

D
anger
to the whatever is left of the Aravali Hills has become a big issue. The Supreme Court is even contemplating a complete ban on mining in the Aravali hill areas of Faridabad and Gurgaon districts. Hearing a case pertaining to mining around Satluj riverbed, the Punjab and Haryana High Court division bench stated that perhaps a vigilance probe was the best way to fix accountability. 



EARLIER STORIES

Threat to security
March 20, 2009
Punish Varun
March 19, 2009
Marxist manifesto
March 18, 2009
Restoration of Chief Justice
March 17, 2009
Deepening crisis in Pakistan
March 16, 2009
Manifesto of an unborn party
March 15, 2009
Third Front
March 14, 2009
Pakistan on the brink
March 13, 2009
Army’s warning
March 11, 2009
Et tu, Naveen?
March 10, 2009
Limits of protest
March 9, 2009
Underachievers at school
March 8, 2009


No-freebies time
EC wields the stick

P
oliticians
have a phenomenal capacity to find loopholes in rules. This holds true not only while they are making money for themselves but also while they are circumventing rules to their advantage. Election time is particularly the time to spend public money on garnering votes for the party in power. This menace had become so widespread that the model code of conduct had to be adopted.

ARTICLE

Stalemate in Nepal
Maoists have India paranoia
by Major-Gen Ashok K Mehta (retd)

I
t
is not as if Nepal is not making news any more. Sadly, the socket bomb exploding in Nepal does not make as big a bang as the suicide bomber in Pakistan. Not long ago, Maoists and Monarchists were locked in a battle royale till Maoists abandoned war for politics. Following a four-year-long peace process, Maoists are heading an uneasy coalition government caught in a stalemate, which some fear, could be heading towards a civil war.


MIDDLE

Years of silence
by Robin Gupta

I
n
Chandigarh , a small city planned around the Secretariat, one is acutely made aware of retirement in myriad ways. “Your Honour has just a month left” announced the reader of my court, “after which you will become a public man”. My secretary ominously added: “It is not possible to enter the Secretariat in a private car”.


OPED

Lawyers’ march
Zardari not his own master
by Kuldip Nayar

IT was once said that Pakistan was ruled by Allah, America and Abba, Nawaz Sharif’s father. Nawaz Sharif was then the Prime Minister. Abba was replaced by the Army when General Pervez Musharraf took over. The alliteration of ‘A’ has not gone even after President Zardari has assumed power. His full name is Asif Ali Zardari. The ineluctable ‘A’ is still there.

Why inflation is so low
News analysis by Nirmal Sandhu

M
any
people ask why has inflation come down so sharply to touch a 32-year low at 0.44 per cent and why is the impact not reflected in household budgets? Is a low inflation rate good or bad? What are its implications?

Some bird populations shrink
by Juliet Eilperin

S
everal
major bird populations have plummeted over the past four decades as development transformed the nation’s landscape, but conservation efforts have managed to stave off potential extinctions of others, according to a comprehensive survey released on Thursday by experts.

 


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Jail for Telgi
What about the politicians linked to the scam?

Abdul Karim Telgi, the prime accused in the multi-crore fake stamp paper scam, has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment by Ahmedabad’s Special CBI court on Thursday. There are as many as 50 cases pending against him. A Pune court had awarded him 13 years of jail in 2007. His operations are believed to have extended across 12 states through a network built from 1995 onwards. By printing and selling thousands of fake stamp paper, Telgi defrauded the country of an estimated Rs 50,000 crore. Lakhs of innocent people who unknowingly bought his stamp paper would have been left with invalid documents had the RBI not declared that they would still hold good legally. Unfortunately, the government is yet to unearth the exact amount involved in the scam.

Surprisingly, while the Telgi probe is going at a snail’s pace, the people have not been told how many politicians are involved in the scandal; nor which party or state they belong to. Some police officers have been arrested and then released. Former Mumbai Police Commissioner R.S. Sharma was discharged after the special court found “insufficient evidence” against him. How will the people have faith in the criminal justice system if the big fish get away scot-free? Chhagan Bhujbal, Maharashtra’s high profile leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, was the first political victim of the scam. He resigned as Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister in December 2004 after revelations by a Mumbai-based petrol dealer. However, he has not been tried so far, let alone jailed.

More important, during a narco analysis test in Bangalore in 2004, Telgi had named not only Bhujbal but also several other politicians including powerful ministers, but no action has been taken against them. Unfortunately, the politicians involved in the Taj Corridor scam in UP, the fodder scandal in Bihar and the Disproportionate Assets cases in UP have not been brought to book. In this, successive governments of the NDA and the UPA are responsible because they depended upon the support of Ms Mayawati, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. In the process, the rule of law has received a setback because of the protection given to these politicians. 

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The Aravalis in danger
Mining cannot be allowed to play havoc

Danger to the whatever is left of the Aravali Hills has become a big issue. The Supreme Court is even contemplating a complete ban on mining in the Aravali hill areas of Faridabad and Gurgaon districts. Hearing a case pertaining to mining around Satluj riverbed, the Punjab and Haryana High Court division bench stated that perhaps a vigilance probe was the best way to fix accountability. This is not the first time the courts have rapped state governments who have repeatedly turned a blind eye to illegal mining activity. Last month alone, in 20 villages in Mewat district, the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling was reportedly being flouted.

Mining, a money minting business, has often enjoyed political patronage. Several politicians hand in glove with unscrupulous contractors have failed to take account of the ecological price of indiscriminate mining extracts from the environment. While large-scale mining is the prime cause behind deforestation, even small-scale mining is no less damaging. Mining adversely affects the ground water supply and the chemicals used in mining pollute rivers, streams and lakes which poses a threat both to the environment and the health of the people.

The judiciary’s proactive role in the issue, which has far reaching effects on the environment, is laudable. Sadly, it has not been matched by government action. After blatantly ignoring the norms for over a decade, the Haryana government has in principle agreed to abide by the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee’s recommendations. Whether it delivers on the promise remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Punjab government would do well to learn lessons from Haryana where indiscriminate mining has sounded the death-knell of many water-bodies and also endangered the fragile ecosystem of the Aravali range. In Jaipur, the heart of the Aravali range, hills have been flattened. According to environmentalists if Aravali range, one of oldest mountain ranges is not protected, North India is likely to become one big desert. The state governments not only need to work beyond vested interests but also state borders. The environment is both a collective legacy of the people and a joint responsibility of the state governments which must discharge it with honesty. 

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No-freebies time
EC wields the stick

Politicians have a phenomenal capacity to find loopholes in rules. This holds true not only while they are making money for themselves but also while they are circumventing rules to their advantage. Election time is particularly the time to spend public money on garnering votes for the party in power. This menace had become so widespread that the model code of conduct had to be adopted. But like any law, it is also open to misuse at the hands of resourceful politicians across the country. That is why the Election Commission at times adopts measures which at the first glance may appear to be draconian. Of late, it has fallen foul of the Punjab Government which is fuming because some of its “welfare” measures have been crossed out under the “zero tolerance” policy. It has not only instructed the Punjab Government to stop disbursing subsidies on agricultural equipment, it has also directed it to refrain from printing and distributing written course material that supplements the free coaching classes conducted by the Edusat Society of the state.

As if that was not enough, the Election Commission has also told the government to remove portraits of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal from government offices. The case of agricultural subsidy is the most curious. Punjab had announced 50 per cent subsidy on import of 700 paddy planters. The commission wants Punjab to specify the criteria by which the subsidies were being disbursed. This order comes in the wake of a Congress complaint that the subsidies are being given to a chosen few. Similarly, it has refused to give permission to print reading material for 10,000 poor students of Class XII of government schools who are to attend free coaching classes for medical and engineering entrance tests from March 25.

Like Caesar’s wife, the Election Commission has to be above reproach. Perhaps it is inevitable that it would like to err on the side of caution. No doubt, the stringent measures will affect many deserving students and farmers too, but they will also ensure that there are no attempts to influence voters through freebies. 

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Thought for the Day

The superfluous, a very necessary thing. — Voltaire

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Stalemate in Nepal
Maoists have India paranoia
by Major-Gen Ashok K Mehta (retd)

It is not as if Nepal is not making news any more. Sadly, the socket bomb exploding in Nepal does not make as big a bang as the suicide bomber in Pakistan. Not long ago, Maoists and Monarchists were locked in a battle royale till Maoists abandoned war for politics. Following a four-year-long peace process, Maoists are heading an uneasy coalition government caught in a stalemate, which some fear, could be heading towards a civil war.

Maoists have described the visits this month to Delhi by former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and King Gyanendra and other Nepali leaders as “India plotting” for unseating their government. Maoists’ India paranoia has become an obsession.

Prime Minister Prachanda’s government is confronted with two challenges: drafting a constitution and integration of the PLA with the Nepalese Army. Both these tasks have to be completed for the fruition of the peace process and exit of United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) mandated to oversee the integration of armies.

Maoists are falling short of providing good governance and delivery of their promise to the people of a socio-economic transformation which will determine whether they can return to power on a Maoist wave.

Six months into power and 10 months after the elections, Maoists’ commitment to multiparty democracy and rule of law has been overtaken by totalitarian ideology and revolutionary zeal. Their party ideologues say they do not believe in parliamentary system and will establish a people’s republic. Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai has the chutzpah to say that “not a word” will get written in the constitution “which is not our word”. “Consensual politics has yielded to rule by ordinance monitored by the Maoists” policy implementation team.

Eighteen of the 25 parties in Parliament are seeking an alternative to the government with the self-styled opposition Nepali Congress spearheading the drive for change. Maoists are employing their time-tested strategy of threat and intimidation to deter “toppling the government”. A defiant Prachanda warns of revolt, confidently adding: “There is no alternative to my leadership”. Similar tactics worked to their advantage in the runup to elections as no one wants them to return to the jungle. In the absence of a united front, keeping coalition allies Communist Party of Nepal United Marxist Leninist and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum happy is essential for the survival of the government.

Yet, all is not well with the Maoists. Restlessness has seized the party and the People’s Liberation Army. Chief ideologue Mohan Baidya accuses India of Operation Topple by propping up the Madhesis. Head of international department CP Gajurel adds fuel to fire recommending the launch of a third People’s Movement. PLA commander Nand Kishore Pun threatens to match Nepalese Army recruitment by filling up 12,000 vacancies in the PLA contrary to the ban on raising strength of armies. A Supreme Court stay has stalled the problem. Topping these controversies is the flamboyant Madhesi leader Maitrika Prasad Yadav’s new Maoist party in the Terai to wage an armed struggle on behalf of the landless.

The actual work on constitution writing has not begun yet. Fifteen issue-based committees have been formed and are to interact with the people before preparing the draft. The first of these met with a hostile reception in the Maoist stronghold of Rukum. Each party has prepared its vision of the new statute and finding a common ground for different ideologies will not be easy. Producing the constitution by the deadline of May 2010 appears impossible.

The Army Integration Special Committee backed by its technical committee has not announced the process and procedure of integration, still stuck in the recruitment row. Integration is a political process and not a numbers game. Amalgamating armies will prove even more contentious than drafting the constitution due to extreme positions of the Left and Right-minded parties. It is ironic that Maoists who are heading the government are also the negotiating party for the PLA.

Some achievements of the Maoists, notably wealth tax, land reforms and minimum wages, have been masked by the collapse of public security. Absence of rule of law has bred the culture of impunity conspicuously in the Terai where two dozen armed gangs, some in dialogue with the government, run individual fiefdoms. The latest uprising is by indigenous Tharus objecting to being clubbed with Madhesis.

In the last seven months there have been 130 killings, 45 abductions, 25 bomb blasts and unending bandhs and road closures in the Terai adversely affecting the economy.

The situation in the hills is no better. Frequent clashes between politically affiliated youth wings with Maoist Young Communist League, attack on police post in Puithan and killings of journalists, attack on Himal media — in most cases, the finger points to Maoists.

A possible alternative to the “autocratic government” is a non-Maoist UML-led government which is being supported by former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala who has proposed Madhav Nepal as PM.

It is not clear whether these statements are threats to bring Maoists back to the democratic path or a prelude to revolt and street battles.

Whenever Maoists feel insecure they threaten to capture power. Maoist writ still runs in 85 per cent of the rural areas as their parallel structures have not been dismantled. Nor has the YCL relaxed its vice-like grip. Infiltration or subversion, as some say, of state structures has taken place with government patronage. Integration of the PLA with the Nepalese Army is seen as part of that plan.

The only institution that stands in the way of Maoists capturing power is the Army. Periodically Army Chief Gen Rukmangad Katwal announces that the Army will support a legitimately elected government and take orders from it though it characterised government direction to stop recruitment as “unimplementable”. Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, a former PLA Commander who has visited China twice, is warming up to Chinese PLA commanders, seeking their help and guidance in training of Maoist PLA.

The Chinese are drawing maximum advantage from the Maoists, leaning on them to “balance India”. Maoist foreign policy reorientation under way is seen by China both as an opportunity and a challenge to undercut Indian influence in Nepal. In a reaction reflecting complete comfort and confidence with Maoist reorientation of policy, India called it Nepal’s internal affair though former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh referred to it as China-Nepal nexus on the rise. Clearly there is chilling in India-Nepal relations.

India has played a key role in Nepal’s peace process. External affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Al Jazeera that “we persuaded Maoists to give up violence and join the political mainstream”. The 12-point Delhi Agreement led to Jan Andolan II and they are now heading a democratic government, he said. Some security experts have described it as India’s strategic blunder, even equating it with a Cuba in the front yard. May be not, as Maoists understand the geostrategic reality and elasticity of the balancing option. Whether India is claiming credit for Maoist electoral success or not it has a responsibility towards helping steer the peace process to its logical conclusion, including making Maoists mend their words and deeds.

The test of Maoist popularity and bonafides as a party committed to multiparty democracy and rule of law will come during six by-elections in April. We will then catch the import of Prachanda’s classic Mao-speak: “We are not what we appear”. 

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Years of silence
by Robin Gupta

In Chandigarh , a small city planned around the Secretariat, one is acutely made aware of retirement in myriad ways. “Your Honour has just a month left” announced the reader of my court, “after which you will become a public man”. My secretary ominously added: “It is not possible to enter the Secretariat in a private car”.

While I was still taking this in, a fellow Financial Commissioner informed me: “Did you know our batchmate in Gujarat died after his retirement party”? I had never imagined that retirement, like birth or marriage, is a major milestone in this travail and takes precedence over death.

In Le Corbusier’s architectural planning, however, Sector 1 claims the Secretariat where the elected Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary preside over government, while Sector 25, last of the original sectors, houses a well-maintained cremation ground. All other habitat before and after these two terminal points are outside the pale of that which is understood or acceptable. And therefore a retiree loses his relevance and becomes a liability, one who is best acknowledged in absentia.

And in retirement, a civil servant experiences abiding silence. Quite suddenly the telephone and door bell stops ringing. The letterbox reveals a bunch of bills and some unpleasant reminders. Official invitations and greetings cease. The skeletal security personnel suddenly forget to wear their boots and start matching their khaki trousers with red and magenta shirts preceded by their indecisive salute.

Mulling over these matters I turned to Manu’s “Vanaprastha” ashram when a person is supposed to retire to a lonely forest clad in deerskin far away from worldly affairs. Finding this as terrifying as despatching widows to Vrindaban, I turned to Shakespeare’s understanding of ageing: “The sixth age of man shifts into the lean and slippered pantaloon with spectacles on nose and pouch on side, — his big manly voice turning again towards childish treble. Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”.

The Shakespearean presentation of age is starkly grim for it is sans the concept of spiritual release “Moksha”. In my own view retirement heralds the golden years of life in which one is free to build upon such structures as one wishes to and traverse pathways that earlier one merely caught glimpses of. And if indeed one experiences vacuity within owing to lack of official regimen this is reflective more of the emptiness of experience during the years of regimented activity.

Now after 60 long years of disciplined living, I hasten toward the river before daybreak to hear the morning birds rejoicing in the stillness of creation, I look across the calm waters to witness the restless city poised to take off in awkward leaps and I pray to the rising sun for another day.

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Lawyers’ march
Zardari not his own master
by Kuldip Nayar

IT was once said that Pakistan was ruled by Allah, America and Abba, Nawaz Sharif’s father. Nawaz Sharif was then the Prime Minister. Abba was replaced by the Army when General Pervez Musharraf took over.

The alliteration of ‘A’ has not gone even after President Zardari has assumed power. His full name is Asif Ali Zardari. The ineluctable ‘A’ is still there.

Whatever these appellations may mean, it is the Pakistan nation that has won in the long march undertaken to reinstate the judges. Never before the government in a country has bowed before the people who came on the streets.

Come to think of it, it is the victory of lawyers led by a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) member Aitzaz Hasan, who started a march from the Lahore High Court two years ago to have deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges reinstated.

Their only fault was that they had earned the ire of the then President, General Pervez Musharraf, who was not happy with their independent judgements. The long march this time, again started from Lahore, was successful even before it had reached its destination, Islamabad.

Nawaz Sharif, who led the lawyers’ march, had covered only up to Gujranwala, a small distance from Lahore when Zardari agreed to redeem the promise he had made in a joint declaration at Murree. The declaration had the reinstatement of the sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges at the top.

Probably, fearing the reopening of corruption cases against him, Zardari dragged his feet. But it made a mockery of the Murree declaration. It also showed the infirmity of the understanding the PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League had reached to rule the country jointly.

Why did the two go apart? So much so that Nawaz Sharif’s men resigned from the government. From whichever angle one looks at, the combination of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif is the best for Pakistan. The PPP is trying to have an alliance with the Muslim League (Qaide) of Zahoor Elahi, but this party of disgruntled members would only use the PPP support to come to power and then destroy the combination from within.

By aligning itself too much with the ousted General Musharraf, the Muslim League (Q) has lot its credibility. It cannot replace the Muslim League (N).

The only answer to the Pakistan’s problems is the unity between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. However personally hurt the two may feel over the incidents of the last few days, they have to join hands to fight the terrorists who are nibbling at Pakistan’s territory. The latter have strengthened their hold so much in the Swat valley, Chittral and four other districts of Malkhand division that they can walk into Peshawar any day.

This worries Washington the most. True, it has played a very crucial role in solving the recent crisis but America’s eyes were fixed on the steps to be taken after the crisis was over. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in constant touch with Zardari.

On America’s bidding, General Parvez Ashfaque Kayani, the Pakistan Army Chief, assured the Zardari government that he did not want to step in but would be left with no other option if Zardari did not make up with Nawaz Sharif to resolve the judges’ issue.

Whatever the reason, it has become clear that Zardari is not his own master. His dependence on the US and the army does not auger well for the country. He should realise that Pakistan is in a mess because it has had 50 years of military rule since its constitution in August 1947 and because Washington has interfered in the Pakistan affairs all the time.

When people forced Musharraf to quit and voted freely in the election that followed his exit, they wanted both the PPP and the Muslim League (N) to rule the country together. They wanted the return of democracy.

Despite a few hitches soon after the government took over, they heaved a sigh of relief when the cabinet, including Nawaz Sharif’s men, began functioning. They expected the two parties to keep the interest of Pakistan above their own.

They are disappointed to see that it has not happened so. Now that the democratic government has got another lease of life, both Zardari and Nawaz Sharif should realise that they are intertwined by destiny. They will be responsible if Pakistan again plunges into another crisis.

The silver lining is that the media, the fourth estate, a pillar on which a democratic structure rests, has emerged strong. Its performance in the last four-five years has shown that it can defend Pakistan’s interest well.

It was the media which proved to the Zardari government that Kasab, one of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, was from Murdike, a place near Lahore.

The Pakistan media has proved to its counterparts in India that, however old the latter’s traditions, it has grown stodgy and become part of the establishment.

The Indian media during the Emergency proved how callow and coward it was when it faced the challenge of protecting the democratic structure which an authoritarian government had taken over. The TV networks were not there at that time.

But I have no faith in them after seeing their prejudiced, government-oriented coverage of events either in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

L.K. Advani had said aptly after the Emergency that the journalists were asked to bend but they began to crawl. By resigning, Information Minister Sherry Rehman has shown that the curbs on the media and democracy cannot live together.

No minister quitted Indira Gandhi’s cabinet when she gagged the Press and suspended even the fundamentalist rights. Now the same ministers in the ruling Congress are showing concern over the fate of democracy in Pakistan.

What did they do when democracy was muzzled in India? Till now they have have done no introspection to find out why they failed when the nation expected them to stand up to the extra-constitutional authority of Sanjay Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi.

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Why inflation is so low
News analysis by Nirmal Sandhu

Many people ask why has inflation come down so sharply to touch a 32-year low at 0.44 per cent and why is the impact not reflected in household budgets? Is a low inflation rate good or bad? What are its implications?

Inflation, as we all know, indicates the rise in prices. If it has plummeted to almost zero, it means prices have almost stopped rising. This does not necessarily mean prices have fallen. Therefore, a newspaper headline like “Inflation at 0.44 %, but food prices still high” can confuse readers.

Inflation is determined on the basis of the prices of a basket of goods. Only the prices of certain goods, especially metals and petroleum products, have come down. But items of daily use like sugar, pulses and cereals are still high. Why? Because these are necessities people cannot do without.

There is often a gap between the wholesale price index, also called “headline inflation”, and the consumer price index, which reflects the picture at the ground level. Now while the former has slumped, the latter is still at a high. This can be, among other reasons, due to manipulation by middlemen and traders or a local level gap between demand and supply.

Wheat and rice prices cannot come down below a level because these are not determined by the demand and supply forces. Even if there is a bumper crop, prices will not fall because the government fixes their minimum support prices.

The sugar prices are at a high now because of a lower production and a decline in the area under sugarcane. We do not grow enough pulses to meet our domestic demand and, therefore, have to depend on imports. Their prices, like those of oil, are largely beyond government control.

Some food items like tea, gram, fruits and vegetables have become cheaper. If lower prices benefit consumers, they tend to hurt the producers. If farm produce prices sink beyond a reasonable level, it would hurt farmers.

The decline in the prices of steel, cement, oil and other manufactured goods is attributed to a falling demand due to the ongoing slowdown. This show industrial activity is slowing down and is a sign of trouble in the economy.

When prices fall over a period of time due to a declining demand, it is called deflation. This is the opposite of high inflation and is equally worrying.

This means industries are not able to sell what they produce, which hits corporate earnings. This, in turn, brings down stock markets as foreign institutional investors head for greener pastures.

Deflation is the new phenomenon the recession-hit world is grappling with. Japan, which had a decade-long deflation in the 1990s, and China have already reported deflation, also called negative inflation. In India it is too early to say anything yet.

Headline inflation is calculated on a year-on-year basis. If last year inflation was at 12-13 per cent during this period, in comparison the price rise this year could become negative even if prices stop falling. This is called the base effect, which has brought price rise to almost zero.

To fight deflation, governments and central banks do the opposite of what they do to control high inflation, that is, to pump more money in the system. The RBI is bringing down interest rates, but in slow motion. In the US interest rates are close to zero. The government wants people and industries to take loans and spend to revive consumer demand.

In India interest rates are high because banks have not lowered the deposit rates. This helps pensioners and others dependent on interest income. The RBI believes in gradualism and cuts the key rates in stages. Besides, the government is to borrow heavily to fund its packages. This may not let interest rates to fall beyond a point.

In the US and China the governments have come out with massive stimulus packages to perk up industrial activity, employment and consumer spending. The Indian government has announced relatively smaller stimulus packages.

But it has handed over some additional cash to sections of society through the salary and pension hikes, the farm loan waiver, the rural job guarantee scheme and Bharat Nirman. Elections too see heavy spending and transfer of cash from politicians to people.

More money has come into the system and still more is expected when the RBI further lowers interest rates. Whether this makes more people to borrow and spend remains to be seen. At the moment most are awaiting prices to fall further.

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Some bird populations shrink
by Juliet Eilperin

Several major bird populations have plummeted over the past four decades as development transformed the nation’s landscape, but conservation efforts have managed to stave off potential extinctions of others, according to a comprehensive survey released on Thursday by experts.

“The State of the Birds” report, a sweeping analysis of data compiled through scientific and citizen surveys over the past 40 years, shows some species have made significant gains even as others have suffered. Hunted waterfowl and iconic species such as the bald eagle have expanded in number, the report found, as birds along the nation’s coasts and in its arid areas and grasslands have declined sharply.

“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells.”

The fact that concerted conservation efforts have saved birds such as the peregrine falcon and allowed various wetland birds to flourish, scientists said, shows that other species can reverse their declines with sufficient support from federal agencies and private groups.

The species in decline are being affected by climate change, habitat destruction, invasive species and disease, among other factors, the report found. More pedestrian threats, such as collisions with buildings and attacks by feral cats, have diminished birds’ numbers in some urban and suburban areas.

Hawaii, more than any other place in the country, highlights the challenge native American birds face. Seventy-one bird species have disappeared since humans populated the Hawaiian islands in 300 A.D., and another 10 have not been spotted in years. At the moment, more than a third of the bird species listed under the Endangered Species Act are in Hawaii, but state and federal agencies spent only $30.6 million on endangered birds there between 1996 and 2004, compared with more than $722 million on the mainland.

“In Hawaii we’ve got lots of imminent extinctions, but not enough resources being spent on them,” said George Wallace, vice president of the American Bird Conservancy.

With sufficient funds, Wallace argued, federal managers could restore Hawaiian birds’ habitat and protect them against introduced species such as pigs, sheep and deer that threaten their survival.

Bird advocates have enjoyed more success in raising money to protect North American waterfowl, which have a powerful political constituency among sport hunters. The U.S. government has raised $700 million for wetlands conservation through the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, better known as “duck stamps,” and a coalition of private groups and agencies in Canada, the United States and Mexico have raised more than $3 billion over the past 20 years to protect more than 13 million acres of waterfowl habitat. Taken as a whole, the 39 species of hunted waterfowl that federal managers track have increased 100 percent over the past 40 years.

In some cases, however, public and private protections for key bird species are in jeopardy. The Conservation Reserve Program provides federal dollars to farmers in order to preserve vital habitat on which species such as the lesser prairie chicken depend, but contracts encompassing 3.9 million acres are set to expire by the end of September. Michael J. Bean, who directs the wildlife program for the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, said losing these grasslands “could be the tipping point that makes an endangered species designation for the lesser prairie chicken unavoidable.”

Placing the bird on the endangered species list, Bean added, could make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to build wind projects in the southern Plains. As a whole, birds that breed only in grasslands have declined by 40 percent over the past four decades.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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