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Editorials | Editor’s Column | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Realignment in Tamil Nadu
PMK parts ways with DMK, Congress

T
he
snapping of links between the PMK and the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the deal struck by the PMK with Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, bode ill for the UPA at the Centre which has lost another electoral ally, after the RJD and the Samajwadi Party. Congress leaders were trying to get the PMK on board until the last minute but it was the DMK’s overbearing attitude that queered the pitch.

Mid-Day Meal scheme
Haryana verdict a welcome deterrent

I
t
is an index of the malaise that has set in that five teachers of Jind district in Haryana have been sentenced to a seven- year jail term by a district court for misappropriation of Mid-Day Meal funds. The Mid-Day Meal scheme, a flagship programme of the HRD Ministry, is the world’s largest school lunch programme.



EARLIER STORIES

The daily bread
March 26, 2009
Third alternative?
March 25, 2009
Prosecute Varun Gandhi
March 24, 2009
Iran as the US master-key
March 23, 2009
Buy the best for armed forces
March 22, 2009
Jail for Telgi
March 21, 2009
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


Security of information
Police and BPOs must act together

F
oreign
reporters, posing as gangsters, purchased data — including names, addresses and credit card numbers of British residents — from a broker in Delhi and in doing so exposed a chilling chink in the country’s business process outsourcing industry. The BBC report shows its reporters negotiating with a person identified as Saurabh Sachar who says he can supply them with hundreds of credit and debit card details each week at a cost of $10 a card.

Editor’s Column

With love from Obama
Will US, Iran be on speaking terms?
by H.K. Dua

F
estivals
all over the world come in handy to exchange goodwill and sometimes dissolve personal quarrels. Nations, like individuals, have often used such occasions to make new beginnings, getting over pride, prejudice and wounded egos that often sharpen international divides.


MIDDLE

More than what meets the eye
by Rajbir Deswal

T
o
be able to read between the lines means the clairvoyance to comprehend what is actually intended to be conveyed. But how about going micromillimetres distance between the canvas and the brush to identify as to how many layers of visuals rest there? And also that, what exactly should one pose in a portrait show-up? Isn't it all really mystifying? It may be true! It may be false!


OPED

War on terror
The US should engage with Sharif
by Ashis Ray

T
he
reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan is not merely an emphatic victory for Nawaz Sharif and his Muslim League, but a reiteration of what’s been obvious — that Sharif has been for a while and still is our neighbour’s most popular politician.

India stealing water: Pak
by Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich in Wazirabad

C
rucial,
coveted and increasingly scarce, water has become the latest issue to stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, with farmers in Pakistan’s breadbasket accusing Delhi of reducing one of the subcontinent’s most important rivers to little more than a trickle.

Falling rupee hurts students, tourists
by Vasant G. Gandhi

F
oreign
currency markets around the world are much like markets for any other goods. If the supply of rupees rises relative to its demand, then its price will fall. And it has been falling for many years! It took 7.50 rupees to buy one US dollar in 1970, but it took 52 rupees in the first week of March 2009 — a 593.33 per cent decline in nearly 39 years or 15.6 per cent a year!

Corrections and clarifications

 


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Realignment in Tamil Nadu
PMK parts ways with DMK, Congress

The snapping of links between the PMK and the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the deal struck by the PMK with Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, bode ill for the UPA at the Centre which has lost another electoral ally, after the RJD and the Samajwadi Party. Congress leaders were trying to get the PMK on board until the last minute but it was the DMK’s overbearing attitude that queered the pitch. Not only did Karunanidhi virtually shut the door on the PMK by excluding that party while announcing the composition of the DMK-led front, but he went further and on the eve of Thursday’s meeting of the PMK general council mocked at its leader Ramadoss for showing exaggerated concern for Sri Lankan Tamils for electoral reasons. By jumping the gun, he spoilt whatever little chance there was for the Congress to bring the PMK around.

The PMK had five members in the outgoing Lok Sabha and its alliance with the DMK, and the Congress in the 2004 elections had helped the UPA to win 31 of the state’s 39 seats. This time around, the DMK will have only the Congress as its electoral ally and the added anti-incumbency factor to contend with. The AIADMK, on the other hand, will have Vaiko’s MDMK (which had won four seats in 2004) and Ramadoss’ PMK as its allies, a factor that could well tilt the scales in its favour. The CP(M) and the CPI had won two seats each and continue to shun both power blocs. Popular film actor Vijay Kanth’s political stance was being watched keenly because though he jumped into the electoral fray on the eve of the last assembly elections, he had managed to get 8 per cent of the popular vote. Much though he is being wooed by the DMK and the Congress, Vijay Kanth has spurned all offers of alliance and has indicated that he would go it alone. The silver lining for the UPA is that in this election the post-poll alignments are steeped in uncertainty. Today’s rival could well be tomorrow’s ally and vice versa.

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Mid-Day Meal scheme
Haryana verdict a welcome deterrent

It is an index of the malaise that has set in that five teachers of Jind district in Haryana have been sentenced to a seven- year jail term by a district court for misappropriation of Mid-Day Meal funds. The Mid-Day Meal scheme, a flagship programme of the HRD Ministry, is the world’s largest school lunch programme. Expectedly, the government holds it as a trump card in boosting primary school enrolment and meeting the nutritional requirements of underprivileged children. Yet often the implementation of the scheme has come under a cloud. Irregularities have been reported across the country. From the quality of cooked food being suspect to siphoning off funds, many ills have dogged this ambitious and well-meaning scheme.

More recently, the Comptroller and Auditor-General report on the scheme in Jammu and Kashmir spoke poorly of the state’s intent. Five districts in Jharkhand came under a scanner when the CAG unearthed Mid- Day Meal scams. Punjab’s track record on the scheme has been far from enviable. At times the cooked meals have been found unhygienic and even rat excreta has been discovered in the food, otherwise meant to not only stave off hunger but to also provide nutrition. In neighbouring Haryana, the Jind case is not an isolated example. Similar complaints have been reported from various parts of the state.

The district court has done well to sentence the defaulting teachers, including a woman. Hopefully, as the court has itself observed, the conviction, the first of its kind, would serve as an effective deterrent. The success of the scheme in Tamil Nadu, where it first originated, was considered an example worth emulating. After the landmark Supreme Court directive, the scheme was extended to all parts of the country. The recalcitrant states once more need to take a cue from the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and implement the scheme in earnest. The scheme can indeed go a long way to counter the acute problem of child malnutrition which is plaguing India, and boost attendance in schools.

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Security of information
Police and BPOs must act together

Foreign reporters, posing as gangsters, purchased data — including names, addresses and credit card numbers of British residents — from a broker in Delhi and in doing so exposed a chilling chink in the country’s business process outsourcing industry. The BBC report shows its reporters negotiating with a person identified as Saurabh Sachar who says he can supply them with hundreds of credit and debit card details each week at a cost of $10 a card. Some of the numbers had been obtained from call centres handling mobile phone sales, or payments for phone bills, he asserted.

It is true that Sachar exaggerated and the few credit card numbers that he supplied were largely wrong, but nearly all of the names, addresses and post codes given by him were valid. The expose has, however, touched a raw nerve in an industry that is already beleaguered on many fronts, and which is totally dependent on keeping the data that it handles secure and safe. Suffering from data theft cases in the past too, call centres and BPOs in India take stringent measures, including putting offices under electronic surveillance, not allowing employees to carry in paper or mobile phones, and banning access to the Internet while at work, to ensure the integrity of the information in their trust.

Though a vast majority of the IT workers are dedicated persons who are respected for their expertise and skills, the actions of some dubious individuals can create a tremendous crisis of confidence. The latest IT Bill has stringent provisions specifically against data theft. The police and the industry must act together. The broker and all those guilty must be arrested and the case taken to its logical end. Prompt action by the police and speedy justice would ensure a deterrent effect. As for the industry, it must not seek any relief from the fact that this incident of data theft was a minor one as compared with other such cases abroad, or even earlier ones in India. The BBO industry has to behave in a transparent manner and take effective measures to ensure that such embarrassments don’t jeopardise its future.

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Thought for the Day

One should look long and carefully at oneself before one considers judging others. — Moliere

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With love from Obama
Will US, Iran be on speaking terms?
by H.K. Dua

Festivals all over the world come in handy to exchange goodwill and sometimes dissolve personal quarrels. Nations, like individuals, have often used such occasions to make new beginnings, getting over pride, prejudice and wounded egos that often sharpen international divides.

Last week, President Barack Obama made use of Nauroz, the Iranian New Year Day, to send a video message to the people and rulers of Iran to end a 30-year-old stalemate in the relations between the United States and Iran.

That Iranian rulers would reject the President Obama’s overture was only to be expected. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, described Obama’s statement as “meaningless slogans”.

Neither President Obama’s message nor the immediate negative response it evoked was unexpected. President Obama and his policy advisers must have anticipated how Teheran would initially react to the message aimed at both the people and the leaders of a hostile power it shunned for three decades. To bring about a thaw in the relations for long in the deep freeze is bound to take time.

President Obama had spoken about his intention to engage with Iran during his campaign. After his taking over as President, he let out similar thoughts in a television interview.

Such utterances could be regarded as statements marked at least to let Iran and the world know that he meant to make a departure from George W. Bush’s foreign policy in many areas.

There have been reports that some informal contacts have been taking place between President Obama’s men and influential Iranians during the last few months. The two countries, which have not been on speaking terms, might have been probing each other’s mind. Come to think of it, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran had also sent a message of greetings to Obama on his election as President.

It will, however, be unrealistic to believe that President Obama’s video message will bring about an immediate change in the conflicting policies of Iran and the US and their relations. But it certainly signals that Washington under the new President has rejected George Bush’s demonising of Iran by describing it as a member of an Axis of Evil.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that there would be no change in the relations between the two countries unless Obama put an end to US hostility towards Iran and brought about “real changes” in foreign policy. “If you are right that change has come, where is the change? What is the sign of that change? Make it clear for us what has changed”.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei apparently wants Obama to move a few more steps forward and go beyond merely expressing a desire to improve relations with Iran. Apparently, he has kept the door somewhat open when he says: “You change, our behaviour will change”. He has clearly thrown the ball back in Obama’s court wanting him to do more to respond to the longstanding grievances Teheran has been nurturing against Washington.

How long President travels or will be able to travel remains to be seen. President Obama is clearly changing tack on Iran, but there are strong compulsions for him to think of making it up with Iran.

The West Asian imbroglio cannot be sorted out without settling with Iran. Also, if President Obama’s priority is to get out of Afghanistan in the next two or three years he would need Iran’s cooperation, particularly for stabilising the situation in Herat province in Afghanistan, which shares borders with Iran.There is considerable Shia population in Herat.

Western European powers have by and large never really shared American antipathy towards Iran and have often found ways to violate the UN sanctions imposed on the country under US persuasion. The Europeans could not make George W. Bush to change his attitude towards Iran, but they seem to be succeeding with the Obama administration.

President Obama’s plans to improve relations with Iran may not be all smooth sailing for him. His plans can be scuttled along the way.

The Jewish lobby in the US is a powerful entity and is backed by Israel. Iran’s main rival in West Asia is actually Israel which has the clout and ways to block any policy shift towards Iran in the US Congress. Israel itself can do quite a few things on the ground to spoil Obama’s scheme of things.

Also, the neo-cons in the Republican Party, who are generally close to Israel and the Jewish lobby, are certain to oppose Obama’s Iranian venture.

Another hurdle can be the Sunni regimes like in Saudi Arabia which have been America’s staunch allies in West Asia, including the Persian Gulf nations, which are opposed to moves that may enhance Iran’s status and muscle power in the region.

Whatever the public statements, Iran’s leaders must be carefully scrutinising Obama’s video CD to figure out what he really wants by choosing to end a 30-year history of acrimony, bordering on mutual hatred.

One message that emerges from the Obama video is the implied recognition that his administration no longer thinks that Iran is a member of an Axis of Evil as was sought to be inexplicably defined on moral terms by George Bush.

Iranians might read in the Obama video that Washington is no longer going to take nasty steps to bring about a regime change in Teheran – an idea George W. Bush Jr often fiddled with, but without success. The Americans, however, are unlikely to give up their tilt towards the moderates in Iran, hoping that one day the moderates will come to power in Iran.

Despite a preference for the moderates, Obama at present sees some advantage in dealing with even the hardliners and the clergy led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei if nothing else for breaking the ice.

The so-called “grievances” of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are basically Teheran’s longstanding demands which it would like the United States to meet.

Iran, which has been living in isolation for over 30 years, would certainly like to rejoin the comity of nations, but, besides the assurance that Washington has given up its policy of regime change, it is bound to demand the withdrawal of international sanctions that the UN had clamped on it under American pressure.

On the other hand, the United States might be wanting to regulate the withdrawal of the sanctions with Iran’s readiness to stop aiding terrorist groups working against Israel, Washington’s closest ally in West Asia.

The trickiest question in the Iran-US relations will be Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme which has been a constant thorn in American flesh over the years.

Iran has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but has refused to accept the US demand to stop its nuclear enrichment programme. It has maintained that it has the right to have a bomb of its own. The question of its rights apart, it has reportedly been conveying to the IAEA and several countries that its enrichment programme is within 5 per cent as needed for running nuclear power reactors. The weapon-grade enrichment has to reach 93 per cent.

The Obama administration may have come to the conclusion that it will be better to engage Iran in talks on the enrichment issue and wean it away from its ultimate aim of developing nuclear weapons.

President Obama’s Nauroz message to Iran notwithstanding, it will take some time before the two countries actually sit down and begin sorting out their differences, which have kept them away all these years. The video CD is a New Year gift-pack. And Iranians are looking deep into it to find out whether there is something more in the box, besides greetings.

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More than what meets the eye
by Rajbir Deswal

To be able to read between the lines means the clairvoyance to comprehend what is actually intended to be conveyed. But how about going micromillimetres distance between the canvas and the brush to identify as to how many layers of visuals rest there? And also that, what exactly should one pose in a portrait show-up? Isn't it all really mystifying? It may be true! It may be false!

An Italian scientist-journalist by the name Piero Angela claims to have discovered Leonardo Da Vinci's self-portrait, by going down the surface of a manuscript — Codex on the Flight of Birds, employing a micro-pixel work. A facial reconstruction scientist in Rome has even endorsed Angela's claim. What is interesting is the fact of the "resurrected" Renaissance genius's young looks, appearing twin-like when compared to his portrait showing him up in wrinkles, and with hollow cheeks.

Another world famous portrait of Renaissance, "Mona Lisa", created by Leonardo, has been in the news for various interpretations, inter alia, of the pose of the wealthy merchant's wife. That she wears a thin and gauzy stole around her neck, confirms her being in a family way, going by the mores prevalent then. That she is hiding her pregnancy with one hand above the other also confirms it. Arguments are too many, but takers some.

The latest to hit the market is the news about an Anglo-Irish family, preserving Shakespeare's portrait inherited from the Earl of Southampton, showing him with not only younger looks, but also betraying his humble background and nowhere-near-wealthy status. That having moved to London and having written his famous plays, the Bard of Avon grew popular and wealthy in the Elizabethan times, made him look more "presentable and less solemn" if one has to believe Shakespeare "experts" and "scholars" .

Nearer home, the National Dairy Research Institute at Karnal has come out with five rare photographs showing Mahatma Gandhi with a cow named Jill. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya is also seen in one of the pictures. Claims have been made of the photos taken when Gandhi attended a two-week course at the institute to learn the basics of dairying and keeping cows, for his Sabarmati Ashram.

The latest revelation has been made regarding the legendry Bhagat Singh's photo, taken shortly before his hanging, for keeping it in records. A portrait showing Chandra Shekhar Azad, twirling his moustache in front of a mirror, is again disputed if it had been a replica of the original photo taken without the martyr's knowledge.

I cannot help mentioning about a movie, "Lage Raho Munna Bhai", showing the redoubtable and inimitable Boman Irani to be someone obsessively interested in doctoring his life-size images, as if "actually" standing for a pose with celebrities. And for that matter, of all times! Who knows five hundred years from now, someone may come up with a theory that Boman was a President of the United States and Obama played character roles in Bollywood flicks.

However, what Ben Johnson says in commendation of the Martin Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare is worthy of taking note: "This Figure, that thou here seest put/It was for gentle Shakespeare cut... His face; the print would then surpasse/All, that was ever writ in brasse/But, since he cannot, Reader, looke/Not on his Picture, but his booke".

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War on terror
The US should engage with Sharif
by Ashis Ray

The reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan is not merely an emphatic victory for Nawaz Sharif and his Muslim League, but a reiteration of what’s been obvious — that Sharif has been for a while and still is our neighbour’s most popular politician.

Indeed, but for Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination — and the sympathy this transmitted — it’s doubtful if her People’s Party would have emerged as the largest single force in the elections to Pakistan’s National Assembly in February 2008.

Sharif’s father, a businessman and a conservative, was a friend of military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled from 1977 to 1988. The son was handpicked for the post of Punjab’s finance minister in 1981, followed by chief minister in 1985.

The army’s clout coupled with the Sharifs’ money muscle helped revive a decaying Muslim League and mount a competition to the People’s Party, founded by Benazir’s father, Zulfiqar.

Indeed, Sharif duly fulfilled Zia’s dream by twice becoming prime minister in the 1990s. Ever since the first army coup in 1958, every election of a civilian government in Pakistan has either been manipulated by the armed forces or they have tactically stood aside because of its unacceptability or temporary lack of influence — as in the case of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s elections in the 1970s and last year’s outcome.

The army expected its protege Sharif to remain subservient. He, however, chose to assert the office of prime minister. This resulted his sacking by the President Ishaq Khan, reinstatement by the Supreme Court, followed by an electoral defeat in 1993.

In 1999, in the course of his second term, when he had begun to noticeably curb the army’s powers, he was ousted in a bloodless coup by General Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistani’s chiefs of general staff are allergic to being asked to retire. Admittedly, General Aslam Baig departed quietly when instructed to do so by Sharif. But this was anathema for the ambitious Musharraf.

It, of course, complicated matters that his flight from Colombo was initially refused landing at Karachi, allegedly under Sharif’s orders.

What has triggered Sharif ascent in the Pakistani public’s esteem, though, is his consistent and uncompromising opposition to Musharraf since his resurfacing from a seven-year exile in Saudi Arabia, while Benazir and her husband, Asif Zardari, acquiesced to a quid pro quo with the General brokered by the United States.

During the 20-year rivalry between Benazir and Sharif, she was always the darling of the West and her opponent the villain. Benazir, educated at Oxford and Harvard, was deemed to be a liberal.

Sharif, home spun, albeit at a Christian missionary school and the distinguished Government Col-lege, Lahore, was labelled a conservative. Superficially, this was a fact. Deep down, it was an oversimplification.

Sharif was undoubtedly more to the right in his economic outlook. But Benazir, too, had converted her father’s populism into market orientation. Both flirted with the religious right.

But in the western eyes the stain of the former’s occasional association with the Jamaat-e-Islami is indelible; and in their “war against terror”, Al Qaida and Taliban, he is viewed as an unreliable ally.

While it’s true that as recently as this month the Jamaat was rubbing shoulders with Sharif in the “long march” to restore judges dismissed by Musharraf, the West’s stubborn refusal to befriend him has been a costly mistake and unless rectified, will defeat any effort to eclipse the Islamists.

Sharif’s presence would signal a unity of purpose to the counter-terrorism campaign; his continued absence would denude it of legitimacy.

His criticism of US policy in Pakistan has clearly struck a chord with his people; abandoning this will, therefore, strip him of a segment of support.

But a sensible rapprochement between him and Washington is by no means impossible.

The 2008 elections demonstrated that the Pakistani electorate was fed up with religious groups. But power flows from the barrel of the gun. Consequently, whether it’s Swat or anywhere else, civilians are mortally afraid of opposing the armed Islamists.

It’s ludicrous when Pakistan squeals it’s “a victim of terrorism”. Out of its unbridled hatred of India, the Pakistani army, through its Inter-Services Intelli-gence (ISI) wing, has created a monster of mindless militancy. Now, the genie is growling at the master.

But the world, including India, cannot afford to be unsympathetic. A failed Pakistan could have fearful ramifications, not least of all nuclear weapons falling into the hands of crazy criminals.

India must, therefore, goad Washington into engaging with Sharif, for few territories today are immune to the export of terrorism from Pakistani soil.

Sharif’s links with the Jamaat are not bound by an umbilical cord. He’s severed ties with it in the past and there’s no reason why he cannot be persuaded to do so again. He’s also sober enough to sense that ambivalence on the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba will deter international support.

There is no evidence to suggest he’s soft on the Taliban. The Taliban is a creation of the ISI; and given the history of tension between him and the army, he is unlikely to endorse an element directly or indirectly sponsored by the latter.

Therefore, it would be wise of Washington to negotiate with Sharif, recognise and respect his centrality in Pakistani politics and give him an incentive to distance himself from religious forces. It must also crack the whip and enlist China and Saudi Arabia’s endorsement for the “war on terror” to enjoy a better chance of success.

The writer has covered Pakistan extensively for BBC, ITN and CNN.

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India stealing water: Pak
by Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich in Wazirabad

Crucial, coveted and increasingly scarce, water has become the latest issue to stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, with farmers in Pakistan’s breadbasket accusing Delhi of reducing one of the subcontinent’s most important rivers to little more than a trickle.

A group of more than 20 different UN bodies warned earlier this month that the world may be perilously close to its first water war. “Water is linked to the crises of climate change, energy and food supplies and prices, and troubled financial markets,” said the report. “Unless their links with water are addressed and water crises around the world are resolved, these other crises may intensify and local water crises may worsen, converging into a global water crisis and leading to political insecurity and conflict at various levels.”

The crisis in the agricultural heartland of Pakistan relates to the Chenab, one of a series of waterways that bisect the Punjab, which means ‘five rivers’. The Chenab is fed with glacial meltwaters from the Himalayas and for centuries has provided crucial irrigation for the region. But last summer farmers began to notice the levels of both the river and groundwater begin to fall.

Pakistan blames India, saying it is withholding millions of cubic feet of water upstream on the Chenab in Indian-administered Kashmir and storing it in the massive Baglihar dam in order to produce hydro-electricity. Its Indian neighbour, Pakistan declares, is in breach of a 1960 treaty designed to administer water use in the region. After initial talks to try and resolve the issue, the matter has been put on hold since the Mumbai attacks last November in which 165 people were killed, fuelling tensions between the two quarrelsome neighbours.

Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari warned: “The water crisis in Pakistan is directly linked to relations with India. Resolution could prevent an environmental catastrophe in South Asia, but failure to do so could fuel the fires of discontent that lead to extremism and terrorism.”

The farmers who make their livelihoods along the banks of the Chenab are quick to blame India for their misery. When Mohammed Babar and other villagers close to the town of Wazirabad sunk a well several years ago, they discovered water just 50ft beneath the surface; now the water table lies at around 100ft down. “To irrigate our crops it used to cost about 200 rupees (£2.71) worth of diesel,” said Mr Babar, standing amid fields lush with rice and winter wheat. “Now it costs 250 or 300.”

From where Mr Babar and his neighbours live, it is just a few hundred yards to the Chenab. Once a strong-flowing river, it is now a slow-flowing trickle. Locals say the river once came up close to the top of the road bridge but now it dribbles past, metres below.

Abdul Hamid and his family make their living cutting reeds for thatching on the east bank of the river. They have watched the level of the water fall, and with it, the supply reeds from which they make their living.

“There has been a big difference. It doesn’t even look like a river anymore, it looks like a puddle,” said 40-year-old Mr Hamid, who has eight children. “When there is no water, there are no reeds and then no money. My whole family works doing this. We used to earn 500 rupees a day. But now it’s down to 300 because there are less reeds.” Asked why the Chenab had fallen, Mr Hamid had a ready answer: “It has been cut off by India.”

The Chenab is one of five main rivers that pass through the Punjab, all ultimately joining the Indus, which reaches the sea south of Karachi. The 1960 Indus Water Treaty allocated the river waters between Pakistan and India, which is also allowed to make some use of them for power generation. Pakistan complained in 2005 to the World Bankabout the operation of the Baglihar dam. An independent expert upheld some objections, but dismissed others.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for President Zardari, said Pakistan was “paying a high price”, but India has denied breaching any conditions of the 1960 treaty. Delhi said it had invited Pakistan’s water commissioner to visit the dam to see that the Chenab’s flow was naturally low.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment, but an official said: “The entire peace process and discussions we have been having for the past three or four years have been put on pause. It is not the right climate for these talks when we know that there are threats against our safety and security emanating from Pakistan.”

By arrangement with The Independent

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Falling rupee hurts students, tourists
by Vasant G. Gandhi

Foreign currency markets around the world are much like markets for any other goods. If the supply of rupees rises relative to its demand, then its price will fall. And it has been falling for many years! It took 7.50 rupees to buy one US dollar in 1970, but it took 52 rupees in the first week of March 2009 — a 593.33 per cent decline in nearly 39 years or 15.6 per cent a year!

If the demand for rupees rises relative to its supply, then the price will rise. This happened very briefly from mid-2007 to mid-2008 when the overseas demand for Indian software services rose, among other things; it gained strength against the US dollar and hovered between 38 and 42 rupees per US dollar compared to 48 rupees in early 2007 and 49 rupees in late 2008.

The RBI can use monetary policy two ways: one is to defend the rupee against the foreign currency and the second to stabilise or improve domestic economic conditions.

If the goal of the RBI is to defend the rupee, then it could directly intervene in the foreign exchange market. It would sell major currencies like dollars, euros, pounds, or yens in the open market and buy rupees. Generally, this kind of intervention is coordinated with other central banks, which also buy rupees. This action causes rupees to go up in price.

The RBI recently lowered interest rates, a monetary policy tool, not to address the problem of the falling rupee, but to address the nation’s falling economic growth. But this action is actually working against the rupee in the foreign exchange market. And here is what’s happening.

The RBI has cut its lending rate (called the repo rate) to banks to 5 per cent. It has also lowered the rate (called reverse repo rate) at which it borrows from banks to 3.5 per cent. It is encouraging the public as well as companies to borrow money from banks and buy goods and services to help spur economic growth. They are sending the message that rupees are available at a lower interest rate for someone to borrow.

Yes, rupees are available but companies involved in exporting their goods and services are in no mood to expand their businesses because economies of the USA and countries in Europe and other places are in bad shape.

The 50 rupees to a dollar rate should make it very attractive for foreign buyers to buy Indian goods and services, but foreigners are broke. So, there is no demand for rupees and the excess rupees are floating in the Indian economy.

Yes, rupees are available and the 50 rupees to a dollar rate should make it very attractive for foreign visitors to buy rupees and visit India, but their foreigners are broke and can’t afford to travel. Those foreigners who could travel are worried about their safety in India; the terrorist incident in Mumbai is still fresh in their mind. So, there is no demand for rupees and excess rupees are floating in the Indian economy.

Multinational companies convert their earnings from rupees to the currency of the country they come from. And when the rupee keeps falling, they are in a hurry to exchange rupees, otherwise their balance sheets in their currency would look bad. Such conversions cause more demand for foreign currencies.

Foreign funds have been selling Indian shares and taking dollars back to America, causing pressure on the rupee. India recently decreased its imports, which brought its trade deficit down by US $1.5 billion from December 2008 to January 2009. Yet both the trade deficit and the budget deficit are high and are contributing to the fall of the rupee.

In a nutshell, the supply of rupees has risen and its demand has fallen, causing the rupee to fall against the dollar. Both the rupee and the US dollar have lost the value, only the rupee has lost a lot more.

Whom does the falling rupee hurt? Indian students who are studying abroad will have to pay more to purchase the currency of the country in which they are studying. Their cost of education will go up as a result of the falling rupee. Indian tourists will find it expensive to travel abroad. Indian patients going overseas for medical problems will find the treatment expensive.

Indian companies buying raw material, finished products and spare parts from abroad will find it expensive to continue to do businesses with foreign companies. The foreign debt payments of both Indian government and Indian companies who have borrowed money from overseas banks will go up.

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Corrections and clarifications

On March 26, The headline on page 5 reads, “EC orders media cells”. The report actually informed readers that EC had decided to set up media cells. The correct headline would have been “EC sets up media cells”.

On Thursday March 26, TV listings in Chandigarh Tribune are similar to the listing carried the previous day. The listing has been inadvertently repeated.

In the edition of March 26, on Chandigarh Plus page ( Page 3), a headline reads, “ For 35 yrs, man works in twin’s name.” Besides the use of the present tense, what it meant was “ Man impersonates twin brother for 35 years”.

On the same day, on page 5 a headline reads, “ Bir Devinder for review of tickets to Tytler, Sajjan” . Ticket is a term used to indicate nomination by a political party and the plural is not used as in train tickets.

On March 25, a headline on the front page reads, “ Claimants no match to Manmohan”. It should have been attributed to Ms. Sonia Gandhi and the correct usage would have been “ no match for Manmohan”.

In Ludhiana Tribune of March 26, on page 2, a headline reads : Inflation down by 0.44 per cent. It should read, Inflation down to 0.44 per cent

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Uttam Sengupta, Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is uttamsengupta@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua
Editor-in-Chief

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