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EDITORIALS

Plunder of Aravali
Supreme Court intervention welcome
T
HE Supreme Court’s blanket ban on mining in the Aravali hills may hurt the economic interests of a powerful lobby, but it will at least stop further damage to a 448-sq km scarred area spread over Haryana’s three districts of Faridabad, Gurgaon and Mewat.

SC’s anti-ragging drive
Panels on de-addiction and counselling
O
NCE again, the Supreme Court has taken a tough stance on ragging. The apex court’s directive to the states to set up two committees, one for de-addiction and the other for counselling of students, is a welcome step.

Snub to Maya
Try Varun under normal law for hate speeches
T
HE ruling by the Allahabad High Court’s Advisory Board that the imposition of the National Security Act (NSA) against Varun Gandhi, the BJP candidate for the Lok Sabha election from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh, for making hate speeches was “unwarranted” and “legally untenable” was not entirely unexpected.



EARLIER STORIES



ARTICLE

All in due time
Pak must prove its commitment to fight Taliban, jihadis
by K. Subrahmanyam
A
SKED by the media when the US would take action to promote improvement in India-Pakistan relations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answered, “All in due time”. This has been interpreted by many media people as a reference to India having to complete the elections and getting a new government in office.

MIDDLE

Weighty wings
by Anurag
E
ARLIER it was air hostesses, now it is the turn of passengers. Or guests, as some airlines call them. Thin is in. Fats of the world beware; you are in for trouble. Not for health reasons alone. Be ready to lighten your wallet if you are not travelling light. Some airlines of Europe and the US would not allow extra cabin baggage with you or within you.

OPED

Imbalanced growth
Home to CMs, southern Punjab has lagged behind
by Sucha Singh Gill
A
T an aggregate level Punjab is one of the few states with a low percentage of population below the poverty line (BPL). The poverty line stands at per capita consumption of Rs 356 a month for rural areas and Rs 539 for urban areas, The Planning Commission brings out that 27.5 per cent of India’s population lived below the poverty line in 2004-05.

Stress tests for bank regulation
by Sebastian Mallaby
Stress-testing top banks has turned out to be a terrific stress reducer. Like a medical patient who takes off on a euphoric binge after the biopsy comes back negative, bank stocks have staged a heady rally, driving a broad recovery in the markets and talk that the end of the recession may be nigh.

Chatterati
How political leaders keep fit
by Devi Cherian
I
N the heat and dust of the Indian elections, trying to keep fit as a fiddle is a tough task. So to increase their endurance levels, many of our netas regularly work out in gyms and play sports. The Gandhis are a regular to a posh gym in Delhi. Spin cycling is a new mantra too.





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Plunder of Aravali
Supreme Court intervention welcome

THE Supreme Court’s blanket ban on mining in the Aravali hills may hurt the economic interests of a powerful lobby, but it will at least stop further damage to a 448-sq km scarred area spread over Haryana’s three districts of Faridabad, Gurgaon and Mewat. Given the political clout wielded by the mining mafia, the court did not consider it proper to leave the ban decision either to the Centre or the state government. Besides, an executive order would have again become a subject of endless litigation. However, the court based its decision on environmental considerations.

The ecological destruction of a sensitive area had continued for too long. Way back in 1994 the apex court had allowed limited mining on the condition that miners would undertake eco-restoration work. Nothing of the sort happened and the court now was left with no alternative. If not an active participant in the loot of mineral wealth, the government had meekly reduced itself to the level of a helpless spectator. The Supreme Court was constrained to point out that the government breached the trust the court had reposed in it for rescuing the exhausted Aravali hills. Miners often did not take any environmental clearance, let alone undertake rehabilitation work in the area they greedily plundered.

The consequences of allowing further mining in the area would have been catastrophic. There would have been, according to experts, a rapid dip in the water table, drying up of lakes and the spread of desert. Haryana in general and the Aravali area in particular is already in the grip of a serious water crisis. Water resources are shrinking and very little is done for their replenishment. The court seems to have gone along with the argument, put forward during discussions, that if non-forest activity could be banned in a forest area to save greenery and wildlife, why could mining not be stopped for saving the environment and human beings?

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SC’s anti-ragging drive
Panels on de-addiction and counselling

ONCE again, the Supreme Court has taken a tough stance on ragging. The apex court’s directive to the states to set up two committees, one for de-addiction and the other for counselling of students, is a welcome step. However, it is also a sad commentary on the role and responsibility of educational institutions and regulating bodies like the UGC and the Medical Council of India which have failed to curb the menace of ragging. This is not the first time the Supreme Court has exercised its mind on the severity and widespread prevalence of ragging. Earlier it had set up the Raghavan Committee and made many recommendations to tackle the scourge of ragging.

Now, it has delved deeper into the malaise. Since the Supreme Court panel found alcoholism to be a major factor behind Aman Kachroo’s brutal ragging and unfortunate death, a committee on de-addiction makes perfect sense. Equally significant would be the committee on counselling. There is little doubt that ragging victims suffer from intolerable trauma that scars them so deeply that many a ragging victim has been driven to the desperate act of suicide. Proper psychiatric and psychological counselling can not only prevent them from taking the extreme step but also help them deal with the adverse psychological fallouts of abusive ragging. In fact, even ragging bullies need psychiatric help. In recent times, ragging has become extremely virulent but it is also a manifestation of a deeper problem. Students involved in ragging are not hardcore criminals. Their deviant and abrasive behaviour, perhaps symptomatic of a mental health problem, can be controlled and moderated.

Actually, ragging is a social problem and various sections of society, especially parents, can play a major role in checking ragging incidents. Law is, at best, a deterrent. Judicial activism is helpful but cannot be a substitute for guidance and regulation that educational institutions can provide. Even otherwise, the final accountability is theirs and they must follow the apex court’s recommendations and instil zero-tolerance against ragging. Educational institutions are one of the biggest stakeholders in the no-ragging drive and must act in that spirit.

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Snub to Maya
Try Varun under normal law for hate speeches

THE ruling by the Allahabad High Court’s Advisory Board that the imposition of the National Security Act (NSA) against Varun Gandhi, the BJP candidate for the Lok Sabha election from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh, for making hate speeches was “unwarranted” and “legally untenable” was not entirely unexpected. Much more than a breather for Varun, the directive is a snub to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati who has mishandled the situation by applying the draconian law against him. No one will justify any mercy or lenient punishment for Varun for the crime he has committed. He had defied the law of the land, throwing civility and political decency to the wind. But given the facts of the case, the UP government has erred in booking him under the NSA. It is noteworthy that while granting parole to Varun on April 13, the Supreme Court Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam said, “We feel such a drastic action was not required.”

The Board has ruled that it did not find “plausible and convincing” grounds for the NSA being invoked against Varun nor was it “satisfied” with the Pilibhit District Magistrate’s explanation. The Mayawati government would do well to revoke the NSA against Varun and try him under the normal law. Any other step like its bid to challenge the Board’s ruling before the Supreme Court would only expose the Chief Minister’s proclivity to misuse the NSA for narrow partisan ends. More important, it may result in derailing the main issue of trying and punishing Varun for his hate speeches.

The state government has been maintaining that it was forced to invoke the NSA against Varun after his supporters indulged in violence in the Pilibhit court premises when he had come to surrender. But Varun should have been booked under the IPC and not the NSA. Acts like the NSA would lose their value and importance if chief ministers blatantly misuse them for political reasons. Indeed, the NSA is a much-abused law. It has been routinely used in many states to make preventive arrests of hardened criminals and those inciting communal violence and even to deter riots and unrest. Clearly, it should be used with utmost caution.

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Thought for the Day

Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;/The thief doth fear each bush an officer.

— William Shakespeare

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All in due time
Pak must prove its commitment to fight Taliban, jihadis
by K. Subrahmanyam

ASKED by the media when the US would take action to promote improvement in India-Pakistan relations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answered, “All in due time”. This has been interpreted by many media people as a reference to India having to complete the elections and getting a new government in office. Some observers like former ambassador Blackwill have cautioned New Delhi of the possibility of US attempting to put pressure on India to reach an agreement with Pakistan on Kashmir so that Pakistan will not have the alibi of not being able to transfer its troops from its eastern to western borders because of its misguided obsession with India, as a threat.

India and Pakistan had nearly reached an understanding on Kashmir during the time of General Musharraf, but it could not be finalised mainly because the General got into a series of domestic crises starting with the sacking of the Pakistan Chief Justice. President Obama has rightly called Pakistan’s obsession with India as a misguided one. That perception is based on very valid grounds. All the wars between India and Pakistan (in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999) were initiated by Islamabad and not by New Delhi. At the conclusion of hostilities in 1965 and 1971 India returned to Pakistan all territory it had occupied and the frontier drawn by Radcliffe was reaffirmed. Even in 1999 India scrupulously respected the line of control both in land and air and evicted the Pakistani forces without crossing the line of control.

In 1980 when Pakistan got itself involved in the campaign against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent her special envoy Swarn Singh to reassure General Zia-ul-Haq that Pakistan need not worry about its eastern borders. This assurance was reaffirmed by Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao. India is not able to give a similar assurance now because terrorist organisations centred in Pakistan and deriving their resources from that country operate against India. Therefore, the problem in regard to Pakistan’s eastern front is related to the very issue for which Islamabad is required to focus its military forces on its western borders — namely Pakistan being the epicentre of terrorism and, in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s words, the government and civil society having abdicated their responsibility to fight it till recently.

Now the situation appears to be changing under US pressure. Pakistan has initiated combat operations against the Taliban. However, given the past history of eight years, it is to be seen how sustained this campaign is going to be and whether the Pakistani forces will pursue it to its conclusion. Secondly, there is a tendency among the Pakistani leadership to try to obfuscate the terrorist issue by asserting that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism as much as the US and other countries and, therefore, the responsibility for dealing with it should be shared by all the affected nations and Pakistan should get financial and military support from others.

In this formulation a crucial factor is deliberately sought to be buried. Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism and its ideological inspiration is generated there. Therefore, either Pakistan should permit other countries like the US to share the burden of fighting it out on its soil or if it wants to maintain its sovereignty it should lead the war.

According to President Obama, Secretary Clinton, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Muellen and Commander of Central Command, General Petraeus, for eight years Pakistan had been abdicating its responsibility. In these circumstances it is not Pakistan which has reason to worry about the security of its border with India but it is the latter, a victim of sustained proxy war and terrorist infiltrations over the last two decades that has to be concerned about its border security.

In 1947-48 it was the tribal raiders who were unleashed into Kashmir by Gen Akbar Khan of the Pakistan Army. In 1965, too, it was the tribal raiders who attempted to infiltrate into Kashmir under Operation Gibraltar during the Ayub Khan regime. During the Bhutto regime from 1989 onwards once again mostly tribal militants and foreigners belonging to various jihadi organisations who have been infiltrating and carrying out terrorist acts in Kashmir. Now the Pakistan Army itself accepts that terrorism originating from the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other associated organisations must be disrupted, dismantled and defeated.If the Pakistan Army is serious about its mission against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda it cannot have anything to fear from the Indian Army deployment which is meant to counter the activities of the same terrorists only. When the Pakistan Army treats the jihadis as its strategic assets, it will have concerns on Indian Army deployment. Any continuous obsession about Indian Army deployment will only raise doubts about the Pakistan Army having given up its misperceptions about the militants being its strategic assets.

Kashmir is not the origin of India-Pakistan tension but it is the outcome of Pakistan’s two-nation theory which is the original clash of civilisations thesis. At the basis of it is the extremist thesis that Muslims cannot coexist with others and all Muslim-majority areas should be part of an Islamic order. No doubt, the US during the Cold War, particularly in the eighties, promoted the extremist Wahabi cult to push out the Soviet forces from Afghanistan and that led to the spawning of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, other jihadi organisations and the espousal of the clash of civilisations thesis by Islamic extremists. Surely, at this stage the US cannot afford to repeat its mistakes of the Cold War and the eighties, and support any stand which would directly or indirectly endorse the Islamic extremist exclusivism in any form.

Surely, the US is convinced that Pakistan’s obsession with Indian threat is misconceived and it has been used only to abdicate its responsibility to fight the Taliban. Any partial placating of Pakistan by applying pressure on India will only encourage the Pakistani recalcitrance to fight the real enemy as has been witnessed in the last eight years. Further, when a regime does not demonstrate adequate commitment to fight the cancer of domestic terrorism and tends to abdicate its responsibility, it is a legitimate question whether it will be possible to pursue a peace process with it.

Therefore, the present time must be devoted to the core issue of fighting the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and jihadi terrorism by the respective countries in their territories and in cooperating with and supporting the war on extremism and terrorism of the other countries in the region. Pakistan has to prove its commitment. Further building up on the gains of the peace process achieved through back-channel diplomacy can be taken up only after victory over extremist terrorism is achieved in Pakistan, and India feels that its security is no longer threatened. The new government in Delhi will have its task cut out to persuade the US on this issue.

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Weighty wings
by Anurag

EARLIER it was air hostesses, now it is the turn of passengers. Or guests, as some airlines call them. Thin is in. Fats of the world beware; you are in for trouble. Not for health reasons alone. Be ready to lighten your wallet if you are not travelling light. Some airlines of Europe and the US would not allow extra cabin baggage with you or within you. You may be asked to purchase not one but two tickets, not to keep your extra baggage but to accommodate you in one piece comfortably, much to the relief of the person sitting next to you.

Discrimination? Is it? Our Constitution or, for that matter the Constitution of many liberal democracies, guarantees its citizens that they will not be discriminated against on the basis of caste, creed, colour, sex, race, religion, region and language, but not on the basis of their weight. Fats of the world unite to raise your voice against bulk-based discrimination.

But these cash-strapped airlines are not going to stop at that. More is in store to reduce payload. Become a premium customer by travelling without any cash on your person. Your wallet should carry only your plastic card and nothing else. Give up the idea of keeping pictures of your spouse or kids in your wallet. Why not place them permanently in your heart if you truly love them? Your mobile has all the business cards of yours and friends, so no need to carry cards in the wallet. Bald passengers would be given priority by the airlines.

In tune with the trend of the times, soon some entrepreneur will design lightweight but less transparent clothes for air travellers. The airlines would serve you snacks and beverages not on board but at the airport, pre departure or post arrival based on an individual passenger’s choice and convenience. Some of the passengers may be in a tearing hurry and choose to skip snacks off board, much to the advantage of the recession-hit airlines. As for reading material on board, the airlines would be well advised to go for internet-enabled infotainment.

No need to fly the booked baggage which can easily be moved by high speed road transport and delivered at the doorstep of the customer. This would suit passengers of the shorthaul flights. Passengers’ cabin baggage anyway goes with them. This will further cut airlines cost and improve their margins.

Another way out of the red for the shorthaul flights could be allowing standees on board or replacing a few 3 x 3 rows by benches which can accommodate 4 x 4 without much ado. No, no, this is not for the fat cats. When I shared all this with a fat friend of mine, he laughed it way. But on second thoughts, he turned sombre and said, “I’m fat, but I’m thin inside. Has it ever struck you that there is a thin man made inside every fat man, just as they say there’s a statue inside every block of a stone?”

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Imbalanced growth
Home to CMs, southern Punjab has lagged behind
by Sucha Singh Gill

AT an aggregate level Punjab is one of the few states with a low percentage of population below the poverty line (BPL). The poverty line stands at per capita consumption of Rs 356 a month for rural areas and Rs 539 for urban areas, The Planning Commission brings out that 27.5 per cent of India’s population lived below the poverty line in 2004-05. The proportion of such population in Punjab was 8.4 per cent during this year.

J&K was the only state in India with the incidence of poverty (5.4 per cent) lower than that of Punjab. The proportion of the BPL rural population (9.2 per cent) being close to that of the urban population (7.1 per cent) in Punjab gives an impression of balanced nature of economic progress. The aggregate figures conceal the geographic imbalance in poverty reduction in the state.

In the earlier years poverty data were available only state-wise and no such data were available district wise. The 61st round of NSSO (2004-05) has generated district-wise data on proportion of population BPL in rural as well as urban areas.

The data related to the district-wise incidence of poverty bring out that some districts in the state have as high incidence of poverty as the all-India average.

The proportion of population below BPL in rural and urban India stands (2004-05) at 28.3 per cent and 27.5 per cent respectively. Muktsar district of Punjab has 28.3 per cent rural and 22.8 per cent urban population living below the poverty line.

In the rural poverty ratio Muktsar district is closely followed by Moga (25.2 per cent), Faridkot (23.9 per cent), Bathinda (23.1 per cent), Ferozepore (17.5 per cent) and Mansa (16.6 per cent).

Compared to the southern districts, Gurdaspur in the North has 2.3 per cent rural population below poverty line and all districts of Doaba region like Jalandhar (0.9 per cent), Nawanshahr (1.2 per cent), Hoshiarpur (1.7 per cent) and Kapurthala (4.2 per cent) show a very low incidence of rural poverty.

Thus, data reveal that the southern districts of Punjab, particularly the cotton belt, have lagged much behind in poverty reduction in the state.

In fact, some districts of the state display that the proportion of population below the poverty line is either close to the state average or below it, especially in the Doaba region and three submountainous districts. These districts enjoy limited political power and distribution of state patronage compared to the southern districts which have given most chief ministers after the reorganisation of the state in 1966.

The districts which display the highest level of rural poverty in the state have the highest proportion of population dependent on agriculture. As per the 2001 census 39.4 per cent of the total workforce in the state was engaged in agriculture as cultivators and agricultural labourers.

But in the southern districts this ratio ranges between 59.1 per cent in Mansa, (58.9 in Muktsar) and 51.2 per cent in Bathinda. Thus the proportion of population engaged in dynamic occupations such as manufacturing and services is quite low in these districts.

In other words, these districts have lagged behind in terms of diversification of the economy towards modern sectors which could reduce poverty at a fast rate.

The southern districts also lag behind in education. The literacy rate in these districts ranges between 52.4 per cent in Mansa and 63.5 per cent in Moga district against the state overall average literacy rate of 69.7 per cent. Literacy among the Scheduled Castes, to which agricultural labour belongs, is quite low ranging between 38.11 per cent in Muktsar to 42.22 per cent in Mansa district against the overall state average literacy of 56.22 per cent for the SC population.

The low level of literacy reduces the capability of the poor households to acquire modern skills and make use of emerging economic opportunities to come out of poverty. Illiteracy also reduces access of these households to poverty alleviation programmes launched by the government.

In fact, lack of diversification of the economy in the southern districts creates few economic opportunities for the people and, if there are any, the poor lack capacity to use them. This is the reason that it is not only the rural poverty ratio which is higher, these districts have a high incidence of poverty in urban areas. This is especially the highest in Muktsar district among the southern districts.

The southern districts of Punjab emerge to be economically backward with a high proportion of the poor but politically most privileged. After the reorganisation of the state in 1966 political power shifted from Majha and Doaba areas to Malwa. In Malwa power has largely remained with politicians from old Faridkot district (now divided into three districts viz: Faridkot, Moga and Muktsar) for the entire decade of the 1970s and later on for a majority of the years when there were popular governments in power.

A question that needs to be asked is whether greater access to power and authority means more economic deprivation due to the apathy of the powers-that-be. In other words, the poor and illiterate masses ensure continuous support in elections rather than an informed and prosperous electorate. If this proposition is not correct, then how do we explain high incidence of rural and urban poverty along with less diversification of the economy and low literacy rates in the southern districts?

The size of landholding is bigger in these districts and cropping intensity is also high. Agricultural prosperity brought about by the Green Revolution has not been helpful in the reduction of poverty in this region.

This is one area of the state which has several farms beyond the land ceiling limit and inequality in the distribution of wealth and income is well known. Political power has been used to protect and promote the interests of the wealthy and this has led to the neglect of the poor.

The social sectors such as health and education are not on the agenda of the state. This area provides enough passengers for a regular train between Bathinda and Bikaner for the treatment of cancer patients from the state. This is the region which faces an acute problem of clean drinking water.

It is well known that wealthy politicians of southern Punjab have kept backward constituencies as their pocket boroughs while they have permanently shifted their families to Chandigarh and its surroundings. This smacks of colonial attitude of ruling politicians, who are exploiting the hinterland from a distance.

This seems unsustainable in the modern age and demands the attention of the elected representatives at different levels of the government. The removal of poverty is not only an ethical question but a requirement of inclusive growth and a necessity for balanced human development.

The writer is a Professor of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala.

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Stress tests for bank regulation
by Sebastian Mallaby

Stress-testing top banks has turned out to be a terrific stress reducer. Like a medical patient who takes off on a euphoric binge after the biopsy comes back negative, bank stocks have staged a heady rally, driving a broad recovery in the markets and talk that the end of the recession may be nigh.

But the real significance of the stress tests goes deeper. They answer the perplexing long-range question: When the financial system emerges from this crisis, how can it be prevented from blowing up again? Without an answer to that question, we are in for a rough time. After their recent thrashing, financiers won't take excessive risks again for a while. Yet bankers' memories are short, and the crisis may ultimately induce more risk.

Successive bailouts have revealed that the debts of large financial institutions are backstopped by the government: If those institutions go down, bondholders won't lose money, so they might as well finance risk with no end. In essence, all of Wall Street has been transformed into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant housing lenders whose implicit government guarantee led them down the road to ruin.

So we need some serious risk controls, and the question is: What sort? Once upon a time, governments kept the lid on bank risks by regulating structure: Banks that took deposits were not allowed to underwrite securities or branch across state lines.

Good luck reviving that approach. Unscrambling banks that have become not merely national but global is beyond the competence of government. In an age when companies are global, the banks that service them are naturally global, too.

Starting in the 1980s, when the old structural controls began to crumble, government came up with the approach of requiring banks to hold capital. It seemed an elegant idea: Capital was the catchall security blanket for all manner of risk-taking, ranging from foreign-exchange trading to plain commercial loans. But how much capital? Mistaken answers to that question explain most financial blowups, in the current crisis and before.

The original approach taken by regulators in the 1980s was to require banks to hold a fixed proportion of capital to loans. But loan volumes are a preposterously crude measure of bank risk-taking. A bank that lends $1 million to a foreign company may be taking a greater risk than a bank that lends $2 million but hedges out the currency risk.

Or a bank that lends $3 million and also splits its money among multiple borrowers. Or a bank that lends $4 million while hedging the currency, diversifying among customers and using other tricks of modern finance to insure against default.

The shortcomings of regulators' capital-to-loan ratios gave rise to a new measure: capital-to-risk. Investment banks and hedge funds pioneered this method; shortly before the current crisis, bank regulators blessed it.

Lenders were supposed to plot the ups and downs of their holdings, factoring in currency hedges and so forth, and figure out the most that they could lose on them; then they would hold that much plus a cushion in their capital reserve.

But this method also has shortcomings: Past ups and downs fail to capture what might happen in the future. For example, models based on historical patterns in real estate caused a lot of lenders to hold too little capital against the risk of mortgage default.

If loan volumes and backward-looking risk measures are not the right metrics, what might be better? The answer has been understood but not properly implemented by Wall Street for at least a decade, and it is the same one that the Obama administration has come up with: forward-looking stress tests.

Rather than looking at how their portfolios would have behaved in recent history, banks must force themselves to imagine how their portfolios would respond to future shocks. What if the U.S. economy shrinks for the next two years? What if the dollar goes into free-fall? What about a war with North Korea or an earthquake in Tokyo?

Of course, the art of the stress test is deciding which scenarios to test for, and that is why government must have a role. A rational bank will want to manage risk sensibly, but the more capital it holds, the less it stands to profit, so it will always be tempted to ignore potential storms.

But what is rational for an individual bank may not be rational for society. If a bank blows itself up, it can take others down with it, damaging the economy and handing taxpayers the bill. So government has a duty to force banks to plan for bad scenarios.

The administration's stress tests are the template for this new approach. The measure of their success is not whether they cause the rally in bank stocks to continue, pleasant though that rally is. The real question is whether the administration forces the banks to raise the capital they are lacking, even at the risk of ending the market rally — and then whether it makes stress-testing a permanent feature of bank regulation.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Chatterati
How political leaders keep fit
by Devi Cherian

IN the heat and dust of the Indian elections, trying to keep fit as a fiddle is a tough task. So to increase their endurance levels, many of our netas regularly work out in gyms and play sports.

The Gandhis are a regular to a posh gym in Delhi. Spin cycling is a new mantra too. M. Karunanidhi has a strict regimen: he practises yoga regularly and is now a vegetarian. Health Minister Ramadoss is a regular badminton player.

Rajiv Gandhi used to have only cucumber sandwiches and “nimbu pani” when he was on pre-election yatras. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani stick to plain roti sabzi with less oil.These leaders have supreme control over their diets.

BJP guys like Shiv Raj and Modi stick to yoga. No samosas or jalebis. Most leaders like lassi, nimbu pani and a low-fat high-protein diet. They do need to keep fit and sprightly as they can’t afford to be caught with dipping energy levels at an election rally or while meeting people. Most of them are off sweets.

The younger lot like Rahul, Scindia and Pilot usually have chocolates and diet cokes for energy and most leaders become vegetarians and no alcohol during elections.

Throwing shoes online

An Addidas shoe started it with erstwhile US President George Bush expertly dodging it and noting its size.Then Chidambaram and BJP prime ministerial candidate L.K.Advani dodged a shoe and a slipper. It has become a game and a new trend has started on the Net now. There the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, also has had shoes lobbed at him.

To flow with the tide, some enterprising netizens have launched websites that allow you to throw shoes at your ‘favourite’ politician. Here you can know exactly which politician has the maximum number of shoes hurled at him.

Lalu Prasad Yadav has the dubious honour of having the most (45,183) shoes thrown at him followed by Raj Thackeray with 14,818 shoes.

Created by a frustrated engineer, this site has a politician, at which a digital shoe that can be thrown with the click of a mouse.

One-upmanship

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has created a record of sorts by holding over 450 public meetings in 29 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. Rahul Gandhi has a record of covering the maximum distance by helicopter. Rahul is said to have covered over 87,000 km taking the aerial route across the country till the completion of the third round of polling. The next is Sonia Gandhi, who logged over 66,000 km.

L.K.Advani has already covered a distance of over one lakh kilometres, touching more than 120 constituencies already. Not far behind are Modi, and the PM.

Singles in fray

It’s amazing how bachelors and spinsters dominate the general election this time. Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa, Narendra Modi, Naveen Patnaik and Mayawati are all singles. All of them may emerge strong enough to make or break the next government.

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