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EDITORIALS

Manmohan Singh’s A team
Experience and competence have counted
It
was a historic occasion indeed when Dr Manmohan Singh took the oath of office of Prime Minister for the second time on Friday. When he had come in in 2004 after Ms Sonia Gandhi had opted out, few had given him more than a couple of years at the head of an unwieldy alliance, with the Left supporting it from outside. But he not only creditably completed his term but also got back in the saddle again, after winning the elections against heavy odds.

Enhanced aid to Pakistan
US generosity could prove costly for India
Strange
are the ways of the American establishment. Barely a month ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned that the Pakistan government was in danger of falling into terrorist hands because of failed government policies and that the deterioration of security in nuclear-armed Pakistan posed “a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country (the US) and the rest of the world.” 



EARLIER STORIES

Perils of “arrogance”
May 22, 2009
The failed fronts
May 21, 2009
Advani stays put
May 20, 2009
Vote for growth
May 19, 2009
North by North-West
May 18, 2009
Risat 2: A feather in the cap
May 17, 2009
The countdown begins
May 16, 2009
Regional satraps in demand
May 15, 2009
Well-done, EC
May 14, 2009
Can’t be just goodwill
May 13, 2009
Before and after
May 12, 2009
Plunder of Aravali
May 11, 2009


Gadchiroli Naxal attack
Ill-equipped cops fall easy prey
The
ruthless gunning down of 16 police personnel including, for the first time, five policewomen, by naxalites in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district should serve as yet another grim reminder of the growing menace of naxalism in the country. The incident occurred after a contingent of police personnel was rushed to clear some trees that had deliberately been felled by naxalites on a busy state highway leading to Chhattisgarh.

ARTICLE

After the elections
What people expect in next 100 days
by Rajindar Sachar
T
HE results of the just concluded parliamentary elections have hopefully given a permanent burial to the politics of divisiveness and religious bigotry. It is a warning to all that in India acceptance of the politics of social inclusion and total equality of all religious groups, especially the minorities, are a prerequisite to obtaining political power.


MIDDLE

Presiding deity
by Surinder Gosain

I had to abandon my  studies when I was in college and take up a job in one of Haryana Government undertakings. Elections were announced and I really don’t remember (honestly, I didn’t even care then) whether they were for the state Assembly or the Lok Sabha.


OPED

News analysis 
Congress makes headway in the Northeast

by Dinesh Kumar

The Congress has succeeded in increasing its representation in the Northeast by not only improving on its seat tally from 11 to 13, but also expanding its presence from three states to five out of the ‘seven sisters’ that constitute this region which otherwise contributes just 24 seats to Parliament.

Empower women to control population
by Michelle Goldberg
There
are two ways to look at world population numbers. By one measure, the world has grown beyond its capacity. But in parts of Europe and other developed countries, the problem isn’t too many people but too few: Dwindling birthrates have prompted concerns about whether a shrinking pool of young people will be able to maintain the social safety net for the previous generation.

Bee rustlers cash in on honey shortage
by Michael McCarthy
First
cattle rustling, then sheep rustling... now bee rustling is the latest crime to hit Britain’s rural communities – and rival beekeepers themselves may be responsible. A shortage of honey and growing winter losses of bees over the past two years have pushed up the value of honey bees to the point where they are a profitable target for thieves. A bee farmer in Shropshire has lost 100 hives, while in Hampshire alone, at least four farms have been hit in the past month.

 


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Manmohan Singh’s A team
Experience and competence have counted

It was a historic occasion indeed when Dr Manmohan Singh took the oath of office of Prime Minister for the second time on Friday. When he had come in in 2004 after Ms Sonia Gandhi had opted out, few had given him more than a couple of years at the head of an unwieldy alliance, with the Left supporting it from outside. But he not only creditably completed his term but also got back in the saddle again, after winning the elections against heavy odds. The ride is going to be easier this time, hopefully, because he has returned with a stronger mandate, and chastened allies. The Congress confidence was noticeable during the swearing-in itself, when all but two Cabinet ministers (Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee) were from his party. The first part of the induction — with the second instalment likely to come on Tuesday — more or less comprised the A team of his Cabinet.

The new team combines political and administrative experience and it happens to be a selection made by the Prime Minister and Mrs Sonia Gandhi and not by heads of regional parties as was the case in 2004. And the way Dr Manmohan Singh decided not to bow down to the wishes of the DMK leadership in the allotment of portfolios shows that he has upheld the Prime Minister’s prerogative to choose his team. Some DMK ministers may come back during next week’s swearing in, but they have to accept the portfolios allotted by the Prime Minister.

Competence and experience have counted in the selection. Mr Pranab Mukherjee is the most experienced minister in the Cabinet and is likely to get the Finance portfolio. Mr P. Chidambaram is likely to continue with Home, which he was given after 26/11. Similarly, Mr A K Antony may continue as Defence Minister. The vital portfolio of External Affairs is likely to go to Mr S.M Krishna who built his reputation as an able administrator as Chief Minister of Karnataka. Mr Sharad Pawar and Miss Mamata Banerjee are the only Cabinet ministers who have been made important members of Dr Manmohan Singh’s team as leaders of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Trinamool Congress because of the alliance the two forged with the Congress in Maharashtra and West Bengal. While Mr Pawar is likely to return to the Agriculture ministry, Miss Banerjee may get Railways. The ministers of state are likely to be inducted on Tuesday in the next round. From the region, Mr Anand Sharma, who was Minister of State in the outgoing ministry, has been promoted. Mr Sharma, who is from Himachal Pradesh, is likely to hold the portfolio of Minister of Information and Broadcasting. Ms Ambika Soni from Punjab may continue with the present portfolio of Tourism. Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was also sworn in. He may get Parliamentary Affairs, a portfolio he has earlier held before going to Jammu and Kashmir. It is a fairly composite team which considering the Congress strength in the new Lok Sabha will have the assurance to continue for the full term. 

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Enhanced aid to Pakistan
US generosity could prove costly for India

Strange are the ways of the American establishment. Barely a month ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned that the Pakistan government was in danger of falling into terrorist hands because of failed government policies and that the deterioration of security in nuclear-armed Pakistan posed “a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country (the US) and the rest of the world.” Earlier, the Americans had acknowledged that a large part of the money that was given by the erstwhile George Bush administration to Pakistan for fighting the Taliban had been used by the Army and the ISI to build up Pakistan’s arsenal against India. A limited Pakistan army offensive against the Taliban, evidently aimed at hoodwinking the Americans into thinking that there had been a change of heart, has changed all that. This is borne out by the fact that a Congressional panel has approved on Thursday a three-fold increase in American non-military aid to Pakistan.

Interestingly, while the original bill had insisted that Pakistan must undertake not to let its territory be used for launching terrorist attacks against India, the direct reference to India was replaced by ‘neighbouring countries’ keeping in mind Pakistani sensitivities. Indeed, it was the Obama administration which told the lawmakers that mentioning India by name could be counter-productive to their overall objective given that the Pakistan establishment was allergic to it. So much for accommodating the Pakistanis who until the other day were seen by no less a person than the secretary of state as posing a mortal threat to the security of the world at large!

It is the height of naivety for the US to overlook Pakistan’s track record that such assistance to it has always been used against India. It is time that India protests strongly now rather than waiting to take it up when Mrs Clinton visits India in July. Only last Tuesday Mrs Clinton had trashed American policy towards Pakistan over the last 30 years, calling it ‘incoherent.’ So soon into her term, she is now adding to the enigma of the US policy by giving a whopping $1.5 billion annually to Pakistan which it could well use against India and not the Taliban. 

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Gadchiroli Naxal attack
Ill-equipped cops fall easy prey

The ruthless gunning down of 16 police personnel including, for the first time, five policewomen, by naxalites in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district should serve as yet another grim reminder of the growing menace of naxalism in the country. The incident occurred after a contingent of police personnel was rushed to clear some trees that had deliberately been felled by naxalites on a busy state highway leading to Chhattisgarh. All the unsuspecting police personnel were killed in an ambush laid by a group of 70 to 100 Naxalites. This is the fourth incident of Naxalite violence in this district alone, where, together with last Thursday’s incident, 34 police personnel have lost their lives so far this year.

The ease with which the police personnel walked into a trap in one of Maharashtra’s naxalite-infested districts reflects on the deficiencies in the police force that, nationwide, largely remains inadequate in strength, ill equipped, poorly trained and devoid of sound leadership. Naxalite-affected Bihar has just 57 policemen per one lakh residents while the police strength in the other similarly affected states like Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand is well below the national average of 44 policemen per 100 square km. Many state governments have not been paying adequate attention to their police forces. A recent report prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General has observed that funds made available by the central government for police modernisation between 2000 and 2004 had been seriously under-utilised. For example, Orissa spent just one third of the planned outlay while in Jharkhand up to 60 per cent of the spent funds had been improperly utilised.

From hijacking trains, bombing railways stations and torching oil tankers to ambushing policemen and gunning down civilians, Naxalites have spread their terror across a Red Corridor comprising 253 districts stretching from Tamil Nadu to Bengal accounting for over 40 per cent of the country’s geographical area. Over 1,300 persons have been killed in the last two years alone, about 430 of them police personnel. This poses a serious challenge to national security, which needs to be addressed on a priority basis by both the Centre and the concerned state governments. At the same time, they also need to address the root causes of the problem that lie mainly in socio-economic inequalities and deficiencies in basic infrastructure and services. 

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Thought for the Day

Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary. — Robert Louis Stevenson

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After the elections
What people expect in next 100 days
by Rajindar Sachar

THE results of the just concluded parliamentary elections have hopefully given a permanent burial to the politics of divisiveness and religious bigotry. It is a warning to all that in India acceptance of the politics of social inclusion and total equality of all religious groups, especially the minorities, are a prerequisite to obtaining political power.

The new government will naturally frame its policies in the light of these and equally important considerations for the people of India that is Bharat. In that context, the sudden shooting up of Sensex is inconsequential — it only results in reducing the book accounting loss of the Mittals, Ambanis, Tatas, etc, but does not add a trickle of water to the one-third of the people who do not get safe drinking water. The rise in Sensex also does not add a yard of space to 25 per cent of population of this country who have no homes and 77 per cent of the people (more than 2½ times the total population of pre-1947 India) who are forced to eke out a living on Rs 20 a day. The immediate concern would hopefully be to prevent the pilferage of 90 per cent of the funds allocated under the NREG scheme reaching the needy persons instead of being pocketed by dishonest officials and their political associates.

All these important aspects will certainly take time. But there are some fundamental pieces of legislation and programmes which need to be effected within the first 100 days.

The first priority should be given to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill, which both the NDA government and the previous UPA government have been promising for over a decade, but it remained an empty gesture. The Parliamentary Standing Committee under Dr Nalchinpan had almost finalised its recommendation for double-member constituencies which would ensure one-third members of the legislatures to be women “reserved quota” and even more if women get the highest vote.

It is well established that women’s representation in Parliament has never exceeded 7 per cent or 8 per cent this time, too, it is just 10 per cent.

At present, the parliamentary constituency average is between 1.5 million and 2.5 million, and the state assemblies constituency average is between two and three lakhs in most of the states. If there is a 50 per cent increase in the membership of Parliament and other legislatures, and provision is made for double-member seats in the top half of the constituencies, election for one woman for each of these extra seats can take place immediately (the other seat being already full) so that women’s representation is found in all the legislatures, including the 15th Lok Sabha.

The law of double-member constituencies prevailed up to 1957 for general and reserved constituencies. Similar provision for double-member constituencies for women is only following a precedent. We know that this attempt failed because the constituents of some parties insisted on a sub-quota for backwards in the women quota, though this is not permissible under the Constitution. The argument for a sub-quota among the women is a red herring projected by male members who are, in fact, against women occupying positions of power. Fortunately, these anti-women legislators have been rejected by the electorate.

Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi have been in favour of the Bill. So, there can be no reason for delaying this legislation.

There is another old promise to redeem. The Prime Minister had in September 2004 candidly and in all sincerity stated that the “UPA government would lose no time to enact the Lok Pal Bill and that the need for it is more urgent than ever”. That it could not be passed was because of concerted opposition by a small clique within the UPA and also helped by quite a few in the Opposition by the not-so-clear move to start a controversy by seeking to include judges in the Lok Pal Bill (which constitutionally was impermissible).

Then another futile debate was started about the expediency of whether to include the Prime Minister under the Lok Pal Bill, notwithstanding the publicly made commendable statement by Dr Manmohan Singh that in his view the office of Prime Minister should be included within the Bill. But many legislators pursuing their own self-interest succeeded in postponing the Bill, notwithstanding the vast public demand led by the Gandhian Satyagraha Brigade and other groups that let the Bill be passed even by excluding the Prime Minister so that the electorate will have confidence that the legislators will be under scrutiny by a high-powered body. That promise needs to be redeemed in the interest of purity of administration.

As far back as 2006 the UPA government had proposed to legislate a National Judicial Council Bill to enable it to make inquiries into reports against the higher judiciary and to take action short of removal by it. There was also to be a provision for the declaration of assets to be made by persons when being appointed judges and also subsequently during their tenure. This was a right direction because it had been felt in legal and political circles that in disciplinary matters concerning the higher judiciary, the present position of the Supreme Court alone being the exclusive mechanism is no longer satisfactory and that there was a need for a judicial commission to deal with matters in a more transparent manner.

As a matter of fact, the Law Commission, in its 121st report, had suggested that the present closed system of appointing judges could be replaced with a National Judicial Commission (NJC). I am of the view that the public at large has a legitimate stake in the judiciary and has a strong justification to insist that such an important function concerning the whole society cannot be the preserve of the small free-masonry of the judiciary. There is also a widespread view that this council should have at least one lay person, to be selected by the Prime Minister in concurrence with leaders of the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament. A retired judge of the Supreme Court could be a full-time member because sitting judges may not have sufficient time.

It is necessary to breach the seal of exclusivity of the robed brethren and provide a whiff of fresh air. Indeed, information about prospective appointees may more easily be gathered by lay members of the NJC because they are in closer touch with wider society than the sitting judges who need to maintain judicial aloofness.

In Canada, the Judicial Council was established in 1971. In Australia, such a commission was set up in 1987. False fears have been expressed that the accusation of misconduct — before they have been established as credible — would affect the independence of the judiciary. Rather, in my view, it will help in making the judiciary stronger and more credible. The Bar in India as a whole has supported such a move.

People would be anxiously awaiting the new government’s report card to be presented after 100 days.n

The writer is a former Chief Justice, High Court of Delhi.

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Presiding deity
by Surinder Gosain

I had to abandon my studies when I was in college and take up a job in one of Haryana Government undertakings.

Elections were announced and I really don’t remember (honestly, I didn’t even care then) whether they were for the state Assembly or the Lok Sabha.

What I remember is that I was assigned to preside over an election booth in a nearby village where some polling officers were to work under my instructions. “I am the presiding officer”, I boasted to myself and with much gusto to my friends too.

“Nothing can go right…..sorry, wrong without my signatures,” I said many times to myself.

The training camp for the presiding officers proved of no help to me as I had perhaps started following my father’s wishes of “finish learning” rather too conscientiously. Due to my “connections” at the right places, I attended the camp for only two days and frankly speaking one doesn’t have to learn much when the main task assigned to you is to shout at your subordinates (polling officers here) to shift ballot boxes first from the Deputy Commissioner’s office to the polling booth and then back.

“The presiding officer only signs and orders; polling officers work”, I believed in my daydreaming.

One day before the polling, everyone else in my team, was “loaded” onto a small truck along with the ballot boxes. There I saw one of my old teachers, a rather heavy man (no complaints as I am of the same size now), clamouring “to be loaded” on the truck.

“Sir, we will sit in the front along with the driver”, I almost shouted at my educator of yesteryear. “I know you are the presiding officer, but I never thought that you will also be such a magnanimous student”, he remarked.

Humbled by his remarks, I turned rather mellow and said: “Sir, you are the presiding officer and I will work under you as your polling staff”. I was extra benevolent in adding “sirs” knowing my capabilities of handling the job.

“So, puttar, ucha wadh gaya hein toon”, (you have risen high) remarked the teacher and asked me where I worked. “Personal Assistant to the Additional Deputy Commissioner”, I said with gathered innocence and “accumulated pride”.

“Oh! The Additional Deputy Commissioner has decided on the election duties this time. Now I know, why I have been relegated to act like a polling officer. My rank is much above you”, he sneered at me.

“Yes, of course, sir”, I spluttered. 

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News analysis 
Congress makes headway in the Northeast
by Dinesh Kumar

The Congress has succeeded in increasing its representation in the Northeast by not only improving on its seat tally from 11 to 13, but also expanding its presence from three states to five out of the ‘seven sisters’ that constitute this region which otherwise contributes just 24 seats to Parliament.

Unlike several other states located in the Indo-Gangetic plain, the Northeast is regarded by political parties to be relatively insignificant in the numerical stakes that are considered critical for government formation at the Centre.

Except Assam, which has 14 parliamentary seats, the remaining six states have a share of just 10 in Parliament. Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura have two seats each, while Mizoram and Nagaland are each represented by a solitary member of Parliament.

The Congress has recorded a clean sweep in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram where it won all five seats while retaining one of the two seats in Meghalaya.

In Assam, however, the Congress party’s tally has dipped to seven compared to nine won last time. But when viewed collectively, the Congress-NCP alliance has won eight out of the 14 seats in the state.

Conversely, the BJP has doubled its strength from two seats to four in Assam but has been routed in Arunachal Pradesh, where it previously held both parliamentary seats.

But that is only part of the story. The Lok Sabha results in Assam mark two other developments, one of which has the makings of an issue of serious concern. First, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which contested in electoral alliance with the BJP, has performed dismally, forcing it to review its alliance with the saffron party.

Secondly, and arguably of greater concern, the rise, influence and electoral performance of the Muslim-dominated Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) reflects an increasing polarisation of votes.

The BJP’s victory in the four parliamentary constituencies of Nagaon, Mangaldoi, Guwahati and Silchar is being attributed precisely to this rise of the AUDF and the increasing polarisation of communities in this strife-torn state.

While the BJP-AGP alliance has turned out to be fruitful for the BJP, it has not been the same for the AGP. Both the sitting MPs of the AGP lost and this regional party, which in the past has twice formed a government in the state, could win only one of the six seats it contested.

The AGP, a regional force, which evolved out of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) that was at the forefront of the agitation against illegal immigration during the 1980s, has since decided to review its alliance with the BJP.

Earlier, the BJP-AGP combine had decided to continue their alliance until the next assembly elections scheduled in 2011, a decision taken even though the political alliance had fared disastrously in the 2001 assembly elections. Of particular concern to the AGP is the fact that it secured fewer minority votes than it expected to do.

A more significant development is the rise of the AUDF, which has now contested all three kinds of elections in the state — panchayat, assembly and parliamentary. In its first-ever contest in the Lok Sabha elections, this relatively new regional party has won one seat and played a spoilsport for the Congress in six others, ironically, to the benefit of the BJP, which was able to exploit the polarisation of votes.

Even though it won only one seat, the AUDF recorded a vote share of almost 20 per cent marking an increase of almost 6 per cent when compared to the 14 per cent vote share recorded in the last panchayat elections. Political observers in Assam are of the view that the AUDF is a party to watch and expect it to gain greater prominence in the 2011 assembly elections.

The only two states where there is neither a Congress nor BJP presence are Tripura and Nagaland. In Tripura, the CPM won both seats for the second consecutive time.

This is especially bad news for the Congress, which not only lost by large margins but also failed to secure a lead in any of the 60 assembly segments. The Congress party’s defeat follows a similar debacle in the assembly elections held in February last year.

In Nagaland, the ruling Nagaland Peoples Front (NPF) won the lone parliamentary seat. The NPF is the only regional party to completely represent a northeastern state in Parliament.

In Manipur, the ruling Congress party has become the first political party to win both seats in any parliamentary election resulting in the state Congress demanding a ministerial berth at the Centre.

But this statistic apart, the Congress party’s victory has one important implication. The electoral result in the Naga-dominated outer Manipur parliamentary constituency, in particular, is a verdict against the NSCN (I-M)’s bid to merge the four contiguously located Naga-inhabited districts with Nagaland in order to create a Greater Nagalim.

Yet, the Congress was not without its politics of opportunism. For, the same Congress party, which opposed the integration of the four Naga-dominated districts of Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Chandel with Manipur, fought elections in Nagaland on the demand for integration of these very areas.

Not surprisingly, the party’s central leadership adopted a vague stand on the issue — opposing merger in Manipur while supporting it in Nagaland. The NPF hopes to expedite the peace process (which includes a ceasefire between the NSCN (I-M) and the security forces) in place since 1997.

The election results in the Northeast have not just been about political victories and losses. Of greater significance is the fact that the electorate in this region, which is otherwise afflicted by secessionist politics, insurgency, terrorism, illegal immigration and its resultant change in demographic profile, has repeatedly reposed its faith in the country’s electoral democracy.

The region recorded a high voter turnout, certainly higher than Mumbai and Bihar. Unfortunately, however, development in the Northeast remains relatively neglected in this natural resource — rich and culturally vibrant region, a staggering 98 per cent of which is surrounded by four countries — China, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan.

It is only fair that the next set of council of ministers of the Congress-led UPA government should reflect a strong representation to these states. It is time this strategically important region got due attention, particularly if growth with inclusiveness is to mean more than just a slogan.

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Empower women to control population
by Michelle Goldberg

There are two ways to look at world population numbers. By one measure, the world has grown beyond its capacity. But in parts of Europe and other developed countries, the problem isn’t too many people but too few: Dwindling birthrates have prompted concerns about whether a shrinking pool of young people will be able to maintain the social safety net for the previous generation.

Politically, the discussion about population is deeply polarised. Conservatives talk about falling birthrates in almost apocalyptic terms, suggesting Europe is being punished for its sins of secularism and feminism.

Best-selling author Mark Steyn has predicted “the demise of European races too self-absorbed to breed,” while 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned that “Europe is facing demographic disaster.” Liberals, meanwhile, tend to see the Malthusian specter of overpopulation as a far greater threat.

So who is right? Is our future endangered by overpopulation or underpopulation? The answer is both. But in an elegant irony, the two problems have the same solution: giving women more control over their fertility and their lives. Both very high birthrates and very low ones threaten social stability, and both, it turns out, are symptoms of countries’ failures to meet women’s needs.

Right now, the world’s population is growing at the unsustainable rate of 78 million people a year, and according to the United Nations, it will probably keep growing at 70 million or 75 million a year through 2020. Almost all of that growth is in the slums of the Third World. As former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said in a speech last year, “By mid-century, the best estimates point to a world population of more than 9 billion. That’s a 40 per cent to 45 per cent increase — striking enough — but most of that growth is almost certain to occur in the countries least able to sustain it. Places where swelling population is likely to fuel instability and extremism — not just in those areas but beyond them as well.”

The ethical and effective way to counter rapid population growth is to bolster women’s rights and improve their access to family planning. Education is crucial — study after study has found that girls who go to school marry later and have fewer, healthier children.

Access to contraception is also key. According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost one-quarter of married women in sub-Saharan Africa have an unmet need for birth control. In a number of Latin American and African countries, more than 40 per cent of recent births are said to be unwanted.

Meanwhile, high rates of unsafe, illegal abortion — responsible for 13 per cent of maternal mortality globally, according to the World Health Organisation — speak to women’s desperation to control their fertility.

At the same time, several developed countries, including Japan, Russia, Italy and Spain, have what appears to be the opposite problem. A stable population requires each woman to have an average of 2.1 children. (The extra one-tenth of a per cent accounts for early deaths.)

Demographers say that countries can adapt without much trouble to fertility that is a few tenths of a per cent less than that. However, below about 1.7 children per woman, economic growth, pension systems and general cultural viability all come into question as a shrinking pool of young people is forced to support a growing number of the aged.

Italy, for example, has a fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman.

One leading demographer estimated that if Italy’s 1995 birthrate remained stable over 100 years, then without immigration its population a century hence would be a mere 14 per cent of what it is today.

That kind of population decline can’t simply be remedied with immigration without causing major cultural upheavals and nationalist backlashes.

Some social conservatives are using the threat of rapid First World population decline to argue for restrictions on women’s rights. But that gets it precisely backward. In developing countries, lower social status for women is associated with higher fertility, but once societies become highly industrialised and women taste a certain amount of freedom, the reverse is true.

Fertility is reaching dangerously low levels in countries where social attitudes and institutions haven’t caught up with women’s desire to combine work and family. When faced with men who are unwilling to share domestic burdens, inflexible workplaces and day-care shortages, many women respond by having fewer children or forgoing motherhood altogether.

But when societies make it possible for women to combine having children with pursuing their other ambitions, fertility rates are fine. It works differently in different cultures. In Scandinavia and France, working mothers are aided by lavish state support.

Britain and the United States lack such generous benefits, but their flexible, even volatile labour markets lessen the importance of working uninterrupted at a single job, providing more on-ramps for mothers to return to the work force. As one group of Yale political scientists wrote, a mother’s “job insecurity becomes less of a liability when everyone is insecure.”

It’s counterintuitive at first, but it turns out that the more opportunity women in developed countries have to work, the more likely they are to have children, because they can do so without giving up their other dreams.

In coming decades, Europeans will constitute a declining percentage of the world’s people. When the 20th century began, the population of Europe was three times that of Africa. In 2050, the population of Africa will be three times that of Europe. One can accept and even welcome the prospect of this new world and still want to see the changes happen in a way that allows countries to adapt.

Give women freedom and support, and they will find reproductive equilibrium, so that when societies do shrink or grow, they do so in a manageable way. The lesson of these twin demographic dangers is clear: Take care of women, and they’ll take care of the rest.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post 

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Bee rustlers cash in on honey shortage
by Michael McCarthy

First cattle rustling, then sheep rustling... now bee rustling is the latest crime to hit Britain’s rural communities – and rival beekeepers themselves may be responsible.

A shortage of honey and growing winter losses of bees over the past two years have pushed up the value of honey bees to the point where they are a profitable target for thieves. A bee farmer in Shropshire has lost 100 hives, while in Hampshire alone, at least four farms have been hit in the past month.

Thefts have been reported in Selborne, north of Petersfield, Basingstoke and the New Forest. In the most recent incident, six hives worth an estimated £1,800 on the black market were stolen from a commercial farm at Micheldever, north of Winchester. The victim, John Cosburn, president of the Hampshire Beekeepers Association, said: “It has got to be someone who knows about bees, I mean would you want to move 40,000 bees?

“They would have needed the right equipment and know how to move them without killing them. I assume they were either stolen to order, or it was a desperate bee farmer whose hives had died.”

The British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) said it was “very sad” to think that the people behind the thefts might be beekeepers themselves. “We’ve always felt we were a supportive community,” said the BBKA spokeswoman, Christine Gray. “It’s a very unpleasant development.”

While beekeepers normally expect to lose about 10 per cent of their stock over the winter, losses last year reached 30 per cent or even higher, probably because of the two very wet summers combined with the effects of parasites such as the varroa mite. As a result, in some areas bees and honey are in short supply; the dramatic decline in honey bee populations means that at the moment 80 per cent of honey is imported into the UK.

In Staffordshire, thieves sneaked into a honey farm and stole 18 hives full of thousands of bees. The hives, worth £5,000, were among 600 that Richard Lindsey, of the Great Little Honey Company, has dotted in fields round the countryside. He and his wife harvest the honey which they process at their home at Rowley Hill Farm, Stretton, near Penkridge.

He discovered the hives missing from a strawberry farm at Bolas Heath, just north of Telford, when he went to check on them. “It is the first time I have had any of my hives and bees stolen, but they are now very valuable. The value of both bees and honey has rocketed,” he said. He would have been harvesting the first honey from the stolen hives this month and he has to find a replacement site which is more secure.

Although the thefts have been reported to police, keepers say there is little officers can do to stop the raids. Suggestions include branding hives, hiding them from view or even attaching satellite tracking devices.

By arrangement with The Independent

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