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PERSPECTIVE

A Tribune Special
The fury of cyclone Aila
People must be trained properly on disaster management, says Rajbir Deswal
W
ITH over 275 deaths, thousands rendered homeless and millions stranded without food and water due to the cyclone Aila ripping through West Bengal and Orissa besides Bangladesh, the question of how to tackle a crisis of this scope and magnitude has once again come to the fore.

Biography and imagery of a song
by Shakuntala Rao
S
Abyasachi Bhattacharya’s new book, Vande Mataram: TheBbiography of a Song (published by Penguin), is less of an homage to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Bengali/Sanskrit poem Vande Mataram — skillfully inserted within his novel, Anandmath — but rather an attempt to chart a historical path of a contentious literary piece.



EARLIER STORIES

Tasks assigned
May 30, 2009
Team Manmohan
May 29, 2009
Lahore again
May 28, 2009
Let peace prevail
May 27, 2009
PM’s appeal
May 26, 2009
Mayawati goes berserk
May 25, 2009
Mandate for Manmohan
May 24, 2009
Manmohan Singh’s A team
May 23, 2009
Perils of “arrogance”
May 22, 2009
The failed fronts
May 21, 2009


OPED

Why farmers end their lives?
High time for a thorough investigation
by Ranjit Singh Ghuman
Suicide, in general and by farmers and agricultural labourers in particular, is an unnatural and a serious phenomenon. This is an indicator of serious limitations of the country’s social, economic and political policies. Such a phenomenon needs an urgent and systematic investigation.

On Record
Hate speeches led to BJP’s defeat: Husain
by Faraz Ahmad
S
YED Shahnawaz Husain is the BJP’s lone Muslim leader. He has been a member of the 13th, 14th and 15th Lok Sabha. As the Varun Gandhi episode unfolded, Husain took the lead in criticising Varun Gandhi.

Profile
Reward for experience and loyalty
by Harihar Swarup
S
M Krishna’s induction into the Union Cabinet, that too, with External Affairs portfolio, was a pleasant surprise. It surprised Krishna himself who said: “I wasn’t expecting it. The call from the PMO was a real surprise”.





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A Tribune Special
The fury of cyclone Aila
People must be trained properly on disaster management,
says Rajbir Deswal

WITH over 275 deaths, thousands rendered homeless and millions stranded without food and water due to the cyclone Aila ripping through West Bengal and Orissa besides Bangladesh, the question of how to tackle a crisis of this scope and magnitude has once again come to the fore.

The devastating cyclone in Myanmar on May 2, 2008 and the high-intensity earthquake in China on May 12, 2008 did revive the debate on disaster management. However, it petered out soon for lack of a sustained and consistent approach.

That Aila has weakened after taking its toll may be good news, but a recap of the devastating Super Cyclone that hit Orissa in 1999 will reveal that winds blowing at 250 to 300 kilometres an hour speed with rains and waves between 13 and 20 feet high affected nearly 1.25 crore population in that state.

Nearly 40,000 people perished. Livestock to the tune of five lakh was destroyed. Poultry farming losses were estimated at Rs 400 million. The eco-system was adversely affected with millions of trees and plants having been destroyed.

Aila, a grim reminder of the climatic change, underscores the imperative need for India to continue to “pressurise the industrialised world to keep deep and urgent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions”. Greenpace, an NGO involved in the Aila-affected areas, says that this is the root cause of climateric changes.

At the same time, domestically, India must take a bold and ambitious step to curtail emissions of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas), by adopting mandatory energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, and creating fiscal incentives for the same, recommends the Greenpeace.

Hurricanes in North America and typhoons in Asia are known as cyclones in this part of the tropical world. There are three facets to the forecast of cyclones which are crucial. First, it is generally a “long warning” from the Meteorological department which does not set the damage control levers being pulled instantaneously, while it should.

Second, the onset is so gradual that you have enough time at hand to gear up your resources.

And finally, the visitation of a cyclone to a specific zone “generally conforms” to the seasonal pattern. Thus, unlike earthquakes which are almost unpredictable, cyclones should meet with adequate safeguards.

The entire world community needs to come alive to the factors contributing to climatic change before it is too late. For though earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis have their typical regions on the globe for visitation, no country can claim to be totally immune from these catastrophes that affect humankind, livestock, fauna and flora besides other things, adversely, severely and surely.

What should be done to minimise the suffering of the affected people? Who can be more useful in taking care of the surviving victims? It is always better to keep the people living in the disaster-prone areas adequately informed about the dangers they are likely to face. They should be properly trained to cope with the crisis before any outside assistance is made available to them.

Then, the government will need to provide only rehabilitation assistance. This requires some investment and advance planning, but the difference it makes to the efforts for saving human lives, fauna and flora as well as property is enormous.

When the latest earthquake rattled China, the dam in the area developed cracks and the entire population downstream was forced to live in trauma. The aftershocks of the earthquake made people sleep in the open.

However, China, being adequately geared up to meet the situation, the people in the earthquake-hit areas did not feel the impact of the disaster as much as did those in the Irrawaddy river delta in Myanmar devastated by the cyclone Nargis.

The refusal of the military junta in Myanmar to welcome help being offered by other countries made the situation worse.

“Public seems to be more forgiving in natural disaster on anyone’s part”. This is the crux of a United Nations’ House Workshop held in 1999 on the theme, “Super Cyclone in Orissa: Strategic Planning in Rehabilitation”. While recognising the fact that the disaster management scenario in India has been conceptualised very recently, the workshop recommended the “5 R Strategy” i.e.— Relief, Rescue, Rehabilitation, Restoration and Reconstruction.

It is really shocking to know that despite 49 advisory bulletins sent by the Delhi-based Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre to Myanmar from April 28 to May 2, when Nargis caused devastation in that country, Yangon did not take the matter seriously.

Its response in time and in accordance with the gravity of the calamity must have minimised considerably the damage in terms of human lives lost and property destroyed.

The onset of a cyclone is gradual. Putting the available resources in operational mode is possible. Devastation by a cyclone in a specific zone generally has a seasonal pattern. Hence, unlike earthquakes, which are almost unpredictable, cyclones can be handled with enough safeguards. With early warnings, much of damage can be avoided.

India has a coastline of about 8,000 kilometres with 8 per cent of its land being vulnerable to cyclones. The devastation caused by recent disasters in India — whether it was the Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat, the Tsunami in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Super Cyclone in Orissa or the latest Aila with 100 kilometres per hour wind-gushes uprooting all land-bounds — has alerted the policy makers. There is readiness to tackle the situation in the wake of a natural disaster.

What is lacking in India, however, is that there is no army of foot-soldiers or “first responders” to handle a disaster. It should always be borne in mind that it is only the local community that comes to the rescue of the victims immediately in a catastrophe. Arming this community with awareness, training and equipment is highly desirable.

What compounds the problem is the general public’s refusal to heed the warnings. In Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere too, fishermen are known to take their routine deep plunges caring two hoots about the alerts issued.

The general public should be made aware of the typical characteristics of disasters. For example, if the eye of a storm is passing through a certain area, there will be slight lull and the sky may be clear for some time. Then, suddenly, the cyclone may strike and play havoc.

A properly informed and trained community can prepare itself to face the situation boldly and safely during the time between the lull and the visit of the storm. Experts believe that locally available indigenous mechanism which comes in handy works wonders sometimes, if the highly technical or even the state-of-the-art support system is not put in place.

For example, if a person is trapped in floodwaters, he could have just 20 empty plastic bottles (like the mineral water ones) tied around his person and he could survive at least till help reaches him. Or, if one puts a wet handkerchief on the nose in the wake of release of ammonia gas, then, no harm should come to him. If this fact could have been made known to the people at large, the face of Bhopal tragedy would not have been that grim.

The rescue, relief and rehabilitation tasks are quite difficult to undertake when the disaster has already struck. An early warning system can be of great help if it is taken with all seriousness. However, there must always be advance planning for it.

A cyclone catching the community and the government unawares leaves no scope for an on-the-spot assessment for some time. Bad weather conditions continue for a long time, and even relief arriving from other quarters goes waste due to its being dumped.

After the lapse of the crucial first 72 hours, the authorities generally are complacent or exhausted, particularly because of the fact that all hopes of rescuing those trapped or missing are gone.

A well-rehearsed disaster management plan takes these factors in view and prioritises the tasks accordingly. The managers know when to stop looking for the dead and devote their time and energy to relief and rehabilitation. They also know what alternative channels of information, transportation, etc, are available to them.

The aftermath of a disaster is the most difficult situation to handle. The authorities get busy with the tasks of disposal of the dead and attending to the injured and the vulnerable people.

The idea of minimising the damages and mitigating the miseries of the disaster-hit should always be there in the minds of the planners.

The writer, a senior IPS officer of the Haryana government, is a graduate on Critical Incident Management from the Louisiana State University, Louisiana, USA

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Biography and imagery of a song
by Shakuntala Rao

SAbyasachi Bhattacharya’s new book, Vande Mataram: TheBbiography of a Song (published by Penguin), is less of an homage to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Bengali/Sanskrit poem Vande Mataram — skillfully inserted within his novel, Anandmath — but rather an attempt to chart a historical path of a contentious literary piece.

In Bhattacharya’s book, one gets an insight into why Vande Mataram, India’s national song, has been at the centre of intense contestation between those who see it as a political chant and lyrical hymn and those who perceive it as a seditious slogan and communal war cry.

The song has been vocally and historically rejected by many in the Muslim communities for its conflation of goddess Durga’s iconic imagery with that of India’s nationalism.

Bhattacharya argues that the politics of Bankim and his contemporaries played an immense role in whether Muslims accepted Vande Mataram as representing the national symbol of India as a motherland.

For instance, influenced by Bankim’s 19th century Brahmanic writings, Sharat Chandra Chatterjee wrote the highly inflammatory, Bartaman Hindu-Mussalman Samasya (Contemporary Hindu-Muslim Question) in 1926 labeling Muslims as lacking culture and introduced the term mleccha (or impure) to denote Muslims in Bengal, an essay some historians claim, contributed to the construction of a new communal consciousness in post-independent India.

Most of us who learnt and loved the song from a very young age — I listened to it every morning when AIR began its daily broadcast with Ravi Shankar’s version — have an image of the song from the 1952 feature film Anandmath.

Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar’s chorus style with prominent mridanga accompaniment borrowed the tunes and iconography from the baul tradition of Bengal.

Given the song’s historical popularity, Vande Mataram has appeared seldom in films: the credit titles of the 1956 Leader (featuring Dilip Kumar) had Vande Mataram sung in the background; in 1997, Usha Uthup sang it in Shyam Benegal’s Making of the Mahatma and Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham in 2001 introduced the audience to its first few lines.

Bankim’s own politics (and its interpretations by different political factions since it was first penned in the 1870s) should not lead to its elimination from our cultural space, as scholars like Bhattacharya suggest. At the same time, Vande Mataram cannot be apolitically read as just ‘another poem’.

The question remains for us: how can filmmakers, musicians, and artists creatively use Vande Mataram?  A. R. Rahman’s version of the song which uses different lyrics and secular imagery is one clever and valiant effort to subvert historic imagery of Vande Mataram as a legitimate symbol of Hindu cultural identity as synonymous with India’s identity.

While Bollywood increasingly enters the business of representing a unified (and secular) nation, the point is not to push Vande Mataram under the cinematic rug.

It is important to remember that in every survey Indians, without exception, categorise Vande Mataram as their favourite tune.

The challenge remains for filmmakers to use Vande Mataram in ways that is symbolic and inclusive.

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Why farmers end their lives?
High time for a thorough investigation
by Ranjit Singh Ghuman

Suicide, in general and by farmers and agricultural labourers in particular, is an unnatural and a serious phenomenon. This is an indicator of serious limitations of the country’s social, economic and political policies. Such a phenomenon needs an urgent and systematic investigation.

The National Farmers’ Commission of India had highlighted that nearly 1.5 lakh farmers have committed suicides in India, since 1990s. Incidentally, these have taken place in those states where green revolution has been a success story — Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

In Maharashtra alone, the figure touched 1.31 lakh during 1993-2006. Hardly any state has undertaken comprehensive enumeration of the suicides. As regards Punjab, the most widely acclaimed success story of green revolution, the only systematic and authentic enumeration of the farmers’ suicides has been undertaken by the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, in 2009. That study, too, is confined to Bathinda and Sangrur districts. And during 2000-2008, according to this study, suicides touched 2,890 (1,757 farmers and 1,133 agricultural labourers).

The farmers and agricultural labourers are considered to be militant by nature. As such, the phenomenon of suicides does not go along well with their psyche. This is a serious indication of economic hardships which may eventually lead to social turmoil.

The co-existence of prosperity and indebtedness of the farmers is not a new phenomenon. Malcolm Darling (Indian Civil Service, 1904-40) in his book, The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt, 1925, highlighted that the farmers are simultaneously living in prosperity and debt. But during those days, they never committed suicides. Why, then, are the present-day farmers committing suicides? This calls for a census survey of the suicides by the farmers and the agricultural labourers.

The two recent decisions — package of Rs 25,000 crore to the families of suicide victims and the debt wavier of Rs 70,000 crore for farmers — show that the nation has at least recognised the seriousness of the phenomenon.

The agricultural sector, the farmers and the agricultural labourers are the backbone of the rural economy. Over 72 per cent population and 77 per cent of workers are still living in the rural areas (Census, 2001). Significantly, the number of workers (cultivators + labourers) in agricultural sector increased from 21.73 crore in 1991 to 24.59 crore in 2001 in India. However, the share of agricultural workforce in the total workers in India declined from 69.18 per cent in 1991 to 61.78 per cent in 2001.

According to a recent national level survey (NSSO, 2005), about 41 per cent Indian farmers have expressed their willingness to opt out of the agriculture. In Punjab, too, nearly 37 per cent farmers expressed their willingness to leave agriculture. About two lakh small and marginal farmers in Punjab have already been pushed away from farming during 1990-2001, according to a recent study (2007) by Punjab Agricultural University and the Punjab Farmers’ Commission.

In view of the ever-increasing threat of food insecurity at the national and global level, the survival of agricultural sector and the workforce therein is all the more important. If the agricultural workforce got demoralised, who would produce food grains to meet the challenge of food insecurity?

The sheen of green revolution started dimming towards the late 1980s. The per hectare net income, over variable costs, is shrinking day in and day out.

According to a study (Ranjit Singh Ghuman, 2001), the annual trend growth rate of per hectare return, over variable costs, in major crops (wheat, paddy and cotton) has been negative. In the case of wheat-paddy (combined), it was minus 2.18 per cent per annum. And in the case of cotton, it was minus 14.24 per cent per annum.

The labour absorption capacity of agriculture has been declining. Only in Punjab, the employment of workforce in cultivation and rearing of crops declined from 48 crore mandays in 1983-84 to 43 crore mandays in 1996-97 (Sucha Singh Gill, 2002). The employment in the non-agricultural sectors is also not growing enough to absorb the surplus labour in agriculture (Ranjit Singh Ghuman, 2005).

The agricultural workforce, pushed out of agriculture has thus no place to go. They are beleaguered in the situation. As such, per person productivity in agriculture has been declining at a fast rate. Agriculture, in India, is facing disguised unemployment at a very high rate.

All these factors have resulted in ever-increasing indebtedness of farmers and agricultural labourers. The indebtedness among farmers in India increased from 22.3 per cent in 1981 to 57.2 per cent in 2003 (RBI Bulletin, 1981 and NSSO, 2005).

According to NSSO (2005), 48.6 per cent of the total farmer households are reported to be indebted in 2005. The incidence of indebtedness is the highest in Andhra Pradesh (82 per cent) followed by Tamil Nadu (74.5 per cent), Punjab (65.4 per cent), Kerala (64.4 per cent), Karnataka (61.6 per cent) and Maharashtra (54.8 per cent). Nearly 50 to 53 per cent farmers in many other states are facing indebtedness.

Even a cursory look would bring home the point that agricultural development, indebtedness and the farmers’ suicides are closely interlinked. In other words, the Indian agricultural development, perhaps, is taking place at the peril of farmers — the very backbone of food security and Indian society. All this indicates that there are some serious flaws in the Indian agricultural policies.

It is in this context that the extent and nature of suicides by the farmers and agricultural labourers needs to be probed. The seriousness and dimensions of the phenomenon warrants a census survey of all those farmers and labourers who committed suicides. The identification and analysis of the causes (social, economic and other reasons) of suicides would provide a guide to the future policy and development of agricultural sector.

It would also enable the government to take policy measures for the prevention of suicides by farmers and the labourers. This, in turn, would help the country to take safeguards against the imminent threat of food insecurity. The nation would have to save the farmers and agricultural labourers, if it wants to live with food security as well as peace.

The writer is Professor, Department of Economics, Panjab University, Chandigarh

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On Record
Hate speeches led to BJP’s defeat: Husain
by Faraz Ahmad

Syed Shahnawaz HusainSYED Shahnawaz Husain is the BJP’s lone Muslim leader. He has been a member of the 13th, 14th and 15th Lok Sabha. As the Varun Gandhi episode unfolded, Husain took the lead in criticising Varun Gandhi.

In an interview to The Sunday Tribune, he blames the hate speeches of Varun and B.L. Sharma ‘Prem’ for the BJP/NDA’s defeat. He has also alluded the defeat partly to Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s absence and commends Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for the victory in Bihar.

Excerpts:

Q: How do you look at the election results?

A: The elections were contested by the BJP under Mr L.K. Advani’s leadership. The media failed to highlight the positive aspects of our ‘Advani for PM’ campaign and only talked of the negative aspects. As a result, it was preoccupied giving explanations instead of publicising what the BJP stood for. I contested from Bhagalpur but no one questioned about Advani and his leadership. But I had a tough time explaining our leaders’ statements.

Q: Why such a big difference between the results in Bihar and other states? Was it because of the Nitish factor?

A: Our Bihar campaign was unique. We fought there on the performance of the Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi government. Moreover, the people were fed up with Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. Also, the Congress which had propped up Lalu Prasad for 15 years failed to gain the people’s confidence. This was a negative vote against Lalu Prasad and Paswan and a positive one for the good work done by Nitish-Sushil duo. Naturally, it was a big success for us.

Q: You criticised Varun. But your party supported him solidly. Some candidates wanted him to campaign for them. Isn’t it ironical?

A: As the BJP Minority Cell chief, I have always spoken out freely in the party fora. I am not the BJP’s show boy; I am a leader. I publicly criticised Varun’s statement in the Central Election Committee. No one opposed me. My party believes in Ekatmata Manavvad propounded by the late Deendayal Upadhyaya. Advani, too, campaigned for Justice for All. Thus, Varun’s statement did not symbolise the BJP thinking.

Q: You are now distancing your party from Varun and Sharma’s provocative statements.

A: Yes, I have heard his statements that Hindus are ready to fight against Muslims. True, we could not oppose him as effectively as we should have done and this has done us considerable damage. The Congress got a negative note in Delhi because the Muslims rallying around Congress for fear of such statements.

Q: Does your victory signify that Muslims are slowly being drawn and attracted towards the BJP?

A: I won with Muslim support in Bhagalpur, which had witnessed in 1989 bigger violence against them than the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. I won with a large convincing margin too. The party was taking big leaders all over in helicopters. If I also had a helicopter, I would have campaigned a little more and we could have instilled some more confidence among the Muslim electorate even if we may not have got too many votes.

I would have persuaded Muslims not to vote against the BJP. As chairman of the BJP Minority Cell, I take full responsibility for this defeat. We failed almost everywhere except in Bihar where the BJP got Muslim vote also.

Q: Are you missing Vajpayee’s absence in the campaign? As Advani led the campaign, did it make a difference to your electoral fortunes?

A: This is a very good question. This was the first election we fought without Vajpayee and we felt his absence very much. In my case, Vajpyee did contribute to my victory. He wrote a letter appealing to the people to vote for me and it made a lot of difference to me. In this party no leader is bigger than Vajpayee and Advani.

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Profile
Reward for experience and loyalty
by Harihar Swarup

SM Krishna’s induction into the Union Cabinet, that too, with External Affairs portfolio, was a pleasant surprise. It surprised Krishna himself who said: “I wasn’t expecting it. The call from the PMO was a real surprise”.

The Congress veteran, MP (Rajya Sabha) since 2008, is back in the government after 14 years. He was Minister of State for Finance about 15 years back but was never a Cabinet Minister before.

The 77-year-old Krishna resigned as Maharashtra Governor ahead of the Karnataka Assembly elections in 2008 but he did not contest. As a matter of fact, he was never comfortable at Mumbai’s picturesque sea-side Raj Bhavan. He always preferred to return to active politics in his home state Karnataka. His long pending wish was fulfilled when the Congress High Command allowed him to quit the Governor’s post and return to poll-bound Karnataka.

Krishna campaigned for the party in the 2008 Assembly and 2009 Lok Sabha elections but his presence did not make any difference to the party’s prospects. He was the Chief Minister between 1999 and 2004. The Assembly election of 2004, however, paved the way for a coalition government in the state with the Congress securing 65 seats and the Janata Dal (Secular) 58 . One trait that might have helped Krishna throughout his variegated career has been his unflinching loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family since 1960.

Indeed, the credit of making Karnataka an investor-friendly state goes to Krishna when he headed the government. He is the man who made Bangalore the hub of India’s booming IT industry. He took tangible steps towards promotion of bio-technology. So much so that many began describing the Garden City the “Biotech city”.

Somanahalli Malliah Krishna has good rapport with people. At a seminar, an IT company chief executive described the initials “S M” in his name as “Simply Marvellous”. The gathering of IT engineers unanimously agreed.

Considered one of the most educated Congress leaders, Krishna having completed his Bachelor’s in Arts from Maharaja College, Mysore, and obtaining a Law degree from the Government Law College, Bangalore, went for higher education to the United States. He graduated from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and George Washington University where he was a Fulbright scholar.

Krishna took to teaching after return to Bangalore. He taught international law for six years. Meanwhile, politics beaconed him and he plunged into the hurly-burly of elections, having been elected to the State Assembly in 1962. Since then, there has been no looking back from him.

He was elected to the 4th and 5th Lok Sabha in 1968 and 1971. Shuttling between the state and the Centre, Krishna became the Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka in 1992 and after 1999 assembly election became the Chief Minister.

There are some little known facets of 77-year-old Krishna’s personality. He has a strange hobby — designing men’s clothes. It is a passion for him. He is also a lover of tennis. He plays the game for two hours every morning if he gets time. He is also an avid traveller.

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