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EDITORIALS

Mayawati again
Election results seem to have rattled her
Strange are the ways of Mayawati. Success goes to her head and failure makes her bitter. Right now, she is on a tongue-lashing spree blaming everyone except herself for the stinging defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections. And no two opinions about it, she can go berserk. Her latest victim is none other than Mahatma Gandhi whom many revere but she has described as a “natakbaaz” (fake).

Vigil in the Northeast
India filling the gaps in defences
As part of its continuing plans to strengthen its defence along the northern borders, India has decided to deploy a squadron of long-range Sukhoi-30 fighters in Tezpur (Assam), raise two Mountain Divisions for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh and improve roads in the areas bordering Tibet. These are aimed at protecting India’s Northeast which bore a major brunt of Chinese military aggression 47 years ago.


EARLIER STORIES

No changers win
June 16, 2009
That sinking feeling
June 15, 2009
Sahibs and Burra Sahibs
June 14, 2009
Swine flu pandemic
June 13, 2009
Now it’s Canada
June 12, 2009
Vision for growth
June 11, 2009
Beware! It’s not milk
June 10, 2009
MP or a murderer?
June 9, 2009
Arrest of a terrorist
June 8, 2009
Terror Down Under
June 7, 2009
Washington has erred
June 6, 2009
President speaks
June 5, 2009


Impeach Justice Sen
Parliament must hasten action now
Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily’s statement that the Centre has “no vested interest in protecting the corrupt, whether inside or outside the judiciary”, with special reference to the impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court is welcome. It should be viewed as a reassurance from the new government about its commitment to stem the rot in the judiciary.
ARTICLE

A moment of truth
Abandoning Hindutva will help BJP
by B. G. Verghese
It was always expected that there would be a moment of reckoning for the BJP and the Left. The old adage goes that you can fool some of the people all the time all the people some of the time, but not all the people all of the time. The last elections proved that. Now introspection among many in these parties has started a process of unravelling that bold statements cannot paper over.

MIDDLE

Our honoured guest!
by Vepa Rao
We caught Keshab red-handed – while setting fire to a house, killing many people. A bunch of wise ones like me guarded him that night, waiting for the police to arrive many hours later – as usual.

OPED

Cutting carbon levels
India cannot afford to be complacent
by Kamlendra Kanwar
While the carbon emission debate rages on in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit on climate change in December, India, like China, can ill afford to cocoon itself in complacency with regard to the dire consequences of such emissions.

Iran after the elections
by Arfa Khanum Sherwani, who was recently in Teheran 
As the Islamic Republic of Iran elected its leader, the world watched with necks craned and fists clenched. Iran, important to most countries, sits on the cusp of issues, ideas and projects that unite the US, Asia and the Arab world.

Time to protect sewage workers
by Bharat Dogra
The recent death of two sewer workers in Mansa (Punjab) caused by excessive exposure to poisonous gases while clearing manholes was preceded by deaths of eight sewer workers in Delhi caused by similar hazardous conditions.



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Mayawati again
Election results seem to have rattled her

Strange are the ways of Mayawati. Success goes to her head and failure makes her bitter. Right now, she is on a tongue-lashing spree blaming everyone except herself for the stinging defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections. And no two opinions about it, she can go berserk. Her latest victim is none other than Mahatma Gandhi whom many revere but she has described as a “natakbaaz” (fake).

Not only that, she has also distributed pamphlets condemning him as well as Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi for being “insincere about the improvement in socio-economic status of Dalits”. Indeed, if the only way to ameliorate the lot of Dalits is by installing statues of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, then Gandhi did not do enough for them. But Gandhi’s fight to free them from the curse of untouchability is too glorious a chapter of history to be tarred by the fulminations of the angry lady from Uttar Pradesh.

The antipathy of the supporters of Ambedkar towards Gandhi is well-known but she has taken it to a new low by targeting the Mahatma again and again. What she can gain by doing so is not clear; she may lose a lot by making it an us-versus-they kind of battle. What she should have realised by now is that she is not the only custodian of Dalit interests. It is because of her haughty style of functioning that many of them deserted her during the elections. Instead, she is refusing to learn from the elections which upset her ambition to be Prime Minister.

First came the large-scale transfers of IAS and IPS officers, as if it is the duty of civil servants to ensure her party’s triumph. Unfortunately, she gets away with such deeds and feels further emboldened to outdo herself. By annoying the people left, right and centre, she will only further isolate herself.

The reverse social engineering that she was hoping to bring about to fulfil her dream of becoming the Prime Minister may suffer if she continues using the kind of language and idiom she has come to employ. Just because she got away with fanatical slogans like “Tilak, tarazu aur talwar, inko maro joote char” does not mean that she has the right to insult the Father of the Nation.

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Vigil in the Northeast
India filling the gaps in defences

As part of its continuing plans to strengthen its defence along the northern borders, India has decided to deploy a squadron of long-range Sukhoi-30 fighters in Tezpur (Assam), raise two Mountain Divisions for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh and improve roads in the areas bordering Tibet. These are aimed at protecting India’s Northeast which bore a major brunt of Chinese military aggression 47 years ago.

Last year, the Indian Air Force reactivated after four decades a high altitude transport airbase in Daulat Beg Oldi located on the eastern-most point of the Karakoram range, just 8 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC), to strengthen Indian defences in the western sector.

For the past few years, China has been gradually building and improving its existing civilian and military infrastructure in Tibet, especially in the areas it has occupied such as Ladakh’s Aksai Chin and also opposite Arunachal Pradesh on which it is laying territorial claims. From deploying long-range ballistic missiles and expanding runways to building roads and a railway line, the Chinese have steadily improved their communication, logistics and military capabilities in Tibet without provocation from India, which, in fact, had been maintaining the status quo on troop deployment all these years.

In recent years there have been violations by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) of both the LAC and the McMahon Line along with instances of demonstrative patrolling. In 2008 there were reportedly 270 incidents of border violations and 2,285 instances of patrolling by the PLA. There have been over 60 border violations so far this year. Besides, Beijing is engaged in strategically encircling India by supplying weapons to New Delhi’s immediate neighbours and in investing in military infrastructure development in these countries. The Chinese Navy has also increased its presence in the Indian Ocean.

These activities notwithstanding, there is no likelihood of hostilities breaking out between the two countries. India and China already have in place an agreement to maintain peace and tranquillity along the border. The two sides have even opened three trading posts along the border. Bilateral trade has crossed $50 billion with China emerging as India’s largest trading partner.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao discussed bilateral relations in Yaketerinburg (Russia) on Monday and special representatives of the two countries are scheduled to hold the next round of boundary talks this August while in Russia the two are unlikely to have discussed the stepped up military defences on both sides of the LAC. While talks must continue to resolve the outstanding border dispute, it is equally important for India to take steps to remain vigilant.

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Impeach Justice Sen
Parliament must hasten action now

Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily’s statement that the Centre has “no vested interest in protecting the corrupt, whether inside or outside the judiciary”, with special reference to the impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court is welcome. It should be viewed as a reassurance from the new government about its commitment to stem the rot in the judiciary.

As the judge in question has sullied the reputation of the higher judiciary, Parliament must impeach him expeditiously. An in-house probe found that he deposited Rs 32 lakh he was in charge of as receiver in a 1993 case in his personal account, retained it after becoming a high court judge in 2003, and returned it only after a court order in 2006.

Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan had recommended to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to impeach Justice Sen for judicial impropriety. The CJI pointed out that the errant judge had rejected his advice to resign or seek voluntary retirement after he was found guilty.

In February this year, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari had admitted a petition filed by 58 members of the House for Justice Sen’s impeachment. There was no headway because of Parliament’s adjournment soon after. The notice for impeachment must be signed by either 100 Lok Sabha MPs or 50 of the Rajya Sabha. 

Then, two-thirds of the members present and voting must call for impeachment. No doubt, the process of impeachment of a judge is cumbersome. In 1993, Supreme Court Judge V. Ramaswami could not be impeached as the motion fell through in Parliament because MPs from his home state of Tamil Nadu decided to vote against it and the ruling Congress abstained from voting.

Yet, there is a fitting dignity and gravity in the procedure for a judge’s impeachment and Parliament would do well to try this route again in the case of Justice Sen. Judges must be perceived to be incorruptible. Their dignity, moral force and the people’s trust in the judicial process depend on that. Justice Sen’s impeachment will reinforce the dictum that Parliament, being the repository of the people’s will, has the right to throw away malcontents to restore the people’s faith in the judiciary.

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Thought for the Day

A crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love. — Francis Bacon

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A moment of truth
Abandoning Hindutva will help BJP
by B. G. Verghese

It was always expected that there would be a moment of reckoning for the BJP and the Left. The old adage goes that you can fool some of the people all the time all the people some of the time, but not all the people all of the time. The last elections proved that. Now introspection among many in these parties has started a process of unravelling that bold statements cannot paper over.

In the BJP, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha have joined Sudheendra Kulkarni and Brajesh Misra in denouncing the party leadership for attempting to cover up failure and duck accountability. The latter two are not party members but were influential advisers whose words still carry weight. The wrangle over succession within the organisational and parliamentary wings is an in-house quarrel of relatively little importance.

More relevant is the fact that the party’s internal critics now clearly see its electoral discomfiture as an unmistakable rejection of its barren and vicious Hindutva ideology. The BJD walked out of the NDA before the polls on account of the BJP’s unrepentant role in Kandhamals.

The JD (U) and others denounced Varun Gandhi’s crude Hindutva battle cries which the leadership embraced even while denouncing them - a case of running with the hare and hunting with the hound in which the party and the Parivar has been adept. In 1948-49 when the RSS was banned after Gandhiji’s assassination, its leadership sought to curry official favour by offering an abject apology to Sardar Patel.

Again in 1975, the RSS boss, Deoras, sought to ingratiate the Partivar with the authorities by criticising JP’s Bihar movement, congratulating Indira Gandhi on winning her election petition and offering unstinted cooperation in the government’s constructive programme.

It is the exclusivist and chauvinistic Parivar ideology of Hindutva, politely termed “cultural nationalism” but in effect a revivalist hate creed, that has been its undoing. One does not know when precisely the term first gained currency but whenever it did it had nothing to do with Hinduism which is a most catholic and eclectic faith symbolised by its proclaimed adherence to the wholly inclusive ideal of Vasudaiva Kutumbakam or the world is my family.

Savarkar formalised a politically rejectionist theory that the Parivar adopted in the form of the two-nation theory that was enunciated by him in 1927, well before the Muslim League adopted it.

The Ayodhya Ram Mandir movement spearheaded by L. K. Advani gave currency to Hindutva in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This cultural nationalism, rejecting foreignness, was itself a strange derivative terminology coined by Westerners and Orientalist scholars 200 to 300 years ago as a handy description of the unfamiliar residual non-Muslim, non-Buddhist, non-Christian peoples they encountered in India whom they called Hindus.

The people of India were earlier known as Hindis, from al-Hind, the Arab name for this country which the French transliterated into le Inde. The Orientialists converted the adjective Hind or Inde, describing a people, into “Hindu”, to describe a faith. The term “Hindu” is, therefore, recent and foreign and not ancient and indigenous as Hindutvadis make out.

One mentions this background only to underline one of the many confused notions on which Hindutvadis rest their case which was spelt out in Golwalkar’s “We, Our Nation Defined”. This eulogised fascism and centralised, authoritarian rule” and labelled Muslims, Christians, Parsees and Jews as foreigners, placing them beyond the pale.

Subsequent repudiation of this treatise is part of a long cultivated tradition of double speak. Since Independence Parivar ideologues have asked Muslims and Christians to prove their Indianness while their own rewritten history of victimhood and revenge for an allegedly stolen past glory have found a place in some of their contemporary textbooks.

How was this old glory lost? It happened, Parivar historians would have it, because Asoka took to ahimsa after renouncing war on witnessing the ravages of his Kalinga campaign, which knocked the fight out of true Indians who were then easy prey to foreign conquerors. It is such perverse logic that defines Hindutva as practised, though others sometimes preach differently so that it might mean all things to all men as and when required.

There is no future for the BJP, whoever leads it, unless it totally abandons its Hindutva creed. I have repeatedly argued that the tirade against Article 370 amounts to a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing; that in haranguing endlessly about implementing a uniform code, BJP warriors are barging through an open door as constitutional illiterates; and that harping on yet another Ramjanmabhoomi temple at Ayodhya and “protecting” the Ram Setu, the BJP and the Parivar are confusing faith with the crude exploitation of political ideology to divide people. 

These are not 21st century concerns that matter to Hindus who are secure in their faith and, like other Indians, aspire to escape from poverty and to lead better lives. The law can take care of forced conversions, truly offensive art and “pub culture” without Parivar vigilantes trying to save what they scream is a threatened Hindu demography and ethos.

Tweedldum may replace Tweedledee but nothing will change for the BJP unless it gives up its Hindutva ideology and breaks free of crippling bondage of the RSS and its Parivar. The country can do with a moderate right-of-centre party and the BJP has many good men and women who can play an honourable and worthwhile national role in that capacity. It is time for the BJP to stop shadow-boxing and face both the facts and the future.

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Our honoured guest!
by Vepa Rao

We caught Keshab red-handed – while setting fire to a house, killing many people. A bunch of wise ones like me guarded him that night, waiting for the police to arrive many hours later – as usual.

A youngster in the crowd kicked Keshab in the stomach. We were aghast. “No beta, good manners please! Our tradition prohibits hitting some one in that area (pet par laat maarna)”. The angry crowd cried: “But he is a killer! Killer!”.

We smiled benignly at the innocent crowd: “ No, not until his crime is established beyond an iota of doubt, preferably over a few decades – not just in a short time. Till then, Keshabji is our honoured guest, though he will be in chains in the jail”.

“Sir, I eat only roasted or fried chicken for lunch, and fish curry daily for dinner”, croaked Keshab, “ and please tell the chef to put lots of masaala. My mother cooks that way”.

“Poor fellow”, whined a girl anchoring for a local TV, “he must be missing his mother. Keshab, how old is she? Any message for her? How did you feel when you were caught? Please tell our viewers. Please, please…”

Bhai Saab, our respected leader, intervened firmly: “No trial by the media. Let all the charges against him be probed first. He broke two window panes, swore at an elderly man, brushed away a woman who tried to stop him, tried to steal a wrist watch, made an obscene gesture at another woman, slapped a kid….”

The crowd yelled at Bhai Saab, saying they were trivial charges compared to the killings. “Yes”, nodded Bhai Saab who was also a senior bureaucrat before joining politics, “but don’t forget our heritage, our culture, our long tradition of compassion to criminals. Doesn’t matter, if the charges and pages run into thousands, and it takes 50 years to prove…”

The crowd was impatient. “But we all saw with our own eyes the heinous crime. If we don’t punish him quickly, other criminals will think we are a soft state and become bolder…”

Bhai Saab remained adamant. “The whole world will be watching us. Our image is at stake. Our prestige as a great civilisation, an enlightened, rational society matters more than security concerns, killings here and there… Can’t we make such small sacrifices?”

Keshab cleared his throat. “Sir, I am a juvenile, not an adult. I have a right to be handled differently”. We deliberated hurriedly, and decided to turn him loose in a nearby red-light area to test his adulthood. We would also request the police to let him be there for a few weeks – just to prove whatever, beyond doubt.

Keshab was pleased and requested coyly to let him greet his girlfriend since it was her birthday. We passed him a mobile, on purely humanitarian grounds. His rights must be protected. Why not, if all this brings glory to us? 

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Cutting carbon levels
India cannot afford to be complacent
by Kamlendra Kanwar

While the carbon emission debate rages on in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit on climate change in December, India, like China, can ill afford to cocoon itself in complacency with regard to the dire consequences of such emissions.

The issue is not about scoring brownie points. Yes, it is the US and the West which have done incalculable harm to the natural environment by their avaricious and self-centred style of development. It is true that the world today is having to pay a price for the recklessness of these countries who have over-exploited the world’s resources.

But one cannot continue to harp on western follies while failing to draw lessons from how the world is suffering the effects of western indiscretions. It would be wise if India stops gloating over the fact that the Kyoto Protocol, which requires some chronically polluting countries to cut emission levels, has not included this country.

The US and Europe find relative succour in absolute levels of carbon emissions by countries. By that token, China is now responsible for 24 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, followed by the US with 22 per cent, the EU 12 per cent, India 8 per cent and the Russian Federation 6 per cent.

On the other hand, the Indian government shows preference for the yardstick for high degree of carbon emissions being per capita emissions, which indeed shows India as one of the better off countries, with the US remaining the biggest polluter by a large margin. US citizens produce an average of 19.4 tonnes of CO2 each year, while those in China produce 5.1 tonnes, Russians 11.8 tonnes, the EU 8.6 tonnes, and India just 1.8 tonnes per person.

The Indian and Chinese governments cite these statistics to shift all responsibility, pretending to be innocent of the fact that their emissions are rising because of their rapid economic development in quite the same manner as the West, with slow movement on adopting cleaner technologies, and that soon they will become significant contributors to global warming which may end up negating the gains of their rapid development.

While the US in particular needs to atone for its past sins by cutting down drastically on such emissions, China and India need to stop living in denial. Ultimately, they will have to recognise that if they do not rein in the emissions, the cumulative consequence of US and Western recklessness in the past and the current Chinese and Indian refusal to see the writing on the wall could land the world in a catastrophe.

True, the basic soundness of India’s stand at the global negotiations on carbon emissions and climate change has received endorsement from two important quarters in recent weeks — a draft report by leading consultancy firm McKinsey and a World Bank report. While the McKinsey report has projected that India would continue to be one of the least Carbon Intensive countries in the world despite an economic growth rate of 7.5 per cent, the World Bank gave India a shot in the arm by saying that this country is right in resisting the mandatory emissions reduction which is as it should be.

Yet, it is in our own interest that we control carbon emissions before they get out of hand and not go overboard in patting ourselves for scoring endorsements from others.

Carbon emissions in India are rising faster than nearly every other country on the planet. Between 1980 and 2006, India’s carbon output increased by 341 per cent, compared to 321 per cent for China, 103 per cent for Brazil, 238 per cent for Indonesia and 272 per cent for Pakistan.

We cannot run away from the fact that of the nearly two billion kWh of electricity consumed every day across the country, two-thirds comes out of some 380 thermal plants that burn coal. Per capita energy usage is still much below average world levels, but with growing prosperity it is rapidly rising.

As millions of households in India move into the middle class and buy their first electrical appliances and automobiles, the billions of appliances and cars consume huge amounts of energy. And nearly all that energy is derived from carbon-based sources, primarily coal and oil.

Global temperature rises of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius are predicted in the next 50 years by experts if greenhouse gas emissions are not kept under control. If this happens, the predicted results of climate change for India are dire — flooding, drought, extreme weather, famine and disease.

There are indeed alternatives to this massive CO2-emitting infrastructure, particularly from renewable sources like solar, geothermal, wind or even hydro-electric energy though the capital required to exploit these sources make it unlikely that the nation will escape from a substantial use of polluting forms like coal given the surging demand.

If there is a glimmer of hope to be found in the cost vs pollution bind, it is to devise new technologies and carve out new ways to harness non-polluting sources. One of the most obvious ways is for the West to make available the technologies it has worked out through years of research and development to harness safer sources of energy — a sacrifice that will benefit the West as much as the recipient nation.

Improving efficiencies in the use of energy is another dire problem in India, where energy efficiency and conservation in buildings, vehicles, pumps, motors, lighting, air-conditioning, production of cement, steel, carbon capture and storage, alternative energy (nuclear, wind, photovoltaics, fuel cells, bio-fuels) and reduced deforestation are all in urgent need of attention.

Nuclear power is another option that is opening up, with the Nuclear Supplier Group giving India the nod to access nuclear fuel from other countries. While it accounts for a bare 4 per cent of India’s energy needs at present, it is set for a quantum jump in coming years despite being an expensive option.

As Leena Srivastava, executive director of The Energy and Resources Institute said in a media interview earlier in the year: “India’s long-term challenge is to meet rising energy demand and make electricity affordable while minimising carbon emissions. We have about 400 million people in this country who today do not have access to electricity. And if we are to bring these people into the clean-energy mode, then we have to be able to provide low-cost energy options to them.”

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Iran after the elections
by Arfa Khanum Sherwani, who was recently in Teheran 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

As the Islamic Republic of Iran elected its leader, the world watched with necks craned and fists clenched. Iran, important to most countries, sits on the cusp of issues, ideas and projects that unite the US, Asia and the Arab world.

This election scored over other electoral exercises because of the three aforementioned coordinates that provide a virtual interface between the three major landmasses of the world: issues, ideas and projects. The most perceptible element of this election was the clash of ideologies alongside the clash of the titans: the “conservative” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the “reformist” Mir Hussain Musavi.

The verdict, given by Iranians in favour of Ahmadinejad has caught the world by surprise, in particular the US. It has virtually hammered the Obama Administration’s hope of cultivating better ties and “better possibilities” with the Islamic republic.

Why did Iranians chose Ahmadinejad over Musavi? Is it a victory of ultra-nationalism over moderation? What is the message for the world behind the reelection of Ahmadinejad? Here may be the answer: “Death to America”, “Down with America” have been resounding in Iran’s streets since the days of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Iranians jocularly refer to these slogans as being the “perfect curtain raisers” or “kick starters” to any social and political gathering.

Ahmadinejad, strategically, never diverted his campaign away from this sentimental issue — anti-Americanism — while Musavi was seen to advocate better relations with the US.

Now Obama has to do business with this ‘not-so-favorable’ Ahmadinejad administration. But is the US in the garb of an apparently well-meaning Obama sending feelers to Iran in particular and the world in general that its time for the two longstanding foes to build the bridges that they burned between them? Are these gestures potent enough to encourage a change of heart in the Iranians? A firm no and maybe, an acquiescing yes.

“It doesn’t make a difference. The US’ policies will not change. They are eyeing our oil. That’s what took them to Iraq. They killed Saddam Hussein who was a friend of George Bush,” says an angry Zehra, a student of Teheran University. Thousands of Iranians are on the same page with Zehra on this.

Against the backdrop of anger and hatred is a whiff of fresh air. The influential urban elite of Teheran are mulling building at least a working relationship with the US. This view stems from the isolation which Iran has been facing from most of the Western world and their allies for three decades. Quarantine is the word.

Fatemeh, who lives in Virginia in the US with her Iranian husband, bears the brunt of this animosity every time she goes to seek a visa for Iran. “I face many hurdles when I visit my mother-in-law in Teheran. I can’t wait to see this hostility end.”

For the Iranians, anything may be debatable but for their nuclear programme, which is an idea they hold very close to their chest. The converse is true for America, which is perhaps equally charged up about it. This makes it important for the US to decipher what makes this esoteric subject the talk of the town in Iran.

Ahmadinejad is an eyesore for the Western world as he popularised the idea of the nuclear programmes among the masses. His domestic policies may not have earned him many domestic friends but his foreign policy enjoys wide support. And probably this is the only factor worked in his favour and got him another term.

The big questio remains: How will America deal with the nationalist chord struck by him with the mere mention of the “Nuclear Programme?” Much remains to be seen. After the US, it’s the Arab world which kept its fingers crossed while Iranian gave their verdict in favor of Ahmadinejad. There is no denying the historical acrimony between Arabs and Iranians. But the last four years of Ahmadinejad’s rule have been simply more unpleasant for Iran-Arab relations.

The Arabs were praying hard to see a return of reformist forces like Khatami in the form of Moussavi, to mend the broken fences. Ahmadinejad’s victory will simply mean empowerment of non-state actors like Hamas and Hizbollah in the region which may transform the unpleasant relationship to sour between Arab and Iran.

A strong Iran, which is ideologically an anti-thesis of Al-Qaeda and Taliban, if engaged, can greatly help tackle terrorism. The potential of the Qaeda’s presence in Shia Iraq cannot be ruled out. Iran’s role in establishing the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan in 2001 can’t be ignored.

Effectively, war and peace are functions of money. One time staunch enemies, Iran and Iraq have now signed more than 100 MoUs. China has signed a $5 billion gas deal with Iran. The stillborn idea of Indo-Iran gas pipeline can only be mourned.

History, culture and proximity of civilisations favour exchange between Iran and India. A walk on the streets of Teheran is testimony of how this warmth can be translated into business. Bilateral trade to the tune of $14 billion exists between the two countries with Iran being India’s second largest oil supplier. Close to 1 lakh Iranian students are enrolled in Indian universities and many more looking to do the same.

If New Delhi could engage with Teheran more vigorously, the Teheran Metro Network could have landed in our laps instead of Beijing’s. Indian can still make up for the lost time or ignore Teheran on its own peril.

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Time to protect sewage workers
by Bharat Dogra

The recent death of two sewer workers in Mansa (Punjab) caused by excessive exposure to poisonous gases while clearing manholes was preceded by deaths of eight sewer workers in Delhi caused by similar hazardous conditions.

At a public hearing in Delhi on hazards faced by sewage workers, proceedings had to be interrupted when news came of yet one more death of a sewage worker at worksite in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Unfortunately, such deaths continue despite several judicial directives to take all steps to save the lives of sewage workers. Recent studies have revealed that exposure to occupational hazards is extremely high in the case of sewage workers, as is the death-rate of workers.

Many sewage workers complain that while some additional equipment have been purchased in recent years in the name of improving safety, quite often these are too heavy, bulky and not suitable for use in Indian conditions. In other cases, even basic facilities for cleaning, bathing and first-aid are still not adequately available.

Sometimes untrained workers are forced to take up hazardous work and this proves very costly in terms of loss of life. In the case of the recent deaths in Mansa, workers had been summoned all the way from Ludhiana, about 120 km away and were probably not familiar with local conditions. It is a common practice to call in extra untrained workers when work pressure is heavy.

To cut costs, many municipalities and water/sewage boards are not recruiting adequate workers. When they were directly recruited in adequate numbers, there were more opportunities for workers to be properly trained and also to gain on-work experience with more senior workers. In recent years in many places there is an increasing tendency to get the work done on contract basis. So, the authorities have no way of ensuring that adequate number of trained workers will be available when needed. The contractors don’t attend to long-term needs of making available adequate trained manpower and meet emergency needs by asking the few existing workers to bring in extra workers who are not trained.

Some experienced sewage workers told this writer that earlier when they got a difficult (and risky) assignment, it was common to send a bigger team of workers who could properly divide the work and observe various precautions. Now due to shortage of workers, smaller teams are being sent which in turn can’t observe the precautions needed.

It is mistakenly believed that as this work is highly hazardous, machines and heavy equipment will ultimately replace workers. The reality is that more, not less workers are needed to reduce hazards. And these workers have to be properly trained. Therefore, the government cannot sub-contract this important work. It has to ensure that it recruits and trains adequate number of workers for this important work.

These workers should get a risk allowance and be properly educated about how to minimise the possibilities of occupational accidents and diseases. To reduce hazards, all necessary equipment and protective clothing suitable to local conditions should be available. Facilities for bathing and first-aid should be available as close to the work point as possible. Hazardous work should be conducted in the presence of sanitation engineers and technical staff, and there should be preparation for prompt medical help. The health of sewage workers should be regularly monitored and adequate medical staff be made available for them.

It is important to take a more comprehensive view of the protective steps that are needed for sewage workers so that the trends towards privatisation and arbitrary cost-cutting (not to mention corruption) in municipalities and water/sewage boards are also checked. In addition, there is need for overall important of the sewage system to check pollution, improve sanitation and reduce occupational hazards of workers.

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