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EDITORIALS

Prices and tempers soar
Govt has been caught unprepared

A
fter
a sit-in organised by the Left and other non-Congress and non-BJP parties, the government agreed to a debate on price rise in Parliament on Wednesday. While Opposition concerns on the rise in prices, particularly of pulses, sugar, vegetables and foodgrains, are valid, the government has been caught off guard. It could have shown the foresight to import on a large scale food items which were in short supply to keep prices in check.

The Metro message
Accountability can never be compromised
The
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), which suffered a major setback after the July 12 mishap resulting in the death of six people at its construction site near South Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, is back to business at its usual pace. DMRC chief E. Sreedharan has succeeded in identifying those responsible for the unfortunate event and has cracked the whip swiftly. 



EARLIER STORIES

Avoidable crisis in
J & K

July 29, 2009
Kargil to Arihant
July 28, 2009
Modi not above law
July 27, 2009
Redefining education
July 26, 2009
Who rules Haryana?
July 25, 2009
Musharraf in the dock
July 24, 2009
A disgraceful act
July 23, 2009
Better than expected
July 22, 2009
Two years for killing six!
July 21, 2009
Sharif’s triumph
July 20, 2009
Bringing out the best
July 19, 2009
No to wheat exports
July 18, 2009


Murder for ‘honour’
Punishment must deter perpetrators

U
nion
Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s response to a call attention motion in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday against honour killings in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh underlines the government’s deep concern over the increasing menace. Mr Chidambaram joined the members in condemning the deplorable trend and outlined a few important steps to combat the malady. 

ARTICLE

Left, BJP on a slide
Congress is safe for now
by Amulya Ganguli

T
here
is good news for the opponents of the Left and the BJP. As the recent post-poll meetings of these two political formations showed, they have drawn virtually no worthwhile lessons from their setbacks. As a result, they are expected to stick to their old ways even if these lead downhill.


MIDDLE

Music then and now
by Harish Dhillon
Every
time I hear a song from the fifties my mind dwells on the tremendous transformation that has taken place in popular music.  My interest began with a  gift of an old gramophone and two records.  One ended with a  high-pitched voice announcing “My name is Chhappan Churi”. 


OPED

Claims of Railways making profits unjustified
by Arabinda Ghose
Ever
since Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee presented the budget for 2009-10 in Parliament and rejected the claim by the former Railway Minister that during his regime the Indian Railways (IR) had made a total profit of Rs 90,000 crore, a wholly irrelevant debate has ensued about the quantum of profit actually accrued to the Railways between 2004 and 2009.

Fighting Afghan oppression
by Glyn Strong
It
is a year since I last saw Malalai Joya. She was at Stansted airport preparing to return to Afghanistan: a tiny figure clutching a large holdall and a gold-coloured trophy. It was the Anna Politkovskaya Award for human rights campaigning and Ms Joya was the second recipient.

Health
Milk contributes to longevity

by Jeremy Laurance
Drinka
pinta milka day", one of the most popular advertising slogans of the 1950s, has turned out to be the secret of long life. A 65-year study of children born in the 1930s has found those who drank more milk and consumed other dairy products had a lower death rate than those who drank less.


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Prices and tempers soar
Govt has been caught unprepared

After a sit-in organised by the Left and other non-Congress and non-BJP parties, the government agreed to a debate on price rise in Parliament on Wednesday. While Opposition concerns on the rise in prices, particularly of pulses, sugar, vegetables and foodgrains, are valid, the government has been caught off guard. It could have shown the foresight to import on a large scale food items which were in short supply to keep prices in check. Some price spurt is inevitable in the rainy season due to supply glitches, but this time prices have shot up alarmingly all over and for a prolonged period. The government is on the defensive and seems to have limited policy options after banning the export of wheat and non-Basmati rice. In retrospect, it could have avoided a hefty hike in the oil prices, which has contributed greatly to the price hike. But then the government finances are already stretched to the maximum and financial bailouts for the oil marketing companies seemed no longer feasible.

The government could at least have avoided the embarrassing situation in which the country finds itself because of the rate of inflation being in the negative when people all over are stung by rising prices. The basket of items in the wholesale price index, on which headline inflation is based, needs to be recast to reflect the correct price situation. Why can’t we correctly forecast rain? Monsoon predictions frequently go wrong, resulting in government dithering and policy flip-flop on food security management. The government could have stocked sufficient quantities of food items had it known more accurately how the monsoon would behave.

Although the country has a strong buffer stock of wheat and rice, delayed and deficient rains can encourage speculators to resort to hoarding, which could then jack up prices further. The government can cut food wastage and pilferage by building better infrastructure for the storage and processing of food items. Besides, it should seriously try to minimise agriculture’s dependence on rains by improving irrigation facilities and promoting less water-consuming crops like pulses, oilseeds and maize. These are key issues that require long-term effort and planning. 

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The Metro message
Accountability can never be compromised

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), which suffered a major setback after the July 12 mishap resulting in the death of six people at its construction site near South Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, is back to business at its usual pace. DMRC chief E. Sreedharan has succeeded in identifying those responsible for the unfortunate event and has cracked the whip swiftly. This is as it should be in any area of activity so that people are always alert and conscious of their responsibilities. Once accountability is fixed, punishment must be decided quickly as has been done by Mr Sreedharan. He has accepted the entire findings of the enquiry committee set up for the purpose.

The committee, that comprised members with impeccable credentials in their areas of specialisation, came to the conclusion that the accident occurred mainly because of “deficiency in design” and “lack of adequate curing of concrete”. And hence the decision to blacklist Arch Consultancy Services (responsible for faults in the design) for five years and to debar Tandon Consultants (structural experts) for two years. The cracks that led to the mishap were earlier noticed in the first week of April, but these two firms misled the DMRC. Another firm, Gammon India, the contractors for the Central Secretariat-Badarpur line of the Delhi Metro, has been served with a show-cause notice. It may be debarred from working for the DMRC for two years if its response is not satisfactory. Two senior engineers of the DMRC have also been suspended.

Rightly, Mr Sreedharan has sent out the message that there will be no compromise on fixing accountability and taking punitive measures. Anyone whose functioning is not in accordance with the high standards of the DMRC must be held accountable. Delhi Metro, which has earned a name for India in the world, must do everything possible to save its enviable image. 

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Murder for ‘honour’
Punishment must deter perpetrators

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s response to a call attention motion in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday against honour killings in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh underlines the government’s deep concern over the increasing menace. Mr Chidambaram joined the members in condemning the deplorable trend and outlined a few important steps to combat the malady. These include, among others, treating khap panchayats as accomplices in the horrendous killings; incorporating suitable changes in the Special Marriages Act to deal with such crimes effectively; and setting up of fast track courts by the state governments to give exemplary punishment to the guilty. Significantly, Mr Chidambaram said that though the burden of evidence generally lies with the prosecution, the government could explore the possibility of seeing whether at some point of time it could be shifted to the accused.

The right to love and live with a person of one’s choice is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. Each murder for ‘honour’, therefore, signifies the victory of primitive customs over a modern, liberal and democratic society. Shockingly, honour killings are tied to the rigid caste system. Both men and women are killed for violating the perceived code of honour that extends beyond the family to encompass caste and community. The killings also strengthen the hands of khap panchayats which have demonised concepts as natural as love and affection. There have been sporadic attempts to rein in the khap panchayats and defy their decrees, but without much success.

In view of Mr Chidambaram’s firm and unambiguous stand on honour killings, the Centre and the states would do well to evolve a consensus on combating this menace effectively and implement the measures as outlined in his speech including a ban on khap panchayats. A khap panchayat has no legitimacy and its fatwas have no locus standi whatsoever. It is not an inclusive agency and hence cannot have a role to play in an egalitarian society.

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Thought for the Day

Not to admire, is all the art I know, / To make men happy, and to keep them so. — Alexander Pope

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Left, BJP on a slide
Congress is safe for now
by Amulya Ganguli

There is good news for the opponents of the Left and the BJP. As the recent post-poll meetings of these two political formations showed, they have drawn virtually no worthwhile lessons from their setbacks. As a result, they are expected to stick to their old ways even if these lead downhill. So, their adversaries, of whom the Congress is the most prominent, can expect a relatively easy ride in the immediate future compared to the months leading up to the general election when the Left, the BJP and the BSP, among others, were creating an atmosphere of impending doom.

In contrast, the coming weeks are likely to see these three parties and groups too busy dealing with their internal problems to pose any threat to their political enemies. The Left and the BJP could have avoided some of the wrangling in their back rooms if they had taken a hard, unsentimental look at the reasons for their reverses. But, having failed to do so, both the communists and the “fascists” will continue to flounder in their inner contradictions. The BSP, of course, is in a different category, being a one-person party. As such, it will stand and fall only on the basis of what the leader decides. The organisation as a whole is virtually irrelevant in its case.

Curiously, the Left, too, has come to depend almost exclusively on the predilections of one person --- Prakash Karat. But it has at least acknowledged the mistake of chasing the Third Front chimera probably because its illusory nature could hardly be ignored. But, on the related point of withdrawing support from the Manmohan Singh government, the CPM has refused to admit that it was wrong although it has conceded that it failed to explain its position to the people.

However, the CPM’s reaffirmation of the essential correctness of its stand shows its susceptibility to making similar dogmatic mistakes in the future. Even the drastic reduction of its seats in the Lok Sabha from 43 in 2004 to 16 this time does not seem to have convinced the Marxists that they did anything wrong. Since the withdrawal of support was the most crucial of all the decisions they took last summer, they might have at least pondered over why their anti-American posture failed to impress the electorate. Such an assessment was all the more necessary in view of the reports that Mr Jyoti Basu was among those who had opposed the move.

So did a person of the stature of Mr Amartya Sen, who cannot be considered anti-Left by any stretch of the imagination. Besides, as Mr Somnath Chatterjee’s recent observations show, there were people inside the party, mainly in West Bengal, who may have agreed with Mr Karat’s opposition to the nuclear deal, but not with his insistence on withdrawing support. Yet, if even a post-poll analysis largely approved of the fateful step, it is a sign either of the fact that there are not many in the party who have the intellectual certitude to stand up to Mr Karat, or that blind adherence to an anti-imperialist dogma remains the CPM’s guiding force.

If this is the case, then the party is sure to lose further ground in the coming days since its outdated doctrine obviously does not enjoy a wide measure of support among the ordinary people. What is more, as it tumbles down, it will take the other Left parties along with it since they are too small to stand on their own. The reason for the Left’s rise at one time, mainly in West Bengal and Kerala, was the perception of the high integrity of its leaders. Since the Congress was badly tainted by corruption charges in the sixties, seventies and eighties, it was the moral rectitude of leaders like Jyoti Basu, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, A.K.Gopalan and others which propelled the communists to their nearly unassailable positions as the standard-bearers in those days. Given the inestimable value of their probity, the people were willing to overlook their ideological angularities, especially when these did not threaten to unsettle the existing system.

But the scene is different today. As the allegations faced by Mr Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala show, the Left leaders can no longer claim to be beyond reproach. In West Bengal, apart from Mr Jyoti Basu, Mr Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and a few senior leaders, the common man has no illusions about the reputation of the average Left leader. So, when dogmatic stubbornness combines with the venality of the local leaders and the thuggish conduct of the cadres, electoral support is bound to decline. It may be too early to write the Left’s obituary, but it will obviously take a superhuman effort by its leaders and the rank and file to lift it up from its present lowly position.

Like the Left, the BJP, too, is hobbled by its ideology. But its problems are different from those of the comrades in two respects. First, the party adopted Hindutva via the Ramajanmabhoomi movement only two decades ago. Secondly, the BJP is not the master of its own destiny. Being a party of the RSS-led Sangh parivar, it cannot afford to defy the head of the family. As a result, even if some in the party, like Mr Jaswant Singh, want to redefine Hindutva, the BJP cannot do so because the RSS remains firmly committed to the theory.

Yet, the belief among sections in the BJP such as its Muslim members and those associated with it like Mr Sudheendra Kulkarni is that Hindutva or cultural nationalism is perceived as an anti-minority world-view because of the phrase, one culture, in the definition of cultural nationalism — one nation, one people, one culture. Since such a stance militates against the country’s multicultural tenets, the BJP remains suspect in the eyes of the minorities and liberals as long as it follows this line. However, since the RSS will not allow it the luxury of any deviation, the BJP’s chances of attaining power at the centre in the near future via the NDA are not very bright.

It isn’t only the dim prospects of both the Left and the BJP which are a matter of solace to the Congress. Some of the caste-based parties, too, have shot themselves in the foot to mark the possible end to the Mandal era, which also began two decades ago with V.P.Singh’s implementation of the Mandal report on reservations for the backward castes. But, while reaping political dividends from their casteist assertions, parties like the RJD, the Samajwadi Party and the BSP not only shunned the path of development, but have also showed themselves to be out of sync with the modern world. As much is evident from Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav’s condemnation of computers and Ms Mayawati’s narcissistic penchant for erecting statues of herself. Parties and leaders such as these can hardly pose a serious challenge to the Congress at the Centre.

Nothing emphasised the inadequacies of caste-based and regional parties more than the collapse of the Third Front idea floated by the Left. As an assessment by the CPM has noted, “the reliability of some of the partners (of the front) was suspect”, apparently because of their limited outlook. The process of the rise of parties based on communalism (the BJP), casteism (the RJD and the BSP) and communism is seemingly coming to an end.

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Music then and now
by Harish Dhillon

Every time I hear a song from the fifties my mind dwells on the tremendous transformation that has taken place in popular music.  My interest began with a  gift of an old gramophone and two records.  One ended with a  high-pitched voice announcing “My name is Chhappan Churi”. The recording belonged to an era when respectable ladies’ did not prostitute their voices by recording them and the record producers  turned to Kothewalis.

This particular individual had been stabbed 56 times by a jilted lover — hence the colourful name.  The other  record was “Aayega Aaanewala” from “Mahal”. As per the conventions of the time, it was credited not to Lata but to “Kamini”, the character who ‘sang’ it in the film.

With a pocket money of one rupee, saving up  three rupees twelve annas for a new record was not easy. I remember vividly that first  visit to a record shop and the friendliness of the shopkeeper as we discussed the relative merits of my purchase.  The  Listener’s Choice and the Binaca Geetmala on Radio Ceylon were the only two  programmes which helped to decide what to buy.  The selection was limited. 

We held onto our favourites for weeks and followed their progress every Wednesday on the Binaca Geetmala – skipping supper for this purpose. Recording was on 78 rpm graphite records. The music suffered — the machine would run down making the singer’s voice  go into slow motion, the record would be easily chipped and scratched and the needle would get stuck, listening time was limited to three minutes.

By the time I joined the NDA, in 1958, gramophones had given way to record changers which could play 10 records one after the other. The standard 78 rpm record had been supplemented by 45 rpm and 33 rpm long-playing records. These new recordings provided more listening time and, being made of plastic, were less prone to breaking and scratching

I was given charge of the squadron common room and this involved buying new records. I spent many delightful Saturday afternoons at Apollo Music House on Main Street, where Bansi Danait let me listen to an endless number of songs. We became very friendly and eight years later when we had drifted apart, a square plywood box arrived at my parents’ home –Salil Choudhry’s music in “Anand.” Bansi had remembered my passion for Salil Choudhry and cared enough to send me the first Salil Choudhry recording in eight years.

Records gave way to cassettes, and then to CDs, MP3s and iPods. The advent of  FM and television has resulted in  new singers and composers  being thrown up each day.  Favourites change every week.  music is bought at huge music stores which precludes any personal interaction between the music lover and the music seller. There is only one solitary regret with the advances that have been made: buying music used to be an occasion in itself, it is now just another item on a shopping list.

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Claims of Railways making profits unjustified
by Arabinda Ghose

Ever since Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee presented the budget for 2009-10 in Parliament and rejected the claim by the former Railway Minister that during his regime the Indian Railways (IR) had made a total profit of Rs 90,000 crore, a wholly irrelevant debate has ensued about the quantum of profit actually accrued to the Railways between 2004 and 2009.

The new minister has responded by saying that the savings were of the extent of Rs 8000 crore and has threatened to bring out a white paper on the actual state of affairs regarding the railway finances.

One would humbly submit that only those unfamiliar with the railway financial system would indulge in such gimmickry. The IR finances are so structured since 1924 that it was not possible for this organisation to make any profit. That is perhaps the reason why you would not find in the accounts books of the Railways words like “profit” and “loss”. The words used are “excess” or surplus and “deficit.”

Under the “Separation Convention” the Railways are required to pay dividend at a fixed rate on the capital advanced by the Government of India. The “rate of dividend” as determined periodically by the Railway Convention Committee of Parliament.

The Separation Convention of September 20, 1924 did provide a certain degree of freedom for operating the system. Since then, the centre finances construction of new lines and acquisition of new rolling stocks from yearly advances to the Railways.

This amount, now described as gross budgetary support, is not a grant but an “interest-bearing loan in perpetuity”. This interest is known as the dividend from which there is no escape. The Central Government acts Shylock-like to collect this interest, the accumulation of which over the years constitutes the capital-at-charge of the IR.

There is yearly haggling between the ministries of Railways and Finance on the rate of dividend — fixed by the Railway Convention Committee of Parliament elected every five years — the former complaining that the latter continues to levy dividend on assets acquired from the dividend long after such assets are condemned and sold as scrap, the latter reminds the Railways that it were the taxpayers who are the ultimate owners and the Finance Ministry advances budgetary support out of market borrowings.

“Keeping in view the financial health of the Railways, The Convention Committee, since 1981-82, has fixed the rate of dividend at a level lower than the average borrowing rate of interest. The present rate of dividend is 7 per cent 
per annum.

These basic facts have to be remembered whenever exaggerated claims are made by people not familiar with the accounting system of IR that they have made unprecedented “profits” in railway operations.

The Railways themselves never describe amounts left after meeting all expenditures as “excess” and the amount which fails to meet all expenditures as “shortfall”.

On this criterion, IR had fallen short for the last time in 1984-85 only and even during 2000-01, when Mamata Bannerjee was briefly the Minister of Railways, IR did score an “excess” of Rs 763.59 crore when the capital-at-charge had stood at Rs 32,661.88 crore.

At times, the government could permit the deferment of payment of dividend, but allowing the amount to be placed in the deferred dividend liability fund.

This practice was given up by Mr C.K. Jaffar Sharief, who in 1997 had cleared all the previous dues of dividends.

When Mamata Bannerjee became the Railway Minister in 1999,she had sought exemption from the payment of dividend in that year and the following year amounting to Rs 2,100 crore. Mr Nitish Kumar, who had succeeded her, started the repayment of dividends and had cleared till March 2004 Rs 350 crore, leaving a balance of Rs 2773.00 crore.

Mr Lalu Prasad had cleared not only the outstanding amount of Rs 2473 crore but also further accruals by paying Rs 1,990 crore, Rs 1327 crore and Rs 364 crore by 2006-07.

It is somewhat ridiculous for him to seek credit for clearing these dividend liabilities because the total amount was small, and secondly under the Financial Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, he was obliged to do that.

A few year earlier, Railway Minister Madhavrao Scindia had set up the Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) for raising funds from the market and thus relieve the government from the duty of advancing budgetary support to the Railways which would inevitably have attracted dividend liability.

The IFFC collects cash from the market by issuing bonds. This money is not directly credited with the Railways. The IRFC purchases passenger coaches and locomotives from the production units of Indian Railways and then leases these to IR, all on paper. It levies hefty lease charges from IR which makes the Railways groan.

During the UPA regime there has been a plethora of projects being executed by IR but the capital expenditure on them is not coming from the gross budgetary support from the government.

These have been described as “national projects” and do not come under the purview of railway finances. That means they are all “dividend-free” projects. One could imagine the burden of dividend these projects would have caused had these been included in the normal project financing mode.

This fact is not mentioned in either the former Railway Minister’s statements or in, the book “Bankruptcy to Billionaire” written by his OSD, Mr Sudhir Kumar, and another person.

It is for the media and the people to consider if the claims of the Railways making huge profits is at all justified. IR is a service organisation, it is not a public sector undertaking, and hence its function is to serve the people who provide it with the gross budgetary support. The claim of high profits are, therefore, entirely misplaced.

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Fighting Afghan oppression
by Glyn Strong

It is a year since I last saw Malalai Joya. She was at Stansted airport preparing to return to Afghanistan: a tiny figure clutching a large holdall and a gold-coloured trophy. It was the Anna Politkovskaya Award for human rights campaigning and Ms Joya was the second recipient.

Malalai Joya
Malalai Joya

Some might say the trophy brings with it a curse. It was created in memory of the Russian journalist gunned down outside her Moscow apartment in 2006. The first recipient, Natalya Estimerova, was murdered last week in the Chechen capital. As Ms Estimerova passed on the trophy to her in 2008, her message was blunt: "Malalai, be brave."

Having survived five assassination attempts, if there is one thing the Afghan woman is, it is brave. Her story is inextricably linked to the recent history of her country. Through her own determination she has become part of its legend; first as a teacher in the refugee camps of Pakistan, then as an activist covertly running schools for girls in Herat during the Taliban years. Politicised beyond her years she was elected to the Afghan parliament in 2005 as its youngest member.

Today she lands in Britain. She has a new book to promote, Raising My Voice, but she is also here to deliver an unequivocal – and uncomfortable – message that Nato troops are not wanted in her country. "Afghans are more than just a handful of warlords, Taliban, drug lords and lackeys," she says. "I have a country full of people who know what I know and believe what I believe; that we Afghans can govern ourselves without foreign interference."

When I first met her in Kabul two years ago, the rendezvous followed several changes of vehicle as well as body, camera and baggage searches. Her life had already been threatened so burqas and bodyguards were de rigeur for even the shortest journey.

We were together one day when news broke that three British soldiers had been killed in Helmand.

Her assessment of the past seven years is seen in purely human terms. "Along with the terror from the sky, there is terror in the ground. The fields and roadsides of Afghanistan are still riddled with unexploded landmines from as far back as the Soviet occupation – like the kind that cost my father his leg."

She kept diaries throughout her adolescence but she was initially resistant to the idea of writing a book. A quiet, self-effacing character, she dedicates her biography to women and children, the invisible casualties of conflict and oppression to whom she has given a voice in recent years: "The Bashiras, Rahellas, Bibi Guls, Pukhtanas and all my oppressed people whose sighs, tears and sorrows nobody sees."

Ms Joya is sceptical of the surge in the south of her country. "Helmand is not the whole of Afghanistan. Even if they annihilate Taliban there, they should not call it a success because Taliban are logistically and militarily stabilised in hundreds of other parts of Afghanistan ... and growing stronger as each day dawns."

Ms Joya is now 31 and married; she has the hopes and dreams of any young woman but her commitment to her cause is absolute. A deeply compassionate individual, she is as ruthless in her condemnation of Western "whitewash" as she is of the unpunished "war criminals" who sit in the Afghan parliament. "It is a shame that so much of Afghanistan's reality has been kept veiled by a Western media consensus in support of the 'good war'," she says.

Next month's elections offer little hope of change, she believes, and will be tainted by vote-rigging. "It is clear that the future president is already chosen in Washington. As in the proverb of our people 'Same donkey but with a new saddle!'"

So is she not tempted to return to politics, or even contest the presidency, as many have urged her to? Her answer is suitably gnomic. "I love my people and of course, if they wish, I will do that but let's see what's in the future."

By arrangement with The Independent

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Health
Milk contributes to longevity
by Jeremy Laurance

Drinka pinta milka day", one of the most popular advertising slogans of the 1950s, has turned out to be the secret of long life.

A 65-year study of children born in the 1930s has found those who drank more milk and consumed other dairy products had a lower death rate than those who drank less.

Calcium, which is present in milk and all dairy foods, was a key factor behind their better health. Calcium is essential for developing bones and there is also evidence that it reduces blood pressure in children, which may provide long-term protection against heart attacks and stroke.

Thickening of the arteries leading to heart disease begins in childhood and a high-fat diet is thought to accelerate the process. But although consumption in adulthood of whole milk, butter and cheese, which have high levels of saturated fat, is thought to contribute to heart disease, the long-term effects of consuming these foods in childhood has been unclear.

Researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia followed up a study originally done between 1937 and 1939 in pre-war Britain, when 1,343 families from England and Scotland kept detailed food diaries for seven days.

More than six decades later, the researchers successfully traced 4,374 of the children involved in the original study and found out what had happened to them between 1948 and 2005.

They found a third of them had died, including 378 deaths from heart disease and 121 deaths from stroke. Those with the highest dairy intake averaging 471 grams a day, over 90 per cent of it as milk, had a 23 per cent lower risk of dying compared with those with the lowest intake of 89 grams a day. The study was funded by the World Cancer Research Fund.

Richard Martin, from the University of Bristol, senior British author of the study, published in the journal Heart, said: "The more milk and calcium the children consumed the lower their mortality. It is possible that there is an influence of milk drinking on hormonal or growth factors that set you up to be better off in the long term. Calcium is also important – it is involved in cell signalling and helps maintain the normal physiology of the blood vessels."

The break-time bottle of milk has been a feature of primary school playgrounds since the 1950s, introduced to boost the nutrition of a post-war generation. In the 1970s, school milk fell victim to cuts imposed by the then Tory education secretary, Margaret Thatcher – dubbed "Milk Snatcher" – before she became prime minister. But Dr Martin cautioned against applying the findings to present day children raised on different – and richer – diets.

"We certainly haven't seen any adverse effect of milk on children, as some people had thought. We should be a little cautious about saying it has a protective effect. There could be other factors at work – extra milk drinking could be associated with greater affluence though we tried to control for that – and other studies need to be conducted to confirm the findings," he said.

*Strenuous exercise such as jogging, carried out on a regular basis, cuts the risk of cancer more effectively than milder forms of exercise such as walking, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers from Finland who studied 2,500 middle-aged men over a year say that physical activity which involves a higher consumption of oxygen reduces illness and the risk of dying from cancer. Measurement of the amount of oxygen consumed in a range of activities showed that men who exercised to a moderate or high intensity level for at least 30 minutes a day were half as likely to get cancer as those who did not.n

By arrangement with The Independent

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