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EDITORIALS

GSLV failure
Need to draw the right lessons

T
he
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) suffered much loss of face when its Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) failed less than a minute after it was launched, and subsequently had to be destroyed. A three-stage 418-tonne vehicle, the 51-metre-long GSLV uses solid propellants in the first stage, along with four strap-on booster motors.

Dalit girls show the way
Theirs is an example worth emulating

M
ost
of us are victims of our circumstances. Only a rare few conquer them to come up trumps. One such fine example of grit and determination has been set by Meenu and Yachana Sarswal, two Dalit sisters from Musimbal, a small village in Yamunanagar (Haryana), who cleared the HCS (judicial) examination this year. The odds were heavily stacked against them. In rural Haryana, daughters are rarely considered equal to sons.


EARLIER STORIES

Move faster on the corrupt
December 27, 2010
Private security: Coping with new realities
December 26, 2010
Rampant food inflation
December 25, 2010
Destructive politics
December 24, 2010
Withdraw agitation
December 23, 2010
PM’s offer to face PAC
December 22, 2010
Taking on corruption
December 21, 2010
Row over Rahul’s remark
December 20, 2010
Intelligence is gathered from ‘friends’
December 19, 2010
Trade to cement ties
December 18, 2010


New disability law
Must satisfy those for whom it is meant

I
n
a country that is better known for its insensitivity rather than empathy for the differently-abled, the need for a new disability law couldn’t have been more pressing. More so since the existing Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 leaves a lot to be desired. Thus, a committee for drafting new legislation for persons with disabilities was formed in May this year.

ARTICLE

Time for a paradigm shift in rail tariff
Passenger trains utilise only 60 p.c. capacity
by R.C. Acharya

W
ith
a second class sleeper berth costing a mere Rs 400 for a 1600-km journey, or just 25 paise for a kilometre, Indian Railways provides perhaps the cheapest rail transport in the world! This drops down to only half if one chooses to go by unreserved accommodation, fighting your way into the coach to quickly grab a seat as the rake rolls onto the platform!



MIDDLE

Values for living
by S. Anandalakshmy
W
E live in a confusing world. Information in bits and pieces are scattered around us — even thrown at us — at meteoric speed from various sources: newspapers and magazines, the Net and networks, television channels and the cinema, the indispensable mobile phone and the latest harvest of Apples and Blackberries! For the young who are still at school and college, add the diet of the enormous curriculum, presented in sizeable chunks, with little thought for their absorption.



OPED NEIGHBOURS

The military, which has been in power in Myanmar for nearly 50 years, has chosen to emulate the dwifungsi model of Indonesia. Could the military eventually reconcile itself to a limited role as in Indonesia if it was assured of some sort of immunity against prosecution by an international court?
Myanmar: Great expectations after the November elections
Udai Bhanu Singh

M
yanmar
is going through a significant phase in its political evolution. First, it held its polls for the first time in two decades on November 7 to elect representatives to both union and state legislatures. Second, pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest post-elections. Although no radical change is expected, its significance lies in the fact that now the new constitution may begin to unfold itself. The last elections were held in May 1990 when, in spite of registering a resounding victory, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was unable to come to power.

Window on pakistan
Benazir and women in Pakistan
Syed noorUzzaman

T
he
third anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination --- December 27 — at the hands of terrorists in Rawalpindi provided an occasion to many newspapers to lament the poor status of women in Pakistan. But before one looks at the scenario of women's empowerment, it will be interesting to point out that there was a major debate when the late PPP leader became the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim-majority country in 1988.

Corrections and clarifications


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GSLV failure
Need to draw the right lessons

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) suffered much loss of face when its Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) failed less than a minute after it was launched, and subsequently had to be destroyed. A three-stage 418-tonne vehicle, the 51-metre-long GSLV uses solid propellants in the first stage, along with four strap-on booster motors. Liquid propellants come into play in the second stage and cryogenic propellants in the third. The December-25 failure happened during the hitherto reliable first stage itself. The GSLV has had a dubious record with four out of the seven launches since 2001 ending in failure. For ISRO, the loss of the Rs 3-billion mission that was scheduled to launch an advanced communications satellite was particularly painful, since ISRO was hoping to set a new record with its heaviest payload ever.

The GSAT-5P communication satellite carried in the ill-fated mission weighed 2,310 kg, and was thus 180 kg heavier than the INSAT-4CR that had been successfully sent aloft by a GSLV in 2007. The successful launch of this satellite would have put India in an exclusive club of which only the US, France, Japan, China and Russia are members. The loss of the GSAT-5P satellite will also affect various sectors like telecommunication, telecasting and banking services that were depending on its 36 transponders to boost their coverage.

While the exact cause of the GSLV failure is still unclear, pending the findings of an inquiry into the matter, its payload itself is under scrutiny as a possible cause of some of the cables snapping, which led to the GSLV to deviate from its flight path. Travel in space is unforgiving and gives no room for any margin of error. Space ventures have to face failure from time to time. When that happens, it is imperative to pick up the pieces, learn what went wrong and apply the lessons learnt to future missions.

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Dalit girls show the way
Theirs is an example worth emulating

Most of us are victims of our circumstances. Only a rare few conquer them to come up trumps. One such fine example of grit and determination has been set by Meenu and Yachana Sarswal, two Dalit sisters from Musimbal, a small village in Yamunanagar (Haryana), who cleared the HCS (judicial) examination this year. The odds were heavily stacked against them. In rural Haryana, daughters are rarely considered equal to sons. It is to the credit of their father, Raghuvir Ram, that he did not bring them up in a stereotype fashion. Incidentally, they have a third sister also, who has done her MBA. As the father proudly says, “I have three daughters and I have never felt the need for a son”. Highly encouraging words from someone belonging to a state which is notorious for its skewed sex ratio!

Being Dalits makes their quest for excellence all the more creditable, considering that many avenues of progress have been traditionally denied to them. Now that they are being offered equal opportunities, they are coming into their own and proving how cruel and partial society has been towards them down the ages. Education is the key to empowerment and here is hoping that many more will emulate the praiseworthy example they have set.

It is heartening that the girls want to do something special to save the girl child. Not only that, they will also do well to ensure that no injustice is done to anyone on the basis of either sex or caste. They have been able to live up to their own expectations and those of their loved ones because they got a conducive environment to work in. The new role models should now aspire to become catalysts for the upliftment of the other downtrodden. That will be the best way for them to celebrate their success.

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New disability law
Must satisfy those for whom it is meant

In a country that is better known for its insensitivity rather than empathy for the differently-abled, the need for a new disability law couldn’t have been more pressing. More so since the existing Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 leaves a lot to be desired. Thus, a committee for drafting new legislation for persons with disabilities was formed in May this year. Now the government appointed committee itself is a divided house. One of the panel members Rajiv Rajan, suffering from cerebral palsy, has not only expressed dissatisfaction with the undemocratic functioning of the committee but also resigned from it. What is more unnerving is that some others have threatened to follow suit.

Voices of lack of satisfaction with the proposed disability law have been raised earlier also. The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled Persons too had rejected the law as proposed by the government and demanded a comprehensive Act. Now Rajiv Rajan’s objection “ I don’t see any possibility of passing of five or six laws at one go.” has found an echo among other differently-abled members. Indeed, if the “One Disability Law Code” has failed to satisfy its members with special needs, it is unlikely to meet the requirements of the differently-abled population of the country.

Undeniably, any new law must be all encompassing and not only cover all the rights of the specially challenged but also must possess an iron clad implementation mechanism. Equally imperative is the need for urgency in framing it. As it is India, which ratified the UN Convention on Disability in 2007, has lost much time in drafting a new law. For the sake of significant percentage of the Indian population (nearly 2.13 per cent suffer from some or the other disability) who have every right to life with dignity, disability friendly laws need to be passed at the earliest. At the same time these cannot ignore the voice of those whose cause they are meant to champion. 

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Thought for the Day

When the government fears the people, it is liberty. When the people fear the government, it is tyranny. — Thomas Paine

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Time for a paradigm shift in rail tariff
Passenger trains utilise only 60 p.c. capacity
by R.C. Acharya

With a second class sleeper berth costing a mere Rs 400 for a 1600-km journey, or just 25 paise for a kilometre, Indian Railways provides perhaps the cheapest rail transport in the world! This drops down to only half if one chooses to go by unreserved accommodation, fighting your way into the coach to quickly grab a seat as the rake rolls onto the platform!

The passenger tariff has remained so for almost the last one decade while successive Railway Ministers, in a bid to maintain a populist image, have studiously avoided any meaningful hike. However, in order to balance the budget, freight tariff has seen repeated hikes, mostly mid-season, away from the media attention associated with the Railway Budget, leading to a progressive loss of market share. Currently, freight tariff for coal — which forms almost half the goods railways carry — is about three times that of US Class-I Railroads on purchasing power parity!

The cheap fares have also led to an explosive growth in passenger rail travel which has increased exponentially over the last one decade, creating unmanageable crowds at major terminals, which have struggled to keep pace by expanding their infrastructure.

It has, however, been a losing race, at least on the Delhi division of Northern Railway, which has witnessed stampedes practically every year, especially during the peak season as it happened recently at New Delhi station. A major initiative of increasing the number of platforms from 8 to 14 undertaken a few years back has proved to be inadequate to handle the massive rise in passenger volumes.

With about 200 new trains being added every year over the last one decade, the 64000-km-long system has achieved a world record of over 9000 passenger trains daily which registered a whopping 6,94,764 million passenger km, higher than the Chinese Railways 6,89,618 million passenger km in 2007!

Rajdhanis being considered a status symbol, over the years practically every state has demanded and got one connecting Delhi to its state capital. At the last count there were 19 in all, including the duplicate ones running to Kolkata and Mumbai, and these with their higher average speed continue to take a very heavy toll of other trains.

Coming in from the east, as many as five of them — from Howrah, Sealdah, Bhubhaneswar, Patna and Guwahati — converge into New Delhi taking precedence over all the other superfast trains which may happen to be caught in their path! Of course, the poor freight train has just no way of recording a run of more than a 200-km a day on these high-profile routes.

Unfortunately, the introduction of new trains has been almost institutionalised by the Zonal Railway Consultative Committees adorned by well-known public figures and members of the legislature . In a blatant attempt to prove their clout, the honourable members fall over each other to come up with suggestions for new trains, new halts of the existing trains, catering contracts, over-bridges, etc, generally spelling out their opinion on how the Railways should run its business, never mind the consequences of an insufficient capacity on trunk routes and spreading financial resources too thin!

Perhaps, the most telling effect of this plethrora of new trains is on major terminals, in particular New Delhi which has to bear the brunt of all high profile trains — Gharib Raths, Sampark Krantis, etc — which have been added to the dozens of Rajdhanis and Shatabdis originating from the Capital. These provide an explosive mix when to this get added the long-distance superfast trains, resulting in chaos and very often stampedes during the peak season.

Unable to stem the tide of new trains for over a decade or so, Delhi division has upgraded some of its outlying stations to full-fledged terminals. Time is now ripe to decongest New Delhi, with Old Delhi being designated to cater to mostly North, Anand Vihar to East, Sarai Rohilla to West and Nizamuddin to South-bound trains, while the Rajdhanis, the Shatabdis and some of the long-distance superfast prestigious trains would continue to originate from New Delhi. Recently there was a major shift of some of the special trains being run eastward for Chhat festival, from New Delhi to Anand Vihar.

A “White Paper” brought out by Ms Mamata Banerjee in December 2009 had lamented the fact that passenger trains utilise nearly 60 per cent of the track capacity yet they contribute only 33 per cent of the revenue and affect the scope of running more freight trains on trunk routes.

However, it remains to be seen if she will “place her money where her mouth is”, and will effectively curb the introduction of new trains, or it will be business as usual and in the run-up to the elections in West Bengal, populist inputs would continue to be given top priority!

The writer is a former Member (Mechanical), Railway Board.

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Values for living
by S. Anandalakshmy

WE live in a confusing world. Information in bits and pieces are scattered around us — even thrown at us — at meteoric speed from various sources: newspapers and magazines, the Net and networks, television channels and the cinema, the indispensable mobile phone and the latest harvest of Apples and Blackberries! For the young who are still at school and college, add the diet of the enormous curriculum, presented in sizeable chunks, with little thought for their absorption.

It is a challenge to make meaning out of all this. It is even more difficult to make decisions about everyday matters, which would be realistic, as well as just and ethical. Should children learn from the examples of ‘successful’ and rich people? Can people who live exemplary lives with modest means and integrity be role models for the young? Are real heroes found only in history books and traditional legends or does contemporary India offer any icons?

As we all know, parents plan furiously for their children’s future, wanting the best for them, naturally. However, in the process, the definition of what is “best” tends to get distorted. Globalisation and the market offer choices, of course, but subtly define the very objective of our lives. The result is a condition that has been called “Affluenza”!

This may perhaps refer to a narrow, upper segment of the population. The other end of the spectrum, where families eke out a sparse living, also calls for our collective and immediate attention. People at all levels of the economic scale aspire for a better future for their children, but they are mostly unsure about how to negotiate the demands of the Present with the expectations of the Future.

If one should just walk into a classroom of 10-year-olds and ask them to mention short words beginning with the letter S, they are more likely to come up with SCAM rather than ‘skip’, ‘ship’, ‘soup’ ‘shot’ or ‘song’. We are bombarded with scams as they bounce like rockets off domes and terraces. We are left angry and helpless at the sheer immensity and dominance of dishonesty in all walks of life.

Do we, as concerned adults, have a responsibility to guide children? Can we help them to believe that it is possible to be principled and still lead a good life? Can they plan to make the world a better place? How do we ensure that the value for peace and living in harmony is inculcated among the young under our care? How do we engender compassion and helpfulness and a sense of shared humanity in children?

Written by Dr S. Anandalakshmy, President, Bal Mandir Research Foundation, Chennai. 

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OPED NEIGHBOURS 

The military, which has been in power in Myanmar for nearly 50 years, has chosen to emulate the dwifungsi model of Indonesia. Could the military eventually reconcile itself to a limited role as in Indonesia if it was assured of some sort of immunity against prosecution by an international court?
Myanmar: Great expectations after the November elections
Udai Bhanu Singh

Myanmar is going through a significant phase in its political evolution. First, it held its polls for the first time in two decades on November 7 to elect representatives to both union and state legislatures. Second, pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest post-elections. Although no radical change is expected, its significance lies in the fact that now the new constitution may begin to unfold itself. The last elections were held in May 1990 when, in spite of registering a resounding victory, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was unable to come to power.

When the government introduced a fuel price hike in August 2007 a spontaneous upsurge of protests followed on the streets of Yangon and elsewhere right through September. Buddhist monks actively supported it. But the movement did not lead to a political victory as it happened in neighbouring Indonesia, or the Philippines. Instead, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) pressed on with its own road-map for democracy. The result was a new constitution in 2008 which was duly approved through a referendum held in May that year. Will the latest elections change the fortune of Myanmar?

What are the contending forces and their perceptions in Myanmar? The country had two constitutions before the current one was adopted: the one framed in 1947 accorded some states the right to secede after 10 years. The present constitution (Chapter I, Article 10) explicitly rules out such a possibility: "No part of the territory of the Union such as Regions, States, Union Territories and Self-Administered Areas, etc, shall ever secede from the Union". The 1974 constitution was Myanmar's second and was introduced following a referendum. The latest referendum results had an unrealistically high percentage vote in favour of the new constitution. The SPDC was accused of employing unfair means in the referendum.

The three most important political forces in Myanmar are: the military, the political parties and the ethnic groups. The ethnic minorities constitute an important factor in Myanmar's politics. The Burmans constitute about two-thirds of the total population while the Karens, the Shans, the Mons, the Rohingyas, the Chins and the Kachins are some of the prominent ethnic minorities. Critics point out that the military junta lays emphasis on one language (Burmese), one religion (Buddhism) and one ethnicity (Burman). Members of the other ethnic groups (non-Burmans/non-Buddhists) are excluded from ranks higher than Major in the Army. They are excluded from the top levels of military hierarchy. The military (the SPDC and SLORC earlier) has dominated the political spectrum for the last 48 years.

The ethnic minorities remain an important factor in Myanmar's politics. They were hoping that the new Panglong Agreement may meet their aspirations, but in vain.

The military, which has been in power for nearly 50 years, has chosen to emulate the dwifungsi model of Indonesia. Could the military eventually reconcile itself to a limited role as in Indonesia if it was assured of some sort of immunity against prosecution by an international court? The 2008 constitution provides a dominant role for the armed forces (tatmadaw). The President has wide-ranging powers. The constitution is peppered with special privileges for the tatmadaw. In addition, there is an entire chapter devoted to the defence services (Chapter VII).

* The President would be from the tatmadaw and wield enormous powers (including the power to nominate the Chief Justice).

* The key ministries would be headed by the military. The Ministers for Defence, Security/Home Affairs and Border Affairs would be nominated from among the tatmadawmen.

* A quarter of the seats in the two Houses of Parliament are to be reserved for the military.

* The C-in-C can assume full sovereign power by declaring an emergency if the disintegration of the Union is feared.

In addition, there was a reshuffle of military personnel recently and some senior military leaders reportedly hung up their uniforms to contest the civilian seats. Around 37 political parties contested the recent elections for the 440-seat People's Assembly and the 224-seat Nationalities Assembly and the state and regional assemblies. The 10 political parties which were deregistered included the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). Some of the ethnic groups were denied the opportunity to form political parties.

The smaller parties had to contend with funding limitations (registration fee of Kt.500,000 or US $500) and campaign restrictions (including slow Internet). At the time of the elections there were over 2,000 political prisoners. Some 32 townships were excluded from the electoral process — in the states called Shan, Kachin, Karen, Karenni and Mon. As was expected, the two government-sponsored political parties won with a comfortable margin. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has grown from the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, fielded over 1,000 candidates. The National Unity Party, the other government-sponsored outfit, fielded over 900 candidates. The opposition parties could field much fewer candidates. During the campaign these parties tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to form alliances. Some of the parties had even opened Facebook accounts for the purpose of canvassing.

Now that the elections are over, the military is expected to implement the remaining two steps in its seven-point road-map for democracy, and these include convening the national and state assemblies and building a modern, developed and democratic nation. Although the government can appoint technocrats as Cabinet ministers, it is unlikely that Myanmar will witness a major overhaul of its economic policy (as had occurred in Indonesia with the help of the 'Berkeley mafia'— the American economists who guided economic policy-making in Indonesia).

Externally, Myanmar continues to face criticism from the US the EU countries, at the United Nations and also from individual members of ASEAN. But Myanmar managed some leeway at the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi where it was not in the focus.

Implications for India

As a democracy itself, India would like to see that democracy flourishes in its neighbourhood. But it has no interest in imposing its views on others. Experience suggests that an externally imposed system has a lesser chance of success than an indigenous one. In this geostrategically sensitive region, where Chinese influence is constantly on the increase, India would like to ensure that a political transition, when it occurs in Myanmar, is as smooth as possible lest India's security, economic and regional interests are put in jeopardy.

The visit of Myanmar President Than Shwe to India has to be viewed in this light. It is a painful truth that the transition process, which has only just been initiated, has still a long way to go. With the elections held, the constitutional provisions will take their own course and it may be difficult to seek a change in the constitution. In such a situation, it will be difficult to secure complete civilian control over the military.

The military is the only institution, with the experience of administering the country, which has survived in Myanmar. As in the case of Indonesia, it needs reiteration "that conditions that trigger the breakdown of authoritarian regimes are not necessarily supportive of transition to democracy".

The writer is Senior Research Associate, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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Window on pakistan
Benazir and women in Pakistan
Syed noorUzzaman

The third anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination --- December 27 — at the hands of terrorists in Rawalpindi provided an occasion to many newspapers to lament the poor status of women in Pakistan. But before one looks at the scenario of women's empowerment, it will be interesting to point out that there was a major debate when the late PPP leader became the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim-majority country in 1988. Those who did not want a woman to lead the government despite being elected by the people expressed the view that her elevation would lead to Pakistan getting ruined.
Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto

The critics were silenced when the pro-Benazir camp gave the example of Prophet Mohammad's revered widow Hazrat Ayesha leading one group of the then Islamic state whose army came in an eyeball-to-eyeball position challenging the forces commanded by her own highly respected son-in-law Hazrat Ali. That the conflict ended without the battle having been fought is a different matter. Benazir emerged as the most popular leader of her country though the government she formed, first in 1988 and then in 1993, was dismissed on corruption charges. She fell to her assassin's bullets in 2007 when she reached Pakistan after a long self-imposed exile.

As Daily Times commented in an editorial, "It is a travesty of fate that even though Ms Bhutto's party is in power and her widower the President of Pakistan, there is no closure (of the case) regarding her assassination. Those who have been caught are not the masterminds of BB's (Benazir Bhutto's) murder plot."

She became a victim of "politics of violence" which, she believed, "is the dire enemy of the hopes, the dreams and the ambitions of our people". She has been quoted to have expressed these thoughts by Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in an article carried in Daily Times and The News on Dec 27. However, Gilani nowhere mentions her drive for women's emancipation, so essential in a country which some time ago saw schools being burnt by extremists because girls were being imparted education in these institutions.

There is no dearth of fighters for women's rights in Pakistan like well-known lawyer Asma Jehangir and Mukhtaran Mai (who was gang-raped and paraded naked in the streets of her village in a tribal area). But they have been able to do very little because of the strong anti-women societal attitude. The latest example of how even educated women are opposed by their near and dear ones from entering the job market is of Rabia Sultana, a cashier at McDonald's in Karachi. Her case has hit the newspaper headlines as her brother is after her life because she has decided to be financially self-dependent. No doubt, women from all sections of society are coming out of the four walls of their houses to earn a living out of necessity. But they are doing this at great risk to their lives and limbs.

As Huma Yusuf says in an article in Dawn, "Rather than celebrate the exceptions (like that of Asma Jehangir, chief of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association), the international community should pressurise the government to prioritise women's empowerment. The first step towards curing a problem is admitting that you have one." Huma is right. Mr Gilani's article shows that he is not as bothered about women's rights as other issues.
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Corrections and clarifications

n In the special report “In Egypt, Israel-bashing is back on top” (Page 18, December 27) in the last para, “Levels of illiteracy are high in the Arab world….” has been followed by “is illiterate” which has been wrongly added.

n Instead of “Centre discriminating with state farmers: Rajewal” (Page 5, December 27), the correct expression would have been ‘discriminating against…’

n A caption on Page 12 of the December 26 special yearend pullout wrongly mentioned that Spain defeated Germany in the FIFA final. Actually, Spain had defeated Holland.

n A photograph of a jatha that left Amritsar for Pakistan to pay obeisance at a Hindu shrine was carried appropriately on Page 4 of the December 24 issue, but repeated wrongly in place of another picture on Page 12 of the same issue.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

This column appears twice a week — every Tuesday and Friday. We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Kamlendra Kanwar, Senior Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is kanwar@tribunemail.com.

Raj Chengappa, Editor-in-Chief

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