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EDITORIALS

Rotten reality
Improve infrastructure, save food
In a nation where lakhs of people lack adequate nutrition and face starvation, it is a crying shame that fruits, grains and vegetables worth a staggering Rs 44,000 crore go waste annually because of lack of proper infrastructure for storage. While the Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, has admitted as much in the Rajya Sabha, it boggles the mind that the successive governments have not taken adequate measures to ensure that the produce which can feed our citizens does not go waste.

Mental well-being
Bill alone is not the answer
In a society that has often failed its mentally ill patients any initiative that addresses their concerns is appreciable. The Mental Health Bill 2013, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha recently, however, is not just any small step. A comprehensive Bill which will repeal the Mental Health Act, 1987, safeguards many rights of patients and includes the right to confidentiality, protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to live in a community.







EARLIER STORIES

Pakistan hawks prevail over its doves
August 25, 2013
Executive asserts itself
August 24, 2013
Onion price spiral
August 23, 2013
Politics over food
August 22, 2013
Pilgrims' untimely end
August 21, 2013
A significant catch
August 20, 2013
The fall on Friday
August 19, 2013
Inviting foreign investors at cost of own
August 18, 2013
A terrible tragedy
August 17, 2013
Being Indian
August 15, 2013
When freebie is bribe
August 14, 2013


Tragedy in Syria
UN probing possible gas attack
H
undreds of civilians are dead in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar following what Syria's opposition groups call the gassing of people by government forces during a pre-dawn bombardment on August 21. There is lack of clarity on the number of people who died in the incident about what exactly happened and which, if any, chemical weapons were involved. It will also be very difficult to ascertain who is behind the attack.

ARTICLE

Stock market upheaval
Roots of the problem lie in revenue deficit
by S.S Johl
T
he BSE Sensex is tanking unabated and the rupee has been getting unprecedented beating in the financial market for the last several months and more severely after the policy announcements made by the government recently. It seems the policymakers in the financial sector have gone into a sort of panic zone and lave landed into a situation where they are catching on any straw like a drowning person in deep waters.

MIDDLE

Playing geography with marriage
by Rachna Singh
G
eography was never my favorite subject. Try as I might I could not generate an iota of enthusiasm for the location of the Deccan plateau or coromandal coast. To me a river, be it the Ganga or Thames, was simply water that gurgled along and provided a backdrop for a narrative. Cities were places where stories were woven and not just entities with literacy or sex ratios. I could scarcely whisk up passion for the 'westerlies' or 'mango showers'.

OPED Defence

Time for a hard look at the aviation industry
Air Marshal Brijesh D Jayal (Retd)
India has steadfastly refused to review the organisational model of the MoD, which remains frozen in time. Therefore, the inter-service rivalry results in wasteful duplications and a military-industrial complex that is only accountable to its bureaucratic masters and not to the ultimate users







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EDITORIALS

Rotten reality
Improve infrastructure, save food

In a nation where lakhs of people lack adequate nutrition and face starvation, it is a crying shame that fruits, grains and vegetables worth a staggering Rs 44,000 crore go waste annually because of lack of proper infrastructure for storage. While the Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, has admitted as much in the Rajya Sabha, it boggles the mind that the successive governments have not taken adequate measures to ensure that the produce which can feed our citizens does not go waste.

Indeed, the government has been aware of the lack of cold storage facilities which can be used to store fruits and vegetables. The minister admitted that the gap between the requirements and facilities is around 32 million tonnes. Cold chain facilities that allow produce to be moved from one corner of the country to another are taken for granted in advanced nations. In India, the back-end cold storage infrastructure has not been adequately developed. Foreign direct investment in retail was expected to help, but it has got bogged down due to various hurdles. The government's own efforts have not borne enough fruit.

Every year foodgrains are stored in the open at Food Corporation of India facilities in various parts of the country. Inclement weather takes its toll, as do various rodents and natural hazards. The government barely managed to create 3.36 tonnes of additional storage capacity under the private entrepreneurs guarantee scheme last year. The target was 60 lakh tonnes. This is a shocking shortfall. Building and using silos and other modern means to store foodgrains is the only way of safeguarding the produce that farmers grow with such difficulty. Even as the country is planning new measures to distribute food to the needy, it can ill afford the lack of infrastructure which would ensure the safety of the foodgrains that is to be distributed. The criminal delay in providing proper grain storage and cold storage facilities is costing the country dear.

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Mental well-being
Bill alone is not the answer

In a society that has often failed its mentally ill patients any initiative that addresses their concerns is appreciable. The Mental Health Bill 2013, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha recently, however, is not just any small step. A comprehensive Bill which will repeal the Mental Health Act, 1987, safeguards many rights of patients and includes the right to confidentiality, protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to live in a community. Even though the merits of its provisions like advanced directive which grants patients the right to decide on a course of treatment in case they develop a mental ailment are being questioned by the medical fraternity, there is little doubt that the Bill is far reaching both in letter and spirit.

However, the ambitious intent by itself cannot guarantee the well-being of a considerable section of India's population. While nearly 2 per cent of the country's population suffers from severe mental disorders, 5 per cent is plagued by depression and anxiety. Thus any legislative measure has to be matched with requisite infrastructure. While the existing medical mental facilities are not only grossly inadequate, save a few institutions several are in pathetic state, marred by overcrowding, unhygienic conditions and shortage of medical personnel. Recently a petition filed by the National Human Rights Commission highlighted the problems faced by the mental hospitals which included financial constraints.

If India has to achieve global targets in sync with World Health Assembly's Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, it has to make concerted and multi-pronged efforts. The fact that the prevalence of mental disorder is higher among vulnerable sections like women and the poor makes the task of the government doubly onerous. Once the Bill is passed, the government will be obligated to provide homes for mentally ill people, which is not a mean task. Of course, if mentally ill have to be accorded dignity, society and significant others have to play a key role. Till they realise and make patients aware that mental illness is no better no worse than any other disease, Bills, howsoever, significant will have little meaning.

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Tragedy in Syria
UN probing possible gas attack

Hundreds of civilians are dead in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar following what Syria's opposition groups call the gassing of people by government forces during a pre-dawn bombardment on August 21. There is lack of clarity on the number of people who died in the incident about what exactly happened and which, if any, chemical weapons were involved. It will also be very difficult to ascertain who is behind the attack. However, the allegations and the horrifying videos have ensured an international condemnation and even triggered off an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

For two and a half years, Syria has been in the grip of a civil war with the administration of President Bashar al-Assad on the one side and opposition rebels, supported by western powers, especially the US on the other. It has been a war of attrition and as happens in such situations, it is the civilians who have faced the brunt of the battles between the two forces. Thousands of deaths later, the country lies devastated, even as most of the international powers have kept their involvement indirect. A team of UN chemical weapons inspectors is already in the Syrian capital. They should be allowed to investigate the site of the attack and ascertain whether chemical weapons were used.

Syria is one of the few countries that have not signed the international treaty that bans the use of chemical agents and is believed to have chemical weapons. Any force that uses them should face tough international censure, including the use of force against it, if the UN deems it necessary. For too long the civil war in Syria has been allowed to become a proxy war between the two former Cold War foes, and the world has watched as the nation suffered. The war-torn nation needs help and the UN Security Council should take meaningful steps to provide it.
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Thought for the Day

Some of us might find happiness if we quit struggling so desperately for it. ó William Feather
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ARTICLE

Stock market upheaval
Roots of the problem lie in revenue deficit
by S.S Johl

The BSE Sensex is tanking unabated and the rupee has been getting unprecedented beating in the financial market for the last several months and more severely after the policy announcements made by the government recently. It seems the policymakers in the financial sector have gone into a sort of panic zone and lave landed into a situation where they are catching on any straw like a drowning person in deep waters. Their panic is creating more and more turbulence. Whatever may be the efforts made on marginal corrections, in the end it is the strength of the fundamental of the financial market and the health of the economy and definitiveness as well stability of the policy that determines the inflow of investment funds both in the form of foreign direct investment and portfolio investment.

The government policy prescriptions of putting curbs on out of the country investments (ODI), reducing the limits from 400 per cent to 100 per cent networth of the corporate is intended at putting checks on the increasing non-performing assets (NPAs) of domestic enterprises that are investing outside. It is not an absolute check. For ODI beyond 100 per cent of net assets they have to seek permission of the RBI. Yet, the decision rather than being effective in the intended direction, has boomeranged and has created a sort of apprehension that the government was reverting to the capital control regime. The belief has been further strengthened on account of limits put on individual foreign exchange outflows having been lowered to $75,000 only and banning the purchase of properties in foreign lands.

Monetary policies are double-edged weapons and their results are most of the time uncertain more so when the financial market is moving downwards on a slippery path. These policies as annunciated by the government have hit the market sentiment adversely and prompted the hot money (portfolio investments) to move out, putting a considerable stress on the domestic currency because of a higher demand for dollars. Further higher levels of duty on gold and silver imports intensified the adverse sentiments. A collateral negativity of this higher taxation is likely to promote the smuggling of the metal which needs to be watched. To top that all, curbs on the import of duty-free LCD television sets etc as passenger luggage has completed the picture of financial market desperation and policy instability of the government.

These policies have depicted the panic of the financial market managers and have landed the country into a situation that more the effort is being made to float out of the vortex of financial whirlpool, the deeper the economy sinks into it. It is not a new or first-time experience. Such a panic situation developed earlier also in the early 1990s in the regime of Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, when the country was left with very meager amounts of foreign exchange reserves not enough to finance imports of one week even and meet repayment obligations. Some advisers suggested defaulting on repayment obligations. Yet good sense prevailed and India pledged its gold to the Bank of England that had to be physically shipped to the coffers of that bank. This step created investor confidence in the sense that the country would never default on its financial obligations, come what may. As a result the country's "India resurgent bonds" got oversubscribed. The financial market got the needed boost and did not look back.

Today again the Indian financial market is in the throes of a negative sentiment and needs exceptionally bold short-time measures. Half-hearted measures and retrained reactions are not expected to retrieve the situation and bring about a turnaround in the financial market. Today we have a reasonable level of foreign exchange reserves, yet the policymakers are nibbling at the margins of the problem and are resorting to palliatives only. Instead of an unduly restrained release of dollars in the market short period substantive releases are the need of the hour to correct the sentiment and stem the outflow of the hot money as well as moderate, if not completely check, the depreciation in the value of the domestic currency.

Of course, any monetary policy stance needs to be carefully and minutely evaluated in terms of the impact it will have on market sentiment, which aspect seems to have missed by the policymakers while taking policy measures aimed at checking the outflow of foreign exchange. The measures taken by the government to attract foreign remittances through higher interest rates and allowing the banks' flexibility in investment norms to attract NRI portfolio investments are the steps in the right direction. Yet, this may lead to higher lending rates for investments in the economy. Lending rates are already very high compared with those in the international market that has resulted in cost disadvantage in the competitive world market and a huge commercial debt, accounting for more than two-third of the total debt of the country.

The need of the hour is to inject more liquidity in the financial market and reduce prime lending rates for direct domestic investments to make goods and services competitive in the international market. At this juncture there is a need for tackling the situation through multi-pronged bold actions involving substantive release of foreign exchange in the financial market, issuing of attractive gold bonds, neutralising the adverse impact of curbs on ODI on market sentiment by removing the curbs and introducing the monitoring of NPA-generating domestic enterprises only. Liquidity in the banking segment needs to be enhanced and prime lending rates for investment should be lowered, otherwise the bad coin would keep replacing the good coin. Corruption money, which is a substantial parallel economy, will not let the RBI have an effective command over the financial sector. Also the non-banking financial companies that are quite a counter-balancing substitute must need to be put under the RBI's monitoring system. Only then the policy stances taken by the RBI will make the intended impact on the financial sector

The role of revenue deficits and fiscal deficits cannot be over emphasised in their crucial role in the health of the economy. However, fiscal deficit is no problem if the capital borrowings are used for capital expenditure on infrastructure and other capital assets that generate additional incomes and employment and in turn contribute to additional tax realisation. Problems arise when revenue deficit eats into the capital receipts. There are some grey areas in revenue and capital expenditures, where both segments have some portions of capital formation and unproductive expenditure. Yet, if not surplus, at least revenue income must balance with revenue expenditure. Otherwise, the economy would not grow to the level of its capacity and would not remain competitive in the globalised economy.

As a result, inter alia, the economy will land into an unenviable situation of an escalating current account deficit which is the mother of all economic vows the country is facing today. This root cause must be tackled with determination through rationalisation of government spending, eliminating the unproductive conspicuous expenditure and plugging the avenues of tax evasion to increase revenue income that would reduce and ultimately eliminate revenue deficit and the finances mobilised on capital account would be used for investment and capital formation. This will develop the capacity to withstand and weather the financial market upheaval of the type the economy is facing today.

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MIDDLE

Playing geography with marriage
by Rachna Singh

Geography was never my favorite subject. Try as I might I could not generate an iota of enthusiasm for the location of the Deccan plateau or coromandal coast. To me a river, be it the Ganga or Thames, was simply water that gurgled along and provided a backdrop for a narrative. Cities were places where stories were woven and not just entities with literacy or sex ratios. I could scarcely whisk up passion for the 'westerlies' or 'mango showers'. In fact, my literary soul refused to have anything to do with geography. So I happily renounced the subject right after school. Several blissful geography-free years passed as I gave free reign to my literary leanings.

Geography raised its belligerent head again when I started preparing for the civil services. Once I joined the civil services I congratulated myself on doing away with geography forever. But woe betide such jubilation, for geography had slowly but surely insinuated itself into the very fabric of my life.

The geographical location of my posting was a question that constantly dogged my heels. Geography attained monstrous proportions when I tied the knot with a civil servant. Every year in June we would wait with bated breath for the Damocles sword of transfer to fall and heave a sigh of relief when spared. But 'bakre ki maa kab tak khair manayegi'. After all, hell hath no fury as 'geography' scorned.

So one hot and sultry June, the much-derided geography sounded the knell of doom for our matrimonial bliss. My husband was sent to Srinagar in solitary splendor while I languished in Chandigarh. 'The bosses are playing geography with your marriage', a colleague sniggered, even while he looked rapturous about coining a new phrase.

The next year I was posted to Ajmer while my spouse was posted to Chennai. 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder', a well-meaning colleague assured. I'd rather have someone who remembers to get the car serviced in time or share the task of chauffeuring the children to their tuitions and golf practice or listen to my litany of office problems, I fumed.

The subsequent year my 'better half' was sent to Kolkata while I was stationed at Chandigarh. 'Hey, its Bharat Darshan' time for you', our colleagues trilled even while the look in their eyes said 'useless fellows, can't even manage a posting'.

'You must surely have a godfather who can help you out', our friends gently admonished while their expression clearly said 'poor networking'.

Be that as it may, we plodded through our long-distance marriage, initially with righteous angst and then with resigned acceptance. After five years of a piecemeal marriage we are sadder and wiser. Sadder as family bonds have been pushed asunder. Wiser as we have, perforce, gained in-depth knowledge about the geography of all the cities and states we have trundled through. And yes the Big Boss continues to play geography with our marriage.
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OPED Defence

Time for a hard look at the aviation industry
Air Marshal Brijesh D Jayal (Retd)

India has steadfastly refused to review the organisational model of the MoD, which remains frozen in time. Therefore, the inter-service rivalry results in wasteful duplications and a military-industrial complex that is only accountable to its bureaucratic masters and not to the ultimate users

A senior IAF officer shakes hands with a Swiss pilot after the arrival of the first Pilatus PC - 7 (below left) at the Air Force Academy, Dundigal near Hyderabad earlier this year.
A senior IAF officer shakes hands with a Swiss pilot after the arrival of the first Pilatus PC - 7 (below left) at the Air Force Academy, Dundigal near Hyderabad earlier this year. ó PTI

Over the past few months, a raging controversy has gathered steam involving the Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) being a mute spectator. The genesis of the case is the grounding in 2009, of the HAL built HPT 32 trainer aircraft that was being used by the IAF for basic training of its pilots, due to repeated accidents and HALís inability to arrive at solutions.

At the time the then Chief of Air Staff had said that the aircraft fleet had experienced 108 engine failures and mishaps resulting in 23 fatalities. A fatal accident involving two experienced flying instructors broke the proverbial camelís back, leading to the final grounding of the aircraft. It also left the IAF without a basic trainer aircraft, which is a critical tool in laying the foundation on which is based the future mental and operational potential of any military pilot.

To fill this deep void, the MoD cleared the acquisition of 181 basic trainer aircraft in 2009 with immediate import of 75 aircraft and the remaining 106 to be made up of the proposed indigenous HAL design, the HTT 40. Consequently an order was placed for the purchase of 75 Pilatus PC II from Switzerland through import and the initial batch of Pilatus trainers has since been received. After a gap of over four years, the IAF will be settling down to an established training pattern for at least part of the trainees whose number will progressively grow as the number of trainer aircraft increases.

In the interim, the IAF will be compelled to resort to an ad hoc training system, which will have a negative opportunity cost attached to it, in terms of a weaker training foundation. This, though unquantifiable, will no doubt reflect on both operational capability and safety record of the IAF in times to come.


The government should devise a national aeronautics policy that caters to the requirements of all the stakeholders and put in place an aeronautics commission along with a dedicated department of aeronautics and supporting institutional bodies

As reported, the IAF is keen that the MoD exercises the option clause in the Pilatus contract to procure another 36 aircraft with the shortfall of the remaining 70 trainers also to be made through later purchases of this aircraft. If this proposal is accepted by the MOD, it will sound the death knell of HALís HTT 40 project.

Not unnaturally, HAL is unhappy with this development. The spark, which seems to have ignited this open fight, is a purported letter by the Air Chief to the Defence Minister in support of the IAFís proposal, including the supposed cost benefits of importing the aircraft. Those against closing of the HAL project are not only questioning the cost benefit argument, but casting indirect aspersions on the very integrity of the IAF by hints of import preference and undue favoritism.

That the current spat is being played out in the public domain is unfortunate since both the organisations come directly under the defence ministry. It is not this writerís case to wade into the details of the arguments on either side of the present controversy, but to look at the larger picture of why the perennial love-hate relationship between IAF and HAL never seems to die. The debate on whose view should prevail is by no means new.

The IAF is often accused both by HAL and the Defence Research and Development Organisation of changing staff requirements mid-stream, of being pro-import and against self-reliance in their choice of platforms and systems. The IAFís grouse is that HAL and DRDO are given first lien on meeting their requirements based on inflated claims and then failing to meet these commitments of performance, time frames and costs.

Parameters of the debate may differ but they are of little consequence until the national security establishment is able to define its priorities. The fundamental question that arises is whether our defense research and development and production are there to serve the needs of the armed forces or is it that the armed forces must play second fiddle to sustain a military industrial complex that is bureaucratically driven with an archaic mindset out of tune with the technological and commercial realities of today.

If we look to some of the industrialised countries that run very successful aerospace industries and who are the benefactors of obtaining our contracts, it is evident that their countries have arrived at a unique model for managing this dilemma. As warfare and technology have evolved, they have continued to develop organisational models for not just their armed forces, but also found the right balance for interfacing with the complex aerospace business in a way that serves the needs of the armed forces and also the commercial and strategic interests of the industry and the national economy itself.

Unfortunately we, in India, have steadfastly refused to review the organisational model of the MoD, which remains frozen in time. We are hence witness to inter service rivalry that results in wasteful duplications and a military-industrial complex that is only accountable to its bureaucratic masters and not to the ultimate users. The MoD becomes the arbiter in disputes like the present one and with no professionals within it to guide it; every thing comes down to personalities and ad hocism. Since there is neither an aerospace vision nor strategy, we are condemned to continuing imports and licence manufacture. This can then be blamed on the IAF!

Halís htt ó 40


Mock-up of the HTTó40 at an aero show

The Hindustan Turbo Trainer (HTT) ó 40 aircraft project is a proposed indigenous replacement for the Indian Air Force's retired HPT ó 32 Deepak basic trainer.

  Conceived by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the HTT ó 40 will be an all-metal tandem seat aircraft powered by a 950 hp turbo-prop engine with zero-zero-ejection seats and multi-functional displays.

  According to reports, HAL had in 2012, projected a production line of 106 aircraft.

  The roles envisioned for the HTT ó 40 include basic flying training, aerobatics, instrument flying, navigation, night flying and close formation flying.

  With a maximum speed of 600 kph and a ceiling of 20,000 feet, it would also have a limited ordnance payload capability of guns, rockets or bombs.

 
Each HTTó40 is estimated to cost Rs 35 crore

  Defence Minister AK Antony recently stated that as far as the MoD was concerned, the project was still on

Today HAL is one of the largest aerospace companies in Asia with the IAF as its captive customer. It is no exaggeration to say that the IAF and HAL are locked in an embrace from which neither can disengage without delivering a mortal blow to the other. But rather than promoting cohesiveness and mutual support and add the Air Officer-in-Charge Maintenance to the HALís board along with the Deputy Chief of Air Staff, one finds that even the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff has been taken off the board and relegated to the position of a permanent invitee.

No aerospace company in the world today attempts to cover every aerospace activity as does HAL. The last known was probably the erstwhile Soviet Union where some of their aircraft factories were reduced to making domestic goods! Also no aerospace company in the world attempts to be totally self-reliant because technologies needed are diverse and need cross linkages to be dynamic, efficient and economical.

The time has now come for the government to take a hard look at how our entire aerospace industry is being organised and managed. It should devise a national aeronautics policy that caters to the requirements of all the stakeholders duly harmonised where necessary and put in place an aeronautics commission along with a dedicated department of aeronautics and supporting institutional bodies. These should be tasked with strategising and achieving the scientific, technological and industrial goals in furtherance of this policy. A proposal to this effect was first mooted by the Aeronautical Society of India under the presidentship of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and later modified and submitted to the government in 2004. This writer recalls being part of the initiative. It would be worth opening this for serious debate and implementation.

In the meantime, is it too much to hope for the MoD and HAL to focus on the bigger challenges facing the military-industrial complex and not grudge the IAF having its small way in getting a basic trainer of itís choice? In the larger interest of the future combat potential and safety of our pilots, is this not the morally upright decision for our Defence Minister to take?

The writer has served as a test pilot with HAL and while posted as Deputy Chief of Air Staff, was also on the HAL Board

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