EDITORIAL

Think of making Leh
safe and secure

It is a heart-rending tragedy that has taken place in our trans-Himalayan district of Leh. Cloud burst coupled with mudslides has rocked and engulfed virtually half of the district headquarters of the same name. The other half too is terribly shaken. The inhabitants there have kept awake all through the Friday night worried about the plight of their friends and relatives elsewhere. Yes, they have been concerned about their safety as well. Fearing the worst many of them took shelter in Shanti Stupa overlooking the entire town on the one side and the hills on the other. Their plight reminds one of what the people have gone through in this city in the wake of the 2005 earthquake. Unfortunately, the lower parts of Leh and some villages of the district have been dealt a crueler blow. As debris is being cleared the number of casualties is steadily rising. It seems that we are condemned to count our dead for some more time. Throbbing parts of the town like Saboo and Choglamsar have been lulled into silence. These have been among the worst hit. So have been Nimoo, Basgo and Ney villages of the district. This newspaper was the first and the only one to bring into limelight the fact that a part of the district is in peril because of unusual turn in weather. Flash floods triggered by heavy rains killed, among others, six labourers of the National Hydroelectric Project Corporation (NHPC) engaged in the installation of transmission towers under the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojna (RGGVY). In all, 11 persons were reported to have lost their lives in this phase. What has followed has been a big nightmare. Nobody ......more

Need for a State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA)

IN AND AROUND J&K
By D. Suba Chandran

The disaster in Leh, due to cloud bursts, rains and the human and material casualties clearly highlight the need for the creation of disaster management authority at the State level in J&K, on the models of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).. ...more

Welcome! High price of oil

By Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala

The Government's decision to deregulate the price of fuel oil and leave it to be determined by market forces is wholly welcome. Till now, Public Sector oil companies were buying oil expensive in the world markets and selling it cheap in the country. ..........more

How Indo-Pak talks are doomed to fail

By Dr Brahma Singh

The Indian delegation to the Indo-Pak talks, recently held at Lahore, is back in India, disappointed and demoralised, after the failure of the much touted talks. So demoralised, in fact, that its leader, Minister for External Affairs, SM Krishna, threw diplomatic probity to the winds and berated his own Secretary Home, GK Pillai, for contributing to some extent towards the failure of the talks, by making an 'untimely' adverse comment on the role of Pakistan's ISI in the 26/11 Mombai terror attack. Pakistan's. .....more

EDITORIAL

Think of making Leh
safe and secure

It is a heart-rending tragedy that has taken place in our trans-Himalayan district of Leh. Cloud burst coupled with mudslides has rocked and engulfed virtually half of the district headquarters of the same name. The other half too is terribly shaken. The inhabitants there have kept awake all through the Friday night worried about the plight of their friends and relatives elsewhere. Yes, they have been concerned about their safety as well. Fearing the worst many of them took shelter in Shanti Stupa overlooking the entire town on the one side and the hills on the other. Their plight reminds one of what the people have gone through in this city in the wake of the 2005 earthquake. Unfortunately, the lower parts of Leh and some villages of the district have been dealt a crueler blow. As debris is being cleared the number of casualties is steadily rising. It seems that we are condemned to count our dead for some more time. Throbbing parts of the town like Saboo and Choglamsar have been lulled into silence. These have been among the worst hit. So have been Nimoo, Basgo and Ney villages of the district. This newspaper was the first and the only one to bring into limelight the fact that a part of the district is in peril because of unusual turn in weather. Flash floods triggered by heavy rains killed, among others, six labourers of the National Hydroelectric Project Corporation (NHPC) engaged in the installation of transmission towers under the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojna (RGGVY). In all, 11 persons were reported to have lost their lives in this phase. What has followed has been a big nightmare. Nobody is sure of the figure of victims in Leh town. One thing is clear that there is nothing like disaster management mechanism. Things can only worsen if even the Army and the para-military forces that are better trained and equipped to handle such pressures themselves are caught in a nasty whirlpool. They take time to recover. It must be said to their credit though that they forget their personal sufferings fast enough to attend to collective welfare.

There is need for changing our basic perception about Leh; we need to realise that it needs to be made safe and secure. Only the na´ve will argue that a region known for aridity is not vulnerable to cloud bursts and floods. In recent years the extremely heavy rains, snowfall and consequently overflowing streams causing havoc along the banks have been an almost regular feature. It is to be conceded that while similar occurrences in Jammu and Srinagar get immediate attention these are at the outset overlooked in Leh. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC-Leh) has been beseeching the State Government for financial help for erecting flood protection measures. It is just a coincidence that only recently we have carried a report in our news columns about the clearance being sought for a Rs 5.5 crore-plan for the Phyang village after its 11 footbridges, 25 irrigation headworks and 60 per cent of protection bunds were washed away. Phyang is said to have come in for more suffering in the latest natural disaster. A lesson for us is to learn fast and set our house in order. This in turn is possible only if we correct our vision. It needs to be understood that Leh is more than merely being the highest desert in the country --- the roof of the world and what not. It is the only district in the country through which the great and historic Indus river flows. The glorious stream in itself is not the cause of foods. It does get swollen because of heavy inflow from the higher reaches. Leh, in addition, has two captivating lakes and glaciers. It has nallahs which are mostly dry but turn dangerous as and when it rains. During summer these narrow streams can assume deadly dimensions when the snow melts in the heights. It is not for nothing that the people living close to them have moved away. In fact, some of them were in the process of building new homes because they had lost their old ones in the earlier floods a couple of years ago; they have been taken aback again.

A colleague who recently visited Leh was in for a big shock. The road to the picturesque Pangong Lake was virtually washed away at a few spots. It was with tremendous effort that he could drive his vehicle out of the mess. There is a visible case for constructing permanent embankments along the nallahs. It is also apparent that their water flow has to be diverted in a manner that it does not overwhelm roads. Besides, as the calamity now tells us, we have to have a second look at the way the Leh town especially is developing. Clearly there are buildings which are obstruction to the natural run of the water. How do we come out of this maze of our own making? Town planners should be engaged to answer the problem of mudslides which are more fatal. There still remains merit in extending aid to Leh district on the basis of its size and backwardness and not merely population. A lot has been done in this direction but much more needs to be done. Just because it is sparsely populated does not mean that it does not require sufficient attention. We should never lose sight of the two more realities: (a) Leh has burst on the global tourism map as one of the top destinations; and, (b) it is eyed enviously by our two neighbours. Therefore, it has to be not one of our most captivating showpieces but also a strong fortification against enemies of the nation. We can't leave it vulnerable on any count --- not even to natural catastrophes. There are a large number of tourists from different countries in Leh even at this juncture. Arguably there is little that we can do in the face of the nature's varied moods. However, it is certainly in our hands to minimise their damaging effect. It requires that requisite paraphernalia is in place. It consists of medical facilities and (land, snow, mud) clearing equipment, on the one hand, and efficient manpower on the other. Leh has brave, dedicated and selfless persons who can look after themselves with a little help and training.

Need for a State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA)

IN AND AROUND J&K
By D. Suba Chandran

The disaster in Leh, due to cloud bursts, rains and the human and material casualties clearly highlight the need for the creation of disaster management authority at the State level in J&K, on the models of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), India's apex organization to deal with natural and manmade disasters are still in the process of evolving. J&K state need not have to wait for the complete evolution of the NDMA and then copy paste its structures and hierarchy. Instead, J&K could and should evolve its own State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), based on the current and future needs of the State.
In the last few years, J&K has faced the following major disasters - earthquake, snow slides (referred to as Snow Tsunami), avalanches and minor disasters which occur at regular intervals such as landslides, road accidents, epidemics etc. Unfortunately, the geography and topography of J&K, especially in the interiors, has been very unsympathetic to the people living there. As mentioned by a police officer in his recent book on tourism in Ladakh, there are areas in J&K, that one has to trek for more than a day or two to get a tube of toothpaste! Imagine, if there is a disaster in such a region, how much time it will take for the news to reach the district headquarters in the first place, forget the relief materials arriving there on time!
Besides, given the presence of non-State actors in J&K, the State should also get ready to face man made disasters - from an attack on tunnel or bridge to chemical and biological terrorism. Some threats may be far fetched, but it is always better to be prepared for the worst, for it involves precious human lives.
If there is one State in India, that needs a SDMA on a priority basis, undoubtedly, it is J&K. The SDMA should focus on the following: First, organizing the first responders, with clear standard operating procedures (SOPs). From civilian authorities including the health sector to para-military forces, the first responders should be derived from the departments of Police, Power, Fire-Service, Meteorology, Health, Border Roads Organisation & GREF, PWD etc. While the core team of first responders should consist of the above, there should be other departments as well, working in tandem with the first responders. Of course, this should evolve based on the needs and requirements, which will differ as the situation may demand and are subjective according to the sub regions and districts of J&K. For example, what Poonch may require may be different from what Bhaderwah, Gurez and Leh may need in a disaster situation.
Second, such an effort (towards forming an SDMA) should be a civil-State partnership. The NDMA, though, is formed through a statute and is established primarily by the Union Government, it has sufficient space to include civil-society organizations. This is extremely important, especially in a disaster environment where the State will need assistance from the civil society groups. How much ever prepared the SDMA is, in a disaster situation the State forces may be insufficient. And there may be a large group of well meaning citizens, who would genuinely want to help the situation.
Such an initiative should be welcome and channeled properly, by including them in the SDMA. Imagine, how much of the civil society assistance could not be made good use during the 2005 earthquake in J&K? At times, over enthusiasm by these groups, in fact become a hurdle, than a help, if left unregulated. Also, the civil society groups are important to create an awareness among the people about impending disasters and how to minimize the casualties. One of the young officers, who was involved in the 2005 J&K earthquake relief operations later commented "earthquake don't kill people; bad buildings do." How true! The civil society groups, in particular the media, have a great role to play in creating awareness and also to provide help during a disaster situation. The SDMA should provide sufficient organized space for the civil society.
Third, and more importantly, the State should identify bright young officers from amongst the first responders and give them the mandate to build the SDMA. The State of J&K has quality and experienced young officers, who also have the necessary background, intellectual acumen, undying enthusiasm and energy to build such an institution. The State should make immediate use of them and create a core group, which would build such an institution.
Fourth, there should be enough training and mock exercises for such an organization. This needs intellectual inputs and funding support. This is where the Union Government and the NDMA should help in terms of funding and sharing experiences respectively. From the NDMA to Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) in Gwalior, there are numerous organizations at the national level that provide quality training in facing disaster from handling equipments to field experiences. While the military and para-militaries send their officials on a regular basis to get trained, unfortunately, there is not much interest from the State Governments in sending their officials. The Government of J&K should identify different departments and send their officials to get trained.
Finally, given the nature of the threat, disaster management should be taught as a separate degree course in the universities of Jammu and Srinagar. With sincere, well meaning and forward looking Vice-Chancellors in both the Universities, designing and implementing such a course should not take much time and effort. The Chief Minister should also ensure, that disaster management is taught from the childhood, by including them in the school curriculum, as a part of social sciences.
We may not be able to avert natural disasters. But certainly, we can avoid subsequent human casualties by proper planning, awareness and management. SDMA will be a great tribute to those lives, we have lost.
(The author is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi)

Welcome! High price of oil

By Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala

The Government's decision to deregulate the price of fuel oil and leave it to be determined by market forces is wholly welcome. Till now, Public Sector oil companies were buying oil expensive in the world markets and selling it cheap in the country. The Government was bearing the losses incurred by the oil companies. Opposition wants this policy to continue in order to protect the people from price rise. The consumer is already suffering due to high price of food items and he should not be twice burdened at this time, they say. But will cheap oil really contain price rise?
Say, Indian Oil purchased a liter of petrol from Saudi Arabia for Rs 100 and sold it for Rs 50 in the domestic market. The Government provided a subsidy of Rs 50 to make up the loss incurred by the company. This means that the true price of Rs 100 of oil will have to be paid anyways. Only it will be part paid by the consumer and part paid by the Government. Now, the Government does not have a magic wand. It cannot create money out of thin air. It prints money to make this payment. The currency in circulation increases and that leads to an overall increase in prices. Thus selling oil cheap does not truly contain the price rise. It only shifts the burden bit into the future when the impact of printing presses of Reserve Bank of India begins to be felt. Indeed, it can be said that present high rates of inflation in the country are, in part, due to earlier sale of cheap oil. The opposition's demand is merely to contain the price rise at the present time. Who is worried about the future?
The poor is not much affected by increase in price of oil anyways. Oil is mostly consumed by the rich. The middle class family going for a weekend pleasure trip in the family car feels the pinch of high price of petrol immediately. The poor consume only few goods that are transported from long distances. Thus the rich are more affected by the present price increase. But the burden of subsidy given to oil companies falls on all people, including the poor. This can be explained by a simple example. Say there are two rich persons in a village who own cars. The village Panchayat imposes a tax on all the people of the village to provide subsidy on oil consumed in the village. All the people pay the tax but the benefits are mostly obtained by the rich. The oil subsidy works similarly. All citizens of the country bear the consequences of printing of notes while the rich harvest most benefits.
The correct method of protecting the poor is to demand reduction in taxes imposed on items consumed by the poor. That will easily nullify the impact of increase in price of oil on them. The share of oil in the wholesale price index is 7 percent while that of manufactured goods is 63 percent. It follows that an increase of Rs 4 in the cost of oil can be nullified by a reduction of 44 paise in the price of manufactured goods. Lower taxes on coarse cloth, bicycle, match box, cement, etc. will compensate the poor for the small increase in cost of these items due to increase in price of oil.
The opposition claims that deregulation of price of oil will be beneficial for the private sector oil companies. This is correct. They will get a chance to come back into the market. They had closed down their shutters earlier because the Government was providing subsidy on oil only through public sector companies. Reentry of the private companies will now become possible. But this will not be anti-poor. It will actually be beneficial for the people. A price war will take place between the private- and public players. We have seen the quality of service improve in telecom and civil aviation sectors due to such price wars. Consumers of oil will be similarly benefited. The opposition is actually trying to protect the monopoly and various malpractices that are widespread among the public sector oil companies.
The nation's economic sovereignty is also protected by deregulation of price of oil. We were importing 66 percent of the oil consumed in the country in 1947. This reduced to 20 percent upon finding of oil in the Bombay High in the eighties. The share of imports has again increased to 75-80 percent presently on the back of high growth rates and increase in the demand for energy. This demand is artificially increased further by low price of oil. Deregulation will lead to domestic prices increasing in tandem with international prices. Every consumer will adjust his consumption accordingly. The family will use the car only for reaching the metro station instead of taking a cross-city road travel. The homemaker will cook less urad- and more moong daal to save LPG gas. Companies will install desert coolers in offices instead of air-conditioners. People will install inverters instead of using diesel generators. In such various ways the domestic consumption will reduce when the price of oil increases in the international market. A basic principle of economics is that welfare is best obtained by selling goods at their true market price. Selling goods cheap is as harmful as selling them expensive. Cheap electricity, for example, has taken away the livelihood of millions of handloom weavers. Cheap oil similarly takes away the livelihood of rickshaw pullers. We should not deprive the poor of their livelihood in the shrill call for selling cheap oil.
High price of oil leads is helps in the development of alternate sources of energy. I had an occasion to study the gobar gas plants in Village Shyampur near Haridwar a few years ago. Farmers had closed down their gobar gas plants as soon as cheap LPG gas became available. Thus we lost an alternative source of energy in our infatuation with cheap oil. The same holds for solar power. The cost of solar electricity at present is about Rs 14 per unit. The price is expected to decline to about Rs 10 per unit few years down the line due to technological improvements. I reckon the cost of electricity produced from oil is about Rs 6 per unit presently. Now, assume the price of oil in the international market doubles. The cost of electricity produced from oil becomes Rs 12 per unit while that of solar electricity is Rs 10.In this situation, if the price of oil was subsidized, we would still use oil for generation of electricity because the cost to the producer would be only Rs 6 per unit while cost to the country would be Rs 12. We would produce electricity from oil which is expensive; and not the solar electricity which is cheaper-due to pricing anomalies.
Deregulation of price of oil is wholly desirable. The opposition should not build upon shortsightedness of the voter. It should attack the government on measures that are truly anti-people. They should ask for reduction of taxes on items consumed by the poor to compensate for the impact of high oil price.

How Indo-Pak talks are doomed to fail

By Dr Brahma Singh

The Indian delegation to the Indo-Pak talks, recently held at Lahore, is back in India, disappointed and demoralised, after the failure of the much touted talks. So demoralised, in fact, that its leader, Minister for External Affairs, SM Krishna, threw diplomatic probity to the winds and berated his own Secretary Home, GK Pillai, for contributing to some extent towards the failure of the talks, by making an 'untimely' adverse comment on the role of Pakistan's ISI in the 26/11 Mombai terror attack. Pakistan's Foreign Minister, SMS Qureshi, who was wholly and solely responsible for the failure of the talks must have been greatly relieved at being absolved - even if partially - of his role in their failure. Frustration and demoralisation at the failure of the talks is not, however, confined to the Government circles only. It is glaringly wide spread in the country.
Disappointment over a failure is directly proportional to ones expectations - higher the expectations greater the disappointment. In the present context the nation's expectations, whatever the reasons, had been rather high and hence the present disappointment. Viewed in the light of the recognised tenets of political science, however, there would appear to be nothing surprising about the recent Indo-Pak dialogue collapsing under its own weight.
In terms of political science, India's eagerness for talks with Pakistan would appear to be an effort towards establishment of preconditions for permanent peace with that country through accommodation with diplomacy as its instrument. In itself the effort would appear to be most laudable. Where things seem to have gone wrong is in the actual practice of the art of diplomacy.
While the primary objective of Diplomacy is the promotion of national interests through peaceful means, the means at its disposal for achieving its objective are three viz persuasion, compromise and threat of use of force. The art of diplomacy lies in the correct assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the nation being dealt with and the employment of one, two or all the three means at its disposal in appropriate measure for maximum effect. Quite obviously, persuasion and compromise will work only when the stakes involved between the two nations are not too high and the issue of peace is of mutual benefit. In that case the weaker side could perhaps be persuaded by the stronger to toe the line with offers of substantially lucrative fringe benefits. On the other hand some minor national interests may also be sacrificed for the sake of larger ones and in the genuine interests of peace. However, in cases where stakes involved between the two nations are high, threat of use of force would have to be the dominant factor in the promotion of national interests. Needless to say, here, that a country that intends to use the instrument of the threat of the use of force must possess sufficient military strength to make the deterrent look credible.
Against Pakistan India, after catering for its other multifarious security commitments, seems to be maintaining, at best, a balance of power, with just a precarious tilt in its favour. So precarious, in fact, is the tilt that it is capable of being miscalculated and misunderstood either way. In fact, as revealed by Mr Altaf Gauhar, Pakistan's Secretary Information in the 1960s, all Pakistan's wars against India "were conceived and launched on the basis of one assumption: that the Indians are too cowardly and ill organised to offer any effective military response which could pose a threat to Pakistan". Altaf Gauhar's remarks not only reflect the contempt in which Pakistan holds India's military power but also shows how it has all along been miscalculating the precarious tilt in the balance of power to be in its own favour.
The ignominy suffered by Pakistan during the 1971 war, rather than compelling it to abjure war as an instrument of State policy, has made its hostility towards India even more ardent and resolute. It has only changed its mode of fighting from the disadvantageous open wars to the more advantageous war by proxy - for which India is yet to find an answer. The proxy war unleashed by Pakistan in Kashmir, has already lasted more than twenty years with India remaining at the receiving end all the time. The answer probably lies for India to switch over to an open war - an option that India seems to have blocked by a self-afflicted moratorium on its present military strength.
In the light of observations noted above it would appear that India has never been in the past, nor is it today, militarily strong enough as to be able to use this strength as an instrument of Diplomacy in dealing with Pakistan. Consequently India has invariably been entering into negotiations with Pakistan under the handicap of having only two means - persuasion and compromise - available to it for diplomatic manoeuvrings. Persuasion and compromise, on the other hand, cannot by themselves succeed in ushering in peace in the region for the following reasons:-
a) The stakes involved in the dispute are very high for both the countries with no acceptable alternatives leaving little or no scope for persuasion or compromise.
b) The peace, which India is seeking through talks, is not of mutual benefit to the two countries involved. In fact, as the sponsor of the proxy war in Kashmir and acts of terrorism in the rest of India towards the promotion of its national policy objectives, Pakistan's interests lie more in fanning the fires in India than in extinguishing them.
c) There is no other pressure of any sort - political, economic or moral - on Pakistan, either from India or any other member of the International community, which could compel it to roll-back its aggressive plans against India. India's new found friend, United States, that could have exerted any such pressure are presently too dependent on Pakistan over the Afghan war to risk earning its ire by appearing to side with India.



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