EDITORIAL

Whose failure?

Now it is a case of over-speeding. Earlier it was drunken driving. Within one week there have been two major road accidents in this region --- actually almost in the same vicinity in Udhampur district. These have resulted in the death of nine persons and injuries to more than 30. In the latest mishap four persons have been killed and ten wounded at Chani Morh near Mian Bagh under the Udhampur police station. The bus in which they were travelling was on its way from the district headquarters to Ramnagar. It just turned turtle. Being driven at a breakneck pace the vehicle hit a parapet throwing out some of its occupants and then crushing them under its weight as it overturned. Only a few days ago a big celebration had ended into mourning in a tragic anti-climax. Five members of a marriage party had the lives snuffed of them while a large number of others were hurt. The reason, as it turned out, was that the driver was under the influence of alcoholic beverages: he failed to negotiate a sharp curve and drove down the road on the Garnai-Jekhani road in an area being supervised by the .. . .....more

Kathua's sob story

By now it is a familiar tragedy. Every time one reads it one is moved. We have become victims of our own non-application of mind. It is true of this district. Any old resident of Jammu can verify that several old ponds and wetlands have vanished. It is visible even to naked eyes. The tale of Udhampur district can't be any different. Another casualty are popular wrestling arenas. We can ignore that aspect for the time being. What is relevant for our immediate purpose is that we have fast lost precious water bodies in our hub. Almost without . . ....more

Is License Raj returning?

On the spot
By Tavleen Singh

Yes. These are tough times,' Deepak Parekh acknowledged in his interview to Shekhar Gupta last week and explained why in these words. 'Everything was going so well a few months ago. We were the darling of the western world and multinationals and everyone wanted to invest money in India. And suddenly, there is a snap. It was building over a period of time but it has really taken the wind out of our . .. .. . . ......more

Jammu: Past, Present and Future

By Rekha Chowdhary

In the situation in which every serious debate about Jammu has 'Kashmir' as its reference point and ends up being debated in the binary context of Jammu versus Kashmir, an interesting seminar was organised on 11th December 2010, in the Amar Mahal Museum and Library (AMML). The focus of the seminar remained inward and Jammu . ......more

World heading for a food crisis

By Arabinda Ghose

It is a scary scenario the world over in the field of food security. Half a century ago, the United States could not decide what to do with the bumper wheat produce and used to dump huge volumes in the sea in order not to affect the prevailing high prices of wheat. The .U.S. Government used to pay farmers “pay in kind (PIK)” for keeping their fields fallow by not producing wheat. This, despite the Portland port in West USA being ever busy . . .....more

EDITORIAL

Whose failure?

Now it is a case of over-speeding. Earlier it was drunken driving. Within one week there have been two major road accidents in this region --- actually almost in the same vicinity in Udhampur district. These have resulted in the death of nine persons and injuries to more than 30. In the latest mishap four persons have been killed and ten wounded at Chani Morh near Mian Bagh under the Udhampur police station. The bus in which they were travelling was on its way from the district headquarters to Ramnagar. It just turned turtle. Being driven at a breakneck pace the vehicle hit a parapet throwing out some of its occupants and then crushing them under its weight as it overturned. Only a few days ago a big celebration had ended into mourning in a tragic anti-climax. Five members of a marriage party had the lives snuffed of them while a large number of others were hurt. The reason, as it turned out, was that the driver was under the influence of alcoholic beverages: he failed to negotiate a sharp curve and drove down the road on the Garnai-Jekhani road in an area being supervised by the Rehmbal police station. Whose fault is this in both the instances? The survivors' account of the most recent occurrence speaks for itself: "Had the driver been plying vehicle sensibly the accident could have been avoided as the road was wide enough at the spot." It seems as if a few passengers had tried to get out of the vehicle while it was rolling down. There is a view that they would have been saved had they stayed put. How can one say this with certainty? It is a matter of conjecture. What is real is that human errors have led to disasters --- we have plotted our doom.
It is very easy to blame the administration as and when such calamities hit us. After all it is primarily the government apparatus's responsibility to make sure that our roads are secure. This does not mean that we don't have a role to play. If we pause for a while we will find that had we been a little more careful as citizens we would not have invited the trouble we have done in the above two cases. There are any number of legends on our roads warning us to desist from driving fast or and under the influence of liquor. It is obvious that we don't care to read them. We take their presence for granted at our own peril. It is unfortunate that we are not learning our lessons. How else can the frequency of accidents in the higher reaches --- in and beyond Udhampur --- be explained?
This should not imply that the bureaucratic machinery is to be absolved. It is lax and not able to strictly enforce rules against negligent and drunken driving. This hardly bears any elaboration. Because it does not evoke much respect or fear of authority there are any number of violations on our roads. There are dilapidated buses as well. Unscrupulous operators virtually have a free run. It is a pity that even the men at the helm have not been able to avert chaotic situation like this despite repeated interventions. We continue to suffer loss of lives which is avoidable.

Kathua's sob story

By now it is a familiar tragedy. Every time one reads it one is moved. We have become victims of our own non-application of mind. It is true of this district. Any old resident of Jammu can verify that several old ponds and wetlands have vanished. It is visible even to naked eyes. The tale of Udhampur district can't be any different. Another casualty are popular wrestling arenas. We can ignore that aspect for the time being. What is relevant for our immediate purpose is that we have fast lost precious water bodies in our hub. Almost without knowing it we have caused a big environmental setback to our plane areas. What has been recorded in an article in a recent Sunday magazine of this newspaper about Kathua district is a cause of worry: (a) a seasonal stream flowing through the Kathua town has been reduced to a small channel surrounded by concrete; (b) the nine-tenth of a two-acre wetland behind the Shahidi Chowk has been consumed by residential and commercial buildings; the remaining portion is facing extinction; (c) Shahidi Chowk itself stands on a park; (d) a marriage hall-cum-paramedical institute has replaced a wetland on the Kathua-Hatli Morh Road; and, (e) there were four ponds within the municipal limits of Kathua --- only one survives in Chack Sherkhan locality miraculously retaining water all through the year (is this because of the presence of a temple and a peepal tree lending it a holy aura?). This is the scenario prevalent in the main town. There is every reason to believe that it is identical all over the sprawling district: a throbbing location along the national highway. It also has an industrial estate that has the potential of emerging very big given its proximity to Punjab. Like other urban pockets the district headquarters is exposed to a lot of building activity. All this in turn has put pressure on traditional pools of water and marshy lands. It is a price that we are paying in the name of development.
We can't possibly undo the damage that has already been done. Certainly, however, we can stop the further decline. Therefore, it will be worthwhile to salvage all that we can do in Kathua town. We lend our support to the voice for: (1) making a beginning to convert the defunct ponds and wetlands into parks; (2) doing so like, for example in Patel Nagar, would enhance the value of the residential locality; (3) the remaining wet patch near Shahidi Chowk should be retrieved as also the near-extinct pond in Jawahar Nagar; (4) the central stream (whatever is left of it) should be taken over for landscaping; and, (5) protect the surviving wetland in the area opposite Ranjit Palace. The idea behind any such activity is to strike a balance between the natural and man-made scenery. This is the only way we can save our cities in particular as we expand to find space and shelter for our legitimate needs. In fact, given that we have gained expertise with the passage of time, we should create artificial lakes wherever possible. Of course, this will require money which for these deeds is in short supply in our State. Nevertheless we should keep this in mind as a proposal to implement.

Is License Raj returning?

On the spot
By Tavleen Singh

Yes. These are tough times,' Deepak Parekh acknowledged in his interview to Shekhar Gupta last week and explained why in these words. 'Everything was going so well a few months ago. We were the darling of the western world and multinationals and everyone wanted to invest money in India. And suddenly, there is a snap. It was building over a period of time but it has really taken the wind out of our ambitions and I am very disappointed, to see what's happening.'
When one of India's most respected business leaders uses such strong words to describe the current atmosphere in the country. And, when his comments come within a week of Ratan Tata expressing similar sentiments we need to start worrying about what is going on. Wherever I go these days I meet businessmen who are worried about attempts to bring back the license raj through some concealed back door but almost nobody else seems particularly concerned. It is as if political analysts and politicians have forgotten how seriously the license raj prevented India from growing economically.
Having grown up in the days of the license-quota-permit raj indulge me while I remind you what India was like in those times. When I became a journalist in the seventies India was a country in which everything was in short supply. When I needed a telephone connection in Delhi I could only get one under a special journalist's quota after begging a senior bureaucrat to push my case forward and even then it took months. When I wanted a gas connection I had to beg a Member of Parliament to give me one from his quota. There were long queues when I tried to buy my first Maruti car and every other day when I went shopping for groceries I would find that either milk or bread or sugar was in short supply.
In the days of the license raj businessmen who dared to produce more than their quota of scooters or bicycles could be fined and so inevitably the economy grew at less than 3% for so many decades that it came to be mocked by the world as the Hindu rate of growth. It was not a growth rate that could bring prosperity so naturally there was no sign of the 300 million strong middle class that we see in today's India. Indians who lived in villages ( more than seventy percent of the population) were so desperately poor that in states like Bihar I can remember meeting bonded labourers as late as 1987. I went with Swami Agnivesh who had made it his business to end this uniquely Indian form of slavery and I remember being horrified by the conditions in which families in bondage lived just a few kilometres outside the town of Daltongange. They had never seen money, they had only the clothes that they wore, their children were visibly malnourished and the landlord to whom they were bonded gave them just enough grain to stay alive. Nobody in the extended circle of this desperately poor community was literate.
If it is impossible to find this kind of horrendous poverty in India today it is because of the economic reforms that Dr. Manmohan Singh initiated in the early nineties that made economic growth rates soar. India is today the second fastest growing economy in the world, 700 million Indians own cell phones, television has spread its reach into the remotest villages and foreign investors have been lured to our shores in droves. The main reason for this is the decision that Dr. Manmohan Singh took as Finance Minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao Government to move us towards freer markets and a friendlier investment climate. Indian industrialists saw the opportunities this change of policy provided and grasped it. It is almost entirely because of the enormous energy created by private enterprise that India is more prosperous today than it has ever been since it became an independent nation. But, if the leftists who appear to be controlling policy in the Congress Party have their way we can be sure that the party will soon be over.
All sorts of means are currently being used to malign Indian industry and revive that old atmosphere of Nehruvian socialist days when profit was a dirty word and all businessmen were considered crooks. The Radia tapes have been used to show that big businessmen were using Niira Radia to lobby for policy changes and this is being portrayed as a huge crime. The truth is that there is not a capital city in the world in which lobbyists do not do exactly this job. It is in the hands of political leaders to resist lobbying when they see that it is harming the interests of the country. This does not make Ms Radia a criminal or lobbying a crime. But, you would not know it from the way in which our television channels are reporting what happened.
What is adding to the revival of the atmosphere of the license raj is the conviction in Delhi's political circles that Sonia Gandhi is a leftist and would like her Prime Minister to be more leftist in his policies. She has already insisted upon vast sums of money being spent on very leaky anti-poverty programmes like NREGA and now it is she and her advisors in the National Advisory Council who are being credited with attacking big development projects. It was members of her NAC who advised the government to close down Vedanta's bauxite refinery after an investment of Rs 11,000 crores had been made.
The day after it was closed Rahul Gandhi went to the Niyamgiri hills to congratulate the Adivasis on saving their land. What he appears not to have noticed was how desperately poor they were and how desperately investment was needed in the area if prosperity was ever to come. There can be no schools, hospitals and roads without investment and investment will dry up across India if investors begin to believe that India is going back to the days of the license raj. The Prime Minister has occasionally tried to raise his voice against what is happening but so far his voice has been too feeble. If he does not start speaking more forcefully against what is happening we can be sure that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Indian economic boom. These are indeed very 'tough times.'

Jammu: Past, Present and Future

By Rekha Chowdhary

In the situation in which every serious debate about Jammu has 'Kashmir' as its reference point and ends up being debated in the binary context of Jammu versus Kashmir, an interesting seminar was organised on 11th December 2010, in the Amar Mahal Museum and Library (AMML). The focus of the seminar remained inward and Jammu was debated without much reference to its political divergence vis-a-vis Kashmir. As the title of the Seminar 'Jammu: Past, Present and Future' reflected the theme, important issues related to the region were debated in intense manner, however, without being chauvinistic. There was lot of critical introspection about the way Jammu was in the past; the direction that it is taking in the present and; the future that everyone envisages about it. With focus on 'education', 'environment' and 'society and culture' - the three major themes and sessions - the intellectuals, academicians, social activists, artists, media persons and students from the region were engaged. While educational concerns and environmental challenges were specifically debated in the concerned sessions, the 'society and culture' remained the concurrent matter of debate throughout the day. The way it was emphasised by speaker after speaker, the seminar ended up being a reiteration of Jammu's rich tradition of plurality, its inclusive culture and its character of accommodation and tolerance. Its high point being the multi-religious society with Hindus and Muslims living side by side in its villages and towns.
Mixed society is the way of life in Jammu region. Shared and common spaces are therefore taken for granted and not spoken about. In the context of increasing intolerance between the communities at the global level, this fact of life was acknowledged as the starting point of the discussion. The religious co-existence as the normal part of life in Jammu was appreciated as was seen as the base on which any kind of superstructure - be it economic, political, educational, ecological, social or cultural - had to be established. This was also seen as the most crucial social and cultural resource for the sustenance and progress of the region.
However, it is not only the religious diversity that marks the plurality of the region. Frequent references therefore were made to the linguistic, cultural and social mosaic of the region. While celebrating the linguistic plurality of the region, concern was shown to the lack of the official patronage and policy, especially in the context of recognition of some of these languages as the official languages and their formal introduction in school curricula. The need for popular initiative and intervention in the direction of preservation of languages and dialects was also recognised. In this context, the role of the middle class was also critically assessed and its abdication of the use of local languages was lamented.
What came to focus in the discussion not only of language but also other matters, was the rich folk traditions of the region - be it the music or literature or history. Due emphasis was placed on recapturing the folk as the most important source for writing the history of Jammu as well as for understanding the fundamentals of society. Also emphasised were the folk heroes with whom people identify and who represent the mass rather than elite-ways of life.
But more than anything else, reference was made time and again to the fundamentals of the society based on positive inter-community relations, tradition of accommodation and secular ethos of the region. The challenge to this tradition coming from the forces of modernisation as well as politicisation was debated - more specifically the impact of the divisive politics on these traditions was discussed. However, in the light of the fundamentals of the regional society and the compulsions of the mixed society, it was generally felt that there is a need to have a positive approach towards the future of the region. Despite all the challenges, the region has the potential of overcoming the divisive forces. It was highlighted that multiplicity of identities, their fluidity and overlapping nature help people overcome the boundaries of narrow identities and also make them bond with each other despite the religious or community divide.

World heading for a food crisis

By Arabinda Ghose

It is a scary scenario the world over in the field of food security. Half a century ago, the United States could not decide what to do with the bumper wheat produce and used to dump huge volumes in the sea in order not to affect the prevailing high prices of wheat. The .U.S. Government used to pay farmers “pay in kind (PIK)” for keeping their fields fallow by not producing wheat. This, despite the Portland port in West USA being ever busy in exporting wheat the world over, more particularly to India under the Public Law 480 (PL480), which provided for payment in local currency, that is in rupees, till after the advent of the Green Revolution in 1968.
Recently it was reported, the “U.S. Food Insecurity is at record level with 14.7 per cent of households facing food insecurity in 2009”.More of it later.
According to another report from the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Rome said that “UN warns of Food Crisis”. The report said that although the number of people suffering from chronic hunger in world had declined for the first time in 15 years, the World Health Organisation has warned that the flooding in Pakistan and Russia’s drought threatened to spark a food crisis that could endanger the world’s poorest people
Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the U.N Food and Agriculture Organisation, told the 36th session of the Inter-governmental Committee on World Food Security in Rome on December 16, 2010 World Food Day that the combination of global food crisis and economic recession have pushed the number of hungry people beyond the one billion mark.
Describing the number of hungry people in the world “unacceptably high” Dr Diouf said that the number of hungry people exceeded that which existed when the heads of States and Governments committed themselves to reducing hunger by half at the world food summit in 1996.
The presence of “widespread hunger, malnutrition and poverty” and the inability to protect vulnerable people from the effects of shock point to a “structural, more profound problem of food insecurity that required “urgent, resolute and concerted action” “The world has to grapple with a declining rate of growth in agricultural productivity, including that of major cereals” he said.
“Yet agricultural production will need to increase by 70 percent in the world and double in the developing countries to feed a global population expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. “All this will have to come in the face of climate change and scarce natural resources”, he added,
According to Dr Diouf, the increased instability in the commodity markets as reflected by “more volatile prices “also required urgent attention “Global problems demand global as well as local solutions. The renewed CFS constitutes the required platform for debating global complex problem and reaching consensus on solutions”.
The meeting will look at important issues related to food security, such as land tenure and international investment in agriculture, food security in protracted crises, and ways to manage vulnerability and risk.
At global level first it was the high food prices and then the escalation in fuel prices, followed by economic meltdown which played an adverse role in the determination of the nations. In India, despite available resources, the commitment appeared to be lacking, said experts at the release of the Food Security Atlas of Rural Rajasthan (State of India).
“Going by the present situation, the millennium goal to reduce the number of suffering from hunger by half by 2015 appears to be far-fetched” said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme. “There is likelihood that the struggle to bring down global hunger will become more difficult in future, he said, suggesting that in the international agenda, priority should be given to fighting hunger. As for India, he said. ”If India does not win the battle against hunger, its outstanding achievements in other fields would come to naught.”
“The nation’s commitment to reduce malnutrition has fallen short of efforts ‘noted V.S. Vyas, Member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council and Deputy Chairman of the State Planning Board, Rajasthan”. It is true that acute hunger in terms of starvation has been reduced but seasonal hunger remains. We have not overcome malnutrition yet. A country growing at the rate of eight per cent surely has resources.
Even a State like Rajasthan have resources if they are put to good use. There should be commitment to use the resources to fight hunger “he said. Jeffrey Sacks, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Director of the UN Millennium Project from 2002 to 2006, wrote about the “most successful breakthrough occurring in Africa since the MDG was launched by 140 countries of the world ten years ago” .
The MDGs have always recognized the need for a global partnership to end poverty and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN agencies have been persistent in their support for this ambitious agenda. Ironically, though, the main obstacle in achieving the goals by 2015 in Africa are of international origin, many due to high-income countries. Apart from pointing out the main obstacles to the success of the MDG aims, Mr. Sachs offered the world a realistic path to ending extreme poverty.
Meanwhile, European leaders have offered $1.3 billion at the MDG summit at the United Nations in September 2010 amid mounting calls for money to pay for the battle to cut extreme poverty. This huge sum was by EU Commission President Jose Manual Barrose at the end of the first day at the summit on the goals, knocked off track by the international financial crisis.
President Nicholas Sarkozy of France and Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero earlier had stepped up a push for a global financial tax, raising pressure on the world’s wealthy countries at that three-day summit to contribute more to eradicate poverty and improve child and maternal health.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the struggling effort to reach eight key development goals by 2015 could still be met if world leaders provide the necessary money and political will.
Meanwhile, according to another report of September 26, 2010 by the Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010, “the world may be on the brink of a major food crisis caused by environmental disasters and rampant market speculations, the U.N. has been warned at an emergency meeting on food price inflations.
The U.N Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) was called in Rome in August 2010 after a heat wave and wildfires in Russia led to Moscow banning wheat exports, and food riots occurred in Mozambique, killing 13 people. But U.N. experts heard that pension funds and hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds and large banks who speculate on commodity markets may also be responsible for global inflation in food prices. [NPA]



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