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EDITORIAL

Work for idle hands

Idle hands are the devil's tools. So goes an old adage. It is not surprising, therefore, that every concerned citizen is delighted on seeing long queues outside recruitment centres. It is better for society as a whole if more and more young persons are gainfully employed. This is something which is universally recognised. Given this backdrop it is easy to understand why there is joy over hundreds of young men turning up for interviews for jobs in the State police in the Summer Capital. It is said to have been the first such recruitment exercise in Srinagar in nearly a decade. Quite a few observers are quick to interpret that it would help bring down street protests and stone pelting --- two of which combined together have scared away the tourists from the .....more

Virus for economy

Yet another seizure of fake currency has been reported in this city. Four persons have been arrested including two of them not belonging to the State and the bogus money worth Rs 1.5 lakh has been recovered from them. The quartet has already handed over Rs 12 lakh from their kitty to a person in Srinagar. What has been revealed by them is a circuitous route involving the evil operation. The counterfeit notes were brought in from Pakistan to Bangladesh and then pushed into Bengal from where these were transferred to this State mainly for funding militant activities. This is not the first instance of its kind in the State. On current reckoning it is not going to be the last either. There are forces interested in destabilising our economy and disturbing our peace. At another level . .more

Dream of a secular, Pak stands shattered

Men, Matters & Memories
By ML Kotru

On a television show last week, in which I was a guest speaker, I heard one of the best suggestions for cleaning up public life in India. It may never be implemented because no public servant, at least of my acquaintance, is serious about ending corruption but I am going to share it with you anyway. The subject we were discussing on Vikram Chandra’s ‘Big Fight’ was the return of the Bofors ghost and most of the programme .....more

Government credibility card

By Arun Nehru

The New Year has not started well and sometimes a series of issues combine to create a sense of uncertainty and in these chaotic situations it is best for both the 'players and the spectators' to take a deep breath and act with utmost restraint both in thought and in action. We have done well in 2010 and we have maintained and improved upon the momentum as we go into 2011....more

9% growth and the poor

By Dr Ashwani Mahajan

On November 30, 2010 the Central Statistical Organisation announced that the Indian economy will record economic growth at a rate of 9 percent in 2010-11. So far policy makers have been targeting at 8.5 percent growth. When the world, especially the developed world is going through a worst recession, 9 percent economic growth may be called a happy news. . . .more

EDITORIAL

Work for idle hands

Idle hands are the devil's tools. So goes an old adage. It is not surprising, therefore, that every concerned citizen is delighted on seeing long queues outside recruitment centres. It is better for society as a whole if more and more young persons are gainfully employed. This is something which is universally recognised. Given this backdrop it is easy to understand why there is joy over hundreds of young men turning up for interviews for jobs in the State police in the Summer Capital. It is said to have been the first such recruitment exercise in Srinagar in nearly a decade. Quite a few observers are quick to interpret that it would help bring down street protests and stone pelting --- two of which combined together have scared away the tourists from the Valley for the greater part of the season last year. Claims have been made about sighting stone-pelters in the crowd of interviewees. It is hardly a secret that unemployment is rampant on both sides of the Pir Panjal. As and when a post is advertised there are not scores but thousands of applications. The people have obtained high academic qualifications. One can find any number of double postgraduates especially in the Valley. In the absence of work they keep studying which is not a bad thing but it does not bring in money to run the family or meet day-to-day expenses. Politics, as a result, has become an avocation ceasing to be an instrument of public service. It has emerged as a profitable activity in a milieu marked by national and international intrigues and producing certain amazing rags-to-riches stories in the process. Not all the people are inclined to make a fast buck in this manner. The majority wants to lead a decent existence which is possible if it finds occupation no matter whether or not of its own choice.

How acute is unemployment can be seen from an example. Not very long ago the Service Selection Board (SSB) had sought applications for over 5000 posts which included teachers. It had got about 4 lakh responses, the highest in its history. Our latest Economic Survey has effectively brought into focus the challenge we have on hand. It has noted that unemployment rate is 5.2 per cent (5.4 per cent for males and 3.5 per cent for females) which is on the higher side compared to the all-India figure of 3.1 per cent (3.1 per cent for males and 3 per cent for females). If one goes by the Current Weekly Status (CWS) one will find that the unemployment rates in the State are 5 per cent (rural), 7.1 per cent (urban) and 5.4 per cent (combined) compared to the national statistics of 4 per cent, 6.1 per cent and 4.5 per cent, respectively. The data maintained by employment exchanges puts the entire picture in cold numbers. It has been quoted by the Economic Survey as having recorded the number of registered illiterate unemployed youths having increased to 4167 in 2008 from 4030 in 2007 and that of educated unemployed to 89796 in 2008 from 82619 in the preceding year (a whopping 8.69 per cent rise). It is anybody's guess that these ranks have swelled further. Nothing has happened to suggest that the negative trend has been reversed. To make matters worse the Government remains the biggest employment agency. The youth prefers an assured job and a regular monthly income. This is against the current global scenario in which the emphasis is on holding one good job in a hand and go on snatching more rewarding chances.

To say that there is distinct lack of enterprise on our part may not be a correct assessment. After all, quite a few of us have done well outside the State. Not many may be aware that even in difficult situation in the Valley at least half a dozen entrepreneurs have emerged as billionaires. A journal had some time ago recorded their achievements as well as frustrations. All of them were of the view that they were unable to realise their full potential and wanted to move out. What has happened since then is not known. The reality, however, is unaltered that we have a problem on the ground. The industrialists in the Valley are up against a wall. But this does not mean that their counterparts in this region are better placed. Their discomfiture may be greater. They produce goods but are unable to sell them in the Kashmir region. A consequence is that their stocks pile up and the promised money is held up. Thus the entire scene acts as a deterrent for those seeking to test their personal worth. How can we change it for the better? It is a question to which we must find an answer for our collective good. We should put our heads together. If jointly we develop stakes in our shared peace and prosperity we can take care of a handful of those denying us our due progress. Our unity will also force the Government to act in our best interests.

Virus for economy

Yet another seizure of fake currency has been reported in this city. Four persons have been arrested including two of them not belonging to the State and the bogus money worth Rs 1.5 lakh has been recovered from them. The quartet has already handed over Rs 12 lakh from their kitty to a person in Srinagar. What has been revealed by them is a circuitous route involving the evil operation. The counterfeit notes were brought in from Pakistan to Bangladesh and then pushed into Bengal from where these were transferred to this State mainly for funding militant activities. This is not the first instance of its kind in the State. On current reckoning it is not going to be the last either. There are forces interested in destabilising our economy and disturbing our peace. At another level the trading in fake currency may possibly have become a lucrative economic activity as well. According to a report quoting the State Home Department some months ago, as many as 8668570 fake currency notes with a face value of Rs 86.86 lakhs have been recovered across the State in the last ten years and 501 persons nabbed in this connection. Besides, 420160 Pakistani, 7951 Afghan and 249982 currency notes of other countries have been seized in this period. About half of the total has been found from the militants. It is a challenge to our unity and integrity. We must deal with it with an iron hand.

Dream of a secular, Pak stands shattered

Men, Matters & Memories
By ML Kotru

From now on there shall be no Hindus, no Muslims, no Sikhs or Christians in this land. We shall all be Pakistanis, free to pray in our temples, mosques, gurudwaras and Churches. Words similar to these, uttered on realisation of his dream of Pakistan by Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. I have the text at Jinnah's broadcast to his nation on the night it was founded but somehow am unable to lay my hands on it now.
I find that inexcusable, losing track of historic documents. But what do you make of an entire people, over 160 million of them, who choose to ignore the inspiring voice raised by the father of their nation at the end of what they had all perceived to be an acknowledgment of the Qaid's call for a separate homeland for Muslims. Ultimately, though, it turns out that India continues to have the world's second largest Muslim population, next only to that of Indonesia. But that's neither here nor there.
The fact is that Jinnah's dream of a secular, tolerant Pakistan stands shattered today. The pygmies who followed him ensured that the dream turns into a nightmare, that Pakistan becomes a land of bigots, with moderates, the civil society that believed in Jinnah's dream, reduced to a dumb, helpless minority.
And the worst part of it is that the bigots, the Jihadists have taken hold of the country with the Armed Forces choosing to standby and the police and other paramilitary forces willing to do the bidding of the Jihaddist mullahs. The politicians, helpless as they seem, are only too busy protecting their fiefs, hopelessly and helpless. Sad but true that the country's military is currently the only other force left which can show the rabid Jihadists their place. Unfortunate though it is for that country that the military for the present is intent only on giving the civilians long enough rope to hang themselves with.
Strange, though, that the Army should stand by when the police attacks its own academies or when the man assigned to the detail protecting the Punjab Governor, Mr, Salman Taseer, should virtually applaud when one of its members turns his gun on the Governor, asking his other uniformed colleagues not to kill him (the murderer) because he would surrender to them after he is done with Taseer the man who perhaps was among the most popular of Benazir Bhutto's immediate friends.
Salman Taseer, by all accounts, was a good man, a hardnosed politician a successful businessman who had seen many ups and downs, survived Gen Ziaul Haq's ire which had seen him jailed. Nearly forgot to explain the opening of this piece: post-partition Jinnah's hope for a secular Pakistan. Salman Taseer it appears committed the ultimate sin of being seen to be sympathetic to a Chiristian woman farmer who had been ordered to be killed for having blasphemed Islam. The Governor had dared to call the ill-starred woman to inquire after her welfare.
This obviously was unacceptable to the Mullahs whose book saw even a sympathizer of the person uttering a blasphemors word as equally guilty and hence the policeman expected to protect who Governor Salman Taseer instead killed him. Imagine the zealot's bigotry : he pumped 27 rounds into the hapless Governor.
According to Taseer's daughter whose moving tribute to her father speared in "Newsweek Pakistan" and the "New York Times " : " It may sound odd, but I can't imagine my father dying any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan giving livelihood to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country's potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honour his memory those who share that belief in Pakistan's future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.
One couldn't agree more with the young Sheharbano, the daughter, reading the paragraph preceding the one above : "To say that there was a security lapse on Tuesday is an understatement. My father was brutally gunned down by a man hired to protect him. Juvenal once asked: Who will guard the guards themselves?. It is a question all Pakistanis should aks themselves today, If the extremists could get the Governor of the largest (Pakistan's) province, is anyone safe?"
My thoughts immediately turn to the safety of Benazir's close friend and a Minister until some months ago in the Zardari's government, Sherry Rahman. She has moved a private member's bill in Pakistan National Assembly to amend (soften) the blasphemy law. A very bright woman I can only pray for her safety given the jihadist fervour in Pakistan. Probably like Taseer, Sherry too believes that the strict blasphemy laws instituted by Gen Zia have been frequently misused and ought to be changed. Taseer's views were widely misrepresented to give the impression that he had spoken against Prophet Mohammad. There are many who in Taseer's daughter's words believe that with his death the final nail in the coffin of a tolerant Pakistan had been stuck. That liberal values in that country would now be silenced. "But we buried a heroic man, not the courage he inspired in others…" The basic problem in Pakistan today is that old one : If you are not with us, you are with them.
Being a liberal in Pakistan does not necessarily mean that you are pro-India. Jinnah by that yard-stick would never have achieved his objective. Those who lived with Jinnah during his times tell you that you would have to run miles to find as liberal a Muslim as Jinnah. It is those that followed him who have altered his vision of Pakistan so drastrically.
The blasphemy law was for instance introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq; the ban on liquor was imposed of all people by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto whose drinking bouts were legend, next only to Gen. Yahya Khan's. When Pakistan altered its weekily off days from Sunday to Friday someone who pointed out that this would mean loss of three business days in commerce, banking etc. internationally; he was probably rushed to the nearest mental hospital.
Salman Taseer by all accounts was a true Pakistani who like most Pakistanis coveted Kashmir singlemindedly. May be his father's time as the Principal of Srinagar's, Sri Pratap College had something to do with it. Incidentally Dr. Taseer, the father, escorted Ghulam Mohammed Bakshi and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq to Lahore to help them get across to the Muslim League leadership. The mission did not work and Principal Taseer stayed back in Lahore sending Bakshi and Sadiq back to India. One of Salman's sons is from a non-Muslim Indian woman. Aatish Taseer, who was in India recently, has authored his first book which partially dwells on his upbringing as a Muslim in Pakistan and in a Sikh house in Delhi.

Government credibility card

By Arun Nehru

The New Year has not started well and sometimes a series of issues combine to create a sense of uncertainty and in these chaotic situations it is best for both the 'players and the spectators' to take a deep breath and act with utmost restraint both in thought and in action. We have done well in 2010 and we have maintained and improved upon the momentum as we go into 2011 and the top priority has to be effective and good, firm governance both at the Center and in the States. We have seen a change in the voting public and good governance is being rewarded and this is reflected in the Congress performance in 2009 in the Lok Sabha where the party secured 206 seats and if I remember correctly the best estimate was 160-170 seats and we have seen a similar trends in the States and 'incumbency' was a positive for Shiela Dixit, Narender Modi, Naveen Patnaik, Shiv Raj Singh, Raman Singh and in recent months by Nitesh Kumar in Bihar. We have issues today of corruption and fraud in the 2G and the CWG, we have issues of inflation [food prices] but I don't think the political skirmishes on these issues are consolidating trends for political parties in the immediate future in terms of gains and losses.
My assessment is that the Congress march towards a majority status after securing 206 seats has been halted by the chaotic situation in Andhra Pradesh and the uncertain situation in Tamil Nadu and their failure to make a impact on the BJP areas of strength in MP, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, HP and even in Karnataka and the BJP have halted their decline after the 2009 Lok Sabha election but have yet to make any positive advance in Congress states and the likely winners if any are the Regional parties. My estimate is that the BSP can win 30=35 seats , Mamata Banerjee and the TMC can win 30 seats as can Nitesh Kumar and the JD[U]. The BJD, Shiv Sena, NCP, AIDMK, TDP, SP can all win 10-15 seats and I do not see any great change in Coalition structures in the future in 2011 and the election battles in 2011 and early 2012 are not going to give us any additional clues as the Congress should win in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal [TMC major partner], Punjab [tough fight with Akali Dal] and in UP the Congress may lose a little ground as the SP decline continues and Mayawati and the BSP are gaining at their expense. The BJP are not an effective force in most of the elections in 2011 barring Punjab where they are a junior partner of the Akali Dal alliance and in Uttar Pradesh they are a distant fourth and show little signs of revival. The BJP however continue to hold their position in Gujarat, MP,HP, Chattisgarh, Karnataka and can improve in Rajasthan.
The political agenda along with everything else is threatened with political uncertainty as both the Congress and the entire opposition adopt an attitude of mutual confrontation and the theory that might is right threatens to rip apart the fragile fabric of our archaic system of governance. I have said on a hundred occasions that political funding in the current situation common to all the political parties are behind all the chaos we are going through now and issues are getting very complicated as everyone is trying to prove the other dishonest and if we look at the 2G scam does anyone believe that A Raja is the only beneficiary of the thousands of crores that have disappeared over a decade in the Telecom Ministry? The truth is that the DMK is doing what every other party does in raising funds for the party and the political leaders and their families and their support system which includes lawyers, chartered accountants, the loyal media, business tycoons and traders etc along with others in the power structure have become incredibly rich and can 'selective' justice prevail in this situation. The 2G scam is already in the Supreme Court but look at the chaos in the system in the political system and should we be surprised if the CAG is under attack and will other institutions follow as facts emerge through investigations and also through leaks and spills from within the power structure. The tone from those in power is getting shriller by the day and are we returning to the Emergency syndrome and will the rule of law survive in the current conflict?
We have several problems and the most serious is the issue of food inflation and make no mistake that the Aam Aadmi is at war with the system and all the assurances given by the PM and the Economic team have little relevance and this food inflation has nothing to do with either a fall in productivity or a increase in consumption as neither of this has taken place and clearly the forces of supply and demand come into play as artificial shortages are being created and in a free market can we place the entire trading community in jail?
Things are going out of control as we try to 'police' the system and this is never a solution and governments run on credibility and trust and this I am afraid has been severely dented and whilst those in governance are immune to the daily pressures of existence the Aam Aadmi which comprises everyone not in the power circle is at the mercy of 'extortion' and 'corruption' at every level of existence and a cash and carry system exists for every activity and there is little respect for the political system. We can silence institutions and we can silence individuals using the brute power of the State but this will only create greater uncertainty in the mind of those in governance. The CAG report was leaked as were the Niira Radia tapes and several documents from the ED/IT and every day in the media there are leaked documents from the government files and this will only increase with time as uncertainty grips the system.

9% growth and the poor

By Dr Ashwani Mahajan

On November 30, 2010 the Central Statistical Organisation announced that the Indian economy will record economic growth at a rate of 9 percent in 2010-11. So far policy makers have been targeting at 8.5 percent growth. When the world, especially the developed world is going through a worst recession, 9 percent economic growth may be called a happy news. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the Indian economy, rising above the internal and external shocks, not only overcame economic slowdown, it would even record a very fast growth. Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, Prof. Koushik Basu says that although the economy is going to fare better in all the sectors, but if agricultural and services sectors show better growth, the economy can grow even faster.
But a senior leader of Indian National Congress, Mani Shankar Aiyar does not agree with this growth story. He says that when 57 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is concentrated in the hands of only 1 percent of population, increase in GDP means nothing for the poor. He also believes that the this increase in GDP has become enemy of Indian people. As a result of this increase in GDP, national resources are being cornered by a few people. Country's resources are concentrated in the hands of some few rich people. Corporate profits are growing. In manufacturing, production is growing but the wages of workers are not increasing in the same proportion.
Government of the day is selling dream of high economic growth and an effort is being made to create an environment that we shall be able to provide much better quality of life to ordinary people. But in reality there is hardly any change in quality of life of the poor. More recently, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said while addressing an international conference that we have to make such policies, in which redistribution does not cause treasury losses and also not have any impact on the process of economic growth. This means that the Government of the day opines that economic growth i.e. GDP Growth is the most sacred goal. For this goal to achieve the government is ready to sacrifice programmes of poverty eradication or employment generation.
Finance Minister's argument is that today his Government is spending Rupees 2.5 lakh crores on debt servicing, out of total budget of Rupees 11 lakh crores. This pressure of increasing debt servicing is leading to more and more of fiscal deficit. Thus if food subsidies and spending on unemployment is increased then it will increase Government budget deficits even more. Target of the government is to bring this fiscal deficit down to 3 percent from nearly 7 percent now.
This means that the government in the name of fiscal austerity tries to cut down expenditure on health, education, food subsidy and employment generation. Government has also taken its hand off from spending on infrastructure. As a result of this task of building infrastructure has been left to the private sector. Private sector, which obviously works for profit tends to charge heavily from the users of infrastructure. Heavy toll tax on use of roads and bridges is the obvious outcome of private investment in roads and bridges building.
User charge on use of airport is making the air travel costlier. Today, private companies in the name of private investment have been given right to collect heavy user charges on use of roads, bridges and airports. Moreover pull out of Government from health and education in favour of private sector has left the population in the clutches of private institutions. Poor are denied of education, as exorbitant fees are charged by private educational institutions. Health facilities were earlier available to poor from Government institutions free or at nominal cost. Consistently decaying public health facilities as a result of partial withdrawal of the Government from this sector are making poor to depend on private hospitals and nursing homes, which charge heavily for their 'quality health facilities'. Poor has two options in this case, either he loses even his little assets or die in the absence of treatment. According to a report recently published 16 percent families switched to below poverty line as they sold off their property to get their near and dear treated.
In the name of economic growth, Governments of the day are trying to lure the people saying that their standard of living could be improved. But reality is far from that. Delay and changes being made in the proposed food security legislation is giving enough proof of the same. Proposed food security legislation was being talked about with great fun and fare. But dilly dally approach of the government in this direction gives ample proof about lack of seriousness in this direction.
Talk about right to food which was started with much enthusiasm is ultimately meeting the fate, similar to other welfare schemes. It was said that more than 90 per cent of the population would be covered by the schemes initiated under Right to Food Act. It was also said that to start with the schemes would be started in 200 districts. But the National Advisory Council under the chairpersonship of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has actually restricted the same to only 46 per cent in the population of rural areas and 28 per cent of urban areas. This means that only about 40 per cent of the total population and would get the highly subsidised wheat at Rs. 3 per Kilogram and rice at Rs. 2 per kilogram. Another 22 per cent of rural population and 44 per cent of urban population would get this food at half the price at which it is procured from the farmer. Jean Draze, a member of this National Advisory Council objected to this decision by saying that it would amount to doing nothing more than what is being provided by the Government at present.
A debate has started about how to achieve the objective of poverty alleviation in conjunction with reasonably high rate of economic growth. If we fail, it would amount to encouragement to concentration of economic power in the hands of few at the cost of the poor masses. If government is sincere in its efforts in the alleviation of poverty, it must spend for uplifting the standard of living of poor. Paucity of funds is no valid argument in view of rampant corruption in high offices and the extent of loss to the exchequer due to this corruption (as reported by CAG, merely 2-G spectrum scam caused a loss of 1.76 lakhs crores of rupees to the exchequer). Government has to maintain a balance and instead of riding high on growth, should concentrate more on improving the living standard of the poor.



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