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EDITORIAL

Of discrimination and walkouts

Uproars, sit down strikes, pandemonium and walk outs have become an everyday scene in the legislative organs of the country be it the parliament or state legislative assemblies. Peoples' representatives are gradually adopting street politics tactics inside the assemblies to bring home their point of interests. Is it unavoidable for our legislators to run the affairs of the state by creating mutual mistrust and by trading accusations and counter accusations? There are occasions and instances when our parliament turns into a fish market and MPs clash and even come to blows inside the parliament leaving the speaker puzzled and amused what he or she should do. .....more

Cricket diplomacy

Cricket is the legacy of colonial rule to the sub-continent. Now its phenomenal popularity has helped decolonized countries evolve a friendship of sorts notwithstanding what the pattern of foreign policy of respective member countries is. At the same time, cricket has the potential of promoting good relations among member countries particularly if they have been at loggerheads for one or the other reason. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has invited Pakistan President and Prime Minister to come to India for watching the Indo-Pak semi final in Mohali. This is a grand goodwill gesture and has been received with appreciation. Commentators consider it a big step towards confidence building mechanism. Indeed it could be so if Pakistani leaders were really free to make their decision. Many years ago General Zia-ul-Huq came to Jaipur to witness Indo-Pak cricket match. His trip was also termed ...more

Inflation and price rise

By Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala

The most pressing issue in minds of the people is that of price rise. First reason for the price rise is increase in government expenditures during the last three years. Expenditures had been rightly increased to shield the economy from the global economic slowdown. These expenditures must now be scaled back because the global economy is somewhat stable. But the economy has gotten accustomed to the stimulus just as the athlete gets accustomed to steroids. However, . .. . ...more

Climate change

By Jeet Dogra

Human induced climate change is confronting our planet with its gravest peril ever, threatening widespread extinction of species and destruction of habitats. Our insatiable hunger for development, fueled by the extensive consumption of natural resources such as forests, . ...more

Wikileaks exposures good for democratic polity

By Nantoo Banerjee

Why should anyone, leave alone the Prime Minister or for that matter the head of the government of a country, resign from the job on the basis of some private and confidential third-party wire-chats, involving foreign governments, diplomats, military brass or secret agents and their local recruits? Such cable-talks are not only unauthorized, but also officially unclaimed. They can't be easily substantiated before a court of law. Some of the correspondences tracked are dated as well referring to not-so-recent events or situations. This makes WikiLeaks..more

 

 

EDITORIAL

Of discrimination and walkouts

Uproars, sit down strikes, pandemonium and walk outs have become an everyday scene in the legislative organs of the country be it the parliament or state legislative assemblies. Peoples' representatives are gradually adopting street politics tactics inside the assemblies to bring home their point of interests. Is it unavoidable for our legislators to run the affairs of the state by creating mutual mistrust and by trading accusations and counter accusations? There are occasions and instances when our parliament turns into a fish market and MPs clash and even come to blows inside the parliament leaving the speaker puzzled and amused what he or she should do.
The state assembly, too, has accepted inspiration from the parliament and is going along same lines. Assembly is a place of decent debate carried out with full and conscientious responsibility and in the interests of the people of the state. These debates are not meant to score personal victories or float vendettas. More often than not, speeches delivered in the assembly on important issues are exemplary in terms of wisdom, eloquence and style; Great speeches inspire great hopes and confidence and raise nation's stature in the eyes of the people and the world at large. But alas apart from demonstrating mean mentality and scurvy mindset, many of our legislators shamefully betray communal, narrow-minded and parochial tendencies that deepen the social divide. What kind of democratic culture is emerging from the law making organ of the state is the question everybody asks. The opposition is reported to have created a scene and walked out of the house charging the government of diverting funds to Jammu region while these were initially meant for Kashmir. The issue of diversion of funds from one region to another is a long standing complaint of Jammu. The complaint has been going on from year to year and from regime to regime. But no government ever tried to address the issue with all seriousness and find a permanent solution to the complaint. Many a time, Jammu region legislators have raised slogans in assemblies and staged walkouts demanding redress of their grievance of discrimination. It is a fact that the three regions of the state present a heterogeneous picture in terms of geography, topography, language, culture and life style. Obviously their needs, too, vary in many ways. Accepting that allocation of funds is made on the basis of a rational formula keeping in mind the requirements and capabilities of all the three regions, yet the complaint of Jammu region has been persisting from year to year. At a number of times, Jammu legislators sitting on opposition benches have produced documentary and factual evidence as well. There must be a reason why successive governments did not agree to introduce a mechanism in consultation with Jammu and Ladakh legislators that would regulate proper allotment and utilization of funds to all the three regions. Unless the government has to hide something from the people, there seems no reason to let the issue hang fire all these decades of recent history. If the PDP wants clarification in the case of diversion to Jammu of thirty crores of rupees provided by the CRF for Kashmir, it has a case to pursue. But then let all complaints of discrimination against Jammu be investigated into and disposed off properly. Who knows how many skeletons will tumble out of the cupboard. The fact of the matter is that the accusation of diversion of funds and discrimination against Kashmir should have been responded to by Jammu legislators. It is they who are equipped with authentic information on the subject. But why did not Jammu legislators now partners in power-sharing respond to the oppositions accusations? The answer is simple. Either they are incapable of understanding the niceties of the issue or they are party to the policy of discrimination. We would like to tell the legislators frankly that sitting on dharna or walking out of the assembly hall are all gimmicks and will not carry us anywhere. They must impress upon the government to initiate a mechanism in the state which will monitor proper allocation of plan funds and their utilization.

Cricket diplomacy

Cricket is the legacy of colonial rule to the sub-continent. Now its phenomenal popularity has helped decolonized countries evolve a friendship of sorts notwithstanding what the pattern of foreign policy of respective member countries is. At the same time, cricket has the potential of promoting good relations among member countries particularly if they have been at loggerheads for one or the other reason. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has invited Pakistan President and Prime Minister to come to India for watching the Indo-Pak semi final in Mohali. This is a grand goodwill gesture and has been received with appreciation. Commentators consider it a big step towards confidence building mechanism. Indeed it could be so if Pakistani leaders were really free to make their decision. Many years ago General Zia-ul-Huq came to Jaipur to witness Indo-Pak cricket match. His trip was also termed a goodwill visit that would build mutual confidence. Soon after that visit, Pakistan abetted armed insurgency surfaced in Kashmir that has by now taken fairly large toll of human life. Both countries of the sub-region are under tremendous pressure from the US to iron out their differences and help stabilize peace in the region. America wants Pakistan to fight her war on terror in Af-Pak region and Pakistan wants to capitalize on the discomfiture of the US on Afghan war front. India, on the other hand, is in a serious dilemma of how she would manage balancing her secular democratic credentials against her national interests. Even if Pakistan makes commitment of not allowing anti-India terrorist activities on her soil and also gives assurance that she will not integrate Gilgit and Baltistan into Pakistan, will the UPA coalition government have the competence to make unthinkable concessions to Pakistan and to Kashmir separatists? One feels skeptic about any real positive result emerging from the visit of Pakistani authorities.

Inflation and price rise

By Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala

The most pressing issue in minds of the people is that of price rise. First reason for the price rise is increase in government expenditures during the last three years. Expenditures had been rightly increased to shield the economy from the global economic slowdown. These expenditures must now be scaled back because the global economy is somewhat stable. But the economy has gotten accustomed to the stimulus just as the athlete gets accustomed to steroids. However, withdrawal of the stimulus is likely to slow down our growth rate. Challenge is to reduce the expenditures so that inflation can be contained but do it in a way that growth rate is not affected. This can be done by improving the quality of government expenditures. Leakages must be reduced, not the productive component of expenditures.
The Reserve Bank has recently warned that the revenue deficit of the government is reaching dangerous proportions. The receipts of the government have been buoyant in the past years, in part, because of one time capital receipts from Spectrum auctions. These receipts have been used to increase salary payments and other facilities of government employees. It is seen that a person who has won a lottery often quickly increases his expenditures. He buys an air-conditioner and other equipment. The income from the lottery does not last and the poor fellow is unable to pay the electricity bills. Similar has happened with government expenditures. These have been increased on the strength of one time capital receipts. Now revenue expenditures have increased but receipts are lagging behind. This problem too has to be dealt by improving the quality of revenue expenditures. An external audit by independent auditors can be got done of the Government Departments. Confidential surveys can be got done regarding the efficiency and integrity of the officials.
Historically the Government has cut capital expenditures to contain the fiscal deficit. The fiscal deficit is total of revenue and capital accounts. The Reserve Bank has to print notes and provide to the Government to meet expenditures that are in excess of income. Circulation of these excess notes puts pressure on the prices. Too many notes begin chasing the few goods that are available in the market. Control of inflation requires that the Reserve Bank prints fewer notes. This, in turn, requires that the Government expenditures are cut. But it is difficult to cut revenue expenditures that consist of salaries, interest payments and the like. In consequence, the Government cuts capital expenditures like investments in roads. This cut is partly compensated by increase in private investments in infrastructure. However, private investment is mainly concentrated in the metros. There is a need, therefore, for maintaining government investment in infrastructure of small towns and rural areas. So here is the problem: Control of inflation requires that government capital expenditures be cut; but long term growth requires that capital expenditures in small towns be maintained. This, again, can be done by improving the quality of government expenditures.
The second cause of increase in prices is the increase in global prices of fuel oil. The impact of this is widespread due its use in transport. Moreover, power plants such as Dabhol are based on fossil fuels. Factories burn much oil in diesel generators. The oil prices are likely to move up in the coming years. The only way to deal with this is to reduce consumption of oil. Solution is to increase import tax so as to make it even more costly and reduce its consumption. The resulting increase in prices can be nullified by a reduction in taxes on other commodities. For example, an increase in import tax of Rs 100 crores on oil can be made along with a reduction of Rs 200 crores in taxes on textiles. This will bring down the overall prices while safeguarding us against future increases in prices by securing a reduction in consumption of oil.
The third source of price rise is from agricultural produce. It is necessary to increase production to bring these prices down. The government policies, unfortunately, are in the opposite direction. The government bans exports of agricultural items when global prices are high in order to prevent an increase in domestic prices. This deprives the farmers of profiting from the high global prices. On the other hand, the government imports agricultural items when global prices are low and domestic prices are high. This, again, prevents the farmers from profiting from the high domestic prices. This policy is beneficial in the short run. Spikes in prices are controlled. But this is wholly harmful in the long run. The farmers have little incentive to increase production in absence of high prices. This leads to the long term increase in prices that we are witnessing lately. This policy is like putting the crying hungry child to sleep by giving him opium. The Government must either wholly integrate the domestic market with global markets or wholly delink them. In both cases the farmers will benefit and try to increase production. Of course, it will be better to delink domestic markets so that our food security is safeguarded.
The fourth source of price rise is increase in foreign investment. Foreign investors have made large purchases in our share markets in the last two years. The Sensex has risen from 8k to 20k. Foreign investors have brought in huge amounts of money into the country to make these purchases. The pressure is increasing in the domestic economy just as in the pressure cooker. This increase in pressure is good because it helps in economic growth. However, this also leads to an increase in prices. The solution is to bleed out the incoming money by increasing imports. Say, foreign investors have brought in Rs 100 crores. This money can be used to import fertilizers, steel, computers and other materials. The money coming in will go out smoothly without creating unnecessary disturbance in our economy. The puncture maker leaks out the excess air from the tyre. Similarly, the Government must remove excess money from the economy. The Finance Minister must reduce import duties in this direction.
The Government is trying to simplify the tax regime. Most State Governments have adopted similar VAT rates. Central Sales Tax has been reduced and is likely to be abolished. A new Direct Tax Code is in the making to simplify income tax. These steps are in the right direction as far as efficiency of the economy is concerned. But this policy is iniquitous. It is incorrect to tax an air-conditioner costing Rs 50,000 and ceiling fan costing Rs 700 at the same rate. It is incorrect to impose tax on cloth made from automatic power looms and handlooms at the same rate. It is necessary to simplify the tax regime while maintaining lower rates of taxes on items of general consumption and on items made with labour-intensive methods of production. The reader may assess the budget on the above parameters.

Climate change

By Jeet Dogra

Human induced climate change is confronting our planet with its gravest peril ever, threatening widespread extinction of species and destruction of habitats. Our insatiable hunger for development, fueled by the extensive consumption of natural resources such as forests, fossil fuels, rivers and land has discharged enormous quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing a progressive rise in temperatures after the industrial period. The impacts of climate change are already being witnessed everywhere and will gradually begin to worsen. Ironically, despite bearing witness to the various indications of climate change such as rising sea levels, increase in frequency of extreme weather events and change in precipitation patterns, the world is still a fair distance away from mitigating climate change. The scientific evidence now clearly indicates that climate change is a serious and urgent issue. It is a very complex issue with numerous social, environmental and economic parameters and implications and is thus often difficult to comprehend fully. To understand the climate system and ultimately predict changes in global climate, greater collaboration is required between modelers, empiricists and policy makers. Greater emphasis on impact scenarios at the regional level is also needed, if society is truly to "think globally" and "act locally".
During the past 150 years, the global average surface temperatures have increased by about 0.76°C. In addition to warming up of the Earth's surface, there have been increased incidences of heat waves; accelerated melting of continental glaciers and polar ice caps; rise in sea level of up to 20 cm; heavy rainfall in some regions, resulting in frequent floods; reduced rains in other regions of the world, resulting in severe drought. The greenhouse gases act like a blanket, preventing much of the heat reflected by the earth's surface from escaping directly into space. By slowing the release of cooling radiation, these gases warm the Earth's surface. While this is a natural process that is essential to life on Earth, the trouble starts when the concentration of these Greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere increases. The result is an increase in the Earth's temperature, also known as - Global Warming.
Global Warming is the gradual increase of the average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming could have disastrous effects on the environment like polar ice melts, changes in amount and pattern of rainfall, sea level rise, frequent floods and droughts, hurricanes and typhoons. It would cause large-scale species extinction and have serious impacts on human lives such as freshwater availability, agricultural yields and increases in the spatial and quantitative ranges of disease vectors as well as on economic infrastructure such as energy, transport and industry. Global warming can occur from a variety of causes, both natural and human induced. Volcanic eruptions, changes in the earth's orbit and earth's orientation toward the sun are some of the natural causes of Global Warming.
Some of the major impacts of climate change are impact on agriculture, glacial retreat, melting of polar ice, sea level rise, scarcity of water resources, sea level rise, dry river bed, threats to human life and ecosystems and species in peril. Species endangered by global warming are sea turtles, the North Atlantic right whale, the giant panda's, Asia's only ape the orangutan, African elephants, many of Australia's Frog species, Indian Tigers, the African Tawny Eagle, breeding failure of seabirds such as Common Guillemots, Arctic Skuas, Great Scubas, kittiwakes and Arctic terns, the Siberian Crane, Galápagos Penguins, Tufted Puffins, and the southeastern Australian habitat of the endangered Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo.
Since climate change is a worldwide problem, it is imperative to have binding international agreements between the key contributors to this problem. The phenomenon of human induced climate change was formally recognized as a global concern by the United Nations at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro, in 1992. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the climate change arm of United Nations, emerged as a consequence of the Earth Summit in 1992. It was the first agreement between countries across the world to tackle the climate change problem. To achieve quantifiable emission reductions, the signatory countries of the UNFCCC, adopted the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 at Kyoto, Japan. The Protocol finally entered into force in Montreal, on 16th February 2005 with the ratification of Russia accounting for 55% of GHG emissions. Secondary to the Kyoto and UNFCCC process, are G8 and other initiatives. While the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol are responsible for administration and implementation of GHG (Green House Gasses) emission reduction processes, the United Nations also evaluates the risk of climate change, attempts to ascertain its impacts and explores mechanisms for mitigation and adaptation through its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988. The IPCC is a collection of 2,500 leading scientists and scholars that operates under the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and WMO (World Meteorological Organization) and bases its assessment mainly on peer reviewed scientific research. The IPCC produces technical and special reports on climate and the First Assessment Report of the IPCC in 1991 was significant in establishing the UNFCCC in 1992. Since then, the IPCC has been publishing an assessment report every 5-6 years, the latest published in April 2007.
In the conclusion segment, following are the things we can do in your daily life to reduce the stress on environment:
* Switching to public transportation or resorting to carpooling, walking or using a bicycle when we can.
* Always purchase energy efficient household appliances.
* Washing clothes in cold water instead of hot water and drying them outside in the fresh air and sunlight.
* Maintain our refrigerator and freezer at the right temperature.
* Avoid the unnecessary use of air conditioning systems.
* Unplug electrical appliances when not in use.
* Switch over to energy saver bulbs and keep bulbs dust-free.
* Use natural lighting features to reduce the need for artificial lights and turn off all unneeded lights.
* Use vessels of suitable size while cooking.
* Shading our east and west windows with overhangs or trellises or by planting shade trees.
* Reduce the hot water consumption in our home by installing efficient showerheads, faucets and other fixtures.
* An effective system of waste management involves the use of the "3 R's" Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. While 'reduce' means to use less, 'reuse' means to put the article back to use without changing and 'recycle' means to put back into service after changing the article slightly or completely.
We have got everything that is required to get started to protect the earth with the possible exception of the "will to act". Let us all make a conscious attempt and a genuine effort to combat climate change crisis. Let's live up the logo of climate change "i count" as a savior of our mother earth..!!

Wikileaks exposures good for democratic polity

By Nantoo Banerjee

Why should anyone, leave alone the Prime Minister or for that matter the head of the government of a country, resign from the job on the basis of some private and confidential third-party wire-chats, involving foreign governments, diplomats, military brass or secret agents and their local recruits? Such cable-talks are not only unauthorized, but also officially unclaimed. They can't be easily substantiated before a court of law. Some of the correspondences tracked are dated as well referring to not-so-recent events or situations. This makes WikiLeaks appear more like interesting gossips or sometimes as 'weak leaks' for those involved. To those embarrassed, WikiLeaks exposures are seen as a big nuisance. To others, they provide a rare glimpse to the thoughts and behavior of so-called responsible top officials and operatives on highly sensitive issues and secret information gathering about which the public or even the concerned government or governments may never have any specific knowledge.
There is little untruthful about those private and confidential exchanges through high security-enabled mails and chats, tapped by WikiLeaks by hacking into the otherwise fire-walled communication network and their subsequent public exposure by the website which have embarrassed some of the world's most powerful governments, institutions and personalities. It has battered the image of the United States. Also, it has shattered the 'unshakable' Swiss law protection shield around secret bank account holders. WikiLeaks exposures have covered wide range of areas from defence to diplomacy, finance to drug running, and commercial intelligence to political espionage. They are like modern chemical warfare targeted at the general public to psyche them or to ignite their sense of distrust against institutions and establishments and those at the helm. They give a mental shock to those who still have faith in public institutions.
Whatever such leaks may be worth, it is simply unfair to demand Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation just on the basis of WikiLeaks exposure of 'cash-for-MPs' to save his government from the no-confidence motion raised by the Opposition in Parliament way back in July, 2008, following the withdrawal of Left support to the ruling Congress-led alliance (UPA) on the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal. This is notwithstanding the fact that the exposure has badly and undeniably bruised the image of the Congress party and the prime minister. But, more than that, the exposure establishes the presence of an under-cover US intelligence network deep into the Indian administration and the political system constantly supplying politically and strategically sensitive information to the American administration. This is certainly a matter of great concern for the country's both internal and external security and economic stability. The matter certainly justifies a debate in Parliament and institution of a high-level probe into the conduct of those politicians and bureaucrats and also of their mentors and patrons in the government or outside involved in such deplorable acts.
One of the most disturbing information which became public knowledge is the latest round of Wikileaks' expose concerning the high-profile government economist, policy maker and bureaucrat, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and seasoned Congress party satrap, Pranab Mukherjee. The Wiki cable clearly 'exposed' Ahluwalia, the Planning Commission deputy chairman and a close confidant of Prime Minister Singh, as a preferred American candidate for the union finance minister's post over Pranab Mukherjee. Given Ahluwalia's official background, such a suggestion is rather disturbing, if not scary. It also exposes the level of US interference in India's domestic politics, apart from indirectly projecting Ahluwalia as an American agent or one who would serve the US interest better than a more conservative Pranab Mukherjee on matters such as economic policy formulation and execution.
Ahluwalia has been at the helm of the country's economic affairs management for almost a quarter of a century since he first occupied a cabin in the South Block in the office of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. His cozy equation with the successive Indian and US governments and his pro-Western views on reform are well known. No economist had ever survived this long in the government and enjoyed so much power and authority as Ahluwalia does despite the fact that other more eminent and internationally acclaimed economists such as V K R V Rao, Sukhamoy Chakraborty, I G Patel, Suresh Tendulkar, Amiya Bagchi, Prabhat Patnaik, D T Lakhdawala, P. Brahmananda, Amaresh Tripathi , K N Raj and Arjun Sengupta, managed only limited association with the administration. This unshakable image of Ahluwalia makes him vulnerable to pressure from those external entities always aiming at effective networking to carry through their political, diplomatic and economic agenda in India.
The denial of WikiLeaks exposures by the persons or institutions involved or named does not necessarily establish their uselessness. The US envoy in Mexico, Carlos Pascual, resigned after a WikiLeaks cable divulged his critical remarks against the host country administration's handling of the drug mafia. Pascual did not deny those remarks. Instead, he showed the guts to admit his private and confidential communication and resigned. Few Indian politicians and bureaucrats have courage to emulate Pascual. To be honest, WikiLeaks exposures are doing more good than harm to our democratic society, which puts too much faith in institutions, bureaucracy and the political system to serve its cause, ethically and uncompromisingly, and ensure good governance in the best interest of the nation. WikiLeaks exposures are not inventive. They are factual. It is for the actors to admit or deny them. (IPA)

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