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EDITORIAL

Mughal Road: A Vision

Minister for Forests and Environment, Mian Altaf says that the much awaited Mughal road will be thrown open to vehicular traffic this fiscal year. He claimed that work on the construction of the road was in progress on both ends. This is good news and brings relief to the people of Rajouri and Poonch districts who had to travel a long circuitous road to reach Srinagar. The demand for reconstructing the Mughal road as the second link to valley has been there for decades but owing to several reasons, especially the security reason its reconstruction had been delayed inordinately. The link established by the militants infiltrating from Poonch, Rajouri, Mandi areas and then making it over the Pir Panchal ridges to Ramban, Kishtwar and Doda became the catalyst to speeding up the construction of this road. Apart from that the road when declared motorable will drastically impact economic and cultural life of Rajouri and Poonch districts. The original Mughal road originated in Jhelum town of Punjab (Pakistan), a.....more

Power muddle

While the state is reeling under unscheduled power cuts both in sweltering summers and chilling winters, the Government seems happy in getting bogged with muddles of power generating companies. Lately a new dispute is in the offing that is likely to drag both the Government and the NHPC to a court of law. It is about double taxation on water usage by the NHPC. The Government interprets its Water Regulatory from its own viewpoint while the NPHC has a different view. We are not concerned with the legalities of the case, but what is of singular importance to the public is the serious disruption in regular power supply. We were told that owing to some technical snag in Baglihar hydroelectric power generating unit proper supply of power had been disrupted. But now that the snag has been corrected there is no justification for enforcing unscheduled power cuts and thus enfeeble the economy and disrupt regular life. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that its disputes with the power generating companies do not adversely affect regular supply of power. When higher authorities are approached by the protesting public, they are asked to see lower authorities and thus the buck is passed from person to person and branch to branch....more

When will India catch up?

On the spot
By Tavleen Singh

Why does change in India take so much longer to happen than it does in countries that were once more backward than us? Why does India remain one of the few countries in the world that has been unable to deal with such basic infrastructure needs as roads, clean water and reliable supplies of electricity? These are questions that I ask myself even in India but they become more compelling when I travel to a country like Thailand which has changed before my eyes in the past fifteen years in which I have been coming here regularly. What brings me here is a spa called Chiva Som which is now counted amon...more

How to tackle corruption ?

By Pramod Tripathi

In a party-based electoral democracy like ours, there can be no getting away from the central link between corruption and the need to fund political parties. Until this is confronted head-on, any control devised in one part of the system will merely push corruption to some other part of the system. There has to be some process like that which moved the drafting of the Constitution, which looks into this central cause, and devises some way by which to contain if not quite eliminate it....more

 Fall out of State Assembly elections

By Lalit Sethi

There are wheels within wheels in the five Assembly election results, announced on Friday, May 13. There are bonus points for the Congress and some slippery portent. But having ruled the United Progressive Alliance for seven years or more and being a seasoned player, it will go along the tricky path and cross the bridges when it reaches them, without batting an eyelid and sometimes agree to bat the eyelid, if the situation so requires. Not only has the Congress won Assam and Kerala and entered West Bengal, it has found itself capable of getting rid of the much maligned DMK led by Mr. Karunanidhi and his younger son, Stalin, who was ruling Tamil Nadu as Deputy Chief Minister. He has not even won an Assembly seat....more

EDITORIAL

Mughal Road: A Vision

Minister for Forests and Environment, Mian Altaf says that the much awaited Mughal road will be thrown open to vehicular traffic this fiscal year. He claimed that work on the construction of the road was in progress on both ends. This is good news and brings relief to the people of Rajouri and Poonch districts who had to travel a long circuitous road to reach Srinagar. The demand for reconstructing the Mughal road as the second link to valley has been there for decades but owing to several reasons, especially the security reason its reconstruction had been delayed inordinately. The link established by the militants infiltrating from Poonch, Rajouri, Mandi areas and then making it over the Pir Panchal ridges to Ramban, Kishtwar and Doda became the catalyst to speeding up the construction of this road. Apart from that the road when declared motorable will drastically impact economic and cultural life of Rajouri and Poonch districts. The original Mughal road originated in Jhelum town of Punjab (Pakistan), and then touched Kotli (in PoK), Thanamandi (Rajouri District) and finally Chandimarh located in Pir Panchal mountains. Here one branch crosses over to Shopian via Hurpora. As per the blueprint, the road from Bafliaz to Shopian is 89 kms and it will criss-cross 11,500 to 130,000 feet high Pir Panchal mountain ranges, which is higher than Banihal pass on Jammu-Srinagar national highway and the present entry point to Kashmir valley. Maybe at a later stage a tunnel below the pass may reduce the distance further. Besides, 49 km of road is steep and 20 km rolling down mountain stretches. The road will be constructed from Bafliaz (Poonch) through Chandimarh, Dugram, and Pir Panchal Pass, Ghurd, Aliabad Sarai, Sukh Sarai and Hurpora to Shopian. The road still has several monuments constructed by the Mughals.
It was at Chingus in Rajouri District where Emperor Jehangir died while returning from Kashmir. On this road, a rest house was built by the Mughals, which still exists at Muradapora. There was another rest house at Nayn Sukh (Fatehpur), a grand Sarai at Thanamandi and a terrace at Noori Chhamb water falls named after Noor Jehan, the queen of Jehangir. A grand Mughal rest house still stands at verdurous mountain peak at Chandimarh on the Mughal road followed by small rest houses at Aliabad, Ziarat of Peer Baba at Pir-Ki-Gali, Dubjian, near Sulphur Springs and a big rest house now in dilapidated condition at Hurpura.
Apart from serving as alternative highway between Srinagar and Jammu, the Mughal Road would also create an environment conducive for greater inter-regional cultural and economic exchanges. The geographical isolation of the specific areas, which discouraged people to people contact, will go away and greater economic activity between the regions would follow especially in respect of Poonch and Rajouri districts. The construction of Mughal road forms part of state plan with support from GOI (PM's Package). The road length of 44.5 kms from Shopian to Peer- ki-Gali in District Pulwama and 40 kms onwards to Bafliaz, in District Poonch was taken up during 2005-06. The road presents scenic view of great attraction which tourists will enjoy. Hurpora, about 12 kms from Shopian, commands a beautiful scenic view. Behramgala is situated at the foothill of 8,600 ft. high Rattan peak about 45 kms from Poonch town. It is a small picturesque spot in a deep gorge. Close by is the confluence of Thatta Pani and Parnai streams which adds to its scenic and natural beauty. Noori Chhamb waterfall like Aharbal is yet another scenic spot along the road with tremendous tourist potential. Fascinated by the beauty and grandeur of the waterfall, Emperor Jehangir had named it Noori Chhamb after his queen Noor Jahan. Bufliaz, another beautiful hill spot situated on the foothill of Peer Rattan range is 39 kms east of Poonch town. Named after the horse Bunifales of Alexander the Great that is said to have died there, Bufliaz is situated on both the banks of River Poonch.
Ultimately, when a rail link is established between Jammu and Poonch, a link that will also connect the Mughal Road, the entire geographical, economic and cultural scenario of Jammu and Kashmir will change considerably. New markets will surface and trade and commerce will receive unprecedented boost. The over 550 km circuitous travel from Poonch to Srinagar will be reduced to just128 kilometers. Ultimately a four lane road will come up one day with tunnels running through the pass and rail connectivity will also become a reality. This means Kashmir is poised for enormous boost in connectivity which is the key to prosperity.
 

Power muddle

While the state is reeling under unscheduled power cuts both in sweltering summers and chilling winters, the Government seems happy in getting bogged with muddles of power generating companies. Lately a new dispute is in the offing that is likely to drag both the Government and the NHPC to a court of law. It is about double taxation on water usage by the NHPC. The Government interprets its Water Regulatory from its own viewpoint while the NPHC has a different view. We are not concerned with the legalities of the case, but what is of singular importance to the public is the serious disruption in regular power supply. We were told that owing to some technical snag in Baglihar hydroelectric power generating unit proper supply of power had been disrupted. But now that the snag has been corrected there is no justification for enforcing unscheduled power cuts and thus enfeeble the economy and disrupt regular life. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that its disputes with the power generating companies do not adversely affect regular supply of power. When higher authorities are approached by the protesting public, they are asked to see lower authorities and thus the buck is passed from person to person and branch to branch. Previously the excuse was that there is theft of power but with installation of meters, this situation should have changed. Resentment is simmering among the people against the failure of the power development department to ensure regular power supply to consumers. Before the people are forced to come out on streets and turn rowdy or angry, the authorities must try to stem the tide and ensure that regular life is not disrupted.

  

 When will India catch up?

On the spot
By Tavleen Singh

Why does change in India take so much longer to happen than it does in countries that were once more backward than us? Why does India remain one of the few countries in the world that has been unable to deal with such basic infrastructure needs as roads, clean water and reliable supplies of electricity? These are questions that I ask myself even in India but they become more compelling when I travel to a country like Thailand which has changed before my eyes in the past fifteen years in which I have been coming here regularly. What brings me here is a spa called Chiva Som which is now counted among the best spas in the world but when I first came here in January 1999 it was almost unknown. I confess that I had not heard either of Hua Hin, the seaside town in which Chiva Som exists, because despite being the King of Thailandís favorite seaside resort it was not as much on the tourist map as places like Phuket and Chiang Mai.
When I first came to Hua Hin it was a small, languid, little village to which foreign tourists had just started to come. Local people quickly realized that they needed to find ways to cash in on the dollars that the tourists brought so fishermenís homes became seafood restaurants and night bazaars opened to sell Thai handicrafts and fake designer bags. If this was the contribution of private enterprise let me add that it would not have been possible if the Thai Government had not built a wonderful highway from Bangkok. The highway has brought, as highways always do, prosperity, modern ideas, technology and all the many services that come automatically. So now along the highway there are hotels and restaurants and what were once sleepy villages are now bustling towns with shiny new shops and buildings of glass and steel.
They make a good impression on the traveler and if the traveler is Indian he cannot fail to notice the contrast between our small towns and the ones he sees in Thailand. There is an order to the way in which the towns have been planned. Villages have not been allowed to simply grow in higgledy-piggledy fashion into towns. There are neat streets here in Thailandís new small towns and the buildings that line them appear to have been built according to town planning rules. And, the streets of the towns and villages are clean unlike the streets of Indian towns and villages. To drive from one Indian city to another, as I often do, is to notice with despair the increasingly large heaps of rotting garbage and the pollution that hangs in the air because municipal governance in India has been sacrificed at the altar of centralization.
As long as cities are ruled by state governments they will continue to remain in a state of unspeakable decay. I flew out of Mumbai on a Jet Airways day flight. The international airport now shows distinct signs of catching up with international standards and Jet Airways is among the best airlines in the world but no sooner was I airborne over Mumbai than I noticed the miles and miles of slums. They seem to constitute most of the cityís land area and because land in Mumbai is so expensive they should have been demolished long ago. Half of Mumbaiís citizens live in slums and pay exorbitant rents for hovels because Mumbai has failed to build the low and middle income housing that it desperately needs.
So we have a situation in Mumbai, and in nearly all our other metropolitan cities, where shiny new airports and magnificent new metro systems exist in the midst of squalid, unsightly surroundings. Primarily, this is because we have politicians and bureaucrats who have not changed their old ways and their outdated mindset but some of the fault is that of us as citizens. When was the last time you saw educated, urban Indians complain about the filthy conditions of our cities and their crumbling infrastructure? The gentry, activists and TV anchors who made such a drama out of Anna Hazareís fast against corruption in Jantar Mantar never demand better living standards. They behaved as if corruption was Indiaís biggest problem. It is not. Our most serious problem is the inability to build basic 21st century infrastructure without which there is little doubt that our great Bharat Mata will by the middle of this century resemble one, gigantic slum. More than 700 million Indians are expected to be living in urban centres by 2050 and to accommodate them experts calculate that we will need to build 500 more towns and cities. We have not started to build the first of these yet.
It is one of the ironies of India that the only people who in election after election have demanded better infrastructure are the rural poor. With the exception of 1977 (when the Emergency became the issue) I cannot remember an election in which the main issue was not Ďbijli, sadak, panií. Even in 1984 when Indira Gandhiís assassination was supposed to have generated a sympathy vote the real vote was for change. Indiaís voters hoped against hope that a young prime minister would bring with him the change in governance that is the key to all change. The results from the recent assembly elections tell the same story. In Tamil Nadu voters refused to be fooled by the inducements of cash and kind they were offered by Karunanidhi and sons. And, in West Bengal younger voters refused to accept any more the subsistence life style that the communists imposed upon them for nearly four decades. They wanted a better life for themselves and their children so they threw the CPM out.
It is our misfortune that the voice of poor Indians is only heard at election time. If it was stronger and louder all the time India would change more rapidly. It is our misfortune that the loudest voices in India are of educated, middle class Indians who are easily fooled into supporting some red herring like the Lokpal bill when there are much more serious issues to protest about. So in the near future India will continue to look like a broken down, decaying country despite impressive economic growth while little countries like Thailand go from strength to strength. Sorry to end on so depressing a note but from where I am this week the contrasts are depressing.
 

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How to tackle corruption ?

By Pramod Tripathi

In a party-based electoral democracy like ours, there can be no getting away from the central link between corruption and the need to fund political parties. Until this is confronted head-on, any control devised in one part of the system will merely push corruption to some other part of the system. There has to be some process like that which moved the drafting of the Constitution, which looks into this central cause, and devises some way by which to contain if not quite eliminate it.
In the US, political funding is legal and declared by both giver and receiver, but other problems have arisen in its wake. Policy is susceptible to capture by large funders, and has therefore loosened the regulatory apparatus which alone can prevent large corruption. The legal cap on any single contribution can easily be evaded by a concerted lobby, each member of which is below the cap. In a bid to shake free of this, President Obama famously collected substantial campaign funds through small online contributions, and even now, has begun his bid for a second term with an early start to a second online call.
In India too, political contributions are legal, and even carry an income tax deduction under sections 80GGB and 80GGC of the present Act (soon to be replaced by the Direct Tax Code now before Parliament). But the figures in the latest Union Budget documents show the tax foregone as a result of this deduction at a paltry Rs. 42 crore in 2009-10 from corporate bodies, and Rs. 2 crore from small firms. At current statutory rates of taxation, that works out to a total contribution of Rs. 130 crore. The deductions claimed by individuals under section 80GGC were quite a bit larger, at Rs. 170 crore. Applying the top marginal rate of taxation on these, we get a total contribution from individuals of Rs. 500 crore. Adding together corporate bodies, firms and individuals, we get Rs. 630 crore. Over five years, if initial collections are well invested by party treasurers in the interim, that could amount to nearly Rs. 4,000 crore.
How many parliamentary campaigns would that fund? One candidate each in 400 constituencies, maybe? There are 550 parliamentary constituencies, and at least three other major contenders in each race, who would need equivalent funding. Then there are state elections. These in some cases are more serious business in terms of funding required. In the current campaign in Tamil Nadu, small refrigerators have replaced colour TV sets as the electoral inducement of choice.
You see why political parties have to look elsewhere for funding. The Indian diaspora provides some of it. The rest has to be domestically raised through organised corruption. There is also unorganised corruption, where the demand is placed by an unsupported individual, which takes inspiration from the organised variety and runs along the same channels.
As an illustration, some years ago I was travelling by auto-rickshaw in Bangalore, when at a traffic stoplight, a cop came over to my driver and demanded Rs. 100. The driver pleaded poverty. The cop described himself as a kind-hearted man, trying to save the driver the penalty for the traffic offence he had committed, which was Rs. 500. The driver furiously disputed the charge, and the cop eventually let him off.
No move to legalise bribe giving could have headed off the incident. The cop was anonymous. If traced, he could have turned the tables on the auto driver, and accused him of trying to wriggle out of a traffic offence. Even if bribe giving becomes legal, an allegation of obstruction of justice will always carry the day. No witness could have testified against that accusation.
Later, the driver said the only reason he was let off was that this was an individual without the department behind him. He said in cases of organised collection by the police department in response to demands from above, the demander gets to keep none of what he collects, and even gets the sympathy of the bribe giver.
In the old import control days, the banned and restricted lists were a steady source of income for political coffers. Defence deals are another perennial standby. The pattern of collection evolves continually. The only people who have an understanding of the pattern of organised collection as it stands today are the treasurers of the various political parties. They are deeply knowledgeable, and have gained their very important posts as fund-raisers by virtue of the trust the party places in them. As people in stressful jobs, they might extend their cooperation towards devising a more open system of political funding.
But what might such a system be? Maybe a political cess, to add to all the others now in place? But that will surely bring upon us cess fatigue, particularly since we do not know what is happening to all the other cesses we have been paying.
At a recent conference on renewable energy, questions were raised about the cess on coal, which feeds into a Clean Energy Fund. One speaker estimated that the accumulated collections from the cess should have amounted to Rs. 3,332 crore by the end of 2010-11. But the Fund has become a black hole, from which nothing emerges. Renewable energy, which is characterized by the natural regional imbalance in generation capacity, critically needs transmission lines to evacuate the energy generated. It was to fund those transmission lines, along with other facilitative investments towards replacing thermal with renewable energy, that the cess on coal was introduced.
Against this background, yet another cess will not be welcomed at all. And there are huge issues that will go with it, such as how the fund is to be distributed among political parties. But some such mechanism has to be devised if we are serious about tackling corruption in the Indian system. (INAV)
(The writer is retired IPS officer)

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 Fall out of State Assembly elections

By Lalit Sethi

There are wheels within wheels in the five Assembly election results, announced on Friday, May 13. There are bonus points for the Congress and some slippery portent. But having ruled the United Progressive Alliance for seven years or more and being a seasoned player, it will go along the tricky path and cross the bridges when it reaches them, without batting an eyelid and sometimes agree to bat the eyelid, if the situation so requires. Not only has the Congress won Assam and Kerala and entered West Bengal, it has found itself capable of getting rid of the much maligned DMK led by Mr. Karunanidhi and his younger son, Stalin, who was ruling Tamil Nadu as Deputy Chief Minister. He has not even won an Assembly seat.
For starters the Congress gets a foothold in West Bengal as Mamta Bannerjee insists that the Congress must be in the coalition Government. The Congress has been out of the reckoning for 34 long years: the fiery Trinamool Congress leader, who was in the Congress until the other day, says that the reason for the long leftist rule was or has been that leave alone rigging the elections, there were no voting rights because votersí lists had been rigged. The minus point in Bengal is that the Maoists have also got a strong foothold and will be ruthless with the CPI (Marxists). The two sides have no love lost and for each other, their power lies in the barrel of the gun even as the Marxists threaten that they will take to the streets and agitate to try and give Mamta a taste of her own medicine she has administered to them. However, they promise to give her a 90-day honeymoon in office in keeping with their pretensions of adherence to democratic norms. But one thing is certain, the streets of Kolkata and other cities as well as villages will not be calm after the monsoon as venturing out in numbers will not be too good an idea in the searing heat or lashing rains.
Even though there may be reservation of seats for women in Parliament and legislators, their leaders are in the process of capturing power. In West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the new Chief Ministers or just about to be sworn in are Mamta Bannerjee and Ms. Jayalalitha, adding to their numbers with Ms. Mayawati ruling Uttar Pradesh and Mrs. Sheila Dikshit running Delhi. The President of the Republic, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Chairperson of the UPA as well as Congress President are all women in strong position and calling the shots from their vantage points.
Mr. Karunanidhi and his younger son may have been thrown out of office by a wily and mercurial person, who can play games with the Center by offering the UPA unconditional support initially to enable it to get rid of the DMK from the Government, but as time passes she will attach many strings. No free lunches: thatís the name of the game.
But Sonia Gandhiís advisers know how to play hard and not be taken in by false or smooth promises. Ms. Jayalalitha may be looking gracious without make-up and may be all sweetness and honey, but the mask could disappear at a time of her choosing. She would make demands, acceptable and unacceptable as weeks and months go by. Thatís all part of the political woods and the players take it in their stride. For that reason, the DMK may not be forced to quit and withdraw its Ministers from the Center, but the going will become hard for its Ministers as they will not, and cannot, expect to go on with their cavalier ways as they have been doing as A. Raja, who once held the Telecom portfolio knows too well and is cooling his heels in Delhiís Tihar judicial custody.
In Assam, the Congress has romped home comfortably, giving credence to Tarun Gogoiís good governance as Chief Minister. The importance of Assam lies in the fact that the Prime Minister entered the Rajya Sabha from this State. That gives him satisfaction that his party still rules the State and faces no incumbency factor.
The Congress has had a close shave in Kerala where the United Democratic Front it leads has scraped through with a bare majority and Left Front led by V.S.Achhutanandan has been defeated by four seats. The political crisis in the Bengal and Kerala factions of the Marxist Commiunists will be heightened and the party boss, Mr. Prakash Karat, will face new attacks and challenges to his leadership with his party having been thrown out of office in the two key States it has ruled, though in Kerala for only five years as change in the Southern State with every election is a well set pattern.
As it is, the BJP has made no impact in the just concluded Assembly elections in the five States. [NPA]

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