Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lesson from Harbhajan's episode

Amidst all the uproar over Harbhajan’s ban for racial slur and subsequent revocation of the ban, we seem to have missed one point namely Bhajji’s foul mouthing. His own admission before the Appeals Commissioner that he had used abusive language fetched him a fine of 50% match fee. This is not the first time that Harbhajan got himself embroiled in such unseemly episodes. He has a history of volatile temper. While BCCI may be relieved that the player has been acquitted of racism charge, it should keep in mind that he is guilty of getting into verbal assaults with players on the other side.
BCCI had also obliquely arm twisted the ICC that the tour would be off if the player was not acquitted of racist charge. It is agreed that Australians are not lily white and are known for sledging. How is it that none of the other Indian players get involved in such fracas? The entire unfortunate incident that affected the players’ morale and concentration could have been avoided had Harbhajan not gone for giving it back to Symonds. The policy of ‘a tooth for tooth and an eye for eye’ sorts ill with a gentleman’s game. If Harbhajan had felt aggrieved by the remarks of Symonds, he should have reported to his captain for taking up with the umpire. To take law in his own hands had transformed what could have been an accusation against Symonds in needling Harbhajan into one of defense with Symonds turned into a victim.

BCCI should arrange counseling for players with short fuse and implement a system of punishment for bad behavior on the field. There should be guidelines to the players on what should be done if they are harassed or sledged by the players in the opposing team. There should be no recurrence of such episodes bringing disrepute to the team and the country.

Honking menace

Lakshmi’s article on honking highlighted rightly the menace suffered by all in silence amidst the noise of horns. The volume of automobiles has grown phenomenally even as road space has shrunk leading to traffic jams at every turn or signal. We have no immediate solution for this problem. Building over- bridges and subways to overcome the burgeoning traffic adds to the misery even more. To make matters worse the unacceptable social behavior of the motorists goes unregulated. While their impatience at the delays is understandable, their irrational behavior of pressing the horn when the signal changes to green urging the cars before them to move forward quickly takes them nowhere. Blowing the horn in a traffic hold up is just a ridiculous reaction to the frustration of being delayed adding only to the confusion and frayed tempers. It solves nothing. The policemen also can do little amidst the cacophony.
Using horns in emergencies to warn a moving car that is coming closer or an unwary pedestrian on the way of approaching car is understandable and justified. But what do you say of people who come to pick friends making long honks in the early hours of the mornings and late in the nights unmindful of the sleeping neighbours. I have a neighbor who repeatedly presses his shrill horn for someone to open the gate of his house. He would not get down and open the gate himself however long the inmates of his house take to come out. There is another guy who is affectionate to his wife and a nuisance to his neighbours as he blows the horn repeatedly even a furlong away as he returns home to announce his arrival to his wife.
I have tried asking my neighbours in the colony very pleasantly to stop honking within the complex only to be rebuffed with more honking. You cannot approach the police if you wish to live with others in peace and police too brush aside such complaints as unimportant. I live in a colony where there are about sixty cars and not infrequently the horn of one car or the other starts blowing nonstop on its own with the owner not knowing how to stop it promptly. The ear splitting shrill noise at high decibel continues for five minutes or more till it is silenced. Most people are fed up when it happens to someone else’s car. I found that I am not in a minority as many to whom I speak to are also fed up with the noise and honking .
In US honking is considered as shouting or showing your annoyance. Motorists rarely use the horn. But then they have multi lane roads and highways though traffic jams are not infrequent. The automobile users are patient and strictly abide by the rules of the road with a high civic sense. They are spared of the erratic autos (three wheelers) that abound in our roads.
The police should run regular campaigns in every city that honking of cars is not permissible save in emergencies. The motorists should learn to drive without use of horn as in other countries. Driving two wheelers with silencers removed should be punishable. Honking in housing colonies or residential areas is a strictly forbidden thing. The police should have the power to fine errant drivers or tow the vehicles that use horn indiscriminately even without a complaint from other users of the road. No one has the right to invade into the right of other citizens to live in noise-free and peaceful atmosphere.
But honking is not without its use in rare cases as in the case of a friend who lost his dog and went round searching in the neighbourhood sounding the horn for the dog to show up. It was a smart move that paid off immediately. a

Are you popular?

I often wonder why some people are more popular and sought after than others in any gathering. It is not always they are attractive or of a high social standing. They could be plain looking and of ordinary circumstance. But yet have magnetic charm. I remember in my school days how everyone would swarm around Mohan in the play ground. He was an average cricketer but a team man. He was always found in the playing eleven though better players were left out. Teachers preferred him for a class monitor. It was the same when he joined after several years the same workplace that I did. I found his popularity undiminished in the different surroundings too and was the central figure in any official or social event. His likeable nature, I found out, was the natural outcome of several good traits in him that others lacked.
He had a memory for names of all from the boys who served tea to the top officials. Inability to remember names indicated lack of interest in others. He made it a point to catch the name correctly after the first introduction and always addressed friends warmly by their first name.
Mohan was also a comfortable person to get along with and never gave the impression of a know-all. He was a patient listener interjecting only to stimulate the conversation. Never egoistical, he knew his limitations. When he had to leave in the midst of a conversation, he would wait for the appropriate pause and take leave pleasantly. He had the capacity to be witty and interesting in his conversations. He was conversant on all subjects of common interest be they cricket, tennis, politics, music, cinema, fashion and stock market. As a result people liked to be near him and learn something. He was never a fake pretending to know what he did not. He never misled others. He was polite to all and spoke pleasantly and truthfully. He never hurt others with critical comments. He knew that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.
We know some people are not likeable and repel by their abrasive nature, inflated ego or wicked nature. But Mohan practiced liking people even with their warts until they genuinely started liking him and shed their negative traits. I found that he looked for some good points to praise them and avoided looking with critical eyes. When you practice believing in people and show you believe them, in most cases the trust reposed kindled corresponding trust in us.
He had also this canny ability to remember important dates in the life of his close friends and to congratulate them appropriately. He was also the first to rush to the hospital when his friend’s dad or mom or any relative were in need of blood or any physical help. He was ever a helpful and caring mate.
On many occasions when in a group, I have seen someone out of jealousy hurling an insult at him. Mohan would remain unruffled and explained in smiling tone how the other guy was wrong. While he won over the trust of those who accused him, he went up in the estimation of others watching his relaxed way of countering blame.
I have found in any group someone comes along with smelly shirts, unkempt and disheveled hair, dirty shoes and unshaven stubble causing an embarrassment. Mohan though he never sported flashy or costly dress was always clean and neatly dressed. There was nothing slovenly about him. Some of us miss the point that to be presentable is showing respect to others.
In sum one can see none of the qualities are difficult to follow with some effort and training. Sadly we miss to see the virtue in these without realizing life could be far more enchanting if only we talk, act and think in terms of others interest and welfare instead of being self centred.Needless to say, Mohan reached the top of the organization

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan - Do we need civilian awards?

By: K Parthasarathi1/25/2008 5:08:53 PM
By leaving the job of choosing the highly meritorious to the respective fraternities, we would have rendered unto Caesar, things that are Caesar’s with no room for allegations of favouritism.
When I saw that a TV media had started a preposterous debate whether Bharat Ratna award should be conferred on youngsters like Sachin Tendulkar instead of going for the obvious (I do not know what they meant by the obvious- do they say oldies?) a thought came to my mind whether these civilian awards fashioned after the system in UK can be dispensed with once and for all.. Janata government under Morarji Desai had very wisely suspended this during late Seventies for three years. The grant of awards to loyal people was a colonial custom and a relic of the past that we also decided to follow suit. There is the innate urge in us to distinguish ourselves from the common crowd with a visible distinction in the form of a ribbon on our coats or a medallion hung on our necks along with a title. Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award given for highest degree of national service (italics mine) that includes artistic, literary, and scientific achievements, as well as “recognition of public service of the highest order.” Padma Vibhushans, Padma Bhushans and Padma shris are lower in the order. These awards in a few cases smack of arbitrariness and state patronage on chosen people by the government of the day. They have no monetary value except in pleasing the vanity of the individuals and conferring possibly some precedence in protocol during public functions.
Why should the government distribute awards each year? Why cannot this business of recognition be left to the highest bodies in the chosen areas? Many countries in the West have for long ceased giving civilian awards and left the task to the professional bodies. A deserving musician can be honoured with the highest title by an all India musical body and a cinema actor or those associated with films be conferred recognition by all India forum related to that field just as an Oscar award is being given at the international level.. We have our own Sangeet Natak Academy. Literary awards like Booker prize are chosen by a panel of eminent writers, scientific recognition by Nobel Committee and exceptional cricketing skill by Wisden.We have our own national equivalents for these bodies. Why should the State tread into such areas especially when they hardly have the expertise to evaluate the contributions objectively? Can we for a moment accept that literary awards if given by government would be free from bias? In a coalition set up where the government at the centre is wholly dependent for survival on regional satraps, does it have the strength to resist the pressures from them for their nominees? There would be a clamour for region wise quota and possibly based on political colour and loyalty to the ruling clique. By leaving the job of choosing the highly meritorious to the respective fraternities, we would have rendered unto Caesar, things that are Caesar’s with no room for allegations of favouritism.Let the government be content with selection of governors and other political appointments and give a wide berth to other areas. It is time they put an end to this hardy annual ritual that creates more heartburn than satisfaction. This would save the bitter acrimony amongst different groups, academics, industrialists, IT, writers, film personalities, sports personalities, artists, medical profession etc.No government can satisfy the hunger for recognition of the "public service minded’ men and women and the system runs the risk of turning into an unedifying benefaction.
A Sachin Tendulkar may be a great cricketer and a highly visible personality made so by media and sponsors for their own commercial purposes. It is a moot point whether playing cricket for money is a public service. It will be a lamentable disservice to scores of doctors, human rights activists, officials, social service organizations,NGOs and many more such who silently toil giving their invaluable time and money to give better lives to the teeming millions with no expectation of reward or recognition. No TVs will blare for them or media write about them for these personages have no use to increase their TRP or circulation. Likewise a Narayanamurthy or a Ratan Tata or an Ambani is basically a businessman or industrialist who worked for the benefit of his companies. There was no national fervour or public goal in their efforts any more than a shop owner of a kirana store. If their companies had not succeeded, they would have closed their shops and gone to do something else. They have worked for creating the wealth they needed and succeeded just like a Bill Gates or a Ford or a Lakshmi Mittal elsewhere…...udhara nimitham bahu kruta vesham as it can be termed. It is a different matter that a Bill gate is spending a large portion of his wealth for philanthropic causes and may merit special recognition for that purpose. Where is the national service in others running a business except the benefit to the society coming as an incidental off shoot? Let not the government play to the gallery by pandering to the wishes of the canaille by considering for the highest award to a sportsman or a filmy folk or one of such ilk.
Only those who have worked for the welfare of the country in a spirit of sacrifice and service and make the lives of its people better and rich can be considered worthy of any recognition. A Teresa or a Vinobha Bhave gave so much but took very little. There are many like them doing their work silently and effectively unsung and unhonoured.They will never be visible in the radars of the powers that be. They also attach scant regard for name and fame. Even politicians, except those who participated in the freedom struggle sacrificing their careers and families, do not qualify for recognition.Politics these days is a lucrative profession. It may surprise that more than fifty percent of Bharat Ratna awardees are drawn from the political class.Quite a lot of officials too have obtained these awards. Before considering someone for an award, the first litmus test would be how much he/ she has contributed to the society in making the lives of ordinary people even slightly better without enriching themselves in the process. Nothing else matters. Their service should preferably be honorary.
Now each political outfit like BSP, SP, DMK wants the highest honour given to its leader and with their political clout in disturbing the stability of the government,the award runs the risk of becoming a political sop instead of a well considered and highy deserving recognition. The best course would however be doing away with these meaningless civilian awards.
K Parthasarathi

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Do not complicate life

-by KParthasarathi Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Raju was born in an orthodox family in a temple town in the Southern parts of Tamilnadu.During his younger days, his father used to take him along to the temple daily in the early morning. Some days he would like to sleep a little longer but his father would not allow him the luxury and made him get up. Unwillingly he would trudge along. He would see poor people, some with young babies or children, sit in a line on the outer corridors inside the temple. Some of the kids had unusual shapes of head either too small for their body or too big presenting grotesque sight and inviting curious stares and sympathy. He had seen some devotees distributing coins to each one of them though his father always walked past them in a hurry. This habit of visiting the temple unconsciously got ingrained him even when he grew older when his father was no more.
He lived in Delhi with his family occupying fairly a good position in the government. His flat was very close to a temple. As one grew older people tend to become pious and religious. In the case of Raju however it was a case of continuing his old practice. He used to go the temple on most of the days though his son refused to accompany him as Raju did when he was young.
Raju found one old man in his early seventies sitting daily in the almost empty corridor with his eyes closed and mouth muttering something. There was a natural dignity about him even though he was clothed in traditional dhoti and a shawl over is shoulders. He thought he must be an indigent man sitting in the temple to collect alms without specifically asking for it from willing devotees. He used to wonder whether he had any children to support him in his advanced years. He could not talk to him as his eyes were always closed as he went past him.Raju took pity on him and left a ten rupee note before him. He started doing this once or twice a week. One day as he was bending to drop the note, the temple administrator who came behind him tapped on his shoulder and beckoned him to come with him. When they were out of the earshot of the old man, he asked Raju.”Sir, what are you doing by leaving money before him? Do you know who he is? He comes to me frequently and hands over the money telling in amused tone that somebody mistook him for a beggar and left the money. Sir, he is a retired judge staying with his son and comes in the car driven by chauffeur.He comes here daily to pray. I suggest you please talk to him and seek his forgiveness.”
When Raju went near him, his eyes were open. When he prostrated before him in full and sought his pardon for his foolishness he smiled at him and said this can happen as the corridor of the temple is the usual haunt of people in need of charity. He then asked Raju about his job, family etc and took him along with him in his car to his palatial house. After the pleasantries and the coffee, he narrated how he withdrew from the mundane activities and how he spent his time after retirement in reading scriptures, reciting slokas in the calm and serene atmosphere of the temple and attending religious lectures in the evenings.Raju took leave of him after a long conversation a chastened man fully aware that one should not judge people by appearances. There are many who reduce the complexities of life by discarding the needless wants of life.

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. ~Confucius

Monday, January 21, 2008

Be humble in victory

We may gloat over our victory in the test at Perth especially after the boorish behaviour of Australian players at Sydney and the unfair decisions by the umpire costing us a match. Yes, jubilation to some extent is justified but to go head over heels as if we had conquered the insurmountable would mean placing high premium on the Aussies.One way of snubbing them is to take the victory in our stride as if it was a commonplace occurence and not go into raptures.
There will be reams of encomiums in the media on the players and possible riches showered on them from the money rich and knee jerk Board. We should not forget cricket is a game of chance between equals. At one point of time when the tail was wagging vigorously, there was the fear of the game slipping away from Indians. The result could go either way on any day. Too much of gamboling and jumping about in ecstasy betrays a sense of inferiority complex. Humility in victory and composure in defeat are the hallmark of the great. Let us rejoice when the team accomplishes another victory at Adelaide and squares the series. Till then we can reserve our judgment.
We may be tempted to play the same team for the fourth test on sentiment and desire not to disturb the composition. Let us be rational and rest Wasim Jaffer and include Dinesh in his place. Harbhajan instead of Dhoni is an option to be kept in mind. The latter has not distinguished himself so far in a big way. .Aussies will return with determination to win like a wounded tiger.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Kanchana's kindness

Manoharan was a vile man and had all the vices. Commencing as a party worker, he had come up the rungs of the party doing for the party and its leaders things that others would hesitate to do. He was a local leader and money was never in want. He had a palatial bungalow in the heart of the city and lived a life of comfort and luxury. He was more dreaded than respected by the people, the traders and the industrialists in the area.The party needed him as much as he needed it. He had many enemies but had a gang of sidekicks around him always as protection. He had no fear of the law enforcement machinery as it turned a blind eye to his various transgressions of law.
Manoharan had a wife, Kanchana by name and a daughter. The girl was married off even while young and lived comfortably in another state. His wife who was obese and a diabetic had become sick and needed help. A young woman, Lalitha in her early thirties and her son of nine years stayed in the house looking after the kitchen and ministering to the lady’s needs. Her husband had deserted her after falling for the charms of another woman. Life was cruel to a single woman without the support of a man. She had none to help her and led a miserable life in want till she found this job. Kanchana who was a very good person was pleased with the soft spoken Lalitha as she was efficient in her work and timid by nature. She took a liking for the boy and had put him in a nearby school and took care of his needs.Lalitha was happy that her boy no longer underwent the pangs of hunger and was well fed.
Her happiness was however short lived. The lecherous eyes of Manoharan fell on her youthful body and he started pestering her. She resisted his advances and kept herself away from him as much as possible. She did not tell the lady of the house unknowing how she would react and afraid that she may throw her and her son out of the house. Unrelenting in his efforts to get her, Manoharan cornered her one noon when Lalitha was changing the sheets in his bedroom in the first floor. Kanchana was in the ground floor chatting with the boy who had not gone to school that day. Emboldened with none around to come to her rescue he grabbed the shocked woman from behind and pushed her towards the bed. He put his hands on her mouth and her shrieks were muffled.Manoharan being strong and muscular had no difficulty in over powering her despite her fight to free herself from his clutches. When he let go his hand from her mouth when violating her modesty she screamed and wailed. Unmindful he satiated his carnal lust on the hapless woman. The boy who heard the distant screams rushed to find the landlord on his mom. The boy saw a gun on the chest of drawers and took it in his hands. He shouted “Leave her alone. I warn you.” When the man turned in disbelief and saw the boy with the gun pointed at him he shouted back “You fool. Drop it or I will kill you.’ The boy saw his mother in tears with her clothes torn and ripped apart. He could not contain his swelling rage and pulled the trigger twice at the approaching figure.Manoharan fell down when the two bullets pierced thro his heart.
The lady came up panting and breathing hard. She sized up the situation immediately and asked the sobbing Lalitha and her son to go to kitchen after changing her dress and not utter one word about it to any one. When they left, she took the gun, wiped it clean of all prints with her sari and left the gun on the floor. She waited for a few minutes and then came running to the portico screaming and shouting. The party men who were near the gate dashed in. Soon the police also came rushing with their sniffer dogs. The dogs ran hither and thither within the house and could not give any leads.Kanchana told the police that she knew her husband was getting frequent threats though he would not tell her from whom. He had many enemies both within the political party and those that opposed it. He had also ruined the lives of many innocent families through his extortions, out of court settlements and criminal assaults on womenfolk. She felt it must have been a vengeful act of some victim.
There was a silent jubilation at the people’s level. The police also surmised the killing must be due to political rivalry and in the absence of any clue felt the assailant could have made good his escape in the melee when all party men rushed into the house after the murder. Needless to tell that Lalitha and the boy served the lady for years sincerely and gratefully with Lalitha taking care of her as a daughter would do to a mother.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gujarat election proved that Corruption-free governance pays

By: K Parthasarathi1/18/2008 9:01:44 AM

The thumping victory of Narendra Modi against the very strong campaign mounted by Congress in particular and UPA in general set me thinking whether the voters were influenced largely by the integrity and honesty of the Chief Minister and the consequent good governance with the benefits flowing to the people unhindered. Judged by the results they have obviously relegated the shrill cries of religion based issues to the back ground. The people know that a clean administration without corruption would automatically ensure that a larger percentage of government spending would reach the ultimate destination and result in greater benefits to ordinary people. This is what has happened in Gujarat. This singular and good feature of Modi’s government got drowned amidst the noise over "merchants of death’. Honesty in administration is a rare virtue found these days only in very few politicians in the country. Narendra Modi is like an oasis in the vast desert of venality and nepotism. It was heartening to learn that he kept at bay even the few from his own party and the sister organizations who possibly wanted to make easy money.

In most places the leaders are found to be less than honest leading to the prevalence of this malady among the politicians and officials at all levels. The pity is that this menace has spread to all sections of the society and is not limited to the government departments alone. Rajiv Gandhi was aware of this when he said only seventeen paisa in a rupee reached the final destination with the balance siphoned off midway but he could do little to wipe out this curse. There have been a few impeccable PMs and CM of high rectitude in the past including the current Prime Minister on whom no personal allegations of corrupt practices can be laid. Yet sadly all of them tolerated corruption around them not for the reason such flaws are acceptable to them but due to political compulsions. As a result they have done very little to stem the rot. Once the leaders below and the officials know that the men at the helm turn a blind eye to this vice, things start worsening. Over a period of time nothing gets done unless money changes hands in every aspect of life that affects the common man. The costs rise, the work is shoddy and repetitive, the people are unhappy and troubled and the government loses credibility.

In America there is no greasing of some one’s palms for getting ordinary day to day things done. Police, government and county officials, educational institutions are all free from this malaise. There can be poor service but there is no expectation of any illegal gratification. There can be some cases of dishonesty at very high political levels but the people and the media are very alert and vigilant. The erring politicians however big they may be when caught get punished mercilessly and quickly by the courts. There also political parties thrive on campaign donations by corporate houses but there is no harassment of ordinary individuals to part with their hard earned money at every turn for personal or political purposes. Corruption in India has been sort of institutionalized providing a fertile ground for criminal elements, mafia groups, politicians from lowest level, bureaucracy from top to bottom, to join in this combined loot. It has assumed serious proportions in some states where the men at the helm themselves are dishonest. Little wonder India ranks very high in the list of corrupt countries as per the survey of Transparency International India. We may be praised as a knowledge power and for our growing economy but are considered a highly corrupt nation and rank low in esteem.

Despite the gloomy picture there are pockets like Gujarat and a couple of other states where the Chief Ministers are men of probity and uprightness providing clean and good governance. Nitish Kumar’s name comes up in the mind in this great effort to provide a clean government in a state that was notorious for bribery and favouritism. Navin Patnaik is another name in this category endeavouring to give clean administration. One can be sure that like Modi, they would have earned the gratitude of the common man in the state, making it easy to get their support at the time of elections. The voters in these states I am sure will not fall a prey to the alluring promises of opponents or irrelevant accusations .Anti-incumbency would not be a factor for the CMs to worry about. Modi’s convincing victory against all odds and the stiff opposition from the major partner of UPA is a clear proof that people vote for good governance that gives no quarter for corruption. The good that the government does to the poor and weaker sections of the society is the only litmus test used for evaluating the rulers.

Elections have become a very expensive affair. Only very rich men can stand for election even at the municipal level, let alone, an assembly or Parliament. Political parties are compelled to seek contributions giving room for a quid pro quo.Political donations are all not properly accounted with lot of swindling at all levels. This is the nidus of all the evils like corruption and nepotism. Government bearing the cost of election expenses with a strict control on political party or third party spending is bound to reduce the need for corruption for political purposes. This is not getting the attention that is due to it as political parties are not keen about such a measure. The RTI Act, a very good tool, is not implemented with sincerity by the government officials. The cost of preferring appeal for information under RTI Act should be low. Keeping it high is a barrier in its proper implementation. If this measure is implemented and enforced strictly with the pain of heavy penalty on the errant officials, corrupt practices would come down.

Gujarat elections have for the first time proved that honesty and sincerity in governance pays rich dividends and is an antidote to anti-incumbency factor. It is hoped that this would spur all the political parties to choose good men of character for legislature though it would be difficult at one go. Never the less the effort should be there to move in that direction. There is also a lesson for all CMs and ministers that corrupt free administration adds worth to their names ensuring their return after every election.

K Parthasarathi

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

GDP Growth – No index to prosperity for all

By: K Parthasarathi1/14/2008 11:34:47 AM

It was with some dismay that I read about the contemplated move by the Finance Minister to reduce the rates of direct taxes in respect of individuals and corporate sector. Perhaps such a generous thought came from the increased collection of taxes which only reflects better compliance and less leakage. There is however no case for rewarding the tax payers as FM is envisaging. It is not that there is a surfeit of revenues with the government that it can indulge in such munificence. The country needs mammoth resources for the daunting task in basic and much neglected areas for uplifting the poor in rural and urban areas. The money allocated towards primary and vocational education, health in the form of primary health centres and free hospitals for the poor, small industries in rural areas to provide employment to the unemployed men and women, availability of potable water without the poor having to walk miles and infrastructure like roads and electricity is totally disproportionate to the needs. Much has been written on this that there is no need for dilation. Oil bill has increased way beyond the capabilities of oil companies. The government is fighting shy of raising the prices on political considerations. User charges are not recovered fully in many areas and government cannot continue to subsidize the rich and affluent. This is nothing but robbing the poor of the resources they need. The government should introspect whether adequate funds are allocated to pressing sectors in the rural areas and spent for the benefit of the poor before thinking of a tax holiday for tax payers or subsidizing the rich.

It was not long ago the PM while unveiling his ten point charter in his talk at CII made the suggestion to rein in voluntarily the skyrocketing CEOs pay packages especially in the context of wide disparity between the haves and have nots. Is reduction of taxes in keeping with this plea? In a land where millions are still wallowing in utter poverty it will be only sick minds that would revel in such outlandish and astronomic pay packages. The growing inequality between the rich and the lack of resources to fund the pressing poverty amelioration measures is a stark reality that PM could hardly afford to ignore. It is in this context that Dr Man Mohan Singh raised this issue of inclusive growth without fear of injuring the felicity of tycoons of Industry. Though there was no hint of government regulating the salaries, he was pleading for self imposed restraint consistent with the ground realities of large number in the throes of poverty and the social atmosphere in which the industry and business operated. It is not a question of the rights of wealth creators to a larger share of the pie. Rather it will not be in their interests to continue as tiny islands of opulence in the midst of vast sea of want, neglect and abject misery. If FM is really thinking of a reduction in rates of taxes, it goes counter to the philosophy of PM.

In an article by Andrew Hunt, he has mentioned how the wealth of the world is distributed with 90% in the hands of North America, Europe and high income Asia-Pacific countries with the rest of the world having to contend with the balance 10% only. The author has added the misdistribution of wealth can create conditions that give rise to violence and upheaval, and when this happens we will feel the ripples…. What better time than the present to begin discussing this matter and giving it the weight it deserves. Just as is happening with countries of the world a similar situation is prevailing among individuals within the countries too. As was reported in a daily the combined worth of 36 Indian billionaires is around $ 191 billion forming 25 per cent of the countrys GDP. The author has warned in a different context that like global warming “the widening gap between the rich and poor has potentially destructive consequences for the future, and the threat will continue to loom until the world community confronts it directly. According to Mahatma Gandhi Poverty is but the worst form of violence. Let us not rub salt on the injuries of the poor by flaunting the riches and widening the inequality. This is exactly what our PM tried to convey at the business forum. FM should be aware of this.

The distinctive feature of the liberalization ushered in the country is the creation of wealth concurrently along with growing inequality. This is an inevitable outcome where the stress is solely on growth of industry, service and IT sectors to the gross neglect of agricultural sector. Even a cursory look at the investments made by the corporate world both domestic and foreign would reveal that they are only in selective sectors where the beneficiaries are not the poorer sections. The motive of the corporate class is to maximize profit and create wealth for the shareholders. Any social content is at best an incidental byproduct. Man Mohan Singh may bewail about crony capitalism even when his own government is responsible for altering the direction in favour of right wing politics, corporate power, weakening of the labour unions and consumerism. Investments are only in areas of high returns and the quick payback period. Rural upliftment, long gestation projects of infrastructure and agriculture are in back burner. Concern for the poor is not in the scheme of things be it in the displacement of the vast number of poor farmers from their ancestral lands to make way for the industry or in the selection of areas for investment by government. There is no gainsaying the fact that the policies are influenced by the business class. They believe that IT and industrial revolution is the route to make the country join the club developed countries. There is an undue obsession about GDP growth. The development today is skewed and not broad based.

The vital sectors of economy like oil, gas, communication are cornered in the hands of a few corporate houses. These houses are spreading their tentacles to grab other important areas like retail, airports, power and such like. The danger of a monopolistic or oligopolistic situation should be avoided at any cost. The dangers of this trend have not been realized fully. The emphasis should be to make the investment broad based with a large number of players both indigenous and foreign taking part in the development process in all sectors. We should not allow a situation where the country is at the mercy of a few business houses in the near future as this is more pernicious than foreign oppression. The concentration of wealth in a very few hands would sound the death knell of democracy. While we are for laissez faire, we should consciously endeavour to broad base the wealth in the country. Even at the global level equality as a concept is at a discount with developed countries thriving to retain the barriers while wanting the poor countries to throw open their markets. It is an unequal world where ethical values do not come into play. We should not permit such behaviour within our country if we are determined to lift the poor out of poverty. The GDP growth, however much the economists talk about it, is no index of prosperity for all. With the poor continuing to suffer in poverty, we cannot buy the argument that large creation of wealth would uplift the masses as a spin off. A guided liberalization is the only recourse to prevent the exploitative and anti poor nature that we witness today. As of now only the rich and the educated classes benefit leaving out the vast poor totally in the cold. Such a twisted development provides a fertile ground for the violent elements to recruit its army in different parts of the country. The aim should be to tailor the reforms to suit our ethos towards a wider dispersal of wealth in larger number of hands than in concentration in the hands of a few business houses as is obtaining presently.

K Parthasarathi Feedback to author

Monday, January 14, 2008

A tryst with Tampa uncle

Narmada , a young thing in her early twenties was working in a renowned software company after her engineering degree. A versatile woman she had varied interests. She wrote good poems that were regularly published in magazines, adept in playing violin though she learnt it to please her mother and could sing Hindi film songs like a professional in her sweet voice. She had a blog of her own where she posted her poems and thoughts regularly. An extrovert she was friendly by nature and had many friends. Her mom was pressing her to get married but she was not keen about it. She desired to go to US for a couple of years. But her father had retired from service with a meager pension and she had a younger sister in college. Narmada’s earnings were a great support to the family.
One day she saw a comment from someone under name Bard posted in her blog picking flaws in her poem. Narmada felt the comment was a bit harsh and unfair. She wrote back contesting the comments made and wished the critic were gentle in his words. This started a regular exchange of mails initially that yielded to online chat regularly. While Narmada’s profile was known to him from her blog, she had no inkling about him except that he was also in the computer line based in Tampa, US and perhaps elderly as he wanted her to address him as Tampa uncle. But she found his mails and chats very interesting, jovial and educative too. Being loquacious by nature, she gradually was drawn into discussing her likes and dislikes and even her personal problems in office and home. She had told him that she preferred to listen to Sonu Nigam and Shan than play violin, eat Italian pastas and Mexican food instead of the drab South Indian fare and liked to watch Rani Mukerji and Vidya Balan along with Hritik Roshan and the inimitable SRK. Tampa uncle seemed a perfect gentleman, vibing well with her youthful tastes and giving proper advice when sought for without seeming to be inquisitive. He gently advised her to learn cooking an art she had been neglecting. She grew to like him much for his gentle disposition and had even sent her resume to him. When they advertised for suitable groom and spread word amongst relatives and friends for a prospective match, she could do little to stop them. She wrote about her plight to Tampa uncle complaining how unrelenting her parents were. To her dismay he advised her to go along with her parents as they knew what is good for her.
In a couple of months they found a highly qualified professional from US through some friend. The young man was based in New York and was expected the next month. When Narmada informed Tampa uncle him about the developments, he was happy for her. He told her that he would also be visiting India soon and hoped to be present for the wedding. Narmada was elated at the prospect of meeting her good friend and mentor.
On the appointed day the young man Vasudevan came along with his parents to Narmada’s place for meeting her. He looked tall, handsome and a bit dusky with curly hair. Narmada too was an ideal match for him. Needless to say, it was a case of love at first sight. After the pleasantries, they went to a separate room to talk and know each other better.Vasudevan broke the silence telling her that he had no questions to ask her and that he liked her very much. He asked Narmada to seek the answers for the questions bothering her. She smiled coyly and said she too had nothing to ask him.Vasudevan smiled at her and said he had one stipulation to make before proceeding further bringing jitters to Narmada. Being qualified he wanted her to work in US as additional income would be welcome. He paused for some time before adding that she must remit fifty percent of her earnings to her parents each month. She was flabbergasted for a few minutes rendering her speechless and wondering how he read her mind. She involuntarily folded her hands doing a namaste and bending to touch his feet. He lifted her and said he was fond of a typical Tamilian food though he liked very much pastas and had a weakness for Mexican enchiladas and cheese quesadillas .When a thrilled Narmada asked him about carnatic music, he confessed his partiality towards Hindi songs by Sonu Nigam and Chitras songs in Tamil. A doubt crossed her mind and asked him whether he knew any elderly gentleman in Tampa.Vasudevan could not contain his mischievous smile and asked her “Are you talking of Tampa uncle and his girl friend in Chennai?” She now knew the whole game and started hitting him fondly with both hands on his chest amidst shrieks of joy. The perplexed parents rushed in to see the blushing young couple holding their hands in laughter.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

India needs a vast army of human rights activists

By: K Parthasarathi1/5/2008 6:42:36 PM
.(Author is a Chennai based freelance writer.)
The extent of various human right violations across the entire country is mind boggling. There is a need for every individual to become an active HRA.
Being a human rights activist (HRA) may appear to be a trendy thing these days. Everyone naturally wants to be seen as concerned about the violations of human rights anywhere and everywhere. Some of these activists occupy the centre page of the dailies and gobble prime time in the visual media. Not a day passes without our witnessing persons like an Arundati Roy or a Medha Patkar or a Shabana Azmi or Sunita Narayan raising issues passionately and championing unpopular causes. But none of them are doing this for fame or name. They could have led a life of comfort and luxury but have chosen to toil for the suppressed lots braving often uneasy and hostile conditions. Such human rights defenders form the backbone of what we wish to be a fair and humane society. They ceaselessly work to ensure that the fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution are not taken away illegally from the people. Their antenna is tuned to pick up the signals of wrong doing anywhere in the country. But they are generally looked upon with much disfavour by the governments and put to inconvenience or considerable harassment wherever the issues championed are not to the liking of powers that be. Provisions of various laws would be used to prevent lawful demonstrations and assemblage as was done in Narmada and Singur agitations. It is a risky job where the activists may also have to face lathi charge, arrests and detention by the police on charges of disturbing the peace.
Nevertheless HRA is a highly respectable occupation that should attract large number of people. It calls for no special skills except a compassionate heart, communication skills, disposable time, an eye for things happening around and a brave heart. The media will automatically gravitate towards the activist if the issue raised has strong mass appeal. If you are a booker prize winner or an ex- model or a retired film actor or a scientist, the fame no doubt comes in handy as you will get instant supporters and a willing media. These are not essential qualifications though. What is needed is your instant anger at injustice and an innate desire to set right the wrongs wherever you see them by voicing your protest courageously.
Luckily for the HRAs no less than UN had adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. This lends to their work certain legitimacy. Human rights transgressions seem to be the monopoly of developing countries as the microscope is usually turned towards them and poorer they are more the gaze. There are innumerable issues enumerated in the declaration that there will be no dearth of issues if only one cares to look around. Every country has its majorities and minorities on religious, social and economic parameters. There can be suppression of minorities by majority and vice versa too. The activists can take up the many challenges that confront the affected people in the light of the social, economic and political changes taking place consequent upon liberalization.
Poverty issues are legion. Singur or Narmada or Nandigram issues stem mainly from the bleak future of the dispossessed poor. Individuals do not get the attention except during elections. It is thro the institutions like NGOs and the vocal activists the issues get highlighted. But for the hue and cry of many activists and the fast unto death by Mamta, the government would not have listened to their woes. May be some ameliorative measures would be taken but one has to remain watchful of the outcome. Governments are generally insensitive to the sufferings of the poor. Poverty with all its components like hunger, illiteracy, lack of roof over head and health facilities and gender discrimination is a major human rights issue. In India majority of the people are poor and 30% live on less than a dollar a day. Given the huge natural resources and our own self professed garibi hatao government supported supposedly by the pro poor left there should be no excuse for such vast number to be poor. Poverty undermines peoples’ dignity and deprives them of access to justice, health, and education, to name but a few. These are the areas that should engage the minds of HRAs.The poor have neither clout nor the lobby to plead their cases.
Another important sphere relates to children ranging from child labour, child marriage and to the killings of young things for sexual gratification. Thanks to the noise and shrill protests the government was compelled to pass the child labour act. Domestic violence against women is another aberration that has been legislated upon. It is another matter the objectionable practices may continue unabated despite the Acts with the connivance of the officials. The willingness to enforce the provisions of the Acts should be closely monitored by the human right defenders. Otherwise instead of a Nitihari, the scene will shift to some other village till the bones there are exhumed. Soft drink companies may promise to be careful about the presence of pesticides while our leading icons will continue to promote the product. Kidneys would continue to be sold, the poor donors cheated and the few cases that have hit the headlines would be silenced by compensations. The issues are permanent. Imagine for a moment our country without the HRAs and their constant vigil. They are the sentinels on the alert. The governments are so impersonal and the rulers at most levels have vested interests. The whole system is based on venality and corruption. But for the alert media, vigilant HRAs and an active judiciary at higher levels, there will be no hope or succour for the depressed and deprived lots.
The violators of human rights are not some aliens but come from our own society. They can be your friend or a relation but cruelly exploiting a young domestic help for long hours on minimum food. It can be your baker who supplies your bread but who extracts back breaking work from eight year olds from dawn to midnight. It can be your dhobi who washes your linen but beats his wife for his drink demanding her day’s wages. It can be your rich and suave neighbour who lures young innocents for his carnal cravings. The otherwise good and amiable people of villages may deny potable water from common well or use of passage ways to the castes they consider inferior. The helpful law enforcer may torture and perhaps kill the suspected accused by what he considers his sincere effort to ferret out the truth. The jail inmates may be denied by the indifferent jailor the minimum dignity due to a human and put to unbelievable hardships. The discarded inmates of mental asylums would be leading miserable lives mostly with chains with none to question the authorities.
The extent of various human right violations across the entire country is mind boggling. There is a need for every individual to become an active HRA.They can join a NGO of their choice. Better for their credibility if these NGOs can awork without financial assistance from abroad. It is a national duty for all of us to return back to the society a part of what we have taken from it. If only thousands of people in every town and panchayats join in this movement, India would be gloriously different. The cumulative voice of the activists would propel the government into action and put the violators on the correct path. There is a perception that activists jump into the fray only after the atrocities have taken place. This is not wholly true. They do their work silently and effectively by educating the poor and more particularly the women of their rights. May be their work is not much visible and extensive for lack of willing volunteers. The governments on their part must provide adequate space for HRAs to operate peacefully and ensure their protection.NHRC has a crucial role to play in protecting the rights of HRAs to highlight peacefully transgressions without hindrance as otherwise there would be none to stand for the poor, depressed and trampled lot.
K Parthasarathi

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Proliferation of cars, rising oil prices and choking Indian roads

By: K Parthasarathi12/28/2007 8:32:27 AM

Views expressed here are author"s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.(Author is a Chennai based freelance writer.)

As one belonging to lower middle class I was elated when I initially read about Tata’s endeavor to bring out cars at lakh.On a careful retrospection, I am not sure whether it is really a blessing or a deep trouble to the nation. If Tatas succeed, others would not be far behind in rolling out similar models. The automobile industry is growing in India by leaps and bounds and is expected to grow fourfold. Market is awash with innumerable varieties of cars of higher horsepower that are readily available for spot delivery with easy finance from banks. The proliferation of these oil-guzzling cars is much more than what our roads can take in every city. With the expected Tatas cheaper cars at one lakh rupees soon on the roads, the chaos on the roads would be total. Cars will then replace scooters. The leading automobile manufacturers are making a bee line towards India considering its growing market, cheap labour, reduction in excise duty and also to make it their export hub. There is also saturation in developed countries.
Burgeoning automobile production: According to Automotive Components Manufacturers Association, the export of vehicles and auto components is envisaged to make a ten fold increase in a decade. Auto companies are setting up bases for outsourcing components and for exports from India keeping in mind the advantage in labour costs.Maruti is also into a major investment. The automobile industry has seen a growth of slightly over 16% in 2005-06 compared to the earlier year. Hyundai alone sold about 125000 cars in domestic market and exported 75000 cars. While we are happy that India has been chosen for the investment by the major auto manufacturers there is a doubt whether this is a boon or misplaced exuberance.
Rising price of oil: Petroleum consumption in our country has been increasing at a very steep rate from 84 MMT in 1997-98 to175 MMT in 2006-07. With our domestic production meeting hardly 50% of our requirement we are highly dependent on imports particularly for kerosene, Diesel and LPG. It is very necessary to conserve petroleum by judicious use. Alternative sources of energy for driving the automobiles will have to be found. We have not made big strides in Eco-friendly natural gas where transportation is a major hurdle and huge investment would be needed. The availability of natural gas itself in sufficient quantity to meet our growing demand is a question mark.
Likely impact on growth rate: The volatility in crude oil prices gives jitters to oil importing developing countries. High prices that have already crossed $90 per barrel will adversely impact on the growth of economy. The hunger for oil is growing faster than the new finds of oil wells or expansion of existing capacity. With the economies of developing countries growing fast there is an increased purchasing power in the hands of their people triggering the demand for oil. With a limited supply against this burgeoning demand the rise in prices of crude will not abate. The possibility of prices hitting $100 per barrel in a short time and going beyond cannot be precluded. The import bill of crude accounts forms sizable chunk of our revenue expenditure. We are not also able to recover the full cost from the users and oil is highly subsidized for certain sections. The oil companies will break down under the burden or the government will have to carry the load. Our growth will be seriously hampered in the event of the price escalating further or even remaining at the present level.
The mindless proliferation of cars adding to the cost of oil imports is a burning issue. One is not sure whether we have made arrangements concurrently for finding new domestic sources for oil and alternative fuels. With oil production already in the peaking stages, there is a view that it may be economically unviable to tap oil even if available. It is time we put a curb at least temporarily on the glut of cars for domestic consumption. While the production purely for exports is welcome, there is a need to discourage sale of cars in the domestic market beyond a limit by suitable tax measures based on the size and fuel efficiency of cars
Very limited road space: The one major problem that is not being addressed is the roads. Our major cities are choking from the mass of vehicles on the poorly maintained and inadequate roads. Rapid transit systems have not made much headway except in small measure in Kolkata and recently in Delhi. Even in these places they do not connect all places. The intra urban public transportation system of commensurate proportions is virtually absent with chaos a daily feature and total halt when it rains. Metros as in Delhi may not be the solution everywhere. The metro at Delhi is patronized by about 5 lakh passengers as against 15 lakhs envisaged. Given the present road space, our cities cannot afford to cater for this volume of private cars. The development of road infrastructure both intra and inter cities except for the golden quadrilateral is halting and slow constrained by lack of resources. This does not enjoy a high priority in the present scheme of things.
Develop public transport systems: There is a need to discourage use of personalized modes of private transport and to encourage use of public transport system. This requires both an increase in quantity as well as quality of public transport with dedicated lanes to meet the demand. Slow moving traffic should be kept off the main lanes. There is not much done in this direction. To discourage the use of personalized modes of transport, stiff congestion fee, parking fee, fuel taxes, and other measures should be introduced. Railways may have to augment its freight carrying capacity to cater to the transport of even wagon loads instead of insisting on rake loads.
Insist on high fuel efficiency: Growing traffic and limited road space have reduced peak-hour speeds to low levels in the business and central areas of many major cities. This also leads to higher levels of vehicular emission. Only cars with cleaner technology and stipulated fuel efficiency should be permitted to be sold. The motor vehicle tax should increase with the age of vehicle and vehicles beyond certain years should be banned on the roads. Production of private cars that use diesel should not be permitted. The growth in automobile and road sectors should go hand in hand to avoid chaotic and skewed development as at present.
Lack of parking space: It is not merely the high import bill, shrinking availability of fuel or the pollution the vehicles cause that give the worry but the scarce vacant space available for parking cars in urban areas. Most of the households in the middle and upper classes now have more than one car and many are parked on the roads encroaching upon the limited space available for pedestrians and the movement of vehicles. It would be imprudent to put 4 lakhs more cars annually on the roads (leaving aside the two wheelers and trucks) when the roads are not even 7% of area of cities. Imagine the chaos when cheap cars replace the two wheelers. One adverse offshoot is the gradual erosion of farmlands adjacent to the cities.
It is in this context we must view the impact of cheaper cars that Tata’s are planning to bring out. It is too late to stop it. But a holistic policy should be evolved in association with Ministries of Industry, Urban Transport, Railways, Petroleum and Finance. The states are also to be involved. We cannot plead for reduction of consumption of oil while permitting concurrently massive production of petroleum based vehicles. It is time the government addresses the problem of unrestricted increase in automobile production in the context of the high cost of oil imports and the scarcity of domestic energy and the totally inadequate road infrastructure in the cities. The other measures of major investment on roads, rapid transport systems, use of water ways should also get high priority.K Parthasarathi Feedback to author