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Calcutta Diary

October 23, 1982 Calcutta Diary A M THE story, nothing new, is one of parched land and drying stalks all over. The rains, which played truant in the early weeks, had come, a reluctant visitor, but left all too suddenly and much too early. For much of the eastern states, this deficiency in rainfall is a repetition, on a much larger scale, of what happened last year. And, for the overwhelming mass of the rural poor, it is too much to expect a staying power which could spill beyond one year on to the next In village after village, taluka after Muka, in district after desolate district, in Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal, the spectre is of a prolonged foodlessness. Nature being what it is, in a country of our dimensions, droughts will co-exist with floods. Droughts and floods both cause immense hardship, including loss of lives. In the case of floods, the accompanying destruction encompasses the flimsy dwellings of the poor, which, more often than not, are in the low-lying areas. But, at least following the floods, you have the promise of a delayed crop and sometimes, even the promise of a higher yield per acre, because of the richness of the siltations left in the soil by the receding flood water. Droughts, in contrast, have no mitigating story to tell. The land burns up, the bodies shrivel, the vultures fly, the survival of humans and beasts are rendered into a chancy affair altogether dependent on trie doles which government agencies might distribute. For this nation's majority, the reservoir of sustenance is defined by a precariously low threshold. They begin by selling off the wife's trinkets, if she has any, and end by selling off, one by one, the meagre household wares. In terms of marketed value, both represent laughable magnitudes. This, to repeat, is the eternal story of the Indian countryside. The three and a half decades since Independence has not, at least among these parts, meant much of a difference to either the contours or the specific details of the story. And one of those conundrums of official policy has further ensured that these parts will remain peculiarly vulnerable to droughts. The lower Gangetic plains, which also happen to be at least partial beneficiaries of the siltations deposited by the tributaries of Brahmaputra as they bulldoze their way to the Bay of Bengal, were among the most fertile tracts in the country. Soil conditions apart, the fertility was attributable to the plentitude of natural rainfall too. The tract was full of the promise of rich harvests; it in no time was burdened with a relatively large population, on account of both lush human fertility and heavy immigration. The fertility of the soil was itself then the factor which set trie land-man ratio in, these parts at sharp variance to what was happening elsewhere in the country. A particular aspect of official policy-making has worsened matters. On the face of it, you would consider the policy unexceptionable, Since these parts were blessed by natural rainfall, the official decision was against supplementary provisions for irrigation water. Irrigation works were therefore under-emphasised. Even when you throw in village ponds and makeshift arrangements for watering channels, and account is also taken of the post-Independence flurry of multipurpose irrigation-cum-power projects, barely 15 per cent of the total arable area in the eastern states is under formal irrigation. True, this is not a unique situation, several areas in the south fare no better, but contrast the situation with what obtains in the north-west: the proportion of total arable land under irrigation is as high as 95 per cent in, say, some of the districts in Punjab. In a sense' it is a perfectly sensible arrangement; areas which are deficient in natural rainfall ought to get additional facilities of irrigation; so it was altogether legitimate for government to do what it did.

Calcutta Diary

A M STATISTICS is putty clay, you can mould it to suit whatever purpose is in mind. Bur some facts can be so glaring that they leave scope for few alternative formulations. The deficit in the nation's balance of trade during the first two months of the current fiscal year has been double of what it was in the corresponding period last year. At this rate, the overall gap in the trade balance, for the fiscal year as a whole, could even approach Rs 10,000 crore, roughly 10 per cent of our national income. If other developments do not intervene, our entire foreign exchange reserve could thus be wiped out in the course of the year. Even if full account is taken of the sustenance flowing from instalments of the International Monetary Fund's EFF loan, the substance of" the peril will remain unaltered.

Calcutta Diary

A M STATISTICS is putty clay, you can mould it to suit whatever purpose is in mind. Bur some facts can be so glaring that they leave scope for few alternative formulations. The deficit in the nation's balance of trade during the first two months of the current fiscal year has been double of what it was in the corresponding period last year. At this rate, the overall gap in the trade balance, for the fiscal year as a whole, could even approach Rs 10,000 crore, roughly 10 per cent of our national income. If other developments do not intervene, our entire foreign exchange reserve could thus be wiped out in the course of the year. Even if full account is taken of the sustenance flowing from instalments of the International Monetary Fund's EFF loan, the substance of" the peril will remain unaltered.

Calcutta Diary

September 25, 1982 Calcutta Diary AT least New York City has no problem with measurement. It has a way of measuring the relative popularity of visiting dignitaries. As the dignitary proceeds along the Avenue of the Americas in what has come to be known as the 'ticker-tape' drive, paper streamers

Calcutta Diary

September 18, 1982 Calcutta Diary A M CYNICS win out over others amid the outcrop of flora and fauna in this neighbourhood, which is why musings such as what follow one can hear ailed all the while: this wretched dty, this hell hole, Calcutta, comes alive only when a death takes place; it is only death which invests it with a proper ambience; so it waits, with unbated breath, for the next chance occurrence of a death; death adds lustre to ths city's left-over dignity.

Calcutta Diary

Calcutta Diary A M THE pattern is slowly emerging: the north-eastern states, Assam, Punjab, Haryana, and now Bombay. The State of Maharashtra still exists, the relevant Articles of the Constitution have not yet been dispensed with, the state government has not been despatched home under Article 357, nor has there been any invocation of the statute rammed through a couple of years ago to declare a particular region or state to be in a disturbed condition for which special dispensations could apply. So what; in the city of Bombay the army moved in, the Union Home Secretary flew in, and the entire paraphernalia of the administration was, to all accounts, taken over by the government in New Delhi. No clear evidence has emerged till now that at any point on August 17 or 18 the government of Maharashtra made a formal request to the Centre for the deployment of the army personnel or for the loan of para-military troops. But whoever bothered about such niceties of law or form any longer during Indira Gandhi's second reign?

Calcutta Diary

August 28, 1982 THE Union Finance Minister is certainly right for a change: the IMF loan cannot be held responsible for all the price increases that have taken place in recent weeks. Take, for instance, the price of sugar, which has jumped at least by 20 per cent since April in most centres. The Fund 'conditionalities' have little to do with this outrageous development; it is mostly the consequence "of the 'Union government's concordat with the sugar merchants.

Calcutta Diary

August 21, 1982 Calcutta Diary A M THE men of the media missed the significance of it: Indira Gandhi ended her address to the Indian community assembled in the Kennedy Centre in Washington, DC, not just with a drab 'Jai Hind'. The 'Jai Hind' bit was. of course there, but it was hyphenated

Calcutta Diary

August 14, 1982 Calcutta Diary A M GOING by the Gregorian calendar, a year consists of three hundred and sixty-five days, barring the leap year

Calcutta Diary

A M PLEASE do take a look at our Constitution. Clause( 3) of Article 246 reads as follows: "... the Legislature of any state has exclusive power to make laws for such State or any part thereof with respect to any of the matters enumerated in List II in. the Seventh Schedule (in "this Constitution referred to as the 'State List')". Now kindly check Entry 18 in List II of the Seventh Schedule: "Land, that is to say, rights in or over land, land tenures including the relation of landlord and tenant, and the collection of rents; transfer and alienation of agricultural land: land improvement and agricultural loans; colonisation".

Calcutta Diary

 Calcutta Diary A M LOVE me, love my dog. Love the loan from the International Monetary Fund with all its 'conditionalities' thrown in, and you have to love the oncoming recession. And the credit squeeze. And the dumping of junk goods in your market by foreign manufacturers. Those who supported the Union government's decision to go for the massive loan from the Fund, and questioned the motive, intelligence and integrity of those who had demurred, have now little business to do any whining. You made the bed, you have to lie in it Give the devil its due, the Fund has been altogether forthright It had duly informed New Delhi of the terms which must be satisfied before instalments of the loan could be disbursed in accordance with schedule. The Fund's published documents make a thoroughgoing job of letting the world know what the terms are. These include credit curbs as well as liberalised imports. Both have an adverse effect on domestic production. Any child could have told the that a slowing down in the rate of industrial growth was going to be the inevitable concomitant of the Fund loan. If banks are asked to regulate

Calcutta Diary

 Calcutta Diary A M ARJUN SINGH, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, will perhaps feel mildly embarrassed, or perhaps not. He will certainly not do a Viswanath Pratap Singh, he will not resign from his office following the lead of his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh, The Congress high command, meaning Indira Gandhi, is peeved: a chief minister, whom she installed, has dared to resign, and without her leave, There is cause for her annoyance, Without her leave, none can be elected a chief minister; the law of symmetry should therefore apply, no chief minister ought to quit without her leave either. Viswanath Pratap Singh has infringed that rule. Merely because he failed to come to grips with the problem of law and order in his state

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