Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some science stories I read

There was an amazing story about the discovery of the largest ever colossal squid. This guy weights half a ton and is 32 feet in length and has eyes the size of a soccer ball.

The story is based on some soft tissue of a Tyronossaus Rex found somewhere in the USA, which now confirms that the humble chicken is a descendent of th Tyr. Apparently this was long suspected as the gait of these two critters was similar and the body shape.

The important science today in my field is the results from DAMA the dark matter collaboration. They say that they have a signal of dark matter.

ISRO's 10 satellite record

I was mighty pleased to hear that ISRO has set the world record of placing 10 satellites into orbit in a single launch. How about that?

Monday, April 28, 2008

My article on the LRS page on ``Dismissal of case...''

Here is the link to my article which is reproduced below:

Dismissal of Case for Demanding a Public Inquiry into the Legality of the Iraq War in the Unied Kingdom: Lessons for the People

A committee of nine law lords early April 2008, upheld the dismissal of a petition that was brought by the mothers of two teenage soldiers killed in the Iraq war, to force the Gordon Brown Government to order an enquiry into the circumstances under which the advice received by the Tony Blair Government in 2003 from the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, that the launch of the Iraq war was legal. The case was brought to the House of Lords after an Appeals Court upheld the dismissal by the High Court earlier of the case, which had been filed under European laws that guaranteed the `right to life', by arguing that the deaths of the two soldiers was unlawful as the war itself was not legal. The unanimous decision of the Law Lords was that the right to life was only guaranteed in the territories of the European countries that were signatories of the relevant Human Rights Convention, and did not extend to territories beyond. Furthermore, the most senior Law Lord wrote that he did not envision the Human Rights Convention under any circumstance could include an enquiry into the decision of a sovereign country to go to war. The importance attached to the case may be gauged by the fact that there were an unusually large number of Lords hearing the case and the outcome was beeing keenly watched by opponents of the war world over. The plaintiffs while expressing disappointment with the dismissal, said that they were not surprised by the outcome of the case. The Government, on the other hand, has stated repeatedly that it would order an enquiry at a time that it sees fit, and alternately after all the soldiers return home.

In the case at hand, the events of the last six years have revealed that the issue as regards the Iraq war has nothing to do with legality or justice. It has to do with the conquest of the Arab world, about the need to grab 11% of the proven oil resources of the world. It has been noted in many places that soon after the cataclysmic events of 9/11/2001; Mr. George Bush is supposed to have told Mr. Tony Blair at the time at which the attack on Afghanistan was a foregone conclusion, that one should not forget Iraq. Mr. Donald Rumsfeld upon hearing of the news of 9/11 is said to have instructed his aides to find a connection with Iraq. The literature of the Project for a New American Century had openly exhorted military means as a method of world conquest for which only a pretext was lacking. The former Chairmn of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve Board, Mr. Alan Greenspan has openly spoken about the need that was felt for getting rid of Mr. Saddam Hussein in order to ensure the stability of the oil market. Thus, the British involvement in the war as a trusted ally of the US on Iraq was also a foregone conclusion. The sordid events surrounding the `sexed up dossier' and the subsequent suicide of Dr. Kelly and the lies surrouding `weapons of mass destruction' and Uranium from Niger all point to, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Iraq war is simply a crime against peace, and the issue of legality is moot. Even in this regard, the case has been brought to the Law Lords on how highly `equivocal' advice from the Attorney-General was reduced to concrete advice in a short while. By upholding the dismissal of the case the Law Lords have lost an opportunity to elaborate on what is to be done when soldiers lose their lives in an obviously illegal war.

The lessons to be learnt from this case, as with many other cases of this kind in the recent past, is that the people cannot hope to get any redressal for their grievances or succour from the existing Institutions. The state and its organs in Great Britain have historically evolved through the collusion and contention of various sections of the ruling circles. The judiciary has mainly played the role of being an arbiter for disputes among these sections, and as a pressure vent for the anger of the people who often find themselves completely marginalized from the political process. While the desire for liberation and revolution has been great among the masses there, history has not been kind, and has always relegated them to a secondary role, of being cheerleaders for this or that section of the rulers. More recently, under tremendous pressure from the experience of the World Wars, and the lessons that have been sought to be derived from those, from the terrible loss of life and destruction, sections of the ruling circles have been forced to yield concessions. While there has always been the pressure to consolidate the Anglo-American camp, economic pragmatism has forced the ruling circles to also come to terms with the European Union countries. The latter having learnt some lessons from the folly of the World Wars have tried to enshrine some principles into the framework that would govern them. All said and done, nevertheless, even there the supreme power continues to reside in the hands of the propertied sections. With tenets such as those in the Paris Charter dominating the political framework, what is concomitant is the negation of certain human rights: many principles and tenets are simply reduced to being grand statements on paper, while there is no mechanism by which these can be realized, juridically or otherwise, in the real world. Even more tragically, there appears to be no juridical mechanism by which leaders in these countries even when demonstrably carrying out crimes can be brought to book.

There are lessons to be learnt by peoples world over from watershed events such as these. In particular, the peoples of countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and other former colonies are today saddled with precisely those state structures, organs and institutions that were left behind by the British colonialists. These organs were created at a time when colonial plunder and maximization of loot were the aims of the colonial enterprise. The judiciary intervened when parties were unable to resolve their disputes. The principles of natural justice which exist on paper in these countries are more often than not subverted to serve the supreme interests of private property. The rights of peoples, of nations that constitute some of these countries continue to remain negated. It is unlikely that under the present aegis any of these injustices can be rectified. Misplaced trust in anachronistic institutions would be a serious setback to the movement towards the establishing of rights on a modern basis. A discussion must begin on a broad scale as to what is to be done to get the peoples out of the predicament in which they find themselves.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clinton and Iran

Re. the statement of Hillary Clinton about `obliterating' Iran, just tell me that it is not true. I must be dreaming. No one in his or her right mind could have said this about another country.
Now, of the countries in the middle east, Iran has been the most peaceable. Even during the Iran-Iraq war, we are now told that it was the much reviled Saddam Hussein that attacked Iran. So Iran was merely defending itself. Iran has not, to my knowledge, attacked any country in living memory.

Without comment: From Rahul Mahajan's blog

Disclaimer: As with my usual `without comment' series (this is only the 2nd), I neither endorse or oppose the views here. It is only for your edification. I will not respond to comments either.

The original is at Rahul Mahajan's blog Empire Notes.

April 21, 2008

Weekly Commentary -- Capitalism and the Global Food Crisis

In Haiti, the poor are eating mud pies, concoctions of mud, oil, and sugar, the only way some of them can now afford to deal with what they call “Clorox hunger,” a feeling of starvation so intense it makes you feel as if your innards are being eaten away by bleach. Across the world, from Haiti to Cameroon to Egypt to Bangladesh to Indonesia, rising grain prices have sparked food riots and social unrest.

In the past year, the price of wheat rose 150%, before retreating somewhat in the past few months so that it’s only up 80%; the price of corn rose 50%. Most remarkably, the price of rice has risen 141% since January.

Reportage and commentary has identified the factors going into this catastrophic price rise: a drought in Australia, the rising price of oil, growing demand for meat in India and China, and the sudden craze for biofuels.

For the most part, they have neglected to identify the underlying enabling factor – capitalism.

It is the genius of capitalism to take a good idea – use plants’ ability to fix solar power in order to create fuel that can replace the dwindling reserves of oil – and twist and torture it until it leads to crisis. Although, to be fair, some credit must also be given to the freakish inertia of the American political system and the massive stupidity it helps to produce in politicians and legislators.

First, capitalism requires that biofuel profit somebody, or it won’t be produced. Second, the combination of capitalism and the corrupt interest-driven politics of American agriculture dictate tha

t those profited be a politically important constituency. The combination of the disproportionate importance of the Iowa caucus and the stranglehold that agrobusiness has over domestic policy formation on agriculture has led to the United States coming up with the most insane possible approach to biofuels – price supports for corn, the growing of which in this country involves massive use of oil directly and of petrochemical fertilizers. With easy profits to hand, corporations maximize production instead of minimizing waste, so that we end up paying subsidies to corporations to use up more oil.

At this point, one quarter of corn production in the United States goes to biofuel. Consider now the effects on the rest of the world. The United States has labored, especially in the last few decades, to create a world market in everything. NAFTA, which had nothing whatsoever to do with deindustrialization in Ohio, has eviscerated Mexican corn production and made the country dependent on imports of previously cheap American corn. Now, however, the Mexican consumer has to compete for that corn with oil companies that are effectively government-subsidized; it’s no surprise who wins.

Haiti, similarly, used to produce its own rice, but the structural adjustment imposed on it in the mid-1990’s by the United States as a condition for allowing Aristide to return and for an end to the military reign of terror, made it a significant consumer of U.S. agrobusiness rice. Biofuel subsidies create incentives to produce corn instead of rice or wheat; this helps drive up the price of rice and wheat.

Finally, consider this: the market processes of setting a price where supply equals demand don’t have to be linear. If overall grain supply for food decreases by 10%, that doesn’t mean the price goes up by 10%. Depending on the shape of the demand curve, it could change by any amount. In a market made extremely tight by the various factors cited above, a small push from the change in biofuels policy created massive price rises, further helped along by speculation, just like tech stocks in the late 90’s or tulips in 17th-century Holland – just, this time, those speculators are literally feeding off of corpses.

Third World countries have finally responded, with price supports and bans on export of foodgrains. The World Food Program wants $500 million to deal with the immediate crisis. As of last week, though, its emergency appeal for $96 million for Haiti had netted only about $12 million. And do remember, when you see U.S. food aid reported, that 65% of that money is overhead and transportation costs, because of the corrupt, interest-driven requirement that food aid be produced in the United States; it’s a solution that’s part of the problem.

This crisis is undoubtedly a harbinger of worse to come if we don’t make systemic change; we may yet look back on the creation of a world market for food as among the most calamitous consequences of a century that saw more violence than any in world history.

Posted at 10:18 am.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

From Physics News: Finding the Higgs Boson

From AIP Physics News, the following article on Higgs boson. The original link is here.

Number 861 #1, April 16, 2008 by Phil Schewe

Finding The Higgs Boson.

Is the imperative of the two most powerful particle accelerators ever built---the Tevatron at Fermilab, now reaching the peak of its decades-long performance, and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, where beams will circulate for the first time around a 27-km track within the next few months. The Higgs has not yet been discovered, but at this week’s meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) in St. Louis dozens of talks referred to the status of the Higgs search. Why is the Higgs so important? Because it is thought to pervade the universal vacuum; not, as with the old aether, to provide a material substrate for the propagation of electromagnetic waves, but rather to interact with particles and confer mass upon them.

The Higgs’ ministrations are usually hidden away in the vacuum, but if enough energy is brought to bear in a tiny volume of space---at the point where two energetic particles collide---then the Higgs can be turned into an actual particle whose existence can be detected. Theoretical calculations made using the standard model of particle physics combined with previous experiments serve to limit the possible range of masses for the Higgs particle. Right now that mass is thought to be larger than 114 GeV but smaller than about 190 GeV.

The Tevatron delivers more than enough energy to create a particle in that energy range. The main issue, then, is luminosity, or the density of beam particles crashed together per second. The Tevatron recently established a record high luminosity: 3.1 x 10^32 per cm^2 per second. That would a Higgs event look like? One speaker at the meeting, Brian Winer (Ohio State), said that the “most Higgs-like Higgs event” seen so far was on in which (it is surmised) the proton-antiproton collision at the Tevatron had created a fireball which then decayed into a W boson (one of the carriers of the weak nuclear force) and a Higgs particle.

The Higgs in turn quickly decayed into a bottom-antibottom quark pair whose combined mass amounted to 120 GeV. By itself such an event does not constitute a discovery. Successfully observing the Higgs involves finding an inventory of candidate events substantially larger than the number of expected background events from collisions which to not produce a Higgs particle but which mimic some features of the Higgs. Time (and luminosity) will tell whether the Tevatron accumulates enough Higgs candidate events to establish a statistically-satisfactory “discovery.”

One Tevatron physicist, Dmitri Denisov ( summarized the likely status of things when the experiments (the CDF and D0 detector groups) start to wrap up in the year 2010. The luminosity, he said, would probably be twice what it is now and that 4 to 8 times more data would be analyzed than is available today. The Higgs, if it exists, is expected to show up in abundance at the LHC, where the collision energy is much higher than at the Tevatron. Abraham Seiden ( of UC Santa Cruz summarized the current status of the LHC.

In the CERN lab scientists and engineers are now chilling down the magnets which steer protons around their proper trajectory to the near-absolute-zero temperatures needed for operating in a superconducting mode. Although designed to produce proton beams at 7 TeV, the accelerator will at first hold to a more conservative 5 TeV. As for the present schedule, Seiden quoted a recent CERN report specifying mid June as the time when the machine would be cooled and ready to circulate beams around the ring and August as the time when actual particle collisions will commence. However, several scientists at the meeting, when asked, were somewhat skeptical that this timeline would be met.

As for the prospective scenario for discoveries at LHC in coming years, Seiden said that finding evidence for a supersymmetric particle (one of a large family of hypothetical particles) might be possible as early as the year 2009, while finding the Higgs might be possible by 2010.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008)

I learnt of the passing of Johan Archibad Wheeler, undoubtedly one of the giants of theoretical physics. I am attaching below an obituary form the Telegraph.

Professor John Wheeler

Last Updated: 1:26am BST 15/04/2008

Professor John Wheeler, who died on Sunday aged 96, was, after Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, the most famous non-Nobel prizewinner of the generation of scientists which developed quantum theory, though he was perhaps best known for coining the term "black hole".

Glenn Seaborg, Professor John Wheeler and President Lyndon B Johnson in 1968
John Wheeler [centre] won the US Atomic Energy Commission's Enrico Fermi Award presented by President Johnson [right]

Like Oppenheimer and Teller, Wheeler was a key figure in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, and was active in the design and operation of the plutonium-producing reactors at Hanford, Washington. In some ways he had a greater claim than either of his colleagues to be the "father of the bomb" since he was the co-author of a ground-breaking theoretical work that underpinned it.

In the early 1930s Wheeler had studied in Copenhagen under the great Danish physicist Niels Bohr; and in 1939 he was one of the first to greet Bohr when he arrived in the United States. Bohr informed him that German scientists had succeeded in splitting uranium atoms, and within a few weeks they had jointly published a treatise entitled The Mechanism of Nuclear Fission, which described a theory of the process and served as a foundation for all future research. They proved that only uranium 235 was the fissionable element that could be used as the explosive in an atomic bomb or as fuel in a nuclear reactor. Their research also predicted the fissionable characteristics of plutonium before it had been synthesised.

Among the reticent ranks of theoretical physicists, Wheeler stood out for his flamboyance, his facility with words and his willingness to engage with popular science, a field in which he set a precedent followed by such figures as Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose. He had a talent for inventing the catchy phrase that would lift theories from the dry scientific tomes into the popular consciousness.

The existence of "black holes" - collapsed stars which have a force of gravity so strong that nothing can escape, not even light - was predicted well before the 20th century, although their correct description had to await Einstein's theory of relativity. None the less, they had only a mathematical existence before Wheeler gave them their enigmatic moniker in 1967. The term captured the imagination of Hollywood scriptwriters and science fiction authors, and launched a huge wave of popular fascination with these gravity-defying voids.

John Archibald Wheeler was born on July 9 1911 at Jacksonville, Florida. His parents were librarians, and, as they moved from job to job, John grew up in California, Ohio and Vermont (where he recalled "going up to fetch the maple syrup every other day amid the snow"), and in Baltimore, Maryland.

Acquiring an interest in science from his parents, John read J Arthur Thompson's Outline of Science when he was 10. He was transfixed. After Rayen High School he spent a year at Baltimore City College before enrolling early as a scholarship student at Johns Hopkins University, where he not only won a prize for debating but also took a doctorate aged just 21 - on the dispersion and absorption of helium.

The early 1930s were exciting times in physics. The neutron and positron had been discovered, and the fields of nuclear physics and the quantum physics of subatomic particles were attracting the world's greatest minds. Wheeler went on to study at New York University with Gregory Breit, with whom he calculated the scattering of light with light, and at the University of Copenhagen with Niels Bohr, who had won the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics for his investigations of the structure of the atom. "You can talk about people like Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Confucius," Wheeler said later, "but the thing that convinced me that such people existed were conversations with Bohr."

Returning to America in 1935, Wheeler was appointed assistant professor of Physics at the University of North Carolina, where he formulated and published mathematical equations to explain nuclear wave functions in electromagnetic radiation and developed the techniques and calculations for the scattering matrix hypothesis, which proved useful in later particle physics. In 1938 he joined the Physics faculty at Princeton as an assistant professor.

With the entry of the United States into the Second World War, Wheeler took leave of absence to work on the Manhattan Project, in which he conceived new techniques for the safe operation of nuclear reactors - including shielding and the elimination of noxious by-products - which have became standard procedures in nuclear engineering.

Unlike Oppenheimer and others, Wheeler never had any regrets about his participation, once observing that: "The largest hospital ever built in the history of the world was built on an island in the Pacific to take care of the casualties expected in the invasion of Japan, and I know that it was never used, and I've been thanked by at least half a dozen men who were slated to take part in the first invasion wave."

Indeed, he expressed regret that the bomb had not been ready in time to bring an early end to the war in Europe and possibly save his brother Joe, who died in combat in Italy in 1944. After the war he was a staunch defender of the German physicist Werner Heisenberg; and, despite the fact that Oppenheimer was a colleague at Princeton, he advised Edward Teller before he testified against Oppenheimer at a security hearing.

Wheeler continued to do government work after the war alongside his teaching commitments at Princeton. In 1949-50 he worked with Teller on the development of the hydrogen bomb, and between 1951 and 1953 he directed the operation of Project Matterhorn, a top-secret project to develop weaponry based on thermonuclear fuel. His passionate belief that the best research brains should be assisting in developing military weapons led to the formation of the Jason committee in 1960.

At the same time Wheeler continued to work in theoretical physics and quantum dynamics, working on Einstein's geometrical theory of gravitation for a better understanding of the problem of unifying electromagnetic and gravitational phenomena.

In 1954 he suggested a gravitational-electromagnetic entity known as a "geon", a ball of light radiation held together by its own gravity. The concept added to classical general relativity theory by explaining fields produced by bodies and the motions of bodies, and helped to rejuvenate general relativity by changing it from a preserve of mathematicians to a vital part of theoretical and observational physics. Under his leadership Princeton became the leading American centre of research into Einsteinian gravity.

In 1966 Wheeler was appointed Professor of Physics at Princeton and the following year became president of the American Physical Society. In the 1960s he published four important books: Geometrodynamics (1962), on the geometry of space; Gravitation Theory and Graviation Collapse (with BK Harrison, 1965); Spacetime Physics (with Edwin F Taylor, 1966); and Einstein's Vision (1968).

As well as his own original contributions, Wheeler left a huge mark on physics through the generations of students and academic colleagues who came under his influence and who developed his ideas. Among these were Richard Feynman, who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum electrodynamics; and Hugh Everett, whose doctorate under Wheeler, which envisioned parallel universes endlessly branching out and splitting apart, inspired writers as well as cosmologists. In 1973, with two former students, Charles Misner and Kip Thorne, Wheeler published Gravitation, a book combining academic rigour with a breezy, gossipy style which helped to set a new direction in science writing and has never been out of print.

Wheeler's long-term interest in quantum theory and the measurement problem was expressed in a massive book, Quantum Theory and Measurement, written with Wojcieck Zurek (1983). His autobiography, Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics (co-written with Kenneth Ford) was published in 1999.

Though the Nobel, which many thought he deserved, eluded Wheeler, he won numerous awards for his work, including the US Atomic Energy Commission's Enrico Fermi Award in 1968.

In 1935 John Wheeler married Janette Hegner, who died last year. They had a son and two daughters.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

IMF head says millions will face starvation unless...

Reproduced below is an article from BBC. It talks about the IMF chief warning that the high food prices unless checked can lead to millions to face starvation. The obvious question is why he does not do anything about it. If at all he is the one who can tell Governments what to do and offer loans and write off bad loans.

IMF head gives food price warning

The IMF's Strauss-Kahn wants strong action on food price inflation
The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that hundreds of thousands of people will face starvation if food prices keep rising.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn said that social unrest from continuing food price inflation could cause conflict.
There have been food riots recently in a number of countries, including Haiti, the Philippines and Egypt.
Meeting in Washington, the IMF called for strong action on food prices and the international financial crisis.
Market turmoil
Although the problems in global credit markets were the main focus of the meeting of the IMF's steering committee of finance ministers from 24 countries, Mr Strauss-Kahn warned of dire consequences from continued food price rises.
"Thousands, hundreds of thousands of people will be starving. Children will be suffering from malnutrition, with consequences for all their lives," he told reporters.
He said the problem could lead to trade imbalances that may eventually affect developed nations, "so it is not only a humanitarian question".
Food prices have risen sharply in recent months, driven by increased demand, poor weather in some countries and an increase in the use of land to grow crops for transport fuels.
The steering committee also called for "strong action" among its 185 members to deal with "the still unfolding financial market turmoil and... the potential worsening" of housing markets and the credit crunch.
The finance ministers did not dissent from the IMF's previous forecast that only a moderate slowdown in world economic growth is the most likely outcome over the next year or two.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Media watch: Article on `Sleeping with the enemy' in The Hindu

Well, ladies and gentlemen: have a look at the Metro Plus pullout section (Bangalore edition) in The Hindu of April 12, 2008. See the article entitled `Sleeping with the enemy?'. The byline reads `Can spouses have murderous instincts? Here's what relationship experts have to say'. It is about generally the man losing his temper and killing the wife in a fit of rage. All very well. But don't miss the picture. It shows a supine man with his head on the lap of what is obviously the wife. The wife wears a full sleeved shirt and covers her hail with a scarf. Now, the average readership of this newspaper live in very hot climates. So what is the woman doing wearing a full sleeved shirt and a scarf? Is there a suggestion here? Jokes apart, the obvious Islamophobia is reprehensible. Which media watchdog is going to call the bluff of the thinking Indian's newspaper?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Article entitled `Farm Loan Waiver – Rehabilitation of farmers or banks?'

From Lok Raj Sangathan web-page, reproduced here for your convenience. The original link is here. Of course you will immediately realize that Appa is the author.

Farm Loan Waiver – Rehabilitation of farmers or banks?

By C. A. Balasubramanian,
Additional Controller General of Accounts, Government of India (retired)

The Bank Loan Waiver Plan, announced by the Finance Minister in his budget speech, is supposed to have taken the Parliament and the people by storm. The euphoria generated by the government and its propaganda machinery, ably assisted by the subservient electronic and print media, wanted the people to believe that the government had, at one 'fell' stroke, found the key to a final solution for all the ills afflicting the agricultural economy.

The proposal announced a " complete waiver of all loans overdue on December 31, 2007, which have remained unpaid ( a tautology!) by small and marginal farmers." The fact that there is not even a token provision in the budget, which can subsequently be enhanced – by Reappropriation of Funds in the Budget Grants, or by obtaining Supplementary Grants -- justifies one in suspecting that this is more of a knee--jerk reaction to the forthcoming Elections than a well--thought out and implementable proposal, which is really going to help the intended beneficiaries.

As a learned analyst pointed out in The Hindu, the bank loan waiver plan, as elaborated by the F.M. later, seems to be more complex than just a write off of agricultural loans which are outstanding on a particular date. Initially, there were doubts as to who would bear the burden -- the bank or the government The F.M. has promised ' liquidity' for the banks. Whether this amounts to compensating them remains to be seen; but, this is central to a number of related issues -- autonomy of government- owned banks, and power of government to dictate a commercial banking decision. Dr. Vaidyanathan, the development economist, has pointed out that the government does not spell out the basis of the estimate (of Rs. 60,000 crores), or of the Institutions, Loan Categories, and class of borrowers who will be covered by the scheme. Co-operatives have by far the greatest reach in terms of accessibility, number of borrowers, and delivery of credit to the rural population. Concerned by their near-collapse -- due, in a large measure, to the conscious State policy of interference in the grant and recovery of loans -- the Central government set up a task force to suggest ways to arrest the trend and revive the co-operatives. The task force suggested radical changes in the legal and institutional framework essential to 'enable and induce' co-operatives to function as autonomous and self-regulating entities; it emphasised the need to eliminate government interference in grant of loans, recovery processes,
and waiver of dues from borrowers. The Central government accepted the recommendations and, in consultation with the States, evolved a consensus to implement the reform package. The Central government committed to provide around Rs.18,000 crores to clear accumulated arrears, over a period of time, and linked to fulfilment of specified conditions. This programme covers a significant part of what is being attempted in the current waiver scheme. The learned analyst says that it is ironical that the decision to go for a general waiver comes in the wake of this reform programme which is under way.

Various other lacunae, ambiguities and drawbacks in the bald announcement of the scheme have been forcefully brought out by other experts. So, I shall just draw attention to a few aspects:

The scheme proposes a complete waiver of all loans overdue on Dec. 31, 2007, remaining unpaid by small and marginal farmers.
(1) No cut-off date has been specified for such loans. Will the scheme cover loans taken several years back and remaining unpaid?
( 2) The intention of the scheme (presumably) is to enable such farmers to become eligible for fresh loan(s) for carrying on with their agricultural activities. What happens if such loanees have
disposed of their holdings or moved to some other work, or migrated elsewhere in search of work? If loans taken by this category of farmers are waived in terms of the scheme, the government will be merely reimbursing to the banks the loans granted by them, which have become irrecoverable, without any corresponding benefit to the farmers affected.
( 3 ) Will the banks have records giving the particulars of the loans (granted to the farmers ), which fulfil the conditions laid down in the scheme, with the names and addresses of the loanees,
extent of their land holdings, amount of the loan repaid and balance remaining? Will statements of all such loans which are eligible for waiver be authenticated and subject to audit?
( 4 ) According to the Banking practices, and rules and regulations, many of the irrecoverable loans will have been written off (and accounted for as such), over a period of time. Farmers who
had taken such loans might no longer be available, for availing themselves of the benefit of such waiver. So, waiver of such loans will only benefit the banks; it will be an exercise in the rehabilitation
of the banks (and other institutions involved), and not the farmers.

In the absence of clarity on the various issues involved, the Scheme will only degenerate into one of rehabilitation of banks and other institutions which have granted the loans. And, it will go the way of the "Rural Development Schemes" funded by the Central government over the years, where it is universally acknowledged that 75 paise in the rupee went into the pockets of various agencies and intermediaries involved in the 'implementation' of the Schemes, and not even 25 paise in the rupee reached the beneficiary. It only added to the ' liquidity ' (by which the government swears!) in the economy.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Prof. Bharat Seth on SEZs

From Lok Raj Sangathan web-page, reproduced here for your convenience. The original link is here.

Scrap all Approvals for SEZs

By Prof Bharat Seth

The fact that what exists in India is not people's rule is evident from the way minority vested interests are dictating the terms of economic development. What we are seeing is a rapid growth of economy with huge profits for the big industrial houses, side by side with increasing exploitation of toilers in the cities and in the countryside. The latest push to accelerate this trend is the establishment of Special Economic Zones or SEZs.

Since 2006, the government has been approving SEZs after SEZs in different parts of India. At the beginning of 2007, there were already 181 formal approvals and 128 more were in-principle approved. The total area occupied by these 309 SEZs is 1,25,000 hectares, which is the area of Delhi state. During 2007 almost 100 more SEZs were approved. Amongst the biggest SEZs are Reliance Haryana SEZ with 25,000 acres of land and Reliance Maharashtra SEZ with 13,000 acres. The bulk of the land for SEZs is acquired by the government and its agencies. For example, the Reliance Maharashtra SEZ land is to be acquired by CIDCO. Land for the Singur and Nandigrapm SEZs was to be acquired in a similar manner by the West Bengal Left Front government. The agencies responsible for the land acquisition are using the colonial Land Acquisition Act, according to which, the government has the right to acquire any land for public purpose. Although, the SEZs are clearly owned by private parties, various apologists are trying to argue that SEZs are in public interest and the government is trying to expand the scope of the Land Acquisition Act.

In many regards, a SEZ is considered to be a foreign territory. For example, an industrialist will have to pay no import duties or excise for goods imported and produced there. However, they are required to export only 1% of products produced in the SEZ. In addition, they will get 100% income tax exemption for 5 years. For the next 5 years, they are required to pay only half the tax. This tax reduction is applicable for another 5 years if profits are ploughed back in the SEZ.

In order for unhindered exploitation of working people, labour laws are not directly applicable in SEZs. The functions of the Labour Commissioner and Labour courts, etc. are taken over by the Development Officer of the SEZ. However, it is an open secret, that Development Officers are openly pro-industrialists and toilers cannot hope to get their labour rights defended by the Development Officer. The owners of the industrialist and service units in the SEZ are given various subsidies.

There are huge subsidies for the developers of the SEZ also. Apart from the fact that they get ownership of precious land resources, they can also claim any 10 years of the first 15 years for tax holiday. They also get unrestricted use of half the land of SEZ, in which they can develop real estate for profit.

It is abundantly clear that SEZs are a way to attack the livelihood of peasants and evict them from their land. Peasants land is bound to get into the hands of the capitalists. Similarly they are a devious way to launch an attack on the rights of working class such as 8-hour workday, arbitrary dismissals, depriving them of their unions, etc. It is not only an attack on the workers working in companies located in the SEZ but also on all other workers as the owners will threaten the workers that their units will also be shifted to SEZs if they demanded too many rights.

In the aftermath of the vigorous resistance by the people in different parts, the Central government had to put a freeze on further approvals of SEZs. However, this freeze did not last more than 75 days. The government lifted the freeze with only some minor and ineffective measures. These included i) reduction of maximum land for multi-product SEZ to 5000 hectares, ii) requirement that at least half the areas be used for production and iii) the advice to the state governments not to acquire agriculture lands.

People are fully justified in continuing their protests. Due to people's opposition in Goa, the government has been forced to scrap all 15 approvals of SEZs in spite of the fact that three of these had already been notified. This is bound to inspire workers and peasants in other states to continue and accelerate their protests against SEZs to protect their livelihood.

The attack in not limited to workers and peasants but spills over to general issue of food security of the society as well as to loss of livelihood of agricultural workers, village artisans and other support people. Cultivable land has to be protected. It is clear that the government has no intention to scrap the colonial land acquisition act. To prevent farmers being deprived of their land, it is necessary to demand that there should be a ban on buying and selling of farm land and that land not be treated as a commodity. In fact, we should demand that land privately held should be converted into public land. And, that the market forces not be allowed to operate in the dealing with land.

Zarine Rentia: In memoriam

Here is a story that touches me. It is reproduced below.


Tragic end for schoolgirl who had rare genetic disease

A SCHOOLGIRL who bravely fought a Home Office deportation order at the same time as a crippling genetic disease has died after going back to India.
Zarine Rentia, 15, who attended South Camden Community School in Somers Town, lost her long battle with illness last Wednesday at a hospital in Gujarat, India.
Teachers and students at the Charrington Street school – where Zarine’s friends campaigned for her to be allowed to stay – broke down in tears when they were informed of her tragic death yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon.
They are planning to plant cherry blossoms, Zarine’s favourite tree, at the school in her memory.
Zarine had returned to her native country a month ago to be closer to her family after English specialists diagnosed her condition as terminal, just as she and her mother, Tasnim, were on a verge of a landmark immigration ruling.
Her family were appealing against a Home Office decision which had ruled Zarine should be deported because her condition was “not life-threatening” when she fell seriously ill.
Medical experts rallied to help her, but were unable to diagnose the cause ?of her deterioration until it was too late.
Heart cancer brought on by the ultra-rare Fanconi-Bickel Syndrome (FBS) which Zarine had suffered from since birth was given as the cause of death.
Last night her distraught mother said: “Zarine was my world. I miss my child.”
Zarine came to England in 2004 and was diagnosed with FBS.
The disease renders bones too brittle to support the body’s weight and causes permanent liver and kidney damage. There are just 112 recorded cases worldwide.
Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said: “Zarine was a model student and a fantastic example of the immense contribution newcomers to this country are making. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this difficult time.”
South Camden headteacher Rosemary Leeke also paid tribute. She said: “In her 18 months at SCCS, Zarine touched us all. Her strength of character and perseverance through many difficult times inspired the respect and admiration of all who met her.
While we mourn her tragically premature death and send our heartfelt condolences to her family, especially her mother Tasnim who fought so hard to give her the chance of a full life, we also celebrate her legacy of hope and determination.”
A Home Office spokes man said: “Any appeal or application is deemed abandoned if the applicant voluntarily leaves the UK. We would not enforce the removal of someone with an outstanding appeal or application.”

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Without comment: AICCTU Statement: Sixth Central Pay Commission

Articles with the preamble "Without Comment" are those that I would like to attract the attention of readers, if any, of this humble blog. I do not necessarily oppose or endorse the views in these articles, but consider the topics to be of importance. I will not be responding to comments that will be left on such posts either.


All India Central Council of Trade Unions


Press statement

Recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission:

The govt. is shirking from its social responsibilities, recommendations have further opened the way for downsizing and contractorisation.

New Delhi, 25 March 2008: The recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission have been submitted with the govt. They are very retrograde and discriminatory and have come as a rude shock to the Central Government employees. The recommendations are biased towards IAS officers, especially those at joint secretary level or above. While a secretary will get a hike of about 65% in his emoluments and a joint secretary would get a hike to the tune of 47% the hike to a group 'D' will be only 21% and that to upper Division clerk would be only 26%. The ratio between lowest and the highest Pay has gone up from 1: 10.66 to 1: 13.33 if compared to the pay of the secretary and to 1:15.57 when compared to the pay of the cabinet secretary, further widening the wage gap which is characteristic of the UPA Government which favours the rich. The Pay Commission has dealt a heavy blow by recommending abolition of Group 'D' Posts, which also pays way to contractualisation of work of this category. It has further suggested withdrawal of all holidays except the three national holidays, and has suggested grant of 8 restricted holidays-a retrograde step again. It has also recommended withdrawal of bonus and OTA and wants every thing to be linked with performance. i.e. leaving employees on whims of the bureaucracy. It has further recommended health insurance scheme for central govt. employees which will ultimately pave way for dismantling of CGHS.

Very clearly these recommendations suggest that the largest employer i.e. the govt. is shirking from its social responsibilities and converting govt. deptts. into some corporate kind of companies run by CEOs. These recommendations have further opened the way for downsizing and contractorisation.

The AICCTU registers its strong protest against such discriminatory and anti-lower-level employees’ recommendations, and demands of the Government to correct the distortions. The AICCTU calls upon all sections of employees to join hands to fight out the injustice.

Rajiv Dimri