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The Indian EXPRESS


HE inter-ministerial group will soon de-allocate coal blocks from among the 58 identified in the CAG report. Together with the backlog from 2007, the period when no meetings of the screening committee have been held, these blocks will be put up for auction by the coal ministry. Already, however, there are noises within the government arguing for keeping the public sector companies out of the auction. The reasoning is as follows: since the coal mines assigned to public sector companies like Coal India and its subsidiaries, or say, NTPC, are public reserves, there is no reason to ask the companies to bid for the blocks. This is a flawed argument. To succeed, and for the state to realise the best value from the mines, the auction process must ensure the largest possible participation. In the auction for telecom spectrum, the two public sector companies, BSNL and MTNL, did not have to bid, they had to match the discovered price as a valuation for their spectrum and pay the government accordingly. For coal, however, a similar process will not be possible as Coal India is not only far larger than every other entity in the sector, but it is also the price setter by virtue of its nationalisation. Its absence is likely to cripple the price discovery,

Keeping public sector companies out of auctions will erode the credibility of coal reform
unlike in telecom, which has robust private sector participation. Those who further argue that a price paid by CIL or NTPC in the auction to the government just transfers assets make an elementary mistake. These companies are corporate entities too, with a responsibility towards their shareholders. They will punish exorbitant bids, driving down the capacity of these companies to make investments in the future. Had it been otherwise, CIL scrips would have done better in the markets when private sector entities in the infrastructure space were battered this year. But it too has lost Rs 13,430 crore of its market cap since September 11, 2011. An auction involving all players will also put to rest the pernicious argument that a block mined by CIL is ipso facto better than any venture by the private sector. Taken to its logical conclusion, this line of argument means the CIL must outbid for every mine, making a further mockery of its market cap. Instead, wherever public sector entities drop out of the auction for a block, it will be clear that there are others who have a demonstrably better plan to exploit the mines. The fruitless debate over whether the 58 blocks, or those leased in the future, would be better served by staying on as public sector units, will be over.

Public and private

HE government has deployed an H-bomb to slay a rabbit. Turning the sedition law on cartoonists is as ridiculous as issuing fatwas against them. The work of Aseem Trivedi, the Kanpur-based cartoonist who was arrested on Saturday, is not exactly brilliant, but even indifferent cartoonists should have the freedom to draw and publish what they want without fear of being accused of being an enemy of the state. The law of sedition laid down in Section 124A of the IPC has been frequently misused to target writers, speakers, opinion-makers and whistleblowers. But now, the government has descended to new depths, attacking cartoons that were not even widely circulated until the sedition charges were brought, and which pose absolutely no threat to its sovereignty. The trouble with Article 124A is that it can be invoked in such situations, where the government may be only embarrassed, not harmed. In jurisdictions where sedition law remains on the statute books, it is defined as incitement to rebellion against the state. The cartoons in question advocated nothing of the sort. However, this does not matter

Instead of drawing sedition charges, cartoons should be protected as free speech

because the Indian law skirts this definition altogether. Rather, it criminalises attempts to arouse disaffection or contempt for the state. But that is what cartoons are supposed to do, as the visual element of the public discourse critiquing government. Rather than attracting sedition charges, cartoons should be protected as free speech by the government. In 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru himself had expressed the wish to throw out Article 124A. Indeed, its wording is so vague and open to expedient interpretation that it can be used to smother perfectly legitimate criticism. It could have been used to contain landmark events in Indias history the noncooperation movement, for instance, which had showed abundant contempt for the government of the day. If this colonial law is to persist on the statute books, it needs to be brought up to date and directed against the real enemies of the state. This would actually do the government a favour. Because from Bal Gangadhar Tilak to Binayak Sen, sedition trials have generally brought more ridicule and disrepute upon the state than on the seditionists.

Cartoon rage

HIS year will possibly see higher coal production in India because it has sorted out a crippling problem the last two years shortage of railway wagons to ferry coal from the mines. The supply of rakes to Coal India has improved greatly this year. This increased supply of wagons is, in turn, due to a slump in the production of steel, as iron ore mines are closed. The railways had recently complained to the secretary of steel that the fall in orders for the transportation of steel was having an impact on its top line. So by the end of this year, we are likely to trade shortage of coal for shortage of steel and could possibly shift attention to finding fall guys in the iron ore sector. There is a vicious interlock of several factors coal, iron ore, steel, railways and Naxalism. And there will not be any clear way out unless all of these issues are taken on simultaneously. The repeated scams and shortages are a result of plans that do not accept that this puzzle can be solved only by looking at all its pieces together, instead of one at a time. There is no place better than Ranchi to see how the deadly combination has played out. The Jharkhand capital roughly divides the state into coal-producing areas to the north and iron-ore zones to the south. The two minerals have dominated the short history of the state since it was created 12 years ago. Corruption at the top is pervasive. The states ministers reportedly trade in coal or iron ore, and one of its chief ministers, Madhu Koda, has already spent time in jail in a coal scam of his own making. Its last two chief secretaries have been booted out on corruption charges. Recently, a DGP was caught, allegedly ferrying Rs 5 crore to his account, having pur-

Washing coal
Needs many factors to be sorted out at the same time, from the Naxal threat to poor rail links
sence of rail links from mines makes the situation more dire, especially in the iron ore zone, where crusher plants mix poor-quality ore from illegal mines with highgrade ore and create standard-size pellets. The inspectors sell them mining challans from defunct licenced mines and give the consignments a legal stamp. The entire nights operation at a plant gets over in an hour. Since the consignment travels by road, the chances of detection are low. However, two years ago, the loined it from the state treasury. The CBI has not prosecuted him so far. Its former governor, the late M.O.H. Farook, once told this writer that all transfers and appointments in the state carried a price. Since it is the state government, housed in the former headquarters of the public sector unit, Heavy Engineering Corporation, which recommends miners for the screening committee at the Union coal ministry, one can make a good guess on how this has been done. There is a pathetic lack of moni-


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Whether it is shoddy administration or the Naxal threat, the costs mount. Jharkhands iron ore scam may have been eclipsed by the scale of loot in Bellary, but there is no evidence that the administration has improved in the last couple of years. The lull in steel production masks the problem now, but once the economy shows signs of revival, the illegal trade might roar again.
toring. The state has just 40 inspectors to physically monitor its few hundred mines. There are just three state government officers to police over 5,000 sqare kilometres of ore land, from where industries like the Tatas, for instance, get their iron ore. What chance would one of them have, in the middle of the night, accompanied by a local policeman with a lathi, against a fleet of trucks loaded with ore from illegal mines? It is, however, better than guarding consignments leaving the coal mines in Dhanbad, where the mafia is more ruthless, said a former top official of the state government. The abminers were brazen enough to send contraband ore through the South Eastern Railway to the ports. No heads have rolled in the railways for allowing this. The systemic problems persist. An audit report from 200809, for instance, found that coal sent to washeries from mines in Jharkhand both run by Coal India subsidiary Eastern Coal Fields has been terribly undervalued, but thats where the matter rests. The possibilities of this situation have not escaped Naxals, keen to finance their war against the state. Just across the trijunction, where the states of

Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh meet, is Surguja district. The Naxal cadres in this hilly terrain regularly poach on coal-carrying trucks. Since it is easier for smalltime operators to pay and keep peace with them, larger companies prefer to use their services to mine and transport coal. These small-time operators also have far less reputation to risk. In the controversial coal allocations, for instance, this is the reason why no established names had bid for the mines in Jharkhand. There are established names in Chhattisgarh, which has a far better administrative set-up, but the Naxal threat is more deadly there. I saw an instance of that in Rowghat, where mining equipment was left out in the open by a lessee company because the miners had fled. So whether it is shoddy administration or the Naxal threat, the costs mount. Jharkhands iron ore scam may have been eclipsed by the scale of loot in Karnatakas Bellary district, but there is no evidence that the administration has improved in the last couple of years. The lull in steel production masks the problem now, but once the economy shows signs of revival and demand grows, the illegal trade might roar again. If and when the coal mines are reallocated in this region, the same familiar ecosystem will come back into play: a states corrupt officialdom, a neighbouring state where Naxals are regrouping and a rail network that has not expanded at all. The only change will be that coal miners would have paid an auction-discovered price, and would hopefully have a larger stake in the business. But without a comprehensive overhaul, one suspects that the next juicy audit report is only to be expected.

Letters to the


THE proposition that husbands pay salaries to wives who are homemakers is interesting (Govt looks at salary for homemakers from husbands, IE, September 10). Very often, women working at home are considered unemployed, even though they might work as hard as their husbands. Of course, the marital relationship should not be brought into the commercial realm, but allocating a portion of the husbands salary for the homemaker is a way of recognising the worth of the work she does. It also assures her an income and with it, financial independence. Suren Abreu Mumbai

Home front

Loss of a pioneer

INCE September 2001, if not earlier, heavy visa restrictions have been imposed on Pakistan and other countries that feature on the terror map. One envies Indian friends and colleagues, who can get multiple-entry, 10-year visas to a number of countries. For Pakistanis, even those considered bona fide citizens, getting a visa to most countries borders on the impossible. In such a scenario, the easing of visa restrictions announced after the recent meeting between Pakistans foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, is a welcome step towards a more liberal visa regime. Pakistanis applying for a visa anywhere have to wait weeks or even months, never mind if they are academics, professionals or businessmen. Most often, it is Pakistani men who are subjected to the additional processing and screening. Since 9/11, processing delays, along with the extensive application forms, have become the bane of Pakistanis who want to travel to any other country. Until the Mumbai attack of 2008, India was an exception. Once president Pervez Musharraf did a volte face, first after Kargil and then after the Agra summit, Pakistanis could get visas to India much more easily than they could to other countries. Nepal and Sri Lanka offered visas on arrival and a

A liberalised visa regime will benefit Pakistanis more than Indians

couple of east Asian countries were also more accessible, but India was always the preferred destination for most Pakistanis. The India-Pakistan cricket matches and the Page Three visits of the last decade almost made it seem as if the two countries were real neighbours, in spite of all the unresolved differences. Visas were easily available, at least for Pakistanis, and the only hassle one had to endure was Pakistani spooks outside the Indian high commission in Islamabad asking irrelevant questions. Indians coming to Pakistan faced more challenges. ness, for pilgrimages. Often, they just want to enjoy being in a place where the language and culture are far more familiar than in countries farther afield, at least in north India. Understandably, since November 2008, and especially since David Headley was identified as one of the key operatives behind the Mumbai attacks, it has been near impossible for Pakistanis, even well-connected ones, to get a visa for India. Compared to the pre-2008 period of visitor exchanges and cricket matches, the last four years have been troubled and The initial sentiments in both countries are highly positive; one hopes the liberalised visa agreement will be implemented in the same spirit. Moreover, the new visa regime will need solid support structures to make it workable. Just one Indian or Pakistani high commission in the capital handling all the visa applications will give rise to bureaucratic delays. For a start, both countries need to open many more consulates, especially in the cities where they expect the most applications. There must be more flights linking Pakistans three main cities to Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai. The announcement of the Islamabad-New Delhi flight is a beginning, but alas, Indian visitors who want to go to Lahore will no longer be able to do so unless they get a special visa for it. However, the main problem with moving forward on visa regimes, or with trade and cricket ties, is not the bureaucratic resistance to change but actors on the Pakistani side who have disrupted all peace (and visa) processes in the past. The freedom of Pakistanis to visit India is inextricably linked to the political economy of Pakistan. The author is a political economist based in Karachi and visiting professor at Columbia University, New York

Ticket from Islamabad

ese Kurien, India has lost one of its pioneering personalities (Verghese Kurien, father of White Revolution, dies, IE, September 10). Amul, the co-operative he headed, became a household name in India. His work at Anand in Gujarat gave employment to thousands of farmers and helped increase their bargaining power. His relentless efforts revolutionised the dairy industry in India. Saroj Kumar Panigrahi Mumbai household in this country will remember with gratitude, it is that of Verghese Kurien, who brought the White Revolution to India. He resisted multinational companies and other forces to make his co-operative venture a success. Today, most corners of the country have access to a supply of milk. The co-operative also helped in the economic upliftment of poor milk producers. He will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone in this country. V.N. Ramachandran Vadodara
IF THERE is any name every

WITH the death of Vergh-

Compared to the pre-2008 period of visitor exchanges and cricket matches, the last four years have been disheartening for those who have worked for an India-Pakistan future that was friendly and open.
In fact, any visa regime between the two countries will benefit Pakistanis more than Indians. More Pakistanis want to visit India than the other way round, with the possible exception of Indian Sikhs keen on going to holy places in Pakistan. A large number of Pakistanis, both Punjabi- and Urdu-speaking, who migrated between 1947 and 1952, have ancestral ties and associations with lands that are still in India. Apart from these connections, there are numerous Pakistanis who would want to visit India like other regular visitors as tourists, on busidisheartening for those who have worked for and believed in an India-Pakistan future that was friendly and open. The recent agreement between the two foreign ministers is a big step forward. It provides for eight new categories of visas, giving concessions to Pakistani businessmen and to those over 65. All these measures have already been hailed by the business community and civil society in Pakistan. However, factors such as processing time, scrutiny, and other general hassles, will determine the efficacy of the new visa regime.

Time to party

Amazons Kindle Serials are a new-old form of storytelling

The idea of serialised storytelling does, of course, survive in other creativeindustries,suchascomicbooks or TV see, for instance, the success of Lost or Mad Men but was largely abandoned by the literary world,apartfromsomeexperimentation,byStephenKing,forinstance. But perhaps the internet age can make this form relevant again. For authors, serialisation can be a chance to demonstrate that their stories have a market. The real-time nature of the mode of publication allows them to be in dialogue with readers, taking suggestions and criticism on board. Serials are also a challenge, a different kind of writing. They call for each episode to tell a coherent story while maintaining an overall narrative arc; they also require authors to establish a propulsive rhythm that can grab the readers attention and hold it. For publishers, too, serial novels can be a testing ground for new authors.

Future tales

OST content creating industries have been hit hard by the internet and the publishing world is no exception. Publishers and authors are trying to respond to the challenges and opportunitiescreatedbytheinternet ingeneralandAmazoninparticular, experimenting with form, style and deliverysystems.Atitsrecentlaunch of a new line of Kindles, Amazon introduced Kindle Serials in association with several literary studios, a form of episodic storytelling that marrieselectronicbookswithVictorian-era techniques. Kindle Serials will tell stories in short instalments, priced between $0.99 and $2.99 each, much like Charles Dickens or Joseph Conrad would publish their serialised stories in newspapers and magazines in the 19th century. Customerswouldalsohavetheoptionof buying the entire series for a flat fee, with each update delivered to their device as it is released.

Bertolt Brecht

Sitting and sedition dont mix.

N THE past two weeks, both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney claimed to possess farsighted plans for powering Americas economy. At their parties nominating conventions, the candidates and their surrogates described a future in which the country is more energy-independent, nearly everyone in the energy business succeeds and the energydependent economy hums along. In fact, the visions articulated of late are far from farsighted. Neither adequately described the real and massive energy and environmental challenge America faces, let alone offered a credible strategy to face it. The next president must manage a gradual transition off carbon-emitting technologies and toward lower-carbon options while also recognising that America does not have the luxury of wasting its wealth while reshaping its energy sector. Neither candidates plan is up to the task. Romney would try to keep energy cheap. He

Neither Obama nor Romney has a viable policy on energy

deserves credit for opposing the renewal of a particularly inefficient wind-power subsidy, for example. But his latest energy independence plan doesnt even mention the words climate change, and his fullthroated endorsement of burning lots more coal is retrograde... At least Obama freely recognised the dangers of climate change last week, and he can claim some first-term accomplishments. Best are his groundbreaking fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, which promise to curb oil use and emissions... America needs a plan that blunts incentives to use dirty energy without overspending on governmentbacked boondoggles. The best way to do that is by putting a steadily rising price on carbon emissions, empowering consumers to decide how and where to wring carbon out of the economy. From a leader in The Washington Post

The carbon question

bers have now decided to get popular consensus on whether they should form a political party (Kejriwal:Will seek public opinion on floating party, IE, September 9). However, they should only form a party if they truly want to give this country a political alternative. If they want to do so, they should go ahead. Citizens will make their choice at the polls. If the proposed political party does not do well in elections, Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues can take a backseat if they wish. But they should not waste time and money collecting support now. Dhruv Jogi Gondal, Gujarat

FORMER Team Anna mem-

Bitter truths


ability of CAG (IE, September 10) by G. Mohan Gopal. The CAG should arrive at its figures by a method that is trusted by the government. The government, for its part, should have the courage to accept the CAGs figures, however unpalatable they may be. CAG reports cannot be allowed to create a furore that brings the country to a halt every time. Shruti Chaturvedi Ahmedabad.

THIS refers to The account-