The Indian EXPRESS

HE Union government has announced two welcome decisions. One is the decision to continue with the Jaitapur nuclear project, where India is planning to build six nuclear reactors, beginning with two in the first phase. Fast-growing economies like India, and heavily populated ones at that, have no choice but to depend on more and more of nuclear energy in near future to meet their energy requirements as both an economic and clean option. The other decision — to convert the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) into an independent and statutory body — will have far-reaching consequences for the nuclear industry in India as well as public perception about nuclear plants, the latter still driving the Jaitapur project through rough weather. While the necessity of nuclear energy in near future is undeniable, the same goes for raising questions about nuclear projects and demanding sufficiently adequate answers. In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, nuclear nations are undertaking reviews of their reactors. India had immediately announced the same, the aim being not just taking stock of things as they stand but also upgrading safety standards and preparing to deal with multiple and even simultaneous incidents. In this context, this


An independent nuclear regulator will go a long way in addressing public concerns
is the perfect time to separate the AERB from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), to which the regulator has been reporting all this while. It has been argued earlier in these columns that the AERB — currently the only body in India capable of assessing the radiological impact of any nuclear activity — needed to be freed from any deference to the nuclear establishment. The nuclear industry is too complex and demanding to house its establishment and regulator together. An “independent and autonomous” body, as the proposed Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India is supposed to be, should not only tighten the checks on projects but also convey the right message to both the nation as well as India’s nuclear partners. A large part of the public nature of the nuclear question owes itself to the psychological impact of the very idea of a nuclear plant on society. That is why it is always imperative for the government to reach out and engender nuclear literacy. In a week that saw the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster against the backdrop of Fukushima, the decision on an independent and statutory nuclear regulator is a mark of India’s seriousness about its nuclear industry — the recognition of both the need for nuclear energy and the necessity of enhanced safety.

A clearer orbit


Adding a skills component to NREGA would achieve several ends
idea, giving it a country-wide horizontal reach to scale up. Apart from the major crafts clusters, like weavers in Varanasi or Chanderi, brass workers in Moradabad, etc, we don’t know the dimensions of our artisan community. NREGA has phenomenal scale and covers all the districts across India, and will help provide a real database so that the skill development programme can have greater range and depth. This will add greater heft to the programme, which aims to massively expand the skilled pool of workers in health, information technology, tourism and hospitality, with private sector cooperation. So this plan would not only raise the NREGA profile and make it a productivity-enhancing scheme rather than simply welfare, it would also make a huge difference to the skilling project, so crucial if India is to make use of its demographic advantage. At a less abstract level, it could stop the free fall of Indian craftsmanship, the slump in self-belief among our artisans who now feel that digging a well gives them greater returns and security.

Work better

S one of the largest job programmes in history, NREGA often gets a bad rap from those who think it does not contribute to growth — that it amounts to giving people fish, rather than teaching them to fish, to use the Chinese expression. Now, there’s an interesting proposal in the works, floated by the Prime Minister’s National Council on Skill Development, to impart greater sustainability to NREGA employment by investing in skill-formation. However, to make sure that the original intent of the scheme is not diluted, it’s going to be rolled out in a calibrated way and meant for those who have already completed the required number of days of unskilled manual labour. Also, it will focus largely on artisan skills, because NREGA was felt to have unwittingly contributed to a de-skilling as many craftspeople abandoned their work to shovel soil and build ditches, because it was a reliable source of income. Meanwhile, as far as the skill development mission goes, hitching its wagon to NREGA is a great

S it receives today the USSpecialRepresentativeforAfghanistanand Pakistan, Marc Grossman, New Delhi will be eager to get a first-hand account of the rapidly evolving American policy towards Kabul and Islamabad. This is Grossman’s first visit to Delhi after US President Barack Obama appointed him to the current position following the death of Richard Holbrooke a few months ago. That Grossman was part of the original team in the Bush administration that launched the transformation of the bilateral relationship with India during the middleofthelastdecade,willmake him especially welcome in Delhi. Grossman has the opportunity then to set up a reliable and productive channel of communication between Washington and Delhi on the Af-Pak issues that are at the very top of the national security agenda in both capitals. India understands the many domestic factors driving the US Af-Pak policy and the difficult challenges confronting Washington across the Durand Line. As the US prepares to draw down its military presence in Afghanistan, starting from July, as part of a plan to hand over the security responsibilities to local forces by 2014, Delhi and Washington need a precise understanding of each other’s objectives in the Af-Pak region. Only then would it be possible for them to limit the potential conflicts of interest and expand the possible areas of cooperation in stabilising Afghanistan and Pakistan. Delhi must dispel the widespreadimpressionthatIndiaisdesperate to carve out a special position for itself in Afghanistan. The chatterinDelhi’sstrategiccommunity about constructing an expansive Indian role beyond the Durand Line has played right into the hands of Pakistan’s propaganda that projects India as part of the problem in Afghanistan.

American eagle, Afghan cage A
Delhi must convey its realism to Obama’s new Af-Pak envoy
The current public refrain in Washington goes somewhat like this: “If only Delhi can stop competing with Rawalpindi in Afghanistan, the Pakistan army would be far more helpful to the United States. If only India can make major concessions on Kashmir, discard the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, and perhaps stop growing its economy too fast, Rawalpindi will feel secure enough to end its support to the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan.” Grossman, one can only hope, hasabetterbrief.Foritspart,Delhi musttelltheUSenvoythatitisfully conscious of the limits imposed by geography on any Indian role in guities that have enveloped the US Af-Pak policy, Delhi would want to get a measure of Washington’s latest thinking from Grossman. One set of Indian questions will be about the changing US approach to the Taliban. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently redefined the terms of engagement with the Taliban. Until now, Washington said renouncing the links to Al Qaeda, laying down arms and respecting the Afghan constitution were preconditions for talks. Now they appear to have been recast as possible outcomes from a dialogue with the Taliban. In Washington, many have come

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Grossman must know that India is open to collaboration with anyone, including Washington, in preventing the re-emergence of Afghanistan as the hotbed of religious extremism, a haven for international terrorism, and a source of regional instability.
Afghanistan. Grossman must know that India’s pursuit of its national interests in Afghanistan will be tempered by supreme realism. AndthatDelhiisopentocollaboration with anyone, including Washington, in preventing the re-emergenceofAfghanistanasthehotbed of religious extremism, a haven for international terrorism, and a source of regional instability. Delhi would also have many questions to ask of Grossman. Until it exits from Afghanistan, the US will remain the principal external determinant of the strategic environment in the north-western subcontinent. Amidst the many current ambito believe that embracing the Taliban is the only answer to Afghanistan’s problems. There are also unconfirmed reports of a directcontactbetweenWashington and the Taliban. But there is little information, at least in the public domain, on the nature of these contacts. Delhi would surely want to know Washington’sassessmentoftheTaliban’s interest in the dialogue and its willingness to compromise with other forces in Afghanistan. India would also want to know if there is any thinking at all in Washington about the consequences of accommodating the Taliban. The insertion of the

Taliban into Afghan power structures is bound to alter the ethnic and sectarian balances within and around the country. A second set of important questions for Grossman are about the current instability in the USPakistan relations. The last few months have seen the repeated boiling over of bilateral tensions. The conventional wisdom is that Washington and Rawalpindi are hostages to each other. Their recent difficulties, it is argued, represent at best a passing phase and that the two will find a way to work together in Afghanistan. There is an emerging counterview which suggests that the current divergence between Washington and Rawalpindi is structural. It might be rooted in the Pakistan army’s belief that the US is a much diminished power a decade after 9/11 and cannot set the terms for Afghanistan’s future. The Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, might believe that the rise of China has altered the context of the Great Game and provides the resources to establish Rawalpindi’s long-sought primacy in Afghanistan. Rawalpindi and Beijing, this argument goes, are convinced that the American Eagle trapped in the Afghan cage might have no option but to go along. Nothing else explains, according to this view, the current bold strategic defiance of the US by Kayani. IfGrossmanwantstoexplainthe current dynamism in US-Pakistan relations, Delhi will be all ears. Delhi in turn must signal its readiness to cooperate with the Obama administration in stabilising the north-western subcontinent. It’sreallyuptoGrossmantosayif theUSseesIndiaaspartofthesolutioninAfghanistanandifWashington is prepared to work with Delhi inchangingthestrategiccalculusof the Pakistan army. The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

Letters to the

Out of the box
■ BOTH Arun Jaitley (‘Check-

ing on the House’, IE, April 25) and Jayanthi Natarajan (‘The MPs you don’t see’, IE, April 26) have pointed out that live telecast of Parliament has had a positive effect on proceedings. I disagree. Live telecast has led to an increase in MPs’ theatrics. Natarajan’s article helps my argument: she refers to the “commendable” work being done by parliamentary committees. The reason for the success of standing committees is that during live telecasts the members play to the gallery and take populist stances. On the other hand, standing committee meetings are not telecast and therefore members can, as Natarajan states, hold shared views irrespective of party lines and take stances that may not be populist but are nevertheless in the larger national interest. — Manas Upmanyu Shimla

Show us

■ IT is encouraging to know

N recent days, several members of Parliament have written in these pages about measures to increase the effectiveness of Parliament. Several steps can be taken to enable Parliament work better as the premier institution to hold government accountable for its proposals and actions. Parliamentary committees provide a forum to MPs to examine bills and budget proposals. Specialised financial committees also look at audit reports of ministries and PSUs. The committees, however, are handicapped by the lack of expert researchers working for them. Parliament can correct this by having subject experts for each committee, and supplementing this expertise with outside experts whenever needed. The British Parliament, for instance, has research staff attached to its committees. The issue of asymmetric information between the government and MPs becomes even more stark when we look at the facilities provided to individual MPs. They do not have any office space in Delhi, and usually work out of home (which varies from a bungalow to a hostel room). They do not have any individual research staff — though the recent increase in allowances may enable them to appoint one junior level researcher. Contrast this with the investments made by mature democracies. The United States

Fixing Parliament’s problems can be quite simple
and the United Kingdom provide office space next to the legislature building. Each US Senator has 15 to 20 researchers supporting her work, while the figure is three to five staff for a British MP . In addition, both these countries have large research staff attached to their legislative libraries who provide detailed notes on bills, current issues and any queries raised by members. The US Congressional Research Service has about 700 staff, and the corresponding number in the UK is about 100 staff. standing issues and debating them in Parliament. In any case, the whip and the anti-defection law are valid reasons for an MP to justify why she did not act in a particular way. Four moves can change the system dramatically. First, the rules can be amended to require that all final votes on bills or debates be recorded. That is, these should not be decided by a voice vote but should have each MP press the voting button. Such a step will lead to a voting record for each MP, which will be available to the electorate. Thus, the too few days every year. Another idea is that a significant minority should have the power to insist on a discussion or referral of an issue to a parliamentary committee. Such a procedure would have prevented the stalemate in the winter session last year over the formation of a joint parliamentary committee to look into the 2G spectrum allocation. Indeed, this formula could be used when some MPs want to convene a session. Currently, only the government can decide when Parliament meets, with the only stipulation that it should meet at least once in six months. Given that government accountability is ensured through Parliament, it is important that it not have complete freedom to avoid holdin-g sessions or having only very short sessions. Finally, it is important to take stock of the anti-defection law, and the proposal that the provisions be limited to trust votes and money bills. This step will allow MPs to represent the interests of their voters and vote according to their conscience on most issues. At the same time, it will preserve the objective of having stable governments as envisaged by the anti-defection legislation. The writer is with PRS Legislative, Delhi

Raising the floor


that while Parliament may not transact business due to political grandstanding, MPs hold shared views, irrespective of party affiliation, and tend to achieve consensus on issues in committees. It’s disappointing to know that a majority of the recommendations are not implemented by any government. Bureaucracy is an instrument and MPs should know how to use it. It would be a good idea to telecast the committee meetings as they do in the US. The committees there invite experts from outside to give evidence. It educates the electorate. Whenever a bill is prepared by a committee, it should get inputs from the section which will be adversely affected, so that it gets acceptance easily when it’s enacted. — M.D. Kini Mumbai

House in order


International hockey flirts with a short, pacier format
tive. In addition, the game will be abbreviated as well as made faster by some changes: 30-minute matches in 15-minute halves, nine players on field with a minimum two in the attacking half and a less crowded fray for penalty corners. Before the purists start gasping, it’s worthwhile to recall the innovations that have made hockey ever more athletic and pacier: astroturf gave the sport speed as well as portability, rolling substitutions and the no-offside liberation, and the recent self-pass allowance. How it goes in Perth is bound to have consequences for international hockey. For one, if such complementary formats work, it will be valuable for Indian players, on whose behalf it’s often argued they don’t get enough big-match experience. It could make viable clubbased leagues to fill in gaps in the international calendar. If it doesn’t work, be sure that hockey will find another way to innovate — it’s in the DNA of the sport.

Another goal

Parliament should have a pre-announced annual calendar of sittings. Such a measure will help MPs and other stakeholders plan their schedules. It will also make it difficult for the government to shorten sessions when it finds it inconvenient to face tough questions in Parliament.
Other issues often raised include the limited debate on bills, the limited number of days that Parliament meets, as well as the lack of freedom for MPs to vote their conscience as important matters. These three issues are interconnected when it comes to the incentive structure for MPs to perform their parliamentary functions. Voters do not know about the work of their representatives in Parliament, and rarely use that as a performance metric when MPs come for re-election. Therefore, there is no direct incentive to work hard on undervoters will see how the MP voted (and whether the MP voted). This step will also prevent the passage of bills during a commotion in the House, as has been seen several times in recent years. Second, Parliament should have a pre-announced annual calendar of sittings. Such a measure will help MPs and other stakeholders plan their schedules. It will also make it difficult for the government to shorten sessions when it finds it inconvenient to face tough questions in Parliament. This addresses the issue that Parliament meets for

■ YOUR editorial ‘House

O team sport has perhaps been as determined as field hockey has been to keep itself from becoming boring. In what is being described as the IPL effect, hockey has been quick to propose an International Super Series. Overseen by the International Hockey Federation, the matches will be abbreviate, more interactive and just more fun. The first competition is to be held in Perth this October, and besides hosts Australia competitors would include India, Pakistan, Malaysia and New Zealand. How the first season fares will be interesting, because hockey, one of the most entertaining sports on the ground, too often struggles to keep enough television audiences interested to consolidate its popularity, and also reap the financial benefits of broadcast rights. The Super Series is attempting some innovations that may help: music on the public address system, and earpieces for umpires and some players to make the game more interac-

renovations’ (IE, April 26) rightly says the Congress and the BJP must share the blame for the manner in which debate has been allowed to escape the House. They have the power to reverse this by reconfiguring parliamentary procedures. By uniting on issues for the larger common good, the two parties can make the much needed parliamentary, electoral and economic reforms a reality. Would they? They must. — M.C. Joshi Lucknow

Talk it out

■ THIS refers to ‘Silent

WORDLY WISE He who puts out his hand to stop the wheel
Lech Walesa

of history will have his fingers crushed.

MID the barbaric bloodletting in Syria, claims of direct Al Qaeda involvement in Yemen and assessments by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, that the Libyan conflict is stalemated, it is no wonder influential US senators are demanding more decisive action, including targeting Muammar Gaddafi. Whether US President Barack Obama likes it or not, dealing effectively with Libya is a touchstone of Western resolve in handling the continuing tumult across the Arab world. The likes of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad are encouraged in their brutal repression by the reality that despite the efforts of the US and the six of its 27 Nato allies who have rallied to the cause, Gaddafi remains in power in Tripoli. Even UN sanctions appear ineffectual, with new reports claiming Gaddafi has repatriated billions of dollars to Tripoli to be used as a war chest, replicating what Saddam Hussein did before the invasion of Iraq. In the battle with the rebels, there is, as Admiral Mullen says, stalemate,


Obama needs to do more within the parameters of the UNSC resolution
with Gaddafi forces ousted from places like Misratah one day only to resume their bombardment the next. The influential Republican senator Lindsey Graham argues that the way to end this stalemate is to cut off the head of the snake. He is supported by senator John McCain, who has been at rebel headquarters in Benghazi and argues for the provision of money and weaponry on a scale similar to that given the mujahideen who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. Mr Obama has, from the outset, been extremely cautious. After Iraq and Afghanistan, this is understandable. He has ruled out American boots on the ground and is confined by the UN Security Council resolution. But, as Senator McCain has said,evenwithinthoseparametersthereismoretheUScoulddobeyondthe modest two unmanned predator drones that have now been committed. From a leader in ‘The Australian’

Stalemate in Libya


coalition’ (IE, April 27). The UPA’s silence is deliberate and driven by its mis-steps. With its credibility at its lowest, the UPA hesitates to engage with the people or even take on the opposition. Had the government ordered an inquiry into the 2G spectrum scam and the Commonwealth Games with some degree of alacrity, it could have earned cheers for walking the talk on corruption instead of jeers for its flip-flops and indifference. The Congress’s susceptibility to pigeonholing controversial and inconvenient issues for expedient reasons leads it to bigger problems. The party is oblivious to the fact that its political interests are more at stake than those of its allies. — Tarsem Singh New Delhi

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