Wednesday, May 25, 2005



The Times of India, New Delhi




There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Leave Those Kids Alone
Committee recommends school curriculum reform


Mosque’s Sanctity
With reference to the Q&A ‘Islam for Women’ (May 3), Daud Sharifa Khanam’s dream of a mosque for women where they can laugh, cry or talk just like men do in mosques, doesn’t seem reasonable. I’m not sure if a mosque for women is a good idea, but it certainly can’t be the place to make merry. Mosques are meant for namaz and useless talk not related to deen (religion) defiles the atmosphere and is therefore prohibited. If men are misusing the premises, women shouldn’t follow suit. A mosque is not a place for social chit-chat. — Farah Anwar, via e-mail

Price of Air
India should sell 3G spectrum, not give it away free


India’s telecom boom is to last, the country has to come up with a clear policy on allocating radio frequencies among rival telecom companies. Unfortunately India’s current, muddled telecom policy bundles , the spectrum along with operating licences, without imputing a specific charge which reflects market realities and scarcity value, to the bandwidth. The absurdity of the present policy has become acutely apparent today when players are , thinking of launching advanced third generation (3G) mobile services in India. Instead of attempting to clean up India’s spectrum mess, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has put its foot in its mouth by suggesting that radio waves used for 3G services be doled out free to companies. The suggestion is likely to lead to more complications over time. Radio frequency is a natural resource that can’t be replenished and, therefore, has to be used efficiently Economics . shows that anything given free leads to inefficient usage. That is what Ratan Tata has argued while offering to pay Rs 1,500 crore to buy 3G bandwidth for his telecom operations. India should charge for 3G frequency as developed economies with transparent policies do. If India’s policymakers take the Tata offer as a benchmark, the exchequer will be richer by Rs 9,000 crore, about $2 billion. That is cheap for a telecom market as large as India. Four years ago, European telecom companies paid a staggering $190 billion in auctions for 3G frequency A year before that, Britain sold . bandwidth to five companies for a total of $33 billion. Every good idea has its opponents and Airtel boss Sunil Mittal has opposed payment by arguing that the spectrum charge would make 3G unaffordable for users. In fact, the world over, technology costs fall over time. 3G costs have plummeted in the five years that it has been adopted elsewhere in the world, so India is coming in late, and cheap, to the revolution. In any case, India’s ferociously competitive telecom sector is unlikely to tolerate high costs for long. The government should sell 3G frequencies, not hand it out free to mobile telecom companies. That is the most efficient, and transparent, way forward for India’s controversy-ridden telecom sector.

R K Narayan’s Swami and Friends is unique because there is no other Indian book written so acutely from a child’s viewpoint. Its humour, briskness and candour are rare among books written to portray childhood in India. It doesn’t surprise me that it was Narayan who spoke about the burden of lifeless learning at school. During his entire term as a nominated member of Rajya Sabha he spoke just once, and that’s when he lamented the growing weight of the school bag. His passionate speech led to the appointment of a committee chaired by Prof Yash Pal in 1991, but its report, Learning Without Burden, received little by way of serious attention. Its main point, that our system of education confuses knowledge with information, proved too obvious to be recognised as an indictment of curriculum designers. Things got worse, and 13 years later, we have another opportunity to contemplate a solution to the problem Narayan had forced Parliament to notice. A freshly drafted framework of curriculum is about to be presented to the Central Advisory Board of Education. It has been prepared by a committee chaired by Yash Pal on the basis of wide-ranging deliberations carried out by 21 national focus groups, each chaired by an eminent scholar. It defines learning as the result of experience, and the child as someone who constructs knowledge while attempting to make sense of the world. If curriculum design responds to the child’s own nature, the problem of burden or stress can be resolved. Rabindranath Tagore had criticised the system of education for ignoring the child’s creative spirit. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore felt that education, as designed by colonial masters,

stifled social initiative and creativity. This critique is still valid. The burden that curricula and textbooks place on children is compounded by the stress and anxiety caused by our memorybased examination system. The rate of failure is high and moderate success carries little value or meaning. The system seems designed to stigmatise the majority, ignore the diversity of potential and justify the exclusion of the marginalised. Its Darwinian character makes it unsuitable for our democratic order based on the idea that every child matters.

A nation aspiring to become an industrial giant can hardly afford a system which fails to retain at school nearly half its children below 14. We need a system flexible enough to accommodate all, and efficient enough to motivate everyone to learn. The proposed curriculum framework points to this direction of systemic reforms by offering both organisational and curricular remedies. It favours decentralisation and diversity of approaches at the ground level, greater professional autonomy for teachers and partnership between the state and civil society groups. Examinations must be redesigned so that they offer multiple opportunities and focus on the ability to reason. Teachers require more imaginative training and higher status to act as leaders of curricular reform.

On syllabi and textbooks, the framework asks for a departure from our prevailing conception of knowledge and teaching. A message sent by Mumbai-based mother and teacher, Neeta Mohla, sums up the recommended strategy to make syllabi and textbooks realistic. Her message: Balance what should be taught in favour of what can possibly be learnt. Now, that is a great challenge for syllabus designers and textbook writers. Customarily, they do their job in isolation from classroom realities. New topics get piled up on existing ones and textbooks grow fatter and duller. Teachers give up hope that they can explain anything with ease and children perceive cramming as the only way out. Improved syllabi and textbooks, coupled with a humane examination system, can break this vicious cycle. Future textbooks must be interactive, offering ideas and spaces to let children wonder about things. The conventional textbook is a reference book, stuffed with information, offering no room to think for oneself or for interdisciplinary linkages. The questions given don’t provoke or inspire critical reflection. Imagine a textbook of history which introduces children to the agricultural and water storage practices of Rajasthan, discusses Meera’s life and the poetry she wrote in Chittor, includes one of her bhajans normally included in the Hindi textbook and asks children to visit a website where they can hear that bhajan sung by M S Subbulakshmi. Or imagine a Hindi textbook with all of its poetry set to music in a CD supplied with the book in a stitched-in envelope. Sounds like fantasy? Well, it can be accomplished if we treat R K Narayan’s anxiety as the key issue for curriculum reform. Appropriately enough, Yash Pal says in his foreword to the proposed curriculum framework that it can start a freedom movement to release children from the tyrannical regime in which schools envelop them.
The writer is director, NCERT.

From timesofindia.com

Distorting Facts
Considering the impact Hindi movies have on society, films like Naina which propagate misinformation about medical procedures like eye transplant should be banned. As a doctor I know how difficult it is to persuade people to allow a dead relative’s eye to be given for transplant. Unscientific and illogical things shown in films like Naina are a serious setback to the eye donation campaign. Vikas Jain

Chappell’s Challenge
The BCCI has done well to appoint Greg Chappell as India’s cricket coach. He lost the job to John Wright the last time. But stepping into Wright’s shoes is a tough call for any coach. The challenge for Chappell is to find out why the Indian team cannot perform under pressure. — Rakesh Kumar Raja, Delhi
Letters to this column should be addressed to Letters c/o Edit page Editor, The Times of India, 7, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi-110002. email:edit@timesgroup.com

Biotechnology Boom
India could become a nucleus for stem cell research
donor egg from which the nucleus has been removed and replacing it with the nuclear DNA material from the cell of another organism. The result is a blastocyst, a stage of development of an embryo when it’s about five days old. This is when embryonic stem cells can be extracted. Such cells are the stuff of biotech dreams since they can be transplanted to grow into almost any of the body’s cell types and combat or cure diseased tissues and organs. In practice, however, the process is dicey at least at the current level of understanding , and technology available. So when a South Korean team announced recently that it had successfully managed to create patient-specific, tailor-made stem cells from such cloned embryos which would not be immediately rejected by the recipient’s immune system, it made headline news around the world. Especially since the Koreans also managed to create up to 11 batches of these cells which could potentially replace those damaged by spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Parkinson’s and other diseases. Where does this leave comparative research in the rest of the world? The United States, usually at the forefront of hi-tech innovation, has managed to emasculate itself after a pro-life President George Bush cut off federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in 2001, limiting it to only some 70-odd stem cell batches in existence then. About eight to 10 of these were in India which, along with countries like the UK, Belgium, Sweden, Israel, China, Japan and South Korea, have a far more liberal and supportive system. The Indian Council of Medical Research’s draft guidelines for stem cell research (2004) specifically state that although there must be a regulatory apex body for monitoring purposes, sources of stem cells can include those derived from foetal tissue. With more than 15 labs in the country involved in this work and a Rs 500 crore department of biotechnology budget, of which 30% is allocated for stem cell-related study India today has the , potential to become a global hub for this kind of research.

Prime minister changes assessment system for senior bureaucrats

New policy will reduce accountability
minister Manmohan Singh P ly announced changesUnder this, recentin the assessment system for bureaucrats. senior

Cleanse politics, bureaucracy will follow
affected all P aspects ofcorruption has Bureaucratic our system. corruption, misgovernance, inefficiency


N theory therapeutic cloning is simple. It involves taking a ,

officers will be judged through a system of peer review, conducted by an eminent persons group (EPG). EPG members will be selected by a committee comprising the prime minister and leader of the Opposition, and will have a five-year term. Each group will appraise an officer only once. An EPG report will not be part of the regular performance appraisal exercise, but will be used in the event of postings to sensitive assignments. The new system is tailored to suit the interests of senior bureaucrats. To the extent that it is aimed at reducing political control over their transfers and appointments, it will go against efforts to deepen democracy . In a democracy power must vest in elect, ed representatives and not in a faceless army of pen-pushers who are answerable to none. If governance is to suffer because of incompetent political leadership, so be it.


The democratic process, and not the Indian Administrative Service, is expected to take care of that difficulty . The IAS sees itself as a steel frame that knows how to run its affairs and that of the country Its indifference to democratic im. pulses can be traced to its imperial origins. But that was another time and context. Our democracy has become robust, raucous and representative, throwing up leaders from a cross-section of society . Often, these leaders fall short of the country’s expectation and need. But they are elected leaders and that’s the bottom line for claims to power in a democracy The top bureaucracy . conveniently lays all the blame for its omissions and commissions on the doorstep of the political leadership. It may not like incursions on its turf by the emerging political class. Understandably it would like a sys, tem of peer review, as articulated by the prime minister. But it must remain answerable to the political leadership in the interest of democratic accountability .

in the civil service, encourage merit and institute performance-based promotions. The scheme seems to be based on the premise and lack of accountability are just some of that it is possible for the civil service to functhe side-effects of this malaise. In such an tion outside the political system. The corenvironment, can an independent panel ruption and sloth in the civil service are only to assess bureaucratic performance be im- extensions of a debarred political culture. mune to political pressures? By what criteNowhere is this truth more starkly acria are the eminent persons, who will be on knowledged than in the legislation which the panel, selected? protects higher level civil serMost IAS postings are detervants from prosecution without mined by state governments. prior government sanction. A They appoint pliable officers to system which legislates such a important posts. Today a large , provision has no credibility when percentage of civil servants are K SUBRAHMANYAM it talks of ways to eliminate politicised and their careers decorruption. pend upon their political allegiance. In such Our legislators flagrantly flout ethical a situation, politicians will ensure that no norms in that even those of them who are panel can work efficiently or independently awaiting trial for corruption charges hold on . Rather than set up a panel, it would be better to office on the specious grounds that they to empower existing institutions so that they have yet to be proved guilty Placebos like . act as effective checks and balances in assessment by an independent panel will do ensuring a clean bureaucracy . nothing to restore the credibility of the civil The Prime Minister’s Office means well in service. The political system must first be suggesting methods to eliminate corruption cleansed, the bureaucracy will follow.


Pokhran was a mistake

Brand Badshah

it Miyan drew our Fextol thewas Choteeffects ofGovinda whoBachchan’sattention to it, now it’s Bade Miyan Amitabh turn to soothing Navratna hair oil. In the ad,

the superstar is shown in various situations of stress from his famous films all of which we are told can be banished by the wonder oil. This is but one of the megastar’s endorsements. Amitabh’s track record gives an altogether new meaning to multitasking. Witness the ease with which he sells a plethora of brands and convincingly at that. If electronics is your passion, buy BPL, says Amitabh, and never be caught in anything less than Reid & Taylor suits. The famous Amitabh autograph is always signed using Parker pens, he moves around in a Maruti Versa, derives his boundless energy from Dabur Chyavanprash, would live in a Sahara city home if he didn’t have to be located in the heart of Mumbai to fulfil his shooting and endorsement commitments. Among them are Emami Boroplus, Hajmola digestives, Nerolac paint and Tide detergent. To be fair to him, Amitabh does his share for the greater public good, pitching in for Pulse Polio, Unicef and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Is the Badshah of Brands stretching himself too thin? Sure, Amitabh can still draw them in. He delivered one of last year’s biggest blockbusters romancing an ageing dream girl Hema Malini in Baghban. But, today he is in danger of diluting his brand equity Amitabh has always been known . for being credible and infinitely charming. Do we really want to see him prancing about peddling an unknown oil brand or do a cover-up job for chocolates which came under a cloud for possible contamination? Or a detergent a la Surf ’s famous Lalitaji? No, Amitabh is all about exclusivity, class and comportment. That is what he was best known for and admired all these years. Unlike other kiss-and-tell stars, he stayed away from media speculation. Whenever he did speak to the media, he rarely gave anything away. This is precisely what kept the public fascinated by his persona. He is the biggest brand Bollywood has ever produced. Don’t lend it indiscriminately to the highest bidder. The Shahenshah cannot behave like any old Amar, Akbar or Anthony .


May can well be dubbed the month for nuclear tests in South Asia. On May 18, 1974, India conducted its so-called peaceful nuclear explosion in Pokhran. Coincidentally it conducted its Shakti series , of nuclear tests on May 11 and 13 in 1998. Thereafter, Pakistan conducted its own series of nuclear tests on May 28 and 30. In hindsight, it would appear that India has emerged a loser. New Delhi’s spin doctors argued that the nuclear tests were designed to challenge the discriminatory nuclear disarmament regime and establish India’s claim to great power status. But the official reason provided was security compulsions. Seven years later, the question is whether the nuclear tests added to or eroded India’s national security If a balance . sheet were drawn up, the negatives would far outweigh the positives. Far from assuring India’s national security , the nuclear tests have made it more vulnerable to invasion and border confrontations. There are two reasons given to claim that the nuclear tests strengthened India’s national security First, they put . in place a credible state of nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan. True, a non-weaponised deterrent state existed between them earlier, premised on their ability to nuclearise at will. Uncertainty about their nuclear capabilities, however, could have led to adventurism. Besides, conducting the nuclear tests during an actual conflict would have been destabilising. Second, India’s nuclear tests brought out Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities from the closet, while exposing its nucleartechnological links with China. In a communication to Bill Clinton after India’s Shakti tests, former prime minister A B Vajpayee indicted Pakistan and China, while explaining why India chose this path. In fact, Pokhran II had a negative fallout. The US and later the G-7 imposed economic and military sanctions on India, adding to those already in force after Pokhran I. These were relaxed over the years and there is

optimism after US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s visit that they will finally be lifted. Second, the history of the Cold War is replete with crises and near-accidents. The possibility therefore, of conflict , being triggered in South Asia by inadvertence, if not design, will be ever present. Having achieved nuclear status, India and Pakistan are vulnerable to these dangers. India has embarked on an insidious two-track arms race. India’s nuclear arsenal is being steadily beefed up by development of long-range missiles. Simultaneously its conventional ar, moury is also being strengthened despite arguments by strategists that acquiring nuclear weapons would allow a reduction in expenditure on conventional armaments. Now they argue that stronger conventional defence would raise the nuclear threshold, implying that conflict would remain conventional and recourse to nuclear weapons would only be a last resort. Pokhran II has not improved India’s national security On the . contrary the nuclear test has had no ef, fect in Kashmir where cross-border terrorism and internal militancy continues to be a problem. Neither has conventional conflict become less likely as was shown by the Kargil imbroglio, which occurred because Pakistan felt emboldened to undertake its intrusions under the umbrella of nuclear deterrence. However, India felt inhibited in enlarging the area of operations due to fears that expanding the conflict could lead to a nuclear war. Again, India was unable to launch hostilities against Pakistan during the border confrontation in 200102 because of fears of a nuclear conflict. Pokhran II placed India in a strategic box. None of this had been thought through when the nuclear tests were ordered by a small coterie within the government and executed by a group of dedicated nuclear and defence scientists. The jury is still out on whether these nuclear tests were required at all. But one thing is for certain: Security concerns were the least of priorities informing the tests.
The writer is with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.

May the Force be With You Now and For Evermore
Realise Your Potential We are all born with an infinite number of different qualities or energies within us. One of the most important tasks in our life is to discover and develop as many of these energies as possible, so that we can be well-rounded, and experience the full range of our potential. Shakti Gawain ✥ The outer dimensions of the human being are parts of external nature. Our body and our sensory system are all products of the evolution of material processes from lower to higher levels. But the buddhi, the discriminative faculty in the human being, when it is truly itself, when it is not under thralldom to the sensory system, is something unique; Vedanta treats it as the channel for the spiritual energy hidden in every human being to flow out into life as dharma or the science of values. Swami Ranganathananda ✥ Above all, be yourself Be, but don’t just exist There’s more to life Than just being another Name on the list. Be active, alive and Adventurous, boisterous, Brave and bold Confident, cool and Clear-headed, daring, Determined and decisive Eager, earnest and Eloquent, free-thinking, Fresh and fun-loving, But, above all, BE YOU. Anonymous

The cornerstone of the Star Menace, in the battle between Wars movie series is the tussle Qui-Gon and the evil Darth between the proverbial good Maul, the two are caught in a and the bad — the Jedi and corridor of doors that open the Sith. Evil Chancellor and close, based on a timer. Palpatine wants to take over Upon reaching the final door the Republic. Assisting him is Darth Maul gets through Darth Vader, who is actually but Qui-Gon doesn’t. Instead Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi of losing his temper, Qui-Gon knight lured onto the Dark simply kneels, closes his Side. The Jedi, led by masters eyes, and breathes calmly. By like Quo-Gon, Yoda and Obi- quieting his mind, he is truly Wan Kenobi, protect the in the moment. Republic. Obi-Wan is the menBy concentrating on the tor of both Anakin breath, one can and Anakin’s son, achieve stillness of Luke Skywalker. Afmind. This prevents ter Anakin’s defecus from reacting rashtion, his son Luke ly in trying circumundergoes training to stances. It helps one become a Jedi. to be centred in the THE The several lessons present moment and woven into the space SPEAKING respond to the situachronicle seem to sugtion with equanimity. TREE gest that what we The third lesson is need to aspire for is self-reali- that of conquering fear. In sation. The first is in the use of Episode I: The Phantom the Force. As Obi-Wan says: Menace, when Anakin faces “The Force is what gives the the Jedi Council, Yoda quesJedi his power. It’s an energy tions him about his mother: field created by all living “Afraid to lose her, I think”. things. It surrounds us and Anakin responds: “What does penetrates us. It binds the that have to do with anygalaxy together”. He advises thing?” Yoda replies: “Everyhis pupil: “Be one with the thing! Fear is the path to the Force, Luke”. Dark Side. Fear leads to anger; A scene from Episode V: The anger leads to hate; hate leads Empire Strikes Back shows to suffering... I sense much Luke trying and failing to use fear in you”. his mental prowess to lift out In Episode III: Revenge of his X-wing spacecraft from a the Sith, Anakin allows his swamp. Yoda, his teacher, as- fear to get the better of him serts: “Try not. Do”. Yoda then and so embraces the power shows him how. He effortlessly offered by the Dark Side. raises the ship onto dry land Controlled by fear, one can using the Force. The Force is never hope to eliminate suffersimilar to the all-pervading ing and find happiness. Only Universal Energy. Sages who by confronting and refusing to have experienced union with give in to fear can one gain the this field are able to perform insight to overcome it. Once feats that seem miraculous to vanquished, fear loses its us. However, every one of us power over us. has the potential to tap into This delightful sci-fi tale the Universal Energy to raise reiterates that both good and our consciousness. evil are inherent in us. It is up The second lesson is about to an individual to bring out being aware of the present. In that side of one’s personality, Episode I: The Phantom which is for the greater good.