Friday Squib: A poet and a revolutionary

But then…

So what if you are one of the top leaders of one of India’s largest underground Maoist party. You still need to get in touch with the wife. In an interview with Romita and Aveek Datta, Mint‘s intrepid reporters, Communist Party of India (Maoist) politburo member Koteshwar Rao says:

My wife Maina is now at Dandakaranya—she is in charge of a group in Bastar (district of Chhattisgarh). We met in Hyderabad when I was state secretary (of Andhra Pradesh) and she was a comrade. The last time we met was two years ago. We communicate through letters—use of mobile phones has been banned by our central committee. I write poems to her and make sure the Indian postal department delivers them to her. I wrote poems after the landmine attack on Buddhbabu’s convoy and also on the day somebody hurled a shoe at (George) Bush. [Mint]

Now before female readers of this blog start forwarding this to their significant others, they should also know that in the very next breath, Mr Rao says that he doesn’t have kids, because “the leadership expects the women in our party to undergo sterilization after marriage.” His interviewers didn’t ask him why vasectomies were not similarly expected of the men in the party. Especially after the comrade declared that his party works for “women’s liberation”.

Jumping over Mamata’s nuclear hurdle

Meet the Academician Lomonosov

Swaminomics points out that the issue of land acquisition—epitomised by Mamata Banerjee—will prove to be the real hurdle in building nuclear power plants after the India-US nuclear deal (linkthanks BOK). Mr Aiyar is right—land acquisition is an important issue. (See the December 2007 and August 2008 issues of Pragati).

But who says nuclear reactors must be built on land? The Russians are building a floating nuclear power plant (FNPP), and the first, the Academician Lomonosov, is expected to be completed by 2010.

FNPP via RIA NovostiThe FNPP will be a barge able to move with the help of a tug boat. Transportation will be done without nuclear fuel, so on the move it will be non-threatening hardware.

The FNPP will look like a small island with an area of between 7.4 and 12.4 acres. It resembles a “symbiosis” of a nuclear-powered vessel and a standard land-based nuclear plant. It could well arouse amazement and fear, as radiophobia is widespread. Nevertheless, according to Sergei Kirienko, chief of Russia’s Federal Nuclear Power Agency, “the floating nuclear power plant with several levels of protection will be much safer than a land-based one.” [RIA Novosti | See the infographic]

West Bengal’s avian flu

A tale of two outbreaks

Avian flu first hit India in February 2006, when chickens in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district tested positive for the H5N1 virus. India’s official response was promising: it activated its contingency plan, quarantined the affected districts, improved surveillance and began culling birds (almost 900,000 birds were culled). The outbreak was contained quickly. Poultry farmers were compensated between Rs 40 and Rs 10, depending on the size of the bird.

This week’s outbreak in West Bengal shows just how different Indian states can be. Failure to contain the outbreak quickly enough now threatens wider damage. The state government has been accused of being slow to act, and for not realising ‘gravity of the situation‘. It has neither been able to cordon off the affected districts, not been able to implement culling fast enough. Well-connected cartels have been sneaking dead birds out, and farmers unwilling to allow birds to be culled unless paid in cash upfront. This, despite the compensation being closer to Rs 70 (much more than what was paid in Maharashtra in Feb 2006). Clearly, the villagers don’t trust the government to pay up.

This suggests that immediate cash compensation to affected farmers is the need of the hour even if the cash must make it through the hands of the administrative chain. Sealing off affected areas, and clamping down on ‘smuggling’ is also in order.

Beyond the immediate crisis, the key lessons—so far—from this is that educating poultry farmers must be taken more seriously; and the education initiative must be carried out in a sustained manner. Second, the Indian government’s contingency plan must take into account the problems of paying upfront cash compensation. Finally, sealing off of affected areas may be too serious an issue to be left to the state government alone. A clear escalation process—laying out the conditions for deployment of central paramilitary forces—is necessary.

In the next few days we will know how many humans have been affected by the flu virus. Coping with that will be another challenge for the West Bengal government.

From the archives: Chicken contingency (Feb 2006); a review of India’s state of preparedness (Nov 2005)

Update: Ravik Bhattacharya’s report in the Indian Express on how the state authorities didn’t act in time.

Stalin’s papa

Disinvestment is dead. Nationalisation on the cards

(Tamil Nadu) Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said on Thursday that his government was firm on the announcement made on Wednesday on nationalisation of some industries.

In an attempt to make available cement at an affordable rate, the State Government on Wednesday decided that cement will be sold through the Civil Supplies Corporation’s warehouses at cost price.

At a function to mark handing over 1,094 buses to transport corporations here, the Chief Minister refrained from naming the industry the government intended to take over, but referred to it as “some industries that the government announced yesterday [for nationalisation].”

Mr. Karunanidhi recalled that when the DMK government decided to nationalise private transport corporations and approached them, owners of the corporations had cooperated.

They even attended the function held to mark the transport nationalisation project.

“Like that in the future, the government has announced that it will nationalise some industries. When an event of that nature is happening, I believe that the industrialists will come and felicitate us,” he said. [The Hindu]

Now what kind of industrialist will felicitate the government for taking over his business? Ans: (a) the kind that is glad to get rid of a troubled, loss-making venture and (b) the kind that is forced to grin and bear it.

But really, it’s not just a question about whether industrialists line up to garland Karunanidhi. It’s a question of whether ordinary people will be any better off. It is only a scriptwriter’s fantasy to believe that selling cement at cost in government shops will make it available, and at affordable rates.

Only when all the non-grinning industrialists, non-lossmaking industrialists had fled the state did another chief minister realise:

“We have to accept capitalism; where is State capital? This is being realistic in a situation where there is no alternative,” (West Bengal chief minister) Buddhadeb Bhattacharya said while addressing an audience on the occasion of the 42nd foundation day of Ganashakti, the Bengali daily and mouthpiece of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). [The Hindu]

But Tamil movies are not know to take ideas from Bengali ones.