4th June 2000

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Parched stretches of India - weather gods or
government to blame?

By Sidharth Bhatia

Parts of western India are chronically dry and the people have become inured to living a cruel existence. Partly due to inherent geographical conditions and mainly because of poor water distribution, the people of Gujarat and Rajasthan, to name two states, are perpetually short of that precious commodity, water. In the vast desert stretches of Rajasthan, entire communities move all the time in search of water during the summer. So in that sense, what is happening in Indian villages is nothing new and has been going on for decades, even centuries.

But that does not in any way lessen the ugly reality that vast numbers of Indians are without access to clean drinking water and even five decades after independence from British colonial rule, the basics have not been provided for. Year after year, officialdom puts in place grand plans to improve water distribution but that has not made an iota of difference to a substantial part of the country's population. It may be somewhat unfair to put the blame on governments when it is the weather gods and the vagaries of monsoons that create the problem in the first place.

Deserts are chronically water-deficient areas and receive scanty rain, so what can the government do? Indeed, after reports of severe water shortages began appearing in the newspapers, the government machinery reacted swiftly and announced many relief measures for the affected areas. But such steps are reactive rather than pro-active and are at best a mild palliative to what is an endemic problem.

Critics allege that successive governments chose to neglect the situation unless it gets out of hand and then there is a flurry of activity wherein huge amounts of money are spent.

There is no advance planning, some analysts have claimed, pointing out that droughts do not just happen, they can be forecast months in advance. Last year, the government's agencies knew that though the monsoons last year had been good on the whole, there had been scanty rainfall in some areas and steps could have been taken to ensure that, come summer, these areas had access to water.

Even worse is the fear that groundwater resources are gradually depleting in many parts of India, and not merely in the drought-prone regions. In the capital, New Delhi, for example, it said that the water table is going down rapidly and where one could strike water at 70 feet, now one has to dig for over 200 feet before reaching a water source. Over-urbanisation and lack of water management is making parts of India water deficient and ironically, even regions that get a lot of rainfall often have very little drinking water.

Some non-governmental agencies have suggested that there be water harvesting, a relatively simple technique of collecting rainwater and then using it carefully throughout the dry season.

The government is now paying attention and there are plans to start water harvesting in a big way.

Bridging that dangerous yawning gap

By Kumbakarana

At present it appears that the armed forces have been able to stem the rapid advance of the LTTE in the Northern theatre. Did this turn of events occur due to an increase in the firepower of the armed forces, able leadership or the support of the people in the South? From the LTTE's point of view, one needs to determine whether the slowdown was for military, tactical or political reasons. The answer will be known in the near future.

There are several factors in determining a military advance or retreat. Firstly, there is the factor of military weaponry, secondly, manpower, thirdly, the training and leadership of troops, fourthly, the political leadership and finally, the support given by the citizenry in support of the armed forces.

The relationship between the strength of armaments and the effect of manpower is complimentary. The number of armed fighters necessary for a battle can be reduced by increasing the fighters' firepower. At first, this equation was not fully understood in the Northern war theatre. In other services such as logistical information, the same tradeoff between numbers and efficiency applies. It has been stated that at the height of the cold war, the KGB had a few thousand informers, while the Mossad had under a hundred. The Israel intelligence was however far more efficient.

The question, often asked by many, is how the LTTE with a relatively few cadre are able to hold large territories in the Wanni while the armed forces with much larger numbers are unable to do so? If the army wishes to hold Jaffna, it is necessary to open a second battle front.

Training and leadership, and the opinion of the people towards the armed forces are also significant and interconnected factors. A popular view has been that there has been a considerable weakening of the war effort due to political objectives overshadowing military ones. A far more significant factor has been the yawning gap between the military effort and the lack of support from the civil society.

This lack of support creates a loss of morale within the armed forces. This gap is one that has been deliberately created by the NGO sectors, the government, the opposition and foreign forces.

A few organizations, such as the NMAT, were involved in closing this gap but these moves had been suppressed in the past. However, at present, there appears to be a following of these strategies by the government.

There have been Bodhi poojas and a few events in support of the army amidst cricket matches and the like, but there has not been a substantial attempt to enlist the support of the civil society towards the war effort. There have been contradictory statements made by the political leadership, on the one hand calling for a continuous battle while in the same breadth seeking a political solution where the LTTE is given undemocratic control of the very areas that are being fought over.

During these times of crisis, there has to be an appeal made to nationalism, in particular Sinhala nationalism. Such an appeal however is not being made by the government or the opposition. The reasons for this are firstly because as individuals, politicians today have no larger cause. Secondly, there is a heavy dependency on minority votes. Thirdly, there is a fear that an appeal to Sinhala nationalism may lead to a 1983 like situation. Fourthly, in order to win international support the politicians are afraid to embark on such a course. There is therefore mere sloganizing of empty words borrowed from a defunct left, liberal movement.

The first two reasons relate to the holding on to power in the South. If a Sinhala political force merges both these factors will automatically vanish. The July 1983 argument is an old argument, which holds no water, as the Tamils in the Wanni move southwards in times of war and not northwards. The internationalist argument does not explain how a racist force such as the LTTE is not condemned. The appeal to international opinion should be secondary to the fundamental factors of a nation state. The first lesson in our history, simply stated as Athaahi Athano Nathi or that 'ones salvation lies within oneself' should be learnt, and the appeal should be towards the reality of Sinhala Nationalism, and not an imagined international position.

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