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 India finalises bills to launch new sales tax in July

Heartwarming moments
May, 31st 2008

The visit to India by Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs school friend from Pakistan, Raja Mohammad Ali, brings a poignant issue to light. Ali thought of no better gift for his friend than the soil of his native village from across the border. I remember that the grandmother of one of my friends in Pakistan always requested me to carry a handful of Bombay soil whenever I visited her house.

Both India and Pakistan have a generation of 70 and 80-year-olds who migrated to either side at the time of Partition. They still retain fond memories of their childhood spent in a village or city across the border. Many of them have an overwhelming desire to travel to the place where they were born, before they die. The grandmother of Gauri Khan, wife of film actor Shah Rukh Khan, has been longing for many years to visit her ancestral house in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) in Pakistan. Mehmoodal Haq Alvi, a real estate tycoon in Islamabad, wants to visit his ancestral home in Karol Bagh in Delhi one last time.

As a humanitarian gesture, governments of both countries should launch a special initiative to facilitate these people to see their native places. NGOs on both sides can take up the task of identifying the childhood homes of this generation. I discussed the idea of starting an NGO for this task with Pakistan MP Kashmala Tariq a few years ago. Governments on both sides can gift heartwarming moments to a generation whose lives were changed forever by Partition.

Problem is oil

The unstoppable rise in prices of crude oil has resulted in an alarming situation for our country. The OPEC is once again resorting to artificial supply restriction with the twin goals of making more money through increased prices, and slowing down the depletion of oil reserves. Of the major oil consumers worldwide, the US is insulated because of its huge oil reserves in Iraq. Russia too has little interest in fighting this cartelisation since they too have a large number of oil fields. The burden falls almost entirely upon India and China as they are now among the worlds largest oil importers.

At a recent meeting of the parliamentary standing committee for the petroleum and natural gas ministry, I suggested that India and China should form an import cartel of their own to jointly fight OPEC hegemony. If the two countries can pledge to curtail their oil imports, they can exert sufficient influence on OPEC countries to ease up the oil prices.

At home, the UPA government has been doing its best to protect the countrys people from rising crude oil prices so much so that prices of petrol in India have gone up only five times in the last four years. However, oil at US$132 a barrel is a situation that calls for desperate measures, particularly when demand for petrol and diesel is also increasing rapidly. Oil companies face imminent bankruptcy if they are not able to charge higher prices for petrol and diesel.

At a policy level, the situation can be helped by lowering of sales tax and other levies by the state governments. Almost all states are financially well-off today. If they lower taxes, it will give breathing space to oil companies and also cushion the people from a huge hike in prices.

Police goof-up

Botching up a crime investigation is nothing new for Noida Police. But this time they have startled everyone with their crude insensitivity in handling the recent double-murder case, involving a young girl and her domestic servant. The protectors of law have turned into character assassins on the loose. Agreed, the police have been under relentless media pressure to solve this case, but they should have known better than to jump the gun in this manner.

IG Gurdarshan Singh should have chosen another occasion to satisfy his appetite for publicity there is a plethora of gaping holes in his version. SSP Satish Ganesh appeared more sensible, but he too has not been able to escape the enormous media pressure.

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