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This refers to the cover story Railway Bogey (February 10). The pathetic state of the railways makes it more than clear that a deadly cocktail of crony capitalism and pseudo-nationalism is being forcefully shoved upon the people of India, which is more than evident in the provisions of the Union budget 2020-21. The allocation to various social security and rural development schemes like MNREGA, PDS and FCI has been reduced by almost Rs 1.5 lakh crore as compared to the revised estimates for 2019-20. Even the much-touted PM Jan Arogya Yojana got just Rs 300 crore more. The government is talking about opening medical colleges in public-private partnership, which actually means responsibility for the public and profit for private players. Indian Railways has fallen victim to this ideology, which justifies pathetic, substandard and lousy health, education and public transport—the three crucial public services the government is responsible for. Now, while the poor, deprived and disenfranchised are forced to travel like animals in mostly run-down ordinary trains, the rich can take 150 luxurious private trains where hostesses welcome them and make them feel like royals. Alas, while they fall sick—as many did after having breakfast on India’s first private train, Tejas Express—others daydream of the ever-illusive Bullet trains that may soon become a deadly nightmare, very much like ‘achche din’!
Rakesh Agrawal, Dehradun
Salvaging the railways is like moving a mountain. I had a chance to travel by Shatabdi from Chandigarh to Delhi. One look outside and your stomach churns, you run the risk of throwing up. V.S Naipaul, in his iconic work, An Area of Darkness, had commented that “Indians defecate everywhere”. He was widely criticised for his unkind and supercilious view of India, but to deny the filth and squalor we live in is to shut our eyes to the truth. All these references to swish interiors and fancy meals being served in trains, good as they may sound, are completely off the mark. What we need first and foremost is safety, basic cleanliness and punctuality. Food and wine can wait.
Sangeeta Kampani, New Delhi
Overcrowding in trains is the norm rather than the exception. The demand-supply gap is huge. Take Pushpak Express, the Lucknow-Mumbai train, for instance. While it departs from Lucknow daily at 7.45 pm, commuters who cannot afford the reserved class start putting their luggage in a queue early in the morning at the spot where the general coach of the train arrives. It has become very difficult to get a confirmed ticket and tatkal tickets are equally hard to find. People camp outside tatkal reservation counters overnight, but not many succeed in getting a ticket. The reservation mafia continues to flourish in spite of all efforts of the government to end the racket. Privatisation is not the solution to commuters’ problems. For most, rail is the cheapest mode of travel and they cannot afford trains run privately. The government’s decision to discontinue the separate rail budget and merge it in the general budget is also questionable.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
Like an ordinary person facing financial stress starts selling his kitchenware and wardrobe, the railways might end up selling its assets bit by bit. How giving away 100 rail routes to private players to operate 150 trains will affect different stakeholders can only be ascertained after studying the contract between the railways and private operators. In any case, they will face stiff competition from airlines and roadways. Such shoddy attempts to deal with the sluggish economy will not help the government.
M.N. Bhartiya, Goa
This refers to your interview with Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna (‘Artist, activist have to work in tandem to bring change’, February 10). I am a Tamil Brahmin and so is Krishna. He is doing everything besides singing and has become a torchbearer for the oppressed, joining ranks with the secular lobby to safeguard our Constitution that is under threat from the RSS-led right-wing lobby. The mridangam has become his latest obsession. Krishna rightly claims it is made of cow leather, but his statement that cows are killed to make the mridangam is a bit outrageous.
T.S. Rangarajan, Bangalore
Leading sabhas like The Music Academy have never barred people of any caste or religion from performing. It is naive to believe that you can spread classical music by singing in buses, trains or markets. The art world everywhere is feudal because ordinary citizens, fighting for subsistence have no time or money to learn the fine arts. Indeed, the fertile Cauvery delta produced more artistes than the dry Ramanathapuram district.
Kangayam R. Narasimhan, Chennai
This refers to the article Corrective Surgery Under The Dome (February 3). The lack of accountability in the judiciary requires serious thought. Though the article mentions the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life as a code of ethics for judges, this is not a law that can be enforced. In case of a serious misdemeanour, a judge can be impeached, but what about actions that do not seem to violate any law, yet have serious consequences? If bureaucrats sit on a file for several months, their superiors haul them up. But what happens when a judge sits on a case for an indefinite period? This can happen due to several reasons—the judge may be expecting a posting or promotion, for instance. After retirement, judges are often rewarded with memberships of tribunals and quasi-judicial forums. Passing orders that appear anti-government may jeopardise their prospects. So, they resort to various means to delay or avoid issuing such orders. Lawyers on both sides often go along or even assist in prolonging such cases. After all, they earn money every time they appear in the case. The only one who suffers is the poor litigant, especially if she is involved in a criminal case and is behind bars.
Maj Gen (retd) V.K. Singh, Gurgaon
Outlook has been my favourite magazine since Vinod Mehta’s days. I always read it first and in one go. But lately, I am disappointed with its new-found hi-fi status. Yes, there are professional and business compulsions, but leaving behind lower middle class readers is unwelcome. Alas, so much for my lovely magazine! Also, it is not a balanced periodical now. In the letters column (February 10), I found that only Arun Kampani’s mail mentioned the police’s helplessness. I pity the forces who are sacrificing themselves and their families because of wrong orders by whimsical, selfish rulers.
Harish Pandey, Delhi
Thank you for publishing my letter (January 27). I appreciate your sincerity—even though the letter is not a pleasant one, you printed it. That’s a hallmark of great journalism. Great rebuttal by Ruben to me!
Naveen Rao, On E-Mail
I have been a regular reader of your weekly for more than a decade. While I enjoy reading the weekly and generally agree with most of the views presented by the writers, I have a small request: The cover story should not consume so many pages; it should be limited to 10 pages or so. That will allow you to give more space for other articles. Too much coverage of a single topic, however important and critical, results in monotony. If you feel the cover story cannot be shortened, you should come out with a supplement.
P. Ramachandran, Bangalore
Way Out Excerpts of a letter from a Sogdian (present-day Iran) woman in the 4th century CE
We carried a column by Omair Ahmad (The Burden of an Unheroic Hero, February 17), wherein a disparaging remark was made against former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. This ought not to have been published. We sincerely regret the editorial oversight.