UNHOLY HORROR
Nature&’s fury, callous humans
WORDS, pictures and statistics will never suffice to present an authentic account of the still-unfolding calamity in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. It is truly a tragedy of Himalayan magnitude. Nobody will ever accurately state the lives lost, quantify the damage: indeed once they rise above a certain level figures lose relevance, their impact defies comprehension. But even if they remain untold stories, the personal trauma will ever haunt those who suffered. Myriad factors were at play when the monsoon “broke” early over the region with rare intensity, exposing a whole range of human activity that magnified the widespread effect of the deluge. It would, therefore, not be sagacious to start pointing accusing fingers in specific directions when a comprehensive assessment and remedy is necessary. Rather, every immediate effort should be made to back-up the efforts of our military and paramilitary personnel who are involved in truly heroic rescue operations.
It is silly to witness the controversy over the lack of detailed weather forecasts because even if they were available, as undoubtedly they should be, what effective precautions could the authorities have taken? The downpour was just too much too handle. Equally “too much” were the number of pilgrims who were, or are stranded, struggling to be evacuated from the catastrophe-zone. “Temple tourism” is in dire need of regulation ~ but that will never go down well and will trigger religion-laced protest and resistance. Yet for how much longer can the numbers remain unchecked: particularly in hilly regions, or other shrines where space is limited? Are those pilgrims adequately clothed, shod and equipped, are they in adequate physical condition to undertake a trek up and down the mountainside? Do they even carry proper identification? Temple tourism provides so many a living, but it has also been exploited by unscrupulous builders and hoteliers to raise a rash of buildings without adequate foundations, right on the banks of rivers or steep slopes.
Then there are larger environmental issues: criminal deforestation, small or large hydro-electric plants ~ and the political opposition to any call to contain what is erroneously called “development”. Funny that while the union ministry for environment vociferously objects to major industrial projects it has merely whimpered over the gang-rape of the mountains. And finally there is that callous indifference to all safety regulations: a common thread links the unchecked construction in the temple towns of the Himalayan region and the fires in buildings in Kolkata, Delhi… Human life comes cheap, all over this country. Kedarnath will soon be forgotten.

AT BRANDENBURG GATE…
… Mr Obama&’s historical imprint
BARACK Obama may not exactly have scripted history as did his predecessors, but his presentation at the Brandenburg Gate, that had once divided East and West Germany as an etched-in-stone symbol of the Cold War, has been critical enough. In his own way, he did try to make a historical imprint with a profound signal of intent ~ to forge a new pact with Russia that will further cut nuclear arsenals and step up the fight against global warming.  Every brick of the monument symbolises history, and in one stroke he has addressed  two burning issues of contemporary history ~ the imperative to check nuclear proliferation and to effect an agreement on climate change. It was a presentation directed at Russia and the world at large. The history of the Brandenburg Gate mirrors the difficult phase of European history, most importantly the ideological conflicts of the post-war years. And the US President&’s observation that “serious, if less obvious, global challenges remained” was pregnant enough ~ “Today&’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity, that struggle goes on.”   The Cold War is over, but the international power-play remains ever so forbidding. Without touching on specifics, Mr Obama engaged in rhetorical intonation as he reminded the comity of nations that  the “test of our time demands the same fighting spirit that defined Berlin a half-century ago”.
Contextualised with this week&’s change of guard in Iran and the simmering tension in the two Koreas, Mr Obama&’s renewed pitch for nuclear arms control is significant. Indeed, he was sweeping enough to envision a world without nuclear weapons ~ “Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be,” he said, advancing the assurance that America will cut its number of strategic nuclear warheads by a third if Russia does the same. The nub of the matter must be that the world is still far removed from nuclear control as it is from an agreement to curb global warming. His reference to the phenomenon as the “global threat of our time” will remain in the sphere of the rhetoric unless we realise that the world belongs to the Earth.

PICK THE V-C
Government reinforces stranglehold
THE present dispensation in West Bengal is no less anxious than the previous to reinforce its stranglehold over the academic circuit. And the interference begins at the helm with the education department&’s decision to ensure the representation of the government in the search committees for Vice-Chancellors. As reported in this newspaper, the chairman of the West Bengal State Council of Higher Education will be the government&’s nominee on the search committee for the Vice-Chancellor of Bengal Engineering and Science University (Besu). The Council will be represented also in the panel for the selection of the VC of the West Bengal University of Technology. Altogether, a proxy presence of actor-turned-teacher-cum minister Bratya Basu, apparently bogged down in film-shoots.  Perhaps the government&’s tinkering would not have raised the degree of cavil it has were it not for the fact that it has backtracked from its express policy not to interfere in the process of selecting Vice-Chancellors. A not dissimilar policy had been pursued by the Left; there is little doubt that the CPI-M&’s education cell had the final word in naming the VC of any university. So too may the Trinamul government. Its handpicked nominee on the respective search committees can be trusted to ensure that due heed is paid to the government&’s choice.
And if Jadavpur University ~ one of the finest in the country ~ is set to have a Mentor Group, it becomes more than obvious that at least two VCs in West Bengal will have to function under an overarching authority, appointed by the state. Thus even after the selection with the party/government&’s concurrence, the VCs are unlikely to be accorded a free hand. Current trends do suggest that the Presidency University experiment is very likely to be extended. The Trinamul government&’s meddling, therefore, is likely to be still more pronounced than during the CPI-M regime. In a sense, the University Grants Commission has been given the short shrift. The disconcerting trends were apparent enough when the university Acts  were amended to replace the UGC nominees with the government&’s nominees on the search committees. The Governor/Chancellor is perceptive enough and the overbearing and yet ineffective education department needs to be put in its place.