Officials Ponder Skulls and Monkeys : In India, It's the Odd Things That Count

Associated Press

Not only does India's Parliament deal with critical issues of the day, but it also has to figure out what to do about monkeys that vandalize airliners, the need for yoga teachers, or developing a modernized bullock cart.

The interests of India's roughly 700 million people are at stake when lawmakers settle into the mahogany benches of the Rajya Sabha (the Council of States), the upper house, and the Lok Sabha (the House of the People), the governing lower chamber.

While most attention focuses on critical issues such the Sikh uprising in Punjab, the arms race with Pakistan, poverty and overpopulation--it is often more bizarre subjects that provide insight into India's priorities.

Every day, Parliament produces mounds of papers containing government ministers' written replies to questions from lawmakers. A glance through documents for two recent sessions showed these concerns:

--Human sacrifice to please deities continues in some parts of India. In a recent case in the western state of Maharashtra, a villager hacked a 6-year-old boy to death with a religious trident, a three-pronged spear, in the hope of "achieving a bright future and prosperity." The killer was sentenced to life in prison.

--Authorities are trying to catch the monkeys who damage the upholstery and seat cushions of Indian airliners being serviced in hangars at New Delhi's international airport.

"Simultaneously, efforts are being made to educate people not to throw edibles and garbage in the open as these attract monkeys," said Ashok Gehlot, minister of state for tourism and civil aviation.

--The government has a 15-point plan to reduce the danger of birds being sucked into jet engines of airplanes. The steps include "pigeon-proofing" of buildings near airports and the avoiding of departures at sunrise and sunset, when pigeons normally take off from their roosts and then return.

--Trees are being planted along roads and urban avenues to cut down noise pollution from the honking of car horns.

--The New Delhi administration has been trying for more than a year to fill 217 openings for yoga teachers.

--The Commerce Ministry is asking states to crack down on malpractice in the export of human skeletons, following a newspaper report of a lucrative skull-selling racket in the northeastern state of Bihar.

--Government experts are working on a new and improved bullock cart, the main mode of transport in India's rural areas and still a common sight even in the streets of New Delhi. Among the breakthroughs are rubber tires and brakes.

--"No sir, telephone services in the country are not in total disarray," Ram Niwas Mirdha, minister of state for communications, told a questioner. "But there is scope for improvement." He confirmed that 362,133 people are on the waiting list for telephones in India's four largest cities and that about 100,000 phone lines need to be replaced in Calcutta.

--Nearly half a million villages still do not have post offices.

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