Reaching the common man

Democracy means peoples’ rule and rulers need to be as much close to people as is possible. Closeness helps understand both sides the rulers and the ruled; understand their problems, aspirations, possibilities and impossibilities. It is generally believed that only the people have problems for which they seek solution. But it is less understood that the governments, too, have their problems and hurdles. Much may a democratic government like to do or undo certain things but it is handicapped. After all, democracy is the rule of law and law is all pervasive. There is no aspect of human activity which is not covered by law. Therefore to believe that an elected government is all power and has all the authority to do or undo anything it likes is a misnomer, a misleading proposition. But the fact remains that a forward looking government has no option but to come closer to the people and thus establish its credibility at grassroots level.

The tradition with the State Government is that on the eve of annual Durban move, the chief minister goes on a whirlwind tour of far-flung areas, holds umpteen number of public rallies, meets numerous delegations, receives heaps of petitions, and interacts with district bloc and tehsil level officers who apprise him of the ground situation in their respective areas. Omar Abdullah is not new to this winding up exercise; he is well informed about the needs of remote regions of the State. In the first leg of his four-day tour, the Chief Minister opened account with an impressive address at a mammoth gathering in Kalakot in Rajouri district. His main thrust was on the achievements made by the coalition government during past three years or the first half of the total tenure of six years. The CM listed one by one some of the major achievements which will have far reaching impact on the future of the State and its people. Obviously the most shining feather in his cap is the successful holding of Panchayat elections. This is the first tier in a three tier-democratization process, the other two being the elections to Urban Local Bodies and then to Bloc and District Councils. Elections to these two institutions are underway and hopefully the ULBs elections will be completed by the month of June. The CM has rightly pointed out that once these institutions begin to function, there will be a sea change in the entire administrative culture since 14 departments have already been transferred to the Panchayats. The State will be stealing the march over other States once three-tier process is completed and becomes functional. Panchayats will get not only administrative but also financial empowerment to facilitate their functionality. This is no mean an achievement.

There is no denying the fact that the Chief Minister is a modest man no trying to recommend sensational hype to the achievements of his government as is the culture with our political leadership. It is quite usual in democratic struggle to pick holes in the pockets of political adversaries not out of any personal vendetta but as a matter of rule. Here is one leader who repeatedly says that he believes a Government should be judged by its deeds and not words. That is the reason why in his public address at Kalakot, the CM listed the achievements and then told the people to carry the word to others and convince them that his government is not unmindful of its responsibilities of reaching even the farthest nook of the state. Citing the example of the previous government, the CM made a cogent point by telling people that that government encouraged strong media hype that it was the PDP that had won the credit of opening the Uri-Muzaffarabad road. Doing so served political interests more than the pressing economic interests of the people. On the other hand, his government had many achievements to underline but he was loath to indulge in self-praise. If the Government has done something for the public good, taken certain initiatives and passed new laws, all this will be felt by the people as its benefits reach them. As such there is no need of rushing to the media and projecting himself as a hero.

While the coalition government led by Omar Abdullah is engaged in addressing the problems of various regions and groups of people through just and equitable dispensation, it will be noted that quarters accustomed to be vociferous in bringing charges of regional or sub-regional and other sorts of discrimination have been silenced. Tourism has revived and to a considerable extent normalcy has been restored in most parts of the State. In particular, the issue of uprooting corruption from the State, we have the pro per statutory authority and not only bureaucrats but ministers, MLAs, MLCs and even the Chief Minister come under the purview of these agencies. Public Rights Safeguard Act is an instrument in the hands of the people helping them to get their problems resolved within a time bound frame. People should know the rights which this and other Acts give them.

The CM, after he has been made the Working Chairman of his party, has to shoulder more responsibilities now. Previously it was his father who held that position and thus lessened his burden. But now he has to devote his time to party’s organizational affairs. National Conference has a long and glorious history of political struggle and running the administration of the State after the democratic dispensation set in with the State’s accession to the Indian Union. Its network is widespread in the State but for some time, organizational affairs have received less attention. The CM has to take initiatives of new recruitment to the rank and file of his party, educating and training the new recruits along the party line and ensuring gradual transfer of party positions to the youth leadership. Democracy is taking deeper and deeper roots in the State and against the days when NC was the sole leading political party in the state, we have now many mainstream political parties in the field. Competition has become sharp and the law of survival of the fittest will prevail. The NC will be required to prove its fitness. That is another task before the young Chief Minister.

Rate Cut and Reforms
Welcome, not enough

Shivaji Sarkar

Two good developments took place last week. Finally, the Reserve Bank of India decided to reduce interest rates and the Government’s chief economic adviser Kaushik Basu announced an end to retrograde “reforms.” While one may say hurrah, the two have not put an end to the gloom. The decisions have come amidst continuous rise in consumer – retail – price index and a slowdown in the economy.

RBI governor D Subba Rao feels that 0.5 per cent cut in the interest rate is a small measure to correct many wrongs done in the recent past. The central bank is not happy with some of the populist schemes such as MNREGA for valid reasons: it leads to a drain on Government finance, makes wages dearer and adds further to inflation.

What Basu says is in fact, in tune with Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and the Left parties. The “reforms” in Government parlance only means further opening up the retail sector to large Indian and foreign investors, insurance to foreign companies, and a change in labour laws to suit the needs of the corporate at the cost of the workers. It is good that it is being put off as such measures would result in further unemployment and displace many small businessmen.

Importantly, the RBI has virtually admitted that it has not succeeded in controlling inflation through the lone monetary policy measure. Had good sense prevailed earlier, at least the contribution made by the RBI towards the inflationary situation by making investments and business expenses dearer could have been avoided.

The silver lining, however, is that the RBI itself eventually realises its mistake. It even takes a part of the responsibility for the slowdown in industrial and manufacturing growth. Besides, it also admits that fall in credit off take was also the result of its 13-time rise in interest rates. The RBI analysis states that fall in Indian banks’ liquidity resulted because of its tight monetary policy. The statement accepts that this critical gap was filled up by foreign direct investment.

The RBI statement is a cause for concern as well. If the liquidity position does not improve, the next eleven months might not see the expected growth of around seven per cent. The country cannot depend for long on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

The FDI has started shrinking, President of the Confederation of Indian Industry Adi Godrej cautions. Worse, the positive environment is not there and brand India image has got soiled, he states adding that “It has hampered long-term foreign investment.” Godrej wants reforms on fast track along with governance. However, this is contrary to what Kaushik Basu has stated.

The big question that emerges is: whether the scenario is confusing? Not really. Godrej is right to the extent that policy paralysis on the part of the Government has put a spanner. Those who want to invest in India are not confident of either the political environment or business atmosphere.

Policy indecisions and bureaucratic flip-flop on taxing businesses almost 50 years in retrospect has shaken the confidence of the business class. The impact of Vodafone decision has deeply affected business sentiments not only within the country but all investors abroad. Nobody wants to invest and then fight with tax authorities, who undeniably have enormous powers to harass.

The Government, under the influence of tax bureaucrats, is trying to introduce more stringent and retrograde rules. This sadly encourages bureaucratic discretion and vitiates the business atmosphere, which the RBI obliquely points out to. In fact, it is a clear hint for the Government that it needs to correct its policies on taxation. The indirect suggestion is that it requires simplification of procedures if it wants growth. The growth and tying of business and financial activities in knots cannot go hand-in-hand.

Another positive aspect of the RBI analysis is that it has also realised that banking services are becoming expensive and cumbersome. Therefore, it seeks to take steps to allow the marginalised section to join the banking system, but these are not enough. Instead, it has made money transfer, pay order and other transactions expensive. Each of these affects the growth of the economy and it appears that while the RBI wants to advise others it is not keen on implementing it for itself.

Expensive banking and other operations have not only increased the cost of business operations but have also resulted in large funds being diverted from the banking system. Contrary to popular belief, this is not black money, but has the potential to siphon those funds from fiscal channels. Undoubtedly, there is need for some policy correction but nobody seems to be interested.

This, one can say safely, is one of the main reasons for the poor liquidity of banks. It requires almost Rs 450 lakh crore of recapitalisation. If the policy framework is not simplified, banking services not made affordable, repayments not streamlined, then the Indian economy may once again be heading for the historical Hindu rate of two to three per cent growth in not so distant a future.

This apart, the monetary policy analysis has also come down heavily on the populist policies such as MNREGA. It has found that though it is providing cash to the workforce, it is creating a class of people who are not contributing to society and is increasing the Government’s fiscal deficit. On the one hand it is increasing the cost of wages and on the other creating shortage of workforce in vast areas, particularly rural India.

Such schemes, the monetary policy notes, are creating higher wages all over. This is turn is triggering a cyclical problem as higher wages are raising production cost and further inflation. The apprehension expressed is that if inflation continues in double digit, then all the projections for growth would remain on paper, unachievable. Further, it suggests that this is not the time to put in money into failing public sector undertakings and the Government must keep a check on it.

In all, the problems posed are many, the solutions simple but the Government unfortunately lacks the political will it should have. The monetary policy statement in toto calls for an easing of the environment. Will it, or else growth would remain a hollow word and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s effort to add to his coffers would end up in a dream.

The future looks dreadful. Further loss of Government revenue would mean higher borrowings. It would create more problems for governance and liquidity. If the country has to progress it must take decisions as the monetary policy suggests, simplifying procedures and creating, enabling and enticing an atmosphere for both industry and business. —INFA.

Voiceless girl child
Panel can’t stay powerless

Dr S Saraswathi

The miserable plight of the girl child and merciless eradication of female foetus in parts of the country are reported in the media almost daily, but have not provoked public anger to the extent these should in a civilised society. They are all crimes and crimes with an odious stigma of social devaluation of the female population.

Recent incidents like the brutal killing of baby Afreen in Bangalore, and the fight for male baby and abandonment of the girl baby in a hospital in Rajasthan should make heads hang in shame. But, sadly it is not so. Worse, everyone knows that for one incident exposed and legally pursued, there are hundreds ignored and suppressed.

It is common knowledge that catching the culprits and awarding punishment are not enough in gender-related issues without a change in social attitudes. And in India, there are many obstacles in the way of law and justice too. As in many spheres, there is no dearth of progressive laws and regulations, but implementation is tardy. Law must act to change and shape social attitudes also.

It is a sick society that helps under-reporting of incidents of crimes against girl children, that positively protects the offenders and aids suppression of evidence of crimes against women and children, and wants the release or under-punishment of the guilty. The crimes cannot be solely linked with ignorance and privations of the socially-economically backward sections of the population, but travel vertically to cover the well-to-do.

India is a signatory to the UN Convention on Rights of Children (CRC), 1989, and has established the Commission for Protection of Child Rights in 2007 under an Act of Parliament. Interestingly, the same year witnessed a huge increase in crimes against children to an extent of 7.6% of total crimes and an incredible increase of 68.5% in foeticide cases compared to the previous year.

It is a shame that India, that is, the legendary Bharat, tolerates female infanticide/foeticide though traditionally children in any condition are venerated as worshipful objects and embodiment of purity even for those under ceremonial purification. The contradiction is nurtured by social- structural factors and is man-made and not inbuilt in biological and other natural factors.

The CRC views children not as recipients of services but as holders of rights. It upholds the right of children to “self-determination” – a concept that cannot go with Indian patriarchal system. It recognizes the right of children to form associations and participate in decision-making processes at all levels. It contains 54 articles on civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights. As a signatory to this convention, the Government of India is committed to protecting and ensuring children’s rights and is accountable to discharge this commitment before the international community. The Government of India has adopted a National Charter for Children in 2003 to reiterate its commitment to children and to see that no child remains hungry, illiterate, or sick. The charter makes specific mention about taking appropriate measures to address the problems of female infanticide and foeticide and all other emerging manifestations that deprive the girl child of her right to survive with dignity.

It also provides that all children have a right to be protected against neglect, maltreatment, injury, and trafficking, sexual and physical abuse of all kinds, corporal punishment, torture, exploitation, violence and degrading treatment.

Protection of the girl child is ensured against all forms of discriminatory practices and abuses including child marriage. The charter is so elaborate that it touches every aspect of child life, and if implemented would make the life of children ideal and open a uniformly bright future for all of them.

The Indian Penal Code that is over 150 years old recognizes seven types of crimes against women. Further, a number of special laws have also been enacted to curb the practice of dowry, the atrocity of bride burning, sex-determination tests, rape, sexual harassment at workplace, trafficking in women and children, and eve-teasing. For illegal sex-determination tests, law prescribes punishments for concerned clients and others seeking pre-natal diagnostic tests, medical practitioner, owner or employee of the genetic counseling centre or laboratory or clinic, and for the doctor involved in sex-selection. Punishments vary and go up to imprisonment for three years and fine up to Rs. 50,000 and even suspension of the registration of the doctor. But, we hear of few convictions.

Alas! Despite conventions, charters, legislations, awarding punishments and existence of protective agencies, abuse of children, and prejudice against girl child with corresponding son-preference mentality continue unabated. As a result, census shows alarming decline in sex ratio indicating that in some pockets polyandry may have to be resorted to in view of scarcity of girls for marriage; the National Crime Records Bureau records increasing crimes against women; and newspapers and news channels frequently carry reports of horrifying stories of female infanticide and foeticide committed by parents themselves, aided and abetted by close relatives.

In many western countries, children’s ombudsman is appointed to protect and promote the rights and interests of children in general and specifically for particular categories in need of special care. There is a European Network of Ombudspersons for Children and also sub-regional networks.

The prompt and angry reaction that India expressed against retention of two Indian children by Norwegian authorities is missing in the case of offences against children and the unborn within the country. We have no reason to be proud of our record in child protection.

Is this apathy largely due to failure of legal instruments, or powerlessness of protective agencies, or social-ethical blindness? The first two in our society must engage in social education as part of their activities. Unfortunately, the Children’s Commission’s activism does not meet the urgency and the gravity of the situations. Our law, institutions, and authorities have to take the tasks assigned to them to ensure rights and privileges not as half-hearted social service but as important duties. The Commission must fulfil its mandate – its role and functions and exercise all its powers lest they should lapse by non-use.–INFA