Lessons from the ‘Chatur Bania’

Modi government should learn from Gandhi who never believed he had all the answers
By Sagarika Ghose – Today India’s government believes it has all the answers and is the sole repository of knowledge.

Self-doubt does not trouble the Narendra Modi-led dispensation, which firmly believes that it (and only it) knows what’s good for the people and, rather like Indira Gandhi’s sterilization program, the people have to simply be herded and goaded into obeying the mai-baap sarkar’s wishes.

Any questioning or disagreement is either plain wrong or agenda-driven or equivalent to treason.

On Aadhaar card too, Centre has made an ally of the courts to push its diktat that Aadhaar is a must while filing income tax returns. But was Aadhaar ever meant to be an instrument of fear or a device to dominate citizens’ lives? No, the limited aim of Aadhaar was simply to ensure better delivery for welfare schemes, not to be a regulator or inspector or a vehicle of surrendering private information.

The fact that Aadhaar amendments were pushed through as a money bill to avoid any discussion in Rajya Sabha shows that government had already made up its mind, was in no mood to listen or introspect or if need be change course. Like the religious fanatic who lives by absolute certainties, this government believes its knowledge is absolute. more> https://goo.gl/rvA9qD

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Modinomics rings hollow

Look beneath government hype, and signs of deep economic distress are evident
By Kapil Sibal – This government is in denial.

It believes that black economy has been given a fatal blow. At 7.1% India continues to be the fastest growing economy in the world. Spurt in public investment has created jobs. FDI flows are evidence of investors’ confidence in the growth story of India. Reforms have led to ease of doing business.

Let us critically examine each of these claims.

On November 8, when the prime minister announced demonetization of all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes freezing 86% of India’s economy. If this ill-thought decision was an attempt at eradicating unaccounted wealth then it failed miserably. Most cash is either invested in real estate, gold or is stashed abroad. Undisclosed cash in circulation represented only around 5% of unaccounted wealth.

Now that real estate is outside the GST net, cash will continue to be a factor in real estate transactions. What is alarming is that unaccounted cash entered the banking system and is slowly being withdrawn and reconverted into undisclosed cash.

Modi believes in seducing foreign investors in digitizing the economy, little realizing that most of India earns less than Rs 10,000 a month and seldom accesses digital platforms for bank transactions.

Record levels of Sensex, we all know, do not reflect the true state of the economy. With real estate giving no returns and interest rates down, the only option for investors is in equities. This is risky because once the bubble bursts investors will be badly hurt. more> https://goo.gl/PjHNHq

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Douse language fires

Mamata has blundered in trying to impose Bengali in Darjeeling Hills
Times of India – With protests and bandhs called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha the Darjeeling Hills are tense, and the Bengal government has a serious crisis on its hands. Violence has already broken out against government establishments – such as the torching of the Bijanbari block development office – forcing thousands of tourists to flee the picturesque holiday destination.

The GJM stir started over the state government’s declaration last month to make Bengali compulsory in all schools, which has certainly backfired for chief minister Mamata Banerjee. It has breathed life into her political opponents and allowed them to accuse Kolkata of linguistic and cultural chauvinism.

Unfortunately this isn’t the first time that a Bengal government has tried to force-feed the Bengali language. In 1984, the erstwhile Left Front regime had abolished English in the primary sections of state-run schools to give primacy to Bengali. That decision ended up negatively affecting the job prospects of a whole generation of Bengalis.

In an increasingly globalized world languages have become closely linked with economic opportunities where parochial policies do more harm than good. India’s rich and diverse linguistic traditions must not be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.

Governments promoting a particular language at the cost of other languages is a recipe for disaster. more> https://goo.gl/Bv8rzu

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India: A nation of bans

Prohibition never achieves intended objectives but inflicts massive collateral damage
By Jaiveer Shergill – “Prohibition did not work even in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple.”

If we look back in history it’s apparent that prohibition, wherever practiced, has created parallel problems while failing to achieve its intended objectives.

Not only are the facts of prohibition misunderstood, it is also misapplied by the government and the judiciary in India. Our nation is now in the forefront of bans, with the government banning anything and everything that goes against its understanding of nationalism and cultural ethos, and the judiciary imposing bans based on its judicial prudence.

From alcohol to TV programmes and social media, bans have been imposed based on the premise that conscience of the general public is disturbed by such things.

The reality is we are curbing democracy and the constitutional rights of citizens with these bans. They are based on the flawed premise that by closing our minds we can resolve a problem. The more the political anxiety surrounding an issue, the more is the propensity to ban. more> https://goo.gl/HquSRn

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Farmers revolt

India’s farm distress needs structural solutions, quick fixes such as loan waivers won’t do
Times of India – All of a sudden it seems to be Kashmir in Madhya Pradesh: at least five protesters shot dead in Mandsaur district, prohibitory orders and internet shutdowns enforced.

This is testimony to the deep-seated crisis in India’s agricultural economy and must serve as a wake-up call to the Centre as well as state governments. The usual populist fixes – such as farm loan waivers – is not going to defuse this crisis.

Rather, policy makers must now remove the structural bottlenecks in India’s farm economy. Agriculture supports more than half of India’s population but makes up just 15% of its economic activity. It follows that holistic solutions to farmer distress will have to combine creation of non-farm jobs and enhancement of farm incomes.

A bird’s eye view of agriculture points to an anomaly. Around 77% of farmland is devoted to staples such as cereals. This results in output almost equivalent to what high value crops such as fruits and vegetables yield on less than 20% of the land.

Rectifying this mismatch will solve many problems. This is where government policy has a crucial role to play.

The Indian farmer has to function in an over-regulated environment made worse by capricious bans on exports. This is compounded by restrictions on internal food trade, unfounded fear of new technology such as genetically modified crops and the new bogey that has coincided with the unchecked rise of gau rakshaks: restrictions on cattle trade. more> https://goo.gl/o30N06

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How to make schools compete

Abandon marks manipulation, publish school rankings based on board exam results
By Geeta Kingdon – The CBSE exam board declared on May 17 that it will grade all its (about 18,000) affiliated schools on the basis of quality, so as to help parents and students.

However, for the CBSE (or any board) to itself grade schools is a cumbersome and inefficient way of providing information. Other countries simply publish annual rankings of schools based on the actual board exam marks of students.

In the absence of such institutional information about student performance across schools, parents are left to judge the quality of schools on the basis of hearsay and schools’ visible physical facilities, which are inadequate and sometimes misleading indicators of school quality. Information with parents about the actual academic results of the different schools in their city/district introduces an element of competition between schools to attract parents, leading to greater effort by schools.

Unless it is public knowledge how every school is performing relative to its peers in the district, their managements have little incentive to improve teaching-learning standards. more> https://goo.gl/OUkkEp

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Head off digital colonialism

How Indian IT can compete with Google and Facebook and show the world a better way
By Mishi Choudhary and Eben Moglen – The world’s major societies are now wrestling with the enormous social power wielded by the internet’s “platform companies.”

In Europe they speak of “GAFA”: Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. Twitter, Uber and other aspirant companies hover just out of the main ring. Europe’s open and democratic societies have been as fully colonized by the platforms as the US: the plurality of their citizens’ email is read by Google, most of their citizens’ social and family lives are surveilled by Facebook, and so on.

Essentially, three basic approaches to deal with the power of these American data miners have emerged.

First, the US government sees them as pillars of post-industrial American power, and as an immense national security intelligence resource. It is therefore their strategic ally.

Second, proponents of “digital sovereignty,” mostly autocracies, have chosen to build national search engines and social media structures, favoring domestic private market entrants (as has happened in Russia and China), and by exercising control over national telecommunications networks to block the US companies.

Third, the European Union has attempted to control the companies’ behavior by regulation and litigation.

India has a golden opportunity to find a fourth way.

India can. India can invent competition that challenges not just the platform companies but their basic, anti-environmental business model.

Indian internet companies can provide global digital service platforms that protect, rather than destroy, privacy. Indian internet industries can provide reasonably priced, universally available, privacy respecting services that compete directly with services provided by the US data miners, priced reasonably in local terms in all the developed and developing societies. more> https://goo.gl/IuSU18

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Stiffer cow slaughter laws may save cattle but what about people?

By Aakar Patel – When did you first read stories of cow vigilantes?

I suspect that like me you did not read of cow vigilantism before this government signalled intent and then state governments like Maharashtra and Haryana began introducing laws in March 2015.

This triggered something that began the violence, and Mohammed Akhlaq was murdered in September 2015.

In brief, the rules allowing how cattle (including buffaloes) may be sold for slaughter have been changed to make it very difficult, if not impossible, to conduct a meat business.

Ostensibly the reason is to control disease and hygiene, but you have to be particularly innocent to believe that.

Those made apoplectic by distinctions between good terrorists and bad terrorists now make a distinction between good Hindutvawadis and bad Hindutvawadis.

How difficult is it to understand that if you keep pushing gau raksha what you will get is gau rakshaks? more> https://goo.gl/eDVz0D

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How to speed up judiciary

Let’s make India’s slow courts, currently exacting an enormous human and economic toll, world class
By Amitabh Kant – India ranks 178th among 189 countries on the Enforcing Contracts indicator, making it one of India’s worst performing indicators in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business study.

This largely accounts for India’s overall poor ranking and has acted as a major barrier for investments to India.

The glut of cases in the lower courts is where the root of the problem lies. Most importantly, we need to acknowledge it and monitor it on a continuing basis.

We need to have access to high resolution data on judicial processes at both the high court as well as the lower court level. A number of courts do not have data under the “Date filed” column, the most crucial piece for identifying delays.

The quality of data is circumspect and is non-uniform between courts, which use different abbreviations, categorization, and formats which makes comparing data between courts an arduous and costly process. Significant progress has been made towards computerization of courts.

However, computerization must include within its ambit the standardization of data collection across courts and not merely computerization within silos. more> https://goo.gl/e1aJ7W

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The resilience of the VIP

By Santosh Desai – By itself, the ability to claim the right to quicker passage in traffic, is privilege enough, but in this case, the siren as symbol was far more potent.

It signified a sense of screaming impatience with the very people that those in these vehicles were meant to represent. It identified people as the problem and power as the solution. By visibly identifying the special, it made everyone else ordinary.

Can one mere new rule change a time honored practice?

The whole point of reaching a position of power is to get the beacon, wangle some security and to hurtle past toll booths without paying.

As long as the principle that underpins this action is not challenged at a fundamental level, banning one action is bound to end up as a token nod to a half-hearted intent.

There can be no piece-meal approach to this problem. We cannot have a separate protocol for VIP handling for at airports. We cannot keep thinking of the waiver of frisking during airport security as a privilege, we cannot allow officials to put their designations on their car registration plates.

The extent to which this behavior is considered normal can be gauged by how easily and publicly a self-important high official can start groveling the moment someone even higher appears on the scene. The tableau of an untidy gaggle of people alternating between barking orders at underlings and groveling energetically in the direction of the presiding deity is a common sight. more> https://goo.gl/kTfYHk

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