Thursday, August 29, 2013

UPAII : A Lesson In Destroying A Booming Economy

A few years back a joke used to do rounds during cricket matches that India played. Joke was about how “India snatched defeat from the jaws of victory”. Time and again India would squander away significant advantage and concede a game. Over a period of time, our cricket team apparently has learnt its lesson, three world championships may bear testimony to that. In the process, however, our governing political formation, read congress lead UPA, have caught the disease of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

When UPA came in power, economy was growing, inflation was down, people had aspiration and dreams. During good time, UPA did not undertake reforms. May be it can be argued that left parties, on his support government was surviving, did not let government undertake reforms. However, at the same time 2G spectrum scam was being hatched by UPA governments ally. At the same time, government did what it wanted to do, at the cost of ditching left parties. That is signing Indo-US civil nuclear agreement. Government also promulgated MGNREGA, an employment guarantee scheme for rural poor. The gesture costed government around 70, 000 crore rupees per year. Many believed, UPA came back to power riding on MGNREGA.

Second term of UPA was minus left. Many thought, reforms will take off. Instead, government was caught in the quagmire of corruption and socialist policies.  Scams after scams- 2G spectrum scam, CWG scam, coal block allocation scam, land allocation scam hit headlines at regular intervals. Instead of acting on errant ministers promptly, government went on to shield them until and unless the highest court prodded them to act. This gave an impression government is party to corruption. Many genuine purchasers of 2G spectrum had to forfeit their purchase because of government’s inaction and inability to act in time to protect investors wealth.

Infrastructure projects like road, power plants etc did not take of because of lack of environmental clearance. Land allocation for infrastructure projects, like road, airport, industrial houses became a very contentious issue. Again government could not create an amicable middle ground for industrialists to invest and operate. Prolonged impasse in land acquisition made POSCO, one of the largest investor in India, to withdraw. The same happened with Sterlite Industries. Rupee started losing value against dollar somewhere in the middle of 2013. On top of infrastructural roadblocks, government decided to impose retroactive taxation law, further dampening investor confidence. Gradually and slowly, Indian investors started investing not in India but abroad.

On top of corruption and indecision, government decided to bring Food Security Bill. Cost of the bill was estimated to be upwards of 100, 000 crore to public exchequer. Market reacted very sharply and rupee touched 68 to 1 dollar. Today Indian economy is in tatters. Our currency is losing value, our foreign currency reserve is reducing, we are importing more and more goods to support national need, nearly three times more that what we were doing six years before. Our short term debt is increasing, because country is borrowing heavily. There is doubt, if India will be able to fulfill her debt commitments. Many investors are taking their money out of Indian stock market. As a result stock market is crashing.

India today with grappling issues between collective economic growth and individual right. Can a government take away land from an individual in the name of growth? Can a country grow yet a bulk of people live in utter poverty? These are complex issues. However, it is clear to me that by giving subsidised food to people, parties can win election but nation cannot come out of poverty. Government must serve needy as the same time must create environment to stimulate growth. Only a strong nation can serve her people. India has been traditionally poor as long as I can remember. Yet all along we have been following pro-poor economic policies. How come, bulk of India still remain poor after 67 years of independence? Some one must answer.

To be fair to UPA government, it can be argued that government faced one of the most gruesome terrorist attack. Anna Hazare’s civil disobedience movement started during this government’s tenure. Parliament did not function because of chief opposition party’s boycotting and filibuster tactics. But responsibility for this mess fell squarely on government because of its inability to run parliament by taking opposition into confidence and following a strategy of give and take.

In a televised discussion conducted by NDTV, Dr Prannoy Roy, with Ruchir Sharma and Arun Shourie, explained the problem India is facing (please see the link above). Recovering US economy is sucking up resources from emerging markets..  However, it is important to note that countries like Mexico that had done necessary reforms, have contracted least by resurgent US economy. Countries like India, that have not done her homework when needed, have seen near melt down of their economy. So much said about our economist Prime Minister and his dream team. It can be aptly said now that India has snatched defeat from jaws of defeat.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

India Needs a Strong Leader

In Dec, 2012 a girl went out with her friend to watch a movie. She did not return home. She was found under a flyover raped, brutalized, disemboweled and barely alive. It came out that five men and a boy had lured the couple in a bus, assaulted and raped them. Outraged nation protested. There was debate on television. Government enacted anti-rape law, some said a pathbreaking tough law. Government promised a fast track court. More than eight months have passed since brutalization of the girl, court has not yet passed judgement. If this fast track, we can imagine what is regular and slow track. No wonder most people do not want to go to court. The verdict of Delhi case is not yet out, when another girl was raped in Mumbai while she was attending her duty.

One of the most brutal of the Delhi attackers happened to be less than six month before he turned adult. Child rights activists argued that the juvenile attacker has to be treated like a child. Direct consequence, he will get maximum of three years, if convicted. Remember, this is the person responsible for disemboweling the victim. In other mature and civilized democracies, a criminal is judged on the crime and its magnitude, and not by age of the criminal. If a person is adult enough to commit an adult crime, yet he can take refuge behind a provision of law where he should be treated as a juvenile inspite of committing most heinous crime. It this is not travesty of justice what is?

After Delhi brutalization, many rapes have happened. A minor girl had glass bottle inserted in her private part as part of being raped. Army personnel rape women in the name of national security. A police woman was gang raped while bringing body of her dead brother-in-law home. Several, foreign nationals have been raped in different parts of India. A Swiss national was raped in Madhya Pradesh, while touring India with her husband. A British woman had to jump out of hotel window on being attacked. Most recently, a photo journalist was gang raped in Mumbai, by five people. These are high profile cases, that come to mind. Countless women are being raped, assaulted, brutalized everyday. We have not even broached the topic of acid attack on women.

There are many explanation for social turmoil that we see all over in India. Social barriers are breaking down. More and more women are coming out and going to work. It is not possible to put a police after every woman that goes out. However, it is possible to improve policing. It emerged that in Maharastra state, out of 47000 police men, only 23000, less than 50%, are available to serve common public. Rest, serve our political leaders and important people. It is our money, but we have no say how our lives can be made secure. Same is the story all over India. Police only serves political masters, read ruling party. Common people comes very low down in police’s priority. In stead of preventive policing as we see in US or UK, our police comes only after crime has happened. I think large scale police reform is the dire need. Because, our politicians use police as their personal militia to suppress inconvenient people or issue, they do not want to give up control over police. Recommendation of police reform is gathering dust. I think police must be given autonomy, so that police commissioner of city / state can be held accountable for police performance and removed as and when needed. Police boss should create his budget, bring right people at right place and run a modern educated force.

Our justice delivery needs to be speeded up. If a fast track judgement cannot be delivered in eight months, what can we expect for cases in slow track. Why does powers that be not create more courts, bring more judges and settle cases fast? It is important that India must follow constitution. However, we need to come down from the high horse of idealism. Many people that are coming to big cities and small towns, do not subscribe same degree of idealism, attachment and awareness to constitution. Otherwise, not one will insert a bottle in the private part of a five year old girl. Unless a serious punishment is meted out to these criminals in a speedy manner, it beats the purpose. We always have debates about death penalty everytime a grotesque crime happens. However, I think certainty of punishment is more important than death sentence. It is also important to realise that a person losing his / her life and liberty for life can be more unbearable compared to one time loss of life.

At times, it appears that general public is so helpless. We cannot do anything once we have elected our ruling party. Many of our leaders themselves have rape charge against them. Yet, in worlds biggest democracy, we cannot even recall our leaders. We have no say who our political parties field. If we want certain political party to rule at the centre, we may be forced to vote for their corrupt face in our constituency. I think we need to have a relook at our political system. Either we bring change in constitution to bring Presidential form of government. Where a president once elected, chooses his / her team. If this is not acceptable, then we must create smaller constituencies. We should be able to communicate and approach our representatives, and recall them if necessary.

Next general election is round the corner. Please use the opportunity to choose a decisive leader. I think in the name of democracy, India is slipping into anarchy. Our leaders are uncommunicative, indecisive and opportunistic. To remain in power, our politicians will do anything no matter how much detrimental those are for country’s health. Because of mollycoddling and poor enforcement of law and order, there is no respect for law. Everyone knows they can get away committing a crime. Time has come to elect a no nonsense leader, that has long term vision for the country, and administer this country with an iron fist.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Unruly Mob and Soft State

I fail to understand how on earth anybody can be run over by a moving train. A train on the move makes enough noise, besides whistle of a train is shrill enough to awaken a dead person from grave. Yet in Bihar, it happened close to hundred pilgrims came under the wheels of a moving train. Thirty seven people died and close to eighty people were injured.

Two trains unloaded passengers on two platforms of Dhamara station in Bihar. The middle track was used to allow passage of an express train, Rajya Rani Express, that does not stop at the station.

Question is why were these passengers not getting off on the platform, but on the wrong side? Were these people brain dead, deaf and dumb that they could not hear, see or understand that a fast moving train is approaching? Somewhere I read, people expected the train driver should stop seeing people crossing the tracks. Only in India, read north India, people expect fast moving trains, buses and cars must stop on their tracks if they see a group of people crossing road or railway track.

What is more disturbing that people beat up the driver and other railway employees, torched a few coach and caused generalized damage to railway property. Total estimated cost of damage is around 100 crore rupees. Who will fund for this damage. What is the fault of the driver of express train?

I read our prime minister has expressed grief at the incidence. Bihar chief minister has thought incidence was unfortunate. I think the incidence should be dubbed foolish. All people engaged in arson must be jailed and penalized to recover the cost of damage to railway property. I am sure, some politicial leader of some party must have mobilized the vandals. Catch hold of the goon and disbar him from parliament or assembly or whatever his affiliation.

May be on the hindsight, railway should have advice people to use foot overbridge. To compensate some people that lack commonsense, then go on to damage public property, I think it is outrageous waste of taxpayers money. Again shows our priorities are on the wrong place. Instead of disciplining unruly mob, we try to mollycoddle them and give an impression everything is alright. All, at the expense of public exchequer. I am certain few days later it will be claimed these were poor people, so government must help. But what has poverty got to do with foolishness and lack of common sense?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Indian Poor Needs Service not Dole

India has many people that are very poor. For close to 50 years India has practiced state controlled economy. Government issued ration for people. Government gave people job. Government ran industries. Government ran railways, bus service and airline. Government did all these without caring for profit. Government did everything by spending her own money. Slowly and gradually, government went bankrupt. In the absence of inflow, and only outflow, even bottomless pit one day runs dry.

Strangely, our government did not have imagination or inclination to pump profit into different organizations it was running and improve quality of service offered by them. Look at Indian railways. One of the biggest network in the world. Look at platforms, look at trains. Platforms are dirty, tracks are filthy. Standing on a platform in New Delhi, capital of India, one can smell feces. There is no imagination to put escalators in each platform. For aged, inflrm and sick there is no wheel chair facility that can be accessed easily. Once you get a wheel chair, it has to be pushed all the way out of the platform, cross railway tracks to reach the exit gate. Imagine a sick person being pushed through rain or midday sun. Imagine this station was refurbished spending hundreds of crore to make it a world class station.

Look at our trains. They are slow, crowded and dirty. Most of our trains look so ugly and cheap, Once you are in the compartment, toilets are unusable. Especially so in long distance trains. When luxury buses use modern technology to disopose human waste, Indian railways let human waste be dumped on the track. Food that is served, look so unprofessional. In good trains, if one sees how food is unloaded and then stored in the train one will lose appetite. In this day and age, Indian railways could not use trolleys to haul food. Indian railways haul them in plastic trays. These trays are first rested on the dirty platform, and then next to the toilet of train. 

There are other factors ailing Indian railways like most other sectors that government has put her hands on. Very clearly, managers and leaders do not have a forward looking vision. Despite crying need to modernize, despite desperate need to generate profit, our leaders discourage raising rail fare. There is no imagination to earn profit and plough back the profit to modernize the organization and infrastructure. In the name of poor, our leaders discourage raising fare. Has any one asked or tested if railways give better service, people will not avail them? There are nearly six superfast trains, by Indian standard, between Delhi and Kolkata. Seats in all these trains are booked three month ahead of departure date. Has anyone thought about, if we have a fast train between Delhi and Kolkata that takes 6 hours to travel instead of 18 hours, why would anyone travel by plane? There apparently no such plan or no such vision.

What we see is one railway minister from a particular party cancels railway budget, that many hailed as progressive. Another railway minister was alleged to be arranging plum position to railway executives in exchange for bribe. Is it realistic to expect a modern platform, clean compartment and fast train!

Less said about other transport system is better. Roads are broken, buses are fuel inefficient and non user friendly. Bus terminals are disorganized, dirty and lack even a decent toilet. All in the name of poor! Has anyone asked poor if they enjoy travelling the way, it is being offered? Air travel till recently was considered domain of privileged, read rich and politicians. Our national air carrier remains most of the time off work. Because they go on strike at simplest pretext. Some people say, our national carrier was deliberately made dysfunctional to favor a private carrier. This of course, must have happened at the exchange of undisclosed favor.

Any where government has put her hands, we see an ugly imprint. Beautiful architecture of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament house, Lutyens Delhi, Connaught Circus all made during British Raj. What Delhi Development Authority has done is to build ugly eye sores like Nirman Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan, DDA flats and other similar structures. All bereft of imagination, poor quality and a proof of poverty of vision. Delhi government has dug up Connaught place in the name of beautification. Connaught circus is an ugly mess today in the heart of Delhi. 

Our leaders, read politicians, have tried to get personal benefit at the expense of common people like us. Many have made huge sum of money by manipulating their proximity to power. All the while, common people have suffered and deprived of their legitimate right, all in the name of poverty alleviation.

It is time, India separates government from running business. Government should create system that will allow people to run business in a fair and equitable manner. Government must oversee rules of law are followed and guilty is efficiently punished. Cost will come down when there is competition, not by giving dole. A typical case in point in mobile phone revolution, where a poor and rich have equal opportunity to choose the handset and choose the service they want at the price they can afford.