Thursday, August 26, 2010

Archaic Laws Perpetuating Ills of Colonial Rule

Various Human Development Indices, like infant mortality, illiteracy, per capita income, bring out the obvious backwardness of our society. Justification is that these are remnants of Colonial Rule, under which we had little or no freedom of taking corrective actions against these scourges. However, gaining freedom has changed little. Assertion is that in view of our large population and enormous backlog of development, it is going to take 'time' to correct the ills. By 'time' they may mean life time of several generations or even many centuries. The apprehension is justified, because during over 60 years of self rule we have gone backwards.

Regrettably, our mentality is still slavish. We do not recognize the ills of the colonial mind-set for governance and have failed to amend it. Recently, farmers of a large State have agitated against acquisition of their land at grossly unfair rates of compensation. The Chief Minister of the State ducked any blame, saying that the land acquisition and payment of compensation was done under the existing laws, which were inherited from the colonial era. If so, are we ashamed of our inaction and aroused enough to take corrective actions urgently?

Corrective actions have to encompass all the laws framed during the Colonial Rule. We should not be lulled by the notion that the entire inherited ‘steel frame of governance’ is appropriate for a free India. We need to review and amend suitably whole of the inherited Laws, as a matter of life and death for the bulk of our population.

Also, we may have to enact new laws to suit the prevailing wave of development across the World harnessing modern Science and Technology. Some areas are land use, pollution control, deforestation, decentralized planning and implementation, empowerment of the lowest income group and upwards and several others.

Creditably, we have since enacted new laws governing village Panchayats, Nagar Panchayats, Municipal Councils and Corporations. But, have we enacted similar laws for Tribal Areas? Are Tribals empowered to formulate their own Plans for education, health care, roads, communications, and banking and indicate their priorities? If yes what is the operating mechanism? Is prior concurrence of Tribals mandatory for locating in their region any new activity which may affect their dwellings, livelihood and such other basic rights? Or, is it left to the wisdom of the commonly wooden machinery of the Government? The neglect is all pervading. One may be shocked to learn that the list of Subjects for Mail to PM does not include Tribals or Forests!
Cynical Arithmetic of Corruption and Development

A former Prime Minister
of India, late Rajiv Gandhi, made the startling revelation that out of One hundred Rupees released by the Government only fifteen rupees reach the target, rest of it is pocketed unethically by a plethora of intermediaries. So, he lamented that the financial effectiveness of utilization of funds intended for developmental activities is 15% only. Ironically, as per the general belief, there is little improvement in the situation even after quarter of a century. Lamentably, an impressive succession of Prime Ministers, belonging to different political parties, has not succeeded in curbing the menace.

Cynically speaking, if somehow the delivery is improved to 30% the rate of development may double. Surely, the level of pilferage of public money will still be an unconscionable 70%. Further, if the levels of delivery are improved to 45% or 60%, the rate of development would triple or quadruple respectively, though the level of corruption will remain unacceptably high.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Expanding the aims of Community Broadcasts

One of the aims ought to be strengthening democracy, which means strengthening livelihood, food security, health care, habitat, basic education, and all other aspects which determine quality of life.

In India, the policies and programs of the government at various levels, Central, State, District, and Village levels, attempt to provide material and implementation inputs for these. But, at the ground level the mechanisms to inform and educate the potential beneficiaries about the intent and content of policies and programs are limited to the print and visual media, the penetration of which is shallow and thus limited. Community Broadcasts have the potential to inform and educate, thus of reducing the gap.

Of course, filling the information gap is only the first step. Even well informed people do not know how to wade through the procedures to extract the end results from the governments. If and when one case of success takes place, the algorithm followed for achieving the results can be shared speedily with the community through this Medium. The success rate can be increased many fold, if this medium is supplemented by phones, call centers, voluntary organizations and individuals. The governments can implement effectively their policies and programs by prescribing specific Forms for accessing the benefits and then publicizing the designated Processing Authorities. Under the umbrella of the Right to Information act the functioning of such Processing Authorities can be monitored and prompted to be transparent and fast. In this manner, Community Broadcasts can touch lives in a variety of desirable ways.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Community Broadcasting using FM Radio

Admittedly TV is a powerful medium for imparting health education, promoting women and child welfare, spreading adult education, and other similar development communication. For example, remote education through EDUSAT of ISRO has brought eminent teachers from big cities to students in remote rural schools. Interactive TV has taught self help and empowerment to tribal women , so they can themselves build water sheds, set up and run savings and loan cooperatives.

Nevertheless, TV has some limitations which are overcome by Radio. The potential for greater reach through Radio has been over looked in India. Actually, in many countries Radio has also been used cost effectively for infotainment. The cost effectiveness of Radio over TV comes from lower cost of producing radio programs to a broadcaster, and their accessibility to the audience without the listeners having to sit down and pay exclusive attention. A listener can tune in any time, and any where while attending simultaneously to other tasks.

Suggestion is to permit universities to run FM radio stations as public service, without having to pay any license fee. Aim of the programs should be to educate, inform and entertain. One educational function could be elucidation of the roles and responsibilities of the locally situated Central, State and Panchayat category institutions towards the local populace. Informing about the current and forthcoming events and their significance could improve the awareness of listeners. Discussions on the status of implementations of programs and projects could serve a valuable purpose of monitoring by public. Possibilities are limitless.

The radio station can be a training ground for upcoming journalists, and other social scientists. It can also serve as a grievance sounding board, replacing perhaps other different modes of protest. It can promote public participation in projects of interest to the community.

The reason for suggesting FM radio broadcast is its relatively small radius of coverage, making it truly local. Also, the same frequency can be allocated for broadcast to stations located about 200 km apart. So, by licensing such radio stations the government will not loose significant amount of revenue.
Self Employment

Any self employment scheme that covers a vocational activity from end to end is likely to be more rewarding and may attract significant number of practitioners.

An illustrative example is dairy farming. Assume there is a group of six persons to be self employed. Provide them with loan to acquire six milch cattle, and half an acre of land fit for growing fodder. Teach them rain harvesting, cattle and milk raising skills, composting of dung and other organic waste as well as generating bio gas. With facility to sell the milk they produce to a dairy, they can be self employed and self contained. They can increase their income by growing common vegetables.

The thought is that the scheme should include generating the needed inputs and raw materials for a main product, marketing of the product with maximum possible value addition and engaging just the requisite number of man power. It should form part of a chain, not necessarily inter linked, spread over the whole region. There should be sharing of experiences.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Multi-function Community Centers in Rural Areas

In the absence of basic facilities in our rural areas, we need to create them with the lowest possible cost, maximum possible utilization, highest possible accessibility and widest possible involvement.

The functions should include,
  1. Literacy for all, ranging from infants to adults, both genders, housed in the same building but on time sharing basis, employing paid and voluntary teachers residing in the neighborhood,
  2. Arts and crafts training, creation, and performing,
  3. Primary health care, provided on subscription basis, with a combination of resident and visiting staff,
  4. Communication by mobile and land lines, cyber cafes,
  5. Ware housing and trading for local products and produces, their inputs like seeds, fertilizers, raw materials, implements,
  6. Banking and finance, including self-help and micro-finance,
  7. Information like, population, education level, health and immunization data, accessibility and transport, local produces, incomes, climate data, soil and water quality, land utilization, drinking water quality, current level of private and public sanitation, a minimal library and reading room with audio-visual facilities,
  8. Sports,
  9. Transport, and
  10. Energy supply
Networks of such community centers should be wide spread in the rural areas of all the States the country, such that one of them is accessible to the entire rural population.

To be completed

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Governance by Precedence

India inherited from the British a steel frame work for governance. The then political leadership, largely uninitiated in matters of governance, opted to retain the steel frame without any modification. It helped it to levy taxes and collect revenues, to run the affairs of the state in maintaining law and order and a semblance national security. In matters of setting up infrastructures, like roads, ports, power, water supply, health care, telecommunication, and broadcasting, manufacturing industries, the officialdom was generally out of its depth. Like wise, in administering the development activities related to such unprecedented areas as, rural and urban development, agriculture, education, the officialdom had no clues. So, all such activities by the government have failed miserably.

The reasons for the deficiencies of the officialdom are traceable largely to their methodology. The officials are indoctrinated to rule according to precedents and the governing policies. They are tutored never to innovate, lest they err and thereby create a wrong precedent. The time it takes to search for the exact precedent is irrelevant to the existing principals of governance taught to them by their British masters and carried on by the succeeding political masters. Any inquiry why the decision making is taking long, evoked the standard reply, " THE MATTER IS UNDER CONSIDERATION". As a matter of fact, the honest reply should be that the search for precedence is taking time. There is no value attached to the lost time, and the corresponding lost opportunity. Assisted by babus at lower levels, they are very thorough in searching for precedents in the available archives and apply to a case under their consideration. The babu at the lowest level researches for the precedents, prepares a draft decision and passes on to his successive superiors for signing on the dotted line and for issuing the order eventually, generally on the lines of, " am directed to convey the order that ...". Hardly any value is added at the higher levels to the quality of the 'decision'. Of course, the language is progressively 'refined'. They are at a great loss to decide if no precedent is located. They are not expected to form any new policies. So, initiation and creation of innovative policies are out of question. So, if the imperial masters did not carry out any development, precedents can not be located and any proposal for development is intrinsically out of order, hence, in-executable. Even if the political bosses formed new policies or initiated new schemes, the officialdom can not implement them for want of precedents.

The officials at the time of entry are taken through "training". From their behaviour during subsequent postings on jobs, one can easily deduce that that they are thoroughly insensitive to the feelings of those they govern, lest they are branded partial. During their training, personality development seems to get a lot of attention. It seems, they are taught to administer, rather than facilitate. For example, it does not seem to matter to them if the pension of a retired person is not fixed for a long time for want of some trivial information. There have been pathetic cases, in which a pensionsr did not receive pension in his life time.

If Government wants to succeed in development activities, it has to engage a different type of officialdom. Such officials should be able to identify the beneficiaries as well as those likely to be affected adversely. They should be dedicated to implementation within a given time frame and boundaries of costs. They should be able to foresee obstacles and implement remedies. They should be willing to tackle unforeseen problems. This would require that they stick to an assignment till its completion and not be just rolling stones, because 'rolling stones do not gather any moss'.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

HRD Targets for next 100 days

Setting any target is laudable, as it displays a will to be active and achievement oriented. However, while setting targets, one needs to examine the outcome of such efforts in the recent past. Many such schemes suffer still birth. For example, there was a plan to set up a satellite campus of IIT, Chennai at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The IIT was keen, but the State got enmeshed in counter proposals about the location. Many development projects suffer embarrassing delays due to land acquisition, never ending list of clearances at the State and Central levels. If nothing else, the finances are not released in time and budgetary allocations lapse.

This writer has apprehensions about setting up 10 new NITs in unreserved states in the next 100 days. In this context, the department should review the status of the new IITs being set up in Rajasthan, etc. Why are they taking so long to take birth in their intended states? Have the concerned states decided on their location? What is the status of acquisition of land for them? What are the road blocks? Are the functionaries accountable to achieve the targets in place? What is the plan to prevent similar fate for the proposed NITs?

There are worries about the delivery of proposed financial assistance. Popular belief is that less than RS. 15 out of the released Rs. 100 reach the target. What does HRD intend to do improve this scandalous performance?

Will HRD publish within 120 days the status of achieving the targets in 100 days? Twenty days should be enough to review the progress over 100 days!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

How do we engage our PhDs and Post graduates?

Often, we compare the number of post graduates and PhD. India produces with those produced by China. We find that India lags far behind. While, it is laudable that we wish to catch up numerically, we should also examine what we do with those we produce. Do we employ them in miserably low paid jobs? What facilities do we provide them to do what they can do best? Do we provide them with challenging assignments, which help build up our country? If we do not, fewer people will be attracted to higher education. So, even if we increase the numbers, the benefits will be disappointing. So, while increasing the numbers of those getting higher education, it is imperative to generate their commensurate utilization.

Currently, we have mammoth programs like, National Rural Employment Guaranty Scheme, with outlay of several thousands of Crores. Have we employed enough brain power at each district level to formulate the program and then monitor its implementation in all its aspects. If we do such program definition and monitoring, several hundred highly qualified persons can be gainfully employed and enhance the delivery effectiveness.
Recommendations to the Newly Elected

Presuming that the newly elected persons are truly dedicated to the development of their constituency, here are a few recommendations to them:

Know your constituency, by collecting data on,
  1. Institutions rendering service, like, hospitals, voluntary institutions, development communication,
  2. Institutions engaged in human resource development, their support bases, and their reach,
  3. Employment promotion avenues,
  4. Quality of life improvement avenues, etc.

Know the budget provisions of the Central Government, which can support these institutions.
Also, find out the procedures to draw funds from these budget provisions. For example, what are the Schemes which aim to harvest rain water, set up public sanitation facilities, enhance infrastructure for ware housing local produce, provide needed inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, loans, etc. Publicize this information in your constituency.

Create a mechanism to maintain regular contact with your constituents, for speedy registration and effective disposal of grievances.