Lok Satta Junction

For better governance in India.

Archive for June 2009

PV: Father of Indian Economic Reforms

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P. V. Narasimha Rao is arguably the first Prime Minister, since Jawaharlal Nehru, to have a lasting impact on the course of Independent India. It is during PV’s term that India took a break from the Nehruvian socialist policies and the “license raj” economy that stunted the growth of the country till 1990. While Nehru’s economic policies could be deemed essential in the initial stages of the indpendent India to build the essential infrastructure and bring the masses upto speed, they have definitely overstayed far too long with over-bearing and license-obsessed state.  After the economic liberalization initiated during PV’s tenure, India has made much progress in the last two decades becoming the second fastest growing major economy in the world, next only to China. The telecom and communications revolution, the IT revolution, the proliferation of TV channels and the accompanying immense growth in employment opportunities are all a result of these economic reforms. Since the early 1990s, India has cut its poverty rate in half. About 300 million Indians — equivalent to the population of the entire United States — escaped the hunger and deprivation of extreme poverty thanks to pro-market reforms that increased economic activity.

On his birth anniversary today, it’s only appropriate to remember some of the great things he had done:

  • Economic reforms. Opening up the Indian economy and unleashing the country’s economic potential.
  • Introduction of land reforms as AP’s Chief Minister, which led to him losing the post.
  • Bringing peace in Punjab by suppressing the terrorism. His successful crisis management as home minister after Operation Bluestar in June 1984, during which the army raided the Golden Temple at Amritsar to neutralize a group of terrorists, who had taken possession of it.
  • His refusal to concede the demands of the Kashmiri terrorists, who kidnapped Doraiswamy, an Indian Oil executive, and of the Sikh terrorists, who kidnapped Liviu Radu, a Romanian diplomat posted in New Delhi in October 1991, in order to secure the release from detention of some terrorists. Both the Kashmiri and Sikh terrorists were ultimately forced to release the hostages without their demands being conceded.
  • His orders to the intelligence community in 1992 to start a systematic drive to draw the international community’s attention to the Pakistan State-sponsorship of terrorism against India and not to be discouraged by the US efforts to undermine the exercise.
  • His handling, as prime minister, of the occupation of the Hazratbal holy shrine in Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in October 1993, and bringing it to an end without any damage to the shrine and of the kidnapping of some foreign tourists by Al Faran in J&K in 1995. He resisted pressure from various quarters to concede the demands of the terrorists in order to secure the hostages’ release.
  • His launching of the ‘Look East’ foreign policy.
  • In addition to his contributions in the political landscape, his contributions in the literary field are also quite significant, a speaker of 17 languages and a recipient of the Sahitya Academy award. It is a shame that his own party has sidelined him in his later years and even after his death. It is indeed sad to see the party, that has sparked the notions of independence and democracy in the hearts of millions, being reduced to a dynasty. It is quite clear from the little importance it gives to its few non-family post-independence leaders.

    Written by jujung

    June 28, 2009 at 7:35 PM

    NREGA: The Good and The Bad

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    The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA, also known as National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, NREGS) is a legislation enacted in Indian parliament on August 25, 2005. The NREGA provides a legal guarantee for one hundred days of employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work-related unskilled manual work at the statutory minimum wage. While its goals of providing for the enhancement of livelihood security of households in the rural areas are laudable, it is not entirely clear if it is the right way to go about it.

    The Good:

    In the words of its main proponents, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, transparency and accountability to the poorest and the weakest is in fact the biggest potential contribution of the NREGA to the entire governance system. The NREGA is also an outstanding example of how the RTI Act can be woven into the fabric of the delivery system and the whole legal and governance paradigm. Further, NREGA has found enthusiastic supporters in the rural areas and has been responsible for better wages for the poor in general. In the words of journalist Sainath, despite complaints of rip-offs and payment delays, “with better wages, the bargaining power of the weakest has gone up a notch. For some, their access to costly services like health has risen slightly. NREG work has been a life jacket in the flood waters of the price rise. And no other program has had the positive impact on distress migrations that it has achieved.”

    The Bad:

    Despite its progress in improved implementation and governance, the NREGA still has to deal with the corruption and other improprieties that have come to be associated with any Govt. program in India. The CAG review said in as many as 70% of the villages checked, there were no proper records available on number of households who demanded jobs and the actual number of people who benefited from the job guarantee scheme. Hurdles to its implementation apart, the main criticism, however, is of the idea itself. The idea of NREGA has been accused of as just income redistribution and hence might cause inflation. Inflation in 2008 did hit a 3-year high with the wholesale price index hitting 7% for the year upto March 22, 2008. How much of it is due to NREGA is however not clear, as record prices of rice, wheat and other foodstuff, along with the sky-high oil price, have fanned inflation worldwide in 2008.

    There is some truth to the criticism that this act is just a way of redistributing the income rather than making any lasting improvements in the rural infrastructure. Even its main proponents are silent on the details of the infrastructure projects successfully completed through the program and the benefits of such projects to the local communities. A majority of the supporters only show its effectiveness in improving governance procedures and making people aware of their rights. This is, however, more an offshoot of the successful implementation of the Right to Information act in the NREGA program than the NREGA itself.

    A focus on channeling the work to beneficial and durable infrastructure projects would create a great difference to the lives of the poor in the long term, rather than a focus on just distributing the money. Otherwise, it would just create a long term dependency among the poor on the largesse of the Govt. If the works are only of marginal importance, and involve mainly the equivalent of digging and filling the ground, it would be such a huge waste of human potential and resources.

    As the article in WSJ points out, “India needs these safety nets for those who truly require them. But the government would do far better to focus on making more lasting improvements in rural lives so that the NREGA and its kin become less prominent in the next five years, not more. Ideally, these welfare programs should be sought by fewer and fewer people as investments in infrastructure, training and services kick in.”

    Update: A vote bank called NREGS – “With the new changes in store, chances are the rural jobs scheme will become a vehicle for gigantic expenditures in the name of the poor with very little money actually going to the poor.”

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    Written by jujung

    June 27, 2009 at 12:44 PM

    Posted in Criticism, Ideas, India

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    Lok Satta on Women’s Reservation Bill

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    The UPA government plans to introduce the Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to reserve one-third of the seats in the parliament for women. This bill has been debated several times for over more than a decade now. This Reuters blog provides a good overview of the various positions on the issue.

    According to the Outlook magazine,

    “Even within a broader culture of ‘dynastic politics’, as the shorthand phrase goes, political scientists reckon that women MPs are more likely to be from political families than their male counterparts, and clearly, more than one dynamic is at work here. You reward a lieutenant by giving a seat to his appendage, and at the same time ensure he pours in the money, manpower and clout needed for her success. For a political player, it means consolidating power in safer ways than most—who, for instance, would you trust more than your wife?

    At least 36 of 58 women MPs who have made it to the new House—that’s close to a depressing two-thirds—are close relatives of male politicians.

    According to a Govt. sponsored study, the results of the existing reservation for women in the local governing bodies, has been quite encouraging. A sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive enhancement in their self-esteem (79%), confidence (81%) and decision-making ability (74%). As much as four-fifths of the elected representatives (male/female) did not have anyone in their family affiliated with politics. This was more evident in the case of Ward Members as compared to Pradhans, and male representatives as compared to their women counterparts. The report did not specifically mention the percentage of elected women representatives, without political connections.

    From Loksatta News:

    “Addressing a media conference, party President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan recalled that that a Bill to provide for women’s reservations had been introduced many times in the last 13 years but had not been passed apparently because most parties were not serious about it.

    Dr. JP pointed out that the Bill as it is conceived is seriously flawed. The Bill proposes reservation of one-third seats for women and the rotation of such reserved seats once in every general election. As a result, two-thirds of incumbents will be forcibly unseated in every general election. When male incumbents are forced out, they field their womenfolk as proxies and hinder development of natural leadership. “Such compulsory unseating violates the very principles of democratic representation and jeopardizes the possibility of any legislator choosing a constituency and nursing it. When legislators do not have the incentive to seek re-election from the same constituency, politics will become more predatory and unaccountable. The Bill in its present form is silent about women’s representation in the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. In addition, the Bill warrants a constitutional amendment.”

    Studying all these, the Lok Satta had as early as 1999 presented an alternative for consideration by all political parties. It calls for an amendment to the Representation of the People Act making it mandatory for every recognized political party to field women candidates in one-third of constituencies. To prevent a party from nominating women candidates only in States or constituencies where the party’s chances of winning are weak, the Lok Satta proposes that each party should consider the State as a unit for fielding women candidates in elections to the Lok Sabha. In other words, a party has to field one-third of women candidates in every State. A party’s failure to field the requisite number of women entails a penalty. For the shortfall of every woman candidate, the party cannot field male candidates in two constituencies.

    The Lok Satta Bill proposes that for reservation of seats for women in a State Assembly, the unit shall be a cluster of three contiguous Lok Sabha constituencies.

    Dr, JP said that the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act should be amended to provide for reservation of one-third of seats to women in the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils.

    The Election Commission had endorsed the Lok Satta Bill, Dr. JP said.”

    A good discussion with JP on TV5 regarding the bill is available on youtube: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

    While reservation will certainly fast track the visibility of women, even if they are connected to powerful men, in the legislatures, it is internal democracy within the political parties that will truly enhance the stature of women or any other under-represented class. Reservation of any form for anyone in any field is only a temporary measure to accommodate for past inequities. Empowerment happens when that reservation helps the subsequent generations to become successful without the aid of those reservations.

    Written by jujung

    June 12, 2009 at 12:15 PM

    Anti-corruption Bill by LSP

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    Lok Satta Party president Jayaprakash Narayan presented a draft Bill to amend the Prevention of Corruption (Andhra Pradesh) Act to Speaker N. Kiran Kumar Reddy and Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhar Reddy on Wednesday. The amendment Bill integrates recommendations, guidelines and suggestions of 166th Law Commission Report and the second Administrative Reforms Commission’s fourth report for eradicating corruption at all levels.

    Some excerpts from Loksatta News:

    “If the Bill is adopted, MLAs and MLCs, elected members of panchayats, municipalities, and municipal corporations will be deemed as public servants and attract the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. As per the Bill, an accused public servant has to prove his innocence in cases of trap or disproportional assets. It provides for attachment and seizure of property during investigation and forfeiture of property when he or she is found guilty. The Bill provides for establishment of a special court in every district, appointment of chief judicial magistrates as special public prosecutors and autonomy to the Anti Corruption Bureau, and effective powers to the Lok Ayukta. Special courts can on their own take cognizance of corruption involving public servants.

    If the Government did not introduce the Bill to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act, Dr. JP said, he would introduce it as a private member’s Bill. Dr. JP also underlined the need to integrate various authorities dealing with corruption and disciplinary proceedings. The Lok Satta would draft a separate Bill for that purpose. Lok Satta Party leaders K. Dharma Reddy, V. Vijayender Reddy and E. Chennayya took part in the media meet.”

    While I doubt if this bill will be introduced by the Govt., I nevertheless think this would be a good step forward if this encourages some debate on tackling corruption in the Assembly. I am not sure if the existing law is deficient in tackling corruption, I feel the deficiency is only in the law enforcement. Establishing more courts in each district is a good way to ensure faster judicial process. Such bills need to be supported by a broader legal and police reforms throughout the country.

    On another note, the Govt. of India proposes to introduce a new bill to end the transfer-posting raj. A draft of the aims and objectives of the Civil Services Bill, 2009 says: “The public servant needs to be protected from victimization or other adverse consequences and refusing to follow directions of superiors in service which are not in accordance with applicable rules and regulations.” The bill envisages an enforceable code of conduct for all bureaucrats through a new Central Public Services Authority. Some important items of the bill are supposed to be:

    • The appointment of all civil servants for a tenure not less than three years in one posting. If there is deviation from this, the public servant will have to be “compensated” for the inconvenience and harassment caused due to such transfer before term.
    • The chief secretary and the director general of police of a state will be selected out of a panel of suitable candidates of required seniority to be drawn up by a committee comprising the chief minister, leader of the Opposition and the home minister.
    • The Cabinet secretary will be selected from a panel by a committee comprising the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition and the home minister.
    • A revamp of performance evaluation, performance related incentive schemes

    Looks good so far. Hope this is not just beginner’s enthusiasm or one of the umpteen strong on paper, weak on ground bills.

    Update: A discussion with JP on the corruption issue in the TV5 program “Prajalatho JP” is available on youtube: 1, 2 and 3. The full draft of the bill is available here.

    Written by jujung

    June 11, 2009 at 4:48 PM

    Posted in Agenda, Ideas, Videos

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    A response to criticism of Lok Satta Party

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    This is in response to the charges (see videos) of Nannapaneni Rajakumari and another TDP member Revanth Reddy, criticizing JP and LSP:

    1. LSP is not against Chiru/balayya/babu/jagan contesting the elections. It is against party becoming just an extension of family. It is for democratic election of party leaders.

    2. Lok Satta never claimed it is against politics. It fought against criminalization/feudalization of politics.

    3. NAC and such are Govt. appointed committees, which have nothing to do with political parties. Again, secretary during NTR’s time does not mean he’s working for NTR. It just means he’s working for the AP Govt. It’s like saying Govt. employees belong to the ruling party.

    4. LSP is not for banning liquor. It is for banning belt shops and illicit liquor. It is for banning enticement of voters with cash and liquor.

    5. LSP is not against movie stars contesting elections. It just cautions people not to get fooled by the on-screen heroic image, with the real person. It is against the campaign style of mega-star, who focuses only on his image and not on any real policies he wants to bring.

    6. LSP does not say it will not work with the traditional parties in the assembly. LSP says it will work with them to improve Governance and legislative process. LSP does not criticize for the sake of criticism. It supports the Govt for good actions and criticizes with alternative suggestions for poor actions.

    Update: A discussion on TV5 with responses from JP: Nannapaneni Vs JP @ Yahoo! Video. A press release by the Lok Satta Party in response to the criticism by TDP is available here.

    Written by jujung

    June 1, 2009 at 2:50 AM

    Lok Satta Party

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    Lok Satta Party, which grew out of the eponymous movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan, was launched on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi in 2006.

    Excerpts from its agenda:

    “Lok Satta Party was formed with the goal of creating new politics for a new generation of Indians. For Lok Satta, power is a means to promote public good, and not an end in itself. Lok Satta is striving to change the rules of the game by adopting and practicing internal democracy, transparent resource mobilization and utilization, national public policies and democratic methods of mobilizing public opinion, enhancing the liberty of all sections. Lok Satta’s goals are:

    • Eliminating all forms of discrimination by birth through ensuring opportunities for quality education, healthcare, skills and employment.
    • Enhancing incomes in agriculture and other traditional occupations.
    • Improving quality of life by creating basic amenities in all rural and urban settlements.
    • Establishing truly empowered and effective district and local governments and decentralizing power.
    • Promoting full transparency and accountability at all levels of governance.
    • Establishing rule of law and ensuring that all people are treated equally without favouratism or discrimination.
    • Ensuring social justice by building a new society in which a child’s future is not determined by birth, caste, family, region, religion or wealth.
    • Utilizing public resources fully and properly.
    • Eliminating corruption.

    Traditional politics in India regards people as mere vote banks and mendicants seeking alms from the state. Misappropriation of a large proportion of public money, squandering precious resources, transferring a small part of public money to the tax payers in the form of sops and freebies for short-term political gain, and reducing people into abject dependence on political patronage and state support are the key features of the traditional, kleptocratic politics of India. Lok Satta aims to transform this by enhancing the capabilities of citizens, making them partners in wealth creation, and promoting the dignity, self-esteem, security and opportunities of every individual.

    We call upon every thinking citizen in the state to enlighten their families and fellow citizens about the new society Lok Satta envisions – a society in which there is dignity, opportunity, and justice for all Indians. “

    Written by jujung

    June 1, 2009 at 2:45 AM

    Posted in Agenda

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    JP – One of the best things to happen to Indian Politics

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    Great interview on his background and why and what of his politics: (parts 1, 2 and 3)

    Written by jujung

    June 1, 2009 at 2:41 AM

    Posted in Interview, Videos

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