Renu Pokharna

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Playing fast and loose

In Corruption on June 27, 2011 at 6:21 am

It is an unseemly sight. First, the government loses all moral authority by its complicity with corruption. The political class abdicates its role. Civil society steps in to fill the vacuum. Hunger strikes begin. And the government of an aspiring superpower, instead of behaving like a government, succumbs to blackmail after blackmail. There is something medieval about the image. The “Baba” arrives. Practically all of government that matters shows up in attendance. God forbid if the Baba curses them. You have to sympathise with these artful ministers. They are valiantly trying to make up for the fact that the Queen Mother, her Dewan and the little Prince run away from the most ordinary governance that matters. They have outsourced all leadership and thinking. A few ministers are left to pick up the pieces.

Then there is the gloss on this bizarre spectacle. First, abdicate. Then, cravenly submit. Then call it responsiveness. Such corruption of language signals a deeper corruption. A responsive government is one that in its routine functioning discharges its responsibilities: enforces the rule of law, dispenses justice, provides good management of the economy and so forth. Submitting to every whim of self-appointed civil society advocates is not responsiveness. A responsive government would govern, not sleepwalk to airports.

Meanwhile, civil society activists act as if they should have the last word on everything. The outrage that drives them has some justifiable basis. But civil society is, unconsciously, abetting its own brand of authoritarianism. First, the sensibility at work in this self-appointed civil society is to enhance state power. Most of them hate the one thing that has made a brighter future possible for India: liberalisation. It took us decades to struggle against the stranglehold of the state and concentrations of power. Under the guise of combating terrorism, the state encroached on our freedoms. Under the guise of promoting accountability, civil society now wants new concentrations of power. How else do you explain that a Baba who advocates the extension of the death penalty to economic offenders, whose views on sexual minorities border on the fascist, is now the saviour of our moral fibre? How else do you explain the fact that every bill the NAC touches is closing doors to experiments in the social sector? It played fast and loose with important constitutional values in the prevention of communal violence bill. How else do you explain the sensibility that says the solution to the problems of the state is more state, the solution to weaknesses of existing institutions is more institutions, and the key to dealing with the fact that most laws remain unimplemented is more laws?

The second element of creeping authoritarianism is the punitive mood. The presumptions that should remain dear to a liberal society, even though there may be costs attached to them, are all being tossed out of the window: like the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In this climate, can you even think of a judge being able to give someone bail fairly? Merely that act will expose her to the censure that she is corrupt. This is the tenor of much of the allegations our civil society representatives are bandying about as gospel truth. No one denies that “due process” has been a fig leaf to let many holders of power off the hook. But that is no justification for creating a climate of opinion about whole classes of people that is punitive rather than discriminating.

The third element of creeping authoritarianism is the erosion of a proper sense of balance. Each group is pursuing a single-point agenda as if that is the only thing that mattered. Each value like transparency is being taken to an extreme point where it could become dangerous. Sunlight may be a disinfectant. It can also blur your eyes. Disclosure of the assets of public servants may serve some functions, properly handled. But there is something invasive and unseemly about the way in which the whole persona of public servants is being defined in public discourse through an obsession with assets. The RTI Act is a wonderful instrument. But its use has to be measured. Recently, the CIC ruled that all confidential reports be made public. We can debate that ruling from an organisational point of view. But the large philosophical premise behind it is disturbing: information is a right. Privacy is not a right. Therefore the former trumps the latter. Remember the core of all authoritarianism is the claim that the individual is always subordinate to the collective interest. Transparency always trumps privacy. The core of totalitarianism was the claim that individuals be subject to a field of total visibility, so that slowly the whole notion of public and private disappears. A whole range of institutions is taking us down that path.

The fourth element of creeping authoritarianism is the invocation of the people as an abstract concept. All authoritarianisms mistrust the representative process. The concept of the people then becomes an abstraction; each group can claim to represent it simply by their self-proclaimed virtue. Each disagreement becomes a sign of treason. The people must be a unity. If anyone disagrees, they must, by definition be against the people. If you have different views on the Lokpal it must be because you are against the people: classic authoritarian rhetoric.

The fifth element of authoritarianism is endless confusion of roles. Baba Ramdev has solid achievements to his credit in raising consciousness about yoga. It is heartening that citizens take more interest in public affairs. But there is a presumption that accomplished individuals, by virtue of their achievements in one sphere, can leverage that authority everywhere. This confusion of roles is almost everywhere. Parts of the media cannot decide whether they want to be trustworthy institutions of record or tools of partisan, rabble-rousing demagoguery, with editors donning the mantle of revolutionaries. But the short-term gains of this activism will come at the price of long-term credibility. True change will not come from this confusion of roles; it will come from each profession discharging its responsibilities to the best.

A morally insidious vacuum in government. A self-proclaimed civil society displaying its own will to power. A media age where being off-balance gets you visibility. A public whose mood is punitive. An intellectual climate that peddles the politics of illusion. And all this in a context where government paralysis is enhancing the two biggest risks to the well-being of the poor — entrenched inflation and slowdown in growth. Instead of clamouring for visibility, we should follow old Baba Ramdev’s advice: take a deep breath.


Indian Express, 3 June 2011

Collector admits daughter to panchayat school

In Civil Services Reforms, Uncategorized, Young Turks on June 27, 2011 at 6:14 am

Erode:  In a departure from the clamour for English medium education in well-known institutions, a District Collector in Tamil Nadu has chosen to admit his daughter to a panchayat union primary school here that has also brought much-needed attention to the needs of the school.

Taking the school officials by surprise, Erode District Collector R Anandhakumar last week walked into the Tamil medium school at Kumuilankuttai here along with his wife and met the headmistress and enrolled his six-year-old daughter A Gopika after completing due formalities.

According to school authorities, the girl would partake in the free midday meal as wished by the Collector.

The presence of the Collector’s daughter has also led to better upkeep of basic sanitary facilities in the school with local officials going the extra mile in paying special attention to them.

The sanitary staff have been visiting the school premises and keeping the surroundings clean and spraying disinfectants. School toilets are also being cleaned twice a day, besides ensuring adequate water supply.

The move has also improved the punctuality of the teachers while the parents of other students have been asked not to spit or throw any waste near the premises, school officials said.

The Collector, a veterinarian, has told the school authorities to treat his daughter as any other child and allow her to mingle with other students.

Anandhakumar has declined to speak about his decision to enroll his daughter in the panchayat school.


NDTV,  19 June 2011

Maya’s new land policy: Pvt firms to buy directly

In Property Rights on June 27, 2011 at 5:51 am

Lucknow: UP Chief Minister Mayawati on Thursday announced a new land acquisition policy under which private developers will have to buy land directly from the owners, with the government acting only as a facilitator. Farmers can get 16 per cent of the developed land as part of the compensation.

Making the announcement after a “kisan panchayat” here, Mayawati said the government would acquire land only for public purposes, like roads, canals and power projects. She also announced some changes in the rehabilitation and resettlement policy.

Mayawati said the new policy had been framed to safeguard the interests of farmers and to bring transparency in the land acquisition process. “This policy is better than the one being implemented in Congress-ruled states like Haryana,” she said, adding that the BSP would ask the Centre to adopt it at the national level.

Since the new policy will not be implemented with retrospective effect, it will not benefit the farmers of places like Bhatta Parsaul, Yamuna Expressway, and Bara and Karchana in Allahabad district, where land has either been acquired or is in the process of being acquired under the existing policy.

Giving details, Mayawati said that for acquisition of land by private companies, the district magistrate will only issue a notification under Section (4) of the Land Acquisition Act for identifying the land. The developer will have to purchase the land by holding direct negotiations with the farmers. Land can only be acquired if owners of a minimum of 70 per cent land give their consent, failing which the government will reconsider the acquisition. The district magistrate will undertake further action for land acquisition under Section 6 of the Act for the remaining 30 per cent of the land.

For public purposes also, land will be acquired only with the consent of the farmers, who will be entitled to benefits of the resettlement and rehabilitation policy.

Farmers whose land is acquired by a private company will have the option of getting 16 per cent of the developed land or taking cash compensation. The developed land will be given to them free of cost with exemption from stamp duty. Farmers will also be exempted from stamp duty if they purchase agricultural land within one year of getting the compensation.

In the affected villages, the developer will have to construct a kisan bhawan as well as a model school.

Under the revised rehabilitation policy, Mayawati announced an increase in the rate of annuity from Rs 20,000 per acre to Rs 23,000 per acre for 33 years. The annual hike has been increased from Rs 600 to Rs 800 per acre. The annuity will be paid in July every year.

Besides the compensation and benefits available under the R&R policy, farmers whose entire land is acquired will be given a one-time payment equivalent to wages of five years of agriculture labour. Similarly, farmers who are reduced to marginal status after acquisition will get payment equivalent to wages of 500 days. Those reduced to the status of small farmer will get payment equal to wages of 375 days.

Landless agriculture labourers affected by the acquisition will be given a one-time assistance equal to wages of 625 days. Besides, each family affected by the land acquisition will be given additional assistance equal to wages of 250 days.


Indian Express, 3 June 2011

Retd PSU brass a big draw for private sector

In Civil Services Reforms, Corruption on June 27, 2011 at 5:49 am
New Delhi:The private sector continues to attract top PSU talent by offering higher pay packages and a challenging environment. While serving senior executives may still be difficult to find, retired PSU chiefs are a big draw. While the private sector gets access to the goodwill and understanding of the bureaucracy that PSU retirees bring to the table, corporate governance experts warn of potential conflict of interest.Former SAIL chairman S K Roongta is the latest PSU chief to join Anil Aggarwal-promoted Vendanta Aluminum Ltd as its managing director. He will lead the aluminum business of the group including Balco. At least 20 such top PSU executives have joined the private sector in the recent past, and interestingly, most of them are working for corporate groups with operations in similar lines of business.

“There is a conflict of interest. Unlike the US, where they have a non-compete clause in their employment agreement to ensure that they don’t give any sensitive information, we don’t have such sophisticated contracts here. The government must insist in the contract with PSU executives that they can’t immediately work with the private sector after they have quit or retire from the public sector,” ISB Professor Krishnamurthy Subramanian told The Indian Express.

As per the present guidelines, directors on PSU boards are prohibited from joining a firm with which the PSU has had a business relationship for two years after they quit or retire. But they can join competitors. Some experts suggest an increase in the cooling off period. PRIME Database’s Prithvi Haldea opines that though “you can’t deny employment opportunities to such people”, conflict of interest certainly arises. “I think the cooling off period should be increased to 3 years or provisions should be there to not allow them to work in the same sector,” he said.

Roongta joins an burgeoning club of PSU executives or even bureaucrats who have joined companies that can potentially create conflict of interest situations. Former power secretary R V Shahi joined Energy Infratech Ltd that provides consulting services to power companies. Ashok Jha, former secretary, economic affairs, joined Hyundai as its President after retirement and later the Jignesh Shah-promoted MCX-SX.

The government has not been blind to this trend. Last year, it started tightening the guidelines relating to employment of PSU chiefs post retirement in the private sector. The Public Enterprises Selection Board, under the department of personnel and training, drafted a new Model Code of Ethics barring whole-time directors in PSUs from joining private sector Indian or foreign companies in the same line of business for one year after quitting, or retiring from, the PSU. So, they had to serve a year-long cooling off period.

According to Subramaniam, it is important for the government to anticipate such movements and accordingly work towards eliminating them. “These people need to be paid salaries that match up with that in the private sector. They have not been paid well so they are looking to enhance their remuneration. They ne2ver earn close to what they contribute to the company. If paid more, the CEOs will guard the interest of the company.”


Financial Express, 2 June 2011

Degrees of democracy

In International Relations, Politics on June 27, 2011 at 5:45 am

ON JUNE 20th Zine el-Abedine Ben-Ali, Tunisia’s former ruler, was sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison. Many trace the origins of the popular rebellion that forced him from office to frustration over the treatment by the police of a young man with few job prospects. That combustible mixture of authoritarianism, unemployment and youth has played a big role in sparking many of the popular uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa that followed Tunisia’s. But some argue that increased education should also take credit for the Arab spring.

Many of the countries where disaffection with strongmen rulers has spilled over into revolt have seen their education levels rise sharply in recent decades. Young people in these countries are far better educated than their parents were. In 1990 the average Egyptian had 4.4 years of schooling; by 2010 the figure had risen to 7.1 years. Could it be that education, by making people less willing to put up with restrictions on freedom and more willing to question authority, promotes democratisation?

Ideas about the links between education, income and democracy are at the heart of what social scientists in the middle of the last century termed the “modernisation hypothesis”. One of its most famous proponents, Seymour Lipset, wrote in 1959 that “education presumably broadens men’s outlooks, enables them to understand the need for norms of tolerance, restrains them from adhering to extremist and monistic doctrines, and increases their capacity to make rational electoral choices.”

Since then plenty of economists and political scientists have looked for statistical evidence of a causal link between education and democratisation. Many have pointed to the strong correlation that exists between levels of education and measures like the pluralism of party politics and the existence of civil liberties (see left-hand chart). The patterns are similar when you look at income and democracy. There are outliers, of course—until recently, many Arab countries managed to combine energy-based wealth and decent education with undemocratic political systems. But some deduce from the overall picture that as China and other authoritarian states get more educated and richer, their people will agitate for greater political freedom, culminating in a shift to a more democratic form of government.

This apparently reasonable intuition is shakier than it seems. Critics of the hypothesis point out that correlation is hardly causation. The general trend over the past half-century may have been towards rising living standards, a wider spread of basic education and more democracy, but it is entirely possible that this is being driven by another variable. Even if the correlation were not spurious, it would be difficult to know which way causation ran. Does more education lead to greater democracy? Or are more democratic countries better at educating their citizens?

The modernisation hypothesis suggested a particular direction of change: more education and income should beget greater democracy. But as the right-hand chart shows, there is virtually no statistical association at all between changes in a country’s level of education and its measured level of democracy. If this is true, there is no particular reason to hope that more education will lead to a more democratic world.

A recent NBER paper* sheds light on why this might be the case. Those who posit that more schooling leads to greater democracy often have specific ideas about how people’s attitudes change as a result of their becoming more educated, arguing that it creates people who are more willing to challenge authority. It is possible, however, that education reinforces authority and the power of ruling elites; indeed, it may often be designed to do precisely this. The study tried to find out which of these competing ideas of the effects of education is more accurate.

The authors compared a group of Kenyan girls in 69 primary schools whose students were randomly selected to receive a scholarship with similar students in schools which received no such financial aid. Previous studies had shown that the scholarship programme led to higher test scores and increased the likelihood that girls enrolled in secondary school. Overall, it significantly increased the amount of education obtained. For the new study the authors tried to see how the extra schooling had affected the political and social attitudes of the women in question.

Class divide

What they found was in many ways contradictory. For instance, girls who benefited from the scholarship and got more schooling were more independent and less accepting of the traditional sources of authority within the family. But although education seemed in some sense to have “liberated” them in terms of their personal aspirations, it did not seem to have had the broader effects that proponents of the modernisation hypothesis would have expected. In particular, those with more education did not become more favourably inclined towards democracy. In fact, education deepened their sense of identification with their ethnic group and increased their tolerance for political violence. There was little evidence that having more education made them more engaged in civic life or political organisations.

This is not entirely surprising. Education may make people more interested in improving their own lives but they may not necessarily see democracy as the way to do it. Even in established democracies, more education does not always mean either more active political participation or greater faith in democracy. In India, for example, poorer and less educated people vote in larger numbers than their more educated compatriots. Indeed, the latter often express disdain for, and impatience with, the messiness of democracy. Many yearn instead for the kind of government that would execute the corrupt and build highways, railway lines and bridges at the dizzying pace of authoritarian China.

Economist, 23 June 2011

Cess on wildlife tourism on cards

In Bizarre Laws, Civil Services Reforms, Climate Change on June 27, 2011 at 5:41 am

If the environment ministry have its way, tourist facilities around 600 protected areas including tiger reserves will have to pay an unspecified cess on their turnover to sustain conservation and local livelihood development from January 2012. The new draft eco-tourism guidelines are based on recommendations of a  seven member government committee, whose member Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary magazine has questioned its implementability in a letter to environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

“Basically what was finally put into the draft was at variance from my perception of the discussions and understanding we had. Also the guidelines are un-implementable in their current form,” Sahgal told HT in an email response.

The guidelines said that the state governments should levy “local conservation cess” as a percentage of the turnover on all privately run tourist facilities within five kms of the protected areas and the money should be deposited in a special protected area management fund.

The fund can be used only for conservation and local livelihood development with an aim of ensuring local community participation in protecting wildlife and sharing of monetary benefits.

Once the guidelines are notified, all major hotel chains having tourist facilities around popular tiger reserves such as Corbett National Park, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and Kanha Tiger Reserve will have to pay a cess.

“Adequate provisions must be made to ensure that ecotourism does not get relegated to purely high-end exclusive tourism leaving out local communities,” the guidelines state, adding that the first beneficiaries should be local people.

The guidelines also say that half of the energy requirement should come from renewable source and the vehicles used by tour operators should run on eco friendly fuel. It also imposes a ban on construction of tourism facilities on forestland and says financial incentive should be provided to convert revenue land outside the protected areas as forestland.

Such a move may impact number of private resorts that have come up in the green buffer zone of the Corbett, which as per government record is revenue land. Revenue land is under administrative control district collector whereas forestland is managed by district forest officer. It also gives powers to the state governments to impose restrictions on infrastructure in close proximity of tiger reserves or national parks.

For regulating tourism, the ministry has recommended a two tier structure — a state level steering committee under Chief Minister and a district level advisory body with district collector as chairperson.

The ministry has given time till December 31, 2011 to the state governments to constitute various committees and create the fund so that the guidelines become applicable from January 2012.


Hindustan Times, 2 June 2011

The district of goddesses

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2011 at 7:58 am

Kolhapur is famous for its Mahalakshmi temple. I remember my mother referring to Kolhapur as the goddess’s natal home. And this place, sacred to the goddess of wealth and prosperity had by 2001 become one of the most dangerous places in the world for female foetuses. The inhabitants of Kolhapur district had convinced themselves that it was perfectly in order to murder goddesses before they were born. There was no sin attached to deicide in the womb. In fact, parents who participated in this act were seen as embracing prosperity, not rejecting it. And doctors who connived became richer, not poorer.

The ghastly serial murders of Lakshmis caused the sex ratio, the number of female births for every 1000 males born, to drop to 839, far worse than the average for India (927) or Maharashtra (913).

And then, from the depths of our much-maligned officialdom, a team emerged that decided to tackle the problem. The district collector’s office is otherwise associated with the routine persecution of citizens. Hapless persons hang around all day trying to get their “agricultural” lands reclassified or trying to get somebody (anybody?) to hear complaints about some egregious error in the land records of the panchayat, the tehsildar, the ominous-sounding sub-registrar (what does he or she register and who is he/she “subbing” for?) and other functionaries of an dysfunctional state.

Laxmikant Deshmukh, the collector of Kolhapur (and the motivated team in his office, too, is not to be underestimated) set about proving that all is not lost in the system. In fact, because it is backed by the law of the land, it is the system, as embodied by the office of the district collector, which can effectively move towards hard-to-implement solutions for seemingly intractable social problems.

Their plan of action was simplicity itself, and did not require inputs from the imperial World Bank or imperious McKinsey consultants. They would monitor all sonography tests in the district’s clinics. Their personnel would then call on the prospective parents and work on persuading them to avoid abortions merely because they know that they were headed for a girl child. They used a simple non-intrusive technology, known as the “silent observer”, that effectively picked up under-reporting of pre-natal tests in clinics. Slowly, but surely, this outreach began to have an impact. By 2010, the sex ratio had moved from 839 to 876. Not outstanding, but directionally very significant.

Among other things, this proved human problems could be met with human solutions. Efforts went beyond monitoring and advice to active intervention: economic support to pregnant women and to mothers of baby girls. Deshmukh and his colleagues were being feted; among others, they received a national social innovation honours award from the Nasscom Foundation. For once, highly publicised civil society did recognise the constructive work done by idealistic civil servants, otherwise only showered with brickbats.

I am sure there are still unscrupulous doctors and cruel parents who continue with older practices. Many clinics might have opened up in neighbouring districts. Yet the fact remains that this project has been undertaken within the system, by the system and has begun to show incipient signs of success. Other state districts (Nanded, Sangli, Jalgaon, Buldana) are trying to replicate the experiment. Other states (Karnataka, HP, Punjab and Gujarat) are planning to do the same.

To be perfectly honest, I have had some quasi-libertarian concerns as to whether the state using such technologies to monitor private actions is an intrusion into the private lives of citizens. However, the crime of female foeticide is so horrifying that I am convinced such action is justified. After all, if I kept slaves in my plantation, could I plead privacy rights and not allow intrusion on my lands to free them? Even the most principled libertarian would concede that privacy arguments cannot prevail over the immediate needs of human freedom.

We need more Deshmukhs; we need more teams of dedicated state employees; and we need to recognise, praise and reward them. Therein lies a measure of hope for our fractured land.


Indian Express, 16 June 2011

CSR Is A Dangerous Socialist Hoax

In Bizarre Laws, Trickle Down on June 17, 2011 at 7:45 am

Legislation is being passed mandating “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) and private firms will now be forced at gun-point to divert resources towards this dubious end. At the outset, it ought to be pointed out that this presents us with a “principal-agent problem,” as the principals, who are the shareholders, have never instructed management, who are their agents, to spend their precious capital in this manner.

What are the responsibilities of a corporation? Well, first must come the shareholders, who have put up the capital. And then, if markets are fully competitive, in order to ensure share value, the corporation must satisfy the buying public—its customers.

Now, if corporations act in this way—serving the self-interest of their shareholders and customers—then, as Adam Smith says, “society benefits as though by an invisible hand.” The mobile phone with a built-in torch is a great example in India, where the socialist State, with all its social responsibility, cannot provide reliable, uninterrupted electricity, which it has monopolised. Thank heavens their phone monopoly has gone!

Indeed, all the goodies we enjoy consuming today are produced by private corporations—cars, phones, computers, software, beer, wine, fashionable clothes, and so much more. Because of these “selfish capitalists” the invisible hand ensures that the whole of society benefits.

“I have never seen much good come out of those who purport to trade for the public benefit,” added Smith, and this point is worth pondering in socialist India, where the State owns and operates hundreds of companies that “purport to trade for the public benefit”—from Air India and SAIL to ONGC and ITDC to banks, phone and electricity companies. Our experience with a State-owned industrial sector ought to have convinced us that private corporations serve us—the members of society—far better than public sector firms. The former produce for us our “common wealth,” while the latter are our “common loss”.

In other words, it ought to be apparent to all of us that “social responsibility” is a hoax, just as “socialism” is a hoax. If a socially responsible government were to take power, its first duty would be to liquidate all the PSUs. Social responsibility, indeed! Friedrich Hayek, the only Austrian School economist to win the Nobel prize so far, called “social” a “weasel word” —and we must watch out for it. The weasel is an animal that feeds by making a tiny hole and sucking everything out of an egg, leaving behind the empty shell. In precisely the same way, if any other word is attached to “social” then it loses its meaning entirely. For example, “social justice”. Justice, we all know, is fair exchange: “the principle of Justice is the principle of Trade.” But what “justice” is there in “social justice”—which means the State robs Peter to pay Paul? Social justice is just a “mirage,” said Hayek. Look at the MGNREGA.

Similarly, there is “work”—which means, to most of us, performing onerous duties in order to satisfy our bosses and our customers. In which case, what is “social work”—which also “purports to trade for the public benefit”? The NGO sector is full of frauds. Hayek has listed out over 150 words that have their entire meaning sucked out of them when attached to the word “social”—the very word that lies at the root of “socialism”. If socialism failed so spectacularly, what good can “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) accomplish?

Civil society must see through this hoax being perpetrated by our socialist political society. It is to civil society that shareholders as well as consumers belong. Would it not be best if businesses are left alone, free to pursue profits by producing goods and services for society while being responsible for shareholder value? Or should managerial energies and corporate profits be diverted towards such nonsense?

To my severely jaundiced eye, this impending legislation mandating CSR is another attempt by our socialist State to malign The Market—and Smith’s “invisible hand”—while asserting that, without these State interventions, society will lose.

The truth is the other way around. These interventions will cause monetary losses to civil society and its only beneficiaries will be a new set of babus who will emerge to “enforce” CSR. Another lot of government “inspectors” will land up to torment business managers. The socialist State, which ought to be drastically cut down, will actually expand!

This will be a horror story. It ought to be strongly opposed by all—from those who invest in shares to businessmen and managers, right down to the buying public.


Outlook Business, 11 June 2011

EC proposes right to recall local body representatives

In Electoral Reform, Gujarat on June 17, 2011 at 7:41 am

The State Election Commission has asked the Gujarat government to bring out necessary amendments and introduce a right to recall the elected members of local bodies like municipal corporations, municipalities, district, taluka and village panchayats if they are not performing according to the minimum expectations of the voters. The state government has not made any remarks on the subject.

State Election Commissioner K C Kapoor told The Indian Express: “As part of our efforts for reforms in the electoral process, we have proposed the state Urban Development and Panchayat Department to make necessary amendments and introduce the right to recall non-performing elected members of local bodies. The right to recall can help in making the elected representatives more accountable and active. Chhattisgarh and another state has introduced this right and many local bodies representatives have been recalled. We have proposed to the state government to introduce such reform in Gujarat.”

He added: “We have proposed that the voters should have the right to recall after observing a two-year performance. Through referendum or other means, if 51 per cent voters want to recall their elected candidate then they can do it. In this type of case, we have to organise re-election on the particular seat. I had discussions with the concerned ministers and are awaiting the government’s response.”

Kapoor said they are planning to introduce online voting in the municipalities and panchayat polls in the next term.

The EC has also decided to introduce other electoral reforms within a short time.

P S Shah, Secretary, State EC, said: “The Commission had a meeting with all the approved political parties for two days last week and discussed issues related to reforms in the election process in all local bodies. Political parties have agreed upon the Commission’s suggestion to make the election Code of Conduct legally binding for all contesting candidates and parties. At present, the Code of Conduct is voluntary and there is no legal implication for any violation. We will shortly announce legal action for violation of the election Code of Conduct.”

About the other reforms, Shah said: “For the first time, we have decided to registered an FIR against those who file wrong affidavits and give false details about their age, criminal records and other details. So far, we were acting upon complaints, but now, the Commission will initiate sou-motu police action.”

The Commission has also decided to make it compulsory for all candidates and parties to file accounts of election campaigns within a month. Shah said those who do not file their accounts within the stipulated time will be automatically disqualified. He added: “We have also decided to increase the campaign expense limit in municipal corporation, municipalities and in all panchayats. The Commission has decided to reduce the present limit of getting minimum one-sixth votes for deposit refund to one-fourth for more fair elections. All parties have agreed to it. We are also planning to adopt a new system of announcing election results on the very day of voting. But parties need time to think over it.”


Indian Express, 16 June 2011

In Jharkhand, 72% fail Class 12 Science, even Minister’s children

In Education on June 17, 2011 at 7:35 am

Political instability, corruption and Maoist terror have been Jharkhand’s bane since it came into being a decade ago. Now the state grapples with a new problem, one that threatens its very future — a dramatic slide in the performance of students at the Plus Two level, especially Science.

Of the 2.93 lakh students who took the state intermediate examination (Plus Two) conducted by the Jharkhand Academic Council (JAC) this year, less than 1.25 lakh have been successful — the failure rate more than 55 per cent. In Science, the pass percentage has been a dismal 28 per cent.

Among the students who failed — the results came in three days ago — are the son and daughter of state Human Resource Minister Baidhnath Ram.

Asked about the pass percentage, Principal Secretary (HRD) Mridula Sinha attributed it to “efforts to improve quality of education” in Jharkhand.

“We have tightened screws at all levels. As a result, there has been little scope for manipulation and cheating. Now we plan to select meritorious teachers who will teach with passion,” Sinha said.

Minister Ram had a similar take: “Had I used unfair means, my children would not have failed.”

Questions are already being asked about the falling standards, especially in Science where the pass percentage has been dropping consistently — 50% (2009), 30% (2010), 28% (2011).

Compare this with neighbouring Bihar where the pass percentage in Science this year was 90 per cent. Or, Assam’s 87.3%, Kerala’s 83.4%, Punjab’s 78%, Gujarat’s 69.2%, Mumbai’s 88.7%, MP’s 66.1%, UP’s 65.2% and Karnataka’s 64.9%.

Even in Commerce, Jharkhand’s pass percentage this year is only 42%, down from 78% in 2009 and 58% in 2010.

In Mathematics, more than 40 per cent students failed this year. “This is proof that the education system in Jharkhand is in dire straits. It calls for systemic reform,” said Manoranjan Singh of Jharkhand Rajya Abhiwavak Sangh, a body of parents of students.

For primary and middle-level education, Jharkhand spends Rs 1,821 per child in the 6-14 age group as against Rs 1,393 by Bihar and Rs 1,788 by Chhattisgarh, according to the Analysis of Budgeted Expenditure on Education, Union Ministry of Human Resource Development.

There is acute shortage of teachers in colleges for Plus Two education, said Ram Nagina Upadhyaya, former Director of Education. “Unless the shortage of teachers is not addressed, we cannot expect any improvement in the performance of students,” he said.


Indian Express, 15 June 2011