Blind Building laws; dumb law enforcers

The Indian government for the past 63 years have been blind and numb towards the construction of buildings. Without following its own rules the government has been blankly allowing any and every citizen to construct what he or she wants. All is done through few currency notes. This blindness of the government is going to infect the entire population and will paralyze the coming generations.

 

Gautam Bhatia writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 6 February 2010

 

Some years ago, a Delhi firm invested in a “smart” building for its new Gurgaon office. A 12-storey structure of beveled glass was designed by a Japanese architect, using American and French technologies and built under South Korean supervision. Surrounded by the dumb buildings of old India, this was supposedly user-friendly intelligent architecture at its best, technology’s answer to India’s future.

When I saw it on a sweltering June afternoon, a few days before its official opening, it stood shimmering silver grey in a black tar parking lot. Near the entrance, a remote sensor detected my approach and — through electronic identification — alerted the control centre inside, of my presence. Within seconds, the door opened. A complicated e-device worth `22 lakh had eliminated a Haryanvi guard at `6,000 per month. Further in, were more smart surprises. My weight on the lift lobby floor triggered six lifts into action; they all came racing down to pick me up. Activated by complicated circuitry that cost `28 lakh, the intelligent building had effectively done away with the need for a push button. Upstairs, the glass-shell of the building was surrounded by Japanese micro louvers and heat sensors at the ridiculously low summer discount rate of `2.8 crore. An elegant, electronically-activated “intelligent” device had happily eliminated the ordinary screen of reed chicks at `12 per square foot. Moreover, the smart structure, built at seven times the rate of a conventional building, had effectively done away with Indian skills and labour — still the cheapest in the world — and joined the ranks of world class architecture. Expensive, over-designed and completely oblivious to local conditions. But smart, nonetheless.

Like the intelligent building, can a smart city in the West be a stupid one in India? The Indian government’s sudden and erratic wish list for smart cities along the Delhi-Mumbai corridor is not only seriously misplaced, but is a harebrained view that cities can be produced on an assembly line, like cars and coke bottles. Certainly, taking Indian urban ideas to the next level should prompt the government to serious measures. But the proposal to build 24 cities when so far not a single new idea on urban living has been implemented is a despairing shot in the dark, a hope that extreme measures will yield results where smaller local initiatives have not even been tried.

Many perplexing questions need to be asked before the government embarks on a reckless real estate adventure. Does the physical structure of the city have any measurable impact on our lives? Can a city’s livability be measured like a gross national product? Can it be rated from one to 100 like an exam score? To say that Shanghai is better than Mumbai is as good as saying that an elm tree is better than neem. It is an entirely facile and inaccurate comparison. Certainly there are measurable barometers that can point to the health of towns; the quality and quantity of municipal services, provision of water, health care and sanitation, the availability of sidewalks, parks and roads, the proliferation of schools, institutes, places of recreation and commerce, all fall within the common understanding of daily human requirement. The nourishment needed to stay alive, like a daily vitamin pill. But at its core, the life breath of a town is a deeply guarded secret. Heard sometimes in sighs of its long time residents, but always hidden from those who seek only its cosmopolitan gratifications — the new French restaurant, the Formula One race track, the mall. Connection to places, links to family, past and present, and to some degree, future opportunity, the city’s physical environment has a direct correlation with personal lives.

In a country which offers a continually degrading form of life to its urban citizens, the importance of new and inventive solutions can hardly be underscored. Choked cities, grey murky rivers, brown skies, depleting energy, erratic services, the haves and the hope-to-haves are ready-to-wage battles over water, electricity, land and air rights. Before the present rage turns to all-out war, city living requires desperate resolution. Unfortunately, the thirst for a new idea in India almost always acts on hyperbolic dimensions: the highest building, the richest Indian, the second-largest dam — reducing public action to meaningless numbers and trivial hyped publicity rather than serious welfare. Somewhere on a foreign trip, a minister or a bureaucrat, sensed the possibility of an idea, and promoted the smart city as a quantum leap of faith.

In a country like China such leaps may be possible. The Chinese willingness to step outside of conventional urban thinking is prompted as much by its own rapid urbanisation, as its need to enlarge the scope of urban technology and experiment with new forms of city living. The new town of Dongtan, near Shanghai, is an altogether unprecedented mix of these lofty ideals. An eco-city of one million residents that promotes a lifestyle without cars, without streets, without conventional houses, is an optimistic sign that China is looking beyond the environmental and technical thresholds set by the West, to set a benchmark for itself. Though Dongtan is a quantum technological leap, its most generous attribute is its affinity to Chinese culture. And the insistence amongst its makers that future lies in promoting a Chinese way of life.

However, an incompetent government with barely a new urban idea to its name is hardly in a position to built 24 new cities from scratch. No one today has even defined in simple common terms a house that suits an Indian lifestyle. No builder has ever attempted — despite massive profits — to create self-sustaining neighborhoods, or clusters of housing that take on fresh ideas. No state or national housing programme has ventured outside the safety of building as anything but a form of fulfilling statistical requirements. A whole city needs to be carefully weighed in cultural terms for the value its residents attach to their lifestyle, and the potential for its growth as a living organism. A thoughtless, culturally unimaginative approach to the design of 24 new towns may yield another 24 Chandigarhs. The sheers numbers of such a disaster would be hard to dismiss as a bureaucratic folly, just another missing file in the ministry. But in 21st century India, so desperate to be counted as a world power, the smart city may just be another thrust to an expensive publicity venture.

 

Unchangeable India

It happens only in India, says an advertisement. All good and bad things keep moving the mighty civilization called India. Common people’s confidence to survive under any circumstances is the real force behind the marching India. Political representatives, bureaucrats, media and other vital organs of the Indian society are the disappointing figures in the upward trajectory of the nation. Sadly these forces cannot be changed or removed. The tragedy of India continues to haunt the bottom of the national pyramid. Ironically the top of the pyramid exploits the bottom by brining in the sufferings again and again. As long as poverty is there politics will be there. It is a mutual survival policy.


Dr.P.C.Alexander writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 5 January 2011

 

 

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century the issue that dominated the political debate of the late 1940s — the system of government best suited for India — is being raised again in certain intellectual circles.

The main problem before the framers of the Constitution was how to devise a Constitution best suited for both stability and accountability and also one which would help lift the vast masses of people stuck in ignorance, illiteracy, ill-health and poverty as a result of a century-and-a-half of colonial exploitation.

B.R. Ambedkar had explained to the members of the Constituent Assembly that they had two options before them: One, the presidential form of democracy as prevalent in the US, and the other the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy as prevalent in Britain.

The Constituent Assembly came to the conclusion that the Westminster model was the best suited for effectively tackling the problem of underdevelopment and at the same time providing for accountability and gave us the present Constitution, which in spite of a 100 amendments retains its basic features without any change. Let us examine how far the objectives of the founding fathers of our republic have been fulfilled under this Constitution.

While assessing the progress made in poverty eradication we have to acknowledge the fact that the lot of the poor today is much better than what it was at the time we achieved Independence. But what should cause serious concern is the fact that a large number of people still live in abject poverty in India, though the country has emerged as one of the top economic powers of the world.

What has gone wrong is not in production of wealth, but in distribution and in ensuring that all those who create wealth pay the taxes due to the government. Quite a good part of the wealth created has flown to tax havens in foreign countries and successive governments at the Centre have failed to plug such leakages.

According to a Swiss bank report of 2006, India topped the list of depositors of wealth in banks in Switzerland to the extent of $1,456 billion compared with Russia’s $470 billion, UK’s $390 billion, Ukraine’s $100 billion and China’s $96 billion. Deposits of Indians are thus more than the deposits of all the other countries, and this shows the extent of wealth owned by Indians, but which has escaped taxation. Many Indians have earned the distinction of being billionaires, but unfortunately India has not produced a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett, who have made big money in a honest way and are spending the bulk of their wealth on deserving charities in countries all over the world, including India.

We have to admit with shame that hunger is still a major problem in our country and a large number of people in different parts of the country — both urban and rural — die of malnutrition and hunger.

According to the Global Hunger Index published by the Washington-based International Food Policy and Research Institute, India ranks 66 among 88 countries with 23.7 points on a 100 point scale. (Zero is the best score, indicating no hunger while 100 is the worst.) India’s Constitution and the laws made under it have never stood in the way of coming to the help of such people, but poor enforcement by the government has resulted in continued misery for such people.

On the criterion of education, fairly good progress has been made after Independence but the situation remains dismal because of the inadequacies of these institutions in both quantity and quality.

The condition of public health facilities, particularly in rural areas, is as bad as that of educational facilities in these areas.

The size of the population in 2,86,469 villages is less than 500 each and in 1,45,180 villages it is between 500 and 1,000 each out of a total number of 6,22,621 villages in India. There are serious problems in setting up proper health and educational institutions in such very small villages and the government has so far failed to devise suitable techniques to solve them. Instead, the government follows the traditional practice of establishing health clinics and primary schools in a few villages and appointing teachers or doctors for such places.

Now let us turn to the quality of the institutions of democracy in India. Whenever we speak of India’s achievements we pat ourselves on the back by claiming that we are one of the successful democracies. No doubt, compared with most other such newly-independent countries in Asia and Africa, we can legitimately claim that democracy has been stable, but, based on the criterion of quality of the institutions of democracy, India is still classified as one among the 50 “flawed democracies” of the world. According to the democracy index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 30 countries are full democracies, 50 “flawed democracies”, 36 hybrid regimes and 51 authoritarian regimes out of a total 167 countries. At the rate at which we are abusing the forum of legislature for staging protests and neglecting its primary duties, we may even slip below our present rank in the list of “flawed democracies”.

From the above assessment of the progress in programmes undertaken in the last six decades it is clear that the Constitution, which has been adopted by India, has in no way prevented it from improving on its performance. On the other hand, the manner in which the programmes have been implemented, the intolerable long delays, and, above all, the corruption associated with implementation of programmes, have been responsible for the shortfalls in performance.

Today there are many countries that have Constitutions combining some of the features of the Westminster model and some of the presidential system, but one doubts whether this type of combination will suit India.

I can do nothing better than quote Dr Larry Diamond, a reputed authority in the world on democracy and at present professor of political science and sociology at Stanford University, when he said after his recent visit to India, in the course of a question and answer session, that if India wants to improve its democracy, it must create stronger institutions that allow for horizontal accountability. Also, I strongly endorse his suggestion that India needs a “counter corruption commission”, like the Election Commission, which should be fully autonomous in its authority to check efficiency and punish corruption.

 

RTI Fighters

Any good deed and law will face bad politicking. The Right to Information (RTI) act is not an exception. The recent killing of Amit Jethwa in Gujarat is one among the many youngsters who lost their spirit and life to RTI killers. The Government which brought the law has the prime duty to protect its torchbearers.

Antara Dev Sen writes in The Deccan Chronicle

Earlier this week, Amit Jethwa was shot dead in front of the Gujarat high court. He was in his thirties, a caring, law-abiding citizen, committed to the environment, humanity and animal life. And like most dedicated souls, he believed that he could stem the rot in the system and make a difference by diligently using democratic tools of empowerment. He relied heavily on the Right to Information (RTI) Act to plug the holes in the system. Till the holes got him.

Amit Jethwa was fighting against illegal mining in the Gir forests, which hosts the world’s last Asiatic lions.

But he was up against the mining mafia, the forest department and politicians involved in the racket. Not an easy fight for a lone ranger. Besides, he had made enemies by campaigning against corruption. He had even got a Lokayukta placed in Gujarat.

But he was losing faith in civil society. Barely a week before he was gunned down he had told a reporter about his disenchantment. “I know how risky it is for me and my family to wage a war against the mining mafia”, he lamented. “Without the support of people nothing is possible.”

Which is precisely where the power of the RTI lies. In the hands of the masses, it is a potent tool to chisel democracy with. But in the hands of a lone passionate soul, it may be a dangerous weapon ready to explode in your face.

Information is power only when you are allowed to use it. It works wonders in a free society, where people have justiciable democratic rights, where governance has not failed as miserably as in our country.

The right to information can be a human right only where there has been a certain level of development, where certain democratic freedoms are protected. If the state cannot protect your right to life, it’s best not to exercise your right to information too much.

Are we shocked that Amit Jethwa was killed in public, in broad daylight, in front of the highest seat of justice in the state? Yes. But should we be? The state is Gujarat, where human rights are routinely violated, where you could be killed for convenience. Even as this activist was being gunned down, the Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi’s close aide, Mr Amit Shah, the junior home minister accused in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, was audaciously dodging the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation). This is also the state where thousands were killed in the name of religion, and investigations into the murders so mired in corruption that the Supreme Court had to shift some cases out to other states for a fair trial.

So maybe we should not be shocked that Amit Jethwa, an activist who fought powerful people for the right and the good, was killed so brazenly in front of the Gujarat High Court. We should be shocked at our own impotence. At the way certain states can function as barely veiled banana republics, denying democratic rights and freedoms to Indian citizens.

But Gujarat, drowning as it is in the depths of deprivation, is not the only state to deny democratic rights and freedoms to citizens. Killers with political clout routinely go free everywhere in India. And RTI activists have been killed, attacked, and hounded around the country ever since the national RTI Act was passed in 2005.

Let’s look at some of the cases this year. In January 2010, Satish Shetty, 39, was hacked to death in Maharashtra. The activist had been battling land scams and government corruption, had received death threats and asked for police protection — which he didn’t get — and was killed while taking his morning walk.

In February, also in Maharashtra, RTI activist Arun Sawant was shot dead near the Badlapur Municipal Office in Thane for fighting administrative corruption. Meanwhile in Bihar, RTI activist Shashidhar Mishra was gunned down in front of his home in Begusarai. A tireless crusader against corruption in welfare schemes and the local government, he was called “Khabri Lal” for his dedication to information. Meanwhile in Gujarat, Vishram Laxman Dodiya, who had filed an RTI petition regarding illegal electricity connections by Torrent Power, was murdered.

In April, RTI activist Vitthal Gite, 39, was killed in Maharashtra for exposing village education scams. And in Andhra Pradesh, Sola Ranga Rao, 30, was murdered in front of his home for exposing corruption in the funding of the village drainage system.

In May, Dattatray Patil, 47, was murdered in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. A close associate of activist and RTI guru Anna Hazare, his fight against corruption had got some of the area’s top policemen removed and action initiated against local municipal corporators.

Besides murder, there are failed murder attempts, violent threats and fake police cases. Take Maharashtra.

In March, environmentalists Sumaira Abdulali and Naseer Jalal were ruthlessly attacked by a politically backed sand mafia in Raigad, and survived only because journalists accompanying them used their influence and mobile phones. None of the accused were arrested. In April, Abhay Patil, advocate and RTI activist, had a mob clamouring for blood at his door.

Apparently, they wanted him to withdraw all complaints of corruption against MLA Dilip Wagh. When his wife, a police constable, called the cops for help, they asked her to come to the police station and lodge a complaint. Later, she faced fake charges and was suspended, allegedly at the behest of home minister R.R. Patil.

Then in July, Ashok Kumar Shinde was attacked for his RTI and Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against a corruption racket in the Public Works Department linked to the Bombay high court.

Worse than physical assault is abusing the law to attack activists. Take the case of E. Rati Rao, senior scientist, activist and journalist, in Karnataka. In March she was charged with sedition and attempting to cause mutiny or communal discord for protesting against “encounters” and atrocities on dalits, tribals, Muslims and other minorities.

Meanwhile, in distant Orissa, another activist-journalist, Dandapani Mohapatra, was targeted by the police, his home raided and his books and magazines confiscated without a warrant. He was labelled as a suspected Maoist.

Activists fighting for our rights cannot win without our muscle. Once an RTI activist is killed, civil society must force the police to investigate not just the murder but all that he was unearthing. Only then will we be able to stop this murderous silencing of activists.

By not protecting RTI activists, by allowing cases of harassment they file to be closed without punishing the perpetrators, the state is failing to uphold the spirit of the RTI Act. And weakening the spirit of democracy.

Blind Drive of UPA II

The Government of the day is responsible in providing both physical, human and social securities to every citizen. The UPA Government although loud mouths about the turn around of social disparities is yet to prove its capacity in this front. Many fancy schemes sponsored by the Central Government is announced often to attract sympathies of common people. Alas! there is no positive change in many downtrodden people’s lives. It is important to create and sustain a team of committed force from the planning to implementation stage. If this crucial exercise is left to a loosely jokers with ministerial tags and cabinet perks it is bound to fail. There may be trumpeting in paper about the success of these schemes. Most of the central schemes instead of creating positive changes is bringing in negative impact. For instance the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme has take away the farm labour. If the take away farm labours are creating constructive assets then it is a happy news. They are wagging away time to get Rs. 80 above per day. This destroy both the private agriculture and public funds. Instead of focusing on the crucial aspects of national development the UPA government is losing balance. Before it takes the nation to the irrecoverable accident some sense should stop this blind driving of India.
Shiv Viswanathan writes in The Deccan Chronicle 16 July 2010
The other day someone asked me what I thought were the three most important ministries. The standard answers expected were defence, home and finance. Some would hyphenate foreign and defence. I must admit these are important ministries, if law and order, security are the most important goals of the state. But in a futuristic sense, as a vision for creativity, the three most important ministries are health, environment and education. These constitute the framework for the future. Today I want to focus on one of them — education.
The reason is we are being outthought. Education in India is creating a mimic man, an imitative society content with being a fourth-rate America, glad if it has Donald Duck or Spiderman on the flag. It is turning us into a third-rate global regime. We are so pleased with our success abroad, from Spelling Bees to a two-inch column in the Times, that we don’t recognise that we are being bypassed intellectually.
Competition is good in its own way but what are we competing about? Our leadership is quite happy to have reached the 19th century of ideas in a society they still treat as 14th century.
Our dynamism is misdirected because our language and theories of education are flawed. Look at how we approach education. It is in the language of productivity and numbers. The way our minister speaks we don’t know whether he is in charge of buildings or education. He sounds more like a minister for housing because building education is a totally different game. The numbers game creates a sense of targets but an obsession with it forecloses the debate on quality, plurality and content. We play the multiplication game with slogans of more IIT, more IIMs, as if we have patented a way of cloning institutions. No one takes a critical look at these institutions beyond an occasional critique of their admissions policy. The IIMs and IIT have research ratings which would embarrass a modest, even provincial, US university. In fact, we have no theory of the modern university.
Ironically, we are still children of Macaulay. His ghost overpowers the Gandhian vision. There is an irony to it because Macaulay made us middle class English speakers. It is our comparative advantage in English that powers our economy. Our model of education is still the tutorial college. More students have grown up reading K.K. Dewett and Ruddar Dutt than the management expert Prahlad and the economist Sen.
What is the tutorial college? It is the ultimate fantasy of reduction and miniaturisation. A society’s inversion of Macaulay’s perverse dream. Macaulay’s arrogance proclaimed that all of Indian civilisation is not worth a shelf of Western books. The irony was that we literally reduced Western civilisation to a shelf of dull functional books. We then bowdlerised it, simplifying it to its crudest elements. The kunji or cogbook was born. We reduced Western civilisation from a text to a textbook and religiously updated it. These books are the publisher’s ultimate fantasy and run up to 40 editions. We turned education into an instrument like a lathi or a screwdriver between the kunji and the tutorial college. The ultimate dream of the tutorial college is entry into IIT and IIT pays back by imitating its pedagogy.
If imitation is a sign of flattery, India is the ultimate mimic civilisation. Mimicry may be a form of temporary survival but it cannot be a substitute for creativity in a democratic society. One has to be more inventive.
More crucially, India can’t create a history where education mimicked the violence of colonialism. Imperialism could, with the aid of homogenising development models, museumise tribe and craft, or condemn them to assimilation. We need plural structures of knowledge and education where craft is reworked as a new kind, as a new hand-brain hyphen and our linguistic wealth, both written and oral, is sustained.
Our university is still the examination machine of the 19th century, meant for turning out clerks and bureaucrats. Our mandarins still emerge from that system and exemplify it. We are masters of the exam system but mediocres in research. We are poor at knowledge creation and it is in the domain of knowledge creation and knowledge strategies that India is losing out.
We need a gradient of knowledge systems from the primary school to the centres of advanced knowledge. We have to realise it is one chain of being, like a food chain, and violence to any part damages the whole. To a theory of integrated knowledge, we have to add a theory of knowledge itself.
We have to keep the varieties of knowledge in our society dynamic. We have to realise that the democratisation of knowledge demands that the tribal, the peasant, the hawker, the nomad be seen as strategists of survival, as men and women of knowledge. Our informal economy is a knowledge system of its own that we are loathe to appreciate. The democratisation of knowledge has to be part of the democratisation of democracy. This demands that we be a knowledge culture first before we are a knowledge economy.
The Knowledge Commission actually did not work. India has no current equivalent of the Kothari or Radhakrishnan Report. We need such an overall statement which links education to new ideas in science, ecology and culture. Europe and the USA are continually rethinking their universities. These changes don’t merely cover budgetary reform but critical changes in economy and the structure of science.
Our paradigms of education are 19th century and our policy is only a collection of add-ons. What we need is a new “Educational Report” which is as ethnographically rich as a colonial gazetteer, which connects to other critical reports like the Sengupta Report and the Sachar Report on Minorities. A theory of the knowledge economy cannot be a nation state document. It has to be simultaneously civilisational and located in community and civil society. A project that links all these into a vision of the future is a project whose time has come. The question is do our politicians have the will to create such a vision and implement it, or is obsolescence and illiteracy the strategy of our populism-seeking elite?

he Government of the day is responsible in providing both physical, human and social securities to every citizen. The UPA Government although loud mouths about the turn around of social disparities is yet to prove its capacity in this front. Many fancy schemes sponsored by the Central Government is announced often to attract sympathies of common people. Alas! there is no positive change in many downtrodden people’s lives. It is important to create and sustain a team of committed force from the planning to implementation stage. If this crucial exercise is left to a loosely jokers with ministerial tags and cabinet perks it is bound to fail. There may be trumpeting in paper about the success of these schemes. Most of the central schemes instead of creating positive changes is bringing in negative impact. For instance the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme has take away the farm labour. If the take away farm labours are creating constructive assets then it is a happy news. They are wagging away time to get Rs. 80 above per day. This destroy both the private agriculture and public funds. Instead of focusing on the crucial aspects of national development the UPA government is losing balance. Before it takes the nation to the irrecoverable accident some sense should stop this blind driving of India.
Shiv Viswanathan writes in The Deccan Chronicle 16 July 2010
The other day someone asked me what I thought were the three most important ministries. The standard answers expected were defence, home and finance. Some would hyphenate foreign and defence. I must admit these are important ministries, if law and order, security are the most important goals of the state. But in a futuristic sense, as a vision for creativity, the three most important ministries are health, environment and education. These constitute the framework for the future. Today I want to focus on one of them — education.
The reason is we are being outthought. Education in India is creating a mimic man, an imitative society content with being a fourth-rate America, glad if it has Donald Duck or Spiderman on the flag. It is turning us into a third-rate global regime. We are so pleased with our success abroad, from Spelling Bees to a two-inch column in the Times, that we don’t recognise that we are being bypassed intellectually.Competition is good in its own way but what are we competing about? Our leadership is quite happy to have reached the 19th century of ideas in a society they still treat as 14th century.
Our dynamism is misdirected because our language and theories of education are flawed. Look at how we approach education. It is in the language of productivity and numbers. The way our minister speaks we don’t know whether he is in charge of buildings or education. He sounds more like a minister for housing because building education is a totally different game. The numbers game creates a sense of targets but an obsession with it forecloses the debate on quality, plurality and content. We play the multiplication game with slogans of more IIT, more IIMs, as if we have patented a way of cloning institutions. No one takes a critical look at these institutions beyond an occasional critique of their admissions policy. The IIMs and IIT have research ratings which would embarrass a modest, even provincial, US university. In fact, we have no theory of the modern university.
Ironically, we are still children of Macaulay. His ghost overpowers the Gandhian vision. There is an irony to it because Macaulay made us middle class English speakers. It is our comparative advantage in English that powers our economy. Our model of education is still the tutorial college. More students have grown up reading K.K. Dewett and Ruddar Dutt than the management expert Prahlad and the economist Sen.What is the tutorial college? It is the ultimate fantasy of reduction and miniaturisation. A society’s inversion of Macaulay’s perverse dream. Macaulay’s arrogance proclaimed that all of Indian civilisation is not worth a shelf of Western books. The irony was that we literally reduced Western civilisation to a shelf of dull functional books. We then bowdlerised it, simplifying it to its crudest elements. The kunji or cogbook was born. We reduced Western civilisation from a text to a textbook and religiously updated it. These books are the publisher’s ultimate fantasy and run up to 40 editions. We turned education into an instrument like a lathi or a screwdriver between the kunji and the tutorial college. The ultimate dream of the tutorial college is entry into IIT and IIT pays back by imitating its pedagogy.
If imitation is a sign of flattery, India is the ultimate mimic civilisation. Mimicry may be a form of temporary survival but it cannot be a substitute for creativity in a democratic society. One has to be more inventive.
More crucially, India can’t create a history where education mimicked the violence of colonialism. Imperialism could, with the aid of homogenising development models, museumise tribe and craft, or condemn them to assimilation. We need plural structures of knowledge and education where craft is reworked as a new kind, as a new hand-brain hyphen and our linguistic wealth, both written and oral, is sustained.Our university is still the examination machine of the 19th century, meant for turning out clerks and bureaucrats. Our mandarins still emerge from that system and exemplify it. We are masters of the exam system but mediocres in research. We are poor at knowledge creation and it is in the domain of knowledge creation and knowledge strategies that India is losing out.
We need a gradient of knowledge systems from the primary school to the centres of advanced knowledge. We have to realise it is one chain of being, like a food chain, and violence to any part damages the whole. To a theory of integrated knowledge, we have to add a theory of knowledge itself.
We have to keep the varieties of knowledge in our society dynamic. We have to realise that the democratisation of knowledge demands that the tribal, the peasant, the hawker, the nomad be seen as strategists of survival, as men and women of knowledge. Our informal economy is a knowledge system of its own that we are loathe to appreciate. The democratisation of knowledge has to be part of the democratisation of democracy. This demands that we be a knowledge culture first before we are a knowledge economy.
The Knowledge Commission actually did not work. India has no current equivalent of the Kothari or Radhakrishnan Report. We need such an overall statement which links education to new ideas in science, ecology and culture. Europe and the USA are continually rethinking their universities. These changes don’t merely cover budgetary reform but critical changes in economy and the structure of science.
Our paradigms of education are 19th century and our policy is only a collection of add-ons. What we need is a new “Educational Report” which is as ethnographically rich as a colonial gazetteer, which connects to other critical reports like the Sengupta Report and the Sachar Report on Minorities. A theory of the knowledge economy cannot be a nation state document. It has to be simultaneously civilisational and located in community and civil society. A project that links all these into a vision of the future is a project whose time has come. The question is do our politicians have the will to create such a vision and implement it, or is obsolescence and illiteracy the strategy of our populism-seeking elite?

Death Toll More in Naxal Violence

police-maoist-ambush-attack_64391The Naxal extremists are posing more danger than other terrorists in the country. This long brewed violence is going unchecked in the some of the worst affected states like Chattisgarh. It is importat and urgent to check these merchants of death at the earliest to save the country from the worst crisis.

The Times of India writes (17 July 2009)

More than 3,800 people have lost their lives in naxal violence in the country in the past five years with the number of casualties

increasing every year since 2004.

The annual report of the home ministry for 2008-09, released this week, says that a total of 3,338 persons were killed in 7,806 incidents of naxal violence which took place in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka from 2004 to 2008.

The total number of casualties increased to 3,823 till July 13 this year. This reflects home minister P Chidambaram’s grim assessment of the situation when he told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that the naxal threat was “underestimated” for many years.

The country witnessed the killing of 566 persons in naxal violence in 2004; 677 in 2005; 678 in 2006; 696 in 2007 and 721 in 2008. The year 2009 has so far reported the killings of 485 persons including 230 security personnel.

The annual report said the highest casualties during the period (2004-08) were in Chhattisgarh where a total of 1,250 people lost their lives in 2,654 incidents. The state saw 242 deaths last year, 369 deaths in 2007 and 388 in 2006. Naxal violence claimed 776 lives in Jharkhand, one of the worst affected states, in the last five years.

In 2008 alone, the state witnessed 207 deaths from 484 incidents of violence. Altogether, 452 people lost their lives in Bihar in 915 incidents in the last five years. Last year, there were 73 deaths in 164 incidents of naxal violence in Bihar while in 2007, 67 deaths in 135 incidents were reported.

Andhra Pradesh witnessed 420 deaths in 1,252 incidents in the last five years. There was less violence in the state last year — 46 deaths in 92 incidents — in comparison to 2005 when there were 208 deaths in 535 incidents, the home ministry report said.

The Maoist violence claimed 149 lives in Orissa in 291 incidents that took place between 2004 and 2008. Incidentally, 101 deaths had taken place in 2008 alone in 103 incidents.

While West Bengal witnessed 71 deaths in 115 incidents, there were 35 naxal related deaths in Uttar Pradesh and 18 deaths in Karnataka.

Speed up cold storages and warehouses

warehouse-storageFailing to store perishable goods like fruits and vegetables are costing millions of rupees daily. If there is adequate cold storage facilities and warehousing this can be easily avoided and maximum profit can be given to the producers.

The Times of India editorial writes (13 July 2009)

It’s estimated that nearly 40 per cent of the country’s fruits and vegetables are wasted while moving from farms to retail outlets. That a

developing nation grappling with poverty, hunger and malnutrition should waste so much fresh produce is obscene. Improved post-harvest technologies especially storage and transportation facilities are a must for a nation that’s the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables and where agriculture and allied activities account for around 17 per cent of GDP.

It’s good that Budget 2009-10 promised investment-linked tax incentives in order to attract private funds in the cold chain and warehousing sector. More so, since existing profit-linked tax breaks to which investors are entitled don’t seem to have worked magic so far. In theory, sector-specific tax incentives risk distorting efficient resource use. But, given the woeful inadequacy of cold chain and storage infrastructure, public policy has to make some practical concessions to a critical sector of the economy.
Increasing the shelf life of perishables is key to supply mechanisms whether we talk of fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products, meat and meat products or processed foods. To create a cross-country network of godowns and integrated cold chains, capacity building is required in farms, food processing units, refrigerated storage and distribution hubs as well as retail outlets, apart from temperature-controlled transportation.

All of this represents capital-intensive infrastructure. However, while industry has welcomed the investment-linked tax sops, these may not be sufficient. There should be a multi-pronged strategy to raising resources, in light of the huge growth potential of organised retail in India. It would make sense to relax rules on FDI in multibrand retail. Along with big domestic firms, several multinationals are keen to enter the field. That supermarket chains, foreign or home-grown, can boost farmers’ income by eliminating middlemen isn’t their only advantage. Getting greater numbers of organised sector players into farm-to-fork retail would automatically boost business stakes in improving the infrastructural logistics of the rural farm and non-farm sectors.

We also need a holistic look at related infrastructural shortcomings. Investors may baulk at pouring money into a sector where returns could depend on factors beyond their control. Electricity, for instance, is the lifeline of cold storage. If ensuring uninterrupted supply meant resorting to power backups, it would hike operational costs. Movement of goods also demands good roads and highways. Finally, a common market as sought to be created by the goods and services tax regime would spur demand for cold chain and storage facilities. That, needless to say, would have to be combined with an overhaul of our creaking agricultural marketing infrastructure

Eradicating Hunger from India

food securityProviding healthy, hygienci and nutrious food for all citizens is the biggest challenge for the government. This can be achieved only by increasing the food production multi-fold and plugging the loopholes in the supply chain. Either the purchasing power of everyone should be increased by providing high income or government should transact cash through nationaliProviding healthy, hygienci and nutrious food for all citizens is the biggest challenge for the government. This can be achieved only by increasing the food production multi-fold and plugging the loopholes in the supply chain. Either the purchasing power of everyone should be increased by providing high income or government should transact cash through nationalised banks for the poorer people. This can be achieved by providing a smart card. The UPA II should expedite this process through UIC and remove hunger from the map of India. Chaitanya Kalbag writes in The Times of India (3 July 2009) I remember standing in long queues at ration shops in Calcutta, Madras and Delhi when i was younger. Lines for food were a part of everyday life. You got substandard rice and dirty, large-grained sugar. The majority of Indians lived on rationed rice, sugar, kerosene, palmolein and even cloth. My children are the first generation to not experience food rationing. It is interesting that you see fewer queues in India today. But don’t think for a moment that we are a land of plenty. You see fewer queues because there are far more ghosts. The Green Revolution did fend off famine, but the definition of famine is very subjective. I was reminded of the fragility of India’s food situation this past week as the clangour about the delayed monsoon began to get deafening. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar assured the people that there were ample foodgrain stocks. Probably very true and comforting if you are talking to real people, not ghosts. The trouble is that our ration shops (there are half a million of them) supply wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene to a lot of people who don’t exist. The government estimates that there are 65.2 million people below the poverty line (BPL) and so entitled to rations of 20 kg of foodgrains a month at half the “economic cost”. But there are actually more than 80 million ration cards issued to BPL families. That is not all. The government has issued a total of 223 million ration cards against a total estimated 180 million households. In other words, there are at least 43 million ghost cards. Reportedly, prisoners in one US state get only two square meals a day three days a week. “This is inhumane,” a newspaper editorial said. Over here in India, the government says blandly: “A National Sample Survey Exercise points towards the fact that about 5 per cent of the total population in the country sleeps without two square meals a day”. That is 60 million people. The Antyodaya Anna Yojana aims to help the truly destitute by selling them up to 35 kg of foodgrains a month ^ rice at Rs 2 and wheat at Rs 3 a kg. As of April 2008, the government had identified 2,42,755 “poorest of the poor” families. The UPA government has taken power almost exactly midway through the 11th five-year Plan. Next Monday, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee might want to address some of the concerns spelled out in the Plan documents. “There are large errors of exclusion and inclusion and ghost cards are common,” the Planning Commission says, adding that “leakages” are common ^ higher than 75 per cent in Bihar and Punjab. During 2003-04, it estimates that eight million tonnes of foodgrains out of 14 million allotted to BPL families never reached them. “For every 1 kilogram that was delivered to the poor, Government of India had to issue 2.23 kilograms” of foodgrains. These figures have almost certainly worsened over the past year as the economy slowed down. And this is happening at a time when foodgrain prices have been rising steadily, despite misleading data that shows that India’s official measure of inflation, the wholesale price index (WPI), is now slightly negative. Although experts say the WPI is a more reliable, broader measure, the consumer price index, which takes in what the aam aadmi buys everyday, has put inflation at over 10 per cent in the 2008-09 fiscal year. Higher prices hit the poor hardest. Statistics show that in rural India, the poor spend close to half their incomes on food, and higher food prices are deepening malnutrition. Higher prices also mean changes in food habits. Cereal consumption has been falling steadily in rural India ^ from 15.3 kg per capita per month in 1972-73 to 13.4 kg in 1993-94 and 12.12 kg in 2004-05. This would not have been alarming if the poor were consuming more of other foods like milk, meat, vegetables and fruits. Over a 20-year period, the Planning Commission says, per capita consumption of calories and protein has steadily declined in India. The calorie norm for the rural poor was set at 2,400 calories a day, and rural India’s calorie consumption has dropped to 2,047 calories from 2,221. In urban India, cereal consumption has fallen less precipitously, from 11.3 kg in 1973-74 to 10.6 kg in 1993-94 and 9.94 kg in 2004-05. No wonder one-third of India’s adult population in 2005-06 had a body mass index below 18.5, the cut-off for malnutrition, or that India accounts for about half the developing world’s low-body-weight babies, and a very high rate of anaemia among women and girls. The new government has said it will push a Food Security Act. What those 60 million forever-hungry people need is nutritious food, and clean drinking water. Pawar and Mukherjee have their work cut out for them. sed banks for the poorer people. This can be achieved by providing a smart card. The UPA II should expedite this process through UIC and remove hunger from the map of India. Chaitanya Kalbag writes in The Times of India (3 July 2009) I remember standing in long queues at ration shops in Calcutta, Madras and Delhi when i was younger. Lines for food were a part of everyday life. You got substandard rice and dirty, large-grained sugar. The majority of Indians lived on rationed rice, sugar, kerosene, palmolein and even cloth. My children are the first generation to not experience food rationing. It is interesting that you see fewer queues in India today. But don’t think for a moment that we are a land of plenty. You see fewer queues because there are far more ghosts. The Green Revolution did fend off famine, but the definition of famine is very subjective. I was reminded of the fragility of India’s food situation this past week as the clangour about the delayed monsoon began to get deafening. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar assured the people that there were ample foodgrain stocks. Probably very true and comforting if you are talking to real people, not ghosts. The trouble is that our ration shops (there are half a million of them) supply wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene to a lot of people who don’t exist. The government estimates that there are 65.2 million people below the poverty line (BPL) and so entitled to rations of 20 kg of foodgrains a month at half the “economic cost”. But there are actually more than 80 million ration cards issued to BPL families. That is not all. The government has issued a total of 223 million ration cards against a total estimated 180 million households. In other words, there are at least 43 million ghost cards. Reportedly, prisoners in one US state get only two square meals a day three days a week. “This is inhumane,” a newspaper editorial said. Over here in India, the government says blandly: “A National Sample Survey Exercise points towards the fact that about 5 per cent of the total population in the country sleeps without two square meals a day”. That is 60 million people. The Antyodaya Anna Yojana aims to help the truly destitute by selling them up to 35 kg of foodgrains a month ^ rice at Rs 2 and wheat at Rs 3 a kg. As of April 2008, the government had identified 2,42,755 “poorest of the poor” families. The UPA government has taken power almost exactly midway through the 11th five-year Plan. Next Monday, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee might want to address some of the concerns spelled out in the Plan documents. “There are large errors of exclusion and inclusion and ghost cards are common,” the Planning Commission says, adding that “leakages” are common ^ higher than 75 per cent in Bihar and Punjab. During 2003-04, it estimates that eight million tonnes of foodgrains out of 14 million allotted to BPL families never reached them. “For every 1 kilogram that was delivered to the poor, Government of India had to issue 2.23 kilograms” of foodgrains. These figures have almost certainly worsened over the past year as the economy slowed down. And this is happening at a time when foodgrain prices have been rising steadily, despite misleading data that shows that India’s official measure of inflation, the wholesale price index (WPI), is now slightly negative. Although experts say the WPI is a more reliable, broader measure, the consumer price index, which takes in what the aam aadmi buys everyday, has put inflation at over 10 per cent in the 2008-09 fiscal year. Higher prices hit the poor hardest. Statistics show that in rural India, the poor spend close to half their incomes on food, and higher food prices are deepening malnutrition. Higher prices also mean changes in food habits. Cereal consumption has been falling steadily in rural India ^ from 15.3 kg per capita per month in 1972-73 to 13.4 kg in 1993-94 and 12.12 kg in 2004-05. This would not have been alarming if the poor were consuming more of other foods like milk, meat, vegetables and fruits. Over a 20-year period, the Planning Commission says, per capita consumption of calories and protein has steadily declined in India. The calorie norm for the rural poor was set at 2,400 calories a day, and rural India’s calorie consumption has dropped to 2,047 calories from 2,221. In urban India, cereal consumption has fallen less precipitously, from 11.3 kg in 1973-74 to 10.6 kg in 1993-94 and 9.94 kg in 2004-05. No wonder one-third of India’s adult population in 2005-06 had a body mass index below 18.5, the cut-off for malnutrition, or that India accounts for about half the developing world’s low-body-weight babies, and a very high rate of anaemia among women and girls. The new government has said it will push a Food Security Act. What those 60 million forever-hungry people need is nutritious food, and clean drinking water. Pawar and Mukherjee have their work cut out for them.

Justice Liberhan’s Delay is Desired

babri_masjid_demolition_20050228Seventeen years is very high time for a judicial enquiry to get over. The Liberhan commission investigating the causes and people behind the demolition of the Babri Masjid had submitted its final report. But can one hope for the action against the culprits?

The Hindu editorial writes (2 July 2009)

It is impossible to feel elated by the completion of an inquiry nearly 17 years after the occurrence of the traumatic events it was meant to look into. In any civilised society, the deliberate vandalism wrought upon a centuries-old monument like the Babri Masjid and its destruction would have merited exemplary punishment for all those involved in the frenzied attack and in the conspiracy that preceded it. But then the exertions of Justice M.S. Liberhan are of a piece with the extraordinarily languorous ways of the Indian judicial system. If the criminal trial of policemen indicted for the 1987 massacre of innocent Muslims in Malliana and Hashimpura is still on 22 years later, why should there be any surprise over the fact that the Babri Masjid probe has taken so long? And tempting though it is to blame the hapless Mr. Liberhan for taking so long, it is not as if the Central Bureau of Investigation or successive governments at the Centre and in Lucknow have shown any urgency in prosecuting the criminal cases that flowed directly from the destruction of that 16th century mosque on December 6, 1992.

Indeed, so indifferent have all the dramatis personae been to the fate of the probe that it is hard to escape the conclusion that what is now unfolding is nothing other than the predictable ending of a farce. When the Liberhan report is finally made public, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leaders will seek to distance themselves from its implications while the Congress is bound to seek as much political mileage as it can wrest from this issue. Going by the record of the 1984 riot commissions as well as the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into the Bombay riots of 1992-93, few believe that the justice which ordinary Indians look for will actually be delivered. If the pervasive cynicism about the capacity of India’s institutional system to deliver justice is to be dissipated, it is important to see that the significance of exercises such as the Liberhan commission, however limited they be in scope, is not diminished. It is evident that the BJP still has to pay a political price for its implicit support of its extremist allies such as the Bajrang Dal which were at the forefront of the demolition of the masjid. If the Manmohan Singh government is serious about countering the politics of sectarian violence and hate, it must introduce and then implement a robust law to deal with communal crimes. The need for legislation which criminalises the kind of official and political complicity which was on display in Gujarat in 2002 or Delhi in 1984 or Ayodhya in 1992 remains as compelling as ever. Enacting such a law must be one of this government’s top priorities.

Roads are the Lifeline

roadsGood roads are the lifeline of a nation’s economy. With the horrible road network in the past fifty years now India is galloping in this front. The roads built through Pradhan Mantri Grama Sadhak Yojana and the national highways programme are paying rich dividends. I can say this is one of the splendid achievements of the NDA government half continued by the UPA I.

The Hindu editorial writes (1 July 2009)

Despite India’s strong economic growth in recent years, longstanding inadequacies persist. One such challenging area is poor rural road connectivity, with over 40 per cent of India’s rural population remaining outside the rural road network. The benefits of linking India’s villages with a good road network are enormous and substantial public investments are obviously worthwhile. In addition to employment generation, such a road link yields socio-economic benefits like reduction in prices of agricultural and consumer products, access to markets, public transport, employment opportunities, and better education and healthcare facilities. A study by the World Bank makes the point that the retail prices of low value/bulk commodities are generally 10 per cent higher in unconnected villages than in those with road access. The most important benefit, however, relates to poverty reduction. A 2007-study by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that investing in roads had the greatest impact on reducing rural poverty, performing consistently better than investments in agricultural research and development, and education. India’s efforts to improve rural road connectivity which gained a fresh impetus with the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) need to be substantially stepped up.

The task, however, is immense. According to the Planning Commission’s Working Group on Rural Roads for the Eleventh Plan, there are over 3.3 lakh rural habitations with no road connection. The PMGSY which is part of the Bharat Nirman programme aimed at improving rural infrastructure between 2005 and 2009. It initially proposed to give road connection to 66,802 eligible habitations and subsequently scaled down the target to 59,536 habitations. The achievement, however, has fallen short of the target, with the coverage limited to 35 per cent (up to 2008). The second component of the plan, which is to upgrade 1.9 lakh kilometres of rural roads, also fell short of the target. As financial resources are a major constraint, the Planning Commission’s suggestion to look for alternative financing models — including a public-private partnership at the local level, for instance, with sugar mills — merits serious consideration. However, the government should continue to play the lead role in improving rural connectivity, which is vital for the economic and social inclusion of a significant part of rural India.

Unique Identity Card

identity cardThe NDA governemnt proposed (UIC) unique identity card in 2003 for its own reasons. Now the UPA II had appointed corporate honcho Nandan Nilekani to stear head this project which is worth of Rs.1,50,000 crores. Unlikely other schemes this one should work timely so that all the social welfare schemes for the poor can reachout to the concerned people on time.

The Times of India writes (29 June 2009)

For a huge country with a 1.2 billion population, providing biometric unique ID cards to citizens would be a mammoth project. And much would depend
on who headed the assignment. With Nandan Nilekani’s appointment as chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India, there’s comfort. Representing a potentially fruitful public-private partnership, the ex-Infosys co-chairman’s cabinet-level induction marks a welcome departure from the usual practice of keeping key national projects in political and bureaucratic hands. Picking the right brains was key to executing such a big-ticket reform.

Nilekani has reflected on the problem of the multiplicity of identity markers, as his book Imagining India shows. The Congress-led UPA, on its part, had made the single national ID a poll issue. This meeting of minds on the scheme’s transformational nature should help address the challenges ahead. And there are a few. The 2011 deadline for delivery is ambitious, for starters. A national population register needs to precede issuance of cards, providing error-proof citizenship data. There are also big technological challenges. Central and state government services would need to log into this mother of all e-governance initiatives.

But difficulties in implementation are worth facing considering the gains. The security benefits are obvious, given the terror threats India faces. The problem of illegal migration can be better tackled. There are huge social and economic benefits as well. Poverty alleviation will get a fillip with proper identification of the beneficiaries of, say, job guarantee or food security programmes. Governments can get to save money by plugging leakages and targeting subsidies efficiently, a fiscal gain. Besides, business transactions would improve in general in myriad time and cost-saving ways.

Likewise, ordinary people’s lives will be made easier. Right now, people have to furnish any and everything from birth certificates to ration cards and PAN numbers for getting things done with different organisations, whether passport issuers, tax authorities or banks. We can also expect more accountable government, with networks of political patronage and corruption being dealt a blow. Another political dividend: poll-managers would better counter misuse of the electoral process. It remains for the authorities to ensure that the process of building an identification database is transparent. The glitches and complaints of ‘identity theft’ that have marred, say, BPL or voter ID card disbursal can’t afford to be repeated here, since we’re talking citizenship stakes.

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