When and who would eliminate poverty?
Prime Ministers many promises
Independent commentators’ divergent opinions. Let the independent public opinion judge the agri priorities!
Who could find fault with such important speeches? The speeches were fine, well-meaning and conveyed well. We hope they make their due impact. Energy security, the President stressed. Very important. Poverty, we will eradicate, the PM asserted standing on the Red Fort. So, dignified the speech, so convincing the arguments. But there were also a sort of Independence-day induced arguments and much debate. Perhaps, the Amartya Sen’s new title, the argumentative Indian in everyone of us? We wonder!
P.Sainath, in The Hindu on “The Raj and the famines of good governance”! A sort of retort to PM’s UK speech and also to remind us that what the White Gentlemen of the Raj did, as the editorial in 1841 in the Times of India said, India was lucky to have been governed by the Brits! Between 24 million and 29 million Indians died in the British year of good governance, says the writer. Then comes the damning line: “The neo-liberals of the present have not achieved the scale of death, this is owing to the unpleasant habit of voting now and then, says Sainath! In June this year, says the writer, “we could see Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, speaking solemnly of the problems, even of a crisis in agriculture. (Gee! I wonder who told him) These headaches, he feels, go back to the mid-1990s. No mention of who was shaping the ghoulish policies of that and the present-period. And no questions asked about it in the media. There’s good governance for you”.
Readers who can follow the ironies in Sainath’s article can only realise how much artificial we, Indians become on solemn occasions like Independence day!
Yes, we Indians are rather pretty subservient before authority. Long ago we did this before the white English gentlemen! Now, don’t we do the same with our own elected or unelected leaders who can say anything they desire and yet get out of all tricky situations like the present state of agriculture?
The PM’s speech has not much to say about agriculture. Unless one takes what the PM said is all about Indian agriculture! He wants to see the agri sector gets to a higher growth rates. His favourite phrases, as an economist we can pardon him for his resort to some jargon. But much of his talk was in the nature of a dream. There is not much to show he has come to grips with the problems of agri sector. In 10 years the PM promises we can eradicate poverty. We too wish the same. But how? On what grounds? We hope we have the right to ask such uncomfortable questions. But the mainstream media doesn’t ask such questions. We wonder how Sainath was given the freedom to write in the way he did! Our mainstream media reports on agriculture whenever the PM or a minister of a high official make a statement on agriculture. Otherwise, farmers points of views are never news. They don’t make for urban pre-occupations!
Now poverty is a much talked about election promise! Yes, more than that even our own economists didn’t much help us to understand the many dimensions of poverty. Absolute poverty. There is definitely a reduction in numbers of the poor. Though 70% of Indian people are estimated to live below the 2 dollars a day. So, poverty as such is still a reality in India. However, what unbiased public opinion must realise is the fact that Indian economy is one of the festest, India and China are now talked about in the world capitals as the high growth countries.
What really is important is about how we, Indians at all levels understand the relative poverty, poverty at different levels, the widening of the rich and poor social groups. It is here politics need to play a more pro-active role. It is here also you need what is called a political ideology, what priorities a government can have to ensure a more equitable society and a more liberal social and economic order. It is also here controversial issues arise.
What are the major deficiencies in the current government? Current governance? Corruption is pervasive. Political corruption, tainted ministers, dictatorial political parties, caste, communal parties, even political extremisms of all types pay dividences in our polity.
So, can we eliminate corruption? At least in our current governance? It is here the Singh government simply helpless. To that extent Singh’s Independence day speech sounds hallow.
In all our promises to the people, with an eye on elections, we promise everything to everybody, except to farmers! Any small landownership is seen as a political liability!
It is here the problem for reforming agriculture starts. Do we believe our agriculture should remain self-reliant and self-sufficient? Then, liberalise agriculture! Then only private investment would turn to agriculture!
However, the Pm announced so many new schemes : National Horticulture Mission, Krishi Vigyan Kendra in every district by 2007, National Rainfed Area, Bharat Nirman, National Health Mission, Employment Guarantee and many more.
We live and operate from the village environment we hear the village voices all the time. What are the ground level realities?
Agriculture is now a multi-concept. It can mean anything to anybody! For us, it means living in the villages and engaged in farming. Today, there is not much unemployment as such in most of the villages. May be in interior villages there must be some problems. There is heavy urbanisation, 50 per cent of the people are urban living or engaged in urban-prone occupations. There is a rising strong middle class. 3.5 lakh engineering students come out every year, the employment prospects have grown.
Ms.Aruna Roy& Nikhil Dey have come out with practical suggestions to make the Employment Guarantee Act (EGA) fool proof. Their plea is simple and based on their experience in making the Information Act work and deliver results in Rajasthan panchayats. Make the Information Act work in the rest of Indian states. Once for all, corruption would be reduced if not eliminated effectively.
They are right. We also find in much of the panchayats, more so in the rather fairly well-managed panchayat system in Karnataka there are irregularities. This is natural given the Indian conditions. So, one way to reduce corruption in states like TN panchayats are in the control of partymen and hence there is a heavy incentive to misappropriate! So, the panchayats in all states must display the budgets, the works, the wages paid, the muster rools.
Aruna Roy says in Rajasthan there are three realities : camel, the goat and the Sahukar (money lender). Roy says in addition there are two new realities : muster rool and the sarkar! Very true. It is the official dom that controls the panchayats and the budgets. In TN you can learn all the tricks of the trade!
So, to eliminate corruption should be the first priority! This the PM blissfully leaves out! As he leaves out so many good many priorities. Like banks’ agri credit system. It is non-functional in many states. In too many branches. Make the bank branches in the villages to display in front of their entrance the agri credit target, the among dispersed, the amount available, the schemes, more important the time limit within which the branch would process and deliver the credit.
One more important need in eliminating corruption from government depts. There is a G.o.in TN to display a notice board in front of all sensitive offices the information about the nearest vigilance office, the name of officials and the telephone numbers. There is a conspiracy that no office displays this board.
The point is that unless the government moves over to the real action in the implementation of the operational aspects of the schemes most of the schemes would remain on paper only.
So, as the PM suspects, the poverty reduction scheme would be a talking point and a dream only!
Make agriculture attractive for farmers. The PM must if he is really serious, tour the rural areas, make surprise visits to villages and ask directly the questions the government need to address.
As a commentator has said the Red Fort oration otherwise remains a catalogue of the schemes already announced so many times! There is no real emotion, let alone passion into his words.
So, we have to come back to the Sainath scepticism and also bemoan as Ahluwalia had done that Indian agriculture remains in a crisis. Can we at least entertain some hope that next time round we can see some progress in the real of policy implementation? Please involve people, let there be widespread participation in the rural development at least, let us not fight shy of dealing with corruption at the top as well at the bottom.
Otherwise, the much hyped EGA might remain a mere piece of paper!