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Ticks Of Politics
Sray Agarwal, Deputy Editor, The IIPM Think Tank  New Delhi  5/30/2011 1:52:56 AM

The word ‘development’ in recent times has become more politicised than being agenda-centric. Development or shall I say 'Inclusive Growth' is a term that can be seen that is reused, abused and misused widely during election campaigns and budget sessions. In last six decades, we’ve seen our government rolling out numerous developmental programmes aiming towards refurbishment of tainted socio-economic fabric.
Even after six long decades of developmental plans, India’s dream of being a developed and equitable society by all virtues remains a distant dream. Given the multifarious and sullied rivalry among political satraps, the proper implementation of development agenda in all likelihood looks infeasible.

The issue here is not much about the futility of the schemes but more about how these are implemented. Surprisingly, most of tried and tested developmental schemes fail to reap benefit in India. Be it SEZs (Special Economic Zones) or NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) — that have done wonders in other nations — none of these plans have shown a desirable and impressive outcome despite huge fund and resource allocations. Despite huge budgetary allocations year after year, the developmental plans fail to deliver. Either they fall short of funds or funds are returned to the central government at the end of the fiscal year. Most of our schemes suffer from huge political interferences and non-uniform modus operandi (mode of operating), so that they show different results in different states. Take for instance, NREGA. On the one hand where it failed in states like UP and Bihar, on the other hand it proved to be blessing in southern part of India. It’s no hidden fact that huge sumsof money is directed and channelised towards middlemen and into the coffers of politicians. A brief glance through Comptrollers and Auditor General’s (CAG) report would be enough to gauge the rampant theft of funds. From money meant for Mid-day Meal Scheme to funds allocated for teachers’ recruitment, a huge fraction of money is seen being engulfed away in the delivery process by the middlemen and corrupt politicians.

Beside this, political interferences and ego-clashes also lead to delays and disturbances during implementations. The implementation of TATA Singur plant or Women’s Reservation Bill are case in point. Even DDA flats allocation a few years back, CWG flats sale and Adarsh colony scam speak volume about the menace political interferences cause in developmental plans. Plans like Common Minimum Programme or the much touted Millennium Development Goals that were launched with huge pomp not only failed to keep up to its promise but also became an avenue for corrupt officials to steal and embezzle funds. Recently, the Telangana issue rocked the nation to an extent that it paralysed the entire functioning of the state and made it unattractive for foreign investors. Development is so discreet and non-uniform that states like Kerala enjoy high literacy rate but in states like UP and Bihar, political parties keep the access to education low for their own political mileage. The ego clashes between right wing and left wing kept West Bengal in Jurassic age for decades and other northern states experienced steep competition between political parties in looting state resources. So much so that sector like railways, that is said to be the backbone of economy, found itself being ping-ponged between political leaders. When Laloo headed the ministry, all trains started from Bihar. But with Mamta becoming the new head, all new railway services departure point shifted to Bengal. Riots and religious discrimination, shutting down projects initiated by the previous government and creating turmoil in parliament even for issues of national concern are not only rampant but lead to a huge cost and time overrun.

Pitfalls in Poverty
The beneficiaries of poverty alleviation schemes are often been eluded of their rights because of corruption, party favoritism and class prejudice. In Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) for example, there are multiple incidences of bottlenecks in its smooth and effectual execution. First of all, target set by IAY is much below the demand and more importantly, there are complaints of corruptions that is threatening to undermine the very scheme. For instance, the scheme implemented through Panchayat is not transparent to the villagers. Also, the list of beneficiaries prepared by Sarpanch and Panchayat Secretary are manipulated in favor of their relatives, friends, sycophants and people affiliated to the ruling party. For example, in Kagachira village in Malda in West Bengal, the houses to be built under IAY are under financed. Also, the list of recipients has been curtailed. There are discrepancies under Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) as well, as was found out Gopalpur Village in Cooch Behar, West Bengal that a pond and a well that was supposed to benefit the poor are instead being constructed for middle class people who are not eligible beneficiaries in the first place. Then, there is Below Poverty Line (BPL) list which is also alleged to be manipulated in its construction; as there are many instances of non inclusion of poor and inclusion of non poor.

Even though there are more than 100 poverty alleviating schemes in India, the hierarchy of bureaucrats that sits on it (ranging from district and sub district officials to NGOs and flatterers) skims off 85% of the funding, just to keep the mechanism in place! Furthermore, there is a serious lack of knowledge among the poor, let alone any participation.

Endangering Employment
The success and opportunity to earn a living that NREGA provides are based on two principal prerogatives. First, the work is of 100 days. And second, compensation is in minimum wage. These two entitlements in union form the minimum level of income for a rural household. The wage rate can be fixed either by Central Government or by State Government. However, it is the prerogative of Central Government to fix it and if they fail — the minimum wage rate of State Government will be implemented. Between August 2005 and January 2009; no notification from the Central Government regarding wage rate was made, compelling State Government’s minimum wage rates to be implemented throughout the nation. However, the State’s mandated minimum wage is routinely contravened and dearth of law enforcing mechanism in India has led to the need of intervention at a market level to lift the wages. Because of the fact that the cost of the wages is borne by Central Government — the State Governments before elections or in other opportunistic times raise the wage rates as a measure of populism to their electorate. To counter this, the Central Government has fixed the rate at Rs. 100 in January 2009 and even though inflation is high in last two years — the rate is frozen at that level.

One of the most conspicuous example of flouting State Government’s minimum wage rates happened in Tonk district of Rajasthan, where 99 workers were paid a mere Re. 1 per day for 11 days of work! There was also rampant delay of payments before it was fixed at 15 days. As consequence to that “Mazdoor Haq Satyagraha” had staged a protest rally in Jaipur for 47 days to demand proper enforcement of the legalities of NREGA by the state government; so that they have the right to earn the minimum wages. In case of districts like Tonk, Dungarpur, Dausa and Hanumangarh, NREGA funds were used for purchase of desktops and laptops worth Rs. 3.83 crores. Still, the matter after initial euphoria has gone to the back burner.

In Jharkhand an NREGA activist, Niyamat Ansari, was murdered allegedly by a local contractor who enjoys protection from local politicians. Therefore, police was reluctant to investigate and in the contrary, they blamed Ansari for having criminal records! A few years back, the CAG report also indicted the government for making available only 37.05 man-days of work against the promised 100 man-days. For the year 2007-08, the more shocking revelation that was made by CAG was that while the government had allocated more than Rs 51,000 crores to NGOs for implementing welfare schemes, the government literally doesn’t have any record about where or whether that money has at all been spent. These cases are politically motivated with interest to fudge NREGA funds.

Erratic Power Supply
Politics and corruption in significant power sector has become a regular feature in post-liberalised India. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena — BJP combine after coming to power in 1996, first over-turned then again approved $2.5 billion power project by Enron, in a complex network of events. Then Chief Minister Manohar Joshi scrapped the 2,015 megawatts of power project deal, calling it anti-people as he claimed the rates of Enron was much higher than the affordability of a common man! Enron was portrayed as symbol of Western abhorrent and clamped with same image as MTV, Pepsi Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken! He also alleged that Enron plant will destroy the coastal environment. However, after long negotiations mostly carried out by Enron’s glamorous CEO, Rebecca Mark, finally the government capitulated and the deal was reclaimed though altered; as the rates were lowered and project cost brought down from $2 billion to $1.8 billion. In a similar kind of politics, in Orissa, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in January 2009 expressed his concern over the complete failure of privatisation of power sector. The transmission and distribution loss is at a soaring 49% against the national average of 34%.

In a different kind politics that goes in the capital regarding power, there is a stiff resistance against the proposal of privatising Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB), by their employees itself, as an income loss for them is imminent to the tune of Rs 250,000 on average. In something which is quite alarming, almost half the electricity in Delhi is lost; technical losses can be at most 10-12% and the rest is lost to power pilfering and unpaid bills! The magnitude of such loss will not be less than Rs 2,500 crores. It is indeed not possible for such high level of corruption without a conspiracy by DVB’s employees across the hierarchy and of course involvement of politicians in it. The combined misappropriation is Rs 500 crores; considering half of it is pocketed by politicians. The employees are still left with Rs 250 crores for 10,000 employees, which work to Rs 2.5 lakhs per year per employee. No wonder they are trying to sabotage privatisation.

Wandering Women Empowerment
What can be worse than political intervention in women’s empowerment? A nation that is suffering from female feticide, honour killing, high mortality rate, low women literacy and huge gender divide — an act of politicising women empowerment is nothing less than a criminal offence. The latest one being the women reservation bill that promises one-third seats being reserved for women in parliament. However, when one compares the ratio of the nation’s total women population to that of women in the parliament, the statistics reveals a different picture altogether. In the case of India where women population is around 50 crore, a mere 61 women in parliament depicts a poor picture of the status of women in India. The ratio boils down to one woman representative for every 81 lakh women. Going by the researches, most of the women MPs had got ticket because of their political lineage. Ironically, the very parties that are in favour of women reservation have low women representation at party level. Political parties had only 6.88% women candidates. The CPI had only 7% of total contesting candidates as women. Likewise, Congress Party's had 10% women candidate while the BJP and Samajwadi Party had 11% and 6% respectively! As per researches, in 2009, the following was the share of their women contestants — BSP had 28; SP had 15; JD(U) had 3 and RJD had 2. This is in spite of huge hue and cry for women reservation bill in parliament. Women do play a major role in economy of a nation. For the matter of fact, if we were to add the contributions made by housewives to their respective households ­— to the National Income — then Indian GDP would go up by a staggering four folds! Going by the assumption that if housewives work for around 10 hours per day (which again is a conservative estimate, as most of them are found working for more than 12 hours a day) and if these women were paid for their daily work, even simply at par with wages set by the government under the Minimum Wages Act, a single women ends up adding a minimum of Rs 2,500-3,500 per month per family. Shamefully, neither do we give space to women in politics and not in economy, but yes, when it comes to appointing them as puppets at different positions, our politicians don’t even think twice.

Humiliating the Health
NRHM (National Rural Health Mission), which was established in 2005, implemented in 18 states, with primary goals of greater access to public health services, reducing infant and maternal mortality rates, avoidance and control of diseases and encouraging different lifestyle and medicine systems. The implementation on NRHM has been a failure in most of the states, as is indicated by the figures of Uttar Pradesh with highest neo natal mortality rate with 96 deaths in 1000 births, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 94, Orissa with 91, and Rajasthan with 85 deaths. Government has been largely nonchalant with this disturbing statistics, as Union Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Teerath simply intoned “We will take this up with the Health Ministry.” The above figures are nowhere near the NRHM target to bring down the infant mortality rate to 30 per 1,000 births by the end of 2012. But there is no answer from Union Government to reprimand this sorry state. While allocating funds for NRHM, the government has allotted lesser funds to states where health infrastructure is almost in ruins. States like Bihar and Assam got very little allocation compared to Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Then there is arguments and blame-game among political parties in implementation of NRHM. The Polito-bureau member and a leader of CPI(M), Brinda Karat has accused the implementation of the health program by injectable contraceptives as harmful to women. She wrote a letter to Union Health Welfare Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad stating the danger NRHM poses to women by damaging invasive hormonal contraceptives into the health system. She insisted Mr. Azad to reconsider the decision, as she stated “You are aware that a similar proposal in the 1990's had to be ultimately withdrawn because of legitimate objections from women's organizations and public health experts and activists. The reasons are still valid.” India’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman, has called NRHM as a “fiasco”, as the report stumbled on to find untrained personnel, substandard conditions, misuse of government properties and nonexistent monitoring and review mechanisms. A few months back CAG found out that five regulators viz. SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India), IRDA (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority), PFRDA (Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority), CERC (Central Electricity Regulatory Commission) and PNGRB (Petroleum & Natural Gas Regulatory Board), retained their surplus funds to the tune of Rs 2,142.47 crores outside the government accounts instead of utilising it. In another case in MP, more than Rs 1.37 crores meant for improving medical facilities was siphoned off. Since last four years, the state government has been depositing Rs 10, 000 in the bank account of the village health committee but then there is no account of where the money has disappeared. It comes as no surprise that 40% of people are pushed below the poverty line due to out-of-pocket expenditure in healthcare and why not when the money meant for these poor people goes into pocket of a few ‘power that be.’

Erasing Education
India has made progress in terms of increasing primary education attendance rate and expanding literacy to approximately two-thirds of the population. India's improved education system is often cited as one of the main contributors to the economic ascent of India. But the paradox gets unearthed as soon as one goes through our budgetary allocations for education. India is amongst the lowest spenders on education. Couple this with the fact that India also houses the maximum number of illiterates in the world! Putting the numbers into perspective, if the total allocated money (Rs 31,036 crores as per the budget 2010-11) were to be disbursed directly to 192 million children (or 19.2 crores children) who officially come under the ambit of SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan), then each student would receive more than Rs 1600 each this year. Considering that a student generally has to pay an average monthly fee of Rs 100 (actually ranges from Rs 70-150 in rural areas) at rural elementary schools in India, giving Rs 1600 annually to students directly would enable them to pay the annual fees. Also, ASSOCHAM studies show that most of the middle-class families generally end up spending a staggering 30% of their total income on the private tuition of their children beside hefty school fees. This system is unique to India. Republic of Korea has prohibited any kind of private tutoring. Likewise the Government of Mauritius and Hong Kong has regulations in place to limit the commercialisation of extra coaching business.

In addition to that one more prominent setback of Indian education system is corruption. The UNESCO’s International Institute of Educational Planning study on corruption in education revealed that at 25% teacher absenteeism in India is among the highest in the world (global average of teacher absenteeism is about 20%), second only to Uganda. All the elucidations to these problems come to focus only during election campaigning. In their latest manifesto, BJP has made promises to strengthen SSA besides ensuring universalisation of secondary education. Congress camp vows for the deprived communities. The party said education at primary, secondary and university level will be free in all respects for boys and girls belonging to Dalit and Adivasi communities. But the irony is that these promises are forgotten even before election results are out. Of course, what else can be expected in a nation where one can find 2.4 million temples but only 1.5 million places of education (62.5% of place of worship)!

Development agenda in current times has  got confined to the definition of growth. Mere numbers and statistics are used to represent development in terms of rosy growth figures without taking into consideration the perforated delivery mechanism and output to real beneficiaries. In simple words, outlays are given priority than outcomes, which is more like misrepresenting development through numbers! High time India stops pretending that the trickle-down theory works in India, that 8-9% growth in GDP annually will remove poverty and attendant ills of the economy and the society. Need we remind ourselves that the menace of naxalism is spreading further in India, forcing even the PM to acknowledge that it is the single biggest problem India is currently facing.

In essence, politics in development is strengthening its presence where as developmental politics is losing its ground. Well, this is the true manifestation of development deficit. 

(With research assistance from Sayan Ghosh, Research Associate, The IIPM Think Tank)


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