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agenda for the government

written in 2014 but has not become irrelevant still.

agenda for the new government

kewal krishan sethi

april 25, 2014

this agenda is based on the premises that modi will be the next prime minister with a comfortable majority so that he is not subject to the pressures of the type which make coalitions unstable. i do not expect him to have a free hand since there will be pressures and pulls within even the largest party. nevertheless he can do something substantial not burdened by prevailing mores.

the point to be noted is that he would not be starting with a clean state, even when, after independence, nehru had the opportunity to do so, he continued the same apparatus which was, undoubtedly, not conducive for people friendly government. this situation continues to prevail till today and is one of the main reason for the dissatisfaction with the powers that be. in fact, something more sinister was added to the adverse situation. this was the growing emphasis on consumerism and monetization of social welfare. this started, in fifties itself, with the money motive being adduced as raison d'être of the social benefits. for example, money was offered for sterilization rather than persuade the person concerned that it was in his interest to go for the family planning. everything from latrine to solar cooker to setting up of industry was sought to be promoted through subsidy. subsidy was given on fertilizers, on pesticides, on agricultural equipment, on land for industry, on raw material for industry, even on loans. in their zeal to upgrade the life of the depressed classes, smokeless chulhas, bio gas plants and much more were offered free. in plantation of trees, the plants were given free. all this made these things unwelcome. what comes free is seldom considered to be useful. quite contrary to what the politician thinks, gratefulness does not result from it, only more expectations. this leads to discontent and disenchantment which is the prevalent mood today.

this was made worse by insisting on the financial targets. spending money became the criteria of success. seldom were the results on the field examined and the person concerned contacted to get his feedback. never were the beneficiary, the distributer of good, the supervisory officer taken to task for failing to produce results on the field. in a way this was a corollary to centralization of planning. at such remote distance, the reality on the ground escapes notice. furthermore due to this satisfaction with the statistics of expenditure and the number of beneficiaries, the maintenance of the assets, if created, (as also pre existing assets) was not provided for. this led to deterioration of the assets and the rise in subsidy and thus the costs. an instance is the rate of irrigation which has not seen rise proportionate to the price index while the siltation has reduced the irrigation potential of the project. this failure to raise the rates has also resulted in wastage of water. .

another malady was the expansion in the quantity at the cost of quality. this can be seen in education. the number of schools has grown along exponential curve but the quality has been totally ignored specially at the elementary education level. weak foundation has resulted in unemployable under graduates, graduates and even engineers and management experts (sic).

now for the reality. how to set right the malady that has gripped education. quality is important. one can easily discern the rising number of private schools charging obnoxious tuition fees but attracting large number of students whereas the government schools (and that includes schools of local bodies) are without adequate number of students. seeing is believing. the farmer in punjab or andhra pradesh provides his own irrigation at a much higher cost than what the government charges, but he is happy because he sees the results. as in irrigation, so in education, it is also considered investment and the returns are closely monitored.

the outcome of this line of argument is that subsidies must go but, simultaneously, the quality must go up. the number of schools can be reduced but what there are should be well equipped with adequate number of teachers. i can even go to the extent that the schools in the urban areas may be leased out to private people and the money earned be ploughed back into the schools in the rural areas and the slums in the urban areas. instead of elementary schools being within one kilometer of residence, the criteria should be that there will be a six room primary school (class 1 to 5)  with six qualified teachers for every 250 students who can come from the village, town or neighbouring villages.  for upper primary schools  there should be likewise six rooms with seven qualified teachers for every 250 students (apart from primary school, if attached). i had argued in a submission to the ministry of tribal affairs when they were preparing policy document on tribal welfare in year 2005 that they should forget about providing free uniforms, free books, free food and instead concentrate on responsible teachers and quality education. the facilities and the educational standards in the government schools should be increased to such an extent that the private schools face closure.

it will be difficult to close the schools which have been opened on the basis of distance but it has to be done if quality is to be assured. presently there is hardly any check on these one teacher or two teachers schools. the employment of the local persons as contract teachers (who have no training in teaching methodology) worsens the situation. it is a formality without any meaning. burdened by the mid day meal scheme, the teacher has hardly time for teaching. stopping the meals would be unpopular and it is not being recommended but concern is about the waste of time of the teacher. in a well staffed school, the situation is likely to be better on this count also. it is recommended that the teachers should be entitled to have free mid day meal in these schools to, indirectly, ensure quality.

for the adult education, we should cease playing godfathers explaining what is good for them and what is good for the nation, instead we should concentrate on giving them the reading skills in the language of their choice. thereafter, if they feel like that, writing skills can also be imparted. this would be the quickest way to achieve a near universal literacy rate. after all, if they can read the documents, they will be safe from exploitation. of course this is to be followed up by an abundant supply of literature for neo literates. even the religious texts would do to prevent their relapse into illiteracy.

one of the basic lessons in the schools should be discipline. presently in the name of liberal values, the discipline is given a go by. i must hasten to state that corporal punishment or even mental harassment is not being advocated. what i have in mind is the discipline through mass drill which means coordinated physical action. in 1975, as in-charge of youth services in the department of education and youth services (its name at that time), i had worked on a proposal for 'bhartiyam', a biannual function where thousands of students would exhibit the synchronized movements of body, and hands and legs. this would be a finale for the various competitions held at the district level, divisional level, state level so that the selected students will reach the union bhartiyam. (the scheme was never approved). this daily morning assembly can also be accompanied by inspirational songs. it is guaranteed to lead to feeling of oneness amongst the students. (such a scheme was started in areas which later became part of czechoslovakia in 1862 under the name of 'sokol' (means falcon in the local language) and through ups and downs has continued since then. the final celebration is called 'slet'( literally 'flocking of birds'). presently it has extended its presence to many other area such as poland, bulgaria, belarus, ukraine. in 2012, 25000 sokols participated in the slet held in prague. during the communist rule, the event was renamed spartakiads and used by the regime as a tool of massive propaganda and were attended by large number of people; for example, at the 1960 spartakiad about 750,000 gymnasts from the whole country took part and over 2,000,000 spectators witnessed the events but of late it is a non political event under the old name slet – courtesy Wikipedia). .

next in importance is the reduction in the freebies. another difficult and unpopular decision. but the social costs of the freebies should be considered. there is a saying in urdu 'maal-e-muft, dil beraham' (meaning if it is free, the waste is not a concern). take the case of bio gas plants, for the tribals, they were free. once the amount was granted, only a fake sale by the merchant was shown. the paper work is complete. the tribal is happy since he has got some money without effort, the trader is happy because he got the cost price and much more. the middle man is happy since he has got his cut. only one poorer is the nation (or the tax payer, if you insist). i pointed out above about plants for plantation of trees. these were given free and that was the last one heard about them. no trees came up. as forest secretary, i said we will charge ten paise per plant (a nominal amount). it would force the personnel to keep the records of sales. but the smart tribal development department said that they will buy the plants at the price named by the forest department. these were then distributed free to the tribals. who lost? it was transfer of money from one pocket to another. if the plants were not utilized, the tax payer suffered. instances can be multiplied but the idea should be clear. what comes free is seldom considered valuable.

the problem is that we are now used to subsidized prices, be it petrol, diesel, gas. and the so called sections under poverty line to food grains and much more. but who gets the advantage of the subsidized prices. not always the person in whose name it is said to be. an example would show. there is a costs and agriculture prices committee in the ministry of agriculture. the committee while calculating the cost, took the subsidized cost of fertilizers, pesticides into consideration. it fixed the prices accordingly. the farmer did not get any benefit, had the full value been taken, the minimum support price would have been fixed accordingly. his margin would have been the same. actually the person who benefited from the subsidized price was the consumer, not the producer. in the records, it was shown as assistance to the farmer which he never got. (this was part of the report of krishak kalyan ayog – farmers welfare commission – of madhya pradesh in 1988 – of which i was member secretary). the diesel subsidy is not to the truck owner but to the consumer again who gets cheaper goods due to less transportation charges. as pointed out above, the farmer does not mind paying extra for electricity provided the market compensates him for this. the effort should be on strengthening the bargaining power of the farmer so that he is adequately equipped to get price due to him. for example if the payment for sugarcane is delayed (even by a few days) he should get the same rate of interest on the amount due which the banks charge from the sugar mill. .

if no subsidy is to be given, then what happens to the paying capacity of the farmers and others to invest in better seeds, better equipment, better godowning and so on. the answer is loans, freely available loans, at low interest rate. it must be understood that each and every rupee has to be returned, no write offs, no waiving of interest (except in the normal course of trade practices). should the banks refuse to give loans, as is sometimes their want, an alternate source should be available. rashtriya mahila kosh and organizations like that can be set up to give loans on collateral sureties.

the most important agenda should be reform of the judiciary. the way the cases are being accumulated is portent of trouble ahead (not that it is not there now but it can aggravate manifold). the people have lost all faith in the early disposal of their cases and many of the litigants are indulging in extra legal methods. the fear of law is absent from the minds of the criminals and others have no confidence that they can be rescued from the increasingly violent atmosphere. appeals for early and quick disposal or doubling the number of judges (as stated in bjp manifesto) is not going to help. the entire mindset of judiciary and the aligned legal community is for delay. fundamental changes have to be introduced. we are blindly following the british pattern of legal jurisprudence. in fact we are not even doing that. we are following what we have assumed to be the british model. presumed innocence till the crime is proved, is the prevalent practice. except for subroto roy, few well to do people, especially hardened criminals, are in jail. they are enlarged on bail and enjoy life fully till they are proved guilty which may or may not happen in their lifetime (unless the undertrial is so poor that he cannot even afford sureties).

the solution lies in reduction of the so called independence of judiciary. The work of each and every judge/ magistrate should be subject to public scrutiny. the representatives of the public have a right to question about the delay in the proceedings. not only they should question, they should also be empowered to censure such judicial officers (including the lawyers who are, in great britain, called officers of the court). those who fail to improve their performance should be excluded from the judicial process. sadly the judiciary is behaving as a trade union, promoting their own interest and protecting their privileges. the district magistrate, reduced to a non-functionary by the criminal code amendment in 1973 should get back his powers to superintend the working of judicial officers in their districts. i am aware that this will raise heckles about so called independence of judiciary, but it must be seen that in the present context, this has become independence from society, from responsibility, from fair attitudes. the independence at the higher level – high court and supreme court – can continue but not at the lower level. having said that the appointments in these superior courts should not be with the judiciary (so called collegiums) but with the parliament through its committees much like the united states where the relative merits of the persons being considered should be openly disclosed and appreciated. in fact, nowhere in the world the independence of judiciary is like that in india - total disconnect with the public, the ultimate paymasters.

it is observed that publicity conscious people are holding the normal litigants, and the persons convicted by the lower courts, to ransom. the time and energy spent on so called public interest litigation is disproportionate. this tendency must be curbed by suitable legislation so that the judiciary can concentrate and apply itself to its normal functions.

another step in this process will be to reassert the supremacy of the representatives of the people and of the people. it is incorrect to say that certain parts of the constitution are inviolate. no one, not even the people can change it. the preamble says that we, the people of india, have given this constitution to ourselves. it follows that we the people can also junk it, if it felt to be necessary. all said and done, the constitution assembly was not even constituted by the direct votes of all the adults at that time. the constituent assembly members were elected to it indirectly by the members of the newly elected provincial assemblies, and initially included representatives for those provinces which came to form part of pakistan, only 28 members of the muslim league finally joined the indian assembly. later, 93 members were nominated from the princely states. (the congress thus secured a majority of 82%.) to say that constitution framed by such an assembly is inviolate is seriously flawed argument.

it is not the proposal to immediately repeal the constitution but only to remove such parts as present problems for implementation of policies and are not in accordance with indian genus and polity. this includes the overstepping of their jurisdiction by the supreme court and the high courts. it has been pronounced time and again by the supreme court that policy decisions lie within the competence of the executive. unless it violates some fundamental rights, these policy decisions should not be interfered with. to direct when and where mining should take place, when and where the relief should be given, how dengue fever should be controlled is not within the domain of the courts, if there are aberrations, the public should be able to take care of it, not the judiciary. for such aberrations, provisions should be made in the constitution, including the right of recall and of referendum on important issues.

one of the most needed reforms in our democratic system is the abolition of the 'disqualification of defector act' (probably the exact name of the act is different but this is the essence). this was brought up in the wake of aya ram gaya ram days but the cure is worse than the disease. it makes the people representative a bonded labour. how does he then represent the people of his constituency? we have seen that it has not prevented governments being toppled especially in this era of coalitions. we have seen speakers taking their own time to decide the matter. sometimes they are superfast and sometimes super slow. in any case it negates the mandate of the member. he must represent the views of his electorate. it is proposed that he should be allowed to vote according to his conscience and as per the ascertained wishes of his constituency. safeguard can be provided that the government will not fall because of a defeat on any issue in the lok sabha. for that a special one line resolution stating 'this house has lost confidence in the present cabinet' shall be brought forward.. it should be accompanied by another line stating 'this house is of the opinion that a new cabinet should be formed under the leadership of "abcd" (the name of the new prime minister). if either of the resolutions fails to get the majority of those present and voting (but not less than forty percent of total membership of the house), the no confidence motion fails and cannot be revived unless a full calendar year has lapsed from the previous attempt. such a resolution cannot be brought before two years of person concerned in the office. this will ensure stability without jeopardizing the right of the member to give his frank opinion on an issue.

there may be criticism that in such a case, all proposals of the cabinet may be voted down even if the members do not agree on the successor. in such a case, the person concerned will doubtlessly resign on his own rather than face repeated humiliation but it is left to his discretion. the resort to recall (of the members against the cabinet members or the cabinet members themselves) may force the issue one way or the other so that a wider national consensus shall be available.

one of the recurring theme of the indian polity is the concern for the weaker sections of the public., ever since india became independent, the scope of such concern has been widening. starting with reservations for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, it got extended to 'other backward classes', women and now clamour is being made for religious minorities. new groups want to join the category and some are given the benefit without even their asking for it. commissions are set up for redressal of their grievances corporations are set up for special financing for them. whether they have been able to make any contribution to their advancement or betterment is never analyzed because it does not suit them. tailor made committees are set up to report as per the political wishes. a very old example (old is chosen so that it does not generate passions) was that of 'committee for promotion of urdu'. obviously if you want to promote urdu, it is simple, make it the official language so everyone has to learn it. put it in all the schools and universities. it will ensure promotion. the actual question should have been 'what should be the status of urdu in indian polity' or, better still, 'what should be the role of various languages in indian polity'. as it is, the recommendations of the committee were kept pending, not implemented because they were impractical, not rejected because it might anger a section of the population. they had to die a natural death in due course, unfortunately taking along with them some useful recommendations also.

what is the solution? we all swear by the dictum 'in democracy everyone is equal'. then why create divisions. why not let backwardness be the only criteria. abolish all partisan commissions and corporations and set up one need based corporation. let it administer various schemes for upliftment. there is a human rights commission. expand it. let it look after all the citizens. no discrimination, no disrespect, no prejudgments. let law be applied and applied vigorously. obviously the states shall follow the same principles. these commissions (human rights) should not be enquiry commissions. unfortunately presently they get complaints and dispose off complaints. they do not go into the reasons for the discrimination. they do not suggest ways and means to improve the lot of the category involved. since they are involved in treating cases of complaints, they become fertile ground for litigation. a corollary is that they are headed by retired judges who are assisted (sic) by the lawyers. by nature of their work, these retired judges are used to look at situations from case to case.  in this they miss the woods because they are looking for the trees. saving a tree is good but saving a forest is more worthwhile. planning the expansion of forest is even more useful. the human rights commissions should work on these lines headed by anyone who can deliver the goods, not by a specified category of people.

should reservations be done away with? easier said than done. vested interests have developed and would not allow it. but gradually introduce the economic factor in it so that as economic status goes up, more and more people are out of it. a stage would be reached when it would be meaningless for a caste as such to ask for addition to the reservation category. with commitment to better the lot of all indians and sustained work for it would be the final solution.

it should not be understood that special schemes for special categories are not required. old age pension and health insurance schemes for the old people is one such category and one such scheme. there will be many others.

another important and pressing task before the government would be to combat extremism of all categories. the negotiations with them would be the best way of dealing with the situation. recall the story of the king who swore to his minister that he will wipe off the enemy this time. on the battlefield he offered honourable terms to his opponent and a treaty was concluded. when the minister reminded him of his oath, the king replied that he had done it. 'where is the enemy now', he asked, 'they are friends'. that can be one way of dealing with the enemy. but there are some groups whose aim is to destroy the state, there can be no compromise with them. they have to be eliminated and no force shall be excessive in their case. building up resistance amongst the dwellers of the area concerned will be essential part of the combat. let this be understood by all, especially by these groups and their fifth columnists in society. anyone who, intentionally or unwittingly, helps them is to be counted as being for them, this should be the criteria. no witch hunting is necessary but no soft approach either. special laws may be necessary to meet this menace but it cannot be helped. human rights commissions can check on misuse of the special laws but cannot and should not exceed their brief.

the task kept back up to now but which was in the forefront of the election campaign is corruption. allied is the subject of parallel economy and of ill-gotten money stacked abroad. right after the independence was the cry that the corrupt will be hanged by the lamp post. no such hanging took place. instead favourites were protected. the rot spread from top to bottom and every citizen is affected. the crescendo against it arose and was so loud that the government were forced to acknowledge it and make moves to combat it. half hearted moves, but verbal commitments could not be held back. it will be keenly observed how far is the new dispensation sincere in their effort. it would not require new laws, merely the determination to implement the law, and quickly too. the moneybags should not be able to delay the denouement indefinitely.

as mentioned above, parallel moves will have to be made to remove the basic causes of the parallel economy. there is a promise to simplify the tax laws. simultaneously, there should be lowering of the rates to encourage proper disclosure of the income and the value of property. as an example the registration fees for the transfer of property should be two or three percent only (including stamp duty). the penalty for withholding the correct value should be so heavy that others are deterred. once again the speed shall matter. the public should be able to link the punishment to the detection. one should not learn from the newspapers that 'the person who was about to be convicted for falsehood committed some twenty years back died in the hospital yesterday lamented by his heirs who stand to gain millions from his ill gotten legacy'. 

the tasks before the government are a legion and cannot be covered in any single write-up, however long it may be. each issue is to be tackled as it arises. so long as it is with the intentions 'india first' and 'welfare of the people'. there can be no problems.

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