Weak monsoon, first test for Modi sarkaar
by Sandhya Jain on 17 Jun 2014 7 Comments

Between July’s Budget and that of February 2015, the nation will get a fair idea of the direction being taken by the ‘Modi Sarkar’. Some broad parameters can be gauged from President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament on June 9, where he admitted the chances of a deficient monsoon and promised to mitigate its impact on the poor by controlling food inflation, curbing hoarding and black marketing of essential commodities, and improving the public distribution system.


While the President’s assurance that the poor have the first claim on national resources without bias of religion or region is a welcome departure from the past, the Prime Minister’s sudden warning of tough times ahead has alarmed the middle classes that contributed most to the BJP’s resounding victory. It is sincerely hoped that the new regime will not be swayed by corporate lobbyists who are pressurising it for more concessions and worse, for handing over public sector assets to crony capitalists. It is imperative that critical natural resources (coal, minerals, spectrum) be allocated with due diligence.


The Government should ask the lobbyists/experts to explain a few things. Why don’t captains of industry – who favour private banks and seek licenses to float their own banks –raise funds for their own enterprises from private banks? Why do they raid public sector banks for loans, and default quietly in connivance with bank managers or political or bureaucratic godfathers, leaving the tax-paying citizenry to carry the burden?


We need a white paper on the defaults of the last decade. Henceforth, banks must declare all loans to corporates/businesses as part of publicly accessible balance sheets, along with the collateral, if any. There must be norms against secretly cancelling debts of parties that swim in personal luxury. This would make more money available for performing loans to farmers and small and medium industries, which generate actual growth and employment.  


The President’s promise of 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies strikes a jarring note at a time when the nation wants to move beyond divisiveness. Predictably, the demand for micro quotas has begun. The 2014 Parliamentary election brought the highest number of women into the Lok Sabha (62); a higher number could have won if found worthy by the electorate.


Singer Babul Supriyo (BJP) trounced Dola Sen in Asansol, West Bengal, in a fierce contest. Women’s reservation will end such battles and force voters to choose between women (however unworthy) in fixed seats. Meritorious women will lose the right to nurture constituencies. An eight-time MP like Speaker Sumitra Mahajan will be impossible in future as the constituencies get rotated; excessive power of nomination will vest in party oligarchies and cliques. This is a retrograde measure and deserves a rethink.


Of course, saving the girl child from foeticide, educating and empowering them, and above all, protecting girls / women from violence and sexual assault is a national priority. Too many rapes have been linked to lack of safe sanitation facilities, an ugly reality the Prime Minister has promised to redress. Mr Modi has urged speedy correctives to make women feel secure, and contrary to some vindictive articles in the media, has lamented recent events in Pune (murder of two techies), Uttar Pradesh (rape-cum-murder of minors), and Manali (students swept away by sudden flooding), and urged politicians not to psychoanalyze rape.


The issue of solid waste management affects villages and cities and pristine rivers (Ganga, Yamuna, et al). The promise to improve the quality of life in villages by providing electricity and internet while preserving their ethos is timely. States should promote new technologies; currently 200 Karnataka villages are turning plastic waste into fuel at par with diesel.


Agriculture is the foundation of our economy; policies that forced villagers into cities as cheap unskilled labour devastated agriculture. Even as we reverse these mistakes, practices that demand heavy investments in terms of fertilisers, seeds, irrigation, and cause indebtedness and farmer suicides need a rethink. Unless strong cooperatives are raised in every district to ensure that farmers understand the best practices and get remunerative prices for their produce, private investment in agriculture can further depress the lot of farmers by putting them in covert bondage.


This was the experience of potato farmers with a large potato chip maker. This is what the GM seed companies intended. Instead, farmers’ and traders’ cooperatives should set up storages and cold chains at State level; food processing units set up by cooperatives should get loans on priority basis as they would generate local employment, a key objective of the new regime. Moreover, Mr Modi mentioned organic farming in Sikkim; this was the original Indian way that was perverted by the green (chemical) revolution which polluted the soil and water and ruined public health; a return is possible and desirable.


Ideally, the new regime must shun alienation of fertile agricultural land for industrial or housing purposes, especially multi-crop land. Water harvesting should be an intrinsic part of modern agricultural practices to replenish groundwater acquifers, along with water-saving measures like drip irrigation, which already exists in many parts of the country. Water harvesting is necessary on a war footing in cities, to avert a looming crisis.


The creation of avenues of recreation for children and youth, and promotion of rural sports is welcome, but care must be taken to ensure that talent-spotting for competitive events does not deny ordinary youth access to sports facilities. The Government would do well to look into the tendency of courts to ban exclusively rural sports like cart-racing and bull-racing, which have a hoary tradition, on the pretext of preventing cruelty to animals. When killing animals for food is permitted, the alleged abuse of animals in traditional village sports seems specious even as urban elite games like polo or horse racing remain untouched.

There has been some controversy over the filling of constitutional posts like Lokpal or Central Vigilance Commissioner, in the absence of a Leader of Opposition following the steep decline of the Congress. One solution is to distribute the Opposition quota among the major parties like Congress, AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress, as they have comparable strength in the Lok Sabha. This will accord well with the Prime Minister’s desire for cooperative federalism. But the Congress has the right to claim the post of Deputy Speaker.  

The Pioneer, 17 June 2014

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