Tuesday, May 25, 2010

India, Maoists and the Citizens - PART 1

Demands for action, frustration and impatience at the intellectual dillydallying are the flavors of most of the drawing rooms and coffee tables in the country. One section of the society wants correction of the root causes before the fight and another section is advocating an aggressive annihilation of Maoists and all their supporters.

I discussed this issue with one of my friends. My friend was actually in a good mood that evening. He returned home from his cushy job in an MNC and had a couple aspersions cast on his boss and the politicians mainly due to the irritation of traffic on the way home. He got connected to internet and completed online booking of movie tickets for the coming weekend. As he was completing the homework of his kids, I stepped in for a friendly chat. He switched on the Television while we are settling down in the comfortable sofa in his recently purchased three bedroom house. He lured me into a conversation on the educational policy of the government (mainly as a continuation of the homework). Sensing the unromantic air in the room his wife steered my wife away to show the newly made up kitchen.

TV news bulletin is covering the killing of CRPF personnel in Dantewada. My friend was moved by the gruesome attack and was upset with the politicians and the authorities for not being able to wipe out Maoists in one fell swoop. I tried to comfort my friend (slipping into my political avatar of course) and told him that this may be a deeper issue and might take some time for getting resolved.

He replied angrily to me, “If we handle it that way, it will take a hundred years. By that time these people will destroy our country.

It is their country too. Why do you think they will destroy it?” I asked, nonchalantly while sipping the fruit juice in front of me.

My friend fell silent. Judging by the length of silence, it looked like it never occurred to him. My friend wanted to understand, but he is not sure whom to believe and where to get the facts and how to decipher the truth.

My friend looked hopefully at the TV for an answer. The civil rights activist and the retired police officer in the studio are arguing about the importance of rule of law and human rights?

I don’t know all these things. But what happened in Dantewada is not acceptable”, snapped my friend with a jeering look to see if I dare to voice any other opinion.

I nodded approvingly and kept my silence. Emboldened by my silence, my friend switched off the TV. “If it requires Army and AirForce, then ‘so be it’” concluded my friend while ushering me to the table for dinner with the air of an Army general who has just won a battle.

This is the mood in which most of the ordinary and common people are in. Utter mindlessness of Maoist attacks is clearly visible to everybody. Hence that is what the people are reacting to.

Who are these Maoists? Why are they fighting Indian State? Why can’t the mighty Indian State just crush them away? These are the questions that are bothering most of the common people. Are there other things to be understood? If there are, then most of the people are not aware of them. Ordinary people do not have the time and energy to understand these complex problems in their lives of self content. That job is entrusted to political leadership. I am afraid politicians are not doing a great job of it.

What is the truth? Whom to believe? Are we getting all the information? How are the Maoists able to withstand the might of Indian State? How to solve the issue? What is the guarantee that the same issues does not resurface again?

We need to get answers for all these questions. Let’s understand the nature and context of Maoism in India. Let’s analyze where we went wrong and how to make our democracy work better since understanding the truth is a necessary precondition for delivering justice.

To be continued…

Friday, May 14, 2010

Summary of recent Parliament Session

Well… one more session of parliament is completed. Let’s summarize and see what happened during the session and understand how the country is being run. We all have seen a lot of cynical reports on the parliament session about shouting matches, disruptions and the amount of money that is being wasted etc. etc. Is this all that is happening or is it the only thing we are interested in!

Isn’t it important for us to take an objective look? It is not about shedding the cynical view but more about understanding and evaluating what is happening before forming an opinion. This is important especially when judging on systems and the institutions that run the country. If we have to take a cynical view then let’s at least take an informed and considered cynical view.

The Budget session of parliament was held between 22 Feb and 07 May with a break of one month in the middle. The session started as usual with the presidential address to the parliament members as the curtain raiser. The main intent of this session is to review and approve the Budget (Annual Plan) for the year 2010-2011. Let’s see what our legislators have worked on in the just concluded session of parliament.

Significant Bills discussed in the session
I am just listing out the highlights of the session and a small synopsis of the Bills considered in this session. What is a bill? A Bill is the draft of a legislative proposal. The process starts with the introduction of a Bill in either House of Parliament—LokSabha or RajyaSabha. A Bill can be introduced either by a Minister or by a member. In the former case it is known as a Government Bill and in the latter case it is known as a Private Member’s Bill. The bill undergoes extensive analysis and discussion by the members. The discussions happen in various stages to analyze the underlying principles and a detailed clause by clause discussion. Amendments proposed by the members will become part of the bill if accepted by the majority in the house. A bill which gets approval from both the houses and the president of India becomes an Act.

President’s Address to Joint session: The president gave a speech to provide the general direction of the government, immediate priorities and preferences on policy matters.

Railway and General Budgets: The budget for the year 2010-2011 is presented with the overall policy, revenue and implementation details. Appropriation bills and finance bills for various departments and ministries are discussed and passed.

Woman Reservation Bill (Constitution 108th Amendment): The bill seeks to reserve 33% of seats in LokSabha and state Assemblies for women. The bill is passed by RajyaSabha and deliberations are going on to bring everybody on board before introducing this in LokSabha.

Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill: Amended the 2001 Act to empower the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) to specify the qualifications, criteria and conditions for certifying energy auditors which is presently being done by government officials. It also empowers the central government to prescribe, the procedure for issue of energy saving certificate to consumers and the value of metric ton of oil equivalent of energy consumed. It levies additional penalty for failure to comply with the legal provisions.

National Green Tribunal (NGT) Bill 2010: The bill to set up special omnibus tribunals that would become the sole adjudicators on all `green laws'. Basic principles of green jurisprudence are established. The polluter pays (polluter to pay for any financial liability) and precautionary principle (onus on the group or party under the scrutiny to prove that their actions will not cause harm to public or environment) will now be the basic framework against which the tribunals will adjudicate.

Employees’ State Insurance (Amendment) Bill: Amendments to ensure coverage of more workers under the ESI Scheme in the organized sector, and to enable the ESI Corporation to participate in schemes that may be framed for the workers in the unorganized sector.  The amendments are also aimed at improving service delivery to the existing members of ESI Scheme as well as bringing the provisions of the Act in tune with the changing circumstances.

Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill: Amendments to the definition of employees in the 1972 legislation for covering about 60 lakh teachers in private institutions.

Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill: Aims to bring in uniformity in the healthcare delivery sector by making the registration of all clinical establishments mandatory and prescribing enhanced penalty for the defaulters.

Ancient Monuments and Archaeological sites (Amendment and Validation) Bill: To set up a National Monuments Authority to preserve and protect the country’s historical and archaeological sites. The bill stipulates that no construction work will take place in the protected areas without the permission of the authority consisting of archaeological and heritage experts.

Land Ports Authority of India Bill: This bill proposes to establish Land Ports Authority and Integrated Check Posts on the international land borders of the country. The bill seeks to put in place systems, which address security imperatives while also facilitating trade and commerce

Prevention of Torture Bill: India had signed the UN Convention against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment in October 1997, which required an enabling legislation to be adopted to reflect the definition and punishment for torture.

Right to Education Bill: Enabling legislation for the constitutional amendment of 2002 is passed and came into force now. You can refer to my earlier posting for further details on this.

Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill: The bill seeks to allow establishment of foreign education institutions in India and is laying down the regulations and other safeguards in their operations.

National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill: The Bill envisages constitution of an authority to process the accreditation of higher educational institutions. The accreditation is compulsory for existing and new educational institutions and universities.

Educational Tribunals Bill: To establish a tribunal to resolve issues related to regulation, accreditation, and quality of education and admission process. Many disputes would crop up with increased participation of the private sector in higher education and there was a need to set up tribunal at the national, regional and State levels

Summary of other business of the parliament
Apart from regular discussion and statements on matters of urgent public importance, there were numerous private members bills that were considered. About 150 reports of various parliamentary committees are tabled. Public Enterprises Survey, Economic Survey and 13th Finance Commission report are the notable surveys presented to the people.

Weekend Politician Note: It’s actually an awful lot of work. One important thing that is missing is participation from the most important stakeholder (I mean ‘We’). We need to form our opinions on these matters and set expectations. If we fail to give enough importance to what the parliament is doing, then we are weakening our democracy in our own capacity. I will be posting detailed articles on some of these bills later. Let me know if you are particularly interested in any of them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why people vote for winning parties only...

During the and after 2009 elections we heard many people talking about this trend. Some of the smaller parties even tried to project this trend as irrational and ignorant behavior of voters. For me, it makes logical sense and confirms the belief that, man by nature is rational. Our rationality and decisions depend on how much we know and understand.
For the ordinary voter, it is all about electing the best among the available choices. That’s why ordinary voters many a times, want to see if the party they like has a decent chance of winning.  (as simple as people liking a fancy car but still buying the best one amongst the popularly accepted cars as that will give them a wider service network and re-sale option) Let’s examine this in the context of our “First past the post system” with an example.

Take a scenario of two main parties A and B and a start up PartyC. If the voter likes partyC and knows that C did not have a decent chance to win:

Option I: Vote for Party C and express where he stands
Staunch supporters of PartyC who do not see any difference between the other two parties will choose Option I

Option II: Vote for party A, and prevent party B from winning (Thinking A is a better party than B)
Most of the common voters will choose option II and hope that PartyC will gather the critical mass in future. Most of the fence sitters and neutral voters will end up taking option II. (Mind you they are not simply joining the band wagon of winning party)

("Not voting at all" is not an option anyway in my opinion and it is totally a different subject, hopefully to be discussed in my future posts.)

What are the options for PartyC? Do we have a fair chance to challenge the Status quo?
This is a legitimate and important question. We can take a radically different approach and clamor for a proportional representation system. That’s a bigger question, hopefully we might discuss in this blog in future. 

But the more sensible approach is to see how we address this in the existing system. A smaller party is supposed to represent some aspirations and ideas in the society. They have to convince enough number of people and create the momentum for themselves. But this is too difficult and is giving an unfair advantage to existing parties. The smaller party will get the required support from people in due course of time, if they have enough patience and commitment to their ideas.

Another option in our system is to merge with one of the mainstream parties and work as a pressure group within that party. Suppose PartyC in our case with 3 lakh votes across the state, ends up losing the election badly. In this case party C will not have any influence on the ruling party and the government. This means 3 lakh people are not getting their fair share of participation. But a group which has 3 lakh supporters will have enough power and influence on any mainstream party, if it is a part of it. That way the idea can garner its fair share of consideration and can definitely influence the existing parties. After all political parties are supposed to represent various thoughts in the society and balance them to deliver the results.

Weekend Politician Note: I hope this post is helpful to at least some of the readers. Please feel free to post your opinions and questions so that we can discuss various aspects of this issue. I would be delighted to see different perspectives as that gives us a chance to understand the issue better.