Wednesday, April 21, 2010

And Accountability For All - Change the system in which politicians, bureaucrats and citizens seek to elude responsibility : Rajiv Desai

In many ways, Govt has embarked on a path-breaking route, in terms of both domestic and foreign policy. For instance, sometime ago, the issue of fertiliser subsidies came up. In one fell swoop, Govt.  changed the game by targeting subsidies on the basis of nutrients. Thanks to policy change, farmers will look to nutrients other than urea. This will increase yields dramatically. Urea-based fertilisers were once good and Govt. policies championed their use. Over the years, it became clear that they had passed the point of diminishing returns. Everywhere in the world, Govts. have promoted suplhur-based and other nutrients in the mix to increase yields and protect the soil. With all noise about food inflation, the Govt. has pointed to the exploitative role of middlemen in the journey farm products make from the fields to the market. In recent times,the FM has made several references to the need for organised retail in the grocery business, most recently at the CII national meeting in Delhi. Coming to taxes, the FM cut individual taxes while increasing some indirect levies. The idea is sterling: put more money in the hands of middle-class families and let them decide what they can or cannot afford. If I am considering buying a car and it costs a few thousand rupees more, it is my call. By putting economic decisions in the citizens hands, the Govt. has been making a major paradigm shift. Emphasis on infrastructure is also welcome.     Roads, ports, airports and railroads are being built. The trouble is that modern infrastructure is at the disposal of government agencies and citizens with zero ethics or civic consciousness. Thus, it gets caught up in bottlenecks caused by lackadaisical enforcement and citizens who habitually violate the law. For instance, many cities now have modern airports. They are like white elephants because, the minute you step outside, there is total chaos.Its the same thing for highways. We recently travelled to Chandigarh from Delhi. The road is work-in-progress and there are significant flyovers and wide pavements.But there is total traffic chaos. Even as you rev to the top speed of 90 km per hour, you find yourself having to deal with vehicles going the wrong way, underpowered trucks, three-wheeled vehicles, bullock carts, cycle rickshaws,handcarts, herds of cows and sheep and, scariest of all, dare-devil pedestrians trying to cross the highway. They make the journey a nightmare. There is simply no policing, no signage or other facilities that go with modern highways. Its almost as though modern amenities are made available to citizens with a pre-modern mindset by officials with no clue about modernity.

The tragedy is that the police have no authority to enforce the law. Even worse, they dont even know the law. Just recently, I stopped a police car on the spanking new expressway that connects Delhi -Gurgaon to airports. I told the police officer that the unchecked use of the expressway by 2/3 wheeled vehicles was a major traffic violation and that there were signs that these vehicles were not allowed. He told me to mind my own business. The government needs to show its hard-headedness in such matters as much as it is doing with the Maoists in central India.

Talking of internal security, the government has made major moves. It has taken on the Maoist movement with force. True, there are complaints of security forces riding roughshod over the ultras. But then, the Maoists are not known for grace and diplomacy either. A tough approach will not only contain the insurgents but also send a clear message that this is a hard government that will not stomach violent agitations.

On national security, the government has embarked on a new course. Even while initiating talks with Pakistan, it authorised a major air force exercise sometime ago in the Rajasthan desert to demonstrate its fighting capabilities. It was a brilliant move to invite most defence attaches of diplomatic missions, leaving out the representatives of China and Pakistan. The idea was to exhibit hard power. To reinforce the Govt. hard line, the PM went to Saudi Arabia and urged its authorities to weigh in with Pakistan to control terrorist groups operating from there. It is clear Pakistans government has neither wherewithal nor the will to rein in various terrorist groups with a free run within the country's borders. A Saudi nudge could go a long way to boost the crippled civilian government against rogue elements within the army and intelligence agency.

In the end, however, you have in India an enlightened government beset by a crude political class, a malignant bureaucracy and a pre-modern citizenry. Also, the ship of state seems unable to deal with casteism, communalism and corruption. Bureaucrats blame crass politicians and the ignorant citizenry. Politicians castigate the bureaucracy. Citizens berate politicians and bureaucrats. Its a sort of beggar-thy neighbour view that enables the entire system to elude responsibility. If everyones to blame, nobody is accountable. Whats clear is that citizens have to take on responsibility; blaming the government and politicians is not enough. (The writer is a public affairs commentator.)
(sour ce-toi)

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