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The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012- An exploration of Untouchability as a social practice.


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 The constitution of India, when adopted was very clear on the need to abolish the practice of untouchability, which has been prevalent in India since the ancient times, by making it a fundamental right, it sought to eliminate the derogatory practice once and for all, enshrining it in article 17 of chapter 3 of the Constitution of India. It reads as follows:

Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.[1]

Through this article it was thought, going with buoyant mood of possibilities at that time that the problem of Untouchability as a social practice would cease in all its forms. What however was left out of its preview were those economic dimensions and the hygienic practices of the Indian people at large which made the practice acceptable, necessary and even demanded throughout society. What the article tried to do was give political rights to be free from untouchability, and free from any form of discrimination arising from the practice of untouchability, but left the economic right to be emancipated from the necessity which leads them towards the practicing of manual scavenging. The economic practices, which are primarily based on caste hierarchies prevalent within the India society, such as manual scavenging, the people practicing them come to be the untouchables. The problem then is that this special group of citizens is created by the play of economics and social politics, into the marginalised and the most downtrodden, their identity is based on the profession they are engaged in, which in turn is based on their birth.

In order to fully appreciate the process and the social dynamics involved in the creation of this set of people, who are engaged in the depraved practice of manual scavenging, the caste system as it operates through these dynamics must be understood. The caste system in India historically functioned as an organising principle for the society.it was a hierarchy based on the economic professions of the people. The system was divided primarily into four castes, on the top of the hierarchy being the Brahmins followed by the Kshatriyas, the vaishyas, and the Sudra as the lowest in the caste order. Further within these castes are many sub-hierarchies in operation, making the logic of its dynamics extremely complex and circular. When the basis for this hierarchy is the profession one is born into, thereby birth, the logic of its functioning makes it extremely difficult to move up the ladder without also leaving the ones caste behind. This logic in operation within these caste hierarchies, then makes the Sudra condemned to the lowest form of life within the social order.

Having detailed the caste hierarchy, it is important now to turn to the working of this dynamic with the Sudra caste, which is the space for the marginalised citizens being subject to further hierarchies and caste dynamics. It is within this space where the location of the oppressed is most depraved and humiliating, subject to the lowest of the lowest economic work and social standing, amounting to social invisibility. This is the space where the operation of the logic of caste creates the ‘Dalit’. The nearest sense that the word ‘Dalit’ can convey in the English language is ‘the oppressed’. In India, they are the outcasts or the untouchables. Within this logic of this kind of structural oppression, the paper aims to study the most marginalised within this space the’ Manual Scavenger’ in the light of the proposed Bill called ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012’ or PMRB 2012.

The adjective “manual scavengers’ is used to describe the people from the lowest of the caste bearers, who are engaged in the profession of cleaning human excreta from dry latrines and operating through the municipal disposal services and for private households. This practice of manual scavenging based on caste hereditary is something very peculiar to India. The caste system runs through all the religions, though it is of Hindu origins. The reason for this is that the people of other religions are converts from Hindu or at least most of them converted at some point in history. Even, after they converted they retained their caste only religion was different. We, therefore, find Dalits engaged in manual scavengers from all the religious groups and is not strictly confined to Hinduism. Though religious in origin it has acquired a social legitimacy due to the economic necessity and more importantly through the strict caste barriers, which act repressively not allowing any vertical social movement through its structure, without also losing the caste identity.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012  prohibits employing a person as a manual scavenger and provides for the rehabilitation of people and their families currently engaged in the profession of Manual Scavenging. The bill seeks to curb the employment of these people as scavengers for the cleaning of the Human excreta in any form and from any place and by anyone or any organisation, government or private. The Bill seeks a blanket ban on the employment of Manual scavengers and also seeks to rehabilitate them. It goes on to set up various nodes to monitor and check the enactment of this Bill. The Bill defines Manual scavengers as:

A “manual scavenger” is defined as a person engaged or employed, at the commencement of this act or anytime thereafter, by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or into an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrine is disposed of, or on a railway track or any such spaces or premises as may be notified by the central government, before the excreta fully decomposes..[2]

And an insanitary latrine is defined as

A latrine which requires human excreta to be cleaned or otherwise handled manually either in situ or in an open drain or pit into which the excreta is discharged or flushed out.[3]

The definitions as per the Bill has been widened to include any form of the practice of scavenging human excreta from unsanitary latrines, the definition of which has also been comprehensive. The Bill, however, fails to delineate a workable plan for the rehabilitation of the people engaged in manual scavenging. It only states a cash assistance, giving off a plot of land and vocational training. It also puts the onus of rehabilitation on the employers to retain the employee by assigning them to other work at the same emolument as was being paid. It prohibits the construction of new insanitary latrines and the conversion of the existing dry latrines into sanitary latrines. There have been provisions made for a penal action of imprisonment and monetary fines of 1 Lakh and subsequent contravention of 5 lakhs. And, finally, the implementation and monitoring of the act has been givenNational Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993.

Having highlighted the main provisions of the Bill it will be fruitful to engage with it in the social space of caste dynamics. The parliament had enacted the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act, 1993, to check this increasingly dehumanising practice. However, the Act proved to be inefficient in dealing with this depravity. While the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, seems adequate in respect of identifying the problem and its operational space, it doesn’t spell out in clear terms how the rehabilitation will be carried out. Most of the provisions with regard to habitation are monetary and vocational training. The implementation of the Bill has been left to the arbitrariness of the state machinery, which was charged with the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act, 1993. The results for which are far from satisfactory.

What the bill fails to acknowledge is the economic dimension of the Manual Scavenging which has in the first place made this practice rampant. The second fact that the bill fails to acknowledge is that of the rehabilitation of women and children and how the process for their employment will be enforced. The bill sees the primary member of the family be rehabilitated as male, while in reality about 95% of the Manual Scavengers are women and men mostly do the supervisory work. The most important part of the practice is the hereditary nature of the profession amounting to slavery. The issue is not the profession that the Manual Scavengers are engaged in, the issue is about the discrimination they face because of the profession while they have little opportunity of shifting to an alternative profession, because of rigid caste barriers. The issue, therefore, is about their right to live with self-respect, and a socially dignified life as full members of an equal society. This circular prison has to be broken which the Bill miserably fails to acknowledge. The logic of caste dynamics which imprisons Dalits to hereditary Scavenging has to be broken. The viciousness of this logic is the most powerful and self-sustaining social practice in India, which is not even remotely addressed by the Bill. The biggest challenge that the bill fails to recognise is the curse of untouchability, which flows from this rounded logic of traditional caste ‘Duty”, towards the upper castes.

It is a special kind of depravity that India engages in as a society where it chooses to repress the most vulnerable members of the society in the complex web of religion-social-political subtleties. This is the depravity that the Bill ought to attack, the Bill needs to do more to implement the fundamental right which abolished untouchability sixty-four years ago when the constitution makers penned article 17 and article 23 the right against exploitation of any form. Attacking only the economic relationship between the employer and the employee while leaving the social complexities untouched, the bill may end up creating more poor and vulnerable members of the society. While in Europe the practice of manual scavenging was killed with the advent of better flush systems and toilet technology in the early fifties, this result which the bills seeks to replicate will not be successful in India because it is embedded in the social dynamics of the caste system. There is little hope till such time as this dynamics of the caste system are left intact, which dehumanise the people of this nation, who incidentally are also the most vulnerable.

Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act, 1993, failed to stop this scourge because of faulty implementation and general governance apathy. And, if the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012 is pursued with the same kind of lethargy and apathy will do little to uplift and rehabilitate the manual scavengers. It may end up creating a contraband and rent-seeking officials, which in any case will harm the Dalits the most. The bill is also silent on the state of the health due to manual scavenging and the rehabilitation and medical treatment for those who are already affected with various virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections which affect their skin, eyes, and limbs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Tuberculosis is very prevalent among these caste group who are engaged in Manual Scavenging.

The Scavenging people in effect are victims of bondage slavery which has not been addressed by the bill either. Their debt seem to go on forever because they receive a pittance of less than about Rupees 22 a day for their work (and even this payment can be irregular if they are employed as casual workers, as is the case with most municipalities, or their wages are not paid on time), manual scavengers are forced to borrow from upper-caste neighbours for whom they work, and end up in debt bondage. The rate of interest on their loans is usually 10 per cent, and few can afford to pay off the loan. Thus, the wages they would otherwise receive go towards the repayment of the loan, and they become totally reliant on the few pieces of bread they receive on a daily basis. Their poverty is so acute that, in desperation, some Manual Scavengers resort to separating out the non-digested wheat from buffalo dung.[4]

Without addressing the issue of debt, gender sensitisation, and community assimilation the bill is unlikely to have the desired effect on the lives of the rehabilitated Manual scavengers. Since the problem is just not of the humiliating employment conditions they are forced to work in, but also of the attached social stigma they have to bear because of the profession they engage in. By simply banning the whole profession without the foresight for the assimilation of the retrieved scavengers into the society, the condition of the Dalits will only worsen. Though the penal provisions in the Bill seem adequate to check the violation of the provisions of the bill, the mechanism for enforcement remain the same – lengthy, unresponsive and as is the case with the current governance structures and an incompetent grievance redress processes.

The Bill makes the employing of people for the purpose for manual scavenging a crime but does not explicitly outlaw the practice itself. To be able to outlaw this inhumane practice of Manual Scavenging, the bill must first suggest an alternative to the economics of the profession. By simply declaring it as a criminal offence it does not serve the purpose to curb the practice. There have been many laws that have been passed by the parliament to protect the rights of the Dalits like the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which have not been able to make much impact. The various acts dealing with Dalits have to be synchronised to speak the same language, and follow an aim of their rehabilitation to actually translate it on the ground within the social space. The redundancy of having multiple laws dealing with different aspects of the discrimination against them, only make the access to justice harder for the Dalits. It would do the government some good to simplify the legislation and create one umbrella bill including all aspects of the discrimination against them and also provisions for their rehabilitation into the mainstream of the society.

It would be ideal for the Bill to be looking into the assimilation of the Dalits into the mainstream of the India society by ways of community leadership. The practices which are discriminatory occurs with this social space. The reformation of this space needs to be looked into along with strong legal provisions for the protections of the Dalits. The patronising attitude of the government and the society at large has to be overcome. Though the legal enactments do make a difference in the societal perception of discriminatory practices, like it did in the case of the Abolition of the slavery Bill in England. However, they are often not enough. The government along with the society must do more to foster harmony and assimilatory attitudes between individuals. The practice of manual scavenging can be eradicated faster and more efficiently if the communities are held responsible for the practice occurring within their spaces of inhabitation. Community participation by the community members will serve well to sensitise the individuals towards a reconciliatory attitude to enable smooth rehabilitation of the Manual scavengers.

The Panchayats should also be involved actively in this process of social discontinuation of this heinous crime against humanity. The Panchayats being the first order of governance structure in India, the leadership role it can play in eradicating this menace must not be discounted. The Panchayats act both in the role of social and political leadership in the villages. The social acceptability of the need for the discontinuance of this practice has to come from there. It is here that the major interactions between people take place which actually change societal attitudes significantly.

The most pervasive and repressive element that plays a very large role in the continuation of this and other discriminatory practices against the Dalits is the sanctity of the religious discourse. Though in a secular republican state religion should not be directed in any manner by the state, in this case, there should be an exception. The state should call the leaders of all religions to partner with it in changing the perception of the Dalits as being outcast and getting into a dialogue stressing the redundancy of the caste system in the modern era. The whole idea of caste-based discrimination flows through the religious discourse, it would, therefore, be fruitful to engage aggressively with all shades of it. The sanctity that religion confers upon this practice can be reversed more effectively by the leaders of those practicing these derogatory practices with the sanctity of religion.

With regard to rehabilitation, the Bill needs to spell out the specifics that will be awarded to the rehabilitated Manual Scavengers. Some of the things that may be considered are:

 

  1. The women who form the majority of those engaged in the profession should be made the primary beneficiary of the rehabilitation award.
  2. There need to be strong incentives put in place for the Employers to help rehabilitate the people engaged in the profession. The incentives can be tax breaks, one-time rebate for those rehabilitated and recognition by the government through active media participation.
  3. The children of those rehabilitated should be given generous scholarships to pursue an education at the best institutions in the country. This avenue should be exploited to the maximum, and the provisions for the same should be included in the Right to Education too.
  4. New technologies of sanitation should be implemented vigorously where the rehabilitation of the Manual Scavenging people takes place, in order to avoid and relapse to the same profession.
  5. The Panchayats should be held accountable for the dry latrines not being converted in water based flushes.
  6. The land that is allotted should be agricultural, and property rights should be clearly marked out. It has been observed that having clear-cut property rights does lift people out of their poor lifestyle and help them assimilate and improve their social standing.

Former Prime Minster Dr. Manmohan Singh has on several occasions termed Manual Scavenging as the shame of the nation. So have other political leaders, now there is the awareness that the practice is the most deleterious to human health and dignity. But, till such time as we as a nation are not able to convert these words into action much remains to be desired. The Bill though noble in intent and serious in thought will not achieve its desired result if it continues to focus on the penal provisions and vague rehabilitation programs. It needs to recognise the heart of the problem and locate it in the lived community spaces. The observations that have been outlined above in tandem with the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, will be better suited to the social diaspora of India.

It is a time for reckoning for us as the citizen in a democracy, that even after 70 years of the enactment of the constitution of India we have been unable to wipe out discrimination and inequality from our society. In a liberal democracy, the true measure of its success flows from the equality before the law, freedom, prosperity and dignity it can afford to its most vulnerable A strong political leadership is required based on the principle of liberty, which can ensure the protection of rights of the most vulnerable, while also implementing a radical reform agenda. Till such time as that, we will have to work towards incremental reforms like the present Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012.

Works cited

[1] The constitution of India

[2] The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, chapter 1 section 2 (g)

[3] Ibid, Chapter 1 Section 2 (e)

[4] United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery,27th Session, Geneva, 27-31 May 2002

 

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India must prepare for the rise of a liberal party. The Swarna Bharat Party.


We the people of India had been given a largely liberal Constitution at the birth of the Indian republic on 26 January 1950. Over the years, this Constitution has turned illiberal through many of the amendments it has been subjected to. One of first assaults came with the removal by the Nehru government of the fundamental right to property.

There followed a wave of nationalizations by the Indira Gandhi government in 1960s. The word “socialist” in the preamble of the Constitution was introduced by the 42nd amendment during the Indira Gandhi government. This amendment entrenched socialism into the fabric of India’s governance and polity.

Then in 1989, the Rajiv Gandhi government made it mandatory for all political parties to swear allegiance to socialism, by amending the Representation of People Act 1951. This meant that no political party could be registered with the Election Commission without committing to the ideology of socialism. This effectively barred any liberal party from ever contesting elections in India. With this, the state became above the citizen, his liberties entirely at the mercy of the state. The servant of the people in the 1950 Constitution now became our master.

The insertion of the word “socialist” has been challenged by various individual and organizations over the years. The Supreme Court however, interpreted the word “socialist” in the Preamble not as an ideology but as an idea that informs social welfare. This is a highly contestable view, distorting the original and meaning of the word socialism, and the intent of Indira Gandhi and her son, in mandating it.

Though the Constitution is still a broadly liberal document, the many encroachments against liberty have to be expunged. Today India is a half-hearted market economy and open society. We have a contradiction with a largely liberalized economy on one hand and a deeply illiberal regime of property rights and freedoms.

The arch of history has always tended towards man’s natural state, of being free. And so it has in India, too. Amidst the impositions of socialism, a light of liberty was lit in 1991, as socialism bankrupted the country.

Twenty-five years ago we started reluctantly with economic reforms. The results were as expected. Growth rates began to soar. Living conditions improved.

The reforms still continue but there is no underlying understanding of liberty. Such reforms are knee-jerk reactions, rather than a structured move towards freedom. The government retains vast control over the economy. The administrative structure is colonial and an unmitigated disaster.

In spite of calls for reforms, no political party during the reform period bothered to align the governance system with economic incentives and accountability.

The country has been moving incrementally in this direction. Modi’s campaign used liberal rhetoric, such as ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.  But this slogan was hollow; the size of the government has increased but core functions are not being delivered. Modi had a large cabinet and now it stands at 77. The central government employees are set to increase by another few lakhs.

The tenured bureaucracy is inefficient and unaccountable. The government owns a major portion of the economy through airlines, mines and various PSUs. Through the Life Insurance Corporation, it further owns equity in private companies. But the government can have no business doing business. Why is the government not disinvesting?

The trajectory of the Indian economy has been towards liberalism since the early ‘90s. Socially, however, the trajectory has moved towards conservatism and orthodoxy. This contradiction cannot be maintained if India is to progress. One cannot have a conservative society with a liberal economy. A liberal economic system must have an open society where the rights of the individual are upheld, freedom of speech respected and the state enforces laws that defend freedom.

Presently, the state remains weak and confused; it lacks the capacity to enforce laws – also given the broken police and justice system.

The liberalisation of India is unlikely to continue unless a clear distinction is made between classical liberalism and neo-liberalism. The IMF and the World Bank aimed at privatisation of PSUs, deregulation of markets and opening the economy to external trade. This is better known as the Washington consensus. This, however, is only a small part of the liberal state. This approach to liberalisation only considers a few economic aspects but leaves the basic facets of man’s activity untouched.

The classical liberal approach involves the defence of private property, a market economy subject to essential regulations, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of civil liberties including of freedom of religion, and international peace promoted by free trade. Our governments have no regard to the rights of the citizen and govern through fear. There is no accountability, no commitment to the individual.

Second, all political parties in India are committed ideologically to socialism. They differ only in a marginal sense from each other. Therefore, reforms have hit an ideological ceiling. To make India the world freest country is not the objective of these parties. For that to happen requires the full force of an internally consistent liberal ideology.

The country has suffered enough. The aspirations of the youth have been shattered again, and yet again.

Is there any hope for India? For the second time our history a liberal party is coming into being. It is young but surefooted. It is idealistic but will act pragmatically where necessary. It is a party given birth to and nurtured by ordinary citizens, under the guiding light of liberty. The journey it proposes to take towards a better nation has just begun. It is the Swarna Bharat Party, India’s only classical liberal party.

Citizens must ask: what is it that our governments should do. Do we want our governments to rule us or do we want a government that respects and protects our rights?

It is time for us to bend the arch of history towards liberalism. We the people must restore the country to the idealism of our founding fathers and fulfil the gaps where they fell short. Let us join hands in this journey towards a great country. Let our rallying cry be “Liberty first”.

Letter to Indian citizens, 1 September 2016: Introducing India’s only liberal party and how it can fix India’s problems.


Dear fellow citizen of India,

Subject:  Inviting you to consider the vision and approach of India’s only liberal party

Our freedom fighters sacrificed their lives for India’s liberty. They would have been deeply disappointed with what India has become. Our governance is one of the world’s worst. Corruption, injustice, insecurity and filth stalks us at each step. Daily life has become very difficult.

The cause is clear to all those who understand: that all our political parties have taken the wrong path. They have broken all principles of good governance. They have created incentives for corruption. As a result, the system is corrupted from the top. It cannot deliver even basic services.

This state of affairs can only be fixed through a total overhaul of our governance system. Such an overhaul will require amendments to key laws. Essential changes needed include state funding of elections on per vote basis to allow honest people to contest elections and elimination of the guarantee of tenure for senior bureaucrats. The government must be held to account for results.  Further, the government must focus on core functions and get out of running businesses. Of course, things must be systematically changed, through a proper transition strategy.

The concerned citizens who created Swarna Bharat Party (SBP) asked other parties to deliver these reforms, but these parties refused. It is a fact that all other parties directly benefit from the corrupt system they have created. Why would they implement any reform?

As India’s only liberal party, SBP is committed to the ideology of liberty. Only this ideology can establish India as a land of opportunity, the world’s richest economy and open society.

SBP offers India three fundamental reform directions:

1.     Reforms of the electoral system and bureaucracy to ensure total integrity and accountability.

2.     A limited but strong government that performs its core functions well.

3.     Maximum liberty for all citizens, consistent with the liberty of others.

We have developed the world’s best manifesto (at http://swarnabharat.in/manifesto). Please read it to appreciate the party’s deep thinking about public policy. SBP is the only party with capability to deliver urgently needed reforms. This way India can become a sone ki chidiya again.

After years of preparation, this party is reaching out to the people. A strong start has been made in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana. Preliminary work is afoot in many other states. Our 2015-16 Annual Report (http://swarnabharat.in/annualreports) provides details of our recent activities, including numerous photographs and press cuttings.

This party can only go as far as you want to go. It is up to you to step forward to help make India the world’s richest nation. But first please satisfy yourself about the party’s credentials and capability. We have a Youtube channel in which you can listen to some of our initial party leaders.

Once convinced about our vision and approach, please become a member and help build a strong grassroots presence for SBP. You can become a member by visiting http://swarnabharat.in/register(lifetime membership fee is currently Rs.100) and volunteer by visiting http://swarnabharat.in/register-volunteer.

At a minimum, please donate generously (monthly instalments in smaller amounts are welcome). You can use our online payment gateway at http://swarnabharat.in/credit-cards-neft. Or you can write cheque/s payable to “Swarna Bharat Party” and mail them to the party’s registered office at G-249, Palam Vihar, Gurgaon – 122017.

Only Indian citizens, including those residing outside India, are eligible to donate. Donations are exempted from income tax u/s 80GGC of the Income Tax Act.

In conclusion, I once gain offer this party and its vision to you. I invite you to join or otherwise support this platform to make India great again. Together we can achieve our dream for India.

Please share this letter widely with your friends and community.

With regards

(Sanjay Sonawani)

President, Swarna Bharat Party

info@swarnabharat.in

India’s only liberal party challenges the PM to implement Minimum Government, Maximum Governance


National Press Release – to be released across India

26 August 2016 – embargoed till 4 pm. [Marathi version of the press release: in Word | PDF]

President of Swarna Bharat Party, Sanjay Sonawani, asks Mr Modi to substantially increase funding for the police and judiciary

Swarna Bharat Party, India’s only liberal party, held a press conference in Mumbai today. The conference was addressed by Mr Sanjay Sonawani, National President of the party.

He shared with the press a copy of the party’s open letter to Mr Modi, the Prime Minister of India. The letter asks Mr Modi to implement his own slogan of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” by doubling the funding for police and increasing by ten times the funding for the judiciary.

The people of India feel very unsafe today. They have also lost all faith in the judicial system. Women and Dalits have become soft targets for criminals. Communal, caste and Naxalite violence constantly erupts across the country.

Mr Sonawani said that the prime responsibility of a government is to ensure the safety of every citizen and ensure timely justice. But the law and order situation across India is bleak.

Mr Sonawani pointed out that that this situation is not the fault of our overworked police and judiciary. Our police and armed forces are for the most part heroes, often sacrificing their lives for the safety and welfare of the people. Indeed, because of their high work-load, exhausting working hours, and almost no holidays, health (including mental health) issues in the police have reached alarming levels. And our judges are doing o their best within the grossly underfunded system in which they work.

The real problem, Mr Sonawani said, is that our governments prefer to do other things than govern. The government likes running businesses and hotels instead of funding the police and judiciary.

The party’s open letter to the Prime Minister of India demands increased funding for the police and judiciary to be announced by 26th September 2016. The letter demands total accountability of all branches of government. The people want results, not money to be thrown into a well.

This will improve safety and justice. Mr Sonawani said that in a country where rule of law is supreme, the numerous communal riots and state-supported pogroms would never have happened. In a country where the police and judiciary are functional, people would never be targeted and killed for belonging to a particular religion, neither would caste massacres occur. Even the sensitive areas of the country, the Northeast, Jammu & Kashmir, and the Red Corridor would never be ravaged by insurgencies, as people would be free and secure, and would have no reason to revolt and pick up arms.

In its open letter, SBP has also demanded that Mr Modi implement all the reforms detailed in the party’s manifesto. Key reforms include the state funding of elections on a per vote basis, abolition of guaranteed tenure at all senior levels, and strong support for the defence forces. Mr Sonawani explained that only through such reforms can India become a great nation.

Mr Sonawani said that SBP will consider starting a nationwide movement for good governance from the 2nd of October 2016, if its demands are not immediately met by the Prime Minister. He invited all well-wishers of India to write to Mr Modi to implement these demands.

From where will the funds come?

Mr Sonawani said that SBP is a fiscally responsible party and does not make such demands lightly. He said that the reality is that while government cries that there are not enough funds, the government finds enough money to operate public sector enterprises. The Modi government perhaps thinks of itself as a business conglomerate. Why else is it running hotels, airlines, ports, mines, banks and insurance companies?

Even considering only the central government’s non-financial companies, the government investment is about ten lakh, ninety six thousand crore rupees, with capital invested being two lakh, thirteen thousand crore rupees. There are 298 such companies out of which about 77 are loss-making and their loss stands Rs. 27,360 crores for the financial year 2014-15. Accrued losses are probably in the lakhs of crores of rupees.

In its letter, SBP has asked Mr Modi that both central and State governments should immediately divest all government enterprises, thus making huge savings in resources – that can then be deployed on core duties. Regulatory approaches can be used for divested PSEs that the government believes need to be more closely monitored. Alternatively, the government can hire a managing firm that ensures all requirements for certain essential PSEs.

Mr Sonawani reminded the Prime Minister that during his election campaign he repeatedly changed the slogan about “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”. He said he wants a small government with maximum governance. SBP is merely asking the PM to act on his own statements. Unless he meant to lie to the country.

Supporting data

The open letter to Mr Modi contains supporting data. The pathetic ground reality of the police and judiciary can be seen from the following statistics.

Police

India has only 182 sanctioned police personnel per lakh population, against the minimum requirement of 222 per lakh population as per UN standards (most developed countries have double this number). Out of the sanctioned force there are 24 per cent vacancies, thus reducing the actual strength to 147 police per lakh population.

Even this limited force is often deployed in security duties for VIPs and during festivals and agitations. There is not enough manpower left to conduct investigations to ensure convictions for crime, to issue fines for traffic and property offences, or to take preventative actions to curb violent crime. How can we blame the police when they avoid registering cases, given the huge build-up of backlogs? It is clear that the government dramatically increase police manpower and suitably train and equip them.

The police force also faces terrible working and living conditions. The condition of Police stations and chowkies is so bad, it is impossible to function properly. Vast amounts of funding are urgently needed to radically improve the condition of our dilapidated police stations and chowkies and to improve police training. The Police badly needs modern equipment and vehicles, bullet-proof jackets and arms.

Only 27 per cent of the police are provided with a satisfactory place to live. The health of the police is getting from bad to worse. Many have committed suicide because of psychological stress. The Maharashtra Government had declared a cashless health treatment scheme under Police Kutumb Arogya Yojana but the government failed to pay the bills, so most hospitals have closed down the scheme. SBP demands that every policeman should have access to a good, habitable residence, access to health facilities, and access to good education for their children – with immediate effect.

SBP has demanded that the Modi government announce an immediate increase in funding for the Police from Rs. 74, 258 crores per year to a minimum of Rs. 1,50,000 crores per year.

Judiciary

The judiciary is hardly in a better condition. In fact, it needs at least ten times more funding to clear the backlog and bring back a semblance of normalcy to the justice system.

Recently the Chief Justice TS Thakur was literally forced to cry at the impossibility of tackling 3 crore pending cases. This is a great shame for the country. And yet, the Modi government is busy running hotels.

About half a crore cases are pending in the High Courts and over 2 crore cases in the lower courts. Every day the number of cases is mounting. India has a strength of just 13 judges for every million population, whereas the minimum number of the judges for every million should be 50. The vacancies are also very high. Some time ago it was reported that there are 6 vacancies in the Supreme court, 446 in the High Courts and 4600 vacancies in the lower courts.

Presently only funding that is equivalent to around 0.02% of the GDP, is allocated to the judiciary. This should be urgently increased to 0.2%  of GDP – i.e. by ten times.

SBP believes it is not enough to increase the number of judges. Proper court premises and workable court rooms are urgently needed. Many court premises are like godowns with bad ventilation and lack basic facilities like drinking water and toilets. Some judges have to sit in record rooms to conduct trials.

SBP’s letter asks the PM to dramatically reprioritise government functions and increase support for police and justice. These are the most essential governance tasks, to which he is simply not paying attention.

Mr Sonawani asked the people of India to send photographs of the deplorable conditions of the Police and judiciary. He also asked them to put pressure on Mr Modi to accept the party’s demands.

End

Notes for Editors

SBP is India’s only liberal party, committed to defending liberty and promoting prosperity.

Contacts:

Sanjay Sonawani (Pune), National President, +91 9860991205

Vishal Singh (Bengaluru), National Vice President, +91 9920613669

Alok Kumar Singh (Ghaziabad), National Joint Secretary and President, UP State unit, +91 9999755334

Rethinking federalism in India


In a period of widespread discontent and chaos, a period of the increasing clamour for Autonomy and separate states, a period of the waking of the political consciousness and aspiration for managing of their own affairs by local communities and regions, I think it would be a legitimate to ask the question, do we need to rethink federalism in India? I think it is pertinent that every generation in order to move forward, should rethink and rework the underlying ideas that govern them and question those underlying assumptions and if need be dismantle those structures which have out lived their purpose. For my generation the task is humongous but equally important, exciting and worthwhile.

The whole idea behind the reorganisation of the current boundaries of the states in India is also the process to get at minimum government maximising liberty for its citizens and de-centralisation of power and efficient local resources management. These objectives have to be dealt with simultaneously to create a more perfect union. The politics in India has become regional in nature, where the influence of these parties has being having a dysfunctional influence on the central government. India being a centralised form of governance has had a deleterious effect on the democratic institutions as a whole. This trend needs to be arrested if we are to progress into a great nation. The incremental reforms or changes that have been brought about by the government over the past many years have only add fuel to the fire or this regional question- the question of autonomy. The time, I think, has come for a final settlement to the question of Autonomy, which is also the question fundamentally about federalism in India.

The founding fathers of this nation, in their profound wisdom and efficiency thought it right to have a stronger central government in a quasi-federal political setup, mainly to keep at bay the fear of balkanisation of this young Nation. The ghost of partition and the fear of disintegration of the country veiled their foresight. The problems they sought to keep at bay started haunting them immediately after independence and has since only compounded. The ghosts have grown larger and more violent, yet the ability to exorcize them remains imbecilic at best and outright incompetent at worst.

For any nation to progress and develop into a economic and military superpower, it has to have a sustained period of peace and internal stability. With the benefit of hindsight when we lok a history all the great empires were able to develop into great states because they were able to ensure periods of great peace and stability to their citizens. You may look at the roman, Chinese, Maurayan or the British and the American states they all share this character. But, due to the incompetency of our political class and the the failure to find long term solutions to the administrative problems of this country this period of peace and stability has been elusive. There are far too many internal problems in India at the present to haul us into a developed nation category. And, these problems in turn stem from one form or another relating to the question of Autonomy.

Of late the demand for new states and further demand for Autonomy within these sates has been growing, dividing the politics with a regional bias and disruption of public life. The main problem before the policy maker is no more simply how to solve these diverse problems but, how far do they go to get a final settlement leading to a more perfect union. This leads us to call into question the examination of the federal structure of the Union of India. During the drafting of the constitution a strong centralised government may have seemed the best suitable form of governance, but somehow it has failed to work as envisaged. This is not because the political class did not try their best to make it work but, due to the short sightedness of the founding fathers of this nation. The makers of the constitution failed to appreciate the diversity of the nation, when they were resorting to the centralised federation.

The nature of Indian federation is better described as a cooperative federalism where the states act as administrative agencies of the central government. This is where the problem lies. In effect the government has become too big to manage itself. The bigger a government gets the more inefficient and irresponsive it becomes. The idea is to keep the government small and its constituent units smaller. And, this shall be the basic idea guiding us to rethink federalism in India.

More often than is desirable, there is a lot of interference by the centre into the administration of the states. This had not been conducive to a healthy functioning of the federal structure. Now, not all the interference has been direct, more often it is disguised especially through the planning commission. An extra constitutional body is perhaps the biggest anathema to federalism. The sooner this super body is scrapped the better. Then there is the all-pervasive and sanctimonious article 356 of the constitution, where by the union government can at will decide whether a government at the states are being run according to the provisions of the constitution. And, of course the financial relationship between the union and the states which is to the disadvantage of the states. There are numerous others which impinge upon the functioning of the state governments.

Keeping in view these problems I am starting a series of proposals for the Rethinking of the whole federal structure in India. Should you wish to engage in a discussion upon the rethinking of the federal structure you may write to me @ vidyutjain@gmail.com

On the futility of the Jan Lok Pal and importance of Election Reforms first.


As we approach the 64thIndependence Day, my thoughts yet again drift towards the state of our union, and the way towards a more perfect one. In the past year a lot has happened that was not in the interest of the idea of a more perfect union. The scams of enormous proportion have hit us. The multiplicities of the protests have been undermining our democracy. A whole lot our citizens dying of hunger, disease and as collateral for state policies in the Red corridor and other militarised zones. It has been quite much the same for the past 63 years. The government merely becomes more dysfunctional every passing year. And we move on.

But during this past year there is something that has been happening which if successful will rupture the public discourse on governance in this nation for the better- Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption. Though I don’t disagree with Mr Hazare on the need for eradication of the bad governance which has plagued this nation for far too long, I don’t think that there can be much progress on the issue of corruption unless there are large scale systemic reforms beginning with the Elections reforms. The gates of representative democracy have to be guarded not the guillotine.it is the politics of welfare that has to be overturned. Merely punishing a few of those corrupt and vicious will not lead to a corruption free society.

Mr Hazare thought noble in intent and serious purpose is attacking on the wrong side of the problem to find the right solution. Since he had built up a sizable following, and will in the future contest elections I suppose, he is best placed to agitate for reforms that will truly start to clean up the system. Rather than agitating for Jan Lok Pal, he should consider starting a movement for electoral reforms, which will then enable reasonably good and talented people to enter politics and work towards larger reforms. Contrary to what Mr Hazare has been saying the Jan Lok pal bill will only cut of the dead parts while leaving the diseased body intact. Corruption is merely a symptom of a dysfunctional system.

If we were to reflect a little on the general elections of 2009, it will make a lot of things quite clear about the electoral gaps that exist in India which at the same time is a huge opportunity for reform and new politics emerging. And importance of electoral reforms first.

The chart below shows the performance of the National Parties in 2009 General elections:

Untitled picture

For the analysis I am only focusing upon the national parties. There were 7 national parties who contested elections all over India. There are a total of 543 seats in the Indian parliament.

The first observation is, none of the national parties contested for all the 543 seats. Interestingly, BSP was the party which contested the most number of seats, 500 in all and won only 21. The BJP and the INC contested roughly about the same number about 433 and 440 in all wining 116 and 206 respectively. They did not fare any well. The point here is that even after 64 years of independence there is not a single party which can contest from the entire allotted seats. Today there is no party which can claim to represent, the idea of India. This in some respects suggests a compartmented electorate, implying a divided politics. No National party has an appeal throughout the Nation.

The second and most important material for my argument are the number of votes that was cast in the favour of each party.

Total Electors – 71, 69, 85,101 Male – 37, 47, 58,801 Female– 34, 22, 26,300

Total electors who voted -41, 71, 59,281

Total population of India was about 119.8 crores

The observations are quite significant:

1. The total turnout of the registers votes was only 58.19%, 41.18% of the voters did not cast their votes. For a big democracy like India this is very significant numbering 29, 98, 25,820 or about 30 crore citizens. So, according to this almost half of our population goes unrepresented in the Indian Parliament.

2. The largest party to emerge from the general elections was the INC which was able to garner about 12 Crore votes. This in percentage terms translates into 16.61% of total electorate, 28.55% of total votes polled and 0.1% of the total population of India. That was the biggest party! The BJP fared no better garnering 10.94% of total electorate, 18.80% of total votes polled and 0.06% of the total population of India. Same with all the others. The point to take note is that representing only about 30% of the popular votes the INC was able to form the government at the centre. And, with about 20% of the popular votes the BJP became the main opposition party.

Now, the electoral system in India is “first past the post”, which means that there is requirement for an absolute majority the winner is he who gets the maximum number of votes. This could vary as much as 70% for a candidate to merely a 20% of the total votes polled. It is often observed that the candidates mostly only secure less than even 40% votes to secure an election. The chart below shows the figures for the 2009 general elections:

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With the current electoral system most of the candidates elected are securing only about 30% votes on an average. As the figures show majority of the candidates don not even cross the 50% threshold, whereas ideally they should. So, the first reform must start here, we need to dismantle the whole system of electoral process currently being followed in India.

The candidates can easily manipulate the votes securing the highest numbers yet be far below the ideal majority. In this first past the post system there is absolutely no conventions that have formed over the years which would have at least an unwritten majority warranted. This should have evolved by now. In what kind of a democracy should we have people wining only 10% of the votes and yet be declared winner. This system is has to be replaced.

 

These are Some Suggestions for Reforms.

1)      All the election to the state and the central legislatures should be held simultaneously on the same day. Only in cases where a person had died during his term in public office should by elections be held. If all the elections are on the same day the voter turnout is bound to increase, and it will also have the parties be more involved with real issues that matter with the public. In due course it will help in the nation integration.

2)      Voting should be made compulsory.

(1)    Over time this will lead to destruction of the vote bank politics that today has become so blatant.

(2)    Political participation and awareness of issues surround the nation will increase.

(3)    Role of money and muscle over time shall decrease.

3)      The important public office bearers should be directly elected by the people.

(1)    The president, The Vice-president and The Prime Minister should be directly elected by the people during the general elections. The whole of the country should have a say as to who the most important officers bearers are. Over time this shall lead to national integration and also bring out national perspectives and issues to the electorate. Most of the elections today only have a regional focus, this need to be expanded towards having national focus. The majority of the citizens of this nation do not know or cannot identify with the President or the Prime Minister. Till the time the President and the Prime Minister are not seen as true leaders, national leaders national integration will be a far cry.

(2)    There should be a provision where the parties put forward the name of their presidential candidates and the candidacy is open to all the citizens who qualify the minimum requirements of solvency, education at least a graduation from a recognised university and a clean background in terms of his finances and law abiding record.

(3)    The elections have to state funded. This is important if the influence of money has to be mitigated. The state could choose to a reasonable deposit from every candidate standing up for elections. Say, about 5 lakhs from every candidate which would be non-refundable.

(4)    Upon the submission of his name for the candidacy of the President of India, he/she will within a month of such submission also announce the name of his Vice- President and the Prime Minister as running mates. So for the period of the election the {presidential candidate shall be the more important of the three in every respect. However, after the election are over he shall go back to his role as the titular head of the government, after which the prime Minister shall become the de facto head of the executive.

(5)    The Prime Minister shall be free to choose his cabinet from within or outside the parliament. None of the cabinet members shall hold seats in the parliament. This will separate the legislature from the executive in total in respective of every day functions. And, it will have the fantastic effect of attracting on the people who are genuinely interested in policy making and public policy. All the current incentives of being elected to the parliament shall be withdrawn.

(6)    They shall only receive salaries and no other perks.

(7)    The electoral expenditure shall be made public by the Election commission.

(8)    Anyone of the name for election to the Parliament having a criminal background shall be disqualified for life. They will not be allowed to stand for election till such time as the purported charges are not cleared by the court of law.

(9)    Reservation and nominations of all types shall be nullified. They have outlived their purpose and will not serve any purpose by extending them. Every one shall be equal before the law and the electorate.

(10)The Presidential elections shall be conducted as primaries, where the remaining candidate shall be eliminated save for two securing the most overall votes.

(11)For the purpose of primaries the country shall be divided into four zones- North, south, east and west. This is necessary so as to come to the final of two candidates most agreeable to the electorate without the parochial chauvinism to influence their choices.

(12)Finally, in the national general elections the presidential candidates shall have to have at least 50 % of the popular votes to be declared a winner.

4)      Now, these changes are going to be revolutionary and will require revolutionary methods of conducting it. Some of the suggestion would be :

a)      The UID (Aadhar) card shall be made compulsory for the purpose of voting doing away with the election cards.

b)      The use of biometric systems shall be developed.

c)       A system where the UID can be punched from poll booths, ATMs, and personal computers and mobile phones should be developed.

d)      A live feed of the votes shall be done, not waiting for weeks before finally counting the votes. All results shall be declared on the eve of the elections.

If these suggestion are given a serious consideration by Mr Hazare and his team, and the people of India at large I think we can form a consensus and revolutionise the way election s are conducted and election themselves. These if implemented will truly take this country to commanding heights among the world nations.

Instead of wasting time and energy fight for a lesser Jan Lokh Pal Bill, the Anna team should stop to reflect on the benefits of fighting a worthy fight for election reforms.

None of the present political parties are going to take these suggestions, the reason being that if would disqualify the majority of their candidate overnight. The mixed legislature and the executive that they love so much will no longer be under their control. And, most importantly it will expose their claims of being all India party. In this type of an election format there is no group or set of people can actually be placated. The benefit is obvious that we will have able and charismatic leader who will truly represent the people of India and the people represent them. The people shall finally vote as one people for one leader.

Now, there of course will be a lot of disagreement to these suggested reforms, the idea is however to stimulate a consensus for reforms. My purpose is experimental in the sense that I wish to engage as many people to engage into a conversation for an idea of a New India. Mr Hazare I sincerely wish you all the best towards your efforts; however at the same time I should like you to think on a large scale with encompassing vision for the future of this nation on this eve of Independence Day.

If this thought process has some semblance of sense to you. And, if you too think that electoral reforms are the need of the hour rather than the Jan Lok Pal, you may consider furthering our efforts by joining the Freedom Team of India (FTI). You should visit www.freedomteam.in

I dedicate these thoughts for a better India to my fellow countrymen.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country – J.F.Kennedy

Jai Hind!

Disclaimer: The thoughts reflected in this write up are my thought and do not reflect the official views of the FTI in any capacity.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.