We, the people of India, solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens inter alia:
Justice, social, economic and political;
Equalities of status and opportunity.
No nobler objectives can be envisaged by a country which calls itself a people’s republic. It is clear that policies followed by governments, which have negated the above objectives and have led to results which go contrary to what has been envisioned by the Constitution, are ipso facto unconstitutional.
Where have the “policies” followed by the government’(s) led the country and the people, more than six decades after the Constitution of India has been in force? The state of affairs is known to everyone, but let us take stock of the present status briefly, so that we may shed a few tears for the constitution of our country and for the condition in which the aam admi finds himself to–day, without us, the concerned citizens, not doing anything worthwhile to make the government desist from following such a disastrous path. We shall start with a few vignettes presented by Gautam Bhatia.
Across gravelled pathways, beyond high walls, Gautam Bhatia points out, protected by dogs, and electronic guards, are pockets of luxury, so eccentric and exaggerated, it is hard to believe that the same high walls are shared by some of the city’s poorest. Leaning their broken plastic tenements against the side for support, people line up to scrub themselves, one by one under a hand pump. Inside, a swimming pool is being chained to provide fresh blue water, in case there is a sudden impulse for a dip!
The Indian city thrives on a slippery dilemma: a daily battle of wits between the rich and the poor. On the one hand is a life of instantaneous absorption of all the excesses of American life. On the other side is a seemingly endless struggle, just to stay alive! On the one side — a Delhi farm house with four bedrooms, pool and extensive garden acreage, with say, an average density of two families per hectare! On the other side, the neighbouring slum has 400 people within the same area. The farm house consumes 800 times the water, electricity and energy requirements of the slum family.
In India, the visibilities of the inequality makes people do strange things. Nowhere is there a more virulent and contagious strain of globalization than in the Indian city. Combined with a government largely — and, I wish to add criminally — apathetic to urban standards, the brazen hypocrisy of the elite class is only to be expected in places which are utterly self–centered and acutely conscious of social position. Part of the problem lies in the heroic stance adopted by the well–to–do, the necessity to project symbolic reminders which help to restrain the encroaching poverty. So come the fancy houses and the cars, the latest Mercedes and Bentleys and Rolls Royces (with white–gloved drivers!), on narrow streets, stuck in traffic jams. So come the farmhouses of Delhi, the vacation houses of Lonavala, and the gated communities of Ahmedabad and other cities.
Pumped (and pampered) with new money, every aspect of urbanity tends towards an increasing isolation of the population. More flyovers, longer expressways and places further and further apart. People with excess money herded behind high boundary walls, to share the spoils of their private enclosure — pool, sauna, valet parking, golf, tennis — an artificial neighbourhood given sanction by purse and privacy.
Six decades after Independence, any talk of the poor — of minimising inequalities in income, of endeavouring to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, of a state policy directed towards inter alia ensuring that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are distributed so as best to subserve the common good, and that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production, to the common detriment — is suppressed behind the mesmerizing haze of GDP figures and the symbols of the material life. Poverty, low–cost and appropriate buildings, and the like, are today not just forgotten; they are part of the laugh lines of cocktail circuits. There are no new ideas, no new dreams, no professional aims, no philosophical inquiries, no technical innovations, no restricting of agriculture and distribution — the list is endless. The one–track American approach to influence is appallingly a short sighted view for a country embarking on an important–change of life. The citizen oscillates between scenes of utterly degraded lives and an unabashed display of self–conscious materialism and a paranoid protection of private turf.
The road map followed by the government has taken the country from being a people’s republic. One wonders whether the Constitution which the people of India had given to themselves has become obsolete or irrelevant.
We may note a few more things which the government’s economic “policies” have landed the country in. A survey conducted by a foundation reported that 42% of Indian children under five are malnourished, and 59% of them suffer from moderate to severe stunting. An outraged reader wrote a letter to the Editor of a national newspaper: Why should Prime Minister waking up from his slumber, call the above findings a national shame? He should remember that he was leading a country which produced a record–breaking quantity of foodgrains but 48 farmers were committing suicide every day. The impact of the largest nutrition programme in the world — the Integrated Child Development Programme — which had been in operation for about 30 years, was not commensurate with the large manpower employed in the project and the expenditure incurred there on. The shame is not for the nation but for the nation’s “elected” representatives who should answer what effective steps did they take in regard to the problem of malnutrition — apart from contributing to them by their “policies”, by their action and inaction. When 42% of the children are under–nourished (with all its attendant horrors), of what use are the “achievements” in the much–touted phenomenal growth in the so–called GDP, in the increase in the number of malls, cell phone users, etc., asks another reader.
What about the aam admi? Things had come to such a pass that, in petitions filed before the Supreme Court regarding the streamlining of the Public Distribution System (PDS), the Court questioned the Centre’s approach to eradication of malnutrition and its failure to take steps to prevent starvation deaths in certain pockets of the country. The Bench expressed serious concern over the increasing number of starvation deaths. The Court told the Additional Solicitor General: “See what the stark contradiction in our whole approach is. You say you are a powerful economy. You have a bumper crop this year, and our godowns are full, and it is a happy condition, no doubt. When you have your godowns full, and people are starving, what is the benefit? You cannot have two Indias.” When the Assistant Solicitor General said that the percentage of people suffering from malnutrition was coming down, the Judge observed, “coming down is not the answer. You must eradicate malnutrition as early as possible. On the other hand you say that adequate quantity of foodgrains is allotted to BPL (Below Poverty Line) families, and thereafter APL (Above Poverty Line) families are supplied. But, malnutrition has increased in large pockets in Maharashtra, Odisha and a few other states. They (people who starve) are also citizens of this country. You are bound to protect them. They cannot be denied foodgrains. You take instructions (from the government) whether adequate foodgrains could be released to these districts as a one–time measure and file an affidavit in this regard within a week.” The Court also asked the Planning Commission to explain on what basis it estimated that 36% of the population were BPL when several States had disputed the figure and said that the actual percentage was much more even by the parameters fixed by the Planning Commission. The Judge wondered how the Planning Commission (which had been impleaded as a party) could fix Rs.20/– and Rs.11/– per capita daily income for urban and rural areas respectively to determine the BPL status.
The government had with impunity (because no one effectively challenged it for the disastrous course it was taking), thrown overboard the mandatory provisions of the Constitution, referred to above — in its mad obsession with the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) paradigm, ‘widely’ used by economists as an indicator of a country’s economic performance, and increasing used by “policy makers’ is the main criterion for the formulation of programmes for economic and social well–being.
The basic problem is in the socio–economic order, where the resources are unequally owned, and the market, functioning on the basis of resource power, commandeers production into avenues that cater to the wishes of the well–to–do which leaves the vast majority wondering why, inspite of the apparently good performance of the economy, their own lives are completely out of synch with the story told by the data?
How has the government brought about such a situation in the country? It is by basing all its policies on the dogma that the Gross Domestic Product is the sole metric of social welfare and its change over time (‘growth’) is the most important indicator of progress and welfare. The government has persisted with the growth rate per se. There is no link of the GDP with the quality of life, with taking into account people’s health, education, social connection and a sense of security and political voice. Judged by these criteria, the policy followed by the government has been a total failure.
The agriculture sector has been totally neglected. Every critical facet of the country’s agriculture — from productivity to food supply to technological advancement — has never found itself on the policy radar in India. India failed to address the problems of under–nutrition and food supply, thus pushing millions towards death, he says.
The government has skimmed off lakhs of crores of rupees by way of the so–called “tax cuts, tax exemptions and so on in favour of the manufacturing/ industrial sectors, the services sectors, import–export agents, and so on. This is nothing but looting of the public revenues, and the government has been befuddling the citizens by calling this looting by euphemism of fiscal stimulus”.
After analysing the methodologies for measuring poverty, adopted by the Planning Commission and the expert groups set by the government, P. Sainath, in his article titled, “To fix BPL, nix CPL”, has referred inter alia, to the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) which saw BPL (Below Poverty Line) Indian as making up 77% of the population, while the N.C. Saxena – headed BPL group placed it at around 50%. Sainath wanted to add his own modest contribution to the string of BPL, APL (Above Poverty Line), IPL, etc., – that is, the CPL or Corporate Plunder Limit – embracing the Corporate world and other very well off or “high net worth individuals.” Sainath elaborates: “we have no money for a universal PDS (Public Distribution System), or even for a shrunken food security bill; we have cut thousands of crores from (net) spending on rural development, we lag horribly in human development indicators, hunger indexes and nutritional surveys.
Food prices keep rising and decent jobs get fewer. The conundrum pertains to the (apparent) shrinking of the BPL numbers on the one hand and the ever expanding CPL numbers. Are these CPL numbers flashed by the electronic and print media, and are there informed and progressive debates in the CPL concept? The CPL concept is “anchored” in the “statement of Revenue Foregone” section of successive Union budgets. Sainath has placed before the public, in sharp focus, the revenue forgone under corporate income tax, excise and customs (in lakhs of rupees):