NACEN Times : When 'e' starts empowering the 'governance'

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Having worked over five years in private sector that too in software industry, i (think i) cannot fall short of understanding how important technology can be in making life simpler. Talking to someone on instant messaging to get a quick info, exchanging emails to facilitate our understanding, or even better, using online collaborative tools to arrive at a logical conclusion, using analytics tools to predict the market, etc, have taken business and management to a new horizon. "Technology and business have become inextricably interwoven."

Most of us are of the opinion that usage of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in public sector is still in infant stage. Whether the government has sufficiently used ICT to deliver the services efficiently is a debatable topic. However, studying e-governance and ICT related projects under Government of India while preparing for civil services exam and after joining the services, what i have realized is penetration of technology in government is far greater than what most of us would think.

Civil services (IRS) training which began few days back reminds me of my Entry Level Training Programme (ELTP) in IBM Software Labs. Way back in 2005, I thought government sector could never beat the standards being set in private sector, at least in the training domain. E-governance initiatives in our training academy are far more futuristic than what i had imagined. In the academy, the e-governance initiatives deserve lot of appreciation.

National Academy of Customs, Central Excise and Narcotics (NACEN), is the Apex institution for training the IRS (C&CE) officers. "NACEN has taken a number of initiatives in the recent years for improving the training quality. It's state of the art website is rated as the top website amongst all National Academies of India. (I didn't like the UI though!). The most striking feature of the website is its hundred percent dynamic modules. [NACEN Quarterly]".

"In order to ensure the quality of the training, the online feedback module was developed which captures the feedback and suggestions of the participants and generates an automatic email to the trainer. All the Probationers (trainee officers) are registered with the website and they apply for leave online, discuss important issues amongst themselves and with faculty of the academy and ask questions from experts. The polling module helps the academy in conducting poll on any important issue while the SMS module sends important information to probationers and faculty within no time. The Attendance module captures the attendance of probationers and the punctuality is ensured by Biometric Attendance System. All the lecture halls of the Academy are connected with state of the art CCTV cameras which provides real-time 360 degree high resolution video of training, live in the room of Director General [NACEN Quarterly]."

After getting to know about all these initiatives in the academy, in my own interest, i had a small opportunity to have a glance at the back-end system which does all this. Trust me, it was nothing short of a well planned system. It is designed in such a way that trainees and faculty, with little bit of curiosity in computers and technology, can make the best use of it. Having said that, i have no hesitation in admitting that, User Interface (UI) would have been better, but the system still works better! I feel they should have given little more importance to UI aspect.

I guess this is just an example of one small entity of the government. Initiatives undertaken by National Informatics Center, National e-governance service delivery system, India portal, India Development gateway, etc, would reflect the spread of ICT in the system of governance. If you think government sector is no better user of technology, think again!

Stronger implementation mechanism, not Food Security Bill, can better feed hungry India

Sunday, August 1, 2010

There is no dearth of talent in Indian bureaucracy, since the selection process is highly competitive, but the problem lies elsewhere. We have some innovative food security schemes like Antyodaya Anna yojana (AAY), Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS), Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), etc.. But the real problem is at the implementation stage. No matter how innovative the scheme is, if it is not able to deliver it’s benefits to targeted people, due to the hurdles in implementation, it’s of no use. The intentions of proposed Food Security Bill, no doubt, are novel and guided by principles of equality and justice, but if this becomes another scheme placed under the existing implementation mechanism, it will be a disaster for BPL families.

The Food Security Bill has proposed to,
  1.  Provide 25kg of rice/wheat at Rs.3 per month. 
  2. Benefit approximately 260 million Below Poverty Line (BPL) people.
  3. Benefit the households headed by single women, HIV infected and mentally ill people, bonded labors, destitute etc..
  4. Also, Senior citizen, single women and physically challenged can eat at ICDS centers or at Mid Day Meal in schools.
  5. And policy makers have suggested that the construction workers, street vendors, rickshaw pullers, domestic workers, and all covered by Antyodaya Anna yojana (AAY) are also included.
It all sounds good and beneficial to common man. But there are hidden shortcomings under the scheme which we might end up realizing only when it fails to deliver to targeted people, as it happened in many good schemes before.
  1. It proposes to provide only 25kg of rice/wheat per month which is 10kg less than the present 35kg of foodgrains provided under exising Public Distribution System.
  2. More over, the bill, unlike what the Congress president had suggested in her note, limits itself to distribution of wheat and rice and does not take a wider view of nutritional security.
  3. While the states have already distributed more than 10 crore BPL cards, the Centre's estimate of BPL families is way smaller, at 6.52 crore. And states have to bear the burden,  if they decide to pass on the benefits to all the poor.
  4. This bill, if passed, would replace the existing food security schemes [?] and this may put thousands of BPL families in a difficult situation. (Ex: Coverage, both population wise and the variety of foodgrains provided).
  5. There are possibilities of increased food subsidies amounting to Rs. 70,000 crore per annum if the Bill becomes a law.
On the other hand, It is important to realize that, we need a law to bring the benefits like those enshrined in the Food security bill to the common man. What we need at this point of time is strengthening of existing schemes and our public distribution system. Instead of better implementation of the already existing schemes such as TPDS, AAY, ICDS, MDMS, etc the Food Security law might make things unduly worse and unnecessarily complicated.

The core problems arising out of all the shortcomings of Food security bill are,
  1. Identification of “actual” poor,
  2. Inefficient Public Distribution System,
  3. Corruption (middlemen),
  4. Widening the food basket.
Most of these core problems are faced during the implementation stages. As Economic Survey articulates, “To assume that all those entrusted with the task of administering the programme will do so flawlessly and then to blame them when the system fails, is not the mark of good strategist. For effective policy, what is needed is to take people to be the way they are and then create ‘incentive-compatible interventions’”.

There are many ways overcome the implementation hurdles, some of them can be noted here. These alternative mechanisms were suggested in many policy discussions and the Economic Survey 2009-10.

The Coupon System:
The two planks of this system are,
  1. The subsidy should be handed over directly to the households, instead of giving it to the PDS store-keeper in the form of cheap grain and then have him deliver it to the needy households.
  2. The household should be given the freedom to choose which store it buys the food from.
Suppose, the BPL household gets the subsidy of Rs.X for wheat each month. Instead of giving this by charging the household less than the market price of wheat, it should be given coupons worth Rs.X which can be used at PDS stores in lieu of money when buying wheat. And the poor consumer should be allowed to exchange the coupons with foodgrains at any PDS store rather than at a pre-allocated store.

Such a system will be more impervious to corruption. Since the store owners will get the same price for grain from all buyers, poor and rich, he will have no incentive, to turn the poor buyers away, as happens currently.

The UID Scheme:
For the full success of this “coupons system” what is needed is an effective method of identifying the poor. This is where the unique identification (UID) system, an initiative already launched, comes into play. Since UID system will come into effect in 2012, it is possible to plan on a switch to a coupons system by 2012.

The way forward
Thus, the core problems of identifying the poor, corruption (middlemen) and hurdles in public distribution system can be checkmated by such alternative system. Under this alternative  implementation mechanism, even if the government substantially cuts back total size of the subsidy, we should still see more households getting more benefits than they currently do!

The proposed food security bill, if passed, without having foolproof implementation framework would be a disaster. The need of the hour is to strengthen the existing implementation mechanism before the Food Security Bill is enacted.

It's high time for the world to realize it's the time for Africa!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Way back in 2006-07, when I saw Blood Diamond for the first time, plight of children who were conscripted into the rebel forces dragged me into continued catharsis for a long time. Just for the fact that such things (still?) exist in Africa. Today, when I saw a picture of kids in Africa playing “soccer with a ball made out of plastic bags on a dirt pitch in a small town in Branfort, outside Bloemfontein, South Africa, where the historical legacy of the Boer war is inescapable.”
Two contrasting pictures!
That picture of Dia, son of Solomon Vandy in Blood Diamond and the picture of those kids playing soccer gives a contrasting picture of Africa. Africa has come a long way from those days of slave trade, to the days of Boer war and reached a time where it can host the biggest single sporting event in the human history. The story of this transition has seen many wars and subsequent socio-economic crisis, violation of human rights, extreme poverty and many humanitarian crisis. Africa sees FIFA World Cup 2010 as an all-important event marking the end of ‘transition’ and the beginning of what it hopes will be a post racial era. The world cup is the final stamp of world approval that will help Africa put a lid on the past.

FIFA World cup 2010 will be remembered, for a long time to come, for various reason.

Firstly, for Africa. World Cup has given the continent a chance to present a more positive image to the world. Glare of international publicity helps Africa to draw attention on various issues like Rwanda, HIV-AIDS, Starvation, Darfur, Poverty, etc. The mega event has provided a stage for Africa to project it’s culture. It will help endorse the South African idea of “Rainbow Nation” which is supported by greats like Nelson Mandela. This African opportunity can be best described in the words of South Africa's President, Mr Thabo Mbeki, "We want to ensure that one day, historians will reflect upon the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict. We want to show that Africa's time has come.”

Secondly, for Geo-political and economic importance of Africa. As president Mbeki said, time has come for Africa. “If we have the World Cup [here],” said one African official, “we will not be the same again.” Africa is important to the world and especially to developed nations not just for trade in growing African market, but also for various issues of social, economic, humanitarian and also security issues. Entire world is in the verge of realization that, without peaceful and poverty free Africa, one cannot think of peaceful world and prosperous global society. This world cup can take this message far and wide.

Thirdly, for FIFA, this event will expand it’s territory. “FIFA’s conscious effort to go global began in 1994 World cup. First time the world cup exited its traditional Europe-Latin America orbit. The commercial success of 1994 despite the absence of prior fan-base, encouraged further expansion and 2002 saw the world cup entering Asia for the first time with South Korea and Japan as co-hosts. World cup 2010 effectively marks the conquest of the globe by brand FIFA and its efforts to market the most popular game known to humanity [EPW, June 12, 2010 issue].”

Finally, for the future of soccer in Africa. "You can't find anyone in Africa who says, 'I don't care about football.' This time, many African players might have been made to “watch others score the goals”, but future will not be same for African teams. Many African players like Samuel Eto’t(Cameroon, Inter Milan), Didier Drogba(Chelsea), Micheal Essien(Ghana, Chelsea), Frederic Kanoute(Mali, Sevilla) and others have shown their talent in European leagues. This world cup will take the soccer to African corners where it was unheard of and we aren’t too far from seeing world class players from Africa.

“The World Cup is the tournament by which most countries measure themselves. It is the most visible way nations are represented on the global stage [Alan Bairner].” With South Africa acting as ambassador for the whole continent in this FIFA world cup, Africa can project a dynamic image of the continent despite prevailing poverty. As I mentioned before, without peaceful and poverty free Africa, one cannot think of peaceful world and prosperous global society. It’s high time for the world to realize that it’s the time for Africa!

What really motivates insurgents to bloody their hands?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On almost everyday in the last two months, I woke up with news stories depicting the brutality of insurgents. A 16 year old girl who fled the Maoist camp was allegedly raped by the Maoists [May 2]. Eight Indian paramilitary troopers were killed when Naxalite rebels blew up a police vehicle in the central state of Chhattisgarh [May 8]. Six villagers were murdered by slitting their throats by the maoists [May 16]. Two similar blasts in Dantewada killed over hundred security personnel [April 6 and May 17]. Gyaneshwari Express derailment before an oncoming goods train hit the loose carriages that killed at least 100 passengers [May 28]. Last two months were undoubtedly the bloodiest times in the history of insurgency and have given enough nightmares to Home minister and his team.

One thing that has always puzzled me is, the kind of motivation and support naxalites get for violence. We often say, "I will kill you!" in our day to day conversations, but most of us really don't have that 'driving force' to kill some one! Where does that come from? What really motivates the comrades in the red corridor to bloody their hands? The fundamental reasons like poverty, lack of education, lack of exposure to outside world, etc, have been used by our political leaders so often that, they no more appeal to our reasoning. But then, what really motivates the insurgents?

Other side of the story
“You cannot end the world’s injustices without stirring a revolution. No revolution happens without bloodying your hands. We are fighting a people’s war – a protracted people’s war”, says a maoist comrade. Another comrade says, their struggle is "to end exploitation, oppression and block aggressive moves of big corporates and the state. More importantly, it is a long term struggle projecting a different type of living."

What does he mean by "different type of living"? He says, "This type of living is nothing but sustainable development; people’s friendly education; growing emancipation of women; a halt to domination and plunder of foreign and Indian exploiters; a new culture that rebuilds Adivasi traditions anew instead of mocking them."

But what stops them to lead their life in that way? "Government thinks that Maoists/Naxalites are the real obstacles in the plans of government to open up the whole country to the ravages of globalization. This is why, the Central and State governments devote funds and forces to suppress them evenwhile they cut down on social services with the plea of resource shortage." "It is certainly true that a number of monopolies like Tata, Mittal and Vedanta are just waiting to plunder the resources of these areas. A good part of it is slated for export as raw material to imperialist countries. The only thing preventing this right now is the people’s war and politicised Adivasi masses led by the CPI (Maoist)."

Core issues
Thus, the question of "control over resource" is involved in the tussle between government and the Maoists/Naxalites. But, "this is neither the sole issue, nor even the main one", comrades emphasize. Privatisation, displacement, environmental destruction, atrocities of the security forces and many other issues surface every now and then to keep their struggle alive.

History of exploitation
Exploitation caused by "interference" in their lives or the misuse of official powers by security forces is not new. The construction of railways during British Raj worsened their misery. The railway contractors used brute force to employ them cheaply on construction work and even kidnapped and raped Santal women. The railways even took away the grains produced by Santals and created food shortage. Silent protest of Santals until 1855 did not help at all. They started attacking Zamindars and money lenders, disrupted rail traffic. The Santal declared the end of company rule and proclaimed Santal Raj.

In the post independence era, atrocities of security forces in the red corridor area is one of the important reason for their fight against security personnel. It is disappointing to note that, staggering 48,939 cases  were filed against policemen in 2008-2009 for their (alleged) atrocities according to the report by the Crime Records Bureau [More here]. Government's mega projects in Naxal/Maoist affected areas have been the reasons for conflict and violence. Many of the acts passed by the parliament on land reforms and tribal rights have had a negative impact on the lives of Adivasis in insurgency affected areas. Their struggles and demands are mainly focused on Privatisation, displacement, environmental destruction, atrocities of the security forces, etc.

Demands of Maoists/Naxalites
The main premise of the Naxals was the upliftment of the poor peasants and they wanted the land tiller to be the land owners. But with time, the list of their demands kept growing. Now, following are the main demands [HT]:
  • A democratic atmosphere should be created in the State. The government should respect people's right to fight for their democratic demands.
  • Implement reforms in the agricultural sector like Land Ceiling Act.
  • Implement policies of industrialisation and other schemes based on local resources in place of the liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation policies being followed now.
  • Recognise the tribal people's rights on forest.
  • Form a separate Telangana State.
  • Cessation of atrocities on Dalits.
  • Recover money from the affluent who evade taxes.

Naxals never had a peaceful approach to attain their demands. They often resorted to violence. It's an irony that they soon started following what they had set out to crush--atrocities.

The way forward
There may be many factors motivating the Maoists/Naxals to create violence in our society. But nothing can justify the killing of innocent lives and security personnel. The so called "Gandhi with Gun"kind of reasoning is undoubtedly flawed and sounds like Gandhigir with Gundagiri! Something which can never co-exists. Such reasonings does not inspire the confidence of those who are trying to bring some peace in the lives of innocent people. There are certain genuine reasons behind Maoists/Naxalites struggle which definitely demand the attention from "mainstream government". Sooner the mainstream India accepts those genuine reasons, better it is for peaceful co-existence within our boundaries.

Two twitter fellas and the murky IPL controversy

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mr. Shashi Twittoor's wicket in the IPL controversy has opened a Pandora's box and heads have already started falling with Lalit Modi's departure. The IPL controversy is threatening to become the biggest cricket scandal ever, bigger even than the match fixing story of the 90s. Politicians, Sports Administrators, Cricketers, Bollywood Celebrities, Gangsters, Mafia, Businessmen, Models.. everyone seems to be involved. The Indian Premier League owes its success to millions of cricket fans across the world. Cricket lovers in India certainly deserve an explanation for all the mess that happened so far.

What is IPL controversy all about?
It all started with Mr. Tharoor's so called mentoring of the Kerala franchise. The war of words with (former) IPL boss, Lalit Modi, revealed that, Mr. Tharoor negotiated with Rendezvous for a higher share of "sweat equity" for his (girl) friend Sunanda Pushkar. This is not the first time Mr. Tharoor is helping someone who is very close to him. "When appointed head of the public affairs division in the UN headquarters in New York, he moved his girlfriend to the office next to him." More over, he is no stranger to controversies. His statements on Pandit Nehru's foreign policy, about Mahatma Gandhi, about India's stand on Indo-Pak relations and his "equivocal" comments on Twitter have created more problems and embarrassment to the government than solving the problems.

Note: Sweat equity is a term used to describe the contribution made to a project by people who contribute their time and effort.

Firstly, Mr. Tharoor's explanations on the sweat equity for Ms Pushkar was unsatisfactory. The minister had told Lok Sabha that “Rendezvous has clarified that it issued sweat equity to its associates in lieu of salary, which is a common practice around the world for start-up ventures”. It must be noted that, Ms Pushkar was awarded 19% stake in the 25% free equity owned by Rendezvous Sports World Pvt Ltd, the company that led the consortium that finally won the team. The value of Pushkar's stake is $15.82 million (about Rs 70 crore). However,
  • According to Section 79A of the Companies Act 1956, a company can issue “sweat equity” only a year after commencing business. The Kochi franchise was registered only on March 17, 2010.
  • A company cannot issue sweat equity shares for over 15% of the total paid-up capital in a year or shares of the value of Rs 5 crore, whichever is higher and the firm has to get prior approval of the government.  There is proof that Ms Pushkar got more than what is allowed under law.
More over, Mr Tharoor’s argument, that sweat equity was given to Ms Pushkar for providing “intellectual property” to the company, is flawed. For allotting shares for considerations other than tax, a company is supposed to conduct a valuation of the intellectual property. “It has to be carried out by a valuer before awarding sweat equity. In Ms Pushkar’s case, this was not carried out by the company. The explanation provided by the minister clearly shows his association with Rendezvous was not an indifferent one as he claims [Economic Times]. This triggered "trial by media" and Mr. Shashi Twittoor had to step down.

On the other hand, another Twitter fella, (former) IPL boss Lalit Modi, disclosed the names of some of the owners of the consortium that bought the Kochi franchise for $333 million. Modi has also alleged that he was told by Tharoor not to ask who these shareholders were. "The Franchise Agreement does have a confidentiality clause, which prohibits disclosure of the agreement, other than as might be required under the law, without the prior written agreement of both parties (the consortium and the IPL arm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India) [The Hindu]." Mr. Tharoor and the co-owner(s) of Kochi consortium have blamed Mr. Modi for betraying the confidentiality clause. The issue got even worst when a Kochi consortium co-owner has alleged that Mr. Modi offered the owners $50 million as a 'bribe' to withdraw from the bid after they had won it. The IPL Chairman has strenuously denied this.

This entire murky affair attracted the attention of the nation and raids by Income Tax department made the matters worst. BCCI and IPL governing council suddenly woke up (as if from deep sleep) and realized that there is something fishy in the entire gamut of IPL.

What really went wrong?
The primary purpose of corporate leadership is to create wealth legally and ethically. IPL management has given a decent burial to both legality and ethics. There are no well defined stringent rules to ensure the transparency in the management of IPL. There are serious doubts regarding the ownership of Kings XI Punjab, Rajasthan Royals, Kolkata Knight Riders franchises [More here and here]. There is enough proof to show Mr. Modi's finantial irregularities and his influence on bidding process [More here and here]. He ran the IPL like a one-man show. His dictator like leadership has struck coup de grâce to democratic decision making in corporate body (IPL). "He antagonised the BCCI general body, whose support he may need to remain in control. Mr. Modi embarrassed the Government on the apparent boycott of Pakistan players by team franchisees in the run-up to IPL3. As controversies swirled around him over financial irregularities and him influencing the bidding process, he shrugged-or tweeted-off the allegations as if the laws of the land and public scrutiny were such banalities meant only for lesser mortals. [India Today]"

This forced the BCCI boss Mr. Shashank Manohar to assert that, "IPL doesn’t belong to any individual. It remains a BCCI property and we don’t want anybody’s advise on who should run the tournament or how to go about organising it. The IPL’s governance is BCCI’s prerogative."

The way forward
Shashank Manohar is a powerful man who, unlike Mr. Modi, doesn't speak much and when he speaks every one listens. Mr. Manohar seems to be the right man in the right place. One can only hope that he plays a significant role in cleaning up the IPL mess [More here].

BCCI has already appointed a 3 member committee to probe into IPL functioning and the members of the opposition parties are demanding joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to look into the matter which is definitely a good idea. Government should seriously think about constituting a JPC to probe into IPL affairs. There is an urgent need to ensure greater transparency and accountability on the part of both the organizers and the franchisees. The Indian Premier League owes its success to millions of cricket fans across the world and cricket lovers in India certainly deserve an explanation for all the mess that happened so far.

We definitely need Nuclear Liability Bill, but not in haste

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ever since the Chernobyl disaster which killed thousands and affected millions, there have been number of efforts to create common international standards on liability and compensation; so that the responsibility of such a disaster can be fixed and the victims of the disaster are given a fair compensation. There are four international conventions on nuclear liability issue. The 1960 Paris Convention, The 1963 Vienna Convention, 1997 Protocol to Amend Vienna Convention  and 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. India is not a party to any of these conventions and hence has no legal obligation to adhere to these conventiosn.

There are about 30 countries that operate civil nuclear power. Most of these countries have "some sort of nuclear liability act in force in their territory either as a result of adherence to these international conventions or through enacting national liability law." In India, "there is no provision in the Indian Atomic Energy Act, 1962 about either nuclear liability or compensation for nuclear damage due to nuclear accident or incident. Nor are there any other laws that deal with nuclear liability. It was in this context that the new law (The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill) has been proposed and also on the necessity of joining an appropriate international liability regime [Indian Express]."

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill says, "The liability due to any damage caused by these plants are borne by the central government. ... It caps the liability of any incident at SDR 300 million (approximately Rs 2100 crore at current conversion rates); the maximum liability of any single operator is capped at Rs 500 crore.  The liability of any damage beyond this level will lie with the central government [PRS]."

What does it mean?
The liability of the operator of (civil) nuclear facility is capped at Rs 500 Crore. This means,  "Central Government shall be liable for nuclear damage in respect of a nuclear incident when such liability exceeds the Rs.500-crore liability limit of the operator or where the accident occurs in a nuclear installation owned by it [i.e. the Indian government]."

Currently, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for the generation of nuclear power for electricity. NPCIL is the only power utility company in India which uses nuclear fuel sources and hence it becomes the sole operator responsible for nuclear power generation. Since it is owned by government of India, NPCIL's liability becomes the liability of the government and hence the burden falls on tax payers. Thus, in case of nuclear emergency, the suppliers will have no responsibility whatsoever to compensate the victims and all the compensation has to be borne by government and hence tax payers.

On the other hand, "the foreign reactor builder (supplier) — however culpable it is for a nuclear accident — will be completely immune from any victim-initiated civil suit or criminal proceedings in an Indian court or in a court in its home country. So, even if the accident were triggered by wilful negligence on the part of the foreign supplier and the consequences were catastrophic, all claims would have to be filed against the Indian state."

How does this "liability" work in US?
In the united states, Price-Anderson Act deals with the issue of nuclear liability. This act makes the suppliers legally liable for damages caused by the nuclear emergency. But, this liability is "channeled" to the facility operator. What this means is, "in US, the supplier is insured under the nuclear liability facility form policy written by the American Nuclear Insurers (ANI) and purchased by the facility operator." i.e. the supplier is insured under (or with?) ANI and that insurance is purchased by the facility operator. Thus, the supplier is virtually free from legal responsibilities. [More on this here]

Why US wants India to have a liability bill?
"India is on record wanting to buy 10,000 MW of nuclear reactors from the US suppliers. The US nuclear industry wants the billions of dollars in profits from Indian sales, but does not want any risks: good old risk-free capitalism, US style. This is the genesis of the nuclear liability bill – a hefty subsidy from Indian tax payers for the US to be able to market its reactors. [Read More]"
 
What do critics say about the bill?
  1. The Price Anderson Act in the United States capped liability at an amount 23 times higher than the sum the Indian Bill seeks to fix.
  2. Russians and the French were doing nuclear business with India without demanding this kind of legislation.
  3. There cannot be a situation where the foreign supplier has zero liability, and the public sector and the Indian government have all the responsibility and the liability.
  4. However, no liability will be fixed on the foreign supplier companies even if there is a mishap because of a manufacturing defect. This provision has been strongly opposed by the Left, the BJP and environment groups.
  5. "Government was bringing the law in the PSU regime and may perhaps allow private companies to run nuclear power plants in the country who would be liable under the same rule of law". Though government doesn't intend to bring in private players, "Who knows what the government will do after the law is passed?" Read More.
The way forward
In the united states, American Nuclear Insurers (ANI) plays a significant role. ANI's purpose is to pool the financial assets pledged by it's member companies to provide the significant amount of property and liability insurance required for nuclear power plants and related facilities throughout the world. But in India, there is no institution like ANI and government becomes the insurer of last resort. Government cannot be lenient towards the suppliers and the responsibility of damages should be shared by suppliers at least to a reasonable extent. There cannot be a situation where the foreign supplier has zero liability, and the public sector and the Indian government have all the responsibility and the liability.

In the recent years, though the nuclear industry has achieved an impressive safety record, we cannot say we can obviate an unpredictable emergency situation. Under such context, The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill has crucial role to play and Government of India and the people of India cannot afford a hasty decision on this issue. Government definitely needs to take a second look at the framework of the bill.

Women's Reservation bill may be a blunt instrument, but no one has suggested anything better

Monday, March 8, 2010

"The issue of empowerment of women has been raised in different fora in the country from time to time. Political empowerment of women is rightly perceived as a powerful and indispensable tool for eliminating gender inequality and discrimination." Positive discrimination has been one of finest discovery of the democracy in order to create equality of opportunity for the hitherto deprived sections of society. Indian women had been ignored since the time unknown. It is high time that our society gives enough attention to the cause of women's rights. After all, "Our full potential as a nation will only be realised when women, who constitute about half of our population, can fully realise their potential."

"What a gift it would be if in the centenary year of International Women's Day the Women's Reservation Bill were to be passed." Despite the noble intentions, the bill couldn't be passed in Rajya Sabha today. It is unfair to say that the issues raised by the opponents are not genuine. But in any case, women - whether they belong to upper castes or lower castes or middle castes - should be represented equally or adequately.

What does the bill say?
  1. The Bill seeks to reserve, as nearly as possible, one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies (including Delhi). The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament.
  2. As nearly as possible, one third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies shall be reserved for SC/ST women.
  3. Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the Act.
  4. Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory. If a state or union territory has only one seat in the Lok Sabha, that seat shall be reserved for women in the first general election of every cycle of three elections. If there are two seats, each shall be reserved once in a cycle of three elections. Similar rules apply for seats reserved for SC/STs. Of the two seats in the Lok Sabha reserved for Anglo Indians, one will be reserved for women in each of the two elections in a cycle of three elections.
What do the critics say?
  1. Opponents argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. They also contend that this policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy.
  2. Reservation of seats in Parliament restricts choice of voters to women candidates. Therefore, some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies.
  3. Rotation of reserved constituencies in every election may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
  4. Reservation would not lead to political empowerment of women because (a) larger issues of electoral reforms such as measures to check criminalisation of politics, internal democracy in political parties, influence of black money, etc. have not been addressed.
  5. it could lead to election of “proxies” or relatives of male candidates.
What do the proponents say?
The proponents of the policy of reservation state that although equality of the sexes is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not the reality. Therefore, vigorous affirmative action is required to improve the condition of women. Also, there is evidence that political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from reservation. A study about the effect of reservation for women in panchayats shows that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women’s concerns. A 2008 study, commissioned by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, reveals that a sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive an enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability.

What is quota within quota issue?
To put it simple, quota within quota means, "sub-reservation for STs, SCs, OBCs and Minority communities within the 33 percent quota."

The main political parties who oppose the bill say that, the bill is a conspiracy by the Congress and the BJP to prevent Muslims, backwards and Dalits to get elected to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. Contending that the reservation would benefit only upper caste women, they have demanded a separate quota for OBC women.  On this issue, PMK has given a written view that,

“...this means that within seats reserved for Scheduled Castes men one third seats will be reserved for SC women. This implies that other women belonging to Backward Classes, Minorities and other weaker sections of the society, who now enjoy benefits under various Government programmes such as education, employment, development programmes are deprived of political reservation. This is against the concept of equality and runs contrary to Constitutional provisions. It discriminates between women of different groups and will enable increased representation of only women from upper castes, which would perpetuate the already raging disparities among women. This unjust situation has to be remedied...."
Noting that, "not a single Muslim was elected to Parliament from states like Gujarat, MP, Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana", the opponents say,  "how can a Muslim woman could be elected without reservation? This bill is dangerous as women have been included in reservation being extended to Muslims, OBCs and SC/ST. If this bill is enacted, especially Muslims and OBCs would be at the receiving end."

Under this context it is interesting to note what Nationalist Congress Party has to say,
"...we don’t find any need for reasons for special quota for OBC within the women’s quota as suggested from certain quarters. Now there are 429 seats excluding reserved seats for SC/ST category in the Parliament. There is no reservation for OBC in the abovementioned existing unreserved seats. But still there is good representation for OBC category in the Parliament at present. Same is the case of OBC category in the State Assemblies as well....."
The way forward
If one takes a closer look at various opinions noted in the Parliamentary standing committee report,  it is abundantly clear that, there is some truth in what the opponent parties like RJD and SP are saying. It may be foolishness to think of women empowerment if only women from political houses enter the houses of parliament and assemblies. The very idea of women reservation is to give opportunity to those who may not get that opportunity under normal circumstances. Reservation for women belonging Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribes in local bodies have given a fruitful results (with some exceptions though). It is the responsibility of the government to address these genuine concerns and those concerns are too big to be ignored.

But in any case it is important for us to note what National Federation of Indian Women says, "we want reservation for women, they may belong to upper castes or lower castes or middle castes. We won’t mind, but women should be represented equally or adequately....... we cannot reject the Bill on any of these issues that are being raised and sought to be solved within the ambit of the Bill."

Some are of the opinion that, "Women's reservation bill itself is a bias towards women" and they would be happier "if women could stand up for their rights on the basis of merit, and not on the basis of reservations." True, but they must understand that the equality of opportunity must be seen in historical and constitutional context (follow the link for more on that). There was a time when women expected nothing but oppression and discrimination in the society. Today, there is a need for "positive discrimination" for attaining gender equality.

"Reservation may be a blunt instrument, but no one has suggested anything better." Do you think of any better alternatives to reservation so that "good things" that come out of reservation can still be retained?

Also Read:
  1. Women's Reservation Bill - Not yet a dead letter "again"
  2. Women's Reservation Bill - The end of U turn?
  3. Women's Reservation Bill: Parliament set to create history
  4. Gender-less democracies - The Hindu.

This post has used the data and analysis already made by PRS Legislative Research.

What's your Idea of India? Do you have one?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Every time a linguistic chauvinist attacks a helpless migrant from other state, every time the religious fundamentalists, terrorists, Naxalites and Maoists attack the innocent lives, we tend to question the very foundation of our nation - "The idea of India." When Thackerays test the idea of India, equality and freedom enshrined in our constitution are challenged. When religious fundamentalists desecrate the places of worship, the freedom of religion in our country is questioned. When Naxals and Maoists kill the innocent lives in the remote villages, our right to life and liberty is attacked. When we cannot convict the culprits even after decades of legal fight, the justice guaranteed in our constitution is challenged.

Looking at these challenges we are facing in our country today, don't you think we are going back to square one where we fought hard for these fundamental rights? Can these challenges be overcome? Yes!, says our home minister:
"Every challenge tests the will and determination of the people. The US emerged stronger from a civil war. Winston Churchill led the British people in the defence of their island against a powerful enemy and vowed “we shall never surrender.” Japan rose from the ashes to become a world economic power. Belying all predictions, the Wall was brought down and Germany was united. The peaceful rise of China is liberating millions of people from poverty. India is no stranger to the “can do” spirit; it was best exemplified by the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi who said “Be the change that you want to see.” Our challenges – formidable as they are – can be overcome."
As he rightly points out in his speech at 6th Nani A. Palkhivala Memorial Lecture, "The idea of India" is important to overcome the challenges we are facing today. It is interesting to note from his speech that, "we draw that idea from our own circumstances – birth, family, upbringing, education and the like. That idea is also shaped by our experiences like success and failure, joy and sorrow. It is also influenced by others such as family members, friends, adversaries, colleagues and superiors. Ultimately, each one of us forms an idea of India. In the case of most people, the idea of India is vague, undefined and with barely visible contours; yet with a little prodding, it is possible to draw out every person to define his or her idea of India."

In our country, we have thousands of individuals fighting for their own "idea of India". Some fight for "improvement in the living standards and access to all basic needs such that a person has enough food, water, shelter, clothing, health, education etc.", some fight for "A stable political, social and economic environment, with associated political social and economic freedoms, such as equitable ownership of land and property." And of course, there are many others fighting for many other noble causes.

As Mr. Chidambaram puts it, "all these ideas put together, makes the Idea of India". If Mahatma Gandhi's words - “Be the change that you want to see” - are taken under this context, each one of our ideas can change the lives around. However small or big is our idea of India, it is important that we have one.

Why Democrats need 60 votes in the Senate to breath safely

Friday, January 22, 2010

Recent victory of Scott Brown has sent a cold shiver down the spine of every Democrat who supported President Obama's signature health care bill. With his victory, Brown becomes the 41st Republican vote in the Senate, the upper house of American Congress, having total membership of 100. Now, why is this number, 41, so important for Republicans? Why democrats are apprehensive of safe passage of the health care bill? Why could it possibly shatter Obama's health care dream?

Checks and Balances, Filibuster
Congress of the United States is bicameral and the Senate sees itself as a check against the more-populist whims of the House of Representatives, i.e. the lower house of American Congress. The principle of Checks and Balances enshrined in the American constitution ensures certain degree of control of one branch of the government over the other (Executive, Legislature and Judiciary being three branches of the government). Since the Congress of the United States is bicameral, the Legislative branch of the government has a degree of self-checking. In United States, for a bill to become law, both the houses must agree upon the bill (and sort out the differences if any). [You may want to know, How a Bill Becomes a Law in USA. Read here or here]. The Senate has created long-standing rules that make it easier for its members to block bills. One of the most famous way is a filibuster, which means a senator can control the floor indefinitely to block a vote.

Cloture
The Senate rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak on the bill as long as they wish. This gives Republicans to go on debating health care bill indefinitely. However, this kind of marathon debate can be brought to an end if 3/5th  of the Senators (i.e. 60 out of 100 Senators "duly chosen and sworn") agree to end the debate. In parliamentary procedure, this process of bringing the debate to an end with the support of 3/5th members of the house is called Cloture. i.e. "if a minority of 40 senators refuses to stop talking, then you need 60 of them to invoke the rule that shuts the others up and allows the bill to come to vote. If you don't have 60 votes to break the filibuster, it doesn't matter if you have 50 votes to pass the bill."

Why Scott Brown's Victory is so crucial?
Thus, if Democrats wants to stop the debate and make way for safe passage of the health care bill, they need the support of at least 60 senators. Since the Senate has 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans and 2 independents, Democrats alone cannot ensure the end of health care debate in the Senate, even if they have the support of 2 independents. They still need one more Republican vote. This is where Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts - that was long held by a democrat, Edward M. Kennedy - has become crucial for Republicans and thrown the democrats into disarray.

It's not just for the health care bill, but Republicans can frustrate Obama by using filibuster for each and every other bill. Thus, delaying or blocking the bills altogether. May be this is the reason why Obama said that the country's institutions are not matching up to those sound values of American people.

The way ahead: Available alternatives for Obama
Democrats could try to convince a Republican (and 2 independents) to support their bill. Olympia Snowe, of Maine, did vote for a health reform bill in committee, but Republicans such as Utah's Orrin Hatch seem confident Snowe would oppose a final bill.

Another obvious possibility is Democrats could scale down the scope of the bill to try to garner Republican support.

In the worst case, Democrats "could try to use a relatively arcane rule called reconciliation that only requires 51 votes in the Senate, but only involves budget items. Leading Democrats are even confused on how this works and are now discussing the matter with their lawyers." [Read more about reconciliation procedure here].

In the most unlikely case, Democrats with their majority in the Senate can choose to do away with filibuster itself and then ensure a safe passage of the bill (57 democrates, which is 6 more than the majority of the house). But, current Senate rules state that 67 (2/3rd majority) votes are required for future rule changes. However, in 1892 Supreme Court of the United states ruled that, changes to Senate rules could however be achieved by a simple majority. Thus, the filibuster could be changed by majority (51 out of 100) vote(s), using the so-called Nuclear option, also called the "constitutional option" for political reasons and because of its roots in constitutional majoritarianism. However this may not be in the democratic interest of American people.

Whatever the case may be, Obama has a rough road ahead.

Further Reading:
  1. G.O.P. Senate Victory Stuns Democrats - NY Times.
  2. Cloture, Filibuster on wiki.
  3. Would a final reform bill need 60 votes?
  4. The 50-Vote Senate by Ezra Klein
  5. Dream Killer: How Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts will kill health reform.

Police Reforms: Too Important to Neglect, Too Urgent to Delay

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"The public perceive the police as a "closed fraternity"; they are rude, cruel and corrupt; they are partisan during communal riots; they are not "popular"; they are politically pliable; they are "inactive if there is no pressure, excessively reactive if there is pressure and rarely professionally proactive"; they are "criminals in uniform"; they are also immoral [The Hindu]." Back in 2006, Noida (Nithari) killings "shook the conscience of the Indian society. The Noida incident was a pointer to the breakdown of policing at each level, particularly at the cutting edge level, and the complete erosion of police as the basic institution for internal security [src]." The recent Ruchika Girhotra case has aggravated the already damaged the image of police system. It is high time for us to realize that our country needs sweeping reforms in outdated, colonial era police system.

Need for Police reforms
The existing police system was created in an age in which the crimes as witnessed in the contemporary society were far from imagination. Indian police force was trained in the past to serve the objective of colonial rule and has not yet been granted the much needed autonomy, resources. Over the past one and half century, though the performance of police is NOT entirely disappointing, we have seen a "steady deterioration of standards of policing, the increasing lawlessness amongst the policemen themselves and the attitude of complacency and complicity amongst the leadership in the police organizations."

Existing police system functions in an authoritarian setting. "It has become a coercive apparatus of the government. We need reforms to make police efficient, effective, people friendly and accountable;  to arrest the corruption and break the police nexus with anti-social elements; to bring attitudinal changes in police personnel to assist the community when needed. We need a new framework for police system which can "reflect the expectations of the people regarding the police in the modern democratic society. The use of scientific investigation methods to strengthen the criminal justice system, enabling the police to tackle futuristic trends and organized crime including cyber crime." All in all, we need 21st century police system to deal with 21st century crimes.

Efforts made so far
From 1947, commission after commission has criticized the police system.  Justice Dayal commission of inquiry into the riots in various parts of the country in 1967 found that, "either there was no police force to deal with the mischief-makers or it had no directions to act." Dating from 1979, successive governments have promised police reforms to the people of India. Recommendations for reform made by several police commissions, at national as well as State levels, are kept in cold storage, all because of vested interests, bureaucratic and political.

Shah Commission of Inquiry appointed to look into excesses committed during the Emergency. The National Police Commission (NPC) chaired by Dharam Vira appointed in 1977 submitted eight reports between 1979 and 1981 suggesting wide ranging reforms in the existing police set-up. The reports were so comprehensive that, "the successive committees—Rebeiro (1998), Padmanabhaiah (2000), Malimath (2000), which situated the police reforms in the Criminal Justice System framework and Soli Sorabji (2005), appointed to draft a new Police Act—have used the NPC report and recommendations therein as the reference point."

More over, Supreme court has  issued several directives to reform the existing police system. Ironically, many sought revision of orders by supreme court, albeit unsuccessfully. Directions of the Supreme Court to all State Govts. in a PIL filed by an ex-Police Officer (Prakash Singh vs. Union of India – WP No. 310 0f 1996) have been systematically ignored. Justice Mishra’s recommendations for police investigations, Supreme court Judgement in Vineet Narain 1998, Vohra Committee recommendations and several other measures suggested by various judgments/committees haven't found a place in governments agenda of reforms.

Soli Sorabjee Committee on Police Reforms
"The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, having visualized the long-felt need to replace the 146 year old Police Act 1861, set up a Committee of Experts, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Soli J. Sorabjee, , former Attorney General, Government of India. in September 2005 to draft a new Police Act 2007 that could meet, inter alia, the growing challenges to policing and to fulfil the democratic aspirations of the people.The Committee had been tasked to draft a new Police Act in view of the changing role/responsibility of police and the challenges.[Read More]"

The committee has made sweeping recommendations and if implemented the country could see a new era of police system. Some of the recommendations include,
  • State Police Complaint Authority to look after the complaints of misconduct against the officers of the rank of SP and above. The "District Complaint Authority" would look into the complaints against officers of the rank DSP and below.
  • Noting that accountability of police officers is paramount, the committee suggested to introduce criminal penalties for some of the common derelictions like non-registration of FIR, unlawful arrest and detentions.
  • National Security Commission headed by the union home minister for the selection and placement of chiefs of central police organizations like BSF, CRPF, SSB, CISF, etc.. In states the State Security Commission would act as a watchdog and be headed by the Chief minister.
  • Fixed tenure for senior officers so that they are free of "political transfers". The "Police Establishment Board" would look after transfers, postings and promotion of officers below the rank of DSP and other personnel.
  • Bifurcation of investigation and law and order duties. This, if implemented, will definitely help improve the quality of investigation and hence the conviction rate.

The recommendations made by Soli Sorabjee committee have a far reaching implications and it is only hoped that these are implemented at the earliest and in letter and spirit. More over, in March 2008, Supreme court has expressed its willingness to have a committee in place to monitor the implementations of police reforms across all states, union territories including the center.

The way forward
Noida (Nithari) Killings of 2006, Ruchika Girhotra case have again ignited the debate of police reforms. As a first sign, Central Police Awards Committee (CPAC) "has taken a generic decision to authorize the Ministry of Home Affairs to recommend the withdrawal of police medal to all persons who are convicted for moral turpitude and for an act that brings disrespect to police forces, or any officer who is dismissed from the service by Centre or the state for his act which brought disrepute to the police.”

Modern day police need to be highly professional, service oriented, free from extraneous influences and yet accountable to the people. Today, there is a general agreement for replacing the colonial era Police Act of 1861. The new Police Act, as proposed by the government based on the recommendations of Soli Sorabjee Committee, has codified many reform recommendations in the past including measures for attitudinal changes of police. Also, the concern for human rights, weaker sections, women have been addressed.

It is high time that both the government and the civil society take responsibility for the police reforms. There are reforms that people can initiate. "Every society gets the police it deserves. After all, policemen come from the same society and reflect the attitudes and behaviors that are found in the society."Civil Society and the media can help improve the status and efficiency of the police by exposing the loop holes. If "people can cooperate in law enforcement, there is bound to be welcome response from other side that eventually results in better law and order situation." It is not fair to blame the government all the time. It's time for the people to accept their responsibilities and force the government to realize that police reforms are too important to neglect and too urgent to delay.

Further Reading
  1. Police Reforms initiatives in India - A report
  2. Police Reforms at Sixty.
  3. CHRI: Police Reforms.
  4. Analysis of Police Act 2007.
  5. A judicial nudge to long-overdue police reforms - The Hindu.

Overcoming the implementation hurdles of NREGS

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In the last six decades, India has experimented large number of policies and programs to wipe out poverty. India has a long history and experience in creating unique policies and programs such as, Community Development Programme, Minimum Needs Programme, Twenty Point Programme, Training of rural youth for Self Employment, National Rural Development Programme, Integrated Rural Development Programme, Antyodaya Yojana, Indira Awasa Yojana, Swarnajayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana, etc.. Long history of these programmes suggests that, there is no dearth of policy making talent in India. Our bureaucrats have come up with innovative ideas to change the lives around. But when it comes to the implementation of those innovative ideas, the government institutions have failed significantly.

All the programmes and policies experimented so far were intended more or less for three important tasks - reduction of poverty, creation of employment, and minimizing inequality. One of the major factor in the failure of many policies in the past is that they were all "supply driven", meaning, "giving fish to the poor rather than teaching him how to fish." Addressing this issue has been the major focus of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). In contrast to earlier programmes, NREGS is a demand driven programme, meaning, "providing work only if it is demanded." The demand is created through various projects in the scheme. On the one hand, this programmes is intended to build rural infrastructure and on the other hand, it is empowering rural India by providing employment (on demand). It is addressing all three requirements - reduction of poverty, creation of employment, and minimizing inequality - to empower rural India. More over, it is said that, "impressive participation of women in NREGS is a harbinger of social change."

"NREGS is one of the greatest experiments undertaken in India to eradicate poverty. The scheme has been launched to supplement the error and gaps of all previous schemes with involvement ofPanchayats , civil societies and local administration. Poor families were targeted to give benefits of employments and livelihood to supplement their family income [Kurukshetra, December 2009]." However, like in the past, this scheme too has suffered various implementation problems.
  1. Accountability has been undermined. Example, In Orissa, out of Rs. 733 crores spend under NREGS, more than Rs. 500 crores was unaccounted for, probably siphoned off and misappropriated by government officials.
  2. Fake job cards and fabricated muster rolls exaggerated the benefits of the scheme.
  3. The social audit was non-existent, which is vital for transparency. 
  4. There was an apathy towards creating awareness about the programme. For example, in some districts it appeared that people knew very little aboutwork-site entitlements like place of rest during work, crèche facilities for the workers’ babies, safe drinking water facilities, and medical treatment in case of accidents and compensation entitlement in case of death during work.
  5. Tampering of muster rolls, delayed payments, use of machines to siphon off funds, etc were common problems in many districts.
  6. Lack of adequate and devoted administrative and technical staff for NREGS is the major reason for procedural lapses.
So far, there have been number of suggestions to tackle all these problems, but the inertia developed in the past has been proving difficult to overcome. Many policy analysts have suggested that,
  1. Dedicated and fully trained full-time professionals should be appointed for the effective implementation of the scheme.
  2. Role of panchayats in proper planning, implementation and monitoring of NREGS should be enhanced.
  3. Proper maintenance of job cards, muster rolls and other records relating to the scheme at the block and panchayat level should be ensured.
  4. Massive programme to generate awareness about NREGS.
  5. Other measures to improve accountability and transparancy.
Though most of them sound important and "must have" procedures, they can still be deceived by those who siphon of the benefits. The fundamental problem in incorporating these suggestions is that, we do not have a strong Ombudsman system at local level (To give you a quick idea, Lokayukta is one good example for Ombudsman system at state level). There is a need to appoint district level and block level Ombudsman who will receive complaints directly from the 'common man' and facilitate their disposal in accordance with the law. District collector may be given adequate powers to facilitate this Ombudsman system. Just as higher officials are apprehensive of Lokayukta, the local level officials will be careful enough to avoid corrupt practices which would otherwise be brought to the light by local Ombudsman. It is interesting to note that Kerala has already set up a local Ombudsman system, take a look.

Also, in realizing the goals of government policies social audit plays an important role. "Social audit helps to narrow gaps between vision/goal and reality, between efficiency and effectiveness. Social auditing creates an impact upon governance. It values the voice of stakeholders, including marginalized/poor groups whose voices are rarely heard. Social auditing is taken up for the purpose of enhancing local governance, particularly for strengthening accountability and transparency in local bodies [FAO]." It is high time that the social audit procedures should be brought in the picture to enhance the quality of implementation of the programmes.

Unique Identification Development Authority of India (UIDA) has a significant role to play in the implementation of public policies. So far, identifying the real beneficiaries has been a major problem. For example, under many schemes, most of the benefits have gone to the powerful section where as 'poor man' continued to suffer. Unique identity card can play a significant role in identifying the real beneficiaries.

Programmes like NREGS are real drivers of rural economy. They are the foundations of rural empowerment. Unless we build sound mechanisms and frameworks for systematic and transparent implementation of these programmes, empowering India remains a distant dream.

PS: Some of the facts and data used in this post are from Kurukshetra, December 2009 issue.

Further Reading:
  1. Know everything about NREGS.
  2. NREGS's official website.
  3. NREGS on wiki.
  4. Read December 2009 issue of Kurukshetra.
  5. A primer to NREGS.

"The Powers to LEAD" - by Joseph Nye

Saturday, January 2, 2010

One and half years back, I had bought this book, "The Powers to Lead" written by Joseph Nye, Professor at Harvard Kennedy school of government. Looking at the amount of dust it carried over the last many months, i decided to finish reading this book as soon as I can: as one of my resolution for the new year;  glad i could finish it in two days!

Ever since the ruling power was transitioned from Kings to the Presidents and Prime Ministers, the interest in leadership studies received a new momentum. So far there have been 8 major theories of leadership. "Trait-centered approach dominated the scene up to the late 1940s, but scholars found it impossible to identify all the traits that predicted leadership under all conditions." Later scholars tried to figure out all the variables which could determine good leadership. But it was difficult to make a complete study by keeping some variables (of leadership) unchanged and allowing others to change. Simply because good leadership is determined by many variables depending on the given context. There have been number of efforts to study leadership based on "situations", "behaviors of leaders under specific circumstances", "Participation", "management", etc... But so far scholars haven't been able to come up with a comprehensive theory which can help societies to "create" good leaders who can change the lives around.

Professor Nye attempts to helps us understand "who is a good leader?", by focusing his analysis on the types of leaders needed for modern democratic organizations and societies. "He uses examples of political, social, and business leaders to illustrate various leadership styles, and he invites the reader to reconsider some accepted wisdom about leadership by introducing new approaches". Prof. Nye coined a new term and called it "Soft Power" to explain leadership (and power). He says, " Police power, financial power, and the ability to hire and fire are the examples of tangible, 'hard power' that can be used to get others to change their position. Hard power rests on inducements (carrots) and threats (sticks). But sometimes one can get the outcomes one wants by setting the agenda and attracting others without threat or payment. This is Soft Power: getting the outcomes one wants by attracting others rather than manipulating their material incetives. It co-opts people rather than coerces them".

He completely rules out the traditional argument that leaders are born and cannot be made. "Leaders can be made", he reiterates. Prof Nye gives various examples on hard and soft power and makes an in depth analysis of leadership under various contexts: public, private and social. Porf Nye finds out that, "the most effective leaders are actually those who combine hard and soft power skills in proportions that vary with different situations." He calls this "Smart Power". He emphasizes more on the context and leader's contextual intelligence for good leadership. He has dedicated one full chapter to analyze "good leaders and bad leaders". With wide ranging examples, he cogently explains how one can manipulate or balance hard and soft powers under various circumstances to become a good leader.

At the end of his book, it is interesting to note Professor Nye agreeing, "Leadership is not learned primarily from books, but books like this can help make people more aware of the lessons of the history.... Art history does not produce great painters, but it can help develop and educate intuitions." Certainly, this book from Professor Nye can help anyone build and strengthen the intuitions needed for being a better leader in the information age.

Pages: 145, (Total: 226)
Price: $21.95, Rs. 450 (hardcover)
Publisher: Oxford University Press.

See Also:
  1. Prof. Nye on Soft Power - Watch on Youtube [50 mins].
  2. Book Review by Christine Feroli.
  3. Buy this book on Amazon.
  4. Quick overview of this book.
 

Creative Commons License
This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.