Thursday, June 26, 2014

 Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 3

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Frequency of elections: The aim of elections is to have a Parliament, and state assemblies which can represent the people truly and effectively and help to manage governance with efficiency and accountability. With regard to the first aim of selecting true representatives of people the election system has failed miserably as clearly pointed out in Article 2. With regard to the second aim of an efficient system of governance also this system has failed because the mode and frequency of elections unnecessarily obstructs continuity of good governance as explained below.

When elections are carried out once in five years (or sometimes even earlier), number of efficient representatives who are fulfilling the above aims admirably are unnecessarily weeded out along with the inefficient and the tainted ones, unlike the management machinery which has continuity because it is not broken up completely and reassembled. This lack of continuity in top levels of governance leads to avoidable distortions and distractions in functioning of democratic and other institutions. On the other hand, if these are functioning efficiently, why should we not continue these beyond five years and save huge amounts of tax payers’ money spent on present system of elections? There is no guarantee that the new set of representatives will be better. They can even be worse as has happened quite often in the past, even making it difficult to form a cohesive government.

Obviously, election is a costly gamble using huge amounts of public money. Why should we not seriously think of a better method for giving voice to the people, not just once in five years as an ineffective ritual as at present, but more frequently and effectively?  

The present system of elections also diverts attention of government from govrernance to re-election and results in lack of efficiency and sincerity in governance, particularly  during pre-election periods. Further, the need for large amounts of money for participating in election leads to undesirable and illegal activities and generation of black money. All these harm the economy, besides distorting governance to satisfy fund providers. If elections are held after longer intervals, these two dismal situations can be mitigated, besides saving enormous public funds.

A fixed five year period may allow inefficiency and lack of transparency to continue for five years. When this is happening only, we should replace the undesirable democratic institutions which have been incurring expenditure on a set of representatives who have not justified the faith placed on them by people. Unfortunately, the possibility of the new set of representatives being equally bad or even worse cannot be ruled out. This will sound the death knell of democracy unless innovative corrective measures are taken immediately instead of waiting for five years and then again failing to get more cohesive and efficient institutions as shown by the history of elections.

To avoid distortions and distractions in functioning of Parliament, Assemblies and machinery of governance, it is better to have a flexible election system guided solely by the need for improvement in governance. This will reduce the enormous amounts spent on elections, part of which can be used for the two stage voting suggested in Article 2, to avoid grossly inadequate and perverted representation of people.

Another definite advantage of the flexible system of elections is that the machinery of governance, which has adjusted to a political power system, will not have to waste time and energy to readjust to another political power system once in five years or even less.

Neglecting these aspects is the third obstacle which results in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

These problems can be solved by having flexible durations for democratic institutions and leaders based on an efficiency driven approach for making desirable changes.  The present governing system has efficiency assessments for all officials of the management machinery except legislators who occupy the most crucial positions.  To remove this serious anomaly, at the end of each year, efficiency of all elected representatives in democratic institutions should be objectively ascertained and those not performing efficiently should be given a warning to improve. Those who do not show improvement after one year should be disqualified and their seats filled up by new election. Others should be allowed to continue till they happen to become inefficient in later yearly evaluations or cross a prefixed age limit or voluntarily retire. This will ensure continuity of governance and inject a sense of responsibility and accountability among the representatives which, sad to say, is not being ascertained now because there is no system of evaluation for this most important wing of governance!! An appropriate election system should avoid discarding efficient representatives along with inefficient and tainted ones, particularly because the former are rarer to find.

This new system of flexible elections based on yearly assessment will, besides ensuring continuity of all efficient democratic institutions, reduce expenditure on elections to a much smaller number of seats every year.  A small part of the enormous amount thus saved can be used to have two stage elections (refer Article 2) to ensure that the fewer persons elected as per the new system of elections represent majority of people.

Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and other suggestions to overcome this obstacle are welcome. Please send these to I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the revised system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the revised system of democracy, for public debate to arrive at a consensus.

You can help to save democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.

Need to rethink and act urgently on fuel prices SRB Prices of petrol and diesel were increased number of times within a year, that too often steeply. LPG prices were also increased though less often. According to newspaper reports, the central and some state governments claim that they have no role in the price hikes. This is one of the blatant examples of deceiving people. In fact, Governments are heartlessly earning more and more revenue by taxation at the expense of aam admi. From the price of each litre sold, a shameless exorbitant profit (about 50% in some states) is made. Since these hikes in taxation form a percentage of the price, the profit increases each time fuel prices are hiked. Thus, governments have not only a role in increasing prices but could have developed a vested interest in increasing fuel prices. Another basic defect of these taxes is that they burden both rich and poor alike, both directly and indirectly by the spiraling cost of everything including essential things needed by the poor. Lack of an ethics of care for aam admi is crystal clear on the part of governments which go on merrily making profits from sale of fuels while aam admi, have been forced repeatedly to increasingly struggle against inflation and badly hurting food inflation, that too continuously for a long time. There are millions of intelligent people in India. Yet this has been going on unquestioned for many years. Central and state governments are conveniently closing their eyes to the fact that such taxes are increasingly burdening lower and middle class two wheeler users (whose number is about five times higher than four wheeler users) and large number of users of three wheelers (the vehicle for poor and middle class). On the other hand, rich car owners, corporate bodies and government departments are not seriously bothered and continue to waste and misuse petrol and diesel despite high prices. Sad to say, an attitude of hardened apathy continues to prevail while hypocritically giving lip sympathy to aam admi and bluffing that governments have no role in fuel price hike, while making profits at their expense. They forget that they are servants of the people and continue to dictate like masters after creating conditions which make most people spinelss. In an article in Deccan Chronicle, Bangalore (30-06-11), Prasenjit Bose has given detailed calculations of earnings of central and state governments from taxing fuels and concluded that earnings from petroleum sector is Rs.80,000 crores for central government and Rs.70,000 crores for state governments, which add up to Rs.1,50,000 crores. These huge amounts are extorted mostly from unwilling but helpless aam admi. According to an article in DNA, Bangalore (25-06-11), the Central government has eliminated 5% customs duty on import of crude oil. Government feels that it is being magnanimous. But this reduction of 5% of their profit is mockingly miserly and callously forgoes a chance to help aam admi suffering from general and food inflation, after the strain of inequitable development. On the other hand, governments could have some justification if these huge funds were utilized wisely with a long term vision to speedily and adequately develop alternate energies such as solar and wind power as well as alternate biological fuels on a large scale on a war footing, instead of nibbling at these without any surge in emergency. The reasons given for this heartless taxation are the need to control budget deficit and increase in international price of crude oil. The burden of subsidy is another justification. With regard to controlling budget deficit, there are better and more human ways of reducing deficit which have not received proper attention. Reducing enormous misuse and wastage of funds which occur in most departments has not received adequate attention. For example, it is well recognised that only about 15% of huge funds for projects meant to help rural people reached intended beneficiaries, year after year. Yet nothing is done to stop the 85% drain in public money. This is an example of many such landmarks for inefficiency, grave irregularities and corruption. Another important need is to postpone projects of low priority to better times. For example, sending Indians to the moon at the cost of increasing sufferings of aam admi ought to get low priority till the situation improves. Emoluments of elected representatives have been increased substantially even though an objective analysis would have shown their lack of attention to properly carrying out their legislative functions (often because of sacrificing national interests to party interests).While aam admi are made to suffer by drastically increasing fuel prices, budget for the often misused MP Local Area Development Scheme has been steeply increased from 2 crores to 5 crores for each MP. Many more examples of misuse, wastage and distorted priority can be found if only governments care to look for these to reduce budget deficit, with a sense of urgency for helping suffering people. Lack of ethics for care of aam admi and innovative thinking and action are all conspicuous by their absence. Sad to say, lack of political and administrative will to give time and attention to such desirable people-friendly actions is evident and regrettable. Callousness has manifested itself even in allocation of work and monitoring. The more efficient political leaders and bureaucrats are entrusted only with “gainful” departments dealing with economic matters or power over people, for obvious reasons. Even worse, while these efficient persons eagerly apply their mind to multiply collection of funds, they hardly pay any attention to prevention of misuse and wastage of public money. They merrily continue to do so. Surprisingly, even the Public Accounts Commirttee of Parliament has not adequately questioned this serious inactivity leading to huge losses in public money continuing for many years.. On the other hand, the least efficient and unwilling are tagged on to tackle social welfare sectors. Even worse, they are often more interested in manipulating for a change to “gainful” departments. With regard to increase in international price of crude oil, there are unanswered questions. An editorial in Deccan Chronicle, Bangalore (26-06-11) points out that we buy petrol at Rs.70 per litre as against approximately Rs.45 per litre by people in USA and asks whether we are paying more for crude oil even though we are closer to Saudi Arabia. It also asks whether there is a standard cost for conversion of crude into petroleum products. A white paper covering all aspects of buying petroleum products and fixing fuel prices is badly needed to clear all issues. The article by Prasenjit Bose also supports this urgent need for a white paper, while stating that even at the prevailing international price of crude oil, “the domestic price of oil would be less than Rs.30 per litre”. Hence, putting the blame on international price of oil is diversionary and not justified. With regard to subsidy, Prasenjit Bose states as follows while comparing with Rs.1,50,000 crores revenue from fuel tax: “In contrast, total petroleum subsidy in 2010-11 was around Rs.38,000 crores (as per the Union Budget). This is to further come down to around Rs.23,000 crores this year. Clearly, the government is earning much more in taxes than spending on subsidies in this sector.” In all fairness, government should not tax to earn a profit at the expense of fuel users but restrict the tax to cover subsidy only. Or, allow oil companies to fix fuel price to include the subsidy. Either way, fuel prices will come down drastically and help the suffering people. Apart from sheer callousness for the plight of aam admi, another possible reason may be that government probably feels that increase in price of petrol and diesel will check increase in their consumption. But this has not happened. The fact is that these fuels are a necessity for development and reasonably good quality of life. Neither are these luxury items for the bulk of people and those engaged in industry, transport, agriculture, health care, education and other development activities. Wastage and misuse are mostly confined to vehicles used by officials of government and corporate bodies and rich people who want to show off their wealth. Increases in prices have not been deterrents for such people. The Deccan Chronicle editorial (26-06-11) states “despite the government raising fuel prices there are no signs of a fall in offtake from the fuel pumps, which shows that there is enough money with certain class to ignore any hike.” It is possible that the latest increase was timed to weaken the demands for a strong Lokpal bill. Besides serving as a distraction, organizing protests will become more costly and reduce the number of aam admi who can afford to protest. If so, such cunning should be defeated by recognizing that the two are connected. Increase in cost of living results in higher bribes also. Reluctance to introduce a strong Lokpal bill and reduce fuel prices are both instances of taking people for a ride for years together and should be fought together with renewed vigour. DNA SUNDAY, Bangalore (26-06-11) stated that on front page: “This steep hike will pinch household budgets already pummelled by soaring prices of food items and essentials.” In addition, increase in prices also result in reduced accessibility to health care and education. Though governments must be aware of these, they have been ignoring these because of lack an ethics of care for the people. In 2005, Standing Committee on Energy of Parliament had urged government to reduce its reliance on petro-taxes. Ignoring this, revenue from petro-taxes were increased, showing scant respect for Parliament which is repeatedly stated as supreme (whenever it suits!). Collection of taxes on fuels should be stopped immediately to drastically reduce fuel prices to control both general and food inflation and thereby relieve burden on aam admi. This will enable them to eat well, maintain good health, educate their children better and use transports necessary for their daily use, besides achieving speedier development of the country. Let us develop an ethics of care for the suffering millions and rethink and act with a sense of urgency to help them