Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2014 > Development Path of India — Some Major Policy Issues

Mainstream, VOL LII No 9, February 22, 2014

Development Path of India — Some Major Policy Issues

Saturday 22 February 2014, by Bharat Dogra

In the recent past India’s economic growth rate went up significantly for some years but the people continued to experience serious problems of meeting their basic needs and environmental problems went on rising at a fast pace. Economic inequalities grew sharply and the struggle for survival for those at the bottom remained a grim one. Small farmers, several categories of artisans, self-employed people and workers faced increasingly difficult conditions in protecting their livelihoods. In several ways the basic structure of the economy weakened. There is thus a clear need for making important corrections and removing serious distortions before it is too late.

It is with this spirit that major policy issues need to be clearly discussed with an emphasis on what has gone wrong, what are the risks ahead and what correctives ought to be made. We need mutually consistent policy-options for various sectors, leading to an overall policy-framework which can work in real life conditions and is also in conformity with the creation of a better world. The policy-framework for our country should be in conformity with the pressing needs of the entire world for protecting the environment, checking climate change, eliminating weapons of mass destruction, disarmament, peace and ensuring the basic needs for all people. These wider considerations of the entire world should be carefully kept in mind while deciding various policy-options for our country.

While preparing a policy-framework to some extent we need change but to some extent we also need to recognise what is of value at present and why we need to protect it.

Basic Economic Polices

The highest priority should be accorded to meeting the basic needs of the people on a sustain-able basis. To ensure sustainbility, first of all, the environment should be well-protected and resources should be used very carefully. Also the economy should have a sound base. The basic needs of the people include the following—adequate availability of balanced food satisfying nutrition norms, clean drinking water, satisfactory availability of clothes and housing to ensure protection from weather extremes as well as dignity, access to education which opens up opportunities of progress as well as strengthens the basic human values, access to means of protection of health, medicare and basic hygiene.

The livelihood of small and medium farmers, artisans, workers, other vulnerable employees and self-employed persons should be protected and linked more closely to meeting the basic needs of all people. Special skills should be well-protected.

Economic inequalities should be reduced significantly as a matter of policy with emphasis on improving the prospects of the people in the lowest layers of the economy.

In several critical areas of the economy the public sector should continue to play an important role. The private sector obviously should also have an important role but subject to the condition that no industrialist or company can dominate the economy, its one or more important sectors, to acquire monopoly powers and interfere unduly in the functioning of the democratic system. The corporate sector should be regulated carefully for responsibilities relating to the environment, workers, consumers (or other end-users of products) and to the wider society. Multinational and foreign companies should be regulated very carefully. The cooperative sector should be reformed and strengthened to accept increasing responsibilities. Certain products and areas can be reserved for small-scale and cottage-scale entrepreneurs, cooperatives and self-help groups with emphasis on meeting the basic needs of the villages and small towns as well as generation of more diverse livelihoods there.

Economic planning should retain an important role in ensuring the availability of goods and services which meet the basic needs of the people, reducing economic equalities, protecting livelihoods, keeping unemployment and inflation at low levels, providing essential infra-structure and avoiding foreign indebtedness.

In foreign trade the drift towards heavy imports of several non-essentials, including gold, should be avoided. Steps which reduce excessive dependence on imports should be emphasised, while the sovereign government’s capacity to reduce imports should be reclaimed. Similarly patent laws should be in line with national interest. Free trade agreements, existing and proposed, should be clearly examined to protect national interests. Steps should be taken in time to avoid heavy indebtedness, balance of pay-ments problems and heavy dependence on uncertain ‘hot money’ inflows. The type of linkages due to which any wider economic crisis is absorbed, quickly unsettling our national economy, should be avoided.

There should be a relentless campaign against the substantial ‘black’ part of the economy so that illegally held money can be used for the constructive tasks of development. These include efforts to bring back black money deposited abroad using various secret devices, taken up in cooperation with other countries.

Budget-making should emphasise raising of adequate resources to meet the basic needs of all people. Luxury consumption and high profit areas should be taxed adequately, while the tendency to give heavy concessions to the corporate sector has to be given up.

The government should accept the responsibility for basic needs and services related to the same, and the tendency towards privatisation of these areas should be not just checked but also reversed.

Well-coordinated efforts should be made with other countries to reform the existing inter-national finance and trade institutions, or for starting new justice based international institu-tions.

Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Forests, Fisheries and Rural Development

High priority should be given to development of the rural areas. The distorted thinking which necessarily equates development with urbanisation and migration of displaced villagers to mega-cities should be rejected. Villages should be the main base of India’s development. Even though land availability per family is declining with the passage of time, more diverse livelihoods can be provided in the rural and semi-rural areas by encouraging village and cottage industries, including khadi, and artisans’ livelihoods. These can include traditional improved as well modern industries, subject to the condition that these are not destructive for the environment and public health. Decentralised mixed renewable energy systems, for example, can be a new area of growth of rural employment. Field-level protection of traditional seeds and genetic wealth can be another such area.

Land rights of all small and medium farmers should be well protected. Their land should not be lost due to indebtedness or related distress conditions. Fertile agricultural land should as far as possible be saved for agriculture and the chances of displacement of farmers should be minimised. Special care should be taken to protect the land rights of tribals and to ensure the proper protection of laws enacted for this purpose. If displacement cannot be avoided in some cases, then as far as possible the efforts should be to provide land in place of land. High priority should be given to make available land for cultivation to as many landless farm workers as possible, using either provisions like the land ceiling laws, or reclamation of new land using water conservation and other steps. Housing land with legal rights should be made available to all rural households who are still deprived of it.

Ecologically protective, low-cost, location-specific technology, which seeks to make the best use of local resources and conditions, should be emphasised, an approach which includes organic farming, protection of traditional seeds and biodiversity, soil and water conservation, increasing green cover and forests. The farmers’ seed rights should be well protected and seed-banks of traditional diverse seeds should be set up with the close involvement of farmers including elderly farmers and women. Rank control of big companies including multinational companies or their subsidiaries over seeds and other critical areas should be checked. GM crops and related technology should be strictly banned keeping in view their many-sided, serious and irreversible adverse impacts and hazards. Use of chemical pesticides and weedicides should be minimised as much as possible. Protection of various forms of life that play a helpful role in farming should be emphasised. All subsidies meant for agriculture should be given directly to farmers.

Water conservation as well as protection/regeneration of greenery provide the base for survival in the form of meeting the basic needs of life and supporting the basic rural livelihoods. Some existing provisions like rural employment guarantee can be strengthened for this. In terms of resource use, concentrating attention on smaller watershed programmes as well as proper maintenance of existing canals will yield much better results instead of various new big and medium projects of dams and canals. Of course, this will also be ecologically much safer and help to avoid a lot of displacement. The safety of existing dams should be a significant area of concern. Indigenous mixed tree plantation work which resembles natural forests should be emphasised and cutting of existing green trees should be minimised as much as possible. Stess should be laid on indigenous trees which provide fodder and fruits in addition to trees with better soil and water conservation properties.

Protection and regeneration of the natural mixed forests should get a very high priority. The practice of raising monoculture plantations of commercial species of trees in place of natural forests should be given up forever. The forest- based livelihoods of tribals and other communities living in and around forests should be protected and promoted. Their co-operatives or groups should be the main beneficiaries of minor forest produce-based sustainable livelihoods, which also promote the protection of trees. These communities should never be displaced or evicted in the name of protection of wild life and forest; instead they should get livelihoods in this protection.

Animal husbandry should be encouraged with special emphasis on regeneration of pastures and fodder trees as well as protection of indigenous species of farm animals. Protection of indigenous breeds of cows and bullocks should get special attention. Fair price should be ensured to dairy farmers. Their co-operatives should be strengthened with special emphassis on the poor. Milk powder imports and oilcake exports should be discouraged. Pastoral groups, particularly nomadic and semi-nomadic groups, facing hard times should be given a helping hand.

Availability of essential food items in the public distribution network should be linked to the strengthening of small and medium farmers in all rural areas. All raw food items needed for the public distribution system as well as various nutrition programmes should be procured from local farmers at a fair price. As far as possible self-reliance in essential diverse food items at the local, district level should be ensured with internal trade filling in unavoidable gaps. In this special care should be taken to ensure that the public distribution system with cheaper food availability is used to strengthen the local farmers and does not weaken them in any way. The rules of the WTO or any other international rules which stand in the way of strengthening local food or farming systems should be resisted. However, subsidies as well as overall costs will be automatically reduced once the long-distance movement of grains, long-term storage and related food-loss are considerably reduced.

Steps should be taken to free various kinds of produce from the grip of a few big traders and speculators so that farmers get justice and sudden escalations in the price for consumers are also avoided. Direct contacts between farmers and city-based consumers for healthy, organic food can be encouraged by allocating space in specific city markets to clusters of villages, subject to certain conditions so that the weaker, smaller farmers can also benefit.

Any interference by the international agencies, WTO or others, in a well-organised system of food security and food self-reliance based on the farmers’ secure livelihoods should be strongly resisted.

Industrial Development

The country should aim for self-reliance in all essential consumer and capital goods. Only when this is not possible given our resource constraints, imports should be resorted to.

While the private, public and cooperative sectors all have important roles, domination by any industrialist or the use of unfair means to surge ahead in one or more sectors should not be allowed. The public sector should be strengthened and reformed to fulfil its wider social responsibility while maintaining high standards of efficiency and entrepreneurial ability.

All industrial units need to abide by properly framed regulations related to pollution, environ-ment, displacement, health, safety, workers’ welfare, standards and consumers’ concerns.

Special protective steps, including reservation of certain items in production and procurement, need to be provided for cottage and small-scale units with special emphasis on khadi and handlooms.

The activities of multinational and foreign companies should be regulated carefully.

Banking and Insurance

The important role of nationalised or public sector banks and insurance companies (mainly the Life Insurance Corporation of India) should continue. These should be reformed and strengthened to improve their efficiency, basic financial soundness and social responsibility. Private and foreign banks and insurance companies can have only a limited role, and should not be allowed to damage the special position of national institutes like the Life Insurance Corporation of India. The accentuating problems of the so-called ‘non-performing assets’ should be sorted out by ensuring due payment of enormous sums owed by influential borrowers.

Infrastructure, Energy, Minerals

The public sector companies should continue to have an important role in the creation of strong and adequate infrastructure for development of the country. While infrastructure should be adequate, unnecessarily expensive and grand projects should be avoided. Care should be taken to minimise the problems relating to environment and displacement.

Special care is essential to reconcile the objectives of development and environment protection in the area of energy, as the worldwide responsibility of keeping the GHG emissions at low levels must be respected. For the rural areas in particular, decentralised mixed renewable energy systems can play an important role.

The mineral wealth should be used in the wider interests of the people with special emphasis on the rights and welfare of communities living in the mineral-rich areas. Instead of trying to take out minerals as quickly as possible or maximising corporate profits, various middle-level options and technologies, which protect communities and environment, should be explored and underlined. Domination of decision-making by corporate interests should be strongly resisted. Foreign and multinational companies should not have any leading role in the development of minerals. Minor minerals should be extracted in consultation with gram sabhas, minimising any harm to the environment, while the mining mafias should be kept away and resisted to prevent any criminalisation of mining work.

Health

A strong foundation of good health can be established only by good nutrition and fulfilment of other basic needs. In addition, essential health services, medicines, vaccines and investigations should be accessible to all. Adequate budgetary provisions should be provided for this, which can be around four to five per cent of the GDP. But to utilise this properly, tendencies of extracting very high and unethical profits in the supply of medicines and medicare (including investigations) should be strictly curbed, or else the higher budget would be gobbled up by the profiteers. Important changes in the medicines policy are needed to make available all essential medicines at a fair price with special emphasis on supply of generic medicines, while irrational medicines and vaccines should be discarded. The public sector should fulfil an important role in this. The government should accept the responsibility of health care, medicines and vaccines. As far as possible all medicines should be provided free in the primary health centres and all government hospitals, perhaps excluding the very rich patients.

Special medical courses designed to ensure adequate and satisfactory availability of doctors and paramedical workers in the rural areas should be taken up.

Excessive allocations in a few favoured areas should be re-examined so that integrated and balanced health planning, which is linked to the real needs of the country, can emerge in place of artificial priorities thrust upon by vested interests.

While indigenous medical practices should be encouraged, there is a need to ensure rationality and standards so that undesirable trends (like mass marketing based on dubious rationality) can be checked.

Doctors and other medical personnel coming forward with the objective of serving the
poor people, particularly in remote villages, should get necessary encouragement from the government. Irrational rules unfavourable to serving in real-life rural conditions, such as the ban on UDBT, should be changed.

Tendencies towards unjust patent laws, domination by multinational companies and excessive privatisation should be resisted at a wider level.

Education

While emphasising the right to education for all, the education budget should be raised to about six to seven per cent of the GDP. At the same time the tendencies of rapid privatisation and extraction of high profits should be checked. Improvement of government schools should get the highest priority. Children of the weakest and vulnerable households (like migrant workers and nomadic groups) should also be included with a system of evening schools/bridge courses and later integration with the mainstream.

Tendencies of communalisation of education should be curbed. Instead, a secular approach to moral/ethical education should be introduced with emphassis on universal values such as equality of all human beings, rejection of all kinds of discrimination, compassion for all forms of life, honesty, hard work and a spirit of service. Cooperation, and not competition, should be emphasised in studies, sports (team-spirit) and other activities. Health education, including a firm message against all intoxicants and also emphasising the importance of physical work, should get due importance, Education should provide a balanced view of realities and the real needs of the country.

Child labour and all forms of exploitation of children should be eliminated. Trafficking of children should be curbed strongly and missing children should be traced with a sense of urgency. Trafficked and exploited children, when rescued, should be rehabilitated properly. Creative programmes for street children should be implemented and various homes for disadvantaged children should be improved.

Special care should be given to ending discrimination against the girl child and improving the opportunities for her education.

Youth should have adequate opportunities for livelihoods linked to creating a better world and they should be adequately informed about such opportunities of employment as well as self-employment.

Higher education and research should be linked to the country’s real needs and careful use should be made of scarce resources to take the advantages of higher education to those who are more deserving.

Science and Technology

The progress in science and technology should be linked closely to the country’s real needs. Technical skills not only in institutions of higher learning but also in the rural areas, in farms and workshops and factories should be recognised, encouraged and provided adequate avenues. Technology and engineering skills should not be narrowly linked to any vested interests but instead should be directed towards serving the country’s high priority needs.

Old Age, Disability and Pensions

Senior citizens should have a place of respect and dignity and to facilitate this better social security, particularly pensions, are very necessary. Extensive pension reforms should be taken up to create a system of universal and adequate pensions.

Disability-related discrimination should end. Adequate care should be given to meeting the special education, health and other needs of the disabled persons, providing them access to all social places and facilities, apart from arranging adequate pensions. ‘Disability’ as well as ‘old age’ should be defined in a comprehensive way so that no deserving and needy person is left out of such rights like social security. Prevention of and early treatment for accidents, injuries and diseases likely to result in disabilities should be emphasised.

Society and Religion

All forms of discrimination based on caste, religion, gender, colour, ethnicity etc. should be curbed strictly in keeping with the constitutional obligations. Apart from implementing legal provisions this should also be taken up in the form of public campaigns.

Continuing efforts should be made, and not just at the time of tensions, to maintain communal harmony. Strict action should be taken against those responsible for spreading communal hatred and tensions.

Everyone has a well-established constitutional right to follow his or her religion, but definitely not to insult other religions. All religions are equal in the eyes of the state, and governments should carefully follow secular precepts avoiding any discrimination.

However, there should be adequate room for social reforms and narrow thinking should not stand in the way of changing or removing those customs or traditions which clearly harm society and cause distress. Social reform movements against child marriage, the dowry system, discriminatory practices, liquor and intoxicants, violent pornography, superstitions, various exploitative practices under the influence of superstitions etc. should be encouraged.

Community and family ties at all levels should be strengthened and social cooperation for creative, philanthropic and reformist work should be encouraged.

Harmful practices in the celebration of festivals should be curbed by public campaigns and legislation where necessary.

All efforts should be made to protect good traditions while fighting the harmful ones.

A campaign against the increasing consumption of liquor and tobacco products in various forms as well as against drug addiction should be a major component of the social reform effort. The increasing auctions of liquor shops in villages have to be checked in substantial measure.

Social reforms should seek to involve most sections of the community and as far as possible avoid creating new conflicts.

Scheduled Castes, Tribes, Nomads 

and OBCs

The existing reservations should continue till such time as real equality in all important respects is achieved. A big effort should be made to provide some land to the large number of Dalit landless farm workers and provide other assistance to help them emerge as small farmers cultivating their own land. The ban on manual scavenging must be backed by adequate rehabilitation opportunities. The artisans’ work relating to bamboo, leather etc. should be improved so that new opportunities emerge and better, cleaner work-conditions are available.

The land rights of tribals should be carefully protected and the land allocated earlier illegally should be restored under the due process of law. The implementation of the recent Forest Rights Act needs to be substantially improved and any possibilities of large-scale displacement should be checked. The rights of those engaged in minor forest produce should be strengthened and new opportunities opened up in processing work. Livelihoods based on protecting forest and wild life can be substantially expanded. The PESA law for decentralisation should be implemented in the right spirit.

Nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes and groups deserve sympathetic understanding. Both options of improving their present life pattern and satisfactory rehabilitation are open. Denotified tribes need to be helped to come out of various kinds of stigmas and problems, and new opportunities must be opened up for them.

In all categories the most oppressed and neglected groups deserve special attention and help. Particularly among OBCs there is a need to be careful so that the genuinely oppressed, left-out and neglected castes get more help.

Women/Gender

There is a clear need to provide equal opportunities to women and end all gender-based discrimination. A system of 33 per cent reservation for women in the State and national legislatures and 50 per cent reservation in the decentralised system should be in place in the near future. The ban on female foeticide and infanticide should be strictly implemented. Apart from providing essential facilities, special incentives should be offered to encourage girl students. The security of girls and women should get high priority and urgent steps have to be taken at several levels to ensure secure living and working conditions for women. Strong laws to protect women are needed, but at the same time any misuse of these laws should be checked.

Land and property rights should be jointly in the name of the wife and husband, and the rights of single women should also be ensured, but inheritance laws should not be such as to transfer ownership of a village’s land for cultivation outside the village.

Efforts for a better understanding of women’s perceptions of various development issues should be made.

Other Forms of Life

It is important to avoid an excessively human-centric view of life as life forms other than human beings also need care and compassion. Many of these are today endangered due to the absence of this care. Most of the life forms that have been the farmers’ friends—ranging from indigenous species of cattle and camels to earthworms and sparrows—are also in dire need of protection today. Indigenous species of cows and bullocks deserve special care due to their many-sided utility, but other farm animals should also not be neglected. Communities living near forests should get strong livelihood support in activities relating to protection of wild life and their habitats. Similarly communities like fisherfolk, boatmen can be involved in the protection of fish habitats and all aquatic life, while snake charmers can be useful in the protection of reptiles due to their special knowledge. Use of chemical pesticides and weedicides should be minimised while GM crops should be banned. Stray dogs and other stray animals also need better care and cruelty to animals in the name of laboratory experiments should be reduced as much as possible.

Protection of Environment

Protection of the environment is of the highest importance not only for preparing the base of sustainable development but increasingly for sheer survival of various life-forms including human beings. Protection of the environment and reduction of pollution should get priority at all levels, including reduction of air and water pollution, soil and water conservation, protection of forests, reducing the spread of various toxic products and wastes etc. Newer forms of pollution such as the threat of radiation from nuclear plants, or the threat from mobile phone towers, or the irreversible risk of genetic pollution should be given adequate importance in the environment protection agenda. While a strong legal base is certainly needed for protecting the environment, people’s movements and their close involvement with environment protection are equally important. It is important to evolve environment policies which involve the people instead of alienating them. The environment protection work should provide new livelihoods to people, instead of displacing them or taking away their livelihoods. A ban on destructive mining at any place, for example, should at the same time provide for protective and regenerative work at the site which will also offer employment. Special care should be taken for protection of the eco-sensitive areas of special importance like those in the Himalayas or in coastal areas.

While the task of environment protection has always been important, its importance has greatly increased in times of extremely serious global threats like those of climate change and ozone depletion. India, like all countries, needs to give adequate importance to reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions as well as to adaptive steps to cope with the climate change related problems. These can become issues of topmost importance in the near future. Also India should contribute adequately to the world-level justice-based efforts to check climate change which should persuade the developed countries to contribute substantially to efforts to check climate change, accepting their historical responsibility for their high greenhouse gas emissions.

Protection from Disasters

Increasing harm from several natural disasters is already a matter of serious concern, while the threat from disasters can increase substantially in times of climate change. Therefore according much higher priority to protection from natural disasters has to be a very important part of the policy-framework now and in times to come. To be effective this has to learn from past experience and be willing to correct serious mistakes made earlier, as is evident from the increasing damage even after vast amounts had been invested in protection. So both increasing budgets and correction of distorted policies are important for protection from disasters.

Protection from Accidents

The damage and threats from transport (particularly road), worksite, and domestic accidents as well as new threats from high-hazard projects have been increasing. Preventive and immediate response action can reduce the damage, including loss of human life, to a substantial extent. So a nationwide network of protection and quick response for all kinds of accidents in an integrated way has to be created.

Displacement

Efforts should be made to reduce displacement at all levels as much as possible. At the level of policy-formulation it is necessary to keep in view the need to minimise displacement. To the extent displacement cannot be avoided, there should be all-out endeavours for satisfactory rehabilitation including land in place of land and protection of community ties. Cases of those victims of displacement who suffered injustice in much earlier times should also be considered sympathetically so that they can get justice even though belatedly.

Justice, Police and Crime

The long-pending police reforms should not be delayed any longer. These reforms should be aimed at not only increasing the efficiency of the police but also their sensitivity and humanity. The dignity of policemen at the lower levels should be protected.

Reducing crimes should have a multi-dimensional approach with special emphasis on reducing the social causes of crimes as well as breaking the nexus between crime and corruption and political power at the higher levels.

Efforts to combat terrorism should be much better organised and all support-systems of terrorists, whether in the country or abroad, should be opposed and challenged on a continuing basis at various levels. Social conditions and grievances which fuel terrorism should be tackled effectively.

The justice system should give special attention to ensuring that innocent people are not implicated in crimes. Special efforts should be made to provide legal aid to the poor and needy, as also to help undertrials. Undertrials who have already served a jail sentence, that is equal to the punishment of the offence for which they have been charged, should be released.

The justice system is breaking down particularly in the rural areas because of the long- pending cases and repeated visits to courts from long distances which only lead to further dates thereby delaying the process of delivery of justice. Therefore rural decentralisation should include some judicial provisions for settling disputes locally but with suitable safeguards.

Jails need extensive reforms to create more humane and reformist conditions, with special provisions firmly in place for human treatment of political prisoners.

Housing and Homeless People

Ensuring legal rights to housing, land to all households and improvements in housing programmes for the weaker sections (such as the Indira Awas) should get high priority in the rural areas, as also meeting the special housing needs in disaster-prone areas.

The housing needs of the urban areas cannot be solved by high profit-oriented builders. The government should accept the responsibility for large-scale construction of houses to meet the needs of the poor as well as middle class. The needs of the homeless people should get priority and construction of adequate shelters should be guaranteed. Slums should not be destroyed and the slum-dwellers evicted arbitrarily and instead the thrust should be on improving the various facilities in slums.

Political Parties, Governance and Corruption

Efforts to significantly reduce the role of big money, illegal ‘black’ money and criminals in elections and the functioning of political parties should get high priority. Political parties should maintain complete records of income, expenditure and all donors; the transactions should be transparent and accessible under the right to information law. Election expenses should be kept low, rules should be carefully followed but routine work should not be interrupted at election time.

Right to information should be protected and strengthened, with additional protection for those who expose corruption using the RTI route or in other ways. However, suggestions for preventing any misuse of the RTI Act can also be considered. Anti-corruption laws and organisations need to be strengthened and improved, while new laws should be introduced in the areas where these are needed.

An effective grievance redressal system which provides for time-bound actions, issues receipts for complaints received and fixes responsibilities (as well as penalties for non-action) should be in place as soon as possible.

Exemplary strong action should be taken once allegations of corruption have been confirmed. Excessive protection provided to some sections of officials from anti-corruption action should be withdrawn but at the same time tendencies towards witch-hunt without conclusive evidence as well as motivated targeting of innocent persons should be checked.

Stringent action should be taken particularly in cases of illegal transfer of money earned by corrupt practices outside the country, in tax havens or secret accounts.

Decentralisation and Panchayat Raj

Decentralisation should be strengthened in the rural as well as urban areas. Gram sabhas and ward sabhas in the rural areas (assemblies of all adult villagers) as well as equivalent units in the urban areas should be strengthened as a base where the people’s real needs can be articulated, discussed and also documented. It is important to strengthen ward sabhas particularly in villages where gram sabhas can be too large to give everyone a proper hearing.

Some weaknesses of the panchayats need to be corrected. The tendency of one or two persons to concentrate most powers of the panchayati raj can be corrected by the strengthening of gram sabhas, a more active role for the panchayat samitis as well as for all elected ward members and the possible rotation of the main head-person’s post among all ward members. Decentralisation at the district level should be strengthened significantly so that the concept of a district-level government—which is much closer to the day-to-day problems and livelihood issues of the people—can emerge.

Decentralisation needs to progress rapidly within the basic constitutional principles of equality and non-discrimination, integrity and unity of the country, secularism and socialism (interpreted in this context as reduction of inequalities and justice to the weaker sections).

Urban Development

Urban life should emphasise environment-friendly and secure conditions for all sections of people, with special emphasis on reduction of pollution, access to satisfactory housing for the weaker sections as well as the middle class, and significant reduction of crime (particularly crime against women and children).

Instead of high concentration of population in the big cities, balanced development of smaller towns, including kasbas or semi-urban settle-ments close to the rural areas, should be prioritised. Satisfactory essential facilities should be provided in all these urban and semi-urban settlements.

Scarce resources should be used carefully to provide essentials to all people instead of squandering such resources on grand and expensive projects.

National Security and Unity

National security is based not just on armed strength but even more so on the unity and determination of the people to defend national interests. Hence continuing efforts should be made to strengthen the unity of the people at all levels. Special attention should be given to justice-based unity in the border areas, with a willingness to provide all democratic rights (except perhaps for brief periods of special security concerns) and an effective system for redressal of all grievances. Special care should also be taken to ensure such community participation so that any victimisation of innocent persons at the time of security operations can be avoided.

Apart from the overall improvement of the anti-terror operations, efforts to break the higher-level linkages with terror, whether external or internal, should be emphasised.

A high level of preparedness to defend the national borders should be maintained, while at the same time improving negotiations with neighbouring countries to resolve border issues and ease tensions. Corruption and commissions in arms purchases should be strictly curbed, while self-reliance and indigenous R and D should be strengthened.

Priority should be given to solving the most expensive border disputes like the one related to the Siachin glacier. The Kashmir issue can be resolved by strengthening the democratic processes on both sides of the border, initiating dialogues and exchanges, gradually opening up the borders and recognition of these as the legitimate borders by all sides. But all this is possible only if the disruptive forces of violence can be restrained.

Foreign Policy and International Affairs

There should be a deep commitment to friendly relations and peace with all neighbouring countries without sacrificing national security interests and compromising on the protection of our borders.

The world is passing through difficult times with the growing threat of irreversible climate change and life-endangering conditions on the one hand, and the stockpiling and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on the other. India should play a leading and responsible role to see that effective solutions for these life-threatening problems can get the highest priority and effective, justice-based solutions can emerge before it is too late.

The narrow viewpoints of the developed countries on these issues should be challenged by a broader unity of the developing and least developed countries. In addition, the tendency of the developed countries to go on trying to extend their special privileged position and dominate the world economy and trade should be challenged and resisted. International trade and finance institutions should be substantially reformed, or what may be more practical ultimately, new international trade and financial institutions should be created that are more suitable to evolve a new international economic order based on justice and equality.

India should participate actively, inside and outside the United Nations, for justice-based peace and minimising the possibilities of war and internal strife. Unity and cooperation of all countries should be established to strongly curb all forms of terrorism and their promoters and to eliminate their causes.

India should support disarmament with renewed vigour so that substantial savings from arms expenditure can be diverted to the development needs.

Minorities

Security and equal opportunities of all minorities should be protected and promoted. Communal harmony and national unity should be actively defended and reinforced on a continuing basis so that such conditions are created that minimise the possibilities of communal violence. Those guilty of obstructing this path of peace, goodwill and security should face strict action.

Although minorities are generally taken to be religious minorities, the reasons for being identified on other basis (such as region or caste) exist and any effort at violence against any kind of minority must face strict action and all such tendencies should be curbed.

Sexual minorities should also be protected from injustice, discrimination and stigma.

Social Activists and Organisations

Social activists, who seek to help the weaker sections, oppressed people and reform society in other creative ways, should get encouragement and protection from governments. Any move to harass or repress social activists and organisations should be checked and protection should be available against such efforts.

Media

The media should be close to the realities and needs of the country, and should be in tune with the basic precepts and values enshrined in our Constitution—equality, secularism, special concern for the weaker sections, national integration and unity. The freedom of the media is very important and this is also a basic constitutional safeguard; but it should not be misdirected to justify increasing corporate control to an extent that the media is alienated from the genuine concerns of the people and instead promotes the narrow interests and viewpoints of a select few to the detriment of those of the larger sections. Cooperatives of journalists should be encouraged. The socially responsible behaviour of the new social media should be ensured and new technologies should not be misused.

Transport and Tourism

The importance of railways and public transport keeping in view the needs of the ordinary travellers should get high priority. Roads should be safe and in good condition, but overspending of scarce resources on non-essential expansion and widening should be discouraged. Safety in all forms of transport should get high priority.

Safety, hygiene and essential facilities at all places of huge gatherings, including pilgrimages, festivals and fairs etc., should be emphasised. Economy tourism and the safety of tourists should also get high priority. Tourism should be linked to the better livelihoods of the ordinary people.

Culture, Art and Literature

Rich cultural activities and folk arts in various communities should be preserved and encouraged, as well as protected from the onslaught of the corporate-controlled media, ‘cultural imperialism’ and pornography. Highly deserving but neglected talent among the ordinary folk should be assisted and helped to realise their full potential. Special efforts should be made to protect the endangered languages.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.