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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 35

Some Reflections on 60th Anniversary of our Independence

by L Mishra

Saturday 18 August 2007

At the time of its independence India was a nation with the wearisome heritage of a war economy largely financed by inflation but unaccompanied by any significant increase in national production. There were a few major and attendant complications confronting the nascent economy, namely, (a) influx of refugees; (b) the emergence of the Kashmir dispute and military developments which led to the PoK; (c) serious food shortage which had to be met by raising imports on the one hand and controlled procurement and distribution of limited domestic output on the other; and (d) the problem of large number of semi-autonomous princely states (600) which, but for the vision and timely action on the part of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Home Minister of India, would have posed a serious threat of balkanisation.

The economic scenario was characterised by the low rate of savings and investment, poor quality of equipment, limited use of modern methods of production, low application of science and technology to economic activity, low level of literacy and grossly inadequate science and technical education. All this in combination led to low production and productivity and snail’s pace of economic growth with a capital output ratio of 8:1.

II

THE countries which became independent after the Second World War were confronted with three major problems, namely:
- • National integration;
- • Determining the role to be assigned to the people in their government;
- • Economic and social development.
While the attention got concentrated on economic development, the first two got largely overlooked. Economic growth, which became the primary engine of development, implies:
- • Productive and optimal utilisation of natural and human resources;
- • Substantial increase in national product;
- • Significant rise in the levels of living;
- • Liberation from poverty and unemployment.
The course which development took in the Third World countries was based on a mistaken application of the model of development obtaining in the Western countries. That model involved:
- • Capital intensive production;
- • High level of technology;
- • Emergence of urban growth centres:
- • Unequal income and wealth sought to be softened by the welfare expenditure of their governments.
The Western model no doubt had a few redeeming features such as:
- • High level of literacy and science education;
- • Advances in science and technology;
- • Dynamism and austerity of their early capitalist classes.

This is how they achieved a high rate of economic growth and a high level of national income. Besides, the problem of increasing numbers did not significantly cut into the growth of their pre-capitalist product. The problem of initial capital accumulation was sought to be solved by colonisation of the Third World countries.

The newly independent countries erred in adopting the model of capital intensive industrial growth which neglects agriculture, neglects the development of rural areas, rural life and economy and fails to develop the human resource potential. It lost sight of the fact that capital intensive economic development justifies large scale dependence on foreign aid in both capital and technology, brings in demonstration effects of Western affluence and ignores the impact of pernicious corrupting forces on the body politic.
The net result of such imitation of an alien model, which was unsuited to the social, economic and cultural milieu obtaining in the developing countries, was the creation of a highly in-egalitarian society with pockets of affluence confined to mainly the urban areas. Additionally it led to large scale stagnation in rural life and economy, growing unemployment, distress migration and continuing poverty of the masses.

While there were ideological overtones in policies and programmes followed for economic development by the newly independent countries, they generally lost sight of the following:
- • the political and social setting in which economic development is shaped;
- • the crucial place of work ethics in generating development;
- • pervasive illiteracy and lack of technical and industrial skills;
- • vast inequality in possession of land and other productive assets;
- • dominance of the rural and agrarian sectors of the economy;
- • distressingly low level of output per worker.
The scenario in India was no exception. The model of development adopted by India was an eclectic model from the two diamentrically opposite ideologies and models, namely, Western capitalist and socialist models. The Indian milieu at the relevant point of time was characterised by the following:
- • there was no social and economic revolution preceding development (as in Myammar, Cuba, Vietnam and Nigaragua);
- • development was not backed with the needed institutional change in social relations and property rights;
- • it was not backed by an understanding and positive participation by the people;
- • the approach to development did not take into account the fact that needs of different categories of people in a particular area are different, their capacity to absorb and assimilate the gains of development is different and the degree of responsiveness to and involvement with development is not uniform;
- • no special attention was paid to human resource development.
Despite these limitations in the development strategy we did succeed in setting up the framework of a socialist pattern within the context of a mixed economy and a parliamentary form of democracy. We succeeded in raising an extensive industrial structure. We also succeeded in harnessing the findings of scientific and industrial research and modern technology for the benefit of the deprived sections of the society by setting up a CSIR at the Central level and IITs (eight) and RRLs (42) at the regional levels; this was largely on account of the vision for scientific and technological development of our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru [the thinking of the present government for setting up the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (ISER) is an apt continuation of that initiative]. Path-breaking initiatives were also launched in atomic energy and space. We went wrong not because we went in for a mixed economy for securing the objectives of economic growth with social justice. The failure was in making a correct choice between the two alterna-tive means of operating the mixed economy. It also lay in carrying out a balanced role for the state as to (a) what the state should do and what it should not; and (b) how to work out a balanced combination between growth and equity, development and social justice.

III

THE failure to operate the mixed economy in a just, fair and equitable manner and the consequences thereof may be summed up in the following words:
- • the failure was not so much in the framework of the strategy as the total neglect of its political economy;
- • the failure was on account of taking a narrow economic in place of a broad political-economic-socio-cultural and macro sociological view of the process of social transformation;
- • the failure was on account of lack of mobilisation of the political, social, ethical and cultural forces needed for a true socialist transformation;
- • the failure lay in inadequate knowledge and understanding of the Indian social structure and cultural tradition on the part of a progressive section of the elite;
- • the failure lay in political alliance of the intermediate classes with the uppermost echelons to the total exclusion of the lowest strata of the society;
- • the failure lay in harnessing the levers of Political Power, Patronage and Pressures (3Ps) to foster and promote a development which will be pro-people, pro-Nature, pro-poor, pro-gender and pro-children; it was in effect to nurture and reinforce vested interests and parasites of the Indian society;
- • the failure lay in an Anglicised and predominantly urban character of the political elite, their mindsets and fads which prevented them from a natural and spontaneous interaction with the Indian masses who are victims of pervasive illiteracy, deprived of the knowledge, information and skills which would block their entry to the age of knowledge in an effective manner.

IV

WE had, thanks to the imagination and vision of the then political leadership of the Prime Minister, Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Agriculture Minister Dr C. Subramaniam and the acclaimed contribution of agricultural scientists led by Prof Norman Bourlog, Prof J.B.S. Haldane and Prof M.S. Swaminathan, ushered in an era of Green Revolution in the late sixties and early seventies. The Green Revolution was purely an economic approach to a new technology for boosting agricultural production and productivity. It was essentially capital intensive in terms of sizeable investment in irrigation and land development and led to monetisation of the agricultural economy in terms of cost and marketing of output. It did lead the nation in the direction of complete self-sufficiency in foodgrains production (going upto 200 million + tons). It did put an end of the days of PL-480. The Revolution definitely worked in favour of farmers with large holdings and financial resources. These benefits regretfully did not percolate equitably to all sections of the society and notably the small and marginal farmers, landless agricultural labourers and sharecroppers. Consequently the rich grew richer and the poor poorer. The already existing regional and spatial inequalities in income and wealth between irrigated and unirrigated areas were accentuated. Capitalist farming resulted in the marginalisation of small farmers.

There is a symbiotic relationship between agriculture and land reforms. Much of the inequitable spread effects of Green Revolution could have been countered and minimised if adequate and genuinely committed attention would have been paid to land reforms. Regretfully land redistribution on the scale required to meet the ends of social justice was nowhere in sight in the whole of the Asia-Pacific region except to some extent in Japan and China.

Nearer home the total cultivated area (43 million acres) has not shown any appreciable increase. The irrigated area has increased by about 10 per cent while the population has increased by 300 per cent. Fiftyeight percentage of the total population is dependent on agriculture of which the cultivators who own land are about 110 million, cultivators who do not own land are 32 million, agricultural labourers are about 100 million and the non-cultivating owners are about five million.

There is a glaring disparity in land ownership inasmuch as:
- • 53 per cent of the families who own less than five acres each have only 16 per cent of the total area;
- • 24 per cent of the families who own between five and 50 acres own 68 per cent of the area;
- • only one per cent of the families own more than 50 acres but hold 16 per cent of the total area.
The current scenario of land reforms may be summed up in the following words:
- • abolition of the zamindary system in the mid- fifties closed one chapter of expropriation of rural incomes by absentee landlords sitting far away in the city centres but opened up another chapter of insidious transfers incomparable in their severity;
- • a large section of tillers of the land lost their holdings fully or partially;
- • this phenomenon is now reflected in the concentration of land assets in a comparatively small section of the rural community;
- • except Kerala no other State has been able to fully abolish tenancy;
- • there are oral and informal tenants ranging between 30 to 70 per cent;
- • even today a sizeable percentage of non-cultivating land owners lease out land to tenants in the following order:

- North India - 14 per cent
- Coastal India - 20 per cent
- South India - 23 per cent
- East India - 25 per cent
- West India - two per cent
- North Western India - 37 per cent.

Land is both the primary means of production and the biggest asset in the rural areas. It is the base from which all communities initially started their economic life. A landless person is like a biped animal without any identity and social status. There are a number of basic principles behind land reforms which deserve serious attention and consideration:

• there should be an absolute limit to the amount of land which any individual may hold;

• the limit is to be fixed by each State having regard to its own agrarian history;

• right of occupany should be conferred on all tenants;

• only bonafide owner cultivators should be given the right to resume land to cultivate it themselves;

• all sharecroppers must be registered by law;

• the law should apportion a fair share of the produce for sharecroppers (such a law is in force for bargadars of West Bengal only);

• the owner’s right of resumption should be subject to the tenant’s right to retain a minimum holding.

V. Social Implications of the New Wave of Urbanisation and Migration

• The new wave of urbanisation is characterised by the following:

  • there are new opportunities by way of access to more diversified jobs, livelihoods, income and income security in the wake of economic development;
  • an inconceivably easier life with a variety of modern amenities but simultaneous appetite for vulgar consumption;
  • freedom from struggle for a mere biological existence and an assured future.

• Urbanisation makes sense when there is a proper master plan for residential complexes with accompanying support services, facilities and amenities, systematic drainage and sewerage, environmental sanitation and hygiene etc.; it does not make sense when land meant for drainage and sewerage is used for construction of multistoried buildings. It does not also make sense when there is a mad rush of people from the rural to urban areas regardless of the consequences of congestion and overcrowding as also the deleterious impact of corrupting forces and lumpen elements on the simple and guileless rural folk migrating to the urban areas.

• There are separate push and pull factors for those who are in the unorganised sector (landless agricultural workers, sharecroppers, rural artisans, leather workers, workers in brick kilns and stone quarries, hawkers, vendors, scavengers, headload carriers, loaders and unloaders), who do not have stability and durability of employment and who during the lean season have to migrate from the rural to semi-urban and urban centres for sheer biological survival. Often recruited by middlemen with a lot of promises and allurements, they find themselves at the receiving end as victims of denial of basic entitlements with all the promises belied. Their working hours are unduly long, the workplace unclean, unhygienic and unsafe, accidents do take place but are seldom reported and the workmen’s compensation is seldom paid. Women and children who accompany the male adults have their cup of misery full as well. While women are subjected to sexual harassment at the workplace, children are the worst victims of educational deprivation and both live in virtual black holes bereft of the minimal privacy and dignity of human life. The petals of childhood wither away in wilderness before blossoming to the flowers of youth and manhood. Those girls and women who are being trafficked through chicanery, deceit and fraud—both within and outside India—for commercial sexual exploitation, inter-country adoption with a huge consideration amount per child, forced labour, performance in circus, transfer of organs etc. have a more grim story to tell. After trafficking their whereabouts cannot be easily traced and restored to the custody of parents. Very few of them are rescued from the clutches of middlemen and fewer still are mainstreamed into the realm of a civilised social existence. The worse part of this process is that parents in the originating State are accomplices in this saga of unabashed exploitation and are hand in glove with the private recruiting agents who are also agents of exploitation and expropriation.

VI. Globalisation and Labour Rights

Labour is the source of all wealth . . . . And it is the source next to Nature which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence and this to such an extent in a sense we have to say that labour created Man himself.
- Frederick Engels: ‘Dialectics of Nature’

LABOUR indeed is an inalienable part of human existence. The very development of man and society both depend on labour. Free labour is a must for rapid development of any society. Without labour neither the growth of higher organisms nor the growth of the higher biological would have any meaning. Since the World Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1995, there is worldwide emphasis on a minimum social floor through compliance with core labour standards. The ILO since June 1998 has been working towards promotion of decent work based on respect for rights and representation at work, social dialogue and social protection.

‘Globalisation involves changes in economic structure, relative prices, consumption possibilities and patterns which in turn affect people’s jobs, livelihoods and incomes. Some have been adversely affected while others have gained. More generally those endowed with capital and other assets, entrepreneurial ability, education and skills which are in increasing demand have benefited and those not so endowed have lost.’

This is the general assessment about the positive and negative offshoots of globalisation brought out by the ILO report of the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalisation (2004). In India there are undoubtedly upsides and downsides of globalisation. Domestic production (manufacturing and services sector), export turnover, rate of savings (30 per cent), high rate of investment (34 per cent), growing confidence of invetors, increase of trade in goods and services from 17 per cent of the GDP in 1999 to 45 per cent in 2006, expansion of credit annually at 30 per cent, high GDP rate of growth (ranging between 8.1 per cent and 9.4 per cent), heightened access to information under the RTI Act which bring abuse of human dignity and all other human aberrations to surface etc. are the upsides which are impressive. Shrinkage of employment in the organised manufacturing sector; entry of a large labour force into the informal manufacturing and services sector without any semblance of social security and the corresponding increase in inequality, privation and suffering; decline in per capita availability of foodgrains for consumption; increase in nutritional poverty; decline in public investment in agriculture and decline in access to institutional credit leading to a deceleration in the rate of its growth; slow growth of rural infrastructure; sharp increase in domestic prices of essential commodities having serious implications for food security; farmers in many parts of the country being driven to desperation on account of their inability to sell what they produce at a remunerative price; decline in the share of the self-employed; increase in the share of contract/casual/temporary/part-time employ-ment; absence of any social safety net for rehabilitation of the displaced, rationalised and retrenched (the NRF launched in 1991-92 has since been wound up); changes in the terms and conditions of service of employees brought about on account of frequent mergers, acquisitions and disinvestment of companies; marginalisation of the trade union movement and end of the era collective bargaining and collective agreements are some of the downsides of globalisation.

It is necessary and desirable to highlight certain basic principles through which globalisation and labour rights can coexist. These are:

• Right to freedom of expression, freedom of association, right to organise and collective bargaining are not anti-trade, anti-industry and anti-development.

• They unlock the lead of imagination, ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness on the part of workers as individuals and trade unions of workers as collectives. The PM’s Shram Awards are an outstanding example of this process.

• Right to organise and collectively bargain impart representational security to workers at the workplace; this constitutes the very basis of the workers’ participation in management of industry (which was a part of the old 20-point programme).

• Through such security they would be able to contribute their very best to the growth and prosperity of the enterprise.

• Labour laws are not a hindrance to production and productivity though there is scope for rationalisation in the same. Labour laws have been enacted in response to the obligations cast on the State by the Constitution of India and ratification of ILO Conventions (over 40).

• Depressing wages of the industrial workers or denying them of their just, fair and basic entitlements is not the right answer to cost of production. Payment of a just, fair and living wage is essential for sustaining the existing level of motivation and morale of workers.

• Labour Welfare and fulfilment of just and fair labour entitlements are key to production and productivity. These are all-embracing and comprise of the following in particular:

* eight hours of work a day or 48 hours a week;

* payment of OT at double the rate of approved wages for work in excess of the scheduled working hours;

* living wages (Article 43 of the Constitution) to make life with dignity and decency possible;

* payment of wages in time but not later than the 7th to 10th of the month succeeding the month to which the wages relate;

* payment of weekly off or seven days wages for six days of work;

* provision of spread over;

* no illegal, unauthorised and arbitrary deduction towards wages;

* provision of a social security cover to take care of the workmen in the winter of their lives;

* access to a roof above the head, potable water, environmental sanitation, children’s education, nutrition etc;

* no illegal, unauthorised and arbitrary retrenchment from work;

* provision of a safe, clean and congenial work place;

* mechanisms like safety committees, provision of safety appliances to minimise accidents at the workplace;

* reporting accidents and depositing workmen’s compensation with the Commissioner, Workmen’s Compensation;

* timely and specialised treatment for occupational diseases;

* creation of a mechanism for ventilation and redressal of grievances of workers.

Many of these are being honoured in the breach. Ironically enough the state which should assume the role of the guardian angel of freedom and welfare (no substitutes for each other) is sometimes a party to their violation. Work beyond stipulated hours (ranges between 20 to 50 per cent) tends to devitalise workers; it leads to alienation from the workplace. Denial of social security frustrates the objective of building up a healthy, contented and motivated workforce apart from providing a blanket cover in the winter of their lives. Many employers prefer to deal directly with the work force to the total exclusion of trade unions which has led to the marginalisation of the trade union movement.

According to a study conducted by Prof Jean Dreze and Siddhartha Lal (The Hindu, July 13, 2007) while public awareness of the various aspects of the NREG in Jhalawar in Rajasthan is quite high and the share of women, SCs and STs in the NREG works is substantial (66 per cent to 80 per cent), they are earning Rs 51 which is much less than the national average minimum wage (Rs 65). We neither have a national wage nor a zonal wage. While wage differentials across regions are high and lead, amongst others, to migration, minimum wages fixed by law are not reviewed and revised for several years.

VII. Labour Market Discrimination

DISCRIMINATION in employment and occupation means treating people differently and less favourably on account of certain characteristics such as sex, religion, colour of skin, political beliefs or social origin irrespective of merit or possession of the requirements of the job. Perceptions rather than objective facts about the abilities and attitudes attributed to individuals belonging to a particular sex or certain social groups give rise to discrimination in the labour market. Like forced or bonded or child labour, this is not a one-time phenomenon; the labour market has continued to endure segmentation along gender, ethnic, religious, political or social lines for several years now. To give a few examples of sex based discrimination:

• in Maharashtra, one job per family rule in 1995 led to higher male employment;

• a large part of the economic contribution of women is technically excluded and, therefore, socially undervalued;

• women as a general rule are under-counted in the labour force, underestimated in their work performance and undervalued in economic rewards;

• women are mostly engaged in household activities which are not considered as economic and do not get included in conventional measures of employment;

• a large part of women’s economic activities consist of production of goods and services for the use of their own households and consequently they do not get captured in market oriented concepts of income and employment;

• women’s work even in the production of goods and services for the market is often ignored due to its being intermittent and subsidiary to their own non-market and non-economic household work;
The inevitable conclusion which is reached is this:

• Subsistence production, household work, child care and many other non-market activities are valueless in economic accounting.

• Women’s work is used as a sponge to clean the mess created by economic historians who neglected it as an area of analysis for computing.

• Women continue to work for much longer hours than men everywhere.

• More and more women are engaged in part-time and contract employment which is precarious and insecure with low and uncertain incomes.

• Women have been channelled into dead-end jobs which are ill paid, repetitive and have poor career prospects.

Starting with the Philadelphia Declaration, 1944 as many as 40 Conventions, Protocols, Declarations and Resolutions has been adopted between 1944 to 2003 by the UN and some of its specialised agencies like the ILO to put an end to discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity for employment, equality, dignity and decency in treatment at the workplace and protection of human rights. Their observance in letter and spirit, however, continues to be elusive.

VIII. Caste Hierarchy, Social Discrimination, Untouchability and Bondage

Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden
Article 17 of Constitution of India

UNTOUCHABILITY, which is synonymous with caste- based indignation, is revolting to civilised human conscience. It is the very antithesis of dignity and decency with which every individual is to be treated regardless of his/her social origin. It is analogous to social ostracism and indefensible in any form.

Within six years after the Constitution was adopted (November 29, 1949) a law under the title ‘The Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955’ was enacted by Parliament. Arising out of considerable dissatisfaction with its impact and based on the recommendation of llaya Perumal Committee (April 1965) the Act was comprehensively amended and its name was changed to the ‘Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1976’.

Regretfully, however, the practice of untouchability which is the product of an invidious caste system is deeprooted in the psyche and behaviour of caste Hindus and this is what made Dr B.R. Ambedkar to observe that untouchability cannot be abolished unless the caste system itself is annihilated.

The irony and tragedy of the Indian societal framework regretfully has been that more stringent the implementation of State Policies for Protection of the Untouchables, the greater is the spurt in physical violence against the members of the SCs and STs, leading to brutalities such as mass murder, rape, arson and grievous injuries.

This led to enactment of a special law for their protection known as the ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989’ to provide for strong punitive measures which could serve as a deterrence.
A sincere effort was made for the first time to identify the multiple contours of atrocities to which the members of the SCs and STs have been subjected for generations; and these include:

• hurling indignities;

• humiliation, oppression, harassment, torture and denial of inalienable social and economic rights.

Statutory provisions with laudable intentions have undoubtedly been backed by a series of progressive social, political and administrative action on the part of the present government which do impact the direction of the abolition of untouchability.

All these measures notwithstanding, the practice of untouchability is widespread in every nook and corner of the country with a series of adverse consequences as under:

• the members of the SC community hold very little land in some States and in many States they are not allowed to own land;

• most of them work as landless agricultural labourers under conditions akin to bondage;

• a large number of them have not reached the desired level of educational development and continue to be victims of unemployment, under employment, low wages and live below poverty line;

• working and living conditions of workers (both women and men) belonging to the SC community wherever employed continue to be depressingly poor;

• they are generally devoid of access to social services (lighting, ventilation, potable water, hygiene, sanitation);

• private corporate enterprises and institutions generally do not like to employ members of the SCs on account of their low status as also the deeprooted social prejudices against them;

• even in the Army, Navy and Air Force barring a few castes like mahars, mazhabis, ramdasias and malas very few belonging to the SCs are recruited as soldiers, airmen and sailors;

• the members of the SCs have limited access to information which is of interest and relevance to their lives, have a very limited choice regarding location of projects, facilities and amenities which would be beneficial to their lives and a very limited access to training which would bring them closer to the market.

Depicting the plight and predicament of the members of the SC community, V. Karuppan IAS (Retd.) wrote in December 2003:
Untouchability continues to be practised after nearly five decades of independence despite constitutional and legal provisions. The anti untouchability laws are not enforced seriously by the bureaucracy and judiciary which comprise of a large percentage of officers from the so called higher castes. The vast majority of law enforcing authorities are caste Hindus who themselves practice untouchability and, therefore, have no moral inclination to enforce the law of the land.

He continued further:

All guarantees are violated without any pity or compassion. The members of the SC community are not allowed to draw water from public wells, are prevented from eating with others in restaurants and public places and are not allowed to walk with the chappals or shoes or to use an umbrella inside a caste Hindu locality. They are not allowed to travel or ride on a bicycle in the streets exclusively used by caste Hindus. Even when they die their dead bodies are not allowed to be buried in their respective religious burial grounds or ghats. Marriage or religious processions are not allowed to pass through streets used by the castes Hindus.

What Shri Karuppan has written are not figments of imagination but are largely true. While the cold-blooded murder of SC families at Khairlanji in Bhandara district in Maharashtra is a matter of national shame, according to a latest report published in The Times of India, July 13, 2007, an Orissa panchayat in Balangir district has barred 16 Dalit families from consuming tap water on grounds of untouchability. A similar report has also been received from Andhra Pradesh.

IX. Tribal Land Alienation and Bondage

AT 84.3 million, according to the 2001 decennial census, the tribal population is largely egalitarian with minimal stratification. The members of the community lived for generations in harmony with Nature and their life was characterised by existence of a strong tradition rooted in hills and forests. With the advent of the colonial powers the traditional close-knit village system gave birth to division and stratification of a type not recognised hitherto.

In the wake of the colonial era a few tribal areas were designated as ‘excluded areas’ in which the tribal communities continued to enjoy all their rights of management of land, forest and administration of justice without any external interference. The autonomous character of the village community in these areas (hills of the North-East region) has been preserved even after independence under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The tribal areas in the rest of the country (designated as ‘partially excluded areas’) were gradually brought under the formal administrative system. This was a new development in which the traditional tribal community was placed in juxtaposition with a strong formal administrative system backed by new laws and procedures. The socio-economic forces which were generated in the wake of planned efforts for economic development had several adverse implications for the members of the ST community including their deprivation on many counts. The traditional command of the tribal community over natural resources within its territorial jurisdiction was questioned and gradually replaced by a new legal and institutional framework introduced by the state. The forests were nationalised and declared ‘reserved’ or ‘protected’ with enactment of the Indian Forest Act, 1980. The few rights conceded and concessions granted by the officials of the Forest Department were out with the passage of time making the tribal communities trespassers in their own land.

Thus the authority of the community was derecognised and replaced by the superior authority of the state; the former have been completely alienated from the territory which they had commanded for ages and which had sustained their livelihood. Such dispossession completely destabilised the delicately balanced system from which the tribals drew sustenance for their daily biological survival.

The establishment of state monopoly over forest resources, the emergence on the scene of a set of officials who tended to ignore the emotive bond of the indigenous people with Nature and the conversion of traditional occupants of forests into encroachers were part of this destabilising process. The quest for industrialisation, urbanisation and exploitation of mineral resources, construction of hydroelectric projects and power stations, acquisition of tribal land and their resultant displacement reinforced the process further.

Such displacement from the place where one is born and brought up, from the flora and fauna which is a source of pure excitement and joy is extremely traumatic. It becomes more traumatic as the native habitat is associated with their place of worship, as the place where the spirit of their ancestors lives, the place from which they derive spiritual will and strength to live.

A very conservative estimate indicates that during the last 50 years approximately 21.6 million people in the country have been displaced due to construction of mega projects (dams, thermal stations, industries, mines, wild life sanctuaries etc.); this would mean that approximately 5,00,000 persons are being displaced every year). (Vijay Paranjpe 1988) A sizeable percentage of this number is from the indigenous tribal population. This trend appears to have been confirmed by the Report of the Expert Group of the Union Ministry of Rural Development (2004) on Prevention of Alienation of Tribal Land and its Restoration.

X. Plight and Predicament of the Elderly

BY the year 2010, approximately 27 per cent of the global population will be over 45, the age at which the incidence of disability begins to increase. India is poised to be home to the second largest number of elderly people in the world. This number is estimated at present at 7.6 crores or 76 million. Futuristic projections indicate that their number at 60+ will increase to 100 million in 2013 and nearly 200 million in 2030. Fiftyone per cent of the elderly persons are women.

Old age, like childhood, youth or manhood is an important phase in the cycle of a man or woman’s life. It is inevitable. It is also painful on account of the loss of skills, loss of memory, loss of reflexes and decline of mental faculties. It becomes all the more painful due to gradual disintegration of the joint family system, uprooting of the family as a basic unit of development, impatience, restlessness, the aggressive acquisitiveness and insensitivity of the youth. The pain is both physical, mental and emotional. The old have restricted mobility and as they grow older and remain confined indoors, it introduces an element of seclusion in their lives. Older women are more handicapped than men on account of their low levels of literacy and other skills. The predicament of women who are issueless and widows is compounded further as such women are denied access to and control over resources. They also experience double discrimination in the form of sexist and ageist stereotypes.

The obligation to provide income, security or protection for the elderly came in the past from the family. Today with increasing atomisation of the family structure, the ties of the kindred which tightly held the family together are getting loosened and the traditional support is rarely available. Besides, gratitude and reciprocation, duties and obligations are being off-staged by the worship of the Mammon, by a vulgar display of wealth and consumption. Ejection of the elderly parents by children, protracted litigation dragging the elderly to court cases for reaping unmerited benefits by way of having access to property rights have upstaged all the values and principles which held the Indian society together.

XI. Concerns associated with Protection and Conservation of Environment

PHYSICAL environment, which is the sum total of land, air, water, biomass, flora and fauna, has to be conducive (free from denudation, pollution, congestion and suffocation) to ensure decent livelihood and dignified living. This regretfully is not the situation in which 1.027 billion population of India is placed today as would be evident from the following :

• we have not even a third of the original forest left in the world; barely 20 per cent of the country’s total geographical area is left with forest and vegetal cover;

• we consume today over 150 million tons of firewood and many million tons of wood for building and industrial uses;

• the practice of over-cultivation, overgrazing and denudation of forest deprives the top soil of nutrients and organic matter, thereby exposing it to erosion from the sun and wind. Consequently a vast extent of semi-arid land goes out of production every year making increasing desertification a major manmade disaster;

• denudation of forests on account of indiscriminate felling of timber also deprives the people of their right to live within and use the forest resource for day-to-day living; this is notwithstanding the provisions under the ST and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

There are certain other disquieting global, regional and national features of the adversely affected ecosystem on the basis of the latest Geographical Information System (GIS) which are worth mentioning:

• there is severe ozone depletion and global warming;

• seas are rising and the earth is sinking;

• as a result of earthquake, landslide, cyclone and supercyclone the shape of the surface of the earth is changing beyond recognition;

• by 2020 a major catastrophe will engulf the world; there will be devastating droughts, famine and acute scarcity of drinking water;

• glaciers will melt, large rivers will dry up and ancient civilisations which have grown on the banks of these rivers will crumble;

• if the phenomenon of rising seas continues unabated several European cities will sink beneath the waves;

• the UN weather reports have drawn the attention of humanity to cataclysmic climate changes due to uncontrolled green house emissions reaching unmanageable proportions;

• the heat recorded in many parts of the world in May 2003 was the highest since 1880; if temperatures rise further by two or three degrees Celsius—a distinct possibility in the next few decades—the earth may be unable to sustain human life.

XII. Food Security is Central to Sustainable Livelihood

FOOD security has been identified as a key area for policy and programme intervention within the overall focus on poverty alleviation, gender equity and sustainable development.

Food security would be meaningful in terms of adequate production and distribution of food to all both during normal times and in times of crisis.

According to a well-researched article captioned, ‘Feasting and Fasting’, written by Ms Utsa Patnaik of the JNU (April 27, 2004), the following picture of food security in India emerges:
• per capita absorption of food in 1950—152 kg;

• per capita absorption of food in 1991—178 kg;

• per capita absorption of food in 2002-03—155 kg;

• in 2000-01 an average Indian family of four members was absorbing 93 kg less of foodgrains;

• the fall is unprecedented entailing a fall in the average daily intake of 64 gms per head or a fall in calorie intake by 2050 calories from foodgrains;

• there is unprecedented decline in purchasing power in the rural areas;

• there is a difference of nearly 20 kg per head between output, availability and absorption of foodgrains;

• this difference goes by way of net addition to stocks held at increasing cost and into exports;

• eight million hectares of foodgrains growing land has been diverted to exportable crops between 1991 and 2001;

• the yield has not risen enough to compensate leading to a sharp decline of the annual output of growth;

• about seven per cent of rural households and three per cent urban households do not have access to two square meals a day; several of them go to bed hungry every night;

• over 47 per cent of the children in the 0-6 age group are victims of acute malnutrition;

• the overall situation is one of sharp and mind-boggling contrast inasmuch as the average per capita income is rising but the average foodgrains availability and absorption is declining.

Ms Patnaik puts the question to the policy formulators: ‘How can we talk of decline in rural poverty when there is decline in purchasing power of the rising income, falling per head grain intake and a rise in the absolute and relative numbers in nutritional deficit?’

XIII. Issues of Good and Bad Governance, Transparency and Accountability versus Permissiveness and Licentiousness

GOVERNANCE is neither government nor administration nor even the apparatus of the state. It is a process or system or both to ensure that certain activities—be they of government, a corporate enterprise or a voluntary organisation— are carried out, managed, governed, directed and controlled within the parameters of legitimacy, accountability and transparency as would be in the best interests of stakeholders.

The central focus of governance is how the state as the agent of the society enables, facilitates and empowers its people regardless of differences in caste, class, gender, faith and political ideology to think, reflect, critically analyse, internalise and take certain decisions which will be in their best interest and which will enable them to lead a clean, decent, dignified, orderly, happy and autonomous existence.

Good governance is neither too little nor too much of governance. It basically aims at providing an environment in society where every person can have an equal opportunity to allow his genius to flourish, to promote a good quality of life with dignity and simultaneously promote order and stability.

Bad governance is the antithesis of good governance. It sets in when the criminal justice system as a whole fails to respond and effectively deal with the blatantly criminal, lawless, rabidly communal and lumpen elements of the society whose behaviour and action borders on bigotry and jingoism.
Bad governance has certain definite attributes such as:

• it fails to provide timely relief to those who are victims of mindless communal violence and hatred;

• it fails to bring to book and punish the guilty, the corrupt and the deprived;

• it fails to promote, protect and preserve basic human rights and fails to instil a sense of security and fearlessness.

Good governance ultimately rests on a positive, responsive and sensitive administration. Such an administration responds or reacts to issues, characters and situations and takes decisions only after a thorough screening of all the implications as also the alternative courses of action open. Such responsiveness or answerability with some amount of sensitivity is accountability while transparency is total openness about a transaction which means that it must stand public scrutiny at all times.

Where are we today in terms of good governance?

We have a Constitution which is the very sentinel of dignity of the individual and unity of the nation. We have before us the ethos of the freedom struggle based on suffering, sacrifice and self-abnegation of millions of countrymen. We have a free press which is the watchdog of human freedom. We have a massive bicameral Parliament. We have an impartial judiciary many of whose judgements have come down to us like breaths of fresh air. Our first generation political Leaders (most of whom had made huge personal sacrifices during the freedom struggle) were persons of character and integrity and committed to a set of high values and principles. The rot set in later with an unbridled craze to seize and cling to power and to use that power for unabashed acquisition of wealth at any cost; this witnessed an unholy nexus between a number of stakeholders of the civil society who had the mantle of power and authority to subserve the greater common good but failed to use it for that end. The scams and hawalas pervading the national scene beween 1948 and 2006 are some of the manifestations of this rot.

We are placed in a scenario where we have multiple dilemmas. The population is still rising at an alarming rate in Bihar, UP, MP and Rajasthan. About 20 per cent of the population live below the poverty level. The gains of the high GDP rate of growth are not percolating uniformly to all sections of the population. There is recourse to foeticide and female infanticide in many parts of the country. We have an adverse sex ratio in a number of pockets of advanced States/UTs like Delhi, Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana and UP. A large number of our non-enrolled and out-of-school children are condemned to a hard gruelling manual labour at a tender and formative stage of their development which represents a colossal waste of the most precious human resource. Not every one has access to health care; many primary health centres and sub-centres are non-functional. A large number of our children in the 0-6 age group are either undernourished or malnourished. In about 100,000 villages people do not have access to potable water. Over 75 per cent of the rural areas are without any household toilets. The incidence of florosis is growing in parts of Maharashtra (Yeotmal) and Gujarat.

A very large number of people are landless (100 million+) while an equally large number do not have a roof above their head. In most villages and towns, the educated jobless are adding to despair which, if not tackled in time, may lead to growing discontentment. Public confidence in the independence, impartiality and objectivity of many of our law dispensing mechanisms has been progressively sapped. Governance on the whole is not perceptive, responsive and sensitive.

Where Do We Go From Here?

AT the political level our Constitution through the right of universal access to adult franchise has succeeded in involving the socially excluded masses in the political process. The more daunting task, which remains incomplete or unfulfilled, is how to fuse the uncoordinated currents flowing through fractured minds of the people, how to achieve spiritual and ideological unity among the masses after eradicating the evil of the caste system, how to promote true development of human resource (through nutrition, health, literacy, education, social awareness, ethical and spiritual values etc.) and how to subordinate and subsume aggressive self-interest to national interest as the supreme one.

No law or Constitution can produce results unless (a) we have successfully inculcated a high level of sensitivity, both moral and ethical, to human misery and suffering arising out of communal riots, insurgency, natural calamities and farmer’s suicides etc., and (b) the people have been aroused and awakened to the tragic realities engulfing their lives and empowered through collective action to redress the wrongs being caused to them. Political democracy does not mean much for the economically and socially marginalised masses unless it is accompanied and fortified by social and economic democracy. Unequal distribution/transfer of resources bringing in unequal development between regions, sectors/sections of economy and society has to be curbed so that the gains of globalisation could reach uniformly all sections of the society.

To conclude in the words of Dr B. R. Ambedkar:

‘On January 26, 1950 we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality while in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man, one vote and one vote, one value. Our social and economic structure, however, will continue to deny the principle of one man, one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer form inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which we have so laboriously built up.

The anguish with which the great visionary of Indian history had posed these questions continues to be the single most focal point of reflection 57 years later even today.

A former Union Labour Secretary, Government of India, Dr L. Mishra is currently a Special Rapporteur, National Human Rights Commission.

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