Friday, October 3, 2014

The Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 15

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

How Parliament / Assemblies work

The callous and interrupted manner in which these pillars of democracy work is notorious and has resulted in loss of respect for these institutions, besides huge wastage of public money. Attitude of members and their actions show that they are always guided by their party’s interest. Peoples’ needs and aspirations are often ignored. Disruptions and walk outs are so common that lot of time and public money are wasted. The Speakers of both Houses have often felt disgusted and adjourned these. For example, Lok Sabha Speaker described the incidents in Parliament on 13-02-14 as a shame and said It is a blot on democracy” (The Hindu dated 14-02-14, page1). Shameful “photographic” exposures of members sleeping or watching porn during sessions speak volumes about their lack of desirable character, dignity and sense of responsibility.

All these show absence of both accountability and commitment to the work for which they have been elected by people. Yet, they quite often greedily and shamelessly vote without conscience to increase their remuneration and perquisites (which are already very high), forgetting that they have neither fulfilled their responsibilities to ensure development and peace in the country nor acted sincerely to reduce sufferings of lakhs of people!!

Neglect of national and state interests has led to many serious and shameful consequences described below:

1. Poverty and hunger continue to be alarming while number of millionaires and extravagant spending by many thousands of persons (including politicians) to show off wealth are shooting up.

2. In the Multidimensional Poverty Index complied by UN for 109 countries India ranked the worst!!  UN Millennium Development Goals report 2014 states that one-third of world’s extremely poor live in India (Times of India dated 17-07-14, page 7). Yet, government callously boasts about the misleading GDP growth.

3. A World Bank paper also shows that India tops the world for number of poor people, having a miserable 33% of world’s poor while China (with more population) has only a 13% share, which is less than half of India’s share. (DNA dated 11-04-14, page 9)

4. India had a very low ranking (136 out of 186 countries in 2013) in UN Human Development Index, which highlights our abysmally low socio-economic level. The situation was actually more alarming because there has been deterioration from the earlier rank of 122 out of 170 in 2010 (a fall of 14 points).  It is ironical that government was smug and exhilarated because GDP growth rate was high during this period!!

5. While India gives high priority to FDI to enhance GDP growth, a World Bank report ranked India a lowly 134th out of 183 countries for ease of doing business and world’s 2nd worst for enforcing contracts.

6. India is ranked 71st in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness report 2014-15. What is most disturbing is the downward trend since 2007 for the sixth consecutive year resulting in a drop of 11 places this year. India ranks lowest among BRICS countries. The rank differential with China has shot up from 14 in 2007 to 43 today (Deccan Chronicle dated 04-09-14, page11).

7. The latest report by World Economic Forum shows that India has plunged 35 places to 62nd rank in terms of effective regulation of stock exchanges. (Deccan Chronicle dated 09-09-14, page 11)

8. Global Peace Index 2013 has ranked India at a very low level of 141 among 162 countries because of losing more than two lives a day due to internal conflicts. It is among the 25 least peaceful countries to live in. If the daily reports on rapes are also taken into account, the position may be much worse and India may be having the dubious distinction of topping the list of least peaceful countries. (This is despite the misleading GDP growth!!)

9. A WHO report on suicides states that India ranked the worst with  “nearly a third of the global total and more than twice as many as China, which is second in the list”  of suicides in 2012. (The Times of India dated 05-09-14, front page)

10. According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey last year, India was ranked fourth among the most dangerous countries in the world (The Week, May 20, 2012, page 44).

11. In the World Bank Report for 2012, India had an extremely low rank of 133 out of 146 countries in the Gender Inequality Index and even lagged behind Pakistan and war-torn countries such as Iraq and Sudan. In the last 50 years of our democracy, the number of women left out from electoral rolls increased fourfold from an already high 15 million to 68 million. (The Hindu dated 10-02-14, page 8).

12. India ranked a very poor 111 out of 189 countries on women in Parliament, as reported by the Inter- Parliamentary Union. This makes India one of the worst countries for women in Parliament. It is a matter of shame that India is much worse than its neighbours with Nepal 33rd, China 61st, Pakistan 72nd and Bangaldesh 74th in ranking - all far better than India’s 111th. (Times of India dated 09-03-14). Of the 543 MPs elected in 2014 only (11%) are women. During the period of more than 65 years after the first general election, the proportion of women MPs has only crawled up from 5% to 11%!! (DNA dated 22-05-14, page 8). The proposed Women’s Reservation Bill has been pending for many years and shows utter lack of interest in the matter on the part of the government, the Parliament and political leaders.

13 In a report on the “State of World’s Mothers” India is 4th worst even among 80 less developed countries. (This is despite the misleading GDP growth!!)

14. Malnutrition is widespread and alarming. According to WHO, 50% of Indian children are either underweight or stunted.

15. Foeticide to get rid of girl child is ridiculously high.

16. India retains the dubious distinction of topping the list of nations with most premature births (DNA dated 17-11-13, page 2). With 7.79 lakhs, India accounts for the highest number of neonatal (new born) deaths in the world. This number is five times higher than that of China (The Hindu dated 22-05-14, page 17), even though it has a smaller population than China

17. National Sample Survey (65th round) showed that only 47% of urban households have individual water connections. Currently, it is estimated that as much as 40 t0 50% of water is “lost” in the distribution system (The Hindu dated 01-01-14), even when water shortage is a serious problem!!

18. India has retained another dubious distinction of defecating in the open with more than 620 million people (over half of India’s population) being forced to practice open defecation in 2011 (”WHO and UNICEF joint report – The Hindu dated 07-12-13, page 12). GDP growth rate was high in 2011!!

19. “Between 2000 and 2012, jobs grew by a mere 2% per year “Agricultural employment, the mainstay for over two thirds of the people, has not grown in these thirteen years.” (Times of India dated 09-02-14). GDP growth was remarkably high during most of this period!!
20. “Over 20% of youth between 15 to 24 years of age were jobless and seeking work according to startling data released” by Census 2011 (Times of India dated 02-07-14, page 9).

21. According to UNDP, India has a very low ranking (136 out of 186 countries in 2013) in gross enrolment in education (both sexes). A recent survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has shown that 15-year old Indian students fared 2nd worst among 73 countries, for reading, mathematics and science. 

22. Out of 1.5 crore persons who enter the work force, only 3% undergo vocational training due to limited access to such training institutions. There are major skill gaps across all industries, more so in Information Technology.

23. “Not less than 65 per cent of prisoners in India are under trials   making the country  one of the world’s 10 “worst” in terms of  the proportion of under trails  languishing  in its jails” (The Hindu dated  27-07-14, page 6).

24. Even in information technology, which gives pride of place for India and boosts employment and income, its use for e-governance has fallen from an already dismal rank of 119 to 124 in 2012, as shown by a UN e-government survey.

25. Instead of helping the poor and down trodden, richer classes have been repeatedly helped to become richer. According to Forbes, there are “55 billionaires in India, making it the fifth biggest country in terms of number of people with at least one billion dollar net-worth.” (Deccan Chronicle dated 25-03-13, page 12).  Undemocratic and inhuman practices of helping the rich at the cost of  the poor have led to the abysmal fall in respectability of Parliament and Assemblies and their members. This  has led to stinking remarks like the following (for example): “…..the glaring tale of how a handful of companies are becoming abnormally wealthy by amassing an obscene amount of land and natural resources, that too at throw away prices, thanks to the dacoits running this country in the garb of politicians” (page 12, Deccan Chronicle, Bangalore dated 13-04-12).
26. According to news paper reports, there are large numbers of instances in which large private companies seem to have exercised control over government decisions. For Instance, the government, instead of enforcing the contract given to an oil company and ensuring that it delivers the promised volumes of gas (not to mention penalizing it for causing extensive losses to standard gas consumers) has allowed it to sell the natural gas, a public property extracted by it, at double the price, against public interest. (The Hindu dated 19-02-14). This was allowed even though the company’s cost of production was much less and it has  already been  receiving the  highest price that any private company was paid anywhere in the world!! Not only that, according to news paper reports, it seems to have got the minister concerned replaced by a more pliable minister during the discussions for fixing prices. In our sinking democracy voice of people hardly matters but that of rich persons does!!

27. Association for Democratic Reforms has observed that 86% of Rajya Sabha members were crorepatis with average assets of Rs. 44.74 crores and Lok Sabha 2009 had 58% crorepatis (The Times of India dated 06-02-14). This shows a highly imbalanced and unhealthy representation of people. No wonder, Parliament favours the rich and many anomalies like those mentioned under items 25 and 26 above have occurred.

28. Breaking of promises given during replies to questions in Parliament or discussions on bills and motions is alarmingly high. During the last 10 years this immoral action was repeated 1,024 times, as reported by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs!! (DNA dated 16-09-13) Over a longer time period many more instances of such disrespect of Parliament could have happened. Surprisingly, this shocking information did not cause even ripples!! Sad to say, Parliament has been spinelessly tolerating disrespect thousands of times, without the dignity expected from the august supreme body and failing to exercise its responsibility of having a check on functioning of government. Besides lack of dignity, Parliament also lacked in guts to punish government for breaking promises thousands of times!!

These shameful situations covering almost all crucial sectors are despite a high growth rate!! Government and Parliament are so obsessed and boasting about growth rate that they do not have the time and inclination to rectify the shameful situations pointed out above. It is likely that there are many more of such deplorable situations waiting to be highlighted!!

Have any of our MPs and MLAs and political parties bothered to think about all these manifold shameful situations, let alone take any action? Have any questions on these been at least raised in Parliament? Politicians, being obsessed by party matters and selfish interests, have neither time nor interest in such important national matters. May be, most of them may not even be aware of all these shameful situations because they are preoccupied  with  their  selfish and party interests!!

It is a pity that instead of hanging their heads in shame, MPs, MLAs and political parties assume airs of superiority and feel smug and exhilarated. No wonder, people have lost respect for MPs, MLAs and political parties who make a mockery of Parliament and Assemblies!!

It deserves to be reemphasized that Parliament brought disgrace on itself due to lack of dignity by spinelessly tolerating disrespect thousands of times and lack of guts to punish government for breaking promises so often.

Since attempts to stem the suicidal rot in these pillars of democracy are sadly lacking, disillusionments, antagonism, cynicism, intolerance, hostility and violence have already crossed danger levels in many areas (e.g., Maoism, separatism, attempts at disintegration, manipulated violent protests, ethnic violence and disgruntled or intolerant groups taking to the streets and burning vehicles at the drop of a hat) and more are likely to follow.

The editorial in The Hindu dated 24-02-14 states: “As the 15th Lok Sabha comes to an ignominious end, it is no longer possible to put off the question: are we a democracy only in name? Without a proactive course correction, India’s robust record of conducting elections could end up being just that – a ritualistic, five yearly obeisance to democracy that hides the appalling state of the country’s institutions, in particular Parliament which today resembles a wrestling arena. In truth, the comparison would insult the sport of wrestling, which is governed by well laid-out rules and regulations.”

As pointed out twice earlier, Parliament brought disgrace on itself due to lack of dignity by spinelessly tolerating disrespect thousands of times and lack of guts to punish government for breaking promises so often. We ought to be ashamed of this even though our MPs seem to have no shame. Lastly, as pointed out forcefully in Article 14, the worst attack Parliament has been facing is from within and it has qualified itself for self destruction.

These aspects depict the twenty-third and fundamental obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

To overcome this fundamental obstacle, we should ask ourselves: why do we spent thousands of crores of public money to maintain a Parliament which lacks dignity, guts to punish government for braking promises thousands of times, accountability and an ethics of care for aam admi? Why should we not try another system which is cheaper and can uphold the voice of people more efficiently and gracefully? If a way cannot be found to avoid mostly crorepatis being elected to Parliament (see item 27 above), abolition of Parliament with such distorted and unhealthy representation of people is further justified.   

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

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

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