Friday, February 27, 2009

Exploring MCX

Interview of Dr. V Shunmugam, Multi Commodities Exchange (MCX), Mumbai during 2007

What is your role in the Multi Commodity Exchange?

Our exchange is into future trading in commodities. The range of commodities include those from verticals such as agriculture, metals, bullion, energy, horticulture, on a daily basis. I am involved into analyses of markets and the benefits to the stakeholders, besides conveying the same to the policy makers, the eco-system, and regulators.

What is the role of futures trading in ensuring food security and stabilising prices in India?

Futures trading worldwide has contributed to one phenomenon, which is undoubtedly, price stabilisation. In the process, futures exchanges provide signals to the farmers about what to produce, how much to produce, when to sell and when to store. This leads to the creation of transparent markets, helping the policy makers to take efficient decisions. Futures exchanges thus help in effective management of food supplies, which determine food security.

Has the government taken conducive policy measures in the area of futures market?

The introduction of National Multi Commodity Exchanges itself is a major initiative on the part of the government. However, necessary measures by the government and government agencies to build up a conducive ecosystem are missing.
Instruments like options, and indices, are not allowed in the commodity exchanges which would enable exchanges to offer more products on the platform. Institutions such as banks, mutual funds and FIIs are not allowed to participate in the commodity exchanges. This restricts the participation of real beneficiaries, either due to want of the suitable products on the platform or for want of required depth of the market.

What has been the role of ICTs in the futures market?

ICTs form the backbone of commodity exchanges. National level multi-commodity exchange is being run purely on ICTs. Previously, there were regional exchange platforms that were available for regional participants. Trading calls by buyers and sellers used to be costly due to high cost of communication. But with the current revolution in ICT and the fall in the cost of communication, commodity exchanges could enter into previously unknown and new areas which sometimes were not even reached by roads.
ICTs are helping in creating a national level online market, instead of a regional exchange based on the pit trading system. This would be more relevant as most commodities are produced regionally but consumed nationally. ICTs created continuity across the time period by helping people to transparently discover prices based on the information available with them about the fundamentals. In the process, everyone in the value chain gets empowered, due to transparency. The entire process in exchanges, using ICTs, can reflect value addition in the value chain.

If agriculture comes under the concurrent list, would it be helpful to futures trading?

The main blame on the futures market could not be effectively countered due to lack of transparent spot markets. Had there been a transparent spot market, futures prices could have been audited. Due to this lack, it had become our responsibility to collect and disseminate the spot market prices to the futures participants, to streamline their calls. It would have been effectively solved by real-time online national spot exchange trading on the same quality of the commodity. Major hurdles have been faced by private entities including the one [National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL)] being floated to establish national electronic spot market, as agricultural marketing remains a state subject and does not come under the concurrent list.

What is the future of agriculture in India?

With the current level of investment in agriculture, achieving 4 percent growth rate per annum in agriculture would remain an onerous task. For example, there are no alternative marketing platforms for farmers to sell their products to obtain a competitive produce for himself to invest more in improving what he is doing. Public investment in technology development and dissemination are yet to deliver their results. Private investment in technology development being market-led had remained confined to fewer commercially potential technologies and crops. Even the credit delivery systems would have to be improved to augment the farmer’s access to available technology, and improve their input use. Unless, a coordinated effort to address the problem of adequate and focused private and public investment in farming is taken up, realising the targeted growth rate would only remain a mirage.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Report of the Second National Youth Convention held in Bhilwara, Rajasthan (India)

The two-day Second National Youth Convention was organised by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan (MKSS, Rajasthan), School for Democracy, Josh (New Delhi), Rojgaar va Soochna Ka Adhikar Abhiyan and Loktantrashala. It was held in Sanmati Vatika, Bhilwara, Rajasthan (almost 505 km. away from Delhi) on 21st and 22nd February, 2009. Participants came from different parts of India (both rural and urban), and also from abroad (New York City, United States, Germany et al). The presence of young students from reputed colleges and universities such as Lady Shri Ram College, IIM Indore, London School of Economics etc. made the Convention a special one. Urban youths had the opportunity to interact with their rural counterparts during the Convention. Shri Vipul Mudgal and Mr. Shambhu Ghatak attended the Convention on behalf of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS, Delhi, Some of the persons they came across were: Dr. Muzaffar Bhatt and his teammates from Kashmir, Mr. Bijoo (specialist in community radio from NYC, US), Jaydeep Mandal (Indus World School of Business,, Disha e-cell, Noida), Aruna Roy, Nikhil De, Shankar Singh and Bhanwar Meghwanshi (from MKSS) et al. The first Convention was held in Beawar, Rajasthan during 2008.

While entering the venue, one could observe the slogans meant for spreading awareness about the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the National Rural Employment Guaranty Scheme (NREGS). Some of the slogans went like:

“Hamara Paisa, Hamara Hisaab”

“Prem Se Kaho Hum Insaan Hain”

“Har Hath Ko Kaam Mile, Kaam Ka Pura Daam Mile
Budhape Me Aaraam Mile”

“Jeene Ka Adhikaar, Jaanne Ka Adhikar”

“Saare Desh Ka Naara, Kaam Ka Adhikaar Hamaara”

“The Corrupt Minority,
The Silent Majority
Who Will Break This Silence”

The presence of a mobile RTI van (carrying the Mahiti Adhikar Helpline: 09924085000) from Gujarat so as to create awareness among citizens certainly became an object of attraction.

Day I: The participants arriving from different parts of India with diverse backgrounds introduced themselves on the first day at the beginning of the Convention. A satirical song on corruption in India titled ‘Kukroo Kukroo Chaal Mari Murgi, Kukroo Kukroo Chal…’, followed this. The first session comprised of speakers like: Mr. Vijender Keshri (All India Students Federation-AISF, Delhi), Mr. Pawan Godara (Youth Congress, Rajasthan), Dr. Muzaffar Bhatt (Kashmir), Ms. Aheli Chowdhuri (Josh, Delhi), Mr. Narayan Singh (ex-Sarpanch, Rajasthan) and Shri Ramlal ji Jat (MLA, Congress). Mr. Bhanwar Meghwanshi acted as the anchorperson during this session.

Ms. Aruna Roy praised the audience, for their participation in the Second National Youth Convention. She said that the significance of holding the Convention just before the Parliamentary elections, to be held in 2009, couldn’t be undermined. She informed about the plight of women in India and the rest of South Asia owing to gender and religious norms. She criticised the incident when Sri Ram Sene members harassed women and girls for going to pubs in Mangalore. She welcomed women as leaders to ensure gender equality. She mentioned about the prevalence of caste-based discrimination in various parts of the country that seriously threatened dalit rights. Casteism and caste-based discrimination exists across religions (Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity) and regions (India, Nepal and Bangladesh), she informed. She attacked communalism that created rift between the people on religious basis. She emphasized upon the need for promoting democracy. Dr. Muzaffar Bhatt, who hailed from Kashmir, and is working for the new RTI law to come into being in that state, was introduced by her. She appealed for an impartial legal system. She asked to rethink about India’s educational policy in the context of global meltdown, which has affected youths and their employment opportunities. Feudal basis of Indian leadership was criticised by her. She ended with the slogan: “Yuva Aap Aage Badho, Desh Tumhare Saath Hai”.

Ms. Aheli Chowdhury informed that urban youths stay away from politics since politics do not attract them anymore. She welcomed the active participation of urban youths in the Convention. She hoped of learning a lot from the Convention.

Dr. Muzaffar Bhatt told that 60 years back people used to join politics for serving the people. But with times changing, corruption has ruined politics, particularly after the 1970s. There is utter need for changing the structure of politics, where political and social education can play crucial roles. Perception of people towards politics needs to be changed. He informed that the level of unemployment is quite high in Kashmir. According to the Transparency International, Kashmir is considered as one of the most corrupt state. The RTI Act that has come into being in Kashmir is considered as one of the weakest laws (which falls under Article 370). Human rights violation is quite high in Kashmir. In the early 1990s, there used to be 12,000 terrorists (read militants) and 8 lakh army personnels residing in Kashmir. Although the number of militants has come down drastically over the years, the number of army personnels still deployed in Kashmir boils down to 8 lakh, which is the same as before. India spends a lot on defence despite facing the problems of starvation deaths and malnutrition. He considered the Interim Budget 2009 that has increased defence spending by 34%, remorseful. He invited the youths to enter politics in order to take care of the country and manage it well. The issues and problems facing the country are needed to be resolved. Since the poor too pay the taxes, hence the government should be accountable to the poor, he added.

Mr. Pawan Godara described youths as a generation having josh, energy and stamina to work. He informed that young people are doubtful about politics. He said that he hailed from a farming family. Politics has been adversely affected by corruption. There is a need for good persons joining politics, he said. Young persons coming from poor families do not find ample time to think politics as an alternative career. He asked for changing the political fabric of the nation.

Mr. Vijender Keshri said that the Convention was held at a time when elections are approaching, and they are going to be held in a short while (i.e. almost two to three months from now). He asked the audience to think about the pitfalls associated with privatisation of education. He informed that democracy is the opposite of feudalism and autocracy, which used to exist during the British times. Kith and kin relationship has affected politics badly. Young people are afraid of joining politics, he said. People like the Ambanis (business family) are getting richer and they spend a whole lot on conspicuous consumption. Attacks on women in pubs of Mangalore city by the hooligans from the right-wing Sri Ram Sene was criticised by Mr. Keshri. The entire system is running without a single change since ages, he informed. Casteism, political opportunism and communalism have impacted political parties badly. Politics without ideology posed a big danger, according to Mr. Keshri. Development without any ideological support is never possible. He complained that political parties do not talk about social and cultural changes. There is need for shunning the belief that good students should not enter politics. The Lyngdoh Committee Report, which has recently put curbs on elections being held in major universities of the country, was criticised by him.

Shri Ramlal ji Jat informed about the problem of corruption in India. He thanked Mr. Bhanwar Meghwanshi for inviting him. He said that people are not aware of RTI Act. He started as a young politician, and found later that a lot of money was being spent during elections. Huge expenditure during election times has contributed to corruption, Ramlal ji added. At the grassroot level, political parties are helpless in imparting training and education to their members. Although political parties bring out their election manifestos, yet people do not go through them for checking the credibility of the candidates. Due to lack of awareness and training, people have not received the job cards in the case of NREGS. Names would be missing in the voters’ list despite possessing voter’s identity card. Widows do not receive pension due to inefficiency and corruption. Ramlal ji supported the move by Mr. Ashok Gehlot, Chief Minister of Rajasthan, for condemning consumption of alcohol since that leads to moral degradation of the society at large. He said that drinking affects the character of an individual.

Mr. Narayan Singh, an ex-Sarpanch, who fought and won a panchayati election in the past by spending a mere sum of Rs. 800, said that it would be wrong to say that the youths are misguided and directionless. He informed that unemployment among rural youths is considerably high, which is a matter of grave concern. Despite the distribution of election manifestos that promises a lot, people and villages lack basic facilities. Indebtedness among young people is quite high. The present Convention has given one the time to rethink about the future of democracy, where youths have a role to play, he told. Politics nowadays cannot be distinguished from business because of the involvement of money. It has become increasingly difficult to contest in elections without ‘money power’, he added.

At the end of first session on Day I, the audience was invited to express their viewpoints. Mr. Shahnawaz from Kashmir expressed his resentments over the way human rights are abused in Kashmir on a day-to-day basis. He said that freedom is yet to arrive in Kashmir. A few persons from the audience felt that it was wrong to undermine the youth force. Some demanded for government sponsorship during election campaigns so as to put curbs on excessive usage of money and muscle power. Mr. Om Prakash Gupta asked for vigilance of the money spent during election campaigns. Mr. Lal Singh (MKSS) demanded for freedom at the mental level.

The second session of the Day I comprised of workshops on various topics. The key resource persons for various workshops (that were held separately) are available below:

RTI and Youth (Ms. Pankti, Lakshman, Khimaram, Roli Singh)
NREGA (Hari Om, Ramlal Acharya)
Dalit, Adivasis and Migrant Labourers (Parashram, Daulat ji)
Vigilance during Elections (Vijay Goel, Anil Behrwal, Kamal Taak)
Law, Justice and Police Force (Devbrata, Mayank, Kailash)
Forest Rights (Bhanwar, Devdulal)
Right to Education (Teja Ram,Kiran Bhatti)
Gender (Dr. Renuka Pamecha, Dr. Vinita Srivastava)
Globalisation, Agrarian Distress and Displacement (Jan Vikas Morcha)
Career (Jaydeep Chokar-ex Dean, IIM Ahmedabad)
Security, Terrorism and Minority and Human Rights (Muzaffar Bhatt, DL Tripathy, Suroor)
Media (Shri Vipul Mudgal, Pramod Tiwari, Bhanwar Meghvanshi)
Mask and Puppet (Ramnivas, Punaram)
Drama (Shankar, Shiv)
Film and Photography (Bata, Virendra)
Cartoon and Posters (Uday Prabhakar, Gulzar, Santosh)
Dance (Malavika, Aruna Roy)
Karate (Mohd. Kaish)

Minutes of the Workshop on Media

Mr. Vipul Mudgal, who was the resource person for the workshop on media, explained his group about the relationship between media and democracy. He said that there was a time when young people believed that social revolution could bring structural changes in the society. During the 1970s, emergency was announced by the Indira Gandhi led Congress government against which all the political parties fought including the right wing ones. Elections are held in a fairer way compared to before, he informed. However, there are places where people are unable to cast their ballots. Media has always been free in India and raised important issues including corruption. Media was termed as the fourth pillar (read Fourth Estate) of democracy. However, media enjoyed limited powers because it had its own limitations. Apart from the public and political spheres, there are other spheres too. In fact, society is comprised of different organized and live spheres. Every sphere (or institution) wants to put its best foot forward when it comes to dealing the rest of the society. The spokesperson of a particular sphere has his/ her own way to deal with the society. Within the liberal framework, each and every sphere wants to maximize its own gain. There are conventional and unconventional opposition groups within a particular sphere. Despite having good spokespersons, the need for public relation agencies has become crucial. Within the US, public relation agencies work in tandem with the army. Spin doctoring is often used to change the image of a politician or a particular political party. But it has also led to disproportionate image making and publicity. Kennedy and Nixon’s election campaigns were entirely based on media war. ‘Rose garden diplomacy’ by President Reagan was used to attract and appease the media persons and journalists. Image making started in India a long time back. There is a constant tussle among various information to realize into news. Providing news is similar to story telling. Often news or information provided by activists appears like pamphlets. It is essential to engage the readers in reading interesting stories instead of boring pamphlets. In a liberal democracy, media can be used effectively to communicate and convey the meaning. The relationship between activism and media do not always work well. The readers and not the editor, decide the content and fate of a newspaper. If certain newspapers are more accustomed to carrying news item on sex, violence and murder, then it has be blamed upon the readers. But one must know that media, like law, tries to normalize the deviances of the society. The world comprises of ‘order’ and ‘disorder’, and certain newspapers are more into publishing the ‘disorder’. The non-aligned new school (that falls under media studies) came into being as a critique of capitalist media. Though public service broadcasting is required, but it cannot totally replace or eliminate newspapers run by various groups or conglomerates. While answering to Mr. Ashim’s (participant in the workshop on media) remark on media’s dependence on advertisement, Mr. Mudgal said that the newspaper agencies rely upon capitalism in order to sustain themselves. Supply and demand for information and news do matter when it comes to content generation. Readers and audience play a critical role when it comes to content production and dissemination. The hard and fast rule of capitalistic mode of production of information needs to be understood, he added. While speaking on the accountability of media and their editors, he asked for better regulation and deconstruction of media without affecting creativity. Global meltdown has recently affected the media and they are increasingly relying upon government advertisements. In the US, the business reporters are required to disclose their assets for transparency. Reporters in the US criticize the corporates more in comparison to their Indian counterparts. There is a need to make the media accountable to the citizens. News reporting is a difficult task and depends on how creatively a reporter has gathered the information from various sources. Instead of repeatedly blaming the media for inaction, the public must take initiative on its own. Mr. Vipul Mudgal came up with the slogan: ‘Media Ko Khabar Den, Media Ki Khabar Len’. Citizens can form groups to fight against poor reporting, he added. Mr. Mudgal also shared his experiences when he was associated with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Hindustan Times. He asked for creative reporting of local best practices and case studies pertaining to development related schemes such as rainwater harvesting.

In order to pay homage to deceased Jahin Matin, who died in the terrorist attack on Mumbai while saving the lives of many people during November, 2008, a candle light procession was arranged that went to four different places of worship for expressing communal harmony, symbolically.

Day II: Day II began with the reporting of discussions held in various workshops on Day I by their respective resource persons. It was said that fees cannot be charged from persons belonging to the below poverty line (BPL) population. RTI activists are needed to be positive while facing hurdles. While registering FIRs (first information report) in police stations, fees or bribes cannot be charged. The police should be accountable towards the citizens. It was informed that the first form of Forest Right came into being in 1927 to be followed in 15 December, 2006. Implementation of laws pertaining to Forest Rights has become difficult over the years. The main issues raised during the workshop on law and justice delivery were: (a) Complexity in the legal system; (b) Loss of time and energy due to complex legal procedures; (c) Need for making the judicial and legal system easier; (d) Accountability of the judiciary towards the citizens; (e) Usefulness of collective action; (f) Awareness generation about the Right to Information; (g) Need for more Aanganwadis, Soochna Kendras, Helplines etc. for raising awareness about the RTI Act; (h) Raising public voice against exploitative practices, which is followed by the police force; (i) Sensitisation of the society at large on various issues; (j) Decentralisation of the legal system (in the form of Lok Adalats). People generally think that newspapers seldom use their powers. Media works better in the presence of activists. Community can inform the media persons/ editors about development related schemes, which are being implemented at the local level. Reporting of custodial deaths is essential to avert human rights abuse. There is need to discard poor quality newspapers and TV channels. There are media reports that NREGA money has been siphoned off by the rural elites for conspicuous consumption. There is a need for community driven action against bad reporters. Media alone cannot fight on behalf of victims. The victims in a particular society should fight their own battle. Media can only provide support to the victims. Apart from the mainstream media, drama, street theatres and plays using kathputlis can be organised for generating awareness about RTI and NREGS.

Mr. Shantanu from Foundation for Ecological Security (Rajasthan) introduced a team from Bangladesh that comprised of: Mehdi Hasan (Nagarik Udyog), Abu Baker (cultural activist, Nagarik Udyog), Alangir Kabir (Nagarik Udyog), Nikhil Bhadra (journalist, Dainik Samvad) etc. It was informed that Nagarik Udyog (a NGO) is involved in drafting of the first RTI law of its kind in Bangladesh. Persons representing Nagarik Udyog wanted to learn from the experiences of MKSS for dealing with RTI since they complained of lagging behind India in terms of democratic governance. While introducing herself to the team from Bangladesh, Ms. Aruna Roy said that religious tensions have adversely affected India’s relationship with her neighbours. On the Day II, there were sessions on: (a) Youth, Democracy and Politics; (b) Youth and Education; (c) Youth and Politics; (d) Youth and Employment and (e) Youth and Social Activism.

The Convention ended with the declaration of a proposal and a future course of action.

[This report on the Second National Youth Conference has been prepared by Shambhu Ghatak ( under the project titled ‘Inclusive Media and Rural Livelihoods’ (IMRL), which is sponsored by the Ford Foundation, and is currently being conducted at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), 29, Rajpur Road, New Delhi. The author is thankful to Mr. Vipul Mudgal (, Project Director, IMRL and the volunteers from MKSS].

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Towards ‘good’ governance in India

At a time when the world has seen never-the-before violence in terms of terrorist attacks on innocent victims, State aggression on poor people, children and women, and high incidence of chronic poverty and increasing inequality, it is essential for a citizen to assess how his or her country has advanced during the last 5 years. This is vital since the parliamentary elections are approaching and every political party would like to woo voters on its side. From the perspective of economic development at the grassroot level so as to emancipate and empower the poorer and marginal sections of the society, India during the recent past pursued the following major goals:

a. Right to Information Act, 2005 for ensuring transparency and accountability at governance level.
b. Right to Compulsory and Basic Education by implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Mid Day Meal (MDM) schemes.
c. Right to Food by proper running of the Public Distribution System (PDS) and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
d. Right to Employment by enacting the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).
e. Right to Self-governance by empowering the process of decentralization and strengthening of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).
f. Right to Health by effective implementation of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).

This brief article is a general one, and its purpose is to understand how governance and inclusive development are inter-related. The aim is not to produce facts and figures but to ponder upon some of the basic changes required that can bring the country far-fetched results.

The Right to Information Act, 2005 was essential to check corruption and ensure transparency in the implementation of various development related schemes and programmes that are directly or indirectly intended to reduce poverty, ensure employment and expand livelihood opportunities. Such programmes and schemes, which are supported and funded by government, had often seen leakages and lacunae, and hence the need for RTI Act emerged. However, there are exceptions too. For example, matters related to India’s internal security and defence cannot be brought within the purview of this Act. Even the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is exempted from this Act. In order to make the RTI Act more encompassing and functional, there is thus the need to make amendments to it. This is to mention that judicial and administrative reforms too are essential to attain the objectives of transparency, and they are on their ways. The RTI Act was enacted to help the poor and marginalized who are often exploited at the hands of the rulers. India ranked 72 among 180 nations in the year 2007 in terms of corruption index, according to Transparency International (TI). TI India’s ‘India Corruption Study 2005’ found that water was one of the public services, which is ridden with corrupt practices. Many have claimed that the RTI Act has failed to cater the citizens. Apart from the RTI Act, there are other mechanisms and institutions too, which are aimed at enhancing transparency such as: public interest litigation (PIL), Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Election Commission (EC), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Crime Investigation Department (CID) et al. There is increasing demand for voluntary disclosure of assets not only by elected political class but also the bureaucracy and the judiciary. The right to know about the assets and liabilities of candidates contesting elections was part of the fundamental right of citizens under Article 19(1)(a). The Supreme Court of India earlier held that the fundamental right to freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution was based on the foundation of the freedom of right to know and all citizens have the right to know about the activities of the State. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) is the nodal agency for the implementation of RTI Act. Even ‘file notings’ can be disclosed to the general public under this Act. One can recall that Central and State Information Commissions can disclose the information held by public authorities under section 19(8)(a)(iii). The RTI Act is useful to ensure freedom of expression, too. The importance of e-governance for speedy, efficient and transparent delivery of services at the doorsteps of citizens has grown over time. Computerisation of government offices has become part of e-governance. Booking of railway tickets has become easier due to e-governance. Social and public auditing of muster rolls in development related schemes and programmes has become an empowering practice in some parts of the country.

The Right to Compulsory and Basic Education is yet to become a full-fledged Act. This right can be ensured by imparting good quality education by well-educated and trained teaching staff to children below 14 years of age. The 86th amendment to the Constitution requires the State to determine by law the manner in which the Right to Free and Compulsory Education shall be provided to the children. The Fundamental Right to Life (Article 21) of the Constitution should be read in “harmonious construction” with the Directive in Article 45 to provide Free and Compulsory Education to children belonging to the age group 0-14 years, including those below six years of age. Right to Education is related to the Common School System founded on the principle of ‘neighbourhood schools’. It was the Kothari Commission way back in 1966 that emphasized upon the Common School System. The importance of MDM scheme lies in reducing drop-out rates especially among girl students, reducing the number of out-of-school children, providing employment to women cooks who would serve meal to students, increasing cohesiveness among students who would be eating together (via MDM scheme) despite coming from diverse backgrounds, and preventing the curse of child labour when their poor parents do not have to worry about the cost of sending their children for school education. Employment of child labour in hazardous industries is quite prevalent in India. The Government of India’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is seen as a positive intervention to change the fabric of Indian education. Yet there are hurdles that include: lack of infrastructure facilities in schools, lagging state of professionalism among teachers, lack of training, opportunities and incentives for good teachers, discrimination against students coming from weaker sex and oppressed communities, redundant course content etc. It is difficult to implement the SSA and the MDM schemes effectively in such a big and diverse country like India unless there is co-operation coming from the government and public at large. India is still lagging in terms of basic literacy and education, which is shameful. Literacy rate for men has increased from 24.95 percent in 1951 to 75.85 percent in 2001, while literacy rate for female has increased from 7.93 percent in 1951 to 54.16 percent in 2001. Gross enrolment ratios of girls have stayed below boys in the primary, upper primary and elementary level of education. There is grossly under-representation of women in the science and technology frontier of education. The RTI Act might play a decisive role when it comes to checking leakages of foodgrain meant for MDM scheme. Moreover, there is need to prevent crooks from becoming teachers through bogus certificates and degrees. The SSA has been criticized from the perspective of quality education. Education, which is a basic human right, has often been ignored in India. Primary and basic education has suffered from regional inequality, income inequality, inter-caste disparity, and what not. In fact, children have become victims at the hands of the policy-makers. The task of providing education for all with concrete plans of action gained greater momentum after the drafting of the National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986, which got revised in 1992. Investment in education is considered essential for human capital formation that can boost economic growth in the long run. Seldom this aspect was accepted. There is a public appeal for ‘education for all’ at this stage.

Enhancing quality of life is an important objective of human development. Yet India has to enact its own Right to Food despite having a public distribution system (PDS). The importance of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) to combat malnutrition and undernutrition among women and children cannot be undermined. However, in the recent times, one could observe the decay of the PDS, and the transition from universal to targeted PDS could not help in reaching out to the poorest of the poor. There have been numerous studies pertaining to the PDS, and it is difficult to capture various elements of such studies in such a brief essay. The PDS, which was a major institution to ensure food, nutrition and livelihood security, has eroded overtime due to corruption, inefficiency, adoption of wrong policy choices etc. Article 47 of the Constitution of India states that “the State shall regard raising the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people and improvement in public health among its primary duties”. At the international level, although India has become self-sufficient in food production, yet a large section of the poverty-stricken masses remain unfed. The Right to Food movement/ campaign, which grew after the hearing by the Supreme Court of a writ petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Rajasthan), not only provided the Indian citizens with information about the food security situation but also made a serious attempt to draw the attention of Supreme Court to consider ‘Right to Food’ as a fundamental right. Indian women suffer from gender-based norms and discrimination, which adversely affect their nutritional status. Due to early weaning-out, children in the 0-6 years of age-group suffer from wasting and stunting. According to the National Family Health Survey-III (NFHS III), more than a third (36%) of women have a BMI below 18.5, indicating a high prevalence of nutritional deficiency. The anaemia situation has worsened over time for Indian women. Signing of various declarations at numerous conferences could not help India to make Right to Food a binding right. Need for proper institutions to guide India for ensuring Right to Food for all cannot be ignored at any cost. Leakages from ration shops owing to differences between administered and market prices can be tackled by RTI activism. However, the lackadaisical attitude of the officialdom may not help India to reduce hunger by half by the year 2015, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It hardly matters to understand that a hunger free society can give birth to a more efficient, equitable and vibrant India. The Right to Food would ensure Right to Life, which is constitutionally guaranteed under Article 21.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, which started with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) by implementing it initially in 200 districts, faced criticisms that included: leakages and corruption in the scheme, a large chunk of the expenses being siphoned off for meeting material cost instead of labour cost, lack of co-ordination among Centre and states for regular release of funds, presence of corrupt actors at the village-level etc. India had seen failure of food-for-work programmes in the past too before the enactment of the NREGA. It was earlier thought that by providing 100 days of work to a person (one each from a single household), during the lean seasons (i.e. between rabi and kharif), the livelihood security of those who are willing to do manual labour can be ensured. It was speculated that the NREGA would help in stopping distress migration of labouring communities during lean seasons. The NREGA was supposed to solve the problem of unemployment amidst income-poor groups. However, in many states of India, the labourers are not getting employment under NREGA despite demanding for it, presently. Minimum wages are often not paid to the labourers. The snobbish attitude of the upper strata of the Indian society was always critical about the NREGA. Non-payment of unemployment compensation has become a regular feature of this scheme. In its performance auditing draft report presented in 2007, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India has criticized dilution of the scheme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act due to poor record maintenance, delayed payment of wages and non-payment of unemployment allowance. In many parts of India, there are complaints of non-issuance of job cards. Economists too played a negative role during enactment of NREGA in the name of fiscal austerity and prudence. One of the noticeable things was that both NREGA and RTI Act came into being almost concurrently. But the ground reality is quite different than what was envisioned when the Acts were put into place for the first time. NREGA envisaged that rural infrastructure such as water bodies, schools, roads etc. could be constructed and maintained by employing the toiling labouring classes, which would raise their purchasing power. This, in turn, would lead to creation of ‘effective demand’ in rural India. Our ‘shining’ India is yet to recognize this aspect. At a time, when India is facing economic downturn, infusion of Rs. 25,000 crore a year in a scheme like NREGA might be fruitful. Social auditing that was started by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Devdungri, Rajasthan (India), by going through the muster rolls of food-for-work programmes, can play a decisive role in empowering the poor and working classes. Employment-for-all, in this respect, can become a development-oriented motto for grassroot activism.

The Right to Self-governance was essential to escape from bureaucratic controls and shackles, whereby villages would have more autonomy and power in decision-making than before. The creation of proper rules and institutions for further decentralization came into being in the early 1990s in the form of 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution of India. Indeed, the dream for a decentralised India is not only Gandhian but also socialist in a sense that both the ideologies give emphasis on equitable rural development, where the masses would be more powerful compared to the rulers. For some, decentralization has weakened the Indian State in the age of globalisation. In fact, decentralization was a result of the decay of centralized planning system that existed during the Nehruvian era. Empowering the PRIs and ULBs is considered essential for proper implementation of government funded programmes and schemes so that villagers and elected panchayat members have the right to cross-check the official documents, which used to be under the control of sarkari babus earlier. Decentralised political structure would overthrow the unnecessary burden of monolithic centralised authority, which can give birth to a ‘new’ social order and provide a platform to people’s voice. Local issues and problems could be heard and solved effectively due to self-governance. Strengthening of PRIs and ULBs can help in release of people’s dissenting voices. The State in that case would then be leaning more towards listening to short creative stories rather than meta and grand narratives. Giving power to the local and elected bodies is now seen as a major policy instrument for ensuring grassroot democracy. The rise of regional political parties and the evolution of political and fiscal decentralization are now essential features of Indian democracy. But it does not mean that decentralization has been all the way a positive experience. The elected members of the local bodies turned out to be corrupt individuals in many cases. Women’s and oppressed classes’ representation in the elected local bodies have not been upto the mark. Many panchayats in India practiced caste-based ostracism, and some even directly got involved into honour killings, particularly from the North Indian belt.

The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is another flagship programme of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to assure right to health for the Indian citizens. After liberalization of the Indian economy, one could observe privatization of health service delivery, which used to be costly and hence excluded the poor. The accountability of the private sector to their clients has been low. According to the Report of the Independent Commission on Development and Health in India (ICDHI), there exist regional disparities in outcome indicators for health. India does not have enough doctors to cater the need of its rural population. Medical colleges are unevenly spread throughout India, which affect access to health care. Public health security is lacking in India. Out-of-pocket expenses are too high, which adversely affect the poor. Expenditure on provision of public health is meager. There is a need to think whether there can be alternative affordable mechanisms for delivery of good quality health services for the public at large. The National Health Policy (NHP) 2002 in principle ‘welcomes the participation of the private sector in all areas of health activities’—primary, secondary or tertiary. This stand contradicts the basic goal of NHP-1983, which aimed at providing ‘universal, comprehensive primary health care services, relevant to actual needs and priorities of the community’. Directive principles of State policy has provisions that touch on the subject of health and one can refer to the text of Articles 39(e), 39(f), 42 and 47. Although health insurance schemes have cropped up in recent times, yet majority of the population have little or no access to such schemes. The condition of public hospitals and health care centres is pitiable. Prevalence of life style diseases is on the rise. Despite the Government of India’s commitment in providing Health to All as mentioned in the Articles 21 and 47, it has been alleged that increased private expenditure as compared to the public expenditure has adversely affected the poorer section’s access to basic health services.

The ground reality is extremely harsh, and whatever India could achieve during the last 5 years in terms of human and social development is inadequate. By looking at the day-to-day unfolding of events in the life of a common man, one can never boast that India has developed. The last 5 years of the UPA government has been crucial in the sense that it wanted to prepare and implement a people-centric policy. How far the government has been able to deliver good governance is a moot question. The major goals pursued by India, as discussed above, have been selected subjectively, keeping in mind what the government did for the poor and marginalized sections of the Indian society. But not much could be conferred in terms of outcomes for pursuing these goals. May be the results of the forthcoming parliamentary elections would provide a better answer to our inquiry.