|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Wednesday, January 6, 1999
road for saffron roller
ECONOMY IN 1999
ghosts haunt Kerala
images of a cafeteria
Post Office outrage
No road for saffron roller
IN the final political resolution passed at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) conclave in Bangalore on Monday, the communal incidents in Gujarat have got a strange twist. Although earlier casual references have been sought to be upgraded to condemnation, Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel has been praised for taking prompt action! The nature of the escalating trouble can be judged from the latest report coming from Nasik. It says, inter alia, that Christian missionaries in the Peth taluka have been given an ultimatum to the effect that they should leave the tribal areas of the region by March 31, failing which stern action will be taken against them. The ultimatum comes from the Dharma Raksha Samiti formed in October last year when a church was burnt down. The BJP has asked the people to refer to its agenda. It has asserted that it has an ideology and a generally stated organisational policy. It subscribes to its own concepts of religion and politics which may mean different things to different persons. The ideology in this respect cannot be seen as conforming to the Hindu way of life as enunciated by Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, who called himself a humble Hindu. In popular perception, the BJP variety of Hindutva encompasses a set of beliefs, including those on Indias Hinduised nationhood and swadeshi. Certain sections of the people have experienced the retrospective fallout of events like the demolition of the Babri Masjid, spurts of communal violence in Mumbai and socio-political tensions, say, in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, besides UP. The brainstorming sessions at Bangalore have put the Atal Behari Vajpayee government on the mat. In coalition politics, a single party cannot dictate terms to the government. Time and again, aberrations have to be subjected to a rationalistic point of view which has to be reflected in the national policy. The BJP finds the utterances of Mr Vajpayee on the Gujarat issue or against communalism too harsh. Mr Kushabhau Thakre invokes the principle of complementary rule. Mr Vajpayee has told Mr Thakre that tolerance is necessary and the Indian ethos cannot be reduced to a groups point of view. Mr Vajpayee is a statesman. He had his training as a leader of the masses in the Nehru era. He holds the BJP card dear. But he firmly declares that the only alternative to coexistence in a pluralistic society is codestruction. He learnt from Nehru that the alliance of religion and politics in the shape of communalism is most dangerous and it yields the most abnormal kind of illegitimate brood. Nehrus prescription for a situation like that in Gujarat could have been emotion-charged and uncompromising. He had said: If any person raises his hand to strike down another on the ground of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life. Several BJP leaders are unable to rise above myopic and partisan attitudes. They do not take note of the Vishwa Hindu Parishads belligerence against the Christians or the Muslims. In fact, this is the reason why Gujarat continues to be tense.
There is a breakdown in
the law and order situation. The state government has
neither the will nor the capacity to uphold the secular
ideal which forms the bedrock of our Constitution.
Provocative statements and destructive activities
continue to vitiate the atmosphere. The Congress is right
in requesting the President to issue a clear and
unambiguous warning to the state government in
Gandhinagar. Enough is enough and the findings of the
two-member Central team which visited Gujarat to assess
the situation should be accepted as final. The country
has seen worse communal crises. It is not impossible to
rein in the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. The zeal of the
Hindu Jagaran Manch and the Dharma Raksha Samiti is
misplaced. The Prime Minister has promised to the
composite community that he would distance himself from
all communal activities. This is a fact of our political
life that the BJP and the Congress are the two principal
pillars of todays polity. Any grand umbrella
alliance is doomed to stillbirth. It is time for Mr
Vajpayee to further assure his hypercritical comrades
that India, secular India, is going to weather the
present disturbing storms not because of them but in
spite of them.
The golden dilemma
GOLD poses the cruelest dilemma for the much harassed Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. Import is soaring, 575 tonnes till the year-end and expected to touch 625 tonnes by March. That will drain away nearly $ 10 billion, accounting for fully 25 per cent of all imports. One time-tested way of discouraging import is to pile on custom duty or make imported commodity costly. That route is firmly blocked in the case of gold. A higher price will drive away consumers but invite savers who look up to the yellow metal as safe investment. Also the difference between the Indian price and international price will widen, tempting more travellers to bring in a few tolas to make a bit of unearned money. This no-win situation is manifest in the Finance Minister increasing import duty by a token Rs 150 from Rs 250 to Rs 400 for 10 grams. If the entire increase is passed on to the buyer, gold will cost Rs 4380 from Mondays price of Rs 4230, or by less than 4 per cent. He obviously hopes that this will act as a psychological disincentive without sharply increasing the market price and without boosting its status as attractive investment. As a mid-way option, the decision is bound to fail, except in helping the government earn about Rs 250 crore in a full year. A better way out of this problem of people diverting as high as Rs 40,000 crore every year to gold hoarding, is to strengthen the existing instruments of saving. Unfortunately, the government has done quite the opposite. Interest on bank deposits has been reduced, and last week that on small savings run by post offices came down by one percentage point across the board.
Some economists have
welcomed the government-induced downward trend in
interest rates, hoping that it would bring down the cost
of investment in industry. That has not happened so far;
what it has done is to apply double squeeze on those who
have money to save but no way of doing it both profitably
and safely. One by one viable opportunities have
evaporated. This is also reflected in the ballooning
small savings: the government budgeted for a total
deposit of Rs 20,000 crore in the current financial year.
But the collections skyrocketed to over Rs 33,000 crore
by October itself. (The cut in the interest rate was a
desperate attempt to discourage further rise in
deposits.) Ideally, the money splurged in gold and saved
in small savings should go to the stock market for
promoting industry and expanding economy. But the stock
market is sick, has been so for some years now. Tens of
thousands of small investors lost their all when
speculative sharks ran away with profits, leaving them
holding worthless paper. The same thing happened with
mutual funds and then with deposit collecting companies.
This tendency had affected gold too; in the mid-nineties,
it briefly touched Rs 6000 for 10 grams before sliding to
settle around Rs 4200. Even after this sharp fall, it has
retained its appeal. This shows the confusion and lack of
confidence among small investors.
Cruel blow to retired people
THE service offered by most public sector banks in India is designed to keep potential investors away, particularly the small ones. Never-ending holidays, long queues, agitations, rude staff . You name it and they have it. Those who think that things cannot be any worse anywhere else have only to look at the working of many of the post-offices. Their real face is exactly the opposite of the bright image that is sought to be portrayed. If people still make deposits there, it is only because, one, banks have no respect and time for the small depositors and, two, because some people just like the laid-back, neighbourhood -store atmosphere of the post-offices. Then there is also the minor but significant lure of getting a little higher rate of interest. The government has only shot itself in the leg by squandering that advantage. It has reduced the interest rates on small savings schemes, including the post-office time deposits, post-office recurring deposits, NSCs, Indira Vikas Patras and Kisan Vikas Patras. The rates of interest on the deposit schemes for retired government employees and retired PSU employees have also been reduced from 10 per cent to 9 per cent. The bitterness over this decision, that came as a New Year gift, is palpable among the old people who were otherwise feeling elated that 1999 would be treated as the year of the old. Nobody has spared a thought for the retired people whose meagre resources will thus further shrink. As it is, there are very few avenues for them to station their lifetime earnings. The interest they earn is the only succour that they can look forward to in the evening of their life. To them, it is really a cruel blow.
The step taken by the
government is ostensibly to bring the rates on a par with
those offered by financial institutions on money
multiplier bonds. What has been ignored is that a vast
majority of the people living in far-flung areas hardly
have access to them. Post-offices are the only tangible
realities for them. As it is, the conventional wisdom of
saving something for the rainy day has lost its sheen.
The rates of interest offered by recognised financial
institutions do not even cover the fall in the value of
money due to inflation. Such downward revision will
worsen the situation. There was a time when many people
put their hard-earned money in a bank or a post-office
and sat smugly to see it grow till the sum was big enough
for them to be able to purchase a coveted cycle or fan or
a radio. Today exactly the opposite happens. The hundred
rupees that one puts in the post-office today would
become Rs 200 after six years and by then an item which
is available today for Rs 100 would cost Rs 300, if not
more. That is why society is becoming more and more
consumerist. This trend can be reversed only by making
savings more attractive, and certainly not by cutting the
interest rates. Narrowing the avenues of investment will
only drive people into the tentacles of fly-by-night
operators who have already taken thousands of people for
a ride by offering the moon and delivering only small
change, that too counterfeit one.
INDIAN ECONOMY IN 1999
THE Indian economy in 1998 was in the doldrums. Frantic but misguided attempts to pull it out of a deep depression failed miserably. Prospects for 1999 too appear to be grim.
The report of the Reserve Bank of India issued in the last week of 1998 is indeed sombre. The optimistic expectation of economic revival when the credit policy was announced in October, 1998, for what is conventionally called the busy season is admittedly no longer valid. The estimated overall economic growth rate of over 6 per cent in 1997-98 has been revised downwards to 5 per cent and may actually turn out to be lower still.
The performance in all sectors of the economy and the industrial recession, which started in the last quarter of 1996 and persisted through 1997, has deepened in 1998. The increase in industrial production came down to 3.6 per cent during April-October, 1998, as compared to 6.2 per cent in the previous year. Agricultural production is showing no sign of the expected strong recovery from the sharp setback suffered during the previous year.
The external sector is again becoming vulnerable because of the slump in exports in dollar terms even as imports have spurted, in spite of a large fall in the prices of crude oil and other petroleum products, and a decline in the import of capital goods. Trade deficit has already grown to $ 5.6 billion compared to $ 2.6 billion in the previous year even as the inflow of foreign capital for direct investment has shrunk and there is an outflow of portfolio investment. The balance of payments position has deteriorated, and the exchange reserves are under pressure. There are forebodings of a 1991 type of balance of payments crisis for India again.
The fiscal position of the government has worsened. There has been, till October, 1998, a rise of 28.5 per cent in revenue expenditure, and the revenue receipts have been much lower than anticipated in the Union Budget for 1998-99. The shortfall has been large in the case of indirect taxes which reflects primarily a decline in industrial production as well as its sluggish offtake for want of demand and the erosion of purchasing power even of the middle classes. The fiscal deficit is likely to exceed what was estimated in the Union Budget to be 5.6 per cent of the GDP. The combined deficit of the Centre as well as the state governments, which is now expected to be 10 per cent of the GDP, is generating inflationary pressures even as the fuller utilisation of existing production capacities, let alone their expansion, is held up for want of purchasing power and demand. The Indian economy has gone deeper into the mire of stagflation. The position has become so dismal that the RBI has not found it convenient to even propose any concrete measures and policy prescriptions for the economy to revive. It really seems not a case of abundant caution as despair. It is not surprising either that vested interests, Indian and foreign, are finding opportunities to dictate terms to official policy makers, and secure advantages in the on-going tussle between the market-friendly privatisation-globalisation policy and the revival of the process of pro-people economic development.
Diversion of public funds from productive investment to support speculative trading on stock markets and a feverish effort to attract foreign investment, on the one hand, and attempts to bring down the fiscal deficit by not mobilising additional resources and restricting wasteful expenditure but by reducing development expenditure and sale of public sector enterprises cannot provide a path for sustainable and equitable growth of the economy, with price stability. The critical issue at the present stage of socio-economic development of India is not the maximisation of returns for capital, domestic and foreign, which has become the principal concern of official policy, to boost economic activity and increase production and productivity. The imperative need is to expand employment opportunities and to provide access to commodities of essential consumption at affordable prices. The step-up of public investment to develop material and social infrastructure, and mobilise financial resources for this purpose must be given high priority for the economic policy and management to be sound and sensible.
The official policy is, however, giving precedence to what is euphemistically called value addition by trading in stocks and shares as against savings and productive investment for manufacturing. It is guided by the false notion that self-reliance in tradable goods can be scaled down by establishing non-tradable marketing and distributing facilities for MNCs in India. The market-oriented privatisation-globalisation policy has indeed exercised an extremely baneful influence on economic activity. The number of those trading in the stock market in India has increased 20 times in the nineties, but the already narrow social base of the private corporate enterprise has further shrunk. The exaggerated expectations from the stock market to mobilise resources for investment in the private corporate sector have actually retarded the impulses for economic growth especially so when public investment has been declining.
The phenomenon of market forces being allowed to gain ascendancy in determining the direction and content of economic activity has tended to be not only anti-social but also distorted the structure of relative prices to satisfy the consumerist cravings of the elite. The steep rise in the prices of agricultural commodities because of a decline in investment and a cut in the prices of passenger cars in the wake of the so-called competition due to investment resulting in excess capacity for their production emphasise this position. Competitive pricing in the market for goods of elitist interest only obfuscates the fact that private investment ignores the essential needs of the mass of the people.
India, even before the structural adjustment programme for its economy ordained by the foreign creditors was initiated, had already been developing as a dual society. Conspicuous and vulgar consumption had been increasing. But unemployment was becoming alarming. The results could only be unrest, violence and social tensions in what is called conditions of political instability. This has resulted in further diversion of scarce resources away from equitable development. As the well-known elder economist and social thinker, the late Dr V.K.R.V. Rao warned, a more positive and determined move for the establishment of a new and less equal national economic order is a sine qua non of the policy implications that follow from the economic perspective. But policy changes such as the economic liberalisation and the widening of Indias doors to private foreign investment and multinational corporations can only take the country in a direction which will increase its vulnerability to foreign pressures and exploitation, and aggravate the dual nature of Indian society. The upshot can be either large-scale rural unrest and/or a massive migration of the rural poor into the urban areas adding to the slum population and creating urban unrest. The accelerated rise of the share of the tertiary (services) sector which is likely to grow at the end of the twentieth century to 45 per cent in the sectoral composition of the GDP is making things worse for the urban as well as rural poor. A fragile production base can hardly support a bloated tertiary sector.
The fanciful reliance on
the trickle-down effect of economic growth has been found
to be a deceptive notion. The fact, after all, is that
the benefits of the hectic efforts to modernise the
economy by market-oriented liberalisation policies and
open door for foreign investment tend to be foreclosed by
hardly 10 per cent of Indias population. If some
part of the gains of economic growth did percolate down
in the era of planned economic development, with all its
faults and shortfalls, and had some positive impact on
the economy and social relations, especially in the years
of good agricultural production, the position in this
respect has significantly changed under the regime of
market-oriented liberalisation policies. It has made it
possible for the upper classes brazenly and openly to
monopolise the gains of growth and only throw about some
crumbs for the benefit of upper middle classes, with the
mass of the people totally barred from getting any share
in this process. This is only emphasised by the tendency
to increase the supply at relatively affordable prices of
private transport and consumer durable goods, together
with entertainment gadgetry and facilities for high
living even as essential mass consumption has tended to
shrink, and material and social infrastructure for sound
and self-reliant development has weakened.
in defence structure
NO thinking citizen of this country can doubt the patriotism, loyalty and devotion of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. Then what were the motives for his stand which precipitated this crisis? It is now more than evident that he was not seeking any personal glorification. As an experienced soldier, he would have known that the outcome of his stand could never be favourable to him personally. Surely, he could only have been motivated out of the frustration generated by a stranglehold and unwarranted interference by a power-hungry and conniving bureaucracy.
Over the years successive governments owing to a lack of proper understanding of defence affairs and a limited vision of the role of the political executive have failed to rein in the babus; even allowing them to spread their tentacles to dominate the defence forces. It is equally relevant to recognise that no commander, with his focus on the successful discharge of the assigned duties, would hamstring himself with a deputy in whom he has no confidence, both as a professional and as an individual. This was clearly the case of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh. While this public controversy may be distasteful, Admiral Bhagwat, by highlighting the infirmities in our defence structure, has rendered sterling service to the nation and the defence services at a great personal cost.
Sensitivity of the government to any real or perceived threat to the effective exercise of Cabinet control over the defence forces is understandable. This concern is rooted in the military coup syndrome which took hold over the minds of our leaders after Independence. Over 50 years of well-proven commitment and loyalty of the defence forces should have by now dispelled this fear. Unfortunately, this concern has been allowed to be exploited by the bureaucracy to extend its unwarranted stranglehold over the services. Even in the present case, the perceived defiance by the CONS to implement the decision of the ACC seems to have induced the fear that it would dilute this control.
But did Admiral Bhagwat defy a government order in pointing out that the appointment of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh as approved by the ACC could not be implemented as it ran counter to the Navy Regulations as laid down by Parliament, which stipulated that such appointments would be considered based on the recommendations of the Naval Chief? The Naval Chief had not recommended the name of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh for the appointment of a DCONS. While the prerogative of the ACC to accept or reject the recommendations of the CONS cannot be disputed, the whole process of handling this case is extremely murky. It appears that the MoD suppressed the recommendation of the CONS and put up a note recommending on its own Vice-Admiral Harinder Singhs name for the appointment. This in itself was a significant departure from the Naval Regulations. In the interest of transparency, the government should make public the note put up by the Defence Secretary to the ACC. It would reveal much that is not known to the public.
The handling of the whole affair by the MoD smacks of overbearing highhandedness. Expunging adverse remarks of the CONS from the ACR of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh had glossing over the frivolous allegations made by the latter against the CONS was not only a thoughtless but also provocative act. With this background, the MoD should have been particularly circumspect in the handling of this sensitive case.
The government, by transferring the Defence Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, has tacitly accepted that they had faltered. It must now display the courage to rein in the bureaucracy and apply the much-needed correctives. Admiral Bhagwats stand, howsoever repugnant to the government, has led to a national debate. The answer to the problems being pointed out lies in well-conceived structural reforms as well as in cutting the bureaucracy down to its proper size and role. In this direction, creation of an integrated defence headquarters in place of the present MoD, rethinking on the role of the National Security Council (which is ill-defined, with its composition being unwieldy) and the creation of an institution of the Chief of Defence Staff with unified field commands would make our security apparatus more cohesive and more effectively responsive.
In the defence forces, military leaders at all levels are invested with an aura of infallibility by their respective commands. The chief of a service, whether the Army, the Air Force or the Navy, occupies a unique position and much-admired prestige. By downgrading his position, the cohesion of the service and its capacity to develop winning combat power in times of crisis is seriously undermined. It is absolutely necessary that no power-hungry bureaucrat is ever permitted to play around with the defence forces.
images of a cafeteria
AWAY from the maddening crowd, pollution and traffic, the Secretariat of Chandigarh seems to offer a perfect get-away for those wanting peace on any holiday. The top floor, which is accessible by two elevators, unfolds a majestic view of the Shivalik ranges and is a step forward to enjoy the beauty of nature. Anyone standing here would automatically start humming to himself, Thank you, God, for the beauty around me, the gentle rain and glistening dew, the sunshine and the air, the joyous gift of feeling the souls, soft whispering voice that speaks to me from deep within and makes my heart rejoice.
During my long association with this imposing structure of cement and concrete, I would invariably reach the top floor and go straight to the cafeteria where a chair in the corner gave me a sparkling view. While sipping a cup of tea, I would also gulp down the gifts of nature, rejuvenate myself in order to face my political masters and the pen-pushers.
It was after a lapse of more than eight years that one morning when the offices were closed for a few days that I visited the building again. The lift took me to the top floor. I sat on a cement slab, and the beauty all around had a lasting impact. When my eyes were fixed on the doors of the cafeteria, innumerable memories flashed before me connected with this place. A few of them were so hilarious that I started laughing aloud as I was then alone with the beating of my heart.
A new popular elected ministry had assumed office, and one of the raw and new entrants was well known to a group of employees who decided to invite him in the cafeteria over a cup of tea. A minute-to-minute programme was chalked out, garlands were ordered and the welcome address drafted. As it was a cold evening, instructions were given to lay the hot snacks only when the guest had been properly welcomed. The manager had, therefore, placed empty plates. The chief guest was late as he was, as usual, at an important meeting and was to rush through our programme. He, therefore, went straight to the cafeteria without waiting for the garlands or the welcome lines and, seeing the empty plates, enquired, Where are the snakes? We were all bewildered completely, but someone close to the VIP realised that he had asked for the snacks. Hot samosa and kachoree were immediately brought and served. It was unanimously decided to leave such welcome to the voters.
Gulab jamun of the cafeteria would attract a large number of sweet lovers and disappear in no time. This delicacy would be offered to the friends visiting us. One afternoon there was a loud noise and the employees had gathered before the canteen as news had spread that a number of them were suffering from food poisoning after taking that sweet. While a few had to be rushed to hospital, the rest were taken care of and treated by the attached medical officer. By the grace of God, there was no casualty. The administration took no time to seal the cafeteria, beef up security and constitute an expert committee for giving its report within 24 hours. The chemical analysis showed that the gulab jamun had some substance which created all the problems. The production of this was banned for some time and a few employees were placed under suspension. Later on, they were found innocent and reinstated.
All shades of people came
to present their demands and grievances to the then Chief
Minister for speedy solutions and orders. Being one of
his staff officers, I was required to sort out their
problems at my own level. Despite solving their problems
to their satisfaction, a few of them would not vacate the
place and insist on meeting the executive head of the
state. Repeated requests would be ignored. There is a
limit when tolerance ceases to be a virtue, and I would
ask him to move and tell Naheen to Secretariat ki
gulab jamun khila doonga. This magical rebuff would
come to my rescue.
AREEKKAL VARGHESE, who lived among the oppressed with revolutionary zeal and died young like Che Guavara from whom he drew his inspiration, might soon be rehabilitated as a hero in his own land much like his Bolivian role-model after 28 years.
The ghost of Comrade Varghese, whose cold blooded execution was officially passed off in 1970 as a casualty of a police-Naxalite encounter in Thirunelli forests in north Kerala, is now haunting the conscience of the entire state.
Though it was rumoured that Varghese was liquidated, a confession by a police constable, Ramachandran Nair, has finally confirmed that he was brutally shot. I shot Varghese dead. It matters little what happens to me. I shall tell the truth even if I would be condemned to gallows, he said, adding that he had done so much against his own conscience at the behest of Deputy Superintendent of Police K. Lakshmana.
The renewed public interest in Varghese, who had earned the title of Kerala Che Guara, 28 years after he was shot is reminiscent of the Latin American revolutionary heros comeback early this year following the relocation of his grave 30 years after he was shot dead in the Bolivian jungle by the police and buried there.
Varghese remained forgotten all these years except for the mention of his tragic end by some of his former associates. He made a surprising comeback in October last when K. Venu, an admirer of Varghese, published an article in the Malayalam weekly saying the Naxalite leader had been shot dead and his eyes gouged out.
A. Varghese, another admirer and associate of Varghese, then come to the open saying Ramachandran Nair had confided in him saying that he had shot unarmed Varghese on a rock in the forest. He also produced a letter written by Nair a few years after the slaying which said he had shot Varghese on orders from higherups.
Nairs disclosure has prompted some other to do some soul searching.
The disclosures on Varghese murder has caused an avalanche of protests and demands for an inquiry to bring the culprits to book. The state government has declared its decision to order a judicial inquiry into the case.
Though observers find Varghese and his revolutionary followers a bit too romantic and too idealistic their sincerity, commitment to the cause of the oppressed and their readiness to make sacrifices are not faulted.
It was Varghese and his close on the heels of the former police constables confession, a retired police driver has come out with another startling revelation.
Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) activist Varkala Vijayan was killed as a result of brutal torture in a police camp at Sasthamangalam in the State capital in 1975 in the early days of emergency, according to the police driver P. Dayanandan.
Dayanandan said it was in a van driven by him that Vijayans body was taken to Ponmudi Upper Sanitarium, near Thiruvananthapuram. Police officials then poured sulfuric acid and burnt it, he said, adding that Ramachandran Nairs confessions regarding the murder of Varghese had emboldened him to make the revelations.
He said he was prepared to testify before any court the details of Vijayans murder and how the body was destroyed with no trace at all.
Vijayan was taken into custody after he staged a play blasting the emergency. The play was written by Vijayan who was just 24 then. Dayanandan named the police officials and constables involved in the incident.
It may be noted that the district court had sentenced the police officials, accused of the murder and subsequent destruction of evidence, for periods ranging from one to three years imprisonment. However, they were later let off by the High Court for want of evidence.
Dayanandan, on his part, has emboldened Sathi Rao, an activist of the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML), to come out testifying that Vijayan died in his lap in the aftermath of severe police torture. Rao said he shared the cell with Vijayan at the Sasthamangalam camp.
Rao said he remained silent for so long because police had convinced Vijayans father that he was an informer and that discouraged him from telling the truth. There were also allegations that Vijayan had informed the police about Raos whereabouts.
Varghese and his
associates forced the feudal landlords of Wayanad to put
an end to bonded labour and curtail the exploitation of
the tribals. Varghese is still considered the emancipator
by the tribals and the rock on which was shot has been
named after him and they gather there every year on his
death anniversary, observers point out. Newsline
Enact laws to protect the old
THE UN has declared 1999 as the International Year of the Old to highlight the conditions and expectations of the people who are 60 years and above. About 11 per cent of the worlds population is said to be 60 or above. By the year 2050 one in every five people will be 60 and above. As they are not organised, the old are not in a position to voice their demands in an effective manner.
Indias traditional code of conduct written 2500 years ago, the Laws of Manu, are unambiguous on the proper treatment of the old: Even though wronged, treat not with disrespect thy father, mother, teacher, elder brother. Directive principles of our state policy enshrined in Article 39(A) of the Constitution provides for security for every citizen. Even Article 41 of the Constitution provides for public assistance for the aged among others.
India has nearly 6 crore elderly people and demographic projections forecast a rise to 7.5 crore by the year 2000. This population will be 7 per cent of the total by 2050. Our life expectancy is now 62 against 32 in 1947. It is an irony that no political party has ever included the interest of the old in its election manifesto due to political insignificance of this segment. This irony becomes glaring when the ruling BJP, the guardian of our traditional culture, did not include this in the national agenda.
A draft national policy on the old has been prepared by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. This is the countrys first draft national policy on old persons and is yet to get Cabinet clearance. The policy seeks to meet the three basic needs of the old economic security, health security and emotional security. Against the backdrop of a materialistic and an individualistic society, the policy seeks to assure the old that their concerns are of national importance and they will not live unprotected; ignored or marginalised It encourages not only sons but also daughters to support their parents.
The policy calls for incorporating provisions in the Indian Penal Code to protect the old from domestic violence and seeks government-NGO cooperation in the implementation of the policy. It also provides for a national council for the old consisting of representatives of ministries; planning commission, states, NGOs, media and experts from various fields.
Senior citizens over 60 expect much from the coming Budget. Pension should be tax exempt. Provident fund is not taxable and it is anomalous to tax pension. Interests on bank deposits up to Rs 30,000 should be tax exempt. At present NSS deposits are refundable without tax deduction after death. Why should senior citizens not have the same facility during their lifetime. Section 88-B provides that a resident individual who is aged 65 or more can claim a rebate of the full tax payable on his total income or an amount of Rs 10,000 which ever is less. The age-limit may be reduced to 60 years and the relief should be doubled.
Unambiguous laws should be enacted for the security of the old. Children are already expected to maintain old and infirm parents. Such a law should be drafted afresh with sharp teeth. All state governments should have such laws. Himachal Pradesh recently enacted such a law.
Several countries have legislated on behalf of the old. Senior citizens in many countries are organising themselves to have political clout. In Holland agitated old voters won seven seats and scared the other parties. In the USA the Association of Retired Persons with 33 million members is indeed a formidable power-wielder.
In Hyderabad and some other places self-sufficient townships for the old people have been developed. In the USA this industry is worth over $ 80 billion. Lack of adequate diet planning for the countrys elderly population provides for another avenue on industrial investment.
The elderly population in the rural and unorganised sector faces severe odds. Here government support in close cooperation with voluntary organisations is a must. States should enact laws providing for setting up district level tribunals which can order children of older people to look after the parents.
Government is loud on the housing sector and is giving many concessions. Within this sector special incentives should be given to senior citizen homes built by the private sector.
Politicians gain with age
while the others suffer. This is one of the reasons that
nothing has been done for the elderly for the past 50
years. but this vote bank is also becoming sizeable and
perhaps this shall bear fruit for this hapless class.
Calcutta Post Office outrage
AN interesting function took place this evening in the courtyard of the General Post Office, when before a fairly large gathering of postal officials, including the Postmaster General, Bengal, peons and packers, Hariprasad Das, an Oriya packer of the Sankaritola Sub-Post Office, was presented by the Director General of Posts and Telegraphs with a purse of Rs 300 on behalf of the Post Office in reward for the courage the packer showed in pursuing one of the armed dacoits who raided the Post Office on the afternoon of the second instant and shot the Post Master, Mr Amritlal Roy, dead on his refusal to hand over the days taking.
In presenting the purse, the Director General spoke highly of the courage of the deceased Post Master. Mr Roy, he said, could have saved his life, if he had not resisted the attempt of the dacoits. He gave his life in the discharge of his duties.
As regards the packer, the Director General said that while he risked his life in pursuing the raiders who were firing while decamping, he did not rest himself till he could capture the leader of the gang which, it was expected, would facilitate the arrest of the rest.
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