|Wednesday, January 5, 2000, |
Massacre of innocents
GLOBAL ECONOMY IN NEW CENTURY
PDS to be revamped: Shanta Kumar
Massacre of innocents
FOR the past few months, most of the terrorist attacks in Kashmir had been on Army posts, police pickets and other security camps. This change of strategy was not because of any sudden consideration for innocent citizens but only to pretend to the world that their fight was against the security forces. This facade has been exposed yet again by Mondays explosion in Srinagar where as many as 14 civilians were among those killed. The venue of the blast seems to have been carefully chosen. The wholesale vegetable market is frequented by a large number of security personnel. If in targeting them, a large number of civilians also died, it was the least of the concerns of the enemies of humanity. There have been devastating explosions in Srinagar earlier also at places like Residency Road, Regal Chowk and Lal Chowk but never has been human toll so high. The latest incident in a long series of violence may not be directly related to the success of the hijackers in getting some of their colleagues freed, but the fact remains that this achievement has raised the militants morale. The resultant disillusionment among the security forces is also no secret. While the swap has saved the life of the air passengers, it has created the very real danger of the terrorists taking many more hostages, especially from among the ordinary people to force the hands of the government. This proxy war can be won only by a no-nonsense approach hermetically sealed against political interference. During these winter months, Pakistan is not able to send in men and material easily, which it does during the rest of the year. So, this is perhaps the best time to give a befitting reply to the foreign mercenaries who have defiled the heavenly valley.
What must be borne in mind is that this battle has to be fought almost single-handed. The hijacking crisis has underlined that the outside world does not lose too much of sleep over what happens to 155 passengers of India. The slow response of heads of the countries like the USA and the UK should not have surprised anyone. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee has appealed to these leading nations to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. The point is that the nefarious activities of Pakistan have been known to the world all along. It is a challenge for Indian diplomacy as well as military power to expose this perfidy fully so that the outside world has no option but to go along with the Indian stand. It is not as if India is friendless in Washington. Influential senators like Gary Ackerman, a leading member of the House International Relations Committee, have urged the Clinton Administration to move towards blacklisting Pakistan and Afghanistan as supporters of terrorism. It is just that New Delhi has not been able to combine these individual voices of reason into a chorus of public opinion. Outside help will be more forthcoming if we can better safeguard our own interests. The sympathy dries up when we end up messing things through our own mistakes, as it happened in the case of the Kathmandu hijacking. Incidentally, the arrest of a Pakistani embassy official on suspicion of running a fake currency racket in the capital of Nepal is yet another opportunity for India to nail the Pakistani lie. This assistant secretary was caught red-handed when he sold 1,000 fake Indian 500-rupee notes to a woman undercover officer. He had the temerity to claim that he had diplomatic immunity. There are numerous such instances exposing the hollowness of Pakistani claims of innocence. Unless the Indian government puts its own house in order and makes a foolproof case against the Pakistani perfidy, these will continue to be ignored by the outside world.
Children with dark future
FOR millions of children in India the millennium celebrations have no meaning. They are child labourers deprived of the joys of childhood. There is no agreement on their exact number, but it should be between 44 million and 110 million, as the National Sample Survey Organisation has put it. They have to work from morning till evening to earn their living. Their problem is quite complicated, specially in view of the threat from developed countries to boycott goods made with the use of child labour. If they are disallowed to work without some alternative arrangement, this will amount to throwing them on to the road to starve or to indulge in crime. This happened in Bangladesh three years ago where certain export-oriented units sacked child workers to ensure the sale of their products in the West following the boycott of their readymade garments under pressure from American NGOs. Nearly 50,000 children who lost their jobs took to crime or entered the profession of prostitution. Thus to advocate the non-employment of children in industrial units or other commercial establishments without eliminating the factors that drive them to work at their age is being unrealistic. That is, perhaps, one reason why the constitutional provisions against child labour have failed to prevent this practice. Even Article 24 of the Constitution, which prohibits the employment of children below 14 years of age in any mining unit or factory engaged in hazardous activity, has been violated with impunity. Efforts must be made to protect the sanctity of the constitutional provisions, but success cannot be achieved unless poverty-alleviation schemes are implemented with the seriousness they deserve.
Within India, the maximum concentration of child labour is in Bihar because of a very high-level of poverty there. Sakkshya, the house magazine of the Bihar Legislative Council, has it in its latest issue that at least one crore children in the state fall in the category of labourers, who have to suffer untold misery to ensure their "dal-bhaat". The magazine warns that the state will continue to be a major supplier of child labour for years with its widespread illiteracy (literacy 38 per cent) which comes in the way of removal of poverty. Even the state's much-publicised Charwaha Vidyalaya scheme has failed to make a dent on the problem. Some of the children who work in carpet-weaving units or other such industries have the opportunity of growing into good craftsmen or expert artisans. Their employment at a tender age can be tolerated. But those engaged elsewhere, specially in hazardous industries, demand immediate attention of the government. Since the problem is directly linked to poverty, one view is that the country should reactivate itself to achieve a certain level of economic development to get rid of the scourge of child labour. But this is a long-term approach. A more imaginative scheme will have to be devised. This demands a substantial budgetary allocation to sustain a country-wide network of voluntary organisations and official agencies. The setting aside of Rs 93 lakh for the voluntary organisations in the area of child labour is laughable and shows non-seriousness of the government. Nothing can be done without arranging adequate funds.
Sensex soars and soars
ONE newspaper has dubbed it the millennium mania and what happened on the Bombay Stock Exchange and elsewhere on Monday is indeed a mania. The sensex soared by 370 points or 7.55 per cent, indicating that almost all the 30 shares constituting the index rose by 8 per cent when the trading comes to an automatic end. Had there been uninterrupted trade, the sensex would have zoomed to the stratosphere. With the computers shutting down in all favourite counters, the volume of shares sold and purchased remained very low just Rs 2228 crore on such a memorable day. Stunned analysts and brokers began to hurriedly look for the causes which had triggered the steep upward movement, the second highest in the BSEs history. Interestingly, the first saw the index vault by 426 points way back in March, 1992. Of course, those were the days of Big Bull Harshad Mehta and a nationwide buying fever. Some one remembered the Y2K bug that failed to materialise. The ridiculousness of this explanation sparked off another round of search. It is the economy, they chrussed, remembering the firm recovery and the 13 per cent jump in exports. Also the hope that the third quarter performance of industry is certain to be bright, many felt. Share prices in both East Asia and South-East Asia went up, genuinely relieved that the millennium bug did not cause a havoc as most feared. Finally, there was the Union budget just two months away. Judging from the juicy promises the government is holding up, many goodies must come the industry way; a sharp increase in the sensex should act as a gentle prod. But the real reason lay somewhere else. Foreign players are now on year-end vacation and will return next week. The surging sensex will sway them too and their bottomless pockets will nudge it further up. That will be the time to unload and make a pile and thus the calf is being fattened. After all, local speculators have never shown such guts and appetite as on Monday.
The frenzy lifted most shares. The price of three out of four shares traded on the BSE was up; led by software companies, all counters did look up sharply. Barring paper units and cement-makers everyone else felt the pleasant tremors. This is in sharp contrast to the experience of the recent past when the sensex climbed almost exclusively by riding piggyback on software, pharmaceuticals and fast moving consumer goods shares. This, says a sober analyst, is good in the medium term as Monday showed a renewed sense of confidence among investors. He added a note of caution. Information technology scrips will begin to slide in the months to come with three factors getting active. They are already priced very high a Infosys share with a face value of Rs 10 sells for more than Rs 15,000 (yes, Rs 15,000) in the BSE. Two, more software companies with a good business record are in the market and at much lower prices. A buyer has options. Three, the good showing by other companies, until now unpreferred, will open up competition. As though to substantiate his view, the BSE has banned trading in four scrips, two of which are software units, fearing price rigging as a prelude to cheating small investors. As Americans are fond of saying, every success brings in shysters!
GLOBAL ECONOMY IN NEW CENTURY
NOW is the time for nations to take stock of where they stand and give themselves a vision of the future, not too distant, and prepare themselves to face the challenges of translating dreams into reality in ways which contribute to the enrichment of human lives, without transgressing the ecological limitations or sacrificing values and characteristics that are unique to each one of them.
India, with a population of almost one billion, the second largest, will clearly be the focus of global attention, having been projected as a rising economic power in the early decades of the 21st century. Together with China, the two Asian giants should expect to become key players in the global economy of the new century.
India has still a long way to go in scaling new heights of economic performance, even more so in alleviating poverty and assuring a decent standard of living to hundreds of millions. The country has had a mixed record of creditable achievements as well as depressing failures in economic and social development in the first 50 years since it became free at mid-point in the twentieth century.
More promising developments of the 1990s some setbacks to political stability notwithstanding, have engendered the confidence that India can step up the tempo of economic growth with social justice, as the new millennium is ushered in. India has mastered space, nuclear and missile technology but is yet to harness its abundant skills and techniques for the tasks of social development, education health, drinking water, housing and communications.
The realisation that economic strength alone determines a countrys place in the comity of nations, not its nuclear weapon capabilities, reinforces the determination at the political level to accelerate the economic reform processes initiated in 1991 to achieve a 7 to 8 per cent growth in GDP and generate resources for human resource development and alleviating poverty which afflicts about 40 per cent of its population. India is home to half of the worlds poor and has the largest number of illiterates because of the size of its population. This underlines the enormity of the challenges before India.
Economic development in the first four decades since 1950 had centred on building a strong and diversified industrial base aimed at self-reliance based on import substitution, largely through the state ownership of production. While indigenous capabilities were built in several areas, India landed itself in a high-cost economy and deprived itself of the advantages that a liberal trade regime would have provided.
In the early years, India depended heavily on food imports till the Green Revolution of the mid-sixties, with the use of high-yielding seed varieties and chemical manures in conditions of assured irrigation, dramatically altered the agricultural landscape. But the limitations of a highly regulated and inward-looking economy and systemic inefficiencies had taken a heavy toll of Indias financial resources, leaving little for a direct assault on poverty and for massive programmes of employment.
India ended the decade of the 1980s with a severe economic crisis resulting from excessive borrowings, domestic and external, which had become necessary to meet the rising level of non-developmental expenditure leading to heavy budget deficits. It could overcome the crisis in 1991 through tight fiscal and monetary policies and sweeping reforms such as industrial delicensing, trade liberalisation, freeing of several lines of output from the public sector, and other policy measures which brought about a paradigm shift in the development of the economy, opened up for foreign direct investments in infrastructure and other key sectors.
By the middle of the 1990s, India seemed well set on a high growth path with the GDP rising by not less than 7 per cent per annum, exports booming to around 20 per cent, industry recording dynamic growth rates and foreign direct investments increasing significantly from year to year. However, the economy began losing the growth momentum in the latter half of the 1990s, partly because of the pause in the reform process and partly because of a weakening of the demand and world economic slowdown.
After three years of slowdown, the economy began to make strong recovery in the latter months of 1999 and should be able to record a growth of 6 to 6.5 per cent in 1999-2000. Industry, especially manufacturing, has picked up to a 6 to 7 per cent growth rate, reflecting a demand revival, while exports have lately shown buoyancy and would record a rise of not less than 10 to 12 per cent in dollar terms. Indias food and foreign exchange reserves are at comfortable levels. Despite a high oil import bill, the current account deficit in the balance of payments can be easily managed as the reserves have held steadily at $ 30 billion for more than a year. The rate of inflation also is at a low level, not having risen above 3 per cent during the current fiscal year.
The four-year period from 1996 was marked by three elections and as many fragile coalitions, heightening economic uncertainties, but the outcome of the 1999 elections was more decisive leading to the formation of
a National Democratic Alliance government headed by Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. A series of policy statements has been coming from Prime Minister Vajpayee committing his government to a bold reform agenda.
This government has gone the farthest in setting out a privatisation agenda which will bring down government equity to 49 per cent in banking and to 26 per cent in non-strategic public undertakings, effect strategic sales of certain enterprises, including Air India International, rationalise the labour laws to accord with new industrial culture of efficiency and competitiveness, and overhaul all enactments and procedures which have militated against speedy implementation of projects and programmes. The government is also to announce a new foreign investment policy with a negative list so that a wider field is open for investors from abroad at varying levels of equity participation.
In the first business session of the new Lok Sabha this winter, the government has succeeded in presenting the Insurance Bill which provides for private/foreign equity participation in life and general insurance, hitherto a state monopoly. The enactment of quite a few other laws such as the one on foreign exchange management and another on money-laundering has helped to revive business and investor confidence.
However, unless India brings its excessive fiscal deficit under control, the lingering concerns about macro-economic stability on the part of the international financial community cannot be dispelled. It is here that the government has to come out with a package of credible measures such as the broadening of the tax base, expenditure reform with cuts in inessential subsidies and a general downsizing of the bureaucracy. On the other hand, the Vajpayee government has added to the number of departments and ministries at the Centre going against its own logic.
An important aspect of fiscal deficit reduction is public sector disinvestment which yielded very little in the last four years, the period in which a disinvestment commission went on making recommendations on over 50 enterprises which were left virtually unimplemented. In 1999-2000, the budget had assumed Rs 10,000 crore from disinvestment and it is unlikely that the government would make it up in the last quarter (January-March). Already, expenditure has over-run budget estimates on account of the Kargil war, and the decision to allocate larger resources for defence modernisation and increased assistance to states faced with national disasters and near bankruptcy.
Containing fiscal deficit, of the Centre and the states, and devising a more durable system of resource transfer from the Centre to the states are the immediate problems, especially in the context of the formulation of the first budget of the new millennium.
Although the government has been brisk in promoting economic legislation and is preparing to introduce a Fiscal Responsibility Act in the budget session, implementation of policies and laws has been extremely slow. Such difficulties have delayed the implementation of announced policies and held up projects in the infrastructure sectors, especially telecommunications and power.
More new policies have been promised by the government in aviation and transport sectors, particularly railways, while agriculture, which remains the base of the Indian economy, has been sidelined in almost a decade of reforms. A document on second generation of reforms, which the government proposes to implement, has been promised but there has been no serious effort to build a political consensus around the specifics.
Overall, India should find it easier to move on to a higher growth in 2000, given the current encouraging trends in output and exports, and the prospects for an upturn in the world economy. The outlook for Asia has improved significantly with many countries overcoming recession, and this should have a healthy effect on demand and investment flows.
To the extent the government pushes forward its reform agenda and achieves results, it would help to accelerate growth to the targeted 7 to 8 per cent. How far the government moves to tackle the social challenges, besides the fiscal conundrum, will become known when the budget for 2000-01 is presented in February next. To sustain the targeted growth, it would be essential to step up domestic savings and investment rates, besides accessing large flows of foreign capital. Fiscal deficit reduction, infrastructural development and financial sector reforms would have to go together. These are challenging tasks for the immediate future.
India has also to take vigorous initiatives to strengthen its economic relations with the countries of the East and the Gulf and West Asia where economies are set to diversify, yielding valuable opportunities for collaboration. Exports have to assume the highest importance for a sustainable balance of payments position while the country remains alert to defend its interests in the international economic arena whether in the WTO or in global financial institutions.
Able men who run governments
MAHARASHTRAs established reputation of being one of the best administered states of India has been assiduously built by dedicated civil servants and capable administrators. Over the years they promoted institutional systems that have attracted a constant stream of fresh talent from all over the country.
Heading the state administration today is Dr P.C. Alexander, who has one of the most distinguished records in India as an administrator and civil servant. Many in the state have benefited immensely from his vast knowledge and experience. According to Mr N. Raghunathan, who retired as Chief Secretary to the State Government, Dr Alexander believes in constitutional governance and his democratic approach in the matter of the development boards is an act of self-denial, when many would have been tempted by the opportunity to exercise the overriding powers, given by the Constitution to the Governor under Article 371. His continuance as Governor for the second term, despite the changes in the political complexion both at the Centre and in the state, speaks volumes for the respect in which he is held and his objectivity.
Mr Raghunathans testimony comes in his new book, Memories, Men and Matters, published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (pp 469, price Rs 450). He spent 35 years in the IAS, all in Maharashtra except for six years in Delhi in two instalments. A well-read, affable person, lover of Urdu poetry and with a scholarly bent of mind, Mr Raghunathan made friends easily. He could be counted as one of the most successful bureaucrats Maharashtra has produced.
He recounts in his book insights into the evolution and implementation of policies and programmes by the government. To the extent that he was personally involved in them, gives them a touch of authenticity, tempered by his fetching style of narration and touches of humour.
A measure of Mr Raghunathans affability and the trust and confidence he inspires in the politicians he works with, is that he is perhaps the only bureaucrat who is on first-name terms with Mr Sharad Pawar. Both were in New Delhi, together in the Defence Ministry, when on March 4, 1993, Mr Pawar was asked to take over as Chief Minister following the post-Babri Masjid riots. According to Mr Raghunathan, Mr Pawar rang him up that morning and told him, We have to go. The we included the Defence Production Secretary, whom Mr Pawar wanted as his Chief Secretary.
Mr Raghunathan adds: Pawar was not doing me a favour by asking me to accompany him.... He asked me in the interest of the state.
There are vignettes of dozens of people Mr Raghunathan had come in touch with throughout his distinguished career. They run through from Pinto, the mess manager at the IAS Training School in New Delhi, who had somehow veered away from the excellent Goan cuisine and had come to believe that the probationers prospered best on potatoes, to Dr V.M. Joshi, Revenue Commissioner in Thane and Nasik when the author himself was Assistant Collector, a noted mathematical statistician, who would reduce a problem to mathematical equations and give the solution.
Then there is Mr B.B. Paymaster, another distinguished Chief Secretary, who opposed the state scheme of launching a lottery soon after Independence. We might as well have state-run sex workers houses, he told Mr Raghunathan, when he took the file to him.
He had the distinction of having Shamam Patel as his driver, for a brief period. Patel had been Netaji Subhash Boses driver and later of the former INA Minister, S.A.Iyer, when he became the Director of Publicity and Information in the government of the bilingual Bombay State. Patel was a very reliable driver and a delightful companion on long journeys. A little coaxing was enough to make him narrate stories of his Azad Hind days.
At the time of the declaration of the Emergency (June 26, 1975) Mr Raghunathan was Secretary, Department of Cooperation, full of admiration for his minister, Yeshwantrao Mohite, not a mere armchair Marxist or socialist, but one who used his office to effectively translate his ideas into specific government policies. Mohite, like his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Sharad Pawar, was not in tune with the Emergency unlike the Chief Minister, Mr S.B. Chavan, who adopted a posture more aggressive than necessary. Mr Chavan thundered at the Shanivar Wada at Pune that all those detained under the Emergency should thank their stars as in other countries they would have been blown off the mouth of a cannon.
Mr Raghunathan devotes 20 pages to The Emergency and After but nowhere does he give us an insight into how Maharashtra did not acquire the odium that other states like Uttar Pradesh and even Kerala did for heartless atrocities on the people. He worked in the same department under another radical, left-oriented minister, Mr N.D. Patil, of the Peasants and Workers Party, in the Progressive Democratic Front government led by Mr Sharad Pawar.
Yet the dissidence that these men had shown during the Emergency does not seem to have worn off on Mr Raghunathan. The Emergency is a dark chapter that needs to be covered in greater detail. Mr Raghunathan, who had shown the courage of his conviction to append an unusual note of dissent on the Cotton Monopoly Scheme, much to the annoyance of Mr N.D. Patil, hardly does justice to this dark chapter of Maharashtras history.
In a footnote to the chapter, he, however, mentions that Mr S.L. Khurana, Chief Secretary, Rajasthan, in an interview in 1995 claimed that even as early as October, 1975, he and the Intelligence Bureau had advised the PM that the Emergency was turning counter-productive.
Mr Raghunathan is candid enough to record: There was an air of business in government offices (during the Emergency)..... Corruption was less visible, but the wags quipped that it cost double to get things done as the risks had increased.... But all this did not mitigate the rigours of the Emergency or what it unleashed.
Stoically, Mr Raghunathan avers, At the personal level, the Emergency had little impact on my day-to-day life.
There are, however, well-researched and authentic accounts of the functioning of the Agriculture Department, the office of the Settlement Commissioner, the Director of Land Records and the Inspector-General of Registration, the Finance Department, the Establishment Office of the Union Home Ministry, the State Civil Supplies and Public Distribution Department, the Defence Ministry and Planning Commission and the office of the Chief Secretary, Maharashtra. Mr Raghunathan worked in all these departments during his illustrious career and came out without a blemish.
There are two significant chapters that give the reader an insight into how a state administration functions and how its policies and decisions are shaped. The Enron Power Project and The Latur Earthquake provide objective lessons in tackling intricate issues at the administrative level.
The Latur tragedy left 9,774 dead and 15,565 injured and 30,000 houses destroyed, rendering 170,000 people shelterless. The state administration geared itself up to providing speedy relief. Mr Raghunathan notes: The management of the emergency relief and long-term rehabilitation planning and funding were unique in the countrys administrative history. One can only pray that there should be no recurrence of such an event. But Latur will long be remembered both for the scale of the disaster and the magnitude and speed of the relief operations. Latur has ample lessons in crisis management.
PDS to be revamped: Shanta Kumar
THE Union Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, Mr Shanta Kumar, has his task cut out in the Centre. He is enjoying working in the Ministry as it deals directly with the common man and the poor. Supply of rations through the public distribution system, managing foodstocks and ensuring full protection for the consumer is no easy task he says. It is a challenge to deal with the problems of the common man on a daily basis, he told this reporter in an exclusive interview.
A veteran leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and a former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Mr Shanta Kumars strength is his experience in public life. And, he is making optimum use of it.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What are your priorities and agenda for the initial years of the next century?
A: The main priority for my Ministry is to strengthen the public distribution system (PDS), make it efficient and realistic. In a way this system is very important for the country as it directly benefits millions of poor people. There are some deficiencies in the operation of the system and it needs to be corrected. The Government gives subsidy of around Rs 10,000 crore on PDS but unfortunately more than 35 per cent of ration supplied through PDS is diverted. This point has been disclosed by a survey conducted by Tata Consultancy Service. This is very unfortunate. Priority must be given to ensure that the poor get subsidised food from the Government.
Q: How do you propose to improve the public distribution system?
A: We are talking to the States as they are directly involved in ensuring the success of the PDS. In January and February, I plan to hold meetings with the State Food Ministers and travel throughout the country to get a first hand report of the working of the PDS. After the meetings with the State Ministers and consultations with other concerned parties, I hope to arrive at some concrete solution.
Q: Any specific measure you have in mind?
A: I propose to involve local elected representatives of panchayats and evolve some kind of a social audit of the public distribution system. Through this audit one will be able to know whether the rations actually reached the shops in the villages.
Another problem we have is to ensure that only quality goods reach the ration shops. Today we have some 2,80,000 tonnes of rice which is non-issueable. Large quantities of wheat are not edible. Due to political pressure and other considerations, procuring agencies in the past have relaxed the laid down specifications on rice and wheat. There is considerable resistance when we insist that the specifications be adhered to strictly. I have decided that from now on there will be no compromise on quality. Quality will be ensured, diversion will be stopped and timely delivery will be insisted upon.
I am also looking at ways on how to reduce the handling costs of grains by procuring agencies like the Food Corporation of India. Today, the transport and handling losses are very heavy and works out to as much as 50 per cent of the minimum support price.
Q: There has been talk of keeping the affluent people outside from the ambit of PDS. What do you think about it?
A: It was in 1997, that the Government decided to introduce targeted public distribution system for people living below the poverty line. It was proposed that the PDS for people living above the poverty line should be reviewed. But then there is resistance from the States to this proposal. My view is that the time has come to eliminate the rich from the purview of PDS as they dont require Government support. Government should concentrate on helping only the needy. Today the Government supplies 10 kg of foodgrains for one family under the below poverty line whereas their requirement is 70 kg per month.
Q: But then there are several families who want to retain the ration card for the purpose of an identity card. They actually dont buy ration from the PDS outlet. How will you solve their problem?
A: If a ration card is for the purpose of only an identity card then I am sure we can find an alternative. We can perhaps have one card for purpose of identification and another for actually buying provisions from the PDS. As per one estimate the country has around two crore bogus ration cards in circulation.
Q: With the Government planning to double the production of foodgrains, will the PDS be able to handle such large volumes?
A: The Government does not supply 100 per cent of the peoples requirement. Today 70 per cent of production remains with the farmers and only 30 per cent of it comes for procurement. Of this the Government procures only 15 per cent. The PDS is supplementary and not the main supply line.
Q: There has been a controversy about the import of wheat at a time when the country has sufficient stocks. You think the imports were necessary?
A: As on October 1, 1999, India had 88 lakh tonnes of wheat in excess of the laid down buffer norms. Had the imports continued at the earlier rate of duty, the country would have been saddled with 116 lakh tonne of additional wheat by April, 2000. This would have stopped us from procuring additional wheat and the backbone of the farmer would have been broken. By imposing 50 per cent duty on imported wheat, the Government would be able to release around Rs 7000-8000 crore locked in stored wheat by their sale in the market. Money will be in circulation and help in further procurement.
Q: But once the WTO rules on agriculture comes into effect you may not be able to give protection to the domestic farmers. How will manage then?
A: We will have to compete with imported foodgrains. We too will have to export. But as of now we have the liberty to impose duty on imported stuff.
Q: Coming to consumer affairs is the Indian consumer adequately protected?
A: I think our laws for consumer protection are one of the best in the world. There is a need to ensure their implementation and create consumer awareness regarding them. We are trying to involve non-governmental organisations to educate consumers about their rights. Another problem is timely redressal of consumers grievances. There are consumer courts to deal with this but in a number of cases there is inordinate delay in giving justice. There is a need to ensure that cases are disposed of quickly. Delay in justice is also a form of injustice.
Q: Despite the ISI mark, Indian products are not at par with international products. Do you think that the ISI mark standard needs to be upgraded?
A: Most products with ISI mark are more or less satisfactory. Hindustan mein nakal karne ki bahut akal ho gayi hai!, (Unfortunately, Indians have started making duplicate goods.) If you go to the market, you cannot differentiate between the original and the duplicate. One is not sure whether one is buying genuine medicines or for that matter anything. There is this problem of adulteration and there can be no compromise on it. Laws related to spurious goods need to be made more stringent. There is also a need to create an atmosphere of honesty and get rid of the dishonest in society.
Q: Is there any move to review the laws for consumer protection?
A: The Law Commission is seized of the matter and we will act as per their direction.
Q: There has been considerable resistance on the governments order on compulsory packaging of edible oil. How will producers in the unorganised sector adhere to these measures?
A: I think if you have to ensure quality and supply of unadulterated oil, then you need packaging. There can be no compromise on quality. Packaging is a must. I have written to all the State Governments to ensure that they strictly follow this.
January 5, 1925
MR MAUNG PU of Tharrawaddy, one of the leaders of the General Council of the Burmese Associations (Council Boycott Section), who recently toured in Prome, Tharrawaddy and Thayetmyo districts in company with some Sayadaws (Heads of Pengyis) with a view, it is said, to bringing the status quo ante Non-payment Campaign of Capitation Tax in the country, returned to Rangoon and issued a manifesto, in the course of which he expressed regret at the malicious allegations made against their movement and declared that their purpose was to enquire from the people whether, in the present crisis, they would accept the lead of their party.
They had now got an assurance of the people and the next step would be to see the Home member. Continuing, the manifesto adds, if the Government and the party agree, then they would strike a bargain, and each side would perform its duties. If, however, they fail to strike a bargain, the matter would end there.
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