Friday, March 3, 2000,
Chandigarh, India





THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
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EDITORIALS

Deadlock in Lok Sabha
A
COMBINATION of ineptitude, impatience and insensitivity to parliamentary decorum has created a serious impasse in the Lok Sabha. And as things stand, an early solution seems impossible. It is over the Gujarat government’s decision to allow its employees to join the RSS.

Defence budget: weak areas
FINANCE Minister Yashwant Sinha has indulgently patted himself on the back for bringing about the highest-ever hike of Rs 13,000 crore in defence outlay. But the rise is not quite as dramatic as it appears to be on the surface. No doubt, the allocation has been raised to Rs 58,587 crore from last year's Rs 45,694 crore.

OPINION

PRIVATISING PUBLIC SECTOR UNITS
Are corporate managements efficient?
by B. R. Malhotra

BEFORE I am misunderstood, I wish to clarify that I fully support the concept of the eventual privatisation of the public sector as well as other public services being run by the government at a great cost to the exchequer without the consumer getting his money’s worth. In the first place the State has no business to squander away thousands of crores of tax-payers’ money by creating monolithic organisations and then trying to control public enterprises as subordinate offices under various ministries.


 

EARLIER ARTICLES
  Case for sustainable forest management
by Rajan Kotru
GOING by the response in the media to the news of the Himachal Pradesh government’s lifting of the ban on green felling in the state, the environmental doom may be round the corner. Although it is no coincidence that some of the reactions are from laymen in the field of natural resource production and its management, it does surprise a bit that a strong protest is lodged by numerous environmentalists as well.

WORLD IN FOCUS

The new menace of NGOs
By M.S.N. Menon
THAT a man is at his best when he is working for himself and not for others, and at his worst when he is working for a government — these are some of the props of American capitalism. There is a large element of truth in them, which is why capitalism continues to flourish and socialism has faded away.


75 years ago

March 3, 1925
Rising Price of Wheat
THE price of wheat, the staple food of the people, has been rising for over a month and the bulk of the population is feeling the pinch. It was believed that the rise in price was due to larger exports to foreign countries due to famine and deficiency in supplies in certain wheat-producing countries abroad.
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Deadlock in Lok Sabha

A COMBINATION of ineptitude, impatience and insensitivity to parliamentary decorum has created a serious impasse in the Lok Sabha. And as things stand, an early solution seems impossible. It is over the Gujarat government’s decision to allow its employees to join the RSS. The opposition parties led by the Congress want to exploit the controversial move to show up the differences within the BJP-led alliance and have taken the debate route to achieve this. Most allies are against giving a clean chit to the RSS and have openly said so. To contain the likely fallout, the BJP and the Shiv Sena want a debate under Rule 193 but the opponents insist on a discussion under Rule 184. There is thus a consensus on a discussion but a violent disagreement on the rule to be followed. This is crucial from the viewpoint of both sides. One rule mandates voting at the end of the discussion (Rule 184) and the other does not. The Congress and others want a vote so as to force the allies to translate their opposition into votes and reduce the government to a minority. In that event, it will be treated as a censure motion and the government may be forced to resign. If, on the other hand, the allies vote with the government, their secular credentials will come under pressure. Parties like the DMK, the TDP, the Samata, the Trinamool Congress and the INLD, which depend on Muslim votes cannot afford to support an organisation (the RSS) perceived to be against the minorities. This is particularly true about the TDP which faces a local bodies election on March 6. On Wednesday, Home Minister Advani tried to enlist the support of the alliance partners for the government if it agreed to invoke Rule 184. Everyone bluntly refused, deepening the crisis. The full-throated demand was to proceed with the discussion under Rule 193, which the Speaker has already allowed. In fact, a junior partner went to the extent of asking the Centre to force Gujarat to rescind the order and end the face-off. The situation might slightly change after March 6, the day the Congress is organising a nationwide protest. If it is a success, the party may press home the advantage, otherwise not.

The acute problem of the BJP may not go away with the RSS skirmish. Mr Yashwant Sinha’s budget proposals too have split the alliance. The urea price rise has raised the hackles of all agriculture-dominated states and state parties. From the Akali Dal and the INLD in the north to the DMK and the TDP in the south all have opposed it saying that the measure will alienate the rural vote. The two southern states have an extensive network of fair price shops, covering both urban and rural people. In addition, Andhra Pradesh supplies rice to the not-so-poor at a subsidised rate and picks up an annual bill of over Rs 1,100 crore. After the hike in rice prices, the state government says the subsidy will go up by nearly 50 per cent. So it wants the Centre to roll back the decision. It is only the beginning and before long, the reduction of subsidy on food and fertiliser will become a bone of contention within the BJP-led coalition. One perceptive analyst has described coalition governments — all coalition governments — as a pregnant cow. For fear of avoiding hurt to the growing calf it will avoid a confrontation, minor or major. The equivalent for a government is to sidestep issues which provoke serious differences of opinion or iron out the problem areas through an indepth discussion before making the decision public. The BJP is right when it says it has a support base to take care of as the allies have; but then that is what produces friction and what calls for delicate handling.


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Defence budget: weak areas

FINANCE Minister Yashwant Sinha has indulgently patted himself on the back for bringing about the highest-ever hike of Rs 13,000 crore in defence outlay. But the rise is not quite as dramatic as it appears to be on the surface. No doubt, the allocation has been raised to Rs 58,587 crore from last year's Rs 45,694 crore. But the fact of the matter is that the revised estimates had pegged the figure at Rs 48,504 crore. That means that the Budget marks a hike of about Rs 10,000 crore. Such an increase is quite in keeping with similar jumps after every war that India has fought. In fact, more than Rs 1800 crore would go towards meeting the financial burden of the additional border deployment in the Kargil sector where every day the country has to spend some Rs 10 crore. So, the money in effect goes to "General Musharraf" rather than to the Indian Army. There are several other unavoidable heads of expenditure like the cost of fighting the insurgency in Kashmir (Rs 850 crore) and the North-East (Rs 700 crore), which further erode the "whopping" 28.2 per cent hike in the Budget. After all such deductions, the defence forces might discover that there is very little left for fulfilling their long wish list. The Indian Air Force is badly in need of an advanced jet trainer and also has to replenish its Mirage-2000 fighter fleet. The Army has to purchase advanced surveillance and communication equipment as well as conduct technological upgradation of its weapons systems. And the Navy is sore over the "lost decade" because not even a single order was placed for the construction of a new warship. The Draft Nuclear Doctrine formulated by the National Security Advisory Board has suggested a triad for the delivery of the nuclear weapon. The cost of developing and sustaining it has been put at about Rs 10,000 crore. The Finance Commission and the service chiefs are of the view that this needs additional resources and that it should not be paid for from the capital budget of the three services. It is not clear as to who will finance it. One hopeful sign is that both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have said that more money would be provided whenever needed. That means that further increases through supplementary demands are on the cards. What needs to be kept in mind is that the defence outlay comprises less than 3 per cent of the gross domestic product, far less than the 4.40 per cent that Pakistan spends.

As the Army chief had lamented some time back, the defence forces suffer not only from the lack of adequate finances but also from the bureaucratic delays. The budgetary increase would be meaningful only if government approvals and clearances come in time. There is also an urgent need for the rationalisation of expenditure. Between 75 and 84 per cent of the budget goes towards pay and allowances, 16 to 25 per cent for servicing the balance of payment glitches caused by fluctuations in the rupee-dollar exchange rate and the decline in the value of the rupee. That leaves very little money for new acquisitions. The world over the trend is to cut manpower and use the state-of-the-art weaponry as a force multiplier. India badly needs to adopt similar measures. While it is good that the allocation for defence has been substantially increased, the fact remains that this has curtailed expenditure on service sectors. In fact, the Finance Minister has tried to justify the yawning fiscal deficit by focusing exclusively on the inevitability of increasing the defence outlay. While the increase is unavoidable as a one-time measure, the country is not in the pink of financial health to be able to sustain it on an annual basis. The "biting the bullet" exercise may have been avoided this time but that luxury may not be available next year.
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PRIVATISING PUBLIC SECTOR UNITS
Are corporate managements efficient?
by B. R. Malhotra

BEFORE I am misunderstood, I wish to clarify that I fully support the concept of the eventual privatisation of the public sector as well as other public services being run by the government at a great cost to the exchequer without the consumer getting his money’s worth. In the first place the State has no business to squander away thousands of crores of tax-payers’ money by creating monolithic organisations and then trying to control public enterprises as subordinate offices under various ministries. The ministers and more often senior bureaucrats enjoy all authority without any accountability whatsoever. They enjoy many unwritten perks at the expense of the PSUs in the form of cars, hospitality, occasional foreign trips and some other major benefits if an opportunity knocks at their doors. Sadly, the top management of the public sector companies with some honourable exceptions accepts and, may be, welcomes such a situation as many of them lack the moral courage or professionalism to oppose such interference.

Many of the top officials reach the top slots by the mere influx of time and their ability of not getting involved in any controversy. The selection of board-level directors is mostly confined to in-house promotions with hardly any fresh induction of talent through open advertisements which also may not attract suitable candidates as the wage levels are fairly low compared to that in good private sector companies. On the positive side, many PSUs were set up in remote and backward areas and helped the local economy and population with job opportunities. Many public sector undertakings are models for efficient management and have performed very well in spite of constraints. In all such cases the CMD was a good leader and bureaucrats, who have an uncanny instinct to smell spots where their writ may not run, keep away from such enterprises as far as possible.

This writer has behind him long years of experience in the Army, public and private sector units both at middle and senior management levels and the above observations and those which will follow are being made with a full sense of responsibility. Having said that, the government must exercise considerable caution before rushing into privatising the existing enterprises. The grass is certainly not as green in the private sector as it appears to some recent converts to the concept of privatisation, who want us to believe that all problems will be solved once this conversion takes place.

The fact is that major reforms and harsh steps to ensure ethical corporate governance in the private sector are required urgently before allowing self-seeking individuals to use the assets of the public sector for personal gains. Barring some highly professionalised corporations and MNCs, the bulk of the Indian public limited companies, especially family-owned enterprises, are no models for efficiency and ethical business practices. A few years back an unsuccessful bid was made by Mr Swaraj Paul to take over some well-known public limited companies. For the first time the Indian public became aware that the so-called owners of these corporations were holding very small majority of shares. The share-holders who were widely dispersed had no say in any matter. The government bailed out those companies by asking the state-owned financial institutions who had considerable holdings to back the so-called owners to retain control of those corporate entities. Many of these companies took full advantage of the lacunae in the law to perpetuate family rule from one generation to the other. Board meetings and share-holders’ AGMs are generally stage-managed to pass resolutions to give legal endorsements to policies and the appointment of directors, who in most of the cases are mere rubber stamps at board meetings with the real power remaining within the family.

Most of the public limited companies have borrowed huge amounts from nationalised banks and financial institutions and lately from foreign funding agencies. Many of these are behind schedule in the repayment of loans due to gross financial mismanagement. The finance departments of these companies are generally headed by close confidants of the so-called owners, and it is all between these gentlemen and the obliging officials of nationalised banks and institutions, who look the other way while huge amounts of public money are misused and diverted for personal ends or simply mismanaged. Invariably, the sufferer is the small investor and the public exchequer, but who cares for such stake-holders? A close look at the BIFR companies will reveal the same story. As far as the promoters are concerned, after closing shop they start all over again in another company which they would have floated once again using the funds siphoned off from the previous venture. There are hardly any instances where such promoters have been prosecuted for such offences as are punishable both under the IPC and other pieces of legislation.

Let us now see how these private sector companies (with some exceptions) manage their human resources. They try to hire the cheapest possible labour force or rely heavily on contract labour for regular jobs without much forethought about their ability to assimilate technology. The wage levels of the non-executive workers as well as non-unionised staff members are generally low, and there is a small number of senior executives who get good salaries and perks (much of it under the table). Absolute loyalty to the owner is a must. Non-conformists to the prevailing unethical value system are isolated and eventually made to leave, out of self-respect or frustration.

Human resource development (HRD) is not a buzz word in such organisations. Sometimes, they are forced to give lip-service to training, but such efforts are superficial and meant to satisfy some essential requirement — to get ISO 9000 certification or simply to show to the outside world that they are in the process of change.

Trade unions are viewed with suspicion and all-out efforts are made to prevent the formation of a union. If one is formed, then at the first available opportunity attempts are made to purchase the main office-bearers many of whom oblige and then sit on the driver’s seat by playing a double game both with the workers and the management at great expense to both. Labour laws are flouted with impunity with the active connivance of Labour Department officials, who take their pound of flesh and the show goes on. Many family-owned managements have failed to realise that harmonious industrial relations are possible without indulging in unethical and unfair practices. At every forum employer bodies like FICCI and the CII make fervent appeals to the government of the day to amend labour laws as they feel that they are too protective in favour of workers. In a way the laws seem to be protective but in a country where there is no social security system to support unemployed labour, such demands to amend labour laws must be seen in the context of the meagre retrenchment compensation payable under the existing law. But subject to the approval of the appropriate government, which mercifully, for labour, is never granted. At the same time we cannot have a situation where surplus labour, which cuts into the very viability of an enterprise, is to be retained at all costs. We also cannot ignore the fact that in the first place the manpower now surplus was recruited by them to meet a need of that time, and now that their skills have become redundant they cannot be thrown out after giving their best years to the company by simply paying them 15 days’ wages for each year of service rendered.

A worker earning a wage of Rs 3000 p.m., having 10 years service, can be put on the road by giving him a princely sum of Rs 15000. Yes. This is the type of freedom the captains of industry want, and all kinds of reasons are advanced to remove the clause of prior government approval. I am in favour of giving such freedom provided they pay a substantial compensation, say six months wage for each year of service rendered, subject to a minimum or maximum amount. In the case mentioned above, a worker will get Rs 1,80,000 which should allow him to survive. The enterprise will still be a beneficiary, considering that otherwise the worker will stay on for the next 25 years on wages which will increase every year. Such a proposal may still be unacceptable to the private sector and, as such, the existing impasse will continue.

As far as the enforcement of discipline goes, there can be no two opinions that each worker drawing wages must do a full day’s work and conform to the rules and regulations of the organisation, and any failure to do so must attract exemplary punishment, if the misconduct so warrants. As a fairly successful HR manager, I can assure you that within the existing system of labour laws, discipline and efficiency can be maintained provided the managers who are paid to manage people working under them do not abdicate their right to manage. Unfortunately, that is the case both in the public and private sectors, and then blame labour laws for all the ills.

Finally, we must talk of ethical corporate governance. Ethics has no standard definition. Family-owned enterprises have their own rules or ethics. For them, it is quite ethical to give costly gifts to government officials on Diwali and to give monthly payments to police, labour, excise and sales tax personnel. In defence of such practices, they firmly believe that if they don’t do this they will be constantly harassed. They feel that is a small price to pay for the peace of mind and the financial savings which accrue. Many legitimate dues are reduced by offering financial incentives to decision-making government officials.

In this context, the CVC, Mr Vittal, has written to the CII and other employer federations to pass resolutions and declarations that their constituent member-companies are not parties to giving bribes to government officials. The CVC, if his mandate permits, should ask for affidavits from the board of directors of each public limited company that they follow various laws and that their company officials never give bribes or take undue financial advantages from the companies they manage. Similar affidavits must be taken from the chartered accountants who audit the accounts of public limited companies that the accounts have been scrutinised in letter and in spirit. If the system can control directors and chartered accountants, whose sacred duty it is to protect the interests of all stake-holders, and any deviation should attract stringent and exemplary punishment. Then and then only can we ensure ethical corporate practices.

So, at the end of the day all responsible citizens must ponder over the sad state of affairs and do their little bit to correct the slide. Privatise by all means, but set the private sector house in order and at the same time carry out an urgent review of out-dated systems and procedures which do not allow even honest entrepreneurs to function. We have not yet reached the point of no-return as luckily a vast majority of our population, including government servants, is God-fearing and honest.

(The writer, a retired Lt-Colonel, is the Chairman of the Sarweda Foundation, an NGO, and a consultant on human resource development.)
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Case for sustainable forest management
by Rajan Kotru

GOING by the response in the media to the news of the Himachal Pradesh government’s lifting of the ban on green felling in the state, the environmental doom may be round the corner. Although it is no coincidence that some of the reactions are from laymen in the field of natural resource production and its management, it does surprise a bit that a strong protest is lodged by numerous environmentalists as well. In fact, both groups cannot be fully blamed for the prompt note of dissent served to the government given the large-scale eco-degradation of the invaluable forest cover in the state.

The imposition of the ban on green felling 16 years ago promised to be the panacea for the eco-rehabilitation and conservation. Certainly the moratorium went a long way in creating eco-awareness. But we are in for a surprise. The ecological scenario in the serene state wears a dismal look despite the ban on green felling. The myth, therefore, needs to be exploded. Let us view the situation by logic and not get carried away by unwarranted emotions and ecopolitics since contradictions are many.

If the merits of the ban on green felling have resulted in conserving the natural environment in HP and in the Himalayas in general then we may be overexaggerating a trifle. The myriads of negative impact on the environment are caused by other factors as well. Therefore, if the era of ecorehabilitation due to an end to tree felling has commenced, then why are massive landslides and other forms of perpetual soil erosion a common occurrence? Why should have thousands of square kilometres of forest land been destroyed in the past 25 years as asserted by some? On the other hand, the small timber requirement for apple boxes has for long been met by short-rotation trees such as eucalyptus and poplar species, mostly non-state sources. Even cartons are used for this purpose.

Why are the big towns of Himachal — once having round-the-year drinking water availability — suffering from chronic drinking water scarcity during summer? Even if data may not be available, can we prove that the biodiversity has been enriched because green felling is banned. Who has monitored if a particular species of fauna or flora has regained its previous number — prior to the large-scale disturbance of forest ecosystems? On the opposite side, the dominance of a few species in wildlife has become a scourge for the people living in the higher mountains, the Shivaliks and the plains alike. Similarly, are we not everyday complaining about the siltation of most of our dams? Are not most of the rivers and rivulets in the Shivaliks, despite a dense forest cover, dry as a desert during summer?

If green felling was a bane why were 30,000 to 40,000 (1 lakh cubic metres) green trees felled for timber distribution annually after the moratorium? Why were thousands of hectares of potential afforestation area converted to non-productive use? Yes, there is no crystal-clear evidence to prove that a stop in green felling has restored the environment of the state.

The 16-year-old moratorium on the felling of green trees defies logic. Sure, it has happened because all the stakeholders — foresters, local communities and the government alike — failed to practice sustainable forest management. We were after its revenue, the space it occupied and the range of material benefits it provided. The economists calculated in cubic metres of timber, the common man in his basic needs, and tourists in terms of hotels and roads within it.

Yes, the green felling has visibly not brought us conservation and environmental betterment. The simple fact is that some of the major disturbing factors are eating up the environment more than the green felling. Who can challenge that massive and faulty road-network created and promised to all for the last 16 years is not bringing down to plains millions of tonnes of eroded material? Who can challenge the fact that unplanned construction work done for attracting tourists is not damaging the whole ecology of a hill state like Himachal? Who can deny that persistent manmade forest fires and uncontrolled grazing in forests are much worse a scourge than the green felling? Have not forest fires destroyed a much larger forest cover than the number of trees saved from green felling? Thus how can we say that the regenerative capacity and recuperative powers of forests green felling was stopped? In fact, nowhere in the world where environment protection laws and standards are much higher than the petty ones in India, green felling is the part and parcel of judicious and sustainable forestry. Nay, it is a lifeline for conservation in general.

It is obvious that launching an orchestrated campaign against the lifting of the ban on green felling is unjustified and need an exhaustive analysis before passing on biased judgements.

Certainly there is a greater concern and awareness about the environment and forests in general as compared to 16 years back. But let us ask ourselves some basic questions. Don’t we want that our communities directly dependent on forests get their regular basic needs (fuel wood)? Don’t we want that the economy and the environment in the state should improve? Don’t we want that our youth should get employment. Don’t we want that our people get round-the-year clean and larger quantity of water. What about thousands of hectares of forest area which has become prone to snow and wind damage due to the lack of controlled felling?

Last but not the least, should we stop felling in thousands of hectares of planted forests, where local communities have participated and want urgent short-term benefits? Indeed, our population is growing and demands on our natural resources are increasing proportionately. Therefore, a regulated use of forests is a must , and this can be done only through forest management of which tree felling is an integral part. The objective of the forest management is to grow a forest in such a way that it conserves the biological features of the forests but products are available to the coming generations on a sustainable basis productive and protective forestry has to be practised, which takes care of ecology.

The lifting of moratorium on tree felling is a golden opportunity and the last chance for the Forest Department to improve upon the previous shortcomings and lack of a sustainable vision. It has to shed its image of ineffective forest police. It has to work jointly with the communities who survive on forests.

We have to look forward and come out of the morass. Before any green felling the following need to be done:

Upgrade the staff in ecological management of forest where crosscutting issues must be focused.

Upgrade staff in dealing with local communities which have a major stake in the long term benefits. Prepare an action plan of green fellings based on eco-logic (holistic forestry and inter-sectoral planning) and addressing cross-cutting issues. This could be on a test basis and with the clarification and involvement of local communities. Intensity of green felling should take place on site and situation-specific basis and no larger canopy gaps should be allowed. The artificial regeneration should be immediate if natural regeneration is not in sight.

Fire management and grazing have to be addressed immediately. Here issues of range and fire management through the involvement of communities is a must. Tree felling is an ideal opportunity to convert socio-ecologically non-viable forests into mixed, multilayered and multi-benefit-oriented forests over a period of time. The know-how of plantation forestry and the art of involvement of local communities is there in various eco-development projects. This should be used. The Forests Department (division based) should go in for an awareness campaign — in simple language — on the issues of how sustainable forestry works and why green felling is important.

In nature, forests constitute the ultimate terrestrial ecosystem. If protective and productive principles of forest management with the involvement of local communities and the integration of cross-sectoral issues are applied, forests will conserve our environment while bringing need-based benefits.

(The writer is associated with the Indo-German Changar Eco-Development Project, Palampur).
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The new menace of NGOs
By M.S.N. Menon

THAT a man is at his best when he is working for himself and not for others, and at his worst when he is working for a government — these are some of the props of American capitalism. There is a large element of truth in them, which is why capitalism continues to flourish and socialism has faded away.

But how many men work for themselves today? When Adam Smith was working out his theories, the vast majority of English people were either independent farmers or self-employed craftsmen. This is no more the case. Today the majority are working for others — for corporates and governments. Any theory of economic life should, therefore, reflect this reality and not ideals, if it is to be scientific.

America wants to convert the world into a private enterprise. It wants to privatise everything. Even foreign policy and defence. In short, it is working for a world without borders and governments, for a world without any regulations. And no democratic controls, either, when the litany is all about the virtues of democracy!

The world, however, is not in agreement. The business of America may be business, but the business of India is not business. And so must be the stand of many other countries.

But the effort continues to make business interests guide the human destiny. The latest is the NGO phenomenon — a new menace to the world. “Anybody who is somebody is an NGO these days,” says a UN official. It is said that America has two million NGOs! They are shaping the destiny of not only America but of the world. It means to America a few million additional jobs and greater control over the global economy. Perhaps it is the last push to universalise capitalism and moieties the earth and every human activity. Most of these NGOs came up during the last thirty years.

NGOs are there where there are wars, floods, refugees, famines and such other calamities. They have taken over from governments the work of relief and rehabilitation.

A 1995 report has estimated that there are 29,000 international NGOs, dominated by America. The domestic NGOs are growing faster. They don’t need much capital like the MNCs. In Russia, where none existed, there are today 65,000.

Most of the NGOs are small operators. Only a few are big, with worldwide operations. Do our social scientists know what this implies? Do they know that these NGOs work in the social, political and economic spheres? Do they know that they are more dangerous than MNCs?

NGOs do a variety of jobs. But one of their main activity is to distribute aid — of the UN as also of countries.

America was (it still is) the largest aid giver of the world. Much of it went through USAID. But it brought only ignominy. In “Index of Economic Freedom”, a study done by the Heritage Foundation (USA), it was said: “If history is any guide, foreign aid clearly is no pre-requisite to economic prosperity.”

It is this reality which forced the USA to encourage the NGOs to take over aid distribution. They are more efficient, and dynamic. They could also serve the interests of the State Department and the Pentagon.

Government spending is on the rise all over the world. Between 1980 and 1996, the share of US Government spending in GDP rose from 22.0 per cent to 22.2 per cent, and in the UK from 38.3 per cent to 41.7 per cent. Today both the USA and UK try to spend this growing amount through the NGOs.

The idea in shifting every activity from public to private sector is to remove all democratic controls over economic life. Unfortunately, the liberals, who are rather blind most of the time, cannot see what is happening to the global economy. Thus, from the eighties there has been a steady effort to remove all regulatory controls over western economies.

A growing share of development spending, emergency relief and aid transfers goes through NGOs. Much of the food aid by the World Food Programme is routed through the NGOs. And so is the case with the European Community’s food aid. The Red Cross estimates that the NGOs distribute today more aid than the World Bank.

Government spending forms a large part of the NGO budget. Of the 98 million budget of Oxfam, 24 million was given by the British Government and EU (1998 figure). World Vision US, the largest privately funded Christian relief and development organisation, collected from the US Government $ 55 million worth of goods. The UN now considers NGOs indispensable for its assistance programme.

Today it is the work of the NGO to promote US foreign policy which draws much attention. NGOs collect a lot of information in the process of their work and pass them on to US agencies for a consideration. Of course, the CIA can give an assignment to the NGO to collect specific information.

Today more NGOs are working on human rights and environment because funds are easily available. Amnesty International, the largest NGO in this field, has one million members working in 162 countries! Remember Amnesty gave us hell on human rights violations in both Punjab and Kashmir? Who paid the bill? Who else but America? And our own environmentalists draw their wages from abroad.

Developing countries look to NGOs for expertise today. Take the case of Oxfam. Its specialists are working all over the world. Then, there are NGOs, which work for TNCs and MNCs. Some of the biggest ones have arms for both commercial intelligence gathering and media work. They also provide information on investment strategies. Bill Gates has been funding huge sums for such activities.

Control or influence over media is an important objective of all NGOs, for their very existence depends on publicity. Publicity alone can help them raise funds. In fact, in the scramble for funds by thousands of NGOs, what finally counts is publicity. Hence the pressure on the media.

As the NGOs grow into large organisations, they look like any big business. The original idealism is lost on the way. Earlier, they never made profits, kept wages low and employed only idealists. But no more. “Any neat division between the corporate world and the NGOs is long gone. Many NGOs operate as competitors seeking contracts in the aid market, raising funds with polished media campaigns and lobbying government as hard as any other business”, says the London Economist.

Though NGOs are more efficient, less bureaucratic and less wasteful, they are not accountable to anybody. They can get into evil ways because there are no checks and balances. Their activities are not scrutinised closely like that of government.

Some of the NGOs are used to promote the American way of life or the western values. They are the ones to be watched, for they are out to subvert developing societies.

Of course, NGOs never think in long terms. Matter of the moment — that is all their concern. Nor do they pursue broad aims.

The NGO, as I said, is a dangerous phenomenon. Here the ambitions of individuals and the foreign policy objectives of the powerful nations are cleverly inter-mixed that it is difficult to make out what is going on. The potential for mischief is far greater than that of the MNCs. Yet there is no awareness of it in this country. I am not saying that all NGOs are uniformly bad. But how do we know unless we keep a watch on them? They are not like trading or a factory. Can the media serve the purpose of a watchdog? I have my doubts.


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75 years ago

March 3, 1925
Rising Price of Wheat

THE price of wheat, the staple food of the people, has been rising for over a month and the bulk of the population is feeling the pinch. It was believed that the rise in price was due to larger exports to foreign countries due to famine and deficiency in supplies in certain wheat-producing countries abroad.

Under such circumstances it is usual for big merchants and speculators to form combines and otherwise raise prices artificially. This is reported to have actually occurred in the USA and large profits as well as heavy losses were reported.

It is not known to what extent this practice prevails in this country, but the Government should show greater concern for the welfare of the people by trying to secure them food at normal prices, especially when production is normal.

One of the previous Governors of the Punjab laid down a maxim that the people of this Province were entitled to purchase wheat at 10 seers a rupee and the Government should endeavour to maintain the price at about this level, failing which high price allowances will have to be paid to Government employees and clerks automatically. We hope this matter will engage the attention of the authorities.



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