Thursday, March 16, 2000,
Chandigarh, India



When govt lives beyond its means

THE outstanding feature of the Central Budget-2000-2001 is that the country is living beyond its means. Various nomenclatures of “deficit” — revenue, fiscal and primary — cannot hide this ugly fact.

This is made possible — with state governments being influenced by the demonstration effect of the Centre — by an obliging Reserve Bank of India. If it fulfils its statutory obligation of ensuring “monetary stability”, the RBI can refuse to buy the unsubscribed portion of Government of India loans, and issue a public notice declaring its inability to honour cheques of bankrupt state governments. Such a bold step will wake up even the illiterate masses to the gravity of the situation, and demand better performance from the governments.

The inflationary situation is compounded by the inability of the government to deliver the goods. Even funds sanctioned ostensibly for good causes get dissipated. The “cutting edge” of the government policy, the administration, has a weak work ethic (with nearly 200 holidays a year) and has no sense of gratitude to the public which feeds it by paying its salaries, and totally unaccountable to either the public or politicians!

  Savers are penalised. The reduction in the PF interest rate is a cruel blow to those who save on a long-term basis for the country. (Strangely enough, while PF and NSC interest rates are slashed down, the government lacks the courage to stop 1 per cent extra interest on deposits paid to bank employees and ex-employees!)

In fine, the annual financial statement (popularly known as the Budget) is fast turning into the annual bankruptcy statement, because our rulers have forgotten the basic truth that good budgets begin with good governance.


The Union Budget

The Finance Minister was saying that the Budget would be tough. It is tough, indeed. But for whom? For the middle class, the poor and the industries.

Rationed sugar is costlier or not available to some. Fertilisers are costly, the interest income from provident fund stands reduced. There is a slight increase in the income tax surcharge, etc. No problem. After all, we have to contribute to the country’s economy. But I could not understand the reason behind the reduction in duty on cellular phones and computers. Had the duty not been reduced, the deficit in the budget could have been contained to some extent.

The increase in excise duty on some products, the reduction in Customs duties and the taxing of export profits shall fall heavily on Indian industry, which is already crippled due to tough competition from cheap imports. And, finally, the rationale behind giving the income tax benefit of Rs 5,000 to women tax payers is not clear. Are the women anyway less important than men that they should be given some special benefit? Or do they have something special in them?


Help for migrant workers

This has reference to the news-item “Help for migrant workers” (March 10). It is quite amusing to note that IPS and IAS officers of the Punjab cadre belonging to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have joined together for a good cause to watch the welfare of migrant labour who are being exploited as agriculture, industrial and domestic workers by their employers.

They are not being paid even minimum wages, are forced to work over hours in an unhygienic environment and forced to live in slum areas in miserable conditions without any amenities where safe drinking water is not available.

In the case of any crime or theft in the area, the police find it convenient to haul up the whole migrant labour of that area, torture them and even falsely implicate them in false cases. Since they work in an unorganised sector no trade union is effective in safeguarding their interests. Finding no spokesman, they meekly suffer and continue to work more than a bonded labourer in far off fields, factories, brick-kilns and other establishments.

We expect these IAS and IPS officers to also take note of the exploitation of the general public by their subordinate officers. If such a human approach is adopted by these permanent rulers of the day, their subordinates will certainly change their attitude towards the poor.

The action of forming the Parwasi Mazdoor Kalyan Parishad is a commendable development and needs to be encouraged.


Too many songs

One of the worst features of our films is the large number of songs thrust upon the audience. Even when the songs are good, their number destroys the even flow of the plot and its dramatic appeal. Not unoften songs create artificial situations. This gives the film an air of unreality.

I do not mean that songs should be completely done away with. But there should not be more than three or four in a film. They should be adjusted according to situations so as to have some realistic idea in the film.

I have no doubt that films with fewer songs will provide a better drama and proper presentation of the theme.


Pensioners’ plea

At present, pensioners/family pensioners get a raise of 5 per cent and 10 per cent of their basic pension on attaining the age of 70 and 80 years respectively. The Fourth Punjab Pay Commission has recommended the benefit at the age of 65 and 75 years instead of 70 and 80 years. The recommendation must be accepted and implemented at the earliest.



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