Friday, June 16, 2000,
Chandigarh, India



Paswans of Indian politics

APROPOS of Mr Hari Jaisingh’s article of June 9 (‘‘The Paswans of Indian politics: public office is nobody’s jagir’’), the latest ‘‘free phones’’ proposal of Union Communications Minister Ram Vilas Paswan needs to be reviewed by the Union Cabinet as aptly demanded by Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. It is not for the first time that Mr Paswan has outdone in populism. As Minister for Railways he created a whole new division of that national utility, locating its headquarters in his constituency as a consequence of which railway finances and planning suffered grievously without his political stock in Bihar, his home state, having risen to the extent he might have hoped.

Mr Paswan’s recent move is, no doubt, another misguided attempt to extract political mileage at the cost of the paying public. But he is mistaken. Voters have long grown wiser to the fact that populism is not the same thing as people’s genuine welfare. They have also seen through the designs of politicians who use the public arena only for their vested interests.

A key principle of public finance is that revenues earned through taxation ought to be spent on public welfare. Ideally, the official policy should be designed in such a way that it becomes a stepping stone for providing ever-increasing benefits to citizens and to the country. Mr Paswan’s whim here shows little concern for any of this and makes a mockery of all canons of spending public money with prudence and care.

  In my opinion, the government should vehemently oppose any such freebies and prefer a proper user changes for all facilities including not just phones but also water, electricity and official bungalows. Mr Paswan’s free-phone bonanza might trigger off similar demands from several organisations connected with public utilities. In this particular sphere, the government’s commitment to provide ‘‘telephones to all the paying public’’ on call might be defeated.

However, it is evident that if ministers like Mr Paswan, flouting persistently norms of good governance and regarding public office as “jagir”, continue to survive in office, it is only on account of the compulsions of coalition-era politics.


Destroying the Economy: We have a Paswan who would dole out rent-free phones to employees in his ministry, a Badal who would give free water, free power to farmers in his sultanate called Punjab, a Laloo Yadav who has wreaked the economy of Bihar, etc. No one in this country would direct a frontal attack on poverty, joblessness, illiteracy, starvation death, disease and hunger. All the political “messiahs” are engaged in populism in the name of dynamism.

The National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), after four years of study of 33,000 rural households in 16 states looking at 300 parameters, has come out with a human development profile of rural India that should shudder one and all.

According to the NCAER, the annual income in village India is Rs 4,485. In Orissa and West Bengal the annual per capita income is Rs 3,028 and 3,157. It is Rs 3,169 in Bihar, Rs 4,185 in U.P., Rs 4,166 in M.P. and Rs 4,229 in Rajasthan.

The country spent nearly Rs 25,000 per month on each MP (The Tribune of May 16, 2000). What a loot our elected maharajas are engaged in! And the nadir. They want houses for defeated “netas” to enable them to live in Delhi.


No Portfolios, Please: It would be better if people like Mr Ram Vilas Paswan are not allotted portfolios that would harm the larger interest of the nation at the cost of a few. I am reminded of great Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi who wrote:

Is daur-e-taraqqi ke andaaz nirale hain

Zehno mein andhere hain sarkon pe ujale hein

Jalari (Hamirpur)

Pasban and Punjab

It is painful to learn that the Punjab Government has decided to close down its most popular magazine — Pasban — in Urdu. For people like me, who have been its regular readers, the news is unbelievable.

As far as I know, Pasban has had a respectable circulation. It has its readership not only in Punjab and Haryana but also in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, etc. The magazine has been serving as the most effective medium for the projection of the image of Punjab in different parts of the country.

It has regularly carried write-ups of great literary import, particularly those useful for students. At the same time, it has not been a financial drag on the state government. The news has come as a big jolt for the readers of Pasban.

Can the Punjab Government reconsider its decision?


Truth behind deficit budget

This refers to Mr Surinder Kumar’s ‘‘Haryana state finances’’ (June 10). With fast growing opportunistic and sectarian politics in the country, the government budget, be it at the Union or state level, has ceased to be an instrument for providing a framework for policy formation and its implementation with an aim to control and regulate public economy.

By and large, the budget paints a rosy picture of the economy in the coming year without the least effort to highlight last year’s failures, particularly in revenue collection and developmental expenditure. Naturally, every budget exaggerates government claims at revenue mobilisation, whereby higher allocations, sometimes imaginative, of funds are made for various projects.

Invariably, and more so at the regional level, the socio-administrative aspect of a budget is ignored. Financial management for socio-economic interests of a society must be coupled with a strong political will and supported by the people. Even in a fast developing state like Haryana, both factors have been lacking which has only distorted the state financial priorities and often compelled the government to resort to arbitrary measures.

Since Haryana has been famous for its ‘‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’’ culture, politics has often preceded policy. In economic matters, better revenue collection and better tax compliance has not been possible only for political reasons.

Just take one simple instance. According to a survey, carried in the media only last week, in Haryana there are about 30,000 unauthorised jeeps (Maxi-cabs) ferrying people on shorter distances of upto 50 km. On a moderate estimate, if one such vehicle daily deprives the state transport of just Rs 500, the annual loss to the state exchequer on this count alone comes to a whopping Rs 500 crore. It is not that the political rulers and the bureaucrats of the state are unaware of this loss, but most such unauthorised vehicles are run under some political patronage.

There are many other identical fields, which are draining the life-blood of the whole state. In the area of electricity, Haryana is perhaps on top in its line-losses (or planned sabotage and theft with politico-bureaucratic connivance?) — more than 25 per cent of its total production. The same is the case in sales tax collection. Naturally, the state has a deficit budget not because of lack of funds but because it lacks in political will to assert in the right direction.

Therefore, for most people, including the educated citizens, the budget of a state remains a paper formality which can bring out neither the government priorities nor can it ensure any accountability of our politico-bureaucratic administration for economic growth and social welfare.


Official largesse

The government appoints pay commissions to fix fair pay and allowances for all its employees taking into consideration various factors, including the departmental requirements. That leaves hardly any scope for the various commercial departments to extend any more perks and privileges because such action is discriminatory as far as other employees are concerned.

Everyone is doing his duty and it paid for it. But, then, in this Kalyug, an avatar of the downtrodden, ‘‘Bhagwan Paswan’’ descends from the blue skies, with his own pockets empty and ordains: ‘‘The morale of telephone workers is low. They are inefficient and cannot compete globally. Therefore, give a telephone free of cost to all of them. And then you see how efficient and productive they will be.’’

Yes, now they do not have to go to their place of work. They can function from their residence. The problem of absenteeism is solved in one go.

This is a clear signal for other employees to demand departmental largesse. Air-India and Indian Airlines give free international and national tickets to their staff even if they have to offload authorised passengers. The railways issue golden, silver and bronze passes to almost each employee (kind courtesy, ‘‘Bhagwan Paswan’’), even if it leads to crowding the railways and running special trains for VIPs visiting hill stations.

The next largest government employer is defence services. Sooner or later a demand is bound to be made for issuing a free weapon to all soldiers and persons working in ordnance factories producing arms and ornaments so that their morale goes up, and they feel safe when on leave or after retirement!

In any case, the law and order situation will improve. It will also increase their weapon skill as they can practice at home. And by Joe, it is not going to cost anything to the government, as ordnance depots are full of obsolete and captured weapons. They do not have space to store them. So, instead of destroying such weapons, raise the morale of the defence forces. Thank you, ‘‘Bhagwan Paswan’’

BRIG K.S. KANG (retd)


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