Thursday, September 28

Punjab reeks of corruption

Kuldip Nayar

The latest World Bank Report places India almost at the bottom of corruption-free countries. It has the distinction of being 124th. If a similar study were to be undertaken in India, Punjab, I am sure, will rank at the end of the list. The entire state is reeking of corruption and, practically, none in the government is above suspicion.
In fact, as the Assembly election is approaching - scheduled for the next February - the scandals are increasing in number and gravity. No criticism is making any difference. The furor over the report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India rapping the Punjab government for misappropriating rural development cess had not lowered when the Ludhiana City Centre scam hit the headlines.
In the first case, a sum of Rs 935 crore was reportedly misappropriated. Where it was used and how was not known. But the cess was not utilised even for drought relief activities. The expenditure amounted to Rs 340.57 crore for the kharif season. The Centre bore the burden. The Comptroller and Auditor-General used strong words: "Audit found no evidence to indicate that the amount collected as rural development cess was utilised for the specified purpose".
In the second case, the bungling runs into crores of rupees. The Ludhiana City Centre is spread over 20.55 acres in the heart of the city and is meant to provide 200 shops, corporate offices, art galleries and a five-star hotel. The manner in which allotment has been sought to be made has raised suspicion. According to one estimate, the loss to the state will amount to Rs 500 crore.
The rules, it seems, have been blatantly changed to accommodate those who apparently have paid money in black. The space has been sold by taking 70 per cent of the payment in bulk, depriving the government of its legitimate share.
The state government has ordered an inquiry. But when the state itself is in the dock and when one minister is being named, the CBI should look into the case. This demand has been rejected for obvious reasons. The state?s own investigating agencies do not evoke the confidence which the inquiry of this type should do.
Another example of underhand dealings is the land given to Reliance. It is worth crores of rupees. The state has violated all procedures in allotting it. The State-owned Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation (PSIEC) has been "forced" to sell the land at a very cheap rate. An English daily from Chandigarh has claimed that it has the proceedings of the Punjab Cabinet meeting of June 25 where the proposal of giving 325.57 acres was approved. The land has been given at the industrial reserve price despite the fact that industrial activity is nowhere visible.
The question is not only about the violation of rules on the allotment of land to a particular party but also that of the government's involvement. Cabinet meeting proceedings make it clear. It is strange that the Congress high command, which is aware of it, has kept mum. The state Congress is not happy over the attitude of the High Command but does not dare to open its mouth.
The several instances of the state government?s role make one wonder if New Delhi is really interested in stalling scandals or pursuing them to make sure that such things do not recur. A former Congress chief minister made me wiser the other day when he said that the state Chief Ministers had to send money to the Congress organisation at the Centre for running the party in the country. If this is correct, the state is only doing what it is supposed to do.
Probably, Punjab is overdoing it. Without transparency - it holds good for all political parties - corruption cannot be stopped. And there is no hope that any political party, including the Congress, will ever agree to such money transactions which are open.
The widespread corruption is, however, affecting Punjab considerably. Very little money is available for the state's development, particularly in the field of agriculture. Yields are falling because of various factors and the biggest one is that the money allocated for the purpose is generally not reaching the field. Farmers are the victims. There is hardly any farmer who is without debt.
The CPM organised a protest early this week and stopped some trains. The party's demand is to have a law to waive farmers' loans which total Rs 25,000 crore, the highest in the country. I do not know why the party is not pressing the Manmohan Singh government which is in power because of the CPM support.
Farmers in Punjab are really in a bad shape. The survey made on the "suicide of farmers" has shown that 2000 cases were in Punjab alone. The slogan to have agriculture as the priority at the recent Congress Chief Ministers? conclave is alright as far as it goes. But words do not produce foodgrains. What is required is concerted hard work which the feuding state government cannot organise.
Whenever I return from travel through Punjab, I feel pessimist because people are losing hope in the government. They wonder if it can retrieve them from the miserable situation in which they are caught. Mere rhetoric is not enough; they want results.
I wonder that if the Punjabis outside Punjab can do well in every field, why they are lagging behind within the state. The Punjabis outside Punjab should also think seriously about how to help the people in Punjab. They cannot let their own state, Punjab, wallow in poverty and debt.
Checking with some well-to-do Punjabis in Delhi, I find that their worry is the ever-increasing corruption in the state. Maybe, the inhabitants of Punjab should set up vigilance groups at the district level to ensure that public funds do not find their way to personal pockets which are deep.
Punjab has spent a long night in the midst of militancy. Wounds are far from healed. Corruption at high places may again put people in the throes of desperation. Seventy per cent of youth, particularly in the countryside, are drug addicts.
And their eyes are fixed on some place outside India because they feel there is no other way out of the difficulties they face. Corruption at the ministerial level has made them feel still forlorn and lonely. They need the governance to be clean and transparent. This is not much to ask for.

Issues and Facts about NCERT Books

Chaman Lal, Professor, Centre of Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University, writes about the controversy over NCERT's history books that included translated poem of acclaimed poet Paash

A lot of heat was generated in Rajya Sabha on the issue of allegedly objectionable material in NCERT Hindi and History books, being taught to students. MPs cutting across party lines went on to the extent of seeking punishment to the scholars responsible for recommending this material. It is very interesting that BJP, who had been after the head of left wing historians, since more than a quarter century, wittingly or unwittingly, got the support from the left itself. That too, just a week or so after, they had been seeking the head of Speaker of Lok Sabha, not because of any genuine reason, but only for being a left nominee to the post.
Is there any solid logic behind the den being raised by BJP MP Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was supported by MPs from Congress, SP, CPM and RSP? What are the facts of the case? There are multiple issues involved in this debate, if conducted seriously. First of all, the competence question. Who can give more sound and solid opinion on issues relating to education and pedagogy? MPs are no doubt elected by the people (Though not in Rajya Sabha) and they have a right to make laws and question Govt. policies in any area of governance. My humble question here is just this-Even if one has certain rights granted under constitution, are these rights to be exercised in an enlightened and knowledgeable manner or just as per one's political agenda and convenience? Do all our MPs have knowledge about each and everything of India, about which they are supposed to speak in Parliament? And do they speak about each and everything about which they should have been speaking in Parliament? Facts do not support either of the contention. Not to talk of our MPs, none in the world, be it Amartya Sen or George Bush, can claim to have knowledge of each and everything about the world. People like Amartya Sen have the humility to acknowledge this obvious fact, whereas people like George Bush destroy the world by their cooked up 'knowledge', be in Iraq or in West Asia. If cooked up knowledge is too dangerous for the world, 'half-baked' information is equally disastrous. Unfortunately, the whole controversy about NCERT books, not only this time, from the very beginning, is based upon half baked information, often quoted out of context, resulting in social tensions. This is particularly true of History books, authored by Bipan Chandra or Satish Chandra. The comments about Guru Gobind Singh, Guru Teg Bahadur or Jats etc. or calling Tilak, Pal or Aurbindo as terrorists, which are always ascribed to the authors of these books, are never their comments. Bipan Chandra and Satish Chandra like eminent nationalist historians can never distort history like that. They have discussed the comments made by either colonial historians or communal historians and contradicted and condemned these unfounded comments about our great national heroes with facts and reason. It has again been repeated in Rajya Sabha that Tilak, Aurbindo, Bipan Chander Pal ,Lala Lajpat Rai like nationalist figures have been characterized as terrorists in NCERT history book written by Bipan Chandra. This is factually wrong. In text book 'Modern India' for class XII, edition 1994,in a chapter Nationalist Movement(1905-18), Bipan Chandra has written- "The most outstanding leaders of militant nationalism apart from Lokmanya Tilak were Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurbindo Ghosh, and Lala Lajpat Rai. The distinctive political aspects of the programme of the militant nationalist were as follows.
They believed that Indians themselves must work out their own salvation and make the effort to rise from their degraded position. They declared that great sacrifices and sufferings were needed for this task. Their speeches, writings and political work were full of boldness and self-confidence and they considered no personal sacrifice too great for the good of their country.
Xxx They had deep faith in the strength of the masses and they planned to achieve Swaraj through mass action. They, therefore, pressed for political work among masses and for direct political action by the masses."(Pages 192-3)
Nowhere Bipan Chandra used the word terrorist for these nationalist figures, which has been ascribed to him, whether intentionally or by lack of correct information. Since in BJP like parties, reason has no place, so the distortions are rather made at their end to whip up communal passions.
Does BJP knows that first lesson in nationalism to Indians was taught by Karl Marx himself, while writing about 1857, as war of independence, full fifty years before Veer Savarkar wrote it as first war of Independence and has BJP, an iota of respect for Karl Marx for this historical interpretation of 1857, which is called Ghadar by British colonial historians?
So much for the history books, let us now turn Hindi books for facts.
Four or five objections have been raised about Hindi books by NCERT, prescribed for class XI. One is about the use of unconstitutional words in the stories or poems of prescribed writers. One such word is 'Bhangi' used by Prem Chand in his story 'Doodh Ka Daam' Another such example has been quoted from an eminent Dalit writer Om Prakash Valmiki?s story. Another objection is that why M.F. Hussain's biographical chapter has been included in the book. Not that something is objectionable in the chapter, but the very name of M.F. Hussain is like red rag to the bull for some sections, though he might be an artist of international recognition. Foreign Universities, colleges or schools might discuss his works, we will not allow his name to be known to our students, this is the approach. One more objection is to the use of certain words in the Sahitya Akademi award winner poet Dhumil's poem 'Mochi Ram' .Yet another objection is to the introduction of Paash, an eminent Panjabi poet, because he is a 'Naxalite'. Even the writer respected by Mahatma Gandhi, Pandey Bechan Sharma Ugar is not spared by this virulent and totally irrational attack.
Earlier also a novel Rangbhoomi by Prem Chand was burnt by Bhartiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi and forced to be withdrawn from course of NCERT, because it has word 'Chamar' in the text.
One wonders sometimes the laws made by our law-makers. The spirit behind ban on such word is that in social interaction sometimes, lower classes are subjected to insults and humiliating behavior by upper and powerful classes by using these wo, in this context a ban on use of such words is justified. But in census, in collecting social data, in sociological studies, in creative literature, how can the use of these words be subjected to a blanket ban? In legal terms also, in matters of reservations, how the castes would not be counted, written and put on record for granting the benefits of reservation or in such contexts. These words would be found in the works of Tagore, Prem Chand or other great writers. Would these writers be subjected to scrutiny, in other words censorship, to remove these words from their texts? Our law makers should ponder over these larger issues.
Paash is one of the major Panjabi poets, whose works are part of syllabuses of all Universities, colleges, teaching Panjabi literature, it is part of UPSC syllabus as well. Paash's works have been translated into major lndian languages Bengali, Gujrati, Marathi, Telugu, Malyalm, Hindi etc. UGC, in its model course designed during NDA rule has recommended teaching Paash as one major Indian poet. His poetry has been compared to poetry of poets like Neruda. And Paash was murdered at the hands of Khalistani terrorists for confronting them directly through his poetry. A library, in the memory of slain policemen of Haryana, at the hands of Khalistanis, has been named as Paash library, established by Police deptt. itself.Yet our BJP MP can see only a 'Naxalite' in him!Paash in one of his poems have referred to 'the critics with red turbans', had he listened to the interpretation of his poetry in Rajya Sabha, what term he would have coined for such literary critics. Perhaps poets alive will surely find a suitable term for such critics, provided they are not too scared to be jailed for contempt of Parliament! Sahitya Akademi award winner Hindi poet Dhumil already has a word coined for such critics, in one of his other poems, which I myself am too scared to quote here.
The issues in the field of education should be subjected to enlightened debates, based on facts and texts discussed in their proper context. Any out of context quotation from the text books and a narrow and sectarian approach, will harm our younger generations only, which needs to be given most liberal and advanced education. In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, our youth need scientific temper. True, perhaps our Parliamentarians need it even more!

Friday, September 15

The Real State of the State

India Today's 'State of the States' poll, indicating ranking of states, ranked Punjab as the number one state of India. This led to a very predictable media campaign by the state government touting the ranking. But the state government had so much to hide going by the special report of the newsmagazine.

The story begins with an ominous headline The Leader' Last Hurrah with a subhead suggesting that the ranking of states points to a clear upset in the making. "Toppers beware!" it exclaims. "The question is not whether Punjab will cease to be India's most prosperous is when will other states overtake" reads the opening of the analysis of the data.
The fourth annual India Today study done by economists Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari is at pains to mark out that while ranks are more eye-catching, one should not read too much into them. Ranks aren't a good indicator of states' performance over the years either. So we had Punjab ranked first on the strength of combined score in eight areas: budget and prosperity, agriculture, consumer markets, primary education, primary health, law & order, infrastructure and investment environment. Each of these included six-eight key variables ranging from percentage of population above poverty line to inflation, from area under cash crops to loans extended to farmers, from number of policemen per lakh people to the infant mortality ration, from the teacher-pupil ration to per capita bank branches. Punjab is a clear winner mostly because of its past performance. Barring agriculture, infrastructure, consumer markets, Punjab's score has slipped on all other indices in 2003-06. Punjab along with Bihar is at the bottom of the physical capital index that includes percentage growth in households electrified and in road length and fixed capital. In fact, along with Orissa and Bihar, Punjab has been termed as the slowest growing state, notwithstanding its good ranking overall.

Punjab's ranking on different parametes out of 20 big states, it's score for the current year and change in 2006 score from last year's score respectively

Parameters Rank Score Change
Overall First 2.65 0.14
Law & Order Thirteenth 0.48 -0.10
Agriculture First 5.38 1.35
Primary Education Sixth 2.72 -0.07
Primary Health Fifth 1.67 0.05
Infrastructure First 3.37 -0.40
Consumer Market First 2.60 0.16
Investment Environment Sixth 2.02 -0.05
Budget & Prosperity First 2.96 0.20

Some more findings of the study:

  • Punjab ranks last but one on physical potential parameter. At 2.37% growth in physical capital index (%growth in households electrified, road length and fixed capital) the state has only Bihar below it.
  • On Human capital index, Punjab ranks sixth at 3.14%. This took into account percent growth in share of graduates in total population and share of 26-40 year old in population.
  • On the measure of states growth according to their potential, Punjab ranks ninth.
  • Punjab is eleventh in the governance rank.
  • On growth chart, Punjab ranks eleventh with 4.54% annual growth in gross domestic product in the 1990s.