Our Charter for Independence Day: There Must be an Ease of Living Index

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Let us have a speech talking of “Ease of Living in India” from the PM. Consider what a picture we were having of the experience of living in India. Women are unsafe anywhere in the country, where we are all beseeching by the chant of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Mob lynching is the order of the day, for anything from allegations of child lifting to cow transportation. The Supreme Court had to warn and tell the of the day to ensure law and order. A report as I-Day Special Feature, for .

Perchance I were the Prime Minister of India or failing in that ambitious aim, I was entrusted with the responsibility of conceptualising the speech of the Prime Minister of India this Independence Day, what should it have been.

Let us begin with a negative list. For a long time now, since 1991-92, we have been talking as a too much about reforms, that is, economic reforms. Remember the last or one before that speech of the prime minister from Red Fort ramparts: it spoke of the much vaunted “Make In India”, or bank accounts for all.

What happened to “Make in India”. It appears this is still hanging in the air, without India making much. If anything, we are getting more of electric kettles, hair dryers, light bulbs, machinery from China. Even common umbrellas are now coming in from across the Himalayas to protect us from rain and the sun. And during the good times, Diwali lights are now apparently a monopoly of Chinese manufacturers.

Then remember the last two pieces of economic reforms. One turned out to be a disaster and the other disruptive. Demonetisation, announced as it was one evening, took the nation by surprise. As a criticism, many had pointed out that even the then governor of RBI and senior officials of the financial ministry, and even the Union finance minister did not have an inkling of it. As if, the measure should have been announced one month before the effective date and allowed everyone to manage their affairs well in time. But then, it was meant to be sudden and it did a thorough job.

In the immediate aftermath of that piece of reform, nobody actually knew what to do, how it had hit. But for those for whom it was meant were hardly naïve enough to hold large value cash. For those for whom it was not meant, the common man, it was a thorough nuisance – getting to the bank and exchange old notes. It wasn’t, as they say, worth a dime.

And for those for whom all governments all the time shed their crocodile tears, the really poor and casual workers in the informal sectors, it had meant being for some time left without any jobs. Most small and tiny units had to down shutters for a while and workers had to migrate to their native villages.

As for the Midnight Session and introduction of second freedom for the country, GST is still creating hurdles of adjustment. The ill-devised implementation IT backbone had proved to be a no-brainer and its fine-tuning is still apparently being done. Requirements of innumerable returns at the shortest possible cycles for even the smallest businesses had set in a disruption motion that is yet to be over.

So a Prime Minister’s speech should not remind any of these bad memories by even remotely giving references to reforms. The exports of joy that even senior ministers went over India gaining notches in the World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” report card should give way to something else. And no oblique references to be made to resemble the “India Shining” claim.

Instead, let us have a speech talking of “Ease of Living in India”.

Consider what a picture we were having of the experience of living in India. Women are unsafe anywhere in the country, where we are all beseeching by the chant of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Mob lynching is the order of the day, for anything from allegations of child lifting to cow transportation.

The Supreme Court had to warn and tell the government of the day to ensure law and order. It is as if all these incidents are a responsibility of the government at the centre, when the states are simply as if sleeping. As this rate, we should announce on Independence Day creation of the unitary state than a federation to have an identifiable agency for holding it to book for flagrant lapses in maintaining law and order.

The Prime Minister should then tell us on Independence Day that his government is adopting just a Five-Point Programme (FPP) for ensuring “Ease of Living in India” (ELI) for the common man, the first minimalist point is to fully protect the citizen from hooligans of political parties to local mafias by entrusting law and order to every district administration. The backbone for a nationwide network of district magistrates into a grid already exists, which can be used for this purpose, holding that authorities responsible for any infringement. Law and order should be the first priority throughout the country.

The next issue to tackle should be to reach safe drinking water to every home, not just to villages by setting up a water management machinery throughout the country. Reports are indicating that we are running dry of even underground water and water tables are falling disastrously fast in parts of India, including wide swathes of north India. The matter would gain greater urgency as climate change is upon us and its manifestations could be seen across the world. An entire province in Australia is drought-affected and Europe is getting baked under a heat wave. Wildfires in California have reached proportions never experienced before. The monsoon has so far protected us from such catastrophes. But we must be careful.

Health should be next on the agenda and the government must ensure that healthcare should be available to all citizens, irrespective of their means. The sky-rocketing price of private healthcare is driving even the middle class from getting quality care from reliable doctors and establishments, let alone the poor. Health costs as a matter of act can drive a relatively comfortable middle-class family into poverty, given the current prices. The conflict between costs and required care needs to be resolved for the population as a whole. Talk seriously about that, Mr Prime Minister.

Farms and farmers cannot be ignored. They are committing suicide, which has become so sadly an annual litany. All that has been done in response is to waive farm loans, to be followed by next round of self-sacrifice. So something endemically wrong. Government is announcing higher MSPs every year, but had these been really implemented it is difficult to see why suicides should have recurred. There are restrictions on farmers’ freedom, which are made merry of by others. A farmer cannot send his produce outside his state, even if there is a local glut.

Additionally, there is not enough of agro-infrastructure for storage and transportation. So, the government should first give DBT to farmers when prices are below MSPs straight into their bank accounts, now that claims have been established about their accounts with banks. Secondly, all the restrictions on farmers’ freedom should be removed.

Last but not least, as it is often said, is education. Education is a cure-all for most social ills from overpopulation to . Make women literate and the population will stabilise at a lower level than the present, which is one of the critical achievements we should aim for. The twenty-first century is a knowledge-driven one. India’s position in that will be driven by the original contributions to knowledge that we generate.

Unfortunately, I am not the PM, not even a speechwriter for him.

Anjan Roy
©IPA

Photos from the Internet