In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed

There were two schools in a locality, one famous for its good administration, teaching standards and morally sound environment and the other with equally contrasting features like favouritism, discrimination and rampant cheating. It used to become a matter of shame for the well governed school if few of its students perform badly whereas the other school was never admired, if not despised for the high marks its students claimed. The analogy clearly explains why a well governed country considers poverty as a blot on its impeccable record and badly governed country is deplored for the wealth confined within few hands.

Prof. Amartya Sen defines poverty as something not merely limited to economic deprivation or inadequate income but one that also encompasses lack of essential services like education, drinking water and healthcare. Poverty impedes a person from realising his full potential and to lead a dignified life, primarily by restricting accessibility to necessary resources. Further, the detrimental impact of poverty is not confined to individuals but also to society and nation.

To eliminate poverty from our society is the primary objective of every state. Government through various means provide essential services and employment opportunities to enable people to pull themselves out of deprivation. Governance, by ensuring distributional justice and allocative efficiency, is one of the crucial means to alleviate poverty. Accountability, transparency, participatory, inclusiveness and responsiveness are attributes of good governance that contributes to the well-being of a nation.

A well-governed nation has institutions that uphold accountability and transparency at every level. It enables establishment of responsible administration on which citizen place greater degree of trust. It augments to integrity and dignity of governing institutions that manifests in the form of higher revenue and facilitate developmental activities. For instance, inhabitants of Left Wing Extremist states in India are apprehensive of their administration and hence they thwart any effort towards development. Further, a transparent and accountable system removes leakages and mistargetting associated with various poverty alleviation measures taken by government. It thus improves the effectiveness of policy action towards ending various forms of deprivation.

Similarly, greater participation from people is another sign of enabling governance structure. A governance that is participatory ensures effective policy formulation by encompassing varied opinions of different stakeholders. It not only results in smooth implementation but also ensures effective monitoring at the site of implementation. Decentralisation of power is one of the important instrument to secure people’s participation. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act in India has been successful in achieving citizens’ involvement in governance at grass-root level.

Participation at local level helps in better planning because specific deprivations of locality are well known to indigenous people, who then endeavor to resolve local issues through locally available skills and resources.

Inclusiveness is yet another prominent feature of a high quality governance that emphasizes that fruits of economic growth is fairly distributed in society. It also seeks to empower vulnerable and downtrodden section of society thereby generating enough livelihood sources for everyone to improve their living conditions.An inclusive policy measure also tends to reduce inequality in society and encourages greater cohesion.

Lastly, a responsive governance is sensitive to the needs of people. It is citizen-centric and hallmark of a well governed country. For example, pro-active support to farmers during droughts is a characteristic of responsive administration. It enhances economic and social well-being of people by better identifying their needs and decisively works towards thir resolution. Such governance constantly improvises its structure through robust grievance redressal and feedback mechanism.

All the characteristics of a well governed nation conspicuously improves the standard of living and provision of basic services for its citizens. In such a country, poverty is seen as shameful existence of inefficiencies and corruption in the system irrespective of how minimal it is.

On the other hand, in a badly governed nation where poverty is widespread, wealth is seen with contempt. It becomes a grim reminder of an unequal society wherein resources are often acquired through immoral means and at the cost of suffering of poor people. Like a good governance framework enables reduction in impoverishment and inequality, a bad governance structure perpetuates these social evils.

Entrenched corruption is a prominent feature of a poorly administered country. Presence of leakages and misappropriation of funds defeats the very objective of welfare schemes. It renders poverty alleviation measures ineffective and also widens trust deficit between people and those who govern them. Further, it facilitates concentration of wealth in few hands and prevent it from ‘trickling-down’ to the lowest rung of society.

Delays and red-tapism are another feature of bad governance. Economically, it hurts the investment sentiments in the country resulting in lower business establishments and inadequate job creation. This also distorts supply-chain and fuels inflation, burden of which falls upon impoverished masses. Further, delays in provisioning of essential services and creation of infrastructure exacerbates the situation.

Opaque nature of governing institutions provide veil for all sorts of corrupt practices including crony capitalism, extortion, bribery etc. Institutional opacity shields political leaders, government officials and businessmen in their effort to acquire wealth unscrupulously. Resource distance of masses is increased and inequality is perpetuated in such a country.

In a country where children are dying of hunger and farmers are committing suicide due to poor management, concentration of wealth is contemptible on which country must be ashamed of.

India provides a very glaring example of a nation that is transition from a system marred with exclusivity, discrimination and immorality towards one that is transparent, inclusive and ethical. It is progressing towards achieving a good governance model through incorporation of technology, mass awareness and literacy programmes.

Technology catalyses this transition as it reduces human discretion. It empowers people to question governmental actions and fix greater accountability on them through few mouse-clicks. Proliferation of social networking sites and apps has facilitated rapid mobilization of public opinion thus making governance more responsive. For example, emergence of ‘whatsapp governance’ in Bengaluru where people raise their grievances on a whatsapp group entails quick response from governing bodies. Further, it provides a platform to plug leakages and problem of identification through electronic transfer of benefits and bio-authentication respectively.

There are various initiative both at central and domestic level to encourage practices of good governance. One can say that governance is a good parameter to judge our extent of evolution into a civilized race. A race whose ultimate goal should be to secure food for every mouth, work for every hand and dream for every eye.

 

Need brings greed, if greed increases it spoils breed.

Mahatma Gandhi has rightly quoted – “There is enough on this planet for everyone’s need, but very less for one man’s greed”. History is full of examples where a king’s greed for more territory has led to wars, brutal killings, power usurpation and immense destruction. It is innate inclination to have more and more of something that has pushed human beings to the edge where only “survival of the fittest” is possible.

Planet Earth, the only inhabitable place in this universe that we know of, has provided enough resources for us to live. But, the perpetual tendency to exploit without being considerate of future generations has endangered their existence. Incessant burning of fossil fuels and deforestation has increased the level of carbon beyond earth’s capacity to sequestrate. As a consequence, the threat of global warming looms large which is increasingly making the planet uninhabitable. There are many animal and plant species that have been wiped out from the face of the earth because of various anthropogenic activities. Habitat destruction, poaching and depleting food resources has increased pressure on various species who are rendered vulnerable. The avarice of human beings has not only spoiled our breed but also has threatened the prospects of existence of other species.

The greed to acquire more has multi-faceted implications including moral degradation. Widespread corruption, murder, sexual harassment and so on are manifestation of deterioration of human race. The incidence of such activities has only proliferated with coming of newer generations. The prominent reason being absence of moral precedence. If a son watches his father taking bribe, naturally he will be inclined to do so as well without any guilt. That’s how this immoral legacy has been transferred from one generation to generation.

The moral degradation of our race has corrupted out society. A human is a social animal constantly seek respect and importance from society. The desire to be acknowledged at superior footing has stratified the society. A glaring example being rigid caste system in India that has sustained for ages. The upper two varnas enjoy reverential position while pushing the lower varnas into subservience. Similar argument can be extended to gender inequality as well. The women have been denied equality in matters of decision-making at family, society and national level and are constantly being subjected to various types of exploitation.

This ubiquitous quality of human beings is loudly demonstrated at political level. Undoubtedly, state requires power and authority to establish law and order. But inherent tendency of political leaders to wield more power has given birth to authoritarianism. Socrates condemnation to death by Athenian democracy is a grim reminder that democracy needs to protect itself from itself.

On top of that, the power struggle between political factions has resulted in communalization and division of society on the lines of caste, class and religion. It is this greed at various levels that is responsible for human rights violations, border disputes and increasing militarization of regions. Kashmir valley, Balochistan, West Asia and eastern Europe have become battlegrounds of conflicting human greed.

Further, widespread inequality and poverty has perpetuated due to increasing materialism. Inclination towards acquiring more of economic resources has translated into almost quarter of population being victims of impoverishment. The poverty has forced people to lead an undignified life with no apparent opportunity to progress. It has also adversely impacted societies and nations in the form of poor productivity, disease burden, pollution and crime. The vicious cycle of poverty and inequality has swallowed several generations.

However, the greed to acquire more resources, be it political or economical, has acted as an incentive to growth. Transformation of political system from monarchy to feudalism to democracy is a testament of progressive element of greed. Similarly, efforts towards achieving efficiency in utilization of resources for economic development, inclusive growth and sustainable living offers an optimistic perspective.

Moreover, this constant zeal to improvise living condition has also inflicted advancement in technological sector. This has helped improve life expectancy, made education more accessible, made transportation convenient and faster and improved governance through greater transparency and participation.

Advent of Sustainable Development Goals and commitment of countries towards them reflects our growing consciousness towards peaceful and harmonious co-existence. It has encouraged countries to keep aside their narrow considerations and greed and come forward to further the cause of sustainable development.

Further, recently convened Paris Climate Agreement shows world’s concern towards environmental degradation and need to protect the same. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels and promoting use of renewable sources of energy can contain the rising carbon emission into environment. The agreement demonstrates people’s resolve to redeem their past mistakes. However, implementation of the same would need greater co-operation and unity.

If we are to prolong our existence we need to get rid of greediness at different levels. For starters, we need an education system that emphasizes on human values and principles. Further, political reforms like strengthening institutions, bringing transparency through technology and decentralization of power would augment to the human progress.

At social level, we need to eliminate various discriminatory practices like untouchability, exploitation of women, persecution of downtrodden and religious conflicts. It requires collaboration of wider cross-section of citizenry, spiritual leader, political class, civil society and bureaucracy.

Globally, we need empowered institutions to intervene effectively in resolving conflicts and imposition of decrees. This requires global governance to become more democratic and representative so that the administration of global order is acceptable and inclusive.

Human beings have evolved from being hunter-gatherer to civilized citizen of nation states. We have progressed politically, socially, economically and technologically made possible through never ending desire to grow and improve. Now, its time to evolve ethically and morally.

A thousand splendid suns by Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid SunsA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a story of two women who endure all the persecution amidst changing political regime in Afghanistan. It has been shown how effective and yet inconclusive govt. policies are towards women’s emancipation. It makes us realize how their empowerment can be brought to fruition only though sensitization at social and domestic level.

The story revolves around two characters, Mariam and Laila, former being an illegitimate child of a rich businessman while latter happens to be a victim of civil war. Both of them being subject of exploitation from social, political and psychological front from time to time.

Khaled Hosseini is known for his coherent representation of a feminine perspective and this book is fine testament of that. He has attempted to evoke a sense of compassion and empathy among readers by highlighting the plight of females in a war-torn country. The entrenched patriarchy sanctified in the name of religion have incarcerated women within households, but still they shimmer like ‘thousand splendid suns that hide behind her wall’.

Altogether a good read but not as elegant as The Kite Runner.

View all my reviews

‘Demon’estisation

Money serves the purpose of lubricant for an economy. It couldn’t get more adventurous and bold for a country, with a population of 1.3 billion relying on cash as predominant mode of transaction (~90% of total transactions), than to demonetize 86% of total money in circulation.

Government primarily wanted to target black money hoarded in cash, counterfeited currency and the source of terror funding in the country. How far it’d be successful in achieving those, only time will tell. Meanwhile, we will do what we are best at, speculate!

India is being seen as the brightest spot amidst gloomy global economy. It is reportedly the fastest growing large economy in the world. But, the recent demonetization drive, in Jean Dreze’s words “is like shooting at the tyres of a racing car (analogous to booming economy)”. Undoubtedly, it will adversely affect the level of economic activity in the country. The situation being similar to sucking lubricant from an engine that brings the latter to a grinding halt. In the short-run, maybe for a couple of quarters, national GDP might shrink, bringing down the overall growth rate achieved in this fiscal year. However, in the medium- and long-run, growth would, in all likelihood, witness an unprecedented upsurge. This would be due to host of reasons ranging from monetary economics to behavioral change.

The savings rate in our country has been decent from past decade hovering around 30% of GDP. But, these savings have largely been in the form unproductive assets like real estate and gold as the market for these physical assets was largely cash-intensive which facilitates parking unaccounted money. The economic surplus that could have been invested in productive sectors was lying idle in illiquid assets. The move to ban high-denomination currency will moderate return on these assets and investors will be compelled to convert their savings into financial assets like equities, bonds etc. This will reduce the cost of capital and make India’s economy more competitive.

Inflation is other frontier where the spill over of demonetization can be felt. This would be due to reduced money supply and moderation in realty prices. Further, good monsoon this year will ensure that supply is not affected. Overall, both headline and wholesale inflation will witness downward pressure. Good news for Monetary Policy Committee!

GDP figures will rise dramatically as the informal economy, comprising approx. 90% of non-agricultural workforce and almost half of country’s GDP, would be propelled to formalize. Small businesses relying on cash would switch over to more transparent mode transaction. This will also make it difficult to evade taxes.

Talking about taxes, the move to ban 500 and 1000 rupee notes, will enhance government’s revenue. Besides obvious gains from formalisation of economy, there would be windfall gain due to demonetization. Since, a part of demonetized currency will either be destroyed or lost and will not be deposited in banks, it will reduce RBI’s liability by equal amount. This windfall gain, according to experts, can reduce our fiscal deficit by half!

Moreover, commercial banks stand to benefit a lot from this move. As the higher denomination currency is being deposited in large numbers, it is improving banks’ CASA (current and savings account) ratio. It will bring down the cost of funds and hence the interest rate. So, people who were planning to take loans should thank PM for making their borrowings cheaper, and not only because its Thanksgiving!

The demand side holds promising prospects due to overall increase in rural income and implementation of 7th Central Pay Commission award. Hence the private consumption will increase for a whole range of products. Further, investment would also become cheaper due to decline in interest rate and will tend to rise. Add to that, increased capital expenditure as promised in Union Budge by government.

Every economy aspires to move towards cashless mode of transactions as they are transparent, convenient and hassle-free. The currency ban will thus bring about a behavioral change in our society. Since, people would be compelled to use plastic money in absence of adequate cash, it will mark a shift towards a cashless economy.

All these factors when accompanied by implementation of Goods and Services tax, bankruptcy code and other structural reforms like revitalizing power distribution companies would provide the springboard that our economy needed.

The demonetization was well intended but poorly implemented. One major evidence being re-calibration of all the ATMs in the country that were not designed to dispense new currency notes. Although standardization has always been an issue with Indian way of doing things, leave apart dimension of currency notes, we don’t have a uniform rail gauge. Further, over 170 changes in notification in last 17 days does have a point to make, that it was an ill-executed plan. Also the inconvenience being thrust upon those who do not have access to banking facilities, reside in remote areas and/or lack physical infrastructure.

Besides carrying the label of a hastily conceived plan, the note ban can also fail in fulfilling its objective of unearthing black money. Undisclosed or illicit money is being routed through Jan Dhan accounts amounting almost Rs.65,000 crores, which is just one, inter alia, way of laundering money. The objective of squeezing financing of terror outfits also received setback when new 2000 rupee notes were recovered from LeT militants in Kashmir.

Moreover, the claims of ruling government that the demonetization will uproot widespread corruption from the country are baseless. The fundamental cause of corruption include lack of transparency and accountability in the system, no certainty of punishment, weak vigilance and public apathy. It requires institutional reforms and widespread outreach campaign to sensitize the act of corrupt practices rather than resorting to quick fixes.

In entirety the move would instill fear in the minds of those who stash cash under their mattresses. It is a progressive move and the government should not cease its crackdown on illegally accumulated wealth. It can further the cause of cleansing economy by accepting recommendations of SIT on black money, banning participatory notes and facilitating mutual exchange of information with other countries.

Life is a cosmic subterfuge

There’s no better day than birthday to embark on something I always feared, apparently a difficult path to embrace. I remember an excerpt from Wordsworth’s poem, “Miles to go before I sleep”, probably it was this ‘miles’, symptomatic of longevity, that thwarted me to start. The uncertainty and the fear of venturing into unforeseeable prevents us to commence and keep moving forward on that path. It took almost half of my life to confront that trepidation, I could have done it earlier. Maybe all I needed was a feeble light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. I won’t claim that I see it now, but I know it’s there, manifested into ‘hope’. We just need to turn inwards and dig it till we find it.

Life has not been easy and it never would be if we try and control things we can’t. The harder we grip it, the faster it slips. This helplessness and subsequently the notion of incapability that we create about ourselves gets so deeply entrenched that we hardly find a different perspective to look at things. Changes are always resisted, more so if it is intrinsic. In Reinhold Niebuhr’s words

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

That’s what I wish for myself and for ‘few others’ this birthday. If I were to define those ‘few others’, I would probably elucidate in the following manner.

A person is a social being, the most pronounced characteristic of our race. It becomes rather difficult to segregate one-self from other human beings. Also for an individual, liberty becomes his most valued asset which he cannot afford to forego. Be it liberty of thought, expression or action, when it is realized to its optimum becomes a source of happiness. And when these two norms are fulfilled, that is, when one is accompanied by people with whom he feels more liberated without any concern of being gauged upon, results in elation and exhilaration. And these are the people we conveniently call as ‘friends’ or ‘few others’.

‘Main akela hi chala tha janib-e-manzil magar, log saath aate gaye aur caravan banta gaya’

At this juncture of my life where the expanse of my “well” is not large enough that I can define ‘life’ and its concomitants. But, there are things known and things unknown, in between are the doors and the windows. In conclusion, life is not a subterfuge, it just has billion angles as there are people pursuing it. I deem it as complex interplay of cosmic forces.