(As part of its involvement in public life the Indian Catholic Forum has prepared a Citizen’s Charter for inclusion in the Election Manifestos of major political parties.)
This Citizens’ Charter 2019 has been prepared for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls, and is being sent to all major political parties, the media, social, civic and religious organizations; with the common good of the country in mind. It is based on the Preamble of the Constitution of India – a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic, with its core values of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity that it enshrines, and the Directive Principles found in Articles 36 -51.
We welcome the Supreme Court’s referral of the matter to a committee of three Mediators with the poignant observation that this is not just a land dispute, but also of head and heart that needs healing. We propose to the Mediators that they conduct a study tour of Jerusalem/Bethlehem where three major religions have been in conflict for centuries over “disputed religious sites”. They were amicably resolved through an edict (firman) of the Ottoman Sultan in 1757 that was subsequently codified by the British Mandate in 1929. It is therefore proposed that the Mediators take along some religious leaders and legal experts to Jerusalem to find a lasting solution.
This is another major issue that is a drain on the nation and its economy, with Pulwana just the latest incident in an endless circle of mindless violence. Neither pellet guns nor stone throwing can resolve the issue. It is imperative that confidence building measures, including local self government be restored. Making provocative statements, war mongering and surgical strikes have not solved these deep-seated problems. We must also dialogue with Pakistan, as fighting proxy wars is not getting anywhere. There are no winners, only losers.
It will always seek revenge for India’s role in its dismemberment and the formation of Bangladesh. We cannot turn the clock back. We should not set preconditions for talks. If the Berlin Wall could fall, and North and South Korea are engaging in constructive dialogue, then why can’t we talk to Pakistan? Confidence building measures through trade, cultural and sporting exchanges will help. With some give and take we should accept the Line of Actual Control as the de facto, if not de jure, international border. Pakistan has a new Prime Minister in Imran Khan, who showed sagacity in not trying to escalate the post Balakot scene, and by returning our captured pilot. We should give him a chance, instead of labelling him a stooge of the army. He has said that he will talk to India after the Lok Sabha elections, knowing full well that no aspiring politician would like to be seen as being soft on Pakistan. Nevertheless, whoever comes to power in 2019 must be prepared to talk to Pakistan without preconditions.
The country of the Mahatma that preaches non-violence to the world is the world’s biggest arms purchaser. All major purchases from Bofors and Westland to Rafaele have been bogged down by allegations of corruption. Ironically, such allegations have not been levelled for purchases made from the erstwhile Soviet Union/ Russia. It is food for thought. However, one does not foresee controversy abating in future defence procurements. It is therefore proposed that a Joint Parliamentary Committee be formed beforehand, for defence procurements; including members from the opposition parties. This should ensure greater transparency in mega purchases.
Not just the Chinese Aggression of 1962, but even in Kargil 1999, we were not prepared. We neither had ammunition for our artillery nor coffins for the dead. This is because the 1.3 million strong army seems to take more pride in parades and regimental traditions (including caste and community), than in a major switch to tactical, technological and strategic warfare. We can’t win modern wars with infantry battalions blindly charging into battle. Interestingly, the Union Budget for 2019-20 has earmarked 8% of its expenditure, or 4.31 lakh crore rupees (LCR) for defence, of which 1.82 LCR or 42% is for salaries and pensions, and of that again 1.2 LCR or 24% is for pensions alone. This requires serious consideration.
Kanpur, as an example, alone has several defence production and related units – Ordnance Equipment Factory, Small Arms Factory, Ordnance Parachute Factory, Ordnance Factory Cawnpore, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Defence Materials Stores Research Development Establishment and Central Ordnance Depot. Employee strength could be 20,000. They recently went on a three day strike (23rd to 25th January) because they allege that the present Govt is threatening to close some of them down and shift core defence production to the private sector. There are several such units across the country. This is a mockery of the Govt’s claim to “Make in India”. This large human and infrastructure resource must be re-oriented and galvanised to respond to latest technology and production methods, thereby also reducing our heavy dependence on foreign purchases.
This was a major cause for the change of Govts in three States in the Hindi heartland. We are the world’s largest producer of milk, the second largest producer of wheat, and a major producer of fruits and vegetables. Why then are farmers in distress and so many people so poor? We need a second white and green revolution, not just in production, but in storage, transportation and processing of food; especially for highly perishable fruits and vegetables, 40% of which are either wasted or destroyed. We must learn from the co-operative movement of Amul, and make the producers themselves the major stakeholders in agricultural production and the food chain. Farm loan waivers are just a knee jerk reaction to garner votes. This is not a long term solution.
An atheist from another country after visiting India said that he now believed in God. How else could the country survive its urban chaos? There is just no urban planning. Incompetent bureaucrats present smart schemes to inept politicians for preparing “Smart Cities”. It is not happening. Pollution, chaotic traffic and burgeoning slums are the order of the day. The 74th Amendment to the Constitution passed by parliament in 1992 was meant to strengthen local self-government, the swa-raj (self-rule) that Gandhiji had envisaged. This power was to devolve on urban municipal bodies, just as the 73rd Amendment gave Panchayatiraj to the villages. It is covered under Articles 243P-243ZG and Schedule 12 of the Constitution. Despite the passage of 27 years most States have not implemented the 74th Amendment, because they want to retain control and funds of the urban bodies. This Amendment is crucial to the planned development of urban areas.
SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT:
This is one of the greatest threats to the environment and public health, far more than open defecation. Both cities and villages have increasing mountains of solid waste. A major contribution to this is disposable plastic and thermocole (Styrofoam) materials – water bottles, glasses, plates etc, and plastic carry bags. There should be a phasing out and ban on non-essential items like bottles, glasses and plates. The Govt should set the example by not using them in their meetings. Caterers should be banned from using them. Plastic carry bags may be allowed only for such items that cannot be carried in other materials, like dairy products, fish and meat. Retailers may be issued special licences for limited use of carry bags by the municipal authorities. The scientific establishment should be pushed into developing biodegradable packing materials.
Ever since the excesses of the Emergency (1975-77) population control seems to be a taboo subject. To the contrary, we have an array of religious and ethnic leaders advocating having more children, to wrest the demographic advantage. This must stop, and the Govt must find innovative incentives/ disincentives to control the population. It would need to win the confidence of community leaders for this.
UNIFORM CIVIL CODE:
The present Govt had made this a prestige issue. An exhaustive survey was conducted by the Law Commission, headed by Justice B.S. Chauhan (Rtd) that arrived at the obvious conclusion that this was neither feasible, nor desirable, given the diversity of the country. It is time to give it a decent burial.
In their wisdom the framers of the Constitution had made special provisions for some vulnerable States in Articles 370, 371-371(I). Special provisions were also made for protection of the Scheduled Tribes and their lands in Articles 244, 244A and the Fifth Schedule. Any attempt to dilute or remove these special provisions could endanger the rights and livelihood of vulnerable communities, and would only stir up a hornet’s nest, with no attendant benefit to the nation; as evidenced in the opposition in the North East States to the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Hence it is best to leave these special provisions untouched.
This has become a political football, with everybody wanting a slice of the cake. This requires a complete overhaul. A creamy layer system should be introduced. The dependents of those who have already benefited from reservations should be excluded, as also those whose family income exceeds Rupees Five Lakhs per annum. On the other hand, Dalit Christians and Muslims who have been deprived of these benefits because of the Presidential Order of 1950, should be included.
Several systemic changes are called for. The increasingly huge backlog of cases must be addressed on a war footing. A major cause of social unrest is the denial or delay of justice. Starting from the top, the Supreme Court should have Benches in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, to hear criminal and economic appeals. Only constitutional matters should be reserved for Delhi. Similarly more High Court Benches should be established in large States like U.P. Long vacations and a 5 day week dating back to colonial times should be abolished. The retirement age of Supreme Court and High Court judges should be increased by 5 years, so that the country is not deprived of their legal acumen. At the lower level Honorary Magistrates from the public, with a fixed tenure of 3 to 7 years may be appointed to try petty cases and thereby reduce the burden on the existing system.
It is reported that a District Magistrate/ Collector oversees some 500 departments. This is a major hurdle in governance. A young bureaucrat, based on his/her score in an entrance exam, cannot be expected to have extensive knowledge or experience of a diverse array of issues. We need more governance and less government, as was talked about, but didn’t happen. The USA, one of the biggest democracies, has no bureaucracy. Even a CIA Director or a Supreme Court judge is appointed in full public glare. The Indian bureaucracy is a colonial hangover, to keep the “natives” disempowered. It is time to think out of the box, and transfer major decision making and delivery systems to the people themselves. There is also need of lateral entry of specialists into the system.
The easiest thing to do in some States was to ban cow slaughter, and blame the Muslims for killing them. Other than social tension, this has resulted in a mammoth crisis of abandoned, not just stray cattle. In urban areas they are a traffic hazard, but in rural areas it has become a crisis, with cattle destroying standing crops of already distressed farmers. It costs Rs 120/- per day or Rs 43,800/- per annum to feed one animal. As per the animal census of 2012 there were 31.18 lakh stray cattle in U.P. alone. That figure could now be closer to 40 lakhs. This would entail an annual expenditure of 17,520 Crore Rupees per annum on fodder alone. Add to that the cost of shelter homes, treatment of sick cattle and the personnel required. The figure is mind boggling. Who will bear this burden in U.P. alone? Add to that the loss from hide, bone, meat, gelatine, glue and a host of other by-products that generate direct employment for 90 persons per carcass. The cumulative cost is astronomical. Yet the union Budget for 2019-20 has allocated a token sum of Rupees 750 crores for cow welfare. While respecting the sentiments of those who consider the cow sacred, one must also see the loss to the economy and find a via media. It has been suggested that only the indigenous breeds of cow are considered sacred. In that case could we not have imported breeds of cattle that will not only produce more milk, but later also be available for food, hides etc? Alternately, States that have banned cow slaughter may permit the cattle to be transported to other States that don’t have such a ban; under licence for safe transportation without harassment.
There has been an increased attempt to subject public institutions and their autonomous functioning to the interests of the Govt in power. This includes the Defence Services, the CBI, RBI, ED and even the Central Statistics Organization. This is an unhealthy trend. The autonomy of such institutions should not be compromised in any way.
It is now commonly accepted that unemployment levels are the highest in several years. This in itself is indicative of an economic slowdown. Priority should be given to job creation through a strong economic stimulus.
A HUMBLE APPEAL:
We humbly appeal to political parties to please address the burning issues that affect the lives of people, and not demean the nation by stooping to cheap rhetoric or abusive language. JAI HIND!