Fifth column: Too cautious for change

The last government left behind a legacy of bad laws that should be immediately torn up and thrown away.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published:July 13, 2014 12:48 am
The last government left behind a legacy of bad laws that should be immediately torn up and thrown away, to use the immortal words of the man who would have been prime minister if the election results had been otherwise.  (Source: Express Archive) The last government left behind a legacy of bad laws that should be immediately torn up and thrown away, to use the immortal words of the man who would have been prime minister if the election results had been otherwise. (Source: Express Archive)

This is not going to be about the Budget, but I shall begin by admitting that I was disappointed that the Finance Minister did not throw the retroactive tax into the nearest garbage bin. The caution he showed in handling a very stupid tax is worryingly symbolic of the caution our new government is beginning to exhibit in its decisions. Has the Prime Minister forgotten that it was a promise of change that created the wave that swept him from Gujarat to Delhi with a full mandate?

If he has not, he should start noticing that much should have already begun to change. The last government left behind a legacy of bad laws that should be immediately torn up and thrown away, to use the immortal words of the man who would have been prime minister if the election results had been otherwise.

Here is a short list. There is a land acquisition law that will make it impossible for the Prime Minister’s hundred new cities to be built. A companies law so bad that the finest corporate lawyers advise a total repeal. And, there is that food security law that will bankrupt India without achieving its stated goal of reducing malnourishment in our poorest citizens.

It is especially hard to understand why the government has committed itself to MNREGA. More than

Rs 2,00,000 crore have been spent on guaranteeing rural employment since 2006 and the biggest problem in rural India remains unemployment. Is that not reason enough to scrap this law? On my travels during the election campaign I made it a point to find out how MNREGA works on the ground, and can confirm that those who really need 100 days of guaranteed work a year rarely get it because corrupt officials and powerful castes lap up the funds. Had the money wasted on MNREGA been spent on improving schools and healthcare instead, India may today have been a very different country.

It is not for nothing that people now speak of the past 10 years as India’s lost decade. It was a decade in which laws, policies and poverty alleviation were outsourced to a caboodle of bigheaded NGOs who forgot that the point of their existence was that they were non-governmental. Under the benign gaze of Sonia Gandhi, this gang of povertarians (thank you Shekhar Gupta for this word) became more important than the real prime minister and his Cabinet. None of the policies that emanated from this lot should be continued, so why do they continue?

Have the mighty mandarins of Lutyens Delhi succeeded in taking charge as they usually do of uncertain, unconfident new ministers? There are disturbing signs of this. And, this should worry the Prime Minister almost more than anything else because Indian bureaucrats are famous for being the most obdurate and obstructive in the world and they are famous for their skills in resisting change. They are especially good at squashing new ideas from germinating unless these come from ministers who know their subject well. It is beginning to become increasingly evident that most ministers in the new government are too diffident to demand real changes.

So everything depends on the Prime Minister. He will need a core group in his own office to implement the reforms that he knows are necessary if we are to get ‘maximum governance and minimum government’. He will need to personally supervise the abolition of dead institutions like the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. He will need to personally oversee the demise of useless procedures and paperwork that make governance in India more complicated than it is anywhere else.

Since I am in such a mood to give free advice this week, may I add that it is very important that the Prime Minister not lose touch with the people by allowing a wall of bureaucrats to come in between. Let him do what he does so well, which is speak directly to the people once a month or at least once every other month. If he begins this practice, it will enable him to explain why certain reforms are essential. With a media that remains largely hostile, he could find that unless he finds ways to remain in touch with those who voted for him with so much hope, there will be an army of people ready to mislead them into believing a lot of rubbish.

The reason why the end of the licence raj in the Nineties was made to seem like a gift only to rich Indians was because the prime minister never tried to explain why it was ended. Narendra Modi needs people on his side more than any other prime minister, because his Gujarat model has already been maligned by Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal as bringing benefits only for ‘Ambani-Adani’.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh

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    binnysingh
    Jul 13, 2014 at 5:32 pm
    The super rich folks in India should adopt one village in India at a time and start improving the roads. Water, electricity, toilets in every house, Schools, Hospitals. Create jobs etc. That's the only way we can bring change in India. Can't depend on these politicians they will only talk nothing more. May be we should ask crowd funding and start doing it ourselves. Believe me, it is really pathetic in these villages. People are still sitting on the side walks with dabba's in the morning because there are no toilets. We were in Jalgaon few weeks ago and this was the sight we encountered. It is an eye sore. Can't live with such conditions anymore. Just a thought, can anybody imagine what the ladies are going through? Tavleen, please high light this in your next write up?
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      aasare
      Jul 13, 2014 at 2:27 am
      Wont the answer be that he doesnt have a majority in RS? So if he is planning major changes he will need ro take that many people along a useless hostile media. For things like MGNREGA....its better to keep then show cased and kill it behind the doors than do a public show of it. Point is there r a lot of stupid people out there whi can be swa by emotions so the govt has to move cautiously
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        Amauria
        Jul 14, 2014 at 12:07 pm
        MGNREGA ia Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. It should guarantee employment to those who cannot get any employment elsewhere and not become an employer. In fact, restricting the employment for 100 days and not creating avenues for employment is leading to creating underemployment. Further, if worth while ets, which can be used by society, are not created this leads to wastage of endeavour as well as tax payer's money.
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          Ashok R
          Jul 14, 2014 at 3:58 am
          Madam, You can also add about the dim witted Aadhaar scheme, ( every other country USA, UK, Australia, SA etc) have rejeced similar thing in their country) and we are told all the Indian database in lying in US CIA hqrs thanks to all US vendors like Accenture used by Nilekeni .......... NaMo should scarp this too., on returning from BRICS.
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            bhola
            Jul 13, 2014 at 4:44 am
            You are absolutely right. If BJP really wants Acchhe din they should begin reviewing these endless pits of wasted money one by one & s or change them.If they continue with these schemes without change then there will be no real improvement. Same goes for babus - they will be happy with the status quo
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              B.D.SINGH
              Jul 15, 2014 at 9:12 am
              Rules in India are made for rulers and not for public. Rules are made in such a way that last word remains with politicians in the name of discretion which is never applied in the interest of nation.For the last several centuries whether foreigners or Indians have made rules in such a way that poor remains poor for ever otherwise what is fun in being rich if other people are not poor. Even at present, permits and licences are required for movement of coal and even food grains within the country. For every economic activities, there are hundreds of restrictive rules which are source of corruption and hindering growths. Rules in this country does not prescribe any liability. A person is arrested for crimes and remains in jail for years and found innocent. No compensation is prescribed in rules for such poor people and no body is held responsible for wrong prosecution. There is long list but no body has time to see.
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                C.
                Jul 13, 2014 at 2:48 pm
                Wasted decade? India's GDP went from $600 billion in 2004 to $2.3 trillion in 2014. Better than China. This was the best decade for India for the next 50 years.
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                  LK Kandpal
                  Jul 15, 2014 at 4:58 am
                  The government has already been hijacked by the same crooks. Unfortunately, Modi has no reliable minister and he himself does not have the required skills to lead the nation. Congress and other parties are going to make his life . He will have to act under pressure from his own ministers who are under the influence of the Congis and the leftists. Modi is losing the sheen. All his noise and slogans are proving to be hollow.
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                    Girish
                    Jul 13, 2014 at 9:33 am
                    modi promised governance but he wanted to come to power- totally aped obama.now unless a move helps in keeping him in power, it won't be taken.modi is surrounded by a tighter coterie than rahul. can't really expect him to have an ear to the ground, or concerned about chopping/changing laws proactively.
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                      lalit bagai
                      Jul 13, 2014 at 8:51 am
                      jaitley following pc- modi following mms.
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                        Bharat
                        Jul 16, 2014 at 11:37 am
                        Modi was long accused of being a fearsome extremist. Now, after a few dozen days in power, the media is already baying that he is too mild and moderate !You can't have it both ways.
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                          Bharat
                          Jul 16, 2014 at 11:28 am
                          Modi's caution is a reuring sign. It means he will not rush bullheadedly into actions that cause an uproar. He will act only after considering the full picture. He is not rash, as his enemies have portra hm. He is a solid chap who can be expected to take a reasonable view of things. Reality is never as black and white as Tavleen wishes to portray it. We need an honest, hard-working government. We do not need one that rushes into things without checking the full effect. India is a dangerous country to be in charge of. It only needs a few things going wrong for riots in the streets and for a government to be discredited.
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                            Bharat
                            Jul 16, 2014 at 11:34 am
                            What was worst about the last government was its miserable failure of implementation, rather than its ideas as such. If Modi can make things happen on the ground - and he is known to be good at that - rather than just making paper wishes, he will do a power of good. Implementation and accountability are the keys, rather than sping programmes for the poor in the name of cutting back the state.
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                              Katewal
                              Jul 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm
                              The corrupt, incompetent UPA/congress had no real plan the economic development of India for the last ten years. Yes, the GDP has gone up because of the efficient entrepreneurship of the business and banking. Yes, the last two decades (may be 10 decades) have been spent by the corrupt UPA/congress in appeasing minorities for vote bank purposes. The free handouts offered to the minorities, OBCs, and SC/STs come at the expense of taxation to the rest of the potion. The finance minister has put together an efficient and well laid plan for the economic future of the country. Remember, it takes some time to undo the mistakes done by the corrupt congress for the last 60 years.
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                                Gangu true
                                Jul 13, 2014 at 4:29 am
                                Simpletons dont understand that many of these very laws you want sped are the reason why all MP and MLA net worth rises phenomenally faster than any reasonable business undertaking. They are like reservation laws. Why would the vote block majority that has acquired them would ever repeal them? These are defects of democracy. Embeded in what we copied from US and UK consutions.
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                                  Kes
                                  Jul 13, 2014 at 6:44 am
                                  I think Tavleen Singh is being harsh. It is natural for new ministers (many of them first-timers) to be cautious. But Governments are elected for 5 years, not 5 weeks. Also, I believe Modi has put in highly competent people in the top 2 key ministries. One is Gadkari, who has a retion for completing infrastructure projects before time and within budget. Other is Piyush Goyal, in charge of Power & coal. If these 2 people can do a good job, the economy will do very well.
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                                    kvl
                                    Jul 13, 2014 at 8:05 am
                                    Not only that Modi should always see the comments ,as so many are giving very good suggestions nowadays. he must be in touch directly with people and explain his plans constantly.there should not be gap of information to the public as rumours spread quickly otherwise.
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                                      Pradip Bhattacharya
                                      Jul 13, 2014 at 6:31 am
                                      Tavleen Singhji, 45 days are not enough to make a dramatic change in established policy. About retractive tax, Mr. Jaitley told clearly that no new case will be opened, but the cases which are already in court will be settled by court through normal process. I think this is logical. About MNREGA, you cannot deprive suddenly the poor people. I know many poor people who look to this 100 day income eagerly for survival. Corruption apart, Congress allowed digging s and again back filling them to give some work for the poor. But Mr. Jaitly has made a difference. He has attached MNREGA with et creation which means village projects have to be sanctioned and accordingly jobs will have to be done. This will ensure some real progress in villages.Budget is only a declaration of intent. The real test will be in its implementation.
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                                        narayan
                                        Jul 13, 2014 at 7:41 am
                                        Easier to say than done.
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                                          Niranjan
                                          Jul 14, 2014 at 3:25 am
                                          GDP is not the only thing that can be a measure for good governance. There are many factors. However, the worst ones is the corruption of billions starting from CWG to coalgate, which would negate any GDP growth.
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                                            Pradeep Kapoor
                                            Jul 15, 2014 at 1:10 am
                                            I agree with Tavleen Singhdia's biggest problem is its bureaucracy.unless something radical is done to overhaul the bureaucracy,particularly the higher echelons,India would continue to mire in poverty ,mal-administration,mis-administration .Probably the time has come to dissolve the IAS .
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