Finance minister's pre-budget consultation: Civil society inputs into budget making and governance

[हिंदी] Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister of India, convened a pre-budget consultation with a diverse group of people on 17th January 2012 in New Delhi. One of the representatives from social sector was Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and noted social activist, who made the following suggestions on budget making and governance.

Agriculture should be given highest priority with preferably a separate budget. The difference between crop and non-crop agricultural loan should be abolished. The loan should be interest free. In no case the interest should be more than 4% and it should be simple interest. Compound interest should not be applied in the case of farmers. The approval of wife should be necessary if a man is applying for loan. In fact wife should be treated as head of the family, as is being proposed in the Food Security Act, for all schemes where family is the beneficiary. Minimum support price should be replaced by profitable price which should be more than the investment by the farmer. The prices of fertilisers, seeds and diesel should be under control or subsidised. Farmers should be encouraged to shift to organic farming so that their dependence on market reduces. Adequate storage capacity in the form of godowns, preferably in every Gram Sabha, should be created so that food garins are not wasted and the farmer can sell it when she feels appropriate. Agriculture based cottage industry should be encouraged to strengthen rural economy.

NREGS wages should be increased to Rs. 250 per day with scope for increase with every price rise and every hike in salaries of government employees. All agricultural wages should be paid through NREGS. The guarantee of wages should be to individuals and not to the entire family and should extend to all round the year.

BPL norm of expenditure of Rs. 32 and Rs. 26, for urban and rural areas, respectively,  should be withdrawn. The BPL lists should be prepared by the Gram Sabhas or the poor should self select themselves to avail of the benefits from various governmental welfare and development schemes.

Community kitchens, on the line of 'langars' in Gurudwaras, should be encouraged especially from religious and public places to take care of problem of malnutrition as a supplement to the government's Food Security Act.

Vulgar display of wealth at marriage, social and political functions should be curtailed in the same manner as expenditure on elections has been checked by strict rules.

80% of electricity and all other resources should be meant for the rural areas.

There should be a ban on liquor.

Schools and Health Care centres must have adequate number and variety of teachers and doctors, respectively. It is ironical that on one hand we have a huge unemployment problem and on the other shortage of teachers, doctors and other employees like the Village Development Officers, BDOs, etc., so crucial for development.

The income gap between the lowest and highest paid members of society should not be more than 1:10. There should be a ceiling on expenditure. Instead of poverty line, prosperity line should be determined and only the rich should be taxed.

To check corruption cases of assests disproportionate to known sources of income should be investigated on a routine basis and stringent action taken if found guilty. All undervalued property should be acquired by the government and Urabn Land Ceiling Act should be re-enacted so that black money cannot be invested in land and property. Proposed ceiling is one 300-500 sq. metres plot or one 3500-4000 sq. feet flat per family. Currency notes of higher denomination should be withdrawn from the economy to curb black money.

Corruption is not just in terms of money transactions. A discrepancy in decision making should also be brought under the definition of corruption. For example, police files a fake case against an innocent person. He is arrested. The police constructs evidence in support of its charges and files a chargesheet. The matter drags on in court and after a prolonged hearing the person is acquitted. But by this time he has already spent a significant part of his lifetime in jail. The people responsible for putting innocent person in jail on the basis of cooked up evidence must also be tried under anti-corruption law. Similarly, filing inaccurate reports, delaying decision making, hiding information to prevent appropriate timely action must also be considered part of corruption.

The notion of VIP or worse VVIP must be done away with. It is an idea antithetical to democracy. If equality is guaranteed under Constitution how could some people be more important. Politicians and bureaucrats must learn to live and work like ordinary citizens. It is abominable that ordinarily in Secretariats, Vidhan Sabha's or the Parliament one cannot meet these so called VIPs in their offices until they instruct the gatekeepers to issue a ‘pass’ to the visitor. This implies that any ordinary citizen not acquianted with these ruling elites directly or indirectly can never hope to meet them in their office. Meeting the bureaucrats at their residence is simply unimaginable. The people’s representatives and public servants have created unreachable echelon for themselves. Can this be allowed in a democracy? They enjoy all privileges at the cost of public exchequer but are not willing to meet the people. Most of the privileges should be withdrawn from them. They should either get a high salary and manage everything, including housing, transporation, etc., on their own or if they want to keep the privileges then they should accept a reduced salary. They expect a family working under MGNREGS to survive on roughly Rs. 33 a day (income in stipulated 100 days spread over entire year) or a beneficiary family under any of the pension schemes on Rs. 400 per month but do not want to cap their salaries and perks. In any case the red/blue becon light from the vehicles must be removed except for ambulances. All security and most Class IV employees in personal service of higher level officers should be removed. The idea of a human being guarding another adult human being or providing personal service is feudal and anti-democractic.

The MP and MLA Local Area Development (LAD) funds should be scrapped.

Different classes in railways, airlines, etc. must be abolished. General class in railways in which people have to travel like animals should be abolished. Seats should be filled up on first come first serve basis rather than paying capacity. There should be an emergency quota for medical cases or candidates appearing for some examination/interview, etc. Different standards of schools and hospitals must be abolished. Inspite of a Right to Education Act in place the ideas of common school system and neighbourhood school have not been implemented. The doctors must be asked to prescribe generic medicines rather than brand names and medical shops like Fair Price Shops should be within the reach of people so that medicines may be accessible, both in physical sense as well as monetary. Same quality of service must be available to all citizens. The idea that you can avail better service by paying more money is anti-democractic. In fact, this is legalizing corruption. After all, corruption is trying to seek special treatment by paying money.

The requirement of getting a document attested by gazatted officer could be easily done away with. This will mean tremendous saving of time and energy. Attestation was required when photocopies were not available. A hand written copy of a document had to be checked for veracity. But in the case of a photocopy self-attestation should do just like now to seek admission in a primary school the date of birth certified by parents is accepted.

Construction workers move out from the construction site once a building is complete. They then look out for fresh work. A construction worker who has worked at a site to complete a building must get the option of permanent accommodation at that site as a mark of respect for her contribution to that building. Similarly, other artisans and workers must be respectfully compensated for their labour. Domestic help should also have a stake in the house(s) in which they are employed.  Similarly, landless agricultural labourer must have a permanent stake in the field in which she cultivates. Social security schemes must be designed for all rather than only the government employees or service sector employees. Every citizen must be entitled for a pension so that they can spend their old age respectably.

The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail sector should not be allowed.

No government conferences or meetings should be held in hotels when the government has such a huge infrastructure. There should be an attempt to check misuse of public money in government functions. The tradition of display of weaponry on Republic Day parade or the agressive ceremony at Wagha border daily should be done away with. Instead they should be replaced by friendly celebrations.

Buildings with huge open spaces, like the modern airports, must be opened up for homeless as night shelters.

Multilevel working of employees/officers, e.g., junior clerk, senior clerk, office superintendent, level of many officers, seems not conducive for a responsive governance, as it takes a long time and that too without fixing responsibility explicitly for every government servant should be allotted a work with full responsibility to get it completed in a stipulated time, of-course the task may be entrusted with one's ability. Similarly, upliftment of poors should not be left merely on launching a scheme, rather an officer must be made fully responsible  and on completion of the task only that they must earn their salary. If the government employees want salaries comparable to private sector they should also be held accountable so far as their performance is concerned. The responsibility for poverty, hunger, malnutrition, farmer suicides, child and mother mortality, poor health services and low levels of literacy has to be ultimately fixed.

(Submitted by Dr Sandeep Pandey for pre-budget consultation with social sector of finance minister on 17th January, 2012.)


Published in:
Spy Ghana News, Accra, Ghana