India- A stinking mess


The Hindu, Editorial. Oct 9,2012

Census  2011 threw up a malodorous statistic: people in 49.8 per cent of households have  no toilet facilities and defecate in the open. In contrast, 63.2 per cent of  households have a telephone connection, of which 52.3 per cent have cell phones;  as for televisions, almost half of the country’s households possess one. Nobody  would even whisper in protest if someone, struck by this perverse anomaly, were  to say that Indians needs toilets more than they do television sets and  telephones. So why is there such blather over some perfectly reasonable remarks  by Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh which were intended to  stress that India requires more toilets than it does more temples? His  suggestion that India has more temples than toilets was not part of an  anti-religious tirade but a piece of hyperbole to stress the importance of  sanitation in a speech to panchayat-level workers at the launch of a campaign to  end open defecation. To suggest, as some have, that it was an insidious attempt  to hyphenate toilets and temples in an ugly alliterative juxtaposition is rank  nonsense.

In a  country where politics hungrily attempts to feed off prickly religious  sensitivities, Mr. Ramesh’s comments have been twisted out of context and blown  out of all proportion. BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy has alleged that such  comments would destroy the “fine fabric of religion and faith” and the fierce  chorus of protests have led the Congress to forsake principle for expedience and  distance itself from Mr. Ramesh’s remarks. Predictably, in this republic of hurt  sentiments, at least one complaint has already been lodged with the police  asking that a case be booked against him for outraging religious feelings — which, given the circumstances, reads like poor toilet humour. The only voice in  favour of Mr. Ramesh emerged from Sulabh International, an NGO committed to the  building of toilets. Organisations like these understand how vital toilets are  to the well-being of India. A World Bank study conducted a couple of years ago  estimated the economic impact of the lack of toilets and sanitation facilities,  which it pegged at a staggering Rs. 24,000 crore annually — or 6.4 per cent of  India’s GDP. This loss is created by deaths, especially of children, the cost of  treating hygiene-related illnesses, losses from reduced productivity and educed  tourism revenues. Open defecation is an ugly reminder of the country’s poverty  and the failure of the government to provide adequate water and sanitation  facilities. But it is more than a matter of shame and embarrassment — it has  social and economic implications that this country can hardly afford.

The Gangs of Lootpur much ahead of Gangs of Wasseypur


 

 

How corruption in coal is closely linked to political funding

M Rajshekhar, ET Bureau
(The rise in corruption in…)

It was a roundtable on ‘campaign finance reforms in India‘, but it brought up a mathematical equation that showed how corruption in coal could ultimately be traced to political funding. Speaking at the Observer Research Foundation event in February, BJP MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: “In Goa (which was going to elections then), each candidate, whether from the Congress or the BJP (or other political parties), would be spending Rs 5-7 crore.” The official Election Commission ceiling is Rs 16 lakh.

At the roundtable, Congress MP Manish Tewari said there were reports of candidates spending Rs 18-20 crore each during the Punjab elections in January. “The vigilance of the Election Commission (on spending ceilings) is driving a lot of this money underground.” The average was Rs 3-5 crore per candidate, added Niranjan Sahoo, a senior fellow at the Foundation researching electoral funding.

An extrapolation of this across the political spectrum throws up some humungous numbers— and a gaping hole between revenues and expenses of political parties. In the 2009 general elections, the Congress contested 403 seats.

Rs 5 crore for each seat adds up to Rs 2,000 crore. India’s 5,000 assembly seats, says Sahoo, are even more keenly contested, and more money is spent here.

Even at Rs 5 crore per seat, that’s Rs 25,000 crore. Or, a total of Rs 27,000 crore.

Yet, for the five years to 2011-12, the Congress declared revenues of Rs 1,662 crore.

The BJP, the other national party, declared Rs 852 crore. Sahoo estimates parties are declaring no more than 10-20% of their incomes.

If so, where do parties and politicians get the remaining 80-90% from? According to Sahoo, increasingly, they are not extracting rent from programmes that are politically beneficial like NREGA and PDS.

Instead, he adds, they are moving to minerals and natural resources.

“This is a form of corruption the common man stays more or less oblivious to,” he says.

The scent of such corruption hovered over the allotment of 150 coal blocks to private players between 2005 and 2010 for captive use, and their subsequent commissioning, aspects of which are currently being probed by India’s apex investigating agency.

“Rent-seeking has been rampant,” says a former senior bureaucrat in the coal ministry, not wanting to be identified.

It wasn’t so always. When the coal industry began, it was distant from politics. But as it transited through its four distinct phases, that connection became progressively stronger, and culminated in the 2005-10 allotments.

PRE-NATIONALISATION (TILL 1973)

This is the period depicted in the first part of Anurag Kashyap’s two-part film Gangs of Wasseypur. Coal mines were controlled by local mafias and business families, some of whom were asked by the Centre to step in after the British left.

This arrangement had its problems, says a former official of Coal India Limited (CIL), not wanting to be named. “Miners were not selling to core users (namely, power, steel and cement), but to whoever could pay the most,” he says. “Some would shut down the mine whenever it was not profitable for them. On the whole, there was a problem matching coal supply with the government’s development plans and needs. Labour, too, was treated harshly.”

However, national politics accessed little money from mines, says Sahoo. “In some cases, like the Dhanbad coal mafia, the miners entered politics. But the reasons were mainly to protect their own local interests—by controlling the appointment of local bureaucrats, etc.”

“It was very local,” adds a Union cabinet minister who has headed the coal ministry previously and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Some politicians, local leaders used to take money from these mafia. But you did not have national leaders going down there.”

NATIONALISATION (1973-93)

This began to change after Indira Gandhi nationalised coal—coking coal in 1973 and non-coking coal in 1974-75—and brought everything under CIL and its subsidiaries. According to AK Singh, a former general manager of Western Coalfields, a CIL subsidiary, coal was nationalised for three main reasons: “To exploit coal more scientifically and increase production; to curb unethical practices; and to take better care of employees and develop nearby communities.”


For some time, says Singh, the plan worked well. Production gradually rose from 70 million tonnes (MT), and stood at 431 MT in 2010. However, with nationalisation, the presence of politicians also increased. Singh also traces this to the rise of coalition politics. Buying and selling of MPs picked up, because of which parties’ need for cash increased.

Ministers began treating the PSU, says the ex-CIL employee quoted earlier, as “no more than their private colony.” Posts of MD and chairman began to be sold. “This started in the late-nineties when two people with vigilance cases against them were made acting heads of coal PSUs,” says a former CIL chairman.

 

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