Daily News Analysis, December 02, 2014

By Pradeep S Mehta

Need of the hour? Personal attention and commitment of the chief minister is required to check cynicism, corruption and chalta hai attitude due to which many good ideas have suffered

All good things will happen only when the bureaucracy delivers, works transparently and is accountable. Many good ideas have suffered due to cynicism, corruption and chalta hai attitude and that will require the personal attention and commitment of the supremo, the CM.

With the President assenting to the labour law reforms proposed by Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje has become one of the leading lights for the country to take forward not only the state’s economy, but also the national economy. Among other forward looking measures, land acquisition law is still to be amended, though many of the state regulations around this have also been liberalised.

Credit for these reforms must also go to Rajiv Mehrishi, former chief secretary, but his successor too is a gung-ho reformer. Unlike Mehrishi who has had good experience of finance, CS Rajan, the new chief secretary, has deeper hands-on experience in infrastructure sectors. This will come handy in pushing infra reforms which too are an imperative part of the growth agenda. Without good and reliable power supply, all-weather motorable roads etc job creation and poverty eradication will not progress at the desirable speed.

The target of many of these reforms is not just for business, but also the people directly and indirectly. The recent stupendous success in municipal elections exhibited a strong support for the government and its reform policies. For example labour law reforms. If the number of workers in a unit cannot be a limiting factor for business to avoid stricter norms, it will lead to more formalisation of informal and small units, a bane for our country. We cannot achieve the scale which is necessary to be competitive. The increasing productivity would mean more jobs, rather than less.

Politically, the government made a mistake when increasing the number of employees from 100 to 300 to allow units to shut down their plants (without seeking prior approval) was to simultaneously announce and implement an effective scheme for retraining and re-employment of retrenched workers. This is the standard practice in countries where ‘hire and fire’ are easy and thus opposition is muted. Perhaps, this can still be adopted even if the thought is coming late.

Speaking about training, particularly of the youth, one of problems was that factories did not want to take on apprentices due to the fear of getting stuck with them as regular employees. Thus our skill development campaign also suffered. One of the best ways to skill the youth is hands on training like in the jewellery, vehicle repair and many other trades rather than through training institutes which often cannot provide the real life situation. The Apprenticeship Act at the central level is also under revision so that the scale of training in running establishments can be expanded.

Another area which is crying for reforms is the agriculture sector on which the state has not been able to devote the desired attention. Bits and pieces of reforms are going on but it also needs some bold measures, so that we can provide more employment to our youth in the rural economy and try and arrest urban migration. The landholdings are small and to allow scale operations the Agriculture Produce Marketing Act was amended to inter alia allow contract farming.

Rajasthan is doing alright but that too needs to push under our investment promotion strategy, so as to invite more money into the sector. Another distortion which the APMC causes is the low realisation by farmers and higher prices for consumers. People at both the ends suffer at the hands of exploitative middlemen. In fact Bihar has scrapped the law entirely while Rajasthan has modified it. It need not follow the Bihar Model, but amend it to free the farmers from the clutches of the trade.

On the other hand Rajasthan has scrapped the Planning Board which is wrong. Since it did not function as envisaged, it decided to cut off the head to cure the headache. Rather it should have found the correct medicines and tonic to reshape and retool it. Instead it has set up an advisory council to the CM, but one cannot ignore the value of planning which can take a holistic view of all activities and also engage in perspective planning and scenario building.

The advisory council, which comprises of visiting members from all over the country and abroad but none from state, cannot do it as effectively. Even the Centre has scrapped the Planning Commission but is in an active process of establishing a lean think tank in partnership with states which can do the holistic planning work with the aid of universities, research institutions and civil society organisations like CUTS. The state planning board needs to be revived as a lean body with specialists which can do the work better than what is being attempted currently. There is no substitute for planning. It cannot be left to the babus, who are otherwise engaged in myriad activities running their departments.

One very good step taken by government is to look into public private partnerships (PPPs) to do many things, including building infrastructure with an ambitious agenda of building roads. Roads, particularly rural roads, are so critical for the hinterland to participate in the growth process. It is only then that the aam admi in the village can aim to better their living standards. But to design and run PPPs in the state with the help of a demonstrated highly negative and garrulous person as adviser is fraught with hiccups and failures.

So much about the ups and downs of some plans in state. Another project which the state has launched can also be a game changer for state—and the whole country—to assist the poor and disadvantaged. That is the Bhama Shah Yojana of helping women to gain a better status in their lives. It needs more publicity, because it has been inadvertently compared with the Aadhar yojana. The difference is like between chalk and cheese. While Bhama Shah scheme will provide ID cards only to targeted beneficiaries, the Aadhar card, open to all, is useful for many other purposes. In spite of initial criticism, the Modi government has realised value of Aadhar and is promoting it vigorously.

While many of the reforms in the state and the country, appear to be pro-business, many are pro-poor. Pro-business reforms capture more media attention because of the nature of the scheme and power of the beneficiaries. On the other hand pro-poor schemes do not get the same space or debate, beneficiaries are granularly dissipated and thus not noticed by people.

Finally, all good things will happen only when the bureaucracy delivers, transparently and is accountable. Many good ideas have suffered due to cynicism, corruption and chalta hai attitude and that will require the personal attention and commitment of the supremo, the chief minister.

The writer is Secretary General, CUTS International. The views expressed are personal

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