Karela Fry

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Political eyewash: bills which mean nothing

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When it comes to ensuring the rule of law, there is no difference between the UPA governments and the NDA government preceding it. Both fail to govern, and then try to fool the electorate by bringing flawed bills to the parliament in order to cover up their failure. The NDA could not prevent an attack on the Indian parliament, but wants an anti-terrorism bill; the UPA has so little control over the health business that it cannot prevent abortion of female fetuses, but wants to bring a bill to end discrimination against HIV affected. When the bills are not passed then there is even more of drama to distract from the complete lack of will to govern.

An article in DNA is very clear eyed about the at least one of the bills to be introduced in the doomed monsoon session of the parliament:

The Prevention of Communal and Targeted violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill-2011, proposed by the NAC, is a much more refined, comprehensive and sharply targeted draft than earlier bills to check communal violence.

The objective is clear and laudable, namely, protection of all minorities in a pluralist society. The necessity of such protection is beyond any doubt but the question is: Will the law work?

Let us examine it. If such a law were in force in Gujarat during the communal riots in 2002, would it have prevented or controlled the violence and brought to justice the real perpetrators of the massacres? Who would invoke such a law? Certainly neither the state government nor the then NDA government at the centre would have invoked it.

About the Food Security Bill, Tehelka quoted Jean Dreze, a member of the National Advisory Council:

This proposal is very patchy and limited. As far as the PDS (public distribution system) is concerned, it does not go much beyond what is already there. This year, the government is releasing nearly 50 million tonnes of food under the PDS. The NAC proposal implies that this would rise to 60 million tonnes or so as the Act is gradually extended to the whole country.

The basic framework would remain much the same. Is that a radical departure in food policy? “More of the same” is also the gist of the non-PDS proposals. Remember, this is supposed to be a ‘National Food Security Act’, not a PDS Act. The initial idea was a comprehensive Act that also covers child nutrition programmes, maternity benefits, social security pensions and other entitlements that have an important bearing on food security.

The government asked the NAC to prepare a Food Security Bill, but initially wanted it to be “fiscally neutral”. This makes no sense. Four months down the line, there has been some give and take on both sides, but the government had the upper hand.

Targeting [of the poorest families] is unreliable and divisive. This is well established. At least three independent surveys (the National Sample Survey, the National Family Health Survey and the India Human Development Survey) show that about half of all poor households in rural India did not have a BPL (Below Poverty Line) card in 2005.

Arjun Sengupta’s striking figure, that 77 percent of Indians live on less than Rs. 20 a day … was not exactly right, but even if it was, say, 5 percent off the mark, the basic message remains. Are we saying that anyone who has more than Rs. 20 a day should be excluded from the PDS?

Livemint strikes a note of false cheer in a discussion of the Lokpal bill:

The anti-graft Lokpal Bill will lead a series of legislations that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government plans to introduce in the monsoon session of Parliament that starts Monday and runs for about a month.

This is despite the likelihood that the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will attack the UPA government aggressively over corruption, high inflation and policy paralysis.

The BJP has been emboldened by having gained the moral upper hand with Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa having agreed to quit following his indictment by the Lokayukta, the anti-corruption watchdog, in illegal mining.

Not only is the draft diluted down to almost nothing, the events in Karnataka revealed that the state’s Lokayukta was eventually powerless: while Yeddyurappa was made to quit, he still controls a large part of the party. The party has not repudiated graft, nor is it likely that the embezzled amount of Rs. 16,000 crores will be recovered.

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  1. […] government’s ambitious programme and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s pet project, the Food Security Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday. It seeks to provide cheap food grains to approximately 82 […]


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