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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 41, New Delhi, Sept 25, 2021

Seven Essential Reforms The Government Must Not Delay | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 25 September 2021, by Bharat Dogra

Keeping in view the increasing problems, distress and discontent in the country, some big policy changes and course-corrections in India are really overdue now. To bring the kind of change that the country needs at this stage, the Modi government should announce at least seven key reforms which will provide significant relief to distressed people and also help to end the strong sense of injustice that prevails among vast sections of society, while also helping to revive economy and protect democracy.

Firstly, there should be very significant transfer of funds to the weaker sections of society, much beyond what the periodic announcements of the Modi government have achieved so far in these exceptionally difficult times. Several reviews of such announcements have generally revealed such steps to be highly inadequate and in fact often also involve a repackaging of the allocations that already exist. This will not work in a situation of very high distress and deprivation among the weaker sections of society. Nor will credit schemes work at a time when the weaker sections are already burdened with excessive debt. There should be actual transfer of very significant amounts of funds. Grants and not credit are the need of these difficult times. In addition, there should be significant increase of allocations for free dry rations, nutrition programs and employment works that release fair wage payments promptly and quickly.
To raise adequate resources, the government should cut down heavily on the most wasteful projects, apart from taking strong steps to curb corruption and black money and raising more resources from the highest wealth and income groups, particularly those companies and persons that have recorded windfall gains in the recent difficult phase.

Secondly, the long-pending demand of farmers’ movement for scrapping the three controversial farm laws should be accepted, accompanied by increased support for sustainable farming practices that reduce costs and protect the basic resource base of soil and water.Various steps that have been taken to increase the grip of big business interests of farming very rapidly recently should be reconsidered. These include growing dependence on hazardous, high —risk paths based on palm oil in edible oils sector, food fortification in nutrition sector and sexed semen technology in animal husbandry. At the same time steps should be taken to ensure that marginal farmers and rural landless households are not left out of rural development initiatives.

Thirdly, a high-level committee with representation of all leading trade unions should be set up to examine how and to what extent worker rights and interests have been adversely affected or diluted in the process of recent codification of labor laws. All such regressive steps should be taken back and the system of social security, safety and fair wages for all workers should be strengthened.

There is increasing discontent regarding the highly unjust imprisonment and victimization of many activists, journalists, opposition leaders and peaceful protesters, particularly those belonging to minorities. Such cases of imprisonment and victimization should be withdrawn immediately to the extent possible so that many unjustly imprisoned people can walk free very soon. For quick review of all other cases one or more committees of retired judges and distinguished jurists known for their commitment to human rights should be set up and based on their recommendations remedial action should be speeded up in all cases of wrongful imprisonments and victimization. Freedom of expression should be respected in the right spirit and media should have all the freedom and space to fulfill its very important democratic ( including adversarial) role. The tendency to use various government agencies to initiate unjustified, unfair punitive action against anyone who dares to annoy the authorities and their powerful friends should be given up entirely. The tendency to use legal provisions relating to sedition and terrorism against those fighting for basic democratic and justice issues should be strictly curbed and avoided at all levels.

There has been a lot of concern regarding the weakening of various provisions and safeguards for environment protection. A committee of environmentalists and environmental jurists should be set up to examine all such cases. Based on its findings, environmental safeguards, laws and regulations should be strengthened, and also better integrated with protecting sustainable livelihoods of people. At the very least it should be ensured that any dilutions or weakening done in recent times is withdrawn.

There have been apprehensions, based on recent experiences, of increase of electoral malpractices, including intimidation, violence, and corruption, as well as creating conditions which greatly increase the capacity of a single political party to amass funds. A high-level committee should be set up consisting of former senior election commission officials, opposition leaders and democracy activists to suggest the necessary reforms and remedial action based on this should be taken.

Last but certainly not least, there have been numerous indications of threats to constitutional precepts of secularism, equality of people of all faiths and religions and protection of minorities, and our country being pushed closer to some other countries of the region which openly reject secularism. There are several indications that at least some sections of minorities have started feeling less secure in recent times.

These have been some of the major areas of concern regarding the Modi regime ( apart from more specific issues like demonetization, handling of pandemic and lockdowns etc. ) , very basic concerns of people who value justice and democracy and are committed to constitutional values. These reforms are essential for bringing India back to essential constitutional precepts, to the much-cherished idea of India with its plurality and democracy, unity in diversity, debates and noises. It is only when sincere course correction regarding these important concerns is taken up that one can truly speak of desirable changes being introduced by the Modi regime.

(The writer, a journalist and author, is Honorary Convener of Save the Earth Now Campaign. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas For Our Times) and When the Two Strems Met ( Freedom Movement of India).)

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