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18th February 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Topic

  1. The poor state of the Indian state
  2. Slow on safety

Editorial: The poor state of the Indian state

Context:

  • Two new books reveal stark weaknesses of the Indian state in serving India’s poorer citizens. These books explain how the weakness of the Indian state to care for its poorer citizens is not a failure of the present National Democratic Alliance government only, nor of the previous United Progressive Alliance government. The weakness is systemic.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Indian Economy (issues re: planning, mobilisation of resources, growth, development, employment); Inclusive growth and issues therein

Mains Questions:

  1. The pandemic has revealed its chronic inability and systemic weakness to take care of the poorest citizens. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Articles:

  • Poor state of Indian State
  • The pillars needed
  • Strong support of the people is essential
  • Indian bureaucracy’s role
  • The managerial ability to shape and implement change
  • The Great Debate
  • Where the focus should be
  • GDP cannot be the scorecard
  • Way Forward

Poor state of Indian State

  • The first book, Locking Down the Poor: The Pandemic and India’s Moral Centre by Harsh Mander, records the plight of millions who lost incomes and shelter, and food and medical care too, in a harsh lockdown to create a sanitized cordon for better-off Indians during the pandemic. 
  • The second book, Despite the State: Why India Lets Its People Down and How They Cope by M. Rajshekhar, is an incisive examination of the systems of the Indian state before the lockdown.

The pillars needed

  • Strong states, according to political and social historians, are founded on three pillars.
    • They are built with support from the people;
    • They have a strong administrative machinery to provide stability and deliver public services,
    • They have the managerial ability to shape and implement change.

Strong support of the people is essential

  • Mere election by a majority is not sufficient: Historically, as Francis Fukuyama points out in The Origins of Political Order, builders of strong states have bound people around a shared identity: ethnic, racial, or religious; Aryan, Han Chinese, Japanese, Muslim, Catholic Christian. The peoples’ identity is not formed by legal constitutions.
  • Strong leaders who unite people around their shared identity are even given liberty by the people to change constitutional structures because they trust their leaders do it for the sake of citizens. Thus, dictators emerge loved by the people.
  • Confirming this thesis, Michael Cook points out, in Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, that builders of the Indian state have a difficult problem. It is hard to unite Indians around a shared ethnic or religious identity because, in addition to the diversity among India’s races and religions, there are entrenched caste divisions even within the Hindu religion of the majority.
  • If Indians must be united to support a strong state, it must be around a modern, inclusive idea of India, as the Constitution imagined. The present ruling dispensation, while trying to force a majoritarian identity, is dividing Indians and weakening the state.

Indian bureaucracy’s role

  • Fukuyama and other historians have highlighted the role that professional civil services have played in the formation of strong states, in Han China, the Ottoman empire, France, and Japan.
  • India inherited the ‘iron frame’ of civil services from Britain. It was designed to provide stability and compliance with rules: it was not equipped to shape change, the third requirement of a good developmental state.
  • Therefore, there are demands for its reform. Even the Prime Minister has complained that bureaucrats seem not to care for the country’s progress as much as entrepreneurs do.

The managerial ability to shape and implement change

  • Simultaneous management of both change and stability is necessary for the evolution of good states and societies. Unmanaged change can cause chaos, while too little change entrenches the established system.
  • This was the essence of the ‘great debate’ in the 18th century between Edmund Burke, the leader of the conservative movement in Britain, and Thomas Paine, a thought leader of the French and American revolutions. It was also the ‘birth of Right and Left’ in politics, according to Yuval Levin in his eponymous book, The Great Debate.

The Great Debate

  • Stability vs Change: The great debate, about stability versus change for good governance, evolved into new arguments in the 20th century: capitalism versus socialism; and markets versus governments.
    • By the end of the century, capitalism and markets were positioned in the public imagination as the prime movers of economic growth, and socialists and governments as retarders of progress.
    • Capitalists took on the mantle of ‘wealth creators’, relegating governments to the role of ‘redistributors’.
    • A popular slogan that wealth must be created before it can be redistributed leads to the conclusion that there should be less government when countries are poor, and more freedom for large, private, wealth creators.
    • Moreover, with the logic that governments are stodgy, even public services such as health and education are handed over to private enterprises.

Where the focus should be

  • Private corporations are not states designed for citizens. CEOs are not elected by employees, and they have the authority to hire and fire workers.
  • Whereas leaders (even unelected ones) of states cannot lay off citizens to trim populations to fit the size of economies.
  • The state must perform primarily for its poorest citizens for economic growth to be equitable and sustainable, and not for investors in corporations. Leaders of states must ensure that all citizens have opportunities to work and earn.
  • They must also ensure that all citizens, even those who cannot afford it, have good health and education.
  • The ideology of private rather than public has moral consequences. The purposes of a private enterprise and the state are different.
  • Private sector managers move from one competitor to another, like professional mercenaries, serving the interests of owners of corporations wherever in the world they may be.
  • Whereas public servants, whose mission is to build their nations and states, are expected to devote their lives to the care of citizens in their own countries.

GDP cannot be the scorecard

  • The pandemic has revealed the chronic inability of the Indian state to take care of its poorest citizens. The scorecard for the nation cannot be its GDP.
  • Economic justice, environmental sustainability, and improvement of the dignity of all citizens must be measured too, and these must improve much faster.
  • The present ‘top up the top’ model of India’s economic growth, with hopes of trickle down, is not delivering these.

Way Forward

India must build a strong and good state. This requires: political leaders who can unite all Indians into one India, whatever their religion, race, or caste; cadres of good public managers to build and run services for all citizens equitably; and business leaders who are not just wealth creators for themselves (distributing some of it in philanthropy), but creators of opportunities, very soon, for millions of Indians to earn and create wealth for themselves too.


Editorial: Slow on safety

Context:

  • India’s Road Safety Month, launched on January 18 as an extended form of the annual Road Safety Week for greater impact, has concluded with a bus accident in Madhya Pradesh that has claimed 51 lives.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3:  Infrastructure (energy, ports, roads, airports, railways); Investment models.

Mains Questions:

  1. Meeting the SDGs on transport and reduced road deaths and injuries will need actions that go beyond pious declarations. In this context discuss the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act of 2019. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the article:

  • Key features of the Act
  • Compensation for road accident victims
  • Compulsory insurance
  • Good samaritans
  • Recall of vehicles
  • National Transportation Policy
  • Road Safety Board

Key features of the Act

Compensation for road accident victims:

  • The central government will develop a scheme for cashless treatment of road accident victims during golden hour. 
  • The Act defines golden hour as the time period of up to one hour following a traumatic injury, during which the likelihood of preventing death through prompt medical care is the highest. 
  • The central government may also make a scheme for providing interim relief to claimants seeking compensation under third party insurance. 

Compulsory insurance:

  • The Act requires the central government to constitute a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, to provide compulsory insurance cover to all road users in India.  It will be utilised for:
    • treatment of persons injured in road accidents as per the golden hour scheme,
    • compensation to representatives of a person who died in a hit and run accident,
    • compensation to a person grievously hurt in a hit and run accident, and
    • compensation to any other persons as prescribed by the central government.

Good samaritans:

  • The Act defines a good samaritan as a person who renders emergency medical or non-medical assistance to a victim at the scene of an accident. 
  • The assistance must have been (i) in good faith, (ii) voluntary, and (iii) without the expectation of any reward. 
  • Such a person will not be liable for any civil or criminal action for any injury to or death of an accident victim, caused due to their negligence in providing assistance to the victim.

Recall of vehicles:

  • The Act allows the central government to order for recall of motor vehicles if a defect in the vehicle may cause damage to the environment, or the driver, or other road users. 
  • The manufacturer of the recalled vehicle will be required to:
    • reimburse the buyers for the full cost of the vehicle, or
    • replace the defective vehicle with another vehicle with similar or better specifications.

National Transportation Policy:

  • The central government may develop a National Transportation Policy, in consultation with state governments.  The Policy will:
    • establish a planning framework for road transport,
    • develop a framework for grant of permits,
    • specify priorities for the transport system, among other things.

Road Safety Board:

  • The Act provides for a National Road Safety Board, to be created by the central government through a notification.  The Board will advise the central and state governments on all aspects of road safety and traffic management including:
    • standards of motor vehicles,
    • registration and licensing of vehicles,
    • standards for road safety, and
    • promotion of new vehicle technology.
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