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Rural revival needs structural change

Last year 18 farmers deprived of meaningful elementary education in rural India’s collapsed school system and driven to despair by drought, falling produce prices, and inaccessible credit and insurance, killed themselves every day, leaving behind vulnerable families who in the lawless badlands of village India are soon reduced to slavery. According to a deeply researched special report in the Economic & Political Weekly (May 27) since 2002, 270,000 farmers (including 12,360 in 2014) enduring tough conditions and economic distress, took the extreme exit. 

Although post-independence India’s blinkered intelligentsia and self-serving academics comfortably tenured in the country’s 800 unproductive universities, seem to suffer selective amnesia, the seeds of the excessive economic distress currently sweeping rural India were planted in the early years after independence when free India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru road-rollered the inorganic Soviet-style public sector-led economic model. Consequently, rural and urban savings were vacuumed to finance heavily capital-intensive public sector enterprises (PSEs). 

Inevitably, the country’s monopoly PSEs managed by business-illiterate clerks and bureaucrats proved to be huge failures, and instead of investible surpluses, gifted the nation the curse of unrelenting inflation. Seven decades later, only 45 percent of agrarian India is serviced by irrigation and rural connectivity is in a shambles. Moreover, despite India being the world’s largest producer of perishable fruits and vegetables, the licence-permit-quota raj imposed by Nehruvian socialism prevented the establishment of a post-harvest food storage and processing industry. As a result, an estimated 40 percent of horticulture produce valued at Rs.50,000 crore, is spoiled and wasted annually. 

Given this horrific reality of decades of under-investment in agriculture development, periodic waivers of bank loans of the nation’s hard-pressed farmers is likely to achieve little except ruin the banking system. Quite obviously, rural India is paying the price of sustained neglect of agriculture which needs to be remedied.

The priorities for rural development and resurgence have long been self-evident. Topmost are massive investment in rural primary-secondary education, extension of irrigation coverage, improved rural-urban connectivity and urgent expansion of the minuscule downstream food processing industry thwarted for decades by powerful horticulture wholesalers in the states.

However, these seemingly simple solutions require major structural changes in the budgetary resource allocation process and improving the ease of doing business in rural India, still dominated by entrenched caste elites and money-lenders hand-in-glove with corrupt public bank officials. This challenge combined with the indifference of the urban middle class to the prolonged suffering of rural India, has dissuaded successive governments at the Centre and in the states from offering little more than lip service to the country’s neglected rural majority.

 

Exert pressure for police-justice reforms

Against the backdrop of heinous crimes being brazenly committed by anti-socials including gau rakshak vigilantes, women and child molesters, kidnappers and religious fanatics, thieves and swindlers, this is a good time to remind government that its primary duty is to maintain law and order and create safe environments for the conduct of business. It’s no coincidence or act of God that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal — India’s most anarchic states — are also the most industrially under-developed. Unfortunately, the UP/Bihar contagion of lawlessness and disorder, which has infected even the police and judiciary in these states, is spreading nationwide. 

Indeed, in most states, corruption has so tainted police recruitment and promotion systems that there’s little to distinguish cops from the criminals they are sworn to apprehend and convict. For instance, in Rampur (UP), a woman survivor of a ghastly gang-rape on June 21 who bravely filed a complaint at the local police station was propositioned by the station-in-charge. Such outright contempt for citizens’ rights is the rule rather than exception within the country’s 2.2 million civilian police personnel. 

Therefore, the first priority for repairing the country’s defunct law and order machinery is police reform, a subject routinely ignored by successive governments at the Centre and in the states where ruling party politicians have transformed the police into their private armies. This issue has been addressed in detail by several high-powered committees, including the National Police Commission (1979) which has produced eight comprehensive reform reports and a Model Police Act for state governments to no avail. In addition, the Supreme Court set up the Ribeiro (1999), Padmanabhaiah (2000) and Soli Sorabjee (2005) committees to suggest police reforms. Moreover in a detailed judgement in Prakash Singh & Ors vs. Union of India (2006), the Supreme Court issued seven binding directives to all state governments for implementing police reforms. Unfortunately, despite stern reminders, the states are yet to comply with the apex court’s directives.

In terms of number of police personnel (2.2 million) and proportion of police to citizenry (182 per 100,000) and judges (1.7 per 100,000), contemporary India is the most under-served country worldwide. This rock-bottom ratio apart, our men and women in uniform are poorly trained and equipped. 

In the circumstances, it’s an urgent duty of the intelligentsia and the middle class to exert pressure on the Centre and state to give to give top priority to reform, overhaul and augmentation of the police-justice system. Unless this message is sent out loud and clear — and heeded — countrywide, the grandest national development plans and strategies will remain fanciful dreams. 

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