of powers need of the hour
we celebrate one more republic day. Instead of the usual symbolic
flag hoisting and traditional invocation to Ghandiji, can
we take a few concrete steps and make some sincere attempts
to realize his dreams? Ever since independence, every leader
of our country has been paying lip service to Gandhiji's concept
of Gram Swaraj. But this continues to remain only an ideal
with decentralization of power and local government empowerment
turning out to be a mere mirage.
us now examine why there should be real transfer of responsibilities
with power to the local governments. Don't get me wrong. I
am not saying that the local people and representatives are
better people than our leaders in Hyderabad or Delhi. I am
not saying that they have a greater understanding or competence
than national and state leaders. But local government of even
mediocre men and women is superior to centralized government
of bright people.
glance at our public expenditure and its scanty fruits will
open our eyes to the centralized plunder that is taking place
in the name of governance. Every year the government is spending
Rs 7 lakh crores, collected either as taxes or by mortgaging
the future of our children. The services we get in return
do not account for even a fraction of this expenditure. All
the basic amenities and services that make life worth living
are in a state of disrepair. Look at education, health-care,
water supply, drainage, roads and myriad other public services.
As a rule, wherever we can find private alternatives, like
in education and health-care, we opt for them at high cost.
Where private goods are not possible, like roads and drains,
we suffer in silence, and fume in impotent anger. The link
between our taxes paid and services received is non-existent.
No wonder, we all made tax evasion and avoidance a highly
creative national pastime!
understand this plunder, let us closely examine education
in government schools. None of us send our children to government
schools. Why? After all, the teachers here are as qualified
or better qualified, and better paid, than teachers in private
schools. Yet we all know that the quality of teaching is dismal
with total lack of accountability. Even the teachers do not
send their children to the schools where they teach! Even
the poorest of poor try to avoid them. Why don't we do anything
about it? Somehow, because we do not spend the money directly
from our pocket, because stakeholders are not empowered and
because the local governments are powerless, this vital service
has been allowed to be reduced to this sorry state. The dropout
rate among the few who go there is very high resulting in
the related problems we are all too aware of - low literacy,
child labour, poor employable skills etc. There was a time
when local governments ensured better schooling in a remote
village. I am a product of a government school. When I think
of today's children who will never have an opportunity to
fulfil their potential, it is difficult to control the tide
of anger or tears of sorrow.
would be folly on the part of either the state or Union governments
to think that the people at the local level are not qualified
to know their self interest and are incapable of taking charge
of their own lives. Let us not forget these 'ordinary' people
elected the national and state governments and our pundits
and politicians extol their virtues in every election.
have wasted 55 years of freedom by not trusting our people
to look after themselves. As a result, taxes are de-linked
from services, and authority is divorced from responsibility.
As voting and change of governments does not change anything,
people have succumbed to cynicism, and demand money for voting.
Politics has become big business, and a vicious cycle of corruption
and misgovernance has set in.
we, the urban, English-speaking privileged classes, have the
good sense and foresight to trust the people, empower local
governments, and allow little republics to flourish all over?
Only when that happens will the fruits of freedom reach our
people, and our national holidays will be occasions for genuine
celebration, instead of meaningless rituals.