TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability and institutional and other measures
Amending Rule 12 of RTI: Challenges and way ahead
In April, the government of India proposed amendments to the RTI Act. The most controversial amendment pertained to Rule 12. It would allow the withdrawal of an application in case of the applicant’s death, making the job of those who file RTIs even more risky.
Problems pertains to:
- Problems pertaining to land, illegal construction and property disputes are the root cause of most of the cases. Seventeen murders of RTI activists, 32 assaults and 31 cases of harrassment are related to such issues.
- Then come conflicts due to government schemes (including MGNREGA), either because those who should have benefitted from them have not, or because of embezzlement at the local level.
- The third category that is also well represented is made of illegal mining, including the sand mafia’s activities.
The nature of the RTI activist’s work:
- The RTI activists are already exposed to violence, all the more so as the Whistle Blowers Protection Act (2011) is not implemented.
- Sixty-nine activists have been killed, according to the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information. Besides, the NCPRI presents on its website the case of 130 RTI activists who have been victims of assault and 170 others who are victims of harrassment. Of the 268 cases whose location is known, 100 belong to rural India, a clear sign that the RTI has also been owned in the village.
- The states where one finds the largest number of casualties are not those of the BIMARU belt known for law and order problems, but rich states. On the podium stand Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka with, respectively, 13, 13 and 7 murders, 31, 14 and 11 cases of assault and 36, 14 and 12 cases of harrassment. The fact that the rich states are the most dangerous ones for RTI activists is not surprising since they mostly fight against the appropriation of public goods by predatory and vested interests, which are comparatively stronger in affluent provinces.
- The nature of the RTI activist’s work is revealing of the character of corruption in India today.
- The RTI activists fight for their rights and/or those of others, but they are hardly protected by the police and judiciary. Cases have been filed for only 137 murders, assaults and harrassment (out of 369). No action has taken place in 141 cases. (No information is available on the status of 91 cases).
- And where action has taken place, it has resulted in conviction and sending to jail of only six people so far (justice is delayed in many pending cases).
This impunity creates the conditions of more violence against the RTI activists and has made the revision of Rule 12 even more problematic.
Effectiveness of RTI activists:
The vested interests and the state are so afraid of the RTI activists, it is because of their relative effectiveness. The number of RTI applications continues to grow. While it had already reached 7.55 lakh in 2014-2015, it rose by 22.67 per cent or 2.21 lakh in 2015-2016.
A study conducted by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) reveals that 27.2 per cent (47.66 lakh) of the total RTIs filed between 2005 and 2015 was submitted to the different ministries and departments under the Centre.
- These applications cover a wide range of issues and even if no action is taken, the media often publicise the cases and give bad publicity to the offending bureaucrats, industrialists or politicians.
- In fact, some of the most dedicated RTI activists are journalists and the reasons why small-town journalists are murdered, assaulted and harrassed are similar to those affecting the RTI activists.
- The RTI activists not only expose corrupt practices and crimes, but also provide alternative leadership at the local level. Some of them have become community mobilisers and have been elected sarpanch.
- The RTI Act has offered space to young Dalits, Adivasis and members of the minorities who would have been (more) helpless otherwise. In this process, they’ve been helped by NGOs whose leaders — not only from the intelligentsia, but also from the SMEs world — have toured villages to initiate them into the art of filling an RTI form. The role of “RTI clinics”, often in the form of itinerant vans and helplines, has been key.
Challenges faced by RTI activists and way out:
Now, besides violent reactions and the amendment of Rule 12, the RTI community is facing new challenges.
- In some states, Information Commissions are burdened with huge pendencies. In UP, they have crossed the 48,000 mark.
Way out: The number of applications filed could easily decrease: If the frequently asked questions were identified, it would not be difficult to proactively disclose information for those questions (which is in tune with Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act, 2005).
- Delays and backlogs are also due to the fact that the job of Information Commissioner has become a post-retirement sinecure for former bureaucrats who do not necessarily feel the urge of idealism.
- The attitude of the government of India is another big challenge. Some of its agencies refuse to disclose the required information. The PMO, where the rejection rate is very high, is a case in point.
- The Commission does not have enough power for getting responses to its questions and does not have the mechanisms for following up on whether its orders have been complied with.
- Thirdly, the Information Officers do not necessarily get the right training, at least the updated information which would make their action more appropriate.
Way out: Universities could include the RTI Act in their curriculum and offer not only degrees or modules for credit, but also continuing training for helping this major achievement to remain relevant.
The urgent issue concerns the risk of the amendments formulated in April (including those related to Rule 12) to be transformed into law. If they go through, it would send disturbing signals to the defenders of human rights.
Connecting the dots:
- The government of India proposed amendments to the RTI Act. The most controversial one pertained to Rule 12. It would allow the withdrawal of an application in case of the applicant’s death, making the job of those who file RTIs even more risky. Discuss.
- The RTI community faces varied challenges. Analyze.
TOPIC: General Studies 3
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
- Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
A new industrial policy is in process
The government is preparing a new industrial policy, according to the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP), “to enable industry to play its role as the engine of growth and to shoulder the responsibility of adding more value and jobs”.
This policy will replace the United Progressive Alliance’s national manufacturing policy which was expected to generate 100 million additional jobs by 2022.
What went wrong with the previous plan?
DIPP will be adopting a consultative approach. The previous plan was also developed consultatively. There were 26 working groups representing all stakeholders, who gathered data, debated issues, and developed strategies to achieve the goals. It would be very worthwhile to understand why the goals could not be reached and incorporate those insights into the new policy.
- “A whole of government” approach is required:
A major problem was with the implementation of the previous plan.
Job creation along with industrial growth requires aligned action on many fronts: infrastructure, skills, finance for small enterprises, a supportive trade policy, etc. It requires “a whole of government” approach.
Partial solutions will not work.
No matter how good the plan may have been, the absence of coordination among ministries and cooperation among stakeholders stalled implementation.
- Changing the old mindset:
A greater challenge will be to change old theories in the minds of policymakers, and industry leaders too, about jobs/livelihoods, enterprises, and productivity.
The traditional concept of a good job/livelihood is full-time employment, preferably with a large organization, with assurance of continuity of employment and social security benefits. A dominant view of an enterprise that creates jobs is a large factory with hundreds of workers in assembly lines. Or, a large BPO (business process outsourcing) centre with hundreds of workers behind computer screens. So, if we want more jobs in the economy, we imagine we must have more such, large-scale, “organized” enterprises whereas the greater creators of jobs and livelihoods are enterprises that are much smaller, and seemingly unorganized (from the point-of-view of those with a fixed view of what an organization should be).
However, there are many other ways of earning livelihoods. For example: by owning a small enterprise—a small workshop, or street stall; as a member of a cooperative enterprise co-owned by many producers; driving one’s own car as a taxi with Ola or Uber, etc.
Small (and informal) enterprises can create more jobs and livelihoods than large ones:
The vice-chairman of NITI Aayog once said, “India does not have an unemployment problem; it has an underemployment problem”. The problem is low productivity. In India, two workers do what one worker could do, which also means lower wages for both. Thus, enterprises should take measures to remove their extra workers. This will increase productivity—measured as output per worker, and it will increase the wages of the workers who remain with the enterprise.
But what about the workers who are no longer employed by the enterprise? Here in comes the role of samll enterprises.
- The small enterprises will continue to provide “underemployment” to the masses seeking jobs, who are not being employed by large enterprises that invest in automation, reduce employees, and thus substantially improve productivity per employee.
- For small enterprises, the solution for improving their competitiveness is to improve the skills of their owners for managing their workers and improving utilization of their materials and machines.
Productivity is a measure of how much output is produced per unit of input. The most common measurement of productivity is output per worker. But there can be other measures of the productivity of an economy.
- If the purpose of economic growth, from the point of view of citizens, is the production of more jobs and livelihoods, and if the scarce resource is capital, the more productive economy will be the one that produces more jobs per unit of capital invested. Contrary to the drive for more “scale”, the economy should be one with a greater proportion of small enterprises that use more labour and less capital and have a higher “total factor productivity”.
- Formation of strong clusters and networks of small enterprises, using technology, can enable them to acquire greater scale to obtain access to markets and resources. The policy should be to make clusters and networks more organized and formal rather than the individual enterprises.
- Faster implementation is key.
- Old theories need to be set aside and fresh solutions applied.
- Small enterprises have great difficulty in obtaining resources—finance, space to operate, skilled workers, etc.—and in dealing with the regulatory framework too. According to some economists, India has too many “informal” enterprises. They must be brought into the formal system, which means they must comply with the requirements of formality (which include compliance with regulations) so that they can obtain the benefits of incorporation into the formal system.
- At the same time, some economists are advocating that small enterprises should be relieved of compliance with all regulations (which implies greater informality) so that they have flexibility to grow.
As Einstein said, you cannot solve an intractable problem with the same theories that created the problem.
Connecting the dots:
- The government is preparing a new industrial policy, “to enable industry to play its role as the engine of growth and to shoulder the responsibility of adding more value and jobs”. This policy will replace the National manufacturing policy. Before moving forward we need to introspect what went wrong with the NMP. Discuss.
- A general mindset when it comes to job creation is to establish large enterprises. As the large enterprises are suffering from problem of underemployment and also moving towards automation, it’s the small enterprises which can help achieve the job targets for India. Anlayze.
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