Daily Current Affairs – 30th August, 2016

Daily Current Affairs – 30th August, 2016

To unleash economic reforms: Strengthen Indian democracy

  • It is an undisputed fact that if a reform has to be effective and make sense in the larger scheme of things, it needs to be backed with a viable partnership between a liberal state and a constantly watchful civil society.
  • With much diversity and ‘peaceful’ existence even in a neighbourhood tortured with evergreen trouble, Indian democracy definitely calls for its celebration but while celebrating, this nationalistic fervour paves way for a blindfold on the ‘eyes of the mind’ and we forget to take a hard look at the state of our democracy.
  • 2016 coincided with 25 years of India’s liberalization project but we still see discussions on how the economy needed to be unshackled from the tyranny of the licence raj, and about how we still are in requirement of a series of institutional reforms to unlock the economic potential of the country.

Huge gaps that need to be addressed urgently—

Electoral reform-

  • Ignorance on the part of political parties over two reports of the Law Commission—on Electoral Disqualifications (2014) and Electoral Reforms (2015; strong recommendations for curbing the flow of black money into electoral financing, as well as taking action against the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ used as electoral propaganda).
  • Recently, with an ironical touch, an amendment was brought to retrospectively alter the definition of what counts as a ‘foreign entity’—a move that benefits the top political parties in the country that had been in potential violation of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) until then.

State’s ham-handed response to dissent-

  • The law, as it stands, attracts a penalty of life imprisonment. In colonial times, this law was used to silence dissident Indians but today it is used freely to silence legitimate dissent.
  • But today, criticizing a political leader, a particular ideology or even expressing praise for a foreign nation can attract provisions of the law.

 

Federal structure:

  • While the GST is being appreciated by all economics commentators, the implications for federalism have been largely left unclear. We should not forget that progress by states will have a much greater impact on India’s economic future than what happens in Delhi
  • There seems to exist a systematic erosion of the power of state governments to govern according to their priorities and there has been no reform in the structure of the Centrally-sponsored schemes (were openly criticized by Narendra Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat)
  • Steps need to be taken to promote cooperative federalism:
    • Reactivation of the Centre-State Council: Under Article 263, this council is expected to inquire and advise on disputes, discuss subjects common to all states and make recommendations for better policy coordination.
    • While competition between states, reflected in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, has generated interest, this must be a continuing exercise. But states not doing well on the index, complain of infirmities of process and procedure and these needs to be made more acceptable and transparent.
    • On issues like international treaties, a WTO obligation, or the environment, an institutional mechanism must be evolved where important decisions are appropriately discussed with states. As India becomes globally more interdependent, these potential contentious issues must be resolved.

Neglect of the democratic decentralisation process:

  • Issues plaguing both urban and rural local governments: poor resources and poor leadership, and an institutional framework that has not been reformed to keep up with the mounting responsibilities entrusted to local bodies.
  • In the past, there have also been a slew of steps taken by the government that has eroded local-level democracy.
  • Example: States such as Rajasthan and Haryana have hurt local governance by introducing questionable eligibility criteria for contesting elections; Nitish Kumar’s Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 empowers the District Collector to impose fines on a village/town (presumably with no involvement of the panchayat); in Maharashtra (and elsewhere), the forest department has violated the rights of tribal communities to manage their forests.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Enumerate the loopholes/issues plaguing the Indian polity that shatters the faith of our Constitution makers and political luminaries.
  2. Do you think political and economic freedoms go hand in hand? Discuss

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