You have rightly pointed out that Andhra Pradesh (AP) is suddenly bankrupt—bankrupt of leadership (“Congress, democracy and AP,” 8 September). I’m unable to understand the AP Congress legislators’ pleading for the novice Jagan Mohan Reddy not only to lead them but also to rule the state. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s tackling Naxalites or uplifting the weaker sections of society was not a joke. The big question is: Can Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was initiated into politics only in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, be suitable for the post of chief minister? To avoid such embarrassment and for the smooth running of the government, Jagan Mohan should cooperate with Sonia Gandhi to take a decision for the state to fulfil the dream of YSR.
— Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee
Nirvikar Singh’s column “From outlays to outcomes” (Mint, 7 September) evokes interest and raises many questions, some quite deep.
My first comment is that life is more than just markets. When we consider effort and reward, attention must be paid to both markets and society. A market can only reward what a society permits.
If the poor (“unconnected”) are damned to inter-generational poverty on account of social discrimination or lack of access to facilities, the market is not going to come to their rescue. Equal access to health, education and opportunities is fundamental to securing “equity” in markets. A multi-racial, caste-ridden, developing country such as India must swear by equal opportunity programmes in its budgetary policies.
Second, and I believe an important question, is whether the rural NREGA-type spending is “wealth creating”. I fear the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is both unsustainable and inefficient. It is unsustainable both because the government does not have the wherewithal to carry the rural poor on its back forever, and because NREGA in itself does not create “rural wealth”. Besides favouring labour-intensive techniques and projects, NREGA has raised rural wages. Its withdrawal will also pull down wages along with the fortunes of the rural poor.
The article dwells on the role of the public in monitoring budget outlays and outcomes. Clearly, it is insufficient to merely monitor and report the inadequacies; it is just as important that the public and the academia have the means to force the government to recognize its wrongs and, crucially, undertake corrective action. To this end, let me propose a solution: Let us appoint an external panel of “budget judges” —comprising nominees from the academia, think tanks and trade associations—who are invited to participate in the annual budget discussions and the vote, if online. Their “nay” vote, if passed with three-fourths majority, should force the government to review and re-present its budget. This would ensure the budget is not merely an exercise in political duplicity forced on the people of India by bipartisan deceit.
On the issue of tax revenues and spending, I agree that taxes should originate, accrue and be spent locally, rather than be collected and channelled to the Centre before it is recycled to the lower levels of the government. The “local solution” reduces bureaucratic delays and improves the efficiency of revenue-based government services.
Despite your optimism, I remain unconvinced that IT-enabled infrastructure is the cornerstone of government reform in India. Even a world-class IT infrastructure can only serve to hasten doom if the policies adopted by our ministers are misguided—and I hardly need to remind you of the “efficacy” of the UPA policies!
The answer lies in the active participation of the academia and think tanks in the design of rules, regulations, policies and, indeed, the budget.
— Ganga Prasad G. Rao