India Shining Not Really

Updated: Feb 1 2004, 05:30am hrs
Two reports arrived at my desk in the last few days. The first is the Reserve Bank of Indias (RBI) Report on Currency and Finance for 2002-03. The report is focused on the theme of management of the external sector, but deals with issues on a wider canvas. It was prepared by a team of young economists in the RBI.

The opening chapter surveys recent economic developments. It is the RBIs version of the first chapter of the more familiar annual Economic Survey published by the ministry of finance. Since there will not be one published this February, the RBIs survey is a reasonable starting point for a debate on the state of the economy.

State of the economy
As is to be expected, there is a high degree of confidence that economic growth will continue to be buoyant. Led by a record high in foodgrain production and sustained by the industrial recovery, overall GDP growth in 2003-04 is pegged at around 7 per cent. The surprise is that there is no mention of the figure of 8 per cent that has been put out by ministers and officials. There are also good tidings in bad news. The GDP growth rate for 2002-03 has just been revised downward from 4.3 per cent to 4.0 per cent, which means that the growth rate for 2003-04 will look even better! I am glad that at least the young economists have taken a more balanced view of India Shining.

The downsides have been noted, but there is no intention to spoil the party. To quote the words of the report:

* There is not yet adequate evidence of a clear increase in investment demand;

* Resource mobilisation by corporates in the primary market has actually been lower during the year;

* The fiscal situation still remains a cause for concern;

* The tax-GDP (ratio) in the economy continues to be low;

* As the revenue deficit is high, the burden of fiscal correction naturally falls on public investment;

* The public sector dis-saving, which began in 1998-99, has been rising over the years.

You may well ask, what is new Is it not the same boring list of old complaints Very true, but the list has been compiled not at the beginning of the term of the NDA government, but at a time when the government is drawing the curtain on the nearly-five-year performance.

Some day, some government will have to address these issues.

The other report that landed on my table is the annual report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for (dont be surprised) 2001-2002. The delay is not unusual. The report for the previous year (2000-2001) was submitted to the government in December 31, 2001 but, as of July, 2002, had not been placed before Parliament.

A mirror to India
Each of these reports holds a true and faithful mirror to the real India. The most vulnerable sections of the Indian people are women, children, detainees, dalits, bonded labourers and patients. Trafficking in women continues unabated. The NHRC is perturbed about the number of women, particularly minor girls, found in the brothels. But the report gives no numbers, and that is a major weakness. There is a section on the efforts made by the NHRC to combat sexual harassment of women at the work place. This section is revealing because it documents the wooden attitude of the government, particularly the bureaucracy.

In the case of Vishaka Vs State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court had issued certain guidelines, one of them being that each organisation shall set up a Complaints Committee. The NHRC wished that these committees in government offices should be suitably empowered. What happened to its efforts is best described in the words of the NHRC:

In a parallel effort, the Commission wrote to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) recommending that the findings of the Complaints Committee in all matters pertaining to sexual harassment at the place of work should be considered as final against the delinquent official, as this would lead to early decision on the sensitive issue, and, save the victim from undue harassment. For this purpose the inquiry conducted by the Complaints Committee should be deemed as the inquiry conducted in a departmental inquiry under the disciplinary proceedings drawn up against the delinquent official. That Department, in turn referred the matter to the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs (Department of Legal Affairs) for examination, which gave the opinion that such a procedure could not be followed.

The NHRC proposed and the ministry of law and justice disposed! Should we allow matters to stand there

It is not difficult, or impermissible, to amend the service rules to empower the Complaints Committee. The rules relating to disciplinary proceedings require that the disciplinary authority shall conduct the enquiry into alleged misconduct by a government servant. He may, of course, delegate this function to an enquiry officer (called inquiring authority). By a simple amendment of inserting a new sub-rule, the Complaints Committee in that ministry or department can be appointed as the inquiring authority. That committee will conduct the inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment and submit its report to the disciplinary authority, who will be the final authority regarding imposition of punishment. A simple change, yet government thinks it is impermissible or impossible!

Child labour is another glaring, and persistent, violation of human rights. A survey conducted in Rajasthan in 1997 resulted in identifying 8090 child labourers of which 3026 were working in hazardous occupations. A total of 60,705 child labourers were detected in Uttar Pradesh between 1997 and 2002. A survey in Orissa in 1997 brought out a total number of 23,761 children, of which 18,089 were doing hazardous work. Successive surveys were conducted in Maharashtra in 1997, 1999-2000 and 2001-02, and the number of child labourers detected was 1023, 2983 and 4552 respectively.

Another section of the people whose human rights are brazenly violated every day are detainees and persons who are targeted by the police. In 1993-94, the total number of custodial deaths reported by state governments was 34. By 2001-02, the number had risen to 1305, of which 165 died in police custody and 1140 died while in judicial custody. Similarly, the number of custodial deaths has also risen dramatically from 62 in 1997-98 to 110 in 2000-01, and showed a decline to 58 in 2001-02.

When will India shine for her women, children and the hapless victims of police ire

The author is a former Union finance minister