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Showing posts with label arvind kejriwal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label arvind kejriwal. Show all posts

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Arvind Kejriwal is clueless about reducing Delhi's pollution

Arvind Kejriwal is an inexplicable outcome of the rough-and-tumble of Delhi politics. Thrown up by popular disillusionment with the Indian National Congress and the BJP, Kejriwal and his ragtag band were once portrayed as the new vibe in politics.

Alas, that hope disappeared a few days into his first tilt at governance.

We are all familiar with his sanctimonious drama at the time and have now gotten used to his second-inning hypocrisy in which he has repudiated almost everything he claimed to stand for, including brothers-in-arms like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. Not that Yadav and Bhushan are any less sanctimonious.

The depressing thing about Kejriwal is not his dubious health but the seeming lack of intellectual rigour or administrative skills. Worse is his lack of gravitas. He inspires no confidence.

It is clear from his amateurish handling of the pollution issue that he consults just the deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and, perhaps, a couple of others. The result: ad hoc responses that won't likely have any impact or will confound the situation.

Pollution is a major public health hazard and needs to be tackled in an organised, far-thinking manner. A joint response by central and state governments is the first step. Also, some amount of citizen involvement is critical - maybe only to smooth vehicular traffic and to curb the use of celebratory fireworks throughout the year; both are preventable sources of pollution.

Instead, Kejriwal is locked in mortal combat with the Modi government and its various agencies, especially the Delhi police and the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung. His pronouncement restricting the use of cars was followed by introducing exemptions for women, government and emergency vehicles and also on the enforcement of the restrictions.

In the end, it got so muddled that no one really knows what's going on, especially the shrill television media, whose role in manufacturing a ratings-points crisis out of a serious public health issue, needs to be examined in depth.

Not just television news but print media too created all manner of confusion that left people stumped.

Worldwide, governments have successfully tackled pollution by first creating a legal framework for action. In the US, successive laws were introduced beginning the 1960s with amendments continuing well into the 1990s.

The Clean Air Act and its various iterations facilitated funding of research and enforcement mechanisms to deal with various components of pollution. Three decades in the making, anti-pollution laws were a systematic effort that included identification and categorisation of pollutants, setting up an independent monitoring and enforcement agency and then further refining and redefining measures to control pollution.

On each step of the way, federal, state and local governments and agencies worked in tandem, keeping citizens informed through a strong media outreach program combining education and advocacy.

As such, the US environmental protection and pollution control program has been a huge success.

More than any European country, the US experience is more relevant to India because of its federal structure, huge economy, large population, big cities and massive demand for energy and transportation.

(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, December 2015.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Neo Middle Classes Protest

High on Aspirations, Low on Talent

Let me just say it straight out. The Delhi protests against the shocking rape of a young woman in a bus were led by students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and other universities and colleges where underpaid teachers spew their leftist propaganda to taint impressionable minds.. They are high-minded but like all university students in India, somewhat moronic on the organization front. Their post-modern protest, inspired by the leftists of Europe and North Africa, simply didn’t work. They neither have the ideological fervor of their Western European counterparts nor the rage against the machine of their Tunisian and Egyptian idols. What they are confronting is a political system that is bereft of vision beyond electoral calculation, a bureaucracy that is inept and obstructionist, a business class that is free of ethics and morality. And this is not today’s news; the gridlock has been in existence since 1947. How otherwise do you explain the lack of basic infrastructure, not just roads, power, public transport but also the lack of education, public health and social security?

It is mind-boggling that the protesters and the media, egged on by shadowy political interests, can hold public debate  to ransom over a sordid criminal offence by marginal people like the monsters on the bus. The protest is all about the government and how insensitive it is. The young men and women seemed to be more interested in having major government officials talk to them. The real issue to be debated is what kind of a society has been created in which marginal men from urban slums take not just the law into their own hands but visit terror on hapless citizens. You don’t have very far to look: the outskirts of Delhi, beyond the Lutyens zone, is a free for all. Scofflaws rule the roost. They harass women; drive like lunatics (including city-certified public transport drivers); they also rain chaos and arbitrary violence on unsuspecting citizens. This is a society and culture in which the girl child is killed at birth; those that survive rarely make it past five years of age; the remnant end up being victims of dowry and bride burning. Very few girls born in India make a steady income and or attain social dignity. Dare I say it: if you are born a girl the chances of you having a normal life are minuscule.

These are the issues the heinous rape should have brought forth in public debate. Instead, the neo middle class protesters, egged on by the RSS, Arvind Kejriwal and Baba Ramdev,  focused on the government and its shortcomings. I dare these kids and their mentors to go protest against the “khap panchayats” of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, never mind Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh; or the Maoists in the central spine of India; or the cultural fascists in south and central India. Easiest thing to do, especially if vested interests ply you with funds, is to assemble at India Gate and capture the attention of the marketing-driven media.

Looking at the chaos of cities and small towns and the complete neglect of rural populations, not just this government but going back to 1947, it is apparent the entire governance structure is about privilege and corruption. Even high-minded leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh are unable to make a dent; their writ simply doesn’t run. As the Singapore Prime Minister said in a recent interview, India is held in thrall by vested interests. What he was saying, in a polite way, is India suffers from a lapse of governance: bad roads, poor street lighting, discontinuous water supply, no sanitation, poor public health facilities, and dysfunctional schools.

In the end, there are two ideologies in India; one, the Congress that has its hands full just running the government peopled by know-nothings and do-nothings. Two, the others are all against the Congress and hoping to run the system, not for change and development; but for personal aggrandizement. What remains is the permanent government, the bureaucracy, and they have been having a ball since Rajiv Gandhi, with 220 seats refused to form the government in 1989. Since then the toadies have emerged from under their stones with caste and communal demands while the vested government officials simply twiddle their thumbs. Or milk their positions for rent in issuing licenses and permits.

So poverty endures in a country that is getting richer by leaps and bounds. No government will pay heed to middle class demands for better governance. The refrain is we represent the poor who have nothing so you should accept an abysmal quality of life. Even the governor of the Reserve Bank, who has succeeded in keeping interest rates higher than anywhere in the world, was quoted as saying, “Inflation is my concern because I represent the poor  people, who are most affected by spiraling prices.” Or some such words; never heard a central banker talk like this.

The cogent way to fight this government apathy and ineptitude, as Mahatma Gandhi did, is through lawful protest and constitutional propriety. The neo middle classes of India, schooled essentially in value-free disciplines such as engineering, management and vocational studies, have no appreciation for that. Their cause is just; their methods are hugely questionable.

An edited version of this article appeared on Times of India website on December 28, 2012.