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Private Wealth & Public Poverty:FROM LEAKY TAP TO LEAKING POT, by Dharmendra Nath, 26 July, 2011 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 26 July 2011                                                                                     

Private Wealth & Public Poverty


By Dharmendra Nath

(Retd-IAS Officer)


Our dream of an egalitarian society is enshrined in our Constitution. Our Father of the Nation is a person in a loin cloth. We are a socialist, secular, democratic republic. Professedly, that is the way we would like to be. Unfortunately, as most of us realize between the idea and the reality falls a big shadow. Our rose garden is riddled with too many thorns.


Our socialist progress has not thrown up results to our general liking or in conformity with our professed aims. We find vast and ever-increasing contrasts of economic status in our society. Not only that, we find these glaring contrasts even between private and public life.


There are big cars and splendid houses but not proper roads and good sanitation. In fact, some of the most luxurious private properties adjoin very poor civic amenities and miserly transportation. Pot-holed roads and overflowing sewage are not an uncommon sight. Gated communities of prosperity co-exist alongside slums.


We keep blaming it on shortage of funds. There may be a fund shortage in our country but Swiss banks are flush with our money and the money of some other similarly placed countries. We are getting to know about it only after the US applied pressure on the Swiss authorities.


Conspicuous consumption next to malnutrition is our bane. This is brought into full focus at an Indian wedding. Resplendent ‘baratis’ and sumptuous feasting contrast glaringly with vacant looks and emaciated faces of some of the crew supporting the big show.


In fact, an Indian marriage showcases our achievements and failures of all these years at one go. We look with satisfaction at the expensive display, the shining lights, the expensive dresses and the latest gadgetry. Simultaneously, we are disappointed to look at the faces of the poor women and yes, children too, engaged for the event.


Instead of diminishing, societal contrasts are on the increase. The level of economic activities is certainly much higher today than before, but the contrasts too are much higher.


Earlier we had only to contend with the vestiges of the feudal system in the countryside. But our progress has thrown up new challenges and is uprooting some people and depriving others of their traditional livelihoods.


Many of them are unable to readjust. Some of them are emboldened to join the Maoist ranks. Landless labourers are a threatened species. In a country with a population of our size these numbers are enormous.


The trickle-down effect of prosperity will certainly have some effect. But all cannot benefit. Those with dynamism will find many more jobs. Private charity also will play a role and relieve some distress. But this is clearly proving inadequate.


The State has to step in in a massive way to relieve their sufferings. For that, we need not only resources but also absence of leakages, both on the collection and expenditure sides --- or at least their minimization --- to put through appropriate relief programmes. These may take the shape of re-training, economic re-enabling or even provision of doles for the totally helpless.


If we are trying to fill a leaky pot from a leaky tap and then dispensing the contents of that leaky pot among the beneficiaries, then there is going to be a definite short-fall. As a country we stand in some such situation.

Clearly, tax-evasion and corruption account for our major leakages. Tax evasion does not allow the pot to fill up and corruption wastes away a lot of what is collected. We need a two-pronged strategy. This is not an impossible task. We have many achievements to our credit, both in war and peace. Only, we have to get down to doing it.


There is a ground swell of public opinion in our favour. The numbers in support are vast. That is a definite positive and is much more than enough to turn the tide against tax-evaders and the corrupt few. There is no word of sympathy when such cases come to light. Isn’t that a big positive?


We should be harnessing this right-mindedness and goodwill among the citizenry for our cause instead of decrying and antagonizing it. That would be a blunder. Why suppress the movement if one is not a defector to the cause?


The vast majority, a lot of it silent, is in favour of strong action. Those for inaction, defenders of the fortresses of leakages and corruption can be swept away like leaves before a storm. Let us not allow the public mood to turn into one of resignation and apathy. That would be a disaster. Reviving the mood and re-kindling the fire may not be easy.


Let our laws be enforced and these evils will be seen flying for cover as cockroaches and insects do in the presence of fumigation. When we bar the hands of a legally entrusted agency we create a trust-deficit. And trust deficit is fatal for democracy. We may think that people are not noticing it but they do.


Besides, absence of action creates grist for the rumour-mill. The proportions of the original sin get exaggerated and distorted in the popular mind and becomes even more damaging than the act itself which we sought to shield in the first place.


Therefore, let the agencies do their work. Let us not paralyse them in the name of superior political wisdom. People will not be silent towards the agencies even as they are not silent towards the Government. They will voice their feelings. Our democracy allows and respects that.


Moreover, on top of that judicial scrutiny, which commands almost universal respect in our country, too will be available. These are enough safeguards to control any way-wardness of the system. No one centre of power should pre-empt action.


Among other positives of the situation, steps are already afoot to control tax-evasion. Digitisation and online transactions have helped. The introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) will make a further dent on tax evasion. The Direct Tax Code, due to be introduced in the year 2012-13, will make things even better. Stronger and more determined action against corruption will make a further difference.


In sum, such steps will enhance our resources and also lead to their efficient utilization. We will be enabled to realize our socialistic dream. The State will be able to command the resources to wipe out the tears of our people and do some service to the “daridra narayana” whom the Father of the Nation placed before us as an ideal of service. ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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