Thursday, January 31, 2013


Deregulation of diesel price would reduce irrational subsidies!

Finally, after series of flawed policies, I saw some sensible and path-breaking policies being announced by our incumbent government. After rounds of debates and discussions, the government finally took the ‘obvious and long-awaited’ decision of deregulating the diesel prices across the nation! This one policy that should have been implemented a way back, came at the time when the nation is facing an economic turbulence and the ruling government is fighting for its survival! Keeping everything at bay, deregulating diesel price would solve multiple problems and in all probability, would provide an impetus to the economy as well.

Now that diesel price is being deregulated, the staterun oil marketing companies can decide diesel prices in sync with global crude oil prices. The oil company would no more have to sell diesel at lower price than required or a price that spelled losses for the economy at large. This would not only reduce the gap between petrol and diesel prices but would save crores by sidelining the huge subsidy (worth Rs 95,000 crore per year) that is currently being allocated for keeping the diesel prices low! A back of envelope calculation shows that a one unit price hike in diesel price would save 4,000 units of subsidy. This further will help the government to reduce the fiscal deficit and maintain a judicious fiscal deficit to GDP ratio! As per a study by CARE research, “Every rupee hike in diesel price trims under-recoveries by approximately Rs 80 billion annually... An overall diesel price hike of Rs 5/litre by the end of FY14 along with currency appreciation is expected to reduce losses on sale of diesel to an average of Rs 5/litre for FY14 compared to current losses of Rs 9.6/ litre.” Furthermore, deregulation of price would eventually reduce hoarding and black marketing of diesel. I still remember the beelines at fuel station hours prior to the fuel price hikes and also the ‘no-availability’ status of fuel the very next day – a clear case of fuel hoarding! Given the price gap between diesel and petrol price, subsidised diesel is mostly redirected to affluent than needy.

This move will finally bring back the private players in the arena. Reliance Industries, Shell and Essar Oil which had to shutter down their fuel station a couple of years back, would now be back in business. Now both the government owned pumps and private players would try to woo their customers with other freebies as diesel would be sold at same price by both these entities. However, the government needs to chalk out clear plans of reimbursing the premium from farmers and other allied sectors. No doubt, this would definitely increase the input costs for the farmer, but just like LPG cylinders, these pockets of population can be issued a limited supply of subsidised fuel through privately owned authorised outlets!

In order to cushion the customers from sudden price hike, the policy makers can either adjust the tax structure in order to keep the price within a stipulated band or can offer subsidy to the players (both public and private) whenever global crude oil prices reaches a limit that is beyond the affordability of the end consumers. All in all, finally the taxpayers money would not channelized to SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) owners and shopping malls in form of subsidy. The money now could be used as funds for refurbishing the agriculture sectors and providing them with greener and cheaper modes of energy. And finally for all the naysayers, just like LPG price deregulation (and subsidy removal) did make the entire process transparent, diesel price would make the entire oil cartel transparent!


Thursday, January 24, 2013


Irregularities in teachers' appointment would decay the system

A couple of weeks back, INLD leader Ajay Chautala along with 51 other people were convicted for illegal recruitment of teachers by CBI special court. The state High Court passed on the case to the centre and asked for CBI intervention as it saw involvement of many elite politicians and dignitaries in the same. Ajay and his group deployed more than 3,000 JBT teachers in various schools of Gurgaon by creating forged papers and through back-door entry. But then, this case comes as no surprise to me, but what is interesting to note is the way schools recruit teachers and above all, the amount of money these teachers are ready to pay to get into a reputed school.

As per Government Primary Teachers Federation, this back-door entry also halted the promotion of old teachers (whose promotion were due) as the entire fleet of staff are now under suspicion and scrutiny. The entire process had cost these individuals not less than Rs. 4 lakhs, in any case, which interestingly would be more than their average annual salary in all probability. But then, this is not only one of its kind scam. Almost two years ago, a number of politicians were charged for irregularities in teachers' recruitment process in Meghalaya. In this case too, teachers were recruited for lower primary schools of the state. In an another case, teachers were found paying heft y amount (ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000) for getting themselves transferred to the location of their choice.

On hindsight, this may seem a simple case of back-door entry but when seen from a wider perspective, the real issue would become quite vivid. These cases of irregular teachers’ appointment echo the very gap between demand and supply of teaching staff. In simple word, shortage of teachers at primary school level is massive. For instance, there are over 26,000 vacancies of school teachers at different levels in Haryana. Moreover, the Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Board has invited online applications for filling up of 72,825 posts for primary teacher in 75 districts of the state and West Bengal Board of Primary Education has issued notification for 34,559 assistant primary teacher vacancies recently but the positions remains to be vacant, still. So much so, the last date of application and examination dates for the same has been postponed many times. Such dearth of staff also has deteriorated the quality of education across the nation. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2012) for rural India, released a few days ago by PRATHAM, speaks volumes about the sorry state of primary education of our country. As per the report, in 2008, “only about 50 per cent of Standard 3 students could read a Standard 1 text, but by 2012, it declined to 30 per cent. About 50 percent of the Standard 3 kids cannot even correctly recognize digits up to 100, where as they are supposed to learn two digit subtraction.”

All said and done, teaching as a career, especially at primary level, still is more for job-security and parallel income through tuitions and coaching. Obviously, opaque recruitment process and lack of performance- evaluation system are the key reasons for such malaise. Not only, this hampers the delivery of course module but also create huge disparity between standard of education across various cities and states. In such circumstance, only an automated and centralised (and may be partially outsourced) system of teacher recruitment would be able to save the skin of already decaying public schooling system. In the current scenario, where scams are haunting the primary education system, neither Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) nor Right To Education (RTE) would bear the right fruit!


Thursday, January 17, 2013


Domestic kite industry must go global to survive

I have always been a staunch believer of organising the so-called unorganised sectors of India. Not only it makes economic sense but also have a positive long term ripple effect on the society. It helps these unrecognised professionals to have a better and decent life and above all, showcase their produces at national and even the international market. Amidst all the dying industry, one industry which recently caught my fancy was the Kite Industry. Although Kite flying is a very old practice (and tradition) in India but these days one can see them being flown mostly during Basant or Uttrayan or International Kite Festivals.

Recently, the International Kite Festival, like every year, saw kite lovers from across the world gathering at Somnath in Gujarat to test their kite flying skills. This is not the only Kite festival but many such events take place across the nation during various weeks starting from December. However, in spite of such colourful hue this industry is one of those industry which is moving towards its declining stage. Undoubtedly, this industry needs a complete overhaul and lot of attention as many households are surviving on this seasonal industry only. The demand for kites may seem seasonal (in domestic market) but in reality its completely converse. A study of Chinese market and global demand for Kites makes it vivid that this seasonal industry can be made a conventional industry if tapped at global level. As a matter of fact, after declining by 50 per cent over the years, the industry is still worth almost Rs 1200 crore. Moreover, it employees over 70,000 artisans and seasonal workers across the nation with Bareilly, Jaipur, Kolkata, Jodhpur, Ahmedabad and Lucknow forming the major kite-making hubs. Taking about international market, in US and Canada, kite industry is estimated to be around $150 million (roughly Rs 750 crore market).

The kite industry has witnessed a major downfall particularly due to three main reasons. Firstly, Kite is still a seasonal industry in India. Once the festival gets over, business slacks to the point of being almost non-existent. Secondly, rising cost of raw materials along with increased competition from China-made products has made it less attractive proposition. According to a survey conducted by Assocham, “there has been an increase of about 25-30 per cent in the prices of raw materials like paper, string, powder used to colour the strings, sticks and the VAT due to which there has been a sharp decline of over 50 per cent in the business at kite shops.” Thirdly, domestic kites maker are not aware of global demand and different festivals like Weifang International Kite Festival, China; Bristol International Kite Festival, UK; Borneo International Kite Festival, Malaysia; International Kite Festival, France; Cape Town International Festival, South Africa; Washington State International Kite Festival, US and many other such festivals that takes place across the globe.

State governments and Central government may take a lesson or two from Gujarat as the state’s kite manufacturing industry has grown by six-fold during the past five years with the help of annual International Kite Festival that the state has been hosting since 1989 as part of the official celebration of Uttarayan. Replicating Gujarat, other kite making hubs should organise such international festival with grandeur and also make provisions for kite makers to sell their products at other international kite festivals too. At a central level, more footfalls for the same can be made possible by merging our kite festivals with Incredible India campaign. Here, we are just not taking about a dying industry but also about a decade old tradition.


Thursday, January 10, 2013


New forensic labs are vital for speedy justice

Since last couple of weeks, there have been protests going on all across the nation demanding quick and fast justice delivery. This is not the first time when a criminal is scott free due to delays in our judicial mechanism. Without any apprehension, the entire onus of delays lies on the courts which are struggling with less manpower and insufficient resources. And then, further going down is our investigative team, which again is equipped with stone-age facility and faces huge shortage of staff. Amidst all these loopholes, one peripheral of justice delivery mechanism that is largely getting ignored is our investigation laboratories. In simple terms, cases linger on for ages as the investigating teams fail to present sufficient scientific evidences on time. And, the reason for the same is the sorry state of our forensic labs.

Against conventional notion, forensic labs not only help in providing clues for criminal cases but also for civil and statutory cases. Today, forensic labs are called-in for cases related not only to murder, rapes and assaults but also for theft s, property disputes, document verification, forgery tests and truth analysis. As of now, we have less than 30 forensic labs where cases coming in for investigation from all corners of the country. On an average a single Forensic lab handles only 4000 cases annually while the demand for the same runs in tens of thousands per forensic centre! Moreover, only a handful of these labs are equipped enough to handle such large inflows.

As per a media report, around 4000 cases of sexual assault on women are yet to be solved at forensic level itself! These cases are pending from last 2-3 years. The problem gets augmented as one gauge through the vacancies at these forensic labs, still more than 100 seats are vacant (especially those at technical positions). There are labs where even “sufficient amount of chemicals required for several tests” are not even available. Even cases related to corporate fraud, computer fraud, child paternity cases and DNA tests are in the queue waiting for their trial, which can’t be moved even by an inch without forensic reports. Such poor state of infrastructure not only delays the cases but provides ample time to the culprits to tamper and dodge the evidences and in many cases even steal and damage the evidences, thus, leaving no scientific evidences of their crimes. Moreover, given the sophistication with which crimes are committed (and technologies with which the evidences are tampered) forensic investigation has become evident to prove the verity of samples in possession. Numerous cases like Aarushi- Hemraj murder case, Nithari serial murders case, Priyadarshini Mattoo Case and many other similar cases got delayed because of inadequacy of labs. In spite of these cases attracting media-attention and public outcry, no much heed was seen as most of the vital clues were either destroyed in the process or most of important investigative reports were waiting their turn in various labs across the nation!

In such scenario, the only escape from the problem is to invite private players in this sector too. Tenders should be invited for opening new forensic labs and for operating the existing ones. However, privatization would only take care of half of the problem. The shortage of staff would still keep these labs inefficient and slow. Fast track and short term recognised courses in forensic training should also be encouraged at various levels, especially at vocational training levels. Undoubtedly, the entire process calls for huge investment. But then this in long term would compensate for the investment by decreasing the cost incurred due to prolonged cases and delayed justice. As of now, fast track forensic labs are just part of Bollywood scripts!