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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

paleolithic socialistic rhetoric

The following was my response to a write-up posted by a member on "privatising the rain - the big sell out - documentary film by Florian Opitz" in a Google group, of which, I am a member:

Just plain Paleolithic socialistic rhetoric - not even Ram Manohar Lohia would have backed it if he were alive today.

These people seem to suggest that electricity is a basic necessity, and so should be supplied free. At a workshop that I had attended sometime back, a person from Delhi went on to suggest that, with it getting very hot out there in summer, the government should provide free electricity for air-conditioning also. They were worried that, with the private sector coming in, things were going to be different. So, they were clamoring to get their good old DESU back, so that they could go back to fixing all kinds of deals with the meter readers and engineers, and pass on the burden to the honest tax payers through the subsidy mechanism. All the while, just a few Kms outside Delhi, the rural folk sweat out the summer months with hardly 4 hrs of supply a day, thanks to the inefficiencies and incapacities of UP, Haryana, Punjab electricity boards.

The time for debate over whether the private sector should be running businesses, services, manufacturing operations, etc, or whether the public sector should continue to be involved in any or all of these, was over long long ago. Today, there can be only two sectors - one, the efficient sector, and the other - the social sector. And, when classified that way, there is hardly any room remaining for the public sector (I must admit there are the rare exceptions - BEL in Bangalore, being amongst the few; but, they are still quite the exception, and far and few). Even in the social sector, we cannot any longer afford the slothful, inefficient, corrupt ways of governmental agencies like the Food & Civil Supplies Corpn, and the likes of them, and many of their jobs are best entrusted to the NGO's, regulated (not controlled) by the government, whose size can simultaneously be scaled down to a tenth of the present level.

The good Colonel keeps talking about some services having to remain in the public sector (or as government departmental organizations) for some "obvious reasons". Now, I can't think of any reason why that should be, leave alone its being obvious. On the other hand, I can think of a hundred reasons why services other than perhaps policing, judiciary, basic health and basic education, should switch totally to the private sector. Possibly on the lines of Colonel's 'obvious' reasons, and using some archaic laws handed down from the Britishers' times, private radio services remain banned even today from broadcasting news services, even as private TV channels have been belting out at the governments for over a decade now. There is very healthy debate on the TV channels today, slowly making the governments more and more accountable. Even bigger could have been the impact of the radio in a similar role, particularly in the rural areas. However, since the rural folk do not carry as much clout as their city brethren, and the politicians are interested only in whipping up emotional issues in pursuit of their narrow interests, the power and the reach of the media has remained denied to the rural folk.

The government would have very much liked to gag the city-based media also. They do make some attempts now and then. But, post emergency, media has become extremely powerful, and together with the civil society, they today form a most effective and necessary pillar of democracy.

In all these, it's the rural people and the poorer sections of society who are at the losing end of these kinds of governmental policies - be it radio news services, bus services, power supply etc etc. The richer classes can find ready alternatives.

Nobody can deny that privatisation has worked well in India in the telecom, civil aviation, banking, insurance, TV programming, and such sectors, and that each and every one has benefited from it all, whether directly or indirectly.

If the benefit of the reforms haven't reached the poorer sections of society and the rural folk, it is largely because the right kind of reforms haven't happened in the key infrastructure areas affecting them. It wouldn't be out of place to say that our socialists are also to blame for this sad state of affairs.