Friday, July 18, 2008

Can Kerala become a civilized society which resolves its problems peacefully?

Political parties organizing agitations as the election approaches and creating the necessary provocation if they believe clashes will do them good are not unusual. However, the events of the last few weeks of conflict cannot be dismissed in that vein. There were several events which raised questions like whether we are a civilized society and whether we still have the ability to find solutions to problems in a peaceful, constitutional manner. Among them are the violent incidents that occurred during the agitations conducted by political parties using student and youth affiliates and the response of the government to them. The arrogance involved in the declarations of panchayats, managements and teachers’ organizations that they would not teach textbooks prescribed by the government and the childishness in the student movement’s statement that in that event of their not teaching the book they would are equally deplorable. But when the big brother sitting in the State Assembly takes foreign policy in his hands how can the little brother sitting in the panchayat be blamed for taking the education policy in his hands? The toad wants to fly over the hill and the frog wants to fly over the mountain.

The accepted Kerala style is to solve problems at someone else’s expense. The newest example is the decision to revise bus fares. The Electricity Board’s rate revision plan is cooking in the kitchen. It is the people who taxes, direct or indirect, who have to bear the burden. Corruption and inefficiency are the main reasons why public sector institutions, controlled by public servants or officials, are in the red.

This year the Finance Minister donated Rs. 700 crores to the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, which has been incurring losses for years. The government certainly has a duty to help a public sector organization in distress. But he should not be like Santa Claus who comes dressed up year after year to distribute gifts to children. A good administrator, while employing tax-payer’s money to rescue an institution, has to ensure that it spends the money well and improves its performance. Otherwise he will have to keep putting money in again and again.

It was in the name of fuel price rise that the government sanctioned an increase in bus fares last week. The decision has invited criticism from many quarters. It has been pointed out that while Kerala revised the rates more than once in the last seven years on this ground there was not even one revision in Tamil Nadu, and that at present the rates her are twice as much as in the neighbouring State. In comparing the State transport system with Tamil Nadu’s we cannot overlook the fact that both per capita income and wage levels in Kerala are higher. At the same time, we ignore the possibility of the KSRTC losing passengers to the railways as the bus fare is now twice as much as the rail fare. Tamil Nadu has a decentralized transport system. All transport corporations except the one operating in Chennai city have been making profits for years. If their working is studied, it may be possible to find ways to save the KSRTC.

In the first year of the present government, the Cooperation Minister arranged crores of rupees to save the writers’ cooperative, Sahitya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham. The latest information is that its financial situation continues to be bad. It would have been a wonder if it were otherwise. Why should the people who run an institution bother to improve its performance if there is some to write out cheques from time to time to bail them out? It is the belief that the public is an ass that gives the rulers the courage to spend public money as they like. So long as this belief is not corrected, more burdens will keep falling on the public. After all, it is the ass’s duty to carry burden.

For some years, whichever front is in power, the Electricity Minister has been going to New Delhi regularly to seek more time for reorganization of the Electricity Board. AK Balan is no different. Recently he sought and got a few more months’ time from the Union Energy Minister. A law enacted by Parliament requires all States to reorganize the Electricity Board. The time fixed to complete the process is over. Just as the Walancherry panchayat has the responsibility to follow the curriculum adopted by the State government the Kerala government has the responsibility to ensure that the Electricity Board functions according top the scheme laid down in the Central law. The former United Democratic Front could not discharge that responsibility. The present Left Democratic Front is also not able to do it.

In the Board there are forces that can frighten any minister. So the reorganization is not taking place. The minister does not also have the courage to tell the Centre that he is not able to do what is needed and get himself freed from the responsibility to reorganize the Board. This is not the problem of the Electricity Minister alone. When one looks at the working of the police, it is difficult to say the minister is running the department or the department is running the minister. It has been said that a people get the kind of government they deserve. Is it that the Malayalis deserve a government that shivers in front of seen and unseen powers?

Many problems that Kerala faces today evade solution because the government lacks the strength to face them truthfully. “Truthfully” needs to be underlined. Official centres themselves have admitted the presence of mafia gangs in different fields. The authorities fail to prevent the activities of not only powerful vested interests but also those involved in small crimes. Since there is no fear of getting caught or being punished, crimes increase.

In this disgusting scenario, it is comforting that there are indications that we have not completely lost our ability to become a civilized society. Fining for throwing garbage out, cancellation of permit of vehicle involved in an accident and prosecution for damaging a bus during a demonstration are not a big deal. Yet such news conveys the message that the authorities are ready to apprehend wrongdoers and bring them to book.

The most hopeful news is the interim recommendation of the KN Panicker Committee to make some changes in the controversial Social Science textbook. Those agitating against the book did not have faith in the committee. In fact, the UDF has set up a parallel committee. Many, including not only LDF supporters but also two UDF constituents, had rejected the allegation that the book was anti-religion. This writer had pointed out that though there is no substance in the allegations the standard of the book is of low. The committee’s proposal to rewrite parts of the book provides an opportunity to raise the standard.

The controversial book was prepared as part of a comprehensive programme for revision of textbook. Its low standard shows that those who were entrusted with the task had failed in their duty. In the circumstances, it will be appropriate to examine all textbooks prepared as part of the programme and ensure that they are of good quality. If the government is not ready to do this, there will be room to suspect that the committee’s recommendation is aimed at appeasing a religious group which has been alienated by the book and drawing it close to the LDF in the name of the nuclear deal.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated July 17, 2008

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