Sunday, August 08, 2004

PAPER BARRIERS OF GRIEF

Times of India, Aug 7, 2004

One of the better things to come from this new government is a welcome focus on governance. The Left's strident threat to raise government spending on poverty and social programmes so terrified everyone — raising the spectre of blowing away the nation's hard earned savings — that our sensible prime minister quickly responded. In his first address to the nation he declared that his top priority is to change the way government runs. He followed this up with a strong letter to the CMs urging them to improve the delivery of services to the poor. Next, he got his cabinet secretary working on key administrative reforms to improve implementation by the bureaucracy.

Manmohan Singh is aware that eliminating unwanted laws or simplifying them is a powerful way to improve governance. Ten years ago when he was finance minister, he set up a group under Bibek Debroy precisely to examine this. The group made an exhaustive study of central laws and concluded that 1,500 out of 3,500 laws were obsolete. If they were scrapped or significantly modified the citizen's life would improve. Known as Project LARGE, the group brought out 30 reports and seven books that Allied published between 1994 and 1998. Arun Jaitley, as law minister, scrapped 350 of these laws. Now is the time, Dr Manmohan Singh, to follow through with the good work you began.

Although our PM thinks that most delivery problems are in the states, there are plenty at the centre too, and I shall illustrate with two examples. There is a Protector of Emigrants, an office created in the 1980s when Indians began working in large numbers in the Middle East. Meant to protect our workers from being exploited, it has become in reality a paper barrier of grief for poor Indians going abroad. Obtaining the prized ECNR stamp (Emigrant Check Not Required) on the passport is as difficult as getting a passport, and a poor worker is forced to fill the pockets of touts and corrupt officials. Graduates have little difficulty in getting the stamp, and it is now planned to exempt those who have passed high school (10+2). But why not get rid of it completely? The law never made sense — when millions work in miserable conditions at home, why should the government set standards in which Indians work abroad? The law could not prevent the Malta boat tragedy, nor stop Indian mercenaries fighting in Iraq. If the PM scraps the law, he will bring joy to many grateful Indians who want to work overseas, including his fellow Sikhs in the districts of Punjab.

A second example is a law that harasses thousands of idealistic young people engaged in volunteer work. To receive funds from abroad, charity groups and NGOs need clearance under Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA), which was enacted during the Emergency in 1976 by Indira Gandhi to stop foreign money going to the opposition, especially to Jayaprakash Narayan's movement. Today, the FCRA is a paper barrier used by bureaucrats mainly to extract bribes. It has not stopped a single terrorist from getting foreign funds. Isn't it time we abolished FCRA in the same spirit as we scrapped FERA? The liberalisation of controls will give a huge fillip to philanthropy in India and improve the lives of voluntary workers and the poor who benefit from their work.These two examples illustrate the real task of government. This is what the BJP should reflect upon in its chintan baithaks; this is what the Leftists should rant about on the tube; this is what will reduce corruption; and this is what will win elections.

4 comments:

Medical Blog said...

Ten years ago when he was finance minister, he set up a group under Bibek Debroy precisely to examine this.

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