Could Social Impact Bonds Fight Slavery?

Social Impact Bonds as an effective way to tackle the age-old problem of bonded labour in India.

By Dallin Van Leuven, 20th April, 2015 

To pay off a family debt of only $50, 13-year-old Roghini was “mortgaged” to a family that made matchboxes in their home. Paid only 30 cents for every 1,500 boxes she made, Roghini worked alongside 20 other children for 11 hours a day just to try and earn enough to eat—though she often went hungry. The abusive treatment she received drove Roghini into such a deep depression that she tried to end her own life. Finally, three years after she was sold into slavery, a local group was able to pay off the debt and free her.

Millions of men, women, and children are working in India under similar conditions. India’s justice system has tried to free them for decades, to no avail. New strategies are needed where politicians and judges have failed. It is time for investors to step up. Continue reading

Where is Bosnia and Herzegovina going?

In this article, the author explores the nature of protests taking place in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

By Alejandro Marx, 26th November, 2013

The year 2013 has seen major protests around the world, including in Turkey, Brazil Romania and the ongoing ones in Bulgaria. The common thread that these protests have had was that they questioned the role of their elected representatives. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has also seen protests, although they haven’t been adequately covered by the international media.

BiH experienced from June 6 2013 a succession of protests in Sarajevo, which later spread to other cities of BiH. The protests were a result of the frustration with the complex working of the State of BiH, created after the 1992-1995 Civil War. BiH is divided into two major entities, Republika Srpska (the Serb entity) and the Bosnian Federation (the Croat and Bosniak entity), plus the Brcko District with is under the control of the both mayor entities. Both entities have their own parliaments. On the national level, the Parliamentary Assembly, with its two chambers (the House of Representatives and the House of Peoples), represents the ethnic groups. Decisions are taken on the basis of an agreement between each of the 3 ethnicities. An ethnic group which considers that a law is against its vital interests can veto it.

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Kyrgyzstan: dangers from outside and inside threaten stability

Kyrgyzstan has recently experienced an upsurge in tensions around the issue of pollution in the Kumtor Gold Mine, which it has not known since the ethnic riots of June 2010. Oppositional nationalists are using this tension to put Kyrgyzstan again on the edge of stability, at a moment when Islamist are growing strong in the region and Afghanistan is going through a security transition that could affect the rest of Central Asia.

By Alejandro Marx, 8th September, 2013

Since its independence in 1991, with the dissolution of the USSR, Kyrgyzstan has known stability until the ‘Tulip Revolution’ in 2005 when its first president Askar Akayev, elected in 1990 was succeeded by Kurmankek Bakiyev. Bakiyev left Kyrgyzstan in April 2010 as a result of violent street protests, followed soon after by ethnic riots. After the transitional presidency of Roza Otunbaeva, Almazbek Atambaev was inaugurated president  in December 2011. Atambaev is the leader of the Kyrgyzstan Social Democratic Party, which has 26 out of 120 seats in parliament. He previously held the post of prime minister in the governments of Bakiyev and Otunbaeva. His party rules an unstable coalition with the other parties, apart from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party.

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An Attempt to Discover India – Chapter 1

InPEC presents to you the “Discovery of India” log of Kartik Radhakrishnan, an engineering graduate student from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as he travels through India. In this post, he presents the story about a village in India which “has been forgotten by both the political and administrative executive of the country.”

Place : Aalapalayam (50km North of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu)
Date : 25th June, 2013

By Kartik Radhakrishnan, 10th July, 2013 (republished)

In the past few months, I have often asked myself the question “What do I consider to be a privilege in my life?” The answer seemed to be obvious “food, shelter and education.” Now that I think about it, this might have been a very shallow response from a guy sitting inside an AC room, oblivious to the actual hardships of the world. How about eating your food without the stench of an exposed drainage that runs around your house? How about a house whose roof falls on your head with every rainfall? How about the absence of an avenue to dispose your dead ones? Continue reading

The Unhappiness Factory of Kashmir

In an April 2012 issue of Open Magazine, the editor Manu Joseph wrote a provocatively titled essay, “Sorry, Kashmir is Happy”. Unsurprisingly, this article became the subject of heated discussion. In this InPEC article, the author – Sualeh Keen, a Kashmiri writer, poet and cultural critic – brings some perspective to this issue.  

By Sualeh Keen, 7th May 2012

Trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building—the elite fight to preserve it. ‘Don’t forget,’ is their predominant message, ‘Don’t forget to be traumatised.’ They want the wound of Kashmir to endure because the wound is what indicts India for the many atrocities of its military. This might be a long period of calm, but if the wound vanishes, where is the justice? India simply gets away with all those rapes, murders and disappearances? So nothing disgusts them more than these words: ‘Normalcy returns to Kashmir’; ‘Peace returns to the Valley’; ‘Kashmiris want to move on’.

When Manu Joseph wrote these words in the Open Magazine article ‘Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy’, it was but expected that ‘they’ would get disgusted and outraged. ‘They’ are the intellectual writers and online activists that constitute the second generation of Kashmiri Muslim separatists, the first generation being the Pakistan-trained mujahideen who fought with AK-47s, grenades, rockets, and bombs against ‘Hindu India’ in search of Azadi (literally, ‘freedom’). While originally Azadi meant the valley’s accession to Pakistan, after the Pakistan-sponsored armed uprising in the early 90’s failed and with the onset of internal turmoil in Pakistan, the meaning of Azadi has shifted from accession to Pakistan to independence from both India and Pakistan. This demand is largely confined to the Kashmiri Muslim community of the Kashmir valley, while finding little or no support in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State. Even in the valley, opinions are divided in favour of independence, accession to Pakistan, greater autonomy or self-rule within the Indian union, and political status quo.

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Heyns, the Final Straw for AFSPA in India?

In this article, the author discusses the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 of India, which has been used in the North Eastern states of India, and Jammu and Kashmir where counter-insurgency operations were carried out in the past several decades. This Act has come under heavy criticism from human rights advocates.

By Rithika Nair, May 1, 2012

Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings described India as “a living document … [of] human rights jurisprudence respected worldwide.” This extolling statement preceded his review of the country after brief visits to New Delhi, Gujarat, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and West Bengal. His detailed report on the issue will be submitted before the United Nations Human Rights Council only in 2013.

In a press release after his visit, he expressed concern regarding unlawful killings by State actors and non-State actors, delay in prosecution and lawful impunity. He touched upon the disproportional and unnecessary use of force by the police, encounter killings, custodial deaths, the death penalty, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, communal violence, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, violence against women, and most significantly measures of impunity and rewards instead of prosecution.

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The Case of the Missing Girl Child – Focus on Tamil Nadu, India

This article examines the issue of female infanticide in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. While the author is optimistic about the initiatives taken to eradicate the practice, there is emphasis on an understanding the issue at a more basic level and the need for a national level consciousness raising to change patriarchal attitudes. 


By Gowri Thampi 14th Feb, 2012

I was surprised when I read an article on infanticide by Athreya and Chunkath in the Economic and Political weekly twelve years ago. The horrible practice of female infanticide in Tamil Nadu had not gained media coverage until 1986, when the press highlighted its prevalence in Usilampatti, Madurai district, Tamil Nadu. Even then, it was assumed that this practice was only prevalent among a small minority in that area.

We have this idea, largely painted by the media and what appears before our well bred urban eyes, of India, one of continuous improvement and development. Either we deal with those who exalt the past glory of what is honestly an infant nation or those who speak of its future reign as a global super power, but rarely those who acknowledge the present realities without a defeatist attitude. Technology may have in fact contributed to the declining female sex ratio, though it wouldn’t have anything to do with female infanticide as opposed to female feticide.

This Google Motion Chart (click here) serves as a great tool to visualize the sex ratio in Tamil Nadu and individual districts over time. Click on the link and play around with it. Note that Tamil Nadu started off with far more girl babies than boy babies per thousand and sex ratio declined steadily till the 1990s after which we have seen some increase. You can look at individual districts as well over time, setting unique colors for them, and using opacity settings to view them individually, sex ratio changes will be observed along the diagonal, with an increase being an upward movement along the diagonal.

I see the work done to eliminate female infanticide in Tamil Nadu as a welcome blend of realism and optimism. Before I go into the measures, I will touch on female infanticide itself as a social issue. At the bare bones level, it’s a crime, murder, murder euphemized by so many almost polite sounding words that it is with a jerk alike the response to a sharp rap on the knuckles that we must remind ourselves that we are dealing with parental murder of their infants, babies who are girls, killed, because they are girls. Why then should we not deal with the issue like we deal with murder? Charge the accused, send them to jail. Apart from the obvious reasons like underreported births and deaths, ease of being mistaken for a case of infant mortality and the difficulty to get to the actual instigator as opposed to the hapless mother who may have been threatened to commit the act, we must understand that many practices held illegal in the eyes of law and the moral eyes of many well meaning educated citizens have large scale social legitimacy in various closed rural societies.

What grants practices social legitimacy is a grand question I do not want to get involved in right away as that may turn this article into a rant. It suffices to say that despite what the zealots may think, our morality is relativist; it is dependent on a host of cultural and temporal variables. What was moral in the medieval world is not moral today, what was moral in Usilampatti is not moral in Bangalore’s IT hubs. What I will talk about, is the core ideology that runs through urban and rural India, the rich and the poor, the impact of which varies only in the magnitude and the hues of its manifestation. That is patriarchy.

At the core of female infanticide are not murderous parents looking for ways to inflict torture on their babies but victims of an ideology condoned even by those who condemn this heinous avatar of it. Given this, any attempt to address the issue of female infanticide without trying to address the bigger problem of the patriarchy itself can only serve as cursory bandage on a deep internal wound. Well a cursory bandage would help to stem the flow of blood while society tries to deal with its internal injuries. Here I would like to talk about some such attempts to reduce the rate at which female infants die at the hands of their parents.

The cradle baby scheme was instituted by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa In 1992 in Salem, it was extended to Madurai, Theni, Dindingul, Dharmapuri, Erode and Namakkal districts by 2001. Under the scheme mothers were allowed to anonymously drop off their infants in government run centers in these districts. There were 188 centers in these districts. By the end of 2007, 2410 female babies and 390 male babies were received in these centers. Dharmapuri had the largest number of female babies received at 965, closely followed by Salem with a total of 915 female babies received. It is undoubted that this scheme has saved the lives of many infants who have later been given up for adoption in India and abroad.

This however wasn’t the only scheme instituted by the government. Recognizing the importance of local government participation and education of the people, the government also funded theater troupes to stage street plays (kalaipayanams) to educate the rural public about the cause. Training actors for the plays, repeat performances by the troupes with themes including humor with a deep message helped in getting the word around. In Dharmapuri district from April 26 to June 6 1998, 18 troupes carried out 3,000 performances according to Athreya, Chunkath.

While the cradle baby scheme saved lives, there is evidence that the work of the troupes helped to balance the sex ratio.

However when in 2011, the Chief Minister, once again Jayalalithaa, decided to extend the cradle baby scheme to other districts namely,Cuddalore, Perambalur, Ariyalur, Villupuram and Tiruvannamalai , due to the falling sex ratio in these districts, there was criticism. Critics claimed that the scheme makes parents more prone to abandoning their children, particularly girls. I do not understand how such a statement can be made when the sex ratio clearly indicates that, female fetuses, and (more likely due to India’s pre natal sex determination laws,) infants are being killed off. The babies that end up in the cradle would have very likely ended up in the grave, or at least faced an extremely grim future. The critics however are right that the scheme has to be supplemented with more work in restructuring our society.

The above efforts while laudable do not address the widespread prevalence of patriarchy, a society structured around the male. This issue will have to be addressed at a level which requires a countrywide awakening. Patriarchy cannot be eradicated by a series of half measures which considers some evils to be lesser evils and thus acceptable, we will have to fight inequality at every level, however subtle, because it is the attitude in itself which is dangerous and needs to change.

Not all the symptoms of patriarchy are as heinous as female infanticide, some of them materialize as seemingly trivial issues like asking a girl why she would choose to study mechanical engineering, isn’t that a man’s field? It manifests itself in the scourge of dowry which even the educated and wealthy indulge in, at the root of it all is the myopic vision of a woman as a second rate citizen who needs to be under the watchful eye of a male, either he father or a husband. That leads to the burden on the parents for finding a husband for their daughter, right from the day she is born. Large dowries are paid off to ensure the woman can be handed over to a male custodian, astrologers are consulted if a woman remains single for too long and she fasts on certain days of the week so she may find that man, because she can never be an independent individual in society. She has to be under somebody’s watchful eye. The rich provide their daughters with all that society requires, the poor dreading the consequences of not fulfilling social requirements, conclude that death is better for their daughters.

It is easy to brush aside the mentioned subtler forms of patriarchy though they, like female infanticide, are just symptoms of the same disease. Ignoring some of the issues leads to wrongs greater than the ones ignored, which is why I never mince my words when people ask me why, being a girl, I don’t settle down fast instead of studying so much. I have scant regards for the ‘feelings’ of those who start their sentences with “You are a girl…” It is more than my ego or theirs at stake here, it is the wellbeing of our entire society and the lives of little babies all over India, eaten up by a cancer we choose to close our eyes to.


  • Chunkath, S. , & Athreya, V. (1997). Female Infanticide in Tamil Nadu: Some Evidence. Economic and Political Weekly, 32(17), WS21-WS25+WS27-.


  • Kandwami, D. (2005). Cradling Humanity, Saving Lives. Herizons, 19(2), 11.


India’s Anti-graft Protests: Why Demands for Inclusiveness are Not a Distraction From Fighting Corruption

In this article, the author brings to light some of the criticism that the Anna Hazare led anti-corruption agitation is facing on counts of not being inclusive enough.


By Arvind Iyer, 5 Jan, 2012

Team Anna, as the group of largely ex-bureaucrat activists headed by anti-graft agitator Anna Hazare has been christened by commentators, had earned praise through much of 2011 for being able to articulate a unanimous-sounding consensus of Indian civil society across the barriers that render it notoriously fractious. Even some of their detractors had conceded Team Anna’s success in rallying a typically apathetic citizenry around a cause backed by a mobilization and momentum which is thought of by many educated city-dwellers as grievously lacking in a parliamentary system crippled by the ‘politics of identity’ and coalition compulsions.

By the year-end however, the response to Anna Hazare’s latest edition of his hunger-strike protest was underwhelming and the growing unease with an apparent authoritarian streak in Team Anna became palpable. What was just months ago one of the most successful campaigns in recent Indian history looked no less dysfunctional than the Parliament it takes potshots at. The dilemmas of ‘Coalition Dharma’ which complicate governance in India are no less applicable to Team Anna if it claims to represent Indian society in its identity. The manufactured unanimity of Team Anna seems sustained by a self-assured insularity from dissenting voices, which if heeded would give Team Anna pause. This is in part because activists besides the telegenic Team Anna get scanty mainstream media coverage, thus creating an illusion of nationwide consensus. Following are some voices which ought to give Team Anna and its supporter’s pause, if not from their legislation-obsessed agitation, at least from their repeated accusations of their critics as divisive and unpatriotic.

  • Team Anna’s way of addressing concerns about inclusiveness have been transparently stage-managed and tokenist. Shekhar Gupta, the editor of the Indian Express daily, writes: “Representative inclusiveness, they probably believed, was part of our cynical electoral politics though that did not stop them from having a Dalit and a Muslim girl help Anna break his fast, making it the first time that a child was described as “Dalit” on a public stage in a mass rally.” The photo-op which seems to have been hastily ‘Photoshopped’ on to a movement largely indifferent to concerns of diversity, also raised concerns among some viewers about the unintended consequences of religious labeling of children.

  • The boundaries of ‘peaceful protest’ are always in the risk of being breached by Team Anna’s implicit endorsement of elements whose commitment towards adhering to constitutional propriety and prevention of civil unrest, seems questionable. A case in point is a black-flag demonstration against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by alleged supporters of Team Anna, during his New Year visit to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The choice of protest venue in Amritsar was irresponsible for the obvious reason that it could potentially open the wounds left by the upheavals of the 1980s in the said shrine, which is viewed by a significant portion of the said community as a site of a government assault on their faith. If this irresponsible choice of protest venue did not lead to something untoward, it is in part due to the unimpressive numbers of the protestors and the overwhelming security presence. Better civic sense is expected of a movement supposedly representing ‘Civil Society’ than such an exacerbating of security concerns. Also, a better explanation is expected from Team Anna than doublespeak simultaneously defending and disowning supporters, if it is to retain its credentials as movement insisting on public probity.

  • When it is well-known that India suffers more from lack of enforcement of existing laws than the absence of laws in statute books, the Lok Pal model is inordinately obsessed with augmenting the lists of penalties, leaving intact the slackness of enforcement and lack of transparency that provide the opportunity for corruption in the first place. Also, an informer-rewarding ‘police-state’ that the proposed Jan Lok Pal regime resembles, may have the side-effect of inducing officials to recruit and reward officials who are pliable and willing to exchange favours for silence, thus exacerbating inequities like nepotism and workplace discrimination in government offices which affect delivery of service to citizens besides graft.

  • Inclusiveness has rightly been part of the national agenda at least in letter if not in spirit and Team Anna’s attitude towards mechanisms of inclusiveness has been either indifferent or borderline hostile. There has been a tendency among Team Anna supporters in online discussions to accuse anyone raising concerns about inclusiveness of playing ‘identity politics’ and being establishment lackeys. A case for critics of government intervention for inclusiveness to consider, is this measure by the Karnataka government for inclusive hiring in school-meal kitchens. A point to ponder for critics of the ‘politics of representation’ is, would people divided by caste have voluntary chosen to mingle in a school kitchen without that nudge from the elected government?

  • Team Anna’s vision of an India which, far from its professed aim of ‘Direct Democracy’ involves a replication of the Ralegan Siddhi model nationwide i.e. a series of ‘Ashram-cracies’ revolving around a patriarch, in a proto-industrial setting with curtailed civil liberties, is a vision that does not resonate with much of India’s aspirational youth.

  • Land acquisition policies and resulting displacements, the denuding of natural resources by a corporate-political nexus and imposition of near-martial-law conditions in some parts via the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, are contributing on at least as large a scale as government corruption in disenfranchising citizens and even turning some towards insurrections; thus calling into question Team Anna’s description of corruption as the greatest national risk which must be fought mindless of all others.

In the interest of genuinely playing their legitimate and very timely role as a civil-society group, this is an opportune moment for Team Anna to introspect on how their protests can sometimes be counterproductive, how the loose cannons among their supporters can be appropriately restrained and marshalled and how to broaden their dwindling base of support.

10 Reasons why India is not the Next Superpower

In this article, the author presents ten issues that are holding India back and have crippled India to some extent. He makes the case that if these problems are not overcome, India will not be a future “superpower”, as some claim it will be.  


By Mikael Santelli-Bensouda, 4 Jan, 2012

There is an increasing vigour with which international observers speak of the rise of India. According to many, it seems that those who placed bets on China becoming the next dominant power are wrong and in fact India was the right choice. This is based upon the assumption that India is destined to become the next real global player by virtue of three integral factors: it is the world’s largest democracy; it has an absurdly large and predominantly young population, and its ascension into the global elite of power economies is inevitable.

However, have we asked ourselves enough questions about the so-called emerging power? What is the reality of the Indian condition? Has hyperbolic economic growth planted the seeds for a truly gregarious society? Is democracy moving the masses forward or fostering a residue of stagnation? With the dawning of a new year, it is an appropriate time to dispel the romanticised image of the emerging Indian powerhouse by identifying 10 key areas that prevent India from being considered as a global superpower.

  1. Democracy

Democracy is the right and only form of governance. This is a concept that nations of the West are familiar with and in recent years India has become a part of that democratic axis. For reasons that may appear obvious to most, it is rare that questions are asked about the validity or potency of democracy’s utility. Essentially, the assumption stands that; if democracy is in place then there is no better system that can improve the lot of that nation. Therefore, if a democratic government is failing to address the concerns of its people; it is not the fault of the system but the fault of a group of ‘bad apples’ within society. There are no two ways about it, the Indian government over the last couple decades has not been addressing the most essential needs of its people (explored below).

Yet, despite the seemingly under-productive governance system, Indian’s are ferociously proud of their democracy. However, they are less than impressed with the manner in which it currently operates. Admissions of corruption, hypocrisy, elitism and nepotism are ever-present when discussing national politics with any Indian. Despite democracy’s ability to represent the average person’s wishes (which is in itself an illusion in a country as diverse and populated as India) there has been a distinct lack of meaningful progress across the board. It is relevant, given the feats achieved by India’s tumultuous neighbour China, to question whether a democratic system is to be blindly accepted as ‘the only way’. History tells us quite bluntly that authoritarian regimes (of varying degrees) have had as much, if not more, success in establishing functioning societies than democratic nations. In fact, a true expression of democracy has yet to engender a world power. Controversial, I hear you cry. All of the European powers, a segregated United States, Imperial Japan, the coming of China and all ancient empires share one simple fact; they did not represent all of their citizens in their decision making processes, instead they took decisions on their behalf. Democratic regimes tend to be election wary and in doing so lack a long-term vision that a country like India is desperate for. I am not arguing for a Chinese-style authoritarian leadership but I pose this simple question: do you think it is possible for India to emulate what the Chinese have done in terms of infrastructure, poverty, energy needs and generally safeguarding the future of its population on a centralised five-year electoral cycle? It seems highly improbable given the current state of affairs.

  1. Corruption

A large part of the reason democracy in India seems impotent is the fact that corruption is interwoven into the very fabric of Indian governance. The country suffers from corruption on a scale that would make Nigeria’s late dictator, General Sani Abacha, roll over in his grave. Corruption stifles the country in a number of ways. It siphons off necessary funding for: essential development, anti-poverty initiatives, energy security and many, many more. It has become synonymous with politics in India.

Perhaps one of the worst features of India’s endemic corruption is that it is unashamedly present. Like a plot from a Bollywood movie, it seems that factions within society extol their ability to command such devious power. This of course has created a backlash. Like most of the world, India has not escaped the ‘year of protests’ unscathed. The Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement has captured the imagination of millions and, rightly or wrongly, seems to be a voice for a discontented underbelly of unrepresented lower classes and the aspirant middle-classes. Despite the downturn in the intensity for the Hazare movement in recent weeks it does not signal that the Indian people are happy with the current status of the Lokpal Bill and corruption is no longer an important issue. Far from it. Corruptions synonymy with the political establishment not only affects the legitimacy of the current Singh government and his National Congress Party, but also engenders a twofold reaction as it dangerously erodes faith in the political establishment (which could lead to protest votes for extreme parties) whilst neglecting the responsibility to address the problems of tomorrow.

  1. Infrastructure

India is soon to find herself in the midst of a golden opportunity to signal to the world, and more importantly her own people, that the country is upgrading its infrastructure inline with the 21st Century. The current transport system is largely a continuation of what the British left behind. Despite the age and condition of much of the national train network and roads systems, they continue to defy logical explanation by servicing the burgeoning population. However, this system is slowly reaching its tipping point and will not last forever. Rather than waiting for the system to fail, it is time to ensure India keeps moving into the next century.

Mumbai is a perfect example to demonstrate the state and nations wanton disregard for the transportation issue. It is India’s most densly populated city, it is the financial and entertainment capital, it plays host to Asia’s busiest train terminus and houses some of the world’s most expensive hotels. Also consider that the city is a logistical nightmare were a one-way commute can take hours, trains are beyond overcrowded and the Chhatrapati Shivaji airport, located in the middle of the city, is serviced to death. After ten years of political wrangling planning permission has been given for another airport located in a more sensible location. Bets are off on guessing which decade the building will be completed in.

Talk to any Indian with some affiliation to Mumbai and the response is always the same: it is too crowded! A unfortunate coincidence of geography prohibits outward expansion, self-interest and political stubbornness prevents relocation to a more appropriate northwardly location. This should not stop the authorities from implementing strategies to alleviate the congestion, especially for the hellish commute. The Delhi Metro can offer double-edged inspiration in this regard. Whilst its emergence has been a great success for India’s capital it highlights the uninspiring nature of the Indian government’s perspective on infrastructure. Why the Mumbai phase of the metro was not ‘ready to roll’ as soon as Delhi was finished is simply baffling. If any city in the world was in need of a metro its certainly Mumbai, yet it seems more effort is being placed in the construction of the Jaipur metro.

  1. Bureaucracy

The generic accusation aimed at bureaucracies is that it is detrimental to efficiency. Speed it seems is the sacrificial lamb. At present, India can do without extra delays, it would benefit much more from swift and rational decisions. The justice system in India is painfully slow and complicated much like its political decision-making. As a political risk and consultancy group, based in Hong Kong, announced in last year’s report India’s bureaucracy is one of the most stifling in the world. This derives from too much political interference in a less than transparent system. It also translates into difficult foreign business ventures that carry excessive ‘administration fees’.

  1. Ethnicity & Religion

An obvious fact: India is an ethnically and religiously diverse concoction. What is less obvious is that no previous global super power has been heterogeneous. Yes, many have included diverse peoples but they were not founded upon the notion of equality amongst men. Even the United States was founded and unified around its white northern European immigration. Historically, it seems, homogeneity is a staple ingredient for a superpower status. As such, India faces a monumental challenge from its internal divisions that more than occasionally lead to fractious tendencies.

Difficulties have arisen and will continue to arise given the deep seeded tensions between Hindus and Muslims, people and state, and caste against caste. Unfortunately, in recent years religious violence against Muslims in the state of Gujarat can attest that diversity is not being used in a positive force. The most troubling factor is the construction and reinforcement of an ‘other’ within and across Indian society. A notion that is readily intensified by the perpetual antagonisms with Pakistan and it is for this reason it is not difficult to understand modern manifestations of religious tensions across society. The nation must come to terms with its own skin before it can even begin to project power externally.

  1. Energy

India is an energy dependent nation. The majority of its energy needs are satisfied from imports. With the relentless rise in oil prices and perpetual instability across global commodity markets, energy dependency in the near future represents a highly volatile arena wherein states compete to satisfy their own needs. And therein lies the problem, India cannot outspend cash-rich nations like neighbouring China, India cannot match the physical capabilities to ensure energy security like the US and India currently lacks the international influence that European nations are desperately clinging on to. There is a necessity to make substantial moves now to ensure some semblance of imported energy guarantees for the coming decades. For without any energy how can India modernise?

What of the possibility for turning to domestic green energy? You could be forgiven for muttering ‘fat chance’, you really could. India aligns itself with the majority of the world in this regard, it makes the right noises about such endeavours yet does little to enact them. However, with a spot of forward planning (and a gigantic amount of political will and a substantial stack of rupees), India could move towards a sustainable energy system that services transport needs as well as business and personal consumption.

  1. Hypercapitalism

However, investment in green solutions holds little hope due to the monopolistic nature of capitalism. Power derives from those with financial capabilities and if the green option does not align with the interests of the powerful utility and energy companies you can be sure neo-liberal India will not rock the boat. The most disturbing facet of the Indian paradox is the extent to which capitalism operates. Akin to a bodybuilder on steroids, it severely distorts India’s natural economic potential, exposes her labour force to the ruthless desires of the world market and encourages oligopoly.

People will point to the fact that India has one of the highest number of millionaires on the planet, but in contrast India’s poverty index is as bad, if not worse than sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps its most abhorrent feature is that it provides an excuse for overlooking or condemning the masses under the poverty line, as capitalism assumes your own financial situation is in your own hands.

  1. Poverty

Simply put, before India can even dream of becoming a influential player in international affairs it must lift over half a billion of its own people out of poverty.

  1. The Caste System

Even though the caste system was officially abolished with the creation of the Indian constitution, it is still prevalent in the minds of millions. Its existence reinforces differences. Much in the same way that ethnic and religious differences impede India’s development as a truly gregarious nation, the caste system also inhibits development. When divisions amongst people constitute a significant part of societal interactions (or there lack of) yet the society itself advocates equality for all, it is possible to see that these contradictions can provide internal backlash if caste consciousness emerges.

  1. Attitude to Foreigners

Another trait that has been a prevalent feature of ‘superpowers’ of yester year is the manner in which they see themselves in relation to others. There is a strong sense of exceptionalism that underpins the ability to rise above, one which usually comes at the expense of other people. The Indian condition seems to be largely different to this. Rather than adopt an exceptionalist identity with regards to foreigners (surrounding nations such as Pakistan and Bangladesh are the exception) they reinforce their superiority internally amongst their own people.

In many respects skin colour is an integral factor within Indian society. That translates into a strange psychological relationship between the fairer Indians who, by no coincidence of history, find themselves in the higher echelons of society, white Europeans, especially Anglo-Saxons and the large mass of darker skinned Indians. In essence, India still holds psychological baggage from its colonial history. It is something that sections of society are unwilling to relinquish due to the associated benefits of power and prestige supplemented by the international bombardment of the ‘white is right’ paradigm. However, to overcome this is a prerequisite in a country where peoples skin colours vary as widely as the colours of India’s magnificent saaris.

In no way are these ten categories impossible problems that condemn India to mediocrity and chaos indefinitely. Each category can (and should) be transformed into a positive attribute of the Indian experience. In fact, should a solid amount of foresight and vision be employed then each of these obstacles will either become a source of strength or goal to be achieved. Yet, for the time being these represent very real challenges that are in serious need of address before they escalate. Furthermore, each is intertwined with the other. No one obstacle will be overcome alone. A holistic approach is the order of the day and I harbour my doubts that the Indian ruling elite is currently prepared to meet the requirements of its people and thus ensure the prosperity of India’s future.

Redressing Grievances: Why India’s New Administrative Reform Legislation May Not Work

In this article, the author analyses the structural problems of India’s administration which are likely to hamper the functioning of the Citizens’ Right to Grievance Redressal Bill, 2011.

By Siddharth Singh, 16 Dec, 2011

The Citizens’ Right to Grievance Redressal Bill is set to be tabled in the Indian Parliament in the current parliamentary session, after a delay of several years. In the recent months, the Jan Lokpal (Citizens’ Ombudsperson) agitation led by Anna Hazare, which brought to light the people’s frustration with the corruption and inefficiency of the administration, has brought a sense of haste to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government in the passing of this legislation.

The draft of the bill was posted on a Government website a few months ago (infuriatingly, in the Comic Sans font). This bill is not significantly different in its key tenets from the already-enacted state-level service delivery acts and the other drafts that have been put out by civil society groups such as Anna Hazare’s team.

The bill makes it mandatory for government departments to lay out ‘Citizens’ Charters’, which is a document which specifies the obligations and duties of the department and the administrators, along with the time frame of the delivery of the services. In other words, this bill legislates the right to time bound delivery of services by the government. The bill proposes that violations of service delivery are identified and the erring administrators punished.

This legislation is hence purported go a long way in improving service delivery and even fighting corruption. However, there are structural issues with the administrative setup in India which may render the bill ineffective.

Who defines the services?

The foremost problem with the bill is the lack of the definition of “public service”. The draft of the bill does not have an appropriate definition of what constitutes a service. Even if it did, it would be difficult to implement it across the board. For instance, the passport department is obligated to provide passports after appropriate verification. It would be easy to time-bound the delivery of passports, and to punish those administrators who violate the deadline for reasons they could control.

However, the issue is significantly different in the case of the roads and highways departments in the country. The construction of roads is contingent on budgetary allocations, the status of tenders and contracts with private contractors, technical feasibility and other issues. In case there was a substantial demand for the construction of roads where there are none, the responsible administrator would be swamped with work he or she may not be able to complete within the specified time frame.

The government, possibly for this reason, has left the creation of the Citizens’ Charter in the hands of the heads of the respective departments. This too can be problematic. If the head of the passport department refuses to add the time bound delivery of verified passports, then there is nothing a citizen can do about it. On the other hand, in case the citizens themselves or public representatives were made to create the citizens’ charter, then they would add provisions that would be administratively infeasible and unreasonable to meet. Appointing representative committees to address this issue would also be difficult given the multiplicity of departments.

Who is responsible?

The other issue is that of responsibility. This issue is twofold. Firstly, the draft bill and the existing state-level acts legislate that in case the administrator fails to meet the deadline of service provision, the matter would go straight to the head of the department. The administrators involved in service provision are often at the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy. This has serious implications on the work of the department since the heads are put in place manage and plan at organisational levels. In case they are swamped with such complains, they will not be able to concentrate on their core duties of, inter alia, planning and modernisation.

Secondly, service provision is like often like a relay-race. The service is often linked to to a chain of decision making and operational processes which lead all the way to the top of the administration, and even beyond. In order to win the relay-race, all the runners will have to do their share of running. If any of them fails to do so, the team loses. However, the Grievance Redressal bill purports to only punish the final runner.

To take a more relevant example, in the past few years, the state of Rajasthan has seen protests in villages because the schools in that region have an inadequate number of teachers. In some cases, there are schools with no teachers at all! In order to address this issue, the administrators responsible for ensuring the postings of teachers have done what they could do – they transferred teachers from different villages to the ones where the protests were on. This pacified the protesting villages, but didn’t really address the problem at all, since other schools were made to face the shortage.

In such cases, the administrators often had no choice: there is a shortage of teachers because bureaucrats at the top have not recruited in adequate numbers. They, in turn, have not been able to do so because the ministers of their department have not sanctioned enough posts. (This, in turn, may be because the state doesn’t have the finances for the extra jobs.) However, the Grievance Redressal bill does not account for such structural issues. The only entities responsible are the service-providing administrators at the bottom.

A cylindrical administration

When India got its independence in 1947, the literacy rate was less than 20% and the average life expectancy at birth was in the early 30s. Over the years, with rising standards of living, increasing prosperity and growing state expenditure and finances, the awareness of people has also increased. Naturally, the demand for public services has increased by magnitudes, but the government hasn’t been able to keep pace.

The administration has not grown in size proportionally, which has led to woeful staff shortages. The primary reason for this is financial. Increases in public finances since Independence have led to increases in spending in social schemes and subsidies. Curtailing hiring has been an easy way to save money to divert towards other vote-winning initiatives. On the other hand, given the work load (and political considerations), high ranking bureaucrats have been retained in the administration without concern for administrative structure.

The result of this is that the department structures now are cylindrical rather than pyramidal. Often, the reason for delay in service provision is a result of this, as departments get burdened with more work than they can handle. Many departments are said to run with 40-50% capacity. The police to population ratio, for example, is 145 per 100,000 population, far short of the UN stated minimum of 222 (most advanced nations far exceed this number). That makes it a shortage of over 80,000 police personnel in the country! Of course, administrative sloth, corruption and incompetence are major reasons for delays in work too. While the Grievance Redress bill can take care of the latter, it will end up delivering perverse outcomes as it attempts to deal with the former.

If genuine cases of delays due to overwork are penalised, it will lead to the able administrators leaving for greener pastures. This problem is compounded because the bill (and the draft presented by Anna Hazare’s team) state that any act of repeated delay in service provision will be deemed as an act of “corruption.” This issue is hence very grave and is also the reason why heads of departments in states where such acts are already in place are not adding core functions to the Citizens’ Charter.

Making the bill work

In order to make this bill work, it is imperative that the governments at the centre and in the states work towards filling up the vacancies. Reforms to reshape administrative structures are important. Additionally, it must be ensured that “services” are properly defined and only those services are included in the Citizens’ Charters that are not directly dependent on budgetary allocations. Without these, the Citizens’ Charters will likely look empty or full of non-critical services, hence rendering the bill ineffective.

Postscript: In an interesting anecdote, a senior bureaucrat was once imprisoned in the state of Andhra Pradesh for not following a District Court’s directive. The court had directed him to appoint a junior level administrator to a certain post within a given time frame. In fact, the bureaucrat was helpless as the orders for recruitment had not been passed by the minister-in-charge. Given there was no one to appoint, he couldn’t possibly fill up the vacancy. However, the judge wouldn’t hear any of it. The bureaucrat ended up in jail for no real fault of his, and the case moved up to a higher court for appeal.