News clipping on 20-07-2018


Don’t Kill RTI

Instead of shackling information commissioners, use them to improve transparency

TOI Editorials

Proposed amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, that will allow Union government to prescribe the tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of service of central and state information commissioners, will undermine their autonomy and make them subservient to government. Currently, information commissioners (IC) serve for five years. In the amendment’s statement of object and reasons, government engages in some pointless nitpicking on the duties and status of public authorities. It concludes that because EC and SC are constitutional bodies unlike the RTI which is statutory, the latter’s “status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly”. It is 13 years since the RTI Act came into existence and citizens aren’t complaining about empowering RTI. On the contrary, RTI has been welcomed with open arms because it gave beleaguered citizens a critical window into governance whose poor quality owes to its opacity and unaccountability.

Reports of heartburn among senior bureaucrats because of juniors securing post-retirement jobs as ICs had emerged earlier. Grudging the post its perks because these subvert rigid hierarchies in bureaucracy reveal RTI’s low stature in government circles. The Act envisaged appointment of persons of eminence in various walks of public life as ICs. However, ex-babus have cornered the position, which requires a proactive attitude towards disclosing information unlike that of the typical bureaucrat. With its downgrade, fewer people of eminence will apply. Reforms to ensure diversity among information commissioners and filling up posts as soon as they fall vacant will foster transparency and faster disposal of appeals. While the government professes a commitment to fighting corruption, downgrading RTI’s status will cripple an existing deterrent to corruption. It will also provide supporting evidence for opposition claims that government is out to erode institutions. Let RTI stay as it is.


Export Or Perish

Why India must achieve a quantum jump in exports to drive growth

Amitabh Kant, (The writer is CEO, NITI Aayog)

A quantum jump in exports presents a tremendous opportunity for India. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s production takes place in global value chains. Integrating with these supply chains will not only bring welfare gains, they will also increase efficiency and drive growth. Conditions are ripe for India to enhance exports to boost economic growth. India’s economy cannot survive without exports. In 2017-18, exports of goods and services contributed about 12% of India’s GDP. In contrast, exports made up over 42% of South Korea’s GDP. Similarly, in 2006, when China was growing at nearly 13%, the share of exports in GDP was more than 37%. For India to achieve double digit growth, exports will be a crucial part of the strategy.

Although India’s exports have been rising of late, there remains ample room for further growth. In 2017-18, exports of goods and services grew by nearly 13%. Exports grew by over 20% in May 2018 compared to May 2017. It seems as if the dip in exports witnessed over the last five years may be behind us. This is an opportune time to shift gears and pursue exports more aggressively, building on the government’s existing initiatives. Several measures, such as ensuring exporters receive GST refunds for raw materials in a timely manner, are undoubtedly critical to raising exports in the short term. At the same time, higher exports must be sustained in the medium and long term. This will not be possible if we don’t remove the barriers to firms’ scaling up.

Larger firms not only witness lower per-unit costs, they also benefit from global competition that drives them to continuously increase productivity levels. We don’t need to look far from home to see this in practice. India’s automotive sector has been successful in large part due to the ability of domestic firms to scale up. Promoting clusters and zones of production will facilitate firms becoming larger. The government is focusing on manufacturing clusters, especially around coastal areas so that exports can be dispatched faster given their proximity to ports. Cluster-based manufacturing will allow firms to save on costs while the location close to coastal areas will save transportation cost and time.

In 2010-11, 72% of India’s manufacturing workforce was employed in firms with less than 20 workers each. However, they contributed less than 12% of manufacturing output. Removing barriers faced by micro, small and medium firms (MSMEs) with respect to accessing capital, hiring workers and acquiring land will help these firms expand and increase productivity. In 2017, India ranked 146th out of 190 economies on the World Bank’s “trading across borders” component of doing business, which measures the time and cost (excluding tariffs) associated with documentary and border compliance and domestic transport procedures for trading goods. Indian exporters on average took nearly four times the time taken by Chinese exporters to comply with border compliance requirements in 2017.

We can reduce border and port turnaround times and lower the cost of trading through a number of measures. First, we need to focus on digitisation across ports. Last mile online access and moving processes completely online will help cut down compliance times drastically. Second, we should ensure that major non-Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) ports are converted to EDI ports urgently for faster clearances. The EDI message exchange system facilitates documentation related activities such as authorisations across departments. Third, we must ensure policy consistency to reduce informational barriers. The Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) issued about 173 tariff-related notifications between April 1, 2015 and June 27, 2018. The large number of additional notifications increases the complexity of trade rules.

States govern many issues related to ease of doing business. For example, they grant firms electricity and water connections. They also govern property registration. Thus, states play an important role in helping firms operate smoothly. Studies have found Indian states that engage in foreign and interstate trade are richer than non-exporting states. Thus, states also need to play a major role in boosting exports by easing the business environment, enhancing digitisation and strengthening infrastructure and connectivity. There has been a growing recognition of standards as a driver of trade and technical development. The commerce and industry ministry has been promoting use of international standards by Indian exporters, recently releasing a National Strategy for Standardisation. Adjusting to these standards will help firms tap international markets. In certain sectors – such as agriculture and food processing – the lack of compliance with standards has prevented exporters from penetrating markets such as the US, EU and Japan.

Conformity with sanitary and phytosanitary measures will help Indian food products become globally acceptable. Global standards are continually evolving. In addition to compliance by Indian manufacturing firms, identification of specific standards and regulations across different sectors by industry bodies and relevant ministries will help India participate in global value chains. Indian firms should ensure they stay abreast of international developments in the space of standards and technical regulations. Conforming to changes in a timely manner plays a prime role in shaping market access of Indian goods and services. While the rest of the world is looking inwards, India needs to take a contrarian view and focus on exports by targeting large global markets. To drive its own development with vigour India needs to boost exports through promoting size and scale, ease the business environment and adjust to global standards. These measures will help India integrate with global value chains and achieve robust and sustained economic growth.


स्कूलों में फिर शुरू हुआ पास और फेल का खेल

आरटीई के तहत आठ साल पहले यूपीए सरकार ने बच्चों के मन से पास और फेल का जो असर मिटा दिया था, उसे एनडीए सरकार वापस ले आई


शिक्षा का अधिकार कानून के तहत आठ साल पहले यूपीए सरकार ने बच्चों के मन से पास और फेल का जो असर मिटा दिया था, उसे एनडीए सरकार वापस ले आई है। पास-फेल होना ज़िंदगी के फलसफे का सबसे कठिन रहस्य है और इंसानों की एक जमात इसके तनाव से जितनी दूर भागना चाहती है, दूसरी जमात उसे उतनी ही मजबूती से लागू करना चाहती है। इसी खींचतान के तहत 2010 में यूपीए सरकार ने शिक्षा का अधिकार को मौलिक अधिकार बनाते हुए उसकी धारा 16 में यह व्यवस्था की थी कि कोई भी स्कूल पांचवीं और आठवीं के स्तर पर किसी छात्र को फेल नहीं करेगा। उसे नंबर के बजाय ग्रेड दिए जाएंगे और वह ग्रेड में चाहे जितना कमजोर हो उसे अगली कक्षा में प्रोन्नति दे दी जाएगी।

आठ वर्षों का यह अनुभव कई राज्यों में अच्छा नहीं पाया गया और कई राज्यों ने केंद्र को लिखकर दिया कि इससे शिक्षा का स्तर गिर रहा है। सरकार का दावा है कि बहुसंख्यक राज्यों ने यह मांग की थी कि धारा 16 संशोधित कर दी जाए, ताकि वे न पढ़ने वाले कमजोर छात्रों को फेल करके शिक्षा का स्तर सुधार सकें। हालांकि, तमिलनाडु, तेलंगाना, महाराष्ट्र और आंध्र प्रदेश ने ऐसी मांग सीधे नहीं की थी। नई व्यवस्था के तहत फेल होने वाले छात्रों को एक बार पूरक परीक्षा के तहत मौका दिया जाएगा। उसके बाद उस छात्र की योग्यता के विकास के लिए विशेष प्रशिक्षण दिया जाएगा। प्राथमिक स्तर पर फेल-पास का खेल खत्म करने के पीछे दलील यह थी कि इसका बच्चों की मनोदशा पर विपरीत असर पड़ता है और वे शिक्षा के प्रति निरुत्साहित होते हैं।

कई छात्र तो अवसाद में भी चले जाते हैं। ऐसे लोगों का यह भी मानना है कि अभी तक सिर्फ 4 प्रतिशत बच्चे स्कूल छोड़ रहे थे और अब उनकी संख्या बढ़कर 20 प्रतिशत तक जा सकती है। निश्चित तौर पर शिक्षा का स्तर कायम रखा जाना चाहिए लेकिन, यह भी देखा जाना चाहिए कि शिक्षा का अधिकार के तहत मिलने वाले सरकारी अनुदान और दाखिले में आरक्षण की व्यवस्था का समुचित उपयोग हो पा रहा है या नहीं। कहीं निजी क्षेत्र ने उसे लाभ का व्यवसाय तो नहीं बना लिया है। हमें यह मानकर चलना चाहिए कि प्राथमिक स्तर पर होने वाला यह परिवर्तन अंतिम नहीं है, बल्कि शिक्षाशास्त्रियों के चिंतन और राजनीतिक व्यवस्था की जरूरत के लिहाज से अभी और प्रयोग भी हो सकते हैं।