Vipul's Feed
Jul 12, 2009

Prohibition policy in Gujarat — a tragic farce?

More than 130 people died after consuming bootleg liquor in Gujarat last week.

While prohibition is in place in Gujarat, liquor is often smuggled in from neighbouring states and people are forced to buy it at inflated prices.

What can the poor do? They cannot afford to buy branded alcohol so they consume illicit liquor. Plastic pouches called ‘potlis’ of illegally brewed liquor are available for as little as ten rupees.

Jul 8, 2009
via India Insight

The Unique Identity number — putting all eggs in one basket?

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There was a television ad some time back where a village leader played by Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan cutely decrees that feuding villagers would be known by their mobile numbers rather than names denoting caste or community.It’s an idea that no longer seems far-fetched.This week, the finance minister allocated 1200 million rupees to  the Unique Identification Authority of India, headed by former Infosys chief Nandan Nilekani.The project provides a unique identity number, something like the U.S. social security number, to India’s billion-plus citizens.It involves setting up a database with the identification details of citizens.”It also uses an advanced technology like biometrics on a scale which has not been used anywhere in the world,” said Nilekani.The biometric details will make identification foolproof.Multi-purpose National Identity Cards have already been issued to a million citizens under a test scheme in some districts.These will be combined with the unique identification number scheme.Once implemented, the project is expected to help the government identify beneficiaries of various welfare schemes and help security agencies.It will also link the database to the election commission and the income tax department.”The Unique ID number, the number, not the card, is going to be the unifying attribute of all these cards. In other words, you may have four to five cards from different sources but all of them will have the same unique ID of yours that will act as a unifier,” Nilekani said.However, there are misgivings about the project.Tavleen Singh, writing for the Indian Express says the project may just add “to the massive infrastructure of our bureaucracy.”"The BPL (below poverty line) folks that I know in Mumbai and Delhi do not have birth certificates, identity cards or any proof of nationality. Even if they did, they have no means of knowing how to access the benefits that accrue to them. Will a national identity card make their lives less difficult?”"And, besides how will the card work in villages that do not have adequate supplies of electricity leave alone computers?” she asks.Columnist Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar writes — “If the implementers have no interest in service delivery, can a smart card outsmart them?”It’s an appealing idea to be able to put down a number instead of filling details in a form on one’s father, mother, locality and surname and be immediately slotted.But having practically lived as a stateless citizen in my own country for a while (no voter id, no ration card, no permanent address, a bank account but on the office address) I am all for letting the state know that I exist, occasionally outside my office in my unofficial capacity as well.But will everyone trust the government or the bureaucracy with all their details available at the click of a button?Misuse of voters list to target communities during riots has been alleged. Data can leak.Who for instance will or can have access to someone’s fingerprints on a biometric database?In a situation where the government in general has less information about people than more, this question seems a forced one.But with the first set of numbers to be issued by late 2010, this issue would need to be resolved.Is Nilekani by uniting “databases in disconnected silos“, going to be our Harold Bluetooth, the eponymous Viking warrior after whose unifying efforts the  wireless technology is named, or a Big Brother?

Jun 11, 2009
via India Insight

How to get more women into parliament?

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As part of its 100-day action plan, the Congress-led UPA government is pushing for the Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to reserve 33 per cent seats in parliament for women.The UPA has also promised to give women 50 percent seats in local government institutions like the village council, up from the 33 percent of seats currently reserved for them.That measure has  been in place for over a decade and a half. But has it done any good?Initially, it was  feared that elected women would be no more than “dumb dolls”, manipulated into endorsing decisions taken by their husbands and other family members.But a government-sponsored study in 2008 of elected women representatives in village councils has shown encouraging results.”A sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive enhancement in their self-esteem (79%), confidence (81%) and decision-making ability (74%),” says the study.So is extending reservation for women in parliament such a bad idea?There are voices both in support and opposition.Those supporting the move just have to point to India’s position on the gender-related development index (GDI) — 138 among 156 countries.Nearly everyone says more women are needed in the legislatures. But the issue is how to get them there.Reserving 181 of the existing 543 seats could pose a few problems.In case the seats are selected at random before an election, here’s what an online petition opposing the reservation bill says:”Two-thirds of the incumbent members will be forcibly unseated in every general election and the remaining will remain in a limbo till the last moment…politics will become even less accountable than at present.”Some say women may be put up as proxy candidates and since a seat would be de-reserved after 15 years, lawmakers would not be able to build a following in a particular constituency.Of course, the 33 percent quota can also be met by increasing the number of Lok Sabha (lower house) parliamentarians to 815.This could be done by creating new constituencies or through double-member constituencies.This would mean a new parliament building — the present one doesn’t have the seating capacity.Besides, a six-year long delimitation exercise just got over before the elections.Another option is to make it mandatory for parties to field a certain number of women candidates.But there are misgivings women will be fielded from constituencies where they are expected to lose, just to get around the quota requirements.Some say there needs to be a quota for the backward-class within the quota for women.This begs the question if women should be treated as a uniform category and who will reservation empower.A recent story in Outlook magazine said two-thirds of women MPs ride to the parliament merely on family connections.Others have opposed the reservation bill on the grounds it may not necessarily empower women.Columnist Shobhaa De remains opposed to reservation:”I believe in a level playing field and not on reservations, as these prove to be counterproductive. I would rather that women be better educated and at par with men.”The Women’s Reservation Bill has been introduced in parliament at least thrice without being put to vote.At the same time, it is worth noting that the proportion of women in the new Lok Sabha is the highest ever.It crossed the measly ten percent mark in this election!Is there a way of getting more women into politics that will get everyone’s support?

May 29, 2009
via India Insight

Caste and Race: Two sides of the same coin?

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The attack in a  Sikh temple in Vienna and the subsequent clashes in Punjab have brought renewed focus on the internationalisation of what many Indians see as a domestic problem.

In August 2001, I heard Martin Macwan, a human rights activist, talk about raising the issue of caste at international forums, specifically in the context of the U.N. race summit in Durban that year. The move was however opposed by the government.

May 15, 2009
via India Insight

Indian voters – spoilt for choice?

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With 8071 candidates contesting 543 seats – that’s an average of 15 candidates for each seat — the 400 million Indian voters who chose to vote sure looked spoilt for choice.

But were they?

Though democracy means choosing who our rulers are going to be, many say there is a crucial missing link in Indian democracy — the lack of inner-party democracy.

Apr 30, 2009
via India Insight

Do we need sex-education in schools?

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A parliamentary committee, with a varied political membership, recently recommended that there should be no sex education in schools.

Sex even if done at the proper time, with a proper person, in a proper place, is a topic that makes many Indians uncomfortable.