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Photo courtesy: in.com

Recall the outrage of the people during the Lok Pal agitation led by social worker Anna Hazare two years ago, when the entire nation rose as one and demanded effective laws against corruption.

That movement may not have resulted in what was demanded then, but recent developments clearly indicate that the spirit of that movement has not been lost but strengthened further.

Three specific developments give us reasons to hope for greater transparency and probity in public life in India. These include the conviction of a former chief minister of Bihar after 17 years of being charged in the fodder scam; the Supreme Court's verdict disqualifying convicted MPs and MLAs and the government's rethink on a proposed ordinance meant to negate this ruling and the Supreme Court's directive for introduction of "None of the above" button on voting machines.

In his article Can India Escape the Corruption Trap? former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal presents a detailed analysis of the problem and lists out the steps that are necessary to tackle it. One of his suggestions is for introduction of a speedy system of enquiry and punishment in corruption cases, denying an opportunity to the guilty to delay trials till justice becomes meaningless. "There should be a time limit of six months within which the original case must be decided," says Mr. Vittal, in a suggestion that needs to be addressed by the Indian judiciary on priority.

Bhutan's innovative Gross National Happiness (GNH) model for development instead of the prevalent Gross National Product (GNP) which focuses only on economic factors has been hailed the world over as an idea that deserves to be emulated. It is heartening to note that the Goa Vision 2035 document prepared under the chairmanship of eminent scientist Dr. R.A. Mashelkar, has drawn up a vision for the state based on the principles of GNH. A detailed article on this initiative has been featured in Briefing.

I would also like to draw attention to this month's review of the book, When I Die- Lessons from the Death Zone by Philip Gould. A true acceptance of death gives freedom, courage, and power. Nobody can conquer death, but such an acceptance brings liberation- death loses its control over you and it transforms you completely as a person, says Gould who was polling and strategic adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Gould died some years ago of gastro-oesophageal cancer.

Do go through our other sections and send us your feedback and suggestions to help us improve our effort at Change for Better.

With best wishes,
Abhay Vaidya

Editor, Change for Better

 

The media, government and experts in nutrition and related fields began taking a closer look at the Midday Meal Scheme recently after the tragic death of 23 children in a Bihar school.

Soon after that incident, caused by the contamination of food by pesticides, reports started pouring in from various parts of the country about the serious deficiencies in the manner in which food was being served to children. There were unhygienic conditions to contend with, the quality of food served raised questions and in one, widely reported case, children fell sick even as a dead lizard was found in one of the large utensils carrying food.

How sustainable is the Midday Meal Scheme in its current form as the world’s largest school feeding programme, reaching out to about 120 million children in over 1.2 million schools and Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) centres across the country? Inevitably, problems are going to arise on a large scale if the expectation is that in each school, meals have to be cooked afresh.

Briefing brings you an essay by Deepak Pental, a former vice-chancellor of Delhi University who teaches genetics and has conducted research in mustard breeding. Pental has suggested a techno-industrial intervention and a viable alternative in the form processed foods such as biscuits, chikki and other such that are nutritionally enriched, fortified, easy to transport and have a longer shelf life. He has pointed out in this article which first appeared in The Indian Express that this is the preferred method the world over for providing nutritious food to poor children. As a case in point, the author has cited the supply of fortified biscuits by India to poor children in Afghanistan.

In our other sections, we have featured an interview with Supreme Court advocate Lily Thomas who was the joint petitioner in a PIL to the Supreme Court which brought the landmark ruling on de-criminalising Indian politics. As Thomas says in the interview, her primary aim was to ensure that Parliament and public service are free of criminals and corruption and that ensuring this is the duty of the Bar.

While the Books section carries an inspiring extract from "Making Breakthrough Innovation Happen: How 11 Indians Pulled Off the Impossible", Inner Space draws attention to Kaizen- the Japanese philosophy and system of striving for change for the better.

Do go through these essays, stories and features and send us your feedback to enable us to bring a better issue in the coming months.

With best wishes,
Abhay Vaidya

Editor, Change for Better

 

This submerged statue of Shiva at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh Ganga emerged as the symbol of devastation caused by floods and mudslides in Uttarakhand in June, 2013. Photo Courtesy: AP

A ll of us have been stunned, shocked and shaken up by the intensity of the recent Uttarakhand tragedy in which thousands of innocents lost their lives due to floods and mudslides caused by cloud burst and heavy rains.

Buildings collapsed, vehicles were washed away, floods and landslides disrupted communication and the young and the old were trapped if not killed in various mountainous pockets of the small state.

The region which has popular pilgrim centres such as Kedarnath and Joshimath among others is frequented by lakhs of tourists every year. It is therefore inexcusable that the state and central authorities never anticipated the possibility of a disaster and did not have an effective disaster management plan in place.

Amidst this colossal failure the nation witnessed the ugly spectacle of politicians and political parties trying to draw credit for rescue operations when in fact it was the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the National Disaster Response Force who played a key role in providing relief and saving lives of the unfortunate victims.

A place that is frequented by people in their thousands has to be prepared with a fool-proof disaster management plan. All the more so in difficult terrain such as the mountainous regions of Uttarakhand. The question “What if?” has to be contemplated upon by the government administration and Plans A, B and C worked out for implementation in the event of a disaster. Clearly, this is what was lacking in Uttarakhand and this is by and large the state of affairs across the country.

 More often than not, we in India are caught unawares and unprepared whenever and wherever disaster strikes- be it a school, hospital or a pilgrim centre. More lives are lost and the tragedy compounded not because of the disaster itself  but due to the delay and inefficiency of relief and rescue operations. Is this the result of the shoddy “Chalta hai” attitude which is a national trait and by which we accept half-measures and let things pass by as they are? This is a point for contemplation.

Our Briefing this month is on the need to promote entrepreneurship in the country  to generate wealth and employment by creating a conducive environment for start-ups. The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) ‘10,000 start-ups’ programme is a step in that direction and worthy of support from one and all in the country.

Making a Difference features the extraordinary story of Charul and Vinay, a young couple who gave up the pursuit of professional careers to devote their lives to campaigning against child labour, strengthening the cause of communal harmony and other social issues. What is striking about Charul and Vinay is the powerful manner in which they convey their message to varied audiences across the country through deeply moving compositions sung by them.

Interesting essays, features and articles are spread across our other sections. Do visit them and write to us with your suggestions, thoughts and comments on the issues raised.

With best wishes,
Abhay Vaidya

Editor, Change for Better

 

MMuch of the public discourse in the last few months centered around the Amartya Sen vs Jagadish Bhagwati camps, symbolising the growth versus development debate. Led by the thoughts propounded by Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen, the Development school wants the government to give priority to public spending on health care and welfare measures and not focus solely on economic reforms. The Jagadish Bhagwati – Arvind Panagariya school on the other hand wants the government to accelerate economic reforms because that would lead to economic growth, bringing jobs for the poor and resources for improving social infrastructure. This debate stands accentuated by the strain on the economy caused by a recessionary climate and the declining value of the rupee against the dollar amidst the possibility of an oil shock caused by a U.S.-led war against Iraq. The questions posed by the well-known social crusader Harsh Mander in his essay on the Food Security Bill challenge the premise that India cannot afford to feed its poor as attempted by the bill which was passed recently in the Lok Sabha.

As Mander says, “The overwhelming evidence from high growth years is that this has been a period of virtually jobless growth, which underlines that there is no substitute for public investment to enhance livelihoods.” He has suggested that India must enhance the integrity of its tax efforts “to ensure investments in the nutrition, health and education of the working poor”. Also, that failure to attend to the basic needs of the poor while singularly pursuing the agenda of growth would have serious, irreparable consequences on the well-being nation. A balance between the two approaches is necessary with an emphasis on good governance and good execution of policies and programmes.

The murder of anti-superstition crusader Dr. Narendra Dabholkar took everyone in the country by surprise, especially the people in Maharashtra. This was because it was through entirely non-violent means that Dr. Dabholkar was pursuing his mission of enlightening the poor of their exploitation through blind faith. Our tribute to this modern-day social reformer throws greater light on the significance of his work. Dr. Dabholkar paid for his convictions with his life, but he will not stand defeated. His movement will only grow from strength to strength from here on.

Our goal at CfB is to present an array of thought-provoking articles that inspire hope, reflect a striving towards change for the better and remind us to stay rooted in values that give us inner strength. We bring to you articles and essays that are generated in-house and those that are sourced from other publications for your benefit.

Do go through the various sections of CfB and send us your feedback and suggestions to improve future editions.

 

With best wishes,
Abhay Vaidya

Editor, Change for Better

 

India needs to take rapid strides to boost electronics manufacturing in the country.
Photo courtesy: aliciapatterson.org

The issue that we have sought to highlight this month is the compelling challenge before the nation in the electronics sector. This being the age of information technology, the entire world is moving towards knowledge-based systems powered by IT and electronics.

As highlighted in Mega Trends, the McKinsey Global Institute’s latest report, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy, has brought to our notice the 12 technologies that will drive the world by the end of 2020. The report tells us that robotics will function in an advanced stage, doing tasks "once thought too delicate or uneconomical to automate".  Next-generation genomics with rapidly advancing computational and analytic capabilities will improve health diagnostics and treatments, enhance agricultural performance and help create high-value substances such as ethanol and biodiesel from ordinary organisms, such as E. coli bacteria.

Advanced energy storage technology could make electric vehicles cost competitive and bring electricity to remote areas of developing countries, while the Internet will influence the economy to the tune of $1.7 trillion GDP.

Essentially, every sector of our lives will be driven by software and electronics. Cloud technology will witness greater reach and expansion while we will see the widespread availability of autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles and the popularity of technologies such as 3D printing.

All of this will require not just software but also hardware and this is where the area of concern arises for India.

The Briefing section points out that while India has achieved significant success in the software and IT services sector, electronics manufacturing in the country has been lagging behind. This needs to be rectified on an urgent basis as backwardness in electronics manufacturing could have serious implications on national security.

Projections suggest that by 2020 India’s electronics import bill could rise to $400 billion surpassing the nation’s oil import bill. Consequently, India would become dependent on other countries for the supply of electronics components which could compromise our national interest.

Indian scientists such as Prof. Govind Swarup have strongly argued for the introduction of attractive policies for foreign direct investment in the electronics sector.

Fortunately, the government has been moving in this direction and taking the necessary steps. However, what is needed is a far more aggressive strategy to bring about the desired change.

Do go through the articles presented in various sections and send us your feedback.

With best wishes,
Abhay Vaidya

Editor, Change for Better