Sunday, October 09, 2005

Socialism in India

It is a top-down-bottom-up, rob-poor-to-make-rich-richer implementation of socialism in India. It benefits the least who are the intended beneficiaries, at least, in the slogans and empowers the rich and the well-to-do to become even more richer and weller-to-do.

Last year, the government announced a hike in EPF interest rate. Many of the people, I know, are in the top 0.001% income bracket of India. They were the happiest lot after the decision and there were murmurs of 'long live Surjeet'. Everybody started putting their money in EPF. And mind you, these are the same people, who produce fake medical bills , fake hra bills, fake telephone bills, fake lta bills, etcetra, etcetra, to save around Rs. 1000 per month in taxes. And these are the same people who will shout from the rooftop about increase in electricity rates. The people living in my village have not even heard of anything called provident fund. For them the Indian post office savings bank is the only option for a healthy and safe savings. Interest rate is least of their concerns because of the low deposits. All they want is safety and ease of deposit and withdrawal. So were likes of Mr. Surjeet, Bardhan and Dasgupta, fighting for them?

Similar is the case of LPG. A big percentage of cars in New Delhi, and adjoining areas run on LPG. The mechanics of Noida Sector 16 or Karol Bagh, or Gurgaon charge around Rs. 1500 for converting a petrol engine to one running on LPG. They operate freely, without fear or favour (sic). There are frequent ads in Noida Bazaar, of the services, announcing, "Worried by increasing petrol prices. Use LPG. Save money". If you are a frequent visitor on Nizamuddin bridge, you can see one or two cars stopped on the road, changing the cylinder of their cars, openly.

Look how the subsidy on diesel is misued. One of the premium car makers in India is Skoda. The car costs around Rs. 15 lacs and runs on 'subsidised' diesel. Does someone, who can buy a four-wheeler for Rs. 15 lacs, need Rs. 10 per liter cheaper fuel? Most of the "full power backup" apartments in Noida/New Delhi, run on 'subsidised' diesel generators. So it is me, my family, my maid, my cook, my barber who pays for that.

We talk about 'no-tax-on-agriculture-income' paradigm. Who are the beneficiaries? The farmhouses have become a popular way of diverting black money and showing it as agriculture income, among the most affluent people of Delhi and Mumbai. Let's say we modify the tax slabs for agriculture income and make the first Rs. 5 lacs (a higher end estimate) as tax free.. Anybody who earns more than Rs. 5 lacs (legally), whatever be the the source of income, ought to pay the government for the resources it is using. Will this measure ever affect the rural farmers?

Let's talk about Kerosene. It comes at Rs. 3 per liter at any ration shops. And we all know, and several NGO's have conclusive evidence, how this kerosene is never available in those shops. They are almost always rerouted and sold at higher prices in more affluent areas.

The way our middle classes and upper middle classes justify their actions is incredulous. When confronted about evading tax, their frequent retort is, "I am already paying so-much tax. Anyway the tax I am paying will be swallowed by the politicians". Agreed. But are they not doing something equally wrong, something equally amoral, by not paying full taxes. Two wrong have never and will never make a right. The vocal middle class will fight to death its right to pay Rs. 10 less for electricity bills, but will do everything to modify his meters so that it gives wrong reading.

Similarly higher education is heavily subsidised, and most of the schools in the rural areas don't have blackboards, roof or benches. If the people don't mind paying huge sums for coaching classes and private tutions, they don't mind paying bribes for admission and results and everything in between, why do we still charge Rs. 500 for one year of undergraduate degree. Rs. 500 is what a student in metros these days usually spend in one movie show plus dinner, in 6 hours. Why does no political party talk about raising both fees and scholarships in higher education and use this money in improving both college infrastructure and spreading it to inaccessible areas?

The examples are countless. Heavy usage of subsidized fertilizers has left the soil infertile. Heavy mismanagement of funds and doctrine of "priority sector lending", by our banks have left the rural credit segment completely void, to be exploited by the moneylenders. We have huge loss making public sector five star socialist hotels, when most of our ancient monuments are in a dilapidated state. No. Charging more from those who can pay and provide better services to everyone, is against our concept of welfare state. And this will be the permanent state of affairs. Nobody in our political class is bold and sincere enough to talk about edging out subsidies. Instead, in the coming days, we will have more sops for our rich, and the state will continue denying basic living conditions to the poor and downtrodden citing lack of funds.

And what are our political leaders doing? In the name of fighting for the poor, all they do is give the rich more ways of making money. They talk about employment guarantee schemes. But there are no discussions on how this money will be raised or even how this scheme will be implemented. They refuse to sell even 10% of one of our leading PSU's through stock market, that could alone have raised enough money for NREGS.

We are a very poor country. No, it is not poverty of capital, considering the way our rich and affluent are shaping up, considering the Rs 100 crore property of a civil servant of UP, considering the eagerness of all MNCs to capture the market here. We don't have poverty of ideas either. The ingenious way of the implementation of this inverted socialism proves that, the ingenious way our middle class and upper middle class finds ways of subverting the system and our political class compounds that. What we have is poverty of 'ideals', of 'priciples'. One will be branded a fool, if he pays full genuine taxes. The social acceptance this stealing/robbing/money laundering finds is unparalleled in any other civilised society. Nowhere you will find people who think it is their moral duty to rob the nation. A nation running on subsidies will naturally have subsidised moral values.


At 3:25 am, Anonymous Ashutosh Chakraborty said...

Hi Anoop. Your blog is good and informative.


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