20 more rights that the UPA can legislate before 2014

By Gautam Chikermane

The UPA government has introduced a new art form: convert any problem into an Act of Parliament. The latest Food Security Bill (Right to Food), forced down our throats through a short-term ordinance, will ensure food in the stomachs of the Indian hungry. The Right to Education will guarantee a smart workforce, ready to face the pressures of skill requirements and global markets. The Right to Information has overnight made the government more transparent, a few wrinkles here and there notwithstanding.

But why stop here? Unlike petty arts like painting and writing that can be and often are smothered, shifting the responsibility of execution and governance to Acts of Parliament is an art form that no democracy can stop - not even the world’s noisiest Opposition. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said in his Budget speech of 1991, quoting Victor Hugo, “No power on Earth can stop an idea whose time has come.”

Now, as the musical chairs of a Congress-led coalition aspires to create UPA-3, here are 20 suggestions that build on the legislative strengths of UPA-1 and UPA-2. I hope UPA will find some of these interesting enough to list in their election manifesto.

1. Right to Higher Education in University of Choice. Did you see how our children are suffering? Despite getting 90 percent marks and working very hard, they don’t get admissions to the IITs or Delhi University. Clearly, this is an injustice to young and aspiring voters, who will brave the sun to participate in democracy in May 2014. What they need is a right under which they can choose the university of their choice and get an admission. That way, the undue stress on our children will not be wasted. As we debate the bill, maybe we could include the right to college (why shouldn’t every child study in St Stephens?).

2. Right to a Permanently-strong Rupee. Far too much attention is being given to our symbol of excellence, the rupee. But all the attention is economic, financial - stuff that the average person doesn’t understand and is irrelevant. This is ridiculous. We need an intervention by legislation that states the rupee will not fall below Re 1 to the dollar. That is, from the day of its enactment, Re 1 should buy $1. The fact that we now need to pay Rs 61 is a shame on India’s sovereignty, something that an emerging nation can do without.

3. Right to Permanently-low Inflation. Enough of groaning and moaning about high inflation, rising prices. It is bad enough when food prices touch the skies the world over. But the relentless accusations of the government being unable to manage inflation creates nothing but ill-will. By enacting this right, the legislation will ensure prices stay low. If anyone speaks about abstractions like “market” or “global prices”, his next abstraction will be the jail. We could begin with zero-inflation rate and reduce it as time goes.

4. Right to Decide Prices of Natural Resources. Over the past five years, we have seen so much debate, arguments and allegations on the pricing of oil and now coal that it has hurt the clean reputation of not only India but even the squeaky-clean UPA-3 government and its honest PM. Anywhere you go, all you hear is how corrupt the system is. All this is happening because there is a needless tug-of-war between the government, corporations and their billionaire shareholders. Once this law is enacted, and the right to price the natural resource is firmly and finally in the hands of corporations, there will be no problem. As far as the argument that consumers will pay higher prices goes, there is a one-word answer: subsidies.

 20 more rights that the UPA can legislate before 2014

Image used for representative purpose only. Reuters

5. Right to Collude, Fix Prices, Prevent Competition and Block Consumer Redress. An upcoming problem large companies have is they are unable to work together in harmony and decide what’s the best price that consumers must pay. Incessant competition has hurt the bottomlines of industries like airlines and cement. Then, you have these entrepreneurs who come and disrupt ancient and archaic industry practices. With this right, everything that’s going behind the scene and in dark corners of untraceable conversations would become legitimate. So what if the consumers have to pay more - a growing economy can sustain a higher standard of consumption. And beyond consumers, we need to serve another large and influential constituency of investors, don’t we?

6. Right to Give and Receive Bribes. A lot of money and time is wasted by individuals and companies in paying bribes to various government officials. Building a house, for instance, means paying bribes to the local municipal official, the policeman, the utilities providers and so on. Corporate bribery is even more complex. We are told everyone is doing it, so what’s wrong? Well, this: it still is unlawful to bribe. By enacting this law, UPA-3 would suddenly be on the forefront of social reform. This would be of great help to the honest, who are often caught in their silly ethical traps. Government servants would rejoice and vote UPA-3 into power again. This can be a game-changer for Elections 2014.

7. Right to Government Jobs. The global economy, the falling rupee, the slowdown, the trade barriers and so on have collectively ensured that the good name of UPA, which has done everything to revive growth and jobs, is tarnished. As a result, no company wants to invest and create jobs in India. Where do you think the aspirations of our young, and now old, will go? By giving citizens a right to permanent and highly-paid government jobs, preferably the IAS and allied services, we could change the face of India. An India, where every citizen is a government servant, diligently and silently making her contribution.

8. Right to Cabinet. Sometimes, even government service proves an inadequate tool for expression. Every citizen has a right to take the country where he wants to. By restricting the right to a group of ministers in Cabinet, we do two wrongs. One, we put far too much decision-making in the Cabinet, now that decisions of individual ministers are proving inadequate to govern a complex world. And two, we don’t allow creative energies to flow into the governance system - an energy that can be unleashed by giving everyone almost-permanent 5-acre homes in Lutyens’ Delhi. This right will fix all these problems at one go.

9. Right to Transfer and Add Non-agricultural Income to Farm Income. Much of this system is already in place. It is rare to find rich farmers being investigated for under-reporting or misreporting income. This one of the few areas where the administrative backend is firmly in place. All it needs is a legalisation that this act will provide. Why should wealthy farmers with financial interests beyond the farm be unnecessarily harassed?

10. Right to Appropriate Housing. When rural development minister Jairam Ramesh promised housing to every landless, poor, rural household through National Right to Homestead Bill, 2013, a draft of which was leaked, he overlooked one crucial point - the 10 cents (one-tenth of an acre) of land promised to every family may not be enough. Maybe, that’s enough to house a family of three. But what happens to a family of eight? Surely, you can’t give the same entitlements to someone who is contributing to the demographic dividend so productively. Appropriate housing right will fix this anomaly - minor things like availability of land banks can be managed with a future act that could encapsulate expanding our Himalayan borders.

11. Right to Creating, Circulating and Consuming Black Money. I wonder why unaccounted-for money is called black - as far as those creating and consuming it are concerned, one rupee of white money can buy anything one rupee of black can. In fact, if you add seven zeros, buying real estate and gold becomes so much easier with black money than those outliers in white. How does paying ugly taxes make white money any better? On the contrary, because of the ease of flow we need to give incentives to expand black money. This law should help.

12. Right to Prevention of Hurt Feelings. Do you know the innumerable number of scholars who indulge in blasphemy, whose full-time job is to denigrate gurus, who have nothing better to do than to hurt the delicate feelings of our sensitive and emotional fellow citizens and create disharmony? This must end - even if every word is backed by facts. We can’t allow facts to ride roughshod over feelings, can we? By giving this right, our huge masses of people with loud voices but little legal standing will get a firm base to ensure that whether by truth or lies, by commission or omission, no writer will dare cross the line that hurts feelings.

13. Right to Entertainment and Allied Tools of Choice. The nation is fed. It is housed. It educated. And even employed. What’s left? Entertainment. By legislating the right to entertainment, UPA-3 would enable Indians to live the full life. Since the texture of entertainment is changing, ensuring the people get the right tools of choice - from flat-screen TVs to 4G-enabled handhelds - will make India a cutting-edge consumer of entertainment. After eating, housing, learning, working, this is a logical conclusion that completes the well-being cycle.

14. Right to Tax-free, Risk-free, Investment-free, High-return Financial Products. Sorry, but our citizens are being cheated. When the Sensex falls, the value of their portfolios falls too. This is not acceptable. So what if the fund is benchmarked to the market? Our citizens’ wealth must be protected. This law will ensure that whenever the high-risk products like market-linked funds or unregulated Ponzi schemes go bust, or if the wealth of investors falls, a recourse in the form of conversion to risk-free, high-return instruments is automatic. Just one click on the screen, and all risky investments gone sour must become profitable - 10 percentage points above inflation should be a good start. Higher in an election year.

15. Right to Low-cost Finance. Don’t you think it’s unfair that because of high interest rates the RBI has been keeping - for reasons that may be justified by economic fundamentals - the cost of finance to Indian entrepreneurs has shot up? As a result, while large corporates can get cheaper deals from global banks, the corner shop or the budding entrepreneur can’t. This law will end all such financial injustices. By making cheap capital available, the faith of entrepreneurs in India will rise, they will set up operations, create jobs and the virtuous cycle of growth will restart. Of course, that doesn’t mean depositors will lose - but they would have the high-return law (above) at their disposal, so no voter tension there.

16. Right to Infrastructure Projects. Every citizen of this country, every corporation, every person who aspires for it, must get an infrastructure project to manage. Why should only experts get to build roads, airports, ports, extract coal, explore oil? Democracy must trickle down to the last man. And please don’t throw the merit argument on us - we have seen reservations in action everywhere. Besides, if a project goes wrong, the government can come in and bail it out. At a substantial profit, if possible.

17. Right to Speed Up Projects and Grant Favours. Every government, from the states to the Centre, talks about fast-tracking projects. But apart from creating some false hype in the public sphere, where the naïve start lauding ‘plans’, the pace of projects remains as slow. By giving corporations the constitutional right to speed things up, noise and slow pace over environmental concerns for instance would end. Overnight, German autobahns would turn green with envy, a series of world-class airports would carry people and deals, and not only would the last village get 24-hour electricity (and ensure Right to Entertainment above), but India would become a power-surplus nation.

18. Right to Surveillance of Rivals, Government Officials, Opinion Makers. Why should only the Indian and the US governments get to read our emails, listen to our phone calls, monitor our online activity? The most important users of surveillance are corporations --- they need to know what their competitors are up to, what policy the government is planning, what the opinion makers are thinking, writing. In fits and spurts, this monitoring is going on. But it is illegal. This act would turn the entire process legal and make life easy for corporations that are currently suffering. Besides, if you want to snoop on your boss, this will come handy.

19. Right to Freedom from Prosecution. Far too many people, particularly politicians and bureaucrats, are being unnecessarily dragged to the alters of justice. So what if some of them broke the law? They are people who sit on positions of privileges. They are not ordinary citizens. Besides, most laws deserve to be broken. But then, if we grant this right only to the powerful, it might be unconstitutional. So, every citizen must have the right to not be prosecuted, for any breach of law, real or not. Within five years, India’s courtrooms would be empty. And India, a crime-free nation.

20. Right to Implementing all Rights. All the above rights would come to naught if they are not implemented - just look at the state of the rights to employment and information, for starters. Non-implementation means all these rights will remain on paper alone. Citizens, therefore, must be given the right to have all the rights above implemented. This right is presumed to exist in the Acts, but given its tardy execution, we need greater empowerment. Using this right, a citizen would be able to ensure that all his other rights work efficiently. What better governance tool?

I am sure there are many more rights that can be legislated before 2014. If I have missed some empowering ideas that can transform the face of our great nation, do write in before it’s too late. Act now.

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Updated Date: Jul 08, 2013 19:44:58 IST