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The draft National Environment Policy (nep) released by the Union ministry of environment and forest emphasises ‘polluter pays’, ‘cost-minimisation’ and market-based incentives for pollution control. A logical follow up should be to vest stewardship of natural resources with communities that are directly dependent on them. nep, however, falls short here. This lacuna is glaring because most common resources in India degenerate into open resources — over which local communities have very little control.

Let's take the case of forests.

Two of the brightest public economists of India occupy the two of the most powerful positions in the current government of India.  This is the first in the history of India. How has been this uniquely gifted government’s performance in the first year?  It is only fair to assess their performance, not against their own goals, the Common Minimum Program, but against their potential.  The right question is: How far has the government run by two great economists fulfilled its potential?

The most severe impact of the tsunami in India has been on families dependent on fishing. The massive rehabilitation efforts meet the immediate needs of the affected people. But they do not address the basic problem of the fishing industry: overfishing.

Water is indeed essential for survival. But so is food. Should food be priced? Consider how we have organised the food sector to assure that everyone has some minimum quantity of food. The production of food is entirely in private hands—from raw food to processed food to prepared food. Those who can afford to do so buy their food at market-determined prices. For those who cannot, we have the public distribution system (PDS) to provide subsidised food.

Do we have enough water for the future? With water being demanded for domestic consumption, industrial use and irrigation, there is often a tussle between the three regarding their share of water. There are many instances of water being over-used by agricultural belts in some regions of India, and of water being diverted for industrial purposes at the cost of the needs of local domestic use.

There is also a problem regarding water sharing between riparian states. The national environment policy (NEP) 2004 has placed on record the problem of over-use and skewed distribution of river water.

The National Education Choice Campaign promotes reforms that deliver quality education to all through a revolutionary new agenda. A radical new thinking is necessary to save one more generation of our children from being lost to the failing education system. The Campaign invites all to broaden the dialogue and to work towards immediate implementation of reforms.

The government finances its various welfare programmes for the poor largely from the revenue collected through various taxes. If we analyse the tax burden — who actually pays taxes — it seems that the government is taking money from one group of poor to give it to another group of poor. Contrary to the popular perception that middle and upper classes — the better-off in short — of our society are taxed to provide welfare and support to the poor, it is actually the poor who are paying for the welfare programmes run for their benefit!

The licence-permit-quota raj and the high walls of tariff were the ubiquitous instruments of Indian central economic planning. We have buried them for good. But we still keep brooding over what to do with the master who wielded these instruments. It’s a typical Indian existentialist angst in dealing with change.

The recent decision of the Supreme Court that bans government employees from going on strike violates the fundamental rights of freedom of association and of expression. The government employees now do not have the rights that all other citizens enjoy. The Court has become a predator instead of a protector of rights. The argument is that consumers are impacted when government employees that provide essential services go on strike. It is especially severe when there are no alternatives to these government services. So the government monopoly on essential goods and services is used to justify treating its employees as second-class citizens.

This day, 55 years ago, India achieved political independence from the British state, but she still awaits economic and social independence from the Indian state. But, I am not sure whether we have even genuine political independence.

Many of our laws are of the British time, some even unmodified. The Official Secrets Act keeps citizens away from their democratic government as it kept the subjects beneath their British rulers.

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