Infrastructure

A muted 30th anniversary for India

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Almost all the southern states of India, and most of the easter and north-eastern states of India have not enforced this ban, and for good reason. These are the states least affected by the cattle slaughter ban. The Tirupur leather processing units continue to function. They have weathered demonetisation, and the shrill cries of vigilantes calling themselves gau-rakshaks.

There are three things wrong with the cattle slaughter bill.

First, it forbade farmers from selling their old cattle to the trader who in turn sold it to the slaughterhouses. The ban hurt many farmers in two ways. First, it did not allow them to get an income of around Rs. 20,000 from the sale of each old cattle. If the state wanted to protect cows, it should have compensated farmers by offering them Rs.20,000 for each cattle that he could not sell.

Second, the government should have decided to pick up the ageing cattle from the farmer so that he is not burdened by additional medical costs and the danger of old-age-related-diseases spreading to existing cattle. If people believe that money can be made from the old animals, let them adopt them. Don’t burden the farmer.

Third, the ban on cattle began affecting the leather and beef trade as well. Three sectors, all major employment generators, were hit. That in turn affected employment and demand for a variety of items. This is more so with dairy farming which affects 10 crore households, or 50 crore individuals (the census puts average household size at 5). That is more than one third of the total population of India. And it is large, three times larger than wheat and rice put together.

Clearly, the cattle slaughter laws are a big setback to the Indian economy. Moreover, other moves like subsidies threaten to wreck the industry which has grown without any government support. Today, India is the largest producer of milk in the world, and a big contributor to nutrition. If things continue this way, expect India to slip badly, much to the delight of countries like New Zealand, which has begun worrying about India’s formidable position in global dairy farming.

Demonetisation was the next big blow.

Both these moves put the country into a reverse gear. Then other factors also kicked in.

Lack of vision

Another reason for the government slipping badly is its utter lack of vision in areas other than the promotion of Hindutva and the consolidation of power.

The government has worked hard to reduce access of economic information to its people. Consequently, even replies to Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha queries are not easily accessible today. The policymakers think they know what is right, and people do not need to know the exact state of numbers. That is a terrible mistake.

Let’s take human development. Yes, the government talked about skill development. But in the same breath, it has crippled education. The autonomy that was promised to IITs and IIMs is being gradually eroded. Talk of reservations, increasing the number of campuses to meet political objectives, and interfering with administration have ensured that none of India’s educational institutions now feature in the top 100 globally.

Its failure to even fill appointments of vice chancellors in government-controlled universities is pathetic. Last week, the government appointed the vice chancellors of 12 central universities. But there were 22 vacancies. The rest will have to continue waiting. Compare this with the alacrity with which legislative seats are filled. The need to get legislators in place is a more urgent need that university administrators.

And at the school level, the government refuses to measure outcomes of schools and teachers. Unless it weeds out the rotten, it will waste students’ time, and taxpayers’ money.

It abolished the MCI (Medical Council of India) to address the needs of medicare, but only consolidated it power. Till now, it has not moved to increase medical seats. Not even after the huge gaps that were clearly visible when the pandemic struck India. India’s doctors as a ratio of population remains one of the poorest in the world. Yet it went about announcing the Ayushman Bharat programme – the largest medical insurance programme worldwide without doctors. Clearly, the government loves grant announcements, but not performance or effectiveness.

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