[UPSC Newspaper Clips] June 10, 2020

UPSC Newspaper Clips


Date:10-06-20

Police Reforms

From the US to India, better management of law enforcement is in order

TOI Editorials

With African-American George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a rouge white police officer sparking nationwide protests in the US, calls have risen for reforming the police. Democrats in the US Congress have unveiled a blueprint legislation that holds law enforcement officials accountable for misconduct. Other suggestions include defunding police forces and diverting some of the money towards social services and healthcare, particularly in the wake of Covid-19. Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, is moving to disband the police force and replace it with a new model of public safety.

There’s no denying that American police forces tend to be militarised, leading to a heavy-handed approach to policing. This is reflected in the US having the largest prison population in the world, with blacks being the most incarcerated. Some of this heavy-handed policing is a response to America’s open gun culture. But heavily weaponised police forces are also the result of the Iraq war, with excess inventory intended for military use being mopped up by law enforcement departments.

Like America, India too has a problem of excessive police brutality. There are parallels as well as differences with the American situation. Unlike America, Indian police suffer from a lack of resources. According to the Status of Policing in India Report, 2019, 70 police stations across 20 states didn’t have wireless, 214 had no access to telephone, 240 were without vehicles. However, quite similar to the racial bias of US police, Indian police often play a partisan role during communal riots, which is one reason such riots continue to take place. While America seems to be moving at last on police reforms, that cause has long lain dormant in India, due to resistance from its political class.


Date:10-06-20

Modi government has carried out unprecedented reforms to drive prosperity and usher in a New india

Amitabh Kant , [ The writer is CEO, NITI Aayog.]

Two years back Prime Minister Narendra Modi had challenged bureaucracy to transform the lives of common citizens in the 115 most backward districts of India. He did not term them as “backward” but called them the “Aspirational Districts” of India. These districts included some of the most far-flung, complex and difficult districts of India and were selected through a transparent process. In the last two years, these districts have seen transformative changes across health and nutrition, education, financial inclusion and basic infrastructure because of convergence of all government programmes and real-time monitoring and ranking of districts on 49 different indicators. This flow of data on a real-time basis, use of technology, challenging districts and States on good governance through ranking and building tech platforms has been the hallmark of reforms and restructuring of governance in India during the last six years. This technological leapfrogging of governance is driving efficiency and effectiveness and will yield rich dividends in productivity on a sustained basis.

Some years back I was working in the traditional fisheries sector of Kerala. My job was to enhance the returns of fishermen who were getting a mere 20% of the market price of fish. The biggest challenge was to open bank accounts for fishermen. The process of “Know Your Customer” was a nightmare. It took us ten months of chasing physical banks and bank managers to do this. Contrast this with experience today. You can walk into a bank branch and open your bank account using your biometric in one minute flat. From ten months to one minute has been the paradigm shift. According to the global index report released by World Bank a whopping 55% of all bank accounts created across the world during 2014-17 were opened in India. Of the 380 million PMJDY bank accounts opened till date around 53% are in the names of women.

Let us look at the scale of technological transformation in the last few years. The government put its energy in getting the JAM (Jan-Dhan Aadhaar Mobile) trinity going. This forms the basic data infrastructure for India’s stack consisting of e-KYC, e-Sign, instantaneous payments (Unified Payments Interface) and digilockers. This has been the single biggest factor for the expansion of financial inclusion in India and has presented a unique model for the world. For people to get subsidies or social benefits they needed a bank account. Hence under PMJDY, a no-frills bank account for all Indian adults were opened, all of them linked with Aadhaar. When I was a young officer our then Prime Minister had said that out of every rupee transferred to poor there is a leakage of 85 paise. In sharp contrast, today India undertakes a cumulative direct benefit transfer of 11.1 lakh crores. In 426 operational schemes across 56 ministries, there is not a single paise of leakage. Direct benefit transfer and governance reforms have increased the government’s efficiency to target beneficiaries directly. This has enabled India to remove duplicate and fake beneficiaries and plug leakages. The resultant savings from this alone last years has been 1.7 lakh crore. The next key transformation has been in the sphere of digital payments. India had hitherto been entirely a cash economy. Thanks to BHIM/UPI, consumer bill payments have become extremely simple and easy. We have seen the emergence of UPI based transaction platforms such as Google Pay, Samsung Pay, PhonePe, Paytm. We are now doing over three billion transactions a month and targeting for a billion transactions a day. India’s approach to digital platforms has been unique. We are creating platforms where government creates the brick and mortar of the foundational layer with startups and innovative enterprises building interfaces and layers on top. The effort has been to break silos through real-time governance and move away from case to case approach to systematic governance with meaningful participation of stakeholders. These are all next-gen reforms.

A great example of this is the government e-Marketplace (GeM) which is the national public procurement portal, all online end-to-end for open, efficient and transparent procurement of goods and services by the government. The platform has transformed legacy procurement systems through a disruptive marketplace model and the use of technology, analytics and digitization of process. It is an example of minimum government and maximum governance. Similarly, the National Agriculture Market (eNAM) is an electronic trading portal which networks the existing mandis under the agriculture product market committees to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities. It removes information asymmetry between buyers and sellers and promotes real-time price discovery based on structural demand and supply.

I recall that in the first presentation that I made to Prime Minister Modi in June 2014 as the then Secretary, DIPP, I was directed to focus on Ease of Doing Business and make India easy and simple. India was then ranked 142 in World Bank’s EODB Index and in the previous four years had only worsened its position. Since then a vast number of rules, regulations, processes and over 1400 laws have been eliminated. As a consequence, India has jumped up 79 positions in the global rankings – the only large country in the world to have made such a quantum jump. Our target is to get into the top 50 next year and within the top 25 in the next three years. In a federal country like India, it is the states which attract investments. We, therefore, started ranking States on outcomes. There was an intense competition. The first year Gujarat came number one. The very next year Andhra Pradesh beat Gujarat and in the third year, Telangana and Andhra emerged on top. But the good thing was that eastern states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh made radical reforms and came fourth and fifth. My belief is that if competition can transform eastern states which highly resource-rich India will have long term equitable growth.

Accompanying this was reforming the entire Foreign Direct Investment regime. We piloted different proposals for a liberalizing sector after sector and abolish the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. All of them were approved by the Prime Minister. These reforms have led FDI inflows in India growing and expanding from US $36 billion in 2013-14 to US $74 billion in 2019-20. This, despite the global FDI, flows falling sharply during the same period.

Next, realizing that entrepreneurship technology and innovation are at the heart of transforming India, Government launched the Start-up India movement. An increasing number of advanced technology start-ups, the rising adoption of data analytics, artificial intelligence and internet of things in everyday processes and continuing investor interest in Indian start-up have created a dynamic ecosystem. Many of India’s start-ups are revolutionizing service delivery and quality across several emerging areas of growth. A large number of them are finding solutions for the unique challenges of India and several of them are leveraging technology to enhance health and education outcomes. In a very short while we have been to develop the second-best ecosystem for start-ups in the world with over 21 unicorns. To encourage innovation reengineering of proceedings and online filing of Patents and Trademarks was undertaken. This has led to Patent examination increasing from 22631 in 2014-15 to 800088 by 2019-20. The time required for Patent examination has reduced from 6 years to a mere 12 months. The period of examination in new trademarks has reduced from 13 months to less than 30 days.

Some commentators have argued that this is a government which believes in gradualism and has not undertaken big-ticket reforms. Some others have spoken about implementation on the ground. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Two of the biggest reforms ushered are the Goods and Services Tax and the Bankruptcy Code. Creating the GST council – a new federal arrangement where Centre has only a 33% vote and States account for 66% with any dispute requiring a 75% support has been pathbreaking. It subsumed 17 taxes and multiple cesses, aligning India with global regimes, ended long queues of trucks at state borders and created a seamless national market. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code has been a key economic reform leading to faster recovery of stressed assets and quicker resolution. It has instilled a better sense of credit discipline and for the first time in India, there is seriousness among defaulting borrowers because of the fear of losing their assets on the ground in a timebound manner If the resolution process fails. A vast number of cases are being disposed of even prior to the IBC process as the borrowers make good and amounts in default to the creditors. Another tough bullet to bite has been to Real Estate Regulation Act (RERA) which has brought discipline in the construction sector, provided protection to consumers and ensured that delivery of the ongoing construction is a seamless process.

The Ujjwala Yojana (providing 8 crore cooking gas connection to below poverty line families), Ujala (distribution of 123 million LED bulbs savings 43 million kilowatts hour per day) and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (providing electrification to all villages) are examples of speedy timebound implementation on the ground.

Government has also sent out a clear message to investors across the world by restructuring its direct tax regime. It slashed the corporate tax structure to 15% for new manufacturing companies and 22% for all companies. The new rates bring India on par with most OECD and neighbouring countries like China and Indonesia. The lower rates will reduce the cost of capital and catalyse investments.

In my view, the best examples of the reformistic zeal of the government was demonstrated by two key social programmes – the Swach Bharat Mission and Ayushman Bharat. Both of them have gone beyond being mere government schemes and have become the shared vision of the entire nation. I have admired SBM as it did not lay emphasis on the construction of toilets but focused on behavioural change and outcomes. It succeeded because of strong political will and PMs personal commitment and the fact that it was demand-driven. Out of pocket healthcare expenses which are catastrophic push nearly 66 lakh households of India into poverty every year. Ayushman Bharat through 1,50,000 health and wellness centres is shifting the focus of healthcare provision towards providing primary healthcare to its citizens. PMJAY while providing insurance to 50 crore beneficiaries will leverage facilities in public and private hospitals. It has been a remarkable success story.

The COVID-19 crisis offered an opportunity and the government has demonstrated courage and determination to usher in long-pending radical reforms. It has given the freedom to Indian farmers to sell to anyone and freed them from the APMC monopoly. It has amended the much dreaded Essential Commodities Act to enable farmers to get better price realization, attract investments and make agriculture competitive. Foodstuffs including cereals, edible oils, oilseeds, pulses, onion and potato have been deregulated. Contract farming has been introduced to enable farmers to engage with processors, aggregators and exporters. There are big-ticket reforms and will drive the doubling of farmers income by 2025. Similarly, the redefinition of MSME sector based on turnover which was held up for over two decades, the commercial mining of coal, the massive liberalization of the mineral sector and the announcement that Public sector will remain only in a few strategic sectors clearly demonstrate the determination of the government to make structural reforms. These are all unpresented measures. There is clear intent that business must be driven to size, scale and efficiency by private sector and government must only be a catalyst.

The last few years have seen wide-ranging reforms and there are several implementation success stories which have transformed the lives of the citizen at grassroots levels. The 1991 reforms were essentially industrial delicensing reforms. Recent reforms cut across technology, innovation, institutions, FDI, governance and touch several unreformed key sectors. Together they represent a watershed reform moment which will drive India’s growth and prosperity. To rephrase my namesake Immanuel Kant, I believe that these reforms will be a means to transform the lives of our people.


Date:10-06-20

If PM Cares

There must be more transparency in use of PM CARES fund created to deal with pandemic

Shama Mohamed  , [ The writer is national media panelist, Indian National Congress] 

On March 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of a separate fund to deal with COVID-19 — the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES). Observers were quick to question the need for a separate fund, when India already had an established Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF). The PMNRF is more representative of the concerns of Indians: Its committee includes, among others, the Prime Minister, the President of India and the president of the Indian National Congress. Decision-makers for PM CARES include the Prime Minister, the finance minister, the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Defence, all from one political party.

The PMNRF had an unused corpus of Rs 3,800.44 crore as of 2019. Despite this, Modi established the PM CARES fund and solicited donations for it. Reportedly, the Indian Railway donated Rs 151 crore. The army, navy and air force, defence PSUs and employees of the defence ministry have collectively donated Rs 500 crore. While a significant portion of these contributions has been voluntary, it appears that many government employees weren’t given much of a choice.

Circulars were being issued in various government departments, “urging” employees to contribute one day’s salary each month or give their objection in writing. The implication seemed ominous: Anyone objecting to this “voluntary contribution” could find themselves in a spot, even face retaliatory action.

When donations are made from taxpayer funds by government bodies, the public has the right to know where the money is going. This is where the most problematic issue with PM CARES arises — its lack of transparency. The Modi government has stated that the CAG will not audit the fund. Rather, it will be audited by independent auditors appointed by the trust. The PMO has also refused to make the documents related to the PM CARES fund public. If the government has nothing to hide, why not allow the CAG to audit it?

On March 24, Modi appeared on television and announced a 21-day lockdown with four hours’ notice. Millions of migrant labourers were stranded in cities with no savings to survive. The people waited for PM Modi to use the PM CARES funds to help these migrants. No such announcement came. An estimated 12.2 crore have lost their jobs since the lockdown was announced. No funds from PM CARES were allocated to create jobs for them.

A recent analysis by IndiaSpend estimated that at least Rs 9,677.90 crore has been collected in the PM CARES fund so far. Of this, Rs 4,308 crore has been donated by government agencies and staff. Yet, the only announcement to be made till date about the usage of the funds is the allocation of Rs 3,100 crore for COVID-19 work, made on May 13 — Rs 2,000 crore of which is mired in controversy. The reason: The central government is procuring 5,000 ventilators from a Rajkot-based firm which has supplied ventilators to Ahmedabad’s largest COVID-19 hospital. These machines have proved inadequate, and have forced Ahmedabad Civil Hospital to put out an SOS for “actual ventilators”. The PM CARES fund has announced that it would be spending Rs 2,000 crore for the purchase of 50,000 “Made in India” ventilators. It is to be hoped that they do not prove to be substandard.

PM CARES comes with a litany of problems. The decision-makers at its helm belong to one political party. Besides, there is total lack of transparency about the use of the funds. The allegations of cronyism and favouritism with regard to spending are particularly of concern. The most worrying part, however, is the fund has clearly not benefited the people who needed help. The fund may be called PM CARES, but does the PM really care?


Date:10-06-20

City of the future

Urban governance systems must reform, ensuring convergence and fixing of accountability

Prince Dhawan , [The writer, an IAS officer, is deputy commissioner, Lohit, government of Arunachal Pradesh.]

A comparative analysis of the emerging coronavirus cases across India clearly shows that rural areas have fared extremely well in comparison to urban areas in enforcing the various Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines related to the lockdowns and, consequently, in containing the overall spread of COVID-19. It can also be ascertained that a majority of the uncontrolled COVID-19 spread has occurred in urban areas and metropolitan cities, despite them having better health infrastructure. The urban governance machinery certainly has lessons to learn from its rural contemporary.

Fundamentally, there is a stark contrast between the socio-economic and demographic landscape of the rural and urban areas. A robust urban governance model needs to recognise these differences and accordingly adapt itself to better serve the urban citizen. From my experience as a public administrator, a key learning is that this can only happen if our urban governance model is rebuilt on the following pillars: Convergence and accountability; urban populace specific schemes; wider public participation; and use of the latest technologies.

To begin with, there is an urgent need to re-empower the institution of the district magistrate in urban towns, where districts are not well-recognised by the public and the district administration machinery is not even used by many government departments. Notably, most of the functions that the gram panchayats and other departments perform in rural areas are usually monitored and supervised by district collectors — this is not the case with the municipalities in urban areas. To achieve convergence, we need to have a clear command and control structure at the field level. We need to eliminate the multiplicity of authorities and institutions in the urban areas with one function being managed by one institution only — and which is publicly accountable. A beginning in this direction could be made by designating the district magistrate as the ex-officio municipal commissioner, and also ensuring that the line department functionaries report to the DM in the field. This will ensure accountability of performance, and will also ensure easy grievance redressal which is currently a nightmare for the urban citizen because one usually doesn’t know the correct grievance redressal authority for specific complaints. A re-empowered DM can operate a centralised call centre where anyone can register any grievance related to any department, and since all of them would be reporting to the DM, he can then directly engage the concerned department for an early resolution of the grievance.

Further, while the rural populace and habitation is comparatively more “permanent” with their various records being maintained centrally at the DM’s office or one of its extended arms; it is not the case in cities: There, a large portion of the population comprises daily wagers, street vendors, rag-pickers and migrants who do not have address proofs in the city.

A reformed urban governance machinery needs to invest in building a credible database of the urban poor and migrants, along with mapping their skills that is maintained centrally at the office of the re-empowered district magistrate. The urban poor may be granted new types of identification documents which can be held by the people in addition to those pertaining directly to their native place: The national migrant database, announced in May by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is a step in this direction. This database will help in implementing MGNREGA like schemes for the urban poor also, which will provide adequate employment opportunities for the skilled and unskilled workers. It will also help the unified district administration to ensure better targeting of the intended beneficiaries. This data shall also assist policy makers in developing tailor-made schemes for the urban populace such as running part-time skill development courses with flexible timings which enable participants to enhance their skills without prolonged absence from their regular work.

Another contrast between the rural and urban areas lies in the level of public participation in decision-making spaces. In the villages, the holding of chaupals, and gram sabhas and gram panchayat meetings at the local panchayat bhawan are frequent. The same can’t be said for cities where people are “unavailable” and do not “participate actively” in public discussions in settings that governments take cognizance of, such as ward committees. Moreover, in the current scenario, multiple wings of the urban administration interact with citizens incoherently, often on a piecemeal basis — and the urban citizen, consequently, doesn’t feel as involved in public decision-making .

To garner meaningful public feedback in urban areas, the unified urban governance structure led by the DM needs to take cognisance of new emerging social settings where the public is most easily accessible for interaction. These include interacting with the public over Facebook Live chats, Zoom sessions, emails, WhatsApp, Twitter, and radio shows. Public meetings must be held at places and at times that cause minimum disruption to the citizens’ daily schedules.

Next, in rural areas, the regulatory functions — such as town planning, enforcing building by-laws and renewal of trade licenses — are relatively more straightforward as the scale is small compared to urban areas. In order to perform these functions efficiently, a reformed urban district administration shall have to increasingly use technologies such as mobile-governance, geo-spatial platforms for zonal regulations and property tax, tele-education, and block chain-based networks for record keeping and verification.

As we initiate a post-COVID-19 Atmanirbhar nation-building exercise, the current urban governance structure must begin rebuilding internal systems, ensuring convergence and fixing accountability at the level of the urban district magistrate. The buck, after all, must stop somewhere.


Date:10-06-20

Crossing the line

Delhi should not hide failures by limiting health-care access to just its residents

Editorial

The decision announced by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to restrict COVID-19 treatment in Delhi’s private hospitals and those run by the government of NCT only to those with proof of residence in the city was ill-thought-out. As Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal noted in his order overruling the decision, ‘Right to Health’ is an integral part of ‘Right to Life’ under Article 21 of the Constitution. While health care is far from being universal in India, positively denying that to someone on the grounds of residency is insensitive and irresponsible. The Lieutenant-Governor has now directed that treatment should not be denied to anyone. Mr. Kejriwal depicted a scenario of “people of the whole country” overwhelming hospitals in the city as justification for his nativism. After the LG’s intervention, the Chief Minister and his deputy, Manish Sisodia, reiterated the argument and preemptively sought to wash their hands of the worsening situation. They expect 5.5 lakh COVID-19 cases by July-end for which 80,000 beds could be needed. The 10-week lockdown was meant to ramp up health infrastructure, and if the AAP government has not done that, it has only itself to blame. In fact, it must come clean on what it has done.

Restriction of movement is a crucial tool in pandemic management, but it has to be justifiable. The NCT is functionally contiguous with Gurugram in Haryana and NOIDA in Uttar Pradesh. Thousands cross these borders for work and other needs including health care. People contribute to tax revenues in three different jurisdictions. This makes Mr. Kejriwal’s rhetoric unreasonable as much as Karnataka’s decision to prevent residents of Kasargod in Kerala from accessing hospitals in Mangaluru earlier. The AAP government’s approach is contentious for more reasons, however, as it is using it also as a diversionary tactic. While the city is recording an exponential growth in infections, the government is trying to deflect attention from its inadequacies by hiding the numbers. It has reduced testing dramatically — on June 2 it was 6,070, on June 7, 5,042, and on June 8, 3,700. The AAP government accused private labs of flouting ICMR guidelines and discouraged testing of asymptomatic people. The high positivity rate — the proportion of positives to total tests — indicates that the NCT is not testing enough. The ICMR’s May 18 strategy directed testing of direct and high risk contacts of confirmed coronavirus individuals even if asymptomatic. The government revised this by removing “asymptomatic” from the clause, which was also overturned by the LG who ordered that guidelines must be adhered to in their entirety. Delhi is testing more than the national average for per million population but that does not say much given that it has a population density 30 times the national figure. Delhi needs to get its act together.


Date:10-06-20

Being vocal on the right local

India has the capacity to refocus on the right choice; it only has to agree on the vision

Rohini Somanathan  is Professor, Delhi School of Economics

On May 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon Indians to be “vocal for local”. The way in which we, as citizens and professionals, interpret the local will have far-reaching effects on the country’s landscape and prosperity.

We could transform ourselves into a greener and more humane society, with access to affordable health care, functioning public schools, choices over where we work and live, and support for those who cannot work. Cities could breathe again and families could move to opportunity rather than be forced out of their homes by drought and desperation. Or, we could rapidly roll backwards, buying umbrellas with easily broken frames, toasters whose levers have to be held down, office chairs with castors that grip rather than slide, researchers who find it difficult to equip their laboratories and avoid reading research at the disciplinary frontier because they are too far from being able to produce it.

And most importantly, there will be people with experience and skills who cannot find the capital, the designs, or the markets to use them. Thousands of them continue to return to their villages each day.

A pointer

COVID-19 has brought many countries to an unexpected fork in their development trajectories. It has made visible new facts, figures and the feelings of citizens towards these facts and figures.

In my quotidian, pre-COVID-19 life, I passed women in their colourful Rajasthani lehengas with plates of wet concrete on their heads, chatted with home and office staff about their villages and their parents, visited my tailor to find he had gone away for a wedding to Medinipur (West Bengal), waited for my carpenter to fix the door handles after he came back from dropping his wife at her parent’s house in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, and asked the security guard whether he had managed to buy his cow in Jharkhand and arrange for a new ration card for his family. I got the latest news on radio cab contracts and local politics in Bihar when I drove back from the airport with my (inevitably) Bhagalpuri taxi driver.

These everyday encounters and conversations made India what it was, they brought colour to my life and warmed my heart. I just did not see the flip side. That for all these people, their minds and hearts were elsewhere much of the time, in places they would have liked to be if they could have earned a living and educated their children. The pandemic, with its fears and lockdowns, has shown us, in painful and graphic detail, the massive numbers who would have liked to be in their ancestral homes in such circumstances. These images, of those who reached and those who did not, should guide our conception of the local.

Village demographics have changed dramatically. Pockets of virtually empty villages in the Himalayan foothills have become re-populated and many of the poorest parts of the country have experienced the largest inflows. After the trauma of the last two months, re-united families would like to stay together. They will search for local livelihoods and they desperately need immediate and substantial social transfers. Strengthening these communities would show a real commitment to the right kind of local. This requires making our safety nets wide, accessible and fair. It involves building schools, clinics and hospitals within easy reach, and opening windows of credit to those with ideas without first asking them to label themselves as farmers or micro-entrepreneurs. If we imagine villages as consisting only of farmers and labourers, hit periodically by cyclones and drought, our support to them will not move beyond Kisan credit cards and employment guarantees. Those returning home are from many walks of life and have travelled far and wide. Development policy should help them use their skills and new perspectives to reimagine their communities while they earn a living.

How to get it right

The wrong kind of local would be to promote goods that are made in India through tariffs, quotas and new government procurement rules. We have attained global competitiveness over the last two decades in many new fields such as software development, pharmaceuticals and engineering products. All of these have flourished through international collaboration and feedback from foreign consumers. It would be short-sighted to imagine that we would reach these consumers if we restricted access to our own markets. I am reminded of a conversation with a friend a few years ago. She said she wanted to design products that were bought in the international market because they were simply the most beautiful; not because they were cheap or supported artisans. She subsequently succeeded in doing just that, and, in the process, probably taught many the elements of good design.

Many of our sustainable energy initiatives have also depended on government action elsewhere. For example, solar energy was subsidised in Germany and in California when it was far more expensive than fossil energy, China mass produced solar panels and costs of production came down enough for other countries, including ours, to start adopting them. The pandemic should have made us aware, like never before, of our interdependencies, of the limits of our knowledge and the need for global engagement.

Sustainable and resilient communities cannot be built on a fiscal and regulatory structure that is highly centralised. The Centre would have to devolve to the States and the States to locally elected representatives. If we adequately fund, support and trust local governments and remain open to absorbing both the knowledge and products that others produce better than us, we can create a society where all, not just a few, matter. If we insist that everything can be “made in India” and close borders because a crisis sealed them temporarily, we open ourselves to mediocrity and isolation, continued mass poverty and greater vulnerability to future pandemics. We have the capacity to refocus on the right local, if only we could agree on the vision.


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