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A shocking 12.6 lakh children in India are still into the abhorrent practice of child labour which is destroying their childhood. This shows that despite having taken a number of measures to secure the rights of the children, results on ground are far from satisfactory. Though there has been a rampant economic growth during the past over couple of decades, yet lakhs of children continue to be exposed to different forms of exploitation both physical as well as mental. Even bringing various legislations to ensure protection of children's rights besides setting up of a full-fledged Ministry of Women and Child Development as against the Department of Women and Development that used to function as part of the Human Resource Development Ministry could not dispel the dismal situation on this front. With more than a third of its population below the age of 18, India has the largest child population in the world. One out of 16 children dies before attaining the age of 1, and one out of 11 dies before becoming 5 years old besides 35% of the developing world's low-birth-weight babies being born in India. In this background the cause of children needs to be the topmost priority of the government. It seems that the approach towards addressing this problem having failed needs to be revisited. Currently the approach being fragmented gives rise to lack of universality in standards, monitoring and coordination and there is a need to bring a paradigm shift in it to achieve the desired results. First and foremost a beginning needs to be made with the simple premise that every child deserves a happy and safe childhood as this is the main driving force to pursue the initiatives in the direction of ensuring the best childhood to Indian children. The government alongwith its agencies and NGOs should launch professionally tailored projects in this regard in the remotest parts of the nation to protect children from harm. The main focus needs to be made on the most disadvantaged local communities, sensitising and educating them about the rights of children to help them understand that children are meant to be at school and not at work. Besides this the Children Groups could be the most effective in the direction of safeguarding the rights of the children. Vulnerable children in a community could be brought together to collectively work with the solutions provided to them to help themselves and each other in their areas. These Children Groups can be most effective by training them to identify cases of child rights violation be it child marriage, child trafficking, child abuse or child labour. Schools can play a significant role in such drives launched by the government and NGOs. For the vulnerable children above 14 years of age there is a need for organising skill-based vocational trainings and prepare them for dignified employment opportunities in order to minimise the chances of their being resorting to child labour. However, last but not the least there is a dire need to strengthen the implementation of the concerning laws and schemes for the benefit of children in this regard. Here the topmost priority is to be accorded to well integrated network and coordination among the authorities and stakeholders at various levels be it block, district, state or national level so that the nation ultimately achieves the target of happy and safe childhood.


 Poor hygiene in eateries


Dead Editor,
Through the medium of your esteemed newspaper I would like to draw the attention of the common people across Jammu towards the eateries spread throughout the city and people relishing various delicacies. I would like to specially point out here that the city roads are mostly in shambles due to continuous digging by various departments and agencies and in such a situation the atmosphere is full of dust during this season. It is really surprising to notice crowds of customers at open moveable eateries on Rehris besides at other vendors' stalls selling ready to relish sliced fruits, who seem to be quite ignorant about the food hygiene and give open invitation to various diseases. It is pertinent to mention here that we do eat at different eating places other than our homes, be it in the open or under roof but we least bother to ascertain whether the food is cooked ,served or preserved in hygienic conditions or not. I have tried to do so at a number of eateries and was stunned to find in some eateries food s being prepared in the most unhygienic conditions. I am sure that if those visiting eateries ever inspect the place where food is cooked they may not be able to eat there again. It has been noticed that major hygiene standards are not followed by major eateries including even some restaurants in the City of Temples. It is amazing to find that the workers at these establishments are never given a medical check-up, they never wear gloves while cutting vegetables or cooking food, not to talk of the cleanliness of clothes neat and clean. Therefore I appeal to one and all not to be misled by such food being served so beautifully that we overlook such dangerous practice risking our health. Not only the government but we the customers should also be aware about whether there is cleanliness at such eating places. So we should make it a habit to inspect the pre-table service process to ascertain whether we visit the right place to relish the delicacies.
Prof C.L. Kaul,
Trikutanagar, Jammu.

The resistance revolution in Kashmir

Arun Joshi

The Kashmir situation is going from bad to worse. In the current situation, almost every household has become a grooming centre for the would-be “warriors”, where children sing the songs calling for “martyrdom” to boost their morale These are uploaded on social media and get the intended response. A message of hatred against India is spread and that translates into anger on the streets.
Homes, schools and streets peddle this narrative of Islam and liberation. The tales that parents, teachers and the youngsters bring about the real or imagined or exaggerated versions of the “atrocities” of the security forces reinforces the thinking that they are living in a besieged land. The talk of the village corners has shifted from devastating militancy of the 1990s to “state terrorism.” It is something that separatists had been saying for long, now the “mainstream” leaders, too, have joined the chorus. They are unanimous in demanding restraint from the security forces but are shy of telling the misguided youth to go to schools instead of stoning the security personnel. That has made this narrative of “state terrorism” more pronounced. A recent video showing the Army using a youth as a human shield has further given credence to this version to the youth.
Conditioned minds
They are conditioned by the mindset of resistance not only for the liberation of Kashmir but also as their religious obligation. Kashmiri nationalism is just a cover, as always. The militancy was guided by the goal of setting up an Islamic Republic in Kashmir. The situation is dreadful — the fear of the Army is over; crowds gather in a matter of seconds and start throwing stones, political workers are either being killed or threatened to declare their disassociation with the political groups that they belong to. The disclaimers broadcast on social media, combined with real-time blood spilling, has infused the atmosphere with extreme fear for commoners. The police department's advisory to its personnel that they should not visit their homes for the next few months is seen an admission of the deteriorating situation where policemen have been told to be extremely cautious. That means that the threat to them is real.
Alongside, there are youth drawn from villages, schools and colleges who are manifesting their anger on the streets using stones, each stone cast with a message that they were ready to face bullets. And, once the bullets are fired, the cycle of funerals, burials, new vows and martyrdom move at an unimagined pace. This cements the feelings that a final battle has to be fought.
A striking factor was that there was a deep element of fear of the search-and-cordon operations. People would sit for hours during search operations. There was an awe. Now such operations are near-impossible. There is no forbidden zone for the stone-throwers or gunmen.
Deadly trio
A new deadly trio has emerged of gunmen, stone-throwers and the crowds offering moral support to them. In 1990, it was hoped that Army would reverse the situation and that it did, making it possible for the politicians to contest elections and form the governments. Then the vested interests in Delhi started playing games — a fair assessment of the situation was dumped as a bad idea because the threats from across the border had not vanished and militancy was not over as yet. The breathing space was scotched.
Nowadays, public anger and hate against India is too pronounced to be ignored. The politicians, who are now calling for restraint by the security forces, were the ones who never bothered to deliver on governance. The basic needs of the people were ignored with contempt. They ruled with the backing of Delhi, and the Centre never held them accountable for their waywardness. They started hiding their failures by claiming that they were working for the larger goal of a political solution to the Kashmir crisis. The new generation did not trust these politicians, who promised “sadak, bijli, paani” during the election campaign but shifted their narrative to the honourable and dignified solution of the Kashmir crisis. Their flip-flop and mishandling of small incidents snowballed into a bigger crisis of confidence. The political class is seen as “opportunistic, collaborators, exploiters and corrupt to core.”
Religious identity
Now they suspect that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed BJP is trying to undermine their religious identity. Religion is a very sensitive issue in the exclusively Muslim Kashmir. This is the most uniting factor as the “pro-freedom leadership” started its campaign by driving Kashmiri Pandits out of the Valley. That was in 1990. The 2017 visual realities of the Muslim world clashing with the West and their own youth heckling, slapping, kicking the CRPF jawans has given them the power of aggression. They are sensing a new revolution that would make India retreat.
That is where the situation is not only uncontrollable but also defining new dangers of disintegration of the state that can have a ripple effect on the rest of the places as well. This mindset of resistance is the real challenge for the country now.




The number cruncher

Mythili Bhusnurmath

The recommendations of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) committee report are unlikely to do much for fiscal discipline if the fiscal council is not put on a sounder footing.
There is much to commend in the FRBM Act review committee report, placed by the government in the public domain last week. Not least its push for a root and branch reform of the present regimen prescribed under the FRBM Act, 2003, prescription of an anchor (debt), in addition to two operational goalposts - fiscal and revenue deficits - and, most importantly, its suggestion to set up an institutional mechanism to support 'responsible growth'.
However, since Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's raison d'etre for appointing the committee was to address what was perceived as lacunae in the existing regimen, any assessment must examine if its recommendations will be an improvement over the present system. On this, the verdict is somewhat mixed.
What are the main drawbacks of the existing system? Essentially three. While it is relatively easy for irresponsible governments to give the go-bye to targets and rules prescribed under the Act, in theory, precise targets give little flexibility to fiscally responsible governments in times of economic stress. Two, the focus is only on deficits - fiscal and revenue - with virtually no attention being paid to another critical pillar of macro-economic stability, public debt. Three, there is no institutional mechanism to keep governments in check.
The net result, as the experience of the past 13 years shows, is that the Act has become virtually a dead letter. After some initial success - the general government deficit (Centre plus states) declined from 9.6 per cent in 2001-02 to 4 per cent in 2007-08, with the Centre's fiscal deficit (FD) to GDP ratio falling to 2.5 per cent in 2007-08 - the ratio shot up to 9.3 per cent in 2009-2010, with the Centre's deficit crossing 6.5 per cent.
Part of the reason was the stimulus measures adopted in the aftermath of the Lehman Bros collapse, the slowdown in activity, and the resulting low tax revenues. But many measures that led to the abrupt worsening of fiscal health - implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, and the expansion of MNREGA - had, in fact, been undertaken even before the crisis, purely with an eye on the 2009 elections.
No doubt, the position has improved since. But the harsh reality is that close to a decade after the original deadline (2008-09) under the FRBM, we are yet to achieve the targets stipulated for the Centre under the Act: FD/GDP (3 per cent) and complete elimination of the revenue deficit (RD). At the same time, the debt to GDP ratio, which had shown a decline over the years, has started edging up.
The question we need to ask is, how do the recent recommendations stack up against the main drawbacks of the present system? There are 29 recommendations, but I will focus on three, which to my mind, are the key.
One, the recommendation to adopt a new anchor, the ratio of general government debt to GDP. This, the committee says, should be capped at 60 per cent with sub-limits for the Central government (40 per cent) and the states collectively (20 per cent). Debt sustainability is a critical element of macroeconomic stability, but there is little to suggest that 60 per cent is some kind of magical number beyond which all hell will break loose. What is more important is whether the debt is being incurred for productive investment or for current consumption. There is much less danger if it is the former, especially if the rate of return on the investment (and here the rate of growth is a good proxy) is higher than the rate of interest on the borrowed funds.
Past experience also shows that up to a point, high debt need not necessarily impede growth. Indeed, periods of high fiscal deficit have gone hand in hand with a falling debt/GDP ratio and it is only after 2014-15 that the ratio has moved up (ironically, in the very years when the Centre started paying greater attention to fiscal discipline).
Two, the recommendation to stick to precise numbers for the two key operational targets, FD/GDP (2.5 per cent in 2023) and RD/GDP (0.8 per cent in 2023), rather than opt for a 'band'. The argument against a band is that democratically elected governments will, typically, operate at the top-end of the band (be more fiscally imprudent). Hence, says the committee, it is better to have precise numbers, but with strictly laid-out escape clauses to provide flexibility. The report specifies three situations where deviations from the target may be allowed, extreme events and a sharp growth slowdown (of at least three percentage points) or when there are 'far-reaching structural reforms with unanticipated fiscal implications'.
However, there is no reason why rigid targets with escape clauses should be superior to a 'band'. Any escape clause will entail some element of discretion. Would demonetisation, for instance, qualify as a 'far- reaching structural reform'? Would GST? Whether we like it or not, we must give governments the benefit of the doubt and hope they will not act entirely without responsibility.
Three, the recommendation to set up a fiscal council, comprising persons with domain expertise in public finance, economics or public affairs. The council is to have an advisory role and, among other things, provide an independent assessment of the Central government's performance vis-à-vis the targets. On this, I have one major reservation. Fiscal decisions, whether relating to revenue or to expenditure, are essentially political economy decisions. Experts have an important role, but if the advice is not to remain on paper, it is imperative that the composition of the council is expanded to include elected representatives on the lines of the Empowered Group of State Finance Ministers, a model that has worked well in the context of VAT and GST.
The report gives more leeway to the Centre than states. Unlike in the FRBM 2003, where both Centre and states are required to reach a FD/GDP target of 3 per cent, the committee proposes a tighter target for the states (2.02 per cent) compared to the Centre (2.5 per cent) by 2023. Likewise, within the overall debt/GDP target of 60 per cent, the Centre gets 40 per cent. This seems to go against the very grain of de-centralised democracy. To those who say states have been profligate and need to be kept on a leash, one can point to the far better performance of the states, which even the report acknowledges.
The best of reports can only get you thus far. We can specify more targets and build more institutional mechanisms, but unless these reflect the political-economic realities, the new regimen will not be the best solution. For that, co-opt elected representatives of people, both at the Centre and the states.




  Sunday Magazine