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Flights of Corporate Fantasy

Letters

Sudarshan Model

A
shish Bose appreciates the work done by H Sudarshan among the Soliga tribes in the BR Hills near Mysore in Karnataka (February 18, 2006). Nobody denies the wonderful work done by Sudarshan over the years. However, there is an apparent “conflict of interest” regarding his work with the Karnataka Lokayukta where Sudarshan officiates as vigilance director for medical issues on a monthly salary of Re 1. Recently, a Lokayukta member demanded the resignation of Sudarshan from the Lokayukta as his raids on health centres and government hospitals were in the news all the time, and every irregularity at these centres was being reported. How come Sudarshan’s Vivekananda Girigan Kalyan Kendramanaged health centres are somehow excluded from the Lokayukta’s visits? People and other activists have a right to know why NGO-managed PHCs in the state have never been raided by the Lokayukta? Are our NGO activists above board?

While we all appreciate the work done among the Soliga tribes by Sudarshan, we cannot agree with Ashish Bose that the government hand over the PHCs lock, stock, and barrel to such NGOs. When government made its offer to NGOs, along with a clear-cut budgetary provision of reducing funding by 25 per cent, NGOs like VGKK came forward. Why should they grumble now? NGOs are supposed to work cost effectively and efficiently unlike government PHCs.

MANU N KULKARNI

Bangalore

Flights ofCorporate Fantasy

D
rawing inspiration from the book The Commanding Heights, written by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, Nanden Nilekani, CEO, president and managing director of Infosys Technologies, in his article ‘When the State Took Flight’, New Indian Express (February 10, 2006) puts forth the view that the balance has shifted from dominant state control to more reliance on markets for economic growth, job creation and capital allocation, with the state being the arbiter and setting the rules for the market, and the last resort for societal needs.

Nilekani supports his argument that in the epic struggle between the state and free market, the scales were tipped in favour of the free market by the collapse of labour strikes during the Reagan and Thatcher era and the recent airport strike in India. The brutal downsizing of the public sector is another iron-clad dogma of free market ideologues.

What happens when public service monopolies are privatised? The normal reaction of private sector owners is to impose monopoly prices on the public while richly remunerating themselves. Recent examples only confirm this gloomy trend. For instance, in January 2000 Bechtel (a US corporation) through its majority-owned subsidiary Aguas del Tunari took over the management of water resources in Bolivia’s third largest city Cochabamba and the result was dramatic. The rates for supply of water were hiked by 200 per cent and this led to widespread water riots and Bechtel had to close down its operations. The privatisation of Delhi power supply has not exactly been a success story. Again the hiking of tariff rates led to civil disobedience among Delhi’s consumers. There were allegations that the privatisation process was not above board. In the Public Accounts Committee report it was alleged that all the guidelines for privatisation were flouted and that there were mala fide intention on the part of certain officials to render the public undertaking a loss-making unit.

The biased media coverage of the recent airport strike suppressed the real issue at stake in privatisation. While the media took great pains to highlight the inconvenience caused to the passengers, it conveniently ignored the vital issue that the government was presented with an eminently desirable plan nearly three years ago to modernise the airports. The plan was submitted by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to the

(Continued on p 928)

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Economic and Political Weekly March 11, 2006

Letters

(Continued from p 842)

cabinet. The proposal was to finance the modernisation by using the huge cash reserves of AAI (one of the most successful public sectors with cash reserves of Rs 3,000 crore and zero debt) as well as borrowed funds. Both the NDA and UPA governments did not implement the plan, causing congestion and lack of facilities in the airports. The workers struck as they accused the government of deliberately running down the airport by not acting on the plan, with the intention of handing over the airport to private hands. The lessons from the strike served to debate the desirability of privatising a strategic asset removing it from national control. Thus the thrust of privatisation has nothing to do with efficiency or improved services as claimed by corporate elites, but is simply a device to transfer wealth from the public purse to private hands.

The dismantling of India’s commanding heights bodes ill for our Republic which has about 52 per cent of its population living below $1 per day. India with 17 per cent of the world’s population has less than 1.7 per cent of the world’s income. In the Human Development Index, India ranks 127 among 175 countries. Unemployment has grown sharply over the years with the software services and BPO accounting for a mere 0.25 per cent of the labour force. The dismantling of the permit raj has not brought the promised El Dorado to the masses.

With the state taking flight by shedding its constitutional obligation to its people and allowing the mystique of the market to rule, it has abdicated its primary role to protect its citizens from economic insecurity. The mantra of the reform process glibly trotted out by the ruling elites is in effect an Orwellian term for a return to slavery. A bleak lunar landscape emerges under the hubris of the free market, where labour is commodified, the iron laws of supply, demand and return on investment reign supreme and human voices are stilled forever.

C R SRIDHAR

Bangalore

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