Democracy Dreams

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The young leader in a rousing speech spoke of the blanks in the Indian governance systems and brought in some fill-ins from foreign climes, and also some Indian examples of real people’s power, speaking to Parliamentarian’s Editor-in-Chief, Tridib Raman

HonourablE Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Honourable Tridib Raman, Honourable Neelam Sharma, I have been requesting Tridib Sir for months that a conclave should be organised in Patna, because Bihar has always been a land of revolutionary thoughts.

There are a few questions in my mind related to democracy, how to start a civil revolution, how to contribute the thoughts of young people for the development of the country, about the solution of social and economic inequalities and in the end, how to improve the political condition of the common people.

A few years back, a retired teacher, Deep Chand Sharma of Alwar, Rajasthan, wrote a letter to the Prime minister’s office. He wrote: “I want to give one lakh rupees out of my pension money to the poorest man in the country.” But after a search for six months, no such man was found. He again wrote a letter asking if there is a list of the 1,000 poor people in the country who he could help. But that list also never materialised. His cheque of one lakh rupees was sent back to him. It seemed strange to me when I read this in a Rajasthan magazine. Ours is a country where 70 per cent of the people live below the poverty line, and also a country where we say with great pride that we have 84 billionaires. So somewhere in the process the poor are being lost from the discourse.

I am writing a book about the economic future of the villages. I visited several districts of Marathwada to know and learn about them. There I saw a water train sent by Maharashtra government to Latur because the water reservoir there was only 25 per cent filled. There was half a million litres of water in that train; and it was looted at three places. It took four days for the train to cover 350 km. The incident shook me completely from inside. In Mumbai, my destination, I saw a huge hoarding, which was about building a luxury complex called named Aquaria Grand, in which there will be a swimming pool with every apartment. I wondered if it is the same state where people are robbing a train for water!

NCR: Toxic Glamour

We think Delhi-NCR is so good, so progressive in every manner. But two weeks ago, two people came to meet me in Delhi. They said, “Sir, we are suffering from cancer.” They said 82 per cent of the people in their village are suffering from cancer and there are two such villages.” Faridabad and Gurgaon send 1100 metric tonnes of waste daily to the Bandhwari treatment plant, which is spread over 30 acres. The treatment plant has been closed for six years now, and toxic chemicals are seeping inside the ground so the water has become poisonous. I went to that village and saw that the colour of the water has changed into something between red and black. In Dera and Bandhwari, around 80 per cent of the people are suffering from cancer. The villages are just on the periphery of Delhi. We talk of Gurgaon as a real estate capital, IT capital but there is no mechanism for cleaning the garbage.

I am MP from Sultanpur. Two people from Sultanpur came to meet me. He said, “Sir, three people of our family are in Hyderabad, working there and are on the deathbed. Please help us.” I did. I went to Hyderabad to give a lecture, and I told the VC there that I want to see the Musi River. He replied that there were better places (for sightseeing) than Musi River and offered to take me there, but I insisted on seeing the Musi River. They took me to the river Musi, on whose banks there are 170 pharmaceutical factories. These factories sell generic drugs across the world and earn profits. Last year, the Supreme Court asked those factories to treat their waste, and to stop throwing the effluents in the river. Nowaday’s people just think about minting money, so they ignored the Supreme Court. Around one lakh people live near the Musi River. It is now considered the world’s largest cancer circle. Two thousand six hundred acres of land around the river are useless for farmers because the water has become pure poison. No media covered their story and we suppressed their voices. If any such thing happens in Delhi it will surely become news.

Great Disconnect

Two months ago I was reading in the Times of India that there is an industrialist - I would have taken his name but I do not want to embarrass him - who spent Rs 250 crore on his daughter’s wedding, and the entire family went to Europe. I was trying to recall where I had heard his name. When I was writing an article on NPAs, his name was at the top. He has to pay up a debt of 40,000 crore to the banks. I thought about the irony of the situation.

The same day, I had to go to Kerala. The main newspaper of Kerala, for which I also write, Malayala Manorama, reported that one NT Joseph, who had been sent to jail for three months was released the very day I reached. His crime was that he wanted to make his daughter a nurse and for that he had taken a loan of Rs three lakh from a bank. The girl became a nurse, and she got a job in the district hospital, but the salary was just Rs 8,000. That’s why the family was not able to pay back the loan amount within the given time. But only Rs 30,000 had been left to be paid back. For that ‘crime’ his house was seized, he was insulted publicly and sent to jail for three months. I thought of that industrialist who spent Rs 250 crore on a wedding when he has to pay a debt of Rs 40,000 crore. He has not been arrested yet, nor has his house been seized, but I hope that it will happen soon. As long as we do not connect justice with the rich people, we cannot develop faith in the common people for the system.

In the last session, I was in the Parliament. My mother’s house is very close to Jantar Mantar. Often people sit on hunger strikes there. I saw some farmers from Tamil Nadu on a strike. The situation in their villages had become so bad that they drank their own urine in protest; they also carried the skulls of dead farmers who had committed suicide.

In the same week, MLAs of Tamil Nadu doubled their own salaries. This was passed after just one day’s debate. I thought, if they would have had a discussion on the farmer’s plight for one day, then this situation may not have arisen. I am not opposed to hike in MPs’ salaries, but I despise the current system that lacks transparency, as MPs have increased their own salaries four times in the past five years. You all are sitting here, some are lawyers, some are social servants. Can you increase your own salary whenever you want to? No, you can’t.

Weakened Gender

We talk about Women Empowerment and Women Reservations. All the parties want women’s reservation to be implemented. But when the election comes, people forget to give tickets to women. How many women are in the Parliament currently? Eleven per cent. And how many women are in the country’s Legislative Assemblies? Only nine per cent. In the 2014 elections, 14 per cent women got tickets, and of that, 11 per cent won the election. This means that if you want get success in politics, include more and more women in the party.

Inclusive West

People’s representatives should have the right to express their views inside Parliament. Currently, whips are issued on over 90 per cent of the issues. In my opinion, whips should be issued on no more than 50 per cent of the topic under discussion and rest should be left open for debate by the MPs.

In England, Australia and New Zealand, there is a system in which, if more than 100,000 petitions are signed by the citizens on any issue, the lawmakers are forced to take it up in the Parliament. This will give the much-needed voice to the people in legislation. India is a big country with a large population, so we can increase that figure to five lakh signatures. But this system should be adopted in India to give space to the common people, instead of restricting the doors of Parliament for its members only.

Bolivia is a small country in South America. Sometime ago, Bolivia’s poverty was scary. To eliminate poverty, the government called 40,000 people from 500 institutions. Then the cabinet spent 45 days sitting outside the Parliament building to discuss how to eliminate poverty. That means common men could easily come and give their suggestions. They discussed topics like health inequality, sports inequality, about the marginal farmers and how to erase education problem. As a result they included 20-25 per cent of the things that the common people suggested. The result was that the United Nations says that Bolivia is the only country in the world where 30 per cent of poverty has fallen in the past 15 years.

Woman’s Power

Ambedkar Nagar is next to my district. A 24-year-old woman, Shimla Kumari who works in a brick kiln one day went to his owner and said she did not get the salary for a week. He slapped her and asked her to get lost. She went crying to his brother, who said he will talk to the labour department. There was a good man in labour department’s office. He said how many hours you work, and she said 12 hours a day. The officer asked her how much gets for that, and she said, 70 rupees. The surprised officer said, but the pay is Rs 150 for 12 hours. On that she replied, “Sir, for men it is 150 rupees, for that same work women get 70 rupees.” He was surprised and said this is illegal. He gave her a car, asked her to go in every village where women are working in brick kilns and take their signature or thumb impression so that they can get the rest of their money. As a result, 11,000 women got Rs 8.5 crore and justice because of Shimla Kumari.

We have to understand that India is our home, our motherland. We have to focus on the development and betterment of this country. There are a lot of people in this country who have gone a long way, but there are many people who have been left behind in this race of life. We have to take them with us, work with them, find solutions for their problems and sufferings, start treating everyone equally, and then only India will develop in the real way.

Lastly, I want to request you all to plant more and more trees. Whenever you go to meet people avoid offering them flowers. Flowers are dead. Instead give them saplings and make this earth a better and pollution free place to live.

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