Vol-XCVI : May 1, 2012

Dear Colleagues

I began these 8 years ago on May 1; it is indeed a historic day as it reflects the aspirations of the working class around the world. Some thoughts for your perusal:

1. The debate between public and private purposes of higher education continues unabated around the world; if post-secondary education is a pure public good, it should then be fully subsidized by publicresources; if it is a pure private good, then it should be fully paid for by student’s private means. The crux of the matter is how tobalance between the two, to arrive at a societally sustainable ‘grey’ balance. In the province of Quebec in Canada, the students havebeen demonstrating against a proposal by the provincial government to raise tuition fees for post-secondary education. Considering thatstudents from Quebec get their educational expenses mostly paid forby public funds, any proposed increase is seen as unjustified. Where to strike ( a balance)?

2. On April 24 this year, celebrations are being held for the beginning of twenty years of panchayati raj institutions as constitutional entities. The government’s function in the prestigious Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi was marked by awards to ‘good’ panchayats from around the country. The function was dominated by Hon’ble Minister for Rural Development, while the Hon’ble Minister for PRIs ‘graced’ the occasion. No PM nor Ma’m came; indication of low value given to PRIsin UPA II regime. That panchayats are a mere appendages to DRDA’s and rural development programmes, and not constitutionally mandated institutions of local self-governance, was amply borne out by the over-bearing presence of Ministry of Rural Development in the function (and functioning!).

3.  The current Chief Minister of Bihar is having a great run of popularity amongst the masses; his ‘seva yatras’ (service trips) are means to deliver development and justice ‘on the spot’. The credo of‘good governance’ launched the current government in Bihar in 2005;seven years on, that pursuit of ‘good governance’ has been diluted.Strengthening local governance institutions—both panchayats and municipalities—is not a priority. Working with civil society in a mutually respectful manner is not a priority. The space for democratic dissent is shrinking—witness the deportation of five French guests of Ekat Parishad from Jamui (the ashram of Vinoba ji in yester-years). Is it the shape of things to come in all democracies?

4.  A recent study from NCVO UK shows that public funding of voluntary organisations in UK has been increasing in recent years; it now accounts for nearly a third of their total annual revenues. A substantial portion of this funding—nearly 78 %– is meant for service delivery as sub-contractors to the government; most common areas of service delivery are employment & training and social welfare. This trend is similar to what is happening in other countries around the world; Indian voluntary sector is also increasingly becoming a sub-contractor to state governments in delivery of basic services. As a result, the independent critical voice of civil society is likely to be muted in the coming period, thereby diminishing its capacity to hold the government and its agencies to account for their commitments towards their citizens.

5.  It is still three years before the ‘term’ of current MDGs runs out. Various UN agencies are already working on ‘scoping out’ the next ‘big new deal’. Consultations, expert meetings and concept papers are all floating around in the northern capitals—New York, Paris,Geneva. No one is talking about ‘critically assessing’ why it is that such global targets are essential, what actually gets delivered in the name of such global targets, and who actually ‘owns’ these targets? Without such critical assessments, it may not be worthwhileto embark on ‘another’ such exercise. Not only such targets do not have a truly global focus (most OECD countries are excluded from any such aspirations) nor are they discussed at the local levels (so that truly meaningful agenda is determined and owned locally). We can be sure that the next generation of targets would surely include the phrase ‘sustainable’ (even if they remain unsustainable).

All the very best

Rajesh Tandon