Thursday, June 30, 2016

GST Bill and the Level of Misinformation

            Based on what transpired in the so-called exclusive interview of the Prime Minister of India by the Editor of Times Now channel, Mr. Arnab Goswamy, the @PMOIndia tweeted as follows:


With 2,928 Likes and 1,327 retweets the message about the PM’s concern for the poor reached a large audience. Obviously, the readers of this tweet would also blame ‘those in the Rajya sabha’ (read the opposition, especially the Congress party) for their lack of concern for the poor and the GST.

            I was taken aback by this hypocrisy from a man, who is holding the highest office in the Government. I wanted to respond and highlight the hypocrisy. So, I decided to confront both @PMOIndia and the @TimesNow, which had failed to ask any relevant follow up questions on such an assertion by the interviewee.  I devised two Twitter Polls, using direct quotes from Mr. Narendra Modi. Anyone who kept a tag on the developments of GST legislation would know that the quotes are attributable to Mr. Modi. My aim was, therefore, not a poll, but merely highlighting the complete U-turn from the Prime Minister.

            The first poll asked the question:

170 people were kind enough to respond, to this poll. Out of the170 responses 80% were correct in saying that it was Mr. Narendra Modi who had said the words, “Aap ki GST sapna sakaar nahi ho sakta.” Surprisingly, there were another 14% who thought it was Mr. Rahul Gandhi who had said these words. Another 6% attributed the statement to Mr. Manmohan Singh or Mr. Chidambaram who were the architects of GST legislation, in the first place!

            The second poll asked:

This poll received only 56 responses. 75% of those who responded rightly said, it was Mr. Narendra Modi who had resorted to such a negative stand on the GST, even though now he claims not passing of it is such an injustice to the poor of this country! Once again, 21% of the responses attributed the statement to Mr. Rahul Gandhi (remaining 4% saying it was Mr. Chidambaram who said it).

            The poll results made it obvious that there is still a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding on the respective roles played by the Congress and BJP, on the GST issue. The 14% and 21% of the responses claiming it was Mr. Rahul Gandhi who expressed such a negative attitude towards the GST legislation has not cared to look at his and his party’s stand on the issue.

            Mr. Rahul Gandhi is on record that they are ready to cooperate with the government to get the GST Bill passed. He said, ‘Hum yeh nahi chahte hai ki ghareeb log ka upar tax na lage. Our, hum uske upar ek chhath si lagaana chahte hai,” referring to the Congress party’s demand for mentioning a cap on the rates at which tax can be imposed on goods and services. He continued, “Tho yeh faraq hai, magar hum GST lanaa chahte hai, our pass karana chahte hai.”

            Congress party has also made its reservations on the proposed GST BIll clear in their Dissent Note given to the Rajya Sabha’s Select Committee on the GST Bill. They have cited eight specific objections to the latest version of the GST draft Bill (You may refer this post for more details on the objections). These have come down to just three contentious issues, which a responsive government can address in no time. The three remaining issues are a cap on the rate that can be imposed in future, mechanism for dispute resolution between states or states and the Centre, and additional 1% levy by manufacturing states. Modi Govt has not chosen to be responsive to the demands. Instead, the Govt has decided to continue the attitude of confrontation with the opposition and refuse to even introduce the GST Bill in the Rajyasabha.

            I am not sure, when blaming the members of the Rajyasabha, Mr. Modi also meant Mr. Subramanian Swamy, whom he had recently got inducted into the Rajyasabha! Mr. Swamy had tweeted, “As an economist I say GST not worth the time spent to get it passed in RS.” Just because he is an economist, would Mr. Swamy want to continue ‘the injustice to the poor’ forever?

            The Government and Prime Minister can be a bit more sincere and truthful in presenting the facts and views on important matters like Constitutional amendments and tax reforms.

The Congress Party should also introspect on their communication strategy and see why a significant portion of the population (going by the results of these limited polls) continue to believe that it is Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, who are the stumbling blocks to the introduction of GST!

Note: All the quotes used in this post can be seen and heard in a short video on the subject. I express my thanks to Mr. Gaurav Pandhi, for sharing this video.    

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Time to Revisit the Aided Schools of Kerala?

The new LDF Government in Kerala has an immediate challenge in finding a politically and legally tenable solution in the raging controversy regarding the closing of aided schools that are classified as not viable. The managers of certain schools have approached the High Court, seeking permission to close down their schools. The immediate motive for these managers is alleged to be freeing their valuable real estate so that it can be utilized for more profitable ventures than non-viable schools. The High Court has ordered the closure of some of those schools. An appeal to Supreme Court, by the state Government, did not succeed for technical reasons.
Some schools have already been closed down. More schools are in line for the closure. The situation offers an opportunity for revisiting the aided schools system prevailing in the state of Kerala.
In the distant past, the so-called private schools were established by individuals who were interested in serving the people through promoting education. Their successors inherited those schools, but not necessarily the same noble motives. The multiple divisions of the family properties have also left many of those managers, not anywhere near as rich as their illustrious ancestors.
As long as sufficient students were being enrolled in those schools, the managers could keep appointing teachers from time to time. It is an open secret that the teachers are appointed in aided schools by taking a lot of black money (often running into multiple millions). The teachers are paid by the government so that there is no burden on the management. The government also pays (negligible) grants for maintenance of these schools. However, the main attraction remains the black money received against the appointment of new teachers.
When a school is classified as non-viable, for want of students, the ability of the managers to appoint new teachers comes to an end. The grant from government also reduces as per the fall in the number of students, forcing the managers to spend money from their pockets for the upkeep and maintenance of the schools. Not many individual managers have the resources or willingness to fund such schools. Not spending money on maintenance leads to poor infrastructure at these schools. With the advent of so many CBSE and English medium schools around, any possibility of these aided schools turning viable is also feeble. Under the circumstances, it is only natural that the management will seek an exit from such unviable schools. It is also against the principles of natural justice and logic to compel someone, to continue a venture (howsoever noble it might be), forever, despite incurring financial losses. Any economic activity calls for an exit if the objectives are not met.
The objections to the closure of such schools are manifold. Some are emotional, with people not liking the closing down of the so-called temples of knowledge. Many people are nostalgic about these schools where many of their generations have received the basic education.  However, we cannot force someone else to bear the costs for the benefit of our nostalgia and emotions, right?
Another argument relates to the right to education and future of the students who are currently studying in those schools. This argument is also illogical since the right to education does not extend to be educated in any particular school. Perhaps it might do wonders to the students, to shift from one school to another, at least once. It is better for the personality development of those children, to move to schools where there are at least 20-25 students in a class. Having to interact only with 4 or 5 students throughout their schooling will not do any good for the children, socially.
Third reason is nothing but jealousy that the management will benefit from the closure of schools. There is nothing wrong if the individual managers get benefitted from freeing of real estate, which is their property in the first place.  The political leaders and local trouble makers also try to fish in the troubled waters!
Fourth argument is that the education is not a for-profit business.  Fine, but can we ignore the fact that these managements are not charitable trusts, either? Even if not profitable, shouldn’t these institutions be at least self-sufficient? Can we force charity upon individual owners, unlike not-for profit organizations?
There are attempts at the government level to amend the laws and empower themselves to take over such schools. I am not sure if such a step will be a prudent one. Many government-owned schools are similarly not viable, and facing the threat of closure. There is nothing to suggest that a mere takeover by the government will turn unviable schools into viable ones. The viability of a school depends on many factors including availability of other schools, perceived, rightly or wrongly, as better ones. We have to note that the enthusiastic support that protests against the closure of schools receive does not turn into more admissions to those schools.  Most likely, even those agitating for the continuance of the schools are not sending their children to those schools!
To conclude, let me state my recommendations for dealing with the situation:
1.    The responsibility to impart education for all should be on the government and not individuals, even if they happen to be managers of aided schools.
2.    The right to exit must be fundamental to any ventures including schools.
3.    The government should contemplate taking over only those schools that have the potential to be turned around. Taking over schools for emotional or political reasons will only increase the financial burden on the government, with no corresponding benefit to anybody.
4.    The government must ensure that the students are protected from the ill effects of any closure of schools by ensuring their timely transfer to other schools in the vicinity. Even financial assistance and scholarship can be considered for the help of these students.
5.    The government should pay salaries to only those teachers who are appointed by the Public Service Commission.
6.    The management may continue to appoint teachers provided they are willing to pay the salary to those appointed by them. Those who are not willing to abide by these conditions of appointment should be allowed to exit.
7.    The education is currently a for- profit business for many communal and profit-minded organizations and individuals. The schools should be converted into genuine not-for-profit activity.
8.    The government must ensure that schools with less than a stipulated number of students for a stipulated number of years should be merged with nearest schools. Unless there are sound and compelling reasons, classes should not be allowed to run with less than 10 -15 students.
Let the law and reason prevail in public education!

Post Script: 

The Government has taken the decision to acquire four such schools. According to the news reports there are over 3500 such schools. If a large number of those schools demand similar acquisition, the financial burden on the government is going to be enormous. See the picture below. 

This is a report (Mathrubhumi, 09.06.2016) about 16 students of a school celebrating the news of their school's take over by the government. For 16 students in a UP school (average 5 students in a division) will the government incur the expenses of acquiring and maintaining a school?  Why not bear the expenses of sending these 16 students to some other schools as compensation for the closure? Acquiring the land and buildings, and continuing a school is more like protecting the interest of the teachers rather than the students!