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Swachh Bharath: Three years and a whopping ₹530 crores on advertising & publicity while manual scavenging continues unabated

October 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

The honorable Prime Minister of India started the Clean India Mission on October 2nd 2014, with Modiji himself taking the broom and sweeping the streets of a police station in a Dalit residential colony in New Delhi
A large number of celebrities were made brand ambassadors, although none of them are experts in the field. PSE & Private Companies pledged to build 1 lakh toilets to support the initiative & the centre also levied a S.B. cess of 0.5% on taxable services to meet the budget outlay. Post demonetisation, the new currency notes carried an image of Mahatma Gandhi’s signature round glasses, the logo of SBA. (Sagar, 2017)
Clearly, the PM has made the mission a core policy issue and it is commendable in its vision & efforts. The numbers also point to steady decrease in Open Defecation & in the increase in the number of toilets. However, there is a lack of understanding & action on the single most important issue in this argument. The right of dignity for manual scavengers and their communities to live a healthy life with the aid of cleaning equipment and safety gear.
In Karnataka a pioneer in the field of sanitation four decades ago, more than 70 people have lost their lives in the last 10 years while cleaning manholes, dry latrines & sewage blocks. Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) estimates the number could be higher due to the fact the some cases go unreported. The government has no role to play in manual scavenging as its duties are outsourced to private contractors whose only objective is to turn profits, rather than provide for the safety & security of employees. (Ram, 2017)

The Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed in 1993. Things should have ended then. 25 years down the line, the only excuse the centre can come up with is this; enforcement of the ban is the duty of the state government. In 2013, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act came into force, although by name only. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan & Madhya Pradesh have the highest number of manual scavenging communities, where rehabilitation schemes have not found to have a positive effect & there is a lack of accountability from the government. (Watch, 2014)
The life of a manual scavenger & their families is akin to the worst form of slavery. Born into a caste system with historical prejudices, these men and women, for no fault of theirs have been locked in a system of injustice that is unparalleled in scale, anywhere in the world. Democracy has not helped them progress & gain a basic level of prosperity. Their children, though educated are compelled to follow the sickly tradition & alcoholism is rife in the community. Rehabilitation has not worked for them nor has the attitude of the society who depends on these people to fulfill a requirement that frankly, with so much scientific advancement is still out of bound of understanding for the people in power. (Venkat T., 2017)

The Supreme Courts states that government surveys are ineffective in eradicating manual scavenging. In one sample, the Court compared two surveys in Rajasthan where in the same area the government reported 46 individuals while the NGO survey stated 800 individuals. The centre does not even want an external agency to conduct Swachh Bharath Survey, a condition that needs to be satisfied to access World Bank funds. Is it beyond their understanding that for a mission of such a large scale to succeed, it needs regular audits & feedback for improvement, not just an exercise in numbers enhanced by marketing & publicity campaigns, that it needs simple tools like shoes & safety gear for its sanitation not celebrities who have never known what if feels like in the bottom of sewage pit.

You vote is for sale and it’s quite expensive

July 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

Major news and media houses are left embarrassed by the Cobra Post Sting # 136

People don’t learn from history, not even recent history. An international political analytics company based in London and with clients around the world has to recently shut down its entire operations due to their role in manipulating voters in the 2016 US elections. This company which has offices in India and boasts that Indian National Congress is its major client delivered a proposal to INC for Karnataka Assembly and 2019 General Elections. A major sting operation was carried out a leading news agency where, the CEO was caught discussing voter manipulation in Sri Lanka and the company is now defunct.

In March 2018, Cobrapost.com carried out a major sting operation against senior members of various media outlets across TV, Newspaper, Radio and Digital Agencies. Tapes reveal the reporter asking the senior most members of these organizations about placing political ads to propagate right wing ideology through their medium to influence voters in the 2019 General Elections. With the exception of two vernacular newspapers; Dainik Sambad and Bartaman Patrika which refused to entertain the proposal, the rest agreed in some form or another to publish these ads in return for huge sums of money. Most of these exposed individuals openly requested the client to half of the amount in cash and one senior director of a leading media house even requested and provided details on how to channel cash through hawala system

Media companies rely on advertising revenue to run their operations and provide their audience with the best news and entertainment experience. There is a huge rush for TRPs, resulting in a bidding process for advertising space. However, commercial advertising is the purpose of marketing and advertising one’s brand, product and services. Political advertising campaigns when performed with a hidden agenda gives rise to increased polarity between communities and leaves society vulnerable to incidents of violence and breakdown of law order. Even without any disturbances, it pollutes the mind of an individual and influences his or her independent decision making.

In effect, these media houses do not give a second thought to the wider implications of their actions. Their only burning desire is to make money for themselves and their companies, with minimum regard for journalistic ethics and sensitive issues. As if we do not have enough divisions in our society, we now have mass media trying to encourage radical views. India today has an increasing number of young people consuming news across medium and they are a rich catchment audience for such endeavors. Catch them young and it’s much easier to peddle your views and spread your message.

Two things have shocked in regards to the Cobrapost sting. One, the near total absence of coverage of the sting in our newspapers with the exception of The Hindu and The Indian Express and Two, certain new age media agencies exposed in the sting were founded by young and promising individuals who we expect to follow progressive ideas and curate news that is free from influence and fair in its reporting. They seem to have started with a clean set of ideals but somewhere along the way they have lost track of their ideals. This should serve as an important lesson to aspirants who are looking for a career in the media. Fake news sells but Real news informs, educates and inspires.

As the fourth pillar of society, journalism plays a vital role in our daily lives. They are channels of information to the common man and also agents of empowerment through information. But the nature of news is changing.  India has the fastest growing number of digital news subscribers in the world and fake news has the potential to spread divisive information. Recently, in a largely peaceful neighborhood in South Bangalore, a mob of people lynched an innocent man suspecting him to be a child smuggler. Fake photos and morphed videos warning people to be careful of kidnappers were doing the rounds on the social media and the crowd mistook the dead man as one. Only three days later a similar incident happened in Hyderabad. These incidents prove the effect of fake news on society; it is just as well that Cobrapost came out with this sting as it serves as an opportunity to educate citizens of the value of their vote and by just witnessing some of the figures mentioned in the sting, we can tell you that every vote is valuable and can make a difference.

The business of education

June 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

The business of education is for profit. Then why hide behind mottos & notions of public service

The Right to Education Act came into force in the year 2009, guaranteeing a minimum quota of seats at educational institutions for the economically challenged. Children from poorer sections of the society would now have access to quality education without the burden of capitation fees and donations. Essentially, the government transferred its own constitutional responsibility of providing education to private players, who now had to contend with a 25% decrease in revenue. In one stoke the UPA government achieved two aims; divesting its responsibility and creating a populist program that few could argue with. Who in the right mind would protest against universal education for the poor?

RTE has ensured education facilities to many children across our country. However, in many cases there is a lack of transparency in the screening process and allegations of nepotism are rife. Government schools in many districts are now falling short of admissions as even the financially challenged are aspiring for private, English medium education. Government schools which still account for 70% of all primary and secondary education services in India are poorly managed, with crumbling infrastructure and a lack of dedication by the teaching staff. It is clear now that the beneficiaries of RTE are mostly urban citizens, living in proximity to well run private schools, who manage to pay fees with great difficulty and have to use some form of influence to gain admissions.

But what of the thousands of children who live in rural areas and other who reside in urban areas but lack the resources to gain admissions. It is a well known fact that Indian parents would go to great lengths to ensure their children receive the best education, often at the cost of their own necessities in life. They believe a good education is a surefire way to ensure the happiness and prosperity of their children and they enable it with great sacrifices. However, many of these parents live in places where even a government run school is non-existent or in many cases they exist only in name

In cities too parents go to great lengths to provide quality education to their children, often travelling huge distances to work while living in localities with good educational facilities. The role of a dual income family is to provide the best education for children while maintaining their existing lifestyle standard. In the midst of these developments, over the last 15 years we have witnessed a sharp spike in the number of private funded schools. Most of these institutions are trusts run by politicians, politically connected individuals or entrepreneurs who have little or no background in the sector and are purely there for commercial gain and in most cases to add a layer of respectability to their business profile    

During the admissions season, we witness a huge surge in the number of advertisements by schools and colleges promoting their services. These costs are then recovered through a highly structured fee program that includes capitation fee Although the RTE act explicitly states that schools cannot screen students during admissions, most school do not adhere to the rules. Private schools also have a wide assortment of money spinning activities throughout the year, where they devise programs and courses that aim to provide extra-curricular support for students. Some schools rent out their facilities during the holidays for summer camps and other related activities. These actions closely resemble that of any business, but the governments of most states are unable to enforce any action because they themselves are at fault.

In the midst of these developments, the Delhi State Government has taken a bold step in 2015 by appointing external auditors for government schools with real time monitoring and reporting of their activities. Schools with infrastructure issues were identified for major redevelopments, teacher and administration workforce was revamped and a host of innovative programs were launched to bring in a holistic framework for education. The government subsequently allocated 25% of its budget to education and created Centers of Excellence, schools for top performing candidates with advanced curriculum funded by the government, with the result that in Delhi, children from affluent families are choosing these schools over others.

How is this possible? There are several factors. One is the strong will of the government in making their mission a practical possibility by involving external stakeholders with experience in education. Two, strict monitoring and ensuring transparency in execution of infrastructure works and the supply of school essentials and Three, the efforts of individuals who shared the passion of the government in overcoming challenges and non interference from the central government.

If it is possible in New Delhi, why can’t it be replicated in other cities and districts? The answer again lies in the preceding paragraph. Every state government must increase its budget, design and execute a vision in consultation with on ground experts, ensure transparency in governance and encourage citizens to start enrolling their wards in public funded schools, starting with the children of lawmakers and government employees who in turn can inspire the ordinary citizens