Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Don't enter into MOUs on Rural Public Schools

The Lok Satta Party today dubbed the State Government's scheme to promote Rural Public Residential Schools with private partnership as a populist scheme meant to benefit managements rather than rural students.

Mr. D. V. V. S. Varma, Lok Satta Party Secretary, in a statement asked the Government not to go ahead with the signing of MoUs with private managements but review the scheme.

Mr. Varma pointed out that that of the 31 lakh students in the 9000 odd high schools in the State, only 3.50 lakh students will get admissions in the 294 schools to be started at the rate of one per Assembly constituency. If the students admitted under management (25 per cent) and merit (25 per cent) quotas are excluded, only 1.75 lakh students or a mere four per cent of high school students benefit.

The Government was publicizing the scheme that benefits a paltry percentage of students with great gusto to gain political mileage. The proposed schools will not reform high school education. And the Government had totally ignored primary education in its bid to promote rural public residential schools. According to surveys made by Asar and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, primary education is in a parlous state with 62 per cent of students not able to write even the names of their teachers, 50 per cent their parents' names and 8 per cent their own names.

Mr. Varma demanded that 20 per cent of seats in primary and upper primary schools under private managements be reserved for the free education of poor students. He wanted Government schools to be strengthened on par with private schools.

The Lok Satta, if voted to power, will provide free and quality education to all irrespective of their caste or economic status.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dr JP's Padayatra from 23rd October 2007

Dr JP's Padayatra from 23rd October 2007
LSP demands closure of all liquor shops in localities where Dalits and poor people predominate
If women demand, even the licensed liquor shops should be closed

Hyderabad, Oct. 20 - Interacting with media today, Lok Satta Party's Secretary Sri DVVS Verma stated that his party is moving forward to ensure ?liquor-free villages/towns. He stated that Lok Satta party will be adopting a multi-pronged strategy to combat the menace of liquor problem. In this direction, the Party's National Coordinator, Dr Jayaprakash Narayan will be leading a Padayatra on 23rd October 2007 from Peddagotipadu in Guntur district. The three-day Padayatra will conclude on 25th October 2007 evening in Guntur with a public meeting.

Sri DVVS Verma pointed out that over 200 Dalit women in Peddagotipadu have resorted to indefinite hunger strike against the presence of a licensed liquor shop in their village and one of them even attempted to commit suicide. In spite of District Collector's report to Excise Commissioner to relocate the licensed liquor shop, no action has been taken thus far. DVVS Verma stated that the Padayatra, based on principles of Satayagraha, is being carried out to demonstrate Lok Satta Party's complete support to the legitimate demands of the Dalit women in Peddagotipadu. Mr. Verma demanded closure of the licensed shop in all in localities where Dalits and poor people predominate.

Apart from immediate closure of belt-shops, Mr Verma demanded that if large numbers of women in a locality demand the closure of licensed liquor shops, then their demands should be heeded. He also demanded that all political parties should take a vow in front of people stating that they will not distribute liquor during elections.

Mr Verma also stated that LSP is aiming to ensure a few pre-selected mandals as liquor free mandals. He stated his party will be using multiple means such as Padayatra's, citizen's arrest under Section 43 of CRPC and other constitutional means to give impetus to the on-going liquor control agitation.

Speaking on the occasion Mahila Satta State Convener D. Lakshmi, stated that they are operationalisng liquor control committees in various villages to ensure that closed belt shops are not re-opened. She called on various civil society organizations and media to join hands in this noble endeavor to find a lasting solution to the liquor problem in the state.

Lok Satta Party's spokesperson Y. Ramadevi referred to the recent incident where a mother killed her drunkard son in Namligonda village in Warangal district. She pointed out that such tragic incidents could have been avoided had the successive governments taken a proactive stand on removing the belt shops in the state.

On this occasion, Mahila Satta State convener D. Lakshmi, and Lok Satta Party's spokesperson Y. Ramadevi unveiled posters for Padayatra.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities - Letter to the Prime Minister

Esteemed Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh ji,

There is enormous unrest in the farming community in Andhra Pradesh resulting from the severe discrimination in determining the minimum support price for paddy. In this connection, we appeal to you to examine three interrelated issues of procurement price of rice; trade policies in relation to agricultural commodities and marketing regulations affecting the producers' interests.

Procurement Price of Rice:

It is estimated that a quantity of about 90 million tons of paddy is produced by the farmers in the country and this is the largest quantity in the food-grain basket. There is a misconception in the minds of the policy makers that when paddy is converted to rice, only 65% is redeemed and the balance is wasted. However, the residual products like husk, broken rice etc., are valuable and marketable products. 100 Kg of milled-paddy would yield 65 kg rice, 10-12 kg of broken rice, 8 kg of cattle feed and the balance would be husk. The government already has a scheme to modernize all rice mills to enhance the yield of rice and minimize wastage in milling. Hence, the difference in value between wheat and rice is very marginal and accordingly the minimum support price difference also should be marginal.

Government of India is spending huge money on Food Corporation of India (FCI) for maintaining the buffer stocks. It is estimated that an amount of Rs. 760 is spent by FCI, as handling and carrying costs for one quintal of rice every year. Compared to this expenditure by FCI, the additional support given to the rice farmer by way of a proper minimum support price is negligible. The high operational costs of FCI are because of its highly centralized and corrupt administrative apparatus. Given these problems, public distribution system needs to be reoriented to meet the requirements of the people below poverty line by creating Grain Banks managed at the local level. This will definitely reduce transaction, transport, handling and storage costs, while enhancing the rural employment opportunities. Most importantly, it will eliminate corruption and leakages in the system, and reduce food subsidies.

Trade policies in respect of agricultural products:
As on date, the government seems to be having ad-hoc export and import policies with reference to many agricultural products. For instance, 7,90,000 tonnes of wheat has been imported from international markets by paying Rs. 1600 a quintal during 2006-2007, when the Indian farmer was paid at the rate of Rs 750 per quintal.

Similarly, cotton is imported periodically by paying higher prices for a limited quantity to meet the short-term domestic requirement and this step has an adverse affect on the price of cotton in the local markets. Such irrational, ad-hoc, anti-producer policies are distorting the market forces, and severely depressing prices of agricultural commodities. In case of garment industry, cotton cost is only a small proportion of the final product price and yet short-sighted policies have done great damage to the farm sector. Not surprisingly the largest numbers of farmer suicides are from the cotton-growing-areas.

Political sensitivity of onion prices since 1980 is well-known. The government certainly has responsibility to help consumers in times of severe price escalation. However, the producer cannot be penalized. And the government has an obligation to buy the produce at market prices and subsidize the consumer. Instead, over the years, dramatic short-term steps were taken to depress the prices and the farmers were left in lurch. At the same time the government and Planning Commission keep emphasizing the importance of rejuvenating agricultural sector.
As a great economist and architect of liberalization policies promoting competition and choice, you are more aware than anybody else of the crisis afflicting Indian agriculture. When over 60% of people depend on agriculture, which accounts for 19% of GDP today, a simple arithmetic tells us that the average rural per-capita is only 1/6th of that of the urban population. This is a potentially an explosive situation causing devastation to millions of households resulting in agrarian strife. Successive governments have been aggravating this crisis by acting in a cavalier and short-term fashion without deeper reflection or long-term sustainable policy.

When the World Trade Organisation (WTO) permits an aggregate of 10% subsidies, government policies have not merely denied active support to agriculture, but have actually done everything possible to undermine agriculture by depressing and distorting the markets. The least that the farmers expect from the government headed by a great economist and true champion of fair competition is to let the market forces prevail and provide judicious support to the poor consumers through subsidies when needed. It follows therefore, that our farmers should get benefit of international prices whenever there are supply constraints. Our farmers should also be supported by strong government protection through minimum support prices whenever the prices are depressed. Unfortunately, the exact opposite policy prevails now to the long-term detriment of agricultural economy.

Restrictions on Marketing:
There are about 7,810 regulated markets in the country. The average area to be covered by a regulated market varies from 200 Sq.Km to 780 Sq.Km. Most of these markets are controlled by middle men and commission agents. Small farmers suffer from poor access to markets and are forced to sell their produce to the local trader-moneylender-input supplier at a price dictated by him.

The farmers are also getting short-changed in the market yards, which are headed by nominated bodies. The commission agents and the traders join hands to offer the lowest possible price to the agricultural produce, apart from short-changing the farmer in weighments and charging exorbitant commission (20% - 25%) as against the authorized commission of 4%.
In order to address this situation, all the restrictions on movement, storage, processing and trading of agricultural commodities should be immediately lifted. However, the government should insist on reporting requirements in order to keep track of demand-supply situation. The farmers must be organized and empowered to undertake various marketing operations including exports.

Under these circumstances, Lok Satta Party earnestly urges you to immediately take the following steps:

The paddy procurement price of at least Rs. 1000/- per quintal should be announced. On a long-term basis, there should be parity between paddy and wheat as has been the case historically.

Agricultural trade policies must be immediately rationalized. When the international prices are higher, domestic farmers must have an unfettered right to export. In order to sustain the public distribution system, the government must procure at market prices or at minimum support price, whichever is higher, and bear the cost of subsidy. Minimum support price must guarantee fair returns to farmers as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers chaired by Dr. MS Swaminathan. Import of agricultural commodities if any should be only to the extent of actual demand-supply gap when there is inadequate production of agricultural commodities. Imports must never be resorted to as a mechanism to depress agricultural prices.
All regulations on agricultural trading, movement, storage, processing and marketing should be immediately repealed.

I am sure your government understands the gravity of the situation and will act swiftly to ameliorate the distress of paddy farmers in Andhra Pradesh, and help rejuvenate the agricultural and rural economy.
Yours Sincerely,
Dr Jayaprakash Narayan

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Special Court immediately needed

Corruption allegations against Dr. YSR and Mr. Naidu

Special Court immediately needed

Special Judges should be appointed by the Government

Assets of corrupt public servants should be confiscated

Given the ongoing allegations and counter-allegations between Dr YS Rajasekhar Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu, Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan demanded that the State government must immediately constitute a Special Court to probe the issue of disproportionate assets. He strongly emphasized that this is not a private affair between the current and former Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh. Lok Satta Party demanded that the investigation must be totally free from political pressures and a Special Independent Prosecutor with impeccable credentials should be appointed by the Chief Justice of High Court. Dr.JP also demanded that the State government should promulgate an ordinance for confiscation of assets of corrupt public servants.

Under section 2 (c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (1988), all Ministers, MLAs, elected representatives at State and local levels clearly fall under the definition of ?public servants?. Citing historical precedent for considering elected representatives as public servants, he referred to the famous HG Mudgal case, where the sitting MP was forced to resign for tabling questions in the Parliament (then known as the Provisional Legislature) for personal remuneration.

Additionally, under the section 13 (1) (e) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, possession of disproportionate wealth or pecuniary resources by a public official or by someone on his/her behalf is a crime. This Act mandates that public officials receive income from lawful sources only and they must also declare it to lawful authorities. Punishment for violation is imprisonment from one to seven years and fine.

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan demanded that the State government must immediately constitute a special court for investigating corruption allegations against public servants under section 3(1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. The section 3(1) enables the State government to appoint as many judges as necessary. Given these powers, the current debate over whether the probe be handled by a sitting or retired judge is merely sidetracking the issue.

To eliminate the influence of political pressures, he also demanded that a special prosecutor with impeccable credentials should be appointed by the Chief Justice of High Court to probe the issue. Constituting an Inquiry Commission would be a time-consuming process as the findings of such commissions cannot be acted upon directly and would have to be placed in the court of law for further trial.

Lok Satta Party also demanded that if a public servant or her/his family members are charged with holding disproportionate assets then the burden-of-proof must lie with that public servant.
He also called for immediate implementation of Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988, which precludes the person who acquired the property in the name of another person from claiming it as his/her own.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lok Satta Clarifies Stand on Power Subsidies and Subsidised Rice

Dear Sri Sainath,

I invite your kind attention to your column on Oct 12 in The Hindu: ‘Incredible India’ right here at home.
[Click on the link below for the article on Hindu]
You made a reference to Lok Satta Party’s (LSP) platform on subsidies. I would like to clarify the Party’s stand on power subsidy to farmers and subsidized rice.

1. Power subsidy
Lok Satta Party believes that the debate on power tariff for agriculture is skewed. In the AP context, TDP government collected about 2 – 10% tariff through slab rates (Rs 50 per HP. Later raised to Rs 250 per HP). The current Congress government is offering it free of cost. All that is being debated is whether power should be free, or upto 10% of tariff should be collected. LSP believes this is a spurious debate on a non-issue for the following reasons:

Un-metered power, poor distribution management, and corruption are causing loss of nearly 27% of power.

Farmers are getting low quality power with voltage fluctuations, and often motors get burnt about twice a year on an average. Each time repairs cost about Rs 2000 – 3000, resulting in an annual expenditure of about Rs 5000 for each farmer with an agriculture pumpset.

Villages get very poor quality of power, often interrupted by outages or load shedding. In many villages about 6 hours’ power supply in summer is the norm. Even PHCs and schools run without power.
Corruption is rampant in power sector at every level.
Lok Satta movement outlined all these problems as early as in 2000, and argued for decentralized distribution management with effective energy auditing. Lok Satta Times’ issue of October 2000 examined the issue in detail. A team of experts including late Dr Tatarao, Sri Balaramireddy, Sri TL Shankar, Capt Jalagam Ramarao, Sri KP Rao and Sri SR Vijayakar examined the power sector crisis and recommended solutions.
As a result of Lok Satta’s advocacy, four feeder lines in Andhra Pradesh were handed over to franchisees for effective distribution management. The results, despite bureaucratic hurdles, corruption and lethargy, were impressive. In Kallacheruvu of West Godavari district, the line losses were reduced from 27% to 9% (a saving of 18%). Voltage was fully stabilized in farm sector, and incidence of damage to pumpsets was brought down to zero! Corruption was eliminated with people’s participation. Under one feeder alone, over ten youngsters were trained and employed in a sustainable manner.

Lok Satta Party has been advocating replication of such a model in the whole state. The power savings will be of the order of Rs 2500 crore, about 100,000 jobs will be created, voltage will be stabilized, and villages can be supplied quality power round the clock. Our party has made a public commitment to achieve these results. In such a model, power tariff for agriculture is a short-term, marginal issue. Farmers can be assured quality supply, villages will get 24 hour power supply, and the power subsidies can be continued for sometime until farmers’ condition improves. This rational management of power sector is Lok Satta Party’s stand; not casual and irresponsible populism. Sadly, given the low quality of our public discourse and lack of depth in debate, issues are seen in simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ terms.
2. Subsidized Rice:
Lok Satta Party has not offered any additional food subsidies. We are merely committed to two things:

Better targeting of all food subsidies including free rice now available to the indigent (Annapurna Antyodaya scheme).

Transfer of public distribution to the district government, and offering the subsidy saved by better targeting as an incentive to the local government to enhance its resources.

Right now, for a population of under 8 crore, 1.8 crore families are covered by food subsidies to which the poor one entitled. Official rural poverty figures in AP are at 16%, and probably 30 – 40% people deserve food subsidies. And yet, over 90% of the people are covered now! Despite this there are lakhs of poor families which do not have a ration card! This is what needs to be set right, and Lok Satta Party is committed to revamping the public distribution system.

I hope you will take note of our stand and inform your readers, so that serious and rational debate on subsidies can be promoted. .

With warm regards,
Jayaprakash Narayan
National Coordinator

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lok Satta Program to Provide Free Hospital Care for All

The Lok Satta Party today unveiled a unique program of public-private partnership to ensure universal and free hospitalized care in Andhra Pradesh.

The program, estimated to cost Rs.2500 crore a year, guarantees hospital care to every citizen as a matter of right irrespective of his or her income status. Unlike other programs, it is not limited to those below the poverty line.

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, Lok Satta Party Coordinator, who had played a seminal role in formulating the national health policy and creating the National Rural Health Mission, told a media meet today that the Lok Satta Party's innovative program would put an end to the dismal health care situation. The concept brochure was released by Party State Working Committee member Mrs. G. Pratibha Rao.

At present, Dr. JP pointed out, hospitalized health care accounted for more than half (58%) of Indians' total annual expenditure on healthcare. As a consequence, more than 40 per cent of those hospitalized borrow money or sell assets to cover expenses. At least one quarter of hospitalized Indians fall below poverty line because of hospital expenses.

The following are the highlights of the Lok Satta proposal:
1. The patients will be given an option to get admitted in a hospital of their choice and the money will 'follow the patient'
2. Every patient will be given a health card and the utilization of services will be recorded on patient cards. At the end of the month, hospitals (public or private) will claim reimbursements from the Government on the basis of services provided to in-patients
3. Hospitals will be funded only by way of reimbursement of costs for services rendered. The coverage of private hospitals will exclude out-patient care
4. To effectively combat the menace of corruption, the proposal includes creation of institutions such as a District Health Fund and a District Ombudsman.

Dr. JP said that the Lok Satta proposal seeks to involve both Government hospitals and private facilities equally in providing quality care at Government cost. In addition, private practitioners can utilize government hospitals for practice, and claim reimbursements for the services rendered.

Dr. JP clarified that that a patient need not pay any deposit or a premium since it is not an insurance program. Every individual will be entitled for free health care whenever he/she is admitted to hospital. Such an approach is based on the premise that people living in this country are entitled for free health care as citizens paying taxes.

Once an individual receives a Health Card, s/he will not have to visit any Government office. All that an individual has to do is to carry the health card with him/her when getting admitted in a hospital. The hospital authorities (public or private) will claim reimbursements at the end of every month. All medical expenses of in-patients will be covered by the program. These include in-patient charges, medication, diagnostic tests and surgeries. In case of public hospitals, out-patient care will be included.

This program is not targeted at specific diseases. All common aliments will be covered. Rare diseases involving high cost care will be separately dealt with through a tertiary care program.

Dr. JP explained that the Andhra Pradesh Government's 'Aarogyasri' addresses only a few rare diseases that people are vulnerable to, which is a small portion of the disease burden. It targets people suffering from a limited number of illnesses like those affecting heart, brain and kidney or cancer or but not ordinary ailments, which account for most of the disease burden. It ignores maternity care, infectious diseases, routine surgeries and general ailments, and non-surgical interventions.
As of September 1, 2007, only 3841 people had undergone surgical procedures under AarogyaSri, while 60 lakh people are sliding below the poverty line every year in the State because of health care costs.

'Aarogyasri' benefited only corporate hospitals, as 95% of the cases were treated in big corporate hospitals. Most of the private practitioners and nursing homes providing low-cost, good-quality care are not utilized. Instead, expensive hospitals are involved in providing high cost care for a few selective aliments. Andhra Pradesh has an estimated 40,000 well-trained private allopathic practitioners.

The Lok Satta proposal seeks to mobilize all resources available in the State to ensure that every one gets quality health care at Government cost. A strong preventive primary health care programme, and high-quality health infrastructure in public sector will be the foundation of this programme of universal healthcare. Primary health centres will be strengthened and brought under local government control. A community Hospital of 50 beds will be built for every 1,00,000 population. (At present we only have one for every 4,00,000). All district and Teaching Hospitals will be improved substantially. Dr. JP gave a call for a debate on universal, affordal healthcare. He appealed all stake-holders - doctors, civil society and people of all sections -to join the struggle to build a viable universal healthcare programme.
To see the media coverage, please click on the links below: