Dilip Cherian | Scavenger deaths in Gujarat may set off blame game

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Columnists

The CMO is aware of the issue’s potential to snowball into a political crisis and is taking steps to swiftly defuse it

The state ranks second in the number of scavenger deaths in the entire country, which is a serious matter for Gujarat. (Representational Image)

Despite the practice being illegal across the country, eight people have died while cleaning sewers in various parts of Gujarat in March-April this year. Social activists, however, claim that the real number of such deaths is significantly higher. According to some reports, the state ranks second in the number of scavenger deaths in the entire country, which is a serious matter for Gujarat, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi never tires of proclaiming as the ideal model of development.

Certainly, this is embarrassing for chief minister Bhupendra Patel, and the Opposition parties have promptly picked up the issue and sought to fix the blame on the state government, with calls for the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to order a probe into these deaths. Since the issue is still hot, it is quite likely that finding themselves under fire a blame game could start with ministers blaming the bureaucrats. They may try to distance themselves from the issue, citing administrative failures as the root cause of the problem. On the other hand, the babus may argue that they have been hampered by a lack of resources and political support to address the issue effectively.  

According to sources, the chief minister’s office (CMO) is aware of the issue’s potential to snowball into a political crisis and is taking steps to swiftly defuse it. Some say that the additional chief secretary, Pankaj Joshi, is likely to urge the babus to be more proactive in identifying and addressing instances of manual scavenging in their jurisdictions. There is also a suggestion for CM Bhupendra Patel to set up a task force to monitor the implementation of laws and policies related to manual scavenging and provide resources for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. After all, the sheen of the much-vaunted “Gujarat model” must be protected.


‘Happening Haryana’ not so happening, after all?

Haryana is no longer the most sought-after investment destination in India, with its share of new investment projects in the country slipping to a six-year low of one per cent from almost three per cent in 2021-22. Reportedly, investment plans in the state fell by a whopping 30 per cent in 2022-23.  More worrying is the news that manufacturing investments have declined by 60 per cent. This is bad news for the Manohar Lal Khattar Sarkar, which has a national election and the state Assembly elections approaching next year.

Sources have informed DKB that much of Mr Khattar’s investment woes coincide with the hasty enactment of a new law early last year that reserved 75 per cent of private sector jobs with monthly salaries up to Rs 30,000 for locals. It came as a big jolt to the corporate sector. Though the law is currently in abeyance after being challenged judicially, the continuing suspense over its implementation may have a lot to do with investors holding tight to their purse strings.

While this local employment law was clearly brought in with political goals in mind, it has made investors jittery. It is widely believed that the legislation, if implemented, will potentially slow the post-Covid economic recovery, increase the compliance burden and usher in “inspector raj”. Officially, of course, the government is going to town proclaiming that the legislation will encourage local employment, especially in unskilled jobs.

In all this, the babus are tight-lipped, of course, though sources have informed DKB that chief secretary Sanjeev Kaushal is discussing plans with senior colleagues to revive the state’s image as one of the better states in the country for ease of business. 


India’s programmes for neighbours to strengthen governance

India’s policy of strengthening relations with our neighbours has taken a new turn with the National Centre for Good Governance (NCGG) conducting capacity-building programmes for bureaucrats from neighbouring and extended countries. With the support of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), the NCGG is conducting these programmes as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy to strengthen India’s ties with other nations in the region. The aim is to equip civil servants with the necessary skills and knowledge to govern effectively and efficiently.

The programmes focus on areas such as public administration, e-governance, digital transformation and leadership development. NCGG director general Bharat Lal roped in an impressive roster of distinguished experts, including Dinesh Dasa, former chairman of GPSC; Jishnu Barua, chairman, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC); and Sanjay Bhattacharya, former senior diplomat, among others, to lead the sessions. 

India’s presidency of the G-20 in 2023 provides an excellent opportunity to showcase these capacity-building programmes to the world. As the world’s premier forum for international economic cooperation, the G-20 provides an excellent platform for India to share its experience and best governance and capacity-building practices. Wisely, the Modi government is hoping to use the G-20 opportunity to promote capacity building as a key tool for achieving sustainable development goals, and to encourage other countries to adopt similar programmes.