A bottom to top approach

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

The old adage, ‘Child is the father of man’, has profound implications. The house is as strong as its foundation. Unfortunately, in our country the powerful and the privileged have forgotten this fundamental principle. So we are happy with our 7-10 per cent growth that creates more billionaires and makes the rich richer, even if it dramatically increases the gap between, say, the bottom 85 (the foundation) and the top 15 (the superstructure) per cent. We believe that affluence from the top will trickle down; the deprived 85 per cent must not ask for anything more than that. A top-to-bottom approach.

We forget that billionaires created in such an environment cannot have any real concern for the extremely deprived large majority. A sane policy would be to strengthen the bottom 85 per cent first and substantially decrease the gap between the rich and the poor instead of making the rich richer. If we follow this policy, in course of time, billionaires would emerge through such an empowerment of the unprivileged majority, and it would be far more likely to be sensitive to the grassroot situation in the country, and be less exploitative of the unprivileged. The Tatas and the Birlas, when we became independent, belonged to this category. Their name is thus associated with some of the best educational research institutions in the country: Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, and Birla Institutes of Science and Technology, to name a few. None of these institutions brought to the founders any personal or financial benefit. I cannot think of a single such institute set up by those who made their billions in the last 30 to 40 years in the country.

It requires a sea-change in the mindset of the rich and the powerful to recognise that it would be better to have a five to six per cent growth rate which would reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and even decrease the number of billionaires, but ensure that no child shall remain hungry or uneducated, rather than having a 10 per cent growth rate which does just the opposite.

Take the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which is a superb plan but executed with a top-down approach. The result is that there has been little production of assets during implementation of the scheme which is full of corruption, examples of which are reported virtually every day in our press. We did not ensure, before implementing the scheme, that every link in the chain from the proposed beneficiaries upward, to the government of India that provides the money, is strong so that all the money reaches the target population and is utilised to build assets — and not for digging a ditch on day one and filling it up on day two. Before implementing the provisions of this excellent scheme, we should have first ensured that we have desirable developmental plans which can be implemented for each village, taluq, mandal and district, prepared through involvement and leadership of the people, with professional help from the government. We should have ensured that the machinery works from the bottom to the top so that no money is lost on the way and that all of it reaches the beneficiary in the shortest duration, and is used to create assets that would empower the recipients who are at the bottom of the ladder of affluence.

Another example would be the government of India’s generous gesture of waiving the loans of the farmers. We did not concurrently ensure that the farmers would not get into the loan trap again. We should have gone into the causes of why farmers had to take money on loan from both public and private lenders and then, concurrently with the loan waiver, empowered them in a way that they won’t need to take a loan again.

When we build mega projects, dealing with displacement should be the first question in a bottom-to-top approach. In every case, it has been relegated to a remote background. We passed and notified the Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Protection Act but did not set up a machinery to ensure that the provisions of this excellent Act are fully utilised by the farmers. The same would be true of the Act giving certain rights to forest dwellers.

Another example of top-down approach would be education. The National Knowledge Commission, immediately after it was set up in 2005, instead of worrying about school education, agriculture or traditional knowledge, started talking about higher education. School education that is the foundation of higher education and should have been tackled first, was relegated to the background.

And now we have the Right to Education Act which is deliberately designed to commodify school education so that it may be sold at a price that only the top 10 per cent can pay. A top-down approach again.

The irony is that it doesn’t have to be so. In the implementation of the highly successful Right to Information Act, the approach has been bottom to top.

If we want a 10 per cent growth of GDP, why can’t half of the contribution come from the rural sector (including agriculture and traditional knowledge and skills) where 70 per cent of our population lives, instead of less than 20 per cent contribution at present? We have the recipe to do so but, then, we would not be able to please the MNCs and the US government and, of course, the very small proportion of our population that benefits by aligning itself with the MNCs and the US, irrespective of the damage that such an alignment causes to 80-90 per cent of our people and to the concept of our sovereignty.

The first few governments in the country after Independence had the desire to adopt a bottom-to-top approach, but they did not have the means. Now we have the means but not the desire. This is a dangerous situation. If the UPA government thinks that it has the mandate of the majority and, therefore, the right to sustain the existing situation in the country, it should be reminded that it does not represent even 20 per cent of the eligible voters of the country. In a way, therefore, it is a minority government. It should introspect why it is so and, having been given the mandate to govern the country, look at what it must do to give it a genuine right to govern and become a majority government at the next elections. This can happen only by adopting a bottom-to-top approach and not top-to-bottom approach in whatever it does.

A bottom to top approach. Pushpa M. Bhargava. The New Indian Express, Oct.1, 2009.

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