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Wanted! Leaders for a welfare state

The Indian constitution says that we are a welfare state. So the world’s largest democracy expects its leaders to think, speak and work in the interest of the common man. No one is expected to get special treatment except the weakest strata of society. This comes to mind when our state is busy dealing with two important issues - female foeticide and the government’s alleged failure to dissuade industrial houses from migrating to other states. The topics may appear far away to connote with each other in any manner, but their genesis is one, and that is how the leaders are expected to behave in the situation.

The issue of female foeticide assumes utmost importance as figures reveal an alarming picture with child sex ratio of 883 girls against 1,000 boys as per the 2011 census. And the 2001 census say it was 913 girls against 1,000 boys. One wonders as to why a progressive state such as Maharashtra that also boasts of being a pioneer in avenues of overall development is witnessing such a distressing trend. Why a girl child is increasingly becoming unwanted and how future generations are going to tackle the imbalance?

If one goes to the root cause of the problem, most families prefer a boy to carry the family mantle ahead. And families from middle or lower middle class would reject a girl child, mainly to skirt the responsibility to raise and marry her off. And the expensive pompous weddings and the obnoxious dowry system has an ugly presence in their mind. Add to that the powerful caste system and customs attached with it.

One of the reasons behind the large number of farmer suicides in Vidarbha region was that they were frustrated over bad crop and the inability to afford a wedding for their daughters according to their status. Will the problem end by just registering cases against the people involved in it or advertising about the evils of dowry? Certainly not! What’s really needed now is an all-out effort to do away with the dowry system and the exploitation of the brides’ parents during weddings. During an era of pompous weddings, and a lavish dowry, an average family has to either seek a loan or sell off ancestral property to fund the wedding.

Unfortunately, no one is ready for an open debate on it. The political leadership that wields considerable clout in the society is unwilling to speak on dowry system primarily because of the fear of inviting social wrath. Also many of them have no moral right to object, as weddings from their own families have been lavish and pompous. The evil of dowry is not limited to rural parts but is equally prevalent in big cities as well. So, will any of the leaders, who claim huge support and a mass base, ever speak against the dowry and costly marriage system? Least is expected from the government which has not been able to nominate even members on the State Women Commission since last two years.

Now let’s spare a thought for the woes of businessmen in the state. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has expressed his concern over the migration of industrial projects from the state. This has resulted in the state losing out on industrial investment, he feels. He spoke recently on a Maruti project preferring Gujarat over Maharashtra and the decision of the Mahindras to invest in Tamil Nadu over the state’s unwillingness to fulfill its commitments on incentives.

Pawar attacked the Democratic Front government of which his NCP is a 50 per cent partner and his nephew Ajit is heading the Finance Department that deals with the issue of industrial incentives. Despite sufficient clarification by both CM and Dy CM, Pawar is unrelenting.
A close look at the issue reveals that the incentives --refunds of VAT collected from the sale of product of the industries were applicable for sale in Maharashtra only. But, a few industries set up subsidiaries in Maharashtra and sold their entire product to them just to claim huge refunds. Later the subsidiaries sold the product outside the state, which was unacceptable.

The state which was offering refunds of a just few hundred crores till a few years back had to shell out Rs 3,900 crore in 2011-12, Rs 3,000 crore in 2010-11 and Rs 2,400 crore in 2009-10, bleeding the state’s coffers. To stop the tendency the Finance Department introduced an amendment to the VAT Act, which angered industries. In fact, the issue invites serious debate over huge refunds when the state has no money for development. But whose case are we fighting? Does a welfare state appear in sight at all?

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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