N. Vittal
(Second Palkivala Memorial Lecture, 21st June 2003 - Chennai)

Eminent people inspire us and become role models. The Bhagwad Gita recognizes this, when Lord Krishna observes in the third chapter:

Yadyad acharathi shesta
Tatat deve ithorojana
Sayat pramanam kurute
Loko tat anuvartate

The way the great people behave, others follow. The techniques adopted by them are also adopted by others. Nani Palkhivala was certainly, a multi splendored, multi dimensional great man. He not only excelled in the area of law. He was also eminently humane and generous as a person. Here in Chennai we recall his contribution to the Sankara Netralaya and also his annual lucid lectures on the budget. He was also interested in the matters spiritual and above all he stood for the dignity of the human being and ensuring that his rights are protected.

I congratulate the Palkhivala Foundation on choosing the theme "empowering the deserving". This theme I think represents one of the fundamental values cherished by Palkhivala. I feel greatly honoured to have been called upon to deliver a lecture in the Palkhivala foundation. I propose to explore the theme "empowering the deserving" by way of my exercise in offering my tribute to the great man.

'Empowering the deserving' has two angles. This expression means that there are people in our midst who deserve a better life and a better future but who are not able to get this. Palkhivala through his actions was trying to help such deserving people who were not getting their chance. If we are not looking at the issue of 'to empowering the deserving', it has to mean that deserving people get their dues not as an act of charity but in their own right. As we explore the theme of empowering the deserving, we will have to look at how we can create an environment and what action we can take so that the deserving people in our midst are able to lead a better life in our country. And at the same time, our action must also be such that the deserving people rise to their position on their own stream and are thus empowered. After all even God helps only those who help themselves.

How do we begin? The potential in every human being is great. Dr. Abdul Kalam, in his book "Wings of Fire" points out how God gives some spark of talent to each one of us and our challenge is to see that we are able to rise to our full potential. The old Naladiar poem also points out that deserving competent persons can occur in any situation:

கள்ளி வயிற்றில் அகில்பிறக்கும் மான்வயிற்றில்
ஒள்ளரி தாரம் பிறக்கும் பெருங்கடலுள்
பல்விலைய முத்தும் பிறக்கும் அறிவார்யார்
நல்லார் பிறக்கும் குடி

The cactus can produce gum benzoine, which is very fine-smelling. The deer can give rise to the excellent fragrance of kasturi. The foul smelling sea can produce valuable pearls. Who knows in which family a great man will be born?

It is, therefore, obvious that we must focus on the deserving people who have to be empowered. But our main problem is that we do not know who are the 'deserving'. The potential for deserving exists everywhere. In other words, we should take the entire billion people of our country as deserving because each one of them may have been blessed with some talent or other. We have before us an excellent example of how deserving people in our country may not able to come up to their potential but realize their potential elsewhere. When we see the prosperity of the non-resident Indians, we realize that they could have never come up in our country, got a chance when they went abroad and were able to rise on their own merit. In other words, the NRls represent the deserving people of our country who got a chance and who were empowered to come up to highest positions in life. The Government of India is also recognizing the contributions of NRls and is thinking in terms of offering dual citizenships. If we look at the true meaning of the Palkhivala foundation mission, 'empowering the deserving', the challenge before us is, can we do something in our country, so that the success the NRls, who represent a very small fraction of our people, have achieved, can be reproduced by the resident Indians in our own country? Palkihwala used to observe that we have perfected the art of keeping people of India poor. He thought that India is a rich country in which poor people live. We need not be poor and we are keeping our people poor by our policies and actions and the system of governance we have adopted. It is obvious that we will have to think in terms of fundamental changes that we should bring about if we want to ensure that not only the microscopic non-resident Indians, but every Indian is also able to rise to his full potential. We will have to create such an environment in our own country.

This is possible, if we are able to achieve good governance in our country. What do we mean by good governance? As I see, it this means four things:

(1) To begin with, the first requirement is that there should be the rule of law. All are equal before law and all are entitled to equal protection of the law, says Article 14 of the Constitution. But if we look at the way the judicial system and legal system operates in our country, we find many people are the victims of law or innocent victims of law. The NHRC some time back highlighted how lakhs of people are languishing in various jails of our country as under-trial prisoners. Quite a few of them have even spent more time than what is required to be spent in jail if they have been convicted for the offence for which they were first arrested and placed in the lock up. Equally important is the fact that rich people in our country seem to get away literally with murder. The fact that in highly publicized cases like the BMW case in Delhi, and Jessica Lal case, where people in high society are suspected to be the accused seem to be getting away, shows that our legal system is exploited by the rich. The conviction rate in our criminal courts is only 6%. It is this low conviction rate, which has made corruption a high profit and low risk business in our country. Our country has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world. According to the Transparency International, we rank 72 out of 102 in the corruption perception index for the year 2002.

(2) Corruption is anti-national, anti-economic development and anti-poor. Corruption is, therefore, against good governance. We can realize that if we want good governance, we should have the rule of the law and we should also be able to put down corruption. Apart from these two pre-conditions, there is a third aspect of good governance which has a bearing on the concept with which we started about empowering the deserving. For good governance to be meaningful, we must be able to create an environment in our country where every individual is able to rise to his full potential. Take for example, Sam Pitroda. He studied in India, went to United States, got half a dozen patents on which he made 25 million dollars. He then came back to India and launched the telecom revolution in our country. If Pitroda was in India would he have been able to get a single patent in India? It takes 6 years to get a patent in India as against 22 months in US. Inefficiency and slackness in our system ensure that Pitrodas cannot flourish in our country.

(3) When we talk about the full potential we can extend the concept from people to physical resources also. As a nation, we are very poor in productivity. We lose 10% of food grains because of poor storage. Nearly 45% of the vegetables perish in transit. We hardly use 25% of the rain and the precipitation we get. We have industries which are quarters of energy. Ultimately with 40% of our people being illiterate, we do not even use our full human resource potential. So, for good governance, apart from the rule of law and check on corruption, an environment in which every individual can rise to his full potential, are essential. Productivity in every aspect of life should be also taken as a basic requirement.

With this understanding, therefore, our approach to empowering the deserving becomes clear. If we want to empower the deserving we will have to bring good governance in the country. For achieving good governance, we will have to focus on the four points I mentioned. Let us begin with the rule of law. Our rules over-emphasise the observance of proper procedures. As Peter Drucker points out, doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing rightly. Our legal system worships the procedure and doing the thing rightly. Therefore, we find a person in the Jain Hawala case, for example, who openly confessed that he had taken 3 lakhs of rupees from Jain was discharged by the court and he could become a minister in the cabinet. The Indian Evidence Act and our criminal justice system require a through overhaul.

Recently we have also seen corruption in the judiciary emerging as an open issue. The judge in Delhi, who was involved in the DDA scam is the latest example. Unfortunately, we also have a system thanks to the 1971 Contempt of Courts Act, where even truth is not a defense against the judiciary in a contempt case. It is high time that we review such an extra protection given to one wing of governance and ensure that corruption is checked in all the three pillars of governance - the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.

Another reason for poor governance as rule of law in our country is because of the enormous delay in our legal system. According to an estimate, if no new cases are registered from today and if all cases are to be disposed of at the present rate, it will take 300 years for the present pending cases to be disposed. I would suggest a radical solution. If we want to follow a policy so that every case is disposed of within a maximum period of two years, let us increase the strength of the judiciary 150 times. It is possible to find resources by proper adjustment of the court fees. I understand judiciary already earns nearly 80% of its revenue expenditure. This will ensure that the judiciary is not hampered. They complain that there is not adequate number of judges in our country. Equally important is to make changes in our legal system so that endless appeals are avoided and justice is done fast. A radical pragmatic productivity oriented approach to our judicial system should be a starting point if we want to empower the deserving.

That brings me to the second point of good governance, namely checking corruption. For 4 years as CVC, I was focusing on this aspect and I have written and spoken extensively on the subject. Corruption in our country is a vicious cycle starting with political corruption leading to business corruption, corruption in bureaucracy and criminalisation of politics. Each of those issues has to be tackled. For checking political corruption, we have to begin with an attack on the black money which constitutes 40% of the GDP. We must make contribution to political parties open and transparent as in countries like United States and U.K. Criminalisation of politics can be avoided if we can bring in transparency in the process. Following the directions of Supreme Court which has ruled that every candidate to election should declare his criminal background at the time of filing his nomination, we must also de-Iink the nexus between the corrupt bureaucrat and the corrupt politician by bringing in a system similar to that of filling the post of Director, CBI after the Supreme Court judgment in the Hawala case. This will ensure that the scandals like the recent one involving former Minister of State of Finance in the Government of India do not recur. We must ensure security of tenure of all sensitive posts, the selection should be made from a panel of names recommended by objective committees. Once a person is appointed, he should be retained in the post for at least three years.

Equally important is the issue of tackling bureaucratic corruption. This can be tackled if we focus on three things. (1) Simplification of rules and procedures so that the scope of corruption is reduced. (2) Transparency and empowering the public. (3) Effective punishment. The business corruption aspect can be tackled if we make our systems move fast by extensive application of IT and make the entire decision making process transparent so that there is no scope for under hand dealings.

This brings us to the issue of what is meant by empowering the public. As the Chairman of Commission on People Empowerment in Andhra Pradesh, I have been particularly looking at this aspect. As I see it, empowerment of the people will take place, if the citizens first have access to information. Right to information is the starting point for empowerment so that there is a greater transparency in the system. Secondly, there should be a total check on corruption. Thirdly as far as possible, a citizen must not have to approach government offices which provides opportunities for corruption. Use of Information technology and transparent processes can meet this requirement. Finally, the feedback about how the projects initiated by the government for the people are working should come from the beneficiaries themselves rather than from the government organizations.

We have so far looked at the two aspects of the good governance namely, the rule of law and good governance. We may now turn to the third aspect, namely, providing opportunity for everybody to rise to his full potential. Ever since independence, we have been following a policy of reservation and affirmative action very rightly, because, when we became independent, thanks to thousand of years of exploitation, a major part of the population in our country were poor and suffered social injustices like untouchability. The policy of reservation probably helped a number of people belonging to such exploited communities to come up in life in the last fifty years. Today perhaps we have reached a situation where we have to consider whether if we apply the principle of empowering the deserving, we must try to cover all Indians and not only those Indians who were exploited in the past, we have to think of new methods by which all Indians can come up in life. One simple suggestion I would make in this context is as education is the tool for progress, when it comes to professional colleges which are in great demand, we must go for what I would call, the fourth stream of education. The first stream consists of the standard colleges and schools and universities. The second stream consists of the institutions set up by the private sector. Some of them have almost become commercial, with the hefty donations. The third stream of education is those in company training programmes, where a person after recruitment is exposed to training. The fourth stream I am recommending should be professional training institutions set up jointly by private sector and banks where professionals will do the teaching and market rates will be charged as fees. The role of the banks is to give loans at concession rates to the deserving students purely based on merit. The loans can be returned after training in such focused areas, they will not be not only get good jobs, they will also be earning well. In this way, the present situation by which many talented youngsters belonging to the non-reserved communities do not get an opening in professional colleges will be overcome.

We then come to the fourth aspect of productivity. We have seen how Japan, Singapore and US tackled the issue of productivity. In 1989 I was in United States, in the School of Management undergoing a programme at MIT, where the whole American society under Regan was focused on the issue of productivity. I also saw a one-hour video tape of Lee Kwan Yew, the prime minister of Singapore addressing the industrialists and civil servants on productivity. I was told that it was a condensed version of three-hour talk he gave. Can we imagine any of our Prime Ministers talking on productivity for even half an hour? In 1973, when the oil shock hit the world, Japanese found that they are very vulnerable because they have no energy resources. They systematically went about making laws and adopting energy efficiency practices so much so today, if we want any energy efficient technology, the Japanese are the source. They were able to save 30% of their energy, without losing the GNP. Can we expect in our country, such a nationwide focus on productivity ever in the future? If we want to empower the deserving we will have to make productivity or the total factor productivity in our economy the Taraka mantra.

I have placed before you my ideas about how we can empower the deserving and in the process pay our homage to Nani Palkhivala. But finally, we will have to practice what the Traitiya Upanishad says, if we want to go ahead:

Let us come together. Let us enjoy together. Let our strengths come together. Let us move from darkness to light. Let us avoid the poison of misunderstanding and hatred. That way lies progress.

Sahana vavatu Sahanau bhunaktu
Saha Viryam kara va vahai
Tejas vina maditha vastu
Ma vidh visha vahai
Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti

எண்ணங்கள் வலைப்பதிவு