Out of school students, joblessness, floods… Questions for MPs for this Monsoon Session
In theory MPs draw the attention of government to concerns of those who elect them. In practice the focus is more on party politics and less on everyday issues of electors. A look at five critical issues for MPs to flag.
By Shankkar Aiyar |Published: 17th July 2022 |
It is not the answer that enlightens but the question. This eloquent perspective was articulated by Romanian-French thinker and playwright Eugène Ionesco. Enlightenment though depends on whether the questions are asked.
This week will see the start of the Monsoon Session of Parliament. Theory has it that Members of Parliament draw the attention of the government to the concerns of those who elect them. In practice, the focus of MPs has been more on party politics and less on everyday issues haunting those who send them to Parliament. Increasingly, the parliamentary process which costs taxpayers crores of rupees has been reduced to an opportunity for raucous rhetoric.
Here are some critical issues the MPs may want to flag to get a picture of the state of governance.
Floods in Smart Cities: The monsoon has brought in its wake predictable images. State after state is reporting floods inundating towns and cities — remarkably, many of the cities are on the list of Smart Cities. Pune apparently could not handle rains of more than 50 mm. Frequent failures are buried under the alibi of climate change and that useful phrase, ‘unprecedented’. The saga of the ‘smart cities’ programme deserves a doctoral study. For now, MPs may want to ask how much money has been spent on the initiative, IF at all the smart city programme funds scenario modelling and suggest a study of cities to map vulnerability — from droughts to floods, to scarcity and excess!
Out of School Students: The pandemic dealt a body blow to lives, livelihoods and the education of children. Over 1.5 million schools with over 247 million students were hit as schools were shut for over 18 months. As per ASER 2021 4.6 per cent of students in the age group of 6 to 14 were found to be out of school. It is true education is a state subject but the implications of children being left out of school are national. Ideally, UDISE should have answers but even in the age of digital governance, its latest report is for 2020–21. MPs must seek data and assessments of programmes announced. How many children are out of school? What is the level of teacher vacancies? What about access to devices and the internet for online support? Any evaluation of improvement requires a baseline.
Vacant Posts and Joblessness: This column has earlier highlighted the curious paradox of joblessness and vacant jobs. The Modi Government recently announced a big push to fill vacant posts in government — targeting the filling of a million posts in 18 months. The idea is welcome but what about vacant posts in the states? While the number of vacant posts at the Centre is known — over 8.5 lakh posts — the data on posts in states is a known unknown. MPs must seek data on vacant posts across levels in the states — in secretariat, in state PSEs, in urban bodies, zilla parishads and tier-III institutions — and create the momentum for them to be filled. Why are MPs giving state governments a free pass?
Understanding Unemployment: The confluence of consequences of events has compounded an already confusing landscape. India has always struggled to present a coherent picture of employment — and this is a country which pioneered data collection and analysis in the 1950s. The periodic labour force survey presents more questions than answers. There is data — on man-hours of jobs created by government spending, recruitments/retrenchments by private enterprises, EPFO registrations, enrollment on the e-Shram platform, and MGNREGS record payroll payments. What is missing is intelligible collation. Surely assimilation through filters can deliver a partial even if not a complete picture. MPs must campaign for a credible quarterly report on employment.
Access of credit to MSMEs: Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises form the backbone of the economy– in employment, in output and in exports. However, their ability to access credit is limited by systemic bias. An August 2021 report of the Standing Committee on Labour suggests eight of ten MSMEs lack access to institutional credit. It is true that through the pandemic, MSMEs were supported with schemes for restructuring loans. It is equally true that those without access to bank credit suffered and have shut down. It would be instructive for MPs to seek a white paper on the landscape of credit to MSMEs. To start with it can seek answers on how many registered MSMEs have access to formal institutional credit. This then can be widened to include micro-enterprises across sectors.
These are but only a few of the issues which MPs can flag. There are plenty of other issues. For instance, what is the state of the idea to incubate new cities, how many states have adopted the new labour code, how many metro projects across cities are on schedule, are banks lending to farmers for solar farms? And there are many more.
Parliament sessions are meant to be the staging arena for debate and deliberation on the state of the nation. Hopefully, and it is only a hope, the monsoon session will not be drowned in competitive cacophony and the elected will find the time to represent the electors.
Shankkar Aiyar, political economy analyst, is author of ‘Accidental India’, ‘Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution’ and ‘The Gated Republic –India’s Public Policy Failures and Private Solutions’. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ShankkarAiyar. His previous columns can be found here. This column was first published here.