Citizens' Issues
The other side of intolerance
We, the educated middle class, often ‘tolerate’ discrimination, without protesting about injustice. Do not tolerate lack of accountability, inefficiency, corruption, wrongdoing. That is not dissent or ‘anti-national behaviour’. It is the essence of good citizenship
 
What did the late Martin Luther King’s crusade in the US, and Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement have in common? That one’s easy -- both King and Gandhi refused to tolerate injustice. But what have the following in common:
 
  1. When film star-turned politician Ambarish went to Singapore for treatment last year (accompanied by wife, two doctors and assorted staff) the Karnataka State government paid him Rs1.2 crore as medical reimbursement. Under the rules, only Rs5 lakh is permitted as reimbursement, that too, only if the treatment is not available within India. During that same month, an indigent, homeless immigrant working as a watchman in Bengaluru died of viral infection, unable to afford medical treatment though he lived within walking distance of a large hospital, leaving three children, a widow aged 29 and his elderly parents behind.
  2. A group of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Karnataka went on a junket to Fiji to ‘study sheep farming’, at taxpayers’ expense, while the  state government  was citing a ‘funds crunch’ for defaulting on salary payments to anganwadi staff for four months
 
Got it? In this second set of cases, there were no ‘intolerant’ protests from the public, asking why a poor watchman’s life was less valuable than that of a politician, or why public money is sanctioned to film stars who earn in crores. We, the educated middle class, ‘tolerate’ such discrimination, without protesting about injustice.  After all, it is our money, yours and mine. Why do we ‘tolerate’ its misuse? The abjectly poor and deprived, the helpless, have no options, but we the educated middle class have an obligation to speak up, oppose unacceptable developments. Democracy is not merely about rights, it also encompasses obligations on the part of the people, to participate, monitor, and speak up.
 
In the context of the debate on intolerance, are we forgetting that there are occasions when tolerance is unacceptable? We would still be colonial subjects singing ‘God save the Queen’ if the freedom fighters including Mahatma Gandhi had not decided that we would not tolerate British rule. The blacks would still be second-class citizens in the US if Martin Luther King and others had not risen in protest against intolerable discrimination. There is a saying: “All it needs for evil to prosper, is for good people to keep quiet and do nothing.” 
 
Speaking up, refusing to tolerate unacceptable deals is not only desirable but incumbent on all citizens in a democracy. It is not intolerance per se that we should condemn; it is intolerance based on bigotry, narrow mindedness and arrogant disregard of viewpoints other than one’s own. 
 
Exactly three decades ago, the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) at Mumbai – India’s oldest consumer protection group – supported a move for legislation to make it mandatory for all packaged food items to have an expiry date printed on them. Before the law came into effect in 1991, buyers had no way of knowing whether a loaf of bread or a packet of biscuits was fresh or stale. The mandatory stamping of ‘best before’ date has benefited us all enormously.  In fact, the entire consumer protection movement grew from a refusal to tolerate unfair practices that enriched manufacturers at the expense of buyers. If we had taken a ‘chalta hai’ attitude (known in Karnataka as ‘Irli, bidi’ –‘leave it, let it be’) there would have been no progress in legislation. Refusal to tolerate something that was unacceptable, not tolerance, was the basis for establishing a Bill of consumer rights.  
 
The rape law amendment of 2013 grew from the massive protests that took place after the infamous Nirbhaya case in Delhi. “We will not tolerate such occurrences any more” was the thrust of the activists’ demands. Earlier, after the Mathura rape case too, it was a letter written by four lawyers protesting against the court’s verdict, which brought amendments to the law on evidence acceptable in rape cases. 
 
Among the Padma Shri awardees this year was MC Mehta, famous for filing public interest litigations (PILs). With relentless ‘intolerance’, he sought legal interventions, in matters that needed to be addressed to oppose injustice. As President Pranab Mukherjee said in his Republic Day eve broadcast to the nation,  in the context of intolerance, “Let’s continue to complain, to demand, to rebel. This too is a virtue of democracy.” Quite. 
 
If viewpoints that differ from those of the party in power are labeled ‘anti-national’ (as it happened in the case of Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey whose assignment as visiting faculty at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was terminated for allegedly “spreading Naxalite thoughts and anti-national activities” -- he is known as a human rights activist), where are we headed? 
 
One more example from down south – recently the Karnataka state government spent Rs20 crore on ‘toilet renovation’ to ‘replicate best possible 5-star models’, at Bengaluru’s Vidhana Soudha (assembly building) -- at Rs15 lakh per toilet, the government said. Besides the dubious arithmetic (were 120 toilets built in the assembly building?), this also raises the issue of squandering  public money on ‘5-star toilets for legislators’, when a high court directive to ensure that all government schools have toilets and drinking  water supply, has been flouted ‘for want of funds’.  Why did the one crore residents of the metropolis tolerate such illogical spending, without any protest?  How does tolerance become a virtue in such a context?
 
I am recalling a comment by Justice VR Krishna Iyer of the Supreme Court who left behind some precedent-setting judicial pronouncements. “The final defender of freedom,” he said, “is militant (my emphasis) public opinion and not paper safeguards—respect for dissenting viewpoints is the essence of democracy.” In other words, don’t tolerate lack of accountability, inefficiency, corruption, wrong doing. Demand that our leaders heed the voices of the people they are supposed to represent. That is not dissent or ‘anti-national behaviour’. It is the essence of good citizenship.
 
There may be virtue in the adage, “Look at the positive side – be grateful for what you have” but can that kind of tolerance for less-than-acceptable parameters (whether in life, business, politics or social conditions) but there are occasions where being compliant, not complaining, is the wrong response. A denouncement of intolerance based on religious affiliations (of  the kind issued by presidential candidate Donald Trump, and the controversy about immigrants in Europe)  circulated on the internet,  had at last count, garnered 5,184 signatures from famous academics from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, MIT and other universities, including authors Gayatri Chakravaty Spivak and Diana Eck.  There are occasions and issues that call for tolerance and others where intolerance is the better option. The famous ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement that drew tens of thousands of protesters in the wake of the financial meltdown is another example when citizens said, “Enough is enough, we will not tolerate this kind of skewed economic policies anymore.”
 
As the tag line for Citizen Matters, an online magazine from Bengaluru says, “Speak up, it’s your city”. We don’t, not often enough. Civic facilities would be far better if more among us refused to ‘tolerate’ shoddy service. Can we afford to keep quiet? That would be anti-national, not dissent.
 
(Sakuntala Narasimhan  is a Bengaluru-based senior journalist, writer, musician and consumer activist.) 

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COMMENTS

Yashodhan Nagrale

10 months ago

True Local self Governance is the answer . Across Europe and americas , local bodies have huge power . Local corporation and Mayor have huge responsibilities and they themselves raise huge bonds (called munis) . It is easier to acess local leaders and impose responsibilty

S.S.A.Zaidi

10 months ago

It is so very well put.What ever has been enumerated in this article is undeniable and indisputable fact,however it is a universal phenomenon .

Subramani P K

10 months ago

A good article & congrats to the writer Sakunthala Narasimhan. The discrimination what ever is talked about is perfectly constitutional like caste, religion etc and protesting against it is unconstitutional & subject to punishment. Court has no power to take cases against sitting MLAs/MPs unless approved for prosecution by Governor or other appropriate authority. The activists who have protested against many of the atrocities have met with what fate is known. Criminals are in politics & criminalization of politics more or less has legal approval as a punishment for two years or less does not qualify for debarring to contest elections. Even the first citizen President behaves like a member of a political party. He does not show patriotism to ask his partymen to allow the majority elected reps to govern the country. Where chaos is the order of the day a common man is totally lost in the muddle of events & keep looking aghast at the sky cursing his/her fate for having born in such a unworthy situation & time in a country where it seems glorious Rama Rajyam was prevalent in the distant past. God save the country & people. Jai Bharath.

Gopalakrishnan T V

10 months ago

The writer is 100% right when she says we are tolerating anything and everything despite our paying huge taxes and getting nothing in return from the authorities. We pay vehicle tax,but there are no roads worth the name.We pay property tax for what it is paid is not known? We pay various taxes in different ways but the authorities seem to be insensitive and it is not that public tolerate all nonsense but they are helpless. They grumble, curse left and right,express their objections and protests but the authorities turn a deaf ear and behave as if what ever they do have to be accepted. There is no semblance of Governance anywhere is an accepted fact and many represent but in the absence of accountability, punishment for laxity,indifference, non delivery of service,inefficiency everywhere nothing happens. Corruption, black money, extortion and threat if anyone dares to protest have come to stay with or without our knowledge. These writings do not reach where it should reach and even if they reach the authorities simply ignore. But as responsible citizens we have no choice but continue to protest and learn to tolerate the intolerance in practice unless and until we are able to choose the candidate who should stand in the election.

REPLY

D S Ranga Rao

In Reply to Gopalakrishnan T V 10 months ago

".....unless and until we are able to choose the candidate who should stand in the election." Why delay, Sir? Did we do it in the last Bengaluru Mahanagarpalika polls? Or, the next, next...? When, when do we start doing it, please?

Simple Indian

10 months ago

I believe we as a country flawed in adopting a cut-paste Constitution which was ill-suited to India right from the beginning. Instead of the more-flawed parliamentary democracy, we should have adopted the better-suited Presidential form of democracy, as we had/have more in common with USA than we did with UK, whose Westminster model we copied. That our 'founding fathers' adopted a voluminous Constitution (a cut-paste job from assorted sources, no original work, really), with no safeguards against financial mismanagement by the elected leaders, they have virtually given a carte blanche to their ilk. We do have a CAG, but it has no powers to preempt spending by MPs/MLAs beforehand. Perhaps, it's time we had a strong law which will bar MPs/MLAs from raising their own salaries, going on junkets on public money in the garb of "study tours", often to exotic places overseas. Unless we have strong laws to prevent financial mismanagement by elected leaders, we will continue to cry foul only post facto, which does precious little to the exchequer. The CAG should be empowered to prevent improper spending, if it violates certain basic principles - of being in larger interest of citizens.

REPLY

Meenal Mamdani

In Reply to Simple Indian 10 months ago

I think blaming our system of government is incorrect. The Presidential system is far more dictatorial and unless there are strong checks on the President's authority, she/he can cause a lot of harm.

Also by its nature, office of the CAG cannot prevent misuse of funds. It can point out after the fact, and then it is up to the govt in power at the time to take action against the wrong doers. Too often the culprits and government are from the same political party so nothing happens.

Unfortunately we Indians want some one else to take action, usually passing the buck to the govt. Isn't it time that we form citizen associations dedicated to monitoring specific functions of govt and then hold their feet to the fire?

If Ms. Dalal and Mr. Basu had simply stopped with writing about wrong doing, where would we be? We need strong watch dogs like ML Foundation for many areas of public life like transport, road safety, public hygiene, the list is long. We are a young democracy and we all have to work at strengthening it.

D S Ranga Rao

In Reply to Meenal Mamdani 10 months ago

When Constitutional bodies like CAG, ECI, etc., are not cared for, i do not know how "strong watch dogs like MLF" or any other NGOs will be cared for. Even otherwise, how a non-Constitutional body can act against the misuse of power by a government or its organs? Ultimately, after calling the bluff or unearthing a scam, the matter has to be registered, investigated and prosecuted, as the case may be, all by government agencies only. We, being the unelected, have to remain crying wolf or raising a hue and cry, not necessarily to be acted upon every time we do​ so​!

D S Ranga Rao

In Reply to Simple Indian 10 months ago

Agreed. But, when and how can we change our Constitution? By sitting outside the Parliament?

B. KRISHNAN

10 months ago

I fully agree with every word written on this article. But is writing an article enough? We have to start acting. Lt us look up to some senior journalist like Ms.Narasimhan to lead us!

REPLY

D S Ranga Rao

In Reply to B. KRISHNAN 10 months ago

Yes, that's exactly the need of the hour.

vnrao

10 months ago

entire govt spending and dole outs to favarites is a uncontrolled that is the reason opposition paries are there for every misdeed citizen protest then whole concept of democracy is dead.

vswami

10 months ago

Quite an interesting write-up; in that, apart from (re-) echoing certain largely, nay overwhelmingly prevailing, realities afflicting the entire humanity in general, underscores the crying need to be awakened and to resort to pro-action, in the common interests of our so called 'modern' and 'civilized' society. To be rightly taken as a serious INVITE to one and all, sufficiently inspiring to find time and mind to come out of the box, accord own independent thoughts aimed at 'effective altruism', and also share with the rest; not to simplistically mark, with ease, 'Like',

It is noteworthy, adding to the mentioned upright invitation from the Fist Citizen, a similar one of a recent origin has been extended by a member of the judiciary itself.

(Open TO Edit)

D S Ranga Rao

10 months ago

Well said, ma'm. As they say, the people get the government they deserve, so do we. As long as we do not long for good governance and repeat electing the wrong people again and again, we have to suffer. Incidentally, your quote: “All it needs for evil to prosper, is for good people to keep quiet and do nothing”, seems to rhyme with the slogan of 'JP', the Loksatta Party Founder, who says:“The answer to bad politics is not no politics, but good politics”. During the height of Lok Pal Bill agitation, Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram, then Union Ministers, were reported to have taunted Anna Hazare that he being unelected should not try to dictate terms to the elected! It's debatable that the then opposition party, now the ruling party, did prove to be different as yet. Therefore, it's time for all the well-meaning people to come together to join politics and strive for good governance.

Jayaram M

10 months ago

Agree. My opinion is that - (1) we generally follow the path of least resistance (not dissenting); (2) dissent may affect your career / income (that is why we have so many "yes" people around; (3) a form of survival in the real world (unless one / one's family is personally affected (??); (4) politics; in all its shades, has become a (self protecting)industry of its own.
Shailesh Gandhi and a few others (in Maharashtra)are at the forefront of "dissent".
I personally ascribe the recent happenings and the misuse of the "law" (everywhere) to, perhaps, "The (Thomas) Becket Principle" ??

S.S.A.Zaidi

10 months ago

Very well articulated article.Politicians feel they have the divine right to do what ever they wish to do.

ramdas naik

10 months ago

Totally agree. The problem in India is the chalta hai attitude. As long as it does not affect us & our comfort zone-we just don't bother. It took me 2yrs of constant prodding to get the Corporation in my city to get an encroachment demolished.

Krishnan

10 months ago

Well argued,

Stock manipulation: Dynacons Technologies

Dynacons Technologies shot up by 433% between May 2014 and January 2016

 

Dynacons Technologies is, supposedly, a distribution, marketing and logistics company for IT industries and derives its revenue by selling IT products. In the quarter ended September 2015, it generated revenues of Rs7.70 crore, up 10% compared to the same quarter a year ago. But it reported a profit of just Rs0.04 crore in September 2015 compared to a profit of Rs0.03 crore in September 2014. Despite virtually no profits, the stock price shot up an astonishing 433%, from Rs2.97 on 30 May 2014 to Rs15.84 on 25 January 2016. In fact, much of the rally came in the second half of 2015. In just about three months, the price shot up by 117% from a low of Rs6.97 on 2 June 2015 to a peak of Rs15.15 on 14 August 2015. In October 2015, Arun Govil, who is on the board of US-based IT company—Centrex—acquired the promoter’s stake in Dynacons. It is surprising why the acquisition was made at such a high price. Strangely, in March 2015, when an open offer was made by Arun Govil, hardly anyone tendered their shares at an offer price of Rs1.30. Will the regulator investigate the strange dealing in Dynacons?

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COMMENTS

Bosco Menezes

10 months ago

The company has been taken over by Dr. Aron Govil, promoter of Ducon Group, USA (http://www.ducon.com/) & the market is betting on the promoter to something good with the local company.
The stock is way overpriced for sure, but at least there is some rationale for the same, unlike so many nondescript stocks that have been rigged to nonsensical levels in this bull run.

Big data help banks but benefits should be passed on to customers as well
Banks collect and use client data for better targeting. They should also reduce operational costs by using technology and pass on the benefit to customers
 
I recall what Greg Baxter, global head of digital strategy at Citigroup mentioned almost a year back (reported in Financial Times on 1 February 2015) that big data is a big opportunity, making a big difference in how the banks serve their customers in future. Financial health barometer can be read by every customer, not just how much balance one has in the account as much as how much the money is likely to be overdrawn every month.
 
Indian banks have introduced all the available technologies that make the banks’ life comfortable but not that much for a customer. One can go to a bank branch and update his passbook at the kiosk meant for it. He can draw his deposited money but has to pay a price for it if he draws even the allowable Rs40,000 more than twice in a day because several ATMs allow withdrawal only up to Rs10,000 to Rs20,000 at a time. You use net banking only to pay up for several transactions without separate fees. Use plastic money to buy a rail ticket – you end up paying 10% more than you pay at the counter. Buy an air ticket with credit card – you dish out about Rs350 additionally. After paying up for each transaction through debit or credit card, you pay up for every service, some with notice and some without. 
 
On top, you keep receiving SMS on the real estate road shows, credit camps, loan melas, insurance policies and mutual fund investments, on mobile eating up your mobile space, time and money. Banks are taking advantage of the mobile link to customer’s account to advertise their products freely whether customer requires or not.
 
Banks have been very good at rolling out mobile applications, at the front-end. It is however doubtful whether they have done equally well on back-office. For example, the banks should know pretty well that after a particular age one is not eligible for insurance cover. 
 
If the know-your-customer (KYC) data is integrated into the system, then, there should be no message relating to life insurance cover for all those who are beyond the eligible group. This would also make the system availability for more useful services rendered by the bank. 
 
No wonder that RBI Report on Trend and Progress 2015 mentions that public sector banks (PSBs) accounted for more than 70% of the complaints received during the year, while the private banks accounted for over 25% of the complaints related with ATMs, debit and credit cards and non-observance of fair practices code. 
 
AMEX Card captures from the use of the card data relating to the consumption pattern and dishes out information to its client on how much he has spent on clothing, utilities, transport, air tickets, rail tickets, electronic goods, groceries and the like once a quarter. This analytical output of card consumption enables the personal budget formulation. This is done at no extra cost. Of course, initially one may have to buy the card at a higher price than others. If each debit card also is enabled to provide such data, the customer would not grudge paying up for the service. The aggregates can help even the tax authorities to tune up their policies and actions.
 
Coming to loan products, less said the better. The PSBs’ armchair lending to huge corporate enterprises has been continuing to increase corresponding level of non-performing assets (NPAs). Another area is retail lending – auto, real estate and housing loans that do not require supervision. Efficiency in lending operations has declined. 
 
The portfolio that required supervision – like the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and agriculture – has been on the decline. Growth in credit to agriculture declined to 12.6% from 30.2% in the previous year 2014. MSMEs’ share in total advances is 7.9%. At the system level, the NPAs in MSME portfolio are 5.1%. 
 
It is a matter for introspection that if the guaranteed advances under Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE) need not attract provisioning, how this percentage is high and where it is occurring needs more critical examination. My analysis reveals that those SMEs that are suppliers to the NPA corporates became victims at the hands of the banks. Most banks are also averse to introduce corrective action plans and restructure the MSMEs as per the guidelines of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
 
The current and savings account (CASA) deposits have declined. Non-interest income increased. Net interest margins showed a decline. Senior citizen associations have to maintain only current account with a minimum balance of Rs10,000. Most of these associations have small means and by locking up Rs10,000 of their daily operations for small services have become very difficult. With declining interest rates, people started actively moving out of bank deposits in search of more remunerative but certainly more risky investments. Quite a few of them also receive remittances from their non-resident Indian (NRI) wards. This group also would like to chip in their money where they can easily and safely access. 
 
The Finance Minister would do well to increase the cap of tax-free deposits for senior citizens to Rs2.50 lakh in the next budget because it is this group that adds stable deposit flow to the banks.
 
So, where are the banks performing? 
 
Recently, lenders like State Bank of India (SBI) rolled out wealth management and corporate banking products on a separate platform with their launch at Bengaluru. With 2.5 lakh millionaires in the country, moving to such services could enhance the bank’s profitability. Such initiative required more technology, less number of employees. PSBs like this are making obvious to the small customers they are on their backburner. 
 
In essence, banks need to substantially scale up efficiencies in deposit accretion, customer service, lending operations in all the areas, recovery of NPAs. They should also reduce the cost of their operations by making use of technology more sagaciously to pass on the benefit to the customer, which Dr KC Chakrabarty, former Deputy Governor of RBI has advocated untiringly for five years. All these are possible, when the banks materially collect client data more responsibly and use it more purposefully. The cloud helps but today, banks are in a cloud. Banks should know how to shower rain from their cloud.
 
(Dr Yerram Raju Behara is a former senior executive of SBI and an economist and risk management specialist. The views expressed in the article are his personal.)

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COMMENTS

Simple Indian

10 months ago

I believe, like Telecom Service Providers (TSPs), Banks are guilty of misusing the private and confidential information of its customers. I have often found a sharp increase in cold-calls from various telemarketers whenever I open a new Bank A/c, or get a new SIM Card. I have no doubt that my personal information is traded by the unscrupulous TSPs/Banks, which leads to harassment by Telemarketers, that too despite being regd in NCPR / DND. Sadly, the regulators in these sectors always turn a blind eye to such matters.

Gopalakrishnan Krishnan

10 months ago

A well written peace coming out of experience as a former banker and as a customer now. Banking has changed a lot and unfortunately for the worst.It has come to streets in different forms without having any knowledge of its own customers despite having supposedly stringent Know Your Customer norms verification.Competition among banks has taken away the principles of good banking and the greed to make money at any cost has taken away the banker customer relationship losing in the process the good money and the soundness of banking. The data is so to say misused and not put into strengthen the business of banking through improved Customer relationship. Machines alone cannot achieve the results and the Techonlogy not supported with human touch can only ruin the business in the long run. This is what is being wiitnessed these days in banking and other areas.. The deposits are falling, NPAs are increasing, profit margins are getting eroded day by day and the presnce of regulation and supervision is vanishing fast under some external pressures, have been unfortunately the result of too much of data , too much of technology and too less of human touch every where.Hope this article will turn out to be an eye opener of the powers that be.

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