In the olden days, a king was considered worthy of respect only if he protected the country against external aggressors, ensured the citizens' welfare, maintained law and order, enforced the common law and punished those who transgressed these laws. The first of these functions is handled capably by our armed forces. But is our government performing its functions?

One of the most important responsibilities of the government is to protect the interests of the people at all levels, particularly those at the lower strata, who lack a strong voice to project their problems. Setting aside natural calamities, the problems of the majority are: lack of basic amenities — water, food, housing and sanitation, and lack of employment opportunities, access to education and health services. Many are dependent on farming rain-fed lands that do not provide an adequate income.

The government has already allowed foreign companies to enter the country to sell BT seeds and fertilizers and enforce their rigorous demands on helpless farmers — the suicide rates among the farmers are a testimony to this. The great Bhopal tragedy of 1984 — when a pesticide factory failed to implement mandatory safeguards causing thousands of deaths, malformed births and diseases which are still not fully documented — continues to plague people even today. Our government, which was supposed to protect the people, did not prosecute the offender for years. When the case was finally brought to court, the damages awarded were woefully inadequate. Compare this with the American action against British Petroleum for causing an oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico. BP was forced to clean up the mess as well as pay heavy damages.

The government has been seeking to hand over nuclear power to foreign companies, on terms and conditions favourable to them. Surreptitious clauses absolving them of responsibility are being added under the very noses of an embattled and unvigilant parliament. Its latest whim has been wooing foreign retail companies — great western behemoths, unscrupulous and greedy for profit, just waiting to move in and set up vast empires of consumer goods manufactured cheaply in the third world and rammed down the throats of a gullible young populace.

Is our government capable of standing up to retail giants like Walmart and the suppliers of nuclear energy reactors? Or will it wilfully destroy our own struggling farmers and traders, who have elected them to high office? The FDI proposal, it is claimed, envisages the setting up of cold chains for farm produce, and fleets of transport to various centres across the country to supply fertilizers, etc., and pay farmers in advance. Is this beyond the competence of our own business people, given proper incentives and a hassle-free system in which to operate?

Surely, the young minds in our universities, IITs and IIMs can design a viable network to collect, store and distribute agricultural produce, and ensure food security for the country. The dairy sector has already shown the way here. Only the will seems to be lacking. Our food minister famously said – We can always import foodgrains, we must grow cash crops for export. Is our nation safe in the hands of people with such a vision — of hypothecating our food supply and our very future to external powers?

It is vital for the well-being of our people to ensure that agricultural producers hold a stake and receive a regular income that will enable them to maintain their families in comfort. The government can raise funds through:

•Public issue of government bonds or funds, with tax benefits to subscribers; this could also bring in black money from abroad.

•Issue of bonds to government servants, with tax benefits

•Offering an assured return in 5-10 years to banks for subscribing a minimum percentage of their profits, say 5%

•Disbanding costly outfits like the NSG. The “national treasures” being guarded by them at the expense of the people can be protected by their parties and followers.

(The writer's email id is: rangopal@gmail.com)

Keywords: government duty

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