The Right to Know

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By Tinky Ningombam

Not many people have the knowledge or the means to understand the various policies of the State and the Government but only in bits and within their grasp of expertise and wit. Whenever a new law or policy is passed by any authority either the governing Law or the State, the different sections of citizens look at it from their individual perspective. The least favorable laws are debated, accepted or over-thrown as deemed favorable for the State and the people.

Every law or a state policy has their set of fine prints that some governments and/or self interest groups unwittingly underplay or hide from the common people. The recent budget session for instance had many of the analysts mining through the various pros and cons of the outcome. Not many common men bothered to understand finer implications.  For most of us, the budget only reflects taxes or prices of commodities. In a formidable answer to the recent Aam Aadmi uprisings, the ministry decides to put an additional surcharge of 10% on taxable income of over Rs 1 crore.  Along with the excise duty on SUVs, duty on imported high-end automobiles etc., the new anti-rich budget reform appeases the crowd for a moment. However, this chapter seems far from being over, as we are yet to see how the future of the struggle of the “mango people” against the elite super-rich in the world’s second largest democracy unfolds.

Oftentimes, the common man gets deluded with the multiplicity of interpretations of State policies.  Self-interest groups, political parties, civil societies, unions normally applaud their individual side of the story. Economic policy for one might be the most tell-tale interest point for the general mass. But deciphering the implications might not be of interest to the common man.

Let us work with an example: When a common household product comes to the market, the cost is determined by market forces and the economic policy of the government.  Sometimes, the price of a normal item one finds at home seems unreasonably more costly than 2 years ago. The common people complain of the price rise and argue that the prices should be kept at a constant nominal cost. Now in this hypothetical situation, let us assume that a product X is priced below the market cost for the common man’s convenience for an extended period of time. At a lower price, more people can afford it and this increases the demand for it. The higher the demand, the more production and more manpower put into it. But to earn back the manufacturing cost + profit, the production also has to be increased manifold. This can lead to a shortage of resources used to manufacture X or alternatively this can create a need to produce necessary elements needed to create X. Hence continuing the vicious circle. And eventually the price will increase slowly or suddenly when there is a shortage of production and/or depletion of resources or substitutes.

The Government, most of the time, provides subsidies to manufacturers that compensate them for the loss or the extra manpower/profit that they need to run their business. This is done so that the price of the commodity is kept constant in the hope that the common man who needs this item and cannot afford the high cost can still buy this item. The government, who spends money on these subsidies, later pays back to the govt. revenue.

For instance, the central govt used to provide subsidized diesel in the hope that truck owners, workers and farmers can benefit, making it less costly than petrol. But these subsidies got used more by affluent people who could afford fleets of SUVs or run businesses that involve transportation while a common man would still drive on the more expensive petrol. Most of the time, mass subsidies is not the easiest solution for the common man after all and has been seen to have been misused mostly by the affluent sectors rather than the common man hence depleting the product/resource for the future. In a welcome step, the diesel subsidy has been removed this year. This is indeed a welcome step, though for some time, food prices and prices of other household items have increased as transportation charges increased until they match market prices. Also, with the Aadhaar, the direct cash-to-poor program, more relief might just come to the lower strata.  Maybe the scare of losing out on votes has pushed the Centre for some speedy action.

Reforms always have per-recursions; we need to be aware of the daily policies that control our life in a State. For instance, cheaper products may not always be music to the ears and the common man should see this in a bigger long-term perspective. One needs to consider if paying more for an item is going to cut down the discrepancies of money flow from the poor to the rich, if it is going to change the state of economy, if it is going to affect the people 10 years down the line or if it is going to increase or sustain an industry of profitable source of income for the State.

This is one but many of the policies that a State has to function with. Many of us do not delve deeper or do not heed the consequences of laws/ bills/ policies that are imposed. Not many care to read the fine print or if they do, they see their self-interest first. Collective growth and prosperity only comes with being educated about the many fine prints that we somehow are used to following without knowing the real master plan.

The common man has a right to know that he is an integral part of the State machinery. That he is the State and the State is him.

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