“These announcements of austerity measures give me a sense of deja vu, as I am on the wrong side of 80. I have been hearing about the need to tighten our belts right from 15th August 1947 when we woke to keep our ‘tryst with destiny’ which turned out to be a ‘tryst with dynasty,” scribbled a worldly-wise reader under the news that appeared on Wednesday that said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee hints at austerity measures to stem the runaway inflation and devaluation of Indian currency.
On May 25 last, thousands of Greeks gathered at Athens and clashed with riot police. A bank was set aflame and riots broke out against Greek govt. signing austerity measures imposed on it following a $110 billion IMF bailout. A strong economy in 2000, Greek slipped to a pauper status in 10 years due to profligate spending through market borrowing. Austerity, public said, hit the amenities and stifle economy. Cutting down on expenses alone would not save Greece, say pundits.
Shorn of economic garb the austerity measures mean bringing expenditure in line with revenue. And, it is always welcome as unplanned expenditure, often siphoning out money by crooks in government, has been the bane of all economies that face credit crisis.
But the question in Indian context is where to begin. If charity begins at home, austerity must also begin at home. This means, the FM must look inward for austerity steps than looking outward. If he does, he will immediately see there is an easy solution. ‘Easy’ to a law-abiding tax payer, not to the political parties.
Austerity mantra would spell out each department should prune and prim the expenses especially on air travel s, purchase of vehicles, advertisements etc. But, we could do all this jolly well and still have a buoyant economy. How?
Austerity? A wrong diagnosis
First of all, it is not austerity India needs, it is merciless surgery to remove rotting flab. It’s an improbability. But we must do it, sooner the better.
First, the Rajya Sabha. Every sensible Indian knows it is a mere ornament, where a political party ‘rehabilitates’ those troublesome or out rightly barter the seats for money. Ask a political boss in private, he will quote the sum.
If the 250 members are dispensed with, the country would be immediately saving Rs.88 crore (approx). When UK which gave us the improbable parliamentary democracy and its edifice could dispense with House of Lords, what is preventing a poor country from doing this? But the political bosses ever agree? Never, but however unpleasant the country has to do it.
Second, Railway, the largest monopoly transport in the world is causing to itself an annual loss of Rs.1,436 crore (News April 16) just because of ‘freebies—free passes to myriad categories and its 11 lakh-strong employees. The simple fact that there is no free lunch anywhere the world is to be remembered.
Air India: This winged white elephant has been eating into the country’s vitals for far too long. The annual ‘diwali’ it brings on the treasury is Rs.6,850 crore (News)! In these days of scores of private carriers where is the need to keep this beast alive?
Calculate just three wastes: the sum total saved would be Rs.8,374 Crore. There are many others. But this would suffice for the country to run its affairs for now.
Instead of being penny wise and pound foolish, the FM could think of lasting solutions. It is no good saving on a writing paper and ink while splashing money on babus and political bosses travelling abroad that bring only debt on the tax payers.
Tailend: When AK Antony (now defence minister) became chief minister of Kerala in 1995, the ‘St. Antony,’ as he is known in the close circles, ordered to stop giving biscuits with tea being served to the media persons at the weekly cabinet briefing (Incidentally, in Kerala, the cabinet briefing is always done by the CM). The saving was a few hundred rupees. But, the grumbling media corps that was denied the pleasure of a bite, later brought out the colossal waste caused to the exchequer by bureaucrats and politicians on many foreign jaunts. Antony had no answer to that because many parts of the government machinery moved mysteriously, even unknown to the steward.
About the Author (Author Profile)
PK Surendran is senior editor at Postnoon.