Friday, 20 February 2015

FIGHTING CORRUPTION – The Battle starts within

What ails our country? It has all the natural resources, man power, cultural values and ethos, yet it has poverty, illiteracy and poor socio economic development. One reason that comes across is that “everyone in our country knows what to do but not able turn ideas into actions”. 

Acting decisively is not a simple task.  Situations arise every second, where one ends up taking right/wrong decisions.  The difficulty level of making a decision increases with the number of variables that have to be factored in, apart from the limitations in knowledge and information.  The individual who has to take the decision is indeed operating in an unenviable situation.  One does take wrong decision at times and learn from it. In fact, very often, learning how to do a job comes only ‘hands on’.  To err is indeed human. 

In a perfectly understanding environment, persons will not hesitate to make decisions and act on it. The increased levels of transparency and activism in various levels, however, have posed challenges to the decision maker.  It is definitely a major factor that weighs in the thoughts and action of the decision maker and unfortunately leads to a status quo approach.  After all, how does one differentiate between genuine errors of judgment from the deliberate/corrupt ones?  Hence ‘somehow ideas are not implemented’.  The vacuum created unfortunately  allows corruption to grow.

In such a scenario, turning ideas into action requires persons with integrity.  What is integrity? An old Tamil phrase comes to my mind for defining a person with integrity.  When roughly translated, it says a person with integrity has erect posture/gait, straight vision, fearless principled living… Such values make an individual strong and competent. 

One such individual was the father of our nation. His autobiography “My experiments with truth” illustrates living with integrity.  It shows that the character of an individual is built not only by the sturdy bricks provided to him/her by birth but also by the brittle ones picked up on experience.  It is mostly these brittle ones which define the “make or break” of an individual’s integrity. 

Every child is born equal but only some are able to become Mahatma.  To maintain integrity, one has to have a clear mind/thought process.  Such a quality can be obtained by training our mind.  Momentary clarities in thought have to be converted into consistent ones.  Such consistency will enable one to act without fear.  Such acts will enable our country to weed out corruption and bring improvement in all spheres of life.  The first battle against corruption is the one within. 

Friday, 6 February 2015

How to form opinions? (for civil service aspirants)

Opinion forming is very easy !
It is more or less like 'breathing'.  You are doing it, even now. 

Yet, there is a need for such a blog.  Why?
Because though everyone 'breathes' all the time, breathing techniques need to be corrected for activities like exercise, martial arts, swimming etc. !!!

Likewise, for any civil service aspirant, normal 'opinion forming' is not enough. 

There are four steps in forming an opinion.
                1, Reading  / Listening
                2, Internalising
                3, Speaking / Writing
                4, Reading / Listening 

1, Reading / Listening
  • To form an opinion on anything, you have to 'know' something about it.
  • You get to 'know' something  by 'reading' about it or by 'listening' about it.
  • More often than not, what you 'read' or 'listen to' is already 'opinionated'.
  • Hence, for the purpose of CSE, the best read is always NCERT books, Government websites and NBT books.
  • Even if you read or listen to other sources, just absorb the facts and leave out the opinions.
2, Internalising
  • This is the most important step in 'forming' an opinion.
  • You already have your own thought process, by which you internalise the facts on any issue.  It is unique to you.  It has developed as you grew up.
  • Every individual is unique.  That means, for 10 different individuals, there must be 10 different opinions ?
  • No, because the thought processes are like streams.  Some of the streams merge on their way and finally join a single pool.  Thus, 10 different individuals can have an identical opinion on an issue !!
  • If I already have a thought process & I am making opinions already, what is there to do? Should I change it or stick to it ?
  • Like 'breathing', you need to control, modify and stream line your internalising thought process.
What is this 'thought process', 'internalising' ?
(These jargons are going above my head!) 
  • Imagine your thought process as a 'filtering mechanism'
  • The primitive water filters where earthen pots filled with charcoal in one, sand in other, gravel in another and stacked one over other with a hole that allows water to drip down through !!!
  • Your 'thought process' is the 'filtering mechanism' & 'internalising' is the act of getting pure water at the end of filtering !

What are the pots in my filtering mechanism? 
  • You have 'values you cherish' as the 'pots'
  • Since everyone has different levels of cherishing different values, the pots are different for everyone.  Thus making the 'thought process' unique !
  • For example - I cherish a value 'helping the poor'.  Now this is one of my pots.  So anything that is 'equal' to rich and poor will get stuck in this pot and I will form an opinion, that the issue is not good !
  • You will now see that there can be 10 pots stacked or more ?
  • You will now see that they can be arranged in any order ? 

How to suit my thought process to CSE? 
  • You just need to re align your pots to the Constitution !
  • That's all !!!
  • Sovereignty, Democracy, Justice, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Secularism and Socialism.
  • If an issue, as per your understanding will erode the country's sovereignty, it get stuck in the pot and your opinion about the issue gets formed as 'not good'!
  • Hey, you formed an opinion fit for a CSE aspirant !!! 

3, Speaking / Writing
  • What is the need for a third step ?  I have already formed an opinion !
  • You need to understand that opinions bound to get changed when
    • additional information comes - in this case, someone clarifies that there is no erosion of sovereignty.
    • you re arrange your pots - in this era of globalisation, you start tolerating a little bit of loss of sovereignty and the pot goes to the bottom !
  • There is nothing wrong with changing your opinion based on additional knowledge and changed values !!!
  • In fact, it is good to have an open mind on any subject.
  • Oh, then will I look like a person with no conviction ???
  • This is where the third step comes in.
  • Forming an opinion is important.  An equally important job is to find the right way of expressing.
  • It is ideal to express an opinion with a qualification.
  • In the last case, it will be like 'in my opinion, the issue is not good because it erodes the sovereignty of our country' !
  • Much better than 'in my opinion, the issue is not good' !!!
  • So, what do I do ?
  • You 'debate' with co aspirants.  If not write down in a piece of paper and give it for someone to evaluate.  If neither is possible, speak/write to yourself and evaluate !
  • If it holds water, then you not only formed an opinion fit for CSE but also expressed it in a convincing manner !!!

4, Reading / Listening
  • Opinion forming like any other education, is a continuous process !!!
  • Read more on the subject
  • Listen more on the subject
  • If you are going to cover all topics, similar issues will be covered to improve upon your opinions.  So don't waste too much time on an issue.
  • Then follow the four steps.
  • The more number of cycles an issue goes through your thought process, the more informed and convincing your opinion will be !!!

When should I start forming opinions ?
Surely prelims, mains don't need them ?
In mains, you need to discuss all angles on a subject and give a balanced ending statement and not an opinion !! 

So I need to start doing this only after mains ?
Start doing it from now on !
You will see it not only increases the number of cycles an issue passes through your thought process but it will also help in keeping things in your memory !!! 

If the blog is too heavy
Take a deep breath
You just made an opinion now :-)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Budget (Contd)

“Ha-ha! Ok Raju! You know learnt the expenditure side of the Budget; but, if you want to ask smart question to the Finance commissioner, you should know the income (revenue) side too! That is about the taxes, duties etc”

 “Yes aunty, I know that! The ‘direct tax’ is imposed by the government on the individuals and companies on their income, and the ‘indirect tax’ levied on the products/commodities sold in the market!”

“Very good Raju! You are right! We get our revenue from taxes and duties, like excise duty, customs duty etc.”

“Waittt aunty!! Where did these excise and customs come from? Why so many different types? Can’t we have just 2 categories? Direct tax, and indirect tax?”

“Yes, it could have been simple as that. But the system of revenue collection evolved as per the need. When the expenditure of the government increased, say, due to war etc, then the government used to explore ways to get more revenue thus introducing a new type of tax! Thus, taxation grew from simple to complex over a period of time.  

To start with, ‘customs duty’ was the earliest income to the king! When the traders used to travel and sell their produce in different kingdoms, they used to meet the King and seek his permission and support in selling their ware in his/her kingdom. Needless to say, they used to give a small part of their ware to the king as goodwill.

Later this goodwill almost become a custom, a norm, and soon become a compulsion, or a duty!  Kings issued order on how much to collect and how to collect as ‘custom duty’! ‘Customs officials’ were appointed to collect it at the entry points of the kingdom!

Thus, when the goods or commodity comes from outside the kingdom/country, then this ‘customs duty’ is imposed on the goods at the entry point itself! That’s how you will find ‘customs’ offices at all the entry point of the state, like the ports, airports, road borders!”

“Interesting Aunty! I understand the ‘customs duty’ now! Next is about the excise duty. What is it? Is it some additional customs duty?”

“No Raju, it is not in addition to Custom duty! But, it is the local version of Customs! Meaning, that, it is the duty imposed on the goods manufactured inside the country!”

“But, then Aunty, are we not levying sales tax on them when they are sold?”

“You are right Raju; we are indeed levying sales tax on most of the goods sold. But, in addition to that, we also impose a levy on some of the goods, as and when they are manufactured! This is call ‘excise levy’. The government ‘excises’ it’s right to collect a portion of what is manufactured within the country too!

And interestingly, while the ‘sales tax’ is a percentage of the cost of the good or commodity, the ‘excise duty’ is not on the value, but, it is on the total quantity manufactured!

For example, if a packet of 100 gm coffee powder is sold at Rs.100; the sales tax may be 10% of it, that is, Rs. 10. Whereas, the ‘excise duty’ will be collected at the rate of Rs. 3 for every 100 gm of coffee manufactured! So, the excise duty is normally based on quantity and not on its cost!”

“Interesting Aunty! Smart way of collected revenue! It will also mean that government gets ‘excise duty’, irrespective of whether it’s sold or not! Aunty, is there any connection between ‘excise’ and ‘alcohol’? Why these two words, ‘excise’ and ‘alcohol’ are always associated?!”

“Oh that! That is because, the alcohol industry, what is called as ‘liquor’ colloquially, is one of the major commodity that pays ‘excise duty’, to the extent that the government keeps a officer posted to each distillery to collect the ‘excise duty’! That’s how excise is closely associated with liquor business!”

“Ok aunty! I get it! So, it means, all the commodities either manufactured inside or imported from outside are under either under excise or customs net?”

“Yes. Almost! But, there are some exceptions. Items, which are consumed by the common man, like vegetables, fruits etc are not taxed in any manner. And in the direct tax, farmers are no more taxed! It’s only on individuals who have high income and companies that make profit!”

“Got it aunty! And, if the government wants more revenue, it can tweak the rates and thus get a higher share? Or it can bring more commodities under excise or customs?”

 “Wow! Now you have started talking like a real king!”

“Don’t make fun of me Aunty! I am just learning! I also guess that if more taxes are there, it will make people unhappy. Isn't?”

“Yes, my dear! People will get unhappy when the taxes are increased, as they have to pay more. And if the taxes are very high, people will start buying less, or at times, start cheating the on the tax, by trading secretly!”

“Oh, I understand! It’s like the shopkeeper selling without bills! That sale will not be reflected in his accounts, and thus he need not pay tax for that part to the government?”

“You are 100% right Raju! Many do that! But, it does not start and stop with the shopkeeper! Even the manufacturer has to agree to sell it to the shopkeeper without bills! You get me?  The whole cycle of manufacturing and selling has to happen secretly, without accounts!”

“Oh, yes, I get it! And the same can be done with ‘customs’ too! That’s how he had smugglers smuggling the goods into the country evading the ‘customs duty’! Thus they are able to sell it at a cheaper rate and make huge profit!”

“Yes, remember, the dons you see in Hindi movies?!”

“Lol! Yes, aunty! How can we forget them?! So, if taxes are exorbitant, then it leads to non-compliance and associated smugglers and dons?!

And that, taxes and duties have to be balanced to ensure that they are complied by the public willingly!”

“Yes my dear! Then you will be a good king!”

“Oh thanks Aunty! Let me be an average king, then I will think of becoming a good king!

I am now quite confident! Shall I call the finance commissioner? You think I can decide on the ‘remission’ I have to make in the ‘revenue’? If at all I agree for that, how much I can reduce Aunty? And to counter that loss, do I increase some tax or I reduce my government expenditure?”

“You are growing intelligent Raju! You first check what are the expenditures planned and details of tax you have imposed on the public. Then we can decide it. Also, your finance commissioner will give you some good suggestions!”

Raju winked at Aunty! “Are you sure that he will give me a good advice?!”

Aunty laughed! “Haha, let’s check your luck! Call him in now, I will sit quietly and observe you both”

Some useful links:

Monday, 2 February 2015

Perumal Murugan issue – What the Collector should have done?

 We have discussed this issue many times over. But, still, one aspect has not been analysed fully, and that is the role played by the district administration (Collector) in this case.

What did the district administration do in this? What was the right thing to do?

To start with, the Collector wears two hats; one is that of the collector, head of the state administration in the district, where he is under the superintendence and control of the State government. Second is that of the ‘District Magistrate’ (DM), under the CrPC (Code of the Criminal Procedure), where he is not answerable to anyone, except law. Nobody can give him instructions when he acts as a DM; not even His Excellency, The president of India, leave alone anybody else!

It is as a DM, that the collectors are seized of the issues regarding law and order, peace, public nuisance etc. The DM, in such cases, applies the law, acts as a court and pass orders. If his orders are perceived as bad by anyone, they can appeal before the District Judge or before the High court.

Now, let’s see what happened in the case of Perumal Murugan.

There were widespread protests against the book authored by Perumal. Certain people wanted police to book a case on the Author. There appeared to be a possible law & order situation.

In this situation, the district administration interfered and called both the sides; the agitating people on one side and Perumal on the other side. The meeting was called as ‘peace meeting’. The meeting ended with Perumal giving an unconditional apology letter, and the agitating side agreeing not to agitate further.

This may appear to be acceptable to many. That an issue has been handled in the best interest of peace. But, alas, what happened was neither legal nor in the interest of the society!


The Hon’ble High Court of Madras, very rightly pointed out in the PIL filed on this issue; that, the collector office has no business to call for such ‘peace meeting’. There is no legal provision to do such ‘panchayat’. There are other legal provisions to handle such situations.

First, if anybody is creating law and order problem, the DM can summon them to his court and ask them to behave themselves and give undertaking not to disturb the peace, and if they do, get them arrested. That’s created credible deterrence. Secondly, he could have allowed the FIR to be filed against the author, and thereby allowed the author to defend his book before the Court.

That would have led to both the parties taking the fight to the proper forum, the court. If the court has felt that the book is indeed offensive, it would have passed necessary orders banning the book. If the Court has found the book to be ok, it would have again ensured that Perumal is protected.

That would have prevented the death of the writer in Perumal.

The district administration, by mismanaging the issue, has send wrong signals as below:

1. If anybody is unhappy with something, the best option is to take law in their hands, and stone the bus or create law and order problem. That would ensure an invitation to the collector office, where compromise will be worked out! Why go to court or have detailed arguments on what is right and what is wrong, as per law? So, ‘might is right’! Hell with law and justice!

2. The freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Constitution of India, has been conveniently throttled by the very officers of the constitution, under the guise of law and order issue. Is not the same officers who take oath to work as per the constitution? What a let-down?!

I am glad that somebody filed PIL before the Hon’ble HC of Madras. I hope the Hon’ble HC of Madras comes up with such decisions that will act as guide to the collectors and other officers on this country, who are duty bound to protect the guarantees given by the constitution.

Else such misadventure and transgression will undermine the foundations of our country, and weaken them.

Indeed, in this age of information, ideas rule the world. Ideas flow freely only when there is freedom of expression.

Curtailment of the freedom of expression will be a costly mistake, and can be only at the peril of our future; the future shared by our children.

Let’s hope better sense prevails and there are no more deaths, like that of the writer in Perumal Murugan.