Monday 5 November 2018

The story of the Collector/District Magistrate: Part 1

"Aunty, tell me about the ‘Collector’. Why is that post so much coveted? Who can become a collector? Only IAS officers? What are the power and responsibilities? Why they are called as DM in some states and as DC in some states?”
“I am glad that you asked this question Raju! Many of us don’t ask questions that are around us! Now let me explain!
Let’s go into a bit of history, as history helps us to understand things better! In 1764 AD, after the battles of Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1764), The East India Company (EIC) got vast area, encompassing the present states of Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh, under its control. You can see in the attached map how vast it was!
Now, what is the use of huge land under your control?! Simple! You get so levy and collect tax!! Remember what we discussed about tax last week? Now, in the place of the king who used to levy and collect taxes, we have the EIC. And that would mean huge amount of money for the company! However, unlike a small village, we have huge area almost covering 3 states! So, how do you put up a mechanism to collect taxes?
If you had been the chief of the EIC in India, how would you have gone about it?!”
“Simple Aunty, I would have divided the huge area in smaller areas and appointed one person for each zone for collecting the taxes!”
“Good! That’s what EIC also did! The chief of the EIC in India at that time, called as the Governor General; by name Warren Hastings, divided the area into 6 parts, called them as ‘districts’, and appointed one officer each, to collect the taxes! That officer was called as ‘Collector’.
“Oh, I got Aunty! But, then how it become DC or DM?!”
“That was much later! Almost after 100 years! In 1858, the British government took over the administration from the EIC, and started administrating India directly.
They appointed one senior officer at each province (which is equivalent to the present state), and made him incharge for collecting all taxes and also for land administration. This officer was called as ‘Commissioner for revenue collection’, or simply, as ‘Revenue commissioner’. And the collectors at the districts were brought under his control. Hence, they came to be called as ‘Deputy commissioner’ or simply, DC! Please note that DC is NOT district commissioner, as some refer to!
“Ok! Then what about the name DM? How did that come?!”
“DM means ‘District Magistrate’. The word magistrate means, an official who is given the power to arrest and punish anybody. In the year 1861, the British govt passed a law, called as Criminal Procedure code, (CrPC), that defined the procedures for dealing with crimes.
This act mandated the govt, to appoint magistrates who can arrest the suspected people. There shall be also a magistrate for the entire district, and he/she shall be called as District Magistrate. He will be responsible for law & order of the district, and will have the control of the police in his district. He was given the powers to arrest any suspect and keep in in the jail. He was also given wide ranging discretionary powers to ensure nobody revolts against the British or creates any problem to peace.
The then British govt, instead of appointing a separate officer as district magistrate, asked the collectors to work as District Magistrates too! Because, they had good understanding of the land administration and also had the police force with them. So, they made perfect choice for district magistrates.”
“Ah! No doubt that the collector is seen so powerful!! Aunty, these powers are still with the collectors, even after 100s of years?!”
“Interestingly, all the powers still exist even now, as still we are using the same CrPC even now! Thus, the collector post combined with the District magistrate post, has enormous legal authority. On the issue of collection of tax, the collectors no more collect any tax. Because, tax on agriculture has been abolished. The other taxes are collected by separate depts. However, the term ‘collector’ remained."
“Got that aunty! The collector also is the head of all the officers in the districts? How does that work? And why is only IAS are appointed as collectors?
“Ok, I will explain the duties and responsibilities of the present-day collector in the coming week!”
(Thanks to my batch-mate in 1998 batch IAS, who reviewed the historical facts.)

What can you do for India?

Nandan Nilekani, in his book ‘Imagining India’, published in 2008, talks about ‘demographic dividend’ in India.
Demographic dividend, in simple words, is the advantage a country gets during a period of time, when the people in the working age group are much more than its population that doesn’t work like children and old persons.
For example, in India the population between 15 to 59 years is about 65%, children 27% and above 60 years is 8%. (As per data of 2015). This would mean we have 6 persons earning to support 4 persons! This is a clear advantage, as we will have less expenditure and more savings. This saving can be invested in markets leading to fast growth of the economy, putting the country in a positive cycle.
So, what happened? Are we in the positive cycle? The answer is No. Because, as you would have guessed, the savings will come ONLY if all the 6 are employed! They are not! The market didn’t grow as we expected. We still have huge unemployment. Clearly, we failed Nandan’s predictions. Why?
Enter Professor Tarun Khanna, who has travelled around the world, intimately observed both the developed world and developing world, and who teaches at Harvard Business school. In his just published book, ‘Trust: Creating the Foundation for Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries’, he tackles this question.
And he hits the bull’s eye.
Prof Khanna convinces us, beautifully, how India and other many other developing countries are not able to show expected robust economic growth, due to the absence of a very critical component. That is, the ‘Eco-system of Trust’. It’s interesting that we hardly notice this bedrock on which the market and the society operates.
Think about it for a minute.
Think how developed countries do their business. They do it on Trust. Millions of credit cards are swiped daily trusting that nobody will take their money away. Amazon just leaves the package at your door, and doesn’t call you, trouble you and demands your signature on the invoice. If you have an emergency when you travel, all you need is to call 911. You don’t need to hesitate to call the local police. You don’t think ten times before filing a case in the court. You simply trust that there is a system that stands by you, when you need it.
Such a system is either absent or dysfunctional in India. And still we expect the people to be more productive, transact more business and push the economy up! We don’t have the basic foundation, but expect a building to come up fast! How naïve!
Prof Khanna quotes from Adam smith, on the importance of trust in the eco-system.
“Commerce and manufactures can seldom flourish long in any state which does not enjoy a regular administration of justice, in which the people do not feel themselves secure in the possession of their property, in which the faith of contracts is not supported by law, and in which the authority of the state is not supposed to be regularly employed in enforcing the payment of debts from all those who are able to pay. Commerce and manufactures, in short, can seldom flourish in any state in which there is not a certain degree of confidence in the justice of government “(WN, p. 910).
This explains why India is not able to perform. There is no eco-system of trust here. Whom do we trust? I remember reading a survey on whom the people of India trust. Apart from the Army, they don’t seem to trust any other institution!
So, we need to build trust. It can be thru building institutions that we trust. Prof Khanna talks about the institutions that build trust. He gives examples form both, private entrepreneurs and the govt. He calls entrepreneurs to ‘create conditions to create’.
He quotes the phenomenal growth of Alibaba, which actually created an environment of trust between the buyers and sellers in China. Or take the case of Amul, the brand people trust in India, or Narayana Hrudalaya of Dr. Devi Shetty, which has earned the trust of the common man. These are entrepreneurial solutions to the socio-economic problem of mistrust.
But, what is the govt doing? Prof Khanna talks about Aadhar, which tried to bridge the trust deficit. He also talks about the 'Oportunidades', the Mexican govt direct cash support programme to the poor families in Mexico. (It’s my pure guess that such programme may soon come to India too!)
But, the question remains. Why the govt is not able to invest and set right the system? Why can’t our institutions become trust worthy, and thus create an environment of trust? Why should our govt wait for the entrepreneurs, when the Chinese govt is fast making its institutions trust worthy?
That brings me to what I have been suspecting all along. The govt is not working on this problem, because, the people are not demanding it! Remember, a democratic govt has to listen to the voice of the people, when it is loud and persistent. Even noble laurate Amartya Sen said the same, that a democratic govt can’t afford to be silent to the voice of the people.
So, why the people are not demanding something, that will ultimately make them better? Why even a movement like India Against Corruption fizzled out soon. Even if 0.01% of the population, demand the govts for good governance, wont the govts be forced to make amends? Remember how the govt changed it new policy on garment workers in Bangalore? The roll-back happened in a day, after lakhs of people raised their voice. But such unity doesn’t sustain itself.
In my twenty years of govt service, I have observed one thing. People in India hardly unite! They almost never come together! Bad things continue to happen because, people never question it, together. Why is it so? How come we never had an uprising in India against bad governance, when it happened world over, even in partial democracies?
The answer seems to be in our sociology. The way our society works. Feudal, hierarchical. Though we live in one country, we are passionate about our different identities, based on religion, language and caste. These divide us crisscross, leaving very chance to unite.
Particularly caste, which Dr Ambedkar called as the original sin. His words in 1936 sound so apt even now, “Turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform; you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.”
We need to tackle these complex issues. Prof Khanna in his earlier books talks about billions of entrepreneurs from India and China who will change the world. Will these entrepreneurs change our country for better? Will they create systems that connect the people crisscross, instead of dividing them, and raise a strong ecosystem of trust? Will they slay the monsters and liberate our nation from the chains?
Read Prof Khanna’s book. Who knows, you could be the next Kurian or Nandan or jack Ma or Dr Devi Shetty. The nation awaits entrepreneurs who can ‘create conditions to create’!

Sunday 4 November 2018

Sabarimala Verdict, for the uninitiated!

“Aunty, what is this about Sabarimala temple? I never knew that women are not allowed there. Why so Aunty?”
“Raju, the reigning God in Sabarimala, Lord Ayyappa, is a 'Naishtik Brahmachari', means, someone who have vowed to be a celibate all his life. Men who are celibate normally stay away from women. So, it’s understandable that women were not allowed into the temple.
Secondly, some of them say that, one has to do a hard vrata (penance) for 41 days before entering the temple thru its 18 steps. They feel that women can’t do that vrata for 41 days, and hence they can’t go.”
“Why can’t they keep the Vrata for 41 days Aunty?”
“Raju, you know about menstruation. Some of our people feel that women are unclean during those days. One can’t observe vrata when one is unclean. Thus, they can’t do vrata for 41 days continuously. As they can’t do the 41 days vrata, they going to temple doesn’t arise at all.”
“Oh, I didn’t know this! But, do people think its unclean? It makes no sense for me. As long as they take care of their personal hygiene for those 4-5 days, which I am sure they do nowadays, what’s anybody else problem? “
“Raju, you are right! This is purely a matter for personal hygiene. Its sad people think of a natural physiological phenomenon as unclean. Indeed, there is evidence that women used to visit the temple earlier. It has been stopped since 1991.”

‘Ok aunty! I get the background. Now, why people are upset with Supreme court? Is it because they feel that Supreme court has no power to interfere in temple affairs, or they feel that SC has the power, but, it has given a wrong verdict?”
“Let’s see it one by one Raju. The first objection is that, Courts can’t interfere in religious issues. But, our constitution is very clear on this. It didn’t make Religion outside the ambit of the state.
Indeed, Dr. B R Ambedkar wonderfully said “the religious conceptions in this country are so vast that they cover every aspect of life, from birth to death. There is nothing which is not religion and if personal law is to be saved, I am sure about it that in social matters we will come to a standstill.”
So, from 1954 case of Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiyar of Shirur Mutt, (1954), till the famous Triple Talaq case, the courts have adjudicated on religious issue. So, the first objection makes no sense!
Let’s see the second objection. Did the court err?”
“Aunty, they say that: Not allowing women of age 10-50 is a tradition. The court erred by stopping a tradition. Because, some of the traditions are so old, and at times, we are too small to understand it implications. For example, the tradition of cremating the dead. Now, we can’t stop it saying that cremation causes pollution.”

“Wonderful Raju! I like your logic! Ok, let’s see what the court says on this. The court agrees that there is no need for the court to interfere in traditions, but only, as long as the tradition doesn’t clash with the constitution. If it clashes, then court has no other option, but to interfere.”
“Hmm. That makes sense aunty. Else, any group can do anything in the name of tradition. Simple example is Human sacrifice! I know that its tradition in some Hindu cult. But, can it be allowed? It can’t be! So, I see a logic in saying that all traditions can’t be continued.”
“Yes, Raju. You are right! The court says the same thing! It says that, unless a tradition fulfills the below mentioned two conditions, it can’t be continued.
1. Is the tradition continuing for long time without any interruption?
2. Is it an essential part of the religion, that if it’s stopped, it will alter the nature of the religion?
In case of Sabarimala, we saw, there are instances when it was broken. Secondly, court came to conclusion, that it’s not an ‘essential tradition’ of Hinduism to discriminate women. Thus, it fails both the conditions. So, court declared such a tradition of discriminating women is unconstitutional.”
“Oh ok! Fair enough aunty! Now I understand. But, few of them are saying that, Ayyappa devotees are a ‘denomination’ of Hinduism, and hence, as per the constitution they are allowed this tradition?”
“Oh, you know a lot Raju! You are right! But, the court held that Ayyappa devotes, unlike the Vaishnavites or Anand Margis, have nothing common, except the 41 days vrata. Indeed, even Christian and Muslims do vrata and go to the temple. This Ayyappa devotes can’t be called as denomination inside Hinduism.
“Oh ok! I got it! But, aunty, can the court every time go into what is the essential tradition in the religion? More so, for Hinduism, which has so many sects and practices? What is essential to one may not be essential to another!”

“A good question! This is a moot point! The court has to every time decide if a tradition is essential to the religion of not! I don’t see any other alternative as of now! The other alternative is to keep away from religion, which is worse than going into the essential question”

“Oh, ok aunty! I get your point. But, tell me one thing aunty. Didn’t the court know that people will be upset with the orders? What was the harm if the tradition was allowed? Was it affecting anyone?
Will not it be left to the social reformers to convince the people and slowly bring a reform?”
“Very good question Raju! Our history says that humans are social animals. We used to live as tribes. We continued to live in our local society, and social norms mattered more than individuals. The individual rights were subservient to the society. But, slowly, particularly during the renaissance period, the rights of individuals become more important.
So, individual rights are critical in a forward-looking society. We need to ensure that nobody is discriminated based on gender, religion, language etc. That’s what Article 14 of our constitution says.
Keeping women out of temple, is nothing but discriminating. What sin she committed by being born as a woman? Is that a curse?
If social reformers come and make change in the mind of the people, that is the best thing to happen. But, then, we can’t leave such important decisions to chance. These issues have long term impact.
If courts keep quiet, then people will lose trust in the state. They will think it’s better to obey the religion, instead of obeying the Constitution. That can lead to dangerous consequences, including balkanisation of the country on the basis of religion etc!
That’s why the court interfered in the Triple Talaq case and declared it as non-essential tradition, thus declaring it as unconstitutional!
So, the interference of the court in this is timely and appropriate in the long-term interest of the country, thus, all of us! Get my point Raju?”

“Of-course aunty! And I fully agree with it! Also, I feel happy that court has declared that discrimination of women is NOT an essential part of Hinduism! Actually, Hindus must celebrate this verdict!
“Of course, Raju! Most of us are happy about the verdict. It upheld the respects women that Hinduism stands for. I am sure our 3000 years Hinduism will continue to reform itself and be relevant for all the time to come!

Foot notes: 
BTW, i must mention that, i wrote this post not just because i respect the Supreme court and its verdict on this issue, but also because, I respect many aspects of Hinduism. Being student of Indian History, i have exposure to Vedas, Upanishads and some of the shastras. I see Hinduism as a highly philosophical religion, that equates individual to God. 'Ahaṁ Brahmāsmīti' (Devanagari: अहं ब्रह्मास्मीति). It gives so much respect to individuals, which NO other religion that i know can even come closer. And how can such a religion keep women away from God?! And Hinduism is open to reforms and ideas. That has been the reason why Hinduism is relevant even after 3000 years! It will remain relevant, for another 30,000 years, unless, few regressive, self-appointed people around us try to straight-jacket Hinduism. I grew up in Srirengam, and seen how forward looking people Hindus can be! Salutes to them!

Saranam Aiyappa! !

[Thanks to members of civil service telegram group (டீ கடை ), Raghunandan Tr Tr sir, Twitter friends for their inputs]