Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister, I am writing this as an Open Letter because of the certainty that any private communication would be useless. This way, at least some people will read my proposals and perhaps ...  who knows ...

What I propose will ensure double-digit economic growth, close the income and services gaps now separating our rural and urban populations, improve the quality of governance and eliminitate "black money." Except for the proposals relating to taxation, all other elements of the plan below are, in bits and pieces, already on the agenda or work programme of your government. This is what I suggest:

A. Transforming India's Postal Network 
1. Convert the country's 1.55 lakh post offices into a network of multifeatured community centres. This should be done through private-public partnership, with the government creating a standardized blueprint for centres and franchising operational responsibilities for individual centres to local entrepreneurs and social activists. The franchise agreements would spell out the roles of local contractors. Government would maintain support and oversight functions at the local, state and national levels.

2. The mix of services provided at each centre would depend on the nature and density of the population served, but all would provide basic connectivity to the Internet and Worldwide Web, and provide support for accessing a wide range of general and specialized information.

3. The social activists associated with each centre would be encouraged to network with others in their field of interest to promote progressive changes in their own communities. Their involvement in educational support, health services, environmental monitoring and reporting, improving the status of women and providing care for the elderly, could all be supported from existing state and central budgets.

4. Entrepreneurs associated with each centre would be contractually required to make it financially selfsufficient. Income could be generated from banking and insurance services (as already planned by the Information and Telecommunications Ministry), and from corporate contracts for research and marketing. Commissions on group purchase of heavy appliances and vehicles could be a significant source of revenue. So could participation as executors of the local components of government development projects.

5. Each community centre would maintain its own web site, and each would be part of a hierarchy of circles ascending to the national level. The linkages established through this system could have multiple uses ranging from the commercial to internal security. The network could provide a national grid of first responders in case of emergency, and serve to mobilize people to face any situation threatening their welfare, from epidemics and earthquakes to fire, flood or terrorism.
6. Each community centre should be part of a news reporting system run by a cooperative of journalists established on the network. The cooperative should generate a flow of news daily covering national, regional, state, district and local developments. The news thus generated can be sold to newspapers, magazines, investors and businesses within India and abroad. The proceeds could support the professional journalists working for the network.

B. Income Tax

The government should announce a time-bound schedule for the elimination of all taxes on individual and corporate income. The existing tax system promotes corruption even of honest people, and sustains a vast "black economy" that empowers criminals and anti-national elements. Value added taxes on manufacturing and services, and taxes on immovable property should be used to cover defence and security-related expenses, and to meet the government payroll. The payroll itself could be much reduced, as the Income Tax Department could be cut radically, and many economic policing activities eliminated. All development projects should be funded through interest-bearing bonds and executed with the support of the network of community centres established under A above. 

Concluding Note

The system above would automatically cleanse our political system of most of the ills now plaguing it. With activist networks ranging from the local to the national, it will be difficult for demagogues to thrive, as they can now, by manipulating the media, bribery and extortion. The system would put a firm floor under Indian democracy and modernize society at a pace set by the people themselves.

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