proclamation of financial emergency – the only way out of this nationwide crisis

let’s talk real. majority of citizens are struggling with their finances. factories, offices, shops are shut. since there is no way for anybody, save those employed with various governments and government bodies, to make money, the onus lies on governments to provide relief. agreed, a few big corporates will pay salaries during the lockdown period from their reserves and some bosses driven by ethics and morality will also do so.

but india is a big, big country. nearly 90 percent of total workforce is employed in the informal sector and most of the employers will find it impossible to pay their workers due to nil cash flows and unavailability of reserves earmarked for such situations.

amid all this, the governments are charging for electricity and other supplies. they are doing so since the employees of the state and state-owned enterprises will be paid their salaries in full. but is this justified? at a time when companies are laying off workers and not paying salaries due to exigencies that are beyond the control of employers, how can the state pay its employees in full? how can state-owned enterprises, from public sector undertakings to public sector banks to institutes and bodies under various ministries pay their employees in full?

and if they are doing so, this is against the principles of equity. moreover, the state doesn’t earn from commercial activities. a bulk of its revenues comes from taxes and other levies. even the poorest of poor contributes to the exchequer by paying indirect taxes when a bucket or biscuit is bought. it is this money that is used to pay the state staff.

let’s talk about public sector banks. although they undertake commercial activity, we know they rarely do so in the best way. this is the reason they are supported regularly from budgetary resources to save them from sinking. institutes, bodies and associations under various governments and ministries too are funded from budgetary resources.

now when the very foundation of the budget, the taxpayer, is under severe stress, is the state justified in paying its employees in full? although a handful of state governments have declared some cuts in such expenditures, they aren’t enough to tackle the crisis. the only answer is the government proclaiming financial emergency by using powers under article 360 of the indian constitution. after all, the provision has been added to tackle emergencies and the current crisis is deserving of such action since what is happening is unprecedented.

article 360 gives power to the state to issue direction and “any such direction may include a provision requiring the reduction of salaries and allowances of all or any class of persons serving in connection with the affairs of a state.”

nation’s resources belong to every citizen, rich or poor. and hence, equity must be brought without any delay.

re-inventing higher education – rationalize the duration of programs

an undergraduate program in commerce takes at least 3 years, for engineering degree, one has to give at least 4 years and so on. whenever we talk of reforming education, the debate revolves around making education more skill-oriented and advanced in view of the prevailing industrial landscape. do we ever deliberate over re-thinking the duration of programs? no because we are now used to think that an undergrad degree needs a minimum 3 years commitment.

but ask yourself. being a degree holder in some discipline you too have spent at least 3 years in learning the advanced aspects of some domain, say law, commerce or engineering. but what if the institution ran only a 1-year specialized program instead of 3 years, the successful completion of which would have secured you the degree? isn’t the argument sustainable?

the rationale here is access to information has evolved in past few years. today, learners do not have to rely on classroom sessions for quarter of the day to gain insight into topics related to their stream of studies. e-books are available on almost every subject and topics within, video lectures too are easily accessible (and where not, can be made) and all this is being complimented by resources like Wikipedia.

it can be accepted that since learning in a society that wasn’t as digitized and open as it is today was connected with a daily walk down to college and attending of lectures. this was the reason why programs as easy as a commerce undergrad degree were accorded a minimum 3-year duration.

another argument is if the authorities do believe that an individual who has acquired a degree in some discipline is skilled enough, the widespread culture of corruption in higher education and the useless topics covered have to be taken note of. a high percentage of college pass-outs stand nowhere near acceptable standards for real world scenarios hence are useless in the job market.

and it is the workplace where graduates learn real lessons on skills and their applications.

why then confine learners to a college setup for as long as 3 years when the same task of certifying the individual as a knowledgeable person on the respective discipline can be achieved in just 1 year?

the time has come when we re-think the minimum duration of our undergraduate and graduate programs and rationalize them according to the changed world of today.