Updated: Suggestions to Aam Aadmi Party for a more self-reliant India

Here are a list of ideas I can think of to make India more self-reliant even in today’s world of mega imports and consumer mentality. India may not have a lot of money (at least among the masses) or enough jobs for all to earn, but one huge resource India has that we don’t use is manpower. With a population of 1.2 billion people, we have a lot of people who can invest effort to make their own lives better.

Decentralize power

This one is the biggest. Lack of electricity is a multi-faceted problem. It isn’t that India isn’t adding capacity, it is also that use of electricity is increasing recklessly. I think offering an amount of electricity completely for free per month combined with enabling people to produce their own electricity which they can use for free will help improve availability of electricity for all. I am basically talking of turning the National grid from the main source of power to a back up source of power for as many people in the country as possible, while the main source becomes electricity they produce and use for near free using whatever means are suitable for their home.

Some ideas:

  • Rooftop water heating. This water can be used not only for bathing, but speeding up cooking. Rooftop water heaters can be made at home for very cheap and purcased ones are also available.
  • Solar cooking – for people with rooftops, gardens or sunlit balconies, solar cooking can offer healthier food along with fuel savings if fuel is only used when solar cooking is not possible.
  • Alternative power production. Many homes can produce power from solar panels, small windmills, local streams, sea power, biogas or other means, drawing power from providers only if/when they fall short.. If the main source of power can be shifted to self-produced renewables, you will not only reduce dependence on National grid, many people will be able to completely eliminate one expense from their life – not a minor achievement for a country with many people fighting for affordable living. Obviously not all will be able to do it, but it is a big enough incentive for homes to start being designed to be energy efficient and energy producing. Not to mention those who cannot will have better electricity available if those who can adopt these methods (and profit from savings too – not “sacrifice in larger interest” type exploitation)
  • Outdoor installations using electricity – like hoardings, street lights, traffic signals and so on, can easily be producing their own electricity.
  • Innovative cooperative power production should be encouraged – for example, villagers contributing manure to a biogas plant to fuel biogas vehicles and sharing profits according to their contributions (and getting the discards as fertilizer).

This is a general idea. Obviously far more specific ideas are possible, like societies using solar power to light all common areas or NGOs that help more and more people be self-reliant on electricity, or people selling surplus electricity to the state (or “banking” it for use when they fall short).

Fuel self-reliance

AAP should study the Cuban Special Period for the drastic reforms they brought about that ended up creating a healthier country that worked on 10% of the fuel it used to use.

“The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” is a must watch film.

But more can be done. For example, stress on making roads bicycle safe and requiring parking lots to have bicycle stands (so you can lock your bicycle to it, and it can’t simply be carried away and stolen) will automatically increase the people who can use bicycles for transportation without any fuel costs and minimal maintenance costs (in the whole of last year, I have spent Rs.330 on my bicycle – more than half of it on a seat I didn’t “need”, but liked).

Food self-reliance

Shifting to organic farming is among their biggest revolutionary moves that not just reduced costs related with fertilizers and pollution, Cuba saw drops in heart attacks and diabetes and such statistics as well. From Wikipedia:

Manuel Franco describes the Special Period as “the first, and probably the only, natural experiment, born of unfortunate circumstances, where large effects on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality have been related to sustained population-wide weight loss as a result of increased physical activity and reduced caloric intake”.

A paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology, says that “during 1997-2002, there were declines in deaths attributed to diabetes (51%), coronary heart disease (35%), stroke (20%), and all causes (18%).

Home food growing, urban gardening, encouraging use of all available land to produce food, reclaiming damaged soil with natural manures, advice for home farmers, local farmer markets and more are among many things Cuba did out of necessity and now embrace as normal life. 80% of food in Cuba is organically grown.

Encouraging local economies, investing and purchasing locally will bring resilience to rural economies, as well as keep money in the area instead of draining it into cities. Communities should be encouraged to produce what they need to buy from a distance.

Decentralization of education

Diversity in education needs to be developed to address practical use. Apprenticeships, vocational education needs to be developed for specializations for practical jobs that are in demand – think “night school certificate in business management, law and strategies for running a street stall”. Advanced education should be subsidized only on the condition of mandatory service in government projects/initiatives/organizations – and I’m not talking of token years, I’m talking of govt institutions being used to fulfill urgent national needs.  Ten years minimum, till a point where country stops needing advanced professionals this badly, and years can be reduced. It does not make sense to provide cheap education for those who will go on to earn many times the unsubsidized amount privately, while the country continues to suffer for lack services it is subsidizing heavily, but still not utilizing. It will also encourage private organizations to develop quality education in critical areas like medicine if they can be assured of students who do not wish to do mandatory service and are willing to pay well for a career that in turn will pay them well. Right now, a private college cannot compete with drastically and artificially reduced government college fees – particularly in areas like medicine. So you simply don’t have very many of them.

Healthcare

New qualification for a kind of doctor should be created who are trained to deal with the bulk of usual needs – cough, cold, fever, small wounds, etc and refer to larger hospitals for anything beyond that. Such “doctors” should be available in every village and training courses should be short duration. Priority must be given for applicants from an area without access to medical care rather than marks and such.

Midwives should be trained professionally at government expense and midwivery should be encouraged in areas where hospitals with maternity wards are not available – considerable research shows that hospitals can be a source of INFECTIONS for newborns. Natural birthing techniques have also proved to be considerably more stress free and birthing facilities should be encouraged to research and provide more caring environments. Ideally, maternity hospitals/wards should be increased.

Government healthcare should offer ALL procedures commonly used in diagnosis and treatment. For example, try asking for a government MRI scan facility in Mumbai – a fairly common procedure. And this is Mumbai we are talking about. Not some village in the back of beyond.

Schools

Asking children to take notes from their teacher to their parents should be banned. Teachers should contact parents independently and children must not be forced to carry humiliating words about themselves between adults and be on hand to face any ensuing anger.

Schools should have independent child welfare worker (paid by government) desks freely available to all children to contact and discuss their problems or needs or complain of abuse. These child welfare worker must be routinely reposted between schools to prevent collusion.

Revision of Intellectual Property laws

Any government funded research – however minimally – must mandatorily be open content and available for citizens to learn from and use.

Recovering research and investment from research must be encouraged to seek alternative means other than “passive income” that restricts use, prevents challenges to cost effectiveness or peer review for effectiveness or peer improvements. It is difficult to believe that a company that makes a drug and knows it inside out cannot produce it cheaper than a “copycat” who must reverse engineer and learn it before producing. Or that it has no means of earning from it other than making everyone who wants to use it PAY. Clearly this is an exploitative model aimed at making the government uphold private property. Knowledge doesn’t end with production. Exceptional cases should have to apply for an exception to be made in a court of law – that establishes how it is in the country’s interest to protect that monopoly.

Also, the current propaganda would have you believe that generics go to the neighborhood zerox machine instead of having proper labs, which is bull shit. They still have to make their product – which may be a copy – test it, produce it, quality control it, and so on.

Music, for example. A day spent on making a sound track can pay you for years. But if I have purchased a copy, is that copy mine, or not? I didn’t purchase the sound track, I purchased copy, but I should be able to do what I want with MY COPY. Why cannot I use it as I wish including making copies of the copy or sharing? The idea of “stealing” is nonsense. I am copying what I purchased, not what is sitting in the composer’s home. We have created these “passive income” ideas, that result in those with the means to own such ideas to earn infinitely from them. The corollary is that if you cannot own such property, you will forever be at a disadvantage. Inequality will keep you there. The chap making chairs will forever be poorer because he can sell that chair only once. Thus perpetually keeping those who create tangible products poorer than those who can create easily duplicated ones, but charge for each duplication (which requires no effort/investment on their part)

For a farmer to create a pump that uses three of the best innovations will not be possible. Not because he can’t, but because he can’t afford the “permission”. Why shouldn’t he have access to all twenty designs, use, mix, make them all, test, choose the best, and make a hundred of it for all farmers of his area and profit? If they are really good and competitive, he will make one for himself, but won’t be able to produce to sell at a cost lower than the available invention. Anyone say free market?

Strangely, those arguing for free markets are the biggest advocates of government protected monopolies – only in areas other than the current ones.

Investment risks are a fact of all business, not only innovation. Investing all your money into a shop won’t give you the right to prevent someone from copying your design and USP if it becomes popular (check out the proliferation of coffee bars and number of “outlets” selling vada paav variants). Is the loss of monopoly by the shop any less a risk? Or are the investments of some more valuable than others?

An innovator unwilling to take the risk will not take it, someone else will. Just like everyone else. Human innovation is hardly going to stop because you can’t turn it into a passive cash cow.

Opening knowledge and its free use to all citizens will go a long long way toward allowing access to new knowledge for all in a country where some people have incomes larger than many countries and the vast majority have to do creative maths from month to month just to afford normal living.

Not just exposing and punishing, but FIXING damage from corruption

My favorite example here is the Irrigation scam, but really, every scam. If people are found to be seriously deprived of their rights and particularly if there are serious consequences, apart from exposing scams and punishing the accountable, it should be the government’s responsibility to treat the damage from the scam on the scale of a national crisis and make immediate provisions to provide relief. The black paper and white paper business apart, what was done to restore or provide immediate relief for 10 years of missing irrigation and the resulting problems for the farmers? These actions should happen from regular funds for dealing with crisis situations like earthquakes – for example. When the legal process of the scam is complete, including punishments, these costs must be recovered from the assets of the accused. But the relief to those harmed by the scam must be immediate – as soon as the denial of necessity is confirmed.

Food quality control

There needs to be clear information provided for people who may need to complain about quality of food sold – either as product or restaurants or stalls, with clear procedure for investigation and punishment, including banning product or business if problem is serious enough. I suppose the same should handle things like MidDay meals or quality of govt rations related complaints. These facilities should include labs for testing and teams to conduct sting operations.

Reduce taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, introduce quality control and 50% of tax collected must go to associated healthcare

Every budget sees a rise in taxes on “addictions”, which rarely are questioned, because no one wants to “defend a wrong” it is also usually peddled as a deterrent to improve health, but in reality is a cash cow for a government perpetually overspending and planning badly. Rising prices of cigarettes and alcohol rarely cause addicts to quit. Instead, those who cannot afford, switch to poorer quality products and ADD risk to their health. Furthermore, the government that apparently cares so much for the health of smokers/drinkers is not visible doing anything in particular to help those they claim to care about while milking money.

There is a need for quality control. Who do people approach when your cigarette has twigs, or smells more like dry leaves burning than tobacco? Who should people approach if some country liquor tastes “off”? This is important. These are huge industries with equally huge potential for corruption and little oversight, because of the “shame” factor. Why do smoking “lounges” have to be humiliating? Are those who use them criminals? Poorly ventilated rooms full of acrid smoke that are worse than smoking and used pretty much like one uses a public urinal. Go in, smoke, come out, back into civilized society. Is this deliberate marginalization of smokers at the cost of their health fair? All because open areas – where no harm from passive smoking has ever been proved – must be kept sanitized for the “real” citizens?

For that matter, there is nothing inherently wrong with country liquor if quality can be ensured. The main fear about it is risks related with dangerous substances being mixed or byproducts of risky ingredients. This should not be so difficult to govern. Yet we have so many deaths related with country liquor.

But most importantly, 50% of taxes collected from cigarettes and alcohol should be spent on research and free healthcare and deaddiction support. Tuberculosis is a menace in India. While it isn’t solely caused by cigarettes, why can’t the funds from taxing cigarettes fund research and better treatments (or increased reach) for attacking this mega killer that is growing resistant to treatment? Why can’t more treatment centers be made for alcoholics with 50% of funds from taxing alcohol? Treatment for liver failure, counselling? Humanitarian aid to abused families in many instances? Why is there no connection between what the country earns from and what it spends on, even where desperate needs are visible?

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About the Author

Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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