To the new Karnataka government…

Discontinuing the use of plastic water bottles in government offices and functions is another ecologically responsible step
Last Updated : 04 June 2023, 05:03 IST

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As the new government in Karnataka settles in, I felt that I should share, as part of my citizenly duties, a few policy suggestions for its consideration.

1.The Karnataka government must passionately push for rainwater harvesting in Bengaluru and other cities as well as in rural areas. Rainwater harvesting was made mandatory for the occupants of buildings on plots that are 60ftx40ft in size or larger two years ago, but its implementation has been poor. A vigorous drive towards widening the practice of rainwater harvesting, which helps conserve water and raise groundwater levels, has to happen without delay as the monsoon sets in.

Discontinuing the use of plastic water bottles in government offices and functions is another ecologically responsible step. Encouraging the use of public transport is yet another. Really, the government should do all it can to cultivate all-round ecological sensitivity in the work of governance and build a public ethos that helps mitigate climate change, one of the paramount civilizational challenges of the 21st century.

2. A module in social science that equips high school students to tackle the serious problem of fake news will be essential to introduce in school curricula at the earliest. Lessons in how to identify fake news and avoid spreading it ought to form part of school learning. The experiences of the Kerala state government, which launched a school initiative to raise student awareness of the dangers of misinformation campaigns last year, might prove instructive in devising courses suited for school students in Karnataka. Such courses can be prepared for adult learners as well.

3.The new government’s keenness to remove the obnoxious revisions in the school textbooks done by the previous state government is welcome, but it is imperative that non-partisan social science and humanities scholars be picked to oversee this task. If those known to be aligned with the ruling party are recruited for this task, any other party that might form the government in the future will feel justified in returning the gesture. The work of preparing school textbooks simply cannot afford to be reduced to a partisan activity. This is an opportune moment for the ruling government to help restore public trust in the process of designing school textbooks and guarding against partisan raids on the latter activity in the future.

4.The state government employees must be offered a five-day work week and brought on par with the weekly work hour schedule of their colleagues in the central government. Besides saving public resources, this step would save the employees commute stress and allow them more time outside the office. In return, the employees will need to clearly abide by the current office times and finish the quantum of weekly work in five days. Anyone who walks into a government office knows that the workday starts later and ends sooner than the mandated office times, with irregular breaks also thrown in. This pathological office culture cannot go on. A related measure is to set aside clear times for the officials to be available to the public and end the officer-tout nexus that thrives off the chaotic state of affairs in government offices.

The few suggestions above add to the policy commitments found in the Congress manifesto.

A committee to plan for a future where the cities, towns, villages and tribal settlements flourish equally as habitats will also be valuable to put together. The socio-economic realities are doubtless exceedingly intricate, but a foundational policy commitment to securing habitable futures for urban, rural and tribal Karnataka can offer an overarching philosophy of governance to guide the policy steps of the state government. At present, Indian economists are content to plan for a wholly urban future for the country. Their catastrophic myopia needs to make way for a vision of governance where the rural, tribal and urban regions of the state are in a non-exploitative relationship with each other and where considerations of caste, gender and class equity guide policy thought at every step. If the new Karnataka government finds this vision persuasive, it will have set itself on the path of evolving a fresh imagination of public welfare.

Published 03 June 2023, 19:21 IST

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