At each turn of the year, a latent innocence makes one wish for things, small and big, knowing fully well January 1 is as routine a date as any other. And so when I asked myself, this year-end, what I would like 2011 to bring to us in India, my mind's disc began playing AR Rahman's song from Roja, 'Chinna Chinna Aasai…', the hauntingly beautiful lyrics of which have been rendered for the Hindi version of the film into 'Chhoti Si Aashaa...' (small wish). And my list, a 'chinna, chinna' one, quickly emerged. I set it down knowing that these 'aashaaen' will not be fulfilled. Why so? Quite simply, because they are not 'big', they do not cost much and they are eminently do-able. They are:
1. Whistle-blowing, baton-wielding policewomen will energetically discourage incontinent Indian men from their unceasing painting of our prominent public walls and thoroughfares in free-flowing uric yellows.
2. Likewise, betel-pulping mouths will not be allowed to spray-paint with jets of red dribble the walls, corner-joints and lift-wells of our mantralayas and sachivalayas, our bhavans and sadans. And the stink of excrement will be banished from sarkari corridors, spiders' webs removed from their walls, and grime and hand-grease effaced from all their surfaces.
3. Our city roads will not take any more cars and two-wheelers until they have been made fitter and safer for pedestrians, no less than for vehicles. No family will be allowed to ply more than one car or two two-wheelers. There will be designated areas with designated timings within which vehicles will be permitted only on payment of condign rates of peak-hour user charges.
5. Our coastlines will come under the unforgiving eye of a National Coastal Conservancy Force which ensures that the country's beaches are so fine-toothcombed that our sea-shores become as clean as the sands of our uninhabited island in the Andamans or Lakshadweep.
6. All hilly regions above a stipulated altitude will be declared plastic litter-free, which means that if any product including pesticide and fertiliser and electronic equipment is to be sold there, it will have to come in bio-degradable wrapping. And the term 'plastic litter' will specially include that horror, polysterene, better known as thermocol.
7. In pursuance of recent court orders, exemplary fines and, in default, imprisonment will visit manufacturers and retailers of gutkas if they sell their obnoxious product in non-biodegradable sachets.
8. No hoardings or cut-outs beyond a stipulated size will be allowed to be displayed and will have to be of bio-degradable material and will be required to be dismantled within a one week of being put up.
9. An immediate stop will be put to the advertising of skin-lighteners as a step against gender oppression and our complexion-fixated universe of dowry-demands, which means that celebrity stars will have to be told to earn their pocket money from elsewhere than the savings and debt-burdens of brides' parents.
10. Manufacturers of toys will be forbidden from making toys that resemble or mimic weapons of war or ballistics, and retailers of toys from selling them, so as to not perpetuate in naïve free marketing what we are up against as a nation and a civilisation.
11. No fire-crackers of any decibel-calibre whatsoever will be allowed anywhere in India as a step against pollution and the most horrendous fire-hazards at the place of manufacture, sale and use against child labour. The ban will also be a step in favour of care for the elderly, the infirm, and also animals.
12. There will be the strictest enforcement of laws prohibiting cruelty to animals, especially to quadrupeds and fowl being hustled to the slaughterhouse and to places of so-called worship for 'ritual sacrifice'.
13. The ministry of railways will ensure that not one elephant dies in the mountainous and forested regions of our east by speeding trains colliding with the pachyderm in what is its territory, not that of the railways.
14. The ministry of surface transport and the National Highways Authority will recall an Indian emperor called Asoka and regard trees along highways or along tracks for future road-layings and widenings, as being in their protection, not as obstructions.
15. The ministries for power and water resources will ask all bulk users of electricity and water across the country ('bulk user' to be defined for this purpose by the ministry for environment) to cut down their usage of those threatened resources by 15% with immediate effect as a step towards climate change mitigation and conservation.
16. The department of public works will draw up an all-India scheme under which all buildings over a 100 years old will be looked after on a self-renewing basis and their dismantling severely regulated and allowed only if they endanger life and limb, as a step towards the conservation of our built heritage.
17. The ministry of home affairs will, in concert with its counterparts in state governments, enforce a strict regime of physical fitness in the police forces with the BMR (basal metabolic rate) of personnel being regularly monitored, paunches disallowed, ability to run to rescue and give chase to vouchsafed. And, simultaneously, a modern regime of psychological counselling given to make 'third degree' and the horrors of the interrogation seat alien to policing.
18. Parliament and our state legislatures, will bring about a self-denying regulation by which legislators are paid not a monthly salary but a sum, be it ever so large and generous, on the basis of daily attendance, with a provision for prospective and proportionate disallowances of the same, in the event of their obstructing the business of the House.
19. The New Year will see inaugurated a Himalaya Niti, a Van Niti, and a Sagar Niti, which protect Himalayan India, Forest India and Littoral India against natural disasters, from 'developer' and 'contractor' greed and from the misplaced enthusiasms of centralised planning.
20. And, finally, some of the moneys misspent, siphoned off or 'notionally' lost in scams in the recent past will be recovered by the exchequer to enable it to provide funds for another direly needed and symbolic 'recovery': the restoration of neglected water-bodies across India in the manner of the Padma Pushkarini, a tiny water tank that Leela Samson, director of Chennai's Kalakshetra, recently revived from its dried-up and given-up hollow of despondency.
The reader will think 'Why, in this fanciful new 20 Point Programme, has 'poverty alleviation' and 'sustainable development' been left out? And our farming crisis, food security, the alarming malnutrition we see around us? What about the deplorable standards in our healthcare and education? And those nightmares: terrorism, Maoism, casteism and communalism? And what about corruption?' The reader would be right. I would only submit that there are many people who are doing things about those large, life and death issues. But there are not half as many who share the 20 'chinna, chinna' wishes I have listed, which are so difficult to implement because they are so easy.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The views expressed by the author are personal