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Public Sector Industries Can Do More For The People If They Stop Focusing On Profits

If the government tells you that something is good repeatedly, check again. The privatisation of the Indian public sector undertaking is one such thing. The idea sounds brilliant but it has a lot of flaws. A simple balance-sheet approach to privatisation is more suited to investment bankers than responsible governments.

Privatisation in India isn’t new, nor are the arguments for and against it. After the License Raj, privatisation has been one of the cornerstones of Narasimha-Manmohan’s 1991 liberalisation policies.

There’s nothing wrong with privatisation. The problem is that the focus of privatisation has shifted from socio-economic growth to wanting to show better numbers for the next election.

Generally, the arguments in favour of privatisation go along the lines of how public sector undertakings have shown a dismal performance in terms of profitability and return on investment. It is said that they are highly inefficient in terms of capital and manpower and are thus a huge waste of state resources. Another argument says that they produce ‘non-essential’ goods. Privatisation will increase the efficiency and quality through free-market, and help Indian businesses grow to become internationally competitive.

None of these arguments is entirely wrong, however, none of these is entirely right either.

The aim of public sector should not be profitability. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said to US investors that the Government has no business being in business. Businesses are run for profit, government undertakings are meant for socio-economic growth.

For example, BSNL, the Indian state-owned telecom company, post operating profits but overall losses. One might argue that in an extremely competitive telecom market prices for the consumer is extremely low. So, BSNL with its outdated technology (3G vs 4G market), is a waste of resources. But the same profitability argument will find it hard to explain how a remote village in Jharkhand with a population of 5,000 can ever expect any private operator to set-up a $20,000 tower for connectivity there. The idea of a state-owned telecom should be providing access to all, not profitability. If in the near or distant future that requirement no longer exists or there exists private enterprise that has a similar aim, only then does it makes sense to privatise.

Hindustan Lifecare Limited is a leading brand for healthcare products like condoms. Some would say that condoms are arguably non-essential, excludable and rivalrous. True, condoms do not exactly fit into the macroeconomic development model and drive ease of doing business. However, for a country struggling with public health and population explosion, access to affordable contraceptives, and hopefully one day, free sanitary pads, are perhaps more important for a happier country than record FDIs.

The argument on efficiency is probably the most complex. For instance, one might say that subsidising sanitary pads or buying from private vendors may cost far less tax money than running a public enterprise. However, neither of these two solutions have a significantly better performance record than direct state administration.

If we look at roadways, there are significant variations in how roads are made in India. I’d like to compare the privatised system of roadworks that are employed by metropolitan corporations with the autonomous road construction done by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). I personally find it marvellous how the BRO is able to maintain high-quality roads in tough terrains, something which most municipalities fail to achieve.

Also, the definition of efficiency is mostly only economic, not social or environmental. I’m not saying that state agencies have a high benchmark for environmental or social bottom-lines, they are far from it. But it is certainly easier to hold government entities accountable.

As far as being internationally competitive, there are three simple points to keep in mind.

Firstly, for a country which is acknowledged as one of the most attractive markets globally, international competitiveness in terms of an export-oriented strategy makes limited sense.

Secondly, government ownership can boost global competitiveness if done right. If we look at China, out of the 98 Chinese companies in the Fortune 500, 78% are state-owned. Clearly, it’s not about the ownership but the execution.

Thirdly, one hopes that by shifting the production base to India, one could generate long-term economic growth, yet the instruments which enable one to absorb the opportunity the fastest are being stripped down. For example, if you want to bring technology X into India. Unless you have a state-control, there’s no real way of ensuring that X will stay. Also, X’s utilisation depends on the availability of multiple factors around it. Unless there is an infrastructure to fully support X domestically, you can never really absorb it, which is the current case. Most of “Make in India” is often reduced to “Made in the US, Packaged in India”.

For a country with a surprising lack of social infrastructure, revamping public sector undertakings need to be more pragmatic. Rather than focusing on how much loss Air India has incurred, maybe it’s better to question how to use Air India as a tool to ensure air connectivity in India. What public sector undertaking really needs is a strong leadership and bold renovation under a bold leader, something which the reigning PM’s chest-size boasts to be.


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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