Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
All contents in this blog are subjected to copy right and no part of any of the articles may be reproduced in any media without prior written permission

Search This Blog


A tax on unhealthy indulgences!

We hear about sin tax. Putting a heavy burden on the consumers of socially undesirable goods and services is an appropriate strategy to dissuade the addicts. At present we do have in many countries higher taxes for cigarettes, liquor etc. There may be two opinions on whether such fiscal tools have helped controlling excessive consumption of intoxicating and addictive products. However, governments emerged as gainers because of the substantial revenue earned from such exercises. It is time to extend such positive discrimination in tax rates to the segment of unhealthy foods. Not for garnering large revenue for the state, but to discourage the consumption and to make people opt for healthy substitutes. This can work, as junk and unhealthy food products are less addictive as compared to alcohol and tobacco.


There are thousands of medical and scientific reports about the unhealthy food stuff that are pumped in large scale in the market. Unfortunately, people like to indulge in such unhealthy stuff. Due to the mass appeal, there is bulk production of such goods, and consequently they are sold at cheaper rates. At the same time, the healthy food items are very costly as there is less demand in the market and therefore economies of scale won’t work. For example, in many big cities, soft drinks are available at cheaper rates than pure drinking water. The multinational junk food provider would give you a large glass of Pepsi packaged along with your burger or pizza, but he would grin when you ask for a glass of water.

To discourage consumption and to make the consumers pay for the social and health costs associated with this habit, governments may consider imposing an additional tax (with an appropriate name like ‘junk food tax’ to remind about the rationale) on retail junk food. Similarly, to encourage more people to consume healthy food products, it is necessary to give all such items tax relief to keep the prices low.
In this millennium, countries all over the world are thinking loud to bring in a society that is built on equity, welfare, sustainable lifestyle, and qualitative growth. In such an approach to life, there should be marked changes in tax policies as well. Taxation is not just an economic instrument, but also a sociological instrument. Fiscal tools should be applied to bring in the desired positive changes in the lifestyle of people.

The concept ‘Economic externalities’ by the Economist Arthur Pigou is relevant in this context. He said in his book ‘The Economics of Welfare’, the Net Private Product (benefit received by the business house) in certain businesses are relatively large as compared to the Net Social product (gains for the society and state). As illustrated by him, the alcohol business results in various social issues, enforcement challenges and crime. The producer needs to pay for the non-pecuniary externality he created. Therefore the business is taxed at higher rates. Pigou had argued that the high costs would definitely reduce the quantity of product produced.

If one analyses the above concept in the current social and economic context where people, particularly the younger generation are almost addicted to the junk foods, they would demand more of such goods and the producers in turn would produce more of such products. Due to large turnover, the cost of production would fall. The producer would also be smart enough to gain from the ‘Value Added Tax’ (VAT) regime by shifting much of his tax burden.

A high cost for the end users would definitely reduce the consumption of unhealthy food products (that result in negative externalities). In the current context, the negative externalities are as follows:

Personal level
State level
Society level
Cost of treatment
Loss of productivity

Costs related to public health delivery
Minor law and order issues
Dent in overall productivity from human resources
Decline in sustainable growth

Lack of initiatives to maintain and renew natural resources
Creating a generation that considers junk food life style as normal and routine
Affects a large cross section of people who survive on agriculture and allied activities

A separate tax with a unique label that conveys the intention and rationale behind the imposition, (rather than just higher rates) may be levied on all unhealthy items. For this purpose, food products may be categorized into different grades or levels after assessing their impact on health. Most unhealthy foods should be taxed at highest rates (eg. Aerated sugary drinks, junk foods, Processed food from red meat etc.) Medium unhealthy foods should be taxed at moderate rates (eg. Processed non-veg products). Similarly highly healthy foods should be given exemption from all existing taxes (eg. Organic foods, and unprocessed fresh fruits and vegetables) and tax rebates may be given to moderately healthy goods (fibre rich processed natural food products).

Now the confusion is what are healthy food products and what are not? This is a universal confusion! (See my article: ‘Tell me what should I eat?) There are individuals and groups arguing in favour or against a particular food item. The decision should be left to a team of independent health professionals to recommend food products to be categorized under various levels similar to what mentioned above. That means , we need to have an exclusive Food Standards Authority for determining above classification.

The summary: Let the addicted pay more for his unhealthy indulgences. Let that money make the healthy food much cheaper so that more people go for it! 

                                                                                                                       (c)  Sibichen K Mathew
Also read related articles in cyber diary. Click below

Comments are welcome. Views are personal. 

The return of the fisherman: The new Pope and a few hopes for a third Vatican Council


Jesus who declared himself to be one with God, chose the illiterate, poor, weak and meek men to be his disciples and messengers of his message. They were selected from a massive crowd who followed him that included wise men, religious leaders, rich businessmen, senior government officials, and royals. At the end of his powerful public presence and life, which lasted for just three years  in a remote part of the world, he chose the weakest of the 12 disciples to be the leader of his church. That was Peter, to whom Jesus said, ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it’. (In Greek, Peter means rock). All popes who provided leadership to the largest Christian community in the world, are considered to be the successors of Peter. In other words, Saint Peter was the first Pope.

Church as an institution that has the largest membership base among all the Christian religious communities in the world has grown too big in material terms viz. infrastructure, multitude of congregations, institutions and scholars.  

In spite of a strong dogmatic structure, highly scholarly administration led by the Curia, and geographically wide and highly diversified church traditions, Popes can bring in radical transformation within the church, if they desire and are convinced. Pope is not a mere symbolic head of the Catholic Christian community; he could be a guide, motivator, and teacher for the entire humanity, by virtue of his widely acclaimed position.  It is not clear whether all popes could really bring in lasting spiritual revival within the church and could become an effective instrument in bringing peace and unity among fighting nations and communities beyond the encyclicals and public requests. History and related records show that most popes faced difficulties in providing spiritual leadership uncorrupted by the material world and accompanying profanity.

Two radical steps that happened in the recent history of Catholic Church are the Second Vatican Council and the Charismatic revival movement.

It was Pope John XXIII who gave notice for his intention to convene the assembly on 25th January 1959 within three months of occupying his seat and was held between 1962 and 1964.  (The First Vatican Council was held in 1869 but could not complete its deliberations due to the events followed the unification of Italy.) Pope John XXIII who died in 1963 was replaced by Pope Paul VI who continued his predecessor’s mission. The Council revived the central role of Bible in the theological and devotional life of the Church and urged people to make Bible study a central part of their lives.

(Charismatic renewal movement within Catholic Church originated in 1967 and provided strong spiritual foundation to millions of Catholics. In 1998, Pope John Paul II said:  "The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church’s constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God’s People. It is from this providential rediscovery of the Church’s charismatic dimension that, before and after the council, a remarkable pattern of growth has been established for ecclesial movements and new communities’)

New Pope and the hope for the Third Vatican Council


Some of the news that circulated and shared in the public domain about the unique qualities and traits of Pope Francis cannot be rebuffed as mere media hype. They trigger fresh hopes. Pope can be a perfect role model to the clergy and laity of Catholic Church through his humility, simplicity and spirituality.  This year is in fact is the golden jubilee of second Vatican council. Is there any scope for a Third Vatican Council under the new Pope?
If at all there is a Third Vatican Council under Pope Francis, what would be the radical decisions?

Following are some ‘wild’ arguments people make! These are not necessarily my wish list!!
1   1.       Allowing priests to marry. (As a Jesuit he would know how many from his congregation left it for the sake of a loving partner to share the cross of life!). But they should be barred from episcopacy.
2.    Allowing women to be priests. (Number of women joining convents as nuns fast depleting. Of course, with a privilege of marriage, more women would love to celebrate the mass.)
3.       Allowing an order of dedicated Brothers/Deacons from the laity to assist the priests by giving them proper training.
4.     Strong message to those traditional Catholics who conceal the cross and the resurrected Jesus behind the huge statues of saints, and yet fail to consider them as role models to follow Jesus.
5.       Encouraging inter-denominational prayers and joint gospel projects led by the Catholic Church. Clearing the misunderstandings of certain non-Catholic denominations about Catholic faith.
6.        Requesting Bishops to be true spiritual leaders and devote less time to administer the institutions and funds.
7.       Making adoration, prayer groups, and Bible study extensively along with a liturgy that would give ample scope for self-reflection, sharing and reconciliation.
8.       Instead of allowing construction of huge church buildings investing millions of dollars, encouraging establishment of small church buildings in every locality of 100 catholic families.
9.    Discouraging Catholic congregations whose only mission is to setup educational institutions and health facilities exclusively for the rich. They should rather divert their manpower and resources to spread the gospel of peace and love and to help the poor and needy across the World.
10.    Radically revise the curriculum in seminaries in tune with the needs of the contemporary world, to face the fresh challenges in the technology driven materialistic world, by giving them a strong foundation in Biblical teaching, sociology, communication and management. Revise the catechism text books of children with innovative presentation and design so that there will be more interest to learn and more clarity in understanding the concepts.

I am not a strong advocate of all of the above, as some of them would be too radical and might not be appropriate in the contemporary times. But there can be a debate on the advantages and disadvantages of the above proposals. Let the new Pope ring the bell!

To view all articles in Cyber Diary click HOME
Comments are welcome. 


Faceless libraries in a Facebook age: Read what is happening inside some of the libraries

Libraries have fascinated me since my school days. I still like the smell of books inside a library. I always cherish the days I spent in various libraries. The characteristic silence within a library is stimulating for readers, though staying in such silenced environment for longer period has made the face of most of the librarians and library staff grim. 

(Photo: DPS Allahabad)

Every library where I spent in the past has given me interesting experiences. I remember the Library Assistant of the college in Trivandrum who had the knack of concealing the most sought after text books at remote areas in the library and thus creating panic among the students. He would know precisely when the professor asks the students to refer a particular book from the library and prepare himself with his game.

The main canteen in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) where I was a student could be the only canteen in any university which has an attached library. That is what people say about one of the largest university libraries in the world.  The most crowded place is not the library, but the canteen and an adjacent study hall in the library building. Students would reach as early as 8 am in the morning to get a seat in the study hall outside the library, though hundreds of chairs would be vacant inside the library. Study hall provides a perfect environment for one’s preparations to succeed in the country’s toughest Civil Services Examination. The library canteen provided pan-Indian dishes at very cheaper rates and was always packed full.

JNU Library

The library of National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in New Delhi contains a rich collection of books in the area of finance, economics, taxation and development. Any reader would like to have a quick glance at the books stacked in the racks under various topics before picking one for detailed reading. But the library staff won’t allow people to go and feel the book themselves. They would say, you select the book you want from the catalogue and give the lists to them and they would fetch them for you. I was not comfortable with this privilege. I don’t know whether they continue with the same procedure still.

There is a Law College library in Bangalore where you will not get most of the important books mentioned in the syllabus. You would be forced to buy Xeroxed copies of these books from the library staff.

Libraries of University of Kerala, Bangalore University, and University of Mumbai do not believe in investing so much for new books as they do not know how to get rid of the old books and very old shelves. Institutes like Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, etc. invest considerably in new books, though there are not many readers.

Some of the government training institutes also have excellent collections of books and journals. Some examples are National Police Academy and LBS NationalAcademy of Administration, Mussoorie.  Libraries attached to most of the ministries and departments are not professionally managed and many books are not returned to the library by readers who are government officials. No scholar of social sciences should miss a visit to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi which is a reservoir of various archival material, books, journals and micro films. You can also see several well-known national and international scholars and writers in and around the library who would not mind to have a fruitful discussion over a cup of steaming coffee in the cafeteria inside the library campus.

Encouraging environment
Public libraries in many countries especially UK, US, Australia etc. provide yeoman service to the readers. They are professionally managed and provide excellent facilities for the readers. Anyone can walk into the public libraries and read from the rich collection of journals and books, surf the net, and also have access to leading newspapers from across the globe. The service is absolutely free and the librarians encourage people to come again for reading. If you are a resident of that area you could take large number of books at a time for home reading.

My visits to two University libraries in United Sates were academically enriching. One would be amazed to see the huge resources inside the libraries (of Syracuse University and Duke University) and absence of any rigid rules. Library personnel are friendly and helpful. The libraries are open to the public and most of the services are free.

At a time when everyone prefers e-readers, internet surfing and knowledge through social networking, libraries are increasingly becoming empty across the world. However books and libraries are here to stay for long as there is no reduction in the number of books published worldwide. In fact, annually more than 2 million new books enter the market. Libraries are the places where people can afford to read them at minimal cost.

Open Library and closed minds
It is very sad to find that the library of one of the heavily funded premier management institutes in India has very few users.  Students of this institute prefer to spend their time with their laptops in the wifi enabled campus rather than exploring various national and international journals procured at high costs in this 55500 sq ft library. There are just a few individuals, mostly the staff who come to read the newspapers, in the entire library. One would be surprised to hear the rates fixed by them for outsiders who have genuine identity proof with them. One has to pay Rs 7000 per library book ticket as refundable deposit and Rs 2000 every year as service charge and a maximum of only two books to be taken at a time. Even for an alumnus of that institution the deposit to be made is Rs 3000 per library book ticket and service charge of Rs 1000 annually. (These are as per the details given in the institution’s website as on the date of writing)  You pick up any book at random from the rack. You would find that most of these books have been borrowed by just one or two readers in its entire life in this library. There are many books in this library which are not read even by a single person in the last several years. What a national waste of infrastructure and resources?

I went to the room of one of the professors in a government funded institute. One could hardly see his face as the entire room is full of new books, most of them unopened by him. There are hundreds of such books, picked from the library, sent by publishers as complementary copies for recommendation and review, and also those bought by spending the liberal project grants. I was tempted to ask him to lend a book or two for reading. But didn't  after I heard from him that ‘books are treasured possessions; many who take won’t return them!’

The professor is right! The books are treasured possessions. Getting reminded of the biblical verses: ‘Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten’ (James 5:2). Same is the case of the rich collection of books in the libraries across the world! 

(my correction on Readers' Niche's photo)

(c) Sibichen K Mathew

Views are personal. Comments are welcome. Login with your gmail id or open id to give comments below. Or you can email your views to sibi5555 at
To view all articles in Cyber Diary, click HOME

Click to read related article. 10 unpleasant facts about Facebook


The institutional child abuse: What is the panacea?

There is so much written and talked about the abuse of children by individuals. But very less has been discussed about the institutional child abuses. It is worthwhile to mention about two types of abuses on innocent children by institutions: first, about the direct exploitation of children by the institutions and second, about how institutions nurture conditions and circumstances that are favourable for abusers.

Institutional abuses

Just like the misconception of many parents that, since they own their children they have every right to use and control their children as per their wishes, there are certain institutions too who justify their exercise of control over the children. These institutions claim absolute rights over the children enroll with them and rationalize their actions as necessary tools in shaping the personality of children.

An ordeal called ‘Assembly’

In many countries including India, the only institution that holds the exclusive rights over the children during the entire period from dawn to dusk is the School. The abuse does not limit just with the extraordinary academic burden on the students. Starting from the ’school assembly’ under the hot sun to late evening practices for cultural programs, students are held captive by a handful of teaching staff.

When it comes to long morning assemblies, government schools are the most ‘patriotic’ institutions. These schools want their children to stand for a lengthy assembly almost every morning, without even realizing that there are many children among them who are not privileged to get a proper breakfast at their homes. You can watch a large gathering of school children in front of the government schools on most of the mornings. You could keep counting the number of children who faint during such long assemblies. Why can’t these institutions limit their public assembly to once a week and have their prayer, national anthem, and announcements done through public address system in the respective class rooms? Not only morning assembly, many other public functions are done under hot sun, allowing only the teachers and guests to sit under a specially erected shamiana (a temporary ceremonial tent typical in India). Once, I abruptly cut-short my inaugural speech on one of such public functions in an educational institution feeling sympathy towards the hapless children.

Receiving the dignitaries

Children are tortured the most when there is a visit by dignitaries. They are asked to stand in line to receive the dignitary, hours before their actual arrival. Most of these dignitaries are known for their belief that the later one arrives, the more important one would become! In the state of Kerala in Southern India, and also wherever there are Keralites in the world, it is customary for them to parade the children to do ‘thaalapoli’ in honour of the guests (Thaalapoli is a practice of making girls stand in line in traditional attire, carrying a plate containing flowers, sometimes with a lighted lamp, and they are expected to pour flowers on the dignitaries and on the entire stretch they walk from their car to the meeting hall). It is sad to see how the dignitaries, including those religious leaders relish such reception.
 Plays and Carnivals to make money through children

I was told about a private school in the capital city of India that literally uses their students for commercial activities. Every year the children are made to showcase plays for the public to whom tickets are sold at very high prices. The intention is not to develop the cultural talents of the students, but to make maximum profits from the venture. The school also conducts what they call a carnival for about three days in a year, where any hooligan from anywhere can get inside paying the entry fee and enjoy the fun showcased by the staff, including the principal. Most of these stalls are put up with the support of unscrupulous elements from outside and they teach the children the arts and science of gambling and cheating. Children are let out freely within the campus amidst criminals giving an opportunity to the latter to abuse them.  The parents report that not a single penny received from these activities is utilized for improving the infrastructure of the school.

At the service of teachers

In village schools, especially in the government run schools, the tall and hefty children among the generally impoverished students are made to do all menial jobs for the teachers. Some class teachers and head masters ask the students to help them in their domestic chores and also make them work in their farms. I know a boy whose attendance is marked in school based on attendance every day at the Headmaster’s house. If he doesn’t finish the cleaning work in the master’s house he won’t get attendance even if he has attended all the periods in the school. He has to stand in queue during the class hours in the fair price shop to get the kerosene, sugar, and wheat for the master’s house.

Child sex abuse by School van drivers

There are several instances of child sex abuse by school van drivers reported from various parts of the world. The primary responsibility for this heinous act is on the institutions. School drivers are selected either on contract or on permanent basis, without any proper verification of their past. There is no proper supervision over the staff in these buses. I know about a convent school run by a Christian congregation of nuns where even the principal is scared to control the drunken driver of the school van who happens to be a relative of a former mother superior!

Religious institutions and other agencies

Apart from schools, other institutions that abuse the children by exercising excessive control over them and by infringing their rights are some of the religious institutions, government agencies and public service institutions. Some religious institutions claim absolute responsibility for the entire behavioural conduct of children who belong to that particular community, and criticize, threaten and reprimand the innocent children without giving any convincing reason for their judgments. However the harm is minor and largely inconsequential as compared to the emotional and physical injuries meted out by the schools.

Indirect partners in child abuse

Schools are also indirect partners in child abuse by various other institutions. There are hundreds of commercial ventures vying to get a share of the funds pumped by the anxious parents to make their children globally competitive. They partner with reputed schools and notices and brochures are sent by the school teachers. Parents are lured by the seal of approval of the institution and send the children to those courses, ventures, and competitions. Most of the children are emotionally harassed due to over exploitation of their energy and time, in the name of ensuring a bright future for them.

Is regulation a panacea?

If I mention the word ‘regulation’ or ‘regulatory authority’, there will be many eyebrows raised. Once I was mentioning this idea to a principal of a private school and he instantly protested with anger. ‘No authority should interfere in the affairs of a private school’. Of course, we have too many rules and laws to curb abuses. As we have so many different categories of educational institutions and curriculums, we have so many departments and agencies working crisscross in the area of education. But institutional abuses like those I have mentioned can be tackled only through a proper, independent, and transparent institution which can prepare appropriate uniform guidelines for all educational institutions. A statutory body with representatives of all stake holders (educationists, doctors, social workers, lawyers, and representatives from the government) can be formed where the children, parents and public can report their grievances. Representatives from this body can be involved with the institutions or can be consulted while decisions which are likely to affect the rights of the children are taken. Informality, easy accessibility (by creating cells in every town) and credibility of such regulatory body would certainly ensure fairness and justice for both institutions and children. 

                                                                                               Sibichen K Mathew
Click comments section  below to read the comments

Click the links below to read articles in cyber diary on related topics. Comments are welcome. 

My son! Don't watch the news


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...