Saturday, December 23, 2006

A vacation journey
As Christmas has been nearing, I wanted to be in Cochin to complete some of my works pending. It has been one week in Chennai. I looked at the Indian Railway site for tickets. There is no ticket in any of the trains going to Kerala for next couple of weeks. Then I spent an afternoon searching for the private buses (illegally run) for tickets. They said the same story as in the railway website. Then I tried any ticket to Coimbatore instead to Cochin directly. No way I could expect a ticket. Then I tried with Tamil Nadu state transport. Finally I had to end up with a ticket to Salem in TN state bus. The reasons for the rush are; Holidays and Sabarimala piligirimage. I wondered how much money is pouring into this God's own country from Tamil Nadu only at this fag end of the year. If the former showed the vast contigent of Malayali emigrants in Tamil Nadu ( there are five trains running to Kerala every day including one special train these days), the latter showed how Kerala is ahead in Piligrim tourism.
Then my friends advised me not to go by TN transport buses as it may take more than ten hours from Chennai to Salem. Then I cancelled that precious ticket got ready to take chance in the unreserved compartments of Kovai express to Coimbatore. I went to Chrnnai central station one and half hour prior and interestingly got foreseat in the que. Again there was a rush for the unreserved compartment but luckily I got a birth sharing with a Police woman(she was taking two to produce them in court in Erode) and a business man ( who is on the way for an urgent meeting in Salem) for next seven hours. Again and again I am convinced what a diversity even in a small rail bogey.
Reaching Coimbatore, i went to Coimbatore KSRTC bus stand to get a ticket to Cochin. Thanks to the malayali students in Tamil nadu and Karnataka, I realised that, there is no point in waiting for a bus. I could not understand why do KSRTC keep the reservation to the last fifteen minutes only? Then what is the meaning of reservation? Then I gave Rs 250 to a private bus to complete my trip before night. These private buses again I found are not legaly permitted services. Since there is not enough number of people to bribe the officials and run the private buses taking risk, a few number of influential players makes the money at large. Who is affected? the passengers.......... If KSRTC is not in a position to operate more buses, why don't the Government allow private players to run it legally??
Why does it happen in this fashion everytime? In my last four years frequent travels in India, I have come across the similar situations many times.
I remember Milton Friedmaan writing in his book ' the choose to freedom' about the developmet stages of roads and rail links in US in mid fiftees. Every individual and business firm were given the permission to construct their own rail links and roads in US. Since many ventured into the business, high competition to attaract both business groups and mass to their in built infrastruture helped to reduced the cost of taking private roads. this is in parallel to the boom of low cost airlines and mobile phone industry in India. Now, Indian railway has started priviting the freight movement handled by the private players. I hope this is a beginning in a right direction. if the governement is not in a position to provide the necessary infrastructure( Rs 65, 000 crores is required for next five years), let the private players play a role like in telecom. Why don't we allow the private players to build national highways? Our dream national quadrilateral is progressing like an ostrich. Why? I think we have to think collectively.
By the end of 2007, when I am preparing for another journey, lets hope this arrogant experience is not repeated.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A hartal day


On the day of the hartal, I cannot resist working. Not because I want to oppose terhe Hartal but beacuse I have been given a deadline on the project that we are working on ' Justice V R Krishna Iyer - a living legend' documentary on Justice V R Krishna Iyer. The second editing has been going on. The editor and the director wanted my presence in the studio. Since I am leaving for Chennai next day, I have been asked to be present on the hartal day itself. I was deinite that even Justice Krishna Iyer - a member in the first communist ministry - would not oppose my move to work on that day. Whenever we met he emphasised the need for a work culture and the importance of hardwork
When I drove with the director, first i felt hartal has not much impact on that day. 20 km drive from my home to studio in the morning showed up a number of two wheelers in the road. Since th studio was in upsatirs, once we entered the studio we were not all disturned by the happenings outside. When we wished lunch on that day, we realised that it would be a head on task. No shops, no restaurants and not even a single tea shop. Then we searched the restaurant in the nearby railway station. There also, it was almost finished. luckly we got some food. again back to studio.
by the time we came out for an evening tea the main road was buzzling with cars and two wheelers. it seemed a normal city life except the public transport. it seemed everyone is enjoying the hoiday. The private vehicles criss crossed like any other day. By the time, when i reurned home late in the night, it seemed to be normal day.
Next day i reached chennai. When i asked about Hartal in Chennai, many asked what is it??? there was no such an impact.None had heard about Hartal on the previous day.
why Hartals are so success in Kerala? Is it beacuse mass in Kerala support the reasons of the hartal announced and they take hartal as a tool of protest? or is it because they are prevented to enter their workplace or forced to confine to their homes? Or Malayaliees are holiday savvy??
My preposition on this account is that Trade unions have become the monpoly in Kerala. there is no option for employees to look for alternatives. Those unions who raise their voice against monopoly and exploitation bacame the vanguard of the same

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Kerala - a state of pardox

Why crimes and harassment against women are so high in our state? I wonder our society is so closed. Out of 30 million population, 2.5 million are gulf emigrants. There is a huge Diaspora of malayalees in Europe, Africa and America. Lastly, within India we can call an influential NRK (Non Resident Keralites) population across the country. So the number of families got separated are in millions. At the same time, Socio Cultural Revolution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries appeared to have worked on the malayali mindset to a model moral place. The struggle against feudalism and social inequality succeeded very much but the resent on the upper class still runs trough the malayalees still???? The latter part of the 20th century, Kerala witnessed the emergence of middle class which identified with the upper class or the separation between the two is very narrow, so the struggle continues against the middle class. Don’t you think these factors play an important role while you discuss harassment? Where is the root of the problem???

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What a state is it?


Kerala, the land with ravishing beauty and unparallel resources boasts of hundred percentage literacy. For the last two decades, the annual inflow income money is more than 700 crores which equaled the one of the highest net inflow in the pre globalization time. We have an enrolment of 85% of students in the primary level and our health indices are comparable to the developed countries. Distribution of health is very much in this state in terms of mansions, bungalows and multi storied buildings puffed with Italian marbles and granites. This is the first state where the first communist government came into the power through ballot. We have seen Naxalism and emergency at various degress compared to other parts of the country. We sent our sisters and brothers to toil in the deserts because we were reluctant to submit the failure of our policies. The communal organizations caught the imagination of the majority of the people even while they preached Marx’s famous quotes. We were forefront of the abolition of the communal frenzy and land lords but feudalism still runs through our veins. This state is unparallel in terms of number of suicides, divorce rates, crimes, road accidents etc……… what a paradox is this? Is it God’s own country?
Evaluation time


This is the time to evaluate and analyze the contributions of all these governments in the last fifty years. Suppose one come out with an Index positioning the performance and contribution of each government since 57 and on the other side the contribution of different sects of Kerala society and then compare both. What will be the outcome? There are decisions and legislations which had a direct as well as indirect impact on the development of the state. Usually they say land reforms, education bill, golden period between 71 to 75 etc. Again, evaluate the outcome of these reforms. From 1805 onwards, Kerala has been one of the main centre’s of education. Christian missionaries started schools while in Malabar; it is the local administration initiated the proceedings. Trend is continued ven today even though the regulations and legislations on education sector over the time influenced the sector. This is clearly explained in the paper A review of 1957 Education Bill. What is the outcome of the agriculture reforms? Today we hear about suicides and poverty in agri sector. A reform bill which was passed in 1971 should have achieved the goal by this time. But the story is different!!! Were the agri reforms in the anticipated lines? In 119 PSUs in Kerala, the net profit is averaged to 5 to 10 crores where is the total investment is more than 20,000 crores. So everything is in doldrums. Then, who saved the state? Politicians or bureaucrats or World Bank or ADB or our own exploring society?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Islamic Terrorism - a facy word to politicking


This is a comment to the article on ‘
Pakistani terrorism faces manpower crunch; starts new strategy

I denounce the phrase Islamic terrorism. Any reader of this article who happened to be an Islam by birth cannot be mollified by any other pleasing gimmicks by the Government of the day to retain their vote bank when elections are around. How come terrorism can be attributed to one and only single group/ community in this world? LTTE is not an Islamic force nor is Northern Ireland group. In India, there are many small and big organizations that do not have any link with Islam but having pronounced allegiance to Hindu and Christian groups terrorize the state. Then, why Islam only?

There is an increased identification of all the actions of any society or an individual with any of the religion in the recent times. There is a concerted effort also from some quarters to visualize the developments along the restricted and confined bogey of religious fundamentalism. Walking along the streets of Cochin, I wonder why there is an increase in number of women wearing a veil in the last couple of years. Is it because the generation is back into strict edicts of religious texts or because of the reinvigoration religious practices in an insecure world?
The world is becoming more and more open minded and small in terms of connectivity and communication. One should not disparage any other sect or a religion just because one or a small group has committed any wrongs.

How can we say that if 100 odd people terrorize this country, the entire blame should fall on the entire population even at the international standards (100/1000000000 = 0.0000001 or .00001%). If this is the case, then USA is more terrorized as it counts for 1/210 countries in this world = 0.476%. And finally, as a responsible youth, I feel it is my duty to protect and protest but not on terrorist means.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Who won the Election?
Another round of elections, whether it is General Elections or By polls, Kerala spends a lot of time watching the Political theatre set for the idiotic warm up games. There is no permanent enemy in Politics; this statement may not have been verified with such an authenticity and vilification nowhere else than in Kerala. This is such a deeply disoriented society in a hyper political atmosphere. Alas, the hope is not lost. The margin of the victory of the present ruling party candidate indicates that voters of Kerala (or at least those in Thiruvambadi) are looking for alternatives and they are highly disappointed with both the political forces in Kerala. They do not find any difference among the political forces in Kerala. In an election where 84% o the voters cast their franchise, the margin of the victory (246 votes) champions the democratic principles enshrined in the constitution but it also reflects the mood of electorate.

Is there any vision statement on the future of this state from any quarters of this political jamboree? Is there any political wisdom on the part of the political leaders formulating the policies concerned to the state? Where should Kerala stand in Education and Health after ten years? What are our priorities with regard to roads and infrastructure? What will be the shape of the Kerala economy after ten years? What are the chances of the upcoming generation?

Are we heading for a dooms day?

Can any of these political party leaders answer these questions with confidence and fluency? Can they dare to speak on the development without touching any political misconstrues? The challenge lies ahead. But who will bell the cat?

Is there any avenue where the politics has not encroached into in Kerala? What is the contribution of these political forces towards over all development of Kerala society in all these years? This is time for social auditing. Is it the Gulf emigrants who contributed more to the overall improvement of the state in the last two decades? Can any political party enlist their achievements and contributions to the general public and be ready for a debate? We don’t want answers in paragraphs but convincing one liner.

Another election may come. Another candidate will win. But how long can this circus be continued?

Now, you tell who won the election in Thiruvambad

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Frame Guidelines on Advt involving poiticians

New Delhi: The supreme court on Friday directed the government to lay the guidelines for regulating the expenditure by its various departments on advertisements glorifying political leaders at the cost of tax payers’ money. A bench comprising Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal and Justices C K Thakker and R V Raveendran said if the government did not come out with any decision on the issue by December, the court will then proceed to frame some guidelines and listed the matter for further hearing in first week of January. The order to this effect was passed after additional solicitor general (ASG) Amrender Sharan said the information and broadcasting ministry, which is the nodal agency, has convened a meeting of all departments and states in the first week of December to discuss the matter at length. The meeting will be held under the chairmanship of the ministry’s secretary, the ASG said. The bench, which wanted the matter to be considered by the government on priority basis, observed “lakhs and lakhs of rupees are spent on such advertisements and there has to be some regulations and guidelines.” The court, while issuing notices on July 28 to the Centre, states and Union territories, had disapproved of advertisements with political content issued by government departments. The order was passed on a PIL filed by Advocate Manzoor Ali Khan alleging that by spending tax payers’ money for private and personal benefit, “the Centre and its instrumentalities have committed not only breach of trust but it also amounts to misappropriation of public money”. The court, during the last hearing, had sought to know if the finance ministry had any regulations to check such expenditure by government departments on issuing advertisements in newspapers on birth and death anniversaries of political leaders. The court had said there was a need for introspection on the issue and had cited the example of developed nations where such activities were sponsored by political parties themselves. TNN AND AGENCIES CASH COURSE The apex court warned the govt that if it did not come out with any decision on the issue by December, the court will then proceed to frame some guidelines The bench observed ‘lakhs and lakhs of rupees are spent on such advertisements and there has to be some regulations and guidelines’ Information and broadcasting ministry, which is the nodal agency, has convened a meeting of all departments and states in the first week of December to discuss the matter at length

Monday, September 11, 2006

Scrap the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
Bibek Debroy / New Delhi September 04, 2006
After talking of the need for accountability, the Draft Approach Paper ignores this. Let me begin with a quote from the Draft Approach Paper to the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12). “The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and National Rural Health Mission are ambitious programmes for providing primary education and primary health services universally. All these programmes are meant to give a new deal to rural India.” In subsequent sections, the Draft mentions the 2 per cent education cess imposed in 2004-05, “earmarked for the SSA which aims at useful and relevant elementary education to all children in the age group 6-14 by 2010.” Whether the cess was earmarked for elementary education is a moot point, but the Planning Commission presumably knows best. We are told that “near 100 per cent” enrolment of 6-14 year olds is likely to be achieved by the end of the 10th Plan (2007), but that the dropout rate in primary schools is 31 per cent (2003-04). So retention is still a problem and this is linked to issues like decentralisation of management in schools, lack of physical infrastructure, need to work, inadequate quality and quantity of teachers and so on. Finally, there is the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) and “school health programmes should be revived and converged with MDMS and MDMS itself merged with the SSA.” Notwithstanding some sentences about providing parents choice between public and private schools, the message thus is that the SSA and MDMS are the answer. They will give us the new deal for education. The SSA has been functional since January 2001. We now have a performance audit of the SSA by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for the year ended March 2005 and this was presented to Parliament on August 18 this year. Does the CAG has as optimistic a view of the SSA as the Planning Commission? Evidently not. “The objective of the SSA was to enroll all out-of -school children in school, education guarantee centres, alternate schools and back-to-school camps by 2003. The date was revised to 2005 only in March 2005. However, out of 3.40 crore children (as on April 1, 2001), 1.36 crore (40 per cent) children in the age group of 6-14 years remained out of school as on March 2005, four years after the implementation of the scheme and after having incurred an expenditure of Rs 11,133.57 crore.” That’s not very complimentary, is it? As the Approach Paper itself acknowledges, there is a difference between enrollment and retention. Himachal, Kerala, Goa and Mizoram don’t represent all of India. There is Jharkhand, Bihar and Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, there is a policy question. Has enrolment increased because of the SSA or because of the proliferation of private sector initiatives? On the SSA’s expenditure, the CAG adds, “The budget calendar for financial management and procurement has not been implemented by the Ministry which resulted in delay in finalisation of the Annual Work Plan and Budget (AWP&B) of the states and release of grants. The budget allocation and release of grants to the State Implementing Societies were below the amounts required as per their AWP&B. The budget estimates/revised estimates were far less than the outlay approved by the Department of Elementary Education and Literacy.” Project Approval Board (PAB) meetings weren’t held on time and that led to delayed release of funds by the ministry/states. Fund flows to districts, blocks and villages were affected. Funds released by ministry/states were less than outlays approved by the PAB. Revised budget estimates were only 43 to 57 per cent of approved budget estimates (2001-02 to 2004-05). From outlays approved by the PAB, fund releases varied between 4.02 per cent in Daman and Diu and 85 per cent in Tripura. There is more. “Funds were irregularly diverted to activities/schemes, which were beyond the scope of SSA. In the districts test checked by audit in 11 States, Rs 99.88 crore was spent on items not permitted under SSA. Besides, in 14 states/union territories, financial irregularities of Rs 472.51 crore were also noticed.” At one level, public resources are fungible. But ignoring that, Gujarat used the money to meet the expenditure of bhoomipujan of Gujarat Council of Education Research and Training Centre, Gandhinagar. Madhya Pradesh used the money for Raja Ram Mohan Roy foundations. Meghalaya used the money for salaries of teachers, teachers who had nothing to do with the SSA. West Bengal used the money for purchasing computers, ACs, typewriters, photocopiers, fax machines, mobile phones and repairing bungalows. “In two districts of Jharkhand, school grant of Rs 47.88 lakh was released to 2,369 schools, which were non-existent.” This is in addition to the problem of physical targets of the SSA not being met. But the government will tell us, these are implementing and monitoring problems. The SSA is an inherently good scheme, like all government expenditure schemes are, and all one has to do is to tighten it up. Except that the CAG report also tells us, “In cases where some monitoring was undertaken, monitoring reports were either not submitted or not analysed and follow-up action was not initiated.” Makes you wonder about outlay/outcome/output and about a sentence plugged into the Approach Paper and thereafter ignored. “A powerful method of enforcing accountability is to enable parents to choose the schools where they will send their children.” Stated more explicitly, scrap the SSA in its present form.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Stalling Parliament costs taxpayers Rs 20,000 a minute

George Iype
August 09, 2006India loses nearly Rs 20,000 (about $400) every minute when politicians stall proceedings in Parliament.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The best way forward is to put the force of competition to use in the labour market.
by Subir Gokarn

A set of proposals was jointly submitted to the government by Assocham and the CII last week, suggesting a series of initiatives to be taken by the business to increase economic opportunities for members of the scheduled castes and tribes. The proposals essentially involve interventions at all levels of the education system by way of setting up of coaching centres for preparation for admission to and endowment of scholarships at premier institutions. They also visualise mentoring programmes for the development of entrepreneurs from these communities.

These initiatives are all based on voluntary action by members of the two associations and compliance would be entirely self-regulatory. The associations propose a code of conduct, which would guide their members’ actions, reinforced by the regular disclosure by companies on their individual contributions.

The submission was, not surprisingly, categorical in its rejection of legally mandated job reservations in the private sector. A reaction to this by many people was that these proposals are a “too little, too late” reaction to the threat of mandatory quotas hanging over their heads. If this is all it takes to solve the problem, went the argument, why weren’t such initiatives taken sooner and voluntarily? Well, as any observer of reform processes would appreciate, positive change usually takes place when a crisis is imminent.

But, that is neither here nor there. Nobody would argue that these proposals are meant to be a solution to a problem that public policy has been unable to solve for six decades. It would be rather naïve to expect private solutions to address a problem of macroeconomic dimensions. The debate on this issue over the last few months has achieved at least two things.

One, it has focused attention on the scale of the problem, not just with respect to scheduled castes and tribes but other large segments of the workforce. Two, it has emphasised the fact that the constraints to change are complex enough to require the use of multiple instruments, exercised by both the government, through appropriate policy changes, and the private sector, through initiatives such as the ones proposed.

Whether these are sufficient or more is required is a question that cannot be answered in isolation. The respective roles and contribution of the public and private sectors have to be viewed from the perspective of inter-dependence and complementarity.

At the core of this complementarity is the labour market. Fifteen years after the reforms began, the benefits that reasonably well-regulated markets can bring are surely beyond question. The transition from public or licensed private monopolies to competitive supply has resulted in greater availability accompanied by lower prices in a whole range of sectors. Presumably, consumers of these products and services are better off than before, while efficient producers can earn reasonable profits even in such competitive situations. Why can’t the logic, as well as the experience, of product markets translate into sensible labour market policy, which should generate comparable outcomes in terms of larger volumes (employment) and benefits to “consumers” (employers) with reasonable returns to suppliers (workers)?

What does a competitive labour market mean? The most critical characteristic of competitive markets is the ease with which both consumers and producers can enter or exit. As cold as it may sound, this is best described by the term “hire and fire”. When job security regulations exist, an asymmetry is introduced between employers and workers. A worker is free to exit from a job, while an employer is not free to exit from his contract with a worker. This one distortion completely undermines the ability of the market to generate the positive outcomes listed above.

Restricting the freedom to exit significantly raises the cost of a worker as far as the employer is concerned. He has to continue to pay wages even when the worker is not contributing to revenues, for example, when the business faces recessionary conditions. The effective cost of a worker, therefore, is elevated significantly above his “wage”; the more turbulent the business environment, the larger this premium becomes.

The post-reform experience with employment can be viewed in this context. According to the data published by the ministry of labour, the private organised sector, in which job security regulations apply most stringently, saw its employment levels peak in 1998, with a persistent decline thereafter. Employment growth since the reforms has taken place predominantly in various service sectors, which are substantially exempt from job security regulations. A third fact, which is at the heart of the reservations debate, is that government and public sector employment has also been declining after attaining a peak in 1997.

The public sector, broadly speaking, was the vehicle of affirmative action in this country. Until 1990, reservations were the exclusive preserve of the scheduled castes and tribes, quotas for whom were enshrined in the Constitution. After that, the entitlement was extended to Other Backward Castes. However, in the years that followed, fiscal compulsions, the streamlining of government activities, and decline in investments by public enterprises led to fewer jobs being created in this sector, eventually resulting in net attrition since 1997. Quotas being applied on a smaller base obviously meant fewer job opportunities and, consequently, rising discontent.

It is tempting to look for a quick expansion of the base, to which reservations can be applied as a way of expanding employment opportunities for members of the target groups. But, as we have seen, the private sector is an entirely different kettle of fish; any restriction imposed on its conditions of employment tends to reduce its willingness to hire instead of increasing it. In effect, reservation will have an impact similar to job security regulations in raising the effective cost of each worker hired by hindering exit. The government could earlier afford to hire workers without considering their impact on the bottom line. Neither it nor the private sector can afford to do this today.

Under these circumstances, the best way forward is to put the force of competition to use in the labour market, just as we have so successfully done in the product and service markets. It is in this context that the associations’ proposals have to be viewed. Training, coaching, mentoring and other such initiatives are all useful ways of helping people exploit the opportunities that the marketplace creates—complements to the market mechanism. They are not substitute ways of creating those opportunities. This is one buck that the government just cannot pass on to the private sector.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Growing demand prompts B`lore to promote dual use of water
Aravind Gowda

With the population of Bangalore crossing the 7-million mark and the demand for water reaching 1.2 billion litres per day (BLD), the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has proposed the dual use of water – laying separate pipelines for supplying drinking water and recycling water for non-drinking purposes.

Initially, the focus will be on industries. At present, BWSSB supplies recycled water containing ‘biological oxygen demand’(BOD) between 20 per cent and 30 per cent (considered fit for washing, gardening and industrial purposes) to major industries around the city.

Similarly, it has worked out a plan with the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) for laying separate pipelines to supply both drinking and recycled water under the dual water supply policy in new residential townships like Visvesvaraya Layout and Arkavathy Layout.

“Owing to the rapid expansion of the city, especially on the outskirts, the demand for water has risen to 1.2 BLD as against the available 930 million litres per day (MLD). Demand is likely to go up to 2.2 BLD by 2025. We have no option other than to promote the dual use of water. Bangalore is the first city in the country to undertake such an exercise,” BWSSB chief engineer T Venkataraju stated.

BWSSB has been forced to opt for the dual water policy as it has exhausted all available sources of drinking water. At present, it draws water from Tippagondanahalli reservoir (148 MLD) and Cauvery river (810 MLD). The Cauvery river cannot meet the requirements of the growing city. This has forced BWSSB to restrict domestic water supply to alternate days.

The water shortage is aggravated by a huge share of water going unaccounted – as high as 38 per cent – due to illegal tapping and leakage. Therefore, the actual supply of water to consumers is approximately 530 MLD.

In addition, the ground water draft (through borewell and open wells) in the city is estimated at 750 MLD. Despite many plans and attempts, BWSSB has been unable to reduce the share of unaccounted water, especially due to political pressure.

BWSSB’s installed capacity to produce recycled water now stands at 70 MLD. By next year, it will increase to 245 MLD after the completion of work on tertiary treatment plants at various locations across the city. The potential to produce recycled water is approximately 800 MLD.

“This being the case, we will shortly launch a campaign to popularise use of recycled water among major industries. The Karnataka government is also trying to convince manufacturing and textile industries to opt for recycled water. In the next phase (starting date of which has not been decided), existing residential consumers will be targeted,” Venkataraju pointed out.

At present, BWSSB supplies recycled water to the Bangalore International Airport project (4 MLD), Bharat Electronics Ltd (1 MLD), Aravind Mills (0.5 MLD), Border Security Force and defence establishments (2 MLD). Recently, BWSSB won a contract to supply recycled water (48 MLD) to the upcoming power plant at Bidadi.

In the US and Australia lilac-coloured taps labelled ‘not for drinking’ are used for recycled water. “Under the dual water policy, separate meters will be provided for the recycled water supply. Nearly 60 per cent of water used in homes can come from this source,” Venkataraju explained.
10 things I hate about India
by Claude Arpi

1. Power cuts: While typing this article, the electricity board cut off the power supply. The reason -- a storm last night which lasted for 15 to 20 minutes. 'As a precautionary measure' the officials very compassionately disconnected vast areas from the network in the night and the following morning.
Being in rural Tamil Nadu, these officials want to protect us from broken wires due to fallen trees (it could electrocute passersby, they say). While I appreciate their reasoning, I was surprised to see that during the cyclonic rains in New Orleans last year, though thousands perished, electricity was not switched off. Indian officials will tell you that the US is a rich and developed country, not comparable to India. Where is the connection?
2. Indian babus: One could write volumes on the famous babus of India. They run one of the largest bureaucracies in the world, but have not been able to change their mindset.
A particularly bothersome aspect is that their laws often come from antiquated rules and regulations that nobody knows of. The consequence is what we call red-tapism, though for them it is 'implementing the letter, the law of the land'. But what about its spirit? In any case, the law has always to 'follow its own course'.
A few years ago, a diligent minister found hundreds such laws and regulations dating back to the British. In the era of modern technology and communications, this is preposterous.
Another aspect that irritates me about the bureaucracy is that babus never respond to letters. Probably they consider themselves to be the government's servants, not 'civil' servants and therefore find no need to reply to ordinary citizens.
3. No access to historical documents: Though a better understanding of the history of the subcontinent could be one of the keys to disentangle difficult problems such as the Kashmir issue, today nobody can access primary sources. They are locked away in the vaults of the Nehru Memorial Library or the almirahs of South Block.
All those who have tried to access historical documents since India's independence will tell you that till the end of babudom, one bureaucrat or another will ensure that you do not access the dusty files. Without fail, you will be courteously informed that India's security and integrity will be endangered if these precious documents are opened to the public. It is sad that Indians are not entitled to study their past (though they can always visit archives in the West to know more about India!)
4. Discrimination against the white tourist: Something particularly irritating for a 'white man' is that wherever he goes in India, he has to pay a special rate. Whether he visits the Taj Mahal where the 'white' tourist has to cough up Rs 750 to see the mausoleum, or a national museum, or even hotels or airlines, there is a true racial discrimination.
Rates are often ten times higher for those who have a 'white' or 'yellow' (Japanese) skin. Those who have made these rules do not understand that this policy harms India's image.
The desire to make a quick buck from the so-called rich tourists leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the visitors who in any case would have spent their budget during the stay in India. To my knowledge, India must be the only nation in the world implementing these separate rates.
5. Paranoia about maps: Another strange thing in India is the paranoia about maps. Several years ago I visited the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh. One day I was invited to the office of a local tahsildar. To my astonishment, the poor babu did not have a map of the area under his jurisdiction. He only had a vague sketch of the district. When I expressed surprise, he explained that maps were 'classified' and only the army was authorised to use them.
Is it not foolish to believe that the Chinese do not possess detailed maps of Arunachal? And what about Google Earth which is now available the world over?
One can only be surprised by this 'official' paranoia about maps. India is today a great power; technological advancements have occurred in the world during the past decades and will undoubtedly continue to occur and India has no choice but to accept them and make the best use of them.
A year ago, the Union Cabinet approved a new National Map Policy, but unfortunately, the mindset of the implementers remains the same.
6. And photographs: The paranoia is not about maps alone, it extends to photos, particularly of the sites under the Archeological Survey of India. A friend told me of her nightmarish experience while doing research in Chennai and the number of forms she had to fill to take some photos in a museum. Though one pays in hard currency, one has still to justify why one needs a particular photo. The poor researcher is looked upon as someone trying to 'steal' the national patrimony.
In contrast, a few weeks earlier, I visited the Louvre museum in Paris which receives tens of thousands of visitors every day. All of them were happily clicking away at statues, paintings, art artefacts (it is only prohibited to photograph the Mona Lisa for security reasons) and amongst them, a great number of Indians, perhaps the most frenetic clickers. This is understandable, as they have to compensate for their frustration at home!
A French television crew told me about their adventure while trying to shoot in a fort once occupied by Rajaji (C Rajagopalachari). Before leaving Paris, they had planned a short sequence at the fort. They dutifully applied to the Indian embassy for permission. After paying a hefty Rs 5,000 they were given a stamped and signed permission. When they arrived on the spot, the local official told them: "No way, as your permission does specifically mention it, you are not authorised to shoot with a stand. You have to go to Chennai (150 km away) and get the permission duly modified. No problem, it will take you a day only!" They left disgusted, the fort will not appear in their film.
7. Politicians: The topic of politicians is an easy one. Everything appalling and more can be said of them and one will still remain below the truth. In their defense, they are part of a system which is uniquely based on votes.
To win votes, one needs money and all compromises are permissible to get the required funds 'to serve the people'. It is true the world over, but here like in many other domains India excels.
8. Neglect for the environment: Another frustrating aspect for me is the lack of care for the environment (though it has been recently improving). While Indians are the most conscious people as far as personal hygiene goes, there is very little civic awareness or concern for the environment.
Education could help (for example for disposal of garbage or plastic bags), but it is often government policies such as free electricity for farmers, incentives for asbestos sheets (one of the most carcinogenic material) or chemical pesticides which harm the environment the most.
9. Traffic: I hate the Indian traffic (with its absence of rules). Each time I return from a visit abroad, it is a terrible shock. It is difficult to comprehend how there are not more casualties on the road. A friend explained to me that the multitude of gods in India probably protect their flock. The fact is that there are no law enforcement authorities (most of the police force is busy with VIP duty).
In France and elsewhere if the cops were not around, very few would follow the traffic rules. Extremely severe punishment for breaking traffic rules has a strong dissuasive effect. Here in India, you can always get away with a few rupees.
10. Corruption: It is better to not comment.
Please allow me to add a last point: the number of 'holidays' taken for a myriad of family 'problems', (marriages, engagements, funerals, etc.), cultural, local or religious festivals (of all faiths: India is secular), then you have bandhs, hartals, riots, strikes (India is the only place in the world where the government sometimes calls for a strike), etc... The worst are 'French leaves', absolutely unknown in France.
Apart from the above, India is an incredible place and I have never regretted, even for one day, to have settled here

Monday, June 19, 2006

Education Voucher - a policy statement

NCERT Director, Prof. Krishna Kumar, has resolutely rebuked the voucher system of funding education on several grounds. He claims that vouchers may in fact be ‘sold’ for cash by needy parents. Firstly, vouchers do not involve cash transactions. The parent in whose child’s name the voucher has been issued deposits the voucher in her school of choice. The school’s bank debits the government for that amount on admission of the child. Eleven countries, so far, have adopted the voucher system in some form or the other. Many of those vouchers have catered to populations with similar demographics as India. Countries, however, have not faced a problem where the poor sell their vouchers for cash. To tackle malpractices, one would have to evolve mechanisms and implement them in a way that makes the system foolproof. Secondly, poor parents in India are realising the importance of good education to life. They are willing to impinge on their meagre resources to provide education for their child. In the slums of Sangam Vihar, Delhi, parents are spending almost 40% of their earnings on education even when there are free government schools in the vicinity.

Vouchers are a means to funding education for the poor so that they can choose the education they want, whether it is private or government. They make good education accessible to the poor who have long been captive consumers of ‘free’ government education. It is undeniable that education is intended to prepare one for life’s complexities. But one must not forget that the poor, just as the rich, view education as a great economic leveller. In that, they intend to secure well paying jobs with their education. To deny them a competitive edge on a level playing field is as sacrilegious as ‘not preparing them for life’. We cannot deny the fact that the state has a duty to guarantee ‘good quality’ education. The government has been fulfilling its duty by building schools that provide ‘free’ education for the poor. On an average city governments spend close to Rs. 1000-1700/- per child per month on education. But the quality of that education is debatable. According to the ASER report, almost 60% of children in government schools in Std. V could neither solve simple division problems and 40% could not read level-2 paragraphs. By guaranteeing these children access to a better education outside government schools, the government is guaranteeing them social and economic justice and, an opportunity to rise above their economic limitations. That achieves more social justice than building more and more mediocre government schools.

In the current scenario, there are several impediments for opening schools. Which is why we have so few schools in India, approximately, 0.95 million. So, for vouchers to be a successful model, it is important to encourage new schools to be opened. Not just government but private. In a voucher system of funding, the funds directly go the students (the actual beneficiaries) and not to the schools. In such a system the government has a larger role to play to ensure that all schools (government and private) publish their performance reports and make it accessible to the public. By providing better information about school quality to parents, they will be enabled to make an informed choice. Independent agency evaluations of schools and the subsequent publishing of reports will, in the long run, also create accurate quality benchmarks for private schools thus making them more competitive to provide better services.

The voucher system is not intended to phase the government out of education completely but to enhance the quality of education that it guarantees.
source:Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Employment exchanges spend Rs 20 crore to fill 902 vacancies

Ila Patnaik
NEW DELHI, MAY 2:Amid May Day celebrations, here’s a wake-up call from the government’s employment exchanges. A recent report on these exchanges in Delhi shows that in the last five years, only 902 of the 5 lakh candidates who registered have got jobs through them. The 902 placements were made at a total cost of Rs 20 crore—in other words, each placement cost the government Rs 2.3 lakh.
The report on the State of Governance in Delhi, by the Centre for Civil Society, covers the 20 employment exchanges in Delhi from the period 2000 to 2004. The 250 government officials who work in these exchanges made 123 placements in 2000, followed by 48 in 2001. The number rose to 138 in 2002, but after a spike in 2003 to 426, placements fell to 167 in 2004. On an average, every staff member barely managed one placement a year.

The blame, of course, doesn’t lie with the staff. In an era where government enterprises manage their own recruitment work, there is little that comes the way of employment exchanges. The exchanges are not meant to cater to the private sector.

The Directorate of Employment that runs these exchanges was initially set up at the end of the Second World War, in July 1945, to resettle returning soldiers. They mainly tapped public sector undertakings.

But today the Staff Selection Commission, the Railways Recruitment Board, the Banking Service Commission and other recruiting agencies do the job for PSUs. Only stray cases of lower-level jobs are routed through these exchanges.

Plus, registration with these exchanges is no mean task. One has to have been a resident of Delhi for at least three years—the proof of residence can either be a ration card issued at least a year ago, or a name in the electoral list. In addition, a certificate of educational qualification from an institution in Delhi has to be provided.

The problem is not restricted to Delhi. According to the Annual Report of the Ministry of Labour, 2005-06, the Directorate of Employment runs 947 exchanges across the country, with a total staff strength of 2,527. The data on placements made by all exchanges is not easily available, but what is available is no different from Delhi’s.

For example, statistics from the Visakhapatnam District Employment Exchange show that in 2001, while there were 82,871 live registrations for technical and unskilled jobs, the number of vacancies was 246 and placements 67. In the clerical category, while the live register showed 1,51,933 candidates, the number of vacancies notified during 2001 were 112 and placements were 50.

Some would say it is a blessing then that the money budgeted for the Directorate of Employment—Rs 3,666 crore in the Tenth Plan—does not get spent entirely. In the Ninth Five Year Plan the Delhi government was able to spend only Rs 2 crore of the Rs 3.5 crore available.

Others point out that if Delhi spent an additional Rs 4 crore on building infrastructure every year instead, it would have more than the 200 jobs employment exchanges come up with.

But if experts are questioning the very need for such employment exchanges citing these figures, the government is intent on redefining their role to find more work for the staff and computerisation for better information flow. The Delhi government is even planning a new employment exchange building at Daryaganj, expected to cost Rs 265 lakh, apart from a Rs 250-lakh project to build a computerised system to help registration.

Monday, May 29, 2006


Parul Sharma

Government schools in India are host to a problem that afflicts public schools in several parts of the world today: poor teaching standards and consequent low academic performance coupled with high drop out rates. These trends in public schools stand in stark contrast to trends in private schools. Thus, going by the simplest indicator of academic performance, in 2004 the pass percentage of students in Delhi’s government schools in the Secondary Examination was 50% while that for private schools was 80%.

Teachers constitute the single largest group of educated and professionally qualified workers in India. Regular teachers are government employees with assured lifetime tenure, pension, medical and other welfare benefits. They are governed by strict entry and qualification norms (one to twelve years of general education and minimum two years of diploma or degree in education). Low teaching standards and accompanying problems prevail despite stringent certification requirements and competitive pay scales and welfare benefits. In contrast private schools outperform government schools even though teachers in private schools have, on an average, one fifth the salary of regular government teachers and are not mandated to have formal teaching certification.

In this context a recent study commissioned by the World Bank and conducted by economists at Harvard University called “Missing in Action: Teacher and Health Worker Absence in Developing Countries” has some interesting insights to offer. The study, based on a survey of 3,700 schools across 20 Indian states, concludes that government school teachers represent among the least motivated class of workers in India: they have an absence rate of 25% that is even higher than the absence rate of 10.5% among Indian factory workers who enjoy a great degree of job security owing to India’s rigid labour laws. This prevails on account of poor “daily incentives to work” chief among which are poor monitoring and sanction mechanisms in government schools.

These prevailing ground realities show that teacher performance is neither linked to teacher salary nor to traditional certification requirements. It is instead linked to strong and well functioning systems of accountability. The National Policy on Education, 1986 clearly stipulates laying down of norms of accountability with incentives for good performance and disincentives for non-performance among government school teachers. However, this is far from fact. In the prevailing system all regular school teachers move from one pay scale to the next after nine, eighteen and twenty seven years of “satisfactory service”. Further, what often passes off as supervision is mere collection of data on the enrolment and promotion of students by inspectors.
In response to the increasingly expensive system of maintaining regular teachers and ensuring universal access to elementary education governments in several Indian states have begun operating a parallel system of recruiting para-teachers and contract teachers. These teachers are appointed on a contract basis. They are paid about one sixth of the salary of a regular teacher and are not entitled to any welfare or pension benefits. They are not eligible for promotion and are appointed for a specific school. The system of para and contract teachers is widely viewed as a solution to overcoming the shortage of regular teachers since this category of teachers is not expected to meet the certification norms prescribed for regular teachers. Further, para and contract teachers are viewed as a solution to absenteeism and low accountability among regular teachers since their contract can be terminated at short notice.

Even as this system incorporates sanctions in the form of fixed tenures, the sanctions are not designed to promote higher teaching standards. Equally, the system lacks incentives to promote higher teaching standards. Not surprisingly, the World Bank study cited above concludes that even though the alternative institutional form of providing education through contract teachers is relatively cost efficient, these teachers perform no better than regular teachers.

Clearly, the need of the hour is to identify, retain and promote good quality teachers in government schools. Here, the propositions of America’s Hamilton Project in a paper entitled “Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job” are highly instructive. The fundamental premise of the paper is that a teacher’s performance during the first two years on the job is a far better predictor of long term teacher quality rather than the teacher qualifications at the point of entry into the profession. Therefore policymakers’ traditional approach of improving the quality of the teaching force by raising the certification requirements for entering teachers is flawed.
It therefore proposes that public schools should ignore the traditional system of teacher certification and simply hire teachers with good academic qualifications. Thus new teachers would still be required to have a four year undergraduate degree and demonstrate content knowledge (as in the prevailing American public school scenario) but they would no longer require to be certified. The teaching ability of teachers thus hired would be assessed after two years based on their impact on student achievement, subjective evaluations by principals and peers and parental evaluations. Further, those teachers who receive poor evaluations during their first two years on the job would not be offered permanent positions (tenure) without obtaining approval from the district school authorities. Finally those teachers who receive good evaluations and who work in schools where at least 75% of the students are from low income families would be given bonus pay. The paper recommends that to implement this proposed system of sanctions and incentives for teachers the government must budget for setting up systems for measuring the classroom effectiveness of teachers and for tracking student performance and teacher effectiveness over time.
The Hamilton Project has lessons for Indian education reform since prevailing ground realities vis-à-vis public school education in India correspond to those in America. Both the countries have an impending shortage of regular school teachers coupled with very low performance and sanctions among regular school teachers. Public school reform therefore requires a two-pronged approach. Firstly it requires that the barriers to entry into the teaching profession be removed by overhauling traditional certification requirements and making recruitment contingent on skill. Secondly, it requires instituting performance related sanctions for teachers by ensuring that those teachers who are least effective on the job lose their chances of getting permanent employment or a promotion and those who are most effective get bonuses.

Significantly, both the American and the Indian governments have erred in adhering to the conventional systems of teacher certification, recruitment and promotion in their most far reaching programs of school education reform. America’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act aims to improve the performance of American public schools by increasing the standards of accountability of school districts and schools and giving parents more flexibility in choosing schools for their children. It stipulates the “highly qualified teacher” requirement for all public schools. To be “highly qualified” under the NCLB Act a teacher must have a bachelor’s degree, be fully certified as defined by the concerned state department of education and be able to demonstrate subject area competence in any core subject taught. Likewise, the Indian government’s flagship program on universalizing elementary education, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan provides funds for improving the quality of ongoing in-service training of teachers but does not propose any changes to the existing system of teacher recruitment and promotion.

The Hamilton Project offers valuable and workable lessons in education reform not only for the United States but equally for India. To secure a future for India’s government schools its proposals merit more than a passing glance among policymakers.

The author is a research assistant with Centre for Civil Society

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

OBC Reservations: An IIT Faculty Member's View
Prof. M. Balakrishnan, IIT Delhi
Nearly six decades after independence, this country is planning to announce that majority of its population is backward and does not have equal opportunity to pursue education and employment. Along with this, it is going to open up a Pandora's Box by various caste groups to be classified as "backward". What an interesting way to begin the 21st century when finally India was beginning to emerge as a serious player in the new knowledge economy! The major carrot that is being doled out is the seats in the elite medical, engineering and management Institutes. What bothers me is no one is interested in even consulting the people who have built these Institutions and brought them to this stature. I have strong views on efficacy of reservations in general but here I would confine myself to the issues concerning IITs. At least here with my three decade long association, I can claim to know something. Many of these arguments may be applicable to the other elite Institutions in medical and management disciplines as well.Today IITs are considered excellent educational institutions. There is a countrywide scramble to get into these with many students spending the best part of their teen years in preparing for its entrance examinations. This should not be confused with ranking of universities where just a couple of IITs make it in the top 500. These rankings deal primarily with the research output and not with the quality of undergraduate education. I can confidently say that any ranking of quality of undergraduate engineers produced would put IITs in the top 20 worldwide if not in the top 10. And it is this achievement that is going to be hard to maintain with the proposed reservations policy. Before we go any further, it would be best to examine how this excellence has been achieved.The fundamental contribution that the Central Government has made to these institutions is in generous funding (by Indian, not global standards) combined with unmatched autonomy. The main point of engagement between the Government and these Institutions has been through the appointment of Directors. Except for a brief period during the last administration, the Governments had refrained from any major politicking in these appointments. They have by and large appointed the best available applicant Professor from the same or another IIT for the job. These venerable people had themselves a great pride in these Institutions and have ran the Institutes with the best of their abilities (maybe not always efficiently but always fairly) without major vested interest. For someone outside IITs to understand the power of this position is not easy. The Director virtually appoints the complete senior administration including the deputy directors and deans, chairs all the faculty selections including that for the Professors, is the chairman of the senate and thus the academic head, is the financial head and also the administrative head. For most people living in the campus, which includes 90% of faculty and students, he is also the chairman of the local municipality (all major complaints on water, electricity, sewage etc. would reach him). This ensures that the buck almost always stops with him and thus decision making is unavoidable. This autonomy that has been the hallmark of these institutions is being eroded. There were attempts in the last Government (fortunately not vigorously pursued) to tell IITs what to teach. The present decision would strike at the fundamentals of IITs as the Government no longer feels whom to teach and how many to teach is best decided by these Institutions themselves. This in my opinion is the most dangerous fallout as it strikes at the very core of the success of these Institutions. Once the lines of control gets blurred, there would be no stopping, as today's political functioning is clearly not dictated by long term vision. Soon we could have reservations in faculty and create a caste based patronage system which has destroyed many of the once excellent state universities. In IITs, the faculty selected and promoted solely based on merit has maintained a high standard of ethical behavior, have taken their teaching and research seriously, refrained from politicking themselves and supported the Institute in many ways to fulfill its commitments. Who are these faculty members? A large number are our own alumni (undergraduates as well as postgraduates), majority of them have studied or conducted research in the west and almost all of them have had opportunities of pursuing financially much more lucrative careers in India and abroad. Thus each faculty member is here by choice and he/she has exercised that choice with one major attraction - opportunity to teach, interact and work with extremely bright students perhaps unmatched anywhere. It is this attraction that is being tampered with. In a situation where all IITs are short of faculty and desperately trying to innovate to attract faculty under the constraints of the pay commission dictated salaries (while competing with Sensex based salaries), this is not a pleasant development.IITs have had reservations for SC/STs for decades. Why would this be different? Aren't these students likely to be better prepared than the students admitted under the existing reserved category? Here I would like to share some of the facts with the readers. IITs have been admitting SC/ST students for years under two modes. From the general category, a significantly lower JEE cutoff is decided and reserved category students scoring above this cutoff are admitted directly to the UG programmes. Another still lower cutoff is decided and reserved category students from this set are admitted to a one year preparatory course conducted by IITs themselves. After passing this course, they can join the programmes without having to appear in JEE again. Even this exercise collectively yields less than 15% in IIT Delhi though the quota amounts to nearly 22.5%. Half of the reserved category students manage to clear courses comfortably while the other half struggle on the margins. What would be called a good performance (cumulative grade point average or CGPA of 8 and above) and is achieved by nearly forty percent of general category students, is rare and occurs once in many years among the reserved category students. It is not that all general category students do well. There is nearly a 5% "dropout" rate even among them which is a cause of concern but mainly attributed to the burnout due to JEE preparation phase. The "dropout" students have no effect on teaching as they neither are regular nor make their presence felt in classes. The remaining part of weak students is too small and at present hardly any instructor would pitch his / her course at that level. On the other hand, the present policy may introduce a large band of weak students which no instructor can ignore. This would definitely result in drop in the quality of education. It is the hypocrisy of the highest order that on one hand the reservation for SC/STs is considered a success and quoted for extension to OBCs, and on the other hand, no hard data on the performance of these students is available in the public domain. Some administrators I talked to consider this data as sensitive! Analysis of where the reserved category students go after graduation would be enlightening. I do not have the sensitive data but my experience shows that most of them either go to services like IAS/IES or to the public sector companies. Normally this choice of careers by IIT graduates should be a matter of satisfaction except that both these entries are again using the reservation quota. Is it empowerment or crutches for life?In this whole episode, the most stunning news for me was when the Hon'ble minister announced increase in intake to compensate for the reservations. This would amount to nearly 56% overall increase in undergraduate intake in the IITs. This showed complete ignorance of what makes IIT undergraduate education tick. There are few Institutions in the world where undergraduate students get to interact one to one and so freely with such high-caliber faculty. Students are advised on courses in small groups, interact over hostel dinners, go on industrial trips and finally carry out a well supervised project. Every undergraduate student does an intensive "novel" project either individually or in groups of two and he/she is effectively "supervised" by a faculty member. Many of them result in publications. This system evolved when the student-faculty ratio was 6:1 and is getting strained at the seams when it has reached 12:1. In some disciplines like Computer Sciences and Electrical Engineering where market competition is heavy, it has already gone to 20:1 and above. Though currently producing excellent results, it is a highly non-scalable mechanism. Intake increase on this scale, when effectively faculty strengths in key areas are decreasing could sound a death-knell to one of our few international brand names. I have a poser for Prof. Jayati Ghosh, my well renowned colleague from JNU and a member of the knowledge commission. She has justified reservations in IITs based on the poor ranking of IITs internationally. Her argument is anyway these Institutions are not great, why they should crib about the quality of intake. She nowhere states that any of the 400+ odd Institutions worldwide which are ranked above IITs have achieved their status through reservations. In that case all Tamil Nadu Engineering Colleges with 69% reservation for decades (openly defying the Supreme Court suggested norm of 50%) now should be at the top. Postscript: Finally, I would like to seek opinion on the composition of our next Olympics team. We have admittedly done much poorer in sports than education. Should our next Olympics team be chosen on caste basis or perhaps with adequate representation to athletes aged 40+ who are at present completely unrepresented? After all we do not have much to lose as we only win one bronze medal in alternate Olympics. I would no longer be surprised if some future Sports Minister considers caste based quotas for our national cricket team. After all that would be worth a few votes and the nation would have been well prepared by then to cheer only for its own caste brethren!
The author is a Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at IIT Delhi. He has been with IIT Delhi since 1977 except for a three year stint outside India. Currently he is on Sabbatical and working with a startup. The views represented here are completely his own. M. Balakrishnan (, Taxila ApartmentsIIT Delhi Campus, New Delhi - 110016

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Delhi High Court has banned private schools from holding interviews to their nursery classes. But in an attempt to laud this decision that saves parents the stress of admissions, we ought not to overlook the larger picture. There is a dearth of schools in this country. According to most private schools, the fairest attempt to cap the multitude of applicants is to test their merit, talent, intelligence, presence of mind, etc. One may argue that judging young children on the basis of these skills is probably not as just as it seems. After all, the economic and social conditions of the family do play an important role in moulding those qualities at a young age. While banning interviews may equalize access to good education for all children in the interim, it does not stand as a long term solution to the problem.

The problem, here, is the lack of good schools. The solution to that problem would be to assuage the mound of laws and rules restraining new schools to be set up. The Delhi government’s roll back of the Essentiality Certificate gives some relief to the problem. However, an important factor limiting supply of schools is the legal condition that it cannot be a ‘for-profit’ enterprise. It may not be judicious to depend on altruism to educate a country where more than half the population stands illiterate. The resultant fallout of that law is that individuals who want to set up schools are not deemed solvent for access to credit or loans. Since only school conglomerates and, trusts with sound financial backing have the monetary capacity to bear the costs of setting up and administering a school, we have a few good schools catering to the demands of an ever increasing population of young children. While removing the ‘not-for-profit’ clause allows access to credit and venture capital for smaller but committed education entrepreneurs, it also brings to book the revenues of schools which, hitherto, may have been cloaked under a sundry cost head.

With the opening up of the education sector, the ensuing competition will create new opportunities for schools, innovations in pedagogy and better the quality of education at large. It will make good education affordable. We only have to look at our airlines and telecom industry to witness the impacts of such liberalisation and relaxation of norms. However, until such bold but significant makeovers are acted upon by governments, mere bans will only scratch the surface of the problem.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Ticket to a Better Education: Philippines Education Voucher Scheme

Philippines public schools have been riddled with high teacher-pupil ratios and poor infrastructure facilities. In spite of having the advantage of an English speaking population and an enviable literacy rate of about 93 per cent, they have been slower in building their knowledge economy status as compared to their Asian counterparts. This is largely attributed to the depreciating quality of public school education in Philippines. In the recent years to address the demand for good quality education, the supply of private education has increased. While public school education is free, private elementary and high school education in the Philippines can cost anywhere between 2000 to 5000 pesos per year. A large number of Filipino children who cannot afford better quality private education continue to slump with free public education.

To bridge this disparity in the quality of education between the haves and the have-nots, the government has proposed the Education Voucher Scheme. The scheme seeks to provide financial assistance to public elementary school graduates who desire to pursue their secondary education in private schools of their choice. The Department of Education has red-coded public schools that have a large intake of students but limited classroom size. These schools will be designated to identify 25 children each, who are in the top 50 per cent of the class and express a desire to change their school. The financial status of these children will have to be not more than the poverty threshold as defined by the government.

The scheme is intended to solve the problem of excess enrolment in public schools and thus better the quality of public education. The Department of Education in Philippines has earmarked 100,000 voucher grants for the scheme. This will be distributed across 4000 public elementary schools. The vouchers have an upper cap of 4000 pesos and beneficiaries will have to bear differences between the tuition fee of the selected school and the voucher grant.

The government is also ensuring that graduating beneficiaries make an informed choice. They will be given a list of private recognized schools to choose from. The list will also carry their respective fee structures. So as to not impinge on the liberties of private education providers, the beneficiaries will have to fulfill the criteria for selection in the private school on the basis of their grades and elementary school leaving report. If unaccepted they will have to seek out another private school. However, the scheme requires that consenting private schools allow the scheme committee to monitor the progress of voucher beneficiaries.

The Education Voucher Scheme does not specify the incentives for existing public elementary and high schools to improve performance and that may be its inherent flaw. Probably, the government hopes to address quality improvement in these schools through the subsequent fall in teacher-pupil ratios. However, as a first step in improving access to better quality education for its weaker sections, it stands out as a concerted and committed action.
Now, Delhi Govt clears way for more schools

Neha Singh

New Delhi, May 4: TO tackle the huge demand for admissions, the Delhi government has paved the way for setting up more schools. In a significant move, the Education Department has lifted the cap on the number of ‘‘essentiality certificates’’ that are granted to each district.

As per the rules, any application for starting a new school must be accompanied by an ‘‘essentiality certificate’’, granted after surveying the needs of the district. So far, there was a fixed cap on the number of these certificates issued per district, varying according to the population.

But the new rule means that anyone who wants to start a new school can do so, regardless of the number of existing schools in the district. Of course, the proposed school will have to meet the other basic criteria — budget, teaching staff, structured transportation and registration with the land agency concerned.
There are approximately 12 lakh children out of schools in Delhi.

‘‘Everyone keeps harping about admissions,’’ said Education Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely. ‘‘The best way to address the situation is to provide more schools and more seats,’’ he added.
Clearly, this is the government’s way of throwing the floor open to private concerns that will provide these seats. ‘‘If a private organisation wants to invest its money in setting up an educational institution, there is no reason for the government to say no. We believe that the school is coming up because there is a demand for it. If the demand is being fulfilled, we will not interfere,’’ said Lovely.

According to the Minister, a survey of the old system was carried out last year. ‘‘For instance, we saw that in Najafgarh district only two or three schools were allowed. Things will change now,’’ he said.

* Over 900 government schools
* Over 1,500 MCD schools
* Over 1,000 registered public schools

Monday, May 01, 2006

Floating school: Education delivered at home

Tejeswi Pratima
Saturday, March 11, 2006 (Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh):

Educationists in Andhra Pradesh hit upon the idea of a floating school to draw children who would otherwise be helping parents at work.A perennial problem in rural India is of parents refusing to send their children to school. So a team of enterprising educationists in Andhra Pradesh took the school to where the children are. Every morning at nine, a special boat comes to pick up fishermen's children who otherwise remain busy helping their parents. Now they spend the day the boat school near Kakinada, in Andhra Pradesh's East Godavari district. "I used to go for fishing with my parents. Now I want to study," said Sita, a student.Home deliveryThe fishing community here was reluctant to send their children to school and preferred that they helped them at work. So the administration under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme decided to take the school to the homes."It is not a teaching and learning process. It is to create awareness. The 10-15 days on the boat is to give child friendly activity. "After 15 days, we admit them in residential bridge camps," said DN Murthy, Additional Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.The orientation stint on the boat is for two weeks. Since September 2004, when the project began, 250 children now go to a regular school. Clearly, the boat school has managed to do much more than just stay afloat.

Education still a distant dream for street children

Kolkata, April 19: In a recent survey by some NGOs in Kolkata it has ben revealed that education amongst the homeless, or rather the street children, is on the back burner. Even though elementary education for children in India is a fundamental right, it is noticed that many of the homeless or street children are being continuously deprived of this right.
Says Shabir Ahmed of Calcutta Samaritans, an NGO that works in projects concerning the pavement dwellers, “Elementary education is a fundamental right and it is guaranteed in the Constitution of India. But reports show that many street children or homeless children are not receiving the basic education.”
Generally the parents shy away from sending their wards to the local schools but Ahmed emphasises that it is not the reason for such high percentage of street children not receiving elementary education.

There are two primary reasons for the discrepancy. “The main reason being the educational institutions going beyond the reach of the homeless. They are either too far placed from the places where these homeless put up or they are too costly for them to afford,” said Ahmed.
The other reason is the great deal of discrimination that is practiced against the homeless. “The school authorities often treat them with scorn and contempt. If they approach the schools and request the authorities to admit their wards, they are often shooed away on grounds of untouchability and so on,” said Ahmed.

Many NGOs are currently running activity centres and story-telling centres but they are not enough to educate the children at the basic level right away. “There are around 60,000 homeless in Kolkata and children constitute a major proportion of the number. So the state government should look into the matter so that the funds sanctioned by the Centre for basic education does not remain unspent,” Ahmed said.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

AICTE will not issue any directions to deemed universities

V.Jayanth and A.Subramani
As the legal battle over the role of the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) in respect of deemed universities rages in the Madras High Court, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development on Wednesday issued a notification empowering the deemed universities.
"It is not a pre-requisite for an institution notified as a `Deemed-to-be-University' to obtain the approval of the AICTE to start any programme in technical or management education leading to an award, including degrees in disciplines covered under the AICTE Act 1987. However, institutions notified as `Deemed-to-be-University' are required to ensure the maintenance of the minimum standards prescribed by the AICTE for various courses that come under the jurisdiction of the said Council. It is expected that the institutions notified as `Deemed-to-be-University' maintain their standards of education higher than the minimum prescribed by the AICTE," the notification said.
Expert committee
The Ministry has also said: "While the AICTE will not issue any directions to the institutions notified as `Deemed-to-be-University' on the basis of inspection report of the Council's Expert Committee, the council may bring the findings and recommendations of its expert committee to the notice of the University Grants Commission which, after considering the report of the expert committee of the AICTE and recommendations, if any, may issue necessary directions for appropriate action."
The power to inspect universities or institutions notified as deemed universities to the AICTE is specifically to "ensure the maintenance of standards in management and technical education, whereas, the power of inspection to the UGC is to ensure overall functioning of universities/ institutions notified as `Deemed-to-be-University' including faculties thereof, in order to ensure overall standards like that of a university including administrative and academic standards."
In the only rider for the deemed universities, the Ministry has reiterated that these institutions "are required to abide by the instructions/ recommendations of the UGC, failing which the UGC may even consider to recommend to the Central Government for the withdrawal of `Deemed-to-be-University' status."
As for the AICTE, it "may cause an inspection of the relevant departments of the institution declared as `Deemed-to-be-University' offering courses that come under the jurisdiction of the AICTE Act 1987, in order to ensure the maintenance of standards."
Academics here feel that the Ministry has tilted the balance in favour of the UGC and let the deemed universities off the hook

Shut liquor shops near school: Lucknow HC
Courtesy: Times News Network
LUCKNOW: The high court here on Thursday ordered forthwith closure of 53 liquor shops situated within 100 metres of educational institutions in the city. The court also sought a report from excise commissioner and the district excise officer within four weeks as to how many other liquor shops were situated within 100 metres of any hospitals, religious places, temples and residential areas. The above order was passed by a Division Bench comprising Justice AK Yog and Justice RP Yadav on twin PILs moved by Ramu Sanyal and Manoj Kumar Diwvedi. The court passed the above order in pursuance of the provisions incorporated under Rule 5 of Excise Act. The rule restricts any liquor shop within a radius of 100 metres from the educational, residential, temple, hospital premises etc, the court observed. The court also directed the government to return the licence fee to such 53 liquor licencees. However, it was made clear that if any licencees wanted alternative site beyond 100 metres, he might make application for allotment of such site, instead of taking back his fee. Earlier, the court had summoned a list of liquor shops situated within 100 metres of educational areas in the city. A a list of 53 liquor shops was submitted in the court in response to it. The court also said that members of public might also come ahead with their grievances against such liquor shops.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Desalination in Chennai - What about the poor and environment

Gregor Meerganz von Medeazza

In 1961, US president John F Kennedy noted that if humanity could find an inexpensive way to get fresh water from the oceans, that achievement would dwarf any other scientific accomplishment. Desalination technology embodies this hope, and has been increasingly perceived over the past 30 years as a feasible solution to meet growing freshwater demands. Reverse osmosis (RO) technologies in particular are increasingly popular. Daily production capacity in the 17,350 desalination plants operating worldwide has grown to 37 million cubic metres, supplying about 160 million people. However, the desalination technology is adopted primarily in the water-poor and energy-rich nations of the Persian-Arabian Gulf, where it accounts for 40 per cent of the municipal and industrial water used.

The Tamil Nadu government has called for the construction of a 100 million litres per day (MLD) seawater desalination plant to tackle Chennai’s mounting water crisis. The tender for a 25-year deal was signed in September 2005 and the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewage Board (so-called Metrowater) is contemplating setting up a further 50 or 100 MLD plant in the south of the city to supply the increasing needs of the IT industry. In December 2005, the first workshop of the Chennai Water Forum was held at the Madras Institute of Development Studies to “understand desalination and its implications for Chennai”. The fact that this large capacity plant will be located in a poor country like India is very surprising, given its relative energy-intensiveness compared to conventional water supply means. Even more surprising is the fact that Chennai is reaching for this type of solution while receiving approximately 1,200 mm of rain annually (about 10 times more than the precipitation rates found in most places that use this technology). And, recalling Chennai’s recent disastrous floods, it is probably the first time that a workshop on desalination had almost to be cancelled due to an excess of water.
The main questions, however, remain unanswered:

What will be the environmental impact of the desalination option? Desalination is often praised as an alternative to fossil groundwater mining or overexploitation of coastal aquifers. In the case of Chennai this argument, however, does not hold as current over-pumping rates are not likely to stop: the desalination plant is designed to provide additional water not alternative water. If the desalination option aimed at restoring groundwater integrity and halting the plundering of the peri-urban population’s water resources, the matter would be significantly different. Under the present plan, the two major environmental impacts of desalination (energy and brine associated pollution) must also be considered carefully.

What will be the long-term effect of such brine pollution on Chennai’s coast? A close examinaton should be made of the discharge of around 100 MLD of brine that will take place at the Minjur site. Brine is an unavoidable by-product of desalination, most commonly discharged into the marine environment. The environmental implications of this highly concentrated salt solution (around 70,000 ppm) on local marine ecosystems have been debated for many years. However, it is now widely acknowledged that extensive brine discharge, as it constitutes a hypersaline layer that sinks towards the seabed due to its greater density, has the potential to heavily affect local marine biota. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently stressed the gravity of the problem: “marine desertification” has become evident with the desalination activity along the Gulf coastline. Furthermore, during pre- and post-treatment processes, a variety of chemical agents are added to enhance flocculation, prevent foaming or to avoid membrane deterioration. Resulting eutrophication, pH value variations, accumulation of heavy metals and disinfectants have pronounced effects on receiving waters.

Notwithstanding, a number of easily available brine remediation methods exist. Brine effluents must and can be prevented from entering into contact with sensitive ecosystems through proper site selection, construction planning, process design and discharge devices that would reduce salinity. The latter can be achieved through appropriate mixing and dilution. Sensitive ecosystems should be identified and the facility should be sited at an appropriate distance from the outlet source to allow sufficient dilution under various hydrodynamic conditions.

It has been recommended that brine discharges should be regarded as industrial waste requiring standardised treatment before discharge but according to current economic calculus, untreated sea-dumping seems the most cost-effective way to discharge the produced brine. This calculus might well change, if valuable ecosystem loss (in terms of environmental-service pricing) is to be accounted for.

Where will the additionally required energy come from and what will be its associated environmental impact? Nowadays, energy use for seawater desalination is in the range of 3 to 20 kWh/m3, with the older distillation plants at the top end. However, since the operational pressure to force seawater through the membrane remains around 70-75 bars, desalination is still a fairly energy intensive and expensive way of supplying freshwater. As a comparison, 6 kwh are required to lift one cubic metre of water by 1,800 metres, i e, higher than any bulk of water transfer currently undertaken worldwide. The environmental impacts arising from those energy requirements are dependent on the energy source used to provide the necessary pressure. Thus the major drawback of the desalination technology is that presently most of its energy is derived from fossil fuel burning.

Also, in the case of Chennai, coal is the main energy driver. The desalination process will, therefore be responsible for large additional amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, as India seems to have embarked on a nuclear trend, this “carbon dioxide (CO2) for water” syndrome may well turn into “nuclear waste for water”. In Chennai, no scope is given to ensure the additional energy requirements to be covered by renewables. Hybrid systems (desalination-wind power, for instance) offer, however, attractive solutions both economically and environmentally. Instead, the production of 100 MLD desalinated water will generate over 30,000 tonnes of CO2 and around half a tonne of nuclear waste each year.

Furthermore, relying on an energy- intensive production process for the provision of vital freshwater, in a system that is tending towards exhaustion of cheap energy sources, is not a sustainable solution. Indeed, with the probable decrease in cheap energy resources, desalination technologies, like other energy-intensive water supply systems, may fail to fulfil their long-term expectations.

Who will bear the cost of the water produced? Internationally, much attention is given to the “polluter pays” principle as well as “full cost recovery”. What would be the real cost of the desalinated water if environmental externalities (due to brine pollution or greenhouse gas emissions) were internalised? These issues are not being discussed in the case of Chennai’s new desalination plant. Price and income effects usually explain water demand. Income and price elasticities of water demand are generally high, but rapidly drop to zero when serving drinking purposes, i e, basic human needs. “Water for the poor” is, therefore, a very sensitive issue, as willingness to pay for survival may tend towards infinity.

Is desalination to be considered as a sustainable water management option? The water crisis in Chennai is the consequence of growth in both population and consumption, combined with declining natural water resource stocks mainly due to pollution and unsustainable resource exploitation. There are two possible approaches to water management. On the one hand, the traditional, supply-driven approach focuses predominantly on providing water by large-scale hydraulic engineering works such as damming, transfers, desalination, pumping, etc. On the other hand, demand management is implemented by measures such as changing the tariff structure or resource conservation. The second approach rests on the three pillars of sustainability – economic (“full cost recovery” principle), social (proactive “public participation”) and environmental (restoring “good ecological status” of rivers). In the last few years, these principles have triumphed in water economics (at least in theory) over the old strategy of increasing water supply.

The principle of “dominating nature’ that led Chennai to a supply-oriented water management approach results in a ‘hydraulic structuralism” strongly rooted in engineering and technical sciences. For example, Metrowater supplies water partly by groundwater (over-)pumping, and partly from a plethora of large-scale hydraulic works. The long unquestioned success of the hydraulic structuralism approach has produced the impression that water scarcity problems can (and must) be entirely solved by increasing supplies. The traditional water culture of prudence has been slowly eroded as temple tanks and other water conservation facilities were neglected. The desalination option is well inscribed in this hydraulic structuralism and supply-driven logic. However, as Say’s Law states “supply creates its own demand, which will exhaust supply”. Instead of these supply-side approaches, demand management schemes as well as restoration and conservation strategies (where the insufficient polluter-pays principle should be replaced by the principle of no-deterioration at source) should be implemented within an integrated hydrological basin management approach.

What are the (missed) alternatives? Chennai’s water expert community argues that if the ancient and neglected urban and peri-urban tanks, ponds and lakes were refurbished to allow for sound rainwater harvesting to occur, the city would obtain more water than it daily requires. Also, the huge re-use potential offered by treated wastewater has not been properly explored. Finally, no real effort seems to have been made to reduce water losses in the city’s pipelines.
Even the World Bank seems to agree that desalination should remain a solution of last resort, adopted only after appropriate water demand management measures have been implemented. Ultimately, saving and harvesting water rather than developing new supplies is often the best “next” source of water, both from environmental and economic perspectives. Not only would these cost a mere fraction of the Rs 500 crore that the plant will cost, but they would also contribute to long-term resource conservation through recharge. Desalination is a (hard) technological fix that locks Chennai’s water management into an ever increasing supply syndrome while locking out other (softer and sounder) technological options.

What scarcity are we talking about? The issue of metrowater’s technological approach raises questions about how scarcity is perceived in the context of Chennai. On the one hand, there is the question of levels of scarcity (related to human need). Here, water services for the booming IT and automobile industries contrast dramatically with the water scarcity experienced by the urban poor.

Scarcity Type

There is also the question of scarcity type. Considering Chennai’s precipitation rates, one wonders how much Chennai’s so-called water “crisis” is of a physical order, or primarily a mismanagement-triggered scarcity. It is the human demand, but also the mismanagement of available water in a given region that eventually turns a physical scarcity (of climatologic and territorial origin) into a social one, experienced by the local population.

The notion of “water scarcity” can also be differentiated by the concepts of basic need and socially constructed need which can be called want. For instance, scarcity below 20 or 30 litres per person/day is an absolute level of scarcity where health problems such as cholera may appear. Most slum dwellers in Chennai experience this type of scarcity. It should be emphasised that water policies cannot be analysed separately from water needs (and uses). Desalination might be effective in alleviating a physical scarcity by producing required quantities of water. It should not be dismissed as a “last resort” option if it can provide a solution for livelihood needs and public health. But in Chennai’s case, it is unlikely to provide a sustainable solution to the crisis, which is essentially due to failed governance, i e, triggered by resource mismanagement and lack of stakeholder participation.

Who will this desalinated water (not) benefit? Given that one-third of Chennai’s population lives in slums, with very limited water access, an approach based on “basic needs” is indispensable. Most of Chennai’s slums are unconnected to the city’s main water and sanitation grid; they are, therefore, likely to be bypassed by the proposed desalinated water which will be distributed through the existing piped network. However, currently two slums in Chennai have part of their water needs covered by small desalination plants, supplying water through an autonomous grid. These systems seem to offer a good illustration of “desalination serving basic needs”. The crucial questions then, are: will the additional water provided by the new costly plant benefit those who most need increased access to freshwater? Will it reduce the immense pressure put on peri-urban aquifers? Focusing on these issues will cast light on the purpose served by desalination. The energy-intensiveness and other drawbacks of this technology are particularly problematic from an ethical standpoint if they do not help to maintain livelihoods, provide cheap water to the poor and reduce the environmental pressure on peri-urban areas. Indeed, if the new desalination plant fails to meet these objectives, then Chennai’s traditional water patrimony, its cultural water memory (embedded in the neglected temple tanks, for instance) and social integrity are being dismissed while environmental degradation, economic volatility and technological “lock-in” are engendered for the sake of sustaining non-livelihood, non-vital uses, i e, falling into the “luxury” category. Under the current plan, desalination mainly feeds the increasing supply ideology rooted in the prevailing economic growth paradigm. It is, indeed, more likely to allow those whose basic water needs are already covered to increase well-established consumption patterns of both water and energy.

Desalination for the Poor: Towards an Equitable Use of the Technology The proposed desalination plant is a dangerous solution to Chennai’s current water crisis for at least six reasons: (1) This energy-intensive technology is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, producing environmental costs which are uncovered or are unloaded onto the energy sector. Similarly, negative environmental impacts arising from uncontrolled brine discharges are also externalised. (2) The desalination option is still very much a supply-oriented strategy which will only stimulate more demand. (3) It threatens the traditional water-saving culture, creating a false impression of abundance. (4) Current environmentally damaging water exploitation practices are not likely to be altered, and the desalination option is therefore unlikely to solve the peri-urban conundrum. (5) Due to the “lock-in” nature of this technological fix, long suggested alternatives are unlikely to be implemented. It will encourage social and environmental dumping. (6) Finally, if full-cost recovery is attempted for this expensive project, the poor would not be able to bear the costs or would be deprived even further. Ultimately, the issue this paper would like to raise is the purpose served by this new desalination plant and whom it will primarily (not) benefit. “Desalination for the poor” should become the buzzword. Beyond technological choice or even technological change, the focus should be on technological equity as a cornerstone for debate. Providing water to those who currently do not have access to it and therefore need it most, should become a chief concern.
Source : EPW, March 18