Thursday, December 25, 2008

Automobile revoluation in India

Telecom revolution in India is a telling anecdote in discussion groups around the world. Telecom tariff in India has touched the lowest in the world offering variety of service providers. Leading handset manufacturing companies like Nokia, Sony, Motorola and leading provider companies like Singtel, Vodafone, Virgin are a few investors in India to be listed here. The outcome is a competent mobile market urged to innovate almost everyday.

Success stories are replicated in many other sectors too; one among them is Car industry. I am not discussing the pros and cons of the Singrur controversy but the larger spectrum of the availability of number of car brands on Indian Roads. I remember the days when my aunt (that was one of the first car that was bought in our family), bought a car more than two decades ago, neither me or anyone else in my family could imagine any other car than Ambassador cars owned by Hindustan Motors. Indian car industry was synonymous with Hindustan Motors for more than five decades til other companies engineered their growth into the sector starting with Maruti Udyog Limited. Earlier, there were only two or three Cars brands, like Fiat and Ambassador, ruling the Indian roads, but today global auto players like Honda, Skoda, General Motors, Volvo, Ford Motors are investing big bucks in India and launching their Car models with more refined technology, design, comfort, styling and safety.  This shows the industry has grown manyfold since the first car rolled out on the streets of Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1898. Looking into the specifics, one can understand this was more in the last one decade.

Unlike the USA, the Indian passenger vehicle market is dominated by cars (79%). This is supplemented by the factors in the automobile industry like; 

  • India is the largest three-wheeler market in the world.
  • India is the largest two-wheeler manufacturer in the world.
  • India is the second largest tractor manufacturer in the world.
  • India is the fifth largest commercial vehicle manufacturer in the world.
  • The number one global motorcycle manufacturer is in India.
  • India is the fourth largest car market in Asia - recently crossed the 1 million mark.

There are cars of price range starting from Rs 2 Laks to Rs 1 crore in Indian Market. If Nano materialises, there will be an upsurge in per capita spending and purchasing power parity in Indian subcontinent. Today, there are more than sixty car brands on Indian roads offering more options in terms of affordability, luxury and compatibility for consumers.

With more companies competing for their space, insurance and banking sectors also sensed the opportunity to grow. Car loans and mandatory compliance to car insurance benefited more intra than inter sectoral growth in these respective sectors. Look at the number of automobile workshops around us and the number of workers employed. More than anything, it has put the State into a demanding situation where roads and related infrastructure have become the prominent talking points in the plan and development process than ever. With the increase in global petroleum price and the awareness on Global warming, more strictures are added to the vehicle pollution certification demanding more investment and innovation in research and development area related. Indian innovation in automobile sector is already under tremendous pressure to reduce its pollutant level. If they succeed, auto will take centre stage of the globe and if they fail, poor man’s gaadi will be replaced by cars like Nano.  Whatever be the outcome, this will lead to the change in the landscape of the cities and smaller towns in this country. This will lead to an automobile revolution of twenty first century akin to industrial revolution of eighteenth century. This also ensures that though the country is preparing to become the global hub for the small size cars, it envisions an inclusive growth of all sectors and sessions of the society like in Telecom sector.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Green field strips is the key……..

It was one of that fine afternoon I took my flight to Kathmandu way back in 2005. It was my first international flight and I was gleaming with the fact that I was carried by Jet Airways. Two years later, I had another flight to Kathmandu by state carrier Indian Airlines. In between I had many domestic flights and I could sense the differences in the facilities offered by private and public airlines. I was told by many during the second flight that many reimbursement schemes are possible only if they take state carrier. This thought came to my mind when two of our Hon. member of Parliaments delayed the departure of Delhi  - trivandrum flights a couple of days ago. They were complaining about decayed condition of the state carrier. I was surprised by two factors; why don’t they raise these matters in the Parliament and why don’t they prefer a better alternative offered by the private companies? Looking more into the matter, I learnt that one of the MP is from a small town, Allapuzha which is placed in between both Cochin and Trivandrum Airports. The other day when I took a flight from Delhi to Cochin via Hyderabad, I found more that 80% of the passengers embarked from Hyderabad are temple devotees to Lord Ayappa. I was astonished by the fact that there is no green field airport near to Sabarimala, one of the most sought after pilgrimage destination in this country. Why can’t that MP from Allapuzha (which is incidentally adjoins Sabarimala) voice for such a green field strip so that it would be a profitable one from day one onwards. It is the same area where largest NRK population to Europe, US and UK originate from. Why cant it be a stop over green field strip for them while they take more than 15 hours flight to home.

 

One of the recently conducted studies by KPMG says;

At present, India has about 80 fully functional airports. In addition, there are another 368 landing strips that function as makeshift airports for limited purposes. (my comment; this is the reason for slow growth)

As many as 156 belong to the defence or semi-defence sectors and various state governments, while 63 are owned by the private sector.

Of these, just 24 airports account for a whopping 94 per cent of the current air traffic and the balance is spread over 36 smaller or regional airports.

There is an upsurge in the domestic air travellers in the last couple of years thanks to the entrance of private players in the sector. But intimidating tax system and differential pricing has not helped the sector to grow in these times. The sector is looking forward to a change and I am sure like Tirupati and Dharamasala were connected as the private airlines did which hitherto not, there are many points for connectivity in this Incredible India

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ideological battle or schizophrenia??

Kerala has witnessed debates over the realisation for the quest for economic reforms and investment in recent times. Party idealogues differ as usual in most of the cases; some of them are for Special Econmic Zones while other are for incorporation of a separate law for SEZ. there are elements averred to the whole idea too. this is not a new battle ground. The state has witnessed bandhs, hartals and protest marches on the issues ranging from introduction of computers to hanging of Saddam Hussain. i wonder what we have achieved by all these protests over the decades? at the same time, respect is given to any individual to oppose and protestthe government policies. but kerala has become the paradise of the protest marches over the decades.

now the issue is with regard to SEZ and converting KSEB to a company. in both the cases, Government has taken interesting positions; while the rest of the country has opposed SEZ by forceful acquiring of the land, the State has approached the union government to relax the norms and allow them to take over 38000 acres of land required for SEZ formation. a Proletarian party in power asking for the forceful take over the land is something difficult to digest. everyone agrees that investment is a paramount essential for the development of Kerala. I too agree to that. but why dont  the inverstor companies directly deal with the land owners and pay the market compensation?the role of the government shall be to facilitate the deal and not acquire the land for the companies. why dont these proletarian government (not convinced whether we can call them like that now) conduct a referrundum in the locality proposed? they are committed to the decentralised governance and this would be a grant opportunity for them validate the stand they have taken. Issues like toll bridge in Mattancherry, metro rail etc can be easily solved if they give the administrative powers to the local bodies to take a decision on these issues.

Another contentious issue is the company formation of KSEB. the usual taluk office picketing and dharnas are the order of the day to counter the move. CM says the company formation is accentulated for the prfiteering in the sector. As a customer to KSEB, i am not satisfied with KSEB service. I always wondered why i was forced to buy electricity from KSEB disallowing other companies to compete in the sector. this is hypocracy. majority of the keralites enjoy the fruits of liberalisation in the form of consumer goods, mobile phoes etc. why this word ' profit' has a demoral and demeaning essence in Kerala? give me options to enjoy the better services at the lowest rate!!!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hartal - a Kerala misnomer

this is a continous debate on Hartals in Kerala

Hi all,
Issues are numerous in Kerala... I had a new enlightenment after listening to Prasant's experiences in Kerala. I think its worth a thought by all of us..
Here in Kochin we say tht its a metro city or a cosmopoliton city, think about the transportation system..... First, all the bus boards are in malayalam only...How can a person frm outside kerala travel by our buses without anyone's help??? (this might be our method of compulsory teaching of malayalam...!??)
Second, there is no share auto system in the city, which makes the travel expensive...
Third, food prices....dont talk abt it...its very expensive and we know the reasons..
Garbage disposal..... dont ask..... salim kumar's famous dialogue (Kochi ethee.. Kochi ethee...) is not at all an exaggeration!!!
street lights... dont ask...
And the crown of it is bus strikes and hartals (® by kerala state)...
How is Cochin going to be the investment destination???
God save God's own country.

I think we never have a dearth of issues here in cochi.....
All the best to 'Reinventing Cochin Team'.....

Ancy.

I have never understood who the beneficiaries of a Haratal are. Even those who give the call for it get only some media coverage. Nonetheless, number of Hartals increases every year and I am sure CPPR also can successfully declare a Hartal against any X or Y issue!!!
I also don't understand why Keralites happily accept a Hartal with out any resistance. In all the other states I have lived in, Hartal/Bandh days are just same as any other day. All the shops and offices remain open, vehicles move as usual and life is just normal. What makes Kerala different? That's a strange question we need to find the answer.
I think its high time we launched a campaign against it. We can start with a blog for people to voice their opinions. We should also think about forming a Citizens' Forum against Hartal with representatives from all sections of the society. Few public meetings against Hartal will be a mega hit than the pedestrian audit.
Elizabeth, I am in full support of issues you have raised… May god save Kochi from its traffic jam and Kerala from its attitude towards women…
Regards
Roji
i agree 2 all d views put up so far..but as jithin raised it,the whole concept of 'harthal' is a 'continuous success' just coz keralites luv it.in fact,v ppl celebrate harthals..nw abt traffic jams..it reflects ineffective implementation..ideas r many but execution too poor.police brings up new signal systems here n there very often.but all tat they do is worsen the ' vicious circle' called traffic jam... another thing i just cannot comprehend is the attitude of keralites 2wards women..i dnt understand why ppl look at women as if they r seein such a 'species' 4 the 1st time..a girl cnt simply walk fearlessly after 7.30.are these keralites the most literate n civilized citizens of india??? moreover,there r no proper streetlights in the city..if at all there are,they remain switched on till 10 in the mrng or beyond that.electricty board is so much worried of the severe drop in rains.bt they dnt seem 2 knw how much electricity they waste due 2 their own negligence.i doubt whether they believe streetlights run on solar cells..anyway dhanu,the reinventingcochin team is wit u 2 tak up the issue..our nxt effort can b in this direction
regardsElizabeth
it is a hard fact during t bus strikes, it is only t common plple who are made to suffer.....for plple who thnk that t bus owners wld lose their money on t day of the strike, it is wron.they r t frst ones to fully utilize this unique opprtunity created by themselves........ they roll out their vehicles mainly jeeps and vans and cash their pckets with money.as t minmum charge is 5 rs that days....plple r forced to pay it fr they thnk it is only fr 1 days... or max 2 days....... here also plple who leave on a penny suffer.......... thgh strict rules hve been laid down to curtail such a situation, the bus owners have their hand on cash..........
it is however noteworthy that t police are utilizing their buses fr providing transport on these special forced festival holidays.........Madhu

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

Dhanu, please add me too. I am with you...

Vinu

Hi,

I am sure there will be none among common people who doesn't share the same emotion towards hartals as we do.

I agree with Jithin on the point that if the buses decide to run any hartal can be defeated effectively. But if its so simple why isnt anyone doing it is the question. I am sure the bus and auto drivers would not mind some extra cash in their pockets on any given day. It is then only because of the pressure from the political parties that they are not coming out. I do not think we can call it laziness.

I would be interested if this discussion can lead to an initiative which can actually have some impact to put an end to this hartal series.

Love,

Hariprasad
Hi, I feel that , the real issue is not about ideologies or political affiliations .Well, it seems that everyone is aware that hartals doesn't serve any purpose for anyone . Its just that people in this part of the world are LAZY and are in constant search for a holiday which some people utilize . I remember once discussing with Dhanu , that if the bus owners who make their early morning trips to Cochin city , decide to go on the roads , any hartal can be defeated. But sadly anything of that sort , has ever happened. Next time we plan any event in Kerala , please refer this website :http://www.indiamarch.com/Content-25/HARTHAL-SCHEDULE.html.As, they can update on the upcoming HOLIDAYS.
Regards,Jithin
Vinu's "happy hartal" brings to mind a funny incident that happened while I was in Kerala. I met some family friends who had a little daughter..she was around 3 years old. She so disliked going to school. She always had a number of excuses to say that her school was closed...One day she told her Mom that her teacher had told her that school would be closed. On asking her what the reason was, she said Hartal!" Well, her Mom found out it was a lie when she called her school to confirm the kid's story...

I was so surprised that a little girl, hardly 3 years old was familiar with the word "hartal" and that is probably because school often had to be shut down due to frequent hartals...

Such a plight!

Kalpana

Dear Dhanu and all ,
I am happy to report some aspects i have seen here. The main incident was on the eve of Bharath Bandh, for the first time in my life was in class. Nothing happened here. All were working here. The production activities and the major domains of life were lively as I looked surprisingly.The political culture of the people in Kerala is very peculiar and the thought for me is that for the last fifty years many ideologies got contaminated and the problem of misunderstanding raised this situation. The in born nature to revolt and to strike is regarded as mallu feature here. So i think the political awarness and the interest aggregation won't look good outside , if you are a malayali. But the essence of the problem addressing looks pretty good.
So why can't we start a public campaign along with an intention to get noticed?
I don't know how much valid are these points and question. I am giving my opinion.
Regards,
Abin Thomas


Today, it was the 82nd or 83rd (i am not sure....who cares?) "hartal"...this year!

Please don't feel frustrated. Every day morning I feel the same frustration. I agree, there are no visionary thinkers in the ruling or in the opposition party. There is no vision at all. The leadership itself is in disputes. They spend time quarreling on petty "ideological" issues. No physical development is taking place. Basic infrastructure is a pitiable state. There are no roads, only potholes, scheduled power cuts are regular and then there are unscheduled power cuts. I dont want to talk about Education, Sanitation,....I too get frustrated.....

Wish you a Happy Hartal!....what else can i say?

'ny way.....today I was able to touch a speed of 90kmph on Banerjee Road! (Could have crossed 100km, but for the occasional roads among the potholes...) The last time i did that was.....well, last Hartal day, of course!

Vinu

I am getting frustrated with the lawlessness in God’s own country. It has been deteriorating by every passing day. Frequent strikes, agitations, attack on public properties so to say a few known events. The political leadership does not seem to carry any vision and political will to lead from the front. Kochi, the commercial hub of Kerala is crawling with traffic jams. No one seems to be interested to take the lead role either as a facilitator or as an active campaigner to solve the issues around – a larger impression across the state. But I do believe that if Kerala continues to be in the same mode and mood for some more time, it akin to the fall the of any welfare state in the history. Money flow from other parts of the world would be limited if the emigrants do not seek permanent settlement where they have been to, opportunities in the state are limited as there is no conducive environment to start with any economic activity, freedom for political expression is so volatile in the state, Private property and profit are the most demeaning words in the eyes of the custodian of the so called agrarians so to say are some of the threats to the life and joy on one of the most beautiful lands on the earth.

What do you think?, what should be the role of CPPR in this context? I hope this will start a debate in the coming days

D. Dhanuraj

Centre for Public Policy Research
39/717 (A), Rahul Vihar
Karakattu Road, Cochin, India - 682 016

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Farmers gain from big retail, no loss to kirana stores: ICRIER

New Delhi (PTI): Amid a debate on whether organised retail kill livelihood of mom and pop store owners, an official study on Monday said there was no real threat to neighbourhood 'kirana' stores from modern retail chains.

In fact, farmers as also consumers stand to gain from organised retail in terms of competitive pricing, says the government-sponsored study.

There is "no evidence of a decline in overall employment in the unorganised sector as a result of the entry of organised retailers," said the report by think tank ICRIER.

However, it admitted that initially, mom-and-pop stores located in the vicinity of big malls have seen drop in sales and profit, but the impact would disappear in the long run.

It said farmers benefit significantly from direct sales to organised retailers. "Profit realisation for farmers selling directly to organised retailers is about 60 per cent higher than that received from selling in the mandi."

At a time when inflation is impacting the household budget, consumers have "definitely gained" from organised retail on multiple counts. "While all income groups saved through the entry of the organised retail purchases, lower income consumers saved more," it said.

The much-awaited study has recommended nationwide uniform licensing policy to facilitate "modern retailing" which will help take India's total retail sector to a whopping 590 billion dollars in 2011-12.

The document which has been submitted to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, however, did not deal with the impact of foreign direct investment on small retailers.

"This study has nothing to do with the impact of FDI on retail," ICRIER CEO and Director Rajiv Kumar said releasing the findings.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Indian Standards

I have been working on a transport project for some time. During the visits to Government offices, I asked them about the standards prescribed by Government in cases of road construction, pedestrian sidewalks, pedestrian crossway's etc. Everyone gave me the usual answer; it will be available in the other office. when i repeat the same question in the next office, they would also have some other offices to enquire. After three months, i realized that there is no standard available in these offices. Some one referred to Indian Road Congress website. Unfortunately, their website reflects how chaotic our transport system is; we may need to put up signal system there also to search for the paths we need to take to search for the document. Some one suggested Bureau of Indian Standards. When i went to their website, i could not digest the value of existence of such an organization in India.

Later, I downloaded many standards from other websites. But there has not been any Indian website i could search for the Indian Standards. Probably, all of them would have thought about the essence of such a information system when India is on the way to Integrate herself with the rest of the world!!!!!!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More defence papers come under RTI ambit-India-The Times of India

In a move that could open the floodgates for Right to Information (RTI) applications in the defence forces, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has allowed approach papers and notings (documents with remarks related to the officer by his superior) to be put before the review selection board, to be disclosed within 10 days.

CIC had earlier ordered that proceedings of the department promotion committees (DPCs) could be disclosed. In his recent order, chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said that since DPCs were not treated as documents exempted under the RTI Act, except those that dealt with annual confidential reports, the documents demanded by the appellant should be disclosed.

Lucknow resident Col (retd) Inder Paul had appealed to the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) — the medical wing of the defence forces — for approach papers related to review selection board meetings held on January 14 and August 8, 2003.

The appeal was rejected by the first appellate authority on the premise that disclosure of the DPC would lead to disclosing of ACRs that was barred. Paul's second appeal was also rejected on similar grounds following which he approached the CIC.

In the order, CIC said that the documents should be given to Paul within 10 days and directed MoD to put forth any objections on record within the time limit.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

You can ask for I-T returns of political parties

CIC Allows It Under RTI Act


New Delhi: In a ruling that will open financial activities of political parties to public scrutiny, the Central Information Commission has said citizens can seek income tax returns of the parties to get details on their funding.

he landmark decision, bringing political parties within the ambit of the RTI Act, came on an appeal of an NGO — Association of Democratic Reforms — seeking disclosure of income tax returns and assessment orders pertaining to such organizations.

“The laws of the land do not make it mandatory for politi
cal parties to disclose sources of their funding and even less so the manner of expending those funds. In the absence of such laws, the only way a citizen can gain access to the details of funding of political parties is through I-T returns filed annually with I-T authorities,” information commissioner A N Tiwari said.

CIC said since political parties influence the exercise of political power, transparency in their organization and functions, and more particularly, their means of funding is a democratic imperative and, therefore, is in public interest.

“There is unmistakable public interest in knowing
these funding details which would enable the citizen to make an informed choice about the political parties to vote for,” CIC said in its 24-page order. I-T authorities, in response to the plea, claimed that the information, containing details on commercial activities of political parties, were exempt under the RTI Act. They said that I-T returns were “confidential” in nature as they were submitted by the assessees in fiduciary capacity. Referring to various rulings of the Supreme Court — bringing transparency in the functioning of political parties and their funding — CIC held that every citizen is entitled to seek information from the I-T department, either under I-T Act or RTI Act. It, however, held that permanent account number of those parties, whose I-T returns are to be sought, should not be disclosed as there was a possibility of the information being subjected to fraudulent use.

All parties except CPI and CPM had objected to disclosure of information on their I-T returns. Congress had termed the appellant as “busybody having malafide intent” and accused it of seeking information for “ulterior motives”. BJP claimed I-T returns were confidential information, parting with which would amount to infringement of certain privacy rights of the members of the political parties. The response of as many as 20 political parties had come on the notices issued by CIC. The law and justice ministry, however, had refused to express its opinion on the subject saying its views could be in conflict with the interest of the public authority against whom CIC may pass an order in this regard.

Earlier, the EC had said political parties were not required to furnish information about their I-T returns to it under the law. PTI


NAYSAYERS

Income tax dept says I-T returns are confidential in nature and exempted under RTI Act
Election Commission says parties not bound by law to disclose I-T returns to it
Law ministry withholds opinion, saying its views could be in conflict with the interest of the public authority against whom CIC may pass an order
Except CPM and CPI, other parties oppose disclosure of I-T returns

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Urbanisation in India faster than rest of the world

The urbanisation of India is taking place at a faster rate than in the rest of the world. By 2030, 40.76 per cent of India’s population will be living in urban areas compared to about 28.4 per cent now. So says the United Nations’ ‘State of the World Population 2007’ report, which was released on Tuesday.

But at the same time, the report adds, metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Kolkata have a far greater number of people moving out than coming in. It also says that a few cities will be the size doomsayers had predicted in the 1970s. Mega cities are still dominant but they have not grown to the size once projected and have consistently declined in most world regions, the report says.

Releasing the report in India, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy said urbanisation was a sign of liberalisation but the condition of slum-dwellers was even worse than that of the poor in villages.

According to the report, over 90 per cent of slum-dwellers live in developing countries with China and India accounting for 37 per cent of them. About 56 per cent of the urban population lives in slum conditions. The report also says that in countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the literacy rate of women living in slums is as low as 52 per cent.

For countries like India, the report says, getting ready for the aging population is another big challenge. In Chennai, it says, total fertility rate has fallen to below replacement levels. The city has closed down 10 maternity clinics and reopened them as geriatric units.

Nesim Tumkaya, United National Population Fund representative in India, said that by next year, half of the world’s population would be living in urban areas. But in most regions, the rate of urbanisation is showing a decline except in growing economies like India.

The population of towns and cities in developing countries like India is set to double in the space of a generation, while the urban population in the developed world is expected to grow relatively lower, the report says.

In comparison to the urban population growth rate, the world’s rural population is expected to decrease by some 28 million between 2005 and 2030.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

BRT is good

Transmilenio. That is the name of a success story told daily by 1.4 million people in Colombia's capital Bogota. These people are the commuters of the bus rapid transit (BRT) system there, which has 850 buses covering 85 km. It has reduced the travel time by 32 per cent, accidents by 90 per cent and gas emissions by 40 per cent.

India's first ever tryst with what has been found so effective in Latin American countries, some American countries and even Bangladesh and Pakistan, has turned out to be a nightmare for some on Delhi roads. The main victims have been the private vehicle users, including school buses.

The errors in planning are now being blamed on the BRT system itself, which segregates road space for buses to enable quick transport for all vehicles.

If the city planners decide to fold up the initiative, alarmed by media headlines and the traffic mess, then it would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. The system could have been started when schools were closed or in places where traffic was less.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says that while a few hundred buses are added to the transport system annually, at least 400 cars are bought daily in Delhi. And in spite of this increase in private vehicles, buses cater to 60 per cent of the traffic in Delhi alone, says Sunita Narain of CSE. "This is why we need a system that can efficiently move the bulk of the city passengers and even provide options for the rest to move towards bus transport. The BRT provides us this option. Out of the roughly 16 million passenger trips in the city, buses cater to roughly 9 million passenger trips," she says.

The original success story of BRT was from Curitiba in Brazil, which gives 90 per cent approval rating for its BRT system introduced in the 1950s and 1960s. Why did the people of Curitiba approve of the BRT? Not because they don't have fancy cars. In fact, the city has the second highest per capita car ownership in Brazil (one car for every three people). But Curitiba's gasoline usage per capita is 30 per cent below that of eight comparable Brazilian cities.

The Delhi Integrated Multi-modal Transit System (DIMTS) is doing its inaugural run in a stretch of 5.6 km, while Ahmedabad is to have its first BRT stretch ready next year. It is happening and no one can stop it. What needs to be stopped is the madness of having 100 cars at the red light of a junction in peak hours, when three buses can carry the same number of people.

Bhure Lal, chairperson of the Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, raised his hand of approval for the BRT this week amidst protests from car users.

Private vehicle users have to make a choice. Do they want clean air and speed or are they happy treadmilling their way to nowhere early in the morning in endless traffic snarls?

Monday, April 28, 2008

A road well-travelled

The Delhi Government is hunting desperately for a fig leaf after the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) fiasco. The Centre has washed its hand of, while the Chief Minister is trying hard to fix responsibility for a system that has left the capital city with massive traffic jams just in its trial run over a 5.2-km stretch, which cost more than Rs 200 crore. Six more corridors are on their way.

The idea was borrowed from Bogota, Colombia, which has implemented a BRT network spanning 84 km, carrying 1.2 million passengers per day, and serving approximately 20 per cent of the city's total transit demand. However, traffic congestion is a problem not unique to the developing world, with congested cities. With more and more cars being added on to the roads, the world over experts are looking at solutions to manage traffic, and the answers are rarely simple:

BEIJING: With the city’s vehicle fleet expected to reach 3.3 million by August, in time for the Beijing Olympics, persistent air pollution is one of China’s most pressing problems. Beijing is planning to remove half of the city’s 3.3 million vehicles during the Games to improve air quality and ease traffic flow. The city would also dedicate special lanes to Olympic traffic and increase public transportation with new shuttle buses to accommodate visitors and local residents.

SAO PAULO: By varying accounts, Brazil’s biggest city has among the worst traffic in the world. According to a report that appeared in Time, forced to spend hours in traffic gridlock, residents now use the time to shave, read, watch DVDs, even make dates with passengers in neighbouring cars or learn foreign languages. The city has a programme that obliges each car to be kept off the street during rush hour one day each week, as well as special bus lanes that help public transport move more easily. However, these and other measures are yet to make much difference.

MEXICO CITY: Mexico City has more than 3.5 million registered cars, with the number growing by an average of almost 10 per cent a year. In 1989, in an effort to alleviate congestion and pollution problems, a new programme was launched in the city. It consisted of a regulation mandating that each car in Mexico City not be driven on one specific day (determined by licence plates) during the week. While people didn’t give up buying cars, it did alleviate the city’s traffic problem to an extent.

BANGKOK: Another city on the worst-traffic list, it went in for a sky train in 1990 and an underground train system in 2004. However, the reach of both has remained limited on account of bad planning and high costs.

MUNICH: The home to the BMW is considered to have the perfect transport model — a third of people travel by car, a third by public transport and a third cycle or walk. The reason being the public transport in Munich — the city has one of the most comprehensive metro and suburban train networks in Germany — which is fully integrated with a simple ticketing system. A daily travel card, costing about £2.80, can be used on buses, trams and trains.

SUNNYVALE, CALIFORNIA: Five of California’s cities (or city regions) make it to the top 12 most polluted cities in the US. Some tech entrepreneurs in Sunnyvale are now experimenting with an idea based on two-way GPS device, which connects all the isolated drivers on the road, who could then warn one another about what lay ahead.

LONDON: Mayor Ken Livingstone didn’t win many friends when he introduced a congestion fee five years ago, requiring every vehicle entering the central core to pay for the privilege on weekdays. Hundreds of mounted cameras at boundary roads take photographs of licence plates. Drivers have until midnight that day to pay and if they don't, late fees are applied. The zone where the congestion fee applies was expanded last year. Drivers must pay £8, or about $16, on the day they enter the zone. If they pay the next day, the charge goes up to £10, or about $20. After that, stiff penalties begin to accrue. Statistics show the fee is working, with traffic entering the original zone falling instantly by 21 per cent. Beginning October, London will begin imposing a $50-a-day carbon emission fee on every gas-guzzling private vehicle driven in the central city. The $252 million a year raised under the congestion charge has been poured into the city’s bus system, which has undergone a remarkable transformation.

Taking a cue from London, Stockholm last year introduced a congestion charging scheme after a trial run of six months proved very successful, cutting traffic going through central Stockholm by 25 per cent and waiting time in morning rush hour by 33 per cent. Singapore has been charging downtown drivers since 1975.

NEW YORK: Another Mayor, another city, tried to push through a similar congestion fee but failed. Michael Bloomberg assembled environmentalists, business groups, subway riders and others to back an $8 fee he would have charged from anyone driving downtown during business hours. The Bush administration offered a $354 million incentive, saying it would be used for public transit if the plan was adopted. But Democrats in the New York legislature killed the proposal. Asked about the success of a similar programme in London, one of the Democrat opponents said: "Britain has been rationing things since 1945. In America, we don't ration things." Despite, that is, Americans wasting more than 4 billion hours in traffic delays each year.

LOS ANGELES: The city heads the worst traffic list in the US, with one estimate indicating that should you plan a trip during peak hours in the city, it would take nearly twice as long as it would at an off-peak time. Average LA motorist spends 72 hours every year in traffic jams. Among the solutions LA has put in place are sophisticated traffic communication systems which alert drivers to changing conditions on the road, giving them time to decide what to do.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Raindrop Tears

Problem Of Plenty
  • Standing paddy across 10,000 hectares have been destroyed by unseasonal rains. No labour was in supply to harvest the crop in time.
  • Mechanical harvesters couldn't be used since the CPI(M)'s union refused to give timely permission
  • It requires union consent for Kerala farmers to bring in labour from outside or use machines
  • Five farmer suicides in the last fortnight. Drastic fall in the acreage under paddy cultivation of late.
  • Annual rice requirement: 40 lakh tonnes. Production: 6.41 lakh tonnes.

***

Summer has never been so harsh on the hard-toiling farmers of Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala.


The profit from farming at best totals Rs 13,000 per acre. Labour accounts for two-third the expense.

Acre upon acre of unharvested, standing crop meets the eye as you traverse this 500 sq km, low-lying paddy belt in the coastal Alappuzha district. Unlike the usual story of the debt-stressed farmer taking his life, in Kuttanad much of the tragedy owes to the fact that the
standing crop couldn't be harvested due to labour shortage. Farmers who pressed the alarm bells when unseasonal rains lashed the region and tried to bring in harvester machines were allegedly refused permission by the militant pro-CPI(M) farm labour outfit, Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union (KSKTU).


Perished paddy
Result: 10,000 hectares of paddy fell to unseasonal rain between February and early March. This has spread gloom among the marginal farmers of the region. Valiyaparampil Gopi, 60, who had taken a loan of Rs 20,000, killed himself when he found he could not save his crops. It's another matter that he had been a CPI(M) branch secretary until 1991. He simply couldn't convince his comrades to provide him labour or a harvester. The CPI(M) initially contested the suicide theory, but withdrew when the agriculture department confirmed it. The last fortnight reported five similar suicides in the region. This is besides 14 farmers who died in the rains.

The case of Chettithodu Pushkaran, 69, is no different from that of Gopi. A former branch secretary of the Oorkari branch of the CPI(M), he also faced the same trauma of seeing his crop wasting in the rain as the KSKTU played truant. He consumed poison and died. Relations between farmers and labour have been tenuous over the years in Kuttanad. In spite of labour shortage, the mostly small and marginal farmers cannot freely hire harvesters. They have to get the nod from the pro-CPI(M) union before using the machines. But KSKTU leaders take time to decide whether to deploy from the labour pool or let farmers hire machines. This needless delay proved costly this time.

Says Fr Thomas Peelianikkal, the executive director of the Kuttanad Development Committee, an NGO: "Paddy sown in October-December was ready for harvest towards February after roughly 100 days of its growth cycle. Suddenly, the rains came. We sent an SOS to CPI(M) offices to allow us to bring harvesters from Tamil Nadu. Brawny commissars twisted their moustaches, and asked us to wait. We have lost an estimated Rs 60 crore worth of crops in just a fortnight." Peelianikkal led a group of volunteers, including fellow priests, to harvest whatever could be salvaged from the fields.

But why was it important to bring in harvesters? The logic is simple: if 10 farm hands require one day to harvest an acre, the harvester needs only one hour to do the same job. The rent per hour is Rs 1,500 while the wage for 10 workers a day is Rs 2,500 plus Rs 1,000 as tea allowance. During the 10 days between March 5 and 15, there were only 40 machines instead of 200 required for the harvesting.


Points out former state chief minister Oommen Chandy, now leader of the Opposition: "If the pro-CPI(M) unions had not blocked farmers from hiring harvesters, much of the crops in Kuttanad could have been salvaged, and lives saved".

But G. Sudhakaran, cooperation minister in the present Left Democratic Front government, doesn't agree. "If only Chandy and company had desisted from issuing threats and innuendos, the farmer-labour tussle would have resolved by itself. Instead, Chandy led an opposition rally in Kuttanad, upsetting the labour. Now, he is shedding crocodile tears for the farmers," he counters.

But it is not a straight case of farmer-labour standoff. Many erstwhile farm hands belonging to the CPI(M) are now members of farmer cooperatives, who borrow from banks to lease out farms. Their priority is to harvest their fields first, either by themselves, or use farm hands or the machines. Other farmers simply have to wait. KSKTU's leader C.K. Sadasivan, MLA, says there's never been a dearth of farm hands. Only that, perhaps in pockets, there might be a little supply-side shortage against unexpected rise in demand. He also denies that his union prevented any farmer from using harvesters although there is a complaint pending at the Kainadi police station in Kuttanad against local KSKTU leaders for blocking farmers who tried to press a harvester into service.


Samaritan’s act: Priests, volunteers harvest paddy in Kuttanad

The shortage of labour lent itself to telling photo-ops. Tiruvalla Bishop Thomas Mar Coorillos led volunteers of the Kerala Catholic Youth Movement to paddy fields left unharvested. While the bishop escaped harsh criticism from the Left unions for his bravado, Kerala Agriculture University Vice-Chancellor K.R. Viswambharan, who took a busload of students for a demonstration on harvesting, is in a spot. The cooperation minister has demanded his removal for subtly educating his students about the problem of labour shortage.

The series of events leading up to the suicides are just the latest pages in the long chapter of farm woes in Kerala. More than 500 farmers have died in the state since 2001. In the last 25 years, 5.25 lakh hectares of farm land have been filled up for real estate and other ventures. The total area under paddy has come down from 8 lakh hectares in the 1970s to 2.64 lakh hectares. Against the annual requirement of 40 lakh tonnes of rice, Kerala produces only 6.41 lakh tonnes.

Farming has become a risky proposition. Leasing an acre of land costs Rs 22,000. If the harvest is good, the income is Rs 35,000. The profit after computing costs at best comes to Rs 13,000, which is far less than what a farm hand gets for his labour. Roughly 60 to 74 per cent of the expense is on labour.

The state government is facing a dilemma. While farmers increasingly leave the land fallow, unable to bear rising costs of cultivation, a food crisis is in the offing. Kuttanad's farmers are left to the mercy of the state and central governments. The other day, a rare multi-party delegation led by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and Opposition leader Chandy returned empty-handed after petitioning Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a Rs 1,440 crore for the Kuttanad region.

Ironically, Kuttanad, with a population of 1.8 million, stands on edge of the Vembanad lake on which Kerala's backwater tourism thrives. The green country their boats wind through betrays no trouble on the surface. But with the government loyal only to unions, tragedy is never too far from those farms.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Not much of a guarantee

This is an important month for India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The Act came into force in 2006 in 200 districts. This month it is being extended to over 600 hundred districts — virtually the whole country. The Act decrees that each rural household has the right to 100 days of employment each year. So the government is required to run rural work programmes where the poor can work. Unlike previous employment-guarantee schemes (with the exception of Maharashtra’s EGS in 1973), the NREGA makes employment a right of the worker. A worker can move the courts if no employment is provided, and is, in such an event, entitled to unemployment allowance.

I have been reading several evaluations of NREGA and have visited some sites where it is being implemented. It is a well-intentioned programme that involves many dedicated people. But there can be no denying that NREGA has been an overall disappointment. The money spent on it in 2007-08 was Rs 10,133 crores, and, according to Ambastha, Shankar and Shah’s (Economic and Political Weekly, 23 February) estimates, this will cross Rs 50,000 crores when it is implemented in full.

With this kind of money, there is much more that can be done for the poor than will be achieved by this.

Recent studies show that the performance has been mixed. There has been pilferage, though on a smaller scale than in earlier food-for-work programmes. Lots of jobs have been created but lots of workers have been turned away and, importantly, seldom has unemployment allowance been given to those who could not be employed.

These studies, however, evaluate the NREGA against its own targets. What is not questioned is whether the targets themselves are flawed, and whether some of the failures are an inevitable consequence of conception flaws.

Consider first the idea of making employment a right. No country in the world has ever succeeded in providing full employment. The chance of India — with its poor quality of governance and high corruption — being the first is zero. Hence, granting people the right to employment is to devalue the meaning of ‘right’. Rights, such as not to be tortured or to minimum livelihood or access to basic health facilities, that the state should be obligated to fulfill, get devalued by adding to the list rights that we know cannot be fulfilled.

Another mistake is to judge the programme by the number of NREGA jobs that have been created. The economy is an inter-connected system; a poorly-planned intervention in one sector may create jobs in that sector but diminish employment elsewhere. Surely our aim should be to maximise all jobs in India.

Last month I was in Dahod district — a bit of Gujarat that elbows into Madhya Pradesh. Drought prone, poor and rugged, this is the region of the bhils. I travelled there with members of a remarkable organisation, Disha, that has helped organise the bhils, who have been ruthlessly exploited or, at best, ignored in the past. We surveyed an area where villagers were working on digging a well. In this area of chronic water shortage this could be useful, and, as was explained to me, it also meant that these poor people would not have to go hunting for jobs to cities.

But I could not help feeling troubled. It was evident that productivity on these projects is shockingly low and a lot of the resources produced will be of poor quality and transient. The full-fledged NREGA is expected to have over 15 million workers. This will be like running a gigantic, inefficient public-sector enterprise.

Second, since the NREGA pays people for ‘work’, it keeps them away from other productive, income-generating activity. This is bad for the nation and also for the workers. If they were just given the money, they could have done more work and earned more. In this age of rising food prices, that could be useful to them.

Unlike some other critics, I am not worried about the fiscal burden of NREGA. I believe the government ought to spend money on the poor. But the better way to do so is to give money directly as a handout — a negative income tax-to the poor. There are excellent schemes that have been tried in other nations. Something similar could enable us to have the same effect on the poor as NREGA with half the money spent. And the remaining half could then be spent on developing rural irrigation, giving incentives to the firms to take manufacturing activity to small towns and villages and providing better heath and education to the needy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Central info chief clueless on RTI pleas-India-The Times of India

Like charity, transparency begins at home. India's topmost body, created to enforce your right to know, just learnt this the hard way.

The Central Information Commission has been caught on the wrong foot after an RTI activist exposed how the commission — known for ticking off public authorities which fail to maintain records, leading to lack of transparency — is itself unable to furnish to the public information as basic as the number and status of cases and appeals pending with it. The reason: it maintains no such record.

Faced with proof that a citizen cannot know the status and pendency of cases in the commission, a stunned chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has ordered inhouse upgrade of records.

Habibullah's orders to remedy the "grevious defect" came recently after his public information officer admitted the commission kept no record of judgements and orders passed or pending on cases heard.

"The CIC’s registry will take immediate steps to computerize and maintain a record of appeals/complaints admitted, date of hearing of each appeal, decision in each case with the state of announcement," the chief information commissioner decreed while deciding an RTI plea filed by Shruti Singh Chauhan.

"Such information should be updated regularly and supplied to every information commissioner at the end of each month. This should also be made available in public domain through the commission’s website. This exercise will be completed within one month," he added.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Hindustan Times

Industry body Assocham said on Monday that over $13 billion is spent every year by about 450,000 Indian students on higher education abroad.

Over 90 per cent of students appearing for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) entrance examinations are rejected due to capacity constraints, of which the top 40 per cent pay to get admission abroad."

"Over 150,000 students every year go overseas for university education, which costs India a foreign exchange outflow of 10 billion dollars. This amount is sufficient to build more IIMs and IITs," it said.

The primary reason for a large number of Indian students seeking professional education abroad is lack of capacity in Indian institutions. The trend can be reversed by opening series of quality institutes with public-private partnership by completely deregulating higher education, Assocham President Venugopal Dhoot said in a statement.

Higher education in India is subsidised as an IIT student pays an average 120 dollar monthly fee, while students opting for education in institutions in Australia, Canada, Singapore, the US and UK shell out 1,500-5,000 dollars as fees every month.

Deregulation of higher education in the country will result in creating annual revenues of 50-100 billion dollars, besides providing 10-20 million additional jobs in the field of education alone, the chamber said. India has only 27,000 foreign students, as compared to four lakh in Australia.

Assocham further said vocational education in India is a meagre five per cent of its total employed workforce of 459.10 million as against 95 per cent in South Korea, 80 per cent in Japan and 70 per cent in Germany.

In recent times, there has been intense debates on opening up of the sector to the foreign universities. There are attempts in various states to curb the practices of sanctioning schools in the private sector. Are they do good for the society they represent (that too a question in most of the cases, thanks First Past the Post system)? Examples of Kerala and Nagaland where hundered percent literacy achieved as a result of private schooling system are very much upfront still they do want to do it.

Private sector can help overcome doctor shortage: Report-India-The Times of India

According to a Planning Commission report, while India is short of six lakh doctors, 10 lakh nurses and two lakh dental surgeons, Indian doctors who have migrated to developed countries form nearly 5% of their medical workforce.

"The group is of the view that the only way to accomplish this (bridging the gap in doctors) is for the medical education sector to be opened up completely for private sector participation. Other entry barriers such as the requirement of land and built-up space need also to be lowered to realistic levels in order to facilitate the opening of new colleges. Government's role should be limited to opening a few high quality institutions dedicated to research," the report said.

The report also drew attention to the very low turnout of personnel with post-graduate degrees. To combat these shortages, the 11th five-year plan envisages setting up of six AIIMS-like institutions and upgrading 13 existing medical institutes.

It is planned that 60 new medical colleges and 225 new nursing colleges would be established in the public private partnership mode.

"For several decades, Indian medical professionals have been serving not only in the Middle-East but also in several English speaking developed countries, including the US and the UK," said Anwarul Hoda, member (international economics) of the Planning Commission, who headed the high-level group that prepared the report.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

IPRI - International Property Rights Index

Category


Score

World Rank

Regional Rank

Overall
6.2 36 of 115 8 of 18





Legal and Political Environment
5.9 40 of 115 7 of 18
  • Judicial Independence

  • 8.2 13 of 115 3 of 18
  • Confidence in Courts

  • 7.5 10 of 115 3 of 18
  • Corruption

  • 3.3 59 of 115 10 of 18
  • Political Stability

  • 3.3 92 of 115 11 of 18





    Physical Property Rights
    7.4 20 of 115 6 of 18
  • Property Rights Protection

  • 7.8 25 of 115 7 of 18
  • Registering Property

  • 8.2 59 of 115 14 of 18
  • Ease of Loan Access

  • 4.6 21 of 115 6 of 18





    Intellectual Property Rights
    5.2 46 of 115 9 of 18
  • IP Rights Protection

  • 5.8 34 of 115 9 of 18
  • Strength of Patent Rights

  • 3.8 40 of 98 8 of 18
  • Copyright Piracy

  • 4.1 43 of 115 8 of 18





    Gender Equality
    4.7 72 of 115 12 of 18
  • Access to Land

  • 5.0 60 of 115 10 of 18
  • Access to Property Other than Land

  • 5.0 70 of 115 12 of 18
  • Access to Bank Loans

  • 5.0 69 of 115 13 of 18
  • Inheritance

  • 3.0 66 of 115 11 of 18
  • Social Rights

  • 5.7 79 of 115 12 of 1

    Friday, March 28, 2008

    A K Bhattacharya: Fewer holidays pose a bigger challenge

    A central government employee is entitled to 30 days of earned leave every year. For the civilian staff, there are eight more days of casual leave and 20 days of half-pay leave, which can be commuted to medical leave. In addition, there are two restricted holidays and 17 “gazetted” holidays including the three national holidays. If you add to this 52 Saturdays and 52 Sundays every year, when government offices are closed, the total number of holidays a central government employee can enjoy is 171days. That is close to half the number of days in a year.

    This context has to be kept in mind before judging what may well turn out to be the Sixth Pay Commission’s most controversial recommendation. To be sure, the Pay Commission does not favour a reduction in the number of earned or casual leave to which an employee is entitled. Nor does it propose switching back to the six-day week system, in vogue before Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister introduced five-day weeks in the late 1980s. There is no doubt that recommending either of these steps would have caused an even bigger controversy. Indeed, the Fifth Pay Commission had recommended a switch-back to the six-day week system and the government then lost no time in rejecting the suggestion.

    But what the Sixth Pay Commission has done, thereby stirring up a hornet’s nest, is to abolish the idea of “gazetted” holidays, which in government parlance means days when all central government offices, irrespective of where they are located, are closed. Instead of “gazetted” holidays, there should be only three national holidays, says the Commission. In addition, employees will be given the option of taking leave on eight restricted holidays to be declared by the government at the start of the year. Heads of individual departments will be allowed the option of declaring the office closed for a maximum of two restricted holidays in a year based on local considerations (like transport availability or the nature of the festival) and in consultation with the employees. All employees will be deemed to have availed of their restricted holidays on those two days.

    Thus, the total number of holidays for central government employees will be reduced from 171 to 165 days, if the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations are accepted. The loss of even six holidays will hurt the government employees, particularly when they realise that the actual increase in their pay packages has been fairly moderate. Though the idea of doing away with “gazetted” holidays (most of which are on account of religious festivals) is commendable, there will be many practical problems in implementing it. Employees may still be convinced and persuaded to accept a reduced number of holidays in a year. But the very thought of implementing the new system will give nightmares to heads of departments in various government offices.

    Consider how the head of a department of a central government office in New Delhi will handle the situation. It is likely that the two restricted holidays when he would have the office closed will be for Holi and Diwali. That would mean that he would have to keep the office open on Dussehra, Christmas and on a few other religious holidays, even though most of the employees would have availed of their restricted holidays on those days. If the department is engaged in public-dealing, then the problem gets even more complicated. The head of the department has to deploy adequate staff to maintain the services, incurring additional costs on over-time payments. The government’s overall maintenance costs will also go up as offices can be closed only on five days in a year, compared to 17 days earlier.

    This is not to argue that abolishing “gazetted” holidays is a bad idea. As a matter of principle, “gazetted” holidays on account of religious festivals should have been scrapped long ago. Most private sector companies manage with ten or even fewer holidays on account of these festivals and allow their offices in different regions follow their own schedule within an overall cap on the total number of holidays. If the private sector can manage this, there is no reason why the government or its departments across the country cannot follow a similar system. Decisions on all holidays except the three national holidays can be taken by the local offices in consultation with their headquarters. The local offices will also have to be empowered to take decisions on how to run their departments on days there will be poor attendance because of these restricted holidays.

    The point is that the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendation on abolishing “gazetted” holidays can be implemented only when the central government is prepared to take a host of other downstream steps to reform the administrative system. The Fifth Pay Commission also had recommended that government offices should remain closed only on national holidays and the employees should be given a larger number of restricted holidays. That recommendation was not accepted. The Sixth Pay Commission has made a stronger case for abolishing “gazetted” holidays. The government should not reject this idea without giving it a serious try.

    How we fight Corruption

    When a politician or civil servant takes a bribe we call it corruption.

    Corruption is also when the political elite steal from the state. It means the state can’t train nurses or teachers. Nor can it pay judges properly, so the corrupt get away with it.

    When corrupt doctors steal medicines from state hospitals and sell them privately, poor people are paying for treatment that should be free. If they can’t afford it, they do without.

    Goods, people and money move around the world more than ever before. But too often public money finds its way into private bank accounts. Britain has pledged to:

    Make sure that aid is used for the purposes it is meant for;

    Help developing countries fight corruption;

    Promote responsible business; and

    Close the international loopholes that allow people to launder stolen money.

    On top of that, the UK Government has set up special police units to investigate foreign bribery and money laundering.

    Corruption is wrong and it hits the poor hardest.

    Find out more about the agreements we made, at the G8 conference, on tackling corruption.

    Read the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which the world's richest nations have agreed to implement.

    Friday, March 07, 2008

    Roads will lead to rural prosperity-Swaminomics-Swaminathan A Aiyar-Columnists-Opinion-The Times of India

    Roads will lead to rural prosperity-Swaminomics-Swaminathan A Aiyar-Columnists-Opinion-The Times of India

    What is the best way of reducing poverty? The UPA government has highlighted its rural employment guarantee scheme (NERGA). It has allotted huge sums to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (education for all) and irrigation. It has increased spending on rural electrification and health. And it ordains subsidies worth tens of thousands of crores for fertilisers, electricity and rural credit. But are these the best ways to reduce poverty and stimulate growth in rural areas? I have long argued that rural areas need, above all, connectivity. The cities have been connected to the global economy and have taken off. Do the same for rural areas, and they will take off too. Today, alas, many villages are not even connected by road or telecom to the closest town, let alone the world. Roads are not, of course, the only things that matter - other rural projects and policies matter a great deal too. But connectivity enhances the value of every other rural investment, since it empowers people through improved mobility and access. People can more easily buy agricultural inputs and sell their produce. Children can go more easily to schools, cattle can more easily get veterinary help, and the sick can get to health centres. Remote areas have, by definition, the worst connectivity. They are among the poorest and slowest-growing, but accelerate when given connectivity. Roads can incubate a thousand small businesses, and can convert villages into towns. Government staff are much more willing to be posted to places with good connectivity, so roads improve administration. Rural productivity cannot be high without roads, but can be very high with them. This was first demonstrated in India in Punjab and Haryana, which historically had the most dynamic rural economies and lowest poverty rates. Economist Ashok Gulati relates a conversation with M S Gill, who was agriculture secretary in New Delhi and development commissioner in Punjab before becoming election commissioner. Gill said that in developing Punjab, he concentrated on a one-point agenda: build all-weather ( pucca ) roads, and the people will take care of the rest. This approach succeeded. The green revolution in Punjab hinged not only on R&D but roads too. Indeed, the returns to road investment were even higher then than today. Gulati says that studies by IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) in China, Vietnam and some African countries point to the same conclusion - rural roads do more for growth and poverty mitigation than virtually anything else. A recent IFPRI paper by Fan, Gulati and Thorat estimated the impact of different government programmes on rural growth and poverty reduction in recent decades. The poverty-reduction data for the 1990s are given in the accompanying table. Road investment gave the biggest bang for buck, followed by agricultural R&D, with education lagging some way behind. Subsidies on fertiliser, credit and power achieved rather little. For every million rupees spent, roads raised 335 people above the poverty line, and R&D 323. Every million rupees spent on education reduced poverty by 109 people, and on irrigation by 67 people. The lowest returns came from subsidies that are the most popular with politicians - subsidies on credit (42 people), power (27 people) and fertilisers (24 people). Exactly the same picture emerged when the researchers estimated the agricultural growth impact of these factors. Roads and agricultural R&D contributed by far the most to growth. Lower down came investment in education and irrigation. At the bottom came subsidies for credit, power and fertilisers. The IFPRI research paper did not estimate the impact of telecom, which had very little rural penetration in the 1990s. But rural telecom is now booming and has become a major force in increasing connectivity. I am sure it will have a huge impact. For decades, rural roads in India were neglected by most states. Besides, rural employment schemes, starting with Maharashtra's Employment Gurantee Scheme in the 1970s, created the illusion that durable rural roads could be built with labour-intensive techniques. In practice labour-intensive roads proved not durable at all, and those built in the dry season vanished in the monsoons. This finally changed with the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) launched in 2000. This, for the first time, ordained mechanised techniques to provide high-quality, all-weather roads to 1.6 lakh rural habitations without pucca roads. It also upgraded roads that had collapsed. Panchayats were made responsible for maintenance. Conversations with experts suggest that this is one of the best-functioning programmes in rural development. In 2004, the UPA government launched Bharat Nirman, an ambitious infrastructure programme for rural areas. It aims to provide connectivity by having a pucca road, electricity, telecom and drinking water in every village of over 1,000 people. This overlapped with the PMGSY. Progress on Bharat Nirman has been spotty. But rural connectivity has at last become a high government priority, and this bodes well for the future. Let me conclude by recalling what economist Robert Chambers said back in the 1970s. "If I had money, I would use it to build roads. If I had more money, I would build more roads. If I had still more money, I would build still more roads."

    Thursday, March 06, 2008

    FOOD SECURITY: THE WAY AHEAD

    Manu Sankar.
    Researcher, Delhi

    India is a land of small farmers. 650 million of her 1.2 billion people are living on the land and 80 percent farmers are owning less than two hectares of land. In other words the land provides livelihood security for 65 percent of the people and the small farmers of the country provide food security for over one billion of the population.

    Policies driven by corporate globalisation are pushing farmers off the land and peasants out of agriculture. This is not a natural evolutionary process. It is a violent and imposed process. More than 1,50,000 farmers have committed suicide in India due to distortions introduced in agriculture as a result of trade liberalization. The killing of peasants in Kalinga nagar and Nandigram who were resisting land acquisition is another aspect of the violence involved in the forced uprooting of India’s farmers.

    It is also depressing to know that the Government is also least interested to improve the lot of the farmers and the agricultural productivity. On the 26th of march 2007 while addressing the Confederation of India Industry (CII), Prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh stated that “ As I said recently in the parliament we have to recognise that in a country like ours, where the average size of land holding is small, there are limitations to what you can do to improve agricultural productivity”

    Every Government institution, which should be looking after the welfare of the country and welfare of the farmers are launching an assault on the peasantry. The agricultural minister Mr Sharad pawar whose job is to look after the farmers and provide them livelihood security, has stated that farmers need to be “weaned” off the land . The deputy chairperson of the planning commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia is talking of the feasibility of large corporate ownership farmland. While, the farmers of Kalinganagar and Nadigram has declared loudly and clearly that they intend to farm their land.

    Globalisation and trade liberalisation policies have lead to privatization of land, water, forests, natural resources and above all the biodiversity. It is often the farmers of the country who share a close association with these commons.

    Village commons well categorized as “wastelands” under the British revenue system since the colonial powers could not collect revenues from them. Today, these so called wastelands are being transferred to industry. These watelands are actually the common lands. Common lands are a significant form of natural resource endowment. It plays a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance, and more particularly in supporting the people, especially the rural poor in eking out a livelihood. However the contribution of common lands to the rural economy and more particularly in supporting the people remain unappreciated. They also provide the people with the necessary fuel and fodder. Now these common lands are being diverted for the cultivation of Jatropha, a plant used for making Biofuel.
    Village commons, as pastures, as wood lots, as sacred growers, grow biodiversity, which serves the rural economy, especially the landless, for needs of fuel, fodder, medicine and food. Jatropha plantations provide no fuel, no fodder, no food, for the village community. Village commons now provide raw material for the fuel for the cars of the urban rich. This is a shift from equity to inequity from sustainability to non-sustainability.

    Privatisation of such living resources merely deprive the common people, especially the poor farmers of vital needs to sustenance and livelihoods. It also imposes non-sustainable patterns on food production and agriculture.

    Whereever the farmers have been deprived of their land and livelihood and wherever they have been forced into corporate agriculture, the farmers have been in distress, the soil has been destroyed, the water has been overexploited and polluted. Wherever the farmers and the rural communities have been pushed off the land for industrialization it has lead to violence and they have turned out to be breeding ground for naxalism.

    Our Food security is too vital an issue to be left in the hands of a few transnational corporations with their profit motives. Food security for all is not possible within a global market system based on the dogma of free trade, competition and profit maximization. On the other hand Food security can be achieved if people within their local and regional economies feel responsible, both as producers and consumers for the ecological conditions of food production, distribution, and consumption and for the preservation of cultural and biological diversity where self-sufficiency is the mail goal. It is vital to note that a food secure and peaceful India is in the hands of her small farmers. Without the farmers India will be a food insecure, violent and undemocratic society

    It is high time we move from Globalisation to localization, from aggressive domination to non-violence, from competition to equity and from understanding humans as masters over nature to humans as part of nature to achieve the larger goal of food security and food Sovereignty

    To help farmers, don?t kill the moneylender - livemint

    To help farmers, don?t kill the moneylender - livemint

    If farmers don’t have to repay their loans, why do I have to pay mine?”
    That’s the question Maheswar Jena of the village of Ankula in Orissa has been asking himself ever since finance minister P. Chidambaram announced a Rs60,000 crore debt waiver for farmers.
    Jena, 38, had borrowed Rs95,000 for five years from State Bank of India to set up a shop. That was about two years ago. Since then, the business has failed. And now Jena wants the heavily subsidized loan — it carried an annual interest rate of 2.6% — to be forgiven.
    The debt write-off, the centrepiece of the Union Budget, is threatening to balloon into a subprime crisis of sorts, complete with “moral hazard” and fiscal recklessness. In less than 48 hours after the amnesty was announced, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, had issued a full-page newspaper advertisement.
    In the ad, Mayawati, who uses only one name, expressed her displeasure that the finance minister hadn’t forgiven the debt of artisans, weavers and other small, self-employed professionals.
    The chief minister was also disappointed with Chidambaram because he had done nothing, she said, to alleviate the misery of cultivators who had borrowed from moneylenders. These people wouldn’t benefit from a waiver of bank loans.
    Mayawati didn’t specify how the humble farmer should be extricated from the clutches of the loan shark. But others have. Following Chidambaram’s move, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar advised farmers not to pay loans they have taken from unauthorized moneylenders. These contracts, he said, should be cancelled.
    The minister couldn’t have come up with a better proposal to kill Indian agriculture once and for all. If the loan sharks are bankrupted, where would a small farmer get money to buy seed and fertilizer?
    According to a 2003 assessment of farmer indebtedness conducted by the government, eight out of 10 farming households in India have 2ha (4.9 acres) of land or less; slightly more than half of them have no debt.
    As for the rest, half of each household’s average Rs9,000 debt is to “non-institutional agencies,” which is the government’s euphemism for moneylenders.
    The smaller a farmer’s land holding is the more indebted he becomes to the loan sharks. This is not by accident.
    The formal credit-delivery system, which in villages consists of government-owned and cooperative banks, lends hardly any money to marginal farmers. The latter have no alternative except to agree to pay usurious interest rates — often 100% a year — to individual lenders.
    And farmers aren’t alone.
    Jena, the failed Orissa shopkeeper, was fortunate to have obtained cheap funds under a special government plan that seeks to promote self-employment among educated jobless youth. Not everyone is so lucky.
    Almost every small business owner in the fast growing economy is hungry for credit. Effective interest rates of 50% a year and more are quite common even as the State Bank of India’s published prime-lending rate, the one at which the bank lends to its best customers, is 12.25%.
    Surely it can’t be easy for any business to survive — let alone thrive — when borrowing money is so expensive. But the reality is that there’s demand even for such high-price credit.
    The investment boom in India is very real and — as the building of new airports, power stations, subways, roads and public amenities gathers momentum — nowhere close to peaking.
    It’s the supply of credit that’s a trickle. If the small and medium-sized enterprises saw their loans waived, their equity in the business would increase. They would be able to borrow more money from lazy bankers who prefer to invest in government securities than support real businesses.
    I’m, of course, being facetious. But politicians in India are deadly serious. PTI has reported that for Jammu and Kashmir, Chidambaram’s debt waiver for farmers may also apply to loans taken for horticulture and animal husbandry. A writ petition filed in the Supreme Court by Manohar Sharma, a New Delhi advocate, says that in its current form Chidambaram’s plan is just an “election fund”.
    Polls are expected to be held this year for the national Parliament; as many as 10 state assemblies will elect their legislators in 2008. A dangerous game of brinkmanship has begun with grave implications for fiscal prudence. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, the main opposition party, has demanded that the entire debt of all farmers should be forgiven; Chidambaram’s proposal offers full relief only to those families whose land holdings are tiny.
    There is a message here for the urban middle class in India. Perhaps it should stop paying its mortgage and credit card loans and hope that these, too, would get written off by politicians as they get greedy for votes.
    This is only the beginning of the silly season of brazen appeasement of voters in India. Jena shouldn’t lose hope

    Saturday, March 01, 2008

    Harthal for wholesale marketing

    Kerala has witnessed one Harthal and a few local protests in this month itself. Sometimes it is felt that the state known for its welfare policies is very much in tune with the holidays packages to the employees of public sector enterprsies by accomdating hartal calls. The Popular wiki article shows the word Harthal has a Gujrati origin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartal). The economics of the Harthal is not only the accumlataed loss of money on that day but has also given the birth to interesting websites like http://www.indiamarch.com/Content-25/HARTHAL-SCHEDULE.html. Economic survey at the national level reflects on the number of lock outs and the number of man days lost in last year in India as a result of strikes and Lock outs(http://www.business-standard.com/common/news_article.php?leftnm=beco&bKeyFlag=BO&autono=315332). Some other studies show that there are 80 Shutdowns in 18 in last four months (http://mutiny.in/2008/02/20/80-shutdowns-in-18-months/). If some one is interested to simulate Harthals, here comes the model (http://acm.uva.es/p/v100/10050.html). finally, these are the reasons for Harthals (http://youtube.com/watch?v=UymeNOyNV9s)(sorry, my dear non - Malayalee freinds)

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Who is Socialist ???

    Commorade Jyoti Basu was reported widely for his comments on Socialism in last couple of days. It was on the same day Ratan Tata unveiled Nano, the one lakh car to global market. I was wondering who is the socialist. it is not because of the reason that Nano is assembled in Communist hinterland of West Bengal but this may lead to more equality among the lower middle class population in terms of the car ownership. if the socialism preaches on the equality, justice and common good, Nano features such a platform for the world populace. I doubt who is the socialist in this scenario. Yes, Jyoti Basu is right in his contention