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



World Rank

Regional Rank

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