Saturday, November 22, 2008

What Can You Do with Rs500 (US$10)?

What can you do if you get Rs 500/- (approx US$10)?

Maybe nothing!... it is so little
Maybe everything!... it is so much!!

One of my students sent me this amazingly simple - yet unsettling - 2min clip by Nitin Das of Filmkaar (Our mission is to make 'Extraordinary films with Ordinary people'):

500:


http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=M0XTPSYdP08


After all, we do live in "two Indias", where:

  • where crossing the distance between a slum and a mall can be a stroll - or an arduous, but diginified, struggle

  • where numbers of one India defy/deny the numbers of the other India

  • where Rs 500/- can make a life-change for 80-90% of population

  • Thursday, November 20, 2008

    ...putting the Humpty-Dumpty/ Global Economy together again!

    The Global Economy, as we know/ believe/ are told, is in recession/ downturn/ meltdown....and the corporate and global leaders are trying their best to repair/contain the damage. Ordinary people around the world are told that everything will work-out fine with the new initatives where the government and industry leaders are working hand-in-hand... They will, so to speak, put the humpty-together again!

    Of course, these are complex decisions, having wide-ranging impact on the national and global economy; most people don't know/understand how these decisions are taken.

    Here are some examples!!

    Fed Hires Failed Bank Executive
    The Federal Reserve Bank is drawing jeers for hiring a former top executive from the now-defunct investment bank Bear Stearns to help it gauge the health of other banks.

    The Federal Reserve Bank has hired the former head of risk management for Bear Stearns, which imploded this spring.

    Michael Alix was head of risk management for Bear Stearns for two years until the institution imploded this spring, a victim of its (risky) subprime-mortgage related investments.

    Last Friday, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York quietly announced it had hired Alix to advise it on bank supervision... [Read on...]


    ...On Private Jets to Plead for Public Funds
    The CEOs of the big three automakers flew to the nation's capital yesterday in private luxurious jets to make their case to Washington that the auto industry is running out of cash and needs $25 billion in taxpayer money to avoid bankruptcy.

    Even as their companies fail, Ford and GM CEOs continue lavish lifestyles.

    The CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler may have told Congress that they will likely go out of business without a bailout yet that has not stopped them from traveling in style, not even First Class is good enough.

    All three CEOs - Rick Wagoner of GM, Alan Mulally of Ford, and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler - exercised their perks Tuesday by flying in corporate jets to DC. Wagoner flew in GM's $36 million luxury aircraft to tell members of Congress that the company is burning through cash, asking for $10-12 billion for GM alone.... [Read on...]


    AIG Execs At Posh Resort After $85 Billion Bailout
    News cameras watched as American International Group, or AIG, executives were once again living it up at a fancy resort in Phoenix.

    Cocktail parties, limousines and dinner at a top Phoenix restaurant were part of their latest retreat.

    AIG instructed the hotel to keep everything secret, no signs with its name were allowed.... AIG made significant efforts to disguise the conference, making sure there were no AIG logos or signs anywhere on the property.

    An AIG spokesperson said there were no AIG markers in order to minimize signage costs and to lower the company's profile.

    A hotel employee told ABC15, "We can't even say the word [AIG]."... [Read on...]


    $500 wine at White House Financial Crisis Meeting?
    The global economy may be undergoing a significant downturn, but the White House's dinner budget still appears flush with cash.

    After all, world leaders who are in town to discuss the economic crisis are set to dine in style Friday night while sipping wine listed at nearly $500 a bottle.

    According to the White House, tonight's dinner to kick off the G-20 summit includes such dishes as "Fruitwood-smoked Quail," "Thyme-roasted Rack of Lamb," and "Tomato, Fennel and Eggplant Fondue Chanterelle Jus."

    To wash it all down, world leaders will be served Shafer Cabernet “Hillside Select” 2003, a wine that sells at $499 on Wine.com.... [Read on...]

    Sunday, October 26, 2008

    The "Free-Market Oracles" say it was all wrong!! - part-2

    Continuing from the previous posting:

    Almost two decades back, in a 1989 essay, Francis Fukuyama had declared The End of History (a thesis which he later elaborated in a book titled The End of History and the Last Man). His basic constention was that with the dawn of Liberal Democracy and Free Market Capitalism, mankind had achieved the fundamentally most effective and the final stage of human government and method of organising the economy.

    With this achivement, he stated, all competing ideologies have fallen, or will fall. He wrote:

    "...What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

    Such a momentus claim about the triumph of western (American) politico-economic system made Fukuyama something of a celebrity, and a poster-boy for the neo-liberals...

    Recently, however, like Alan Greenspan's self-enlightenment that free-market capitalism is not flawless, Fukuyama too accepted that along with the Wall Street, the utopian vision of capitalism has also collapsed.

    Excerpts from his article The Fall of America, Inc. (Newsweek, October 13th,'08)

    "The implosion of America's most storied investment banks. The vanishing of more than a trillion dollars in stock-market wealth in a day. A $700 billion tab for U.S. taxpayers. The scale of the Wall Street crackup could scarcely be more gargantuan. Yet even as Americans ask why they're having to pay such mind-bending sums to prevent the economy from imploding, few are discussing a more intangible, yet potentially much greater cost to the United States — the damage that the financial meltdown is doing to America's "brand."

    Ideas are one of our most important exports, and two fundamentally American ideas have dominated global thinking since the early 1980s... The first was a certain vision of capitalism—one that argued low taxes, light regulation and a pared-back government would be the engine for economic growth.... The second big idea was America as a promoter of liberal democracy around the world, which was seen as the best path to a more prosperous and open international order....

    ...But now the engine of that growth, the American economy, has gone off the rails and threatens to drag the rest of the world down with it. Worse, the culprit is the American model itself: under the mantra of less government, Washington failed to adequately regulate the financial sector and allowed it to do tremendous harm to the rest of the society."


    Fukuyama goes on to justify that the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of unleashing the "free" market forces was appropriate in that historical context, but does accept that:

    "...Like all transformative movements, the Reagan revolution lost its way because for many followers it became an unimpeachable ideology, not a pragmatic response to the excesses of the welfare state. Two concepts were sacrosanct: first, that tax cuts would be self-financing, and second, that financial markets could be self-regulating.

    ...Reaganomics introduced the idea that virtually any tax cut would so stimulate growth that the government would end up taking in more revenue in the end (the so-called Laffer curve). In fact, the traditional view was correct: if you cut taxes without cutting spending, you end up with a damaging deficit.... globalization masked the flaws in this reasoning for several decades. Foreigners seemed endlessly willing to hold American dollars, which allowed the U.S. government to run deficits while still enjoying high growth, something that no developing country could get away with.

    ...The second Reagan-era article of faith — financial deregulation — was pushed by an unholy alliance of true believers and Wall Street firms, and by the 1990s had been accepted as gospel by the Democrats as well. They argued that long-standing regulations... were stifling innovation and undermining the competitiveness of U.S. financial institutions. They were right — only, deregulation produced a flood of innovative new products like collateralized debt obligations, which are at the core of the current crisis.

    ....the downside of deregulation were clear well before the Wall Street collapse. In California, electricity prices spiraled out of control in 2000-2001 as a result of deregulation in the state energy market, which unscrupulous companies like Enron gamed to their advantage. Enron itself, along with a host of other firms, collapsed in 2004 because accounting standards had not been enforced adequately. Inequality in the United States rose throughout the past decade, because the gains from economic growth went disproportionately to wealthier and better-educated Americans, while the incomes of working-class people stagnated...
    "

    Full article is available here

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    The "Free-Market Oracles" say it was all wrong!! - part-1

    Two "free-market" evangilists retracted their beliefs this past week...though slightly too late!

    Here is the first one:

    WASHINGTON (AP): Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says the current financial crisis has uncovered a flaw in how the free market system works and that has shocked him.

    Greenspan told the House Oversight Committee on Thursday that his belief that banks would be more prudent in their lending practices because of the need to protect their stockholders had proven in the latest crisis to be wrong.

    Greenspan said he had made a "mistake" in believing that banks in operating in their self-interest would be sufficient to protect their shareholders and the equity in their institutions.

    Greenspan said that he had found "a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works."

    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    Alternatives to Singur

    This week, Tatas drew curtains to their Singur Nano project...

    ...This being a highly govt-subsidised project (ref: Nano-economics), this withdrwal perhaps also perhaps saved the exchequer (and therefore the taxpayers) around Rs.3000cr

    The "public" discourse on this project (which ,unfortunately, has now got reduced to the MSM's rant, and the corporate press-releases) has typically been tinted with a with-us-or-against-us kind of argument, i.e., the terms of debate are: if you don't support this project, then you are against "industrialisation"/development.

    As an old adage of public deception says:
    "if you get them to ask wrong questions, you will never have to give the right answers."

    So since no one has asked this:
    "are/were there alternatives to the Singur model of land-acquisition/industrialisation?"

    Actually there are a few which I could find:

  • Salboni Model:
    To quote:
    "For the steel plant at Salboni in Bengal, JSW has offered free shares worth the value of the land over and above full upfront cash compensation.

    ....Over 700 land owners has received cash as well as free shares of the new company, promoted by JSW Steel, which will build a 10-million-tonne plant over the next 10 years involving an investment of Rs 35,000 crore.

    It has often been said that JSW could offer shares because there was only a small parcel of private land at Salboni. But Jindal said a larger number would not deter him in future."

    [Read more...]

  • Barmer Farmers to Rent Land
    To quote:
    "Rajasthan's Barmer has paved the way for a new formula for land acquisition with the Jindals agreeing to rent the land from farmers for lignite mining rather than getting the government to acquire it.

    The power plant at Bhadres will mine 17000 hectares of land for lignite which will fuel the plant according to the new deal once the mining is over.

    The Jindals will hand the land back to the farmers... According to a survey the lignite will last for only 43 years and according to the deal once the lignite runs out the mining will stop and the land will be given back to its owners, the farmers."

    [Read more...]

  • Prem Shankar Jha's HT article this week
    To quote:
    "Are the blood and tears of the poor a necessary price of ‘development’? Was there no way of making the landholders and sharecroppers in Singur beneficiaries of ‘development’ instead of its victims? There was, but the Tatas never even considered it and took refuge in the legal plea that they were not involved in the acquisition of the land.

    To see how easy it would have been to co-opt the landowners and sharecroppers, one needs to ask just one counterfactual question: what would have happened if the Tatas had decided to set aside just one quarter of 1 per cent of their annual sales revenue and distributed it as an annual royalty to the owners and sharecroppers, for the use of their land? With an annual turnover of Rs 5,000 crore (from 500,000 cars), the royalty would have amounted to Rs 125,000 per acre per year to be split between landowners and sharecroppers. To recover this added outlay, the Tatas would have had to increase the price of their car by only Rs 250."

    [Read more...]

    I am still searching for solutions between the "number-driven economic growth" vis-a-vis "models of sustainable development"...

    If you have any clues, please help out...

  • Friday, October 03, 2008

    Bailing-Out the Wall-Street Bail-Out Plan...

    This is bizzaire and hilarious...

    The $700bn Wall Street bail-out proposal was defeated in the US House of Representatives last week. One of the criticisms - among many - of the proposal was that it hardly had anything for the Main Street taxpayer.

    To be fair, the new version, which was approved by the US Senate later, has several provisions (e.g., disaster relief breaks, better deductions for costs of higher education, relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax, etc.) which will help many ordinary americans...

    These new provisions - which also add another $112bn to the bailout plans! - contain some other measures of tax relief, which... err.... well, here are some examples:

  • $2mn tax benefit for makers of wooden arrows for children

  • $100mn tax break to benefit auto racetrack owners

  • $192mn in rebates on excise taxes for the Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands rum industry

  • $148mn in tax relief for U.S. wool fabric producers

  • $49mn tax benefit for fishermen and other plaintiffs who sued Exxon over the 1989 tanker Valdez spill

  • $322mn tax credit to manufacturers of energy efficient appliances (e.g., dishwashers, clothes washers and refrigerators, etc.)

  • $500mn tax break for film companies that produce movies in the USA

  • $10mn tax credit to help employers defray the costs of storing the bicycles of their employees who commute to work!

    etc...

    As one of the commentator said: "You can't make this stuff up."

    Sources:
  • Bailout dish has heaping side of pork
  • House bailout legislation larded with - yup, you guessed it - earmarks

  • Thursday, September 25, 2008

    Notes from the B-School Factory...

    The recent Outlook Magazine - which carries the survey of India's Best B-Schools - has two very refreshing and insightful articles.

    Excerpts:

    1. The Matchstick Managers

      It came as a much-needed shock to the system. Two months ago, IIT Madras director M.S. Ananth raised an issue that everyone in the academic fraternity agrees with, but no one quite wants to speak about openly. Questioning the relevance of the IIT entrance examination, he said the present system fails to attract the best talent, those with raw intelligence. This, he stressed, was because a large number of students took the help of coaching institutes to crack the exams and did not possess the genuine skills required for the IITs.

      While Ananth’s observation was based on the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for the IITs, it applies equally to the Combined Admission Test (CAT) and other tests conducted for entry into India’s premier management institutes.... For instance, there are the Xavier Admissions Test (XAT)—which has 43 affiliate B-schools, the Management Aptitude Test (MAT) as well as a slew of state entrance tests for various management institutions. Most of these use similar methods to test candidates....

      ...What then are the complaints against the current system of testing? For one, there is a clear feeling that it lacks in testing social values, considered important today. Says management guru Mrityunjaya B. Athreya, "The B-schools have gone too far towards the objective-type examinations and there is a general decline in language and communications skills. These are important for management. There is also not enough stress on the general skills and knowledge required in this kind of work." He goes on to add that while business is gradually stepping up its exposure to corporate social responsibility (CSR), that spirit is not visible in management entrance examinations. "It is not enough to produce technicians and engineers. We need holistic people," says Athreya."... [Read on...]
    2. Aloof From the Light
      "...It was a surprising, and telling, exclusion from the list of compulsory courses at IIM-A. From this year, ‘Indian Social and Political Environment’ is no longer an option for first-year MBA students at the country’s leading B-school. The course, which has been around for many years, encouraged MBA students to learn something beyond boardroom skills by allowing them to regularly interact with disadvantaged sections of society and visit sites of development projects, among other things. This year’s batch at IIM-A will no longer have that privilege... There were some who felt this could be just another example of how alienated business schools are from the country’s social realities. And how, with a single-minded focus on training executives to be in sync with the corporate mantra of maximising growth and profits, B-school graduates are becoming immune to larger social responsibilities.

      ....Managing land acquisitions and the environment, for example, are seen by most students as more annoyance and expense than responsibility. That’s a pity, because businesses have to willy-nilly deal with such issues that have widespread social ramifications. Looking at the intense opposition from local stakeholders to the numerous SEZs being planned, or the environmental opposition to large projects, one would have thought B-schools would sensitise future managers to these prickly matters.

      ..."Most students who come to business schools do so with a one-point goal of getting a good salary. They seem to be increasingly less informed about the problems our country faces and less concerned about the larger humane role that businesses can play," adds Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, professor at IIM Calcutta’s Centre for Development and Environmental Policy. "It seems educational institutions are creating intellectual marginals at the core of our metropolises," he observes.

      The B-schools, unfortunately, couldn’t care less. Most MBA graduates are lapped up with high salary packages by firms hungry for fresh talent. In that sense, there’s no market-driven push to incorporate courses of greater social relevance. And this perpetuates business that is isolated from the rest of society".... [Read on...]

    Friday, September 19, 2008

    So what happened to "Capitalism", "Free" Market economy, etc..

    The "Market" is supposed to "correct" itself - so we have been told... And a good government is one which governs/intervenes the least in the "free" market dynamics!

    But then, last week - actually last few months - at least one government, which has championed/ branded/ enforced the cause of the "free" market, has been interfering with the "free market" - actually bailing out companies (Countrywide Financial, Bear Sterns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, etc. - many more to come)...

    Here are some reflections/links - sent by some friends - on this changing paradigm...

  • Masters of The Universe Humbled

    "Not surprisingly, the atmosphere at this year's World Economic Forum was grim. Those who think that globalization, technology and the market economy will solve the world's problems seemed subdued.

    Most chastened of all were the bankers. Against the backdrop of the U.S. subprime crisis, the disasters at many financial institutions and the weakening of the stock market, these "masters of the universe" seemed less omniscient than they did a short while ago. And central bankers, too, were in the Davos doghouse this year.

    Anyone who goes to international conferences is used to hearing Americans lecture everyone else about transparency. There was still some of that at Davos. I heard the usual suspects – including a former treasury secretary who had been particularly vociferous in such admonishments during the East Asia crisis – bang on about the need for transparency at sovereign wealth funds (though not at American or European hedge funds).

    But this time, developing countries could not resist commenting on the hypocrisy of it all.
    " ...Read on


  • Private Enterprise Worship Exposed

    "The high priests of capitalism are in sackcloth and ashes, their belief in markets shattered, their catechism of risk-taking renounced. From Wall Street to Detroit, once-devout believers in unfettered private enterprise are running from their religion. Now that their greed has brought the economy to the brink of depression, they want government help.

    What happened to those masters of the universe? What happened to their handmaidens, the Republican politicians who denounced government regulation and read from the holy scriptures as recorded by Ayn Rand?

    When ordinary Americans began to lose their homes several months ago, conservatives were quick to denounce them for being too stupid to understand a simple mortgage or too undisciplined to know how to live within their means. The right-wing talking heads had a field day denouncing plumbers and painters, teachers and personal trainers threatened with foreclosure: They’re idiots! They’re losers! They’re suckers!

    Well, it now seems there were quite a few idiots among the brokers and bankers who bundled loans in complicated investment vehicles they didn’t fully understand. They actually believed they could vastly increase the financial rewards they received while virtually eliminating the risk of losses. That’s the very definition of “sucker.”
    "...Read on


  • Banking on Neo-Confucian Capitalism

    "It's university graduation season again and invariably, many graduates I encounter want to become investment bankers.

    In less than a year, financial stocks have plummeted by over 70 per cent in value. Millions of Americans and Britons have lost their homes. Countless millions more around the world have seen their net wealth drop precipitously, possibly never to recover within their working lives. Who to blame?

    Investment bankers, of course, who devised all those sub-prime mortgages and other cute "products" with long, exotic names.

    As someone noted, never in history have so many people lost so much money due to the actions of so few.

    Why then would young graduates want to be investment bankers? Well, to begin with, because investment bankers reward themselves pretty well, regardless of how others are doing. Bonuses paid in London's financial district totalled f6 billion 6815.7 billion) this year, though the total losses of financial services companies were 10 times greater.

    And in case you think that pay should correlate with performance, don't be naive. Last year, the CEO of a large private equity fund walked away with a US8350 million (SS499 million) bonus, though his just-listed company's share price had tanked by 37 per cent.

    Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz recently noted that the Wall Street financial system "paid bankers to gamble. When things turned out well, they walked away with huge bonuses. When things go badly, as now, they do not share in the losses. Even if they lose their jobs, they walk away with huge sums".

    To be fair to the maligned financial engineers, others also got rich during the good years. In 1994, the average American CEO was paid about 90 times more than the average blue-collar worker. Today, it is 180 times.

    But it is still mainly bankers who buy the thousand-dollar wines and Bentley convertibles. In America's Fortune 1,000 industrial companies, CEOs make around two to five times more than their immediate subordinates. In Wall Street, the top dog earns around 20 to 40 times more than his immediate subordinates.

    It's not surprising then that income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high. The share of the national wealth owned by the top 1 per cent of Americans has more than doubled – from 20 per cent in 1976 to more than 50 per cent today. Through changes to the tax system, an American private equity partner can today pay less taxes than the cleaning lady in his office, according to economist Paul Krugrnan.

    How did all this happen with no one complaining?
    " ...Read on

  • Sunday, September 07, 2008

    Make a Difference.. Bihar "Floods" - an appeal

    It is still called a "flood" - which it is not!

    It is a river - Kosi- which has changed its course by almost 30-degrees, inundating a huge chunk of land with water...



    This may also be one of the largest mass-migration and rehabilitation challenge in the history of Independent India - we still do not know the numbers... 1 million... 3 millions... Who knows?!

    Words/number/language, however, are linear; they do not convey the multi-dimensional reality and often fail to evoke the typically natural human empathic response... And therefore, these pictures to make this appeal:








    ..etc.

    ...maybe our/your chance to get out of The Logic of Inaction...and support those who are doing something to tackle the situation...
    ... And so:

  • 1. How you can help
  • 2. Who you can contact

    =================
    1. How You Can Help
    =================
    Material support:
  • Dry ration - Rice, Chiwra, Biscuits, Packed Eatables
  • Medicines,
  • candles & matchbox,
  • torch & batteries,
  • utensils,
  • tarpaulin & thick polythese
  • feeding bottles,
  • buckets,
  • ropes,
  • bedsheets,
  • all kind of usable clothing & footwear.

    Logistical support:
  • Transport support to reach the material to effected areas
  • Space for collection centers
  • Facilities for local pickups,
  • Transportation of material from different cities to GOONJ processing centers in Delhi, Chennai & Mumbai

    Volunteer support:
    Please contact the organisations mentioned below.

    Financial support:
    See below.

    =========================
    Who You Can Contact/Help
    =========================

    I know about these two, and can vouch for them:

    -----
    1. Goonj
    -----
    Donations in India- Please send cash/cheque/draft in the name of GOONJ and send it to

    GOONJ
    J-93, Sarita Vihar,
    New Delhi- 76
    (Kindly send your full name & address with the contribution for receipt/accounting purpose.
    (All donations to GOONJ in India are tax exempted u/s 80 G of IT act.)

    Overseas donation can be sent through Cheque (in the name of GOONJ with your full particulars)
    or by wire transfer with an information on

    Yasmeengoonj[at]gmail.com

    Rotate it (valid only for overseas donations) through
  • Wacovia Bank,
    New York
    swift code- 2000193008933,
    GOONJ, A/C No- 2591101004644

  • Bank- Canara Bank,
    H block,
    market Sarita Vihar,
    New Delhi- 76
    Swift Code- CNRBINBBDFS

  • Contact- GOONJ
    H.O Delhi-J-93,
    Sarita Vihar, New Delhi- 76
    Tel.- 011-26972351,
    41401216
    E-mail- goonjinfo[at]gmail.com, anshugoonj24[at]gmail.com

  • GOONJ Mumbai- Mr. Rohit Singh
    Tel.- 9322381600,
    Email- rohitgoonj1@gmail.com

  • GOONJ Chennai- Ms. Padma
    Tel.- 9842665320,
    Email- padmagoonj@gmail.com

    -------------------
    2. AID India & Pratham
    -------------------

  • Funds:
    Donate online @:
    http://www.eurekachild.org/biharflood

    or you can send a check payable to AID INDIA (mention Bihar Flood Relief) to:

    AID INDIA
    Post Box No: 4903, Gopalapuram, Chennai - 600086, India.
    Phone: +91-44-42106493 / 28350403

    For more information please contact: eurekachild@gmail.com or

    Prabha: +91-98403-51132 (prabha.balaraman[at]gmail.com)
    Gomathi: +91-94453-91090 (gomathiaid[at]gmail.com)

  • Friday, September 05, 2008

    ...thanks to my teachers

    Today is the "Teacher's Day... and an occasion to remember and thank those who continue to teach me...

    Sometime back, somewhere else, I had written about On Being a Teacher...
    ...which were essentialy my musings on the dilemma about what "teaching/learning" is all about (still trying to figure that out!)

    A few days later, an old student sent an invite on Orkut:
    "...have attended some of ur utterly confusing n thot provokin lect."

    Curious about what this meant, I wrote back:
    "How can something be simultaneously utterly confusing and thought-provoking?"

    ...and got the response:
    "there were times... when we were faced with ideas/beliefs completely opposite to what we had carried all along... so confusing because we kinda never expected that the opposite side ever existed or was appreciated.... Thought provoking because then later we end up appreciating (or at least start looking at the logic) for all sides of the argument."

    That made sense to me - and I learned something about teaching/learning from her mail...

    Today, among the many heart-warming mails/messages which one gets on the Teacher's Day, one which captured this teching/learning matrix, had this quote about learning/teaching in these verses from Rainer Maria Rilke:

    Live the questions now
    Perhaps you will then, gradually,
    Without noticing it,
    Live along some distant day
    Into the answer.


    Like him, I also "gradually, without noticing it, live... into the answer" through these myriad messages and interactions.

    So this post is just to say thanks to my many teachers - many of who sat through my classes...

    Wednesday, August 27, 2008

    Nano-Economics

    [NOTE: This post is NOT about a certain discipline which is actually known as "Nano-Economics", i.e., "a branch of economics that studies the creation and distribution of wealth related to the technological changes brought by nano-technology"]

    it is about the economics of the supposedly world's cheapest car called "Nano"

    however, this post is also NOT about:

  • the land which has been taken away from the 12,000+ "land-losers" in Singur by the state/govt acting as the land-broker under the garb of "public purpose" as losely defined (/interpreted?) in the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

  • or about the 411 acres of land which the state/govt acknowledged that it acquired without the consent of its owners.

  • or about the acquisition of a "fertile, multi-crop land" which was questioned by the Supreme Court, since it goes against the provisions of Land Acquisition Act, 1894, which the state/govt invoked to acquire the land in the first place.

  • the claim by the company [Tata Motors Ltd (TML)] - proven false - that the acquired land was not usable for farming because of waterlogging

    ..and many such other media-generated myths (somehow, the mainstream media always puts the other viewpoint as "alleged" (^_*)

    And this is definitely not about the current siege and politics which surrounds the project site... And NOT about whether the 400acre land should be returned to the owners or not...

    Coming back to The Economics of Manufacturing the Cheapest (Rs.1 lac = $2,500) Car in the World...

    ...what are the facts behind producing the world's cheapest car?

    Fact 1:
  • West Bengal Govt (WBSIDC) acquires about 1000 acres of land at a cost of about Rs.150-200cr., and

  • TML would pay back Rs.855cr. for the land to the WBSIDC.

    This sounds good for WBSIDC!!... till one looks at the small-print in the payment schedule, as below:

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic


    ... Essentially meaning that the TML has no requirement for up-front payment for 650acres of land ... in the first 30 years, the TML will pay merely Rs.56cr for the land for the plant (adjusted to around 5% inflation, this is a remarkable bargain/largesse/dole-out)... It will, however, pay a rent of Rs.8000/annum/acre for the rest of the approx 300 acre land

    Fact 2:
    This transaction/ agreement between WBSIDC and TML is apparently not legal either. Earlier this year, The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) indicted WBSIDC pointing out that:

    "As per the government directive (February 2006) for long-term leases for 99 years, the lessee should pay 95 per cent of the market value of the land at one-time premium on commencement of the lease and pay annual rent at the rate of 0.3 per cent of the market value of the land."

    Needless to say, if this directive was followed, it would have increased the cost of the "cheapest" car.

    Fact 3:
    In addition, as this report points out:

  • The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) will give a "soft term loan" of Rs 200 crore to TML on 1 per cent annual interest.
  • The VAT will be refunded to TML for the first 10-years as loan at 0.1% interest.

    Fact 4:
    Costs can be reduced through subsidies (in the current lingo, these are, of course, not "subsidies" but "incentives" :)... And so, this article reports about the "Rs 160-crores bonanza" as "up-front infrastructural assistance" to TML:

    "...A virtual gift of 650 acres of prime land to Tata Housing Development Company (THDC) in Rajarhat New Town and in the adjoining Bhangar Rajarhat Area Development Authority for building an IT and residential township along with WBIDC as a partner is also part of Mr Bhattacharjee’s "commitment" to provide "upfront infrastructural assistance" for the TML-Singur project. The "gift" has been made with the idea that the profit that THDC and WBIDC would make here will be used for subsidising the manufacturing cost of the first series of the Rs one lakh cars to be made by TML at Singur. The Tatas had sought this "gift" so as to enable themselves to provide a cross-subsidy for keeping the cost of their first series of 100,000 cars within the Rs 1 lakh price target."

    I guess, there may be other incentives/subsidies/dole-outs to make the "cheapest" car of the world - but I am not aware of those...

    In any case... Well,... here goes my 300th post on this blog :0)

  • Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Left Behind...

    In one of his speeches, Bill Clinton said: ""The opposition to globalization in the world is rooted in the feeling of some people that they are left out, left behind..."

    Since he mentioned this as a "feeling" of "some" people, I began making a list:

  • aboriginal tribe...
  • casual labours...
  • children of sex workers...
  • children in war-zones...
  • citizens of countless "Harsuds"...
  • communities living on mineral-rich land
  • cocoa farmers of Ghana…
  • construction labours of shopping malls and international airports...
  • dalits...
  • development-induced-displaced (DIDs)...
  • disabled and differently challenged...
  • distress migrants...
  • ethnic Tibetans in Tibet...
  • female foetuses, the girl child, women...
  • fishermen and fishing villages of Mumbai... (I guess, of elsewhere too)
  • habitats near the oil resources...
  • household domestic help living in slums outside Gurgaon's gated cities
  • "illigal" Bangladeshi labour in India...
  • indigenous communities...
  • Indonesia’s migrant “unskilled” domestic help women...
  • immigrant manual labour in Dubai...
  • landless bargadars of Singur...
  • manual scavangers...
  • marginal fishermen...
  • mentally challenged...
  • mill workers of Mumbai...
  • old abandoned parents...
  • out-sourced “slave” labour at the end of global supply chains...
  • nomadic tribes...
  • Palestine...
  • pavement dwellers...
  • people of Kashmir...
  • people of Manipur...
  • platform kids...
  • project-affected-people of the large dams...
  • rag-pickers...
  • rickshaw pullers...
  • right-sized workers...
  • sexual minorities...
  • sharecroppers...
  • single mothers... .
  • slum children...
  • small islanders...
  • subsistence farmers in India...
  • those on the other side of digital divide...
  • tribals of Chhatisgarh... and of Jharkhand, Orissa...
  • urban poor...
  • vanishing tribes of Burma/Myanmar...
  • Zapatisatas...

    No, it is not complete, so help me to complete it...

    Post-script: Thanks for adding to the list. I have included them in italics

  • Saturday, July 26, 2008

    On Facing Death...

    Randy Pausch, the IT Prof in Carnegie Mellon (with specialisation in Virtual Reality), died today... He succombed to pancreatic cancer, which he had harboured, looked in the eyes since long....

    Since the time, when in September last year, he had given his "Last Lecture", he had become a phenomeon ("The Last Lecture" is a series at CMU, where Profs are invited to give the lecture/talk, which they would, if it was there last one... IN case of Randy Pausch, it was a real talk, since his doctors had given him just a few months to live)...



    Since then, he had appeared on Oprah Winfrey show, had written a book "The Last Lecture"...etc., etc.

    [To access any of those just Google "Randy Pausch"]

    What struck me about his "Last Lecture" was:

    1. his humaneness in the face of death, and

    2. that he had prepared his lecture, not for the audience, but for his 3 kids - he was making a point about a life - lived and understood in its own context
    ...

    ...which reminded me about someone, I used to know intimately - in similar circumstances, who had written:
      "...It is like this - it has to be different for everyone. If twenty years back someone had told me all that I would feel, or that there was a point - I would have thrown it all out without a second thought - because nothing mattered when I was 18... Life for me began when... Then other things happened, and from time to time I lost track of the meaning behind it... I still have to put it all together. And no one else can make this story work out for me. This is a crisis even now, in fact, now larger than life.

      And still, when I am not there any, I want you to tell X__, it mattered...

      ... I think the image I have resisted putting on paper is the Confluence. Two rivers coming closer and joining for a while - but each has to take a different direction. Each absorbs the other for a while, and nothing remains the same. Yet, the point of the river is to flow. The point of the human being is to remain humane and vulnerable...

      And still I want you to tell X__, that it mattered. There was a point to the music, the chocolates, the fancy dresses, the loneliness and the hopelessness, the talks, the walks, the dreams and the mourning, the helplessness in the face of hurt...

      ...That is the point for me... don’t call it a quest for immortality or any such thing. It is not for my sake that I wrote this down. It is for her and you - but because of all that, it is for me also."

    Randy Pausch's Last Lecture was his way of saying: "It mattered."!!

    In any case, the Life goes on!...

    [Cross-posted @ Madhukar's Musings]

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    India's Rural Energy Security - Factsheet

    Indian economy is growing and needs more and more energy to maintain its growth (at least growth of that part of India, which is growing). Therefore, there is much discussions about the Energy Security needs of India. In fact, this coming week the current UPA government may fall (or survive) for the option it has chosen.

    However, there is also a need to differentiate between the urban and rural energy security, to have a meaningful public debate/discourse on the issue.

    Here are some facts, which I could collect:

  • There are around 640,000 villages in India, accounting for about 70% of the population. Of these, according to GOI, in 2004, 475,000 (i.e., around 74%) villages were "electrified".

  • Since independence, India had made strides in Rural Electrification, increasing the number of electrified villages from 1,500 in 1947 to 481,124 villages by 1991. After that, however, as a part of the "liberalisation" and "reforms" process, a number of villages were "de-electrified", decreasing the number to 474,928 by 2004.

  • GOI's definition of electrification, till a couple of years back, however, was any village which is connected to the grid (to quote: "A village will be deemed to be electrified if electricity is used in the inhabited locality within the revenue boundary of the village for any purpose what-so-ever"). The definition has no mention about the number of households using electricity... Thus, a single pole and a 40W bulb in the local police station sufficed for village "electrification". (thankfully, it got changed to a definition of electrification as electricit reaching to 10% households then)

  • Therefore, the actual number of rural population with access to electricity is much lower than the 74%. Of the approximately 138mn rural households, only around 60mn (i.e., 43%) have access to electricity (compared to 87.6% in urban India)...

  • ...which would roughly mean (taking an average of 5 persons/family), around 285mn rural people (or around 26% of total Indian population) do not have access to electricity.

  • The rate of Rural Electrification is slow, and lags on targets. Under India's Rural Electrification initiative (Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana - RGGVY - launched in April'05), the target is to provide grid connection to 125,000 villages and 23.4mn rural households by March'09. However, as on July'08 - with just 9 months to go - only 51,122 village have got electrified, giving access to electricity to mere 3.3mn rural households.

  • The power generation capacity of a state seems to be delinked to availability of power to rural households. In fact, in most cases it is inversely proportional.

  • For instance, Jharkhand, is a "power-surplus" state, where 90% rural households have no electricity; similarly, Orissa and West Bengal - both with surplus electricity - have 80% un-electrified rural households. Chattisgarh, too - another power-surplus state - can boast only of providing power to 46% of its rural households.

  • On the other hand, states which provide electricity to their rural households - Himachal Pradesh (95%), Punjab (90%), Haryana (78%), Karnataka (72%), Gujarat (72%), Maharashtra (65%), etc. - are all power-deficit states.

  • In practice, however, even in these states where large proportion of rural households are connected to grid, the actual availability of power is scant. Since, these are power-deficit states, load-shedding is inevitable. However, bulk of load-shedding is done in the rural areas (whose requirement for electricity is seen as less or limited). Some examples:

      - A news item about load-shedding in Karnataka last year says:
      "The State Government will not enforce load-shedding in urban areas in March and April as students will be preparing for their examinations, Minister for Energy H.D. Revanna has said."
      [which may sound strange if one knows that of the 47,000 schools in Karnataka, more than 41,000 are in rural area]

      - Similarly, a recent news item from Maharashtra, mentions:
      "In highly industrialised urban areas, the load shedding will be from four to seven hours. In other urban areas, it will be from seven to 8.5 hours, while in the rural areas it will be for 11 hours, according to an official release said here today."

  • There are also legitimate technical and economic reasons for lesser priority to rural area. The cost of connecting to grid far-flung villages, payment default and electricity theft, high costs of supply and maintenance, etc., make rural electrification through the grid financially unviable. To quote from the report on "Rural Electrification in India: Economic and Institutional aspects of Renewables (the references have been deleted for easy reading):

      "Grid connection remains the most favoured approach to rural electrification for the majority of rural households. Indeed the latest government programme for rural electrification, the RGGVY, focuses in particular on a vast expansion of the existing grid to reach all villages by 2012. Whilst state utilities typically report an average cost of supply at around Rs.3/kWh most studies... suggest that cost of delivery to rural areas can be around three times generation costs. A recent estimate for a Gujarat case study, based on Gujarat Electricity Board data, put the true cost of delivery to rural areas at over Rs.9/kWh.

      As the distance from the grid increases, the cost of grid connection rises considerably. It increases costs by roughly Rs1/kWh per kilometre of expansion to individual villages. Typically grid tariffs for poor rural households range from Rs.0-10/month for the poorest households and Rs.0-130/month for remaining domestic customers. These charges typically lie well below the cost of supply and are sustained through redistributive policies, tariff cross-subsidies and financial relief to loss-making State electricity boards (SEB).
      "

  • Often a faulty understanding of rural energy needs is also a reason. It is generally believed that the major economic benefit of electricity would be to feed India's 11mn irrigation pumps for farming. Since one would not be using pumps all 24hrs, or can use it off-peak hours, if load-shedding has to be done due to scarcity, then villages need it less as compared to urban areas. For instance, Maharashtra State Electricity Board's note on the "Principles and Protocol of Load Shedding by MSEB" to the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Authority, says:

      "The dependability of rural areas on electricity is less as compared to the dependability of urban areas. The agricultural sector normally does not require power for 24 hours. This concept has also been accepted by the Hon. Commission during the discussions on the tariff proposals wherein a maximum of 13 hours use per day is considered for agricultural pumps."

  • This equation of "rural" with "agricultural sector" leads to an argument, which misses out the energy requirements of rural schools (and its students), households and enterprises.

  • For instance, according to DISE's School Based indicators report:

      - 91% of the 0.7mn schools are located in rural areas
      - of the approx 28,000 integrated higher secondary schools (i.e., from primary to higher secondary), about 62% are in villages
      - overall about 87% of India's schools are in rural areas


  • Similarly, according to the Economic Census 2005:

      "...there are 42.12 million enterprises in the country engaged in different economic activities other than crop production and plantation. Out of which, 25.81 million enterprises (61.3%) are in the rural areas and 16.31 million enterprises (38.7%) in the urban areas." These rural non-farm enterprises also account for 51% of employment.

  • As a result of all these, India's 70% population living in villages have access to just 33% of India's total generated electricity - that too of poor quality, much below the rated frequency and voltage.
  • ...

  • ...and they will continue to remain dis-enfranchised from the access to electricity, as long as the guiding blueprint to India's Energy Security

  • is defined through urban lenses, and

  • is defined by centralised mega-thermal/hydro/nuclear plants, and feeder grids...


  • So, are there any options?

    ...of course, there are!!! - but that will need another post!...

    Tuesday, July 08, 2008

    Indian History Trivia (9): The Era of Indian Coffee House

    Long time since, I added to the trivia... so here goes!

    ...Long before Semco became a corporate benchmark for "Managing Without Managers - a participatory industrial democracy... and Ricardo Semler's book Maverick became a runaway bestseller...

    ....And long before the Argentinian Workers' Cooperatives started taking over the abondoned workplaces - (this phenomenon requires a separate post.. will do that in time to come...) - something similar happened in India in 1957.

    But some more trivia before that...

    Long long time back, in the 17th century, Baba Budan smuggled the seven coffee bean seeds ("strapped to his chest" the legend tells us) from Yemen in the 16th century, and planted them on the Chandragiri hills of Mysore State. Over the next couple of centuries, coffee had gradually become the drink of the elites (Mughals and later, British) as well as of the ordinary families in southern India. The first coffee house opened in Kolkata after the battle of Plassy in 1780, soon to be followed by the Madras Coffee House. Soon coffee drinking became a "tradition" in India, and even became a staple drink for many families in southern India.



    The Indian Coffee House(s) were promoted by the Indian Coffee Board during the British Rule during the 40s. Soon these became the meeting place for the poets, artistes, literati and people from the world of art and culture. ICHs Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) was frequented by figures ranging from Rabindranath Tagore to Subhash Chandra Bose... and later, from Manna Dey to Amartya Sen.

    In the 1950s, however, the business was not doing well, and the Indian Coffee Board decided to close down the Coffee Houses. And that marked the beginning of a unique cooperative venture.... The Indian Coffee House. Under the leadership of the communist leader AK Gopalan, the dismissed workers took over the place to run without any management. The first Indian Coffee Workers Co-Operative Society was founded in Bangalore on August 19, 1957. The first Indian Coffee House was opened in New Delhi on October 27, 1957...



    The self-managed India Coffee Houses proliferated. Today, there are around 50 of them across India, managed by 13 cooperative societies. These societies are governed by managing committees elected from the employees. There is also a federation of the co-operative societies as the national umbrella organisation to lead these socities.

    But times have changed, and so have the Indian Coffee Houses. Some have got replaced by Caffe Coffee Days and Baristas, some have just gone plain bankrupt, and some have lost their old clientele and aura...

    Some tributes to this vanishing institution:

    A Mutiner reflects on the old nostalgia:

    "It would be a lie to say that I don’t miss that coffee house. An old dingy place with ceiling like a dome. The cheap wooden tables that were colored to give an impression of mahogany. Those two big glass jars at the managers desk. The waiters with the long pagdis. The manager who would return even fifty paise of your change but would never smile. The orders that would take exactly three hundred seconds to appear on your tables. The always present group of oldies, all of whom looked like communist poets or war veterans or editors of some old and forgotten local newspapers and their tables filled with three tea-cups (rather glasses) per person with the occasional one or two plates of egg pakodas. The fact that they were always there made me think that they owned the place, but now I realize that they were there because that was the only place that had not grown younger as they grew older. The Indian coffee house had grown older with them, with time it had become a little outdated, lost a little of its old shine and was stripped of most or all of its utility, just like them. Its all changed now with the Coffee Day standing in its place. Not that this change isn’t good or anything, its just that I want to know what happened to that group of oldies, those waiters, that manager and those tables."



    In another article - Flavour of Another Era - in The Hindu, Kasturi Basu ruminated about the changing hues of the place, where one would discuss and converse:

    "....for hours over a cup of coffee, smoke from the endless number of cigarettes spiralling up to the ceiling high enough to contain at least three stories of present multi-storied buildings and a floor area to match its majestic columns, waiters in traditional uniform of spotless white and red and high, stiff hats, mixed aroma of coffee, fish fry and mutton Afghani and animated conversation between people whose ages are removed from each other by a decade... Except if you went close, the snatches of conversation revealed that over the years, politics, literature and music had acquired a subtle flavour of the next management entrance examination and IT units in the city. Old sweepers, who once preserved bills scattered on the floors because they contained complex mathematical calculations or poems on the reverse, hardly find anything of note. Waiters say they do not have to stop working now to listen to an interesting discussion."

    Travel writer, Colin Todhunter wrote this touching tribute to the vanishing magic of Indian Coffee House in 2005:

    "After having sampled the delights of coffee around the globe, I have come to conclude that there is only one place to drink it: India. And there is only one establishment to drink it in – the Indian Coffee House. There are around 160 branches throughout the country. I’ve visited branches in Shimla, Allahabad, Pondicherry, Calcutta, Trivandrum and many places beside and have never been disappointed. Whenever I visit a new place, one of the first things I do is find out whether there is an ICH in town.

    Black and white framed photographs of Nehru, Gandhi, and Indira Gandhi usually adorn the walls of each ICH and the waiters are dressed in shabby, white (well, whitish) uniforms. They are pretty basic places where the decor generally takes a back seat to the low prices and delicious dosas and masala dishes on offer. Things are cheap and simple in the ICH. Unlike the new, trendy coffee bars now in India, there is no long and winding menu of coffee types to choose from. There is no need to confuse your latte with your cappuccinos or your macchiato with your mocha. Coffee comes as coffee, no frills, no fancy names. And it’s absolutely delicious. For four or five rupees per cup, you can't complain.



    Each ICH seems to have its own clientele. Depending on which branch you happen to be in you may be rubbing shoulders with vacationing families, lawyers, students or men who sit at wobbly tables on wobbly chairs, hiding behind newspapers and discussing the issues of the day. And each ICH has its own distinct character. For example, the one in Trivandrum, near the train station has good food served in a strange leaning-tower-of-Pisa-like spiral building. Others however can be a bit dingy and don’t have most of the items on the menu. The elaborate head-dress on the waiters is a usually a metaphor for the type of service on offer: clean, starched and upright or limp and ill-fitting. But one thing is always guaranteed: the fare will be excellent.

    ... Unlike the trendy Starbucks, CafĂ© Nero or Costa coffee bars in the West, traditional coffee houses possess a certain authenticity. That's what I like about the ICH. It operates as a worker’s co-operative and is unmolested by the cynicism of the corporate world. And for better or worse, it shows. Maybe it’s a place trapped in time. But it’s a place in time that I prefer."


    Amen!

    Photo Credits: various sources - thanks!

    =============
    Earlier Posts in the Series:
    1. The Story of Junagadh
    2. The Foundations of "Nehruvian Socialism"
    3. A "Nation-in-Making"
    4. Legacy of "The Raj"
    5. When Did India Become a Socialist Country?
    6. India's 1st 5-Star Hotel
    7. The Non-Legend of Cyrill Radcliffe
    8. The "Myth" of "Macaulay's Children"

    Sunday, July 06, 2008

    "...suffer in the interest of the nation!"

    In 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a public speech to those, who were to be displced by the Hirakud Dam, is supposed to have said:

    "If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the nation."

    He may have never envisaged that his words will get operationalised by India not having a comprehensive National Rehabilitation Policy for the DIDs (development-induced-displaced) for many decades, and then developing one, which would bypass those who get affected by "development"...

    Much later, in 1974, the then Prime-Minister Indira Gandhi wrote to Baba Amte in a letter:

    "I am most unhappy that development projects displace tribal people from their habitat, especially as project authorities do not always take care to properly rehabilitate the affected population. But sometimes there is no alternative and we have to go ahead in the larger interest…."

    ...and so, for another couple of decades, India - and its sufferers "in the interest of the nation" - continued to live with "no alternative"...

    Meanwhile, India built 3,300 large dams, and a study by Indian Institute of Public Administration, suggested that on average a large dam displaces around 44,000 people... which adds upto a whopping 145mn displaced people!!!... and by large dams alone (we - I - don’t have data about the number of victims of development due to highways, large manufacturing plants, infrastructure projects, city beautification projects, etc.)

    The experts, ranging from Arundhati Roy to NC Saxena (Secretary, Planning Commission), however, estimate that the number would be around 50mn.... Maybe 80mn... Anyway...

    Over period of time, however, India did developed a National Policy for Rehabilitation and Resettlement... Starting from a draft in 1993-94 to a comprehensive policy in 2007. The opening statement of the 1994 draft of the National Rehabilitation Policy also acknowledged that the inhabitants of remote and backward areas and the tribal regions are the ones who are most affected by the "developmental projects":

    "It is expected that there will be large-scale investments, both on account of inter­nal generation of capital and increased inflow of foreign investments, thereby creating an enhanced demand for land to be provided within a shorter time-span in an increasingly competi­tive market-ruled economic structure. Majority of our mineral resources… are located in the remote and backward areas mostly inhabited by tribals".

    Though the overlap of tribal land and mineral-rich area was never mentioned again in the R&R policies of 2004 and 2007, but the National Rehabilitation & Resttlement Policy 2007 did stipulate that to those affected by the projects should be consulted in drafting plans to rehabilitate them. To quote:

    "...the Administrator for Rehabilitation and Resettlement shall prepare a draft scheme or plan for the rehabilitation and resettlement of the affected families after consultation with the representatives of the affected families including women and the representative of the requiring body."

    The 2007 R&R Policy also stipulates that:

    "6.14.3 The draft scheme or plan may be made known locally by wide publicity in the affected area and the resettlement area (or areas) in such manner as may be prescribed by the appropriate Government.

    6.15.1 The draft rehabilitation and resettlement scheme or plan shall also be discussed in gram sabhas in rural areas and in public hearings in urban and rural areas where gram sabhas don't exist.
    "

    ...and incase of Scheduled Areas (i.e., the tribal and NE regions):

    "7.21.2 The concerned gram sabha or the panchayats at the appropriate level in the Scheduled Areas under Schedule V of the Constitution or as the case may be, Councils in the Schedule VI Areas shall be consulted in all Cases of land acquisition in such areas including land acquisition in cases of urgency, before issue of a notification under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 or any other Act of the Union or a State for the time being in force under which land acquisition is undertaken..."

    All this sounds very hopeful - that the interests of those affected are safe-guarded, that they can have a say in their lives... Till one reads stories like this (from page 48-49 of Caterpillar and the Mahua Flower):

    "That companies are coming by the dozen to Chhattisgarh to mine its mineral wealth is hardly surprising. The state is rich in natural resources, with abundant deposits of iron, gold, tin, diamonds, coal, uranium, bauxite, corundum, dolomite, copper, limestone and other minerals. It’s estimated that the state has 35,000 million tonnes of coal, 2,336 million tonnes of iron ore, 3,580 million tonnes of limestone, 606 million tonnes of dolomite, 96 million tonnes of bauxite, and 29 million tonnes of cassiterite. With such bounty, Chhattisgarh accounts for over 13 percent of India’s total mineral production, worth around Rs 4,000 crores a year. Most importantly, 23 percent of the country’s iron-ore deposits are located here...

    ....While the government cheered about the MoUs with Tata and Essar, the locals were curious about the agreements’ terms. How much land had been given to these two steel giants? Whose land was it? Would tribal land be confiscated? Would there be compensation, rehabilitation, or employment for the locals at these units? But no replies were forthcoming from the government on these issues.

    MoUs have always been considered as public documents but a veil of secrecy hung over the government’s agreements with Tata and Essar. When the people demanded a copy of the MoUs under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the answer they obtained was both shocking and surprising: it was stated that a condition in the MoU prevented the government from revealing it to a third party!"


    ..."a third party"!!!??

    On second thoughts, the "you" who was asked to suffer for the interest of the nation, was obviously not seen as a part of "the nation"...

    Sources:

  • Dams, Displacement, Policy and Law In India by NC Saxena, Secretary - Planning Commission

  • National Rehabilitation & Resttlement Policy 2007

  • Land as livelihood vs land as commodity - InfoChange India

  • Caterpillar and the Mahua Flower

  • Friday, June 27, 2008

    A Rich Nation of Poor People

    In the first couple of years of the 21st century, something changed drastically and radically in India - and her relations with her populace and environment... India redefined its "tryst with destiny"

    On January 26th, the Republic Day of 2001, the then President KR Narayanan refered to the "dilemmas of development" which India must carefully think through. He said:

    "Let it not be said by future generations that the Indian Republic has been built on the destruction of green earth and innocent tribals who have been living there for centuries. Let it not be said of India, that this great Republic, in it surry to develop itself, is devastating the mother earth, and uprooting our tribal population.... The developmental path we have adapted is hurting them and threatening their very existence.... While the nation must benefit from the exploitation of these minerals resources, we will have to take into consideration the questions of environmental protection and rights of the tribals..."

    Less than 3 years later, on November 1 2003, in a speech to the 19th World Mining Congress, the then President APJ Kalam contradicted the concerns of his predecessor:

    ""We should work for increasing the productivity from 0.5 tonnes per man year to 5 tonnes per man-year in underground coal mines using long wall mining and from 15 tonnes per man-year to 30 tonnes per man-year in open cast mines.... The fecilitation of project through provision of land, infrastructural development, community development, etc., can be done by the government agencies while the investments in the mines and associated technological inputs can come from the private sector... In addition, the private sector must have freedon to run the mine in a cost-effective manner..."

    The implications of this U-turn can be viewed in perspective, if one recalls these statistics from an earlier posting:

  • If India's forest, mineral bearing areas, regions of tribal habitation and watershed are all mapped together, they will overlay each other on almost the same areas....

  • The three tribal-dominated states of Orissa, Chattisgarh, and Jharkhand... account for 70% of India's coal reserves, 80% of its high-grade iron ores, 60% of its bauxite and almost all its chromite reserves...

  • Of the top 50 mineral producing districts in the country, almost half are tribal. The average forest cover in these districts is 28%, much more than the national average of 20.9%... etc.

    ...and just to add to these, some more facts:

  • For every 1 per cent that mining contributes to India’s GDP, it displaces 3-4 times more people than all the development projects put together.

  • Forest land diversion for mining has been going up. So has water use and air pollution in the mining hotspots. An estimated 1.64 lakh hectare of forest land has already been diverted for mining in the country. For instance, the forests in Bardhaman have been decimated by mining. Iron ore mining in India used up 77 million tonne of water in 2005-06, enough to meet the daily water needs of more than 3 million people.

  • Mining of major minerals generated about 1.84 billion tonne of waste in 2006 - most of which has not been disposed off properly.... every tonne of coal extracted generates 3-4 tonne of wastes. ... Etc.

    So how has India redefined its "tryst with destiny"?

    We have become a Rich Nation...
    ...with Poor People, and an increasingly Depleted Environment!!

  • Monday, June 16, 2008

    Fringe Benefits of Failures... and Imagination

    I was introduced to Harry Potter & JK Rowling by my then teen-aged daughter - about 5-6 years back - when one day she told me, seriously, that I need to read through the books "only then we can have a meaningful conversation" ;0)... I did!

    Last few days, I got this speech delivered by JK Rowling at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association on 5th June 2008 in my mailbox... (for all I know, you may have got it by now), and thought it worth sharing (long speech, worth a read - reminded me of Not "just another brick in the wall":

    ===============
    President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.

    The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention.

    Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

    You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

    Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

    I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

    These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

    Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

    I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

    They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

    I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

    I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

    What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

    At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

    I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

    However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

    Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

    Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

    So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

    You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

    Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

    The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

    Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

    You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

    One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

    There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

    Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

    I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

    And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

    Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

    Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

    And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

    Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

    Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.

    Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

    And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

    I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

    What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

    One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

    That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

    But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

    If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

    I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

    So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

    I wish you all very good lives.
    Thank you very much.

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    The Un-Making of the Bollywood Movie "Swades"...

    Do you remember the fairy-tale like movie “Swades”?... about the NRI Mohan Bhargava (played by Shahrukh Khan) who returns to India, accidentally lands up in a remote village (with no electricity, plenty of illiteracy, and backwardness), and uses his engineering and organizing skills to help the villagers build a micro-hydel plant to bring electricity to the village…

    Well, it wasn’t an imaginary story, though it was almost like a fairy-tale. The movie was loosely inspired by the NRI couple, Ravi Kuchimanchi and Aravinda Pillalamarri, who, in 1998, decided to return to India and work in the development sector. Ravi, a doctorate in particle Physics from University of Maryland, had founded the Association for India’s Development (AID) in 1991 – which now has about 50 chapters across the world; Aravinda, was a senior volunteer in AID.

    Their story was documented by Rajni Bakshi in her book “Bapu Kuti”, and when Ashtosh Gowarikar read it, it became the theme for the movie… What Ravi and Aravinda had helped/ participated-in creating was an actual project… and which is still remembered as a model of decentralized people-friendly sustainable development – The Bilgaon Micro-Hydel Project.

    Here is the fairy tale of the Bilgaon Project:

    For 55-years since Independence, people of Bilgaon, a tribal village in Maharashtra located on a tributary of Narmada river, Udai, had never seen electricity. There was also hardly any possibility that this region with 12 hamlets (about 180 families) – scattered over a distance of 4km - would ever get connected to the national grid, which passed them by about 12km away. The power-lines from India’s mega-hydel project, the Sardar Sarovar Dam, being built on Narmada river, clearly avoided the tribal villages…

    In many ways Bilgaon represented almost 40-50% villages in India: The nearest all weather road was about 60km away, and a seasonal muddy road connected it to the nearest outpost about 18km away. What they did have was a 9-meter high waterfall on the river Udai which could be tapped for electricity…

    The work on what came to be known as The Bilgaon Project started in May-2002 and on January 14, 2003, a 15KW generator lighted up every single house in Bilgaon and the ashramshala - the boarding school which housed 300 children. More than a technological marvel (in fact, such projects have existed elsewhere in the world), it was a marvel of localized, collective and sustainable action:

  • It was a remarkable piece of collaboration: Rolled-out under the aegis of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), the project blueprint was designed by two young engineers barely 3 years out of college, Anil Kumar and C G Madhusoodanan – Anil and Madhu for the villagers - from Kerala’s Peoples School of Energy (PSE); it was implemented by Mumbai-based Sarvodaya Friendship Center; the special turbine was designed by a professor from Indian Instt. of Science (IISc), Bangalore, and four chapters of AID had provided the funding for Rs 12lacs.

  • the project was owned by the Bilgaon Navanirman Samiti, in which every household had a representation. The entire structure – the check dam, canal, tank, powerhouse - was built through the 2000-mandays of shramdaan (voluntary labour) by the village inhabitants.

  • the electricity was equitably distributed and charged for: Rs 10/month for a bulb, and Rs 30/month for a TV (Bilgaon had 5 TVs).

  • since the villagers now had electricity, their “energy bills” (kerosene for lighting the lanterns) came down from around Rs150/family/month to around Rs 20-30.

  • lighting of the ashramshala, also meant that now children could study at night

  • besides lighting, during the day, the electricity also provided for drawing water for drinking and irrigation, for running a grinding and oil-extracting unit, and for recreation center.

  • the money collected for electricity went for operation and maintenance of the unit, which was done by employing the inhabitants of the village.
    Etc…

    What Bilgaon Project had also managed to prove was:

    - that the development of people can be achieved by participation and ownership of people - and not through schemes which are framed miles away by those who have no stakes in their lives;

    - that for a country, where large portion of populace is scattered across unreachable terrain, a localized model of development makes more sense – and not the large mega-projects which displace them;

    - that development need not necessarily sacrifice people “for the larger good”.

    …So successful was the Bilgaon project that it became a benchmark for sustainable development.The villagers’ called it “People’s Power”; the Rural Development Minister of Maharashtra, RR Patil, inaugurated it; in November that year, Maharashtra Govt’s Energy Development Association proposed to replicate it in five surrounding villages (though, of course, nothing happened;); it was widely quoted in media…

    One could have almost presumed the last line to be “…and they happily lived ever after….”

    The fairy-tale ends here!!!
    …and the reality starts…

    3-1/2 years later, The Bilgaon Project got hit by contemporary India’s development paradigm.

    The August 10, 2006 issue of The Hindu, published its obituary:

    ”BILGAON MICROHYDEL PROJECT WASHED AWAY

    MUMBAI: The Bilgaon microhydel project in Nandurbar district, which inspired the Bollywood film ”Swades,” has been washed away due to the backwater effect of the Sardar Sarovar dam… Incessant rains in the Narmada Valley and rising water levels have flooded many villages in Maharashtra along the Narmada.

    …The micro-hydel power project was acknowledged as a model of decentralised development, initiated by the people, using natural resources…. The energy produced used to provide electricity for every house in the village as well as a boarding school or ashramshala (with 300 students).”


    Bilgaon, after all, was just one of the 250 tribal villages, which are destined to get submerged… in the tides of history of modern resurgent India…


    -----------------
    Photo-credits: Frontline & AID India

  •