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."


    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"...


  • 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