Friday, September 10, 2010

A State of - & in - Denial !!?

This clip has been doing round on the net - on YouTube, Facebook and numerous other distributed sites since last few days.

Some reaction to this clip, are mentioned in this article:

  • "A formal case is being registered against the YouTube and Facebook networks and investigation is on to locate the persons responsible for uploading this baseless and malicious clip" a police spokesman told PTI.

  • ...the video has not been verified as yet and therefore "to attribute it to security forces with the intention of maligning them and spreading disaffection among the people is highly regrettable. Action shall also be taken against other organisations who tried to propagate it"

  • "No one has been able to authenticate the video so far," Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters... "Until it is authenticated and the persons identified, I think it would be unsafe to rely on such a video."

  • "Such a thing is not possible in Kashmir,” CRPF spokesman Prabhakar Tripathi was quoted by the Indian Express as saying. “The video seems manipulated to tarnish the image of the force and police.... In this place, even rape doesn’t remain a secret.”

    Worth reading too, is this article Kashmir’s Abu Gharaib? by Shuddhabrata Sengupta.

  • Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Guns and Daughters

    Glimpses of lives, torn in what someone has described as "India's very own civil war" - where some are drawn unknowingly into taking sides, and some make a conscious choice....

    ...but as this documentary by Shikha Trivedy says:

    " there are ideas of many India at war with each other. And in any war, women are the worst off..."

    Tuesday, June 08, 2010 least, there is "no corruption in corruption"!!

    Last evening, I had an interesting meeting with a 'friend' who is also a local entrepreneur where I live. We had met after some months, and we chatted about many things - and he shared his travails with various govt agencies to make his venture grow... Some excerpts from our conversations (not verbatim, but as I remember them... and do convey the gist):

    He: "It is very difficult to grow and expand... There is so much corruption here in these states in the East. One has to pay for anything to move."

    Me: "What about your expansions elsewhere? In the western and southern states? I understand things are much better there. No?"

    He: "Oh yes, much better there! I have been able to move much faster... which actually is a pity! This is my state - I was born and brought-up here - and I am not able to do much here - at least not as much as I would like to do."

    Me: "You mean that this part of the country is more corrupt than those states..."

    He: "Oh, no!!... They are as much corrupt and need bribes - in fact, more! - sometime they ask for more than what they ask for here..."

    Me: "Then...? - this puzzled me.

    He: "oh, there! - there at least, if you give them the "Speed Money", your work gets done. Over here, even that does not work."

    Me: "meaning?..."

    He: "Arre bhai!.. Over there, if you pay bribe, there is certain amount of honesty; they deliver what they promise... At least, there is no corruption in corruption there..."

    We had a nice evening together, but I came back with a couple of queries in my mind:

    What kind of society we have become (or were always), where:

  • it is so very nonchalently easy to talk about corruption and giving bribes (in whatever name)
  • we have created terms like "speed money" and phrases like "no corrption in corruption"

    Don’t know, really!... Good night!

    [NOTE: Over last 30yrs or so, since I started working, I have had the benefit of knowing, befriending and getting acquainted with very wide bandwidth of people - ranging from students, factory artisans, grassroot activists, entrepreneurs... to some who are CEOs. They have been nice to have remembered me over decades, and when we meet we meet as friends... With some I have differed on issues, but have always found them well-meaning, honest people with their own issues in life - as all of us have.

    Some of those interactions have created dissonance in me, but I have also learned from those differences... And in any case, I have emerged wiser through those... So, in some ways, they have been my teachers to help me understand life (within and around me) - because they raised questions for me...
    ...this interaction was one of the many of those!]
  • Thursday, May 27, 2010

    India.. a nation divided by "Caste"! ? is always useful to take a stock of what-we-are-most-critical-about... Specially when the media is abuzz with Khap Panchayat - with what-the-ground-realities-are...

    And so, some news-items of the past weeks (click on the headline to read the news-items):

    Maharashtra seeks Facebook ban
    The Maharashtra government has asked the Centre about the possibility of blocking social networking site Facebook following such a demand from Muslim and Christian organisations...

    77 per cent oppose same gotra marriages: HT survey
    Even as the government proposes tougher laws against honour killings sanctioned by khap panchayats, a survey carried out by Hindustan Times in Haryana shows most people are against same gotra (sub-caste) marriages... The survey shows as many as 77 per cent of the respondents do not support same gotra marriages. The survey was carried out in Chandigarh, Rohtak, Jind, Bhiwani and Kurukshetra. Surprisingly, even in Chandigarh, 65 per cent of the respondents have opposed same gotra marriages....

    Now, honour killings in Andhra
    Honour killings came home to Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday night when two lovers were stoned to death by the relatives of a girl who had eloped with a man from another caste in Tadwai mandal in Nizamabad district....

    After khaps, Arya Samaj shocker for lovers
    After khaps, it is the Arya Samaj that has shocked couples in Haryana. A section of the sect has decided to ban marriages without consent of parents and villagers....

    No.. Frankly, I don’t know where are the solutions
    ....but do believe that we will never find them, unless we accept that there is a problem!.....

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Nira Radia Papers - Raja, Tata, Ambani connection

    I had read about Nira Radia in a recent issue of Outlook magazine on Corporate Lobbying... Her name again cropped up in an article in The Pioneer about the phone-tapping issue

    These 14 internal GOI's documents, scanned and posted in the link below show the outcome of tapped conversations:

    The Radia Papers– Raja, Tata, Ambani connection

    Given the industry big-wigs and the media houses involved, this scam may never achieve the kind of publicity in the mainstream media, which the IPL/ Lalit Modi issue got.

    The other reason for believing this is also because I got to know about this link through a group mail from a journalist friend, who works with a well-known and respected mainstream newspaper - obviously, if he could have published a story on this in his own newspaper, he wouldn't have shared the documents to all!!

    Saturday, May 01, 2010

    International Labour Day - The Forgotten Story

    I had a vague idea about the origins of the "May Day"/ "Labour Day" (but not much) - besides of course that it coincided with some of the pre-Christian pagan festivals in Europe...

    So, today when one of my senior colleague, who has spent more than four decades dealing with Industrial/Labour Relations, both as a practicing manager and then as an academic (besides being the author of "one of its kind" book on Industrial Jurisprudence, sent this mail, I thought that this forgotten history is worth sharing. I am reproducing his mail below:

    Today is celebrated as a "Labour Day" all over the world. Quite a few of us may not be knowing "why May 1st only"; "why not some other day"; and "why at all should there be a special day of commemoration for working class"? Here is the story in a nutshell.

    Explitation by US Industry - Long Working Hours
    There was no law in US in the19th century (and until even as late as 1932), which conferred a right on the working class to form a union. Secondly, any attempt of workers to organise themselves was considered "criminal conspiracy" attracting prosecution under the criminal law of US. Thirdly, the US industry was guilty of forcing the workers, including women and children to work for long hours stretching to 15 to 18 hours a day.

    Anarchist Movement - Strike by 400,000 Workers in Chicago on May 1, 1886
    This was the state of affairs which prompted a few workers called as "anarchists" to secretly organise workers in Chicago in 1886 demanding "8-hour workday". The first strike in this regard was in McCormick Harvester Company, on 1st May 1886, in which workers of other industrial units numbering some 4 lakhs joined, sending shivers down the spine of business captains and the government. Police entered the fray leading to violence (including the throwing of a bomb by anarchists at the police party with the latter opening fire killing and wounding a few hundred protestors.

    Trial and Execution of Seven Union Leaders
    Finally, police picked up eight men stood trial for being "accessories to murder". They were: Spies, Fielden, Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe. The trial commenced on June 21st 1886 in the criminal court of Cooke County.

    The trial was whimsical and wishy-washy in so far as no evidence was offered that any of the speakers had incited violence and indeed, in his evidence at the trial, Mayor Harrison described the speeches as "tame". No proof was offered that any violence had been contemplated. In fact, Parsons had brought his two small children to the meeting.

    On August 19, 1887 the Court sentenced seven of the accused to death, and Oscar Neebe to 15 years imprisonment. After a massive international uproar, the state government relented and commuted the sentences of Michael Schwab and Fielden to life imprisonment. Lingg cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell the day before the executions. On November 11th 1887 Parsons, Engel, Spies and Fischer were hanged.


    It also occured to me that for many people this history would be seen as a thing of past - a mere blot in the march of history. After all, we live in a more enlightened age, with the constitutional rights in a democracy, and the "rule of law" governing the social arrangements...

    ...till one comes across items like these:

    2010 Games: Labourers go empty handed?

    Migrant Worker Munee in Rural Bihar

    ...and not just in India, but across the world - numerous labour camps in Dubai, sweatshops in Third World countries...

    Third World Slaves Making OUR Bargains to Buy

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    How Main-Stream Media/Propaganda Works

    Maoists Worst Human Rights Offenders the Headline of a news-item on the IBNLive (April 14th). It goes on to say:

    New Delhi: Naxalites are India's worst human rights offenders, says a new report on Torture in India. But Maoist supporters maintain that the Naxals are fighting for survival.

    A report on Torture in India has made the startling revelation. The Asian Centre for Human Rights says that the Maoists are the worst violators when it comes to torture. For the first time ever, a top human rights group in India has accepted and highlighted that fact.

    So to find out the details I went to The Asian Centre for Human Rights site. The Press-Release of the report - Torture in India - quoted by IBNLive is titled

    41.66% increase of custodial deaths under the UPA from 2000
    - Government urged to hold public debate on the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 -

    It starts...
    New Delhi: The Asian Centre for Human Rights today released its report, Torture in India 2010, at a press conference in New Delhi and stated that taking 2000 as the base year, custodial death have increased by 41.66% persons under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government between 2004-2005 to 2007-2008. This includes 70.72% increase of deaths in prison custody and 12.60% in police custody.

    “It is the aam aadmi who are the majority victims of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment. However, the UPA government has failed to do address the issue of torture and other human rights violations” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights..... “If government of India can hold public discussion on the Food Security Bill, why is it treating the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 as a secret document? It shows that the government has more to hide as its earlier draft, Prevention of Torture bill, 2008, contained only three operative paragraphs relating to (1) definition of torture, (2) punishment for torture, and (3) limitations for cognizance of offences. The Prevention of Torture bill, 2008 was highly flawed.”
    ... Etc.

    The full-report can be downloaded here

    In this 99-page report,:
  • 33 pages are devoted to Torture in Police Custody, which includes 20+ pages on "Patterns and Practices of Torture in Police Custody" and other sections on "Custodial torture of women and children" "impunity" etc...
  • 1 page on Torture in the Custody of the Armed Forces
  • 3 pages on Torture in Judicial Custody
  • 2 pages on naxalites' use of torture

    Moral of the Story: There is no Moral in the Story!

  • Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Between Hope and Despair (2): Hunger amidst Abundance

    I had posted an article by the same title - Between Hope and Despair... a couple of years back... and some vague mental association brought it back today.

    Read a news-item Food-shortage forcing children to eat mud today. Some excerpts:

    "Under an unusually hot April sun, skinny, hungry children silently poked around on the dusty edges of a stone quarry in Ganne village, 45km east of Allahabad and a 12km walk from the nearest road.

    “It tastes like powdered gram, so we eat it,” said Soni, 5, a listless girl with a protruding belly. It’s a learnt experience. Older children such as Soni wait for the excavated moist mud. The younger ones imitate them.

    With most families reduced to one or two daily meals of boiled rice and salt—with a watery vegetable on a lucky day—the mud is a free but deadly option at the 20 stone quarries sustaining the poorest villagers.

    Eating the mud worsens malnutrition and disease, but these families are not eligible for subsidized food and other state programmes, though each of a family of five earns about Rs400 a month; UP’s official poverty line is Rs435 per person per month."

    What an irony, when another news-item informs us: Food grains rotting away in Indian godowns, streets:

    "India has godowns to store 16 million tones when it needs almost three times that. What that means is wastage in these times of shortage.

    Agricultural scientist Ashok Gulati said, "The total storage capacity is 28 million tonnes .. this leads to losses of 10 – 15%. Translate this into value... that is 6 million tonnes of grains damaged, unfit for human consumption ... it amounts to Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 crores annually."

    ...and one also comes across news-items like these:

    along with one like this:

    I have experienced this irony in the microcosm of life I live in - the XLRI Campus. Here we have a reasonably well-off educated community, secluded from the rest of the world, and even families of "domestic help" living in the out-houses are much better off than their counterparts elsewhere. Their kids go to schools, play in the campus with other kids, they have TVs at home - some even have air-coolers fitted in their windows....

    About two years back, on an early morning, while in my balcony, I saw these two small girls diligently and furtively looking for something from the ground below. I found their innocent seriousness and concentration quite delightful - and trigger-happy as I am, clicked a photograph.

    Suddenly they looked up and saw me, and became diffident and apprehensive. When I smiled and asked them what were they looking for, they became slightly relaxed. One of them mentioned a name, and then explained that it is a wild weed. What will you do with that, I asked.

    I still remember her matter-of-fact reply, "Amma will cook it for our meal."

    just about 100 meters away, in the students' hostel mess, everyday a huge amount of un-eaten food is thrown away, wasted...

    As the 12 Myths about Hunger mentions:

    "Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,200 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods: vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs- enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food."

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Dantewada, Naxal Attack and "Restoring Administration"

    The attack by the Maoists/Naxals on the CRPF in Dantewada, Chhatisgarh on April 6th has caused much high-decibel outrage, anger and pathos across the media, political establishment and urban discourse... "surgical strikes", "coordinated multi-pronged approach", "fitting reply", "SriLankan Solution to LTTE" etc., seem to be flavour of the day...

    One of the stated objectives of the "Operation Green Hunt" is that it will "clear, hold and build", i.e., clear the ultras, hold the place till governance and development can be brought in - and thus bring the local tribals into the fold.
    (Note: "Operation Green Hunt" is a term which the government says is a media-creation - and perhaps it is - though large-scale deployment of CRPF and para-military forces has been done. Those who have been deployed find this denial that the operation exist, by the government strange, and even demoralising - check: Chidambaram says no, but troops believe ‘Green Hunt' exists, The Hindu, April 10).

    Noble and logical as this aim to "Clear, hold and build" may seem from a distance, its success clearly depends on the capabilities of the forces to achieve the first step, i.e., "clear" in the first place.

    Before "restoring the administration" of the cleared area, there is also the issue of the 'governance'/'administration'/'capacity' of the deployed forces - a point which is mostly ignored in the jingoism about the might of Indian forces... so here are some reportage, which I could pick up - which are less visible/ less discussed - and so may complement the picture...

  • Slain CRPF jawans never trained to fight Naxals (One India)
    "Army chief General V K Singh said on Thursday, Apr 8, that the 76 CRPF personnels who were killed by Maoists were never trained in jungle warfare to fight the Maoists... Responding to the query on the Dantewada massacre, Army Chief said that what had happened in Dantewada was the result of internal deficiencies."
    Read on...
    (Note: this has been denied by the Ministry of Home Affairs - so one is left with the choice whether to believe the words of the 'training agency', which is Army, or those who send the forces for training.)

  • On Naxal trail, they haven't fired in a year (The Times of India)
    "It's war. And every officer and constable of Jharkhand police deployed in Maoist-hit areas is well prepared for it. Right? Wrong. In the last three years, most of them have not fired a weapon at a paper target — far less a Maoist bent on killing them.

    Brandishing AK-47s and Insas rifles, they are good at inspiring awe among children and villagers, but how are they in combat? "In a crunch situation, I don't know how my men will react or even if they fire, whether they will make the bullets count," admitted an inspector."

    Read on...

  • No medical evacuation plan for paramilitary forces (The Hindu)
    "Around the world, medical experts are agreed on the concept of the “golden hour” of evacuation in which the maximum lives can be saved. “All trauma patients, particularly in warzone situations, must be evacuated to a tertiary medical centre within 60 minutes if they are to survive,” said retired Admiral S.K. Mohanty, who served as a surgeon in Kashmir during the Kargil War...

    ...“In Chhattisgarh, we are lucky if we get information about an attack within the golden hour, let alone evacuating people in 60 minutes,” said a senior police officer. “The lines of communication are poor and the telephones don't work.”

    Read on...

  • No water, food or medicines. Now, go fight 'biggest threat'(The Times of India)
    "For six years, the government has cried hoarse about Maoists being the single biggest security threat to India. Yet, the Indian state is sending its footsoldiers into battle on an empty stomach, without adequate drinking water and medical facilities.... "We are losing lives in a battle that can be sorted out. There are many ways in which our force can be better utilized," said the jawan."
    Read on...

  • Anger spills over in CRPF camp (The Times of India)
    "People are issuing statements, expressing grief over the incident, but how many have tried to see the condition we work in," yelled a jawan from inside the camp. "Media are flashing fabricated reports about senior officers making visits or camping at our site. No one has actually turned up," he added.

    He said politicians were finding faults with them. "They say it was a mistake. How can they pass such a judgment sitting in Delhi?" asked another jawan. Another jawan joined in to take a dig at the politicians.

    Read on...

    The Solution??... There must be many serious changes which must be being contemplated, but when one comes across examples such as this one, one wonders...

  • Now, motivational classes to boost jawans (The Times of India)
    "The Dantewada massacre of CRPF personnel at the hands of the Maoists has given the paramilitary forces in this state the opportunity to go for motivational classes and interpersonal exercise to boost the morale of the jawans... Senior CRPF officials said they would soon ask the authorities concerned to hold motivational classes to pump the morale of the jawans engaged in the anti-Maoist operation in the border districts of the state connecting West Bengal, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.... Measures, including yoga, motivational classes, inter-personal meeting and sports comprises the broad exercise that goes into the building of a high morale of the jawans during their normal stay in the base camps."
    Read on...

    Commenting on and analysing this lack of capabilities and preparedness, in a rather incisive article "India's Maoists and Dreamscapes of 'Solutions'", Security Analyst, Dr Ajai Sahni had pointed out last month:

    "...under the Centre's projected operational plans, that is, 28,000 or 42,800 CPMF personnel, as the case may be, for six worst-affected States with a total area of 1.86 million square kilometers and a total population of over 446 million. This is like trying to irrigate the desert with dewdrops.

    Of course, the Centre's 'operational strategy' seeks to concentrate this Force in areas of specific Maoist dominance, to 'recover' these areas, and 'bring them under civil administration'.

    ....What is fascinating in these narratives is their exquisite simplicity and their utter divorce from reality. It would, indeed, be quite miraculous if the state could even 'restore civil administration' to vast expanses of rural India where the Maoists have no presence whatsoever, but where virtually the entire apparatus of governance has vanished. At least some of these areas are little more than a stone's throw from Delhi.

    The problem with these various 'strategies' is that they aren't 'strategies' at all. These are borrowed ideas with no reference to capacities, capabilities, resources and the conditions of the ground."


  • Friday, March 26, 2010

    about "senseless violence against innocent citizens"

    When I had started this blog in Sept '03 [actually, it used to be a newsletter circulated through the "alternativeperspective" yahoogroup since 2002 - and the posts here still reach about 400+ members of the group], the purpose was:

    "to widen our awareness about issues related to business, environment, role and influence of media, geo-politics, culture, etc. It aims to share, on a regular basis, some of those pieces of news and information, which do not find place in the highly monopolised mainstream media."

    Therefore, the name of the blog/newsletter - Alternative Perspective"

    But, such remeniscences apart...

    Currently, the MSM (main-stream-media>, politicians, GOI, metropolitan conversations, etc., in India, are screeching phrases like "senseless/brutal violence against innocent civilians" or something similar, etc. - and we have "Operations Green Hunt" going around the region where I live to comb-out (intersting metaphor - like you comb out the lice from the hair) the maoists/naxals/ultras... whatever...

    The beheading of a police officer, derailing of trains, blasts and bombs, burning villages and killing its inhabitants, etc. are the images which occupy our mind - and reinforce the message about the "violence against innocent civilians"...

    I downloaded these images from somewhere on the net... and thought them worth sharing... after all, even is we all have a point-of-view about this "Operations Green Hunt" vis-a-vis "Maoist/Naxals" - at least one needs to know what is not covered in the media matrix....

    and there has to be an educated awareness when one has to consider, binary questions such as:

  • Do You Support "Development" or do you support "Violence"?
    (of course, as an adage of public deception goes:
    "If you get them to ask wrong questions, you will never have to give the right answers."

  • Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    Indian Budget:...of "Economic Incentives" and "Populist Subsidies"

    I had some inkling that the the Annual Budget of the Govt of India must be quite a blancing act. After all it involves the complex task of allocating resources to so many different set of competing socio-economic objectives.

    However, only this year, I realised that the Annual Budget exercise also involves another delicate act of balancing - of obfuscating facts by putting them under intersting nomenclatures.

    I discovered, for instance, the Annual Economic Survey 2009-10 describes Rs 5 lac crores (actually, Rs 499,340 crores - to be exact) as "Tax Revenue Foregone" - an amount consisting of exemptions of:

  • Corporate Income-Tax: Rs. 79,554 crores,
  • Excise Duty": Rs 170,765 crores, and
  • Customs Duty: Rs 249,021 crores

    While these maybe seen as "incentives to stimulate economic growth" - as the media, politicians and captains of the industry love to describe these - the Survey also informs that in the year 08-09, India Inc. had a combined declared taxable income of Rs 449,085crores - on which it paid Rs. 153,280 crores as taxes...

    i.e., the tax incentives are:
  • almost equal to the India Inc's combined taxable income, and
  • more than 3 times the total taxes paid!!!

    On the other hand, if one compares this amount to the budget allocations for some of the GOI's high-decibel "flagship" social services programs, the confusion compounds:

  • National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS): Rs 40,100 crores
  • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA): Rs 15,000 crores
  • National Rural Health Mission (NHRM): Rs 15,440 crores
  • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS): Rs 8,700 crores

    (that 1/10th of this amount qualifies as "Food Subsidy" or "Fertliser Subsidy" etc. - and that removal of Rs 12,000 crore "petroleum subsidy" created so much headlines -adds to surrealism)

    And just to put things in perspective the "Tax Revenues Foregone" is slightly more than the entire Planned Expenditure of government for 2009-10, as given in the table below:

    er.. if only someone can explain to me the difference between the "economic incentives to increase market efficiencies" and the "wasteful subsidies which are doled out as populist measures" (^_*?)\

  • Friday, February 19, 2010

    India's fastest growing state - and it's underbelly..

    About a year back, I had posted some links in a post about India's fastest growing state - Gujarat's stance on "India Inc. vs Mera Bharat"...

    Gujarat's model of Economic Growth is one model of Growth - even though, all growth is not necessarily good, e.g., cancer cells...

    Today, I was forwarded - by a friend - Mallika Sarabhai's open letter to Gujarat's "Brand Ambassador" Amitabh Bachchan. Here are some excerpts, which details the underbelly of the Gujarat Story:

    ....So, as a Gujarati, permit me to introduce my State to you.

    Everyone knows of our vibrancy, of the billions and trillions pouring into our State through the two yearly jamborees called Vibrant Gujarat. But did you know that by the government's own admission no more than 23% of these have actually moved beyond the MOU stage?

    That while huge subsidies are being granted to our richest business houses, over 75,000 small and medium businesses have shut down rendering one million more people jobless?

    You know of Gujarat's fast paced growth and the FDI pouringin, you have no doubt seen pictures of the Czars of the business world lining up to pour money to develop us. To develop whom?

    Did you know that our poor are getting poorer? That while theAll-India reduction in poverty between '93 and 2005 is 8.5%, in Gujarat it is a mere 2.8%? That we have entire farmer families committing suicide, not just the male head of the household?

    You have heard of how some mealy mouthed NGO types have been blocking the progress of the Narmada project, how the government has prevailed, and water is pouring down every thirsty mouth and every bit of thirsty land. But did you know that in the 49 years since it was started, and in spite of the Rs.29,000 crores spent on it, only 29% of the work is complete?

    That the construction is so poor (lots of sand added to the you-know- which cement perhaps) that over the last nine years there have been 308 breaches, ruining lakhs of farmers whose fields were flooded, ruining the poorest salt farmers whose salt was washed away?

    That whereas in 1999, 4743 of Gujarat's villages were without drinking water, within two years that figure had gone up to 11,390 villages ? (I cannot even begin to project those figures for today - but do know that the figure has gone up dramatically rather than down.)

    With our CM, hailed as the CEO of Gujarat, we have once again achieved number one status - in indebtedness. In 2001 the State debt was Rs.14000 crores. This was before the State became a multinational company. Today it stands at Rs.1,05,000 crores. And to service this debt we pay a whopping Rs7000 crores a year, 25% of our annual budget.

    Meanwhile our spending on education is down, no new public hospitals for the poor are being built, fishermen are going a begging as the seas turn turgid with effluents, more mothers die at birth per thousandthan in the rest of India, and our general performance on the Human Development Index is nearly the first - from the bottom.

    One rape a day, 17 cases of violence against women, and, over the last ten years, 8802 suicides and 18152 "accidental " deaths of women are officially reported. You can imagine the real figures.

    You have said that you are our Ambassador because we have Somnath and Gandhi. Somnath was built for people. Gandhiji was a man of the people. Do the people of this State matter to you?....

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Mao-ists vs. MoU-ists

    Today, India's Home Minister, P Chidambaram made a statement to the media: "We are willing to suspend all memorandums of understanding [with mining companies] until we talk to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and review them".

    This is a significant statement, since as I had once mentioned in one of the earlier blogposts that there is a huge overlap among the "poverty map of India", the "maoist-infected map of India" and the "mineral map of India" - reproducing the 3 maps below:

    Poverty Map of India

    Maoist/Naxal Affected Areas of India

    Map of Mineral Resources and Forest Cover in India

    The Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) are strange documents, which are signed between the government and the corporate entities, with no representation from the people whose life will finally get affected - mostly for the worse - by them (economists - of the Milton Friedman kind - call these "externalities").

    I first realised this when I read the bookCatterpillarand the Mahua Flower: Tremors in India's Mining Fields (click to download pdf), which is collection of case-studies. Here is an excerpt (once again quoted in an earlier blogpost):

    "...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. The deposits in Bailadila in Bastar are considered to be among the best in the world....

    ....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! ...

    Tuesday, January 05, 2010

    An Invisible Revolution in Rural India

    Wall Street Journal published my article on the Self-Help Groups

    An Invisible Revolution in Rural India

    By Madhukar Shukla

    Mahua Devi is a petite woman in her early twenties. She cycles through 10 to 12 villages of the Koraput district in Orissa [one of India’s most backward states] everyday.

    "I help these women keep their accounts," she tells me as we walk towards a group sitting in the shade under a tree

    When she says "these women" she is referring to one of India’s millions of self-help groups, or SHGs. Each group has 15 to 20 women who pool their tiny savings of only 5 rupees to 10 rupees at a time. They use the money to give loans to members for income-generating investments like chickens, seeds or goats. The interest on the loans then adds to their savings pool.

    Driving from the nearest city to the village, I don’t see any bank branches. Even if there is a branch, it’s unlikely it would be equipped to open even simple savings accounts for these women, given their meager savings, lack of assets and inability to read or write. For most of the village women the SHG is the only bank they have ever had.

    Ms. Devi keeps the accounts for 20 groups, for which she gets a commission of 2% of the value of all the transactions. "On average, I earn about 5,000 rupees per month," she tells me.

    That, I quickly calculate, works out to 250,000 rupees in cash transactions per month - an amazing economic engine, silently working in one of India’s poorest regions.

    Self help groups are a transformational phenomenon which has swept the Indian countryside over the last decade and a half. The groups are India’s own social innovation. In a country where almost two-thirds of the population have no access to formal financial services, SHGs are a unique route to financial inclusion, increasing incomes and helping build productive assets among the poor.

    Though similar groups were promoted by many non-government organizations in the 1980s the turning point of the SHG movement was a pilot project by the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) in the early 1990s.

    Despite India’s network of around 30,000 bank branches in rural areas, a majority of the poor still remained outside the fold of the formal banking system. NABARD studies showed this was because existing bank policies, systems and products were not aligned to meet the financial needs and constraints of the poor. What the poor can earn and save varies widely each day. Meanwhile their tiny savings – as little as 50 rupees per month - make providing banking services to them too expensive for banks.

    To bridge this gap, NABARD and a group of NGOs started a pilot project o 500 groups of women to be used a vehicle for financial intermediation through its SHG-Bank Linkage Program. Typically, these were informal groups of up to 20 women, who would meet regularly and pool their savings.

    After saving for six months and proving the group had developed the required fiscal discipline through consistent savings, on-time loan payments and maintaining records the group becomes eligible to be "linked" to the local bank branch. The innovation here was that the group, rather than the individuals in it, could open an account with the bank and use that account to save and take loans.

    The pilot was a remarkable success and within a year more than half of the first groups had become eligible for the bank-linkage. Even more impressive was the fact that 90% of the loan payments were on time and there were no defaults. The success of this pilot project sparked the SHG movement which has been an unparalleled, albeit under-reported, revolution in financial inclusion.

    The number of bank-linked SHGs crossed 10,000 in five years. By 2004, there were more than one million groups with their own bank accounts. By the year ended this March, the number of groups had grown to about 4.7 million, touching 59 million rural families through their members. Meanwhile, the average loan size per group has increased from 1,137 rupees in 1992 to 74,000 rupees this year. That shows the women’s rising capacity to manage, utilize and pay back loans.

    So is everything fine with the SHG movement? Not entirely.

    According to one 2006 study (EDA Rural Systems and Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abhivruddhi Society’s "Self Help Groups in India: A Study of the Light and Shades") the groups still suffer from many inadequacies. For instance, the study found that a large proportion of SHG members remained poor even after being in the groups for seven years. Another report (Access Development Services’ "Microfinance in India: The State of the Sector Report 2009") underlined the popularity of SHGs has so far been a regional phenomenon tilted towards the southern and eastern states of India.

    In spite of such inadequacies, however, self help groups have emerged as a critical vehicle for creating social equity and empowerment.

    I once sat with women from three SHGs in the community hall of Madanpur in Haryana. The women had assembled for a workshop on "legal literacy" organized by a Delhi NGO. There was jubilation in the air and the village women were talking animatedly.

    "We got the license of the local liquor shop stopped yesterday," one of the members told me with glee. "It was a drain on us because the men-folk would squander away their earnings, spoil their health, and often physically abuse us. This time we protested and kept the liquor license from being renewed."

    The self help groups have gone beyond financial inclusion and become a platform to provide a voice to a marginalized section of society. Some SHGs have become forums for women to discuss everything from health and sanitation to legal rights and human trafficking. They are also being used to promote education and skill building. The groups are so respected now that they have been called upon to implement government and donor-driven programs such as the mid-day meal program for school children and HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.

    Between 2006 and 2008, more than 600,000 new self help groups were linked to banks. Assuming an average group size of around 13 or 14 members, that means more than 400 women are joining a SHG every hour!

    Now if that’s not a revolution, then what is?

    —Madhukar Shukla is a professor of organizational behavior and strategic management at the XLRI School of Business & Human Resources in Jamshedpur.