06/04/06

education guarantee act, anyone?

i had commented thusly on a well-written (as always) post by dilip d'souza a few months ago. the post was on the employment guarantee act and dilip's dissatisfaction with it being turned into an assurance instead of a guarantee. (dilip did not respond to it.. i don't know if he read it. i'd like to republish it here in the hope that it might elicit some response. i'd like to add some more thoughts to this in a later post).

here goes :

''Thus the scheme to "assure" wage-employment to poor rural families "assures" instead of "guarantees" so that the scheme will not be legally binding.' (dilip's words).
the govt.,(the centre and the states) spends around two-and-a-half hundred thousand crores every year with the aim of helping the poor. this it does through various subsidies, grants and other means.now, you tell me, how is the government supposed to 'guarantee' the spending of any amount beyond this huge sum already committed? the sum committed already constitutes a major portion of its yearly budgetary spending - how is it supposed to raise(something in the range of 10,000-60,000 crores) and spend(and more effectively than the earlier schemes you have referred to ) a sum beyond its current capacity ? under the circumstances, don't you think the pm did the honorable thing by 'assuring' and not guaranteeing work? a guarantee would have been a false promise. the proponents of this current project are the same ideologically inclined wise men who had earlier backed the failed schemes you mentioned. they have always remained closest to the ears of the powers-that-be and (avowedly) to the pulse of the poor. it's funny that they should raise the questions we should be asking. right to work shall be supported by the right to information act? what about the right to education, guaranteed much earlier? a character in the movie 'austin powers' points out why james bond survives all the attempts on his life : because the villains were too smart for their own good. they would think up elaborate schemes to torture and kill him where a simple bullet to the head would have served much better. why do we fall prey to the temptations of these smart, elaborate schemes when a simple straightforward dole would cost half as much and be doubly as effective? it would avoid the pitfalls of going through the sieves and filters of the babus, elected officials, contractors and others who block the path between the poor and the promised manna. it would also eliminate the necessity of a hundred such schemes and considerably lessen the strain on governmental resources and more importantly, attention. mahbubnagar, one of the poorest districts in india, sends every year (as reported by mr.p.sainath in the course one of his expeditions in search of the holy drought) tens of thousands of migrant construction workers to mumbai and the school drop-out rate in the district too increases every year. you would find a similar picture in all the backward districts of india. the schizophrenia, i believe, lies not in the attitude of the middle classes who live only a few notches better than the slumdwellers (at times) but in the attitude of those who hide behind the poor. why do they pay so little attention to the non-voting children in mahbubnagar as compared with the voters in mumbai? a simple dole of ,say, rupees five hundred a month (which is what, almost, the current bill assures) to rural parents who send their children to school would not only cost much less than what the current project would but also a. stop the migration and b. protect the rights of the children.would you call that charity? most of the subsidies and other giveaways intended for the poor are today cornered by the more privileged classes. why shouldn't the poor have their share? but that would not be elaborate enough for the wise men. have you considered why the pm had said so little on the bill he is supposed to pilot than its votaries in the political class and the press? because it ties him up in the ultimate fiscal knot which would severely restrict any maneuvring space he would need to formulate any ideas of his own on tackling poverty or any other major issue (like how to reduce the burden of the 'elaborate' schemes so that the poor get more attention not the poverty-mongers). the wise men have effectively made irrelevant the very virtue/merit on which he was chosen: his ideas. let's not support this farcical exercise of creating 'work' for the poor when the government can't find work for its own babus. or, if we should, let's rename it : right to profits-for-all-except-the poor.'

35 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Venu said...

let's not support this farcical exercise of creating 'work' for the poor when the government can't find work for its own babus.
Amen.

I am still thinking about your idea of giving out 500/- to each rural family. I definitely agree that its more efficient than having the money go through the catacombs of our govt. I dont know, however, if its good enough for the rural family to be able to educate their children. For one, the quandary is that the govt schools are just too bad. There are no private schools because, well, there is no incentive to go and open a school in a place where everyone is destitute. Our hands are just tied until there is lesser poverty around. Also, the poorer you are, the less relevant education will be to you. I am saying its better to deal with poverty first and then hope education will solve itself, rather than the other way around.

Even if, on average, we are well off, I think there is another issue with education. I suspect we havent seen any kind of productivity gains in education. By that, I mean that the real cost of teaching and schools has been continuously raising; there hasnt been much innovation here (there are isolated cases of spirited NGOs). The internet may help create some economies-of-scale, somewhere in the (for India, distant) future. We need a better incentive structure for education to see the kind of innovation we've seen elsewhere. I am not very sure what form that might take, just thinking out loud here.

Cosmic Voices said...

The planning commission admits that the govt spends Rs 3.65 to tranfer Rs 1 of food subsidy.

But direct tranfer of money would stop whatever the paltry little infrastructure that gets created through these schemes.

There is also every chance that the cash might find its way to unproductive and unsocial expenditure.

I guess we should try contracting out these welfare schemes to the lowest bidder with highest targets.

kuffir said...

sorry guys, for being late in responding. actually, i'm quite happy that you've commented. and seriously.
venu,
'I am saying its better to deal with poverty first and then hope education will solve itself, rather than the other way around.'
most of these schemes come under the broad category of what the government calls 'poverty alleviation' programmes. one dictionary says (the act/process of) alleviation is to 'make pain.. more bearable'. this is what all these programmes supposedly do. i consider it a half-admission that they're not intended for solving the poverty problem. the planners are honest enough to confess they're 'poverty alleviation' programmes - it's only the politicos who interpret them for us as an exercise in 'poverty removal', for obvious reasons. the proposal i floated was not conceived with the primary objective of 'poverty removal (or resolution?)'. poverty alleviation might be one of the secondary objectives it might achieve to an extent. i hope that's clear.
i don't believe the state can solve the problem of poverty- it's a project that each (poor)individual would have to undertake on his/her own. other people/agencies can only play minor role/s in this process. my chief concern is education or more crudely, literacy. i think we stand today at a very unique moment in our country's history - the number and the proportion of very young people in our population is the largest ever in history. our current literacy level stands at a pathetic 52%. either we make a dent in illiteracy levels now or forget the goal for ages. because if we come back again twenty five years later and discuss poverty, again, we'd realize that we had lost an opportunity. an opportunity to make the country almost completely literate when the proportion of the old-and-difficult-to-educate was the lowest in history. add to it the dismal fact that yet another illiterate (half-literate)generation would have been added to our population. that's one point.
poverty and education: i hope you'll agree with me that a large percentage of the poor are illiterate. you could say illiteracy is one of the causes of poverty. and illiteracy is one of the features of poverty i.e., one of the many characteristics that define poverty. so can we say education is one of the useful skills that help a poor person tackle poverty better? and also a charectistic that'd make him less poor..i.e., if he is educated, isn't he already up the social/economic scale, albeit a little?
the last point. the import of your second paragraph isn't totally clear to me.
may i come back to this point? i've been called away on an ..urgent business.

Mridula said...

Anything would be preferable to the shams we play while implementing the 'proverty alleviation' programs. But why do you feel the direct dole money will go to the intended person? How difficult would it be to make a few fake signatures? Or am I missing something?

kuffir said...

mridula,
no, you aren't missing anything. in fact, you've hit upon the crux of the issue:implementation. there are many points/stages at which fraud could occur. but the success of the plan i suggested is premised upon the existence of certain extremely favourable factors, at this particular point of time in our nation's history. let me elaborate:
# children between the ages of 4-15 form a third of the country's population at this moment in time. which effectively means that families which would benefit from this plan constitute roughly two-thirds of the population. taking into account such relevant numbers as families with more than one child etc., we would have still have a sizeable figure of beneficiaries. you could say, a majority of the population, perhaps?
# because a major portion of any given village would benefit can we presume that the the possible number of fraudulent applicants would also be less?
# one other advantage we have now that we didn't fully have earlier is technology. biometrics is being used by a number of govt., agencies to build data on citizens, for example to issue ration cards. i think technology can be used to effectively weed out fraud at a very early stage of the the implementation of the plan by ensuring that the identity of all applicants is correctly established.
# the success of any plan would depend upon its monitoring : this plan could have several watchdogs- the villagers, the panchayats, the media, the ngos. in fact, i believe the ngos can play a much more effective role here than being actively involved, themselves, in the business of providing education. it's(providing education) not a job ngos can effectively accomplish given the scale of the problem and the resources required. but promoting & monitoring this plan,on the other hand, would be just the right job for them. a blanket deterrent that the plan would be dropped completely in any village where an instance of fraud is discovered by any of the persons, agencies i described above would ensure that everybody in the village remains vigilant.
i've more to add to this.. and i'd very much appreciate your take on it.. so may i request you to stick with this commentspace until i complete my reply to the other commenters in which i hope to expand further upon my line of thoughts( later tonight, perhaps)? pl. come back.

kuffir said...

venu,
to continue my reply to your response.. as i said i don't fully understand your last paragraph. i'll attempt here to put forth my own views on how the plan i suggested might possibly work (and succeed?).
#i mentioned mahbubnagar in my comment-post. i am sure you have come across little boys/girls from there and other backward areas working in homes/hotels/other wortkplaces in hyderabad. their employment is usually the result of contracts between their parents and the kids' employers : yearly wages range from 4000-9000 rupess, paid six months in advance. the plan i suggest would provide an alternative, more honourable source of income for the parents of these unfortunate children. would you consider that an incentive?
# the plan i suggest envisages the narrowing of or focussing of government rather than its expansion that most 'poverty alleviation ' schemes entail. in other words, i want government to focus on such essential services as education, which until now it has successfully tried to avoid under one grandiose pretext or the other, and withdraw from a large number of non-essential areas so that its resources, and more importantly, its attention is utilized more efficaciously.
# thge plan has two components: the central govt., shall provide the funds for the scheme i outlined and the states shall gather and utlize the resources necessary to expand, rebuild the existing school system, hire teachers and maintain the system. this means, the state governments too would have to spend much more than they do now on education. this would mean that the state governments too, perforce, would have to get out of a lot of areas to save resources required for this plan to work.
# the sacrifices the state governments would have to make may seem huge- they have to double the number of teachers on their payroll in some states. in andhra pradesh, there are around five lakh teachers on the rolls.. it would have to be increased to around 8-9 lakhs. a huge burden on the exchequer? not really, because informal audits done a few years ago revealed that the state government had around 3 lakh 'excess staff'- this would provide a great opportunity to get rid of this excess lard and hire some useful teachers. the burden would also be short-term in one sense- the task of educating this huge generation of baby-boomers would decrease considerably in a decade or so. so you wouldn't have to replace retiring teachers in the medium-long term. another big head of expenditure would be building/rebuilding schools. this expenditure, in my view, wouldn't cost the state government more than ,say,any single large irrigation project irrigating around 3- lakh hectares of land(hopefully),that the a.p government,for instance, plans to build in the next two years. or one fourth the number of houses for the poor(?) it plans to build. a similar situation exists in most other backward states.
# the plan also requires that the governments eimplement their words- do what they had promised ages ago(universal education etc.,). that's the only really difficult part of this plan- the changing of political will and direction. to promote education the government would have to invest in an area,education, which doesn't yield fast results (nor electoral gains). and to make it attractive and meaningful for the children/students it would have to totally overhaul existing infrastructure and install new age schools and systems. to build schools which could compete with the best in the developing world if not the developed world. to build and run schools that would be a source of hope and inspiration for each village- the focal point of the village's progress,its rebirth,in a way. to dream. why can't we have good schools in the villages which would provide the best possible education to all kinds of young people- blacksmiths', weavers', butchers', farmers', scavengers' children.. ? so that they can stand on their own and need not require any support/crutches from the government or anyone else in the longterm? it would only require that the government/s give up certain long nurtured functions that give it a lot of meaningless power..( and perhaps, some profits for certain entrenched vested interests.) and focus on one major job- running good schools.
i'm expressing some thoughts that ocurred to me when i first started doing some reading up on the net on the employment guarantee act a few months ago.. these are rough, uncut ideas. i thank you for putting forth your thoughts on the subject.
voices from eternity,
i'm sorry my response is so very late in coming. read your post on 'economic suvey 2005-6'. very enjoyable.
'But direct tranfer of money would stop whatever the paltry little infrastructure that gets created through these schemes.'
what paltry infrastructure can one build with a crowbar and a pickaxe? and other such historic tools? i guess you are aware of the scam surrounding the 'neeru meeru' scheme of the naidu regime... heavy machinery was supposedly used but you can't find any signs of where the work was done.. so how would more basic tools tools make any dent? and why restrict the use of technology if you are serious about building infrastructure - is it because you know beforehand no serious infrastructure would be built ultimately? why this charade of making the poor build infrastructure in the air and make them think they are performing real work for real wages? i think a straightforward dole is a more honest option.

Illogical Truisms said...

Great post, Kufr.

kuffir said...

thanx i.t.
saw your blog.. very, very readable!

Venu said...

I am sorry I didnt respond until now. Its a major pain that blogger doesnt have feeds for comments..

Let me first try to explain what I meant in the second para of my previous comment. I was lamenting the fact that good education is costly (I am talking about the actual cost incurred by the govt or private school). Further, as the wages in other sectors grow disproportionately, you'll need to offer better salaries for teachers to attract people into this business.

I am not quite sure what can be done here, but I strongly suspect that its because nobody sees education as a profit-making venture , partly because the government prohibits for-profit organisations in primary education. I think, instead of the govt taking up the whole task of building schools and infrastructure (which it is bound to bungle, IMO), it should allow for-profit schools and also give rewards to private organisations in proportion to the standard and no. of children they educate. (I think current NGOs do get grants from govt, but I am not sure how much or whether they get it before showing results or after).

As I understand, you start out with the argument that the govt should get out of other poverty alleviation or dam building or house-construction and instead get into primary education. I think it should get out of even education, and instead offer (financial, mainly) incentives and remove existing (regulatory) disincentives for private players to get in.

My other major objection to your plan is that poor/illiterate people simply dont see education as important enough for their children, when compared to the other option of having them work somewhere. This is the most important cultural problem that needs to be overcome. Education comes with a major opportunity cost, and people must be sufficiently confident of their own finances, the opportunities after education and the chances of success at studying before you can expect them to allow their children to study. Any policy on education will succeed only when there is a parallel reduction in poverty.. give the small-man more breathing space, for starters, and let him fashion his own life (to echo your own sentiments on this).

Scott A. Edwards said...
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Scott A. Edwards said...
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Bombay Addict said...

Kufr - nice post. Btw - enable word verification to avoid the smiling Scot Edwards types. Thanks.;

kuffir said...

thanx b.a. yes, someday..

Scott A. Edwards said...
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annie said...

Kuffir,

I am not going into a point-by-point rebuttal here, but from the post and the comments, I gather some facets of the argument.

1] You want a dole for the poor as opposed to the employment guarantee (in part because the latter isn't likely to be implemented properly)
2] You want the centre to fund it, through government mechanisms.


To that, I can only say, what makes you think dole distribution will work? Given the state mechanisms we have, it is not likely that a dole (based either on poverty or unemployment status) is likely to be implemented with any greater degree of efficiency. Banks, babus, politicians, panchayats - all will still have to be involved. Experience shows us that, whether it is the state or the private sector, everyone will take advantage of the poor and the uneducated. Therefore, it is futile to argue that a dole would work where the employment scheme would not.

Secondly, I have been to rural areas and every time I encounter a village where the right to work program has been implemented - in faulty, corrupt ways, perhaps - a difference has been made. After all, a dole of Rs 500 means only about 5 days' wages. Which, on an annual basis, comes to about 60 days' wages. The state is supposed to ensure at least 100 days' work (and therefore, wages) to each family. The dole, therefore, means a loss. It is in the workers' interest to push for employment guarantee. And besides, the employment guarantee has a built-in provision for dole - in case the state fails to provide work. The dole is supposed to come from the state government's coffers while the wages in return for work come from the centre. The states are therefore rushing to implement projects of some sort - any sort.

Thirdly, you entirely discount the need for work - for the state and the individual. Experience also shows us that money, which is not worked for, often leads to a whole new set of complications. Men (and this is based on studies and reports) tend to spend it easier on drink or unnecessary spending. Work is important for its own sake as well. And of course, it is better to be able to build infrastructure while providing wages, rather than merely allowing a family to subsist on a dole.

Fourthly, no one denies that the right to education is vital. it is linked closely to the right to information, which is a powerful tool, and has been used very effectively over this last year by those activists who are working for the poor, on behalf of the illiterate. But there is nothing to show that if we just give out a dole, school enrolments will rise, and child labour will be brought to an end.

Fifhtly, child labour must be tackled on three fronts simultaneously. Encouraging kids/families to go to school. Making sure that the family isn't so desperate for money that it cannot feed and clothe the kids. Making sure that nobody gets away with paying children lesser wages (which is the prime motivation for hiring them). None of these factors can be ignored.

And lastly, my own ideas are formed by my basic philosophy of putting myself in other people's shoes. If I was a poor person with four kids to feed and nothing to feed them with, I would want an employment guarantee. I would want minimum wages. And if I couldn't find work, I would probably send out the eldest kids to work - at least to be able to feed them. If I made enough to feed them all, I'd probably want to send them to school. Esp if schools did give them one meal. No reason why not, is there?


Am also posting this on HTOHL, as a response to the comments there.

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Anonymous said...

Hi,
How are you doing?

I believe, education acts as a refuge in adversity; it empowers the people and is a tool, which breaks the chains that resist a nation’s development. Don’t you? Well, quite unpleasant to know but the fact is that 30% of the world’s illiterates come from our country, India. Now, undoubtedly this is the biggest weakness in the development of our country.

Illiteracy has proven itself as a major handicap here and everywhere and as you know lack of education has many disadvantages in every aspect of it. Most of the voters here (in India) are illiterate too and so the nation often ends up with a government being made out of a mistake. Evidently, illiteracy dominates India.

I would appeal to all to help eradicate illiteracy as it sets big drawbacks to our society and will pull our country back; no matter how hard the we try. Connect with me to kill illiteracy in India to make it a 100% literate country at http://www.jantaraj.com/sapankumar/defaultpet.asp?pid=106

Many people here live below the poverty line and thus can’t afford to educate their children. And as always, the funds raised by our Government for the same, exhausts’ before reaching the right place and people. Well, as usual it finds its way into some corrupts’ pockets.

I think, education up to standard X must be made mandatory by the government and particularly free education must be provided to the poor. Now, we all know, the future of a nation is molded and chiseled by its youth and the student of today is the future of tomorrow. Therefore, to secure a bright future for India – The youth of today must be empowered by giving the essential education - only then will they be able to create a secular, civilized and developed India in the future.


Thanks & Regards,
Karan K.

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