for once, swapan dasgupta is almost right

'Emergency: an era of discipline' was the cryptic certificate of approval issued by the senile Bhoodan leader, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, a testimonial faithfully stamped on every postcard and inland letter form. 'The Leader is right, the future is bright,' proclaimed a gigantic hoarding in Delhi's Connaught Place, sponsored by a 'progressive' weekly from Bombay. From the smoke-emitting rear of the capital's three-wheeler taxis, Indians were reassured that 'The nation is on the move'. And the Congress president, D.K. Barooah, announced matter-of-factly that India is Indira.

The Communist Party of India organized conventions against fascism and leftist intellectuals cheered with unconcealed glee as 'Hindu communalist' teachers were rounded up and petty traders forced to sign statements supporting the 20-point programme of the prime minister. As the education minister, S. Nurul Hasan, purged the arts faculties of undesirables and made Marxism the guiding philosophy of the social sciences, notables like the British Labour Party leader, Michael Foot, toured India and gushed over Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter.

The grotesque parody didn't stop here. After Sanjay Gandhi was anointed Arjun by a fawning N.D. Tiwari, it was time for fascistic inanities to take over. 'Talk less, work more' became the mantra of the Sanjay brigade. The Youth Congress has 'stolen the thunder', a proud mother proclaimed. From the sidelines, Ambika Soni, Jagdish Tytler, Kamal Nath and Lalit Maken cheered. 'Sanjay Gandhi's rise to power,' wrote Russi Karanjia in Blitz, 'came to us as History's own answer to our prayers'. Other venerable editors like Khushwant Singh agreed.

Much of the grim history of the Emergency can be pieced together from the two volumes of the Shah Commission interim report, David Selbourne's richly documented An Eye to India and John Dayal and Ajoy Bose's Delhi Under Emergency. In addition, Janardhan Thakur's All the Prime Minister's Men provides riveting pen portraits of the individuals who propped up Indira Gandhi's tyranny. It's a shame though that most of these books are either out of print or, in the case of J.C. Shah's report, conveniently withdrawn from circulation. The only available account of those dark days is In the Name of Democracy, an apologist account of Jayaprakash Narayan's perfidy and Indira Gandhi's compulsions, by the text-book historian Bipan Chandra.

funny, it's swapan dasgupta who's asking you to remember the emergency in this article (i was looking for articles marking the thirtieth anniversary of the emergency- but didn't find many). in any other democratic country in the world, the mainstream left would be taking out the marches. you'd find several kinds of liberals, progressives, and other kinds of leftists ranging from the ultra-left to the infra-left (forget the word- i hope you get the picture) in india who'd bore you to your after-life with grim tales about how hindu nationalist politics or neo-liberal policies are marginalizing more and more sections of india. but not one of them would trace the roots of either the successful co-option of the government machinery by modi during the gujarat pogrom or the successful subversion of government by the cpm in nandigram to the emergency. to lessons learnt from indira's rule. why does the nationalist right in india want to remember the emergency while the left prefers to hide it? because the hindu-right wants to remind 'the regional parties, the followers of Ram Manohar Lohia' etc., of the thread that supposedly binds them together. and because the left wants you to forget sanjay gandhi, devkanth borooah, ambika soni, lalit maken, jagdish tytler, kamal nath, m.l.fotedar, r.k.dhawan, bansi lal, mohammed yunus, akbar ahmed, h.k.l.bhagat, jagmohan, dhirendra brahmachari, v.c.shukla, nandini satpathy, sajjan kumar, maneka gandhi and a thousand, a million other congressmen and women for whom the party and the leader became more important than the country. just as buddhadeb bhattacharya 'is not above the party', as he admits now. but both the right and the left in india, nurse in the innermost recesses of their arrogant savarna souls, the greatest admiration for indira gandhi and her methods.

think: would jagdish tytler have gone around delhi goading on murderous hordes in 1984 if we hadn't started forgetting the emergency as soon as it was over? if we had paid serious attention to the emergency and to the evil personalities and processes it had engendered? it wasn't just tytler, and it wasn't just turkman gate. it wasn't just censorship, it wasn't just misa. it wasn't just a hundred thousand politicians, mediapersons, social activists, ordinary citizens in jail, it wasn't just torture and murder and maruti. it wasn't just 'kissa kursi ka' and it wasn't just the young prince being entertained by jayaprada and other nubile starlets on special trains. it was power and powerlessness. it was the rationing of freedom and the flaunting of authority. it was your life and their liberties over it.

it was indira's emergency that taught the most successful politicians of today, on the right and the left, how you and i amount to nothing, despite democracy.


caste determinism is irrational, mr.gupta?

Research Question: What is the prevalence and incidence of morbidity in children residing in social welfare hostels? Objective: To find out morbidity pattern among hostel children by sex. Study Design: Cross sectional and longitudinal study. Setting: Social Welfare hostels in Tirupati town of Andhra Pradesh. Participants: 598 children (341 boys and 257 girls).Statistical Analysis: Proportions and Chi-square tests.Results: The common prevalent morbid conditions found were skin disorders (25.7%), dental caries (21.5%), history of passing worms in stool (21.6%), Vit.B deficiency (3.2%), ARI (1.7%) and diarrhoea (1.2%). The prevalence of anaemia and helminthiasis in a 20% sub-sample based on laboratory findings were found to be 79.6% and 39.3% respectively. Significantly higher prevalence of anaemia and helminthiasis was found among boys. In the follow up study, the major health problems reported were ARI, skin diseases, injuries, Vit.B complex deficiency, diarrhoea and eye diseases.
most of the students staying in those hostels were dalits. and this is from the archives of the national human rights commission website:
New Delhi October 19, 2007
The National Human Rights has sent notice to the Chief Secretary, Andhra Pradesh, on a report, which said that “Yellow Rice and Rasam” is being provided to the hostelers in the State. The report, which appeared in the “Andhra Jyoti” on September 8, 2007, said that during inspections by the Social Welfare Department Officials, it was found that 120 hostels inspected were providing rice and rasam instead of nutritious food to the inmates. These hostels were located in the Telengana region of the State covering the districts of Warangal, Nizamabad and Karim Nagar. [...] The news report also stated that 645 hostels including 120 girls’ hostels were suffering from sanitation problems, with bathroom and toilets unfit for use. The news report said sometimes the students were forced to attend the call of the nature in the open. Even the girls hostels lacked bathrooms and they had to make temporary bathrooms. Under these circumstances a girl in Anantpur district was sexually assaulted when she had gone to attend the call of the nature.
if the commission had bothered to check on its own the conditions in some of those hostels it'd have uncovered more horrifying truths perhaps: a tdp mla had lamented in the state assembly that more than 1700 of the 5000 odd 'social welfare' hostels in the state had no access to clean drinking water and over 300 students had committed suicide in the last 2-3 years.

every state in india has these social welfare hostels for dalit and adivasi students. since the last twenty years hostels for obc students have also been started. students from class 3 to 8 are admitted into these hostels and are provided free accomodation and food. andhra pradesh has more than half a million students in these hostels and karnataka has more than 3,50,000 - it's safe to assume that around 3-5 million students from the weakest sections of our society stay in these hostels across the country? i am not sure- north indian states like bihar and uttar pradesh don't seem seem convinced of the concept, despite all the noise on social justice that we've been hearing from those states in the last two decades. their idea of social justice just doesn't seem to translate into anything concrete, apart from statues, like, say, hostels for students from the lower castes who really need all the protection and care that the state can offer (it's a different issue that those states which seem to believe in the idea are not really being able to offer all that). bihar has only around 146 hostels. and uttar pradesh has started building a few in the last few years. even a state like west bengal has only 1/7th the number of dalit and adivasi students in hostels as karnataka. one feels happy that some states in india are actually trying to pay more than lip service to social welfare. but, as the study and the report i quoted earlier show, their efforts haven't been satisfactory. here's some more evidence:
A recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General ( CAG) says that the gap between general category students and Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) students in schools is increasing despite various government schemes and projects. [...] The report also criticises the hostel facilities provided to SC/ST students. In many states, hostels have been captured by policemen, state officials, and even beggars. For example in Dumka, Dhanbad, and Ranchi, three hostels for STs and one for SCs built during 2001-04 for 400 students were occupied by police officials and to run a school, while six hostels constructed during 1992-2003 were being used as staff quarters, classrooms and a staff common room, the report alleges.
and more:
BANGALORE: The state government has initiated disciplinary action against 132 taluk officers and 4 district officers of the social welfare department for dereliction of duty. "These officers have been held responsible for not implementing welfare schemes effectively and overlooking hostel maintenance. We have also sent back 24 officers on deputation to their parent department," Social Welfare Minister A Krishnappa told reporters here on Tuesday. [...] Claiming that maintenance and management of hostels run by the department was better compared to Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Krishnappa pointed out that hostel inmates would be provided with computers, television sets and uninterrupted power supply.
one is reminded of all those pearls of wisdom thrown at us swine whenever reservations were discussed in the mainstream media in the last twenty five years or so: give them good schools, scholarships, hostels...why do they need reservations? well, some state governments seem to be doing just that: giving, no, throwing schools, scholarships and hostels at them but not bothering to check whether they're good enough. one is also reminded of an article by dipankar gupta in which he attacks caste determinism:
Caste determinism works against democracy, no matter who the beneficiaries of this mindset might be. It has worked against the Scheduled Castes for centuries, necessitating the provision of reservations for them in the Constitution. These were designed to protect them and help them generate socially valuable skills and assets that were traditionally denied to them. The rationale was that with time, members of the Scheduled Castes would have sufficient confidence in themselves to take the fight against casteism forward and eventually extirpate this curse. No caste determinism here, but a clear respect for the downtrodden and in their capabilities.
could someone please tell me, how does one spot the clear respect for the downtrodden and in their capabilities in the study and the news reports i quoted in this post?

could someone also tell me, why is mr.gupta convinced that all obcs exhibit only one kind of behavior?


the recipe for the green revolution

a slightly old article in himal explains how the green revolution changed agriculture in punjab:
The state of Punjab which has been literally feeding India, with its annual contribution of 53 percent of wheat and 40 percent of paddy to the food stocks of the country was, at the time of India’s independence in 1947, a food grain deficit area with only 52 percent of its area under irrigation. The 1960s Green Revolution changed all of that. Introduction of dwarf wheat germ-plasm and dwarf varieties for paddy crop resulted in quantum leaps in production. The high tide of the Green Revolution led to intensive production which then led to the emergence of crop monocultures, in general, as farmers, enticed by the productivity of the high yielding varieties of seeds promoted by the agricultural establishment of the country, switched to rice and wheat rotation. Pulses and coarse grains were sidelined – paddy and wheat was where the money was and to which over 71 percent of the gross cultivated area was put. Farm machinery, pesticides and fertilisers and irrigation dramatically increased the productivity of land. Today 95% of the net sown area gets irrigated by a web of canals and tubewells.
my last post was about how difficult it is for any state in india to even think of competing with punjab, and a couple of other states, for a larger share of the market for the two staple crops, wheat and rice, in the country. why is it so very difficult? there are several factors that combine to give punjab an unbeatable edge over most other states in the country:
* irrigation- punjab, as the paragraph i quoted says, started out with a well-built canal irrigation system, thanks to the british, and this potential has been further enhanced by projects such as the bhakra nangal and now the syl.canal irrigation system is the cheapest and most reliable source of water, as compared with manual and machine-operated irrigation systems. over 65% and more of farms in punjab could depend on this source until a few years ago. the national average is around 30-35%. extensive use of tubewells powered by cheap power and diesel ensure that, as the article says, 95% of all farms have assured supply of water.
* intensive farming- the green revolution was all about intensive farming. that translates into intensive application of technology (high yielding seeds, fertilizer and pesticides, farm equipment), intensive use of natural resources (water and double cropping, or two crops a year) and institutional support (research & advice from universities, credit from banks, support prices from the government). as the national portal i had quoted in my previous post says 'the cropping intensity' in punjab is more than 186% (which means two crops are cultivated in most of the available area)- the national average in irrigated areas is around 120%.
* social profile- the punjab land alienation act (1900), a bizarre piece of colonial legislation, ensured that most of the land in punjab went into the hands of the jats. the other upper castes, obcs and dalits own very little. so when the green revolution programme was first demonstrated and later launched on a large scale in punjab this homogeneity must have played a great role in the faster dissemination of the new ideas. and not just in punjab, but across haryana and western uttar pradesh, (the other one and a half of the two and a half states in north india where the green revolution is considered a great success) the story of the green revolution in north india has been the story of the resurgence of the jats. from charan singh to mahendra singh tikait- think of all the ways in which this unified, and large, jat voice worked to make the green revolution work for them more than others.

will some other state, i repeat the question, be able to match the punjab performance? if the fators listed above constitute the elements of a successful formula, how many states in india wouild be able to muster all those elements, and put them together? let's check against that list and see what needs to be done:
1. irrigation: this is a huge problem. if all the states in india were to achieve around 65% coverage of farms through canal irrigation (from around 30-35% now) the public funds required would run to around several hundred thousand crores. the current government in andhra pradesh was voted in on the promise that it'd do just that (increase area irrigated by canals by 73 lakh acres with an estimated, now revised, expenditure of 46,000 crores), but hasn't accomplished even a tenth part of the job until now even after spending more than 20,000 crores on the program. and andhra pradesh has access to perennial rivers such as the godavari and the krishna while many other states aren't so adequately endowed. this fao document should give you some idea of the size of the problem.is it doable?
2. high-yielding seeds, pesticides, fertilizers etc: most of india is using them- to increase to the punjab level more government support by way of subsidies, which means more public funds, and also private funds (which would mean increased credit for farmers) would be required. and much more funds would be required for farm equipment such as tractors (every village in punjab, on an average, has around 35 tractors- how many villages have you ever visited that have around 35 tractors each?). doable?
3. extension support from universities: doable.
4. credit: punjabi farmers access nearly 60% of their credit requirements from the banks. farmers elsewhere, despite policies that stipulate that nearly 18% of credit should go to farmers, have never received more than 10-!5% of their requirements from banks on an average. doable?
5. government support through procurement: the primary reason why punjabi farmers can access more credit, invest more in inputs and technology, is that the government of india buys more than half their harvest. doable?

it'd seem like most of those tasks, especially 1-3, can be accomplished by any state government if there were more money: more money in the hands of the farmer to invest more, more money in the hands of the government to invest more in irrigation infrastructure, subsidies, extension support etc., but the more vital player in this whole programme would've to be the central government. let's look at this way: if say, the central government buys as much wheat (half the crop harvested) from the madhya pradesh farmers (to use the same example as in my last post) as it does in punjab, and at the same remunerative prices (procurement prices have been better than market prices in most of the years since the green revolution started), then everything else would fall in place. because the madhya pradesh farmers now have an assured buyer for a major portion of their produce, and the most dependable one in the land, banks would be more than willing to lend them as much funds as they require to invest more in inputs, machinery and equipment and other improvements. because the farmer is able to invest more, his yields would increase progressively, every year. and because he's bringing more income to the rural economy every year, the state government would start listening to him more and increase its own investments in infrastructure and support through universities and subsidies etc., and in a few years, the madhya pradesh farmer would equal the punjabi farmer in productivity and surpluses. so, if the last task (no.5) is accomplished- that of securing the same kind of support from the central government as the punjabi farmers get (through procurement), all the other tasks, as i said earlier, fall in place. and all the other tasks, even if accomplished, aren't enough to turn a food deficit state into a surplus state if the last task is not completed. and most probably, it'd be almost impossible to accomplish all the other tasks (especially task 4, which in turn affects the completion of task 2) if the last task isn't completed.

so, why doesn't the central government buy from all the states? and stoke green revolutions and surpluses across the country? can't the central government extend that kind of support to all farmers in all states who, as sainath says, place 'food on our table' ? the answer is that there is already enough 'food on our table'.

older posts in this series: [1] & [2]


malawi and more food for thought

Punjab State, with only 1.5 per cent geographical area of India, produces 21 per cent of wheat, 10 per cent rice and 12 per cent of cotton in the country. Now the cropping intensity of Punjab is more than 186 per cent, and the State, which has earned the name of ‘‘Food basket of country and granary of India’’ has been pooling 40-50 per cent of rice and 50-70 per cent of wheat for the last two decades, and compared to the world, it produces 1 per cent of rice, 2 per cent of wheat, and 2 per cent of cotton of the total world production.
that's from the national portal of india. the statistic not recorded in that paragraph is that the population of punjab is 24,358,999, or around 2.2 percent of india's population. does 2.2 percent of india consume 21 percent of the wheat and and 10 percent of the rice produced in the country? most of the wheat produced in the country is consumed within the country- which means punjab produces around 3-5 times more wheat than it requires. and perhaps as much as 9-10 times more rice than it actually needs. if you feel wheat and rice consumers need to be segregated- even then, we'd see that punjab produces 3-5 times more wheat than it requires, and anywhere between 10-20 times the rice it consumes. those are rough estimates, but one does get the picture that punjab is doing well in agriculture. perhaps, as well as malawi.

one would think all indian states should follow the example of punjab (or malawi). punjab produces such huge surpluses- most of its agricultural output is exported. i mean, sold to consumers in other states- either through through the government of india's pds or through private traders. what would happen to punjab's farmers if any of the other states in the country decide to follow malawi's example? if, say, rajasthan and madhya pradesh step up border restrictions and duties? try to discourage imports and subsidize local agriculture a lot more? close down all pds outlets in those states?

why should any state follow malawi's example and stop imports from punjab? the central government (and the punjab government) subsidizes both the production and wide distribution of food products from punjab across the country, especially in deficit states like madhya pradesh and rajasthan- why should those states give up subsidized lunches (like dweep argues in this post that i referred to in an earlier post)? two reasons:

one, subsidized lunches don't mean free lunches. the madhya pradeshis need money to buy those lunches. and to earn money, they need work. those who need these subsidized lunches the most aren't educated, skilled workers- so, where can they find the work? on farms, of course. and how can farmers offer them any work if they themselves have been deprived of sustainable livelihood because of cheap grain from punjab flooding the fair price shops and stores in madhya pradesh?

two, subsidized lunches may not mean the cheapest lunches. or the kind of lunches you prefer. look at this line (which is the last line in the paragraph i'd quoted from the national portal of india earlier):
Whereas, it consumes 8 per cent of total fertilizer consumption. In Punjab, per hectare consumption of fertilizer is 177 kg as compared to 90 kg at national level.
not just fertilizers, punjabi farmers invest a lot in higher labour costs, machinery, seed, pesticides etc., add to these, the cost of water sourced from canals running from large dams, or pumped up from tubewells. add to these, the cost of credit needed to make all those investments and foot those expenditures. add to these the financial costs- the cost of central government funds that are invested in buying wheat from punjabi farmers, storing it and transporting it to madhya pradeshi stores. add to these the cost of subsidies- those paid for by the central government and the punjab government to facilitate the supply of cheap inputs to the punjabi farmers and those paid for by the central government and the madhya pradesh government to keep the prices low for the madhya pradeshi consumers.

so, while the madhya pradeshi consumer is buying the subsidized lunches, he's also paying for the subsidies- either through taxes or through lower investment in development in madhya pradesh (wouldn't the government budget for development and infrastructure go down if the subsidy bill goes up?). now, we return to the original question- are subsidized lunches truly the cheapest lunches available?

there's also the question of whether they are the kind of lunches you prefer. vandana shiva says, at the beginning of the last century, the british had found at least 37 different varieties of wheat being grown in the country- there could actually have been many more. perhaps, if you travel through northern and other parts of india where wheat is a staple element in every day diet, you'd find a different variety of wheat being consumed after every 4-5 districts. if they'd a choice, wouldn't the madhya pradeshis prefer something they're used to, food grown in their own neighbourhood?

is it possible for madhya pradesh to step up its foodgrain production to completely meet all its needs? in theory, yes. on a larger level, india had done it earlier. from the mid-sixties, it'd reduced its dependence on imports, developed high-yield seeds, distributed them at little or no cost to farmers, supplied subsidized fertilizer, increased access to irrigation and credit.

is it practically possible? no, in my view. madhya pradesh produces around 6.5 to 7 million tonnes of wheat every year. punjab produces around 14-15 million tonnes. punjab consumes around 4.5-5 million tonnes of wheat every year. i am not sure about the consumption figures in madhya pradesh- but it has a population of 60 million, which is around two and a half times punjab's population, so i think it's reasonable to assume that it consumes twice as much wheat as punjab. which would mean around 9 to 10 million tonnes. which means madhya pradesh has to increase its production by anywhere between 2.5-3.5 million tonnes a year- or by 35-50% a year, approximately. its growth in wheat production for over a decade, by the way, has been less than half a percent a year. at that rate of production, it would reach the target of 9-10 million tonnes in another, say, 70-100 years. and would still remain a deficit state because its population would definitely have increased by more than 50% by then.

if madhya pradesh continues to maintain trade and other ties with the rest of india its goal of reaching self-sufficiency in wheat would never be met. why? because the governmment of india has given away the contract of producing a large portion of the country's wheat requirements, which includes a large portion of madhya pradesh's requirements, to punjab and a couple of other states. one needs to go back to the malawi example to understand this better.

a note: madhya pradesh isn't a food deficit state. it's a food deficit state only if we assume that wheat is the only staple cereal consumed in the state. but there are other wheat deficit (and rice deficit states) states in the country which would fit the description of the deficit state illustrated in my example - because punjab with only a small fraction of the country's wheat (and rice) consuming population has cornered a large share of the market for wheat (and rice). it's very tough for new producers to take away any market share from the punjabi farmers (the government of india ensures that by buying more than two-thirds of wheat and rice produced in punjab).


how secular is the secular brigade?

from the article 'holy cow and unholy dalit' by siriyavan anand in the november 2002 issue of himal (which thrust itself again on me today):

While the mainstream media and the ‘secularists’ run shy of such instances of caste-based aggressions, they find it much easier to focus on episodes of violence where the obvious faces of Hindutva – Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena, Bharatiya Janata Party – are involved. These outfits are seen as representatives of a militant form of pan-Indian Hinduism from which the secular brigade – that otherwise indulges in caste – seeks to distance itself, not realising its own role in creating and sustaining these social monsters. In Thinniam, where no such Hindutva outfit was involved, and where Subramani and his family had no significant affiliation to any political party, the aggression was simply a result of a thevar-supremacism. Subramani and his family do not identify themselves as ‘Hindu’ nor do they act in the name of ‘Hinduism’. If they did, the RSS-type Hindus would distance themselves from such ‘caste Hinduism’ more forcefully than the secularist Hindus would. For instance, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch chief, S Gurumurthy, viewed the VHP-Narendra Modi actions in Gujarat as un-Hindu and even ‘Islamic’. In his perverse understanding of the carnage in Gujarat, ‘Hinduism is getting Islamised’ (Outlook 23 September 2002).

Ezhavas in Kerala, gounders in Tamil Nadu or jats in Haryana do not victimise dalits to defend ‘Hinduism’ as much as they do to secure their caste supremacy. And when the dalits of Meenakshipuram (in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu) famously embraced Islam in 1981, they did it not to escape Hinduism, to which they anyway did not belong, but to liberate themselves from the oppression of the thevars. The Hindutva groups descended on the area, and on Tamil Nadu in general, only after the Meenakshipuram conversion. The assertion of caste supremacy by the shudra groups is today being increasingly expressed through Hindutva outlets like the VHP and Bajrang Dal – as seen from the experience that the targets of Hindutva are invariably the dalits and Muslims. In fact, Hindutva, as we have seen it since the 1990s, is basically an organised, pan-Indian expression of casteism to which even ‘Dravidian’ parties like the DMK and shudra outfits like the Telugu Desam Party lend legitimacy. A casteism backed by brahmins and other upper castes but acted out by the shudras.

how secular is 'the secular brigade', that, as anand says, 'otherwise indulges in caste'? those castes in india which find it necessary to assert their 'supremacy' do so in their efforts to go up the ladder, to claim the little or mostly unavailable space at the top. and mostly to hold onto their assigned rungs. when the shudras and the dalits went around killing hapless muslims in gujarat in 2002- moments like those, perhaps, are the only times that space at the top seems easily accessible, even welcoming, to them? hindutva and secular politics reign from the same perch.


why 93% of india hides from the government

apropos of my previous post, i'd like to post here an excerpt of a debate with a fellow blogger, over email, on , among other issues, the informal sector in india- i think it's relevant to the issue discussed in that post. actually, this excerpt consists of only one message (mine), which is my response to one portion (which is referred to in the course of my message) of an earlier message from the other debater. i've edited out names, personal references, some obvious typographical errors (in my message) and other sections which i felt were irrelevant to the issue i wish to focus on in this post (in a general sort of way): the rickshaw pullers. reworking on the message to present it as an independent, new post is an option i've considered, but i find it a demanding task right now. it's too long, among other things..so, here goes:

my message:

i'd said we've a strongly interfering government which is a weak regulator. the presence of a large (93% of our workforce) informal sector itself is the strongest piece of evidence that the indian government is a weak regulator. you seem to be unaware of a lot of aspects of what exactly constitutes the informal sector- actually that is what the informal sector is all about - the govt too is not totally aware of what happens in the informal sector. informal sector, broadly, is that section of an economy on which a government doesn't have complete information. or of whose activities the government is not informed - it may have partial information on some sections of it, less than partial information on other sections, or very little infomation on some other sections.

let me explain: informal sector, broadly, might be viewed as composed of a) the self-employed b) and those who work for others. the self-employed may a) work alone, like many doctors who have their clinics at home or the street corner mochi b) or employ others, like restaurateurs or scrap dealers. in the second category fall people like me who broadly employ less than ten people (this is a kind of universal norm). that is one way of defining the informal sector, but that doesn't completely define it. another way of looking at it is from the angle of activity rather than mere employment- some activities of some organized sector companies might go unreported. companies might not disclose all of their turnovers or put all of their employees on their payrolls (even psus do this). a large portion of the government itself seems to work in the informal sector (ask the prime minister or the chief minister of any state how many people actually work for him at any given moment and, a hundred times out of hundred, you won't get the right figure - there are so many estimates of how many govt servants work for this or that govt that you never really get the true picture. so you could say a large portion of the government too falls in the informal sector).

now let us look at your view of the informal sector and also the role weak regulation and a strongly interfering government play in informalising the majority of the work force in the country. you say:

The informal sector in India is not the same as informal sector in US. In US, even if you employ a homeless person or even if you do a business selling in ebay, you are regulated by IRS, Labor Dept., etc. You need to pay taxes and you need to play by the rules. Well, there are a few who don't follow the rules but a big chunk of them are clearly following the rules laid out. It is not an informal sector like the one in India.
the informal sector in india is almost the same as the informal sector in the u.s., a) every single participant/person in the informal sector in india pays some kind/kinds of taxes or the other- income tax, service taxes, professional taxes, property taxes, municipal taxes, vat or sales taxes, duties, user charges, cesses, levies, fees etc., you name them. and b) the burden of taxes, as compared to their incomes, is disproportionaltely higher on them, individually, than on their average counterparts in the formal/organized sector. c) and their share of access to government services, in return, is disproportionately lower than the access of their average counterparts in the formal/organized sector. and they do play by the 'rules' of a' strongly interfering govt' (in the form of babus from every govt/dept/authority you can think of- police/ income tax/excise/commercial taxes/municipalities/labour/pollution control boards/customs/weights & measures...and a thousand other kinds). you name them. in reality, they pay a much higher price, on an average, than they'd have if they'd been playing by the rules of a reasonable government- rather than the rules (if they were reasonable) of interfering govt officials.

i'd like to expand on all the statements (a), (b), (c) i've made in the preceding para - let's consider the premise (b) first, that the burden of taxes is higher on those in the informal sector than on the formal sector, first. take two families, one headed by someone who works in the formal sector and one who works in the informal sector. let's assume that the first family makes around 50,000 rupees a month and the second family makes 2000 rupees. let's assume a uniform tax burden of ten percent on all consumption by these two families (i am taking of indirect taxes like sales/excise etc., ). we can safely assume, the first family because it has a higher income, and because it's head is regularly employed it's very likely that it'd also have accessed credit from banks etc., to buy some property and invested in deposits, stocks etc. shall we assume that they use around 20,000 rupees a month towards mortgages, loans, savings etc.,? i think it is also realistic to assume that the second family has no such access to credit...and their incomes are totally spent on consumption. so, what would the total expenditure on taxable goods and services, or consumption in rupee terms, of each family be at the end of every month? rs.30,000 in the case of the first family and rs.2,000 in the case of the second family. and the taxes paid by each family on consumption? rs.3,000 and rs.200 respectively. and the burden of taxes? 6% (of total income) of the first family ( in the organized sector) and 10% (of total income) on the second family (in the informal sector).

now i come to the premise (c): you may object to some of the assumptions in the above illustration- about the incomes, consumption levels, savings rates, tax rates (a uniform rate for two different kinds of consumption?), 'unconsumed' portions of incomes etc., for instance how can i equate taxes imposed on only consumption with the 'total burden of tax' on an individual? the rich pay income tax (not everyone in the organized sector pays income tax, and not everyone in the unorganized sector avoids them), don't they? yes, the first family is most likely to be paying income tax. but, this has to be seen against the backgroud of 1) the family's share of access to public services and 2) and the various kinds of relief offered to assessees in the form of exemptions (see http://www.surfindia.com/finance/income-tax/income-tax-exemptions.html ) and deductions (medical expenses, education expenses etc.). for example, a family (like the first family i am talking about) would be entitled to exclude from its income, education expenses to the tune of 24,000 a year, spent on the educational expenses of two kids (most of you probably know about this). think about this: the government probably spends less than a tenth of that amount on the education of each child (like one from the second family) at a government school. what about other public services - like better neighbourhoods, sanitation, potable water, electricity, roads, security, schools, universities, libraries, parks, stadia, museums, galleries, hospitals and schools and many privately provisioned (subsidised by the public in one fornm or the other) services like cinemas, malls, restaurants, theme parks, hospitals and schools etc., etc.,? those who work in the organized sector, because by definition they are better organized, have better access to all of those services. they're mostly urban, and where they're not urban, ( like factories, mining companies, railway stations in rural, semi-urban locations), the government or the companies they work for build/s/built them townships, campuses, colonies which provide much better access to public services than that offered to other people in the same rural/semi-urban neighbourhood. in fact these were india's first gated communities (every large public sector company/organization/dept has at least one, sometimes two or more)...and the big private sector companies too build them. the one at jamshedpur, ---------------- can be called modern india's first gated community (with 24 hour water supply, uninterrupted electricity etc.,), if you ignore forts st.george and st.william etc., i don't think i've to list here again the deficiencies/shortages/absence of public services in areas where informal sector workers live (mostly rural and low income neighbourhoods in cities). yes, there are exceptions - but broadly, that is how the organized/informal sections of our working population live. i'll deal with statement (a) in a short while.

The informal sector we have in India is nothing but lawlessness. You can give a spin by saying market forces are in play there. If this kinda market force is question, tomorrow a Tom dude can extrapolate it and say that swords and guns are the tools of market forces and he will argue that theft, murder, etc are valid and he can make a claim that it is also a case of market forces in play where people who are strong enough and who can hold guns or knives survive. We don't want this kinda lawless market forces to determine our lives. The informal segment in India is wrong and it shouldn't exist.
interesting you should dub the informal sector 'lawless', because some of the top lawyers in the country work in the informal sector. and the sincerest social/political activists, artists, writers, film stars- the big majority of course are the 'lawless' landless labourers, artisans, manual workers like scavengers and butchers, cattle and sheep herders, screen printers and engravers, all kinds of farmers, smugglers, gun-runners, prostitutes, pimps, child traffickers, hired assassins and other anti-social elements.


the great majority of the workers and the self-employed in the informal sector are not 'lawless' in any sense of the term, -------. a great majority of them conduct legally recognized work and businesses and they can only be described as 'law-struck', or 'persecuted' or 'law-oppressed' or 'law-starved' etc., and as i said earlier [in statement (a)], everyone of them, workers or self-employed, pays some kind of tax or the other. i'd told you i work in the informal sector - the business i run is --------------, the it department knows about my business because i have to file annual returns, so does the excise department because my suppliers/vendors charge the business service tax/vat on goods/services supplied and i am supposed to file periodical returns with those authorities (and oh yes, i pay more than my share of taxes because i don't reclaim the excess paid by me because i don't/can't file regular returns), and so on, and at any given moment any of them and a hundred other kinds of authorities can send notices or inspectors to me. so you see, none of those who work in the informal sector are truly hidden from the law. even the lowliest rickshaw puller usually has some kind of authorization/licence (renewed periodically) or the other from civic authorities. many are members of unions recognized by some govt arm. those who do not possess a licence/authorization are even more persecuted than the licence-holders. pushcart vendors, barbers, vegetable/fruit vendors- others who sell their goods/services on the street possess/or are quite willing to pay (to possess) any reasonable 'ransom' to be recognized by the government because that'd lessen the harassment from a hundred different kinds and shapes of bribe-seekers. retailers of every kind, traders... all other kinds of businesses that work behind shutters -the majority of self-employed people(who may/or may not employ others) do not keep the govt fully informed (the government does have at least partial information on each one of them through one agency or the other) about their business/work because # the rules are unimplementable # their resources are limited (i don't include the 'creamy layer' of film stars, high paid professionals, businesses and industries and the very small layer of the criminal element, who find it lucrative not to report or let the government know the full extent of their income, size, wealth or activity to the govt depts., in this category).

i'll keep the explanation of these two reasons brief - why are the rules unimplementable? last year, a friend of mine wanted to start an edible oils firm- on a small scale, with less than 20 lakhs capital, and a small factory to process and package. he learnt he had to get 63 different kinds of approvals/licences/clearances/whatever. and it's not a one time affair- he'd have to deal with all those authorities all through his working life.another person i know, started a small -sized restaurant, only a scale bigger than a chaikhana- and from the first week he slowly started to learn, as inspectors/officials of various kinds started landing up, how many depts he actually had to get permissions/clearances and so on from. the figure was 29. i could tell you a hundred other stories, but for the moment, i think those two are enough.

i won't go into the details of how much paperwork needs to be done to comply with all the rules of all the departments, how much time needs to be spent, and how much money...i won't go into that familiar complaint- what i am saying is that to expect the self-employed person (roadside vendor/craftsman, small businessman or trader etc.,), given his resources, to comply with all the rules, given the size of the rules/requirements, is plain stupid.

now, the next question- in what way are their resources limited?

* a majority of them are from underprivileged communities - they start out with inherited resource limitations. for instance, around 20% of india's people own more than 70% of all the land in the country,
* they're illiterate or inadequately educated. most of them come from communities that have traditionally been excluded from higher education or were 'convinced', by their own communities and society at large, about the
irrelevance of modern education for people in their socio-economic positions,
* they're ignorant - education by itself doesn't bring in knowledge of laws/procedures/regulations. you are also required to be exposed to a particular kind of socialization to learn about these things,
* their businesses are too small- they can't hire the services of regular book-keepers, accountants, leave alone chartered accountants, lawyers etc., to maintain books regularly or comply with regulations,
* the cold truth is they can't afford to waste the only precious resource that they've, and that is time. a day lost could make a lot of difference to their incomes.

there could be a hundred other reasons but the essential picture you get is that they start out with less (of education, training, capital, credit, social support) and they're destined to get less ( of credit, training, technology, knowledge, social support, governmental encouragement). no broad industry associations and no powerful unions lobby for their cause on a sustained basis. one u.n (agency) report i read says that the one distinguishing feature which characterizes most informal sector businesses is that they can never scale up to their full potential. that characteristic is best exemplified by the marginal and sub-marginal farmers of india (those who work on holdings of less than one acre each) who are more productive than small/medium or large farmers who receive all kinds of support from the government. informal sector workers, mostly from the underprivileged sections constitute 93% of total indian workforce and contribute around 60% of our gross domestic product - the organized sector workers, mostly from the privileged sections contribute around 40%. if that doesn't tell you about the the curbing of potential, what will?

and if you think regulation had no role to play in that, i beg to differ. if the state directed the flow of all resources towards the creation, sustenance and growth of the organized sector on the one hand, it has also used its powers to restrain and suppress the energies of the communities originally associated with all production in india. the state in india, since independence, continued to play, and much more effectively than any time earlier, the historical role it was always assigned with: protect cows and the brahminized classes (and please don't accuse me of alluding to any one community). from the rakshasas perhaps? the rhetoric of the class argument had long deluded the rakshasas in india into believing they're not rakshasas - it produced mass hallucinations and redistributed more poverty than land.

----------end of excerpt --------------

it's an email, so please don't expect it to present a coherent argument on all counts. also, you may not totally agree with my definition of the informal sector: there are too many working groups working at the national/international level to arrive at a better definition.what i considered relevant for this post was the fact that around 93% of india's workforce works in the informal sector.

did you speak up for a rickshaw puller today?

a comment on a recent post on the indian economy blog:
The Dhirubhai Ambani’s of today don’t need a license to open extra businesses, but rickshaw pullers in Delhi cant have more than one rickshaw, auto rickshaws need to be licensed. the license raj is very much present for these people.
i've seen slight variations of that comment expressed on sundry blogs- it's offered as a pithy critique of the reforms process in india. how genuine is this love for rickshaw pullers and other members of the great unwashed among that section of india's chatterati which can only be classified as opposed-to-but-as-silly-as-the-shining- india-advocacy group? i've an answer, i think: of the 5,100 employees working in ecil, hyderabad, only 150 belong to the scheduled tribes and most of them are employed as drivers.

that's not an answer? how about this one- it's a comment i'd made around an year ago on a post at kafila:
so, why do these servants come to delhi? because there are in delhi these huge neighbourhoods with huge homes in which live people who own huge businesses which service huge numbers of salaried people and their families in their huge homes…whose income and tenure is guaranteed by the government.
so the servants come to delhi because their income and tenure is not guaranteed by the government in their villages..nor can they work at huge businesses because there are no salaried people there whose income and tenure is guaranteed by the government.
and there are no middle class people there who can point their fingers at other middle class people and gloat over their own finer sensibilities…because they don’t ill-treat their servants even though the government guarantees, in a way, their right to do so.
that isn't an answer either? try this one:
In fact the checkered history of industrial capital shows that this class has followed this ‘veil of ignorance’ principle rather selectively. For example, the textile mills owners in Bombay in the 1930s did not bother to follow the modern criterion of recruiting mill workers and even managers. Relatively more unskilled upper caste mill workers barred more skilled workers from the dalit castes from working in the weaving sections of Bombay based textile mills. The upper caste workers opposed the entry of dalits, not on grounds of merit but on the line of purity-pollution.
how about this last offering: citizens of hyderabad city had access to piped water supply 24 hours a day in 1947. well?


this brahmin journalist deserves a magsaysay

Faced with job quotas, companies could stop outsourcing and resume in-house operations. They can hire dalits and tribals as sweepers, canteen workers, drivers, chowkidars and so on.

They can open holiday homes for officers in the hills, employing tribals. This will enable them to fulfil job quotas without affecting management or factory quality.

Many dalits and tribals may find this quite acceptable, because they will move from the unorganised to the organised sector.

Third tactic: Convert officers, technicians and skilled workers into consultants. Top staff need not be salaried employees. They can equally be consultants on contract. Consultants get no provident fund or leave travel benefits.

i'd call that an honest, heartfelt expression of self-interest. and this? well, that is more like all the outrage, indignation, handwringing and breastbeating that was probably on display here, all through last week. or like this display of aforementioned theatrics:
Land has a great deal to do with both economic and social status. Let's look at who are the poor in India. Of the Indian poor, 40 per cent are landless agricultural labourers; 45 per cent are small or marginal farmers. (60 per cent of Indian farmers own less than an acre of land). This means that 85 per cent of the poor are either landless or marginal farmers. It's in the first category that you will find dalits in large numbers.
how would you characterize someone who, after more than one decade of writing passionately about the injustices being perpetrated on rural india, admits in a moment of rare honesty (albeit in a circuitous manner) that that he hasn't exactly been advocating the cause of the weakest in indian society all that while but raising concerns about the interests of india's upper caste farmers (who benefits the most from india's agricultural subsidies, support prices and public investments in such areas as irrigation anyway)? sainath's friend jean dreze is less circuitous about acknowledging that support prices etc., do not benefit lower caste farmers:
There are two answers to this question. One is that the poorer sections of the farming community benefit very little, if at all, from price support measures. Consider for instance small farmers in, say, Orissa or Jharkhand or Chhatisgarh. These farmers typically sell little grain, if any, on the market; instead, they tend to combine subsistence farming with labour migration and other income-earning activities that allow them to buy non-food commodities.Hence, higher food prices do not help them.
dreze also thinks the pds is a scam but we know sainath's views on that - he believes the pds 'has wilted under policies clearly aimed at dismantling it'.. who does sainath speak for? does he speak for the dalits and the lower castes?
Typically, the forward caste will till at the head of the water, the middle caste will till in the middle water, and the tail water will be left to the lower caste and the Dalits. Now in Rajasthan this problem does not arise, since there is no water, no river in the border areas. So how is the positioning of the Dalit basti determined in Rajasthan? In all other parts of the country where the river water runs north to south, the Dalit basti will be in the south. Why is it on the east and northeast there? This happens because Dalits work on leather, which stinks and our sacred nostrils cannot be offended by this menial activity, so we place them outside, so the smell of carcasses and tanning does not enter the village.
he speaks for the farmers and he speaks for the dalits and the lower castes. but the good book says: no one can serve two masters. if sainath is concerned about farmers who place 'food on our table' he can't be speaking for '85 per cent of the poor (who) are either landless or marginal farmers'. who does sainath speak for? or, let me rephrase the question: who has he (and the whole army of born again pro-farmer advocates among the indignant classes that the last one decade had spawned) served? institutional credit for farmers has more than doubled, from around 80, 000 crores to 2,00,000 crores, since the last three years. investment in irrigation has gone up everywhere- andhra pradesh, maharashtra and karnataka together, for instance, have spent more than 100,000 crores (maybe more) on irrigation in the last 3-10 years and will be spending more in the near future.. and the central government has just raised the support price of wheat to rs.1000 a quintal etc., etc., have the suicides stopped? oh..those were mostly misguided obc, dalit farmers who shouldn't have tried to 'place food on our table' by trying to compete with those who'd be served everything- water, subsidies, credit, price support- first. why couldn't they remain content with the nregs?

finally, who has he served? my magsaysay goes to aiyar for being more honest. and less theatrical.

(read also: brahmin journalist bags magsaysay award)


let them eat cake

There are currently four major schemes in operation that essentially aim at fighting hunger and food insecurity; namely,PDS(public distribution system),ICDS (integrated child development scheme), MDM ( mid-day meal scheme) and most importantly NREGS(national rural employment guarantee scheme).There would be very few Indians who would have to skip meals if we could just make these four schemes corruption- free. [...] PDS and NREGS are two most important schemes to fight hunger and ensure food security. But , what is the actual performance of these schemes on the ground ? According to a recent report of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution , “In the last three years, Rs 31,585.98 crore worth of wheat and rice meant for the poorest of the poor was siphoned off from the public distribution system(PDS). Last year alone, Rs 11,336.98 crore worth of food grain that the government is supposed to distribute to the needy at subsidised prices found its way into the market illegally. Every year, India's poor are cheated out of 53.3% of wheat and 39% of rice meant for them...There is largescale diversion of PDS grain across India… Exceptions apart, the poor in India simply can’t trust the government to deliver them food supplies.
i know there still are people around who believe the nregs is the best thing to happen to india after jnu..i hope they find this annoying:
Delhi- based CEFS(Centre for Environment and Food Security) has carried out a survey in 100 villages of Orissa and found that of Rs 733 crore spent under NREGS during 2006-7, over Rs 500 crore has been siphoned off and misappropriated by the government officials of executing agencies. Moreover, as against the claims of Orissa Government that no needy household in 19 NREGS districts of the state was denied wage employment and each needy household was given an average 57 days of wage employment under NREGS, CEFS study has revealed that large number of needy households were denied not only jobs but even job cards, and not more than 5 days of average wage employment has been given to each needy family in these 19 NREGS districts. We have found that more than 75 per cent of the NREGS funds spent during last year have been siphoned off. However, we are absolutely certain that there are thousands of villages in Orissa where scale of misappropriation is 80-90 per cent. It is distressing to note that there has been open and participatory loot of NREGS funds in Orissa. We have reasons to believe that the entire state administration is party to this loot.
read more here. and i'd told you so here and here and here and here and here.


did hindus kill muslims in gujarat?

the andhra pradesh government runs a programme called 'indiramma' (yes, the chief minister would like to name everything under the sun...no, including the sun, after indira or rajiv). it's a housing scheme- the govt makes available to rural households long-term loans for building homes. each householder is also required to make his own contribution too, of course. well, the scheme works like the first link in this paragraph. one television report showed who exactly it works for - the camera first panned over an upper-caste neighbourhood, in a village, with almost completely built houses, and then moved over to the dalitawada.. the dalit homes couldn't rise beyond the bare foundations. and there were shots of other neighbourhoods with incomplete structures- these belonged to the other castes who couldn't chip in with enough resources of their own. nor borrow enough.

the congress and the communists agree with the bjp that hindus killed muslims in gujarat. did they?
It is, therefore, not very surprising that earlier the Jan Sangh and now the BJP, has systematically used the dalit masses to advance its own political agenda and also have always used them for attacking minorities. The poor dalit youth are always in the forefront of all the riots. The dalit leadership, itself very weak, finds itself almost helpless in controlling the dalit youth to perpetrate communal violence. The job of killing is done usually by dalit youth and upper caste followers of the BJP keep themselves away form this ‘dirty job’
asghar ali engineer, i think, has got it almost right (many of the dalits he refers to are probably obcs) because dhimant bhatt, chief auditor of m.s.university, seems to echo his views:
Until Godhra happened, the upper castes would never come out… Baniyas… Patels… they would never come out… But we mobilised them… told them that we had prepared teams from the police and amongst advocates… that if they went to jail, we would get them released.
the congress, the communists and the bjp- they need each other. and they all need the poverty line as much as they need hindus.
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