click to save..what?

india's population has nearly doubled since 1970. so has its foodgrain production. actually, india's food production could've quadrupled, considering the average yield per acre, across the world (including china and even countries such as vietnam and laos, sometimes) of any major cereal (rice, wheat corn) is more than twice the indian average. but yes, india does produce a little more than it requires and has been doing so for nearly four decades.

so why do you still see charities across the western world (and everywhere on the internet) asking you to save indian children from hunger etc.,? india doesn't require any foodgrain imports from the west (except to bridge any very temporary shortfall, just as any other food surplus nation in the world)- so how can any westerner save indian children from hunger? by donating money so that the child/his parents/charity looking after him can buy food. by giving the child/his parents etc purchasing power.

but what most western donors probably do not know is that their money would buy food produced in india and not in the west. for all they know, they're sending food to india.

now, there's another way in which any kindhearted citizen of the west can save indian children from hunger: ask his/her government to stop subsidizing its agriculture. or at least stop spending ridiculous amounts on crops that people of those countries rarely consume- like for instance, the subsidies that america spends on rice production. it throws away more money on the subsidies than the actual output is worth, in dollar terms! if those subsidies are lowered, indian farmers would produce more and earn more from selling a part of their produce overseas. which in turn would mean more purchasing power for indian parents.

p.sainath and many like him do not like that idea because they inherently do not believe indian farmers are capable of the kind of productivity any western or chinese or vietnamese or laotian farmer is capable of. and that is exactly what many knowledgeable people in the west also think, even when they see that their real agricultural productivity is going from bad to worse. so, the indian farmer should continue to live on the indian government's charity, according to people like sainath (he would of course make it sound like he's talking about farmers' rights). and indian children should continue to receive food from kindhearted westerners. (that's what i call brahminized angst).

but is it possible for indian farmers to increase productivity and their incomes by selling their produce only in india?

look at how growth in indian agricultural output has managed to hover around, on an average, 2% a year, over the last forty years. why? because that's more than adequate to meet the annual growth in population? it's like indian farmers instinctively seem to know just exactly how much india needs. or, think of it in this way: if indian farmers had quadrupled their production in the last forty years- where would they have sold half their produce? definitely not in india. which means they've been producing just as much as india is willing to pay for. and india has been paying less and less over the years- from around 50% of gdp in 1970 to around 18% now, which of course, meant more and more distress in the countryside. and now, more and more suicides.

so, why do indian farmers need to significantly improve their productivity if they need to sell only in india? and given the record of the past forty years, how will they manage to increase their incomes by selling only in india? especially, when the indian government/s would continue to control all trade in agriculture commodities even within the country?

why this half-rant now? because i get massively annoyed by invitations to 'click to save an indian child from hunger' and so on, sometimes.


financial crisis could fuel hunger?

felix salmon (via gadde swarup) quoting from a bloomberg post:
The number of hungry around the world is at risk of increasing as the financial crisis cuts investment in agriculture and crops, said Abdolreza Abbassian, secretary of the Intergovernmental Group on Grains at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. The total increased by 75 million last year to 923 million, the UN estimates.
a squeeze on worldwide institutional credit could affect corn output this year? not in india where 90% of credit that farmers access is non-institutional. perhaps, this is the time for americans to go easy on their subsidies so that indian farmers can invest more in productivity. if you want to save the world's hungry don't send money to india or africa- and don't subsidise the fortunate in america either.


hierarchy prioritized

will the bank ever lend any money to these three businessmen? so that they can move out of the slum? they've been working there, for the last twenty years, honestly and hard for more hours, every day, than any one in the bank itself. for twenty long years. does the bank trust them?
i'd said indians do not qualify. not even when they're prioritized. those who have already invested 5 lakhs to 2 crores in their businesses are also prioritized, so what kind of a chance does a thelawallah stand against them?

lending to the really small guy does not make any business sense? listen to swaminathan aiyar:
This is extraordinary. Big financiers lend against collateral, a back-up if their borrower defaults. But MFIs lend with no collateral at all. Big financiers lend to the most creditworthy corporations. MFIs lend to poor women whom nobody in history considered creditworthy before. Yet, the secured loans to big corporations are bombing, while unsecured loans to poor women are being repaid in full.

How so? What lessons does micro-finance have for Wall Street?
america and most other western nations have programmes like the sba. india has the priority sector to ensure that loans go only to people who have already exhibited their easy access to self-owned resources and credit. people who would have gained access to further credit anyway, even without their needs being prioritized by the government. seen against the history of small borrowers being more trustworthy than bigger businessmen how does one understand the indian banks' reluctance to lend to them? it means those who'd historically never owned much property do not stand a chance with indian banks. that clearly means lower caste borrowers. i ask again: if all these banks were to disappear, why would any truly marginalized individual in the country miss them?


from sircilla to wherever mr.guha's next article is going to be published

a slogan in telugu, scrawled over a wall bordering the security printing press in hyderabad says:
workers of the world unite! oppose globalization, privatization!
workers who produce a quintessentially national product calling for a global effort to oppose globalization? now here's a quintessentially global product ( schooled in la martiniere school, calcutta, st. stephen's college, delhi and the delhi school of economics- each institution started, run or inspired by global institutions/ideas) telling you:
..the views and analyses of the political economist, philosopher and sociologist Karl Heinrich Marx remain as relevant as ever in understanding why the world is what it is at present.
now if rapelli mallaiah had gone to la martiniere school and st.stephens college and the delhi school of economics he'd have realized much before that fateful day that karl marx is as relevant as ever. i'd say, globalize mallaiah's and paranjoy guha thakurta's world.


the physics of disappearing land

going back to this post:
could it have been stolen? 44% and more of all cultivable land in india?
there must be some law of physics that says land can't disappear or be stolen. but look at how tough it is to find the land that's disappeared from most of our cities:
In 2001, office space near the center of town sold for $1 a square foot. Now it can go for $400 a square foot. Janwani bought his 6-acre plot in 1992 for $13,000. Today, even undeveloped, it's worth $3 million.

But high prices are only part of the problem for businesses looking for space in the city. It's nearly impossible to determine who actually owns any given piece of Bangalorean real estate. Some 85 percent of citizens occupy land illegally, according to Solomon Benjamin, a University of Toronto urban studies professor who specializes in Bangalore's real estate market. Most land in the city, as in the rest of India, is bound by ancestral ties that go back hundreds of years. Little undisputed documentation exists. Moreover, as families mingle and fracture over generations, ownership becomes diluted along with the bloodline. A buyer who wants to acquire a large parcel may have to negotiate with dozens of owners. Disputes are inevitable.

scott carney's great investigative work on the land mafia in bangalore could be easily read as a great investigative work on the land mafia in bangalore. please read the italicized portions again- the lessons we need to draw from it are not about the land mafia.
Some 40 percent of land transactions occur on the black market, according to Arun Kumar, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Often the local authorities facilitate these deals. A World Bank report rated the Bangalore Development Authority, which oversees urban planning, as one of the most corrupt and inefficient institutions in India.
and, from another page:
"When a foreign company wants to set up a business, they don't know who to trust," he says. "They need clear titles, and if they go to a local person, they're going to get screwed with legal cases. But if Rai gives you a title, it comes with a 100 percent guarantee of no litigation. No cheating. It's perfectly straightforward." [...]
According to a lawyer who deals with land issues, the system works like this: Asked to intercede by a prospective buyer, Rai checks out the parcel for competing owners. If two parties assert ownership, he hears both sides plead their case and decides which has the more legitimate claim (what he calls "80 percent legal"). He offers that person 50 percent of the land's current value in cash. To the other, he offers 25 percent to abandon their claim—still a fortune to most Indians, given the inflated price of Bangalorean real estate. Then he sells the land to his client for the market price and pockets the remaining 25 percent. Anyone who wants to dispute the judgment can take it up with him directly. [...]
Collusion between enforcers and mobsters raises troubling questions about the future of this city. "Since Bangalore went global, things have gotten worse," says Santosh Hegde , his graying hair dyed jet-black and a chain of prayer beads around his neck. He's the state official responsible for prosecuting corruption cases. "Businesspeople want to get things done quickly, and they have no option but to bribe officials to shortcut the bureaucracy," he says.Hegde, 68, served six years on India's Supreme Court before taking the anticorruption beat. He oversees a team of accountants who burrow through documents and field operatives trained in covert recordings and sting operations. Since assuming office, Hegde has charged more than 300 officials with receiving cash bribes totaling over $250,000 and illegal assets and land holdings worth $40 million. That's just 5 percent of total bribery in Karnataka, he says, which he estimates at more than $800 million.
no, it isn't about the land mafia, or about corruption or about fast paced development. and it isn't about bangalore or any other big city in india either.


slowing down reforms saved us?

if growth after reforms did not trickle down how would recession trickle down now? if shining india isn't connected to other parts of india, why should the samosawallah outside jnu fear the wall street crash? why should anyone who's never had a bank account feel safe now that our banks, because they're still in the public sector, are safe?

you're funny.


the case of the stolen land

a few days ago, i'd wandered into a discussion on singur (thanks to abi) at rahul siddharthan's blog. rahul had a few questions, and among them i found this one interesting:
Why didn't the Tatas (and others who extol the virtues of the free market) acquire their land on the open market?
yes, why didn't they go to the open market? that question represents insouciance of a degree, let's say, that's disturbing. if land was so freely available in the open market (or wherever), what the f&&* are the naxalites doing in the jungles? oh yes, of course, they don't have the money to buy the land. so why don't the more fortunate citizens of this country donate whatever little they can to a fund, say, the prime minister's relief fund, and ask the indian government to finance the naxalites?

that'd require a huge pile of money. how much? let's say there are 20 crore families in india and around 13 crore of them live in the villages. by most accounts, more than 40% of them are landless- say 5.2 crore families. even if the government paid only rs.1 lakh per acre it'd require 5,20,000 crores to buy up enough land to distribute at least one acre each to those 5.2 crore families. considering not even 13 lakh per acre was considered a fair rate in singur, you could say the government would need much more money to pay fair rates to the sellers. seems like a bad idea?

why doesn't the government just go ahead and mop up the excess land, instead? without paying any fair compensation? as of 1995-96, around 20% of land owners in rural india owned around 64% of all available agricultural land. and the landless represented around 43% of the rural population. you could say the top 20% of land owners had cornered all the landless poor's share of farmland (and more).

so, why didn't the government just mop up that excess land and distribute it among the landless? that is exactly what all progressive governments in india have been trying to do for the last sixty years- scouring the land for the land, which you and i know is easily available in the open market. but why can't the government find it?

could it have been stolen? 44% and more of all cultivable land in india?


stick to hindus and muslims

But we live in a time when even multitudes are forced to lay claim to a singular label.
from this moving piece of writing at space bar's blog. and the comment i couldn't bring myself to post:
i wish i could overlook the presumption here that i can lay claim to the label 'hindu'. a great many people with hindu names can't be hindus even if they wanted to, not even if india today or bajrang dal wanted them to. i wish i didn't have to post this comment, but i've noticed many 'liberal secular hindus and muslims' share this presumption.
why didn't i post it? because the key tenets of the liberal secular ethos in india were defined by nehru, who took great pains to describe his descent in the very first chapter of his autobiography, and later interpreted by his biographers like m.j.akbar who take great pains to engage only with upper caste hindus in all their writing. because even when one has been labelled one doesn't feel invited to these debates.

because my folks come from a village where the muharram procession still starts from lower caste homes. because some of my mother's cousins were named after a holy man called yaqub. because my grandmother always believed the festival of peers was our festival. one could go on, but for any debate to be truly liberal secular, one should stick to hindus and muslims, i guess.


does the priority sector include the marginalized?

the priority sector is a kind of a holy cow- even if a government thinks of rephrasing a line or two in the guidelines, it'd have a war on its hands. from p.sainath to muppala lakshman rao, a vast army of rishis and munis would be up in arms and pens. why? because these weaker sections need to be protected:
2.1.1 Units engaged in the manufacture, processing or preservation of goods and whose investment in plant and machinery (original cost) excluding land and building does not exceed Rs. 5 crore.
2.1.2 Small scale units whose investment in plant and machinery (original cost) excluding land and building is up to Rs. 25 lakh, irrespective of the location of the unit, are treated as Micro Enterprises.
2.2.4 Loans granted by banks to NBFCs for on lending to SSI sector.
3.1 Loans granted to small business and service enterprises such as, Small Road and Water Transport Operators, Small Business, Professional & Self Employed Persons, etc. engaged in providing/rendering of services (which are industry or non-industry related), and whose investment in equipment (original cost and excluding land and building) does not exceed Rs. 2 crore.
3.2 (ii) Advances granted to private retail traders with credit limits not exceeding Rs. 20 lakh.
6.Educational loans should include only loans and advances granted to individuals for educational purposes up to Rs. 10 lakh for studies in India and Rs. 20 lakh for studies abroad, and not those granted to institutions.
6.1Loans up to Rs. 15 lakh, irrespective of location, for construction of houses by individuals, excluding loans granted by banks to their own employees.
1.1 Domestic scheduled commercial banks having shortfall in lending to priority sector target (40 per cent of ANBC or credit equivalent amount of Off-Balance Sheet Exposure, whichever is higher) and / or agriculture target (18 per cent of ANBC or credit equivalent amount of Off-Balance Sheet Exposure, whichever is higher) shall be allocated amounts for contribution to the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) established with NABARD. The concerned banks will be called upon by NABARD, on receiving demands from various State Governments, to contribute to RIDF.
among those prioritized borrowers, do you recognize anyone who makes rs. 20 or less a day? in the rbi guidelines, bunched together with those weaker sections are these weaker sections:
(a) Small and marginal farmers with land holding of 5 acres and less, and landless labourers, tenant farmers and share croppers.
(b) Artisans, village and cottage industries where individual credit limits do not exceed Rs. 50,000.
(c) Beneficiaries of Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY).
(d) Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
(e) Beneficiaries of Differential Rate of Interest (DRI) scheme.
(f) Beneficiaries under Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY).
(g) Beneficiaries under the Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavangers (SLRS).
(h) Advances to Self Help Groups.
(i) Loans to distressed urban/rural poor to prepay their debt to non-institutional lenders, against appropriate collateral or group security.
who do you think gets better attention from the banks? most of the second category of borrowers do not even have bank accounts, as i pointed out in this post. only 13% of the most vocal section of the second category (small and marginal farmers) have managed to secure occasional credit from the banks (read the opening paragraph of the 'report of the working group on the competitive micro credit market in india', prepared by the development policy division of the planning commission) until now. how would you rate the chances of anyone from the other sections in the second, real, category of obtaining, say, an occasional loan of rs. 20 or so from a public sector bank?


5 million more reasons why caste survives

to the few bloggers who'd commented on my last 2-3 posts: my apologies. for various reasons, i wasn't able to respond earlier.

i'd like to respond now to one comment by kiran here. he says:
So are you trying to suggest that Banks would have been all inclusive if they remained private ? Unlikely. Even those 10% would not have been there.
by 1980, employees in nationalized banks numbered around one million. more than 9 lakhs of those were from the upper castes. you could say around 9 lakh upper caste families (more than 5 million individuals) benefitted directly from the nationalization project.

those were national resources that were deployed to nationalize and run those banks- but they employed, almost exclusively, upper caste individuals and lent money, almost exclusively, to upper caste individuals. did nationalization reduce caste inequalities? it aggravated them. upper caste individuals, long used to privileges, were rewarded with new positions of privilege just as naturally as in the past. and the lower castes paid for those privileges just as naturally as in the past. but the key difference was: if you were a landlord in the pre-modern era, feudal honour required that you make sure those who worked for you didn't starve. the new privileges carried no such price.

how many million lower caste individuals paid for the privileges of those 5 million upper caste individuals? how many of those 5 million would actually admit that caste is a problem? most of them would probably say: it had no role to play in their lives.

what would private banks have done? by 1980, they definitely wouldn't have been able to reward 5 million upper caste individuals with privileges and made several million more lower caste individuals pay for those privileges.
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