India Whining

A new report on India “Shining”:

Defense and capital expenditure are up, while spending on the social sectors has declined. As many as 48.6 percent farmers are debt-ridden and many are committing suicide.The judiciary, often asked to intervene in the disadvantaged groups’ interest, still has not overcome the problem of court delays. More than 3.4 million cases were pending in mid-2004, the paper said.

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Water and Cola

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says that one litre of soft drink requires 6-10 litres of water. The Kerala High Court has allowed Coke to draw 5 lakh litres of water per day at its Plachimada plant. My guess is that the firms may be drawing between 15 to 25 lakh litres per day from one location. Also, official figures will very likely be underestimates. (10 lakh = 1 million.)

More here.

Agricultural indebtness in Punjab

A report on the staggering scale of rural indebtness in East Punjab:

According to a recent report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), each Punjab farmer has a debt of Rs 41,576, against the national average of Rs 12,505.

and in Vidarbha:

Farm suicides in Vidarbha since November 1 have crossed the 100 mark. There have been 200 since June 2. But the last 100 have occurred in less than two months. A little more than 65 farmers have taken their own lives in December alone. The total for the year is over 300. This month, the Maharashtra Government admitted to over 1,000 farmer’s suicides in the State since 2001.

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Ashok Mitra- Two Economic Theories

Former West Bengal Finance Minister, the acerbic Ashok Mitra contrasts two economic theories of development- one articulated by Wassily Leontief in the fifties based on the input- output model and another one, now less remembered, that of unbalanced growth laid down by Albert O. Hirschman.While the Leontief theory led to planned economic growth, the latter is closer to the model popular in India today- Hirschman envisaged that if agricultural growth is stimulated by directing the funds in that area, everything else will work out. The resurrected version of this theory is that if international corporations are allowed to invest in the services sector, it would somehow lead the country towards manufacturing and industrialization.

Hirschman’s theory was biased against the concept of material balancing in the planning of growth. He would pour all available investible funds into the farm and manufacturing sectors; services could take care of themselves… Once you have produced enough of rice and wheat and cotton and sugarcane, once you have produced enough of textiles and footwear and other such essential consumer goods, please do not have a care, transport somehow will become available to reach the products where they are in demand……What is taking place is, ironically, a different kind of manifestation of unbalanced development. Hirschman would have frowned on it. The service sectors are getting all the investment funds, industry and agriculture are being banished to a corner. The local authorities are handing over, with alacrity, farm land at throwaway prices to rich foreigners in the honest belief that the good Samaritans from overseas will usher in rapid industrialization. All that the country will actually get in return is at best a string of call centres, at worst rows and rows of massage parlours passing as a health park.

Hirschman’s theory is dead. But a few plucky ones are trying to let it come alive again in an extraordinarily perverse manner.

This interestingly enough, appears in the backdrop of the news that FII investments, despite all the hype and aura surrounding them, are half of the foreign remittances (also see here).

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A Year On, India is still not shining

Is India surrounded by failed states, as a headline in The Times of India proclaimed last week? How about the state of affairs in its own boundaries? Prem Shankar Jha comments.

we now have six-hour power cuts in Mumbai, a city that used to pride itself on the reliability of its power supply, and 14-hour power cuts in Delhi. There is absolutely no place in the entire country where water is safe to drink. Every river is polluted and there is an indescribable accumulation of filth beside every road or rail track. The well-to-do get around these problems by drinking bottled water, deploying generators in their homes and factories, and installing reverse osmosis water purification systems. They go to sophisticated and horridly expensive private hospitals and send their children to schools that costs per month what the average Indian earns in a year. It is the poor who are bearing the brunt of this collapse.

As anarchy deepens, the strong and the organised are using their power to increase their share of the cake. The weak are driven, inexorably, to the wall. This is happening on a scale so vast that it is difficult to take in all at once. But just take a few examples: in real terms, the price of cars, television sets, microwave ovens, refrigerators and other household electrical appliances has fallen by at least a quarter in the past six years; of personal computers and peripherals by half; of cameras, especially the new digital variety, by still more. Everyone’s income is therefore stretching a good way further than it did half a decade ago. But wait a minute, who is this ‘everyone’? Answer: India’s new and burgeoning middle class. For the poor, all these are far out of reach, just the way it was.

On the contrary, what they can afford is getting dearer every day, whether it is the ‘pugree’ on a shack in a shanty town, the cost of a bus or rail pass, the price of a gas cylinder, a shirt, or fruits and vegetables. There are so few new jobs being created that people will accept almost any salary to get one. As a result, entry-level salaries in all but the privileged new managerial class have remained static in nominal terms while prices have continued their remorseless rise.

A year after the UPA/Congress came to power, it seems to be continuing the NDA/ BJP policies and except for the communal tensions and jingoism which seem to have come down, there is little that it seems to be doing differently.

Why Arundhati Roy should, and should not be taken seriously

Arundhanthi Roy lashes out at practically everything, from Enron to “Shiekh” Bush and Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambram. While one admires her for taking the bull by the horn on most issues, she tends to become sterotyped and shrill in her criticism. She does make a few good points though:

  • Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and P.Chidambaram have fused into the Holy Trinity of neo-liberalism.Their vision of the New India has been fashioned at the altar of the world’s cathedrals: Oxford, Harvard Business School, the World Bank and the imf….Right now, for example, there’s a lot in the news about the scandalous Enron contract being “re-negotiated” for the third time—the contract that resulted in MSEB having to pay Enron millions of dollars not to produce electricity. The renegotiation is all very secret (like the initial Enron negotiation).
  • (On Manmohan Singh’s speech at Oxford) The only people who might have a valid reason to view the British Empire with less anger than the rest of us are Dalits. Since to the white man all of us were just natives, Dalits were not especially singled out for the bestial treatment meted out to them by caste Hindus.But somehow, I can’t imagine Manmohan Singh bringing a Dalit perspective to colonialism while receiving an honorary PhD in Oxford.
  • Power concedes nothing unless it is forced to. No one knew that better than Ambedkar. It was at the centre of his brilliant demolition of Gandhi’s argument in ‘Annihilation of Caste’. Right now, the Dalits have no leverage. Today, the Dalit movement is fractured and scattered. We need a strong Dalit movement
  • (On Kashmir) And so India stands morally isolated—it has completely lost the confidence of ordinary people.According to the Indian army, there are never at any time more than 3,000-4,000 militants operating in the Valley. But there are between 5,00,000-8,00,000 Indian soldiers there.An armed soldier for every 10-15 people. By way of comparison, there are 1,60,000 US soldiers in Iraq.Clearly, the Indian army is not in Kashmir to control militants, it is there only to control the Kashmiri people.

It is, however, in the final parting comment that she seems to really reveal the dark side of her reasoning:

Any positive thoughts to end this dark conversation?
Let me share a sweet little thing. I saw a news report about two Adivasi girls getting married to each other. And the whole village was saying: if that’s what they want, it’s fine. They had this ceremony, with all the rituals and customs, and they let them get married. That’s a moment of magic. It reveals their level of modernity, of their sophistication.Of their beauty.

Those familiar with Lenin’s criticism of the Russian Narodniks can clearly see the connection here. While many of her observations come close to the Left position, and need to be taken seriously, the Narodnik overtones in her rhetoric cautions us on where she should not be taken seriously.

There is clearly a Narodnik admiration of the “beauty”, “modernity” and “sophistication” of “the people” in her last comment.

I dont like my job

According to a recent survey, 40 percent of Indian farmers would like to change their profession, one can hardly blame them. However what is surprising is that 76 percent of the farmers in Andhra Pradesh seem to be liking their profession, I dont know how it ties to the high suicide rate in that part of the country. And Punjab and Haryana are not even mentioned, but these points make me doubt the veracity of the survey.I was once part of the Jan Vigyan Science Movement and we conducted a survey among students of class 6 to 8 in a decent middle class, small town school in Himachal Pradesh. Besides many questions related to science, we sneaked a question on: Which social system is the most suitable for development of science? And in those days of Soviet Union’s existence, an overwhelming majority of 65% students voted for socialism, which made me and my comrades see stars in our eyes and also left us somewhat unprepared for the devastating turn against socialism less than a decade later.

Anyway, here is the report on the farmers’ front:

NEW DELHI, AUG 1: More than a third of Indian farmers are into farming due to compulsion rather than choice. According to a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), about 40% of Indian farming households have reported that given a choice they would take up some other career.

The reasons stated for the farmers’ dislike for their profession included non-profitability, risk and lack of social status, the NSSO situation assessment survey conducted as a part of the 59th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) revealed. The survey was conducted in 2003.

The highest proportion of farmers satisfied with their occupation was in Andhra Pradesh where 76% of farmers surveyed said they liked farming. This was followed by Tamil Nadu where the proportion of satisfied farmers was 69% and Kerala and Gujarat where the proportion was 67%. Relatively poor states like Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have the lowest percentage of satisfied farmers at 49%, 53%, 53% and 54%, respectively.

Of the 40% farming households that disliked their profession, 27% did not find farming profitable and 8% thought it was too risky, 2% disliked farming as they thought it lacked social status and the remaining 3% disliked their profession due to other reasons.

Bihar and West Bengal both had the highest proportion (36%) of farming households that disliked farming due to its non-profitability. Amongst farmers who thought farming was too risky, the greatest proportion (17%) were concentrated in Chhattisgarh, followed by those in Assam (13%). In Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka, the proportion of risk averse farmers was 11%.

Rajasthan had the highest proportion (9%) of farming households that considered farming as less respectable. On the other hand just 2% of the farming households in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat felt that farming lacked social status, said the report.

At an all-India level 60% of the farming households surveyed, expressed their satisfaction in agriculture as a profession. On a state-wise basis, AP had 76% of its farming households happy with their profession.

A Name of the Suicide

The agrarian situation in India- the one major factor in the NDA’s defeat and the UPA’s return to power last year, continues to deteriorate. For the rural poor, the biggest group left out of the positive gains of globalization in India, suicide still seems to be the easier way out of debt.P. Sainath writes on how the suicides continue while the government agencies try and camouflage them under a different name while Anne Applebaum examines why the neo- rich in India are all for Americanism.

In other words, the writing on the wall for the UPA is still there, it hasnt been erased since the NDA departed.