Monday, November 30, 2009

Bundelkhand - Drought and environmental destruction

This is the second part of a record of voices and images from Bundelkhand gathered while travelling in the company of a group of students and teachers of Delhi University. The first part appeared here.

Traveling through Bundelkhand, this question repeatedly comes up in conversation. Is drought a recent phenomenon or is this something that has always been a part of this region? In an attempt to get the perspective of local intellectuals and social activists, we seize on an opportunity to attend a conference on the drought organized by Dr Bharatendu Prakash at Chhatarpur. Dr Prakash is an unconventional scientist, having quit academic research at IIT Kanpur back in 1974 and embraced rural development activities through the medium of non governmental organizations. In the past, he has co-authored a study on the water resources of Bundelkhand sponsored by the Government of India. Today, he is a leading activist of the Organic Farming Association of India and is also working with the MP Council of Science and Technology on a detailed village by village survey of water resources in MP’s Bundelkhand region.

Dr Bharatendu Prakash ,Vikram Sarabhai fellow at the MP Council of Science & Technology has been studying the water resources of Bundelkhand from many years.

The conference is being attended by activists from different districts of Bundelkhand – both from UP and MP and is being held at the Gandhi Bhavan in Chhatarpur. The speakers concur on the causes of the current crisis and their view goes something like this. Historically, Bundelkhand has been periodically subjected to drought. This being the case, the people have evolved over time elaborate mechanisms to cope with the drought. What has changed in recent years is that the traditional coping mechanisms have fallen apart. The problem is not so much the shortfall in rain – officially called meteorological drought – rather it is the reduced ability of the people to cope with such a shortfall.

What were these coping mechanisms?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Politicians and accountability

Reports of politicians amassing wealth have become a daily affair. Ministerial position, it seems, affords unlimited possibilities for personal gain.

Why don’t the safeguards provided by the Constitution against misuse of powers by elected public servants work? The legislature, deriving its power from the peoples’ mandate, is in theory, supreme. It helps form the council of ministers from 15% of its members and exercises control over it. But in practice, it seems that it is the power of the party (or coalition) with the legislative majority that prevails over the legislature, aligning it with government in unqualified support.

So Government functions without oversight by legislature. Madhu Koda could award contracts for mining and A. Raja allot spectrum on the ‘first come first served’ basis at 2001 rates in 2008, without the legislators crying fowl. A PIL exposed the Koda affair while spectrum allocation policies are under the scanner only after the companies with licenses offloaded shares at a huge profit.

So how can the Indian public protect itself from the depredations of its politicians? For some systemic changes that may help, read my Economic Times article here

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bundelkhand - Failure of public services

Three days spent visiting villages in Bundelkhand and interacting with the aam admi is enough to convince one that the plethora of government social security schemes - the NREGA, the PDS, mid meals for children, old age pension, special schemes for tribals, etc - are a complete failure and do not reach most of the intended beneficiaries, at least in this region.

In the Raikwar basti of village Adiyara, District Chhatarpur, MP. Job cards but no jobs.

The view of 'grassroots democracy', the panchayati raj, that emerges from conversations with villagers is also an eyeopener. This visit is reported here

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Punekars exercise negative vote option

The Hindu carried an interesting news item today titled Many Punekars use option of negative vote . What is intrigueing is that the Pune District Collector apparently took steps to popularise the option before the Assembly elections, and hence the response. My analysis on the significance of the negative vote can be found here

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sugar: The cycles of plenty and scarcity

"Kashinath Chinkera (30) of Mangalgi village ended life by consuming pesticide on Saturday. He is survived by three children. He had reportedly availed himself of a loan of nearly Rs. 2.5 lakh.

Most of the 43 farmers who ended lives in the district this year had grown sugarcane. Their complaint was that their crop was not bought by sugar factories in the district. They had huge loans to repay and they had spent a lot of money on cultivation. Refusal or delay by factories meant their crop would dry up day by day."   

---------- The Hindu reporting on farmers suicides in Bidar on May 28th 2007

The graphic below shows the retail price of sugar in Delhi - figures supplied by the Ministry of Civil Supplies. Your kirana store likely charges more.
The government describes the shortfall in sugar production as a "cyclical phenomenon" coupled with the effects of a bad monsoon. An analysis of the reasons behind the runaway inflation in sugar prices makes for different conclusions.

Sugar cane must stay in the field for 11 to 15 months to mature. The year refered to is the 'sugar season' and starts from October, the earliest month when crushing of the years sugar cane begins. Crushing lasts for a maximum of 6 months and the factories close their crushing operations by the end of May. Thus 2008-09 cane production refers to cane brought for crushing in the sugar season 2008 October to 2009 September. Cane acreage came down sharply in 2008-09 on the back of a smaller drop the previous year. Cane production came down by 20% while acreage had come down only by 12%. How much sugar was produced from the cane?
This question is answered by the next graphic. Sugar production fell by a sharp 43% in 2008-09 from the previous years level much higher than the 20% fall in cane production.
The reason, it turns out, is that more sugar cane - used for making gur and khandsari besides sugar -was converted to gur in the 2008-09 season than usual. Why did farmers prefer to see to small scale units manfacturing gur and khandsari rather than to the sugar mills?

The above graphic also shows imports (exports) of sugar. The consumption in India seems to be about 20-22 million tonnes. The years 2006-07 and 2007-08 were years of overproduction. The government promoted exports to get rid of the excess stocks even providing a subsidy to exporters as international prices in 2007 were lower than Indian prices.

India started importing sugar from early 2009. The international market has now gone into a tizzy knowing that India has to make huge imports to meet requirements for 2009-10. See the full analysis in this India Together article

This piece has been referenced in a paper on a 'Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative' here

Monday, July 13, 2009

Decline in Civil Litigation

The CJI is concerned (see here) over the decline in civil litigation in India. Another article in the TOI some months back hinted at this decine in the District Courts of UP.

How does the litigation rate in India compare with western democracies? How much is the decline? Where - which states - is the decine happening? What is the average time taken to settle a civil case? What is the backlog of civil cases? Is there a relation between declining litigation and the backlog in the courts? If people are not comming to the courts, are they taking law into their own hands? Many questions arise.

I had come across some papers earlier by Prof Marc Galanter (see here) where he indicated to a) generally low rates of civil litigation in India and b) a possible long term decline in civil litigation starting from the 1930's. Is there new data that establishes the trend of falling litigation that has caused the CJI to comment?

I attempt some answers in this India Together piece based on the readily available data sources - the Supreme Court website and answers provided by the Law Ministry to questions in Parliament. The chart at the begining of this post is explained there.

Is data available over a longer term? I don't have an answer. This piece by Rajeev Dhavan 5 years ago talks about the non-availability of data and a bill proposed by Fali Nariman that would enable collection of data. What happened to this bill?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Inflation in India - Different measures, different conclusions

The WPI continues to diverge from the consumer price indices. For a comprehensive discussion, see this article

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Higher Education: Underbelly of privatization

Privatisation of higher education is rapidly progressing in India. The Planning Commission reports that in the period 2002-2007, the share of private institutions in higher education increased from a third to over half of all enrolment. And this trend, by all accounts, will continue into the future. more..
This Nov. 2008 article has been listed as one of the sources used in an Ernst & Young paper presented at the FICCI higher education summit, 2008.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Bridge over the Neela Hauz

Though I live only a few kms away, I first heard of the Neela Hauz only when this sign board was helpfully put up at one of the entrances to Sanjay Van - the remaining forested portion of the ridge bounded by JNU and other academic and research institutions, the Qutub institutional area and Mehrauli

This hauz - one of the many rainwater harvesting structures that dotted this area - is no longer blue, overridden as it is, with water hyacinth. Residents of Mehrauli remember diving and swimming it its waters, 30 years back. Some years back, there was apparently a plan to 'revive' this water body - but that seems to have been quietly shelved. The 2010 commonwealth games opened up the possibility of an "infrastructure" project - a bridge over the dying Neela Hauz. The construction is taking its toll of the hauz; the water body is not seen as an integral part of the development but more as an engineering obstacle to be bridged. The development is the highway - wide and straight and ready for speeding traffic between airport and the city center.

The irony is that even as the Government pushes rain water harvesting in cramped buildings through penalties and concessions, large existing rain water harvesting structures are being allowed to die. Development is always seen as building/constructing something new with a large budget in hand. But what about maintaining and improving what is existing? What about preserving and improving a forest with all its existing bio-diversity? Uninteresting perhaps to the bureaucrat when compared to a new "bio-diversity park"; but easier on the budget and a more sustainable approach if we are not going to be content with just a few museum peices.

Youth in action 4th June 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Inflation in India - is WPI a faithful measure?

The media has been interpreting the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) numbers as heralding that inflation has been halted. But other indicators show a picture of inflation entirely different from that shown by the WPI. Far from reaching zero or negative levels, inflation as measured by the consumer price indices has been averaging around 10 per cent for industrial and agricultural workers over the last 6 months. Read article here

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to make money and prevent climate change in the process!

An intriguing headline in the metro page of HT today caught my eye - "Climate change on priority list, civic body plans fund". The article quotes the Mayor Kanwar Sen: "Currently in the MCD budget, there are hardly any funds earmarked for dealing with climate change, an issue that needs due priority. We are planning to get a separate head for funds for this purpose". What is on Sen's mind? Environment friendly projects that earn carbon credits, it seems, and restoring Yamuna to its "original healthy state" with Korean help.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Games Village to be underwritten by public finances

The "public - private partnership" defined for building the commonwealth games village has entered a new phase with the DDA forced to underwrite the cost of construction in order to get the facility completed in time (see this news item).The private builder - EMMAR MGF - could simply wring his hands and say that he did not have enough money.I had written about the partnership in Sept 2008 here

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Climate change and Himalayan dams

A new UN report on water resources carries alarming warnings about the impact of global warming on Himalayan rivers. Unmindful of the possible consequences, over 450 hydropower projects are being planned in the Himalayas. Read the full story..

The law on election expenses

Originally, laws limiting election expenses were framed with the view that curbing election expenses was essential to keep the process fair. Over the years, the laws have been changed to allow unbridled expenses and neither the UPA nor the NDA wants to disturb this comfortable arrangement. Read On..

Monday, March 16, 2009

Negative voting and the law

It is election summer, and the leaders of the major political parties are busy nominating candidates whose most important qualification will be the ability to take advantage of the local caste or community arithmetic in their respective constituencies. In these pre-election games, neither those who do the everyday work of parties nor those who vote them in and out of power have anything to do with selecting candidates. Naturally, then, one is led to ask - on Election Day, should the voter have the choice to reject all candidates - by selecting a 'None of the above' option on the electronic voting machines - if he finds them all unsuitable? Read On..

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SEZ's - Failed Economic Policy

The lack of economic activity in most SEZs leads to the suspicion that many were incapable of attracting economic production units in the first place. The rush to 'denotify' them only reinforces this view. SEZs: engine derailed?

The Global Economic Crisis and Indian Agriculture

The current crisis has some striking similarities with the fallout in India of the Great Depression of 1929-1933. Indian farmers were pushed deep into debt, and the overall economy suffered. Patterns from the past