Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Brands that I dislike

This is my personal view. And its completely based on my experience with these brands.
All these brands have been huge disappointments and I have vowed not to use them again in my life. These are not rankings as all have been equally disappointing
1.Nokia-Anyone who has been to a Nokia Service Centre will vouch for the pathetic service meted out. Now, I had a problem with my keypad. Even though the product was under warranty, they charged me INR 600 for the change of keypad invoking the "conditions apply" clause. I was fine with it. However, I realised something was amiss when I was not given the part which was replaced. Many emails to Nokia and many visits to the service centre didnt help.A year after this incident, I planned to buy a mobile.This was in April 2010.Around the same time, Nokia unveiled its smartphone E5.The launch date was May 2010.But delays at Nokia, which led to the ouster of many senior managers at the firm led to the E5 hitting the market in September. By then I had shelled out an extra 3k more than what I would have had for a E5 and bought a BB. And I am a BB convert. So no more Nokias for me!
2.Acer-My brother recommended and bought a Acer laptop for me. Two weeks later I had a white screem problem which persisted even after it had been to the service centre twice in one year. It still persists. But now, I dont trust the service nor the product. Most of acer products on my campus have problems related to battery charge or DVD drives.So Its goodbye to Acer!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mumbai under construction....

....is what I tweeted when I realised that getting from the east of Andheri to the West will take me more than an hour due to the many "under construction" projects in that area. Coupled with the fact that rickshaw and bus fares have increased by more than 20% since June,travelling in Mumbai has become a nightmare.
One has to brave the Metro construction, the skywalk, the two flyovers over the Andheri bridge while travelling from Andheri East to Andheri West.The fact that none of these projects get over on time adds to the woes.
We seriously need to time these projects and also ensure that this infrastructure is sufficient for a decade or more to prevent further upgrades. If not we will be left thinking that our government took Keynes suggestion of "digging holes and filling them again" a bit too seriously.

A hypothesis about migrants in Mumbai

The issue of migrants in general and those from the north in Mumbai specifically has been a burning one for many years. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the Shiv Sena have been at the forefront of attacking North Indian migrants who engage in different occupations in Mumbai.
Most of the north Indian migrants engage themselves in providing a host of services;from plying rickshaws and taxis to selling groceries,etc. Most of the security guards in the private sector are also from the northern states.
I like chatting up with these people whenever I get the opportunity to do so. The usual belief is that rural to urban migration happens due to non-availability of jobs in rural areas, stagnant agriculture due to a host of reasons, etc. However the people that I have spoken to come from districts that have abundant water supply and they also owned large tracts of arable land. So these guys who ply autorickshaws and sell groceries are not really deprived of water and land in their hometowns. In other words, it is not "distress migration"
The problem I believe is that agriculture is not seen as lucrative occupation. It is also not, I conjecture, seen as a "good enough" occupation.Its also not just about livelihoods. Lack of access to good quality education can also lead to people who are earning a decent income uproot their families and base themselves in urban ghettos.
If this is indeed the case, then we need to get the manufacturing sector on a high growth path. Jobs in cities are in the service sector and this sector cannot absorb the surplus labour currently in agriculture. Factories and consequent jobs on the shop floor are needed immediately.
If not, we will see overburdened cities crumbling against rising number of migrants.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Back to IRMA

After being away from my abode for 7 weeks, I am back at h34! My final internship is over and just one term remains before I become part of the alumni.
What kept me away from blogging was the constant travel, no internet connection and sheer laziness! But I have loads to write about and that I shall in the coming days!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why IRMA was a paradigm change in Management Education in India.

The late Sumantra Ghoshal was onto something radically different when he wrote his last paper "Bad Management Theories are destroying good management practices". That paper made academicians in B-Schools squirm as Ghoshal put a lot of blame of Enron, Worldcom and other scandals at the doorsteps of B-Schools. In fact, it was implicit that managers have a larger role to play in society given that the organisations they work are sometimes bigger than many nation-states.But managers are not comfortable with that role.
In this context, Indian B schools seem to have had a head start. The Week magazine profiles some "top" B schools engaging with social issues.This is commendable if it is done with the same rigour that they apply to their other internships and classroom segments of MBA.The incidence and extent of sensitisation of the students is not easy to measure.
IRMA has been doing such things for the last three decades. In fact, when I read Ghoshal's article, I feel that he should have come to IRMA to realise that there is a Management Institute which seeks to imbibe qualities of a "true" manager and does not narrow a managers interests only to an organisation.
Only if IRMA is able to stem the loss in academic rigour, it can emerge as India's top mangement Institute displacing its richer cousin from Ahmedabad from its No1 position.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Updates....

Its been a long time since I blogged. Some excuses include a viral which kept me in bed for a couple of days leading to a huge backlog of assignments, and studies. It also made me miss the debating competition at IIMA.My prize money for the quiz we won at IIMA is still pending. Someone at IIMA is not teaching customer satisfaction properly! They don't reply to mail nor do they answer calls. I thought 3k would not be a big amount to dispense with for future CEOs. But I stand corrected.
I am heading to ICICI for my winters. Specifically I shall be working with the Rural Finance department. Lets see how that goes. Been some time since I dressed up in formals and entered a corporate office!
My end terms end today. 4 terms over at IRMA and I realise that it is less than 4 months to go before I venture out as an IRMAn.
Besides this, I have a lot to write. Specifically, my views on IRMA (now that I have stayed here for a year and half, I think I can attempt writing about IRMA), the geela syndrome afflicting faculty members in a well known institute of rural management in western India and other mundane issues that one gets to see on my blog!
Now , I head off for my end term paper on Derivatives!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Heading to WIMWI for the weekend

WIMWI aka IIMA for the following
Dear Nitin,
Congratulations! Your team has been selected for the next round of Bone of Contention. It will be held in IIM Ahmedabad's IMDC on October 2nd, 2010.

Somehow, me and my partner Trinadh have this knack of getting through to the big ones (remember Tata crucibles) with shoddy preparation. This time the number was around 200 entries and on top of that, we submitted it late!!!
Maybe they considered our 1st place in the marketing quiz and accepted it!
The elimination round was a 300 page up write up on FOR/AGAINST Telemarketing! We wrote FOR telemarketing...Pardon the rural bias..but this is what we wrote
Hello marketing executive! Are you listening? There is Bharat beyond India! To make it simple, India rests in its 6, 00,000 villages rather than a handful of metros. This bharat is now adding millions of mobile subscribers every month. Mobile is now part of the great Indian dream of roti kapda, makan.
Marketing companies are only focusing on urban customers. The same customer who already owns three credit cards, is called by five salespeople selling five different bank credit cards! And in rural hinterland, you have millions of customers who are waiting for loans, bikes, soaps, plasma TV! And some are rich enough to pay for foreign trips (Thomas Cook, are you listening?). And they are more trustworthy. Proof? 99% repayment in microfinance industry! And yet calls are made only to urban customers who are fed up and now have availed themselves of the Do not Disturb Service (DND). So let’s stop disturbing them! The rural consumer is waiting!
But we understand the problems of reaching out to these customers. They are spread over a large geographical area, and are not physically connected due to inadequate infrastructure! BUT, they have the ubiquitous mobile phone! And incoming is FREE!!
So what are you waiting for? Refresh your database, let the urban consumer enjoy his privacy, call up his rural brethren and he will not only entertain your call, but also ensure that it is a win-win-win situation. The agency gets the commission, the consumer gets the product/service and the marketing guys get their sales.
The late C.K.Prahalad gave us the identity of the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid; we just gave its phone number! Contact them to make your fortune.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mare ghar jhanjar laxmi ke baje......

Loosely translated it means "in my house, the bells of wealth ring". This is a line from the "Amul Song" which was featured in the 1976 movie "Manthan (The churning)"
I had heard about the movie before coming to IRMA. In IRMA, which probably has the longest induction process, given its unique status as a RM school, this is one of the several movies which is screened during the induction process.I watched it without applying any of the "collective action logic" or the co-operative logic that I was to learn later. I saw it again after it was used beautifully by Prof.Raju in his co-operative class. This time there was learning in viewing that movie.
The last time I saw the movie was when my sister, who believes that I am a one stop shop for everything rural, asked me whether I had watched "Peepli Live". And as any 'urban, middle class, more in the know of whats happening in USA than in rural India' person, went on a diatribe against the Barkha Dutts, and the Rajdeep Sardesais of the world.
Fresh as I was from my internship in Vidharbha, I was interested in watching that movie.And I did. However I could not appreciate the message (if there was any) from that movie. And in fact, it made me go back and watch Manthan again!
We have largely believed that rural India is one of poverty, despair and we conjure up images of wrinkled faces standing on dry patches of land looking upwards for some relief.Peepli Live showcases that! And that has been the case for a lot of rural reporting too.Credit of course goes to P Sainath for having started this crusade against State apathy in rural India.
Peepli Live is a story of despair! Manthan is about "collective might".It is not that rural India was all about prosperity in the 70s and the situation has worsened now.
There are enough success stories in the hinterland of people using collective action.Take Niyamgiri for example. However Mr. Gandhi flew off to Orissa and made it sound like that he and his mother were responsible for the verdict and not the collective might of the tribals.
I think we have been fed too much of "rural distress" that we will never be entertained with stories depicting rural prosperity. And that is why I urge those who watched Peepli Live to go and watch Manthan. And maybe we will appreciate that it is not always outside intervention, but self intitiated action that acts as a powerful catalyst for change.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I am still a management graduate

Those reading my blog might be convinced I am a development wallah , I am essentially a management graduate!
Proof of that is the results of an IIMA marketing quiz held on the 20th of September 2010. (Please click on the picture to enlarge)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Corporate Social Responsibility: An effective business strategy

Adam Smith, in his book ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations’ wrote “It it not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest” (emphasis mine). That was in 1776 at the height of mercantilism marked by small scale producers using traditional means of production. Thus each man’s self interest manifest in the invisible hand of the market advanced public interest. Corporations, as we know them now, did not exist then.
However beginning from the late eighteenth century, the invisible hand of the market was tamed by “visible hand” of managers who came to work for large corporations. Today, many business corporations are larger than many nation states economies. They have assumed a dominant position in society. Instances of power abuse by corporations as seen in cases ranging from Enron to British Petroleum’s oil spill and not forgetting the “too big to fail” financial institutions, have created a negative image of corporations among members of society .
In light of such negativity surrounding business corporations, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is seen by people as an attempt by corporations to prevent backlash from governments at best and to create barriers to entry for new players at worst. (The latter part can be explained by an example of a big organisation lobbying for strict environmental stipulations so as to prevent smaller organisations from entering the business due to high capital costs of buying eco friendly machines). There are also those who feel CSR is nothing but a waste of money. They argue that the purpose of business is business. A corporation’s aim is to maximise shareholder value and any attempt to indulge in CSR is a symptom of the principal- agent problem as defined in agency theory (managers undertake CSR using shareholder money to further their own social and political interests).
The above views (one that sees CSR as nothing but a façade and the other as an agency theory problem) do have some merit. This is largely due to the fact that CSR is seen as a residual activity-something that is done after profits are earned and shareholders are rewarded; or as a Public Relations (PR) tool. Until organisations understand that CSR can become a source of sustained competitive advantage, and incorporate it in their business processes, the above views will continue to hold merit.
In light of above arguments, it is pertinent to ask, “What is CSR?” CSR can be defined as actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law. Companies that are able to leverage this “social good” will earn higher profits when CSR is incorporated in the business strategy.
This requires a fundamental shift in how businesses view “business” and also how they perceive “CSR”. Business is not only about shareholders. The exclusive focus on shareholders has been criticised in management literature. In fact the view of CSR being a principal-agent problem has been negated by the stakeholder theory which views that firms have relationships with many constituent groups (society, employees, suppliers, customers) and that these stakeholders affect and are affected by the firm’s actions.
So how does CSR make an effective business strategy? If seen from the stakeholder theory, the ethical behaviour of firms will enable them to achieve a competitive advantage, because they will develop lasting, productive relationships with these stakeholders. Management researchers have argued that Corporate Social Performance (CSP) (CSP is wider term than CSR and also includes social responsiveness and social issues) can constitute a source of competitive advantage especially in high growth industries.
Reputation building is an integral part of strategy formulation. CSR helps companies build reputation. The success of the Tata group , Body Shop, Health Valley confirm the importance of CSR in reputation building which leads to sustained competitive advantage.
Also, CSR allows a firm to follow the differentiation strategy route to high profits. A firm can create a certain level of CSR by embodying its products with CSR attributes (such as pesticide free fruits) or by using CSR-related resources in its production process (using organic fertilizers).Thus CSR becomes a mechanism for differentiation. Firms are already doing it. In India, Fab India and Jaipur Rugs are doing it in the traditional crafts business. Globally, Body Shop follows CSR-related resources in its production process (no animal tests). These firms have been able to differentiate their product and charge premium prices.
The case of ITC e-choupal which eliminates middlemen and allows ITC to procure agricultural commodities directly from farmers is an example of CSR which is benefiting both-the farmer through high price realisation and ITC through consistent quality and reduced procurement costs. Thus CSR can also be used and in fact is being used as low cost strategy for competitive advantage.
In the labour market, it has been proved that firms in industries with skilled labour shortages have used CSR as a means to recruit and retain workers. Also CSR allows firms to build a good reputation in the eyes of government and regulators thus leading to a positive correlation between government contracts and the provision of CSR.
Thus it is evident that CSR when undertaken as part of business process creates value. Self enlightened managers will realise that business models like ITC e- choupal where ITC’s need for creating shareholder value is enmeshed with that of local communities in a mutually supportive, interlocking and interdependent partnership are the business models for the future. Merely paying lip service and writing a check has attracted severe criticism. It would therefore be correct to state that corporate philanthropy is bad CSR, making profits is good CSR. Models that enmesh business & community interests is the best CSR!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Direct Cash Transfers for Rural Development

(As part of my RDI course project, my group chose an intervention to solve a development problem in rural India. The intervention was direct cash transfers. What is published below is the concept note submitted to the instructor. Though the feedback was positive, the real work begins now.Any suggestions, links are welcome)
DIRECT CASH TRANSFERS
There are few countries where the state and the policy and the intellectual community have been as committed to poverty reduction as India-both in terms of rhetoric and through a range of subsidies and an array of targeted poverty reduction programmes (Kapur, Mukhopadhyay and Subramanian 2008).The irony is that inspite of hundreds of schemes and thousands of crores of rupees being spent on poverty alleviation, the number of poor people in India is extremely high. Certainly, something has not worked.
While the State has exited several sectors of the economy after 1991, the delivery mechanism used for channelling welfare scheme benefits to the beneficiaries is still in the hands of the State. These delivery channels are controlled by the bureaucratic system and are seen as clogged pipes which have several attendant problems. There are several reports which point out the colossal waste of money in implementing the schemes. This is because most of the benefits do not reach the poor and also because administrative cost is very high .
Our intervention is simple yet radical in nature: Direct (or unconditional) cash transfers to the “beneficiaries” of various schemes of the government. We state that hard cash be handed out to the poor and let them decide what to do with it. We consider it to be one of the most extreme form of “bottom up approach” –an oft quoted word by policy makers who then go on to design “top down” programmes which never involve the poor.
The Objectives of the project is as follows:
1.Understand the current delivery mechanisms of various schemes in the Government and critically analyse them.
2.Build an argument for direct cash transfers. This is to answer those who see direct cash transfer as an idea which reflects great intellectual, policy and political eenui. See (Shah 2008) .
3.Compare direct cash transfers with conditional cash transfers and other similar schemes which seek to cut down leakages, corruption and other problems which plague the current scheme.
4.Analyse cases where direct cash transfers have been used.
5.Present the drawbacks of the intervention.

The methodology would include a comprehensive literature survey regarding the proposed intervention and several of its variants.


WORKS CITED
Jhabvala, Renana, and Guy Standing. “Targeting to the 'Poor':Clogged Pipes and Bureaucratic Blinkers.” Economic and Political Weekly, 26 June 2010: 239-245.

Kapur, Devesh, Partha Mukhopadhyay, and Arvind Subramanian. “The case for direct cash transfers to the Poor.” Economic & Political Weekly, 12 April 2008: 37-43.

Ministry of Finance, Govt. Of India. Economic Survey 2009-10. Annual Survey, New Delhi: Ministry of Finance, Govt. Of India, 2010.

Shah, Mihir. “Direct Cash Transfers:No Magic Bullet.” Economic & Political Weekly, 23 August 2008: 77-79.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I am not THE 'Nitin Pai'

One of my friends sent me a link via an e-mail to an article written by Nitin Pai.
Though I have an interest in public policy , I am not as worthy as THE Nitin Pai to have the opportunity to interview famous people like Nandan Nilekani.
The only other common link we have is, according to a comment he left on a post of mine,a similar experience with Mani Shankar Iyer.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The poverty muddle makes it to the editorial

M.K. Venu, Editor of Financial Express, presents his views on the "poverty muddle" in India in today's Indian Express.His criticism was restricted to the 27, 37, 70 per cent poverty figures being bandied about by the economists.
Though he does call for a people approach in estimating poverty, his article is silent on the "hows" of it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More of the Same...again and again

Its frustating! The number of rural poor is a staggering 22 crores (GoI figure). In terms of Rural Development Interventions, we commit the same mistakes again and again.
Take self employment programmes/missions and projects. First we had programmes like Training Rural Youth for Self-Employment (TRYSEM), Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) under the Integrated Rural Development Programme of GoI.These programmes miserably failed as only 14% of poor households covered under the programme were able to cross the poverty line.
One of the reasons for failure was that, surprise surprise, they were seen as separate in nature and not INTEGRATED. Funny, since the programme itself was called INTEGRATED Rural Development Programme.In the late nineties, the babus in Delhi dovetailed all these programmes into a grandiose programme called "Swarnjayanti Gram Swarojgyari Yojana (SGSY)".
In SGSY, they blindly adopted the SHG model which had seen success in the microfinance sector. So the idea was to get all the poor (the households identified as poor) into groups of ten, adopt a cluster approach and provide backward and forward linkages to ensure these enterprises would become successful, self reliant, sustainable business enterprises.
The main difference between SGSY and IRDP was the emphasis on social mobilisation through the SHG approach.The babus thought that the SHG mobilisation is an easy thing to do and envisaged it being done by "prominent" NGOs.
The result? Everyone took a target approach and went on forming SHGs.No one knew how activities were to be chosen. In the end, the SGSY was plagued from problems like uneven spread of SHGs, high attrition rate, poor accessibility to credit,lack of training and capacity building, and lack of dedicated implementation structure.
So the babus recast SGSY into NRLM. The draft of this Mission is silent on why SGSY failed. And as Prof.Shylendra of IRMA says NRLM is merely a rehash of SGSY.
What that means is some more hundreds of crores will go down the drain without any tangible benefit to the poor of this country.
If we have to come out of this problem, we need radical measures to attain elimination of poverty. Merely addressing problems in the schemes, programmes, etc is treating the symptoms. We need to address the systemic issues, and these can only addressed through radical measures. If not addressed in time, extreme scenarios as seen in Dantewada will be a common sight in rural India.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dare to think beyond IIMs..but not beyond IRMA..please!!

Some mails just make you fall from the chair and roll onto the floor with laughter. This was one of them. It was from IIPM inviting business plans for their competition. I thought they had gone far enough by having Shahrukh Khan host a business quiz, but alas! Here is what the plan is all about..
IIPM's INCEPTION aims at finding a solution to end poverty through a business plan and hence the theme –‘A billion bootstraps–The Business solution to end poverty.’The vast untouched Indian consumers; not yet part of the urbanisation, represent an outsized business chance and challenge. The business and other associated economic challenges to reach and leverage this large market segment are enormously diverse and daunting in comparison to the presently exploited markets. It is definitely an unchartered territory in many facets. Yet, the opportunity is real and here.

Even a self confessed neo liberal like me scoffs at this proposal.As if the poor are waiting with money stuffed in their pockets waiting to "consume". Conceptually that is what they mean.And if that is the case, there is no poverty!
Certainly IIPM should add "free village trip" along with the "free laptop+global tour" to its promotional campaign.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Too Big to Fail-A book review


This is the second book on Wall Street that I have read. The first one was "Barbarians at the Gate". That was about the madness surrounding the leveraged buyout of RJR-NABISCO. "Too big to Fail" by Andrew Ross Sorkin, a NYT reporter, is a book about madness at the systemic level.
This book covers the period from March 2008 when the first major institution Bear Stearns went under to the time the US Government decided to buy directly into banks, in effect nationalising them.
Its about the people at the top;Hank Paulson, US Treasury Secretary, Geithner, then the NY fed President, Ben Bernanke, the FED chairman and the CEOs of Banks that were considered "too big to fail"
The book covers the fall of four big finanical institutions during the finanical crisis and the role played by the government officials, wall street bankers and Congressmen in preventing another Great Depression by enacting the Troubled Assets Relief Programme (TARP).
The first one is Lehmann Brothers. In this the CEO, Dick Fuld is the villian. He has been portrayed as someone who was too proud to realise that his company will go under and resisted ideas of merging or being acquired by bigger banks. Till the realisation sunk in, Lehmann was in some way "forced" to declare bankruptcy by the government.
The next bank to face the music was Merill Lynch. This time however the guys at Merrill sold out to Bank Of America. Along with Merill, AIG was also into deep trouble and had to be helped out by the Federal Reserve, raising the issue of moral hazard.
After Merill, Morgan Stanley had to ask the Japanese company, Mitsubishi to help them out by selling a stake of USD 9 Billion. This amount could not be wired as it was a holiday in America and hence a check was written of the same amount.
The book uncovers the greed that one associates with Wall Street. Greed that undid a lot of bankers.
It gives a good account of how intertwined the financial system is, not only in terms of banking transactions but also in terms of people. One day, a bank is advisor to another bank, and the next day becomes a potential acquirer!
This crisis was yet another jolt to the "American Free Market System". Just like the Great Depression, this crisis required massive government intervention to normalise things.
Though its a 600 odd page book, its not heavy reading. Written in simple plain English without using complicated financial terms, this book is modelled on the "Barbarians at the Gate". A good read for those who want to understand how Wall Street works and how twenty odd people and the institutions they headed went to hell and back within a year!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A book I will never write


Given the fact that I have not made many friends in IRMA, this is what a good friend of mine put for me in a video which depicted where our batch guys would end up.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Another lesson learnt at IRMA

When a person is making a huge blunder, dont correct him......if he is so foolish to make that blunder, there is no point in correcting him!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BPL reconciliation statement

In my earlier post, I spoke about how the Indian government identifies the BPL families who are then showered with all the benefits that will put many socialist countries to shame.
The BPL list is prepared by two departments. The Planning Commission estimates BPL numbers using the NSSO surveys. Here the criteria is only calorie intake. If a person earns enough money to consume 2400 calories of food in rural areas, he is not poor.This criteria will always produce a smaller BPL figure.
The Ministry of Rural Development has used a 13point list which includes sanitation, education, type of house to identify the poor households. Since one is using many variables and not just calorie intake to identify poverty, this figure will be higher than the one estimated by the Planning Commission.
Here is the irony. The figures put out by Ministry of Rural Development must not be higher than the one put out by the Planning Commission! This is absolutely ludicrous. So the whole exercise has been reduced to what my Professor says "BPL reconciliation process"
No wonder the eminent lawyer Nani Palkhiwala called Delhi a "thought free zone"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Living in the real world

I came off facebook three weeks back. And it feels good. The effects of not being on a social network are visible. I blog more, sleep more and read more.And I also spend more time out on the campus grounds playing cricket and volleyball.
I do not miss facebook.It was making me too "impersonal".
I also use less of my laptop. I open it up only for checking mails for using MS Office.
It sure is a nice feeling.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Love

To Love someone is to invite that person to live and grow with you.

One of the many pearls of wisdom shared by Prof. K.V. Raju in ethics class.
My take? Most of us forget the "growth" part.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where are the Poor?

A pretty useless and a stupid question to ask if it was pertaining to India. One just needs to step out of the house and one can see large swathes of poverty. Large sections of the Indian population are deprived of roti, kapda and makan.And if one were to believe the Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index, which will be featured in the upcoming UN Human Development Report, 55% of Indians are poor. Now this amounts to more than 55 crore people who are not able to live a decent life. What is more shameful is the fact that eight Indian states have more poor people than 26 poor African Nations.
The percentage of poor people in India changes according to yardsticks used to measure the poor people. So while MPI puts the figure at 55%, the Planning Commission puts it at 27%, and the Suresh Tendulkar Committee puts it at 37%. In fact the Labour Ministry had come out with a report which stated that 70% of working population in India earns less than INR 20 per day.
Some weeks back, Prof.Anirudh Krishna of Duke University gave a wonderful presentation on the work he had done on poverty in India. Rather then look at the poverty numbers as a stock variable, he looked at them as flow variables for his research. He was interested in finding out who are the poor people and how did they become poor, how many came out of poverty, how many went into poverty and the ones who came out of poverty, how far did they go from the poverty line as defined by various agencies. He resorted to a longitudinal study spread across several countries and years. Some of his work related to this is available here
IRMA's very own Prof. Shylendra also presented a seminar on the various issues surrounding the identification of poor.
Though knowing how many are poor and therefore helping them out is a larger social goal, the numbers of poor people and the variations across the board as seen above, have large implications while designing policies.
Most of our social welfare schemes have a "target based approach". The State and its agencies "target" the poor and give them benefits. These benefits are significant, ranging from free food, subsidized credit, free house, etc. Thus thousands of crores of rupees are allocated to schemes which are "target based". The logic behind targeting is simple. India is a "poor" country with limited resources. So the benefits should accrue to the poorest of the poor under welfare schemes.
Targeting has its own host of problems, which Guy Standing and Renana Jhabwala have pointed out in an EPW article last month. Ill just focus on the "identifying the poor" issues rather than discuss the merits and demerits of targeting.
So, since thousands of crores of public money is targeted at the poor, one should have a reliable list of poor people in India. However this is not the case. Every list called the "BPL (Below Poverty Line) list" suffers from Type 1 and Type 2 errors. In other words,exclusion of poor and problems of inclusion of non-poor have been a constant feature of BPL lists.
In India, the National Sample Survey Organisation does its own sample survey and comes out with a list of poor people.It is used by the Planning Commission. This list is based on a nutrient-based income poverty.
The Ministry of Rural Development has its own quinquennial surveys, the first of which was held in 1992 and was completely based on an income approach. In 1997 the survey took a expenditure approach in determining the BPL families. Both of these surveys had enormous type 1 and type 2 errors.
The 2002-03 survey was more elaborate in the sense that it prepared the list based on 13 items ranging from income to pairs of clothing, land holding, literacy, etc. SO in one sense, it was "multi-dimensional".However it had its own issues and was considered to be too complex. One can refer to Harsh Mander and Santosh Mehrotra's article in EPW (may 9 2009) which provides a good account of the 2002-03 survey methodology.
So what we have here is a complex system, set up to alleviate poverty.And the problems starts with this "target" approach which is resorted to by the policymakers.
This problem continues with the identifying the poor part of this approach as elucidated above.
In fact Indira Hirway, has rightly stated that targeting is not a statistical exercise, but is a major political activity. All these surveys have been designed without understanding the ground reality. Caste Structures, political affiliations, class structures are major issues which cannot be eliminated. The surveys designed so far ignore these realities and hence we have a list which is flawed and is denying crores of poor people entitlements which any "free country" would give its citizens in the 64th year of Independence.
My Professor at IRMA suggests that universalism is the answer. But for that I will have to wait for a week when that issue is taken up in my "Rural Development Intervention" class.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An evening with prominent IRMA alumni

IRMA is in the midst of a "revisioning" exercise. So prominent personalities were called in for their views and opinion regarding the same. Mr.Vivekanandan of SIFFS and Mr.Sivakumar, CEO of ITC-ABD were the alumni who were part of this exercise.
Prof.Abhijeet Sen, member of the Planning Commission was also invited to this excerise.Some of the guys here were also talking about Vijay Mahajan being there.
The biggest name was Rahul Gandhi who quietly came and left without much fanfare.
Since two of the most famous alumni were present on campus, it was a wonderful opportunity to interact with them.
The more famous of the two is of course Mr.Sivakumar. He is the man behind ITC's e-choupal, a much celebrated business model of procuring agricultural produce (mainly soyabean) directly from farmers through choupals set up in villages.
This business model found itself as a case study in C.K.Prahalad's famous book "Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid". Mr.Sivakumar himself felt that "Fortune for the bottom of the pyramid" is more important than "fortune at the bottom of the pyramid".
Both of them spoke about life after IRMA, strengths and weaknesses of IRMAns and choices we would have to make when we step out of this institution. Mr.Sivakumar spoke about having a "larger purpose" in life which is essential in achieving success in life. This large purpose must go beyond salary, perks, and the like.
Mr.Vivekanadan too spoke about the changed environment in the last 30 years since he passed out of IRMA. He also spoke at length about his involvement with fishermen community in Kutch and their movement against the Adani group which was building the Mundhra port that had affected the fishermens' livelihoods.
Overall it was a nice interaction with some of the earliest IRMAns. I think such interaction with alumni should be made a regular feature as it only enriches one's understanding on the challenges faced by rural managers in the field

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wardha

I wrote this on the 24th of June 2010 . It is part of my collection of posts regarding my OTS in the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra
I arrived in Wardha yesterday. It is an hour’s drive from Yeotmal. I am staying at a hotel called Harisons which is diagonally opposite the ST stand. Not a great hotel, but then it’s the best in this district. Unfortunately the wholesale market is also located opposite the ST stand which prevented me from exploring the town.
However six kilometers from Wardha ST Stand is Sewagram, where Mahatma Gandhi stayed for a long time. One can take a rickshaw from the ST stand which will cost Rs 10 per person. Be ready to share the rickshaw with 5 other passengers. Sewagram has an exhibition centre which houses a neat canteen and a souvenir shop which sells Khadi and organic products. The exhibition centre houses the stand which was used to transport Gandhi’s ashes. Through photos and miniature models, it traces the journey of a man who went from being Mohan to Mahatma.
The centre also has a book shop. Three books which I bought were Panchayati Raj by Mahatma Gandhi, Public Finance and our Poverty and Economy of Permanence both authored by J C Kumarappa. He was Chartered Accountant and an Economist who spent latter part of his life as a disciple of Gandhi. I also bought a kurta and a shirt from the shop.
The place which houses Bapu kuti or Gandhi’s house has been well maintained. It was a hamlet which housed Gandhi and his followers. It was self sufficient. It had cattle, and farming was also undertaken. Even today farming is undertaken on the one hundred acre land. All farming is organic.
The land belonged to the industrialist and eminent Gandhian Jamnalal Bajaj. Gandhi referred to him as his “fifth” son. In fact there is a large statue of Jamnalal Bajaj outside the ST stand. I was surprised to see this as we are not a country which admires industrialists, traders and businessmen.
After Mani Bhavan which was the Mahatma’s abode in Mumbai, this is the second house of the great man that I have been to. Staying so close to Ahmedabad, I guess Sabarmati Ashram would be the third house of the great man which I will visit in the coming year.
I now head back to Amravati. Probably a trip to Nagpur would be on the cards next week. Lets see what the largest town of Vidharbha has in store for me.

IndiaPay-An alternative in the making for Visa and Mastercard

I have always been a fan of "Made in India" tags on products, processes and services that aim to compete with global players. I think the discourse on globalisation restricts India's role as a "market". A market where you can sell, with relative ease, shoddy products and services. Given the pent up demand among the 250 million odd middle class, one can literally get away by selling anything.
Hence when I read about a RBI backed payment processing platform called IndiaPay, it made me happy. Visa and Mastercard are payment processing platforms. As more and more Indians start using plastic money, the payment processing platforms will stand to make a lot of money.Today, nine out of ten card transactions are undertaken by Visa and Mastercard. A new player in the space may just drive down costs.
Also as more and more farmers are covered under the Kisan Credit Card,IndiaPay assumes that much more importance.
While Malaysia and China developed their own payment processing platforms in 1997 and 2002 respectively, India Pay will take another two years to hit the markets.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back at IRMA

I came back to a drenched IRMA campus this week. The presentations were spread over three days. Thankfully my presentations got over on the first day itself. Not much grilling by the evaluators. Not much by the fellow participants too.
The OTS was an interesting experience. It allowed me to visit five districts in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Thanks to a co operative Reporting Officer, I was given enough freedom to undertake the exercise at my own pace. This allowed me to understand the fine details of the tur dal business.
Now that the first year is over, second year is all about pursuing your area of interest. Unfortunately, I have not been able to boil down my area of interest. And this shows in the selection of electives. From brand management to international trade, from agri business to derivatives, I have my hands full this semester.
Specifically I am looking forward to the Economic Policy and Environment and International Trade electives.
Hopefully I will be much more disciplined than I was last year.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Yeotmal-The cotton city

I was in Yeotmal for a couple of days interacting with retailers, wholesalers, and farmers as part of my project. The first day was spent in the urban areas. We stayed in a hotel called Revathi Pride. A decent hotel providing average customer service.Yeotmal is ninety seven kilometers from Amravati. It has a metre gauge railway line which reminded me of the lovely one coach train that used to stop at Sagar, my Mom's hometown.

Yeotmal is considered to be the place where cotton was first cultivated. Hence it is called as the cotton city. The city, like Amravati had several two wheeler showrooms. The absence of good public transport system for intra-city travel has given rise to this demand for two-wheelers. While the government gives away free bicycles to girls in villages, the girls in these towns can be seen travelling in two wheelers. This practice will only grow. Hoardings around the town were mainly about educational institutes. Advertisements on local channels were also dominated by these institutes which offered the traditional engineering courses. Institutes offering "new-age" courses in advertising, media were also present. Organised retail is absent here. Similar was the case in Akola. Kirana stores still dominate the scene. I think organized retail has a chance here. The buying habits of consumers, atleast in case of tur dal and chana dal, were seen to favour bulk buying. And price does play an important factor. Big Bazaar which is to commence operations in Amravati, will find it a good market.

The first day involved interacting with the wholesalers and the retailers. I was looking forward to the second day. This was to involve travelling to villages, and visiting haats. I was accompanied by the founder of Dilaasa, an NGO which is working in the villages of Yeotmal. We went to Ghatanji block and visited the haat. A haat is the weekly market which is set up on the road. Livestock to foodgrains, accessories to cosmetics everything is sold in these haats. Most of the times, one haat caters to four to five villages. My purpose was to investigate the presence of lakh ( a dal which is subsitituted for tur as it costs less). This dal, till last year was banned as it was seen to cause paralysis when consumed in large numbers. However this was consumed in rural areas of Chandrapur and Gadhchiroli without any cases of paralysis. After tests, this ban was lifted last year.

After visiting the haat, we headed to a village called in Ralegaon block of Yeotmal. We conducted a focused group discussion of around 10 farmers. It reminded me of my days in Toranmal. The fieldwork segment held me in good stead and the discussion went smoothly. The two month stay in Toranmal had made me more confident while interacting with farmers. Though I can never become one of them, the confidence that I usually display while presenting projects in IRMA, was displayed while asking questions and prompting honest answers from the farmers. This made me very happy.

Every village has that one farmer who is interested in what you are saying. Someone who is ready to take on the mantle to start the project. He is not the scheming rich farmer. Nor the rich trader of the village. He is educated and has seen his fair share of crop failures. He has seen many projects come and go without affecting the intended "beneficiaries". I was fortunate to meet such a farmer. He was interested in our discussion. He participated actively. And more importantly he was brutally honest.

As I took leave, he approached me and asked about the probability of starting a dal mill in Ralegaon district. I looked at him and told him that it was not in my hands. I have said that many times whenever I have stepped into a village for collecting data. I am waiting for the day when I will be able to take decisions which will have a positive impact on the villagers.

As we left the village and headed back to Yeotmal, I could see acres of land all ready for the rains. Some farmers were already sowing cotton seeds. Some were gazing at the sky;probably praying for a normal monsoon. I wish farming was as therapeutic as Farmville on FB is!

Came back to the hotel and saw DCH! After Kites, Rajneeti and Ravan, this was a refreshing change. Though India losing the dead rubber was a disappointment, the rural visit overshadowed the Indian loss.

Next stop was Wardha……which houses Sevagram, where the Mahatma lived! But that deserves a separate post.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Amravati

Its the second largest town after Nagpur. Dont ask me on what basis. Thats what people tell me. Like all districts of Vidharbha, Amravati gives you its own taste of heat.There is a hill station called Chikaldhara. I have not been there yet.Most probably will go there in the coming weeks.
All the government offices and official residences of all the important bureaucrats are situated in one part of Amravati known as the Camp Area.I stay here.Some part of it is also called "Chaprasipura".
The most famous (absentee)resident of Amravati is Smt.Pratibha Patil. Her son was elected as MLA in the last Assembly elections. The Camp Area is very well maintained, with wide roads, no hawkers and proper street lighting.The area near the station, the place where the markets are located are much more crowded.The place also presents a good study of the transition taking place in such towns. In a space of around 200 metres, you have single brand outlets of Adidas, Levis, Levis Signature. These outlets compete with the old traditional garment outlets that must have been operating for several decades.
The place is flooded with theatres. Two weeks back a multiplex called e-orbit opened up.A Big Bazaar is on its way.It proves that the companies are now targeting these towns to maintain high growth rates.
My project work took me to Jawahar Gate which is a historical monument. It is as the name suggests a gate of probably a fort. There are no boards signifying its importance. Just a few meters down the road is something called "Jaisthamb Chowk". This again has some link with the Independence Struggle as the chowk has the date "15/07/1947" inscribed on it.
Finally,Marathi is hardly spoken here. Hindi is the most used language here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The electronic media-Why we need regulation!!

Its the second monsoon that I am not in Mumbai. I happened to catch the first heavy showers on television ensconed in a warm room at Akola.The proliferation of news channels made it difficult for me to escape their coverage on the Mumbai monsoons. The coverage of all news channels made it seem like Mumbai was hit by a cyclone. Certain points that stood out are given below
1.All news channels played the same footage again and again. They showed us Khar Subway and Milan Subway. For all Mumbaikars, it is not news that these subways get flooded every year.But it was made out to be a big incident by the news channels.
2.All areas covered by the news channels, Sion, Andheri, Wadala are known to be rain sensitive areas.They are a bad sample for the population i.e. Mumbai
Such news coverage is something that we have become used to. Making a mountain out of a molehill is now a core competency enjoyed by these news channels. Lambasting administrators and playing judge on a variety of issues is a skill that is a must for every news anchor. We need some serious regulation on these guys. They distort and influence the news to their liking. That their 26/11 coverage put security forces in danger is a well documented fact.
Free press should not be the excuse given by these TV channels to disseminate information which is biased and is intended to shock and create panic among its viewers. Its high time that the government looked into this matter and stepped in to control the hyper TV anchors and their producers!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

OTS In the oven

Its been a week since I left Mumbai and landed in Amravati for my summer internship.I am currently working on a project which has been funded by IFAD (channeled through the Government of Maharashtra) and SRTT (the organisation that I am interning with). The Project known as 'Convergence of Agricultural Interventions in Maharashtra' is also known as 'CAIM' (pronounced as Kayam which means forever in Marathi). The idea is that the farmers in Vidharbha will be kayam sukhi ( the sukhi comes from the 'Sukhi Baliraja Initiative' of SRTT which was dovetailed into CAIM) meaning 'forever in peace' after this project. Amen.
I am working out of the divisional Commissioner's office. The Additional Commissioner is the Project Director. Since he is busy with other matters of the State, they have appointed a Additional Project Director to carry out the day to day work of the Project.
First impressions of the district are fairly positive. Its hot but then its a national phenomena these days. Ever since Pratibha Patil was made the President of the Country, Amravati has undergone a positive change in terms of infrastructure. Her son is the MLA of this district.Since we work and stay in the part of Amravati which houses government offices and residences of all IAS and IPS officers, the roads are wide, well lit and maintained.
My project involves a lot of travel including a trip to Mumbai. First visit is on Tuesday which is to Hingoli. The purpose is to study a dal mill which is also involved in its own marketing.
Overall, its a decent project which allows me to explore Vidharbha and also study the working of IAS officers. That is a good enough output for two months.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Year that was

The third term exams got over yesterday. With that the first year at IRMA gets over. Just one more week and then I am off home.
Its been a different year to say the least. I came here with a bag full of clothes and dreams. Leaving with a bag full of clothes and some more dreams.
This was the most "learning" year for me. And most of it was related to ME and not to academics. I thought I had fewer weaknesses but life here revealed so many of them that I am kept busy working on them.
The highlight of the year was the two months that I spent in Toranmal and the Tata Crucible Finals in Mumbai. Both of them will remain etched in my memory for a long time to come.
I also realised that a vacation with family would never be so joyful as it turned out to be in September. The biggest disappoint was on loosing out on people who were extremely close to me. I am still coming to terms on those issues. But then life was never a smooth bed of roses.
All in all, its been a "different" year. A year that has definitely made me more stronger and more eager to take on the world.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

C K Prahalad

C K Prahalad was one of the few Indians who made a mark in the area of management science in the last century. He was along with Pankaj Ghemawat and Sumantra Ghoshal, the few Indians who were at the forefont of management science.
While he was always acknowledged as one of the top most management thinkers, what made him transcend the management field and be acknowledged as a great thinker was his seminal book "Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits".
Incidentally, this book was the first management book that I read five years back. The case that impressed me the most was the ITC e-choupal case. Funny that I am now writing this blog at a time when I am studying in an institution whose alumnus is responsible for creating the e-choupal revolution.
It is indeed a great loss to the field of management science. But ideas last longer than the man himself.
And Prahalad's ideas of "core competency" and "the BOP magic" will live on and help managers to demystify the complex environment in which they operate

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Dantewada massacre and us.....

So they finally struck on a large scale. The Maoists suddenly made national headlines when they killed seventy five CRPF personnel in the Dantewada district of Chattisgarh.
The ET, the mouthpiece of corporate India reported the incident but also reported that FII inflows will not be affected by the incident. However FIIs related to mining companies might see some impact.
Most of us wont care. And several reasons for that;
1.Go out on streets of Mumbai or Delhi and ask people where Dantewada is and I bet 9 on 10 people will give the wrong answer, if they give one that is.
2. Unlike 26/11, this proxy war as called by many in the media is being played out in the forests of an economically backward state. Not in five star hotels.
3.Most of us believe its a simple case of us vs them. Even the hopelessly useless Shivarj Patil put it down to "misguided youth".
4.We (the urban population) have been fed a rich diet of corporates saving us from low economic growth.So the minerals in those areas suddenly belong to Shri Lakshmi Mittal and Shri Anil Agarwal. And we are so proud that Mr Mittal has an Indian passport. As if that qualifies every Indian as a heir to his wealth.
5.PC wants to have a dialogue with these maoists. Perhaps he should hear what Norman Borlaug said "You can't create a peaceful world on empty stomachs and misery".
The issue is development.......Imagine this... your neigbour is allowed to pluck all the mangoes from your backyard and sell them in the market. And you look at all the wealth that he has accumulated from this business. And you have nothing, absolutely nothing. Thats what these people are feeling. They have been pushed to a corner and now they have nothing to lose. We will go to hell, but we will take you with us is their motto. Life itself is living hell for them due to lack of development.
Some say tribals by nature are violent. Hell...I lived with the tribals for two months. They are the most friendly people I came across. They have their own set of rules which respects nature and human beings.
So I urge people to do some fact finding and introspect as to why simple villagers will suddenly take up arms and start killing people....And maybe we can then start a fairly logical dialogue on maoism/naxalism.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One dream fulfilled

The Barefoot managers went to Mumbai to fulfill a dream of being the regional finalists of TATA crucible 2010.
Looking at the turnout of around 200 teams, hope faded. Not much preparation and mid term exams on our mind, we gave it a shot. As fate would have it, we got into the wildcard entry round.
JBIMS, 2 teams from NMIMS, SPJIMR and KJ Somaiya were the other contenders for a slot in the Finals. But then the barefoot managers played aggressively and made it to the regional finals!!!
Pretty disappointed that we could not make it to the national finals....But then 2011 beckons!!!
For a brief idea about the finals, look here.
And we will be on TV too!!!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

My first trip North

Last week I had the opportunity to go to Delhi. One of the colleges there had shortlisted our B plan and the final round required our physical presence there.
This was my first trip North. A 14 hour journey in sleeper class was something that extremely discouraging. Before someone reminds me of my barefoot manager status, I would like to state that I am just not the kind of guy who can travel for a long time. And the way the railways treats the sleeper class people, someone should file a class action lawsuit against it.
We boarded the swaraj express from Baroda. Our coupe was different in the sense it was a cabin without the door. Our co passenger was of the opinion that it was the coupe which was meant for women travellers in the 80s.The railways, I have to say has been women friendly. From such coupes, to women compartments, to all ladies trains in Mumbai, women have been given many facilities.
Anyways, so our coupe had two frustated rural managers (rural manager is always frustated), one Sardar and his employee, a guju army man headed to Jammu and a Catholic priest based in Bhopal.
The journey was not as bad as I thought it would turn out to be thanks to the two punjabi guys. They went on talking about Missionaries in India getting cheques signed by Tony Blair, Kota being the next big thing, AC volvos plying between Punjab villages etc etc.
Prominent stops were Ratlam (known for its Ratlami sev) and Mathura (Mathura peda le lo).
We finally reached Delhi at 4 in the morning, got ripped by the auto guys (while going to and coming from the college) and had to sit down at the delhi station as the train was late by two hours.
Delhi station is dirty, over crowded and absolutely smelly. No station in Mumbai can be as dirty as the Delhi one. Maybe my Mumbai biasness shows here, but what the heck!!
Anyways the trip back was spent sleeping as I was too tired. We alighted at Godhra. Felt creepy and the eerie silence was adding to the feeling of being at a place which has had so much of implications for our country which is considered to be a secular one.
Took a ST bus to Anand and reached IRMA in the afternoon.
Not an eventful journey but an interesting one.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some thoughts on the Inclusive growth chapter of the Economic Survey

The Economic Survey was released today. To the ones who usually skip such “heavy” economic matters, an Economic Survey, according to an ET columnist Mythili Bhusnurmath are ready reckoners on the state of the economy during a year that is fast drawing to a close. Only to a far lesser extent can they be said to be a portent of what is likely to follow in the subsequent year. This is because they are largely a technical view of finance ministry technocrats. Thus to the extent Surveys are relatively divorced from the political ground realities that play a dominant role in decision-making by democratically elected governments, they also tend to be a little idealistic.
This year’s survey includes a chapter on inclusive growth. And I am very happy about it as increasingly there is disenchantment with the “high rates of growth” talk that usually crowds our newspapers. It is extremely naïve ( and I was naïve) to believe that high GDP rates of growth would automatically mitigate poverty and bring prosperity to large sections of Indians. But that of course is not true.
The increase in GDP is due to high growth in services and to some extent in industry. Services account for more than fifty per cent of our GDP and hence high growth rates in this sector will propel our GDP to high levels as well. Industry is doing well but since 80s its contribution to GDP has stagnated in the mid twenties.
The problem then lies in Agriculture. We have a sector which employs more than 60 per cent of our population and is projected to grow at .2 percent this year. It also contributes least to the GDP of our country. Now that leaves a huge section of our population staring at abject poverty. Farm output growth is projected at 0 per cent largely due to the drought that occurred last year. So this high GDP growth does not really matter to around 60 crore people of our country.
It’s a big deal for policy makers to include a chapter on inclusive growth as it reflects the realities that we confront today.
So what is inclusive growth? The survey mentions “A nation interested in inclusive growth views the same growth differently depending on whether the gains of the growth are heaped primarily on a small segment or shared widely by the population. The latter is cause for celebration but not the former. In other words, growth must not be treated as an end in itself but as an instrument for spreading prosperity to all. India’s own past experience and the experience of other nations suggests that growth is necessary for eradicating poverty but it is not a sufficient condition. In other words, policies for promoting growth need to be complemented with policies to ensure that more and more people join in the growth process and, further, that there are mechanisms in place to redistribute some of the gains to those who are unable to partake in the market process and, hence, get left behind.”
It is an acknowledgement of the fact that a large section of population needs to be integrated with the mainstream economy so that they too can enjoy the fruits of the high growth we are fortunate to witness in these times.
The chapter deals with the role of the government as an “enabler” which does not try to directly deliver to the citizens everything that they need. Instead, it (1) creates an enabling ethos for the market so that individual enterprise can flourish and citizens can, for the most part, provide for the needs of one another, and (2) steps in to help those who do not manage to do well for themselves, for there will always be individuals, no matter what the system, who need support and help. Hence we need a Government that, when it comes to the market, sets effective, incentive compatible rules and remains on the sidelines with minimal interference, and, at the same time, plays an important role in directly helping the poor by ensuring that they get basic education and health services and receive adequate nutrition and food.This rollback of the Government in the former will enable it to devote more energy and resources to and be more effective in the latter.
It elaborates how this can be done by focusing on specific issues like replacing the PDS with a “food voucher coupons”, advocating the same coupon approach in lieu of subsidy for fertilizers, etc. It also looks at bureaucratic delays and costs to buttress its point of advocating the “enabler” role of the government.
Overall it is a refreshing addition to the Economic Survey as it goes beyond sector wise discussion, and fascination with the short term numbers and takes a hard look at the long term.
If this post prods you to read that chapter, here is the link. http://beta.thehindu.com/multimedia/archive/00034/Economic_Survey-2_pd_34134a.pdf

Friday, February 19, 2010

For posterity

After my fieldwork segment we had to submit a report which included "personal reflections." I wrote it at 4 in the morning after having forced myself to write 7000 words about a village which had a population of about 1500. That was in November. Yesterday I went through it again and was startled at what I wrote. Startled because I wrote exactly what I meant and reading it again made me aware that my views have changed. Not radically but yes they have changed. So I put it down here so that it remains for posterity.

“Village life is tough but the village people are nice.” This was the parting advice given by Prof H.S. Shylendra who was the pre-field work visitor to the Nandurbar District of Maharashtra.

My village Toranmal had a web presence by virtue of being the second highest hill station in the state. All the beautiful pictures on the various websites coupled with the tough life that awaited us created a lot of anxiety in me as I boarded the bus to my village.

In the village we were made to stay in a hut with minimum provisions of lighting, bedding and bathing. While a solar panel with a CFL light provided illumination in the night, my partner and I had to share a single cot. While a small portion of the hut was earmarked for bathing, there was no toilet facility.

Since it was a village in the forests, we had insects and snakes in our hut from time to time. Also unseasonal rains in the first week made us grow more anxious and scared.

As time progressed, we realized that we had been exposed to the minimum standard of living. While difficult in the beginning, I later adapted myself to the living conditions. I also realized how fortunate I was in terms of resource availability compared to the villagers. I now value clean drinking water, twenty four electricity and the education that was provided to me by my parents.

Interacting with the villagers was a unique experience. While I did possess an elementary understanding of Marathi, it was rendered useless in the village as the tribals spoke their own language called Nahali. Overcoming this barrier was the most difficult part of the fieldwork segment. The tribals by nature are a shy community and interactions with outsiders is negligible. Hence it took around two to three weeks for us to gain their trust and initiate information gathering.

Though a tourist spot, it seemed that the villagers were in a time capsule. I was surprised to know that most of them had not heard about terror attacks in Mumbai and an old man still thought Indira Gandhi to be the PM of the country. This was because the village did not have newspapers, there was no telephone network and the literacy rate was very low.

The tribals considered the forest to be the most important part of their lives. They worshipped the lion and the trees. Although dependence on the forests had decreased to a great extent they still considered the forest to be inextricably linked to their well being.

I was amazed at the knowledge of the tribals with respect to the forest produce. This knowledge had passed down from ancestors and was passed down by word of mouth. They knew the medicinal properties of the plants and the various uses of the trees available in the forest.

Government as expected was omnipresent in the village through various institutions. The number of schemes that were available to the villagers in spheres of education, health, food, and livelihood was commendable. However the implementation of these schemes was not done properly. While the physical infrastructure like buildings and facilities like ambulances were present, they were in a dilapidated condition.

The rampant absenteeism of government officials ranging from the talati to the panchayat secretary was a major deterrent to providing good governance to the village. This absenteeism existed because of apathy of the villagers and no supervision by senior administrative officials.

Polygamy, child marriage, tobacco addiction and liquor addiction were some problems that we came across in the village. Most of these problems had a social perspective to it. For someone who thought economic growth was the panacea for all problems, this fieldwork was an eye-opener.

We were fortunate to witness the holding of elections for the State Assembly during our village stay. Vote for cash and distribution of liquor to the villagers was a common phenomenon and was practiced by all political parties who had fielded candidates in that constituency.

The love and affection showered on us by the villagers was a unique experience. To befriend two people who are completely different from their community in terms of dressing, speaking, and lifestyle and make all efforts to make us comfortable without any expectations was very touching.

Some of my learnings that developed or were reinforced during the fieldwork segment are

1. Rural People are very hospitable and extremely loving especially towards people who come from outside and live with them.

2. Their simple life and minimum needs ensure that they live a happy life.

3. The government while delineating funds for rural development should monitor its implementation and efficacy. A bottom up approach would be more effective than a top down approach.

4. All livelihood interventions should be people focused. People should be involved in the planning as they are the best judges of their own lives.

5. The tribals are extremely shy people. This is misinterpreted as hostility. They are very hospitable and befriend you only after you have demonstrated your sincerity towards them and their friendship

6. I come from Mumbai. The only city in the state which does not have electricity cuts. In fact the rest of the state compromises on its power requirements so that the city of Mumbai lives upto its reputation of “a city that never sleeps”. This inequity and the anger was personally experienced during the village stay. It also drove home the point about the division that we now refer to as “Bharat vs India”.

7. We need to question the importance attached to Gross Domestic Product growth. Our consumption patterns cannot be replicated in rural areas. This will lead to huge environmental problems. Hence alternatives need to be developed to achieve the goal of poverty alleviation without adverse effects on the environment

This village trip was an excerise in humility. It has made me realize my good fortune of being brought up in a family which provided all the necessary resources required to lead a decent life. Most importantly it has raised several questions both personal and academic which I seek to answer during my stay at IRMA and beyond. The birth of these questions, some of which are presented above is my biggest gain for which I will be greatful to the people of Toranmal and to IRMA.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Superman....and Superwomen

A year since my Dad fought back a life threatening disease. Reaffirmed my belief that I am a fighter's son.
Also realised that the two women in my life were superwomen.
Only hope that if and when I do fall for someone, she has some qualities of the superwomen in my life.
PS-I still think my brother is the most intelligent person I have met.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

My People!!!

How did I survive the two month fieldwork of IRMA? As Prof. Shylendra told us before the trip "Village life is tough but village people are nice." I could not agree more. So here are some people who made my two month stay as comfortable as it could get.

The kid's name is Ajith. Not a tribal name at all.He was named by the Primary Health Centre Nurse when he was born. An entertainer in the real sense of the term, playing cricket and football with him was something that I enjoyed a lot. He came across as very inquisitive as every kid does, and was particularly fond of my digital camera and mobile phone. I only hope he recognises me when I visit Toranmal next time.



Sakar Singh Chaudhary aka Gotiya dada was our immediate neighbour. A karmyogi who believes that his job in this life is to till his land, grow crops, drink alcohol, occassionally beat his wife and graze cows. For two months, he used to entertain us with his stories in the night and managed to call me "nithun" by the end of my two months stay. The village is made up of his family members and he knows everyone in the village. I only hope he is alive when I visit Toranmal next time.



Manisha and Ravindra Thakur. My hosts and caretakers for the two months. If it was not Manisha tai, my stay not have been as memorable and comfortable as it turned out to be. I owe an enormous sense of debt to this lady who is an embodiment of strength, will power and all the virtues of feminity which we associate our mothers with. From making her husband give up alcohol, earning an income by undertaking various livelihood activities, she was a person who I admire and look up to. I hope that she has been able to undertake all the livelihood activities which she was planning to and undertake them successfully.
These are some of the many who live in our villages, the ones who make news if they join the Maoists or commit suicide. It is a sad commentary on India, that after more than sixty years of Independence, we the educated class have managed to build cities feigning ignorance of the seventy crore people who toil and grow food for us.
Belated Happy Republic Day